Work, for me, typically started at eight in the morning. I'd respond to all the missed calls and emails, and schedule appointments for people needing repairs or maintenance. I'd take coffee and donuts to the shop out back and let the boys fight over who got what while I cleaned up the office and did their stock inventory. It never failed that when I finished, there was always one donut left; a plain glazed, which happened to be my favorite.
Our lot specialized in selling used cars, but they were new enough to generate plenty of profit while remaining affordable to our customers. I don't think I had ever witnessed a car come through with more than 20,000 miles on it and it was rare for us to have a client who was upset. With three sales associates who were always busy I'd say there was a need for a place like Cooper's.
The shop was at the back of the property and was mostly run by our mechanics. Pop and I didn't have the talent or knowledge it took to work on a vehicle, so we left it to the boys.
When Pop first opened the shop, he decided retired military and reformed convicts would make up his employee base. He believed in second chances.
It made him angry to see the men and women that spent their lives protecting us go through unemployment. Having served time himself in the Marines, he hated watching his brothers struggle to find jobs and provide for themselves and their families. If there was one group of people that deserved immediate employment, it was the men and women that served our country. Another thing that frustrated him was that the people that earned second chances, once out of prison, hardly ever received one. After extensive research on an individual and a reference letter from their parole officer, he hired Simon, Drake, and Raj. Pop's heart gravitated toward helping the underdog, so naturally, I was the apple and he was the tree.
I had never seen him waver in his obsession with cars, hence my name, Bentley. The woman who gave birth to me let Pop give me my name and thank God for that. I would have been a Violet Clementine otherwise, so crisis averted in my opinion. Named and raised by a car fanatic, you'd think I would be obsessed with them too, but I wasn't. I loved the business and interacting with people, but it wasn't about what we sold. Those customers gave my life purpose every, single day and that is what I cherished.
I would usually clock out at 5:00 P.M., but six days into November that wasn't the case. From start to finish I was always running. We had shipments of parts coming in, customers that weren't scheduled showing up and Pop sold more cars that day than he had in the last two weeks put together.
I didn't get to leave until well past 9:00 P.M., which meant it was freezing and dark. I argued with myself the whole walk home about not having a car. If I could have swallowed my fear, I would have used one from the lot, but the fact was I couldn't deal with getting behind the wheel.
On the walk home I wondered what Sylvia had made for dinner. Every now and then I would eat with them, but that was out of the question tonight. Since I had my Crockpot full of food I was planning to pack for lunches all week, I'd be settling for a lunch meat sandwich and a can of soda.
As soon as I saw the figure on the steps of my apartment building, I knew something was about to change. The dog bounding up to me gave the identity of my visitor away.
He was altering the dynamic of our relationship forever.
"Hi there, Dog!" I said, laughing as he searched through my bags, almost knocking me down in the process. "I don't have any food right now, I'm sorry buddy." I didn't notice Man had stood and started making his way toward us. It was late, and even though I'd been feeding him for months, I couldn't stop the immediate reaction of fear I felt. What if he was on something and that's why he was waiting for me? I hated the thought as soon as it popped into my head.
When we were a few feet away from each other, we both stopped and waited. My heart was beating so hard I could feel the pounding in my head.
I won't lie, I had romanticized him a bit. It wasn't anything serious since I had never seen his face but standing so close to a streetlight meant I could see him. I stood there and stared up at him. His beard was touching his chest, and I couldn't imagine how long it had taken to grow out. The skin that was visible was dirty, and his brown eyes looked tired. He looked tired.
"I didn't mean to scare you. I just," he paused and reached his hand up to rub the back of his neck. His voice was deep, raspy even like he hadn't talked much lately. I was having a hard time focusing on anything because this was the man that had been in so many of my thoughts for months, and here he was in front of me. "You dropped this, this morning." He stretched his other hand out toward me, and I pulled my debit card from his fingers. It didn't go without notice that he was returning something he could have used to steal from me.
"Oh, wow, thank you! It must have fallen out of my purse earlier. I appreciate that, Man.”
"Man," he said, his voice laced with humor.
"I don't know your name, so I had to call you something," I replied.
I’d read books where people spoke before thinking and did ridiculous things without contemplating the consequences. Even with the fear of him being somewhat unknown to me, it wasn't enough to stop what was about to tumble out of my mouth.
"Would you like to come inside? I have a pot roast in the Crockpot that I was going to use for my lunches this week, but we can eat it tonight if you're hungry." His eyes widened a bit, and I feared he would say no, but he surprised me with a nod.
I walked ahead of him and Dog, and we made our way up the steps to my apartment. I immediately put my things in my bedroom and went back to the kitchen to get bowls for each of us. Turning to walk into the archway that connected my kitchen to my dining room, I was startled when I ran into his chest. I let out a scream.
"I'm sorry," I said. I felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest, so I placed a hand over it and laughed. Man didn't reply, so I took a deep breath and stepped out of the grasp I didn't notice he had on my arms. I looked up to see him looking at my arm, and when I looked down, I saw there were smudge marks from his dirty hands. Dirt was nothing to me, but I could tell for whatever reason, he didn't like that he'd gotten something on me.
"It's not a big deal. You can wash up in the bathroom; it's right down that hall," I pointed toward the restroom, and he walked in and shut the door.
I sat Dog's bowl on the floor and filled it with the dog food I had for him. He devoured every last bite in a few short minutes, so I quickly got more. After I had set the bowl down, Man came out and stood awkwardly watching me.
"We can sit at the table," I suggested. He sat at the head of the table, and I brought out two plates piled high with roast and buttered bread, along with a glass of milk for each of us. He started eating immediately, and I couldn't help it; I didn't know what to do or say, so I just watched him like the freak I am. After a bit, he finished his food and looked at me again. I slid my plate toward him, and he finished my food as well.
"So, I have questions," I said. He sat up straight like he knew what was coming. "What's your name?"
"Aaron Fitzpatrick," he replied.
"How old are you?"
"What about the dog?" I asked.
He glanced over at him. "He's probably three."
I hid my smile behind my hand and said, "No, I mean what's his real name?"
"Oh, it's Charles."
"What? Charles is not a name for a dog."
"Neither is Dog," he replied, and I laughed.
"What was I supposed to call him? You were never awake to tell me differently. Well, I guess we've established you've been awake more than once since you knew where I lived. You just ignored me." I didn't mean for it to sound like it hurt my feelings because, after a few weeks, it hadn't. What bothered me most was I sat and told him so much about myself, and he'd been listening. He picked up on it and shook his head.
"I came here to give your card back, but also to thank you for feeding us every day. I want to pay you back somehow. I don't have any money, but if you ever need something fixed around here, I can do just about anything."
"I didn't give you food looking to get paid back," I paused, barely catching myself before calling him Man, "Aaron. In all honesty, you should be thanking the people at Bucking Bandits. They've been giving me discounts on your meals. Sometimes it was even free."
"I've already thanked them," he replied with a nod.
"Okay, well," I tried to think of something else to say but fell short. It felt so awkward and weird. I'd waited this long to have a two-way conversation with this man, and now I couldn't think of anything to talk about. "If you want, you can take a shower."
That was my speaking and not thinking again. He looked surprised, and I didn't blame him seeing as I had just offered him the use of my shower.
"Is it that bad?" he asked.
"Oh my gosh! No! I wasn't even thinking about that. I was just offering you what I would want, I guess. Sorry, I didn't mean to offend you." He nodded like he understood what I was saying. "I have some clothes that used to be my dad's. I sleep in a lot of his old sweats, but you're welcome to them. I'll even wash what you have on and anything else you need."
"Why?" he asked. "Why are you acting this sweet? You know I could be a psycho or something, right?"
"Well, I thought about that, and I figured you wouldn't kill me since I just fed you. You returned my debit card when you could have used it, which tells me you're a decent human being. Plus, Dog likes me so he might try to bite you," I laughed when Dog barked at his name. "The real reason? because for as long as I can remember my dad has tried to give more than he could ever receive. The saying people use, ‘he'd give the shirt off his own back?' I've witnessed him do it on more than one occasion. He is just pure goodness, and that's what I want to be. I've heard people say that giving is selfish because it makes you feel good and yes, it makes me happy, it also breaks my heart to see people hurting. If I could bring happiness why wouldn't I try?"
Aaron sat and looked at me for a few minutes. I guess he was trying to figure out if I was telling the truth, but I'd never actually said those words aloud until then. I would have to let Pop know that I could wax poetic from time to time, too.
"Okay," he eventually replied. He stood, walked to the restroom and shut the door. Apparently, he was taking me up on my offer. I ran to my room and grabbed the biggest sweatpants, sweatshirt, and t-shirt I could find. I thought of socks halfway down the hall.
Sliding to a stop, I turned and ran back to my room to find a pair of thick socks before grabbing towels out of the hallway. I wasn't sure, but even under what had to be a few layers of clothes and coats, Aaron looked like a big guy. I rushed to the laundry room and started the washer before I knocked on the restroom door.
"Come in," he called out. I let myself in and found he was already in the shower.
"I brought you some clothes and towels. Here's a wash rag, too," I said throwing it over the shower rod.
I heard a deep laugh and smiled in response. "This whole situation is so odd compared to what I imagined would happen," he said. I nodded my agreement because he was right; it was weird.
"What did you think would happen? I asked.
"I thought I'd hand you your card and we'd go about our business."
"I'm sorry, I guess that's my fault. I feel like I know you. I've spent the last eight months thinking about you at some point during the day; deciding what to get you for breakfast or even dinner sometimes. I've sat and talked to you over meals you didn't emotionally attend. I forget that you don't even know me. I'm Bentley by the way," I waved even though he couldn't see me. "I'm going to take your clothes now. Do I need to check the pockets?"
"I got everything out and put it in my bag."
"Okay, well, I'll be out here with Dog then," I said, starting to pull the door closed.
"Bentley?" Aaron's use of my name stopped me in my tracks. I looked back into the room and saw his he
ad peeking out of the curtain.
"Yes?" I asked.
"Thank you." With that, he shut the curtain, and I took his clothes to the laundry room losing my fight against a smile the entire way.
While Aaron was in the restroom, I cleaned up the dinner dishes, thrown his clothes in the washer, and sat down to twiddle my thumbs. I was excited and nervous having this interaction with him. I was truly butchering it with my awkwardness, but I think he was handling that nicely.
When he came out, I had to do a double-take. His damp, brown hair was slightly wavy and hung past his broad shoulders, allowing the water to fall onto his shirt. His beard, although still very long and caveman-like in my opinion, looked a bit neater. His face was clear of dirt, as were his muscular arms that were holding his wet towels. In all of my romanticizing of him, I'd never imagined him as handsome as the man standing in front of me.