Healing Hands of Time
Chapter 8

Copyright© 2010 by Joe J

Classes started at State U right after Labor Day. Amber was taking three tough courses that required tons of research and study. I was working long hours, six days a week, trying to take care of my rapidly growing business and my Weaver-Wilson contract. As a result of our full schedules, Amber and I were only able to get together sporadically. Still, dating Amber was good for me and when we did manage to get together, we had fun. With all I had going on, Lindsey's memory spent less time in the front of my mind.

Even though I had Amber in my life, I didn't make the mistake of neglecting my friends and family as I had when I was with Lindsey. For instance, I still found time to have dinner with the Morrisons at least once a week.

Life was going great for Mitzi and her family. Todd had moved out of the basement, and was sharing an apartment with his girlfriend. Dallas had opted for the complete college experience, and was living the dorm life. Dallas, while very intelligent, didn't have that math geek thing like Dakota. Mitzi and Gil were falling in love and I couldn't have been happier for them.

Dakota was thriving at State, her intellect finally being challenged by the heavy math and engineering workload she was carrying. She was also geeking it up in the robotics club. Dakota was my best bud, but she never became like a little sister to me. I actually spent more time with Dakota than I did with Amber, because Amber worked on the weekends, while Dakota had them free.

On the third Saturday night in September, I paid up on the bet I lost to Dakota and escorted her to the ballet. I even visited the Men's Warehouse and let one of George Zimmer's wardrobe consultants hook me up with a new dark charcoal suit for the occasion.

I was pretty speechless when Dakota opened the door for me, wearing a little black dress and high heeled pumps. She had managed to tame her wild hair into a sophisticated do, and artfully applied make up made her look as if she were five years older. Dakota was pleased when I told her how beautiful she looked. She told me that I cleaned up well also. I was proud to have her on my arm as we strolled into the civic center.

Dakota enjoyed the ballet immensely, while I sat through it, pretending it wasn't boring me into oblivion. I admired the athleticism of the dancers, but all the rest was lost on me, 'pearls before swine', I guess.

During intermission, we joined the milling throng in the lobby. We were leaning against the wall, people-watching and sipping ten dollar glasses of mediocre wine, when Blakemore and Lindsey strolled by us, arm in arm. They stopped not fifteen feet in front of us to kibitz with a cluster of well-dressed couples. Dakota saw them then and cut her eyes towards me.

"You okay?" she asked.

Surprisingly I was. Yeah, my heart felt a yearning tug towards my ex-wife, but I was surprised that there was some anger towards her to go with the sadness of seeing her there with him. It was the first time that seeing her provoked that reaction.

"I'm here with you DJ, so I'm better than okay," I replied.

I guess that was the right thing to say, because Dakota smiled and gave me a peck on the lips.

"Good answer, Fuller," she said.

After trying not to squirm through the last two acts, the ballet mercifully ended, and we went to Mario's for a late dinner. I walked her to her door at eleven-thirty. She slipped her key in the deadbolt and turned to me.

"Come in with me please, mom is spending the night with Gil tonight, and I'm home alone."

I nodded and followed her inside. She stood in the foyer while I checked the house to make sure no one had broken in, then walked to the foyer and joined her.

"Everything is as it should be, DJ," I said and started out the door.

She put her hand on my arm and stopped me.

"Stay with me for a little while Josh, I hate being by myself."

"Whatever you want, DJ, it's your night."

"Goody," she said with a smile. "Come up stairs with me so I can ditch these shoes, my feet are killing me. Then I'll put on some coffee and we can hang out."

Dakota had her own bedroom and it reflected her personality. She had a bookcase overflowing with serious looking tomes on math and science, and a state of the art computer. She had a poster of the periodic tables on the wall above her desk and one of Johnny Depp over her bed. One wall was almost completely covered with a chalkboard, on which esoteric math equations were scribbled.

I was staring at the chalkboard, trying to make sense of the equation, when I heard her open a drawer. I turned around to see what she was doing and almost swallowed my tongue. She was standing there with her back to me, wearing nothing but a black thong. Both of her hands were on top of her head as she unpinned her hair. She turned around when she heard my surprised gasp, and my eyeballs yo-yoed down to her firm full breasts.

"What?" she asked nonchalantly.

"Put something on," I squeaked.

"That's what I'm doing," she said, "just give me a second, I need to put my hair in a scrunchie."

I gulp, nodded and turned back towards the chalkboard. She padded over to me, took me by the arm and turned me to face her again.

"I'm not body shy, Josh, and I told you that when you stopped acting like an idiot, you could look at me naked all you wanted. Well, you weren't an idiot tonight, so I'm keeping my word."

After she'd had her say, she spun around and walked back to her dresser. She stood there for a minute so I could look at her firm, smooth derriere, then she shimmied into a t-shirt and stepped into a pair of fleece shorts. When she turned back around, I finally blinked and noticed the shirt.

"Hey, that's my shirt," I groused.

She grinned and said, "Not anymore, it's my favorite sleep shirt now."

Dakota acted normally when we went down to the kitchen, so I took her word about her undressing in front of me. She was my best bud, after all, and if she felt it natural to disrobe in front of me, I could live with it.

Dakota made us a cup of hot chocolate instead of coffee, and we sipped cocoa at the kitchen table while she waxed poetic about the ballet. I stayed another hour until she yawned tiredly, then I headed home. She gave me another brief kiss on the lips at the door.

As I drove home, I couldn't help but compare Dakota's body to Amber's. Dakota lacked Amber's sculpted beauty, but she was still really well built. In a word, my bud was a hottie. It strangely bothered me that some college stud might soon discover that.

I flew up to North Carolina with Hawk the following week to look at his property. We met on the site with his builder the following morning. Hawk was right about it being a beautiful location for a house. We trudged around near the top of the hill for half an hour, before I found the perfect spot for the log home plan Hawk's architect had drawn. I sketched out what needed to be done to prep the site, then led the way down hill to the road.

As I walked, I spray painted a route for a looping driveway that gently curved through the trees. The driveway was the first order of business, then power had to be run up to the site and a deep well drilled. The crew that bulldozed the drive would cut into the hillside and dig the basement. The builder promised that his concrete crew would have the foundation poured by Halloween, so I told Hawk I'd come back during the first week of November.

September disappeared and before you knew it, October fifteenth and Shelby Jane's wedding was on us. Amber managed to wrangle the day off from the Kit-Kat Klub, and was my date for the event. Although my friends and family knew about Amber, this would be the first time any of them actually met her. I looked pretty spiffy in my tux when we pulled up to the botanical gardens, and Amber was a knock out in a white summer dress and strappy wedge sandals.

The wedding went off without a hitch, and my baby sister was such a beautiful and vivacious bride, it brought tears to my eyes. The high point of the wedding was indeed the releasing of the butterflies after their vows. I figure it danged well ought to be, considering dad paid five grand for the critters. Supposedly the butterflies were types that would stay around the garden and help naturally pollinate the flowers.

Amber charmed the heck out of everyone. My parents were especially impressed, because she was so opposite of Lindsey. Where Lindsey would have stoically endured being at the reception, Amber enthusiastically joined the fun. Just being with Amber made the reception fun for me too. The only thing that could have possibly made the event better was if my buddy DJ had been there. She couldn't make the wedding, because she was in Atlanta with her robotics club at some competition. I guess she was having fun though, what with ten colleges worth of geeks with whom to socialize.

After the wedding, life bounced along for me. Some days were good for me and some were bad, but gradually I was having more of the good ones. On the first of November, I had to hire a third superintendent, because we had more than thirty houses in the ground, and I had to add a bookkeeper to the office staff. I would also need a draftsman before long if the engineering business kept growing. While construction in general was flat, the market for the high-end semi-custom homes we specialized in was doing well. Word of mouth provided me my engineering clients. Nothing generated business leads better than satisfied customers.

When the stationary store next door went out of business, we jumped on their lease. We had a door cut between the two spaces and I located the builders over there along with the computer racks, printers and plotters. We were able to expand, because we weren't strapped for cash.

We did not have to wait until a house was completed to get paid. Instead, I had us on a 'draw' system, where we receive a percentage payment as certain construction milestones were reached. For instance, we drew ten percent of what we bid when the plans cleared the building department, fifteen percent when the slab was poured, twenty percent when the roof was complete and so on. Mitzi stayed right on top of making sure we collected our draws.

Although we promised a house to our client in one hundred and forty days, my houses were actually on a one hundred day schedule. I made up a spread sheet template that listed, by week, critical tasks we needed to complete in order to have the house ready in fourteen weeks.

My field superintendents (builders) scheduled out each house then lined up material delivery and trades to meet that schedule. If a builder hit the dates set for completing a step that earned a draw on time, he received a twenty-five dollar bonus. If he had a certificate of occupancy for the house in one hundred days or less he received a two hundred dollar bonus. A builder started each house with a potential to earn four hundred dollars in bonuses on it.

My guys were sharp and seldom missed a target so they were pulling in a couple of grand a month in bonuses. On a good month they made more than I did. That was okay though because our ability to turn out a high quality, zero defect house in one hundred days had the developers standing in line to hire us.

Because the building industry in general was in a slump, we had our choice of subcontractors and vendors. I was able to hire the best subs and buy high quality materials at very reasonable prices, so even though we kept our prices down, our profit margin actually increased.

Amber and I were getting along well and all my friends and family were for the most part happy and healthy. That left me with only one thing that caused me heartburn. Yes, it was Lindsey. My mind was still often on my ex-wife, but the sorrow from losing her had been almost entirely replaced by the anger I felt over what she did. I was also embarrassed for the fool I was for loving her so blindly, and disgusted at myself for letting her steal five years out of my life. For the first time, my thoughts of getting some retribution included Blakemore and her.

My revenge plotting against Blakemore was being frustrated by three things. One was the fact that it would be hard for me to get away with perpetrating some well-deserved whip-ass on Billy-boy. Hell, if Blakemore stubbed his toe right now, the cops would be at my door because of my messy divorce from his paramour. I badly wanted to kick his ass, but I wanted my freedom even more.

The second thing was that his connections and money insulated him from me catching him at something illegal, and he was smart enough that I knew he probably always covered his ass. Just seeing how he avoided any overt hanky-panky with Lindsey proved that.

The third impediment was my own values and ethics. Unfortunately, those prevented me from doing what was probably the only thing that might work: setting him up somehow. I'd give up most anything to bring Blakemore low, but I would not give up my integrity. About the only thing I had going for me was time, because I knew sooner or later, Blakemore would make a slip, and I'd be there to make sure he crashed and burned.

One thing I did do though was wrangle an invitation to any event I thought Lindsey and her new fiancé might be attending. That was easier now, thanks to almost two years of building houses for people with money and influence. I'd built houses for business owners, doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs, so chances are someone I knew had an in at whatever deal I wanted to attend. It was probably petty of me, but I did all that just so Lindsey could see I wasn't still sitting at home pining for her.

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