Chapter 1: Time for a Tune Up

Calliope's little green truck puttered down the road towards town. She let her arm hang lazily out the window as the warm air tossed her dark hair around her face. She didn't drive it often, on account of how old the vehicle was, but it proved to be a trustworthy partner for around the farm when hay and manure needed to be hauled away. The heat died halfway through last winter, and she wasn't sure how much longer it would last her, but she was determined to get as much out of it as she could. Which meant it was due for a tune up if she wanted to get another year out of it. Her fingers crossed on the steering wheel, hoping it wouldn't cost too much. Her expenses were almost maxed out as it was. And she was fond of the truck, anyway. They had both been through tough times. She hated to think of not having its rusted frame sitting beside the farmhouse, waiting for her every morning.

The old engine mixed with the up-beat country music put her into a calm trance as she drove, a relaxed smile on her face. This was why she moved to Clearwell. And so far, she had no regrets.

She navigated the town easily. It was much less stressful than the busy streets in the city she grew up in. She was familiar with the layout and knew just where to find the town's mechanic. Her heart raced as she neared. She wasn't quite sure why she felt nervous; she never knew why she was nervous, really. Nervous with the most basic, everyday interactions. On some days, she even felt anxious leaving her little farm and driving into the city, often to the point where she would avoid it all together. She bit her lip as she parked the truck just outside the repair shop. This was a silly thing to be nervous about.

Alar heard the truck coming up the road before it even pulled into the driveway. He heard it over the sound of the sink and running water, which considering he was standing there by it washing his hands proved something about the truck. He knocked the knob with his elbow and shook his hands. Water flung across his countertop and he glanced up and behind him. He counted. One. Two. Three. Five seconds passed and the trucked pulled in. Eh, it didn't sound quite as bad as he assumed at first. He thought he recognized the truck at least somewhat. He probably saw it at least once.

Calliope sat in the truck listening to the engine run for a moment before she finally cut the ignition. She sucked in a breath and pushed open the door, hopping down onto the ground. The door creaked as she slammed it shut, almost wincing at the loud sound. She fingered the keys in her hand as she forced herself towards the door, preparing her speech in her head. What was it that she needed to say? I just need a tune up for the truck. Can you take a look and give me an estimate? The heater's gone… how much will it be to get that fixed? Of course, the heater could wait until fall. But it could serve as an ice breaker. Yes, anything like that would work.

She opened the door and peered inside, catching the mechanic's attention. Alar stepped around counters as the woman opened the side door and offered her a smile. He didn't recognize her.

"Uh," she said, hesitant. "I need a tune up." Her cheeks were much too warm and it caused her to blush even more. Dammit, Calliope, you rehearsed this! "I mean, my truck. Can you, uh, take a look?"

"'Ey, yeah, a tune up?" He chuckled at her response to her own statements. No wonder he didn't recognize her, she was shy and quiet. He led her back outside while asking an actual question instead of just repeating her. "What were you lookin' to get tuned up today?"

After they got the hood open, he bent over and glanced at the engine, belts, etc. He went about the process of a basic check to make sure everything was running well while waiting for her to respond.

Calliope followed and watched curiously as he peered under the hood. What was she looking to get tuned up?

"Uh, the whole truck?"

She wasn't sure if that was the answer he was looking for, so she tried again.

"Just need it to last me as long as possible." She hesitated, remembering the speech she had scripted for herself. She could still resort to the ice breaker.

A bursting laugh erupted from him and he immediately shoved his palm to his face to both stifle it and hide his grin. The whole truck. That was too funny. He rubbed his hand against his lips and mumbled a very quick apology.

"The heater doesn't work, so that will eventually need to get fixed, I guess." She could feel herself growing a little more confident. That would hopefully redeem herself and make her sound smart.

She paused in thought as she tried to remember what was done the last time she took the truck in. "May need an oil change. You know, whatever it needs so it keeps running. I depend on it a lot on the farm."

"Alrigh', heater could probably wait if you felt up for that so you ain't got a bunch of cost up front."

As an afterthought, she added, "Is this gonna cost a lot?"

At the mention of an oil change, however, he disappeared back into the workshop before pulling a few tools and such back to her truck. "Nah, not as much as you worry." Well that sounded cryptic. He knelt down and tugged a pair of safety glasses from his uniform pocket. "There's some coffee inside." He waited for the engine to cool down a few more minutes before ducking under. "Feel free t'use any of the mugs in the cabinet above it."

With that, he set about changing the oil. Hopefully he'd be done faster than later. Twenty minutes give or take.

Calliope blushed and turned away, pretending to study the rust on the truck. "Not as much?" Her stomach knotted and she swallowed as she went over her expenses in her head. She couldn't shake the suspicious feeling that he was taking advantage of her shitty truck. She didn't particularly need the truck. Perhaps she should just save her money for the animals. They would be needing their yearly shots, soon. She sighed, suddenly wishing she had just stayed home.

Coffee did sound good, though.

She looked up and down the street, searching for an excuse to leave while he worked. Maybe she could get coffee elsewhere. She didn't want to be in the way, standing awkwardly as he worked.

"I've got some errands to run, so I can come back."

"Alright, I should be done with this in about twenty minutes." He caught a tone in her voice, and wondered briefly if she was suspecting him of being shady.

He knew in this business men often did take advantage of those who didn't really know much about their cars, or just car maintenance in general.

He probably didn't help with how he said it, either. Rats, that was his own fault. He looked up at her as she looked down the street and walked off, then went back to working under the truck. His tongue briefly pressed against his lower lip as he worked, though his mind wasn't quite on just the task.

General tune up. The truck honestly did need a bit more than that. He felt fond of the older truck, however; somehow. He went over in his head the laundry list of things it would need looked at as he worked.

Finally, he finished under the truck and pulled himself out from under it with a back-popping stretch. He dragged everything back inside and returned to the sink to wash his hands, then moved back out to her truck to look over everything and continue with the tune up, though this time a clipboard had joined him outside.

As he worked, he marked down various notes and checked off a list printed on the sheet.

Calliope wandered back to the repair shop. With her sweet tooth satisfied, she felt a little more cheery than when she left the truck. She just hoped that the financial damage wasn't too large. She knew she wouldn't be able to continue to spend money on the truck forever, but she didn't think now was the time to put the truck into retirement.

She considered the possibility of transportation without the truck. A cute wagon would be a much more money-friendly option. Even more environmentally friendly. Or she could skip the wagon all together and ride into town. If only they had parking for horses…

Her gaze settled on her old truck, then moved to Alar. She forced her most confident smile as she approached and patted down her sundress absentmindedly as a light breeze fluttered the edges.

Alar was leaned over the hood of her truck, now closed, and was finishing a few final notes as Calliope rejoined him. He glanced up and smiled at her. "Hey, welcome back." He stood up and moved over to hand her the clipboard, which outlined a few issues he'd noticed while going through the basic tune up.

"I only did a couple things, I figured it'd be better to go over what you want instead of jumping in head on."

As Calliope would look at the list he made, she'd notice that there were figures written out beside them, but a few were striked through and renumbered. Overall, the prices seemed fairly balanced, if not a bit on the lower side. "How's it drive? Do you notice anything when you're on the road? Any issues?"

Calliope looked over the list and relaxed. She smiled slightly as she looked over his hand writing and crossed out numbers. She met his gaze briefly. "She drives like she just came off the lot," she said proudly. "I put her through a lot of work. She's a tough ol' gal."

Alar laughed again, only this time it was done much quieter. "Glad for that, I'm almost jealous. I have a soft spot for older trucks." He reached out for the clipboard and made a few notes before tearing off the sheet. It turned out to be one of those forms that had three different pages and anything you wrote on the first page was transferred over to the bottom pages.

Some kind of paper witchcraft.

She handed the clipboard back to him. "This is perfect, thank you so much for your help." She hesitated and shrugged. "Maybe you can teach me a little bit so I don't have to bother you with such simple tasks. My knowledge of vehicles begins and ends at changing a tire. Wouldn't kill me to do some simple work on it myself."

She pulled some crumpled bills out of her fringed handbag and held them out for him. "Keep the change."

He handed her the top page, white in color, in exchange for the money and smiled at her. "Yeah, I'd love to show ya. It can't hurt to know what you're doin'. Some of it's fairly easy. Hell, any time you have a question or want to learn somethin', stop by." He held his hand out, then retracted it as he saw a couple of grease stains along his palm. "Name's Alar."

After a second of thought, he added on to what he said. "Where in town do you live? I don't mind going there, either, if you'd be more comfortable." That was a long shot, he figured. Calliope didn't seem the quick-trusting type. He didn't think it would hurt to offer, though. She seemed nice, all shyness aside.

Calliope folded the paper a couple of times and shoved it into her bag, smiling in response. She looked at his grease stained palms. Calliope flashed Alar her short, dirty fingernails. "I shovel shit most of the day. Think I've got you beat." She hesitated and blushed. "Not that I don't wash my hands… But, you know…" She cleared her throat and continued. "I'm Calliope. I live on the outskirts of town." She shrugged. "I don't mind the drive over, though. It gives me a chance to…" She hesitated and shrugged again. "Be more sociable. I tend to get lost in my own little world out there. But, uh, you're always welcome by. You know, in case the truck decides it doesn't want to make it off my property." She forced herself to meet his gaze and smiled. "And if you like animals, I've got plenty of them."

"Pleasure meetin' you, Calliope." He dropped his hand to his uniform and began wiping it across the fabric, but only succeeded in spreading the grease across his palm. "No matter, you're always welcome here." He flashed a smile as she continued to speak, but this time he was focused on trying to clean the grease from his palm. "Shit shoveller eh." That amused him. There was something so funny about this soft-spoken woman, who before wouldn't look him in the eyes, using the word 'shit' so commonly. " "What kind of animals do you have?" Do you live on one of the farms? Or just outskirts?" He brought his cleaner hand up to his face and rubbed under his nose, amused.

Calliope nodded. "I've got a little ranch out there. Horses, goats, and chickens." She grinned, amused with her earlier slip up. "So, yeah, lots of shit."

She dug into her bag and pulled out her phone, swiping through some pictures. "That's Bear," she said as she paused on a picture of her Bernese Mountain Dog lazing in a patch of sun. "And that's Mizu." The next image was of her calico barn cat sitting on an old fence.

Alar grinned back at her and scooted closer to look at the pictures she showed him. Bear was beautiful to him, but Mizu really caught his attention.

"I keep pretty busy out there," she said as she flipped through the images for him. "And when you're teaching five year olds all day, you get a little tired of asking who has to go to the potty, or to 'criss-cross applesauce' during carpet time. Swearing reminds me that I am, in fact, an adult." Her grin grew larger, surprising even herself. She was finding Alar easier to talk to than she had expected.

He laughed softly. "Schoolteacher then?" A simple assumption. "That seems nice, livin' on a farm and bein' a teacher." His grin turned into a light smile. "Mizu's cute too. If nothin' else, I'd travel out there to hold your cat." Clearly he was teasing, he wouldn't use her for only her cat, but it was a good incentive to get him to go anywhere.

"He's a pretty affectionate guy," Calliope said as she returned the phone to her bag. "Never would have picked you for a cat guy," she said, momentarily avoiding his gaze. With her phone away, she felt as though the attention was back on her, and this made her slightly uneasy. She pinched her lips together as she tried to get over that feeling. They were having such a nice conversation. Why did her awkwardness always have to get in the way of herself?

"Ha, really? Cats are the best." He grew quiet as well and picked up on her awkwardness. That was one thing he struggled with. He was fairly laid back, but he found it hard to talk to people who were hard to talk to. The silence grew between them and he shuffled his feet, wiped his hands on his uniform.

Seeing Mizu reminded him that he wanted a cat himself one day. "I don't have any pets. Just a cactus."

"Come on by if you ever want some kitty time." She hesitated and cleared her throat, hoping he would not interpret that in any other way. Her mind, of course, had already went there. What a stupid thing to say. Why must she be so awkward all the time?

Her words caught him off guard, mostly due to them sounding forced. He laughed lightly and glanced back to her. "Of course, I look forward to meeting Mizu." Luckily for her, he was still thinking about her cat. "Anytime you need anything, you're welcome to stop by."

For the moment, he had assumed that the conversation was running thin and he didn't want to keep her from her business. It was best to end on a good note.

"I should get going," she said. She smiled and lifted an arm in a stiff wave. "So, thanks again. See ya around!" And with that, she climbed back into the truck, tossing her bag across the bench seat. The engine started instantly, bringing her sense of familiar comfort as she settled in. She pulled the stick behind the wheel, bringing the vehicle into reverse, and pulled away from the shop.

She turned the volume up some on the radio, both windows open to let the spring air in, and waved as she drove away.