“I'd say there's trouble in paradise,” Stanley grumbled as he entered the kitchen.
Rhonda gathered her sun hat and garden gloves from the counter top. “What makes you think that?”
“'Cause our baby boy is coming to visit.”
“He is? What for?”
“He says it's just to see if he can help with anything.”
“Right.” Rhonda looked over the rim of her bifocals. “On a Saturday afternoon, the boy has nothing better to do, except come and visit his mom and dad. Didn't I always tell you what a sweet son we have?”
Stanley wiggled his lips from side to side. “Hmmm. Don't remember those exact words, but okay. He's a sweet kid.”
“Are Clair and the boys coming too?”
“No?” She frowned.
“Nope. Just Jonathan, all by himself.” Stanley raised his eyebrows. “Poor little fella. Sounded sad and lonely to me.”
“Oh, boy. Do you think Clair has taken the kids and left him again?”
“God knows—and He ain't tellin'. Neither is Jonathan. I asked. He says there's nothing wrong.”
“I think you hit the nail on the head. Definitely trouble in paradise,” Rhonda said.
Stanley looked at his wife. “Of course, I'm right. I'm always right. You ought to know that by now.”
Rhonda waved her hand in the air as if swatting at a fly. “How could I forget?”
Stanley gave her a kiss on the cheek. “I'm going to play golf. See you later.”
“Oh sure, the rat deserting the sinking ship. Go on, run off and leave me to deal with the boy.”
“Honey, you're so good at this sort of thing. You don't need my help.”
Rhonda looked out of the kitchen window. “I have so much gardening I wanted to get to and now I'll have to spend my afternoon playing marriage counselor.”
“Not according to Jonathan. He has no problems. Nothing's the matter. He just wants to come over and help out, is all.”
“Well, that's a lie if I ever heard one!”
“That's exactly why I'm going golfing. I've told that boy everything a man needs to tell his son about 'happy wife, happy life'. If he hasn't figured it out by now, it's beyond my pay grade to do anything about it.”
Rhonda put on her sun hat. “Can't put an old head on young shoulders.”
Stanley squinted his eyes. “He told me, I don't understand; things are different nowadays.”
“And you said...?"
“I said, 'I've stayed married to your mother for 43 years and I think I've got the hang of it by now'.”
Rhonda raised her eyebrows. “We'll see about that. It depends on the next 43 years.”
Stanley raised his chin and then ran his hand across his jaw. “Well, you better get that boy straightened out.”
“Me? Why is it my job?”
“Do you want him moving back home? Do you want us paying for his divorce? Do you want to lose track of our grandkids?”
She frowned. “Hmm, I hear the wisdom in your words.”
“You bet! Clair is a good wife and a good mother and she puts up with Jonathan. He's not likely to find another one so good.” Stanley gave his wife a hug and a quick kiss. “Work your magic on him and try to save that boy from himself.”
* * *
Jonathan wiped his boots on the mat at the back door. “Hi, Mom.” He gave his mother a peck on the cheek. “Dad said you were doing yard work, just thought I'd come over and help for a while.”
“So nice of you. Where are Clair and the boys?”
Jonathan avoided his mother and headed toward the refrigerator. “They're at her sister's for the day.”
“What's going on there?”
“Birthday party, cookout, kids running wild.”
“You weren't invited, after seven years being married into that family?”
“Of course, I was invited, but I begged out so I could come here instead.”
“Why would you avoid going out with your wife and kids to come here and do yard work?”
He turned around and pushed the fridge door closed. “Look, Mom, just leave it alone will ya? I'm here; she's there. No big deal.”
“Could be the start of a big deal if you two are spending time away from each other.”
“We spend plenty of time together.”
“When was the last time you took Clair on a date?”
“A date? Are you kiddin'? We don't have time for a date. We don't have the money, either. Besides, she's all wrapped up in the kids.”
“So you haven't had much time alone with your wife in a while.”
“We're busy with work.”
“How's Clair's new job?”
A puzzled look came across his face. “New job?”
“Yes, didn't she change jobs recently?”
He frowned. “I don't think so. I think she just got some kind of job change where she works.”
“I'm not really sure. Yeah, maybe it was a promotion.”
“Is she still going to Yoga class on Tuesdays?”
“Yoga? How would I know? I guess so.”
“Have she and the kids been gone on Tuesdays when you get home from work?”
“I don't know. Tuesday's my late night.”
“You work late every Tuesday?”
“Nah. I meet up with the guys; we shoot some pool, throw back a few beers.”
Rhonda raised her eyebrows. “Out drinking with your buddies?”
“It's not like that. I can always drive myself home and always get there before midnight.”
“Sooooo.” Rhonda splayed her fingers out in front of her and touched them one by one. “You didn't go with your wife today to visit her relatives, you haven't taken Clair a date recently, you don't know anything about her new job, and you have no interest in what she likes to do on Tuesdays. You're not spending time with her and the kids, but you find the time and the money—every Tuesday—to go out and have a drink with your friends.”
Jonathan's face reddened. He clenched his jaw. “I didn't come here to talk it over, Mom. Just let it go.”
Rhonda raised her hands, palms out as if retreating from an armed robber. “Okay, okay. Not another word from me.”
“Good. What can I do for you in the garden?”
She pointed out the window. “See all those bags of mulch? It would be a big help if you'd spread it around the trees and that small patch of garden in the corner.”
He rubbed his hand over the top of his head and down the back of his neck. “Jeez, that could take a couple of hours. It's pretty hot out there.”
“Well, if you'd rather go to the cook out with Clair and the boys, I'd understand.”
He glared at her. “Cut it out.” He pulled the baseball cap that dangled from his back pocket and jammed it onto his head.
Rhonda raised her eyebrows. “Okay, okay.” She smiled. “I'll fix us some lunch. How about mac and cheese? I know you always liked that.”
“Great, and a cold beer would be nice too.” He walked out into the yard and headed toward the sacks of mulch.
When lunch was prepared, Rhonda called and waved for him to come into the house.
Jonathan washed up at the kitchen sink, his sweat-soaked Tee shirt clung to his body. A ring of moisture circled the edge of his ball cap. He slid his cap over the chair post as he sat down.
Rhonda glanced out of the window. “It's looking good out there. What a life saver you are. Your dad about breaks his back hauling those bags around and dumping that mulch.”
Jonathan nodded. “Sure is a lot of work.”
Rhonda smiled. “You want something nice, it takes a lot of work.” She set the food on the table and brought over two frosted mugs filled to the brim with soda and ice.
“What happened to the beer?” Jonathan asked.
“Not good for you to drink beer in that heat. It'll make you sick.”
“Mom, where do you get these crazy old wives tales?”
“Nothing crazy about it. I've seen many a man go down the wrong road, a big smile on his face, and a beer in each hand. Believe me, it was enough to make him sick. Can't tell me that's a lie.”
Jonathan screwed up his lips as he chewed on the inside of his cheek.
“You can make all the funny faces you want, but I've learned a thing or two about life.”
Jonathan could feel a sermon coming on. He looked down and studied his bowl of macaroni and cheese.
His mother sighed. “You know, I really love that garden. I give to it and it gives back to me.”
Jonathan looked at her suspiciously.
“I'm just saying, if you want something nice, you have to take care of it. A beautiful garden takes time and planning. You can't just do a whole lot once in a while and expect it to grow. You have to tend to it a little bit every day.”
He took a long drink and set the glass back on the table. “Okay, Mom, I get it.”
“I'm just saying, I go out there every morning and pull some weeds here and there. I pinch back a few buds and pull off the brown leaves. Once in a while, I have to give it a good bug spray treatment.” She shook her head. “Don't want anything nibbling it's way into my garden. Not after all the work I put into it. I don't want to lose it. Don't know that I could ever replace it.”
Jonathan looked at the clock. “When's Dad coming home?”
“He didn't say, but I'm sure he'll run the sprinkler later, now that you've done such a good job with the mulch.”
Jonathan nodded. “You two sure put a lot of work into that patch of dirt.”
“That's more than a patch of dirt. It's our patch of dirt and we take good care of it.”
“Okay, okay. I'm just not sure it's worth all the time, money, and effort you put into it.”
Rhonda smiled. “Of course it is, and tonight I'll take a watering can to those hard to get places.”
“Sure takes a lot of your time and attention. Don't you ever get tired of all that work?”
Rhonda shrugged. “I know it needs sunshine and water, and there's nothing I can do about the sunshine.”
“What's the big deal? Suppose you didn't bother with it for a while. What's the worst thing that could happen?”
“It'd die out, that's for sure,” Rhonda said.
“You don't know that.” He pushed his chair back from the table. “The sun could shine every day. It could rain every week. Maybe that garden doesn't need you at all.”
“Maybe, but that would just give me a lawn, not a beautiful garden.”
“So you think you have to constantly give it T-L-C?”
Rhonda looked her son in the eyes and spoke softly. She reached over and put her hand on top of his. “What I think, and what I know, is that nothing thrives on neglect.”
# # #
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The Garden of Love
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or events, is entirely coincidental.
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~ ~ ~
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A License to Practice
A Marriage of Convenience
A Mother's Love
A Tooth for a Tooth
Fire Engine Red
Fit for Life
Home for the Holidays
I Remember Momma
Just Be Cos
Ladies in Waiting
Love is in the Air
Mother Knows Best
No Goin' Home
Split Second Timing
Thank You, Mr. Jackson!
The Garden of Love
The Lonely Life of Amanda Miller
The Penalty Box
Words of Wisdom