Get Well Flowers
By Laura Schiller
Based on the Across the Universe Trilogy
Copyright: Beth Revis.
Frex! is my first thought on waking up.
I feel like shite. My head's pounding, my eyes are watery, and there's a disgusting taste in my mouth, like engine grease. I try to move, but I'm as limp as an overcooked noodle. What happened? Am I sick? Where's Eldest?
"Shh, relax ..."
A wet towel lands on my forehead, blessedly cold and refreshing. The speaker is female, a young girl, with something strange about her voice I can't place. She sounds awkward, but also concerned, pitching her words low so as not to hurt my head.
"It's just a hangover. You're gonna be okay."
I know that accent. Amy.
I pry my eyes open and there she is, frowning down at me, her white skin and sunset hair almost too shining to look at. She's even brought a lovely fragrance into the room, something fresh and flowery. Remembering her makes everything fall back into place, with a mental crash that shakes me from head to toe. It's only been three days since I met her, but in that time my entire life has been turned upside down – Orion a murderer; Godspeed two hundred and fifty years behind schedule; Phydus, the Season … Harley's suicide. Eldest's death.
Holy shite. No wonder I've been drinking.
For just a moment, some part of me hurts because Eldest isn't here. He wasn't what you'd call a compassionate person. Mostly whenever I didn't feel good, he'd gruffly tell me to get over it and call Doc. But he'd also sit next to my bed, talking, sometimes quizzing me about Sol-Earth history or just telling wry anecdotes about his day, and I'd forget about being sick. I wish he were here.
But no, I don't. Not just because he was a dictator, or even because Amy couldn't tolerate him in the same room … but because he'd be so frexing disappointed in me for being so weak as to drown my problems with alcohol. This is not the part of his example he wanted me to follow.
"Who let you in here?" I ask Amy.
"Nice to see you too, Elder," she replies, mock-reproachful. "Doc did. He threatened to put a patch on you, but I convinced him a bit more rest would do it."
"I feel like a chutz," I mumble, tears squeezing from the corners of my eyes despite myself. Why does she, of all people, have to see me like this? I've let her down so much already.
But she doesn't look let down. In fact she's smiling, her green eyes sparkling with barely suppressed amusement.
"You know, I still haven't found out what exactly that word means."
"What, the word 'chutz'?" Her smile is contagious. I'd laugh, but that would rattle my brain like Doc's pencils in a cup, so I settle for an answering smile.
"Yeah. From the context, I'm guessing it means 'idiot', but it might be something, y'know, anatomical." She blushes a little, still the old-fashioned Sol-Earth girl when it comes to talking about sex. It's adorable, but distracting. I can't afford to be distracted.
"So am I an idiot?"
"Yes," she replies, deadpan.
I let my eyes fall shut. "Good to know. This is one experiment I'll never try again. I don't know what he saw in … " getting drunk that made the price worth it, I want to finish, but talking about Eldest makes me ache again, and not in any part of my body. There's no wet towel for this.
"I don't blame you." The gentleness of her voice makes me open my eyes again. "You must miss him a lot."
She nods, golden eyelashes shading her eyes. "Eldest, too."
"But you hated him."
That sentence comes out more accusatory than I'd intended, but it's true. It is a bit strange to hear her offering sympathy about Eldest's death, when I know she thinks the ship is better off without him, and in a way, I even agree. But then again, things between us have been complicated ever since she was unfrozen, and I really shouldn't expect them to become easier now.
"I did," she agrees. "But then … I'm not the one he's been living with. You lost your … your … "
She struggles for a word, but there isn't one. What do you call your predecessor in a line of clones that dates back for centuries? Predecessors. I've lost Orion, too – not the murderer waiting for judgment in his cryo chamber, but the witty, warm-hearted Recorder I thought was my friend.
Orion, hopefully replacing Eldest's portrait with mine. Eldest, apologizing with a dinner tray for our fights, telling me he believed in me. I've lost them.
"Family," I say, finishing Amy's sentence with the only word that comes close.
It's all I need to say. She understands. Her eyes shimmer with it like raindrops in the grass, and for a moment, I wonder if she's about to lean closer. Even as nasty as I feel right now, that thought makes my heart beat a little bit faster – but then she draw back, and the moment is lost. She clears her throat.
"Here," she says brusquely, scooting her chair over and pulling my wheeled nightstand into its place. Now I can see what her body was blocking before, the source of that sweet smell: it's three tiger lilies in a glass of water.
Amy Martin gave me flowers.
I turn my head into the pillow so she won't catch the look on my face.
"I know," she says brusquely, "Bit silly, isn't it? Giving a guy flowers. I just thought … "
"No, no!" I hurry to interrupt. Why am I always offending her without even trying? "I was surprised, that's all." And confused. And ecstatic. And annoyed. How do I know if she's starting to like me, or if she just gave me them because she feels sorry for the bereaved, hungover, pathetic bundle that I am?
"It's a brilly present, Amy, really. Thank you."
She smiles, apparently reassured.
"I thought … maybe you have the same tradition here that we had on Earth. bringing flowers to make someone feel better. On my first day after I was unfrozen … " Pain shadows her eyes, but she blinks it away to focus on me. "Someone left a bunch of flowers just like these outside my room. They were squashed pretty bad, and at the time I was too upset to even pick them up, but … later on, I realized that someone must have put them there to welcome me. It was a sweet thought. I wondered … hey, hold on!"
She must have seen something in my expression, because her face lights up like a hundred solar lamps. I grin back, knowing what she knows now even before she says it.
"Was that you?" she exclaims.
She gasps, a sound of delight, surprise and wry realization all at once. "Oh, of course! I should've known. Who's the chutz now, huh?"
"Sorry about the, ah, squashiness. I was annoyed at – someone, and I punched the wall while I was still holding the flowers."
She can guess who the 'someone' must have been, but she makes no comment. "That's okay," she tells me instead.
I turn from the flowers to Amy's hair. The blazing red and gold really are amazingly alike, but there is no comparison for me as to which is more beautiful. This is the kindest thing anyone's done for me since I was a child, and a sort of sore spot in my memory – the spot where Eldest inflicted that frexing horrible noise on me so that I almost ruined Amy's present – is soothed, just as if her gift were a wet towel for my mind.
It's good, now he's dead, to find at least this one little thing. One decision of his I can forgive.
This time she does lean down, close enough that her long soft hair brushes my face. She takes away the towel, touches my forehead with one warm hand, and nods with satisfaction as if to say I'll be all right now. It's not true, and we know it – it will be a long time before anyone on this ship is "all right" – but it's true for the moment, and that is all I really need.