Cheers for the reviews.
Yup, Ezra is Will's brother.
No, I haven't mentioned whether Tom is aware of Ezra's existence.
lol, Esquirella, he is a lousy example of a Capricorn! Capricorn's are supposed to be great with money (ok, that kind of excludes me...but I'm not as bad;))
I arrive at T.J.'s Garden Center at ten minutes to seven on Thursday morning. I walk through the gates and up to the house. The store is open and Jamie is inside, using a watering can to water the delicate indoor plants, while his dog rests in a corner of the store.
'Hey Luke,' he greets, noticing my presence. 'You want a coffee?'
'Thanks, that would be great.'
'How do you take it?'
'Milk and two sugars.'
He hands me the watering can. 'I'll make it. You keep going round the room. If you need more water, go to the green watertank to the left of the house. There's a tap attached to it. You can fill it up from there.'
'Let me know if you have any questions. Oh, and don't drink from the tap; the water hasn't been treated.'
Jamie heads into the office to make coffee, and I start watering the plants. Not being familiar with the science of watering indoor plants, I take a rough guess at the correct amounts. When the watering can is empty, I take it outside to the tap and fill it up. So far, so good, I tell myself. Nothing strenuous or bad has occurred so far.
It's at that moment that I turn around and come face to face with a strange man. He's standing roughly five inches from my face, with his arms crossed over his chest, and a smirk on his face. I jump back, startled, before realizing he's wearing the same dark blue polo shirt Jamie wears, and is therefore nothing more than an employee who's snuck up on me.
'You must be Luke,' he smirks, drawing on a cigarette.
'Yes. Pleased to meet you.'
The right corner of his mouth rises slightly in amusement as he shakes my hand. 'Gary. I'm Jamie's older brother. I work here during the week. We'll probably be seeing a lot of each other.'
Now that he's mentioned his relationship with my new employer, I can see a few physical similarities between the brothers. Both are of average height, with tattooed, healthy looking bodies, and perfect, white teeth, but Gary is darker featured than his sibling, and he strikes me as being slightly sinister. His eyes are closer together, and more suspicious than his brother's, and the cigarette he's smoking is not solely made of tobacco.
'I'm sorry, I should go inside,' I apologise. 'I was watering the plants.'
Gary takes one last drag on his cigarette before throwing it over the fence and into the neighbour's yard. 'Are you going with Jamie today, or staying with me?'
'I don't know. What does Jamie go out and do?'
'He does people's gardens, installs their tanks, that sort of shit. It's fucking hot work. Try and avoid it if you can.'
Gary shrugs. 'Working in the store is easier. All you need to do is to sell shit to people, and organize for Jamie to have a look at their gardens. It's pretty breezy.'
'Does it take long to learn?' I ask politely, heading inside.
'Nah. The main thing is to be polite to everyone. Most people who are coming in already know what they want, or have a good idea, so it's not a hard sell.'
The news was music to my ears. Most people walking into my previous places of employment had little idea of what they wanted, and huge ego's that needed catering to. Even working out in the hot sun has to be better than being subjected to the tempers and harassment of clients on a daily basis.
We walk inside, where there are two mugs of white coffee on the table alongside the register. A third mug is in Jamie's hand.
'How did you know I'd be on time?' Gary teases his brother as he picks up a mug.
Jamie grins. 'You're too nosey. I knew you'd come early so you could check out Luke.'
His brother laughs. 'Dickhead.'
I've worked for family businesses before, but never for one quite so…laid back as this. Nonetheless, when I learn that Jamie is the proprietor of the business and Gary is his sole employee, my stomach sinks. So Tom doesn't work here after all. Houmam was obviously mistaken when he said he saw my brother-in-law here.
My disappointment has barely settled when Jamie announces he's taking me with him today. He hands me sunscreen and a hat, and tells me to wear both unless I want to go home a nice, bright, shade of red. I heed the advice and liberally apply sunscreen as we head over to his work truck.
'I pack everything I need early in the morning,' Jamie explains. 'I like to head out around eight. I'll keep you with me, whether I'm out or in the store, for the next two weeks. After that, during the week you and Gary can alternate working at the store and helping me out, and on the weekends, you and I will work the store. Gary wants to stop working weekends, but I can't really do it all by myself. The store gets busy, especially on Saturday and Sunday mornings.'
'How much do you turn over?'
'I wouldn't have a clue,' he answers honestly, opening the passenger side door for me. 'I've only been in business six months, and Gary's only been with me for two.'
I climb into the front seat. 'You seem to be doing well.'
He shrugs. 'My accountant would be yelling at me if I wasn't.'
During the ensuing journey I make my most detailed inspection to date of my new employer. I decide that I actually quite like him. There's a pleasant air about him, and even if he is a little coarse, he's not at all threatening or aggressive. He's actually quite good-looking, if you're the sort that appreciates facial hair and tattoos.
On the flip side, he's a smoker, and he smokes his roll-your-own cigarettes while driving. There are empty tobacco packets stuffed into the storage space below the CD player, and the whole interior reeks of cigarette. It's not a good environment, and I surreptitiously wind down my window a little bit in order to get some fresh air.
'So, tell me about yourself,' Jamie requests. 'I don't know anything about you.'
'I'm twenty-four. I have a degree in English Literature from Griffith. It's gotten me absolutely nowhere. After I graduated I moved from working in retail part-time, to working full-time. Retail is boring and it doesn't really provide a lot of opportunities, so I decided to find a new career.'
'Do you have a partner?'
He stubs out his cigarette in an ashtray. 'Weird name.'
'It's a family name. He went by his second name, Richard, until he was seventeen. When he started working he reverted to Ezra.'
My explanation is truthful, but it doesn't even begin to fully explain the situation. Ezra's past is not a nice one, though, so it's best to keep things simple when explaining his name and history to people.
'Do you have a girlfriend?' I ask, noting his lack of wedding ring.
'Fuck, no,' he laughs. 'You?'
'We have a cat.'
Jamie pulls a face. 'I'd rather have a kid than a cat.'
'I wouldn't. You get the same amount of respect either way, but cats are significantly cheaper.'
'I'd reckon you'd be better off spend the money on a kid or a dog,' he grins. 'To each their own.'
We arrive at a beautiful, renovated Queenslander and the chatter stops. After getting out and seeing if the owners are home (they aren't) Jamie backs his truck into the backyard. We get out and start unloading everything we'll need, moving the plants onto the shaded veranda, and the tools onto the a patch of dry grass.
'So, um, what are we doing exactly?' I inquire.
Jamie retrieves a sheet of plans from the cab of the truck and holds them open for me to see. It looks like something out of a garden renovation show, only with native plants and no water features.
'This,' he explains simply.
'Really?' I ask apprehensively. 'That looks…hard.'
I glance around the backyard. There really isn't anything to speak off, other than a few straggling trees. The grass is dry and brown and around the house there are loose pebbles scattered around.
'It isn't,' Jamie shrugs. He retrieves a can of paint from the tools. 'The first thing is to mark off the borders. I'll get started while you go and get your hat.'
Ezra arrives home at a quarter past six. He's an accountant, and in charge of the finances at a medical recruitment agency. It's terrific pay, the sort of pay that I only wish I could earn, but the work can be hectic, and I know I don't have the brains or the organization for Ezra's career.
'Lukie?' he asks gently, coming over to the couch where I've been lying, prostrate, for the past two hours. He kneels down beside me. 'Are you okay?'
'No,' I whimper. 'It's a really hard job. I have blisters. Look.'
I offer him my hands and feet for inspection. He takes my hand in his and duly look it over.
'You can quit if you want,' he offers.
'I don't want to quit,' I protest. 'I like it.'
'Do you really think you're cut out for manual labour?'
I force myself into a sitting position. Despite four applications of sunscreen I'm slightly sunburned, and as well as my blisters, my lips are chapped and I'm physically exhausted.
'It's not really manual labour,' I protest. 'The problem is that I'm unused to physical activity. The job is actually quite satisfying. Do you know what doing a garden is like? It's like receiving a brand new shipment of clothes and putting them on the racks. Your store is perfect. But here is the crunch; nobody messes anything up. It starts off good, and it keeps getting better as you keep working on it.'
Ezra chuckles under his breath. He kisses my nose. 'I'm not going to argue with you. You do whatever you want to.'
I kiss his forehead. 'I love you.'
'I love you, too. Now, did you want me to make dinner?'
'That would be great,' I agree. 'I'll have a bath.'
We rent a large one bedroom apartment together, and it has a great kitchen and a fabulous bath. We've lived here for three years, and have no plans on moving anytime soon. Ezra makes his way to the kitchen to get started on tea, and I limp to the bathroom, stripping off my clothes as I go.
The hot water of the bath is heavenly. I rest my head against the porcelain edge tiredly and listen to the sounds of Ezra preparing dinner. He's a beautiful man, my boyfriend. He's sweet and kind and gentle and he rarely loses his temper, even when my foolish habits get us into debt. He earns five or six times what I do, and when I confessed six months ago that I had twelve thousand dollars worth of credit card debt that I had been hiding from him, he hugged me and told me everything would be alright. I mess up our budget on an almost weekly basis and each and every time he forgives me.
The truth of our financial situation is that while we are in a bad financial situation, it is largely my fault. I shouldn't really shift the blame for my own actions onto anyone, especially my boyfriend, but sometimes I wonder if I'd still do stupid things if Ezra voiced any form of protest. He's too good for me sometimes. I act like a child because he babies me, and this isn't a good situation when you're twenty-four years old and should be acting as such.
After twenty minutes or so, Ezra comes into the bathroom to check on me.
'I'm good,' I mumble happily. 'Come in the water with me.'
He hesitates. 'Dinner will be ready soon.'
'What are you making?'
'Turn the heat down and get in the bath,' I suggest.
'If you insist.'
He's naked by the time he returns. I sit up and shuffle forward to make room for him.
'Woah,' he mutters, embarrassed, as water splashes out. 'Luke, do you ever wonder what it would be like to date a skinny guy?'
Ezra is a little overweight, and he can be a bit sensitive about it. He regularly goes to the gym, but all this has done is given him a layer of muscle under the fat. He thinks he looks like a whale. I think he looks more like a seal cub, in a cute kind of way. I have no issues with his weight; his body is comforting and familiar, and so long as I am sexually attracted to him, that's all that matters.
'Nope,' I tease. 'My other boyfriend is thin.'
Ezra laughs, his cheeks pink. 'Is he as good at kissing as I am?'
I tilt my head back and gaze into his grey eyes. He looks professional, even when he's naked in the bathtub. It's the Oroton glasses, I expect. He's short-sighted, but hates contacts, so he almost always wears his glasses. 'No. Nobody could be as good a kisser as you.'
'Then I'm okay with you having another boyfriend,' he jests, kissing my forehead.
I lean up against him and enjoy the peace and quiet. There's actually something fulfilling about spending your day working hard, and then coming home to rest in a bathtub with your boyfriend.
I don't mention the fact that Tom doesn't work at the nursery, because I never bothered telling Ezra I originally went there looking for his brother-in-law. In fact, Ezra isn't aware I'm searching for Tom, and his boyfriend Will, and until I track the pair down, I'd like to keep it that way. I don't want to get his hopes up, only to disappoint him. Besides, I'm not even sure Ezra wants to meet them.
'Shit,' Ezra swears, as the smoke alarm starts sounding. 'Dinner's burning.'
He gets out of the tub and wraps a towel around his waist. I slide back into the water and wait for the beeping to stop, all the while wondering how likely it is I can convince Ezra to let me eat dinner in the bathtub, and then carry me to bed.
Yes, I am that exhausted.