“Your gas cap is missing,” I sighed, slamming the fuel door shut and turning to face the perpetual pain in my ass, when I added, “Again. That’s why your ‘check engine’ light is on. Again.”
She was doing it on purpose.
She had to be.
Nobody could be that dense and it was the third time that week that she’d stopped by the garage with the same issue.
Tray choked on the chuckle he was trying to keep to himself, with the sound echoing out from under the hood of the car he was working on. But he didn’t budge, so I was forced to deal with Redneck Barbie all by myself.
Laughing in a way that grated on my last nerves, she leaned towards me and said, “Isn’t that just a hoot?”
It was a move she’d used before. She would cackle and lean forward, wrapping herself around my arm and leaving me trapped forever and a day until I could extract her from my body. It made me uncomfortable. I didn’t like it and I didn’t like her, but the last few times I’d done my best to be polite, while she went on and on about whatever stupid shit happened to float through her head.
Today apparently, I’d reached my limit.
So before she could get me in her vice-like grip, I spun around and walked over to the till. If she wanted to waste my time, she would damn well learn that my time wasn’t cheap.
And hoping to stop her stupid ass from coming back, I looked up at her and said, “That’ll be seventy-five dollars.”
“Seventy-five dollars?” she asked, with her batting lashes batting no more. Now her eyes were full of outrage as she added, “Just what do you think I’m paying you seventy-five dollars for?”
Then pulling the gas cap out of her purse, she waved it at me and said, “I don’t even need a replacement. I’ve got it right here.”
“My time,” I replied, staring her down. “You’re paying me for my time to figure out what was wrong with your car.”
It was the hourly labor rate Tray went by when dealing with the more difficult and complex engines.
She was the definition of ‘difficult’, so it was fitting.
The first time she’d come in, there really had been an issue with her gas cap that was causing her check engine light to stay on. So once I replaced it, it’d been fine and Tray had only charged her for the part.
Every time she’d come in since then was for the same thing, always with some lame ass excuse as to why she kept forgetting it was the cap, and she hadn’t been charged. Tray had said she had the hots for me and thought it was funny.
I thought she was an idiot and desperate to boot, if this was the way she went about getting herself a man. Neither quality was attractive to me, so that man sure as hell wouldn’t be me.
But lately it seemed, there was only one woman I found attractive.
I’d been staying at her place for about a month now, but I wasn’t sure how much longer I could take it. Being that close to her all of the time and yet not close to her at all.
It was driving me insane.
I knew she only viewed me as a friend. Like her busted up cat, she just wanted to help me out, but the things she sometimes said and the looks she would sometimes give me put other thoughts into my head.
It took every ounce of willpower I had to not react around her. To show no emotion when she said something that could be construed as flirting and instead act as though she hadn’t just said something that wasn’t purely innocent.
Like on that day in her kitchen when she’d hugged me from behind. All I’d wanted to do was lift her up and take her right there on her kitchen counter, but I managed to lock down every muscle in my body and act as though the feel of her body pressed against mine didn’t affect me at all.
Thank god she hadn’t noticed it took me an abnormal amount of time to put the steaks away, but the cold air coming from the fridge is what helped me return to normal.
We hadn’t had any more run-ins like that one again, but all of it was slowly killing me just the same.
At least I was back to being a master of wearing my poker face.
It had been a necessary skill to perfect when I’d been in the foster care system and it was back to serving me well now. I needed it both then and now because showing my true feelings would just end up with me getting hurt.
The only difference between then and now was the kind of pain I would be inflicted with.
I knew Sookie would never intentionally hurt me. It just wasn’t in her nature, but even so, I just needed to keep reminding myself that I was okay with just being her friend.
Hopefully my poker face would hold out if and when she ever brought a date home.
But at least with her house all torn up from the remodel, she’d been too busy to do any dating at all. Ever since the end of that first weekend where she’d knocked herself out against the doorframe, she’d been coming home from work earlier than before. Instead of being gone for twelve and sometimes thirteen hours a day, she would leave for work at the same time I did and be home not long after me.
It was nice.
Too nice and too easy to get used to, but I would just deal with the repercussions later on, when the day finally came that I had to move out into my own place.
The sound of tires squealing pulled me from my thoughts, with my eyes drawn to the sound in time to see the Check Engine Chick driving off. I hadn’t really been expecting her to pay for anything. I just wanted her to leave and not come back.
Hopefully that would do the trick.
“Think I should call old Bud Dearborn and have her arrested for theft of services?”
Looking to my right, I saw Tray standing there with a grin on his face, while he added, “Maybe that will get it through her thick skull that you’re not interested in what she’s offering.”
“I wonder if she even realizes the symbolism,” I chuckled. “Coming in here with no cap on her tank and looking for any old nozzle to fill it.”
Slapping me on the shoulder, he laughed, “You would’ve lost her at ‘symbolism’, but I don’t think she was looking for any old nozzle to fill it.”
I just shrugged in response because really, she could just go looking for one somewhere else.
Dawson turned out to be a great boss and just a great guy in general. I’d been somewhat leery at first when he’d been straight up with me during my interview, telling me he was a retired cop and that he wouldn’t put up with any bullshit, but he was willing to give me a fair shot. He knew about my minor brushes with the law from when Sookie had spoken to him about me, but he believed in second chances. And after my first full week of working for him, he said he liked my work and hired me on permanently.
He paid well too and the job even came with health benefits. It was a first for me, so I wasn’t looking to do anything that would piss him off and end up with me getting fired, which was why I asked, “So, you’re not upset I probably scared off one of your customers?”
“Nah,” he smirked. “Losing Dawn Green as a customer isn’t going to make or break my business. But you better watch out if you go into Merlotte’s for a meal. She’s a waitress there, so check your food for extras.”
“Thanks for the warning,” I smiled. “But I don’t think I’ll be going there just the same.”
I had yet to go inside of Merlotte’s Bar and Grill, even though I passed it every day on my way to and from work, but I had no reason to go in. Watching my mother slowly kill herself with alcohol was enough to make me a lifetime teetotaler and Sookie had taken to packing my lunch for me every morning when she packed her own.
It reminded me of when she would share her lunch with me when we were kids and only reminded me of how sweet she was.
And how sweet on her I was.
And just like that hadn’t changed, neither had the fact she only saw me as a friend.
Which I had to keep reminding myself of.
But thinking of meals, I looked at the clock and saw it was time to head home. I put a pot roast into the slow cooker for dinner before I left for work that morning and Sookie should be home at any time.
But maybe my poker face wasn’t as good as I thought, since Tray chose then to ask, “So, how are things going with you and Sookie?”
“What do you mean?” I asked and added, “I got the extension for the bathroom framed on both sides, but the new windows won’t be delivered until tomorrow. Once I get them in, I can finish it off enough to start taking down the walls they’ll be replacing and gutting the room.”
I hadn’t wanted to leave the corner of the house open, with nothing more than a plastic tarp as a barrier, but the windows Sookie wanted had to be special ordered. I could’ve started working on gutting the room, but then she would be stuck sharing a bathroom with me. That part of the job wouldn’t take long at all, so I was putting it off until I could tear everything down. The whole project was taking more time than it normally would, but I didn’t mind.
The masochist in me was fine with it taking forever to finish her list.
“I’m not talking about how things are going with the Extremely Long Makeover – Home Edition,” he smirked. “I’m talking about how things are going between you and Sookie. You’ve been living with her going on a month now and you turned down Dawn Green like she was a lumberjack with tits. You can’t tell me there ain’t something there between you two.”
“We’re just friends,” I huffed with an eye roll because this wasn’t the first time he’d shared his wild conspiracy theories with me.
But he was my boss, so I couldn’t tell him to fuck off.
“Uh huh,” he let out, sounding unconvinced. But then he switched things up by asking, “Do you like guys?” And when my head whipped his way, whatever he saw on my face had him holding his hands up, with a huge grin on his face as he added, “Hey, man. To each their own. I ain’t got nothin’ against homosexuals, but if you’re lookin’ to get a piece of ole Tray here, you’re barking up the wrong tree.”
“Well, fuck…” I offered in a faked disappointed tone. “I wasted a month of my time working here, hoping to become Mrs. Tray Dawson, and you only tell me now that I don’t have a shot?”
Laughing, he slapped me on the back again and said, “Consider yourself lucky. Feel free to call my ex-wife and she can tell you all about how bein’ married to me ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be.”
Before I could make another crack that maybe it had to do with him referring to himself in the third person, he said, “Now go clean up your work station and get on outta here before your little common-law missus comes here lookin’ for ya. I’ll see you on Monday morning.”
Rolling my eyes at his completely false description of Sookie, I just shook my head and did as he said. With the shop only open from eight until noon on Saturdays, Tray had given me the weekends off, so I had two days to get some real progress made on the bathroom once the windows arrived.
When I pulled into the driveway a short time later, seeing Sookie’s car already in the driveway added a little pep to my step, as I made my way inside.
I really was a glutton for punishment because I couldn’t wait to hear the sounds she made when she ate her dinner.
But walking into the kitchen, I smelled the smoke before I could see it emanating from the oven and at the center of it was Sookie.
Holding a cookie sheet, with what looked like charcoal briquettes lined up on top of it, she set it down on top of the stove and huffed, “Well, shit.”
“Language, Miss Stackhouse,” I chuckled.
A month later and I still couldn’t bring myself to call her Ms. Compton.
She may have forgiven him, but I was still pissed off enough for the two of us.
Walking forward, I started opening windows to let the smoke out and said, “You know if you wanted to barbecue, those go inside of the grill, right?”
“Shut up, Gordon Ramsey,” she playfully chided and smacked my ass with the dish towel in her hand. “Those were made by Pillsbury, not Kingsford.”
“How do you mess up premade biscuits from a can?” I laughed. But seeing the look on her face, I gave her an out by adding, “Maybe it was the ghost of Gran. She would’ve had something to say about canned biscuits being made in her kitchen.”
And it wouldn’t have been nice.
“That must be it,” she bit out, but couldn’t hide the small upturn of her lips. “That or the fact I may have gotten distracted by making love to my new windows that got delivered today and forgot there were biscuits in the oven.”
Choking on the image of Sookie in the throes of passion, I hoped she would assume it was from the smoke and ignored everything she’d said, with the exception of the last part by asking, “So the new windows are here?”
I didn’t see them when I pulled up, but now that they were here, I could get started on the real work. The windows she ordered – three in total – would be put up side by side, so that wall would basically be all windows. They would take up nearly three quarters of the wall and left only a few inches of wall space along the top and sides, once the tile framing it all was in place, with maybe two feet at the bottom of them before you hit the floor.
It would look great once it was done, but because of the size the tub and vanity she wanted, the room had to be expanded on two sides.
I didn’t mind though. Nor did I mind the mental images of her soaking in that tub.
“Yep,” she answered, poking at the blackened biscuits with a fork. “They were left sitting on the front porch when I got home, so I dragged them around back.”
“Sookie,” I glared. “You should’ve left them for me to move when I got…here.”
I had to consciously stop myself from calling her house ‘home’. I didn’t want to get used to it or even to think of it that way because it would only be harder on me when I left.
“Yeah, well…,” she began, sounding nonplussed. “Like making love, sometimes a girl’s got to take care of things herself.”
The lid to the crock pot I’d been holding slipped out of my hand and rattled around on the countertop until it came to a stop.
My brain, however, was still rattling around in my head.
Taking several deep breaths, I didn’t dare look at her because I knew my poker face was MIA at the moment. Instead I busied myself with taking the dinner plates out of the cabinet and filling them with pot roast, before turning around and carrying them to the table.
Sookie had gone ahead and grabbed the silverware, along with two glasses of sweet tea, before she joined me at the table and sighed, “So how was your day? Did anything exciting happen?”
“It was fine,” I replied, once I swallowed the food that had been in my mouth. “That stupid woman came in again about her gas cap, but once I told her I was going to charge her for an hour’s labor, she up and left in a huff.”
Meeting Sookie’s gaze over the rim of my fork, I couldn’t tell what she was thinking.
But whatever it was, it wasn’t good.
And thinking maybe she’d had a shitty day, capped off with the burnt biscuits, I thought to lighten the mood by adding, “And Dawson said it’s okay if I’m gay, but I shouldn’t get my hopes up if I have my sights set on him.”
Sookie’s sudden and violent cough made me look up at her, with me getting to my feet and going over to her, pounding on her back to try and dislodge whatever food that was caught in her throat. I was just about to lift her out of her chair to do the Heimlich maneuver when she finally sputtered one last time before inhaling a deep breath of air.
Pushing her glasses on top of her head, she wiped the tears from her eyes and coughed out, “I’m fine. I just…yeah…I’m okay.”
I stared at her some more, making sure her breathing was back to normal, but then I was the one left choking – on my laughter – when she asked, “So, is Tray your type?”
Playing along, I acted like I had to think about it before saying, “Not really. One grease monkey in a couple is more than enough. I wouldn’t want to have to share my Lava hand soap.”
That shit was…well, the shit in getting the grease off of your hands.
Sookie made some sort of noise of agreement and went back to eating, but she looked a little lost in thought, so I let her be and didn’t try to pull her into a conversation. Being a judge, I was sure her day was one headache after another, so I could appreciate there were times when she probably just wanted silence.
Besides, it was probably for the best anyway. I wasn’t sure I could outright lie to her if she asked me what my type really was.
All she would have to do was look into a mirror to see it for herself.
But because I’d forgotten God and I hadn’t gotten along in quite some time, I should have been expecting it when she casually asked, “So…what is your type?”
And because He really must have hated me, she added, “If not Tray, then someone more like…Bill?”
“What?” I choked out, nearly spitting a mouthful of pot roast all over her.
“I know,” she said, with her nose crinkled up. “I can’t picture you with someone like him either. Bill’s probably too tame for you. So do you like them big and brawn or lean and lithe?”
“Sookie,” I barked out, harsher than I’d meant to. “I like them female for starters.”
Did she really think I was gay?
Not that there was anything wrong with that, but still.
If she could read my mind then she would know just how not gay I was.
“What?” she asked, looking thoroughly confused. “But you just said…”
“No,” I interrupted. “Tray just said and he was just giving me a hard time because I keep turning down Miss Cap-less Crotch and he refuses to believe there’s nothing going on between you and me.”
“Yeah…” I agreed and repeated, “Oh.”
Fucking verbal vomit.
At least it tasted mostly like pot roast.