It was nearing eight o’clock by the time Cat swung her small car, for the second time, into the parking spot across the street from the hardware store. Checking her radio clock, she winced. In her rush, she hadn’t considered what time the place closed. Peering hopefully up at the glass-front doors of McBoy’s Hardware & Supplies, the store’s OPEN sign stared back at her. Thank God.
With a sigh, she unbuckled her seatbelt. At least that was going her way. Easing out the vehicle, she hurried quickly across the street, her fingers yanking the door open with probably more force than was absolutely necessary. Keeping her eyes downcast, she kept her eyes from wandering to her right, where the check-out counter stood. It was mortifying enough, coming back here twice in one day. But to have the same staff member ring her up…though, to be fair, she doubted there had been a change-over in staff in the two and some odd hours since she’d last been there.
Marching down the first aisle she came upon, she stalked her prey. Coming up on a wall hung with an assortment of cabinetry, she felt an instant rush of both relief and fear. She’d found what she was looking for, but what if it wasn’t here? Her stomach knotted as her eyes roamed over the items on display. Taking out her phone, she glanced at the picture she’d taken before leaving her apartment—a close-up of one of her kitchen cupboard doors—the one that directly mirrored the one she’d well, snapped in two. Glancing at the photo earnestly, she tried to compare it to cabinets lined up and down the aisle. She squinted. She glared…but no matter the scrutiny, she knew when she’d been beat. In fact, she knew she’d been beat all day.
She wasn’t interested in another situation like the one with the screw.
“And really, what are the odds that I would magically pick the exact replica of the door that used to cover my snacks,” she muttered to herself, her fingers feeling the wooden grain of the door before her. It had a rounded edge.
“After all, I thought the screw I bought earlier looked right and we see where that led—”
“Can I help you with something?”
At the question, Cat felt her shoulders stiffen. She’d been right. There had definitely not been a shift change. That voice belonged to the same gentlemen who’d checked her out earlier. Bracing for the flicker of familiarity when he realized she was the same person he’d checked-out not two hours before (because it’s not like the place was so hopping with business he’d be bound to forget), she slowly turned around, a grim smile marring her face.
His face registered neither surprise, recognition, or really even interest.
“Yes. I’m actually, well, I’m not exactly sure what it is I’m looking for…” She could feel the tips of her fingers running up and down her collarbone. “That is…”
Spit it out, Cat. But other than a slight lift of one dark eyebrow, he didn’t interrupt her babbling attempt at speech.
Urgently now, she flapped one wrist in the air. “That is, I’m looking for a door,”
“For my kitchen.”
The smallest of smiles played at his mouth. A tiny dimple formed in his left cheek. “Well, you’re in the right place.”
She squirmed under his patience gaze, as he waited for her to explain herself. “But I’m not sure exactly what door I’m looking for. I mean, I have a picture of it. I just don’t know…” Ugh. She was sounded stupider and stupider by the second.
He held up a hand, thankfully warding her off. “I think I understand. Doing a remodel?” But before she could clarify that, he nodded down the aisle. “This is everything we have in stock, but if you’re looking for something else, we can pretty much order anything in…even custom specifications.”
She blinked. “Well, umm…I was hoping you’d have one of these?” With a grimace, she held out her phone for his inspection.
Looking at the picture, he smiled. “Oh, sure that’s a basic free shaker cabinet door. We have a couple of different options here in the store.” He was already craning his neck, trying to locate them.
“You do?” Her eyes widened with relief and disbelief. “Oh, thank God. I wasn’t sure…you know, it looked similar to a couple of these doors here, but I wasn’t sure if they’d be exactly the same—”
Now it was his eyes that widened. Holding up a hand, he shook his head. “Exactly the same? Do you mean…”
Hefting one shoulder, she said: “I need to replace one.”
“Oh. I see.” That didn’t sound promising. He cleared his throat. “What, eh, what are the dimensions of the door you need replaced?”
This time, Cat was ready with an answer. Turning her phone back toward her, she flipped through the photos until she located the ones she needed. Flipping the phone back to the man, she announced: “I figured this was the safety way…” It was a picture of her front cabinet door, with a tape measure running horizontally from one end to the other. “I took length, depth, and width…just swipe right to see the others.”
With patent hesitation, he reached for her phone. His mouth turned down in a frown as he studied first one photo and then the next. “I see.”
Cat fidgeted impatiently while he looked. “And? Do you have any of that door?”
He blew out an exaggerated breath. “Yeah, no I don’t think so…” Still, to his credit, the man looked, his look taking carefully inventory. But alas: “No,” he finally admitted. “No, I’m afraid we don’t have that in stock.”
Cat swallowed. “Oh.”
“Not that I’m that surprised,” he admitted, giving her phone back. “It’s an odd width.”
Cat felt her teeth raze over her lip. “Right. Okay. Well…”
“Hold on,” he said, holding up his hand. “Let me check some manufacturers websites. We may just get lucky yet.” With a wave of his fingers, he urged her forward.
Cat didn’t need to be told twice.
But five fruitless minutes later, she heard his fourth of fifth sigh as he surfed yet another website’s product listing…
“Do you know when these cabinets were originally put in?” He asked glancing at her quickly.
Cat shrugged. “No. I mean…I think the house was built in the forties.”
There was another sigh. She wondered if he knew how loud they were. “I’m going to guess they’re original to the house.”
“Oh.” Cat wasn’t sure what that meant. When he didn’t immediately respond, she ventured. “Is that a bad thing?”
He ran a hand through his hair. “No, not necessarily. It’s just, it might help explain the door’s size, which is both taller and narrower than today’s standard design.”
She nodded heavily. That didn’t sound like a good thing.
He glanced at her set features. “Hey, we can always custom order one. That’s not out of the realm of possibilities here. It’s just—”
“It’s expensive,” Cat guessed.
He shrugged. “Yeah. Usually.”
“But I’m not seeing any other stock cabinets in your size,” he sigh, gesturing toward the computer screen over his cash register.
Cat tried to smile. Luckily, at that moment the tinkling sound of the bell over the store’s door chimed, signaling the arrival of a new customer. Glancing up, the man smiled in greeting before turning back to Cat.
“Can I ask, does this door have anything to do with the single screw you bought earlier today?”
Cat blinked. She hadn’t expected the question. Up to now, she’d been under the illusion he’d forgotten all about her. Certainly, he hadn’t made any other reference up to this point.
“Oh, so you remember that.”
He grinned slightly. “It was two hours ago, not two weeks ago.”
Cat squirmed. “Right.”
The man grinned a little wider. “What happened?”
Cat squirmed, her eyes dropping down the counter, where her fingers were clenched tightly together. “It broke.”
“Kind of figured that.”
She shook her head. “It, ah, it snapped it two pieces.”
Out of her peripheral vision, she saw his brown eyes widen with surprise. Worse, she heard the soft patter of footsteps, which belonged to the customer who’d just entered, pause at the wording. Good. Just great.
“I see.” But it was clear from his tone of voice that the man most certainly did not see anything.
Shrugging, Cat tried to explain. “The hinge was broken, and so I thought—”
“So you thought you’d buy a screw,” he said, cutting her off. “But you bought the wrong size.”
“The patronizing note in your voice is duly noted,” she responded. “But yes, you happen to be correct.”
He grinned. “Well, don’t let the shame eat you alive.”
She gasped. “Excuse m—’
“It happens to everyone.”
“Home improvement mistakes. It’s part of the DIY gimmick.”
She felt her lips stiffen with silent outrage.
“But I do have one question still,” he persisted, his eyes twinkling “You said the cabinet door snapped in two? Well, a screw wouldn’t have done that much damage…”
Cat felt her body enflame with the mild intimation. Rounding her shoulders, she was searching for the most plausible answer when a third voice entered the conversation.
“Well, really Matt. What kind of question is that anyway?” A woman asked, coming into view to stand beside Cat. “Is this an interrogation?”
He gave the woman, who must have been pushing seventy, an impatient glance. “No, I was just…”
Cat held up her hands, heeding off any more interruptions. “Look, I’ll pay whatever it takes. Custom-order it if you have to but I need another door. I need another of the that door.”
At her insistence tone, all conversation died away—two pairs of eyes watched her steadily, curiously.
Cat bit her lip. “The thing is, I’m a renter and, and if my landlord knew what happened, well…” she shrugged fatalistically.
“Oh dear,” the older woman said, sending ‘Matt’ a distressed look. “Of course, we have to help her.”
“We’re trying,” he informed her through his teeth.
“Good. Then that settles it.” Turning her large blue-eyed gaze on Cat, the older woman’s frightfully pink painted lips smiled. “Matthew here actually does some wood-working. Perhaps he can look at your door.”
“No. No,” Matthew repeated, his gaze never leaving the older woman’s. He turned to Cat. “That’s just a hobby.”
“He’s very good.”
“He’s also not a professional.”
“Well, really,” the older woman said, shaking her head. “What’s the worst that could happen? It doesn’t turn out and she has to buy a customized door anyway?” She turned back to Cat, who was watching all of this with her mouth slightly agape. “What would you really lose? A couple days.”
Matthew’s eyes narrowed. “Margaret—”
“That’s Grandma to you,” she retorted quickly, her gaze moving from Cat’s to his. “And I’ll thank you not to sass me.”
Cat smothered a grin. Poor Matt looked positively harassed. “Fine.”
“Fine?” Margaret and Cat said in unison.
Matt switched his eyes to Cat. “If you want, I’ll see what I can do. I can’t promise anything. It might not turn out.”
Cat rarely felt stupid. But she did at that moment. The conversation was progressing in such an unexpected way. “You mean, you’ll make me a door.”
His lips thinned. “Yeah. I’ll make you a door.”
He sighed warily. “Yes. Really. But as I said, I’m not a professional.”
“Oh, pish-posh. He’s fantastic,” Margaret informed her. “He did my bathroom remodel last year.”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ll need to see the door first—”
“But, but I told you,” Cat sputtered. “It’s broken.”
“No, not that one,” he returned with a bite. He gestured toward her phone. “The one in the picture. Bring it in and I’ll take a look at the material, create a mold, and cost everything out for you.”
“That a problem?”
Cat blew out a breath. “I’m not exactly sure how I’ll get the door off.”
“That’s sort of what got me in this mess in the first place,” she confessed.
He grunted. “Yeah, well, a picture isn’t going to cut it from here on out.”
“No, I know…”
“Go online. There’s about a million videos on how to unscrew a door hinge.”
Cat felt her back stiffen again. It was the way he said it—unscrew a door hinge, that made her fingers flinch, that made her pulse skip in her throat. He may have been an attractive man with a nice voice, but just at that moment, she could have happily slapped him across his high cheekbones, turned on her heel, and marched out of that door.
Instead, she smiled tightly. “Oh, I’ll make sure to do that. Thanks for the tip.”
“Great.” With a knock of his knuckles, he added: “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“No, that’ll be it.”
“Good. Ah, why don’t you bring the door back here by Monday afternoon. I’ll see what I can do.”And with that, he rounded the cashier stand and went to the front door where he unceremoniously flipped the OPEN sign to CLOSED before turning down one of the long aisle ways toward the back of the building.
“Oh, don’t mind him dear,” Margaret said, bringing Cat’s attention back around. “He’s just cranky because it’s the first Friday of the month.”
“And what happens on the first Friday of the month?” Cat asked, playing along. After all, Margaret had more-or-less saved her sorry butt.
“It’s our standing game of Bridge,” Margaret informed her. Leaning toward Cat, she glanced over her shoulder, to make sure he was out of earshot. “And he’s never been very good at the game.”
Cat couldn’t help herself. She laughed. It had a freeing effect on her stomach. This had been one of the worst nights in her recent memory. Then again, it had also been sort of…well, invigorating. Different to say the least. Yes, this Friday night had certainly been different.
“Umm…” Biting her lip, Cat tried to smile. She couldn’t quite meet Margaret’s eyes. “Thanks for, well, for helping me.” With stiff movements, she stuck out her hand. “My name’s Cat Cryer, by the way.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Margaret returned, shaking her outstretched palm. “My name’s Margaret McBoy.”
Cat pursed her lips. “As in, the owner of the hardware store?”
“Yes. Well, me and my husband.” She laughed richly. “I suppose I’ll let him claim some ownership, too.”
It was official. Margaret McBoy was delightful.
“And anyway, if there are any two things that owning a hardware store has taught me it’s that us women have to stick together in this man’s haven,” Margaret continued. “And two—never ask how something managed to get itself snapped in two.” Then she winked.
Cat blushed, her eyes dropping down to the tops of her shoes. “Yeah…”
“Oh please, child, you think you’re the first person to take a flimsy piece of wood over their knee. Think again.”
Yes. It had definitely been a different Friday night. Walking out to her car moments later, Cat wasn’t sure she could explain it, but there she was anyway, smiling.