Derek and Lucy were neighbors. They met near the creek, to play her favorite game. In the game Lucy was always a princess – beautiful, wise, and fair, and Derek was either a servant or a villager or occasionally a knight. But whoever he was it was always Derek’s part to roll around and get dirty at her instruction, to let Lucy solve the problems she had invented for him, and then to praise her and give her a flower in thanks. It was never the right flower, no matter what he found, but the princess was always kind, even when disappointed. Lucy described the flower she wanted over and over, but Derek couldn’t find it growing anywhere. Sometimes he wanted to play superheroes or maybe just Legos but Lucy always wanted to play medieval princess, so that’s what they did.
All of the other cast members had left, stopping to sign autographs and chat with fans. It was cold out, and starting to mist. Other people waiting for Lucy started to grumble, but Derek just turned up his collar and clutched his gift.
No one was surprised when Lucy declared she was going to be an actress. She started taking classes at 14 and didn’t have time to play with Derek anymore. But she’d still nod at him when they crossed paths and say a quiet “All right, Derek?” At University she got a leading part as a freshman and Derek was there in the front row on the first night. He had gone to the florists that afternoon and spent an hour and half a week’s wages picking out the perfect flowers. He waited outside for her, after. When she finally came out she was holding hands with a tall, older man.
“These are for you, Lucy. You were wonderful.”
“Thanks Derek; still not quite right, but lovely.” She looked at her companion and rolled her eyes while shrugging. “Good night.” She patted Derek on the arm and walked away, bursting into giggles a few feet away. She hadn’t taken the flowers. Derek found out later the man she was with was the director.
People had started to leave, only 20 or so diehard fans remained at the stage door. Then, finally, it opened and she stepped out. Lucy looked genuinely surprised and delighted that anyone was still there waiting for her.
Lucy changed her last name when she left school, but Derek had determinedly followed her career over the years. He had seen every movie, every play, and every talk show appearance. He still went to every first night he could get to, and for several years was at the stage door with flowers. He visited every florist shop he could find; he remembered Lucy’s description of the perfect flower, but never found one. Over time Lucy said less and less to him, and she never took his flowers, until finally she started walking right past him. But Lucy wouldn’t take flowers from anyone, she had told that grinning talk show host that she wouldn’t take any flower but the perfect one, and then smiled coyly when asked to describe it.
Derek knew if he could just give Lucy her perfect flower, she’d smile at him and talk to him again-- maybe even take his arm like she did when he was a play knight. He knew she wasn’t talking to him because the flower wasn’t right. So he began to teach himself botany. He dug up his small back yard and planted two rose bushes, since the flower she described was very like a rose but not quite. He cultivated them, and then taught himself how to graft together a new hybrid. He looked through catalogs of plants trying to find blooms that were closest to what she described, and that could be mixed with his base rose.
Lucy was nearly to Derek and he saw her glance at him and grimace (if you weren’t watching her eyes you’d never have seen it) and start away. Then she saw what he was holding out to her, and she stopped. She put a hand to her mouth and glanced from the flower to Derek and back.
It took a long time, decades. Derek still saw all of Lucy’s movies and plays but stopped waiting for her. Without the right flower there was no point. He bought shrubs and plants that shared some attribute of Lucy’s perfect flower, and by trial and error began to create. He worked on one thing at a time, when he finally got the petals perfect he moved on to the leaves, then the scent, leaving color for last. The people at the gardening center urged him to enter his flowers into contests, certain he would have won top prize. But he didn’t care about contests; his only prize was Lucy smiling at him again.
Finally, Derek knew he was close. The flowers of his most recent creation had perfectly formed petals that unfurled into a delicate explosion. The stems and leaves were just the right shape and shade of green, the thorns widely spaced, the scent tantalizing. But the color still wasn’t perfect. He couldn’t describe it out loud to anyone but knew it needed to be both deeper and more subtle somehow. He had tried several different crosses with it, and was waiting for the plants to flower. One of them had to be right - it had just been announced that Lucy was coming back to their hometown to do a charity show at the university next year.
“Derek, is that you?” They had both gotten old, her hair was a brilliant white while his was a nondescript grey. “It’s been such a long time…”
“Nearly 50 years. I – ahum – I still see everything you’re in, even flew to America when you were on Broadway. But, I haven’t – I mean – this is for you.” Derek held the flower out to her, realizing that he was too nervous to keep speaking. Lucy put a hand on his arm (the same place she had touched all those years ago!) and gave a squeeze. She took the flower in her other hand as the mist turned to rain.
“It’s perfect. How did you – I made this flower up when we were children. How did you find it?”
“I didn’t find it – I made it. I’ve been working on it for years.”
“Oh, Derek. It’s stunning. Thank you. This is the kindest thing. I –“ she looked at him with tears in her eyes, gripping the flower tightly in her hand. “Thank you,” she whispered and then turned to get into the waiting town car. Derek nodded, and something in his chest that had been tight since he was a boy loosened.
Lucy slipped just in front of the car, not sure if it was the wet or the sudden dizziness that brought her down. She heard people screaming, and her driver yelling for someone to call 911. She turned her head to look at the perfect flower, and realized she was gripping it so tightly that the thorns had gone into her skin. She wondered how Derek had been able to hold it and then realized how rough his skin was when she took it from him. “Calluses of course” she thought. Lucy looked up at Derek, who hadn’t moved, and smiled. She couldn’t tell if the wet on his face was rain or tears.
***Here's my entry for week 16 of Idol, other entries can be found here. Special thanks this week to J who helped my brainstorm ideas.***