Braving the Heat(4)

By: Regan Black

An intense, inexplicable sadness came over her as she secured the last box in the truck bed. This wasn’t an ending. It wasn’t as if she’d been evicted. That would come later, if she lost her job. This was one more untimely circumstance in a life that had suddenly been filled with high hurdles.

With a final glance at the lovely old building she’d called home, she headed back to the club and a long shift that would keep her mind and body busy for the rest of the night.

* * *

At Galway Automotive the phone rang, a shrill sound interrupting the throbbing pulse of the heavy metal music filling the garage. Under the back end of a 1967 Camaro SS, Stephen Galway used the voice control to lower the volume on the music. At an hour past closing on a Friday, he wasn’t obligated to answer the phone, but a heads-up for what problems might be showing up tomorrow never hurt.

“Pick up, Stephen. It’s Mitch.” His brother’s voice wasn’t nearly as soothing as the heavy metal had been. The oldest of Stephen’s younger siblings, Mitch was the one who consistently refused to let him stay off the family radar for too long.

“I know you’re there,” Mitch pressed.

Where else would he be?

“He’ll come through,” Mitch promised in an undertone to someone on his end of the call.

“Not your job to make promises for me, little brother,” Stephen muttered.

“Pick up,” Mitch said, bossy now. “I’ve got a friend here at the club with car trouble. Tow it out of the employee parking lot and we’ll come by and look it over when I have time tomorrow.” He gave the make, model and license plate number of the car.

Huh. Stephen rolled out from under the Camaro, wiping grease from his hands. His brother knew as much about cars as he did. If Mitch couldn’t get his friend’s car rolling, there was a serious problem. Still, he didn’t pick up, waiting to see if his brother would sweeten the deal.

Mitch swore. “Come on, Stephen. The club has your kind of group onstage tonight. I’ll buy you a beer and help you hook up the car.”

Stephen picked up the handset. “I’ll head over.” He glanced down at his stained T-shirt and jeans. The customer waiting on the Camaro wasn’t in any rush, preferring this rebuild and restoration be done perfectly rather than by a specific date. If only they could all be that patient, Stephen thought. “Give me an hour or so.”

Dropping the receiver back into place, he scowled at his stained hands and T-shirt. Promised beer or not, if he wanted inside the Escape Club during business hours he had to clean up. He put his work space to rights and lowered the bay door. The Camaro would be waiting when he returned.

He walked through the office and around to the refurbished camper he’d parked behind the building. Not that long ago, he would’ve headed to the house he once shared with Mitch, but his brother and Julia, his recent bride, had eventually settled there after their honeymoon.

Stephen had promised his mom he’d find a decent house somewhere near the shop. It was a good neighborhood. Instead, he kept taking on more work, limiting his time to search. The last time he’d gone house hunting had been with his fiancée, Annabeth. Even after three long years he still couldn’t walk a property without hearing in his head how she’d react.

Last year, when his parents had suggested he move back home with them, he’d bristled. He hadn’t taken it any more gracefully when Mitch and Julia swore he wouldn’t be in their way. The newlyweds didn’t need a big brother crowding them. His parents didn’t need him returning home when they could all but taste the empty nest. His youngest sister, Jenny, was almost ready to spread her wings.

Although they meant well, there were days when he was sure he’d drown under all the love and good intentions of his family.

Losing Annabeth before they’d had a chance to experience the life they’d dreamed of didn’t make him an invalid. He maintained a successful business and supported the PFD and other causes in the community that mattered to him. Stephen continued to give special attention to the after-school program where his fiancée had worked, and where three years ago she’d been shot and killed for having the audacity to help kids avoid gangs and drugs.

He’d long since given up on shedding the melancholy that hovered like a storm cloud over his life. What his family wanted for him and what he knew he could handle were two different things. He didn’t bother trying to convince them anymore. Work was all the sunlight he needed. Cars and engines he could understand, fix and make new again. People were too fragile, himself included. In his mind, that was all the rationalization necessary for the old Airstream trailer he’d purchased. After months of work, inside and out, he considered it home, though he wasn’t yet brave enough to use the word within his mother’s hearing.

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