Fiction Friendship

Louisa Cantoni sat back on her heals and grunted. She had to roll onto her knees to push herself up these days. A sight to be seen…

“I’ve become a yard butt,” she muttered, every time she got up, without fail.

The kids in the neighborhood made fun of her, but she didn’t care. She was too old to care. That’s what she told herself, anyway.

When she was younger, the little ones would flock around her. They were fascinated with her jet-black hair and her Italian accent. They loved her flowers and always hovered nearby when it was tomato season, popping her sweet cherry tomatoes into there mouths without so much as a rinse. She taught them how to say hello in Italian, and how to ask for help and to say thank you.

Those sweet memories were just that. So much had changed in the neighborhood. What had been the Italian section of the downtown area, had slowly disintegrated into crumbling townhouses and overgrown yards. All but hers. At 81, Louisa still loved the soil; the smell of her compost pile, the results of her hard work in blossoms and buds all around her home.

As she pulled her gloves, stained with grass and dirt, off her hands, she sighed and looked down the street. She could still picture the proud families who had begun to move away when part of the block had been zoned low-rent housing. That was when it all began. Renters moved in, Italians moved out, leaving her alone on her beloved block.

A childless widow for many years, Louisa couldn’t imagine being anywhere else, but as the neighborhood deteriorated and violence began to increase, she had to admit, maybe it was time. Time to find a home where she felt safe. But there were her gardens…

She walked back up the stone sidewalk when a crackle of a footstep on fallen leaves caught her attention. New renters had just move in to the massive, three-story brick home next to her a few weeks earlier. It was always the same. More noise, more taunts from disrespectful kids wearing sagging pants and oversized hoodies. They tried to get a response from her, but she always just shook her head and walked away from the. But they wore her out, all the gang innuendoes, the shouting of the frazzled auntie who seemed to be in charge, the sad faces of the grannies who wanted nothing more than safety for their loved ones. They broke her heart.

It doesn’t have to be this hard, she thought as she observed these family’s struggles. Louisa had long lost her desire to help after being thwarted time and again by parents and relatives too proud to admit they needed help and too wary to accept it.

She became aware of a young man leaning against the side of the house, a cigarette hanging from his mouth and his pants sagging around his hips. He stared at her with threatening, dark brown eyes; he looked to be all of 13 or 14 years old. She nodded at the boy and quickly opened her door, not sure what to make of the bravado directed at her.

And so began the daily ritual. The boy, the cigarette, the nod, the exit. But Louisa noticed something. The boy’s eyes were softening.

After a week of this, Louisa paid no more attention to him.

Just another thug trying to get me going.

The kiss of the autumn sun was Louisa’s favorite thing in the fall. The leaves were changing color, the air a crisp cool, then the sun warming her skin. It took her back to her childhood, when life was simple. She had no desire the let this child derail her love of fall. So, she ignored him.

This particular day, Louisa had cranked up her stereo and went to work pruning her mums and harvesting the last of her vegetables. She was humming along with the music when a shadow appeared from behind her. She knew it was the boy.

“What, what do you want from me?” She asked in a tired tone. “Why you must stare at an old woman just working in her yard.”

The boy stood silent.

“Well come here in front of me so I can get a good look at you before you knock me in the head.” Her tone had changed and was clipped with irritation.

The boy stepped in front of her, bravado exuding from all his pores. He cocked his head and smirked at her.

“I don’t want nothing from you, old hag.”

Louisa rolled her eyes and said with a laugh, “Then go away, nasty boy. Leave me to my garden.”

The boy seemed unsure how to respond to Louisa. He was accustomed being in charge, scaring his conquests. She didn’t seem to be affected by him.

She went back to work and the boy stepped back but continued to watch her.

“My momma, she likes flowers,” he offered.

“Well, isn’t that nice. Now go away.”

“You ain’t gotta be so mean.”

“Why not? You have been, how they say, mean-mugging me for days. So go on. Leave me to my garden.”

The boy pushed his lips out in a pout, grunted and pulled the hoodie over his head.

“Bitch,” he said as he stomped out of the yard.

Louisa pressed her eyes shut, her heart thudding. She longed for the days that a child didn’t make her nervous, but this child certainly did. She hoped he was gone for good.

The next afternoon, Louis peered out the back door and was satisfied to see that the boy was not in his usual place, lounging against the old brick and smoking. She pulled on the gloves and picked up her garden shears. It was cloudy today, a disappointment, but she had work to do.

Deep in thought as she worked her way through her flower garden, she jumped when she heard a voice say, “Bet you thought you was rid of me.”

I really hoped so.

Ignoring the boy, Louisa kept cutting away at her zinnias. The boy shifted his position around her, blowing smoke in her face. Louisa coughed but said nothing as she wrapped the zinnias into a huge bouquet. The boy watched her every move.

“Show me how.” He stood in front of her with his hand on his hips.

“Show you what, how to be a nice person? Go away from me.” Louisa had no interest in showing this boy anything.

He threw his shoulders back and cracked his neck.

“Show me how to grow those.” He pointed to the flowers.

Louisa groaned and sighed. “Just go on away and leave me alone.”

She rolled onto her knees in yard butt position and hoisted herself up, getting a good look at the boy who was trying not to laugh at her.

“You go ahead and laugh then go terrorize someone else. I’m too old for this.”

She gathered up her materials and the bouquet and walked slowly up the path, aware that the boy was watching her every move. When she got back in the house, she locked the door and looked through the curtain to see the boy looking around furtively, then picking a couple of zinnias from the patch before he sauntered out of the yard.

Louisa took a deep breath and was glad to see him leave. She trimmed her bouquet and set it in the middle of her table, pleased with the work of her hands.

The next day, Louisa was tired and decided to stay in for the day. Tired from work, maybe. Tired of the boy, definitely. The birdfeeder was her entertainment while she sipped her afternoon tea and enjoyed her peace and quiet.

It was an active afternoon at the birdfeeder. This delighted Louisa. She closed her eyes and listened to the bird songs. Abruptly, the music ceased, and she opened her eyes to see the boy standing in the yard, a clear look a disappointment on his face. She noticed that without having to put on a show, the boy’s face was different, younger, even a touch of innocence. She noticed he was beautiful, smooth brown skin, strong, broad shoulders. She wished he would go away.

Two days later, Louisa knew she had to water her gardens, which meant she had to be in her yard, which meant an interaction with the boy. She was prepared.

Water poured like a fountain on her mums and her zinnias. The boy appeared, as she knew he would.

“What is your name, young man?” She asked to the shadow peering over her shoulder.

“Why you want to know?”

Ah, the bravado was back.

“Because I want to be able to call you by name when I call the police about you harassing me.”

The boy squared his shoulders and tilted his head.

“You ain’t got nothin’ to tell the cops about me.”

Tired, Louisa turned and looked him in the eye. “Then tell me your name.”

“My name Jevon.”

“Thank you, that wasn’t that hard now was it. I am Louisa. Miss Louisa to you.” She stuck out her hand which he reluctantly shook.

“Shake like a man. Try it again.” He gripped her hand harder.

“Better,” she said and turned her back to him again. “What is it you want from me? You stare at me; you steal my flowers. That’s not nice, Jevon.”

Jevon shifted his stance and tried to maintain his hard stare.

“I want to learn how to grow a flower for my momma.”

He sounded like a little boy.

“I have rules, Jevon. No rudeness, no hoodie, pull your pants up, and no cigarettes, ever.”

“You’re not my momma. I don’t have to do any of that.”

Full on bravado, back.

“Then go on home with you.” Louisa turned and marched back up to the house.

It became their daily routine. Each day Jevon came closer to complying with Louisa’s rules. Each day that he didn’t, she ignored him.

On the fifth day, Jevon showed up in a clean t-shirt, belted pants, and a genuine smile on his face.

“Hey Miss Louisa. I decided to do your stupid rules so now you have to teach me.”

The last thing Louisa had expected to happen was for the boy to comply. He had been completely resistant, and she had hoped he would remain so. Her days of teaching children how to garden were long gone. But here he stood. Complete compliance.

“Then you come here directly from school tomorrow. You read one chapter of the book I will choose for you, and I will show you how to plant a seed.”

“Read a book! That wasn’t the deal!”

“It is now. Take it or leave it.”

Louisa figured that the book would be a deal breaker and she would finally be done with the boy.

But he called her bluff. The next day he arrived, attitude in check and reluctantly read the first pages of The Outsiders to her.

Louisa had a kit ready for him. A pot, gloves, soil, seeds.

“We’ll start with this.”

The beautiful boy began to emerge. He smiled a genuine smile at Louisa. She felt a tinge of warmth begin to stream through her body while she watched the boy carefully work the soil in the pot and plant the seeds.

They tracked the growth of the seeds every day. Louisa provided him with herb seeds which he could nurture throughout the winter. With every sprout, the boy bloomed. He finished The Outsiders and was eager to read something else.


Ten years later, a tall, handsome man, with beautiful brown skin and broad shoulders, gently laid a bouquet of zinnias on top of a casket. He turned to the microphone to address the sparse crowd.

“Miss Louisa made me a man. She didn’t want to, but she did it anyway. She taught me kindness. She taught me how to grow things, in the dirt and in my mind. I am who I am today because of Miss Louisa.”

He turned and blew a kiss toward his old friend, his mentor.

“I hope there are gardens in heaven, Miss Louisa. Thank you for giving me a chance.”


Jevon walked the short distance from the funeral home back to his street. He stood at the top of the block and admired his handiwork. Yards were clean, people were sitting on their porches and there were zinnias, so many zinnias.

“Thank you, Miss Louisa,” he whispered and walked on home.

September 27, 2023 16:11

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Jonathan Page
16:35 Sep 27, 2023

Touching story! I hope there are gardens in heaven!


Mary Richards
14:48 Sep 28, 2023

Thank you for reading my story! 😊


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Hannah Lynn
16:05 Oct 02, 2023

I loved your story! Miss Louisa was a tough lady and I’m glad she was appreciated by the young man. I enjoyed the read very much. :)


Mary Richards
21:40 Oct 02, 2023

Thank you for reading! I had so many kids like Jevon during my teaching career. I'm so glad you enjoyed my story!


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Tom Skye
16:04 Oct 01, 2023

This was a very sweet read. Extreme opposite characters grow together with positive results. Really enjoyed it. Great work


Mary Richards
16:41 Oct 02, 2023

Thanks for reading! I taught for 10 years at an alternative school for at-risk kids. They will always have a piece of my heart.


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David Sweet
14:10 Oct 01, 2023

Awesome story. I know the word limit put the constraints on this story, but I would like to see the subtle ways this story developed over time. Very touching and poignant. I am sorry about the loss of your husband and am glad you are using writing as a way to deal with your grief. Keep writing. And, by the way, I do believe there are gardens in heaven.


Mary Richards
16:54 Oct 02, 2023

Thank you for reading my story! And thanks for your condolences. It has been a long year and a half and writing definitely has been the best distraction. I think there are gardens in heaven, too. Thanks again.


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