‘EVERYTHING’S JAKE’ – CHAPTER 3

EVERYTHING’S JAKE
© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner

CHAPTER THREE

When Mariah heard the words, “You’re hired,” she was so startled that she didn’t take in Neil’s next words. He had turned and walked to the office, and Mariah stared after him for several seconds before her brain brought his words into focus and she followed him.

“Pull that red Chevy into the bay you were using, and I’ll get the work order for it.” He was still in the office, but Mariah sent a brisk military salute his direction and spoke out loud, “Yes, sir, Boss!”

She then made a beeline for the Chevy, but before she started work on it, she took a minute to call Abby and let her know she wouldn’t be back to the house as soon as planned. She didn’t go into any details but told her she was trying out for a job and would explain when she got home. Then she went straight to work and didn’t stop until she’d finished the Chevy and a Dodge truck.

By that time, Neil was ready to close for the day, and although she was tired enough physically to be dragging, Mariah felt rejuvenated inside. She had thoroughly enjoyed herself working alongside Bill and Neil, and they had quickly developed a sense of camaraderie. Evidently the heavy workload had helped both men to put aside any awkwardness caused by the fact that she was a woman, and they had all three worked together in a pleasant, cordial atmosphere. And to Neil’s delight, they had managed to repair and service all but two of the vehicles that had been lined up when Mariah had stopped for help.

After Neil drove off, headed for home, he tried to get his mind to methodically go back over all that had transpired since Mariah had walked into his office. But he couldn’t really get it all to make sense. He was a believer, and although he didn’t generally make an issue of his faith to people, he did talk things over with the Lord in the manner of friends throughout the day. “Lord,” he said now, “I hope I’ve heard You right today. It just seemed right somehow to put Mariah to work, but I’m sure trusting You to cover me on this. It’s so different from anything I’ve thought about doing in the business.” He chuckled softly. “But I guess You know that all ready.”

He turned into the drive of a local barbecue restaurant to order a carry-out meal, and then proceeded to his home where he slumped down on his living room sofa and dug into his food with a vengeance. He realized right then that he’d forgotten all about getting lunch in the press of getting all of the jobs done. But now — thanks to Mariah — tomorrow would be better.

Meanwhile, Mariah had stopped by one of the chain superstores to purchase overalls that would fit her better so that she could work more easily. When she finally arrived at Abby and Seth’s, they were just putting supper on the table. “Oh, I’m glad you’re here, Ry,” Abby said. “I was beginning to get a little worried.” She stopped and looked more intently at her friend. “My goodness, you look like you’ve been through the mill, hon. You’re hair looks like you’ve been running your hands through it, and there’s a dark smudge on your jaw.”

Mariah put her hand up to her hair and chuckled. “I didn’t realize I looked that bad,” she said. “I guess I should have taken the time to check before I went shopping.”

“Shopping?”

“Well, just to pick up a couple of overalls.”

“Overalls!” Abby and Seth were both staring at her now.

“Yeah,” she said, grinning broadly. “I have a job!”

“What … what … kind … of job?” Abby asked, looking suspicious.

“At Neil’s Auto Center over on Ludlow Drive.”

Abigail sat down on one of the chairs beside the table. “Auto Center!”

“Hey,” Seth chimed, “you mean you’re going to be a mechanic?” He seemed to be enjoying the idea.

Mariah nodded, still grinning. “Isn’t it great?”

Seth looked at his wife, who still seemed to be in shock. “Honey, you know, Mariah used to love those auto shop classes. You’ve told me more than once that she would just as soon be under the hood of a car as on a dance floor.”

Abby nodded her head in agreement. “Yeah,” she answered, still looking just a little bewildered, “but I guess I just assumed that she had traded all of that in for teaching school or writing.” She looked intently at her friend. “You do look a lot happier than I’ve seen you since you got here, Ry.”

“Well, it’s not a permanent job. But when I stopped because of a problem with my own car this morning and found that Neil was really short-handed due to the illness of two of his guys, I just got this brainstorm. And … well … it took a little convincing to get him to give me a try, but … well … I think he was really pleased with my work,” she said, not able to hide the note of pride in her voice.

“And I’m sorry to be so late and then have to ask you to excuse me even longer so I can get a quick shower, but you all go ahead and eat.”

“We’ll start,” Abby said, getting up now, “and you come on in whenever you’re ready. Just put on a robe if you like. You’re among family here, you know.”

The following day, Mariah arrived early and jumped into her work humming a song. By noon she had tackled a leaking fuel line, worn rear brakes, and two oil changes. She asked Bill to test drive the car with the repaired breaks – just to double check her work. As he parked the Chrysler and got out, she hurried up to him. “Did everything check out to your satisfaction?” she asked.

He gave her a thumbs up sign and grinned. “Everything’s Jake.” he said, his grin broadening. Mariah caught the play on her name instantly and grinned with him. From that day, it became one of his favorite quotes, and when Kurt came back to work the following week, he picked up on it as well. By the end of the month Neil had caught the spirit of the joke and couldn’t help teasing her with the same comment.

Mariah went into the office to talk with him about plans for the future, now that Kurt was carrying his full load and Bobby was due back in four weeks.

He looked up from the desk where he was getting a deposit ready for the bank. “Hi,” she said, shoving her hands into her back pants’ pockets and walking around the counter to get closer to the desk.

“Hey, Jake,” he said, grinning at her, waiting to see how she would take to the nickname. Up to that point they had used the name only when commenting on her work, but Neil was feeling closer to her now and wanted to build on the easy friendship that seemed to have developed between them.

She giggled, but didn’t contradict him. Finally she spoke, “I … uh … was wondering ….” She stopped, not sure how to ask if she was going to have a job after the next four weeks.

“Yes?” he said, putting down his pen and leaning back in the chair.

Mariah took a deep breath. “Well, I know Bobby’s supposed to come back in four weeks, and I guess I was just wondering if there was any chance you might be able to still use me around here after he comes back.” She heaved a big sigh, making it clear it had been hard on her to ask the question.

“Well … about that,” Neil began. “I had a long talk with Bobby yesterday evening. He told me he’s thinking about going back to school. And if he does, he won’t be available to work for me except on weekends.”

Mariah’s eyes lit up. She knew that made her look a little mercenary, but she couldn’t seem to help it. “Soooooo ….” She let the word hang.

Neil grinned broadly. “Sooooo … I was thinking about asking you to stay on.”

Her face glowed. “Really?”

He held up one hand. “With one reservation,” he added – a more serious tone in his voice.

“Okay,” she said, her eyes now a little wary.

“All of the guys I’ve employed have degrees, and I advertise that my business offers men who are not only skilled in “hands-on” training, but well educated in the latest technology available for repair and servicing of all kinds of vehicles. It’s important that I maintain that standard —”

“Oh, that’s no problem,” Mariah rushed to interrupt. “I can take the courses and get the degree!”

“You’d be willing to do that – without wasting any time about it?”

“You bet!” she said. “I already have some credits in that direction, you know, and I’ll check at the local college and find out what’s available this fall term.”

“All right then,” Neil said, standing up suddenly and extending his hand to her. “You’re officially part of the family, Jake!”

She gripped his hand in her firmest hold and pumped it up and down, grinning from ear to ear. “Thanks, Boss! You won’t be sorry!”

The following week a quiet, well-dressed man walked into the office and addressed Mariah, who was alone there, reading from the computer screen. She turned when he spoke and smiled suddenly, realizing she felt she should know this man. No name came to mind. He was past middle age, but looked fit, and he acted like he was quite comfortable in the place.

“Where will I find Neil?” he asked.

“Oh, I’m sorry; he’s out to lunch right now. But he should be back in half an hour. Can I help you?”

He looked disappointed and shook his head. “No. I don’t need any work done. Just hoped I could take him to lunch.”

“I’m sorry you missed him. He’s had a full week of over-work and has barely grabbed a bite here between repairs, so when things settled down today, I insisted that he leave the premises and sit down and have a decent lunch.”

At her words about “insisting” Neil leave for lunch, the visitor’s brows rose significantly. This was a brand new twist at Neil’s Auto Center. He had to learn more, but he barely held back a chuckle as he asked, “And Neil obeyed you when you … uh … insisted?”

“Well … I can be pretty … persuasive sometimes.” She grinned at the man, still pulled by the feeling she should know him well. “Some people have called me bossy, but I like persuasive better.”

The man did chuckle then. “So are you the new secretary?”

“Oh, no!” she said, bouncing up and heading toward the counter. “I’m sorry: I should have introduced myself.” She reached her hand across the counter to him. “I’m Jake … well … actually Mariah … but they all call me Jake around here. I’m the new mechanic.”

The visitor had gripped her hand warmly, but at her last statement, he convulsively gripped tighter, as his mouth dropped open and his eyes grew to twice normal size. “You’re … you’re the new …” His words trailed off, and he finally released her hand. “Well … I’ll be ….”

Mariah realized he was shocked, and she saw curiosity replace surprise as he continued looking at her. She was used to that kind of reaction – especially from the older generation. Woman mechanics weren’t all that prevalent a few decades ago, and even today, some men considered women who worked on cars nothing but tomboys – or worse: misfits in society altogether.

The visitor rubbed his chin now, and instantly Mariah realized why he looked familiar. She had seen Neil rub his own chin the same way, and with that gesture, the visitor’s likeness to Neil was unmistakable.

“Wait a minute!” She blurted, her eyes alight. “Are you, by any chance, Neil’s father?”

He grinned at her. “That I am. Adam Warner’s my name.”

“Oh, I’m glad to meet you, Mr. Warner,” she said, grabbing his hand again and pumping it up and down. “You have a terrific son!  But I guess you know that.”

He managed to release his hand and rested it on the counter. “I tend to agree with you, Mariah, but it’s good to know others see him as I do.”

He moved both hands to his pockets now and tried to act nonchalant rather than sound like he was giving her the third degree. But Elizabeth would never forgive him if he went home and told her that her son had hired a woman mechanic and left it at that.

“So how long have you been here at Neil’s place?”

“Just since last Monday. It was the most fortunate thing that I found him, and that he was brave enough to hire me on the spot.”

Adam’s brows rose once more at her description of how she’d been hired, and he had to make some quick mental adjustments concerning the kind of behavior he’d been used to from his son. Normally a deep, unhurried thinker, Neil had never indicated any tendencies to act on impulse concerning his business or his personal life either one. Adam could hardly wait to ask questions as soon as he got Neil to himself.

And he could hear Elizabeth now. She was a strong romantic at heart, and this kind of scenario was enough to send her out to look at wedding invitations. Yep, he’d better hang around and have a word with his youngest son and see if he could get a handle on these strange events.

 


Find Chapter Four here tomorrow.


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