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Bullring Days 3 book cover

Bullring Days 3:
Banners Flying
Wes Boyd
©2009, ©2014

Chapter 7

Like most women, it took Arlene longer to get up and ready in the morning than her husband, but then she got to go to work later so they both got up about the same time. Mel usually slept pretty soundly – he hadn’t been aware of their midnight visitor as far as she knew – but when he woke up he usually had to hit the bathroom pretty quickly. That meant that Arlene was in the habit of making a quick stop to deal with the most urgent things before going downstairs and getting the coffee on while he did his business.

This morning, however, she was just a little curious about Ginger and how well she’d spent the night, so on her way back from getting the coffee going she headed down to the far end of the hall and peeked in Elaine’s room. While it looked like the bed had been used, she was a little surprised to see that it was empty.

With just the least little amusement, Arlene stepped across the hall and peeked into Ray’s room, and saw just about what she was expecting, even hoping to see. Ray wasn’t alone; Ginger was in bed with him, just cuddled up, head on his shoulder, and the both of them sound asleep. It was a sight that she would have been a little upset to see ten years earlier, but this wasn’t ten years ago, so the sight of the two of them in bed together now brought a hint of hope to her soul.

She backed off quietly and walked down the hall to the bathroom, where Mel was just coming out. She winked at him and held her forefinger up to her lips, then motioned for him to follow her. A little curious, he followed her down the hall, and stopped when she stopped in front of Ray’s door, and again held up her finger for silence.

Mel took a look into the room, and got a broad grin across his face. He gave his wife a nod, and waved his head, indicating that they should get away from there. They didn’t quite tiptoe, but headed silently down the hall and the stairs to the kitchen, where they could talk a little more freely if they kept it down. “Damn,” Mel said. “That was quick work. I guess the kid has some Austin in him after all. I thought she went home last night.”

“She did,” Arlene replied, and gave him a brief summary of how she’d shown back up an hour or so after she’d left. “It’s hell to be alone after something like that happens, so it looks to me like Ray got volunteered.”

“Didn’t look to me like he minded too much,” Mel snickered.

“I don’t know if anything happened,” Arlene said, “and frankly, I don’t care. They are adults, you know. In fact, it would be hard to say anything, but I’m sort of hoping that it did.”

“I can hear feminine wiles in that statement,” Mel chuckled. “Why do you say that?”

“Because he needs her. Well, he needs somebody,” she said. “Right now, she might be who he needs. Face it, Mel. He really needs some reason to settle down, and he doesn’t have one now. You know as well as I do what we’d like him to be doing, but he doesn’t have any reason yet. NASCAR is fine for fun, but I don’t think it’d make a career long-term for him, especially when there’s one here he can have for the asking if he’ll just take it. But his pride is in the way and he doesn’t want to do it without a reason.”

“Yep, I was right, feminine wiles at full throttle,” Mel smiled, suppressing a desire to laugh out loud. “Not that I disagree with your conclusion in the slightest. You’re thinking she might push him into the decision we need him to make?”

“It’s possible,” Arlene told him. “I’m not going to rule it out, although the odds seem against it. She was pretty upset with her family last night and was making all kinds of noises about running off and joining the Army.”

“Might not be the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard for some people,” Mel agreed, “but that would screw up your little plan, wouldn’t it?”

“Yeah, it would,” she sighed. “On the other hand, this might just be a one-night thing, but it might get his mind going in the direction we want it to take. I’ll tell you, Mel, I don’t want to stand in their way on anything, but I’d at least like to have a little time for it to develop. The way we were talking last night right after she showed up she was sort of hoping that she could be out of here for the Army in a couple days. I got her to agree to hold off a little bit by having her talk to Elaine. What happens, happens, but I’d rather it had a little time to settle out.”

“Feminine wiles with a very large turbocharger,” Mel shook his head. “You’re just trying to marry him off, aren’t you? What woman can stand to see a man stay single?”

“I’d rather have him single than married to the wrong woman,” she replied. “She may be the one, and she may not be. We just don’t know yet, and they don’t either, but all of us need some time to figure it out. I have no idea how long she’ll be here, but I think we need to make it clear that there’s no reason for the two of them to try to sneak around behind our backs. Maybe we can provide a little encouragement or motivation to help things along, but I don’t think we want to seem pushy.”

“I can agree to that,” Mel agreed soberly. “You’re right, the time may have come, but I think we need to avoid going overboard about it.”

*   *   *

Waking up came very slowly for Ginger. She had a very warm and fuzzy feeling that she didn’t want to let go, and her mind fought the reality away the best it could. Only reluctantly did she come to realize that the warm body she was pressed up against wasn’t a dream, and neither was the warm arm around her back. Dream or not, it felt very, very good . . . but she slowly became aware of the fact that it wasn’t a dream, and that she was cuddled up against Ray.

With awareness came awkwardness. She opened her eyes, and saw him looking back at her. “Um . . . hi,” she whispered, not able to think of something better to say.

“Hi, yourself,” he replied just as softly. “You know, that may be about the nicest way to wake up I can imagine.”

“What happened . . . did I fall asleep?” She replied, the memory of the agonizing night before sweeping back over her. They’d lain side by side under the covers, talking; she could remember doing some crying, and she couldn’t remember anything after that. “I guess I must have,” she continued, answering her own question. “I’m sorry. It’s just, well . . . ”

“Don’t worry about it,” he reassured her. “It’s kind of nice to wake up with someone in my arms. It’s never happened to me before.”

“Did we . . . uh . . .” she stammered, unable to spit out the words.

“No, we didn’t,” he smiled at her. “In fact, I never even got around to kissing you, not that I wouldn’t like to. You’re kind of cute lying there half awake with your hair all messed up. I’ve been watching you for a while, just enjoying the sight.”

“Ray, this isn’t . . . uh . . . it isn’t what I meant to do,” she protested, then gave in a little to the warm fuzzy feelings that being cuddled up next to him were still bringing over her, “but I guess I’m glad I did.” She squirmed around a little to get her face closer to his, then gave him a quick, but meaningful kiss on the lips. She felt him draw her body closer to his, and felt the kiss lengthen and deepen. Neither of them let it go on too long, but they weren’t quite ready to let it go, either. Only reluctantly did she pull away and say, “Thank you, Ray.”

“Anytime, Ginger,” he smiled, “anytime you want. Now, I almost hate to say this, but we’ve got to decide if we want to lie here and do that again, or get up and face the day. But I’ll tell you, what I want to do and what we ought to do are probably two different things.”

“Uh, yeah, me too,” she agreed softly. What she really wanted to do was to stay here safe in his comforting and protecting arms. But all it would take would be one more kiss like that and it was likely that the time remaining for her virginity could be measured in minutes – not that it seemed like losing it would be such a bad idea just then. In fact, it seemed like it could be a very good idea . . . an uncomfortable thought hit her. She stiffened and pulled back as she said, “Ray! What are your parents going to think if they find us like that?”

“Good question,” he snickered. “Maybe ‘It’s about time?’ If the clock isn’t lying to us, they’ve been gone for an hour.”

“My God, Ray! Do you think they saw us?”

“Might have,” he replied calmly, “and they might not have. Ginger, if they knew about it and were going to be pissed, we’d have known it by now. Either way, I’m not going to worry about it.”

“Oh, my God!” she said, pulling away from him with her face turning red. “Ray, I’d be so embarrassed if they caught us in bed together. What would they think of me?”

“They’d think you were a girl who was going through a tough time and feeling lonely,” he told her, refusing to get excited even though she was throwing the covers back and getting out of bed. “Relax, Ginger. It’s not quite like we’re teenagers.”

“Christ, I don’t even want to think about what would happen if my parents caught me with a guy in my bed!” She shook her head, then let out a sigh. “But I guess that’s something I don’t have to worry about anymore, is it?”

“Depends on whether you meant what you said last night,” he shrugged. “Like I said, if my folks were going to fly off the handle we’d already know about it. If they do know, their reaction could well be what I said, ‘It’s about time.’ There’s no point in worrying about it now.”

“Why would they think something like that?” she asked in confusion as she sat back down on the bed next to him.

“It’s a long story,” he shrugged. “Very simply, though nothing much has been said, they’d like to see me settle down, and getting a little close to a nice girl might mean that I’m going in that direction. I’m not sure I’d mind it myself. I know it’s hard to believe, Ginger, but things are about as unsettled around me right now as they are around you. The only difference is that I have a family who’s not likely to get pissed off at me at the drop of a hat.”

“Yeah, I guess,” she replied uncertainly, then glanced at the clock. “Oh, God!” she exclaimed. “Look at the time! I was supposed to be at work three hours ago! What the hell am I going to do now?”

“Call in sick,” he suggested, putting his hand firmly around her wrist as if to keep her from running away. “Look, you’ve got enough shit going down in your life today and enough things you need to do that you don’t need to put up with that Fairy character.”

“Terry,” she said defensively.

“Terry, Fairy, who cares?” he snorted. “If you gave half a shit about that job you’d already be there, but it’s part of what’s been dragging you down, isn’t it?”

“Well, yeah,” she said.

“Then you’ve got better things to do in your life than put up with him, at least today. One of those things is to figure out if you’re even going to bother to put up with him tomorrow or ever again, and it’s not the most important thing on your list.”

“Ray,” she sighed, “why are you so sensible? You don’t get excited about these things.”

“Because none of it is anything for me to get excited about,” he smiled. “They’re your problems, not mine, so I can be the voice of reason. Look, Ginger, if things were the other way around I’d expect you to be the one to keep me from flying off in all directions. Now, I promised to take you out to dinner last night but that didn’t work out. What do you say that we get up, and then I’ll take you out to breakfast? It’s no fun to over-react on an empty stomach.”

“Damn it, there you go being sensible again,” she sighed. “I guess you’re right. I’ll bet you have to use the bathroom about as bad as I do, but why don’t you go ahead and do it while I head downstairs and call in?”

*   *   *

It didn’t take long for Ginger and Ray to get ready – in Ray’s case because it never took him long anyway. It didn’t take Ginger long mostly because she didn’t have one piece of spare clothing with her, so taking a shower was nearly pointless. The only thing she could do was put her clothes from yesterday back on, much though she didn’t want to. It made her feel grubby and messy, not a feeling she liked, and she mentioned it to Ray as they rode down a rain-covered Taney road in his pickup truck.

“Yeah, that’s probably something you’re going to have to deal with today,” he commented. “I mean, I don’t want to tell you what to do, but you’re going to have to make up your mind if you’re going to stay gone. If you are, you should get your stuff out of the house as soon as you can.”

“I could go back if I wanted to be a good little girl,” she said half angrily, “but right at the moment I don’t want to be. I was already so tired of putting up with that shit that it wasn’t funny, and then to see how kind your parents were to me, well, I don’t want to put up with the shit I’ve taken from my father any longer. But Ray, I don’t want to have to ask your parents to put me up for very long. A day or two is one thing, but an open-ended deal is something else. I suppose the key question is how fast I can get into the Army.”

“You could be right,” he told her, “but just speaking from experience, I think I’d tell you to not be in too big a rush. It wouldn’t surprise me if you could head down to the recruiting office and be headed off somewhere for basic training in a matter of a few days. But with your degree I think you could be doing something more useful and rewarding than the kinds of things they’d assign to some kid right out of high school. It might take you a while to get into the class that you’d need to be a, oh, a finance officer, for example. Those things are actually scheduled pretty carefully. You’d need several months of training before you could get into your advanced training, especially if you have to go to OCS first. It might take a while to get you into the slots you’d need.”

“You’re probably right,” she shook her head. “You know more about it than I do.”

“I really don’t know all that much about it,” he told her. “There’s usually not much of a wait to get someone into a wheeled vehicle mechanic course like I went through, but Laney had to wait several months to get into the course she wanted.”

That was not something Ginger wanted to hear. She had visions of walking into the recruiting office in the morning and being on the way by afternoon, but she could see where Ray had a point. She was thinking about what that would do to her plans, such as they were, as Ray drove past the Fleet-Wing truck stop, under the I-67 overpass, then slowed and made a left turn into the Chicago Inn. “Never been here,” she said.

“I’m probably here more than I should be,” he said. “I know the people here, the regulars, the waitresses. This is the home-town place where the locals come. You never seem to know anyone over at the truck stop, and I think they make a point of hiring people from out of town. Now, breakfast is on me, so eat a good one. I can afford it and you need it.”

“Yes, sir,” she smiled. “I guess I better get practiced at saying that, shouldn’t I?”

“Then don’t call me ‘sir’,” he smiled. “I was a sergeant when I got out, I worked for a living.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, shit,” he said as he stopped the truck, put it in park and took the key from the ignition. “Trust me Ginger, when I say this, but you have got a hell of a lot to learn, and you need to learn some of it before you even commit yourself to joining the Army.”

“Then I guess I’ve found a good person to learn some of it from, haven’t I?”

“Yeah,” he said as he got out of the truck, “but let’s not talk about it now, though. I’d say go in, talk to the guy, get his pitch, pick up the brochures, tell him what you’re thinking about, and then maybe tonight we can call Laney. She’ll be able to tell you more about what you want to know. Don’t sign anything today. There aren’t many times in the service when you get to negotiate what you’ll be doing, but this is one of them, so you ought to plan on taking advantage of it.”

They walked on into the restaurant, which was a lot like many others Ginger had seen. He led her to a booth fronting the window. An older waitress came right over, bringing water, coffee and menus. “How are you this morning, Ray?” she asked.

“Oh, about the same,” he replied. “How’s it been around here today?”

“A little slow,” the waitress said. “I guess the rain has kept some of the regulars home.”

“Could be,” Ray agreed, “I don’t know about you, but I’ve had about enough of this to last me for a while. How’s Doyce coming with that Street Stock of his?”

“Getting about ready,” she replied. “Looking forward to bringing it out and running it a bit.”

“Well, good. Test and tune is a week from Saturday, I’ll help him out with it some if he needs it.”

“I’ll be sure to tell him,” she said. “I’ll bet I can guess what you want, but I’ll give your friend a chance to look over the menu.”

“Is anything good?” Ginger asked.

“Honey, everything’s good,” the waitress smiled. “The question is whether anything is good or too good for your waistline. I’ll be back in a minute.”

“Wow,” Ginger said as the waitress walked away. “I guess you are a regular here.”

“It takes about four times in two weeks to be a regular,” he told her. “It’s that kind of place. I usually get up a little earlier so I can sponge breakfast off Mom, but I’ll slide down here about midmorning for coffee, so I’m actually a little early today. Now, would you like me to go with you when you go to the recruiter?”

Ginger frowned and thought about it. “I’d really like you to,” she said finally. “I’m sure that you’d be able to think of questions I ought to ask and won’t know what to say. But I hate to take you away from that engine you’re working on. I know the guy you’re doing it for is in a hurry.”

“He’s not in that big a hurry,” Ray assured her. “He just wants to know it’ll be ready when he needs it. I should be able to wrap it up in a day of serious working on it, or a couple days of piddling around. I don’t see any reason why I couldn’t go with you.”

“Ray, I’d really appreciate it,” she told him. “I can see that there’s a lot more to it than I know about.”

“Then we might as well get it over with,” he shrugged. “That’ll at least give us a hint of what your next move will have to be.”

*   *   *

After a leisurely breakfast they headed on into Hawthorne and the Army recruiter’s office. It turned out that the recruiter was in, and not very busy, so they had time to talk. It took a couple hours, and there were some phone calls made to research availability of a couple of different schools, but no conclusions were reached.

It seemed familiar to Ray; after all, he’d spent some time there a few years before, and the language was familiar, but having been through recruitment once, it left him a little cold. They didn’t talk about it until they were back in the truck heading toward Bradford.

“Maybe it’s just because I’ve been through the process,” Ray shook his head as they drove through the still steady rain, “but I’m not convinced that it’s the best option for you right now.”

“I don’t know,” Ginger replied a little hopefully. “Maybe I’m pinning my hopes on it a little too much, but from where I am right now it seems to have some possibilities.”

“Looks good from the outside,” Ray told her, “but only because you don’t know what the inside is like. Remember that recruiters have a goal, which is to get your name on the dotted line. I won’t say that they come out and lie like that bastard at Fryes, but they sure put a good face on everything. From my experience, they don’t talk much about the bad side.”

“You’re just being pessimistic,” she replied, “and then, you were enlisted, too. That’s bound to put a little different spin on things. Hell, you said it yourself.”

“Yeah, I guess I did,” he agreed. “I still think you really need to talk to Elaine at a minimum. She can tell you stuff that I can’t, just because I don’t have that experience. But it’s not like you have to be in a rush about it.”

“You were right again,” she sighed. “Frankly, the finance officer course looks like the best deal I can see, but Ray, how am I supposed to get through almost six months before I can even get in the Army to get started with the process?”

Ray shrugged and kicked up the fan on the defroster a notch. “The good side to that is that you have almost six months before you have to make up your mind,” he told her. “There’s no reason you have to rush off into this. Hell, there’s no reason we couldn’t hop in your car and drive down to Ft. Jackson just so you could get an idea of what’s really involved.”

“That sounds like a decent idea,” she agreed. “You wouldn’t have to go with me if you didn’t want to. It’d cost a bit, though.”

“No big deal,” Ray told her. “Ft. Jackson is in South Carolina, which means we could go through North Carolina and I could stop off at a few shops and nose around. Kill two birds with one stone and that kind of thing. Like I said, we’d have time to do it.”

“Yeah, but Ray,” she protested, “it’d still be six months! I don’t think I ought to ask your parents if I could stay with you for near that long.”

“We could find you an apartment or something for that long,” he shrugged. “On the other hand, you never know until you ask.”

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To be continued . . .

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