“Oh my goodness, Derek, this house is amazing,” I say as I look around at the beautiful home and landscaped yard. I’ve never seen anything like this up close and personal.
“Wait until you go inside, it’s freaking fabulous.” He pulls the van up by the garage on the backside of the house.
“What style would you call this?” I ask.
“I don’t know, European estate or Tudor, I guess.” We each grab a tote of supplies out of the van. The house is built out of stone. It has some brownish color bricks and cedar beams that create a subtle pattern at the top of the house. It has two little round, Tudor bay windows, and the roofline comes to steep peaks. I hope I get to see it covered with glistening snow. I bet it looks like something out of a fairy tale. The landscaped yard could be on a cover of a magazine, and I’ve never seen a bigger screened in porch in my life; it’s one whole side of the house.
Jack meets us at the front door. He isn’t scowling, but he doesn’t look welcoming either, “Come in, guys, and have a seat back at the kitchen table.” He doesn’t say anything else; he leads us down a few steps and into a great large room. I follow after Derek; I want to giggle at Derek's overalls. He is equipped and dressed like a painter out of a fifties magazine. His parents and grandparents have lived the life of paint and refurbishing for sixty years. So Derek is pimped out and looking like a professional.
Jack stops at the kitchen island and starts giving us directions. He’s straight forward, not messing around. I can’t stop smiling and looking around at the house, letting Derek take in all the rules to follow for his job. It’s his first one he’s had since moving home after their family drama. I’m so happy for him. By the looks of this house, I think it will be an excellent reference.
The first time I met Derek, Aunt Betty, and Uncle Terry in person was at my Mama’s funeral. The second time was when they came down from Ohio for Jenny’s funeral.
I only knew Derek, Aunt Betty, and Uncle Terry by phone before I move up to Ohio to live close by them, the only family I have left in this world.
Aunt Betty found us a year before Mama died. She’s twelve years younger than my mama, Mary. She only heard about Mama from the whispers from her older siblings. She was a baby; she doesn’t have any memories of Mama herself.
Aunt Betty met Uncle Terry at a farmer’s market. They flirted for two months. They were caught kissing, and she was forbidden to see him again. But he asked her to run away with him, and she did, even though she knew she was promised to another man. Her and my mama, both, left their Amish community and the only life they had ever known behind when they were young. Aunt Betty and Uncle Terry have been together for over thirty years.
I’m half-listening and looking around in awe at how high the ceiling is back here in the kitchen area. If it were me, I’d only get rid of the wallpaper but leave everything else just as it is.
Jack’s voice pitches lower, and I glance at him. He holds out his card for me to take. “Here’s my card with my contact information. Everything goes through me, not my mother. I’ll be signing your paychecks. I’ll let you guys get settled in. Feel free to use the refrigerator, the kitchen, I don’t care where you start, but the downstairs office and my space upstairs needs to be done last.”
I smile, reassuring him we’ve got this.
I wonder how old he is. I bet he’s in his middle forties. Lordy, he’s good looking. His features are perfect for his face, his cheekbones, his jawline, his eyes, his messy hair, everything — he’s very handsome. He’s around six one or six-two, and he’s in really nice shape.
His clothes today are a mixed bag; he’s wearing expensive-looking fitted suit pants with scuffed old shoes and an untucked white tee shirt. With only a white tee on, you can tell, he definitely works out.
I love his hair, it says to me, I’m soft, run your fingers through me. Then you look at his handsome face with his stern expressions and stuffy suits, and they say back off. I want to figure him out; he’s beautiful but standoffish. Well, he tries to be standoffish. I bet to some people he isn’t at all. Sophie gushes over him at yoga and loves him to pieces.
Derek and I decided to tackle the removal of a large amount of wallpaper in the dining room. “I’m going to the van to bring in a ladder, need anything?” Derek asks.
“Okay, and no, I have everything I need.” I start scoring the wallpaper. Please, Lord, let this come off easy. If not, we may be here working on this for a year.
“Have you seen the house before today?” I startle, I didn’t hear Jack walk in the room. My lips twirl up. “No. It’s beautiful.”
“Thank you. Let me give you a quick tour.”
My heart skips a beat in excitement to get a look at the whole house, “Okay, thank you.”
I follow him out of the dining room. When he says quick, he means fast. I can barely keep up with him and hardly get a good look around. We start the tour back at the front door. The two-story foyer has a curved, grand, rod iron staircase, and to the left is a master suite with a sitting room. You step down into a library/den, and it has doors to where a patio begins outside. Across the hall is the formal dining. Then it opens up into a massive great room with a large kitchen island, an enormous fireplace with built-in cabinetry.
We go down a back stairway to a basement. I’ve kept my questions and comments to myself as Jack has shown me the first floor, but this basement is incredible. “Wow,” I breathe out loud.
“Yeah, this is the finished basement/game room/bar, whatever you want to call it. It’s mostly being used now by Sophie for tumble practice. I think she was doing yoga in here last night. Let’s head upstairs to Ben’s room.” He stops a few seconds to watch me take a quick look around before he quickly continues up a hidden staircase on the other side of the basement.
Next is Ben’s suite, it’s massive, with his sitting area. Then a decent sized guest bedroom, which I'm guessing is Sophie’s room since it's covered with pink decorations. She also has her own bathroom. Outside of the bedrooms there’s an open area set up for video games, desks for studying with more built-in cabinetry. We walk into the last room on this floor, and I know it’s his. It’s the same as Ben’s, but he has French doors leading to a balcony overlooking the brick patio down below. I think we are above his downstairs office/library.
“Thank you for the tour.” I nervously laugh. “I’ve been so quiet because this house is truly amazing. So many cool and different spaces to hang out in and relax. I think that’s a sign of a good home.” I smile at his stone, straight face. At least he doesn’t scowl or frown all the time. “You’re lucky you got the room with the balcony. You must be the oldest child?” I ask.
He knocks me off balance when a full-blown smile spreads over his face. Lordy, he has dimples.
“Follow me outside for a minute.” He walks briskly outside onto his balcony. I follow him outside, still shocked, and a little off balance by his smile.
“This balcony has a lattice wall of roses growing down to the patio.” He points and looks at the thick, and wintering rose vines. I’m hanging on his every word. “I designed this house with I was fifteen for my family. I designed this house for all our specific needs and wants.” He leans on the rod iron railing overlooking the massive yard.
“You designed this house? At fifteen?” Wow. I guess it is kind of his house. “Wow, that’s incredible.” I don’t know what else to say, that unbelievably cool and unexpected. I’m speechless.
He nods his head yes, “The family came out to see the house on the day it was completed. We walked, talked about where we were going to put our things, we couldn’t wait to move in the next day. We ended the tour on the brick patio off Dad’s office.” He points below, “Dad started laughing his ass off because he understood right away what I’d done. It took Mom a few extra minutes to understand, my balcony, lattice plan. Ben, the little shit, thought I was brilliant when he noticed. It was brilliant, brilliant because I knew I was off to college in a couple of years, and Ben, who doesn’t have a balcony in his room, would try to leave through my room after I moved out. But he wouldn’t be able to without getting busted by my parents. I, on the other, would be golden for two years.” He taps the railing.
“Why would you be golden, and Ben get caught?”
“Because I got the benefits of my mother’s young plants. I could use the lattice as a private entrance, but by the time Ben figured it out and tried, the landscape would be filling in, and it would be noticeable. Ben would get busted. Mom loves her roses and her plants; she checked them daily.” He doesn’t smile, but he looks happy sharing this tidbit.
I giggle. “That’s very clever and funny, but it’s also a little mean.”
“What, why?” Lordy, he’s handsome leaning on the balcony with his hands crossed in front of him, his white tee shirt stretching over his broad shoulders. He’s tall compared to my five three stature.
“I thought older siblings looked out and tried to help each other. If it was okay for you to do something, then it should be cool for Ben too, you should have made it easier for him.” I point out.
His half-smile turns ornery, and I feel my stomach flip. Good gracious, he’s attractive. “Sweetheart,” butterflies explode inside me, “neither one of us ever needed to sneak in or out of our parent’s house. Mom and Dad were smart, laidback, and honest with us. We wanted to earn their respect and trust for the most part. Christ, we still were young ornery shits, though. This balcony was brilliant because the true reason was I needed and wanted a short term fix to be able to sneak the girl, I was dating at the time up, into my space. She was older and not a favorite of my parents. She was the cause of several long lectures and debates at the dinner table the year before we moved into this house.”
My mouth gape open. “Wow, at fifteen, you designed and built this house and was devious enough to plan out, all this, the lattice and roses.” I again don’t know what to say. “Did you sneak her in?”
“I had a great junior year with Molly Wyatt.” God, his dimples.
I giggle. “What happened to Molly Wyatt?”
He shrugs, “She’s a project manager for the city’s zoo. I ran into last year.”
I smile, it’s meant to encourage him to keep talking because I love to see a smile on his face, even an ornery one.
He clears his throat, “Where did you grow up, Ms. August?”
“Please call me Annie and in Memphis, Tennessee.”
“Ah, I thought you had a southern accent.”
I shake my head no. “No, believe me when I say, I do not have a southern accent. My mama was raised in Pennsylvania, and Lisa, our landlord, and her husband Tom were born, raised, and lived most of their lives in Rhode Island. Some of my words may slip out with a southern twang now and again, but my family encouraged it not to become a habit. My friends and everyone else around me back in Tennessee, now they had southern accents. ”
A half-smile appears on his dark stubble face. He motions me inside and down the main stairs. He’s back to quick, businesslike, and blunt. “If you need anything, Annie, I’ll be working in my office.”
“Okay, thank you. Thanks for the tour too. I’m going to think about how you created all of this, at only fifteen, today as I strip off this wallpaper. I’ve never seen a home this beautiful in person, and to know you did this for your family at fifteen. That’s truly incredible, Jack Phillips.” I smile. I wish he would give me one back. Shoot, no luck, he turns and walks away.