Larch choked, eyes darting desperately from side to side. Holly had him pinned by the neck to the wall of the main hut. She had her face so close he could see her pupils dilating and she was brandishing a large screwdriver in her other hand.
“What the heck, Larch?” she yelled. “Every time I need this thing I can’t find it, and every time I look for it whose pocket is it in?” Larch looked at her in a way that clearly said “mine”. Even with his throat held shut he managed to make his words drip insolence from every letter. Holly let go of his neck, for he had begun to turn an odd shade of magenta, shifting her hand down to grip the collar of his shirt.
“I wouldn’t mind, Larch, if you’d just ****** ask. Moss manages it and he can’t even ****** talk!”
“Why should I? That stuff’s family property, anyone can use it, Willow says so,” Larch croaked.
“Yes, but I’m maintenance so I get priority. I need to know where my tools are so if something goes wrong, I can fix it. I don’t go and just pick up one of Reed‘s rods any time I feel like a quiet afternoon by the lake. When are you going to get into your head,” she tapped him on the temple with the screwdriver. “That the world just doesn’t revolve around you. Sometimes you can’t just do anything you want whenever you want.” Larch rolled his eyes and pouted at the ground. Exasperated, Holly let go of him and marched off, muttering to herself and gesticulating with the screwdriver. Larch let himself slither slowly to the floor. It hadn’t been a good week. Not only had Holly caught him borrowing her tools again, but he’d fallen out of a tree into the lake (and had to be rescued by a highly unimpressed Reed and Lily) and even managed to get into an argument with Moss.
As Willow had later remarked, that was quite a remarkable feat in itself. Moss had confronted Larch about his neglecting the apple tree.
“L-larch, what hap-happened h-here? I t-told you, y-you n-need to tr-tr-trim it gently. He caressed his precious tree’s branches, trembling fingers realigning the leaves and twigs and feeling the roughly chopped ends. Larch sighed and rolled his eyes. Moss had given him the order on the night of a full moon, and he’d only rushed it so he could get up and make the most of it.
“It’s just a tree. If you love it so much why don’t you do it yourself?” Moss took a deep breath and puffed up his chest. His fists were clenched and his cheeks were as red as the apples. Willow had given him a little talk over the winter about standing up to his son and he had finally plucked up the courage to do it.
“N-now Larch,” he began, as sternly as his sunny disposition would allow. “I-if you r-refuse t-to spe-spe-specialise, then y-you have to d-do wh-whatever you’re asked. The r-rules a-are -”
“Oh, spare me the lecture, twitchy.” Larch’s mouth had reacted instinctively to the word ‘rules’ and was quite shocked to hear those words come out of his own mouth. He could feel the pink petals of shame blooming in his face as he watched Moss’s glasses mist over with tears. He put out a hand and opened his mouth to apologise, but a cough interrupted him. He looked round, only to see Willow looking at him with a face like black frost. Without a word, she turned on her heel and led him away to the elders’ hut.
It was nightfall, and Lily waved Holly off as she made her way home, armed with the pile of parenting books they had been going over. She had now spent a week acting the role of head Nurturer, and she found that the job suited her rather well. She smiled quietly to herself, but only for a moment. Her contented thoughts were broken by a strange noise carried on the breeze. Curious, she pricked up her ears and began to move towards the sound. It seemed to be coming from the spring, a secluded natural pool where the family went to wash and perform their other ablutions. When she arrived she parted the branches and peered through. Larch was soaking in the water, and the strange, hiccuping
sounds seemed to be suppressed sobs. Or perhaps curses, but that was nothing to quibble over. After all, Lily was a Nurturer and, as she often remarked to herself, sometimes it’s not just the seedlings that need love and attention. And Larch did seem to need it these days. Silently, she slipped into the water beside him.
“Need some company?” Larch opened his eyes and shot to his feet.
“Aagh! Where the **** did you come from?” he shrieked.
“From my father’s head,” she chuckled shyly. “Same as everyone.” Larch breathed heavily, processing the joke. Suddenly, he became acutely aware that he was standing in full view of the moonlight without a leaf on his body and quickly plopped back into the water. Embarrassment washed over him once again, although he couldn’t fathom why. PlantSims had long abandoned any such irrational aversion to their own physical forms. It was unwritten (but strictly obeyed) law that they spawned their young alone, so the differences between genders were largely ignored.
“What’s wrong, Larch? Was Willow hard on you for neglecting your work again?”
“I do work!” Larch burst out indignantly. “You all think I’m just a lazy slug, but I’m not – look!” He reached behind him to his pile of clothes and handed something to Lily. It was a flute, carved from a single cherry branch. She examined it carefully, turning it over in her fingers.
“I know,” she murmured. “It’s beautiful.”
“Yes it is. Wait, what do you mean you know?” Now it was Lily’s turn to blush, but she look Larch in the eye and raised her eyebrow.
“Come on, Larch. Who do you think leaves gifts in the trees for you?” Larch’s jaw dropped. Since he’d found those fishcakes on the day of the Spring Council, every day he’d found a little something, and every day he wondered who had left them. It had never entered his mind that Lily, that quietest and most serene of flowers, could have cared enough to do that. Slowly, he began to relax. He told her of his rotten week, and she listened patiently as he ranted on about rules, traditions, specialising, Willow and Oak and everything in the garden.
“If they won’t even tell me about how I was born, then I won’t do anything they tell me. I refuse to specialise. I refuse to obey my elders. And I’m going to break every taboo they’ve got in that bookcase up there. After all, what else would they expect from a ‘little mistake’?”
“You’re not a mistake, Larch,” Lily said, putting her arm around his shoulders. “Not to me.” He looked down at her. Something deep inside his brain likened her face to the shimmering stars he so often counted up in the heavens.
“Every taboo,” he repeated, staring fixatedly. “I will break every taboo they’ve got.”
A Garden of Roses Chapters
- The Spring Council
- Overheard Words
- A Little Mistake
- By the Lake
- Something Much Worse
- A Midnight Arrival
- Back to Normal?
- Bad Omens
- Willow Explains it All
- The War of the Roses – part I
- The War of the Roses – part II
- A Garden of Roses
- Epilogue – The Summer Council