Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

Growing Together
Book Six of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Wes Boyd
2008, 2011

Chapter 11

"Well, obviously," Jon sighed, "None of the rest of us thought he might have a brain tumor either, including him. But it sure explains an awful lot, especially his temper and his wanting to be left alone in the later years, as well as a lot of other stuff."

Karin shook her head again. "And I didn't do a thing to help, just made it worse. My God!"

"Well, all of us did," Jon said. "So don't go taking all the blame on yourself. We were just trying to lead our own lives and not have to put up with him being angry all the time. I was no better than any of the rest of us. I sure as hell didn't want to put up with the crap he was putting out all the time, and, even leaving Tanisha out of it, I figured that living without him was going to be better than having to work with him. So, I left town and burned the bridges behind me."

"I . . . well, I can't imagine him as being anything but bitter about all of us abandoning him," Karin said sadly.

"He doesn't appear to be," Tanisha put in, trying to lift some of the aura of instant family guilt that had settled on the room. She, Al, and Preach weren't directly part of it, but it was easy to tell that all of them felt it. "In fact, he's aware that he drove you off and seemed rather apologetic about it to me. I think it's safe to say he wishes it hadn't happened, but he seems to have made his peace with it."

"How's he doing, anyway?" Nanci asked.

"Pretty well, as far as I can see," Tanisha replied. "He seemed pretty healthy to me. He has a small condo in a building not far from Hadley-Monroe. He told us that he often walks to work for the sake of the exercise. We didn't actually go by his office but Jon said it wasn't far."

"He's lost a lot of weight," Jon added. "He's still probably a little heavier than I am, but he looks healthier than I've ever seen him. I guess a lot of his weight went away in the last year or so before the operation when he couldn't bring himself to eat. It had to have been pretty bad, and I think he was shading it some for us. He said his temper had gotten so bad he had to do all his work after hours at the office, or he said he would have been fired."

"I often wondered how he managed to hang on there even when I was still with him," Karen said. "My God, if I'd only known!"

"There are a lot of 'if onlys' in this world, Karin," Preach spoke up. "And there are nowhere near as many 'do-overs'. I have a good many myself. Like it or not, you have to move ahead from where you are. In this case, it sounds like everything turned out well for everyone."

"Yeah, but still," Karin complained, "I'm going to be kicking myself for a long time over this." She turned to her husband. "Don't get me wrong, Al. I still love you and nothing has changed, but even though I left Pete for a good reason, now that I've found this out I feel like I shirked my responsibility to him."

"You couldn't have known, Karin," Al told her. "Hell, I still think every day, that if only I'd gotten Louise to a doctor a few months earlier, she'd still be with us and none of this that we have today would have happened. But like Preach just said, there aren't a lot of do-overs."

"I suppose," she sighed. "But that doesn't change what perhaps I should have done." She let out another sigh, and continued. "You say he's doing pretty well, now?"

"Oh, yeah," Jon smiled. "In fact, I'd have to say he's about as happy as I ever remember him."

"In spite of everything, I think Jon is right," Tanisha agreed. "Like I said, the man I met doesn't match up with any of the stories I've heard about him. But, he said he knew he had been an awful asshole -- his words, not mine -- to all of you for a long time. He's sorry he had to put you through it, and Karin, if it will make you feel any better, he says now that he's a little surprised you hung on as long as you did."

"Well," Karin said, a look of relief on her face, "That makes me feel a little better, but even with what you told me I can't get rid of the image of him sitting alone and bitter in his apartment thinking about what could have been."

"He's moved on, I think," Jon told her. "He pretty much came out and said he prefers being alone, not that it should be a big surprise to any of us, because, as I think back, he was something of a loner even before the brain tumor came along."

"Well, yes, you're right on that," Karin said. "He always was something of a loner, even back when I first met him. He never was very social at the best of times. He preferred being buried in his work, or in a book, or in his computer or something."

"I guess some things don't change," Jon smiled. "There are books all over his apartment and a big computer. He apparently watches quite a bit of TV. But he's not a total loner. He has this friend he spends some time with, name is Doris. She often comes over and cooks dinner. She's a real nice lady. They're real friendly, but I don't think there's anything serious going on there. The way he put it is they're just a couple of single people who know they don't have to be alone all the time."

"Well, that's good," Karin nodded. "Is she someone he knows from work?"

"Sort of," Jon said. "She's one of the night-shift janitors. In fact, she was the one who found him collapsed on the floor of his office, and called the ambulance. She took off work to be with him while he recovered from his surgery at his place, and from what she said it wasn't easy."

"Damn," Karin said. "And that's something else I should have done, and would have done if I'd known about it. I mean, even though we were divorced, well, I should have been there rather than having some stranger nurse him out of the goodness of her heart."

"Don't feel so bad, Mom," Nanci said. "I was still in Chicago back then and I should have done it too, but I never checked up on him." She shook her head and sighed. "Should have done it in more ways than one, in fact. But thinking back to it, after the way he treated me I don't know if I would have done it if I had known about it, at least not back then."

"Should'a, could'a, would'a," Preach pointed out. "At least he had someone, and we can all thank God for that. This Doris sounds like a really loving, caring person."

"She is," Tanisha said. "And that's another thing. In fact it almost scares me. I almost had a heart attack when I walked into the apartment and met her. She is so much like my mother that it's not funny, I almost thought she'd come back from the grave. I mean, same looks, same build, almost the same face, the same dark skin, almost the same voice and manner of speech. But she's so much more warm and open than my mother I actually found myself envying him a little."

"I've never heard you mention your mother," Preach observed. "That must have really shook you."

"You have no idea," Tanisha said. "My mother, well, she was loving, but she was very subdued and undemonstrative compared to my father. Doris is, well, I told Jon she's like I wish my mother would have been. Just by being herself Doris pulled some strings I'd forgotten I even had."

"Tanisha," Karin said. "That had to have been hard."

"It was hard, at least for about ten minutes before I had to pull myself up short and tell myself she wasn't my mother," Tanisha sighed. "But after the stories I've heard about Pete's racism, to have him close friends with Doris . . . well, like I said, she's as dark as I am, it took some getting used to. But she's very open and warm, and you can see they're good friends who think a lot of each other."

"Well, that's good," Karin nodded. "I'm glad he's got someone who will give him some human contact. He was never much for friends, and he was always an awful homebody."

"Well, he admits he was always a homebody, as you put it, and he even said he's sorry he held you back," Jon grinned. "When we told him about you becoming a boatman out here, he said he wasn't surprised but thought maybe you might be getting a little old to be doing something like that."

"You told him about us?" Karin said.

"Quite a bit," Jon told her. "He isn't surprised in the least about Crystal becoming a boatman, but Nanci becoming one, too . . . well, that just about knocked his socks off. But then, I think back a few years and it about knocks my socks off, too."

Nanci stuck her tongue out at him, then said, "Don't think I don't look in the mirror once in a while and have troubles keeping my socks on too. I mean, when I think back to what I was doing a year ago . . ." she sighed. "It was a whole different life, and one I'm not proud of in the least. A year ago I would have never dreamed I'd be doing what I'm doing right now. So he thinks it's pretty cool, huh?"

"I wouldn't go that far," Tanisha smiled. "Unexpected, yes, and better than what you had been doing, at least what he knew of it, yes. That doesn't mean he doesn't think the whole bunch of you are a little crazy for doing it, but his attitude seems to be if that's what you like he's OK with it."

"Jon," Karin broke in, "I meant, did you tell him, well, about Al and Crystal and me?"

"He knows you and Al are married, and he sends his best regards," Jon replied, knowing what his mother was pushing toward but wanting to make a point. "Crystal, well, he's a little surprised that she didn't marry Randy, and he's as surprised as all of us that Crystal married a minister, no offense Preach."

"That's not the first time I've heard that, and maybe not the five hundred and first," Preach grinned. "I ought to be getting used to it by now."

"Yeah, but still," Jon smiled, and turned to his mother. "No, Mom. Tanisha and I agreed even before we left for Chicago that if we happened to run into him we would not tell him about Al being Crystal's father instead of him. Even when we discovered how much things had changed for him, we didn't even hint about it. Tanisha and I agreed it wasn't our business to tell him. It has to be yours, not Al's, not Crystal's, but yours. You know why I feel that way; we've talked about it before, and there's no point in dragging it out in front of everyone again."

"So you're throwing the ball back to me."

"No, I'm not," Jon replied firmly. "It's been your ball all along. It would have been out of place and very rude for us to have done it. He may be your ex-husband, but he's still my father, and I think he deserves that much respect in spite of everything that happened that wasn't his fault. I won't do that to him, no matter how much things have changed."

"Jon," Karin sighed. "You're being very hard about this."

"Only as hard as I have to be," he replied. "It wasn't me who was dishonest with him when it counted. Now, I should probably point out that this isn't something you can just turn your back on anymore. Among other things, Jennlynn invited him out to visit Lambdatron. He has a long business relationship with both her and the company, and there's more work from him likely in the future. He'd really like to see the place, and he's not quite as opposed to traveling as he used to be. I don't think he'll be doing a camel trek to Timbuktu or even a raft trip through the Grand Canyon anytime soon, if ever, but a business trip to Phoenix with a little family contact thrown in could happen at any time. But out here a lot of people know Al is Crystal's father. It's common knowledge, so if he comes out here someone is sure to mention it. Neither Jennlynn nor Angela said anything about Crystal and Al, but that was just the way it worked out. We didn't ask them to keep quiet about it. It'll happen, Mom, it's as sure as the sunrise. You owe it to him to be the one to tell him the truth and admit that you goofed. It can't come from anyone else."

"But Jon . . . damn," Karin sighed. "You're right, we've talked about it before, but just when the hell could I have told him? If you're right, I didn't fully recognize the truth until after the brain tumor started making him so irascible."

"What you should have done is tell him way back in the beginning, like I've thought since I've known about this," Jon replied firmly. "But it's like Preach said a few minutes ago, 'Should'a, could'a, would'a.' Now you're stuck with it, and if you don't tell him it'll be my butt that gets burned along with yours. I don't deserve it over something you did."

There was silence in the living room for a moment, except for the faint crackles of the fire. Finally, Karin asked tearfully, "Jon, do I have to?"

"Yes, Mom," he replied. "It about has to be you."

"Hell, I'll tell him," Crystal snorted. "Brain tumor or no brain tumor, he deserves to know I finally got a father I like. He was a bastard to me for so long I'll even enjoy doing it. After some of the shit I took from him it'll be good to know that he knows I'm finally rid of him. I don't see why all of you are so worried about kissing his ass, anyway."

"No, Crystal," Preach said, quietly but firmly. "You're just being vindictive. He may not be your father, but he is Jon and Nanci's. If you don't want to have any relationship with him or any forgiveness from him, then I guess that's your right, but you shouldn't be making decisions for them. Jon is right; it's your mother's move to make. If you were to say something it could close the door to the possibility of forgiveness for them. If you wanted to tell him where to go, why didn't you go to Chicago and tell him a year ago?"

"Because I didn't want to see that bastard again," she scowled. "Not then, not now, not ever."

"If you were going to dump that news in his lap you should have done it before Jon and Tanisha ran into him, then," Preach pointed out. "If you did it now, you'd just put Jon in a tight spot for not telling him when Jon thinks his mother should be the one to do it. And, for the record, I happen to agree with Jon."

"But Preach!" she protested. "I want to do it. Mom doesn't."

"Your mother doesn't want to do it because she knows if she does she's admitting to being wrong in this matter, and having been wrong for a long time. You have no responsibility in this, whoever your father is. She does. You just want vengeance, and that's the Lord's job, not yours."

"Preach is right, honey," Karin said. "You're not the one who screwed up. God knows there's been a lot of screw-ups in this and there's more than enough anger to go around. And just for the record, while he was often very nasty with you while you were in high school and college, that was also when the tumor was getting to him. Before that happened he was a pretty decent father, just a little, well, distant. I suppose now I can look back and see that he didn't really want to be a father at all."

"Now you're taking his side, too?"

"In this case, I am," Karin replied. "Remember, I stuck it out longer than you did, lots longer. I was even reluctant to leave him when I first came out here to find you, but once I got here I started to understand it was the right thing to do, and that was before Al really entered my thinking." She sighed, turned to her husband and said, "Don't get me wrong, Al, I love you as much as ever, but after this came out tonight I'm finding myself torn between being glad I came out here and rediscovered you, and wishing I'd stuck it out a while longer with him, too."

"I understand," Al replied quietly. "And with what Jon has been telling you, you're thinking you muffed another responsibility."

"Yes," she shook her head. "I didn't do a very good job with that all the way around, did I?"

"We all screw up sometime," he said. "It's how well you recover from it that counts. Don't turn this into a 'should'a, could'a, would'a.'"

"Then I guess I don't get a lot of choice, do I?" she sighed. "Shit, I never thought it would come down to this." She took a long, deep breath. "Well, Jon, what do you think? Should I go to Chicago and tell him?"

"I don't think that's necessary," Jon replied. "After all, you can call him on the phone, tell him you just heard about the brain tumor from Tanisha and me, and that he's better, which happens to be the truth. He knows now that he was being a bad actor, and you can say that you didn't dare to tell him when you realized the truth, which also happens to be the truth. And then you can tell him that you should have told him as soon as you realized you were pregnant, which . . .

"Which also happens to be the truth," she sighed, finishing the statement for him. "Do you think this afternoon?"

"You could put it off for a few days," Jon shrugged. "He's not likely to come out here until he can talk to Jennlynn, and that won't be until after she comes out of whatever hole it is she's hiding in. But I think it would be best if you did it now and just got it over with before it eats on you any more."

"I know that's what I should do," she said. "But Jon, it's hard, after all these years."

"Of course it's hard," Preach said. "That's why you haven't done it, even after all these years. But acting through Jon and Tanisha the Lord has opened a door for you, and it's up to you to step through it. You may never find an easier time to at least ask for forgiveness. The longer you wait the harder it will be."

"Oh, damn," she sighed. "God, I don't want to do this."

"If I might make a suggestion," Al said. "Preach, Nanci, I know you don't drink, but I think they still have 7-Up on tap down at the Burro. I think I'd be willing to buy us all a drink while Karin stays here and calls him."

After the gang got back from the Burro, the boatman's bar in Flagstaff, which seemed quiet this far out of rafting season, Karin reported that the call had gone all right, considering. There'd been a lot of apologizing on both ends of the conversation. The really key part of the exchange, when Karin admitted to Crystal's parentage and how wrong she'd been to keep it a secret went amazingly well. "He said he hadn't had any idea that he wasn't Crystal's father," Karin reported. "But he also said he now understood why Crystal is so much bigger and more muscular than Jon or Nanci."

"So he was OK with it?" Crystal asked.

"I don't want to say that," Karin replied. "What he said was he was a little sorry that you aren't his blood daughter, considering how well you've turned out. He still considers you his daughter in a way, and he's right." She let out a sigh and continued, "He'd like to see you again sometime Crystal, and apologize to you. He knows he made an error and would like your forgiveness, but I think he'll understand if he doesn't get it."

"I'm still not too damn sure how much I want to talk to him again," she snorted.

"It'll have to be your choice, of course," Karin said. "Just remember, Crystal, while he hurt us, we hurt him, too. He sort of had an excuse for hurting us."

It was well after dark when Jon and Tanisha made the decision to head back to Phoenix that evening, rather than stay the night. Under the circumstances, it seemed like the right thing to do, especially as emotional as things were around Al's house that evening.

As they hurtled through the darkness on the Interstate heading south to Phoenix, Jon and Tanisha didn't talk very much, since right then there wasn't a lot to say. Finally, somewhere thirty or forty miles to the south of Flagstaff, Tanisha spoke up. "I know that wasn't easy, Jon, but really, it had to be done."

"Yeah, I know," he agreed. "That issue has been standing between my mother and me for a long time. I hated like hell to put that kind of pressure on her, but I could see there was never going to be a better time to do it."

"I'd say you were right," she replied through the darkness inside the Chevy. "Really, when you get right down to it, wasn't the fear of doing it worse than actually telling her?"

"I suppose," he said. "Given the history of his temper, no matter what we said, she had to pretty well expect he'd explode. He couldn't really have done anything over the phone, but she didn't want to hear what she pretty well figured he would say. It must have been a relief to have it came out as well as it did."

"She was still pretty teary about it, though," Tanisha sighed. "I think it's probably just as well that we left. There are things Al is going to be able to do for her that we can't."

"Yeah, true," Jon agreed. "You know, it's just like Preach said about Crystal."

"What's this?"

Jon sighed. "Crystal isn't ready to forgive him yet."

"I thought she made that pretty clear," Tanisha snorted.

"Well, yeah," Jon agreed. "But when you girls hit the bathroom when the rest of us were on the way out, Preach said to Al and me, 'That's a problem I knew I married.' He'll have to be the one to deal with it, not us. This thing, well, it's a problem that Al knew he married, just like I knew when I married you that I married a problem, too."

"Yeah," she sighed, "Since we left Flag I've been thinking about that one, too. But Jon, I don't think it would go nearly as well."

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To be continued . . .

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