"I said, the subject is closed!" Mark got to his feet, shoving the chair back so hard it toppled over, and stood glaring down at Colin. He looked so angry that for a moment, Colin was afraid Mark was going to hit him.
"I'm sorry," Colin said softly, his eyes meeting Mark's. "I didn't mean to upset you. You're right. It's none of my business."
Mark took a deep breath and let it out slowly, the tension visibly draining from his body as he did so. "And I didn't mean to yell at you," he offered, righting the chair, and gave Colin a strained smile. "Let's forget this conversation ever happened and just carry on as before, okay?"
"Okay." With a sigh of relief, Colin gathered up the empty plates and took them to the sink while Mark busied himself making coffee. The usual Friday post-lunch routine. With any luck, Colin thought, their nascent friendship would come out of this mess unscathed. "So," he said, as he washed the plates. "What are you planning to do this afternoon?"
Mark placed the coffee cups on the table and looked across at Colin. "I think it's time I dealt with the euphorbia." He slipped out the back door, returning moments later with a large, canvas bag, from which he proceeded to draw out various items of clothing and set them on the chair.
Colin put the plates in the rack to drain, then dried his hands and reseated himself at the table. Sipping his coffee, he watched Mark dress. First to go on were the sturdy work boots Mark had left on the doormat when he'd come in for lunch. Next was a waterproof jacket, which he zipped right up to the neck.
"You'll be roasting in that," Colin observed.
Mark grinned, looking like his old self again. "Remember what I told you about the sap? I'd rather roast than burn. And these," he said, putting on a pair of long rubber gloves and pulling the sleeves up inside those of the jacket, "are my special euphorbia gloves. Last year, I was working on one with my normal gloves and got burned around the wrists where the gloves and the coat sleeves didn't meet. This time, I'm all prepared."
"Forward into battle, hey?"
"You got that right." Mark took his coffee cup in both gloved hands and drained it in one go. "See you later."
"Be careful with that thing!" Colin called after him as he headed off up the garden, armed with pruning clippers and a ball of string.
Though Colin usually kept Mark company while he worked, he decided to leave Mark in peace for the afternoon so the man could concentrate all his attention on the big bad plant. He poured himself another cup of coffee and settled himself at the kitchen table to work on the handwritten notes he was making for a future murder mystery, leaving the door open so he'd hear if Mark called him for anything.
After maybe an hour or so, he found himself hesitating over the suitability of his murderer's choice of weapon, and made a note to remind himself to search the internet for the relevant information. Taking advantage of the interruption, he thought back over the conversation with Mark -- like a jury being told to strike a witness' testimony from their minds, it was impossible to just forget what had been said -- and was satisfied that he'd been right to broach the subject after all. At least he now knew where he stood, even if it wasn't where he'd hoped it would be. And he still had a gardener.
A sudden roar from the garden jerked Colin from his thoughts.
"Fuck!" Mark yelled. "Jesus fucking Christ!"
Colin was up and out of the kitchen in an instant. He raced toward Mark, who was sitting back on the grass next to the euphorbia, waving his hands in front of his face.
"What is it, Mark?" Colin dropped down beside him and grabbed his wrists. "What happened?"
Mark turned toward Colin, tears streaming down his face. "The sap," he said, and hitched in a ragged breath. "I've got fucking euphorbia sap in my eye!"