Elaine descended the stairs and rounded the corner to the kitchen. She washed her hands in the kitchen sink. Where is Richard now? She wondered. She was often losing track of that old man. For a man of almost ninety years, he was still very spry. But he was awfully forgetful, which of course was why she was hired to be his caretaker. Elaine knew exactly where to look for the man though.
The door to the garden creaked open as she stepped out into the moist spring air. The garden was the type of place that could make even the coldest of hearts warm and joyful. The beauty of the garden was of course all thanks to the laboring gardener, Milo.
Milo was a man who seemed to Elaine to be in his late twenties. He hardly ever spoke to her, regardless of the countless times Elaine had attempted to strike up a conversation. His replies were always short and often ended the conversations. Elaine did not take offense from his stand-offish behavior though. Richard had told her in her first week of working there that Milo was very shy, but also kind and genuine.
Elaine smiled at Milo and was given a small nod in return. “have you seen Richard?” she inquired.
“Just around the corner.” He replied in a quiet tone.
“Ah.” Elaine made her way around one of the stone walls in the garden. Richard was sitting on a small, wooden bench staring at the different types of flowers and plants. His back was facing her. She watched as he took a deep inhale. He had not noticed her presence in the garden until she sat next to him on the bench.
“Oh! Elaine you should not scare me like that! I am frighteningly old, remember?” he scolded her teasingly.
She grinned “Well you shouldn’t keep wandering off without telling me where you’re going, old man.” She nudged him.
“This is my home, silly. I go where I want when I want.”
She rolled her eyes at the stubborn man. “Well, you have to at least bring your cane with you, Richard.” She stood and offered him her hand. “come on, you haven’t even had your tea yet.” She waited a moment for him to take her hand. He shook his head in reply.
“Stay for just a minute. Enjoy the flowers and the sunshine.” He grinned, shut his eyes, and tilted his head towards the sky.
Elaine sighed, knowing he needed to eat, but she also knew taking him away from his flower garden was nearly impossible. So she sat on the little wooden bench and observed the lilies and the tulips. The roses and the daffodils. The daisies and the marigolds. Richard had once told her that the marigolds were his favorite.
Elaine turned her head to see Richard gazing at the marigolds. He looked to be lost in thought, lost in memory.
The call of his name caused him to lift his eyes from his book. He watched as his wife ran through the fields of tall, yellow grass. The sight brought a smile to his face. He couldn’t help but get butterflies every time he saw her. As she ran through the field, her dark hair flying loosely behind her, that radiant, crooked grin on her face, he felt completely whole, completely at peace.
She reached the place he was sitting underneath the willow tree and flopped down beside him, embracing him. “What are you reading now, Richard?” she asked in a loving, but mocking tone.
He smiled and started to explain “Well-” she interrupted him by placing a kiss on his lips. His heart fluttered and he felt her lips form a smile against his. “Jill!” She pulled away, grinning at him. “you never let me finish my sentences.” He teased.
“Well dear, you’re always reading.”
“And you, my dear are always interrupting.”
“Oh do not pretend to be annoyed at my interruptions” and with that she took him by the hand, making him stand. “I want you to see the new flowers I’ve planted.”
He followed her lead down the hill and around the street to the couple’s two- story home. He could see the pure excitement on her flawless face. There was not anything that made her happier than flowers. And there was not anything that made him happier than her.
Jill entered the garden, jumping for joy. He tried his best to keep up with her. “Look!” she exclaimed as they rounded the corner to their favorite section of the garden. “Marigolds!”
“They’re beautiful, my dear.” Richard often wondered what he had done in his short life to deserve the gift that was his wife. Her windblown hair and her eyes dancing with excitement. Her love for plants that extended to a genuine love for life.
“They’re my favorite, Richard.”
Elaine sat at the kitchen table, contemplating the conversation she had just had.
“Who is that?” she had asked him, gesturing to the picture on Richard’s nightstand.
His face had saddened slightly. “My wife.” He had answered coldly,
“She’s very beautiful.”
“I know that.”
“Do you have any children, Richard?” Maybe the question had been too personal or forward, but Elaine had thought they were friends and had always been curious about his past.
“I’m tired, Elaine. I think I would like a nap.” He began to crawl under the covers and turn on his side, facing away from her. Elaine had nodded and flipped off the light switch.
Elaine sat now at the table, puzzled by how sad he had seemed when she asked him about his kids. She knew there must be some sort of sad story. It was probably none of her business, but she cared for Richard, thought of him like a grandfather.
She looked up as Milo was entering the house. “Milo,” she started “do you know what happened to Richard’s family? Or if he ever had kids?”
Milo glanced at her. “I only know parts of the story, Elaine,” he fiddled with his fingers uncomfortably. “But it’s not my story to tell.”
“Right” Elaine replied. “Of course not.” She wanted to continue the conversation, but knew it was best not to push it with Milo.
“What about you?” he asked quietly.
She looked up, surprised as he sat down across from her. “hm?”
“What’s the story of your family?” Milo asked slightly louder.
Elaine tried to hide her shock and put on a sweet smile. “Well,” she began, “pretty much ordinary I have three older siblings and the best mom in the world. I don’t know my dad though, he left before I got the chance to get to know him.”
Milo looked concerned. “Oh” was all he said.
“It’s not a big deal though. My mom is a rockstar.” She giggled. He nodded. “And you, Milo? What’s your family like?”
He paused a moment, trying to find the words. “They’re fine. I’m an only child.”
That was it. That was clearly all he had to say. Elaine smiled at him as he walked back to the garden. That was one of the longest conversations she had ever had with the mysterious gardener.
Jill entered the house, a smile on her face, not her usual playful, excited smile, but still a sweet, mature smile. Richard walked over to embrace her.
“There you are, my love! I was beginning to wonder where you had wandered off to.”
“Richard, I have some news…” she stopped for a moment, her smile growing.
Richard raised an eyebrow. “go on then! You can’t make me wait forever, dear!”
“Well I’ve just returned from a visit with the doctor…and it seems… well I’m pregnant, Richard!”
His jaw dropped. In that moment his world changed. He re-evaluated every decision he had ever made. Was he really prepared to be a father?
But the joyous look on her face erased all his doubts. He was suddenly overcome with excitement. Jill was scooped up into Richard’s arms as he swung her around. Both giggling like little children.
“Oh Jill I can hardly believe it!” He exclaimed as he set her down again. “We’re going to be par-” he was interrupted once again by her lips on his.
“I know. I know.” She said as tears filled her eyes. Tears of joy.
Richard could feel tears rising as well. His beautiful, perfect wife was soon going to be a beautiful, perfect mother. The wholeness and peace he had felt before was nothing compared to the joy and excitement and nerves he was feeling now. He was going to have a family.
Elaine and Richard traipsed through the garden, Richard was pointing out certain facts about each flower. Elaine giggled at all his silly puns. He stopped in his tracks suddenly.
“Elaine, I’m sorry for being so cold to you yesterday.”
“Oh that’s alright, Richard. Sorry if I brought up unpleasant memories.” She replied.
“Well not all of them were unpleasant.” She expected him to continue, but instead he simply began talking about the flowers once again.
Elaine did her best to listen and respond to each fact and joke, but her mind was preoccupied. She had gotten a call from her mother yesterday informing her that she had had a heart attack. Elaine had rushed to the hospital and stayed all night with her.
Elaine had a tendency to ignore her personal problems to care for others, but when she heard the news from her mother all her problems came rushing in, flooding her mind. Every anxious thought came running in, armed and violent. She had laid in the armchair next to her mother’s bed, silently struggling. Crying inside, but staying strong for her mom. She was faced with the terrifying thought of losing her parent, her hero, her guardian angel.
“Something wrong, Elaine?” Richard questioned. She looked at him, the question moved her, she fought back tears.
“Oh it’s nothing.” She lied. Richard nodded, but he still looked concerned.
“Why is the marigold your favorite?” She changed the subject.
There was that sad face again, though. He suddenly looked distant. “The color, I guess” He answered shortly.
Elaine’s curiosity grew stronger, she truly wanted to hear about Richard’s life, to understand the kind, stubborn old man.
“Let’s go for a drive.” Jill had walked over to his armchair and kissed his cheek.
“Alright, my dear, but we better ask little Juliet here.” He spoke now to her large stomach.
“Ah, well dear I suppose we should ask little Elizabeth.” She winked at him. The pair had been playfully bickering about the name for weeks.
As they drove along the highway in their automobile with the windows cranked down, they laughed and sang and cherished their moments together, knowing they would not have many more with just the two of them.
She was staring at him. He saw it out of the corner of his eye.
“What is it, Jill?” He had to shout over the wind.
“I was just thinking, Richard” she started. “Our daughter’s name is Marigold.” She smiled. He smiled. The name just fit, Marigold.
“I think you might be right.”
The world stood still as it happened. The wind stopped, the laughter stopped. They did not see it coming.
Richard opened his eyes and felt his ears incessantly ringing as the world resumed. He turned his sore neck to see her. She had a wound on her head. Her eyes were shut.
“Jill!” he croaked out. There seemed to be broken glass everywhere, sirens in the distance, shouting and confusion, but it all seemed distant and far off to Richard. All he could see was the love of his life, running through fields of flowers, watering her garden. Laughing. Dancing. Living. And now, for perhaps the first time, she lay still.
He came to his senses as some one seemed to be pulling him out of the automobile. He ripped away from their arms and collapsed on the ground.
He was sobbing. The kind of messy, sorrow sobbing. Uncontrollable tears, screaming, dripping snot, shaking, shouting at God, trembling, running out of breath and tears, simply sitting there shaking noiselessly. Grief.
His world shattered. His sunlight turned to darkness. His Jill. His Marigold.
The sun was beginning to set. Elaine looked at her watch and realized it was time for her to head home. She searched the house for Richard. He was of course sitting outside in his garden.
She walked up to him, about to tell him she was leaving, when she noticed something. He was crying. He was holding one of the marigolds. Elaine quietly embraced him from behind.
Richard sniffled and turned to her. She was now sitting on the bench next to him.
“My daughter,” he began. “My daughter was Marigold.”
He told Elaine the whole story. She listened. He cried. Eventually they were both crying, both sharing the memory of Jill and Marigold. They held each other as they wept. Through their weeping they began to heal. Each sharing their fears and their grief.
The marigolds held new meaning to Elaine. The gentle way Milo cared for the garden now meant so much more as she realized how much it meant to Richard. They sat quietly after a while, staring at the marigolds, cherishing the last moments of sunlight.
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I love this story so much!!! Everything about it is beautiful! The back and forth between memories, everyone having quiet problems, Milo! I love it. Also you made me cry, so bravo. Sincerely, Hallie. Ps: thanks for liking my story!
Thank you so much this means so much to me!
Great first story! Really think you got it bang on how they slowly opened up to each other rather than diving straight to it. Well done.
Thanks so much for this comment! So glad you liked it.
What's not to like? Also, welcome to Reedsy :D
This is the first short story I've actually shared with people. I hope it's enjoyed!