Thursday, January 12, 2017

Gregory's Garden

Seeing Gregory was the highlight of Lisette's day. She always saw him in profile as he sat on his grandmother's porch swing—his messy dark bangs hanging over a large pair of glasses that kept slipping down his long nose that was always buried in a book.

But that's as far as it went. Seeing. And she couldn't look too long or he might notice the strange, freckle-faced girl next door staring at him and then she'd never be able to go outside the house ever again. It would be awkward to become a permanent hermit. She'd have to get her mom to go to the library for her, and the chances of traveling to Italy from inside her Minneapolis home were slim to none.

photo by Joe Kirschling
Over the last couple of years, Lisette had tried everything to get Gregory's attention. She'd "accidentally" thrown a piece of paper over his side of the fence and been forced to retrieve it, she'd managed to be outside nearly every time he came home on the bus, and she'd even gone so far as to wave hello on more than one occasion. Last spring she had taken up gardening just so that she'd have an excuse to spend hours in the front yard. She'd done everything but actually speak to him; that was something reserved for daydreams.

She'd rehearsed in her mind (a couple of million times) exactly how she would approach him one day, how she'd casually get his attention and then move the conversation on to the fascinating book that he was reading, casually drop in the fact that she was an avid reader as well, and then they'd be best friends. And maybe kiss. One never knows.

But every time she thought she'd at last gotten up the gumption to raise her head above the picket fence and shout a friendly, "Good morning," her stomach flopped wrong-side out, all the marrow was sucked out of her bones, and she inevitably collapsed into the boxwood hedge. Then she'd realize that the hedge wasn't cut quite evenly and spend the next hour shearing off a little here and there in a desperate attempt to make it symmetrical.

Maybe it was because she was a homeschooler. Maybe it was because her parents were terrible at making friends. Maybe it was because she was monstrously conscious of everything wrong with her every time she caught a glimpse of Gregory's perfect profile. Perhaps the real reason was that she was scared to death of messing up. The perfectionism that made her study three days too long for every math test also kept her garden tidy, but small and unambitious. It was also why she'd yet to see the left side of Gregory's face for more than a few seconds at a time.

But on The Fatal Afternoon, Lisette was forced to meet her archenemy head-on.

She had just finished her geometry lesson when she got a compulsion to trim the rosebush in the front yard. The fact that the school bus stopped by her street at that exact hour was entirely coincidental. She grabbed her shears and headed out the door, humming softly to herself, but stopped with a jolt at the top of the porch steps. There, directly in front of her, facing her direction, with two eyes and a full pair of glasses and all four limbs in plain view, was Gregory. And he was in her yard.

"E-e-excuse me? Can I help you?" In all her imaginings, Lisette had never once had such a terrible opening line. But this wasn't a daydream—she was actually standing in front of Gregory and there was no way she could make him disappear or start the scene over again. Short of turning around and running back into the house, she had no choice but to stick it out.

He gave a dazzling smile. "Yeah, actually I think you could." He walked up the garden path, all the way to the bottom of the porch steps, and held out his hand. "I'm Gregory."

"Yes, you are." Goodness, could she have chosen any worse words? "I mean, I'm Lisette. Nice to meet you." There. It had been painful, but she'd finally gotten her name out.

"Hi, Lisette. I couldn't help but notice that you're a great gardener, and you obviously know what you're doing trimming hedges. My grandma wants me to trim her hedges, but I haven't got a clue about how to start." He looked sheepish as he held out a pair of scissors. "I'm not even sure what to cut it with!"
Photo by smilla4

All of her careful plotting and planning had at last borne fruit—here was Gregory, in her yard, asking about hedges. But Lisette felt nothing more than a panicky instinct to run. Still, somehow, she managed to stand her ground. The chance to see Gregory's left eye for a few more seconds was too good to pass up.

"OK...well...if you want, I could teach you how I do it. But first, you need a proper pair of shears!" She made a jabbing motion with her shears and narrowly missed impaling his perfect nose. He jerked backward and she cried, "Oh gosh, I'm so sorry!"

He laughed and took the shears from her hand. "Don't worry about it. Can we start now? Grandma told me to start a week ago, but I've kind of been nervous about asking you. So now, the hedge situation is pretty desperate."

"No problem. I've got nothing better to do." Still mentally kicking herself for every awkward word that had passed her lips in the last two minutes, Lisette couldn't squelch a tiny leap of excitement as they walked down the path and through the gate that led to the hallowed Neighbor's Garden.

It was going to be a special afternoon.

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