Homecoming --------------------(A Chico and the Man story) by Luckymama
The Comfortable Couch
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Karen sat on the bus stop bench staring at the dilapidated garage in East Los Angeles for about three hours. Bus after bus went by and with each bus, she debated whether to get on the next one and head home. "This is a fool's errand," she thought to herself. "You can't go home again." In spite of telling herself this hundreds of times while she sat there, she continued to let each bus pass her by. She thought of the old man who owned the garage and how much he meant to her.

When Karen knew Ed Brown, he wasn't so old. It seemed like yesterday when she was seven and he was letting her help him work on his cars. He was very patient with her, showing her how to change the oil and check the pressure in the tires. Ed even let her pump gas for the customers. She had promised him she would go to school and get her mechanic's license when she grew up and then they would go into the business together.

Life would have remained sweet for the little girl who liked cars and the mechanic who loved her like his own, but Karen's father didnt like the way the neighborhood was changing. Growing up in East Los Angeles was all she knew, yet with the influx of Mexican Americans, her dad packed up her and her mother and said goodbye and good riddance to the barrio. She was so heartbroken the day she said goodbye to Ed. "Even though I'm only nine, I will find a way to come back and I will keep my promise," she vowed to him as she kissed him on the cheek. They did write to each other for a while, but then the letters stopped.

It had been fifteen years since Karen had seen the man. Her mom, who was Ed's sister, kept in touch with him for a while and would tell her about him. When Ed's wife, Margaret, died, even that contact stopped. She didn't even have the courage to go to her aunt's funeral. Shortly after her aunt's death, she decided to try to keep her vow to him and enrolled in mechanic's school, against her parents' wishes. When she graduated, she went to work in some of the better garages in the area around her new home, but her heart was still with the man.

From that bus stop bench, Karen watched him bring out his trash. Ed was more stooped over than she remembered and he was a lot grayer on top. Even the garage was more run down and smaller than she remembered it to be. "I guess that's what comes of age, both his and mine," she mused. She also noticed two other people she didn't know. One was a middle aged black woman who seemed to have her business across the alley from the garage. Catering trucks, or what she called lunch wagons, would pull in from time to time and the lady would restock the food on them. The other person was a handsome Chicano who appeared to work in the garage with Ed. He looked to be around her age. It was his presence in the garage that made her hesitant about going over. Her father was very predjuiced against Chicanos and she tried to put his influence behind her, but it wasn't easy. And if he was working for the old man, he probably wouldn't need her any more anyway.

Evening was fast approaching. Karen knew she needed to make her decision about what to do quickly. Screwing her courage, she headed over to the black lady by the truck. Maybe she could find out more about Ed, the Chicano and the garage from her first. Carefully crossing the busy street, she slowly went up to the lady and put her bags down. Thrusting her hand out to her, she addressed the lady, who had noticed her crossing over to her.

"Hello, my name is Karen Phillips."

"Della Rogers, glad to meet you." Della shook Karen's outstretched hand. "I couldn't help but notice you sitting across the street for the better part of the afternoon. Can I help you?"

"Yea, that, well..." Karen hesitated. "Was this a fool's errand?" she thought to herself again. Fighting the urge to bolt, she said. "I'm Ed Brown's niece. I was wondering if you could help me by answering a few questions."

" Ed's niece, well it IS nice to meet you. Sure, I would be happy to answer any questions, but why don't you ask him personally?"

"No, you see, I ....." Karen hesitated again. How could she tell this stranger what she herself didn't fully understand. "Look, it's been a long time since I've seen my uncle and I just wanted to know a few things before I talked to him. Do you mind?"

Della could sense her nervous hesitation and she smiled at Karen and said, "Sure honey, I'll help you. Ask away."

"Well for starters, is the garage still doing a good business?" It had been a premiere garage in her youth.

"Yes, they still do a fair amount of business, especially with Chico's help. That boy has been the best thing for that garage and Ed Brown."

"That was my next question, who the young man was. So, he is a mechanic and he works for Uncle Ed?"

"Chico Rodriguez? Hes a fine mechanic, but I don't think you could consider Chico Ed's employee. He has become more like a son to Ed."

"Oh," responded Karen with a frown. With this revelation, Karen was sure Ed had forgotten about her and the promise made by a nine year old girl so many years ago. Now she knew she had to leave, but how would she explain to Della that she didn't want to see Ed? After all, she was family. "I guess I could at least say hi to him," she thought. Addressing Della, she said, "Would you mind keeping my bags here while I speak to my uncle. I shouldn't be long."

"Take as long as you like, honey. I'll put your things in my office. I'll be here all evening. By the way, how long has it been since you spoke to Ed?"

"About fifteen years."

"Oh, honey, you have a lot of catching up to do. Take your time. Do you have a place to stay?"

"Um.... no, actually," answered Karen. She had planned on staying with Ed, but she could see that it was out of the question now.

"Look, it's getting late so why don't you stay with me tonight. I have an extra room and I would love to have you."

"Oh, I couldn't put you out like that. You hardly know me."

"Look, Ed needs all the family he can get. Besides, I'm sure he will want to visit with you a while, so it's settled. I'll put your things in your room and you go and find Ed."

Karen tried to object again, but she could see that Della was a force to be reckoned with, so she just thanked her and headed over to the garage where the young man was working on a car.

Karen looked around, but her uncle was not in sight. "I guess I have to ask Chico where he is," she said to herself as she approached him. Chico was bending over the engine compartment with his head under the hood. Karen could not help noticing how well built this young man was. "Ahem, excuse me," Karen began as she came up behind Chico. Chico, surprised by the sound of her voice, straightened with a start and banged his head on the hood of the car he was working on.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. Are you ok?" Karen instinctively reached over to check Chico's head.

Chico pulled back from her and rubbing his cranium, he said, "Yea, I'll be fine. What can I do for you." He looked around her.

Karen guessed he was looking for her vehicle. Realizing his mistaken impression for her presence in the garage, she continued her inquiry. "I'm here to see Ed Brown. Is he here?"

"Yes, I think he's upstairs." Chico turned his head in the direction of the stairs that led to Ed's apartment and yelled. "Hey, Ed!" at the top of his lungs.

Karen's Uncle Ed appeared at the door and yelled down, "What is it now, Chico. Can't you handle it?"

"You have a young lady asking for you, Eddie baby, you sly dog!" Karen noticed the twinkle in Chico's eyes as he teased her uncle about her presence. "I can see what Della means about their relationship," she observed to herself.

"Yea, well who is it?" Ed grouched back, as he slowly made his way down the rickety stairs. When he came in better view of Karen, he stopped and starred at her. Slowly he whispered, "Do I know you?"

"Uncle Ed, it's me, Karen."

"Uncle Ed?" repeated Chico with a surprised look on his face. "I didnt know you had a niece?"

"Yea, my sister's kid," growled Ed. Addressing Karen he said, "I never thought I would ever see you around this neighborhood again. Your father know youre slummin'?"

"Uncle Ed," began Karen hesitantly, "You know it wasn't my idea to leave here. I was only nine."

"Maybe I should leave you two alone," remarked Chico as he headed for the green door behind the car he was working on."

"No, Chico, stay. I have nothing to say to her that I can't say in front of you. I guess I should introduce the two of you. Chico Rodriguez, this is my niece, Karen Phillips. Karen, this is Chico, my best mechanic and friend."

"Pleased to meet you, my dear," responded Chico as he wiped his hands quickly on the rag he had hanging from the pocket of his tight jeans and taking her hand in his, kissing the back of it."

"Its nice to meet you too, Chico." Karen could not think of anything else to say. She felt so awkward standing there. Ed's gruff demeanor and Chico's gallantry had completely disarmed her. She turned and was heading out of the garage when Chico gentle took her by the hand and brought her back.

"Ed, why are you so hard on her. She obviously wants to see you very badly. Give her a chance."

"Ok, but I need a drink first," answered Ed as he headed for his office. Karen gave Chico a puzzled look. She had never known her uncle to drink before.

"Don't mind Ed, he is grouchy to everyone. Lets have a seat over here and well talk." Chico led Karen to a set of beat up sofas in a corner beside the stairs. As she took a seat, Ed came back and sat down on the other sofa. Chico pulled up a chair and sat on it backwards. Karen, still feeling awkward, decided to go for broke and find out if her uncle still cared about her and the promise she made to him fifteen years ago.

"Uncle Ed, I missed you. You have to know that."

Ed grumbled something under his breath and then said, "Well you have a funny way of showing it, not talking to me for fifteen years."

"Ed!" Chico scolded.

"No, Chico, Uncle Ed's right. I wanted to keep in touch, but I let my father talk me out of it. Dad never forgave him for not taking him up on his offer to move Uncle Ed, Aunt Margaret and cousin Sharon out of this neighborhood when we moved."

"Yea, well I thought he was being paranoid at the time. We didn't part on very good terms, did we?"

"No, and you and dad haven't spoken since. Mom worries about you, but Dad is still stubborn about the whole incident. Mom's afraid to go against his wishes and contact you. She saw how you changed after Aunt Margaret's death and started to believe the things my Dad would say about you, that you are a bitter, frustrated old man, who should have gotten out of the barrio when you had the chance."

"Well, maybe he was right, but it's to late for that now. Besides I still think he is paranoid and he has a lousy attitude toward people who are different than him.

"Ed!" Chico surprised Karen by joining in the conversation. "I never knew you cared about us!"

"Well I guess living in this neighborhood changes how you look at life," responded Ed in a gruff but humble voice.

"Then could you forgive me for staying away so long, Uncle Ed?" Karen went over to Ed and sat down on the couch next to him. She bravely ventured to put her arms around him and hug him. He responded to her gesture by slowly returning the hug. Fighting tears, Karen released Ed and said, "I really did miss you and I never forgot the promise I made to you when I left here."

It was obvious to Karen that Ed was fighting a few tears himself. "What promise was that?"
"That I would go to school and get my mechanic's license and we would go in business together. I did that." Looking at Chico and the sadness that had begun to form on his countenance, she quickly added, "But I see that I'm not needed here any more. That's ok. It was a promise made a long time ago by a little girl. Things change and I wont hold you to it."

"No, that's not right," Chico remarked as he stood up. "You and Ed had a deal and you should keep it. A promise is a promise, especially made between an adult and a child. It is a sacred thing. I wouldn't dream of coming between that. I can always find work elsewhere. Ed taught me well. I should have no problem..."

Ed cut him off. "Sit down, Chico. Youre not going anywhere." To Karen he said, "That was a long time ago. I'm surprised you still remembered."

"I thought you forgot." Karen turned to Chico and said. "I would not dream of coming between you and Uncle Ed. Della tells me you have become like a son to Ed.

Ed saw the big grin forming on Chicos face in response to Karen's revelation. "What does Della know. And wipe that silly grin off your face." Chico waved his hand across his face and changed his expression from a grin to a frown.

Karen stood up. "Well, I guess I should be going. I see I've caused enough trouble for one day."

"Sit down," growled Ed. "Youre not going anywhere either, young lady. Startled, Karen sat back down beside Ed. "I need to think a minute."

Karen and Chico just looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. After a few minutes, Ed continued. "Look, I maybe a lot of unpleasant things, but I'm not a man who goes back on his promises. And Chico is not getting out of here that easy either! I really can't afford to pay you both, but I tell you what. If you agree to it, Karen, I'll let you work on any cars Chico doesn't have time for. You can work on commission. What do both of you say?"

"Well, it has been rather busy around here lately," replied Chico thoughtfully. "I could use the help." Turning to Karen, he asked. "You any good?"

Karen looked at Chico a little indignantly. Who was this Chicano to question her ability. "I have you know I graduated in the top ten of my class. Ive been working in some of the finest garages in Los Angeles before I came here. You bet I'm good! I could probably work rings around you!"

"Well see about that," remarked Chico as he stood up.

Karen stood up and placed her face inches from his in a challenging stance. "Any day of the week, mister!" Turning to Ed she said, "I accept your terms of employment, Uncle Ed. But I want no deferential treatment because I'm a woman and your niece!"

"Believe me, around here you wont get it," observed Ed. "Is this ok with you, Chico?

"Absolutely, and I won't be easy on you either!" Chico waved his right hand in the air in a swift down and up motion. "You want work, I'll give you work. I've been turning down jobs lately, cause I have been so busy."

"Then that's settled," said Ed. Softening his attitude, he turned to Karen and asked. "Oh, by the way, do you have a place to sleep? We really don't have any more room here."

"Dont worry about that. Della has invited me to stay with her tonight. I'm sure she can help me find a place in the morning." Karen's stomach began to rumble. "Have either of you had dinner yet?"

"No, we haven't," answered Ed.

"Let me treat you both to dinner. Is there any place around here with good food?"

"I know a great place," answered Chico.

"Well I really need to freshen up first. I should be getting back to Della and let her know what is going on, anyway."

"Let me get washed up, too, and well meet you at Della's in a few minutes," said Chico. "Ed you should get gussied up, too."

"I don't need to get all dressed up, do I?" grumbled Ed.

"Please, don't get fancy on my account," said Karen. "I'll be ready soon." And with that she left the garage and headed to Dellas place to get ready.

Chico, Ed, and Karen walked to a little hole in the wall diner several blocks from the garage. When they entered the diner, Karen remarked, "Well this is a dive, isn't it?"

"What is lacks in atmosphere, it more than makes up for in the food," answered Chico. "I think you will like it." Chico turned to the waitress passing by them and said, "Hola, mami linda!", and made a kissing noise at her. The waitress ignored him and Karen tried not to act shocked at this display of condescending behavior.

The threesome found a booth near the back. Karen slipped in next to her uncle to the obvious chagrin of Chico. Karen could see that her uncle's Chicano friend considered himself somewhat of a ladies man. She wasn't impressed. She realized that if she was going to hang around here and work for Uncle Ed, she would have to set Chico straight about how she felt about that.

"So what do you recommend, O gourmet of the Barrio," inquired Karen with a definite dig at Chico's choice of eating establishments.

It was beginning to dawn on Chico that Karen was not going to be an easy person to impress. "Well, the fahitas are really good. Give this place a chance. You might actually like it."

"OK," she answered out loud. To herself she though, "I doubt it."

The food lived up to Chicos assessment of it, to Karen's surprise, but she was not about to give Chico the satisfaction of raving about it in front of him. There was something about Chico that she didnt trust. Maybe it was his smooth way of talking or the fact that he was Chicano. Karen realized that her father had done a thorough job of imprinting her with his prejudices. She knew that she would have to start to change her attitudes in that regard if she was ever to get along in the Barrio.

On the walk home, Karen was able to talk to her uncle about the family. Ed told Karen what Sharon was up to and Chico remained silent. When they finally got to Della's door, Karen gave her uncle a kiss on the cheek goodnight and asked him what time they opened up in the morning.

"Seven, but you can be a little late, cause it's your first day," answered Ed.

Both Chico and Karen looked at Ed indignantly. "We might need her to be on time," Chico remarked. "Remember, we promised her no preferential treatment!"

"You don't have to worry about THAT, Mr. Rodriguez, I will be here on time tomorrow and every day!" Karen snapped back.

"That will suit me just fine, Miss Phillips."

"Its MS. Phillips." Karen turned away from Chico in a huff , said goodnight to Ed and went inside. Chico and Ed turned to enter the garage. Ed looked toward heaven and rolled his eyes. "Ok, God, what new mess have you gotten me into." To Chico he said, "I need a drink," and headed for his office.

"Yea, well forgive me for not joining you but I need to get to bed. I can see its going to be a LOOOOONG day tomorrow." Chico headed for his apartment behind the green door and Ed retrieved his bottle from its hiding place in his office and headed up to his room for the night. Before either of them closed their door, Ed emplored, "Chico, just remember she's my niece. Try to get along. Be your charming self tomorrow. If not for her, then for me."

"ME! NOT CHARMING!," quipped Chico. "I am always the epitome of Charm!" Chico flashed a smile. "Dont worry, Ed, I'll try. Good night." As he closed his door he thought, "Well, this will be your biggest challenge yet, amigo. Charming the pants off of the dragon lady!" He smiled and shook his head and went about getting ready for bed.

Karen laid awake on her bed in the dark thinking about the days events. "I think I might have made a mistake here," she thought to herself. "Maybe dad was right." She shuttered at that thought. The last person she was willing to admit defeat to was her dad. He had tried to talk her out of this harebrained idea of hers, but she would not listen. "Why did that arrogant Chicano have to be working in Uncle Ed's garage," she thought. He was certainly going to be her cross to bear.

Della was up early and in the process of loading one of her trucks for the day when Karen came out into the alley dressed in her coveralls, ready for her first day of work in Ed Brown's Garage. Della took one look at her and whistled, "You go girl. You show those fellas what a woman can do!"

"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Della. I really could use it this morning," replied Karen.

"Have some coffee, on me," said Della. As she handed Karen the cup, she noticed Karens hand shaking. "What's the matter, child? You're shaking like a leaf."

"Am I?" Karen tried to steady her hand.

"You will do just fine today."

"Oh, it's not that. Della I'm not so sure it was such a good idea coming back to work for Uncle Ed."

"Why do you say that? He was just out here a little while ago telling me how he's glad you are here."

Karen relaxed a little. "He really told you that?"

Della grinned at Karen. "Sure he did. Why wouldn't he?"

"Well I don't think Chico and I hit it off too well last night."

"Chico?" Della exclaimed in surprise. "Chico gets along with everyone."

"He seems a little arrogant to me!"

Della really laughed at that remark. When she saw the serious expression on Karen's face she realized Karen really meant it. "Chico? Arrogant? Hes anything but arrogant. Why do you think he is?"

"Well... maybe not arrogant, but very sure of himself. Della, I don't think he thinks I can cut it as a mechanic. I think he resents me being here. That's why I think I made a mistake in coming. Maybe I am messing up a good thing for him. Maybe that's another reason I don't trust him. What does he expect from my uncle?"

"Whoa, back the train up a minute. Let me set you straight about something. Chico loves your uncle like a father. I don't think he expects anything from Ed. Actually your uncle is not the easiest person to get along with. I commend Chico for putting up with him as long as he has."

"Uncle Ed used to be very easy to get along with. I don't know what caused him to change. Maybe it's when my family moved away or maybe it was Aunt Margaret's death." Karen sighed and decided she didn't want to alienate Della like she apparently was doing with Chico. "Look you seem to be a very good judge of character, so I guess I will give Chico the benefit of the doubt and try to get along with him. Not to change the topic, but I will need a place to stay if I'm going to hang around and work here. Can I talk to you later about looking for an apartment?"

"Sure, if you decide to stay. I have an apartment upstairs that will be coming available in a few days. You are welcome to that if you like."

"That will be perfect. Can I see it after work today?"

"I will ask the current tenants today. And relax, will you. You will do just fine today.

Karen gave Della a big hug. "Thanks for the coffee, the chat and the vote of confidence. And I will try to get along with the natives!" Karen nodded in the direction of the garage and winked.

"Thats the spirit," smiled Della. "Go get em, tiger!"

Karen smiled back and walked in the direction of the garage.

Ed was at the work bench tinkering with a carburetor and Chico's head was under the hood of the car he was working on yesterday. Karen came in and gave her uncle a peck on the cheek. "Good morning, Uncle Ed. Anything for me to work on yet?"

"I see you came prepared to work," answered Ed eyeing her coveralls. "Unfortunately nothing has come in yet. You could help me with this carburetor, if you like. I can't seem to get this valve unstuck."

"Let me take a look at it." Karen took the carburetor from Ed's hands and started tinkering with it. Ed walked over to Chico and tapped him on the back.

"Say something to her," he whispered to Chico.

Chico looked up at Ed and then over to Karen, whose back was to the two of them. "Ok, don't rush me," Chico hissed back. He nonchalantly walked over to Karen and said, "Good morning, MS. Phillips," in his sweetest voice.

"Good morning to you, Mr. Rodriguez. I trust you slept well last night. You seem in a better mood today."

"Yes I did, thank you." Chico grinned through gritted teeth. "She's not going to make this easy, is she," he though. "What are you working on there?"
"Is this a test of my ability?" thought Karen. "Be nice," she could hear Della exhort to her subconscious. "Uncle Ed told me he was having difficulty with this carburetor, so I thought I would see what the problem was."

Chico looked at Ed and Ed smiled with pleading eyes at Chico to continue to get along with his niece. Chico rolled his eyes and said, "Well if you need any help with it, let me know."

Karen could not take any more of this forced niceness. "Look I don't need any help from the big, strong man." She lifted the carburetor up for Chicos inspection. "See the itty bitty woman got the valve unstuck!" She handed it to Chico.

"Look, I didn't mean to question your ability I just......," Chico started to explain in an exasperated voice.

"I'll take that, Chico," Ed cut in, trying to head an argument off at the pass. "Maybe you'd better get back to work on that car. Mr. Gonzalas will be here for it soon."

Chico handed the carburetor back to Ed and went back to work, muttering something in Spanish under his breath. Ed took Karen by the arm and led her to his office. Once inside, he shut the door behind her and asked her to sit down.

"Look, what do you have against Chico?"

"ME! I have nothing against him, but he obviously resents me being here. Maybe I should just go."

"Just like your father, when it gets tough, you up and run."

"Wait a minute, I resent you comparing me to my father. I am not like him and I am not up and running. Look I can stick this out as long as HE can." Karen pointed through he door in Chicos general direction.

Ed went over to his cash register and pressed the No Sale" button. He removed a bottle from inside a coffee pot on his desk and poured some amber liquid into a shot glass hidden in the change well of the register. He lifted the glass out of the drawer and downed its contents in one swallow.

Karen was taken aback by his actions. "When did you start drinking like that?"

"Look, don't start on my drinking habits. One problem at a time. If you are going to work here, you are going to have to get along with Chico, understood?"

"Look, Uncle Ed, you know I love you and I would do anything for you." Karen's tone became penitent. "For you I will try. I guess I have a hard time fitting in. Being a lady mechanic has been no picnic, you know. Not many men respect you for your ability in this business. I guess your resident Romeo is no exception."

"How do you know he is a Romeo. Della tell you that?"

"No, actually she was singing his praises to me this morning. He just came on a little strong in the charm department last night for my liking, thats all. Hes not my type. I had hoped he would be able to treat me in a professional manner."

"I see," mused Ed. "Look, I'll tell my resident Romeo, as you call him, to cool it and show you some respect if you will cut him some slack in the charm department. Its just his way, to try and impress the ladies. I'm sure you two could get along if you would just work on it."

Karen kissed Ed on the cheek again. "For you, I will definitely give it a try."

Ed and Karen exited the office and Karen went over to Chico and stuck her hand out to him. He wiped his hand on his rag and took a hold of hers.

"I know we got off on the wrong foot last night and today, Mr. Rodriguez. Can we start over."

Chico started to lift her hand to kiss it when he saw Ed waving and shaking his head no to him behind Karen's back. "Professional," he mouthed to Chico. Chico nodded in acknowledgment to Ed. He shook it and said, "Ok, that's fine with me, Ms Phillips. Would you like to help me with this car. I seem to be having a problem with the engine. I got most of the problem but...." Chico and Karen looked under the hood and discussed the problem of the engine. Twenty minutes later, Ed got in and started it. The engine ran smoothly. Chico and Karen looked at each other and smiled and shook greasy hands. "You're good, Ms. Phillips. I'm sorry I doubted you."

"Well I'm glad you are convinced, now. You're not a bad mechanic yourself."

Chicos smile faded. As he was about to make a comment, Ed got out of the car and grinned at Chico. Chico got the message and let the remark drop. "Gracias, Ms. Phillips," was all he said.

Lunch time brought another friend of Ed's to the garage. Louie Wilson, who picked up the garage's garbage every day, came by on his lunch break with a pizza for the little group. Ed introduced Karen to Louie.

"Well I'm delighted to meet you, young lady," said Louie in his happiest voice. "I see these two have you working here. Ed, you hurting for help so bad that you have to enlist family members now?"

Karen smiled. "It is hard to get mad at Louie when he grins at you like that," she thought. "No, Mr. Wilson. I'm a mechanic, too. Graduated from mechanic's school and everything. I came here to work for Uncle Ed, like I promised I would years ago."

"Is this true, Ed?" asked Louie. "This little lady really a mechanic?"

Chico decided to earn some points with Karen, even though he still resented the fact that she kept waving that mechanics school under his nose. "Yea, Louie, Ms. Phillips is an A-1 mechanic. She really knows her stuff."

"Well that's fine, then. All in the family, huh Ed." Louie winked at Ed.

"Yea, Louie, all in the family." Ed rolled his eyes. "Let's eat before this pizza gets cold."

"You got it," agreed Chico. They all sat down in the area of the garage where the sofas and the table were and enjoyed the lunch Louie had brought. Louie asked Karen, "I guess you have some new ideas to bring more business to this garage."

"As a matter of fact I did have one idea," answered Karen. "Uncle Ed, I noticed you dont have a state inspection sign out in front of the garage. Dont you do them here?"

"Well, neither Chico or I are licensed to do state inspections."

"I am," replied Karen.

Chico tried hard not to glare at her and keep his voice even. "We don't have the emissions tester we need to do them, either. I thought about getting licensed, but we can't afford the equipment."

"Oh," was all Karen could reply. Her mind was working on possibilities.

"Why should we bother doing inspections?" asked Ed.

"Don't you know that's where all the big money is?" replied Karen. "You inspect cars and when you find things that dont pass inspection, you can do the repair work and rake in the money."

"I suppose you can always find things that aren't wrong and try to charge for fixing those things too, or threaten not to pass the car," quipped Chico.

"She means nothing of the sort, Chico," said Ed in Karen's defense.

"Its ok, Uncle Ed. Mr. Rodriguez has every right to be concerned about that practice, because he's right. That happens at too many garages, I'm afraid. No, Mr. Rodriguez, I do not propose to do that here. There is plenty of money to be made from legitimate repair work to resort to ripping people off. Besides, once the word gets out that you are being dishonest, and it does eventually, the state shuts you down. I would never do that to Uncle Ed."

"Well it's a moot point, anyway, cause we can't afford the emissions tester, right Ed?"

"I'm afraid Chico's right Karen. Maybe some day."

"Thats ok Uncle Ed, it was only an idea." Karen stood up and stretched. "Why don't I wash and wax Mr. Gonzala's car before he comes by to pick it up. Good for business, you know." Karen excused her self and went to work on the car.

"Good for business, you know," mimicked Chico under his breath. Ed said good bye to Louie and told Chico he need him in the office.

"Close the door will you, Chico," Ed told Chico. Chico shut the door and sat on the edge of the narrow table opposite Eds desk. "What is it."

"Look, Chico, I know it hasn't been easy working with my niece."

Chico gasped out a small cynical laugh. "You got that right."

"Shes a lot like her father and I don't believe that it's all her fault."

"Well, she comes in here like she's God's gift to cars and rubs that mechanic school jive under my nose and wants to change the business and...."

"Sound familiar?"

Chico stopped ranting and became thoughtful. "I didn't graduate from no hoity toity school. I learned all I did about cars from the streets," shot back Chico, and then in a meeker tone, "And from you."

"And Karen learned all she did about being suspicious of people from her father. I never held your impetuous nature against you, all I am asking is that you not hold her suspicious nature against her. You managed to work you way into this old cantankerous heart," said Ed pointing to his own chest. "I'm sure you can do it with her."

Chico smiled at his friend. "Ok, Ed. I will try. She obviously means a lot to you so I will make peace and not get resentful when it looks like she's putting me down. I guess that's just her way. You're telling me she doesn't mean it any more than you did, right Ed?"

"You got it," mimicked Ed. Chico smiled a big toothy grin. "Well then, it's back to Mr. Charming." Chico headed for the door

Ed quickly grabbed him by the arm and pulled Chico back. "No, wait. No Mr. Charming. She doesn't like it."


"She thinks guys don't respect her ability and when they are charming to her, that they really are putting down her worth as a mechanic. Please, act professional with her. She will respond to that better."

Chico looked puzzled. "Ok Ed, what ever you say. I can be professional."

"Thank you, Chico." Ed looked heavenward. "Maybe now I can have a little peace again in this garage!"

The rest of the day went as pleasantly as could be expected. Chico was still uncomfortable with the overly professional attitude he had to maintain with Karen, and Karen still had to try to get along with Chico, even though she still had not learned to trust him completely. Ed was just happy there was peace and quiet, even if it was a little strained.

Chico was able to line up some more work for both he and Karen for the next couple of weeks. As Chico's reputation as a mechanic grew in the neighborhood, the business had grown. With Karen there, he was able to accept more work. In spite of the tensions that still lingered between them, Chico and Karen proved to be a good working team. People were pleased with the work Karen did, and she was even starting to build a small group of loyal customers for herself. This bothered Chico at first, but as Ed explained to him, what's good for her is good for everyone in the garage.

There was one thing that was still a sore spot between Chico and Karen. A few days after the conversation about state inspections, a delivery truck pulled into the alley and unloaded an emissions tester to the garage.

"Chico," yelled Ed. "What did you order behind my back this time," as the delivery men unloaded the tester from the truck.

"Me, I never order things behind your back. Would I do a thing like that? Are you implying that I would do a sneaky, underhanded thing like that." he answered in his good humored, joking way. Then he stopped dead and looked at what was being delivered and suddenly became serious. "I didn't order that!", pointing to the tester.

"Well then, who did?" growled Ed.

Karen looked up from under the hood of the car she was working on and came over to the men. "Oh, it's here," she exclaimed with glee. She saw the tension rising on Ed's face and she said in her sweetest voice, "Now, Uncle Ed, this is not costing you a dime. I have a friend who owns a garage on the other side of Los Angeles. I used to work for him before I came here. I called him the other night and found out he was getting rid of this perfectly good, used emissions tester and I bought it from him. He is giving it to us on consignment. As soon as we start making money off of this beauty, I will pay him back." She hugged Ed and looked at him with her cutest face. "What do you say, can I keep it?"

"Oh that's real professional," muttered Chico as he went back to work on the car he was fixing.

"I guess you can," answered Ed in exasperation. "You really think we will make money with this thing?"

"Absolutely," responded Karen, mimicking Chico's voice. She had heard his dig about her less than professional attitude with Ed and felt the need to shoot a zinger his way. Chico looked up from his work, ready to shoot snide remark back at her, but quickly decided it would not be worth it and went back to what he was doing.

"I'll make up a sign right now and hang it up out side. Can I hang my inspector's license next to your business license over there?" Karen asked, as she pointed over to the wall by the workbench."

"Sure, dear, do what ever you need to. Right now I need to take a break." Ed retreated to his office as Karen got out a piece of board and some paint, and took them to the work bench. She painted California State Inspections done here on the sign. She hung it up on the outside of the garage and stood back to admire her work. "That should bring in some more business!"

About a month went by and things had gotten back to normal at Eds garage. Ed and Chico saw Karen's predictions about the inspections come true. She was bringing in so much business, that the garage was turning away customers again. Karen was able to pay for the tester in a matter of two weeks. Ed was pleased that things were going so well, but Chico still felt that Karen treated him like second class mechanic. He would constantly feel the need to remind her that he was the head mechanic around the garage and she would argue with him. Ed finally got tired of trying to keep the peace and let them argue. The arguments never seem to last long and, in spite of them, Chico and Karen worked well together. One constant source of tension, though, was Chico's need to check Karen's work.

"I don't need a baby-sitter, you know!" Karen told Chico one day, when she caught him strutting around her, hands in his belt, chest puffed out, like some sort of peacock, inspecting the work she was doing on a transmission. It had been a particularly difficult problem and she had be at it for hours. Hot, tired, and crabby, she was not impressed with his demeanor or his interference.

"Im not baby-sitting you," he responded. "I just like to see how my mechanics are coming along on their work. You know I have an obligation to the customers to see to it that all of the work that is done here is first rate."

"Look here, Mr. Head Mechanic! I have never done anything less than first rate work in my life. I dont need you or any MAN snooping over my shoulder, checking up on my work." Karen retorted, waving the wrench she was using in the air and putting her face close to Chico's face.

"Hey, I didn't say you did!", answered Chico, throwing his hands up in the air in a surrender stance. "All I meant was that I am interested in every thing that goes on in this garage." Then putting on his charming, lighthearted Hispanic humor, he told her, "You need to lighten up or I won't be able to put on your recommendation for your next job, 'Plays and works well with others'."

"That's it," yelled Karen. "First you treat me like a harebrained female and now like a child." She threw down the wrench, inches from Chico's foot. He jumped out of the way to avoid being hit by the bouncing tool. "I'm not going to take any more of your condescending remarks."

"Watch the tools. They can't take that kind of abuse," remarked Chico, alarmed at her treatment of the wrench. He picked it up lovingly and placed it carefully on the workbench.

"And I can't either. You treat those tools better than you treat me!"

"Look, all I was trying to do was interject a little levity here. Geez, you are one uptight female." Chico looked away from her and looked up and muttered, "La dama loca del dragón!"

Karen followed him and grabbing him by the arm, swung him around so he was facing her again. "What did you call me? Speak English, you coward. You know I don't understand Spanish."

"I keep telling you that you should learn some if you are going to work in the Barrio. I'm getting tired of being your slave, translating for you all the time!"

By this time the yelling had gotten so loud, Ed could not stand it any more. He emerged from his office and, grabbing a tire rim that was leaning against the wall and a crow bar that was near it, he banged the crowbar against the rim, sounding a bell tone that was similar to one heard in a fight arena. It achieved the desired effect. Both combatants stopped what they were doing and looked at Ed with sheepish faces.

"Look you two, I think the world of both of you," growled Ed, "But if you two don't knock off this fighting, I'm going to put gloves on you and start charging admission."

"Sorry Ed!" Chico hung his head.

"Sorry Uncle Ed." Karen went over to Ed and hugged him. Chico saw this and made a face, but was too tired of fighting to say anything about Karen's way of buttering up her uncle.

"That's better," smiled Ed. He waved a piece of paper in the air and said, "I just got an invitation to a garage owners' convention this weekend in San Diego. I was thinking of accepting it, but I dont know if I can leave the two of you alone for a few days. I might come back and find the St. Valentine's Day Massacre reenacted here at my garage."

Chico took the paper from Ed and looked at it. After taking a few moments to scan it, he returned it to Ed. "This looks good, Ed. It would do you a lot of good to get away from here for a few days." Turning and smirking a smile at Karen he said. "We'll be good, right MS. Phillips?"

Returning his smirk and genuinely smiling at Ed she answered Chico. "Right, Mr. Rodriguez!" Turning and giving her full attention to Ed, she told him. "He maybe right. You have been working yourself too hard lately. A trip would do you good. We can take care of things here while you are gone."

"Ok, if you two promise to keep the peace while I'm gone."

"We promise," answered Chico and Karen in unison.

"That's what I like to hear," said Ed. "Peace and harmony." Ed headed back to his office. He stopped suddenly and turned to face Chico. "Chico, my boy, could I see you in my office a minute?" To Karen he said, "Just some business, my dear."

"Thats ok, I have this transmission to finish," she said, and she turned and went back to work.

Chico and Ed entered the office and Ed closed the door behind him.

"Whats up, Ed"

"I want you to do me a favor while Im away. Could you keep an eye on Karen without her knowing you are doing it. I'm getting a little concerned about all the attention she is getting from some of the guys around this neighborhood lately."

"I hadn't noticed any attention."

"That's because you have been too busy arguing with her all the time. She is a very attractive woman and I don't want her being take advantage of." Chico snickered at the attractive remark. Picturing Karen in the coveralls she always wore didn't present a very attractive picture in his mind. Ed continued, "Especially by your friend Mando!"

"MANDO!", Chico choked down a laugh "He never told me he was interested in the dragon lady. Son a ma gun!"

"Dragon lady?"

Chico tried to stop laughing. "Sorry, Ed. That's our pet name for your niece. I guess it's not very nice. I shouldn't have used that term in front of you."

"Don't be sorry, my boy," answered Ed with a chuckle. "It's a fitting name for her, I must admit. Just don't let her hear you call her that. That would cause world war three for sure."

"You got it, Ed." Chico beamed. Then he became thoughtful. "Really Ed, I dont think Mando or any other guy is interested in her. But if you say to keep an eye on her, then that is what I will do! Eagle Eye Rodriguez is on the job!"

"Fine! I knew I could count on you, Chico. Just remember not to let her catch on or you will be in for an ear full."

"Don't I know it! Sure Ed. Go and have a great time. And don't worry about things around here. I got you covered."

True to their promise, Chico and Karen remained civil to one another for the rest of the week. The afternoon after Ed's departure for San Diego, Karen came up to Chico while he was fixing a flat tire and said, "Excuse me, Mr. Rodriguez, may I have the rest of the afternoon off, please."

Chico looked at the clock on the wall above his head. "Its only 4 o'clock. You know we don't close till six."

Karen tried to remain calm. "I know, that is why I asked if I could get off EARLY. Is there a problem with the request. I did finish my work for the day and I have some personal things to attend to this afternoon. I do have a personal life, you know!"

"I'm sorry. I didnt know you had a personal life," Chico responded with slight sarcasm in his voice. When he saw her face turning red, he changed his tone. "I'm sorry. You have been working very hard and deserve time off. Go and have fun."

The anger in Karens body that had begun to rise subsided with his change of demeanor. "Mucho gracias, Mr. Rodriguez. I promise I won't make a habit of asking off early." Karen headed for the door and was gone before Chico had the chance to answer "De nada," to her. "When did she learn to speak Spanish?", he mused to himself. It also struck Chico as a little suspicious that she would ask for a Friday afternoon off while her uncle was away. Remembering the promise he made to Ed to keep his eye on her, he vowed to watch the alley and see what she might be up to. "Not that I care what she does on her own time," thought Chico to himself. "But Ed would want to know."

Around six thirty, Chico heard the familiar roar of his friend Mando's motorcycle engine. He had not made plans for the evening with Mando, but was always glad to see his friend. Bounding out to the alley to greet him, Chico suddenly stopped dead in his tracks and made a quick retreat back inside the garage before Mando could see him. "Son a ma gun," exclaimed Chico quietly to himself. "Ed was right!" What sent Chico in retreat back inside was the sight of Mando all dressed up, opening the door to the stairs leading up to Karen's apartment. "Mando never told me he wanted to go out with her. I wonder why he didn't? Brother, am I going to have to keep a close eye on those two!" Chico peeked out a small opening in the side door of the garage in time to see Karen and Mando emerge from the stairwell door. Chico whistled quietly to himself as he got an eyeful of the way Karen was dressed. Used to seeing Karen in the same beige coveralls day after day, her hair tied back in the same pony tail, Chico almost didn't recognize the woman in the dress and long flowing hair getting on the back of Mando's bike. He knew he couldn't follow them, that was beyond tacky and the call of duty. Chico vowed to himself to wait up instead, and catch them when they got home.

Chico was almost asleep in the chair he had stationed by the door when heard the roar of the motorcycle engine. He looked sleepily at the clock and discovered it was one in the morning. Peeking through the crack in the door of the garage, he saw Karen give Mando a good night peck on the cheek and make a hasty retreat through the stairwell door. "Mando must have had a hard time with her," He though to himself with a grin, "to get such a hasty goodnight kiss." He whispered to Mando and got his attention. "Hey, hermamo, come here a minute."

"Chico," whispered Mando quite loudly back at him, "Is that you man?"

"Sshhh, man keep it down. Yea it's me. Come in a minute, I want to talk to you."

"OK," answered Mando in a quieter whisper. Chico opened the door for Mando and quickly shut it again.

"Que pasa," said Mando to Chico.

"Dont que pasa me, hermano. What are you doing taking out the dragon lady? You never even hinted that you liked her."

"Well, Chico, you have been too busy to notice much of anything lately. Besides, you seem to be the only one who can't get along with Karen. I don't know what she sees in you, man!" Mando shook his head.

"Sees in me?"

"Why do you even care who she goes out with, anyway."

"Ed asked me to keep and eye on her for him. Seems he doesn't trust you my friend. And I'm beginning to see why."

"You don't have to lose sleep over it on my account. I can tell you this date was a dud. All she kept saying all night was "Chico this" and "Chico that" and asking me a lot of questions about you. Maybe you weren't physically with us, but you were there the whole night, believe me."

"Asking questions about me?"

"Yea, man, like how long we have been friends, about your family, what you like to eat, how long have you been a mechanic, how many girls youve been out with..."

"She asked you all that?" Chico was stunned. He never even had a clue she was that interested in him. He was starting to see her in a whole different light. And it startled and confused him.

"Yea, man. If I didn't know better, by the way you two fight all the time, I'd get the impression she has it for you, BAD!" Chico tried not to let the shock he was feeling toward this last remark register on his face. "Look, man, I'm tired. Tell old folks when you see him not to worry cause I won't be making any play with his niece anymore. I'll catch you later. Hasta luega, amigo."

"Yea, good night, Mando," answered Chico, lost in though. Mando shook his head at his friend and went home. Chico wandered back to his room, still pondering all the things Mando had told him.

The next morning, Karen came to work in a good mood. She sauntered over to the workbench to check the roster for the schedule of appointments for the day. Chico took a long look at her in her in her coveralls and hair tied back like he had seen her every day she had worked in the garage. He thought back to the way she looked last night with longing in his eyes. Then he remembered who she went out with and decided he should confront her about her date with Mando.

"MS. Phillips, why didn't you tell me you were going out with my friend Mando yesterday?"

"Why, Mr. Rodriguez, my personal life is my own. Im 24 and I don't have to report to you everything I do, now, do I?" Karen was trying to stay in the good mood she was in, but as usual, Chico was making that very difficult. "Why do you need to know, Mr. Nosy?"

"Look, I worry about you out in this neighborhood. Some of the guys aren't as nice and respectful of women as I am."

"NICE! YOU! Ha, that's a laugh!"

"Look, you don't know what this neighborhood is like," Chico could feel the anger starting to rise in him. "Why does she do this to me every time?" he asked himself.

"I don't need a bodyguard, Mr. Rodriguez. I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself." Karen completely forgot her good mood. "He is so exasperating," she thought to herself. "YOU are not my father, nor my uncle, so leave me alone!" Karen started to move away from Chico when she spun around and saw he had followed her. Looking him in the eye, she said, "Why do you care what happens to me, anyway?"

Chico knew this was the question he had been pondering all night. Gazing with much intensity into her bright blue eyes for several long seconds, he answered, "You want to know why?" Then he did something that shocked both he and Karen. He grabbed her left wrist and, holding it tight, he slowly drew her to himself and, placing his lips against hers, kissed her with a hard, passionate kiss!

It took Karen several seconds to realize what was happening. Chico's lips were firm but supple against her own quivering lips. Finally, she came to her senses and broke free of his embrace, but not his hold on her wrist. She reared her right hand back to slap him in the face, but he grabbed the other wrist just in time to save himself from this assault and, bringing his face to hers again, kissed her with even more passion than the first time. Karen found it hard to resist this second kiss. Chico slowly placed her arms around his neck and his arms found their way around her waist, all the while they kept their lips presses together. After being in this embrace for a minute that seemed like an eternity, Chico gently drew the tip of his tongue out from between his lips and tried to part her lips with it. Karen quickly backed away, stared at Chico in shock for a moment, and turned and ran out of the garage, back across the alley and up the stairs to her room. Chico remained frozen in the spot he had held her in, unable to do anything but stare at her fleeing figure.

Thirty minutes went by before Karen reappeared in the garage. Chico had gone back to work while she was gone. When he looked up at her entering the garage, he could see that she had been crying. He fought the urge to go over to her. She, in turn, only acknowledged his presence with a nod and went to check what her first job was for the day. The silence was deafening for several long minutes, when Chico finally decided to break the tension and speak.

"Look, Karen, maybe we'd better talk about what happened."

Karen put her hand up to stop him. She was a little taken a back that he had used her given name. Still wanting to maintain a professional demeanor, but in a voice that was uncharacteristically softer and kinder than she usually used to speak to him, she addressed Chico. "I don't think that we should discuss it right now, Mr. Rodriguez. I have a lot of work to do as I am sure you do. Maybe we can talk later, after work."

Chico could see that it was no use trying to change her mind, so he agreed to go back to work. "You mind if I listen to the radio? It's too quiet in here for me to work."

"Sure, if you wish. I don't mind," answered Karen as she went over to the radio and switched it on for him. Chico just stared at her in amazement for a few seconds and then shrugged his shoulders and went back to work. Karen had always hated when he wanted to play the radio during business hours. She never liked his choice of music and complained about not being able to concentrate on her work while it was on. He decided he would probably never figure out this woman. She was too much of an enigma.

Chico and Karen worked in relative silence the rest of the day. On Saturdays, Chico always closed up the garage at 4. Karen dreaded the close of the business day today because she knew she could not put off talking to Chico indefinitely. All day she pondered what she would say to him. She was actually grateful for the radio's drone because it allowed her to take her mind off her dilemma and concentrate on her work.

When four o'clock finally arrived, Chico looked up at the clock and announced it was quitting time. Karen went into the washroom to wash the grease from her hands as Chico closed the large garage door. He walked over to her and watched her methodically wash each finger. Karen saw him staring at her and turned to him and said, "What?"

"Nothing, I just like watching you wash your hands, that's all. You have such method and order to everything you do."

"Oh," responded Karen. She didn't know what to say. She was so used to arguing with Chico, that this sudden interest in her frightened and confused her.

"You feel like talking yet?", he asked her as she dried her hands on some paper towels.

"Look, Chico," she began, not consciously realizing she had not called him by his surname, "I know we have to talk, but I don't know if I know what to say."

"Why don't you think about it for a while. I can have Della fix something and bring it to my place and we can have dinner together and maybe then you will feel up to it." The fact that Karen had called him "Chico" was not lost on him. He was beginning to think that Karen did care for him more then even she realized. "You don't have plans for tonight, do you? Because if I am intruding on any personal plans then we can do it another time. We don't...." the rest was stopped by Karens hand in the air.

"It's ok, I have no other plans. I can have dinner with you. What time should I be here?"

"How about six. I need to talk to Della about fixing us something and I don't want to rush her."

"Ok, six it is."

Chico hesitated as Karen gathered her things to leave. "Umm, could I walk you home? I need to see Della anyway and I thought..."

"That would be fine," Karen cut in. "Boy, he must be as nervous as I am about this," thought Karen. She had never seen him babble on with her like this before .

"Ok, then," answered Chico as he led her out the door to the alley. At the door to her stairway he said "Hasta luega", and left to find Della. Karen slowly climbed the stairs to her apartment, thinking long and hard about what she would tell Chico.

Karen decided that she should at least make an effort to look nice for dinner since Chico was going to all of the trouble of setting it up. She looked through her limited wardrobe and found a nice peasant dress she bought recently. Being a mechanic, she did not have much need for dresses, but this one had caught her eye. When she put it on and let her hair down, she actually looked like a soft woman, not the tough mechanic she had made herself become. "I guess I haven't given Chico much of a chance, have I, "she told herself in the mirror. "He is a nice looking young man and he has treated me with respect. I just wish he wasn't a Chicano." Hearing herself say those words aloud startled her. She thought she had gotten over her prejudices, but she realized that maybe she really hadn't and that might be the whole problem she had with Chico. She had admired him when she first met him, but she knew her father would be livid if she were to even think of getting serious with him. Mando had been a different story. She thought kindly of Mando and told herself that she needed to apologize to him the next time she saw him. It wasn't very nice that she only went out with him to make Chico mad and pump him for information about Chico. Putting on some make up, she took one last look at herself in the mirror and said, "Well this is it, kiddo. You had better face him and get this over with." Then she grabbed her sweater from the bed and left for the garage.

Most of the lights were out in the main part of the garage when Karen entered through the side door. As she made her way over to Chico's door, she realized she had never been inside his apartment. She took a deep breath and knocked.

Chico opened the door and took one look at her standing there all dressed up and fought the urge to say "LOOOOOKING GOOOOD." He had gotten to know her well enough to know that it might provoke an argument and he was determined not to have any arguments with Karen tonight.

Karen saw that Chico had also decided to dress nice for dinner. She had rarely seen him dressed up and he looked particularly handsome tonight with his red pullover sweater and gray slacks. She noticed he wore his dress slacks like his jeans, tight. Neither one of them had said a word since Chico opened the door. They just spent several awkward moments staring at each other, taking in the transformation each had made in their appearances.

Chico spoke first. "Would you mind if I told you how nice.. er... lovely you look tonight?"

"No. Gracias, Señor. You look muy hermoso yourself tonight," Rita replied, practicing the Spanish Della had been teaching her.

"I see you are habla-ing a little Espanol these days," remarked Chico, smiling. "I'm impressed!"

"Gracias, again." Karen started to blush, something she rarely did. "I took your suggestion the other day to heart and thought it would be good for me to learn a little of the language of the people of the Barrio if I'm going to live and work here now."

"Does that mean you have decided to make working here a permanent arrangement?"

"If that's fine with you?"

"Mami linda, that would suit me just fine," responded Chico with a big grin. He suddenly realized he was probably coming on too strong and said, "I'm sorry, I meant no disrespect to you."

"Thats ok, I know what "mami linda" means and I realize that you are happy with my decision. That is, if you decide to invite me in and not have me stand in the doorway all night."

"Ah mi Dios, where are my manners." Chico switched to his imitation of a proper English gentleman and said, "If you would be so kind to step this way, my dear, I will show you around my humble abode." He gave her a grand tour of the room he called home. Karen was very impressed with his flair for decoration. "Della helped me," replied Chico.

"Well it's still very you," said Karen. I haven't had much time to decorate my place yet. Maybe I can get you and Della to help me some day?"

"Sure, I would love to. Please have a seat." Chico led her over to the sofa. "Would you like a glass of wine?"


Chico poured her wine into a jelly jar. "Only the finest crystal for you, my dear, but this is the finest I have, I'm afraid!"

Karen smiled at his attempt to charm her. Karen thought, "I don't know why I didn't like this side of him before? I guess I thought he was being phony, like so many guys I knew back home. He seems sincere, though." Turning to Chico she said, "This is fine. My mother used to collect these glasses too!" Taking a sip, she said, "This is nice!"

"It is the finest vintage made on this block!"

Karen looked at him and said, "You really do have a sense of humor, don't you?"

"That's what I have been trying to show you all along, but...." He stopped short of saying something to provoke an argument, wondering if he was too late.

Karen hung her head. "You are right, Mr. Rodriguez, I have not been very fair to you. I judged you before I gave you the chance to let me get to know you. Perdóneme, por favor."

"On one condition, you stop with the Mr. Rodriguez jive. We are off duty. You did call me Chico earlier, remember? Was it so very hard to say?"

"No," Karen said, blushing again. "What was it about this guy that made her feel so... so... soft inside," she thought. "I will try."

"Good, cause I like calling you Karen instead of MS. Phillips. Karen is a much better name. It means pure doesn't it?"

"Yes. My mom named me that cause she said I brought pure joy into her life. My full name is Karen Joy Phillips. She was told she would not be able to have any more children after I was born. I guess that is why my parents sheltered me and probably spoiled me, too."

"I don't think you are spoiled!"

Karen frowned. "Now I know you are lying to me!"

Chico became very cautious with his response. "Ok, maybe you are a little, but thats ok, cause it makes you who you are. I can see you have parents who love you. My mom died when I was growing up and dad was not around. In fact, I always thought he was dead until recently, when I met him for the first time." Chico became sad.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you sad. I guess you had a rough childhood."

"It was ok. I stayed with my Aunt Connie for a while in New York and then I went into the army when I turned 18. Ed's been like family to me these days."

Karen knew he had come to the heart of her struggles with Chico. "Im beginning to see that my uncle really cares for you, too. I wasn't sure if you were trying to hustle him or what. But I guess I judged you wrongly about that, too."

"Thats ok. You probably had every reason to be suspicious of my intentions toward your uncle. After all I'm just another Chicano from the Barrio, right." Chico tried not to sound indignant at her observations about his intentions, but her prejudice remark cut him like a knife.

"Hey, I said I judged you wrongly. My father is so hung up about people sticking with their own kind, that I guess a little.... no, a lot rubbed off on me. The more I live and work here, though, the more I see he is wrong. The people of the Barrio are good people, honest and hard working, a people deserving of dignity and respect. I deeply apologize for my ignorant attitude toward you and your people."

"I have been doing a little misjudging of you myself, so I guess were even. Since we are doing true confessions here, I thought you were one of those man haters. I even had a nick name for you that was not very nice." Chico hung his head.

Karen anticipated him. "You mean Dragon Lady?"

Chico looked at Karen in shock. "How..? When..? Who...?" Chico could not think of what to say.

"Della translated what you said to me in Spanish the other day. Actually it was La dama loca del dragón, crazy dragon lady to be precise. I have a great memory." Karen took his hand and continued. "Thats ok, I deserved the title. I was acting like an crazy dragon lady around here, spitting fire at everyone, especially you. In a garage, that can be a dangerous thing. Its a wonder I didn't blow up the place!"

Chico let out a sonorous laugh that shook the sofa they were siting on. "You seem to have a sense of humor yourself, mami." Karen began to laugh, too, and it felt good to allow the laughter release the tension of the past month of suspicion and anger she had felt toward Chico.

"Why was I so blind not to see what a good nature you have, Chico. Everyone tried to tell me, but I let so much of my past blind me to it. I am..."

"No more apologizing tonight," Chico said, anticipating her next remark. He gently took her chin in his large hand, locked his large, expressive dark eyes onto her blue orbs and looked at her with a gaze that sent shivers down her spine. He slowly reached over to her and softly placed his lips next to hers. She responded by bring her lips to meet his and allowed the kiss to be a mutual pleasure this time. He removed his hand from her chin and put his arm around her back as he continued to kiss her on the lips. She decided she liked the way his kisses made her feel and wanted him to go further. She parted her lips slightly, hoping he would try again what he had tried to do earlier. Chico responded to this by slowly placing the tip of his tongue against her lips first and then into her waiting mouth. More shivers went throughout Karen's body as she finally lost herself to the pleasure of his loving way. After several minutes of this, Chico slowly released her from his embrace, smiled at her and said, "Now isn't that better than arguing with me!"

Karen smiled back and nodded. "I will admit it does have many advantages to arguing with you, Mr...... er.. I mean Chico."

"I'm glad. And I hope we chose to do more of this and less of that from now on!" Chico. "But first we are letting Della's wonderful dinner get cold. Lets take a break and eat, shall we." Chico rose from the sofa and reached his hand down to help Karen to her feet. He then escorted her over to the table and they enjoyed the dinner Della had prepared for them.

After dinner, Chico invited Karen to resume their place on the sofa.

"Now, maybe we can have a little dessert after such a wonderful dinner," said Chico with a grin, a wink, and a gleam in his eye.

"What did you have in mind?" Karen smiled and blushed back.

"Well, why don't you come over closer and I can show you!"

Karen scooted really close to Chico and the two became as one once again. Karen really enjoyed Chico's sweet kisses. He was gentle but very passionate. She reached up to play with and caress the back of Chicos soft, thick hair. He responded to this by pressing his lips firmer against hers. He encouraged her to probe his mouth with her tongue by guiding into his mouth with his own. As she was enjoying this new sensation, Chico stroked his hands up and down her back, in a gentle massage. This went on for several more minutes. Then Chico reached his hand around to the front of her dress and as he began to attempt to explore her further, Karen stiffened and abruptly backed away from his embrace.

"Chico, no. I'm not ready for that. I mean, I need to go slow." She was quite flustered with Chicos actions and her response to them.

Chico said, "But, mami, I thought..." Seeing how uncomfortable Karen had become, he continued in a different vein. "Its ok, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to start something you were not ready for. It's just that you seemed so ...."

"Willing?" Karen finished for him. Chico nodded. "I know, and what you were doing felt very nice, but I still have a lot of issues to deal with first before this relationship, if we are really starting a relationship, can go any further."

"What issues?" Chico was really puzzled now. "I thought we got all of that resolved?"

"Well, there are still a few things."


Karen began cautiously. "Well, like what are we going to tell Uncle Ed?"

Chico thought a moment, and with a smile and a small laugh he answered, "I guess you might be right. I dont know what Ed might say."

"And not only that, but how is this going to affect our working relationship in the garage everyday. We might not be able to maintain a professional atmosphere."

"I really don't think that is much of a problem. We were never very formally professional before you came here anyway," Chico observed.

"And that's no way to run a business, either," countered Karen

Chico started to get a little defensive. "I thought we ran a pretty good business before you came on the scene!"

"Yes, well look how my getting you to be more professional has helped you to increase business." Karen started to get a little upset with Chico's attitude.

"You call all the arguing we did professional?" Chico started to raise his voice.

"That's not what I meant, and you know it!" Karen rose from the sofa. "I just think we should still call each other by out last names and maintain a respectable, professional attitude toward one another during business hours. I don't know if you can do that, is all I'm saying."

Chico stood up to look her squarely in the eyes. "And just what do you mean by that crack?"

"Well, your romantic, Romeo ways may be fine for after work, but can you behave yourself during working hours?"

"Romeo ways? Mami, it will be you who won't be able to keep you hands off of me! At least I don't dress like a sack of potatoes for work."

"Sack of potatoes! I suppose I should look all feminine and frilly to work on cars!" Karen was hot now. "Boy, I was begining to think you were different, Chico Rodriguez. But you are just the same arrogant male I met a month ago. And maybe my dad was right, I should be careful of you Latin lover types! Boy, did I almost make a big mistake. All you are interested in.... in.... is..... oh, forget it." Karen turned to leave.

"Karen, wait! Your not getting away from me that easily. Your pigheaded prejudice ideas about Chicanos haven't really changed that much I see. Maybe it's I who almost made the big mistake here, thinking you could change. But I see a leopard cannot chance its spots, nor a dragon lady her spitfire!" Chico knew he did not want to argue with Karen, but she was making anything else impossible at this point.

"So, were back to name calling now!"

"Well, you started it with that "Romeo" crack!"

"Well, I'm ending it then." Karen headed for the door. "Good night, Chico Rodriguez!" She exited out the door with a slam. Chico started to run after her. "Karen... wait!" Karen did not stop, but ran out the small side door of the garage. Chico slowly made his way back to his room. Slamming the door shut, he leaned up against it and said out loud to the empty air of his room, "Damn it, Karen. Why do you do this to me. Can't you see that I love you!" And then he hung his head and cried softly.

Karen walked across the alley in such a blind fury, she failed to see Della coming across to the garage with a pie in her hands and almost ran into her.

"Oh, I was just bring you both some dessert," Della started. Karen responded by bursting into tears. "Oh, honey, what's wrong?"

"Everything Della! Why do men have to be so...so...MALE!"

Della put her free hand around Karen's shoulder and said, "You look like you need another woman to talk to. Why don't we go inside to my place and talk."

"Ok, but I don't think it will do much good," sobbed Karen. The two women went in Dellas apartment and sat down on her sofa. "What happened? I got the impression from Chico that you two were about to finally get to know one another better and clear the air."

"Oh I got to know the real Chico, alright! And I don't think I... I..." Karen broke down and sobbed loudly.

"You had another argument and your upset. Dont talk. Just get it out of your system." Della put her hand on Karen's back and comforted her. After several minutes of pouring her heart out in tears, Karen continued, "Thanks Della. I guess I did need a good cry, after what HE put me through."

"You want to talk about it?"

"Yea, maybe. Della, why are guys so rude and condescending toward women?

"Not all men are. But men have been in charge of this world for a long time and they have a hard time giving up that sense of power. When ever a woman tries to make her place in a man's world, she has to realize he is not going to take it lying down. But I don't understand. I thought Chico was beginning to respect your talents as a mechanic"

Karen let out a cynical laugh. "Yea, well I thought so too, till he realized I had other characteristics of womanhood that were more interesting to him!"

Della rolled her eyes. "So he tried to put his moves on you!"

Karen hung her head. "Yea, well..."

Della let out a chuckle. "And the feeling was mutual I see!"

All Karen could do was nod her head slightly in agreement as tears began to form in her eyes again. She hung her head, ashamed to admit that she had feelings for Chico.

Della sensed she had hit the nail on the head. "Look, Karen, I'm getting the impression you haven't really gotten to know the real Chico yet." Karen was about to interrupt, but Della was insistent about getting to speak. "No, please let me have my say. Chico spoke to me a little, before, about how he feels about you and how he was hoping to tell you about himself, but if you are this upset with him, I'm thinking he never got to do that. Chico cares about you. He has just had to find a different way of showing it to you because the ways hes used to using haven't been working. Chico has had a rough life. His dad was out of his life at a very young age. His mama's family told him his daddy was dead, but he has only found out recently that his dad had gotten in trouble with the law in Mexico and his mama's family moved so he couldn't find them. His dad was only able to discover where Chico was, recently. His mama died when he was little and he went to live with his Aunt Connie in New York for a while. When he was in high school, he came back to the Barrio to live with other relatives. When Chico turned 18, he went in to the service and served in Vietnam. He was awarded a silver star and when he was discharged, he came back to the Barrio and into Ed's life. He really thought he could help Ed make the garage a thriving business again. Your uncle had let the garage get run down after your aunt died. It was like he gave up on life, but Chico came in and breathed life back into the garage and Ed. Ed tried to get rid of him, insulting him and yelling at him all the time, but Chico never gave up on Ed. He persevered and finally endeared himself to that bitter old man. Ed has actually become more pleasant again, thanks in big part to Chico. I know Chico comes off as a big flirt, but when he really gets to loving someone, he is very sincere and its all from the heart. He does wear his feelings on his sleeve sometimes, and that has gotten his heart broken a few times. Maybe with you, he decided to go on the defensive first, so you would not have a chance to break his heart. He told me when you first came to the garage that you appeared to hate Chicanos and he is very proud of his heritage. Now that you have been here a while and he sees that you aren't as predjuiced as he first thought, he had hoped you could be friends. I really got a impression from him that he was feeling that he wanted to be more than just friends, but he was willing to settle for your friendship, if that was all you were willing to give him for right now. I gather he never got to tell you these things, did he?"

"He told me a little about his past, but we never got very far. Della, he was right about one thing. I was overly cautious about Chicanos. I guess I'm scared."

"Of what?"

"Well, my dad told me when I left that if I got involved with a Chicano guy not to bother coming home. I guess I was afraid that if Chico and I were to get involved, I wouldn't know what I would do. I don't get along with my dad that well but Mom and Dad are the only family, besides Uncle Ed, that I have. I don't want to lose them. I guess I set up barriers so I would not let Chico get too close. When he tried to finally open up to me and get close, I guess I got scared and went back on the attack."

"Karen, let me ask you a blunt question."


"What are your feelings for Chico?"

Karen sighed. This was the moment of truth. "Della, I think I am beginning to fall in love with Chico."

Della got up and looked down at Karen with a determined look on her face. "Well then, you need to tell him!"

"But Della...."

"No buts! You two kids are wasting so much time fighting, you cant even see the love you both have for each another."

"I can't tell him!" Karen practically shouted.

"And why not?"

"What will papa say?"

The truth was finally out. "You can't let your father's opinions dictate what you will do with the rest of your life. You say you are an independent woman, well start acting it! You can still love your father and not agree with him, you know!"

"You are right. I will tell Chico how I feel!" Karen looked determined but quickly became timid again. "Just one thing."

"Now what?" Della said in a slightly exasperated voice.

"Would you go with me. I'm afraid if I talk to Chico alone again, that we will only argue. Maybe if you are there, I can get through what I have to say to him without losing my cool."

"Well, you have a point. I guess I can go with you. But remember, YOU have to tell him how you feel this time."

Karen stood up and gave Della a big hug. "Thank you, Della. You are a true friend!"

Not long after Karen left the garage, Ed came home from his trip. He saw all the lights out except the one emanating from under Chicos door. Taking a chance that Chico was home and not occupied with a lady friend, Ed knocked on Chicos door.

"Come in," came a somber voice from within.

Ed opened the door and entered the room, finding Chico siting on his sofa. Chico looked up at Ed, wiped his eyes with his sleeve and said, "Hey, Ed, you're back early!"

Ed could see that Chico had been crying. "Yea, and I see the place is still standing. But you don't look so hot. Whats the matter?"

"Ed, what's wrong with Karen?"

Ed became alarmed. "What do you mean? Is she ok, shes not hurt or.....worse? Oh, Chico, where is she?"
Chico stood up and went over to Ed to try to calm him down. "No, shes fine. She's home, I guess. Thats not what I meant." Chico sighed and sat back down.

"You two fighting again?" said Ed in a calmer voice when he realized there was nothing wrong with his niece. He sat down next to Chico.

"Yea, well, I tried to get along with her, but...."

"Look Chico, she is a good mechanic, you have to admit that, so just let her know it once in a while and you should get along better."

"Ed, look man, you're missing the point." Chico sighed , got up from the sofa, and paced around the room. "It's gotten worse. I think Im starting to have .....er.... feelings for her."

"Feelings? What kind of feelings?" Ed started to look a little alarmed again.

"Look Ed, this isn't easy." Chico paused. "Ed, I think.... no, I know! Ed I'm in love with Karen!"

"Love? With KAREN? My NIECE, Karen? THAT Karen?"

Chico looked at the shocked look on Ed's face. "Yes, THAT Karen. Why is that so shocking?"

"Oh, nothing, except you two have been fighting with one another since she got here, that's all. When did you discover you were in love with her."

"When she went out with Mando Friday night. No it was actually after she came home...."

"She went out with Mando?!" Ed started to lose his temper. "I thought I asked you to keep an eye on her."

Chico shot back. "I did. Don't worry about Mando. Nothing happened and he won't be going out with her again. He told me that himself."

Ed calmed down a little. "Well, that's good, anyway. But this still doesn't explain your sudden turn around concerning youre feelings toward Karen."

"Well, when Mando told me after his date that she spent their whole evening asking all these questions about me, I got to thinking about her in a different way. This morning I confronted her about the date and she became all defensive as you might expect." Chico paused and sighed again. "Ed, she point blank asked me why I cared what she did, and thats when it happened."

"What happened?"

"I kissed her!"

"You what?" Ed yelled. "I think I need a drink! Why did you kiss her?"

"I guess I realized at that moment, with that question, that I cared cause I loved her."

Ed spoke in a quieter voice. "And what did she do?"

Chico smirked. "She tried to slap me!"

Ed laughed. "Well that's my Karen! What did you do?"

"I kissed her again, harder."

"Chico!" Ed shook his head. "And what did she do?"

"She ran away!"

"Now thats really my Karen! I suppose she hasn't been back. More than likely on a bus home by now."

Chico looked puzzled. "No, she came back to work about a half hour later. We put in a full days work and agreed to have dinner here and talk about what happened."


"And, we had dinner, and talked and...."

"Chico!! You didn't....."

"NO, geez Ed. We kissed, thats all. But what kisses........." Chico rolled his eyes and grinned till he remembered he was talking about Ed's niece. He hung his head when he saw Ed's disapproving face.

"So if all is so lovey dovey, where is she now and why were you sitting here by yourself crying when I came in?"

"Ed, as soon as I thought we were finally going to be friends, and maybe even more.... Bam, we were back to arguing again. Man, I can't figure her out. Thats why I asked you what is wrong with her. Like I mean, what is her problem, man. It's like she is afraid to get close or something."

"Chico, sit down and let me tell you something about Karen that I should have shared with you long before this." Chico sat beside Ed and Ed continued. "Karen's father is not all anglo. His mother is Chinese. His dad is anglo. His dad really loved his mom and wanted her to have everything.. He bought her a laundry in this neighborhood years ago. Jared, Karen's father, loved his mother and she let him run her business when she became too old. Jared, loved his mother, as I said, but hated that he was not all anglo, especially when he was teased in school. He tried to act all American. He met and married my sister and they were really happy for a long time. His parents both passed away and he took over the laundry that had been his mother's. He was happy in this neighborhood. He and my sister had Karen and then found out they could not have any more children. Karen was the apple of Jared's eye. He had wanted to have a son, but learned to accept that fact he would not have one. I think that is why he didn't object too hard when Karen showed an interest in the garage. She hung out here quite often, playing with my daughter and helping me with the cars. Then one day, when Karen was 9, there was a tragedy in the neighborhood that scared all of us, but Jared harder than most. A group of Chicano teenage boys raped and beat an anglo teenage girl after school one day. Jared got scared for his family, particularly Karen, and decided he needed to take them away from here. I tried to talk him out of it, but it was no use. Paranoia blinds you to certain truths, like, that this kind of crime happens everywhere and you can't get away from it by running away. I did keep in touch with my sister over the years. She told me that Jared had become angry and overprotective of Karen. He would not let Karen date or even be friends with guys when she got to be a teenager. He would tell her things like all Chicanos are no good and girls who go out with guys are sluts and things like that. He was verbally abusive as well, putting her down when she wanted to do things he didn't approve of. He was such a domineering man in her life, I guess she had finally had it and left to go to mechanic's school. He threatened to disown her, but when she graduated and went to work in the better garages in her own neighborhood, he softened toward her a little. Karen still lived at home and I guess the fighting started back up. She decided she had had enough one day and came to live with us. She knows about her Chinese grandmother, but never got to know her very well. I think the dragon lady crack would have set her off. Its a good thing she doesn't know about that one. She's very proud of her Chinese roots."

"Ah, mi Dios, I'm afraid she knows about that one Ed. Actually though, she laughed it off. A lot of what you have told me explains why she acts the was she does. I thought she got over her suspicions about Chicanos though. I mean, Dellas been teaching her Spanish, and Karen even told me she admires the Hispanic people. Why does she still hate me?"

"Chico, she is afraid of her father. He would disown her if he knew she was getting involved with you. He's the one you are fighting, not her."

Chico became very thoughtful. "And what about you, Ed. Would you be upset if Karen and I were to start a romantic relationship?"

"No Chico, I would give you my blessing. I know what a hard working and caring young man you are. But the problem is not with me. By the way, have you told her you love her and does she feel the same way toward you?"

"No, I never had the chance and so I really don't know how she feels either."

Ed got very thoughtful. "You should tell her."

Ed and Chico were interrupted by a knock on the door. Chico went to open it and found Della and Karen standing there. "Oh, hi Della, hello Karen, please come in."

"Hi, Chico," answered Della.

Karen just nodded to Chico and then spied her uncle sitting on Chico's sofa. "Uncle Ed, I didn't know you were home! When did you get back?"

"Only about an hour ago." Karen went over to her uncle and gave him a big hug. He continued. "Seems I just missed the big show, though."

Karen started to glare at Chico, wondering what he told her uncle about what went on when Della spoke up. "Yes, Ed. It seems like these two have a lot to tell each other, but can't seem to get past the arguing to tell each other how it really is!"

"Ed got up. "Well then, maybe they need some time alone."

"No!" said Karen and Chico in unison. They looked at each other and saw the frightened look on each others faces. Karen started to betray herself with a little smile and Chico saw this and started to grin himself. Karen tried very hard to maintain a serious face, but was losing the battle when she heard Chico start to laugh. Karen started a chuckle of her own. Della just looked at the two of them and shook her head. "Ed, I think youth is wasted on the young, what do you think?"

Ed just looked puzzled at what he was witnessing. "I thought these two weren't getting along again? I don't get it."

"Della, you and Ed stay," began Chico after his laughter subsided. "Karen and I do have to talk, but I think we may need a couple of referees. Please, have a seat." Ed and Della grabbed the kitchen chairs and Chico and Karen sat facing one another on the sofa. "Karen, Ed has just spent the last hour telling me all about you."

"Thats interesting, cause Della has been doing the same with me about you."

"I guess we just needed the help of good friends to help us get to know one another," said Chico sheepishly.

"Well.... I guess I was so scared of getting close to you that I never gave you the chance to tell me yourself." Karen hung her head.

"Well, I know I didn't give you much of a chance, either. I should have talked first and kissed later." Chico took Karen's chin gently into his large hand and slowly lifted it so she was looking directly into his eyes. "Karen Phillips, I have begun to care very much for you. I know it is not easy for you to open your heart to me because of my nationality. I know your father would not approve of me. But I need to tell you this, irregardless of what might happen. Karen Phillips, I love you."

Tears formed in the corners of Karen's already reddened eyes. She carefully removed Chicos hand from her chin and took it into her own small hand. "Chico," she began, "I have not been the easiest person to get along with, I know." Chico and Karen let a little smile escape their lips at this statement. "I know I was very afraid of what might happen if I did let myself get close to you. But I want you to know that it was not my prejudice that was keeping me back, but fear of my father's. Chico Rodriguez, I think I am in love with you too. I'm just very scared of what that love might mean. I thought if I hurt you first, it would save you from the trouble I know my father will bring to this relationship. I now know that it was not a very good solution. Love, it seems always finds a way to break through."

"See, now that wasn't so hard to do, was it," Della chimed in. "You two kids need to start listening to your hearts and not your fears. I think things will work themselves out."

Ed nodded. "Karen, you are right about your father, but he does love and care for you. He is afraid and I think if anyone will be able to settle his fears, its Chico. This boy could charm the spots off a leopard!"

Chico blushed and smiled. "Well I had a little trouble charming the scales off the dragon lady." Karen smirked at Chico. "I maybe losing my touch. You all were such a big help getting us to see reason, I think we might need your help with Karen's father as well."

"Well, my boy, you always have my support!"

"Thanks Ed."

"And mine too," added Della.

Karen got up and hugged Della. "I really appreciate all of your help, Della."

Della and Ed rose. Della went over to Ed and gave him a nudge and a wink. "Well, Ed, I guess this is one solution to the problem you told me about the other day."

Ed smiled. "Hey, you might be right, Della. I never thought of that!"

Karen and Chico looked at one another, puzzled and what Ed and Della were talking about. Chico asked, "Ok Ed, mind sharing with the rest of us. What problem?"

"Oh, nothing really. I was just wondering who I was going to give the garage to when I retire. Chico was going to get it originally, but when Karen came, I felt torn, cause, after all, she is family. Now I don't have to decide."

Still a little puzzled, Karen asked, "Why not?"

Ed grinned, "Because I think the two of you might be ready to run this place together as a family business!" The foursome laughed at Eds remark and Chico and Karen indulged themselves in a long passionate kiss. Della nudged Ed and Ed looked up and said, "Thank you, sir. Maybe now I can get a little peace around here!"