“Let me help you with that, ma’am.”
Joe still had a good half mile to walk to get to his job at the studio, but he wasn’t about to ignore this old woman on the side of the road, looking at a flat tire, her shoulders slumped.
The woman turned to him, her eyes covered in dark glasses. Steel gray curls peeped out from under her wool hat. “Oh, would you?” Her words were muffled behind a scarf wrapped around the lower part of her face. “You’re so kind. I didn’t know what I was going to do!”
Joe already had the spare tire and tools out from her trunk and was taking off the lug nuts. He thought about how many able-bodied men he’d watched drive by this woman without stopping and grunted. “Yeah, seems like it’s a different world here since the war.”
As he worked, he chatted with the old lady. She had a beautiful voice, surprisingly clear for her age. She sounded young enough that Joe began to wonder if she were one of those unfortunate women who went gray in their early forties.
“You’re very quick at that,” she said.
Joe looked up at her and grinned, spinning the wrench between his fingers like a bandleader’s baton. “I was a mechanic in the Army, ma’am. They teach you to do things right, and they teach you to do ‘em quick.”
“And where do you work now?”
He pointed down the street. “I’m in the motor pool at that studio, ma’am. An old Army buddy fixed me up with the gig.”
She pressed her fingers to the place where her scarf covered her lips. “Hmm. And what do you make of life in Hollywood, young man?”
Joe sat back on his haunches. “To be honest, ma’am, not much. It’s a good job, and I’m glad to have it, but all that fuss and glitz and glamour … well, I don’t get it. Seems to me people are just people, no matter how much you dress ‘em up.”
The old woman’s reply was soft. “Well, some people are kinder than others. But I agree, it’s hard to tell around here. Seems like everyone’s got an angle.”
Joe replaced the tools and the flat tire in the trunk. “I suppose that’s so. Well, you make sure you get that to a proper mechanic soon, okay, ma’am? Don’t want to be driving on that spare for very long.”
“Yes, sir!” She gave him a cheeky salute.
Joe laughed and shook his head. He hoped he still had that much spunk when he got old.
Later that day, Joe waited on set to collect the gleaming Roadster they were using and take it back to the studio garages. The beautiful Lottie Langston stepped out of the car as the director yelled, “Cut!” Her head of blonde curls shone in the sun and her elegant profile could have graced a ship’s bow.
Phew, that’s one stunning girl.
Then she turned around and shot him a mischievous grin. Joe was pretty sure his heart stopped.
Maybe working in Hollywood wasn’t just another job after all.
But it was still a job, so he walked up to the car and opened the door. There, in the driver’s seat Lottie had vacated, was a delicate lawn handkerchief, embroidered with the initials L.L.
His spit dried in his mouth at the thought of returning it to her.
Still, nerves or no, he wasn’t going to let any woman lose her belongings when he could do something about it—even if that woman was a beautiful young movie star who would never miss something as inexpensive as a handkerchief.
“Miss?” He jogged to catch up with the departing star, pushing through the crowd of hangers-on in her wake.
Lottie turned and flashed him that golden smile again. “Yes, soldier?”
How does she know that?
Joe cleared his throat. “Um, yes, miss. Uh—here.” He thrust the handkerchief at her.
She took it, and Joe stared at her until one of the well-dressed men in Lottie’s entourage said, “Good Lord, what a rube! How can you stand being gawked at like that, Lottie?”
Joe snapped his mouth shut and glared at the man with the ferocity of a grizzled drill sergeant. He was pleased to see the man shrink back a little.
Lottie laughed and took a step toward Joe. “Oh, I don’t know.” Suddenly her bell-clear voice seemed familiar. “Some gawkers are kinder than others.”
Then Joe saw it—put a scarf, a wig, and dark glasses on this face, and …
He shook his head. Of course someone like Lottie Langston would wear a disguise out in public! She didn’t want to be mobbed by fans. Still, having her so near, her face tilted up toward his, made it hard to breathe. “Well, ma’am, I’m always happy to help.”
“Good,” she said decisively. “You can help me next by making sure I have pleasant company while I eat lunch.” She pressed the handkerchief to her lips in a familiar gesture, and her eyes danced with mischief. “I’d be glad to get to know a man who’s exactly what he seems, even when he doesn’t know who’s watching. What do you say, soldier?”
Joe smiled and returned her a snappier version of the salute she’d given him that morning. “Yes, ma’am!”
You can follow her on Twitter at @theJessicaSnell, where she tweets about books, faith, and family. Her website is jessicasnell.com.
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