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

Book Two of the New Tales of Spearfish Lake
Wes Boyd
Copyright ©2010, ©2012

Chapter 26

They spent the night in the same motel as they knew the motel situation wasn’t very good in Hawthorne, but Susan was so dispirited that there was no play for them, no pool or hot tub. They just sat around and watched TV while Mizuki tried to snap Susan out of her depression.

They wound up going to bed early, and even as the sun rose they were on the road for Hawthorne and Southern Michigan University. Perhaps it was because Mizuki had been talking the place up so much that Susan felt a little brighter. For the first time, she was really looking forward to seeing the place for its own sake, not just to humor her friend.

It took them a couple hours to get down there; as Mizuki had said, it wasn’t real far from South Bend, but not real close, either, and they were able to drive right to the admissions office, since Mizuki knew where she was going.

Even as they drove onto the campus, Susan was impressed. While it was the newest of the state universities, it still used the buildings of the predecessor college, which showed some architectural character, rather than the pure featureless boxes at some schools she’d investigated – in a way, it seemed like the old campus at Michigan State. There was even a little hint of the age and character that would be associated with a place like Albburg, which also impressed her in a way she couldn’t describe.

According to Mizuki, a lot of things at Southern were unconventional, but the campus visit process started out much the same as they had at the other two schools. They were shown around the campus, and soon were taken to the science building. “We’re pretty proud of this place,” the pimply student leading them said of the building that, while obviously modern, at least showed some architectural character. “They never had a science building before the state took the place over. The old school was very religious, and they didn’t want to have to admit not only that Darwin existed, but he was also right. So, they never bothered with any more than the simplest of sciences. One of the decisions made when Southern took over was that they weren’t going to have intercollegiate athletics so as to not promote a jock mentality. When they built the science building, they put it right on the fifty yard line of what was the football field.”

“Boy, that sent a message, I guess,” Susan smiled.

“Damn right,” the kid said. “It’s been so nice to be around a school without jocks, it isn’t funny. I’m sure glad they built this place.”

The departmental tours were a bit different, too. One of the things that Susan was impressed with was the journalism program, which was a part of the relatively small liberal arts program at the school. “We do have to have some liberal arts,” the department chief said. “We really can’t get around it, and it’s not very good to turn people loose who are only techies with no depth. But we can go a long way toward tailoring a program to a student’s needs, far more than in most schools, and the partnership we have with Notre Dame means that we have access to one of the best journalism programs in the country.”

“I made the wisecrack a while back,” Susan grinned, “that while Notre Dame may have a fine journalism program, it’d be hard to convince someone that a Notre Dame journalism degree doesn’t mean you’re automatically a sportswriter.”

“That’s not the first time I’ve heard it,” the department chairman said. “While an SMU degree may not have the cachet of a Notre Dame degree, it’s pretty much the same program, if cheaper, and it doesn’t carry that baggage along with it.”

The International Studies program at SMU proved to be somewhat similarly linked to Notre Dame’s, as well, although more of it was on campus and focused on international business, more so than the program at Grand Valley, which was something else Susan liked.

By the time they got back to the admissions office, the appeal of the place had risen considerably in Susan’s eyes. After a while, they were called in to see an admissions counselor, who talked with her a bit and glanced at her application. “I can see that you’re the type of student we want to have here,” he said. “Bright, with a broader background than most, and with a little idealism to boot. Your international experience is especially interesting considering your goals. Given all that and the score you had on the Abitur, I have no problem offering you a provisional acceptance, providing your transfer grades hold up.”

It was the first acceptance that Susan had actually received, which was a relief in a number of ways. “I have to admit that I’m not all the way sold on going here,” she said. “The financial issue especially bothers me.”

“Yes, it’s that way with a lot of students,” the man explained. “As you know, we’re a new school with a very limited endowment, so that doesn’t give us much latitude. However, there are a few things we can do to mitigate that a little. For instance, while we have dorm rooms and the cost for them, along with the campus meal plan, is as high if not higher here than it is elsewhere, at no time are you forced to live on campus. In fact, we encourage you to live elsewhere due to the limited dorm space. Apartment rentals are fairly cheap in this town various reasons, and you can save several thousand dollars a year here, especially if you double or triple up with someone.”

“Mizuki told me that,” Susan said, nodding in the direction of her friend, who had stayed quietly in the corner of the room, staying out of the discussion. “In fact, if I wind up coming here, I’ll probably be rooming with her.”

“Well, we certainly hope you will come here,” he said. “With your background and language proficiency, I think there’s much you can add to the campus, and I think we can do something for you, as well.”

*   *   *

By the time they were pretty well done with the campus visit and the tour, it was the middle of the afternoon. “I could stand something to eat,” Mizuki suggested. “Let’s head over to the snack bar. It was pretty good the last time I was here.”

“Fine with me, I’m hungry too,” Susan said.

The food at the snack bar seemed pretty good for a college, better than Riverside anyway, which was saying something. They got burgers, fries, and Diet Pepsis, and settled down at one of the tables. “So,” Mizuki said as she picked up her burger, “what do you think?”

“I like it, no doubt about it,” Susan said. “It’s better than I thought it would be, and you’re right, they’re flexible and innovative. I especially like that. I think I could do well here.”

“I think I can, too,” Mizuki agreed. “It’s part of why I want to go here.”

“I’m really thinking about it,” Susan sighed. “Let’s face facts. I think I’d still like to go to Michigan State, but after yesterday and talking to that idiot in the admissions department, I think I’m pretty well shot in the butt there.”

“I hate to say it for your sake, but you’re probably right,” Mizuki agreed after a bite on a fry. “Yesterday kind of rubbed it off the list.”

“I’d have to say that getting that admission here definitely wipes Central off the list, too,” Susan said. “It was never anything more than a fallback position. It might be different if my brother hadn’t gone there, but he did and I don’t want to follow in his footsteps. It still would be financially a little more affordable, but not a lot more, and I’d have to live on campus for at least one year. I don’t know how much I’d like it, and I don’t know how much I’d like paying for it. As much as I like Weatherford, not to mention my friend who teaches there, it was never more than an also ran, and it would only have been affordable if I was a commuter. That’s an awful long damn drive to have to do every day, and I don’t want to live at home, anyway.”

“That’s not real different from what you said before,” Mizuki pointed out.

“Yeah, I know, but they were fallback positions and I don’t need them now that I have at least one admission in my hot little hand. That gets us down to Grand Valley and here. Grand Valley is a little more affordable, although I’d have to live on campus there for a year, too. But somehow, it doesn’t reach out and call to me like this place does. What with everything, I’d say it’s pretty close to being equal.”

“I’d really like it if you were to come here with me,” Mizuki said with a smile. “We could have a lot of fun sharing an apartment, and that doesn’t mean the kind of fun we had a couple nights on this trip. Well, at least not all the time. Maybe when the mood hits us, but as much fun as we had, I still don’t think I want to make a habit of it.”

“Hey, I’d like to come here with you too,” Susan told her. “And I agree about the fun. But I have to look at the financial picture, too. I might be able to sneak through Grand Valley on what I can get from their financial aid package, plus some from my family, without having to do any student loans. If I did, they wouldn’t amount to much. There’s no way I can afford to do it here without the student loans, and a lot more of them than I want.”

“I’m probably going to need a lot of student loans,” Mizuki said. “My dad is going to help me out quite a bit, but there’s no way I can make it through without them, either. That’s why I’m going to Riverside this year, instead of here.”

“Yeah, but you’re planning on having a job when you graduate,” Susan pointed out. “I mean, I plan on having one, too, but having to deal with student loans while I’m living in some other country, maybe on the move a lot, and maybe not making a lot of money, that could be a lot harder to handle.”

“Well, yeah,” Mizuki agreed. “But look at the bright side. You started this trip with a list of five schools. You’re now down to two. You’ve been accepted at one of them, and you’ll probably get accepted at the other. That’s a lot more than you had when you started.”

“Yeah, but I got my butt shot off at the one I really wanted, and it still hurts a little. I can’t help but think that if I’d gotten someone who knew what he was doing I would have stood a better chance.”

“There’s always the chance that it could be like Albburg was for Hans, and you might not like it as well,” Mizuki pointed out. “And then where would you be?”

“Yeah, there is that, too,” Susan sighed. “Assuming I get accepted to Grand Valley, and I really don’t doubt that I will, that just gets me down to deciding between the two. That’s a little simpler than it was.”

*   *   *

They might have stayed the night in Hawthorne, except that there was no motel with an indoor pool; so long before they’d left home, they’d agreed on a motel in Grand Rapids, not far from Grand Valley, in fact. This one had a pool and a hot tub, and they used it quite a bit before retreating to their room for the last night of fun and games on the trip. It was worth the effort, but they also decided they didn’t want to make a habit of it. Maybe sometime, maybe spring break, they decided, they might be able to get together for a few days, maybe going down to Hawthorne again to look for an apartment, if it worked out that Susan wound up going there. And maybe, Mizuki suggested, they might be able to get together with Roger over Christmas break or something for a little three-way fun and games.

It was a long haul from Grand Rapids to Camden, the longest haul of the trip, so they got started early, switching off driving frequently. Most of the way, they talked about the advantages of Southern versus Grand Rapids, examining every possible aspect of it until they were both tired of the subject. The advantages and disadvantages seemed about level with each other, and there was no clear winner for Susan.

Although they had a great trip and much had been settled, Susan was still glad to drop Mizuki off and head for home. She was tired, especially tired of driving, and had a headache from thinking about the problem so much. When she got home, she gave her parents a thumbnail description of what had happened, leaving out the fun and games in the motel rooms, of course, and then went to bed early.

The next week things fell back to routine at Riverside. Well, almost routine; Halloween fell on Sunday, but there were a few related antics all week. On Tuesday, Susan and Mizuki told Bianca about a lot of the trip, leaving out the motel room parts, of course, and during the day they decided to have a little Halloween fun themselves.

Mizuki had more or less given up wearing the sailor fuku outfits that made her look like a Japanese schoolgirl as she just hadn’t been getting enough reaction from people with them to make it worth the effort. “Bunch of gaijin barbarians,” she snorted at one point, speaking of her classmates. But on that Thursday, she wore another sailor fuku with a few other accompaniments that really said “Sailor Moon” to anyone familiar with the cartoon. Susan was right with her, wearing a dirndl with a blouse and traditional apron with her hair in braids. It was October; of course, bierfest time, and she really looked the part, looking like she ought to have both hands full of beer steins. Both of them got more comments than normal, and they agreed it was worth the effort.

Another week came and went. Susan was more or less busy at work that Friday afternoon, looking for something useful to do, when her mother said, “Susan, you’ve got a phone call.”

She picked up the phone, wondering who would be calling her; things were that quiet. She was a little surprised to hear Randy Clark’s voice on the other end of the line. “How are you doing?” he asked.

“Pretty well,” she said. “School is going real well, and I’m working pretty hard at it.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” he said. “Look, I’ve been talking to Carrie down at your office. She tells me that you’re not planning on going to that school in Germany after all.”

“Right,” she told him. “I was wanting too pretty bad, but things have changed and it’s totally out of the picture now. It’s now down to Grand Valley and Southern Michigan.”

“That’s what she was saying,” he told her. “Look, is there any chance you could come over to the house tonight? There’s some people I’d like you to meet who may have some influence on your decision.”

“Sure, what time?” she said.

“Oh, how about seven?”

“I can do that. See you then.”

After the call was over, Susan couldn’t help but wonder what it was all about, and what Randy or his friends could say that could help with the decision. But, there was nothing to do but go and find out, so after dinner, she headed down to the Clark house on Lakeshore Drive, wearing office clothes, respectable and nice-looking office clothes, in hopes of appearing businesslike.

She knocked on the door of the house – it was big and avant-garde, one of the more spectacular homes around the lake – and a strange woman met her at the door. “Hi,” she said with a smile, “I’m Rachel, Randy’s sister. Come on in and meet the others.”

Susan followed her inside, trying to not gawk at the place. The inside was a huge great room with beams soaring to a high ceiling, with big windows that would give a great view of the lake if it were light outside. Even in the dark, the house lights on the far side of Hannegan’s Cove were beautiful.

“Hi, Susan,” Randy said. “You probably know everyone here, but in case you don’t, this is my father, Ryan, who runs Clark Plywood, and Frank Matson, who’s the bank president.”

“Yes,” she said. “I’ve met you both around at one time or another.”

“I know you also know Myleigh,” Randy said. “She serves as an adviser to us from time to time. My sister Rachel is basically our hostess tonight since Nicole is busy with the baby, so if you want coffee or something, she’ll be glad to help you.”

“I think I’m fine,” Susan said, puzzled by the people there. This didn’t make sense. “But you said adviser. Is there something you need advice on?”

“Sometimes,” the older Clark spoke up. “You see, Randy, Frank, and I are the board of the Donna Clark Foundation. We also are the board for the Clark Plywood Foundation. You’ve heard of those, I think?”

“Yes,” Susan said. “You give community service grants, and sometimes college grants from what I’ve been told.”

“That’s correct,” Ryan told her. “Actually, we’ve been a little surprised that you haven’t applied to us for a grant for college funding.”

“I’ve been holding off on it until I figure out where I’m going,” she said. “I’ve been whittling the list down, and I’ve got it down to two.”

“We’re sort of aware of that,” Matson spoke up. “You see, Carrie down at the Record-Herald is my half-sister, and she’s been keeping us up on that.”

“Half-sister?” Susan said, wondering what that had to do with anything. “I didn’t know that.”

“It’s not at all important,” Matson said. “But she also tells us that you were the one who found out about the problems with the former superintendent in the first place.”

“Well, yes,” Susan admitted. Those days were well in the past now; not long ago, Henry had sent them a story that Gingrich had been convicted in Springfield and was facing hard time, although a sentence had yet to be announced. “But that was just simple research.”

“Simple or not, it had eluded everyone in town till you tripped across it,” Ryan Clark said. “The school board still should have caught it, but did not. Look, to make a long story short, you started a ball rolling that needed to be set in motion, and in time that something could be done about it. You also were poorly treated by that administration.”

“In a way, he did me a favor,” Susan admitted, “a pretty big one. It was uncomfortable at the start, but it worked out as I wouldn’t be in college right now if it weren’t for his actions. That really set me to thinking about a lot of things.”

“Well, that’s probably true,” Randy spoke up. “But simply, Susan, here are the facts. You’re a smart kid with a good future who’s done some unusual things and done them well, including how you worked with your father on the school board story. The way our grant rules are written you might not normally be considered for a Clark Foundation educational grant, but sometimes rules are meant to be broken. We need you to fill out the proper forms and submit an application to us officially, but once the hoops have been jumped through, you should be awarded a substantial per-semester grant. We were talking about four thousand dollars a semester before you walked in.”

Four thousand a semester! Susan found herself almost shaking at the words. That would more than cover the difference between Southern and Grand Valley! “I don’t know how to thank you,” she said, trying to maintain a semblance of calmness. “I’m sure I can find a good place to use the money.”

“I’m sure you can,” Randy smiled. “Look, as was mentioned before, you’re something of a special case. While we like to help kids go to college, we like to make sure our money is well invested, too, so we like to focus on kids who have an interest in community service. You performed a huge service to the community, and you probably saved Spearfish Lake a lot more money than this is costing us. We think that deserves some reward, but since the issue is still a little sensitive around this town until the recall election is over with, and possibly a while after that, we think we need to thank you, well, more unofficially than officially. That’s part of the reason we haven’t approached you about this before, we wanted things to die down a little.”

“What Randy is saying,” the older Clark said, “is that we’re asking you to make your application on the basis of, oh, wanting to promote better international understanding through increased personal contact, or some such thing that doesn’t really have to mean anything. That’ll be the public reason for this grant, not what you did at the newspaper. You really deserve the grant anyway because of your goals and your talents as a student, but that makes it a special reason. We have made grants to much less deserving people than you.”

“Again, I have to thank you,” she said. “I’ll get to work on the application this weekend.”

“I’ve got some forms you’ll have to fill in,” Randy told her. “But someone who writes as well as you shouldn’t have any problem with them, but keep them in English, please. I don’t think anyone here speaks German.”

“Oh, I can do that,” she grinned at Randy’s little joke.

“That concludes the formal part of this meeting, not that it was very formal,” Ryan told her. “This was sort of an unofficial meeting, since the rules we operate under say that we have to have a formal meeting for approval, but we’re already agreed, so I guess that’s what you call a formality. Bad joke, I know, but I’m known for them. But anyway, Carrie tells us that you more or less had decided Southern Michigan University best for you, except for the money issue, and I hope this will solve that. But I have to say that we’re all intrigued a little about the innovative nature of the school, and we’d like to hear something more about the place. We could have Rachel get you something to drink, if you like.”

Susan spent most of the next hour just talking about what she’d learned at Southern Michigan, and comparing it to the other schools she’d investigated. From there, the discussion somehow moved into her experiences in Germany, and soon she was just telling stories and hearing a few in return. It proved to be a fascinating evening, and she didn’t think about the implications of the grant much.

Finally she said goodnight, and went back out to the Cavalier to drive home, almost floating. It wasn’t clear that the grant would take care of all the financial problems of going to Southern Michigan, but at least it would reduce them to manageable size. As far as she was concerned, that settled the issue.

Mizuki would be happy to hear it, and she was almost tempted to call her and give her the news, although it was getting a little late. It could wait till Tuesday, though.

As she drove home, she realized that sometime in the not too distant future, she and Mizuki were going to have to go back down to Hawthorne to go apartment hunting. That, she thought, could be an interesting trip in more ways than one!

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To be continued . . .

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