A glimpse into the past...and a question about the future.
" Jason pulled off the interstate and down an exit then turned at the bottom and a quarter mile later they were at the repair shop. He grabbed the tire out of the back and they went inside.
"Hey Jason, what brings you by, my friend?" the tall, lean, white-haired man behind the counter asked.
Jason rolled the tire around the desk. "Hey, Bob. This is Madeline, she got a flat on the highway so I stopped to help out. There's a bolt in the tire. Could you patch it?"
"You got it! Take about twenty minutes. Have a seat."
Jason and Madeline walked over to the empty waiting area. "Buy you a cup of coffee?" he asked, waving a hand at the coffee machine.
"Oh, no, thanks. I'm fine."
They sat down and Madeline looked over at her companion as he crossed one leg over the other. How to ask the questions she really wanted to ask without seeming too forward? "So, you were on the phone with your daughter earlier? Does she work for you?"
He nodded. "She's been running the office, answering the phones and keeping the books, for about eight years now. One of my sons works on the furniture but the other went off and became an environmental conservation agent. They're all doing great, made the old man proud," he said with a smile.
"You don't seem that old to me," she said. "You've got a very youthful face."
He reached up and ran a self-conscious hand through his hair. "Thanks, even with this gray hair? Truthfully, I'm fifty-three."
"I'm forty myself," she replied, unasked. She took a breath and went fishing for the information she really wanted. "And what does their mother think of the kid's choices for careers?"
If Jason realized what she was really asking, he didn't give any indication. He just smiled sadly. "She was very proud of them, but she passed away about six years ago, cancer."
"I'm sorry," Madeline said, putting her hand on his as it lay on the chair arm.
Jason shrugged. "It happens. I loved her very much. We had a good life together and . . . then she was gone. I've been alone ever since." He glanced down at her hand on his arm. "What about you? No husband?"
It had been nine months since her divorce, which had been sad but amicable. "I was. We grew apart, instead of together. It was both our faults," she said with a shrug. "We didn't invest in the marriage, we were too busy investing in our careers. He met someone at work who he connected with emotionally and he ended our marriage before it became physical with her, or so he said. Honestly, it didn't even matter at that point."
"I'm sorry," Jason said, placing his own hand over hers.
She looked up into his eyes and didn't even know how long they just sat there that way.
"I've got that tire patched for you," Bob called from the counter.
Madeline got up and went to pay but Bob waved her off with a smile. "No charge. You take care now."
"Thank you," she smiled. She wondered if he did that for everyone he hoped might become a repeat customer or if it was because she was with his friend.
Jason picked up the tire and Madeline held the door for them on the way back out to the truck.
* * * *
Jason stowed the tire in the back and hurried around to help Madeline back into the truck but she'd managed it herself this time. Pretty limber for such a nice little armful. Aw, I'm going to hell, no doubt about it.
He slid into the cab of the truck and fired it up then headed them out of town. Not much time to get to know a woman, what should he ask next? Shoot, he just couldn't think of a darned thing.
"So, Jason, if you're not in a terrible hurry to get back, I'd really love to buy you dinner to thank you for taking care of my tire for me?"
He looked over, mildly shocked and wondering if he was about to get hit by lightning. He was not about to let the opportunity pass though. "I'd like that," he said. I'd never let a lady pay for dinner, but we can argue about that when the check comes.
They were back at her car in no time and he changed the tire while she waited, though she refused to get back in the car where it was warm.