the peony

They didn’t notice the vultures overhead until it was too late, and ran panting from the house of Rocco’s mother, passing all the things they used to love; the red brick, the black cat that she had grown so fond of, and the blue stain that had manifested after Jane’s last visit. He had tried to be sweet, not asking questions, and simply taking her hand and leading her towards the ice cream shop down the street. She hid the fear behind her ice cream sandwich that day.

Rocco stopped outside of the Robertson’s house when he noticed the blossoms, their pink and white heads shining in the mid-July sunlight. He reached out and plucked one from the bush. As he handed the pink peony to the lovely brunette standing to his side, he noticed her lip quivering. She looked up at him through her glassy brown eyes. I suppose he can’t hear the screams, she thought.

“Thank you,” she smiled through her grimace, and let him wrap his arms around her waist.

“It’s almost as beautiful as you,” he stated matter-of-factly. His façade of sweetness had faded in her eyes, and she winced. When he asked her if she was okay, she replied with a quick “I’m fine,” and turned her face to the ground. How awful, she thought, to give someone a dying thing, especially when it was not yours to begin with.

She held the soft, pink flower in her right hand until the car ride home, when she placed it on the seat next to her. She could feel its eyes burning holes in her body.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered to the blossom, “I wish I could’ve stopped him.”

When at last she reached the kitchen, she took the blue and red porcelain teacup from the cupboard, filled it with water, and, as gently as she could, placed the peony inside. She knew it was too late as soon as she heard the screaming. The once beautiful petals began to dry and crack. The water turned a sickly brown color. The girl stood looking at the blossom until it was dark outside, and she set it on the windowsill, hesitant to throw it out.

She was startled by the ringing of the landline, and she picked up after the first ring. It was Rocco, as expected, calling to say that he already missed her. She was glad that he couldn’t see her shaking, and she ran her index finger over the petals of the blossom.

“It died,” she said in her soft voice.

“What died?”

“The peony. I put it in a cup of water but it died. I tried to save it.”

“Why not dry it?”

“Isn’t that a little morbid,” she took her finger off the blossom, “to let a thing die and keep its corpse?”

“No, love. That’s what forever looks like.”

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