The Pool Boy (A Romance Novella)

By: Penny Wylder

The grounds of our house are huge for L.A., but I’ve managed to claim a little corner as my own. It’s a little fenced in garden with a mix of roses and wildflowers, plus a few neatly-tended rows of spices and vegetables that I give to Gregory when I can. Working outside and helping things grow has always brought me a special kind of peace and calm. I’ve never been able to replicate the simple feeling of happiness I get when I’m out here—which means it’s exactly where I should be right now.

Because I’ve been busy stressing about my interview, researching other potential employers, and prepping materials to send out to new design firms and foundations, I know my garden is going to be a mess. There will be weeds to pull and watering to do. It will be perfect.

I retrieve my gloves and tools from our utility building and head over to my fence. I painted it a bright blue when I was in my teens and it’s faded now to something sunwashed, cracked and beautiful. I push past the gate and look around, analyzing where the most desperate work is needed…except there isn’t any.

The garden is immaculate. There isn’t a weed in sight, and my flowers have been pruned. There’s fresh dirt around some of the plants and I can still see the damp places where they’ve been watered. The air huffs out of me like a blow to the stomach. The caretakers aren’t supposed to touch my garden. Whenever I’m home I make sure to tell them to let me do all the work. It’s less for them to do and stress relief for me.

After the rejection and the argument with my dad, this feels like the last straw. I missed out on taking care of my garden by what may have been just a few minutes. The loss of the work and the feeling of betrayal from someone else tending my plants, everything releases the anger I’ve been holding in. I leave my garden and head further into the grounds. The caretaker is here somewhere and I’m going to make sure they know this was a mistake: no one touches my garden but me.

Coming around one of the tall hedges that gives us privacy, I see the telltale blue polo of one of our caretakers. He’s watering the flowerbeds at the edge of a fountain, and I can’t see which of our staff it is since he’s facing away from me.

“Hey!” I call out to him, but he doesn’t turn. He’s next to the fountain, so maybe he didn’t hear me. I jog over to him and tap him on the shoulder. “Hey. Are you the one who did work in the private garden?”

He turns around, and all my irritation evaporates as the words that were forming leave my mouth. In fact, every thought flies out of my head except one: That is one fucking hot gardener.

I have a hard time breathing, because I’m trying to take it all in and also make it look like I’m not staring. And not salivating. I’m not doing that, right? Tan skin, dark hair, dark eyes, and arms that are bursting out of that stupid polo the company makes them wear. If the rest of his body is like his arms…damn.

“Private garden?” he asks, confusion written all over his face.

Oh. Right. I’m supposed to be here to yell at him about the garden. “Yeah.” I say, trying to form words. “The garden that’s fenced off. No one on the staff is supposed to take care of it. It’s my garden—I do the work.” I’m finding it hard to be mad anymore, and to be honest I can’t fault what he did there. His work was flawless, and I wonder if his work in other areas is equally flawless. Wonder if he’s as good with his hands as he seems to be… I rein in my thoughts from the path they’re going down. What is wrong with me?

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I didn’t know. I’m…new.”

I nod, resigned to the fact that my anger is gone and that it was misplaced to begin with. This isn’t about my garden. It’s about my dad, my job, my entire life spinning out of my control. I force a smile. “It’s okay, and you did a good job. But you don’t need to do anything in there from now on. I like to do it.”

He gives me a smile in return, and I feel my pulse kick up a few solid notches. “I’m sorry for the oversight, and I’ll remember that. The plants just really looked like they wanted some attention.” I could swear his eyes stray down my body for half an instant, but maybe I imagined it.

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