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Authors: Claire Thompson

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Handyman

BOOK: Handyman
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This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.

Samhain Publishing, Ltd.

577 Mulberry Street, Suite 1520

Macon GA 31201

Handyman

Copyright © 2008 by Claire Thompson

ISBN: 1-60504-180-7

Edited by Sasha Knight

Cover by Angela Waters

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

First Samhain Publishing, Ltd. electronic publication: August 2008

www.samhainpublishing.com

Handyman

Claire Thompson

Dedication

For Tracey and Jean, with endless thanks for their support, wisdom and humor.

Chapter One

Straight
.

The word popped into Will’s head. Whether or not he was actively thinking about it, he couldn’t help but scope out any guy, no matter how old or unattractive.

The man standing on his front porch appeared to be in his mid-forties. He had dark brown hair threaded with gray and deep-set gray-blue eyes above a prominent nose. The words
Affordable Improvements
were stitched in small red letters on his pale blue denim work shirt. He wore dark blue jeans over scuffed brown work boots. His hands were large, the fingers thick and blunt. They looked like the hands of someone who made his living with them.

“Hi. I’m Jack Crawford. You called about doing some renovations to your kitchen?”

“I did. Come in.” They shook hands, Jack’s grip firm and friendly. For some odd reason Will didn’t want to let go. He found himself wondering for a split second if maybe he’d been wrong. Maybe the guy was gay? His cock twitched at the thought. He looked up into the man’s face, but saw nothing there but an innocuous, polite smile. Feeling a little foolish, he dropped Jack’s hand and gestured for him to follow.

Until three months ago, Will had lived in the city, working as a trader for a prestigious investment bank by day and living it up in the Manhattan club scene by night. Sleep, he used to laughingly tell his friends and lovers, was overrated.

After running all day on too much coffee and the adrenaline rush of playing with big money on Wall Street, Will had increasingly found the need for sleeping pills and booze to unwind. His doctor had warned him if he didn’t slow down from his fast-paced, hectic lifestyle, he was going to burn out before thirty-five.

When his boss, barely fifty-five, dropped dead in front of him of a massive heart attack, Will, deeply shaken, had finally stepped back to assess his life. He took a leave of absence from the firm, determined to take stock of his life and figure out what the hell he was doing. He decided to buy a house in the suburbs, settling on an old Tudor he’d snagged for a song.

The quiet, tree-lined Scarsdale neighborhood was quite a change from the frenetic, pressured pace of the city. He missed the clubs and the vibrancy of city nightlife but was determined to give this new life a try, at least for the six-month leave he’d negotiated with his company.

He hadn’t counted on the cost and work involved in renovating a hundred-year-old home, the last updates apparently done in the sixties, when avocado green and vomit orange were the preferred color scheme.

He had already had a bad experience with an electrician he’d hired, who had started out gung ho but then faded away, leaving wires dangling and work incomplete until Will had been forced, in absentia, to fire him.

Jack, at least, had been referred by a friend who said he did good, reliable work at a reasonable price and, most importantly, showed up to finish what he started.

“What were you thinking of having done?” Jack looked around the long, narrow kitchen with its peeling linoleum floor, green cabinets and orange countertops.

“What am I not thinking of having done is more the question,” Will quipped. “The woman who lived here bought the place with her husband sixty years ago. She told me her kids had been trying to get her to move for the past thirty years since he died.”

“Why do you think she finally moved?” Jack seemed genuinely curious, which surprised Will. Usually these workmen types just wanted to get down to business and were happiest when left alone.

“Her bones, she said. Just couldn’t handle the cold anymore. She said from November to April she just ached with it. Her daughters finally convinced her to move down south with them. Lucky for me, I guess. It’s very hard to find anything even remotely affordable in Westchester County anymore. This place is pretty rundown—I didn’t realize quite how much. The basement is a disaster of crumbling concrete and mold. The upstairs bathroom has what must be the original old porcelain tub, complete with rust stains. I had a shower added the first week I was here—I couldn’t imagine bathing in that tub.

“The attic is filled with stuff she forgot or didn’t feel like taking—things like cracked old rolls of linoleum, stacks of old window frames, mounds of ancient newspapers and magazines and various boxes that probably haven’t been opened since World War II.

“I’ve been here a month and I’ve barely scratched the surface. I tore down the hideous flocked wallpaper in the front hall and powder room, and I pulled up the ancient carpets, but now the hardwood floors need refinishing and I haven’t decided what I want to do with the walls.”

As they stood looking at the dismal room, Will said, “She told me she’d recently had the kitchen remodeled, and wasn’t it lovely. Apparently, by ‘recently’ she meant forty years ago.” He laughed and Jack smiled in return.

“I figured we could start in here. Get a stove that actually works and cabinets any color but that hideous green. I was thinking stone tile for the floors, but maybe hardwood would be better. What do you think?”

They discussed countertops, cabinets, flooring, light fixtures, colors and possibly breaking down a wall to open the space into the dining room. Jack had pulled a small notebook from his hip pocket, into which he was busily scribbling notes with a small pencil. A swatch of thick hair fell over his forehead, brushing into his eyes as he wrote. He looked like he needed a haircut. Will glanced at his ring finger and saw no telltale golden band. Not that that meant anything—he knew lots of married guys who didn’t wear wedding rings.

“I’ll work something up for you,” Jack said at last, tucking the small notebook into his back pocket. “Gather some prices and bring you some samples. I’ll bring a couple of catalogues from the home-improvement warehouses so we can get a feel for what you’re looking for.

“I’ve got a job I need to finish but I should be able to wrap it up by tomorrow. How about I come back day after tomorrow? I’ll have a better handle on costs then.”

“Sounds like a plan. See you then.”

***

Jack stroked the curve of wood with his fingers, closing his eyes to enjoy the sensual feel of the smooth grain. Emma used to laugh at him when she’d catch him in his workroom, “making love” to the furniture he built. He had to admit, it was a labor of love. He didn’t produce much—the occasional chair or table for their home, nothing for actual sale—but each piece somehow became a part of him by the time he was done with it.

His real work, the one-man renovation company he’d started twenty years before, had provided a decent income for his family. They’d bought a three-bedroom house in the north end of New Rochelle before prices went through the roof. The mortgage was paid off. The boys had grown up and moved out. And Emma was dead.

He leaned his cheek against the wood, the word echoing in his mind.
Dead
. She woke up one morning with a terrible headache and said she felt sick to her stomach. He’d brought her tea, assuming she was getting the flu. She drank a few sips, set it down and turned very pale.

“Jack,” she said, her voice urgent. And then…she was gone. The autopsy revealed a ruptured brain aneurysm. At the age of forty-two his wife of twenty-four years was gone. Just like that.

Though two years had passed, he still sometimes woke up in the middle of the night, reaching for her. Recently a few friends had begun rumblings about trying to fix him up with someone new. Though he knew they meant well, he wasn’t interested.

He’d grown up with Emma. They knew each other so well he sometimes felt as if she were more of a sister than a lover and wife. They were best friends, no question of that. But now that he’d had time to mourn her loss, he knew theirs had not been a passionate union.

Not for the first time he wondered if they would have married at all if she hadn’t gotten pregnant. He’d had plans back then to go to college in the city with his best buddy, Luke, while she was planning to attend a local nursing school. Odds are they would have drifted apart, met new people, gone their separate ways.

How different his life might have been, without the challenge of an instant family at such a young age. He would have gone to college, maybe travelled the world. He might have become a teacher or an engineer.
He
might have been the one hiring a handyman to come into his fancy Scarsdale home.

Jack shook his head as if to clear it. These kinds of thoughts were never fruitful. What was the point of wondering at what might have been? He’d done the right thing by Emma and they had two wonderful sons and a good life.

You play the hand you’re dealt
, he said firmly to himself.

***

Two days later found Jack on Will’s doorstep, catalogues and a toolbox in his hand. He’d called the evening before, pleased when Will suggested he come by early. Glancing at his watch, he hoped it wasn’t
too
early.

As he waited for Will to answer the door he looked around the front yard. It was a small yard by neighborhood standards, but already daffodils and tulips were popping up in brilliant yellows, reds and purples in the flowerbeds in front of the house and along the old stone walkway leading to the door. The beds needed weeding and the lawn needed mowing. He made a mental note to recommend a gardener for the rich city boy.

It being a Wednesday, Jack wondered what Will did that allowed him to be home during the week. Not that he’d ask. Jack knew better than to pry into the lives of the people he did work for. He’d learned as friendly as they might seem, they were generally just being polite. He was polite back, but that was as far as it went.

Though it was only eight o’clock, Jack had been up for hours. Since Emma had died he could never sleep much past the sun’s rising, though that didn’t stop him from lying awake long into the night, his mind refusing to shut off even though he didn’t have a whole hell of a lot to think about.

For the first few months after she’d died, he started to use alcohol as a way to calm himself down enough for sleep. It began innocently enough, he supposed—with a shot or two of bourbon to unwind while he read or watched TV. After a while he was drinking more than a shot or two—sometimes drinking half a bottle before he’d drugged himself enough to pass out.

Each day he’d take mental stock—did he have enough liquor to get through the night? He would wake up, the bottle beckoning beside the bed like an old friend. Why not take a sip or two to start the day? To get him through?

One morning after an especially horrific nightmare in which he watched Emma and the boys plummet to their deaths while he stood helplessly by, he bypassed the tiny shot glass, instead grabbing the glass he normally used for water. With shaking hands he poured several ounces and drank them in a gulp. Closing his eyes, he sighed with relief as the burn in his gut shifted to a welcome heaviness in his head, blotting out the bloody, broken images from his dreams.

He lay back on the bed and passed into a woozy doze. When he came awake with a start several hours later, his first glance was again toward the bottle. Only opened the night before, it lay empty on its side.

Deeply shaken, he called his baby sister, Anna, who lived twenty miles away and was a stay-at-home mother.

“Anna. I need help. I’m becoming a drunk.”

While he was waiting for her to arrive he cleared out his liquor cabinet, opening and pouring out the contents of each bottle into the kitchen sink.

Anna arrived armed with coffee and donuts. Though she was a full ten years younger than he, he’d always felt closest to her of his three sisters.

They spent the morning at his kitchen table, a fine old piece he’d built himself from a huge slab of oak someone had been looking to get rid of when they were finishing out their basement.

She calmed his fears about becoming an alcoholic, as she herself was a recovering one. “You realized you were drinking too much and so you did what?”

“I called you.”

“That’s not all you did. You got rid of your stash. You recognized drinking half a bottle of whiskey at seven a.m. wasn’t a wise thing to do. I don’t mean to minimize the experience, but I don’t think labeling yourself a drunk is terribly useful right now. If you were an alcoholic, trust me, it would take you way more than one drink in the morning to admit you had a problem, much less do anything about it.”

Anna convinced him to see a therapist, just for a while, to work through some of his feelings of loss and move on with his life. He’d gone, mainly to please her, but it hadn’t really helped all that much.

Time—that great healer—had done the most, along with getting himself back to work and keeping busy. He still missed Emma, but not with the sudden, shocking wrench of pain he experienced during those first few months when he’d realize anew he would never see her again.

The front door opened. Will was dressed in blue jeans, his white shirt unbuttoned over a smooth, tan chest. He was drying his hair with a towel, his face ruddy from a recent shower.

“Hey, sorry. I didn’t hear the bell at first. Please come in. I overslept.”

The scent of shampoo and soap assailed Jack as he brushed by Will to head toward the kitchen. Will followed. “Want some coffee? I just put some on. I haven’t had breakfast yet. Would you like something? I have some croissants coming out of the oven in a minute.”

Jack started to refuse out of habit, but the coffee smelled wonderful and the small cup he’d had two hours before was but a distant memory. “Coffee would be fine, if it’s not too much trouble.”

BOOK: Handyman
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