Retirement was a blast Harwood concluded. He would get up, have his cereal and a cup of coffee, wash the dishes, shower and head to work on his studio. On some days he hardly bothered with getting dressed. He was so consumed with work that he almost missed the phone one early afternoon.
“Hi Harwood!” A child’s voice spoke on the other end.
“Emi.” He said with a smile.
“Ready to go phone shopping with me?” She asked and Harwood agreed, it wasn’t like he was busy with anything. They met at the park. Harwood walked this time because he still hadn’t gotten that bike he had wanted to buy ever since his first days here. Emi of course biked there and she jumped off when she saw him and then broke into an excited run.
“I know who you are!” She said the moment she reached him. Harwood lifted an eyebrow curiously.
“Of course you do Emi, we met the other day.” She laughed.
“No, I mean I know who you really are!” She said. “I looked you up, you are very famous!” Harwood’s face darkened instantly. If it was so easy for a little girl to find out who he really was what chance did he stand? He felt his world shattering… His peace and quiet going away… Emerald must have noticed something was wrong because her smile vanished. “Why are you sad?” She asked quietly and Harwood gave her a weak smile.
“I am not sad… I was just hoping to keep all that a secret…”
“I can keep a secret!” Emerald sad quickly. “I can, I really can, I won’t tell anyone about you, not even Jade, nor Parker!” Harwood had no idea who this people were but he could tell he upset the little girl.
“It’s ok Emi, I believe you. It can be our secret.” She smiled again, relieved and Harwood wished he could feel the same…
Moments later they were outside again, Harwood’s new phone in Emerald’s hands. He had also bought a pair of sunglasses because it made Emerald laugh when he had them on.
She punched in her phone number and waited for her phone to ring. “There. Now I have your number and you have mine.” She said handing him the phone.
“Neat trick.” Harwood said. “Thanks Emi.” She smiled back. “You deserved to get some ice-cream.” He said turning back to the store.
“Oh, no thanks…. I just helped, besides I must hurry home for dinner. See you Harwood!”
“See you Emi.” He said waving to her as she ran down the street.
Back at his house Harwood continued to work and chat daily with both Juan and Emerald. It was a small circle of people, much different than what he was used to before but Harwood didn’t mind it. Less people he knew the less was a chance he would be discovered. He was especially afraid of that now that Emerald showed him how easy it was.
And then one day, just as he was about to do laundry Harwood’s new phone rang.
“Hey Harwood.” A cheerful voice spoke.
“Hey Emi. How are you? Aren’t you at school?”
“Recess. Hey listen, would you like to come over for dinner tomorrow? My parents want to meet you.” It wasn’t a strange request, if Harwood had a kid who’s friend was a retired old man he would probably want to meet him as well…
“Sure.” He said and smiled. “I do miss a nice home-cooked meal, it’s hard living off cereals…”
“Don’t you know how to cook?” Emerald asked startled.
“I am afraid I don’t.”
“Not even pancakes?”
“Not even pancakes…”
“Mum’s teaching me how to make them this weekend so I can teach you sometimes.”
“Sounds great!” Harwood said.
“I have to go now, I’ll text you our address.” Emerald added and they said their goodbyes.
As Wednesday afternoon came close Harwood found himself unexpectedly nervous. It had been years since he actually tried to make friends as himself, for many years he had been The Harwood Clay which made all kinds of people just flock to him without him ever having to try. When you are famous it is hard to work out if people actually like you, or find you funny and interesting or are simply drawn to the limelight.
Now, ever since his retirement and retreat to anonymity, his only two friends have been an old man he knew from way back and a little girl. And today he was going to face two adults from a small town and he couldn’t help but wonder how they would react when a skinny elderly man who rarely left the house without at least applying mascara, showed on their doorstep…
Despite everything Harwood made sure he looked his best before he left his house and headed to meet Emerald’s family.
The Greenwoods lived on a hill behind Twinbrook’s only school in a lilac coloured two story house. As Harwood approached it he was immediately impressed by the two large recycling bins positioned at the end of the driveway and 4 neatly lined bikes a little closer to the house.
He rung the bell trying very hard not to appear to nervous. Emerald’s father didn’t leave him waiting for long. He was a thin, dark-skinned man with very short brown hair and warm pale green eyes, same as Emerald’s. The two of them had just exchanged the pleasantries and the introductions when Emerald showed up behind her father flashing Harwood one of her well know radiant smiles.
The two of them lead Harwood inside a lovely, warm family home. It had been a while since he had been to a place like and he looked around as If he was in a museum. It made Emerald chuckle. At the same moment the kitchen door opened and a thin blond woman walked in smiling as well. “Holly Greenwood.” She said extending her hand to Harwood. “I will be busy for a short while longer I am afraid, still making dinner ready… I hope my husband and daughter will be a good company until we can eat. My older daughter Jade should be here as well but she is late…” Holly sighed. “Teenagers…” Harwood gave her an assuring smile before offering his own name.
Oliver Greenwood then lead him to the sitting room. It was a large room, colored in light earthy tones, it even had a fireplace and an ancient looking TV and of course a few nice blossoming plants.
“You do have a lovely home.” Harwood said as he was about to take a seat on one of the couches when yet another visitor appeared at the door.
“Dexter!” Emerald exclaimed and ran to pick up the brown cat which was eyeing Harwood from the doorway. “This is our cat Dexter.”
“A recent addition to the family.” Oliver told him. His accent was not as strong as Juan’s, but he told Harwood he had been living right here in Twinbrook his whole life.
“I started working at the grocery store when I was a teenager, not much older then my oldest daughter, Jade. And I love it. People here in Twinbrook like me, and respect me and that is important to me. Everyone believes me when I recommend the best organic vegetables in the place.” Oliver told Harwood bursting with pride. Emerald was sitting next to her father soaking in his every word, it made Harwood smile.
“Well to be honest I’m not much of a cook… The only food I might buy at the store are cereals… ” Harwood replied.
“You can get organic cereal at the store too. Do come by any time I’ll show you the best.”
“Sounds great! We are eating vegetables from your store for dinner tonight?”
“Oh some. Some are from our garden.” Oliver said with a smile.
“You have your own garden? Wow that is nice.” Harwood replied impressed.
“Sure do, both me and Holly work in it, Emi sometimes helps too.” He added smiling at his daughter. “Do you wish to see it?”
“Of course.” Harwood said an let the two of them lead him to the backyard. Dexter wasn’t as interested and stayed in the sitting room but Harwood was amazed the moment he saw it.
It was a bigger garden then he expected with a lot of different plants which all seemed to be under good care and thriving.
“Truly amazing Oliver. ” Harwood told his host.
“Well organic food is expensive… And giving back to our planet is important to me. As it should be for all of us.” Harwood nodded and followed Emerald and her father back to the house. They were about to return to the sitting room when somebody rang the bell. A confused look passed over Oliver’s face.
“Who might that be…” He muttered. “The door is unlocked… Jade has the key anyway…” He stepped to the door quickly and both Harwood and Emerald stayed behind him equally anxious to see who it was. Oliver opened a door revealing a thin girl with shortish black hair fidgeting around nervously with the sleeves of her white shirt. She looked abruptly from Oliver standing on the door to Harwood and Emerald behind him, all casting curious glances at her blushing slightly.
“Hello. Mr Greenwood? I am Molly… Molly Coddle… Your daughter Jade invited me to dinner.” She said and tried to smile.
“Of course. Miss Coddle.” Oliver Greenwood said. “Please come in.”
“Oh, call me Molly.” She said politely.
“Fair enough.” Oliver said. “I am Oliver. This is my younger daughter, Emerald, and our other guest Mr. Clay.”
“Harwood please.” Harwood said and smiled broadly to the newcomer, hoping to ease her awkwardness.
“My wife Holly is in the kitchen, making dinner, I’ll go and have a quick word, please make yourself comfortable in the sitting room while you wait.” He said dashing towards the kitchen. Harwood let Molly enter before him and Emerald pulled him away slightly whispering in his ear.
“We had no idea she was coming…” Harwood nodded before seating himself close to Molly.
“So you are a friend of Emi’s sister?” He asked.
“Well… Not exactly… I have just started working at the hospital and I was sent to teach some health classes at the school and that is where I met Jade and she said her family was having this get together tonight and I thought… Well I don’t know many people here in Twinbrook and I thought I could come over make some friends.”
“Well you did come to the right place.” Harwood said warmly. “I am rather new here and I barely know anyone, I don’t even know the Greenwoods that well but they are a wonderful bunch of people.” Molly smiled.
“Very eco-friendly people as well.” She added. “I loved the bikes.”
“Oh yes, and the recycling bins…”
“My parents do care about the planet a lot!” Emerald chimed in proudly.
It was then that the door opened once again and Harwood would have guessed it was the Greenwood’s older daughter Jade even if it wasn’t for slightly raised voices coming outside the closed door. The trio in the sitting room just sat there patiently in awkward silence trough it all.
Oliver and Holly tried to keep their voices down but Jade didn’t seem to care.
“So what, if we can have Emerald’s weird friends for dinner why can’t I invite a stranger too. It is no different.” Harwood looked over to Molly but she wouldn’t meet his gaze and was again absently playing with her sleeves. He was just about to say something when Holly appeared at the door.
“I am so sorry about all that.” She said and smiled. She had changed to a long purple evening dress and had even put on some jewellery. “You can follow me to the dining room, we shall eat as soon as my daughter Jade washes up. I am Holly by the way.” She told Molly with a smile and Molly smiled back to her offering her own name but Harwood could see her smile had not reached her eyes and she looked as she would rather be anywhere but here.
Once they were all seated enjoying Holly’s wonderful meal the conversation shifted back to Harwood. “So what is it that you do?” Oliver asked him and it made Harwood pause. He took a large mouthful while he thought of an answer, in the end he just couldn’t see himself lying.
“I am retired now, but I used to be a sculptor.”
“Mhm an artist.” Holly said approvingly. Harwood nodded smiling at her.
“Do you work with rocks? I have read an interesting article about rock sculpting the other day…” Oliver said.
“Oh sure, I work with all mediums, mostly clay and wood, sometimes ice too… But I am always anxious to try new stuff. And what about you Holly what do you do?”
“Oh I hope it won’t make you think less of me but I am a politician…”
“Oh yes, while my husband tries to save the planet one plant at the time I am thinking more globally. I lead the very small but efficient TEP, Twinbrook Eco Party.”
“She had just been elected the State Representative.” Oliver Greenwood added proudly and Harwood caught a sweet smile pass between him and his wife before she turned back to Harwood.
“Yes. That is an amazing opportunity that might keep me away from home for a while but I think the sacrifice is worth it when it comes to letting our voice be heard and stopping the destruction of our planet, and besides I have the greatest husband on the world to help with things back here.”
“I think that is wonderful. Fighting for your believes like that.” Molly added lifting her head out of her plate.
“Thank you Molly.” Holly added.
“Also this dinner is very good.” Molly said even firmer.
“If you don’t like meat that is.” Jade Greenwood added suddenly. She hadn’t bothered dressing up like the rest of her family did and was silent throughout the whole meal, barely even introducing herself to Harwood. Both her parents looked at her harshly and it was Oliver who spoke.
“I think refusing to contribute to mass murder of animals is a important principle and it would be upheld under this rule as long as I live, no matter who we have at our table.” Jade rolled her eyes.
“It is a choice dad. Your choice which you are forcing on our guest tonight and at me and Emi every single day.” JAde said loudly. Besides her Molly looked as if she was sorry she ever spoke. Oliver was about to say something more but Jade cut him off harshly. “I need the protein if I want to win any race and Emi… Do you know how kids call her at school? Grass eater! Do you know how I know? Because that used to be my nickname all throughout elementary school. All because of your stupid principles! All because you feel you can lecture every single person that comes to this house! You don’t even want to buy a car and mum has to leave for work before dawn on most days! It is just stupid… And futile. Enjoy your stupid salad.” She added and got up from her seat leaving the room.
“I am so sorry.” Holly started apologizing.
“Not everyone calls me that…” Emerald said quietly. “Parker never would…”
Despite those slightly unpleasant events the rest of the evening passed rather well, Harwood had a nice meal with other adults and quite liked it. He was surprised but glad. He and Molly shared a cab back home since she lived close by and he ended yet another day in a good mood, with a stomach full of home cooked food. Retirement really was a blast….