I was worried about him that Fall. He'd been working so hard with almost no time off for himself. And the little lines around his eyes weren't laugh lines. He is my employer but I've watched him as a friend over the long years since his wife's death. He's a good father and the best lawyer in the state. But he had absolutely no love life of any kind. I watched the ladies of the town try their wiles on him but there seemed to be an invisible wall around him that none of them could breach.
Until he accepted an invitation to a baseball game and returned with a smile that wouldn't quit. Then he was off fishing and buying a new sleeping bag and going camping with young Ned. And he was smiling and absentminded but in a good way, a way that meant that he was happy. I wasn't sure at first but then he told me about the property he'd bought and that threw me off the scent.
He took us out to the farm, Nancy and me, to an ugly old house that was falling apart at the seams from neglect. The Wilmers welcomed us but they were obviously failing rapidly and ready to move into the nice retirement home in town. But what in the world Mr. Drew was going to do with the house, I had no idea. For one brief, horrible moment I thought he meant us to live there but he relieved my mind at once.
He told us that he was in a rut and had decided to buy the farm as a project, to be worked on in his spare time. He wanted space and fresh air, he said. And it certainly seemed to be working. One room was fitted up with a new bed and the aged water heater replaced with a brand new, energy efficient model so he had some comforts. But very few, it was almost like camping.
And that was what finally opened my eyes to what was going on. He'd had a phone installed so we could call and talk to him if we needed to. I knew that Ned was helping out when he came home from college on the weekends but I didn't know how often that was. It was late November when an urgent overnight express package arrived for Mr. Drew. Nancy was off gallivanting around and I worried that it was so important that he might need it at once.
When I tried to call, the operator said the line was 'experiencing difficulty'. That's a silly thing to say when what she meant to say was that something was wrong with the line but she didn't know why. So, I got in my roadster and drove it out to the farm in case it was important. I have to admit to a sneaking curiosity about what he was doing out there.
I drove up to the side door that led to the kitchen but didn't see his car there. Hoping that he wasn't off on an errand, I tried the back door and found it open. Thinking that I might leave the package on the kitchen table, I ventured into a room transformed. The old cabinets were gone, their outlines still visible on the old plaster walls. The room was gutted, that's the only term I could think to use. It was empty except for a table and two chairs.
It was quite a nice sized room really now that all the clutter was cleared away. The doors were gone too so I ventured across the cracked linoleum to the doorway to the dining room where I heard laughter. And that's where I discovered what was making Mr. Drew so happy. To this day, I thank God that I didn't call out and that I remained unobserved.
The dining room was empty and the linoleum stripped away from narrow planks of what looked like oak. The front room was through the second pocket door archway and that where I saw Mr. Drew and Ned. A tarpaulin was laid on the floor and a ladder stood on it with paint cans set around it. But it was the two men who caught and held my eyes.
Ned was sprawled on the tarpaulin laughing fit to burst. All he was wearing was a pair of jeans and Mr. Drew was in the process of painting his nose. Or perhaps I should say he had painted it and was now trying to lick off the paint. I froze then slowly backed out of the doorway, my hand over my mouth to keep from making a noise.
"Car-r-r, that's not fair. It was an accident." Ned's voice trembled with laughter.
"Really? The first time maybe but the second time was a definite attempt to put more white in my hair than I already have." I almost didn't recognize those laughing tones as Mr. Drew's but they had to be.
"But it makes you look so distinguished." Ned chuckled.
"I'll give you distinguished." He said and I sneaked a peak in time to see him tickle the young man sprawled beneath him.
And when they were both breathless, Mr. Drew leaned down and kissed him. I've seen a few kisses in my day, had a few as well, but I've never seen one like that. It looked like he was eating Ned alive and Ned was returning the favor. Sighs and moans began to drift from the front room and I tiptoed outside so I could cool off. Standing on the back steps, I tried to decide what to do.
Ned was nineteen and Mr. Drew was old enough to be his father. I wondered why I wasn't shocked and I thought back over the last few months in contrast to the last two or three years. Ned had grown up overnight, it seemed to me. Mr. Drew had been lonely and working himself into an early grave but the young man had given him a new focus and he'd come back to life.
It wasn't a conventional pairing and I had to wonder how much of Ned's leaning toward Mr. Drew had to do with Nancy's casual brush-offs. Had he always been fond of other boys? He had seemed to change with his first year at college, perhaps his eyes had been opened to this alternate life style by someone there. But that didn't explain why Mr. Drew was consorting with him.
Although, he had been cold to the idea of marrying again and his dates had been mere formalities that he endured for society's sake. Perhaps he'd always been open to men but didn't indulge because Nancy was growing up. I shook my head and looked at the package in my hand. What did I think about what I'd just seen? What was I going to do about it?
Everything swirled inside my head until one thought came through stronger than the rest. He looked happy. They both looked happy. Ned would soon be twenty and he was well on the way to a career that seemed to make him excited about the future. And for the first time in years, Mr. Drew was also happy. He was looking ahead to this renovation and the work it entailed.
He was building a place for them, apart from Nancy's home in town, a place where they could be safe from prying eyes and busybodies. And I found myself nodding to myself. They weren't hurting anyone or each other and that's what was important. Smiling, I opened the door again.
"Hello! Mr. Drew, are you here?" I stopped in the kitchen and set the package on the table while I took a good look around as if I'd never seen it before. "My goodness gracious me, how very empty it looks."
"Hannah, is there something wrong?" He came through the doorway after an obvious attempt to get tidy.
"The phone is out again and this package came express. I thought it might be important so I brought it out." I concentrated on the room instead of his barefooted self. "I must say that this room is much improved from when I last saw it. What an awful lot of work you've put in."
He chuckled while opening the package and pulling out the legal forms. "Ned has been helping me when he gets a day off. He's in painting the front room right now. Good heavens! Let me just give this a read through so I can send it back with you. If that's all right?"
I nodded. "Perhaps Ned can give me a tour of what's been done so far?"
Mr. Drew paused a moment and I could see his mind race through the house before nodding and raising his voice. "Ned, come give Hannah a tour."
The tow-headed young man came through the door with a t-shirt pulled on and tucked into his jeans. "Hi, Hannah. What do you think of the kitchen?"
"Well, it's awfully bare but a vast improvement over what was here." I sniffed at the memory of the truly inconvenient kitchen that I'd seen. "I can give you some ideas about what should go into a really good place to cook."
"Excellent, Hannah, when it comes time to design it, we'll come straight to you." He grinned at me and beckoned me into the dining room. "This room just needs the floorboards sanded and the trim work stripped back to the natural wood. There's an awful lot of nice oak hidden by layers and layers of paint. But the front room is going to be really nice. It's on the south side of the house and with the new windows, there's a lot of sun to light up the space."
The two windows that had been there were gone, replaced by a double bow window almost twice their size. Afternoon sun came fitfully between the clouds that had hovered all day but I could see what it might be like on a sunny day when it was flooded with light.
"On a sunny day, the cream colored walls will show a hint of yellow. And when the floor here is sanded, the yellow oak will reflect the light back up." Ned looked around the room with great satisfaction and I could see his pride in their work.
"Are you able to apply what you're learning in college here?" I asked him while admiring the new windows.
"Yes, C-Mr. Drew is letting me try out my lessons here." He caught himself and started talking about what needed to be done upstairs.
I let the plans wash over me and listened to him plan their future, room by room. And I found that I approved each and every one of them. Should I let them know that I knew? Should I just keep their secret and perhaps run interference for them? I nodded at him and he kept talking until I could almost see the rooms come to life.
Yes, I'd keep their secret and maybe in a year or two, I'd say something to Mr. Drew. They were good for each other and they weren't hurting anyone. We'd made our way back to the kitchen and Mr. Drew was signing something before folding it up and tucking it back inside the envelope that had been inside the package.
"What do you think, Hannah? It's going to be a totally different place when we get done." He smiled at me and handed me the sealed envelope. "If you'd take this to the post office and send it off express mail, I'd appreciate it. It needs to be in New York by Tuesday."
"Certainly, Mr. Drew." I took it and looked him straight in the eyes. "I think it will be one of the nicest weekend houses I've ever seen. Now mind you talk to me before you start putting this kitchen together or I'm afraid you'll make the same mistakes that the original builders made."
He smiled that open smile that I'd almost forgotten he could smile. "I promise, Hannah, that we will get your ideas first. Who knows? If we create the perfect kitchen here then we might have to work on the town house?"
I rolled my eyes. "We'll see, Mr. Drew. Don't work Ned too hard on his day off."
"Next time you come, Hannah, bring cookies instead of mail." Ned teased me and I mock-hit his arm.
"Never you mind, young man, it will be a while before I brave the wilds of the country again. I'm a town dweller, thank you very much. But I dare say if you come home with Mr. Drew, I could be persuaded to feed you some of the pot roast I've got cooking." I walked out the back door with them right behind me. "With some of my angel food cake for dessert, if you remember to wash up properly."
They laughed together and waved to me as I carefully backed the car in the turn around to head out to the gravel road. In the rear view mirror, I saw Mr. Drew sling an arm around Ned and the young man lean into him before they disappeared back inside. I was humming while I drove away. The afternoon had been a revelation and I thought about the future all the way home.
That was almost three years ago and today we're going to see Ned graduate from the University. I think they have some celebrating to do out at their home after the festivities in town. And I was just as glad for them now as I had been then. They were so good together that I think even Nancy may be waking up to what's been going on under her nose all these years.
And I was finally going to get my new kitchen, I thought while getting into the back seat of Mr. Drew's sedan. Theirs had turned out so well that Ned had designed one for the town house with some input from me. It was going to be nice having an architect in the family.
The end for now