"Bye, Sharon!" the littlest girl waved. "See you tomorrow!"
"Not tomorrow," Sharon smiled, but Amy was already eating a sugar cookie under the Christmas tree. The girl's mother smiled at Sharon. "She's already forgotten me," Sharon joked.
"No," Martina Castillo laughed. "She'll cry and wish you were here tomorrow when she's opening her presents. I don't suppose you'd want to work Christmas?"
Sharon laughed. "I do have to take a day off sometime. Merry Christmas, Martina! I put my presents for the kids under the tree for tomorrow."
"You're too sweet. You're their nanny, you don't have to get them anything," Martina chastised.
"Just small things. See you day after!"
Sharon stepped out of the warm house filled with Christmas cheer and pulled up the hood to her coat. She strode out into the pouring rain, hearing the puddles squish under her boots.
She skipped down the driveway and pulled the keys out of her pocket. She stopped dead as she looked up through the torrential sheets of water to see a figure standing at the door of her car.
"Hey, what are you doing?" she called from twenty feet away. It was a fairly nice neighborhood with a low crime rate, but better to be cautious than sorry.
"My door is jammed," he called back. "I can't get it open."
"Why don't you try again later, when it's not pouring rain?" she suggested, her voice a little hard, knowing full well it was her car he standing next to.
"Well, I really have to pick up my wife from the -"
"Go inside and call a taxi," she returned, her voice harder. "I'm sure it's the better option for you."
The man hesitated for a moment, as if he were trying to make a decision. He looked inside the car, at Sharon, and then up at the house they were in front of, where Sharon finally noticed someone had stepped out to watch them. He eased back.
"Sure, a taxi. I should have thought of that before."
Sharon nodded and waited for him to walk down the street before she moved toward her car. The figure from the house came down the driveway in an olive green raincoat and met her at the sidewalk.
"You okay?" the figure asked.
"Yeah," Sharon nodded. She made her way to the driver door and saw scratches all along the handle and key slot. "Not too bad, actually."
"You want to report it?"
"No," Sharon shrugged. "No harm done, and he left peacefully enough. I think it was the neighborhood that was targeted, not me. If you want to call, go ahead. I can stay."
"I'm Liz," the figure in the raincoat said instead. "You've got to be a little shaken, and cold. I've got hot drinks in my workshop. You want something?"
"Sure," Sharon smiled gratefully, remembering how the man noticed Liz before backing away. What would have happened had she not come outside? "Thank you."
"Come on in," Liz led her, not to the front door, but through the side gate and into the garage. Sharon followed somewhat skeptically, but the garage was toasty warm and she closed the door behind her. The sound of rain quieted to a dull thud on the roof.
There was a pile of metal in the middle of the garage, and Sharon wasn't sure what to make of it. Surely it couldn't be a car, but what else would it be? Liz shrugged off her raincoat and hung it on a row of pegs by the door. The heat in the room was almost overwhelming for Sharon with her wool coat and she itched to take it off, but dare not make it seem like she was inviting herself to stay.
Liz propped open another door, leading into the house, and Sharon could see her filling a kettle with water. She watched the other woman move. Small hands, strong, sturdy, short hair, a boyish grin, with little maroon gauges in her ears. Not pink, though they bordered on it, and they clashed horribly with Liz's red hair. They made Sharon smile.
Liz turned around and caught Sharon grinning, and Sharon quickly tried to tuck it away. Liz's mouth quirked. "Tea, coffee, chocolate, cider?"
"Tea, I think. What do you have?"
"Peppermint, chamomile, breakfast, and some sort of holiday cookie," Liz shrugged at the last one, her mouth puckering to the side.
"Peppermint sounds wonderful, thank you. No additions."
Liz raised her eyebrows but turned back to the cupboards. "You must be hot," she called to Sharon. "You can hang your coat on the rack."
Sharon flushed and removed her coat, hanging it gently next to the olive green raincoat. Unburdened and much more comfortable, she peered around the workshop. There were bits and pieces and lumps of metal everywhere. Tools and benches, tables with drawings and desk lamps and travel mugs. She saw a keyring with a USMCRD tag on it and fingered its twin in her pocket.
She tried to put it all together: short hair, sure hands, a confident way of moving, an upright stature. "Are you, or were you, a Marine?" she called into the kitchen. Liz popped her head out into the doorway, eyebrows furrowed.
Sharon pulled her keys out of her pocket and then lifted the similar set from Liz's desk. "My brother is a Marine. I'd know these initials anywhere."
"I'm not, but my best friend is. We thought about joining - both of us, for a long time, but I didn't."
"It's not for everyone," Sharon shrugged and slipped her keys back in her pocket.
Liz grimaced like it still pained her and sagged against the door frame. "Looking back, I'm glad I didn't. I would have missed out on things I needed to be here for."
Sharon heard what went unsaid. She gave Liz a sympathetic half smile and stepped toward the kitchen. "How's that tea? Still chilly outside."
"You're not still cold, are you? It's well over seventy in here. I have a little space heater in the garage that keeps it nice and toasty. Working with too many layers on gets difficult."
Sharon laughed and tried not to imagine Liz working out here in her underwear. That would lead her nowhere good. "No, I'm not cold," she answered with a grin instead, and the smirk spread to Liz as well. Liz handed her a mug with tea bag and spoon still inside.
"I didn't know how long you like it to steep," she shrugged sheepishly.
"It's fine," Sharon's grin widened and she stepped backward into the garage. "So what are you working on out here?"
"Oh, this?" Liz looked around and closed the door to the kitchen. "It's a little bit of everything. Some things are pieces I'm building or repairing for vintage cars, some are sculptures, some is just scrap metal. This," she pulled out a twisted piece of metal that branched out into delicate tendrils, "is going to be a fire screen. See how it looks sort of like a tree? It's coming along. Functional and beautiful is sort of what I was going for."
"You achieved it," Sharon praised, eying the metal tree. "I'd love to see a finished product. Things like that are far beyond my price range. That is, I'm assuming you sell?"
"Oh yes, definitely. Too much time and effort to keep it for myself. I love when clients fall in love with a piece and I know it will be treasured. I made a cherry tree headboard a few months ago with blossoms like you've never seen. It was hard to let go, but worth it."
"I'll bet," Sharon grinned, leaning comfortably against a work table. "And the cars?"
"Love them. Not much money in it, honestly, but putting something together, mathmatically, functionally uses a whole different side of my brain. It's good exercise and I think I'd go crazy without it. Plus, I love cars."
"I think everyone does," Sharon commented, an eyebrow raised skeptically.
"No, I appreciate cars. Some people appreciate a fine wine, and I can appreciate a finely tuned engine, a model finally perfected that runs so smoothly- I'm rambling."
Sharon shook her head and laughed, "I totally get it. My dad and I raced a Shelby down a windy road in Idaho, the car had a slight miss at 135. Not too shabby, but we got her tuned up right after."
Liz burst out laughing in shock. "So you know your way around a car."
"Pops was a mechanic. I can check my oil and float a carburetor, but don't ask me to change your transmission or anything," Sharon joked.
"I'll handle the transmission," Liz assured, and they both paused. Sharon realized how that sounded, awkward and like- like something she couldn't quite put her finger on, but she didn't want to linger on it too long. She enjoyed the easy banter, the laughs, the beaming smile she didn't know she'd been missing but was now hurting her cheeks.
"And the tea," Sharon added. "I've officially got you on tea service."
Liz visibly relaxed. "I make damn fine tea."