Read Home Improvement (A Pajaro Bay Short Story) Online

Authors: Barbara Cool Lee

Tags: #Romance

Home Improvement (A Pajaro Bay Short Story)

Home Improvement

(A Pajaro Bay Short Story)


Barbara Cool Lee


First .Mobi (Kindle) Edition Published by Pajaro Bay Publishing at

© Copyright 2013 Barbara Cool Lee



ISBN 9781939527219


No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.


For more information contact [email protected]




Tuesday, March 12, 4:30 p.m.

Bluebird Cottage, Pajaro Bay



The word echoed all around her in the empty little cottage.

Kim Bishop took off the black wool blazer she'd worn for the funeral and carefully laid it over one of the kitchen chairs. Bryce's toolbox sat on the floor in the corner, still open where he'd last left it.

Kim went over and picked up his hammer.

She was a 27-year-old widow with a broken-down house, a big insurance settlement, and everything she needed to live a wonderful life.

Except the man who had been her best friend, her confidant, her one true love.

Kim threw the hammer at the wall. It bounced off the plaster, leaving a beautifully symmetrical hole behind.

The tears came then.

She went over and picked up the hammer. As hard as she could, she hammered at the wall, again and again, until the plaster came raining down and covered the floor, covered her black dress, covered her hair and her tear-stained face.

When she was finished and the wall was nothing but a hole framed by rotting boards, she stepped back and surveyed what she'd done.

All around her drifted clouds of plaster dust. She sneezed.

The sneeze and the tears combined to make her hiccup.

What had Bryce always said?
Hold your breath through a hiccup and it'll stop.

She tried that—hard to do while sobbing. But she held her breath until she felt the hiccup rise up in her throat. She swallowed hard.

Sure enough, no more hiccup. Bryce had been right about so many things.

She looked around the tiny cottage.

But he was wrong about this.




Saturday morning, October 26th

The Surfing Puggle, Pajaro Bay


Kim was drowning in pink. Fuchsia mohair vests. Mauve fisherman's sweaters with faux-fur collars. Blush-colored pajamas with matching bathrobes. She continued to pull more clothes out of the delivery boxes, fold them, and place them on the store shelves.

"Rain boots?" she finally said in exasperation when she found a layer of tiny shoes at the bottom of the box. "You've gotta be kidding me."

Jasmine looked up at her from her position behind the counter and laughed. "You'd be surprised."

Her friend Jazz matched her name. Round and bubbly, with ever-changing hair (Clairol Malaysian Cherry this week), rose tattoos winding up from each wrist, and a wild wardrobe to match, Jazz seemed to dance through life with a perpetual grin.

Kim knew her own ash-brown hair, conservative clothes, and minimal makeup helped her blend into the shadow of her flamboyant friend, but she was fine with that. Kim had never been the most eye-catching person in any room, especially one filled with Jazz's overwhelming presence.

Kim looked down at the box and picked up one of the tiny pairs of shoes. "Ladybug boots, Jazz? I mean, really. This is too much."

Jazz just laughed at her again. "Oh, Arrow," she called in a sing-song voice. "Booties!"

A brown miniature poodle in a puppy cut came running from the back. "Boots!" Jazz repeated, and Arrow rolled over obediently and presented her paws. In a minute, the dog was strutting around the store in the tiny red rubber boots with ladybugs printed all over them.

"Walk the runway, Arrow!"

The pup pranced down the main aisle of the shop, lifting her paws in a happy dance as she came. When she made it to the cash register, Jazz gave her a biscuit (Mama Thu's Organic Vegan Low-Cal Doggie Biscuits with Flax Meal, $1.99 each).

"See? She loves her boots."

Kim gave her a skeptical look. "She loves the biscuits. Though I can't imagine why. They look awful."

"They're great, actually," Jazz said. "Nice and crunchy." She took a bite out of one, then tossed another in Kim's direction. It landed on a yellow polka-dot bikini with matching coverup (Chihuahua sized).

"I'm not eating dog biscuits."

"Why not? They're the same thing she sells at her stand down at the amusement park. Only there she calls them Mama Thu's Organic Snacks. Same recipe. These are about a buck cheaper, though."

Kim just shook her head and kept on unpacking the new fall fashions. Doggie fall fashions. Who knew there even were such things? Or that her friend could actually make a living selling them in this little tourist town?

But giving Jazz a hand around the shop was better than staring at the cottage walls all day.

Jazz knew it, too, because the next thing she said was, "Aren't you glad I talked you into accepting this prestigious position?"

"And what position would that be?"

"Chief Canine Wardrobe Officer," Jazz said without missing a beat. "Thrilling, isn't it?"

"Oh, is that why I'm getting minimum wage? Because I get all that prestige?"

"Yup." Kim came over and gave her a hug. "You should be paying me for this opportunity. Besides, I had to get you out of the house before you gave the Historical Society any more fits. I don't think they'll ever forgive you for tearing out that wall."

"It had to come out."

"Sure it did. But you didn't have to remove a load-bearing wall all by yourself without a building permit. I could hear the old biddies screaming from here to the lighthouse."

"You're never going to let me forget that, are you?"

"Nope," Jazz said with another quick hug. "And Zelda Potter isn't, either."

Kim smiled.

"What?" Jazz said. "Why the grin?" Then she took a step back. "No!" she shouted so loudly that Arrow looked up at her warily. Then she scooped up the pup and danced around the shop. "You got the permit!" she shouted.

"Shhh. You don't have to shout."

"Why not? You finally got past Ms. Zelda Potter and the cackling hens of the Pajaro Bay Hysterical Society. That's fantastic." She set the dog down, much to Arrow's relief, and then grabbed Kim and waltzed her the length of the shop.

Luckily the bell on the shop door chimed, and Jazz let her go.

"What's the celebration about?" asked Robin Brenham, of Robin's Nest Realty next door. Robin wore a gorgeous coppery Donna Karan cashmere sweater and leggings which set off her jet-black hair and caramel skin tone perfectly.

"She got the permit!" Jazz shouted.

Robin beamed at her. "You must be thrilled."

Kim shrugged. "Indoor plumbing. That's a must. And aren't you boiling hot in that sweater?"

"I'm sweating like a pig," she said. "But it just came. I can't wait all year for it to get cold."

"You really think it's going to get cold enough here for cashmere?"

"Probably not, but I have to make some sacrifices for fashion." She pulled out a tissue and wiped her forehead. "Whew. So—ready for coffee?"

Robin's coffee was famous in the little row of shops called Alvarado Alley. It was famous in all of Pajaro Bay, actually. But Kim shook her head. "Can't come today. I've gotta meet the contractor in twenty minutes."

"A contractor who works on Saturdays?" Robin said. "What a treasure. Who is it?"

"Kelly Brothers."

"Which one? Gavin or Gage?"


"Yum," Jazz said.

"Yeah," Robin agreed. "Double yum. Too bad he's such a player. If he were husband material, I'd consider marrying again."

"I'm not looking for romance," Kim said. "I just need someone to fix the bathroom floor."




When Kim pulled into her driveway, she sat in her little red Mazda and looked at the cottage for a while.

Bluebird Cottage was an original Stockdale, built by the famous architect back in the 1930s. It was two stories high, and its redwood siding and steep shingle roof gave it a cabin-in-the-woods vibe even though it was only a few blocks off the main drag in Pajaro Bay. The teal gingerbread trim and overgrown window boxes added a little more cuteness to the already kitschy design. The whole thing was capped off by the tiny stained glass window up high under the roof peak, its image of a bluebird singing away on a pine branch giving the cottage its name.

She got out of the car, and her sneakers crunched on the pine needles that littered the gravel drive.

She walked up the familiar windy path past the escallonia bushes and under the arch of purple bougainvillea.

The place needed a lot of work. One of the first-floor window boxes had come loose, and it sagged down to touch the ground on the left side. The roof was not only covered with windblown pine needles but there were a bunch of wooden shingles missing, and she'd been informed by the historical society that she was not allowed to replace the roof with more practical, fireproof (and affordable) synthetic shingles, but instead must hire a specialist who would match the color and thickness of the existing wood and fill in the bare spots without, as Miss Zelda Potter said, "changing in any way the distinctive character of the historical Stockdale cottage."

Bluebird Cottage may have a cute name, but it was a pain to deal with.

And of course inside was no better. She had actually stepped through a floorboard in the upstairs bathroom, and now had an unobstructed view of the downstairs fireplace while sitting on the toilet.

But it was a pretty view. The fireplace was surrounded by forget-me-knot blue tiles, with birds embossed on them in high relief. The keystone above the firebox was a hand-painted tile of (what else?) a bluebird. At least the builder had been consistent.

But still, to come across little birds everywhere she turned just reminded her of the first time she'd seen the house. She and Bryce had honeymooned at the beach in Pajaro Bay, and they'd spent several lazy afternoons strolling through the village, holding hands and just enjoying each other's company.

When they'd come across the tiny cottage on a side street, the
For Sale
sign planted by its rickety picket fence had seemed like an invitation. They'd known that this was the place where all their dreams for the future would come true. They would work side by side to repair and restore the worn-down former rental and turn it into their very own home, the home where Bryce would run the construction estimating business that would make him as successful as they'd planned. And one day soon their own children would play in the yard.

It was all gone now. All but the little cottage with the hole in the floor, and the wall she'd torn out, and the mile-long repair list. And the promise she'd made to Bryce when he lay dying in the emergency room: that she wouldn't give up on her dreams of small-town life.

The beep of a horn behind her made her jump.

Gage's truck came to a stop on the gravel next to her car, and the moment the door opened Freeway hit the ground and came running.

"Hey, boy. I missed you, too," she said, giving the giant shaggy dog a hug.

"It's been a while," Gage said, coming up to stand beside her. Those hazel eyes of his looked at her a bit hesitantly.

"I'm sorry I've been avoiding you," she said.

"I figured I reminded you of...."

"Yeah. Of Bryce." Gage had called a dozen times over the past six months, offering to help, but she somehow never got around to returning the calls until now. He had been Bryce's best friend, the one who'd convinced him to start his estimating business after they took CAD classes in college together. Now the sight of Gage was a reminder of everything she'd lost.

"It's not your fault," she finally said. "It's just taken me a bit of time to be ready to move on." Freeway bumped against her leg and she almost tripped, but Gage was there to catch her. The feel of his strong hand on her arm brought tears to her eyes and she quickly stepped away from him.

She pulled a Kleenex out of her pocket and blew her nose. "Sorry. I'm still a mess."

"You're not a mess," he said with that cute evil grin of his. "I like my women with red noses. Adds a spot of color to their faces."

She had to laugh at that. "Gee, thanks." She realized to her surprise that she'd missed him. He always knew just what to say.

"Now enough of this blubbering," he said gruffly. "Show me the famous wall."

She led him inside. Freeway waited outside with his damp nose pressed up against the screen door.

Gage whistled when he saw the hole where the wall had been. She'd long since cleaned up the plaster and other mess. Now a couple of 4x4s held the overhead beam in place.

"Your brother did a good job saving me," she said.

Gage looked it over. "At least the second floor won't give way now. Gavin wouldn't have let you stay here if it wasn't safe. But I think we might want to do something a little more permanent."

"And a little less ugly," she added.

They went to the kitchen table where the blueprints were spread out.

She brewed a pot of coffee while he read over the plans and the historical society's list of "suggestions" for changes.

She handed him a cup and he took it absently while still reading. Then they both sat down.

"So?" she finally asked. "Think you can do it?"

"Of course I can do it. I've been dealing with Stockdales for years. Miss Zelda has had me over for tea and I've been bitten by her cat, which qualifies me as an expert contractor in this town."

Kim laughed. "You're right. You can't find better credentials than that."

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