In Search of the Exotic
Kira gazed enviously at her sister Lisa’s stunning orchid, its flower laden stem arching across the window. The red and orange richness of the centre and the white petal blooms appeared like a kaleidoscope of butterflies caught in flight. They looked so perfect she wondered if they were real. She reached out her hand to stroke the petals and felt their velvety softness. They were real all right.
‘ Lovely isn’t it?’
Kira spun round to see Ollie, Lisa’s husband standing behind her.
‘ Yes, I was just admiring it,’ she said.
‘ That’s the orchid I gave Lisa on our wedding day,’ he said proudly. ‘ It’s bloomed ever since. Just like our love for each other.’ Kira didn’t miss the satisfaction in his voice.
Kira sighed. She had been bridesmaid at her sister’s wedding. It was three years ago now. How had Lisa managed to keep the orchid alive, yet alone in blossom all that time? Lisa had given Kira an orchid then too. A purple one. It only lasted three weeks. When the flowers fell and the leaves turned brown she’d thrown it in the bin.
She thought back to her other horticultural failures. The Peace Lilly she forgot to water, the Spider plant everyone said was easy to grow, but not if you go away on holiday and forget it, and the African Violet that never flowered until she gave it to her mum, who coaxed it into glorious bloom. But orchids? Well that was another kettle of fish. If Lisa had successfully kept one for three years, perhaps she could too.
When Lisa and Kira were growing up they had been fiercely competitive, each egging the other on and trying to outdo the others’ achievements. Lisa was the eldest, good at sports and academically bright. Kira, on the other hand struggled, but she’d not be outdone, so, anything Lisa did, Kira did better or at least as well. She’d always thought orchids were a bit too exotic and fragile to keep as a houseplant herself, but Lisa had shown her how wrong she could be. Growing an orchid of her own presented itself as a challenge, and Kira was not one to back down from a challenge.
That afternoon, on her way home she popped into the florist. The shop was run by a cheerful, powdery lady who smelled of lavender. Kira knew her as Carrie. She’d done the flowers for Lisa’s wedding, so Ollie must have bought Lisa’s orchid here.
‘I’m looking for an orchid, white flowers, hardy, long lasting,’ she said when Carrie greeted her.
‘ An orchid? Well, yes we have a few. Come this way.’
She showed Kira a magnificent display of the most captivating flowers she’d ever seen. Beautifully sculptured, as though they’d been skilfully carved, they stood proud, their rainbow colours ranging from white, through pink, yellow and purple to the deepest blue.
‘ My grandson grows them,’ Carrie said. ‘There’s nothing he doesn’t know about orchids.’
Kira immediately fell in love with a white one, its flowers gracefully balanced on a long arching stem, like ballerinas dancing Swan Lake. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘This is the one.’ Well, if she was going to take on a challenge she might as well make it a good one and one she’d enjoy.
‘A good choice,’ Carrie said. ‘This should last a long time and give endless pleasure.’
Kira hummed to herself all the way home. She’d show Lisa how to grow orchids.
She set the orchid down and read the instructions on the label in the pot. It recommended a warm, humid, well-lit position, watered sparingly with spray misting in summer.
She placed it on the windowsill in the kitchen of the flat she shared with an old school friend’s brother, Harry. Harry wasn’t the best housemate in the world, but at least he kept himself to himself, usually out with his mates or spending long hours in his bedroom on the internet. Kira had the run of the place. The only times she saw him was in the mornings, scruffy in his pyjamas, usually recovering from a hangover. He wasn’t the tidiest of people either, leaving unwashed cups and plates by the kitchen sink, but, for all his faults, Kira knew he meant well, and at least he paid his rent on time.
Every day she checked the orchid, did it need water, was the room warm enough, should she spray it again? Over the weeks she marvelled at the delicate blooms. One day she watched them dancing, dancing in the draught from the open window – open window! Her brow furrowed. Who opened the window? The kitchen was freezing.
‘Harry,’ she yelled. ‘Did you open the window?’
Harry, staggered into the kitchen, rubbed the sleep from his eyes and brushed his hands through his unruly shock of hair. ‘Oh yeah, I burnt the toast, had to get rid of the smoke.’
A week later the orchid’s blossoms started to drop, its leaves turned brown. Kira was distraught. She lifted the pot out of its ceramic holder only to find her precious orchid had been sitting in water halfway up the pot. The earth it was planted in was sodden.
‘Harry’ , she yelled again.
‘Oh, yeah,’ he said. ‘I watered it for you. It was dry as anything. I remembered how you always forgot to water your houseplants. Thought I was doing you a favour.’
Kira grimaced and went into town to get a replacement. She wasn’t going to give up, but she didn’t want to let Carrie know how quickly she’d managed to kill of the beautiful plant she’d bought from her. This time she put it on the coffee table in the lounge. A week later Harry knocked it off, spilling the earth and breaking the stem. The next replacement orchid lasted a whole month on the sill in her bedroom, before the petals fell and the leaves turned brown.
Kira sighed. Lisa’s ability to keep her orchid alive for years was looking more and more awesome. But Kira wasn’t going to give up. She’d go back and ask Carrie what she was doing wrong. Perhaps she could help.
As she walked into the florist she was surprised to see a man in a white shirt and jeans behind the counter. He was head-turningly handsome with intense blue eyes and shock of dark as night hair. Kira’s heart fluttered like a schoolgirl on her first date when he smiled and asked her, ‘How can I help you?’
Kira could think of a hundred ways he could help. Part of her was relieved not to have to explain to Carrie about the orchid. ‘I want to buy an orchid,’ she said.
‘An orchid?’ His eyes lit up sending shock waves through Kira. ‘ Fantastic,’ he said. ‘Orchids are magical. They signify love, luxury beauty and strength. Is it for a gift? Only they can convey a silent message, symbolising a special moment between you and your recipient.’
Kira’s pulse quickened. ‘Er, no,’ she said. ‘It’s for me.’
‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Most people buy them for gifts for people who don’t have the faintest idea how to look after them. They’re fragile flowers, but if treated properly they can last for years.’
‘Really?’ Kira said, noticing the way his eyes sparkled like sapphires when he talked about the plants. ‘I guess you’re some sort of expert then?’
‘Some sort,’ he said. He nodded to the certificates lining the wall. Kira glanced at them and it was clear he was more than ‘some sort’ of expert. He was the real thing. A prize winning orchid grower no less. ‘I grow them for my Nan to sell here in the shop. I’m good at it too.’
‘You must be Carrie’s grandson. She told me about you.’
His gaze washed over her like a wave pulling her under. She knew instantly that she was done for. ‘I wish she’d told me about you,’ he said a wicked gleam in his eye. He held out his hand. ‘I’m Adam by the way.’
Kira took his hand. It felt soft and warm and she wanted to cling on to it, but reluctantly let it go and explained about the disastrous history of her horticultural failures. ‘I can’t seem to grow anything but I did so want to have an orchid that didn’t die on me. My sister’s had an orchid for years,’ she said. ‘It’s fabulous. Her husband bought if for her on their wedding day and she’s kept it ever since. Isn’t that romantic?’
Adam frowned. ‘Are you getting married then?’ he asked. ‘Is that why you want one?’
Kira gasped. ‘No. No I’ve no plans in that direction, I just wanted to have an orchid like Lisa’s.’ Then she told him about the ones that had died and how her flatmate Harry had sabotaged all her efforts, and as she spoke tears welled up in her eyes.
Adam handed her a handkerchief. He seemed genuinely perturbed at her distress. ‘If there’s anything I can do,’ he said. ‘Perhaps I could help by keeping an orchid here for you, in the back room. It’d be your orchid but I’d look after it, nurture it and make sure it was all right. Would that help?’
Kira eyes widen. ‘Would you? Would you do that for me? I wouldn’t know how to thank you.’
His mega-watt smile could have lit a fire on an iceberg. ‘You could have dinner with me tomorrow night. And you’d have to pop in every now and then to check on your orchid.’
Kira heart swelled. Two birds with one stone, she thought. Not only would she be able to have an orchid as lovely as Lisa’s but she’d found the man of her dreams.
Six months later Kira was planning her wedding to Adam. Lisa was to be Matron of Honour. Kira went round to see her to discuss the dress she would wear. She pointed to Lisa’s orchid, on the window sill, its arched stem still filled with a kaleidoscope of butterfly flowers.
‘Adam’s growing a special orchid for me for our wedding,’ she said. ‘I only hope I can keep it as long as you’ve kept yours.’
‘What that one?’ Lisa said nodding to the luxurious blooms in the window. ‘I bought that last week.’
‘Last week! But Ollie said it was the one he gave you on your wedding day.’
Lisa pouted. ‘That died quite soon after,’ she said, ‘and I didn’t want Ollie to get upset so I bought another one the same. In fact every time one dies I replace it. Ollie doesn’t know.’
She stared at Kira. ‘You won’t tell Ollie will you? He’d be terribly hurt.’
(first published in Take-A-Break’s Fiction Feast)
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