Garden of Silence
by Ana Raine
Ebook ISBN: 07520-02425
[ Contemporary Romance, MM ]
Determined to stay at the Haver House as generations did before him, Oliver sets out to show Charles the beauty of the garden. But when Charles seems more interested in making Oliver his than inheriting an old estate and garden, Oliver has to choose between falling for his first crush or staying on with the new buyers of Haver House.
The rain was never predictable, even in a place like Haver House, where everything down to teatime was accounted for. Most of Master Nathan’s events were planned down to what he would wear, who he would escort, and what he would be inclined to eat. His meticulousness might’ve seemed off if that hadn’t been what his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had instilled in him.
Time was money and although the Havers had no shortage of funds, I always wondered if that was precisely because of all the considerations they’d made for time.
It had been five days since the last rainfall and the fluffy white clouds dotting the bright blue sky didn’t make it seem likely the dry spell would break. Hence why I was out in the garden with a hose and watering can.
The Havers of the past had treasured their garden, and Master Nathan was no different. His house was an impressive three-story red brick mansion with dozens of rooms that were always kept clean but hadn’t been used in years.
But it was the garden he treasured.
From my spot near the Koi pond, I could see my cottage. The Havers were tied to this house, but my family, the Hulls, were rooted in the garden. Even after my father died, the thought of having to leave made me feel dizzy and weak in the knees, not that Master Nathan would’ve suggested such a thing.
As I knelt beside the Koi pond, I realized there was far too much Ludwigia growing beneath the water. Some was good — the yellow flowers were pretty and they produced oxygen — but at the rate it was growing it might choke the pond.
I submerged my arm to my elbow in the clear water, feeling the slight tickle of the fish as they scrambled to get out of my way. Despite numerous attempts to clean the bricks surrounding the pond, there were still faint traces of paint. As I pulled the weeds from their watery prison, water splashed over the paint and reminded me of memories I wanted to forget.
“Are you sure we should do this?”
Nathan Haver’s only child Charles had been my main friend growing up. But there was more than just wealth and position that created a divide between us. Unlike me, he had soft blond hair that crested in waves over his forehead and soft blue eyes. He was two years older than me, but even at twelve, I’d known I would never catch up to him.
I pushed my hair from my eyes. “What if some gets on the fish?”
As an unspoken rule, we weren’t ever in the garden without my father or his. But whenever they were both preoccupied, we’d take advantage of the situation.
Charles already had the lids off of the paint and was dipping a paintbrush into the inky colors.
“You worry too much,” he said, a smile playing at his lips because he knew he’d won.
Even if he hadn’t been the Master’s son and older than I was I would have listened to him. “Fine, let me have the blue.”
“Why don’t you use the red? It’s right next to you.”
I bit my lip and thought about telling him the truth. Somehow, I wasn’t sure he’d react well to being told I wanted the blue because it was the same color as his eyes.
For hours, we’d painted the brick until our hands and fingertips were more stained than the greenery surrounding the pond.
As I reached for a washcloth, Charles had taken my wrist in his strong hand and stared.
“You’re really delicate looking, you know?”
“Am not,” I argued, but even as I tried reclaim my hand, I couldn’t. “What’s it to you anyway?”
“Nothing,” he muttered. He reached into his pocket, staining his expensive school uniform and produced a bead bracelet. After slipping it over my hand and onto my wrist, he released me.
For several minutes, I had held my breath.
“Some girl at school gave it to me, but I don’t want it. Looks better on your girly hand.”
But I’d left the bracelet clinging to my skin and it wasn’t until later that night I’d realized I was waiting for him to kiss me.
“Still hard at work, I see.”
The sound of a wicker chair groaning pulled me from my memories of a time when I was still under the impression Charles was my friend.
“They said it would rain tomorrow,” I said before pulling the last of the excess Ludwigia from the pond. “But I wanted to make sure to give them an initial watering just in case.”
I stole a glance in Nathan’s direction and saw he’d brought out his scotch on the rocks and was staring at the garden like saying good-bye to an old friend. I turned away and focused on watering the rest of the surrounding flowers, not wanting to see the signs of death I knew I would find etched into Master Nathan’s skin.
He had been old when he’d gotten married and older when he’d had Charles, who had just celebrated his twenty-fifth birthday. At seventy, Nathan tried to keep active and most of the time, fooled women into thinking he was much younger. But I knew he had the same habit as my father and the smoking was what was killing him.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Are you content always being here and working in the garden? Or do you have somewhere else you’d like to go?” Nathan asked before pulling a thick cigar from his sweater pocket and fumbling for the lighter.
He took a breath and seemed to remember where he was because he put the cigar back into hiding. The garden was the one place where he never smoked for fear of polluting the flowers’ air.
I shrugged. “My dad and grandpa were pretty content being here. I don’t see why I wouldn’t be.”
“Charles inherits the house, of course. I only hope he has the same rooted desire to stay here that you seem to have.”
Talking about Charles was painful because after he’d come into his inheritance, he rarely visited and only stayed when Nathan was gone and he could have the run of the estate. Master Nathan was forever lingering just a few steps behind me and at first, I’d been at a loss of what to think. But pretty soon it became clear he missed his son and latched onto me as a way of coping.
“The roses are going to be beautiful when they open,” I said as a way of distracting him from Charles. Really, I just didn’t want to talk about him.
“Flowers are only as beautiful as you cultivate them.”
I wasn’t quite sure what he meant but before I could ask for clarification, he grabbed his drained glass and headed back towards the house. His walk was slow and I could tell his leg was hurting him. There wasn’t much time left for him, but instead of seeking all the updated medical treatments, Master Nathan handled his death like he handled his garden. Simple and peaceful even to the end.
I refocused on the flowers in my attempt to dislodge Charles from my mind, but his memory was already embedded into my mind like tiny thorns.
* * *
Five days later, James, the butler, came running to my cottage to tell me Nathan had died. Since I could remember, James had always worn the dutiful butler uniform, complete with a freshly pressed silk tie. Seeing him in loose pajama pants and a T-shirt as he banged on my cottage door made me realize what had happened before he opened his mouth.
His death had been peaceful and quick. The only reason anyone had realized he’d died in the middle of the night was because he’d asked the chef to prepare a late night bourbon and steak pie.
There were stains on the carpet outside his bedroom door where the pie had been discarded and forgotten for too long.
In the days that passed, old friends and acquaintances flooded the house with flowers not nearly as pretty as the ones in the garden. On paper, I was only his gardener. But losing him was like losing my father all over again.
When James was around and making preparations, I allowed myself to be in the house. But most of the time, I planted myself like a weed in the garden and waited to see if Charles was going to return.
Naturally, he would have to so he could be present for the reading of his father’s will. But if he would come in time for the funeral on Saturday remained to be seen.
The morning of the funeral, I woke up as soon as the thinnest thread of sun appeared through the clouds. Meticulously, I gathered flowers from the garden and created a bouquet that would be able to say all the words I couldn’t.
There was a knot the size of a plum pit in my stomach, lodged so deep I was unable to speak without stuttering. After securing the flowers and showering, I forced myself to watch mindless television while I killed the two hours before the funeral.
I was just starting to remember the names of the underwater cartoon creatures when a knock on the door startled me.
Thinking it was just James asking for assistance, I called, “Come in.”
The tall slender gentlemen standing in my doorway nearly made me slide from my chair.
He stepped fully into my small cottage, but I wished he hadn’t. His blonde hair was neatly trimmed and parted to the side, still as straight as ever. Despite coming for his father’s funeral, he wore a loose sweater with a polo shirt underneath and looked more like a high school boy. His skin was dark and tanned, making his blue eyes even brighter in contrast.
I realized my mouth was hanging open and gathered my composure. “What are you doing here?”
“Wondering if you still lived here, of course,” he said as though I were an idiot. Charles locked his jaw as he appraised my cottage. His body might’ve been clothed, but I could tell how lean and chiseled he was. “And I own this place now.”
At all costs, I had to make sure he didn’t realize what kind of crush I had been holding on to. I didn’t need him to confirm how pathetic I was.
“Right. I’m so sorry for your loss.” I muted the television and stood, but standing didn’t do anything to ease the height gap between us.
I was acutely aware of how I must have looked to him. I was a thin, dark-haired boy with plain brown eyes the color of dirt. Charles looked out of place in my modest cabin. Even though I wanted him to leave, I dreaded the moment.
The death of his father was more than just my loss of Master Nathan, but of my last tie to Charles. Without Nathan, there was nothing to keep Charles from forcing me to leave the Haver Estate and him. Not that he realized what leaving him forever was going to do to me.
I smoothed my shirt underneath my jacket and licked my lips, but my mouth was dry and I only succeeded in tasting my chapped lips.
“I have to admit,” Charles noted, his eyes burning into mine. “I’m not all that surprised you’re still here. It’s not like you had that many callings in life.”
His words cut me deeply, but I refused to let him show just how much. Curling my hand into a ball at my side, I formed words I knew I shouldn’t say. “You weren’t here when your father died.”
Charles raised his eyebrow, as if challenging my masculinity for not fighting back. “Did he mention me?”
Lying wasn’t an option, so I chose not to respond.
“Figures,” Charles smirked, flicking a stray string from his otherwise immaculate sweater. “He always liked you more. Insufferable old man. With your lover gone, it’s only a matter of time until you leave too.”
“He wasn’t my lover,” I argued. My cheeks felt enflamed and too big for my face. The thought of leaving was too much to address…
“Whatever.” Clearly, Charles didn’t believe me when I said I wasn’t his old man’s lover. “Just do me a favor and stay out of my way.”
Then as quick as a flower petal shrivels after detaching itself from the stem, he was gone. Like the thoughtless playboy he was, he’d left the door open. The swaying wind banged the screen door against the wall repeatedly.
To Charles, people only had worth if they were useful to him. It had been many years since I’d seen him, and I’d hoped he would have changed. That like the many flowers we had cultivated over time, he too would have grown and matured in his thinking. But he still hated me just as much as he had before he’d left.
Slinking into my room, I reached underneath my nightstand to find the secret alcove I’d built to hide a possession I needed to be free of. Buried in the confines of the wood was the weathered, beaten bracelet Charles had given me all those years before.
Could I really blame him for hating me when it was it was me who couldn’t let go?