Morgan Valley, California
“You still up there, Kaiden?”
Kaiden Miller took a second to remove the two long nails from between his teeth before squinting down through the haze of dust and wood shavings to the floor below. He was halfway up a ladder inside the gutted interior of what had once been the Morgantown movie theater attempting to repair a broken support beam.
“Yup, what do you need, Doc?”
He put the nails in the top pocket of his denim shirt and his hammer back in his tool belt before carefully climbing down.
“Sorry to interrupt you,” Dr. Tio said. “But I wanted to check in before you headed home tonight.”
Kaiden shook the sawdust off his battered old watch, and realized it was far later than he’d realized. He was supposed to be helping at the ranch while his brother Danny was away at some agricultural college thing. His father, who wasn’t known for either his patience, or his good temper, would be yelling the moment Kaiden turned into the driveway to the ranch.
“Sure, how can I help, Doc?”
He was already late; he might as well enjoy the full Jeff Miller show with all the trimmings.
“I just had Juan Garcia in for an appointment.”
“How’s he doing?” Kaiden asked.
“Not too good. It looks like he’s going to be using a wheelchair a lot more.” Dr. Tio grimaced. “Which means his ranch house is going to need some adaptations.”
“Do you want me to take a look at it?”
For some reason, even though technically he was just a carpenter, Kaiden was often asked to be the project manager for local jobs. Not that he minded. He got bored very quickly and appreciated some variety in his life.
“If you could, that would be great. I’d much rather someone local got the job.” Dr. Tio looked relieved. “The family is willing to pay the going rate to get it done as quickly as possible.”
“I’ll have to check in with my dad as to my availability, and I can’t do it all myself,” Kaiden added. “But I know plenty of guys who would be happy to get the work.”
“Thanks so much.” Dr. Tio patted his shoulder. “I appreciate it.”
Kaiden nodded. “Tell Mr. Garcia I’ll drop in tomorrow morning, if that’s okay.”
“Will do.” Dr. Tio paused to look up at the twenty-foot-high roof. “This place is coming along great. How many apartments do you think you’ll get in here?”
“At least four, maybe six depending on what Chase Morgan’s architect decides when we’ve finished checking out the structural integrity of the place.”
Kaiden had fallen in love with the old building, which somehow, despite falling into disrepair, still retained the scent of popcorn, bubblegum, and anticipation from its movie theater days. Luckily, May Chang, the architect, was a big fan of keeping as much of the original spirit of the building as Kaiden was.
“Thanks again, Kaiden,” Dr. Tio repeated. “I’ll speak to you tomorrow.”
He picked his way carefully through the debris and out onto the street. Kaiden took the time to make sure all the tools were locked away and the site was as secure as he could make it before locking the temporary door behind him and heading for his truck.
The sun hadn’t quite gone down and cast a beam of light straight along Main Street illuminating the raised walkways, false shop fronts, and hitching posts that gave Morgantown its special Northern California gold rush town appeal. Even though he’d lived there his entire life, Kaiden wasn’t immune either to its charm or its limitations.
His cell phone buzzed. He took it out to see at least ten messages with full-on caps and exclamation points and wished again that his sister Daisy hadn’t taught their father how to text. He didn’t bother to reply. He’d be home in fifteen minutes and then his father could give it to him straight.
As he approached his battered truck, Kaiden thumbed through his contacts checking to see if he had a number for the Garcia Ranch. As Juan’s health had failed, a few of the local ranchers who matched boundaries with the Garcias had tried to help out mending fences and moving cattle when the valley had partially flooded. It wasn’t as if they weren’t busy enough, but out here in Morgan Valley, it was a tradition that neighbors helped neighbors.
Kaiden set his toolbox and belt in the passenger seat and stretched out his tired muscles. Working in the cramped roof space wasn’t ideal for his six-foot frame, but there was no one else willing to get up close and personal with the hundred-year-old beams.
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