Doris Gaines Rapp
“Yes, Mom,” Charity said, pretending frustration. “I’m getting plenty of sunshine. In fact, I was just getting ready to go out and work in my garden plot.”
“Good,” her mother sighed. “The doctor said you need more sunlight. Sitting at a computer all day isn’t good for anyone. The glowing light from your devices doesn’t count.”
“Mother, I’m a writer. I write at a computer,” she snapped back.
“I know what you do, but it cannot be all you do.” Sandy Couchman argued gently. Then she laughed and added, “I thought only men defined themselves by their occupation.”
“Mother,” Charity moaned, “don’t be archaic. Women have important careers too.”
“I know they do . . . we do. Remember, I am the most successful realtor in Overlook. But, I consider myself smarter than to think I’m only a realtor. I’m a wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friend. Each of those roles requires time and effort. I don’t sell houses eighteen hours a day.”
“And I don’t—” Charity began and stopped, “well . . . maybe I do.” She quickly took a breath and began again. “But . . . I have deadlines.”
“Well then, I’ll let you get back to the few minutes you have allocated for sunshine.” Sandy stopped and thought back. “Wait, what garden plot?”
“My building has an old parking lot across the street. They bought the property for future expansion but they aren’t going to begin for a few years. They brought in a guy with a plow, a couple loads of topsoil and plotted off the ground for residents who want to plant a garden. I got my name in early for a plot.”
“Honey, that’s great. What are you planting?” her mother asked.
“The first thing I put in was rhubarb, then some other vegetables,” Charity said.
“Now, don’t make fun of me, Mom. Just because you and Dad don’t like it, doesn’t mean I don’t.” As she stood by the front window talking on the phone, she saw the man from apartment 4C going across the street to the new garden. “Mom, gotta run. I’ll call you another time.”
Charity gathered up her door key from the desk and slipped it into her pocket. With her foot up on the desk chair, she finished tying her shoes. Then, she grabbed the hoe she had stuck into the umbrella stand in the entry hall, hurried out and locked the door quickly before heading to the elevator. “Hope he’s gone,” she whispered to herself. Thank goodness the elevator was empty except for Charity. She didn’t want to be caught talking to herself, especially since she wasn’t talking much to anyone lately.
When the doors opened on the first floor Charity started to move forward but caught the long handle of the hoe in the door. She checked the lobby for anyone who might have seen the mishap and then berated herself for caring what other thought about her.
Outside, she would never have admitted it, but the morning sun felt wonderful. Bright ribbons of light danced through the trees and cast their life-giving energy on each plot, carefully marked off by white field paint. One man said it looked like stripes on a football field. Charity believed it was a city-man’s way of validating gardening.
Looking around, she didn’t see Mr. 4C so she quickly forgot about him. At the end of garden plot 4A, marked with a small sign at the end of the strip, she dug her hoe into the soil and loosened the few weeds that had invaded in spotty patches.
“Good morning,” a deep voice hummed from the next space.
Charity said nothing but smacked the garden tool down on the dirt harder than before. Somehow, Mr. 4C, tall and muscular, had managed to block out the song of the birds high up in the trees with the expression of only two words.
“It’s a great day, isn’t it?” he repeated.
“If I had wanted to talk to you, I would have said something when you spoke the first time,” she sassed back without looking up.
“I see you’ve planted rhubarb,” he observed, ignoring her comment. “I like it too, even if it is kinda tart.”
Again, she said nothing and continued to weed her garden plot.
“Tartness can be overcome with some sugar, or other sweetness like honey,” he added.
“Are you trying to be annoying or does it naturally flow out of you with no effort on your part?” she asked as she stopped and leaned with folded hands on the top of her hoe.
“You look tired already,” he observed. “Can I help you?”
“Stick to your own garden, Mr. 4C.,” she snapped back.
“Miss . . . 4A,” he began, “you don’t know me, so I know your anger cannot be directed at me. I don’t have to react or dish anger back at you; because, it isn’t about me. Charity, your vindictiveness is about you.”
“How do you know my name? Have you been stalking me?” she demanded.
“Stalking? I live across the hall from you. And, by the way, your name is on your mailbox down in the lobby,” he answered calmly.
“You aren’t supposed to notice other people’s names,” she sputtered; unable to come up with another argument fast enough to satisfy her need to put him in his place.
“Okay . . . I’m going back up to my apartment and put on the coffee pot. When you’re ready to talk about what’s bothering you, I’ll be there.”
“Not likely,” she mumbled without looking up from her rhubarb patch. She stopped and put one hand on her hip, “I thought you came down to work in your garden.”
“I have been cultivating something for several weeks, if you haven’t noticed,” he answered and smiled warmly.
Charity didn’t respond. What could she say? As 4C walked away, she whispered to herself, “Okay, so you have a way with words. Is that supposed to impress me?”
Later, Charity slumped at her desk for another hour, staring aimlessly at her computer. She got up and went over to the open kitchen. Reaching for the coffee pot, she tipped it up over her cup. Nothing. The pot was empty.
Slamming the pot on the counter, she shuddered, dreading to check for glass breakage. Noting that the carafe was intact, she placed it carefully in the sink.
“Coffee . . .” she moaned. “I need coffee. I’m tired. I have brain drain. I can’t concentrate and I have an impending deadline.” She drifted around her apartment grumbling, “The only coffee in Overlook cannot possibly be just across the hall.”
She checked her pocket for her key; slowly went out into the hall and knocked on 4C’s door. Housekeeping was running the sweeper a few doors down. The smell of carpet dust hung in the air.
When the door opened she bristled and darted inside. “It smells dusty out there,” she announced as she pushed past him. “I’m not going to call you, Mr. 4C any longer,” she grumbled. “What’s your name?”
“J.D. Stone,” he said, watching her take over his space.
Charity determined the walls, covered in posters of football player and other sports luminaries, looked like a well decorated frat room. “Another little boy who never grew up, I see.”
“Actually, they’re my clients. I’m a sports agent. These,” he gestured toward the wall hangings, “are my clients. I’ve only been in the business for a few years but . . . I’m doing well.”
“Jared Stone?” she asked in amazement.
“Now, how do you know the name of an athletes’ agent?” he asked, his eyes twinkling. He went over to the counter and poured a mug full of coffee. “I’m guessing this is what you came for. And, I repeat, are you a sports fan?”
“No,” she drug out, “I’m a writer.”
J.D. pointed to a grouping of chairs around a small sofa. He tossed a pillow to the end of the couch and motioned for her to sit down.
She slowly kicked off her shoes, sat down and crossed her legs in front of her. “I wrote a novel last year and did some research on all aspects of sports. It’s about a country girl and a baseball player—A Diamond . . .”
“From the Diamond,” J.D. finished for her.
Charity sipped her coffee and smiled. “How did you . . .?”
“My sister wanted the book for Christmas,” he said with a sheepish grin.
“She has good taste,” Charity offered.
“And me? My taste?” he asked.
“You have good taste in sisters,” she said with a laugh.
“And . . . friends,” he eyed her carefully over his coffee cup.
“I’d hardly call us friends,” she said as she straightened. “We just met.”
“You’re right, of course. But, I hope we can build a fast friendship. And, to that end, I meant it when I told you I’d be happy to listen to what is bothering you.”
“I . . . I’m sorry, I seem to begin every sentence with ‘I.’ Wow . . . what is bothering me?” She unfolded her legs and winced in pain. “I’m stiff,” she admitted. J.D. said nothing but listened intently. “My doctor calls it SAD,” she opened up.
“What are you sad about?” he asked softly.
“Not sad . . . seasonal affective disorder, with capital letters, S.A.D. The symptoms include depression, stiff muscles, with extreme fatigue. Also, something that frustrates me completely . . . fuzzy thinking with an inability to concentrate,” she explained as tears willed up in her eyes. “J.D., I’m a writer. I’m at my computer all day. I can’t just sit in a near-stupor every day.”
“Did your doctor suggest any treatment?”
“She recommended medication if I wanted to take it, moderate exercise and sunshine every day,” she said with a mocking snicker. “How do I make the sun shine every day?”
“On days when the sun does shine . . . you spend some time in your garden,” J.D. concluded. “And . . . when the sun doesn’t shine?” he asked.
“I wait, sometimes weeks for the sun to come out again.” Her voice, edged with anger, cut into the conversation.
“Well, if waiting works . . .” he began.
“I know . . . if it works, keep it up. If it doesn’t, stop it,” she sighed deeply. “I’ve listen to all the guru tapes, too.”
“So . . . do you stop it?” His expression was different from others. Rather than laughing at her, he seemed to understand.
“No, I keep on keeping on, trying to write, hoping to clear my head.”
“According to some pretty big athletes I represent, there are high potency vitamins, lamps with bright bulbs, exercises, even a few days in Florida during the dreary times of the year would help,” he suggested.
“My parents spend the winter in Florida,” she admitted reluctantly.
“You could spend a few weeks with them,” he offered.
She sipped her coffee and remained silent for a minute. “Then, I’d have to admit that Mom is right.”
“Would that be so bad?” he whispered.
“Yes,” Charity spit out. “No,” she said as she changed her mind. “I guess not.”
“Which is worse, your mother being right or SAD?”
“Okay . . . okay,” she agreed with a new positive lilt to her voice.
“Your garden plot does look nice,” he quickly changed the subject from surrender to accomplishment. “It’s easy to see you take good care of it.”
“So far, the rhubarb has started to come up,” she sighed. “My parents don’t like it. I planted a little.”
“Rhubarb is very tart but some sweetness makes it wonderful.” J.D. smiled broadly. “Just like people.”
Charity blushed. “I haven’t had the energy to include other people in my life . . . men in particular. I may be willing to try again.”
“You can start with one close by . . . no energy wasted getting there,” he said and laughed.
“Thank you, J.D.” she agreed as her expression softened. “When the rhubarb is ripe, I’ll make us a pie,” she offered. “It should be sweet by harvest time.”