Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Arlene worked in a doctor’s office in a modular building off the same parking lot as the Bradford Hospital. Ginger wasn’t sure this was a good idea but Ray didn’t leave her any choice, and just about had to take her by the hand to lead her into the place.
“Hi, Ray,” the middle-aged receptionist behind the front desk asked. “How are you doing today?”
“Oh, about the same as ever,” Ray smiled. “Is Mom around? We sort of need to talk to her.”
“She’s back in with Doctor and a patient,” the receptionist replied. “I take it this is personal.”
“Well, yeah,” Ray said. “Something we need to keep in the family for now, anyway.”
“All right,” the receptionist said. “Why don’t you go back to examining room four? I’ll send her back as soon as she gets a minute.”
“We’ll be waiting,” Ray said, and led Ginger toward the back of the building like he knew where he was going.
Ginger guessed it wasn’t the first time he’d been in this doctor’s office. “God, Ray, that was embarrassing,” she said as soon as the door was closed. “She was looking at us like, well . . . uh . . . like you’d brought me in here to get me on the pill.”
“Considering this morning, it might not be a bad idea,” he smirked. “After all, you never know what’s going to happen.”
“Ray, I’m not saying that it’s not going to happen, because we got closer than you might think this morning, and I don’t think I would have minded if it had happened. But damn, that seems a little blatant. It, well, it looks as bad as it looks.”
“Sorry about that,” he grinned. “Ginger, if you haven’t figured it out by now, I tend to take the direct route between Point A and Point B. I take after Dad like that. Mom can be a bit devious. You’re right, it could have looked better, but people are going to think what they will no matter what the truth is.”
“Yeah, but still,” she shook her head. “I still think you’re crazy to even think about this, after what your folks must have seen this morning.”
“We don’t know that they did,” Ray smiled, “and I really don’t think it’s all that big a deal. We are grownups now, and it’s not like we were doing what a lot of other people do in this day and age.”
“There’s a fish hook in that statement, but I’ll be damned if I want to look for it,” Ginger shook her head. “Ray, don’t get me wrong, you and your family have been incredibly nice to me. I can hardly believe how nice. But somehow I can’t help but suspect that there’s something going on here that doesn’t quite meet the eye.”
The door opened and Arlene walked in. “So what brings you two lovebirds in today?” she grinned as she closed the door. “Birth control pills?”
“See, Ray?” Ginger snorted. “Everybody is going to think that’s what’s going on. Mrs. Austin, I’m sorry about last night. I shouldn’t even have come out to your house, and then, well, I got to talking with Ray and sort of fell asleep.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Arlene smiled. “I was going to talk to you about it later, but I might as well say it now. You two are adults and what you do is your own business, so long as you aren’t too blatant about it. It might have been better if you’d closed the door, but I pretty well figured that nothing too serious was going on or you would have closed it. So don’t worry about it, all right?”
“But . . . but . . . Mrs. Austin,” a flabbergasted Ginger said as she fumbled for the words she wanted to say in the wake of that astonishing statement. She could never have imagined her mother telling her something like that!
“I thought I told you to call me Arlene,” she replied. “Ginger, I was dead serious about that. I understand that you were rather stressed out when you came last night, and it’s perfectly understandable that you wanted someone to comfort you. Believe me, I have been in something pretty close to your shoes and I know how it works. You’re just lucky that you had someone to turn to when it happened to you. I didn’t. Now, what did you need?”
Ray was a little less amazed at his mother’s words than Ginger, only because he knew his mother, who had a pretty realistic way of looking at how the world really worked. “Well, Mom,” he began, “the short version is that we’re on our way back from the recruiter’s office. They have a couple good programs that Ginger might fit into, but it’s going to be months before they could get her into one of them. We’ve been talking about finding Ginger a little apartment here in town.”
“Oh, don’t bother with that,” Arlene smiled. “Ginger, that’s an awful big house for the three of us. There’s plenty of room. We probably shouldn’t have you in Elaine’s room permanently, but there are two spare rooms, counting Vern’s, that are just collecting dust. There’s no reason not to put you in one of them.”
“But Mrs. . . . uh, Arlene,” Ginger stammered at the unexpected statement. “Don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate the offer, but I just can’t bring myself to take your charity for that long. You Austins have all been very nice to me, but even I think that’s a little overboard.”
“So carry some of the load and we’ll call it even,” Arlene said. “You can help out with the housework, help out with some of the track work out back, and we can sort of count it against your room and board. There’s always work to do with a house that big, not even counting what goes on at the tracks. We’d have to pay someone to do it anyway, because it has to get done. Does that sound fair enough?”
“Yes, but . . . well, I don’t want to put you out.”
“Trust me,” Arlene said, “if you start to become a pest someone will tell you about it. There’s no point in your trying to live in an apartment on what you’re making at McDonald’s. You probably don’t make enough there to cover the rent, let alone anything else. Does that sound all right to you?”
“My God, yes,” Ginger gushed, still not quite able to believe something like this had happened. “I can’t believe how good you people are to me. What’s Mr. Aus . . . er, Mel going to say?”
“He won’t say anything,” Arlene smiled. “We talked about this a little this morning. Don’t forget, we know how the process works of people going into the Army. We thought this might happen. You’ve had a tough patch, Ginger, but you seem like a good kid, and as long as you’re willing to pitch in, we’re willing to help you.”
“This is just unbelievable,” Ginger shook her head. “Thank you, Arlene. I just don’t have the words to thank you enough.”
“If you can say that in six months or so, I’ll be happy,” Arlene smiled. “Is that going to work all right for you, Ray?”
“Yeah, sure,” he said, just a little dazed himself. “Thanks, Mom. Ginger seems to be a good kid and worth the effort.”
“I guess we’ll see, won’t we?” Arlene grinned. “Now head out front, Ray. You can either wait in the waiting room or in your truck, but I need a little woman-to-woman time with Ginger.”
Ray walked out to the waiting room with no idea of what was going on or how long this was going to take. For lack of anything better to do, he pawed around in the pile of old magazines, which ran to Redbook and Highlights for Children until he came across a Field and Stream that was several months old. Ray wasn’t much on hunting or fishing, but whatever was in it had to be better than Highlights. He managed to get a little interested in a story about elk hunting in Montana, and that helped to pass the time.
He got through the elk-hunting story, and for lack of anything better to do started reading the next story, which was about tips for better bass fishing. Again, he wasn’t much on the subject but he enjoyed the reading. Although he was a mechanic and his grades in school could have been better, Ray was still a reader and enjoyed reading almost anything. If he could get something interesting out of it, so much the better, and this article almost raised his interest to lukewarm. He wasn’t really aware of the time passing until he saw Ginger appear from the door leading to the back part of the doctor’s office, looking a touch red in the face at the sight of him.
Somehow, Ray got the message that it was better not to ask what was going on, at least right there, and managed to keep his mouth shut until they’d rushed their way through the raindrops and were seated in the truck. “So,” he said as innocently as he could as he turned the key in the ignition, “I suppose Mom told you all the dirty details about me and broke out the baby pictures.”
“No,” Ginger said. “Christ, I never thought that would happen.”
“Oh, hell, you’re going to make me tell you, aren’t you? Ray, about as soon as the door closed she asked me about birth control pills again.”
Ray dropped the truck into gear, but realizing he was heading toward dangerous territory, said nothing.
“Well, aren’t you going to say something?” she said finally, as he pulled out of the parking lot.
“Whatever I say is too likely to be the wrong thing, so I figure it’s best if I keep my mouth shut.”
“Ray,” she said in exasperation, “I’m not going to say that it’s not going to happen, but just don’t be expecting that it’s going to happen anytime soon, either. Your mother was as nice as could be, but my God!”
“Yeah, sometimes she doesn’t mess around,” Ray shook his head. “I know it had to be a little embarrassing for you, but maybe she was thinking better safe than sorry, just in case.”
“Yeah, I know,” she sighed, “and considering how close it came to happening this morning, she was probably right. I mean, but still! So I had to wait for the doctor and do the whole nine yards. It takes a while for them to take effect, but well, if it happens it happens and at least there’s not that angle to have to worry about.”
“You have just run across one of the down sides of my mother,” he sighed. “She sometimes takes the bull by the tail and looks the situation in the face, especially when you’d really rather she just minded her own business.”
“I think I see what you mean.”
“It could have been worse,” Ray said. “Back when I was like a junior in high school, my sort of girlfriend came in for a regular appointment, and she pulled the same thing. I was not getting it on with her, hadn’t even gotten close, and I’ll tell you what, the deep freeze was on from her for a while. Oh, well, it was all for the best.”
“You mean because you wound up having sex with her?”
“No. I mean, well, yes but no. Connie was all right in her way, but she could be a real pain in the ass, too. I don’t remember how it came about, but she decided that she was going to have a big party one Saturday night, and she just absolutely insisted that I had to go to it. Unfortunately, or maybe I should say fortunately, I was in a tight race for the Don Boies Trophy, and there was no way in hell I was going to miss the season finale. Connie blew up and said that I was going to have to make a decision between racing and her.”
“I seem to recall that you won the trophy,” she said dryly.
“Hell yes, first things first. Connie was OK, but she wasn’t that OK. Look, not really wanting to change the subject on you, but I was thinking about it while you were in there. You’re going to go ahead and stay with us, I take it? Mom didn’t talk you out of it by hitting you with a question like that?”
“No, she didn’t,” Ginger replied, “although for a couple minutes there I was wondering.”
“Good,” he smiled. “I mean good that you’re staying, but also good that you found out that’s not going to all be a bed of roses, too. This day is half shot in the butt anyway, so I was sort of wondering if maybe we ought to go get your stuff before your folks get home.”
“That’d be great,” she said. “I’d just hate to have everything soaked by putting it in the back of your pickup, though. Even if we were to put everything in garbage bags it could still get messed up.”
“Well, we don’t have to take this pickup,” he smiled. “We have some other vehicles out in the barn.”
“Then let’s do it,” she smiled.
It wasn’t far from the doctor’s office on the outskirts of Bradford to the Austin house, and they quickly covered the distance. However, when they pulled into the driveway, they saw a strange car sitting in front of the shop – an early ’70s muscle car that looked like it was loaded for bear. “Now what?” Ginger asked
“Don’t know,” Ray shrugged, “but that’s Lonnie Watkins’ car. He’s one of the kids who works around the track for us.” He pulled to a stop beside the car and saw that Bob Dawson was in the car with Lonnie. The right side window of the car rolled down, and Ray rolled down the left side window of the truck. “Mornin’ guys,” he said, “shouldn’t you be in school?”
“Teacher’s meeting, we just got out,” Bob replied. “We were wondering if there was anything we could be doing out here today.”
“Not that I know of, not in this rain,” Ray said, “but I’ll tell you what, as soon as things dry out enough there’s going to be a pot load of work. That freaking grass is going to be growing like mad, and there’s still quite a bit of painting that’s going to need to be done.”
“We sort of figured that,” Bob told him, “but we thought it couldn’t hurt to ask.”
“Well, not around here,” Ray smiled, “but I do have something I could stand some help with if you guys are willing to do me a favor or two.”
“What you got in mind?”
Ray smiled at him. “Well, the girl I got with me needs some help getting her stuff out of her house, and I could use some extra hands. It’d probably take an hour or two, including the driving time.”
Bob turned to Lonnie; Ray could see the two talking but couldn’t make out what they were saying. “You just have clothes, nothing heavy, right?” he asked.
“That and some books,” Ginger said. “Some other odds and ends.”
Bob turned back to Ray. “Might as well,” he said. “We ain’t got nothin’ better to do, I guess.”
“Great,” Ray told him. “We can use the extra help. Run up to the track office, in the back there’s a big box of garbage bags. We’re going to need that. Then, come back and meet us over by the barn, you can follow us.”
“OK, we’ll be right back,” Bob said. They could hear the thunder as Lonnie fired up the old muscle car and backed it away from the shop.
Ray rolled up the window of the truck and turned to Ginger. “Good,” he said. “We can stand the help. I’ll have to slip them a few bucks but it’ll be worth it. They won’t be long, so we’d better head out to the barn ourselves.”
Ray parked the truck outside the barn, and both of them got out. He went over to the big double doors on the barn, opened the latch, and slid one of them back. Inside Ginger could see a collection of vehicles – several pickups, tractors, and other such things. “I hope the thing will start,” he said as he led her inside. “I don’t think it’s been run all winter and it would be a pain in the butt to have to jump it.”
“If it doesn’t start I have no doubt you can deal with it,” she smirked, then realized he was leading her toward a white van with red trim, with “AMBULANCE” marked on it. “Come on, an ambulance?” she said with surprise.
“Your stuff will be dryer inside than in the back of a pickup,” he smiled.
“I realize this is one of those really stupid questions, but what are you doing with an ambulance in your barn?”
“That’s kind of a story,” he laughed. “It’s probably not the oddest thing sitting around here. Think about it, this is a race track, so we need an ambulance in case someone gets hurt.”
“Yeah, but your own?” she said. “Isn’t that kind of expensive?”
“It’d be a damn sight more expensive if we didn’t have it,” Ray explained. “The insurance for the track would be a lot higher, for one thing. It used to be that the local ambulance crew would come out and stand by the races for the cost of pit passes and freebies at the concession stand. But the town council got greedy here a while back and decided they were going to charge us a couple hundred bucks an event to have it stand by. We sometimes have five events in a weekend, and we hardly ever have to really use an ambulance to haul someone, so you can see that was going to get real expensive in a hurry.”
“So you got your own,” she giggled as she got in the right side.
“Right,” he smiled as he climbed up into the driver’s seat. “Dad beat ’em at their own game. It turned out that this ambulance was for sale from a town out east of here. Dad put in a bid on it, got it cheap, and had it set up partly as an ambulance, partly as a mobile first aid station. Well, here goes nothing.”
He turned the key in the ignition. The van’s engine turned over a couple times, protesting all the way, then caught, coughed a couple times, then settled down to a rough idle. “Good girl,” he said to the van. “It’s really a little small for an ambulance these days, they don’t like to have them inside a full sized van if they can help it, but this is a licensed ambulance. We pay a couple EMTs to hang around it at an event, and Mom’s forgotten more about trauma nursing than most people will ever know. We don’t actually haul patients to the hospital in it unless we really have to. If something happens where an ambulance is needed for transport, we call one from town, and then the council can fight with whoever it is about the fee. You don’t mess with my dad. He may not fight you head on because he damn sure will go around you if he can.”
“You Austins!” she laughed. “You are something else. All of you! You are just so cool!”
“Hey, it’s perfectly logical,” Ray grinned. “It makes a lot of sense when you stop and think about it.”
“That’s not what I’m laughing about,” she replied, still scarcely able to talk. “Just think of what the neighbors are going to say when an ambulance backs up to my folk’s back door and people start loading my stuff into it.”
“I can have the overheads on if you really want to get their attention,” he laughed.
“I’ll think about it. Boy, that’ll set the folks on their ear when they hear about it.”
It took the usual amount of time to get back to Hawthorne, with Ray following Ginger’s directions to her parents’ house. It was pretty obvious that the best way to load the ambulance was to back into the driveway, and then just load out of the back door of the house.
“We’ve still got a couple hours before the folks get home,” she told him, “but if Nick comes right home after school, we won’t have that much time.”
“OK, we can deal with that,” Ray told her. “You stuff the trash bags, the guys and I will haul them down. I wouldn’t worry about being too neat. Speed counts.”
Speed it was. It’s amazing how fast a person’s room can be packed up when the contents of a dresser drawer, for example, are just dumped into a trash bag without sorting. The books on Ginger’s bookshelves took a little more care, but she had a number of boxes of books packed away in her closet due to the lack of shelf space. There was even room in the ambulance for a couple of the bookshelves, which knocked down into small pieces.
Perhaps it was just as well that they were in a hurry, because it would have been a trying time for Ginger if she’d taken the time to stop and think about it. She’d lived in this room as long as she could remember. There had been good times there, but especially in recent years there had been more than enough bad times to make up for them. Somewhere in there something had gone wrong, and now she was just glad to be getting out of there without letting sentimentality overwhelm her. Now, she was heading off into a future that was very unclear, and without much to guide the way. For better or worse, she’d made her decision; now she would have to live with it, wherever life took her.
In twenty minutes they were pretty close to done. There were a few things added from the bathroom, and then Ginger said, “Really, that’s about it. There might be a few odds and ends here and there, but that’s about the worst of it. Let’s get out of here so we don’t have to worry about dealing with Nick.”
They headed back down the stairs, each carrying a final trash bag or two. Ginger was the last one out, and paused for a moment to lock the door. “Damn,” she said as it latched.
“What?” Ray asked.
“Just damn,” she sighed. “This could have gone so much better. I never figured I’d have to wind up moving out like this, sneaking out in the middle of the afternoon when the folks are at work.”
“Well, not exactly sneaking out,” Ray pointed out as Bob and Lonnie loaded the final trash bags into the ambulance; he and Ginger followed, and they closed the ambulance door. “We’ve got people all over the neighborhood watching, wondering what’s going on.”
“Good,” she said. “Let’s give ’em a show, Ray.”
“We can do that,” he smiled. “Bob, Lonnie, we’ll meet you back at the house.”
Ray and Ginger piled into the front seat of the ambulance, and Ray got it started, without protest this time. He flipped on the flashing overhead red and blue lights, and as soon as they started to pull down the driveway, flipped on the siren. “That’ll make ’em talk,” he grinned at her.
“Yeah, it damn sure will,” Ginger said, with a smile that belied the sourness she felt at having to leave home at all.