Monday came around and my bag was packed for Mum’s and The Grove once again. I had my engineering exam at nine am and came out feeling confident. After lunch with Otter, I found myself with nothing to do, having promised to wait in Suddich until after her English exam so we could go home together.
My mind fell on the flowers, something that had been happening less and less while I’d been staying with Dad. Perhaps the idea of seeing them in a few hours was too much. Half of me was hoping they were gone because then this would be over, but the other half of me wanted them to be there because then at least nothing would’ve changed.
I tried one last time to look them up on my phone but it was no surprise that I came up blank yet again. I clutched my phone tight and crossed my legs, tapping my fingers on the table as I lost myself in my thoughts. I fidgeted on my hard chair, unable to get comfy and eventually moved to the disgusting sofas.
They’d only been installed two years back but they looked like they’d seen five years of use at least. They had food and drink stains all over and not to mention graffiti and pen marks. I don’t know how they came to have so many holes in them but it didn’t surprise even a little that there was only one seat that looked decent enough to sit in. It was the corner seat with its back to the area with the tables, saved from abuse only because someone was always sitting there.
The light in the very corner was flickering, so I shut my eyes and leant back, trying to ignore it. Other than the buzzing of the lights and fridge behind the food counter, there was peace. It was a brilliant decision to construct the sixth form building as far away from the main school as possible without leaving the grounds of SSS. I could imagine for a moment that I wasn’t at school. Though that light was driving me mental.
I jumped up and switched it off, the windows more than enough to light the room anyway. Mr Nelson, our head of lower sixth, happened to walk past when the sun had gone behind a cloud. He popped his head in the door, eyes falling on me.
“What are you doing sitting in the dark?” He turned the lights back on and the flickering was back.
I suppressed a groan, trying to think of something to say that wouldn’t sound sarcastic. It didn’t matter anyhow. He turned and left without hesitation.
I leapt up, grabbing my rucksack. There was no way I was just going to sit by myself, losing the will to live with a light flickering in the corner of my eye.
I started in the direction of the park but changed my mind as I reached it. I knew there was only one place I wanted to visit.
I picked up my pace, heart thudding and thumping loud. The closer I became, the harder I found it to breathe. My hands had developed a sheen of sweat and I had to rub them on my trousers. I reached the busy roundabout before the road leading in and out of Suddich quicker than I expected and I stood for a while, considering which was the best way to get to the other side.
After observing the cars’ speeds and directions, I decided to go anticlockwise, the long way round. My ears were alert to any noise and I was glad I’d worn my comfiest shoes today. I made sure my rucksack was closed and nothing was in my pockets before I stood to full height, leaning forward a little, and waited.
My first opening appeared and I shot to the safe area in the middle, hopping from foot to foot as I waited for my next gap. It came a minute later and I was almost across when a van came racing towards me, beeping as though there was a persistent, super quick spider on the horn. I sprinted as fast as I could and threw myself onto the pavement on the other side, lungs exploding with breath. The van continued to toot its horn as it sped away, not slowing or braking at all.
“Shit,” I muttered under my breath as I leant on my knees, trying to regain control. “Oh cripes.”
Getting to the next side was much easier and five minutes later I was where I wanted to be, forehead damp with sweat and limps trembling. My jelly legs collapsed underneath me and I sat on the grass a moment to compose myself, not caring that most of the drivers who passed took a good long stare at me.
“That decides it,” I said as I stood up. “I’m insane.”
I walked along on the side of the road, cars on my left and trees and grass on my right. The road seemed to stretch on forever, much further than my eyes could see. When I spotted the flowers, my heart tried to leap out of my mouth. I powered on with more purpose.
After a minute or so, my eyebrows furrowed together. The flowers didn’t appear to be getting any closer. They were still the same sized blob of colour on the horizon that I’d first noticed. I quickened my pace but nothing happened.
“No,” I moaned. “You’ve gotta be real.”
I started to jog, then when still they didn’t grow any larger, I flat out sprinted, heart fierce in my chest and blood pulsing loud in my ears. There they were on the horizon. The blues, reds, yellows, pinks, whites, and purples. I was closer now than I’d ever been and I didn’t just want them to be real, I needed it. I needed it like I needed the Earth’s atmosphere.
I let out a cry of relief as they grew in size and focus. I was getting closer. I was going to see them up close. They couldn’t be a trick of my imagination. There was no way. My imagination wasn’t this good.
I skidded to a halt a metre away, feeling dizzy and out of breath.
I stood. I stared. I wanted to cry.
They were real.
There were piles and rows of all types of flowers. Roses, tulips, lilies, carnations and a whole lot more I couldn’t name. Some of them were in expensive looking displays and others, supermarket wrapping. There were tags with all types of handwriting on them, big, tiny, scrawly, curly, bunched together; though I couldn’t hope to decipher the words from here. Some of them were tied on with colourful ribbon or a bow.
There was so much colour here. The most I’d ever seen in one go in all my life. It seemed wrong though somehow. That something so beautiful could mean something so terrible.
I wondered who’d lost their life here. Whoever they were, they’d been loved deep and hard and by many. The letters attached to some of the flowers convinced me that lots fat ugly tears had been shed here. No wonder an unfathomable aching sadness had filled me up when I’d first caught sight of them.
The flowers were real. Nothing my imagination could conjure up would be this detailed.
So why couldn’t anyone else see them? It made even less sense now. They were bright and visible and real. Why couldn’t they see them? Or was the more important question how couldn’t they see them?
I went to take a step closer and a voice sounded from right behind me.
“I wouldn’t get too close if I were you.”
I stiffened. I knew that voice. I had to take a deep breath to give myself the courage to turn around.
There, less than a step behind me, was Zed.
“You.” I narrowed my eyes and took a step away, uncomfortable with there being only three inches between us. I needed distance. Lots more distance. “What’re you doing here?”
“What’re you doing here?” He raised one of his eyebrows. They were thin for a man, and narrow.
“I came to look at the flowers,” I answered.
I shook my head. “You didn’t answer my question. What’re you doing here?”
He wet his lips as he thought. “Why should I tell you?”
“I told you why I was here.”
“That was your mistake.” He grinned.
“You owe me an answer.”
“I don’t owe you anything.”
“Fine.” I leant back on my heels and crossed my arms. “But you should at least tell me why you were talking to me last week.”
He rolled his eyes. “You’re judgemental for a girl who was staring straight at me and then accused me of being some sort of . . . rapist or something the last time we spoke.”
“I never accused you of anything.”
“You did.” He pointed to his clear bottle green eyes. “In your eyes.”
“You could’ve been anybody. You still could be.”
“No.” He took a step forward. “I’m Zed, I told you that already. You’re the one who could be anybody.”
“I’m going to keep it that way, thank you. Now, what do you want?”
“Again, there you go, accusing me. Like I told you last week. I don’t want anything from you.”
“Then what are you doing here?”
“The flowers.” He pointed over my shoulder. “Same as you.”
I pressed my lips together.
“I know them, remember.”
“Or do you though?”
He rolled his eyes. “Yes I do. Why on Earth would I lie about something like that? Bit morbid isn’t it?”
I opened my mouth and closed it again.
“What I said last week was all true in case you were wondering. I can see them. So can others.”
“I don’t believe you.” It came out quieter than I’d wanted.
“Okay.” He walked towards the flowers and pointed to the first set on the left hand side. “Those there, pink carnations. There’s a tiny white tag on there and some writing. Those, chrysanthemums. What would you say they are? Orange?”
I found myself nodding. Now he’d said it, I recognised the name chrysanthemums but I would never have thought it by myself.
He pointed to the other side. “Roses. Lilies.” He turned to me. “Believe me now?”
“Okay.” I pushed some fringe off my face. “Where are yours?”
“Your flowers. You said you knew them. Which flowers did you put down?”
“I didn’t put any down.”
I raised my eyebrows. “But you knew them. You said you were coming to pay your respects.”
He put his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket. “And that I did. I didn’t need to write a card and put flowers down. They’re not going to read it or see them are they?”
I took a deep breath and held it for a moment. “You seem over the whole thing.”
“Like I said, I hardly knew them. Can you quit the interrogation now? I’m not a rapist or a murderer. I don’t care what you think other than the fact that I’m not a criminal. I’m not going to hurt you so long as you don’t swing a punch at me.”
My eyebrows came together. “I’m not gonna punch you.”
“Oh really?” His eyes travelled down my body and rested at my side.
I looked down and found that my hands were clenched into fists. I relaxed them at once, stretching them, wiggling my fingers, feeling blush burn up my neck and into my cheeks.
“That’s better. I don’t feel so threatened now.”
“You’re standing on the side of the road talking to a stranger. I don’t think you should feel entirely calm.”
“Why? You gonna push me into the road?”
I felt my eyes widen. “No. Of course not.”
“You can if you want. I dare you to.”
My nose wrinkled in disgust at the idea. “What is wrong with you?”
He chuckled. “Good. Correct answer. So, mysterious tall, pale girl with the dark hair and glasses – I like the glasses by the way, nice touch – what’s your name?”
“Amelia,” I answered, going with my middle name. My initials being AAA wasn’t quite as embarrassing as Grace Angel or ‘Angel’ Angel.
He smirked. “That’s not your real name is it?”
“Zed’s not your name either.”
“Touché.” He brought one of his hands out of his pocket and pointed straight up, like he had an idea. “Tell you what, Amelia, I’ll tell you my name if you tell me yours.”
“Not on your life, Zed.”
He laughed. “Contrary to what you think you know about me, I haven’t lied to you yet.”
“You just said your name wasn’t Zed.”
“Did I, Amelia? Think on that for a moment.”
He was right, dammit. “You inferred it.”
“Inferred.” He repeated. “You’re smart. Do you know the difference between passed and past? I hate that one.”
I put my hands on my hips. “Yes. But I don’t see why that’s any of your concern.”
Both his hands appeared now, palms up in surrender. “It’s not, Amelia, it’s not. But my name is Zed. It’s just not my full name. It’s my nickname. It’s less of a mouthful. I’ll bet your friends don’t call you Amelia.”
I didn’t answer. I just stared at him. He seemed far too comfortable talking to me. And much chattier than last time.
He grinned. “Well unlike you, I haven’t had to lie yet. That’s the truth.”
“I don’t like the way you said had to and yet.”
“You haven’t asked me anything personal enough.”
“I don’t want to.”
“What do you want?”
“I want you to leave me alone.”
“I was only giving some friendly advice.”
“Then why’d you make it sound so sinister?”
“I apologise. But it still stands. I wouldn’t get too close.”
“Have some respect. Did you know them?”
I shook my head.
“You don’t want to go upsetting somebody now do you? Plus, we should get out of the road.” He looked away from me for the first time. “Probably.”
“Why? We’re not in any danger.”
“Two people standing on the side of a road with no pavement, chatting, is weird.”
“The flowers are here. That’ll make sense of it.”
He put his hand to his forehead and shook his head. “I can’t believe you’ve forgotten already. They can’t see the flowers, remember?”
“Hah!” I cried out, jabbing a finger at him. “You have lied.”
“No I haven’t. We’re not the only ones who can see them, that’s still true.”
“You said last week you didn’t know anybody who can’t see them.”
He smirked. “Still true I’m afraid. I don’t.”
“Do you have magical friends or something?”
“What if I said yes? Would you believe me?”
“No. Magic doesn’t exist.”
“I’m still not lying to you, Amelia.”
“I don’t know you, Zed. What’s more, I don’t trust you.”
“Makes sense.” He walked away a few paces and then spun back to face me. “I am the only one you know who can see them after all. The only one who knows you’re not insane. Why on earth would you trust me?”
“I don’t believe you're some sort of wizard. It’s nonsensical.”
He chuckled. “I never said I was a wizard. I’m nothing of the sort."
“Okay.” I ran a hand through my hair. “Why can we see them? How come my friends and family can’t see them? Not only that but there’s no trace of them anywhere. Ever. I thought it was an anniversary but I can’t find any information about the accident at all.”
He just looked at me. Quiet. Considering me.
“I’m losing my mind. I need to know what’s going on.” I let out all the air in my lungs, trying to calm my heart. “And you know what’s going on, don’t you? That’s why you’re here.”
“I don’t think you’re ready to hear why yet.”
“But you’re right. I do know what’s going on. Now.”
My heart skipped in my chest. “You’ve got to tell me.”
“I don’t have to do anything, Amelia.”
“Please. Just . . .” My brain felt like it wasn’t working straight. I couldn’t think and I was thinking too much all at once. “Why can’t they see them?”
He sighed. “The answer to that question is incredibly long and incredibly complex and needs to be done somewhere with a seat and a mug of something. Preferably tea.”
“Tea?” I wasn’t expecting that answer.
“Yes.” He laughed. “The amount of times I’ve seen people pull that face. Yes, I like tea. Problem?”
I shook my head. “We can go and get some tea. You can tell me all about the flowers.” I pushed past him and went to walk back to the roundabout.
He pulled on my rucksack. “Whoa there.”
I stopped, crossing my arms again.
“I thought you didn’t trust me?” he asked.
“But you want to have tea with me?”
“Well, as much as I would love to have tea with you, mysterious Amelia, you’re not ready yet.”
This time I did feel my fists curling. I needed the bite of my nails into my palm to ground me. “I have to know what’s going on.”
“For now, isn’t knowing you’re not stark raving bonkers enough?”
“No,” I forced through clenched teeth. “Tell me.”
He bit his lip and gazed at me for a moment. “I can’t yet. But I can give you something else to think about if you like?”
“Anything. What is it?”
He took a step forward and leant down to whisper in my ear.
I stopped breathing.
“I followed you here, Amelia.”