It’s fall in Woodlake. The leaf peepers are on every wooded stretch of road, their cameras posed to capture New England in all of its autumn glory. Which means Woodlake is as congested as it ever gets.
People are great, out of towners even better if some pretty lady needs directions to the nearest covered bridge or Indian Head. If that same lady happens to invite me back to the room she’s booked at some quaint bed and breakfast, even better. Or, that was how I usually spent my falls before two of the guys on my landscaping crew got injured.
Now, I’m busting my ass from sun up ‘til it sets, trying to cover the work of three all on my own.
If it were spring, I’d hire someone. But with winter at our doorstep, it’s pointless to waste the time it’d take to train someone.
Besides, my guys all work well together. I don’t need someone new coming in and messing up their rhythm.
A few more weeks and all of the aerating and seeding I’ve been doing will be done. I’ll take a break then, and maybe spend a week or two at the lake with my brother Asher and his wife Paige. So what if they’re newlyweds, they’ll love my company.
If they’re busy I might be able to talk my sister Abby and her boyfriend Spencer into road tripping somewhere warm. They could both use a break.
A long weekend in Vegas would be a blast with those two. Hell, Spencer is so smart he can probably count cards or some shit like that. Even if he can’t, it’d be fun to see him try.
Reaching the fence, I steer through the turn to make my final pass, the one that’ll take my riding aerator back to my equipment trailer.
The corners of my mouth pull down when I spy Mrs. Knott waiting next to it. I’ve got nothing against chatting with my clients. Thing is, the last time we spoke she went into great detail about all the things she’d like to do with me and not one of them was plant flowers.
Hooking up with a married woman was a mistake I only intended to make once. In my defense, she left that important detail out.
If a woman is married or has a boyfriend, I’m not interested. Both spell drama that I’d like to avoid.
As I get closer, she steps farther away from the ramp. When I reach the edge of her grass, I pull a lever to raise the aeration attachment. I don’t take off my glasses or my headphones until I’ve backed up onto my trailer and killed the engine.
“Hey Mrs. Knott. Can I help you?”
She bends forward, pushing her boobs together. No denying it, she’s got a great rack. I’d bet money they’re fake but without a closer inspection, I can’t tell for sure.
“My bathroom faucet is leaking. Is there any way you could take a look at it?”
I frown, not sure if she’s lying and this is an elaborate ploy to get me inside. If it’s her spare, she could be on the up and up, if it’s her master, chances are she’s full of it.
“Which bathroom is it?”
She blinks, and then flutters her eyelashes. “The master.”
Looking over her shoulder, I motion to Zach, one of my younger guys, to stop seeding and take out his earbuds.
When he does, I say, “I need you to give me a hand with something inside.”
He nods while Mrs. Knott shakes her head and says, “Oh no, I’m sure you can handle this all by yourself. There’s no need for you to stop one of your workers.”
Stepping off the aerator, I watch as Zach approaches us. “You don’t mind taking a break do you?”
He shakes his head.
Sensing defeat on this point, she frowns.
When Zach joins us, I make a point to walk beside him since the walkway leading to her front door allows for two people to walk side by side but not three.
She hesitates at the door. “Maybe I should just call a plumber.”
I shrug, enjoying myself at this point. “Why bother when we’re already here?”
She doesn’t reply.
Since Zach is closer to her storm door, when she opens it, he holds it for her to go through. With a lift of my chin I instruct him to go in next while I take over holding the door. I’m sure I’ll get an earful from him later about using him this way. As much as he enjoys being my human buffer, he loves to bust my chops about it.
Mrs. Knott silently leads us back to her bedroom. I have to assume her dejected posture would have been much different if I had been the only one following her.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been inside her home. When they had signed the contract for ongoing lawn maintenance, it had been in their kitchen. Mr. Knott had shaken my hand and thanked me for relieving him of lawn mowing duty.
He seems like a nice guy. In the months I’ve worked for them, it’s clear he’s rarely home and works in Boston. From the outside, it looks like he has it all. Gorgeous house, a stunning wife, and enough money that he can hire people to do the things he doesn’t want to. Too bad it comes with a miserable commute and a relationship that’s gone stale enough for her to be hitting on the landscaper.
I’m grateful my work doesn’t own me. Sure, things are crazy right now but in a few weeks I’ll be able to kick back and relax. At least, until the snow comes. To keep income coming in during my offseason, I do some plowing. Nothing crazy, just driveways for some of my regulars.
“It’s through here.”
We follow her through an elaborate walk-in closet and dressing room, into the bathroom.
The faint sound of a drip echoes off the teal tiled walls. Once I locate the source of the drip, the farther sink in a his and hers set, I move toward it. Through the mirror, I watch Mrs. Knott flush and look away.
The reason for her embarrassment is clear when the drip stops after an easy twist of the knob.
“Oh, you fixed it.” She exclaims as if she didn’t already know there wasn’t a damn thing wrong with it.
I shrug, no point in losing a good customer. “Happy to help but we should get back outside now so we can finish up out there.”
She steps aside, giving us a clear path out of there. Her antics cost us time and I’d like to finish up her house before it starts to get dark out.
Each day getting shorter is only a reminder winter is on our heels. I’m happiest outside, with my hands in the dirt.
“I feel like your beard, man,” Zach jokes once we’re out of earshot.
“Buffer, please. I’m not trying to pretend to date you.”
He shrugs. “This is what, the fifth time this month some married lady has tried some shit.”
Ignoring his question, I look up at the sky and chuckle. “We’re losing daylight. How about you bust my chops once we’re in the truck.”
“Sure thing boss.”
I’m not a slave driver, and I think the guys that work for me respect the fact that I have no problem working alongside them.
While he finishes putting down the seed, I work on trimming some of the shrubs on the side of the house. They’re evergreen, and while they won’t lose their leaves, they are going dormant now that it’s getting colder. This trim should hold until spring.
With the seed down, Zach and I work together to load up any remaining yard tools to my trailer.
I’ll email Mr. Knott the watering schedule later tonight instead of giving the Mrs. a printout.
We manage to beat the sun and are pulling away when Zach turns toward me. “Are you like married lady crack?”
I laugh, shaking my head. “Shut up.”
He doesn’t listen. “It’s like they sit around their knitting clubs and make bets on who will land you.”
“They do not.”
He gives me wide eyes as an argument. “Bullshit they don’t. I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t have a giant poster of you they all take turns kissing.”
I blink at the road ahead of me. “That’s disturbing.”
He smacks his armrest. “They probably watch gardener porn.”
His words remind me of a shirt another one of the guys got me years ago. It said I’m the reason someone masturbated today. Unfortunately, gardener porn exists, and with the expectation of banging in the great outdoors, it is stuff I pray none of my clients watch.
“Thanks for another great visual.”
He grins. The guys love messing with me about all the come-ons I get. For the most part, I take it all as a compliment. It’s flattering. It stops being a compliment when I’ve made it clear I’m not interested.
For some reason, possibly my reputation, the idea I could be not interested in an easy lay seems impossible to some people. Still, believable or not, I have some standards.
First off, I need to be attracted to her. Since I don’t have a type, I’m attracted to most women I meet.
Second, they need to be single, or separated. Last thing I want or need is some pissed off boyfriend or husband trying to start shit.
Third, they need to understand that I’m not looking for anything serious. My oldest brother provided our mom with grandkids so I’m off the hook with being responsible for the next generation of Thompsons.
Any interested lady who is cool with those things is my type.
“If you were married or had a serious girlfriend, these women would stop hitting on you.”
I roll my eyes. “Please, their being married doesn’t stop them. Why would they care if I was?”
Zach doesn’t speak until we reach the next traffic signal. “You make a good point.”
It’s been a long time since I’ve tried to figure any woman out. My younger sister is cool. There’s no way she’d ever cheat on Spencer. The same goes for my sisters in law, Brooke, Finley, and Paige. They’re around me all the time and none of them have ever hit on me.
As awesome as they are, I can’t imagine being with the same woman for the rest of my life. It’d be like having lasagna for dinner every night. I love lasagna but after a while, I’d start hating it.
“After today, I don’t think Mrs. Knott will pull anything again anytime soon.”
He starts chuckling. “She turned bright red when you turned off the water.”
I shake my head.
His laughter stops and he pauses. “Should you tell her husband?”
I hazard a glance his way before returning my direction to the road. “Hell no, it’d be my word against hers. There’s no way that will end well for me. Now, if I knew him better, maybe.”
“You’re right, I feel bad for the man though. Big house, pretty wife—”
I cut him off. “Things aren’t always what they seem from the outside.”
Turning onto the street where my storage yard is, my eyes flick to the time display on my dashboard. “You don’t have to stay and unload.”
I feel the weight of his eyes on me but keep my gaze forward.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah man. You worked your ass off today. Go home and rest, be ready to do it all over again tomorrow.”
He laughs but doesn’t argue to stay. As much as I like his company, I’m craving some solitude at the moment.
My business property is little more than a storage yard with a giant garage. It’s plenty of space to park my three work trucks and all of my equipment.
Before I hit the garage door opener, I knew the other two trucks would already be back and unloaded.
It would have taken less time to unload if I had asked Zach to stay, but since he did me a favor, I figured this evened the score.
My house isn’t far from the storage lot. From door to door maybe ten minutes. After a fast shower, I’m ready to meet Abby and Spencer for some Mexican food.
Pulling out my phone, I give it a quick glance and see a text from Abby.
Abby: Sorry bro, Spencer and I won’t be able to make it tonight, can we reschedule for tomorrow?
Frowning, I text back: Sure, everything okay?
Her response is fast. Tough day for both of us. We’re going to crash early.
Abby can be a pill when she’s exhausted so I’m only half bummed they ditched me last minute. Guess I’m flying solo tonight unless I can talk someone else into joining me, because there’re tumbleweeds blowing through my fridge and pantry.
I fire off a text to Noah and ask what they’re up to tonight.
His text back is another shutdown.
No point texting Asher. I don’t want to make the drive and I sure as shit know he won’t come to me on the fly.
Maybe Eli can hang out or bare minimum invite me over. My fingers move across the screen of my phone as I tap out a message.
Can’t is his one-word answer.
Looks like I’m three for three.
All right, time to pull out the big guns. Going to my recent calls, I press the one labeled Mom.
There’s no way she and my dad would pass up a chance to have dinner with me.
“Gideon, I can’t talk. I’m at Connie’s dance recital. You okay?”
Shit. That was tonight? Eli asked me months ago if I wanted a ticket but with my hours being unpredictable this time of year I had told him no. Now, I’m regretting that.
“No, I’m good. I’ll catch up with you later.”
The sounds of people all around her filter through her phone. “All right honey. I love you.”
Pressing end, I glance back into my useless kitchen. I could always order a pizza. My mind rejects that idea instantly. As much as I love the stuff, there’s only so much pizza I can eat and I’ve already had it twice this week.
Besides, it’s not the food so much as getting out and being around people. I want to have a conversation around something other than a watering schedule on new seed.
Shoving my phone in the pocket of my worn jeans, I grab my keys. Bar food isn’t as good as Mexican would have been, but if I can get some conversation on the side, it’ll do.
There’s an Irish pub not far from my place. Looking over my shoulder as I back out of my drive, I head to it.
With decent music, food, and beer prices, I’m not surprised to see the lot full of cars when I pull in. I might not be hanging out with the people I wanted to tonight, but quantity over quality will have to do.
My path to the bar is delayed by a few extremely attractive women. Unfortunately, ones I’ve already either fooled around with or decided against spending time with. Because it would get back to my mom if I were rude, I play the friendly conversation game long enough to not come off as a jerk before excusing myself.
I blame my having to leave them on hunger and wanting to get an order in. Speed is not one of the things this pub can brag about.
Carla, a bartender I wouldn’t mind getting reacquainted with, moves to stand in front of me, her elbows resting on the smooth wooden surface of the bar.
Asher built it years ago as a custom job. He might not leave his lake often, but coming here and sitting at his handiwork is almost like he’s here in spirit.
Carla’s eyes roam over my face. “Hey stranger. What can I get for you?”
I fake a pained expression. “Stranger? It’s been two weeks. I’ll take a draft of whatever you pick.”
Grinning, she fills a glass for me. “Felt longer.”
I lean forward and drag my finger down her arm. “Distance makes the heart grow fonder.”
Her breath hitches, and she doesn’t pull away. “That so?”
“What time do you get off tonight?”
The pink tip of her tongue darts out as she wets her lips. “Why, you offering me some company?”
“If you want it.”
I lift my chin. “It’s a date.”
She shakes her head but does it grinning. “Only you would call it a date.”
I lean closer. “What would you call it?”
Pressing her tits to the bar top, she leans close enough for her lips to brush my earlobe. “I call it a fuck.”
My lips tip up. “Pretty sure of yourself, now aren’t you?”
“Well, I didn’t get a chance to suck you—”
She stops mid-sentence when I pull out my phone.
Leaning back and folding her arms across her fantastic breasts, she asks. “Am I boring you?”
I turn my phone to show her the calculator app on my screen. “Nope. I was figuring out how many minutes there are until one.”
Her annoyed look vanishes as her cheeks redden. “Gideon Thompson, you are too much.”
Shoving my phone into my pocket I disagree. “I’m sure you remember, I’m just right.”
She doesn’t argue. “So, how many minutes ‘til one?”
I let my gaze slowly wander over her. “Two hundred and eighty-six.”
“That’s a long time to wait.”
I motion to one of the food menus laying on the bar top. “Food’s always slow. I figured I timed it about right.”
She smirks. “All right Casanova, what’ll you have?”