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Tyler Adamson smoothed his hand over the surface of the newly sanded tabletop. The mahogany was warm and smooth as silk and by the time one of his team had rubbed several layers of shellac into it, the wood grain beneath his fingers would glow with a deep red luster. Amazing to think that mere weeks ago this finely honed piece of furniture had been nothing but a pile of roughly hewn wood and an idea on his drawing board.
"When is this scheduled for delivery?" he asked as he stepped back from the table.
His senior cabinetmaker, Dino, rolled his eyes. "Relax. It's on schedule. Go away and design something." He made a shooing motion with his hands.
Tyler ignored him, his gaze sweeping the crowded workshop. A Georgian sideboard was awaiting final sanding and a desk was in the process of having leather inlaid into its surface. A dozen balloon-back rosewood chairs were stacked to one side, ready to be upholstered, while no less than three dining tables were at various stages of assembly.
"Let Gabby know if you need another pair of hands," he said as he turned away.
He'd put too much time and effort into building the business to blow it by letting customers down with long delays now that business was booming.
"She'll hear about it, don't worry," Dino said.
Tyler didn't doubt it. Dino had never been shy about voicing his opinion in the past, after all. Tyler started toward the stairs to his mezzanine workspace, only to change direction when he remembered he'd left the notes from his recent client meeting in his truck. He passed the administration office, where he could see Gabby talking on the phone, then cut across the plush carpeted showroom to the front entrance.
The parking lot was baking in the late-afternoon sun, heat shimmering on the tarmac. He crossed to his truck, grabbed the folder off the rear seat, then headed for the coolness of the building.
He glanced over his shoulder to see a small, dark-haired woman bearing down on him.
"That's me. How can I help you?" he asked.
"My name's Ally Bishop."
She looked at him expectantly, clearly waiting for him to recognize her. He frowned. Her face was round, her eyes big and brown and her hair cut close to her head. She looked like she should be wearing an elf costume as part of Santa's Kingdom at the mall.
Definitely he'd never met her before.
"I'm sorry, but if this is about an order, you're better off speaking to Gabby. I'm a little out of the loop on where we're at with lead times right now."
He offered her a smile, inviting her to be amused by his administrative incompetence.
She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him as though he'd clubbed a baby seal to death in front of a class of preschoolers.
"I called you yesterday. I'm the one who left the message about your father being in hospital," she said.
Tyler stilled. "What?"
"He didn't want me to call you. He said you didn't have time for him, but I thought you might find room in your busy schedule to visit. Clearly, I was wrong."
She was starting to get red in the face and he got the feeling she was only warming up.
He held up a hand. "Hold on a minutemy father's in hospital?"
"Didn't you get my message?" She sounded suspicious. As though she thought he was lying to make himself look better.
"We had some water damage here a few weeks ago when that big storm came through. The answering machine's been on the blink ever since."
"Right." She frowned. He could practically hear her trying to change gears as she reassessed her opinion of him.
"What's wrong with him?" he asked.
He wanted to take the words back as soon as they'd left his mouth. He'd decided long ago to draw a line under his relationship with his father. Him being sick didn't change that.
"He collapsed in the backyard with stomach pains. They rushed him into surgery. He had a blockage in his bowel."
She stopped, but he knew there was more.
"What is it? Cancer?" He was aware that he sounded abrupt and harsh but was unable to do anything about it.
"Yes. The doctors said there was nothing they could do except make him comfortable."
He stared at her for a moment, then dropped his gaze to the scuffed toes of his boots.
So. The old man was finally on his way out. He was seventy-eight, so it was hardly surprising news. In fact, Tyler had been surprised he hadn't had a visit like this sooneralthough he'd expected a lawyer, not a self-righteous elf.
He lifted his head. She was watching him, waiting for his response.
"Thanks for letting me know. I appreciate it." He walked past her, heading for the door to the showroom.
"Don't you want to know where he is so you can see him?" she called after him. He kept walking. "No."
His father dying didn't change anything. Didn't even come close.
"You don't care that he's going to die alone? That there's no one to look after him? That he's living in a house filled with stacked-up newspapers and eating canned food?"
He stopped and turned to face her. She looked appalled. Shocked that anyone could be so cold. He almost smiled. Almost. His father had obviously done a great job convincing her he was a harmless, little old man. And who knew, maybe age had genuinely mellowed him.
Good for him.
"I said goodbye to my father years ago." He pushed the door open and walked into the showroom.
He half expected her to follow him. She'd been so full of fire and brimstone that he wouldn't have put it past her. He waited, muscles tense, but no one came through the door.
He strode through the showroom to the office. Gabby was going over a supplies manifest, one elbow on the desk, a fluorescent marker between her teeth.
"I thought you disconnected the old answering machine because it wasn't working?" he asked.
She blinked and he realized he'd barked the question instead of asking it like a normal person.
"Sorry," he muttered.
She gave him a long look. That was the problem with having his ex-girlfriend as his business
managershe knew him too well to let him get away with anything.
"Is there something wrong with the Crestwell account?" she asked.
"Everything's fine. Where's the old answering machine?"
"I told Dino to disconnect it. But if he didn't, it's where it always is."
She gestured to the far corner where a pile of boxes and files were stacked on a small coffee table, waiting to be returned to order after the flooding from the storm. Tyler hefted boxes out of the way until he'd unearthed the machine.
"It's still connected," he reported.
Gabby made a rude noise. "Bloody Dino. Talk about hopeless."
He pressed the blinking red light. "You have twenty new messages," an electronic voice told him.
"Shit," Gabby said.
He knew from experience that the machine only recorded twenty messages before it reached capacity. He wondered how many important calls they'd missed over the past few weeks.
The first three messages were customers with queries that he knew had long since been handled. He pressed the fast-forward button.
"Hey," Gabby said.
He saw she had a pen in hand and had been jotting down names and numbers as the messages played. "You can go over them all later," he said.
"What's wrong with doing it now?"
He ignored her, letting the machine hit the end of the tape before rewinding to the last message.
"Hi. I'm calling for Tyler Adamson. My name's Ally Bishop. I'm living next door to his father, Bob, up here in Woodend. I thought Tyler would like to know that his father is in hospital. I think I think it's pretty serious ."
He hit the Stop button. Gabby was uncharacteristically silent behind him.
"Can you make sure we replace this thing today?" Tyler said, not turning around.
"Are you okay?"
"Do you want me to make some calls ?" Gabby offered. "No."
"You don't want to go to him?"
He glanced at her over his shoulder. He and Gabby had gone out for three years, so she knew he never saw his father. But he'd never told her why.
"But" "Leave it, Gab."
He left the office and walked out into the workshop. Dino was on the lathe and Wes was sanding a tabletop, his face hidden behind safety goggles and a dust mask. Paul and Carl were marking up some wood. Kelly would be out the back somewhere, no doubt, checking on inventory or spraying something in the booth. Tyler breathed in the familiar smell of fresh-cut wood and varnish, then headed straight to the mezzanine where his work space was located. He sat in front of his drawing board and tried to lose himself in the design for a sideboard, but his head was full of old memories and feelings he'd thought long forgotten.
His father, red in the face, spittle flying from his mouth as he raged at Tyler for being insubordinate and useless.
His brother cowering beneath the lash of his father's belt while Tyler watched, filled with a mix of horror and shameful relief that this time it wasn't him on the receiving end of his father's wrath.
His mother, thin-lipped, telling him that he'd brought it on himself for being cheeky and rebellious.
Happy times, indeed.
Was it any wonder Tyler had escaped as soon as he could, following his brother's lead and bailing on school and home when he was barely seventeen? He'd left with nothing but a bag full of clothes and his father's angry "good riddance to bad rubbish," ringing in his earsand he'd never looked back. Not once.
Sure, he'd visited when his mother was still alive, driven by guilt and obligation. But when she died ten years ago, he'd made a promise to himself to never go back, to put it all behind himself and never dredge it up again.
I think I think it's serious.
Tyler swore beneath his breath. So what if his father was sick? So what if he was dying? Being closer to the grave didn't make him less of a bully and a coward, and it certainly didn't expunge seventeen years of violence and anger.
I think I think it's serious.
"I can take care of those client briefings tomorrow if you need time off," Gabby said from the doorway.
Tyler glanced at her. She leaned against the door frame, her arms crossed beneath her small breasts, her brown eyes steady on him. She wore her hair short, like Ally Bishop, but it was straight instead of curly so she looked more boyish than puckish.
"I'm not going anywhere."
Gabby studied his face for a beat. "You never told me why you hate him so much."
"I don't hate him." That would give the old man too much power. "I don't want him in my life."
"I don't suppose there's any point in me offering an ear if you need to talk?" Gabby's tone was resigned and sad.
His refusal to talk about his childhood had been one of the major hurdles of their failed relationship. One of her favorite accusations had been that he was "emotionally withholding." Whatever that meant. Just because he wanted to leave the past in the past didn't mean he was holding anything back. It was simply irrelevant.
"There's nothing to talk about."
Gabby sighed. "Well. The offer stands if you want it."
"I appreciate it."
She pushed away from the door frame. "Just remember, you're only going to get this chance once, Tyler."
He nodded tightly. He'd had his fill of short, dark-haired women telling him what to do today.
He worked at his drawing board for the rest of the afternoon. By the time he descended from the mezzanine, the workshop was silent and the light was off in Gabby's office.
He did a quick lap of the building, checking doors, inspecting the pieces that had been put to one side ready for delivery, ensuring the machinery was all switched off.
Last year, T.A. Furniture Designs had turned over nearly four million dollars. This year, they were on track to increase that by 20 percentdespite the global economic downturn, despite a general slowdown in spending across the board. Years of hard work and commitment to quality craftsmanship and design were, at last, paying off and if things kept going the way they were, the company would outgrow their current premises in the next few years.
Not so useless, after all, hey, Dad?
He stopped in his tracks, hand poised to flick off the master light switch.