One week later, Violet was back out at the house. The electric company had gotten the power restored more quickly than promised, which had won them serious bonus points with her. As soon as she’d gotten the call that all systems were a go, she’d started scheduling repairs. She wanted to get everything settled as fast as she could – she was feeling the pull of the house more and more every day.
There were three crews at work right then: the heating and cooling workmen putting in her ductwork, the local water authority taking samples of her drinking water and checking the functionality of her well pump, and the cabinet installers in her kitchen pulling up the old Formica counters and replacing them with a buttery wooden butcher block.
Once these workers were done, she’d have the plasterers come in and spend the day patching up the soft spots in her walls, and then the floor guys would come to do sanding and refinishing – particularly in the turret room, if those floors could be salvaged at all. The roofers had already come and gone, making quick work of her missing tile, as well as replacing a few others that had cracked or wiggled loose over the years.
And while this all sounded impressive when listed out and near completion, Violet knew there would be more. There was always more work than you planned to have done when it came to renovations and remodeling in an older home. She’d always been a fan of home improvement shows, and she knew very well the potential pitfalls.
Right now, though, she was feeling the call of her extensive back yard flowerbeds. It was the perfect time of year to start planting for a fall harvest, and Violet had visions of fresh produce raised by her own two hands. Today, she was preparing the beds for planting. That meant lots of weed pulling, soil enriching and aeration, and digging her rows. After a lifetime of living in apartments and coveting the gardens she saw in movies, all of this work was a slice of heaven for her.
And she’d come prepared: a bright red bandana kept most of her hair from falling into her face as she crouched over the low beds. She was wearing a pair of worn and faded blue jeans for what felt like the first time in a long time, and a well-loved flannel shirt over a ribbed turquoise tank top, but she’d left her feet bare.
Kneeling on a planting pad, Violet diligently pulled weeds from the flowerbed nearest the kitchen stairs, dropping them into an untidy pile on the ground beside her. She’d started out her morning with her iPod plugged into her ears, but had never managed to turn it on. She loved the sounds of the workers’ saws and hammers interlaced with the chirping of the birds in the giant oak tree, and the rustle of the wind through the tall grass. Faintly, she could hear the crunch and pop of gravel under the tires of a rare passing farm truck. It was a better sound to her ears than any music, and she found it intensely comforting.
Violet’s mind roamed as she plucked the weedy overgrowth from the raised planter. She thought about decorating the house, paint samples, and the possibility of new furniture. She pondered getting a new job, though she hadn’t even formally left her old one. Instead, she’d taken to going in a bit early, working through lunch, and cutting out at 3. Her boss was usually long gone by then, and as long as she was vigilant in checking her voicemail and forwarding messages, no one ever even seemed to notice she was gone. It made her feel expendable, but she tried not to let that get to her. She’d be gone soon enough.
Those stolen hours were used, of course, out at the house. Sometimes she cleaned, sometimes she’d take measurements, and sometimes she’d work in the yard scraping paint off of the old fence. But mostly, she thought. And that’s what she was doing today.
One of the things that Violet loved most about gardening was that the simple, repetitive actions kept her hands busy, but left her mind free to wander. And on this particular sunny day in early summer, her mind wandered directly to Jack. It was a familiar path, too, because she’d been thinking about him almost every day since their date.
She smiled dreamily. Their date, despite the tense start, had ended very well. Driving herself instead of letting Jack pick her up had turned out to be a very good idea. She’d been tempted to drink to excess in a bid to loosen up more quickly, but the hassle of calling a cab and then coming back to pick up her car in the morning was an effective deterrent.
Jack and Violet hadn’t been able to hear each other very well over the music at the Continental Club, but Jack had surprised her by swinging her into his arms and dancing with her almost non-stop all night long. He had a way of making her feel delicate and feminine without treating her as though she were defenseless and stupid – no mean feat for a girl of her curvature. Violet usually found herself attracted to big men, because their height and outright mass made her feel small, but Jack didn’t have that angle to work. No, it was his manner that made her feel like a woman. She grudgingly admitted to herself – and then to him – that she’d had him all wrong at first.
They danced until Violet’s feet screamed in protest, but even after the club had closed down, they still weren’t ready to part company. The night was beautiful, and they were both having such a great time; despite Violet’s aching feet, they walked a few blocks down to one of the many green spaces in town.
They sat on a little concrete bench underneath a flowering redbud tree. Light from the old-fashioned tri-bulb lamppost illuminated the grass and their faces with a silvery gleam. Jack had pulled Violet’s feet into his lap, untied her sandals and, ignoring her protests begun stroking her feet.
Violet’s body was suffused with warm tingles as she recalled the remainder of the night. They’d talked about everything and nothing. She couldn’t really remember the specifics of anything they’d discussed, but she remembered laughing until her cheeks were sore, she remembered his fingertips sliding along the instep of her foot and tracing her talus bone. Her memories were suffused with a warm light, like a vignette in a shop window, advertising for the most romantic night. When the chill of the evening air had made her shiver slightly, he’d wrapped his arm around her and pulled her into the warmth of his body.
They’d sat together on the bench, cuddled together and talking until Violet been unable to stifle her yawns any longer. It must have been three or four in the morning when Jack had walked her to her car, arm tossed casually over her shoulders.
She’d known that he was going to kiss her long before it had happened. His body language had been shouting his intentions for hours – the feather-light touch of his hand on her elbow as he led her to the dance floor had become the tender hold of his arm around her waist. The light pressure of his hand on her back had turned into a daring caress of her lower back, pressing her hips toward his.
Before leaving the house, Violet had resolved to take things incredibly slow. But when faced with the reality of Jack, she found that resolve crumbling at lightning speeds. He was smart, good looking, funny, and attentive. Violet smiled to herself as she moved on to the next flowerbed. She’d caught more than one jealous look while they’d been out.
The moment had been as perfect as it could be, and Violet knew she wasn’t embellishing it in her mind. Under the light of a three-quarter moon, they had walked hand in hand the few blocks down the street to Violet’s car. It was incredibly late – or early, depending on how you looked at it – and the air was thick with moisture; the ingredients for a heavy morning dew. It had already begun to collect on the few remaining cars parked along the road, transforming them from machines into magical sleeping beasts, glistening under the streetlamps.
They’d paused behind her car, standing a little awkwardly, like when you’re reluctant for a good time to end. Jack put one hand in his pocket and held Violet’s hand with the other. Suddenly shy, he hadn’t said anything much after that.
She remembered every detail vividly. How charmed she’d been by Jack’s sudden shyness, the nervous pounding of her pulse in her ears, anxiously awaiting what she knew was coming – her first kiss in well over a year. To break the tension, she’s cleared her throat and said softly, “Long drive back… I apologize for keeping you out so late.”
He’d smiled, the corners of his mouth crinkling slightly like they do on a face that smiles often. “You didn’t keep me out. I had an amazing time with you tonight, like I haven’t had in a really long time. Well worth the drive.”
Now it was Violet’s turn to feel shy. “I had a great time too,” she’d answered, her voice almost at a whisper. She’d looked into his eyes for as long as she could manage before breaking contact and examining her toes. She’d known that that would be the moment when he’d lean in. No time would be better, and Jack knew it too. He laid his palm against her face, stroking her cheek with his thumb. She tilted upward and swayed forward, involuntarily, eyes closed.
His lips were soft and warm. His other arm snaked around her waist, pressing her to him as he had when they’d danced. Violet felt laid open and bare. Her hands gripped weakly at his shoulders, tight, round balls of muscle under her fingertips. And now, as she sweated lightly in the sunshine, she wondered what he’d look like shirtless. She pictured his skin: pale, shoulders dusted with freckles, with a golden cast. Flat belly and defined obliques… she tingled.
It had been such an intense kiss. Not pushy or hungry; they didn’t devour each other. But it was heavily steeped in passion – the brush of his lips against hers. They’d felt full and almost girlish. Such a contrast to his masculine face. The whole of her body was pressed to his as their mouths worked against each other. Violet felt a myriad of emotions rise up in her, feelings that she hadn’t experienced in so long that they felt utterly foreign. Even after they’d reluctantly parted, those feelings lingered.
“I guess I’d better let you get home,” she’d said, choking on the words. It wasn’t what she wanted to say. Her whole body was screaming for her to put him in her car, invite him home with her, and keep him near her for what remained of the night and as much of the next day as possible. With great control, she resisted. She knew fully well that no good ever came of moving so fast.
So she’d gotten into her car, and he’d stood and watched her drive away, waving.