Jenna had a list of everything she needed for the rose bed, and everything but the roses themselves piled on a cart. She looked around. “Where’s AJ? I want to make sure he likes the ones I’ve picked out.”
“He’ll like anything you decide. He always does. As for where he snuck off to… over there. Huh. Face down in the flowers.” Gunny was looking off toward the table of miniature roses, and Jenna realized AJ was crouched so low his head was even with the taller plants, face actually down in a rose plant.
The shop assistant who’d been helping them spoke up as they approach. “Oh! Those are officially called Hearts of Space. They have this lovely spicy scent.”
AJ did not look up from the black roses with a startling red-orange center. He spoke just loud enough for them to hear. “Like Amanda’s clove cigarettes.”
Jenna wondered who Amanda was. From the way Gunny wrinkled up his forehead, he was wondering, too. The shop assistant, though, kept right on going. “These have only been on-planet for… wait, you know Amanda Grimsley?”
That brought AJ’s head up, eyes wide open and locked on. “Amanda’s alive?”
“No, she died in a car accident about five years ago.” A hesitation, then, “Did you know her, Upstairs?”
AJ froze – a hesitation so slight Jenna knew no one else could see the way he reflexively cooled down at the unwelcome news. “Damn. Yeah, I met her up on ThreeFree.”
The assistant nodded awkwardly, and tried to fill in the silence after the unwelcome news. “She was the most amazing horticulturalist. She actually named that rose breed Strykers, you know? Because they have cold edges as black as space, but with a warm heart. Rumour says the original grafts she brought down, each one had individual names. The nursery that hired her, they didn’t want to call the breed that because, well, you know, the growers in the Fed… She took the secret of where she got them from to the grave. Do you know where they came from?”
AJ shrugged, hands spread out in what looked like a natural gesture. But he never made natural gestures; they were always premeditated. “Can’t say, ma’am.”
That was enough to make Jenna bite her tongue. Can’t say was a world different, in AJ’s careful speech, from don’t know. Before things could go south, she spoke up. “We’ll take… four?” She’d been planning on four roses in a trial bed.
“Six.” AJ said it firmly, and she followed his lead.
“Six. And everything we need for the bed, if this isn’t enough.”
As they loaded up the truck, Jenna paused to put a hand on her protesting lower back, and looked at the pretty little plants. “I’ll call the best one AJ.”
Her husband looked at her, looked at the roses, and resumed loading. “No. The best one’s Skid. He better not be the first one to die, this time.”
There was nothing she could say to that, except to give him a long, silent hug.