Finding Dolly by Becki Lee

Chapter 2

“Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”

Dolly Parton


Standing in his office on the outskirts of east Nashville, Carl Montgomery was in his zone. At thirty-five, he was proud of the business he’d built over the past decade and a half. He could say, without a doubt, he had one of the best restoration contracting businesses in Nashville. Maybe even in all of Tennessee.

Midway through a proposal to renovate an old barn for a newlywed couple, they were all startled by the familiar opening notes of Dolly Parton’s Nine to Five. Everyone looked around, trying to figure out who had the audacity to not silence their phone for this meeting.

Carl looked sternly at each person until he realized it was his phone merrily chirping away.

His face heated, and he fumbled to turn off the ringer. Why would his phone be ringing? And with that song? He’d only ever used that particular song for one caller, Marilyn.


The realization of what the call must have meant struck Carl, and a big grin split his handsome, boyish face. Three years ago, he’d left his number with Brian, the doorman at Marilyn’s building, to call when he heard any word about her. Carl had been waiting ever since. He barely resisted the urge to return the call immediately, but this was an important meeting. He wanted this job for the challenge and for his crew.

He looked forward to listening to Brian’s message after work, but for now, Carl needed to finish the meeting.

He ran his hand through his reddish-brown hair and realized he

needed a haircut. A fact his mom was bound to point out when he saw her in a couple of hours.

“Sorry,” he said sheepishly before looking at the young couple across from him and pushing on. “Let’s get back to business.”

With revived enthusiasm, he explained the plans to convert the barn on her family’s property. He loved projects like this, and his enthusiasm came through in his presentation.

An hour later, with the contract signed, he shook hands with the couple and the architect, then locked up the office. He was thrilled he’d be able to leave his mark on this couple’s beautiful old building, and he relished the challenge of converting it into a home, making it something new and fresh while respecting its history and lines.

But now, as much as he wanted to stay in his office planning the next several months with this new project, he needed to head across town to his parents for Sunday dinner…on this Friday afternoon. His mouth was already salivating in anticipation of his mom’s pot roast.


Carl leaned back in his chair—the one he’d used since he was a child—at his parents’ dining room table. Everyone was still in their same seat—Dad at the head of the table, Mom to his left, and Carl and his sister, Jillian, next to each other on the right.

“Have some more potatoes, Carl honey.”

Carl groaned and rubbed his full belly. “Mom, I’ve had three servings already. I know you think I don’t eat when I’m not here, but I do.” He laughed and ran his fingers through his hair, a little surprised he hadn’t yet heard about needing a haircut. Even at thirty-five years old, dinner with his family was one of his favorite things. And he made time each month to fit it into his schedule.

As always, his mom’s pot roast was delicious. She was technically his stepmother, but he thought of her as just Mom. And because he’d lived with her for most of his life, he knew where this conversation was headed.

He wasn’t looking forward to it.

“Well, with you not having a wife, I just worry.” She heaved a dramatic sigh. “I don’t know when you have time to eat. You’re always so busy.”

This was a familiar complaint. He could feel a headache starting behind his eyelids. He loved his mother, but dang, he wished she weren’t so intent on him getting married.

“Mom, I don’t need a wife to make sure I have dinner each night. Believe it or not, I do manage to eat, even on my own. Besides, it would be easier to hire a cook than to worry about a wife…or even a girlfriend.” He thought for a minute. “Actually, that’s not a bad idea. Maybe I’ll hire a housekeeper who can cook some meals. Thanks, Mom.”

“That is neither what I said nor what I intended, and you know it, Carl James.” She gave him the piercing look he knew from childhood. “And no hanky-panky with the housekeeper.”

His father choked on his water, and Jillian started laughing.

“Ooh, you got the middle name. You’re in trouble,” she taunted.

He poked her in the ribs with his elbow. “Nobody asked you, Jilly.” But he was laughing along with her.

No one could deny they were siblings. They looked so much alike with thick, wavy auburn hair that always looked a little out of control, the same smile and dimples. But where his eyes were green, hers matched their dad’s deep blue.

He looked at his mom. “I appreciate your concern, Mom, but I’m good. Actually, I’m really good. My business is doing very well, I’ve got some great friends, and…well, I don’t want or need a wife—or any woman—in my life right now.” He looked over at his dad, silently pleading for help, but just got a grin and a twinkle in those deep blue eyes.

“Honey, you need more balance. There’s more to life than work, you know.”

It grated a bit that his mom couldn’t accept that his life was good the way it was.

“Oh lighten up, Shell. Our boy’s doing great.” Doug Montgomery looked at his wife, Michelle, his eyes still twinkling. “But I do agree with your mom on one point.” He looked at Carl with a mock-stern expression, finger pointed for effect. “No hanky-panky with the help.”

Carl could feel his face heat up. How was it his parents could still embarrass him? “Why aren’t you picking on Jilly? She’s not married either.”

He was whining and he knew it. Throwing his sister under the bus wasn’t his usual tactic, but she seemed to handle it better than he did. Maybe because she was a cop.

Jillian elbowed him back. “Hey, don’t drag me into this. I just bought a house. I don’t need a guy in my life. I’ve got enough to deal with.”

His dad finally took pity on him. “So tell me what’s going on with your business.”

Grateful for the shift in conversation and always happy to talk about his work, Carl told them about the contract he’d closed a couple of hours earlier. He had worked hard to build his company’s reputation, and now he was pretty much able to pick and choose which projects to accept. And this barn renovation was one he’d desperately wanted.

“Glad to hear business is going so well,” his dad said.

“When Mr. Kline ended our work on his house a few months ago, I was concerned we might have to lay off a few of the guys, but we’ve actually had to hire a few more to keep everything on the schedule. Jim’s complaining he’s too busy.” Carl chuckled.

His foreman, Jim, relished the challenge of multiple projects almost as much as he enjoyed complaining about them. Since Jim was one of his best friends as well as the best at what he does, Carl long ago decided to just let him complain.

“I’m really proud of the business you’ve built, son.”

Carl could hear the pride in his father’s voice. He found it difficult to speak around the lump in his throat. He smiled, nodded, and somehow got a “thanks” out.

Hearing those words from his father meant the world to him. This is why I work so hard. He wanted his parents to be proud of the life and business he’d created. That was probably why his mom’s comments about a wife bothered him so much. Why couldn’t she just be proud of who he was and what he’d built without a woman in his life?


Driving home after dinner, Carl smiled as he thought about his parents. If he could have what they had, he might consider getting married. It hadn’t come easy for them, but they were the real deal. His experiences with women had shown him just how rare their relationship was. His pattern was to date once or twice then leave before it got too serious.

First thing tomorrow morning, he was going to check his current inventory, order any needed supplies, create his timeline, and update Jim and the customer. But for now, he had an open Friday evening to look forward to and a new contract to celebrate.

And time to think about the fact that Brian had finally called after three years of silence. He wondered what exactly it meant. He knew that before going to Florida, Marilyn had been in and out of the hospital a few times, but she’d never shared what the problem was despite his concern.

When she left, all she told him was she was going to visit her daughter and asked him to watch her cat while she was gone. She’d failed to mention how long that would be. If he’d known it was going to be long-term, he probably wouldn’t have agreed to take Miss Kitty. Of course, he grinned to himself, Marilyn had probably known that.

And now, Brian had called; Marilyn was home.

He supposed he’d have to give Miss Kitty back, even though they had long since made peace with one another.

Carl fondly recalled the day he first met Marilyn about five years ago. She’d just purchased one of the penthouse apartments at The Athenian just off Demonbruen Street and inquired with him about some updates and changes she’d like to make.

The Athenian—playing off Nashville’s nickname The Athens of the South—was one of the best locations in the city. It was a gorgeous historic high-rise, about a hundred years old, near the Cumberland River. It was pretty much perfect for him to work on. He loved old buildings. His specialty was restoring and updating the old, making it amazing again.

But when he heard the kind of changes Marilyn had wanted, it’d just about killed him to decline the job. He thought she was just another eccentric, rich client who wanted to destroy a beautiful building, and he wanted no part in that. Marilyn had some really unique and out-there ideas for her home. I mean, who puts a pole—as in pole dancing!—in their living room?

Marilyn, however, wouldn’t take no for an answer. They worked together to develop a plan which would meet Carl’s need to preserve the beautiful apartment but would also satisfy Marilyn’s need for a quirky atmosphere.

He adored her, and working with her was one of the best experiences of his career, if not his life.

His life had been in a weird place when he met Marilyn. He had pretty much isolated himself from everyone who cared about him.

She—the infamous she whose name he still didn’t like to say out loud—had left him hurt and bitter. The lesson he’d learned from that experience: if you don’t trust or love rich people, especially clients, you won’t get hurt. Deep down, he knew it wasn’t logical, but he’d been following the personal maxim for so long, it was just how he lived now.

Marilyn had been the exception to his rule. While working together, she’d become one of his best friends. Not a mother figure…or even a grandmother figure, though she was probably the right age. Carl guessed she was a good forty years older than him. No, she was much more of a friend. A friend he didn’t realize he so desperately needed.

She used to get on him about working too hard. “Carl,” she’d say in her soft southern drawl. “Don’t get so busy making a living, you don’t have a life. You’re much too young and too good-looking to be workin’ all the time.” She sounded an awful lot like his mom in those moments.

He wondered what she’d make of his life now. He was looking forward to hearing about it.

But as much as he wanted to rush right over to Marilyn’s, Carl knew he needed to put in a couple of hours on admin tasks before he’d have time for a proper visit.