Oliver always smiled.
He always smiled, and he never said a word. He sat there with his grin lighting up the room and his eyes sweeping over the other people inside, listening to conversations whether or not they were directed towards him, and silently smiled.
Amaranth had always found it a bit disconcerting.
She had never spoken to him, personally, but she had seen. His desk was in her direct line of sight after all, so she was able to clearly see everything he did. And one thing he had never done was stop smiling, at least while at school.
The speaking thing, she supposed, wasn’t his fault. He was a mute after all. But that didn’t excuse the smiling.
People said things about him behind his back- as in literally directly behind him, as if they thought his being mute made his ears not work either. Amaranth had almost been convinced that was the case for a while, because of his incessant smiling, but she knew better now.
Most people hadn’t figured it out, she was pretty sure, but Oliver had other ways to communicate, and they were much more specific than anyone believed. He would walk up to a student who had belittled him, a classmate who had insulted him, or a teacher who had yelled at him for answering a question with only unintelligible hand motions (a teacher who had refused to believe that Oliver was mute and not just stubborn, and had been fired swiftly), and he would give them flowers.
Pretty little trinkets, usually, just one or two of a kind that he produced from his hand. Amaranth had once noted he had a smile that could literally make flowers grow, and that was disgustingly sweet.
Now, no one was supposed to use their skills in school. Well over fifty percent of children still never got a skill, and it was considered very rude to flaunt yours in front of everyone. Oliver didn’t seem to care all that much, and no one had yet stopped him.
Once a teacher had kindly told him that he was not allowed to do that in school after he had given a newly-grown snapdragon to a girl who had assumed he couldn’t hear. Oliver had turned and looked at her with a most bewildered look- the smile had stayed, but was now small, and confused as if he were trying to understand. The teacher had repeated the rule slower, which seemed to only make him more confused, and finally had given up and told the class that since his skill wasn’t all that impressive anyway he could continue to use it in public. She got a small bunch of purple flowers called Larkspur a few moments later, and simply thanked him. His smile returned larger than ever.
Amaranth wasn’t sure if he wanted people to think he was hard of hearing, or if he wanted them to think he was just an idiot, but either way it was working.
No one looked at the flowers he gave them, just dismissed them as a token of happiness from a rather slow but altogether cheerful child.
At one point Amaranth had thought the same, but it simply wasn’t true. The people who got flowers were only ones that slighted him in some manner; perhaps he really was hard of hearing, she thought, and simply gave flowers to anyone who spoke to him. But on the third week of that year he gave a beautiful pink amaryllis flower to the all star quarterback, a boy who had only spoken of Oliver in whispers across the room.
He might just not understand that they’re insulting him, she had thought afterwards, after all that omnipresent smile never seemed to fade. Back when she thought that she pitied the smile; the smile that came from someone who just didn’t know when he was supposed to be sad, so he smiled.
Amaranth couldn’t believe that, though. Not after a month later, when the girl who had spoken most to Oliver and seemed not to treat him any differently than any other person was caught badmouthing him to her boyfriend. Oliver had given her a single yellow rose with the most strained smile Amaranth had ever seen, and then they never interacted again. The girl tried, of course, but rather than being hard of hearing Oliver simply didn’t appear to hear anything at all, at least nothing she said. Eventually she gave up.
Then Amaranth thought, perhaps, that he was trying to build bridges or burn them quietly. The smile was a shield, a way to stop anyone from realizing that he could hear, that he could understand, and that he knew exactly what they all thought of him.
It was only after she was disillusioned of that that she started to hate his smile.
Snapdragons for presumption.
Larkspur for fickleness, or haughtiness.
Amaryllis for the prideful.
Yellow rose for betrayal.
Them, and so many more. Amaranth didn’t know what had possessed her to look up the meanings of the flowers Oliver had been handing out as long as she’d known him, but once she had she knew what that smile was.
It wasn’t naive, and it wasn’t fake; it wasn’t a shield or mask or anything of the sort. That was the smile of a man who knew secrets, his own and others, the smile of a person who could appear to give others a compliment while knowing he was insulting them to their faces. The smile of a man who knew he could get away with anything, and took advantage of it.
Over time Amaranth learned every flower in his arsenal. Begonia was a warning, rhododendron was a threat, tansy was a declaration of war. Candytuft was indifference and peony was indignance. The orange lily could mean desire or passion, but he only used it for hatred, and in the same manner the yellow rose could mean friendship or apology, but he only used it for betrayal and jealousy.
Amaranth had never been on the receiving end of one of these flowers.
Actually, she avoided interacting with him at all; Amaranth really didn’t want to speak with some brat with a chip on his shoulder, whether he could talk back or not.
Because of that, she wasn't sure what possessed him to help her.
It was a few months after she had started hating his smile, and they were both in the classroom with a few others who were ignoring both of them. Until, of course, someone decided ignoring was too boring.
“Hey Ama, what ya reading?” Amaranth twitched at the nickname she had never given her consent to, but ignored the other teen’s voice in favor of continuing to read. The voice belonged to Jackson, one of the most popular people in the school, and not for the first time Amaranth wondered what on earth had possessed her to even return to high school for another year. “Don't ignore me,” he whined. She didn’t listen.
So he grabbed the book and pulled- a few pages tore.
Amaranth said nothing, but the murder in her eyes said more than enough.
“Woah, calm down Ama,” Jackson laughed nervously, immediately dropping the book on the ground. There was a reason no one talked to Amaranth; she had a skill, and unlike the others who hid theres or Oliver who used his, hers simply acted. No one knew what it was, exactly, but they all knew that nothing anyone had ever physically done to her had made a dent, and that was enough to chase them away.
Before anything else could happen, though, Oliver was there between them, presenting Jackson with a yellow carnation and his razor-edged smile.
Jackson didn't take the flower and left quickly, and as soon as he was gone Oliver turned to Amaranth with his usual grin.
“I didn't ask you to do that,” Amaranth said sternly, picking up her book. He looked smug, like he thought she should thank him. If he'd helped anyone in that moment they both knew it was really Jackson. When she sat up she was met with a flower in her face, and she took it slowly despite knowing what he meant by it. The flower was a columbine.
“I know what this flower means you know,” she frowned at him, who was still smiling, even as she weaved the flower expertly into her hair. “I have nothing to be grateful to you for.”
His eyes widened a bit, but his smile only stretched.
Amaranth went back to reading, hoping that would be the end of it.
No such luck.
Oliver hunted her down after school a week later; he had been looking at her all week, but she'd made a point of not reacting in hopes that he would forget that she had figured out his little game.
She walked away without giving him a glance, he couldn't say anything as long as she couldn't see him, and completely ignored the Amaranth flowers blooming every step she took like he was calling out to her.
That got a lot harder when she was suddenly up a tree.
“Let me down, brat!” She scowled, hanging upside down and facing the grinning teen who apparently had a much stronger skill than she had thought. Flowers are one thing, but growing an oak in a few seconds is a whole different level.
Rather than writing something or signing (the second of which Amaranth wouldn't have been able to understand, but still) he held up a bouquet.
That gave her pause. Never before had she seen him present more than two flowers at once, and here he was with an entire arrangement.
In the center was a single pink cone amaranth, surrounded by blooms of purple hyacinth, the circle of which was in turn ringed by dark blue geraniums. Around the edges of the geraniums a few blooms of light blue hydrangeas rested, and between those flowers were a smattering of the small light purple bittersweet flower.
It took her a moment to identify the flowers, and another to remember what they meant.
Amaranth- either her name or unchanging.
Purple hyacinth- either asking for forgiveness or granting it.
Geraniums- stupidity or folly.
Hydrangea- either thanks for understanding or an accusation of coldness and heartlessness.
Read one way, it could mean “Amaranth, I'm sorry, I was a fool and that's the truth. Thank you for understanding.”
But another way and it could be “here's the truth: you're heartless and stupid but I'll forgive you for that, even though you’ll never change.”
His grin was still there, mocking, and Amaranth knew exactly which one she was supposed to see and which one he really meant.
“You really just aren't capable of being anything but a jerk, aren't you? I'll accept unneeded help, but I refuse to accept a backhanded apology. Either leave me alone or apologize for real.” She felt pretty ridiculous, lecturing someone while hanging upside down in a tree while the wind blew her hair into her face, but it apparently had some effect.
She couldn't see his face, because he was looking down at his bouquet, but he looked to be picking at a few of the flowers. It seemed almost bashful, or maybe ashamed, but seeing as she was still stuck in a tree Amaranth couldn't bring herself to feel too bad for snapping at him.
After a moment he opened his hand, which had been holding the stems of the flowers, and let the bouquet of lies be torn asunder by the wind.
He then looked up, and Amaranth started so hard she almost fell out of the stupid tree.
Because for the first time she had seen he wasn't smiling.
There wasn’t exactly any sort of expression on his face at all; he wasn’t smiling, but he wasn’t frowning either. There was a small furrow between his eyebrows, and he was looking directly into Amaranth’s eyes like he could see straight through to her soul, but she couldn’t for the life of her put an emotion on that.
Then, after what felt like a solid minute of staring, Oliver raised his hand into her vision. He was holding a small blue flower- one of the bittersweet.
“Go on…” She crossed her arms, attempting to keep some semblance of composure as she swayed in the wind.
A purple hyacinth grew beside the bittersweet, and Amaranth frowned a bit, unsure how to take that exactly. Before she could say anything, though, Oliver had materialized a geranium, which he promptly placed on top of his head with an awkward quirk of the lips.
I’m a fool.
Amaranth stared a bit longer, taken aback. He was smiling, but it wasn’t that grin of his that threw people off or the thing that was nearly a grimace. There were no teeth showing, and it was only a slight lift of one side of his mouth, but it was probably the realest looking expression she had ever seen on him.
“Alright…” She squinted suspiciously, but he gave no indication of anything being off, “okay, I’ll forgive you if you let me down.”
Only a moment after she’d said it she realized she should have been more specific, because the tree dropped her in an instant. They both knew her skill would keep her from even feeling anything, but that didn’t make it any less rude.
“I take back everything good I ever even thought about you,” she seethed as she stood, but stopped short when she was met with a flower directly shoved into her face. It was one she had never seen before, and didn’t know what it meant, but when she looked around it to the boy holding it, he was clearly blushing and avoiding eye contact. “I’ll… get back to you…” Amaranth slowly forced out, taking the pink and yellow flower that looked almost like a lily, and deciding to look up the meaning as soon as she got home.
It took a while to find, but eventually she was able to identify the flower as Alstroemeria; the Peruvian Lily.
The meaning: trials and tribulations of friendship.
She thought of that deplorable smile he always sported, and the rude way he acted, and how he manipulated people into letting him do anything he wanted, and how that little brat had dropped her from a tree. Then she remembered that awkward little smile, and how he scampered away like a scared bunny after she’d taken the lily, and the blush that had been burning up his face as he went.
Perhaps it wasn’t all lies.