Teens & Young Adult Contemporary Fiction

It was a Saturday, and a few weeks before his 40th birthday that Laurent Wilson stared out of the dirty window that overlooked his back garden. The weeds were overgrown, to the point that it was impossible to see the grass beneath. Dark grey clouds threatened to burst. He hadn’t been out in the garden in quite some time – always excusing himself from fixing the abomination which it had become by complaining about it being either too hot or too cold.

When Laurent and his wife Elizabeth had moved into the house on Partick Crescent the garden had been immaculate, and a major draw factor that made the property stand out among the 20 others that they knew would be easily attainable – due to their willingness to part with the pocket change that others would consider a significant amount of money.

“Is today the day that you finally give that garden a good old-fashioned tidy up?” Elizabeth asked as she entered the room and placed a hot mug of coffee in front of Laurent.

“I’m afraid the situation is beyond my current capabilities and would require a professional to clean the mess that we have created for ourselves, dear,” Laurent replied as he took a sip of coffee, whilst continuing to look out of the window.

“So, are you going to get on the phone with a professional, then?”

Laurent frowned when he looked at Elizabeth. “Sometimes I feel like you don’t know me at all,” he replied, not making any effort to hide his dissatisfaction with her question.

“But you just sa-” Elizabeth began before Laurent abruptly interrupted her.

“I know what I said!” He frowned at her. “I said that the garden would require a professional, and that is exactly what I intend to become in a few months!”

“A few months!?” Elizabeth exclaimed as she looked flabbergasted.

“All good things come to those who wait, dear!” Laurent replied as he returned to staring out of the window.

“Hmph,” was Elizabeth’s response as she walked out of the room.

Laurent sighed as he returned to his previous pastime of envisioning the day when they had bought the house, his father had been there that day. It was one of the last good days before his father had fallen ill. His health had dramatically declined, and in no time at all Laurent was saying a speech at his funeral.

Laurent hadn’t been the same since; the state of the garden reflected that. He hadn’t told Elizabeth just how much he had been thinking about his father lately, he was unsure whether she would understand. It had been years since the passing, after-all, but Laurent was not able to stop thinking about it as he reflected on each aspect of his life.

In every corner of his life there were fragments of his late father, constant reminders of him in the little details of every day – and it had become more frustrating as time went on.

His father had been his mentor and had taken it upon himself to guide Laurent in what he believed to be the right direction. A young Laurent was eager and willing to learn from an old hand who undoubtably had more experience than him in the game of life. Every step of the way Laurent’s father had paved the path forward, and in doing so had ensured that Laurent would end up with more money than he knew what to do with. He was on the property ladder before any of his friends had finished their courses at university. He climbed the corporate ladder and was rewarded handsomely for his willingness to do what was necessary to ensure that the company he worked for thrived. He had understood that telling a little white lie or two about his potential competitors for positions of higher rank was necessary at times and was successful in gaining promotion after promotion until he was right on top. People didn’t look him in the eye anymore, they didn’t call him by his name anymore. Every friend he ever had was gone. When they had discovered that he was doing well for himself they all wanted a piece of the pie, and he was more than willing to give – until his father had found out. He had called Laurent a fool and spoke about the importance of understanding that if you give someone money one time they will just keep coming back for more. He had been right about everything prior to that, so Laurent had listened to him – and that had resulted in many lost friendships as people didn’t see past the money. They labelled him as greedy, and selfish. His father reassured him that that was not the case, that Laurent had worked hard for his money, and he could spend it any way that he wanted.

As Laurent stared out the window and thought about that it infuriated him.

“If I truly was able to spend my money the way I wanted maybe I wouldn’t be here looking out at this mess,” Laurent said to himself.

It was then that he saw Elizabeth open the door to the garden and walk into it. She had tied her long black hair into a neat ponytail and was holding a pair of large shearers. Laurent’s gaze was fixed on her as she began viciously cutting the bottom of the thorny weeds that had overtaken their garden. He observed her for hours as she worked without rest; the dark grey clouds had parted, and the sun seemed to shine directly on Elizabeth as the back of her neck glistened with sweat.

Laurent didn’t dare look away as he was hypnotized by her rhythmic movements as she cleared multiple years-worth of weeds in a day, methodically cutting and disposing of them in a mechanical-like fashion.

The sun began to set as Elizabeth chopped down the last of the tyrannical weeds. She wiped the sweat from her forehead and observed the fruits of her labour. The grass was visible again, and the difference it made was astonishing. She made her way inside and made dinner as Laurent still sat staring out the window, at the newly cleaned garden.

An hour later Laurent heard Elizabeth call for him, and he made his way downstairs. She had set the table; a steaming plate of chicken and rice, accompanied by a glass of orange juice, was placed in front of Laurent’s usual seat.

He sat down and immediately began to eat. He had spent the entire day observing every little detail of Elizabeth, and yet as he sat and ate dinner – a few feet away from her – he couldn’t look at her.

Knives and forks clattered against porcelain plates as the silence in the room magnified every little sound.

“I cleaned the garden,” Elizabeth finally said.

“I saw,” Laurent replied.

The silence resumed, and the longer it went on the more it suffocated both Laurent and Elizabeth as they both contemplated the best way to proceed.

After what felt like a lifetime, Elizabeth was the first to speak again. “I need to know what’s going on, Laurent,” she said, making a point of letting her cutlery drop onto the plate.

He didn’t look up at her; he couldn’t. He just carried on eating and didn’t dare to even glance in her direction.

“You blocking me out doesn’t help,” she continued.

He took a sip of orange juice and looked at the picture of them that rested inside a glass cabinet in the room.

“Why won’t you speak to me!?” She shouted.

Laurent looked at her; he had a pleading expression on his face.

“Just speak to me,” she whispered.

A tear glistened in Laurent’s right eye.

Elizabeth rushed to him and hugged him. Laurent nestled his face into her shoulder and let go of all the tears he had been storing. She didn’t care that her shirt was getting soaking wet from his tears; all she cared about was trying to help the man that she loved.

When he had finished crying, he gently pulled away from her and she let go of him.

She pulled a chair toward her and sat right in front of him.

“What’s going on?” she whispered as she took his face into her hands and stroked his cheeks with the ends of her thumbs.

“I can’t stop thinking, Elly,” Laurent whispered.

“I’m going to need more than that, Lou,” she let go of his face and rested her hand on his knee.

Laurent sighed. “I don’t know if you’ll understand,” he said as he looked at the picture again.

“Try me,” she gently encouraged.

Laurent looked at Elizabeth, straight in her eyes.

“I don’t know, it’s just that lately I don’t really know who I am. I don’t really feel like I have an identity, Elly. I am my father’s product. I listened to him at every turn and did whatever he told me to. I suppose I just liked seeing him proud of me, and that was nice – at the time. But now? He’s gone and I don’t have a clue what kind of a man I would be if he hadn’t told me what to do. I have pushed away every single person, and I’m sure that eventually you’ll get tired of me too. I don’t know what I like, or what I don’t. All I know is that we’re here, and I’m not even sure if I like here, or if I just liked here because of him – because he would want me to like here. We have all this money, and none of it can give me the answers to my questions – so what good is it then? This morning, I stared out into the garden, and I thought that maybe if he hadn’t been around then I would have been a landscaper. But I will never know, and it’s too late for me to even figure that out!”

Laurent dropped his head and looked down into his lap.

Elizabeth had listened without interruption, and without looking away from Laurent at any point. She maintained a calm demeaner all the way through his speech, until his last sentence.

“What do you mean it’s too late?” She asked as she furrowed her brow.

“I mean exactly that, Elly,” Laurent looked at her expression and a fresh wave of tears threatened to break free. Elizabeth noticed and her expression softened as she clasped his hands in hers.

“It is never too late to find your dream, Lou,” she whispered. “And I want that for you. I have seen you adapt to situations that nobody else would be able to adapt to. I have seen you work tirelessly towards a goal that wasn’t even yours, so imagine what you could do if you found something that you loved.”

Laurent looked up into Elizabeth’s eyes as she continued.

“You haven’t been the same man since he passed, and I can tell – I always could – but let me tell you something in case you didn’t already know. On the days that you feel like you only have 1 percent to give, I will give 99 – because I love you, and you’re never getting rid of me,” Elizabeth smiled at Laurent, before she leaned in and gave him a gentle kiss.

“But how, Elly? How do I do it when I feel like my limbs are made of lead; and it’s hard to breath sometimes; and everyone else has a massive head start in anything other than what I’m doing?” Laurent asked as he wiped his cheeks again.

“You can’t think about that! If you do, you’ll never start anything, because it’ll all feel like it’s hopeless, and too much for you to handle,” she whispered.

“How do I handle it then?”

“By taking it one day at a time.”

July 27, 2023 16:58

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in Reedsy Studio. 100% free.