“We launched the plant conservation study in an abandoned natural reservoir. Fields of sagebrush set against three icy active volcanos. And there I was, naked on the side of the dirt road. Covered in ticks. A poison oak rash burned up my waist. I had four wasp stings.”
“That’s when you decided you had enough of field work?” Bree cuddles me. We’re curled up on her couch.
“That’s certainly when I decided I wanted to sit at a desk the rest of my life.”
Bree’s abusive boyfriend John will be home in an hour. The three of us dated a few years ago. I’ve barely sawed off my own leg in time to free myself from him. I can only risk re-entrapment one more time, just tonight, and just for her.
“I’ve missed you so much, Sarah.”
Her words engulf me like a swarm of hornets rising from their broken nest after you’ve punched your foot through it. I squeeze her hand tighter. She pulls away from me and stands by the window. It’s a stormy Oregon night and the rain patters loudly. I strain to hear her.
“What kind of plant did you get John before you left? It had a little baby plant.” She holds up a small succulent.
“If I told you I had no idea what kind of plant that was, would you think I was an awful botanist?”
She laughs. I stand up and put my arms around her. We kiss.
“You’ve got to come away with me.”
She closes her eyes and rests her head on my shoulder. I hold her. I can feel her tears on my skin. She’s quiet even when she cries.
“It’s not that easy.”
“Damn it, Bree.” My tears are stormy. My throat hurts from not yelling. “I know it’s not that easy. But please come with me. This is breaking my heart. I’m not going to stand by and let him keep hurting you.”
“It’s different for you. You got away. I don’t know how you ever let him get you in the first place,” she says.
An alarm goes off on her phone and she springs into action while I sink into the couch. She hurries to put together dinner, set the table, and vacuum. We both know the punishment for a mistake. We both know the worse punishment for tears. He doesn’t understand tears.
“Will you do it for your future daughters?”
It’s much harder to be the person getting help than giving it.
She doesn’t answer me. Her blue eyes are far away. I can tell when she has childhood flashbacks.
“Come back,” I say.
I drag in a clay pot from the garage and set it on the kitchen floor. Bree painted it beautifully with a curly, realistic octopus. She loves ocean scenes.
She kneels next to me and we add potting mix. The soil is damp but not soaked. She mixes the fertilizer herself. Our hands touch in the dirt. A flash of lightning illuminates us briefly before the accompanying roll of thunder makes the cheap blinds rattle.
I scoop up the baby plant from its little plastic pot and we cover its base and add water.
“You’re good at keeping things alive. I kill them,” I say.
She sniffs and tries to wipe away tears but only succeeds in a dirt smear. She flinches when I raise my hand to help her.
“So I’d be in great hands with you,” she says.
I press our muddy hands together. “Well, you’d be in your own more.”
She’s focused on the plant and our hands but I’m looking at her. I want her to take this chance.
“I’m afraid,” she says. She closes her eyes.
We’ve knelt on the floor long enough for my knees to hurt. The rain continues to lash. The clock ticks. It smells like damp earth. I don’t know exactly what to say. I’m not afraid of what she is anymore.
Her face gets the most adorable pink flush when she’s crying, turned on, or embarrassed. But when I see more tears seep despite her closed eyes, I have to whisper something.
“We’re never good enough for him,” I say. “But if we give it a try, I think we’d be good enough for each other.”
She sniffs, stands, and rinses her hands off in the sink.
“I’ll come with you.”
I’m speechless for once and she smiles at my wonder. I struggle to stand.
She throws her arms around me and almost knocks me down again. “But you have to promise not to touch my plants.”
I laugh and kiss her again. We spin around the kitchen and I accidentally knock over the bag of soil.
“Oh no! I’d hate to trash this bastard’s house before we go.” I wink at her and she shakes her head.
In love, you’re naked if you’re good, in conservation, you’re naked if you’re inept. Some of us need to find other ways to encourage biodiversity.
However, my favorite plant isn’t rare or endangered, it’s a small succulent in an octopus pot on our porch. She’ll take care of it and keep it alive, all I know is the theory.
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