Hi, friends! Normally, I post on the first Friday of the month, but my prompt buddy, Laura, was out of town during that time. So, she and I decided to postpone our stories for a week. Thanks for waiting!
I always make sure to leave roses on the bush.
Glancing around furtively, I snip away the last stalk I’ll take tonight, cradling the snow-white rose in my gloved hands. Moonlight casts the garden in an eerie glow. It’s a night fit for ghosts to walk, which is sort of fitting, I guess.
The lights are off at 2467 Yarrow Lane, just as they are in the rest of my part of the world. Delilah always liked this time of night, said that this was when you could be free because the only ones watching are God and the moon. I gaze at the moon, a thin, pale crescent in the pitch-black sky, and my heart cracks. Can you still see the moon, Lilah?
My eyes catch on another part of the garden, the plants pale with dark green flowers. Are those gardenias? How did I never notice them? I mean, I’ve been taking from this garden for weeks.
Delilah loved gardenias. Whenever she saw one, she had to buy it, no matter where we were or how inconvenient it was. I never really understood the appeal. I mean, they smell nice but feel weird, kind of like wax, and they look fake.
But suddenly, they’re the most beautiful flower in the world.
\With another glance at the darkened windows, I creep across the garden, trying not to crush any plants. Holy crap, how big is this garden, anyway? It’s like a jungle in here––massive plants swallowing my dark-clad form, brightly-colored blooms I don’t recognize.
I should probably switch things up, try a different garden. Then these people won’t get suspicious about their flowers disappearing. But 2467 Yarrow Lane has the biggest, most elaborate garden I’ve ever seen.
Snip snip go the shears, and three gardenia stalks drop into my waiting hands. I stare at the waxy flowers for a moment, my heart seizing. Just for you, I think.
Okay, maybe I’ve taken too many this time. But they’ve got plenty of flowers. They won’t notice.
“So, who’s the girl?”
Swearing, I drop the flowers. Above me is a shadow, which quickly clarifies into a teenaged boy.
“Who’s the girl?” he repeats. His voice cracks a little.
I kneel, cradling the stalks in my hands, gardenias and roses alike, all as pale as death. “Geez, you scared the crap out of me.”
Now that I’ve truly looked at him, I don’t know why I was so scared. Acne dots his face, and he’s wearing cat pajamas. Thank God my acne is gone now.
“Serves you right for stealing my flowers.”
I almost drop the flowers again. This is the owner of 2467 Yarrow Lane? I’ve gotta say, the guy’s not exactly what I expected. I thought it was gonna be some old lady who spends all her time gardening. Then again, an old lady probably wouldn’t be able to keep up with a garden as massive as this.
Still, a teenager? No, it probably belongs to his mom or grandma or something.
He lets out a whistle. “You had to choose the expensive ones, didn’t you?”
“Look, I have to go,” I say, backing away, almost tripping over a plant. Muttering more swears, I back up more carefully this time, navigating the elaborate garden.
“I’m coming with you,” he says, matching me step for step.
“I wanna make sure the girl is pretty enough to warrant flower theft.”
The air leaves my lungs. “Uh…”
We’ve reached the edge of the garden, and now the guy opens the white picket gate and steps out, holding the gate open. “What are you waiting for?”
For you to leave. “Look… this is kind of private.”
“They’re my flowers. I deserve to know where they’re going.”
You really have to make this difficult, don’t you? I huff, stepping through the gate. He lets it go, and it clangs shut behind me. Part of me hopes his parents wake up and see him leaving. The other part doesn’t want them to know that I’m stealing his flowers.
“Just go home, kid.”
“Hey, you’re not that much older than me. What are you, twenty?”
I scowl. “Twenty-five, thank you.”
“Yeah, whatever. But if you don’t let me come, I’ll tell my grandma you were stealing.”
Called it. The kid’s not running the show. Still, I don’t want this grandma getting all irrational and calling the cops on me for some harmless flower theft. “You don’t even know my name.”
“Oh yeah. Well… what’s your name?”
I roll my eyes and keep walking.
“Seriously. I’ll tell my grandma if you don’t let me come.”
“Looks like you’re already coming,” I say. “Besides, doesn’t matter what I do; you’re gonna blab to your grandma.”
“Nah,” he says.
I stop and squint at him. Honest eyes widen behind rimmed glasses. Maybe the kid’s telling the truth.
But I’m sure he’ll get the heck out of here when I tell him where I’m going.
“I’m Ryan,” I say.
He grins. “Bennett. Nice to meet you.”
I just grunt back. How is he so alert right now? My eyelids won’t stop drooping. Also, why is he not wondering why I’m going to “visit a girl” when it’s after midnight? Doesn’t he have any decency?
Now how to break the news about our destination…
The silence is stifling. “Nice PJs,” I say, glancing again at the cats dotting his legs.
He has the decency to blush. “Yeah, whatever.”
A raindrop lands on my head, then another, until the air is thick with moisture. Could this night get any worse?
“I love the rain,” Bennett says.
I don’t. Rain took everything from me. “Why?” I ask flatly.
He laughs. “Grandma always says, ‘You don’t have rain, you don’t have a garden.’”
“You can use water from the faucet.”
“Yeah, but still. I like it when the sky does the work for me.” He laces his fingers behind his head. “I already have to do enough work on the garden without needing to water it.”
I guess I can see that.
“It’s my grandma’s garden,” Bennett says. “Well, really, it’s a family garden. Grandpop started it a while back, and now it sort of runs in the family.”
I nod as though I care. Raindrops collect on the petals, almost like tears. Maybe the sky is crying too. Words jumble in my mind, not collected enough to spit out: Hey, look, you don’t really want to be here… You’re not gonna like it. And I don’t want you here. Because we’re going to… Well…
“Every summer, we come work the garden,” he says. “We kids, I mean.” He makes a face. “Not that I’m a kid or anything.”
I hide a smirk.
“It’s fun but crowded.” Bennett scowls more. “It’s kinda nice to get out, to be honest.”
“So, like, you all live in one house?” I mean, it’s a big house, but not that big. Then again, that’d significantly cut down on rent, which is ridiculously expensive. I’m feeling that more and more now that I’m the only one in the apartment.
“Sort of.” He shrugs. “It’s like a family destination spot during the summer. It gets really crowded then, but the garden can’t run itself, you know?”
I don’t, actually. I don’t think I’ve ever grown anything in my life. Wait, scratch that. I vaguely remember planting a marigold in third grade. It didn’t even last a week.
“I’m not a kid!” His voice pitches high.
“Whatever.” Water drips down my cheeks. “You just… you’re wearing slippers.” How did I not notice before? Cat slippers too. Delilah would have loved them.
“Yeah?” He folds his arms over his chest, which looks really weird while he’s walking.
“You’re gonna ruin them.” Walking in the rain in slippers? Is he crazy?
What is it gonna take to get this kid off my back? My hands tighten around the stems, practically strangling them. A thorn pricks my finger, and I hiss.
“You okay?” Bennett asks.
“I’m fine,” I say through gritted teeth. I can see the hill in the distance, can almost make out the headstones and crosses. “Look, Bennett, it really isn’t a good time. You should go home.”
“But they’re my flowers,” he repeats.
“Your grandma’s flowers.”
“I grew the gardenias.”
That stops me. “You did?”
“Yeah.” He scuffs his slipper against the wet sidewalk. “They’re my favorites.”
“Oh.” I swallow, looking down at the white petals, then back up at the weeping sky. Its tears were what caused mine in the first place. Can’t it just stop? Can’t it give me a break?
Lightning splits the night, outlining the graves in ominous silhouettes.
“Hey, Ryan?” Bennett says, his voice small. “Shouldn’t we be turning now?”
“No,” I say.
Bennett gazes at the cemetery, his eyes wide beneath rain-splattered glasses. My heart sinks, as heavy as my sodden coat. “You should go home now,” I say.
His legs seem to be buried in the mud.
I don’t have time for this. Clenching my jaw, I navigate the darkened cemetery, slipping around headstones, barely ever tripping.
Mud squishes behind me. I turn around.
His voice breaks. “Was she pretty?”
“Yes.” I swallow the lump in my throat. My tears mingle with the rain. “The most beautiful girl in the world.”
I thought I’d spend the rest of my life with her. I thought I’d wake up to her every day, have little brown-eyed babies with her crazy blonde curls.
But that life shattered when her windshield did.
My chest heaving, I turn, continuing along the familiar path. So many stones. So many people taken from life. So much grief in one place.
“Did she like gardenias?”
The words nearly make me break. “Yeah,” I say, stopping in front of her grave. “She did.”
Her headstone is simple. I couldn’t afford much, what with student loans and funeral costs. But the important stuff is there: Delilah Rose Haverford, 1997 – 2020, beloved wife and daughter.
“That’s a pretty name,” Bennett said.
I don’t even have the strength to answer. Kneeling in the mud, I lay the flowers on her grave, arranging them as best I can. If she were here, she would smile at my pitiful attempts. But she’s not here. That’s the whole point.
I bit my lip to hold in a sob.
Bennett joins me in the mud. “Can I?”
“But your pajamas,” I blurt.
He takes the roses in gentle, practiced hands, careful to avoid the thorns, and lays them on the stone. Then he takes the gardenias, placing them with more care that I’d thought possible.
“You don’t have to be here,” I say, my voice choked.
“Those are my flowers on her grave.”
Shrugging, Bennett stares at the rain-slicked headstone. “I think she’s worth the flowers,” he finally says.
“I told you I wanted to know if she’s worth the flower theft.” He touches a gardenia petal. “She is.”
I can’t speak for a moment. Finally, a strangled, “Thanks, Bennett,” comes out.
Wind whistles through the tombstones as we stand there, soaked and silent. I’ll see you someday, Delilah, I promise. And moonlight gleams on the gardenias.
Thanks for reading, friends. For those dealing with grief, know that you re not alone. I am praying for you and will grieve with you. There is no time limit for grief. You will never be fully “better.” And that’s okay.
If you want a different story based on the same prompt, check out Laura’s story here.
On a less serious note, the next prompt contest will be happening on June 22nd, so watch out for that! After that, I’ll go back to having contests every other month, so I’ll skip July. If you want to get some flash fiction prompt fun in soon, you’ll have to do so this month. 😉
Have a great weekend, friends!