Hazel was a quiet soul. She wasn’t one for small talk. It was hard to get to know her at first, but, once we hit on something we had in common, it was hard to shut her up. I sometimes wished I had let her be in her quiet little world. My ears would have thanked me. Still, she was quite knowledgeable on gardening and helped create the herb garden. I planted the Peace rose in her honor, because that’s all I wanted after she left.
Robert tugged at a particularly stubborn weed, wondering how he had missed the nearly two foot tall thing until it had reached this height. He grunted and gave one last pull before the dirt finally spit it out and sent him falling heavily on his rump. He let out an exasperated breath, clutching the skinny weed in one gloved hand.
Silently, Nigel appeared at his side, offering a black trash bag without a word or a change in his mild expression.
With a disgusted sound, Robert threw the weed in and then pulled off his gloves. He glared at the patch of dirt next to the white roses that had hid it for too long. The white blossoms seemed to shiver under his stern look, but a part of him knew it was really because of the gentle breeze winding through the rose garden.
With a quiet rustle, Nigel put the trash bag down and turned to survey the garden with his master. Robert didn’t look at him, knowing his faithful friend and butler was eyeing the garden for more weeds and sticklers.
“That looks to be it,” Nigel said softly.
Robert nodded and released the tension in his shoulders. He stuck his gloves in a back pocket and moved to drop heavily on a stone bench nestled under a trellis heavy with blossoms. Red and white roses climbed up the sides while pink blooms graced the crown. Two different climbing rose plants for two different women. Robert remembered both, but chose to think of neither.
In his peripheral vision, he saw Nigel quickly tie the trash bag closed before he settled it on the path near Robert. On silent feet, the butler approached and came to stand silent and steady just beside the red roses.
“Something bothers you,” Nigel said softly. “You are usually quite rejuvenated after a weeding session.”
A faint smile briefly touched Robert’s lips before it vanished and his eyes focused on nothing.
“Have you grown weary of Miss Elaina already?”
“No,” Robert said softly.
He had no immediate plans of telling Nigel about his arrangement with Elaina. Nigel was his long-time butler, but was still employed by his mother. Nigel still reported to Rose periodically – one of her many attempts to control and corral him. He couldn’t take the chance that Nigel would slip and say something to Rose. Elaina was his best chance of escaping his mother. He couldn’t screw it up.
But Elaina herself was proving to be a problem. He had spent years in the company of women, but they had always been the ones to seek every opportunity to get to know him. Elaina was different. If he hadn’t promised something tantalizing, she wouldn’t have any reason to stay. He had a feeling she wouldn’t care too much to get to know him. She wouldn’t be another simpering girl throwing herself at him.
“Elaina is different. I like her, but I’m unaccustomed with trying to get to know someone.”
Nigel left out a breath as he bent down and set beside Robert. “I see.”
“Do you?” He turned to Nigel, his brow slightly furrowed. “I’m used to keeping girls at a distance. I’m used to being guarded and dismissive. I don’t want to drive Elaina way, but I don’t know how to get her to fall in love with me.”
Nigel nodded almost absently as his eyes scanned the garden. They called it the Garden of Girls, the flowering history of Robert’s isolation. Every rose symbolized a girl. Every rose recalled a brief amusement followed quickly by the desire to escape her thorns. Only here could Robert feel some control, some way of keeping the digging thorns from his metaphorical flesh.
“I was wondering when this day would come,” Nigel said, his eyes still on the flowers. “I knew that, one day, you would be interested in one of your companions. After all, you’re still a young man. When you singled out Miss Elaina, I felt hope for you.”
“Well, thanks,” Robert said, impatience floating just beneath his words. “But what do I do?”
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