“What’s that smell?”
I waved the smoke away, coughing as I removed the pan from the heat. When Alexandra entered the kitchen, I froze.
“You know the chefs will fix you breakfast. You don’t have to do it yourself.” She peeked over my shoulder at the blackened mess. “That might have to go to compost.”
I turned away, scraping the charcoal soiled food into the trash. “Not even the worms would eat that.” I set the pan aside to soak, clasping my hands in front of me as I stood in front of her. “I’m so sorry. I’ll have this cleaned up, and I’ll try again-” My voice cracked, and I hung my head, bracing myself as she came closer.
“Hey, hey, it’s okay. Everyone makes mistakes.” She tilted my chin up, wiping away tears. “We’ll clean up together, and then I’ll have the cook make something simple, sound good?”
I hesitated. “You’re not mad?” I scrubbed my hands over my arms. “I- I wasted food, I couldn’t make your meal, and I made this huge mess-”
Alexandra took my hands in hers. “Of course I’m not angry. It was very sweet of you to go to all that trouble. Are you okay?” She gripped my shoulder.
I jumped and she snatched her hand away. “I’m sorry.” I shook my head, straightening up. “I’m just used to a… different response.” I turned toward the dirty dishes, grabbing a brush to start scrubbing.
“My mother, she used to beat me for screwing up like this.”
“That’s terrible! How could she do that to her own child?” She rested her hand on my arm. “You have to know I’d never hurt you. You don’t have to worry about that kind of treatment here. I’ll make sure of that.”
I forced myself to look at her, turning my lips up in a tight smile before letting it drop. “It didn’t always use to be that way. It started after my father died.”
She took my hand and led me to the dining table to sit. “What happened?”
“Something in his garden, it must’ve gone bad or maybe he mistook it for something else. I don’t know for sure, but he got sick. There was nothing we could do. My mother never left his side.”
“How old were you?”
“Six years old.” I traced patterns on the table. “I think she resents me for still loving the garden. Maybe I remind her too much of him.”
Alexandra stopped my trembling hands from wandering over the wood table top. “You were so young. No one could blame for wanting to hold onto something that reminded you of your father. And it certainly doesn’t give your mother any right to hurt you.”
Tears streamed down my face before I could stop them, and I buried my face in my hands. Alexandra wrapped her arm around me, shushing me as she rubbed my back. Shaking, I muffled broken sobs as she pulled me into an embrace. For a few minutes, I let myself cry in her arms, releasing the emotion I’d hidden away for years.
“Everything’s going to be okay. Cry, let it all out.” Alexandra held my head to her shoulder. “She’s never going to harm you again, and I’m sure your father would be proud of you for what you’ve done.” She tilted my head back up, brushing a strand of hair from my eyes as she thumbed away my tears. “I still have that crown you made for me. Those flowers were the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.”
“They must be all wilted by now.”
She smiled. “I couldn’t get rid of it.”
“Where is it?”
She stood, leading me away from the kitchen to her bedroom. Alexandra wandered to her vanity, opening the drawer to reveal the dried shell of the crown I’d given her. The colors of the flowers faded, death crisped the petals. She lifted it from the drawer, holding it out to me.
“Maybe when the garden is done you could make another one. I’ll keep this one until then.”
I checked over my shoulder, handing her the crown as I closed the door to her room. I drew the curtains shut and made my way back to her.
I took the flower crown into my hands, closing my eyes. I breathed in and started to hum a soft tune. Alexandra gasped as I opened my eyes to reveal their green glow to her. Green and golden light spun around the wilted corpse of the crown, intertwining a thread of life with each flower. The drooping buds rose and the petals brightened up as they fanned out. Green flowed into the stems as they softened and sprouted fresh leaves. The lighted retracted, slipping away from the crown to retrace itself back into my veins, leaving the reborn blooms with a soft, shimmering glow.
I offered the crown back to Alexandra as she stared, not daring to move. “Can you keep a secret?”