It Just Happened Ch. 04byREGade©
Chapter 4: Beverly
Being Saturday afternoon, Dean's barber shop was crowded. Dean was no longer the proprietor, but his son had kept the same name. Looking around the shop as I waited for my turn in one of the chairs, I wondered if anyone recognized me. Did they remember that my brother had stolen my girl? Did they talk behind my back, whispering that Jen couldn't wait for me? A sinister thought crossed my mind; had Ed paid my college tuition to keep me away from home for long periods of time?
I left the shop relieved that I didn't have to explain to anyone where I had been or what brought me home now, but as soon as I opened the door to the Mustang I heard my name being called.
"Ben Crumbly, I thought that was Jen's car. How are you?"
I turned to see Beverly Worthington heading toward me. She was just as I remembered from high school, short dark hair, combed back to show her round face and dainty ears, stout figure and robust chest. She looked like a horse-woman in heavy twill trousers, knitted sweater and a scarf draped loosely over her shoulders.
"I'm fine, how have you been, Beverly?" I asked, extending my hand as she came near.
"I'm so glad to have run into you," she said, disregarding my hand, leaning in for a hug. I felt her breath against my neck as she whispered, "I was going to call you."
"You were? How did you know I was back?"
She pulled away and I noticed that her nose was not as pronounced as I remembered. Had she had plastic surgery?
"I saw your picture on the web site. I was going to call you about remodeling my house, but now that we've run into one another, will you come over and give me an estimate?"
I was taken aback, first to learn that my picture was on a web site and second that Beverly Worthington would perceive me qualified to give her an estimate. "You saw my picture on a web site? Was it, by any chance, a picture of me and my brother with two kids between us?"
"Isn't that just like Jen? You didn't know your picture was on your brother's web site? I hope I'm not being too personal when I say this, Ben, but we all knew why you didn't come to our five year reunion. Believe me when I say you were missed."
Beverly watched me digest what she had told me, my picture was on the construction company web site, my classmates had discussed the reason I didn't make it to the five year reunion and it was implied that Jen was to blame. "Did Jen go?" I asked, immediately hating myself.
She nodded, smirking and leaning in to share a secret. "She was there, flaunting her marriage, like your brother was the perfect catch. I'm sorry to be so catty, Ben, but that's what we old maids do, whisper behind the pretty girls' backs," she said, smiling. I smiled with her.
"You didn't find anyone at school that you wanted to spend the rest of your life with?" I asked.
She shook her head, forlornly, but recovering quickly. "Will you do it?"
"I bought my grandmother's house and I've already moved in, but it's not as comfortable as I would like. Will you look at the plans and give me an estimate to do the work?"
"I'm not...it's my brother's company. I'll have him call you to make an appointment. I'm sure he..."
She interrupted me, "Will you come with him, Ben?" she asked, and I noticed her eyes were like Jen's, greenish, only Beverly's eyes were pleading.
"Give me your phone number, Beverly. I'll need the address, too."
She produced a pen and notebook, had me turn around and used my back to support the notebook "I prefer that you call, Ben," she said as she handed me the paper. I assured her that I would.
I didn't say anything about meeting Beverly until after dinner. Ed and I were alone in the living room. He said he knew where the house was, but had never been inside. He asked what the job entailed and I said I didn't know. "She has plans and is already moved in," I said, just as Jen entered the room. Naturally, she wanted to be brought up to date on the conversation and they were soon talking as if I were not in the room.
"It would be a good job for you, Dear. The Worthington's have loads of money," Jen said.
"We couldn't possibly do it until spring. She's already moved in," Ed commented.
Jen bristled. "She can easily move out while you're working there. Her parents have plenty of room."
I listened to their discussion, learning the Beverly had lived with a guy while she was working on her master's degree, but something went wrong and she came home to teach English at the high school.
"I think you should call her, Honey," Jen said.
"She has plans. That probably means she'll be getting other quotes," Ed speculated.
"Other quotes won't be a problem for you," Jen said, speaking confidentially in an intimate voice.
I interrupted. "She wants me to call to make the appointment." Jen shot a look at me, questioning, like she had forgotten I was there.
"In that case, you'll have to make the call, little brother," Ed laughed. Nothing more was said about Beverly Worthington's house until the next day. Ed waited until we were alone and reiterated that I should call Beverly. "It sounds like she would prefer to talk to you," he said, serious now.
I called her and made arrangements for us to stop by the following day. We left the jobsite a little early and discovered that Beverly not only had architectural plans, she admitted that two other contractors had bid the job. Ed studied the plans, took measurements of the existing configuration and told her it would take us a few days to prepare a quotation.
"When will you be able to start?" she asked, as if the other two bidders were already out of the running.
"These plans call for alteration of the structure. That means lots of noise and dust. You may want to wait until spring," Ed suggested.
"I don't mind noise and dust. You'll be working here while I'm at school. If it gets too bad I can always move home for a while. I want a warm, friendly place to live and I want it as soon as you can build it for me," she said, looking at me fondly as we went out the door.
"Let's not say anything about this to Jennifer until we get the job," he said on the way home. I didn't know why he was keeping secrets from his wife, but agreed not to talk.
After dinner we retired to the work room and were progressing nicely on the quotation for the alterations to Beverly's house when Jen interrupted us to tell me I had a phone call. I made the mistake of taking the call right there in the room, where Ed and Jen could overhear me try to deny that I was Benjamin E. Crumbly. The caller started talking tough, telling me I could run but I couldn't hide. He said he would track me down and put me in prison. Taking him at his word, I promised to put 'a check in the mail.'
"Damn it, I wonder how they found out I'm here," I said, not attempting to hide my irritation that I had been tracked down by one of my creditors.
"How bad is it?" Jen asked, showing real concern.
I looked at Ed before answering. His expression was one of concern, too.
"How much do you owe?" Jen persisted.
"The one that called says there's a balance of ten thousand and it's going up fast," I said, beginning to see her as my sister-in-law, no longer as my ex-girlfriend and lover.
"How many are there?"
"There are four, all about the same amount."
Jen was looking at her hands, tapping on the table. I noticed the wide wedding band for the first time since I had been there. It reminded me that she was my brother's wife and for the first time in three weeks I was able to look her in the eye without feeling the ache in my chest. She was now the impassionate banker.
"I see this all the time. First, you need to write the same letter to all four card companies, stating your terms of settlement. Offer them forty cents on the dollar, but only if they all agree to those terms. They know bankruptcy is an option so you don't need to threaten to use it. Tell them exactly how much you can afford to pay each week. They'll respect you for being up front with them."
"Forty cents on the dollar will take me forever to pay," I complained.
"It's better than the alternative, bankruptcy," she said and I knew she was right.
I used her computer to write the letters and Jen made corrections. She set me up with an email address, which I included along with the telephone number. We got the four letters ready to mail and I rejoined Ed, who was finished preparing the quote. By that time Jen had caught on to what we were doing. She looked over the numbers, nodding her head, frowning, nodding her head in agreement.
"Now the fun begins," Ed said, handing me a stack of architectural design magazines.
Jen saw the puzzled look on my face. "You'll need to explain the next step to him, Honey," she said to her husband.
"Your friend said she had two other contractors bidding on the job. The quote I've prepared may not be competitive. She also said she wants us to build a warm and friendly place to live. That opens the door for us to be creative and offer alternatives to the plan, at additional cost, of course."
I was skeptical. "That sounds sneaky to me." In all the jobs we had worked on with our father I had never seen him sell the homeowner something he didn't ask for.
Jen spoke up. "It's called getting an edge, Benny. Everyone in the business does it. Ed just happens to be better at selling upgrades to plans than his competitors."
My brother shyly denied that he was the star salesman Jen portrayed him to be. "In this case, it may be better for Ben to make the presentation. Beverly clearly likes him. That's the reason we got the chance to bid. She was looking at him when she said she wanted a warm and friendly place. She was pretty specific about wanting Ben to call her."
Hearing this, Jen stiffened. "I don't think it's fair to put your brother in that position. Making presentations to homeowners is new to him."
"You wouldn't talk that way if you had seen how Beverly looked at him. Ben will surprise..."
We watched as Jen bolted from the room, declaring that she was going to bed. This was the first time I had witnessed cross words between them since I had been back.
"Ready to get started, Tiger? I'll show you the ropes," Ed said.
We worked until midnight, thumbing through magazines, pointing out what we thought would appeal to Beverly and discussing the best way to present the alternative design. Putting our creative juices to work was fun and for a time, I put my distain for my brother aside. I actually looked forward to making the presentation to Beverly.
Ed split us into two crews the next day. Rob and I were to build a gazebo while Ed and Josh built a deck on a house at the other side of town. The homeowner had purchased the materials pre-cut and had started the structure, only to discover he didn't have time to finish it before a Thanksgiving gathering at the house. We soon decided it was not a lack of time that discouraged the homeowner; it was a lack of skill. The deck for the gazebo he had built was not level.
Once we got the deck leveled the rest went up like child's play. The instructions were clear and Rob and I worked well together. As we were installing the cupola on the roof the lady of the house came outside and told us her husband would do the painting.
I called Ed to tell him we were finished. "I guess the guy wants to claim he finished the job," I joked. "Do you need any help with the deck?"
"No, you guys take off early. Knock off a hundred dollars for the painting and see if you can get a check. It will save me a trip."
The lady was pleased with the discount. "Thank you," she said as she handed me the check. And then she whispered, "I won't tell Dan you had to correct his sloppy work if you promise not to either."
"I know better than to damage an accountant's ego. I used to be one," I assured her.
It was four-thirty when Rob dropped me off at home. I was surprised to see Jen's car on the drive. There was no way to avoid her; we found ourselves alone in the house for the second time. She was seated on the porch, staring intently at the new homes that blocked the lake from view, still wearing her work clothes.
"Do you hate me?" she asked in a faint voice.
"No, I did for a long time, but not anymore," I said, jumping to the conclusion that she was about to apologize for cheating.
"Not that. You have no right to blame me for falling in love with your brother. You're the one that abandoned me," she said, turning her chair to face me, not the least bit apologetic.
"Well, what the hell are you talking about?" I spouted, unable to hide my anger. "I didn't abandon you and I'm not the one that cheated."
She turned crimson and I knew I had struck a sore spot. I mentally undressed her, knowing it would unnerve her. My mind's eyes pierced the skirt and settled on the diamond shaped birthmark next to her pussy. She was so self-conscious of the little red spot that she guarded it with her life. It had taken me three years, long after we began having sex, to get her to let me see it. I wondered how long she had hidden it from my brother. Now, seeing where my eyes were directed, she opened her legs as if to give me a better view. We were interrupted by the sound of Ed's van on the drive. I darted upstairs and didn't come down until I was called to dinner.
Later that night I took stock of my feelings. Did I still loathe my brother and his wife? Yes, I did. But they had taken me in when I had no other place to go. Ed had given me a job and Jen had shown me how to settle with my creditors. I was stuck with them and they were stuck with me. I had to make the best of things. I had to learn how to look them in the eye without showing my disdain.
The next day Ed delivered a message to me from his wife. "She feels badly about broadcasting your picture on the web site."
"Jen thinks that's how the collector caught up with you. He must have been monitoring the site."
"I made a terrible mistake," I said, realizing why Jen had asked me if I hated her. "I owe her an apology."
"I wouldn't be too quick to apologize," he said, like he was aware that I had accused Jen of cheating. "It may be premature. What if her idea to settle with your creditors fails? You'll be right back where you started and it will be because she broadcast your whereabouts on the internet. Besides, this isn't a good time to approach her. She's not comfortable with you meeting with Beverly. Jen thinks I'm taking advantage of you."
I may have been reading between the lines, but what he said about her made me think that Jen was jealous. She didn't want me to be alone with Beverly. I saw this as an opportunity to make her regret the way she had treated me four years ago. I still yearned for the opportunity to tell her that I passed up an opportunity to make it with Amy, the farm girl, something I had regretted ever since.
"You're not taking advantage of me, big brother. We're taking advantage of Beverly. Isn't that what business is about these days?"
He grinned from ear to ear, the same way he looked when he got the best of me in the games we played so long ago. "We'll go over the presentation tonight and if we're satisfied that you have it down you can call Beverly and make an appointment. Okay?"
That's what we did. Ed coached me on exactly what I was to say and we went over my speech twice, emphasizing the key words that depicted Beverly's stipulations; warm and friendly. Ed proclaimed me ready and I called to make the appointment.
Beverly said she was free on Saturday and offered to pick me up. "Is ten A.M. alright with you?"
"Ten o'clock is fine with me."
"It's a date then. I'll make something for lunch," she offered in a cheery tone.
We didn't tell Jen about my appointment with Beverly until the following evening at dinner.
"My car won't be available; you'll have to take the van," she said, coldly.
Ed and I looked at each other. He shrugged, unable to explain his wife's irritation with our plan. I wondered what Beverly had done to earn Jen's ire.
We quickly changed the subject, laughing about something that happened that day, leaving Jen to believe that I would use Ed's van on Saturday. That was Thursday.