The Garden, Chapter IX

Good morning, Mr. Hamer.  How are you doing today?”

D’Andra Chummley stood in the door that she had opened as Charlie prepared to give it a second knock.   Charlie gave the most relaxed, carefree, and entirely false reply of “Fine.  I’m doing fine today” that he could manage.

“Please, come in and make yourself comfortable.”

D’Andra swept her hand across a large room that contained a variety of chairs and a love seat.

“Would you like a cup of coffee or tea?  And I have some cinnamon rolls coming out of the oven in a few minutes, if you would like a little mid-morning snack.”

“Yes” Charlie answered.  “I would love a cup of coffee.”  Charlie had eaten breakfast at Leroy’s, leaving a very generous tip for LuAnn, and he really didn’t feel like eating any more this morning.  Besides, his stomach was generating acid by the bucketful in anticipation of what trial might lie before him.  His impulse towards being polite overshadowed this unwelcoming feeling in his gut however, so he replied “Those cinnamon rolls smell wonderful.  I would love to have one.”

“One or two; take your pick.  Go ahead and have a seat.  I’ll be right with you.”

Charlie stepped into the main room of what looked like a guest cottage, or a granny flat, that sat behind the victorian house in which D’Andra and her husband lived.  Ample windows let in a generous amount of light on what was a bright spring day.  He selected a spot on the end of the love seat that was farthest from the chair that he presumed D’Andra would soon occupy and dropped into it.

“Do you take cream and sugar, Mr. Hamer?” came D’Andra’s voice from the tiny kitchen that lay beyond a door on the other side of the living room.

“No” he replied.  “Black is fine with me.”  Then he felt self-conscious.  D’andre Chummily was very dark skinned, and Charlie instantly wondered if she would take that comment as being improper.  “Oh shit” he thought.  “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”

D’Andra came out of the kitchen carrying two mugs and a pot of tea wrapped in a blue and white tea cozy.  She effortlessly placed the pot and the empty mug on a table next to a chair even farther away from Charlie than the one he had expected her to occupy, and then brought his mug of coffee to him without spilling a drop.  She appeared to be oblivious to Charlie’s remark and his concern about it, which helped him to relax.

“Well done” he said, trying to regain his relaxed presentation.

“I waited tables while I was in school, so it’s no new trick.  The rolls are out of the oven and will be ready in about ten minutes.”

D’Andra sat in the chair and poured a mug full of tea.  She was probably in her early forty’s, by Charlie’s estimation, and slightly full in figure, which seemed to work very well for her.  She put her mug down, sat back comfortably in her chair, smoothed her ankle-length tan skirt and said “Now to business.  My husband and I do not think that it would be best to trade services.  We should probably keep the focus on you, and not share that focus with our kitchen sink.”

Before Charlie’s face could show any disappointment D’Andra continued.  “I would like to help you though, if I can, so I am prepared to offer you the first three visits pro bono.”

Charlie gave her a blank look.

That means ‘one the house’ Charlie.  After three weeks we can look at your situation and work out what you can afford.  My usual rate is $130 per visit, but it’s my business and I get to set the price anywhere I want to.”

Charlie knew how that worked and agreed to the plan.  He knew that he could pay full price right now, but he was wrestling with the new idea of stewarding his money more carefully.  He was grateful for the chance to ease into this new pattern.

“That sounds fine” he said.  “More than generous, actually, and I appreciate it very much.”

“Good. So what do you say we get started?  We’ll take a break in a couple of minutes when the rolls are ready.”

Charlie agreed to that, and tensed as he anticipated the questions that he expected to soon follow.

“So, Mr. Hamer.  Or Charlie.  Can I call you Charlie?”  He nodded his assent.  D’andre took a sip of her tea and set it down.  “Tell me about yourself Charlie.”

Charlie didn’t know where to begin, so he stated the obvious.  “Well, I’m 49 years old, single, I live alone, work just enough to get by, and really, haven’t had a life for quite a while now.  I haven’t really wanted one.”

“OK” D’Andra said.  “I can see how you might want something different than that.  Let me ask you this; what change would you like to make?”

“Oh, I’m not sure I know.”  Charlie began to think about that question and D’Andra said “Take your time Charlie.  The best way to get to where you’re going is to know where that place is.”

Charlie fidgeted in his chair for what felt like forever and finally said “I just want to be happy again.”

“That’s a good goal.  I want to help you reach it.  So you want to be happy again.  Can you tell me what happiness looked like the last time that you saw it?”

“Uh, I got a good job coming up, and I spent a good evening with some guys that I just met.  That made me feel pretty good”  Charlie said, and then stopped and stared at D’Andra.

“Well, that’s good Charlie.  It’s good to have work and friends.  I was thinking about more than that though.  When did you feel good about life?  What would you like to be doing that makes you feel happy twenty four hours a day?  I’m going to let you think about that while I go get us some rolls.”

D’andra arose from her chair while Charlie sat on the love seat and stared out the window.  He saw the old concrete path that he had walked on to get to the cottage from the sidewalk.  “I’d rather walk away on that path and drive away than go back into this” Charlie thought.  “I don’t know if I can handle it.”

D’Andra returned with two saucers, a pair of warm cinnamon rolls on each one with butter melting on top and running down the sides.  “Here you are Charlie.  We’ll talk more in a little while.  You just enjoy those rolls for now.  Oh, you haven’t touched your coffee.  Did you change your mind?”

“No” Charlie responded.  “I always let it cool before I drink it.”  That wasn’t true, but it got him out of explaining his agitation and distraction.  He took a sip and noted that it was very good coffee.  He then accepted his plate of rolls and decided that he would eat them and like it.  It turned out that wasn’t so hard to do.

“These are delicious!” Charlie exclaimed.

“Thank you.  My grandmother taught me how to make these.  Oh, and I forgot to ask; are you allergic to cats?  I have my guard cat who wanders in and out from time to time.  If it’s a problem I’ll keep her out.”

“No” Charlie replied.  “I like cats.  Haven’t had one for a long time but I used to like them when I was a kid.”

“All right.  I’ll let Salome have the run of the house, as usual.”

They talked about grandmothers and cats for a few minutes while they enjoyed their food and drinks.  Then D’Andra took the empty dishes into the kitchen and returned to her chair.

“Now Charlie” she began.  “Let’s begin with being happy.  You mentioned a few recent instances that you remember  when you were happy.  I would like for you to think about your life – the whole one, from childhood to now – and think about when you were happiest and how it felt.  If that is what you would want to return to, I would like for you to share it with me.  If it has become something else, then I would like to hear about that.”

Charlie tried to follow her instructions but almost instantly hit a barrier of pain.  “Have I ever been happy, or was I only fooling myself?” he thought.  He wrestled with his thoughts silently,and D’Andra waited patiently for his response.  She was not pushing him.  All of the talk of grandmothers and cinnamon rolls and cats and home had awoken in Charlie a yearning for something that he knew he might have missed in life.  At last he began to talk, still unsure of what he would say.

“I want to feel like I did when I had my family.  I want to drive down the street and not think of driving into oncoming traffic.  I want to be able to set a goal that I really look forward to accomplishing.  I guess I want to sleep at night, get up ready for the next day, enjoy my work, have friends, and go to bed the next night tired but content.”  He then paused, surprised at some of what had just come out of his mouth.

“All of that is a very good goal to have Charlie.  I want to touch on something else first.  Do you often have thoughts about suicide?”

“Crap” he thought.  “I knew I shouldn’t have said that.  She’s going to think I’m crazy.  Hell, maybe I AM crazy.”

“Yeah.  Sometimes.”

“Have you ever tried?”

“Well, no.  Not tried exactly, but I came pretty close a few weeks ago.”

“Do you think of different ways to do it?”

“You mean do I plan it?  No.  It’s just like a dull feeling hiding out underneath a headache that suddenly pops out and says ‘do this, or do that’.  And it’s not like a real voice; it’s just an idea that pops into my head.”

“Do you feel like you will go through with one of those urges?”

Charlie thought for a minute before answering.  “No, I really don’t.  Now now, anyway.  I have a few things going my way just now and I hope to build on them.”

“That’s good, Charlie.  I hope that you can build on them too.  Maybe we can talk about those things later.  Now, I would like to get back to how you would describe being happy.  You said that you had a family.  Could you tell me about that?”

No, he couldn’t.  Charlie tried to get his thoughts together on that subject but he failed.  The last time that he had opened up about his family was in the garden with Walt and Rachael, and it almost sent him over the rail.  After a few minutes D’Andra came to his rescue.

“It’s OK Charlie.  We can talk about that some other day maybe.  Can you tell me anything about your childhood?  Were there happy times then?”

“Yes, there were some good times then.  I was always comfortable at home.  Mom didn’t have to work because my father paid a pretty big alimony and child support, and the checks always came on time.  I did well in school and had a lot of friends there.  That was where I met – -.  That was where I met my wife – – -.”

Charlie stopped talking and D’Andra quickly said “That’s OK Charlie.  You don’t have to go there.  What about your father?  When did he leave the family, if I may ask?”

“He left when I was nine years old.  He was a big shot at a bank and he got tired of us, I guess.  Mom never did talk much about him, and certainly never talked trash about him.  I guess he wasn’t abusive, or anything like that.  He just got tired of us and moved on I suppose.”

“Were you angry with him for doing that?”

“No, not really.  He wasn’t that involved with us when I was really young and I didn’t miss him when he left.  I would see Mom crying though; sometimes when the checks would come and sometimes for no reason that I knew of.  Maybe it was their anniversary or his birthday or something.  I never really knew and I never asked.”

“How did you react to that?  Did it make you uncomfortable?  Were you able to comfort your mother?”

“I guess I wasn’t much help to her.  I’ve never liked to be around people when they cry, and I hate it when I cry.  I have this stupid little thing I do to try to stop it when I do.  I try to imagine some famous battle that I’ve read about; who’s army went here, and who attacked there.  It never works, but I try it anyway.  I guess I should have tried to comfort Mom but I didn’t know what to do, so I’d just stand there until I could find a way to sneak out.”

Charlie stopped talking as Salome the cat walked into the room and jumped up onto the love seat.  She sat a respectable distance from Charlie, offering her sleek coat for a pet, but making sure that he would have to reach out to do it.  A cat’s dignity must be maintained at all times.  Charlie obliged and reached out to scratch Salome behind her ears.  She rewarded him with a purr.  Charlie then spoke again.

“I liked being at school.  I guess I was happiest there.  And that’s where I met Maureen.”  Charlie gulped and felt his eyes moisten.  “My wife.  She was very pretty.  My Mom was pretty too, and Maureen was even prettier.  She was one year older than me but we shared some classes and she was really smart and not at all flighty and, well, you know, not a teeny bopper at all.  We would take turns studying at each other’s houses.  She loved being with my Mom and I know that Mom loved having her around, and I really enjoyed being at her house.  Her mother could cook like Betty Crocker and her Dad was really cool.

He was always home by four or, at the latest, four-thirty.  He liked to talk and play dominoes and listen to the college football and basketball games.  But mostly he loved to sit with us for company, or sometimes by himself in some swings in the back yard.  When we were with him out there he would smoke his pipe and tell us non-gory stories about the War or growing up in the south of Texas or, well, just about anything.  He was a great storyteller.  And when we weren’t outside with him he would sit and smoke and watch the sun go down.

On warm evenings he and Mo’s Mom would stay out until after dark.  We could hardly hear them talk but we could see the pipe flare when he took a draw on it, or the flash of a match when he reloaded it.  I think that’s probably the happiest memory that I have.  Mo loved that guy, and I think that I might have have loved him too.”

Charlie had to stop.  The tears had overflowed his eyes and had begun to roll down his cheek.  He looked at D’Andra and cracked a weak smile.  “You know anything about the battle of Waterloo?”

D’Andra smiled warmly at him and said “No, not really.  Maybe we’ll cover that next week.  Feel free to use the tissue on the table, and we’ll just say that maybe you do have a little allergy to Salome.”

“Yeah.  Blame it on the cat.!”  Charlie grabbed a couple of tissues and wiped his eyes, then returned to scratching Salome’s ears.  “It’s really hard to talk about Mo.  It’s hard to talk about Stephanie and Jack too.”

“Are those your children?”

“Used to be.  Jack’s with Maureen somewhere.  I have no idea where.”

“And Stephanie?”

Charlie sat silent for a few seconds, and then the tears flowed, then the sobs, until finally his body shook as his beaten and scarred heart broke once again.  Salome was made nervous by this and abandoned her place on the love seat.  D’andre stood up and walked over to take the cat’s place.

She put a hand on Charlie’s shoulder to let him know that she was there, that she understood his pain, that it was right to cry.  She said nothing, but just handed him tissues as he began to wipe up the snot and tears.  At last Charlie regained control and D’Andra returned to her chair.

“Stephanie is dead” he said at last.  “She died in an accident.  She said she was going surfing and I knew that the place where she was going was unpredictable, but she was fearless and just blew me off.  And I let her go.  And she died.  Now Mo and Jack hate me for it and I don’t blame them.  I hate myself too.”  Charlie looked at D’Andra through red and swollen eyes.  “That’s why it’s hard to speak of happiness and my family.  I thought we were happy, but I screwed the whole thing up and now I don’t really know what happy looks like.  I don’t even know if I deserve happy.”

D’Andra waited until he was finished talking and then said “Charlie, thank you for sharing that with me.  You’ve done an impressive thing, really.  People are usually not able to go as deeply into their problem on their first visit as you have just done.  That tells me that you are willing to dig and go wherever you must to find what you are looking for.  I respect your courage.  You’ve gone deep, and that’s what you have to do to get things straightened out..

I would like to share a couple of things with you now.  I’m certain that you can find a way to return to happiness, whatever that will look like in your case.  It will take time, but you will be able to do this, and I will be glad to help.  Charlie, you’re a good person, as near as I can tell, and we’ll sort this all out if that is your desire.  I would very much like to see you next week, if that would be OK with you.”

“Yes” Charlie replied.  “I think that I would like that.”

“All right.  Are you OK now?”

Charlie assured her that he was fully recovered and arose from the love seat.

“Would you like to take some of those cinnamon rolls home?  I’ll blow up big as a house if I eat them all.”

Charlie nodded his agreement and waited as D’Andra disappeared into the kitchen.  Soon she reappeared with a foil-wrapped parcel that must have contained six rolls at least.  She gave them to Charlie and then walked him to the door.

“Remember Charlie,” she said as he stood in the doorway.  “You are a good person and you deserve to be happy.  You’re just stuck in a very hard place.  We can get you unstuck, and we WILL get you unstuck, OK?”

Charlie nodded and said “OK,” and then walked onto the old concrete path and toward the sidewalk.  Soon he was sitting in the cab of his truck, feeling tired and numb after the emotional roller coaster ride that he had just been on.  For the last two years even thinking about his family had been so painful that he walled those memories off and sought refuge in the numbness of a meaningless and mechanical existence.  Talking about his family for the first time in those two years had resulted in him nearly following through on one of his many suicide fantasies.

Now he had spoken of his family again, and he wondered if that would lead to the same aftershock.  He didn’t feel bad now, but he hadn’t felt the effect of his last experience until three days later.  “I’m different now” Charlie thought.  “I like Billy, and I like Rachael.  And LuAnn too.  Heck, I even like old Walt, sort of.  And they like me.  They would care if I killed myself.  I have to think this through.  I think I’ll do that at the garden.”

Charlie drove to his apartment and put the rolls in the refrigerator, then to his storage to retrieve his gardening tools, gloves and eye protection.  “Just in case I have to break up a rock” he told himself.  He then drove to the garden, and as he did so the impulse to swerve into oncoming traffic was still there.  “I guess it doesn’t go away by magic” he thought.

Charlie pulled up in front of the garden and quickly saw that it was empty.  It was, after all, only a little past noon.  He studied his plot and saw that the plants needed water, but that they were growing nicely.  So were the weeds.  He watered and then knelt down and, with an old screwdriver, began to dig the weeds out to their roots.  “That’s what D’Andra is going to have to do with me” he thought.  “We’re going to find out if there’s any vegetable in me, or if I’m all weed.”

He stayed immersed in his work and thoughts for over two hours.  In that time he fully weeded his plot and, finding Walt’s plot to be in good shape – “That old fart really must live here” he thought – he went to Rachel’s and began to dig out the weeds in hers.  The sun was warm on his back, and he noted that his thoughts were not a torment.  “I really think that this is sort of like being happy” he thought.  “I’ll have to tell D’Andra about this.”

Charlie noticed movement out of the corner of his eye and looked up to see Rachael walking towards her car.  “Must have forgotten something” he thought.  He couldn’t wait to tell her about his hour with D’Andra so he called out to here.

“Rachael.  Hey, Rachael!”

Rachael stopped and stood still.  It seemed to Charlie as if she was undecided as to whether to keep walking or turn back towards where he stood.  At length she slowly turned and began to walk toward him.  Charlie was entirely focused on what he wanted to say and did not notice the reluctance communicated by her slow shuffle in his direction.  At last, as she reached the edge of her plot, Rachael looked up so that Charlie could clearly see the deep black and purple bruise that wrapped around her left eye.

“Rachael!” he spluttered.  “What on earth happened to you?  Are you all right?”

“Yes Charlie.  I’m all right.  Thank you for asking.  It looks like I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“What?  What do you mean?  What happened?  Was this some kind of accident?”

“No, it wasn’t an accident.  It’s one of the hazards of my job.”

As the meaning of that began to sink in, Charlie felt the heat of anger beginning to rise up within him.  “You mean somebody hit you?”

“Yes.  It happened at work yesterday.  I was talking with a young man who showed no obvious signs of agitation.  We weren’t talking about anything too deep, but he is a very angry boy who doesn’t need much reason to lash out at authority.  I can usually read the signs and anticipate when things might be at the edge of violence.  Not this time though.  The kid threw a wicked punch that I never saw coming.  Almost knocked me out.”

“Well, that little son of a bitch!” Charlie exploded.  “He’s not still alive, is he?  Why wasn’t someone there to stop such a thing?”

“Someone was, but nobody can always know when something like this is going to happen.  Max, my security guy, had him down in a minute, but the damage was done by then.”

“Well, I hope he took the little prick down hard.  Sorry about my French, but it really jerks my chain that somebody you’re trying to help would hit you.  Shit!  I’d like to get my hands on him.”

“What good would that do Charlie?  He’s a kid who’s been hit over the head at least once a day every day of his life.  I can’t give you the details, of course, but he has had an awful start at being alive, and I wouldn’t put a high bet on his future being any better.”

“Do you feel OK?  How is your vision?  Does the eye hurt?  Come on, let’s go sit under the gazebo.”

“I’m OK charlie.  Yeah, it still hurts.  It happened yesterday.  It took twenty four hours for my eye to get this black and my doctor said that it would be sore for a few days.   My vision’s a little blurry too, but it’s getting better.  No bones were broken, and the eye is structurally OK.  I’ll be good as new soon, and maybe a little more careful next time.”

They walked over to the gazebo and sat in the plastic chairs underneath it.  A gentle wind blew around them, cooling off both Charlie’s sweaty body and the warmth of Rachael’s inflamed face.  Charlie began to rant about the boy again but Rachael gently intervened.

“I appreciate your concern Charlie.  I really do.  It’s sweet of you and I’ll always remember it.  But you should remember this too.  The boy is used to people being angry at him.  You adding one more voice to the chorus wouldn’t accomplish much with him.  What he doesn’t expect is kindness.  That is the only effective defense against the anger that drives him.  I’m not angry with him and if you can find it within yourself to do so, I would consider it a personal favor if you would try to not be angry with him either.”

Charlie was momentarily silenced by Rachael’s  humble request, but quickly found his voice.  “You’re an amazing woman” he spluttered at last.  “How on earth can you not be angry with him and want to hit him back?”

“It’s because of my faith Charlie.  The boy has never been loved.  Not by anyone on earth that is.  He’s been beaten, cheated, put down and shoved to the margins since the day that he was born, and nobody has ever told him that they loved him.”

“That sort of a kid!” Charlie interjected.  “Who could blame them?”

“But God loves him Charlie.  The boy’s made in God’s image too, and God loves his creation.  God wants me to love him too, and I wish that I could love him, but I can’t.  The closest that I can come to that is to forgive him; and I do forgive him.  And once you have forgiven somebody, it’s hard to be angry with them anymore.”

Charlie just stared at Rachael.  He tried to understand what she had just said:  “He’s made in God’s image.  Well, her god must be a sorry little shit then,” he thought.  Then the thought of her being exposed to the boy again occurred to him.  That was her job, wasn’t it?

“Do you have to be in a room with this kid again?”

“No.  When a client acts out like this our contact is broken off.  He will be dealt with by other people, and I don’t know where or how.  I hope that they won’t just throw him away.”

“I don’t believe this.  You really do still care about this punk, even after what he did.  What kind of a saint are you?”

“Well, not much of one.  It isn’t easy to forgive him.  I don’t exactly relish looking like I just went 10 rounds with Muhammad Ali.  And I don’t really look forward to seeing my boyfriend tonight.  We planned to go out to dinner and, well, to tell you the truth, I think he intends to propose to me tonight.  He went to see my father without him or Dad telling me anything about it.  My little brother is a blabbermouth though and he told me that they spent a lot of time together down in Dad’s workshop.  He thinks he’s clever, but I would have been suspicious for other reasons anyway.  My little brother ratted him out but good, and that sealed it for me.

So no.  Forgiving that kid wasn’t easy.  But it wasn’t easy for Jesus to take the beating and torture that he did and still say “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  If Jesus could forgive his tormentors for the whipping, slapping, spitting, thorns in his head, nails in his hands and feet, and his undeserved death, then I can forgive that kid for one punch in the face.”

Again, Charlie could only sit in silent amazement.  He had heard the men at the Key and Lock discuss God, or the absence of any god, in an abstract and almost philosophical way.  Each made good points and counterpoints.  Here he sat with a young woman with a very nasty bruise on her face who lived her argument rather than only speaking it over a pint of beer.  Charlie didn’t know what to say next, and it seemed as if Rachael did not want to talk about it any more either.

Then Charlie saw the tears beginning to form in Rachael’s eyes, and then the first quiver that appeared in her lower lip.  Those signs of hurt and fear increased until Rachael was not-so-quietly crying in her chair.  Charlie felt helpless as he watched Rachael sob softly, head down, shoulders bent forward and shaking.

“Do something, you horse’s ass!” Charlie’s mind shouted at him.  “Do something for once!”  But what?  He could never offer comfort when his mother would cry out of her loneliness and abandonment.  Maureen and Jack needed his comfort and he had been unable to give any.  Now they hated him for that.  He had nothing to give then and he had no idea what to give now, and so Rachael, a remarkable girl who had befriended him when he was in his misery, sat alone in a chair, still in pain from the punch, with one of the biggest days of her life marred by a huge black eye.  Her sense of safety was shattered and she had said that her god was calling for her to just let it go.  “Do something, you sorry bastard!  Quit being a damned bump on a log.  This girl needs a friend right now.  GET YOUR MISERABLE ASS UP!”

Charlie stood up.

“Come here Rachael”

He reached down and took the hands which rested limply on her kneew.

“Come here.  Come on.”

He lifted Rachael’s arms gently and she arose, yielding gratefully to the call of a compassionate friend.  Charlie let go of Rachael’s hands and enfolded her in his arms, holding her against his chest.  She laid her head against his shoulder and let the tears that she had tried to hold back flow down her face and onto his shirt.  Charlie didn’t say anything; “It’s all right” was such obvious bullshit, so he silently held Rachael as she clung to him and let the fear and grief flow out.

Slowly, the sobs lessened and Rachael’s breathing evened.  Charlie still had not said a word, which he decided was the right thing to do.  Rachael was accepting his comfort without reservation.  He had intended a polite “shoulder’s only hug” but Rachael would have none of that.  So Charlie stood still and silent, holding Rachael in the first embrace that he could remember for, what?  How long hd it been?

“Well well.  What do we have here?  You two lovebirds wanna break it up before I get sick?  I’ve got some gardening to do!”

Walt!

Rachael stepped back reluctantly, and Charlie reluctantly allowed her to do so.

“Whoa now.  I didn’t know you two had moved so fast” Walt said with a big, leering grin as he moved towards them.  “You could find a more private place to – – -.  What the hell happened to you darling?”

Walt’s impolite banter stopped the instant that he saw Rachael’s bruised face.  “Who hit you, girl?  Tell me who it was and I’ll kill the son of a bitch!”

Walt looked pissed; truly pissed.   He approached Rachael and inspected her face the way a medic would assess a war wound.  Charlie could see the genuine concern in Walt’s face and it surprised him.  It seemed that Walt was more than just cuss and bluster.

“I’m OK, Walt” Rachael said as she wiped tears and snot on a shirt sleeve.  “It was not as bad as it looks.  Just a hazard of my profession.”

Walt dug into a pocket and pulled out a handkerchief, which he thrust towards Rachael.  Rachael eyed the proffered piece of cloth with suspicion, and Walt said “It’s OK.  It’s clean.  I was going to use it to wipe off sweat, or maybe tie off an arterial bleed.  You can never be too ready for the unexpected.”

Walt chuckled as he said that, and so did Rachael.  She reached out and accepted the handkerchief.

“Thanks Walt.  I guess I need that pretty badly.”

“Oh, you’re still pretty enough” Walt replied.  “But come on.  Tell me what happened.  You got a bad boyfriend or something who needs fucking up?”

Rachael chuckled again.  “No, he wouldn’t dare.  I can take him and he knows it.  It’s a work thing Walt.  Somebody caught me by surprise and I didn’t see this coming.”

“What the hell you do for a living girl?  Roller derby?  You know, I used to have the hots for a chick on the L. A. Thunderbirds.  She was – – -, well, I guess we’ll let that go.”

“I work with people who are not in a good place.  You know, people who are not having their best day.  Who sometimes never have a good day.”

“Oh, you mean you try to straighten out crazy shitbirds like me!  Well, my hat’s off to you.  Tough work.  I guess you’re not going to tell me who it was so that I can rip his head off and screw him in the windpipe then.”

“No, I probably should’t do that Walt.  That might be a violation of some professional ethic or other.”  Rachael looked into Charlie’s face and then back to Walt.  “That person already knows more about pain than I’ve ever felt.  He’s somebody else’s case now.  Oh, I hate just calling him a ‘case’!  But anyway, I won’t be seeing him again, or at least not for a long, long time.”

“Huh!” Walt snorted.  “Well, if you say so.  I’d still like to pop the slimy little turd one time, just to let him know that somebody cares about men who hit women, but I’ll keep my nose out of it.  Just for you.”

“Thank you Walt.  Your concern means a lot to me.  I guess I needed a little more help today than I thought.  I really do appreciate you.”

At this moment Rachael stepped over to Walt and gave him a big hug.  Walt immediately turned red as a beet, and Charlie stifled a laugh.  He suspected that half of Rachael’s impulse was to set Walt back on his heels, but the other half was genuine, as was plain to see.

Rachael gave Walt a brief but sincere embrace and then stepped away.  Her smile threatened to shame the disfiguring bruise into fleeing.  Walt spluttered in confusion and then muttered “I’d still like to throttle the little peckertrack.”  It was obvious however that his grizzled heart had been softened by Rachael’s appreciation of him.

“Well shoot, Walt.  I don’t know how much you have to do here” Charlie said.  “I didn’t see too many weeds in your plot.”  He turned then to Rachael and said “And yours i’ve nearly weeded already.  Why don’t we team up and get what’s left done.  I feel like being dirty today!”

This was agreed to and the unlikely trio fell to watering and fertilizing and pulling weeds and sharing tips and laughs;  all of the things one must do to make their garden grow well.

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