It felt strange to have somebody else in my garden.
It was a rather special and intimate place between only nature and I; but now there was somebody else.
I wasn’t angry nor was I scared that he was in my space, it just felt...different.
It was a warm and beautiful day. The sun shone down brightly onto my growing plants and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The birds shared in the joy, singing sweet melodies that merged and mixed together creating one big masterpiece. It was beautiful.
Richard was his name, and I thought that it fit him well. He stood calmly in the centre of my backyard, a comically large straw hat placed on top of his short grey hair and a goofy smile plastered across his face. The sun hit his features at an angle that made his bright blue eyes shine splendidly in the light and his face looked almost youthful. He was beautiful.
I sighed at the thought, mentally lecturing myself for having momentarily failed Terry as I fondled the dulling old ring on my finger.
I’d met Richard at the local community centre during a bake sale a few weeks back. He’d seemed to take an immediate interest in my garden of which I told him very little about, but with great enthusiasm. I was glad that he had taken a certain delight in my hobby so, with a sudden impulse, I’d invited him over to check it out.
“Wow, this is gorgeous!” He’d exclaimed upon entering my backyard. His mouth had been slightly agape as he’d stared at the vegetation in awe.
I had simply blushed and thanked him, tucking a strand of stray white hair behind my ear. Nobody else had ever set foot in that area since Terry, and it took me a strange amount of courage to let Richard in. However, I was glad that I did.
“Alright, so first thing’s first, here are some gloves.” I said, handing him a pair of gardening gloves imprinted with a charming pattern of blue and white flowers.
I also pulled on my own gloves decorated with detailed images of ladybugs and butterflies.
Then, I led him to an isolated spot near the back corner of the yard. It was a calm and shadowy area under a tall and beautiful oak tree. The light seeped gracefully through the tree’s long and leafy branches, creating moving patterns and pictures on the floor.
I had already prepared the soil and filled the vacant garden box that I had decided we could use, leaving the necessary tools laid out neatly in the grass.
Richard had a bit of trouble bending over, his legs being slightly stiff, and he chuckled whole-heartedly when he stumbled down onto the ground in a sudden movement. He had a nice laugh, I thought to myself, trying to push away the growing guilt that had begun to overcome me.
“Okay, so all you have to do is dig a little hole,” I began, using the shovel to pull up a section of soil “and then put the seed in.” I finished, plopping a white pip into the ground and covering it back up.
He simply rolled his eyes. “I know how to plant a seed,” he said in a mockingly-sarcastic tone, “I’m not that dumb.”
I suddenly felt bad and began to apologize. “Sorry, I didn't mean-”
He chuckled again, the warm sound reassuring me. “I didn’t mean it like that, Janet. I was just joking.” He said, lightly nudging my side.
“Oh, ok.” I replied, forcing a smile, but feeling taken aback at the sudden contact. Though it was a friendly gesture, nobody had ever really touched me since Terry, and the moment played back over and over in my head, feeling slightly more intimate every time.
There was a brief moment of silence as he proceeded to bury a few seeds himself. “See? I’m an expert already!” He exclaimed proudly with a toothy grin.
I smiled back at him before returning to the seeds that I had begun working on.
We remained in a calm and peaceful silence for a while as we both worked away on our separate tasks, exchanging the occasional comment on the beautiful weather or on some bit of news we’d read in the papers. It was pleasant.
Then, I suddenly dropped my shovel and it scrapped the side of one of my fragile fingers just enough to draw a bit of blood.
Richard turned to me immediately. “Are you okay?” He asked with concern.
I felt more embarrassed than in pain at the fact that I had made such a careless mistake after so many decades of practice, but reassured him nonetheless. “Yes, I’m fine.”
He didn’t persist any further, but took a band-aid out of his pocket and unpeeled it carefully, asking me silently to make the next move.
So, with slight hesitation, I held out my injured hand to Richard who tenderly wrapped the tape around my finger. I was flattered at his kindness, but was completely taken aback when he placed a delicate kiss on the injured spot.
I pulled back my hand immediately in shock and fear, trembling slightly but trying to control my nerves.
“I’m sorry, I-” He began to apologize rapidly.
“No, no, it’s okay.” I assured, though I wasn’t completely certain if I even agreed with my own statement.
We sat in an awkward silence for a few seconds before he spoke up again.
“You’re beautiful, Janet.”
I scoffed, trying to cover up my shock and fear. “How?” I asked curiously, pushing all thoughts of Terry guiltily aside.
I stared tentatively into his bright blue eyes. They reminded me of forget-me-nots. Beautiful.
“I’m old, wrinkly, and frail.”
Richard shook his head immediately. “No. You’re beautiful.” He assured, turning back to his work without saying another word.
I was unsatisfied with his explanation, but returned to what I was doing nonetheless, deciding that I would not be persistent nor pesky.
Once more, I could feel Terry’s presence re-emerge in my mind and I felt miserable. I was seeking two completely different things that could not unite. Both Terry and Richard could simply not exist in the same universe. It was unsettling.
We both continued to drop the seeds into the holes and cover them up with soil in silence, the singing birds filling the awkward air as we both remained deep in thought.
The sweat was accumulating on my cheeks and I wiped an arm carelessly across my forehead, accidentally knocking off my glasses.
I sighed, looking down at my dirty gloves, but just as I was about to remove them, Richard picked up my glasses from in the grass. He wiped them gently on his shirt and placed them delicately back on my face with a smile, tucking a loose strand of hair behind my ear in the process and gently running his hand down my cheekbone.
He apologized again, but did not pull his hand away. Instead, he wiped away a stray tear that had somehow made its way down my cheek.
“What’s wrong, Janet?” He asked, worried and concerned.
I felt embarrassed--humiliated--crying in front of Richard. I was overreacting.
He placed a hesitant hand across my back, waiting for my response patiently.
I only shook my head, holding my hand with the ring up to my heart and saying his name, asking for either forgiveness or for comfort. “Terry.”
Richard did not know of Terry, but he spotted the ring on my finger and from his expression, I could tell that he had guessed.
“I’m so sorry.” He said, full of empathy.
I only continued to cry.
Richard wrapped his arms around my frail frame and pulled me close to his chest so that I could hear his beating heart. He was not going to leave me.
“It’s okay, Janet.” He assured, rubbing tender circles on my back.
There were a few more minutes of silence before I mumbled hesitantly, “I have to let him go.”
“I have to let him go.” I repeated, a bit louder this time and with more conviction.
Richard said nothing, but let me proceed.
“I’ve been hanging on to him for so long.” I explained “He’s been gone for so long.”
“What happened?” Asked Richard prudently.
“A heart attack.” I simply replied with a sigh.
Richard said nothing more, but squeezed me closer to his chest in comfort.
“It’s been almost twenty years,” I explained, desperate to get everything off my chest “twenty year since he’s been gone. Twenty years since I’ve locked up my heart.”
Richard hummed in acknowledgment, letting me know that he was listening.
“It’s been twenty years of loneliness, guilt and misery.” I finally declared with a frown.
There was another brief silence before I continued.
“He’d want me to be happy.” I said to myself “He’d want me to be happy, right?”
“I’m sure he would.” Replied Richard slowly.
With hesitation, I took the ring off of my finger for the first time in years and placed it delicately on a stone under the tree.
“I have to let him go.” I repeated as I stared down at the metal.
Then, Richard unwrapped his arm from around me and pulled me down beside him so that we were side by side, leaning against the thick wood of the tree trunk, my small hand in his.
For the first time in twenty years, I felt a strong weight lifted from my shoulders and a sense of reassuring peace emerge.
I looked back at the ring that I had placed on the stone and noticed that it was glimmering for the first time in years under the bright sunny sky. I told myself that it was a sign; a promise for happiness.
We sat in a comfortable silence in the cool shade as the birds continued to sing melodically in the trees.
“Thank you for letting me into your heart,” smiled Richard “and into your garden.” He whispered, placing a gentle kiss on my fragile forehead.
“Our garden.” I corrected, smiling contently as my eyes fluttered gently shut and an uplifting sense of happiness overtook me.