GETTING GAS • by Jesse Houser

Brian drove up to pump #6 in his Mazda, parked, and hit the stop button. He let out a tired sigh, got out, and walked around to the pump. Inserted his card. Put the nozzle in and squeezed the lever. Got back in the car and picked up his phone, swiping through the apps, looking for something to kill the time. Tapped Instagram, but then realized he’d checked it 20 minutes ago. Tossing his phone on the passenger seat, he looked up and scanned the surroundings.

It was just a typical gas station, a few other people fueling up. He noticed a girl on the other side of the next pair of pumps. She seemed to be struggling with the gas cap on her gray sedan. She would put it on, twist it maybe ten times, stare at it for about 15 seconds, then remove the cap and do the same thing over again. After the third time (that he’d observed anyway), she stepped back and looked down at the ground, a hand lifted to her face, shoulders shaking a little — then, all of a sudden, straightened up and kicked the rear tire, throwing her head back in exasperation.

Brian thought for a few seconds… then got out of the car and walked over, heartbeat quickening, typical of his shy self. He took a deep breath.

“Hey, do you need help?” he asked with a smile.

She turned with a face of astonishment, obviously caught off guard. “No, thank you, I’m fine,” she replied, her eyes averted.

Brian mustered up his courage. “Okay. It’s just that I know what you’re going through. And I can help.”

“You do? How?” She wiped away tears as subtly as possible.

“Well, it used to be me… and still is sometimes. I’ll leave you alone if you want; it’s just when I notice someone having the same problem I’ve had, I wanna help.”

She stared at Brian, still looking a bit shocked. But there was also a hint of hope (or maybe it was desperation?) in her eyes. “How can you help?”

Brian thought for a second. “I can help you with that gas cap.”

“Oh, I got it on, it’s fine. But thank you.”

“Okay, I’ll let you go then.”

She turned and stepped toward her car door, but then stopped and looked back at the gas cap.

Brian smiled. “You said it was fine. That was the rational part of yourself talking, so go with it. The other message is just brain noise. You don’t have to listen to it.” He felt like he was pushing his luck, not to mention himself, but she didn’t seem to mind.

She laughed a little and smiled. “Yeah, you’re right.” Taking a deep breath, she opened the car door and got in. “Thanks,” she said, glancing back at Brian, then reached for the door.

“Wait, can I give you something?” he asked quickly. She held the door open. Brian uncrumpled a receipt from his pocket. Holding it against the side of the fuel pump, he wrote his phone number and email address using the pen clipped on his shirt pocket. He handed it to her. “If you want any tips on how to beat it you can call or message me. I know it probably seemed weird and forward me walking up, but I honestly just wanted to help.”

“I know. Thank you.” She smiled again and looked him in the eyes this time.

“Oh, I’m Brian.”

“I’m Katie.”

“Nice to meet you.”

“You too.”

“Well, take care.” He stepped back and waved.

“You too, Brian.” She shut the door and started the car, then waved with a smile before driving away.

Brian walked back to his Mazda. He felt really good, but like an idiot at the same time. The good feeling was stronger. “Where did that come from?” he laughed to himself.

Jesse Houser is a business consultant from Columbus, Ohio (USA) who writes in his spare time.

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