tagSci-Fi & FantasyThe Bonding Chronicles Ch. 20

The Bonding Chronicles Ch. 20

byPantherParabola©

***** An Unexpected Proposal *****

The smell of oil hung heavy in the air, causing Andrew to wrinkle his nose as the slick scent assaulted him. He had expected the odor when he entered the auto body shop, but it still surprised him. It was the first time he had been in a place like that since Sara had bestowed upon him his new senses, and nothing could have prepared him for the powerful bouquet of grease and steel that welcomed him.

Looking around, it was nice to put an image to the name; "Dale's Auto Body And Repair".

The bell rang one more time as the door closed behind him, announcing his entrance. Glancing around, Andrew wondered if 'The Rocket' was out back, or if they had already stripped it for parts and sold what was left.

"Be right out," a familiar sounding voice called from a doorway behind the counter.

While he waited, Andrew studied the small room, admiring the pictures of cars hung on the walls, and magazines that were arrayed on a small table next to a pair of chairs that sat in the corner. On the other side of the room was a coin-operated vending machine with three different types of snacks; color coated chocolates, cinnamon jellies, and peanuts. Beside it sat a tall soda machine emanating a dull hum that didn't seem to bother the black and gray cat that was curled up at the top edge of the device, watching Andrew with a lazy gaze.

A few moments later, and Dale entered from what Andrew assumed was the auto body shop. The older man looked exactly as he had imagined, skinny and of moderate height, his arms stained with grease and oil, though his calloused hands were spotless, if a bit beaten.

"What can I do for ya?"

"Not sure if you remember me, sir. I'm Andrew, Sara's-"

Dale released a sudden and unexpected laugh, interjecting, "I remember you, boy. You're that damn fool who tried to jumpstart a car from your house's mainline power."

Andrew blushed and nodded his head, resigned to live the lie, and not wanting to try and explain what had actually happened. Regardless of what people thought, no one would ever believe the truth; that Sara had given him such an overwhelming blowjob that he had fried every piece of electronics for dozens of yards in all directions.

"So, whatcha want? Sara's car's out back if you're lookin' for it."

"No, sir. I've actually called a few times the last couple of days... and... well, you keep hanging up on me."

Dale's eyes lost their pleasant cast as they narrowed into slits, the edge of his mouth curling into a smirk as he shook his head.

"Dammit boy, this is an auto body shop, not some smithy you can just waltz into like it's the damn dark ages or some such nonsense."

Andrew chuckled at Dale's imagery, pleased that he hadn't been thrown out as soon as the mechanic knew what he wanted.

"It isn't like that, sir. I just want-"

A loud noise echoed back from the workshop, followed by another man yelling, "Fuckin' shit, Dale. Tell that dumbass to fuck off and get back in here, I'm struggling man."

Before the mystery man finished his statement, Dale was rushing back through the doorway, a worried look on his face.

"What the hell, Earl. I said wait till I got back, and you still went ahead and tried to pull it without me? Is this 'international bring your idiot to work day', or what?"

Andrew listened to them argue for a solid minute before he resolved himself to wait, and took a seat at the table. While he leaned his head back and browsed the internet through the phone in his pocket, his magical gift navigating using the device with minimal power, the door opened and a rather large and disheveled man came in.

The sounds of Dale and Earl's efforts slowed down for a moment until the new arrival spoke up, "Hey Dale, my truck ready?"

There was exasperation in Dale's voice as he called back, "Yeah, just give me a few to finish this up."

It only took a few seconds for Andrew to realize that the man was drunk. Not falling over drunk, but intoxicated enough that his movements were sluggish and his expression was a bit distant. With a bit of effort, Andrew kept his frustration to himself, the idea of that man driving a truck off the property nagging at him as he tried to look away.

The man crossed the room and got some peanuts out of the vending machine, the salty treat falling into his cupped hand. After looking at the chair next to Andrew's, the guy decided to stand at the counter while he waited.

He dumped the peanuts onto the counter, and kept trying to peer back into the shop, slowly popping the nuts into his mouth and eating them louder than Andrew thought possible. After a few moments, the cat rose from its faux slumber and dropped onto some shelves before finally reaching the counter.

It was a large male Manx, its muscular body covered in disheveled fur from a lifetime of fighting. With a confident gate it meandered up to the large man and meowed directly at him, its eyes moving between him and the peanuts. It sat and stared the tall man in the face, before meowing again.

"Just give him a peanut," Dale provided from the workshop, his voice sounding strained from his efforts.

"Fuck that," the newcomer said with a slight slur. "I ain't givin' this cat shit."

Before Dale could say another word, the cat lunged at the man, startling him and causing him to fall backwards in fear. By the time he stood back up, the cat had already taken a peanut into its mouth and dropped off the counter.

It hopped onto the coffee table beside Andrew, releasing the peanut from its mouth and began to lick the small treat, a deep and pronounced purr emanating from its mighty chest. Andrew couldn't help but laugh at the crazy cat, or the incensed look on the drunk man's face.

As Andrew watched the anger cloud the man's expression, and the stomping steps he used to cross the small room, Andrew remembered why he hated drunk people. His experiences had been limited, but the few he had met were never happy. He guessed it had something to do with where they were in their disease, but as he watched the man cock back his fist, eyeing the cat with deadly intent, he knew it didn't matter, he couldn't sit back and let things move forward.

Mr Spencers training had not let Andrew down, and before the drunk could release his attack, Andrew stood and knocked the man over, doing everything he could to make it seem like an accident.

"Dale, you lazy son of a bitch. When's my car gonna to be ready? I ain't gonna' wait another god damn second."

The words felt dirty leaving Andrew's mouth, but they served their purpose. While the large, drunk man fumbled to get back to his feet, expletives flying from his lips fast and loose, Andrew continued to walk towards the counter. He could hear Dale as he dropped some tools and got to his feet, rushing to get back into the office.

"You little fucker!" the large man yelled, storming towards Andrew.

Before he could reach him, Dale arrived. "Jimmy, what the hell's going on in here?"

His hands were coated in grime, and Andrew could tell by the way he was fidgeting that he didn't like being in that room with dirty hands.

"This little dumbshit knocked me over!"

With a steely gaze Dale glowered at Andrew, expecting the small man to wilt before him. To his surprise, Andrew stood strong, holding to the narrative he had invented to defuse the drunk who was watching them closely.

"I ain't mean to do that, sorry bro.They've had me waitin' here for damn near thirty minutes whilst they're back there playin' grab ass or some shit."

"Boy! Shut your mouth and sit down over there."

Dale's voice was stern, but Andrew could see a glint of a smile creep into the older man's eyes as he pointed towards the chairs.

"Jimmy, you know I can't give you your truck when you've been drinking like this. Eddie'll put you back in jail if he pulls you over again, you know that."

The fight left Jimmy's eyes as he scanned the room, stammering and stuttering while he tried to come up with an excuse. With a guiding hand, Dale led the inebriated man to the door, a chime announcing the drunk's departure.

Pulling the other chair across from Andrew, Dale sat down and studied the small man.

"What was that all about?"

It was an honest question, and Andrew could tell that Dale was reevaluating the way he saw Andrew. It was something he had been seeing in people more and more lately.

"He was about to hit your cat, and I couldn't let that happen."

"So what, you thought it'd be a good idea to knock him over and start making me and Earl look like idiots?"

Andrew smiled while he considered whether he should say the first thing that came to mind, and after a moment he decided he had to.

"Earl seems to be doing plenty of that on his own."

Dale twisted his head and fought to keep his composure, while a laugh carried back into the office from the workshop. While Dale shook his head and smiled, Andrew continued to explain.

"I just needed you to get back in here without letting Jimmy know it was because of him. Becoming the bad guy seemed like the best way to get your attention, and draw Jimmy's focus from your cat.

"I can definitely take a hit better than little Mike Tyson over there."

The cat looked over, still licking the peanut like nothing had happened.

"You know this is an auto body shop. We aren't setup for smithing here."

Andrew smiled and responded, "Ohh, I know your shop isn't, but that shed out back sure is."

Dale squinted his eyes, "You been trespassing on my property?"

With a laugh, Andrew explained, "No need. You did all my spying for me. If you don't want people to know, stop posting pictures of you with your knives on social media. Or, at least close the door from your smithy, so your business isn't visible in the background."

Dale leaned back in his chair and studied Andrew for a long moment, his eyes seeming to look into Andrew's soul. It was clear he liked him, and was struggling with the decision.

"Here's the thing, smart guy. I've had a lot of people come and go from this shop. Some really talented and book smart people, but I keep bringing back Earl because he knows what he needs to get the job done. Those other guys overthink everything, looking for problems where there ain't none.

"Earl just ain't smart enough for that."

Earl's voice projected back into the room, and while Andrew could not picture the man's face, he could almost imagine his smile as he heard the upbeat tone, "Thanks, boss..." There was a brief pause, and then he added just loud enough for them to hear, "Now, where'd I put that damn coffee?"

Dale and Andrew shared in a warm chuckle for a few seconds, before Andrew responded, "I know what you're saying, sir. But, I'm not like that. My mom and dad taught me a long time ago to keep it simple stupid, and I guess the lesson stuck."

With a raised eyebrow, Dale challenged Andrew's assertion, "I've got a car out back that says you ain't learned that lesson, boy."

Andrew winced as he realized his mistake, having a hard time remembering the lie they had constructed to explain what happened to Sara's car.

"You ain't just asking to learn, Andrew. You're wantin' to use my tools, which cost more than a pretty penny."

Somehow, Andrew knew that the equipment was not Dale's biggest concern. Judging by how the older man was looking at his small stature and frail seeming frame, Andrew suspected there was another concern. Something he had learned most land owners in small towns worried about.

"Not gonna lie, sir, that was not my finest moment. But, I see your point now. I really just want to learn, and since we have history I thought I might be able to work something out with you.

"If you're worried about liability, should something go wrong, I can get a legally binding document that would release any liability you have, and would protect you should I get hurt whilst working in your shop. There are a few notaries in town that are pretty cheap, so it should be pretty easy to set up."

Dale laughed, surprise written in the edges of his eyes as he shook his head.

"You're a weird kid, Andrew."

"Yeah, I've been hearing that a lot lately."

For a moment the two men just looked at each other, neither sure what to say.

"Just let him use the shop, you old bastard," Earl provided from the doorway. He was a bit shorter than Dale, and his skin was tanned and rough from years of working out doors. The face was almost what Andrew had imagined, a long narrow face smiling back at them with slightly sunken cheeks.

Whatever Earl had been through, life had not been easy on him, but you'd never have known it from the smile on his face.

"I ain't paying you to eavesdrop, get back to work."

With a wave of his hand, Earl turned and returned to the shop, the sound of a socket wrench picking up a moment later.

"No need for contracts, but I don't want you making weapons. Not yet, anyway."

Andrew struggled not to jump out of his seat with excitement.

"That won't be a problem, sir. I was planning on making something else anyways."

Dale let Andrew's enigmatic statement go unchallenged, changing subjects slightly.

"Well, now that we know what you want, what'cha offering in trade?"

It was clear that Dale led a simple life, and had every earthly possession he needed. Having done his research, Andrew already knew what he wanted to offer.

"Your website, sir. I'm not going to sugar coat this, it's kinda out of date and honestly pretty terrible. While a lot of your reviews online are great because of you and how affable you are, a lot of people mentioned not coming back because of how difficult it was to pay. You're not too far from the freeway, but it seems most motorists get their cars towed to 'Jack's Premium Car Servicing' when they break down, even though its further away."

Dale sucked his lips like he'd just tasted something sour, the reaction Andrew had dreaded receiving.

"I don't want no fancy gadgets in here. I tried one of those credit card processors a while back, and the damn thing kept breakin' down. Cost me more in frustration than anything else."

With a bit of concentration, Andrew tried something he and Sara had talked about the night before. Thanks to Karen's gift, he could sense Dale's frustration as the older man thought back on his past experience, and while it took far more energy than Andrew had anticipated, he managed to form the spell he had hoped would be available to him.

Dale took a deep breath and calmed down, his gaze falling on Andrew as if he was waiting for a response.

"There are new tools that are way better than those old crappy credit card processors. I tracked the IP of your website back to here, so I know you have internet, though I have no idea who set that up for you."

There was fondness in the old man's eyes as he stated, "It was my son, back before he went off to college. He was a bit like you, too smart for his own damn good."

Andrew rolled his eyes and tried to take that as a compliment.

"The best thing I could do for you, Dale, is to modernize your website, get some wifi in here so your clients don't have to burn through their data while they wait, and get you setup with a new point of sale system.

"You'll lose a little bit off of each transaction, but the ease for your customers should help get more people coming through, so that should end up being a net positive. I'll buy the hardware, and handle the installation for you, as well as write your new website and see what I can do to integrate the POS with it."

Over the course of Andrew's pitch, Dale's face clouded over with a look of surprise. The truth was, Dale knew he had neglected his business, the last few years had seen a steep decline in clients. He never worried, because he owned the land and his expenses were shockingly low. It hurt him to admit it, but he felt guilty about how things had turned out.

What Andrew was proposing was dangerous, and in many ways uncomfortable to Dale, who liked to keep things the way they were. Whether Andrew knew it or not, his offer was forcing the old and stubborn man into facing something he had been ignoring for years. Not a single thought entered Dale's mind about Andrew's ability to do everything he had promised, which made the offer all the more frightening.

Extending his trembling hand, Dale and Andrew sealed their deal. The small young man's grip was much firmer than Dale had expected, and the warm smile on Andrew's face filled Dale's chest with trust and confidence.

"I'll close the shop up at about seven, I wanna get this car done before calling it a night."

Andrew continued to grin, plans for his future scrolling behind his eyes.

"Sounds perfect. That'll give me a chance to checkout your server and see how your son built your-" The shocked look on Dale's face made Andrew stop and change his direction. "Or, I can come back around eight-thirty. I don't have to start on your website today."

Dale shook his head and forced himself to accept Andrew's original offer, every fiber of his body begging him to keep things the way they were, but his new confidence was pleading with him to take the chance.

"No, no. It's back in that closet. I think there's a TV and everything back there as well. Truth is, I ain't looked at that darn thing in years."

Andrew popped his knuckles and stood. "All right, let's see what I can figure out. I'll need to cut out in a couple of hours for an appointment, but I should be able to come back around eight-thirty, if that works for you."

With a shake of his head, Dale stood and shook Andrew's hand once more. "Great. That'll give me time to eat."

Andrew assured Dale that he wouldn't be making any changes yet, he just wanted to get a sense of where things were and what all needed to be done. After that, the two men parted, Dale back into the shop where Earl teased his boss and forced the older man to laugh through a series of demeaning comments he gave in return. Andrew opened the closet and was greeted by the sight of boxes and brooms, everything that could possible be placed into a closet seemed to have taken up residence in that small space.

Way in the back, behind all the flotsam that had built up on the shores of that long forgotten closet, Andrew could feel the underpowered computer turning away with nothing to do.

"This won't do," Andrew mumbled as he started pulling out the first of what would be many items from the closet. Meanwhile, his gift accessed the machine, using an old buffer overflow exploit to root into the box and give him full access. He knew his first order of business would be updating all of the software on the old machine to close off the numerous and painfully simple security vulnerabilities it had.

As he continued to unload the closet, making his way towards the machine, he became more and more excited by the growing list of updates and changes he needed to make.

"Man, I love being me," he stated, his entire body humming with the knowledge that he was doing exactly what he was meant to do.

***** New Growth *****

Sara found it amazing how different study group was without Andrew.

Everyone could feel it, but no one said anything. They all laughed and joked while helping each other figure out their assignments, but there was a shared thread that they all knew was missing, everything seeming just a tiny bit harder for its absence.

Seth's mother had sent him over with a large batch of lasagna that they all tore into with abandon, the cheesy, meaty dish proving a huge success. Seth beamed with pride as he watched his friends enjoying a dish that had always been a part of his life, while Allison grumbled and teased the red haired young man seemingly out of spite.

With Stewart and Steve cleaning the dishes, Sara and Bruce took a moment to step outside, allowing the cool night air to ease their digestion.

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byPantherParabola© 17 comments/ 6876 views/ 67 favorites

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