The Bad Boy Bargain(4)

By: Kendra C. Highley

His dad called it a gift. Kyle couldn’t disagree. He understood plants better than people sometimes, and definitely more than words that rearranged themselves on the page without warning. If anyone at school figured out his love of gardening, though, he’d never hear the end of it. That’s why he drove the black Charger his grandpa had given him for his seventeenth birthday to school, and why his beloved Toyota pickup with ninety thousand miles on it stayed hidden inside their six-car garage so their snobby neighbors wouldn’t complain.

He laughed as he made a turn around the Denkhoffs’ lawn. They had great grass, and a big-ass yard surrounding their big-ass house. He could charge thirty bucks to mow it and Mrs. Denkhoff didn’t even bat an eyelash. None of his customers did, not when they found out he could work a form of alchemy that resulted in “best lawn in the neighborhood” awards and the envy of their neighbors.

The air had a little bite to it, but he could tell it would warm up fast this week. March was always like that in North Texas. Some years it was fifty degrees and raining. Some years it was ninety degrees and humid as hell. From the blue sky above, Kyle knew the weekend would be gorgeous, probably low eighties and sunny.

He had pushed the mower around the bend at the side of the house when the lady next door waved at him. She looked vaguely familiar…wait—she was the woman in those TV ads about the children’s cancer center. That’s right—she ran the Gladwell Foundation. Dad was a fan and donated money to it every year.

He powered down the mower and took out his earbuds. “Did you call me, ma’am?”

“Are you Kyle?” she asked, breathless.

She stood atop the retaining wall between the yards, making him crane his neck to look up at her. God, he hadn’t broken one of their sprinkler heads or something, had he? “Yes, ma’am?”

“Thank goodness. Sherry tells me you’re good with yards. I’m having a benefit tea in my backyard in a month, and we have some serious problems with our grass back there. Well, that’s not true. We have serious problems with everything back there.” She smiled. “I’m Michelle Gladwell, by the way. I think you go to school with my daughter? Faith?”

If he did, he didn’t know her. There were seven hundred students in his senior class. Kyle shrugged. “Yeah, I guess we do.”

“So, would you have time to take a look? At the grass I mean?”

He barely choked back a laugh. What, was she worried he thought she meant Faith? Sorry, lady, your daughter’s virtue is safe with me. “Is tomorrow morning okay? It’s already getting dark, but I have plenty of time to get started this weekend.”

“That’s perfect.”

After letting her know he’d be by around ten to give her an estimate, he cranked up his music and started the mower again. He usually avoided customers with kids who went to Suttonville with him, but it probably didn’t matter. It wasn’t like he’d see much of Faith anyway, and so what if she told people he mowed lawns? You could still be a badass and have a job, right?

Maybe he should’ve taken up auto repair. Dad had insisted he get a job that required manual labor. The piles of homework, the long hours of baseball practice, and the trust fund didn’t matter. His father believed in hard work.

“Son, I don’t care if you don’t have to work for a living…ever,” he’d said when Kyle turned thirteen. “There’s value in seeing how everyone else lives—and everyone else has a job. So figure out what you like to do, and do it.”

The very next day, he’d offered to mow Mrs. Perkins’s lawn. She was eighty, stone deaf, and the richest widow in the neighborhood. It had taken him four hours to learn how to work the mower and edger and finish the job. When he was done, she’d given him five bucks and a pat on the head. He’d stared down at the five-dollar bill like it was a Franklin, and even now pride rose in his chest at the memory. He’d finished the job, on his own, and had proof he could do something right.

He started mowing for her every week after that. Soon he was mowing her friends’ lawns, and branching out into full landscaping work.

Now he owned a pickup truck with one of those magnetic decals on the side: Hard Rock Landscaping. He even had a business cell phone.

If anyone at school figured out just how seriously he took his work, it would ruin his image. Better to let them think it was community service for a misdemeanor, because Kyle Sawyer, the trust-fund gardener, sounded much less cool than Kyle Sawyer, the delinquent.

And he needed to hold on to that image. He wasn’t going back to being that weedy, picked-on eighth grader. Not ever again.

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