Robert had seen a lot in his life. Too much, truly. So much that sometimes the plethora of plants occupying the back corner of his garden store looked a bit too much like the jungles of Vietnam for him to stand too close, lest he get surprised again in the mud and earth. It meant that he recognized other survivors, other men and women who wore the same look in their eyes, who held themselves like he did; like his son did. The kind of men and women like his son, who even as he shamelessly held onto his daughters with his biomechanical arm, scanned for exits and threats.
Robert wore his sleeve neatly pinned up these days, which meant when those two city boys pulled up to his shop in that fancy car of theirs, he was going to have to call for his granddaughter; as between their heights and his arm, they could occasionally use the help.
Both of the boys were survivors.
One wore his survival all over his body. He was littered in scars and burn marks in the shade of red that came with age and sun.
The other held his survival in his eyes; pale gold like those of a tiger. A description he found especially accurate with the way he stalked, ever casual, like a predator through the aisle towards where Robert was restocking the garden hoes.
“Robert.” Andrew greeted. He inclined his head as he turned towards the display, hands still stuck firmly in the pocket of his jeans. They were caked in dirt at the knees, or stained, but Robert was more interested in the slight pull to the side of his mouth.
“H-hi Neil!” Rebecca, his granddaughter, called out over the music of the store, voice pitched in the same surprised/delighted screech that meant that Neil had managed to sneak up on her yet again.
“Andrew.” Robert said, then gestured towards the metal garden hoe hanging before him, “Lemme guess, the metal broke on ya.”
“The blade fell off.”
“You wanna go with the solid wood this time, then?”
“You can just say it.”
“Where’s the pleasure in that? Besides, you got a solid what, year and a half, out of it?”
Andrew flicked his eyes to the side, glaring at the smirk on Robert’s face, before snatching the wooden model he should have gotten a year ago off the rack.
“Anything else for you today? We’ve got some chicks in.” Robert said, leading towards the register. Andrew paused and closed his eyes, tilting his head back towards the ceiling. He muttered something that sounded suspiciously like, ‘I fucking knew it,’ or perhaps, ‘fucking Josten,’ but by then they were close enough to the registers that it was lost to the sound of the first round of spring chicks chirping.
“Andrew, look!” Neil breathed, holding up a tiny silkie chick. He was seated next to Rebecca on the floor of the pen holding their newest chicks. The chicks were crawling all over them, and Robert could see that several had settled in the fabric of his basketball shorts where it puddled around him. His eyes were wide and bright, and although Robert's heart was buried along with Shannon, his late wife, he could see exactly why Andrew's entire person went loose at the sight of him.
“They're called silkie chickens,” Neil said, glancing at Rebecca who smiled encouragingly at him. He had his scarred hands carefully cupped around a fluffy grey chick who had settled into the warmth of his palms.
“The cats will eat them.”
“Rebecca said her grandmother had cats and chickens.” Neil said, he lifted the chick to his face and tilted it against his cheek, just under the pink of the scarring there.
“Yeah,” Rebecca stuttered, turning bright red as she looked up at Andrew from the circle of the chick’s pen, “Nana's cats use to like them like they were kittens.”
Andrew's eyes slid over to Robert and he couldn't help but smirk, “Silkies are friendly little devils, good pets. Little eggs, though.”
Neil inhaled sharply, drawing Andrew's immediate attention, but his smile was blinding. “Andrew, Leigh will love them.”
Andrew stared him down, unblinking and drew his wallet from his back pocket. Without tearing his eyes away from where Neil was still rubbing his cheek against the fluff of a newborn chick, he pulled out his credit card and slapped it against Robert's chest.
Robert couldn’t have held back his laughter if he tried.