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The Contest

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The Contest

After Daddy lost his leg in the combine accident last year she, her brother Shawn and her sister Maggie all moved back home for a while to help out on the farm and be close to their folks.

At the time Shawn had just earned his degree in Soil and Crop Science and it had now been decided he'd be staying on at the farm for good, eventually taking over the family farm.

Now that things had settled back down into a kind of "new normal" routine and Mama and Daddy were doing real well, Maggie had moved back to her home in Augusta. That had Beth thinking very seriously about moving back in with her friend Amy. Especially now that NASCAR season had officially started. She knew that's all Shawn would ever have on TV and all he'd be talking about.

Beth had accused him many times of having a man crush on the circuits number one driver, some guy named Daryl Dixon.

Sadly for her, it wasn't just Shawn, it was the guys she worked with too. Shawn and those guys nearly drove her insane with their car talk and their hero worship of this Daryl Dixon guy. She knew she should expect it at work, after all she worked as a secretary for an auto parts warehouse, but gosh she wondered if they ever thought about anything but cars. Apparently not.

When she got to work Monday morning there on her desk was one of their millions of race car magazines. She'd never know what made her pick it up and skim through it but she did. There it was on page 11, a full page ad about entering a contest, but not just any contest. This contest had a grand prize of an all-expense paid trip for two to Daytona Beach, Florida with VIP seats for the Daytona 500 and the opportunity to meet Daryl Dixon. Shawn would be in Heaven.

And it wasn't just meeting this Dixon guy for a couple of minutes, the winner also got a special visit with him and his pit crew. He was going to tell all about his car and all that other stuff these guys couldn't seem to hear or see enough of. Apparently this big Daytona 500 race was going to be Daryl Dixon's swan song, he was retiring. And that was the other big win of the contest, attending his retirement party at some fancy schmancy hotel. All the other drivers would be there too, plus spouses and girlfriends and sponsors and NASCAR officials. It sounded like quite the big ta do.

She decided she ought to enter, why not? If she won this contest she'd just let Shawn go with whoever he wanted and oh my gawd he'd owe her every kind of favor in the book for the rest of his life. And she laughed at herself, yeah like she was going to win.

But a month later she got the word that against a zillion to one odds - oh my gawd she'd won! The woman who called her said she could bring the guest of her choice but as the official winner she also had to attend. Oh yeah, Shawn would be spending the rest of his life paying her back for this little gem.

And she'd never admit it to Shawn but the truth was she was actually just a little excited about the whole thing. Yep, when she'd seen that ad for the contest there was a photo of the one and only Daryl Dixon and holy mole the guy looked delicious. Of course he was probably a conceited ass with a long-suffering wife, a barely legal girlfriend and a stable full of groupies. Shawn was always talking about how the drivers were constantly being hit on by "pit lizards." Yeah Daryl Dixon was probably a big player and an even bigger jerk. But a real hot one.

Anyway, he might be handsome and rich and all that stuff but she was looking for something more than that in a relationship. Wait, was she just thinking relationship? Boy her mind could wander in weird directions. He was some big deal race car driver who'd forget her and Shawn two minutes after he met them. Relationship, pfft.

He'd made a lot of money on the NASCAR circuit, that was for damn sure. The racing money was great but that was just part of it. There were the endorsements, the print ads, the TV commercials and even modeling gigs. All of it added up to a whole lot of cash but not a real life. He was ready to get out and to get his life back, which for him meant getting home to his cabin in the Georgia pines. He wanted to get away from the hustle and the hassle, the cameras, the hangers on, the pit lizards, the society woman and the budding movie stars who wanted to be "seen." He wasn't fooled, none of them had any real interest in him, they were interested in what being associated with him could do for them. Well now they could find some other bitch, he was hanging it up.

Then his manager sprung the contest idea on him. NASCAR saw it as a way to build good will with fans and try to capitalize on his impending retirement. He was kind of okay with it only because it meant some regular Joe was going to get a great little vacation, a bird's eye view of a big race and a dinner out with all the booze he could put down. Shit it sounded perfect for some working guy who'd never get a chance to come to Daytona any other way.

And when he heard about the person who'd won; a young woman who was bringing her brother to see the race and meet him, well that was just real sweet. A couple of Georgia farm kids. That made him feel even better, fellow Georgians.

They flew into Daytona early on Saturday morning and were picked up by private car. They didn't even have to carry their own suitcases. They weren't use to traveling in style this way. They were pretty much everybody-crammed-in-the-car-and-elbowing-each-other kind of travelers.

When they got there it was 78 degrees out and Beth wished she could just stay at the hotel and lay around that beautiful pool reading a magazine. But oh no, no such luck. They were being picked up in just an hour and would be taken to the track. Oh swellsville, just her idea of a big time, hearing all about racing and race cars. Just like every other day of her life.

She had no idea what a person was supposed to wear to go learn about race cars so she stuck with what she knew, her bibbed shorts, a t-shirt and ankle boots.

She was teasing Shawn about being absolutely giddy with anticipation about meeting his man crush. "Maybe he'll ask you to dance with him at the big retirement party."

Shawn played along, "Shit I hope so! He's so hawt!" And they laughed so hard Beth had tears in her eyes.

The car picked them up and they were off to the speedway where Daryl Dixon and his pit crew were there to meet them.

When he introduced himself to her and shook her hand it was like a little bolt of lightning passed between them. She felt her stomach tighten and her heart rate speed up and she worried she might melt right there on the spot.

He was hypnotized. Shit he met women, lots of women all the time. But he was no player and unlike plenty of guys he had no interest in any one-nighters with random women. He'd been hoping maybe when he got home to Georgia he'd meet a real woman, preferably one who had no fucking idea who he was. This woman, man she had it going on. All homespun sweet and pretty. All he had to figure out now was how he was going to get some alone time with her. He'd never been a believer in bullshit like love at first sight but she might be the woman who changed his mind.

Oh dear, he was even more delicious looking in person than he'd looked in that picture. She wasn't a fan of long hair on men but on him, oh yeah that shaggy look was working just right. And when he looked in her eyes with those steely blue eyes of his there was no doubt at all. She knew she was ruined, he was it.

But seriously, she was just one of thousands of women this man met. Yes he was being very nice and all but that was just part of his job.

Merle was watching his brother with a big old grin and thinking damn, little brother was under some kind of spell. And shit this little gal was downright wholesome looking, nothing like the oversexed up and eager to please pit lizards that were usually after him. Or those movie star wannabe girls who'd be happy to give it away just to get their picture on the internet with a well-known personality like Daryl Dixon.

The only person standing there right then that may not be aware of what was happening seemed to be the pretty little farm girl. Like most she probably thought Daryl Dixon was some kind of big player. It'd be interesting to see if little brother could make this happen.

But for right now Merle saw his brother needed a kick in the ass to get him started, "So aren't ya gonna introduce these nice folks ta your pit crew an show 'em the in's an outs a the car son?"

She noticed he looked a little embarrassed when this older man pointed this introduction thing out to him. Shawn was just standing there taking it all in. Little sister had definitely caught the eye of Daryl Dixon and it didn't seem like just one of those deals where he wanted some cheap thrill. No the guy looked genuinely fascinated by Beth. And after all the shit she'd given him about lust and man crushes, oh payback was going to be a whole lot of fun!

But screw all that for now because Daryl was introducing them to the pit crew. As it turned out the older man, Merle, was Dixon's brother and he seemed way different than the driver. Besides being 10 or 12 years older he seemed a lot louder and more boisterous but when he started talking and explaining stuff it was plain to see, Merle Dixon knew his way around the car and the pit.

The crew showed the visitors just how fast they could change all four tires and take care of other race day challenges. Daryl managed to take his eyes off Shawn's sister long enough to talk about race strategy and how fast he went in the turns and how he handled it when he passed other driver's or when they tried to pass him. Beth was so mesmerized by Daryl Dixon and his gravel-coated voice she never did hear exactly what he was saying. Then Merle popped the hood and it was the big moment Shawn had been waiting for, he was beyond excited to look at that car engine.

Beth thought maybe it was time she pretended she cared about all this race car business and engines and speeds through curves and whatever else it was that seemed to get all these men so excited. She pointed a finger at something in the engine compartment and asked, "What's this doohickey thing-a-ma-bob here?"

Now the other men were all trying real hard not to be rude, not to laugh out loud. But Shawn, well brothers are different. He laughed and he pushed her shoulder and said, "Shit Bethie maybe you oughta just keep quiet."

And she shrugged, "What? I was just asking a question."

And Daryl Dixon was pretty sure then he was seriously falling into something with this woman and the best thing was she was clueless about racing, clueless about cars and clueless about who the hell he was. Perfect in every way. So he set about explaining to her in great detail exactly what that doohickey thing-a-ma-bob was. And she listened to him with rapt attention, and she never really heard a thing that he said.

He was bummed when it was time for the driver to take them back to the hotel and it seemed that out of nowhere he heard himself say, "I got my vehicle here I can give y'all a ride." It was all Merle could do not to let out a belly laugh, the only thing stopping him was he didn't want to get Daryl upset the day before his last big race. He'd wait and give him his ration of shit after the race.

She was kind of surprised his rig wasn't one of those sporty type cars, it was a big four door pickup truck and Daryl Dixon was a gentleman, he opened the door for her. When they got to the hotel he told the valet to park it and then he asked her, "Can I buy ya a drink or a sweet tea or anythin'?" And then he apparently remembered her brother was also standing there, "You too a course Shawn."

Shawn knew where he wasn't wanted, "No but hey thanks for the offer. I think I'll change and head out to the pool bar, there might be some pretty girl hanging around that's just dying to meet me."

And Daryl smiled at him, "Yeah good luck man. And thanks. I owe ya one."

"You just win tomorrow." Shawn smiled back.

He walked her in the bar area, "So what's your pleasure Beth?"

"I'm not sure, what are you drinking?"

"Well I got a big race tomorrow so I'm havin' a club soda with lime, but you have whatever ya like."

"I'm not much of a drinker so sweet tea sounds just right to me."

And they talked and he found out all about life on the farm and Daddy's accident and what she did for a living and finally he asked her, "So why did ya enter the contest Beth? You're obviously not a big race fan."

She was smiling but also red faced. "It's true, I've never even watched a race. Every time they come on I leave the room. I mean no offense or anything but it just seems like you're watching a lot of cars going around and around and everyone's waiting for one to crash into another one." And then she immediately wished she hadn't just said that.

To her surprise Daryl Dixon started laughing, "Well I guess that is probably what it looks like and I kinda do think a lotta folks watch it who are waitin' on a crash. But there may be a small amount a skill involved, at least Id' like ta think so."

"I'm so sorry. I'm sure you're very, very talented and all but I'm just not a big car person. I barely know the brake from the gas pedal." And then she told him about entering the contest for her brother, hoping she'd win so he could bring a friend and come to the race. It was kind of an embarrassing admission now that she'd met this nice, and oh so handsome man.

But he just smiled and nodded his head a couple of times. He was thinking that wow, she was honest. Nothing phony or put on about this woman and they damn sure didn't come any prettier and sweeter than her. His ego could take a few punches from Beth Greene. "What is it ya do like?"

"I like to ride my horse, I like hiking and camping and especially sitting around campfires. I also love music. I sing and I play guitar and piano."

"I don't know much about music 'cept whether I happen ta like a certain tune or not but I'd be willin' ta learn if you'd be willin' ta teach me. I do know I like the hikin' n the campin' part. After tomorrow I'm drivin' home ta my cabin in Georgia and I don't plan on comin' back ta so called civilization again until I hafta."

"Well that sounds wonderful. I'm sure you've earned your retirement even though you're only, what 30?"

"A hair over that," He smiled, "32."

"That's very young to retire. I'll be working until I either drop dead or win the lottery. I'm praying real hard the lottery comes through for me." She smiled right back at him.

"I'd like ta get ta know ya better Beth Greene. I'd take ya out tonight if I could n you'd be willin', but I got a meetin' with my guys in an hour then its dinner and early bed for me. I wanna make a good showin' at my last race. "I'll see ya in the pit an then there's the big dinner party tomorrow night. Would ya sit with me at that?"

She felt her face heat up but she was thrilled with the invitation, "Yes I'd love that but what about Shawn? I can't just leave my brother hanging."

Yep every bit as sweet as she looked. "Oh yeah, I want him there too."

She was surprised but also real happy when he leaned in and gave her a kiss goodbye on the cheek. She was starting to think just maybe he was all the things she'd like to hope he was. Sincere, honest and for a big deal athlete / celebrity, surprisingly down-to-earth.


The whole car race pretty much made her a nervous wreck. Shawn was yelling and carrying on and generally having the time of his life. She was never sure exactly who was ahead but she did know which car was Daryl's and she was just hoping and praying he wasn't going to get hurt.

When he won the pit crew and Shawn went just completely crazy. She didn't know what to do besides just clap real hard. He took his victory lap and there was a big ta do, and then he surprised the heck out of her when he motioned her to come up there on the victory stand with him. He was holding the trophy up with one hand and he put his other arm around her shoulders and then he shocked her to no end when he leaned over, kissed her right on the lips and said, "You're my good luck charm."

He'd been winning races for quite some time but if he wanted to say she was his good luck charm she'd happily accept that. She was definitely having a lot of feelings about Daryl Dixon and all those feelings were good, and warm and pretty darn fuzzy.

She wished she had a high-priced designer gown to wear to this wing ding or that she'd at least bought a new dress. But the dress she'd gotten for her company Christmas party was going to have to do, it was all she had. Besides everyone said she looked really pretty in it, well okay Mama and Daddy said that. She hoped if he really did like her it would be like Mama always told her, he'd think she looked pretty even if she was wearing a gunnysack.

Apparently Daryl had to take care of some kind of business so the driver had been sent for them. Not that she could complain, it was a limo after all, but gee she sure would have liked to ride with him in that truck. The party was at a much fancier hotel than where they were staying and she'd thought where they were staying was about as fancy as things got. She was a little overwhelmed by it all.

The party was an elaborate affair. Everything about it was over the top. It was in a big ballroom with lots and lots of elegant dining tables and a huge raised platform set up with a long table and chairs facing the dining tables, and there was a podium. All along the wall behind the long table were giant pictures of Daryl Dixon in race cars or standing by his car or holding up a trophy. Gee he really was a big deal.

And oh no she found out that's where she'd be sitting looking out on hundreds of people. And she was in her Christmas party dress from T.J. Maxx. Ratz. But then he saw her and he smiled, came over to her, kissed her cheek and said, "You look beautiful Beth." And she decided her Christmas dress was just right.

She had her first ever glass of champagne and he had a beer and they listened to what seemed like a thousand people go up to that podium and talk about the greatness that is Daryl Dixon. He was holding her hand under the table and he seemed so uncomfortable with all the accolades.

Finally it was his turn to get up there and say something and she heard him take in a deep breath. He leaned over and whispered to her, "Wish me luck I hate this stuff so bad." She smiled at him and assured him, "You're going to be great."

He got through it and everyone seemed happy and that's when he leaned over again and whispered in her ear, "I been havin' a kinda low key cravin' for pancakes all week. Would ya sneak out with me n we'll go see if we can't find us some?"

She laughed and whispered, "Heck yes I love pancakes!"

He didn't sit across from her in the booth, he slid right close there next to her and that's when he came clean. "The minute I laid eyes on ya girl I knew I wanted ta spend time with ya, get ta know ya. I wanna spend a lot more time around ya. How 'bout we put Shawn on the plane in the mornin' and I drive ya back ta Georgia? I'm goin' there, you're goin' there, let's go there together. It'll be a nice long drive with plenty of time for us to talk and get to know each other. Whaddya say?"

"Oh." She had to think about that for a while. It was a big deal, a huge step. She had to let the idea digest. Decide if it was really the smart thing to do or just too darn impulsive. Yep, she spent at least 10 seconds ruminating on that, and then she said, "Alright."