Title: Frank at Heart
Series: Foothills Pride series, #6
Author: Pat Henshaw
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: May 31, 2017
Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex
Length: 30,236 words
Genre: Contemporary Gay Romance
Everything about thirty-five-year-old Stone Acres hardware store owner Frank McCord is old-fashioned—from his bow tie and overalls to the way he happily makes house calls to his dreams of lasting romance, true love, and marriage. Frank’s predecessors have run the store and been mainstays in the small California town for over a century. While genial Frank upholds tradition and earns the respect of friends and neighbors, he fears he’s too dull and old to attract a husband.
Into his life comes handsome thirty-six-year-old electronic games designer Christopher Darling and his fifteen-year-old son, Henry. Christopher has everything Frank could want in a potential partner: charm, kindness, and compatibility. Also, he’s a terrific father to Henry. When their Stone Acres home turns out to be uninhabitable, Frank offers the Darlings temporary lodging in his ancestral farmhouse, where he and his tenant Emil reside. Since Emil thinks Frank is his, sparks fly. Suddenly, Frank’s monotonous life promises to explode with love and threatens to change him forever.
My procedure for hiring was pretty simple. In the identification section of the test, I gave applicants a common nail, a Phillips head screw, a paint stirrer, a tape measure, a claw hammer, a screwdriver, a crescent wrench, pliers, a putty knife, and a box cutter. I gave these objects one at a time to the teen and asked him to identify what the object was, when to use it, and how to use it.
Then I gave the applicant six pieces of precut plywood, eight corner angles, tools, and other supplies, and had him—it was usually a him—follow simple directions to make a box with a hinged flap. The whole test was either incredibly easy or horribly complex and frustrating.
My first applicant was a poster boy for the latter. He called both the nail and the screw a screw, then dissolved into a fit of adolescent giggles. I waited for his mirth to subside. He had no idea about any of the tools except the box cutter, which he simply called a wicked-ass knife.
As I walked into the back room with him for the second part of the test, I was appalled at how little he knew and wondered why he wanted to work at a hardware store. Was it just the money?
I stopped him after watching for five minutes as he tried to figure out how to make the box. When he looked at me with defeat in his eyes, I called a halt.
“Thank you for coming in, Seth. I think we both know this job wouldn’t be a good fit for you.” I looked over his application form. “I think working at one of the mall stores might be more your speed, don’t you?”
He nodded eagerly. “But my folks say that you’re more established and fairer than the mall stores. I wanted to work for the coffee shop or the movie theater.”
“Well, you can tell your parents I appreciate their support, but I’m voting for you to be a real success at either of those other two choices.”
He beamed. As we shook hands, I knew his dad would be in later this week to talk about his son.
Henry turned up alone at two o’clock, and I ran him through the first part of the test. We only hit one snag. We got along too well and ended up having side discussions about the items.
When I handed him the nail, for example, he took it between his fingers and caressed it.
“It’s a two-penny flat-head nail.” He rolled it around for a second. “You know, they used to keep nails in big casks like they do wine. Then they sold them by weighing them. They’d scoop them up out of the barrels.”
Well, I mean, what was I supposed to do? Ignore that? Of course not. I took him into the back room where we stored everything we’d removed when my father updated the store in the 1970s. I showed him the old scoop-shaped scale, and we weighed a few nails and other items hanging around.
“This is so cool, Frank. You should put it back on the counter. I’ll bet everyone would want to see it. It’d give the store an epic feel.”
I wasn’t sure I agreed about the epic part, but maybe it was time to give the store another more modern redesign.
We scurried out of the back room when the bell tinkled and we could hear someone walking around the front of the store talking to Riley. I tried to stop giving Henry the first part of the test, since he still had the box to build. But when we saw the customer was his father, who seemed to be fascinated by the wall of power tools, Henry took out the remaining items in the little bag.
He held them up one at a time and rattled off their names and purposes.
“There!” he crowed, smiling up at me. “Now what do you want me to make?”
I showed him the wood, tools, and directions and left him to the project. When I saw he was reading through the directions, I walked over to his dad. Riley’d already moved back behind the counter and seemed to be working on some inventory sheets.
“I’m not here to ask how he’s doing, so don’t think I am.” Christopher didn’t turn around when I got up behind him. He was staring at the power saws.
“He’s doing fine.” I didn’t step too close, but drat if I didn’t want to. I wanted to put my hand on his shoulder and squeeze. Or if I was even bolder, I’d put my arm around his waist and snuggle his head back onto my shoulder.
Weren’t those counterproductive daydreams? Now I’d have to wait a moment before I could go back to check on Henry. Overalls worn in public, especially if I was in the vicinity of Christopher, were my groin’s personal enemy.
Christopher turned his head. We were close enough to kiss if I leaned in a little more. I didn’t. Instead I stepped back, although I did smile.
“Can I peek?” Christopher was whispering like we had secrets.
I leaned back and looked over my shoulder at his son. Henry was nearly finished with the box. He was studying the directions like they were a map to the El Dorado treasure.
“Sure. Go ahead and peek. He’s just about done.”
I sounded as stunned as I felt. First off, Christopher and I were standing too close and whispering. I felt his warmth, and my cheeks burned. As I tried to shake myself back to reality, the second reason I was a little stunned hit me. Henry was on the final step of building the box. How could he be done so quickly?
As I walked back toward him, he held the box at eye level in one hand and opened and closed the hinged door. Henry looked up as I entered the workroom.
“I don’t get it,” he said. The hinged door snapped shut as he let it go. “What’s it for?”
He seemed so puzzled that I started to chuckle. Then at his stricken look, I stopped.
“It’s not useful in itself. It’s just a test to see if you can follow directions and know how to use the tools.”
His face darkened as I explained.
“You use up all of this stuff for that? Anybody can make this.” He put the box down, acting a little disdainful and a lot put out.
“You’d be surprised.” I didn’t elaborate. Why tell him that another boy who was in the same grade couldn’t figure out the directions at all?
I picked up the box and studied it. He’d done a remarkable job in so little time. He’d even used the flush piano hinges instead of the more cumbersome butt hinge, even though the directions didn’t specify which would be better for the project. His box opened and closed easily, and the corners made perfect ninety-degree angles.
I started to put the box down, but Christopher reached for it. I passed it over and watched a moment as he held it up, a look of awe on his face.
“Henry, this is—” he started, but his son stopped him.
“Dad, I’m taking a test here.”
With a sheepish grin and an amused side-glance at me, Christopher put the box down, said a short “Sorry,” and returned to the front of the store.
Again, I hid my amusement at how well they interacted and shelved my amazement at how Christopher had shared the moment with me. I ran my hand over the top of the box. This one I’d keep.
As I was about to find out when Henry could start work, the bell tinkled. I looked over my shoulder to see a newcomer hurry in. His sneakers squeaked on the wood floor.
“Hi. You the owner?” he greeted me.
I looked around for Riley but couldn’t see him anywhere. Had he called it a day and gone home? I wouldn’t blame him. Except for the Darlings, it’d been slow.
When I nodded at the customer, he launched into a fairly typical request. He and his wife had bought some Ikea furniture, and now he couldn’t put it together. I told him what I told everyone, to bring it into the shop and we’d assemble it for him.
Then I told him the setup fee, said it would take a week or so, and took down his name and contact information as he started to thank me. After I told him the store was actually closing right now, he left reluctantly, looking at the merchandise around him as he shuffled to the door. This time I locked it and put out the Closed sign. Christopher had said he wanted me to visit the Adams-Scott House this afternoon, but first I had to hire Henry officially.
“So, Henry, when would you like to start?”
He was staring at the door and the escaping customer. I had to ask the question twice.
“Who puts together the Ikea stuff?” Henry responded instead of giving me a date.
“Riley and I do. When we get a chance. We do it between other things. Why?” The truth was we both hated assembling the furniture because it was tedious.
“May I do it?” The eagerness in his question caught me off guard.
“You want to put together Ikea furniture?” He didn’t mean it, did he?
“Yeah. Cool. I love Ikea!” Henry beamed at me as if to ask “Doesn’t everyone?”
Meet the Author
Pat Henshaw has spent her life surrounded by words: teaching English composition at the junior college level; writing book reviews for newspapers, magazines, and websites; helping students find information as a librarian; and promoting PBS television programs.
Now retired, Pat, author of the Foothills Pride Stories, was born and raised in Nebraska and promptly left the cold and snow after college, living at various times in Texas, Colorado, Northern Virginia, and now Sacramento, California. Pat has found joy in visiting Mexico, Canada, Europe, Nicaragua, Thailand, and Egypt, and relishes trips to Stowe, Vermont, to see family.
Two of her fondest memories include touching time when she put her hands on the pyramids and experiencing pure whimsy when she interviewed Caroll Spinney (Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch). Her triumphs are raising two incredible daughters who daily amaze her with their power and compassion. Her supportive husband keeps her grounded in reality when she threatens to drift away while writing fiction.