Con Riley – Must Like Spinach
Jon’s future in New York seems bright. He’s on the corporate fast track as an executive problem solver, but somehow he can’t help feeling hollow. Yearning for a life spent outdoors makes no sense if he wants to flourish in this city, nor does losing his cool with clients when they make bad decisions. Only leaving the East Coast behind for three months can save his business reputation.
His exile in Seattle has unexpected upsides. Jon’s rented home has a garden where his true passions blossom. It’s overgrown yet idyllic perfect if he didn’t have to share it with another tenant. Tyler might be as cute as hell, and their landlady adores him, but Jon can’t let himself fall for someone who seems lazy.
Three months could be enough time to see Tyler clearly, but choosing which to nurture long-term or a business career can take Jon longer than one summer.
This excerpt comes from the start of the story. Jon’s rented an apartment from a senior citizen for his temporary stay in Seattle. He was drawn to it in the first place by a photo of its huge garden that featured a very good looking neighbor. Now he has misgivings.
He sits back and squints, surveying his new home address. Watery sunlight reflects from the windows across the driveway. The drapes are still drawn—it’s way too early to disturb Peggy by returning her keys. He almost drives away before he notices that the garage door stands slightly ajar.
Curiosity gets the better of him, yet another impulse he regrets when the hinges squeal. He steps quickly inside, and the space is as he recalls, only now morning sun strikes the tools neatly arranged on its far side. Each metal edge of hoe and fork and shovel gleams like silvered lures that draw him, helpless as a magpie to fight against its nature. He’s there, hips pressed to the potting table, with a bright and shiny fork snug in his hand before he even knows it.
It’s his second mistake of the morning.
The first was driving here at all, but he lets himself into the backyard regardless. He’s so intent cataloging all the work that needs to be done out here that the damp kiss of dew to his suit pants doesn’t register. Neither does a flash of movement over at the house when a set of curtains open. He’s too busy promising himself that he’ll leave real soon to notice. He’ll drive to his new workplace and stamp his mark good and early, just as soon as he pulls the weeds that swamp this bed of spinach.
Even as he tells himself barefaced lies, his gaze wanders to the next bed where more weeds await attention.
Slowly, his heart rate settles.
A half hour later, sweat prickles his brow, but he’s oblivious, humming as he bends once more. A smile softens his expression, which has been hardened lately by the reports he’s written. That last report in particular had been a doozy to put together. And for what? So hundreds of families had their futures wiped out due to one man wanting to run out on his obligations? So needless when all his findings had suggested the opposite. So wrong when there were so many other options. At least pulling weeds makes clear sense, as does clearing the paths of vines that reach out to snag his ankles.
It doesn’t register right away that the traffic’s gotten louder. The volume increases even more when he finally stands to ease the strain in his back. Then it ebbs when he closes his eyes, and other sounds take over. To his left, there’s a buzz from bees collecting nectar, and there’s a soft drip-drip-drip of a leaking spigot. It’s a quiet accompaniment to the sound of a city waking, percussion to a birdsong chorus he hasn’t noticed in years.
He breathes in deeply through his nose once more before letting out a gusting exhale that feels never-ending.
The low rumble of traffic is still there, although barely noticeable now that his focus has shifted. His back aches all right, but he’s relaxed like he hasn’t been in an age, centered in this simple spot that feels so familiar. He inhales deeply again, only this time the sound of his steady exhale is masked by the loud crunch of footsteps on gravel.
The sun’s gotten a whole lot brighter since he arrived.
Jon raises a hand to shield his eyes and finds Tyler blinking at him.
He’s a polished actor. His concerned expression sure seems genuine as he gets all up in Jon’s business. “What are you doing out here?” Tyler asks from so close that shades of slate and dove grey are visible in his wide eyes. He scans Jon’s face very carefully, as if he’s the one whose motives need assessing, and his tone deceptively softens when he adds, “You sure you’re doing okay there, bud?”
It’s a surprisingly gentle question, but Jon’s hackles rise on instinct. His abrupt response—“I’m fine.”—should be enough of an answer, but Tyler doesn’t let up his act.
“You’re fine? You sure about that? Can’t exactly say you look it.” He tilts his head and squints, like he has room to talk despite his own bad case of bedhead. It’s ridiculous that someone who no longer lives here thinks he has the right to interrogate him. That doesn’t stop Tyler from persisting. “Looks like you’re dressed for the office. So what are you doing out here?”
Actually, what is he still doing here exactly?
Jon rubs at his brow where sweat has dried tight at his hairline, and frowns rather than confess he lost track of time. He doesn’t need to explain himself to someone wearing pajama pants dotted with Bambi and Thumper, even if they do look as soft as his gaze.
Deflection seems a good plan. “I’m minding my own business, bud. You might want to try it sometime.”
“Hey.” Tyler holds both hands out, palms visible, as he finally takes a step back. “I was minding my own business, getting ready for bed, when I saw you from my window.”
Getting ready for bed at this time of the morning?
It’s another line Jon has trouble believing, like the one deepening between Tyler’s eyes that suggests honest worry. He’s so good at seeming concerned. No wonder he has Peggy wrapped around his finger.
“Are you… are you sure you’re okay?” Tyler keeps up his pretense. “You know you’ve been standing in the same spot for the last ten minutes, don’t you?”
Ten minutes? It had felt like seconds. He blusters while mentally regrouping. “I have every right to be here.” Then he adds, “Like I have every right to stand around if I want.”
Jon really, truly doesn’t if he doesn’t want to be late.
The urge to look at his watch is almost overwhelming, but there’s no way he’ll acknowledge that to someone about to waste daylight hours by sleeping. He stays on the offensive, like he would in front of his old roommates. “And what do you mean you could see me from your window?” He’s not above pulling the height card, and he draws himself up as tall as he can to maximize that advantage. “The apartment isn’t yours anymore. I’m moving in today, so you better have cleared out all that crap.”
Tyler doesn’t back down or look at all like the arch manipulator he is. Instead his lips draw up into a lopsided smile Jon refuses to find attractive. “I did already,” he says while looking over Jon’s shoulder. “And I saw you from over there.”
No wonder he’s smiling.
He’s pointing at Peggy’s house instead of the garage. The man clearly isn’t done with trying to get his hands on a vulnerable senior’s money. He’s simply moved from the garage apartment to her place so he can coerce her some more.
Tyler doesn’t hang around to check out his reaction. He backs off before saying, “So I have every right to be here too, bud.”
That last word comes out teasing. It’s as infuriating as his final sentence.
“So you better get used to sharing.”
Con Riley lives on the wild and rugged Devonshire coast, with her head in the clouds, and her feet in the Atlantic Ocean.
Injury curtailed her enjoyment of outdoor pursuits, so writing fiction now fills her free time. Love, loss, and redemption shape her romance stories, and her characters are flawed in ways that makes them live and breathe.
When not people watching, or wrangling her own boy band of teen sons, she spends time staring at the sea from her kitchen window. If you see her, don’t disturb her – she’s probably thinking up new plots.