Here's the fourth part of the story. Hope you enjoy it.
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Next day at work, Tony approached him and said, “Well, you're certainly cheerful this morning, Bob. You and Steve hit it off?”
“Good morning, Tony. Hit it off? Let me put it this way. Don't bother calling your gay friend. I had the best night I've had in a long time. Steve is exactly what I needed in my life. Thank you,” he said sotto voce.
“Ooo…,” Tony whispered back squeezing Bob's arm. “Sounds like a fire's been lit.”
“I'm learning a lot about myself and what I want.”
“Like what?” asked Tony with a grin. Just then, the door opening caught their attention. A tall man of about 40 and a teenage boy entered. Behind them were two young women.
“I know one of those girls. You take the man and boy,” Tony said, and they each moved off to help the customers.
“Good morning,” began Bob, “Can I help you?”
“I hope so,” said the man. “Jeff, here, needs something special in the way of computer-type stuff. I'm an accountant. What do I know about these things?” he chuckled, in a self-deprecating way.
Bob turned his attention to Jeff, who extended his hand. Bob took it, intending to simply give it a perfunctory shake. Making eye contact with this boy, he saw intelligence, and curiosity, and something else. He realized there was more about him that made him hold onto his hand longer than necessary. Their gaze stayed locked for a few seconds longer, then Bob reluctantly pulled back his hand.
“How can I help you, Jeff?”
“I just know you can, uhm…, Bob,” said the boy, glancing at his name tag. “I'm 13 and I'll be in the eighth grade this year. Our science class is so boring. None of my teachers seem to know what to do for me.”
“I'll bet they don't,” said Bob. “You seem to be very intelligent.”
“He is,” said his father. “I'm completely out of my depth when he talks about his science projects.”
“OK, Jeff, tell me about your project.”
Jeff began talking and moving his hands as though putting this thing with that. Bob said, “I'm getting lost in all these details. Let's go to the back room, so you can sit down and draw some schematics.”
“Look,” said his dad. “I need to pick up a couple of items from another store. Can I just leave him with you to help him?”
“Of course, I just graduated from electrical engineering school at the U, so I'm sure we'll get along.”
“Oh, thank you,” he said, relief showing in his eyes. “Then I'll leave him in your hands. See you later.”
“Later,” said Bob, watching the receding father. “I'll be sure to take care of him.”
“OK, Jeff, it's just you and me now. Come into our office over here.” Bob led him into a cramped room filled mostly by a large gray desk and a bookcase. “You sit there in the comfortable chair.” Jeff did as directed, as Bob pulled up a second chair and sat down beside him. Pulling a yellow tablet over to Jeff, he mumbled to himself, “Pencil. Need a pencil.”
He had Jeff scoot back, so he could get a pencil from the drawer in front of him. In opening it, the back of his hand touched Jeff. “Oops,” he said laughing. “Sorry.” It was then that he noticed the boy was looking at him oddly.
“S'OK,” whispered Jeff. But he didn't pull back from Bob's touch.
Bob's mouth went dry. Why did Jeff look at him like that? He removed his hand from between the drawer and Jeff to find and take out a pencil.
Placing it in front of Jeff, he said, as casually as he could, “There you go. Why don't you draw me a picture of your idea.”
“What's it like studying engineering?” asked Jeff, wanting to know more about this confident man.
“Tough. Very hard courses. Lot's of math and science. You'd probably like it. Why this interest in me?”
“You seem like a nice guy who knows a lot about computer and electronic stuff,” he began, then added, “My dad is like my teachers. Not very helpful.”
Bob reached over to pat Jeff's shoulder and say, “Give your dad a break, OK? He knows numbers and he must love you. He wanted to help you by bringing you here so I could.”
“I know,” he said plaintively. “I just wish I knew more guys who are smart like you.”
“Tell you what, Jeff. Any time you have a question about computer stuff, you can come talk to me.”
“Really?” Jeff said, his eyes lighting up.
“Really. Now let's get to your project.”
The boy leaned forward, picked up a pencil, and began to draw while he talked. He was making quick sketches of his idea, along with indicators and switches. “That's it,” he said, leaning back.
“Hmm…,” said Bob thoughtfully. “I see what you want to do. I'd suggest that you change this to this,” he made another drawing below the one Jeff had drawn.
“Wow! Yeah, that's what I want!” said the boy excitedly. Unexpectedly, he reached over to put his arms around Bob's neck and hug him.
Bob smiled and said, “I'm glad you like my idea,” as he hugged the boy back. They had just pulled back from each other, when he heard a voice from the doorway. It was Jeff's dad.
“I see you've made a new friend, Jeff,” he said, smiling at his son.
Jeff all but leapt from the chair, pushing it backward so hard it ran into the bookcase with a crash.
“Hey,” said Bob in mock anger. “Let's take it easy with the furniture.”
“Oh, sorry,” said Jeff, rushing to his father. “Look, dad, see what Bob showed me!”
Taking the sketches from Jeff's hand, he looked at what appeared to him as a muddle of lines crisscrossing. “Great, son.” Looking at Bob he said, “Thanks for taking care of him.”
“We need to buy some stuff,” said Jeff, rushing out of the office.
“What energy,” said Jeff's dad with a smile, obviously pleased by such enthusiasm. “Can you help him get what he needs?”
“Sure thing,” said Bob, watching the boy wending his way through the aisles. “Something about him…” he thought. “But he could not put his finger on what it was.”
Jeff was standing by a wall with various items hung on it. Bob walked over to stand next to him. “I think you will need this and this and this,” he said, pulling several boxes off the wall and handing them to Jeff. The boy was aglow with excitement.
Jeff led the way to the checkout counter and put his purchases on it. Bob went around to the other side, entered his code, and began scanning the items. He pressed the “total” button and a figure appeared on the display. Bob spoke the amount to the dad, who was looking down at his happy son.
“Oh,” he said, coming back to the present. “Yes, of course.” Reaching for his wallet, he pulled out a credit card and swiped it through the reader.
“If you'll just press this and sign here,” intoned Bob, who was now the salesman.
Grinning broadly, Jeff was gazing at him. Again, with that look that said more than thanks, even though that's what he did say. The register printed out a stream of paper, which Bob tore off and handed to Jeff's dad. “If these don't work out for Jeff, just bring them back for a full exchange.”
Reaching across the counter, the two men shook hands. “Thank you again for helping my son.”
He walked them to the door. As they left, Jeff turned to smile at him. When they turned right and walked past the large window, Jeff looked at him again as if memorizing his face.
“Looks like you made one boy very happy,” quipped Tony. “He's a cute kid.”
“He is. Also very smart, and curious,” added Bob. “You should have seen how excited he got when I helped him with his project.”
“Hmm…, You know, from the way he was looking at you, on his way out, and past the window, I'd say you'll see him again.” Bob looked at Tony, who grinned knowingly and winked.