The sun played hide and seek with the clouds as Charisse tried to deadhead roses. All morning the air had the musty scent of rain, but so far none had fallen.
Conor clipped with a practiced speed. She barely got one cut to his five. Pruning shears were entirely different than her salon shears, and she didn’t need to watch out for thorns when she cut hair. Her energy was high at first as they talked and worked, but towards mid-morning she noticed she was doing more talking than cutting. She turned to the bush again with renewed determination, but her energy soon ebbed. She couldn’t think of any reason why she was so tired. She stood every morning at the salon without needing to rest.
“Why don’t we take a break?” said Conor.
She realized she was simply standing with pruning shears at her side and staring at a dead rose with no intention of clipping it. “Uh, sure,” she said, relieved but worried that Conor might’ve noticed. He didn’t need to be concerned about her health with the party coming up.
“I think I saw some fresh lemonade in the fridge. I’ll pour us some while you sit on the porch swing.”
After she trudged up the two stairs to the porch and Conor went inside, she dropped to the swing. She was sure if she laid down, she’d fall asleep again. Maybe Conor was right that she was coming down with something.
She forced herself to stay sitting up and pushed the swing back and forth with her feet on the porch. That only made her drowsy.
Conor came back out and handed her a glass of lemonade. It had the perfect mix of sweet and sour.
She asked, “Is there anything Raul can’t do?”
“So far I haven’t discovered anything. He’s got a soft spot for you, that’s for sure.”
“I wonder if he was in love with my mother.” The words slipped out before she thought twice about them. She hadn’t even spoken to Marie about it.
Conor said, “I’ve wondered the same thing. But I’m sure he’ll never say anything.”
They sipped lemonade in silence awhile. Charisse was glad for the quiet companionship. Her heart swelled with love for him, but she tried to calm it. It still seemed too soon to tell him, especially with him leaving for China. Saying something might sound like she was desperate to keep him around. She mentally rolled her eyes at herself. Now she sounded like she was making up excuses not to reveal her feelings to him.
Conor broke the silence first. “I’ve been afraid to ask, but also dying to know: are you going to do anything special when you open up the salon Tuesday?”
Charisse grinned. “I want to have mimosas and cinnamon rolls for my lady luvs. I might even give free shampoos to my customers that day.”
“Man, I totally blew it. I didn’t have you give me one shampoo last week.”
She placed her hand on his chest and her head on his shoulder. “Maybe I’ll give you one when you come back from China. Of course it’ll have to be after hours because I always get carried away.”
“That’s my favorite part.”
She tilted her face up to his to receive a gentle kiss. Her heart pounded, and when he pulled back, she blurted out, “I love you, Conor.”
His eyes widened. What did that mean? Had he changed his mind? Had she imagined that he told her he loved her?
“I love you, too,” he said and held her close for another kiss. Ecstasy.
When he released her, she felt tears brimming on her eyelids. She tried to blink them back, but one streamed down her right cheek. He brushed it away with his thumb.
“Don’t cry,” he said.
“I’m sorry. It’s because I’m happy.”
“And don’t apologize either. I hope you didn’t say it because you felt pressured to. I know I told you that I love you too soon.”
She responded by kissing him again. Soon he lifted her up and carried her inside. They made love on the couch with the wind blowing rose bush branches against the windows and a patter of rain hitting the roof. Every caress and kiss seemed filled with love and affection.