Love Under Construction – Chapter Two

PETER SLAMMED HIS TRUCK DOOR closed, then stalked up the dimly lit driveway leading to his parent’s house. He heard about what happened with Charlee through the gossip mill that runs rampant at the construction sites. Even though the construction workers loved to blow up stories, generally the foundation of it was solid. After all, the majority of them were men, not women twisting words around in their retellings.

Men just weren’t that creative.

He entered the kitchen where his parents were finishing dinner. “What the hell did you do?” Peter asked, looking directly at his father.

“Now that’s no way to greet your mother,” George replied, taking a bite of German chocolate cake.

Peter pulled off his baseball cap and ran his hand over his smooshed light brown hair before bending down to give his mother a kiss on the cheek. “Sorry, Mom.”

She patted his face, then held out her hand.

Peter sighed, pulled out his wallet and handed her a one dollar bill. Dang it all. Ever since his mother started that stupid swear jar, his wallet had been getting lighter and her first jar had been joined by an entire jar collection. The only satisfaction he got was knowing that while he put in dollar bills, his dad was putting in fives.

Once the money was in her hand, Betty stood and smoothed out her sweater. The faded bluish-gray color matched her eyes, which Peter had been lucky enough to inherit. “I’ll just put this in the swear jar.” She paused, her pointer finger swinging back and forth between the two of them. “I’ll be listening.”

“Betty—” George started, but his wife cut him off by taking his partially eaten dessert away.

“You need to talk to your son,” she said, then sashayed away to the other side of the room. As always, his mother was the ruler of the roost.

Peter dropped into a wooden kitchen chair. “What happened with Charlee?”

“Nothing that you should be this riled up about,” his father replied, folding his arms.

“Darn it, Dad,” he said quietly, in case his mother decided darn counted as a swear word. “Everyone is saying she quit. Caleb was at the office today and said you were yelling and she walked out on you.”

George knotted his cloth napkin in his hand, then pushed it aside with a sigh. “Well, that’s true,” he admitted.

Peter slumped back into the chair while his father relayed the events from the afternoon.

“Why didn’t you let her take the lead instead of making it such a big deal?” Peter asked, frustrated with his father’s stubborn insistence that he be the one to do all the big stuff. All he really wanted to do was get out to a site and get his hands on the wood, nails, and enjoy the echoes of building. He hated the office paperwork side of the business.

“Because it’s not a job for her.”

Peter sighed. This again. “You need to come into the 21st century and realize women have just as much talent in the construction industry as men. Charlee has more vision, more motivation than half the men on your crews who just want to get the work done and cash their paycheck.”

His father leaned forward. “Not at my company. It’s not right. If she wants to play with tools, she should go get her teaching degree and teach shop.”

Peter clenched his fists. “Like Kimber?”

“Don’t bring your sister into this.” Red splotches spread across his dad’s face.

“Because it’s okay for her to be an art teacher, but not to follow her dream to be an architect? She could have been a great asset to Elliott Construction, but you just can’t push aside your stupid feelings about what kind of jobs females should and shouldn’t have. Charlee is one of our best employees and she’s going to become our competition instead.”

His father sputtered and his mother appeared at his side, calm as could be with a cup of coffee which she slid in front of George.

“I’m sure your father can fix it, dear,” she said, always trying to smooth things over between father and son.

“I’m not so sure this time,” Peter replied. He said goodnight to his parents, then left, knowing where his next stop needed to be.

 

*****

 

PETER KNOCKED ON THE DARK hardwood door to Charlee’s townhouse. He hoped she was home, but more than that, in a state of mind to be willing to compromise. He looked at the deep scars that marred the old door. Their friendship was kind of like it, old but solid, despite the interesting challenges they’d each dealt with. He practically grew up at her house, being best buddies with her brother, Tyler. Of course, back then, Charlee and her sister, Julie, were just little girls in the background, but a friendship forged between them when she started working at Elliott Construction. He smiled, remembering the summer after he graduated from high school and started working full-time at Elliott Construction. His father lost a poker bet with her dad and had to let Charlee intern with them for the summer. Her spunky determination to show his father what was what and never backing down from their differing point of views made the summer bearable as all his other friends took off on trips and prepped for college.

The door swung open, bringing Peter’s focus back to the purpose of his visit. Whatever smile had been on Charlee’s face disappeared into a scowl.

“You’re not here to try to change my mind, are you? Because you won’t.” She let the door swing open, a casual invitation to enter.

“Come on, Charlee. You know how Dad is.” He followed her into the kitchen, where hot pizza sat on the counter. His stomach grumbled, a reminder that he’d skipped dinner to talk with his dad.

Charlee nodded to the food. “Help yourself.” She opened the refrigerator door, then handed him a cold bottle of cream soda. They both sat at bar stools, grabbed the paper plates that came with the pizza delivery, and chewed in silence for a few minutes.

Peter looked around her apartment and realized Charlee lived more like a bachelor than she did an average woman. Her apartment was sparse—a couch, an entertainment center and average size TV. No dining room table, just some bar stools around the counter, and family photos on the walls. Her latest restoration project was in the center of it all. The one thing that truly said Charlee lived there.

“What’s up with the cabinet?” He figured neutral ground was a good starting point.

“Don’t you know the difference between a cabinet and a hutch?” She smirked and wiped away a smear of red sauce at the corner of her mouth.

He shrugged. “I guess not.”

“I picked it up at a yard sale for $20.”

“Seriously? How did you get such a good deal?”

She shrugged. “The owner was deaf. I used my rusty high school sign language skills to talk with him. He was happy to not have to use his son as an interpreter and gave me a good deal. Of course, it didn’t hurt that it was his mother-in-law’s and he just wanted it gone.”

Peter laughed. “I’ve heard in-laws can have that effect. What have you done with it? The cabinet looks pretty great.”

“It wasn’t as beat up as other projects, just a lot of scratches, dents and a few deep gouges. Nothing some good wood polish couldn’t fix.”

“Where’s this one going?” Peter knew Charlee searched yard sales for items to be fixed up and donated to a variety of charities. He sometimes wondered how much of her paycheck went to helping others.

“There’s a family at the women’s shelter who’s ready to move out and set up their own home. The shelter has donors for the basics, but this was an item on the mom’s furniture wish list.”

“You’re pretty amazing. You know that, right?” Peter didn’t understand how his father couldn’t see this side of her.

She just shrugged and slid a second slice of pizza out of the box. Hoping that her hunger was staved off, which might mean a better, more open mood, he jumped into his campaign. “Listen, I know Dad can be a pain in the ass, but I talked with him tonight. You can take the project lead. He just wants me to be involved.”

“To hold my hand,” she said. “No thanks. I don’t need a babysitter.”

He shook his head. “It’ll be more like a partnership. He just wants us to work together.” That much was true anyway. “We can’t afford to lose you, Charlee.”

She swallowed her bite and looked down at the remaining pizza in her hand. “Because I’m the best renovator you have on staff.”

“You are,” he agreed. When she looked up at him, her eyes just about slayed him. He knew, before she even opened her mouth. She’d already made her decision and there was no way he could convince her otherwise.

“I am the best, but the boss doesn’t consider it enough to let me progress, to be a leader in the company. He likes my work, but there’s no way in heck he’s going to let a mere girl lead his men.”

Peter softly swore under his breath. He paused, searching her face. “What are you going to do instead?”

“I’m going to do what I dreamed about—open my own renovation business and focus on restoring and rehabbing older homes.”

Peter nodded. He knew she had been happy enough with Elliott Construction, but new and commercial construction weren’t what filled her soul. Every time the company picked up a renovation job, Charlee glowed. And honestly, the only reason those jobs were even contracted was because Peter convinced his father they needed to keep her happy enough to stay. Renovations were her pride and joy, but blast it all, he wanted to yell and fight for her to reconsider.

Instead, he nodded and asked for more details. Her eyes shone with excitement as she talked about possible business names, logos she’d messed around with for the last few years, and her excitement about getting in on the Indulgence Row project.

“I have enough saved to buy some equipment, but not for the heavy stuff. I need to look into a bank loan for starting costs to pay my first crew, but I’m hoping by the end of the Indulgence Row project, I’ll have the starter loan paid off.”

He felt like a bobble head, nodding away as she chattered. Her hands flying this way and that, just like they always did when she was excited about something. He grabbed one hand, bringing it to a stop, then folded it between both of his. “You’re going to be awesome, Charlee Jackson.”

Her eyes got suspiciously shiny before she blinked to clear them. “I haven’t told my family yet. That will be interesting.”

He reluctantly released her warm hand. “Oh, they’ll be excited. Your dad will ask about all the financials and Tyler will want to know where your office is going to be so he can make sure it’s in a low crime area of town.”

Her laugh filled the room. “You’re probably right. I already have an idea of where I’d like the office to be located, but—” she said before he could ask. “I’m not sharing until I get the okay.”

“Fair enough. Well, I better head home.” Peter slid off the stool and straightened. Charlee walked him to the door. Just before he opened it, he turned to face her. The smile on her face was infectious.

“Thanks for coming over, Peter. Be happy for me, okay?”

He nodded, then she leaned up on her tip toes and gave him a quick hug, her usual goodbye to friends. Peter left the building, shoved his hands in his pockets and walked the four blocks from Charlee’s building to his own townhouse. The cold winter wind threatened to blow the ball cap off his head, but he shoved it down more securely. He hoped the walk would clear his head, help him find some good in the situation. Instead he unlocked his front door still in a funk.

He was greeted with his golden retriever’s happy barks. He knelt to give Petunia a good rub down. Charlee had given the dog to him as a puppy as a birthday prank and had even prenamed her. Their friends thought it was a great joke. He could have changed the dog’s name when he took her to be registered but had kept it instead. The smile on Charlee’s face each time she saw Petunia was worth all the harassment he fielded from Tyler, Noah, and Cameron.

“Come on, girl,” Peter said, pulling open the sliding doors leading to the small back yard. It wasn’t much, but it was fenced in and big enough to throw a ball so Petunia could exercise on late nights like tonight. He was lucky to find this place on the outskirts of town before everything turned from pseudo city to open family homes with big yards. Plus, it was close to a great walking trail and dog park, too.

Petunia bounded across the yard, happy to be free from the house. He wondered if that was how Charlee felt—happy to be free to do what she wanted.

Everything was changing and Peter certainly didn’t like it.

 

Want more? Read Chapter 3.