One last joist, before I take my lunch break.
There. Quick as a brown fox, I tightened the three outsize stainless screws into the pine. But it was easy enough; these things come naturally, with fifteen years’ practise. That frame would be secure enough now, at least until I fixed it properly after lunch. I loosened the buckle of the worn harness and waved the crane away.
On the ground, I beckoned to the crane – did Billy realise the time? – before turning back to the skeleton to admire my handiwork. The timber frame was almost complete now, and the downstairs walls of the new house were already taking shape.
Unscrewing the lid of my thermos, I poured the still-steaming coffee into my enamel mug. As I took my first sip, Billy appeared from his cab.
My best buddy, since forever, he’d joined the construction company with me, straight out of school. I still saw in him that shy, gangly nine-year-old, complete with braces, that I’d first met all those years ago. How the fuck does he do it? It’s still so effortless for him, while I’m losing hair by the fistful and will soon need to wear a corset.
But we’ve been through a lot, Billy and me. We’d gotten closer since our respective divorces a couple of years back, eerily within a year of each other. But we’d both gotten through, and Billy seemed okay now. We’d both been through our first marriages and were enjoying the single life once again.
Billy poured from his own Thermos, and we settled into silence as we began to eat from our respective lunch boxes.
The eating done, Billy broke the silence.
“Pa says he saw you out last night with Mary Beth.” He phrased it as a statement, not a question. Mary Beth. Billy’s sister, younger by three years. I’d known her almost as long as I’d known Billy himself. Now with a divorce under her own belt. So, she’d been right, it was her Pa. Mary Beth had thought she recognised the car when they were out walking together.
“Yeah, we went out last night for a beer. She’s a good listener. I like her. We cried on each other’s shoulders.”
“I don’t think you should see her again.”
I hadn’t thought Billy would be so protective. “But…”.
“No buts, Nate. I don’t want you going out with my sister, and that’s that.” Billy had a way of telling people when the discussion was over.
With clear unease between us, Billy soon made his excuses to return to his cab.
However, I spent the afternoon preoccupied, and at the end of the day, I cornered Billy.
“Can we talk about what you said at lunchtime?”
“Ain’t nuthin’ to say, Nate. I don’t want you seeing my sister. That’s all.”
“But Billy, I liked her. We sat and talked for hours. And I think she liked me. We’re going out for a meal, Friday night.”
“The hell you are.”
“It’s arranged, Billy. I wanted to see her again, she wanted to see me. We’re not young kids, for chrissake, we’re all grown adults.”
“Hmmm… Nate. We need to sort this. Meet me at the tavern at nine o’clock tonight, and we’ll settle this.”
“Settle? Whaddya mean, settle?”
“You know, the way we always used to settle things.”