Saturday, March 28, 2020

Chapter 19- Smooth Charlie


(As always if you are new to the book here are links to the earlier chapters, Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3 Chapter 4Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9 and Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13, Chapter 14, Chapter 15, Chapter 16, Chapter 17, and Chapter 18 ).

“Julie, I have that architect on the phone again.” came the voice on the speaker phone.

“How many times is this guy going to call? Go ahead and put him through.” She took a deep breath and then smiled and tried to sound polite. “Hi James, you call to tell me you finally agreed that the design you submitted will collapse the very first time there is 2 inches of snow.”

“Very funny. I actually called to warn you.”

“Warn me?”

“The guy whose cabin we have been working on is on his way over.”

“On his way over?”

“I told him, what you told me, that we would need to add that support in the front room and he said he wanted to talk to you. I told him we could call you but when he saw how close your office was he decided to head over there. My guess is he will be there any,” a beep took out his last word indicating another call, it was the front desk.

“Thanks for the warning,” Julie said before switching to the other call, “Send him up.”

“Oh, I guess you’re expecting him. He’s on his way.”

A few moments later and a man was standing in her doorway. As far as attractiveness goes this man was found lacking. What he lacked was a warning that should have followed him, warning all females that they were about to discover that Brad Pitt didn’t look as good as they thought. No this man had it all, 6’ 2”, dark, thick, wavy hair, a gruff shadow that was no beard, but well past 5 o’ clock, and a build that a Greek God would have been jealous of. Was he perfect? Of course not. Julie knew that perfection did not exist and this man was no exception, for a quick glance revealed a rather odd looking mole on his forehead.

“Hello Sir. Can I help you?” Julie said as she stood.

The stranger waved his hand near his face, catching in mid air the mole as it flew away from his now perfect face. “Julie? Um… I’m Charles Straton. You are working on my cabin.”

“Yes, I am familiar with the project.”

“Um… I ..ah.. Wanted to talk to you about it.”

“Yes, go ahead.”

“I guess I didn’t expect you to be, well I expected something else.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well first of all, your names on the plans are J. Smith P.E. and well…”

“I see, you didn’t know I was a woman.”

“Yes, but that's not the biggest thing. You’re supposed to have glasses and a pocket protector, maybe slightly overweight.”

“Am I,” Julie responded. “So, now that you see me as my true self, do you still want to talk or do you need me to go put on a pocket protector before we begin?”

“I guess we can talk but I am finding it much harder to say what I had planned.”

“Why is that?” Julie was loving this. She loved being a woman in a man's field especially when she was able to catch them in their surprise.

“I guess it is just that I planned to have it out a bit with you and I think it would have been easier if you were, well, how I envisioned you, and not as you are. It’s hard to have it out with an attractive woman.”

Blushing a bit she responded, “You will find me very capable of holding my own. Let me have it.”

“Well, you asked for it, here I go. That support you want right in my main room is uglier than the person I pictured you to be.”

“If that was your prepared speech, you might want to spend more time at the drafting board.”

“Forget the speech, what about the support. You are an engineer, figure out how to hold up my house with just the main beam, can’t you just make it bigger or something.”

“Yes, it would need to be about twice as deep...and steel. Which may take away from your mountain rustic look.”

“Well then, we need to come up with something else. I don’t want a support in the main room.”

“I thought of several other options but your architect wasn’t interested.”

“I’m all ears.”

“If we moved this wall in,” she said, pulling out a set of plans, “you could expand the other portion of the room. It would open up the kitchen and give you just as much space overall. I think it would also improve your view out the main window, but I haven’t been up there to check.”

“We can change that. It’s about an hour away, let’s go.”

“Now?”

“Sure. I don’t want my engineer making decisions about what my view will be if she doesn’t even know what the views are,” Charles said.

“I do like to see the proposed sites but you’d be amazed how often it’s not in the budget.”

“It’s my project and it’s in my budget.”

“Well, okay. I think I can shuffle a few things. Let’s go.”

And before she knew it she was sitting next to Charles on her way to Mt. Charleston. Julie had never been one for fancy cars, she liked practical vehicles but she had to admit there was something to the way one felt sitting shotgun in Charles’s Porsche 911.

“So how does a gorgeous girl like you end up signing their name with the letters PE after it?”

“I was good at math and engineering, just made sense.”

“I noticed a ring, what does your husband do? Is he a nurse or a school teacher?” Yes, much of what Charles said was borderline sexist, or maybe way across the border, but something about how he said it didn’t really bother her. She had always been opposed to people getting away with things just because of their looks, but...he looked so good.

“No, turns out my husband is a marriage counselor.”

“Wow. That has to be the worst.”

“Why?”

“Is he always analyzing everything you do? Or does he ever ask you how you feel?”

This question actually stung Julie more than she expected. She knew what he meant, after all, if he did always ask her how she felt it would be really annoying. But the truth was, while she didn’t doubt that he from time to time did ask his clients how they felt, he had never, ever asked her how she felt. And despite liking Byron a lot, she had never really expressed that to him. The question reminded her that, in part, it was because he had never asked. She did not want to look like an unstable individual but as the thoughts ran through her head she was literally holding back her emotions as she said, “No, he doesn’t.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to insult your husband or bring up anything I shouldn’t.”

“No, it’s fine. I guess, like all relationships, mine and my husbands, is complicated.”

“Well I know you can handle complicated, at least I hope you can, because I want the most beautiful cabin in Mt. Charleston, no matter how complicated the design has to be.”

This was a perfect chance to get back onto work and they continued discussing the cabin until they pulled up onto a vacant lot that sat on top of a beautiful vista in Mt. Charleston. After months of only seeing buildings, dirt and a few cactus plants the view Julie now got to enjoy was amazing. The temperature was a perfect chilly 65 degrees, much nicer than the 97 degrees they had left down in the valley. Pines reached up to a clear blue sky in every direction, except for a small clearing of meadow with wild grass and wildflowers that sat directly in front of the patch that had been cleared for the cabin. Across the small valley carved by the small stream that ran through the canyon was a jagged snow capped peak. “I do not get up here nearly enough.” whispered Julie to herself as she took a deep breath of cold air.

“Me neither.” Clearly Charles had heard her. “But you are going to solve that by getting my cabin back on track. So, let’s figure out if you can get me the best view possible and avoid any pillars in my living space. They pulled out the plans and began to place rocks and branches how the cabin was to be laid out.

“See if we turn this wall slightly and bring it in about three feet, we can move this wall out a little, giving you a larger dining space, and you will be perfectly aligned to see a bighorn sheep crest over that mountain just as the sun sets behind the peak in the evening.”

“You have me convinced, let’s do it,” Charles said.

“I thought it might work out for the best.” Said Julie as she rubbed her arms. She was not prepared for the cooler weather.

“Here I have a jacket in the car.” Charles said as he opened his car and pulled out a leather jacket. He dropped the much too large jacket over Julie's shoulders.

“Well now that we have the issue solved. Maybe we better get heading back.” Julie said.

“Seems like a waste to get all the way up here and only spend our time talking about work. Shouldn’t we enjoy ourselves for a minute. Here pull up a chair in my living room and enjoy the view.” Charles said, as he grabbed two stumps that were left behind from some of the trees that had been cleared for the cabin lot. He turned them over in the area where the living room would be and gestured to Julie to sit down.

“I guess I can stay for a few minutes.”

“Plus I want to see if that Big Horn sheep is going to crest over the peak at sunset like you claim,” Charles added.

“Sunset won’t be for a few hours.”

“You saying this view you're trying to convince me is so great, isn’t worth a few hours?”

“I can stay for a little while, not much more.”

“Okay, I’ll take it. So, how long have you been married to Mr. complicated.”

“Why are we talking about my marriage?” Julie asked.

“Need to talk about something while we wait for that goat to show up.”

“It’s a sheep, and why don’t you tell me about you? You married, any kids?”

“It’s complicated.”

“That’s cheating, you can’t avoid the issue by using my excuse.”

“Well, if you want to know. No kids and I am currently in the market as it were,” Charles said.

“Oh yes the wonderful market. How is it?”

“Much like Netflix, millions of options and none that seem worthwhile. You are lucky to be married.”

“I guess, in some ways.”

“No really, do you know how hard it is to find a decent member of the opposite sex. One who has a stable life, hasn’t been married three times before or isn’t some kind of basket case?” Charles' passion on the subject was clear. “Not only that, I am constantly being set up only to find out on the back end that the person makes Medusa seem sane.”

“I completely understand,” Julie could sympathize with all sincerity.

“You probably don’t even remember what it was like.”

“I have only been married for 3 years, and before my marriage I felt exactly like you did.”

“So, how did you find Mr. right? I suppose you didn’t meet him at his work.”

“You are right there. But if I had that would have been quite a story.” She stopped there and Charles looked down as if to say, go on. She took a deep breath and said, “Um… we met through an ad in the paper.”

“An ad in the paper?” Charles questioned.

“I don’t know why I told you that. It’s weird and the whole situation is weird. I think we better talk about something else.”

“You cannot leave the story like that, you have to tell me now. Come on, what is said on the mountain stays on the mountain.”

“Oh fine, but you don’t tell anyone. I can’t even believe I am telling you. But the quick version is that my husband is a marriage counselor who needed a wife for credibility, so he put an ad in the paper and I responded and we got married.”

“What? That’s a joke right?” He said as he looked over at Julie. “Oh, you’re serious. Wow. I, guess… you were right, that is complicated. You just replied to that ad? Wasn’t that kind of scary.”

“Yes, I wasn’t at a very good spot at that time, and like you said, it’s hard to find anyone worthwhile out there, so I replied. Luckily, Byron was a sensible man.”

“I have to agree with that. Also very practical. Need wife, get wife.”

“Don’t make fun of him. He is a good guy.”

“That’s quite the, ‘how you met’ story. So, has it worked out?”

Julie wanted to say, “Yes. Byron’s great, it’s worked out fine.” But she couldn’t. The thought of her, what she now coined, ‘loveless marriage’ with its never ending two week dates and lack of any physical affection had been on her mind. She longed for something more and as much as she wanted to say it had worked out, all she could do was with a small tear say, “sometimes I am not so sure I made the right choice.”

Charles, unlike Byron, knew exactly when the scene called for physical affection. He reached a long, muscular arm around Julie as she leaned into his chest. She could hardly believe it. She was a married woman, with a client on a construction site cuddling. It was so wrong, but it felt so good. She sat in his warm arms and chest for a moment, but then she thought of Byron. Not only was she married, she was married to a good and decent man. He may not be affectionate but he still always treated her with kindness and respect and at least enjoyed dating her. No, as good as this felt it had to stop, “Charles, I really need to go.” She said as she stood up.

“Oh, okay. I guess that poor sheep will have to do his mountain cresting act without an audience. Shall we?” He walked towards the car and opened the passenger door.

Charles quickly moved back to lighter topics of sports and weather on the way home. He was, as ever, a fun conversationalist and any awkwardness from the evening soon left. Julie enjoyed the conversation until they came near to the office. “It’s getting late, I’d be happy to get you some dinner.”

“No, I better go home.”

“Well, if you change your mind, or just need to talk here’s my number.” He said as he walked her to her car.

“Thanks Charles, but I really need to go home.”

“Okay, but don’t hesitate to call. I mean it.” He said as he walked back to his car with a smile.

She tried to take deep breaths as she saw him drive away. She sat paralyzed behind the steering wheel. Confusion filled her mind. On one hand, Byron was a good man. She kept repeating that. She enjoyed his company, and he seemed to enjoy hers. And they had committed to each other even if it was weird, it was a commitment. On the other hand, she so wanted to feel loved, to hold someone, to be held, the way she felt tonight in Charles's arms. The numbers, his phone number was staring back at her. If she would dial, in a few minutes a gorgeous man in a Porsche would come back into view and she could once again be in his arms. She knew she shouldn’t but she didn’t want to lose the option either.

‘He is a client, so I better save his number,’ she rationalized as she put his contact information into his phone. Once in the phone she again resumed the staring contest but now with the phone and it’s newly held contact information. “Dad” came across the screen as a phone call came in.

“Hey Dad,” Julie said, answering the phone.

“Hey Juju bug, how are you?”

“Just leaving work. What’s up?”

“Well, it turns out your mother and I are going to be back in Vegas in two weeks and we wondered if we could stay with you and Byron.”

“Oh, sure. That shouldn’t be an issue.”

“Is Byron going to be in town?”

“Sure, I think so. I can check when I see him but I assume he will be.”

“You two, doing good?”

“Yeah, we're doing fine.”

“Would you say things have been getting better?” Julie was beginning to wonder what was going on. Her mom had always been very interested in her relationship with Byron but her Dad rarely showed interest.

“I guess so, but I never thought they were bad. Did Byron tell you they were, when you too talked?”

“Oh no, he just mentioned to me you two were dating more and it’s always amazing how much dating helps.”

“What do you mean Dad?”

“Oh, nothing. Byron and I mentioned dating and I told him how I always made sure to take your Mom on a date a couple times a month and it made a big difference in our relationship.”

“A couple times a month? So like, every other week?”

“Yes, that is what your Mom and I do, or did, we probably aren't as good about it as we used to be.”

Suddenly it was all becoming very clear to Julie. It wasn’t because Byron wanted to see her at all. “Dad, did you make Byron take me on dates every other week?”

“No,” He paused, “I wouldn’t say make.”

Julie couldn’t believe it. It was just another business deal. “Dad. You had no right. My relationships are my business, stay out of it.”

Her father heard the phone go dead. “Oops” he muttered as he hung up the phone. 


While he was very unsure what to do next, Julie has no such uncertainty. The contact information was still up and she dialed. “Charles? You still hungry?”

Next Chapter 20

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