Just Joe (Smirk Series Book 2)

Just Joe

HEY SWEETNESS, IT’S ME, JOE, just Joe, none of this ‘fucking’ business. I’m just me. Don’t get me wrong, ‘just me’ is pretty phenomenal. If you need a flaw, I’m a tad short, like under six feet but not too much under. I don’t have a complex about it because literally everything else about me is amazing. I’m traditionally handsome, I have a sparkling personality, I work hard, and I am creative. Frank says I’m one of the worst people he’s ever met and I take that as the highest of compliments. He’s my best friend. He’d never admit it but it’s true, whether he likes it or not. My body is perfect, not too muscular to be intimidating, but smooth, lean and hard. Yeah, hard and big where it counts, especially.

My mom told me once that I was a heartbreaker, and I know, she was my mom, but I’m not sure she meant it as a compliment. She explained that I had a gift of making everyone feel at ease, that they were the most important person in the room. This can be dangerous she told me. I’ve been careful to not lead women on, especially setting expectations if there’s going to be something sexy or romantic happening. After they passed away suddenly, I kept my romantic interludes to a minimum. Sorry ladies, but I had to concentrate fully on raising that brother of mine.

The night after my parents died, I woke up in a cold sweat. I was alone in my brother Jack’s little twin bed so I got up to search the house for him. I found him in my mom’s office. He was in her chair, like a tiny six-year-old dictator, looking through a file. My mom was my dad’s partner in life and in business as well. She ran the business side of their renovation company, Davis Inc., and was the main reason for their success. My dad was a talented carpenter and contractor, but he’d give away services if it were up to him. That’s why they were a great team.

“Whatcha doing there, Jack?” I asked running my hand over my weary face.

He looked up. “Just going through mommy’s will and funeral wishes. She wants her and daddy to be trees.”

How was this my life? Last night I was celebrating my birthday with friends and tonight my miniature brother was sitting at my mother’s desk reading their will. “Trees, huh? That makes sense since they loved nature. You know we can look at this stuff tomorrow, bub? Let’s get some sleep.”

He shook his head. “I’m not tired. I’m sad but this is helping me be not so sad.” He gestured to the folder and I walked to him and knelt down.

“Okay, let’s look at it and then I’ll make us some cheesy eggs, deal?” I asked. Jack was a remarkable kid and in addition to being a genius, he was also very sensitive.

“Deal,” he said swinging his legs

That was our deal, just the two of us, together, forever.

The charm I possess came in handy when dealing with teachers and other parents when things got real and I wasn’t sure how to go about certain things with Jack. Frank and Sebastian’s moms also helped me through some difficult moments. It takes a village and all that. I admit I made some (okay—a lot) of mistakes but Jack is remarkable.

So, Jack is all grown up, my job is done for the most part. Now I’m taking Frank’s advice and trying to find a life for myself. This past summer I spent a lot of time with willing tourists and mutual pleasure was achieved multiple times. It was a lot of fun. My little wild time is over though, and I’m ready to date and find someone to share my life with—who wouldn’t want to have a piece of me? I’m tasty to look at, gainfully employed, a homeowner and I have a giant . . . personality, or penis, whatever you want to call it.

Since I’ve been back from a summer in Sonoma, I’ve been on a few dates but no one has really rung my bell just yet. I like all kinds of women, although I mostly date short blondes. Whoever she is, she just needs to be able to handle me. I’m not a particularly serious person, I play music, I’m sensitive, so I need someone with a good sense of humor who can keep up with my hot animal self. Frank says that I might not want to put shit like that in my dating profiles, but he’s wrong. People like honesty. They may balk at my confidence in my own beauty but that’s their loss. I have a healthy self-esteem and it’s well earned. I’m awesome.

* * *

It’s raining for the first time in months and I love it. Most people don’t like rain, especially those who work in construction. I love the feel of rain on my skin, the nourishment it brings to life. Ha! Just kidding, rain is just weather and I don’t mind it when I have to work. Means I’m not missing out on a sunny day off!

Today I’m meeting with a new client and I’m excited and a little nervous. This is the first project I’ll be working on since I’ve been back from wine country. Our band, Lia and the Licks were lucky enough to spend a few months as the house band for my buddy’s place, The Thirsty Monkey. I know, it’s an awful name, but Sebastian is known for his artistic abilities, not creative naming.

My business, Good Bones Renovations (great name for a business), is all mine. When my parents passed away they left me their company and I was far too young to take over. So, I handed the reins over to someone else and became a worker bee. I learned as much as I could, carpentry, reclamation, historical renovation, earthquake retrofitting, everything. Living in San Francisco there is a constant need for updating and there are thousands of beautiful buildings just waiting to be their best selves. My goal is to find those good bones (get your mind out of the gutter—or not) and return them to their old, new or somewhere in between glory. We specialize in reclamation and reuse of materials and SF peeps love that shit.

The property I’m about to get started on is located in the Bernal Heights neighborhood, about three blocks from my own home that I share with my now 18-year-old brother, Jack. He is currently attending USF like his big bro, after spending the summer in Europe. Friends will tell you I did a great job raising him, but that’s only partly true. Jack has always been more mature, smarter, and more organized than me. He’s made me who I am today and there’s no arguing that fact.

I walk up the marble steps to a small, two-story Victorian cottage. Bernal is unique in that the architecture is varied. There are modern buildings, Victorian, Edwardian, mid-century, and the occasional earthquake shack. There are very few buildings from before the 1906 earthquake but many were built right after. I’m biased since I grew up here but it’s my favorite San Francisco neighborhood. Marisol, my master builder got this job for us and I think it’s going to be a good challenge.

The door whips open and the woman before me is a visual feast. Floral tattoos, gray eyes, blue hair, my eyes don’t know where to land. Oops! Yes, they do. Hello, cleavage! Her light blue hair is pulled up into a high braid, her black vee neck shows her various watercolor tattoos, and some distracting boobs. Her light gray eyes stare back at me and although she is make-up free her eyelashes are unbelievably long. I’m speechless. All of my friends are covered in tattoos but I’ve never seen the appeal. I mean, why mar my perfect skin? Hers are unique, I must admit. She is tall, almost as tall as I am. I like her instantly and even more when she gives me a bitchy look. This gal could keep me in line, or at least it will be fun getting her all worked up about me.

“Come in, thanks for being on time, wish I could say the same for your boss. At least some of his employees are punctual.” She waves me in and closes the door behind me and I realize she thinks I’m a worker bee. I’m going to go with it—what? It’s a Monday and I’m bored.

“We are usually pretty punctual, and if we start late, we try to add the time either to our lunch, or the end of the day,” I say with a smile, turning the charm up. “The boss is a very busy guy, so he is late on occasion.”

She smirks at me, seemingly not fazed by me. Yet. I’m a charming mother fucker and there are few that can resist me—Frank doesn’t count. Now I’m even more intrigued.

“Why not just be on time anyway?” she asks, making sense.

“Well, there are a lot of factors, traffic, parking, available materials, weather. I can say with certainty that we do our best to be here as early as we can.” I give her my megawatt smile and cross my arms, my gun show on display. Her eyes flicker to my forearms and I know I’ve got her. My hotness can melt all kinds of icy hearts.

“Fine, I’m sorry I’m a tad grumpy this morning, would you like some coffee?” she asks as she walks toward the kitchen and I follow. I use the term ‘kitchen’ loosely. She has a small microwave, an even smaller fridge and a coffee maker on a battered and ancient butcher block counter.

“That would be great, you must be Betsy Carter?” I ask knowing that’s who she is. Marisol took her name and information about the reno and she said she’s solo. “I’m Joe.” I leave off my last name, knowing I’d give myself away.

She assesses me and I’m not sure I pass muster. “Well, Joe, it’s nice to meet you.” She passes me a mug full of coffee and I smile in thanks.

“The pleasure is all mine.” I take a sip of my coffee, assessing her. She is wearing stylish red pants with a wide silver belt along with her black shirt. On her feet I see black Converse peeking out from the wide hem of her pants. She is definitely unconventional but not compared to everyone else in this city. Anything goes here and it’s kind of a relief. You can go through your day without seeing anyone with remotely the same look and most don’t care what you’re wearing. It’s clear that Betsy cares about her appearance, but it seems effortlessly stylish. Like everything in her wardrobe could be put together in some combination and she would make it work.

“So, Joe, give me your honest first impression?” she asks.

“Well, clearly you are beautiful, have great taste in architecture, and your coffee is stellar.” I wink at her, knowing she was asking about the house. “Not sure you’re okay with how hot you think I am, you seem annoyed by it frankly. I get it.”

“Are you for real?” she asks. “I mean the house, dipshit.”

“Ha! Apologies, madam,” I say playing dumb. “The house is great, despite the bacteria magnet counter and hideous wallpaper. Needs a ton of work, but that’s what we are here for.” I gesture to the house. “Are you living here?”

“Yes, I am,” she says, arms folded. “There’s a small room in the back that I use. I’m aware that it’s barely habitable but I’m already sinking a lot of money into this place, I can’t justify renting something else while it’s getting worked on. I’m very rarely here anyway.”

I take a long drink of my coffee and then place my cup down. I’m purposefully being dramatic because she’s fun. I walk from the kitchen to the main room and then look down the hallway. “May I?” I ask.

Her shoulders shrug and I walk to the room where she is living. It’s a little bit sadder than the kitchen. There’s a twin mattress, a crate with a lamp and a stack of books. There are two large racks of clothing along one wall and a large window at the back covered in a tapestry nailed to the wall. It smells like jasmine and oranges and is sparse but cozy. One corner of the ceiling is exposed but there’s no other obvious damage. I know from experience though, there may be evils lurking behind the walls.

I walk back out and she is still standing near the stairs in the front room. I pass her and the smell from her room lingers around her. I like it. Walking up the stairs is an adventure since two are missing completely and the rest are wobbly. I hear her follow me and wait at the top to make sure she makes it safely.

“I haven’t been up here in a while, too scared to walk up these stairs by myself.”

I nod. “Good call, you’re way too young for a life alert button.”

She twists her mouth, trying not to smile. “You’re an idiot, you know that, right?”

“It’s been mentioned. It’s okay though, people are intimidated by my looks and personality so it makes them feel good to lash out at me. I’m awesome and I know it, you’ll catch up,” I say.

I can feel her eyes rolling behind me as I walk down the short hall to the bathroom. It’s hell on earth if hell consists of pink tile, a pink tub and sink, and a literal fucking flamingo painted on the ceiling.

“Clearly this is the one room I want to leave untouched,” Betsy says and I smile widely. Finally, she’s warming up to me.

“Obviously, flamingos are very authentic to any Victorian washroom,” I say with a straight face. I leave the hideous room and walk into the master bedroom. It may be worse. The walls are covered in dark wallpaper and the floor to ceiling windows are shrouded in heavy drapes. “Now in here, I recommend something a little lighter for the walls but definitely keep the drapes. Classic.”

She narrows her eyes at me, still unsure if I’m kidding or not, maybe she does think I’m an idiot. “Yeah, can you recommend any drape cleaners?”

“Cleaners? Why would you want to get rid of that authentic musty smell? Brings you right back to the 20th century.” I smile at her and she shakes her head.

We take a quick look at the other room and it’s just as dreary. “Who lived here before? Edgar Allan Poe with a pink bird fetish?”

“‘Ghastly grim and ancient flamingo wandering from the Nightly shore,’” she says in a spooky voice and I’m changing my mind about her. We need to be best friends.

“‘Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore! Quoth the Flamingo . . . ’” I pause for effect and she joins me.

“‘Nevermore,’” we say in unison.

“Oh man, now I want you guys to make my bathroom Poe themed with flamingos,” she says and we laugh together.

“Did we just become best friends?” I ask half seriously. I mean I already have Fucking Frank as a best friend but Betsy could be the female version.

“Nope,” she says, still laughing as she makes her way down the stairs.

I follow her carefully, staring at her curvy and gorgeous ass. I know, I’m a jerk, but also—visual feast! I told you, she’s like a buffet of beautiful.

“Don’t worry, you’ll realize it happened, may take a while, but you and I are destined for BFF greatness.”