At the crack of dawn, with ass dragging, Dan opened the door to Rogan-Handley Construction and winced from the harsh office lights.
“Long night?” Brent asked from the reception desk.
Dan grunted in answer, headed straight for the coffee maker.
“Another false alarm?” Brent guessed.
“If you want to call it that.” Dan took a sip of coffee and immediately recoiled from the taste. “Did Jimmy make the coffee today?”
“I should’ve warned you. He came in early.”
Dan braced himself before taking another sip of the lukewarm sludge in his mug. The coffee was horrid, thick enough to polish shoes with, bitter as hell, but he needed the hit of caffeine. Suffering through another tepid sip, he asked, “Where’s our Little Merry Sunshine now?”
“Slamming stuff around in the shop, waiting for me.”
Dan eased his tired bones into the office chair across from Brent and set his coffee aside while his taste buds slowly died. “Still in a mood, I take it?”
“Isn’t he always?”
The younger Rogan was losing patience with his brother. Dan didn’t blame him. Both Brent and Dan had tried to help Jimmy after Kylie left, but Jimmy didn’t want help. He wanted to be left alone.
Dan understood guilt, and he understood grief. He understood the gut-wrenching pain it brought, pain so severe it felt as though every breath ripped the body anew. The pain became an addiction, self-imposed on a tortured soul. Trying to force Jimmy to accept help he didn’t want would only send him deeper into the pain, deeper into the bottle.
Eventually, Jimmy would sober up and realize he couldn’t do it by himself. When he did, Dan would be there for him.
“I hear Jimmy’s going to be your best man,” Brent said, his voice laced with disappointment.
“Yeah, that’s the plan, anyway. Sorry.”
Brent shrugged it off. “It is what it is.”
“You can be Jimmy’s best man when he and Ky get married.”
“Like that’ll ever happen,” Brent grumbled. He pulled a file from his desk and tossed it to Dan. “The Polinskis called.”
“They finally approve our bid on their kitchen?”
“Yeah, except for the plumbing fixtures. They want brushed nickel instead of stainless.”
“I’ll get right on changing that.” Dan leaned back in his chair, hands clasped behind his head, and closed his eyes. “Just as soon as I wake up from my nap.”
Brent laughed and shot a rubber band at him. “You might as well get used to feeling like the walking dead. It’s not going to get any easier when Little Brent is born.”
Dan opened one eye. “I’m not naming my boy after you.”
“Or girl… Brentina.”
Dan sat upright and threw a stress ball at Brent. “Don’t you have a baby of your own coming soon that you can name after yourself?”
“Aria won’t let me.” Brent winged the ball back to Dan. “Brentahula?”
“Brentahula?” Dan laughed. “Fine. Whatever. Brentahula Handley it is. But you have to convince Stace.”
“Piece ’a cake. I’ll just pour on the old Rogan charm. She’ll be putty in my hands.”
“You can’t even charm your own wife. Good luck with mine.”
Brent stood and stretched. “I’m gonna go drag Jimmy’s sorry ass away from the power tools before he breaks something and get headed out. How many interviews you doing today?”
“Tell me about it.”
The business-side of the business had always been a responsibility Jimmy had taken upon himself, doing it in the truck between jobs, over lunch, or late at night when a sane man would have been sleeping. Hiring Marissa had relieved him of that burden—temporarily. Once Marissa quit, and Kylie left, everything had gone to hell. Jimmy still put in extremely long hours swinging a hammer, but he was only there in body, never in spirit, almost as though he didn’t care if the business survived.
He no longer had the patience or the temperament for tedious tasks, like paperwork. Everything started to slip through the cracks. Suppliers didn’t get paid. Customers didn’t get invoiced. Permits got denied. And Jimmy didn’t care. Brent was great with a hammer and exceptional at managing a crew, but he was a disaster waiting to happen whenever he handled the books. The responsibility had fallen upon Dan.
Business had slowed with the season, but with all the architectural design work he was already responsible for, and everything else he had going on trying to get ready for the baby and the impending wedding, Dan found himself constantly running out of hours in the day. He had no clue how Jimmy had managed to do it on his own for so long, but he had no intention of trying to figure it out. Not when they could well-afford to hire someone to do it for them.
Expecting another argument, Dan had been cautious when he told Jimmy he’d placed a help-wanted ad in the Allman Falls Monitor for an office manager, but Jimmy had only said, “I don’t give a shit. Hire a whole fucking crew if you want.”
“You should give a shit,” Dan replied. But Jimmy didn’t care about anything anymore.
Brent flipped open the file of job applications Dan had collected. “Any of ’em hot?”
“How the hell am I supposed to know that?”
“By their handwriting.” Brent riffled through the forms, stopping on one with looping cursive letters drawn in purple ink. “Ooh, Diana…” He lifted the paper to his nose and dramatically inhaled. “Fruity…” Closing his eyes, he sniffed again. “Definitely hot.”
“Let me see that.”
Reaching out, Dan snatched the application from Brent’s hand, ripped it in half, and stuffed it in the trash.
“Hey!” Brent dove for the wastebasket, but Dan kicked it under the desk, out of his reach. “You’re killing me, Dan.”
“Better I kill you than Aria. She’d be apt to torture you first.” Dan opened the Polinski file and flipped through the notes. “Any other changes?”
“Nope. Nita loved everything except the faucet. Said she can’t wait to show it off to her bridge club.”
“Good. Would you have time to swing by the church today or tomorrow?”
“The boys clog the toilets again?”
“Yeah, one of us’ll get out there. Probably Jimmy. He likes to do those himself, like Dad used to.”
Brent shrugged into his jacket and gathered his work orders for the day. He disappeared through the door to the shop, off to spend his day in the open air and sunshine, while Dan stayed behind, mired in paperwork hell.