"Burley, would you come in a half hour early this afternoon? I want to go over some things with you."
"Sure, will two-thirty be soon enough?"
I came in when I said I would. Now I was out the door. I should have seen this coming. The old man's nephew had been training on days. Now the nephew was starting my shift and I was walking toward my car. I would be twenty-six tomorrow. What a birthday present.
Mom's estate was almost settled. Mom willed Sis the house and she was moving in with her family in two weeks. I promised I would be out by then. I did have an equal amount of cash to compensate, so I wasn't feeling bad. I was happy for my sister. What I owned for personal stuff wasn't much and I had it all in storage already. I had to get on the ball and find a place to live though.
I drove down the street and on the spur of the moment pulled into a parking space in front of the city common. I walked over and got a drink from the fountain, turned away and looked for a bench to sit on. It was a nice day and most of the seats were occupied. I spotted someone I had gone to school with. Nadia Newsome something or other was sitting by herself. I couldn't recall her married name right off.
We had never been friends, but I knew I could sit by her and she wouldn't push me away. Let's see, I remembered her being married a few years ago. Seems like her name was in the news lately as well. I tried to think in what context, but couldn't recall before I sat down beside her.
"Hi Burley Squires. Sit and take a load off. Beautiful day isn't it?" She said this, but it didn't make her look happy. Maybe a little lost.
"Maybe yes, maybe no. Can't tell yet. I was just let go from the filling station. Powers' nephew just took my place. I don't blame the old man much. He is keeping it in the family, you know."
"Geesus, that's too bad. You've been pumping gas since you were a kid, haven't you?"
"Yeah, about that. All except when I pulled a hitch in the army when I was eighteen. I had trouble right after I got in, so it was a short hitch." I grinned. "Shit nobody wants me." I changed the subject. "What are you up to?"
"Nothing really. Killing time you know. I have a week off. I have to move and am looking for an apartment. I received a good settlement in the divorce and can't make up my mind where to live."
"That's right, divorce ... that was what was in the paper. I was trying to remember. How long before you have to move?"
"Two weeks. My ex-husband got the house and a lot of good it will do him, at least for awhile."
I started laughing, thinking I might put a smile on her face. "Hey, I have to move in two weeks too. It looks like you and I are in the same boat. I even have my stuff all stored until I find a place."
"Good for you. Mine is too. I might live out of a motel until I decide."
I had an inspiration, "So if we are both free from having to be anywhere, let's go on a vacation." I think Nadia was thinking I was kidding, but I wasn't. What I had tried to remember about her came rushing back to me. Four months ago, Nadia's husband had beaten her up and he had been arrested for domestic abuse.
Not much had come of that, but later she was out with some lady friends and her husband found her laughing with a man sitting next to her at a bar. This time he beat the crap out of her. Too bad for him, two off-duty cops came in while he was throwing her into a corner and was seen kicking her. Seems like he was going to be sentenced next week and he might get up to five years.
"You're serious, aren't you? It is weird, I've been divorced a week, but I feel like I am still married. I'm kind of leery of men right now." I could see she was getting some tears in her eyes. "I guess I had better pass. I'd be a lousy person to be on vacation with and you'd have a terrible time. It sounds like fun though."
"I don't think you'd be much of a drag on me. I was discharged from the job I planned working at forever. Look, I have to go to the bank and deposit my final paycheck. I'll swing back by here in an hour and you decide. You can tell me your decision then. I usually rent a camp up north on Lake Karen. We could lie on the beach and let our cares float away. Please think about it."
I was hoping she would still be here when I returned. She definitely needed cheering up. I felt like hugging her, but as she had said she was leery of men so that wouldn't work.
I thought back over what I knew about Nadia Newsome. She had married a man by the name I now remembered. Stanley Brinkley and he was a big guy. He was much taller by three inches than my 5 foot 9 inches. Nadia would never win a beauty prize as her hair was a dirty blond color that curled around the side of her face. Her face was pleasant enough with full soft lips. She had a pug nose that didn't seem to fit with the rest of her features, but unless you caught her profile, you didn't notice.
Nadia was never one to flaunt herself and even today as warm as it was, she had on a heavy dress so you couldn't tell what her figure looked like. She never played sports where others would see her less than fully clothed. She was shorter than me by three inches or so. I heard she worked in a restaurant somewhere.
Me, I was shorter than the general male population and this brought its own problems. I had been harassed in school and when I graduated, I found I wasn't much better off out in the so-called real world. Even my stint in the armed services was hell. I was released early to cover up an incident that occurred during basic training. They tell about not crossing the thin blue line in the police department, but it can happen in the service as well.
I was different now. Not many people harassed me physically. I took steps to learn how to take care of myself. It wasn't obvious, but it gave me a confidence that others could sense in me whether they could see it or not.
I parked in the same space when I returned from the bank and didn't see Nadia sitting where we had been. I walked around the park and found her on a bench in the back facing away from me. I sat down beside her. "Hi."
"You came looking for me. I'm surprised. I thought you weren't serious so I moved."
"I am serious. Shall I call and see if they have a cabin?"
"I guess so, but you probably will be sorry." There was concern on her face and I took it she didn't want to spoil my vacation.
I dialed the number from my cell phone. I had taken the time to find it while at the bank. I made a reservation for a week. "Burley, are you expecting me to sleep with you?"
"No, not if you don't want to. Well, I mean I don't expect to be intimate with you. The cabin only has a double bed, but I can stop and get an air mattress somewhere." She didn't want to start a relationship and wanted that made clear before we went anywhere together.
"That won't be necessary. We can make out somehow without bothering each other. How much is the cabin? I want to pay half."
"We can split the cost when we leave if you want. Remember I invited you so I planned on this being on my tab."
"No way. Is it okay to tell my best friend where I am and who I am with?"
"Sure, good idea. We have cabin number nineteen and the phone number of the campground is right here." She pulled out her phone and dialed someone telling her that she was going on vacation. After a minute she answered some questions put to her.
"No, I have a restraining order against Stanley. I won't be at his sentencing. Who am I going with on vacation? Burley Squires. We went to school together. I haven't seen him since before I was married and I ran into him today." She flashed me a smile. "Actually he is kind of cute. You know his sister, Beth. Beth Johnson. She is moving back to the home they grew up in. I have to run. I'll talk to you when I get back. Bye."
"Cute am I?"
"I had to say something to make her curious about you. We both know your sister, so you had better be good." I grinned and didn't answer. If Beth knew these women, then that was a recommendation by itself. Now Nadia was showing interest and a little excitement.
We set about putting things together for our vacation. We were going to take my car. Her car was old. She said Stanley had a newer one, but it was being financed. She giggled. "If Stanley gets five years, it will be about the same age as mine is now when he gets out."
I told her I had a couple of light sleeping bags and we probably wouldn't need much else. That way we could zip them up and sleep in the same bed. We went into the grocery and stocked up and then went by her house to pick up her stuff. She came out with a small suitcase and a thin garment bag. I took it that it held a dress. I sat in the car waiting as she did this. I was supposed to blow the horn if I saw Stanley coming. Thankfully he didn't show.
I went by my home and came out with the same size suitcase. I had towels and a swim suit, sun block, and shaving stuff. I did bring extra blankets so we could lie on the beach. I also packed some clothes to wear if we went out in the evening. I got my large plug-in cooler to put the groceries in. I also loaded up some wood for a campfire.
"Before we go, do come look in the garage. I want to show you my pride and joy." I lifted the door. There was a restored '57 Chevy hard top, parked there in all its glory. "I'll take you for a ride in it sometime. I don't drive it much. It cost me too much time and money to get it into this condition to go someplace where it could be damaged or stolen. Sis says I don't have to move it yet, so it stays until I find another garage."
"That's smart. I would love to ride in it."
"You will, I promise." We had a three hour drive and it took us four, as I just drove along listening to Nadia's problems she had with her husband. She sounded more disappointed than regretful about her failed marriage.
She questioned why I was still single. Our conversation wasn't all about her. "You never married. How come, you're a nice guy?"
"I never ran into anyone I thought I wanted to live with for the rest of my life. I have had a couple relationships of a year or more and the women are still friends of mine. Their husbands are friends of mine as well. Both are happily married now. I date occasionally. I never went for the bar scene. I've been working the evening shift for four years now and it is too late to catch up if you enter a bar sober at ten in the evening."
"Some different than my ex-husband. He wanted to go out every night. He wanted me to go with him. I did at first, but I stopped after awhile. I was always getting hit on and I got sick of it. We used to argue about it. When he started getting abusive, I knew it was only a matter of time before I would divorce him. I shouldn't have waited so long. I got pretty well slammed around the last time."
We drove thirty miles before anything else was said. It was nearly seven in the evening and I needed gas. I pulled into a filling station that sold the same kind of gas I pumped. There was a small restaurant attached. "We might as well eat here. We have another hour and we have to get set before dark."
Nadia went around the corner of the building to the eatery while I pumped gas. When I paid, I looked around inside. It was the typical convenience setup. Soda, chips, beer and snacks. It couldn't be doing too well. Most of the shelves and racks were less than half stocked. I found a twelve pack of Genesee Light and bought chips. I also got some scratch tickets.
When I came up to the counter and sat the beer down, "You aren't the law are you? I'm too young to ring out the beer. I'll have to get Gram or Mom to sell it to you. If they are busy it might take awhile." The attendant might be fifteen or sixteen.
"Run my card. I'm getting something to eat. She can do it before we leave."
"Oh hell, Mister, I'll take a chance." I suspected this was a family operation. The only problem I could see was that there wasn't enough family. The food was good in the restaurant though. There was an older woman that was the cook and a younger woman that waited on us. She would look just like the old woman in another twenty-five years. Maybe sooner, as they both looked worn out.
When we paid for the meal we read a sign that stated the restaurant and the filling station were for sale. Nadia looked at me and smirked. Thoughts of her problems had receded. As we reached my car she said, "We should buy it. I want to get away from my home town and you don't have a job."
"Yeah, right. This is our first date and you want to buy a business together."
"It is no stranger than me going on vacation with a man I haven't seen for eight years and only know his name. Crazy isn't it? Do you consider this a date?" I smiled and shrugged.
Maybe it was crazy, but I thought about the station the rest of the way to the cabin. I glanced at Nadia. I could see wheels turning in her mind much like they were turning in mine. Neither one of us said anything about it.
The cabin was small. The only thing for the bathroom door was a curtain. There was no shower ... you had to go to the communal shower point for that. The bed was full sized, but one of us was going to have to get in first for there wasn't room to get to the far side. If a person had to get up in the night, he or she would have to ask the other to move or crawl over. Nadia thought it a great joke. There was a good cook stove and two chairs that went with the mini table.
"We can make do. We'll flip a coin to see who gets the far side first. Then we can take turns."
We put our stuff away and then walked down to the water. I had been here several times, but in a cabin on the other side of the lake. There were people canoeing on the water and we could hear a party going on a ways down on the left. Just then a boat and a water skier went close in front of us. The skier had on a bikini ... flesh colored. Nadia looked at me. "I knew there was a reason you brought me here. You wanted to see the sights."
"Could be. Let's go have a beer. I'll start a fire and we can toast some marshmallows. I want to stay up late enough to see the moon come up. It should be directly in front of us. Maybe we will sleep on the beach tonight." I was feeling as if I had been friends with Nadia for a long time. I was so comfortable with her.
"Burley, you are really giving me a treat. I have never been camping on a lake before. I really am enjoying myself. Not only that, you make me feel so safe and all the troubles I've had with my husband are behind me." The moon came up as I promised. Big and yellow it seemed to fill the whole sky. The lake as well, for it seemed to shine a golden path on the water right to where we lay holding hands on the blanket.
We did go into the cabin about twelve-thirty and we did flip a coin to see who would get the far side of the bed. How Nadia giggled when she lost. "I'll be getting you up about five so I can go pee. Sorry about that."
"Geez, I thought I kept you out late enough so you wouldn't have to."
"You shouldn't have given me all of that beer. Your fault."
"I'll suffer through it, I'm sure. Breakfast about eight?"
"That's good. I'm cooking, that is what I do for a living and I have to keep my hand in until I go back to work in a couple of weeks."
"You cook? I knew you worked in a restaurant."
"Actually I'm the manager of Rita's. Do you know the place?"
"I know where it is, but have never eaten there. This will be one of the things on my to do list."
"You had better. I'll be hurt if you don't." I stepped outside while Nadia got into her nightgown and returned when she said okay. The curtain was pulled back as she brushed her teeth. Now I had more of a sense of what her figure was. She was more voluptuous than I thought. The gown left little to the imagination. I thought for a moment, she might be teasing me a little, but decided she was just comfortable around me.
I usually slept naked, but I wore boxers and a tee tonight. I slid into bed beside Nadia and reached over and turned off the light. She turned and spoke, "Burley, I have had the best time today. Last night I was sleeping alone. I guess what I am asking is, do you want more tonight?"
"No. Let's get to be friends. I have never been as comfortable with anyone as I am with you. I'd like to keep it that way. We'll see if we want to change direction when we get to know each other better. I have a whole raft of friends that I know and almost as many are women as men. Some of the women I have had sex with. They were my friends before we were intimate and still my friends afterward."
"I am going to be your friend always. I know that right now. We'll leave the other until later. Goodnight, Burley." She didn't go to sleep and I didn't either. Finally she spoke. "You know I haven't felt safe in over a year. I never knew when Stanley would explode and start hitting me. It could happen and it did too often. I guess I am lucky it wasn't worse."
"You're safe now." I had been treating Nadia as a long-time friend. That was what she was going to.
"I hope so. I'm divorced, but I don't know what goes on in Stanley's mind. In fact I didn't then and I don't now. Put your arm over me so I can forget him. I think I can go to sleep now with you holding me close."
"Sleep then. I'm right here with you."
I had an omelet that blew my mind away for breakfast. After we cleaned up I said we should walk around the lake, which would take all morning. Nadia put on a pair of walking shorts and a halter. She saw me looking her over.
"You like? Hey this is the new me. When I was in school, I was a little chunky and I practically hid. When I married, Stanley wanted me to dress to show off my body and I hated him telling me I should. Maybe that is where we went wrong. As time went on he wanted me to do more ... you know get more physical and flirt with strangers. Then all of a sudden he went the other way and was jealous. We could never seem to get it right."
I reached out and took her hand in mine as we walked along. "Forget Stanley. I'd never ask you to do that. I'm too possessive for one thing and I'm not jealous for another. Nadia, if I ever do anything you don't like, please tell me and I'll change."
"Friends do that don't they?"
When we got back to the cabin, I said we should just eat a light lunch. "I'm taking you out for dinner tonight. After all it is my birthday. We can celebrate."
"You didn't tell me it was your birthday. Good, we'll have a party. I know just where and I'll make a reservation."
"Back at that place we ate in coming up here. I want to ask some questions of the owner."
"You're thinking of buying the business aren't you?"
"Not really, but I am curious how much they want for it. I want to see the kitchen and the equipment, count the seats and what they have for a steady clientele. The menu the waitress showed us was horrible. I mean, they had three times as many entrées as they should have for a restaurant of that size. I've been thinking about it all morning while we were walking. I mean it is just a good nice sized restaurant to be easily managed for God's sake."
I didn't tell Nadia I had run through my mind the changes I would make to the filling station if it was in my hands. "I think the biggest problem with everything was it is way understaffed."
"Yeah, but the restaurant can be streamlined. There are four kinds of meat. There is beef, pork, chicken and fish. Add pasta on top of that. You could serve two kinds of meat on any given day and pasta for those who didn't care for meat. Keep the meat served to two basic recipes so you would have only six entrées on any given day. It would be wholesome, tasty and yet nothing too fancy. Any cook can handle that."
"Much the same could be done to upgrade the station. A lot of it would be paid by the oil company. It needs more modern looking pumps. The exterior of the building needs power washing and new blacktop should be redone, in, out, and around the pumps. I know the company representative who I would be dealing with. Of course we would have to pay to have the parking lot for the restaurant resurfaced and done at the same time."
"Do you have any money? It is going to take a lot."
I didn't hesitate to answer, "I am sure I have enough to handle the station, stock it, and it put into the condition I want it to be."
"How much is what I'm asking?" I looked at Nadia. Was she prying for reasons other than to buy the station and restaurant? I named a figure.
"I have close to that much. I'd swap a divorce settlement for a restaurant any day. If we have to put on a mortgage, it won't be too big. Any bank would lend the remainder to us I'm almost positive."
"Hey, slow down, this is just a dream."
"I know, but it is a nice one isn't it?"
I had to ask, "How would you want to work this? As two separate businesses or as one?"
"I don't know. The filling station would be the smaller of the two and wouldn't make as much money. That is unless you enlarged the convenience part of it. It wouldn't cost as much to buy at first."
I knew I had enough money for the filling station and would have some left over for the restaurant. "It would be better to pool our money then wouldn't it? Nadia, I don't know anything about the restaurant business."
"So, I don't know anything about pumping gas either. I'm saying it should be one business."
"You're a trusting person. Especially after what you have been through with your husband. We've known each other for twenty-four hours."
"Burley, I remember you from when we went to school, and I know your sister. I can say I do know you. Do you trust me?"
"Well there is your answer then."
We pulled into one of the parking spaces on the gas station end of the building. Nadia and I got out and looked around. I was mentally making a list of what needed to be done to shape up the station. We went inside and met an old slow moving man heading out. The girl I had bought beer from was behind the counter.
She spoke to the man as he went out the door. "See you tomorrow, Mr. James. Thank you for coming in for me this morning. I needed to do some shopping. Bye now." Mr. James waved his hand, never looking around.
"Hi folks. Oh, you bought beer here yesterday. I can't sell you any today. Gram and Mom chewed me out for ringing you out. Mom doesn't want the place to lose our license. The license goes with the place and Mom is hoping to sell and we get half of the income from the beer sales."
"Is anyone looking at the place to buy?"
"A few people have inquired, but nobody has any money. Are you interested?" The girl looked hopefully at us.
"Not really. I used to work in a filling station much like this one."
"Shucks, I was hoping. I hate working here. I would rather be waiting table in the restaurant. I get tips in there."
"How come you don't hire someone?"
"We can't afford to. Dad died and Mom is needed in the restaurant. It just leaves me to work here. We need help in here too. We can't go on much longer the way we are. I have two more years of school. I guess we will have to close up."
"That is too bad. How many other stations are there in this town?"
"Just the Gulf station on the way out of town on Route 6. They don't sell beer though. Would you believe there used to be five stations that sold gas here in the area seven years ago?"
"I can believe it. The oil companies have cut the margin of profits so close, no one can make a living pumping gas without a sideline." We walked around and I added to my mental list of what the place needed. The girl, who said her name was Jenny Sinclair, went to work stocking shelves. When she came back to the counter, I bought two scratch tickets. Two customers were coming in as we were leaving.
Nadia went around the corner to the restaurant, the same as she did yesterday. I moved my car and parked in the same spot. The place was busier than the day before. We were an hour earlier so I wasn't surprised. The older woman who was the cook had everything in hand, but the orders were backing up to be delivered at the tables.
We were waved to a seat. When the woman of about forty came by with water and a menu, Nadia spoke to her. "I'm Nadia and I called earlier this afternoon and ordered something special. You seem awful busy. Can I give you a hand? I'm a waitress and on vacation."
"Oh I couldn't let you do that."
"Sure you can. All I need is an apron."
"Well, the aprons are in the kitchen in the cupboard behind the door. You can help until I get these orders passed out and catch up a little. Your special order is on the house for giving me a hand."
I watched as Nadia wended her way around the dining room. She didn't use a tray, just grabbing the plates and lining her arms with three and sometimes four orders. She laughed and joked with the patrons as she served them. The mood changed from one of tending to your own meal to where strangers at the next table were conversing with their neighbor.
The old woman doing the cooking of course was now behind. Nadia went right in and started preparing orders and addressing the cook asking, "Gram, where is this and where is that? Point me, I'll find it." The customers coming in the door eventually trickled to an almost standstill. Nadia stayed in the kitchen and the waitress came over and sat at my table. "I swear in all my years here I have never had a minute to sit down during the dinner hour. Where did your wife come from?"
"Nadia isn't my wife. We are camping at Lake Karen for a few days. We stopped by yesterday and loved the meal so decided to return for another one."
"You looked familiar when you came in and I remember you now. You have to stay after we close the dining room. Gram is making something special."
"I heard the other customers call you Sammy. May I do the same?"
"Yes, it's Samantha Sinclair. My husband started calling me Sammy when we first met on the first day of school. He is gone now. He was sick for two years and died a little over a year ago. I miss him. He was a short man just as you are, but he had a heart as big as the whole world. You remind me of him just a little."
Another seven customers came in and she got up to take their order. She came back to my table, while Nadia and Gram were cooking their order and continued her conversation. "We got behind with my husband being ill. I had to put on a mortgage shortly before he died. I feel sorry for Jenny. She isn't having any life at all. I have the property on the market, but I haven't had anyone seriously interested."
"What are you asking for both the diner and the station next door?" She named a figure. It was very reasonable. "What goes with it for equipment and maybe stock?"
"If I got the price, everything just as it is. There is also a small ell on the back that has an almost new pizza oven all set up and ready. My husband was going to expand and serve pizza, but six months after we opened it, he was too sick to keep it going." She had to get up again and ask the customers if they were satisfied with their meal. They gave it raves.
Sammy came back. "Okay, they will be the last customers. Order whatever you want and Gram will make it for you and your friend. I'll start cleaning up."
Nadia came out and we sat talking. "Do you want to make an offer on this tonight? If they have clear title after paying their mortgage it is a great deal. We can pay cash for most of it and use what is left for start up money. Everything goes with the two businesses including what inventory there is. What do you think? You saw the kitchen and what is in it.
"One thing we should do is try to hire all three of these people. We can hit the ground running and might not even have to close for renovations. We'll do those a little at a time. The filling station is the first thing people see when they drive by, so maybe that should be first."
"The kitchen and the dining room do need some upgrade, but what is here is definitely serviceable. The only fault is the menu. That definitely can be simplified. I'm ready to be my own boss. How about you?"
"Are we going to be partners?"
"Equal. I wouldn't have it any other way. Let me talk to them after we eat. I'll give them the idea that we are interested." Our meals came and it was pure ambrosia. As we were finishing, Jenny came in from the filling station and filled a plate with leftovers. She was surprised we were still there.
Sammy whispered something to her daughter and Nadia got up with them and went into the kitchen. All four women came out with a small birthday cake singing, "Happy Birthday, Burley." I don't think I ever enjoyed reaching another milestone like I did this one. Nadia kissed me, which was a public display and surprised me greatly.
As we finished the little impromptu party I said, "Nadia and I would like to explore purchasing this establishment including the station next door. She has a little money to invest from a divorce settlement. I have about the same amount from my mother whose estate has just been settled.
"I don't have a job, but I have been a night shift manager for a station much like this. I worked there for eight years, boy and man. The owner had to make room for his nephew and that is why I'm unemployed. I'll let Nadia tell you what experience she has."
Nadia had about the same employment record, but said she would like to become her own boss. She asked if Gram and Sammy would continue to work in the restaurant. They couldn't say definitely right off. I agreed it was way too early to make any binding decisions. We would need to contact a lawyer to represent us. They of course already had one to advise them.
Sammy, who was the owner of title, got me a description of the property. It had been drawn up by their attorney. On the last page it was declared if the property didn't go through a realtor, the attorney would receive 3% of the sale price for handling the transaction. I was surprised as something like this would be 10% through a realtor.
I pulled Nadia aside and suggested that we offer Sammy a profit share of the business if they would all come to work for us. "We can call it goodwill or for the name or something. This will assure a smooth transition while you and I get up to speed."
"How big a percentage?"
"I was thinking 5%."
"You're cheap. Make it 10%."
"No, that is too much. 7.5% I could agree to."
"You're the boss."
"No, I'm not. We just talked over something which we had different ideas on and came to an agreement. I think you and I are going to work well together."
"I could kiss you again." I took a moment to remember the kiss I had received when my cake came. I wanted more of them.
"I'll hold you to that." I made the offer and Jenny typed up our proposal. Nadia and I signed it. I gave Sammy a hundred dollar bill for what was little more than intent to purchase, and she gave me a receipt. We would have had the 7.5% anyway.
The 7.5% was a small offer, but it should insure a speedy, smooth transition. Also we were hoping to hire them to do what they were doing as owners for us when the papers were inked.
The Sinclairs, we felt would work that much harder if they still owned a little piece of their former property. We left for Lake Karen shortly after that, leaving three people who felt their world was just about to improve. Nadia and I felt the same way.
I would be back early in the morning to see the station open at six. Jenny, who was actually sixteen, said she would come out to the lake to get Nadia before lunch. She drove a van and Nadia would pack up our belongings as we both had been implored to stay in Gram's house for the next couple of days.
It was my turn on the far side of the bed tonight. I was tired and I didn't think I would sleep from being so wound up about today's developments and those coming at me in the future. I crawled in with just my boxers on. Nadia was last in the little bathroom and I heard her brushing her teeth. I felt her snuggle next to me. She didn't feel the same as she did last night.
"Big boy, your birthday isn't over yet. You have one more present coming." I moved my hand back to feel for a nightgown. It landed right in the junction between her legs. I jumped, startled to feel her bare skin.
"Are you sure?" I turned over to face Nadia in the moonlit room. "I mean I know you are divorced, but if I'm catching you on the rebound, I think we should put this off."
"Kiss me. We haven't done any of that and you could have anytime. Burley, I'm not asking for a commitment from you, not yet anyway." Her lips found mine before she continued.
"I think we will always be friends. I don't know if we will be more than that, but tonight this feels so right. I hate to bring up Stanley but I feel I need to. He is going to be sentenced tomorrow. I suppose I am using you a little by saying this is a birthday present for you, but this is for him too. A slap in his face if you will, even though he won't know about it. He is going to be in jail and I'm going to be here with you. So if you can accept me on those terms, I hope you can give me a little love."
I didn't speak, just reaching for my birthday present. Yes, and I wanted to help Nadia slap her ex-husband in the face as much she did. She might talk violence as in slapping, but I felt she needed kind and gentle. We didn't spend hours and hours, and it was only the one time, but when we snuggled down to rest, we were both well satisfied in both body and soul. Tomorrow morning we would face the new day closer friends than when we woke up this morning.
I was at the door when Mr. James drove up to the station to open in the morning. "Hi there Mr. James. Jenny said you would show me around. I'm kind of looking the place over. Hope you don't mind me watching over your shoulder."
"If you know Jenny, I guess it's all right. Sweet kid. Too bad she has to work here in the filling station. She ought to be out with a boyfriend or something. Those Sinclairs are all good people. Too bad Sinclair himself had to go and die. The women have really had to struggle. They're about due for a break. They deserve one anyway."
I followed the old man in and he went right to the coffee machine cleaning around it a little and getting two pots started. He started a pot of hot water for those who wanted tea. Then he went over to the cash register and counted the money.
"If you see anything you want to ask about, go right ahead. Maybe if you got a minute you could sweep up a bit. Customers are so messy. It makes a body wonder how they live at home. Youngsters have no respect for anything any more." I got comments about any and everything. Customers came for gas. Most of them had cards and not too many came inside.
Then we had a rash of people wanting coffee and I took care of replenishing the pots. I wandered over to the soda coolers. The different kinds were all jumbled together. I separated them putting the Coke products on one side and the Pepsi products on the other. The beer coolers were better and I only had to put the domestic together where it was mixed in with the foreign brands.
I then set about straightening the shelves that held the canned goods and the soft snack items. When I got most of this done, it showed the inventory level way down. You couldn't sell it if you didn't have it. I took a pad of paper and listed what I thought the place needed and the different suppliers who listed these goods.
All of this time customers were coming in buying a snack or drinks for traveling or lunch later in the day. There was a big demand for newspapers and the old man was busy handling these, scratch tickets, selling and paying off winners, and doing it with ease. Some even made comments on how orderly things were for a change. The Sinclairs certainly had a good business here, but didn't have enough money to either stock it fully or pay for enough help to sell it.
I wandered out back to where Sammy had said there was a pizza oven set up. The added-on ell that housed it was recently built and larger than I expected. Sammy didn't tell me that there was sandwich and soup making equipment sitting idle in there either. No way was I going to let this establishment get away from us.
I called the family lawyer back in my home town. I left a message for him to return my call as soon as possible. I left Mr. James and went around to the restaurant. Nadia was already there. After saying good morning to the others, I pulled her aside and told her what I had found out back and that I had called my lawyer. "Get us some coffee and we'll sit in the corner where we can talk. I know it is too early to make big plans, but I'm so excited I want to run things by you."
Sammy and her mother were in the kitchen with Jenny cleaning the tables and setting places. They looked worried, thinking we might back out of the deal we made last evening. "Nadia, after looking around, this place is worth thirty to forty percent more than they are selling it for. There is room to create twice as much parking and I think we could fill the parking lot as well as the restaurant if we plan things right."
"Burley, before we get to the business here, what about last night? Aren't you going to mention that at all?"
"Nadia, I honestly don't know what to say. To me it was one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had. You said it seems just so right and it was! Where we go from here on a personal level, I don't know. I don't want to seem pushy, but I want it to happen again. I'm so afraid of saying or doing something to spoil it, I'm speechless."
"Burley, you aren't speechless. You have just said what I wanted to hear. I was kind of worried this morning. You left early and we only had a minute to say good-bye. We can put this on hold for a bit if you want. I'm happy that you want us to continue being close friends and someday I want even more. Now tell me why you are so excited about this place?"
I first ran down what I saw for the customer base that came in and out of the filling station. How I felt the pizza place could be more than what it was intended for. It could become a small deli, serving soup and sandwiches at noon. Close the diner for lunches and expand the dinner hour for the evening. Open an entrance to the lunch and pizza parlor through the station which would undoubtedly expand sales in there.
"Why all the changes?"