“Thanks Dan,” Jay said.
Taking the five crisp, new bills, he deposited the money in the cash register, and turned to shake the older man’s outstretched hand.
“Are you sure about this Kid,” Dan asked as he held onto their grasp for an extra second. “I know that’s the last one you wanted to sell.”
Jay’s bronze skin reddened as he dropped Dan’s beefy hand. Sweat beaded across the cherubic features of the 300 pound man as his blue grey eyes took on an indigo sheen.
”I’m sure, Dan. Some things are more important than cars.”
Jay’s stony expression melted as a crooked grin lit his face. Dan’s Salt and pepper hair seemed to bristle when he hefted his bulk away from the counter. Jay reached out with the receipt. Dan took it from where it hung between them, peering deeper into Jay’s strained expression. ““I won’t be getting to her for another few months, so if you change your mind let me know.”
Jay fought the urge to rush Dan from the shop with a forced smile. Slapping Dan’s hulking shoulder instead, he steered him toward the exit. Jay choked back the lump in his throat, as they walked into the windy parking lot. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Dan turned and shook his hand once more repeating that he would be back tomorrow afternoon to pick up the car. Before Dan settled his bulk into his 65 corvette, Jay watched a cascade of guilt ridden expressions spill over the older man’s doughy features. They both knew that even in this condition that car was worth much more than Jay accepted for it. He wondered if some hint of the haunting regret tearing him up could be seen from behind his professional smiles. It was all he could manage to conceal the wound he suspected was driving Dan to the retreat of the corvette.
Turning back to the dark glass door of Galvez Auto body, Jay shoved back into the office. He flipped the lock and turned the sign to closed, before flattening the shades blank against the night beyond. Sighing, he pulled his wristwatch out of his pants pocket to see the numbers staring back. 6:20 the red digits flashed at him. That should be plenty of time for Alex to have either made it to the airport or be lost somewhere and in need of directions. He walked back to the desk and chair against the rear wall, sprawling into the greasy vinyl. Moving the stacks of paperwork from where he had piled them during his hectic day, Jay searched for his cell.
Digging out his phone, he glanced back at the dark, empty bay to make sure the metal doors were closed. He leaned back in the rickety chair while dialing Alex’s cell phone. When she called him this afternoon he never imagined that now, six hours later, he would be calling her to make sure she was catching a flight to waste her time and his money on her loser boyfriend.
“Charles Strathmore, that arrogant, good for nothing piece of…” Jay bit back his bitterness as Alex’s voice picked up the call.
“Hi, it’s Alex. Leave me a message and I’ll call you right back.”
While the digital voice explained the process, Jay settled his thoughts so he could speak without her sensing what this little trip of hers had just cost him. When the beep echoed in his ear, he attempted to soften the harsh edges of his words before he spoke to her.
“Hey Lex, it’s me. Are you OK? Are you lost? Call me back before your flight leaves. Please,” he added, the tang of desperation breaking into the recording.
Hanging up the phone, a twist of worry stabbed pain across his shoulders. He should have closed up and driven her, he knew she hated maneuvering the crowded freeway in Las Vegas.
But When she’d come in this afternoon needing five hundred dollars for a round trip ticket to New York, he’d been caught off guard.
Jay groaned with an exasperated sigh, slamming his fist down on the desk top. His frustration sent receipts and work orders flying into the air. He dug into his temples as his irritation settled around him in a paper cloud across the greasy floor.
“I should have told her no.” he mumbled as he bent in the chair to gather the pages. He didn’t have that kind of expendable capital, but what was he supposed to do. When she’d explained her trip, a spark of light flashed in her sea green eyes. A light he hadn’t seen since Charles followed his parents to New York three months earlier. Now, the jerk was probably lonely or hungry, or horny, and wanting her to come take care of him. Jay shook his head to break that thought loose from his already boiling mind. He hated to think of the power this moron had over her. Charles had figured out long ago that Alex was a sucker for the attention and affection any man would be more than willing to give her.
“Too bad he has nothing else to give her,” Jay spat, the sentence clinging in a static hiss throughout the hollow office.
With a self-conscious glance around, Jay realized he was having an audible conversation with an empty room. He spun in the creaking chair to close off the open door between the office and the work bay. Chemical fumes and crisp air shredded his frayed nerves into smoldering tinder.
Pausing in the open doorway, he wiped his burning palms on his thighs.
She’ll be fine. She’ll be back.
Stepping down to walk through the darkened garage, Jay replaced tools and capped paint cans before returning to the office. With a flip of the lock, He rotated back to stare at the looming phone, silent and useless. He closed his eyes against the image only to see her face in his mind. Alex’s bright expression as he’d gotten on line to use the corporate credit card to buy her ticket. The ferocity of her hug after he’d put the paperwork she would need for the flight into her bag. Promising to pay him back, Alex hadn’t looked him in the eyes. He believed her, but he didn’t bother to ask when or how. She’d wanted a round trip fare with an open ended return, which was the only piece of information he cared about. She was planning somewhere in her mind to come back. Knowing what too much time with Charles could do to anyone’s patience, he was willing to iron out the details later. The sinking of the coral sun against the storming sky was turning that willingness into worry.
“Sooner, Lex.” He whispered into the dark office, “Make it sooner.”
Alex cast her gaze back to the flight board in the walkway. Her flight was listed now but instead of a departure time only the digital letters ‘delayed’ met her tired eyes. Most of the flights on the list were delayed. She scanned the digital scrawl once more just to reassure herself she had not been mistaken the last three times she checked. Reaching into her bag to replace her mother’s manuscript and the red pencil, she groped for her cell phone. Peeking at the clock on its screen, she winced at the time. Alex calculated it was after seven in Utah. A spark of guilt stung at her as she berated herself for not checking in with Jay when she arrived.
He was more terrified of her driving in Las Vegas than she was: the confusion of merging vehicles, the sheer number of drivers, and her tendencies to panic under pressure sent butterflies through her stomach. Jay was probably chewing through the corrugated door of the shop waiting for her to call.
She’d seen the struggle in his eyes when she’d skirted around the details of her plans to meet Charles in Manhattan, the jump of tendons beneath his jaw when she couldn’t look at him anymore, the unspoken questions she was sure were calling to her from his pursed lips while she drove away.
Alex gulped back regret, the sensation like thumb tacks down her throat. She squeezed her eyes shut against the memory. He had just nodded when she’d asked for his help, but she knew that look, the one that always ripped across his features when Charles was around. Alex knew Jay didn’t like her boyfriend and his tense silence only reinforced her tumbling concerns.
She had harbored a secret desire for him to lecture her about being thoughtless. She’d known it was a false hope. .He’d just set his jaw, stopped his work on a caved in mini-van, and listened. Jay hadn’t even asked for details, or told her how much of a mistake he thought this was. He’d simply gone to the office computer and bought her ticket. She’d finally gotten scared then, until he’d begged her to call him after she arrived.
Alex let her mind wander through the downpour beyond the airport terminal. She could do this, thanks to Jay and the steady presence he’d provided since she’d met him, seven years earlier.
She and Jay had been best friends since her sophomore year at Dixon High.
Dixon wouldn’t have been considered a large high school by most cities standards, but Alex had moved from a school where the entire student body was only 400 kids or so. The junior class at Dixon covered that number alone. Alex had spent her first day wandering from the wrong classroom to the wrong locker until her lunch break finally provided reprieve. She sat under a large Mulberry tree near the vast student parking lot, picking at her bagel and watching a car in the lot. It looked to be some kind of foreign job, mazarati, or Lamborghini but she couldn’t place its body shape. Her dad was a car guy and she had learned a few things about cars from listening to him, but its make and model remained a mystery to her probing gaze.
This car was silver with red racing stripes glittering in the fall sunshine. It wasn’t the car that had actually caught her attention, it was the two seniors making-out in the front seat which kept drawing her eyes to the car’s noticeable presence. He was wearing a football jersey and she a cheerleader’s uniform. Alex had taken it as an omen that only the cool kids had boyfriends. The endless, lonely day and maybe even year loomed in front of her punctuated by the sparkling car as insult.
A dark form emerged to block her view of the parking lot, arms crossed and feet braced into the sod. His black hair fell across his brown sugar skin as he looked down at her with his charcoal eyes.
“You like that car?” he asked watching her face for reaction.
Alex gulped down her bagel while she met his steely gaze. “It’s OK” she said with a shrug. “It looks like it’s trying too hard.”
He tossed back his dark tangle of curls to laugh, sinking cross legged on the ground in front of her.
“That’s because it’s a fiero,”he said with a caustic smirk. “You buy a body kit and some paint and wa la! Instant Lamborghini.”
Alex offered a questioning smile, confused by this stranger's sudden familiarity. “Yeah well… it isn’t fooling anyone.” Her eyes remained focused on her crumbling lunch. “There’s not enough twisted steel for sex appeal.”
She looked up from under her lashes to see him grinning from ear to ear while extending his dark hand.
“I’m jay, Jay Galvez. We have the same Spanish class.”
Alex had hesitated for a moment before grasping the edges of his fingers with a quick shake.
Jay knitted his brows together and picked a blade of grass from beside his leg. “Alexandra? Lexi, maybe?”
“Just Alex.” She insisted, “I was Lexi when I was little but I prefer Alex.”
“Okay, on one condition.
” Alex raised her eyes to his face noticing a strain flickering at the edge of his features. “What condition?”
“That no matter what else you find out about my name, it’s just Jay. Fair enough?”
He held his hand out to her once again. Wrinkling her brow for a moment, she clasped his large palm, shaking it. “Ok just Jay.” She said enunciating his name, “deal.”
A crooked smile broke across his lips before he looked back over his shoulder at the plastic impersonator in the lot behind them.
“You’ve got good taste in cars. So I’m trusting that I won’t be disappointed with this name thing.”
Alex jumped and dropped the memory as her phone vibrated in her palm. Her missed call message flashed from the screen. She went to the call information with a thrill singing through her veins. Charles’ cell phone number did not greet her as she opened the call log but Galvez auto body’s did.
Alex frowned at the screen. She could already hear Jay’s probable frustration with her unanswered calls. The lines of tension in her brow imbedded themselves permanently while she listened to the message. His deep molasses voice teasing and fretting, all at the same time.
Alex tapped the phone against her forehead. She owed him better than this. She could always count on him and now she had left him worrying needlessly for too long. Hanging up from his message, she started to call his cell when her fingers shook over the keypad. Now that she had some time to talk, Jay would want to know what her plans were, how she was going to pay him back, when she would see him again. Questions she didn’t have the answers for. What would she say to him? Her mind flashed back to that first promise she had made him, “Just Jay.” His voice rang as clearly as if he sat beside her. She would have to be careful about what she told him tonight.
Three weeks after their ‘lunch’ under that tree, Mr. Jordan had passed around a printout of the class list for enrollment in the Spanish Club. They were each supposed to mark yes or no next to their name and then pass the list along. Alex had gotten it first. She had followed the list of names down to hers crossing out the ‘andra’ from the printout and marking her response. She’d then dragged her finger up to ‘Galvez’ but became confused when she couldn’t find Jay’s name in the three ‘Galvez’s” on the list. As she’d scanned the sir name’s her mind had finally grasped, Eduardo, Jorge, and Monica, left only Jorge as a possibility. Grinning to hold back her laughter, she looked to where Jay was strumming his fingers in quick staccato against his seat.
“Pass it back Alex.” He hissed under his breath. ‘Hurry.”
Alex had been tempted to respond to his frustration by calling out to him with his full first name. Instead, she’d turned her back on him, scribbling on the paper. It wasn’t long before Jay held the list in his trembling hands. Alex had watched as he practically tore the page in his desperation to find his name. She was sure he’d found it the moment he’d raised his head to smile at her, his granite eyes flaring with relief. Everything except the ‘J’ had been eliminated from his name with a deep scratch from her black pen. She’d known then that she never wanted to see disappointment in his eyes.
Alex sucked in a shuddered breath, dropping the phone in her lap. Telling him the whole story over the phone meant she didn’t have to watch his expression. However, living with her memory of his face the last time she’d seen him would be worse. .She was going to have to get some answers from Charles, before she could talk to Jay.
Stay tuned for the next leg of Alex's trip-coming in November!