It had been a week since accepting the position as the Elliot Manor gardener, and I was already regretting it. Not that I couldn’t handle the five-hundred acres my father had tended and charmed before me, or even the dead patch in the center of the land that wouldn’t grow no matter the magic I used.
It was the mistress of the manor who unsettled me.
“Take care of the Elliot gardens,” Father had whispered on his deathbed. “She needs you.”
She. Mirabel. My childhood friend. The girl I fell in love with and who married another.
And now, my employer.
I rang the ornate doorbell, and after a few moments the door opened. Instead of a butler answering, it was Mirabel herself.
She was changed, but in the way that leaves shift to gold when the year grows late. Her beauty was only deepened with the silver streaks in her brown hair. She surveyed me.
Did she know me?
It had been twenty years. I’d changed much too.
“Hello.” Mirabel’s voice was as fragile as poppies. Her dress was black, save for a lacey white collar tight at her throat. She glanced at the folder in my hands. “You were expecting to meet with my steward,” she said. “But he has fallen ill. You’ll have to show your plans to me.”
I cleared my throat. “Would you like to—” I turned to the walkway.
Father had mentioned in his letters that Mirabel kept inside the manor after she married. No more than a ghost.
Mirabel stepped outside as if she were plunging into an icy river. Her hands gripped her stomach.
“If you’d rather meet inside…”
“No.” She shook her head, slowing her breath. “I’m a visual learner, and I want to do this correctly. For—” she hesitated.
“Your late husband?” I prompted.
“For my parents. They loved this home. And for me too.”
I nodded then led her to the roses. Plucking a yellow bud, I whispered an enchantment. The tension around Mirabel’s eyes slackened as she watched the flower grow and bloom as large as my fist.
She studied me.
“Ambrose?” she asked, breathlessly.
I chuckled. “What gave it away?”
“Forcing a flower to bloom early.” She swatted my shoulder. “You were always impatient.”
“And you were always a brat.” I smiled, then flushed. “I mean—I’m sorry, Mrs. Cambrini. I didn’t—”
Mirabel’s laugh filled the air, and the flowers leaned toward the sound. As did I. “Please, I wish us to be friends. Again.”
I swallowed hard at the way she looked at me. So much childlike hope and…and pain.
“What plans do you have for my garden?” she asked.
I glanced at the folder crumpled in my grip. I laid it on a moss-covered bench and held out my hand instead. “If you’re a visual learner, let me show you.”
She took my hand and we wound through a section of phlox that chittered like old ladies. Then we passed a row of snapdragons releasing harmless, blue flames that curled around our fingers. Mirabel paused to pet the lamb’s ear that bleated, and we laughed like we were ten.
We’d been two worlds apart as children: an heiress and a servant. But here we’d only ever been a boy and a girl.
When we came to the section of dead earth, Mirabel paused. Her face turned as pale as an underripe peach.
“This is the area I want to work on,” I said, carefully. “Father told me nothing has grown here for years. It’s almost as if…” I trailed away, dragging a hand through my messy curls.
“As if what?”
“As if the soil has given up.”
She crossed her arms protectively. I looked between her and the patch.
“Mira? Do you know what happened here?”
When she looked at me, tears gleamed in her eyes. “I happened.”
I watched in confusion as a tear slid down her cheek and hit the green grass. Immediately, the blades blackened. My mouth hung open.
“I never wanted to marry him,” she whispered. “After my parents died, the estate went to Lord Cambrini. So did I.” her voice was hollow. “He said if I didn’t marry him, he would turn me out.” She gripped her collar as if it were choking her. “I had no family. No choice.”
“You did have a choice.” My voice broke. “But I wasn’t brave enough to tell you.”
She softened. “We were both so young.”
“And I was a fool.” I brushed a tear from her cheek before it could fall. “But not anymore. I won’t run away again. I’ll be here, tending this garden. Always.”
Her expression shifted, like a layered marigold unfurling. She stepped into my arms, wet soaking into my shoulder. I kissed the top of her head, breathing her in.
I pulled back, studying her. “Are you happy? In this moment?”
“I think so.”
“Perfect.” I uncorked a vial from my vest and held it under her eye.
She pulled back, but I hissed, “Wait!”
After collecting her tears, I carried them to the dead spot, produced a seed as long as my finger and as clear as glass from my vest, and pushed it into the earth, then tipped the vial out.
Mirabel sighed. “It’ll die, Ambrose. I’ve wept bitter tears in this place for years.”
But I placed my hand over the seed and whispered an enchantment. Her tears weren’t bitter now, and I wondered if Mirabel’s ability could do more.
I waited, holding my breath
“Look,” I whispered.
Mirabel fell to her knees, gasping as a green stem snaked its way up. Midnight blue petals peeled back to reveal shimmering diamonds at its center.
“How?” she whispered in shock.
“Not all tears are born of bitterness,” I said, placing my dirt-smeared hand over hers. “Think it’s time we plant a new garden?”
She smiled mischievously, carefree, like the barefoot girl I knew years back.
“I like that plan.”
Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, or on her website.