Whatever he touched, grew.
Seeds, bulbs, out of season fruit, clearance bin brown weeds in cracked pots, dying trees set out on the side of the road and notoriously difficult plants to keep alive, like african violets and bonsais. If it could grow, then it would, under his care. That was how met him actually. They were in line at Lowe’s in the gardening department. She had one solitary succulent in a pretty pot. Behind her was a tall, clean-cut man who had a cart full of nothing but brown dying plants and some soil.
“You give new meaning to the Green Knight,” the lady commented, looking down into the cart and whistling impressively.
“Pardon?” His dark brows came together in confusion. The bangles on her wrists tinkled as she shifted her pot from one arm to the other. He saw a flash of a colorful tattoo under her flowing dress. She looked up at him with a friendly grin, a strand of her flamingo pink hair blew in front of her face.
“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” she explained. “A famous poem about King Arthur’s nephew and a fairy named Bertilak.” She said it as if everyone should know what she was talking about. “About testing a man’s virtue and the truth of his word.” When the dark-haired man continued to stare silently at her she cleared her throat and gestured to his cart. “Annywaayyy are you really going to try bring those back to life? They already have one root in the grave by the looks of it.”
He blinked, trying to catch up, but nodded to the last bit. Sir Gawain? Bertilak? Who talks like that? He couldn’t decide if she was flirting or genuinely being friendly. Or a know-it-all trying to impress him.
“That’s a type of magic then. I even kill these things,” she said, lifting the succulent mournfully. “They’re so pretty and graceful when they’re alive.”
Finally a response spurred his mouth into action. It came out a little more harsh than he intended but he did want to know.
“Then why do you keep trying?”
She shrugged, making more tinkling noise. One of her dangly silver earrings caught on the neck of her dress and she shook her head to dislodge it, wincing as it pulled. She was like a living fairy orchestra or something. She made noise with every movement. It wasn’t unpleasant though.
“Practice makes perfect?” she guessed with a chuckle. “I don’t know really. Just that I like having something alive in the house besides my cat. And the pots are always useful to catch water from the leaky roof.”
She peeked up at him to see if he would smile. He didn’t.
“Have you tried gold-fish?”
It didn’t occur to the man he was being rude at this point. All he could see was new life potentially being carried off to suffer a slow death by a pink haired hippie. She laughed though, accepting the hidden insult behind his words and throwing it back at him.
“Gold fish are ugly. Betas are better and my last one lived for two years before the cat ate it. She jealous of any attention I give other animals. Another reason for the plant.”
He nodded and looked away. Awkwardness now. She was undaunted though. She had to see him smile. He looked so stoic. A smile would transform him.
“Any tips for me?”
“For the plant. I can see it bothers you the crazy pink-haired lady might be carrying it off to its death.”
“Don’t over water,” he said immediately and seriously. “If the leaves start browning, stop watering. Only do it once a month or so. And maybe get some succulent food.”
Slate grey eyes peered up at him and he looked into them for the first time, making him notice the smattering of freckles on her nose and cheeks. Her glossy pink lips pursed in consideration. She nodded.
“Thanks. That’s good to know actually. Do you ever smile?”
He blinked at her again and she saw his face shift from merely serious to closed down. He thought she was flirting. Not untrue but it was friendly enough. He was a tough customer. She snorted delicately and gave a rueful smile.
“Good luck on your quest, Sir Knight.”
She paid for her plant, looked behind her. He wasn’t paying attention at all. Deliberately so.
RIP little echeveria, he thought, carefully placing his dying specimens on the counter. It would have a few months of good life at least. He paid for his clearance bin projects and rolled the cart to his car. When he popped the trunk and began setting them in a box to avoid spillage, he felt a tap on his shoulder.
The pink haired lady handed him a business card with a crystal ball and a pair of scissors on it with bright pink lettering. He couldn’t see her eyes behind her sunglasses but he had a feeling she wasn’t looking directly at him. She was biting the corner of her bottom lip. He looked down at the card.
“The Psychic Salon?”
“We predict what the future holds for all your beautification needs!”
Her voice was fakey-happy and it made his eye muscles twitch.
“Don’t judge. It pays the bills,” she sighed, acknowledging the ridiculousness of it. “My cell is on the back if you want to check on the plant. I have a feeling.”
He tried not to show any emotion on his face. A few of them swirled in him. Incredulity. Irritation. Humor. And curiosity.
“A feeling?” he asked as she started walking away.
Her hair was a waterfall of ombre pink down the front of her neon dress. He saw more tattoos along her shins and the tops of her sandaled feet.
“Yep. The name’s Flora by the way.”
“That’s ironic,” he said, tucking the card into his jeans pocket.
“Ain’t it though? But at least I’m still alive.”
She waved from a pink (what other color would it be?) VW Beetle and drove too fast through the parking lot, squealing the tires.
Welp, it’s dead now for sure, he thought. Snapped in half by the 2-G turn she just pulled off into the street. He, however, drove home carefully. He had precious cargo in the back so he naturally drove like an 85-year-old granny.
It was a long, lovely drive out of the city and he allowed the day to melt off his shoulders. Not a pink thing to be seen out there except a random tea rose or a hibiscus. When he pulled into his drive way he was greeted by the shushing of the wind through the trees all around. His mind was immediately wiped of the encounter with the pink haired Flora as he made a mental list of chores to do. It was a long list.
Flora would be lying if she said she wasn’t disappointed that her cell didn’t ring with a strange man’s number the next day. Or even the next week. She didn’t really expect it to given his disdain for her murdering plants but a girl could hope. He was a handsome one.
Her cat watched her with derision as she carried the phone all around the tiny apartment, even into the bathroom. She considered dying her hair green and getting it cut. Maybe some bangs? or a pixie cut? She settled on doing her nails instead. Less dramatic.
She researched succulents online. She thought about going back and getting another one, just to spite the unsmiling man. She bought a modest dark green dress and pulled her hair up into a bun. She hated it and returned it the next day for a bright orange one and some gold flats to match.
After the second week, she stopped hoping for the phone to ring with a strange number (that wasn’t bill collectors) and cut her losses.
She resisted the urge to water her little succulent as she stared at it on her table during meals. It went against nature to NOT water things, right? What a backward plant. But the serious face the man pulled on her when he talked about watering was so darn cute it stuck with her. Maybe he was like a succulent too. He was happier being dry and humorless.
She should be used to the disappointment by now. She scared men with her colorful hair, bold tattoos and even more colorful life style. Her choice of career usually put them off especially after they discovered what she could have been. They never understood why she settled for less. Pfft! Stupid male egoism and power. She was socially awkward and in-your-face and enjoyed a good laugh. She always asked for what she wanted and meant what she said. Life was too short to mince words.
She was sure the stoic man was long gone. Sometimes her “feelings” were wrong, mainly when they regarded herself. She confused “feelings” with emotions or desire. She wanted to see what he looked like with a smile. It was important to her somehow.
So it was a delightful surprise when tall, dark and lanky darkened the door step of her work, looking completely out-of-place amid their female clientele. Her first thought when she saw him at the counter was she was glad she wore the matching bra and panties that day. Jesus.
“If it isn’t the Green Knight,” she said casually, looking up from shaving half a woman’s head in an intricate tribal pattern.
She felt a frisson of mean-spiritedness hum briefly in her veins seeing how uncomfortable he looked amidst the gawdy, gypsy caravan interior of the salon waiting room. His dark blue polo shirt and jeans stuck out like a black fly in unicorn poop. The other stylists eyed him with interest, ready to pounce on virgin hair and snag a new client.
“I lost your card,” he said, looking at her and then away.
Was he blushing? Oh gawd. A fierce bubble of hope lifted her mood.
“You lost it?”
“I washed it, actually.”
The salon went dead silent and he slid his hands in his pockets self-consciously. Buzzers stopped vibrating. Magazine pages stopped turning. Bubble gum popping stopped mid snap. He looked at his shoes; probably the safest place for his eyes. The sexual tension in the room went up about 16 degrees and he had the attention of every female in the building now. He fidgeted under the scrutiny.
“Is that so?”
Flora mashed her lips together to stop herself from smiling broadly. He came. She’d been right this time. Her feeling wasn’t wrong then.
“Miha, marry him right now! He does laundry!” a plump woman named Marrieta called from the back, cackling joyfully while she washed a client’s hair.
“Lay off Eta,” Flora called out. “The poor thing is ready to run as it is. He’s a gentle Knight after all.”
“I’ll do him for free!” another dark-haired woman called out, patting the vacant washing chair and snapping a curling iron playfully at him.
“You had the last one Dionne! Give him to me!” called the resident flamboyant gay from another empty chair. He flashed a very white toothy grin and blew a kiss at Flora, who gave him evil squinty eyes.
She breathed deeply to calm the girlish giggles threatening to erupt from her throat and concentrated on finishing up the last details of the shave, before passed her client on for a break. She grabbed the man’s arm and hauled him outside and around the side of the building where they could talk without spying eyes.
“Hi,” she said, putting her hands in the pockets of her apron where he couldn’t see them fidgeting with nerves. She tried to pull off ‘causal’ even if she felt far from it. Her nerves were tingling and distracting her.
“Hi,” he replied.
He looked good in dark blue. He wasn’t looking at her. He was looking everywhere except her but he was THERE. She decided to go easy on him.
“Sorry. You look shell-shocked. Will you ever recover from my embarrassing co-workers?”
She’d worked there so long that they were more family than co-workers really. The teasing and bickering and competition was from years of ups and downs together at the salon. It was second nature to her now and most of the clientele were used to it as well. They enjoyed the casual, playful environment. Like a mexican “Barber Shop” with Flora as the resident white girl. In the face of her green Knight though, every glaring embarrassment was apparent and she felt she needed to apologize.
“Uh…yeah I’ll recover. Eventually. I hope.”
She gave a half-hearted chuckle.
“Time will tell I guess. I know a good therapist though, if you need a recommendation.”
They stood in awkward silence, her joke dying on the vine. They scuffled their feet and shifted their weight, deliberately not looking at each other.
“How’s the echeveria?” he asked quietly.
“The plant you confessed to possibly murdering.”
She gave a full bellied laugh now that briefly revealed a gap between her two front teeth before she covered it her hand. Her nails had been done in bright acid green since he’d last seen her. His favorite shade of green. They matched the sweep of shadow on her eye lids and complimented her mulberry purple lipstick.
“You came all the way down here and offered yourself up on a silver platter to ask about my plant?”
He blinked and looked away from her face.
Oh he was a rare one.
“It’s not dead yet. I read that it’s pretty hard to kill them actually. One question though.”
He waited. She admired his profile. His lips were nice and full. They even looked soft and moist, not like most men’s lips. Her gut tightened painfully even thinking about getting close to his face. As it was she had to curl her fingers into fists to stop herself from straightening his collar and brushing a fingertip through his soft dark hair.
“You do have a phone right?”
“And you know how a phone book works. And the internet?”
She nodded and rocked back on her heels, grinning smugly. A car drove passed them and parked in a back spot nearer the liquor store on the other side of Flora’s salon.
“It’s okay if you wanted to see me you know. I like a guy who’s upfront with his attraction. You score extra points for coming to my work.”
She stared up at him, looking closely for any change around his mouth. Last time she tried to flirt he’d shut down. This time there wasn’t even a hint of emotion to give any indication of his mood. Damn he was hard!
“You don’t have any plants in the salon,” he said by way of changing the conversation.
And had a one track mind. What a pity.
“They die too,” she said, resigning herself to working around his pedantic exterior. “Lots of chemicals you know and kids dropping their juice boxes in them or pulling them out at the roots. Difficult to keep alive and unharmed here and fake ones are a hassle to keep dust free.”
He nodded, considering her answer. She took a breath to reply but what he said knocked it right out of her.
“I could bring some.”
Wha…? Her mouth dropped open in surprise. Was this guy for real? Did he have roots for brains? Her neatly plucked eyebrows went way up along her forehead, completing the shocked look.
“Some plants? Some living plants with real leaves and soil? Didn’t you hear what I just said?
“Yes I heard. I could bring tropical flowers maybe. Or Ivy. It’s pretty hardy and likes humidity.”
Flora barked out a laugh and covered her mouth again. Her bracelets jangled and slid up her arm. He was serious. He’d really given this some thought! She should feel flattered he’d given her a passing thought (and she was sure to girlishly flip out over it later).
“Now who’s planning to be a murderer? None of us have the time to take care of things other than paying clients. Why do you think my plants die? I’m never home to water them or too tired to remember.”
He shifted his weight and looked up at the gawdy pink sign advertising her work place.
“I’ll come water them,” he said.
Astonishment billowed off her in thick clouds. He cocked an eyebrow at her dramatic reaction.
“You’ll come every week to water them?” she asked, her voice sharp.
“Yes. Twice if it’s needed. Just depends.”
She reached out and put a hand to his forehead, checking for fever. She did so without thinking. He stepped uncomfortably to the side, out of her reach and she dropped her hand with a jarring cacophony to her side. Even more uncomfortable was the fact that she was staring so hard at him he had no choice but meet her eyes. The shimmering green shadow on her upper eyelid brought out the grey sharply and he noticed there were streaks of gold in the irises.
“You’re going to willingly come into that she-wolf den every week to take care of our plants? Do you have any idea what you’d be doing to yourself?”
“Yes. I think.”
He didn’t hesitate.
“You said you liked having living things around you, not just animals.”
Flora thought he might at least consider running away. She was willing to give him a head start but the fact that he answered right away made her suspect he’d thought about this for a lot longer than the 5 minutes he’d been standing with her.
“You remembered that?”
Flora thought she might burst. She didn’t know if it would be into tears or in screams but she nearly vibrated with the need to do something. She couldn’t hug him. He really would run away screaming. So licked her lips and took a step back, out of temptation’s reach.
“Alright. If you think you’re brave enough to come back I’ll let you bring some greenery in.”
He waited. There was another shoe waiting to drop in her statement.
“On two conditions.”
“One, you will allow me to bring you lunch once a week as repayment.”
His sideways glance of unease made Flora roll her eyes and huff at him.
“I can cook pretty damn good, okay? And I know how to cook vegetarian. Or are you vegan? That’ll take some practice.”
“Vegetarian is close enough. More like clean eating though. I still enjoy chicken.”
Wow, she thought, he divulged something personal.
“Alright. Second condition.”
She paused for dramatic effect and he waited, tense and not looking at her.
“Can I have your name or do I keep calling you the Green Knight?”
His lips curved into the smallest of smiles, bubbling his cheeks and revealing a hint of a dimple. It transformed him into a man who was lighter and more open. Flora’s heart beat so loud it almost choked her words off.
He didn’t ask her ‘what?’. He knew what she meant. She worked damn hard for that glimpse of him.
“I’m Rhys,” he said.
“Reese?” She spelled it out.
“R-h-y-s,” he corrected.
The fidgety woman stilled suddenly. The noise of her ceased and it brought his attention around. Now it was Flora’s turned to look away. Irish. Goddamn Irish man. A hundred questions frothed up in her mind and she clenched her jaw against them.
“What?” he prompted, sensing her hesitation.
“Come whenever,” she said abruptly. “I’m usually here 9-2.”
Flora walked away, fast. She walked into her salon, passed all the waiting clientele and straight back into the break room where she sat in a corner and buried her face in her knees, trying to breathe. More than a “feeling”, she thought. It was deja vu. It was a memory. A pre-memory not realized until the moment it happened.
She’d dreamed this all when she was just a girl. It was the dream that had been the start of her ending, all those years ago.