Peonies

Peonies

I return every year to watch the peonies bloom. Bella planted them to remind me of our love. "Because you won't change me, and someday I'm going to die." It's been twenty years since I left. Did she have the happy human life I wanted for her? This is not mine, I take no credit

This may cause some tears ='(

Chapter 1

Planting Secrets

by: jellybab
Spring, 2006

When I arrived at Charlie's house, I found Bella digging in the backyard. She had ripped up the earth leaving a dark scar in the green lawn. Dirt covered her from head to toe. I watched her for a moment, as she chewed her lower lip and furrowed her brow while she concentrated on patting the soil down with a shovel.

"What are you doing?"

Her smile beamed as she glanced at me, utterly pleased with herself. "I'm planting flowers."

"Do you need help?"

She sighed and shook her head. "I want to do it myself."

"Any particular reason you want to do it yourself?" I sat on the damp ground beside her and tried to wait patiently for her answer.

"I want…" she paused, "I want to plant them myself because I want them to remind you of me."

I frowned. "Why?" I shook my head. "Why do I need flowers to remind me of you?"

She squeezed her eyes shut and swallowed before she spoke. "Because you won't change me, and someday I'm going to die. But you'll still be here. Well, maybe not here, exactly, but you can come here even if you don't live here. And see them and think of me." Her voice broke. "Unless, of course, you change your mind." Tears welled in her eyes. "I picked peonies. They can live for a hundred years or more, so they'll be here for a long time. And they spread, so the new peonies keep coming up. As long as no one digs them up, they'll always be here." The tears started to spill.

"Bella," I whispered. "Bella, please don't cry." She leaned against me, sobbing.

"I didn't mean to cry," her words tumbled out. "I really didn't."

If only I could make her understand. "I know, Bella. And it is a beautiful idea." I kissed her forehead. "And peonies are quite appropriate."

She pulled back and gazed into my eyes. "What do you mean?"

"When I was… human… people used to send coded messages in flowers. Peonies stood for secret love or a love that was somehow forbidden."

"Why not eternal love, since they live for so long?"

I smiled. "The way the petals in the center clench together, it's like they are hiding a secret."

"But why forbidden?" She relaxed and leaned back, taking my hand in hers. I smudged the dirt I found there with my thumb.

"There is a Chinese legend about a young scholar who loved to garden. One day a young maiden visited him. He hired her as his servant and she helped him to care for his garden. As time passed, they became lovers." I raised her hand to my lips. "One day a moralist visited and the scholar could not find his love. He searched his home for her and finally found her, a shadowy specter fading into the wall."

She whispered, "What happened?"

"She explained that she was the soul of his peony, and that she had been warmed into human shape by his love. But she knew the moralist would not approve of their relationship; that she must return to the flowers. The scholar mourned for her and tended his garden with dedication, searching for her, longing for her return, but he never saw her again."

"How sad," she frowned.

I cupped her face in my hand. "Peonies are also associated with the moon, and you are only supposed to cut them at night. But if you left them blooming, they would light your way in the darkness." I pressed my lips against hers. She reached behind me and opened her lips against mine. I took her hands in mine and pulled away. "The way you light up my darkness." She leaned against me once more and I wrapped her in my arms. I didn't want to think about the future, at least not so far ahead as her death. I comforted myself by listening to the sound of her heartbeat.

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