Not My Type: Felicity Ch. 01byfirstkiss©
"Sorry Matt, I appreciate the invite but I should take Dad his medicine."
He looked hurt. "Okay. Well, maybe I'll come down later and help you with the repair."
"It's your day off," I pointed out. His offer surprised me. Matt didn't make it a habit of hanging out at the garage on his off hours. He'd stay if we were over-loaded with work, or if I asked him to, but he rarely volunteered it.
He shrugged. "Got nothin' better to do. The cable doesn't get hooked up until Monday and Lilly, Violet, and Mom have most of the unpacking done."
"Thanks for offering, but I can handle it." I sounded brusquer than I would have liked but there was no way I'd confess to Matt that I couldn't afford to pay him the extra hours. I was actually glad to have the repair to do; it meant that maybe I'd have enough at the end of the following week to pay him the wages I already owed him.
"It's just the alternator, I can do it myself."
Matt actually looked crestfallen, but then came a shout from the stairs as the men contemplated the best way to get the sofa to the second floor.
"I should go and help," Matt said with a smile. "I guess I'll see you Monday."
Matt bounded towards his brothers and father before I managed a reply. I'd been forgotten in favour of the laughter and smart-ass banter. I parked the tow-truck at the side of the building then checked if I had the parts necessary to replace the alternator on the mini-van. Laughter floated down from the open windows of the apartment upstairs. I did my best to ignore it.
When I slipped home an hour later, I found my dad asleep in his armchair. The television was set to the sports channel, broadcasting the baseball scores from the day before at a glaring volume. A cigarette smouldered in the ashtray near his elbow and there was a glass of melting ice and watered-down rye on the side table next to him. I snubbed out the cigarette and poured the ruined drink down the kitchen sink. It wasn't even two o'clock.
I unwrapped the new bottle of his "medicine" from the brown paper bag and set it beside a fresh glass of ice so he wouldn't have to get out of his chair when he woke. Then I made him a ham and cheese sandwich too, so he'd at least have something in his stomach besides the booze. I wrestled with the idea of waking him but decided to curl up at the end of the couch and study him. Seeing my father like this broke my heart all over again.
He hadn't always been so bad. Yes, he enjoyed a drink or two after a long day at work, but so did most girls' dads. But since his accident he had increased his intake significantly. I guess there wasn't much else for him to do around the house.
My few hesitant attempts at talking to him about his drinking had been met with antagonism, so I let it drop. He wasn't an angry or violent drinker. The only time he ever yelled was when I challenged him on the amount he consumed, so the easiest thing to do was just to live with it. He used the alcohol to numb the pain in his back. I should have put a stop to it, but I couldn't bear to see him suffer.
The doctor said his back would never be the same and even with the recommended surgery there was no guarantee he'd live his life pain-free. Dad flat out refused to consider having surgery even if it could have made him as good as new.
"Body's not an engine," he told me and the doctor. "It ain't meant for tinkerin' with."
And so weeks slipped into months, and months to more than a year. He had improved enough to be able to move about the house on his own, some days without his cane. He could cook for himself and take care of his basic needs. That was about as far as he progressed. He never left the house, although sometimes he'd venture out to the back porch to sit in the sunshine and smoke.
Dad never had much to say to me, that much had remained the same. He rarely asked about the shop and he never asked me how I was doing. He just sat in front of the television with a glass of rye in hand and let his days slide by in a drunken haze.
Meanwhile my days drifted on in an endless stream of silent worry about the business and money and my father. Matt was the only bright spot in my life and I couldn't exactly unburden my woes to him. He was sunshine and laughter, with a spirit as vivid as his hair. There was no room in his life for the dark.
I rose from the couch and crossed the room to open a few windows. August had begun a little cooler than usual, but the room was still stifling. Fresh air might do Dad some good. He didn't even stir from his sleep as I murmured good-bye.
The Tanner brood had left by the time I returned to the shop. Matt's car was in his parking spot and all was quiet. I didn't know why, but it made me feel lonelier knowing he was up there. I threw open the bay doors so that the sunshine and fresh air could flood the garage. With only the radio for company, I got to the business of replacing the alternator on the minivan. To keep my mind occupied while my hands worked I sang along to every song on the radio, just not loud enough to be heard by the man upstairs.
I hated Sundays. The garage was closed but I always ended up there anyway. Dad had made it a habit to stay in bed until almost noon so I usually spent the morning doing laundry and housework before heading over to the shop.
If we were behind in repairs I'd finish them, if we needed parts I'd order them, and there were always the books to update and papers to file. Stewart and Sons didn't have anything as remotely advanced as a computer—at least not one apart from the diagnostic computer in the shop. I could have picked up an old desktop computer for my office, but neither Matt nor I possessed the patience for them and so everything had been written out by hand, even my financial ledgers, just the way my dad had always done it. Sundays were a good day for catching up on the dreaded accounts.
I made myself a cup of coffee and lined up all my receipts and bills for the week. I soon realized there were a lot more numbers in the Out column than in the In. I did the math again. And then again just to be sure. The further down the page I went, the more my hands shook. There was a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I concluded that with everything tallied and Matt's wages taken out, I'd made a profit of twenty-seven dollars and thirty-nine cents.
How in heaven's name were we going to survive on twenty-seven dollars and thirty-nine cents? Dad drank more than that in a week.
There wasn't anything for it, nothing I could do other than sink my head into my hands and cry.
Tears wouldn't help the situation but once they started falling, I couldn't make them stop. I should have known better than to allow myself the luxury of feeling sorry for myself. It was weakness and I didn't have any room for weakness. Somebody had to be strong for my father and for the shop. By default that somebody was me. There was nothing I could do but shoulder the burden. Alone.
I froze mid sob, mortified that Matt had found me like this. His work-roughened hands stroked my arms.
"Flick, honey, is everything okay?"
I peeked through my fingers in time to see him crouched down beside me. He swivelled my chair around until I faced him.
"N-nothing," I mumbled. I freed one of my arms from Matt's gentle grip and wiped at my damp eyes with the back of my hand.
His answered chuckle was kind.
"That doesn't look like 'nothing', honey." Matt reached out to touch my tear-stained cheek, but I turned my face away, too embarrassed to accept any tenderness from him.
"Why don't you tell me what's wrong and I'll fix it," he offered in a soft, soothing tone.
Here I thought I knew every side of Matthew Tanner, but I'd never witnessed this gentle and protective version. Hell, I didn't even know he was capable of speaking at a volume of less than ten decibels, never mind in a tone designed to comfort. My heart ached even harder than it did before.
"You can't fix it," I told him. My voice sounded thick, the words forced through a throat swollen with too much despair. "It's not fixable."
Matt ran his hands up and down my arms. He meant the gesture to be comforting, I know, but instead it made me shiver. He never really touched me before; at least not anything more than our fingers brushing accidentally while I passed him a wrench.
"Sure it is," Matt murmured. "Between you and me, we can fix anything."
I didn't have a reply to that. I used to think that was true. In the past if one of us couldn't see how to fix something we'd always turned to the other. But this wasn't about sticky carburetors or stubborn lug nuts. This problem was much, much bigger.
I looked up to find Matt glancing at the account ledger spread open on my desk.
"Money? Is that what this is about?"
I couldn't very well lie to him, not when he'd read the columns of credits and debits.
"Don't worry about it," I rushed to tell him as I reached over to close the ledger. But Matt slid his hand in the way. He gently wrestled the book from my grip. His eyes skimmed down the page, widening when they saw the total at the bottom. He looked up at me, shocked.
"I know things have been a little slow lately, but is it as bad as all that?"
I could only nod.
"Maybe you have this wrong," he mused as he reached for the calculator. "You must have subtracted something instead of adding it."
"It's not wrong. I checked it three times."
Matt's eyes met mine. "You mean to tell me we made twenty-seven dollars and thirty-nine cents this week?"
"Not we. Me."
He rubbed at the stubble framing his mouth. Matt always looked like he hadn't shaved in a few days and I thought the attractive dusting of auburn on his jaw line suited him. I sometimes wondered what he'd look like if he let it grow.
"You must have it wrong, Flick." Matt stood, spread the ledger back out across my desk, came around behind my chair and leaned over me. "Six-hundred-seventy-nine dollars and eighty-cents. What's that for?" He asked as he ran his fingers of the other down the columns of numbers.
"Parts. That shipment of brake pads and rotors we got in a little while ago."
"Do you have to pay them this week? Couldn't you wait a few more days?"
It took me a moment to answer. Matt had leaned in so close that I felt the heat radiate off of him. All I had to do was ease back an inch or two and I'd be pressed against his broad chest. My throat ached with how much I wanted to do it. I didn't though; I sat poker-straight and tried not to think about how good he smelled, like soap and clean laundry, in a room that had a faint underscore of motor oil.
"It's almost been thirty days already. That's all they give me."
Matt's rumble of frustration vibrated in my chest. He began flipping pages, his eyes darting over the numbers. I'd never let him see the books before, he never asked to. Money was a serious topic and serious topics weren't Matthew Tanner's thing. I doubted if he ever thought about the financial side of the business.
"What are all of these?" he asked as he pointed out individual pay outs. I pulled my gaze from studying the ripple of muscle along his arm, to each entry he indicated. "Twelve-hundred-fifty-six dollars and forty-nine cents, a thousand-thirty-one thirty, eleven-hundred-sixty-six? That's a lot of money..." His voice trailed off as he recognized the figures.
"Those are your paycheques."
Matt froze then slumped forward. Despite my effort to keep a safe distance, his chest came to rest against my shoulders.
"Are you serious?" His cheek brushed the top of my head as he spoke.
I barely whispered, "Yes."
He didn't move for a long time, he just leaned against me, solid and warm. Every breath I took was filled with his pure, fresh scent.
"I take everything you make?"
"You earn a fair wage," I said quickly. It wasn't as if I'd never noticed before how much of the garage's income went to Matt. "Although you'd make more working at a big garage in the city."
"I don't want to work in a big garage in the city." His breath tickled my ear. "I want to work here. With you."
I savoured the unintentional compliment and locked it deep in my heart so I could replay it whenever I felt lonely.
"And I want you to work here, which is why I pay you." I put a teasing lilt on my words, hoping he'd miss the sincerity behind them.
"This isn't fair," Matt said in a rough murmur. He flipped through the pages and studied the numbers again. "Do you ever take home any money for yourself?"
"A little for groceries and bills, when I can."
"You don't get a pay cheque?"
"Not as such, no. Welcome to the joys of owning a small business."
"Hmm." I shivered as his breath fanned my ear again. "Just how the hell are you going to manage groceries and bills with twenty-seven dollars and thirty-nine cents?"
I shrugged in response only to feel my back brush against his chest.
"Hence the tears," Matt filled in.
"Hence the tears," I admitted in defeat.
He spun my chair around so fast I didn't have time to prepare myself. With his hands braced on the arms of the chair on either side of me, Matt filled my entire line of vision. The room kept spinning even as my chair remained still. I'd never been this close to him before. His eyes were such a vivid blue. I couldn't breathe. He was so close I could have reached up and kissed him.
"I can't let that happen. You said I couldn't fix this, but I can. I don't want my paycheque this week."
I shook my head. "You earned that money, Matt."
"What about you? You work twice as hard as I do around here. What did you earn?"
"Your undying respect?" My timing was lousy but humour was the only way I knew to lighten the tension and intensity in the room before I did something foolish and regretted it. Why did he have to be so good-looking?
"This isn't funny, Flick. When was the last time you ate a proper meal? The last time you bought yourself something? The last time you went out?"
"I have the shop and I have Dad," I reminded him. "I don't have time for those things."
"You don't have the money for those things!" Matt countered. "That's not right. Not when you work as hard as you do."
I had no argument to offer him.
"You're young, Flick. Too young for this place to be your life."
"You think I have a choice? Dad depends on me. And if this place wasn't my life you'd be out of a job!"
He hung over me, his face only inches from my own.
"What if you took a little of my rent out of each pay cheque instead of waiting until the first of the month for the money? That way you'd have a little more every week to work with."
It was a good suggestion, one I wish I'd thought of myself. I nodded.
"And it's only fair that I pay you first and last month's rent on the place, just like I would if I were renting anywhere else. That's fourteen-hundred dollars I owe you."
Fourteen-hundred dollars sounded like a lottery jackpot. My eyes widened. "That's a lot of money, Matt. You can't afford that."
Matt gave me a crooked smile. "I'm in a better position than you think. Besides, Mom and Dad would help me out. Or I could borrow it from Joe and Rhi. In fact, if I asked, I'm sure they'd help you out too."
I shook my head. "No! I won't take hand-outs from your family. I'll manage."
"By sitting at your desk and crying?"
"That was just a moment of weakness," I shot back. His eyes roamed my face as if he were afraid I'd burst into tears at any second. "Don't worry, it won't happen again."
The lines around his lips and eyes softened. "You work so hard. You take care of your dad, you take care of the shop, and you take care of me. Who takes care of you, Flick?"
"No one. No one ever has." The words slipped out before I could stop them.
Matt paused and considered what I had just told him. He probably couldn't imagine what it felt like to be in my predicament. Life had been kind to him. He was handsome, funny, charming, and everyone liked him. He didn't have to struggle through the nasty parts of life alone. His biggest worries were nothing more serious than what to have for dinner on any given night and which girl to take out once the weekend rolled around.
"Well that's going to change," Matt promised. "I'm not letting you carry the burden of this place by yourself. We're in this together and we'll find a way to get more cash coming in. Then maybe you'll relax a little and enjoy life."
Even if I did have more money in the bank, I couldn't see a future where my life would change. Sure, I'd have one less thing to worry about, but there would still be the endless routine of working at the garage all day and minding my father at night.
"I don't have a life to enjoy." Not when Matt always lingered in the background, like an itch that wouldn't go away, one I'd never reach.
He leaned down and chucked me under the chin. "Well that's going to change too, starting today. You're coming with me."
To be continued...