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Daddy's Pick

The tire flapped and scrubbed as Ginger Curtis looked for a spot to pull over. Finding one, she eased the car onto the shoulder of the road and cut the engine off.

“Now what?” she asked herself. She knew a little about how to change a tire, but not enough to be confident she’d get the job done right. Why didn’t I pay more attention when tires were changed in the garage? she wondered. She hoped she hadn’t driven too long on the flat. It had taken her a while to find a safe place to pull over, and she was afraid the rim might be warped. Oh, well, nothing she could do about that now.

She was out in the middle of nowhere with a flat tire because her daddy had asked her to come out and meet someone. Someone he’d hired to work for him in his garage. “I think you re really gonna like this one,” he’d told her over the phone last week. He promised her this would be the last time he’d try to marry her off. Since he’d added the word, really, before the word, like, something he’d never said before, she decided to drive down for the weekend and take a look.

Sitting here looking at the steering wheel and dwelling on why you’re here, is not going to get the tire changed, she thought and released the seat belt. She opened the car door of her Honda EX and slid out of the seat.

Leaning against the car, she waited … and waited … and waited some more. About fifteen minutes later, a car topped the mountain and started down the gravel road toward her. She stepped forward. The car sped on past her, kicking up dust as it went.

“Southern hospitality, my foot,” she mumbled and coughed, fanning her hands to clear the air.

The afternoon sun beat down, causing sweat to trickle from her hairline and roll down her face. Another thirty minutes ticked by without a car in sight. Finally, she decided to see what she could accomplish on her own.

She unlocked the trunk and looked into a big empty space. She needed a jack, but the place was as bare as Mother Hubbard’s cuppard. “And I’m the poor dog without a jack,” she mumbled.

Her eyes skimmed the interior until she spied what looked like a small door with a picture of a magic lamp on it. She shrugged and turned the knob and pulled down. “Voila!” There was the jack.

She remembered to loosen the lug nuts. Good thing. Or she would’ve jacked the car off the ground first, causing herself a lot of unnecessary work. That done, she put one end of the tar tool over one of the nuts and turned. It didn’t budge. She threw her weight into it and strained until she felt certain a few blood vessels had popped in her neck. It still didn’t budge.

“Great! Just great.” She threw her hands up in the air and plopped down in the grass. She cursed herself for being a member of the weaker sex. Maybe that’s the way God meant it to be, but it sure didn’t help her when she needed to change a tire.

Whoever my father wants me to meet had better be worth all this trouble, she thought.

An idea flashed on in her mind, and she scrambled to her feet. Standing on the arm of the tar tool, she put all one hundred and twenty-five pounds into it. She bounced up and down. Nothing. What did they do? Weld the nuts to the rim? she wondered.

“Now that is a sight to behold,” a masculine voice drawled.

Ginger yelped and fell off the tar tool. She had been so preoccupied with trying to get the lug nuts off, she hadn’t heard the pick-up pull in behind her car.

“Looks like you could use a little help.” He squatted down in front of the flat tire and loosened the nuts with the ease of turning on a water spout.

She watched in fascination as strong fingers, stained with grease, grasped the tar tool and loosened the last nut. He was dressed in faded jeans, and a blue work shirt with the sleeves cut out at the shoulders. Black hair brushed his neck, and a white Stetson rested on top of his head. This was one good-looking man. Whoever her father had in mind for her to meet, would pale in comparison.

He jacked the car off the ground and went to the trunk and lifted the thin gray carpet and particle board. The spare tire was not nestled in the little hole meant for it.

She groaned and smacked her forehead with the palm of her hand. “I’m sorry, but I took it out and didn’t put it back.” Fine time to remember that now, she berated herself.

“No problem. We’ll take the damaged one to the garage and patch it up.” He removed the loosened lug nuts and removed the flat tire. He put the hubcap and the nuts in the trunk and slammed the lid down, causing the car to wobble precariously on the small jack.

“I don’t mean to be so much trouble,” she apologized.

“That’s all right. I’m always glad to be of help.” He tossed the tire onto the back of the truck in one effortless motion, setting Ginger’s heart to pounding out of control when the muscles in his biceps contracted.

The truck’s seat was cluttered with oil stained rags and tools. She waited for him to clear her a place to sit before climbing into the cab.

“Sorry about the mess,” he apologized.

She laughed. “I’m used to it.”

He flashed her a smile that sent her to reeling. Get a grip, Ginger. It’s not like you haven’t seen a good-looking man before, she told herself.

He pushed in the clutch, and she bit down on her lip at the sight of his thigh muscles flexing with the movement. She needed air. Being near this man sapped her lungs empty.

He checked traffic and pulled out onto the road. “What brings you this far out in the woods?” he asked.

“I’m visiting my father for the weekend. He’s got this crazy idea he’s going to marry me to the man of his dreams.” She rolled her eyes and laughed.

The man chuckled, a sound that made him even more adorable. She was starting to wonder if she had already beaten her father to the punch.

“He means well. I guess he thinks if he can find me a husband that lives here, I’ll move back home. Sometimes I really want to come back, husband or no husband.” The wind tugged at her hair through the open window, and she stared out at the trees flying by. She was lonely all alone in the city. The excitement of moving out of the mountains was wearing thin, and she was beginning to miss the simple life of the country.

She wasn’t surprised when the man pulled into her daddy’s garage. Her father had a good reputation for being fair and honest and most people did business with him. She jumped from the cab and ran into his arms. He gave her a bear hug, then kissed her forehead.

“How’s my girl?” he asked. “Come here, son, I want you to meet my daughter.”

The man pulled the tire off the back of the truck and carried it toward them.

“You two know each other?” Ginger asked.

Her father nodded. “Ginger, this is Travis Moore. Travis this is my only daughter, Ginger,” her father introduced them.

“Nice to meet you, Miss Curtis.” He touched the brim of his hat. “I’ll be just a minute on this.” He walked toward the back of the shop.

“You’re not going to let him do that himself?” she asked as she stared after Travis.

“Of course I am.” He pulled her toward the service desk. “So? What did you think of him?” he asked with an excited gleam in his eyes.

“That’s the man you wanted me to meet?” Her mouth dropped open. “He’s the one who works for you?” She wondered how many new women customers her father had picked up since Travis came along.

Her father nodded. “So?”

She felt a blush creep up her neck and flood her cheeks with color. Travis was the best looking thing her father had ever brought home to her.

“Glory be! I’ve finally done it. I know you like him. I can tell by the look on your face.” Mr. Curtis danced a jig in his excitement.

“You might have succeeded a lot sooner if you’d found a man half as good-looking as he is,” she whispered, thinking of the last man who bore an alarming resemblance to Elmer Fudd.

“I didn’t pick him for his good looks, Ginger. I wouldn’t trust my only daughter to just any man, good-looking or not.” He stroked his chin with a serious look.

A female customer pulled in, and her father went to help her. Ginger heard the woman ask where that handsome hunk was. She rolled her eyes and strolled over to stand next to Travis as he patched the puncture hole in her tire.

He turned a devastating smile on her, and she grabbed a hold of something to keep from sliding to the floor in a dead faint. That something was his shoulder. She quickly released it and mumbled, “Sorry.” He threw her another infectious smile, and it was almost her undoing. Gosh, but he was cute.

Finally, he finished and threw the tire back on the truck.

“Daddy, I’m going with Travis to get my car. We’ll be back in a little bit,” she called over her shoulder as she climbed in the cab.

“Don’t rush,” her father hollered back and winked.

Back at the car, Travis put her repaired tire on, taking his time.

She didn’t mind. She could spend the rest of her life watching him work.

When he was done, he put away his tools and walked back toward her, wiping his hands on a grease stained rag. “You’re all set.”

“Thank you so much. I’d probably still be trying to get the lug nuts off, if you hadn’t shown up. If there’s anything I can do to repay you, let me know.” She smiled.

“Well, there’s one thing you could do.” He shuffled his feet and looked at the ground. “Go out with me tonight … or … it doesn’t have to be tonight. It can be any night, if you don’t think your pa would mind.”

“Oh, I’m sure he won’t mind … not at all.” She felt her chest explode with joy and thought she might just stay in town a little longer than she’d planned. Like forever maybe.

©1999 Margaret Marr

Margaret Marr lives in the mountains of western North Carolina with her husband, two sons, one dog and eleven cats. In addition to FRIENDS and Lovers, she has been published in: Dusk & Dawn, Strictly Romance Magazine, Alive, Standard, CZ’s Online Magazine, Phantom Fantasy Online Magazine, The Storyteller, and the storyteller online magazine*