?I love my family. I just also, sort of, hate them. Listen to this email from my sister.”
IT WAS THE best of emails. It was the worst of emails. And Clover received them both within two minutes of each other.
Clover’s emotional pendulum swung from left to right so fast upon checking her computer she had to put her head down onto her desk and breathe through the light-headedness. It was in this unusually undignified position—arms on desk, head between arms, hoodie over her head—that Clover’s assistant found her.
“Um, Clo? You okay down there?”
“Oh, I’m fine. Thanks for asking.”
“Are you sure you’re fine?”
“Sure I’m sure.”
“Are you sure you’re sure you’re sure?”
“I didn’t think so.”
Clover sat up and looked across her desk where her seventeen-year-old assistant, Ruthie, stood looking at her, waiting for an explanation.
“Is your hair more purple than usual today?” Clover asked. “Or is it the light?”
“More purple. I recolored it last night.”
Clover put her head back down on her desk.
“What is it, Ruthie?” Clover sat up again.
“You were moaning. Did you know that?”
“You were. And not the good kind of moaning.”
Clover narrowed her eyes at Ruthie.
“What would you know about the good kind of moaning?” Clover asked.
“Nothing. I know nothing about good moaning. That’s what we tell Pops, anyway. Right?”
“Right. Pops. Your father. Oh, God. My father...”
Once more her head hit her desk and this time it wasn’t coming back up until the world had ended, thus solving all of Clover’s problems.
“Clo, what’s wrong? Tell me or I’m not leaving.”
“You have to leave. You have a plane to catch.”
“The plane is taking me to LA. Trust me, I’m in no hurry to get there.”
Clover slowly rolled up and sat back in her office chair. The place was a mess, but a comfortable mess. She had ferns overflowing onto her worktable, orchids on her desk, potting soil in the wheelbarrow by the storm door and her lemon tree was getting so big it hung over her desk, making the whole office look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. She liked it here. She loved it here. Maybe she’d stay here. Forever.
“My parents’ house finally sold and my sister’s house has ants and has to be fumigated. And my brother’s house is still undergoing renovations that they were undergoing last Thanksgiving.”
“Good for your parents. Bad for your brother and sister.”
“Also, PNW Garden Supply upped their offer to five million.”
Ruthie’s blue eyes went as big as the lemons hanging off Clover’s tree.
“Five million dollars? For this place?”
“And the Portland location.”
“This is all... Wow. But I don’t get the connection between a house selling, ants, a buyout offer and...this.” Ruthie flopped over onto Clover’s desk before standing up again.
“The buyout offer is great, fantastic, fabulous,” Clover said. “And I have until Monday to decide to take it or not.”
“Tomorrow is Monday.”
“Next Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving. And with Mom and Dad out of their house and Kelly’s house being fumigated, and Hunter’s house being renovated... We know what that means.”
“It means lucky me gets to host Thanksgiving. By the way, they didn’t ask me if I would host Thanksgiving. No, they told me to expect them on Thanksgiving. So the week I should be deciding if I’m going to sell the company I’ve spent the last five years of my life building is the week I’ll be hosting my family, and...oh, my God, kill me, Ruthie. Please.”
Head met desk once more and they decided to spend the rest of their lives together.
“Do you need a lavender-infused wipe?” Ruthie asked.
Ruthie put the lavender-scented moist towelette into her hand, and Clover pressed it against her face and inhaled deeply and repeatedly.
“Is it working? Calmer yet?” Ruthie asked.
“Do you have anything stronger? Like chloroform?”
“I could light some incense, maybe?” Ruthie suggested. “Or we can go out and find a yew tree.”
“Yew trees are not native to this continent. Also, they’re highly toxic, so exactly what are we supposed to do with a yew tree?” Clover asked, narrowing her eyes behind the lavender towel. “You aren’t poisoning anyone, are you?”
“Trees are ancient sacred beings, and yew trees are symbols of renewal. We should stand in front of one and ask Mother Nature for Her wisdom.”
“I have this lemon tree right here.” Clover pointed at the tree hanging over her head. “Is that not good enough for the Mother?”
“Fruit trees are fertility symbols. If we pray under that one you might get pregnant. Or worse, I might get pregnant.”
“Okay, we’ll skip the lemon tree, then. Although if I got pregnant that would shut my family up.”
“Your family wants you to get pregnant?”
“They want me to be happy. It’s awful.”
“Yeah, sounds absolutely horrible,” Ruthie said in her glorious teenage deadpan. “Screw them.”
“No, it’s not that. Well, it is. My brother will come to Thanksgiving and he will bring his wife, Lisa, and their three kids. My sister will bring her handsome husband and their four kids. Mom and Dad will come to Thanksgiving and cry with joy because all their children and grandchildren are under the same roof. And I will be there. Alone. In the house. Thirty years old. No husband. No boyfriend. No kids. I haven’t even been on a date in years. And they will let me know over and over again, and in no uncertain terms, that I’m not getting any younger, and if I’m ever going to be happy that magical way they are happy with their beautiful spouses and their perfect children, I have to get a move on it. And I will sit there and I will listen to all of this. And...”
“And I will smile and nod while I mentally stab them all with the carving knife.”
“Why only mentally?”
Clover looked up from the nest she’d made with her hoodie on the desk.
“You’re a creepy kid, Ruthie. Just a little creepy.” She held up her fingers an inch apart.
“Thank you.” Ruthie curtsied.
“I knew you’d like that. So...that’s what’s wrong. Nothing and everything.”
“Can’t you just tell your family to shut up and mind their own business? It’s your body, your womb.”
“Why don’t you just tell your dad to shut up and mind his own business when he asks you about your homework or your grades or your boyfriend?”
“Does it work?”
“All right, you got me there. Maybe next time your mom tells you to have kids you can say you’ve dedicated your womb to Mother Earth.”
“What does that entail exactly?”
“I don’t know, but I said it at school once and it got me out of PE that day so you should try it.”
“That would not go over very well with my Presbyterian mother.”
“You need a new family,” Ruthie said. “You can join my coven.”
Clover sat up for the last time, abandoning her desk nest for good. She was a grown-up, after all. She needed to be setting a better example for Ruthie. Adults face their problems. They do not hide from them inside hooded sweatshirts.
Clover pulled it up and read in her best fake sweet voice.
Clo! OMG, thank you for letting us do Thanksgiving at your place. It must be so great not having kids so you have all that free time. It’s a good thing I love these kids because, I swear, they are the biggest handful on earth. It must be nice only having to deal with plants. If they die nobody cares, right? I have to keep these critters alive and that is a full-time job. Speaking of the kids, I posted about fifty new pics in the family photo album. Can’t wait to hear what you think of Gus’s class picture. He’s really the cutest kid in the class but I’m probably biased. Love you! See you Thursday!
Ruthie stared at her, wide-eyed with horror.
“I hate your family. Even Gus,” Ruthie said. “Goddess forgive me.”
“Fifty new pictures of the kids? She just put in two dozen last weekend! And I have to comment on every last one of them or she’ll bug me until I do.”
“Children are parasites,” Ruthie said.
“So I’m guessing you’re not planning on having kids when you’re older?”
“What do you have against parasites?” Ruthie rolled her eyes.
Clover wisely chose to ask no follow-up questions.
“Nobody cares if my plants die?” Clover said with a sigh. “Does she not understand that I sell plants and I can’t sell dead plants?”
“Has she met any of your customers? She should come answer the phone for a week here, and then she can say nobody cares if your plants die,” Ruthie said. “Does she not know if the plants die, your business dies?”
“Kelly means well.”
“You have to let me burn her house down. Please?”
“No burning anything. You’re still on probation.”
“Fine. But if she ever comes in here I’m going to put a Venus flytrap down her pants.”
“That doesn’t sound very Zen.”
“Zen is a teaching of Buddhism. Although I respect Buddhism, I’m technically a neo-pagan. And neo-pagans would totally put a Venus flytrap down your sister’s pants. At least this neo-pagan would.”
“You’re very...sweet? Okay, no, but it’s nice of you to defend me. My family wants the best for me, but it’s always their version of ‘the best,’ not my version. I know exactly what Mom will say when I tell her about the buyout offer. She’ll say, ‘Oh, Clo, honey, that’s wonderful. Now you can quit work and finally focus on your personal life.’ I’d bet money on those exact words.”
“Weird. I’d say, ‘Oh, Clo, that’s wonderful. Five million dollars buys, like, five years of male escort services.’”
“Only five years?”
“Those guys make bank, Clo. You should hire one. He could help you with your little problem...” Ruthie sang, fluttering her eyelashes, the very picture of feigned innocence.
“I don’t even feel comfortable getting manicures. Do you really think I could handle hiring a male escort? And what on earth are you doing looking up male escorts, anyway?”
“I admire them. They are the only men on the planet doing what the Goddess intends men to do, i.e., devoting themselves entirely to female pleasure.”
“If I didn’t let you hire a stripper for my birthday, do you really think I’m going to hire a male escort? For anything? Including my little problem or my big problem?”
“Okay, maybe not. But you could ask Pops.”
“Ask Pops. You know, my father? Picks me up every day? The tall guy with the dirt under his nails who’s cute, I guess, for a dad.”
“Yes, I know who your father is. We’ve met a few hundred times.”
“Well, ask him, then. He has all his teeth and all his hair and he knows how to cook a turkey. What more could any woman want in a fake boyfriend?”
“He’s your dad.”
“I know. I’ve also met him,” Ruthie said.
“I can’t ask your dad to help me with my little problem.”
“Not your little problem. Your big problem. He can be your fake boyfriend this week.”
“That’s not a good idea.”
“Why not? He’s not dating anybody. Plus, he likes you. And he’ll be alone this week while I’m with Mom.”
“Because he’s your dad. And you work for me. And I think that would be a little bit weird.” Clover paused. “Wait. What do you mean he likes me?”
“I mean he likes you. Why wouldn’t he like you? You’re nice and you’re a goddess.”
“I’m dirt-encrusted on a daily basis,” she said. She also lived in her jeans, fleece vests and turtlenecks, and any makeup she put on in the morning she’d sweated off by noon. Her blond hair never left its ponytail until night.
“So is Mother Nature.”
“Is your father attracted to Mother Nature?”
“If he’s smart he is. And he’s smart, but don’t tell him that. Come on, Clo, Pops thinks you’re awesome for giving me this job. He says you’re a good role model. He really does like you.”
“Liking me is not the same as liking me. And even if he did like me, he’s your father. I don’t want things to be weird with you and me.”
“You don’t think it’s already weird that you check him out every time he picks me up?”
Clover blushed crimson.
“I do not check your father out.”
“I have lived all my life under the curse of the Sexy Single Dad. My own friends check him out. It’s so gross. But it’s not gross when you do it. It’s adorable.”
Clover glared at Ruthie across the office.
“Suit yourself,” Ruthie said. “I didn’t want a badass stepmother, anyway. I’ll just write down the number for the male escort service. Do you like blond guys? Sven is half-off this week.”
“You’ll have to call and find out...” Ruthie raised her head and glanced out the window behind Clover’s desk. “Speak of the devil. Pops is here. Time to fly.”
Clover turned around and looked out at the truck pulling into the parking lot of Clover’s Greenery, the finest plant nursery in the entire Mount Hood area according to PNW Garden Supply. That reputation was seemingly why they were ready to hand over a cool five million dollars to her for her two locations and the name. That was the sticking point. The name. It was her name. She kind of wanted to keep her name and use her name and sell plants with her name. Look at Erick, Ruthie’s dad. Painted right on the side of his white Dodge Ram were the words Erick Fields—Cedar Roofing, Siding and Decking. He was his business. His name was his work. His work was his name. She respected that. Giving up her right to do business under the name Clover Greene would hurt. But would it hurt so much that five million dollars couldn’t ease the pain?