The heavy rain continued to beat down on the windshield as Brian Brannigan drove his well-worn pickup down Montgomery Street. Running a hand across his crew cut, the sandy haired nineteen-year-old took a moment to glance at the clock on the dashboard. The clock read ten to eight and he knew he was going to be late for work yet again. That this time it was hardly his fault wasn’t going to matter a hill of beans to his boss.
Knowing it was supposed to pour this morning, Brian had left his parents’ house a good half an hour earlier than normal; just to give himself some extra time. How was he to know that the storm would uproot two of the large trees on Adams Boulevard, causing a major traffic jam that forced him and just about anyone else trying to get through onto the slower side streets.
Most of the diverted traffic had gone up to Dover Street, so he’d done just the opposite and cut down to Winchester Road instead. So far, that had proved not to be his best decision of the day as the rain was now coming down so hard that he could barely see more than two car lengths ahead of him. As a result, he had to come to a complete stop at every intersection in order to make sure it was clear in every direction. Being late for work was bad, he knew, but getting his truck smashed would be a lot worse.
Coming up to the intersection of Winchester and Parks, Brian saw a solitary figure standing under an oversized umbrella at the corner bus stop. Normally, he wouldn’t have given them more than a passing glance, except that the bright red umbrella that the woman was huddled under bore the logo of Harris and Son’s Construction Supplies – the same company that he drove a delivery truck for.
“Oh hell,” Brian said, feeling a little guilty that he was sitting there nice and dry while the woman was getting soaked, “I’m already going to get my ass chewed out for being late, might as well have something good come out of it.”
Slowing down to ease the truck to the curb without splashing the woman standing there, Brian rolled down the window on the passenger side and called out to her. At first, she declined his offer of a ride, saying she’d just wait for the bus which she was sure would be along any minute. It wasn’t until he identified himself, including showing his company id card, that the woman, who he still couldn’t recognize under the umbrella and rain gear she was wearing, had a change of heart. Even so, she paused a long moment before climbing up into the passenger side seat, going forward only when she was satisfied that she did indeed recognize his face from work.
After she pulled down the hood of her raincoat and turned in his direction, Brian finally recognized her as well. Her name was Harriet Lowell and worked in the payroll department. Actually, in a company the size of Harris & Son’s, she was pretty much the whole payroll department. As they pulled out back onto the street, Harriet explained that her car had refused to start this morning, forcing her to walk up to the bus stop, some four blocks from her house.
“You are a life saver,” the fiftyish, white haired woman told him as she used a kerchief she produced from her pocket to try and dry her short hair. “I’ve been waiting for that bus for over half and hour and I was beginning to think that it wasn’t ever going to come.”
Mentioning the traffic difficulties he’d encountered on his way, Brian further suggested that the bus driver might’ve had similar problems since he knew that route went along Adams too before turning down along Winchester.
“Then I’m doubly glad that you came along, Brian,” Harriet said, remembering his name from one of the few times he’d come into the main office for something or other. “I was actually contemplating giving up the ghost and heading back home.”
“Well if there was ever a day to just stay in bed, this is certainly it,” Brian remarked, reflecting his own thoughts when he’d first looked out the bedroom window this morning. If he’d had a better attendance record, it would’ve been a serious consideration.
“Don’t think that didn’t occur to me,” Harriet replied as she stuffed her now damp cloth back into a pocket, “but if I didn’t come in today and make sure the payroll was put in right, you, I and a lot of other people wouldn’t be getting paid at the end of the week.”
“In that case, I’m now even gladder that I saw you when I did,” Brian grinned, thinking how hard it would’ve been to stretch out what was left of last week’s check. Tactfully, he left out the part that if he hadn’t seen the company logo, he probably would’ve kept on going.
Having made that bad decision to head in the opposite direction that most of the traffic had gone actually turned out to be the best decision Brian could’ve made. Mr. Harris was so relieved to see Harriet walk in the door that he made no mention of the fact that Brian was almost an hour late. It had been many years since the businessman had done his own payroll and he wasn’t enthusiastic at the prospect of trying to figure out the computer program that handled it now. He simply told Brian to check the clipboard hanging in the outer hall for the day’s deliveries.
Doing so, Brian was relieved to see that just about every outdoor construction site had been shut down by the weather, which left only a handful of stops at places where the majority of the work had moved inside. As it turned out, his work day was done early enough for him to stop back by the office to see how Harriet had made out with her car. She had mentioned before he’d left that she was going to call her mechanic and see if he could pick it up at her house. The garage was only two blocks away.
Harriet thanked him for his concern but said she started to and then decided not to call the mechanic after all. That car had been on its last legs for a while, she said, and it seemed like it didn’t start more times than it did. Pouring even more money into it seemed too much of an iffy proposition. She’d been planning to replace it but was hoping it would last just a little longer so that she could find something more reliable and still affordable. The last thing she wanted to do was just trade one set of headaches for another.
Having bought a five hundred dollar lemon the week after he’d gotten his license back in high school, one that also spent more time in his driveway than on the road, Brian could well sympathize with her predicament. The only reason he now had the pickup, old as it was but with a rebuilt engine, was that his Uncle Alex had developed some vision problems and could no longer drive it.
“You know, I was just thinking,” Brian said as he sat on the edge of the desk. “Why don’t you ride in with me until you get your new car?”
Actually he hadn’t been thinking, but the words just seemed to come out of his mouth. No sooner had he spoken them than he wished he could’ve taken them back. It wasn’t that the side trip was really out of his way, but did he really want to commit himself to picking her up and driving her home for however long it took to replace her car?
Harriet didn’t answer immediately, the look on her face saying she was considering the proposal. Trying to keep his own expression neutral, Brian was frantically hoping she turned it down.
“That’s it really generous of you, Brian,” Harriet began, an opening that could go either way, “and I think I’m going to take you up on it.”
Brian felt his heart drop.
“But only on two conditions,” she added.
Brian felt his heart jumpstart, hopefully at least one of those conditions would turn out to be a deal breaker.
“First, that we give it a two week trial run, just to see how it goes,” Harriet said, “and if one of us finds that it’s too much of a problem, then that will be it.”
Nodding his head, Brian thought that was pretty sensible, especially since it gave him an easy out. Two weeks wasn’t that long after all.
“And secondly,” Harriet continued, “I’d like to contribute something to help pay for the commute, say the cost of what gas I would’ve used anyway getting from my house to the office and back.”
That definitely wasn’t a bad offer, Brian thought. Having someone else putting gas in his tank certainly did a lot to reduce his reluctance to his own hastily made offer. Doing a quick calculation, he figured her contribution would cut his travel expenses to work by over half if not two thirds.
“Fair enough,” he heard himself say.
“Fine,” Harriet replied, “I’ll see you in the parking lot at five-thirty then. Now you better make yourself scarce before Mr. Harris sees you and decides he’s not paying you to sit around and watch raindrops fall.”
Having been on the receiving end of Mr. Harris’s idea of busy work before, Brian was quick to follow that advice.
The end of the day finally arrived and Harriet was waiting for Brian by his truck in the company parking lot. It turned out to be a lot easier to chat on the way home, due to the skies now being clear and the ice between them now being broken. Harriet, much to Brian’s surprise, turned out to be quite personable. Not at all what he thought a woman her age would be like. Then again, it wasn’t like he knew a lot of women her age, other than relatives and friends of his parents, to make a comparison against.
.... There is more of this story ...