“You see, when the clovers start to pop up in our fields, that’s how we know the tulips should be sprouting soon...”
She continued to explain the natural signs of the upcoming season, but my mind was elsewhere. I found my gaze fixed on the way her lips moved as she shared copious amounts of gardening knowledge, surely too much for one person to hold. Even from the back of the crowd, I could see specks of gold reflecting the late-March sunlight in her eyes. Heavy clouds hung above us, yet a perfect sliver of light squeezed through onto the damp ground. The air was still thick with humidity. Most of the crowd adorned some form of rain-protective ware, everything from raincoats to galoshes to umbrellas. I looked down to assess my own shoes: bright, striking yellow rainboots, caked with mud and grass from the walk through the shop’s gardens. The forecast called for rain all day, but it let up just in time for the Bradley Family Botanical Store’s garden tour.
“...and that’s the tour! Thank you to everyone who came out, I know the weather is a little.. icky, but rainy days like these only promise a brighter tomorrow. Make sure to stop by the shop on your way out.”
Her words snapped me back to reality as people started brushing past. It had once again started to sprinkle, so they were hurrying back to their cars for shelter. I discreetly glanced around to see where she had gone when I spotted her nonchalantly strolling back to the main building. She seemed in-tune with the weather, and part of me wondered whether the rain’s perfect timing was coincidental or not.
I found myself inside the small shop a few minutes later. The light drizzle had intensified into a heavy downpour, so I pretended to browse the aisles of seeds while waiting for a reason to approach her. Most of the other visitors had already left. Only a few stragglers remained, seemingly also wanting to wait out the storm.
Broom in hand, she was standing near the door, sweeping out the dried mud that had been tracked inside. Her mascara had started to run from the rain, leaving small shaky streams of black down her cheeks.
I quickly realized I had been distracted for the majority of the tour and could not recall much of what she had said. The only thing I could remember clearly was the…
“Excuse me, ma’am?” I raised my voice slightly and cocked my head in her direction. She looked up from the linoleum floor. “I had a question about those clovers from earlier.”
She threw on a customer-service grin, one I had become way too familiar with after years of work in retail, and rested the broom against the wall before walking over. “What about them, sir?”
I raked my brain to desperately search for something to say.
“Uh, are there different breeds of clovers?” Breeds? What are they, dogs!?
“Do you mean, like, different species?”
“Yes! That.” I noticed that she was glancing past me.
She gave me a peculiar look and let her smile droop slightly. “Yeah, uh, there’s tons. The most common, though, is the white clover. That’s the one with the 3 green leaves and white flowers coming out of it.” She paused. “There’s uh... There’s a rack there behind you with some different clover seeds, if you want to see some more…”
I turned around to see a large display of clover seeds directly where I had been standing while contemplating how to approach her. You’ve gotta be kidding me.
I scrambled to think of an out. “I- uh, yeah, I’m not sure how I missed that…” She started to step back, surely annoyed that I had interrupted her sweeping with such a stupid question.
No time to be slick. Just ask.
“I’m sorry,” I started, “I don’t really care about clover breeds or species, I didn’t even notice the display that was like, literally right in front of me. I was j-just trying to come up with an excuse to talk to you.” I paused to read her face. Her expression didn’t reveal much, so I continued. “I hope I don’t come off as too forward when I say that I thought you were very beautiful, and I admire your dedication to gardening, and I wanted to ask you out sometime.” Not the smoothest way to ask a girl out, but my mind went blank within seconds of opening my mouth.
She looked me up and down, still unsure of what to make of me. It felt like years before she answered.
It took everything in me to not grin from ear to ear. “I was thinking maybe this weekend, either day works. Or next week. Just whenever you’re free..”
She cut me off by walking off towards the register.
“I could do Thursday, too…” My voice faltered. Did I just get rejected?
She returned a few seconds later with a number scrawled onto a small piece of paper.
“I’m kinda busy helping close-up shop for today, but text me about it later.” She sealed our conversation with a wink and headed back towards where she had left the broom.
I read over her number three times, still trying to process what had happened when I realized.
“Oh, shoot, hey.” I jogged towards her, maybe a bit too eagerly. “I never caught your name.”
She smiled and met my gaze. “Terra.”
“Terra,” I repeated to myself after I had exited and made my way to my car. “Got it.”
“So what do you do for a living, Silas?”
I tried to subtly wipe my hands off on my pants for what must have been the hundredth time. It wasn’t working, the persistent sweat was back within seconds.
“I’m a student at WMU, hopefully graduating with my bachelor's in psychology next year.”
She crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair. “Alright, Mr. Fancy. I see you.” I chuckled before she continued. “I don’t usually like super-smart guys, but I’ll give you a pass. You’re lucky you’re cute.”
Thankfully, our waiter returned to serve us our entrees before I had to form a response. He also informed us about the Tipsy Thursday drink sale they were having.
S: How is my lovely GF doing today :) <3
T: how cheesy.
T: im doing good, silas. sorry, store stuff got me on edge.
S: Anything I can do to help?
T: just be supportive like always.
S: Was planning on it. Seriously though, I’m here to help.
T: its ok, its just the drought. we’ve never had a summer this dry.
S: The forecast says it’ll let up next week. Just hang on.
S: I’ve gotta get back to class, tell the parents I said hi.
T: will do. love you.
Read: 2:35 pm.
“Guess what?” I came bursting through the door, throwing my bag onto the couch and heading towards the kitchen. Although my classes did not start until late August, all of my summer courses and internships were wrapping up at the same time, making me arrive home later and later each day. If I was lucky, Terra would have already started dinner for us by the time I got back. I could tell from the aroma emitting from the kitchen that tonight was going to be a good night.
“I hope that’s you, Silas.” She spoke over the crackling of oil coming from the pans on the stovetop. I snuck over to Terra and gave her a hug from behind.
“Jesus, Silas,” she quickly broke out of my grasp, “you can’t sneak up on me when I’m cooking! I could have flung our dinner all over you.”
“But you didn’t.” I flashed her a big smile and she rolled her eyes.
“Now, what’re you so excited about?”
“I am so glad you asked.” I circled out of the kitchen and sat on a barstool beside our counter. “I just found out that, with the credits from my summer classes, I can graduate a semester early.”
“Oh, that’s great-”
“It gets better.” Terra looked annoyed that I had cut her off, but waved her hand to signal me to continue. “Not only can I graduate this winter, but…” I paused. “... the office I was interning for just offered me a position, starting next year.”
Terra froze in her steps. “Like, a permanent one?”
“A permanent one.”
Terra’s hands shot over her head as she ran towards me and engulfed me in a hug. “Silas, t-that’s amazing! Oh my god!”
“I know, I know, it’s like… it’s perfect. It’s entry-level pay, but… it’s enough.”
“Enough?” Her voice came out muffled from the fabric in my shirt.
“Enough for you to keep working with your family. They’re giving me a starting bonus, and I’m trying to get in good with the boss so I can hopefully move up pretty quickly. You don't have to look for another job.”
“I-” she started, but I silenced her with a squeeze. We stood there, in the middle of our kitchen, processing what this meant for us, ignoring the sizzling of our dinner charring in the background.
T: my dad’s results came back.
T: not good. doctor said he can’t work anymore. we have to hire someone.
S: Someone not in the family?
T: yeah. its gonna be weird, but we need the extra hands.
S: I don’t know what to say.
T: it’s ok, i didn’t expect you to.
T: did you find out when your graduation is?
S: December 19th.
T: ill write it down.
S: I’m really sorry, Terra.
T: me too.
Read: 6:13 pm
I sat in one of the many white plastic lawn chairs littered around the floor of the cleared study hall. Due to the inclement winter weather, my graduation ceremony had to be moved inside.
Terra had to pick up her father from a doctor's appointment before the ceremony. I looked back at her empty chair for the fiftieth time. She was twenty minutes late.
“Welcome friends, family, and students of West Mountain University. Today we are gathered to congratulate the class of 2021…”
I checked my phone one last time before putting it on silent and stowing it away in my robe.
Out of my seat, up on the stage, shaking hands, fake smiles, peering into the audience. No Terra.
I rushed to my car after the ceremony ended. Despite the ridiculous cost, my graduation robe did not offer much protection from the snow fluttering down. I quickly started my car and turned on my seat warmers.
Sighing, I sunk back into the driver's seat, allowing my eyes to lightly close as I waited to warm up.
I suddenly remembered my phone. After searching for a few seconds, I retrieved the small device from the many recesses of my robe.
Twenty-three missed calls from Terra's mom.
S: What’s wrong
S: Terra answer
S: I’m on the way home now
S: Are you at your parents' place?
S: Please answer Terra I’m scared
Sent: 12:03 pm
People in southern states aren’t used to snow. Now, mix that with a man who decided to have a few drinks before heading out for his construction job. Two serious things that impair your driving, right?
Now throw in a young gardener rushing to get her terminally ill father home so she could make it to her boyfriend's graduation.
It’s not a great combination.
Certainly not better than whatever the construction worker was drinking that morning.
I hope it was worth 3 lives.
I sold our apartment to help pay for the funeral costs. They had to wait until spring to bury her. That gave me three months to process what had happened, but it still wasn’t enough. It took me standing over her grave, reading the marble-cut tombstone to believe it.
I had stopped by to bring her some clovers, but the blooming spring season had already beat me.