Mom was in the garden. Louis could hear her humming to herself as she puttered her way through the flower bed. She was taking off the canvas tarps that protected her beloved rose bushes through the long winter. Tilling the soil in the flower beds. Working compost into the ground.
It was good to see her active. The winter had been so hard.
It had been hard for Louis, too. After Alex went missing, everything had been hard.
No, he shouldn’t think of that. Better not to dwell, that’s what his therapist said. Better to focus on the now, the here.
Here and now, he had his aging mother to care for. Here and now, he had to live his life. He couldn’t live on just the hope that Alex, his sweet little girl, would be found. There was a chance, wasn’t there always a chance? But better to lay that aside and live.
It would be better now that spring had come. Better for Mom, too. She’d been in bad enough shape before Alex had vanished. But this winter she’d been bad enough that Louis had considered putting her in a facility.
She’d spent most of the winter sitting in a chair by the window, looking out over the back yard. All she’d talked about was what she was going to do with her garden, once it came back to life. How she couldn’t wait to see her roses bloom again.
Now she could putter in the garden to her heart’s content.
Mom was heading inside. Her movement caught Louis’s attention, rousing him from his musings. She disappeared through the sliding glass door, probably to fetch a drink or sit down in the cool indoors for a few minutes. He was glad to see her do it. It meant she was taking care of herself.
Louis ambled over to her garden to see her handiwork. There soil was all overturned now, fresh and ready for planting. Sitting next to the overturned ground was a crate of flowers. Daffodils, marigolds, black eyed susans. They were bright, cheerful. Louis kneeled to run a finger over their petals.
He picked up a spade and started digging a hole to place the first flower. This was good, it felt good. He and his mom had spent much of his childhood gardening together. When her mind started getting bad last year, he’d thought it would mean an end to their gardening. But here was the soil and here were the flowers. And there was his mother, washing her hands in the kitchen. It felt really good.
Louis dug the spade into the dirt, pushing it down deep. He shaped the hole, and settled in the first marigold into place.
Mom was at the doorway again. “Stop, stop that,” she gasped.
“Mom, what’s wrong?” Louis asked. He dug into the ground again.
The spade hit something that wasn’t soil. He looked down, confused. He took a few more scoops of soil out of the ground.
There was something there. Something cold, and hard. He kept digging. As he did, a bright yellow bookbag appeared. And with it, a brown head of hair.