The Doubleclicks have a song called “Worst Superpower Ever.” Well, Charlie Kim may just have the worst superpower ever. Or does he? S.B. Divya’s floral storytelling will present you with a bouquet of feels.
The Boy Who Made Flowers
by S.B. Divya
When a few stray jasmine blossoms fell from Charlie Kim’s ears, neither he nor his violin teacher, Mrs. Janet Wong, noticed. Recitals were in three weeks, and that was their focus, especially for Charlie. The lovely Amelie would be in the audience, and he did not want to make a mistake in front of her.
Charlie furrowed his brow and bent his bow to the lilting notes of von Weber’s “Country Dance.” Yellow honeysuckle, blue asters, and clusters of pink alyssum cascaded over his shoulders. Sweat, mixed with baby’s breath, beaded on his forehead.
Charlie was so intent on his practice that he didn’t wonder at Mrs. Wong’s dropped jaw, nor did he marvel at the incredible scents rising around him. He finished his virtuoso performance with a flourish. That’s when he saw the multi-colored blossoms surrounding his feet. He looked up, puzzled.
“They…came out of your ears,” said Mrs. Wong.
“My ears?” Charlie squeaked.
He was breathing hard, and now his heart raced. Pure white roses and delicate phalaenopsis sprung from his hands. Smaller blossoms continued to drop from his ears. Pink carnations caught in his throat.
This can’t be happening, Charlie thought.
“You must be manifesting,” Mrs. Wong said. She frowned as Charlie coughed and shook his head. “You’d better calm down before it gets out of hand. Take some deep breaths. I’ll call your mother.”
Charlie had been waiting for most of his twelve years to discover what, if any, special ability he might have. He was hoping for something awesome so he could be like Nawemi Robinson, the war hero with fire-blasting fingers, or, at the very least, like Nawemi’s wife who could heal wounds with her touch.
Instead, as he attempted to survive carnation asphyxiation, all Charlie could think about were the tragic cases of Jasleen Bannerjee—she could summon lightning, but she wasn’t immune to it—and Trenton Smythe, who flew up so high and fast that he shot out to space and never returned. It would be bad enough if his ability were something floral. The idea of dying from it was mortifying.
It can’t be, Charlie thought. Something must be wrong with me.
His mother arrived ten minutes later. In the interval, Mrs. Wong’s brown and beige den had transformed into a florist’s Technicolor dream.
“How beautiful,” his mother exclaimed.
Charlie burst into tears. Forget-me-nots accumulated around them in cobalt drifts.
“What’s wrong with me?” he sobbed.
Charlie hadn’t shown any outward signs of puberty, a known requirement for manifesting. He had yet to fill out his muscles or pop any pimples, and baby fat rounded his cheeks. The school choir director kept trying to recruit him to sing soprano.
“This can’t be my ability!” Charlie’s voice scraped low, confirming what the flowers had hinted at.
“Don’t be silly! What else could it be? Let’s pack up your violin and get you a check-up.”
At the clinic, Charlie was assigned to a counselor who introduced herself as “Miss Yaro, specialist in early-stage manifestation.”
Charlie thought she was rather pretty with her straight, chestnut-colored hair and green eyes, though not as lovely as Amelie and far too old for his tastes.
“Congratulations, Charlie! How are you feeling?”
“I’m making flowers.”
“Yes, you have an unusual talent.”
“Unusual? This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of! I can’t fight bad guys like Nawemi. I can’t help sick people or fly through tornadoes. I’m useless!”
“I understand your feelings,” Miss Yaro said. “But the fact remains, this is the ability you have. Not everyone can be a war hero. Besides, Nawemi always tells me that he hates the violence he inflicts.”
“You know him?”
Miss Yaro smiled. “We went to school together. Now, let’s start teaching you to control your manifestations.”
“Do I have to?”
“If you can’t control your abilities, you could become a danger to others and yourself.”
Charlie raised a skeptical eyebrow.
“Okay, maybe not to others, but you did almost choke.”
“What about drugs to stop manifestations? I read about those when we were driving over.”
Miss Yaro shook her head. “They’re intended for extreme cases, and they come with bad side effects.”
“Those drugs aren’t meant for you, Charlie. Live with your ability for a while. Get to know it. You might find it easier to manage than you think.”
But Charlie was determined that he wouldn’t. He let her load the edocs and videos about breathing exercises onto his phone, though he had no intention of watching them. He didn’t want to meditate his way to perfect flowers. If he was cursed to have the world’s most pathetic ability, he was going to make sure nobody knew about it.
That night, after Charlie ate dinner and finished his homework, his parents sat down to talk with him. This was obviously one of those conversations that deserved a Formal Title.
“So you’re becoming a man,” his father said, eliciting a massive eye-roll from Charlie. “With great power comes great responsibility.”
“Really, Dad? That’s the best you’ve got? Besides, I don’t have a great power. I make dumb girly flowers.”
“Charlie!” his mother snapped. “There’s nothing dumb about girls or flowers. That’s the sort of nonsense thing my grandfather would say.”
“Well maybe he was right,” Charlie muttered. He twitched as pale plum blossoms fell out of his ears and tickled his neck.
“Apologize to your mother, Charlie!”
He stormed out of the room before they could say another word, afraid that his anger would manifest as a choking session. A trail of pale yellow roses dotted his wake.
Charlie kicked his bedroom door closed and glowered at the images plastered on the walls. Nawemi, Chandra, Juliette, Molten-Mike: his heroes taunted him. You’ll never be one of us.
He vented his frustrations on them, taking what satisfaction he could from the sound of tearing paper. Then he lay in bed and tried very hard not to cry.
Charlie woke the next day with a sense of dread. Seventh grade was hard enough without having to hide an embarrassing manifestation. At breakfast, he spat out intrusive violets between bites of toaster waffles. The smell of his father’s congee and pork clashed terribly with the flavors in his mouth.
“Do I have to go?” he muttered as he dumped his dishes into the sink.
“Yes,” his mother said. “I have three client meetings and a court appearance, and Dad’s driving out to D.C. all day.”
“I could stay home alone,” he said. “Everyone’s going to make fun of me. This is the worst day of my life.”
“Don’t be so dramatic! You’re not sick. There’s no reason for you to hide at home.”
Rain poured from clouds that hung as low as Charlie’s mood. The weather prevented him from riding his bike to school so his mother drove him. Poppies and chrysanthemums littered the car interior by the time they arrived.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “You’ll be fine. I’ll let the school know what’s going on in case you need help.”
The last thing Charlie wanted was that kind of attention. Fortunately, homeroom was incredibly boring, and first period was ancient history with Mr. Kragen, whose nasal drone made it hard for anyone to stay awake. Charlie’s body didn’t betray him until second period.
Biology was usually his favorite subject. They had to dissect a frog, and Charlie couldn’t help his revulsion at the results. That sensation expressed itself as a cascade of dark purple pansies and blue irises. He could feel the stares and questions like pinpricks on his neck. Charlie ignored them as best he could and, after class, ran-walked to the cafeteria.
His best friend was at home with the flu so he found a quiet corner to eat lunch alone. Nobody dared to harass him under the watchful eye of the monitors, but he could sense gleeful malice roaming the hall like a living creature.
The afternoon classes produced no excitement—for which Charlie was immeasurably grateful—though white baby’s breath clung to his sweat during gym. By the end of the school day, the sun had broken through the rain clouds. Puddles reflected a mix of blue, white, and grey. A long line of wet cars snaked through the parking lot. None of them belonged to Charlie’s parents.
With a great sigh, Charlie began to walk home. He kicked irritably at the pools of water on the sidewalk, only succeeding in soaking his socks. After he turned the corner from school and went exactly two blocks, his solitude was interrupted by a shout.
“Hey! Flower Power!”
Charlie turned to see whose voice had issued the greeting. He had to swallow a lump in his throat—one that tasted suspiciously like carnations—before he had the nerve to meet his greeter’s gaze. Trembling forget-me-nots fell around him.
The voice belonged to Jesse, a boy who looked more like a man than a thirteen-year-old had any right to. Two girls and three boys flanked him, all of them older and larger than Charlie.
“Look! He’s doing it right now,” said one of Jesse’s crew.
He made it half a block before he was jerked to a halt from behind. Multiple hands grabbed his arms and forced him against a hedge of hawthorn. The hedge stood several heads higher than Charlie’s, blocking any chance of escape unless he mutated into being able to fly. Or jump really high. If only, Charlie thought as thorns and twigs prodded him.
“Freak him out!”
A fist plowed into his stomach.
“Here it comes. Look out for flowers!”
Raucous laughter accompanied kicks to his shin.
“You gonna hurt us with those pretty petals?”
In between blows, Charlie watched as they dumped out and trampled the contents of his backpack. He used every ounce of willpower to wear his stoic-face. His father had told him never to cry in front of bullies, and he didn’t.
Multi-colored blossoms, crushed and fragrant, betrayed his true feelings.
“Hey, do you think they come out of his butthole?”
They forced him to turn around. Charlie ducked his head so the brambles wouldn’t scratch his eyes. Someone yanked his pants down to his knees. The autumn air chilled his backside through his thin briefs. He clenched those muscles like his life depended on it.
“Aw, he doesn’t crap roses. Too bad, flower boy. That might’ve made us like you.”
The hard grips released and giggles faded, but Charlie stood facing into the hedge. He trembled, waiting for the next act of humiliation. When, after several minutes, none came, he pulled his pants up and turned to collect his things. His face and arms stung with scratches.
He shook off the last of the roses from his palms and picked up his phone. The screen had a starburst crack in one corner, but it still worked. He called Miss Yaro.
“You have to get me those drugs!” His voice cracked midway through the sentence.
“I got attacked by a bunch of kids because I manifested at school. Please, Miss Yaro! I want it to stop.”
“Okay, slow down. Are you hurt?”
“And who did this?”
Charlie hesitated. If he had pictures or video, Jesse and his crew would be in hot water for bullying, but words weren’t enough and tattling would only encourage them.
“Some kids in another grade. I don’t know them.”
“I’m sorry you were attacked, Charlie, but you need to report this to your school and let them handle it. In the meantime, keep doing your exercises. You’ll learn to stop manifesting, I promise.”
Fair weather returned the next day, and Charlie rode his bike to school unharmed. His ride home, however, was less peaceful. A branch cracked, splintering as it passed through a wheel. Air whistled past Charlie’s ears. He flew off the seat, landed on his left shoulder. His helmet hit the road with a sharp rap. Fingers dug into his armpits, dragged him to the sidewalk before he could get his bearings.
Charlie was once again crushed by a hawthorn’s prickly embrace when a high, clear voice said, “Leave him alone!”
Bodies parted, and Charlie extricated himself from the foliage. Amelie and two other girls looked on from down the sidewalk, their phones positioned for good camera views. Charlie’s heart sank even as he realized the benefit of their evidence.
“Did you get it?” one of Amelie’s friends said.
Amelie and the other girl nodded.
“Don’t send those! Please!” Jesse begged.
“We’ll leave him alone,” said one of Jesse’s crew. “We swear!”
“You’d better,” said Amelie’s friend.
Charlie hung his head. Why did it have to be her? His tormentors departed. He knelt and busied himself by gathering his school things. Golden poppies mixed with baby’s breath from his sweaty palms. He wiped them on the soggy grass. Girlish whispers floated to his ears, which were a bright shade of crimson, matching the columbines emerging thence.
Charlie kept his gaze downward until a shadow fell over him. He fell back, startled, and once again displaced contents of his backpack.
“Sorry,” Amelie said and bent down to help.
“Not your fault,” he mumbled.
When he stood, backpack well zippered, he was surprised to see her looking nervous and sad. He had expected pity.
“I was wondering,” Amelie said, “if you could help me.”
She flushed. The rosiness of her chubby, dimpled cheeks only deepened Charlie’s confusion. Her words penetrated the fog in his brain.
“Of course. Anything! Do you need help with the algebra homework this week? The equations are pretty tricky.”
Amelie laughed. Charlie’s spirits lifted at the sound. The heady scent of hyacinth rose around them.
“I’m already done with that. It’s not a school thing.”
“Oh. I mean—I wasn’t—I know you’re smart. Smarter than me, for sure.” Charlie stopped stumbling over words and blew out a deep breath. “Sorry. What do you need help with?”
Amelie’s flush deepened. Her eyes glistened with tears.
“It’s your flowers. My granddad died a few days ago, and his funeral is coming up, and he really loved his rose bushes. I want to cover his coffin with white roses, but his plants are almost bare. My mom says it’s too expensive to buy that many. I saw what you can do. I thought maybe you could make them for me, for the funeral.”
“Yes,” said Charlie. “Sure. Of course.”
“The service is on Saturday. Could you come early in the morning and do it? So they’re fresh?”
Charlie bobbed his head in the affirmative. He didn’t stop to wonder how, with no control over his abilities, he would fulfill Amelie’s wishes. At that moment, watching her face light up with relief, he couldn’t think of anything but her happiness.
“Thanks, Charlie! You’re the best!” She grabbed her phone. “What’s your number? I’ll text you the address.”
The digits stumbled from Charlie’s brain to his mouth in the correct order. She gave his hand a strong squeeze, then ran off to join her friends who waited down the block. Charlie righted his bike and rode home in a blissful daze.
It wasn’t until he was reading his English assignment that Charlie realized he had no idea how to make roses happen. Homework forgotten, he dialed Miss Yaro who answered immediately.
“Charlie! Are you all right?”
She sighed. “Perhaps I should talk to your school administration myself.”
“No. I’m not calling about that.”
“Then what’s the emergency?”
“I need to know how to make roses.”
Baffled silence emanated from the phone. “Tell me what’s going on.”
“I told a friend I could make them for her. I mean, not her, but for her grandpa. For his funeral. It’s in a few days. I really need to learn how to make white roses before then.”
“Oh, Charlie, what a lovely thing to do. I’d be glad to help if I can. My best guess is that the type of flower is tied to emotion. Manifestation seems related to the endocrine system, which is why hormonal changes for puberty are usually the first trigger.”
“But what does that mean?”
“It means you need to keep track of what you’re feeling and what your body is doing, and which flowers go with those sensations.”
“I’m not really good with feelings.”
“Everybody is good with feelings,” Miss Yaro said. “Because everybody has them. As an almost teenager, your emotions may be complicated and changeable, but you’ll figure them out once you pay attention.”
That night, Charlie finished his homework in record time and retired to his room without watching any television shows. When his father came up to say goodnight, he discovered his son in a state of red-faced exertion. Charlie’s room looked like a floral typhoon had passed through. Crushed petals and buds littered every surface, mingling with the torn-up posters from two nights past.
“What is the matter, Charlie? Are you all right? Should I call Miss Yaro?”
Charlie’s father had his phone in his hand, ready to dial.
“No. It’s okay, Dad. I’m practicing.”
“Practicing? Oh. That’s…good. I’m glad. Clean this mess up before your mom sees it, okay?”
Charlie nodded, and his father gave him a gentle hug.
“I’m proud of you.”
“Don’t stay up too late.”
After his father left, Charlie entered the last notes of the night: “Roses mixed in with other stuff: feeling scared, maybe? Or worried.”
Over the next two days, Charlie kept at his log whenever he could get to his phone. He skipped after-school soccer practice so that he could work on his manifestations. He spent half his time identifying the flowers. Botany wasn’t a subject he’d paid much attention to.
Charlie discovered a strong correlation between chrysanthemums and confusion, daisies and frustration, but the connection to roses remained unclear. Roses came with fear, nervousness, worry, and any other strong reaction. Sometimes they were white. Given that he often felt scared and full of strong emotion when he was around Amelie, he hoped he would make enough by accident for the funeral.
Charlie woke on Saturday morning feeling plenty nervous. He swallowed pansies and violets with breakfast, then put on his soccer clothes.
“Have a good game,” his mother called as he ran out the door.
Instead of cycling to the soccer field, Charlie rode to the funeral parlor. Amelie met him at the door. She wore a black knee-length dress with her dark hair swept back by a matching headband. Charlie glanced down at his bright blue and green soccer uniform.
“Sorry about the outfit,” he said, wishing he’d thought to bring a sober change of clothing. “I kind of didn’t tell my parents I was coming here.”
“That’s okay. Come on back.”
She led the way to a plain oak casket. It rested in a room that was decorated with some sparse flower arrangements and an old brown sofa. Charlie gazed at Amelie’s puffy, tear-streaked face and let his emotions loose. Fear and nervous energy tied his stomach in knots. Poppies, mums, and roses tumbled out of him.
He frowned at the blooms and concentrated. Jasmine mingled with the others. What was he afraid of? Disappointing Amelie. He focused on wanting to make her happy, and the roses vanished. He focused on his fear of failure; that didn’t work either.
Then he imagined succeeding. His heart raced and he felt flutters in his stomach. He pictured his triumph and her winning smile, perhaps a hug…or even a kiss? Pristine white rosebuds fell from his hands. Aha! He held out his arms, closed his eyes, and held to the nerve-wracking idea of success.
Roses poured from his hands. They came as buds, full blooms, and half-opened blossoms like Amelie’s parted lips. Though mostly white, some were blush pink (he liked her) and pale yellow (he was concerned for her). If Charlie’s eyes had been open, he would have seen Amelie’s sadness lift and be replaced by wonder.
When the mound of flowers tickled Charlie’s ankles, Amelie said softly, “I think that’s enough.”
Charlie opened his eyes and looked around. He frowned. “Oh, no! I’m sorry.”
“So many of them aren’t white. I’ll sort them out.”
“Never mind, Charlie. They’re perfect! I know Granddad would love them. Thank you so much.”
Amelie gave him a light hug, grazing him with her warmth. She scooped up an armful of roses and scattered them on the coffin. Charlie bent to help. His whole body trembled with relief. As he straightened, their eyes met, and they smiled.
“I wasn’t sure I could do it,” he confessed. “I’m not very good at this yet.”
“Are you kidding? That was amazing. You’re going to make so many people happy.”
“Duh, Charlie. People love flowers.”
That was true. Maybe his ability wasn’t quite as useless as he feared. If it could make Amelie happy, it couldn’t be all that bad.
As they placed the last of the roses on the casket, a middle-aged man dressed in a black suit entered the room. His resemblance to Amelie was unmistakable.
“What’s all this?”
“Dad, this is my friend Charlie, from school.”
“Nice to meet you,” said Amelie’s father, sounding distracted. “Amelie, where did you get all these roses? I thought Mom talked to you about this.”
“Charlie made them.”
Charlie’s nervousness in front of Amelie’s father demonstrated his abilities. More roses fell, though this time they mixed with columbines from his reddened ears. The manifestations stopped after Amelie’s father smiled.
“Now I understand. I’ve never heard of someone who can make flowers. My father would’ve been envious.” He clapped Charlie on the shoulder. “You’ve been very kind to help Amelie like this, but I’m afraid it’s almost time for the service.”
Charlie nodded. Time to go. His tongue felt glued down, and he hurried out. He was halfway to the soccer field before he realized he hadn’t said goodbye.
Two weeks later, Charlie Kim walked onto a small stage with roses and yellow-purple pansies trailing behind him. He had learned how to stop his manifestations in most situations, but the recital was too overwhelming to worry about a few stray blossoms.
Rows of white folding chairs lined the community center auditorium, filled by students and their families. On stage, Mrs. Wong sat at a grand piano, waiting to accompany him.
Charlie wore his only suit for the occasion. A single white rose peeked from the buttonhole. He took his position and bowed. Tucking his violin into place, he closed his eyes, breathed deeply twice, and played.
The opening triplets of von Weber’s “Country Dance” traipsed through the hall. Jasmine and alyssum drifted to the stage as Charlie concentrated on the rising and falling tones, on the pairing of bow and string. This time, he was well aware of the posies around him, but he ignored them.
When he finished—with only a few missed notes—polite applause rose from the audience. Charlie spotted his parents clapping enthusiastically. He smiled at them. Then he saw Miss Yaro standing in the back with none other than Nawemi Robinson. Nawemi winked and gave him a thumbs up. Charlie grinned so wide that his cheeks hurt, but he kept scanning the audience until he found her.
Amelie sat in the second row with some other students. She beamed at Charlie. He put down his instrument—gently, under Mrs. Wong’s sharp gaze—and scooped up the fragrant blossoms around him. He flung them over the audience, bringing forth an eruption of cheers. He felt exactly like a hero.
S.B. Divya is a lover of science, math, fiction, and the Oxford comma. After spending twenty years working as an electrical engineer, she started giving more weight to fiction than to reality and became an author. In her past, she’s used a telescope to find Orion’s nebula, scuba dived with manta rays, and climbed to the top of a thousand year old stupa. She holds degrees in Computational Neuroscience and Signal Processing. Her stories have appeared in Lightspeed Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, and Nature, and her science-fiction novella Runtime is available from Tor.com Publications. You can read more about her at www.eff-words.com.
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