He turned to see the young girl, Hasenpfeffer, coming towards him. “Hello Miss.”
She smiled kindly at him. “No, no, call me Has and I will call you Hoolio.” She huffed a little. “We’ve been over this several times now.”
Despite her serious air, Hoolio chuckled. She was an odd duck for such a young girl, but he had always liked someone with spunk and spirit; and this child had both in spades. “I’m sorry, Has.” He nodded to her. “How are you today?”
“A little vexed, to tell you the truth.” She said. She ran a finger over the rose bushes. “You’ve done such beautiful work this year, Hoolio.” She said.
He blushed. The compliment was a pleasure, even if it did come from a girl who reminded him strongly of someone from Children of the Corn. “That’s mighty nice of you to say.”
“Think nothing of it. Praise given when deserved is simply truth.” She turned to him. “I did want to ask you a question though; a gardening one.”
“My mother is thinking of buying me a small Shetland pony. But she also wants to redo the foliage around the estate. Are there any plans that would be found in forests or as weeds or ornamental grass that could be harmful to someone?”
That was an odd question for a thirteen year old to ask, he thought. “That’s an interesting question.” He said. Hoolio thought for a moment. “Well, most poisons come from nature, or are derived from them. There is Belladonna. It is beautiful but deadly in large doses. There is poison ivy of course, poison oak. But each poisonous plant has its own different ways of delivering the poison.” He said. “It’s like natures kind of armour.”
Has regarded him for a moment with cool, dark eyes. Then she smiled. The smile did nothing to lessen the chill that shimmied through his body at that moment, when their eyes met. “Thank you, Hoolio.” She said. “You’ve given me a lot to think about today.”
As he watched her walk slowly back up to the house, Hoolio shook his head. “I need to get another job,” he said out loud to himself. “That child gives me the heebie jeebies.” He gave a careful glance back at the house. “The parents are pretty messed up too.”
He sighed and stood. Taking out a pack of cigarettes, he lit one and took a drag. “And now I’m talking to myself.” He sighed. “Great.” He wondered how the day could possibly get any worse than this.
Unfortunately, he was about to find out.
* * *
Hoolio had taken off his lunch break to go and see Walter. Has had been at the back door and had seen him. But she had held a finger to her mouth. “Go on,” she said. “I won’t tell anyone.”
Despite the fact that she gave him the creeps, Has did have her moments. “Thanks kid.” Hoolio said.
“Don’t mention it.” She laughed. “Now go get him, tiger!”
Her laughter followed him out of the house as he made his way down back walkway. He didn’t have far to go. At the end of the block, he turned left and smiled, as always, when he saw the small restaurant.
Tatiana’s was nestled in the small residential neighbourhood and had been for years. As it was so close to the Finkelstein estate, it was natural that the staff that worked there would venture out to have a few and let out some steam.
It was where they had met. Well, that wasn’t really true. They had worked together for a while before the attraction between the two of them made itself known. Hoolio thought that it was that knowledge of each other that made their love so strong.
When Hoolio entered the restaurant and saw Walter sitting at their normal table, he knew almost immediately that something was wrong. Instead of their regular drinks in front of him, a highball in front of Walter, a Tequila Sunrise waiting for Hoolio, there were only two glasses of water.
Feeling as if he were wading through a large body of water, Hoolio made his way over to the table and sat down. Walter didn’t rise to greet him or take his hand. He didn’t give Hoolio a quick kiss on the side of his cheek.
Hoolio wondered if he had begun dreaming sometime after he had woken up. “Walter, what is it?” He asked. He tried to keep the panic out of his voice. “What’s going on?”
“I can’t hide it from you any longer.” Walter said. “I’ve been seeing someone else for a while now and have chosen him over you.” Walter gave a shrug. “It happens.”
His heart was a shattered glass chalice in his chest. He could feel the shards digging into his lungs, the sounds around him had gone all fuzzy, as if mussed by static. “What happens?”
Walter gave Hoolio a look as if he were being incredibly stupid. “Love, of course. You can’t help where you find it, only whether or not to follow it if you find it.”
Hoolio’s breathing had become laboured. He took in several deep breaths and told himself he would not cry. He would not cry, he would not cry. “But I still love you.” He said. He had to push the words out past a throat filled with shards of glass, their sandy grit giving his words a torn quality.
Walter’s expression softened only for a moment before being replaced by this cool, cold individual that Hoolio didn’t know. He reached forward and patted Hoolio’s hand lightly. “But that’s the problem, isn’t it?” He took his hand away. “I don’t love you anymore.”
Hoolio waited until Walter had exited the restaurant, waited until the little bells signalled his exit.
Then he let the tears come.