They stared at the flowers like they were a curse.
Anna caressed a silky-soft petal with her hand before turning a dagger-sharp glare on her parents. “Why?!”
Her mother’s mouth opened, then closed, and she looked away. Her father continued staring at the flowers with a sort of revulsion she’d never seen on his face.
“Why would you hide that from me?!” Anna’s volume rose with every word. “You could have told me why you kept me locked away like Rapunzel for the past nineteen years!”
“Anna, honey, we didn’t tell you because you might have wanted to use it.” Her father spoke calmly, and that made her blood boil.
“Huh, I wonder why I would ever want to use it? Maybe because it’s beautiful?!” She glared fiercely, but her father remained stonily calm. Her mother, however, was wringing her thin hands frantically.
“Yes, they are beautiful,” her father said, “but––”
“But what?!” Anna stared at the innocuous flowers in front of her. “So far, they haven’t burned the house down. No toxic fumes are emitting from them. I haven’t spontaneously combusted!”
“You’re being irrational.” A muscle ticked in her dad’s jaw, but that was the only sign of strain. “I think you should sit down for a moment and consider-“
“No.” It felt good to say the word, to stand up to and refuse the people who had stifled her for so long. Emboldened by the shocked and helpless look on their faces, she pressed on. “You know what? I’m done. I’m moving out.”
Her mother’s face paled even more as she spoke up for the first time. “You don’t mean that.”
“And it won’t take me very long to pack since I never had anything I could possibly hurt myself on. I’ll be out of your hair soon, then you won’t have to worry anymore.” Tears stung her eyes, and she angrily wiped them away.
“No, sweetie, you don’t understand. This was all to protect you! There is a price––”
“The price was me losing my childhood, Mom!” Now the tears spilled down her cheeks. “I wasn’t allowed to play outside with other kids because I might hurt myself! Because I might bleed! I never had any friends. I sat by myself on my thirteenth birthday, and my sixteenth, and my eighteenth, and every single one in between all because of some flowers!”
Every word seemed to slice into her parents. Part of her knew she might regret her words later, but for now, she relished their pain.
“Anna, I know you feel hurt, but please, please listen to me.”
“I’m done listening. I listened for nineteen years, and now it’s your turn.” Anna thrust her finger towards her parents as her temper rose. “I am moving out. I don’t care what the price is you mumbled about. I’m going to live my life for once, and that’s that.”
Anna owned very little beyond clothes, a toothbrush, a tidy sum of money from the generous allowance she had always received but never been allowed to spend, and the suitcase she was furiously shoving it all into. She glared at the stack of bills and coins now packed in the top of her bag. It was as if her parents had tried to pay her to be happy. But now their money would pay for her freedom, and she could think of no better revenge.
Anna marched down the stairs and past her parents, who made one more desperate and futile attempt to stop her. She breathed in the cold winter air and felt alive for the first time. A cab took her to a cheap hotel, and she ordered food even though she knew it wouldn’t be good. That didn’t matter. What mattered was she was free to do so. Anna used a knife for the first time in her life to cut her chicken and watched a movie on the TV while she cuddled under the crisp white sheets. Happiness swelled inside her. She was free.
“Morning, Lucy.” Anna clocked into her new job at the coffee shop down the street from her hotel. “How was your weekend?”
“Oh, it was great!” Lucy put her arm around Anna’s shoulders and squeezed. “I see you’ve brought more of your mysterious flowers in today.”
Anna looked down at the large bouquet of her crimson flowers and smiled. “Yep!”
“Do you really spend your own money on those all the time to put on the tables?” Lucy took some of the flowers and began replacing wilted red blossoms with new ones.
“It’s worth it to watch people smile when they sit down and see fresh flowers on their table.”
“Mmm, I would have to agree. They make me smile too.” Lucy buried her face in the flowers she was holding and inhaled their fragrance.
Anna grinned at her and continued placing flowers around the warm, inviting coffee shop. It had only been a few weeks, but she and Lucy worked together often and had become close.
“Hey, Anna, do you work tomorrow?”
She swallowed the bite of her lunch she had been chewing. “Only until noon. Why?”
“I was thinking I could show you around the city tomorrow. We could grab lunch to start us off.”
“Yeah, I’d love that,” Anna replied enthusiastically before sitting back and gazing around the small break room. “Maybe I should start putting flowers back here too. This room is awful.”
Lucy laughed out loud at Anna’s exaggerated dismal expression but didn’t reply, only got up to throw away the trash from her lunch. The two friends returned to work, and Anna greeted a few co-workers on the way who were retiring for their own break. They never would have guessed the hard-working, free-spirited, kind girl they worked with had been shut away by her parents her entire life.
“So, where are you living?” Lucy asked the next day as they walked the city streets. “I know you’re fairly new here, and it can be hard to find the best deal on affordable housing.”
“Tell me about it. I’ve been looking, but I can’t find anything. I’m currently living in a hotel room, but I really shouldn’t keep that up much longer based on what I make. I mean, the coffee shop pays well, but not that well.”
Lucy appeared to be deep in thought.
“What is it?”
“Well, I was just thinking.” Lucy played with the tips of her long hair. “Maybe you could come live with me? I mean, if you want to. I’ve got the room, and if we split the rent, it would be pretty affordable for both of us. I’ve been thinking I should downgrade, but if you would be my roommate, I wouldn’t have to.”
Anna’s eyes lit up. “Do you really mean it? I could live with you?”
“Yeah! I think it would be fun. I’m actually relieved. Most people don’t really know their roommates until they move in, and I’m not a fan of that. We’re already friends, so I don’t have to worry too much.” Lucy bumped Anna’s arm with a grin.
“Aw, Lucy, I can’t tell you what a relief that is.” Some of the tension Anna had been carrying for weeks finally left her shoulders. “I’ve been so worried about what I was going to do. I don’t know how I’ll ever thank you.”
“Tell you what. Since you won’t tell me where to get some of those crimson flowers for myself, how about you bring some around the apartment on occasion, and we’ll call it even.”
Anna smiled a little uneasily. “Sure thing.”
She would have to tell Lucy. But not yet.
Anna kept her gift a secret for a while, kept using it to make people as happy as she could, but her body fought her with every blood-borne flower she made. She came home from a shift, pale and tired, and Lucy rushed to her as she entered their shared apartment.
“Anna, what’s wrong? You look awful. Did something happen?”
“No, no, I think I’m just sick.”
“Oh, Anna, I’m sorry.” Lucy started to reach for Anna, then pulled back. “You know what? I’ll make some tea. My mom always says that makes everything better.” She turned toward the kitchen.
Lucy halted mid-step. “Yes?”
Anna swallowed, then sat heavily on the couch cushion. “There’s something I need to tell you. I should have told you sooner, but…I just haven’t.”
“Anna, you’re scaring me.” Eyes wide, Lucy joined her on the couch. “What’s going on?”
Anna forced the words out. “It’s about the crimson flowers––”
“Flowers?! Anna, what on earth does that have to do with anything right now?”
“Well, if you’d let me keep talking, you would find out.”
Lucy let out a somewhat irritated sigh. “Ok, then. Explain.”
“They come from my blood. The flowers.”
Lucy rolled her eyes. “Seriously, Anna––”
“If I bleed on the ground, the flowers grow,” Anna hurried on. “I think I’ve always been able to do it, but I never knew until recently. My parents practically locked me in a bubble-wrapped tower for nineteen years. They didn’t want me to use it for some reason. And then, one day, I finally got hurt. My parents got lax after a while, I guess. Anyway, I bled a little, and the flowers grew.”
Lucy had stopped trying to protest and now just stared with wide eyes.
Anna swallowed hard as she remembered the night. “I was so angry with them. They had lied to me my entire life, when, if they had just told me, I might have understood. But they didn’t, and I hated them for it. That’s when I left, and I ended up here working in the coffee shop.”
She grabbed Lucy’s hands and squeezed. “And I met you. You’ve become the very first friend I’ve ever had, and I can’t think of a better person to have met. I never knew I could have so much in common with a person. Or laugh as hard as I do with you. I just never knew.” Anna’s wobbly voice broke, but she continued speaking through the tears. “And I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner. I just, I was so afraid that you would be angry with me like I was with my parents, and I didn’t want to lose you. I didn’t want to lose the only friend I’ve ever had because that would hurt too much for me to bear. Lucy, I’m so sorry.”
“You’re not gonna lose me.” Lucy squeezed back. “I’ll be your friend for life, darling girl.”
Now Anna couldn’t stop the sobs. They sat there for several minutes, Anna crying, Lucy just being there, before Lucy spoke again.”I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through. I can’t imagine all the implications that must have. And I’m not angry with you for not telling me. It’s got to be terrifying to trust somebody with that kind of secret, but I promise, I won’t ever tell a soul.”
“Thanks, Lucy. Thank you for everything. I don’t deserve you,” Anna said as she wiped her face with her sleeves.
“Of course you do.” A sheepish smile grew on Lucy’s face. “Will you show me?”
Anna sniffed and nodded. “Yes.” She retrieved a sewing needle from a drawer and returned to the couch.
“Wait, don’t you need dirt or something?”
“No, they just grow wherever. Watch.”
Anna pricked her finger with the needle and squeezed until a few drops of blood splattered onto the rug. The girls sat in silence as a green sprout, and another, and another sprung from the ground. Slow and graceful, the green stems grew into the air. Then, red appeared. Deep. Beautiful. Passionate. Indescribable crimson. Small closed buds grew atop the lush green stems, and then, all at once, they opened. The red blooms were there, familiar and yet, infinitely unfamiliar. Otherworldly in their design. Mesmerizing in their crimson beauty. Eternally unknown and always different in the patterns that wound through the petals in a different, lighter hue of hellish crimson.
“Oh, Anna. It makes them even more beautiful now that I know.” Lucy touched a petal with a gentle hand. “That’s incredible.”
Anna sniffed. “I don’t know why I ever thought you would be angry or not accept it.”
“But, I don’t understand what this has to do with you looking so awful.”
“Well, that’s the thing. The more often I use it, the worse I start to feel.” Anna shoved her still-bleeding hands in her pockets. “I’ve used it a lot recently. For some reason, people just seem sadder these days. But that means I feel awful, and I guess I look awful now too.”
“Maybe you should slow down a bit? Take a few days off work, eat good food, relax.”
Lucy rubbed Anna’s back. “Let me make you something hot to eat. Then we can watch that new show we like and turn in early.”
Anna smiled at her friend. “Thank you, Lucy.”
“Anna, you need to go to the doctor!” Lucy placed her hands on her hips. “I don’t care what you’re going to say. You need help.”
“How?” Anna leaned against a door frame, her chest aching, her legs weak. “How could I go to a doctor, Lucy?! What would I say was wrong?!”
“You wouldn’t have to tell them about the flowers. Just say that you’re tired and don’t feel well and see what they have to say!”
“No!” The exertion almost made Anna wheeze. “They would find out. They would find out, Lucy, and I didn’t escape one cage to get thrown into another.” Her smile was tight. “Besides, it’s not that bad.”
“Not that bad!?” Lucy had a few inches on Anna, and she used those to full advantage with her broad stance and fierce glare. “We’ve been living together, what? Almost four years now? I can only get you to slow down and rest when you’re about to pass out! You’re thin and pale! The dark circles under your eyes never go away! Anna, you’re not happy anymore!”
Angry tears spilled down Anna’s hollow cheeks. “I don’t care! Can’t you understand that?! I spent nineteen years not doing anything for anyone! And now that I can, I won’t stop for anything! I don’t care that I’m thin, I don’t care that I have dark circles, I don’t care that my eyes are bloodshot! I don’t even care that I’m not happy! As long as I can make other people happy, Lucy, God help me I will!”
“What about me?! I’m your best friend! What about my happiness!? You care about everyone else except yourself. It’s not fair!”
“Of course I care about you, Loo.” Anna’s chest heaved up and down, but she couldn’t seem to get a breath. “I…I don’t mean for it to seem like I don’t. I love you more than anything… I just…”
“Anna, what is it?” Lucy took a few steps forward.
Anna just managed to breathe out, “It’s just––” before her legs gave out and darkness swallowed her vision.
Lucy shrieked and ran to the body on the floor. Anna’s frame was limp, her eyes dull. “No! Anna, wake up. Wake up! I love you too. Please. I said friends for life, darling girl.” Lucy sobbed as she held the frail form in her lap.
The crimson flowers bloomed and covered the floor around Anna’s sunken body. They grew from her hands and covered her sickly frame. Tears streamed down Lucy’s blotchy face as the flowers flowed onto her as well. Color slowly returned to Anna’s face. She had the slightest of smiles on her now-crimson lips and a crimson flush in her cheeks.
Small, blood-red flowers bloomed and made a crown in Anna’s hair. A vibrant, beautiful, ethereal crown for the girl who made others smile but rarely smiled herself. Lucy choked out a laugh. It was exactly what Anna would have wanted.
Lucy stared at the headstone, crowned with crimson flowers. Even in the years since Anna’s death, the crimson display had never died, ever-changing but always present. As flowers died, new ones would grow. Even in the winter, the blood-red flowers grew undeterred.
A couple passed by the grave. They weren’t looking at Lucy. She wouldn’t have been surprised if they hadn’t noticed her at all. The couple was looking at the flowers, and Lucy saw their mouths curve heavenward where she knew her friend rested. Her eyes followed them as they left the somber graveyard, and she grinned. Stepping forward, Lucy knelt in the crimson flowers, and, ever so slightly, they curved around her in a fragrant embrace. Her eyes filled with happy tears.
“You still make people smile, Anna.”
And you? Did you smile at the crimson flowers?
I really hope you guys enjoyed this prompt story! It took some WORK to finally be publishable, but it got there in the end.
If you are new to my blog, allow me to explain what’s happening here. ( And thank you for being here.) Every two months, I post with my good friend, Cassie, a story based on a prompt. We both use the same one, but write our own unique story. They are usually so different it’s amusing. Cassie is an extreamly talented writer, and if you would like to read her version of the story and see the prompt that inspired our individual efforts, click HERE