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Helian chuckled, running his finger over the loudest. He tilted his wrist forward, letting the flower bathe in the light.A fleuralite’s skin was ripe with chlorophyll, lending the greenish hues that mirrored their flowers’ stems and leaves. It meant Helian himself had no trouble with mealtimes, but his needy appendages did. He had exactly two sunflowers on his back: King and Pipsqueak, as he called them. Despite promising them the noon’s strongest rays, they always made a fuss whenever the sun rose. But the most of his flowers grew on his front—Helian didn’t want to upset them either.His back heated up.“There, those two won’t bother no more,” a gentle voice affirmed.Helian shifted his torso, but the woman caught his shoulder. She smiled, the crow’s feet around her eyelids a welcome sight. Ocean water wasn’t appetizing to Helian, and yet the color of his gardener’s eyes seemed to invigorate him. He was too shy to think of her as his mother, so he considered her what every fleuralite called precious humans: floret. He was also too shy to say that aloud. Her name would suffice.“Sit still, dear,” she said, “wouldn’t want the rest to start squawking!”“Good morning, Abigail,” Helian replied, not moving an inch. He was quite comfy in his favorite wrought iron chair. And the handmade cushion, too. He always forgot it was there.“Mornin’ Eli,” his gardener chirped.“What am I feeling? It’s nice.”“Oh, my son bought me one of those lamps,” Abigail leaned on the porch rail. She adjusted her tinted glasses. “Works on batteries, so I can put it right out here for ya. Like it?”Helian took a deep, steady breath.“Thoughtcha would,” the woman nodded.Pointing to the sky, Helian traced around the edge of the sun. “A wonderfully clear day, finally.”“Sure is.”“It’ll be a feast for everyone if it keeps up.”“Hope y’mean they’ll behave—the rain made ya quite grumpy!” Abigail held an eye shut.The floral man snickered. “Sorry, Abby.”Helian was beaming. He’d missed these mornings. Clouds had sullied the weather for too many weeks, forcing him to stay inside, with only open windows to feed him. Water tasted better when sunlight was fresh, and abundant. Glass placed a barrier between the blazing orb and his body. Although he could endure it, his blossoms wouldn’t shut their non-existent mouths about it. Until today, of course. Sweet silence.Both companions followed the sun’s gradual ascent, though Abigail shielded her eyes. She already had those glasses—Helian wasn’t sure if they helped. They were bright orange, and didn’t match her brownish and beige attire. He preferred those colors. Anything dirt-like calmed his senses, subtle palettes being his favorites. Abigail let him choose the décor last year; when the old furniture had gotten too dusty, the rooms went from mauve to autumn in an instant. Funny thing, that. He loved the fall’s earthy tones, yet he’d bloomed during midsummer.A clunky, puffing car disturbed the countryside. Uneven fence posts separated the road from the open field, their shadows run over by the passing vehicle. Usually, Helian would be lucky to count more cars than the sum of his fingers. He hadn’t been to the city, but the tranquility of his own home reminded him of Abigail’s stories. Her son and daughter-in-law’s stories, to be exact. Suffocating, busy, indifferent. Were they describing buildings? People? Helian learned it was both, sometimes more. He heard the skies were always gray up there.Abigail mumbled to him, “Aaron’s been callin’ again, Eli. Reckon he’d love to spend time in this weather, all warm and dry.”Helian grunted. Her son “callin’ again” often preceded a visit, weeks after, or days if it was a surprise occasion. And when the man arrived, his friendly wife beside him, they both gulped down the rural air. If anything could convince Helian of the city’s congestion, it was Abigail’s son. The fleuralite didn’t like the guy more than Abigail, but he knew his name. Aaron had bought the seeds that became the sunflower. But Helian’s days as a humble houseplant were over, as sacred a memory as today’s sunrise.From sprout to blossom, Abigail talked to Helian every morning. She never watered him too much, or too little, and always trimmed his leaves before they grew too unruly. He’d never seen more than two weeds in his lifetime. His soil was perfect. And though Abigail was a gentle gardener, nothing bugged her more than insects; pests who dared to chew on Helian’s stem were hastily exterminated. No fleuralite could be happier than Helian. Abigail was his guardian angel.Twenty years weren’t much for her, but Helian’s twentieth was a new beginning. A sunflower living beyond months, let alone years, should’ve given his true identity away. Plain as her state of dress, Abigail said he was magic. She didn’t bother to question it; somehow, Helian had a feeling she understood. If non-mages couldn’t cultivate magic flora, then what did they cherish?Humans were hard to comprehend. Even as a flower, Helian absorbed knowledge whenever his gardener spoke, yet he didn’t know how to describe certain concepts. Abigail believed him to be a blessing from God; she whispered something like that to him one night. She’d been crying beside Helian’s pot, muttering through her tears. He wished he could travel back in time. Back then, he didn’t have a body. Stems and leaves were useless.The thought prompted him to stand. He sidled beside her, awkwardly shifting his arms. Abigail giggled as he tried to hug her.“What’s this about?” she said.“Thank you,” he whispered into her silvery hair.“Yer welcome, you silly ol’ flower,” Abigail gave his hand a pat. “For what, if I can ask?”“If you may,” Helian corrected.“Same difference.”The fleuralite squeezed a bit tighter. Gentle, but firm enough to feel the pulse of her heartbeat. His flowers liked the vibrations, too; the petals were quivering. “Thank you for taking care of me,” said Helian, his chin pressing against Abigail’s head.“Yer very kind, Eli,” she tapped a flower on his arm. “Thank you for being the biggest, sweetest rascal I’ve ever grown.”They shared a laugh, this one subtle and brief. It was almost Helian’s twenty-fifth birthday, and Abigail’s sixtieth a day after. Maybe her son would visit soon. His wife was very friendly; without her gardening friend, Helian would’ve been a much lonelier fleuralite.He scratched at one of his pointed ears. “Oh, and I did have a question, Abigail. Has Mira written? I’ve been waiting.”“Ah, I get it now, that’s what the hasslin’ was about.”“No—I meant everything before, I’m serious!”“Right, right. Calm those petals of yours,” Abigail broke away from him, leaving with a smile. “I’ll be right back, Eli, don’t go anywhere.”“I won’t. I’m not done eating,” he called, watching his dear floret walk to the mailbox. It was only a few skips across the lawn, or a straight stroll down the stone path, though it seemed so foreign to him. He might’ve moved about the house on his own, but he never left the porch.Not since he last met his pen pal.Abigail waved an envelope over her head. Helian’s friend wrote after all. In spite of his reserved movements, he was just as—if not more—thrilled to open another card. Or postcard, maybe. It could’ve been a preserved leaf, like their previous exchange. Ideas drew out both his interest and his wanton nervousness. It had been a month since he sent his letter.His gardener had closed the mailbox quietly, because Helian didn’t notice her swift return. Assumptions made his skin tingle, jittery as the ground before a lightning strike. He folded his legs. No use worrying, he reminded himself. She always brought good news.Helian rested his hands on his lap, awaiting Abigail, and admiring her silhouette in the sunrise. The stray leaves on his ankles fluttered from an unexpected gust. A petal came loose at his head.Letters occupying one hand, the gardener caught the yellow escapee in her other. Abigail frowned, muttering too softly. She hastened with each step.This sudden concern didn’t soothe Helian’s anxiety one bit.“Eli—,” she started.The phone rang.Even better, Helian thought. He would’ve groaned if Abigail wasn’t around to hear him.“Might be that damn insurance scam again,” the older woman grumbled, tossing Helian’s mail beside the lamp. She pressed a button, and the bulb went brighter—grumbling more, she jabbed a different button, finally turning the lamp off. Abigail’s footsteps drummed against the wooden deck, and into the house. She yelled over her shoulder, “Read yer mail, I’ve got to make my breakfast after this.”“Okay!” the fleuralite exclaimed, “But leave some for me, please!”“Ya don’t eat oatmeal, y’big liar,” would’ve sounded harsh, if not for the way Abigail’s voice cracked.Helian grinned. He swiped Mira’s letter off the table so quickly, he almost brushed it into the air. Wind rolled through as he grasped the envelope. Both thumbs pinched the short ends, his pale eyes skimming the dainty handwriting.As confusing as it was, Mira was Helian’s guardian’s son’s wife’s friend’s fleuralite companion. She met him in the phloem by chance, when her gardener heard of Helian from Aaron’s wife. To complicate matters more, Mira’s darling floret was the reason Helian didn’t see her. His second year of being humanoid was his first and last meeting with Mira. Her gardener was too busy in college to visit.Writing wasn’t easy to learn, but Helian forced himself to practice, until he could be proud of his haphazard penmanship. He’d written to Mira on a whim—it was short for a letter composed in a week, but he sent it knowing he might never get a reply. Or outright rejected. Those fears had long since been washed away, like yesterday’s rain.He’d lost his tally of the letters a while ago; Abigail only intervened once the piles lined the floor. She’d bought him one plastic container, which became two, then three, including a fourth box. It was tiny, wooden, and meant for jewelry. Helian’s favorite trinkets were stored there, meaning all of the things Mira sent him. Then one day, the wooden box wouldn’t shut. He also broke the clasp trying. In hindsight, plastic bins weren’t too bad—they had plenty of volume. The fleuralite would need to organize his favorite favorites from each type: letters, cards, postcards, photos, souvenirs…Naturally, sorting the mail was Helian’s favorite hobby. He had told Mira this, though she replied to ask why he had so many favorite things. Did he need a reason?Helian tugged the envelope open carefully, ensuring he wouldn’t tear the note inside. He pulled it out, unfolded it, and admired the lovely cursive:‘Dearest Helian,Your answer was very like you. Although, I never imagined you would send me such a gift, I admit. So, I have made a similar present for you—I hope you like the color *blue.I would write more, but I want to save my words. Maybe I will finally see you again.With Love and Light,Mirabilis*P.S. Please disregard the accidental rhyme. I am no poet.’Upon reading the note once more, Helian jostled the envelope. Oh? Something shuffled around. He poked into the space with his thumb, feeling back and forth. Opening it wider, the “present” caught his attention: folded paper, a deep navy blue. He pinched the object. The shape underneath the wrapping was…familiar.Setting the note and envelope aside, he focused on the small square in his palm. A piece of tape shined in the sunlight. Helian dug at its edge with his fingernail, peeling slowly, wincing as he anticipated the paper to rip. But it didn’t. The tape cleanly left the wrapped gift, which he unfurled at its creases.His petals could have fallen off then and there.***Tonight, the stars were unobscured, and they aligned in some way. Helian was beginning to have a sort of faith—in what or whom, he couldn’t say. Abigail said she had prayed every night for him, for this chance to arrive, for Mira to reunite with him. Regardless, Helian merely thanked Abigail.He stared at the woven ring he wore for a day straight, growing drowsy with the low hum in his ears. Three years since he’d ridden in the back seat of Abigail’s car, yet it was different. Mira wasn’t here to be driven home; Helian was waiting to be driven to Mira.“Well, here we are,” Abigail looked over her shoulder.The ride stopped, and the door opened. Helian tightened the laces on his boots once more, stalling as he fought his heart’s incessant pitter-patter. A smoky scent tickled his nose. He poked out the window, sniffing for the source—there was Aaron, and his wife, and that gardener friend of hers. Helian searched a distance away from the folded tables, trailing Abigail like a nervous puppy. He surveyed the humans’ buffet with a somewhat vacant gaze.“Ah, it’s Helian!” the other gardening woman waved at him energetically.He smiled sheepishly, returning the gesture—with less enthusiasm, but his heart was there.Aaron gulped down more of the cold noodles, nodding at Helian. The man’s wife was busy deciding between the fried chicken and chuck roast, hot vegetables and salad, soup, gravy...Mira’s gardener motioned over the deck. “I know who you wanna see, Sunflower. She’s off moonbathing. Why don’t you join her?”The fleuralite’s eyes widened. “Oh, th-thank you. I hope isn’t rude to...”Abigail elbowed him. “Go on,” she said, her solemn blues peering into Helian. “You better tell ‘er. She’s your friend.”That reminder plunged into his chest; Abigail had her talk with him already. He needed to find Mira, soon. As fast as he could run.Depths below the lake churned in pitch black, dotted by the glow emanating from the deck, within lanterns strung over on wooden posts. Those speckles were mere drops compared to the dithered sphere at the center. No amount of water could swallow such brilliant light. Pale as the whites of her eyes, or her fingertips.Her violet braid fell below her thighs, where the petite shorts ended, and leaves grew along. Mira always suited the moon—a side of her shining brightly, yet the other half shrouded in mystery. To Helian, her letters were the light. He’d always been afraid reality would tear them apart.“Mira,” he called, then again, louder, “Mira!”Those violet eyes glinted. Same as her hair, though a tad fuller. She said nothing back. Didn’t move an inch, but she stared. Helian jumped down. His unathletic figure be damned, he kept running. He didn’t stop until he was at her side. Grass crushed, dirt unsettled, a bug or two probably tread upon—what happened beneath his feet mattered little. She was waiting.“Mira,” he repeated. Panting and wheezing soon overcame his voice. Helian leaned over, hands on his bent knees, and muscles set ablaze.The sunflower froze. Her palm caressed his hair, between the crown of leaves and flowers.“Are you all right?” she asked.When Helian rose, his vision started to blur, focusing once he stood eye-to-eye with Mira. The four o’ clock fleuralite blinked, the flowers above her ears shuddering with the frigid breeze. Her smile faded. She opened her fist, thumb holding a pair of yellow petals.Helian watched the discarded petals wilt in her grasp.“Mister Helian, how are you feeling?” Mira questioned. This time, her concern finally hit him.“That’s the thing, Mira,” Helian tried to laugh. “I’m not sure what to feel.”She paused. Clenching her fist, she brought it to her heart, pressing into her camisole. Mira skimmed across Helian with her gaze—from head to shoulders, to his arms.“There are…at least twenty. That’s good,” she remarked.“And two more,” said Helian, twisting around briefly for her to see them. He wore an apron in lieu of a shirt, which would’ve choked poor King and Pipsqueak.The sunflower admired her seven o’ clock beauty, though sorrow crept into his thoughts. She was more breathtaking than the moon within the lake. Pictures she’d sent of herself—no doubt taken on nights like this—they would never compare to this moment. Mira had special flowers. In pairs, they bloomed above her ears, as long as the moonlight touched their petals. Helian put the pieces together once he realized. Years ago, he’d met her at noon; there were buds, yet no blossoms.Mira now held both her hands to her chest.“I should be worried about you, instead. You only have four,” Helian told her.“But I’m not—,” she interrupted herself, rubbing her eye. “We’ve just gotten here, and…”“I know. The Wilt’s started.”Helian cupped her shoulder with his hand, giving her his sunniest smile. Mira bit her lip. She remained still, though she leaned into him as he wrapped his arms around, the warmth shared between them. Chilly nights such as this made an embrace all the more comforting.“Twenty years is a good amount of days,” Helian rested his chin on Mira’s shoulder. He gazed into the lake, further into the reflection of the moon. “We should just spend more nights together.”“Helian,” the lady protested, rubbing her face into his collarbone.“I don’t mean that,” he added. “I…”The fleuralite of sunflowers clutched his evening marvel.“Tragically, I’ve fallen in love with you, Mirabilis.”,meet women near me Villa Las Mercedes,