Try as I might, I couldn’t keep my promise to myself. It seemed once I was lying in bed with nothing better to occupy my thoughts, there they were again, front and centre. Never had I considered being tormented by an inanimate object, but flowers? Of all things?
I had a fidgety night, turning over, unable to get comfortable in any position. I awoke every hour alert and full of energy. 01:18, 02:27, 03:22, 04:37, 05:41, 06:36. Rest was impossible. Though when my alarm did go off at long last, I wanted to get up as little as I did when I fell asleep on the sofa.
Pulling myself out of bed and forcing myself through my morning routine didn’t help in the slightest. I brushed through my long hair, sitting in front of my mirror. I couldn’t bring myself to stand. It took three attempts to fix my hair in its sturdy half ponytail, pulling my hair back off my face while still leaving it down. I had to wet my fringe and push it to the side as my restlessness last night had caused it to stick up.
I tried to make my thin almond eyes look bigger and my short, unnoticeable eyelashes longer with makeup and was surprised when I managed to do so without poking myself in the eye. After looking at myself in the mirror a full minute, I decided it was time to haul myself up and start my day.
I plopped down at the kitchen table, ready but still yawning. I wasn’t the only one.
“I had the worst sleep ever,” Mum announced from the kitchen. I heard her flick the kettle on.
“Join the club.”
“I had terrible dreams too, did you?”
“No. I don’t think I was asleep long enough.”
“I won’t bore you with it.”
There was a knock at the door and I looked at my watch, feeling my eyebrows come together. I’d taken myself and Otter to school every week I spent with Mum in Cullham since I’d passed my driving test in January. All except yesterday when my apparent drugged state hadn’t allowed it. But in the months this had been routine, not once had she arrived at my door early.
I knew it was her before I opened the door, her pink obvious through the frosted window. “Why on earth are you here so early?”
“Good morning to you too,” she said as she stepped inside, shrugging off her owl rucksack and leather jacket. Today’s outfit was a white vest top with an owl wearing glasses on it and a black skirt. I had no idea when Otter became obsessed with owls and I tried not to think about it too much. At least she wasn’t wearing the earrings today.
“So to repeat my earlier question,” I said as I shut the door behind her. “Why on earth are you here so early?”
“Simba threw up in the kitchen.”
I waited for more but nothing came. “Right . . .”
“You’ve never had a pet. You don’t know what it’s like to clean up after them.”
“So you left it for your parents, nice.”
“Shut up.” She chuckled and sat herself on the sofa. “I said we had to leave early and I didn’t have time.”
“So you also lied to them?”
“What would you have done then, Angel?”
I rolled my eyes. “For starters I wouldn’t have claimed the family pet as my own.”
I went and sat next to her. “But you’re right. There’s no way I would’ve done it either.”
She laughed. “I knew it! I also let Mum and Dad deal with it when he brings in mice and birds and things.”
“He’s brought a whole bird in?”
“Not often.” She flicked the TV on and started jabbering her usual nonsense until it was time to leave.
I had to turn the key with more force than usual to hear the mechanic unlocking sound meaning we could climb in. My little green car wasn’t a pleasant looking thing. The green wasn’t fresh or pale like some of the others of its kind. Mine was on the green side of teal, a colour that went with nothing. It would be easy enough to spot in a car park if it were a bit taller. Even Otter was taller than my car.
Though it may have been older than Grace, I had to give the little thing credit. It started every time.
Otter plugged her phone in at once and started scrolling through her music as we waved goodbye to Mum who was supposed to be working from home today. It would shock me more if I returned home to find that she hadn’t popped into the shop, rather than discovering she had.
I tapped my fingers on the worn steering wheel as we drove, Otter singing as loud as her throat and lungs would allow. She wasn’t going to catch me singing along, not with company, though I knew all the words she played this song so often.
“Nay wants picking up,” she said as a song ended and she turned the volume down.
“What? He lives a twenty minute walk from school. Half hour tops.”
After a moment her phone buzzed again. “He says if you don’t pick him up he’s not coming in.”
“Then he’s not coming in.”
I heard her type back and within seconds an answer came back. “He says please.”
“Tyres will kill him if he’s not in maths.”
I shot her a look.
“Hey, I’m with you.” She held up her hands. “He’s a lazy arse and he knows it. It’s your choice. You’re the driver.”
I stopped listening as we turned onto the road leading into Suddich.
“Here,” I said. “This is where the flowers are.”
“I told you about them yesterday.”
“Oh, yeah. Schrödinger’s flowers. Well where are they then? I wanna see.”
“Just here. Just after the sign.”
We both sat in silence. Otter was staring out her window and I was watching the grass more than I should’ve been. I kept my hands straight as we drove, making sure we didn’t drift over while I stared.
There they were. Just like yesterday. Just as gloomy and just as beautiful.
My heart calmed and I sighed. I must’ve been right last night. Someone we didn’t know or an anniversary. What had I been so worried about? It seemed silly now. They were just flowers. They weren’t even worth mentioning.
Otter was still looking out the window as we passed them and crossed the roundabout. The sudden feeling of freedom made me smile and I decided to cut Nathan some slack. Walking from his house to school took longer than our drive from Cullham after all.
“I don’t get it.” Otter turned to me.
“I just don’t want Nay to be annoyed at me.”
“No, not him.” She shook her head.
“Then what are you talking about?” I asked as we made our way down Turner Road.
I stiffened, feeling as though someone had dropped an ice cube down my shirt. I took a moment to calm my heart. “What’s to get? They’re just flowers.”
“I was right wasn’t I?” She crossed her arms. “It’s some philosophical crap I don’t get, isn’t it?”
We pulled up outside my auntie and uncle’s house and I honked the horn before shutting off the engine. I turned to Otter. “You know I don’t get his load of drivel either. This isn’t anything like that. There are some flowers on that road that weren’t there on Monday but they were yesterday. That’s literally it.”
“That’s it.” I nodded.
“But . . .” She started twisting her silver owl necklace around her finger. “They’re invisible.”
“No.” I shook my head. “No.” I felt like someone’s fist was around my heart, squeezing it tight. It thudded hard to combat being trapped. “They’re there. They’re real.”
“No, Abz. There was nothing there. I didn’t see anything.”
I opened my mouth but no words came out. I couldn’t breathe. Before my brain could come up with any words to make sense of the situation, Nathan and Edward appeared on the path, coming towards us with big grins on their faces.
Otter and I didn’t smile back. She couldn’t stop looking at me but I couldn’t meet her eye. How could she not have seen the flowers? I wasn’t seeing things. Nothing could be that real and not exist. She must’ve missed them. She must’ve.
There was a logical explanation for this.
Edward knocked on my window and I opened the door with a shaky hand while Otter and Nathan fought for the front seat.
I hugged him tight for something to ground me and he tried to push me off. I guess a hug from your big cousin’s not good for your street cred. He was fourteen but only two or so inches shorter than me. I wondered how many years it would take for him to reach his brother’s height.
“Tell her, Abz,” Nathan called over the roof. “It’s cruelty to put me in the back. My legs will be up to my chin.”
“I’ll pull the seat forward for you.” Otter used her most patronising voice.
“It’s just round the corner and I called shotgun. Get your arse in the damn car.”
He huffed but conceded, ducking down and squeezing into the back of my tiny car.
Edward laughed as he climbed in too. “At least you’re stuck behind the short one.”
Nathan swore as Otter pushed her seat back into position. “Stop being such a child, I’m pulling it forward. And the short one does have a name, Ed.”
“Good morning, Otter.” He grinned and winked at her.
“Nice try, babykins.”
I only realised they were all looking at me when it went silent. I was the only one still outside the car. Though the sun was shining hot and bright already, I felt cold. Colder than I’d ever felt in all my life.
“Please get in, Abia,” Nathan begged. “I’ve never wanted to get to school so much in all my days at SSS. Make this torture stop.”
I blinked and shook my head, trying to force myself back to Earth. A chill ran down my body and I shivered before getting back into the car.
Otter turned round to look at Nathan. “Stop being such a wuss.”
“This car’s as snug as a coffin. You’re lucky I don’t have claustrophobia.”
“You’re lucky your damn cousin’s doing you a favour. You can still get out and walk you know?”
“What’s the point now really? We’re all here. Let’s just go.”
I took a deep breath and started the engine, having to push harder on the accelerator now my car had two hulking great men in the back. I let them all bicker as we drove the five minutes to school. It was easy to drown them out with the thought I might be going crazy. For the first time since yesterday morning, I never wanted to mention the flowers again.
I was relieved when we went our separate ways for registration. I couldn’t stand Otter catching glances at me. Her face said she wanted to ask but daren’t. I was glad she didn’t because what would I say?
Maths shot by in a blink and I found myself wishing for more, something that hadn’t happened in the history of the subject. Because that meant I was stuck with Otter and Nathan for a free second period and I only had a few exercises of homework Mrs Spencer had just given us to get me through the hour.
Otter was already there when I entered the common room, having had a free first period. I cleared my throat as I sat down, trying to act normal. As it turned out, acting normal was a feat impossible.
“You know . . .” I pushed some hair behind my ear. “You don’t have to come in until after break on Wednesdays. Why do you come with me?”
“Maybe because I like being driven by you. Mum and Dad are always complaining about something. Anyway, I get more work done at this very table than I ever do at home.”
She didn’t say anything back, only stared right at me.
I looked around, pretending I thought she was looking at something else, though of course I knew she wasn’t. “What?”
She just continued to watch me with her prominent hazel-green eyes. So I just continued to look anywhere but into her face. I didn’t know if she wanted me to speak first but it wasn’t going to happen. This was a conversation I didn’t want to have, there was no way I was starting it.
She opened her mouth but it was a long few seconds before any sound came out. “What’s going on, Abz?”
I shook my head.
“I . . . I don’t even know what to say to you. Did you see flowers there this morning?”
For a moment I considered lying but she’d only see straight through it. I didn’t want to push her away. What would be the point anyway? “Yes.”
She pressed her lips together in a tight line. “Did your mum see them yesterday?”
“She didn’t look,” I whispered. “She was driving.”
“M—Maybe I was looking in the wrong place?” She posed it like a question and forced a smile into her cheeks. “There’s gotta be a reasonable explanation.” She grabbed for my hand and squeezed it tight.
“I know. I just . . . I . . . I don’t know.”
I couldn’t articulate my thoughts because I didn’t know what I was thinking. I couldn’t be the only one to see them because that didn’t make sense. Nothing in nature could do that. Especially not something as everyday as a bunch of flowers. Flowers that would die soon, having been separated from their root.
Otter was right. There had to be a reasonable explanation. Nothing like this happened in real life. It couldn’t. There were rules of physics, I should know, I was studying them at length and would go on to for a long time. Life was certain in that respect and safe.
There was nothing safe about this.
“Everything’s fine,” Otter said, pulling me from my thoughts. “Don’t stress for nothing. This’ll just be one of these weird things.”
“Okay,” I agreed. “You’re right. Everything’s fine.”
She squeezed my hand again and I could feel a layer of dampness between our skin. She took her hand back as Nathan appeared, having finished his discussion with Mr Tyres after his lesson.
“Hey,” Otter greeted him, wiping her now sweaty hand down her skirt and disguising it with a look to her watch. “What time do you call this?”
“I was just chatting to Mr Tyres who is a more interesting man that he’d have you believe.”
“So you’ve been harassing teachers again?”
“Harassing, challenging . . .” He held both his hands up like scales and tipped them one way and then the other. “Depends on your point of view.”
“Your Mum and Dad won’t be happy when they sit down at parents evening to be told that their eldest son is a grade A twat.”
“All they’ll hear is grade A.” He winked at her.
She tutted and fished some English work out of her rucksack, spreading it across the table.
“Speaking of Mum and Dad,” Nathan continued, prodding me hard in the arm. “They just rang me. You’re having dinner with us.”
I sat up straighter. “I am?”
“Yes. Guess whose mother couldn’t keep out of Suddich for twenty-four hours?”
I huffed. “Mine of course.”
“She told Mum she was going to check on Little Angels just before they close and then come to ours. Classic Auntie Kim.”
The free period wasn’t as sluggish as I’d expected. Nathan and Otter chatted amongst themselves, needling little more than a sound of approval or a single word from me every few minutes. The rest of the day was easy. I had two hours of engineering where my mind was put to good use; lunch were I ate rather than spoke; and a free period all to myself while Otter and Nathan went to their separate English classes, forever debating whether his English literature or her English literature and language course was the better option.
With homework done and little else to do, I searched for the flowers once more on my phone. The internet at school was terrible and slow and I considered they might have made it so on purpose. I scrolled through today’s articles in the Suddich Standard but there was nothing of interest, let alone anything of use to me in my quest. I hoped with every fibre in my body that someone had mentioned it on their social media page and after scrolling through the most boring generic wash of drunk photos, cries for attention, and celebrations of various assortment, I came up as blank as yesterday.
I filled my lungs to bursting with a deep gulp of air, leant back on my chair and tried to blink away the tears. I could feel panic engulfing my organs and I repeated Otter’s words to me over and over again.
There’s gotta be a reasonable explanation.
There was one and I was going to find it. And I wouldn’t rest easy until I had.