He smiled at me as I walked past him, pushing my cart of returns to the perennial section. Transfixed by his bright blue eyes, mine locked with his and I could not withhold the smile that formed on my lips and the flash of red blush that erupted on my cheeks. He continued to work, moving impatiens flats from the cart to the bench. My eyes lingered for a second, watching his taut leans muscles as they worked to move the trays of vibrant flowers. My smile lingered another second longer as I moved down the aisle.
“Hi!” he said as I walked past the next day.
“Hello,” I whispered back, feeling my pulse quicken. I slowed down the cart as he spoke to me. It was a nice voice.
“How are you doing today?”
“Good,” I responded a bit too quickly.
He smiled. “That’s good.”
Quick. I needed to make a response, something to keep the conversation going. I had already stopped pushing the cart of flowers.
“How about you?”
“I’m alright,” he said with a smirk, “Good as I can be, I suppose.”
I smiled and nodded, waiting for a response to leave my parted lips. None came. He smiled.
“Well I’ll let you get back to work. See ya later.”
“Yeah,” I said quickly, feeling my face heating up from blushing. I smiled and pushed my cart down the aisle.
The following few days brought a series of similar brief conversations as I passed through the annual section. Each time we would smile and he would ask me how I was doing and I would say good and ask him in return and his response would vary and then he would ask me a question.
“So do you go to school around here?”
The question I dreaded. I wished he would ask me something easy, like my name. For some reason that never arose. Granted we both wore nametags, but our eyes were always locked together and mine had never strayed to the little tag on his shirt.
“No…” I responded, “Not right now. I mean, I graduated high school, if that’s what you mean.”
“Oh okay. Did you go around here? Like Allendale or Coopersville?”
“Oh, no. I was homeschooled.”
I gulped, feeling the redness return to my cheeks.
“Oh really? My cousins were homeschooled for years. It’s interesting.”
He smiled and I returned it with a sigh of relief. A breeze came through the vaulted plastic ceiling and sent strands of blonde hair across my face. I quickly brushed them aside.
“What do you work on in the perennials?” he asked as he laid out flats of portulaca.
“Umm…I usually take the weeds out of the pot and work on returns,” I gestured toward the cart I was pushing, “I usually water first though.”
“Don’t drink the water!” he said, stopping his work to look at me, “I did last year and it made me sick for a week.”
“Oh,” I said, unsure of how to respond, but unable to walk away, “Okay.”
“You know what they put in it?”
I shook my head.
He looked around before putting a hand to the side of his mouth, “I don’t want to tell you out here, in case customers get grossed out.”
“C’mon, I’ll show ya.”
He started walking down the aisle back toward the barn. I glanced at my cart for a moment before pushing it aside and following him. The way he popped his heels while he walked intrigued me as I watched his calves from behind. After we passed through the twelve aisles of annuals, he slid back the door to the barn and closed it after I walked past. We exchanged smiles.
“So have you ever been to the water room?”
I shook my head and he grinned.
“You’ll like it.”
It was twenty degrees cooler. Giant barrels of swirling water and chemicals and pallets with bags of fertilizer covered the cement floor. The lights were dim. We smiled at one another for several long moments before the automatic lights shut off…
Intoxicated by the smell of osmocote pellets and milorganite, fertilizing the growing attraction I had to the boy in the darkness. The moisture in the air evaporated as the door sealed and the stifling heat of the greenhouse evaporated momentarily as my body cooled. The gentle press of his cold lips against mine sent a shiver through my bones and his tongue slipped between my lips and wrapped about mine, a flood of new warmth overtook me and I closed my eyes, a feeling of total emptiness stretched through me. I felt his hands crawl down my body, his calloused hands were firm against my skin as he pulled me closer. In shock and coated in a strange satisfaction, I pressed my skin against his. I wanted more.
Sweat dripped from my forehead as we left the water room. A dizzying happiness left me intoxicated as we walked back to the greenhouse. Imagination ran amok and I pictured holding his hand as we walked along the shore of Lake Michigan in the twilight hours. He would swing me up in his arms and tell me he loved me. I would watch from the porch in contentment as he sat on the dock by the river with my father, casting lines in the water and asking for my hand in marriage. He would be taking me to one of those fancy restaurants in the city like they do in movies and pull a small box from the pocket of his overcoat and slide it across the silk tablecloth with his dirt-engrained fingernails. A veil over my eyes gets lifted by those same strong hands and his cool lips press against mine like they did today, but in an eternal commitment. We would buy a house and plant a garden together, filled with beautiful flowers.
I fell asleep that night, dreaming of these scenarios and waking up with a fresh excitement to make them a reality. I came into work and snatched my cart. I walked through the annual section, on the way to the perennials. Out of convenience, I passed by his aisle. He was in a different one today. He had moved on from impatiens to begonias. Their waxy coat shimmed in the brightness and he turned as I walked by. There was a flutter inside me and I felt my cheeks brighten like the flowers of the impatiens. A smile cracked on his face in accordance with mine, but our eyes never met. A brown-haired girl walked past me, her eyes locked with his bright blue pupils. A new girl in the annual section. Instantly, I became hungover from yesterday’s intoxicated fantasies.
I walked back to the perennials as the smile evaporated from my face, like annual flats rotting in late September. Perennials went dormant, but they rose again when the snow melted. Annuals were replanted every year. New vibrant flowers. The annual boy wanted those flowers. The perennial girl wanted something a little more. A collective garden would be difficult to cultivate.