The phone's incessant ringing snapped me out of my reverie. Who could be calling this time of day? I looked at the clock as I picked up the phone, and swore under my breath as I realized I had once again lost track of the hour. Still, I wasn't expecting any calls.
"Hello, Dad. I hoped I might catch you at home."
"Jenna, honey, where else would I be?"
"Oh, I don't know, but it took you long enough to answer the phone. Are you sure you're all right?"
My daughter was both protective and nosey, just like her mom had been.
"I'm fine honey, never been better. Doc says I'm in better shape than most men half my age."
Of course I didn't tell her that as soon as he'd said that old Doc Rogers had laughed and given me a ten-minute lecture on what was wrong with most thirty-year-old males.
"Well, that's good. I worry about you all alone in that big house. The kids miss you. Shawn asks me 'Where's Granddad?' every day, as soon as he comes in the door after school."
"That's sweet. Tell him that I miss him, too. I sure enjoyed the three weeks I spent up there with all of you, and I thank you for having me."
"Yeah, Dad, but we'd love to have you all the time..."
"Now, honey, you know that Minnesota in winter is just a bit too cold for me. I've grown accustomed to these warm Florida winters, where snow is something you only see on TV and on Christmas cards. You guys should come down here, during Christmas."
This was a long running discourse. Jenna and my son Mark had been encouraging me to move in with one or the other or to split my time up between the two of them. This had started almost as soon as my wife of thirty-four years passed away, a bit over four years ago. I knew that they both understood that I had no intentions of giving up the home that I had worked so long and hard to pay off.
As we exchanged further pleasantries, I knew in the back of my mind that the real purpose of her call was to check up on me. I knew I could expect a similar call from Mark in a few days. I guessed there was nothing wrong with that. I loved my kids and grandkids as much as they loved me. Still, you can have too much of a good thing. We ended the call with promises to call each other soon.
I returned to my writing, but the distraction had been too much. The paragraph that I had been working on made no sense to me now. My muse must have taken the phone call as his signal to take a nap. Why not? It was almost as old as I was!
I thought about what else I wanted to accomplish. The grass was cut, the flowerbeds mulched, the pool cleaned, the oil was changed in the Mustang.
Not a bad day's work for a sixty-year-old man. Hell, I told Jenna the truth, more or less. I felt like a thirty year old. Better, in fact, because when I was thirty, I was trapped behind my desk. I had hired all of those things done. Avoiding boredom had me in the best shape of my life!
Still, it wasn't that I really lonely. I had my chat buddies online, as well as my friends, locally.
I wasn't exactly looking for romance, either. Hell, the number of amateurs on Craigslist, advertising sex for hire, almost made romance obsolete. Things were much simpler with them. I didn't need to know what to say or guess what a woman wanted ... as long as I had an extra hundred dollars, and a little patience, it was a done deal. Hell, a hundred was dirt cheap, when you considered that the cost of a real date was usually double that, and didn't come with any guarantees. Of course I had to be careful of STDs, but no more careful than I needed to be with some sweet thing from a bar or bingo parlor.
I didn't want to spend the morning day trading stocks, even though I thought of day trading as the equal of the best video game ever invented. My system seemed to work well, especially in the volatile market of the past couple of years.
It wasn't that I needed the money, though. Lately all of my gains had been socked away into my grandkids' college trust funds. Hell, those funds already had enough in them to allow them to get advanced degrees at the best universities in the country. I laughed as I thought of the surprise those trust funds would be, when the kids graduated high school. Of course to hear Mark and Jenna brag, I expected that all my grandkids would get scholarships when they graduated, anyway.
Well, musing about the future wasn't getting anything accomplished. As I glanced outside, through the large picture window that faced my swimming pool, I noticed that it was a beautiful warm fall day. It was more like summer, actually.
Smiling, I decided to drive to the beach. That was the great thing about retirement. I could do anything I wanted, on the spur of the moment, without answering to anyone. I knew that school was in session, but I was still fairly certain that the beach would be covered with an excess of beautiful but barely covered young women.
I filled a small cooler with soft drinks, quickly changed into my bathing suit, added a 'cool' beach shirt and ball cap, grabbed the SPF 50 sunscreen and car keys, and headed out the door.
My 'old car' was a 1968 cherry red Mustang convertible. I had lovingly restored the car, but had added some improvements to the original factory specs. The convertible top was now motorized, and would open and close without the trouble of the original. I had replaced the original eight-track tape player with a state of the art DVD/MP3 player. I'd also had the original 289 CID V-8 completely reworked by a friend who owned a garage that specialized in high performance cars. He'd tuned the exhaust system, too.
The car (which I kept buffed to a high gloss) never failed to grab everyone's attention, wherever I parked it. Occasionally a classic Mustang purist would wince, and tell me I had ruined a fine car with 'those mods'. I would answer that I hadn't rebuilt the car for show. I had rebuilt it to drive. Before I'd started work on the Mustang, I went to a lot of vintage car shows. I saw a lot of restored Mustangs rolled off of trailers at the shows, which were pushed into place without ever having the engine started. That wasn't what I wanted at all.
It was a beautiful day for a drive to the beach. I headed off down a back road, rather than the much quicker interstate, in order to enjoy the power and handling of my car. The curves and absence of traffic and law enforcement on the back roads allowed me to exercise my right foot. I could concentrate on the road, rather than the rear view mirror. Several times I left the smell of burning rubber wafting up from the pavement as I peeled away from the various intersections.
I was only a few miles from the beach when all at once, what had been a clear road quickly became congested. As I moved along at a snail's pace, I soon saw the apparent reason for slowdown. There was an older sedan, which was apparently broken down. It was sitting along the side of the road with the hood raised.
I cursed as I realized the stupid driver hadn't taken the time to properly move the car from the road, which left about half the right lane blocked. That choked off passage at that point, as the road at that spot took a sharp dogleg turn, obscuring vision of oncoming traffic.
Being a nosey old cuss, I pulled safely off the road behind the sedan, rather than pass as everyone else had done. I set my emergency flashers blinking before getting out. I was curious to meet someone who was stupid enough to leave his car in the road as a target for every other nut on the road. I shook my head as I wondered what would have happened if the breakdown had occurred on the other side of the blind curve ahead.
Before I even got to where I could see the driver, I heard the sharp rapping of metal on metal. As I walked around the sedan I saw the butt and legs of the driver kicking in the air as the rapping continued. Then I heard a decidedly female voice launch into a steam of invectives that began with 'God damned, fucking old piece of shit' ... and ended with a screaming... 'Motherfucker!' I winced, as I knew I never wanted to be on the receiving end of that woman's wrath.
I was looking at her high heels kicking in the air, and was about to turn around and sneak back out of there, when I heard the wrench she was using as a hammer clank as it dropped through the engine compartment. It was at that moment that the previously mentioned 'motherfucker' screamed forth from her lungs.
Almost as soon as that happened, she pushed back off the fender. She pushed a little too hard, and ended up going over backwards onto the ground.
Before I could move or say a word she turned to me and screamed, "What the fuck are you looking at?"
I was wondering that to myself. Luckily I didn't say that as I took off my ball cap and scratched my head.
I know it sounded idiotic to her, because it sounded stupid to me after the words came out, but I asked, "Somethin' wrong with your car?"
I think she looked around for something to throw at me before she screeched, "Arrrrhh," and almost jumped to her feet.
I say 'almost' because she stumbled when the three-inch heel on one of her shoes caught in the dirt and broke. That must have been the proverbial 'straw that broke the camel's back'. She limped to the door of her car, opened it, and sat down on the seat. The ends of the obviously too long coveralls covered her feet, which were hanging out the door. Raising her foot to her lap, she peeled back the leg of the coverall. She pulled the broken shoe off, and threw it at me! Then she began to cry.
She cried for only a few moments, however, then gave me a withering glare. Having identified the enemy, she wiped her face with the back of the coverall sleeve.
Then she surprised me by plagiarizing a line from an old Robert Heinlein novel, asking, "Were you born stupid, or did you have to study to get that way?"
I considered the source of that line, and the eventual connection between those two characters, and I began laughing. At first she glared at me and then she gradually added to my laughter.
At first I wasn't sure whether her laughter was at me, or with me, as she pointed at me and began taking off her other shoe. When I winced, and shielded my face, she laughed even louder. At that point I rejoined her laughter and she tossed the shoe in the back seat of her car.
Even with her makeup smeared across her face, I could tell that she was a beautiful woman. I couldn't help looking her up and down, and admiring the calf that was exposed where she had pulled up the coverall. She was blonde with a complexion that let me know right off the bat that her hair color didn't come from a bottle. Her face was pixyish with a few freckles from the sun that had been lightly covered by the smeared makeup.
After the laughter subsided somewhat, I found out that she was way late for an important job interview.
"I was running a few minutes late when I began downshifting to slow down for that stupid curve. I knew the shift mechanism was stuck as soon as it happened, because it's happened before. I hopped out, grabbed my boyfriend's coveralls and a wrench from the trunk, and figured I'd have it fixed in only a minute."
All of that came out as we pushed the car off to the side of the road.
As we were safely off the road I asked, "Why didn't you park it off the road to start with?"
She wavered for a moment and replied, "I didn't want to get my shoes dirty."
She then held up her and continued, "I know how that sounds, but this interview was really important to me, and there wasn't any traffic that I could see. I thought it would only take a minute to fix the car. I was in a hurry, okay?"
I couldn't think of anything else to say and nodded agreement as I opened the hood again. Looking into the shift linkage I found that whoever worked on it last had connected one of the linkages with an oversized cotter key and left the tangs sticking out. It appeared that her tapping on the linkage had managed to completely bend those tangs neatly around an adjacent linkage. I temporarily fixed this by cutting off the excess of the cotter key.
As soon as I had the gearshift fixed I closed the hood. She removed the coveralls, threw them in the back seat, got in the car slammed the door and cranked it up. Shaking her fist out the window she made a quick u-turn and peeled off back down the road without a 'thank you', 'good-bye', or even a 'kiss my ass'.
I went around and opened the trunk of my Mustang, wiped my hands on the towel I kept in the trunk, while staring off down the road after her. Still brooding over the exchange, and with thoughts of the rudeness of the younger generation, I finally got back on the road and on my way. Somehow the brief glimpse of the petite but perfectly proportioned body hidden by the coveralls was etched in my mind, and kept overriding my confusion as to why she had left so abruptly.
I really was no longer interested in girl watching as I continually replayed the end of the encounter in my mind. As a writer I don't expect individual behavior to fit into any preconceived mold, but being from the south I have become accustomed to a certain minimum level of civility. At that moment I slowed to let a car get out of a crowded parking lot, and onto the busy street ahead of me. The driver waved his thanks. Well, at least the whole world hadn't gone crazy.
I wasn't even sure of my destination, anymore. However, I realized that the gentle gnawing sensation right above my belt meant that it was time for lunch. The main drag of this small beach town had several fine restaurants, including several specialty seafood houses. I headed to one of my favorites.
Al's Crab Trap was an older restaurant that, despite the name, carried a full line of seafood entrees. Of course their signature dish was the best crab cakes on the gulf coast of Florida. I was already thinking 'crab cake basket', as I jockeyed for an open space in the crowded parking lot alongside the large wooden building. Eventually, I found one, and parked. I put the top up, and activated the car alarm before going inside.
I was waiting in line for a table when Jerry, the current owner (and Al's son), came up and shook my hand.
"Jim, how many times have I told you that you don't have to stand in line, here? We've been friends ever since I took the restaurant over from Papa. Marsha called me when she saw you standing here, and I came right out."
"I hate that she did that. You have to be a busy man, with this crowd. I'm retired, now. I really don't have any reason not to stand in line. Some of those customers back there are still working and may need the extra few minutes.
"Can you give me a table on the veranda?" I added ingenuously.
Jerry laughed and said, "Sure, no problem. You know almost everyone that comes in here is a tourist on vacation. Most of the working people use the drive-thru or call ahead for take-out. So, no excuses, next time! Just ask for me when you come in."
I soon found myself sitting at a small table on the spacious open-air veranda that wrapped around the back of the building. There was a small sea breeze helped along by the large overhead fans. It wasn't air conditioning but it was enough air to keep the heat and humidity at a comfortable level. Even better was that I was breathing tangy salt air, and had a splendid view of the nearby beach.
The crab cakes were delicious and I let my mind settle back into my original purpose in visiting the beach. I surveyed the young women walking around and lounging in the sand.
The food and atmosphere had settled my stomach, and quieted any remaining misgivings about my earlier encounter. My only debate at the moment was whether I should feast my gaze upon a twenty-something redhead wearing a small black bikini off to my right, or whether my libido would be better served gazing out slightly further to my left at a flaxen haired teen in an even more miniscule lime green suit.
I was fixated upon the teen in the lime-green suit when a voice said, "She's much too young for you," and startled me out of my reverie.
The voice registered in my mind even before I turned my head. "Why would that concern you?"
My conclusion that the stranded blonde was both rude and insensitive seemed to be verified again by her remark.
The once stranded young blonde, now dressed in a tank top and shorts, pulled the opposing chair away from the table and sat down. Obviously, she chose to ignore my reply.
I was still a bit hot about her earlier behavior, and continued with, "Go ahead! Have a seat. I was just leaving."
She reached out her hand and placed it on my arm as I started to rise. "Please just give me a moment to explain."
Well, she did say 'please'.
I sat back down and crossed my arms, waiting.
"I want to start by apologizing for my rude behavior. I'm not normally like that. My only excuse is that I was mad."
Seeing my puzzled look she added, "Umm, not at you but at my boyfriend or should I say my ex-boyfriend."
Her shoulders slumped forward a bit as she continued. "I know you probably don't care but I've been searching for a decent job since I graduated college this past fall. The job market being what it is there just hasn't been anything opened in my field."
I was going to ask her what her field was but she continued before I could get a word in edgewise. "I've worked several part-time and less than spectacular jobs since that time. Nothing I can put on my résumé, but enough to keep me warm and fed. I met my ex-boyfriend when I was waiting tables and after we dated a few times he convinced me to move in with him. That was a couple of months ago.
"Jeff wasn't really special to me but up until that point everything had gone okay between us. What I didn't know when I moved in was that he had just been fired from his job.
"I didn't have a car because I'd never needed one in college and figured I could get one after I found a job. When I lived in the city, I rode the bus from my apartment to my crummy job. Jeff had two cars: an almost new Lexus, and an old beater. There was never a problem getting to my job from his apartment out in the boonies."
The blonde stopped at that point and pointed to my full water glass. I shrugged and said, "Go right ahead."
She took a drink, cleared her throat, and continued.
"Anyway, we drove his Lexus, everywhere. Other than me going back and forth to work, we didn't drive the beater. About a month after I moved in the Lexus was stolen ... or so he told me at the time. Looking back on it, I'm pretty sure it was repossessed.
"Well, not having the Lexus led to both of us driving the beater. He never came forward and told me in so many words that he was fired, but I suspected since all of a sudden I was paying for everything. I found out for sure when the landlord came down during the middle of the evening last week and very loudly demanded two months back rent.
"I'm not on the lease but I used most of the rest of my savings to swing one month's back rent that was the least he would take. I had already been scheduled for today's job interview and I thought I had a pretty good shot at landing the job. I made up my mind to wait until I got my first paycheck and just leave. Not so much because Jeff was fired but because he never told me about it.
"The thing that really pissed me off was that apparently Jeff fixed the beater's shift linkage himself last week after I told him the problems I had been having. He had supposedly used $75 of my money to have his mechanic fix it. When I went back and threatened to beat him silly with that big wrench I'd used on the car he finally admitted he did the work himself and pocketed my money. That was the last straw. He was lucky I don't believe in violence.
"I went in and packed my bags right there. I then made him drive me into town, here, where I'll be able to get a bus back into the city. Then I saw your car sitting on the side of the building and I felt like I needed to apologize and thank you for your help before I left."
She looked up at me and I for the first time I noticed what lovely emerald green eyes she had. I smiled and asked, "Who was your job interview with?"
She answered, "It doesn't matter, anymore. One of the things she impressed upon me during my first interview was the need to be punctual. I got so wrapped up in the car that I didn't even call her on my cell. I'm sure my résumé is in the trash, by now."
Before I retired I was the senior lender with a large regional bank. I knew most of the business owners that she was likely to have dealt with, either as customers or as members of the local Chamber of Commerce. I considered most to be good friends. I repeated my question. "Who was the interview with?"
Shrugging her shoulders she said, "Delmar Resort Properties. My degree was in Hotel and Resort Management."
I pulled out my cell and asked, "What's your name?"