This story is by Teo and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Mary stormed up the stairs, withered chrysanthemums clenched in hand. Sawyer’s room was at the top floor, reserved for patients recovering from physical trauma. Her nails were digging into the stems by the time she arrived at his door.
Not a single knock; she burst into his room with a kick, striding in with her head high, glaring at her brother sitting up in bed. He was staring out the window, watching birds fly by when he heard her enter, turning to greet her with a small smile. Sawyer, once the athletic pride of the Saotome family, now a broken shell of his former self. His cheeks had sunken and his enviable tan skin turned sickly pale.
Mary dropped the bouquet in his lap without a word, towering over him while he gazed at the flowers. The dried petals crinkled as he picked it up, turning it around in admiration. She gritted her teeth when she saw it again: that forced smile on his forlorn face.
What are you smiling for? Oh how she hated to see it.
“Thank you, Mary.” His voice was soft, even in silence, having spent months weakened in bed. “I’ll be sure to treasure them.” He placed them on a nightstand—next to dozens of other dead bouquets from her past visits.
“Yeah, you do that,” Mary spat as she crossed her arms. “Treasure that like how you treasure lying in bed all day like the lazy son of a bitch you are, while mom and dad work all day just to make ends meet, just so they can pay for your stupid hospital bills!”
A wet veil glossed over both of their eyes; Mary knew she had snapped but the words kept vomiting. He blinked his own tears away, reaching for a telephone. “I made a few friends here. Would you like to–”
“Of course you did,” she interrupted. “This place is crawling with leeches like you. I’m going to be late for school.” With a dignified huff, she whirled on her heels, pleated skirt twirling with her as she strode out the door.
This was her routine each day; she’d spend her mornings before school buying old chrysanthemums from the florist, delivering them to Sawyer with an earful all while he sat struggling to hold a smile.
And each time, Sawyer would quietly look at her, pained smile and all. It hurt; she knew it did. He knew she knew it did—but that deterred her none. She was angry and blaming Sawyer for the accident made sense to her. It felt good.
Each morning as she bought the “flowers”, she’d remember the night in vivid detail, as if it was last night. No matter how many showers she took, she couldn’t forget the shattered glass that rained over her. No matter how hard she clamped down on her ears, she couldn’t forget the screeches of crunching metal. Seeing Sawyer ejected though the windshield was a haunting vision that plagued her.
By the seventh month after the accident, she’d grown weary of it herself—yet still she couldn’t stop the torment. Why am I doing this? she wondered of herself while she made the routine purchase.
I don’t gain anything from this, so why?
She clutched the bouquet tighter.
Not a single thing.
Her eyes stayed focused on the ground.
She jerked her head up at the mention of her name, caught like a deer in headlights. Emiya stood before her, the school’s gentle counselor, primly dressed with fresh-from-the-laundromat clothes. In her hands was a bountiful bouquet of brilliant colors, roses of every shade. She smiled.
“You’re visiting your brother?” she asked as the two walked up the steps together.
Side-by-side, Mary’s pitiful chrysanthemums paled in comparison, browned petals against Emiya’s gorgeous hues. Mary stayed silent, unsure of how to answer. Relief came when the counselor answered for her.
“Oh, what am I saying? Of course you are,” she chuckled. They stopped right before the front doors, staring at themselves in the reflection of the glass.
Mary had no idea why she herself stopped. Emiya had nothing to do with her; she could’ve strode in like usual, foisting the chrysanthemums on him. But the counselor was unlike her, a person that everyone gravitated to—just like Sawyer. These were people who would give the clothes right off their backs to a stranger in need, and yet–
And yet I’m a bumbling fool who can’t even express herself, she thought, biting her quivering lip to keep the tears back.
“Forgive me for this, but I think we should exchange bundles,” Emiya said suddenly. She turned towards Mary. “Chrysanthemums aren’t exactly nice flowers to bring to an ailing family member, Miss Saotome. Here.” She extended her flowers out with a wink.
Mary stared at the bouquet before her while her own flowers trembled in hesitation. The fragrant roses looked expensive, like hand picked flora imported from overseas. She couldn’t possibly take them.
As if Emiya could read her mind, she smiled warmly. “I insist.”
Despite the shoddy condition of the chrysanthemums, Emiya cradled them in her arms as she walked beside Mary, the younger girl drawing all the attention once inside. The foreign bouquet was certainly lovely, the kind one would pay good money for.
The elevators were again out of service, forcing them to walk up the stairs. For the first time in months, Mary felt relieved. Emiya had come to her rescue, snapping her out of a dark tumultuous cycle. She looked down at the roses in her hands and felt a small smile spreading.
Happy, she thought once they reached the second floor. They took a break on a bench by the stairs. The roses sat nestled in Mary’s lap.
“Do you know why I became a counselor?” Emiya asked suddenly, breaking the silence. Her eyes stayed gazing at the floor, though her lips spread in a nostalgic smile.
Mary shook her head.
“I brought shame to my family’s name when I was your age. Drugs, sneaking out, all of it. Anything I could do make my parents disappointed, I did.”
Mary stared at the poised counselor with raised brows. She never seemed like the type. “Why?”
Emiya shrugged. “Because I could. I wanted to make them so miserable with me.” Her smile slowly faded. “They were miserable, alright. So much so that they died in a car accident on the way to the police station to pick me up.”
Silence befell them for a while until Emiya spoke again. “I never even said sorry to them once.” Her voice cracked. “That’s a terrible feeling, you know? Living each day knowing you deprived someone of your love before it was too late.”
She rustled the chrysanthemums. “In the West, these are just flowers, but here in our country, these flowers represent death.” She gave the bouquet the once-over, then dropped them in a nearby trashcan. “I became a counselor so I could correct the flaws of myself that I see in kids today.”
Mary’s heart dropped. She was transparent, caught by the counselor in her cruel act of petty fury. There was no stopping the tears that fell; Mary spilled them out, disgusted by her own actions. It wasn’t Sawyer that she was mad at, but herself.
She was angry that he ended up in the hospital because of her.
Angry that she was never brave enough to apologize to him.
Angry that she couldn’t apologize to their parents.
Angry that she was guilty.
Emiya wrapped her arms around Mary, wiping away each tear. “It’s alright, child. Don’t blame yourself anymore.”
Mary shook her head. “How can he forgive me so easily? Why isn’t he angry with me? Why?!”
Emiya stroked Mary’s hair. “Sometimes familial bonds triumphs over logic,” she answered quietly. “Sawyer loves you, Mary, and no accident can change that fact. He’s had it in his heart to forgive you even before you could forgive yourself.”
Mary sat up and wiped the last of her tears. Suddenly it made sense, why he never once showed bitter contempt towards her. Because he loved her.
The walk up to the fourth floor was in renewed resolve, no turmoil in Mary’s heart nor mind. Emiya left the young girl to complete her redemption alone, parting ways with her after a heartfelt décalcomanie of emotions. Emiya’s words left a deep imprint within Mary, washing away any trace of her anger left.
She stood before Sawyer’s door, stilling the trembling of her legs with deep breaths. So easy she had been able to kick her way in before but now faltered, resting her hand on the door’s handle. With a gulp, she pushed it open with a soft click. As always, Sawyer was sitting up in bed staring out the window; he turned towards her and smiled. This time, Mary returned a smile of her own from behind the bouquet of roses.
“Hi, Sawyer. Can I come in?”