There hadn't been floats either of the first two years, just dancing and costume and ponies and anything Ryan could pull his way, put into green and get onto the street. This year, though, he was determined to, "Step it up a notch. Besides, Spencer says he wants in on the planning, and how's that gonna happen unless the kids have to learn skills, right?"
Bob wasn't positive that building a float was a skill, precisely, but Gerard was having the time of his life brainstorming with the kids to come up with workable ideas, and all Bob had to do was provide the motors, which seemed like a nice enough way to spend a couple of days when he wasn't at the garage. Plus, one of the center kids, Gustav, had asked to help, and Bob liked Gustav. He didn't talk much--his family had recently emigrated from Hungary; Bob didn't think he was that comfortable with English--but he was smart and seemed to have identified Bob as the older brother he'd never had. At first that had been a little awkward, but once Bob got used to it, he got to liking it, too.
Tommy had been assigned to take pictures of them as they worked on the floats so that Jon could concentrate on advertising for the parade and still have pictures for later, when he wanted to get the event into the local newspapers. Bob was busy trying make sure it was Gustav in the majority of the pictures, not himself, when Greta crept over and hid out of sight of the camera until Tommy moved on to Gerard and his menagerie of five to eighteen year old artists.
Greta came closer then. She said, "Hi, Gustav."
Gustav looked up to smile at her, then went back to paying attention. She said, "Hey, Bob."
She'd tried to break him of the habit of using the "miss" but Bob had been raised in a neighborhood full of old-world women. There were some things that stuck with a guy. She said, "Um. This is sort of-- No, actually, this is terribly embarrassing."
Bob frowned. He said, "Gustav, why don't you go and get me and you some juice, 'kay? Remember to wash your hands first."
The other nice thing about Gustav was that he didn't give Bob shit. He just went off and did as asked. Bob sat on the base of the float and offered Greta the space next to him. She took it, tucking her knees up against her chest. "Normally I wouldn't ask for something like this, I swear."
"It's just. My car broke down. I've no idea what's wrong with it. The engine light didn't come on and I'm very careful to get the oil checked regularly and I try and take good preventative care, I really do. But it made this really bad noise and now it won't go anywhere. Chris drove me into work this morning, but without a car I'm screwed. And I can maybe afford the tow, but I-- The church doesn't really pay a lot. Don't get me wrong, I love my job, I wouldn't trade it for anything, but--"
Bob put a hand on her knee. "We've got a tow truck. Why don't I come by on Friday? I can drop you off at work, then take your car in. Then if you can get someone to bring you to the garage after work, you can pick your car up. Or, if we can't fix it in a day, I'll ask Vicky to take both of us home. We carpool anyway."
"Maybe I could work out a payment plan? Like I said, I don't make a lot, but--"
"Bring us a meal when you come. There are three of us. Vicky, Ryland and me. And we all eat a lot."
"No, that's not--"
"You fed Mikey a lot when he got out, right?"
"He came to the kitchen, Bob, it wasn't--"
Bob shook his head. He wasn't taking money from a woman who spent her days preparing meals for homeless people, getting meals to the elderly who couldn't get to the church, and running a food pantry. It was one thing if Bob was already going to hell, but he wasn't speeding that shit along. He'd pay Vicky himself if he had to.
"Just a meal?"
"I like cherry pie," Bob admitted.
"I'll make you the best cherry pie ever."
Bob held out his hand. Greta shook on it.
Greta was able to find a ride over to the shop. She showed up at around noon, which he knew was her down time in between finishing up with breakfast, working on the pantry and starting in with dinner. Bob went out and told Brendon they'd be able to get her back to the church. Brendon said, "A blessing on your house, Bryar."
Bob hoped so. He walked back toward the shop but Vicky intercepted him at the door. "Oh hell no, Bryar, this one's mine."
"Um." Bob took a step back. "That's the friend I was--"
"There was no mention of Miss '92 Honda Accord being smoking hot, none at all."
Bob shrugged. "There was no mention of you swinging toward '92 Honda Accords."
Vicky smirked. "As I said, I'll be getting this one."
"Be nice. She runs a soup kitchen."
"Are you fucking with me? She's made of puppies and rainbows and she looks like that? If there's a deity at all, anywhere, she's queer."
"I have no idea," Bob told her.
"Go fix cars before I fire you."
That was fine by Bob.
Greta had brought them a lunch of thick potato soup and tarragon chicken sandwiches. Vicky explained to her while she ate that the problem was mainly in her ignition module, but that there were also some problems that they could foresee with steering that they were going to get fixed up right quick. Greta said, "I don't mean to sell him out, or anything, but Bob told you lunch was all I could provide as compensation, right?"
Vicky tapped her spoon against the side of her bowl for a couple of seconds. "You make things other than potato soup, right?"
Greta nodded slowly. "What sorts of things would you want?"
"Whatever you're willing to make me for dinner." Vicky smiled, confident and fun. Bob wondered if there was really a world where it was this easy to hit on someone you liked and maybe have it happen for you. Not that he regretted having to woo Gerard slow and earn every point he'd won, but still, it was a novel idea, just asking someone on a date and having them maybe say yes.
Greta said, "I don't mean to sound stupid, or anything, but you're hitting on me, right? Because sometimes I misread and then it gets embarrassing later on, and--"
"If I wasn't, I would have requested something evil and hard and that not just anyone could get in a kitchen and cook. I have a business to run here."
"Just checking, because you're the kinda woman I generally consider out of my league."
The honesty of the comeback clearly took Vicky aback for a second. Bob had to pretend to be paying intense attention to his soup in order not to do something like laugh. He noticed, next to him, that Ryland was suddenly ravenous.
"Yeah, well," Vicky shrugged, "the nice ones don't usually keep me around for very long, so." She licked her spoon with a determinedly mischievous smile.
Greta frowned. Bob did too, if not as obviously. He knew what Vicky meant--until Gerard, that had often been his experience as well--but it still wasn't particularly fair. Underneath all the straightforwardness and the loudness and the things that people were taught not to expect from women, Vicky was the kind of person who hired a guy with nothing to say for himself and sometimes fixed the cars of people who couldn't afford to pay her.
"We'll see about that," Greta said.
Vicky said, "Awesome. Is there more soup?"
"There's pie," Bob said, because Greta was the kind of woman who came through for a guy.
Vicky said, "There's no reason to be sad just because I can eat you under the table, Bryar."