Authors: Nick Poff
The Handyman's Dream
by Nick Poff
(COPYRIGHT ACKNOWLEDGMENTS) Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to include copyrighted material:
One Man Band
Words and Music by Billy Fox, Tommy Kaye and January Tyme
(c) 1968, 1970 (Renewed 1996, 1998) SCREEN GEMS-EMI MUSIC INC.
All Rights Reserved International Copyright Secured Used By Permission
A huge thanks to some of the most wonderful friends a guy ever had: Tim Gibson, for being my best bud; David Marbach and Jerry Stinnett, who have always been there for me, and gave the town in this story its name; Andy Eastman and Chris Seagle, who were the very first to read the story of Ed and Rick, and gave me the book’s title; Cari Arnold Kyle, who always seems to be there when I need her; Ed Didier, Ed’s namesake, and a damn fine handyman in his own right.
Gratitude is the word that most comes to mind when I think of Skip Carsten, my guardian angel, who got me to admit I wanted to quit my job and write stories. You can take some quiet pride in this accomplishment, friend.
Here’s a big shout out to the whole gang at WAJI & WLDE - the kind of co-workers who made me the envy of my friends. To my awesome bosses, Barb Richards and Lee Tobin: thanks for allowing me to check out of - but not leave - The Hotel California. The work you threw my way helped pay the bills while this book was coming to life.
Thanks to Casey Kasem, my number one radio hero, who always said, “keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.”
To Edgar Huntington: many thanks for your encouragement, support, and ideas.
And finally, I am extremely grateful for Lisa Collins, the absolute best line editor this first-time novelist could have had.
For Annette Owens (Anj) the best friend anyone ever had: There ain’t a woman that comes close to you.
And in loving memory of Steven Purdy, who taught me a thing or two about romance, fulfilling dreams, Harold and Maude, and handymen in general. I wish you were here for this.
The Handyman's Dream
by Nick Poff
Prologue: Autumn, 1980
The first time Ed Stephens saw him was at the end of September.
Ed had just celebrated his twenty-eighth birthday. He’d spent a dull and obligatory birthday with family and had wasted the days since then turning the idea of being twenty-eight upside down, inside out, and round and round, as Diana Ross did in that new song of hers they were playing on the radio. A slave to the radio Top 40 since adolescence, Ed often thought of his life in pop song lyrics. He couldn’t seem to find any significance in the number, though, or in the amount of years he’d put in on Planet Earth. The best he could do was to say he was two years from thirty, and since that was just plain depressing, he finally gave up the whole thing with one big mental shrug.
Until he saw the mailman.
Ed was, as usual, eating lunch at home. He’d finished off a sandwich and was absentmindedly making his way through a handful of M&M’s as he walked to his front steps to see if the mail had arrived. No, either he wasn’t getting anything that day, or it hadn’t arrived yet. He looked westward on Coleman Street and thought he saw someone wearing a blue uniform, so he decided to sit down in his living room and give his feet a rest while he waited.
He sighed, sprawling full length across his sofa. Eventually he had to make an appearance at Louise Marlowe’s house to check on a leaky pipe in her basement. Ed was a handyman, and he usually enjoyed tinkering with the problems his clients gave him, but he admitted only to himself that he found plumbing chores boring, so he wasn’t in a particularly big hurry to look at Louise’s leak. It could wait until after he’d looked at his mail.
He wiggled his toes in his heavy work boots. He wanted to take them off, but knew if he did he’d never muster the energy to put them back on and drive to Louise’s house. He glanced out the window, pleased to see the mailman approach. He frowned, though, as he didn’t recognize this guy. Ed’s dad had been good friends with the Porterfield postmaster, and as a result, Ed knew most everyone who carried mail in his Indiana town. As the unfamiliar mail carrier approached, Ed’s eyes widened.
The mailman was tall, taller than Ed’s six feet, it appeared. He was broad shouldered and fit his uniform well. Like Ed, he was neither too heavy nor too thin, but happily in the land of just right. His thick, dark hair was cut short, and a well-trimmed beard framed his ordinary—handsome in Ed’s eyes—face and accentuated his strong jaw. Ed couldn’t see the mailman’s eye color through the window, but guessed they would be brown, also like his own, but perhaps a shade darker than the almost-hazel color of Ed’s.
Ed watched as the man pulled a handful of envelopes from the bag thrown across one of those broad shoulders and put them in Ed’s mailbox. He shut the lid, turned, and headed back down Ed’s front walk.
Ed, tired feet forgotten, rolled off the sofa. He opened the door and watched the mailman cross Grant Street.
“I’ll be damned,” he mumbled. “Who is that, and where did he come from?”
The mailman walked toward the first house on the next block with a casual, easy stride. He may have been new in Porterfield, but Ed suspected he wasn’t new at delivering mail. He had the casual ability—and the tan, Ed noticed—of someone who’d been at his job for some time.
The music playing on his stereo’s radio in the living room penetrated Ed’s thoughts. It was a recent song from the Rolling Stones, “Emotional Rescue.” Although Ed had always liked the Stones, he had a tendency to snicker to himself when he heard this one. Considering Mick Jagger’s track record, the idea of him being someone’s knight in shining armor struck Ed as being pretty funny.
Now, though, Ed wasn’t laughing. Damn, I sure wouldn’t mind being rescued by that mailman.
Suddenly, Ed knew what was bothering him about turning twenty-eight. He was tired of being alone.
Ed had lived all his life in Porterfield. Granted, it probably wasn’t the best place for a single gay man to live, but he’d never given the idea of leaving much serious thought. His job and his house had kept him busy the past few years, and he had not allowed himself to dwell on his singleness. Now, however, his business was established, and he’d done everything to the house he felt like doing for the time being.
No one likes to admit it, but most people are looking for the person who can rescue them from being alone, especially a single gay man stuck in a small Indiana town. That afternoon, Ed knew if someone were to back him into a corner, he’d admit it. Oh, he’d made a few halfhearted attempts at finding a man of his own, but the results had been less than encouraging.
Ed stood on his front walk, his gaze on the mailman now half a block away. He told himself he was crazy, but he had a weird feeling the knight coming to rescue him wore a blue postal service uniform.
Ed couldn’t help it. In the days that followed, he couldn’t get the new mailman out of his mind. From the time he had broken up with Cathy Carroll after high school graduation and had devoted himself exclusively to the pursuit of those whose body parts matched his own, Ed had had an image in his mind, a full-blown mental picture of the perfect guy. That first day, when the new mailman dropped a handful of bills into Ed’s mailbox, Ed knew he had found him.
Ed, a practical and pragmatic kind of guy, was well aware of a few drawbacks. He didn’t know the mailman’s name. He had never had a conversation with him. He had never seen him more than a few moments at a time. And, Ed admitted to himself, he didn’t know the answer to the thorniest of questions: whether the mailman was interested in guys like Ed or preferred somebody with boobs and a skirt. No matter. From the moment Ed had set eyes on the hunky postal carrier—tall, dark, bearded, and handsome—he was overwhelmed with desire. Every time the mailman came striding up Ed’s front walk, “You’re the One That I Want” from the Grease soundtrack played in Ed’s head.
Ed himself was not a bad-looking guy. At twenty-eight he had finally lost the boyish gawkiness that had haunted him for most of his life. He was tall and broad shouldered, and if he wasn’t as well built as the guys he occasionally drooled over in Honcho and Mandate, he at least had the look: lots of denim, flannel, and boots, thanks in no small part to his work as a handyman. His sandy brown hair was cut short, his mustache thick and well trimmed. His eyes were warm and brown. He had inadvertently copied the “gay clone” look of 1980 and would have fit in well in San Francisco, but he was stuck in Porterfield, a small dot on the map of northern Indiana, where few men of his kind lived who would appreciate him. He was also rather shy, so he had a hard time connecting with the men he did happen to meet.
His love life sucked, Ed thought. Every now and again he managed to connect with someone he met at Carlton’s, a gay bar in Fort Wayne, a city about thirty miles from Porterfield. He’d had some pleasant experiences, and even a few hot ones, but nothing had ever really developed with any guy, except for one older married man who had pursued him so fervently Ed had needed to take a two-month break from trips to Carlton’s. He’d even been on the verge of changing his phone number when the married guy finally gave up.
He told himself that his feelings for the new mailman were simply a reaction to the lack of romance, not to mention sex, in his life and that he needed to get a grip, and fast. Even though nothing at all was out of the ordinary about his wistful dreams of sharing his life with another man, his practical nature told him he probably had about as good of a chance of fulfilling this dream with this particular man as he did of winning the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes.
Every day, though, Ed found an excuse to be near the front of the house so he could watch the man of his dreams deliver his mail. He memorized every detail of the mailman’s appearance for later bedtime fantasies. After three weeks of such fantasies—everything from wild, sweaty sex to homier visions of shared dinners and putting up the Christmas tree—Ed decided he needed to either see a shrink or make some kind of a move.
Fortunately or unfortunately, Ed’s self-employment allowed him to arrange his day around the mail delivery. He had inherited his father’s skill with basic home repairs, and when Ed had been laid off from his job at the electric motor factory in town, he’d gone into business for himself. If any of his regular clients, mostly older retired folks, noticed he never seemed to be available between one and two each day, they didn’t bother to mention it. Once Ed finally worked up the courage to take action, he was relieved that he didn’t have to worry about a set work schedule.
The first thing to do, he decided, was to try to have a conversation with the mailman. Either that or stalk him on his mail route, and after his own experience of being stalked by that insistent married man, Ed didn’t think that was such a hot idea.
Ed chose a warm, sunny Monday afternoon in October, when his yard was full of leaves that needed to be raked. Ed dressed a good deal more carefully than he usually did for yard chores. Rake in hand, he walked into the front yard of his little white two-story house on the corner of Coleman and Grant Streets. Golden leaves from Ed’s maple tree were lazily falling to earth, and he halfheartedly began to rake a few of them. Once he saw the mailman on his block, he thought he’d move closer to the front walk, meet the guy halfway to the house, and say hello. After that, he had no idea what he was going to say, but figured he had to start somewhere.
About one-thirty Ed saw a blue-clad figure walk onto his block. He squinted, looked closer, and almost threw his rake down in disgust. It wasn’t his mailman! It was old Ralph Graham, who’d worked for the Porterfield post office as long as Ed could remember.
“Boy, wouldn’t you know,” he muttered, drumming his fingers on the rake. A thoughtful look came over Ed’s face. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
He was industriously raking away when Ralph entered his front walk.
“’Lo there, Ed,” Ralph called.
“Hey, Mr. Graham,” Ed said, looking up. “How are you today?”
“Oh, can’t complain, can’t complain,” Ralph said, cheerful as always. “Kind of nice to be out on the street for a change.”
“Yeah,” Ed said. “You’re not the guy who’s been doing this route lately. Where’s he at today?”
“Rick? Oh, just a day off. He’ll probably be back tomorrow.” Ralph shuffled through his mailbag.
“He must be new. I thought I knew most everyone who worked for the post office.”
“Yep,” Ralph said, handing Ed his mail. “You know Bill Metzger retired. Rick moved up here from Indy and took over his job. Nice boy, Rick. Gets along well with everyone.”
“Wow, imagine that. Someone moving into Porterfield instead of out. That’s different.”
“Shame to say, but you’re right. Well, I think he has family up here. That probably had something to do with it.”
“Married?” Ed asked bluntly.
“Hmm?” said Ralph, looking puzzled. “Oh, you mean Rick. No, don’t think so.”
Well, there’s some hope, Ed thought, deciding he’d better shut up before Ralph became suspicious.
“Good to see you, Ed!” Ralph turned back toward the street. “Looks like you got quite a job there with those leaves! You want to come over and take care of mine?”
Ed laughed. “I think I have as much as I can handle right now. Take care, Mr. Graham.”
Ralph walked across Grant Street while Ed leaned on his rake, thinking. The mail Ralph had handed him slipped out of his fingers and fell into the leaves.
“Aw, crud,” he muttered, stooping over to pick up the envelopes, mostly junk it appeared. “Well, the hell with this. Raking these leaves can wait until tomorrow afternoon. No sense in finishing it now.” Surely he’d get to see Mailman Rick tomorrow. Rick, he said to himself, smiling. I’ve always liked that name.
* * * * *
The next day Ed awoke to what sounded like rain. He hauled himself out of bed and pushed aside the blind. It was indeed raining, a slow, steady kind of rain that would probably last all day. He wouldn’t be able to work in the yard, and probably wouldn’t be able to do it the next day either, as the leaves would still be soggy and heavy.
“Someone up there hates me,” he groaned.
He sighed, dropping the blind. Rain or no rain, on Tuesday mornings he was due at Mrs. Heston’s. The old woman could get around only with the aid of a walker, and she counted on Ed to stop by every Tuesday and help with her grocery shopping. Usually he didn’t mind the slow trek though the aisles of the local IGA. She had been one of his first regular clients and an ardent supporter of Ed’s handyman service, but his mind just wasn’t on it today.
What with the grocery shopping and hauling some odds and ends out of Mrs. Heston’s basement, Ed didn’t get home for lunch until almost one. He made himself a ham sandwich, grabbed a bag of potato chips, and took his food into the living room where he could see out the front door. He was about to sit down when the phone rang. He debated for a moment whether to let it ring, but figuring it might be a client, he picked it up.
“Ed? It’s your mother.”
Ed rolled his eyes. Yeah, like he wouldn’t know that voice anywhere.
“What’s up, Mom?”
“I’m making a big roast for supper, so I want you to come over. It’ll go to waste with just me here.”
Since Ed’s father had died two years earlier, she called at least once a week inviting him for a meal. Somehow Norma, his mother, had been unable to get used to the idea of cooking for one. She also thought that Ed, since he was unmarried, should sell his house and move in with her. Between that and constantly telling his sister, Laurie, how she should raise her children, she managed to drive both siblings crazy.
“Okay, Mom. I’ll be there,” he said, sighing.
“Good. Be here by six. And if you want some of that awful pop you like so much, bring your own. I won’t buy it. Speaking of buying, do you know what that ungrateful sister of yours said to me this morning? She said—”
“Hang on a minute, Mom,” Ed interrupted.
He’d just seen a flash of blue by the street. He dragged the phone by its cord over to the door. Mailman Rick stood in front of Ed’s house on the street sidewalk. He looked through his bag, then moved on. Obviously he didn’t have anything to put in Ed’s mailbox this rainy Tuesday.
“Crud!” Ed muttered.
“What’s that? Edward, what are you mumbling about? I was trying to tell you that your sister told me I had no business—”
“Hey, Mom,” he interrupted again. An idea had jumped into his head. “When you send someone a certified letter they have to sign for it, don’t they?”
“What? A certified what? What’s the matter with you today? I try to tell you about your sister and you’re talking about the mail?” Norma’s voice squawked through the phone.
“I just saw the mailman walk by so I happened to think of it.”
“Well, go ask the mailman then! How in the world should I know?”
“It’s raining, Mom. I don’t want to go out there.”
“Then call the post office! Who do you think I am, the postmaster general? Do you want to hear about your sister or not?”
“Oh, Mom, can’t you tell me about it tonight? I really need to get going,” he lied.
“All right, all right,” she said, all aggrieved now. “Honestly, the two of you are going to send me to my grave. Just be here by six!”
“I will, Mom,” he said patiently. “Bye.”
“Good-bye!” she said, slamming the phone down.
Ed, out of habit, moved the receiver away from his ear.
Hmm. If someone sent me something I had to sign for, that just might be a way to get to talk to him. Not bad, not bad at all, he congratulated himself. It was definitely time to call Glen.
* * * * *
Ed had become friendly with Glen Mercer several years earlier during one of his trips to Carlton’s bar. Glen had made a few trips to Porterfield, but Ed usually drove into Fort Wayne to see Glen. They would go out to eat, occasionally to the movies, and would hit the bar together. Ed hadn’t seen much of Glen since the beginning of Glen’s hot and heavy romance with a young college guy named Mike. Ed couldn’t decide if he was jealous of Glen, or if he just plain didn’t like Mike. Either way, he’d been avoiding Glen since late summer. That night, when he finally escaped from his mother’s house, he called Glen.
“You want me to do what?” Glen asked.
“I need you to send me a certified letter. I don’t care what it says. I just want the mailman to come the door and ask for me to sign for it.”
“I think it will say ‘you’re a jackass.’ Are you trying to tell me you have the hots for your mailman?” Glen’s voice seemed to carry a smirk.
“Look, I’ll pay you back. I’m just asking you to do me this one favor. I’d do the same for you.”
“Ed Stephens, you have been lonely far too long. Do you even have a clue if the mailman is gay?”
“I’m hoping this will help me to find out.”
“Good God! Ed, you need to move. Do you think I would have ever met Mike living in a town like that? No, I’d probably be chasing after the mailman!” Glen’s laughter cascaded through the phone line.
Ed had noticed that Glen had gotten ever so smug since Mike had come along, and frankly, since Ed didn’t consider Mike any great prize, he didn’t have much patience with it.
“I really appreciate what you are doing for me, Glen,” he said calmly. “You really are a good friend.”
“Yes, I am. Because I’ll do it, only because I want to hear what happens. I’ll stop by the post office tomorrow on my lunch hour. And then you have to promise to call me the minute you talk to this guy, you hear?”
“Good. Let me know, okay?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Ed said. “Thanks, Glen.”
Glen carried on for a while longer, mostly talking about Mike, and Ed listened with half his mind. The other half was thinking about the day Mailman Rick would knock on his front door.
* * * * *
If Glen went to the post office on Wednesday, Ed figured he’d get the certified letter on Thursday. Still, he didn’t see any reason not to stay around home on Wednesday afternoon. It wouldn’t hurt to get another look at Mailman Rick.