tagMatureWater Guy

Water Guy

bykomrad1156©

"Oh, thank goodness you're here! We ran out of water last night, and everyone's been grumbling about the stuff that comes out of the fountain."

"Sorry about that. You usually have more than enough before my scheduled stop. Must be a lot of thirsty people around here," he joked.

"It's just so hot. Of course, Yuma is always hot. Well, from May through September. Anyway, I'm just glad you're here."

He had three large, full, plastic water jugs on a dolly, and stopped near the water cooler to pull the empty off and replace it. The other two would sit next to it until needed.

"Other than no water, how are things going?" he asked cheerfully.

"You know. Same old," she told him.

"How do like being the office manager?" he asked after someone told her on his last trip through she'd been promoted.

She gave him a wry smile then said, "It's...okay."

He laughed then said, "Wow. Try and tamp down that enthusiasm, would you?"

"I know. I know. It's a never-ending job of chasing my tail to try and keep up, but then, it keeps me busy, and that's a good thing."

"Oh, there you go again," he said playfully.

"What? What did I say this time?" she asked, knowing that as soon as he pointed it out, she'd get it and probably feel a little embarrassed.

He looked around as though someone might be recording him then leaned her way and said, "You just brought up 'chasing tail' at work' and that's a big no-no for someone in a leadership position."

She tried her best not to laugh, but he always found a way to make to her day, and she gave up and let it out.

"You see, that is why I always look forward to the water guy stopping by," she told him.

"The water guy? I'm hurt!"

She gave him that same look then said, "Okay. Now what?"

He covered up the name on the patch over his left breast pocket then asked her what his name was.

"It's Craig," she told him immediately.

Craig raised an eyebrow and said, "Okay. You surprised me. I honestly didn't think you knew. I mean, you've called me 'water guy' since the first time you talked to me, but you've never used my name before, so I honestly didn't think you knew it."

She smiled a different kind of smile then said, "Oh, I knew it. Trust me."

He stacked the empty bottles on his dolly then said, "And yet, after all this time, I still don't know yours."

Now it was her giving him the same kind of look.

"I...I guess I've never told you, huh?" she said rather apologetically.

"In all fairness, I've never asked so I have no one to blame but myself, right?"

She smiled a warm, pleasant smile then told him, "It's Laura. Laura Krimmer."

"That's a beautiful name, and for the record, my last name is Johnson," he told her as he fished out his wallet.

She thanked him as he opened it and pulled out a business card.

"I'm taking over a local business in a week or so, so I may not be back again. But if you don't have nice, soft water in your house, you can give me a call anytime."

She looked at the card and the title then repeated it out loud.

"On-Tap Water. Craig Johnson, owner."

"So you do water purification, right?" Laura asked.

"I do," he told her. "Or...I will. My primary focus will be on installing Reverse Osmosis (RO) units in homes at the lowest price in town. I'll also provide other forms of purification."

Laura listened carefully then said, "I've thought about this for quite some time now. The water around here really is awful, and I've been using rock salt which makes it drinkable, but it doesn't address the water in the shower, the dishwasher, or the washing machine, and it still has that nasty sulfur smell to it."

"Ah, yes. The water from 'hell'," Craig quipped.

She gave him another funny look so he explained that, too.

"Hell. You know. Sulfur? Fire and brimstone? Bad smells?"

Again, she grudgingly let go of a laugh, once she got it.

After chuckling she said, "I moved out here with my husband four years ago when he got orders to the Air Station, but since, you know, I've let a lot of things slide. Like the water from hell situation."

Until a few minutes prior, he didn't know her name, but he did know her husband had been killed in a training accident during what was called WTI or 'Weapons and Tactics Instructors Course, a complex, six-week exercise held at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, twice a year.

WTI was the Marine Corps's equivalent to Top Gun or the Air Force's Red Flag exercises held in the Nevada desert. Craig didn't know any details, but he did know she'd lost her husband a little over two years ago.

Craig had been in the Navy, and generally understood what each branch of the military did, but he was very sketchy on the details beyond his own specialty. He'd been a SEABEE for six years, and more specifically, a 'UT' which stood for Utlilitiesman.

Most SEABEEs were 'BU' types, where the BU stood for 'Builders'. But there were many other rates, the Navy term for what the Army and Marines called an MOS or Military Occupational Specialty. Some served as electricians, others learned masonry or any other trade needed to put up a building, a tent city, or pretty much any structure.

In essence, there was someone who could do pretty much anything when it came to constructing a facility of any kind as well as related issues like water purification.

Craig had learned about Reverse Osmosis technology in the Navy, and had cut his teeth on something called the LWPS or The Lightweight Purification System. He'd become an expert with ROWPU systems in general, with that acronym standing for Reverse Osmosis, Water Purification Unit.

Many of the guys he worked with referred to any osmosis system as a 'ROWPU' (pronounced ROW-poo), and one base commander had started calling then-Petty Officer Second Class Johnson "ROWPU Guy', and the name stuck until he left active duty just nearly three years ago. Now Laura called him 'water guy', and all of it was in good fun.

Like most officer's wives he'd ever met, Laura was a very attractive woman. He assumed she had to be somewhere in her mid-30s, but she looked younger than that. She was the best thing about the temporary job he'd taken in order to pay his bills, and every time her office was on his delivery list, he looked forward to seeing her.

She had mid-length, nearly-black hair that had a natural sheen to it along with the most beautiful blue eyes he'd ever seen. Her smooth, clear skin made her pretty face look young, and she had an amazing smile that always made his day. He did his best not to stare, but he always got in a look (or two) at her very shapely body that was clearly kept in very good condition.

He'd never actually considered asking her out, because he knew she was widowed and quite a bit older, but it wasn't because he wasn't her equal in the looks department.

Craig was 5' 10", 170 pounds, and in superb shape himself. He swam for close to an hour every morning and ate a very healthy diet. He, too, had great hair and a smile to match Laura's, so it wasn't as though he could only ever dream about dating someone that attractive. It was more that he was getting ready to takeover a business while working full time and still working out. So he dated when he could and took care of business the rest of the time.

Like most smaller, military towns, the number of younger, single males grossly outnumbered the single, available females. Then after one sifted through those someone like Craig Johnson would find attractive, the proverbial pickins were pretty slim. And that made Laura Krimmer all the more interesting to him.

He'd spent a couple of months in Yuma his last year on active duty, doing work in several months in advance of the WTI in which Laura's husband was killed, and fell in love with the climate. He'd been there in January and February, two of the best months of the year, and decided to move there when after being discharged.

During his temporary duty assignment, he'd met a retired Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant who owned the company he was about to buy. They first met when a civilian from California came out to provide instruction on a new ROWPU system the SEABEEs would be installing to provide fresh water. The retired Marine pulled some strings with an old friend still on active duty, and was able to sit in on the training.

Craig looked him up when he moved to Yuma, and the retiree let him know he was getting ready to retire a second time. He jokingly said something about Craig taking over the business, and after that the conversation got serious.

The owner was old school and had never moved beyond salt-based systems. Those worked just fine, but required lifting and dumping heavy bags of salt on a fairly regular basis. He knew about solar salt and reverse osmosis but never branched out. Even so, his customer base was loyal and fairly large, so that alone was an incentive for Craig who intended to meet every one of them and see if they might be interested in upgrading to an RO system.

After spending hours talking with the retired 'Master Guns', who was brutally open and honest about running a business, as well as doing as much research as he could, Craig made the decision to buy On-Tap Water. He also got his dad onboard and lined up a small-business loan from the Veteran's Administration.

Since then, Craig had learned first-hand about the heat in Yuma. The summers were brutal with the temperatures occasionally hitting 125 degrees, with most days being a 'balmy' 105-112. And he'd learned early on that once it got over 100 or so, it didn't matter that it was a 'dry heat'. It was still like walking around with a man-sized hair dryer blowing in your face all day long. But the cost of living was low, he loved the desert, and all in all, it was a pretty good trade off.

And now, at 27, and taking over the business in less than a week, he was too busy to think about dating anyone, let alone a class act like the woman he'd just learned was named Laura Krimmer.

"I uh, I heard about the accident, and I'm very sorry for your loss," Craig said quietly.

"Thank you...Craig," she said, trying to smile. "I'd have moved back home, but our daughter was in school and had made quite a few friends, so I stayed, and now I'm actually learning to enjoy it here."

She made a face then said, "Well, I'm still not wild about July and August, but I'm getting there."

"The good news is the worst of it is behind us," he said more cheerfully, even though September was almost as bad. "For another year anyway."

Laura laughed politely then wished him the best of luck with the new business.

"Thank you. And if you know anyone who wants to transition from hell to heaven where their water is concerned..."

She laughed again then promised she'd let her friends know.

"Okay, I guess this is it, unless I bump into you at the mall," Craig said, trying not to smile.

The 'mall' in Yuma was about a third the size of one wing of most normal malls, and one could see 'all of it' in five minutes or so.

"Right. But as humongous as that place is, and with the throng of people there, it seems pretty unlikely we'd ever just run into each other," she just as seriously.

"Well, a guy can always hope, right?" he said, the smile returning in full bloom.

"Right. I mean, what nice-looking guy like you wouldn't be on the look out for a middle-aged widow like me?" she said in a way that made him wonder if she was being self-self-deprecating or actually believed that.

He tilted the dolly back, smiled at her, then said, "Exactly. I know I'd hate it if I ever ran into someone as beautiful as you, Laura."

His comment surprised her to the point she didn't have a comeback, so she stood there watching him until he started pushing the dolly away.

As he began heading toward the door, she called out, "So who's gonna make me feel good once you're gone?"

He turned his head and called back, "Guess you'll have to give me a call some day, huh?"

As he walked out, she looked at the card in her hand and smiled.

"If you were maybe ten years older, I'd be on my phone right now," she said to herself before the demands of the job brought her back to reality.

That evening, as she laid the card on her desk at home, she recalled that thought and shook her head knowing that wasn't true. Just the thought of meeting someone new was enough to make her feel ill while dating made her want to throw up. She'd gone out once when a friend from her late husband's squadron begged her, and even though the guy she'd set her up with was nice enough, she still felt like she was betraying Mike.

It was illogical and even a little silly, but for now, the thought of even kissing another man was her bridge too far.

"Mom? Can I wear this tomorrow for the first day of school?" her daughter asked interrupting her thoughts.

Kim was ten and a very cute girl. Laura knew she had to grow up, but the fact her daughter already looked more like twelve than ten was unsettling.

"That's a little much, don't you think, honey?"

"I don't know," her daughter said in that 'I really do know but don't want to admit it' tone of voice.

"It isn't the shoulder cutouts," her mom said. "It's just too short."

"But my bellybutton doesn't show," Kim countered.

These were the times she missed her husband the most. He'd have smiled, said something that made Kim understand and feel good about not wearing it.

"That's not the point, sweetie."

The point was it showed bare skin, and ten was just too young to show anything that was bare.

"Okay, fine," Kim said with the slightest touch of attitude.

As she walked away her mother wondered how bad it might get by the time Kim was 13 or...15. She'd been no angel herself at that age, and the truth was she probably owed her own parents several apologies for being a typical teenage girl. But the thought of her sweet little angel becoming a sassy little...twit...bothered her greatly.

"Please let her stay sweet for a couple more years," she said to herself after Kim went back upstairs, just in case Mike or maybe 'someone higher' was listening.

That night, as she lay down, she realized there was at least one other time when she missed her husband even more than when it came to dispensing good advice. She lay there trying to understand how she could be so adamantly opposed to dating when her body now ached to be loved badly it hurt.

She desperately wanted to be loved again the way Mike had loved her for so many years. On one level it made some amount of sense, but on every other it seemed ridiculous. Since meeting people and dating were the only routes to the kind of love she needed, what good did it do to pine away and ache to be loved when she was so opposed to the paths that led there?

Too tired to think, she closed her eyes and within minutes was sound asleep.

Craig, however, was still wide awake, going over numbers and trying to decide how best go about maintaining and expanding the customer base. The retired Master Gunnery Sergeant promised to let his customers know he had full faith in his young replacement, and that went a long way in a military town like Yuma. Even so, Craig felt the full weight of shouldering the load alone, and it was already keeping him up at night.

In his favor was the willingness to work 20 hours a day, seven days a week, if necessary. Also, he was as good as anyone when it came to water purification systems, and he was quickly getting familiar with the city's codes and requirements for new installations, the one area where considered himself behind the curve.

All in all, he knew his plan was solid. He'd even had his dad, who was the smartest man he knew, fly out with his mom and go over it with him in great detail. He'd found several small problems Craig would have learned the hard way, and beyond that, it was just great seeing his parents again.

So in less than a week, he'd be leasing office space and be responsible for advertising, marketing, installation, and sales. And since he'd initially working alone, he'd be a real-life, no-kidding, 'one-man gang'.

If he could 'row the business' by himself and get it off the ground, he'd hire someone to run the office down the road. If things continued going well, he'd hire another installer. Lastly, somewhere even further down this potentially long and winding road, he'd bring someone on board to knock on doors and worm his way into city planning meetings for new developments to drum up new business.

But for now, the company would consist of Craig's three best friends: 'me, myself, and I'.

As it turned out, Craig had the opportunity to meet nearly every customer he inherited. A few had been unavailable, but he'd gotten to personally know well over 90% of his new clientele. He carefully listened to any complaints, and where possible, he promised to correct whatever the issue might be. But more importantly, he had four customers request upgrading to an RO system, and another dozen or so told him they were interested or very interested.

On top of that, October was the beginning of what was known as Snowbird season in which thousands of people flocked to Yuma the six months of amazing weather. RV campgrounds went from having less than five units to maximum capacity, with the Quartzsite area having many hundreds of hookup sites filled to the brim.

Traffic went from very light to fairly heavy during Snowbird season, and getting into a place like the Waffle House early in the morning meant waiting in line. Craig didn't eat there so it wasn't an issue, but every similar place in town was packed with retirees eating an early breakfast.

As he pulled into the local WalMart for supplies, he started looking at license plates, and after being unable to find two Arizona plates in a row, he laughed.

During this time of year there were vehicles from every state in the union as well as all of the Canadian provinces. Finding one from either Delaware or Rhode Island was always a challenge, but after meandering around the parking lot, lo and behold, there it was one from Delaware. Having found one from the first state, the only remaining challenge was finding one from the smallest state.

The good news for Craig was that many of these people owned second homes in Yuma, and that meant many of them had money; money to spend on getting rid of their rock salt purification system and bringing soft, odorless water into the entire house.

So once he'd made the rounds on his established clientele to ensure they knew him by face and his commitment to each one of them, he begin leaving flyers and occasionally knocking on doors to drum up new business.

Being good looking had never been a disadvantage, and he was pretty sure it had helped him sell at least a couple of new units to older women who'd seemed captivated by his charm as well as his outward appearance. But he was as smart on purification systems as he was attractive, and that most definitely helped seal the deal where a potential buyer might be wavering.

While October brought some relief from the heat, the real change came sometime in November. Normal daytime highs in October averaged 90 degrees, and because the 'dry heat' thing really did matter whenever the temperature dropped below 100, it really wasn't bad. But the average high fell to a very comfortable 73 during November with morning lows a cool-but-pleasant 50-55 degrees.

As in other places with hot climates, anything below 70 brought out the winter clothing. Women began sporting boots and sweaters, and Craig just shook his head and chuckled whenever he saw a someone wearing a turtleneck on a day that warm.

He'd all but forgotten about his farewell chat with Laura Krimmer until one day in early November he checked his phone and noticed he had a voicemail. He'd been sitting down with a new client explaining the benefits of and RO system when the call came in, and because he had his phone on silent, he didn't hear it.

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bykomrad1156© 9 comments/ 32239 views/ 49 favorites

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