AUTHOR'S NOTE: This flash fiction piece was written for Sunday Scribblings 2 and is related to another Sunday Scribblings 2 story: Sunny. Although it is set in the same world as Steal Tomorrow it is part of the Jazz Gang series of stories. If you enjoy this story, drop by Sunday Scribblings 2 for more fun!
Cee ran a finger over one of the drooping leaves of her marigold plant, then picked up her flute and played a few bars of one of her mother's favorite ballads.
From across the room, Mario quit rehearsing jazz riffs. "Playing songs to it won't help. Marigolds are annuals."
Tim, their drummer, was tightening a new snare head, but looked up long enough to add, "That means it won't live forever, no matter what you do."
Cee wasn't convinced. With no adults to guide them since the pandemic, and no internet to look up such things as marigolds, everyone was living on myth and rumor, and not all rumors were equally useful. What could Mario and Tim possibly know about plants? There was a boy on Seventh who was said to be a miracle-worker if you approached him right and didn't ask for anything too outrageous. Maybe he could help.
She waited until the boys had gone to sleep and then packed a small bag with offerings, picked up her potted marigolds, and headed into the night.
The city was a dangerous place after dark, with hazards as mundane as raw sewage and as fearsome as feral dogs and gangs of children looking for trouble. Cee was only moderately concerned, though. She had always possessed a knack for going unnoticed and tonight she moved silently through the shadows, alert for any sound that might indicate the presence of someone who could do her harm. She knew the location of the downed electrical lines on Eleventh, and knew where to cross Ninth so as to avoid the looted pub where the Blue Ladies hung out.
When she reached Seventh, she peered to read street numbers in the moonlight. Finally she found the building and climbed the stairs. At the nondescript door she knocked, scarcely daring to breathe. Would Andrew be surly or kind? Word on the street was that it could go either way. Would he answer at all? When he didn't want company, no amount of knocking or pleading would get his attention. Maybe he wasn't there at all. It was said that he moved whenever too many people figured out where he was.
Cee knocked again, and then, because she was tired, she sat and pulled the pot of withered flowers into her arms.
Suddenly there were footsteps. A scrabbling at the lock. Before Cee could jump to her feet, the door opened and a tall brown-skinned teenager gazed down at her by the light of a candle. Cee looked up and gave a hopeful smile.
"You shouldn't have come at night," Andrew told her. "It's too dangerous."
Cee stifled a sigh. If she had wanted a lecture, she would have stayed with Mario and Tim.
"I don't know what you want from me, but whatever it is, I can't help."
Cee indicted the pot of marigolds, then handed him a blue canvas bag.
With a slight frown, Andrew looked inside. "This is a nice gesture, but it doesn't matter how many socks, tennis balls and chocolate bars you give me. I can't fix your plant." At the look of disappointment on her face, he added, "It's nothing personal. It's just not my forte. Now, let me walk you home."
He went into another room and returned a few minutes later, dressed for the street and with a gun at his hip. He picked up Cee's blue bag but let her carry the marigolds as he followed her out of the apartment and down the stairs.
Outside the apartment Cee shared with Tim and Mario, Andrew handed back the bag. "Stay safe, okay?"
Cee nodded and held out the marigolds to him.
With a wry smile, he touched one of the leaves. "I'm sure if you put it in a sunny spot, it will be okay," he said. "Good luck."
Cee went inside and set the marigolds on a windowsill where they would catch the first rays of light. Then she took the blue bag into the kitchen and emptied it over the trash can. Out fell the wadded up paper plates and empty bottles she had taken from Andrew's trash while he was getting dressed, leaving behind the gifts he had tried to refuse.
She was heading toward her bedroom when she ran into Tim, armed and dangerous with a Glock and a drum mallet.
"What the— I thought you were an intruder."
Cee gave a weak smile.
"You're so crazy, always mooning around at weird hours. Go back to bed."
Cee awoke serene and rested, in spite of being out so late. She stretched and reveled in the luxury of soft cotton sheets and feather pillows. Not all the apartments she had squatted in since the pandemic were as nice as this one. Her mother had told her to be grateful for what she had, and so she took an extra moment to appreciate the sense of peace and safety that flowed through the room like the morning sunlight.
Soon, though, Tim and Mario's voices caught her attention. They seemed pleasantly surprised about something. Cee wrapped herself in a silk robe and padded into the living room to see what was going on.
"I guess a little sunshine was all it needed," Mario said.
"And a little less fussing and flute playing," Tim added. Hearing her come into the room, he turned around. "Check it out," he said, stepping aside so Cee would have a clear view of the window. "All that worrying for nothing."
Slowly, Cee approached her potted marigolds. The leaves were firm and green, and the plant was bristling with buds.
"It all worked out, and you didn't have to do a thing," Mario teased her. "Now, don't you feel silly?"
Cee thought of Andrew and suppressed a secret smile. Silly? Not by a long shot.
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