© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner
Fortunately, Adam didn’t have long to wait. Neil walked into the office about ten minutes later, carrying a bag of food that stirred Adam’s appetite even more. But more attention-grabbing than the food was the uniform Neil was wearing. Up until the last time Adam had visited the shop, Neil and his men had been wearing the same standard blue coveralls with the company name on the left pocket. Neil had found them at a bargain from a local supplier the week he opened the shop, and he’d never wanted to spend money to replace them.
Mariah – he’d noticed after she stood up – was wearing a hunter green, almost form-fitting uniform with tan stitching around the collar and sleeves. The company name and her name were stitched into the fabric in the same tan color. Adam hadn’t given it much thought at the time, but when Neil came through the door wearing a matching uniform, Adam did take notice. Neil had forked over a good penny or two to outfit the whole staff in new uniforms evidently, and Adam was beginning to suspect that Mariah’s presence accounted for that decision.
“Mariah, they didn’t have your barbecued chicken today – oh – Dad – good to see you –” came from Neil before he slapped his hand to his head and looked stressed. “Oh, no … did we have an appointment for lunch?”
Adam held up his hand to stem his son’s repentance. “No, no. I just stopped by on the chance you’d have time to do lunch with me. No problem. We’ll do it another day. I’ve enjoyed my visit anyway because I got to meet your newest mechanic. Mariah’s been entertaining me just fine.”
At the mention of her name, Neil returned to his unfinished comment to her. “Oh, yeah, they didn’t have your barbecued chicken, so I got you the roast beef.”
“Great,” she said opening the sack and sniffing appreciatively. “I’ll just go sit on the bench out back and see if I can settle these hunger pains while you two visit.’
She smiled at Adam. “I’m really glad I had the opportunity to meet you, Mr. Warner.”
“Same here, Mariah. And, please, call me Adam.”
“Great. Hope to see you again soon,” she said and then turned to Neil. “Just yell if you need me.”
“We’ll be fine. Take your time eating. You’ve earned it watching the shop so I could get away.”
As Mariah walked out the door, Adam looked again at his son. Was he blushing? Neil? Blushing? Maybe his face just had more color because he’d been walking in the sun, but he’d swear Neil Warner was blushing. Man, he wished Elizabeth were here, because she’d know for sure.
“New uniforms, I see,” he said now.
Neil looked down at his own uniform and grinned. “Yeah. I know Mom has mentioned a few times that she thought it was time to spruce up our outfits, but I just held off spending the money. But when Mariah came on, we didn’t have anything at all that really fit her. She picked up a couple of cheap overalls to get through the first couple weeks, but I knew we’d have to have something for her that matched the rest. And when I got to looking at how worn they were, I decided it was a good time to order for all of us.
“Mariah suggested that since you see the blue so many places now days, maybe a more distinctive color would help us stand out in people’s minds. She asked me what my favorite color was, and when she found out it was green, she went to work checking to see if we could get uniforms that color. She found me a good deal on price too, so I took the plunge,” he finished, with a boyish grin at his dad.
Adam nodded. “I like them. And I like the idea of a more distinctive color.” He paused, and Neil, who had stood there looking slightly ill at ease, moved to the other side of the counter and started sorting some papers. Adam guessed right that the action was more to calm him than anything else. Yep … there was something up with his number two son, but he’d have to tread lightly to find out the details.
“Mariah was entertaining me with the story of how she came to work here,” he said now, his tone light and bantering.
Neil laughed. “Yeah, that’s quite a story alright.” He scratched his head and then leaned on the counter, looking his dad in the eye for the first time that day. “You know, Dad, there was just something in here,” he said, touching his chest to indicate his heart, “something deep inside that just seemed to say this was right. She walked in right when I was getting desperate for help, and I learned later that she was pretty desperate herself where a job was concerned. That’s a long story, but as I’ve pieced it together, I’ve realized that Mariah is one of those rare women who seems to have been born to work under the hood of a car, but has always been pushed to try to do some more ‘lady-like’ work instead. It was getting to her.”
He motioned his hand toward the work-bay area. “Why she’s as happy as a lark here,” he said, his own voice registering awe at the truth of what he was saying. “She even sings almost all the time she’s working. And the other guys think she’s great. They treat her like she’s a brother, but –” he held up a finger to make a point – “they feel as protective of her as if she were their own sister.”
Neil’s voice grew more excited as he talked, and his eyes took on a sparkle. Elizabeth had told Adam that men weren’t the most perceptive individuals on the planet, but today even he could perceive that his son was smitten with his new mechanic – and not just because she could wield a wrench with the best of them. He smiled. Maybe Elizabeth’s worries about Neil’s lack of a personal life were just about over.
By the end of the month it was clear to see that the business was growing even more, and Neil was starting to feel more pressure where the bookwork was concerned. Mariah walked in one evening to say good night and found him running his hands through his hair and sighing out loud. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
Neil looked up at her and just rested his eyes on her for a moment. Then he smiled. “Nothing really. Just a lot more bookwork than I bargained for in the beginning. And I hate the stuff – the bookwork, I mean.”
She chuckled. “I understand. So do I. But … I don’t mind trying to help with it if that would take some of the pressure off you.”
He smiled at her again. “I appreciate it, Jake, but I just can’t afford to pay you to do office work on top of the repair work. And I do need you in those bays out there.”
“Oh, Neil! Don’t be ridiculous. You took a chance on me when I really needed – and wanted – a job here. I’d be glad to help you sort some of this stuff out and help keep it caught up – at least for a while. If the business grows more the rest of this year, you’ll eventually have to hire someone else to do the bookwork anyway most likely.”
He shook his head. “I can’t let you do that.”
“Oh, don’t be silly. I’ll go lock up the bay area and be right back. You can at least acquaint me with what you need done, and we’ll work out a plan that I can help with.”
She suited actions to her words and was back beside him in two minutes. “Well, if you insist, then I’ll order us a pizza, and we can at least eat while we work.”
“That sounds good to me.”
Neil called in the order, and they set to work, stopping only long enough to receive delivery of the pizza and grab a couple pieces from the box.
For the next four weeks, the pattern was set. Every Friday evening, they ordered pizza and worked on the accounting – usually not quitting until close to 10:00. But the intensity of the work changed gradually over that period of time, until almost half the time was spent in personal conversation, getting to know each other more intimately. The intensity of the work grew less, while the intensity of their relationship grew stronger.
Mariah found herself hesitant to leave on those evenings – even though she had put in more than twelve hours of work. And she was pretty sure Neil felt the same way. She had hoped he might invite her to go out with him some evening, where they wouldn’t feel constrained to talk shop. But, so far, he didn’t show any signs of doing so. And even though, she was far from a social butterfly, Mariah was beginning to feel the down side of living in a new town with only Abby and Seth to socialize with. She was getting to know a few people at church pretty well, but the ones she felt closest to were married couples as well, and she needed some single friends to go out with occasionally.
After another month, Mariah began to realize that Neil was enjoying their Friday night “work dates” a lot. She referred to them in her own mind as “work dates” because by this time, the bookwork was running so smoothly that they didn’t need to stay every Friday and work together. In fact, they spent most of the time now just talking, sharing, enjoying being together – the things people did on real dates. She had to wonder: couldn’t Neil see what was happening? Didn’t he want something more than just hanging around the shop together?
She talked to Abby and Seth about it. Seth’s reply was sympathetic, but practical. “Well, that’s his comfort zone, Jake.” After Mariah had told them about the nickname the guys at the shop had given her, Seth had insisted on calling her by that name as well.
“Yes, I understand that, Seth, but all guys feel more comfortable in their own home or their own work place, but that doesn’t keep them from ever asking a girl on a date.”
Seth held up his hand. “Now, hold on and let me finish. From what you’ve told me, Neil sounds like a quiet, almost retiring sort of individual, and may, in fact, be pretty shy. Maybe spending this much time with any woman and letting his guard down the way he has with you is completely new for him. And if so, he’s just not ready to take the next step yet.”
Mariah heaved a sigh. “Boy, that’s some huge case of shyness, if you ask me.”
“Well … would you like my opinion now?” Abby asked.
“Sure,” Mariah said, turning to her best friend.
“I think the man sees you as a fellow mechanic – you know – one of the guys – that he can let his hair down with and not feel threatened the way he would with a real woman —”
“What do you mean a real woman!” Marial interrupted.
“Well, let’s face it, Mariah. The man calls you Jake for heaven’s sake. Do you think he sees you more as a desirable woman or as a workmate?
“No, no. Hear me out. If he is shy and a little backward about asking a woman on a date, his feeling like you’re more one of the guys – one of his ordinary friends – serves as a buffer for him right now. I think he really does care about you. He certainly has all the symptoms. You said when he goes to lunch he almost always brings you something special even if you’ve already eaten – a candy bar you especially like or a some ice cream, etc. And you said when he has to make trips out of town for something, he does the same thing and almost always comes back with some kind of treat for you. Now, he doesn’t do that for all the other mechanics, right?”
“So … that means he feels something for you that he doesn’t feel for the other ‘guys,’” Abby said as she made quote signs in the air around ‘guys.’
“Well, again … thanks!”
Abby giggled. “Don’t get smart here. I’m trying to help.”
“Well, you’re not!”
“What I’m trying to say is that he’s sort of caught in a trap. He really likes you and wants to be with you, but he has been able to relate to you only in the situation at work. He hasn’t been able to step out of that workplace and see you as he would see any other woman – say, maybe one he met at a party somewhere.”
“Yeah, I guess you have a point.”
“So … I think you may just have to come up with a way to get him to see you from a totally different perspective.”
“Well great … and just how, best friend, do you suggest I do that?”
Abby chewed gently on her forefinger as she thought. Finally she shook her head slowly. “I don’t know yet, but there has to be a way.”
Seth got up. “Well, I can tell this is going to deteriorate into a ‘how to trap a man’ discussion, so I think it’s time for me to leave.” Abby threw a pillow from the sofa at him, and Mariah stuck out her tongue, but he ignored both and removed himself to his study.
By the time Mariah left for her own apartment an hour later, the girls hadn’t laid out a workable plan, but other events were taking place outside their personal sphere that were about to have an effect on Mariah’s situation. Unknown to her, as she slept peacefully in her own comfy bed, an exceedingly wealthy young man by the name of Carter Sandford was having serious trouble with his Porsche. He got as far as Neil’s Auto Service, and just before it died completely, he parked his ruby red beauty right outside Mariah’s work bay.
Tomorrow: Chapter Five