Picking up the Pieces Ch. 07

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Chapter 7 Doing What’s Expected to get by

February 2006

On February the fourteenth, Brian came out of his room and announced to the kids and Mary that this was Peggy’s twenty-ninth birthday. “Get dressed for school,” he ordered. Tonight we’ll celebrate your mom’s birthday. She would like for us to have a good time.”

“Will we give her presents?” Amanda asked.

“Your darned right, I’ll pick them up and you can wrap them,” he said, smiling for the first time in days.

He saw the kids off to school, and went to Peggy’s office to see if he could fill her shoes. He first returned calls from brokers, only to discover that their offerings for distressed products had evaporated.

He next called Mrs. Nixon, who gave him the sales receipts for Mr. Bennett’s businesses. She told him that she had checks to be signed, and that the cash on hand was insufficient to cover them. He asked her to meet him at the café.

Brian called John Larkin in for a short meeting. John gave him an overview of what had been happening at the market. Receipts were up slightly from last year, but John informed him that all shipments had been received, and the inventory was dwindling.

Brian could see that the inventory required his attention, but he also knew that there were more pressing matters.

“Let’s go for a ride,” he said to John. “We’re going to learn the restaurant and hardware businesses.”

Fifteen minutes later, they walked into the hardware store and found the older clerk, Mr. Howard, reading a newspaper. There were no customers in the store.

Brian asked where the younger clerk was, and was told that Larry was on coffee break. Brian looked at his watch and made a note of the time.

“Mr. Howard, this is John Larkin, my assistant. If John asks you to do something, it’s the same as me giving you an order.”

Mr. Howard looked up from his newspaper and gave Brian a reticent nod, like he understood, but didn’t like being told what to do by someone John’s age.

“When Larry comes back, John is going to put him to work knocking the dust off of the stock. I would like for you to impart the knowledge you’ve gained over your illustrious career in the hardware business to John. He learns quickly. I’ll be very interested to hear what he has learned.”

Brian knew he was putting John in a tenuous situation, but he wanted to show the two hardware clerks who was in charge. He had confidence that John could handle them.

Before he left the store, Brian took John aside. “When I get back we’ll check out the attic. Some of the crap looks like it’s been up there for a hundred years. We may be able to sell some of the stuff as antiques.”

As he left, he heard John asking Mr. Howard what time he expected Larry to return. Brian grinned, happy to hear John already asserting his authority.

It would be two days before Brian would return to investigate the attic. There were no customers in the café either. He found Mrs. Nixon in a back booth that had been Mr. Bennett’s favorite place to hold meetings. She showed him the backlog of invoices that needed to be paid. He carefully checked each one, paying particular attention to the quantities ordered and the prices.

Brian would be the first to admit that he knew very little about the business of preparing and serving meals, but asked questions, and applied the same principles that had made the Driver Market profitable.

That evening, they celebrated Peggy’s birthday as best they could. Mary prepared a special meal, complete with cake. Brian and the kids broke up during the singing of Happy Birthday, but Mary remained dry eyed, unwilling to show emotion. The gifts that Amanda had wrapped were left unopened at Peggy’s place at the table.

The next day, Brian deposited most of the money from the cash box, and signed the checks.

He and John compared notes, and determined that the new businesses would require close scrutiny. Brian decided that rather than put John in charge of either segment of the business, he would give John full authority to act in his stead, and they would alternate duties.

He offered Mrs. Nixon Peggy’s former office. While she didn’t care for the increased responsibility of answering the telephone for the market business and waiting on customers who came in looking for antiques, she accepted the move and adapted well.

Brian received a call from a woman who identified herself as Sherri Casco. “We have a support group for widows and widowers. Our next meeting is the fifth of March and we would like for you to attend.”

“Thank you, Ms. Casco, but I’m far too busy to socialize right now.”

“This isn’t a social club,” she said, before she heard the line go dead.

March 2006

It was clear that Mr. Bennett’s businesses were not as successful as the old man had portrayed them to be. Not all tenants in the apartment building paid their rent on time, the hardware business was off, and the restaurant was losing money. Brian kept wondering what Peggy would do in certain situations.

The escort eryaman dealers were complaining that Brian had lost interest in the market business, and the brokers stopped calling with new opportunities.

He emptied the rest of the cash from the box and deposited it in the bank, but still came up short. Suppliers of food and restaurant supplies threatened to stop making deliveries and vendors of hardware items held up shipments until past invoices were paid in full.

John put Larry, the younger hardware clerk, to work clearing out the attic. Some of the items went to the antique shop, and others were offered to the market dealers. All in all, the proceeds allowed Brian to balance the books for March.

Brian needed money and considered selling Peggy’s car. Amanda talked him out of it, saying that she and Phillip didn’t need to invite their classmates to their birthday party. Phillip didn’t understand this, and Brian said their birthday party had become a tradition.

Amanda was allowed to invite five classmates, and Brian helped Phillip chose five members from his kindergarten class to attend the party.

Amanda invited two girls and three boys. Phillip invited all boys.

Most parents dropped their children off, and were told to come back in two hours to have cake and ice cream while Amanda and Phillip opened their gifts.

The exception was Marian Keratin, who delivered her son, Tommy, from Phillip’s kindergarten class, and stayed for the party.

Brian recognized her from the bank, and knowing that she could be in a position to give his businesses a loan, endured her presence.

Marian was a take-charge woman, accustomed to directing the bank’s staff. She not only got the two age groups of children to co-mingle, she kept them interested in the games they played.

Amanda complained to Brian about the way Marian was taking over the activities. “It’s my party, and I should say what we play,” she said.

“I know, Honey, but try to be nice to her. She works at the bank, and I may need her to loan us some money.”

Amanda stomped off, saying she was eight years old and didn’t need the lady’s help.

Brian didn’t mind having Marian’s help, and it didn’t bother Mary to have the banker direct the activities.

Brian took several phone calls while the party was in progress, and was amazed each time he returned to see that Marian had the children playing a new game.

“I know what you’re going through,” she said to him.

Brian looked at her, questioning. Her build was slight. Her dirty blonde hair was bound in a ponytail, and there was a line showing in her forehead, seeking some recognition that he knew what she was saying.

“I lost my husband last year,” she clarified.

“I’m sorry,” he said, thinking that was what she wanted to hear.

“It gets better, believe me,” she said.

“I don’t think it will,” he differed.

“You have to make some changes. I moved home, and my dad gave me a job at the bank. It’s made all the difference for me. I strongly recommend change.”

Mary told Brian he was wanted on the phone. He excused himself from Mrs. Keratin, and was gone until it was time for cake and ice cream. Marian prompted the kids to sing happy birthday to Amanda and Phillip.

Brian nearly broke down when he heard the singing, missing Peggy, wishing that she was there to see her little girl become eight and her little boy become five. He left the room, and only returned in time to wave at the parents as they drove away.

April 2006

Brian did some self-assessment, and decided that the banker’s daughter may have given him good advice. He knew very little about operating a restaurant or a hardware store. Mr. Bennett’s agreement forbade him from selling any of the businesses, but he could lease them to operators who had experience in the business.

He advertised both businesses, and advised the employees that change would be coming.

He worked nights to get the vacant apartment ready to be leased, and appealed to Lois to sign a tenant.

When he was late making the monthly payment to Georgia, he received a call from her husband. Curtis threatened to speak to Mr. Weston. Brian assured him that the check was in the mail.

Sherri Casco tried again, inviting him to a monthly support meeting. Brian gave her the same answer, saying he was far too busy to attend the meeting. ‘

May 2006

Brian was considering calling Robert, his manager in the software firm, to see if he could get his old job back. But like his thought of selling Peggy’s car, Amanda talked him out of making the call.

“We’ll get by, Dad. That’s what Mom always said.”

“Are you sure you’re only eight?” Brian asked, giving her an extra strong hug.

Mr. Weston called to say that Curtis had phoned him. Brian told the lawyer about his plan to lease the café and hardware store, declaring that things would improve soon.

And things did change. Two dealers wanted to give up their leases for space in the flea market. They said they had nothing ankara escort to sell. Brian assured them that new products were on the way. That was not true, but he eventually convinced a broker to find items in distress.

Somehow, he made it through the month, coming up with payments to everyone.

June 2006

Brian was sure that his luck would change, and it did. The kids were out of school for the summer, and had returned to their own rooms to sleep.

He was in his office one day, spelling Mrs. Nixon, who was making her rounds to pick up the daily receipts.

“What’s the price on this piece?” a female voice asked.

Brian went into the other room to find a woman bending over to look into the bottom doors of a huge hutch. It had come from the Browns’ dining room, the last piece from the house he now occupied. The hutch was oversized, too large for most rooms, and had not sold.

The woman’s red skirt was pulled up in the back, showing the tops of her black stockings. Her legs looked spindly.

She straightened up suddenly, and turned to catch Brian staring at her ass. She smiled, obviously buoyed by the startled look on Brian’s face.

“The tag should be…yes, here it is…twenty-nine, fifty,” he said, recovering quickly.

“It’s so…big,” she commented.

“Yes,” he agreed, without admitting how many people had turned it down for that reason.

“I wonder if it would fit,” she mused.

“Would you like to know the measurements?” Brian asked, considering how much of a discount he should offer to make a sale.

“I’m no good with measurements. Would you drop by my house and see if it will fit?”

Brian took her name, Doris Kelley, her phone number, and address, promising to call to make arrangements to drop by her house to see if she had a place for the large piece of furniture.

“I hope it fits. I’d love to have it if it…fits,” she said, making an ‘O’ with her lips.

Brian wanted to sell the large, ugly piece of furniture, but he waited three days before taking the measurements and phoning Mrs. Kelley. She said she planned to be at home all morning, and Brian promised not to take up too much of her time.

He arrived at ten AM, and was surprised when Mrs. Kelley answered the door wearing a short robe; open at the front to reveal the plunging neckline of her nightgown.

He knew as soon as he entered the house that there was not a wall that would be suitable for the large hutch. Anyway, the dining room was fully furnished. She didn’t need another piece of furniture.

Brian shoved the tape measure into his pocket, and turned toward the door, considering giving Mrs. Kelley a lecture. He was a busy man and didn’t have time to waste.

“You poor man, you must be floating in excess sperm. I know about your wife,” he heard her say, as he turned toward the door.

“Ma’am,” he said before turning to see that she had shed the robe, and had the bottom of the nightgown in her hands, ready to lift it up. “Ma’am,” he began again. “My wife has only been gone five months. Everything about her is still fresh in my mind, like she’s only been gone a few days. I’m still trying to get used to her being gone. Don’t pity me.”

Brian was out the door and headed for his truck when he heard her call his name. “Don’t go, Mr. Driver. Come back, I’ll pay your price for the furniture. I know there isn’t a place for it in my house. You can keep it. Please come back.”

He kept walking, got in his truck and drove to the cemetery where Peggy was buried. He sat down and put his hand on her tombstone.

“I need your advice, Peg. How much do you think a good fuck from me would be worth? I turned down twenty-nine, fifty today. How much should I hold out for? Do you think I could have gotten three thousand? Thanks, Honey, it’s good to hear you laugh. You always have a way of making me feel better,” he said, getting up to leave. “Oh, yeah, the kids are doing okay. I’ll bring them with me next time.”

He received a nibble from someone interested in leasing the hardware store. Brian interviewed the couple, determined that they were qualified to manage the store, and stated the terms of the lease. He thought he had a deal until the husband pointed out the stains in the ceiling tile.

Brian and John patched the roof and replaced the ceiling tile in the hardware store and café. He asked the couple to come back, but they were no longer interested.

July 2006

It was the busy season at the outdoor flea market. Brokers were calling with opportunities, and new products were arriving weekly. The dealers were happy, but Brian was having difficulty keeping everyone paid.

On top of that, a surprise inspection by the insurance company warned him that he would have to replace the outside steps leading to the second floor of the building. Brian argued that the second floor was not in use. He even invited the inspector to check for himself. Indeed, everything had been removed, except a bucket of tar that Brian and John had used to patch elvakent escort the roof.

Reluctantly, Brian got quotes to replace the stairs.

Mrs. Nixon told Brian that a Mrs. Doris Kelley had been back twice to look at the antique hutch. She didn’t come out and say anything, but Brian got the impression that Mrs. Kelley had intimated something sexual had taken place between them.

Shit! Was he going to have to fuck her to shut her up?

Twenty-nine, fifty would come in handy. What would Peggy say? He decided to pay her a visit and find out.

The quotes for the new stairs arrived. Should he ask the banker, Mrs. Keratin for a loan?

Thanks to business at the market being exceptional for the month of July, he was able to pay all the bills.

The strain of making the payrolls, paying for incoming shipments and keeping Georgia paid was weighing heavily on Brian. He could see that his constant anxiety was rubbing off on John, Mrs. Nixon, and the kids. Mary was the only stable influence on everyone.

He really didn’t need the telephone call from Curtis, complaining that the July payment had arrived late. “I’m going to send the wife up there to have a look-see. Next time your late, I’ll come myself.”

Brian wanted to tell the jerk to go fuck him self, but he didn’t, thinking that his luck was bound to change.

“I’ll be glad to pick your wife up at the airport,” he said.

August 2006

Brian remembered his sister’s promise to pay him a visit that summer as soon as he heard her voice.

“Congratulations on getting your degree,” he said.

“You haven’t’ heard, have you?”

“Heard what? Aren’t you coming for a visit? We’re all looking forward to seeing you.”

“He’s dead, Brian. Danny was killed two weeks ago. They said it was friendly fire. What the fuck is friendly fire, anyway. Can you tell me that?”

“Ginny, my sweet sister, Ginny, I’m so sorry,” Brian said, breaking into a sob.

Ginny, the young sister that he hardly knew told him that her husband had been killed in Afghanistan, that she had accepted a teaching position and that she was not going to be able to keep her promise to visit him and his family. “Barbara has been great. We’ll live together and teach at the same school.”

“Who’s Barbara?” he asked.

“She’s Danny’s sister. She’s a wonderful person.”

“That’s good that you’ll be with a member of Danny’s family,” Brian said, beginning to pull himself together.

In a way, he was glad that his sister would not be coming. While he longed to console her, Ginny’s recent loss would amplify memories of Peggy. He bought an expensive graduation gift, wrote her a long letter, and had the kids create drawings to cheer up their aunt. But when he had the package ready to mail, he realized that he didn’t have her address. Hell, he didn’t even know her married name. Calling his parents for the information was out of the question. They would criticize him for not staying in touch with his family. Other than an occasional gift for Phillip, he seldom heard from his parents. They pretended that Amanda didn’t exist.

~

Brian didn’t have time to dwell on his sister’s loss. Nothing was going to keep his other visitor away. Georgia came into the terminal loaded for bear. This was not the same docile demeanor she had displayed before. Brian decided that she was acting as her husband wanted, tough and unyielding.

He drove her to the same motel where she, her husband, and son had stayed when they came for her father’s funeral. He helped her with her bag, and she asked him to wait outside while she changed into more comfortable clothes. When she joined him, she was wearing knee-length pants, a matching shirt, and sneakers. It was mid-afternoon, and they had time to tour the businesses if she wanted. He asked what she would like to see first.

“I’d like to see the house where I grew up,” she said.

Brian was embarrassed. He would have liked to show her how the hardware store and café had been spruced up. He’d also devoted a lot of time to the apartment building.

“I haven’t had time to get your dad’s house ready to rent, but its next on my list,” He said, apologetically.

He had to stop by his office to get the key. Georgia stayed in his truck.

“This is my main business,” he said, pointing to the buildings that housed the market, which didn’t look very impressive because it was closed on weekdays.

He hadn’t been inside Mr. Bennett’s house in some time. It was even dirtier than he remembered.

Georgia didn’t seem to notice the dust and filth. She headed up the stairs. He followed.

“This was my room when I was growing up,” she said.

“I suspected by the furniture that it was your room,” Brian said, wondering how he could compliment her on her taste in decorations. The posters were stained, and peeling at the corners. He didn’t see anything worth commenting on.

She opened one of the drawers on the dressing table and pulled out a string of pearls. “I wore these to the junior prom. My boyfriend was Gregory. He was a senior.”

Brian tried to think of something to say, but reminiscing about high school was not one of his favorite topics of conversation. He didn’t attend his junior prom or his senior prom either, for that matter.

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