Chloé remembered her mother far too well. Sure, part of her was grateful for those glimpses back into a better time, an easier time. But another part of her wished that she didn't remember her at all. You couldn't miss someone that you didn't remember, after all. There were memories from towards the end, when things got bad, but most of the memories were from the beginning: when things were still bad, but better than they would be for a long time. Her mother had been too weak to leave the hospital most days, and it had pained Chloé to see her mother be so far away from the flowers that she had loved so much in what felt like another life. In her seven-year-old mind, Chloé had determined that it was her job to take away her mother's sadness, so she badgered her older brother until he drove her to the library on a hazy Tuesday, where she gleefully snatched up every book with a flower on the cover off its shelf that her grubby children’s hands could reach. She could never forget the way that her mother's face lit up the next day when she burst through the door, dragging behind her a big canvas bag with green hummingbirds printed on its rough surface. After that, they spent the rest of their time together squished together on the little hospital bed, looking at pictures of flowers, making their way through Chloé's haul page by page.
One day, Chloé remembered, her mother froze right after she had turned a page in one of the books. Chloé, who had been distracted by a fly that had been buzzing against the other side of the big hospital window, turned her attention to the book. On the page was a color illustration of an orchid that must have been important enough that the writer of the book had decided that it deserved to have its own page. It was a white orchid that had several long, flowing petals, and after Chloé had looked at for a minute, she decided that it looked a bit like a ballet dancer or a dove air. She looked up at her mother, and noticed that she had a faint smile on her face and had placed her left hand above where her heart laid underneath her thin cotton shirt.
"Mom," Chloé asked, "is this one special?"
"Not really, sweetie," she said, "I just studied it for a while, back when I was in college. It's a very interesting flower; I really did like studying it."
"What's its name?"
"It's... " Her mother paused, then frowned. "I don’t remember." Chloé, unaware of how important this single flower would become to her, had simply nodded, and that had been the end of it.
Later that week, her mother died. Passed away overnight, the doctors assured them, it had been peaceful. But Chloé still didn't know the name of the orchid in the picture, and she had long lost track of the book. She didn't know why she was thinking about her mother right now, but then again, no matter how much time passed, she always seemed to think about her mother on her birthday. It was an unwelcome habit that seemed better suited to the rainy Seattle she had left behind than it was to the new life she was leading. But even though she knew that there was no place for old memories in a new life, it was hard to let go.
Chloé turned twenty-one today, but she felt like she was becoming much older. It didn't help that Rebecca had had the bakery write Happy 92nd Birthday, Chloé! on the vanilla sheet cake that was presented to her earlier this morning and, if Simon was to be believed, would have had them write Happy 92nd Birthday, Grandma! If he hadn't been there to stop her. As if Chloé wasn't only three months older than her. Chloé really, genuinely liked Rebecca. She always had grass stains on her jeans and knots in her dark hair that she never stopped to notice, as if she was too busy being alive to care.
"Is something wrong?" Rebecca asked her. Chloé composed her face into a smile. She didn't want Rebecca to think that she didn't appreciate her going out of her way.
"Nothing," she assured her, "I was just thinking about something."
"Is it your mom again?" Sometimes she forgot that she told Rebecca just about everything. As bad at keeping secrets as Chloé was, she had managed to keep what had happened mostly to herself. Mostly.
"Yeah," Chloé sighed, pushing her plate away. "I mean, I usually do on my birthday, but today just feels different, you know?”
"I mean, usually I just think about her in general, but today I keep thinking about this one thing that happened." She hesitated, unsure of how much she wanted to disclose. "There was this one picture of a flower that she really liked, right before she died. This one orchid, but I still have no idea what type it was. I guess I’ll never know."
"And that's bothering you," Rebecca said. It wasn’t a question.
"Yeah," Chloé sighed again. "There's nothing to be done about that, though."
"We'll see about that," Rebecca said, pushing herself up from the floor, where they had been sitting cross-legged, and extended a hand down towards her. Chloé narrowed her eyes suspiciously.
"Come on, Chloé, everyone knows that your luck is at its best on your birthday." That caught Chloé off guard, although it shouldn't have; she had known Rebecca long enough. She laughed.
"Yes, now come on, let me help you up and let's get going."
"Get going where, Rebecca? Don't you have plans today? That's what you told me yesterday."
"It's the middle of June, Chloé, everybody's gone back home for the summer. I mean, I was supposed to get lunch with someone, but it's whatever, I can cancel," she said with a dismissive wave of her hand. "This is more important anyways. We're going to go look for that flower whether you like it or not.” Rebecca leaned against the doorframe that led outside and waited for Chloé to grab her wallet from its discarded position on the glass-topped coffee table and her antiquated flip phone from where it lay nearby, nearly forgotten. “Why do you still have that thing? We aren’t in the nineties any more, you know.”
“I like it,” Chloé said defensively, “come on, I thought you wanted to go.” Rebecca led the way to her old car. It was a rusty old piece of machinery on its last legs. She turned the key and it sputtered to life. “Are you going to tell me where you’re taking me?”
“The Botanical Gardens,” she said. “I figure that it probably has the best chance of having whatever it is. You said it was an orchid, right? They’ve got a ton of orchids around this time of year.”
Chloé didn’t respond: Rebecca’s car’s air conditioning was broken, if it even had it in the first place, and the stifling temperature made her feel too tired to move, much less hold a conversation. Rebecca, who was used to her oven of a car, was immune to the effects of the heat.
After about a half hour of driving, Rebecca pulled into the gravel parking lot. Chloé looked up. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky to block the sun as it beat down mercilessly. A few crows had hopped through a car window left open and were stealing pens from the car’s cup holder. The parking lot was surprisingly full. Usually on a hot day like this you would expect people to flock to the beach instead, but by this point in the summer plenty of people had spent enough time at the beach to last them a lifetime and were looking for other distractions. Rebecca wasted no time, and pulled Chloé away as she tried to stop and smell the roses, making a beeline for the orchids. As she pushed open the glass door that separated the orchids from the rest of the flora, she knew right away that her mother’s orchid wasn’t there. The room was mostly empty, with most of the people who were at the garden gawking over some rare flower that must have blossomed with the blue moon, and she could see all of the orchids from where she was standing. But Chloé didn’t feel disappointed at all. She was relieved. That shocked her. It upset her more than the fact that her mother’s flower wasn’t there. She was distantly aware of Rebecca squeezing her shoulder and apologizing, before leading her back to the car. When Rebecca turned the key again, the car took a heaving, dying gasp, before giving up.
“Damn,” Rebecca sighed. She took a look around to ask for help, but despite all of the cars, there wasn’t a person in sight. “I think that there’s an auto shop near here. You feel up to walking?”
“Yeah,” Chloé said automatically, “sure.” The two of them got out of the car and began walking, following the directions that Rebecca’s phone fed them. It wasn’t until they were out of the parking lot, on a dirt road adjunct to the highway that one of them spoke again.
“I’m really sorry, Chloé,” Rebecca said, breaking the silence. “I thought it would be there. I never wanted to make you upset, really.”
“I know. That’s not really what I’m upset about.” Rebecca’s eyebrows furrowed.
“What do you mean?” She asked.
“I mean, when I saw that it wasn’t there, I wasn’t upset, I was kind of relieved. I hate that. Why wasn’t I upset?”
“Maybe-” Rebecca cut herself off and thought about her words for a moment before continuing. “I know that this may be out of line, but you think about your mom a lot, right? Not that I blame you of course, but you haven’t really been able to let her go. Maybe you think that once you find the flower you’ll have to let go, and maybe you don’t want to let go.”
“You think that I haven’t been looking very hard, because I don’t want to let her go?”
“Yeah,” Rebecca glanced at her nervously. She really didn’t want to upset her, but she knew her friend and she knew that this was something that she needed to hear. After a minute of uncomfortable silence, Chloé nodded.
“I think you’re right. It’s time to let go.” Rebecca slipped her hand into Chloé’s, and swung their linked arms back and forth.
“It’s getting late.” Rebecca said, stopping in front of the auto shop. “Do you want to call it a day, look somewhere else tomorrow?” Chloé shook her head.
“No, you’re right. It’s something that happened. That’s fine. It’s time to let it go.” Rebecca nodded understandingly, and turned and walked inside, Chloé hesitated for a second, and looked behind her. On the other side of the highway, sitting in a chipped blue pot on a table behind someone’s window, was a flower that she recognized.
Merci pour la lecture!