Floral arrangements were the latest rage in Persephone: imported when real, as the energy required to grow honest-to-goodness marigolds paled in comparison to the bribery it took to steal a greenhouse corner away from edible crops. Sunflowers fudged the consumable line and became insanely popular among the social climbing set. Anyone else had to make do with artificial confections that looked and smelled like the real thing, but were obviously fake.
Elindale considered just sporting a sunflower ring in the foyer and making up for it with a nice wall design. Her mother was appalled. "Are you sure?" she whispered in that imitation Mars accent she faked so well. "Won't people expect more?"
By people, Mrs. Beyincé of course meant "Your husband and his family," and by more she meant, "A full garden and fountain."
"No one has a fountain," Elindale countered. "That was artificial, in the VR tour."
"But it sprayed." Her mother could be quite firm when it came to her delusions. "I felt the splash. I can't believe you haven't seen them."
It took the entire afternoon to convince her mother that physical water fountains did not exist on their planet, with most that time spent in a fully immersive tour of the city's most exclusive park. There were fountains and trees and birds: turning those settings off the tour returned them to a more prosaic but still beautiful greenway, sans wildlife and water displays. It was more expensive than Elindale liked for a casual afternoon visit, but it did the trick. Mrs. Beyincé left off any further discussion of a fountain.
"Still, it wouldn't hurt to decorate." Her hints continued even as Elindale saw her to the carriage, programming it for the tunnel back to Libitina. "It shouldn't be too hard to get some lilacs or roses. You know they'll expect something."
They might, but once the Styxway unit whisked Mrs. Beyincé home, Elindale thought she was done with horticulture. She certainly didn't expect her sister-in-law to bring the subject back up. Actually, she didn't expect to see Ginger at all: the girl had been staying most term weeks on campus.
"I'm sorry not to let you know I was coming," she said on coming up from the carriage. "But it's so crowded with the Founder's Week events, I thought it might be nice to come back for a few days."
"Of course!" Elindale brushed away any perceived inconvenience. "You know you're always welcome back, anytime, whenever you want. Here, have some dates."
It was after they'd broken the ice again and moved the conversation from dates to dates (and lack thereof) that the subject of flowers came up. "That's one nice thing about the celebration: there's so much real color around the classrooms. I mean, not just the ferns. One of the teachers is getting a housing upgrade and we're all going to chip in for a bouquet."
"That's wonderful." Elindale sipped her tea, hoping to stave off any further discussion in that vein. Ginger, artless as ever, didn't notice.
"Did you know they make arrangements that will fit almost anywhere? And I heard one of the teachers say they were a good way to make up for lack of direct sunlight."
"Really?" Elindale couldn't help snark, and could have bitten her tongue when it only encouraged Ginger to produce a journal article explaining the health benefits of petunias and the comforting aspects of lilies. The girl obviously liked this latest craze, and it was so rare she got into anything social beyond her family that Elindale felt obligated to encourage her. Before long they were looking at catalogs and virtually arranging selections around the room.
Forbes walked in just as Elindale whisked a facsimile of snapdragons toward the door, and the artificial petals actually wilted in the wake of his movement. He didn't look surprised, he almost never did, just ... curiously concerned, which shifted to delight as he embraced his sister and listened to her enthusiasm, and then to resignation when Ginger went to take some of the decorations to her own room. "I take it we are getting a garden?"
"Well, it was inevitable," Elindale admitted, ruefully looking around at the virtual stand-ins, soon to be replaced by the real thing. "After all, the bar has to be set ever higher to keep up with us Davys."
He chuckled, a throaty purr Elindale always thought of as sounding like a lion batting at a butterfly. "It's not a bad trend." He admired a few of the arrangements, though the desert lavender string gave him pause.
"They're odd looking, but their hydration stamina is great." Elindale forced a firm smile as she plunged into an explanation. "We got a little overeager. I know Ginger's used to what they're doing farther in town, and we don't have to keep them long after she leaves. We're still in a rental grace period: any of these orders can be canceled with a full refund. I probably should have called you first."
"Perhaps." Forbes let the word drop, considering. "But the end result is good."
"I just wanted to remind her that it's still her home."
He turned his laser focus on her. "Elindale," he breathed her name, holding her hands with gentle intensity. "Please, remember, it is also your home."
They ended up keeping most of the orders. A good number expired prematurely despite the automated hydration system and heat lamps; she was convinced the forget-me-nots died out of sheer irony. But the orchids proved surprisingly hearty, as did the mums and even the prickly desert lavenders. Ginger took her favorites back to campus, and Elindale corralled the rest to a nook in the dining room.
When Forbes brought home a sugarbush with a blossom as big as her fist, she didn't know what to do. "It won't fit anywhere," she fretted, staring down at the monstrosity on their parlor table, seeming to suck all the attention in the room along with the exhalations from their throats. "And it must drink its weight in water, look at that stem. Does it need to be pollinated? I don't remember seeing anything like it in the catalogs."
"You wouldn't: they don't sell them." Forbes had already cleared the table for the plant's terrarium, unpacking the included installation kit and unfurling its lines to tie into the house drains. "It had to be long-range shipped. Please pass me that wrench."
"You'll need the clamp too." Elindale brought both over, leaning down to assist him. "Long-range? As in, grown on-flight?"
"Yes." He tested the tubing one link at a time before turning the tap, adding another teat to their water bill. "There, it should perk up soon."
Elindale blinked, wondering how the thing could get any bigger. "Forbes, it's beautiful, but where did it come from? A satellite farm barely orbiting some distant chunk of ice? You know they don't last long, grown like that."
Forbes turned to her with that arch look, a hint of a smile ghosting his lips, the one that said he had a special secret he wasn't about to give up so easily. "If it were from the main suppliers and grown in zeroG, that would be a problem. Fortunately, they don't stock this type either."
A sneaky suspicion wormed its way through her thoughts, and she tossed it out in the open for a denial. "You didn't get it from Mars."
"It took a while to find one." He avoided a direct answer, adjusting one of the lamps to throw its light more onto the blossom. "There are only a few species bred for offworld. This one, I suppose, is really the grandchild of the original purchase."
Earth. No matter how far afield they wandered, humanity still called everything beyond their home planet "offworld," away from Earth. It was the remote habitable point in the solar system away from their little corner of Pluto possible. Shipping anything that far was tedious and expensive; ordering something alive from that green ball was quixotic. Forbes was not a foolish, whim-driven man. He managed mining operations with the steady dexterity of a diamond. This kind of fancy was the sort his relatives would pounce on as yet another example of how that upstart girl from the south plains had warped his thinking. Perhaps they were right.
There were any number of questions she felt like pelting him with. She finally settled on, "Why?"
He actually picked one of the petals and held it up to her. "I was looking into different flowers to add to the garden, after so many didn't survive. This one made me think of you." It was true, the tone really did echo her own downy honey curls, though the blossom had more vibrant yellows and a strain of orange.
It was, in fact the same shade as her uncle's. The only other member of her family to sport that color hair had been her great-great-grandmother. That woman left a small South African village in the hills to take a journey across the stars, marrying a man she'd only met virtually, on the promise that something better waited on a planet barely deserving the title. Family legend claimed she brought seeds but they either didn't mature or never existed, their only progeny a few magical words handed down in an old dialect. Names like pampoen and suikerbos, pumpkin and sugarbush. Elindale didn't even remember telling him the story.
They compromised on a place of honor for the shrub, right by the main hallway, impossible to miss but tucked out of the way. For all the plant guzzled water like the extravagance it was, it also gave off a healthy amount of oxygen, enough to balance out the meter. There were a few pointed words about waste from the grand dame of the family, but most of Forbes's other relatives were quite willing to avoid such quibbles in exchange for blossoms or seedlings of their own. She started calling it the "giving bush," and the name stuck. It proved a hit at Christmas. Their homemade wreaths kept well past the floral fad, and Elindale still enjoyed her gift long after the planet turned to wood carvings as an even more impractical house decoration.
Almost everyone marveled at how generous her husband was to import the large, rare flower. They congratulated her luck to keep such an important man in her life.
She kept to herself how important it was to have a thoughtful one, too.