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 21

Even though Jon and Tanisha had been apartment dwellers and didn't think they'd accumulated much stuff, it seemed like a lot over the last weeks of May before moving day arrived. For more than a month they'd been packing this box and that one, which Jon then hauled down to a pile near the front door. By the time it reached the point that it seemed as if they were living out of suitcases at best, the pile had gotten rather intimidating.

Much the same thing was going on at Ben and Joy's apartment across the street, except that it was a larger pile than Jon and Tanisha's; it was a smaller apartment, and a year before Jon and Tanisha had helped their friends haul belongings from Joy's apartment to Ben's. With double everything, some things of Joy's were still in boxes unopened for over a year.

On top of that, both couples decided it was probably better to keep most of the furniture they'd accumulated, rather than just toss it; the new houses were enough bigger that most of it could be of use here and there. All that added up to a lot of volume to get moved, way too much to be dealt with in their cars. Jon and Ben had agreed the only way the four of them could deal with it would be to rent a truck and do it themselves. It would still be a lot of work, especially with Tanisha only about a month from her due date, and it was understood that she wouldn't be helping with any of the heavy stuff.

The move would be on the Saturday before Memorial Day, and Jon was getting worried about it. Then, in the last days, Jon got a call from his mother asking if they'd like a little help dealing with the move; she and Al could break free for a day, even though it was the height of tripping season for Canyon Tours. "Sure," he told her, "The more, the merrier."

"Good," she replied. "I'll have Al bring the pickup. That'll save you having to rent a truck."

When Jon opened the door on Saturday morning with Ben and Joy already present, it shouldn't have surprised him to see more than Al and Karin standing outside. Crystal and Preach were there, along with the rest of Crystal's rafting crew: Nanci and her quasi-boyfriend Kevin, another Canyon Tours boatman, and two swampers he'd never met before! As he stood there shaking his head, another pickup towing a box utility trailer pulled in, and Jon shook his head some more as Joy's parents got out and joined the throng.

"Mom," he protested half-heartedly. "I know this move is a big deal but it's not that big a deal."

"Well, it was just going to be Al and me," she grinned. "But your sisters decided they wanted to help out."

With that big of a crew they went through the townhouse in one fast and furious hour, and, finally, the place had been stripped to the bare walls. While the rest of the crew waited outside, Jon and Tanisha took one last pass through the place, just to make sure nothing had been overlooked or left behind. "You know," Jon said at one point. "In a way it's hard to leave. We've spent three years here, and a lot has happened to us in that time."

"Yeah," she replied, "We came here with nothing but each other and only what we could get in the Monte Carlo, with nothing but the hopes that this would be a good and safe place for us. It's been all of that, and it's going to be hard to get used to not being here."

"True," he nodded, "But our hopes worked out beyond our wildest dreams, didn't they?"

"Yeah, they did," she smiled. "I sure never expected any of this when you took me out of St. Louis that time. Never, ever, and look how it turned out. Let's get out of here before we get sickening."

Moving into the new house was a little more complicated since the boxes and furniture and things had to be hauled to the rooms where they would be needed; some new furniture had already been delivered and set in place. With that many hands, it didn't take long before they were heading back to Ben and Joy's apartment to do the same thing all over again, but by noon the process was complete and all that was left was the unpacking and settling in. Somewhere along in there, several boxes of pizzas appeared, and the first backyard party at the new house consisted of going through them like a swarm of locusts. There was enough, but barely. Canyon Tours employees were active folks and didn't believe in letting food go to waste.

Shortly after they finished the pizzas, Crystal announced that she and the crew needed to be headed back to Flagstaff. If they worked late they could get the food bought and packed for their next three-week river trip and still have time for church in the morning before they headed for the river. Al and Karin told them they'd be back in Flag along in the evening, and were planning on helping with the final loading in the morning and on the crew bus for the trip to Lee's Ferry.

It was clear that getting unpacked and settled in was going to be a long process. At least they'd have the extra day of Memorial Day weekend to work on it although the whole thing would most likely take months to complete, but they worked at it all afternoon and into the evening, until Al and Karin left for the long drive back to Flagstaff. By then they were tired, Tanisha especially so, and since the bed had been made they decided that enough was enough for one day.

They were pleased to find that the shower was indeed big enough for both of them, and Jon was able to enjoy his latest sensual pleasure of washing down Tanisha's expanded belly, where his daughter waited to be born. Not long after that, they were in bed, dedicating the house to themselves in their own special way.

"You know," Tanisha said as they were cuddled together afterwards. "There's one special thing about this place. Now that we have our own house, you won't have to gag me to keep from disturbing the neighbors when you tie me to the bed and tickle me like you used to do."

"Don't be so damn sure," he teased. "I'm not about to do it as close to your due date as you are, and after that we won't want to wake up our little Barbie doll."

"Yeah, I guess you're right," she sighed. "Nothing is ever quite perfect, is it?"

"Oh, I'll find the chance every now and then," he snickered. "You love it, you know you love it, and that makes me love doing it to you. I don't tell you that I love you enough, Tanisha. I never expected my life to work out this way, but I'm not complaining."

"Me either, Jon. Me either."

They had the house pretty well organized by the time they went back to work on Tuesday. They'd be a long time finishing the project, but most things had found a place and they were starting to get settled in.

There was some paperwork to do in the front office, and they were busy with it when Jim Bricklin walked in. "Got some more news," he announced.

"Jim, I hate to say it," Jon said, "But every time you say that I start to get a little worried."

"Oh, I think this will be interesting," Jim smiled. "I pretty well expected that they weren't going to be able to make the Hammerstrom charges stick, and they didn't. Kwame got released last Wednesday."

"So now we're back to looking over our shoulders, right?"

"I doubt it," he smiled. "It seems that while Kwame was away for a while, Shantel decided she'd had her fill of him. It took her a while, but she really did a number on him after making up her mind to go through with it. One of our operatives got this secondhand, but it seems that she took over the church service the Sunday before, and basically she told the whole congregation that not only did she believe the charges were true, she told them a lot of other stuff that he'd been involved in. She told them that the best thing all of them could do was to follow her out the door. She and the kids went out, got in the car, and left. No one has officially seen her since."

"Officially?" Tanisha grinned.

"Well, I don't officially know it, but apparently another of our operatives was working on his own time to help get things set up," Jim laughed. "He's on vacation and I'd be willing to guess he's not alone. It seems that before she left, Shantel cleaned out the bank accounts, threw all the church records and computers in a dumpster, and then left all the doors to the house and the church unlocked and wide open. Let's just say that Kwame didn't have much to come home to when he came home."

Tanisha shook her head. "In that neighborhood? With her pumping things up? I'll bet there wasn't much left."

"Right," Bricklin grinned. "Right down to the copper pipes out of the walls. There's no way he's coming after you until he finds Shantel, which I sincerely doubt he's going to do."

"You know and you're not saying, right?" Jon grinned.

"Well, I don't know, and I'm not saying," the older man grinned. "However I will say that there probably were some Halloran resources used. Best of all, his power base is all but gone, and he's going to have some real fun with the IRS over those missing records. I doubt you're even going to cross his mind."

"I sort of hate to see things end like that," Tanisha shook her head. "Dad worked hard to build all that up and Kwame wasted it. I know Dad did some good, but Kwame was just a leech. I guess it's the logical thing to expect, but still." She shook her head again and said, "At least he can't do much more harm around there for a while."

"Well, because of the security aspects of it we'll still keep an eye on him from time to time, but I'd expect it will be a while before he gets his head above water enough to do anything. Oh, Clemmens is going away for a while over the assault on the Fredericks woman, thanks to carrying a gun and his priors, so maybe the city has a job opening for your brother."

Tanisha's due date of July first came and went without either of them worrying about it -- it had been at best an approximation anyway. As it turned out her water broke early on the morning of the fourth, so Jon took her to the hospital. It proved to be a fairly easy delivery, although real, serious contractions didn't set in until late in the day. The young Barbara Chladek came into the world right after dark, as a nearby fireworks display filled the sky with light and sound. As Tanisha took Barbara into her arms for the first time, she smiled at Jon and said, "You know, Jon, that could be a problem."


"Is she going to grow up thinking the fireworks are for her birthday?"

"As far as I'm concerned, they are."

For more than one reason -- Tanisha's pregnancy being the big one -- Jon and Tanisha hadn't planned to hold an open house for their new home until after Barbara arrived, when they could combine the event with a sort-of baby shower. The Canyon Tours tripping schedule, which dictated Crystal, Preach, and Nanci's availability, meant that it was along in July before it could be held.

Phoenix gets uncomfortably hot in the summer, but people tend to get used to it, and there was plenty of shade around the pool in the back yard. The Canyon Tours people present preferred it outside -- it can get very hot in the Grand Canyon at that time of year and they found the shaded pool area to be comfortable, indeed. However, those people who worked inside preferred the powerful air conditioning in the house, including many people from Lambdatron. There was lots of oohing and aahing over the little girl, just adding to the fun.

"So," Angela smiled, "Is she a good baby?"

"Very good," Tanisha replied as she held Barbara in her arms. "She still usually gets us up in the middle of the night, but occasionally she stays down for the night."

"They've got to be fun when they're that young," Angela said. "There are times that I wish I'd had a baby, but I guess I'm past that now. It's probably just as well; I don't know how my life would get along with motherhood."

"It'd probably be all right," Jon said, as always close to Tanisha. "You're a caring person, and that counts for a lot."

"Probably so, but it would have been difficult when I was younger. Anyway, at my age it's water down the river for the most part. So, are you planning on coming back to work soon?"

"It's going to be another few weeks yet," Tanisha admitted. "I'm already starting to get bored with hanging around the house, but at least I can work online part of the day. That helps a lot."

"We miss you around the place," Stan commented. "It seems strange to see Jon there and not have you right next to him."

"It seems strange to me, too," Tanisha agreed. "I'm going to be glad when I can get back to work, but I'm not quite up to it yet. Thank God we've got the day care center."

"That's what it's there for," Stan smiled. "I think by the time you get back, we're going to need you there."

Just then, the doorbell rang, signaling another guest arriving. Joy went to let them in. She didn't recognize the man, but then she didn't know a lot of the Lambdatron people. When he came into the living room, Jon was a little surprised to see Jim Bricklin. "I hope this isn't more news," he sighed.

"No, just dropping off a couple gifts. One is from my wife and I, but I think you'll be surprised at the other one," he smiled, holding out an appropriately wrapped package with a card attached.

A little curious, Tanisha handed Barbara to Joy and opened the card first. "Oh, my God!" she said as she opened the card. "It's from Shantel!"

"Shantel?" Jon frowned. "How does she know where we are?"

"She doesn't," Jim said. "There were, uh, some Halloran resources involved in getting this to me."

"Leroy Kingfisher?" Jon smiled.

"I know it's tempting for you to think that, but I'm not going to say."

"Oh, my God!" Tanisha said after a quick scan of the card. "I don't believe it. Jon, read this."

Jon took the card from her hand and quickly read over the handwritten note: "Here's a little something for Barbara. It's big, but she'll grow into it so quickly you won't believe it. Thank you for what you said at the restaurant. I always knew a lot of that but tried to ignore it until you got me to thinking, and then I couldn't ignore it any longer. I can't tell you where I am but maybe I can see you again someday so I can thank you personally. Best of luck with Barbara. -- Shantel"

"Well," Jon said as he handed the card back to Tanisha, who by then had torn open the package of baby clothes. "I'd say that she got the message, but I guess she had it all along and hadn't managed to bring herself to do anything about it."

"Looks like it to me," Tanisha agreed, then held up the baby outfit Shantel had sent. "Isn't this cute?"

Jon really was blind in that spectrum -- all baby clothes looked like baby clothes to him -- but he smiled and replied, "Sure is. That was very thoughtful of her."

"Yes it was," Tanisha agreed and turned to Bricklin. "Jim, is there a way to get a simple thank you back to her?"

"It can be arranged," he nodded. "I'll take care of it Monday. I really need to be going. I just stopped off to make that delivery, and it's good to know I brought you some good news for once."

"Well, at least you can hang around long enough to have some cake and ice cream," Tanisha told him.

"It won't do my waistline any good," he grinned. "But I think I can manage that."

The security man stayed around for a few minutes, talking with Stan and a couple of the other Lambdatron people before he left. As with any such affair, there was a lot of standing around and talking, and in Jon and Tanisha's case, saying the same thing over and over to different people. After a while, Jon noticed something a little funny. "You know," he said, "I sort of expected Jennlynn to be here, but I haven't seen her. She didn't say anything about going to the Redlite or to Biloxi this weekend."

"I know she's planning on coming," Stan told them, "But she had to fly a charter this morning, so she wasn't going to be here first thing. She shouldn't be long, though."

"Good," Jon said. "It wouldn't be right if she weren't here."

Almost as if on cue, the doorbell rang again. Once again, Joy went to the door to greet some more people she didn't know. When she opened the door to let them in, Jon could see it was Jennlynn, but almost dropped his plastic glass of non-alcoholic punch when he saw who Jennlynn had with her -- his father and Doris!

"Good grief, Dad," he said as he scuttled across the living room, Tanisha, carrying Barbara, trailing in his wake. "What are you doing here?"

"I hope we aren't intruding," Pete smiled, "But I have some business to do here the first of the week. Jennlynn offered to fly me out, and told me to bring Doris along, so here we are."

"I sure never expected this," Jon shook his head. "Jennlynn, you could have said something."

"What, and spoil the surprise?" the raven-haired woman said. "I don't get to do something like this very often."

"So," Jon said, searching for words in the midst of his shock, "How'd you like flying in a Learjet?"

"If all traveling was like that I don't think I'd mind it as much," he smiled. "This looks like quite a house you have."

"We like it," Jon said, glad to have a familiar subject to talk about. "It's probably a little on the big side for us, but we're used to small places and I suspect Barbara is going to fill it up pretty well."

"This must be Barbara," Pete said, turning to Tanisha. "My first grandchild, but I'm hoping not my last."

"Oh, isn't she the sweetest thing," Doris beamed. "Is she being a good baby?"

"Very good," Tanisha said. "She's nothing like all the horror stories you hear."

The two of them talked about babies for a couple minutes before Pete turned to his son. "So, is any of the family here?"

"They're all here," Jon told him. "Al and Preach, too. They're all out back. Since they all work outside none of them are used to air conditioning, and they prefer to be out where they think it's comfortable."

"It is a touch on the warm side out there," Pete nodded. "But maybe Doris and I had better go out and see them."

"Come on, I'll take you," Jon said, just a little concerned. As far as he knew, his mother hadn't talked to Pete since back in March, and, while the subject had come up in the times that the family had been together since then, it hadn't come up much. As far as he knew Crystal still felt pretty vindictive about her parting from Pete -- but there had been no discussion of it that he'd heard. At least, he thought, with Al and Preach present Crystal wasn't likely to make a huge scene.

"I think I better go, too," Tanisha said, handing Barbara to Joy -- it was rather warm for the little girl out there, especially the way she was dressed for the air-conditioned house.

Jon led the other three through the kitchen and out to the back yard, where most of the group was sitting around in the shade. Nanci was wearing a conservative light blue one-piece swimsuit, still dripping wet, so it was clear she'd just gotten out of the pool. Might as well be upbeat about it, he thought. "Hey, folks!" he said with a happy tone, "Look who Jennlynn just flew in!"

"Pete!" Karin gushed. "I'm surprised to see you!"

"You're looking good, Karin," he said warmly. "I guess life in the Grand Canyon must be treating you pretty well."

"Very well," she said, getting to her feet and going over to give him a mild hug, with Al right behind her. "Pete, I was so sorry to hear about you being in the hospital. I still wish I could have been there for you."

"It worked out," he smiled. "In fact, it worked out in some ways I had no reason to expect, so no excuses, all right?"

"Sure, Pete, but still."

"It's all right, Karin," he said. "I'd guess this would have to be Al."

"Yes," she said, "It's such a surprise to see you I'm forgetting my manners."

"Al, I hope you're taking good care of her."

"When I can keep up with her," Al grinned. "At my age, that gets to be a job sometimes."

"Hi, Dad," Nanci said, joining the group clustered around them. "How are you doing?"

"Very well, Nanci," he said, looking her over. "I don't think I've ever seen you looking so healthy. I take it rafting the Grand Canyon has been keeping you busy."

"For something I never dreamed I'd do in my life, it's pretty cool," she smiled.

Crystal and Preach were standing near the edge of the group. Out of the corner of his eye, Jon could see the two of them squeeze hands before Crystal stepped up and said, "Pete, I'm glad you could make it out to see us."

"You're looking good too, Crystal," he replied, apparently aware that her greeting wasn't exactly the warmest in the world, not that he really expected more. "I take it you're satisfied with your life?"

"It was tough getting here, but I wouldn't have it any other way," she said, a little more animated. "Preach has been telling me that sometimes tough times happen for a purpose, and I guess it worked out that way for me."

"I'm sorry that I had to be one to make them tough for you," he told her. "But at least it looks like they worked out well anyway."

"Yeah, they did," she said. "Pete, why don't you sit down? It's got to be nasty out here in the heat for you."

"I could be more comfortable," he said. "But with everybody gathered around like this, it's probably as good a time as any to say a couple things needing to be said. The first, of course, is obvious. I know I was an awful asshole to you for a long time, and, while I know it was the tumor talking, I really don't have any excuses, so I hope all of you will forgive me for it."

"That's in the past," Karin said. "I don't think any of us did much to make things easier for you, so there's some apologies needed from our side of the fence, too."

"Yeah," Crystal added, "I suppose we didn't help much."

"As you said, it's in the past," Pete said. "And the past is a good place for it, especially since there's a future to come. But in spite of everything, some good things came out of it. Karin, I suppose you and Jon and Tanisha told everybody about Doris, and how she saved my life and nursed me through my worst days after the operation."

"Yes," Karin said. "Doris, I don't know how to thank you for it. When I heard about it, I knew you'd done something I should have done, even though I was divorced from Pete at the time. I still felt a responsibility toward him, and I feel like I dropped the ball. Thank you for picking it up."

"I couldn't help myself," she said. "I knew he was hurting, and well, there was no one else so I decided I had to do it."

"And I'll be forever grateful," Pete smiled. "I'm also sure Jon has told you that Doris and I have spent a lot of time together since the operation. At first she was nursing me, and then it was just a couple lonely people who needed friends." He took a deep breath and added, "Then Jon and Tanisha came along, and they taught us very quickly that despite the color difference between Doris and myself, we didn't have to limit ourselves to being just friends. Everyone, I'd like to introduce you to my new wife, Doris Chladek."

-- 30 --

12:58 PM, 3/14/10

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