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

Pulling Even
Book Seven of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Wes Boyd
2004, 2009, 2011

Chapter 5

As Nicole sat in front of the fire in her warm, comfortable living room in Spearfish Lake, thinking about sex and some of the fun things she could do with Randy, about fifteen hundred miles to the southwest, Crystal was also sitting in front of a fire, thinking about sex. She wasn't as comfortable, for there were no soft, overstuffed couches within many miles, but she was cuddled up next to her man, which was a pleasure that Nicole would be denied for a while longer.

One of the problems of rafting the Grand Canyon as late in the season as they were this trip was the days were short and were getting shorter. In the summer, they had the luxury of being able to get around fairly leisurely in the morning, and knock off early enough to have plenty of time for hikes, dinner, and the like. But as the days grew shorter the precious daylight had to be used carefully, and sometimes there was just too much time to kill in the evenings.

In the off season, driftwood fires are allowed in fire pans in the Canyon. However, there often isn't much driftwood to be found, so it was normal practice for Canyon Tours trips to carry a small amount of firewood, charcoal and artificial logs with them on the rafts. Campfires have traditionally been an evening activity while camping since time immemorial, even on an unappealing night like this one. A tarp had been erected to keep off the occasional spitting rain, and the fire pan set up just outside it so the breeze still blowing up the river would carry the smoke away.

During the summer months, Crystal or Preach would often pull out a guitar to make the evening go more quickly, but this didn't seem like a guitar night, and Crystal didn't feel like getting her hands that cold. Very often, one or the other of them would sort of lead the discussion, talking about the Canyon or other such things. This night neither of them really were in the mood, and there were a couple of talkative customers who were doing a pretty good job of it, so she just snuggled back up against Preach's legs and let her thoughts wander.

In the short time since their decision to get married and the announcement of it back at the office a few days before, a number of people had told Crystal right to her face that marrying a minister was about the last thing they would have ever expected her to do. In quiet moments, Crystal occasionally wondered about it herself. Although she considered herself a Christian, she really was only moderately religious, and not driven or consumed by her religion like some people she knew. It was a part of her, but only a part; she was still a boisterous, fun-loving, active individual who enjoyed her good times. Oh, she'd moderated a bit since the college days when she'd run around with Randy, had an active sex life, and would lift a few if she happened to feel like it, and that new moderation had come about even before Preach had reappeared in her life last spring. Maybe she was growing up, she thought.

Preach was a long-time friend, going back in her life even further than Randy, but until last spring, neither of them had really considered being romantic with each other. She felt a peace, a comfort with him that she'd never quite managed with Randy, as close as they'd been. During her wandering years, when she'd been separated from her family, Randy had a standing offer to marry her, but she'd never come close to considering taking him up on it. Part of that came from the fact that she knew she had a lot of wanderlust and had to keep searching for whatever it had been that she was searching for, while Randy was clearly going to have to be a homebody in Spearfish Lake. She'd known instinctively that it would be a recipe for trouble; when she and Nicole had been talking about Randy out on the Appalachian Trail one day, she'd agreed to stand to the side to let Nicole have a shot at him, even though Crystal knew she was giving up a lot to do it.

One of the things she had given up was the fact that Randy had been the best lover she'd ever had. Though he could be kind and gentle and soulful when the situation was right, they both had seriously enjoyed active, enthusiastic, athletic bed-wrecking sex. Over the course of several years, they'd done a pretty good job of tearing up several beds to prove it. That was back in the days when she'd done some sport fucking from time to time, sleeping around merely for the prospect of having a good time, but those days were long in the past. Randy was, in fact, the last man she'd been to bed with, in the days following her Appalachian Trail hike, and that was getting to be a while in the past, now.

In recent winters, she'd joined with her friends Scooter and Michelle in chartering a sailboat in the Bahamas. They'd spent a lot of time partying, drinking, and messing around, sometimes wearing bikinis that were about as close to wearing nothing as it was possible to get while still wearing something. Crystal, though, had hung back from the partying, and just let Scooter and Michelle go chasing and often catching guys for a night of fun, games, and sex. She had told her friends that she was perfectly capable of partying if she felt like it, but she just hadn't happened to feel like it. Even though her family had re-entered her life for the most part, she was still feeling the need for a closer relationship than a one-night stand with someone whose name she didn't know.

Then, Preach re-entered her life, back last spring. In an awkward way, they'd spent most of a trip nosing around each other, reaching for each other without either one of them admitting it. Then came the last day of the trip, when Preach had offered to stay in the Canyon and work for Canyon Tours, if they could work toward being something more than just friends. Crystal had agreed in an instant, and their romance took off from there. They'd flown back to Atlanta to pick up his car, then driven to Chattanooga to turn in his resignation from Glen Hill Road and pack most of his stuff in a storage building before driving back toward Arizona. The first night out, near Little Rock, they'd gotten a cheap motel room with two beds. "Noah," she'd said after they were back from dinner at a nearby chain restaurant, "I've got something I want to talk about. Something we haven't discussed."

"You mean sleeping together?" he surmised.

"Yeah," she admitted. "Well, more than just sleep. Noah, I want to very badly, but I don't know if we should. I mean, well, uh . . ."

"You're wondering if it's the right thing to do?" he smiled.

"Yeah," she nodded. "I mean, considering, well, uh . . ."

"That I'm a minister?" he finished for her. "Well, former minister now, I guess. Crystal, let me just say I'm about as anxious for it as you are. I know you've had an active sex life in the past, and I don't resent you for having it. In fact, there were times that I envied you for it a bit. But, well, I haven't, and you know that."

"Right," she nodded. "Like I told you back in the Canyon, if I had ever thought that dragging you out into the bushes was the way to get to you, I'd have dragged you out there years ago. But I always figured that wasn't the way."

"And you were right," he smiled. "Crystal, I'm willing to do what you want, and if it involves having sex with you tonight, so be it. But you're turning away from the life you led in the past, aren't you?"

"I've tried to," she said softly.

"I know you have," he told her. "Crystal, while we've been friends for many years, I think we both know we're going to face some challenges in turning our two lives into one, since we have such different histories. Like I said, I'll do what you want, but if I had my choice, I'd like to leave sex as a reward for overcoming those challenges."

"You mean, not till we're married, right?"

"Symbolically, wouldn't that be the best thing to do to show me you've turned away from your old life?"

She was silent for a moment. "Can I at least sleep with you and just cuddle?" she asked quietly.

"Nothing would make me happier," he told her. "On the other hand, perhaps it's best to avoid the temptation."

So it was that they slept in separate beds that evening, and ever since. Oh, they often slept close to each other, spreading their sleeping bags side by side but never zipped together, even on the rare nights like tonight when they pitched a tent. It had been hard, and still was hard, but most of the time Crystal had felt like it had been the right thing to do with him. It might not have been with anyone else, and there had been many times that Crystal had wanted to cave in to the temptation, but it had never happened and wouldn't this night.

But that didn't keep her from wondering what it would be like to finally do it with him. It was almost like she was a virgin all over again, wondering if it would be good or bad. Sure, she had some experience and could probably train him to her taste, but she was getting anxious to get started. Oh, well, only another month and she'd have this self-imposed wait behind her.

Crystal relaxed and snuggled up against Preach, trying to get a little more comfortable. As much as she loved the Grand Canyon, there weren't a lot of places to be comfortable sitting, and this wasn't one of them. What would it be like, being married to Preach? Once upon a time, before she and Randy had graduated from college, there had been some discussion of their living together for a semester, just to experiment, to see if she could be comfortable living like a wife. It had never happened, but the question still lingered. Now, it was clear that in a month she was going to have to find out whether she could manage it or not, and find out the hard way.

*   *   *

"I hope you realize she's gonna kill you," Al shook his head as Karin hung up the phone about fifty miles south of where Crystal was snuggling up with Preach. "Then where the hell am I going to be?"

"Don't be ridiculous," Karin laughed. Even after six months of marriage, and a year and a half of near marriage as close as could be managed without actually living together most of the time, she was still amazed at the amount of good nature in this house, with this man – especially after the last years with Pete, who'd been sour and grumpy all the time. There hadn't been much laughter in her home for years. "She's pulled that same stunt on someone else so many times it'll be a positive joy to have her fall for it."

"She didn't pull it at Randy and Nicole's wedding," Al protested lamely.

"No, of course she didn't. She couldn't, wearing that hideous bridesmaid's dress. I mean, I don't see her in a dress very often, but that one was really silly. I sometimes wonder if Nicole did that on purpose. If Nicole did, Crystal certainly did an adequate job of getting back at her."

"Except she had to rope you and Scooter into doing the dirty work," Al grinned at the memory.

"Well, she couldn't have done it very well herself, wearing that ugly thing," Karin grinned.

"So is Nicole going to get even?"

"She wouldn't say," Karin smiled. "She had a, well, an evil tone in her voice at one point that tells me she's thinking about it."

"Yep, this is going to be a raft guide wedding, all right," Al laughed. "I've seen 'em get a little wild a time or two. Ours was downright sedate, compared to some I've seen."

"The location made up for it," Karin giggled. "I wonder if anyone has ever figured out why we decided to get married there."

"I've never said anything," Al grinned. "But I know some people suspect, and I think Crystal is one of them."

Al and Karin had been married down in the Canyon, which was appropriate, at a place called the Baseball Man Waterpocket, a good day's run downriver from Phantom Ranch – about as an out of the way place near the river as could be managed. They'd decided early on to get married down in the Canyon, and from there it had been only a short step of whimsy to decide to have the wedding at the first place they'd made love a quarter century before. Karin didn't think Crystal had been conceived there – that was more likely to have happened in a hotel room in Las Vegas after the trip, the last time in over two decades that the two of them had been together. It hadn't been until some years later that Karin had slowly come to realize Crystal was Al's daughter, rather than Pete's.

"I suppose it's not that hard to figure out," Karin shrugged. "I mean, it's pretty obvious when you stop and think about it."

"You're probably right," Al admitted. "So how are you coming?"

"Getting there," Karin said with a smile. "Tell me, isn't it just like Crystal to announce she's getting married in a little over four weeks and then manage to get herself out of the picture for three of them? Where's all the adventure, the excitement, the thrill, the mother-daughter bonding with her out on the river until nine days before the wedding?"

"Seems simple to me," Al shook his head at his wife's feigned tirade. "She doesn't want to deal with it so managed to duck out and dump it on you."

"Right, and I'll teach her to pull that stunt on me again," Karin grinned. "Except I don't think she'll have to."

"Me, either," Al admitted as the phone rang.

"I sure hope that's a call back," Karin said as she picked up the phone again. Because of the tight time schedule, there wasn't any chance to do the normal printed invitation routine, and Crystal was a little too informal for that, anyway. In fact, her idea of a wedding went well beyond mere informal, to downright casual. That meant Karin had been stuck with calling around to invite people to the wedding and work out other details. That was fine, because she wanted to talk to everyone coming to the wedding anyway. "Buck's," she said into the phone.

"My word, Karin, how wonderful to hear your voice," she heard Myleigh say. "I have a message here to return your call, along with a goodly number of such messages from Crystal. Is something the matter?"

"No, not at all," Karin replied. "She and I have been trying to get hold of you all weekend, though. We thought you must have been out at some concert somewhere."

"Three of them, in fact," Myleigh said. "Trey and I only arrived back early this morning, and I've been constrained with classes and mending fences from being gone all day yesterday. I take it that Crystal is upon the waters."

"Yes, her last trip of the season," Karin said. "We've got big news for you." It was always fun to talk to Myleigh. She used a lot of big words, sometimes very formally. Though distance had dimmed the relationship a little, Myleigh had been Crystal's college roommate and best friend for several years. It still seemed a little strange, since Myleigh and Crystal were about as different as two girls could be. Crystal was large, sloppy and rather plain, while Myleigh was small, neat and cute. Crystal tended toward tomboy, if not downright butch; while Myleigh was very feminine; Crystal was athletic, while Myleigh was studious. It was no surprise that one of the girls had wound up as a river guide and the other one was a professor of English Literature, yet still remained friends – such close friends that they'd agreeably shared a boyfriend in Randy Clark for several years.

"I must confess that I have a bit of news of my own," Myleigh said with obvious glee in her voice. "Last Friday night, Mr. Trey Hartwell did me the distinct honor of offering to take my hand in marriage. I of course accepted."

"Myleigh!" Karin gushed. "That's wonderful!" Karin knew Trey, if not well; he'd been surfing with them a year before, down in Florida. He'd also made a couple trips with Canyon Tours as a swamper back in the spring before deciding to follow Myleigh to Spearfish Lake to mix and edit into an album the field recordings he'd done of her spontaneous harp music on the second trip. He was a nice young man, not that he was exactly the kind of man that Karin would have expected Myleigh to wind up with. But then she'd never been able to figure out exactly what kind of man she would have wound up with in the first place. "This is rather sudden, isn't it?"

"Not really," Myleigh admitted. "In fact, we both realize now that it has been building for a while. In any case, that's not all the news I have. I've resigned my position at Marienthal College effective at the end of the spring semester, and am taking a position at Weatherford College. Trey will be accepting a position with Jennifer and Blake as business manager of their recording company. Randy has been nice enough to act as the go-between to arrange for Trey and I to purchase a house in Spearfish Lake, which I find rather ironic, for reasons you may assume."

"That's ironic, all right," Karin shook her head. "I always understood you never got serious with Randy because you didn't want to have to spend your life in Spearfish Lake."

"That's essentially the case," she could hear Myleigh smile. "But times have changed, and my life is considerably different than I would have expected at the moment I reached that decision."

"So, have you set a date, and that sort of thing?" Karin asked.

"Yes," Myleigh replied, still with a smile that could be heard over the phone. "Trey suggested there could be tax benefits if we were married yet this year, so we will be getting married on December 29th in Spearfish Lake, at Jennifer and Blake's house. Although we plan a small, intimate affair, you and Al are of course invited, as are Crystal and Noah, along with Michelle and anyone else from Canyon Tours who may wish to make so long a journey. I had hoped to be able to ask Crystal to serve as Maid of Honor, but if she is upon the waters, I shall have to delay that question for a while."

"I can't imagine that she wouldn't do it," Karin grinned. "But there's going to be a slight complication. She won't be able to be your maid of honor. It'll have to be matron of honor."

"Karin, did you say what I believe you said?"

"Yes," Karin laughed. "Crystal and Noah are going to beat you to it. They're getting married out here on the 24th of next month."

"My, that was quick," Myleigh replied in obvious amazement. "Though they seemed to be getting rather serious the last time I talked to Crystal, I must confess my amazement that she would find herself wedding a minister."

"That's you and the rest of the world," Karin shook her head. "In fact, I think it includes them. I guess I'm sorry to tell you that Crystal asked Scooter to be her maid of honor. It was one of those spur-of-the-moment things out on the river, and you know how that works. In any case, Crystal would be overjoyed to have you there, and to bring along a harp to do the music."

"Of course I shall," Myleigh agreed. "I have nothing planned for that weekend, and I strongly doubt that Trey has, either. I'm sure he will be happy to accompany me."

"We'll be glad to see him, too," Karin replied. "Myleigh, Crystal and Preach are just planning a very casual event. We're going to caravan out to Lee's Ferry so they can be married by the river, and then we're going to have a combination reception and end-of-the-season party here at our house. It'll probably be a touch on the wild side, but nothing you can't handle."

"Knowing Crystal, I would expect nothing less," Myleigh laughed.

"Oh, Myleigh," Karin grinned conspiratorially. "There is one other thing Crystal doesn't know about . . ."

*   *   *

The conversation went on for a while. It had been a while since Myleigh had talked to Karin, who had served as sort of a substitute mother for several years, so there was some other news to catch up on. Myleigh only brought the call to a close because she could see that Trey was serving up their dinner. Trey was still a student, although old for a senior since he'd spent several years in the Army. That meant they had to be a little careful about their relationship on campus, at least up through the end of the semester, when he would graduate. Though they weren't living together yet, they'd often spend their evenings together in her apartment; he enjoyed cooking, among other things, and she appreciated it. Myleigh had taken the time he was in the kitchen to return a few phone calls.

Over dinner, Myleigh filled Trey in on the conversation and the news. "Somehow, that doesn't surprise me," he opined after she'd covered the important details.

"You mean Crystal being wedded to Noah, my love?" she asked.

"Well, that too," he smiled. "But that idea of Karin's sounds just perfect to me. Al married himself a real handful there."

"Oh, I agree," Myleigh grinned. "I believe this will give Crystal an adequate amount of consternation."

"Yeah, but you've got to wonder," he said thoughtfully.

"Wonder what, my love?"

"You have to wonder what they're going to wind up pulling on us."

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To be continued . . .

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