Most Wednesday nights were for Riley and me, even when I was engaged to Frank. Adele and Andrea attended our parties on occasion, but most Wednesdays it was just the two of us After I picked her up at school, we spent the night together, just us two sisters. It was nice, and we always made it a party, whether it was a movie, or a board game, or just girl talk. And lately, the girl talk usually revolved around the guys we passed at the construction site on the way home.
On this faithful Wednesday afternoon, it started to rain just as we neared the site. If there is one thing you can say about South Florida, it knows how to rain here. I don’t think there is any place in the entire world that can equal a South Florida afternoon thunderstorm during the rainy season. Within a block, a drizzle turned into a full blown downpour.
Just as we reached the site, I got a flat tire. I thought about riding the flat to the house, but I knew that would cost me a new tire. Not in the budget. I had no choice, I had to stop and change it. Not a big deal under normal circumstances. As each of us girls got our driver’s license, Daddy made sure we knew how to change a tire, jump a dead battery and check the oil, water, and transmission fluid. But, these were not ordinary circumstances.
First, it was pouring down rain. Then, there was the matter of where we stopped. Right in front of Ocean Breeze Development’s latest project and our usual audience of construction workers was out and waiting for us, even in the rain.
Some the construction workers came over and offered to change the tire for us. They would do it cheap. The only payment they required would be a kiss from both Riley and me. I wasn’t sure if they were serious about the kiss part. I was pretty sure they wouldn’t molest us or anything, but I wasn’t about to open my window and find out. It seemed within seconds there were twenty guys around the car offering to help. I was beginning to feel frightened, but Riley was enjoying the attention.
Then another man showed up and chased the others away.
“If you want to work in the rain I can find plenty for you to do.”
He must have been in charge because the others all scattered in a hurry. He was standing on the passenger’s side of the car, and he knocked on Riley’s window.
“Give me the trunk key and I’ll change the tire for you.”
Before I had a chance to say anything, Riley pulled the keys from the ignition and handed them to the man through the open door. When he moved to the back of the car, I screamed at Riley.
“What’s the matter with you? That man is a complete stranger.”
Her answer was simple and to the point.
“Do you want to change that tire in this weather, I sure don’t!”
In spite of the downpour, he made quick work of the tire. He slammed the trunk and came back over to Riley’s side of the car.
“The spare doesn’t have enough air. Wait here a minute.”
We didn’t have any choice. He walked away with the keys still in his hand. A minute later, a pick-up truck pulled up next to us. It was fairly new, and it had one of those removable panels on the door: Ocean Breeze Development. I watched him through my side view mirror as he started some kind of engine in the bed of the truck, pulled a hose out and filled up all four tires.
By this time the rain had stopped, but with the engine shut off and no AC, it was hot and humid inside the car. Riley opened her door to get us some relief. It didn’t help much. I needed to start the car and get the AC working. When our hero had checked all four tires, he tapped on my window and held up the keys. Since the car had power windows and the keys were outside, I had to open my door to get them. I looked up at the man holding them and realized in spite of the fact he looked like a wet puppy, he was quite good looking and had a great smile.
“That should do it, ladies,” he said as he handed me the keys, “but I’d get that tire fixed as soon as possible. The spare isn’t in good shape.”
I thanked the man, closed the door and started the car. He went back to the pickup and began to drive away.
But, the car wouldn’t start. It turned over, but wouldn’t catch. I did everything Daddy had taught me. Even held the accelerator full open in case it was flooded, but nothing worked. I looked up and saw our tire changer had parked about ten feet in front of us and was walking back toward us.
He stopped in front of the car and motioned for me to pop the hood. What choice did I have? Before I pulled the hood handle, I noticed he had toweled off, but he hadn’t combed his hair. That scruffy look made him even better looking than I first thought.
He leaned under the hood, from the side of the car and the combination of being soaked and stretched out, gave me a pretty nice view of a pretty nice body. But, I was not yet ready to end my hiatus from dating, and I stifled any thought in that direction.
After about five minutes, his right arm came out from under the hood and he made a circling motion with his finger. I hit the ignition and the old girl came to life. Our hero had saved us a second time. He walked over to Riley’s door, which was still open and leaned in.
“This old gal’s a real beauty, ladies, and she’s in great shape. But she needs a tune up real bad.”
“Next time I have five hundred dollars to spare, she’ll get one,” I answered.
He frowned and shook his head.
“That’s ridicules, ma’am, I can do it for less than a hundred. Bring it over to the shop on Saturday and I’ll take care of it for you.”
“Thanks, but I haven’t the time right now. Maybe another time.”
“OK ma’am, but I would get that tire fixed. The spare has plenty of tread left, but the rubber is dry and it will blow out on you at high speed.”
I hadn’t noticed what Riley was doing during our conversation. But just before he closed her door, she handed him a slip of paper. He read it as he walked back to his truck. I couldn’t believe what she had done.
“Are you crazy?” I screamed, “Tell me you didn’t give him your phone number. He’s a complete stranger and much too old for you.”
“It’s not me he was looking at, Sis!”
“What was on that paper?”
“Don’t worry about it, he’s not the masher type,” she answered. And that was the end of the conversation.
I was the oldest and Riley was the youngest, so we called our Wednesday night party the Book Ends. We both thought it was hilarious. That evening it started with a recap of the day’s events. I admonished her for being so friendly with a stranger and she insisted she could tell this was a good guy, and, also, he was really interested in me.
“Forget that jerk Frank and give this guy a try.”
I knew she was probably right, but I wasn’t ready to get back into the game and nice guy or not, the timing was all wrong. We talked about it for a while and then watched a Zombie movie. Needless to say, we shared the same bed that night, huddled as far under the covers as we could get. The next morning, in the daylight, we laughed about how stupid it was, but it didn’t seem stupid in the dark of night. I forgot all about our encounter with Mr. Good Looking, Hard Body, and Great Smile. I had other things to think about.
I loved Saturdays. I never got out of bed before ten and I usually didn’t get dressed until after noon. This Saturday was not going to be an exception. Riley was an early riser like Mommy, even on weekends and she knew to keep quiet until at least ten AM. I came downstairs around ten fifteen for my first cup of coffee. Riley was nowhere to be found, and the coffee pot was almost empty. I looked out back for her and then out front.
There she was, with her head under the hood of the Cutlass, next to a man in shorts and a very tightly stretched tee shirt. I usually sleep in a pair of panties and an oversized man style shirt.
What can I say, it’s comfortable.
I couldn’t go outside like that, so I ran back upstairs, showered and put on a pair of jeans and a short sleeve pullover. When I finally got out to the front of the house, I could see a strobe light flashing under the hood and a stack of old parts laying in the driveway in front of the car.
“How’s she sound?” I heard him say as I walked out the front door.
“Purring like a contented kitten!” Riley answered just before she noticed me.
“Do you hear that?”
“Hear what?” I asked, “I don’t hear anything.”
“Doesn’t it sound great?”
She was referring to the car, of course, and it was purring like a contented kitten. It was so quiet and so still I thought it was shut down, but when I moved closer, I realized it was running.
Our flat tire changer pulled his head from under the hood and walked over to me.
“I was just about to take it for a test drive, but since you’re here, it would be better if you did it.
What could I do? I walked over to the driver’s side and slid in behind the wheel. He slid in the other side. I hesitated for a moment and then decided what the heck. I backed out of the driveway and started down the street. I couldn’t remember when the Cutlass ran this smooth.
“By the way, the name is Antonio Marchetti, but my friends call me Tony.”
I had to smile.
“I think I’ll just call you Mr. Magic.”
That brought out one of his wonderful smiles.
“Have you gotten the tire fixed?”
“I haven’t had the time.”
He directed me to a shop in Pompano Beach. When we pulled up, he got out of the car and talked to an older man who he seemed to be very friendly with. He waved me out of the car and introduced me to Mr. Tyler.
“It will take a while to repair the tire. We could wait across the street at Denny’s.”
We found an empty booth and Tony convinced me to have breakfast. We had a very pleasant conversation, mostly about the Cutlass and his love for old classic cars.
“How does a construction worker know so much about cars?”
“I’m not a construction worker anymore. I started out as a carpenter and I’m the Superintendent on this development, but it’s only temporary.”
“What does that mean?”
“I’m like the crew leader. I don’t get to do much anymore, but schedule the workers and deliveries, but I still love to work with my hands. I’m just subbing for the regular Super while he’s on his honeymoon. My love for classic cars stems from my teenage years. I always had a passion for beautiful engineering.”
“How much do I owe you for the tune-up?”
He reached into his pocket, pulled out a receipt and handed it across the table. I held my breath as I looked at the figure. I was shocked when I saw it was a list of parts, and the total came to sixty-eight dollars.
“That’s impossible,” I argued.
“Possible,” he said.
“I know the parts alone have to cost more than this and what about the labor?”
“I got the parts here at the shop, and Tyler only charges me dealer cost. I didn’t pay Tyler when I picked up the parts this morning and if you prefer, you could pay him directly. As for the labor, if you want to pay me, I’ll only accept payment in kind.”
“What exactly does that mean?”
“If you want, ma’am, you could cook me dinner some night.”
I wasn’t sure that was such a good idea, but inside, the thought made me feel warm all over.
We finished breakfast and I suggested we head back. As we crossed the street, I noticed my car was up on a lift and the two rear tires were missing.
When I questioned this, Tony said, “When I was filling the tires the other day, I noticed one of the wheel weights was missing so I asked Tyler to balance the wheels and fill them with nitrogen. Nitrogen doesn’t leak out as fast as regular air, and you won’t have to check the pressure as often.”
I couldn’t get angry because I knew he meant well, but I wasn’t in a position to spend any money on the car at the moment. I tried to figure how much I had left on my credit cards and how I was going to pay for all of this.
When we reached the shop, Tony sent me into the office to speak to Mr. Tyler and he went into the shop.
I was hoping I could cover this expense and not be embarrassed when my credit card was denied.
Mr. Tyler was a very pleasant and respectful man. We talked about the Cutlass for a while, and I told him how I had gotten it. He smiled a sweet smile.
“Your father sounds like a very smart man.”
Then he told me, “In addition to balancing the tires and filling them with nitrogen, I gave the Cutlass an oil change and lube.”
“How much do I owe you, including the parts for the tune-up?”
“No charge, ma’am.”
When I tried to argue, he moved over to the side of the office and opened a door. He reached inside and switched on a light. He beckoned me over and when I looked into the other room, I was impressed. Inside what seemed to be a storage shed was about a dozen cars in various stages of renovation. There was a 63 T-Bird with a T-Roof, a 69 Mustang, Muscle Car, an early model Corvette among others and in the far corner was a beaten up Viper.
“The shop was Tony’s idea and when one of the restored cars is sold, the profit goes right back into the shop. Tony and I are partners. I get a pretty good salary for running the shop, but neither of us takes any profit.
“The main purpose of the shop is to bring these cars back to life. The repair and collision work we do is a sideline. We try to work only on older cars like yours. It’s a pleasure to work on these beauties and anyone who owns and cares for the Cutlass like you do is entitled to as much free service as needed. Here’s a list of services the Cutlass could use. Bring the car in when you have time and we’ll get them taken care of, no charge.”
I wonder what other secrets Antonio Marchetti has.
On the drive back to the house, I thanked Tony and told him Mr. Tyler was a very nice man. Tony replied he was a sweetheart and then told me basically the same story Mr. Tyler had.
“I used to bring my car here for service. Tyler confided in me he was ready to retire. He didn’t enjoy working on the newer cars as much as he did the older models. I noticed there was always an older car there in various stages of restoration and I suggested Tyler devote the shop to restorations. I invested a few dollars and that’s what the shop does now. The sale of the cars pays all the bills. They still do service and collision work on older models, but their primary focus is restorations.”
By the time we reached the house, I had made a decision. Tony picked up his tools and the old parts from the driveway and as I walked him to his pickup, I said, “I don’t know how to thank you, for Wednesday and today. Mr. Tyler is not the only nice man I met this week. You are a very nice man Mr. Marchetti.”
He put the stuff he was carrying into the back of the truck.
“I appreciate the compliment ma’am, but it would sound better if it ended with Tony instead of Mr. Marchetti.”
I smiled and gave him a nod to indicate my agreement.
“What about what I owe you for the labor?”
That brought out a big smile.
“At your convenience ma’am.”
I took in a big breath, tried to hide my fear.
“Are you available this evening? It’s only pot roast.”
“I love pot roast,” he replied, “But I’ll have to clean up first. What time do you want me?”
“Why don’t you come back as soon as you’re ready?”
That brought on another smile.
“OK, I’ll bring the wine and dessert!”
With that, he got into the pickup and drove away.
What is wrong with you Alex, you don’t know this man!
Back in the house, I found Riley peeking out the front window.
“Dreamy, isn’t he?”
I had to smile and nod. He was that! I told Riley I had invited him to dinner tonight.
She immediately said she would spend the evening at her friend’s house, overnight if I preferred. I screamed at her.
“You’ll do no such thing. You got me into this, and you’re going to chaperon us tonight. Don’t you dare make any other plans!”
Riley pouted and after a while, she gave in. At least, I wouldn’t be alone with Mr. Great Smile. While Riley set about straightening up the house, I started preparing dinner. Close to five o’clock, the doorbell rang. I was surprised. Every time I had seen this man, he was wearing shorts and a tee shirt. Now, here he was dressed in casual slacks, a dress shirt with the top button undone and a sport coat. His hair was combed and he looked great!
I invited him in, suddenly, even more, unsure of what I was doing than earlier. He handed me a paper bag and suggested I put it in the refrigerator, but, no peeking, but first he took two bottles of wine from the bag. I did as suggested and offered him a glass of the wine he had just handed me.
“I thought a nice white burgundy would go nicely with pot roast,” he said.
I poured us two glasses and we went out to the back porch to enjoy the cool evening breeze. The conversation was polite and centered mainly on the Cutlass. But, he managed to get a lot of personal information out of me, almost without my realizing what I was telling him. I didn’t get to find out too much about him, except he was with Ocean Breeze Development, and he wasn’t a carpenter any longer. I also managed to discover he was single and unattached at the moment: news that made me uneasy.
It was much too soon since my breakup with Frank for me to consider getting involved in a relationship and I vowed to be careful. I would definitely have to watch myself around this man, and avoid any consideration of additional contact. Tonight was just a ‘Thank You’ for the Cutlass and that would be it.
Dinner was very pleasant and on a number of occasions I had to remind myself of my promise not to allow this to go any further. He was extremely good looking, and he had a cute boyish way about him. He was an excellent conversationalist and loved to laugh. And he had a way of making Riley and me laugh along with him. He was right about the wine too. It was a perfect complement to the pot roast. All in all, it was a fun evening.
After dinner, while I was serving coffee, He asked Riley to retrieve the paper bag from the refrigerator.
When I returned to the dining room with the coffee, there was a plate of Italian pastries on the table.
“Dessert!” he said.
I’m lucky. I never had to worry too much about my weight. I don’t have to diet, and although I never went crazy with food, I do enjoy eating, especially sweets. And these were to die for! There were a variety of pastries, and I sampled most of them. My favorite, and as it turned out his also, was the cannoli. I had never tried one before, and for those of you who are as uneducated as to the sinfulness of Italian pastry, as I was, it is simply a tube of pastry dough filled with the most delicious cream I had ever tasted. Between the three of us, the plate was emptied in short order, with Riley and me devouring most of it.
“I see dessert was a hit,” he said, “I’ll have to remember that!”
I knew he would, and I knew his intentions went beyond dinner tonight. But, I had made a decision and I was going to stick to it.
Why couldn’t you have shown up in my life a couple of months from now?
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