‘EVERYTHING’S JAKE’ — CHAPTERS 5 & 6

EVERYTHING’S JAKE
© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner

CHAPTER FIVE

Neil arrived at the shop first the next morning and was shocked to see the red Porsche sitting on the lot with its nose practically touching the bay door. Closer inspection revealed a business card stuck under the wiper. His second shock of the day came when he read the name. He let out a low whistle and spoke out loud: “Well, well … Mr. Carter Sanford of all people.” He ran his hand caressingly over the hood of the Porsche. “Mm-Mm! Yeah … this beauty would have to belong to someone like Sanford.” The note on the back of the card explained that the car had started behaving erratically just two blocks away and that Sanford had barely made it into the lot before it died.

Neil carried the card into the office to call Sanford, but just before he placed the call, a chauffeur-driven Lincoln drove up, and Carter Sanford hopped out of the back seat, sporting his signature sun-bleached hair and Bahaman tan. Neil had seen enough newspaper pictures of him to recognize him with no trouble. His lifestyle brought out the critical side of Neil’s nature, but he put those thoughts aside to offer a cordial greeting. “Good morning,” Neil said. “Mr. Sanford, isn’t it?”

“That’s right,” Carter said with a nod. “I’m sure you found my car. Sorry about just assuming I could leave the Ruby here unannounced, but, as I’m sure you read on my card, I really had no choice. I could have called a tow truck, of course, and had it taken to the man who normally services my cars, but I hear you people do great work, so I thought why not take a chance with you.”

Neil bristled, but kept his peace. After a second’s hesitation, he said, “Well, as honored as I am that you feel that way, Mr. Sanford, I’ll have to tell you that all three of our bays have cars waiting in them right now, and there are still two other jobs ahead of you.”

“But you can get to it today, surely,” Carter said, with all the assurance of a man who can pay for anything he wants and assumes he will get it.

Neil recognized the snobbery for what it was, but he didn’t see any reason to turn down work if he didn’t have to. “I think we should be able to get it today. If you’d like to fill me in on the details of what happened, I can prepare a work order for it.”

Carter told him the story, and Neil promised to give him a call before noon and let him know if things looked promising for getting his car back to him by the end of the day.

Carter had just left when Mariah drove up, and when she saw the Porsche, she stopped to look it over carefully before going into the shop. “So who belongs to that cherry-red beauty in front of my work bay?” she asked Neil as soon as she walked through the door. “I hope the fact that it’s parked there means I get to work on her.”

Neil laughed and then explained how the car got there. “But you’ll still have to do Corbets’ van before you do anything else. They’ve been customers here from day one, and I don’t want them to have to wait any longer for their job. They really do need both vans running for their business.

“Okay, I’ll get right on it.”

By 10:30, Mariah had the van done, and Bill and Neil were both busy on the two other jobs that were outstanding that morning. So Neil gave Mariah the go-ahead to start on the Porsche. By noon, they knew it would take another three or four hours – depending on how quickly their parts dealer could deliver the items they needed, so Neil called Sanford and gave him an estimated time.

By 4:00 that afternoon, Mariah was ready to take the Porsche out for a test drive. Neil called Sanford and informed him of the progress, and Sanford was standing in the office waiting when Mariah pulled back onto the lot after the test. He was watching from the front window, and when Mariah got out of the car, his eyes grew wide, and he almost shouted as he turned to look straight at Neil. “What the … what’s that girl doing driving my car?”

“The person driving your car is the mechanic who fixed your car, Mr. Sanford.”

Carter’s eyes grew even bigger. “Do you mean to tell me that you let a woman work on my car?”

“I let one of my top mechanics repair your car. You said you have heard that we do great work here, and Jake there is one of the people who makes that happen.”

“Jake! But … I thought she was a girl!”

Neil grinned. He hadn’t realized that customers might feel confused when they heard the other mechanics call a woman Jake. If he’d thought ahead, he would have tried to remember to call Mariah by her correct name, but it was too late now. “Jake’s her nickname among all of the employees here,” he explained.

Sanford turned back around and looked out at his car. Mariah was nowhere to be seen, but he just stared out the window a few seconds. “Well … I’ll be. I sure never dreamed I’d have that baby worked on by any woman. But …” He turned back to Neil. “If you say she’s one of your best, I’ll have to take your word for it.” His eyes took on a speculative gleam. “In fact … I think I’m looking forward to meeting this paragon of feminine mechanical prowess.”

At that moment Mariah walked in, her eyes sparkling and a huge smile on her face. “That little beauty purrs just like a satisfied kitten,” she announced and then stopped short at the sight of Carter. For his part, Carter was struck dumb for a few seconds. From the window he had been able to see that Mariah was female, but in her uniform and from that distance, he hadn’t been able to establish any details. Now he was taken unaware by the impact of Mariah’s wide smile, her shining eyes, and her face that was flushed with the excitement of putting the car back into perfect condition. She was worth looking at for some time, and he did just that.

But Neil spoke up and introduced Mariah to Carter (by her real name), then looked over the work order she had filled in with the details of her work. Carter stepped forward and extended his hand. “I’m glad to hear the Ruby is running smoothly again,” he said. “She’s my favorite form of transportation, and quite an investment.”

“The Ruby? How delightful that you’ve named her!” said Mariah. “That’s something more people should do with their cars, I think. I like the idea of people naming their homes as well.”

“Oh? You think all homes and cars should have names then?”

Mariah shrugged her shoulders, grinning. “Why not?” She handed the keys to Carter. “Here you go, Mr. Sanford. You’re Ruby is in first-rate condition again.”

“Thank you, Mariah.” Carter looked her up and down again, considering how different she was from most of the women he associated with. He was intrigued by this female mechanic. The experience was something so totally new to him that he wanted to prolong the visit, but Neil spoke up then and asked if he were paying by cash, check, or credit card. Carter handed him his card, and the last of the business was taken care of in record time.

Carter was still trying to think of a way to prolong his time with Mariah, so he asked if she’d be willing to walk out to the car with him and tell him a few more details about the work she’d done. She gladly complied, and Neil stood watching them talk for several minutes. Carter evidently said something funny, because they both laughed, and the conversation seemed to be taking a turn in a different direction because now they were not even looking at the car as they talked. They were just looking at each other.

Something inside Neil tensed as he continued to watch the scene. His stomach seemed to be knotting up, and he realized he’d been almost holding his breath. He shook himself. What on earth was the matter with him anyway? He glanced back out the window, this time trying to size up how much taller Carter was than his own five feet, eleven inches.

He finally forced himself away from the window and back behind the counter to file the papers. Well, he thought, glancing at the clock, if Mariah wasn’t back into the work area within another five minutes, he’d just go out and get her. He could say he needed to talk to her. Of course, he’d have to come up with something important enough to say to her for the excuse to sound realistic.

In the meantime, Carter was saying, “Well, maybe you’d like to go for another ride in her sometime soon – with me.”

Mariah thought about it. She was tempted, but she didn’t really know him yet. “Mmmm … maybe … sometime. But I don’t make a habit of riding around with men I don’t know very well.”

He laughed. “Well, almost everyone in this town knows me and my family. We’re the department store Sanfords. We own a chain of department stores across a six-state area.”

“Oh, I know about your stores,” she said. “In fact, I’ve bought a few things from your stores. But that doesn’t mean I know you.”

He laughed and reached out to touch her cheek lightly. The action was slightly brazen, but so fleeting that she couldn’t really register a complaint, even in her own mind. “Cautious girl, huh? Well … I guess it doesn’t hurt to be careful. I’ll tell you what. Let’s meet someplace for dinner. You can drive yourself if you feel safer, and then you can spend the evening getting to know me. How does that sound?”

Mariah smiled. She’d been wanting some young, single company. She glanced back toward the shop. And, come to think of it, maybe it wouldn’t hurt anything to have Neil realize that another man recognized her as an attractive, desirable woman and not just a mechanic. She looked back at Carter.

“Sure. I’d like that. When?”

“Will tomorrow night work for you?”

“Tomorrow’s perfect,” she said, and they settled on a time and place before Carter drove off, waving.

Mariah stood out on the lot a moment longer, collecting her thoughts. Yes, she thought, tomorrow will be absolutely perfect – because it’s Friday night, and Mr. Neil Warner is going to get a surprise when he assumes that I’ll be here after closing again to spend time with him on another non-date.

She was humming to herself as she went to pull the next car into her bay. It was so late now that she wouldn’t be starting on it until tomorrow, but she looked over the work order and started collecting her thoughts so she’d be ready as soon as she got to work.

As she finished, she walked over to Neil, who was finishing up the job he’d been working on before Carter had interrupted him. “By the way, Neil, I’m not going to be able to work with you on the books tomorrow evening. I hope that’s okay. I’ve made some other plans for this Friday.”

“Oh?” was all Neil said, and kept his head under the hood of the car he was working on.

“That’s okay, isn’t it? I mean we’ve gotten most of the bookwork under control now, haven’t we?”

Finally he raised his head and stood wiping his wrench with a rag as he answered.

“Sure. I told you in the beginning that I felt I shouldn’t take your time for that anyway. You can skip it anytime you want to.” Neil’s face registered disappointment as clearly as if he’d been a small boy. He didn’t realize it, of course, but Mariah saw it, and her woman’s heart tugged at her so hard that she almost changed her mind. At that instant, though, Neil said just the wrong thing.

“You’re Friday nights are your own, Jake.” 

That did it. Who could feel anything with a woman’s heart when she’s being called ‘Jake’ by the man her heart’s reaching out to?

Nope. She was going out to dinner with Carter tomorrow, and she’d bet a month’s salary that Carter Sanford wouldn’t call her ‘Jake’ one time all evening.


CHAPTER SIX

The following evening, Mariah dressed with extra care. It had been so long since she had actually been on a date – a real date – that she felt as nervous as a school girl. But one thing she didn’t have to worry about was clothes – thanks to having worked in two boutiques during her non-mechanic years. In each of them, due to her employee status, she had been allowed discounts on her own purchases, so she had three up-to-date evening outfits just hanging around waiting to be worn.

It didn’t take her anytime at all to choose. The peach colored cocktail dress virtually called her name when she opened the closet. The truth was that she had been thinking of herself in that dress from the minute Carter had issued his invitation. The lines were simple and flattering to her figure, and the silver strapped sandals – three inches of madness purchased the day before she’d been fired by Patricia – would be the perfect accent. Her dad had told her she was crazy to force her feet and legs into such contortions, but when you know in your heart that you’re an auto mechanic, you just have to try extra hard to make yourself feel really feminine sometimes. So, for tonight, she’d suffer and enjoy every minute of it.

She arrived at the restaurant about five minutes before the appointed time and found Carter standing near the door waiting for her. He let out a low whistle – not loud enough for other guests to notice, but loud enough to boost Mariah’s self-esteem about six feet. True to his official social position, he had made reservations and was accorded the best the house had to offer. Service was flawless, as were the table appointments and the food.

His first words after they had ordered were the ones Mariah had expected. “So, Mariah Jacoby, tell me about yourself.” Not very original, but certainly acceptable from a first-time date. So Mariah complied, hitting only the highest of the highlights, since she was still feeling her way with this new acquaintance. But she told him enough that he would know right off the bat that she was a serious-minded, Christ-centered woman. “Regardless of what else I do with my life,” she told him, “I want to be as clear and effective a witness for Jesus and His love as I can.”

Carter was just a little non-plussed, but did a good job of not letting that fact show. The truth was that he had never, in all his thirty years, sat at dinner with a woman who talked about religion in any form at all. And this lady seemed to be focused on it. Good grief, he thought. What have I gotten myself into? But the longer he looked at her, seeing how she sparkled when she talked about what was so important to her, he warmed to her manner and her natural charm to the point he felt he could ignore the actual topic itself.

Then she asked him about his own life, and, naturally, there was nothing Carter enjoyed talking about more than himself and his accomplishments. He hadn’t been totally idle, he assured her. He had gone to work for the company at the ground floor – a requirement instituted by his grandfather – the original department store entrepreneur in the family. He had proven himself in business and moved quickly to the executive branch of the company, doing his share now in the publicity department.

He enjoyed that immensely because it added to his opportunities to connect with models and other popular public figures. His calendar was full of parties, public functions, theatrical productions, cruises, and all manner of entertainment. One fact he didn’t share was that he had been required to cancel one such function in order to take Mariah to dinner, but the entertaining thought of dating an auto mechanic just couldn’t be beaten right now.

The truth was that he was bored with all of his life, and he hoped Mariah would jolt him out of that boredom. Of course, he didn’t tell her that either. He simply emphasized his part in the actual work of the company. He didn’t want her to see him as a playboy – at least not just yet.

After dinner, they danced, and then ended the evening at the bar for what Carter referred to as a “toast to his most extraordinary date.” Mariah drank an occasional glass of wine, but she seldom drank anything at all when she was driving, so she opted for some fruit juice. Carter raised his eyebrows, but said nothing when she explained about the driving. She wanted to say that he had already downed three glasses of wine and then a brandy, and she was worried about how he would get home safely. She wanted to say it – but she didn’t. After all, this was a first date, and she didn’t want to come off sounding too much like a preacher.

As soon as she’d drunk half of her juice, she said, “I really do need to be going, Carter. I have an early morning with some pretty complicated work ahead of me.” By this time, Carter was beginning to show the effects of the alcohol he had imbibed, and his grin was just slightly lopsided. His eyes sparkled in fun as they pierced hers, but his words carried just a hint of a slur.

“Oh, that’s right!” He held up one index finger and pointed it at her. “My little grease-monkey! I almost forgot.”

Ice water could not have sent a more effective chill through Mariah. She was caught so unprepared for that nick-name that she couldn’t even think of any response. Not that she needed any. Carter was imbued with just enough alcohol not to care what she might say. He put money down on the counter and stood to his feet. Mariah got up as well and preceded him to the foyer. The doorman took care of ordering their cars to the front, and Carter walked Mariah to her car door. He reached out and ran his finger along the side of her face and smiled again. This time his smile seemed normal – probably due to the bracing effect of the night air he was now standing in.

“Thank you for being a most charming dinner companion, Mariah Jacoby,” he said, with no slur to his words. “I consider myself honored by your presence here tonight.”

Mariah’s head was spinning. This man had jumped from addressing her as a “grease-monkey” to describing her as a “charming dinner companion” in about five minutes’ time. But his smile was certainly disarming, and his voice sounded so sincere that she decided to forgive the earlier comment.

“I enjoyed the evening too, Carter. Thank you.”

“And you’ll go out with me again, won’t you? What about this weekend? Do you play tennis?

“Well … yes, I play tennis.”

“Great! I’m in a tennis tournament with some friends for a charity fundraiser this weekend. You come, and when the tournament is over, we’ll all sit around and visit and then take to the courts just for fun. What do you say?”

“I suppose I could. Is it Saturday?

“Yes, the tournament is in the morning. Then we’ll lunch. You can meet some of my best friends; and we’ll play a game or two together after lunch.”

“We alternate Saturdays at the shop, so I’m free this weekend. That sounds like fun.”

“And I’ll come and pick you up in the Ruby.”

A tiny alarm went off in Mariah’s head. She wasn’t totally convinced that it would be safe to ride with a man who seemed to enjoy his liquor as much as Carter had tonight. She’d better play it safe and stick with her own car. She told him she’d rather drive herself.

“Oh, Mariah, you are spoiling my fun,” he said now, but still with his infectious grin. “I want to show the Ruby off to you – show you what a great job you did with her.”

“I know what a great job I did,” she answered, grinning back. “I test-drove her when I finished, remember?”

“All right; have it your own way,” he said. Then he kissed his fingers and placed them on her lips. “I can tell you’re not a kiss-on-the-first-date kind of girl, so I’ll settle for this.” He winked at her. “I’ll call you with directions to the country club.”

“Fine. Good night, Carter,” she said as she slipped into her seat behind the wheel. “Thanks again.” He waved, and she drove off.

The following day Mariah was in the office entering some data from a repair job into the computer when a florist van drove onto the lot. She figured it was someone bringing the van to drop it off for servicing. But a couple minutes later, the door opened to admit a delivery boy bearing a long, white box tied with pink ribbon. “Got a delivery here for a Ms. Mariah Jacoby,” he said. Mariah’s eye’s grew large, and her heart quickened its beat. At just that moment, Neil walked in and saw the box. His eyebrows went up. “Well, well! He doesn’t waste any time, does he?”

Mariah looked at him a little questioningly, but then hurried to sign for the box. When she opened it, she found so many pink roses that she thought she’d never come to the end of them. Three dozen. She’d never received anything like this in her life. The card was from Carter, of course, and said only “See you Saturday.” She was so excited she didn’t know what to say or do. She looked up at Neil, her eyes alight, hoping he would share in her joy, but, of course, that was impossible. Never mind. She was going to enjoy every minute of these flowers!

“Oh, my gosh! I don’t have anything to put them in!” she said. She glanced at her watch. “Neil, is it alright if I run over to the Dollar Days Store and get some kind of vase big enough for them?”

Neil snorted. “Dollar Days! I can’t imagine you considering a cheap vase from Dollar Days as a proper container for that lot!”

Mariah could hear the snub in his words, but she ignored it. “I’ll find something that’s just fine.” She glanced at her watch. “I’ll be back in about twenty minutes. Thanks, Neil.” And she was out the door before he could say another word.

As soon as the door closed, he went over and picked up the card. He snorted again. “Another date already! Boy, he’s a fast worker. Living up to his reputation, I guess.”

He turned and went back into the work bays, picking up tools to start on a Chevy van. But today, his normal quiet work pattern went out the window. He slammed things down, slammed van doors, kicked wedges out of his way, and just generally stirred up a lot of noise and even dust. Bill said nothing, but, by adding two and two over the past month, he was beginning to figure how the wind was blowing. His next private thought was that maybe they should have guessed something like this would happen if they hired a woman. But, darn it all, Jake was such a good kid and really knew her stuff. He breathed out a sigh and went on working. Maybe things would work themselves out in the long run.

Saturday turned out to be perfect tennis weather, and Mariah donned her brand new tennis outfit with some excitement. She normally just played in comfortable shorts and tops of any kind, but with her entrance into this “country-club” world of Carter’s, she felt she owed it to herself to invest in a tennis outfit that would be fitting for the environment.

Carter introduced her to two other couples and several individual friends. She also met his brother, Robert and his wife. There were a few very casual getting-acquainted questions, but there was no time for involved conversation. While watching the match, though, Robert’s wife, who sat beside her, started asking questions about her work. “Carter tells us that you are an auto mechanic. Is that really true?”

Mariah looked at her briefly, but then returned her attention to the match. “Actually, I’m a teacher and a newspaper reporter.”

“Oh! Well, why on earth – ”

“But I get my kicks from working on cars.”

Her listener seemed genuinely interested now. “Really! Well … I’m glad to hear that! I told Carter that I didn’t think any respectable woman would make her living as an auto mechanic, and, I admit, I was a little worried about what he was getting into – getting hooked up with someone who did. But now … this changes everything! I must say, you are brave, though. Most of us rebel against our parents’ upbringing in more demoralizing ways. But you’ve chosen to actually work – and dirty work at that – as a way of rebelling and having a stab at being independent.”

Mariah almost snorted, and when she caught herself – just in time – she thought of Neil. That’s the reaction he would be having to this conversation. Something tender inside seemed to come flooding through her at the thought. A little flutter in her heart was all it took for her to realize that even though she was here with a man who made it clear he thought she was every inch a woman, the place she really wanted to be was with Neil.

She shook herself. Stop that, Mariah, she scolded herself. The man thinks you’re a workhorse, and that’s that. Just be thankful he gave you a job and that the work environment is cordial, and let it go at that. There’s plenty of other men who can make your life enjoyable as a woman.

At that moment, Carter made the winning score for his match, and he immediately looked over and caught Mariah’s eye. He blew her a kiss – for all the world to see. She blushed, but she smiled widely. Now there, she thought, is the way a man should treat a lady!

That afternoon, as they played tennis together, Mariah felt free and happy. She enjoyed the game itself, and Carter seemed to take delight in her skill. They separated to shower and change and then met again for dinner in the club dining room. Carter was attentive, and, to Mariah’s relief, he drank very little.

As they walked to the parking lot, he took her hand, and when they stopped beside her car, he leaned down and kissed her very gently. It took her somewhat by surprise, but the experience was so pleasant that she felt almost giddy. He smiled and then looked at her seriously.

“Tomorrow afternoon, I am coming by to pick you up, and we are going for a drive in the Ruby.” He held up a finger to ward off any resistance. “No ‘buts.’ I’d like to take you for a drive and show you our family’s farm.”

“Farm! I thought you owned department stores!”

He laughed. “We do indeed. But Grandfather was born on a farm, and it’s been in the family for generations. We still own it, and periodically we go out for big family reunions – catered, of course.”

“Of course,” Mariah said, grinning.

“Anyway, we are going for that drive, and if you’ll smile at me with that intoxicating smile of yours, I’ll even let you drive the Ruby.”

Mariah grinned at him, “You’ve got a deal.”

“Good. Now, good night, Sweet Mariah. I’ll be by … oh … how does 10:00 sound?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Carter, I thought you meant tomorrow afternoon. I go to church in the morning.” Her eyes lit up. “Why don’t you come with me, and then we can leave for the farm.”

He shook his head. “No, no. I don’t do church, Mariah. And, frankly, if I did walk into your church, the roof would undoubtedly come crashing down around us. No … I’ll wait until afternoon. How’s 2:00?

Mariah was disappointed. “You know the roof will not come down if you go to church, Carter. Surely you’ve been to church services before.”

“Only to weddings and funerals – and sometimes I’ve been hard pressed to figure out the difference. But no … no Sunday morning religion for me, my girl. If you enjoy it, you go ahead and go, but please don’t try to push me to do the same.”

Mariah knew she’d be talking to a stone wall if she continued to try changing his mind, so she accepted his words at face value. “Okay, Carter. I won’t be pushy. And I can be ready by 2:00.”

He touched her cheek again – she was getting used to this. “That’s my girl,” he said, with his customary grin.

Sunday afternoon was exhilarating. They’d put the top down on the Porsche, and true to his word, Carter had told her to take the driver’s seat. The car was a delight to drive, and Mariah, true to her mechanic’s nature, exalted in all of its expensive finer points. The Sanford farm was huge and even more picturesque than she’d imagined, and when Carter insisted they pull up by a stream and have a picnic, she was thrilled to find he had brought an inordinate amount of food in two baskets that had been hidden in the trunk.

As they rested after eating, Carter sat close beside her, putting his arm around her. Eventually, he had leaned down and kissed her – gently at first – but then more insistently. Mariah thrilled to the kiss, and even as it intensified, she realized that this was something she had wanted all her life, but had almost given up on finding. Gradually, though, Carters embraces became more personal than she was comfortable with, and she had to resist.

“Carter, you need to understand. I’m not into loose relationships. I know it’s quite acceptable among most people for sex to be rather casual, but I’m not one of those people.”

Carter sighed, resigned. He had spent enough time with her by now that he at least recognized her strength of character. He knew he wasn’t going to convince her to change her attitude about casual sex anytime soon. But, their relationship was young yet. He’d have to be patient.

At work on Monday, Bill casually asked Mariah what she’d done with her weekend. He hadn’t thought about the fact that she might have spent the whole weekend with Carter. But when she answered him – and sounded as though she’d had a terrific time – he was sorry he’d asked. And he was especially sorry when he realized Neil had walked into the work bay area in time to hear Mariah’s answer. One glance at his boss’ tightened lips and stormy brow told Bill that they were in for some complications if they didn’t all tread very softly.

Unfortunately, that treading got a lot more difficult around 1:00 that afternoon, when the florist delivered another three dozen roses – red this time. The card, when Neil finally got a chance to read it secretly, said “Thank you for making yesterday unforgettable.”

Neil’s heart almost stopped at those words. What on earth had she done yesterday to make it unforgettable? Surely not …that! He couldn’t even stand to go there in his mind. No. She was too serious a Christian to do that. But the very imagination of it rankled. His stomach was in knots, his breathing short, his head a little dizzy. It was all he could do not to tear up that card. He shoved the desk chair against the desk so hard it jarred the computer and caused a box of paper clips to fall off and scatter on the floor. He had to get out of there.

“Bill!” he yelled as he walked to the door of the work area. “I’m going out and check on some parts. I’ll be back in about an hour!”

“Sure thing. We’ll hold down the fort,” Bill answered, wondering at Neil’s leaving to check on parts when he could have picked up the phone. But he wasn’t asking any questions.

Neil drove – going nowhere in particular – just driving – running – from his own thoughts and fears. He was losing her. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he spoke out loud to himself. “You never had her. How could you lose her? But to have to let her go to some punk like Sanford. He’s nothing but a playboy, and he’s just having a fling with Mariah. He isn’t serious about some woman who loves the Lord and lives for Him! Carter only wants a woman who will live for Carter!” His thoughts tore at him. They were so loud in his head that he kept answering them out loud. “Surely, someone as committed as Mariah wouldn’t sell out to that kind of lifestyle!  But … what if ….?”

Finally, he stopped at a local cafe for a cup of coffee. He sat at the table periodically rubbing his face with his hands and running his fingers through his hair. The waitress, who didn’t know him, told her boss, “If I don’t miss my guess, that guy’s got love troubles.”

“Well, you just mind your own business, Loraine, and keep the hot coffee going. That’s our job. Working out the love trouble is God’s job.”

Finally, after another half hour, Neil decided he had to get back to the shop. When he walked in, all was quiet; Mariah was out on a test drive, and Bill was under a dodge truck, whistling softly to himself as he worked. Everything seemed almost back to normal as he walked through the bays and into the office. But the first thing he saw when he walked through the office door was that huge bouquet. He glanced at the clock. Five minutes to close. He could make it that long, and then she’d take those confounded things out of here!

Later, after everyone had left except Neil, he sat at the desk thinking. Maybe he should have a long talk with Mariah – try to explain to her that Carter was just using her. But every time he tried to think of the right words to use, he kept getting tongue-tied – even though the conversation was taking place in his mind. If he was this bad in a mental conversation, he’d better not try the real thing!


I’ll try to stay on task and get you Chapter Seven tomorrow.


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