Alone Together

Part II of the Dawnwalker Cycle

"A Spearfish Lake Story"


a novel by
Wes Boyd
©2004, ©2009




Chapter 15

"Damn," Jon said to Tanisha as they were standing on the ramp at Sky Harbor, back in Phoenix, watching the Learjet taxi off. They knew Jennlynn was in a hurry, and they knew why, although sheíd been vague about it at China Lake: she was scheduled at the Redlite Ranch that evening and the next one, and she was indeed pushing the time.

"Yeah," she said sadly. "I sort of had hopes of getting together with some of the crew and celebrating a little."

"Canít do that," he nodded. "Stan and Jim are twisting that captainís arm at China Lake, and Jennlynnís partying. Itíd be nice to celebrate, but I guess itíll have to wait till next week."

"It will kind of take the edge off, though," Tanisha said. "Oh, well, we can celebrate on our own. What do you say we spend the weekend trying to out-party Jennlynn?"

"Youíre reading my mind," he grinned.

"I had a cool idea on the way back," she giggled. "Maybe sometime we could get with Jennlynn, sort of get it set up ahead of time, and fly up there sometime during the week when itís dead slow. She could give me a run-through on the drill, and then you could come in looking to party."

"Tanisha, youíre insatiable," he grinned. "I have to say that while Iím just a little curious about that place, thatís about the only way Iíd ever want to find out what itís like."

"Me, too," she grinned. "Of course, if we got real, real lucky my brother would come in looking for me."

"God," he laughed, "I would still like to know if he ever got that address, and what happened."

"You and me both," she sighed. "Damn, Iíd like to know if thatís still an issue, or if he got the message, or what. But I canít think of any way of finding out without stirring things up."

"Yeah," he said. "Oh, well, the situation is a lot different than it was last spring, and not just from our being married."

"Right, that silent alarm at home and the emergency button on the cell phones to bring company security, and all the rest of it makes things a lot different," she agreed. "Plus, weíre a lot more secure, now, anyway."

"Not to mention if he tries to drag you off heíll have committed a number of federal offenses, including espionage," he smiled. "There are some good uses for that clearance."

There was a roaring sound far down the runway. They glanced in that direction, to see the white Learjet race down the tarmac, rear back, and point skyward. The roar of the twin jet engines shook things a little as it quickly became a distant dot in the blue. "Party hearty, Skyhooker," Tanisha smiled, sending her best wishes to the raven-haired woman at the controls.

"Mike was right," Jon grinned. "Sheís got to be the second most astonishing woman I know, but she doesnít hold a candle to the leader of the pack." He gave his wife a little hug with one arm, smiled, and continued. "She may be horny, but youíre insatiable. Letís get in the Monte Carlo. Maybe we can get a head start on her."

* * *

God, I love this woman, Jon thought for perhaps the millionth time as he looked across the car at Tanisha, sitting buckled into the seat next to him as they fought the afternoon rush-hour traffic through the Phoenix suburbs. And, for perhaps the millionth time as well, he wished the Monte Carlo didnít have bucket seats with a big armrest and floor shift between them. It would have been so nice to have her slide over and snuggle up under his arm, but it was pretty uncomfortable for both of them when they tried. But, that didnít keep them from holding hands most of the way home from work. He glanced down at her hand, warm and dark in his, and looked at the rings on the finger of the hand that rested in his. It was still unbelievable that they were there, and that those rings were his. She was the best thing that had ever happened to him, but oh, God, the price theyíd both paid!

The Great Scott wasnít far ahead. "Anything we need from the super?" he asked conversationally.

"Nothing worth stopping for," Tanisha smiled, her teeth shining in contrast to her beautiful ebony skin. "Weíre going to need milk and bread the first of the week, though."

"Just as well," he smiled. "Friday after work, itíll probably be a nuthouse, anyway."

"Maybe tomorrow afternoon," she smiled. "We can stop on the way back."

"Itíll be nice to get out for a bit," he smiled. "You know, as much as I hate to say it, we probably ought to get a few miles on tonight if weíre going to do the company ten-K tomorrow. Stan will be there, probably Jim, and maybe some of the other people who know about the Swallowtail. Itís not the same thing as a party, but itís something."

"Good idea," she nodded. "We probably ought to do it pretty early, and then have dinner." Those unbelievably white teeth flashed at him again as she grinned, and added, "Then, we can have some fun the rest of the evening."

"Sounds like a plan," he grinned back, looking toward it. "Anything in particular youíve got in mind?" he added, a lecherous look on his face and a warming feeling in his groin.

"Oh, Iím sure weíll come up with something," she laughed, lust in her voice. "If all else fails, we can grab a book and pick a page at random."

"Are you sure you want to get out for a run first?" he smiled.

"Not really," she laughed. "But if we go to bed first, weíll never get out for a run, let alone have dinner."

"Darn it," he teased, "Why do you have to always be so practical?" He wanted to lean over and kiss her right then, but the traffic was too heavy Ė so heavy, in fact, that he had to sorrowfully take his hand from hers to make the left turn into the complex.

It was a lot more familiar now, after five months, although they were still sort of strangers in the place. They had learned they werenít the only mixed-race couple in the building; although in time they were to get friendly with their neighbors, they never became close friends. By now, the habit of keeping to themselves had become pretty strong. They loved each other intensely, loved being together, held hands and cuddled like teenagers in puppy love Ė as long as they were more or less alone; they kept pretty cool about it in public. Still, Jon told her many times Ė even many times a day Ė that she was the most beautiful thing heíd ever seen, and his rings on her finger were the most wonderful thing he could imagine. Unlikely a pair though they were, they were incredibly close to each other Ė something else they couldnít have imagined, either.

In the months that they had been living there permanently they continued to run; they got involved in another martial arts class, and they continued their evening activities, which were even more rewarding and fun now that they were married and more capable of it than ever before. But even as close as they were, once in a while they found they missed having a family Ė not necessarily their family, but at least a family. More than once, ever since theyíd been together, Jon caught Tanisha singing some spiritual she remembered from church choir days, and it was a little sad to hear. A couple of Sundays, they did try going to a church, but they both thought the black-white mix made them seem a little less than welcome, so let it go. Lambdatron was sort of their family, but it wasnít quite the same thing, and this afternoon proved it.

"Well, we canít do it all weekend," she laughed. "We do have some other books to get to, you know."

"All work and no play," he laughed, as he stopped and waited for an oncoming car, before pulling into the parking lot. "Weíve been so busy I havenít really had my heart in the masterís degree classes, even though Lambdatron is picking them up. But I suppose we should work on them if we ever want to get on to our doctorates."

"Oh, we should be able to find some time for play," she laughed as he pulled into their covered parking space. Home again, the only home they had, now. But they were together, and as long as they were together, it was all the home they needed.

"Not enough," he snorted as he shut off the car. They really didnít have to worry about things to do in their spare time, since they didnít have much. They didnít even own a TV Ė there was no time left over to watch it.

She smiled as she popped the door. "Thereís never enough," she laughed, "For either of us."

Jon followed Tanisha up the stairs to the bedroom. "I donít want to kill myself tonight," he said, unbuttoning his white shirt. It was another nice thing about Lambdatron; if heíd wound up working at Hadley-Monroe like his father wanted, heíd have to have worn a tie every day. Now, he didnít wear a tie to work at all, just a shirt and jeans Ė and tasteless T-shirts on Thursdays, of course. "Considering tomorrow, Iíd say maybe three miles or so, just to loosen up."

"Yeah," she snickered, peeling out of her blouse. "I donít want to wear us out for tonight, either."

Even after two and a half years, he couldnít help but watch as she took off her bra and her jeans. Some people might have said Tanisha really wasnít all that pretty, but to him she was still about the most beautiful and exotic thing heíd ever seen. He watched her dig through a drawer for running shorts, wearing only black panties that seemed half-invisible against the dark ebony of her skin. Oh, would he have loved to have slipped those panties from her flanks and carried her to bed right now, but it could wait . . . barely. The time would come Ė it wouldnít be far off Ė when heíd be able to caress that soft, warm, dark skin, to explore the wonders of her body once again, while she explored his . . . it would be hard to wait.

But, it would have to wait. First things first. He dropped his own pants, and pulled on a pair of jogging shorts and a clean T-shirt, while Tanisha pulled on a jog bra. She was big enough in the chest that running without it was uncomfortable for her. Jon shook his head. Back in high school, heíd never have expected heíd be out running, three to five miles most days after work. His idea of exercise back then had been climbing the steps from the computer in the basement for dinner . . . and Tanishaís, climbing the stairs to her room for time on the computer after dinner. But, things were different there now, too. In a few minutes, they had their clothes changed, into running shorts, t-shirts, and running shoes. They normally just ran around the complex, on a fairly complicated route that worked out to be about a mile per lap, although occasionally theyíd go elsewhere, just for a change of scenery.

"I think I want something to drink before we head out," Tanisha commented as they came down the stairs. "Iím a little dry."

"Iíll wait," Jon said, watching Tanisha head for the refrigerator. He bent over a couple times, did some stretching exercises to loosen up . . .

The doorbell rang. That didnít happen often; the last time it had happened, it had been a neighborhood kid, selling frozen pizzas to support a band trip. Jon went to answer it without thinking much about it, except to wonder who was selling what. He opened the door, and a shock of surprise shot up his spine. The Starship Enterprise had struck again . . .

"Hi, Bro," Crystal smiled at him, "Long time, no see."

It was a long time, two and a half years since sheíd walked into his dorm room at Tech, to discover him cuddling with Tanisha. Since then, heíd heard from his mother a few times that Crystal was doing fine, except that she wasnít often real clear on what Crystal was doing at all.

"Wha . . . what are you doing here?" he stammered, looking up at her. She was tan and dark, maybe a third as dark as Tanisha; she clearly had been spending time out in the sun. She had on cutoffs and a green and white T-shirt with a cartoon of a fat little guy in red-checked hunting clothes, on a surfboard, against a background of the outline of Lake Superior. The T-shirt was lettered, "Northern Michigan University Surfing . . . Superior Waves". Jon knew it wasnít a joke; heíd seen pictures. One of his sisterís many hobbies in NMU days was surfing . . . winter storm surfing on Lake Superior. Even the thought chilled him Ė but man, what a T-shirt for some Thursday . . .

"Oh, I was just in the neighborhood," she smiled sweetly. "I thought Iíd drop in and say hi."

"But . . . but . . . " He remembered how uncomfortable heíd been the last time heíd seen Crystal, being caught with Tanisha. It was way back in the beginning, but Crystal was the only one in either family who knew theyíd ever been together. "How did you find us?" he finally managed to ask.

"Oh, Mom told me," Crystal smiled at him. "Arenít you going to ask me to come in?"

"Well, yeah, sure . . . " he said, thinking fast as he opened the door to her. There was no covering it up. Someone was bound to find out sooner or later, and both of them dreaded that day. If someone had to find out, Crystal was the best possible choice. "Youíve heard from Mom?" he asked, wondering a little about that.

"Yeah," she said without embellishment as she stepped inside and exclaimed, "Tanisha! Youíre looking good!"

Jon turned around, to see Tanisha standing in the doorway to the kitchen, a bottle of Gatorade in her hand, and a shocked expression on her face. He knew that Tanisha had only met Crystal that one time, and briefly Ė although memorably. "Hi, Crystal," she said shyly, clearly having the same fears that Jon had.

"Whatíd you do?" Crystal grinned, "Decide he was a keeper after all?"

"Oh, yes," Tanisha laughed, instantly recognizing that Crystal wasnít there to make a scene. Now, if it had been her brother . . . oh, good God . . . "I wasnít about to throw him back in the pond."

"Looks like you made something out of him," Crystal laughed. "Jon, Iíve never seen you looking this good."

"Thanks, Crystal," he said. "Things are a little different than they used to be."

"Youíve lost weight," she smiled flatly. "And whatís with the running stuff?"

"We were just getting set to go out and get a few miles on," Jon smiled. "Weíve got the company ten-K tomorrow morning."

Crystal frowned, looked at him, looked at Tanisha and shook her head. "Ten-K?" she said dubiously. "Maybe I better go out and make sure Iíve got the right address. This canít be my brother weíre talking about."

"Oh, it is," Tanisha laughed, throwing a huge smile at her husband.

Crystal shook her head. "This your doing?" she smiled.

"No," Tanisha smiled, "Our doing." She was smug, but Jon could detect the twinkle in her eye.

"How far were you going?"

"Only three miles or so, just to loosen up after work," Jon said.

"I hate to get in your way," Crystal said. "Besides, this I gotta see. Iíll go with you. Iíve been sitting in the car too long, anyway."

"Weíre just going to take it easy," Jon told her. "Besides, youíd run us into the ground."

"Oh, I can take it easy," Crystal said. "I actually donít run much anymore. Walk a lot, but not much running. Letís hold it down to where we can talk."

Jon and Tanisha were in pretty good shape after over two years of running on the average of four times a week, but Jon knew even before they got out the door that heíd never be in the shape Crystal was in. Whatever it was sheíd been doing since she disappeared off the face of the earth, it had kept her in shape.

They set off at an easy pace through the complex, while Tanishaís mind churned, as she was sure Jonís was doing. What was Crystal doing here? Why had she come? Was this trouble? How had Crystal found them? She said sheíd gotten their address from her mother, but as far as she knew Karin only had their post office box, and that was over in Scottsdale. It was all a huge mystery.

"So what are you guys doing?" Crystal asked nonchalantly as they jogged along easily.

"Weíre both at Lambdatron, here in Tempe," Jon said. "Pretty good job."

"Engineering?" Crystal asked. "Doing what?"

"Canít say," Tanisha said. "Itís pretty heavily classified. Government work, thatís all we can say."

"You work together?"

"All the time," Jon smiled. "We worked there two summers, and then when we graduated, they brought us back. Beats the hell out of Hadley-Monroe and laser die cutters."

"Cool," Crystal smiled. "They paying you pretty good?"

"Very good," Jon said. "Weíre trying to stack up some savings, so we try to live a little cheap. Weíre both working on our masterís now, and plan on going for our doctorates. So, what are you doing?" he said, changing the subject. "Teaching phys. ed., like you planned?"

That had been her plan, for years, and his dad had been on her case about it ever since the idea came up back in high school. Heíd harped at her for years: couldnít she do something useful instead?

"Not quite," Crystal grinned. "Iíve subbed for a few days here and there, but I never have put out a résumé. Jon, you might as well know that teaching phys. ed. was really never more than a cover story, or a fallback position, at best. You remember that time I met you guys down in Atlanta?"

"Yeah, Iíve been thinking about it a lot the last few minutes," Jon said. "All you would say was that you were heading north."

"I did," Crystal laughed, "Up the Appalachian Trail. I was on the way to the trailhead at Springer Mountain when I saw you guys."

"Never heard a word about it," Jon smiled. "But I guess it doesnít surprise me. You always were one to have your adventures, and I suppose youíve had more than that."

"Yeah," Crystal grinned, "Iíve had a few."

"Where are you living these days?" Jon asked.

"Wherever I happen to be," Crystal said. "Jon, we had a saying on the Appalachian Trail. The only difference between an outdoor bum and a homeless person is Gore-Tex. Iíve got some of that. The last three years, Iíve pretty much lived out of the trunk of my car."

"Doesnít it get cold in the winter?" Tanisha asked.

"Oh, I donít mind a little cold," Crystal said. "But I do hole up a little. Last winter, I lived in a pickup camper while I helped some friends train their dogs to run a dogsled race across Alaska. They consider forty below a mild day. Freezing is a heat wave to them."

"Thatís cold, all right," Jon said. "We worked in cryogenics a little the first summer, and thatís cold, but actually being in forty below . . . thatís colder."

"Wow!" Tanisha grinned. "You do get around. I remember Jon saying you did whitewater rafting, too. You still do that?"

"Iíve been on one or two," Crystal laughed.

"How do you get to do all that?"

Crystal shrugged. "You have to be at the right place at the right time, when a set of hands is needed, and have the time to do it."

They jogged on through the complex, mostly talking about Crystalís adventures, mostly listening to her yarn about almost getting killed on a salmon boat in a storm in the Inside Passage, and then sailing to Hawaii. Sheíd done a lot in that time, and in a sense, it didnít surprise Jon much. Sheíd always been a big outdoor freak Ė sheíd gloried in it. Heíd thought it was thrill-seeking, but over the years had come to realize it was more than that: Crystal was as skilled, dedicated, and trained an outdoor adventurer as he and Tanisha were engineers. No, his dad would have never understood that, just the way he would never have understood about Tanisha.

There was still a mystery about why she was here. It couldnít be just a simple "happened to be in the neighborhood," like sheíd said Ė he was sure of that. Theyíd tried to make themselves a little hard to find, although Crystal would have known Jonís name. At least, it was clear to Tanisha that Crystal didnít have any problem with her, and that was a relief. Even though Crystal was still on the outs with the rest of her family, it was good to know there was at least one person from their families who they could still be friends with. Maybe the reason would come out, but it was good to see her again.

It was an easy jog, and the weather was cool. They went fast enough to work up a sweat, but it wasnít the oven it had been outside a couple months before. One lap of the complex, two, three, just taking their time without tiring themselves out, and it felt good after a long day at work.

Eventually, they wound back up at the townhouse. "What do you say if we just plop down on the patio and have something cold?" Tanisha asked.

"Sounds good to me," Crystal said.

"What would you like?"

"Doesnít matter," Crystal said. "Cold and wet."

"How about a beer?" Jon asked.

"Yeah, I can do a beer," Crystal grinned.

"Iíll run in and get some," Tanisha offered. "Be right back."

"Nice place you got here," Crystal smiled as Tanisha headed inside. The patio was right off the kitchen, to the back of the townhouse. It was just a plastic table and some chairs, with a sunshade, but located on the west side of the house, where they could see the sun starting to sink low in the west.

"Itís OK," Jon said, "Nothing special, but it suits us. Like I said, weíre trying to stick some money back. We should be able to get some good grants when we go for our doctorates, and the company will probably back us, but itís still going to cost."

"If itís anything like what Myleigh went through, theyíll work your buns off," Crystal grinned.

"Itís been good to have the break from school," Jon said. "The real world applications are different; it gives you a different perspective. Like Tanisha said, we canít talk about what weíre doing, but itís stuff like I never dreamed of."

"Iíve heard of Lambdatron," Crystal said. "Donít they have something to do with missiles?"

"Among other things," Jon said. "And thatís all Iím going to say."

"Aw, hell," Crystal grinned. "I was hoping I could tell people my brother and his wife were rocket scientists."

"Afraid not," Jon laughed. "But rocket science is old stuff, mainly sixties and seventies tech, anyway."

Tanisha came back outside, carrying three cans of beer. "We donít drink much," she said. "This is all there is." She extended her left hand to Crystal, holding a beer.

"Fine, I donít either," Crystal said, taking Tanishaís hand, and rolling it to get a look at her rings. "Nice," she said. "I was wondering whether you two were married, or what."

"Since last spring," Tanisha told her. "We had an apartment together at Tech for two years, and then here for two summers."

"Hey, thatís way cool," Crystal told her with a smile. "Looks like it worked out pretty good for you two, though."

"I hope so," Jon said. "Look, Crystal. Tanisha and I like each other a lot. I think itís worked out pretty well."

"Looks like it to me, Bro," she nodded with a smile.

"It hasnít been easy," Tanisha said. "Look, letís get real. Jon and I got married because we love each other a lot, even though we knew it was going to cause us a lot of problems."

"It has, huh?"

"We get along just fine," Tanisha said. "I think I can say weíre even closer than most couples because of it. But Crystal, youíre the only one in either of our families who knows about us. Youíre not going to go spreading it around, are you?"

"I told you back in Atlanta I wouldnít rat on you," Crystal said. "I mean, I took one look at the two of you and knew Pete would go through the ceiling if he ever heard about it. Nanci, I donít know, and I donít care. Mom would be pretty cool about it, I think."

"I think so, too," Jon said. "Thatís just how I read it. But I donít dare tell Mom, just to be sure it wouldnít get to Dad."

"Yeah," Crystal said slowly. "Iíve had to be a little careful about what I tell Mom, too, because if some of the stuff Iíve done got to Pete . . . well, it wouldnít be pretty. But you guys, I donít like to think of Pete as a racist, but yeah, youíd be in a world of shit with him if he knew."

"I knew that from the moment Tanisha and I first began seeing each other," Jon agreed. "Crystal, I havenít been home since the first thing the summer after you left. I didnít want to slip up and have Dad find out. I mean, I watched what happened with you."

"Hey, I understand, Bro," she smiled. "Tanisha, howís it work with your folks?"

"Even worse," she said sadly.

"Oh, God," Crystal said sadly, "Not the both of you?"

"Iím afraid so," Tanisha told her. "Jon picked me up in St. Louis the first time we came out here. I mean, I didnít tell them we were planning on living together, just that he was giving me a ride, but my brother had a shit fit when he saw how white Jon is. Crystal, most of my family thinks white people are the devil incarnate."

"Works both ways, huh?"

"Afraid so," Tanisha nodded sadly.

"Thatís really a bitch," Crystal said sympathetically. "So, itís you two against the world, huh?"

"Pretty much," Jon said. "Thank God weíve got each other."

"Hey, for what itís worth, Iím with you," Crystal said.

"Thanks, Crystal," Tanisha said. "Thatís nice to know."

Crystal frowned. "Look, Jon, thereís something I have to tell you, and I donít know how to say this."

Heíd been expecting this. It had been too good to be true, and he knew it. "I figured you didnít just drop in to say hi," he said suspiciously, waiting for the bomb to drop.

"Well, I sorta did," Crystal said. "Look, Jon, have you heard from your dad recently?"

"Not for a while," Jon said. "We donít talk much anymore, maybe once a year for a minute or so. Heís still pissed that I didnít come back to Hadley-Monroe, to work on that same old dull crap at a third of the pay. I didnít want to do it then anyway, and I couldnít do it now." He sighed. "I called a month or so ago just to see if he was still pissed, and he wanted to know if Iíd heard from Mom. I hadnít, and I told him so. He just said, ĎHorseshit,í and hung up the phone. Crystal, somethingís going on up there. You said you got our address from Mom. Have you heard from her?"

"Yeah," Crystal smiled. "If itís been a month, you havenít got the news. You and I arenít the only ones on the outs with your dad. Momís on the list now, too."

"Youíre kidding!" he said, eyes wide open. This was news! "What happened?"

"About six weeks ago, Pete had to go to Japan on business for Hadley-Monroe. He no more than got to Japan, and he got an e-mail from Mom saying sheís leaving him. Sheíd just had it up to here with all the shit heíd given her about me, about you, and about Nanci. From what I understand, he had some tech rep with him, and Pete went apeshit so bad that when they got back, the tech rep quit Hadley-Monroe entirely," Crystal laughed.

Jon shook his head, laughing, "I can just imagine it."

"Yeah," Crystal grinned. "Anyway, Mom put in for her retirement, and saw a lawyer. They basically told Pete that either they could settle quietly in Illinois, or sheíd file for divorce out here, where the community property laws are tougher, and heíd have to travel out here to fight it."

"So what happened?"

"I donít know for sure, but he must have about had a heart attack," Crystal grinned. "Anyway, he agreed to the settlement. I guess he doesnít want to travel out here."

"So youíve been seeing Mom, then?"

"Yeah," Crystal said. "Weíve sorta got a place together in Flagstaff, although Iím not there much. Jon, I work a terrific schedule, nineteen days on, two days off, April through November."

"Thatís terrible," Tanisha said with amazement. "How can you do it?"

"Itís tough," Crystal laughed. "It means I have to spend two days out of every three weeks off and then over four months a year. The time away is hell."

"Crystal," Jon asked suspiciously, "What the hell kind of job is that?"

"The job I was meant to do," Crystal grinned. "Iím still rafting. A little bigger river, up north of here."

Tanishaís eyes grew wide. "You mean, youíre a raft guide in the Grand Canyon?"

Crystal grinned. "Canyon Tours."

"Canyon Tours," Jon breathed with awe. "Mom . . . God, I remember that scrapbook. Tanisha, Mom took a trip down the Canyon before she got married, and never quite got over it."

"I remember you telling me about it," Tanisha nodded.

"Dad always thought she was crazy," Jon shook his head. "It could get touchy at times. Crystal, howíd you wind up there?"

"Long story," Crystal said. "The short version is that I needed gas in Flagstaff, stopped at a restaurant, and happened to notice on their place mats that Canyon Tours was still there. Just for the hell of it, I dropped by. They needed help, right that minute. Scutwork job, we call it swamping, just a helper. With all my Ocoee experience, it wasnít long before I had a raft of my own. Look, Canyon Tours is sort of a family business, but I take it you guys never had a honeymoon. If you can get the time, Iíll talk to Al and see if I can comp you a trip or something."

"After that last raft ride I had with you, I donít know," Jon said.

"We donít screw around like that," Crystal said. "For one thing, the waterís too cold. Besides, the only reason I dumped you out of the raft on the Ocoee that time is you needed to learn that I knew what I was doing."

"Itís something to think about," Jon said, remembering that day on the Ocoee. "Howís Mom doing?" he changed the subject.

"Pretty good, actually," Crystal said, a big grin on her face.

Jon could see there was something else there; he knew they still didnít have all the story. All of a sudden, it hit him: "You took Mom down the Canyon with you, didnít you?" he laughed slyly.

"Yeah," Crystal said with a grin. "It was the second trip of a lifetime for her."

"Iíll bet," Jon said. Heíd always known the first trip had been the experience of lifetime for his mother, and she hadnít been satisfied with doing it just once. Of course, his father wouldnít hear of it . . . or even think about letting her go by herself some time. It had been a touchy subject for years.

"You donít know the half of it," Crystal said with an enigmatic grin. "But, look, you two. I gotta come clean. I said I wouldnít rat on you. I lied."

"You told Mom about us?" Jon frowned.

"Sorta," Crystal said. "One night, we were sitting out by the river talking, about you. She said she always figured there was a girl involved in why you stayed away, and one time, you were talking to her and you let the word ĎTaní slip, then broke it off and changed the subject. Iím no math genius, but I could put two and two together. We were feeling real mellow that night Ė thatís another story Ė and I sorta let it slip."

"Oh, God!" Jon said, crestfallen. "Howíd she take it?"

"You havenít exactly seen her down here with a shotgun, have you?" Crystal grinned. "You two were hard to track down, but Mom and Michelle, the girl at the Canyon Tours office, managed to figure it out. Michelleís brother is a cop down here, so that had something to do with it; I think he hit driverís license records or something. I tried to find you when I was on break three weeks ago. I couldnít, but that was before they went to work on it. Sheís happy for you and she really wants to see the both of you, but we sorta figured that Iíd better check it out first, since you knew I already sorta knew about Tanisha, just to make sure I hadnít made five out of two and two."

"Youíre living up in Flagstaff, then?" Jon said. "We could skip the ten-K and drive up there tomorrow."

"No need," Crystal grinned. "Momís sitting in a restaurant right up the street, with her cell phone next to her, probably on about her seventh cup of coffee right now. Let me go call."

As Jonís jaw dropped, Tanisha smiled and asked, "Can she find this place OK?"

"Sure," Crystal grinned. "We scouted it out while you were at work today. What do you think, I walked down here from Flagstaff?"

"Iíll go get our cell phone," Tanisha said, getting up. Now that she thought about it, there hadnít been a strange car out in front of the townhouse . . . yes, Crystal had been up to something, and this was much better than sheíd expected, considering the paranoia that had been part of her life with Jon.

She was back in a few seconds with the cell phone, and handed it to Crystal, who dialed a few quick numbers, and said, "OK, Mom, come on over and meet your daughter-in-law. Weíre out back."

"Youíre sure this isnít going to get to Dad?" Jon said. "I donít need him coming down here and making a scene, for a number of reasons, including the company."

"Not a problem," Crystal grinned. "Pete doesnít have to know."

"Hey," Tanisha said, an observation worming its way through the surprises that had been coming one on top of another, "I just noticed something. You call your dad ĎPeteí, or ĎJonís dadí, but never refer to him as your dad. Are you that pissed at him?"

"I am that pissed at him," Crystal said. "But I didnít know this until a month or so ago myself. Jon, have you ever noticed something funny about our family? Mom is a little runt. Youíre a little runt, and take after your dad. Nanciís a little runt, too. Letís face it, Iím a great big cow moose. Didnít that ever strike you as a little strange?"

"Not particularly," Jon said.

Crystal shook her head. "I never really thought about it either, but Mom thinks Pete must have noticed. She never told him anything, but sheís suspected he thought there was something wrong, and maybe that was the root of all the problems weíve had, especially the last few years. I think she may be right, at least about Pete. Nanci is another issue."

Jon shook his head. "Crystal, youíre trying to say something."

"Yeah," Crystal said. "You remember the story of how Mom came back from the Canyon trip the first time, married Pete almost immediately, and got pregnant right after that?"

"Yeah . . . " Jon said with intense curiosity.

"I never found out till last month that Mom had a big Canyon romance on that trip. She was pregnant when she came home from that trip, and didnít know it."

"My God . . . " Jon said, the pieces falling into place. "Yeah, that makes sense. So, do you know who your father really is?"

"Yeah," Crystal grinned, "I think itís kinda neat. You remember I said that Canyon Tours is sort of a family business? My dad owns it."

"Isnít that something?" Tanisha grinned. It was a stupid thing to say, she realized, but she couldnít think of anything better. She realized that with this visit, things were going to change big time in their lives.

"I havenít told you the good part, yet," Crystal laughed. "Mom and Dad are having a second romance, and this time, itís not just in the Canyon. Nothingís settled yet, and canít be for a while, but Momís the new office manager at Canyon Tours. It looks like after the divorce is final itís really going to be a family business. That is, if we can keep her off the river enough to actually run the office. Sheís running with Dad and me again next week."

"Just keep it quiet," Tanisha heard a womanís voice come from beyond the patio. "Al and I have to watch our step and keep things above board till the divorce is final." She looked up, to see a small woman approaching, slender, tanned herself, although not nearly as dark as Crystal, with short brown hair and a huge grin on her face, walking hand in hand with a big, deeply tanned man about her age Ė but who looked an awful lot like Crystal.

"Oh, I understand. Weíve gotten pretty good at keeping secrets," Jon smiled as he got to his feet, and said, "Mom, Iíd like you to meet my wife, Tanisha. Tanisha, this is my mom, Karin."

"Pleased to meet you, Tanisha," Karin grinned, and opened her arms wide. "Iím sorry it had to work out the hard way, but Iím pleased to meet the woman who could draw Jon away from his father and turn him into a man."

"It wasnít easy," Tanisha said, throwing her arms around her mother-in-law, half in tears of joy. Along with Jon, sheíd missed having a family around them, but now, a new one had appeared out of nowhere. Two hours ago . . . that was a long time . . . sheíd never dreamed . . . "But it was worth it."



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