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Hue, Tint and Shade cover

Sympathy by Jordan Castillo Price

Series: standalone
Length: Novelette - 13,975 words - 41 page PDF
Cover artist: Jordan Castillo Price - see larger cover
ISBN: 978-0-9818752-2-4

Find Sympathy at the following places:

Amazon - Smashwords (many file types) - iTunes


It took Anthony Potosi years to recover from the accident that claimed his father's life, and doctors told him he'd never walk again. He proved them wrong. Now he's back at the landscaping business, Potosi and Sons, he shares with his two older brothers—but they seem more interested in getting Anthony to sell out his share than in celebrating his recovery.

The oil-and-water relationship between Anthony and his brothers is hardly new. Even when they were kids, Sal and Chip delighted in terrorizing their baby brother with stories like "The Hook," complete with visits to the abandoned Victorian a half mile down the two-lane.

Now Anthony towers over his brothers...but he's still the youngest. When the new owner of the Hook House calls in an order, they take a little too much satisfaction in sending him to face his old fears. And learning to open up again to trust, desire—and maybe even love—is far scarier than The Hook.


There was a time when I would’ve been able to carry the biggest shrub in the yard without breaking a sweat. The yew I was currently loading up was big, no doubt, but I was only bearing half the weight. My brother Chip had the other end of the root ball. And even so, the strain of maneuvering that damn bush into the back of the van just about killed me.

“God damn it, Tony, pull.” Chip gave the root ball a shove that crushed my hand against the door hinge and I saw stars. I lost my grip for a second and lurched to recover, even though moving fast under all that weight was gonna come back to bite me in the ass later. I couldn’t just drop the yew on Chip—it’d squash him. And then I’d never hear the end of it.

I tried to brace my good leg and pull harder, get the lousy root ball up over the bumper, but it was no use. Leaves slicked the bottoms of my boots and I had no choice but to catch myself with my other leg—the useless leg—and the pain that shot up my spine was a cold, relentless kind of pain, nothing at all like the pain of my skinned knuckles. It was a pain that promised to linger. For days.

My good leg caught on the lip of the corrugated bed and finally I had leverage. I hauled one more time, and the burlap cleared the bumper.

I let go and wiped my forehead on my sleeve. I was drenched. Even my upper lip was wet.

“If you can’t cut it,” Chip said, “maybe you re-think selling your third of the business to Sal and me.”

Sal and me, Sal and me…. It never ended. “Maybe Sal and you should have been the ones out here loading the truck.”

Of the three of us, I was the youngest brother, and the biggest. And I figured I’d done a lifetime’s worth of hauling for Sal and Chip in the years before the accident. I’d never said as much out loud—but I’d done my damnedest to convey it with looks that were nasty enough to peel paint.

Not that Chip noticed. He liked his beer cold, his TV loud, and his dinner on the table when he came home from work. It took more than a pissy look to let the air out of Chip’s tires. “Alls I’m saying,” he rambled on, “is you take your cut, maybe you can go to school.”

“Oh God, not this again.”

“You don’t wanna go to Penn State? How ‘bout the community college? I heard you can bring in forty, forty-five grand a year with a two-year degree.”

“What the hell do I want a degree for?” Potosi and Sons. That was all I’d ever wanted to do, from the first time Dad let me work the backhoe.

“Don’t be stupid—you could figure out a way to get some kind of desk job.”

“I don’t want a desk job.”

“I’d think you’d jump at the chance…since your back didn’t heal right, and whatnot.”

My back. A daydream that featured a yew with a three-hundred-pound root ball falling on Chip—ideally from about ten feet off the ground—gave me something to almost smile about. It wasn’t my back that’d been broken. It was my pelvis. Apparently the two-syllable word was one syllable too many for my Neanderthal brother.

I wiped my hands on my jeans and headed back toward the office, and did my best not to limp. It cost me. But everything in life has a cost, doesn’t it?

The phone was ringing when I came through the door, and I heard a series of sounds that had grown so familiar to me I could picture them without even poking my head around the doorframe. The clatter of computer keys—my brother Sal finishing a thought. A sigh—he hates being interrupted, unless the customer happens to be both female and available. A squall of old metal as he leaned back in the ancient office chair—a piece of furniture that weighed as much as a yew, with horsehair stuffing hanging out the splits in the leatherette seat, a holdover from dad’s regime that Sal, the oldest, claimed as his birthright. The thunk of his boot heels on the desk as he prepared to do business. Then a moment of silence as the ringing stopped and he raised the receiver to his ear. “Potosi and Sons.”

They were just phone-words, as empty as “hello” and “how are you” and “have a nice day.” But after the buyout conversation in the back of the van, the greeting rubbed me the wrong way.

I hit the work sink to splash off some of the sweat, but even over the thunder of the water into the deep metal basin, I could still pick out Sal’s voice. “You want what? Really? But you’ll want to transplant hazel in the Spring. I got some hostas you can fill in with, half off…uh, yeah, sure, we got it. Uh-huh. Youse got a truck, or you want it delivered and installed? Okay, gimme the address.”

The cold water felt good on my hands, my face, but the whole core of my body throbbed where I’d caught that yew the wrong way—and yeah, even my back would be aching well into the night—but my knees too, and my hips, especially my hips.

I pulled some rough brown paper from the dispenser and blotted my face. I could take stock for the rest of the day—Sal and Chip hated dealing with numbers that didn’t have dollar signs in front of them, so when I pulled out the inventory sheet they gave me plenty of room. I’d go through our evergreens for the rest of the day, drive home with a hot pack against my lower back, and settle in with some Vicodin when I got back to my apartment. No problem.

“Tony, we got another one of them chump-changers.” Unless you were willing to drop a grand to have your yard graded or your perfectly good old growth replaced with new hybrids that looked just like your neighbors’ azaleas and forsythias, you were chump change to Sal. “You want to do the dropoff?”

Maybe—if they weren’t in the market for yew. I wouldn’t mind getting in my truck that much sooner and breaking open the heat pack. “What’re they…?”

“Hazel, three units. I think we got some leftover stock in Greenhouse Four.”

I did the inventory, not Sal. Corylus americana. Greenhouse Two. Maybe forty pounds each—a lot more back-friendly than the yew. I’d manage. I turned toward the door carefully, so as not to aggravate my aching hip.

“And get this,” Sal went on. “It’s at the Hook House.”



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