Flowers for Andrew
“Which one?” she asks.
Each Saturday, I hem and haw at Denise’s flower stand at the Westhampton Beach Farmer’s Market, deliberating over her mixed bouquets. This one’s a moody Rothko: mini-sunflowers with white snapdragons. That one’s chili pepper hot: orange dahlias and red zinnias. Today, I pick one that looks joyful; I choose by color and mood.
Still, I’m always seeking that special bouquet that reminds me most of Andrew.
Sixteen years ago, the weekend my husband and I house-hunted here, our friend Andrew invited us to visit him at his rented cottage in North Sea.
“It’s because my wife kept staring at the gun rack,” Michael told Art, our broker. When we first met, Michael owned an isolated cottage in upstate NY. Problem was, I hadn’t yet learned how to drive. One day, I stayed at home by myself, trying to get our two-month old, Sophie, to burp. I heard the rumble of an approaching car. A blue Ford I didn’t recognize topped into view. The crunch of gravel spooked me. What if the driver was a serial killer? Clutching Sophie, all I could do was wait. Finally, the car disappeared.
Later, Michael and I stopped by the Army-Navy store. “Could we buy a gun?” I asked.
“For protection.” I mentioned the unwelcome visitor.
“Do you think you could pull the trigger?”
I hesitated. “No.”
“That’s it. We’re selling the house.”
The following spring in 2000, we rolled into Westhampton Beach for the very first time. I watched families drop into Lynne’s for a newspaper, or linger at the Beach Bakery after picking up bagels, or a birthday cake. I imagined Sophie tottering down this sidewalk, cone in hand, with me wiping ice-cream dribbles off her chin.
Art showed us homes that were too contemporary, or drab. At House No. 4, the front door opened onto a bright living room. Outside, in lieu of dense upstate forest was clear blue sky.
“We’ll have to sleep on it,” Michael said.
“Of course. No rush!” Art flashed his Pepsodent smile. After touring three more, we’d had enough. Sophie wailed. I was still breast-feeding her.
Michael fumbled for his handwritten directions to Andrew’s. “Let’s go,” he said.
My husband was a NYC contractor who built retail projects. Andrew was an in-house architect at Giorgio Armani. After working together, they became fast friends. I had met Andrew when he visited us upstate and found him intelligent, easy to talk to, even sweet. We snuck onto a neighbor’s unused tennis court to play a hilarious game of Canadian tennis; each taking turns on the other side of the net while the remaining two doubled up.
Turning off Noyac, we entered a bumpy lane circling a landlocked cove. Andrew awaited us at his door. He resembled a Fairfield Porter portrait: tall, lean, blue eyes and brown hair, with patrician, WASP-ish features. I unbuckled Sophie’s car carrier. Exchanged hugs. A pouring of crisp white wine. Everyone clinked. Sophie gurgled. She was going to get drunk, too.
“This is adorable! Is this your Love Shack?”
“It was a fisherman’s shack,” Andrew replied. “I’m not so sure about the love,”
Andrew’s cabin was constructed entirely of wood. Each wall, ceiling and floorboard was burnished. Cut-out hearts decorated the cabinet doors of his pocket-sized kitchen. All the furniture was upholstered in white. The interior was a mash-up of Heidi meets Calvin Klein.
Most remarkable were the unframed paintings of flowers that blanketed the walls.
One had the pastel coloring of a Dufy, another, the vibrancy of a Bonnard. Imagine DeKooning, after watching My Fair Lady with Audrey Hepburn, painting all the Covent Garden nosegays she sold in close-up. Gazing out over Andrew’s lakeside view, a pink-purple hued bowl with rippling mirror beneath, I realized one canvas had captured that, too.
I wanted to stick my nose into each and take a deep whiff. Even dimmed by candlelight, these bouquets glowed. Secretly, I wanted one.
“You did these?” Michael asked, amazed.
“Oh, I dabble now and then,” Andrew replied with his typical modesty.
We dined and drank. I asked, “And how’s your love life?”
“I just started seeing someone, named Chris.”
“Good for you!”
Andrew retired upstairs. Sophie dozed off in her car seat. Michael and I slid underneath a fluffy white duvet. Basked in moonlight, I drifted into the most peaceful sleep I’d ever known in a garden of magical blooms.
The next morning, after exchanging good-byes, we meandered back to Westhampton. “I’d like to see No. 4 again,” Michael said. After some wrong turns, we pulled into the driveway. Art was showing the house to another couple. Seeing us, he concealed his glee.
“We’re just taking another look.”
“Keep in touch if anything happens,” I added. We’d just started heading back to the city when Michael’s cell phone rang.
“They made an offer.”
Michael looked at me. I nodded, yes.
“We’ll meet the asking price, less $20,000 for the deck repair.” Michael whispered to me, “I can replace it for ten.” Twenty-four hours later, our bid was accepted.
That first summer, before the deck got repaired, I spent hours removing splinters from Sophie’s palms and knees; thankfully, she never cried. I discovered every local playground with an infant bucket swing: the park by St. Mark’s Church, or, the one at the elementary school. Pushing Sophie’s stroller through the Quogue Wildlife Refuge, I pointed out African Tortoises. Together, we fed mallards and swans.
At Rogers Beach, Michael and I held Sophie’s wrists as she giggled and shrieked, lifting her above the incoming surf over and over again.
Summer 2001. Michael and I received an invitation from Chris to a party in East Hampton celebrating Andrew’s 40th Birthday. Eager and curious, we entered a long pebbled drive lined with flickering torchères. “Look, an allée!” I said. Inside the imposing Hither Lane chateau, we marveled at plush chairs flaring lion clubbed feet. Michael rubbed the surface of an antique table. “Now that’s real French polish,” he said admiringly.
Staring past all the gilded frames, I glimpsed a familiar sight. “See!”
I pointed to one of Andrew’s bouquets.
“Hey there.” Andrew and Chris sauntered over to greet us.
Chris was older, with thinning white hair, lidded eyes conveying a casual demeanor, and deep jowls that made him look heavier than he really was.
“Happy Birthday! What a turnout!”
“I’m not looking forward to speaking,” Andrew said. “Chris is much better at these things.”
“I suspect he’s used to having his way,” Michael teased good-naturedly. “By the way, we passed the Maidstone on our way here. Are you a member?”
“Absolutely not, and it’s not because I’m gay,” Chris replied drily. “I’m Roman Catholic.”
Waiters escorted us to a large tent. Lit cauldrons rimmed the perimeter. Everyone assembled was dazzled by the opulence, and charmed by the devotion on display. Chris gushingly toasted the birthday boy. Andrew returned Chris’s embrace with a tender, embarrassed affection.
We were happy for them.
Strolling the grounds of Chris’s second estate, this one on Further Lane, Michael and I climbed up a sturdy, three-story viewing platform and looked out over the scenery. “Here’s where we’ll dredge out a pond,” Andrew said. I followed his gaze holding Sophie’s hand tightly; we were 30 feet up in the air.
“My mother gardened,” Chris mentioned over dinner. “I love designing what a landscape could be.”
“With the helicopter, we get a really good view of the acreage,” Andrew added.
As the private chef served buttered pasta to Sophie, I hid my bemusement. In their company, we witnessed unimaginable privilege and unbridled creativity. They explored what was possible. “It’s nice watching things mature,” Andrew said.
In the distance, the Atlantic roared.
After our second daughter, Chloe, was born, we saw Chris and Andrew less and less. In December 2009, Christopher Browne died of a heart attack.
Michael saw Andrew infrequently. At their last lunch together, Andrew Gordon did not reveal news of the cancer that would take his life in September 2013. He was fifty-two years old.
Only yesterday, my girls took horseback riding lessons in East Quogue and frolicked in our backyard pool. Now, they hole up inside their darkened bedrooms on sunny weekends, surfing the Internet. I’ve since learned the short cuts to avoid the snarl of Route 27. Sometimes, I take living here for granted, except, whenever I see Denise’s bouquets.
Whatever happened to Andrew’s flowers?
His paintings remind me of long-ago first impressions––of sunshine and sand, sky and sea, of innocence and plenty, of friendship––wondering what the Hamptons could be. I dream of stumbling upon one in a shop. Their value to me is priceless. I’d know them anywhere.
Whenever we visit our beach, Sophie and Chloe revert to just being kids. At dusk, they clamber onto the lifeguard’s chair then leap screaming onto the mound below. Hauling themselves back up to the vacant throne, they scan the beach from one end to the other.
Briefly, they rule over all they survey.