Sung J. Woo
Good friends support each other in times of need. But as you're comforting your friends, ask yourself: how well do you really know them?
"Does it really matter?" Denise says. "It's only Jim. He's always like this after he gets the heave-ho."
"I've known him since fourth grade," I say, looking at the yellow mums, "in Mrs. McKimson's class." The flowers smell wonderful; they smell like summer.
Denise points to the back of the store with her right foot. "We haven't even checked the cactus section."
"Oh Cliff, you know, it's like he likes it."
"What's that supposed to mean?" I ask, louder than I wanted to. Some people look in our direction.
"Maybe we should discuss this at the studios of WLJK, you know, where only half the town will hear it."
I just look at her, then look back at the mums.
She puts her hand on my arm. We walk away from the mums. "Look, I know Jim's your friend and all, but he's a sad case. No, don't look at me that way. You know that it's true."
We're now in the fern aisle, nothing but green, flowing leaves. "I've known Jim for a long time," I say, touching a fern leaf.
"Yes, since fourth grade, in Mrs. McKimson's class."
"He's been there for me, over and over again."
She shrugs and walks over to the roses. There are some things Denise will never be, and I have come to accept that. Growing up, I call it--realizing that everyone has limitations, yourself included. I have faults, she has faults, we all have faults, and it's dealing with those faults that counts.
When I turn the corner, I have it. Lilies, white ones. I call Denise over, and she comes along with a long-stemmed rose. "Is this like totally sexy or what?" she says, and bites the middle of the stem like some exotic dancer.
"It's, like, totally you," I say, and kiss her. I had never kissed anyone biting a rose before.
"So--lilies, huh? Do you know what color?"
"I like the white ones."
At the register I pay for a pot of lilies and a long-stemmed rose, complete with tooth and lipstick marks.
What Denise said about Jim was not totally true. He doesn't like to be dumped--nobody does, although I do get the feeling he does like some caring from friends in the aftermath. Is that so wrong? And he isn't a sad case, either, it's just rotten luck. As he often tells me, "Cliff, there are two things I'll never have any luck with--cars and women." To my knowledge, he's had more accidents and flats than anyone else, and almost always there's a woman in the car when it happens. Two birds with one stone.
The potted lilies sit in the passenger side, the bulbs bobbing in rhythm with the car. Lilies are very pretty flowers, and a bit sad, too, in the way they seem to have a permanent slouch. Perfect for this occasion.
Times like these I wonder about Jim. He's not a bad-looking guy at all--better looking than me, in fact, with fine red hair and a bunch of freckles. Denise once told me how youthful Jim looked with those freckles. "He's always going to be a high school senior, you know. Age and cuteness do not go together well in men." Denise, the Goddess of Men.
That may be true in the long run, but Jim's my age, just turned 25 a month ago. That's when things were still good, when Jim and Sandy were still together. Things couldn't have been better at the party. Sandy seemed very happy, and I saw them smooching at every chance they got, like a couple of junior high school kids.
But something had gone wrong, and now it's all over. Holding the flower pot in one hand, I ring Jim's doorbell. Nothing. I ring it again, and this time I hear footsteps.
"Cliff," he says. "I was dozing." He looks like hell, like he hasn't shaved for a couple of days, complete with a phenomenal bedhead. He waves me in.
"Just wanted to see how you were doing," I say, closing the door behind me.
"What's the deal with the potted plant?" he asks.
I shove it in his chest. "For you, my friend."
"You got it. Denise helped me pick it out, sort of."
He puts it down on the coffee table, plops down on the couch, and stares at it. "Is this supposed to cheer me up?"
"Not really," I say. "I just thought them appropriate."
"Appropriate. They're droopy and sad-looking."
"Like I said."
"Thank you," he says, and manages to smile.
"I haven't been around much," I say. "I thought I was leaving you and Sandy alone, for you two to spend some quality time together."
"Another one gone, into the scrapbooks."
"You could've called me, you know. You have a bad way of just letting things fall apart around you once something happens. You have friends."
"I didn't want to bother you, I guess. Hey, pass me the ashtray."
He takes out a pack of Marlboro Mediums and lights up a cigarette. "They went down in price, you know that? They're starting a big price war with the other brands." He offers one for me, and I take it. It had been a couple of months since I last had my smoke, since Jim's last breakup, with the fiery blonde Joleen. Have to remember to brush my teeth before I see Denise.
"So you want to talk about it?" I say.
He shrugs. "Not much to say, really. It's the same old shit. Jim meets nice girl, they date for a while, Jim gets dumped for the usual reasons."
"What, old boyfriend?"
He shakes his head. "No, nothing so simple, I'm afraid," he says, feeling the texture of one of the lilies. "She told me that she just didn't feel right with me."
"That's not much of an excuse."
"She's not the type of person who would lie, though. That isn't Ms. Bernstein at all." Jim never refers to one of his ex-girlfriends by their first name.
"I talked to her, you know, at your birthday party. She said you were very nice."
"Well, Cliff, you know what they say about nice guys."
"Yeah, but you guys were messing around the whole time!"
"That was a month ago. Things went sour. I just didn't notice, I guess."
I shake my head in confusion. " 'I don't feel right with you' is not an excuse, Jim. Didn't you even bother to ask her to be more specific?"
He gets up and goes to the kitchen. "Want a beer? I just bought some Sam Adams. And I have some leftover Domino's."
"Sure," I say, exasperated. He sometimes seems so laid back that it frightens me.
"The first time you hear it," Jim says from the kitchen, "you ask. You ask why, you ask why not, the works. Then the second time you hear it, you ask again, wondering if the reasons match the first one. Then the third time you also ask because coincidences do happen." He comes back with two bottles of Sam Adams and a greasy box of pepperoni pizza. "After that, you don't ask, because you are sick of hearing the same shit over and over again."
"You never told me this."
"Sorry," he says, "it just wasn't worth talking about, I guess. I've never had a relationship for longer than three months, Cliff."
"What about Susanne Perkins?" I say, picking at a pepperoni.
"I don't exactly count passing notes in gym in seventh grade to be a fulfilling relationship."
We eat for a bit, and suck on our bottles of beer. Maybe Jim's just too nice of a guy, I think. Some women, and men, too, will just walk all over you if you give them the chance. It's like they see a crack in the dam, and they'll chip away at it until the whole thing breaks.
"Are you happy with Denise?" Jim asks me, catching me off guard.
I pause and meet his eyes for a moment. Jim returns my gaze, raising his eyebrows.
"I guess I really don't think about it all that much," I say, looking at the lilies. One of the buds has a small droplet at its end, catching the sun that shines through the bay window. "We live together, have lived without killing each other for a couple of years."
"Maybe I should do the same, this thinking business."
"Jim, this is kind of weird," I say, smiling. "I always thought you were really a laid-back kind of guy, you know, not really thinking about a lot of things so much."
"Well, let me tell you something else, Cliff." I'm still surprised that Jim and I have been friends for so long, and how little we really talk about real things, about each other.
What he says next he says slowly, matter-of-factly, undramatically. "I've never been happy with a girl."
"Maybe he's gay," Denise says, chopping the onions.
"What?" I say, sitting on top of the kitchen table. How the hell does she come up with these things?
She wipes her eyes. "God, these onions are nasty."
"Care to repeat what you said, Denise?"
"Don't get so defensive. God, you homophobic men, I tell you. I just said that it's a possibility that he's gay from what you've told me. I always did think of him as a bit flowery."
She puts the onions in the ground beef and starts kneading them all together. She looks at me and says, "Goodness, isn't this just getting under your skin? Is this because you knew this to be true but you just couldn't face it yourself?"
I laugh. "My, haven't we been remembering our Psych 101 lately? Do you have any Sigmund Freud quotes for me now?"
"Ve must relax," Denise says with an accent that couldn't sound less German, "oont learn to use our sense of judgement."
"You don't know Jim."
"Do you?" she asks.
"I certainly know him better than you."
"You're not answering my question." Sometimes it sucks to be with a girl who's studying to be a lawyer. I shake my head and look at the salt and pepper shakers, a little farm-boy in overalls and his girl in pigtails. The good old days.
She comes over and lays a kiss on my forehead. "Can we stop fighting about Jim, Cliff? I was just saying what I felt, okay? I'm sorry if it hurts you." She goes back to the kneading. "I may not know Jim, that's true," she continues, "but whenever I see you guys or hear you guys talking on the phone, you guys talk about nothing but sports or camping. And I know you, you're not the type to gab."
"Yes, if you want to put it that way, like girls. You may think we talk about stupid stuff, but we at least know our friends."
"God, why is it that whenever we talk about any kinds of relationships that you blow it out of proportion and have to include the entire female race?"
She smiles at me. "Well, Clifford Johnston, if I can defend the entire female race, I must be able to defend a person in a court of law, huh?"
Was that meant to be funny, a joke? Her becoming a lawyer--sometimes I think that's all that matters to her.
At dinner, Denise tries to make conversation, but I put a dead stop to it every time. Eventually, she stops trying, and we finish eating in silence.
I watch the Mets on SportsChannel while Denise reads John Grisham novels. She's read all of them in the last two days. Even if it's fluffy garbage, I'm amazed at her speed. I'm waiting for the movies. She tells me she's going to bed, and I nod curtly.
When the Mets finish losing, I turn off the television and go to our bedroom. After brushing my teeth and changing, I slip between the covers, next to Denise.
"I'm sorry," she says, turning to face me, her voice sounding hollow in the darkness. She puts her hand on my chest. I put my hand on top of hers.
"It's okay," I say, not knowing ifI mean it or not.
"I'll tell you what," she says, "I'll set up Jim with Laurie."
"Laurie," I repeat, the name unfamiliar.
"She's in my Industrial Labor and Relations class. She's awfully cute, and single. I remember her telling me at lunch the other day that she has never really been happy with a man, in not so many words."
"Is she a lesbian?" I say, half-jokingly.
"Very funny. Maybe they can both be unhappy with each other."
"Or maybe they can both be happy," I say. "Thank you. I'll ask Jim if it's okay."
"I love you," she says.
"I guess I love you, too," I want to say, but I don't.
"So her name is Laurie Craven," I say into the telephone. There's silence in the line. "Hello? You still there, Jim?"
"Yeah," he says. "Thanks again for the potted lilies, Cliff. They're really starting to grow on me. I never had my own plant before."
"You're welcome. Anyway, I had Denise talk to Laurie, and she said she was free this coming Saturday. How about it?"
"I guess so." His voice sounds tired. "I'm still getting over Sandy, though, Laurie does know that, right?"
"It's just a date, it's not like you're getting married."
"I just want to make sure."
"Yes, she knows, she's getting over a guy, too, I think, so you two may have plenty to talk about."
"Her number is 364-7247. You can take it from here?"
"Of course. Okay, Cliff, gotta go. Thanks again."
As I put the phone down, Denise walks in the room. She's looking very pretty in black stockings, a modest navy blue skirt, a loose burgundy blouse, and a matching navy blue blazer, complete with shoulder pads, of course. With her auburn hair flowing in thick, luscious curls, she couldn't look any finer, and I tell her so.
"I know," she says nonchalantly. She throws down the briefcase and lies down on the couch, resting her head on my lap.
"Tough day at class?" I ask.
"Had an oral exam today."
I split her lips with my fingers. "Your mouth looks fine to me."
She smiles. "I talked to Laurie today. Told her that Jim was going to call her. He is, isn't he?"
"Yeah," I tell her, a bit annoyed that she didn't bother to wait for Jim's go-ahead, but that's Denise. "I talked to him today. Said it was fine."
"Good. Let's hope they'll have some fun."
"Let's hope that we'll have some fun," I say, cradling her in my hands and getting up from the couch. She's too thin for her own good, I think. It's what you get for being an overachiever. I walk to the bedroom, holding her in my arms, her wriggling and laughter driving me on.
And Saturday passes by, and so does Sunday, and not a call from Jim. When I call him, I get his machine. He's got one of those messages that just say the phone number, leave your name and your phone number and the date, please wait for the tone. I wonder where he is, if things went okay, if they went fantastic, if the two of them eloped together and are splashing in the clear, blue waters of Cancun.
I call him again on Monday, but again, I get the machine. Denise gets back from the University half past six. By that time, the barbecued chicken is ready. I tell her that I was thinking of visiting Jim after dinner.
"I talked with Laurie today," she says, ripping into a drumstick.
"I thought you only had class with her on Thursdays."
"Yeah, but I saw her on campus today. I wanted to know what happened between her and Jim."
"She seemed sort of miffed at me. I asked her about Jim, and she said that they weren't right for each other. A chemistry thing, she told me. Bad vibes. I didn't ask further. Didn't look like she wanted me to."
"I'm definitely going to go see Jim tonight," I say.
I drive up to Jim's condo after dinner, leaving Denise with the dishes and Scott Turow's The Burden of Proof. Now that she's finished with Grisham, she's on to her next victim.
I ring his doorbell, and again, but there's nobody home, although the living room lights are on. In fact, the lights are a lot brighter than they used to be. Looks like he got another lamp or something. Curious, I go into his balcony and peer inside, through the blinds.
And I see potted plants everywhere. Lilies. Daffodils. Violets. Mums. Everywhere a pot can sit, it sits. The living room has been transformed into a flower shop.
I walk around to get to his bedroom window, which has its blinds shut, but I can see three fern branches sticking between the blades. There must be a plant, and probably more than one plant, sitting on the ledge of the window.
Going around the rest of the condo, I see a pile of lumber, a few two by fours near the side of his garage, bags of concrete, and some other various building material. Jim's car isn't here, so he must be out.
When I get back home, all I tell Denise is that Jim wasn't there. It's not really any of her business, and she would only shake her head and say, "That Jim, I told you he was flowery."
I give him a ring the next evening, but all I get is the machine.
Standing in line, I look at the girl in front of me. From the back, she's cute, short blond hair, wonderfully cut calves, and just the cutest little butt you've ever seen. She's wearing a white button-down shirt and a pair of denim shorts. I look at what she's buying. She has in her hand Grisham's latest book, The Client. Denise read that a week ago. I'm here to get Stephen King's newest book on cassette. It passes the time in long car trips.
"Are you a part of Waldenbooks' Book Club?" the skinny, pimple-faced kid behind the register asks her.
"I think so," she says, her voice soft and shy, "but I don't have a card or anything." She digs through her purse for a second, then shakes a slow no.
"I just need your name," he says, his eyes on her cleavage. Who wouldn't?
"Craven," she says and spells it out, "and first name Laurie. That's spelled with an A and a U, if it helps."
I hear the guy behind me repeat the name softly, as if to memorize it. Smart man.
Sure enough, the cashier finds her in the database. She pays for her book and is about to leave, but I stop her.
"Excuse me?" I say. She turns to face me. Like a doll, I think. She's not someone you would call beautiful, but she would be someone you'd call cute. Big, huge green eyes, button nose, small yet full mouth, and this good-looking with virtually no makeup.
"Do I know you?" she asks.
"Not directly, no," I say, getting out of the line. "You can go in front of me," I tell the guy behind me.
"Wanna switch?" he jokes. I smile and lead Laurie away from the crowd.
"I think you know Denise Beckwith?"
"Yeah," she says, a little careful.
"She's my significant other," I say.
"You're... Cliff?" I nod. She puts out her hand. "Nice to meet you."
"Would you like to get some lunch with me? I'll buy."
She looks a bit hesitant, but says, "Okay. I have to be at aerobics class in about an hour, so I can't eat too much."
At Friendly's, I order the tuna melt with fries, and she the same. It had been a long time since I'd met anyone new, especially a woman. Being in a relationship sometimes does that to you. Laurie Elizabeth Craven was born in Rome, not the one in Italy but the one in Upstate New York. "Quite different," she said, and although she told me that she had never been to the capital of Italy, she assured me that she had seen pictures. I liked her sense of humor, the way she seemed so free with herself.
When I look at my watch, it's a quarter before three. "Didn't you say you had to go to aerobics class in an hour? That was at one o'clock." I call the waitress. "I don't want you to miss your class."
She looks at her watch, too, and slowly nods at me with a contemplative smile. "It's okay," she says.
The waitress comes over and asks, "Everything okay?"
"Yes, everything was fine, thank you" I say.
"No, everything wasn't fine," Laurie says, and the waitress looks at her with some apprehension. "But everything will be after dessert. I'd like to have the Heath Bar Crunch Sundae. How about you, Cliff?"
"Make that two," I say, smiling.
"There was a reason behind this lunch," I say, digging into the remains of my sundae with the long-necked spoon.
"You mean it wasn't just to get to know lil' ol' me?" she says with a Southern belle twang.
"You went out on a date with a guy named Jim last Saturday."
She scrunches her eyebrows and says, "I sure did, and boy, was that an experience. The guy was just..." She stops. "He's a friend of yours, I bet. And a good friend."
"In fact, I bet you're the reason why Denise fixed me up with him."
I nod again.
"And you want to know what happened."
My neck was getting tired.
"Okay. It's like this. He sounded a little odd on the phone, but we were both a little nervous. He asked me for dinner on Saturday and a concert afterwards, a Chopin recital that was given by a twelve year-old at the JCC. Sounded great--I think he knew him, too."
"Probably Jason, his cousin. The kid is a prodigy, a genius."
"So he picks me up in his Maxima, nice car ride, small talk. We go to the Hasbrouk Inn. I love that place. He was cute in there, under that soft, yellow light, I'll give you that, but he seemed sort of distant. I didn't know whether that was just the way he was or something had happened." She sips her glass of water and continues. "Then, the concert. Wonderful. You're right, the kid is a genius. I loved it, but again, Jim seemed sort of distant, like he didn't care. I mean he clapped and he even whispered in my ear a few times during the performance about this part and that, but there was something unreal about it, like he was just going through the motions." Then she stops and scrapes inside her ice cream cup for some sweet stuff she may have missed.
"So that's why you weren't right for each other. I don't understand women. It's okay to say exactly what the problem is, you know, just comie right out and saying it."
She looks at me and says, "I'm not finished."
Suddenly, I'm not sure if I want to hear it. I think back to his living room, all those potted plants.
"I would have given him a few more chances, had the night ended like that. You don't meet good people that often in this world, and up to that point, I thought Jim was a good person." She pauses. "Then it happened."
"What?" I say, although I think I know what she's about to say.
"We went into a flower shop," she says.
"It seemed like a weird thing to do. It was a little before ten, and the shop was about to close. When I asked him why we're going in there, he told me that he wanted to get a pot of tulips. Taking your date to a flower shop and buying a pot of tulips? I thought maybe he wanted to get me some roses or something, which would have been fun and very nice, but tulips?"
I give her a small shrug. I would have felt weird, too.
"But that's not all. We go in there and look at some of the pots of flowers, but the next thing I hear is Jim arguing with the cashier. He says something like 'Let me see the manager,' so the girl goes and gets the woman in charge. At this point, I'm hiding behind the display of mums, trying to figure out how to strangle Denise for setting me up with this weirdo. 'You're not taking care of your tulips,' I hear him saying to her. 'And those daylilies need some more shade during the afternoons. They don't like too much sun.' Something like that, and eventually, the manager just agrees to everything, sells him the tulips for half price, and kicks us both out."
"Strange," I say.
"He wasn't always like this, I gather."
"No, not at all."
"Anyway, on the ride back, I didn't say much. I think he knew that I saw what happened at the flower shop, and he realized that I thought he was weird. We pulled into my driveway, and he said, 'You must think I'm strange.' 'Frankly, yes,' I said. 'I guess people just don't understand,' he said, and he was really sad about this, like I was missing out on something. 'I guess not,' I said, and didn't know what to do next, the silence was really awkward and weird, so I said good night, thanks for a nice evening, and got out of the car."
I pay for the check. "My treat," I say.
"Then it will be my treat next time," she says.
"You got it."
"Do you and Denise get along?" she asks me as we walk out of the mall and into the bright, cloudless afternoon. We both put on our sunglasses.
"Why do you ask?" I say.
"You guys don't seem to be the types who would live together. You guys do live together, right?"
I nod. "We're different," I say.
She stops at a red Volkswagon Cabriolet and gets in. Her roof is down. Perfect, I think, as if the car was custom built around her.
"Something that just occurred to me," she says.
"About your friend Jim. It wasn't that he was distant. No, distant was definitely the wrong word to use."
"What would be the right word, then?"
"Love," she says. "He looked as if he was in love, and not with me."
We look at each other for a moment. I can do this for hours, I think, maybe years.
"I'm in the book," she says.
"Craven, Laurie Elizabeth, Laurie with an A and a U," I say.
From the mall, I go directly to Jim's house. It's a Saturday, he's off from work, there's a good chance that he's home.
His car is in the driveway, but when I ring the doorbell, nobody answers. Then I hear some noise in the back. I go around to look, and sure enough, it's Jim.
"Hey Cliff!" he says. "Is this beautiful or what?" It's a slab of concrete, held in place by four wooden dams on each side. "I called you today but no one was in. I'm sorry I haven't returned your calls last week," he says.
"It's okay. You've been busy, I see." I see some aluminum frames lying against the wall.
"To say the least." He goes back to what he was doing, pouring a bag of sand into a big container.
"You're building a greenhouse," I say.
"You always were smart," he says, laughing.
"What are you doing now?"
"Well, I'm done laying down a foundation. The concrete slab is essentially finished, just have to damp-proof it with polyethylene and then lay down the screed."
"One part cement, three parts sharp sand. It's like fine-tuning your foundation, to make it nice and smooth. You want a beer? Got a case of Killians yesterday. Need it for this kind of hard work, you know."
"Jim, what the hell is going on?"
He pours some water and mixes the sand. "What do you mean?"
"Don't give me that shit. What's the deal with all the friggin' flowers in the living room, and this," I say, pointing and gesturing with my hands. "You with this sudden flower fetish, all this shit?"
"Cliff," he says calmly.
"Are you still my friend?"
"I don't know. Yes. I guess so."
"Then do me a favor. Leave me alone for about two weeks. By that time this greenhouse will be done."
"So what's next for you, Jim? Your own TV show?"
"Go into my fridge, have a beer."
"I can't find your fridge in the jungle."
"If you care about me," Jim says evenly, "you are going to leave me alone."
I stick my hands in my pockets and shake my head.
"I'll call you," he says.
Two weeks pass by, and nothing.
Three weeks. I think about calling him and asking him if he wants to go out, but I'm afraid he may say, "Sorry, Cliff, but I'm watering my plants tonight. You know, I've planned it for weeks now." So I don't.
Four weeks. Then he calls me.
"Cliff." He sounds tired.
"I'm a bit late, I know. Delays. Took longer than I thought."
"Can you come over?"
"It's a lean-to greenhouse," Jim says, passing me a bottle of Sam Adams.
"It's beautiful," I say, and it is. Standing against the south wall, the greenhouse glistens in the sunlight, every windowpane perfectly fitted, not a single sign that says an amateur built it.
And inside the greenhouse are flowers of every kind and color--I've never seen so much variety.
"That one," Jim points, at a pink ball of tiny flowers, like a big, fluffy dandelion, "is a flowering onion. Also called allium." Then he points at a bunch of violet colored flowers.
"Irises," I say, and he nods.
"Bearded irises. And next to those are tigridias, speckled in the middle?" Red, shaped like a fan blade. Next to those are tulips. Taking your date to a flower shop and buying a pot of tulips?
"Let's go inside," he says. I wrinkle my nose at the smell of the interior, which is good in some respects but also a bit mildewy. "It's like a girl," Jim says with a wry smile, "perfect and beautiful from the outside, not so blemish-free on the inside."
"There are those who are quite beautiful in both. Snapdragons!" I say, looking at the pink flowers. "Do you remember..."
"My mother's garden, and we used to take off the bulbs and make them into little monster jaws."
"Chasing Susanne and Kimmy with those jaws. That was a long time ago," I say, again reminded of the fact that I've known Jim all my life.
"But I remember. I also remember my mother's passion for those flowers of hers."
"Is that where you get it from?"
"Maybe. Doesn't really matter."
"Where is that music coming from?" I ask, suddenly aware of Mozart playing softly in the background.
"Wired up a little system."
"For the flowers."
"I plan to work here a lot, and a little music doesn't hurt," he says. I want to tell him you're not answering my question, but that's what Denise would say, so I don't.
"I met Laurie Craven," I say to him.
"That's the girl I went out on the date with, right? Denise's friend?" I nod. "You like her?"
"Yeah," I say.
"More than Denise," he says, more of a statement than a question.
"Denise and I have been together for three years."
It was a perfect opening for The Denise Line, but Jim doesn't say it. Instead he just smiles. "She reminded me a lot of you."
"Yeah. Both of you are on the same level of reality, on the same wavelength, if you know what I mean."
I nod slowly, sort of understanding what he's saying. "I asked her about your date," I say.
"Didn't go so hot," Jim says, "God, it seems like so long ago." We are silent for a second, Mozart's melody hanging in the air. I think about asking him what's going on with his life, why he's become Mr. Green Thumb USA after Sandy dumped him, why he suddenly cares more about flowers than anything else, but I don't even know where to start, so I blurt out something that I had been thinking about.
"Jim, you're not gay, are you?"
He looks at me, then laughs. "I don't think so, and I should know, I think."
"I'm serious," I say.
"Until I start wearing flower-patterned dresses, I think I'm safe."
I feel stupid for asking him, but I also feel a lot better.
"I'm going to water those dicentras over there," he says with a grin. "The pump doesn't do a very good job towards the end of the greenhouse, I'm afraid." He gets a small plant waterer from the corner and tends to his flowers. Bleeding hearts, that's what dicentras are, small red, heart-shaped flowers that hang off a long branch, like a bunch of lockets in a line, ripe for picking.
I watch him pour water into the soil, carefully, like a surgeon. He pats the ground, then adds a little more water. I watch his face, his movements.
He looked as if he was in love, and not with me, Laurie said. Love. How can he love flowers more than girls like Sandy or Laurie? I don't understand, and wonder if I ever will be able to. But who knows, maybe he'll meet a nice woman gardener, they can talk about bees and how they carry pollen, and the next thing you know they're in the sack together and they can grow beautiful flowers together in their own garden of Eden.
"You want to help? These bachelor's buttons," he says, pointing at the blue flowers, "can use some water, too."
"Love to," I say, picking up a pitcher next to the door.
Sung J. Woo (email@example.com) is a longtime InterText contributor and was the editor of the online Zine Whirlwind.
InterText stories written by Sung J. Woo: "Bleeding Hearts" (v4n1), "Nothing, Not a Thing" (v5n2), "Business" (v6n2).
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 4, Number 1 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1994 Sung J. Woo.