Short Fiction for Guests of the WordFeeder
Sunday, March 7, 2010
“Okay, before we get out…”
Mindy’s father released his seatbelt, slid forward and turned to talk to his daughter through space between their bucket seats, while her mother just sat there, staring straight ahead impatiently, both hands on her pocketbook in her lap, waiting for her husband to make the obligatory parental… No, strike that. …his obligatory fatherly remarks. If it was up to her, the mother, she’d have been out of the car and bought one already. Mindy, one hand on the door handle, did her best to be attentive and to take her father seriously, pushing her glasses up on her nose with the forefinger of her left hand.
“…You’ve done great in school, really great.” Mindy smiled at the pride she shared with her “Daddy,” which was what she still called him, most of the time, unless there were other people around. Your mother and I were going to wait until you graduated next year, …”
“I know, Daddy,” she started to interrupt, but then, on second thought, decided to let him finish. In many respects, she realized, this was a bigger deal for him than it was for her.
“…but, well, it’s occurred to us that, that you’ve already proven yourself to be exceptionally responsible for a young woman of your age, any age for that matter – and that we’d rather have you driving yourself around than being a passenger in one of your friends’ cars.”
“Daddy, you’ve already been over…”
“Yeah, so here’s the thing,” he told her, taking a quick look over his shoulder, thinking he’d better pick up the pace before some over-eager salesman noticed them and came up to their car. “First consideration?”
“Safety.” Mindy knew the drill.
He smiled, relishing how his daughter got everything he ever said, and then some. “Third consideration?”
“Alright,” he was done. “Let’s do this.” Mindy and her mother pulled their door handles, popping their doors open. “But, but…” He waited for his daughter to turn back, to make sure she was paying attention. “But when you find one you like, keep your enthusiasm under control. Tell Mommy and me casually, privately if you can. Under no circumstances do we want the salesman to know how much you want it. Got it?”
“Got it, Daddy,” and Mindy and her mother were out on the lot, their respective doors chunking shut simultaneously, her father’s door following a few seconds later.
“Uncle Chuck’s Used Cars” was a small local lot, one of the dozen or so that were clustered within a mile or so on that part of town, some more substantial looking that others. Uncle Chuck’s had been there for a while, and the current owner – Chuck was long gone, to Florida some said, or to that used car lot in the sky. – had given one of Mindy’s mother’s customers at the card store where she worked part-time a pretty good deal. Seeing that the current Uncle Chuck, which was what people called him even though that wasn’t his name, was busy with another customer, they took advantage of the situation and started looking around without him.
“How ‘bout the red one, honey?” Mom was working her husband, setting him up. It was an older convertible, just the kind of car he was worried about. Plenty of cool, not enough metal.
“No. Big blind spot, and no roof support.” The more times he said “No., the more likely he was to agree to the one Mindy really liked, when she found it. It was a strategy that worked for contacts, which he’d agreed she could have, out of state prospects for college, and boyfriends too – so Mindy and he mother thought, but Dad knew what they were up to. He knew what they were up to, but it still worked because, in the end, he was crazy about the two of them and putty in their hands. Besides, agreeing with what they wanted, pretty much assured him of getting stuff he wanted, occasionally, but not always, as long as they wanted it too. Whatever authority he seemed to have was pretty much an illusion.
Ten minutes or so later, they had meandered around the 30 or so cars on the front lot, not having found anything special. Mom and Dad were walking over to talk to Chuck, whoever, while Mindy kept looking, now at the cars on the side lot, next to and behind the double-wide where Chuck would write up his sales. Coming around the corner, a good distance from where her parents were talking to Chuck, she saw a young man, her age, maybe a year older, polishing the hood of one of the cars, his arms solid and just a bit tan, his dark, not too short curly hair moving while his head bobbed to whatever was playing in his ears, his eyes riveted on one particular spot that seemed to be giving him a problem.
“Hey,” she said to him. “..Are you are salesman?”
He looked up, pulled the buds out of his ears, stuffing them in the pock of his well-worn jeans, and looked her, straight into her eyes for a few seconds before responding. “No. No,” he said tugging on his t-shirt as if it were a sign. “The salesmen wear business shirts. I just clean and move the cars around.”
“So you’re a lot boy?” Mindy seemed surprised. He seemed too, she couldn’t put her finger on it, too clean cut, just plain too clean, too much like a college boy to settle for minimum wage – although part-time jobs were hard, really hard to find.
“That’s what it says on my shirt.” Indeed it did, in small letters, on the right from where she was looking. Somehow she’d missed seeing it, probably distracted by the dimple on one side of his mouth.
“Oh, yeah. So it does, right there,” she pointed and touched the letters, inadvertently holding her finger up for a second or two too long, before snapping it back, “in white on navy blue.” (“What,” she said to herself, “am I talking about?!”)
“You say that like it’s a problem, like it’s not an honorable profession,” he was kidding with her, wiping the polish off his hands with another rag he’d kept in his back pocket. He smiled, to make sure she knew he wasn’t serious, the kind of broader than normal grin you put out there when you’re trying to make an impression, while he walked around to the side of the car where Mindy was standing. “I am to cars,” he said it slowly, “what the perfect lipstick is to your smile.”
“What?” This one she said out loud. Laughing, because she couldn’t help herself, she covered her mouth with her fingers. “You’ve got to be kidding.” But then she blushed, something she never did, and actually stopped breathing for a moment. And that was forever between the two of them. He didn’t know it then, but then neither did Mindy, that that was the moment that sealed the deal. (Strange, isn’t it, she would realize later, that some of the dumbest lines are the ones that work.)
“I don’t know,” he relaxed and shrugged his shoulders, rolling his eyes. “I sounded better in my head than when I said it out loud,” he giggled, pretty much losing whatever composure he’d been trying to fake.
“Don’t feel so bad,” Mindy reassured him, reaching out to lay her hand lightly on the center of his chest. (Something about him was easy to touch.) “It was really more effective than I’m letting on,” and she giggled back at him.
“You know,” he said, gesturing with his head toward where her parents and Uncle Chuck were still talking, “the cars here are pretty much crap. Well polished maybe, but too high mileage. Uncle Chuck buys them that way – high mileage, but with perfect bodies and upholstery – so they’re cheap, and then marks them up, way up, because they look good. ….And, more importantly, he’s got a bad cap job,” he told her. “Nobody’s teeth are that white, or big for that matter. …unless you’re a beaver, maybe.”
“And you’re telling me this why?”
He thought for a moment. “Because I think I like you more than Uncle Chuck. …Yes,” he took a second to step back and get a good, obvious look at her, “definitely more than Uncle Chuck.”
“Sooo, what do you recommend, Lot Boy?”
“There’s a place, just down the street at the corner,” he pointed in the direction they’d have to go. “Collier Family Cars. You can’t miss it. It’s family business…”
“That explains the name.”
“Yeah. Good people. More expensive, but their cars are better and they’ll back up what they sell you.”
“Mindy!” It was her mother yelling, waving for her to join then.
“I’ve got to go. ..Thanks for the advice. Will I see you later?” she asked, backing up before turning to leave.
“If there’s a god in heaven!” he shouted after her, attempting his best to pretend to be serious.
“Then it’s a sure thing,” she laughed back, knowing he was full of it, but loving how hard he was trying. And so she tossed him a kiss…
…and then turned to walk quickly between the cars toward her parents, looking over her shoulder just the one time to see him standing there, answering her with a quick wave of his hand.
“Hey, Dad,” she was a bit out of breath, but didn’t waste time interrupting his conversation with Uncle Chuck, “can I talk to you for a minute?”
“Honey, Uncle Chuck here was just..”
“Dad. Uncle Chuck, if I could just have a moment with my parents?” And then, not waiting for him to answer, “Thank you.” Tugging on the sleeve of her father’s jacket, Mindy pulled him a few feet away, her mother right behind them.
“We’ll be right back, Uncle Chuck,” her mother was always courteous. “Just give us a few minutes.”
“What is it, honey?” Her father asked when they were a soundproof distance away. “Did you find something you like?”
“No, no. I talked to the lot boy.”
“The what?” Her mother asked.
“The guy who polishes the cars. That gu…” Mindy turned, but couldn’t see him. “Whatever. The point is, we don’t want to buy anything here. Let’s go. There’s another lot down the street. ..Com’on. I’ll explain in the car.”
Mom and Dad looked at each other, raised their eyebrows, and turned back to where Uncle Chuck was still standing. “Uh,” they both started to say in unison, “we’ll stop back” – but Chuck, judging from the experienced expression on his face, knew better. And they were off.
This time when they pulled up it was in front of a small showroom, a used-to-be new car lot where a man, in his late 40s, came out to great them. “Hi, and welcome to Collier’s.” He reached out and shook their hands, all three of them, including Mindy. “This is my family’s car store. I’m the owner. What can I do to help you?”
“We’re, uh, looking for a car for my dau…”
“Excuse me, Dad,” a young man in navy blue t-shirt and well-worn jeans interrupted. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to take care of these people myself.”
“Well, sure son.” He was a bit surprised, but not put off by the idea. “Sure,” and then turning to his customers, “Don’t worry. He knows his stuff, more than I do, to be honest. ..I’ll be around if you need anything,” and he walked away so as not to get in his son’s way.
“Mom. Dad,” Mindy was the first to speak, clearly perturbed. “This is the lot boy I was telling you about.”
“You work here?” her mother asked the young man.
“I’m Jacob Collier. My grandfather opened this place a while back, and now I work for my father whenever I have time.”
“Doing what, exactly?” Mindy stepped between him and her parents. “Polishing cars? ‘Like the perfect lipstick is to my smile?’”
“What’s she talking about?” her father asked her mother in a low, almost whispered voice.
“Do you always steal customers from your competition by lying about who you are?” Mindy demanded to know.
“Hey. ..I was on my bike, on the way here when I saw you getting out of your car at Uncle Chuck’s. I never said I worked there, and no. No. I don’t always steal customers from our competition by lying about who I am. ..Only when they look like you. ..Besides, I was right about his teeth, wasn’t I?”
There was a pause, but not an awkward one.
“You’re doing it again, aren’t you?” she asked him in an almost serious tone, pushing her glasses against her face. (Turning suddenly toward her mother, Mindy pointed to her glasses, a not so subtle reminder about the contacts they’d promised she could – and then whipped back to face her lot boy without missing a beat.)
“What? Over-hitting on you?”
“Yeah. …So how’m I doin’?”
“Com’on,” Mindy reached for Jacob’s arm, grabbing it with her hands, “Show us some cars. We can talk about how you’re doing later, when you buy me dinner.”
“I’m buying you dinner?” he asked as they started to walk into the lot.
“You mean you don’t want to buy me dinner?”
“Oh, no. Yes. Uhhh, no. I’d ..I’d love to buy you dinner.”
And that, for Mom and Dad who were walking within earshot a few feet behind, was the moment they approved of this one.
What to read more? Just click here and pick a title you like.
Copyright as of the title date or earlier, by me.
(I write the WordFeeder blog.) All rights reserved.
Email WordFeeder@verizon.net for additional information.