The Heat Is In The Tools
This term is used when someone complains because it is cold, they may need to be reminded that if they work harder and use the tools more frequently their body will naturally generate heat.
The lilting music poured out of my handbag, alerting me that someone was trying to reach me. My ringtone was the one area in my profession that I allowed myself to play; the one area I let my hair down, as it was.
I set down the throw pillow, placing it just so to show off the design to its best advantage before turning on my well-clad heel to answer the call.
"Stackhouse Design," I said into the tiny speaker on my blackberry; my lifeline, as my brother Jason had liked to call it. In a way, I could see the humor in that, though he hadn't said it to be funny. It was true that I never let it out of my sight. Well, I couldn't really. I hadn't become successful by accident. No, it was a lot of hard work that had rocketed me to my current position as one of the nation's most sought after industrial designers. Some might get the title confused with the types of ladies that come in and tell you what types of curtains and throw pillows would suit your space best (though I did do that as well); no, with my background in industrial design, I was brought in at the very early stages of a project. The empty shells of buildings were my playground. I orchestrated everything from the layout to the finishing touches. My specialty had quickly become renovated properties, and real-estate moguls throughout the country were willing to pay the price for my services.
"Susannah," the familiar voice sounded from the phone's speaker. "I was hoping to catch you at a good time."
"William," I said, with a smile. William Compton was one of my best clients. His family was from old, Southern money and he'd developed a passion for real-estate investment at an early age. He was young for the position he was in, only five or six years older than I was. But unlike other men my age that I'd encountered, William Compton had manners of yesteryear. He was the quintessential Southern gentleman, and one of my favorite clients. He was also one of Boston's most eligible bachelors, a distinction that had not escaped me.
"Susannah, I thought we agreed that you would call me Bill." I could almost see him shaking his head with a laugh on the other side of the phone, his rich dark brown hair falling over his equally rich brown eyes.
"Of course," I said, reaching down to smooth my pencil skirt over my thighs. "Bill."
"Much better. Listen, Susannah," his voice changed. There was an edge of uncertainty, almost nervousness to it. "I was wondering if you were free for dinner tonight."
I allowed myself to have a glimmer of hope that he was finally initiating the change in our relationship that we had been tiptoeing around these past few months. Our relationship had begun to change when his divorce had been finalized last year. Two months after the divorce, he had invited me to attend a charity function as his guest, and the frequency of our non-business interaction had increased. The newspapers speculated about our relationship, though he had never made a move to make us anything but platonic, much to my chagrin.
I generally made a rule to never date my clients, though believe me, I'd been asked plenty. It made things messy, and I didn't like messy. But there was something about Bill Compton that intrigued me. I had been raised in the South myself, and my Gran had always preached manners and decorum. She would have loved Bill Compton, with his gentlemanly ways. It also didn't hurt that he fit my five year plan perfectly. He was good-looking, wealthy, had the same sensibilities, and most importantly ran in the circles I had climbed into. I knew that sounded cold and heartless, and maybe it was a bit, but I'd made a new life for myself ever since Gran died, and I'd left Bon Temps behind me for good.
I'd been raised in a different world than I lived in now. While we weren't poor, we also weren't very well off. My parents had died when I was young, almost too young to remember them. Gran had raised Jason and me as her own, and always made sure that we never went without. She'd showered us with love and affection, and I didn't even realize we didn't have what others did. That is, not until I was in high school and the rich girls made fun of my homemade dress. I made a vow that day that I would make something of myself, and I had. I finished my four years at Virginia Tech and graduated with honors. I worked under other designers for a few years, and was in Boston working on a project when I'd received the phone call from my brother that Gran had passed away.
I'd spent so many years chasing after my dream, so much time and energy, that I hadn't really been back to see Gran more than a handful of times. That call had been devastating. I had taken the first flight available down to Shreveport, where my friend Tara had picked me up and driven me back to Gran's farmhouse. The week and the funeral had passed by in a blur, and before I knew it, my brother Jason and I were sitting in Gran's front parlor with Portia Bellefleur, who had helped Gran with her last will and testament. If I thought Gran's death was a shock, the result of the reading was even more so.
At some point, Gran had made some savvy investments and the sum she had left to be split between Jason and me was astounding. Looking around the farmhouse she'd been born in and died in, you never would have guessed what she had.
The money left to us had changed our lives. Jason and I had never been close, but, as often happens with death and inheritance, we split even further apart. Gran had left me her farmhouse, which Jason had seen as an injustice. It wasn't as if the farmhouse was worth much, and Jason had left the place himself the day he turned 18, so it wasn't as if he was getting kicked out. No, he was upset that I'd been left more than he had. I hadn't talked to him since that day. He had taken his share of Gran's estate and ran off with his new wife, Crystal Norris. Last I heard, they were living on some island in the Pacific.
I stayed in Bon Temps long enough to take care of Gran's things. And, just when I wasn't sure what I was going to do about the house, Tara had mentioned that she was looking for a place to live. I would have let her live in the house rent free – it was comforting just knowing someone would be there to maintain it – but she'd insisted on paying something. It was better than the alternative. I wasn't going to move back to Bon Temps, but I also wasn't ready to part with the place. It had been in our family for generations and I knew that Gran wanted to keep it that way.
As soon as Tara had moved in, I left Bon Temps and hadn't looked back since. The place had too many sad memories for me to stay. Gran had been the only tie, and now that she was gone, I would be happy never returning. I flew back to Boston where I promptly quit my job. I'd always wanted to own my own firm, to be my own boss. I figured I knew how to run the business – I'd practically been doing everything for my boss for two years. I set up shop in Boston, taking advantage of the inroads I'd made with a number of clients who came over to my new firm. Boston was far away from Bon Temps, far enough that I could continue to live my life without being reminded of who I used to be.
"Susannah?" Bill said, his voice pulling me out of my reverie.
"Sorry," I said, silently admonishing myself. "I would love to have dinner with you."
I heard him breathe a sigh of relief through the headset. "Excellent. Shall I send a driver to pick you up?"
"That would be lovely," I said, trying to keep my voice even. It wouldn't do to show too much emotion, not around someone like Bill Compton. He liked women who were in control of everything, something I had become adept at in the past few years. Ever since moving up to Boston, I'd learned to take most anything without belying my feelings. I was ready for this. I would make this happen tonight.
I had three hours until the car would arrive; three hours to put the finishing touches on the renovated space, rush home and prepare for my dinner. My date. I ran a hand over my hair, smoothing out the curls that threatened to come loose from the knot at the nape of my neck.
Tonight would be the night where everything changed.
Bill's driver arrived promptly at 7 pm.
I had quickly showered and spent at least thirty minutes debating what to wear. I didn't want to dress too provocatively, in the event that this was not a date, yet I knew that my business attire wouldn't be appropriate either. I had no idea where we were going, but Bill definitely was not a jeans type of guy. Then again I was not a type kind of girl. I could count the number of pants I owned on one hand. I liked to emphasize my femininity. There was something empowering about walking into a meeting with a contractor or a developer in a tailored skirt and heels. It set me apart from my competition.
After rifling through my perfectly organized closet (another of my specialties) I selected a sleeveless black dress. It was classic and flattering, evoking a sense of Jackie Kennedy. It was professional, in the event that this was a meeting, yet it skimmed my curves and was short enough to be appropriate in the event that this was a date.
When the driver knocked on my front door, I grabbed my new white swing coat that I had purchased in Paris. It had been an indulgence, certainly, but had the classic lines and style that would never be out of fashion.
The driver wound through the streets of the Back Bay, passing through Copley Square on the way to our final destination. The black Town Car pulled up alongside a new restaurant on the waterfront, and I was greeted by Bill the minute the door opened.
"Susannah," he said with a smile on his face, reaching down to clasp my hand in his own as he assisted me out of the car. "You're looking lovely, as usual."
I felt myself blush slightly under his assessing gaze and dropped my eyes to his black Italian shoes. He was dressed in a suit that was obviously tailored specifically for him. There would be no off-the-rack for a man like Bill Compton.
"Thank you Bill," I said with a smile as he hooked my hand under his arm.
"I reserved us a private room. I hope you don't mind."
"No, of course not."
He smiled down at me as he ushered me through the door of the restaurant. I had not had the chance to eat at Antonio's yet. It was one of those restaurants that had a waiting list months out unless you had connections, and there was no doubt that Bill Compton had connections. We wove through the candlelit tables of the main room, passing by couples who were gazing into each other's eyes. This was definitely not a restaurant where you took your business associates.
The private room was small and intimate. I admired the layout and lighting with my designer's eye – whoever had been responsible for the space knew what they were doing to set the mood.
Bill pulled out my chair and saw me seated before taking his own and ordering a bottle of Dom Perignon.
"Are we celebrating?" I asked with a smirk as the waiter poured the bubbly liquid into its flute.
"I'm hoping by the end of this meal, we will indeed have something to celebrate," he responded, tasting the champagne and nodding his approval to the waiter to pour my glass.
"Is that so?"
"Yes." Bill didn't say anything more, instead looking down to his menu. The anticipation was almost too much to bear. I had always disliked surprises, and he knew that. Though I couldn't lie that I was expecting whatever it was Bill wanted to discuss would be a cause for celebration.
I stared across the table at him for a moment before turning my attention to the menu. It was of no use really. No sooner had I read through the appetizers than Bill was ordering for the two of us. Even if he had excellent taste – which he did – I had never taken well to someone else making my decisions for me. I stamped down my urge to say something. Not now. If – nay, when – we moved into a more serious relationship, I would say something.
Once the waiter had left the room, Bill reached out and took a sip of his champagne, shutting his eyes as he rolled it on his tongue.
"Susannah," he said, his eyes still shut. He let my name hang in the air for a moment before fixing his gaze on me. "I would say that we've formed an agreeable relationship over these past few months, wouldn't you agree?"
This was it. This was the moment I'd been waiting for.
"I believe we've transcended the typical business relationship." He unfolded his napkin and placed it on his lap meticulously. "And, as that is the case, I was hoping that you would be amenable to my suggestion."
Okay, so it wasn't the most romantic way someone had ever asked me to date them, but Bill wasn't your typical guy.
"Yes?" I asked.
"Well, it's not a typical request."
I wished he would just get it over with. The tension was too much.
"I wouldn't say our relationship is typical either," I said with a smile.
"No. Which is why I feel comfortable asking you this." His eyes searched my face before he continued. "I have something special I am hoping you'll help me out with."
Well, that was a bit odd sounding, but I nodded anyway.
"As you know, my Aunt Caroline passed away last month."
I nodded again. We'd discussed some of the properties she'd owned. But I didn't see how this played into this evening.
"This is a lot to ask on such short notice," he continued. "But there is one property that is especially important to me."
Maybe this wasn't a date. I could adapt.
"It was her home. It's been in the family for generations, in a small town I'm sure you've never heard of. My Uncle Jesse had a farmhouse not very far away from it now that I think of it, but that is beside the point. I went once as a small child, but didn't return until after my father died. It is quite rundown. I'm not asking you to restore it to its original glory; that is not my style as you know. But you have impeccable taste. I plan on moving there myself someday, and I want it to be a place where I could raise a family."
How could I be so off base? He was clearly in a relationship already. I silently scolded myself for hoping this would be anything else. Though, if I were dating Bill Compton, I wouldn't be pleased that he was having a romantic, candlelit dinner with his industrial designer. Or, come to think of it, that he'd been seen out in public with me so often. I wondered what she was like.
"I would love the opportunity to work on this project Bill," I said. I'd always wanted the opportunity to get into an old plantation home and update it. I could imagine the press I would be able to get once it was complete. "Would I be working with you? Or with your…"
"My…?" he asked, his eyes full of confusion as he met my gaze.
"Well, if you're planning on starting a family, I would assume that you'd want your… partner to be in on the details."
His confusion quickly turned into merriment as he shook his head. "Oh goodness, no. There is no one in my life like that at this stage. At least…" he trailed off, giving me a meaningful look. "It needs a woman's touch. It needs… your touch."
"Oh!" Oh indeed. Maybe I hadn't been off base after all.
"It would take months to complete, but I can't imagine anyone else doing it. You – your opinions – have come to mean a lot to me. I hope I am not overstepping here, but there is no one else I would want to work alongside. This would be a very," he paused, "hands on project. We would be spending a lot of time together in the preplanning stages. And of course time on the project." He stopped and looked at me, searching my face for a reaction.
"We've spent a lot of time together lately as it is. And we have worked closely together in the past Bill, on many projects."
"Yes, but this would be different."
"I can do different."
"I know you can," he said with a smile. "Which is exactly why I asked you. It would mean leaving Boston."
"I've left Boston for jobs before."
"You'd be gone for months."
Months with Bill Compton? I could handle that.
"I can rearrange my schedule I'm sure."
"We'd become quite… intimate."
That's exactly what I was hoping for.
"Yes, well these types of projects tend to mean close working quarters."
He smiled at me and nodded.
"So you'll do it?"
"Yes!" I exclaimed, hoping that my excitement could be explained by the project and not because I was imagining my future life with Bill Compton and the checkmark on my five year plan.
"Wonderful!" His smile was genuine as he reached out and clasped my hand. "We can take my jet down to Bon Temps this weekend."
"Bon Temps? I thought you were raised in Savannah."
"I was," he said with a smile. "My Father and Aunt Caroline didn't see eye to eye, and Mother was from Savannah. But the Comptons are from Bon Temps. That's where the house is. Caroline was married, but never had any children. That's probably too much information for tonight. Like I said, you probably have never heard of it."
Oh, I'd heard of it alright. I scoured my brain, trying to think of how Bill Compton was associated with my Podunk town. I couldn't think of anyone named Caroline that lived there, certainly not Caroline Compton, though the house across the cemetery did have a man named Jesse living there for awhile. I couldn't remember his last name, which isn't surprising since he had modeled himself after Boo Radley. Hell, I didn't know if I could handle this, even if it did reach my end goal.
"Okay." I could do it. It wouldn't be easy, but I could do it. "I can call Dawson and see if he is available to come with us for the inspection." Dawson was my go-to for all of my projects. He'd agreed to work with me when I started my own business, and I used him and his team exclusively for my projects. We worked well together, meaning that he took direction well and never argued with me.
"About that," Bill said, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. "I know that you are fond of Dawson's team, and they have done a fine job for our previous projects. But…"
But what? I looked at him expectantly.
"There is a team in Shreveport that I would like to use for this project."
"You know that I only work with Dawson," I said slowly.
"Yes, I know that. But I have used Herveaux and Son on all of my projects in the South. They are excellent. They specialize in these types of projects, and I would not trust anyone else with my family home." The firm set of his mouth told me that this was non-negotiable.
I pulled my hand out of his and sat back, quickly thinking over this request. The pros far outnumbered the cons. I could work with anyone. I had worked with any number of contractors before I started Stackhouse Design.
"Alright," I said, "but they must be willing to work with me."
"Alcide and his team are very professional," Bill assured me. "They have an excellent reputation and track record. I'm sure you will get along splendidly."
Our discussion was abruptly halted when the waiter arrived with our meals, and that was that. I'd agreed to go back to a town I'd never wanted to return to, and work with a team I didn't know. It was entirely too much change for me to process in one sitting.