“Twenty-two,” he replied.
Jake may have had the hard look of someone who had been through a lot, and people who couldn’t recognize what that looks like might have guessed he was a few years older than twenty-two. I knew what that life experience looked like. Twenty-two would have been my guess.
Jake leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. He looked like he was deep in thought until he shook his head and smiled up at me. “Who is your…best friend?” I could tell he was trying to come up with a simple question to lighten some of the heaviness of our previous questions.
“Yes, who is your best friend right now?” He probably thought that this question would be one I could answer easily and possibly even rant a bit about. Most girls my age had tons of friends. He probably expected an answer about my friend, and her car, and her boyfriend, and the movies we’d seen, and all that shit.
“Pass.” I didn’t want to have to tell him that right at that very moment, my very best friend, my only friend in the entire world was him.
Jake took me next door to the attached garage area and introduced me to Reggie, the head mechanic. Reggie was tall and skeleton-thin, with huge ears and a crooked front tooth. He happily showed me around the building. There were two offices in the front. Jake was using his dad’s office since he wasn’t around much, and the other was the main office, which is where I was going to be working. It was small—just enough room for two filing cabinets and a little wooden desk with a yellow phone. It had a big window with plastic horizontal blinds that looked over into the three big garage bays that made up Dunns’ Auto Repair.
Cars and motorcycles were in all sorts of stages of repair within the bays. Some were in parts on the garage floor with screws, bolts, tires and rims lined up next to them, while other vehicles were on lifts with men in coveralls under them, reaching up into their mechanical guts.
Reggie showed me how to answer the phone and schedule appointments. It seemed easy enough. I thought I was going to work there in exchange for Jake letting me stay with him, but he insisted on paying me exactly what the last receptionist was making before she’d up and quit on them.
After the tour, Jake and I went back to the apartment. He made some room in his closet for my few articles of clothing. It was pretty easy, since neither of us had much. Basically, he just slid some of his stuff down the clothing rod and I hung up my few things on red plastic hangers. He told me I could use any of the drawers in the dresser, since they were all empty anyway.
“Why are you doing all this for me?” I asked. “You don’t even know me.” Jake stood in the doorway of his room and watched me fold a few t-shirts into one of the drawers.
“I don’t know,” he answered. I was surprised he didn’t take a pass on that one. I didn’t know whether to appreciate his honesty or be fearful that as soon as he figured out why, he’d just change his mind, and I would be left with nowhere to go. Again.
My plan was now simple. I would save money in the next several months by working at the shop, so by the time I turned eighteen—or by the time Jake skipped town, whichever came first—I would be able to afford my own place.
“I really can sleep on the couch,” I said. “You don’t need to give me your bed. Anything is better than the bench seat of a dusty truck. I’ll be perfectly comfortable on the couch, I swear,”
“No,” he said, without saying anything more. It was one of the things I was beginning to like about him. He didn’t feel the need to explain everything all the time. He didn’t just talk to fill the silence between us with useless words.
Jake made a grocery store run while I finished unpacking. I offered to make dinner for us as a thank you, even though my skills were more of the heating up variety, but he had told me he loved to cook and never really had a chance or a place to do it while he was on the road.
I sat at the counter and watched him slice and chop vegetables. He finally took pity on my uselessness and let me peel potatoes but not without a thorough tutorial first. He had marinated chicken thighs in different spices and set them under the broiler. “You really know what you’re doing, don’t you?” I was amazed by his skills in the kitchen. “Who taught you how to cook?”
“My mom. She went to culinary school, but came back here after she graduated. She wanted to open her own restaurant, but then she married my dad and had Mason and me, so she kept putting it off.” He dropped some chopped onions into a pan. They sizzled and popped when they hit the oil. “Your mom never taught you how to cook?” he asked.