Touch of a Green Thumb

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

a short story for Love Can Make Or Break You's challenge. just about a girl named Kristen Pike who's been through some hard times and meets a guy who helps her move on.

Touch of a Green Thumb
It was a bright and sunny day. School had just been let out for spring break, birds chirped in the trees, kids whizzed past on their bikes laughing, and the grass was green. With the exception of where the hole had been dug. The hole that now held Kristen’s mother. A flood of people in black contrasted the bright colors of spring, a silhouette of a crowd against the magnificence of the sun. The sun shone down on the funeral, glinting off the metallic shovels that were piling dirt onto the coffin. Kristen wanted to tell the shovelers to stop. The dirt would prevent her mom from seeing the flowers that people were placing on her headstone. But she didn’t speak. Her mouth wasn’t cooperating. The grave now held a collection of flowers, growing bigger by the minute. The endless roses, the odd lily, the rainbow of daffodils. Her mom had always loved flowers. She had also loved spring. The beautiful blooming flowers under a nearby tree seemed almost taunting, a symbol of one more thing Kristen’s mom would never see. Without thinking Kristen broke away from the ceremony and walked over to the flowers. Her mom didn’t get to live so neither would the flowers! Brutally Kristen pounded the flowers to the ground with the sole of her boot. It was easier to angry than to think. It always was.
“Kristen, dear?” Kristen whipped around to see everyone staring at her. Directly in front of her stood Mrs. Lang, Kristen’s mom’s bowling friend. Mrs. Lang wore a false expression of concern. She didn’t really care. She was just annoyed Kristen was holding up the ceremony. She was probably late for bowling. Quickly multiple excuses popped into Kristen’s head, but none reached her lips. She was done trying to people- please. She was stomping on flowers, the reason why was no one’s business but her own. And yet people were waiting for an answer. Waiting on a typical Kristen excuse to assure everyone she wasn’t going insane. Selfish. They didn’t deserve an answer. They didn’t deserve the reassurance that she was fine. She wasn’t even sure she was fine. So instead of responding, Kristen just whipped her sweaty hands on her skirt and walked back to her seat. After a numbing second of confusion the priest continued his speech and the focus of attention was averted. Everyone was done caring. Or rather, thinking they cared. They didn’t care. They cared about the women laid in the ground, they cared about themselves.
They didn’t care about their deceased friend’s daughter who had a brief moment of insanity. But what no one had yet pieced together was that Kristen was always having brief moments of insanity. Only her mother had noticed. Her father hadn’t, but he hadn’t noticed much of anything being drunk all the time. Kristen’s moments of insanity had started around the same time as her father’s drinking. Around the same time her little brother was killed. Coincidence? Not likely. Kristen’s life feel apart when her little brother was killed. He was an angel. Six years old, white blond hair, blue eyes, innocent face. After his death Kristen had started doing stupid things. Drinking a bit, trying drugs, reckless driving. She was labelled ‘troubled’ by her therapist, ‘scarred’ by her mother and sometimes her father, whenever he wasn’t drunk. When he was drunk she was ‘that girl’. She was labelled ‘disruptive’ by her teachers, and sometimes even the police. To her friends she was ‘living on the edge.’ No one really understood why she did the things she did though. The therapist had many theories; split-personality disorder, peer-pressured, bad home environment. But none of it was true. It was because Kristen blamed herself for the accident. For the death of her brother.
“Kristen?” Kristen was shaken out of her thoughts by the words of an impatient voice. Mrs. Lang. Everyone was waiting for her to start shaking hands, to quietly take their pity. To thank them for it. But Kristen played the part. She had no strength left to fight. The reality of her mother’s death increased with every second that past. Every second was a shovel full of reality filling her mind, stealing her breath. She felt numb. Nearly buried. So she got up and walked over to Mrs. Lang.
“Thanks for being here…”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
It was a mere two days later that Kristen found herself back at the graveyard. Her life hadn’t magically improved from the day at the graveyard. If anything it had gone downhill. Her father had retreated into his own little world, hiding behind the security of his bedroom door. She hadn’t seen him since the funeral. She had started placing dinner outside his door every night and whenever she wasn’t looking he would grab it. Kristen knew in a mere week her grades had dropped. She had been a straight A student. She needed to be, the only way she could afford to finally leave her past behind and go to a far away college would be a scholarship. Kristen nor her family had the money to afford college. Two days after the funeral her friends started avoiding her. She hadn’t done anything wrong, she just ‘wasn’t fun’ anymore. Subconsciously Kristen had retreated within herself. An outlet for the pain of her brother’s death was dangerous acts. She hadn’t yet come up with one for her mother’s death, but of course, that was why she had came to the graveyard. To think. Kristen walked over to the dead flowers that lay withered on the ground. The ones she had stomped the life out of. Time to experiment.
Without hesitation Kristen reached into her pocket and pulled out a razor. Worth a try. Kristen breathed a shallow breath her breath accelerating. She didn’t understand why she was so nervous, but as she raised the jagged metal to her wrist her hand was shaking.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” a voice drifted from the shadows, snapping her out of her trance.
“Who’s there?” Kristen whispered, her voice sticking in her throat. It could be some psycho for all she knew.
“Just your friendly neighbourhood gardener.” came the reply. With that a man emerged from the shadows. Kristen guessed he was around twenty years old. He had curly brown hair, nearly to his shoulders and ordinary brown eyes. He wore a green suede jacket draped around his six foot frame and a worn pair of jeans, decorated with grass stains.
“I’m Justin.” the man stuck out his hand enthusiastically with a bright smile.
“Kristen.” she responded, grasping his hand after a noticeable hesitation. Justin stood, staring her in the eye, his stupid smile never drooping, after releasing her hand. “well bye then.” Kristen hinted as Justin refused to move.
For a second it seemed Justin was considering it, a concentrated look on his face. “Naw.” he said finally, smile returning to his face with even more enthusiasm then before. “Wait. I’ll make you a deal. Drop the razor. Never do what you were going to do. I read a physiology book about self-inflicted harm. Promise me you’ll never use that.” Justin was still smiling but his smile had become grim.
Fair enough, Kristen thought. “Deal.”
“OK then. See you around Kristen.” His smile had returned, full voltage. Kristen watched the strange man walk away and disappear, once again, into the shadows.
“See you around Justin.” Kristen whispered and in one sift movement she dropped the razor into the soil. She turned and walked away.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Everyday after that Kristen returned to the cemetery, at that very time. She knew she should just be annoyed by the man’s former interruption and move on with her life, but she couldn’t help feel fascinated by him. Why had he told not to hurt herself? Did he actually care? But, everyday she was disappointed. For he never showed.
It was the Saturday before school started up again when she finally caught a glimpse of him. A first she thought she had imagined him but a second glance confirmed that he was in fact there. In the far corner of the cementer he was leaning over what appeared to be a patch of tulips. Slow and unsure Kristen made her way over to him.
“Hey. Justin?”
“Hello there Kristen!” he smiled. Kristen was moderately surprise he even remembered her name. “What can I do for you?”
“I just wanted to say thanks. For the, umm… incident.” Kristen continued, unsure.
“Not a problem. Hey, my shift ends in a few minutes. Want to hang out?” Kristen was slightly taken aback but the randomness of Justin’s invitation. Once again an excuse sat on her lips, but once again she held it back. For some reason, unknown to Kristen, she wanted to hang out with him. She just nodded.
“Great, just meet me by the gates in a few.” with a smiley wave, Justin turned and went back to his digging. Not knowing what else to do Kristen turned and went to stand by the gates.
Exactly three minutes later Justin jogged up to Kristen.
“You ready?” he asked.
“Yes, where are we going?” Kristen asked, still hesitant.
“Ice cream?” Smile.
With that they left, heading down the street.
“So Justin… where were you for the last few days?” Kristen asked shyly, not sure if she was over-stepping some kind of invisible boundary. But Justin just laughed.
“Nice to know I was missed.” he teased, smiling. Kristen blushed. “Well,” he continued, “I was just out of town.” Kristen nodded, accepting his brief explanation. She had used brief explanations her whole life. “So what do you want? My treat.” Kristen looked up from her converse sneakers to find they had arrived at the nearest Ben and Jerry’s.
“Oh, well umm… I’ll just have a single scoop of chocolate.” Kristen ordered the same thing every time.
“Old fashioned type of girl, are we?” Kristen elbowed Justin in the ribs. Lightly. “And violent too.” He teased, pretending to be wounded. Kristen laughed a carefree laugh. But then stopped abruptly. That was her first laugh in years. Justin looked at her curiously but said nothing as he walked up to the counter.
“Hi there,” he said happily to the girl behind the counter, “beautiful day isn’t it?”
“Yes it is.” the girl said quietly, her blue eyes fixed on the cash register. Her name tag read Elizabeth. “What would you like to order?” she added nervously, brushing some of her dirty-blond hair behind her ear.
“Well I would like a double scoop of Rocky road and this little lady here would like a single- scoop of chocolate. She’s a little old-fashioned that way.” He mock whispered the last part just loud enough so that Kristen could hear it. Kristen laughed, the second time in five minutes, and the girl smiled. Justin just seemed to have that effect on people.
“Coming right up.” The girl was still smiling when she turned to the freezer in the back of the small booth.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Once they had gotten their ice-cream and were done making small talk with Elizabeth, Kristen and Justin turned and left.
“So, where to now?” Kristen asked, startled to notice a bounce in her step.
Justin laughed: “I don’t know. How about the park?” Kristen nodded, unsure once again. Her brother had gone to the park all the time before he died, and Kristen was worried about the memories that might resurface. She had avoided the park forever for exactly that reason.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Weeeeeeeeee!” Kristen shouted happily. She had forgotten how much she used to love the swings. Hearing a laugh from below Kristen twisted around in the seat to see Justin laughing from the ground. He was pushing her. Swirls of colors swam around her as the trees and children and the sun faded into a single mass of colors. Except Justin. He was still clear. A bout of reality in a world of disillusion. And yet, despite the amount of fun she was having she felt herself start to tear up. Her little brother loved the swings. Or had loved to watch people swing. Their over-protective mother had never let him swing. In fact the day of the car accident Kristen had been taking her brother to the park. Her mother had finally caved and decided to let her little brother on the swings. He never got a chance. All of a sudden it felt so very wrong to be on the swings when her brother would never be able to, so Kristen waved at Justin to stop and once the swing had significantly slowed down, she jumped off and started walking swiftly down the path. She was unable to hold back her tears any longer and they fell freely down her face.
“What’s wrong Kristen?” A worried voice shouted behind her. She had forgotten Justin.
“Oh… Justin… my little… brother… loved the… park.” was all Kristen could get out, in between her struggled breaths. Kristen knew that her explanation meant nothing with out mentioning the death, but Justin didn’t prompt her. Justin grabbed her gently around the waist and led her over to a nearby bench. Kristen snuggled herself into Justin’s chest, faintly aware she was soaking his blue, long sleeve shirt with her tears.
Once she had gotten a mild hold on herself she moved herself so that she was sitting beside Justin on the bench.
“Sorry… about your shirt.” She stuttered.
“That’s ok, it’ll survive.” Kristen smiled, but then frowned when she realized she had some explaining to do.
“Sorry about that… back there. It’s just, my brother died and I was driving and we were going to the park and he, my little brother, was going to go on the swings and-” Kristen was cut off as Justin put a finger to her lips.
“You don’t have to explain yourself to me if you don’t want to.” He whispered, startlingly serious. Kristen took a second before she responded.
“I want to explain myself to you.” She murmured, surprising herself. “You are the first person I’ve ever wanted to explain myself to.” Justin smiled, and nodded, as if telling her to continue. And she did. Kristen had no idea how much time passed as she told Justin her whole life story. Her mother’s death, her brother’s death, her father’s current state. Kristen told Justin things that she told no one else. Why she had been doing dangerous things, her outmost inner feelings. And he never interrupted, never told her she was crazy. Then she was done and she started to cry again. And Justin, remaining silent, gently led her face done to his chest and held her as she cried.
Then he started to speak. “You know how I told you I read a book about people hurting themselves?” Kristen nodded, face still resting against his chest. “Well, I lied.” Kristen jerked up her head abruptly and stared at Justin curiously.
“What do you mean?”
“I didn’t read a book, I just have experience on the subject.” With that Justin reached down and pulled up his sleeves. His wrists were decorated in white scars, obviously quite old. In awe Kristen reached forward and lightly traced the lines with the tips of her fingers. What pain these little lines must have caused him. With great difficulty Kristen dragged her eyes from the scars to look into Justin’s eyes. She couldn’t believe that she had ever considered his eyes plain. They were the most full-of-life eyes she had ever seen, and now they were focused on her eyes.
“Why? Why did you hurt yourself?” Kristen asked quietly.
“I had a bit of a rough patch. You know, angry at God and at the world.” Once again Justin’s answer was vague, but Kristen didn’t care. He had opened up, and that meant a lot.
Suddenly Kristen knew what she had to do.
“Come on!” she said excitedly, her voice seeming to ring out after all the whispering.
“Where are we going?”
“You’ll see.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
They had run to the nearby plant shop and had bought a dozen half grown daisies, a small shovel and a bottle of water. Now they were at the cemetery.
“Do you mind me asking what we’re doing?” Justin asked.
“Not at all. Well see at my mom’s funeral I kind of freaked out and stomped on these flowers, so now I want to replant them.” Kristen explained.
“Oh, you’re the flower vandal.” Justin exclaimed with a laugh.
Kristen blushed. “I didn’t know I was so well known.”
“Yup. But yea, good idea, lets do it.”
So they quickly got to work planting the flowers. It was a long process but Justin was a gardener so that made it easier.
“So, you’re a gardener then?” Kristen asked abruptly, curious about Justin’s still unknown life.
“Yes I am. I’m a volunteer actually.” He laughed.
“No higher education plans?”
With that Justin’s laugh dried up and his face turned serious. “No.” was all he said. Quickly Kristen changed the subject.
Before they knew it they were done and the flowers were planted and watered. Kristen got off of her sore knees and went and sat with her back to a tree. Eventually Justin joined her. Kristen’s eyes were somewhat unfocused and pointed in the general direction of the new flowers. She didn’t turn to look at him as she spoke.
“Thank you.” Kristen whispered.
“For what?” Justin asked, looking confused.
“For caring.”
Understanding dawned in Justin’s eyes as he lowered his face to hers. Then their lips met. It was magic.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
It was two months later and Kristen’s life had taken a turn for the better. Her grades were back up, she had made new friends, ones, she was pretty sure, would not abandon her if she got ‘boring’. Her dad hadn’t magically reformed but Kristen was barely at home anymore so it didn’t matter. She had even joined the band. She played clarinet. It was May, and she was backstage preparing for her first band performance. She knew her dad wouldn’t be there but Justin said he would. Kristen was really excited because this wasn’t just some stuffy band that just played classical, they also played modern music as well. Tonight they were just playing modern music.
“Ready Kristen?” Shelly, her new friend, asked.
“Yup.” she smiled.
“Ten seconds everyone.” some backstage person called.
Then we were all hustled on stage. Everyone took their seats and Kristen smiled out to the audience, her eyes scanning the rows of seats for Justin. Her smile became weaker and weaker with every seat her eyes passed over, and eventually it was gone. Justin wasn’t there. Then the music started. Coming in a little late Kristen hurried to catch up. Then Shelly started to sing a popular slow dance song called ‘Up for Display’.
‘You opened my heart
You stood by my side
You are always there
You understand why
You lend me a shoulder
When I am hurt
You are who I depend on
When nothing else works
So why did you leave me
On my special day
Dressed all in white
Up for display
Something new
Something borrowed
Something blue
As new as my broken heart
As borrowed as our love
As blue as me
Nothing is as blue as me
Why couldn
t you seeShe fell on her knees, the rain pouring off her face. She cried, the tears blending with the ice-cold rain.  
I counted on you
To pull me through
To get through this moment
Kristen couldn’t take it anymore. The song was acutely describing the moment she was having except she wasn’t left at the alter. She was left on stage with the person she depended the most on no where to be found. Kristen’s clarinet fell to the floor with a bang and as quickly as possible she got up and ran of stage, down the aisle and out the door. But while running down the aisle she spotted the person she least expected to be there. Her father.
“Kristen wait!” Kristen turned around, hopeful that Justin was just late. But it wasn’t Justin. It was Kristen’s father. “What are you doing? Are you okay?”
“No dad I am not okay. My brother and mother are dead and my father is a good-for nothing drunk, why the hell would I be okay?” Her dad stepped back as if Kristen had hit him, and she had, in a way. She wished she could take back her words but she knew that was impossible. She just shook her head: “Thanks for being here dad.” she said as sincerely as she could, then she turned her back on him and ran. To the cemetery.
Only, when she got there Justin wasn’t there. But another man, looking around sixty, was bent over a patch of flowers. “Umm, excuse me sir?” Kristen said cautiously approaching the crouched over man.
“Yes?” he said turning around.
“Well, I was wondering sir-” The man cut her off.
“Don’t call me sir, honey. I feel old enough already. The name’s Bert.”
“Um, ok Bert. I was wondering if you’ve seen Justin.”
“Oh ya, the boy is down at the hospital.” Bert responded casually.
“What!? Do you know why?” Kristen asked, scared. Pictures of Justin’s mangled body flashed through her mind.
“Of course, they’re trying the new treatment today. Very last minute.”
“Tre-Treatment? For wh… what?” Then Bert said the three words that threw Kristen’s finally normal life upside down.
“He has cancer.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Kristen ran blindly to the hospital nearly crashing through the doors for they didn’t open fast enough for her. She ran up to the counter gasping for breath. “What room is Justin in?” She demanded, annoyed by the look of boredom on the nurse’s face.
“Last name please.” she yawned. That’s when it struck Kristen, she didn’t even know his last name.
“I don’t know but he has brown hair and brown eyes and ca-cancer.” Kristen couldn’t help but choke up on the word.
“Oh Justin Seldar. Room 364, he just finished treatment.” the nurse smiled, suddenly friendly. Justin just has that effect on people.
“Thank you.” Kristen ran off down the hall.
“Third floor!” the nurse called after her. Kristen didn’t need to be told. She had been in the hospital enough in her lifetime. Kristen took the stairs, two at a time, knowing the elevator would be to slow for her. She was nearing the third floor when she heard the voices.
“Son, get back in bed this instance! You are too sick to go out right now!” A stern voice demanded.
“No! I already told you, Kristen is depending on me! She needs me and I’m already late!” Kristen reached the top of the stairs and threw open the door. There seemed to be a showdown happening in the hallway. Two adults stood facing Kristen, one looked like an older version of Justin and the woman looked like the type of mother who stayed at home and to make cookies. Justin’s back was to her.
Then, with a bang, the doors slammed shut behind Kristen and Justin turned around. “Kristen?” Justin’s voice was rough with surprise and not nearly as confident as it had been seconds before. “What are you doing here?”
“Bert said… Bert said you have cancer. Is it true?” Kristen demanded. Justin just gave a single nod. Unable to restrain herself any longer Kristen ran forwards into Justin arms. And he held her and for a second everything was alright again. The last thirty minutes hadn’t occurred and she was just as happy as she had been backstage, when her world was normal. Then the moment was done and Justin had cancer.
Kristen started to cry but twisted out of Justin’s embrace. “Why didn’t you tell me? Why did I have to find out you had a fatal disease from a volunteer gardener? Were you just going to go without saying goodbye. Were you-” Kristen couldn’t speak anymore for the stream of tears falling down her face were to thick. She turned and ran back to the stairs, down the stairs, passed the surprised nurse and out the door. It was raining.
How could he? How could he not tell her he had cancer. What if he was going to die? What if he was going to die. Abruptly Kristen ceased crying. What if he was going to die? Did she really want to spend any of his last hours, days, months mad at him? Immediately she knew the answer. She got off her knees and ran back into the hospital, passed a very surprised nurse and up the stairs. Justin was sitting in the hallway, his head in his hands. The door slammed, once again grabbing his attention.
“Kristen?” Justin wore an expression of disbelief and hopefulness. “Kristen, I need you to listen to me. I… the only reason I didn’t tell you was because around you I could forget about it. I could pretend that I didn’t have cancer, that I was normal.” Kristen nodded. She could relate. She sat down beside him on the floor.
“Justin, if there is one thing I’ve learned since I met you, its ‘normal’ doesn’t exist. No one is normal.” Justin laughed.
“You’re probably right.” Kristen pulled Justin’s face down to hers and kissed him, more passionately then ever before. She stopped abruptly as a thought occurred to her.
“How long have you got?” she asked worriedly.
“Three months.” He responded honestly. Kristen looked at him aghast.
“How are you so happy all the time? I mean with a death sentence hanging over your head.” Kristen asked bluntly. She couldn’t be happy and she had a full life ahead of her.
“I was unhappy for a while.” he admitted reluctantly, and images of Justin’s wrists flashed through Kristen’s mind.
“Oh that was when,” Kristen mimed cutting her wrist.
“Right,” he nodded, “but I realized that it didn’t change anything and that I was still going to die. So I figured I might as well be happy.” That was the moment Kristen realized she loved Justin. Not just liked. Loved.
“I love you.” Kristen whispered so quietly Justin almost missed it. But he heard her. A look of surprise crossed his features but then just acceptance.
“I love you too.” he said. And there they sat, in the hospital hallway for hours, until a nurse came and told Justin to go to bed. Kristen called home and left a message for her dad that she was at the hospital, then fell asleep on the couch in Justin’s room. She woke up at one o’clock to find Justin’s arms around her, then she fell back asleep, with a smile on her face.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
One month later it was graduation day. Kristen was once again on stage. Her dad and boyfriend were sitting in audience. Kristen’s confrontation with her dad during her recital apparently influenced him to get help and now he was part of Alcoholic Anonymous.
“Kristen Pike.” With a smile Kristen stood up and walk forward to receive her diploma and scholarship. She received a full scholarship to the local university. She would be able to check up on her dad ever so often. Once the ceremony was over she ran off stage into Justin’s arms.
“Congratulations!” he yelled, to be heard of the excited chatter that filled the gym. “I have something to tell you.”
“Yes?” Kristen asked, suddenly worried. Justin looked serious.
“You know how I’ve been trying an experimental treatment the last few weeks?”
“Well the doctors said its showing positive results and there’s a 7/10 chance that I’ll get anyway from three to five more years.”
“Justin! That’s great!”
“Yea and I’ve just been accepted to the local university.”
“Oh my gosh! We can go together! That’s so exciting.”
“Yeah, it is.” Justin murmured and leaned down. “Congratulations, again.” Then they were kissing.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Kristen arrived at the cemetery at 2:30 pm. She had walked the whole way but that was fine. She needed the time to think. But she knew what she had to do. Kristen walked over to patch of daisies she and Justin had planted forever ago. As delicately as possible she picked one and she laid it on her mother’s grave. She could not believe the first time she had been here she had been so depressed. She had blamed herself for everything and never laughed.
“I miss you mom. But I do have a story to tell you. It all started on a bright and sunny day. School had just been let out for spring break, birds chirped in the trees, kids whizzed past on their bikes laughing, and the grass was green…”

Submitted: February 02, 2009

© Copyright 2021 anonymousinthefirstdegree . All rights reserved.

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Add Your Comments:



Wow I like it!

Fri, February 13th, 2009 3:11am



Fri, February 13th, 2009 2:34pm


wow. i really enjoy your writing style...and this story in particular!

keep writing :D

Fri, March 20th, 2009 4:54am


thanks!! will do :)

Fri, March 20th, 2009 1:29pm

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