A Turn for the Better
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The heavy rain continued to beat down on the windshield as Brian Brannigan drove his well-worn pickup down Montgomery Street. Running a hand across his crew cut, the sandy haired nineteen-year-old took a moment to glance at the clock on the dashboard. The clock read ten to eight and he knew he was going to be late for work yet again. That this time it was hardly his fault wasn’t going to matter a hill of beans to his boss.
Knowing it was supposed to pour this morning, Brian had left his parents’ house a good half an hour earlier than normal; just to give himself some extra time. How was he to know that the storm would uproot two of the large trees on Adams Boulevard, causing a major traffic jam that forced him and just about anyone else trying to get through onto the slower side streets.
Most of the diverted traffic had gone up to Dover Street, so he’d done just the opposite and cut down to Winchester Road instead. So far, that had proved not to be his best decision of the day as the rain was now coming down so hard that he could barely see more than two car lengths ahead of him. As a result, he had to come to a complete stop at every intersection in order to make sure it was clear in every direction. Being late for work was bad, he knew, but getting his truck smashed would be a lot worse.
Coming up to the intersection of Winchester and Parks, Brian saw a solitary figure standing under an oversized umbrella at the corner bus stop. Normally, he wouldn’t have given them more than a passing glance, except that the bright red umbrella that the woman was huddled under bore the logo of Harris and Son’s Construction Supplies – the same company that he drove a delivery truck for.
“Oh hell,” Brian said, feeling a little guilty that he was sitting there nice and dry while the woman was getting soaked, “I’m already going to get my ass chewed out for being late, might as well have something good come out of it.”
Slowing down to ease the truck to the curb without splashing the woman standing there, Brian rolled down the window on the passenger side and called out to her. At first, she declined his offer of a ride, saying she’d just wait for the bus which she was sure would be along any minute. It wasn’t until he identified himself, including showing his company id card, that the woman, who he still couldn’t recognize under the umbrella and rain gear she was wearing, had a change of heart. Even so, she paused a long moment before climbing up into the passenger side seat, going forward only when she was satisfied that she did indeed recognize his face from work.
After she pulled down the hood of her raincoat and turned in his direction, Brian finally recognized her as well. Her name was Harriet Lowell and worked in the payroll department. Actually, in a company the size of Harris & Son’s, she was pretty much the whole payroll department. As they pulled out back onto the street, Harriet explained that her car had refused to start this morning, forcing her to walk up to the bus stop, some four blocks from her house.
“You are a life saver,” the fiftyish, white haired woman told him as she used a kerchief she produced from her pocket to try and dry her short hair. “I’ve been waiting for that bus for over half and hour and I was beginning to think that it wasn’t ever going to come.”
Mentioning the traffic difficulties he’d encountered on his way, Brian further suggested that the bus driver might’ve had similar problems since he knew that route went along Adams too before turning down along Winchester.
“Then I’m doubly glad that you came along, Brian,” Harriet said, remembering his name from one of the few times he’d come into the main office for something or other. “I was actually contemplating giving up the ghost and heading back home.”
“Well if there was ever a day to just stay in bed, this is certainly it,” Brian remarked, reflecting his own thoughts when he’d first looked out the bedroom window this morning. If he’d had a better attendance record, it would’ve been a serious consideration.
“Don’t think that didn’t occur to me,” Harriet replied as she stuffed her now damp cloth back into a pocket, “but if I didn’t come in today and make sure the payroll was put in right, you, I and a lot of other people wouldn’t be getting paid at the end of the week.”
“In that case, I’m now even gladder that I saw you when I did,” Brian grinned, thinking how hard it would’ve been to stretch out what was left of last week’s check. Tactfully, he left out the part that if he hadn’t seen the company logo, he probably would’ve kept on going.
Having made that bad decision to head in the opposite direction that most of the traffic had gone actually turned out to be the best decision Brian could’ve made. Mr. Harris was so relieved to see Harriet walk in the door that he made no mention of the fact that Brian was almost an hour late. It had been many years since the businessman had done his own payroll and he wasn’t enthusiastic at the prospect of trying to figure bursa escort out the computer program that handled it now. He simply told Brian to check the clipboard hanging in the outer hall for the day’s deliveries.
Doing so, Brian was relieved to see that just about every outdoor construction site had been shut down by the weather, which left only a handful of stops at places where the majority of the work had moved inside. As it turned out, his work day was done early enough for him to stop back by the office to see how Harriet had made out with her car. She had mentioned before he’d left that she was going to call her mechanic and see if he could pick it up at her house. The garage was only two blocks away.
Harriet thanked him for his concern but said she started to and then decided not to call the mechanic after all. That car had been on its last legs for a while, she said, and it seemed like it didn’t start more times than it did. Pouring even more money into it seemed too much of an iffy proposition. She’d been planning to replace it but was hoping it would last just a little longer so that she could find something more reliable and still affordable. The last thing she wanted to do was just trade one set of headaches for another.
Having bought a five hundred dollar lemon the week after he’d gotten his license back in high school, one that also spent more time in his driveway than on the road, Brian could well sympathize with her predicament. The only reason he now had the pickup, old as it was but with a rebuilt engine, was that his Uncle Alex had developed some vision problems and could no longer drive it.
“You know, I was just thinking,” Brian said as he sat on the edge of the desk. “Why don’t you ride in with me until you get your new car?”
Actually he hadn’t been thinking, but the words just seemed to come out of his mouth. No sooner had he spoken them than he wished he could’ve taken them back. It wasn’t that the side trip was really out of his way, but did he really want to commit himself to picking her up and driving her home for however long it took to replace her car?
Harriet didn’t answer immediately, the look on her face saying she was considering the proposal. Trying to keep his own expression neutral, Brian was frantically hoping she turned it down.
“That’s it really generous of you, Brian,” Harriet began, an opening that could go either way, “and I think I’m going to take you up on it.”
Brian felt his heart drop.
“But only on two conditions,” she added.
Brian felt his heart jumpstart, hopefully at least one of those conditions would turn out to be a deal breaker.
“First, that we give it a two week trial run, just to see how it goes,” Harriet said, “and if one of us finds that it’s too much of a problem, then that will be it.”
Nodding his head, Brian thought that was pretty sensible, especially since it gave him an easy out. Two weeks wasn’t that long after all.
“And secondly,” Harriet continued, “I’d like to contribute something to help pay for the commute, say the cost of what gas I would’ve used anyway getting from my house to the office and back.”
That definitely wasn’t a bad offer, Brian thought. Having someone else putting gas in his tank certainly did a lot to reduce his reluctance to his own hastily made offer. Doing a quick calculation, he figured her contribution would cut his travel expenses to work by over half if not two thirds.
“Fair enough,” he heard himself say.
“Fine,” Harriet replied, “I’ll see you in the parking lot at five-thirty then. Now you better make yourself scarce before Mr. Harris sees you and decides he’s not paying you to sit around and watch raindrops fall.”
Having been on the receiving end of Mr. Harris’s idea of busy work before, Brian was quick to follow that advice.
The end of the day finally arrived and Harriet was waiting for Brian by his truck in the company parking lot. It turned out to be a lot easier to chat on the way home, due to the skies now being clear and the ice between them now being broken. Harriet, much to Brian’s surprise, turned out to be quite personable. Not at all what he thought a woman her age would be like. Then again, it wasn’t like he knew a lot of women her age, other than relatives and friends of his parents, to make a comparison against.
Over the two week trial period, they learned quite a lot about each other. Harriet, Brian learned, had been with the company a little over ten years now, having started there soon after she’d divorced her husband of twelve years. She hadn’t mentioned why they had split, but did say that it had been her second marriage. Evidently, she had also married her high school boyfriend right out of school. An ill-considered action about which a divorce less than six months later said all that needed to be said about it.
She in turn learned that Brian had originally planned to go to Northern State University on a baseball scholarship, but had done permanent bursa escort bayan damage to his left ankle during the last semester of high school. His injury had pretty much healed, but the award had been withdrawn.
Brian also, somewhat reluctantly admitted that he didn’t have a steady girlfriend, preferring instead to date around. Harriet had laughing asked him didn’t he mean “sleep around”, a question that had left him too stunned to answer it. Still, she grinned, he hadn’t denied it either. Given his admittedly cute looks and athletic build, Harriet guessed he had no trouble keeping his dance card filled.
Brian had been surprised at the end of that first week when Harriet handed him a twenty dollar bill to cover her share of the gas. Even with the cost of gas rising as it was, that was overly generous. When he protested that it was too much, she countered that the rest was for his inconvenience.
Two weeks turned to four, and then six, until their daily trip had become so routine as to feel amiss on the few days that they hadn’t traveled together. Then, at the end of that sixth week, just as they parked in front of Harriet’s house, she told him that she was picking up her new, at least to her, car over the weekend. Even though he knew it was going to come sooner than later, the announcement left Brian with a keen sense of disappointment.
It wasn’t just the extra money in his pocket, although that had been nice when he went out on the weekend. He had genuinely developed a sense of affection, he guessed he would call it, for the older woman, looking forward to their daily commute. Having a woman to talk to, one that wasn’t related to him or wrapped up in the games that went with dating was a new experience. As hard as it might have been for him to have imagined on that rainy day, they had become friends.
Not that the friendship hadn’t come without some cost. It hadn’t taken that long for people to take note that the two of them came in and left together. Of course no one really believed that there was anything to it but car pooling, but that didn’t prevent a few jokes, some of them even off-color, to be made about the odd couple.
Most of them had been laughed off with a grin, but only two nights before, one joke went over the line. A driver on an earlier shift than Brian had come back to the parking lot to pick up his car after downing a few at a local tavern after work. Seeing Brian waiting by his truck for Harriet, who had been delayed by some last minute paperwork, the driver had made a raunchy comment that not even a few too many beers could excuse.
Reacting before he could consider the implications, Brian decked the drunk with a powerful right cross that carried all the force of his five foot nine, one hundred and eighty pound frame. Thankfully, his target was so inebriated that all he got out of it was a bloody nose. A friend of the drunk, who had been the designated driver for the duo was quick to get him up and into his car, telling Brian it would be better for all concerned if they just forgot what had happened. Evidently, the first man had gotten in trouble drinking before.
Of course an incident like that wasn’t going to stay private and by the middle of the work day, just about everyone had heard some version of what had happened. The only people not talking about it seemed to be the people that were actually involved. Harriet heard about it during lunch, but didn’t say anything to Brian until they were almost at the end of their homeward trip.
“I really wish you hadn’t lost your temper with Johnny Drake,” she said.
“I hadn’t intended to,” Brian said. “It’s just that every time I turn around, someone seems to be making one of those stupid comments, and this time what he was saying something that I just couldn’t just let go by.”
“Care to share what he’d said?” she asked.
“Not really,” Brian answered, actually turning a little red at the thought.
Harriet chucked at his embarrassment, saying that she didn’t know if he had noticed, but she was a big girl now and there probably wasn’t much that she hadn’t heard before. In fact, there was little that she probably hadn’t done before.
“So come on, spill it,” she said, sounding much like his mother did when he was a little boy and had done something to get himself in trouble.
“He, he suggested that you and I were,” he started to say, “he insinuated that there was an intimate aspect of our friendship, but he put it in a lot more graphic manner.”
“Is that all,” Harriet laughed.
“You think that was funny?”
“Honestly,” she replied. “I think some of those jokes are sort of flattering.”
“Well yes,” Harriet explained. “The very idea that a good looking young man like yourself would be interested in an old lady like me. It actually its also quite laughable when you think about it, I mean the idea that someone might seriously think that.”
“Why would you say that?” Brian asked in turn, not really seeing it as escort bursa having been humorous in the least. “I think a guy would be pretty lucky to have a pretty woman like you interested in him.”
“I didn’t say that a woman my age wouldn’t be interested in an attractive younger man,” Harriet clarified. “What I said was that there was no reason for him to be interested in her. Not when there are so many other younger and more attractive women around for him to pick from.”
“You don’t think you’re attractive?” Brian asked.
“Oh maybe twenty or so years ago,” she replied, exaggerating her response.
Truth was, Harriet was still quite happy with the image that looked back at her when she passed a mirror. If asked to give a quick description of the woman in the reflection, the phrase that she looked good for her age was the first thing that came to mine. Harriet Lowell would never fall into that category of women who looked ten or twenty years younger than the calendar said they were, but that had never been her goal.
Standing a good six inches shorter than Brian, Harriet weighed less than twenty pounds more than she did in high school. Her hair had turned prematurely white between marriages, some said it was the result of that first misadventure. Rather than spend the rest of her life hiding it beneath a store bought substitute, she had instead embraced the change. Not everyone could’ve carried that off at such a young age, but she did. Wearing it cut quite short, the absence of color made her face look striking rather than old, a condition that had continued to this day. Men still looked at her when she passed by, but given who was usually doing the looking, she seldom looked back.
Their arrival at her house had cut short their discussion of the parking lot incident and by the next morning, it seemed best to leave it in the past . Now, despite her laughing it off, Brian couldn’t help but wonder if the incident had led to her sudden rush to replace her mode of transport.
“I guess that come Monday you’ll be riding back and forth by yourself again,” Brian said, more a statement than a question.
“Well, that was our agreement, wasn’t it?”
“I guess it was,” he answered, hiding his regret.
“Well then, that is that,” she said as she reached into her purse and handed him two twenty dollar bills. “I realize that I’m giving you short notice and you might’ve made plans based on having a little extra money, so I want to put in for next week’s gas too.”
“No, I couldn’t take that,” Brian insisted, refusing to accept either bill until she took one back.
“Are you sure?”
“Okay,” Harriet relented, putting a twenty back in her bag. “If I can’t repay you that way, then maybe I have another idea. Why don’t you come by tomorrow night and I’ll make you a nice dinner. I’ve lost track of how many times you’ve complained about the food at your house and believe it or not, cooking is one of the few things neither of my husbands ever had reason to complain about.” She paused a few seconds to let him consider the idea, then added, “That is of course if you don’t already have any plans.”
She could see he was considering the idea. If there was once thing she’d learned Brian loved, it was good food. It wasn’t that his mother was a bad cook, it was that the menu in his house was usually made up of the five or six simple dishes that his father enjoyed and no matter how good they were, having the same thing week in and out got old pretty fast.
“Dinner sounds like a great idea,” Brian finally said, ignoring the fact that he already had a date with Sally Quinn tomorrow night.
He knew that Sally would be really pissed off when he canceled, especially at such short notice. Most guys would’ve thought he was crazy giving up a night with Sally for some old lady’s cooking, but if there was one thing he’d learned in his short life it was that there was no shortage of girls who were great in the bedroom, but women who were great in the kitchen were a rare commodity these days.
“Would a quarter past six be okay with you?” Harriet asked.
“That would be fine.”
“Good, then I’ll see you then,” Harriet smiled as she got out of the truck.
Just over twenty-four hours later, Brian was pulling his truck back into the same spot in front of Harriet’s small house. Checking the clock, he was glad to see that he was five minutes early. Especially since he had been sure that he was going to wind up being at least ten minutes late.
He’d started the morning as he did most Saturday mornings, at the crack of nine-thirty. That was his usual practice even if, like in this case, he hadn’t gone out the night before. First thing on his agenda, once he visited the bathroom was to call Sally and cancel tonight’s date.
He’d honestly tried to call her last night, only to be told that she was out for the evening. Her parents were also out and it didn’t seem right to leave a message with the fourteen-year-old babysitter that was watching the two youngest Quinns. Of course he had her cell phone number, but calling a girl while she was on a date to cancel the one you had with her seemed pretty wrong. Texting it would be downright tacky.
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