Hubcapped

Neldy Perez entered the Auto parts store without a clue where to look or which brand to buy so she went to the counter to get help from the service clerk.

"Can I help you?" The man asked when he saw her approach the counter.

"Hello," Neldy said politely. "I lost a hubcap when I hit a curb the other day. My boyfriend says it would be cheaper to buy a generic hubcap set of four here then to buy just one from the dealership."

"That's true," the guy at the counter said as he stepped around the structure. "Hubcaps are over here." He gestured for her to walk with him to one of the aisles.

"Thanks," she said with a smile. She gave him a longer look as they walked to the hubcap section. "Have we met before?" Neldy asked with a puzzled look on her face. "You look familiar for some reason."

"I don't think so," the guy replied. "What kind of car do you drive?"

"A 2012 Honda Accord."

He pursued through several boxes on the shelf and finally pulled down a box of generic silver hubcaps. "These will fit," he said. "Your boyfriend going to put them on for you?"

"Maybe if I beg," she sighed as she followed him back to the counter, him carrying the box for her.

He scanned the product with the gun. "You might want to get the front end aligned if you hit the curb hard enough to knock a hubcap off," he suggested. "Don't want to wreck your tires."

"Okay," Neldy replied.

"That's $42.44 with tax."

She handed him her debit card and the guy swiped it through the register, handing it back to her. He waited for the receipt to print out and he glanced at it as he handed her the piece of paper.

"Neldy Perez?" He asked, staring at her with a surprised expression on his face. "Coach's kid?"

"Yeah, you one of his former players?" She guessed.

"Actually, I lived with you for a little while," the guy admitted.

Neldy's eyes went wide. "I knew I knew you from somewhere!" She said with an amazed look on her face. "You're..." it took her a moment to recall his name from her memory banks..."Wes!"

He nodded his head affirmatively. "Wes Beckworth."

"Oh my God!" She laughed. "That was like fourteen years ago, right?"

"Yeah, I was sixteen," he confirmed as he eyed her. "Boy, you grew up."

"Thanks," she blushed. "I thought you moved away."

"I came back," he replied.

"You should look up my Dad," Neldy said. "He'd love to see you."

"Oh, I've seen him plenty of times," Wes revealed. "At the gym and we've gone out to The Bullpen for a drink a few times."

"Really?" Neldy asked with surprise. "Gee, I wonder why he didn't mention that to me."

"Well, you do have a boyfriend," Wes remarked, although it sounded much more awkwardly perverted then he meant it too.

She frowned. "What's that got to do with anything?"

"Nothing," he said, starting to feel uncomfortable. "Anyway, nice seeing you again."

Neldy was maybe fourteen the last time Wes saw her. Coach took him in during junior year when he didn't have a place to live so he could finish out the semester.

"I don't remember why you lived with us," Neldy said.

"It doesn't matter," Wes replied. "Your Dad really helped me out through."

"Yeah," she smiled brightly. "He's really a nice guy."

Wes slid the box of hubcaps across the counter. "Here you go," he said.

"Thanks," Neldy smiled, taking the box by the plastic handle on top and starting for the door. But she stopped and turned and faced him again. "Say, do you think maybe you and I could go out for a drink at the Bullpen sometime?" She asked. "You know, to catch up?"

Wes was caught off guard by her suggestion. "Oh...uh...sure...I guess."

"How 'bout Friday night?" She smiled. "Eight o'clock?"

"Okay," he said tentatively.

"Great!" Neldy grinned. "I'll see you then!" She headed for the door before he could respond.

Wes stared after Neldy long after she was gone. She really had grown up - tall, slender, well formed, her light brown Hispanic skin shining in the light, her thick black hair half way down her back. Wes remembered her and her sweet smile and how nice she was to him during one of the worst periods in his life.

Wes had no pretenses about their Friday night get-together. He knew it wasn't a date – she had a boyfriend and she was the Coach's kid –but it was nice to be asked out. Wes wasn't big on socializing, spending most of his time working out at the gym when he wasn't working at the auto parts store.

Wes closed up the store that night and went home to his small apartment in one of the old tenement buildings on one of the side streets off Hillsboro's downtown Main Street thinking about those months he lived at Coach's house and the cute kid who made him feel welcomed and accepted.