She couldn't say she was surprised he hadn't called. She wouldn't have if it was her. She hadn't planned on anyone being there when she'd picked up her car, though. She'd assumed she would be able to talk to him, but she couldn't have done that without looking like an idiot with four other people there. Still, she'd sort of hoped that leaving her number on the credit card receipt would have been a hint, an enticement, something.
She sighed. She wasn't sure what else she could have done barring spelling it out for him. She was sort of surprised she still found him cute. She sort of half expected to get there and discover she'd exaggerated his appeal. Or that she'd outgrown it. She'd gone through the bad boy jerk phase in high school.
If her brother knew what she was doing he'd tell her she was nuts. She probably was, she realized as she headed in the direction of the garage again. She was taking a chance this late on Friday afternoon that maybe he'd be alone. She'd waited over ten days for him to call, so figured one more try and then. Well, she supposed she'd give up. Or tell him who she was.
"Oh hey, you're back," the other mechanic who'd actually spoken to her said.
"I am," she said.
"I'd love to stay and hear the conversation where you tell Dawson an easy fix on a car he'd done wasn't working right, but I can't tonight."
"I, oh," Sara said, not realizing anyone would think that. "No, I have just been hearing a noise."
"Oh, well, you can go on in. He's still in there. He's going to tell you he's closing up, though, just so you know."
"Thanks," she said.
He glanced from her to her car, shaking his head a bit.
"Don't you have a garage closer to home to take her to?" the guy asked.
"You're complaining I'm bringing my car to you?"
"Complaining? No, but if I was your boyfriend or dad…"
"Who's going to hurt me with him in there?"
They'd had a pretty big dog in there she'd noticed the day she'd come to pick up her car, too. The dog hadn't been here ten years ago, but she imagined things had changed a lot here because they sure had even in Oak Park in that time.
The guy chuckled a bit at that. "I guess you have a point. Still, much later than this in this neighborhood."
"Thanks," she said, appreciating the warning. She knew the neighborhood wasn't a good one, but she didn't have a whole lot of choice in the matter. Other than to not come back here at all, and that really wasn't an option that sat well with her. Not without at least trying.
"Sure," he said, regarding her curiously. He wasn't checking her out. She knew what guys doing that looked like and he wasn't, but he certainly seemed curious about her. "Well, you go on in. I'll feel better knowing I didn't leave you standing out here."
She walked toward the door then, glancing at him over her shoulder. Sure enough he waited to get into his vehicle until she opened it and started inside.
"Night," he said, getting into a pretty nice SUV she noticed.
Just how bad was the neighborhood? When she'd been here late at night she hadn't felt as though she was in any danger, but she'd been ten at the time and clearly didn't know any better. They'd also spent the night being chased by gangsters, thinking they'd never get home so her frame of reference was a little skewed.
"Hello?" she called out, running her finger along the edge of her engine key. She noticed the dog and wondered what the point of having a guard dog was when he just laid there when someone walked in.
"We're closed," he called from somewhere in the back. "Oh, it's you." He squinted then, regarding her. Now, he was checking her out and she fought the urge to do something to stop him from doing so. It was why she'd come here to begin with.
"I'm still closed. You have a problem with my repair you can come back Monday."
"Your car. You need it looked at again, you can bring it back during normal business hours."
"Oh, no, it's running fine."
"Okay," he said, sounding cautious and a bit skeptical.
"I've been hearing a noise, though," she said.
"Yes," she said.
"Can you describe it?"
"I, well, no, not really." Of course he'd ask what the noise sounded like that led to her driving all the way here. "I just hadn't heard it until recently."
He sighed and she could almost see him thinking over his options.
"Move, Pablo," he said.
"Pablo?" she asked, confused.
"The dog," he said, gesturing to the dog who was lying in front of the bay door.
"Oh," she said.
Sure enough, the dog got up from where he’d been laying and moved to a different spot in the garage. She noticed now that he was a pretty big German shepherd.
“I didn’t name him,” he added as if he realized she’d find a guy like him, someone very obviously not Hispanic, having a dog with an Hispanic name kind of odd. Pablo glanced at him for a minute as if waiting for some sort of direction and then laid down in front of the door she’d come in through.
Dawson pushed the button that opened the bay door.
"Bring it in," he said.
"I, well, if you're leaving."
"I was leaving, but as I didn't really have anything pressing to do may as well take a look at it since you drove all the way here. I'd feel bad if I sent you on your way and it was serious and you had to get towed to another garage when you tried to come here and get me to look at it in the first place. Slow night in Evanston?"
"Well, I didn't want to put it off if it was something serious."
"I can't argue with that logic," he said. "Bring it in then."
She did just that, more than a little nervous now that she was here and in a position to actually talk to him.
"I didn't hear anything, but let me check everything I touched last week just in case something's loose and rattling."
"Thanks," she said.
"Pop the hood, will you?"
"The hood? You know how to open it, right? I'm looking at your car off the clock. The least you could do is help a little."
"Oh, right, sorry," she said, opening her door again to tug on the lever that would open the hood. She got out of the car then and stood near the front of it.
"So, you don't have plans?"
"Uh, no," he said, glancing at her when he got back to her car with some tools.
He shrugged. "Nothing to do?"
"It's Friday night."
"That'd be a lot more enticing sounding if I hadn't gotten here at about six o'clock this morning."
"Oh," she said.
"Let me guess, you don't see six o'clock in the morning too frequently."
"No," she admitted.
"That answer doesn't surprise me somehow."
"I'm a college student!"
He glanced at her then instead of what he'd been focusing on under her hood.
"So, I guess I could ask you the same question. Why aren't you out doing something on Friday night? School's out by now, isn't it?"
"Yes," she said with a shrug.
"So, why are you here having me look at your car instead of out doing whatever college students do when they're off for the summer? Or are you doing summer school, too?" he asked.
She shrugged. She was taking a couple of classes, but that wasn't why she was here tonight. "I told you. I didn't want to wait if it was something serious. My parents wouldn't have been happy with me if I drove it until something real bad happened."
"Uh huh," he said, not sounding as if he believed her.
"Well, maybe the battery cables weren't as tight as they could be, which I suppose could have caused some noise. Other than that, though, I don't see anything that could be causing a noise and not hearing the noise myself…"
"Maybe that was all it was," she said. Of course there was no noise so he wouldn't find anything. She couldn't think of another excuse to come here, though.
"You hear the noise again, pull over and see if you can gauge where it's coming from. That would help, narrowing down where to look."
"Sure," she said, stooping to pet Pablo as she glanced at the cars left in the garage. "He seems pretty friendly," she said.
"He is for the most part. He's a good guard dog, though. Once the doors are locked he won't let anyone come in here he doesn't know."
"He stays here?"
"Yup," he said.
"He doesn't go home with you?"
"No," he said. "Sorry if that's offensive to you, but the people who have cars here overnight appreciate that I have something a little extra than your standard alarm system. This neighborhood," he shrugged. "People could be in and out, do some damage before the cops would even get here. Pablo stops that."
"Oh, I was just curious. So, all of these cars are here to be fixed?"
He frowned slightly at that. "Well, this is a garage."
"I know, but that one," she said, pointing to a car that had to be twenty years old and didn't look like it was going anywhere. "Looks like there's more wrong with it than you could fix."
"I can fix anything," he said.
"Oh," she said. Wow. She guessed she hadn't imagined he'd been kind of an asshole that night.
"That one is something I work on in my spare time. I own it. Well, my partner and I own it."
"Oh," she said again. She had no idea what else to say. Clearly he wasn't understanding that she wanted to talk to him, was here to see him. She certainly wasn't going to come out and say that was the case. "Well, thanks," she said, heading toward her car after one final pat to Pablo's head.
He watched her, wiping his hands on a towel. His hands had been clean when he started she realized now, so that meant he really had been done and about to head out for the day.
"I'm sorry if I kept you."
"It's all right. You were right in that if something was really wrong it could be bad. Best to get it checked out."
He walked up to her driver's side door then, leaning in to look. He glanced at her dashboard before turning his attention on her.
"So, you gave me your phone number when you were here last time," he said.
"Yes," she said, knowing she was blushing profusely with him this close to her asking that question.
She stared at him then. "Why? What kind of question is that?"
"I don't know. Why would you do that?"
"Because you're cute?"
"Uh huh," he said.
"I have to have a reason? You didn't call so clearly it doesn't matter why I did it."
"I thought it was a mistake or a joke."
"A joke?" she asked with a frown, looking at him closely.
"Yeah, women like you don't come here with their thirty thousand dollar cars and offer me their phone number."
"So that means I was playing a joke on you?"
"I don't know. What were you thinking would happen if I called you?"
"I guess that would've been up to you."
"You live in Evanston?"
"I'm actually at home for the summer in Oak Park," she said.
"Ah," he said with a nod, glancing at the tassel from her graduation hanging over her rearview mirror. "Blue and gold?"
"Yeah," she said with a shrug.
"Mine were red and white," he said.
"That's pretty common," she said.
"Fitting I guess," he said.
She frowned. "I didn't mean it like that."
"It's all right. I didn't save my whatever-you-call-it. Honestly I only went to graduation because my mom would've killed me otherwise."
"Really?" she asked, never having thought of him having a mother. Obviously he had to have a mother and a father. She'd just never taken the picture of him and his life that far.
"Yes," he said.
"That was nice of you. To do it then."
"That's about the last nice thing she'd probably tell anyone I did for her."
"You're not nice to your mother?"
"Oh, well, I am, sure. I fix her leaky faucets and all that stuff. She just had this life pictured for me and I'm not living up to it."
"You seem like you're doing fine," she said. He was still here in this same garage from ten years ago and from what she could tell he was doing good business. He had employees and a partner. That didn't point to a failing business.
"So, this phone number thing," he said and she tried not to get absolutely excited that he was going back to that.
"Were you expecting a date?"
"Well, if I called I meant."
"Oh, I don't know. I just," she shrugged. "Was hoping you'd call. We could talk and I suppose, yeah, I was hoping that it would result in a date."
"Huh," he said, glancing next to him probably at Pablo she realized.
"I mean, I wasn't expecting…"
"There's a diner not too far from here. If you don't mind not having a phone and miles separating us from talking."
"Why?" she asked.
"Why?" he asked, sounding confused.
"Yeah, you didn't call me so clearly you didn't want to."
"I assumed you were being thorough, some places I know ask for phone numbers on those slips."
"Oh, you didn't though."
"No, my partner insisted I start accepting credit cards, I hate doing it, but men especially don't always carry a checkbook so it has come in handy."
She had no idea what to say and he didn't seem to either. It shouldn't have been this difficult, but she had no idea what to say to him that wouldn't sound ridiculous.
"So, I didn't call does that mean I blew it?"
"I don't know. Are you asking me because you have nothing else to do on a Friday night and I'm here?"
"You're here. If you weren't here or if you say no I'll go on home, have a beer, and go to bed so I can get up early to come back here tomorrow morning."
"You work Saturdays?"
"I work most Saturdays. Sunday I'll mow my lawn," he said.
She turned then, regarding a fingernail real closely as she thought over how to answer him. She'd come here today for a reason, but now that he was asking her. She wasn't sure what to say. She really had hoped that her coming back would make him look up that receipt and her phone number on it and call her. She hadn't expected him to ask her out here and now.
So did she say yes and look desperate? Did she say no and risk he never called because she said no and he took that to mean she wasn't really interested?
"Hey, I'm not asking you to go with me in my car. Meet me there. I mean, if you're worried about being safe or something."
"No," she said.
"Rethinking this date thing with a guy like me?"
"No," she said. She hadn't rethought that at all.
"You didn't call!"
"Because I didn't think someone like you would really give me her phone number."
"Someone like me?"
"Yeah, young and pretty, probably fairly well off, too, judging by living in Evanston and your car. All things I'm not."
"You are pretty," she said. She shook her head slightly. "I mean," she sighed.
He chuckled softly.
"I can accept that compliment for what it is. Thank you."
"Sure," she said.
"So is that a yes or no to the diner? Did you eat already?"
"No," she said. She hadn't eaten, maybe subconsciously hoping he'd ask her to go somewhere.
"Well, you have to eat. It's almost six o'clock."
"You've been here since six o'clock this morning, though."
"Well, I think I can keep my eyes pried open for a couple more hours."
"Sure," she said.
"Hey, if you rethought the phone number thing."
"All right then. Pull out in front I'll lock up and then you can follow me there."
"Okay," she said.
"So, Northwestern?" he asked when they were seated and had ordered.
He shook his head a bit. "Nurses are always needed."
"That's sort of what I thought."
"What about you?"
"What about me?"
"How did you get your garage? From your dad?" she asked. It had been Dawson's Garage ten years ago and he'd seemed kind of young to her to own a garage.
"My dad?" he asked with a frown.
"Yeah, the name."
"Well, it's my name, too."
"Yes, sure, of course," she said. "It's just."
"You seem young to own your own business and it seems like you've had it for a while."
"I have, yeah. My old man died a while ago leaving me some cash. The guy I worked at the garage for wanted to retire, none of his kids wanted the garage, so he sold it to me. I'd started working there when I was," he shrugged, running a fingertip over the rim of his glass of Coke. "Eleven, I guess. You know, sweeping the floors, hosing off messes, getting coffee," he shrugged.
"How old were you when you bought it."
"Nineteen," he said.
"Huh," she said.
"It is what it is."
"Never wanted to do anything else?"
"I never knew anything else to want to do it. Cars, that's all I know. Growing up where I did it was either that or something on the street. I was lucky he wanted to help me out or who knows where I'd be today."
"You've told him that?"
"I have," he admitted.
"And Mr. Pruitt still works for you," she asked.
"He does," he said, regarding her curiously. "You know my wrecker driver's name?"
"I do," she said. She hadn't meant to say that, but she'd been surprised to see him there for some reason. She wasn't sure why.
"He wasn't the one who towed your car to my garage," he said.
"No," she said.
"Okay," he said.
"I must have heard someone say his name," she said, hoping he'd forget about the fact she said Mr. Pruitt still worked for him.
"Yeah, he's sticking it seems," he said with a shrug.
"You sound surprised."
"A little. He came to me with the idea of working for me. Until then I sort of relied on whatever business came my way. He needed his car fixed but didn't have any way to pay me."
"He offered to drive my wrecker for me to pay off the bill. He liked it, I guess. He found it hard to find jobs because of his … disability. I didn't care what he looked like or if he had a butterfly knife where his hand should've been. So, he sort of stayed."
"Huh," she said. "How did you know he wasn't going to take your truck and disappear?"
"I don't know. I didn't, I guess. Obviously I could've reported it stolen. Even if I'd given him the keys, I expected him back at a certain time."
"I suppose," she said.
She wondered what happened to him between that day with Mr. Pruitt and Chris' car that he wasn't even going to let them take the car short five dollars. Something had to happen to make him so cynical.
"He was married at the time."
Sara remembered that, of course. It was the first time she'd ever been exposed to a home life that wasn't ideal and perfect. She couldn't for the life of her recall ever hearing her parents argue or anything. She was sure they did, but they must have been very discreet about it. She'd thought on the man currently sitting across from her more than was probably healthy over the years. She'd thought on Mr. Pruitt, too, though, wondering if he was still married and just in general what he was doing.
"He's not anymore?"
"Nah, they got divorced quite a few years ago. She was no great catch as far as I was concerned. Their kids were grown and gone by that time so it was pretty painless."
He had kids? She'd never pictured that. Huh.
"Well, that's good," she said.
"So, I'm going to ask a question and I hope you don't get upset with me."
"Okay," she said cautiously.
"Did you really hear a noise?"
She sighed softly. She could lie or she could tell the truth. He had to at least suspect or he wouldn't be asking her the question. Would he be mad if she said no? He had to at least suspect she hadn't really heard anything and he was here with her, pointing to him not being mad.
"No," she admitted.
"So, you drove all the way from Oak Park just to … What?"
"I mean, you didn't seem to jump at my dinner invitation so you weren't expecting that."
"No," she said. "I was really just hoping you'd remember I left you my phone number and finally call."
"So you weren't going to say anything today either?"
"I don't know. My mechanic, John, he said you were, you know, looking at me."
"Yeah," she said. He was a hard guy not to look at. "You didn't look back, though."
"Yeah, I wouldn't stay in business for very long if I ogled every college woman who brought me their car."
"I suppose not," she said.
"I don't get many college women who go out of their way to come back and see me either."
"Would you rather I didn't?"
"I didn't say that," he said, regarding her. He had to be thinking she was absolutely insane. She was kind of questioning herself right now.
"So, that number you left. Is it to your dorm? Your house?"
"My cell," she said.
"So, it'll work wherever you are?"
"Yes," she said.
"So, I could call it now…"
"I work long hours," he said.
"I know," she said. She wasn't sure if the night she'd first met him was an exception or not, but he'd been there very late and he'd been willing to stay late to help her with her car. So she had to imagine he stayed late more often than not.
They stood then and he walked her to her car.
"It really is a nice car."
"Thanks," she said.
"The paint job must have set you back a chunk."
"My brother has a friend who did it for next to nothing."
"Yeah," she said.
"Why didn't you take your car to him?"
"He just does detailing, paint stuff I think," she said. She hadn't even though of Brad's friend when her car hadn't started last month.
He glanced from her car to his, which was a pretty old Jeep. She was sure it ran well and everything, but it was old.
He leaned down and kissed her then, totally taking her off guard. She hadn't expected it and she gasped a little as a result. She did kiss him back after a second, though. She slid her arms around his neck as she parted her lips. She hadn't expected it, but that didn't mean she didn't want it or hadn't thought about kissing him over the years.
His hands settled at her hips, tugging her closer against him before he slid one to the small of her back. He grazed his thumb along the spot there and she groaned softly into their kiss at the feel of him touching her.
"You have a curfew to be back in Oak Park by?"
"I, well," she said softly. "Kind of."
"Kind of?" he asked.
"Uh huh," she said.
"Okay, well, I'm not sure what kind of means. So, I guess I'll ask if you want to go somewhere that's not standing on the street."
Did she? Yes, but knew she couldn't.
"I can't," she whispered. Truth was her parents were pretty flexible. It was summer, she was in college, and she managed to get through high school and stay out of trouble in the process. So as long as she told them what time she'd be home or if she was staying at a friend's house they were pretty lenient. She wasn't going to tell him that tonight, though.
"All right," he said, leaning in to kiss her again. That wasn't a bad thing in her opinion. She was used to kissing guys taller than her, though he was a little taller than she was used to. She was pretty sure she didn't know that many people over six feet tall and he had to be way over that.
She ran a fingertip along his neck and over his collarbone when he broke the kiss again. She was really in no hurry to leave, to stop kissing him, but she knew it was getting late and he'd said earlier he'd gotten to the garage at around six in the morning.
"You, uh, have plans tomorrow night?"
She shrugged. "I've been invited to see a movie with some friends."
"A good movie?"
"I've heard it's good. The Lost World?"
"The Jurassic Park movie. Right?"
"Yeah, I liked the first one."
"Well, I guess I can't compete with dinosaurs. Would you do me a favor and write your number down for me again so I actually have it."
"You had it last week!"
"Sure, I didn't know that's what you were doing."
She sighed, but opened her purse. She scrounged for a minute to find a pen but had no paper. She took his hand then and wrote her number on the palm of his hand.
“That’s my number at my house this time. I hardly turn my cell on now unless I have to make a call so you have a better chance of getting a hold of me this way. Do I need to write my name, too?”
"Uh, no, I think I can remember that much between here and home."
"I think so," he said.
She slid the pen back into her purse. "You could come with."
"Nah," he said.
"It's just me and some friends. It's not like I'm going on a date or anything."
"Yeah, still. I have work to do…"
"So, you were just wondering what I was doing tomorrow?"
"Well, I was going to see if you wanted to come down here again. I could do better than that diner if I knew you were coming."
"How late are you going to be working?"
"I don't know. Since I'm not officially open I probably won't roll in until nine o'clock."
"Well, you could call me and let me know."
"You could come before the movie."
"Sure," she said.
"I'll be here."
"It sort of depends on my parents, but I should be able to."
"Okay," he said, reaching to open her door for her but he stopped to kiss her first. "You going right home?"
"Uh, yeah," she said with a slight frown.
He glanced at his hand for a second. "I was thinking I might put this to use."
"Oh, sure, you could. It's my own line. Well, it was my brother's, too, but he hasn't lived at home for years so it's just mine now. My parents wouldn't hear it ring."
"All right. Well, I'll try. I may get home and crash on my couch before I even change out of my work clothes so if I don't you're welcome to come here anytime tomorrow."
"If I'm going to interfere with your working…"
"I have to eat."
"True," she said.
"So show up whenever."
"Whenever huh? So you're not going to eat until I get here?"
"Nah, I don't usually anyway. Sometimes I stop for lunch, but not usually on Saturdays since it's just me and I work until I'm done."
"Well, if I'm…"
"If it bothered me I wouldn't ask."
"Okay," she said.
He leaned in and kissed her again, running a fingertip along her lower lip. He regarded her curiously for a second.
"What?" she asked.
"I don't know. Trying to figure you out."
"Yeah. I don't understand why you need to resort to leaving your phone number on credit card receipts."
"I didn't have any other way of giving it to you," she said with a shrug.
He chuckled. "That's not quite what I meant."
She knew what he'd meant, she wasn't answering that question tonight though. She wasn't sure she was even going to tell him.
"All right then, Sara, you drive safe. I'll call in about an hour to be sure you got home all right."
"Oh, I'll be…"
"Yeah, still. I'll sleep better knowing you're home safely after leaving this part of town."
He leaned in and kissed her again.
"Night," he said.
"Yeah," she whispered. Absolutely ridiculous that kissing him could leave her unsettled but it did.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com