On the Corner of Heartache and Hopeful–Mic

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The scent of honeysuckle and lilac infused Mic’s senses. She closed her eyes, adjusted her sweaty grip, sucked her upper lip in between her teeth and released the air. Her arms shook with fatigue from having been over her head for almost ten minutes, but she knew it was close. So close. Another deep breath. This time, she held it, her eyes now squeezed shut, her lips pulled back into a sneer.

Just one. . .more. . . .

The rusted nut gave way under her pressure and the air came out of her lungs in a gush.

“Got it!”

A chorus of “Yeas!” along with a smattering of applause greeted her announcement as the sound of the ratchet wrench echoed in the cramped garage.

Before the nut was dislodged from the bolt, she stopped and lowered her arms. Blood rushed down her limbs to tingle her fingertips. She jumped from the makeshift platform, positioned under the belly of the eight-year-old Toyota sedan, and tossed the ratchet to Abe Vincent, the best transmission mechanic in three counties.

“Think you can get this tranie ready to send to the shop in Lincoln by this afternoon?”

Abe nodded. “Shouldn’t be a problem, now that we’ve got that last stubborn bolt loose.” He grinned. “You must have had a real restful vacation to display such strength, huh, boss?”

She wiped the transmission fluid off her arms with a shop rag. “Right. That and being blessed with small hands.”

Good-natured laughter met her statement as she walked to the water cooler. She observed her four-man mechanic crew hustle about working, not only on the Toyota, but also doing a lube, oil, filter on Mr. Schmidt’s Saturn.

Her glance wandered outside, where the traffic was light, as usual. The corner of Heartache and Hopeful in Tatum, Nebraska wasn’t the epicenter of anything much expect Nebraska cold, Nebraska heat, Nebraska dust and wind.

Across the street, the bus station stood empty as the one and only bus left before dawn each morning. Catty-corner from Mic’s shop was a tiny strip mall, hosting five businesses. Three were shuttered. Just a fitness club and yogurt shop managed to scratch out a profit. Across from the mall was a vacant lot, boasting the last vestige of prairie grass in a forty mile radius along with a huge honey locust tree. She sighed.

The ten-day visit to Denver had been restful, and unsettling. Seeing Carmen always was. Not because Mic didn’t dearly love her cousin, and her husband and kids, but because every visit brought home what Mic didn’t have, her own family.

She didn’t have a husband to hog the mirror in the morning for his shave while she tried to brush her teeth. She didn’t have kids who made mud pie and needed to be hauled to baseball practices and games. She didn’t have the life portrayed in all those romance books and movies she used to read and watch.

Tears stung her eyes and she walked from the activity in the garage towards her office. Her throat still clogged up remembering how Carman had asked her to be godmother to Kayla Rae, the newest addition to Rutherford family. The honor was so bittersweet.

Raucous laughter from behind pivoted her around. The youngest mechanic, Boyd, a high school senior working at the garage for extra credit, sprinted across the crowded floor, dodging the various rolling tool cabinets, trying to escape his older brother, Glenn, who had a glob of transmission fluid stuck to the side of his face.

“Come back here, you little bast–.”

The curse was cut short when Glenn managed to snagged the back of Boyd’s shirt, put him in a headlock and give him a noogie with a handful of degreaser soap. Abe and Chuck looked on with wide grins.

“Aw, come on, man!” Boyd whined. “It was an accident!”

“So is this,” Glenn said, rubbing in the soap. “Besides, your hair could stand a good washing.”

Abe clapped his hands, chuckling. “All right, you two. Enough. Get back to work.”

With a shake of her head, Mic headed into her office. She may not have a family, but she did have children.

The ’62 Mercury Comet, which pulled into the lot, stopped her movement as apprehension tripped along her neck.

Ester Trehune was her most loyal, and punctual customer. A person could set their clocks by her promptness. She always scheduled her tune-up appointments, and her next one wasn’t due for six more weeks. If a problem had come up, she would have phoned ahead. She wouldn’t just show up unannounced.

When Ester’s strapping grandson unfolded his frame from the vintage sedan, Mic’s uneasiness became a distant thought. Her pulse rate climbed and her breathing turned shallow.

Ever since her junior year of high school, she’d had a secret crush on Scott Trehune. But then what living female wouldn’t? The man was drop-dead-gorgeous, with jet black hair, tanned skin, rippling muscles, and the most intense green eyes on the planet. She anticipated each time he came from New York City to visit Ester.

Mic smoothed the front of her dark blue shirt and spun her Cincinnati Reds baseball hat around forward on her head. Wishing she could at least put on a dab of lipstick, she settled for biting her lips as she walked out to meet him, her long braid swishing against her back with each step. As usual, he looked amazing, dressed in black slacks, a white turtleneck, and a black sports coat. Disappointment speared her. Sunglasses. No green eyes this morning.

“Hey!” she greeted with a smile. “Thought you were coming home for the Fourth of July. You should check your calendar. You’re two months early.”

The good-natured ribbing went unanswered as they stopped several feet from each other. Mic’s anxiety from before returned ten-fold. Even with the sunglasses, she could see fatigue lines etched on his handsome face. Her smile withered.

“What’s wrong?”

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