"Gabe and I have the same birthday," he informed me excitedly and with a pleased expression on his face...this just after the blow that he even knew him to begin with.
My eyes darted back to Gary's face from the movie that my mind had been playing on the back wall of the small office. My expression was that of both alarm and shock, "What?!" I yelled.
"Oh, I know Gabe," added Stephen from the corner of the room. He had his back to the wall while he sat with one hip on Kristy's desk, she was the morning OMS clerk. Stephen was looking down at the scanner he'd used for the air sort, and was getting ready to put it back up in it's rack. "My brother went to school with him."
At this point, my jaw would have been touching the floor could it have reached, and my attitude had gone from how dare you know him to I just want to crawl in a hole and die. My sight had shifted from Gary to Stephen, who had looked so harmless and non-threatening only a moment earlier. He has the sweetest personality a person could have, a light blonde buzz cut, pale blue eyes, and was wearing a red t-shirt and jeans.
"You aren't supposed to know him! How could you know him?" I shrieked as I looked accusingly from one to the other.
I was absolutely horrified. Here this was, my secret crush that I wouldn't be able to go home and tell Patrick about, and I thought that I could very innocently tell Gary. I thought I could brag a little about being hit on, and then be over it. I'd get to relive the thrill one more time by recounting the story very dramatically, and therefore, ridding it of my system. But, no, it wouldn't be rid of now. There were only three of us in the room, and all three of us knew him. It was unnerving.
Him is what I would call him from that point forward. His name was just too uncomfortable for me to utter audibly, or silently by way of thought. Gary and Stephen had made it very clear that is wasn't safe to go on babbling around about Gabe Candelaria. My crush was a secret, and it needed to stay that way until I could get it to go away.
The gitty and weightlessness I'd felt as I'd told Gary about my odd and hypnotic meeting with him, at Heibco, was gone. It was replaced by a heaviness that felt like defeat, or doom...for whatever strange reason. But, in an instant it felt like success as I suddenly became intrigued by what Gary might know about him.
Gary was sitting in one of the black office chairs on wheels. He'd been working at his computer before I'd arrived in the doorway and had demanded his attention with my thick, theatrical, and swooning sigh. He looked up right on cue, and pushed himself back from the computer a little while swiveling to face me. He let the relaxed weight of his body recline the chair back while he dutifully asked, "What's up?" with a smile.
His arms were crossed just below his chest, and he rested his right ankle above his left knee. His dark eyes danced with humor as I began to melt into the floor and door frame.
"I just got hit on by the cutest country boy," I said while sighing again. I had fun telling the story and I was very satisfied with Gary's attention, until I got to the name part.
So, now, as my mind began to wonder what kind of things I could learn about him from Gary and Stephen, I lifted myself out of the slouch I'd become in the doorway. The one I'd become when I'd realized that my innocent secret could quickly turn into a rumor. I walked past Gary to sit with my right hip on his desk. He swiveled around to face me where I'd settled in for a more committed visit.
Gary was the reload supervisor at UPS. They'd wrapped up the air sort on time, so things were pretty relaxed now. Stephen was getting ready to start loading the Grand Junction trailer, with the ground pickups that us drivers had brought in in our package cars. It was the local sort, and would continue for at least another hour. There were two other semi truck sized trailers to load. That didn't necessarily mean that they'd be full, but one had to go to Denver and the other to Albuquerque.
The office that Gary used was also used by four other clerks and supervisors each day. It was on account of all the funny shifts it takes to run such organized chaos. The preload supervisors came in as early as 2 a.m. and Gary might leave as late as midnight or 1 a.m. depending on the time of year. There were two OMS clerks that had shifts staggered in between who also used the office. Since it wasn't peak, the holiday season, Gary was more likely to get off between nine p.m. and ten. Once all the tractor trailers were loaded, and the drivers of those were on their way to their respective destinations, Gary's reload crew would wash and park package cars.
I'd spent my fair share of time on the reload. I was a new package car driver the summer of 2002, which was when we had the Missionary Ridge fire in Durango. UPS volume went way down for awhile in our area, and there were lots of packages, belonging to residents that were affected by the fire, that got held in the building. They just sat there until we received an alternate delivery address or someone picked them up. On account of it, routes got cut. When routes get cut, splits are added to the non-cut routes to pick up the slack. Then, drivers with low seniority are laid off. Getting laid off isn't as scary as it sounds. It was usually just for a day or two until the package volume picked back up. But, that summer of the fire and since I was the lowest senior driver, I was laid off for months and only drove here and there.
Usually, getting laid off was awesome. As a driver gains in seniority, getting laid off becomes a distant memory. I was determined to enjoy my free time even though it meant a smaller pay check, because it wouldn't last long. But, since I was laid off so much that summer, I had to bump. Bumping meant that I could use my full-time driver status to bump a part-timer out of their job since I was guaranteed full-time work. They'd ultimately be laid off until I was no longer laid off, or until the volume was such that we could both work. I could do that for both the preload and reload shifts each day, which would give me eight or so hours of full-time pay. However, the hours weren't ideal, or rather, those of any normal person. I'd bump into the preload and work from 4:30 a.m to about 8:30, go home and go back to bed, get up and dink (likely go on a mountain bike ride in Horse Gulch), and then go back to work from 5:15 to around 9:15 p.m. Who am I kidding, the schedule was kind of cool, and I didn't have any driver stresses. Except on the days that I'd be unloading a trailer on the preload, and hear Kep holler up at me from the belt, "Get your browns on, you're drivin' today!". That was really annoying because I'd already been at work for four hours. Luckily, it didn't happen very often. Ahhh, the intricacies of union work...I did feel a little bad about bumping someone else out of their job though. But, we'd all been there.
Anyway, I'd gotten to know Gary, Stephen and the rest of the reload guys pretty well that summer and was comfortable confiding in them. Gary's office was small, something like 10' x 12' and stark white. It was lit by a florescent light and didn't have any windows. Counters lined the right and left walls at desk height and there was at least one computer on each. A file cabinet sat in the middle of the back wall. Behind me, from the doorway, was the big dark bay that houses all of the package cars that deliver out of Durango. Half of them, fifteen or so, would park in a row that I could see from where I stood if I turned around. The other half, were parked on the other side of the belt, and on the side of the building that was lined with bay doors.
From where I sat on Gary's desk, I finished my story. Now that I had come to terms with that he knew him, I was even more embarrassed about my nutty "I eat lunch in my truck" response. But, I needed to vent all of it. There wasn't anyone else I could tell. I didn't understand, myself, why I'd gotten so flabbergasted by the cute country boy, and certainly couldn't tell Patrick that I couldn't tell some guy who'd hit on me that I had a boyfriend. I mean, the whole thing was absurd! I was a twenty-two year old UPS driver; I was on the cute side of things, with blonde hair, blue eyes and a big smile. It wasn't strange to get hit on. But, it was strange that I didn't politely refuse with my usual, "Thank you. But, I have a boyfriend. "
Gary laughed attempting to muffle it slightly with his left hand. But, he didn't try too hard, since he also threw his head back which made him recline even further. He was practically bouncing in his chair. He was very clearly amused when he looked back at me with handsome, crinkled at the corner, eyes.
"I know," I squealed, "what IS wrong with me?!"
Gary shook his head and chuckled. Stephen left the room with his new scanner and a small chuckle while shaking his head, too.
"So, when is your birthday?" I asked with fascination.
"Seventy-eight," Gary answered with a little smirk.
"Sooo, you're almost twenty-five. Twenty-five," I sighed as if I were recalling some sort of truth, "such a perfect age." I would be twenty-three in about a month. I always liked the idea of an ever so slightly older guy. I was older than Patrick by two months, and my dad is older than my mom by one. A two year difference seemed just right, again, for whatever reason.
Gary began to reminisce about his childhood with Gabe. They both went to St. Columba in Durango, and were obviously the same age. He had stories about visiting Gabe's home out in the middle of nowhere and then he said, "...and his older sister is the most beautiful girl in the whole world."
Now Gary was the one swooning with a dreamy glaze upon his face. Could this day get any more bizarre? I chuckled. He has siblings, great. All of this is just great.
Well, I thought to myself, now I know better than to talk about him. Let's just hope I don't see him again. But, a part of me was alive that I'd never felt before. Although, in that moment, I was just fine with it going right back into hibernation where it belonged. It was not something that I knew how, or had any desire, to deal with whatsoever.