The first challenge Billy and Harwood faced together was the matter of Billy’s potty training. Harwood wanted to get that one out of the way as soon as possible. Not only because changing diapers was a drag but because of a very real threat disposable diapers represent to the planet. He tried to explain it all to his toddler son but he didn’t seem amused. Never the less they managed to conquer this first challenge together.
Harwood had gotten Billy a play table with blocks and space to draw if he wishes. He didn’t want to push his son into anything but he hoped he would take after him and develop a love and appreciation towards the arts. For that reason he had bought him a xylophone as well, just in case he desired to express himself with music.
Pretty soon Harwood found they had slowly settled into a routine, as much of a routine one could have while raising a small child. Harwood had managed to do some painting while Billy played somewhere close by so Harwood could watch over him. He tried not to get lost in it though, like he used to do before when he let inspiration take him wherever it had wished. Maybe his work suffered for that but if so he was glad to let it be, right now there was something more important, another human being, a tiny little thing in need of his almost constant attention. But it didn’t always work, as much as Harwood tried not to be lead a stray by a particularly hard shade or an elusive color one day the world disappeared completely… One could say he was particularly lucky that nothing bad happened during this foray to other worlds… Still Harwood found it hard to forgive himself after it had happened and for a while he even stayed clear of the paint and brush altogether.
That afternoon was a nice and bright one. He left Billy outside at the play table and he closed himself in the studio to work, just a little bit. He was busy with a piece he actually started that summer, he was painting a lovely, peaceful part of heaven, a crystal blue sky above a stretch of multicolored sea, surrounded by dangling palm trees and white soft sand. In other words it was a place very like the one people probably imagined he had retired to, a place even he imagined he would end up before fate lead him to Twinbrook and his little house next to the bay.
And to paint it he had to be there, in his head at least. And so he went. He listened as the waves hit the sand, the soft sound they made as they pulled back, he listened to the palm leaves sing their song touched by the soft breeze coming from the open sea, he breathed in the smells of it all when he heard a familiar female voice.
“So you have been hiding from us.” The sound of it chased the beach away and brought Harwood back home in an instant. The rushing of the waves was replaced with the sound of the rivers out of his windows and the smells of the beach by the smell of drying paint from the palette in his hand. And when he turned around to where the voice came from he found Julianne Knack smiling, just as he had expected. There was a trace of a smile in that soft, slightly flirty voice of hers. He knew her by that voice and also by the way she spoke, unlike most inhabitants of the little city by the swamp she had none of their thick accent, instead she spoke like a heroine from a century old book, a way of speaking she no doubt picked up at the expensive boarding school she had attended.
“Julianne.” He managed to say at last. Her smile spread all over her face and her dark sparkled. She was dressed in her work clothes he noted looking her over. They were dull and unflattering but somehow she still looked beautiful in it.
“Good, you remember my name. So it isn’t dementia that took you away.” She added still flirty., still smiling, still sparkling “I brought you something. ” She added pulling a bouquet of flowers from behind her back. “You always have one of these when you visit me. So I thought I’d return the favor.” Harwood smiled.
“That is nice of you Julianne.” He tried to make light of the situation, to ignore the look in her eyes. No matter how young or pretty she was, or how obviously attracted to him, he had to stay away. She turned her gaze from his face and looked over his studio taking everything in.
“So this is where you make your magic… It is a nice hole you choose to hide in. I must admit.” Harwood smiled once again. She just had that effect on him.
“Thanks I think it is rather fine myself.” Julianne just lifted one of her eyebrows at him.
“Come one Harwood why are you so cold? I haven’t seen you in weeks…Nobody has, you cancelled your performances at the Red, you aren’t attending any parties, I heard you even left that silly delivery job you had…”
“I was let go from the paper.” Harwood said softly. “As for everything else… Well things changed. My life changed. I am afraid that party hard lifestyle is behind me once again.” Julianne frowned.
“Now you are scaring me… Are you well?” This time Harwood beamed.
“I am! Better than well… I got my son with me now.”
“Oh…” Julianne’s expression hardened. And with a dread Harwood realized he couldn’t let her stay like that, he needed to see that flirty spark in her eyes again. Am I that vain? He wondered trying to think up something to say. “Well I better get going.” Julianne said coldly. “I’ll be late for work.”
“Wait Jules.” Harwood said catching her arm. She turned to him again her dark eyes wide with surprise. “Is everything okay?” He asked.
“It is fine. I just don’t want Dilly Pidgin breathing down my neck for chatting with her man.” Dilly’s name sounded like a curse with the way it had left her mouth but for whatever reason Harwood just wanted to set things straight.
“Dilly and I are finished. We have been for a long time. She is not here. Just me and Billy.”
“I see.” Julianne said a bit more warmly, or so it seemed to Harwood at least. “Well I will be late for work… Good luck with your son Harwood, I hope you won’t forget your friends…” She smiled before she left and for a while Harwood just watched her go.
I am a fool… A damned old fool… He thought as he smiled to Julianne who turned back and waved before going into her car. It was at that point that a hard realization struck obliterating every thought of Julianne Knack from his mind. Billy… Where was Billy? How come Julianne didn’t see him coming up? His heart was pounding as he ran in the house.
He found Billy inside playing with his toys on the floor. Rookie was sleeping close by, oblivious to the noises the toddler was making. Harwood found he had found his breath again and he almost ran to him picking him up and throwing him in the air making the toddler giggle.
“I am so lucky to have a good child such as you for a son.” He said thinking how easily it would have been for Billy to end up in the bay while he was all caught up in his nonsense… “I promise I’ll take better care from today. ” He said showering the child with kisses.