3rd Place – June 2018

Bouquet

By

JJ Rushmore

The accident had been horrible, the result undeniable. Lily had died. She had died in my arms.
I missed her smile, and her laughter, and her fragrance. Early in my grief I would see Lily everywhere—her form in a crowd, her face in a car, glimpses of her hair, her walk, her clothes. Of course my eyes lied. My heart subsisted on hope, but perished in reality.
And yet—there she was, walking down the street—very much alive. It was spring in Boston as she strolled down Beacon, the Public Garden behind her, Swan Boats gliding across the pond.
It was just another mirage, I told myself. But I had to know. I reached out my hand, fearing it would pass through her like it would a summer haze.
She turned to me, one eyebrow raised, head tilted slightly to the left, Lily’s signature look of curiosity.
“Lily?” I said. “I don’t understand.” My voice quavered. “I watched you—die. How can you be here?”
 The lovely goddess blinked at me, something registering on her face—not recognition, but more like understanding.
“Oh, dear. I’m so sorry,” she said, as her feather-light hand rested on my shoulder.  “I am not your Lily. What a shock for you. I know we looked so much alike. What’s your name?”
“I don’t believe you, and you know who I am.” I was shaking. “It’s Tom. Tom from Buffalo. And you are Lily. I know you are, in spite of that fake Southern accent. I’ll bet you have a tattoo—” I pointed. “Just there—a flower.”
“Actually, I do,” she said. “We all do.” With that, she pulled down the sleeve of her peasant dress, revealing her left shoulder, and the small red rose nestling in the hollow beneath her collar bone.
My scalp raised an inch, widening my eyes. The mark on Lily’s shoulder had been yellow, depicting her namesake flower. This clearly was not her.
“You knew her?” I said. “Who are you? How did you know her?”
“I’m her sister, of course. My name is Rose.”
“And I’m Santa Claus. Lily was an only child. I knew her parents. She didn’t have any sisters, let alone a twin. Who are you, really?”
Lily’s doppelganger slipped her arm around my waist, and we began to walk.
“I am not Lily’s twin—I’m much more than that. We had a secret, Lily and I,” Rose said. “Sorry you had to find out this way, but we don’t tell many people.” She stopped. “I can’t explain right now, but if you want answers—” She reached in her purse for pad and pen, and scribbled a note. “—come to this address on July thirteenth. It will be much easier to explain then.”
I read the note. “But this is in Texas! I can’t go to…”
But she was gone with a casual wave and a swirl of her dress, long blonde hair wafting in the April breeze.
***
I borrowed some money and finagled time off to meet Rose in Dallas and solve the mystery. The note she had written said only, “DeGolyer Estate, Dallas TX.” A Google search revealed Everette Lee DeGolyer to have been a wealthy oilman and philanthropist. His mansion was now part of the Dallas Arboretum.
Arriving at the Spanish Colonial building on the appointed day, signs announced the National Bloom Society’s 29th Annual C-Day Celebration, and directed me to the old manor library. Entering the spacious room, thousands of tomes in floor-to-ceiling bookcases surrounded me in understated elegance.
 But what took my breath away were two dozen or so beautiful women in colorful cocktail dresses, each one Lily’s identical twin. A melody of Martini glasses clinking together harmonized with the chorus of the girls’ lilting laughter. The music relaxed me, reminding me of happier times.
They turned toward me, an almost synchronized look crossing their faces, their right eyebrows raised in unison, heads tilted slightly to the left. Their dresses were all different, but harped on the common theme of exposing at least one shoulder, sometimes two. A floral tattoo, each one unique, nestled in the hollow beneath every woman’s left collar bone. The women also sported engraved nametags with monikers like, “Petunia,” “Lavender,” and “Daisy.”
One of the gals extracted herself and walked over to me with a gait that said “Lily”, but with a nametag that said “Rose.”
“I’m so glad you could make it, Tom. Surprised?”
“Stunned,” was all I could muster. “Who are you people? And don’t say you’re sisters.”
“Oh, but we are. We definitely are,” she said, and grabbed my hand. “Come and meet my family.” Rose pulled me over to a large arrangement of flowering females.
“Girls—this is the fellow I told you about—Lily’s friend. Tom from Buffalo—or is it Santa Claus?” She grinned and wrinkled her nose.
A collective hush fell on the group, followed by murmurs of, “You poor dear,” “We miss her so,” and, “She was such a sweet thing.” They hugged me and squeezed me and kissed me. I breathed in a different perfume with each embrace, as each one wore the characteristic scent of her name. It was like burrowing my face in a floral bouquet.
At last I could take no more. “Thank you, ladies. Thank you. I appreciate the sentiments, I really do—but could someone please explain how you are all—the same? You just can’t be…” I ran out of words. “You just can’t be!”
“Oh, but we are!” chirped Holly. A garland of red berries crowned her hair.
“Haven’t you figured it out?” asked Jasmine.
“We’ll give you a hint. We rhyme with scones,” said Camelia. She laid a hand lightly on my sleeve. They all touched me in some way whenever they spoke, something they did whenever they talked.
“Scones? Scones? Not clones! But you can’t be!”
“You keep saying that.” Chryssy gave me a soft poke in the chest. In parentheses her nametag read, “Chrysanthemum.”
I protested. “I thought they banned cloning humans.”
“Daddy didn’t care,” Petunia said, puffing out her chest. “Daddy was a genius.”
“Frederick Bloom could clone anything!” attested Ivy.
That explained the National Bloom Society.
“Father conceived us in secret twenty-nine years ago today,” Rose explained.
“Ah. So today is C-Day,” I concluded. “Would that be—Conception Day?”
“Exactly,” she affirmed. “He farmed us out to foster parents, each in a separate city. It was the greatest ‘nature versus nurture’ experiment ever.”
“He never lived to see the final results, though,” said Iris with a sigh.
“Father passed away fifteen years ago,” Rose continued. “He set up a trust fund so we could meet here every year until he returns.”
I remembered Lily’s annual ‘girlfriend trips’ every July. Now I knew the real story. “Uh, how many are you?”
“We were tricontuplets—that’s thirty of us,” offered Maggie, a.k.a. Magnolia. “Daddy tried to make a hundred, but only thirty survived.” Her face clouded over. “We’ve lost two of our number, so we’re down to twenty-eight—Lily you know about, and then there was Rosemary. She drowned.”
“Although she was more herb than flower,” Daisy said.
I turned to Rose. “You said, ‘…every year until he returns.’ What did you mean by that?”
“Daddy was so smart. Just before he passed, he cloned himself. Freddie’s only fourteen now, but he’s at Harvard Medical School already. Like we said, he’s a genius. He left all his research notes for his future self so he could carry on his work. We can’t wait!”
“Does he—Freddie— know about you—all of you?”
“Yes, of course!” Rose said. “It’s been so great to see him grow up. How many children get to know their parents as kids? What a treat it’s been for us.”
I looked around. “I don’t see him here. Doesn’t he attend your gatherings?”
“Oh, the C-Day celebration is just for us girls. We see him at the B-Day party, in April. That’s why I was in Boston a few months ago. I’m the Dallas girl.”
That explained Rose’s Southern belle accent.
Rose took my arm and steered me away from the group. “Now, let’s talk about you,” she said. “We girls are alike in so many ways. Even though we were raised separately, we have many of the same tastes—and  appetites. And I don’t mean food.” She stopped and turned to me. “I can see why Lily liked you. You’re handsome, and charming, and sensitive and—virile. I was wondering—might you be interested in another blossom? Much the same, but slightly different? A few of us are unattached. Cherry is particularly—delectable, and should you care to cast your eyes my way…” Rose blushed the color of her name.
My forlornness melted away. My dreams had been realized. A Lily by any other name would indeed be as sweet. I kissed her and inhaled her fragrance. I was going to enjoy this feminine bouquet.

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