tagRomanceAbove it All Ch. 02-03

Above it All Ch. 02-03

bycoaster2©

Chapter 2 Just a Coincidence?

The Alameda Running Festival was scheduled for October 25th and 26th, with a 10k scheduled on Sunday. I filled out the entry form and sent it in with my fee. I had no idea how many people would turn out for this event, but I suspected they would number in the thousands. It was listed as a "fun run," meaning there was no prize money, simply a ribbon and recognition. That was fine with me. I wouldn't likely be in line for a prize anyway. I was there for the change of pace and the exercise.

It was a cool morning and overcast, fortunately with no wind. I was in my usual running gear of nylon running vest and shorts, hoping we wouldn't have to stand around too long before the run began. I had one strategy and that was to get as close to the front as possible in order to avoid the mass of stragglers that always were at these events. I was reasonably successful, recognizing that there were usually a few "hot rods" up front, vying for the lead and wanting to win if possible. I'd done my stretching exercises a little earlier than normal, but I couldn't feel any tightness as I began to run. It didn't take long for my body heat to take away the chill and my muscles to loosen up.

I had a time in my head for this run, but I knew it would take a couple of kilometers before I could check my watch and see if it was a reasonable target. It was about the four kilometer mark when I became aware that someone was pacing me off my right shoulder. That wasn't unusual, but more often than not, they would drop back or pass me, wanting to run at their normal pace. In this case, that didn't happen. I finally took a look over my shoulder as we rounded a street corner and saw who it was.

My shadow runner was a woman; very tall and very blonde. She looked like she was quite comfortable at my pace and stuck right where she was over the next couple of kilometers. I could barely hear her foot fall, telling me she was an accomplished experienced runner. I looked back again and smiled, getting one in return. The impression she gave was that she planned to stay there for the duration.

My target for the run was to be somewhere between thirty-two and thirty-four minutes, and I wondered if that might not be too much for the woman. But as the kilometers passed, she remained right there on my shoulder, pacing me step for step. I could have gone faster, but there was no point. I wasn't trying to win, and now, intrigued by the woman running with me, wondered what it was all about.

We began to pass some of the early sprinters who were slowly running out of gas. Six point two miles was no easy run, especially on city streets and up and down hills, although they were modest in size. I'd scouted out the course earlier just to prepare myself for what we would encounter and decided it wasn't too tortuous a route. I picked my pace and stuck with it. There was a hill coming up at the eight kilometer mark and I wondered how my running mate would make out. It was about a half kilometer long, but this far into the race, it would probably be a real challenge for some of the other runners.

As we began to ascend the hill, I checked over my shoulder more than once to see how my shadow runner was doing, but I saw no signs that she was weakening or under stress. In fact, she looked like I felt: this was just a morning run in nice cool air, nothing special. I smiled as I looked back at her and once again she gave me a nice smile in return. I was distracted enough to almost trip over a manhole cover, but caught myself before I fell.

That got me back to paying attention to my own running and not hers. When we crossed the finish line, we were among the first thirty, I estimated. The time was 32min 41secs, a surprisingly good time in my opinion. I looked back for her as I began to walk out before stretching and found her once again almost right beside me.

"Hi ... you ran very well this morning," I said. "I'm Kyle Richter," I added, bending over, my hands on my knees.

"I ran well because you gave me a great pace. Thanks for that. I'm Gabrielle Lamont," she said, holding out her hand.

I shook it and returned her smile. "What made you pick me?" I wondered.

"Well, you're easy to spot," she grinned, "and I saw you moving toward the front of the pack, so I decided to follow you. It took me a few minutes to catch up to you through the crowd, but once I did, I realized you were running the perfect pace for me."

"Glad to be of assistance," I grinned. "Now, let's look for a place to stretch out."

"Over here," she suggested, pointing to a brick building a few yards off the end of the race.

As we stretched, I had a chance to examine her more closely. She was tall, over six feet I thought. She was also beautiful. Not cosmetically beautiful, but naturally beautiful. Her body was lithe and yet she had all the curves any woman could possibly want. She had pale blonde hair piled in a bunch on top of her head and held with an elastic band. Her eyes were blue and her face was long rather than round. She had a great smile showing nice teeth. All in all, she was lovely.

"You're staring," she said without looking at me.

"Guilty. You're very attractive. I apologize," I said simply.

"No need. I'm flattered. You're a very handsome guy."

"Well, that's a first. I can't recall any other girl or woman suggesting that. Usually I get asked how tall I am, or how's the weather up there."

"How tall are you?" she grinned.

"Six-seven."

"I'm six-two," she admitted with a sly smile.

"Can I interest you in a coffee and a muffin if we can find a place?" I asked.

"Sure. Let me get my bag. What about your clothes?" she wondered.

"Same place as yours, probably; in the locker area behind the announcer's stand. Let's have a look."

We found both our sport bags just where they were left, clearly marked. I had no intention of changing, merely pulling my jeans on over my shorts and slipping on a sweatshirt over my running vest. Gabrielle had a pair of sweats that she pulled on. We walked down the street toward a small café a couple of blocks from the podium. We were among the early finishers, so we could get to the café before the crowd overwhelmed it.

"I have a confession to make," she said shyly as we sat at a table with our hot drinks and muffins. "I know who you are."

"You do? How?" I wondered.

"I saw you at the plant cafeteria the other day. I understand you're our new Dow representative."

"Which company?" I wondered before it dawned on me. "You work for Diamond Stream?"

She smiled. "Yes, I'm in quality assurance. It was easy to spot you, walking beside Rex and wearing your Dow polo shirt."

"Wow, that's quite a coincidence. You're very fortunate to work there. That's a fabulous company with an incredible future from what I hear."

"I think so, too. What about you? Where were you before you took over from Rex?" she asked.

"Actually, I've worked for Dow as an intern when I was in college, then the past two years I've been learning my responsibilities with Rex. But when you saw me I was being introduced as your new Dow rep. I've been living in Michigan until I was assigned to this western territory."

"Welcome to the West Coast," she smiled. "Where are you living?"

"I've got an apartment in Hayward, but I've been out here before. My parents moved to Davis just before my junior year in high school. I went to college at Sacramento State and Geary Polytechnic, so I've lived here since I was a teenager."

"Oh, so you're no stranger to California then," she noted.

"No ... my Dad was a manager of the Dow operation in Davis, and he helped me get the internship at Dow Midland. When I graduated from Geary, I was given a permanent position with the technical field rep group. I teamed with Rex for almost two years before I was booted out on my own," I grinned.

"Rex is very well respected at our company. I know he had a lot to do with getting John Smith and Dow together."

"That's right. He's taught me a lot in the past few months. I enjoyed working with him," I said.

There was a pause as we sipped some hot chocolate and enjoyed our fresh-baked muffins.

"What's your background?" I asked.

"I'm from Klamath Falls, in Oregon," she said. "I got a math scholarship at Berkeley and when I graduated, Diamond Stream was just getting started with production here. I applied for the position of QA assistant, reporting to the production manager and got very lucky."

"Any kind of scholarship at Berkeley is something to be very proud of," I offered. "I'll bet that got someone's attention."

"Probably at least got me a serious interview. Anyway, I'm grateful that I was chosen because it's a good job with a lot of variety."

"What kind of variety?" I wondered.

"Oh, implementation of Statistical Process Control in manufacturing to start with. I'm also responsible for maintaining the continuous improvement program. We're always looking for ways to improve our product and processes. A lot of my time is spent in assembly. It's a complex machine, with very tight tolerances. We can't use robotics for everything, so we need to improve our manual assembly techniques."

"That would keep you busy, I'm sure," I noted.

"Very. But now I'm scheduled for teaching. When we open Bismarck and Ardmore, I'll be responsible for setting up QA and SPC in each plant. Right now I'm training my assistants to take over while I'm away. I'm a little nervous about it since I've never been the teacher before, always the student."

"They must have a lot of confidence in you, Gabrielle, to give you all that responsibility. Will you be involved in the interviewing and hiring of the staff in the new plants?"

"Yes, but not by myself. I'll have a support team with me. Longer term, if I'm successful, I'll have to do this again at our European plant when it opens."

"You're going to be a very busy young lady over the next while," I smiled.

"That's true, but I don't mind. It's exciting, actually," she admitted.

"I don't see any rings, but what does your boyfriend think about all the future away time?"

She was shaking her head. "No boyfriend ... but nice move getting me to tell you," she chuckled.

"Well then, in the interests of fair play, I have no girlfriend. So, do you suppose there's anything in our employment agreements that would prevent us from dating?"

She laughed. "You don't waste any time, do you? I don't know if there's any reason we couldn't date. I could ask, I suppose. Maybe you'd better do the same," she said with an encouraging smile.

"Good. That's settled then. Now ... what would you like to do on a date?"

She laughed. "You're not even going to wait for an okay, are you," she stated.

"It's always easier to say 'sorry' than get permission," I deadpanned.

"True. So, let me think about it. I do have a couple of ideas. But ... I would like to talk with you a bit more about our backgrounds and who we are. I haven't had the best of luck with boyfriends, so I guess I want to reduce the chance of making another mistake," she said thoughtfully.

"Another mistake? What do you mean?"

"Let's leave that for another time. I promise I'll tell you everything. I don't want any secrets ... and that goes for you too," she said. There was an indication that she was serious about "everything."

~*~

The next day, Monday, I was on my way to the airport at six am, a flight to Denver on my schedule. I wasn't sure I could do this travel year after year. How would I ever have a home life? Rex had burned through one marriage and was praying he could salvage his second. Now that he was off the road most weeks, he had a good chance, he thought.

I gave some thought to Gabrielle. She was a fine looking woman, undoubtedly smart, and with a nice sense of humor. I found her remarkably easy to talk to, an unusual occurrence for me. She sought me out after spotting me in the Diamond Stream cafeteria and deliberately went out of her way to run with me. I liked that. I liked it a lot. I saved going through a lot of awkward preliminaries. Hence my willingness to push a possible relationship forward with an early dating question.

I started my calls in Denver, moved down to Colorado Springs, then Pueblo, and Albuquerque, before catching a flight back to Oakland. The only non-stop left at 8:35pm and arrived in Oakland at 9:30pm, factoring in the one hour difference from Mountain Standard to Pacific Standard Time. I enjoyed the job, but the travel was tiring. It gave me plenty of variety with both my duties and my customers, but I wondered if that would wear thin over time. I had been well trained and supported by Dow, and I could see myself giving this my best effort, despite the travel issues. I owed them that much, and in the memory of my father, I owed Dow my loyalty. Perhaps I'd grow into the routine, just as Rex had. Perhaps it would seem like second nature after a while. Perhaps.

I called Gabrielle early Friday evening, but had to leave a message. She wasn't home. Maybe she'd gone out with friends. I'd taken her at her word that there was no boyfriend, so I wasn't concerned. Why should I be? We had hardly just met, much less progressed very far along with each other. I'd spotted a couple of things that were on this weekend. One was a county fair in Pleasanton which also featured a car show. The other was an outdoor concert in San Jose. Both were easily within reach of Hayward. Despite the fact that it was almost November, the weather forecast indicated the air would be cool, with the skies mostly clear and no sign of rain.

"I haven't been to a county fair since I left Klamath Falls," she said when I finally got in touch with her Saturday morning. "Let's do that."

I could hear genuine enthusiasm in her voice, so it was a done deal. I would pick her up at her apartment just before noon and we would be on our way up I-580 and over the hump to Pleasanton.

"I like this area," I said as we drove toward the fairgrounds. "I've been thinking about buying a house up here if I can find one I like."

"Really! You'd buy a house? Do you think you can afford it?" she wondered.

I nodded. "Yeah, I can," I said, and left it at that. I could see the questions written on her expression. This was neither the time nor the place to explain.

The fair was good fun and we enjoyed the afternoon thoroughly. Our lunch was a pick-as-you-go as we found various foods at different booths. I had a kebab of lamb at a Greek restaurant's tent, while Gabrielle had some sushi from a nearby Japanese vendor. We each had a large yoghurt ice cream cone, mine blackberry flavored, while Gabrielle chose caramel-walnut. The temperature was perfect and various booths and exhibits quite interesting. I bought a straw hat for the really hot weather, while Gabrielle found a couple of custom-printed t-shirts with bird images that she liked.

The car show was attached to one side of the fairgrounds and used part of the parking lot of a large hotel. I thought Gabrielle might be bored, but I was wrong.

"Look at that," she said as she pointed to an exotic metallic lime-green streamlined custom coupe that looked like something that might have been in a 1930's Buck Rogers film.

"That is incredible," I agreed. "The bodywork is flawless and the interior in amazingly simple, yet elegant. The builder is a real craftsman."

"Oh, Kyle, look over there," she said, pointing at the other side of the lot. "That looks like John Smith's car. Maybe it is, because it looks like Kevin Riordan's car beside it. Let's go look."

I was fun to see her enthused about these cars. I thought she might be bored, but that wasn't the case. As we approached the two cars, I could see a bright red '53 Buick convertible, with a salmon and white Studebaker coupe beside it. Sure enough, Gabrielle was right. The Buick belonged to John Smith. It was a restored Skylark and in flawless condition. The Studebaker was indeed Kevin Riordan's '53 Starlight coupe, again in its traditional colors and trim.

The two cars were a study in contrast: the big, opulent, luxurious Buick and the slim, sleek, sexy design of the Studebaker. I would have given anything to have owned either of them.

"See anything you like," I heard from a male voice behind me. I looked around and saw John and Georgette Smith, and another gentleman I was slow to recognize. It was Kevin Riordan and they were grinning as we reviewed their cars.

"Oh yeah," I admitted immediately. "I'll take either one of these off your hands in a heartbeat," I said with a wink.

"Sorry," John said with a smile. "The Buick is now a family heirloom, and I'll let Kevin turn you down on the 'Studie'."

"I don't blame you. I wouldn't part with them either. Kevin, I'm Kyle Richter, the new Dow field rep. We haven't met yet, but you certainly are well known to my company."

"Nice to meet you, Kyle. Has Rex gone into retirement," he chuckled.

"No, he's my boss and they've finally let him come off the road," I said.

"I'm sure he's grateful. I often wondered how he was able to keep up with all the travel. It wore me out just to hear about it."

"Kyle spent two years with Rex, doing exactly that," Gabrielle interjected. "He knows exactly what you are talking about."

"I don't envy you, Kyle," Georgette said.

I shrugged. "I'm a big boy. I knew what I was getting into when I accepted the job."

"You certainly are a big boy," Georgette said with a laugh. "Are you two dating?"

"I'll leave that up to Gabrielle to answer. This is our first date," I explained.

"He didn't take long to ask you, did he?" Georgette noted, again with a chuckle.

"Well, I had to find a guy who I could keep an eye on, and at his height, it's not that big a challenge," Gabrielle quipped, grinning and elbowing me lightly in the ribs.

We continued to exchange small talk as we strolled around the exhibit area, looking at the various cars and trucks on display.

"Now there's a car that would fit me well," I said as I stopped in front of a big sedan.

"Wow," Gabrielle exclaimed as she looked at it. "It's huge. What is it?"

"It's a '57 Cadillac Eldorado. I suppose they made a couple of later models bigger, but not by much," I said. "I like the color, too."

It was metallic azure blue topped with the unique stainless steel roof. The interior was white leather with blue trim. It looked amazing.

"What would you do with something that big?" Georgette asked.

"Beats me," I laughed. "I don't think it will fit in the skinny parking slots we are given at my apartment. I'd be scared to death of it getting dinged or scratched."

"Well, you can dream, anyway," John said as we examined the vehicle carefully.

"Yeah ... for now it's just a dream. But ... maybe one day," I said, almost to myself.

I glanced at Gabrielle and saw a knowing smile on her face.

"What?" I asked her, trying to interpret her look.

"You can already see yourself driving this car, can't you," she teased.

"In my dreams, girl, in my dreams."

We parted with the Smiths and Kevin as we moved on and found we were holding hands. I didn't remember that happening, but Gabrielle had made no move to discourage it. I could feel my heart rate moving up, but managed to bring it back down after a while.

By four that afternoon, we'd pretty much seen all we wanted to see and agreed to head back down to Hayward.

"I hope I didn't bore you with all the cars I was gawking at," I said as we drove down 580.

"Not at all. I was interested in them too. Would you really like to have something as big as that Cadillac?"

"That particular model, yes. It was a lot like John's Buick in a way. It was a statement car. It said the owner was prosperous and wanted something to display his success. I'm a big guy, and it only makes sense to have a big car."

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