Bea stood at the kitchen window watching Danny, her son, his arms filled with small heaps of vegetable matter, running on his little legs backwards and forwards between the man digging the beds and the compost heap. He had been out there for nearly forty minutes, 'helping'. Bea's heart swelled with pride at her little man's eagerness to do his bit: at the same time she recognised the familiar look of determination on his face that reminded her so very much of Tony, her late husband.
The little boy had never known his father, but he had never been short of love. But as he was getting older he was getting more adventurous and needed a bigger world to explore. Bea had never had the time, or the knowledge, to keep her house's large garden in check, so she had brought in a specialist to convert it from an overgrown jungle to a safe environment for her son to play in. She walked down the garden path to where all the activity was taking place.
"I've made you a sandwich, Mr Hammond. Come into the house and I'll make you a cup of tea. I've made you some lunch, too, Dan ... you've been working very hard this morning!"
"I've been doing composting, Mummy! Ben says it makes things grow better! Isn't that right, Ben?"
"It is indeed, Danny! But we have to be very patient: it takes a long time to grow things."
Bea looked down at her son and smiled: sometimes she forgot that he was only four, he seemed much older with some of the things he said. But her years as a teacher had taught her that young children soak up things like sponges, and that they can constantly surprise. Danny toddled on ahead of the other two, then sat on the doorstep while he tried to pull off his red Wellington boots.
"I hope he hasn't slowed you down too much, Mr Hammond."
"No, not at all! He's a great little kid!"
"Do you have children, Mr Hammond, you seem very comfortable with Danny?"
"No, no family, Mrs Bishop, and please call me Ben if you want to."
"Thank you! And my friends and family call me 'Bea'. I was christened Beatrice, but that's too much of a name for a little girl, so it usually got shortened." By the time that they got to the door, Danny was already inside.
"Don't worry about your boots, Ben; I only get Danny to take his off so that he doesn't traipse mud through the house. Have a seat, please!"
Before Ben sat down he took off his jacket, which he hung over the back of a chair, then he walked to the sink to wash his hands. Bea found herself watching him, and taking in his strong arms, broad shoulders, narrow waist, and, yes, his firm buttocks! He had a mop of curly brown hair that reached his shoulders and covered his ears. She had also caught a glimpse of brown eyes, and when she had been watching him and Danny in the garden, she had seen that he often smiled when he was with the boy: a lovely, natural, warm smile, she thought. She couldn't imagine two men more unlike than Ben and her husband; but when she looked at him something stirred inside her.
Bea had loved her husband deeply for the entire short time that they were together, but she was still a sensual woman, who sometimes longed for more than just the affection that an adoring little boy could give to his mother.
As he turned off the taps, she turned away. He dried his hands then sat at the table: Danny was already seated and eating his lunch. Bea put the sandwich in front of Ben, then poured hot water into a large mug.
"Have you been a gardener long, Ben?"
"Yes, I started at about Danny's age. My dad has been a professional all his working life: he works for the Alvechurch Estate."
"My Daddy's in Heaven!" Danny chipped in. Bea smiled a sad smile and wiped her hand through Danny's hair.
"I'm very sorry to hear that, Mrs Bishop!"
"Thank you!" Bea replied, but she didn't elaborate. "Please carry on with what you were saying, Ben ... about your father."
"Yes, he's head gardener for Lord Asbury. I worked there from the age of 16 until a few years ago, then I fancied having a go on my own, on a smaller scale."
"And how is that working out for you, Ben?"
"I'm just about making enough to get by. I have a small, regular client list, but obviously there's less to do in the winter, so I have to pick up whatever casual work I can get. It can be hard sometimes, but I like the independence."
"Well, we'll be happy for you to come here again, won't we, Dan."
"Ooh, yes! Come again, Ben! Can I help you if you do? I like growing things!"
"Of course you can! I think maybe a few more days to get the garden tidy and in order, then less frequent visits to keep things that way."
"That sounds good! Have you got any more free time this week?"
"Hmm, let me think ... yes, I could come again for a few hours on Friday."
"When's Friday, Mummy?"
"It's not tomorrow, or the day after that ... but it is the day after that."
"Oh, goody!" the little boy said, excitedly.
"But I've got some more to do today, Dan, if you want to help me," Ben said.
"Ooh, yes, please!"
"Is that all right ... Bea?"
"I don't see why not!"
She helped Danny on with his boots again, then she watched as Ben hoisted him effortlessly onto his broad shoulders and carried him down the garden.
"So, are you seeing Frank tonight?" Bea's best friend, Sarah, asked her. For the last year she had been trying to get Bea to start dating again. Bea had steadfastly held out against this idea, but in a moment of uncharacteristic weakness, she had given in and agreed to have dinner with Frank Chesney, a friend of Sarah's husband, Chris.
"Yes, we're having a meal at La Valois."
"And then I'm coming home, to bed."
"That's the spirit!"
" ... Alone! Really, Sarah, we aren't all obsessed with sex!"
"I'm not obsessed, I just have a healthy interest and a very hunky husband! I'm sure that you and Tony..." Sarah stopped mid-sentence when she realised what she had done.
"It's okay! It's been five years: he's left me Danny and some wonderful memories! He's never going away, even if I do meet someone, one day." Sarah gripped her hand.
"I know, Bea, but just give Frank a chance; he's very good looking, and a nice guy!"
" ... Maybe! But I'm still sleeping alone tonight!"
She got up to look out of the window into the garden, where Danny was once again helping Ben. She couldn't hear what they were saying, of course, but Ben was crouched down near the ground explaining something to her son, who was listening attentively to what he was being told. She became aware that Sarah had joined her at the window.
"Hmm! Not bad! And the garden's looking pretty good, too!"
"Yes, it's coming on," Bea said, choosing to ignore her friend's innuendo. "Danny's taken a real interest; it's all he seems to talk about at the moment."
"Come on, Bea: I've known you too long, you can't tell me that he's the only one interested in gardening at the moment ... But I don't blame you ... he is rather yummy!"
She felt the heat rise to her face. Bea wanted to deny her friend's implication, but she had to admit to herself that Ben was starting to interest her: and for more reasons than just his horticultural expertise!
It had been a pleasant evening with Frank, who had turned out to be as good looking and charming as Sarah had said. He was also a teacher, they came from similar social backgrounds and had several other things in common; but there was no 'spark', and certainly no sexual attraction, at least not on Bea's part. So after inviting him in for coffee and then politely declining his invitation to 'do this again sometime', they exchanged chaste pecks on the cheek and said good night.
Bea got into her cold bed, where she slept fitfully: partly because she missed her son; but also because her thoughts kept turning to a certain handsome landscape gardener. In the morning she got up and showered, before driving the short distance to collect Danny from her parent's house.
"Who's Ben, Darling?" her mother asked her, "Danny hardly stopped talking about him yesterday. Is there something I should know about?"
" ... He's a nice man who's doing the gardening. Danny likes to go and help him and they get on very well together. That's all, nothing else to tell..."
"And how was your date, Darling ... Frank, I believe you said?"
"He's a nice man, too, Mummy, but believe me, I'm not looking for someone to replace Tony; but the odd evening out with adult company makes a nice change." Just then Danny came bounding in from the garden, followed by her father. Bea scooped him up in her arms and hugged and kissed him. " ... Did you miss me, Dan?"
"Of course, silly! I've been telling Granddad about our garden, Mummy! When's Ben coming again?" Bea registered the looks on her parent's faces, but she didn't comment.
"Not until next week now, Darling. He has other people's gardens to look after, too, you know!"
While they were driving home, Danny was chatting away as usual, but while listening to him, Bea also tried to get her thoughts in order regarding Ben. Her parent's look wasn't exactly one of disapproval: rather, it seemed to be saying 'be careful!' Bea wondered if they were right: was her son getting too attached to Ben? And what did she really think about the good looking gardener?
.... There is more of this story ...