Shawn huffed in irritation.
Setting down his socket wrench, he shimmied out from under his 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air and pushed himself up to a seated position. Empty sockets stared at him from where the headlights should be. Last week, he had removed the lamps to buff and polish the lenses. Now, he studied the chipped chrome grill and the interior of the front side panels. His eyes traveled up the curved lines of the car to the open hood, wherein sat the current bane of his existence.
That engine. He’d tried everything. Well, everything he knew to try.
He’d rebuilt the carburetor. He’d cleaned and replaced all the fuel lines. He and his granddad had even taken out the engine block and honed every cylinder until it sparkled, checking all the nooks and crannies for cracks, nicks, or stress fractures. It was immaculate.
Shawn and Walter Cobb had fixed a bunch of old cars together as a hobby, even taking a few down to the raceway when Shawn had first gotten his license. But as the old man’s health had gone downhill, there had been fewer excursions to the track. This car was the first one in five years to reignite that sparkle in his granddad’s eye, and Shawn wasn’t about to let it get the better of them.
It wasn’t as if he couldn’t get the engine to turn over. It would start, but once it got warmed up, it would stop out of nowhere. Without fail, when it got to the fifteen minute mark, it would choke and sputter before coming to a complete standstill. And every time, he’d have to wait a day before it would start up again.
It was killing him.
“And here I thought I could have this done in time for me and gramps to actually enjoy it,” Shawn mumbled to himself.
“That seems a little ambitious, don’t you think? It’s not even painted yet.”
Shawn craned his neck around the front bumper to see his sister, Melanie, standing in the doorway of their parents’ garage.
“Painting is, like, the very last thing you do, Mel. I also can’t do it here. I need to take it to the body shop for that, and unless I can get it running, I’m not gonna be able to drive it there. That’s assuming I get a few payin’ gigs and can actually afford it.”
Shawn tucked his knees up and leaned on his elbow, running his fingers through his hair before remembering all the grease on his hands.
“You’re a mess, Shawn. Did you wake up with that cowlick?”
Melanie walked around the car and leaned forward to look under the hood. Shawn slowly got up, grunting as his knees popped and his back ached, and took a minute to stretch. Then he stood beside her to examine the engine for the 3000th time since his friend Natalie had traded him the Bel Air.
“So she’s still not running, huh?”
“Not for more than 15 minutes, nope.” Shawn tapped the hood with his fingers. “I can’t figure it out, Mel. No one can. I’ve never even heard of this kind of problem before. Of course, it doesn’t help that I can’t bring it in to have someone look at it.”
Mel looked over at him. “I thought Granddad was helping you out?”
Shawn shook his head, “It’s dangerous for him to work on the engine with his oxygen. He’ll help me with the other stuff. Or, maybe once the weather is a little warmer, we can work on it outside.” He glanced toward the closed garage door. Even with the space heater running, it was barely above 60 degrees in the garage. It was freezing. Unseasonably so, even for February. Shawn hadn’t been able to work outside in weeks because of the weather.
He looked over at his sister and shrugged. She frowned at him sympathetically and tugged at a loose curl of hair hanging in front of her shoulder.
“You look nice. What are you all dressed up for?”
Melanie rolled her eyes, “Are you serious, Shawn? It’s Valentine’s Day.”
“Ah. Is Christopher taking you someplace special?” Shawn nudged the longboard he was using as a creeper back under the car and made his way over to the tool bench to grab some wipes for his hands.
“Yes, actually!” Mel followed him to the bench. “It’s a surprise. He’s not telling me where exactly, but he said it’s in Martinsburg and to dress up really nice for it. Do I look extra special?”
Shawn groaned as he worked a towelette in between his fingers. “Really Melanie? You know I’m not good with this stuff.”
“You’re a guy, Shawn. Pleeeease! How do I look? From a guy’s perspective?”
Mel held her arms out to her sides and did an awkward little turn. Shawn held back a snort as he took in her outfit.
She looked nice, like he had said earlier. She was wearing a longer, dark gray skirt and a red sweater with lace around her neck and shoulders. She had on pearl earrings, and she had curled her long, light brown hair so it hung in ringlets down her back. When she turned, he saw a black satin bow at the crown of her head where she had pulled back some of her hair, and he noticed the rest of her accessories were also black—a wide belt and some short heels that didn’t look particularly appropriate for walking around in the middle of a cold snap in West Virginia.
“You look… nice. But your feet are going to get cold.”
Melanie pouted. “Should I do boots? I thought about boots. Would they be cuter?”
“They’d be warmer.” Shawn shrugged. “Your hair is pretty. I like the bow.”
“It’s not too much?” Mel touched daintily at the back of her head and grimaced. Shawn chuckled.
“Mel. Christopher likes you, okay? If he didn’t, he’d have stopped dating you by now. Haven’t y’all been going out for like, two years?”
“Twenty-one months,” Mel corrected. “So… cuter with boots?”
She stuck her right foot out and pointed her toes, swishing her skirt around her calves as she did so. Shawn chuckled and shook his head.
“Again, Mel, not really my thing. Ask mom.”
Mel sighed. “Fine. I’ll ask mom. What are your plans for tonight? Do you have a date? What about that Natalie girl you keep talking about? When are we finally going to meet her?”
Shawn’s shoulders stiffened. He tried to hide his reaction to Natalie’s name by cracking his neck and packing up his wrenches.
“She’s got plans already tonight, I’m sure,” he muttered into his tool box.
“I thought she barely knew anybody around here?”
Shawn winced. “You know? I might just go to the bar tonight. With all the other pathetic, single guys in the eastern panhandle.”
Mel scrunched her face. “Gross. You spend too much time there.”
Shawn shrugged, happy for the change of subject, “I like it there. It’s fun. Bet there aren’t darts and pool tables wherever Christopher is taking you tonight.”
Mel laughed. “I hope not!”
He smiled at his sister and closed up his toolbox, taking one last look at the Bel Air before gently closing the hood. “Well, I’m not going anywhere before I clean up a bit. You all done in the upstairs bathroom?”
“You mean my bathroom?” Mel crossed her arms and raised her eyebrows.
Shawn leveled a look at her. “I believe it was our bathroom for a good seventeen years before you went to college and I moved out, Mel.”
“Worst seventeen years of my life,” she said, and then winked at him. “Just don’t get it all gross! I swear, if you leave grease marks all over the sink again…!”
She walked back up the couple of stairs and through the door into the house, and Shawn glanced back at the car.
Guess I’ll have more time tomorrow, he thought, as he packed the last of his tools away.