Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
When Jon finished with the restroom and after a few stops around the floor, he was carrying some brochures about a robotics device that seemed like it could stand some Lambdatron input. Stepping around a corner, he saw one of the most amazing sights of his life: his father and his wife, arms around each other in a big hug, tears on both their faces.
Holyyyyyy shit, he thought. Now what do I do?
There was nothing to do but take it straight ahead and hope for the best, he realized, and after hesitating for only a moment he had to admit that there didn't seem to be any bad feelings. He walked up to the two of them and said gently, "Hi, Dad, I see you and Tanisha have met."
"Jon," his father said genially as he turned to him, "You're looking well. Lost some weight, I see."
"Yeah, some," Jon admitted, shocked at how well this had gone so far, meaning there had not been any explosion of temper yet. "You're looking pretty good yourself."
"I think so," Pete smiled. "The last few months I've felt better than I have in years. So it was Lambdatron where you wound up, huh? Your wife was just telling me about the work you two did on the controller."
"We worked pretty hard on it the second summer we were there as interns," Jon admitted. "After we graduated and went to work there full time we got pulled into a classified project, so we haven't had as much to do with some of the follow-on work."
"I'll admit, it was my own fault as much as anyone's that we got so far behind the times with it," Pete sighed. "I suppose it was your doing that put Lambdatron onto us."
"Well, a little," Jon shrugged. "I think it came more out of our president's research into my background before we were hired there in the first place."
"Well, however it worked out, you probably saved the company in the long run," his father smiled. "I'll admit, it wasn't the way I would have liked to have seen it happen, but it worked out."
This is just totally unbelievable, Jon thought. What in hell has gotten into him? "There's any number of reasons I couldn't have done it if I'd been working at Hadley-Monroe," he said, remembering the screaming fit his father had thrown when Jon had announced he wouldn't be working there the summer following his sophomore year at Georgia Tech. He'd made the announcement in a phone call because he didn't want a scene at his father's office. "I wouldn't have had the tech support I had at Lambdatron, and I wouldn't have had Tanisha to work with me."
Angela had been monitoring the whole scene, about as amazed as Jon and Tanisha. She'd known that both Jon and Tanisha had been hiding from their families, and knew a lot of the details. "Around Lambdatron," she announced, "Most people seem to think that Jon and Tanisha working together are worth four or five people working by themselves. I can't tell you the details and I don't know them all myself, but it's pretty well agreed that they've saved Lambdatron as well. At least once."
"That's stretching it some," Jon said. "We'd have been hurt, yes, but saved is a little too big a word."
"That's not what Stan tells me," Angela said flatly. "And we really should get off that subject before we say something we shouldn't."
"Angela's right," Tanisha said. "That whole project is classified."
"So, Dad," Jon said, as much to change the subject as anything else, "I take it you're still at Hadley-Monroe."
"Yes, and a little to my surprise, now that I look back on it," his father agreed. "But things have really come back together since my surgery."
"Surgery?" Jon asked.
"Yes," Pete sighed. "Jon, I know you've been talking around it, but I wasn't in very good shape when you left, and it got worse later." He shook his head and went on, "Really, under the circumstances, I can't blame you for what you did, because I can look back now and see that I was an awful asshole for a long time."
For the sake of courtesy, Jon didn't want to come right out and agree, although Pete's description of himself was as accurate as it had been surprising. "What happened?" he asked, curious as well as trying to be gentle.
"It's a long story," he said. "After your mother left, well, things really went downhill. I was in a pretty poor temper before that and it got worse afterward. There were, well, some incidents at the office, and I was pretty well told to straighten up or get out, to put it mildly. The only reason I managed to stay on for another year or so was that I was assigned a couple of projects I could work on by myself. Since I wasn't getting on very well with people, my normal routine was to come in just before quitting time and work into the small hours of the morning. That way, I didn't have to deal with people, and it cut my headaches back enough that I could get along."
"Headaches?" Jon frowned. "I remember you complaining of them now and then."
"They were more than now and then, they were all the time, even when you were at home," Pete shook his head. "They got worse after you left. By the time your mother left, they were constant, and there wasn't anything I could do about them. You've heard of blinding headaches? There were times I was literally blind, and that scared me and got me even more angry. I mean, I was blaming everybody but myself for everything."
"I remember," Jon said softly. They were not good memories -- although that anger and his father's tantrums had led directly to his being married to Tanisha, and a lot of other things that had made his life what it was today. "So, what happened?"
"We have a cleaning lady at my office, Doris," he explained. "Sometimes she was the only person I'd talk to for days, and the way I was by then I still don't have any idea why she would have wanted to be friendly with me. One night, a little over a year ago, she came in to my office and found me collapsed on the floor. To make a long story short, she called an ambulance. I don't really remember how I got there, but Doris was the one who pushed things. I wound up at Loyola Medical Center, where they gave me an MRI and found a benign brain tumor about the size of a walnut. Dr. Shackle, my surgeon, said it had to have been growing there for ten years or more."
"Oh, my God," Tanisha said. "And you had no idea?"
"No idea," he shook his head. "Hell, I quit going to doctors about it years before. They weren't doing me any good, so why bother? You know how it is. I was being the typical male, suck up the pain and don't complain. I did that for years and ran my whole family off in the process."
My god, ten years, Jon thought. He could remember back to being a kid, say, ten or twelve years ago, and Pete had been a pretty good father in what had been a close family. It had been, well, eight or nine years ago that things started to go sour. "Dad," Jon started, having no idea what to say. "I'm . . . well, I mean . . ."
"No, I can't blame you," Pete smiled. "I have no one but myself to blame. It looks like it worked out pretty good for you, anyway."
"It did," Jon sighed. "Not without some pain along the way, but it did. So, did they get it all out?"
"It looks like it," Pete smiled. "I'll have to have annual MRIs for a few more years, but I just had one a couple weeks ago and there's no sign of it coming back so far."
"Well, that's good news," Jon sighed, shaking his head at his thoughts of what might have been -- and might well not have been. It was scary to contemplate how different his own life would be, and it almost certainly would not have included Tanisha or Lambdatron. "Everything's back to all right at work, then?"
"Oh, yes," Pete smiled. "If anything, better than ever. I had to take a couple months off while I recovered from surgery, and then for a while I could only work half days. We're working on a couple new applications for your controller box. That's a mighty adaptable little gadget. It opens the doors to a lot of things on a production basis."
"Well, we're pretty proud of it for our first real shot out of the locker," Jon smiled. "It's too bad we can't tell you about some of the things we've been involved with since."
"It'd be nice to hear it," Pete smiled. "It's good to know you've done me proud in spite of myself. So, do you hear anything about the rest of the family?"
"Oh, yeah," Jon smiled, glad to be back on somewhat more familiar territory. "We're all out in Arizona now. Tanisha and I are in Tempe, of course. Everybody else is up in Flagstaff, Mom, Crystal, and Nanci, so we see them every now and then. Crystal got married back in November. Dad, uh, Mom remarried last spring . . ."
"Doesn't surprise me," Pete nodded. "The last time I saw her, at the divorce hearing, I had the impression she was thinking about it, at least with nothing being said."
"I think we knew it was coming by then," Jon admitted, fudging the truth just slightly; it had been dead clear a lot longer than that.
"Well, I hope she's happy with it," Pete smiled. "I'm sorry I treated her as badly as I did, but then, looking back on it, I think she toughed it out for longer than she should have. So, did Crystal marry that Randy guy she used to hang out with?"
"No, a guy by the name of Noah Whittaker," Jon explained. "We all call him Preach. You remember that raft trip we took down in Tennessee the year I got out of high school? He was the trip leader on that trip."
Pete shook his head. "No, I don't think I remember him. I can remember an awful lot from that day, including being as uncomfortable as hell and those two guys attacking Crystal, but not that. I'm a little surprised that Nanci is out there with your mother and Crystal."
"You think you're surprised," Jon shook his head. "Think how surprised we were when she showed up out there last April, down to her last dime and her car running on fumes, with a black eye and bruises she'd gotten from her last boyfriend. But she has really cleaned up her act out there. I mean, you wouldn't think she was the same person."
"That's good," Pete sighed. "I've been pretty sure you and Crystal and your mother could take care of yourselves, but Nanci? I haven't heard from her for a couple years, and, well, I didn't have a lot of hope for her, especially after I got my head fixed and could think clearly about her. So, I'll bet she's had a new boyfriend or two by now."
"Surprisingly enough, no," Jon smiled. "Oh, there's this guy she's friendly with, but it's mostly just friends. I mean, things could change but I don't think they will any time soon. Long story on that, but it's a long story on everything."
"We probably ought to take the time to sit down and get reacquainted," Pete nodded. "I mean, standing here in your booth really isn't the place we should be doing this. Are you two doing anything tonight?"
"Nothing we can't put off," Jon said, still totally dazed at how differently things had gone from what he'd expected.
"Look, why don't I call Doris and have her throw something together?" Pete suggested. "I'm sure she'd like to meet you two, but it'll have to be early since she has to work tonight."
"Doris?" Jon frowned, not quite believing he'd heard his father correctly. "The cleaning lady where you work?"
"Yes," Pete smiled. "And my closest friend anymore, one who saved my life more than once and nursed me all through my recovery. She stayed with me for a month after my surgery, and after that I arranged a sublease for her in one of the other condos in the building. We often eat together, just to keep from being a couple of single old folks who otherwise would have to eat alone."
"Sure, if it's not going to be any trouble," Tanisha smiled.
"I'll have to give her a call," Pete said. "But if it's any trouble for her, we could have dinner right here in the hotel."
"Tanisha," Jon said an hour later as they were walking up the street to pick up the rental car, "I don't believe any of this!"
"After all the stories I've heard," she smiled, "He turns out to be a pretty nice guy."
"He is, now," Jon shook his head. "That's why I can't believe any of this. My god, a brain tumor! Honey, five years ago . . . well, it was so bad I can't put it into words, and according to him it got worse after I left. I mean, God, there are some ways that it just bums the hell out of me that I turned my back on him."
"What else could you do? I mean, even if you left me out of it?"
Jon shook his head again. "Well, realistically, worked with him till he pissed me off and I left anyway. But then I wouldn't have had either you or Lambdatron to run to. Shit!"
"And you feel guilty about leaving him alone now, right?"
"Well, yeah. Why shouldn't I?"
"Jon, we've talked about this. I still feel a little bit like if I would have been nicer to my father, maybe he wouldn't have had his heart attack. But what if I hadn't gone with you back when you rescued me from my family? I don't even like to think what my life would have been like if you hadn't done it. Do I feel guilty about it? Of course I do. Was leaving the right thing to do? Of course it was. I was sure of it then and I'm even more sure of it now. You're just having to deal with the shock of it today, and at least it's a pleasant shock for you. I doubt it would have been for me."
"Well, yeah," he said, "Trust you to pull me up short when I need it, Tanisha. It's just that he's so damn, well, normal!"
"Yeah, he is," she smiled. "In fact, I can see a lot of where you got who you are from, and why I like you anyway. I must admit, I didn't even hear the slightest hint of a racist remark out of him."
"Shit, you weren't here when I drove off with the burning bridges falling behind me five years ago," he snorted. "It was 'fucking niggers this' and 'lazy niggers that' until I couldn't stand it. Hell, it was part of what drove me off, and that was while you and I were just friends." He shrugged, shook his head, and continued, "I guess it must have been the tumor."
"I can't picture it," Tanisha shook her head. "Well, I can, but that's the picture I have in my mind from what you and everyone else have told me, not from the man I saw today. I don't know much about those things, Jon, no more than you do, but if that was the cause, it was something really bad."
"It had to have been," Jon sighed. "Not just for the pain it caused him, but for what it caused everyone else, too. God, am I glad that got straightened out. I've often wondered what it must have been like to be sitting alone in some apartment or something and pissed off with the whole world. I'm just sorry I didn't try to find out sooner."
"Don't be sorry," she replied. "You did what you thought you had to do to protect the both of us, and the rest of your family, besides. And up till about a year ago, it wouldn't have helped a thing."
"Yeah, you're right, I guess," he sighed. "Damn it, you always are."
"Not always, Jon," she smiled. "But when I'm wrong you usually catch me at it."
They had to cut off their personal conversation while they went into the hotel. Tanisha had already called Will to tell him that something had come up and they were taking the car, but it still involved some messing around to get it out of the parking lot. As usual, Jon drove, especially here where he had some idea where he was going. They were up on the street and headed toward Glen Ellyn and the condo near Hadley-Monroe Pete had told them about before they got back to talking about the upcoming meeting. "I suppose you're still not going to tell him about who Crystal's father really is?" she asked.
"No," Jon said immediately. "Things went much better than I had any right to believe they ever would, but that's still something Mom has to tell him. At least, she should be offered the opportunity, and we can't do anything about that now. No matter how nice a guy he's become, that's something that's really not our secret to tell."
"What if she doesn't want to?"
"Shit, I don't know," Jon sighed. "I don't want to have to be the one to tell him, now or ever, mostly because when you get right down to it, it's not our business. But I think we need to talk it over with Mom, at least. And probably, the sooner, the better."
Pete's condo proved to be in a high-rise about half a mile from the office at Hadley-Monroe; Jon could remember passing the building any number of times but had never given it any real notice. It was pretty much mid-range, nothing that could be called luxury, but not a dump, either.
"You two must have made good time," Pete said as he invited them inside.
"We got out of there a little early," Jon told him. "Things were dying down and Angela said she'd take care of it."
"Just as well," Pete told them. "Doris is in the kitchen, I think she's got dinner about ready." He spoke up a little. "Doris, are you in a position where you can come out and meet my son and his wife?"
"Sure thing, just waiting on the timer," they heard a voice reply. Doris stepped around the corner, and it was all Tanisha could do to stifle a gasp. It couldn't be . . . and well, it wasn't, but Doris was just about the spitting image of Tanisha's mother, dead eight years now -- the same height, the same build, the same dark color, the same hair style, and they looked an awful lot alike in the face!
Doris gave them a smile. "It's good to meet you, Jon," she said. "I've heard an awful lot about you. And you'd have to be Tanisha. Pete said Jon had married an awfully pretty girl, and I guess he was right."
"He tells me that all the time," Tanisha replied, still trying to get over the surprise.
"You sort of put me in mind of what I think my daughter would have looked like if she'd made it to your age," Doris smiled. "It would have been nice if she'd turned out as pretty as you."
"Doris," Jon said, detecting that Tanisha was struggling with something and wanting to deflect it, "I want to thank you right up front for taking care of my dad through all his troubles. I wish I'd been here to do it, but this afternoon was the first we'd heard anything about it."
"Someone had to do it," Doris replied with a grin. "And I'll tell you what, there were some times there when you'd have been just as glad to have me around instead."
"No doubt," Jon shook his head. "I'll bet he wasn't the easiest person to take care of."
"There were some hard times," she smiled. "There were a couple weeks there that he was so bad I hardly dared leave the apartment, but even then he was so much better than he'd been before that I could see it was worth the effort."
"It would have been hard to get along without her," Pete admitted. "I really wasn't capable of taking care of myself, but she seemed to know all the right things to do. Like I told you earlier, we've become good friends since. I know I've become used to being alone, but I don't like being alone all the time any more."
"We seem to get along," Doris smiled. "I've been a widow for years and pretty much alone, so it's nice to have a friend. I'd better check on dinner. It should be any minute, now."
"It's good you have each other then," Tanisha replied, still trying to shake off Doris' eerie resemblance to her own mother, who she'd missed a lot over the years. "It can be terribly difficult to be alone."
Dinner proved to be pork chops, a favorite of both Pete and Jon; Tanisha didn't particularly care for them so they rarely appeared on the dinner table in Phoenix. Doris proved to do a good job with them. Over the course of the dinner, it became clear that Pete and Doris were good friends indeed -- but just that, and they were comfortable with it. They could joke with each other and tease each other in a friendly manner in a way that Jon could never remember his father doing with his mother. Bearing the past in mind, there was more than a shade of surrealism about the whole visit.
It was just as well that they were early, for Doris soon had to leave; she was still on the custodial staff at Hadley-Monroe and worked the evenings there. She'd taken vacation time a year before to care for Pete, and there had been a bonus from management well after the fact as a result. The two seemed to be good for each other, with just the right mix of closeness and distance. It made both Jon and Tanisha a little sorry to see her leave, Tanisha especially so, since the older black woman stirred up a lot of memories of her own mother.
After Doris left, Jon and Tanisha spent some time bringing Pete up to date on the rest of the family, excepting, of course, the secret about Al being Crystal's father. Pete said he was mildly surprised that Crystal had wound up marrying a minister, but then no one who knew the two could admit to not being surprised, including Crystal and Preach. In any case Pete certainly wasn't upset about it. Pete was not surprised in the slightest that Crystal was now a boatman in the Grand Canyon -- "Just the kind of thing I'd figured she'd wind up doing," he commented. He was only a little surprised that Karin was doing the same thing, and commented that she might be getting a little old for it, to which both Jon and Tanisha agreed and told him that Karin admitted it, as well.
"The real surprise," Jon said, "Is that it looks like, come spring, Nanci will be doing it, too."
"Nanci?" Pete shook his head. "Now I know you're pulling my leg."
"Amazingly enough, no," Jon shook his head. "Among other things, working as a helper, they call them swampers, on Crystal's crew all summer straightened her out like none of us would believe. Kevin, the guy she hangs out with, was a boatman on the same crew and gave Nanci a lot of time at the oars, and she took to it very well. As of last fall she still needed to put on a little muscle, Al told us at Christmas, but Nanci's been doing heavy gym workouts all winter. Al seems to think she'll be ready to have a raft of her own by spring. That is really fast in comparison to a lot of people he's trained. Dad, she is not the screwed-up party-girl kid we remember. Not in the slightest. Al says the Grand Canyon can change people, and it's changed Nanci more than most."