Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Arizona is a big state and mostly empty once outside the Phoenix area. It was about 150 miles up I-17 between Phoenix and Flagstaff, a straight shot, and once outside the metro area the traffic died down to a minimum. Like many Western drivers, Jon set the Chevy's cruise control at a speed nicely over the speed limit and let it roll, so the driving time wasn't even two hours up a familiar road he and Tanisha had traveled many times before.
There is a considerable difference between the two cities in elevation -- Phoenix is barely over a thousand feet, while Flagstaff pushes seven thousand, and the altitude alone makes for a considerable change. In spite of a great deal of imported water, Phoenix is still a desert, but over the six thousand feet of elevation difference much changes on the way to Flagstaff.
Al's house was a low ranch house not far from the Canyon Tours office, located in a nice grove of Ponderosa pine, about as different from Phoenix as could be imagined. The elevation change also made it quite a bit cooler; while Phoenix had been temperate, only pleasantly cool when they left after lunch, it was thirty degrees cooler in Flagstaff, and from the front seat of the Chevy it looked almost as cold as Chicago had been. It really still was winter out there, although there was little snow on the ground.
Jon and Tanisha had met Al at the same time that Crystal and Karin came out of the woodwork to announce their presence in Arizona two and a half years before. Both of them liked Al; he was a big, rugged guy, very outdoorsy and gentle, very personable, hard not to like, which had a great deal to do with why his business had been so successful over the years.
Back when Karin had first met him and had her famous Canyon romance with him, back before Pete had been more than a casual friend, Al had been something of a river bum, without any particular goals in mind. Both he and Karin had agreed there was no real future for them as a couple, and there hadn't been at the time. Shortly after Karin headed back to Chicago, Al had first moved in with, and then married Louise, a fellow rafter. Not long after that Al and Louise purchased the then still-young Canyon Tours rafting company for what they always felt had been a bargain price that was much less than the company was worth these days. Over the years, Al and Louise had built Canyon Tours into a solid, reputable and responsible business.
Louise had died only a few months before Karin reappeared on the scene after leaving Pete. From every story Jon and Tanisha had ever heard, Al had been just about disconsolate, in very strong denial. He was starting to pull out of it a little when he made his first trip down the Canyon following Louise's death, and there he re-met Karin, who had come out from Chicago after she left Pete, in order to reconnect with Crystal. After the fact of Crystal's parenthood was revealed, Al and Karin quickly became an item, with Crystal happy to see it and encouraging the two every step of the way. It had taken a year and a half for the two to get married back last spring, and from every indication they'd been a very happy couple, picking up the strings of a long-lost fling and turning it into a real romance.
But that was before the events of a couple days before. Jon could not help but have mixed emotions at what the news he and Tanisha were carrying could produce, and he wasn't sure how it was going to be received. Understandably, he was a bit nervous about the whole thing as he pulled the Chevy into Al's driveway and parked it next to Preach's Buick. "Well," he said to Tanisha as he shut the car off, "We're here, for what it's worth."
"It's not going to be that bad," Tanisha sighed. She'd been dealing with Jon's nervousness about this all the way up from Phoenix.
"Yeah, I hope," he said. "I guess I'm just being pessimistic about it."
"Yes, you are. It's probably going to go just fine so long as you don't guilt trip yourself too badly. Let's head on in. I really want to find out what happened with Preach and Crystal. We just haven't heard very much about it."
"We probably ought to listen a bit before we drop the bomb," Jon sighed. "No point in balling up the whole evening."
"Jon, you're being pessimistic again. Cut it out."
"I know, I know," he shook his head. "Let's do it."
They got out of the car and headed up toward the house, to find Karin waiting for them. "Jon, Tanisha!" she smiled. "Good to see you. You two are looking good as always. How are you doing?"
"A little messed up," Jon said honestly. "Our sleep schedule is shot. We were up all night and didn't really get enough sleep to make up for it this morning."
"It's going to happen when you keep a schedule like that," Karin said, showing them into the big ranch house.
"Couldn't be helped," Jon said. "So how are you getting along?"
"Oh, about the same as ever," she replied. "We've still got a couple months before the first launch so there's still plenty of time for rigging, and now that Crystal is back and Michelle should be along any day, Al and I are talking about taking off for a couple weeks."
"Any idea where?"
"We haven't settled it yet," his mother replied as she closed the door behind them. "We wouldn't mind doing some surfing, but with all the people in the Bahamas the past month we've been thinking we'd like to check that out. Crystal says there's not much surf, but scuba diving is something both Al and I have wanted to try, so we're giving that some thought."
"Well, I'm sure you'll have fun, whatever you do," Jon said. His mother's enjoyment of trying new and exciting things still surprised him a little although he should have had plenty of time to get used to it by now. Last night -- God, that recently? -- Pete had admitted he never had been much of one to travel and mostly liked to stay around home, and that was the absolute truth, and even more so in the last years before the family fell apart. Karin had always chafed under that -- it was no secret -- but since she'd been with Al she'd done a lot of new, adventurous things and always seemed eager for more -- rafting, of course, but skiing, snowboarding, surfing, a host of other things. She referred to it as "catching up" and that was exactly what it was. To Jon's knowledge she hadn't tried out skydiving yet, but he wasn't willing to put it past her, either.
In a way, Jon was a little envious. Again, he was his father's son, and given the chance he tended to be something of a stay-at-home, much like Tanisha. However, under some pressure he and Tanisha had been skiing with Crystal and some of her friends in the past, and had come to enjoy it within reason. Scuba diving might be fun, he thought; it might be worth giving it a try some time. Other than the river trip the previous spring and a brief visit to Disney World while they were still back at Georgia Tech, Jon and Tanisha had never taken a real vacation, and that was a possibility.
They headed on into the living room, where there was a big, cheery fire in the fireplace, with dancing flames and the occasional crackle or pop. He and Tanisha had often talked that it would be romantic and a lot of fun to have sex on the floor in front of a fire like that, and though they'd never managed it, they hoped they'd get to sometime. Al was in his easy chair; Crystal and Preach were sitting on the couch, snuggled up tightly and acting like they were enjoying it. "So, how you doing, bro?" Crystal asked from under Preach's arm. She was big, big like Al, several inches taller than Jon, with a solid, athletic build; Preach, was thin, reedy, sandy-haired, and taller yet.
"Pretty good, considering," he replied. "So how was life in the Bahamas?"
"Not bad," she replied. "We got some sunburn, did some sailing, and got a chance to rest up a bit. Honeymoon stuff, you two know what that's like if anyone does."
"Well, yeah," Jon smirked without further comment. It had proved impossible to keep the full secret of just how active his and Tanisha's sex lives were, so they had a reputation for it being pretty active. "So how was the church tour?"
"Oh, it was all right," Crystal shrugged lackadaisically, which more or less told Jon it had been a little less than that. Although Jon knew his older sister had a spiritual side to her, it was not evident to those who didn't know her well. Back when Jon and Tanisha had taken the Canyon trip last spring when Al and Karin got married, they'd known that Crystal and Preach were old friends. It had been a surprise when, on the last day of the trip, Preach announced he was leaving his post at the church in Chattanooga to stay on the river, but even then Jon hadn't figured there was anything serious to it. That was nothing to the surprise he'd had the previous October, when his mother had called and announced the two were getting married the day after Thanksgiving. It still seemed like an awfully unlikely pairing, and about the best he could say was, "So far, so good."
"It was less inspiring than I had hoped it would be," Preach opined as Jon and Tanisha settled into a love seat more or less facing the fire. "All in all it was a success, and there were some good moments, but it got rather tedious after a while. The same thing, over and over again, the same questions, the same answers."
"And the same questions and answers that had to be skirted," Crystal added. "Some of those places were pretty conservative, and we always had to be careful to not talk about the age of the Canyon geology or else someone would get in our faces about it."
"That was one of the downsides," Preach admitted. "We were trying to get across the message that it's perfectly possible to have a life of adventure in the midst of a place of grandeur like the Canyon and still serve God. Having to tread softly on some of those things took some of the fun out of it."
"I can understand exactly where you're coming from," Tanisha said. "You don't have exactly the same kind of hidebound idiocy growing up in a black church, but there's plenty of other hidebound idiocy to make up for it. But let's be nice to each other and not get into discussing religious idiots."
"I'll second that motion," Preach agreed, having been over that very subject with her before and knowing what she was talking about. "It could be a discussion worth having sometime, but I don't think tonight is the night for it."
"So, where's Nanci?" Jon asked, as much to change the subject as anything else.
"Out in the kitchen, working on dinner," Karin replied. "She should be in as soon as she gets the cake she's been working on in the oven."
Jon shook his head. Once again, the comparison with the teenager he remembered and the young woman his sister had become had come to the surface. Back at home in Glen Ellyn, Nanci's knowledge of the kitchen had been limited to raiding the refrigerator, or possibly, if pushed, making a peanut butter sandwich. "I take it her cooking is coming along?" Jon asked.
"Oh, quite well," Karin smiled, understanding Jon perfectly. "Her cooking is like Crystal's, it runs quite a bit to river style, but since she moved in with us after she got off the river last fall she's picked up quite a bit. I really haven't even done much cooking the past few months."
"So, Crystal," Jon said. "Are you two staying here till the season opens, too?"
"No, we're back at the girls' house," she replied. The girls' house was a small house that Karin, Crystal and Crystal's friend Scooter had lived in before Karin got married. Crystal and Scooter had kept it last summer, if only to have their own beds for three nights between their three week river trips. "It's pretty crowded right now, with Scooter and Jim staying there along with Mary and Dave and us. In fact, Preach and I have been sleeping on Paco pads in the living room."
"That's a crowd, in that little house," Tanisha commented.
"No fooling, but at least it's not going to last forever. Scooter and Jim are going to take off by themselves for a few days, and probably when they get back we'll house sit here while Mom and Dad are gone wherever it is they're going. By the time that's over with it'll be time to be thinking river."
"Right," Al commented. "It's only a couple months away and it'll go quick."
Nanci came out of the kitchen, wearing an apron over her clothes. "Hi, Jon, Tanisha!" she said cheerfully. "Good to see you again!"
"Good to see you," Jon replied, once again his memory of her not matching what he saw in front of him. The long-haired, rather sallow, spindly little blonde he remembered was a thing of the past. Her hair was barely down to her neck now, she had some color in her face, and even with her loose clothes on he could see that she'd put on some muscle mass -- quite a bit of it, in fact. "Still hitting the gym, I take it?" he asked.
"Sometimes twice a day," she grinned. Jon knew she'd done just about everything she could to avoid gym classes and exercise in general -- in fact, back in the bygone days he'd given her some tips on how to avoid it.
"So, is Al going to give you a raft this year?"
"Almost certainly, the way things have gotten screwed around," Al interjected. "I'm not saying anything I haven't told her, but she still is a little green for it. We're not going to have much choice though, not with the extra trips we're going to be launching."
"Extra trips?" Jon asked. "I thought you were limited to thirty."
"Were," Al said. "We're going to be handling six trips for GCR along with our own. It's got things messed up a little bit. It's going to take more rafters than ever, and four teams instead of three."
"Four teams?" Jon said. "You're going to be leading again?"
"Not if I can help it," Al shook his head. "Duane and Michelle are going to be leading the fourth team. That might be interesting with the hot little romance they've got going."
"Romance? Michelle? I don't believe it!" Michelle was the senior boatman at Canyon Tours, with the exception of Al himself. She was in her mid twenties but looked a lot like the teeny-bopper Nanci had been. She was also extraordinarily strong and competent, if a really independent individual. Although Jon didn't know Michelle well, a love interest was hard to imagine -- she would be a real handful to keep up with.
"None of us believe it, either," Al shook his head. "But when we went up to Spearfish Lake for that wedding back after Christmas, the two of them were all over each other so much I couldn't believe it. Duane has been helping train dogs for the Iditarod and just headed for Alaska, so Michelle is driving back and kicking herself that she didn't rig around a way to go with him."
"Scooter said when Michelle was on the boat with her last month, she spent half the time mooning over the fact that Duane wasn't with her," Crystal reported. "She said it was really kind of sickening. Preach and I got a little dose of it when they handed the boat over to us. She could hardly wait to get back to Spearfish Lake to be with him for a while longer."
"Wonders will never cease," Jon said, knowing he had another one to announce but not wanting to ruin the good mood. This wasn't the time, and he knew it. "About how long to dinner?"
"About an hour on the cake, and I'll have to frost it," Nanci said. "Everything else can be ready by then."
"All right," Al said. "I can get started on the steaks any time, but that argues for about half an hour."
"You're doing them outside, right?" Tanisha asked.
"Is there any other way?" Al smiled. "It's cold out there, sure, but it's not that cold, and they won't taste right if I do them inside."
"It's worth waiting for, then," she smiled. "So, Al, how do you plan on handling four teams?"
"It's going to be crazy," Al shook his head. "There's going to be times that we'll have to be launching teams on two successive days, and there are times that some teams will be coming off the river one day and launching again the next to make everything work out."
Although Jon and Tanisha had only made the one river trip, they'd frequently taken one of their days off to drive up to Flagstaff and Lee's Ferry to help trips rig and launch. It wasn't something they had to do but it made them feel a lot closer to their Canyon-running family and friends. It was something that neither Jon nor Tanisha could ever have dreamed they'd be involved with.
Of course, that led into Canyon stories and gossip that lasted for a while, until Al decided it was time to head out back and get the steaks on. Though his news was hanging heavily on him, Jon decided it still wasn't time to make his announcement, so he put on a jacket and headed out back with Al. It was good to talk with Al, who had proved to be the leader of the new family that had formed out of the old one, and with the exception of Jon and Tanisha he was the centerpiece and leader of it.
"I take it you heard about Jennlynn," Al asked quietly -- while everybody in the family had met her, he knew her the best, coming from her having been on a river trip with him. Al had once even mentioned that Will had been on that trip, but there hadn't been any indications that he and Jennlynn had been any more than "just friends" on it -- and back then, that could well have been all they were.
"More than heard about it," Jon said. "We've been with her the past few days, and we flew back on Songbird with her."
"How's she doing?"
"Pretty well, considering," Jon told him. "I mean, landing the plane -- that was just the pure professional Jennlynn. But all the press that's been after her has really been a pain in the ass. It seems like everyone is looking for some kind of dirt, and more dirt than the next person. I have never seen more people with their minds totally in the gutter in my life. I wound up sounding off about it to a bunch of them last night, not that it'll do any good."
"That's a damn shame," Al sighed. "You know I'm not real crazy about what she does, but she has every right to do it if she wants to, especially if she's keeping it legal. She's made it work for her for years, but to have all those people getting in her face and being judgmental about it is a hell of a lot worse."
"It has her bothered," Jon said. "She's hoping, hell, we're all hoping this stuff blows over soon and she can get back to the way things used to be. I'm hoping it does, but I wouldn't want to make bets on it. She's sort of hiding out from the press for the next few days."
"That black gal that was on the plane with her has been on TV a bit," Al commented. "Maybe she'll draw the attention away a little."
"We can hope so," Jon replied. "Jennlynn was saying that was what she was hoping. Jennlynn isn't a publicity seeker, you know that. Mallory, on the other hand, doesn't appear to mind the idea. Maybe that will do the trick."
"Just have to wait and see," Al shook his head.
Jon and Al continued to talk for a while, about nothing important, while the steaks continued on the grill. When they were done, the two headed back inside, where everyone else had the table waiting for them.
It was a terrifically good dinner. The steaks were Canyon Tours style, of course; the only way they could have been better would have been for them to be eaten down by the Colorado River somewhere, preferably deep within the Grand Canyon. A lot of the talk was of things that had happened with Crystal and Preach, on the church tour and in the Bahamas. At least the latter part of it seemed like it had been a lot of fun, at least as far as Jon was concerned, although his mind wasn't much on the stories.
Finally, they had the cake that Nanci had made, and it turned out to be pretty good, too. Afterwards, they settled back down in the living room with cups of coffee. "Jon," Al said finally. "You were telling me outside that you and Tanisha had been with Jennlynn since last Sunday, but you haven't said much about it."
"I know I haven't," Jon said, knowing that this about had to be the time for what he had to say, but still resisting the idea of breaking up a happy evening. "What happened was that Jennlynn was supposed to do the Lambdatron booth at the National Society of Mechanical Engineers convention in Chicago. When the hijacking happened last Sunday, it was pretty obvious that if she showed up there it was going to turn into a media feeding frenzy, so Stan sent Tanisha and me to replace her."
"In Chicago?" Karin asked. "And you went?"
"We about had to," Jon said. "There wasn't anyone else available."
"I thought you didn't want to run the risk of running into Dad," Nanci said. "I mean, because of Tanisha and like that."
"Well, I didn't want to," Jon shook his head. "But we did anyway."
"You saw your father?" Karin said, obviously surprised at Jon's announcement. "Did things come out all right?"
"Very well," Jon told them. "I didn't believe it myself. All the anger, all the tantrums, all the temper -- well, they're all just gone. He's not the same person we all remember from when we left, not in the slightest."
"After all the horror stories I've heard about him," Tanisha said. "He proved to be a nice and gentle and friendly man. We had dinner with him Thursday night, and it was very enjoyable. We hit it off better than I ever dreamed possible. He was also very helpful in sneaking Jennlynn out of the show last night, and took us all to the airport."
"Tanisha?" Karin said, wide-eyed. "Are you sure we're talking about the same person?"
"It was," Jon said. "In fact, he was just about the father I remembered as a kid, except maybe even more so."
"I . . . I can't believe it," his mother said. "What happened?"
"To make a long story short," Jon said. "He told us he'd had constant headaches for years, getting steadily worse, until he finally collapsed on his office floor one night. Doris, the cleaning lady, found him and called an ambulance. It turned out that he had a benign brain tumor that had been growing for years, maybe ten years or more."
"A brain tumor?" Karin replied, apparently disbelieving.
"About the size of a walnut," Jon said. "We saw a copy of the MRI image. I don't blame him a bit for having a headache all the time. He must have gone through hell but was too proud to admit it."
"My God," Karin shook her head sadly as she almost whispered. "I never even thought of that."