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The Flower Duet

Chapter Text

It arrives via courier in the afternoon, the day after Rita’s death.

The simple white box has no identifiable markings, only the words “Fragile. Do not invert.” are stamped in bold black on the top edge near the shipping label, which has no return address listed. Vera signs for the package with a nod, though confusion knits her brow as she accepts the slightly weighted box from the young man before he offers a small smile and heads back to his van, leaving her momentarily dumbfounded on the step. The loud squeal of his brakes as he backs out of her drive finally rouses her from her daze and she turns back into the house, closing the front door with a bare foot as she trudges back toward the kitchen.

Depositing the box on the counter, she retrieves a knife from the block, running it along the box’s edge to release the tape on the seam. Curiously, she lifts the lid and her eyes take on a look of wonder as the brilliant floral bouquet comes into view. Pulling it from the box, she sets it on the counter and momentarily admires the beauty of the colors.

A full spray of orange and yellow hues pours from a sleek flattened, rectangular glass urn. Bicolor daffodils, sherbet colored protea and vibrant yellow mimosa. It is gorgeous. And expensive. Finding the small pearly white envelope tucked within the foliage, she pulls it free and instantly recognizes the looping script that spells her name, having seen it many times over the course of the last six months. A small smile graces her lips and she draws her bottom lip between her teeth as she slips a finger through the seal and pulls the card from the envelope. A delicate gold filigree adorns the edges, and in the same looping script a short message is written: May you find peace. With sympathy, Joan.

She stares for a moment at the name and her heart begins to race. She had not expected this, given Joan’s curt dismissal of her yesterday afternoon; her fine nostrils flaring in disgust. She had known it was at more than just the acrid stench of vinegar and her heart had sank as she numbly left the building. Even after catching Conway, Joan had not appeared to thank her or offer praise for a job well done. She’d left disappointed in herself, indescribably heartbroken and hardened in a way she had never felt before. Joan’s last words echoed in her ears for the remainder of the evening, until she finally mustered the courage to act for her own greater good. Poor Rita never knew what hit her.

Tapping the card to full lips, Joan’s written message rolls around in her mind. May you find peace. Though technically a statement of sympathy, it falls just short of the typical message, the words in this time of loss , are curiously missing. She also can’t help but notice how the arrangement, though glorious, is not typical for a sympathy bouquet. Rather, the bright colors evoke happiness or celebration even. She’s worked with Joan long enough and observed the older woman with enough scrutiny (and girl-crush obsession) that she knew there was a distinct purpose to her every action. There had to be a reason why she chose these particular blooms.

Deep in thought, she recalls a moment from Joan’s first day at Wentworth, when she had taken her to the yard and introduced Anderson and Birdsworth. The women had been working in the garden box, pruning the white rose bush they had planted for Bea in Debbie’s memory. Joan had admired the full snow-white blooms and commented on the appropriateness of the selection given that white roses symbolize innocence and purity. She’d also mumbled something about the lost art of the language of flowers. It was a side remark, probably meant more to herself than the others, but Vera had heard it, as she did everything the older woman said. She hung on every word that parted the lips of the imposing, but curiously enthralling woman’s mouth.

Struck by the memory, she takes a seat at the kitchen table and opens her laptop. In the Google search bar, she types “flower meanings” and scrolls through a list of articles until she finds one that sounds like it could be of some repute. Fortunately the page contains a list of flowers in alphabetical order, along with a picture and a brief description of their meaning. Although she’s seen all the flowers in the arrangement before, the only two she knew by name were the daffodils and mimosa. Coming to the daffodil entry first, she reads the brief description. 

Daffodil: symbolizes regard and chivalry. It is indicative of rebirth, new beginnings and eternal life. A single Daffodil foretells misfortune, while a bunch of daffodils indicate joy and happiness. It also symbolizes unrequited love.

Upon reading the last line, her heart begins to hammer wildly and her stomach bursts into a kaleidoscope of butterflies. Surely that’s not the intended meaning, she thinks, and chides herself with a sardonic laugh for even pondering the foolish idea. Casting the thought aside, she scrolls down the page in search of mimosa. It’s not on the list, so she continues scrolling until she comes across a picture of protea. Recognizing it as the third flower in the arrangement, she stops to read its meaning.

Protea: stands for change and transformation. It signifies daring and resourcefulness. It is symbolic of diversity and courage.

She stares for a moment at the screen as her mind works to put the pieces together. Opening up another window, she searches for “mimosa flower meaning” and finds the third piece of the cryptid puzzle.

Mimosa: tied to “sensibility” and is often connected to philosophers or problem solvers. It also means to literally “expand” your life whether referring to family or career. It is the image of the triumphant life, because of the hardness of the wood and the victory over the forces of evil. In some cultures, mimosa is tied to “sensitivity” and is given in small bouquets as a gesture of mourning or sympathy.  

Suddenly the penny drops and her jaw falls open at the revelation. Joan knows . After the sparse details she had disclosed at work and only one brief meeting with her mother, Joan had somehow managed to decipher a lifetime of details to develop an understanding of the toxic relationship Vera had with her mother. Never in her life has anyone ever seemed to understand her so completely and with a single floral bouquet Joan has just expressed everything Rita’s passing means: a rebirth, a transformation, an expansion of her life through freedom! Hot tears sting her eyes and quickly cascade down her cheeks as immense gratitude washes through her at finally being seen and truly understood.

The enormity of the gesture takes her breath away.

_____________

She’d debated wearing a royal blue dress, but had eventually talked herself out of it due to its blatant disregard of custom, settling instead for a little black number that had been an impulse buy a few years ago. Her mother had hated it, declaring the body-hugging fit and above the knee hem to be “something only a hussy would wear”, despite the high halter neckline. Vera had felt good in it, almost sexy even, but to avoid any further arguments, she’d worn it only once before stuffing it in the back of her closet to be near forgotten. But Rita can’t say anything now , she thinks to herself with a smug smile as she checks her reflection in the mirror.

Although her first instinct had been to skip a funeral all together, after a day of thinking she’d decided on a small, non-religious service. A symbolic closing of this chapter of her life, leaving a clean page to start the next. Cremation had always been the only option though, but she had no desire to retain the ashes so she’d opted to have them interred in a small mausoleum in a cemetery across the city. She had no intentions of ever visiting her mother again.

Seated in the front row of the small funeral parlour, she stares at her mother’s urn displayed on the podium. There’s only four people in attendance, including herself; serves you right , she thinks with rancor as the funeral director drones on about loss and grief. Although those emotions are completely absent, a nervous knot has twisted in the pit of her stomach. The realization of the finality of this moment, that she is actually free from the caustic words, bitter resentment and constant nagging hits her and she suddenly finds herself overwhelmed by the thought. What next?

A gentle hand upon her shoulder pulls her from introspection and she looks up to see her two neighbors standing before her. Both women roughly her mother’s age, she greets them with a smile of gratitude, knowing they showed up only for her and not really to pay respects to the elder Bennett. She accepts their sympathetic words and hugs with a small smile and tries to put a look of respectful mourning on her face.

She’s greeted last by the hospice nurse, a young woman with kind, green eyes and a kinder smile. She offers a gentle squeeze to Vera’s hand. “You did your best for her,” she says encouragingly and Vera smiles tightly as the small thread of guilt gives a discomforting tug at her churning stomach. 

After a brief discussion with the funeral director regarding the next steps, she collects her purse from the pew and turns to leave. To her surprise, a final guest remains seated in the last row and her heart rate gallops when she sees the governor rising from her seat with the ghost of a smile painting her full mouth. Vera approaches with a dazed expression on her face, nerves rendering her almost speechless as she stops before the tall woman.

“You...you came.” She whispers in near wonder as she meets the stern woman’s gaze. Joan simply responds with a shockingly kind smile and locks eyes with her deputy. There’s a long pause between them as they share a loaded look, until Joan finally breaks the trance-like state with a sharp inhale and briefly shifts her gaze away from the younger woman. 

“Condolences,” she hums suddenly as she lifts an ivory hand, offering a single deep violet iris to Vera. Vera’s heart flutters wildly against her slender ribs as she accepts the single flower with a shy smile, drawing it to her nose to inhale the faintly sweet scent. Joan’s gaze falls briefly as she takes in the appearance of her deputy, appreciating the new glow that seems to radiate from the usually mousy woman.

Suddenly knocked off kilter by the warm buzz igniting in her belly, she quickly works to disengage. “Well, I must get back to the prison, but take all the time you need. I’ve already made arrangements to cover in your absence.” She returns her gaze to the modest safety of Vera’s face, but the reverent look in those wide ocean eyes and the way her russet waves gently frame her face does little to calm the attraction that’s begun to burn.

“I’ll be back on Monday,” Vera replies without hesitation. Joan offers a pleased smile, “Good,” and an unexpected compulsion draws her to place a warm palm on Vera’s bicep, offering a gentle squeeze before slowly releasing and allowing her fingers to cascade down smooth skin and toned muscle before leisurely falling away. 

“Thank you for coming.” Vera whispers as she watches Joan walk away.

____________

Velvety soft petals caress her lips as she stares at the search results on her computer screen, a bashful smile playing across her full mouth.

Purple Iris: have rich meanings, and when given as gifts, they can convey deep sentiments. It can represent wisdom, respect and compliments.