You walk towards town in the dying light of the evening. The air is warm, and the sky is clear. It's summer, and you can hear the buzz of insects in the grass alongside the dirt road.
Your feet take you towards the quaint--but larger than you're used to--town nearby. It's a small, sleepy place that you've grown to love over the past year.
You enter town proper and head for the florist's.
You put in an order recently, and you had received a call saying that it had finally arrived. It's funny--cell phones are new to you, along with a lot of other technology, but you're managing.
It's been awhile since you were last home, in the village. It's strange--now that you've left, you find yourself missing the charm of the place, the way everyone knew everyone, the simplicity and relative lack of technology. It was nice, in a way, not to be bombarded with emails and texts and calls at every hour of every day. But again--you're managing.
You stop in the florist's, pushing open the door. You see the woman you had talked to, and she waves you forward.
"Thank you so much," you say as you approach. "I know you don't usually do special orders, but it means a lot to me that you could get these for me. And thank you so much for staying a bit past closing--it's hard to get away from home during the day."
The woman smiles, nodding. "It's no problem, really. I'm just glad to have the business."
You smile back and the two of you chat as she brings out the three plants you had bought. You survey them, looking over them carefully. You nod, pleased, and pull out your wallet to pay.
A silvery scar on your arm catches your eye for a moment, and you smile softly at the sight, as always.
She gives you the price and you pay…and paper money is another thing you're getting used to. At the moment, it's the least of your concerns. Things like learning to drive and learning how to use the internet are higher on your list.
You walk out of the shop with a box to hold the plants, and you start the walk back home.
Home. It's a small place, out in the countryside. Things she could bear to part with sold for more than you ever could've imagined, and you had managed to get a nice house well outside of town, with space enough for you to just…be.
And it helped that it had high ceilings. That had been a deciding factor.
You walk along the road, and you think. It's about that time of year again--approaching the anniversary of the day you left the village for good.
It's hard, cycling back to this time of year. Memories are brought up with the seasons, and…the pain is still there. A year isn't enough for it to go away.
Soon, you see the house in the distance. Just two floors--a lot smaller than you were used to, but fairly spread out, with high, vaulted ceilings.
You promised that you would go back, once everything settled down. She's still not ready, though, so for now, here's home.
You breathe a sigh of relief despite yourself as you approach. The sun has started to set, and though it's summer and you're used to a lot colder temperatures, you're always happy to get inside.
You go around back and put the plants on the patio, before heading inside.
Inside, it's immaculate. It's clean like it's hardly been lived in, and you smile at the sight.
The scent of food draws you to the kitchen, and you enter to find a wrapped meal waiting on the stovetop.
You smile at the sight, and your heart feels warm. It's nice to know that she cares enough to make food for you.
You grab a roll from the pantry and scarf that down--abandoning the meal for now in favor of a quick snack. You have something to show her, after all.
You climb the stairs, and worry builds in your chest. She has to have heard you coming, and the fact that she's not at the top of the stairs waiting is concerning.
But you continue, going down the halls to your room.
You take a breath as you get there. You hope she'll like the surprise, but you're not sure--you just want her to be happy, and it seems like lately that's been a harder and harder thing.
You knock on the door to your room softly, three quick raps. You step back, waiting.
She's been having a rough time now that it's this time of year. You wouldn't be surprised if she didn't answer.
But she does. The door opens.
"Hi, Alcina," you say.
She smiles down at you, and though the smile is genuine, it's tired. You sadden at the sight, because you were right--she's having a hard time. She's in her more casual clothes, which is never a good sign. She likes getting dolled up, she likes feeling fancy. When she doesn't want to make the effort, it's an indication of something being wrong.
"Hello, my sweet." She leans down and presses a kiss to your cheek. "How was town?"
"It was fine. Can I show you something?"
She nods, and allows you to take her by the hand and lead her through your house, through the halls and down the stairs to the back door.
"I bought you something," you say softly.
You open the patio door, and slowly bring her outside. It's properly night, now, but she's still hesitant to step outside.
Outside, sitting on the patio, are the three plants you bought today.
"Yeah. They're, uh…" You rub the back of your neck, feeling somewhat stupid for doing this now. "They're called Moonflowers. They bloom at night, they're pale, and…there's three of them." You shift, not looking at her. "I thought you could take care of them."
There's a period of silence, and you feel so stupid for doing this, of course she doesn't want another responsibility-
You look up with an apology on your lips…
And you're surprised to see that she's crying. Softly, silently, but she's crying. Her hand is covering her mouth, and she's looking at the plants with some emotion you can't read, but can guess at.
She steps forward and sweeps you into a hug, clutching you to her.
And you wrap your arms around her as best you can and hold her tight.
She has you. But she still lost all three of her daughters that day.
"We can plant them in the garden," you say against her. "We can plant them in the garden, and you can tend to them every night. I thought it might help, having something you can take care of that…reminds you of them."
Alcina's shoulders shake, and you hug her tighter.
You stay in the embrace for a long time. You let her hold you because she needs to hold someone right now, and you’re not about to deny her that.
She holds you, and she cries, and you do your best to be there for her, to comfort her. You've never been a mother--you can't imagine what she's going through. You're just trying your best to help her in the face of her grief.
And you can't think of anything else to say. You can't think of words of comfort, because this is a pain you can't soothe easily. This is a pain she has to deal with herself, but you're going to be there for her every step of the way. As long as she wants your help and support, you'll be there. And if she wants to be alone with her grief for awhile, that's alright too.
But soon enough she pulls away from you, and she smooths your hair back. Her face is tearstained and blotchy as she looks down at you. She didn't have much makeup on today, but what she did have on has streaked down her face.
She smiles at you. She smiles, and your heart lifts.
"Thank you," she mouths. It sounds like she tried to say it, but somewhere along the way the words clogged in her throat and she couldn't get them out.
You wrap your arm around her and look at the three plants you bought.
They're young plants, with no flowers, currently. They bloom in the summer, according to what you read.
"That one's Daniela," you say, pointing to one of the plants.
She follows your gaze and shakes her head with a half laugh. "No. The middle one is Daniela."
"Because. Look at it. It's the smallest of the bunch. Daniela was the baby of the family." Alcina shakes her head with a small smile. "Besides. It's a little crooked, and Daniela was in no way perfect."
You smile up at her and lean your head against her.
"When do you want to plant them?"
She hesitates before speaking softly. "What if we have to leave?"
You look at the three plants, considering this.
"Well, you're strong. You can pick me up, after all. I don't see why we couldn't get them some bigger pots and trellises--they're climbing vines, by the way. That way if they're in pots we can take them with us if we have to leave."
She lets out a small laugh and shakes her head. "Climbing vines? You picked the perfect plants. My girls were always clingy. They got so jealous when I started spending more time with you. Honestly…" She trails off, but she's still smiling.
You can't help a smile yourself. Her daughters hadn't been your favorite people in the castle while you had been there, but you knew how important they were to her. You'd do anything for her, you've come to find, and you're just glad something you did could put a smile on her face.
"Let's bring them inside," you suggest.
And together, the two of you bring the plants in.