“Toss me that level, Warren!” I shouted at my youngest stepbrother, who was staring at the building plans like he was looking at the Holy Grail.
He walked to the five-gallon bucket that held my tools. He pulled out the yellow tool and carried it to me. “It looks straight.” He shrugged.
“If it’s off half an inch, the entire house is going to be tilted,” I told him. “Put it on the two-by-four.”
I was holding the board with one hand and my nail gun in the other. “Looks level,” he said.
It wasn’t level. “Look at the bubble,” I said with a great deal of patience.
I smiled and remembered this was a first for him. He had only ever helped with painting the tiny homes in the past. This was the first time he was on site for the actual construction of the homes. We all had to learn and hands-on was always the best teacher in my opinion. “The one in the middle. It needs to be centered between the lines.”
“Oh! It’s too far to the left.”
I loved that he saw it. Loved it even more that he had just learned something new. Something I taught him. There was an odd satisfaction to teaching someone something. “I’m going to move the board. Tell me when that bubble is perfectly centered between the two lines.”
I used the nail gun to affix the board to the structure. “Your turn,” I told him. “We need four more of the boards hung, just like that one. Use the level. Two nails on each end.”
“Got it, Pierce,” he said.
“Thanks, Warren,” I said and patted him on the back.
I stepped back and watched him work for a few minutes to make sure he understood my directions. I walked over to the tiny house being built right next door. The volunteer crew was working well together. The passion project was something I was happy I could devote so much of my time and energy to.
Getting the crew to help had been a small battle. They weren’t getting paid. This was all volunteer. Except for a couple of my regular guys, the rest of the workers were here on their own dime.
“Mr. Harbor!” someone shouted.
I turned to see a young woman waving me over to the house that had been finished yesterday and was now being painted. “Please, call me Pierce, Sasha,” I said.
“Sorry, habit,” she said with a laugh.
“No worries. What’s up?”
“What color are we painting around the windows?” she asked.
“White,” I said and pointed to the row of donated paint. “We’re keeping it simple.”
“Perfect, thank you,” she said.
I made my way back to Warren. “Looks good,” I told him. “You’re getting the hang of it.”
He flashed me a grin. “Thanks. Sorry I tried to take the good enough option. I know you hate that.”
“Good enough is fine when you’re washing a dish in your house or hanging a picture in your house but not when you’re building someone else’s house,” I told him. “This little house is going to be a home for a deserving veteran. Good enough isn’t enough. I don’t mean to be a hardass, but if you’re serious about a career in architecture, this stuff matters. A quarter inch can upset the entire structure.”
“I understand,” he said.
“Go ahead and start on the other side,” I told him. “Just do exactly what I showed you.”
Dale and Sam were working on another house on the same plot of land on a block in the Bronx that had recently been going through some changes by a developer. My other two stepbrothers were a little more self-sufficient. They had been helping me with these tiny home projects for the last couple of years. Warren was the youngest, but he was the one that I believed would one day be an architect. Dale and Sam were just helping out.
“How’s it going?” I asked them.
“Should be ready for electrical tomorrow,” Sam said. “Framing is done for the most part.”
“You guys kicked ass,” I said with a nod.
“Shit, coming from you, that’s high praise,” Dale said with a grin.
I knew I was tough. I had very high standards. I tried not to be a dick about it, but I hated half-assed anything. These homes were too important to do sloppy work. “You guys do good work,” I said. “Thank you for helping out today.”
“You know we love swinging a hammer,” Dale said, shrugging. “Besides, it’s for a good cause. We’re adding good karma to the bank.”
“I appreciate it,” I said. “The people that get to ride out the upcoming winter in warmth instead of crowding under a bridge are really going to appreciate it.”
“Did you get that land?” he asked, referring to a plot I’d been working on for months.
“Not yet, but I’m working on it,” I said. “I can be very persuasive.”
Sam chuckled. “Don’t we know it.”
“Let us know when you need us again,” Dale said.
“I will,” I said. “We’ve got a lot of projects in the works. I’ve also got a potential plot of land in New Jersey. An old guy passed away and donated it to my nonprofit. He was a Vietnam vet and said he wanted to help out his brothers and sisters. I’m dealing with the city to see if we can build more than a single home on it. If we can’t, I might have to build a single house and give it to someone deserving. There are a couple of organizations that have long lists of Gold Star families that could use it.”
“People don’t like the tiny home thing in their hood,” Sam said. “You know that’s always going to be a battle.”
“No, no they don’t,” I said. “I don’t think they understand what we’re trying to do here. They don’t understand the process we use to select the people that get into these homes. But whatever. I’ll take the fight.”
“Yeah, you will,” Dale said. “You love a good fight.”
“Definitely not going to back down,” I said with a grin. “I better get back over to Warren. Thanks again, guys.”
Warren was finished with the job I’d given him and was now flirting with one of the pretty young volunteers. I walked toward the two young people. The girl looked at me and quickly walked back to the house she was working on.
“Sorry about that,” Warren said. “We were just—”
“It’s fine,” I said. “I was your age once.”
“Like a million years ago,” he teased.
“Very funny. As long as you are paying attention to what you’re doing, you can flirt all day.”
He grinned and nodded. “Hey, are you going to be coming to dinner this week?”
“I’m not sure,” I answered. “What’s up?”
“I got some brochures from a few of those schools you suggested,” he said. “I was hoping we could sit down and go over which one would be the best.”
I patted him on the shoulder. “Sure. We can do that.” The kid wanted to be an architect. He spent a lot of time with me watching and learning as I designed the tiny homes my nonprofit built for veterans. It was cool he wanted to follow in my footsteps.
“Thanks,” he replied.
“I’m leaving for the day,” I told him. “Don will be in charge. Thank you for coming out today. I appreciate the help. I know an eighteen-year-old kid has a lot of other things to do their last summer before heading off to college. You’re doing a good thing. The men and women that will live here truly appreciate it. I hope you’ll be able to make it for the opening ceremony.”
“I’ll try,” he said. “I want to be here.”
I walked away and headed for my truck. I hated leaving the project in the middle of the day, but I had more pressing matters to deal with—namely, this nonsense with my uncle.
Well, technically, he was my uncle. It was hard to imagine someone I had never met or heard about until very recently was my relative. Uncle Armand Bancroft. That was still a surprise I was struggling to get my head around.
I started the truck, turned up the AC, and cranked the radio. The sounds of Eric Church drowned out the noise of the air compressors and saws being used on site. I knew I should probably wear ear protection, but six years in the Marines had already done damage to my hearing. An air compressor was not going to be the thing that took me down.
Don came running over to the truck. I rolled down the window. “What’s up?”
“Some of the kids want to know if you want them all weekend?”
I nodded. “Yes, please. I would love to wrap this thing up early. I have a meeting with a furniture store later this afternoon. If we get the houses done, I’m hoping to have some basic furniture for them before move-in day.”
“Sounds good,” he said. “I’ve got quite a few of the guys from the local union coming out tomorrow as well. We’ll pair them up with the volunteers and bang this out.”
“Thank you, Don,” I said, nodding. “You’re a huge help. I would not be able to do this without you.”
“It’s worth it,” he said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I drove away from the building site. I glanced in my rearview mirror and had to smile at the progress. Getting these tiny homes built for veterans that had fallen on hard times was very satisfying.
Getting to this part of the project was a lot like running a marathon. It was a brutal process. There were so many hurdles. Getting the land to build the homes was the easy part. Building the houses was pretty easy as well. It was the nonstop permit process that kicked our asses.
The restaurant I was meeting Armand at was only a few blocks from the tiny-home site. Armand and his power of stalking and unearthing more information about myself and my half-brothers was better than the FBI. It was just a little disturbing someone could find out so much about another person. I didn’t care if he was technically related to us.
Today, I was putting an end to the invasion of my privacy and my life. I thought I wanted to leave the door open to learn more about my father’s side of the family, but I had come to realize it didn’t matter. I was not a Bancroft. I was a Harbor.
My half-brothers, twins Tyler and Taylor, had decided against the idea as well. Armand claimed to be offering us something special. He was thirty-five years too late. He or his brother, my biological father, should have come around when I was born to a single mom with no means. They didn’t. They ignored me and Tyler and Taylor’s mother. Art Bancroft went around knocking up women like it was a sport. No one knew we existed, including the legitimate sons of Art Bancroft. There was no reason to dig up all the dirt now. We had all moved on.
I wanted to move on.
I parked my truck in the parking lot of the restaurant and cut the engine. It pissed me off a little to even have to deal with this shit. I had better things to do. Armand Bancroft had been hounding us to sign some paperwork either staking our claim to the Bancroft fortune or giving it up forever.
I didn’t want a penny of their money. I thought maybe I wanted to know my other half-brothers, but after talking to Taylor and Tyler, I had come to reconsider it.
What good would it do to hurt the men that believed their father was a good man? What good would it do to reveal the affairs to Kathy Bancroft? Nothing. Nothing good could come of our secret being exposed.
It didn’t help my mother. It almost killed Taylor and Tyler’s mother to know her sons had met the Bancroft family after what he had done to her.
My mom had dealt with enough bullshit in her life. She was happy and healthy. I didn’t want to stir up old hurt and a host of bad memories by integrating myself into the family of the man that had knocked her up, left her, and ultimately broke her heart.
I was loyal to her—not Art or his brother.