Keeley’s bedroom and bath were finished, the beautiful pale lilac paint she had put on the walls was dry, and she was finally moving into the first home she had ever had all on her own. She didn’t have much in the way of furniture, since she hadn’t wanted to keep anything she’d shared with Mark, but she’d bought a brand new bed that had been delivered, and was ready for her first night's sleep. She had found a really nice antique dresser at the thrift store, that she’d refinished with only a little assistance from Daniel. The armoire was painted and ready to hold the rest of her clothes. She’d splurged on new sheets and a cheerful floral duvet cover. Her boxes of books and the few other things she’d kept were already at the house, and all she’d had to do was load up the clothes she had at Kira’s. Mitchell was nowhere to be seen, but Kira was there to see her off, standing beside the car looking forlorn. “I’m going to miss having you here,” she said sadly.
“I’ll miss you, too. I want you to come out whenever you can.” Keeley said and hugged her tight. Kira finally let go, and stepped back so that Keeley could open the car door. Kira had offered to do a tarot card reading, which had resulted in her saying that the new business prospects appeared to be favorable, and while it looked like there would be some challenges in regard to the move, overall it was likely to be positive.
Keeley marveled at how much she already felt at home in Ashton. When she walked down the street she was likely to run into someone whose name she knew, and Clair and Lily dropped by regularly to see how the renovations were progressing. They had a long standing habit of going to the pub every Thursday night, and had invited Keeley to join them. Joe Walton had designated Thursdays as Ladies Night, and served special cocktails and appetizers that weren’t available at other times. Presumably, having the ladies come was meant to entice more men to show up, although Claire and Lily claimed that Joe just liked to be surrounded by as many women as possible. Keeley had met some of their other friends, and was feeling less and less like an outsider every day. Things were going well at the house, and Daniel was even managing to keep to the budget. She was cautiously optimistic that she would be able to build the garage and pave the driveway this year, rather than waiting until next year as she had expected.
Keeley had grown up in a family where the female members were expected to take on the responsibility for taking care of the home, and of the males of the family. Her father had been the breadwinner, with her mother staying home to look after the children and the house. Upon her father's death, Keeley had taken over that responsibility, and it had extended into her marriage. She and Mark both worked full time, but when the work day was over, Mark would sit in front of the television watching sports while Keeley made their dinner. If she occasionally resented this, or spending her weekends cleaning and shopping while he played golf or tennis, she had never protested to him. She was therefore surprised, but pleased, to see that Daniel was very different in this regard to the men she was used to being around. He took his coffee cups to the kitchen when he was finished with them, and washed and put them away. If her cup was sitting in the sink, he washed that too. He always cleaned the area he was working in before he left for the day, and if Keeley hadn’t quite managed to clear up what she was working on, before she knew it, it was done. What a treat! This was not a man who had been raised in traditional gender roles.
She felt like she and Daniel were slowly becoming friends, which felt good. The majority of their conversations still centered on the house, but gradually, after they had been working together all day for a few weeks, Daniel’s initial reserve had melted away, and they became more comfortable with one other. He was still reticent about anything personal, but Keeley was learning that he was very well read, and had a good sense of humour. She started to make a habit of inviting him to the pub on Thursday nights with the girls and on a few occasions, he had accepted the invitation. This had given Clair the opportunity to look smug, and tease her the next day, accusing her of taking the most eligible bachelor off the market.
After a few attempts, Keeley stopped trying to convince her that they were just friends. If circumstances were different, she thought, I might be interested in pursuing some sort of relationship with Daniel. Of course, she would never admit this to Claire and Lily. Besides which, he never gave any indication that he wanted a more personal relationship with her, which was actually a good thing, because there was no way she could think about being in a relationship right now. She had far too much to do, and anyway, it would not be a good idea to have a relationship with someone who essentially worked for you, even if only temporarily. It would be too awkward. Still, more than once she had looked up to find him watching her with a look in his eyes that hinted that he did find her attractive, but maybe she was just imagining the whole thing. If he did have any interest in her, he did not act on it. She reminded herself again that that was what she wanted, even as a tiny voice inside her was berating her for being a liar.
Keeley was painting the walls of the studio a warm grey with undertones of taupe that looked even better on the walls than it had appeared on the paint chip, and Daniel was working on the plumbing in the kitchen, when the doorbell rang. Since she was up on a ladder, she called out to Daniel, hoping he would be able to answer the door. When he didn’t respond to her yelled request, she carefully set down her paint brush, and climbed back down the ladder. When she opened the door, a slim, dark haired, middle aged woman was standing on the porch, holding a large, brown paper bag. She smiled at Keeley. “Hi. I’m Irene Freemont. Is Danny around? He forgot his lunch this morning, so I brought it over to him.”
So this was Daniel’s mother. Keeley looked for a resemblance, and decided he had gotten his dark blue eyes from her, but must have inherited his much larger frame, and his blond hair from his father.
“Please come in Mrs. Freemont. Daniel should be working in the kitchen, unless he had to run out to get something. Let me just check for you. I’m Keeley Kavanagh. I’d shake your hand, but as you can see, I’m covered in paint. I don’t know how I always manage to do that. I seem to get more on me than I get on the walls.”
“Please call me Irene. It’s nice to meet you, Keeley. Danny’s spoken about you.” Irene’s expression was friendly, and slightly curious. Keeley wondered what Daniel had said to his mother about her, but didn’t think it would be appropriate to ask.
Daniel was in the kitchen, and obviously pleased to get his lunch delivered. After offering Irene coffee, which was politely declined, Keeley left mother and son alone, and went back to finish her painting. A few minutes later Keeley heard the door open and close, and surmised that Irene had left. It was sweet of her to bring her son his forgotten lunch, although with Claire’s coffee house, the bakery, and the pub so close, it was highly unlikely he would have had to go without eating. Claire or maybe it was Lily had mentioned that Daniel and his mom were very close, although quick to add that Daniel was far from being a mama’s boy. When Keeley went into the kitchen later to make herself some coffee, she remarked to Daniel that his mother seemed nice. He replied that she was nice, but did not continue the conversation. He should work for the CIA, Keeley thought in frustrated amusement. Trying to get any personal information out of him was like pulling teeth. She’d have to take some lessons from Claire and Lily.
Daniel did stop working long enough to have a cup of coffee with her, and stayed to drink the whole thing. Afterwards, they walked through the house together, looking at the work that had been done so far, and discussing what was left to do. Daniel praised Keeley’s painting efforts. She was quite proud of the careful job she had done, and it was nice to have a professional compliment her work.
On Thursday, when Keeley left to join Claire and Lily at the pub, she invited Daniel as usual. The work had been progressing nicely, and he said smilingly that he deserved a beer to celebrate. He put his tools away, and cleaned up, and they walked across the square to the pub. Donna was there, sitting at a table with a small group of people, none of whom were familiar to Keeley. Donna greeted them, smiling especially brightly at Daniel. After they’d joined Clair and Lily at another table, every time Keeley looked up, Donna had her eyes fixed on Daniel. Instead of staying for the evening, as he had before, as soon as he’d finished his beer, Daniel excused himself and left. He smiled at Keeley, and leaned down to kiss her cheek, causing Claire’s eyes to widen in mock amazement. Keeley was pretty sure Donna was the reason that Daniel had left so early, and maybe even the reason he’d kissed her. She hoped she never found herself in Donna’s situation, liking someone so much who didn’t return her feelings. It had to be painful.
The women ordered another round of drinks, and decided to share an order of Joe’s popular and delicious appetizer platter. Keeley still didn’t have a working kitchen so she decided this would be her dinner that evening. It was not a low calorie option, and she thought that as soon as she could start making her own meals again, she had better start eating healthier food. She’d noticed that she had put back on a couple of the pounds she’d lost when Mark had left. An irony of life is that unhappiness keeps you thin, and the opposite is also true.
She enjoyed the evening spent with Claire and Lily. They were always fun to be around, with never a dull moment. She walked home through the park, which was still not deserted even though it was after eight o’clock. The mild evenings encouraged families and couples to linger in the lovely outdoor space. Keeley loved looking at her house as she crossed the park, feeling that little thrill of pride of ownership every time. It was the most beautiful building on the entire block, at least in her possibly biased opinion. She opened the little gate at the street entrance, which no longer listed drunkenly to one side, or squeaked, and started up the path to the front door. Something streaked in front of her, and up the steps onto the porch. She jumped back, her heart racing until she saw that it was only a cat, with long black fur and round, shining green eyes which were staring at her intently.
“Oh, Kitty, you scared me,” she said. She walked up the steps slowly. The cat crouched and continued to watch her, ready to run away if necessary. “Aren’t you a beauty,” she said softly. “Are you lost, little one?” She slowly bent down to pet the cat, who backed away a few inches. From close up, she could see the cat was quite small and skinny, and it’s long hair was matted in places. “Are you hungry? I don’t have any kitty food, but I think there might be some tuna in the cupboard. Wait here.” She went inside, returning a few minutes later with the promised tuna and a large bowl of water. The cat was exactly where she had left it. She set both bowls down, and moved a few feet away. Keeping one eye on her, the cat crept closer and began attacking the meal. Keeley watched for a moment and then went inside, leaving the poor little cat to enjoy it’s meal without the stress of her watching.
The next morning, the food dish was empty, the water depleted, and the cat had appropriated an adirondack chair’s cushion as a bed. It opened it’s eyes and stretched when Keeley came out onto the porch. Keeley wasn’t sure what to do about the cat. It might be someones pet, but that didn’t seem likely. She hadn’t seen it in the neighborhood before, and it definitely didn’t look well cared for, the way it should if it belonged to someone. Maybe it was just passing through. She refilled the water bowl with fresh water, and decided she needed a few things at the store anyway, so she might as well go pick them up, and get some cat food at the same time. Maybe the cat would be gone by the time she returned, but it had been so hungry the night before that she felt obligated to get some food for it, just in case it wasn’t just passing through.
When she got back from shopping, with a few cat toys in the bag, as well as the food, it was still resting on the cushion on her porch. Keeley put out some of the food. The cat leapt gracefully down from the cushion, and moved a little more confidently to the dish. It sniffed at the food, then settled in and began eating, slower than the night before . This time when she reached down cautiously to pet it, the cat didn’t move away, just continued to eye her warily.
“You got a cat,” Kira exclaimed, as she came up the porch steps to find Keeley seated on a chair, stroking the black ball of fur on her lap. “Cool.”
“It’s not mine. I think it’s a stray. I put flyers up with a picture, but no one’s called, at least not yet.”
Kira laughed. “You’ve got a cat,” she repeated.
“I can’t have a cat.”
“Because, I …” Yeah, why not indeed? She liked cats, and there was no longer any reason she couldn’t have one if she wanted. It was so nice to not have to take other peoples likes and dislikes into account anymore, Keeley thought gratefully. Her mother hadn’t wanted animals around, so there had never been pets growing up, and Mark was allergic. Although now that she thought about it, she’d never seen any sign of rashes or hives or difficulty breathing when he’d been around cats. But, oh well, more ancient history. The present was what mattered, and as long as no one claimed it, she had a cat!