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Gorgeous flowers (hide bloody fingers)

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Beware the most beautiful flowers, for their thorns are the sharpest. Beware the sweetest-smelling flowers, for they conceal deadly secrets.

A short girl clad in a lacey white dress stepped out of her classroom. In her arms was a simple jar, one that was covered with cloth so that no one could see the contents. With every step that she took, the noisy and excited chatter between students slowed down and quieted. Everyone turned to look at the reason for the reduction in noise, and fell quiet themselves, eyes glued to the small girl who had tears brimming in her eyes. Her loose black hair was pushed back, a delicate pink headband keeping it in place.

“Did you see Marinette, Aurore?” A dark-clad figure whispered, leaning in close to a girl with long blonde pigtails. “Do you see the jar that she is carrying out of her classroom?”

“The Hanahaki of Betrayal.” Aurore breathed, raising her hand to her mouth in shock. Her words echoed through the hall, an unnatural silence conducting her words further.

Marinette glided down the hall, head held high. Her hands were wrapped securely around the jar covered in pink cloth, one around the body and the other supporting the base.

All of the students of Collège Françoise Dupont parted before Marinette, as if she was a queen walking among the common people.

As she descended the steps, the quiet extended further down into the courtyard, people backing up and pulling friends with them. At this point, 200 pairs of eyes were all on her, all waiting to see what she would do.

Aurore had darted down the stairs, following in Marinette’s wake. Her footsteps were quiet and respectful, refusing to do anything to interrupt this solemn ritual.

At this point, everyone both upstairs and in the courtyard had fallen silent. All except a small group of classmates, a brunette girl with pigtails dangling by her face chattering on, spewing out lies that her classmates lapped up.

As Aurore got closer, she saw the brunette pull a preserved snapdragon out of her bag to go along with the lies that she was telling. Her face twisted into a sneer as she saw Alya, Marinette’s so-called ‘best friend’ moon over the lies that the brunette was telling.

Marinette walked silently, a phantom trapped, a friend betrayed. A ghost who held her shattered heart within her hands, for all to know, but for none to know why.

Rose glanced away from Lila and at the staircase. Suddenly, she clutched Juleka’s hand causing her knuckles to go white. Her other hand lifted, visibly trembling in the air to point at Marinette. The words that she uttered, caused a visible disturbance, attention being pulled away from Lila. Person by person, follower by follower, eyes widened, voices were muted, and they tracked the gliding of the broken-hearted girl.

As Lila’s sycophants started looking at Marinette instead of her, Lila grew enraged. A snarl flashing across her face as she looked at Marinette. She darted close to Marinette, hissing something into her ear and a clawed hand hooking onto the pink fabric.

Aurore started to take a step forward, knowing deep in her soul that something was about to happen. Something that would change the world for everyone, either for good or for bad.

Lila’s hand tightened on the fabric, causing it to pucker. The flowers changed so that they looked like something out of a nightmare. The petals were warped and shrunk so that they looked more like broken hearts. The stems were bent into a horrifying maze in which there was no entrance or exit.

With a hard yank, Lila pulled the fabric off. The fabric ripped from the sheer force and the buttons flew off, bouncing on the floor.

“Look away!” Aurore shouted, with all the strength in her voice, lifting up her hands to block the view of the bared jar from her sight. No matter what culture you were from, how old you were, your religion, your region, if someone unveiled a jar of the Hanahaki of Betrayal when it wasn’t their jar, everyone looked away. The Hanahaki of Betrayal was one of the most private things that a person could ever go through, the flowers showed the person’s very soul and heart, showed how deeply they were hurt, and in some cases shattered. It was considered one of the worst sins that someone could do, to forcibly reveal the jar of flowers to others, for whatever reason.

From the corner of her eye, Aurore saw Marinette’s horror-struck look as she processed the fact that Lila had laid bare her very heart. Marinette’s hand moved almost in slow motion with how intently everyone was focused on her every movement to reach out and snag her fabric from Lila’s limp fingers. Crystal tears dripped from her eyes, painting a path of pain and sorrow, as she covered up the jar of her broken heart and fled from the courtyard. With every step, a tear hit the ground, creating a map of her further injured heart.

Marinette ran out of the courtyard, the doors slamming behind her, the sound echoing in the still and quiet school. Slowly, every student started to move. Quietly walking, soft steps on the stairs. Silently, they started to circle Lila, a circle of predators all stalking the same prey.

Lila’s admirers: Alya, Rose, Juleka, Nino, Mylène, Ivan; all backed away. Their blind devotion was slowly cracking with the actions that Lila had taken.

“Lila.” Alya spoke up, voice wavering and hesitant. “Why did you do that? Why did you pull off the fabric?”

Sensing that her hold was slipping, Lila made a desperate grab to reclaim her throne. “I thought that she was lying! In Italy, the Friendship Hanahaki is never covered up! It’s viewed as a mark of pride!”

With that statement, her hold shattered and her classmates’ eyes were forced wide open. They all took several steps back, distancing themselves from her. Rose turned into Juleka’s chest, shoulders shaking as she cried. Alya’s warm honey eyes hardened and turned into cold mahogany. Ivan held onto Mylène as she shook in anger. Nino gave his hat a sharp jerk to adjust it and pursed his lips into a thin line.

“Lila Rossi. Of all the lies that you have told, that one is the absolute worst.” Aurore stated as she stalked closer to Lila. The circle surrounding Lila sealed, allowing no one in or out without permission. “You have made no secret of the fact that your mother is a diplomat from Italy. What you don’t know is that my aunt is also a diplomat for France. She tells me stories about how diplomats are trained.” Aurore’s heels tapped out a deadly beat as she circled Lila. “She told me of a class that she attended with other diplomats; diplomats from Germany, diplomats from Japan, diplomats from Canada, diplomats from Argentina, diplomats from Nigeria.” With every country that Aurore listed, Lila shrunk in on herself a little more, struggling for words to defend herself. “And do you know how the teacher opened the class?” Aurore paused, waiting to see if Lila would try to get herself out of the mess she created.

“How should I know? My mother is a very busy diplomat! She didn’t have time to tell me everything she learned.” Lila seized the opportunity with both hands, attempting to craft an exit.

Hook, line, and sinker.

Aurore smiled prettily, the corners of her mouth turned up and her eyes gleaming. “They said that if the diplomats chose to take their family with them, teach them so that they don’t cause an international incident. This is because many cultures operate on the idea that the child’s actions reflect on their parent, which then reflect on the embassy and the country.” Aurore stalked closer, every step echoing like a gunshot in the quiet courtyard, the silence only broken by muffled sobs from Rose and Mylène. “So you should’ve known what happens in France when someone is carrying a covered jar, and should’ve applied the lessons that your mother taught you about our customs.” Aurore’s smile shifted, white teeth peeking out between coral pink lips. Her teeth glinted, almost looking too sharp to be in a human mouth, as if they fit better in the mouth of a lioness who had just successfully taken down her prey. “So your options are that your mother is not fulfilling her job as a parent and a diplomat by not teaching you the information that you needed to know as the child of someone who can easily destroy the relationship between Italy and France.” With that, Lila’s face paled as if she could feel a noose tightening around her neck. “Or that you knew the customs of our country when it comes to covered jars, and you choose to break them for whatever reasons.”

“But I swear, I thought that she was just holding an empty jar! She’s been trying to make me an outcast and been bullying me ever since I arrived! I just wanted everyone to see that.” Lila scrambled, throwing out lies in the hopes that one would hold. That she could use one to haul herself back onto even footing.

“That’s like saying you thought someone was stuffing their bra to be popular and you just wanted to prove otherwise by sticking your hand down their shirt.” Aurore sneered, disdain painted across her face and disgust visible in her scrunched nose. “Except far more invasive and even if it was true, it is a faux pas of the highest level.”

“No one will ever be able to trust you again, Lila.” Alya added, dashing tears away from her eyes, hand clutching Nino’s. “Even if you were right, people will still think that you would do that to them too.”

“Is anything you say true?” A voice added as its owner pushed through the crowd. “My aunt is married to an Italian. When I went to Italy last spring, she picked me up at the airport and she told me some vital things to know. She said, ‘Ondine, if you ever see someone cradling a covered jar, don’t touch it, don’t interact with them. Just step back and watch.’”

“You’re lying! You just want to make me look back!” Lila snapped, eyes wide. She was positive that she had done all relevant research to ensure that no one else would have first hand experience with Italian customs about Hanahaki.

“Alya?” Ondine asked, arching a red eyebrow, green eyes glinting in disdain.

“She does, Lila. She was part of the exchange program to promote relations between Italy and France. Alessi was the student that switched with Ondine for the spring semester. The school paper wrote an article on it with both Alessi’s and Ondine’s experiences.” Alya confirmed, voice like the waters in the Arctic Circle.

“She told me that it was the Hanahaki of Betrayal.” Ondine continued ruthlessly, bearing down on Lila’s lie like a lioness on her prey, ready to rip it to shreds. “She told me that everyone in Italy was taught that from when they were in primary, and the lessons continued until people graduated. So even in your culture, you knew that what you did was wrong!”

“You have broken one of the central moral principles of our society.” Aurore said, chin thrust out, challenging Lila to argue. “You have destroyed the chance for anyone to ever fully trust you again, for anyone to trust that you will keep their secrets safe.” Aurore’s voice changed, becoming saccharinely sweet. She became the spider sitting in the middle of her web, luring her prey closer, ready to pounce and kill. “But don’t worry, Lila. You’ll become famous, everyone will know your name and face. Isn’t that what you want?”

“But it was a mistake!” Lila protested, face whiter than a ghost. “I didn’t mean to!” Still desperately trying to escape the hole that she was digging, every word shoveling out another layer instead of creating a ladder.

“That is the same thing that cheaters say, Lila. ‘It was a mistake’, ‘she got me drunk’, ‘he was just so charming’, ‘it’s not my fault’.” Ondine tutted mockingly, shaking her head. “Still, they are branded a cheater to all that know them and people are wary around them.”

“All choices have consequences, Lila. You cannot plead ignorance to escape them, as others have offered proof that you would’ve known what you did was wrong.” Alya added, tears leaking from her eyes. “You didn’t have to do it, nothing would’ve compelled you to do that, no cultural norms, no laws. Even if you truly believed that Marinette was only holding an empty jar, which I don't think you do!” Alya collapsed to the floor, burying her face in her hands, muffling her sobs.

“Our schoolmates will share your picture, Lila.” Aurore smiled, sharp teeth hidden behind pink lips.

“They will share your name, Lila Rossi.” Ondine added, muscles flexing as she crossed her arms.

“They will share who you are, Rossi.” Nino added, cradling his weeping girlfriend in his arms.

“We will share your misdeeds.” The school chorused as one, voices melding as their custom dictated. “We will share your face and name.” Everything went silent, as the leaders of each class stepped into the inner circle. Not a single person disturbed the silence as the members of the student council filed in and closed off the innermost circle.

“Forever more shall you be named, Lila Adrina Rossi, forever more shall you be known to all.” The innermost circle said as one, the rest of the student body silent. Aurore stood watching, eyes cold, her normal smile gone. Ondine arched a brow at Lila, wondering if she would interrupt. “Betrayer and Unveiler.”

With that pronouncement, Lila went still with shock and incandescent with rage. She exploded, vitriol pouring out of her mouth, as she denied the names she was given.

Hands shaking, Alya recorded every moment of Lila’s meltdown and rage, ready to share it with everyone.

“Lila Rossi, Betrayer and Unveiler.” The school said in concert, voices monotone. “You have been named. You will be seen.”

“Betrayer and Unveiler, your lies have been stripped away to show the unvarnished truth.” Juleka said, threading her thin fingers through Rose’s blond hair. Rose kept her face buried in Juleka's chest, thin shoulders shaking with sobs.

“Betrayer and Unveiler, your horror show of dancing puppets has been broken.” Mylène said, clutching onto Ivan’s arm.

“Lila, you’re done.” Alya said, twisting her phone around to show Lila the screen. A red dot blinked condemningly on the screen. “This will be posted on the Ladyblog along with a retraction of my previous statements and an apology.”

“Lila Adrina Rossi, Betrayer and Unveiler.” Aurore stated, stepping forward to take control of the gathering again.

“We know what you have done.” The innermost circle stated.

“We know what you have done.” The rest of the student body echoed.

“Your peers have judged you and found you guilty. You will still be accepted within our community, you will still have a place yet we will remember what you have done.” Aurore said, stepping forward to offer her hand to Lila. “You can earn our trust, our care, and our friendship back.”

“If something breaks, it can be mended.” Ondine said, offering her hand to Lila. “You just need to prove that you have changed, that you feel regret and remorse for what you have done.”

“Broken yet fixable.” Alya said, leaving Nino. Looking in Lila’s cold eyes, Alya gave a sharp smile. “You can redeem yourself. But we will not ever forget this.”

Kintsugi. Something breaks, yet if time and effort is put into mending it, it can be fixed. The breaks will still be visible yet it’ll accent whatever breaks.