Almost before Sam and Anna had time to collect their thoughts it was the day before their wedding. Danny and Paul turned up in the afternoon looking hugely pleased with themselves.
“We are going to buy us a camper,” Danny announced. “It has been brill.”
They were all busy for the rest of the day and by the time they sat down to shepherd’s pie and vegetables, the house was ready for Sunday’s onslaught. Danny grinned down at his heaped plate.
“My favourite. If she cooks for you every day you really are going to get fat” he said to Sam.
“Not with the hours he puts in in the gym,” Anna grinned.
“Aha. A fitness bastard?”
“Afraid so. I just don’t want to be another one of those healthcare professionals who sits on his arse watching his belly grow. And you look pretty fit yourself.”
“I am. But mine’s the result of honest toil. When I get fed up
I build a wall, or dig a hole, or…”
Sam laughed. “Ever work with wood?”
“No, but my respect for chippies knows no bounds.”
“Sam built this kitchen,” Anna said proudly.
“Did he indeed? Got good hands then.”
“In more ways than one,” Anna murmured wickedly.
Paul sniggered and raised an eyebrow.
“Not so much with the eyebrows,” Anna said severely. “He also built the table you have been covetously eyeing and stroking.”
“Well fuck me. What’s the wood?”
“Elm. From an old tree that had to be felled because it was leaning on the house.”
After that Anna sat back and just listened as the three men talked wood and finishes and techniques. She felt blissfully content and understood that it was because some of her favourite people in the world had found so much common ground.
When the meal was finished, she shooed them away.
“Just this once I’ll clear up. You three go caress some wood in Sam’s workshop.”
They went with Bonnie at Sam’s heels and Anna sung tunelessly to herself as she loaded the dishwasher and tidied the kitchen. She found herself stroking the satiny smooth wood of the kitchen table lovingly and had a quiet chuckle as she remembered the use she and Sam had put it to on a few occasions.
“Good job there’s no splinters” she chuckled.
Sam, Danny and Paul walked to the end of the garden and turned to look at the rear elevation of the house.
“It is a very nice old house,” Paul said appreciatively.
“It is, but it was a shite heap when I bought it. Poorly maintained, and running to seed. The last three occupants were real holy Joes who didn’t seem to mind living in squalor. That’s how I got it so cheap, but I put in some hours.”
“I’ll bet. Did you hand finish all the wood yourself?”
“Yup. And did a lot of labouring for the three-man building firm who were doing the heavy renovations.”
“Worth it though.”
“Yes. Though I wasn’t sure until Anna came into my life. I was about halfway ready to sell the old girl and look for another project.”
He turned and unlocked the workshop door. Danny raised his eyebrows at the lock.
“I’ve got some expensive equipment in here. Don’t want it nicked.”
He switched on the overhead lights and Danny and Paul looked about them with growing appreciation.
“You have got some good stuff. A lathe as well. Are you any good with that?”
“Yeah. It was my dad’s and he taught me to use it. Along with everything else I know about carpentry.”
“Was your dad a professional?”
“God. No. He was a psychiatrist. Reckoned everyone should have a hobby though. Thought sitting in front of a screen was the root of a lot of society’s problems.”
Paul sat on Sam’s work chair, while Danny strolled around the tidy workshop, then went and smoothed the planks and blocks of seasoned wood stored in the rear half of the building on metal racks.
“You have some lovely stuff here. Any plans for it?”
“Not really. Most came out of the house, salvaged from the restoration. A lot of it was just chucked in heaps in one of the bedrooms. I dunno why it was there, but I hung onto it. My builder wanted to buy it, but I said no. Let him have a lot of very ugly marble and several rusty cast iron baths though. Made quite a hole in the bill.”
As Sam was talking, he was nervously fingering a piece of white cloth covering something at the end of one of the two benches.
“So what’s under there?” Paul asked.
“I made this thing for Anna. Wedding present. Now I’m scared to give it to her in case she hates it. Made a thing for wife number one and she threw it on a skip. Wasn’t shiny.”
“You know Anna’s not like that. Why don’t you show Danny and me what you’ve done? We know her pretty well.”
“You do. So.”
Sam gently drew off the cloth to disclose a beautifully crafted wooden box about a foot wide, by eighteen inches long, by nine high. Paul got up and stood with his mouth open.
“Can I touch it?”
Paul smoothed the wood, feeling its perfect surface with his long, rather knobbly fingers.
“What wood is this?”
“Olive. And it’s a real fucker to work.”
Paul opened the lid to find a lift-out tray and under that a sectioned area.
“What’s at the bottom?”
Sam grinned and slid the front wall of the box upwards to disclose two drawers.
“It’s fucking marvellous. You can’t have done all this in the time Anna has been living here.”
“No. Though it has always been for her. I started it after about our third date. She was so much on my mind, and making something for her seemed to bring her close when I was feeling lonely.”
Paul found a strange lump in his throat and spoke around it with difficulty. “Right. Now I know you really love her. Which is good. And she’ll love this. Probably cry. When you going to give it to her?”
“I dunno. I thought tomorrow. But.”
“If I was you I’d wrap it up and sneak it indoors tonight. Give it to her early in the morning. Give her time to get over it before the ceremony.”
“Good thinking. I’ve got paper, but I wish I was better at wrapping.”
“Gimme the wrapping stuff. That box deserves a proper parcel.”
Sam handed over paper and sticky tape and ribbon and watched in something like awe as Paul made an elegant job of the wrapping and tied the ribbon in a beautiful bow.
“Okay,” Paul stood back to admire his handiwork, “that’s good. Now me Bonnie, and Danny will go distract Anna while you sneak it indoors.”