Owen had adjusted his pool party to Thursday evening. It was a combination work gathering and client gathering. Nola said she would come, as the landscape specialist, if it was a Thursday. Folks had been busy or out of town with the Memorial Day holiday the weekend before so Thursday actually worked well for a not quite work gathering. Nola, Joe, Maurice, Roger and Louis would be there early, 5 PM, for the client and potential client visits. The rest of the staff and their family and friends would be showing up later around 7PM.
Since it was a pool party they were to come dressed to swim. When she got there Maurice met her in the driveway. Owen was inside with the caterers. "Hello Goddess."
She smiled, "Hello Maurice. Ready to float in the pool?
"Yes, but I have to work the clients first."
"I know. Me too."
Roger came from the back yard. He was opening the gate so that people could literally circle Owen's entire house. He whistled at her.
"Hello Roger, how are you?"
"Fine but not as fine as you. I'm sure we'll get some new clients just because of that get up."
"Stop it. I have on a conservative one piece suit and am completely covered from my waist to my toes."
And Joe over heard as he came around from the front yard. He had been opening the side gate. He whistled. "Yeah but it makes us crazy when your leg peaks out."
"Hey Joe. Not you too?"
"You're Owen's secret weapon."
Owen came out of the kitchen door. "Perfect. You came dressed exactly like I expected."
"Jezzz, I had no idea that I was part of some show. I think I need to get paid extra!"
And Owen said, "OK."
And she rolled her eyes at him. "You guys need to stop it. I'm conservative enough."
And Maurice said, "Yep, just conservative enough not to piss off the females and just curvaceous enough to draw the males. Absolutely a secret weapon."
"Ok, that's it. I'm going inside."
Joe said, "What do you have there?" and he pointed to the papers in her hands.
"Oh it's a client questionnaire. I'm hoping that it can be used before we do site assessment so that we can recommend fruit tree types and know ahead of time if they are interested in a vegetable garden. I think it will make the site plans Owen draws up better on the first pass. Less recycle time. Here take a look." And she handed out the questionnaires.
Owen and Roger looked over the questionnaire. Maurice took one and looked at the section on hardscaping.
Owen said, "This is good. I think it will help."
Maurice said, "I like that you're asking upfront about their preferences for pathways. This question about garbage can and recycle space it good. Before you those were always after thoughts and a second round of form building."
Nola asked Joe, who wanted to learn to do site assessments, "What do you think?" and they put their heads together and started talking and walking to the fountain.
Roger nudged Owen. "Smart, nice to look at, low maintenance."
Owen just smiled. And the first client came to the gate. They took their places and Owen started working. Nola and Maurice waited to be introduced at the fountain. Nola could talk about the no lawnmower approach. Maurice could talk about the pathways. Joe was supposed to be on the back patio. Roger was to work the driveway and make sure that folks could get in or out of the gate. Owen's house was open and sample plans were laid out on the dining room table. There was a bar on the back patio.
There were hugs from folks whose houses they had worked on already. This made chatting up the new clients easier. And Nola realized that Owen had been smart to include both old and new. There were a number of clients who only had their homes worked on and who didn't know about the landscaping. Owen had before and after pictures of his yard set up by the fountain. Nola could see the light bulb come on for folks and figured that they would definitely get new clients for No Lawnmower Landscaping. It was almost June so the seeds she had planted in March were not quite in full flower but close. Folks were consistently amazed that so much of the landscaping was from seed. When they realized how inexpensive this was they were even more interested. Most folks were really nice but there was one guy, Mr. Leblanc, who had a number of houses around town that Owen's crew had worked on who made Nola uncomfortable. She couldn't quite put her finger on it. But he was a large client so she was doing her best to be nice. It was his third time around and his third time to the bar. He came up to Nola and Maurice and said, "Hello Maurice."
"Hello Mr. LeBlanc, enjoying yourself?"
"Yes, I am. I was wondering if Nola here could give me a tour of Owen's yard."
Maurice looked at Nola who said, "I'd be happy to. Do you have any specific questions?"
"Well I really like the idea of not having to pay for grass cutting. It seems that if I landscape I could almost eliminate lawn care."
Nola said, "Almost is right. You'll still have to do weeding and watering and check up on the landscaping to keep it healthy but once the landscaping is established the weekly maintenance is eliminated."
"So if I get Nola Landscaping, then I effectively reduce my overhead."
"Well we don't call it No Lawnmower Landscaping for nothing." She laughed. "Maurice's pathway work is critical. It's the bones of the design."
He took her by the arm and said, "Well most of my properties already have pathways. I think I'd like you to talk me through the plant layouts."
"Oh" and she looked at Maurice who shrugged and sat down on the fountain edge. "Ok. Are you interested in flowers?" And she started to walk toward the driveway.
He said, "No not really. I want the landscaping to be as easy to maintain as possible."
"Ok, well then the gardenias and sweet olives can work in most places. Mulch is key to keeping the maintenance down...."
And he turned her around and said, "You know I think I'd like to have you to tell me about the side yard."
Nola said, "Ok, sure. That area is a good example of what can be done with areas that get heavier shade."
"Ah, good, I have properties with heavy shade" and they headed past Maurice who watched as they went through the open gate and how Leblanc put his arm around Nola's waist after they got through. Maurice perked up and watched carefully but more closely than he was before. Nola handled herself and said, "As you can see we've used redbuds, which are native understory trees that change with the seasons" and she stepped forward slipped from his grasp and turned back toward Maurice as she said, "And over here a variety of ferns for textural interest." She walked ahead and said. "We've also have a walkway but it allows for drainage. It's important for the planting and the property to allow for natural drainage."
She kept moving toward the back pool area. But LeBlanc caught up to her and put his hands back on her waist again and said, "What is this under our feet?"
"Oh that's a combination of creeping fig closer to the walkway and jasmine off the walkway."
And he said as he held her there, "Why 2 different types?"
"Well the fig is better in the sun and sturdy to walk on. The jasmine does a bit better in the shade and creates a more lush carpet."
"Lush. I like that."
And Nola didn't like the way that sounded or felt. So she kept walking and
LeBlanc took his hands off of her as they came around into the back patio area. Nola thought as she looked across the pool. Where is Joe? What she said, "Back here we have an area that I planned to look as much as possible like a forested area. It's heavily mulched and there are lots of understory trees and closer to the center of the yard a fig and a peach, because Owen likes peaches. Do you think that you would be interested in any fruit trees for you property?"
"No probably not."
"Oh well, they can be fun and appealing to tenants and many are fairly easy to maintain. It's of course your option."
Leblanc looked over to the far side of the pool and saw there was no one else over there right now and said, "Why don't we walk over there and you can tell me about the tree choices."
"Ok." And she walked between the pool and the garage and commented that one of the ways to make some of the small yards in typical shotguns and shotgun doubles more appealing was to use vines on the fences and she pointed to the passion vine and clematis on the garage.
Leblanc asked, "What kind of vine is this?"
Nola said, "Passion Vine."
And Leblanc said, "I could probably like Passion Vine."
Nola kept walking until she got to the far back corner. She was hoping Joe would show up soon.
Maurice watched Nola until she stepped out of view onto the back patio then he made his way into the house. He saw Owen talking to some perspective client over plans on the dining room table. He thought better of saying anything to Owen just yet and moved toward the kitchen where he bumped into Joe coming out of the bathroom. "Joe."
"You're not in the back yard?"
"I just took a bathroom break man. What's the matter?"
"I don't like the way LeBlanc is putting his hands on Nola. I'm pretty sure she doesn't like it either but she's being a good sport."
Joe's eyebrows went up and he said. "Where are they?"
"In the backyard I think."
"Let's go see from the back porch. I think that Nola can handle herself."
"Yeah I'd rather not get Owen involved."
They went out to the back porch. They could see that Nola was doing her best to show LeBlanc the plantings and stay away from him at the same time and that LeBlanc kept getting closer than he needed to and putting his hands on her to stop her and ask her questions. He had just put his hand around her waist again and was moving her under the oak tree and she was smiling and pointing toward the driveway.
Joe said, "Shit. He's got more than 20 properties and we've already done work on 10." Maurice said, "I'm going to get Roger. I think that you should find Owen and let him know that he needs to be cool and professional but that Leblanc has probably had too much to drink."
Joe nodded and Maurice said, "But stick with Owen in case he get's all protective over his woman." Joe nodded again.
"This is large shady area under the oak is nice." he said.
"Yes, it is especially in the summer heat. Owen was very careful to ensure that the root system wasn't harmed when the pool went in." She hoped that if she kept mentioning Owen's name that maybe LeBlanc would back off.
"What's in the corner?"
"Oh just a basketball court. There are really no plantings back there. Let's go take a look at the side yard. Shall we?"
"Ok," but he didn't take his hand off of her waist and he didn’t let her move. "What will it take to get you to come and do a site assessment at my properties?"
"Well if you give Owen a list, I'll be able to let you know. I'm training Joe, You've met Joe?, to do site assessments so since you have multiple properties he'll be able to do some site assessments as well."
"Ok. When are you available to do site assessments?" and now he had both his hands on her waist and was moving her deeper into the shadows.
"Mr. LeBlanc. I think..."
"Jeff, Mr. Leblanc, perhaps I've given you the wrong impression." And he moved his hand up to her breast and moved in a little closer.
Joe was waiting anxiously for Owen to finish with his clients. Maurice had moved to the side yard and found Roger and they were moving to the back yard. But there was a crowd of folks at the bar near the gate and they were having trouble getting through. Joe had managed to get to Owen in the dining room.
"Hmm Owen, I think that LeBlanc has had too much to drink."
"Well, he does like his cocktails."
"Hmmm, Owen... he's got Nola in the backyard and we think..."
And that was all Joe was able to get out before Owen started moving toward the kitchen past the stairs and Joe moved through the other passage way toward the back kitchen door. Roger and Maurice had finally decided that going through the kitchen was probably faster and ran right into Owen.
"Damn, Why aren't you all with Nola!"
Maurice said, "I got this" and stepped in front of Owen and said. "Roger, Joe, get outside!" and they moved.
"Now, Owen calm down. You know Leblanc likes women and alcohol and it seems he's had plenty of alcohol and Nola is definitely all woman." And Maurice looked around as some clients came in through the kitchen. He smiled at them.
Maurice moved Owen toward the porch. Owen managed to keep it together and said quietly "So why are you keeping me in here?"
"Because I think that Nola can handle herself and Roger and Joe can handle Leblanc. Let's just move here to the porch and see. Ok boss?"
"I can't see her. Where is she?"
"Under the tree. Look Roger and Joe are right there."
"Damn it Maurice!"
"Look here she comes. She's ok. Settle down."
It was all Roger and Joe could do not to laugh. LeBlanc had managed to put his hand on Nola's breast and was trying to kiss her. She grabbed the index finger of the hand on her breast and bent it back. LeBlanc had backed off in pain. "Owww, what are you doing?"
"What I have to Mr. LeBlanc. I'm sorry but I'd rather you didn't touch me like that. I'm the landscaper. I don't provide the kind of services you seem to be looking for." And she saw Roger and Joe. Who tried to pretend they hadn't seen anything and she walked past them toward the house.
LeBlanc sat down in the chair under the oak tree. Roger headed back to the house and Joe turned his back and pretended not to see LeBlanc. Then when he walked toward the chair and acted surprised to see him and asked if he could get him another drink.
Nola went straight to the kitchen door, in and through the kitchen toward the downstairs bathroom but the door was closed so she stepped into the dining room. There were clients around the table looking at plans so she moved slowly up the stairs. She needed some space to calm down. Roger came in right behind her and closed the door and looked questioningly at Maurice and Owen who had just come in from the porch.
"Where did she go?"
Roger just pointed.
Owen was pissed. "Roger move. I'm going out to give LeBlanc a piece of my mind.
Knowing that was a bad idea, Maurice said: "Oh no. No, you're not. You're going upstairs to take care of Nola."
Roger said, "What's wrong? She looked Ok."
Owen pulled it together and asked, "What happened?"
"She practically bent Leblanc's finger off his hand and told him not to treat her like a hooker. She's fine."
Maurice said, "Owen go talk to her." Roger was still standing in front of the door. Maurice said again, "Go talk to her. Roger and Joe will take care of LeBlanc. I'll stay down here to manage the clients."
Owen was torn. But Nola won. He went into the dining room and saw Nola at the top of the stairs. He went straight up the stairs and she could see he was upset so she stepped into his bedroom. He followed.
"Are you ok?"
"Yes, I'm fine. Don't shout. You'll scare your nice clients. Close the door."
He closed the door and went to her and closed her up in a hug. "I'm sorry."
"You should be."
He didn't expect that so he released her slightly.
"Why didn't you tell me you had an octopus for a client?" And she walked toward the French doors. "It would have been nice to know a head of time. I would have never put myself in a position for that to happen."
He smiled, "I hear you did ok."
"Yes and bless Maurice for getting Joe and Roger. What that man thought he was going to do me under that oak tree with so many other people around... I just don't know. But I'd really rather not be pawed like that. It's embarrassing."
"Pawed? What the hell! I'm going to..."
"No." and she grabbed his arm.
Roger knocked on the door. "Owen?"
Nola said, "Come in Roger."
Roger looked at Owen and then at Nola. She said, "Tell him it's OK, Roger."
"Owen, I already told you Nola handled herself just fine. Leblanc was bragging to Joe that she was a fine woman and that he was going to get her out to do some site assessments real soon." And the way Roger said site assessments made LeBlanc’s intensions perfectly clear.
"Gott Dammit. I'm going to throw him into the pool!"
Roger laughed. Nola smiled and said, "No, you're not. When he calls and asks for site assessments, and I'm pretty sure he will, you will pretend like you have no idea what happened. You'll say sure Nola will be glad to come and do the assessments. Then you and Joe come with me. We are never going to say another word about what just happened and you are going to take his money."
Roger raised his eyebrows. Owen looked at her like she was crazy.
"Don't you two look at me like that. He is obviously a man who has a lot of money and who isn't used to being told no. The last thing you want to do in this town is upset someone with money and power. Don't embarrass him and he owes you. He'll owe me. It's the best revenge."
Roger said, "Damn Owen, You sure have some woman!"
"Well she's right. That is the way rich folk in this town work."
"I'm still going to throw him in the pool." he said forcefully.
Nola said, "Excuse me Roger." And she moved to Owen and he automatically put his arms around her and she moved closer and gave him an impressive kiss. A kiss Roger didn't even try to not see.
Then she said, "You will not throw him in the pool. Right?"
"I don't know."
And she gently kissed him again. "You will not throw him in the pool. Right?"
"Right." And she slipped from his arms and put her hand on Roger's arm.
"Roger I'm going to freshen up in Owen's bathroom. Please take him downstairs and make sure he mingles with clients who aren't Leblanc until Leblanc leaves. Please?"
"Anything you say boss." And he winked at her. She smiled and slipped into the bathroom and they heard the water start running as she did her best to calm down.
"Damn. That is a one of a kind woman. Where did you find her?"
"On a plane to Pennsylvania."
"What? She's a native right? Sometimes when she talks it sounds like she is from the 9th Ward."
"On a plane?"
"Yes, on a plane to Pennsylvania, last November."
Roger just shook his head. "Some guys have all the luck. Come on you have to mingle." And he moved Owen toward the door and the stairs. "I have to make sure that you don't mingle with LeBlanc. Maurice and Joe will get him out of here. Don't do anything that will upset your woman. I don't want her mad at me."
Nola calmed herself down. Then she called the Grigori and the elementals and the Gods and wove a spell that would get Leblanc to leave quickly. He was hungry. He wanted to be where he could pay women would let him put his hands on them. He was going to call.... call his driver or a cab and he would be gone in less than 15 minutes. He would also be left with an overwhelming desire to have No Lawnmower Landscaping work on his properties. She worked the spell for 5 minutes and then let it go. 10 minutes later she was watching from the French doors in Owen's bedroom as he left. As soon as he did she smiled and turned to go back downstairs. Owen met her at the bedroom door and pushed her back in.
"How do you know?"
"I wished him gone. I watched him leave."
"You wished him gone?"
"You twitched your nose?
"Remind me not to make you mad."
"I don't usually do things like that but I believe I was protecting myself and you and your business. We're allowed under those circumstances."
"I see. Maybe I do need to consider doing magic."
"Yes. You should practice on small things so it is there for you when you need it. I keep telling you it's a tool."
And he kissed her. And she kissed him back releasing the pent up fear and tension. Owen thought, Roger was absolutely right. Nola was some woman. He was still kissing her and moved her on to the bed. When she realized where they were she said, "No, Owen. You have clients downstairs."
"They are leaving." And he kissed her neck. "I have missed you. It's been weeks since you've been here."
"I have been here every week."
"Yes, But not long enough."
"You have clients and guests downstairs. Just what do you think you and I are going to do up here?"
And he flopped back onto the bed. "Argh. You probably don't want to know. I need all my fingers."
And she laughed. "Get up Big Man. You need to go downstairs. It's your party. It's bad enough Roger saw me kiss you. I don't want the rest of them wondering what we're doing up here." And she got up and he watched as she retied her sarong.
"Well since that's all you leave me."
"You are incorrigible. Come on let's go."
When they went downstairs and out back, Maurice was in the pool in the inner tube.
"Maurice, now everything is as it should be. You definitely belong in a pool. Where is your lovely wife?"
He smiled at her and waved to his wife who waved back to them.
Joe came up to her. "I'm sorry."
"For what Joe? LeBlanc? Don't worry about it. We're going to make a fortune off of handling his properties. You watch."
Joe raised his eyebrows. Roger came up to her.
"Owen seems very relaxed. What did you do to him?"
"Nothing," Which was true. "Tell Joe how we're going to take LeBlanc's money." And she slipped away to talk to Maurice’s wife knowing that she need to say hello to everyone before she could leave.
She was sitting with Owen on the far side of the pool. He was content and had his arm draped around her on the back of the chair."
Maurice was getting a drink and so was Roger.
"Look at them, Maurice."
"I know. Do you think he knows just how hooked he is?"
"It's hard to tell. Owen's never had any trouble getting women."
"No, that's true. But I don't think I've ever seen him like this with another woman."
Roger laughed. "He was going to throw LeBlanc in the pool."
Maurice laughed. "I would have liked to see that."
"She talked him out of it with a kiss. Well two actually. If she does the rest like she kisses...."
And Nola whispered in Owen's ear. "It's been interesting and fun. But I'm leaving now."
Owen turned to her, "No. Stay until everyone else goes."
"No, I'm leaving. Your crew knows they can start later tomorrow. I have to go to work tomorrow." And he kissed her lightly and hugged her and whispered in her ear. "Stay."
"Owen please, everyone is probably looking at us."
"So what? It's my house. As far as most of them are concerned you're my girlfriend."
She shook her head and laughed and said, "Incorrigible. But charming. And I'm still leaving." And she stood up, held her hand out and said. "Walk me out, please."
He reluctantly stood up and walked her to the gate as they went past Roger and Maurice, Nola said, "Take care of Owen fellas."
"Sure Nola. You're leaving?"
"Yep, I have to be at work for 7:30AM." And she headed for her truck in the driveway.
Roger told Maurice, "Watch this." and they watched as discretely as they could from the gate between the pool and the driveway.
When Owen and Nola were finished, Maurice said, "I see what you mean."