Love Under Construction – Chapter Five

PETER PULLED HIS TRUCK UP to the curb behind Charlee’s, which now had a logo for Transformations emblazoned across the back. It had been two weeks since she left Elliott Construction and she was plowing straight ahead with her plans. That was one thing he admired about Charlee. When she knew what she wanted, she didn’t let anything hold her back.

He climbed out of the truck and made his way over to where she sat in the driver’s seat, scrolling through a social media app on her cell phone. He tapped on her window, then laughed when she jerked and fumbled the phone.

She set the phone in her lap, then rolled down the window. “You tapped?”

He leaned his elbow on the door frame. “Am I interrupting something important? Someone update their latest wardrobe purchase? Or post embarrassing pictures their toddler will one day hate them for?”

“Like this one?” She grabbed her phone, refreshed the screen and pulled up a picture a mutual friend posted of her toddler. Apparently potty training was exhausting because not only was the little boy sitting on the toilet, but he was bent over, his head resting on his knees, fast asleep.

“Holy jumping jellybeans,” Peter exclaimed, taking the phone from her.

Charlee snorted, then quickly covered her mouth and nose with her hand. “I haven’t heard you say that since you and Tyler were teens.”

He cringed, both from the jellybean slip and the photo on the screen. “There should be a rule book, do’s and don’ts for mothers on social media.” He handed the phone back, shaking his head, wondering where some people put their common sense and once again thankful he avoided the entrapment of social media. With everything that kept him busy at work, he didn’t need yet another thing in his life to suck away the little precious time he had to himself. “I’m grateful social media wasn’t around when I was growing up. Can you imagine what our mothers would have posted?”

“Have you seen what they post now?” Charlee swiped at her phone again.

“Now?” His voice cracked, cut short by fear. His mother was on social media? No. Way.

Charlee held up her phone, proudly displaying proof of his mother’s misdeeds. A sepia picture complete with six-year-old chubby cheeks, a half toothless smile and an obnoxious striped shirt. The caption was even worse. My little snuggle bug. #TBT

“TBT?” he asked.

“Throwback Thursday. It’s when you share photos from your past.”

“And does my mom share TBT’s of me often?” he asked, dreading the answer.

“Oh, you’re her favorite child of all time. Snuggle bug.” Charlee snickered, her eyes sparkling with delight.

He closed his eyes and thumped his head against the truck door. How many of his friends were connected with his mother? Even worse, how many of his crew and business contacts?

Charlee nudged his arm. “It’s not all bad. You were a cute kid. I especially love the bath tub pictures.”

Mortification complete. He needed to find a geek to hack his mother’s computer and wipe her social media accounts. Quick.

“One of my favorite people to follow is Miss Marjorie. She used to live here near my Grandma.” Charlee indicated the homes that would soon turn into Indulgence Row. “Miss Marjorie cracks me up. She’s better than any local gossip column. Right now she’s on a kick about Rachel and Graydon’s engagement. She’s posting all sorts of speculation about wedding dresses that would flatter Rachel’s figure, what flowers would be right for a spring versus summer wedding and more. Just be glad you’re not on her radar.” Charlee patted his arm, then pushed it off the door frame. “Hey, Victoria and someone else just pulled up. We better get moving.”

Good, he thought, opening her truck door and holding it while she slid out. He needed a change of topic, one that put him back on safe ground. Together they met Victoria and another man on the sidewalk. Victoria greeted them, then let them take the lead on introductions.

“Mark Bannerman,” the newcomer said, going straight for Charlee.

Peter couldn’t blame him. She was the cutest one there, no offense to Victoria or anything. Not that the forty-something guy had a chance, no matter how athletically fit he was. Or at least Peter didn’t think Charlee went for older men.

“Bannerman Landscaping, right?” Charlee asked.

Mark tilted his head to the side, still grasping her hand. “That’s right. Longtime family business. How did you know?”

“A former client uses you—Mr. & Mrs. Day on the north side of Crystal Creek. I adore their rose arbor and cobblestone walking path. I’m Charlee Jackson from Transformations.”

Mark returned her smile. “I know they had some work done last fall, but I don’t remember them mentioning a company called Transformations.”

She slid a glance over toward Peter. “Well,” she started, but Peter cut in.

“She used to work for us, but she decided to follow her love of renovation and start her own company. Peter Elliott, Elliott Construction,” he said, extending his hand and breaking the drawn out handshake between Mark and Charlee.

“Awkward,” Mark commented, after a very brief handshake.

“Not at all,” Peter replied, adjusting his tool belt. “Charlee and I grew up together and we’re both looking forward to working on Indulgence Row.”

“Exactly,” Victoria said. “Let’s discuss the project, shall we?” She handed each of them packets with more details about the homes—year built, square footage, layouts, any known damage, pictures, and other basic information. Of the eight houses on the row, three of them were two stories, and one actually had a third story that was used for storage space. The other five houses were ranch styles. Some looked a bit square with a flat front façade while others had a little more charm. They all needed extensive landscape design, new sidewalks, and updated porches.

Victoria took charge and led them down the street. “A few more people have approached me about the project. A hair salon, a photography business, and an accessory shop. But today, our goal is to do a walkthrough of each home, consider retail space and look for the best possibilities for the bakery and bookstore.”

Peter flipped through his packet. “Considering the square footage the bakery needs, there are only two logical spaces for it. The ranch-style #1462 or the two-story #1465. They both have slightly wider homes, but extend further into the back yard, giving enough space for the front of the shop, as well as the kitchen in the back.”

Charlee turned to the houses he indicated and agreed. “Maybe we should start there and see where it leads.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Victoria led the group to the ranch-style home. “This house was a rental for twenty years but has been empty for the past year.” She unlocked the door and gestured them inside.

Mark stood aside and allowed Charlee to go first. Peter followed from behind, feeling like a caboose. The interior was dim, lit just by the light streaming through the windows. Still, he noticed the cobwebs and layers of dust. Here and there were trails made by little scampering feet. Mice, of course.

“You might want to get some exterminators out here to take care of the bugs and rodents,” Peter said. Victoria nodded and made notes in her leather-bound notepad.

“Mice don’t bother you, do they, Charlee?”

Peter turned at Charlee’s squeak and saw Mark with his hands on her waist.

“Sorry,” Mark was apologizing. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Peter rolled his eyes. “Charlee’s not going to run away like a little girl at the mere mention of rodents.”

Charlee turned her head toward him, her face showing surprise as she stepped back, breaking contact with Mark. “No, I’m not,” she replied, moving slightly closer to Victoria.

Peter was annoyed as the landscaper followed Charlee around, chatting with her while she inspected each room. Peter double checked some measurements, examined the flooring, and discussed possible renovation techniques with Charlee. Overall, it was a nice space and would be a good spot for a bakery.

After locking up, they crossed the street to the two-story. When they stepped into the deep entry, Charlee immediately went to the dark wood staircase set against the right wall.

“It’s not often that you find homes with stairs on the side instead of the middle.”

Victoria ran her finger along the dusty hand rail. “The wood is beautiful, but definitely needs some work.”

Peter moved to Charlee’s side to check out the staircase’s stability. The supports looked good, although the railing was a bit wobbly. “Let’s go upstairs first,” he suggested.

This time, he made sure he was between her and Mark. Charlee noticed and gave him a brief smile over her shoulder.

There were a few additional stairs that needed attention, but overall, the staircase was in good shape. Not bad for being over sixty years old with little recent maintenance.

The upstairs had four small bedrooms compared to today’s age of bigger is better. There was also a decent size bathroom in the back right corner. “If we knock out these walls, take out the carpet . . .” Peter knelt down, pulled out a carpenter knife and sliced through an edge of the carpet near the wall, then nodded. “You’ll have some gorgeous hardwood floor. It needs to be sanded and polished, but I bet the entire upper level is the same.”

“And the woodwork is beautiful up here. All the trim is the same dark hardwood,” Charlee said. “We could salvage the upper trim and use it for wall ornamentation. The bathroom is expandable too, at least to a point of having a men’s and women’s separate bathroom space.”

They continued through the upstairs, making notes about bearing walls and possibilities for layouts.

Back on the main level, they explored the typical rooms, formal dining room, living room, and a large kitchen and pantry area. With the extended space and staircase on the side, the downstairs actually had a better flow for the bakery.

“Imagine this,” Charlee said, leading the group to the front entry. “You come in the doors and right here,” she indicated a spot even with about the fourth step of the staircase. “We could put in a separation wall. Something solid on the bottom and with lots of glass, possibly stained, on the top to make it roomy. It would create separation from the two businesses with a set of doors here to lead into the bakery or the stairs leading to a top floor business.”

“I like it,” Victoria said, frantically scribbling down notes.

Peter joined in, motioning to show the renovations he envisioned. “On the bakery side, we can pull out these other walls here and here to open up the front space for display cases and tables for the customers. Then we can keep the natural wall here, but widen the doorway for double swinging doors to lead into the kitchen.”

“We would need to upgrade the gas, electricity and water throughout the house, but especially back here,” Charlee said, motioning towards the kitchen area. “The professional ovens, refrigerator cases, freezers, and appliances will need extra support both utility and flooring-wise. The bonus is how the addition of the servants’ space and butler’s pantry gives extra room to make the kitchen not just functional, but roomy, too. I can see it though.”

Charlee turned to face him. Her face glowed, excitement shining from her eyes. He always knew he hit the jackpot when Charlee looked like that. “This is definitely the spot for the bakery,” he told Victoria.

“What would you think about doing the bookstore upstairs?” Charlee asked him.

“Put both the two businesses that are ready to invest in the same location—definitely. Give the other businesses a chance to see how they can work with each other and keep construction mess at a minimum while you’re showing the other houses,” Peter replied.

“And there’s nothing better than cookies and books!” Victoria scribbled more notes before she looked back up at them. “I’ll make an appointment with Rachel, Kristen and Eden. I’ll want you both here when they do the walk through, help them see what you envision and let them share their dream with you, too.”

“Of course,” Charlee said. “But—” her brow wrinkled. “Who is doing the project?” She glanced up at Peter, worry in her large light brown eyes.

“Why, both of you,” Victoria said, still scribbling away. “Peter will take the bakery and you can handle the bookstore, the stair case and entry way.”

Peter held his breath. How would Charlee feel not getting the bakery? Or splitting the house with him? But instead of looking upset, her shoulders relaxed and she nodded, then changed the subject to the front porch renovations and landscaping. Mark joined the conversation and the group moved outside. Peter scowled when Mark put his hand on Charlee’s back as they descended the steps. It might seem like a nice thing for a guy to do. Gentlemanly or some other mumbo jumbo girls like, but if he didn’t stop the touchy-touchy thing, he might just have to break the guy’s hand.

And that made him smile.


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