***Chapter One***
Word Count: 5,200

May 1997

"Why are we here again?" John asked.

"Because I got a call that there were going to be a couple of cars we might be interested in here today. I also heard it was going to be a nice day so I figured better than walking around looking at cars in the rain or freezing cold."

"We, meaning you," John said.

"Well, yeah, but you have input, too."

John shrugged. True, Dawson had never bought a car John absolutely thought they couldn't make money on after refurbishing it, but there was a car or two John thought Dawson was absolutely crazy for wanting to take a chance on. Even though John was his partner now, the garage was still Dawson's Garage. It wasn't Dawson & Bender Garage, so John tended to let Dawson have the final say on a vehicle they were in disagreement about.

Truth was, Dawson was proud of John. His sister was older and lived out of state for so long that he felt like an only child some days. John was, in some ways, closer to a sibling-like relationship these days. He'd gotten his degrees in Marketing and Small Business Management. He'd used those degrees and the knowledge he'd learned while going to school to put Dawson's name out there. Until then Dawson had been pretty happy with word of mouth or whatever business Pruitt could drum up doing his wrecker runs. Because of the efforts John had put in toward advertising the business, Dawson's garage was thriving with four full-time mechanics, including Dawson and John.

More importantly, though, at least to Dawson because he could really care less about more business. John had money to help Dawson buy better cars. He wasn't stupid enough to turn away John's money. John had put money towards the ones he hadn't agreed one hundred percent with Dawson on. He hated to admit they'd made money on those, not as much as they both would have liked. Sometimes it was the project; the effort that was going to go into it and the challenge to make it look good enough for someone to buy it from them that caught Dawson's eye. Generally, the two other mechanics worked on the regular business during slower times leaving Dawson and John to do the refurbishing work.

"I guess," he said.

"You have something else to do?"

"Something else to do on a Sunday than walk around here with you?"

"Well, yeah."

"I do have a wife and kids. You remember that, right?"

"No, really?"

"If I didn't know better I'd say you're still trying to get Claire mad at me."

"If it hasn't worked by now I don't think it's going to. What would it take I wonder?"

"I don't know," John said. Dawson knew he was hoping he'd never find out.

"I could tell her about that strawberry blonde who's been coming around the garage the past few weeks."

"Who?" John asked.

Dawson scoffed.

"You haven't noticed her?"

"I don't think so."

"She's from the neighborhood I'm guessing. I think she likes you."

"Me?" John asked, perplexed. Dawson knew he hadn't noticed anyone coming around the garage. If there was anyone out there Dawson was confident would never cheat it was John.

"Yeah, she's probably about twenty-two maybe. She doesn't seem to be strung out on anything."

"I still don't know who you're talking about."

Dawson knew that John still couldn't believe he was still working at Dawson's. His plan had been to go to school and get the hell out of a job that meant he came home from work filthy every day. Dawson had been more than fair, though. He'd come to find that he actually worked better when he wasn't alone all day, every day. He also knew he wasn't going to find a kid like him in this neighborhood anymore who wasn't knees deep in illegal activity. So, Dawson had worked at enticing him into staying. He started simply.

He'd allowed John to leave well before they were done once he'd gotten custody of Holly years ago now. Right on the heels of that he'd let John leave even earlier so that he could go to school four nights a week. Eventually, as he got into his second year of school and not as many classes he was required to take were offered nights Dawson gave John a key and let him come and go as he needed to. Some days John worked from ten in the morning to six at night, and some days he worked two in the afternoon until ten at night. Sometimes he didn't work a day or two during the week and came in on Saturday and Sunday instead. Those days he always had to clear with Claire, though, because it meant her spending all day with Holly.

So, when Dawson had approached him his junior year about becoming a partner and putting his Marketing degree to use for the garage. Well, John hadn't been able to just say no. He'd talked it over with Claire pretty intently since they were engaged and officially living together at that point. Claire, who was in her senior year by that point but was still looking at a few years of law school ahead of her, evidently couldn't see the downside any more than John could, coming home from work filthy every night aside. He knew Dawson, he knew what he was getting working for him, and couldn't dismiss the fact that John liked Dawson when all was said and done. So, he'd added the Small Business Management degree, making him go a fifth year but it didn't really matter since he already had the job he was going to be using the degrees for.

Once he'd graduated and Dawson saw that he was actually putting forth an effort to advertise and drum up business he'd had the papers drawn up to make him a partner. He'd had to borrow some money from Claire as collateral, but she'd agreed with him that it wasn't a bad path to go down. The partnership had quickly expanded into more side projects. More side projects meant Dawson teaching John way more than basic mechanics. The side projects had to be worked on top to bottom a lot of the time, including body work. Those side projects had led them where they were today, car auctions and flea markets buying up any car they thought was worth a chance.

"How are the kids anyway?" Dawson asked.

John shrugged. "Good. You know. Kids."

"Holly's excited for high school?"

"She is, yes."

"Dad's not?"

"No," he said with a shake of his head.

"Just wait until the first boy calls the house for her."

"I've already told Claire she'd better not tell me when that happens."

Dawson chuckled at that. "I'd be the same way," he admitted.

"Yeah?" John asked.

"Yup. I don't have any, but I know how I am about niece. My sister told me once about some punk who stood her up to the Homecoming dance and I wanted to fly down there and beat the shit out of him."

"I don't blame you."

"Yeah, see," Dawson said.

It was one of the reasons he got along with John as well as they did actually. He'd seen the way he'd been toward Dawson when Claire first came to the garage years ago. Dawson found John's reaction to him even casually pursuing Claire more interesting than Claire herself. Pruitt didn't get it because Pruitt didn't think he deserved better than a wife who cheated. They were divorced now, but ten years later Pruitt still hadn't put himself in a position to get married again. Then Dawson supposed he wasn't one to judge since he wasn't any closer to being married ten years later either and he hadn't been cheated on. He just knew that while Claire didn't return his feelings that he wanted someone like her. He didn't have much occasion to meet women like her, which resulted in him being single.

"What are they doing today?"

"Golfing at her parents' club."

"All of them?"

"Yup. Holly's pretty good actually. Dave and Amy are still learning but they're good."

"And the baby?"

"Oh, yeah, no he's not golfing. He's with Claire's mom. She'll bring him to the club when they're done for lunch."

"That makes much more sense than him wandering around a golf course."

"He'd probably be more at home on it than I ever will be."

"See I did you a favor dragging you here today then."

"How do you mean?"

"You hate golfing, I saved you from it. It's a nice day. You know there's no way she'd let you out of going otherwise."

"You're probably right. Let's at least look at a couple of cars here so I can tell her we did that much so she doesn't think it was just to get out of golfing."

Dawson chuckled. "Yeah, all right."

As usual there were a couple of cars that they were interested in, but they were asking way too much money. Dawson always left a card with the sellers so that if they had no other buyer they'd call him. Sometimes it worked out, sometimes it didn't. You never could tell. There were a couple that weren't asking too much and those deals were done. Dawson or John collected the cars. Pruitt could do it, but he wasn't involved in the refurbishing end of things so they tended not to ask him to do that.

"You could come over for dinner if you wanted. Claire mentioned grilling steaks and dogs for the kids."

"Nah," Dawson said.

"Come on. You can drink a beer at our house just as easily as at yours."

"Yeah, but I don't have to drive home when I'm at mine."

"You always have a spare bed at our house."

He'd used it more than a couple of times, too.

"Not tonight, John, thanks though."

"All right," John said. "Why haven't you gone to see your sister lately?"

"Lately? I haven't gone to visit her in years."

"Has it been that long?"

"Uh, yeah, I don't think you were married yet the last time I went down there. And I don't know. I don't like Florida that well."

"Just wondering."

"I'd have to take our mom with me if I went and then I'd have to sit and listen to her complaints about the fact you have four kids and I have none."

"Oh," John said.

"Yeah."

"Sorry."

"It is what it is. I like being Uncle Dawson."

"You're a pretty good uncle, to your real niece and nephew, too."

"I do my best," he said.

He liked John's kids. He remembered when Holly's mom first brought her to the garage. She was just a little thing, not yet walking or if she was not very well. Dawson thought she was a moron of the worst kind for bringing a little kid to his garage, but evidently the mom didn't know any better. Claire hadn't either so he supposed that was just the way suburban kids back then had grown up. Lord knows he doubted either of them would do it today, things were just that different. Of course he hadn't seen Holly's mom in years. She'd been in prison for a while and as far as Dawson knew was still in and out of various rehabs to this day. It was a sad situation that he was all too familiar with from living and working where he did. Sad, though, because he knew it bothered John that Claire had been more of a mom to Holly than the kid's real mom ever was. Not that Claire had ever complained.

"You still have that number for the guy looking for a Dart?"

"I do," Dawson said.

He kept every number ever given to him from someone looking for a car. He kept numbers for people looking for hard to find parts, too. They'd done that a time or two, too, bought a vehicle they really had no chance of making money off of. They both knew, though, the real money was in the parts because other people had cars they wanted running but couldn't find parts for them anymore.

"He should be happy then."

"I hope so," Dawson said.

He'd purchased the car today with the guy in mind not knowing for sure he was still in the market for one. He could've found one through other means. It was a good car with relatively low mileage, though, so Dawson knew they'd be able to unload it somewhere if it came to that.

They loaded up the two cars they purchased and headed to his garage. They both made fairly good time, unloading the vehicles and locking up without any preamble or thought of doing anything more than that today.

"See you Tuesday then," Dawson said once they'd locked up.

"Yup, thanks again for the day off tomorrow."

"Enjoy Holly wanting you to do things like go to Great America with her while you can."

"I hear that. I'm surprised at fourteen she hasn't already gotten to that point."

Dawson wasn't. John was a pretty good dad when all was said and done and his daughter obviously not only saw that but knew that while she'd gotten the short end of the stick where mothers were concerned she'd made out pretty well where dads were.

"Say hi to Bugs and the gang for me."

"Will do," John said. "You sure you don't want to come over for dinner?"

"Maybe next weekend."

"All right," John said with a shake of his head.

Dawson watched him as he got into his car and headed in the direction that would take him to the Expressway and back home to his family. The first two kids hadn't surprised Dawson in the least. He'd actually been surprised it took them that long to get pregnant once they'd finally gotten married. The third kid, well, the third kid of theirs. That one had surprised Dawson because he'd gotten the impression from John they were done after the little girl was born. John never said if Claire had somehow changed his mind or anything so he had no idea. Not that they couldn't afford them. Claire did well on her own right so their kids, including Holly, didn't lack for anything.

***

He stopped at a bar down the street from the garage for a beer before heading home for the night. Pruitt was there bright and early when he showed up in the morning to unlock the garage and start his workday.

"A successful day I see," Pruitt said, noticing the newest vehicles parked in the garage.

"Yeah, it was all right. Left our card with a couple of others. One I think I might be in at least a competitive price range the other one," Dawson shrugged, sliding his Cubs cap off for a minute to wipe his brow with the back of his hand. "I'm pretty sure hell would freeze over first before they'd sell to us."

"Oh?" Pruitt asked.

"Yeah. The guy took one look at us and I could see he wasn't going to take us seriously."

Pruitt laughed heartily at that. Dawson knew he should probably think about cutting his hair, but he was just a mechanic when he went to bed every night. He wasn't going to change his appearance so rich guys would think he was worthy of purchasing a car they were trying to sell.

Pruitt gave a low whistle about an hour later and Dawson stopped what he was doing to take a look at what had captured his wrecker driver's attention.

Dawson had to admit the newer Formula convertible being towed to his garage was a whistle-worthy vehicle. The paint job was obviously custom because the shade of blue, more of a blue-green really, wasn't standard. Yesterday would have been a perfect day for a convertible even if today was a little on the cool side.

He recognized the wrecker driver as someone who handled a lot of AAA-related stuff so assumed that was the case today.

"Hey, Butch," he said, walking up to him then. If John was here he'd let him handle the intake, but he wasn't so Dawson did it. The other two mechanics he had. Well, they were good with their hands and the tools those hands needed to use. They weren't so good with people. Or reading so he didn't trust either of them to handle things like this.

"Hey, Dawson. Got a dead one for you."

"All right. Thanks."

"They requested your garage."

"Really?" Dawson asked.

"Yeah, towed it all the way over here from the Northwestern area."

"Huh," Dawson said, glancing at the paperwork then. The car certainly wasn't familiar to him, but maybe the name would be. He shook his head, nope. "Okay, well, I'll look at it in a bit then. Thanks."

Pruitt talked to him for a little bit once he'd gotten the Formula unloaded.

"No one you know?"

"No," Dawson said.

"Weird," Pruitt said.

"Yup," Dawson agreed.

Pruitt glanced at the paperwork over Dawson's shoulder. "Anderson, huh. That could be anybody."

"That's what I was thinking," Dawson said with a shrug, tossing the paperwork onto the passenger seat of the Formula. He'd get to it in a bit. He ran a fingertip along the door near the handle. As custom paint jobs went this one was top of the line. Hopefully, since the car couldn't be more than a year or two old, whatever was wrong was an easy fix.

"You ever get a hold of the owner of the Formula?" Pruitt asked as Dawson was locking up for the night.

"Nope," Dawson said with a shrug. "I didn't call repeatedly or anything. I'll try again tomorrow I guess."

"You'd think they'd want to know what was wrong with their car."

"You'd think," Dawson agreed. He'd want to know, but not everyone was as possessive of their cars as Dawson was. Even the ones he and John bought for the sole purpose of fixing up and selling again he felt that way about.

"Well, at least they can pick it up tomorrow if you get ahold of them in the morning."

"We'll see," he said. He went to the small fridge he had in his office and pulled out a beer each for Pruitt and him. He didn't keep it in the fridge in the break room because it would disappear pretty fast if he did that.

They sat in companionable silence as they finished off their beers. Neither was a man of many words so the silence worked well for them. It was one of the reasons they were friends. Neither expected in-depth conversations or anything from the other one. Sometimes they did and sometimes, like tonight, they said nothing.

"Night," they said once Dawson locked up.

***

"Feeling guilty for getting a day off?" Dawson asked when he got there and John was already working. Judging by his appearance he hadn't just gotten there either.

"Nah, Mark woke up before five. I woke up with him so Claire wouldn't have to and by the time I was done feeding him and everything there wasn't any point in getting back in bed."

"I thought he was sleeping through the night."

"He is. He passed out pretty early yesterday, though. We expected it."

"Oh, right, I suppose that was a long day for him."

"Yeah, it was."

"You had fun."

"Yeah, it was surprisingly a good time."

"Surprisingly?"

John shrugged. "I'd never been there before."

"You're shitting me?"

"Nope," John said.

"Huh," Dawson said. He'd just assumed. Great America was a staple for most kids growing up in the Chicago area. Even Dawson had gone a couple of times when he was a teenager because he had money in his pocket from working here.

"What's the deal with the Formula?"

"Just waiting to get a hold of the owner," Dawson said.

"That's a nice paint job."

"It is," Dawson agreed, chuckling to himself that John had the same reaction to it he had. He wasn't sure that was good or bad, but he knew the John who started working here thirteen years ago wouldn't have known the difference between a custom paint job and your run of the mill paint job.

"It's from your guys' neck of the woods," Dawson said.

"Oh?" John asked.

"Yeah, Northwestern area Butch said. It's not anyone you know, is it?"

"Nope, don't know anyone that drives that thing."

"Claire?"

"I doubt it," he said. "I'm sure she'd mention telling someone to have their car towed here."

"I suppose."

"If you can't get ahold of them again today I can ask her when I get home tonight, but she's got stuff going on today."

"Oh?"

"Yeah, court and stuff."

"Oh, right," Dawson said. "No problem. I'll try again this morning."

***

Sara couldn't believe she was here again. The place seemed so … different today than it had that night. Then it had been ten years so she supposed that went without saying. There were people here working today. She saw Mr. Dawson immediately, though. He was hard to miss. She thought anyone would think that.

"May I help you?" someone not Dawson asked.

"Uh, yeah," she said. "I'm here to pick up my Formula."

Five sets of eyes landed on her then. What? Did she have something on her face? She hadn't eaten anything since breakfast so knew she didn't have anything in her teeth.

"Your car?" the guy asked.

"Yes," she said, pointing at it. "Mr. Dawson called and said it was ready."

Dawson walked up to her then and she gulped a bit. She'd thought she had imagined how tall he was, exaggerating it in her ten-year-old girl mind. Nope, not at all. He really was a very tall guy.

"This is your car?" he asked, sounding as if he didn't believe her.

"Yes," she said, getting frustrated. "You left a message on my voicemail saying it was ready."

He nodded a little at that. "That's a lot of car for you, honey."

"Is that why you're all staring at me as if I came from outer space? Because that's my car? Shit, get over yourselves. I'm just as capable of driving it as any of you are."

"Still a lot of car for someone so…"

"Don't say it," she said. She'd heard it all before. She was on the short side of average. To the point she was very rarely taken seriously.

"Little," he said.

She rolled her eyes. She wanted to be mad at him, but she felt a little bit of a thrill go through her that he noticed her at all. She wasn't sure he would. She bit her lip, glancing to her car and then back to him.

He hadn't changed a whole lot since that night. Not really. A little older, of course, but overall she had no problem telling who he was. His hair was just as long and just as gorgeously blonde. The only difference that she could see was that he'd obviously worked out a lot the past ten years because while he hadn't been scrawny or anything back then he was far from that now. What was more, she liked it, and she didn't usually like guys with hugely defined muscles. Not that he was going to give Arnold Schwarzenegger a run for his Mr. Olympia titles or anything.

Two of the guys working there had gone back to what they were doing. The other one, though, the one who'd spoken to her initially didn't. He was watching her looking kind of amused.

"Go get the Formula's paperwork, John," Dawson said.

"Sure," the guy, John, said.

Mr. Pruitt was standing against the wall not really paying attention. She wondered if he would if he realized who she was. She'd liked Mr. Pruitt. He'd been more than nice to them that night. She'd thought on him more than once over the years, hoping he'd gotten out of his marriage. No hand or not, no one deserved to be treated that way by someone they loved.

She'd also wondered why he'd gone with a hook instead of getting a prosthetic, then maybe he couldn't afford one. She had no idea.

"He's a little old for you, don't you think?" Dawson asked. He was a little closer to her now than he had been a minute ago. Showed how closely she was paying attention to her surroundings for him to be able to do that.

"No, I just…" Sara said. She wasn't sure what to say without making it sound as if she was staring at the guy for having a disfigurement. "He looks like someone I know."

Dawson scoffed at that as John came back with the paperwork. Dawson grabbed it from him and ran through what was wrong, what he'd done, and what the charges were. She pulled her credit card out of her purse.

"You're lucky I take plastic," he said.

She hadn't thought of that. Didn't everyone take credit cards?

"I didn't until about four years ago. Too much of a hassle. Too much of a risk people will call and cancel the charge, shafting me while they have the new parts on their car."

"Oh, I'm not…"

"Yeah, I would hope driving around in that car, dressed like you are that you're not going to scam me."

"No," she said adamantly. God, did people really do that? Often enough that he actually thought like that. She'd assumed he'd just been having a shitty night that night or something to be such a jerk to them, but she imagined if he'd gotten taken advantage of often enough she could see where he'd be that way.

"Let's go into my office so I can run your card."

"Okay," she said, following him there. He didn't have a cash register. He just had one of the hand-held things with a carbon copy receipt that really just took an imprint of the name and numbers on her card. She'd actually never had to sign one of these before. She'd seen them tons growing up, shopping with her parents.

"You have any problems with her, let me know but she should be ready to go."

"Thank you," she said, taking her keys from him. "You're my hero."

"Sure," he said, looking at her kind of strangely then. She supposed that wasn't unusual, he probably wasn't told he was a hero very often simply for fixing someone's car.

The guy he'd called John opened the bay door so she could leave. She glanced at him in her rearview mirror as she pulled onto the street. She hadn't expected him to have people working for him. She hadn't expected Pruitt to be there either.

***

"Wow are you an idiot," John said.

"What?" Dawson asked incredulously. "I'm sorry. What did you just call me?"

"She was totally checking you out and you just let her walk away. Well, I guess you let her drive away."

"She was not."

"Pruitt," John called.

"Yeah, John?"

"Was she or was she not checking him out?"

"She was," Pruitt agreed.

"Fuck you both. She was not. You're both full of shit or need glasses."

"Why would I bullshit you about this?"

"Getting me back for telling you about that strawberry blonde chick that's been coming around."

"Like I even care. I don't even know who she is! I'm certainly not going to date her. You, however, are not married or involved with anyone. No wonder if women who look like her come onto you and you don't do anything about it."

"What was I supposed to do exactly?"

"Ask her out? Offer to take her for a test drive to be sure the car was working all right?"

"Like that wouldn't have sounded like the line it was."

"I don't think she would've cared. She was looking at you, none of us, you."

Dawson shook his head, returning to his office then. Fuck John and Pruitt for busting his balls. Pruitt had no reason to be smug, but John with his good looking wife and the regular sex she gave him had the right to be. Not that Dawson knew about their sex life, but with three kids he had to imagine they were doing something right.

Truthfully, it'd been so long since a woman had looked at him with genuine interest that he wasn't even sure he'd recognize the fact someone was flirting with him. He wasn't sure why that was the case. He'd been told more than once he was a good looking guy. He owned his own business, granted it was a garage and he worked long hours, but cars didn't fix themselves.

He took a sip of the Mountain Dew on his desk. It was just this side of being warm, but it was still drinkable. He spotted his copy of her credit card receipt, picking it up. He generally dealt with cash. It was just easier that way, but John had made him see that not accepting credit cards was impeding him from broadening his business. He supposed one of these days John would talk him into getting one of the electronic gizmos but he was all right with processing cards this way until that happened.

He noticed for the first time she'd written her phone number above her signature. He hadn't asked her to do that. The smiley face next to it told him that he had indeed not asked her for it. He set the receipt down, glancing out the door to where he knew Pruitt and John were. Pruitt would be heading out soon and John was working on something by now. Were they right? Had she been flirting with him and he'd totally missed it? She just seemed so young he found it hard to believe she'd be even remotely interested in a guy like him. Her and her Evanston address with her thirty thousand dollar car.

He took another sip of the Mountain Dew as he regarded the receipt again. Yeah, he wasn't quite that desperate as to randomly call women out of nowhere. He dropped the receipt in the folder in his desk drawer he kept them in, shutting the drawer.

He was curious how she knew about his garage, remembering now that Butch had said she'd specifically asked for her car to be brought here. He'd never know he guessed. Maybe a friend of hers had gotten their car worked on here and recommended it or something. He couldn't imagine how else she'd know about it. There were certainly other garages between here and Evanston.

He stood then, running his fingers through his hair as he made his way back out to the garage and back to work. He had to admit her car was nice and she hadn't looked nearly as silly sitting behind the wheel as he thought she would when she'd initially admitted to being the car's owner.

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