Goofy can remember what the town looked like when it was still called Hollow Bastion, and it makes him happy to see that Radiant Garden is living up to its name these days. He hasn't been here for three years, but change has swept over this world. From his seat on a bench in the hilltop marketplace he can drink in the differences at his leisure, and he finds them all to be good.
The remains of Maleficent's castle have been cleared away, and where it once stood is a lake. It's far away, but he can see the glint of sunlight off its surface, and he even thinks he can see people swimming. Goofy doesn't know how to swim. He's a little bit scared of drowning, to be honest, but he does have a few shining memories of swimming in Atlantica without fear, and he hopes there really are people playing in the lake below.
The town walls are gone now, and he thinks the Restoration Committee must have decided it would be simpler to tear them down rather than try and repair the gaping wounds in the castle bailey walls. He worries a little that something might happen, that the town is vulnerable to attack, but he's Captain of the King's Knights and it's natural to worry about things like invasions. Radiant Garden has been peaceful for years, and even if something did happen, well, that's one of the reasons he's here. Just in case.
The most drastic difference between Hollow Bastion and Radiant Garden, though, is the presence of flowers. It's clear that the citizens of the town took its new name to heart, because everywhere he looks he sees some. There are baskets of flowers hanging from hooks in front of porches and in every storefront. Every window has its own planter with blooms peeking over the edges of the painted wooden boxes, and some of the second story windows even have plants that trail flowering vines all the way to the ground, like Rapunzel's hair.
But none of these, pleasant as they are, can compete with the public gardens. Most of the concrete has been ripped up and replaced with flagstones where a hard path is necessary, but everywhere else the groundcover is alive and stunning in its beauty. Just from where he sits he can see three flower clocks, a grape arbor cloaked in a furious profusion of pink climbing roses, and a mosaic wall so cleverly fashioned that he has to look twice to make sure it really is stone and not a bank of living ivy climbing a wall.
Goofy thinks that he could wander for days and not discover everything there is to see in Radiant Garden. This is a good thing because he has been stationed here for the time being and knows hardly anyone. Exploring will give him something to do while he waits for a call to return to Disney Castle, or until something bad happens here. There are rumors that Sora will be coming through sometime soon, but even so Goofy won't be able to join him. He waits on the king's word.
He is wondering how tall Sora is now when one of the pedestrians following the path at his feet halts and turns toward him.
"Would you like to buy a flower, Goofy?" The voice is familiar, and he hears the smile in it even before he looks up and sees it on her face.
"Well, hello, Aerith," he says.
She is much the same as he remembers, demure dress and long braided hair, and he smiles back at her. Her two hands curl around the handle of the wicker basket, and he leans forward to see what kind of flowers she's selling. Inside the basket, red and purple tulips nestle together on a bed of soft green cloth.
"It's nice to see you," she says. "It's been a while."
"It sure has." He pats his vest pockets, looking for a coin. He can never remember which pocket he keeps his munny in. But eventually he finds a coin stuck in his glove.
"There you go," he says, handing it to her.
"Thank you. What color would you like?"
"You mean I get to choose?"
"Of course," she laughs. "Red or purple?"
"Golly. Purple, I guess."
Aerith hands him a tulip, and when she has gone her way he lifts the flower to his nose and sniffs. It smells strange, a little like rubber, and he blinks. Not all flowers have a sweet fragrance and the discovery is a surprising one. Not unpleasant, though. He smells the flower again.
Unable to decide where exactly to put it—his vest doesn't have a lapel—he holds it carefully in his hand until he's hungry enough to go back to the hotel. In his room he puts a clumsy charm on the flower to help it live longer, and goes down to the dining room in search of dinner.
Goofy's second day in Radiant Garden is even more leisurely than his first, because today he doesn't have to check into the hotel or unpack his few belongings. He uses the extra time to linger over breakfast.
He spends the morning walking around the town, exploring the tiny shops and booths that have sprung into being during his absence. The residents of Radiant Garden have turned their hands from building fortifications and forging weapons to crafting merchandise. The items for sale vary widely, but most are of a whimsical nature, and Goofy likes this. It means peace.
He stands in front of one particular booth for several minutes, entranced by its contents. Iridescent feathers nearly as tall as he is are carefully arranged in stands and fanned over the cloth walls of the tent so that it looks like a dim, sparkling cave. He tries to guess why anyone would want enormous feathers, but when the shopkeeper notices him and smiles, Goofy is too bashful to ask.
Instead he strolls back to the main marketplace, and after walking through the larger shops there he returns to the bench he sat on yesterday. He watches the people walking by, laughing in groups or hurrying along singly, and spies more flowers he didn't see the day before.
"Would you like to buy a flower, sir?"
The only people who call him 'sir' live in Disney Castle, and even those who do say it have a little trouble sounding truly deferential. So he chortles. Aerith laughs too, her smile lively, and he's glad. He remembers how solemn and sad her face once was.
"Yes, ma'am," he says, and her smile brightens.
Today she has tiger lilies, and he buys two after sifting through a pocketful of odds and ends for coins.
He sits and holds a lily in each hand. The orange petals curl outward like lolling tongues, and each has a light stripe down the middle that descends all the way to the yellow depths of the flower.
Goofy is trying to decide what tiger lilies smell like when he hears the clatter of small shoes on the flagstone path. A small, black-haired girl clambers onto the bench beside him. He blinks slowly at her, but doesn't move away when she reaches up unabashedly and takes hold of one of his ears. She pulls at it and looks up at him.
"It's soft," she accuses.
"Yup," he says, nodding.
"What's your name?" she demands. "Mine's Meredith."
"Nice to meetcha. I'm Goofy," he says. Her hand is still wrapped around his ear, but he doesn't mind. He likes children. "So, where's your family?"
Meredith looks around and points. "That's my mom." Goofy looks; a woman is standing on the path a hundred feet away, encumbered by shopping bags. Even at this distance he can see she's scared; her gaze scans frantically over the path and the gardens around her, searching for her daughter.
"Let's go say hello," Goofy says. "Want to hold onto these?" he says, showing her the flowers. She does, and is entirely relaxed when he scoops her up in his arms.
Her arms go around his neck trustingly. The heavy weight of her small body is familiar; he remembers carrying his son this way, before Max got too big to be picked up. Meredith's hand curls around his ear again, and he's almost grateful that she isn't really his child; Max spent half his babyhood chewing on his father's ears.
Meredith's mother's terror morphs into relief when she spots Goofy approaching with her child, and it is a few moments before she remembers herself enough to scold her wayward daughter. She shifts her shopping bags to her other shoulder, grimacing. "Meredith, you know you mustn't run away like that. And you shouldn't bother strangers." She shoots an apologetic glance at Goofy. "I'm sorry."
"Gee, I don't mind. Would you like some help getting home?" Goofy says.
"That's all right," she says. "I think we'll be okay now. Thank you."
Meredith looks up at him and holds out his flowers. He takes just one of them; the other is for her.
On the third day, when Aerith stops to greet him, he is ready for her. It only takes a few moments of patting to find the pocket with his munny. Today she has wildflowers and he buys a daisy and a black-eyed Susan.
She slips the coins in her pocket, and hesitates. "Is everything all right?"
"Huh?" Goofy's not sure what she means.
"The King sent you here, didn't he?" Her eyes look sad. "Should I be worried? Nobody's said anything to me."
"Well," he says, biting his tongue over the things he's not supposed to tell her. "There's trouble, but King Mickey doesn't think it'll come here. I'm just keeping an eye out."
"Oh." She shifts her weight, and he wonders if she'll say anything else. She doesn't.
"Would you like to buy a flower?"
"Yes, ma'am." He buys one red, one white, and one pink carnation.
She hands him the flowers and smiles. "So this is what you do all day? Sit on this bench?"
"Gee, I..." He tries to think of what else he does, but meals aren't very interesting to talk about. "I guess I do."
"You like looking at the people?"
"Sure. I like the gardens too. It's changed a lot."
"Yes," she says. "There's a really nice orchard down by the lake. Have you seen it yet?"
Goofy shakes his head. He hasn't felt that adventurous so far, and besides, he still isn't sure he's discovered all the sights in the hilltop marketplace.
"Do you want to go? The trees are blooming," Aerith peers in her basket, "and I think I'm done for the day, anyway. People don't seem to like carnations much." She gives the flowers inside an apologetic look.
Goofy looks down at his handful of flowers, puzzled. He likes carnations.
The perfume of fruit blossoms permeates the air, and the path that bisects the orchard is a tunnel clothed in color and fragrance. There is one lone cherry tree in Disney Castle's royal garden, so he's not totally unfamiliar with the smells around him—in fact, he naps under it when it's blooming—but he has never before experienced this total immersion in scent.
"Can I carry that?" Goofy says, pointing at her basket.
"You want to? Sure."
Aerith smiles when he takes it. The truth is, it makes him uncomfortable to see a lady carrying something when he is not, even if the burden is as slight as a basket of flowers. Many people these days find chivalry a bit old-fashioned, so he doesn't mind if she thinks he's just trying to imagine being a flower seller.
Then he does try to imagine.
"So why do you do this, anyway?" he says after a few steps. "You don't need the munny, do you?"
"No," she says. Her face is tilted to the sky; she looks serene. "Flowers make people happy. I like their smiles; they're worth more than munny." She shows off a small one of her own.
He understands. They continue in silence.
Before too long the orchard ends, and they find themselves at the edge of the lake. Partway around its circumference, people swim. The laughter of playing children carries over the water, but it is quiet where they stand.
"Do you ever go swimming?" Goofy asks.
"No. I don't like the water." There is a strange quality to her voice, and he notices that her arms are folded across her chest. Her glance slides toward him, then back to the water. "It makes me feel sad. Like someone I know died there."
"Gawrsh," he says. "I don't like it either. I sink."
She laughs, erasing the odd look from her face. "I understand. Well, there's a lot more to see, but I'd like to go through the orchard again. The trees won't bloom much longer—do you mind?"
After a month, he has seen just about everything there is to see in Radiant Garden. Sometimes he explores alone, but usually Aerith accompanies him, showing him sights he never would have discovered on his own. Goofy's favorite hidden treasure is the waterfall garden in what used to be the castle bailey: there is a concealed path behind the curtain of water, and shade-loving plants flower there. It is cool, shadowy, and secluded behind the falling water; he visits it repeatedly when the summer heat gets too heavy.
His hotel room is full of flowers. The charms Donald taught him to preserve them work better than he expected. Either he has more magic in his bones than he once thought or Donald is a good teacher. He thinks it's probably Donald.
He has bought three large vases since he arrived, and the flowers he cannot resist purchasing every day are adding up. Sometimes when he looks at them he wishes he knew how to arrange them to their best advantage, but usually he doesn't mind. They're pretty, even if they're all jumbled together.
He's glad he didn't get sent to Twilight Town like Donald.
"Would you like to buy a flower?" She's selling peonies today.
She asks him about Disney Castle, and he tells her everything he can think of. Explaining the gummi loading bay and the way the turrets of the castle bow cheerfully inward is hard work for him, but it's better than telling her how much he likes the food. He's not a natural storyteller, but she seems to enjoy his fumbling descriptions anyway.
He forgets himself and tells her how much he likes the food. She laughs.
Goofy tells her about the people, all different sizes and personalities, and tries to explain Donald, a task anyone would find difficult. She looks at him aghast when he tells her how Donald always says that Goofy isn't really brave, just too stupid to realize there's danger. He hastens to explain that it's Donald's way of being affectionate. Donald is his friend.
"Would you like to buy a flower?" She no longer tips her basket toward him to show off her wares. Instead, she hands it over and sits beside him. She even lets him pick which flower he wants.
Goofy peers inside and sees dozens of blood-red roses. Their perfume rises out of the basket, and he breathes it in for a moment before choosing one. Nothing smells quite like roses. Aerith thanks him, but doesn't linger. They are very fine flowers and he's sure she is eager to spread smiles today.
He sits on his bench, occasionally lifting the rose so he can smell it. Its petals are a very dark color and the thorns are wicked and long. He can feel them pressing into his hand, but he takes no harm; his glove protects him.
A red rose. For true love.
He doesn't like to think about his wife much, because the thought of her makes him sad. Goofy is a naturally happy person, and he tries not to dwell on the few bad things that have happened to him in his life. And sometimes when he starts thinking of Penny, he can't stop.
Usually when he can't get her off his mind, when he can't help remembering how bewildered and scared he was after it happened, how his friends were so nice to him for so long—even Donald—he thinks about his son and that works. Max was a good boy, has grown into a good man, and Goofy is proud of him.
But today he just wishes he had someone to give a red rose to.
He doesn't even know any women here, other than Aerith and Yuffie. He hardly knows the latter well enough to speak to her, and it would be impolite to give Aerith a rose he'd bought from her in the first place.
If he was going to, he'd have to buy it from a different vendor, even though it would probably be inferior to the ones she sold. And Goofy admits he'd like to give her one; he knows himself pretty well, and doesn't try much to avoid his feelings. He knows he loves her a little, and he doesn't mind.
It wouldn't be right to give her this rose or any other, and he won't. He's the wrong shape for her, from the wrong world. She's kind to him, has gone out of her way to make him feel welcome here, but she's kind to everyone, and it means little. That kindness is why he loves her, but he won't hurt her by telling her. She's one of the few people who wouldn't laugh, probably, but she would feel badly about it and he doesn't ever want to do anything to make her sad.
When he gets back to his room, he charms the rose and sticks it in a vase behind other flowers, so he doesn't accidentally look at it.
"Would you like to buy a flower?"
Goofy is in his hotel room after dinner, getting ready for an evening walk, when someone pounds on the door.
"Golly," he says. "Don't hurt yourself."
He hardly has time to blink after opening the door before his visitor shouts, "Goofy!" and nearly knocks him down trying to hug him.
"Gawrsh," Goofy says, and chortles. Sora lets him go and they both jump up and down excitedly until Donald speaks up from the doorway.
"Are we going to stay here all day or what? I thought we had things to do."
"Donald!" Goofy exclaims, and lumbers toward him, arms outstretched. Sora gives a shout of laughter and bowls into them, and they end up in a pile out in the hallway. Donald sputters in indignation. It's just like old times.
Once the exuberant greetings are over, they head toward Merlin's house. As they walk, Goofy tries to get over the fact that Sora's taller than he is. He feels proud of him in much the same way that he was proud of Max when he grew tall, but Sora's his friend, like Donald. It's a bit confusing, but good.
The arrival of the Keyblade master has created a frenzy of excitement in the town. People are everywhere, and they all know who Sora is. Goofy catches snatches of conversation within the murmur of the crowd.
"—heard he annihilated a thousand Heartless—"
"—took on Maleficent—"
"—he's so cute—"
This last comment startles him, and he laughs. Now that he thinks about it, Goofy bets Sora has to beat girls away with a stick.
Merlin's house is full of people. Cid, Aerith, and Yuffie are all present, as well as many others he doesn't recognize. After a few moments he even spies Cloud leaning against a wall. It's a good turnout, and the gathering becomes into an impromptu party when Merlin conjures punch and sandwiches. Goofy occupies himself with the food.
"Didn't you eat dinner?" Donald asks.
"Yup," says Goofy. He's on his second sandwich.
His friend rolls his eyes.
People come and go as the evening passes. At some point Riku and Kairi arrive with Leon, and Goofy waves to them. They wave back and cross the room to greet him properly. Riku looks the same as he did last time Goofy saw him, but Kairi is taller and her hair is much longer. He thinks she's very pretty.
"Good to see you, Goofy," she says. Riku nods agreement. "Where's Sora?"
"He's visiting Winnie the Pooh," Donald tells her.
Riku chuckles, and Kairi smacks his arm. "Behave. I'm sure Mr. Pooh is very nice."
A burst of laughter erupts across the room, and Kairi goes to investigate. Riku heads off to speak to Merlin, and Donald takes the opportunity to give Goofy a look.
"Come on," Donald says, and drags him out of the house by his arm.
It's dark now, and the street is quiet. Donald rummages through his pocket before coming up with a scroll. It has the king's seal on it.
Goofy takes it and unfurls it. The message is short:
Go with Sora.
It's signed with the king's emblem, and Goofy rolls it back up and stuffs it in his pocket.
"We're leaving tomorrow," Donald says. "We were supposed to just pick you up and go but Sora wanted to see everybody."
They rejoin the party, and as he walks through the door, Goofy sees Aerith across the room. Her eyes are on him, but he can't make out her expression. He smiles and looks away; he doesn't want to think about how much he'll miss her when he's gone.
It takes little time to order his possessions the next morning; Goofy owns very little. When everything is packed, he finds himself standing in front of his flowers. He doesn't know what to do with them. He doesn't really want to take them with him, but the thought of leaving them here or throwing them away is appalling.
There is a tap at the door, and when he opens it Aerith is standing on the other side, her hands clasped shyly behind her back.
"Well, hello," he says, puzzled. He wonders why she's here, but can't think of any reasonable explanation.
Her gaze moves past him into the room, and he knows she must be looking at the single worn suitcase on the bed.
"I heard you were leaving."
"Yup." He can't think of anything else to say.
Her eyes are only a bit brighter than normal, so it isn't until her mouth works a little that he realizes she's fighting tears.
"Gawrsh," he says, awed. "What's wrong?"
"I'll miss you, Goofy."
Goofy stares at her. Her cheeks bloom with color, and it takes him a few seconds to understand that she's embarrassed. He wants to tell her that he'll miss her too, but he's so surprised that he doesn't.
"I know this is strange and awkward," she says slowly, her blush fading, "but I wanted to come here and say goodbye. And give you this. I know it couldn't work, but I thought you might like to know. I'm sorry if it's inappropriate."
Her hand emerges from behind her back. Her fingers circle the stem of a red rose.
"Would you like a flower?" For the first time, he hears hesitancy in her voice.
Goofy's brain races. It's a sensation that has occurred to him only a few times in his life: the first time he saved the king's life in battle, the first time he kissed the girl who would eventually become his wife, and the first time he saw his son, squalling in his wife's arms. In those moments confusion and uncertainty had melted away, showing him his life and the people in it in terms of shining truth. This moment is no different: he knows Aerith means it, and that she loves him because their hearts are the same.
For a moment the shapes don't matter. He takes the rose.
Still in the grip of his fever, Goofy turns to the dresser and gathers up the vases holding the charmed flowers. He thrusts them blindly at her.
"Take them. They're for you," he says, and she does. She flings her free arm around his neck and leans into him for a long moment. Her lips press against his temple
And then she is gone. He is left with the memory of her fierce kiss and a single red rose.
His hand throbs. When he looks down, he sees that one of the thorns has broken through his glove, and he is bleeding. He doesn't mind.