Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Serious. Rowena Gets A Surprise, Part 8

Rowena Buys Some Flowers

Fiction by S. D. Youngren



Rowena arrived at her Aunt Glad's nursing home to find a curious hushed bustle in the hallways. Especially Aunt Glad's hallway. She stood near the front door, apprehensive, until a nurse she recognized came by.

“Excuse me,” Rowena said, “but—”

The nurse smiled. “Visiting your aunt? Go right on ahead.”

“Oh. So—so everything's all right and . . . ?”

The nurse's smile became sympathetic. “We've had a death,” she said, “but it's Mrs. Buford at the end of the hall. Your aunt is fine.”

“Oh. Oh, thank you. I mean—thanks for telling me.”

“Have a nice visit,” the nurse said, and left. Rowena could hear her telling another nurse something about Mrs. Buford's daughter. She took a breath and walked into the hall and towards Aunt Glad's room. She hoped she would not encounter Mrs. Buford's family.

“Rowena! So good to see you.” It was one of Aunt Glad's good days.

“It's good to see you,” Rowena said. She presented her aunt with the flowers she'd brought: Pink gladiolus, pink roses, and white Dutch iris.

“Mmmm, lovely,” Aunt Glad said. “I love your bouquets, Rowena; nothing ever haphazard about them.”

“Thank you,” Rowena said. “I'm so glad you like them.”

Aunt Glad buried her nose in one of the roses. “Almost like having a garden again,” she said. “If only there were blue gladiolus.”

“Blue gladiolus?” Rowena wasn't sure blue would be a good color for glads. Her aunt smiled.

“I love your bouquets,” she said again, “but I just don't see many blue flowers any more.”

Rowena tried not to sound hurt. “There were the blue iris with the yellow glads—remember, the glads just matched the little yellow part of the iris. And—”

Her aunt patted her hand. “I'm not criticizing you, dear; heavens. It's so sweet of you to bring me flowers, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate them. It's just that you can't buy bachelor's-buttons in flower shops, and I can't garden any more. That's all. Now,” she went on, handing the flowers back so that Rowena could put them in water, “tell me how things are going with you. How is that nice young man of yours?”

Rowena told her about Sammy's recent raise, and about a mock battle between Caesar the cat and Linus the dog, in which the latter tried to scramble into the lower tier of the cat tree and got stuck, elbows on the shelf rim and back toes on the base. She told her aunt about the meeting at her job in which, it turned out, there was absolutely nothing whatever to discuss.

But she couldn't stop thinking about blue flowers.

“Did you hear about Mrs. Buford?” her aunt asked.

“Yes,” Rowena admitted. “I did.”

Aunt Glad nodded. “Barely knew the woman,” she said. “Kept to herself. Never even saw her in the garden or the little library here. I think she didn't want to admit she was in a home. Made things difficult for her, I expect.”

“I would think so.”

“Does it bother you to talk about this?” her aunt asked.

“Well . . . a little,” Rowena admitted.

“Don't worry about it,” Aunt Glad said. “And don't worry about me.”

“I won't,” Rowena said. And she did try not to worry, very much.

“We all have to go some time,” Aunt Glad said. This was what everybody always said. Rowena did not need to hear it. She fussed with the flowers, snuggled one of the roses farther into the arrangement. She knew Aunt Glad was watching her.

“Never mind,” said Aunt Glad gently. “I'm sure you didn't come all this way to get lectured. Come here and visit some more.”

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

When Rowena left her aunt, the commotion in the hallway had moved to the room at the very end. Rowena tried not to look, but caught a glimpse through the open door of a woman she judged to be Mrs. Buford's daughter, apparently collecting her mother's few belongings and talking quietly with a nurse. Rowena headed unobtrusively for the door and out the building. She thought about her aunt's wavering health, she thought about how her aunt seemed to spend every visiting day in her room, waiting, and she thought about blue flowers. She remembered bachelor's-buttons in her aunt's old garden—bachelor's-buttons, iris, baby-blue-eyes and . . . were there delphiniums? There had indeed been pink and white and red flowers, and a few yellow ones, but there had been blue and purple ones too. Wisteria. Pansies. Love-in-a-Mist.

Could she buy any of those flowers?

She took a turn through the home's garden, to see what flowers grew there. Not very many of them were blue either. They were pretty enough, but they weren't very blue.

And, of course, they didn't really belong to her aunt.

Easing her car out of the parking lot, she considered. Lavender roses were sold, and purple statice. Lilacs. Larkspur. She could certainly find something in the purple-to-blue range. Mostly purple, though. There wouldn't be any morning glories in the flower shop, though; and no forget-me-nots. She might be able to find blue marguerites, but she hoped to do better than that.

White glads to go with them, or yellow ones for contrast. Red ones, maybe, if she wanted something really bold.

What other flowers were blue?

She didn't go straight home. She went to the flower shop.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

“Back so soon?” asked Marie, the proprietor. “Is there a problem?”

“No, no problem; the flowers were great. I was just . . .” Rowena looked around. Blobs and spatters and sprays of blue jumped out at her among the reds and pinks and yellows and whites. “She wants some blue flowers. I was wondering . . . maybe for next week . . .” She ran a finger over a stiff head of blue statice. There was always statice.

“Well, let's see,” Marie said. She too cast an eye over the shop, though a more practiced one. “For next week? Why don't I get my book, and we'll see what you'd like me to order for you.”

“Great,” Rowena said. “Thank you.”

She followed Marie up to the counter. Marie went around behind it and brought a binder up from a shelf underneath; she set this on the counter and opened it up.

“Now, you want blue, right? Is that solid blue only, or . . . ?”

“They don't have to be solid blue. I can even have purple, but I do want some blue.”

Marie looked through the list, making suggestions, and between the two of them they came up with what Rowena felt would be a very nice blue and purple bouquet, all blue and purple for except the three traditional sprays of gladiolus, white ones this time. Marie noted down what Rowena wanted and promised not only to order the flowers but to hold them for her. Rowena thanked her, feeling more relieved than she suspected necessary; it was only a whim, after all. Nothing her aunt was counting on.

Turning to leave, she glanced down into an open cardboard box on the countertop and stopped. Blue flowers—true blue, almost navy—gazed up at her. Each petal was bordered in a clear pure white. An African violet.

“Haven't had time to put those away yet,” Marie said. “See something there you like?” She came and peered into the box. “Oh, my, look at that,” she said, and lifted the plant out. “You're not going to get much bluer than that.”

“Aren't they hard to grow?” Rowena asked. She could feel herself weakening.

“Not if you don't overwater them, or put them in direct sunlight. I've got some myself, at home.”

“I don't know whether—she's in a nursing home. I think there's a rule against live plants, because the patients can't take care of them and the nurses don't have time.”

Four fat little yellow anthers huddled in the middle of each blossom, striking against the blue. A single small curved pistil, nondescript. There were half a dozen blooms on the plant, and lots and lots of round blue buds, waiting to burst.

“Some of those places have rules like that. I could get you a pot that'll do the watering automatically. They might allow that. All it needs is a certain amount of water in the reservoir, and of course you could fill it yourself, when you visit.”

Rowena said, “I always thought they were hard to grow.”

“Because of the special soil and special food, right? And because you keep seeing them all scorched up on people's windowsills.”

“Don't they need fluorescent light?”

“No; just bright indirect light. A window with sheer drapes or partially-closed blinds will do, or a North exposure.”

“She . . . she has a window like that.” Rowena stroked a furry leaf. Her aunt often told her how much she missed having her own garden—and how maintaining it had become impossible for her. “Could I—Will you have some like this next week?”

“I buy 'em assorted,” Marie said. “I can't specify color.” Rowena said nothing. Marie let a smile creep into her voice. “You've already got a relationship with that one,” she said. “Why don't you just take it home now, and decide what you want to do with it? I'll order the pot, just in case you want it; I can have it here Thursday.”

“Well . . .”

“I know you don't want to have a potted plant dying in her room, but it's really not that hard and it'll be good company for her—as good as a plant can be.”

Rowena smiled. “Okay. I'll take this today, and order me the other flowers and whatever I need for this guy.”

She left with the plant, a little bottle of African violet food, and an instruction sheet which told her, among other things, that African violets are not really violets but gesneriads, and that they are more correctly referred to by their genus name, Saintpaulia. None of this surprised her. She put her purchases in her car, setting the violet—the Saintpaulia—on the floor where it could have a level surface. She wished she had something to tuck around its pot, to make sure it wouldn't fall over, but felt it would probably be safe as it was. She might have used a little bag of Saintpaulia soil for this, but Marie had determined that her plant did not need to be repotted as yet, until and unless she decided to put it in a self-watering pot.

“It's a great little plant,” Marie had promised.

She brought it home, still upright and unscathed, to a waiting and slightly-worried Sammy. Sammy, who might have to sacrifice some weekend hours with her if she had to make extra visits to care for a plant.

“Everything okay?” he asked. “You've been gone—what's that?”

“Everything's fine,” Rowena said. She set the plant and plant food on the coffee table. “And this, by the way, is a Saintpaulia. It is not a violet, whatever anyone else might say.”

Sammy looked at her. “You sure you're all right?”

Rowena ran a hand over her hair. “One of the ladies at the home died,” she said. “Aunt Glad didn't know her well, but—she died, and Aunt Glad wants blue flowers because glads aren't blue so I rarely bring her anything that is blue, and . . . well, it made sense at the time.” She shrugged. And waited.

“You wanna run that by me again?” Sammy asked. “On second thought, sit down. Would you like a cup of tea or something?”

She told it again, in a more orderly fashion, and when she finished this time Sammy gave the little plant an approving nod.

“Sounds good,” he said, “if this Marie was right about the upkeep.”

“She seemed pretty confident. And she's never tried to talk me into anything before. She shows me things, if she thinks I'll be interested, but she doesn't try to talk me into them.”

“Good sign,” Sammy said.

“So,” Rowena said, “I guess now I have a little research to do. Just to make sure.”

“Listen,” Sammy said. “Don't drive yourself crazy. It'll be fine.”

“I don't even know if she wants a plant—if she wants to have to look after something. She used to enjoy it, but maybe she's had enough, and she can't do everything she used to. I can help with it, but I'm not there every day, or even every week.” She looked at the little plant, sitting innocently on the table. “I may have to go more often,” she said. “Do you mind?”

“You may go as often as you like,” Sammy said. “As always. But she's not helpless. Maybe there are days she can't look after a plant in a self-watering pot, but she's usually fine. Don't worry about it.”

“You're always telling me not to worry.”

“And I'm usually right,” Sammy said. “Just as I am now. Even if she can't accept it, I'm sure she'll appreciate the offer.” He took her face in his hands and kissed her. “In the end,” he said, “you always end up doing the right thing.”

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

Over the next week Rowena read about Saintpaulias. This couldn't tell her whether her aunt wanted a plant or whether her aunt's home would allow it at all, but the question of whether the plant could be kept alive—at all— She prowled the Internet, she brought books home from the library, then brought the library books to work, to read on her breaks. Or to try to read.

“Whatcha got there?” demanded Leslie Campbell, in the break room. He rarely showed an interest in printed matter. “Hey, don'cha know those are little old lady plants?”

“They are not,” said Rowena crossly.

“You really grow those things?”

“Not really,” Rowena said. “I'm giving one to—to a relative.”

“A little old lady, right?”

“Leslie,” Rowena said, “go away.”

“I'm right, though! I'm right! I knew it!”

“Leslie,” Rowena said again, “go away.”

“Admit it! I'm right!

Rowena closed her eyes. “Yes, Leslie,” she said. “For once, you are right.”

Leslie let out a war whoop and began to do a victory dance. Rowena was aware that everyone in the break room was turning to look. “I'm right!” Leslie yelled. “I'm right!”

“What on Earth?” asked Berna. Of course Berna would appear. “You didn't agree to go out with him, did you?”

No,” said Rowena. “Of course not.”

“Thank God.” She raised her voice to address the entire room. “Cancel panic,” she called. “Rowena still has enough taste not to go out with You Know Who, and the world is not yet coming to an end.”

“Thank you, Berna.” Rowena went back to her book.

“African violets?” Berna said. “Aren't those kinda granny flowers?”

Rowena took a deep breath. “Berna,” she said, “Do you realize that you have just agreed with Leslie Campbell?”

“I what?”

Rowena waved in Leslie's direction. “That's what he said. He's doing a victory dance because I admitted that I'd bought one of these for an older female relative.”

Berna stared at Rowena, then at Leslie. She shuddered. “Oh, my God,” she said, and left in haste; she seemed afraid she'd contracted some kind of mental cootie. Rowena watched her go, started to turn back to her book, then stopped and checked her watch. Time to go, and she hadn't managed to learn anything new.

Not about Saintpaulias, anyway.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

On her lunch break she had better luck; she managed to read a few chapters, and found the books encouraging. She would have to call the nursing home, of course, and make sure plants were permitted, but it sounded as if it would work. The books even mentioned the self-watering pots—even that part should work. Rowena returned to her desk with a hopeful air . . . only to meet Marjorie and her ever-present wad of chewing gum.

Marjorie proved unusually observant, for her.

“African violets?” she asked, looking at the book's cover.

“What of them?” asked Rowena, loftily. She set the book down on her desk, in plain sight.

“I tried to grow them once,” said Marjorie unexpectedly. “Richelle had a couple of them and—”

“Is this another soap-opera person?” Rowena asked automatically.

“‘Is Richelle a soap-opera person?’” Marjorie mocked. “All My Hospitals would not be the same without Richelle. Richelle—”

“Grew African violets,” Rowena prompted.

“I tried to get the same ones she had,” Marjorie said. “I got one with purple and white stripes, and it died.”

“Did you water—” Rowena began.

“And then I got a white one with pink around the edges, and it died.”

“Did you put them in direc—”

“And then Richelle got in that really big fight with Hillary, and Hillary told Richelle that African violets are little-old-lady flowers, and I kind of lost interest.”

“What do you care what Hillary thinks?” Rowena demanded. “Listen, did you—”

“Well, Richelle said that she didn't, but you could see that—”

“Marjorie. What did you—How did you take care of the African violets? See, I'm trying to—”

I don't remember,” Marjorie said. “But Hillary, she went to Consuela, and Consuela said—”

Rowena plonked herself into her chair. “I swear, Marjorie, those soap operas really are more real to you than your own life.”

“They are not!”

“She's right, you know,” said Berna, in passing. “They're not more real to her than her life: They are her life.”

“You shut up!” said Marjorie. Berna came to a stop by Marjorie's desk.

“But I'll say one thing for you, Marjorie,” she said.

“What?” Marjorie asked, suspiciously.

“At least you don't grow granny flowers.” Berna nodded to the book on Rowena's desk, turned, and left.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

By late afternoon Lorraine had also admitted to an inability to keep Saintpaulias, and Rowena no longer knew what to think. At the end of the day she took her books home and studied them some more. If it was all so easy, why couldn't anyone but a professional grow them?

“What,” said Sammy, “those nutcases you work with?”

“Well . . .”

“Don't worry about it.” He studied a picture of five Saintpaulias, each a different variety, growing together in a basket. The basket was crowded with lush healthy leaves and blossoms.

“But if I give her a plant and it dies—and there she is in that nursing home, with . . .”

“I understand. What I meant was, when did you last take anything Marjorie said seriously?”

Rowena looked up at the ceiling. “I see your point. But . . .”

“But it's important to you. I know.” He smiled at her. “Look, you don't have to make up your mind this week, do you? If—”

“I have to make up my mind about the self-watering pot. At least—”

“Don't worry about the self-watering pot. We can afford dozens of self-watering pots. You can buy the self-watering pot and then give it to Marjorie, if you like. Right?”

Rowena smiled back. “Right.”

“You can even give the plant itself to somebody else. Or keep it yourself. So don't drive yourself nuts.” He reached for the book, turned a few pages, and peeked at another picture. “Listen. If she can handle the death of Mrs. What's-her-name—”

“Mrs. Buford.”

“I know you're good with names, Sweetheart, but really now. Forget Mrs. Buford. Your Aunt Glad is a big girl, and I bet she's killed plenty of other plants in her time. She'll be fine. You just wait and see.”

Rowena sighed. “I just . . .”

“I know,” Sammy said. He leaned over and gave her a kiss. “I know.”

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

She went to work the next day armed with the nursing home's phone number and the resolution to use it—to call on her lunch break and find out, once and for all, whether she could give her aunt a potted plant in a self-watering pot. She also brought one of the Saintpaulia books, and again she was caught with it.

By Eloise, this time.

“Oh, my; African violets,” Eloise said. “Do you grow them?”

“No,” Rowena said. And waited.

“Well,” Eloise said, “my hat would be off to you if you did. I could never keep one alive myself.”

“Really?” said Rowena. She could feel herself sag.

“Difficult things,” Eloise said. “Persnickety.” She dumped a sheaf of papers on Rowena's desk, right on top of the offending book. “Here you go,” she said, and left.

As usual, Rowena could tell exactly when Eloise had passed out of earshot by the whispered and muttered remarks her coworkers made—things that would never be said to Eloise herself but seemed always to be voice, one way or another, by anyone who'd stood his ground when she came by.

“They probably died of fright.”

“Did she say she'd take her hair off?” Snickers.

“Told you they were little-old-lady flowers.”

“Then Eloise should have been able to grow them.”

“Too much little old and not enough lady.”

Rowena barely heard even the comment about little-old-lady flowers. Eloise couldn't keep them alive! Eloise, with her fanatical devotion to following directions. Eloise! The clock ticked on and the time kept approaching for Rowena's lunch and her phone call—if she was going to make the phone call—and she had no idea what to do. She remembered what Sammy had said about taking a little risk—and she remembered what Sammy said about how all her unsuccessful-Saintpaulia-growing coworkers had just been unable to do anything right. It looked as if that poor little plant was doomed no matter what Rowena did with it—even if she kept it herself and tended it with care.

She had no idea what to do.

Just a few minutes before lunch, Molly came by.

“Hey, what's the matter?” she asked. Rowena sighed and gestured towards the book.

“Well,” she said, “I went and bought—”

Saintpaulias!” exclaimed Molly. She rarely interrupted, and Rowena stopped to look at her. “My secret vice,” Molly went on. “Are they yours too?”

“Vice?” Rowena asked. “You mean killing them?”

“Killing them! Hardly. You should see the place; they're taking over.”

Had Rowena been standing, this would have made her sit. “Taking over?”

“Just ask my husband,” Molly said. “He claims they're massing to attack.”

Rowena managed to say, “But everybody else says they always die.”

“Everybody!” Molly said. “They probably water them every single day and stick them right up in a west-facing window to toast. Or else they stick them in a dark bathroom for a ‘bit of color’ and say, ‘But they get so much humidity!’ It isn't hard to give them what they need, but you have to know what that is.”

“Eloise says she can't keep them,” Rowena said.

“Eloise probably put them on a schedule. ‘Now, your day for watering is Tuesday.’” Rowena laughed despite herself. And as lunchtime approached she learned; That Marie's basic instructions were good; that different Saintpaulias had different needs, and you had to get to know your plants, because some will wilt as soon as their soil gets even slightly dry while others seem never to complain; some will burn easily and others need lots and lots of light before they will bloom. “Usually the ones with darker leaves need more light,” Molly said. Rowena's books had said it too. The plant Rowena had bought had dark leaves with reddish undersides. “Try it in indirect or diffuse light,” Molly went on. “If the plant burns or never blooms, move it. If it needs more or less water, adjust accordingly. Most people overwater, if that's any help; don't water if the soil feels wet on top.”

Rowena explained about the nursing home and the self-watering pot. “Do those work?”

“I've never used one, but I've heard you can.” She smiled. “Let me know how it turns out.”

Rowena glanced at her clock. “Lunchtime. Listen, thank you so much. I feel a lot better now.”

“Any time; always happy to talk about my plants.”

“Do yourself a favor, and watch whom you mention them to. I've been getting teased about how they're supposedly ‘little old lady flowers.’”

“Compared to you youngsters, I am a little old lady,” said Molly loudly. She was Rowena's senior by less than fifteen years. In a normal tone she added, “And so, I imagine, is your aunt.”

Rowena smiled. “Even more so.”

“Well, there you are. Good luck.” And Molly left. Rowena watched her go, then picked up her purse and her phone number, and went to lunch.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

It took Rowena seventeen minutes to get somebody official on the phone. She sat on hold and ate her lunch; she was shunted from one person to another and looked out the window. She was sitting in her car, in the parking lot, for the sake of privacy.

“Yes,” she said once again, “my great-aunt is a resident of yours, and she doesn't get very many visitors. I would like to bring her a little African violet and—”

“No potted plants. Too much work for the staff.”

“It would be in a self-watering pot with a reservoir, and I would fill it myself when—”

“Standing water attracts bugs.” As if this woman's nursing home weren't full of vases. Rowena decided not to mention them, for fear they would be taken away.

“It isn't standing water.” Rowena had seen a diagram of such a pot in one of her books; it seemed pretty well covered. “And we would change it and keep it fresh.”

“Our rules—”

“I can even put charcoal in the bottom,” Rowena said, though she wasn't sure what effect this would have on the plant food she had bought. She found she had quite made up her mind. She had to—had to—bring her Aunt Glad a live blue flower that would stay with her and be her friend. The very flower she was taking care of herself, at home.

“If your aunt is infirm—”

“Aunt Glad is not infirm,” Rowena said. “She—”

“Glad?” asked the voice. “Is this Mrs. Gladys Ness you're referring to?”

“Yes,” said Rowena. “Yes—it is.”

“And you're the niece who's been coming regularly—with the red hair.”

“Yes,” Rowena said. She held the little phone with both hands. “That's me.”

“I'll make a note,” she said, “that Mrs. Ness may have one small potted plant . . .”

“Oh, thank you,” Rowena said.

“. . . in a self-watering pot . . . to be tended by visitor . . . and Mrs. Ness as she is able . . .”

“Thank you so much.”

“I can't guarantee that any of the staff will ever touch this plant. We are very busy.”

“I understand. I really appreciate this.”

“I'll have a signed note for you at the front desk; just put it under the pot so that staff will know not to discard it.”

“At the front desk. Thank you.”

“Thank you,” she replied, “for your concern. Was there anything else you needed? I have a great deal to do . . .”

“Of course,” Rowena said. “No, that's all.”

That was all she needed.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

She walked into the flower shop as nonchalantly as she could, the day Marie had told her to come for the pot and soil. They were both there; Marie had, in fact, ordered more than one pot, and had put a pink-and-white Saintpaulia into one of them and set it out on display. Marie was there as well, and it seemed to Rowena that she was trying very hard not to say, “Wasn't that a great idea I had?”

Rowena would not have minded so much if she had said it.

She took her aunt's pot and soil home, repotted her aunt's plant, and waited.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

When she stopped at the flower shop on visiting day, Marie had, as promised, all the flowers Rowena had asked her to order, on hold for her, all arranged in a lovely blue-and-purple bouquet. All just as Rowena had requested—with one difference.

The white gladiolus were, somehow, lavender.

“Marie!” Rowena had never seen lavender glads before. She had never known such things existed.

“Approve?” Marie asked.

“How—how did you—”

Marie laughed. “The gladiolus? I wasn't sure I'd be able to get them, so I didn't mention them to you. I hope you like them, though frankly I'm not sure it's really a ‘gladiolus’ color.”

Rowena wasn't sure either, but on this occasion—on this occasion she was thrilled with them.

Absolutely thrilled.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

There was one more thing, Rowena thought, approaching her Aunt Glad's room. One more thing I need. She had the bouquet, she had the instruction sheet, and she had the plant and the note granting her aunt permission to keep it. Now, if only . . . if only Aunt Glad . . .

It would be terrible if she were having a bad day. Rowena had brought a card along, just in case; she would write a message if she had to, for her aunt to read later if . . .

Marie had seen no problem; Sammy as usual had seen no problem, and he had had no problem with Rowena's coming back again so soon. Molly and the books had said there'd be no problem, and the home had given consent.

Now she would see what Aunt Glad thought.

If it was a good day.

She poked her head in around the doorway, keeping the blue and purple flowers out of sight. The plant she held behind her back.

“Aunt Glad?”

Her aunt looked up. “Rowena! Whatever are you doing, skulking around like that?”

It was a good day. Rowena took a breath. “Remember what you told me last week about blue flowers?” she asked, and stepped herself and the bouquet into the room.

Aunt Glad clapped her hands together and laughed. She remembered. And she was much impressed, when Rowena got close enough, with the lavender gladiolus. They both admired the flowers a while, and then Rowena brought forward her other surprise.

“A blue Geneva!” Aunt Glad exclaimed. “Perfect! I didn't know you were raising Saintpaulias.

“I—you mean you—I'm not. I bought him—it—for you. I have permission—you have permission, to . . .” She stopped, took a deep breath, and explained properly, showing the note.

“Why, Rowena, that's wonderful!” her aunt said. “I haven't had a Saintpaulia in years. Certainly never thought I'd be able to have one here.”

“You . . . you know about them.”

“I kept them years ago, back before you were born. The blue Genevas were among my favorites. But my parrot—you remember him? We got him, and he ate them—chewed the leaves right off. I tried for a while to keep him away from them, or vice versa, but it was hopeless. I had to give them up.

“Then I came here, and . . . couldn't have them. I thought.”

“Too much trouble for the staff. But this one—see the reservoir? All we have to do is keep a little water in there.”

“That, and remove the old dead leaves and blossoms, and check for bugs, and . . .” Aunt Glad laughed. “We can handle it, I'm sure. Why, I've got the perfect window.” She pointed at her window, the window Rowena had mentioned to Marie, then patted Rowena's hand. “Thank you so much.”

Rowena remembered the bouquet, and finally put it in a vase. It was still beautiful, and still impressively blue, but it had been upstaged. Even with those lavender glads.

“This is a big responsibility, you know,” her aunt was saying. Rowena looked at her; her eyes were twinkling. “You'll have to come often to help me take care of it.”

“Oh, well, of course,” Rowena said. She regarded the plant as seriously as she could.

“This is wonderful,” she heard her aunt say, and the bright little blossoms seemed to smile back at her. “You always know just what to do.”

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

“Well,” Sammy said, “I'm glad to hear it went so well.”

“I should have thought of this ages ago,” Rowena said. “I should have thought of it myself.”

“So you gonna send Marie flowers for a thank-you?”

Rowena laughed. “She'd probably prefer I took a few away from her, for a thank-you.”

Sammy stroked her hair, smiling. “So you want an African violet for yourself?”

Rowena leaned against him. “I'm kind of retaining part ownership of this one,” she said. “And I think I'll leave it at that, at least for now. You know? Our special plant.” She twisted back a bit to look at him. “Does that sound crazy?”

Sammy considered. “It sounds,” he said, “like something you and your Aunt Glad would get up to.”

Rowena laughed. It didn't matter that he hadn't quite answered the question. Next time she visited she would tell Aunt Glad what Sammy had said, and her Aunt Glad would laugh too.

Next time.



_____________________________/


Next Story:
Rowena Arrives Prepared

Rowena Gets A Surprise, Part 9

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