Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Needless to say, Ginger didn’t have the best night’s sleep. As soon as she finished her meal she drove to a place she knew where she could park the car to grab a nap and wasn’t likely to be bothered. She leaned the seat back, tried to get comfortable in the cooling car and relax. However, sleep was a long time in coming, as her frustrations continued to pour over her, and she mentally picked at the problem without coming to any real conclusions. It was clear that nothing was going to change at home, ever, and she had to get out of there, the sooner the better. Maybe she could join the Army, she thought. It would be better pay and get her the hell out of Hawthorne. It felt like a good idea, and she made a mental note to look at it a little more closely in the morning, well, in the afternoon after she got off work.
Finally it got too cold in the car to sleep comfortably. She checked her watch; it was after midnight, so it ought to be safe to go home. She parked her father’s car in whether he liked it or not; she had to leave before he did, anyway. She set her alarm early, so she stood a good chance of getting out of there before he got up.
As things turned out she was just heading out the door when she heard his alarm go off. Just made it, she thought as she got in the Gremlin, started it up, and drove off. She was going to be a little early getting to work but maybe she could manage a cup of coffee before she clocked in.
No such damn luck. Phipps was on her ass from the moment she walked in the door; she didn’t even get clocked in before he was yelling at her to get her lazy ass in gear and get the counter set up. He always liked to boss her around, to show off how superior he was over a girl who had gotten decent grades in high school and went on to college, and he must have had a bad night because he was really being an asshole this morning. Ginger didn’t have the inclination to fight with him just then, mostly because she wanted to have her paycheck in her hot little hand before she did. The problem was the same as always, the same as at home: she had no alternatives. She remembered her thought from the night before about joining the Army; maybe her degree in accounting would do her some good there. It was definitely something she was going to look into just as soon as she got off work.
As tired as she was from the short night it was going to be tough to hustle around as much as she had to, and still remain cheerful about it. McDonald’s liked their people to be cheerful and perky, no matter how much the job stank. Being on the counter was just that much worse; you could hide it a little when you were working in back, but out front you just had to put on a good face. It was hard, and she was exhausted when the time came for her break. She collapsed in a chair in the break room and had barely sat down when Phipps came and yelled at her again. She was just about that close to quitting, but figured once again that she needed a paycheck in her hand before she did. Finally, she got a little bit of a break, about half what it was supposed to be, and working off clock through the other half of it, thanks to her shift manager. What an ass.
She dragged her way back out to the counter, and the customers kept coming without even the hint of a breather. She wasn’t even looking up when she asked the next one in a voice that she hoped sounded perky, “Hi, welcome to McDonald’s, may I take your order please?”
“Wow,” she heard a familiar voice say. “Ginger, you look like you’re not having any better day than you were yesterday.”
Startled at the comment, she looked up and saw Ray looking back at her. “Not really,” she said, knowing that she couldn’t stand and shoot the bull with a customer with Phipps looking over her shoulder, but at least she could sound friendly. “What can I get you?”
“Just a cup of coffee, black,” he said.
“Coming right up,” she said as brightly as she could, trying to hide the shame of having Ray catch her here, looking and feeling like pure shit. It only took her a few seconds to get the coffee and set it on the counter in front of him.
He reached for his wallet and said, “You look like you need someone to do something nice for you again today.”
“It wouldn’t break my heart,” she admitted, a fake smile pasted across her face.
“You’ve still got my number, don’t you?” he asked. “Why don’t you give me a call when you get off?”
Even Terry’s snotty comment later that she shouldn’t be talking with her boyfriend while she was on duty didn’t get to Ginger for once. “That wasn’t my boyfriend, it was about getting my car worked on,” she replied, just a little testily. The bitchiness was only for him, though; Ray’s few words had picked her day right up, turned it around, and set it going in the other direction.
She hadn’t blown it with him the day before at all! Or, at least she was getting a second chance, and this time she made up her mind she was going to do a better job of it.
It seemed like it took forever for the hands on the clock to creep their way around to 2:30. The hassles with her father, her mother, with the car all seemed like they were all on another plane of existence. The plans to go and see the Army recruiter after work were even shoved way back in a corner someplace; they could wait for another day. Really, she knew nothing more about Ray than she had the evening before, but he’d again come to her aid like a knight in shining armor, and riding a white horse, just like yesterday. This might turn into nothing, but at least there was a chance of it being something!
As was about usual, Phipps was waiting as she clocked out, more or less telling her to do some work off clock. It always irritated her, but she usually did it because she wanted to keep the job no matter how much he made it miserable for her, but today she bucked: “Sorry, Terry, no can do today, I’ve got an appointment.” She was out the door before he could protest, without even putting her coat on first.
At least she could go home and expect that no one would be there, especially to overhear her when she made the phone call, and she wasted no time getting there. She parked on the curb, then hustled into the house, heading right straight for the telephone. The phone rang several times and she was beginning to wonder if she’d missed him, but finally she heard his voice answering.
“Hi Ray, it’s Ginger,” she said, realizing that he’d called her by name back at McDonald’s. How had he known that? She hadn’t told him . . . oh hell, he read her name tag, she thought. You are being such a ninny. “How’s your day going?”
“Better than yesterday,” he said, a touch of lightness in his voice. “How about yours?”
“Just about as bad until you walked into the Arches,” she said. “That improved things quite a bit.”
“I sort of felt the same way,” he replied. “Look, I’m up to my elbows in an engine tear down right now, but I was thinking maybe we could get together sometime. Maybe I could take you out to dinner, or something.”
“Ray, I’d love to do it,” she said. “I, uh, I’m sorry I wasn’t quite as communicative last night as I should have been.”
“No problem,” he replied. “I could see you had a lot on your mind. What time do you want me to pick you up?”
“Uh, I don’t know,” she temporized. She didn’t really want her folks meeting him while the hassle about the car was on everybody’s mind. They could easily piss him off enough that he wouldn’t want anything to do with her. “Look, I don’t want to get into it right now, but I guess I’d rather you didn’t pick me up at home just now. How about if I drive out there?”
“Sure, if you want,” he said. “I’m afraid we don’t have any place fancy around here to take a girl, but we could go back to Hawthorne or somewhere else.”
“I don’t need fancy,” she told him, “Anything better than a fast food hamburger will be fine with me. When should I be there?”
“Whenever you’re comfortable,” he replied. “Like I said, I’m kind of up to my elbows in an engine right now, but when you get here I can knock off and clean up.”
“Tell you what,” she said. “I’ve got to get out of this clown suit and take a shower to wash some of the grease smell off me, but I wouldn’t mind just sitting around your shop watching you work if we can talk while we’re doing it.”
“Love to have you,” he told her. “Whenever you get here will be all right with me.”
“It’ll probably be on the far side of an hour,” she replied. “See you in a bit.”
“Looking forward to it.”
She looked at the clock as she hung up the phone. Nick would be home in an hour or so if he didn’t hang around somewhere after school, which he usually did. Whatever else happened, she wanted to be gone before he got home. He was usually about as much of a pain in the ass as her parents and could be depended on to tell them anything she didn’t want them to hear. She didn’t need him bringing her down, so she hustled up to the bathroom, peeled out of the McDonald’s uniform she called a “clown suit.” No one but a clown or a McDonald’s employee would be caught dead wearing something that hideous. She continued to strip right down to the buff, something else she couldn’t do if Nick or her parents were home.
Fifteen minutes later she felt a lot better as she dried her hair in the nude. She hadn’t had the opportunity to take a shower last night or this morning, so she’d felt exceptionally grubby, but that was gone, now. It felt so good to be clean! As the hair drier roared, she studied her nude body in the mirror. It didn’t look bad to her. She wasn’t exactly model-thin, she had no ribs showing but not an oversized belly either. She couldn’t help but wonder if Ray would like it if he saw her like that, even though the chances of it happening tonight were none, as far as she was concerned. But it didn’t take much to imagine it happening sometime.
Wait a minute, she thought. Are you pinning more hope on this guy than he deserves? You still don’t know anything about him; you don’t know that he’ll actually like you. They had talked about very little but the Gremlin yesterday, and when you got down to it that counted for nothing. Face it, from what little you know Ray is a car guy, and that isn’t always good. One of the few guys she’d dated more than once in high school had been a car guy, always up to his butt in cars and not really all that interested in her by comparison. Thinking back on it, the main interest he’d had in her, except for trying to jump her bones, of course, was to get her in a pretty radical swimsuit so he could get pictures of her with his car. She’d done it, all right, but somehow after that he seemed to have lost what little interest he’d had in her, especially because he wasn’t getting into her panties. She’d seen the photos he’d taken, and in her opinion they were pretty crappy although he’d seemed thrilled with the way she’d made his car look. Ray didn’t seem to be that kind of guy, but you never knew . . .
With her hair dry now, she headed to her room to get dressed. Her initial reaction was to dress up a little since he was planning on taking her out to dinner, but maybe that wouldn’t work as well if she was going to be spending time hanging around the shop with him. That made it a little harder.
At least she could do something to feel sexy for him, she thought, deciding to put on some rarely used lacy underwear. There would be little chance for him to see it tonight, but at least she’d know she had it on, and that would help her out a bit. After some thought, she decided on wearing a pair of nice, tight jeans – they would be all right for being in the shop, but jeans could also go a lot of ways. To help spruce up she decided to wear a tight sweater that would show off her shape a little. She remembered it was coolish in the shop so a jacket would be about right while there, but she could peel it off when they went out. She thought about putting her hair back in a ponytail, but that was how she wore it at work and most of the time. She thought it looked better hanging loose, so decided to go with it like that. Since she was going to be in the shop, sneakers seemed to be the right thing to wear, but she didn’t put on her regular ones – there were some new ones still in the box so that would have to count for dressing up.
After adding a necklace she even applied a little makeup to make her face look more appealing. Ginger, she said to herself, don’t you think you’re going just a little bit overboard? No, damn it, she wanted to make a good impression. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression but at least she could demonstrate that she could clean up halfway decently. Just don’t go overboard, be casual.
Finally she realized that she was starting to obsess about it a little, and the best thing she could do was quit worrying about it and do it. She headed downstairs and decided to leave a note: Back later, don’t know when – G. There was no point in giving them any more information than necessary, since that would just give them more to use to pick at her with. With that done, she headed out the door without anyone having come home to interfere with her. That was a huge relief in itself; one normal argument would be very likely to destroy the optimistic mood that she’d been able to get herself into. In minutes, she was out of town, heading toward Bradford, and maybe – it seemed like a long shot, but just maybe – toward something better.
Twenty minutes later she was pulling into the same parking spot by the shop where she’d been the night before. She’d had all the way from Hawthorne to let nervousness build up in her – not that something awful would happen to her, like she’d been worried about the night before, but that this wasn’t going to work, that it was going to be a disaster. Well, if it was, she rationalized, there’s still the recruiter, and if this didn’t work tonight she could see him in the morning.
Oh, quit dithering, she thought. Get it over with.
Steeling up her courage, she got out of the Gremlin, and walked in the door she’d gone through the day before. “Ray, are you here?” she called.
“I’m in the back,” she heard him say. “Come on back.”
She walked on back through the shop, to find him working on an engine behind the pickup. “Weren’t you doing that yesterday?” she asked.
“Well, sort of,” he replied. “Not the same engine, at least, partly not.”
“OK,” she smiled. “You’ve got me confused, not that it takes very much to do that when it comes to cars.”
“It’s a different engine,” he explained. “The one I was working on yesterday was for my Modified. This is a deal that we only picked up last night. The guy had the engine with another shop all winter and they didn’t touch it, so now he wants it yesterday. It needs a new block and stuff, all bottom end. To save time, I’m giving him the bottom end out of the engine I was working on, and I’ll use his replacement parts for my engine when they get here. That means I only have to move the heads and other top end stuff from his engine to mine.”
“I guess,” she replied uncertainly. “I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. This is a race car engine, right?”
“Yeah, out of a Late Model. That’s a real bad term, but it’s the name that’s most used so we have to live with it. Let’s just say that it’s the fastest class of car that races locally.”
“You were talking about your engine. Does that mean you have a race car?”
“Well, sort of,” he told her. “Back last fall I happened to hear of a guy who had an old McElroy chassis Modified just sitting out back of his barn going to pot. Now, Spud McElroy is an old family friend who built some good cars, so I bought it real cheap without an engine, that’s what we call a roller, and I figured on fixing it up some so I could race it when I got the chance.”
“Is it here? Can I see it?”
“It’s that frame and pile of parts over in the corner,” he shrugged. “I’ve just been piddling with it; it’s something to do when I don’t have anything better to work on. I may not race it at all if someone offers me enough money for it. I’m not a real serious racer.”
“Will you race it at the track here?”
“No, not normally,” he said, turning back to work on Rowe’s engine. “Usually we’re too busy on Saturday nights for me to race since I’ve got too many other things to do, but I figured I could trailer it to a couple places that race Friday nights. Besides, it’s not going to be a world beater of a car since I don’t have a lot of money to put into it, so it wouldn’t look good for the track or the shop if I go out and run bad.”
“But you’ve done some racing, right?”
“Yeah, I’ve been involved in racing most of the time since I was six years old,” he admitted. “Even some of the time when I was in the Army, but not a lot of driving, except when I borrowed a car for a couple races last summer. It kind of goes with the folks owning the track, although I started racing karts before they bought the old Bradford Speedway down on what’s now a corner of the General truck park.”
Ray explained that he had never expected or planned on being a big deal as a racer. He liked to get out and screw around a bit, and liked to run well, but he never had quite the killer instinct or the drive to risk everything that it took to be a top name in the bigger leagues. He got about as much fun out of watching a car that he’d built go fast as he did driving it fast himself.
“I guess your dad must be into racing quite a bit,” she observed. “Is he a driver, too?”
“Not anymore,” Ray told her. “He had more than enough driving to hold him back in the fifties, when he and Mom both drove for an outfit called the Midwest Midget Sportsman Association. They raced all over the Midwest, on the road for months at a time.”
“Wow, your mom, too?”
“Oh yeah,” he grinned. “Dad always said that he thought she was better than he was, although he won the MMSA championship three times.”
“Wow, you really are a racing family.”
“You’d think it’s in our blood,” he sighed. “But I guess I’m the only one in the family that it got passed onto. My brother Vern raced some when he was in high school, but gave it up when he went to college. He got a Ph.D. and is a professor down at a college in Kentucky. My sister Elaine raced some in high school, too, but she joined the Army after college. She’s a first lieutenant in the Signal Corps down at Ft. Huachuca in Arizona.”
“Does she like it?” she wondered out loud as he finished covering the car.
“Seems to,” he said. “I haven’t seen a lot of her since she went in, but she seems to be thinking about making a career out of it. I guess it’s a little different when you’re an officer, instead of being a troop like I was.”
“I’ve given some thought to joining the Army,” she admitted, not willing to say just how imperative the thoughts were. “I mean, I can’t find much in my field around here.”
“Oh, they have plenty of opportunities in food service,” he said neutrally.
“Food service can kiss my ass,” she said. “I have a degree in accounting. I’d like to do some more work and get a CPA, but I just don’t have the money right now. McDonald’s is just something to fill the time until I can find a decent job.”
“Yeah, they’re a little scarce out there,” he said. “Tell me all about it.”
“Have you figured out what you’re going to do yet?”
“For right now you’re looking at it,” he shrugged. “Do some odd jobs on cars for people to bring in a few bucks. I’ve been working on maintenance and stuff at the track here, and that’s going to get busier now that the grass is starting to grow. There’s about twenty acres of it that has to be mowed. I really would like to get back on a NASCAR team, but I’d have to head down to North Carolina for that. I may take a swing at it once we get through our track season, at least to nose around some shops again.”
“NASCAR?” She said, perking up considerably. “You mean like Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, and those guys?”
“Sorta like that,” he said. “I spent a couple years as a mechanic and pit crewman on a Busch team, that’s kind of like a minor league. I thought you didn’t know anything about racing.”
“I don’t, not really,” she replied, “but Dad watches it on TV some, and I’ve heard the names. How did you get involved in that?”
“Kind of a long story,” he replied, continuing to work on the engine, doing something that Ginger didn’t understand, but he was obviously being careful about it. “I guess I told you that my mom and dad toured with an outfit called the Midwest Midget Sportsman Association, racing all over the Midwest. Well, they both have a ton of stories about it, and I decided I wanted a few stories of my own. You know, get out and see the world a little.”
“Yeah, I think I understand,” she replied, thinking again about how much she would have liked to have gone to college somewhere other than Hawthorne. “You wanted to have a little adventure of your own.”
“Yeah, that’s it exactly,” Ray told her. “I’d already made up my mind when I was in my community college classes that I was going to join the Army when I was done with them. It was something different, something that wasn’t in Bradford.”
Just like the Army would be something that wouldn’t be in Hawthorne, she thought. “So how did you like the Army?”
“It was OK,” he replied. “I wouldn’t want to make a life out of it like my sister seems to be doing, but it was all right for a while. I was a wheeled-vehicle mechanic. Most of the stuff I had to work on was simple stuff designed for idiots to maintain, and we for sure had a bunch of idiots around those motor pools. But I learned a little and had some fun. I spent about a year in Germany, and the rest in North Carolina. The part in North Carolina went real well.”