Author's Note: I have come to the conclusion that I cannot write endings to save my life. However, I've been working on this since Chupacabra and I'm hoping that you lovely readers enjoy it. xo.
Carol used to love flowers.
When she was a young girl, every Friday when her father came home from work, he would be carrying two bouquets, made up of a patchwork of reds and pinks and yellows. The smaller of the two was meant for her and Carol would eagerly thrust her face into it, letting the smells fill her nose until she had to sneeze. In the kitchen, her mother would do the same thing, punctuating each sniff with a quick kiss to her father's lips. That bouquet went into a vase set on the kitchen table expressly for that purpose, while Carol's would sit on her windowsill. There were some days where Carol would spend literally hours staring into the flowers, her eyes soaking in all the details. Her mom always said that they were a distraction and that she ought to move them out of Carol's room but she never did.
They tended each bouquet with absolute care, watering them day and night. No matter how much she cared for them, however, no matter how sunny it was, the flowers always began to die. Their vibrant shades of crimson and magenta and coral always faded and the petals always wilted, like a magnet was tugging them towards the ground.
But by the time the flowers were ready for the trash, there was always a new bouquet.
But one Friday, when Carol was twelve years old, there were no flowers. Her father never came home from work that night; indeed, he never came home again. A drunk driver had struck him on his way home, killing him instantly. The police never mentioned it but Carol had no doubt that, when they found her father's body, he'd been surrounded by a rainbow of petals.
That had been the end of flowers for nearly six years.
It wasn't until the night of her senior prom that she had received more flowers, from a skinny redheaded boy who could barely speak once she'd descended down the staircase into the front hall where he was waiting. The bouquet had been wilted and obviously cheap, the colors already faded and the petals paper-thin. Nonetheless, she had accepted them, just as she had accepted his fumbling touches in the back of his car in the parking lot of a motel.
She'd looked back on that night afterwards and wondered why she'd let it go as far as it had gone. For goodness' sake, they hadn't even made it inside the motel room. The backseat had been cramped and hot and her dress had rubbed painfully at the small of her back, leaving a rash but she had let it happen nonetheless. Sad as it was, she figured that it was because of the flowers, because someone had taken the time and money to let her know that they'd cared about her.
She supposed that was why she'd fallen for Ed. They'd been introduced through mutual friends and on their very first date, he'd arrived five minutes late to the coffee shop they'd been meeting at, clutching a bouquet the size of his head. The colors had just been so bright, practically florescent, almost too beautiful to be real.
But they had been real. They'd been as real as all the other bouquets he gave her; their short courtship had been peppered by flowers. They'd been as real as the daffodils she'd clutched at her wedding, the petals nearly as bright as the smile she wore in all the photos of that day.
They'd been as real as the roses Ed brought her on her honeymoon, the night after he walloped her in the face hard enough to rupture a blood vessel in her eye. Unlike the others, she didn't take care of those flowers. She kept them away from the window and didn't water them once and within three days, they had died, crumbling into a mess of petals on the floor. Of course, Ed had smacked her when that had happened but the next day, he'd brought her another bouquet, even more fancy and elaborate than the last one.
They'd never stopped. As the years went by, Ed continued to bring her flowers, each of them his way of saying I'm sorry. I'm sorry for smacking you. I'm sorry for screaming at you in public. I'm sorry that you lost that baby.
After awhile, she'd started to hate flowers. She no longer saw the beauty in them, no longer appreciated their wonderful smells or their ability to brighten up an entire room. Instead of seeing the colors, she saw memories in each petal, saw blood and bruises reflected in roses and lavender. Each bouquet was like a taunt, telling her that she was weak for not being able to leave Ed.
That had been one good thing about the world turning upside down, at least. She didn't think that she'd ever have to worry about flowers again, about being mocked by petals and leaves.
When Daryl brought her the Cherokee Rose, she couldn't help but flinch, thinking that he had some hidden agenda behind it. But then he had started talking, spilling the story of the flower's origins, sounding more genuine and sincere than anyone she'd ever met. She waited until he left to pick it up, smiling slightly as she gently cradled the beer bottle in her hands; even if Daryl was sincere, no one had said that he was refined. The flower really was a gorgeous thing, blindingly white with a soft yellow center. For the first time in nearly fifteen years, she could look at a flower and not see anything in it, not see her own weakness reflected back at her. Feeling more tears falling down her cheeks, she brought the flower up to her face, inhaling gently.
She didn't know if she really believed Daryl. Much as she wanted to, the skeptic inside of her was insisting that Sophia was gone, lost in the woods forever. Nonetheless, even if he hadn't restored her faith in that matter, he'd done something else, something she'd never tell him about.
He'd made her remember just how beautiful flowers could be and, if the world was still capable of being beautiful, she could only hope that it was still capable of being merciful as well.