The Orchid

It smelled divine. Six impossibly large yet delicate white flowers with pink blushes of color just inside climbing up an impossibly thin stalk, tied to a stake with pretty little dragonfly orchid clips. People clambered and rushed around and behind her, pushing forward through the masses to catch their own glimpses and make their own purchases. There were tables full of orchids, so many varieties, sizes, colors, patterns than she’d ever been aware of. But orchids have long held this deep-rooted wariness she still can’t explain.

The frenzy around her surprised her a great deal. Where does the global fascination for orchids stem from? Why do they mean so much to so many?

She wandered through an adjoining green house merely to move away from the crowd and collect her thoughts, all the while contemplating that perfect, disproportionate flower. She could buy it. $40 would only be bad if she killed it. Which she won’t, orchid scariness or no.

The arid greenhouse had some delightful succulents, cacti, and agave; the temperature was such a soothing, distracting heat from the windy cold of the April outside.  She snapped a picture of a squat green cactus with a crown of small, bright magenta flowers. A crown of flowers atop a head of thorns. It was so wonderfully poetic and opposing, so graceful, so endearing. Nature in her simplistic, contrasting glory. She could buy the orchid. It won’t mess with fate. She’d already done that herself.

She left the greenhouse and was back in the inner hallway, people rushing past with armfuls of purchased orchids in boxes and bags. She could buy that orchid.

From the safe distance down the hall, she stared, growing agitated at any who dared to even look at it. It would destroy fate, wouldn’t it? But what if, instead, by purchasing it, she claims fate? Just like she bought her own damn ruby ring, which she’d hoped would come from…..Crap, it doesn’t matter. No such thing as soul-mates and real love. Not in her life, anyway. But, she does have a small table, and a passing vase. She could place the orchid outside the dining room, where the wall was white and short, and it would maybe match what she’d seen long ago.

It’s her own fate, her own life. And it’s just now taking shape once again. Her divorce-induced foreclosure and cross-country move to live with family until getting back on her feet again hadn’t worked out quite as planned. The six month naive intention had turned into three years. But, she was now finally secure enough that she’d bought a house again just last month, her own house and hers alone; as she’d finally found a job that fit, that worked, that actually paid livable money.  She’d even chosen the house for that short, white wall just outside the dining room, where a small, simple, dark wood table and a round black vase holding a solitary orchid would go, just about perfectly. Just about, because Vincent, the one that got away, would not be in this vision of complete happiness.

Finding herself at the end of the tropical greenhouse, she couldn’t remember entering it. The trees before her, of course, sported orchids growing like epiphytes on their cork-like branches. She’s a little embarrassed by her lack of orchid knowledge. Maybe they are a type of epiphyte. She’s only ever seen them in pots. Staring up at them, she remembered being in the lunch room in high school, and Vincent approaching her with shy purpose.

She’d liked him too. God, she’d liked him. And she knew his intention by the way he walked, by the way he’d looked at her. She’d gotten a blinding vision of an orchid growing in an elegant, round black vase sitting atop a small side table, with a white wall as a backdrop, and a room, possibly a dining room, through the wide doorway on the left of the flower. She couldn’t see or hear them, but she knew their combined families waited on the other side of the wall. The predominate colors in that flash of a vision were white, black, and red. The orchid by design is delicate, but there it was well tended and cared for, it’s vulnerability also its strength. The house was elegant and well kept, warm and inviting. She had an overwhelming precognition of love, permanence, security, and happiness.  The life she’d envisioned for her future.

But at 16, it had been a terrifying thing she felt she was too young to embark on. She’d just broken up with her first boyfriend: an obsessive, possessive, borderline abusive guy. The emotional scars from that experience hadn’t yet left. She’d made her college plans, which entailed running far, far away. Vincent had great prospects for his own bright future, and in those meager seconds, she worried over him, over altering his college decisions and forcing him to move away from family he was very close to. What if, instead, she was forced to stay in a city she needed desperately to escape from? Conversely, how would they manage a long-distance relationship in a year’s time when she would follow him and graduate? It was overwhelming, those very adult possibilities she couldn’t control or adequately foresee.

She’d wanted nothing more than to say yes. God, she’d liked him. A lot. He was tall and soft spoken, with dark hair and glasses. She liked the way she felt when she was near him, he helped her feel calm and sure, and the thought of being even closer was nothing short of dream-like and intoxicating. Miraculous. Terrifying.

Today, eighteen years later, that’s all she remembers of him. She doesn’t remember what they ever talked about, how long she’d known him, or even how or when they’d actually met. Only that vision of an orchid that’s continued to haunt her, and the regret of being so afraid that she’d told him no.

She ducked her head and left the greenhouse, left the tree full of taunting orchids, the inner hallway and the Hall entirely, and burst out into the April cold to walk the rest of the still-hibernating Botanic Gardens. A precursor to rain mixed with the wind, creating a light drizzle.  She’d told him no, quietly, gently, never thinking, or even considering, that he would then disappear entirely. She never saw him again. He avoided her, graduated the following month and moved on. She’d really, really believed he’d stay as before, and that he’d ask again a little later, at a time when she’d gotten a grip on her fears and put some more time between the last rotten boyfriend and him. She’d had a vision of an orchid, of permanence and love. Had Vincent seen anything?

She’d tried to find him. Her locker partner had hung out with his crowd, had introduced them if she remembered correctly. But Shea had never seemed to like the idea of Vincent and herself being friends, and seeing that it had the potential of more didn’t please her at all. They’d tried to be friends freshman year, Shea and her, but they’d had absolutely nothing in common, and hanging out had become torturously awkward. Anyway, despite repeated pleas and questions, Shea had denied knowing what had become of him, or how to track him down.

Just like that, he was gone. Her vision, her chance, gone. And now, eighteen years and several more possessive, abusive, obsessive relationships later, she still can’t shake him out of her mind. The loss and regret of ‘if only’ is that much stronger and painful, compared to her other flashes and experiences. There was the man at work after Vincent, when she was 18 and in college,  living and schooling in that far away city she’d successfully run away to. Her vision with him had been, “Jackass is married. With kids!”  And she’d put him off. The next guy was sweet and nice, but all she saw was him delirious and stupid with pot. The next was a very sharp “Stay away. You’re going to marry him, and it will not end well”. Did she listen? No. Because she did marry that last one, and testament to her visions’ accuracy, it had not ended well. There were no flashes with the last two, as Fate had declared her a lost cause no longer worth warning.

Reminders of Vincent and her inexcusable error have continually come up through the years: all the jerks and crazies she’d encountered, her horrible marriage, and two Beauty and the Beast TV shows with both Beasts named Vincent. Post divorce and foreclosure, she’d returned at last to the city she’d frantically fled from as a child, and moved back in with her mother- who had suddenly taken up having orchids, when there’d never been any orchids in the house when she was younger. And now, the day she decides to go wander the Gardens in her first celebration of surviving another winter trapped indoors: an orchid show.

Uhhh, stupid flower! What’s so significant about an orchid, anyway? And why does she have such a ridiculous fear that buying that orchid will piss off Fate, who’ll retaliate by not bringing Vincent back for that second chance to answer him the way she’d wanted to? She’d been so sure he’d ask her again.

When faced with the routinely asked question, ‘If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?’, her unfaltering answer had always been: ‘I’d tell myself to suck it up and tell Vincent yes.’ Don’t good guys realize that good girls cursed with rotten fathers and first attempts at dating spook easily? Presented with that invitation to happiness, they dig their heels into the ground and scream bloody murder, because what is unknown is always terrifying, especially when it’s something beautiful and pure.

Stupid flower. Stupid her.

Fate’s never cared much for her anyway.

She was back in her car and pulling out of the Gardens just as the downpour began. The rhythmic back and forth swoosh of the car’s wipers, the pattering drops of rain on her car’s hood, and the lazy gray overcastness of outside was something of a not-funny invitation to dreamy illusions of an orchid in her home, of creating her own fate and ending the lingering, haunting regret of a boy whose last name she doesn’t even remember. Possibly she never knew it. Maybe it never happened. She remembers everyone else’s last name, why not his? What had she said to him that made him vanish like that? But that flash of a vision, that had happened. And she’d never forgotten his name, or his person, or her regret. What had she said to him? He was quiet, like her. What traumas and insecurities of his own had she unintentionally exploited?

Crap, why can’t she get him out of her head? She’d found Shea by accident on Facebook several years back, and had stalked through her friends list in the hopes of finding him. But he wasn’t there. Which is maybe a good thing. While she’d want to know that he was happy, and see that he’d become exactly the man she’d sensed he’d be back when they were kids, it’d also be too painful to see exactly how badly she’d screwed up. She’s still floundering about as though she’d never metamorphed from that frightened, confused sixteen year old looking for an escape into happiness……who’ll probably react like a cornered animal once again should the opportunity actually find her.

At home, after a long hot shower, she flipped on her computer. Eighteen years to muster enough courage to look up the flower’s meaning. It’s laughable. She knew what it meant with just that flash of an image back when she was sixteen and barely knew what an orchid was. According to Teleflora.com, The delicate, exotic and graceful orchid symbolizes love, luxury, beauty and strength.” A responder to the same question on Yahoo! Answers claimed, ‘The orchid is a flower of magnificence that brings a universal message of love, beauty, wisdom, thoughtfulness, luxury & strength. In China it signifies refinement, and innocence.”

Wisdom. That’s wonderful. She wishes she could march back over to her younger self and slap the crap out of her.

The next morning, Sunday, she woke up in a pouty mood, poured herself some coffee and decided to throw herself down before the TV for a little while until forced by necessity to run those errands she’d been putting off. Shopping on Sunday just sucks. “Oh yay!” she exclaimed, seeing she had some promotional free movie stations. Cold Mountain? No. No sad, haunting love story! Mars Needs Moms? Nah. Columbiana? Female pissed-off assassin. Perfect!

Halfway through, she could take no more. She turned the TV off and pointed angrily at it. “You. Suck,” she declared before stomping into her room and getting dressed. “Really, Fate?” she curses into the air, shoving her legs into her jeans. “You couldn’t have been more forceful back then? I pick a movie that is not sappy or sad or romantic, and the lead character is named after an orchid! I do not appreciate your sense of humor.”

The sun peeked out from the clouds on her drive back to the Gardens. It’s probably not even there anymore. Someone wiser than her most likely bought it at first sight.

She bypassed the meandering walkways, ignored the swans by the creek, and went directly into the hall where booths remained lining the perimeter of the walls, searching for that one. They’d have packed them all up yesterday and rearranged them this morning. She’ll never find it in a new position.

She doesn’t rush, though. It would defeat the purpose, in a way, cancel out the meaning, the allure, the need for that orchid, to recreate a present that would mimic that glimpse. She smelled the ones that smelled of chocolate, marveled over the clay sculptures that looked so freakishly real, and lay her fingertips beneath tiny little blooms. So many people obsessed about this one delicate, precious species. Maybe she’s not the only one with flashes, with intuitive understanding of what these flowers mean, what people hope and need them to bring. She stopped seeing the others as competition, and walked along with them, listening to conversations, to the venders’ passionate and care-filled instructions to ensure new owners would be successful.

Eventually, she found the table. Her heart rate accelerated and she felt that she could no longer mask her frenetic search and desperation to right her own wrong. Except, not only was it gone, but all the others of its type had been sold as well. That’s Fate for you. Or, that’s her for her, so desperate she makes signs and symbols out of nothing.

There was a room where the actual show was taking place, down the outter hallway that lined a courtyard where bonsaii trees sit during the summer. She wandered in, marveling at the tied-off orchid displays arranged proudly and showing off their ribbons from the judges. She didn’t bother reading their names, as Latin would only ever be Latin to her. The colors, the shapes, the simplicity, that’s what she could read, what she could decipher and internalize.

Adjacent to the show room was another small room where more orchids were being sold. She hadn’t gotten this far yesterday, so she wandered through, grabbing a flier for the local orchid society and entering a raffle. And there, on a back table, was her orchid. It wasn’t the same as the one she’d been longing for yesterday, but it was a perfect match to that flash. Quick steps and pushes through the people and she gazed, wonderstruck, at it. It stood nearly solitary, slightly apart from all the others, curving gracefully to her right with large white flowers whose three outer petals were a perfect triquetra. There were two inner petals and inside that, much smaller inner petals that formed something of a mouth. The very lower portions of each petal were all blotched with dark red. And the stem was so dark as to be nearly black. There was something so innately feminine, so powerful in this precise orchid’s fragility that spoke loudly to her.

Her breath caught and she just stared, seeing it in her almost-accurate vase on her pretty similar little table against the white backdrop of the little wall outside her new dining room where no other family awaited her. It’s independence, it’s beauty, it’s femininity were no longer a symbol of love and union, but her own reclaimed independence. Fate be damned, she’s on her own and that’s what the orchid means to her. It’s herself.

Without touching the flowers or asking any questions about it, she lifted the pot tenderly into her hands and asked the girl behind the table where she pays.

“Oh, that one’s not mine. Sorry. I’m actually at this booth.” The woman took an exaggerated step to the side and smiled. “But the guy should be sitting down there. See? You may have to walk to the end of the table to see him behind the display.”

“OK. Thanks.”

“That’s a Phalaenopsis. It’s a hybrid, actually. We don’t carry them, but I find them fantastic,  especially when they’re red like that. Normally they’re more of a pink. He forgot to take it out of the box yesterday. ”

She smiled, barely hearing the woman, and walked down the length of the table, trying to spot the vendor. As the woman had said, he was sitting casually in a canvas folding chair, his head turned to chat with another man wearing a matching shirt that bore their nursery’s logo.

“Excuse me, do I pay you for this?”

The dark haired head turned, and the eyes that faced her were at first just generally kind before recognition and surprise flared.

“Vincent?” she blurted. And then there was another flash.

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