Nothing Gold Can Stay

Submitted into Contest #86 in response to: Write a story where flowers play a central role.... view prompt

26 comments

Fiction Friendship Romance

In a field of poppies, I lie in wait.

Blinking the warm afternoon sun out of my eyes, a stray breeze kisses a shiver into my skin. In the dawning of spring, I twirl a leaf between my fingers, one of many; it is emerald and bold. Nature's first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold. From my leatherbound notebook, I pull out a pressed carnation. Its pink petals are sun-soaked and radiant. There is no place else in the world I would rather be―only there is, with her.

I am a child dancing in the greenhouse. My father, one of the Mavis Country Estate groundskeepers, brought me to the greenhouse to keep an eye on me. Too young to know better and too brave to care, I spin haphazardly from one shelf to another, making sure every plant pot is watered. Surrounded by flowers of all curious shapes and colours, I hum to myself, flitting from one plant to the next, the water sloshing around unceremoniously.

I had spent countless days at the greenhouse. When I wasn’t at the schoolhouse or home, I was there, watering the plants, pruning the trees, arranging bouquets. I had grown to love the flowers most. Learning their hidden meanings and secrets, I became fluent in the language of thorns and roses. Some were frighteningly beautiful, while others held within them a clandestine magnificence that could not easily be seen―but none of them could ever be as beautiful as her.

Blinking, I didn’t even notice the shattered clay pot at my feet; the orange-tipped marigolds had fallen through my fingertips―my heart tumbled out of my chest.

In the beginning, we were two children with lanky limbs and floppy hair, our hands too small for our hearts, but we held each other anyway. There was nobody else in the world like her. We talked about the world and all its absurdity with unwavering smiles and contagious giggles, like the word bittersweet and how ridiculous party hats looked. She taught me about the drab ways of high society, and I taught her about flowers.

On days where we couldn’t see each other, we'd leave flowers for each other on my worktable. Pale blue salvias; I miss you—sunflowers; friendship. Canterbury Bell; message received.

Although we did not go to the same school, she would meet me in the greenhouse with a crown of ivory myrtle woven into her russet hair. She had all the grace her birthright promised.

As time meandered on and way led on to way, we slowly become entwined with one another. Her title and my status never mattered when we went fishing in the river, painting in the gardens, or repotting plants. Once I told her that the woods were no place for a Lady, she shoved me and kept walking, rattling the crab traps in her hand.

"This is nice. We should do this more often," she said, pouring soil into a plant pot, mud caking around the hem of her trousers. She’s happy. I am happy. In this golden hour, the young crocus leaves are gilded and green. Together we mill around the Estate, nothing more than restless children, hungry for adventure.

My father and I bury my mother, and still, she stands at my side. Cosette holds my hand and tells me she’s in a better place. We plant marigolds by her grave, our final farewell―goodbye. When I finish my schooling, I get a job as a groundsman and work alongside my father.

One summer night, we sat on the moorings by the lake, shoulder to shoulder. Splashing our feet in the freezing water, we watch azaleas float away in the wind. She takes another swig of the whiskey I brought, and I catch myself memorizing the mischievous curve of her lips, the smile she crafted just for me. My hands fit hers as if we were made for each other, and I stop to wonder if there could be a life where a Lady of Mavis family would choose a groundskeeper. If only we could run away together. Taking the whiskey from her, I take a sip, and I dash the thought before I fall too in love with it―I am already too in love with her. Setting the bottle beside me, I hold her face in my hands and kiss her.

Now no longer children, we know what must happen next. Neither of us says it with words, but our eyes exchanged promises that we are too afraid to say. There was no dream, no future that I want that does not involve you. Neither of us knew what love was, but it was hungry kisses and clumsy caresses. Fingers entwined, we hold each other the only way we knew how, in our arms, chest to chest, the safest place we knew. Neither of us wanted to let go, to be left with nothing but ourselves, but it was as inevitable as the falling of spring. As young and naive as we were, love wouldn’t be enough for us, that much we knew.

In the echo of our love, I stand on a terraced balcony and watch her walk down the aisle into the arms of a sapphire eyed Lord. Garlands of evergreens hung still in the winter gloom. The violin quartet's honeyed notes filled the air as Cosette and her husband floated on the dancefloor. It has been a few years since we parted ways at the lake, but even from a distance, I could see that her lips carried the same wicked curves I knew all too well.

That night white and yellow chrysanthemums and pearl pink carnations littered my worktable. Rubbing a stray petal between my fingers, I knew that they could only have been left by her. The golden flowers were wilted and brown in places, but the message was clear enough; I’ll never forget you. Goodbye.

Pressing one of each flower in my notebook, I left behind a bushel of violet canterbury bells and crimson gardenias. Message received; I love you.

Young and untethered, I still yearned for an adventure, but my heart so full of love―so full of her, that I hardly knew what to do. For a while, I worked a few odd jobs around town. I couldn’t bear to go back to the greenhouse―not without her, but before I could discover the world, war drums sounded, and I was conscripted to the Royal Army.

Most days, I march from one battlefield to the next, loading ammunition, sewing up wounds, bury the dead. I haven't seen a flower in months. I can't sleep. I no longer get letters from Cosette.

Fight. Survive. Breathe.

Fight. Survive. Grieve.

Fight. Survive.

Fight.

The cycle does not end; only the men break. There are no unwounded soldiers in war. It is autumn again, and leaf subsides to leaf. Nothing gold can stay.

The men in my regiment have begun to call me sunny. I don’t have a clue, but I think it has something to do with the sunflowers I grow when I am at the garrison. At first, it was only herbs and medicinal plants to help the medics, but then one doctor gave me a sunflower seed pack. I planted the canary-coloured flowers everywhere. By the canteen, in front of the infirmary, around the barracks. They were the first flowers I had seen in years, beautiful and untouched. A symbol of vitality and happiness, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that I also planted them to remind me of her―of our friendship.

Sometimes when I am sent to the infirmary, I dream of her. Giggling in a field of lavender, she is happy and free, always wearing a crown of red carnations. My heart aches for you.

We eventually win the war, but they still do not know the price we paid. Broken and bruised from the battlefield, I go home, back to my village. My unsteady gate is a result of the bones never set quite right after the war. Sometimes when I am tired, I limp. I bury my father next to my mother, I sell my childhood home, and buy a new house with a garden in a quiet part of town. The war is over, but I can’t―I still can’t remember how to breathe. I sleep on the floor near the fire because my bed is too soft, too good for this broken body. My dreams are filled with blood, ashes, and screams. My hands can’t stop shaking when night falls.

The months melt into years, and I buy a little store in town. I turn it into a flower shop. I teach the children which plants to grow in their garden and their mothers’ what herbs to put in their tea. I paint small white lilies on my bedroom walls, bright snapdragons in the kitchen, and periwinkle hydrangeas in the living room. I paint Eden on the store wall in an attempt to find myself, but it is a garden full of grief. These are the only things that bring me peace these days. I no longer think of my boyhood, of days full of laughter and light, but sometimes I think I see her in the corner of my eye.

I cannot breathe, but I keep trying. Every night I drown. Sunrise has become resurrection. Most days, I watch the dawn grow into day. This second life my redemption, there is no going back, but still, I go on. I am a shell of a man, haunted by war with a broken heart beating the best it can; most days, I attempt to sew joy and hope back into my chest, but the seeds never seem to take root. I have become the definition of ruin.

The flower shop soon becomes a favourite of the merchants in town, and one day a woman with raven hair and warm toffee eyes walks in. Her name is Lucie. From market days, I knew she had a sharp tongue and owned the trading post. Like me, she is middle-aged with sun-kissed skin with laugh lines that hint at brighter days. At first, she comes by with questions about roses and sunflowers. In time she starts buying flowers to put in her window. Purple peonies were her favourite. Bashful, a happy life. Somewhere along the way, she convinces me to walk with her in the town square and go with her on business trips. I take her fishing in the rivers and strolls in the forest. She grows to love my constant humming, and I learn to love her silver tongue. We fight and yell but never build a wall too high to cross. She is happy with me as I am, and I think I could be happy with her.

One midsummer night, she and I are lying in the grass of my garden, her head on my shoulder. We are too old for butterflies, but we are hungry all the same. Lucie talks about the future and asks me if I wouldn’t mind spending it with her. I hadn’t held anyone in my heart since my youth, and after my years on the battlefield, I didn't think anyone would want me, but she didn't mind. Lucie had fought and lost people during the war. She knew the depth of my loss. She knew me, and I knew her. I kiss the top of her head and whisper softly, "I would love that." With her, it was never love at first sight, but love at first laugh, first secret, first dance; we grew into love.

I think nothing can stay gold forever, but in this after, I am learning to breathe again.

Simple bronze bands adorn our ring fingers. We spend our days working the trading post and flower shop and then come home to one another. Lucie teaches me how to breathe again, and for the first time in years, I sleep without nightmares. It wasn’t easy, but she walked me back to the light. Maybe this is what love is meant to be?

A few years later, her nephew comes to live with us after his parents die. He was no older than five when he first arrived, and while the thought of children terrified me, this one wasn’t so bad. Wrinkles begin to creep across our faces, and her nephew starts to call me uncle Akmad and then papa. I teach him how to fish in the rivers and paint a happier Eden. He teaches me how to fix the radio and how to mend clothes. We all laugh when I accidentally sew my trousers to the tablecloth. Together the three of us plant yarrows in the front garden; everlasting love taking root.

It was the first day of spring that the flowers began to show up at my door.

One afternoon, a singular sprig of salvia was left on my doorstep, pale robin’s egg blue; I miss you. Perplexed, I put the flower in a glass bottle near the window, by the door and left for work. I now wore spectacles, my hair slowly turning white; I welcomed the wrinkles on my face, for there was a time I thought I’d never grown old. My limp becomes more pronounced, and I start to use a cane. Although the lingering chill of winter still hung in the air, April showers and flower blooms made the weather all the more lovely. The next flower came a few months later. This time it was a yellow pansy, I think of you.

Not a fortnight later, another bouquet of salvias appeared.

That night I left a bouquet of yellow marguerite flowers with a note. My Lady? The following day a yellow marguerite flower wreath with cerise carnations hung on my door. See you soon. I’ll never forget you. I love you. Attached was a note with the words I thought I told you not to call me that. Something unbearably heavy slammed against my chest as the world shifted.

A young woman meets me at the gates and takes me to the old ironwood and glass greenhouse. Once she left, I began to pace a familiar stretch of marble floor. The worn stone was dull in the fading light of day, but I was almost sure I could still find the spot where I had carved my initials as a boy. Finding my way to the back, I see my old worktable, untouched by the time a vase of orange-tipped marigolds sat on the rough-hewn surface.

In my calloused hands, I cradle the flowers against me. I feel her arms around me before I hear her. Strong and steady, she hugs me from behind. I didn’t have to look to know who it was. “You came,” she sobbed, "you're alive." Turning around to face her, I didn't even notice that I had let go of the flowers until she lunged to catch them, the clay vase in her hands.

Taking a step back, I saw the new lines of age on her face. A scar that I had never seen runs across her forearm. Now bare of flowers from her girlhood, she wore a gold necklace fashioned to look like an ornate sprig myrtle curled around her neck. Cosette was dressed in the regalia of a Lady, complete with a diadem of gold; her umber hair is pinned up on top of her head. Her ring finger held one simple gold band.

“Are you well?” My voice comes out shakier than I wanted it to, but I can’t help it. She and I sit on my old workbench and talk. She tells me about her children, all five of them. I tell her about the shop. She tells me that she’s taken up baking, even though it makes the kitchen staff uneasy. I tell her about my paintings. She tells me that she ran away to fight in the war. I tell her that war is no place for a Lady; she shoves me gently but doesn’t get mad. She tells me that she’s happy, and I joke that he must be one hell of a man. She laughs with me. The sound is so foreign yet so familiar.

Reaching out, she has my hand in hers, and I feel it. I see it in her eyes. The embers of our friendship were still there, but she no longer had a smile just for me, and I no longer want to hold her. She and I are nothing more than strangers with a past.

We agree to keep in touch, to stay in each other’s lives. Once a week, she comes to the shop to pick out flowers, and I agree to meet her for lunch in town. Sometimes she brings the children, other times, her husband. Lord Rafaele is tall and quick-witted and almost as funny as her. I am happy that she has found someone who can make her laugh in the world with so much loss. Lucie comes with me every now and then, and together the two women laugh like old friends. We relearn each other’s laugh. Discover each other’s new likes, new loves. We are happy for each other.

Lucie and I spend the remainder of our lives together. Our hair turns grey, our bodies curl into each other. Though frail and tired, we hold each other the best way we can―in our hearts.

The earth claims me first, and I wait seven years to see her again.

In a field of poppies, she’s sprinting towards me, her arms are open, her smile wide. We are young again, haphazard and bold. I bury my face in her neck, and she laughs against my chest. This is how―where I was always meant to be. Lucie and I walk hand in hand.




Together again, we are sun-soaked and radiant, giggling like children in a field of poppies. 

March 26, 2021 19:41

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26 comments

Jen Park
14:39 Apr 01, 2021

I'm just so frustrated by two reasons: 1. I have to update my favorite story by you because each story is better than the previous one. 2. I can't pick my favorite line or list them because I would have to nearly copy the whole story. Every line was special to me. And I'm so sorry that I have to tell you that your stories are overly amazing that I cannot handle. :) I liked the part where he meets Cosette after he grew old and that they did not reunite (well of course they should not) and he grew mature with Lucie. It seemed unrealistic ...

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Jen Park
14:41 Apr 01, 2021

Also I apologize for coming late:( I'm in high school freshmen year so I'm dying 😂😂

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Elizabeth Inkim
17:04 Apr 01, 2021

No worries. I just finished my senior year in university, I get it. School can be a soul sucker. Stay strong!

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Jen Park
23:32 Apr 01, 2021

Yeah I shall thank you!!😊

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Elizabeth Inkim
17:44 Apr 01, 2021

Happy to be your torture master, but feel free to keep the compliments and critiques coming; they fill my writer's heart. That little yellow dot is easily becoming my favourite thing of the day. So feel free to come back as often as you want, I'll never get bored. I think they subconsciously needed to know each other was okay. They were genuinely friends before, and as adults, they still care for each other's well being. So in my brain, when they meet each other's spouses, it's just a natural extension of their lives, if that makes sense. C...

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Jen Park
23:32 Apr 01, 2021

Yeah that's what I thought. It's quite a beautiful relationship though:) kind of relationship you can only have when you're mature. Wow you feel like they are your children? I always think my characters as my close friends which I always share my adventures with. :)

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Elizabeth Inkim
01:44 Apr 02, 2021

Well, some are like my children, other's I could count as close friends, but some of them make the most questionable life choices, and others are just so wild we'd never get along; but I love all of them, even the villains. I am currently working towards writing a fantasy series, but I am still in the planning and outlining stage and probably won’t be drafting for a while. But discovering my characters and world has just been getting me through the pandemic. Reedsy is my place to experiment with writing styles and character voices that aren...

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Jen Park
06:24 Apr 02, 2021

Wow amazing!! Just let me know when you draft it out! Exploring new world while drawing the details out. I don't like creating worlds though, it works better to me that they suddenly strike my head or it was originally hidden but starts to unlock gradually to my mind. Well I don't know if they make sense hehe I would love to read your fantasy :) I am actually thinking to start on a novel but I'm uncertain because I haven't written a novel before and I don't think I have enough vocab spectrum or specific plot. So I'm just waiting until my w...

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Des Feller
15:12 Mar 31, 2021

Oh wowwww.. I love how you tied the beginning and the end with the field of poppies... Especially how the 'she' he was talking about changed. Ohhh just gorgeous. I loved it.

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Elizabeth Inkim
15:25 Mar 31, 2021

Thank you so much. I am glad that you enjoyed the read. That is one of my favourite details as well.

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Holly Fister
23:29 Mar 29, 2021

Well done, Elizabeth! Here are a few of my favorite lines: “In the echo of our love, I stand on a terraced balcony and watch her walk down the aisle into the arms of a sapphire eyed Lord.” And also: “We fight and yell but never build a wall too high to cross.” My one comment would be that you swapped back and forth between present tense and past tense, especially around the wedding scene. It happens within the paragraph that starts with “In the echo of our love.” Just something to be careful of to help it flow consistently and not trip up ...

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Elizabeth Inkim
23:53 Mar 29, 2021

Thank you so much for the read; I am glad that you enjoyed it. I know that most of the story takes place in the past guess I really missed that present tense and past tense glitch. For me, I imagine Akmad himself telling the story, so in my mind, he occasionally flips in past and present, but I get it. The tense thing makes sense, though, don't get me wrong. I don't think first love is everything, and love at first sight simply over rated. I think that it's so unrealistic to fall in love once or to end up with your first love at all; I thin...

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Holly Fister
00:27 Mar 30, 2021

I think the pacing is a little slow. That’s something you could experiment with by pulling this into a word document and cutting out lines and phrases to see how much you really need to tell the story. The reason I think this is because you have some really beautiful lines, like my favorite echo quote. With it pared down a bit, those will hit with an even bigger punch. Now, take my advice with a grain of salt, haha! I’m not an expert and I tend to swing more toward brevity and then giant plots.

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Elizabeth Inkim
00:43 Mar 30, 2021

True. Although, agree to disagree, I really the slow for this piece. I think it makes it more “romantic” for lack of a better word. I know I asked the question, I just like discussion. But if you really like plot twists I have a story called “Of Bone and Blood”, I really pulled some twists there.

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Holly Fister
00:48 Mar 30, 2021

I like it! I’m all in for discussions on how to write! You nailed the romance in this one ❤️

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Holly Fister
00:54 Mar 30, 2021

I’ll check out Of Blood and Bone. Plot twists are fun and tricky to write! And if you’re interested, my story “The End of the Hall” was my experiment with a childhood to death love story in as few words as possible, just over 1000.

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Elizabeth Inkim
00:58 Mar 30, 2021

Ooo. I’ll check that one out for sure. I think plot twists are done well when they are uprooted small details rather than unknowns pulled out of no where. What do you think?

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Alison Clayton
08:09 Mar 28, 2021

I was intrigued throughout the whole story. First I wanted him to be with Cosette and I didn’t want to accept Lucie. Then I didn’t want Cosette to come back into his life because I liked what Lucie had given him. I guess I was feeling the emotions of the characters. I learnt a lot about flowers and wondered if they really had all those messages attached to them. I will have to research it too. I agree with Josh that I would have liked the echo of the poppies line at the end because it was a great line to start with. I don’t usually like stor...

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Elizabeth Inkim
17:39 Mar 28, 2021

Hey Alison! Thank you so much for the read. I am glad you enjoyed it. I am even more gloriously thrilled that I got you feeling the character's emotions and rooting for him. Yeah, me neither about the flowers; I did the research and was so pleasantly surprised about them. Also very honoured that you love it so much, thank you, things like that will always mean so much to me.

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Josh C
00:44 Mar 28, 2021

This is beautiful Elizabeth. Very well done. Bittersweet, hopeful and full of so, so much imagery. I particularly loved your first paragraph, where the imagery met poetry and rhyme, it just flowed so well. The whole style and prose of this story is beautiful. The only thing I would change is to have that final line end with poppies, tying the whole thing together with the opening words: Together again, we are sun-soaked and radiant, rolling together like children in a field of poppies. But honestly, other than that I thought it was beautif...

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Elizabeth Inkim
13:29 Mar 28, 2021

OMG YES! Cue, excited smile! I did it! Thank you so much for the read. I should be getting to your's later today. I am so flattered, usually planting a story has never worked so well for me, but I am gonna call this a success. I see your point about the last line, and I agree. I am a huge fan of the save the cat plot structure, and while I don't hit all the beat, I absolutely adore the mirrored ending. So I altered the final line a bit. It's "Together again, we are sun-soaked and radiant, giggling like children in a field of poppies." just ...

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Josh C
00:26 Mar 29, 2021

I think the edit ties it together. I'm a big fan of bookending things like that. Haven't read save the cat but heard about it. I'm glad my feedback has given you a boost! It was a great story.

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Elizabeth Inkim
00:44 Mar 29, 2021

Oh, save the cat is a plot structure, like the hero's journey and the three-act structure—just a different skeleton to shape your story around.

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Christina Marie
19:34 Jul 14, 2021

Hi Elizabeth! You were right - I really enjoyed this story! So whimsical and bright. Your prose is absolutely lovely, and it's so nice to read an uplifting story. Well done!

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