If you’ve not read from the beginning, you can start here.
Thomas Garfield, or otherwise known as Red to his family and everyone in Wagga Wagga where he grew up, didn’t consider himself to be too tall, for the right girl, of course, and knew that his lopsided grin had a habit of throwing him into hot water now and then. He prided himself on being a warm, gregarious, if not cheeky, kind of guy who valued people, loved to make the most out of life and thought that it was vital to be prepared for anything within reason.
Being new to town, Thomas was looking forward to settling into his new job with the local plumbing company run by his Dad’s old school mate, Frank O’Shea and thought that he would probably make some good friends here. His boss had introduced him to some friendly folk from his church, and Thomas was looking forward to getting to know the locals, so to speak and becoming part of a strong faith-filled community.
But he was at an age where he was starting to feel like there was more to him being a good guy and a kind friend. Thomas loved his family, his life and all the various jobs he’d taken over the years since leaving school, but knew that chasing after things and money didn’t come close to chasing after God and all that it meant to be a loyal, honest man. Integrity was his primary focus and one to be prized as a hallmark of any man worth his salt. His Dad taught him that without even saying it.
So Thomas had decided to keep himself for the right woman. He knew that waiting was the best choice, but at times this was tricky and a challenge. He’d met plenty of beautiful, loving, God fearing girls to spend time with but hadn’t felt that spark that he heard so many people talking about. Deep down he figured he’d just wait and when the time was right, he’d meet her and everything he anticipated would fall into place.
What he didn’t anticipate was Hannah Barnett. When he’d seen her at the Strand job, he didn’t expect to feel that spark and it tripped him up, literally causing him to stumble in front of this beauty and her wide-eyed, somewhat frazzled friend, who looked like she was about to collapse under the stress of it all. But this girl. Wow. He tried not to stare as Frank made introductions. But if a guy could be smitten in six seconds, he thought he just might be. It wasn’t like she was wearing one of those fancy dresses in the Alex Perry store, either. Simple white t-shirt, not too tight and blue jeans. But it was the shoes that really took his attention. His mother had always taught him that a good pair of shoes were well worth the money and this girl clearly had the same mindset. Leather, for sure, and red, with a quirky floral print. A little bit like the Doc Martin shoes that his cousin Anna always wore but without the ankle part. Regardless, he thought they were awesome and was just about the compliment her style when he looked up and she met his gaze. He never knew it was possible to lose words.
She was dreamy. Green eyes, soft curly hair that looked like spun gold. Oh my goodness, he thought, as he realised how cliche his thoughts were. Get a grip on yourself boy, he chided himself. When he finally did find his voice, it cracked like a pubescent teen’s and he stuttered embarrassingly while trying to say hello after Frank introduced him to the two women, one named Miranda, who turned out to be in charge and the other named Hannah, who was the shoot stylist. Hannah, he thought and then had to get a hold of himself. Nodding to Franks’ direction, Thomas headed over to the women’s bathroom, feeling like a total fool, his face and neck flushed and hot from the encounter.
Driving back to the office, Thomas realised that he didn’t get Hanna’s details. The whole time he and Frank were assessing the broken pipes, his heart thumped and his hands became clammy as soon as he brought the image of her face to his mind. And every time he had to go and speak to her boss, he hoped that she was going to be within earshot so that he could steal another glance in her direction.
There was something about this girl. Sparks flew. He wondered as he pulled into the carpark and got ready for the next job if he’d get another chance to meet her and make a better impression. He said a quick but heartfelt prayer and offered it up to God. If she were the one, he’d make a way for Thomas to meet her again.
Flynn’s world was colourful, stunningly eccentric and beautiful. His art reflected voices from the past such as Picasso, Van Gogh, Modigliani and Matisse. It was like he saw their work, was inspired and then merged their ideas to create an entirely new visual concept. He was gaining notoriety too, with the local art gallery inviting him to do an exhibition which he was working on at the moment. Until then, most of what he’d done had been commissioned by local schools and businesses with the occasional individual art fanatic wanting work to complete their home decor ideas.
The funny thing about Flynn Elliott Barnett was that he could concentrate on a task for hours, sometimes days and even weeks at a time. The not so funny thing about this was that everything else became either unimportant, ignored or even non-existent. Friends, family, work obligations and bills became small and inconsequential in Flynn’s’ world when he focussed to this degree.
Flynn seemed to be in one of those ‘other world’ mindsets lately, and even more so since Aunty Mak’s funeral. Things really started to get surreal when Hannah found her brother asleep in the hall between the bedrooms and the dining room. She had woken at 3:45 am to use the bathroom and nearly tripped over the snoring mass on the floor. It wasn’t unusual to find Flynn in odd places, even during the night but when Hannah turned on the light to wake him and get him back to bed, she stood stunned at the images she saw – swirls, graphic shapes, tree roots with no trees, and eyes. So many eyes. All over the wall from Flynn’s bedroom door to the dining room entry – at least a good 6 metres of wall space. And the art moved like it was growing out of Flynn’s room with the images coming out of the baseboard next to his door and literally growing up and around the hall table and light switches, power outlets and skirting boards around the other doors. It was both beautiful and disturbing and it was quite a few moments before Hannah realised that she’d been standing in the hallway long enough for her dad to come out and see why the light was still on.
Steve and Hannah just stood there. By this time Flynn had woken enough to drowsily shuffle his way back to his room and as he opened his door wider to walk through, Hannah realised that the artwork had spilled out from his room. The wall around his bed was covered with the same designs and it seemed that he’d just run out of space so decided to keep going.
‘It’s okay Dad, we can clean it all off’, said Hannah as Steve bent over to pick something up off the floor. Flynn had done this kind of thing before but never to this extent. ‘Well, it’s going to take some work. Seems, this time, Flynn felt it necessary to make a permanent impression.’ And with that, he walked back to his room and quietly shut the door.
Dazed and tired, Hannah stood there for a moment wondering what Dad meant. She moved closer to the wall to get a better look at one of the eyes and her foot kicked against something that rolled. She bent down to pick up a collection of coloured sharpies laying on the floor next to the hall table. Her brother had indeed made an indelible impression. This time he’d used permanent markers.
It took three days to clean the walls. Once the art was painstakingly photographed (because Flynn couldn’t bare the thought of ‘losing’ this work) and removed with turps, he retreated back to the shed where he had spent many years working on his projects. Hannah woke to the sound of the hammer and expected that her brother must be making a new frame for a finished work. That would keep him busy at least for the day, she thought, and she wandered out into the kitchen and popped the kettle on.
Tea in hand, Hannah sat down at the kitchen table, exhausted from a long travel day to a shoot in Port Macquarie the day before, and she starting to think about Flynn’s unusual creative idiosyncrasies. They’d caused the family quite a bit of challenge over the years, with a similar spate of activity in his mid-teens. Now at 25, he was beginning to show the same kinds of signs and Hannah was getting anxious about it. She really wanted him to get some help. But he wouldn’t have a bar of it, saying that he was just a creative soul and his passions drove him to do extraordinary things sometimes.
It was evident that something wasn’t quite right in Flynn’s world, and but try as they might, the family just couldn’t get him to speak to a professional. Hannah was often amazed at how her parents managed – how they never spoke an ill word to her brother or spoke poorly of him to others. They just carried on with life as best as the could, sometimes having to clean up his mess and deal with the social repercussions of having a son who didn’t seem to even realise that rules existed in the first place.
‘Hannah, can you pop the kettle on please?” asked Grace as she emptied and refilled her handbag. Grace was fanatical about keeping her bag organised and this was the morning ritual regardless of what other activities the day would involve.
“Already done. I’ll get you a cuppa. Black or herbal?”
“Oh, I think black today love. I’m going to need it!” she replied as she refilled her bag again.
“How are you mum? Did you sleep well?’ Hannah gently enquired.
“Yeah, I’m okay. Pretty good actually love. Thanks. You?,”” Grace answered, looking around for something that she apparently thought was in her bag.
“Yeah, not too bad. Better than the other night!” Hannah exclaimed, to which her mother just rolled her eyes and sighed.
“That was quite a night, wasn’t it? I’m glad your brother was intent to clean the walls himself this time. Last time I nearly threw my back out trying to reach the tiny dots he’d put on the ceiling cornice. Do you remember that? I think you would have been about 13? Gosh, that was a long day!”
Hannah chuckled as her mother grinned at the memory. “Oh yes, I do remember that one. Wasn’t that the one where Flynn was convinced that the dots represented the days of our lives? I think he was obsessed with the soap opera on tv at the time”.
“Oh yes! Yeah, that was it. Each dot was symbolic of our days and he had counted out a dot for each one of us. Did I tell you I found a notebook weeks later and he had actually calculated those days first? I asked him about it and he said it was important to be accurate and have the facts straight. I think he was equally obsessed with CSI at the time too!”
It was so nice to see Hanna’s mother having a bit of a giggle at the antics they’d all experienced at Flynn’s hands. It was also nice to see her mum looking a bit more relaxed and Hannah was just about to say so when an almighty roar erupted from the art shed. Both women stood up from the kitchen table and ran to the window where they watched Flynn running out like he’d been propelled from a rocket launcher. He was dripping wet and covered with what looked like paint water slurry. The two of them burst out laughing but then realised that there was a serious issue as water began to flood the concrete surrounding the shed.
“Oh dear, I’ll call the plumber,” said Grace as she walked over to the phone and began dialling the number. He was the local plumber but he’d also been a friend of the family for years and was the go-to man for these and other memorable moments the Barnett family had experienced.
“Okay, I’ll go and see what happened,” Hannah replied as she walked back to her room to grab a dressing gown and ugg boots. And her camera. This was one moment that wasn’t going to be missed.
Frank O’Shea was your typical Aussie plumber – hard working, quiet, loyal and busy every day. His wife had nagged him for the past two years to take on an employee or at the very least, an apprentice to lighten the load and he had finally buckled and started the search for just the right guy.
Frank didn’t want just anyone for the job. He wanted someone who took the trade seriously and wasn’t just in it to make a buck. The plumbing industry was certainly lucrative but that didn’t mean he had a right to take his clients to the cleaners when they had an emergency. He just wanted to find someone to work with who had the same kind of work ethos and integrity his parents had instilled in him.
It didn’t take too long for a mutual friend to email Frank and give him the details of a young man who had been at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga but had fallen on hard times and called it quits while he worked out what to do next. His friend spoke highly of this young Thomas Garfield, and Frank gave him a call. Within a few minutes, Frank knew he’d found the right guy – young, but salt of the earth raised on a farm on the outskirts of town and known for his hard working attitude and quiet but cheeky nature. Thomas explained that he’d done all the plumbing on the farm with his dad and uncles and had fixed a number of significant issues over the years so was quite familiar with industry speak and the foundations of plumbing. As he’d decided to leave uni life behind, Thomas felt that this would be an excellent opportunity for him to move away from the home turf and work out some stuff in his life. His honestly struck Frank right away and after a two-week trial, Thomas became his new employee.
When Grace Barnett called Frank, he couldn’t help but be amused at Flynn’s latest antics and decided this was a job that Thomas could probably put his hand to without too much assistance. As Thomas had now been working with Frank for the past 3 months, he knew that the young lad had the goods and sent him around to the Barnett’s with fixtures and supplies to at least patch things up until they could organise a permanent solution.
When Thomas arrived, he smiled at the little red Austin Mini Countryman in the driveway. Intrigued, he took a closer look. The back seats had been removed and replaced with a flat tray that was covered with what looked to be rolls of fabric, a camera stand and large canvas bags filled to bursting with who knew what. His gran had owned a 1969 Morris Cooper in classic cherry red that his grandfather had lovingly restored and maintained so he had grown up around vintage cars, oily rags and leather polish. Someone has good taste, he thought as he gathered his things and walked up the drive to the house.
Hannah had stopped by the lounge room windows to pick up the collection of fabric swatches she had been working with the night before when she spotted a young man walking up the drive. Grace had explained that the plumber was tied up and was sending his new employee to have a look at the damage and patch things up until Monday when he could get around to fixing the pipe.
She hadn’t really paid that much attention to the lanky red headed guy and when she opened the door, her mouth fell open involuntarily. “Oh no, surely it’s not him,” she thought and before she could save herself from a world of embarrassment, he grinned at her.
“Nice Countryman you’ve got out – “, Tom staggered back involuntarily when it was evident that the blonde bombshell standing in the doorway was none other than Hannah, who he had met at The Strand on that spark filled day. She didn’t budge. Moments seemed to pass before Tom realised that he’d also just been standing there. Awkward moment number two.
“Sorry? Oh, um, yeah, thanks. It’s a 1964 model. I’ve had it refurbished and stuff,” Hannah ventured.
And stuff? And stuff? Hannah’s mind was racing and her hands were sweating. This was ridiculous, she thought while scrambling to present herself as disinterestedly as possible.
“My name’s Thom. People call me Red, though. I’m here the check out the burst water pipe? I’m not sure if you remember me…”
“Oh, yes, I remember,” was all that Hannah could muster. Stop it you silly girl! What’s gotten into you? But she knew it. It was so cliche. He was literally a hot plumber. She was unprepared for this situation and Hannah quickly closed her mouth and tried unsuccessfully not to notice as his grin turned lopsided and he lifted his hand in greeting.
“Okay, well, don’t worry, it happens all the time,” he said. He was used to women fawning over him. He really didn’t get it, though. Handsome, maybe, but slack-jaw-silly-girl status he didn’t quite get. “Well then, um, if you can direct me to the problem…”
“Oh, yes, of course. Follow me, I’ll take you to the shed,” she mumbled as she spun around on her heel hoping he could not notice the red heat marks crawling up her neck.
How – what – what did he say? How rude – it happens all the time? Hannah’s mind was racing and all she could hear was the wild swish of noise in her ears as she replayed that very cheeky smile twist and grow and think about those buff broad shoulders. What on earth is wrong with me? This is ridiculous. Get a hold of yourself, Hannah, she chastised her thoughts all the way to the back door.
“As you can see, the water is all over the lawn now. Flynn has no idea what happened and he’s just changing his clothes. I’ll let him know you’re here and he can walk you through the event”.
“Awesome, thanks for that,” he replied. Concerned that maybe he’d misread the chemistry between them from their first chance meeting, Thomas decided to venture one more time, just to make sure it was her. “Ah, sorry, I don’t think I caught your name…”
“Huh? Um, I’m Hannah,” she spluttered and raced off to get her brother.
Now sure that this really was the same girl, he wandered down to the shed to check things out.”Hannah,” repeated Thomas to himself. Now that’s a sweet name, right there.
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(c)2016 Miriam E. Miles. All rights reserved. Please respect my copyright as I have worked so hard to bring this story to life and would be devastated to see it plagiarised.