The Treasured Flower


Author: Kyra Holmgren – First Place Senior Division 2021

It was a quiet May morning, and the sun had just begun to rise and make the dewdrops glisten. A tabby cat lay on the grass, watching the butterflies with mild interest. The cat’s owner sat nearby. Armed with thick gardening gloves and pruning shears, she was tackling an unruly oleander bush. Loose strands of blonde hair had escaped from her braid and fell in her face, and the knees of her jeans were covered in dirt. She was deep in thought, and so she was startled by the slam of a door. The cause of the racket, a young girl in pajamas, strode over to the bush.

“Audrey, what are ya doing out here?” she asked, her voice still husky from sleep.

“Working. What does it look like?” Audrey responded, never looking up from the bush she was pruning.

“Well I know that! But I just thought you’d be in the greenhouse, looking at that one flower. The Chef’s Barkspur?”

“It’s the Baker’s Larkspur. And I would be, but have you been in there recently? They’re all dead.” Audrey punctuated this with an aggressive snip from her pruning shears, and grimaced at the result. The girl seemed just as oblivious as ever to her sister’s mood.

“Really? Aw, that sucks. Hey, there’s Pebble!”

“Oh no…” she knew how this would end.

“Hey, what’s that supposed to mean? I was looking all over for Pebble, but I couldn’t find him! How could you hide my best friend from me? He was probably lonely!”

“Edith. Pebble doesn’t like you,” she stated dryly.

“No, he does too like me! Watch!” Edith strode over to the cat, whose relaxing nap in the sunlight was interrupted by a set of arms snatching him up. As she held the cat tightly to her chest, he yelped and tried to struggle free from her arms. After a scuffle between the two, the cat freed itself and leapt to the ground. With a huff, it padded over to Audrey and meowed, as if he were complaining.

Audrey looked over her shoulder. “You know, he’s going to bite you if you keep doing that.”

“Whatever! C’mon inside with me, Dad’s making pancakes!”

Audrey sighed and slowly stood up, squinting as the sunlight hit her eyes, showcasing the freckles spread on her face like freshly sown seeds. Dusting the dirt off her pants, she followed Edith to the door, with Pebble in tow. When she got to the door, she found Edith waiting there, with a sheepish smile on her face.

“I might’ve… uh… locked the door when I came out…”

Shaking her head, Audrey removed a key from her carabiner on her belt and opened the door. “I’ll never understand how you keep doing that,” she mumbled, as Edith happily bounced inside. They were greeted with the sweet smell of pancakes, and Audrey’s stomach growled in response.

“Hey girls! Could one of you grab the syrup for me?”

“Sure, I’ll get it.” Audrey strode over to the pantry and reached for the syrup on the top shelf. Unfortunately, she didn’t see Edith’s eyes and eyebrows scrunched in determination, and when Edith charged over to the pantry and smashed into her, she was not prepared, and she promptly fell on her butt.

“Hey! What are you doing?” Audrey yelped in surprise.

“I want to get the syrup! Get out of my way!”

“No, you’re too short. God, you’re annoying,” she said after rolling her eyes.

“Dad! She’s being mean to me!” whined Edith.

“Get moving, Thumbelina,” Audrey ordered.

“No! I’m getting it!” Edith said, defiance filling her voice. The tone of the conversation had quickly shifted, similar to how a cloudy day quickly becomes a thunderstorm. Audrey let out a huff, and they wordlessly had a staring match, neither of them relenting. They were those plants that never seem to perk up no matter how much water you give them; stubborn and sour. Edith smirked, and you could practically feel Audrey’s patience snap like a rubber band. Audrey marched forward and shoved Edith out of the way, with a little more force than was necessary. Immediately, and predictably, Edith began to protest.

“Dad! Dad! Did you see that? Audrey pushed me on purpose! She hurt me!” Edith was using the classic theatrics known to younger siblings.

“Don’t be overdramatic. I hardly touched you,” Audrey responded, the classic older sibling response that would conveniently absolve herself of blame.

Their father sighed, “Clearly, neither of you are morning people. Edith, stop antagonizing your sister. Audrey, be nice.”

The girls exchanged one last glare at each other before settling at the dining table. As soon as Audrey set the syrup down, Edith immediately grabbed the bottle and drenched her pancakes, draining half the bottle and letting syrup run down the sides in the process. She evilly grinned, waiting for Audrey’s reaction, but was disappointed when she was ignored. For all that trouble, she was only rewarded with an eye twitch, and now her pancakes were islands in a sea of syrup.

Audrey was careful not to show it, but internally she smirked at her younger sister dejectedly picking at her syrup with a side of pancakes. She turned to her father, who was intently reading the newspaper laid out under his plate. Deciding not to comment on the few droplets of syrup on his shirt, she asked: “So, Dad. What’s your plans for today?”

He looked up at her, and she wondered how it was possible to get syrup on your glasses. She was even more impressed by the fact that he didn’t even seem to notice it, and for their entire conversation, she had to pretend that one of his dirt brown eyes didn’t look covered in syrup. Rather than dwell on this, she simply decided to imagine that he had heterochromia, just for today.

“Hmm, well, I was going to examine that plant Edith found the other day. So, I’ll probably be in the lab, although I have a meeting with the park ranger today as well.”

“Oooh, are you guys going to be outside?”

“No, we’re just going to be discussing wildfires, seeing how it’s that time of year again. Safety precautions, warning signs, all that boring crap.”

“Oh… so you’re not hiking around today?” she said, miserably failing to keep the disappointment out of her voice.

“No… but you know, Audrey, you’re a young woman now. I bet you don’t even need my supervision anymore.”

“That is true…”

“Hmm. Maybe I should make you take your sister. I’m not sure I trust her to be unsupervised yet,” he suggested.

“HEY! You can trust me! I’m mature for my age!” Edith squawked, indignant at the notion that she was just a little kid.

He laughed, “Haha, I’ll just let you two decide.” Her father got up to leave, but before he left, he paused and turned to Audrey. “Also, make sure you wash the dishes.” After hearing Audrey’s groan and Edith’s snicker, he added to his request. “Edith, you dry them,” With that, he turned and shut the door gently behind himself.

Audrey’s chair screeched on the floor as she got up. She carried all the dishes to the sink, except for Edith’s. She was still sitting in her chair, pouting. “C’mon Edith, Dad said you have to help.” She looked over to her younger sister. “And could you put away the syrup too? Whatever’s left of it, anyways.”

Edith didn’t respond, but Audrey could hear a chair being dragged across the kitchen in the direction of the pantry. She struggled to not laugh at Edith’s stomping footsteps drawing closer, and at how violently Edith grabbed a towel. However, when she applied the same violence to the glass plates, Audrey became a little concerned.

“Sheesh, be careful. I don’t want to have to clean up glass,” she warned.

“Hmmph, if you’re going to be bossy about it, then maybe you should do it yourself,” Edith retorted, although her movements slowed, seemingly taking her older sister’s advice.

“I’m not the one forcing you to do this, but whatever.” They worked in silence after that, Audrey reluctantly scrubbing the dishes and Edith putting little effort into actually drying them. When they were almost finished, Audrey looked over to her, and hesitated before asking her question.

“Hey, Edith? Will you come into the woods with me?”

“Why should I? You’re being mean to me, and I don’t really feel like it.”

“Wha– you were the one who started that! But never mind, would you please just come with me?”

Edith sighed. “Ah, sure. I was just messing with ya anyway. I know you’re scared of the woods.”

“Where on earth did you get that idea? I’m not scared!” Audrey protested.

“Sure, you aren’t. It’s not like you’re scared of the bears, or cougars, or wolves. And I know you don’t worry about getting lost or injured when you’re alone. All by yourself. Nobody there to help. Juuuust you. Yep. I bet you’re not scared at all,” Edith said, quite sarcastically.

“I–” Audrey started to defend herself, before realizing how useless that would be. Damn it, why did her little sister have to be so good at making observations? She’s as watchful as Pebble when he spots a mouse. “You are so annoying. C’mon, let’s go. And put down the cat, he’s not coming with us.”


And so, two hours later, they found themselves tromping through dry moss patches and swatting at the mosquitos swarming around them. Audrey didn’t seem to mind, her thoughts occupied by identifying the flora around them. Edith, sweating and bored, did seem to mind. Edith tried to bear it, but she was not a fan of heat, boredom, or mosquitos. The unholy combination finally got to her, and she cried out in exasperation.

“Uggghhh! I’m so tired of this! When can we go back in?” she almost sobbed as another mosquito landed on her.

Audrey sighed. “Fine, we’ll head back in a while. I just want to see what’s up here.”
“It’s probably just more stupid moss. Man, I’ll never get what’s up with you and plants. Same with dad too. You guys are like, obsessed,” she complained.

“I’m sorry we appreciate the beauty of life, Edith,” Audrey retorted, matching her sister’s earlier sarcasm.

“Wow, Audrey, you sure did get off–”

“Edith,” Audrey interrupted.

“What?” Edith replied, annoyed at the interruption. She was about to complain about it, until she noticed that Audrey had stopped in her tracks. “Audrey?”

Wordlessly, Audrey stepped forward and leaned down, her hand gently cupping a small blue flower. She studied it intensely for a moment, before turning to her sister with a smile. “Edith, come look.”

She approached Audrey, and crouched down so she could peer down at the dark blue flowers in her sister’s cupped palm. They were a bit dry, but they were still unmistakable. Edith gasped, “Is that the…”

Delphinium bakeri. Commonly known as the baker’s larkspur,” Audrey finished Edith’s sentence. “I can’t believe we stumbled across this. And look around us, Edith, there’s more! Do you know how rare these are now? If we take this back to the lab, we could save the species!” Audrey’s eyes were practically glowing with excitement.

“Woah… honestly, I don’t really care about plants but that’s kinda neat.”

“Saving a whole species from extinction is ‘kinda neat’?”

“Excuse me, but I’m not a plant nerd! I’m trying here!”

Audrey ignored that last statement. “Hmm… I don’t have the materials to transplant these flowers. We’ll have to head back and tell dad.”

“Finally!” Edith exclaimed with relief, not even hesitating for a second before turning around and starting the march back home.

* * *

The humidity of the greenhouse was getting to be a bit unbearable; especially accompanied by the heat of June. Audrey wiped her sleeve across her brow. She had just come to check on the flowers she’d found a few weeks ago; she hadn’t meant to stay so long. But something about being surrounded by all these healthy little flowers, so endangered that it’d be a miracle if they didn’t go extinct, filled her with a sense of euphoria. It was as if a flower inside her had just started to bloom. And in this environment, the flowers were thriving. They had stopped blooming due to the season change, but their stems were a lively green and moist to the touch. Audrey had even taken the opportunity to plant some outside, and although that had been a bit self-indulgent, the flowers thrived under the constant maintenance outside as well.

Audrey stood up and walked to the door leading outside of the greenhouse. She looked out the window to see her father eating lunch in the garden, and she suddenly noticed the familiar pangs of hunger that always overcame her after getting lost in her work. She stepped out the door, and took one last glance at the lush greenery. Her eyes held onto the sight of the baker’s larkspur for a moment longer, and she smiled to herself before joining her father.

“Well, hello, Audrey. Glad to see you’re still alive. You were in there so long, I was beginning to worry,” he teased.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine. Starving, though,” Audrey replied. She pulled out a chair and sat down across from him. “Boy, the sky is awfully hazy today,” she observed.

“Mm, that’s just the perks of living in California, I suppose. It’s such a surprising sight, given the time of year.” He took a sip of his coffee. “Go ahead, take a sandwich. I don’t want to see you get hangry.”

“I’m not hangry! Ugh, I wish you’d stop saying that!”

“Oh dear. I spoke too soon,” he mumbled under his breath. He spoke up to reply to her. “Oh, I’m sorry, sweetie. But still, you should eat.”

“Fine.” she said, before angrily snatching a sandwich and taking an aggressive bite from it. She munched in silence while he drank his coffee and admired the garden.

“Wow, those daylilies really do look nice next to the orchids. Although, I must admit, I’m fond of the pitcher plants as well.” He took a sip, and paused. “Of course, my personal favorite has to be the baker’s larkspur. It’s a miracle that you were able to even find some, much less rehabilitate them. I’m proud of you, ya know.”

Audrey looked up from her sandwich. “Oh… thanks!” she responded awkwardly. She looked out past the garden, at a worn-down dirt trail leading into the forest. “Hey dad, could we take a walk today?”

“Well, that sandwich certainly seems to have fixed your attitude. And of course, I’ll come, seeing as I’m not very busy today.” He rose from his chair and looked at her expectantly.

“Oh, now? Okay.” Audrey got up too, taking a sip of water and wiping her mouth off. The two of them entered the woods, the sound of their footsteps accompanied by the trees rustling in the strong wind.

“So,” her father cleared his throat. “How are you?”

“Oh, I’m fine. You?”

“Ah, same ol, same ol. But really, how are you? You seem to be doing much better lately, but a while ago, you seemed to be in a bit of a funk.”

“Did I?”

“Yes, you did. Your sister would not stop complaining about how you were ignoring her, and you didn’t seem as talkative as your usual self.”

“Oh. Yeah, I guess I kinda was. I think I was just kinda bored, with nothing exciting happening and not many people I could talk to. It gets a little lonely out here, with nobody but you guys around. I wasn’t making much progress with the larkspur either. But once I found the flowers, it gave me some motivation, and it didn’t seem impossible to save them. Now, I have something to work toward.”

“That’s good. You know, I worry about you sometimes.”

Just before she could reply to him, she was interrupted by a wail, and turned around, letting out a small gasp of surprise as she saw her sister running towards them.

“Audrey! Dad!” Edith shouted, tears rolling down her face. In her arms, Pebble lay trapped, looking frazzled from being held close to Edith for so long.

“Edith! What is it?” he demanded.

“There’s a fire! And it’s getting way too close to the house! What do we do?”

“We have to go, now!” he ordered. “Edith, Audrey, let’s go.”

“Dad! What about the larkspur?”

“Audrey, I’m sorry, but we have to leave it!”

“No, I can’t abandon it! The species will go extinct if that fire gets to it!”

“Forget about the damn plant! Our lives are more important.”

Audrey was conflicted. She looked frantically from her father and Edith’s concerned faces, back to the direction of the greenhouse. She hesitated, but before she could think, her feet had already made the decision. She turned and sprinted away from her family, and toward the fire.

“Audrey, no!” Edith cried out.

“Get back here right now, it’s too dangerous!” he commanded, but she was already out of sight. He started to follow her, but stopped in his tracks, and turned to Edith, whose eyes were wide and tear-filled. He grimaced as he turned around, grabbed Edith’s small hand, and ran, dragging her along with him out of the woods, in the opposite direction from Audrey.

* * *

Audrey panted as she ran. She was exhausted, but she was filled with determination, like a newborn turtle struggling to reach the water. She was so close! A rabbit darted out from the brush beside her, but she paid it no mind. Her legs felt like lead, and her lungs were protesting, but despite the danger, a stubborn desire to save that plant had ignited in her, and nothing could snuff it out. She coughed from the smoke; it was getting harder and harder to breathe. Smoke filled her vision, and she could see an orange glow in the distance. She decided to keep her eyes on her feet, and when the trail beneath her started to look familiar, she looked up and gasped.

The garden was ablaze, and the table she’d shared with her father less than two hours ago was quickly becoming ash. So were most of the flowers in the garden, and the ones still alive didn’t have much time left. The sight of the garden caught in angry, unforgiving flames made her feel like someone had just stabbed her. She had spent countless hours of her childhood in this garden, and now it was burning before her very eyes. Waves of heat washed over her, and with desperation, she looked to the greenhouse, hidden in smoke. A small, candle flicker of hope ignited within her, and she quickly formulated the best route to get there. She started to run, before hearing a loud crash behind her and another wave of heat. Audrey spared a glance behind her, and realized a flaming tree had fallen right where she was standing only a minute ago. Shit, that could’ve hit her. A pang of fear sprung up in her chest and threatened to overtake her, but she pushed it down. It was far too late for her to turn back now, and Audrey had a mission.

She reached the door, and growled in frustration when the door wouldn’t budge. Frantically, she ripped her carabiner of keys off her waist, and rapidly sorted through them, looking for the right one. Finding the greenhouse key, she slammed it in the keyhole, and marched inside. She almost passed out from the heat; she hadn’t even considered how warm the greenhouse would be with a blazing fire surrounding it. Grabbing a few small pots, she raced to the flowers she’d worked so hard to save. Seeing those tiny green stems still unharmed, she allowed herself a sigh of relief. Audrey was thankful; if the flowers were already ablaze, her hopes would’ve been crushed and she would’ve endangered herself for nothing. She slung her backpack off her back, unzipped it, and grabbed the trowel she always kept inside. She started transplanting the flowers, with the speed of a rabbit and the caution of a tortoise. Once she was satisfied with the flowers she’d potted, she nestled them in her bag, positioning them so they would be the least jarred by her escape from the fire.

The fire was creeping in the greenhouse now, and her back was hot. She needed to get out, now. She looked to the window, and she hurled the trowel in her hand with the most strength she could muster. The glass shattered, letting more smoke pour in, and she darted to the window. She crawled out, not even noticing her hands bleeding from the shards. She ran away from the house, but a sickening feeling in her gut stopped her, and she paused to cough. Audrey was somewhat regretting her decision now; how was she going to make it out of the fire?

As she stared down the road, she squinted. The smoke looked… weird. A few moments later, she realized that it was a light, and it was coming closer to her. She almost sobbed in relief when she saw her dad’s familiar red pickup truck approaching, its one still functioning headlight illuminating the smoke. Oh, thank god, she was going to be saved! It rumbled to a stop beside her, and she just had time to leap in and slam the door before the truck did a U-turn, tires squealing on the old, worn out pavement. Her father looked at her through the rearview mirror, and just shook his head, although the look on his face was one more of relief than anger. In the passenger seat sat Edith, and she turned around to look at her older sister.

“Audrey…” she started, and then smirked. “I got shotgun.” With apparently nothing else to say, she turned back in her seat and stared out the window. Unfortunately, this comment broke the ice, and allowed her dad to begin his lecture.

“Audrey, what the hell were you thinking? You could’ve gotten killed!” he said.

“I’m really sorry, Dad. That was pretty stupid of me,” Audrey apologized. He didn’t seem to hear her, and continued his rant.

“I’m serious, Audrey, do you know how dangerous that was? Do you know what could’ve happened?”

“I’m sorry for worrying you, Dad. But I got the flower!”

“That’s great and all, but I’m just glad you’re okay. Don’t pull any more stupid shit like that, okay?” he requested.

“Okay!” she agreed. They all sat in silence after that, her father driving, Edith looking out the window, and Audrey lost in thought. She snapped out of her thoughts when she realized she should check on the flowers. She quietly zipped the backpack open, and took a look inside. Some of the dirt had spilled in her bag, but she smiled when she saw her beloved plants sitting safely in the pots. She reached in the bag and held them so the truck wouldn’t jostle them. It wasn’t long until the motion of the truck rocked her to sleep, her hand still cradling the flowers.

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