Hired men, in navy blue uniforms, directed Daisy’s vehicle through the Palmer parking lot.
“What’s up with the armed guards?”
“They aren’t armed.” Connor smiled but couldn’t laugh in his present cramped position. “George hired’em from the temp office. They’re just here to help with the parking.”
“Oh” After 10 minutes of trailing behind uniformed men with flashlights, Daisy finally got the Firebird tucked away against the fence. She hopped out and went around to the passenger side of the car to assist Connor. With a few grunts, groans and aw-mans, she managed to pull him out of his spot.
“I think I hate bucket seats” he mumbled as he straightened his bandaged, bent body back into an upright position.
“They weren’t made for injured folk, that’s for sure.” She fixed the collar of his blue jean jacket. “There ya go, good as new.” She took a step back and smiled.
He swung his arm lightly across her shoulder and proceeded through the sea of cars jammed against the fence. Then through the center of the lot, which was empty and marked off with orange cones. Connor recognized the set up immediately.
“Why is the parking lot marked off like this?”
“They’re gonna do tractor races!”
“What kind of races?”
“You’ll see!” He ushered her along as quickly as he could. “Dad’s been telling me about this for years! I’ve always wanted to do it!”
Connor and Daisy eagerly joined the enormous gathering in front the office building. George and Davis were situated on the back of Davis’s pick-up truck, right next to the entrance. Davis cranked up a noisy generator. Multi-colored lights burst to life all over the parking lot. George hooked up and tested a microphone. (not that he needed one) “Test! Test! Test! Can ya hear me?” He hollered enthusiastically.
The employees cheered loudly, encouraging him to continue.
“Oh My God” Daisy shut her eyes and covered her ears. “Is he gonna be that loud all night?”
“Haha-ow-ow-haha-ow!” Connor roared laughing.”I hope so! After a week of staring at my bedroom walls, this is great!”
“Happy New Year Palmer Company! Everyone, gather around! It’s time for the Wives Tractor Race Competition to start! Tonight we are also going to add girlfriends to the bunch because we have a few of those as well! So men send your lovely gals right on up here! Let the races begin!”
“Come on Day! Let’s try!” Connor was standing behind her so he nudged her forward.
“I don’t know how to drive one of those things!”
“They only go 25 mph, you can do it. They’ll let me ride with you too.” He spoke in her ear as he continued to pushed her forward.
Several men with their ladies came forward. Daisy and Connor were among them. George directed them to a row of six tractors behind the office building. Daisy then realized that the cones in the front were marking out a course. It ran through the parking lot, around the main office building, all the way back to the starting spot, where the tractors were now sitting.
“Pick your tractor!” George hollered into the mike. “Drive a complete circle around the office building, all the way back to where you are now! If you run over anything or hit each other you must stop immediately! You are out! If you run over any of my flower pots, you have to replace them, do you understand? Your men can tell you how to drive the thing but they can not touch any levers! Is that clear?”
Everyone nodded yes.
“Get into your tractors!… On your mark!… Get set!… Go!” When George hollered ‘go’ all the men frantically began explaining how to drive and all the ladies did their best to get the tractors moving.
Eventually, they began a slow circle around the office. Two ladies in front of Daisy, collided and had to turn off their machines. They were out. Connor had to instruct Daisy how to back up and go around them. It took a very long time to get around them. This put Daisy in the very back, with 3 tractors ahead of her. The lady in front of everyone turned too sharp and ran over the flower pots that lined George’s office walk way.
George shouted hysterically! “Not my flower pots! Not my flower pots! Henry! You are gonna pay for those! You guys are so out!”
The flower pot blunder left just two driver’s in front of Daisy. Making the turn at the end of the walk way was tricky because now, there was a tractor sitting there. Daisy had to make a huge circle to get around the disqualified tractor. Her wide turn, brought her just-a-hairs-distance from some of the cars parked along the perimeter. The nervous owners ran over to their vehicles, hoping to protect their precious cars from Daisy in a tractor.
“Hahaha-ow-ow-haha-ow-ow! Look at’em go!” Connor roared laughing at the panic-stricken car owners as he held on to the back of Daisy’s chair for dear life.
“Connor, don’t laugh! You’ll hurt yourself!” she scolded over the roar of the tractor.
“I can’t help it! Haha-ow-hahaha, Pull the wheel! Pull it tight!” He hollered. “That’s it!”
When she made the full circle, Connor explained how to put the thing in reverse again and back it up into its original spot. It took her forever but she did it without hitting anything.
“Look-a-there, we came in 3rd and nobody died! Ha-ha-ow-ow-ha-ow-ow” He was enjoying the event so much, he could not help but do his howling laugh again.
Daisy turned around and tried to quiet him down but he was just too excited and she ended up laughing with him.
Once they calmed down, they climbed out of the tractor. Connor took her hand and they walked back into the crowd.
George hollered into the mike again “We have a winner! Mike and Sarah! Come on up here!” The couple ran up to George and he gave them dinner tickets to a very nice dinner theater in town. “Give’em a round of applause!”
Everyone hooped and hollered for Sarah and Mike.
There were still more who wanted to race the tractors so the next row of 6 came forward. They excitedly climbed into the tractors and raced. The winners of the second round were Davis and Peggy. They received tickets to the dinner theater as well.
Then another row of 6 came forward to race tractors. The winners of the third batch of racer’s were Tim and Jane Smith. They also happily received tickets to the dinner theater.
Once the racing excitement died down George got back on his mike yelling! “Let’s go inside! Next up, straight from our very own office, is this years greatest videos bloopers!”
The group cheered, laughed and chatted as they proceeded into the building.
Inside, Connor placed his hand on Daisy’s neck and slowly moved through the joyous mob that crowded the decorative tables full of food. All the catering staff were in full service mode. Some of them stood behind the tables, while others roamed through the crowds with trays of wine.
“Man… they have tons of food but where’s the drink table?”
Just when Daisy asked that, a wine waiter walked by. “Here Miss” He put a glass of wine in her hand.
Connor snatched the glass from Daisy’s hand and passed it back to the waiter. “She’s only 15, man. Pay attention would you please?”
“Excuse me sir. I didn’t realize…..”
Not wanting to be bothered with his reason, Connor interrupted the waiter.“There are other 15 year old’s around here so ya need to be careful.”
“Yes, of course sir.”
Once the waiter disappeared, Connor looked down at Daisy and pointed through the crowd. “Look…. walk that way, I’ll get you a drink from the machine in the lounge.”
Once inside the lounge the crowd was not so thick and the center table was covered with food trays.
“Jack pot! The caterer’s refill stash!” He grinned at the unattended pile of food. “Let’s eat in here!”
“Yeah….” Daisy took a plate and began picking from the assortment.
Connor put coins into the coke machine. “What’cha want Babe?”
“Peach Water” Daisy took a second plate. “Want me to fix yours too?”
“Sure” Connor returned to the table with two drinks and sat down.
Daisy placed a heaping plate in front of him. “There ya go, eat up.”
They had not gotten very far with their meal when, all the lights went out.
“What happened?” Daisy looked around in the darkness. “Are we using too much electricity?”
“No, it’s the videos! Let’s get back out to the front room!” They hustled out and found a place against the wall facing the video screen.
George grabbed the mike and began hollering at top volume!
Daisy covered her ears again. “That right there, is a man who should not be allowed to hold a microphone.”
Connor pulled her up close and kissed her head. “You’ll be ok”
“Now, many of you already know, we have some lovebirds among us! Davis and Peggy get up here!” George waved the pair forward. “These two are engaged and will be married in June. Make sure to tell’em all your marriage secrets, because I don’t know any!”
“Oh come on Mr. Palmer!” Tim hollered out from the crowd. “A man your age is bound to have one marriage tip!”
“Uh…. well….” he rubbed his head thinking. “I’ve never been married but I know…. when I’m bowling…. ladies don’t like it if I take too long on my roll.”
“That’s it? That’s my great marriage tip from the boss?” Davis chuckled.
“That’s the sorriest tip I’ve ever heard Mr. Palmer!” Tim hollered from the crowd again. “Davis, you come see me after the party. I’ll give ya some tips!”
“George, you’re the only man on the team that changes his strategy before, during and after every roll, it’s nerve-racking!” Peggy exclaimed in frustration.
“Ya see that!” George pointed at Peggy and looked at Davis. “Don’t take too long when your bowling. Ladies don’t like it.” George turned back to the crowd. “That’s a quality tip, don’t any of you forget it. And as your boss….” George wagged his finger at the crowd. “I insist…. that everyone attend the wedding. I’m gonna know it if you don’t, cause I’m the best man!”
The crowd took 10 minutes to bustle about laughing, punching Davis in the arm and hugging Peggy.
“Now… our first video is of Davis….. trying to weasel my car keys out of my hand so he could take Peggy somewhere. Because he’d given his own car keys to his spooner son and Daisy Ray!” George started laughing in the mike.”Get this…. Davis actually asked me, if I would take a taxi home! Can you believe that! I have it all right here on this tape!”
Everyone laughed and slapped Davis on the back while George popped in the tape.
Daisy periodically broke out in laughter as the tape played. “I didn’t know George had been taking taxi’s.”
Connor laid his head on Daisy’s back and “Hahaha, ow,ow,ow” as quietly as he was able to against her back. “Just keep watch’in, I think it was Dad who ended up take’in the taxi.”
After that video, George played a few more videos of various things that had happened throughout the year. Everyone laughed at themselves and each other for the silly things that they had been caught doing on tape.
George rose his hands to the ceiling and hollered out, “Now folks, we have the biggest fight in all of Florida, on this next tape! If we didn’t already know who the winner was, I’d charge you big bucks to see it.” he winked a business eye at the crowd. “It happened in our very own office too! After you see this video you’ll know, not to mess with Connor Bailey!” George waved his hand at the pair. “Connor and Daisy Ray! Take a bow!”
Connor and Daisy both turned red but they nodded their heads at George, anyway. When the people started to move towards Connor to slap him on the back. He grabbed Daisy tighter. “Oh crap, here it comes.”
To show their appreciation for what he’d done, the crowd hugged him and knocked him around a bit. He gave them each a pained grin. “Ow… aaa…. thanks…. ya man…. ow,ow, ow…. yea I’m kinda sore…. no problem…. oh…. ha-ow-ow” He held onto Daisy and took the friendly beating as graciously as possible. His bandages were well hidden underneath his blue jean jacket and sweater. The majority of the group had not seen the video yet. They had no idea of the extent of his injuries.
Once Connor had been properly roughed up and loved on, the crowd quieted down and the video began to play…….
The reality of the event, unfolded before the group. The broken glass, Daisy under the desk making phone calls, the masked man emptying drawers and tearing up the place, Connor sneaking up on him, the stranger turning on Connor, the tornado fight!
The group cheered wildly whenever Connor hit the masked man!
Then the masked man destroying the display case and smashing Connor with the large iron sample cylinder!
The group gasp. “Boooooooooo!”
Daisy coming to the entrance of the room. The stranger seeing her and making a mad dash for the door. The police and medics rushing into the place. Connor leaving for the hospital with George and Davis close behind. Daisy leaving last.
The group cheered for Connor! They were glad that he had successfully stopped the vandal.
Connor held Daisy close and whispered in her hair. “I didn’t know you got left alone.”
“Good thing you left me the Firebird. If you’d not told me to drive it, I would have really been stuck.” She turned around to look him in the eye, tenderly. “You always remember me. Even when you’re on the floor with broken ribs, you think about me. Thank you.”
“Aw man…. ” he didn’t get any farther with his thought because George started hollering in the microphone again! His amazingly loud voice caused Daisy to jump under Connor’s arms. “Man! His screaming, scares the tar out of me.”
Connor gently held her head against his shoulder. “I got you.” He whispered and she relaxed again.
“Ya”ll ready to bring in the New Year?” George hollered in his loudest voice.
“Hooray!” “Hell yea!” “Hallelujah!” “Alright!” “Let’s do it!” The wild bunch hollered back a multitude of responses to George’s question while beer cans and wine bottles popped around the room.
“Well then, let’s take it outside, look at the vastness of the sky, and bring it in with all the crazy cheering y’all can muster!”
“Waaaaaaa-Hooooooo!” The excited mob stormed the front door.
Connor sat still, holding Daisy in his arms. When the crowd thinned out some, they walked out. “Let’s go sit on the car.”
As they crossed the parking lot, Willie and Grace ran up. “Where are you guys going?”
“We’re gonna sit on the car for the countdown.”
“Can we sit with you?”
“Just don’t hit me in the back or grab me or anything when the countdown is done. I’ve had enough of that for one night.” Connor stretched out his sides and worked on his breathing as they wandered through the mob looking for the car.
“We understand completely, man.” Willie pointed. “There’s your car, right there.”
The four of them sat on the hood of Connor’s car and gazed up into the sky, at all the glorious stars, while the final countdown was being made. When zero was finally hit, Palmer parking lot went crazy! Confetti flew! Husbands picked up their wives and swung them around! Single men poured beer on each others heads! Everyone hooped, hollered and yelled at the top of their lungs! “HAPPY NEW YEAR”
Willie and Grace disappeared into the back seat of the car for some Happy New Year kissing. Leaving Connor and Daisy alone on the hood.
Daisy pulled a little gift box from her pocket. “I got you something.”
“What’s this?” he took the box and opened it. Inside was a watch. “Aw man, thanks Babe!”
“It’s different than the watch you’re wearing. This one has a beeper that can be set for running intervals. And look, it lights up so if you run at night you can still see the time.” Daisy pointed to everything as she spoke. “I know you’ll run again real soon”
He took off his regular watch and put the new one on.
“Do you like it?” She giggled knowing he would say, yes.
“I do Babe, thanks.” he kissed her cheek and asked, “Do you wanna see what I got you?”
“You got me something too?”
Connor pulled a box of his own, out of his jacket pocket and opened it for her. It was a silver chain.
“Oh, it’s b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l” She sighed.
“Let me put it on you.” First he untied the leather strip of shark’s teeth he had given her at the beginning of the year. Then he laid the delicate silver chain around her neck and clasped it carefully. “Happy New Year Daisy”
She reached up and touched the chain “I love it! This is the best New Year ever!”
He kissed her check softly. “Can I take you home now?”
“What about Willie and Grace in the back seat?”
“Well… if I drive’em to our apartment, they’ll be closer to home than if they stay here.” Connor grinned. “And uh… let me drive. There are too many party people wandering around.”
He helped her into the passenger side and walked around to the driver side. He tossed the pillow that Daisy had been using to sit on, into the back seat.
“Hey man… what’s go’in on?” Willie grumbled. “We’re busy back here.”
“The love bug is go’in home.” He carefully slid his bandaged body into the uncomfortable bucket seat. “You guys can walk to your place from there.”
“That works” Willie returned to his Happy New Year kissing.
While driving home, Daisy hung the leather strip of shark’s teeth that Connor had made her, around the front mirror. He smiled at the gesture, glad that she didn’t just throw the token of his affection somewhere unimportant. Her hanging it there, made the car feel a little less like his Dad’s car and a little more like his own car.
“Other than the fact that these bucket seats are too dang deep, I like this old car.” He cracked a partial grin as he ran his hands along the leather steering wheel. “I got the sweetest girl in the world too.” He looked over at her and gave her an even bigger smile. “Happy New Year Babe”
“Happy New Year Connor”