Jon pushed his wide brimmed hat back and wiped his forehead with his handkerchief. The hot sun lamps in the hydroponics bay could wear on a man after a while. Sitting on the edge of a raised bed of acorn squash he pulled out his water bottle and took a drink.
It was well past the end of his shift. He would be fine heading home, and while there were always things to do, there wasn’t anything that couldn’t wait until tomorrow. Still he sat. For the past week, ever since Christy stood him up, he hadn’t gone out much. Or at all. He didn’t want to run into her in the corridors, or the laundry, or the cafeteria. So he was keeping deliberately odd hours to avoid her. Childish, possibly, but he didn’t care.
He realized he was sitting in the exact spot now where they had promised to meet. Like a fool he’d spent a ridiculous amount of time in front of the mirror primping his hair. He even remembered how slippery the plastic handle of the hairbrush had been in his sweaty hand. Even more, he remembered the solid lump in his pocket from the ring box. He’d been a nervous wreck.
Then the waiting. She worked in the kitchens, so she was off when everything was done, not a specific time. Still she was usually free by 8:30 or so. By 9:30 he’d finally left to go to the kitchens. Maybe there was some sort of problem. Maybe he could help. But the kitchens were dark, the doors locked. Then it hit him that she had stood him up. And he had been ready to ask. . . he dodged a bullet there after all, he thought.
The lights dimmed; they were on timers and it was getting later. He stood up. No point in brewing over it anymore. It was what it was. His messenger pinged in his pocket. He tried to pull it out with the hand holding his water and he fumbled the device. It fell through a leafy squash plant and landed with a plop in the dirt. He set his bottle down and shoved leaves aside to get it back. In the semi darkness he saw a shiny glint and reached for it. It was an acorn squash, but he felt something metal as well, he plucked the vegetable out. The vegetable was misshapen. Around its middle was a silver bracelet. The one he’d given Christy he knew at once, but her rolled the squash over in his hand to confirm, and as expected he found the little silver heart with the word ‘love’ stamped on it. Also attached to the bracelet was a message stamp. That had been added on.
How did that get here? When could she have brought it without him knowing? Had someone stolen it? With apprehension, he pressed the stamp. It popped and crackled, but between all that he could make out Christy’s voice, but not her words. The stamp had been lying in the dirt, and getting watered for a week no he realized. It had been there a week, enough time for this squash to grow around the bracelet. She had come. She’d come and she’d left this here for him.
With growing dread, he dove back into the plant and pulled out his messenger. The ping had been from Christy. “Are you free to get together tonight?” He’d been ignoring her messages, and they had started coming less and less often. He looked back at them now with new eyes. “I’m sorry.” “Did you get my message?” “Are you mad at me?” “Can you come see me?” “Where are you?” She wasn’t sorry for hurting and leaving him, he saw now. She was sorry for something else. Something that had kept her from staying that night.
Ah! That night! A cat had come rushing out of the garden and scared him half to death in the dark he remembered. He’d all but fallen over, and he thought his hair had gotten all a mess. He’d rushed off to check it. He’d only been gone a minute. Damn it, and damn his pride too.
He hastily wiped his messenger on his pants to get the dirt off and replied that yes, he was free. Did she want to come over?
She replied she couldn’t. She was still at the hospital bay.
Still? He wondered. He asked if she were all right, feeling panic rise.
Yes, it was her father. Didn’t he get her message? She was there with him. Would Jon be willing to come there? She didn’t like leaving him.
Yes, absolutely. I’m leaving work now, let me clean up and I’ll be right there.
Thank you so much. I’ve really needed you. See you soon.
There were flowers by the water tanks. He could clip a few of those on the way out to bring to her father. He looked at the bracelet trying to think of the best way to get it off the squash, and then decided to leave it. It kinda looked like a heart now the way it was dented in. He’d give her the whole thing.