He was impeccably dressed, adorned in a tailored navy-blue business suit. He had his hair styled with a bit of gel, beard trimmed to a respectable length. I assumed that he was a client of Joe’s, what with the way he kept looking over a fancy sports car currently being looked over by a mechanic. The man adjusted his fancy silver cufflinks, eyeing me up and down with a mischievous grin.
I started a little, caught in the middle of staring. “I’m looking for Joe.”
“Uh oh,” the man snorted. “Did he sleep with you and never call you back?”
“What? No, that’s not–”
“Don’t worry, babe, it’s not just you. He does that a lot.”
“I’m not a one-night stand,” I insisted, furious. “I’m his neighbor.”
The man smirked at me. “You can be a one-night stand and a neighbor, sweetheart.”
I recoiled at his brazen, downright disgusting comment. “Do you talk to all strangers like this? Or just the ones you think you can impress?”
He chuckled. “Oh, you’re a feisty one. I like that in a woman.”
Joe finally noticed me and rushed over, coming to my rescue with a smile stretching from ear to ear upon his lips. He raised a hand and threw me a little wave. “Terri!” he greeted as he quickly made his way over. “What are you doing here?”
I swallowed hard, embarrassment having settled heavily on my tongue. I didn’t trust myself to speak, to sound normal after what this stranger just said to me. Was Joe really the kind of guy to sleep around? He must have been, considering how nonchalantly this complete stranger had addressed the issue. None of it made any sense. Joe seemed like a really nice guy. He’d helped me out at with the move, fixed things in my apartment, taken me out to dinner and not once attempted to put the moves on me. Or maybe those were the moves, subtle and sneaky, worming his way into my good graces to eventually get what he wanted when it suited him best. Chris was like that, too, showering me in gifts and compliments. That was, until he didn’t want me around anymore.
Joe shifted his gaze from me to the man just to my right. “Frederick, good to see you.”
“A pleasure as always, Mantaglio. Who’s this sweet little thing?”
“Terri, this is Frederick Bakerson. Fred, Terri Cato. She’s my neighbor.”
Frederick chuckled. “So, you weren’t lying, then.”
“Of course, I wasn’t,” I muttered, vexed.
Joe frowned at my discomfort, but continued. “Frederick is a part of the Bakerson newspaper business,” he explained. “You’re looking for new journalists right now, aren’t you?”
Frederick nodded. “We’re always looking for new talent. I’m not in charge of hiring, though.”
Joe gestured to me. “Terri’s an aspiring journalist. I think she just finished her first year, isn’t that right?”
I straightened my back. “Yeah, that’s right.”
“Really?” replied Frederick. “Well, you’re just full of surprises.” He reached into the inside pocket of his suit blazer and pulled out a business card. He held it between his index and middle finger, which I promptly took. “When you graduate, feel free to contact the office.”
“Thank you,” I said quietly, dizzy from the entire interaction.
I stared down at the business card and ran my fingers around the edges, deep in thought. The promise of a job opportunity in my preferred field of interest was both inspiring as much as it was a taunt. With the baby on the way, I couldn’t afford to go back to school. But if I didn’t go to school to finish my degree, I was unlikely to get a job that paid. And if I didn’t get a job that paid, how was I supposed to take care of the child? I looked down at my toes and nibbled at my bottom lip, suddenly overwhelmed. Had Chris been right all along? Was I really in over my head? Was I about to have a mental breakdown in the middle of Joe’s garage?
Joe cleared his throat. “Your car will be ready shortly, Frederick. Terri, would you like a tour of the place?”
“Um,” I stuttered, “yeah. A tour of the pecks would be– I mean, of the place. That would be nice.”
He placed a protective hand on the middle of my back and thankfully led me away. As influential as the Bakerson family was when it came to journalism, I didn’t know if I would last a day working with a guy like Frederick. I was thankful Joe briskly guided me to the other side of the garage.
“As you can see,” he started, “it’s not very big. I’m hoping to expand into the lot next door in the near future. The bigger the garage, the more cars we can take in. And the more cars we take in–”
“The more money you make,” I concluded.
“You built this whole business from scratch?”