It was a testament to how being with Mac pretty much made me oblivious to everything else that I didn’t notice the situation with the ignition at first. As we turned onto a side road, though, something hit my leg. When I looked down, I was surprised to see a pair of pliers dangling from some coiled wires, just hanging there.
“Um,” I said, in a voice I hoped didn’t sound as panicked as I was starting to feel, “I think your truck is falling apart?”
Mac looked at me, then the pliers. “Nope,” he replied. “That’s the starter.”
Granted, I was no expert on cars. But I felt relatively confident as I said, “I thought that was in the ignition?”
“In a perfect world, yes,” he said, putting on his turn signal and slowing down. “But this is an old truck. Sometimes it has to be modified to, you know, actually run.”
I had a flash of all those clock radios on his desk, the protruding springs. “Layla said you liked to tinker with stuff.”
“I don’t tinker,” he replied, sounding offended. “Tinkering is for grandfathers in shop aprons.”
Whoops. “Sorry,” I said.
He looked at me again. “It’s okay. Tender spot.”
I smiled. “Everyone has one.”
“So I hear.” He sat back. “Layla has a tendency to make everything I do sound kind of twee. My ‘woods wandering.’ My ‘tinkering.’ It’s like I’m her own personal gnome or something.”
This was so far from how I saw him, I almost laughed out loud. Thank God I managed to resist, saying instead, “For what it’s worth, I was impressed by your alarm clock. And if my starter were busted, I’d be walking. End of story.”
“Well, thanks.” He slowed for another turn. “There’s no shame in trying to make stuff work, is how I see it. It’s better than just accepting the broken.”
I wanted to say he was lucky he even had a choice. That for most of us, once something was busted, it was game over. I would have loved to know how it felt, just once, to have something fall apart and see options instead of endings.
The order had been called in from a gymnastics school, and it was a big one: seven pizzas, four salads, and enough garlic knots that I could smell them through the plastic. I took the cold stuff and one pizza, he got the rest, and then I followed him up to the building. Inside, there was a window that looked into the gym itself, a huge room lined with mats featuring a balance beam, uneven bars, and a vault. There were girls of all ages milling around in brightly colored leotards and sporting ponytails, like an army of Merediths.
“Just put that here,” Mac said, walking to a nearby counter and sliding his warmer onto it. I put down my pizza, then the bags of salads as he began to unload. He was almost done when I heard the first shriek.
It was sharp, yelp-like, and startled me. When I turned toward the sound, which had come from the big window, I saw there were now about four girls, a couple very small, the other two a bit taller, all skinny, looking at us. One of them—I was guessing the shrieker?—was blushing fiercely.
“Hi, Mac,” two of them sang out through the glass, and then they all dissolved into giggles. Mac, who was still stacking pizzas, nodded at them.
“Coach Washington!” one of the smaller girls called out. “Mac is here!”
More giggles. A few other gymnasts now ran over, while the blusher was turning red enough to make me wonder if they had a defibrillator.
“Okay, girls, clear the way, please,” I heard a voice say, and then the assembled ogling crowd was parting to let a woman with short, spiky blonde hair, wearing sweatpants and a tank top, come through. She had a whistle around her neck, but even without it you would have known she was in charge. She pushed open the door from the gym and began to walk toward us, a couple of the girls spilling out behind her. “Well, if it isn’t our favorite pizza guy, triggering the usual hormone rush.”
Mac, clearly uncomfortable, put the last pizza on the counter. “Big order today.”
“Scrimmage meet with Beam Dreams,” the woman told him, stopping in front of us. She put her hands on her hips, her posture perfect. I stood up straighter. “And who’s this?”
“Do you have a girlfriend?” one of the girls called out. More giggles.
“Employee in training, actually,” I said to the coach. “Just started.”
“About time he had some help,” she replied. “Let me get some money for you guys.”
As she disappeared into a back office, the girls were still at the window, clearly discussing us. I turned my back, then said, “It’s always like this?”
“No,” he said, so curtly that I immediately knew it was.
The coach returned, giving Mac a tip and a thank-you, and we headed for the exit. As he pushed open the door for me, a chorus of voices rose up behind us
“Good-BYE, Mac!” This time, the giggles were thunderous.
I bit my lip, trying not to laugh as we walked to the truck. I could so remember that feeling as a tween, when just being in proximity to a good-looking older boy could make you feel like you might explode. If all you knew was going crazy over someone famous on TV, like Logan Oxford, meeting the real-life equivalent was almost too much to take.
Mac started the truck and we backed out, still not talking. Finally he said, “It’s the only time I wish we actually did have another driver. When I see an order come in from here.”
“You’re pretty popular,” I agreed. From his expression, this was not the adjective he would have chosen. “What? Some people would be flattered to be so admired.”