Welcome to this week’s Around Town, a series of posts looking at places in Exeter that show up in the series — if not in Thrown Out, then in a future book. This week’s is a little long as we see the Reilly house change through the years as Kevin and Eileen’s family grows, then moves along.
The Victorian is large for the family of four, but Kevin and Eileen hope to fill all the bedrooms before too many more years, and Eileen’s uncle was offering too good a deal for the young couple to refuse. They moved in from the apartment above Kevin’s parents in the triple-decker on the south side of town a few months ago, after Kevin finished the worst of the remodeling. They had hoped to be in before Danny was born, but replacing all the wiring and sealing over the old lead paint took longer than Kevin planned because his contracting business was starting to pick up as Reilly Construction’s reputation for quality, affordable work spread.
Danny has the small bedroom next to Kevin and Eileen’s room on the second floor, the one they knew from the beginning would be the baby room. The third floor can easily be divided into two bedrooms, one large and one smaller, but that project can wait. Three-year-old Colleen has her own room across the hall for Danny, and there’s one more bedroom on this floor — both are big enough for two small children, three in a pinch.
The house is still a construction zone, and Eileen is forever pulling small pieces of wood from eight-month-old Danny’s chubby grip. After they caught him at Kevin’s (locked) toolbox for the third time, Kevin made him a small set of wooden tools, and he’s always banging on something. Yesterday it was Colleen’s toes, and Eileen had to put the tools on the kitchen counter, leaving both children screaming. Days like this, she can’t wait for the evening to roll around so Kevin can take the children while she escapes to the relative quiet of the emergency room at Maynardsville Hospital for one of her three nursing shifts a week.
Kevin finishes the last of the painting in the third bedroom, the blue paint with yellow trucks and hard hats perfectly suited to Danny, who still loves his tool set. The three-year-old has his own small workbench now, but he’s learned that if he hammers six-year-old Colleen’s toes, she’ll wrap her fingers in his curly, black hair and yank.
The new baby, Bridget, is still in her bassinet in their room, waiting for Danny to move into his big-boy room. He’s glad Eileen convinced him to do the baby room in primary colors with suns and houses, something that doesn’t need redoing with each baby. He loves his two little girls, but he’d be lying if he wasn’t hoping for another little boy next time. Not quite yet, though. Danny will be in kindergarten in two years — that’s plenty of time.
He hears the station wagon pull into the driveway and knows Eileen and the kids are home from the library. Colleen will take her books to her room and read, and Danny is slowly starting to do the same thing as he recognizes simple words. If Bridget will cooperate and go down for her nap, he and Eileen might be able to manage a few minutes alone to snuggle on the battered couch her older brother Billy gave them when he and his wife got a new one last year. The kids used up their hour of TV that morning with Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, so the living room would be quiet. He hoped.
Eileen leans against the kitchen counter, one hand rubbing her rounded belly. Even her breeziest sundress was too much on a day this muggy, and she groaned as she shifted her weight from one aching foot to another. Another three months to go, and she was beginning to wonder if she — or at least her feet — would make it. Pushing herself up, she turned and started wiping down the counters. At least Colleen was old enough to help clean up after dinner — she and Kevin would do that and get some Dad and daughter time, which had been in short supply since Maggie was born nine months ago. Between three little girls, and Kevin starting work on the third-floor bedrooms once they found out Baby Reilly No. 5 was coming much sooner then they had planned, finding special time with each of them had been difficult. Seven-year-old Danny was happy as a clam to help Daddy on the bedroom work, and Kevin always found some way he could help without getting hurt. At least, he hadn’t got hurt so far, and Eileen decided what she didn’t know, she wasn’t going to worry about.
The phone next to the back door rings and she shuffles over to pick it up.
“Reillys,” she says, her standard answer. It worked whether it was a client calling to hire Kevin or somebody calling for one of them. Whether it would keep working was another question — Colleen was already starting to talk to her friends on the phone at night, even after spending all day with them.
Once she writes down the details — F.X. O’Leary is thinking of expanding the market — Eileen sits down at the oak kitchen table Kevin’s parents passed down to them. It has a few crayon marks on it, nothing that can’t be cleaned off if she ever gets the time and the energy. Danny runs through the kitchen, Colleen chasing after him, and four-year-old Bridget bringing up the rear. Nobody’s screaming or bleeding, so she’s not going to worry about it.
The baby room is a tight squeeze with two cribs, but Maggie really isn’t old enough to share a room with Bridget yet, and Eileen’s not ready for Danny to move up to the third floor. So Colleen has her own room, away from the others, and Bridget gets her own room for a little while longer. It won’t be long, a few more months at most, before Maggie is ready for a big-girl bed and moves into her older sister’s room. After they got surprised the last time, Kevin’s already finished working on the smaller bedroom upstairs. They gave Colleen the big one because she’ll probably end up sharing with at least one sister — Eileen’s beginning to think Danny’s going to be the only boy in the house. That’s one reason Kevin insisted the small shower and toilet on the third floor stay as part of the smaller room instead of walling the bedroom off and making the miniature bathroom available to both rooms.
“When he’s a teenager, he’s going to need to not worry that one of his sisters is going to come bursting into the bathroom while he’s showering,” Kevin had said. “I’ll put a half-bath in one half of the pantry and box the other half out into a big closet where all the kids can store their sports stuff and outdoor clothes.”
Eileen agreed right away — then the girls could use that one for all the teen hair and makeup drama she already was dreading. And Kevin was already making noises about refinishing the space above the garage into a small apartment, enough for one teenager or college student. Eileen wasn’t so sure about the teenager part, but with the state college in town and the older kids spaced far enough apart, it might help them get at least a couple of the kids to commute to Exeter State. Especially since she’s starting to think Baby Reilly No. Six might be arriving in a little less than nine months. She’s not going to mention that just yet, though. Not until she’s sure, especially since she’s only been back at the hospital for six months. Two babies back-to-back, with the second making her presence known the week Eileen planned to go back to work after the first, had forced her to stop working for a few years. It’s good to be back, though, both for the extra money to put toward the kids’ college educations, and for the chance to interact with adults a couple of times a week.
Eileen looks into the living room and can’t help but smile and look for a camera. Danny is sitting on the couch, three-month-old Mikey in his lap. The 12-year-old is making faces at his baby brother — the one he’d been begging for since he was six and they told him he had another baby sister. Even Maggie stealing his tool set until Kevin made her one of her own hadn’t stopped Danny from complaining about being the only boy.
She knows one of these days he’s going to insist they stop calling him Danny — his friends already call him Dan — and the girls have already started calling. He doesn’t seem interested, though, and Eileen’s seen a few things that make her wonder if he ever will be. She’s mentioned it to Kevin, sort of, to see what kind of reaction he has. He just shrugged, and she doesn’t know if that means he’s ok with it, or he thinks she’s wrong.
She can hear the girls upstairs, little Katie in her own room for now, while Colleen and Bridget share the third floor with Danny and Maggie and Brie share a room. In a couple of years, Katie and Maggie will swap places — Kevin decided the space above the garage needs too much work to be worth renovating — so Colleen will probably fight to go away to school. Exeter State has a good music program, and that’s what she wants to do, but she doesn’t want to share a room with a sister six years younger, and World War III will erupt if Bridget has to move back downstairs “with the little kids.” Eileen snaps a couple more photos before moving back to the kitchen. She and Kevin never realized the third-floor bedrooms would turn into such a big deal.
Kevin sits up before dawn that June morning, waiting for Dan to get home from the after-graduation party. The back porch is cool in the dark, and there’s no light on to attract bugs. He doesn’t need a light to sip coffee in the dark. He sees Eric MacDonald slip down the stairs from the apartment over the workshop, the one they had put in when they rebuilt the structure after the fire five years ago. He tries not to think about why Eric is just leaving Colleen’s apartment at five in the morning, but he knows. He and Eileen were young once, too, though those days seem far in the past with one child set to graduate college in a year and another just out of high school. But Eric has been dating Colleen since they met on campus freshman year, and Eric’s already been to talk to him about the ring Eric’s been saving for from Lynch’s. Kevin knew his little girl would grow up someday, but it still seems like the years went by too quickly. She’ll be 21 next week, and he has a feeling the ring is Eric’s present for her.
A car pulls into the driveway and he sees Dan get out of the passenger seat, careful not to slam the door. The car stops, and the other boy gets out, but Kevin can’t tell in the dark which of Dan’s friends it is. And then the two kiss, and Kevin wonders how Dan slipped this past him. He stays silent, and it isn’t until the car is gone and Dan turns to face the house that he notices Kevin sitting there.
“Hi, Dad.” The few rays of light just coming over the horizon leave everything in shadow, but Kevin knows Dan’s face is bright red.
“You didn’t mention you were dating somebody.” He is careful with his tone; this was a discussion they’d had before.
“I’m not…” Dan’s voice trailed off. “He just…” His son leaned against the railing. “He was curious, and he’s cute.” Dan ran a hand over his face. “I can’t believe I’m having this conversation.”
Kevin can’t either, but it’s not the first time he’s had that thought with Dan. “You were safe, I hope?”
“What?” Dan stood up. “No, Dad. It wasn’t like that. He just… He wanted to know what it was like to kiss a guy.” He sank back down. “He’s not… Well, he might be, but I don’t think he is. But I wasn’t about to turn down the chance — he’s one of the guys I’ve always kind of wished wasn’t straight.”
Kevin doesn’t have an answer for that, and part of him is glad Dan is going to college next year, even part time. He knows from conversations with Becca and Ralph Czarnecki that there are a number of students on campus who are gay, and that has to be easier on Dan than being the only guy who’s out in his entire school. Kevin knows there are a couple of boys who were more than just friends with Dan, but they’ve had a deal since Dan was old enough to date. He’s honest about which boys are friends and which are more, and they don’t out Dan’s dates to anybody — though he’s pretty sure Colleen and maybe Bridget have learned the difference.
Eileen shoos her oldest grandsons out of the kitchen before she opens the oven to take the turkey out. Thanksgiving, like every holiday, is a sprawling affair that has long since outgrown the oak kitchen table, even with all the leaves added. With seven kids, three spouses — although Chris won’t officially be a Reilly until next year — and five grandchildren, plus a fiancé and a serious boyfriend, getting the entire family together sometimes makes her wish there was more space downstairs. The Czarneckis would be here soon — Marianne was making some of the side dishes in her house down the street and she and Ralph would be here soon, probably before Evan and Liz and the girls. She had hoped George would come this year, but it didn’t sound likely.
Her in-laws had picked up Mary Reilly on their way, and the three great-grandparents sat in the overcrowded living room, no doubt with Colleen’s boys and Bridget’s daughter snuggled around them. Maggie and her husband would add another to the mix by next year, and Eileen was pretty sure Colleen and Eric were aiming to have at least as many children as she and Kevin had.
Katie came running in the back door, tracking snow everywhere. “Dan and Chris are here!”
Eileen stepped out of the way as the three grandchildren old enough to walk made a beeline for the backdoor.
“Uncle Dan! Uncle Dan!”
“Hey, what about me?” Chris mock-glared as the boys clung to Dan’s legs and Dan lifted little Sarah into his arms.
“Uncle Cwis!” Sarah turned and reached for him.
“Looks like Uncle Dan’s second-best this time.” Katie smirked, until Eileen handed her the mop to clean up the snow that had melted on the kitchen floor.
The old house is quiet these days, with just the two of them. Mike lives above the garage, and the other kids all have places of their own. Sleepover at Nana and Grandpa’s is a favorite, though, so all those bedrooms still get used.
But after the day is done, Kevin often finds himself in the living room with Eileen, snuggling on the couch the way they used to when it was just Colleen and Dan. They’ve replaced the couch a few times over the years, and the TV has a larger screen and takes up less space coming out from the wall then it did back then. They’re not as young, and getting up to head for bed means a few more creaks and winces than when they were just starting out. Still even when Kevin’s creaky knee complains about the narrow steps to the second floor, he knows he wouldn’t trade the memories in this house for anything.