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House On The Hill

By Kaye Draper

Copyright 2017

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I clutched a sketchbook and a pencil case under one arm as I pushed through the undergrowth, navigating through the small woods at the border of suburban hell. Gradually, the swish and rush of traffic from the highway a few miles away was drowned out by the growing swell of birdsong, of sparrow, crow, jay and countless others that I hadn’t been able to identify since childhood. I stepped beyond the screen of trees, my breath coming easier as I left behind the suffocating weight of my poorly chosen career and failing marriage.

Funny, isn’t it, the way the things we wish for so easily become cages? As I climbed the steep hill in front of me the guilty fatigue of “mommy” this and “honey” that began to fade, replaced by the gentle touch of knee-high grasses and blue-purple wildflowers. Had this hill always been here? And that gentle dip and rise, that artful scattering of boulders—fairy rocks as I had called them when I was young?

I don’t know how long I wandered that afternoon, the first time in more than five years that I could ever remember doing something for myself, by myself. I crouched down and flipped open my sketchbook, my eyes taking in a brilliant purple bloom as I rummaged for a pencil, the constant sickness in my stomach and aches in my shoulders forgotten for the moment, blotted out by that pure, perfect beauty and my sudden need to capture it on paper.

Ever since I was a child, I had felt at peace in nature. But I never felt alone. As if dozens of invisible watchers followed along with me on my ramble, magic and unseen in the shadows and leaves.

I hadn’t long before the golden sun would turn a fiery shade of orange and sink toward the horizon, but the kid was away at a friend’s house, and the husband was happily ensconced in a game, and I really didn’t give a great God damn if I got home at midnight. Right now, for this moment, I was free.

I was surprised when I crested one last rise, the sub-division long gone from sight, surrounded by nothing but tall grass and flowers, and more wooded hills beyond. There atop the hill sat an old, run-down house. Though, house is the wrong word. Once, it had been stately…a manor. There was something beautiful in it still, despite its fading color and sagging lines, like an old woman who ages without losing her grace. Someone kept the yard mowed, and there were gardens framing every inch—not perfectly manicured like back in suburbs, but in a sort of wild controlled chaos…gorgeous. An English garden.

A stone fence, the likes of which I had only seen in pictures of far off places like Ireland, skirted the yard, crumbling away in places and covered in splotches of emerald green moss. All it needed to be something out of a storybook was a flock of shaggy sheep. I made my way through the sea of wildflowers and grass and perched on the edge of the wall. The old house had two massive stone chimneys, the nearest of which was covered in variegated ivy. I pulled out my pencil and set to work, sketching the leaves, trying to capture the way the shadows fell on the uneven fieldstone.

I nearly fell off the wall when a man came around the side of the house pushing a wheelbarrow. I had half expected the house to be abandoned, with maybe a realtor cutting the grass now and then.

The man glanced up and stopped when he saw me sitting there. I flipped my sketchbook shut and rubbed my nose, embarrassed. He started walking my way, stopping a polite distance away from the crazy woman drawing his house.

“I’m sorry,” I blurted, looking everywhere but at him.

“No need to apologize,” he said in a voice like warm honey, golden and smooth.

Despite my embarrassment, I couldn’t help but meet his eyes, my gaze drawn there against my will. That voice. I had never heard anything like it. “I didn’t mean to trespass….”

I meant to say something else, but the words deserted me as I took stock of the guy. He stuffed his hands in his jeans pockets and rocked back on his heels, unconcerned. He was taller than me, but not much, his frame lightly muscled. Light brown hair just brushed his shoulders, rippling in soft waves in the afternoon breeze. Golden eyes studied me curiously from one of the prettiest faces I’ve ever seen, male or female. I couldn’t seem to place his age. He looked young, but somehow gave off the feeling of a much older man.

“Are you an artist?” he asked, not deterred by my rude staring.

I clutched the sketchpad against my chest. “Um. Kind of. I sketch and paint. But only for fun.” I had dreamed of being an artist once. Until reality intruded and I decided to pursue an actual career. I gestured at the house. “I kind of thought no one was home. I didn’t mean to be rude. It’s just that I thought the ivy there was really pretty.”

The man smiled, warm and easy-going, the kind of expression that just grabs you and hauls you in. “No worries,” he said again. He half-turned away, waving me over with one hand. “Come on. You are welcome to draw whatever you want.”

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