Violence/Sex: No violence, but a fair amount of sex and lots of big trucks. This story does involve a consensual, loving and romantic relationship between two adult women. It's not graphic, but if sexual encounters in bathrooms or behind lemon shake-up stands offends you, you may want to consider another story selection -- or at least one that isn't set in Indiana.
This is my first attempt at writing a romance, so I hope you'll give it, and me, a shot. I would love to know what you think, and can be reached at email@example.com or on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/maxine.redwood.
Copyright Maxine Redwood, April 2013. All rights reserved. This story, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any format without the prior express permission of the author.
This is the city: Princeton, Indiana.
I live here. I'm a Hoosier.
This small prairie town is the heartbeat of America. It's populated by wholesome, corn-fed men and women like me: folks who work from sun up until sundown, and then clean up and go to church on Sunday. Hearty types who listen to country music, eat fried catfish at the VFW, and never apologize for buying rides that can pass anything but a gas station.
I work for Ogata Torakku of Indiana. We make trucks. I'm a line supervisor, and I carry a clipboard.
My name is Jill Fryman. My friends call me Friday.
Ogata, or OTI, as we call it, is new to the landscape of southern Indiana. The manufacturing plant had formerly been one of the flagship production facilities in the stalwart Krylon Motors family. The Princeton plant produced Krylon's top-selling "Outlaw" pickup-the self-styled "Workhorse of the American Farm." But when the economic tsunami hit back in 2008, Krylon was one of its biggest, Midwest casualties. The undercapitalized, debt-ridden mainstay of the American automotive industry collapsed like a rusted-out Yugo. Unlike GM, Krylon wasn't too big to fail; it was just the right size. Fortunately for me and the other 4,499 employees who had grown up and grown old walking its production lines, Ogata Torakku swept in at the eleventh hour and acquired the Princeton plant lock, stock, and impact wrenches. It wasn't so much the people of Krylon that Ogata wanted: it was the Outlaw-a gas guzzling, monster pickup that managed to lead the pack in domestic sales for three years running. Outlaws were only built at the Princeton plant, and when Krylon went under, we were the pick of the litter in its corporate selloff.
None of us really knew how much our lives would change once the Ogata transition team arrived. We had heard rumblings that they planned to implement the same "lean manufacturing" techniques that were common in other Japanese transplants-and even that they might move production of their all-new Mastodon monster truck to Indiana. Beyond rumor and innuendo, we knew next to nothing else, and the transition was still months away. Most of us were just grateful to still be getting a paycheck, and we took things one day at a time. That pretty much summarized life in a small, Midwest manufacturing town.
Wednesday started out like any other hot, summer hump day. People were already cranky because of the record heat and humidity, and that made them even more inclined to fuss about all the overtime hours and extra shifts that kept getting tacked on after the sellout. I did notice, however, that most of the loudest complainers had little to say when they picked up their fat paychecks. I'd already been on the line for nearly six hours without a break, and my bladder was about ready to burst. I knew it had been a bad idea to drink that whole Bigg Swigg of Diet Dr. Pepper I picked up at Huck's on my way in that morning, but hindsight is always 20/20. I waved my clipboard at Buzz Sheets, the shift foreman with a bad comb-over, and pointed in the direction of the bathrooms. He made a face at me, but I walked off the floor anyway. Enough was enough. I'd been on my feet since seven, and I needed to pee.
When I came out of the stall, I heard a familiar voice.
"Hey, Friday? You get a new watch?"
My best friend, T-Bomb, was pointing at my wrist with a crinkle cut French fry.
I looked down at my watch. I'd lost my Ironman a few weeks ago when I took it off outside to give my dog, Fritz, his biannual bath. When he broke loose and high-tailed it for the cornfield across the blacktop, his leash snagged the stack of towels-and my watch-and drug them halfway across the front yard along behind him. I didn't see Fritz for about three hours, and I never found my watch again, either. And I'd been working so much that I hadn't had time to get to Walmart to pick up a new one.
"Nope," I held up my arm. "It's Grammy Mann's vintage Seiko."
T-Bomb bit off half of the drooping fry, "Thought so, that one's awful girlie."
Terri Jennings had a way of boiling things down to what Grammy Mann called "brass tacks." She'd been that way since grade school. And she never eased herself into any situation. She just sort of exploded in the middle of it. That's how she got the nickname "T-Bomb." She was one of only a handful of people at OTI who knew I was gay. But that's not really saying a lot. Around here, it was kind of hard to tell the difference.
I tore off a sheet of paper towel and dried my hands.
"Why do you always eat in the bathroom? It's so gross."
"It ain't that bad unless one of them corn crackers drops a bomb." She snagged another fry out of her red and white gingham boat. "Besides, if these dip wads gave us more than ten minutes to pee and eat our lunch, I wouldn't have to bring my food in here." She dipped this one in ketchup before shoving it into her mouth. "Ain't this what you managers like to call multitasking?"
A stall door banged open. Luanne Keortge squeezed out, struggling to hike her drawers up over her mountainous backside. She was already chewing on the end of a Viceroy. You couldn't smoke inside the building, so Luanne was multitasking, too. Every time I saw her with a cigarette, I worried that her hair might go up. Luanne tended to use a lot of product.
"You got that shit right," she rasped. "I have to decide whether I want to use my breaks to eat or smoke. Ain't got time for both-the wait in the cafeteria is always too damn long." She glanced over at T-Bomb. "How the hell do you always get Pauline to make those? She won't do 'em for anybody else."
Pauline Grubb ran the company cafeteria-and you pretty much got whatever she felt like serving. Ten minutes to load your tray and wolf down your meal didn't leave a lot of time for discussion or argument.
T-Bomb paused in mid-chew. "Hell, I don't know. It's probably because I didn't marry her idiot son."
It was hard to argue with that. Pauline's boy, Earl Junior, was 38 years old and still lived at home in his mother's doublewide out on Peach Bottom Road. There had never been an Earl Senior, as far as anyone knew-so there was pretty wide speculation about how Pauline actually ended up with her big, dim-witted son. There were lots of theories, however-and I had my money on Buzz Sheets. Earl Junior's hair was already starting to recede, and his comb over was beginning to look eerily familiar. Earl Junior worked for OTI as a stock chaser. He pretty much sucked at it, however, and I'd had to follow behind him more than once to move skids loaded with lug nuts out of harm's way. Most of us just learned to shrug things like that off, and accept that Earl Junior was "special." That was generally the safest way to ensure that you'd get something other than creamed corn for lunch if you ate in the cafeteria.
Luanne headed toward the door. "See you back on the line, T-Bomb."
I felt like an underachiever, since I was only in there to take care of one kind of business.
"You goin' out after work?" T-Bomb asked. "Bobby Roy's band is playing tonight at Hoosier Daddy."
Hoosier Daddy was our local bar. Most of the people who worked at OTI stopped in there after their shifts for codfish hoagies and five-dollar pitchers of Old Style. Bars in Princeton pretty much fell out along company lines. That meant if you worked at OTI, you went to Hoosier Daddy. If you worked at Millennium Steel, you went to Pood's. If you weren't sure where you belonged, you just looked at the types of trucks that filled up the parking lots. Outlaws meant it was an OTI hangout. F-150s meant Millennium.
"I don't think so."
"Why not?" T-Bomb tended to get louder when she didn't get her way. "Come on. You gotta quit hiding."
"I'm not hiding."
"Well, what do you call it, then? Nobody's seen hide-nor-hair of you outside this place for the last month."
"I've just been busy."
"Busy my butt. You ain't done nothin' since you caught Misty Ann hittin' it with Joe Sykes behind that stack of Duelers in the warehouse."
I looked around the bathroom to be sure nobody else was there. "Would you mind lowering your voice?" I ducked down and took a quick peek beneath the stall doors.
T-Bomb was still eating her fries. "Relax…there ain't nobody else in here."
"Well, hold your voice down, anyway. I don't want everybody knowing my business."
"Girlfriend, nobody in three counties gives a twat about your business-including you. And if you don't start using it, it's gonna dry up and drop off." She licked some ketchup off her fingertips. "I told you that Misty Ann was trash. She's nothin' but a steamin' pile of hot mess. You know she was just using you to get back at her husband for knocking up that Turpin girl again."
I hated it when T-Bomb was right. Misty Ann Marks and I had only been going out for a few weeks when I caught her with Joe. I felt ridiculous for letting myself get involved with a straight woman. I always knew it wasn't going to go anyplace. Still, it hurt like hell when I realized that she had just been using me.
"I hoped it would go someplace," I said. I knew how lame it sounded as soon as the words left my mouth.
"Yeah? And if a frog had wings it wouldn't bust its ass hoppin' around." She ate her last French fry and tossed the empty paper boat into the trashcan. "Donnie has the kids tonight, and I want to go out. It would do you good to go, too."
"Look, I'm just busy, okay? Don't bug me."
"I think you're a lying chicken shit. You need to get back out there."
"Why? So I can be humiliated all over again?"
T-Bomb was now picking at something lodged between two of her front teeth. "Nith twy. Ith not nobody'th fault that thu make bath thoithes."
"What the hell did you just say?" I asked. I glanced down at my watch again. "Never mind. If I don't get back out there, I'll have to let Buzz grab my ass again so I won't get docked for being late."
She'd finished picking her teeth, and was now examining whatever it was that she'd removed. I headed toward the door.
"I'll wait for you in the parking lot after work," she called after me. "You can go for just one drink. It won't kill you."
"Whatever," I said. I headed back out to the line.
The rest of the shift was pretty uneventful. Five minutes before I was ready to hit the time clock to punch out, Buzz caught up with me.
"Got a second?" he asked.
I sighed. Buzz's "got a second" questions always meant I was in for at least another hour of work.
"Not today, Buzz. Okay?" I tried my best to look stern. "I'm dead on my feet and I really need to get out of here on time for a change."
Buzz ducked his head closer to me. That always creeped me out-not just because he was such a lech and thought that every woman in the plant wanted to get horizontal with him. Actually, vertical would be more accurate. Buzz seemed to prefer upright hookups-usually back in the warehouse, where I saw Misty Ann with Joe Sykes. He also wore too much cheap cologne. The smell of it, mixed in with the ambient odors of axel grease and polymer, was probably giving us all some kind of nasty lung disease that would someday get OTI nailed in a class action lawsuit.
I took a step back. He didn't take the hint, and moved in closer again.
"There's a film crew here from Channel 25. They need to shoot some footage for a piece they're doing about OTI maybe bringing the Mastodon here."
If OTI decided to ramp up the Princeton plant to produce the Mastodon-a quad-cab, full-size pickup with 32-inch Sidewinder radial tires and a twin six engine-it would mean adding 450 jobs, and four hundred million to the local economy. This would be a real boon to the tri-state area. It made sense that a TV station from Evansville would come here to get the story.
"Oh, come on, Buzz. Where's Jerry?" Jerry Sneddin was supposed to be our plant's public affairs rep. But the only thing "public" about Jerry's job was the affairs part. The rest of the time, he was pretty much M.I.A. "I've covered his butt the last three times we've had reporters in here. I'm beat, and I wanna go home."
"Jerry cracked a molar on a pistachio nut, and he's out getting a crown."
"A pistachio?" I waved a hand toward the line. "Who in the hell around here has time to eat pistachios? Most of us don't get long enough breaks to pee."
Buzz was losing patience with me. "This won't kill you, Fryman. You're always mouthing off with that women's lib crap about not getting promotions-then when we ask you do step up and do something, you complain about it."
"That's a load of B.S., and you know it. When have I not done anything you've asked me to?"
"You mean besides today?" he asked.
What a dick Chiclet, I thought. "Okay. Fine. But this time, I'd better get paid for the overtime."
"Management don't get overtime pay. You know that."
"Oh, really? Last time I checked, I still punched a time clock."
He shrugged. "You wanna dance to the music, then you gotta know when to fold 'em."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"It means you play the cards your dealt, without biting the hand that feeds you."
I sighed. This was going no place fast. "Yeah. Whatever." I looked around. "Where are they?"
He gave me a crooked smile that was more like a leer.
"They're setting up on the catwalk." He jerked a thumb toward the rafters. "Just give 'em the standard spiel. You know the drill."
I ought to: I'd pretty much been doing this ever since the OTI buyout got announced.
"Okay. I'm on it."
Buzz reached a stubby hand down to his crotch and adjusted his package. "From your mouth to god's little acre."
I rolled my eyes. "You're a sick bastard, you know that?"
"Come on, Fryman…anybody who hits it with Misty Ann Marks can't be all that picky."
"Screw you, Buzz."
"Any time. Any place."
I gave up and turned away from him. "Jerk."
"You know where to find me when you change your mind," he called after me.
Yeah, I thought, behind a dumpster, where you belong.
I headed for the maze of catwalks that ran along the rafters above all the production lines. They crisscrossed the plant in complex patterns that reminded me of Grammy Mann's tatted lace dresser scarves. The Channel 25 film crew was already in place. It wasn't hard to identify the "talent." She looked like she'd just walked out of a display window at Ann Taylor. I had no idea how she'd managed to climb up here in those shoes-or where they found a hardhat big enough to cover her hair. She smiled when she saw me and held out her hand.
"Are you Jill? I'm Mona Simms. Mr. Sheets said you'd be giving us the tour. I can't thank you enough for doing this. I promise we won't take too much of your time-we just need some background footage."
I nodded. "No problem. What would you like to see?"
Mona waved a handful of sculptured nail enhancements toward the assembly line below. "This looks pretty good…lots of bright color and big action. How about we set up right here?"
We were standing over the part of the line where a massive orange hoist lowered an Outlaw cab and box onto a preassembled chassis. For people unfamiliar with the process, this was the most exciting part of production because it's where the actual truck came together.
"Okay," I agreed. "How can I be helpful?"
"If you don't mind, I'll just ask you some general questions while Mitch, here, films what's happening."
Mona signaled the cameraman to start recording. "So can you describe what we're seeing below?" she asked me, in a perfectly modulated, prime time voice.
"Sure," I said. "This is the part of the manufacturing process where three major assemblies converge. The cab and bed are lowered onto a preassembled chassis by robotic arms. This particular unit is called the 'marriage machine,' because it's where the body meets the chassis."
"Amazing," Mona added.
Behind Mona and Mitch, Luanne Keortge was ambling toward us on the catwalk. Luanne was a quality control inspector, and part of her job was to walk the line. I signaled to her to wait up for a few minutes-I was pretty sure we'd be moving along to another area soon.
"If you look closely," I continued, "you can see how precisely the cabs and beds align with the vertical chassis bolts. This machine is actually the most sophisticated piece of equipment in the plant."
"The colors are just sensational," Mona cooed. "How many different trucks do you make here?"
"That's a good question. With all of the possible combinations of options-engines, transmissions, tires, colors, interior appointments-I suppose you could say that we make more than 60,000 different kinds of trucks."
"Incredible," Mona actually sounded impressed.
Below us, another cab and bed were seamlessly lowered onto the next chassis rolling forward on the line.
"What the hell?" Mitch blurted. "Get a load of this!" He was now leaning over the railing, trying to get a better angle on something.
I looked over at him. "Hey-don't do that…it's dangerous!"
Mona now had a hand pressed to her mouth. She looked at me, then back toward the marriage machine. I had a sinking feeling. It would be just my luck to have a six million dollar robot pick this precise moment to drop one of the cabs.
"Oh, sweet Jesus." Luanne had plainly seen whatever went wrong, too. "That sure as hell ain't on my checklist." She reached over to a pillar and hit an emergency stop switch. The production line below us ground to an immediate, seven-thousand-dollar-a-minute halt. The momentary silence was deafening. Then I could hear laughter drifting up from someplace.
I looked down. Two naked figures were writhing around in the bright yellow bed of an Outlaw Super Duty 450. I was stunned. From the tattoos, I could tell that the woman was Misty Ann-and the man on top of her was none other than our company public affairs rep, Jerry Sneddin.
Mitch was laughing out loud now. "I suppose this is one of the 60,000 options?" he asked between snorts. "I could make a fortune with this shit on YouTube."
Luanne huffed her way over to stand next to him. "It sure is, honey." She pulled a pack of Viceroys from her shirt pocket and tapped one out. "But I can't say as I agree with puttin' the stick shift in the back door."
I sighed and took another look at Misty Ann. T-Bomb was right: I'd been hiding long enough.
Tonight, I was heading for Hoosier Daddy.