As Bronwyn and I walked over to join the end of the line at Starbucks, I couldn’t help feeling that the eyes of the superfan we’d just met were still following our every move. I resisted the urge to turn around and confirm my suspicions. Besides, if I was wrong, wouldn’t I be the one being the creepy creeper dude by staring at him?
(Ahem.) We interrupt this programming to say that, if you missed parts 1 and 2 of this series, it’s very understandable. The flow of this series was interrupted for a long time. You can find Part 2 here and Part 1 here. You should “start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”
“So, should I get you one of those Pokemon Go frappuccinos?” I asked Bronwyn.
“I want a mocha frappuccino,” said Bronwyn.
“Aren’t you too young for coffee?”
“It’s a frappuccino. It’s practically a milkshake. Uncle Jack lets me have coffee flavored ice cream.”
“Ye-ah,” I said, my voice sliding from a high to low note. “But actual coffee has too much caffeine. It’s my duty as your uncle by proxy to protect you from drugs.”
“Drugs?” said Bronwyn. “It’s caffeine, not crack.”
At the mention of crack, my protective instincts turned up a notch … or twenty. “Crack? Who’s been talking to you about crack?” I asked.
Bronwyn rolled her blue eyes at me. “I’m in the D.A.R.E. program … you know where they teach about drug prevention.”
“Right,” I said.
“Plus,” she said. “I watch TV. I don’t live in a cave.”
“Right,” I said. “Well, caffeine is still a drug … albeit a socially acceptable one.”
In the process of this whole, interesting discussion on drugs, we had worked our way to the front of the line.
“Hi,” I told the barista. “I’d like a cold brew for myself, and she’d like a …”
“I want a mocha …” Bronwyn put in.
At this point, I took Bronwyn into a loving chokehold. Let me rephrase that. I gave Bronwyn a sideways hug that strongly resembled a chokehold. “She’d like one of those unicorn drinks or whatever you have that’s pink and girly and non-caffeinated,” I said. “With a big smiley face on the cup, please.” I myself don’t know why I felt the need to add the last part.
“Okay,” said the barista. “I could do a cotton candy frappuccino. That’s pink. The unicorn one is more colorful.”
I shrugged a shoulder. “I leave it to you.”
“What’s the name?”
Finally, she nodded, and I paid for our drinks. I was pleased with our results. Mine was dark and beautiful, though I almost questioned my adults-only gateway-to-crack choice of beverage, by way of example. Bronwyn’s was bright purple-pink with swirls of blue and a fairy dusting of pink and blue sugar on top of the whipped cream. The barista had indulged my stupidity with a huge smiley face on the cup right next to the name, “Brooklyn.” I tossed a tip in the tip jar.
We meandered over to a table in the food court then, and I still had this eerie feeling that Mr. Superfan was looking our way. When was I going to let that go? “I suppose I should text Uncle Jack to tell him and Dec to meet us here,” I said. Just as I said that, I spotted Jack and Declan coming through the food court entrance, carrying bags from Best Buy. It was as if Jack and I were so close we could communicate by telepathy, either that or the smell of Cinnabon was like the call of sirens to Ulysses.
I waved them over, and they joined us at a table. Best Buy bags mingled with pastel bags from Forever 13 (or wherever it was) on a spare chair.
“Don’t look now,” I said, “but we met this guy in the food court earlier who’s a mega-fan of our Blaze comic series. He strikes me a bit creepy, but he’s sitting there in the corner. Blondish-brown hair, receding hairline, rectangular-framed glasses …”
“Don’t look now” had the same effect as saying, “Don’t think about zebras in bikinis.” Do you see what I mean? What image just popped into your head? Jack looked to the corner.
“I see him,” Jack said.
“Is he staring at us?”
“I’m staring at him,” said Jack. “Oh, now, he’s looking.”
“Look away,” I said.
Jack did. I thought that our guy might walk over to chat with Jack, now that he had joined us. It wouldn’t be too unreasonable considering our earlier business discussion, but I now had mixed and strange feelings about it.
I fished in my shirt pocket and pulled out the pen he’d given us earlier. “He gave us a pen,” I said. “Apparently, he runs a comic book store and suggested we could go there for a signing some time.”
“Not a bad idea,” said Jack. He looked hard at the pen, at the business name on the side, at first. Then, he began to twist and turn the pen in different angles and stare at it some more. He was so mesmerized you’d think it was one with spinning lighted fiber optics (one of our own products.) I was mostly accustomed to Jack’s quirks by now, the way he would study ordinary things from an engineer’s perspective, but this was seeming ridiculous. It seemed like a pretty run-of-the-mill pen to me.
“Is there something special about that pen?” I asked.
“Maybe not,” said Jack. “It just seemed … well, never mind …” He set it down on the table. “Going to his store for a signing might not be a bad idea, for our writer and artist.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I think he wants you … the big brains, the concept guy. The superfan’s as fruity as a pebble, if you ask me.”
“As fruity as a pebble?” Jack raised his eyebrows. “Pebbles aren’t generally fruity.”
“Some of them are, when they come in boxes labelled Fruity Pebbles.”
“The breakfast cereal isn’t made of literal pebbles,” said Jack.
“I’ve known that since I was five,” I said. I sighed. “Don’t be so literal when I am trying to be clever.” I paused. “Is he still there?”
Jack glanced back in the direction of the corner. “No, he’s gone now.”
Monday, one week before the judging for the Annual Honeyville Community Garden Competition
“Seamus! Seamus, get out of my garden!” I took chase after my neighbor’s wheaten terrier who was now racing in circles around my bird and butterfly sanctuary. With each rotation, he chased away another goldfinch and another butterfly. It was a futile exercise, running in circles after a beast that was more agile than a ninja and faster than the Roadrunner escaping Wile E. Coyote. Suddenly, my foot slipped, and I did a full face plant in the grass, still wet from its recent watering.
This, of all things, made the dog stop. He not only stopped, he turned to me and began frantically licking my face, seemingly trying to go spelunking in my nostrils. I now felt sympathetic with Lucy Van Pelt and wanted to announce, “Ugh! I’ve been kissed by a dog!” Still, I kept my mouth shut, because, otherwise, I’d have a dog’s tongue in my mouth. I was sure of it.
“He likes you.” I looked up and saw my neighbor, Jackson Reardon, standing above me, his Stetson in his hand. “Need a hand?” he said, as he offered one.
I pulled myself up without his help. Now that I was standing, Seamus jumped up on me, placing his muddy paws on my chest, leaving prints on my pink plaid flannel. When he jumped down again, he sauntered right over to a coneflower and tried to take a bite.
“Seamus, haven’t you been naughty enough?” I asked.
“Sit, Seamus!” said Jackson.
In the first demonstration of obedience, the dog actually sat.
“Jackson,” I said. “Get a fence!”
“Deirdre,” said Jackson. “I have a fence. You know that, but, as you can see, that isn’t necessarily an obstacle.” He nodded to the side of my white picket fence and the hole the Houdini had dug beneath it to make entrance.
“He chased away my birds!” I protested. “He tried to eat my coneflower!” I walked to the fence to inspect Seamus’ excavation. “And he’s uprooted an entire family of fairies!” My fairy house structure was on its side and several miniature plants had been pulled up. Thankfully, my bonsai ficus was still intact.
Jackson smirked. “What! You don’t have fairy insurance?”
I took off my Croc and flung it at him hard. He flinched and the thing slid over his right shoulder, landing behind him.
“Please, control your dog,” I said. “I think you’re trying to sabotage my chances in the garden competition. I know you’re competitive, but really …”
“Look …” Jackson spread his hands.
I took off my other Croc.
“All right!” He flung up his arms. “We’re going!” He hooked a leash on Seamus and walked off. Good riddance.
I walked into the front yard. What had I become … an irritable Croc-throwing maniac? Of course, as far as I knew, no one had been seriously injured by a lightweight foam shoe. But maybe this is just where it started, and the next step was hurling gardening shears?
My dreams were disrupted by a handsome face peering over the fence. “Matt!” I held my hand to my heart. “You startled me.” Matt was an old school friend and, now, my handyman, who happened to look a bit like Jude Law.
“I’m sorry. I came about the trellis and … whatever other jobs you have for me.”
I suddenly remembered my appearance. My curls were wild, I was covered in mud and had muddy paw prints in an awkward location. “You’ll have to excuse my appearance.”
“No apology needed,” said Matt. “You’re like me. You’re not afraid to get your hands dirty … or other parts of you either.”
I was trying to decide whether he was being fresh or adorable.
He grinned. “And it would take more than a little mud to take away from your looks. You’re like one of your flowers. They’re surrounded by dirt, but it just makes their beauty stand out more.”
I was leaning more towards adorable. Still, I didn’t know how to respond. Was he flirting? Because I really didn’t know anymore. A guy had to be on one knee with a ring box in his hand before I understood he was interested.
“Oh … well, thanks. I’ll show you the trellis.” I began leading him to the back of the house. The arched trellis, covered in pink climbing roses, was the central feature in my formal English garden section in the rear right corner of the yard. I showed him several places where the wood had broken.
We turned and walked to my bird and butterfly garden. “The gazebo needs a little work too. It got damaged in a wind storm. A small tree fell and caused a chain reaction. The swing bench got damaged too,” I said. “It’s my favorite spot in the yard. I can sit here and see birds come feed, turn and see hummingbirds at my bee balm or butterflies on the coneflower.”
“No problem,” said Matt. “Leave it to me. By the time the judges come Saturday, everything will be perfect.”
I worked until evening, and then another surprise awaited. Sitting on the porch in a Mason jar was a bunch of white orchids. The mysterious giver left no note and no explanation. I brought them inside and set them on the kitchen table, wondering who had left them. Matt? He had been slightly flirtatious maybe, but they could be from anyone. Everyone knew I liked flowers.
I spent all of my spare time in the garden – watering, fertilizing, weeding and trimming. I repaired my fairy garden, filling in the hole that Seamus had dug and restoring my miniature ferns, colorful succulents and dainty polka dot plants. I fussed over the little pathway of twig rounds that led to my fairy house door. By judging day, Dad’s old electric train would be winding its way through all of these miniature wonders.
Matt busied himself with the structures on the landscape, the trellis and the gazebo. He passed behind me. “The fairies must be jealous.”
“Because you’re the fairest in the land.”
A sudden rush of heat prickled my cheeks. Matt was almost a little too much. What was into him lately? Was he the one that left flowers?
Just shortly after thinking about the mysterious flowers, I found new ones on the porch, a bunch of white roses in a Mason jar, again with no note. Matt again? If so, how did he do it? I’d seen him go back and forth to his van several times to get tools, but flowers? Did he pull them out of his sleeve like a magician? If someone else, how did they do it free of notice?
I woke to the melody of songbirds and then a clattering and then the screech of frightened, tortured birds. I sat bolt upright in bed. “Seamus!”
I jumped up out of bed, seized a bathrobe and wrapped it around me as I ran down the stairs and out the back door. The shaggy thing was racing after my birds again, scaring off a chickadee and cardinal. I didn’t chase him this time. I spun around, marched back into the kitchen and emerged again with a heaping spoonful of peanut butter. “Seamus!”
The beasty lolloped towards me, his tongue lolling out. I sat down in a patio chair and held the spoon out, allowing him to lick right off the spoon. I looked into his expressive brown eyes. “You’re kind of cute when you aren’t destroying things,” I said, “but don’t try and use that to your advantage.”
“Seamus!” Jackson sauntered into the yard.
I pulled the bathrobe tighter around me and felt the top of my head for the curls that were imitating Little Rascals’ Alfalfa. I tried to give my red hair a toss as I imagined Maureen O’Hara might in an old movie, but I’m sure I looked more like Shirley Temple after an unfortunate encounter with a fork and an electrical outlet.
I loped over to the fence to survey the damages to the fairy garden. It looked like Gulliver had trompled all over Lilliputia, upheaving miniature hideaways, uprooting the foliage and scattering tiny household things thither and yon. In a moment’s time, hours of fastidious labor was destroyed.
As a young girl, I learned the song, “I’m a Little Teapot.” It came to mind now, because the water was ready, and I was about to shout. I could feel the steam slowly rising through my middle and seeking to find a vent. “Jackson! How do you manage to sic your dog on my garden? Throw steaks over the fence?”
“I … I …” Jackson threw up an arm in the direction of my bird and butterfly sanctuary. “You have wildlife.”
I looked in the direction his arm was pointing, but I saw two empty bird feeders, one empty hummingbird feeder and an empty bird bath. When I turned around, Jackson was on his knees trying to right my fairy world, but his designing eye had different ideas than the plan I had worked so hard to create. His efforts set things up in jumbled order.
I tried to swallow down one last bit of steam, but it escaped. “You’re just making more work for me! Just go.”
Jackson stood up. “You’ve always been a very aggravating woman!” He threw his arms up, leashed Seamus and walked off.
After work at the florist shop, I filled the hole in the garden, set my fairy world aright and reinforced the gap under the fence with some scalloped stone edging. Matt returned and set to repair the swing bench for the gazebo. When he finished the repair, I brought him a glass of iced tea, and he asked me to test it out with him. We sat on opposite ends. He stretched out his legs, smiling rogueishly at me, “Nice. I could get used to this.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Nature.”
“I meant the company,” he said.
“Oh.” Not knowing what else to say, I just said, “Thanks” and continued gazing at nature.
The evening held a series of surprises for me. The first was a third bouquet left on the porch, bigger than the first two, filled with white tulips. The second surprise I discovered as I set them down in my kitchen. Some cash I’d left on the counter, about $60, was missing. The mystery of how it had disappeared continued to haunt and nag at me thereafter.
The third was a surprise visit from my childhood buddy, Eddie. “Eddie!” I said, as I answered the door.
“Mom’s recovering from surgery.”
“Yeah. I heard.”
“So, I’ll be here a few days taking care of Mom, and I thought I’d drop by. Sorry if it’s not a good time.”
“It’s fine,” I said. I pointed out an Adirondack chair. “Have a seat. I’ll bring some iced tea. Do you still like M&Ms?”
“Do I still like M&Ms?” he said in a way that made the answer obvious.
I brought the M&Ms with the tea, and we sat on the porch. He pointed out the oak tree in front of us. “Remember when we used to climb that tree?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Do you remember falling out of that tree?”
“Yeah. I ended up in the hospital with a broken arm, but then you came with your Peanut comics and books of Mad Libs and made everything better.”
I smiled. “How long have you been in the area?”
“I came here Monday. I would have dropped by sooner, but, you know … family.”
I wanted to tell him about the mysterious flowers but didn’t. What if they were from him? He’d had an attraction once. Instead, I told him about the garden competition and Seamus and the fairy garden and Dad’s old electric train. “Do you remember that old train?”
“I wish I had some little bridges for it to go under. I’d commission Matt to make them, but my budget only goes so far.”
“Yeah. I understand the budget issue.”
I changed the subject. “He’s fixing the rose trellis, and my formal English garden area will be perfect. Speaking of roses, I always loved your mother’s roses.”
“The yellow ones?”
“I think they’re called Julia Child.”
“Bon appetit,” I said in my best Julia Child impression.
“Hey, there’s something I’d like to tell you some time,” he said. But just then, his cell phone rang. “It’s Mom. I gotta go. Talk soon.” He left.
Thursday brought more mysterious flowers and more missing cash. This time, the Mason jar held a profusion of red carnations. The cash was missing, this time, from a pocket of a coat hanging in the mud room. Perhaps, I did leave cash in odd places, but I lived alone, and I didn’t expect anyone other than myself to see it or move it around. Was I suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s or was I a victim of theft? Could the mysterious flowers and the missing cash be connected? Was this a thing among thieves? Hey, thanks for the cash. Have some flowers.
In the evening, I got another visit from Eddie, and we sat on the porch and reminisced about the old days. Suddenly, I said, “Hey, thanks for the flowers.”
He smiled. “’Welcome. Thought you’d enjoy them.” He turned and continued to gaze lazily at the dogwood trees.
That was it? A week of suspense, and he answered in this casual way? Not even a mention of that thing he had to talk about with me some time? “It was sweet of you,” I said.
Friday, I came home from work, walked into the kitchen and found Eddie standing there. “Eddie! What are you doing in my kitchen?”
He hunched his shoulders, holding two hands out in front of him. “Your sister told me where your key is in the bunny statue. I can explain.”
“Don’t! You betrayed my trust! You entered my house without permission!”
He left, and I cried. The case of the mysterious flowers – solved. The case of the missing money – also solved? All of those flowers, invading my private property – weren’t these signs of a stalker? That didn’t sound like my Eddie, but we’d been apart so long. Did I even know the man anymore?
Saturday brought no more mysterious flowers to my porch. When the judges came to my yard, I noticed some new things, a stem with a yellow rose planted in my English formal garden and, in the fairy garden, little handmade wooden bridges carefully spaced over Dad’s old electric train track.
I still thought about the mystery of the flowers and, after the judges had seen the place, had the idea to look up the Victorian meanings of the flowers in a book I had. White orchids represented “I’m sorry.” White roses represented new beginnings. White tulips said “I’m sorry,” and red carnations stood for admiration. I pondered these things a while.
A neighbor called me and told me she’d seen a man messing around in the garden statuary and then entering the house. “Yes, I know,” I said. “I know a man got into my house that way. It was a friend. Thanks for telling me.”
My sister called some time later. “Did you hear the news about Eddie?” she asked.
I thought I was the one with news about Eddie. “No. What?”
“He’s getting married.”
My scalp tingled, and I was speechless a moment. “Did you know I found him in my kitchen? He said you told him where to find the key in my bunny statue?”
“I did. He wanted to help you in the competition and surprise you with that cutting from his mom’s bush and those little bridges for the train track. He called me and said he needed access to the house for some tools and such. You’re not mad?”
Afterward, I called my neighbor back. “Can you describe that man you saw enter my house?”
“Sure. He looked a little like a movie actor. I can’t remember …”
“That’s the one.”
Later, I went with neighbors to see my chief rival’s garden. I expected to see an amazing koi pond with waterfall surrounded by tropical foliage and a greenhouse full of rare orchids, but something else for me ended up being the top attraction.
I noticed a broken bit of fence along the edge of the property where two posts were tied sloppily with some rope. It must have been the site of Seamus’ Houdini action. It seemed so out of place and unlike Jackson to leave a sloppily mended fence for the judges to view. Hanging there on the fence was a plaque with a Robert Frost poem, “Mending Wall,” burned in wood.
I read a portion of it, “Before I built a wall, I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was like to give offense. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” Beneath the plaque was a milk can filled with white orchids, white tulips, red carnations and white roses.
It could be that Jackson’s message was that Seamus had the right to invade my property whenever he liked, but I thought he meant something quite different. Soon, Jackson was standing beside me.
“I agree,” I said.
“With the poet?”
“With you. I am the most aggravating woman.”
He laughed. “I know.” After a pause, he said, “Dinner Saturday night?”
I smiled. “Sure.”
To add to the sweetness of a new start, he and I tied for the winning ribbon.
I apologized profusely to Eddie and thanked him for all of his kindness. Six months later, Jackson and I attended Eddie’s wedding together.