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 12

Usually when Jon and Tanisha considered a problem, they did it straight on, applying their unique brand of mental synergy -- but that was for engineering, and this was something different, which involved lots of half thoughts interspersed with long, thoughtful silences that lasted most of the way back to Phoenix.

It wasn't as if Jon and Tanisha hadn't thought about getting back in contact with her brother Kwame before, because they had talked about it, numerous times -- even if a lot of that talk had been more in terms of how to avoid doing it.

The problem was that re-contacting Kwame was literally as different as black and white compared to re-contacting Pete. They had gone to Chicago knowing that a meeting with Jon's father was possible, if perhaps unlikely, but they'd also gone there with the knowledge that the worst that could happen was it would be unpleasant. Even as bad as Pete had been before the rest of the family left him, he wasn't likely to reach out and try to hurt them -- they expected that he would have been just as glad to have the rest of his family out of his life, and that was how it turned out.

But Kwame Blythe was a different story, and they knew it: he was arrogant, obnoxious, and vindictive -- like his father had been, but even worse. It had been hard to reach the conclusion, but Tanisha had come to understand he was more racist than the people he railed about repeatedly in and out of the pulpit. "All whites are devils," was his credo, but according to him, that wasn't racist, it was just the way of the world, something the black man had to endure. The church -- Bethel African Baptist -- was very political, and had been for a good many years, and the politics were pretty radical and separatist in more ways than one. The church had a reputation around St. Louis for getting involved in racial incidents and inflaming them, rather than trying to smooth things over -- and Kwame had been in the center of that, even more so than his father.

Kwame was capable of violence -- especially violence that aided his political ends, but on a personal level, too. Indeed, Jon and Tanisha were together only because Jon's unskilled but ultimately lucky and successful attempt at a karate move bought them time to get in the car and burn rubber out of there. They'd been expecting more trouble from him after that day, their first as a couple, and had good reason to: the last thing they'd heard from him, clear back in their days at Georgia Tech, was his announced intention to drag Tanisha back to her family and church where she belonged. In fact, he'd announced bluntly, "I will no longer allow you to wander the wilderness without supervision, ruining my reputation in the church in the process." Knowing him, those words had been enough to send them fleeing through the night away from Georgia Tech, skipping their graduation ceremony as a result.

Back when Jon helped her escape from her family, both her father and her brother had been busy trying to set her up with a guy who she couldn't stand, a loser from the word go. He was one of her brother's sycophants who she knew wasn't above violence and dirty work allegedly "for the people," which meant the church, or, more exactly, her family. It wouldn't be fair to call what her father and brother had in mind a forced or arranged marriage, but they were both pushing her pretty hard, and it was clear that the pressure would have increased even more if she'd stayed around. Her brother had been pushing harder than her father, who was very controlling, especially with his own family, and that would have extended to her if Jon hadn't helped her out. To say that she escaped was not exaggerating.

Ever since Jon and Tanisha had left her house in a cloud of rubber smoke, they'd been looking over their shoulders, worried that Kwame or some of his cohorts might show up and make trouble. Only the fact that they'd hidden from him pretty well, leaving some false trail, had given them much feeling of security, but neither of them were comfortable with that level of threat hanging over them all the time despite the precautions they had taken.

They were on the northern outskirts of Phoenix when Tanisha came up with a new thought: "We ought to run this one past Ben and Joy."

"Yeah," Jon replied, his mind starting to run in tandem with hers again -- the same idea had occurred to him. "I mean, they know we've got the problem, but they might be able to take a fresh look at it."

"I was thinking about their gaming skills," Tanisha explained.

"So was I," Jon agreed. "They know how to prepare before opening a door when there might or might not be something behind it."

Neither Jon nor Tanisha were the kind of people who made many friends. Both of them had been computer and study nerds in school and had been equally happy to be alone before they met each other. Both had people they hung out with occasionally in high school, but not many; in addition, contacts or friends outside the church were actively discouraged for Tanisha, and being part of the minister's family, she had even been expected to stay a little aloof from people in the church.

With all the security needs and everything else, things hadn't changed much, at least in terms of making friends outside the company. Oh, they had Lambdatron friends like Angela, Stan, Griz, and Jennlynn, and Jon's family in Flagstaff, and until the previous spring that had been just fine with them. But then, on the same Grand Canyon trip where Jon's mother married Al, they'd met Ben and Joy Russell, and the two couples clicked, a little to everyone's surprise, especially their own.

There were several reasons for that, one of them being they lived close to each other, only about a quarter mile apart. Ben and Joy were as much computer nerds as Jon and Tanisha, although with a somewhat different flavor. And, on top of that, they shared an interracial marriage as well. Ben was of more or less English extraction, while Joy was a mixed-race Vietnamese orphan who had been flown out of Saigon as an infant in the last days before the city fell, enduring a plane crash along the way. Her build and features were slight and Oriental, if a little on the stocky side, but her skin was much darker than a typical Vietnamese. That didn't stand in the way of the older childless couple in Tucson who had raised her and loved her.

However, kids who are a little different are often ostracized any place in the world, and thus it was with Joy. She grew up very shy and soft-spoken, a loner who would rather be with her computer than with others her age.

Ben was different from his peers as well, but for a different reason: he was asthmatic and suffered from severe allergies all through his growing up in a Cleveland suburb. Even with the help of the best available medical care, he didn't have the breath to be an active kid, so like Joy he grew up with his nose to a book or a computer screen, resolving to move to the dry, relatively allergen-free Southwest at the first opportunity.

Like Joy, like Jon and Tanisha, he'd never really had the opportunity to develop the skill of making friends. In fact, it was both a miracle and an oddity that he and Joy had managed to get together at all.

Somewhere along the way, both Joy and Ben had become addicted to an early multi-user text-based online computer game called "Dragonslayer." Both admitted the game was hopelessly obsolete in terms of modern computer games and graphics, but the game still had its partisans, mostly because it was written by the gamers as part of the game. Though they'd both played more modern games and were even good at them, they both still persevered with the old standby, along with a relative handful of others. They had one battle royal after another in the confines of the game, but over the years they became good friends in the game's associated online chat room -- with limitations: they had gone years before discovering they were of opposite sexes. They had only discovered that interesting fact in the past couple years, about the same time they discovered they both lived somewhere in Phoenix.

Though good friends online, they were very reserved and tentative about meeting face to face, and their first date with each other had work friends along. They went to a concert, had a good time, went home, and spent hours discussing it with each other through the familiar anonymity of the chat room. It was still some time before they discovered they lived in the same apartment complex, across a courtyard from one another -- they could literally look across and see the other in their living room as they typed at each other!

After that, they started hanging out with each other a bit more, still friends, but not boyfriend and girlfriend, still tentative with each other but getting closer. Then, Al Buck and Canyon Tours inadvertently got involved.

Though there was a waiting list to get on Canyon Tours trips in the summer, spring and fall trips were often under-booked. That irritated Al and Louise for a long time, until Louise came up with the idea of donating a few off-season trips each year to charity to use as fundraisers, usually through drawings. It cost Canyon Tours little since the trips were going to be run anyway, but the charitable contributions counted for the full price when tax time rolled around, so everyone came out happy. Al had, in fact, met Jennlynn because her Grand Canyon trip was won at a Catholic school drawing.

It cost ten bucks for Ben to buy his ticket in a different charity raffle; when he won the trip for two, there was really no one he could ask to go with him but Joy. With a little trepidation on both their parts, they decided to go. Not knowing that they could have made the trip out of Flagstaff, they drove to Las Vegas to spend a day and night before taking the early-morning charter bus out to Lee's Ferry for the start of the trip. Somehow, as they spent the day among the glitz and glitter, the subject of quickie weddings came up, mostly as a joke. Somehow, their discussion turned to the fact that the two of them liked each other a lot and were moving toward getting married; in fact, they were both so shy it seemed unlikely that either one of them would be brave enough to try to find someone else. One thing led to another, and six hours later they were married.

When they got on the charter bus the next morning both of them were thinking real hard about just what the hell they'd gotten themselves into, but there wasn't much they could do about it then. By the time the trip was over with, they'd gotten used to the idea and liked it, so much so that Preach married them again, this time in front of God and the rafting party, and there were no second thoughts this time.

While they were on the trip they met Jon and Tanisha and found they had gone through a few bumps of their own. Jon and Tanisha discovered that Ben had done graduate work in high-energy lasers, which had a lot of application to a classified work project they were working on at the time. A couple of off-the-cuff discussions with Ben solved a couple of thorny problems for them, and both Jon and Tanisha resolved to recruit him for Lambdatron, especially since Ben was currently designing sewer systems for a civil engineering firm and hating it. Both Jon and Tanisha knew they had to talk to Stan about it first. Stan gave them the go-ahead, only to find that Ben had found a job offer in the mail when he came back from the trip, working on adaptive optics for very large telescopes at Arizona State. That job sounded fascinating enough to Jon, Tanisha, Stan, and Jennlynn that they wouldn't have minded being involved with the project if they weren't working at Lambdatron.

Even though that failed, Jon and Tanisha resolved to remain friends with Ben and Joy, and for more reason than to just pick Ben's brain when needed. The four got along well together; Ben and Joy introduced them to attending a series of eclectic concerts, sometimes in smoky blues bars, sometimes in auditoriums. Jon and Tanisha returned the favor by getting Ben and Joy to do a little outdoor exercise, good brisk walking since Ben still didn't have the lung capacity for an honest run. They'd even taken off on a ski weekend together earlier in the winter; all of them enjoyed it and hoped to get in another one before spring, though none of them were more than rank beginners. These days the couples got together once or twice a week, sometime more often, sometimes for exercise, sometimes for concerts, sometimes for just sitting around and talking computers and whatnot.

Though it was an unexpected friendship, the two couples had become fairly close in the last few months, and all of them thought they were better off for having the friendship.

"It's too late to call them tonight," Tanisha said finally, "But I don't see any reason we couldn't call them in the morning."

What with late nights two evenings in a row, Jon and Tanisha's sleep schedule was still screwed up, to put it mildly, so it was mid-morning before they woke up, and somewhat later before they got out of bed. While Tanisha was still getting organized, Jon walked into the tiny second bedroom that they used as an office, brought up one of the four computers in there, and typed an instant message to Ben and Joy: "U up yet?"

Only a few seconds went by before the program dinged and the message came up on the screen: "Yeah. U back already?"

"Came back last nite, will call," Jon typed back, and called out to Tanisha. "They're up, I'm going to get on the landline."

"All right, I'll pick it up in here."

In only a few seconds the two of them were talking to Joy. "So, how was your trip?" she asked.

"Interesting," Tanisha replied. "Too much to tell over the phone. What's happening with you?"

"Kind of interesting on this end, too," Joy told them. "Why don't we get together and talk about it? If you want to come over here, I can throw some lunch together. It's getting to be about that time."

"Yeah, we can do that," Jon replied. "Where did the morning go, anyway?"

"Where it usually does with you two, I suspect," Joy laughed. "If you're coming right over then, I'll get started on something."

"All right, we'll see you in a few." Jon hung up the phone as Tanisha did, and said, "Are you about ready to go?"

"Pretty close," Tanisha said with a head shake. "I don't get it with these bras. This one is too tight, too. I'm going to dig out a sports bra so at least I can be a little comfortable today."

"Doesn't make sense to me," Jon shrugged. "I just know I like your breasts, I don't know what it's like to have them. You want to walk over there or drive?"

"Oh, hell, let's walk. At least we can get that much exercise. I feel like I'm bloated from sitting around too much."

It was just a short walk to Ben and Joy's apartment, which was in the same apartment complex that they'd lived in the two summers they'd worked as interns at Lambdatron, just across the street from their townhouse complex. However, it was a busy street and it took them a while to cross, so it was longer than they'd hoped before they climbed the steps to their friends' apartment.

Ben met them at the door. "Come on in, Joy's just about got lunch ready. Hope you don't mind chicken fajitas."

"Sounds good to me," Jon nodded. "We haven't gotten around to eating yet."

They headed on in to find Joy in the tiny kitchen of the apartment, bustling around with the lunch preparations. She was easily the best cook of the four of them, and while no gourmet cook, anything she prepared tasted good. "So, good to see you two," she said exuberantly. "I take it you had quite a week."

"You could say that," Jon replied. "You could also call it a week from hell, and you wouldn't be too far off."

"So, what happened?"

"Like I said on the phone, long story," Jon replied. As Joy finished making the fajitas and they ate, Jon and Tanisha together gave their friends a brief run-through of most of what had happened to them in the last few days -- the fast flight to Biloxi on Skyhook, then the flight to Chicago with Jennlynn, the show, meeting Jon's father, escaping the press in Chicago, flying back on Songbird, and then the drive to Flagstaff the day before and the trying session with Jon's mother. It was not a short story, and it took a while.

"Yeah, that sounds like a rough week," Ben commented as Jon and Tanisha summed up what had happened without even getting near raising the subject of Kwame. "We'd been hoping you guys would get back, since we have something we'd like your opinion on."

"What's this?" Tanisha asked.

"Well, you know when Joy and I decided to get married, the lease on her apartment across the way was running out, and mine still had some time left on it," Ben explained. "Well, the lease on this place will be running out soon, and we've been kicking around whether we want to stay here or what."

"The separate apartments were just fine when we were single," Joy added. "But this is really a little tight for both of us, so while you were gone we decided to go looking for a bigger place."

"We got to thinking that maybe renting wasn't such a good idea for us anymore. Both our jobs look stable, and if we're going to spend the money it would take to rent a bigger place, we figured we might as well take a look at buying a house. So, we've been looking at houses. We want to be fairly close in so we don't have a big commute, and there's a subdivision with several possibilities not real far from here," Ben said.

"We found a couple places that look like good deals," Joy went on. "They're right next to each other and we're not real sure which one we like the best. But then Ben and I were talking about it last night and we got to thinking maybe the two of you would like to take a look at one of them."

"I'll have to admit, I hadn't even thought about that," Jon admitted. "And yeah, it's something we should consider. Our lease runs out in May, too, so we ought to be thinking about it."

"I wouldn't mind more space, and being on one floor," Tanisha agreed. "We got the place we have mostly because it was quick, and we didn't have much time when we got it, but when you get right down to it, it's really on the crappy side."

"The idea sounds like it has possibilities to me," Jon said. "I mean, without checking, I'm sure we could handle it financially." Although Jon was reluctant to get into the details, even with as close friends as Ben and Joy, the dividends from Lambdatron had been good, and there had been some bonuses that added up to some significant money, with more on the way. "But somehow the idea of buying a house just never quite crossed my mind."

"You think you might be interested in looking at these houses?" Joy asked.

"Yeah, sure," Tanisha said. "I'm not sure we're ready to make a decision about buying something right now, but at least we ought to look. This would probably be a good place to start."

"Good," Joy smiled. "We probably wouldn't be able to get an appointment to see them today, but how about if I see if we can get one for tomorrow evening?"

"That'd work," Jon agreed. "I don't think we've got anything in particular planned for the evenings this week, and unless something has happened things should still be a bit on the slow side. At least, slow enough that we shouldn't have to work in the evenings."

"Good enough," Joy nodded. "I'll get it set up and let you know."

They talked for a bit about buying houses, what they wanted, and agreed it would be nice if they could manage to buy places close to each other, even if they weren't next door. The idea had a lot of appeal to all of them; it was exciting to think about a new step of maturity in all of their lives.

"It's got a lot of potential," Tanisha said finally, "But I have to admit, the one thing holding me back is my brother."

"I thought you had that issue pretty well settled," Ben commented.

"Well, for the most part it's at least buried," Tanisha admitted. "But just because you bury a problem doesn't mean it's not still a problem. Maybe it's just because of the deal with Jon's dad, but we've been thinking and talking about it."

"It's a problem," Jon sighed. "It's not the same thing as it was with my father. In fact, it's a lot more complicated question because it's really not the same issue."

"That's true," Tanisha nodded. "And among other things, it's more dangerous. That means we've got to be pretty careful about what we do, even if we decide we want to do nothing, and that's a valid option."

"I don't know what we can do, but we'll help you if we can," Ben told them. This wasn't the first time the subject of Tanisha's brother had come up among the four of them; he and Joy were familiar with the situation, just as they had been familiar with the situation Jon had with his father.

"Good," Jon said. "Because that's what we wanted to ask you about."

"Us?" Joy frowned. "Why would you want to ask us about that, of all people? We don't even know anything about him."

"The biggest reason is that it more or less strikes us as a gaming issue," Jon replied. "You two are gamers, and we aren't. We were hoping you could lend a different perspective to it."

"I don't know," Ben shrugged. "I'm not sure it's a gaming issue at all. I mean, in a game, it's a win-or-lose thing, and there are points involved. You open a door, find something to fight, and kill it if you can. I don't know how bad you want to consider that option."

"Yeah, when you get down to it, I guess not like that," Tanisha shrugged.

"Let's put it this way," Joy smiled. "You've got a door in front of you. You don't know what's behind it. It's not closed too tightly, and it's a door that can be opened from either side, right?"

"Well, yeah," Tanisha said. "I guess I'm thinking that if we're the ones opening the door, at least we have the option of doing it on our own terms and at the time we choose, rather than being surprised by having it opened on us."

"If the door is opened on us, the odds are that what's behind it is not good," Jon pointed out.

"The odds are that whatever's behind it is not good, whoever opens the door," Tanisha pointed out.

"Then let me ask one question," Ben nodded. "What do you hope to accomplish by opening it in the first place?"

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To be continued . . .

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