Every day except Sunday I worked from four in the afternoon until one in the morning with a man I called Pop, even though he wasn't really my father. He was the guy my mother married when I was two. Pop and I changed oil, rotated tires, and replaced clogged air filters for the people who were too busy to bring their cars in during the normal workday. It was Pop's idea to be open at night, since he liked to watch the stories during the day.
Pop was sitting in our living room, which was also our waiting area, when the Mustang GT convertible drove up to our trailer. He had his feet up and his head back in his recliner, watching a talk show that came on after his last soap opera. It was a quarter to five. Mom was six years gone by this time, living with the bald artist who used to teach pottery at the community college in town. When the outside bell rang again, Pop had one hand underneath his back, and the other was dangling a cigarette into a crooked brown ashtray.
"Pop, havent you heard the bell?" I said, socking him one in the knee on my way past him and Ricki Lake. He groaned like a bad starter, never taking his eyes off the TV.
"Its my back, Joey," he said in a slow, serious voice. "Threw it out again. You can handle the call, can't you?"
I bent down to look out the window and took a quick breath. "Sure can, Pop."
On our front lawn stood a girl with long brown hair that dropped all the way down to the top of her cutoff shorts. She stood next to her Mustang, reaching her clean white tennis shoe over the muddy driveway to press against the black connected to our trailer, dinging the bell again. She looked like a tightrope walker holding her foot out over the high wire, her bottom lip caught by the top row of her teeth.
Pop must have heard something new in the way I answered him, because he sat up at attention in his chair, bad back and all. I ignored him as I opened the heavy inside door of our trailer and walked directly into the screen door. My body jammed itself against the wire mesh and I lost my balance, pulling the door out of its hinges and onto the ground beneath me.
"Holy Jesus, you okay?" the girl's voice whispered. I could only see new green and white Nike crosstrainers, tied in a double knot at each ankle, and pushed-down white socks over what had to be perfect shins. That was all I could see, because I couldn't get up off the ground.
"Joey, what in the hell did you do to my door?" Pop shouted from inside the trailer, his slow voice picking up speed. "Flies are getting in!"
"Here." A pair of small hands brushed against my ankles and pulled. "Lord, you're a mess." The girl's voice sounded like she wanted to laugh, but she was too nervous. What was left of our screen door had gotten wrapped around my legs, holding me down.
I worked my way to my feet and looked down at the skinny girl holding the remains of Pop's screen door in her hands. I touched the brim of my baseball cap. "How can I help you?"
She backed off a couple of steps and dropped the pieces of the screen, her eyes flicking away from me. I was used to people doing that. Her face was full of light brown freckles that pulled my eyes away from her pointy chin. It was the freckles that made her so beautiful.
"Oh, yeah, right," she said. "My car needs an oil change and some filters and new sparks, I guess. I've only had it a couple months." She stared at her car, wiggling her little chin. "Can you fix it tonight, do you think?"