Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Ginger was alone when she woke up the next morning, not that she wanted to be. The idea of going into Ray’s room and sleeping with him again had been very, very appealing, especially after spending the afternoon and much of the evening out in the shop with him as he worked on Rowe’s engine. A lot of that time she worked with Mel on Ray’s Modified, and in the process heard a lot more stories of the good old days. Realistically, she hadn’t been much help on the Modified, other than the odd occasions when Mel gave her something and told her, “Here, hold this,” while he marked it or drilled it or something.
But still, it seemed like a good idea to not act too forward under the circumstances, even if it meant that the bed up the hall from his room seemed pretty lonely. Even though she’d missed work the day before, she planned on heading in this morning, so after a struggle to find her alarm clock she set it to get up in plenty of time, to find that everyone but Ray was already up and running when she got up. Even Ray was up by the time she left for McDonald’s.
Her spirits had been up and down so quickly the last few days that she could hardly keep track if she was in a good mood or what any more. It was a real drag to have to go to work today, but at least it wasn’t dragging her down as mornings often did. The fact that it looked like it was going to be sunny and the skies were blue after days of rain just helped improve the prospects for the day.
If that wasn’t enough, her spirits got even better when she looked at the work schedule when she clocked in, to discover that Phipps wasn’t due in until ten; that meant that she could get along peacefully for four full hours before having to put up with him. So, realistically, her first four hours in the morning were among the best she’d had on the job for a while. While she still hated it, she now at least knew that the agony was going to come to an end and had a reasonable idea of when it would be.
It was too good to last, and, of course, it didn’t.
Things went to hell within five minutes after Phipps walked in at ten AM, looking like he was dealing with a severe hangover and in a foul mood even for him. “Ginger, I’m really pissed that you took a sick day yesterday,” he snarled, almost as his opening words. “We were shorthanded, and I can’t have that shit. You’re going to have to work through your lunch hours off the clock for the next two weeks to make up for it.”
“No way,” she said, having grown some backbone, probably from hanging around with the Austins. “This bullshit of working off the clock is just that, bullshit, and I’m not doing it anymore. I have a right to take a sick day if I need it, and I needed it.”
“You have a right to a job just as long as I say you do, and you’ll damn well do the job I tell you to do,” he told her.
“Then you can take your fucking job and shove it,” she said. “I don’t have to put up with horseshit like that from losers like you.”
“Loser,” he snorted, “just who the fuck is the loser here? I mean, who’s a shift supervisor, and who’s a college graduate whose diploma qualifies her for running a grill?”
That did it. She’d taken that shit from him long enough, and she knew who the loser was. In that moment of clarity born of pure white anger, she shouted, “That’s it, I’m out of here! I’ll be by to pick up my check on Friday and it damn well better be ready.”
“If you ain’t working you ain’t getting a paycheck,” he shouted back. He reached out and put his hand around on her fanny and squeezed a little. “If you really want your paycheck you better be nice to me.”
“Get your hands off me, you rapist!” she yelled at the top of her lungs. That got his hand off of her, and brought several other employees onto the scene in the process. It gave her enough time to head for her locker, where she grabbed her purse and her jacket. “I’ll be here on Friday and there better damn well be a check for the hours on my time card or I’ll file a complaint,” she continued. “McDonald’s doesn’t pay me enough to have to work with an asshole like you any longer.”
With that, she was out the door and heading for the Gremlin, about as mad as she had been at her father a couple days before but not feeling anywhere near as defeated about it.
It wasn’t until she was out on the road heading back to Bradford that the reaction began to set in. Now, what the fuck was she going to do? She was just about as broke as ever and it seemed likely that the asshole would find some way to block her paycheck, not that it amounted to a whole hell of a lot. That stank, any way you looked at it, but at least she was out of there, the decision had been made and there was no turning back.
Oh, well, she thought as she settled down a little, there was still the option of driving over to the recruiter and telling him to get her out of here as quickly as possible, no matter what. That reaction only lasted a moment before she realized that the down side to doing that was that it seemed likely she’d wind up in food service or some other damn thing that stank about as bad as working at McDonald’s, despite having her degree. As far as that went, she couldn’t even go home, after the scene there the other night. That meant that whatever happened, she was going to have to depend on the Austin family to get her out of this mess.
By the time she made it back to the Austin house she was near tears again. She shut off the Gremlin in front of the shop, and just sat there, unable to find the strength to get out of the car and go tell Ray what had happened. Why the fuck did things like this have to happen to her, anyhow?
She had no idea of how long she sat there, only that she heard a knocking on the glass of the window and Ray’s voice saying, “Ginger, are you all right?”
She popped open the door and sobbed. “Yes. I mean, no. Ray, I don’t know.”
He opened the door wide and knelt down beside her. “Ginger, what happened now?” he asked gently.
“That asshole Phipps,” she sobbed. “I lost it, Ray, I told him that he could take his job and where to shove it.”
“And that’s a bad thing?” he asked. “I thought you wanted out of there,”
“I did, Ray, but not like that. He wanted me to work off clock to make up for taking off yesterday. When I told him I wasn’t going to do that anymore, he, well he put his hand on my butt and pretty much said I was going to have to be nice to him if I wanted to get my paycheck.”
“Then it’s just as good you’re out of there, isn’t it?” he smiled.
“But Ray,” she replied, almost hysterically, “I can’t just sponge off you and your family. What am I going to do?”
He just shrugged and smiled, “Well, if all else fails, there are lawns around here that need to be mowed and plenty of stuff to be painted. You were already going to be doing some of that, now you’ll have time to do more of it.”
“It’s all stuff that needs to get done,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to find kids to do all the work that needs to get done around here, and sometimes when we do we don’t get the job done the way we want. Those guys here yesterday wouldn’t exactly have been my first choices, if you know what I mean. They were just here and handy yesterday, so we used them. Besides, we’re only a month or so from the season opener, and I’ll bet Mom has been figuring out just how much of the track bookkeeping she can dump on you. It’s probably not the perfect solution but it ought to hold you till you go to the Army.”
“Ray,” she shook her head and sighed. “What the hell would I have done if I hadn’t run into you?”
“You’d have survived somehow,” he smiled, standing up. “Now, go get out of that damn McDonald’s uniform and put on some real clothes, then I’ll buy you a cup of coffee or something.”
“All right,” she said, swinging her legs out of the car. “That’s the best idea I’ve heard in a while, but holy shit, I don’t think I can take many more mood swings like this.”
“Things that don’t kill you make you stronger,” he grinned. “I can’t remember if it was Plato who said that, or Johnny Carson.”
“Damn it, Ray,” she said, giving him a hug, “I can’t believe you sometimes.”
“Go change,” he grinned. “Come on out to the shop when you’re done.”
Ginger hadn’t been fooling about the mood swings – they had been battering her, and now she was having trouble walking, let alone keep up with things. One thing, though, seemed clear: she wasn’t going to have to wear the fucking McDonald’s uniform again. She had never even gotten her jacket on after she charged out of the place, despite the coolness of the day. Now she was peeling out of the uniform as she walked across the driveway, and was down to her bra by the time she made it into the house, never even worrying if Ray might be watching. It just felt good to be out of the damn thing. The pants stayed on until she made it upstairs, mostly because it would have been hard to take them off and walk at the same time; they were off about as soon as she was in her bedroom.
It felt so good to be out of the uniform that she stripped down the rest of the way and headed for the shower to get some of the stink of the place off of her. Whatever else happened, she was free of McDonald’s, and especially, free of Phipps. That was worth a lot by itself.
What with taking the shower and the need to dry her hair, it was probably twenty minutes before she made it back down to the shop, wearing jeans, a T-shirt and a flannel hoodie sweatshirt. They felt a hell of a lot more comfortable than the straitjacket of a uniform. On reflection, now that the shock had a chance to wear off, she realized that she was happy. She was free, free of her father, free of her family, free of Phipps and McDonald’s. She’d had to hitch her wagon to the Austin team to do it, but it seemed like a fair trade.
Ray was working on the same engine as the night before. “I’m no expert,” she commented, “but it looks to me like you’re making progress on that.”
“Trying to do it right, rather than do it quick,” Ray told her, intently eyeing something on the project. “I want to give Mike as perfect an engine as I can, and it needed a little extra work to get it there.” He looked up at her and commented, “Wow, you look better than you did a few minutes ago.”
“I feel better,” she replied. “It just took me a while to realize it.”
“That’s the spirit,” he smiled. “This is probably as good a place to knock off as anywhere. Let’s head on down and get that coffee I was talking about. In fact, I’ll buy you lunch. I don’t suppose you want a hamburger?”
“Not on your life, Ray,” she laughed. “I may never eat another hamburger again.”
A few minutes later they walked into the Chicago Inn, where Ray headed right for a table at the front. They had only been sitting there for a couple minutes when Arlene came in and sat down next to her. “Fancy meeting you two here,” Arlene smiled. “Ginger, I heard you had some trouble this morning.”
“Yes,” Ginger said, feeling a little shy about it, and realizing that Ray must have called his mother while she had been changing clothes. “I’m afraid I walked out on my job, but I think I had a good reason to. Ray, uh, Ray said I might be able to work around the track some, mowing grass and whatever else you need so I won’t be completely broke.”
“Sounds reasonable, and it has to get done,” Arlene said. “There’s some other things that need to be done that I need to talk to you about, but now isn’t the time. So what happened that caused you to walk out on your job?”
As always, Arlene was easy to talk to, and Ginger wound up telling her the whole story, not just the part about that morning, but all the crap that she had taken from Terry Phipps over the last few months. She was actually a little surprised at herself that she wasn’t more emotional about it – knowing she was free of him had allowed her to put the whole thing at a bit of a distance.
“It’s a damn shame that people like that can get away with those kinds of things,” Arlene said after a while, after their lunch had been served, in fact. “Would you mind if I made a couple phone calls?”
“I guess not,” Ginger shook her head. “I just want to get it all behind me, but it would be nice to see him get his one of these days.”
“No promises,” Arlene smiled, “but I might find a string to pull somewhere.”
“Don’t go to any trouble if you don’t have to,” Ginger told her. “Now that I’m out of there it’s not worth crying over. When do you want me to get started on work at the track?”
“I don’t know,” Arlene told her. “Ray, you have a better idea about what has to get done than I do.”
“It’s still too soft to mow,” he shrugged. “Bob and Lonnie are supposed to be over after school. I can get the three of them started on painting the walls, then maybe I can finish the mill for Mike this afternoon. Once they’ve shown her what to do she could work on it by herself tomorrow while I go through the gang mower to get it ready for the season.”
“Good idea,” Arlene agreed. “The walls are starting to look pretty sad. I don’t want to have them looking like that on opening night.” She turned to Ginger. “Don’t think this is busywork. This is all stuff that has to get done, and has to be done in the next month. I think tonight the four of us had better sit down and set some priorities.”
“Fine with me,” Ginger said. “I don’t mind working, so long as it doesn’t have anything to do with hamburgers.”
“No promises there,” Arlene grinned. “One of the things on the list that needs to be done is that all three of the concession stands need a thorough cleaning, along with some paint and repairs.”
“That’s different,” Ginger smiled. “I ought to be able to handle that.”
After lunch, Arlene headed back to work, while Ray and Ginger headed back to the shop. As soon as they were in the truck, Ginger turned to Ray and said, “I should have guessed that you were going to call her as soon as my back was turned.”
“Well, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t getting the cart too far in front of the horse,” Ray told her. “You have to understand, it’s not my track, it’s their track. I was doing something that normally they take care of by offering you the job. Dad usually takes care of hiring the kids for those jobs, since he recruits them out of school. I didn’t doubt that they’d take you on, not after everything else that’s come down, but I have to be careful to do it so I’m not stepping on their toes. On the other hand, both Dad and Mom are trying to press me to take on more responsibility for the track, so that gives me some room to work.”
“More responsibility?” she frowned. “I guess I don’t get it.”
“Think about it,” Ray told her. “Dad is fifty-eight; he has a little over one more year of teaching and then he can retire from the school. Mom wouldn’t mind hanging it up, either. Florida keeps coming into the discussion, and a motor home comes up once in a while. In any case, they want to slow down some, but that means that they have to find someone else to do the work. Now, who’s the obvious person to do that?”
“I see,” she nodded, “and you don’t want to do it?”
“Sometimes yes, sometimes no,” Ray shrugged. “There are some obvious problems. The big one is that it’s more than a fulltime job, from May through September, slopping over into April and October a bit. Most of the rest of the time the place just sits there. Oh, occasionally there are snowmobile races at the little track or something like that, but at worst that’s just a busy day and a little messing around. That means it’s a half-year income. Now, Dad can do that, he’s a schoolteacher so he has the summers free. Mom, well, she can take off if she needs to, but the point is that they both have incomes outside of the track. The way things are right now, I wouldn’t have that.”
“Yeah,” she nodded. “I can see how that would be a problem.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I’m perfectly willing to pitch in as needed. My thinking is OK, they retire, they spend the winter in Florida, fine. They can spend the summers up here doing pretty much what they’ve always done. But there’s not enough money in the track for me to make a living at it on a full-year basis. That means I have to have something like a real job up here, which would make the summers a real bitch, trying to hold down a job and run the track at the same time. Since I’m not a schoolteacher and never will be, that means something would get shorted on one end or the other.”
“That wouldn’t be good.”
“I know it wouldn’t,” he nodded. “I think they’re trying to ease me into it and let me get committed before I realize what they’re up to. But I’m onto them about that. That’s part of the reason I wanted the job at Fryes, so I’d have the excuse to not get sucked into it quite as easily, but you see how well that worked out. I can make money doing what I’m doing, Ginger. I’m making more money in a couple days on Mike’s engine than I would have made all week at Fryes, but I don’t have the excuse to keep from getting sucked into doing all the track stuff. In fact, I sort of suspect you’re part of the deal.”
“I don’t know that I’m quite ready to settle down, yet,” he explained. “Working on a NASCAR crew was fun while it lasted, and I wouldn’t mind doing it again, even though the hours suck, you’re always traveling, and sometimes the pay isn’t what it could be. Hell, both Dad and Mom had that real adventure with the MMSA when they were younger. I wouldn’t mind having a few stories like that to tell, myself. But I’m sure they think that if I’m tight with some chick it’d settle me down and make me a little more willing to stay in one spot, like here.”
“And I happened to show up, and got volunteered,” she replied, enlightenment coming over her. She’d been thinking that this whole deal was just a little bit too good to be true, but now she saw the fish hook. It certainly wasn’t the one she’d been expecting. “And having me around all the time might make things go quicker.”
“That’s about the size of it,” Ray smiled at her, “and maybe I don’t mind. Hell, I don’t know what I think. I’ve only known you a few days, and I know we really don’t know jack shit about each other, but I like you, Ginger. I don’t know you well enough to be thinking of anything permanent, so I’m not saying it’s either going to happen or not going to happen. I’m just not in the mood to get stampeded, even if it turns out to be a good idea.”
“I . . . I’m sorry, Ray,” she said slowly, searching for words. “I didn’t mean for this to happen. Maybe I’d better head down to the recruiter this afternoon and tell him to get me out of here.”
“No,” he smiled as he pulled into the driveway, then stopped his pickup in front of the shop. “You don’t want to do that, and you especially don’t want to do it on my account. If you want to go off to the Army, that’s fine with me, but it shouldn’t be about me. I went off to the Army as much to get away from that issue and get away from Connie as I did anything else. It worked out all right, but for the most part I didn’t like it. What’s more, I honestly don’t think you’d like it.”
She twisted in the seat so she could look directly at him. “Why don’t you think so?”
“Think about it,” he said. “You walked out of your family because you got tired of your dad bossing you around. You just walked off your job because you got tired of that Phipps character bossing you around, right? Let me tell you, the one thing the Army has an oversupply of is assholes to boss you around, and you can’t walk away from it there.”
“Oh,” she replied in a small voice, “I see your point. I sure didn’t think of it that way.”
“Better you thought about it now than after you sign your name on the dotted line,” he smiled.
She sat there for a moment trying to put everything into place. “Damn it,” she said finally. “I thought it all looked so beautifully simple. Why does it have to be so damn complicated?”
“Just the way it is, I guess,” he sighed. “Nothing is simple, just sometimes it looks simple. Hell, think of a car going down the road. It looks pretty simple, but hidden under the simplicity you’ve got lots of stuff going on, in the engine, the chassis, everywhere else. Beyond that you’ve got all the design and engineering and metallurgy to the point where it’s so damn complicated that no one person can understand it all. You about have to grab what you know and do the best you can.”
“You know,” she smirked, “that sounds pretty wise on the surface, but underneath it there’s really nothing there that tells me what I need to know, which is what I’m going to do. Or, for that matter, what we’re going to do.”
Ray shook his head. “About all we can do is what we have to do and see where it settles out. For me, it’s to get Mike’s engine done today.”