The Shape of Us: 02 Oil Change

Bill Buckman wasn’t sure if he should confront the man or just let him be. The waiting room was pretty empty for a Thursday morning and he wasn’t hurting anyone, but Mrs. Buckman (Bill’s mother as he hasn’t been fortunate enough to find his own Mrs. Buckman and, let’s be honest, no one can compare to your own mother) had taught her son a number of things and one of those things is that you don’t put your feet on the furniture. The man seemed both agitated and exhausted and after he checked in his car, he lounged on the only sofa in the room, swinging his legs up and curling his body as if he were ready for a nap. Bill stood there, clipboard in hand, just looking at the handsome man, amazed that someone could be so immediately comfortable. The buzz of a drill startled him out of his wonderings. He pushed open the door between the office and the garage area.

He’d only seen one of these in magazines and the red 1965 Chrysler Valiant drew a crowd. Some of the younger kids worked at the Happy Lube for the good hourly rate, but most of the workers loved cars and every one of them knew that this one was special. “I’ve seen one in red,” one said. “That blue is more like the blue on the Chevy models at the time, with the glitter,” said another. “Why would you bring it into a place like this?” another asked. Bill wondered as well. He hung up the clipboard and entered the order into the computer. It spat out a precise list of supplies, oil, fluids, new wiper blades…oh, they would have to order those. He waved his employees back to their own jobs, “if I had this car,” he said, “I’d probably just work on it myself, but let’s appreciate that we got a chance to see it.” He opened the front door to pop the hood and was overwhelmed by the smell of dog.

“I see you’ve been admiring my car,” said a man who suddenly appeared at the door. “I am not so good with machines, actually. And my friend has little interest.” Bill jumped out of the car to admonish the customer for being in the garage area. There were important insurance restrictions to follow and he wanted to move the man as soon as possible. “Sir, I’m sorry,” he started then looked up into the most beautiful face he’d ever seen. “Ah, um, can’t…here.” He blushed and instantly worried that he was disappointing his mother.

“I just ran over to the store for a coffee. My friend is in the waiting room, yes?”

Bill could only muster a tiny nod. The man walked away, and all eyes were on his tall frame and long silver hair. Someone from the back of the garage whistled. Bill shook his head and remembered, “Ah, sir.” The man turned around and Bill had to force the words out of his mouth. He felt exposed. “Ah, the windshield wipers will be a special order.”

The man’s face brightened. “Oh, no need.” He walked to the trunk and slapped the top. It opened as if under orders. “I have a supply of parts that you wouldn’t have in stock. I believe I have wipers in there.”

Bill walked around and peered inside. There were indeed windshield wipers, and filters, bulbs, an assortment of belts and two fuse kits. “I make sure I have everything necessary,” came a voice close to his ear. Bill backed against the car by instinct and turned looking into a mouth with a few too many canines. He looked up at the eyes and calmed down. No one could be afraid of those eyes.

“Well, then,” he said. “I’ll be in the waiting room.”

As the man turned the corner out of the garage, Bill visibly relaxed. Hank, his cousin working in the stall next to him said, “man, I thought he was going to stuff you in that trunk, Bill. Or eat you.”

Bill just nodded and walked slowly to the front of the car, trying to ignore the fact that he would have let that man stuff him in the trunk, no problem. Or eat him. Mrs. Buckman would not understand.

Dithering a bit on the work to give him time, Bill finally built up enough courage to face the waiting room. He attempted a show of confidence, speaking as soon as he opened the door. “Well, Mr. Sykes, it looks like everything is a-okay with the…” He stopped. The silver-haired Mr. Sykes sat on one end of the sofa. His other hand lovingly stroked the hair of the lounging man, now completely asleep, his head in the other man’s lap. Mr. Sykes looked down at his friend and smiled. “He had a very busy night and didn’t get much sleep.” He looked up. “Can you just bring the receipt over here?”

Bill watched them and with each step his resolve to please Mrs. Buckman with a nice little marriage to a nice little woman dissolved. This scene was what his heart knew love looked like. He wanted to stroke that man’s hair; he wanted his hair to be stroked. He wanted desperately to be involved. Yet as he approached, he could feel the barrier between them and him as if these two men created an entirely new unit, one with an impenetrable boundary. No one, especially not him, were welcome here. This new space had an occupancy of two. From the bottom of his lizard brain, he heard a dog growl. As he handed the receipt to Mr. Sykes, he stifled an overwhelming desire to flee.

“Thank you for your patronage,” he said with a voice that wavered between fear and longing. Mr. Sykes took the paper without looking up and ruffled the sleeping man’s hair. “Baron, time to go.” The man groaned, rolled over, and snuggled himself against Mr. Syke’s stomach. Bill heard a muffled “don’t wanna.” His heart nearly exploded.

Mr. Sykes smacked the man on the back. “Now now, we have a long drive ahead. Let’s go.” More muffled groaning and Mr. Sykes looked up and shrugged. What will I do with this silly man, was written all over his face. It was the same expression Mrs. Buckman would have about Mr. Buckman, rest his soul, and Bill knew how much they were in love.

“Down,” Mr. Sykes said loud and crisp like a bark. “Down, now.” The sleeping man jumped up and landed on the floor on all fours. He looked confused but after a moment realized where he was. He slowly stood up, stretching, raising his arms high above him and yawning. As he relaxed, he punched Mr. Sykes in the shoulder. “What’d you wake me up like that you bastard,” he said.

“You were getting too comfortable. You were embarrassing poor Bill here,” Mr. Sykes said, eyeing the name tag on Bill’s shirt. Bill flushed.

“Sorry,” said the other man dismissively and then turned to Mr. Sykes. “Are we done here?”

“Yes, the car’s all done. Want to get some lunch?”

The man seemed to come alive, “you bet I do. I am so hungry. I haven’t eaten in forever.” He moved swiftly toward the exit. “Come on,” he called back.

“Yes, yes.”

Without a look back, Mr. Sykes and his friend left the waiting area, and then left the parking lot. The sound of the Valiant’s engine faded and Bill stood there, dazed and tired. He wanted to run out of the building and see them off, see which way they were headed. Did they go right or left on Pacific? Turn on to 5th street? He wanted to follow, leaving the Happy Lube and Hank and, above all, Mrs. Buckman behind and discover for himself that love didn’t come from the same well his parents’ love had sprung. He wanted to find someone to create that barrier, that impenetrable boundary that kept everyone else out. For the first time in all his thirty-two years, he’d seen the truest love possible and it gave him hope.

Bill Buckman dropped his clipboard and cried.

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