This is a copyrighted original work of fiction. All rights reserved.
All characters featured herein are at least eighteen years of age, even if not expressly stated. Any resemblance between actual persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Many thanks to Max for the fine editing work.
Caitlyn wasn't anything like I'd expected.
After years of threatening to retire on me, Alfie finally did. To make matters worse, he and his wife moved to Florida. I desperately needed someone to work alongside me in my woodshop.
I run a commercial wood carving business, a specialized niche. For many years like any other small business, I was either swamped or wondering if I should find a new line of work. Over the last few years, however, I've managed to steady the workload and have forced myself to learn how to turn down some projects too. It's a stable two man operation.
I didn't think replacing Alfie was going to be so difficult.
I tried a couple of young guys. One guy, Matt, was great, but after several weeks he decided to start his own contracting business. Another guy was just plain unreliable. His workmanship was good, but his attitude wasn't. When it's just the two of you working alongside of each other, you've got to get along. I had to let him go.
Another guy had a serious drinking problem. Alcohol and a table saw don't mix. Gone, the next day.
Caitlyn was the daughter of a friend of a friend's brother. She was an art school graduate, still living at home, unable to find serious work.
I'd never thought of going the art school route. I needed woodworking skills not artistic skills. I needed someone who could cut wood, plane it, use a router, set-up a jig and do lots and lots of painting. The artistic element was usually conceived by someone else. My shop requires technical skills mainly. Artistic skills are a secondary consideration.
I asked my friend to have her email me.
She was twenty eight currently working part time in a clothing store. Her hobbies included art, sculpture, and music recording. She didn't list any skills. Her experience was working in retail.
She included several photos of her sculpture. Three were in metal, four in wood and one was in what appeared to be wood, metal, glass and plastic. The stuff was okay, not my cup of tea but what I saw was a fine eye to detail and clearly the ability to work with her hands.
'Come on by for a visit,' I emailed back.
She was five four, stout, bum too big. Nose ring, short black hair, black raccoon-like eye make-up surrounding green eyes, dark lipstick, little leather neck collar with a Christian cross pendent, funny silver jewelry and when she reached out to shake my hand I could see there were multi-colored tattoos running up her wrist.
Great a Goth chick. And I thought that stuff was out of fashion. And at twenty eight?
"Come on in," I said. She stepped into the shop from the January snow outside. She wore a short black leather jacket, black jeans, I think they're called Doc Marten's boots and had a burlap handbag or backpack or something. I watched as she put it down on a pile of lumber.
"It's hemp," she said.
"So this is it," I said waving my hand through the air, "this is the shop."
She looked around for a moment and then said, "What exactly do you do?"
"Commercial wood carving, signs, railings, balusters, odd bits, some furniture restoration, always in wood."
She picked up one of the pieces I was currently working on. It was a 20" x 30" x 1-1/2" thick piece of laminated maple with the outline of the 9th hole on one side and the Whistling Swans logo on the other. It still needed sanding, painting and finishing.
"This is what you do?" she asked with an incredulous look in her face.
"You can make money doing this?"
"Yeah. If you do it right."
"So how much do you get for one of these?"
"I don't know, but it's not finished. It still has to be sanded, stabilized, painted and polyurethaned and then hung from a bracket which still has to be made and installed."
"But how much do you get for one of these?"
"I don't know exactly, it's part of a job that I bid on." I took the piece from her and continued, "This sign here, once it's painted and polyed twice is probably a day's work. I set up a jig for the logo on the back, the hole itself has to be scaled, carved, lettering carved, sanded, painted. You do them all at the same time, but there's twenty seven frikkin' holes. That alone is more than a month's work. Plus I've got the front entrance sign. I've got the tee-off markers, each one is carved. There's two hundred of those. The 'carts' signs, they've ordered fifty, but I'm making seventy five, I know they're going to want more. There's twenty nine miscellaneous signs, 'parking', 'washrooms', 'to 10th tee' that sort of stuff and twenty two banisters that need to be carved front and back for the patio, but that's easy 'cause it's a jig."
"Wow and you do all that by yourself?" She said as she continued to look around the shop.
"No I can't. That's my point. I need help."
"How much is the whole job worth?"
Odd line of inquiry, but fair enough, I figured she was trying to establish if I was legit.
"The original contract was for a hundred and nineteen grand. But I've negotiated an extra for fifty two grand. Originally I had a leisurely six months to do the work."
"A month and a half into it, they changed the fucking logo. I always wondered why 'Whistling Swans' would only have one swan. They made that decision a month before, but no one bothered to tell me. I had to throw away a month and a half's work."
She picked up the 9th hole piece again and studied the logo on the reverse. It was two swans facing each other with their necks slightly entwined. Their wings open at their backs, all boarded by a rope pattern. "I guess it's supposed to be a W," I said.
She shook her head and put the piece down. "So it was their mistake, what's the big deal?"
"The big deal is the opening date for the golf course doesn't change."
"I don't know how to work half this stuff," she said looking around the shop. "In fact I don't know how to work any of this stuff."
"All I need is someone with a good work ethic and a good pair of hands. Give me your hands," I said holding out my palms. She put her hands into mine. "Squeeze hard," I said. She did. She had strong hands for a small woman. I could see she bit her fingernails. They were chipped and painted black. Her hands were warm. She smiled as I examined her hands. "I'll teach you everything else."
"How much would I get paid?"
"Twenty bucks an hour to start, then I can assess your productivity and pay you accordingly." I said. "Thirty bucks beyond forty hours per week. I have to do all the deductions, it's a real business."
She looked at me a bit shocked. "Are you offering me the job?"
"Yeah, when can you start?"
"I don't know. I'd have to quit my part time job. When do you want me to start?"
"How about right now?"
"Okay," she said, "I've got the rest of the day free. Let's go."
I set her up with a shop robe; I had to use a pair of scissors to cut the sleeves shorter. I handed her all the safety stuff. "Get yourself some steel toed boots," I said, and then added, "I'm sorry you'll have to take those rings off your fingers, it's a safety thing."
She seemed intelligent and eager to learn.
Later we stopped for lunch. She hadn't brought any. From my stash of canned chili and soups in the little corner kitchenette I managed to scrounge up lunch for the both of us. Soup and bag o'salad cole slaw with Three Cheese Ranch dressing. She didn't want any toast.
"Doug, tell me," she asked as we ate, "do you live next door?"
"What does your wife do?"
"I'm not married."
"So you live in that big house by yourself?"
"It's not that big. It's only three bedrooms."
"How big is the property?"
"Five and a half acres, why?"
"It just seems a lot of house for one person."
"I bought the house because of this shop. I used to pay rent on an apartment and rent for some shop space. It was a no-brainer to buy this place. Now my commute is sixty seconds."
Caitlyn just bobbed her head up and down, staring off into space while holding her spoon.
"How old are you?" she asked.
"Thirty six, why?"
That afternoon I showed Caitlyn how the jig set up worked. A frame was bolted down to the piece of wood. Then a color coded rigid PVC sheet is slid into the frame at a predetermined height. The cut PVC serves as a template for a rotary carving tool, either a plunge router or a fixed Dremel-style power carver. Depending on the carving, with three or more templates, ninety or ninety-five percent or so of the wood is removed for the bas-relief carving. A little bit of hand gouging and chiseling is all that's left to do.
She understood right away. The only question that she asked was, "Why don't you use all one color template to all the pieces, then switch to the next template and do all the pieces again."
"Ah," I said, "the time is in bolting the frame to the piece. Plus, that has to be absolutely spot on. The frame location can't change."
It took her a few days to disassociate herself from her part-time job, but soon enough she became full time. She would be at the shop promptly at eight a.m. every morning even though her commute was forty five minutes. She wouldn't leave until the particular little production run was done that afternoon. Sometimes we would work until after seven. When I would teach her how to do something, I only had to show her once. Her handwork, especially in painting was fantastic. She worked quickly and diligently. She was always cheerful and professional.
I couldn't be happier.
I made sure to encourage her and let her know that she was doing a great job. Sometimes I'd offer a little advice on her technique, usually by suggesting a different tool for a given application. I made sure to end every day by saying, 'Thank you, drive carefully and I'll see you in the morning.'
The reality of the workshop is that there's not much time for conversation. You have to wear hearing protection for a good part of the day. Every saw, every router, pretty well everything is connected to a dust collection system. I'm a stickler for safety. You have to be. The only time we would actually talk to each other was when we would sit down to have something to eat or drink or when we would crowd into my little office where there's a drafting table, a laptop and old drawings and files galore. Those conversations were all centered on work.
After several weeks the Goth look was slowly toned down and I guess my own prejudices too. I came to the realization that she was actually pretty cute. Sexy too. Of course I couldn't say anything like that to her. In the mornings when I'd wake up my first thought would be of Caitlyn. My whole morning routine was fueled by the anticipation of her arrival. In the evenings when I sat eating alone my mind would continue to drift back to her.
The paint room is at one end of the shop. It has a large window to the main shop and because the dust collector isn't hooked in, there's a radio. Caitlyn would dance to herself while painting. She would dance. Freeze. Her steady hand would move to paint whatever was she was doing. Then she would resume dancing again. She was totally oblivious to her dancing movements, yet fully concentrated on the painting. She was a joy to watch.
One evening, freezing rain started coming down just as we were finishing up. While we were doing the usual fifteen minutes of shop clean-up before locking up she seemed very apprehensive about the weather. I didn't blame her, the road would probably be treacherous. I turned to her and asked, "Why don't you just sleep here tonight? I have a spare bedroom."
I guess I caught her by surprise, she paused for a moment, looked outside again and said, "Okay thanks." She then turned to me, pointed her finger to my face and said, "Here's something you've got to understand though, when we walk out this door, you're not my boss anymore."
That one caught me by surprise. "Okay," I said, "fair enough."
"And no shop talk," she added.
Caitlyn took a side track through the freezing rain to pick up a zippered bag from her little black Yaris before heading to the house. "Welcome to my humble abode," I said as she stepped inside.
She saw me looking at the bag she was carrying. Did she pack an overnight bag anticipating that she would stay the night? She must have read my thoughts.
"It's an overnight bag. I always pack one in the car. Don't you?"
I don't, but it's not a bad idea. I whisked her into the living room after she removed her work boots and coat. She looked around the place, but made no comment.
"Caitlyn listen. I normally have a shower as soon as I get home. I've got to get all of this sawdust off me. I only have the one shower unit. If you want a shower too, go ahead, it's upstairs. There are clean towels in the cupboard. You'll find them. I can get started on something for dinner."
She smiled at me and said, "Show me the kitchen, let's see what you've got. I'll get started on dinner. You take your shower first."
"What? You don't trust my cooking?"
"Frankly, no," was her reply.
Not a bad judgment call. I showed her the kitchen and the pantry and where all the pots and pans were. She found the pork tenderloin I'd thawed out for dinner. She poked around a little then said, "Go have your shower."
I came back downstairs after my shower, dressed, as usual in sweatpants and a tee-shirt. "What can I do?" I asked. I didn't know what she was cooking. "Make sure this doesn't burn," she said pointing to a large pot with pork cubes and all kinds of cut up vegetables sizzling away. "In about five minutes add half of this," she handed me a tetra-pack of vegetable stock, "give it a good stir, turn the heat down and put the lid on. In the meantime peel some potatoes."
Yes ma'am. She was not at all like in the shop. I did as I was told.
She came back down a few minutes later wearing grey sweatpants and a red t-shirt. I'd never seen her tattoo before. Her right arm was completely covered in a multi-colored something from her wrist right up past her short sleeve. In the shop we always wore a shop coat, plus whatever she wore underneath had always been long sleeve. It's kind of cool in the shop that time of year. In addition, there was something not right about the nipples on her small boobs.
"What are you staring at?" she asked accusingly.
"I...ah..I've never seen your tattoo before," I managed to stammer out.
"You weren't looking at my tats, you were staring at my tits."
I knew I was blushing. "I...I'm sorry," I croaked out, "it's just..."
She put her hands on her hips and glared at me with her mouth open.
"There's something funny about your nipples," I managed to get out and wished that I hadn't finished my sentence.
She pulled her top off. I froze in shock. My employee was half naked standing in front of me.
"They're called nipple rings."
Sure enough, she had nipple rings. Not only that but the tattoo went right up her arm onto her shoulder and curled under her right boob. As she slowly turned her body, I could see that the tattoo also covered her right shoulder blade. And her belly button was pierced.
"Do you like it?"
I didn't know what to say. I hate tattoos and piercings on women. On men too. I just hate them period.
"You don't like it, do ya?"
"No, sorry." I gulped.
"Well that's too bad, it's my body and I like it." She put her shirt back on.
I smiled at her and threw my palms in the air. Whatever cranks you lady.
She came into the kitchen and stirred the pot. She found some herbs that I'd forgotten I actually had and added them to the pot. Herbes de Provence. The whole thing smelled pretty good. I was washing the potatoes in the sink.
The power went out.
"Fuck" "Shit." We said together in the pitch black.
Not surprising in an ice storm. "I'll bet a line is down," I said. It had just gone dark outside.
"Everything is out," I said to her. "We can flush the toilet once, but it won't fill up again. There's a second toilet on this floor. Turn the stove off." She did. "We've got no heat," I added.
"Do you have a generator?"
"No. A fireplace but no firewood."
"No firewood. What's the point of a fireplace if you don't have firewood?"
"Caitlyn, we've got a shop full of wood."
"Oh yeah," she suddenly realized.
So that's what we did. We put our coats and boots on, grabbed a couple of flashlights and went out to the shop. We filled two small tarps with scrap cuts from the large pile and hauled them back to the house. We were like two Santa Clauses with giant bags full of toys on our backs sliding on the ice.
I lit the fire and we settled in with blankets on the couch across from the fire. Dinner was a big bag of potato chips, some cheese and two bottles of Chianti Classico.
The only light was from the fire which was blazing nicely.
"Doug, how come you never married? I mean you're a really nice guy. And good looking too. Steady income, right? I'm sure that women are tripping over themselves to get to you."
"Well, you'd be wrong. The reality is that I'm married to my job."
"I just don't get to go out. I mean I've been on plenty of dates and such, but I just don't have the opportunity to meet single women."
"Go to a bar," she said.
"I tried that bar scene once. I just don't do bars."
"Because I live in the country. I've got to drive. If I get caught drinking and driving I'm fucked. Totally, totally fucked. Without wheels I can't work, I can't get groceries, I can't get wood supplies."
"Hmm," she seemed to understand.
"And how does that work in a singles bar, 'another glass of wine for this young lady and I'll have a Shirley Temple please'?"
She giggled, "You have a point."
"I was engaged once." I offered.
"What happened, did she quit or did you?"
"She did. Sally. Really cute and very nice. I fell for her right away. I met her the same week that I put an offer on this place. The sale didn't go through for three months and at that point I still had six and a half months on my apartment lease. The bottom line was that she liked the Doug Jenner that lived in the city, but not the one that lived and worked in the country. Being the country squire's wife was not something that appealed to her."
"That's a bit shallow isn't it?"
"That's the same conclusion I came to. She wanted me to sell this place. I'd just bought it. She wasn't even willing to give it a try."
"Yeah it was. It was literally 'it's either me or the country shop and house. Take your pick.'"
We sat in silence for a while.
"What about you," I asked, "why aren't you married?"
"No. Why would you say that?"
"Look at me. Who the fuck wants to go out with me?" she said, then continued, "I'll tell you who. Losers, nerds and assholes."
"It's the body I was born with."
"What does the body have to do with it?"
She didn't answer at first, then said, "Everything. When I was younger, I'd go to the school dance. Do you think I was ever asked to dance?"
"Of course you were," I answered.
"Yeah," she laughed, "by losers, nerds and assholes."
"But you're none of those things. You're pleasant, you're a good worker." She turned her head and glared at me. "You're intelligent and you're pretty. She glared again. "Except for the face metal and the tats, but that's just me."
"I thought we weren't going to talk shop here," she said.
"I'm hardly pretty. I have a big ass, I don't have a waist and my friend Carly had bigger tits when she was twelve than I do now."