One of Sam’s aunts passing by stopped. “Y’all are terrible. Are you talking about that man who was murdered?”
“Yeah, the second one.”
“Oh, Curt Greeley. Everyone would have killed him given the chance. It’s really sad about that other guy, though.”
And his aunt thought they needed chiding.
There were more stories about Greeley showing his greed, his need for control, his disdain for everyone. Firing people, stiffing them on money owed, acting out of spite. The gossip was right. Everybody hated Greeley.
As the conversation moved on, Sam leaned closer to his father. “You have anything to add?”
“I quit selling to him at the nursery. He’d order truckloads of plants, leave ’em sitting in the sun without water for a week before getting around to planting them, then want his money back, claiming I sold him weak stock. He was an idiot and a jerk.”
“What do you know about Ed Lawrence?”
“The man gives fertilizer a bad name.”
“You ever do business with him?”
“Nah. He’s too cheap to pay my prices.” His dad took his time chewing a piece of roasted chicken, his head tilted to one side to indicate he was thinking. “He underpays his employees and overcharges his clients. He cheats on his wife. That’s why she started working in his office last year. He pretends to be a smarter, better, richer man than he is, and he doesn’t know squat about growing anything, but he’s good with showing a profit. I wouldn’t believe him if he said it was raining until I felt the drops on my face and made sure it wasn’t the Jolly Green Giant taking a pis—”
“Samuel.” That came from Mom, coming to rest her hand on Sam’s shoulder. “Not at the dinner table.”
“Aw, Mom, how do we ever manage to carry on a conversation without you?” Sam asked, earning a light smack on the back of his head for the question. His grandmother had done that to her sons so many times that, as kids, Sam and his cousins thought she was the cause of the bald spots most of them sported by the time they were forty.
“You’ve been busy, I hear,” she said. “Two murders, one attempted murder…but you found the dog. Yay.”
“Sarcasm doesn’t suit you.”
“Maybe not. But setting the mayor straight suited me very well after Sunday school this morning. I guarantee you, he’ll look twice to make sure no Douglases are around next time he opens his mouth.”
Sam stood and kissed her forehead. “Thanks, Mom.” He picked up his empty dishes, plus his father’s and Mike’s. “How’s business?”
“Busier than usual for July,” Samuel answered. “Kat’s baby is due in a couple weeks, and she won’t be coming back, and Trista is heading back to college the middle of August, and we’re starting to get our fall products in.”
“So you’ll be hiring someone soon.”
“We-ell,” his father began, and LeeAnn scowled and spoke over his drawl.
“Yes, he’s hiring someone. His part-time help is not going full-time. Why? Do you know anyone looking for a job?”
Sam thought of Mila, of how quickly his father would take to her, how intensely his mother would be interested in her. Was it fair to subject her to more than one intensely interested Douglas? “I don’t know. I’ll ask around.” It was always good to have an option.
Holding the dishes in one hand, he hugged his mother, then his father and said his goodbyes. No one was surprised that he was leaving so soon. Of course, they’d all heard about the two murders, one attempted murder and the found dog. Some of them thought he’d already handled the important part: finding the dog. Fellow dog lovers would make fitting in easier for Mila, wouldn’t it?
Whoa, Sam. You haven’t even kissed her yet.
The reminder surprised him. The list of things they hadn’t done was long, but it felt like they’d done so much more than they had. It felt like he knew her. Not all the details, not the facts and statistics, but the person she was inside. It felt…
He couldn’t even describe it. Like this was something he’d wanted without knowing he wanted it. Like there was some bond there before they’d even met, just biding its time until God or fate or whatever brought them together.