Home of the Bellingwood Series – Nammynools

Prelude – Vignette #10 – Henry

Henry Sturtz sat at his hand-built table in the kitchen. He’d made it when he was young and his mother, bless her heart, insisted that they use it. He pulled the printouts he’d received from a possible client in front of him and looked them over again while drinking from the coffee mug. It had gotten cold, but he didn’t have time to make a new pot.
His phone rang and he smiled at the picture of his mother on the back deck of their Arizona home. He’d taken it the last time he’d gone to visit them.
“Good morning, Mom.”
“It’s your dad,” Bill Sturtz said. “Just checkin’ in. You can talk to your mother in a minute. She told me you have a potential client on the hook.”
“Not on the hook yet, Dad. I’m meeting with her later today.”
“Her? You be polite, you hear me?”
“You and Mom raised me to always be polite. I’m a good, obedient son. Remember?”
Bill chuckled. “Your mom also tells me that you might be reno-ing the old high school. That’s a big project. Do you need me to come home and help?”
Henry laughed. “I thought you were retired.”
“Retired, re-shmired,” Bill said. “There is nothing to do down here unless you golf and you know how I feel about golf.”
“A good walk ruined?”
“Those were Mark Twain’s words. I don’t even appreciate that it’s a good walk. I’ve been sketching out some model railroad setups to keep myself busy, but Marie tells me there’s no reason to build anything like that. Who would enjoy it?”
“You would.”
“Not as much fun if you can’t share it.”
“You’re making friends down there, aren’t you?”
“Your mother is making friends. I’m reading books and watching television. At least I can wear my shorts all the time. Your mother is happy, though.” Bill huffed. “And now she’s waving her hands and making noise that she wants to talk to you. Marie, I want to talk to my boy, too.”
The next thing Henry heard was his mother’s voice. “Are you ready for your meeting about renovating the school building, dear?”
“Yes, Mother,” Henry said, with only a hint of long-suffering in his voice.
“Don’t be like that. This could be an exciting project. I’m excited for you. How many other contractors are bidding on the job?”
“I don’t know. One or two.”
“You’re smart enough to figure out the best way to get this job. You have an edge.”
“I do?”
“Are the other contractors from Bellingwood? Did they grow up knowing that building inside and out? No. You’re the one who knows all that. And you know the community and what that means”
“If the other contractors …”
“Nope. Not listening to any of that kind of talk. You are the best person for the job. You walk into that meeting with confidence. But you also need to listen and be polite.”
“Mom,” Henry said with a laugh. “I’ve been doing this for a few years now. I know how to talk to people.”
“We worry about you.” She sighed. “We worry about Lonnie, too. She has her friends and seems to know what she wants out of life. What do you want?”
“I want my parents to trust me. I’m not a kid any longer. You sold the business and the house to me. I’m doing okay. It’s taken some time to get the business back into shape, but I’m working on it.”
“I know,” Marie said. “You’re right.” She lowered her voice. “You have no idea how strange it is not to be needed. We have no responsibilities. I made this move for your father’s health, but it’s hard being away from our family. Have you talked to Betty or Dick?”
“Not lately.”
“Checked on Loren?”
“Not likely.” Henry sighed. “He only has to throw me off his land once or twice for me to choose not to go through that again.”
“Poor man. Bill worries about him. Betty says she checks every once in a while, but he doesn’t like having her come around either. I wish there was something else you could do.”
“I can only try so much, Mom. Uncle Loren wants to live his life his way.”
“You’re right. It’s hard to watch, though. Okay, so tell me what you are planning to do and say at your meeting today.”
“What do you mean?”
“Where are you meeting your client?”
“At a coffee shop in Boone.”
“And you’re going to pay for the coffee, right?”
He chuckled. “I hadn’t thought about it.”
“You pay for the coffee and buy a sweet baked good, too. Be a gentleman.”
“Mom. I don’t want to have to whine at you, but I’m not a little boy. If you haven’t done your job by now, what makes you think you can fix me at this point.”
“I’ll never be finished fixing you. You’re pretty close to the perfect son, but I’m still your mother. Listen to your mother.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Henry smiled. “You sound as if you’re more nervous about the meeting than I am.”
“Renovating that old school building would be such a great job for you. If you do the work well, imagine the reference it will be for future contracts. This is a big deal, Henry. Don’t tell me it isn’t.”
“It is, but whatever is going to happen is what will happen.”
“Stop that. You take charge of your future. Go into this meeting intending to be the very best contractor the woman has met with yet. You are the best contractor for this project. Understand me?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he repeated, still with a smile. “I will be my mother’s son and go after this contract with gusto.”
“Good boy. You’ll call to let us know how it goes? I want to hear all about the woman who is taking on a project like this.”
“What if she’s an old hag?”
“Then I want to hear all about the old hag who is taking on a project like this. But be sure to treat her like you would your mother.”
“I need to get going, Mom. I want to go over the information one more time so I’m certain that I know what I’m talking about.”
“Remember, Henry Sturtz, you’re our son and we think the world of you. If your father hadn’t believed you could follow in his footsteps, he never would have trusted you with his company.”
“I know.”
She whispered, “To tell you the truth, he believes you are better at this than he is. Prove him correct, okay?”
“I will. I love you both.”
“We love you, too. Be sure to call us.”
Henry smiled as she ended the call. He looked over the printouts he’d made, then gathered everything and slid it into his briefcase. Renovating the old schoolhouse could be an exciting job. He double-checked the email that he’d received from the woman – a Polly Giller – to ensure that he had paid attention to what it was that she was looking for. The sketches were pretty clear. The woman knew what she wanted. He’d worked on blueprints for the apartment she wanted to create for herself from upstairs classrooms. She had big dreams for the place, but there wasn’t anything that scared him. At least she wasn’t planning to tear down the building to put up an ugly apartment complex.
He rinsed out the coffee mug and set it into the sink. Henry didn’t want to admit to his mother that he was nervous about this meeting. Whenever he met with a potential client, nervous energy was part of the meeting. It kept him alert and aware. But this felt like an important point in time. His mother was right about that, too. Renovating the old Bellingwood schoolhouse could make or break him. If they pulled this off, it would be a big deal for the community. Losing the school had taken the wind out of the town’s sails.
The briefcase lay open on the table and Henry sorted through the papers one more time. Blueprints, printouts of her sketches, and notes that he’d taken while reading through her email. He hoped she would be easy to work with. That she knew what she wanted could either be a problem or the best working relationship he could have.
He gave himself a quick shake. “Quit thinking about it, Sturtz. Get in the truck and drive to Boone. If this all falls apart, you will find something else to do.”
The drive to the coffee shop in Boone didn’t take nearly as long as he thought. Before he knew it, he had parked the truck and was taking a deep breath. He wasn’t sure what the woman looked like, but surely there wouldn’t be too many single women waiting for someone. Boone just wasn’t that big.
“Move it, buddy,” he said to himself. Instead, he opened the briefcase once more to doublecheck that the papers were where he had placed them before leaving the house. Of course they were. Why was he so nervous about this? He shut the case and headed for the shop.
Henry opened the front door, looked around, and saw a woman about his age seated at a table. His heart lurched and he took in a quick breath. She was beautiful. This couldn’t be who he was meeting, could it? She smiled as she read something on her phone and he took in another breath. It had been so long since he’d been attracted to a woman that he didn’t trust his feelings. 

“Stop it, Sturtz,” he murmured to himself. That could be a very bad idea. This was a business relationship, nothing more. He wouldn’t presume it to be anything more.  Oh my goodness, his mother would kill him if he messed it up because he was tongue-tied by a woman.
He walked over to the table and said, “Miss Giller?”
She set her phone on the table, stood, and said, “Yes. Are you Henry Sturtz?”
He could only nod in response. Then he noticed the cup of coffee and pointed at it. He would buy coffee and feed her. That would make his mother proud of him. The more he thought about his mother, the easier this would be. She could be in charge of his emotions right now. That felt safe.
Henry blathered something about the coffee shop’s strudel and coffee cake. His grandmother had always fed people when there was stress. Food was good. Gathering his thoughts was good. 
Miss Giller smiled and started to walk toward the counter with him. He heard her mention the coffee cake. At least that’s what he hoped he heard.
“I’ve got it. Go ahead. I’ll be there in a minute,” he said as he gestured back to the table. 

Whew. She returned and sat with her back to the counter, giving him a minute alone again. 
“May I help you?” the girl behind the counter asked.
“A piece of coffee cake, a piece of strudel, and a coffee.” Henry handed over his credit card and turned to look back at the woman at the table. She had no idea that people watched her when she moved. She was not only beautiful, but there was something about her. Strength, intelligence, creativity. Her presence indicated that she was all of those things.
He returned his attention to the girl, signed the credit card slip, and took up the mug and plates.
When he got to the table, he didn’t hesitate. After setting the plates and mug down, he moved the briefcase to sit to her side rather than across from her. He wanted to know this woman better. Whatever it was going to take, he would get this contract.
“This is one of my favorite places when I’m in town,” he said, cringing at the words. Really? “Thanks for meeting me here.”
She said something about not having been in Boone for years. She was staying in Ames while she waited for things to be done in Bellingwood. The man who connected them had told Henry she grew up in Iowa and was moving back from Boston. Henry hadn’t known what to imagine about her, but the woman seated beside him was not what he expected.
They made small talk and Henry realized he wasn’t paying attention. He needed to pull this together. She was nice enough, but they were here for a business meeting, not a date.
“Tell me what you’re hoping for that old school building,” he said.
She beamed at him and he realized he’d said the right thing. She had a dream for that building and it didn’t involve tearing it down and starting over. He opened his briefcase to pull out the blueprints and she cleared the table so they’d have room to spread out. This no longer felt like an interview. It felt like they were working together to create something amazing.
As he explained the designs he’d put together based on her sketches, he watched her excitement grow. She pointed at specific things that he’d thought about, the spa bathrooms upstairs, the redesign of her apartment, even the idea of bookshelves along the empty walls to warm up the rooms. She knew what she wanted.
What he knew was that he wanted to work with this woman. He’d never met anyone like her. Whatever it would take, he’d find a way to get this contract.
“Ms. Giller,” he said as she flipped through the blueprints.
“If we’re planning to work together,” she responded, “you should call me Polly.”
“Okay, Polly. Then, call me Henry.” He put out his hand and she took it, her hand warm in his. She held it and smiled at him as he said, “Tell me more about the ideas you have for the building.”


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