“Hey Tom, you wanted to see me?” Gina asked as she entered Tom’s office. A small two-person office in a dark wood with two desks, and to complete the room the mandatory two-office manager chairs. No one had lived in the four-bedroom house for over ten years.
She was out of her work coveralls that she wore when she worked on trucks. Now in a pair of blue jeans and white blouse and pair of calfskin cowboy boots, she had let her thick curly dark hair fall about her shoulders. She was one of the few women that Tom had ever met that did not need some form of makeup. Her brown eyes were so dark that they looked almost black, added to the thickest eyelashes, a trait that came from her mother’s family.
Gina was quarter Cherokee and half-Italian, and to throw a kink into the heritage background she was another quarter Hawaiian. She had the fine features of her Italian grandmother, eyes of the Cherokee, but skin tone of her Hawaiian ancestry. Her skin was almost the color of golden honey, but when you put them all together, she was a real knockout.
Tom picked up a stack of papers and tossed them across the desk at Gina. He looked at her and said,
“You better get your daughter on the insurance before you have problems.” Gina’s face went pale. She’d never told Tom about Jenny. She’d been afraid that he wouldn’t hire her.
“I want to know why you didn’t tell me.” Tom’s face was kind.
Gina was not sure how to answer Tom so she told the truth.
“I was afraid being female with a child that you wouldn’t give me the time of day. I was sure that if you gave me a chance as a mechanic. Then you would have to judge me on my work and not as a woman with a child.” Ashamed for not telling Tom about Jenny Gina blushed.
“I’m sorry, my daughter has some problems. I was more concerned with her health and trying to support her. I needed a job fast.” Hiding Jenny was the last thing she had ever intended to do.
“What kind of problems does she have? May I ask?”
Her face showed the strain. “Jenny has some physical handicaps. We don’t know to what extent her mental handicap is or will be. Listen, I am sorry for not telling you about Jenny. I might as well come clean with the whole story.” Gina sat down with a heavy sigh.
“I moved after my divorce from her father. He’d beaten me in a drunken rage. He promised to kill me if I went ahead with the pregnancy. He was hoping I would lose Jenny. I didn’t, and I got custody. That was five years ago. Jenny is in leg braces for the physical problems which included two dislocated hips and a dislocated pelvic girdle and she seems to be in a lot of pain with her legs.” Gina bit her lip. “Jenny expresses this by saying, “Don’t be rude or rudeness will not be tolerated.” Mentally, I think the slowness she is showing will be out grown.”
She got quiet. Her eyes filled with tears, but she did not give into them.
“I don’t want to say I’m running from him. I did not want to give him any chance to get to us. I did not even ask for child support, and according to the divorce decree, he gave up all parental rights. Carlos should have no legal way to get to Jenny or me. I have the court orders for him to stay away from us, but that and sixty-cents will get you a cup of coffee. I believe he will contact me some of these days. How or why I don’t know. It’s just a feeling I have.”
She looked at Tom and laughed. “There you have it. It is the abridged version.”
Tom nodded and handed her a pen. “I’m sorry about the whole mess that you have been through, but you don’t have to worry about being safe here. I will ok the insurance. I have pull with the insurance company your daughter will be covered.”
Gina’s eyes began to tear again. “I can’t thank you enough. She hasn’t had many problems so time off will not be a problem. She does need to go back for an operation on her legs, but the doctor’s want her to grow awhile first. How did you find out about Jenny?”
“Did you really think that living in a town this small, I wouldn’t run into you at the store or someplace?”
“I guess I have been so busy that I truthfully hadn’t thought about it.” Her face was turning slightly pink. She signed the papers and handed them back to Tom.
Tom looked at them and back at Gina. “Now I have a question for you.”
“Tom, after you telling me about the insurance, I guarantee you could ask me for the moon and I’d try to get it for you.”
“Well I’m not asking for the moon. I would ask you to do me the favor of going to a boring class reunion with me this weekend?”
“What? The nerd makes good, or the school jock can’t get a date?” Gina asked light heartedly. The quick lighthearted wit made him smile.
Tom laughed right out loud. “Worse my ex-wife was high school sweetheart and homecoming queen. Mary is going to be there with her new friend. I do not want to go alone. I also do not want to take someone who is a piece of fluff. I know a few like that. I want to be able to talk with someone that can handle anything I can throw out. I know that you’ll laugh with me at stupid stuff and maybe keep me from hitting a creep or two.”
“That’s a pretty tall order. Laughing with you is not hard. Looking good, enough to make the ex-wife jealous is an interesting idea. Keeping you from thumping a few creeps might not be easy. If they are that bad maybe you will have to keep me from doing it.” She teased him. She loved sitting and talking with Tom. Over the last year, he had become a great boss and a good friend to her.
Tom laughed, “I’m not asking you to make Mary jealous. There are a few people; I would like to see fall on the floor. They might if I walked in with you.”
She blushed, “Well, I don’t know about that. I will make you a deal come to supper this evening and tutor me about some these people and I’ll introduce you to my little angel.”
He agreed. “What time tonight? What can I bring to help with dinner?”
“Well I have to go and pick up Jenny, but if you want to give me about two hours I’ll have a passable meal started. You don’t have to bring anything, except maybe a high school yearbook.” She leaned over the desk and wrote her address down on a scrap paper. As Gina wrote, Tom could smell her perfume something light and flowery.
“See you in a couple of hours.” She turned and walked out.
Tom looked out of the front office window. He had managed to do well for himself. He had forty trucks in his fleet. He had bought the house and land for the back taxes. It was adequate for his needs. He was the only person in the office. He did the payroll, logs, billing, hiring and anything else he needed to do for the company. He lived in the back of the office. It was big enough for a family of four to live in and still have the office. If he got married he would build an office building. He would never again let business interrupt on personal life. He had made that mistake once.
He stood and looked out the front window. There was room to fence the yard for younger children. As they grew older, a swimming pool, and grill area could go in back. He could start that office sooner than later.
He was not one to turn the business over to someone else that had been the downfall of his marriage to Mary. It would be the wife and lover of him until forever. No one else would put up with him or the company. He would not mind trying again if he could get someone like Gina to give him a chance.
Truth was he was tired of being alone. He’d been thinking of Gina a lot of late. It had started when he found the rusted engine block in the old dump truck bed full of oil. He knew that it had been Gina. None of the others would have put that much work in on that old engine. He would make sure that she had some extra money in the paycheck. He had to be careful on how he did it so as not to offend her. Gina did not expect anything out the extra work. He could not have her doing things without pay since she was raising her daughter alone.
Tom stood behind her one evening at the food store while she was shopping with her daughter. The child seemed happy for the most part. He had noticed the braces on the child’s legs. Gina was laughing and singing silly little songs to her. The little girl was laughing, but her eyes did not seem happy. If her little legs were hurting that would explain a lot. No wonder Gina had been so nervous about telling him about Jenny.
The head mechanic was coming across the grounds as Tom stood there looking out the window. Stan watched him, and knew that Tom did not see him.
“That man needs a family.” Stan thought. “Thank god for my Carrie.” I hope I never have that look. Loneliness that is what it was. Gina had the same look. Those two need each other, but it wasn’t for him to say.
“Hey Boss, need anything before I take off,” Stan asked as he stuck his head in the door. Stan was fond of him. He had been working with Tom when the divorce went through. Tom had thrown himself into work and never mentioned it. Tom had never let it show. Tom came to dinner about once a month with Carrie and Stan. They always had a good time and Stan’s grandkids loved Tom.
“Stan have you got a minute?” Tom asked. “I do have something on my mind. Would you like a pop or something?” Stan shook his head and sat in the other office chair. “What’s up Tom?”
“How much time has Gina spent on the old engine out there?” Tom asked.
The mechanic started laughing. “Tom nothing gets past you does it? Near as I can figure about twelve hours. She was coming back out after everyone was gone. She worked, four nights about three to four hours a night. Look, I have already told her not to do it anymore. She did not want you to know. Heck Tom, I did not know until this afternoon. I would not have known then, except I kept missing those used barrels of oil that I usually send out after a time. She confessed the whole thing to me after you were out at the shop today.” Stan was laughing. “You know she did the inventory for parts one afternoon. She had a parts list on my desk before I had even had a chance to think about it. She is one of the best hands I have ever had working for me. I am afraid she is going to get hurt. She pulls her weight better than most. I can’t fault her work.” Stan said.
Tom shook his head in agreement. “That brings up my point. I was thinking that I might move her into the office to help me out and do inventory for you. The files in here are a mess, and I might catch up for a change. If I do I‘ll have to hire another mechanic. What do you think? ”
“You know if you cut her wages she’ll leave in a heartbeat. I had not said anything, but Tom that girl needs the money. She’s raising a daughter by herself.”
Tom held up his hand. “I know I just put the child on the insurance tonight. Why didn’t you let me know?”
Stan’s face went red. “Gina is a very proud woman. When I found out, I was going to come to you. She was so afraid that you would fire her. She came to me in tears and begged me not to. Gina asked me to give her chance. That if she did not pull her weight then she would come and quit. We agreed on six months. By the end of six months, I had a worker I did not want to lose. Tom, that woman is worth two mechanics and right now I have good mechanics in the shop.”
Tom nodded, “I know the last three trucks that have gone through inspections haven’t had a problem. Here is the other thing, she told me a story tonight about her daughter that I think I’d better move her inside.”
Stan nodded, “I know her daughter has problems. Gina does the best she can, but she cannot be every place. I have seen her at lunch so upset that she can’t be with her daughter when the child’s legs are hurting her that she has been in tears. She wouldn’t admit it and it’s not a good idea to bring attention to it. She is a very proud woman.”
“Stan, there’s something else. Gina has agreed to go to my class reunion on Saturday.” Tom’s face showed he just realized it. “I may be asking for trouble. I have not even wanted to go out with another woman since Mary. Then tonight it just happened. I’m going over to tell her about some of the people she’ll meet on Saturday and to eat dinner with her and Jenny.”
“Now that’s good news. Tom, that’s real good news. I think it would work for both of you. It’s time that you quit moping over that woman Mary, and had some fun. Heaven knows that Gina needs some fun.”
Stan stood up to leave. “Hey Tom, there is something that I need to tell you on my home front. Eliza and Brad are moving to Austin. I’m sure that Carrie is going to want to go down and help get Eliza settled in.”
Tom’s face showed surprise. When did this come about? How is Carrie taking it?
“Well officially, I don’t know that she knows. I know that she and Eliza talk all the time. I am sure they are waiting on my reaction. Brad called me on Sunday on the pretext of needing some tools out here. It was a ruse so we could talk. He put a resume in at a prestigious law firm and flew down there for an interview. They hired him on the spot. They gave Brad a hefty six-figure salary, among other benefits. They want him to start next Monday. They are buying them a house and paying for the move. So they will leave immediately.”
“That’s wonderful for those kids. Brad’s is a sharp attorney. This is a wonderful opportunity for him. You let me know when you will be gone. Stan, you have not had time off in ages. We can work around it. Tell them I said Congratulations!”
“Yes Brad deserves it. Thanks it will mean a lot to Carrie. Listen, if you are supposed to meet Gina and Jenny. You had better get a move on. I had better get moving also. Carrie, will have my hide if I don’t get the coals ready for grilling. Tom, take it slow and see happens with Gina. You’re a good man; it’s time to have some fun.” He gave a nod as he walked out.
Tom watched as his friend walked to his truck. Stan was right. It was time to start again. It had been 5 years since the divorce from Mary. What was he waiting on a formal invitation?
Gina stopped to get Jenny from the sitter. Jenny was sitting on the floor crying and the sitter was mad.
“What’s wrong Mrs. Williams?” Gina picked up Jenny.
“What’s wrong is that child has cried all day. Take her bag and do not bring her back. I’ll keep the rest of the week’s money for my trouble. I won’t keep her anymore.”
“Mrs. Williams, what happened? What did Jenny do?”
Gina was furious, but she managed to keep her tone even and calm. She knew already what the problem was Jenny’s left leg brace was cutting into her leg, which was why Jenny cried all day
“That child has screamed and yelled all day long.” The woman huffed “Don’t be rude, rudeness will not be tolerated. I have had it.” Mrs. Williams was a not a smart woman. She had five children. The woman was a good mother and only stood 5’5 and 110 pounds and at forty, she was grey haired and hooked nosed. Nina’s husband had a truck dropped on him on his last job and now spent his time drinking.
“Mrs. Williams, my daughter only acts up when she is in pain.” Gina’s tone was curt. “The braces are cutting her leg, which tells me that you haven’t touched her all day. You have not had them off her. They are much too tight. Now you are going to return half of my money and I will not say a word to anyone about how she was sitting here in pain. If you refuse, I will go straight to the police and file charges against you for neglect. This is only Tuesday so you would owe me twenty-five dollars. It’s your call.” She held her hand out for the money.
Mrs. Williams muttering under her breath went and got twenty-five dollars and handed it to Gina. “Find someone else to keep Jenny.”
“I will, but I‘d like to know how Jenny‘s left leg brace got bent.” When no replied came. Gina and Jenny’s things and walked out.
“Just when I told Tom I wouldn’t need any time off.” She wished she could be home with Jenny all the time, but that wasn’t going to happen any time soon. She managed to get a tissue between the brace and Jenny’s leg, so it would not hurt as bad.
They ran into Stan Maynard’s wife Carrie at the grocery store. She told Carrie everything that happened. Carrie did not hesitate,
“I’ll keep Jenny for you. I am not keeping any of the grandkids now with them all in school. Eliza and Brad are moving to Austin, Texas.”
“Oh Carrie, when is this happening? Stan hadn’t said a word.” She knew Carrie and Stan were very close to their daughter Eliza and her husband Brad and their three kids. Kim was nine, Joey was eight and all boy, and little Tina was now six. Tina would come and play with Jenny.
“That’s because he doesn’t know or at least I don‘t think he does. Eliza called me today to confirm. Brad has a great job offer with a law firm. He can’t afford to turn it down. Major money increase and they will pay for the moving. They have to be there by next Monday. So they are leaving tomorrow.”
“Oh that’s great for them, but I know how close you are to them.” Gina was sorry for the woman. “Stan will be disappointed. Carrie, are you sure you want to take on my little handful?” Jenny sat listening.
“It would be doing me a favor. It would give me something to do. It would help me not miss the kids so bad. Jenny would you like to come and stay with me during the day from now on?” Carrie was a gray headed and all the kid’s grandmother.
Jenny held her arms up to Carrie and gave her a hug “Yes, I would. Please Mommy can I go stay with Grandma Carrie? I don’t like that other place.” Jenny pleaded.
“Well, I tell you what if Stan says ok, it would be fine with me Carrie. It would be nice to know that Jenny is safe. You and Stan have to let me pay you.” She looked at her watch.
“I’ll talk to you later. I am fixing dinner for Tom Riggs tonight. He asked me to his class reunion and I told him I’d go if he’d come over and give me a run down on the people I’d be meeting.” She was surprised to see Carrie was smiling at her.
“Tom Riggs for dinner, well, that’s nice to know. You had better get moving. I will talk to Stan tonight, but I know he won’t care.”