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Now I know why my mother kept asking when Cedrick and I were going to have children, thought Rose after breakfast one morning. Rose knew how Dahlia had felt as time passed and her hands began to look like they belonged on an older person’s body, and yet the hands longed to hold a grandchild.

Maebe’s movements were lithe and her posture graceful, but Rose knew that she was a few years older than Reed, and she encouraged her son not to put off having children. She smiled into his eyes, feeling the rewards of motherhood as she talked with her talented, successful son.

Reed was making great strides in his music career, having just been invited to play with the symphony. He and Poppy talked about music all the time, although he had chosen to pursue a more public muse than she had.

Reed wasn’t one-dimensional in his interests; he could often be found at the chess table. Most of the family played, and many weekends brought Foliage family tournaments for fun and bragging rights. Daisy would sometimes participate, but more often than not, she did her own thing, like checking the newspaper for some mysterious ad she had placed.

Maebe  made a point of going out to the park on the weekend to mingle. She had taken a job at City Hall, and her boss told her it was important to get to know as many people as possible. That sounded great to Maebe, whose natural charisma helped her get along with almost everybody, even little Guadeloupe Fish, the paper boy. The only one who didn’t like Maebe was Daisy.

Daisy managed to stay out of the house as much as ever, though, so the two didn’t cross paths that often. While Poppy was good friends with Jameel French, Daisy had become closer to Carmelo. She had alternately flirted with him and palled around with him over the years, and she could finally take pride in the fact that she had lured him into her choice of “career.” He would be very useful in the execution of her little investment scheme. She made careful arrangements, even checking the time it would take to run from the drop point to the meet-up.

Soon she would be rich beyond her wildest dreams, and all the town powers would be humiliated and powerless. She could hardly control the dark laughter that bubbled up inside her!

Rose remained in many ways the opposite of her twin, preferring to stay close to home and cultivate her real and metaphorical gardens. One afternoon, her moments in the sunshine amid the green leaves and ripening fruits were cut short by a cry from within the house.

Poppy heard the cry too, from her place at the kitchen counter, where she was preparing Reed’s favorite meal. It came from upstairs, and she ran as fast as her aging legs could take her.

The family followed the noise and found Lily knocked out cold on the bathroom floor. The one doctor in the family was unconscious, and her daughter Blossom was speechless as Poppy checked for blood where her head had hit the floor. Amazingly, there was none! They helped her gently into bed, stunned yet relieved that their Lily had been spared. The worst seemed to be over, but in the days that followed, they discovered what real struggle was. Lily turned out to be hard-headed in more ways than one, as she refused to take it easy. If she had to take a few days off work, fine, but she would spend them helping out around the house. And she would not hear any talk of retiring! Rose, Poppy, Reed, and Blossom were at their wits’ end.

And no one was amused when someone – whose name started with D and ended with aisy – took one of the garden gnomes and placed it in a strategic position while Lily was concentrating on repairing the TV, against doctor’s orders.

Finally, Blossom went to Reed and shared her worries about her mother and her refusal to take care of her delicate health. She shared with him the plan she had, and he thought it was good, if a bit sad. He wanted to talk it over with his mother before Blossom said anything to Lily, though. They would have to make some arrangements.

Meanwhile, Iris was seeing a lot of Rogelio. He had changed his look a little, but she still felt her heart flutter whenever she saw him. He was always interested in hearing her talk about anything, and she told him about discovering a new comet, her mother teaching her how to harvest the “money” trees, and her brother Reed’s latest promotion. Rogelio’s eyes would just shine as she talked, and she hoped his heart was doing flipflops like hers was.

One day, after a long conversation about their favorite colors, foods, and music, they decided to make it official that they were boyfriend and girlfriend. Iris had never been so happy!

…………………………………………… Meanwhile, the youngest member of the Foliage household had been carrying a heavy burden of worry about her mother. The only reason she was able to keep her grades up in the final year of high school was her dedication to making her smart mother proud of her. Her Aunt Rose and Aunt Poppy, however, encouraged her to find a hobby to distract her from all the seriousness of her young life. So, after coming home from school, checking on her mother, and doing her homework, Blossom soon found herself checking out local fishing spots. She particularly enjoyed the pond at the park downtown and the spot just by the old pier at the beach. Of course, sometimes she liked to stay close to home and just fish at the pond in the back yard. It was pretty well stocked, too. Blossom began to dream of building a giant collection of the pretty fish she caught.

Finally, Blossom’s big day came. It was her eighteenth birthday, and a big party was planned. Reed tried to get away from work a little early, but the rehearsal ran long and he had to hurry home.

At home, family and friends gathered round in festive colors as Rose set out the birthday cake. Blossom loved the swish of her skirt and the spark of excitement in the air as so many smiling people looked on. She squinched up her eyes as she thought of a wish.

From behind the crowd, though, Iris saw something that was in no way the answer to somebody’s wish. No!

From where Iris was standing, she could see Poppy suddenly go ash white and drop to the floor, motionless. Hating everything about the situation, she rushed over to her aunt as the partygoers slowly realized that something was going terribly wrong. But there was no pulse, and not even a world-renowned surgeon like Lily could do anything to bring her back. Poppy was gone, just like that.

Lily was disconsolate after the loss of her twin. Blossom felt oddly guilty, as if the excitement of her birthday party had been the cause of her aunt’s heart attack, but her mother assured her that wasn’t possible.  The family had a quiet funeral, with Daisy significantly absent. It was no secret that she and Poppy hadn’t seen eye-to-eye for years, but still Rose and Lily were heartsick about Daisy’s choice to stay away.

The one bright spot to come out of the tragedy was its effect on Iris. After seeing how quickly life could end, she resolved to take a big step. It was time to get on with things…


—-

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Poppy added some light accents to the background of her painting and stepped back for a look. This one was turning out much better than her first portrait of Reed. After she had painted Iris’ portrait, the muse demanded that she try again for a better painting of the new Foliage heir. She was pleased with the way this one was turning out.

The younger generation was certainly getting on with things. Iris was often found at the chess table, the telescope, or the library. She was taking her life goal pretty seriously, although the family noticed she made time to chat with Rogelio on the phone.

Blossom slaved over her homework as if completing it would mean she could grow up faster and join her cousins as a young adult. Although she enjoyed writing and was working on a novel, she did not enjoy the assignment to describe the impact of the Industrial Revolution in at least 5,000 words.

Daisy figured that while no one was using the computer, she would use it for a little light forum trolling. She loved baiting those naive little fools out there – they’d soon learn that she was the ultimately web spinner!

And where was Reed during all this?

Falling hopelessly, helplessly, happily in love with Maebe.

“Maebe, I have to tell you something. I want you to hear my heart when I tell you this. I love you. My family has built a legacy on this hill, a tradition of growing and nurturing and loving, and I want you to be a part of it. Put down roots here with me, Maebe. Marry me.”

She looked at him, steadily and quietly, as he spoke. When he finished, he held her gaze with hope and a little nervousness. What would she reply?

He needn’t have feared. She threw her arms around him and murmured low in his ear, “Reed, you have made me happier than I had dreamed.”

The ring sparkled as a symbol of their love. Reed promised to show his fiancee a love wider than she had ever known. As an orphan, she had had to work while she was still a teen, babysitting for other families, watching what they took for granted and wishing she could have that magic for her own. Now Reed told her Flora’s story and promised that she would never have to be alone again.

Iris spent some time getting to know her future sister-in-law. She found her to be quite charming and not a bad opponent at chess. Iris shared with Maebe about what it was like to live in a busy household with a big family. Maebe thought it sounded like a dream come true.

Rose went around one last time to collect the profits from the family’s businesses; soon she’d be transferring the deeds to Reed. For now, she would gather in the money and make preparations for a sweet wedding for her firstborn and his bride. She smiled and sighed when she saw them together. Rose wished Cedrick could be there to hold her hand and watch them make their wedding vows to each other.

It had been a long road since death took her soulmate from her, and Rose was frankly glad to feel the years coming on her. Leading the family was not always easy, although it was often rewarding. She was sure Reed would do well.

When the day of the wedding came, they set up a rose arbor in the garden, where the couple had gotten to know each other. As the family and guests took their places, Reed softly caressed Maebe’s cheek and admitted he would have a lot to learn, but he would be the best husband he could.

They pledged their love to each other and embraced, as their guests looked on.

Reed serenaded his bride, and his sister Iris looked on excitedly. She was so happy for her brother, and she had hopes and dreams of a romantic wedding of her own one day soon. Meanwhile, Lily wiped two tears away, one of joy for Reed, and the other of wistfulness that she might live to see her own Blossom marry.

Of course, there was always that one moment you’d rather not have. Iris looked on with a raised eyebrow as her Aunt Daisy smustled with Carmelo French. Didn’t her aunt know that hot pink spandex was not the most flattering or appropriate thing for her to wear at her nephew’s wedding?

Except for that, though, the sunset wedding really was beautiful.

Maebe was overcome by how wonderful it all was to have so many happy witnesses to their wedding in the lush, green garden. She would have to think of a very special way to thank Reed for making the wedding party so perfect…

—-

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Reed was more than a little excited for his first day of work at the theater. He got up early that morning, fed the fish, had a good breakfast, and eagerly took off to his new job. After a short orientation, most of the day was spent meeting the musicians and getting to know his way around. After seeing the mess that was the backstage area, he understood why they had told him to wear old clothes.

After work, he had an early supper with his Aunt Lily and cousin Blossom, who was excited about her birthday party later that night. Lily congratulated Reed on taking on the responsibility of heir. Reed knew she was sincere but wondered if she might be a little concerned. He decided to let her know that she and Blossom would be welcome to live at the Foliage house as long as they wanted. Lily glanced at her daughter and smiled her thanks at Reed.

Pretty soon it was time to set up for the party. Blossom had always been a quiet child, and Lily was afraid she might turn into a moody teen.

Lily was stunned to see how excited Blossom was about her birthday. She leapt into the air and cheered in front of the party guests. Maybe this was going to be a good phase for Blossom.

It was a good evening for  more than one Foliage girl. Iris spent most of the party chatting with a certain young man named Rogelio. She didn’t know how she had managed not to meet him before, but she certainly wasn’t about to let him leave the party without getting to know him a little bit better. Trouble was he was so mysterious; he didn’t reveal too much about himself…

… except that he was definitely someone she wanted to know better.

The party lasted late into the night, and the next day Blossom went out for a makeover. She bought a new outfit and took up the habit of wearing a blossom in her hair as her signature style.

While the  younger generation of Foliages was having the time of their lives, the more mature generation was seeing some turmoil. For years, Poppy and Daisy had been at odds with their different views of life, and since the big uranium incident, it had only gotten worse. Poppy persisted in her belief that everyone should be committed to the good of others, and Daisy–well, Daisy thought that was just foolish sap. Rose and Lily were quite disturbed by the fact that their other two sisters had an outright dislike of one another now.

Daisy remained committed to her lack of romantic commitment over the years, playing the field of young and old. She even went so far as to ask young Rogelio to have dinner with her when she saw him walk into the Diner one night. He was a little young yet, but with some clever conversation, she’d have him ready when the time came.

She knew Iris had some kind of thing for him, but hey, men were just toys. She was just going to play with him a little bit. She’d make sure to put him back on the shelf for Iris to pick up later if she wanted him.

Of course, that didn’t mean Daisy wasn’t looking around elsewhere. She chatted up gray-haired Kenny in the park and scandalized nearby picnickers with a steamy little scene. What a rush!

While Daisy was… otherwise occupied… Iris was blissfully unaware and having a little mother-daughter chat. Rose told her how proud she was of how well she had done in school and the fact that she would be graduating with honors soon. Iris’ heart swelled up and she smiled until her face hurt; in the absence of her father, her mother’s praise meant that much more. Iris loved her mother dearly and didn’t really like to think about her upcoming birthday and the reminder of aging and impending separation that it brought.

But the birthday did arrive, as birthdays will, and the family planned a big shebang down at the beach with lots of guests for Rose’s and Daisy’s shared birthday. Poppy worried that it might bring too much attention to Daisy and her schemes, but Rose and Reed simply replied that she was family and entitled to be included. Of course, they couldn’t control the guests and the difference in their feelings about Rose and Daisy.

Poppy played the guitar to entertain the guests and to honor her sister Rose. It turned out to be a roaring success!

The family’s other musician was improving his skills, making friends, and showing steady progress in his career. He had already reached the level of stagehand and was closing in on a promotion to band manager.

Reed had a lot on his mind, and he wasn’t sure if it was because of his mother’s gray hair, or the freaky new song one of the band members was playing, or the pressure of his responsibilities, but he had a strange dream one night.

Bathed in shades of lime green, his favorite color, the scene had him meeting the Grim Reaper and discussing a commission for a requiem. It was more than a little disturbing. He tried to put it out of his mind, though, and put on a cheerful face for his sister’s birthday party that Friday.

With her heart full of excitement at becoming a young adult and gratitude to her family for all their support over the years, Iris made an announcement that came as a bit of a surprise to her mother. She had decided to dedicate herself to pursuing logic and mechanics, so that she could make improvements to the family home. Reed realized that his little sister had grown up, and he admired her selfless pledge. He had always thought she was more likely to follow an artistic or literary path as Aunt Poppy or Great Aunt Fern had done.

Lily was eager to help her niece get a jump start on her ambitious goal. She spent hours tutoring Iris in all things mechanical, and Iris was an eager learner.

Blossom was feeling a little bit left out, so she dressed up and went out to eat at the Bistro. Her mother knew it would be cutting it close on her curfew, but since the family owned the restaurant, there would be people to keep an eye on Blossom. She never knew she was being watched over, and she enjoyed herself immensely.

When she got home, she challenged Reed to a game of chess. He was a ranked player, and she had wanted to play him in an official match, not just a child’s game, for a while.

They played all through the night. It was a close game, but Reed won. Blossom was not amused.

Reed, however, soon forgot about it. A visitor who dropped by to see the famous Foliage garden caught his attention.

Reed walked her through the garden and showed her the grapevines, the the potato plants, and the more exotic species, such as the money trees. He explained that they got their name from their beautiful leaves, which bore a strange resemblance to simoleans. While Maebe looked at the thriving plants and trees, Reed kept looking at her. He thought she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

Lily noticed the look in Reed’s eyes and thought it might be a good idea to get to know this Maebe better. While they were chatting, an extremely unusual thing happened. Daisy ran into the room in tears! She ran over to Iris and cried her eyes out on her shoulder, while a surprised Iris consoled her.

It seemed that the firmly uncommitted Daisy had somehow lost control of her heartstrings and developed actual feelings for her silver stallion Kenny. She had just gotten the news that he had died, and broke into little pieces as she realized that her heart indeed was just as fragile as everyone else’s. Iris gladly comforted her, unaware of the identity of a certain other target of Daisy’s attentions. It was an odd family moment.

It turned out to be an even more eventful day for the family. Just at sunset, while Rose was searching the skies with the telescope, she experienced a revelation. As she gained an understanding of the way the dimly appearing constellations related to each other, she realized that she had achieved her lifetime goal of becoming a renaissance woman. She had perfected her skills in gardening, fishing, and logic. Finally, the last piece fell into place, and she felt worthy of that long ago choice when her mother picked her to be heiress.

—-

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Following the red uranium incident, things were very strange in town for quite some time. People had to throw out their contaminated clothing and other items. Even some plumbing had to be replaced to ensure that only pure water would flow from the faucets. Even with these precautions, odd things kept happening. It was a long time before the fish came back to the streams and lakes of Legacy Valley, and the residents wondered if maybe the fish were the smart ones. But eventually, things began to get better. Businesses started reopening, and Rose made sure to take her carefully cultivated produce from her home garden to the Bistro, ensuring that the Foliage-owned restaurant would only serve wholesome, uncontaminated food.

Rose contemplates the candle

As she left the Bistro, she thought about how fast things could change. Her eyes lit on the flickering flame of the candle on one of the patio tables, and it reminded her how quickly life, like a candle, could be snuffed out. She remembered the precious people she had lost and wondered how much longer she would be there for her children. She wasn’t technically considered an elder yet, but she soon would be. Oh, how I wish I could put a protective globe around my children to protect them like that candle, thought Rose.

Iris and Reed leave the school building after a long day of classes

But that was impossible. She and her family – well, most of them – had done their best to prepare Reed and Iris for the world that would challenge them, but soon they would have to stand on their own as adults. Beyond that, one of them would have to take on the mantle of the Foliage family. Would they be ready?

Rose talked about her hopes and uncertainties with Poppy and Lily, and she made a point of talking with both Reed and Iris about the Foliage heritage and the family’s values, trying to gauge their level of understanding and identification with them. She also listened to them share their dreams of what life would be for them.

Daisy, who had maintained a slightly lower profile – well, lower for her, anyway – since the incident, noticed all this domestic mothering emphasis and couldn’t help but feel a little disgusted. It was fine with her if other people wanted to have kids that she could borrow for a while and corrupt, but she sure didn’t want to have any of her own. That flurry of hormones and formula and diapers was not for her. She had shut off those instincts a long time ago.

Of course, she could still make time for a little game with an impressionable child… if no mother was around to hear the point of the game she liked to call “Splat the Fool.”

Meanwhile, Rose decided to call her two teens to her room for a little chat. First she asked Reed to talk about what he wanted to do with his life. He told her he wanted to be a hit movie composer. Poppy had told him of her grandfather Abe, Reed’s great-grandfather, who had come so very close to realizing that dream, and Reed wanted to give it a go. Of course, he still wanted to raise a family. It wasn’t like he wanted to live the rock star life with a guitar and paparazzi in place of a wife and children.

Iris, on the other hand, wasn’t entirely sure yet what she wanted from life. She liked to play chess and paint and write, all of which were established Foliage family hobbies, and she even liked to garden, though she wasn’t quite as proficient as Reed yet. But as far as a lifetime goal or family plans, her dreams hadn’t gelled into a clear image yet. Rose, having been chosen as Foliage heiress at a young age herself, understood.

Rose’s two children were quite different people. She loved them both dearly, though it saddened her a little that they had never been as close with each other as she was with her sisters. She saw a lot of her parents in Iris, and when she looked at Reed, evidence of Cedrick looked back at her. She looked at the two of them, prayed for wisdom, and made her decision.

“Reed, Iris, I love both of you more than you can possibly imagine. I know it has been a challenge growing up without your father. I’ve told you before, but I want to tell you again: he loved you with a wildly devoted love and served in the military to help provide a safe world for you to inherit. I hope you both achieve your heart’s desire in this life, but because we all know well how suddenly short life may be, I have to choose one of you now to be the family heir. The one not chosen is no less special; in fact, that will bring an exhilarating freedom, or so I’m told. But one of you seems to have a natural bent for carrying on family traditions, and that is why I’m naming Reed the next heir of the Foliage family.”

Reed studied the face of his great-grandmother Flora. He would carry on her legacy and make her proud. He could hardly wait for his birthday to arrive so that he would feel official.

Iris was happy for Reed, much to her mother’s relief and her Aunt Daisy’s disbelief.  No one cheered more loudly for Reed’s birthday than Iris. She helped her mother and Aunt Poppy redecorate Reed’s room, too, still in his favorite color, but with a little bit more mature furnishings. He loved it.

Reed went to audition for a job at the theatre, and they said they’d have a modest entry-level position for him starting Monday. He was so jazzed that he couldn’t sit still! He tried playing chess with his cousin Blossom…

…but either her mother had been teaching her well, or she had simply inherited her logical brilliance. Or maybe his mind was just elsewhere. He decided to go help his mom in the garden.

Digging into the earth felt good and soothing. He listened to his mother tell stories about Grandmother Dahlia and Great-Aunt Fern while they planted, watered, and weeded. She talked about planting dreams, watering them with hope, and nourishing them with diligent work. As she plucked a shining flame fruit from the plant, Rose’s joy in the harvest was visible. Reed felt the weight of his new responsibility, but it rested comfortably on his shoulders. It was a good day.

—-

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Reed felt deeply his new position as man of the family. He helped out around the house, stayed on the honor roll at school, and even started helping his mother in the garden.

However, he was still a teenager, and since he had been given a guitar for his birthday, he loved to go to the park and play it.

It seemed that others enjoyed it, too. But he still had his eye out for that one special girl to serenade.

He hadn’t found her yet.

Meanwhile, Iris was exploring new things like painting and writing, but she still enjoyed building towers of blocks. She had yet to settle on any one area of interest. She did wish for one thing, though.

She imagined running her fingers across the ivories, drawing out beautiful melodies. She wanted a piano.

Rose was amazed by her daughter’s request, but she had to tell her sadly that there was no piano shop in all of Legacy Valley. She did promise to revisit the issue if one ever opened.

Another little girl in the Foliage house was growing and learning, and Lily spent plenty of time with Blossom to make sure she taught her as much as she could and instilled in her all the  love and values she would need.

Poppy also enjoyed spending time with the younger generation, talking music with Reed or watching TV with Iris. They kept her feeling young, even though she and Lily had a big birthday coming soon.

But there was one more member of the household. What was Daisy up to? It would appear that she had decided to be more a part of the family. In fact, she offered to plan Iris’ thirteenth birthday party.

Rose considered her offer. She knew that her kids considered their Aunt Daisy ultracool and that Daisy would probably throw quite a party for Iris. But she also knew that the kids didn’t know Daisy and her nocturnal habits as well as she did. Still, this was a friendly, family-centered gesture on Daisy’s part, and how could she refuse her the chance to participate more in the life of the family?

Daisy insisted on keeping her plans secret from everyone, saying she didn’t want the surprise spoiled for Iris. When the day arrived, Rose found out that she was the one surprised. Shocked, actually.

Rose hadn’t gone near the pool since Cedrick had drowned. Just the sight of that deceptively innocent water lapping at the edges of the pool brought all those horrible feelings back in a wave. But she had to be there for her daughter. How could Daisy have done this? She knew what this would do to Rose.

Fortunately, Iris had been too young then to have scarred memories of the pool, and she enjoyed her party, while Rose tried to stay on the outskirts. Poppy noticed the difficulty Rose was having and brought out her guitar to play the happiest songs she could think of to chase away the gloom.

Rose knew that it wasn’t Poppy’s idea of a great location, either, since she always preferred to be indoors, and she appreciated the gesture that much more. She did have to admit that the glowing sunset made for a nice end to the party.

Iris helped clean up after the party. She was such a tidy girl, always making sure her bed was made and the dishes were put in the dishwasher. She kept her new bedroom neat and clean like no teenager Rose had ever known.

Iris had seen her mother and Reed working in the family garden, so now that she was old enough, she met Rose there one evening and asked if she would show her how to grow fruits and vegetables. Of course Rose said she would and told her how proud she was of her interest. As she showed her how to plant the tiny seeds in the soft soil, her heart was close to bursting with joy over her two children and how they were turning out.

Lily was happy with her daughter, too, but she wished that Monty could be there to see the wonder that was their daughter. She also felt a little melancholy about the fact that she was getting older. Poppy cheered her up by joking that she’d come along just to keep her company, and they decided to invite some friends over to make the most of their birthday.

For a while, things went on fairly normally. Homework, carpool, gardening, fishing, dinner, painting, chatting, laughing. But then, one evening, as Iris was alone in the garden, pulling up some weeds that were threatening a young potato plant, a shadow fell over her. She looked up to see her Aunt Daisy.

“Hey Iris, you’ll ruin a nail that way.” Daisy grinned. “Why don’t you put down that trowel and come out with me tonight? I could show you some parts of this town that your mother will never take you.”

“I don’t know, Aunt Daisy. I’m sure Mom has her reasons when she says no… although I wonder sometimes what they are.” Iris straightened up and glanced off at the setting sun. She bit at her lip. “Let me go wash the dirt off my hands and I’ll come back and let you know.”

As the door closed behind Iris, Daisy snickered softly. Oh, she’ll find out what it really means to get her hands dirty. And she’ll discover the thrill of a real adventure! No more of this tame little homebody stuff for the niece that has the same fiery hair as me. I’ll see to it that she finds the fiery spirit to match it! When the door opened, however, it was Rose who walked out. And there was fire in her eyes.

Rose faced Daisy head on. Her question was blunt. “What were you asking Iris out here?”

Daisy grinned at her sister. “I just asked if she wanted to come down to the Diner for an ice cream soda with me. No harm.”

Rose’s eyes narrowed. “Daisy. I heard you through the kitchen window. WHAT are you THINKING trying to involve my daughter in a crime?!”

“Crime! What are you talking about?” Daisy sneered.

Rose looked her twin in the eyes and said calmly, “I saw you.”

“I’ve seen you several times, in fact. I saw you up at the old mine, meeting with a couple of people whose names I won’t mention because the police would be here in a minute at the sound of their names. I’ve seen you other nights, too, dressed in black and running as if you were being chased by the pale horse of death. Maybe you get a thrill from that, but you will not involve my daughter in it.”

Daisy stood quietly for a full minute, evaluating her sister’s words and the level of truth and resolution behind them. She found it a little surprising.

“Rose, you don’t really know me and what I do. And you can’t stop me from doing it. But I’ll… I’ll lay off the kids. They’re pretty good kids, even if they are way over-protected.”

“You’re right about one thing. You will ‘lay off’ my kids. I don’t want to ever hear about this happening again.”

Daisy turned with a smirk and headed into the house without even answering Rose.

Poppy had been losing respect for Daisy for a long time, and after the incident in the garden, she made a point to have a gentle chat with Iris about the dangers of having conversations alone with Daisy. She was careful not to speak badly about her younger sister, but she encouraged Iris in more positive directions.

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An unfortunate bit of fallout of these events was that Blossom’s birthday party was entirely overlooked. Poor Blossom felt very neglected at first, but Lily made it up to her with a big hug and a special mommy-daughter day out on the town. They went shopping and had their hair done together and made a big day of it.  Lily also promised to teach Blossom how to play chess when they got home.

Things were tense around the Foliage house for a while, especially when Daisy was at home. Reed and Iris hoped that it would all blow over, but they were to be disappointed. The morning paper arrived with the headline, “Red Uranium Scheme Strikes Science Center.” Apparently, an unidentified gang of criminals had broken into the Science Lab and tampered with the uranium there. The whole place began sending a red glow up into the night sky, and it had to be quarantined for days. It would have just been a strange bit of interesting news, if not for one thing: Daisy had come home in the early morning hours looking… a little odd.

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Rose still felt the loss of her soulmate, but she had learned to take an interest in life around her. One of her great pleasures that also proved very therapeutic was gardening. She imagined her mother and her grandmother working the same soil before her, coaxing the seedlings up into the sunlight and helping them grow to bear fruit.

She also enjoyed playing with little Blossom, her niece. It was a blessing to have new life in the house.

Blossom’s Aunt Poppy also enjoyed time with the little cutie. She sometimes wondered what it would have been like to follow the motherhood path in life, but she was happy with her art and music. Her legacy would be in the family paintings hanging in the house.

Blossom knew who her mommy was, though. Lily showered her daughter with love every chance she got.

Iris showed an interest in her little cousin, and Lily let her help out in the nursery sometimes. It didn’t seem long ago that Iris herself was sleeping in a crib.

With so many family members around to help with Blossom, Lily and Monty had time to have a quiet dinner alone sometimes. The birth of their daughter had brought them closer together than ever, as each of them saw a little bit of the other in their baby. Every time they looked into each other’s eyes, it was love all over again.

The sisters were all spending more time together these days, too, since they had either achieved or were close to achieving their hard-fought goals in life. They sensed time was passing, and they made the effort to find time to watch a movie together, discuss a painting or a novel or a newly discovered star, or just share a light moment.

………But the family didn’t just hang out around the house. They went to work and study and explore, too. Monty was enjoying his work at the bistro, and had been promoted to vegetable slicer.

Reed enjoyed the freedom of being a teen. He went to tour city hall and take a charisma class, then visited the park. He found himself in a swarm of butterflies, and that sparked an interest in collecting. That day, he got a good start with five different kinds of insects.

Afterward he spent some time hanging out in the park. His Aunt Daisy was there, too, chatting with some older folks. Reed didn’t quite catch what they were saying, but he thought they might be talking about the latest gangster movie or maybe the new end-of-the-world flick.

Daisy said she was going to a game later, and something about checking the entrances and exits. Funny, Reed had never known she was that safety conscious.

Iris liked riding the schoolbus with her big brother Reed. She was also excited about taking a fishing class with him, although his first catch was way bigger than hers.

One event that happened in town was not nearly so nice. Just as the family was growing beyond their grief over Cedrick’s death, Lily got a call to rush to the bistro. The paramedics were doing their best when she got there, but it was too late. Monty was gone.

This was not long before Blossom’s birthday, so the family planned to have a quiet little cake ceremony at home. Everybody tried to put a brave face on it, but Iris couldn’t help but feel for her cousin, who might not even remember her daddy when she got older.

Blossom turned out to be a cheerful little toddler with fair hair and laughing eyes. Much as Lily’s heart ached, when she held her little darling she knew that part of Monty lived on in her arms. Her sisters were amazed at her resilience.

Except for Daisy, that is. Daisy had run off somewhere on the other side of town. What was she up to? And who had seen her?

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3.7 Recovery

Push back the covers, sit up, put one foot on the floor, now the other, push up to a standing position.

These were the steps that Rose repeated to herself every morning to remind herself how to get out of bed. Crazy as it seemed, the world just went on turning and expected her to go along with it, despite the fact that the nice little garden that was her life had been plowed up without mercy.

grief

Take one step forward, then another, force the corners of the mouth up in a smile if someone passes by.

Rose’s sisters were worried about her. She seemed to have aged overnight, and her previously smooth face now had fine lines around her eyes and forehead. She spent hours just staring into thin air. They tried to gently nudge her into some of the things that had given her happiness before, like fishing, but even when she could only be persuaded to go through the basics of life, Lily, Poppy, and even Daisy kept an eye on her, and they tried to step in to care for the kids, too.

Poppy tries to urge Rose to go fishing

Lily helps Reed with his homework

Daisy keeps an eye on Rose

Lily was finally able to interest Rose in the family garden one day by asking her help with some of the more advanced gardening techniques. Rose was very tentative at first, but she gradually put more energy into it, even giving a good solid yank on one particularly obstinate weed. As she raised up to tend to one of the fruit trees, she stared at it and then reached out a hand to touch it.

Rose contemplates the tree

She felt the firmness of the tree trunk and looked at the graceful reach of its branches. In her mind she could hear the voice of her mother as she taught her how to take care of the garden. Rose had been afraid to prune a young apple tree, but Dahlia had said to her, “Rose, I know you don’t want to hurt the tree, but remember that it will grow stronger because of this. It’s a lot like life – we don’t want to be hurt, but if we make an effort, we can learn and grow stronger because of these experiences.”

Rose looked up and pulled a rich red apple from the tree and smiled softly at it. Then she turned her gaze in the direction of the family cemetery. “Cedrick, my love, I will always miss you, but I am grateful for the time I had with you. If people are like trees, like my mother said, then our children are our fruit, and I have got to pull it together for them. Don’t think for a minute that I don’t still love you, but I can’t cry anymore. I have to live.”

After Rose had her revelation, the rest of the family had more time for their own pursuits. Daisy put her efforts into rising up through the ranks of her “organization,” and went as far as to invite her boss over for a chat and outright ask her for a chance to move up. She was very convincing.

Wanna bet I'm not bad enough?

Oh yeah, I'm the sleek black shape in the night.

Crafty plus cunning equals me, mwahahahaha!

Lily continued her work at the hospital, which had her free time in conflict with Monty’s, as he worked evenings at the Bistro, but they were more determined than ever to make their precious moments count.

Monty is pleased to be promoted to vegetable slicer

Come closer, my dear

I have a little news… and it's going to get bigger!Lily was thrilled to tell her husband the news that they were expecting. He seemed to go through around eight different emotions in the space of a minute, and then he pulled her into an excited embrace. They called the family together and shared their news, then Monty ran around the house checking all the appliances and plumbing to make sure the house was ready to receive a newborn. Lily just laughed and told him he had a few months still, but he was a man on a mission. He had never thought that he would be a father at his age, and he could hardly wait to hold a happy little bundle in his arms.

During her maternity leave, Lily returned to an old hobby of hers, stargazing. She spent many evenings on the balcony, peering through the telescope at the stars. One night she spied something falling from the sky! She hopped into a taxi as quickly as her growing tummy allowed and zipped off to find where it landed.

Now that's one big darn rock!

Enormous? Gigantic? There was no word quite capable of describing the size of the space rock she discovered. Now Lily had two things to do: 1) write to her distant cousin Liko and tell him she could now join his BDR club, and 2) figure out how to get this thing home!

The months passed, and soon it was time for Reed and Iris to celebrate their birthdays. Since they fell so close together on the calendar, Rose decided to have a joint birthday party for them in the garden.

Getting ready for the party

Iris in her mother's arms by the cake

Reed, his cake, and the happy partygoers

Reed and Iris grew up very well, and they said they had a great party…

Reed has his father's hair

Grumpy Iris tries to smile but doesn't quite make it

… even if the party ended in chaos with Aunt Lily rushing to the hospital to have her baby!

Meet Blossom!

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