Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Ginger was in a very good mood as she drove the Gremlin through the still sopping rain back toward Hawthorne, mostly because it had been a very good evening.
The plan had been for Ray to work on the racing engine until around dinner time, and then the two of them would go to the Chicago Inn down by the I-67 overpass. But, when Mel and Arlene came out to the shop and invited her to dinner with them, hinting at pot roast, it had been just too good an offer to refuse. Arlene Austin turned out to be a good-looking woman for one in her fifties – much better than Ginger’s mother, in her considered opinion. She was bright and cheerful, and like Ray had said, had adventures of her own to tell about. They wound up sitting at the dinner table, and later in the living room for hours, keeping her entranced with some of the stories of roaming the Midwest with the Midwest Midget Sportsman’s Association back in the early ’50s. What an adventure that had been for the both of them, sometimes racing every night of the week, hardly ever in the same place two nights in a row.
With her prodding him a little, Ray and his parents told her more about his racing. According to his parents, he wasn’t a bad race driver, although he had only limited experience with most of his racing done at the track out behind the barn and a few other local short tracks. It had been years since he’d done much racing, and then it was mostly in Economy Stocks, the six-cylinder cheap class the track ran, along with some other tracks in the area. He’d had an early sixties Chevy II around the age of twelve that he’d built up for the class with only a little help from his father. Twice in high school he’d won the Don Boies Memorial Trophy with it, the season championship in the class named for a guy who had raced at the old Bradford Speedway and later been killed in Vietnam. After getting out of high school he’d campaigned a Street Stock for a couple years, a ’55 Chevy; he’d won a few heats and features with it, but no championships. Both cars were long gone; he’d sold the Chevy II for money to buy the ’55, and sold that before he went into the Army. He’d borrowed the odd car here and there last summer, but had only raced a handful of times.
It had been a long time since Ginger had enjoyed a fun, social evening like that and the time got away from them. It was clear that the Austins were a close family and enjoyed many of the same things – so unlike her own it was almost unbelievable. That was what a family was supposed to be like, and she couldn’t help but envy them.
There was no doubt that Ray was a super-nice guy as well – quiet, gentlemanly, and honest; he even seemed interested in her. But on reflection she wasn’t all that sure how interested she was in him. There was something wrong, something she couldn’t put her finger on. Face it, he was a mechanic, and looked to mostly be a mechanic in the future. Sure, a race car mechanic, but was that any better when you got down to it? Racing seemed like a chancy business, not so much from the danger but from the lack of a steady income. He was clearly in a flat spot in his life, and so was she, for that matter, but he apparently didn’t feel all that much like settling down to something with a regular income. He didn’t seem to have a lot of drive, and seemed to be willing to accept what happened to him.
Ginger could understand that. Her biggest goal at the moment was to get out of McDonald’s, get out of her parents’ house, away from Hawthorne, and get on with making her own life. When you got right down to it, she was in pretty much the same boat he was – she wanted to get out and see what was on the other side of the hill. Although Ray seemed like a nice guy, she realized that right at the moment he probably wasn’t going to be the guy for her, at least not anytime soon. Too bad.
Over the course of the evening she hadn’t said anything in particular about her thoughts of joining the Army, although they had been looming large in her mind. All of the Austins, even Arlene, had spent time in the Army and for the most part they were positive about it. Their oldest daughter, a year older than Ginger, was an Army officer, and everyone seemed to think that she was going to make a career out of it. That gave her a pretty positive viewpoint on the service, and although she’d missed her chance that afternoon to visit the recruiter there was always tomorrow. The more she thought about it, the better the idea seemed.
So all in all it had made for an interesting, rewarding, and very enjoyable evening, even though it wasn’t much of a date as such, which had been the original intention. In the short range, she wasn’t going to turn down a chance to spend some more time with the Austins and especially with Ray, even though it probably wasn’t going to go anywhere with him. He was a good and interesting guy, although apparently not all that good on a second glance – and even if he was, the idea of getting something going with him didn’t solve the problem of McDonald’s and living with her parents, at least in the short run. It could solve those problems in the long run, but the time it took to get there was just too long.
Ginger’s good mood didn’t start to evaporate until she got into the outskirts of Hawthorne, and the reality slowly crept over her that she was going home again. It was late enough that there was a good chance that her father might have gone to bed. If he had, then she figured she might be spared whatever confrontation usually brewed when they met, at least for this evening. She had to leave for work at a quarter to six in the morning. That was going to make for a short night, although at least it meant that she wouldn’t have to screw around with moving cars; she could park on the outside and be gone before her father had to leave. If she had any luck at all, maybe she could be gone before her father even got up.
No such luck. There were lights on in the house as she pulled up; that wasn’t abnormal when someone was out late, but when she walked in the back door she could hear a baseball game on TV. That could only mean her father was still up. Damn. “That you, Ginger?” she heard as she walked into the kitchen.
“Yeah, I’m home,” she said in a dispirited tone, sure that what had been a pretty good evening was well on the way to being loused up.
“Did you park me in?” he asked.
“Yeah, but I’ve got to open in the morning, so I should be leaving before you do.”
“Well, all right, I guess,” he grumped.
“Did you see about getting your car worked on?”
“Yeah, Dad,” she sighed, hoping this would end it. “I took it to an alignment shop. I’ve got a report that there was nothing the matter with it.”
“Did you take it out to Fred at Fryes?” he asked.
“No,” she said, a little more sharply than she intended. “I told you I wasn’t taking it to him. I had it done at another place.”
“Some fucking jackleg, I’ll bet,” he snorted. “God damn it, Ginger, I fucking told you to take it out to Hutchinson to have it looked at. Where the hell do you think you get off taking it somewhere else?”
“I told you Dad,” she said, the hairs on the back of her neck standing up, “I’m not letting him touch my car.”
“God damn it, that’s not the point!” he exploded. “I fucking told you to take it to him, not to some fucking grease monkey no one ever heard of before. Now tomorrow, you get that fucking thing over to the Fryes store and get it done right.”
“Dad,” she protested. “I told you, I had it looked at, I even have a written report that it’s all right.”
“Damn it, I told you to take it to him. I don’t care how many damn places you took it and what they say, I told you to take it to him and that’s what you’re fucking well going to do. I don’t care if he’s a crook or not. Ginger, the point is that you’re going to have to learn to do what I tell you to do, not just whatever happens to pop into your head. Now I’m fucking telling you to take it to him first thing in the morning or get your ass the hell out of this house and stay there.”
“Fine!” she shouted. “That’s the best goddamn idea I’ve heard out of you since this whole fucking thing came up.” She spun on her heel and headed for the door.
“Don’t you fucking come back till you’ve done what I told you to do,” he exploded back at the back door slamming in his face.
Well, that didn’t take long, Ginger thought as she ran down the steps and out to her car. If that’s the fucking way you want it, that’s the fucking way you’re going to get it. Goodbye Hawthorne, hello Army. In seconds she was back in the Gremlin, heading away from the house.
His words, “You have to learn to do what I tell you to do,” really stuck in her throat. What a crock of shit! Whether he liked it or not, she was an adult, a college graduate, and was working hard to pay her way and make something of herself. But no, just because she was a girl, his daughter, he must think that gives him the right to be the absolute fucking lord and master no matter what I happen to know. Well, fuck it. Maybe it was for the best. Putting up with his shit all the time and having her mother kiss his ass for it was just too damn much. She should have gotten her ass out of the house years ago, not just tonight.
She was a couple blocks away from the house before the adrenaline crash swept over her, and she began to wonder what she was going to do now. Was it to be another night in the car hiding out someplace, she thought, her spirits now just about as dismal as the rainy night.
This is really the best thing to do, she thought, but fuck! It sure would have been nice to at least have a change of clothes with her. She had nothing but what was in the car with her, which amounted to nothing. Hell, she couldn’t even go to work in the morning without her fucking McDonald’s uniform. Well, maybe this solved that issue, too, but damn, what a shitty way to have to do it.
The problem was that right now she felt alone, so very alone. While she needed a place to go for a night or two, right now she needed someone to talk to even worse. Someone to listen to her frustrations like Ray and his parents had done this afternoon and this evening, but she didn’t have any ideas of who that could be. She wasn’t a person who had ever made a lot of friends in the first place. Most of the friends she’d had in high school had moved away, gotten on with their lives, and there weren’t any she could think of right off the top of her head who she could go to at this hour of the night. College friends? Since she hadn’t been living on campus she hadn’t made many friends there either, and for the most part they’d graduated and gone on with their lives, too. She couldn’t think of anyone still living on campus who she could ask to crash with, not at this hour of the night.
Now what? Well, there was one idea. It didn’t strike her as a good one, but at least would be better than going home . . .
The house was dark when she pulled into the yard. The drive back out from Hawthorne had seemed to take a lot longer than it had going the other way, and she was way past second thoughts about doing this at all – but she hadn’t had any ideas that were any better. Maybe I could just stay in the car till morning, she thought. It was chilly out and damp with all the rain, but she could survive it. But no, she wanted to, well, not cry on someone’s shoulder necessarily, but at least talk things out with someone, have someone tell her that she’d done the right thing – and she hadn’t had many better ideas.
Reluctantly, but with determination, she got out of the Gremlin in the rain, walked up to the back porch, and rang the bell. Hopefully, they wouldn’t be too pissed with her, but there really weren’t any better ideas. In spite of the sloshing sounds of the falling water, she could hear the sound of the doorbell ringing deep within the house. There was still the temptation to run, but she saw lights coming on in the house and realized that she was committed. There was no need to ring the bell again, so she stood outside, trying to shelter herself under the eave as best she could.
The porch light came on, and the back door opened; she could see Ray standing there, wearing a T-shirt and jeans, probably hastily pulled on. “Ginger?” he said. “What are you doing here? Did you have some trouble?”
“Yeah, Ray,” she said in a subdued voice. “I had a hell of a lot of trouble. I pretty much got thrown out of the house. Can I come in?”
“Yeah, sure,” he said, coming over to unlatch the screen door of the porch. “What happened? Trouble with your father?”
“Yeah, Ray,” she replied, as she stepped through the door, and followed him into the kitchen. “Lots of trouble. It turns out he wasn’t all that interested in the Gremlin at all, he was more interested in proving he’s the boss no matter what. I hope I didn’t wake you up or anything.”
“No, not really,” he said. “I really wasn’t in the mood for sleeping, so I stayed up and watched Johnny’s monologue. I don’t think I’ve had the lights out five minutes.”
“Well, that’s something,” she sighed. “Ray, this really sucks. Like I said, it wasn’t about the car, or even about the money, it was just a case of ‘you do what I tell you to do, no matter what.’ I figured the best thing for me to do was to just get the hell out of there before it got any worse. I, uh, I couldn’t think of any place else to go. I got to thinking about some of the stories that your dad and mom told about helping out girls who had trouble with their families back when they were racing that made me think you guys might be able to listen to me or something.”
“No problem,” he smiled, “and those stories they told weren’t the last time something like that has happened. Look, why don’t you sit down, get your coat off, and I’ll make us some coffee or hot chocolate or something.”
“Sounds good,” she said. “In fact, right now I can’t think of much of anything that sounds better. Maybe the hot chocolate, I don’t think I need the caffeine right now.”
“All right, I’ll get something started,” he told her.
“Here, let me do it,” Arlene spoke up. Ginger hadn’t heard her come in; she looked up and saw Ray’s mother standing there, not looking quite as neat as she had earlier, wearing a robe and slippers. “Ray may be a good mechanic but he’s a disaster in the kitchen if it’s anything more complicated than a bologna sandwich.”
“I am not,” Ray grinned. “I can make a perfectly adequate peanut butter sandwich.”
“Yes, but you manage to dirty half the dishes in the house in the process,” Arlene smiled as she shoved Ray to the side and busied herself in the kitchen. “Ginger, did your father hit you or anything?”
“No,” she sighed, “but I could see it would head that direction if I stayed around any longer, so I figured there was no time like the present to be absent.”
“That trouble over your car again?” Arlene asked – Ginger had told the story earlier.
Ginger shook her head. “Not exactly,” she said. “It turned out he didn’t give two shits about the car, he just wanted, well, I don’t know what he wanted, other than to make the point that what he says goes, no matter what. I hope you don’t mind that I came out here, but I couldn’t think of anything else to do.”
“No, that’s all right,” Arlene said. “I’ve seen things like that happen more than once, and I’ve seen girls who have wound up in a lot worse shape than you are because of it. Mel and I told you the story tonight of how I wound up with the MMSA, you remember that?”
“Yes, I do,” Ginger smiled. “The more I think about it, the more I think it was pretty much the same thing.”
“Men get protective about their daughters like that,” Arlene said. “To a point it can even be commendable. But at the same time, some men have trouble knowing when to let go. I know my father did. We weren’t on speaking terms for a long time, not until after Mel and I got married. The guys in the MMSA got me out of that one, and it’s been a favor that Mel and I have passed along more than once since then. You’re telling me you’re looking for a place to stay till this blows over, right?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Ginger nodded. “I mean, I hadn’t even thought much further than that. Look, I didn’t tell you when I was here earlier, but after this first blew up with my father and all the crap I’ve taken at work, I’ve been looking for a way out. I’d planned to take off after work this afternoon and go talk to an Army recruiter, just as a way out of this corner I’m in. But then Ray called, and, well, I thought it could keep a day or two. I’m more or less planning on going to see the recruiter in the morning.”
“Well,” Arlene sighed. “I have to say that I’ve heard worse ideas. You know I’m not going to talk the Army down, even though it may not be the best idea for everyone. Some people don’t hold the military in very high regard these days, but we’re not among them. I’m three for three on having kids in the service and I think they’ve done well.”
“Your other son – Vern? The college professor? I didn’t know he was in the service.”
“I might not have mentioned it,” Arlene shrugged. “Kentucky National Guard, he joined in college to pick up an extra few dollars when he was really hurting. It turns out he likes the change once in a while, even though there are people around his college who think he’s really weird because of it.”
“It’s not a bad deal,” Ray offered. “Like I told you earlier, I didn’t really learn a lot that I didn’t already know, but it was a good chance to do something different for a while. I wouldn’t want to do it again but I don’t regret having done it. In your case, with a college degree in a useful skill, you could make more out of it than I did. I wouldn’t be surprised that they’d trip over themselves to get you in finance. If you played your cards right you could even be an officer, and that’s a heck of a lot better than having an enlisted rank.”
“You know, I never thought of that,” Ginger admitted. “I guess I don’t know much about the service. Officers get paid better, right?”
“Yeah, and they get to live a little more like human beings,” Ray snorted. “You know, Mom, we really ought to have her talk to Laney. She could probably tell Ginger stuff that we can’t even think about.”
“Might not be a bad idea,” Arlene said as she began to serve up cups of hot chocolate, “but it’s too late to do it tonight. We could probably call her along in the evening tomorrow, though.”
“I’d really appreciate that,” Ginger nodded as she took a cup of the hot chocolate. “It’d probably mean that I’d have to stay with you for a couple days, though. Is that going to be any trouble?”
“No, no problem,” Arlene smiled. “We’ve got plenty of room, under the circumstances, so you’re good for a warm bed in a dry place for a few days anyway. We’ll have to see what happens after that. You might want to figure on going to visit the recruiter tomorrow, although I think it would probably be best if you didn’t sign anything permanent until we can get you on the phone with Elaine. Ray is right, Elaine is going to know plenty of things that Ray and I don’t. He hasn’t been out of the Army all that long, but he was an enlisted man. It was a long, long time ago for me, and I was a nurse anyway, so that means that things are pretty different there, too.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Austin. I really mean it,” Ginger sighed. “I would have really been stuck without your help. I guess I’m really lucky that I managed to meet up with Ray yesterday. I’d have been in real trouble if that hadn’t happened.”
“Oh, no problem,” Arlene said. “I’m just glad you had the courage to come to us. And Ginger?”
“Please call me Arlene. Hearing ‘Mrs. Austin’ makes me feel older than I really want to.” She drained her hot chocolate, then said, “Unlike Ray, I have to get up in the morning, so I think I’d better head back to bed. Ray, when she’s ready to hit the hay, why don’t you put her in Elaine’s room? I know the bed is already made up, and there might be some pajamas or something she could wear.”
“Oh, Mrs. Aus . . . er, Arlene, I don’t want to put you to any more trouble than I have to.”
“No more trouble than it already is as far as I can see,” Arlene smiled, getting up and putting her cup in the sink. “I’ll see you two tomorrow sometime.”
“I suppose I ought to be heading that way myself,” Ray agreed. “Ginger, let’s finish up here, and then I’ll take you up to Laney’s room. We probably ought to do it while Mom is still awake so we don’t bother her any more than necessary.”
The two of them finished their hot chocolate in the next few minutes, then Ray led Ginger upstairs to his sister’s room on the far end of the upstairs from his parents. “Ray, I really appreciate this,” she said. “You and your family are such neat people it’s hard to believe, especially when I compare your folk to an asshole like my father.”
“Well, we try to be,” he smiled awkwardly. “We can all get pretty hard-nosed when we need to, but that doesn’t mean we like to do it.”
“I imagine you don’t,” she nodded. “Can I ask a little favor of you? I’d like to borrow one of your T-shirts or something to sleep in. I wouldn’t feel right pawing around in your sister’s dresser looking for something to wear. I usually just sleep in a man’s T-shirt anyway.”
“Sure, no problem” he told her, “back in a minute.”
Half an hour later Ray was still awake, lying on his back in his bed, with his mind still going over thoughts about the midnight visitor. Ginger sure had a tough row to hoe; there was no doubt about it. He’d been extraordinarily lucky to have a pretty decent set of parents, but he knew any number of people who hadn’t been so lucky. Ginger seemed to be a nice girl and had risen above what sounded like a pretty bad situation.
Once again, he found himself wishing that he could dare to be a little more forward with her. She really seemed like the kind of girl he would like to know better – she was bright and seemed cheerful, and at least a little interested in learning about the kinds of things he liked. If the situation was a little different, he thought, it might be interesting to take a little bit of a run at her – but with not having a regular job and no prospect of one, there was no point in it right now. Not that it couldn’t be fixed, since he knew he had an option right in his hand, but still he felt like he wanted to cut his own path in life a little more that he would do if he took that option.
It wasn’t anything he hadn’t thought about before – he’d thought about it a lot in the last ten months, but having what appeared to be a perfectly acceptable girl right across the hall seemed to put a little more pressure on him. The odds were that Ginger probably wasn’t going to be the girl for him, especially if she disappeared off into the Army in the near future. But at least she was enough of an example to get the thought processes stirring.
“Ray?” he heard her whisper. “Are you awake?”
“Yeah,” he replied softly. “Got my mind on some things and I can’t seem to turn them off.”
“I know how that is,” she said, coming closer. “I keep running that scene with my father through my mind and every time through, I get more and more pissed. Could I maybe just talk with you for a few minutes, just to try to get my mind off it?”
“If you’re looking for a shoulder to cry on,” he said. “I can understand. I’ve been there a couple times myself.”
“Yeah, I guess,” she replied softly. “I really could use one. Just someone to hold on to.”
“Well, I’m willing,” he smiled. “In fact, you can come over and cuddle up if you want to. We don’t have to do anything.”
She didn’t say anything, but in a few seconds Ray could feel the covers being pulled back, feel her weight on the bed, and feel her cuddle up against him. “Thank you, Ray,” she whispered. “I’m really not up to doing anything tonight, but I guess what I really wanted to say is that I needed someone to hold me.”