June 14, 2011

Stolen Flowers

He was meeting her after four years. He still remembered her as the wide-eyed girl with mischief in her eyes and marbles in her pockets. She was the rebel, while he had always been the conformist in the family. As he waited for her outside the airport, he wondered if she was still the same old devil he'd once admired.

She waved at him as she stepped out into the sun. She looked worn out, defeated by life. What had he missed? Had their years apart created a gulf between them? His kids had grown up listening to the adventures he had had with her. It
all seemed like a dream now. He wanted to hug her, undo all the hurt he read in her eyes.

As children, they'd been the most notorious pair in town. He was a year younger than her, and often scared to go along with her schemes. But she always got her way. Their innumerable acts of
mischief had landed them in trouble with the parents, the neighbors and generally, the
townspeople. They'd done everything from painting the water tank red, to chasing squirrels up trees to scaring people at night. He laughed
aloud as he remembered the time they'd been chased out of Mrs. Sanders' garden for stealing
her dahlias.

The dahlias. That had been the summer they moved to this town. He looked at his sister, who seemed lost in her own thoughts, and wondered if that was when it had all changed. She had been
fifteen then. That had been the summer dad had left them. They had moved in with grandpa and
grandma and mom had gotten busy with the new job. They went to different schools after that
summer, and gradually grew apart. He had been busy figuring out the art of growing up, and trying
to fit in, while she had taken up a job at the local convenience store. The growing up years had been tough on him but he had eventually blended in. She was different. She stuck out like a sore
thumb wherever she went. Simply because she was different. She had alienated herself from the
family and started hanging around with her own group. And then they'd both gone off to college.
The last time he met her, she was getting married.

He'd been surprised at her choice of groom but she seemed happy with her choice.

She didn't look so happy now. He wanted to pull her close and tell her that he cared. But he'd never been able to do it then, and he knew he wouldn't be able to do it now. They'd never been much for public display of affection; it was a
family trait.

"The kids are pretty excited about your visit."

She smiled and mockingly asked, "I wonder why!"

She wasn't smiling when the kids jumped all over her a while later. She took her brother aside and
asked, "What have you told them, you idiot?! Sharon's only three, but she's been following me around as if she expects me to change costume and take to the skies!"

To her chagrin, he just grinned and told the kids that their aunt would tell them about her adventures after dinner. He knew that all this affection was suffocating her, but she needed this. She tried her best to keep
the children away, but they refused to leave her side.

"You used to love children!"

"Used to, brother. I used to be a kid too. I've grown up."

"Naah. You forgot to grow up. You just turned into a sullen teenager, and you've been that ever since."
She threw him a dirty look, and went into the kitchen. He wondered if he could get her back to her old self ever.

He knew what he had to do. She was reluctant at first, but an evening walk meant some time away from the overexcited children, and she agreed.

They walked along, without much to say. She broke the silence.

"Why this town? Of all the places, you chose this hellhole to settle down?!"

"What is it with this place and you? Because of all the bitter memories? You were fifteen when we moved here. It was a lifetime ago!"

"A lifetime ago for you, maybe. This town stole my innocence. It broke my spirit, Danny."

He was quiet. Then he turned around and smiled at her. "Remember Mrs. Sanders?"

"Oh! She was the devil! Remember how she screamed at mom the day we moved here?"

"Yes. Do you remember what we did to get back at her?"

She was grinning now. "How can I ever forget it, Danny? We stole her garden. Her whole goddamn

"A garden full of dahlias. She
chased us all the way across the town!"

She was laughing now. "Yes, yes, I remember. We were so crazy!"

"I was the crazy one. I was scared of the consequences. You weren't. We hid the cart in the woods and then you made me push it all the way to this secret haunt you'd found!"

She sat down on a tree trunk and refused to meet his eyes. "I was a crazy fool, Danny. I believed I could make things work no matter what. I believed that I had the power to alter my life. I was an idiot."

"You believed you could make mother happy. You told me we didn't need Dad in our life. And it
took me a while, but I realized you were right. I've lived by your crazy ideals, Sis."

"You're a fool then. I gave up ages ago."

"Did you?"

"Yes. It doesn't work, Danny. Everything I did, it was to make myself believe that I could survive. My ideals, like my crazy schemes, crashed and burned."

"The dahlias, that was your last act of defiance. Everything you did after that, all the surliness, was just a facade."

He took her hand and led her into the woods. She was surprised and tried to stop him, but he just
increased his pace.

And even as she opened her mouth to chastise him, words failed her. He had brought her to her secret haunt. The place they had discovered the evening they shifted to the new town. The place
where they had hidden when Mrs. Sanders had chased them. The place where they'd dumped her
gardenful of dahlias.

She didn't know what to say, because her little brother had stolen all her words. And all the nasty voices in her head that told her that she was wrong. She was fifteen again. Fifteen and full of
hope. And she'd been right about every crazy dream she had.

For in the middle of the woods, where sunlight streamed in through the leaves, was a secret
garden. Full of stolen flowers.
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