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Growth Cycle

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Hydrangea sighed. The sound of Iris, her clone-daughter - the spitting image of her late partner - currently bawling her little eyes out clinched it. She was going to have to interact with the child. Again. It was a never-ending cycle of sticky hands and tearful cries for attention.

“I know,” Hydrangea told the girl while checking her diaper. “I know. I miss her, too.”

What was the point of having given Alice all those death flowers, Hydrangea wondered bitterly, if she was just going to use them in her experiments?

On that thought came a fit of paranoia that there was something wrong worse than hunger or a little loneliness. Hydrangea tucked a couple more death flowers in Iris’s inventory.

“Tall, Dark, and Skinny comes for you, you give him those,” she told Iris, not for the first time. “You’ve got enough for a whole bouquet now.

Iris stared blankly back. Hydrangea really needed to get around to teaching her to talk one of these days.

“It’ll be fine,” Alice had said. “She’ll be a genius like me. She’ll hardly need any teaching or attention, and when she does, I’ll do it.”

Right. No time like the present. Hydrangea pointed at the urn that currently housed Alice’s ashes and told Iris, “Repeat after me: liar.”

At the least, Iris did pick things up quickly. She seemed happy at the hour or two of attention, clapping after every new word or phrase. Hydrangea took a break to give the girl time to down a bottle and took the opportunity to check on her garden. They’d put up a fence after the great wild horse invasion of last year, the casualties of which included over half her plants at the time, but Hydrangea liked to be sure. Besides, those fucking unicorns could and did teleport where they pleased.

Iris looked up expectantly at Hydrangea’s return and lifted her arms in silent plea. Hydrangea picked the girl up and dumped her in the little learner’s playpen.

“Practice.” Hydrangea pointed at the little learner’s mirror.

“Practice,” Iris dutifully repeated. And then she went on to tell the mirror words Hydrangea hadn’t even taught her yet. The child did all her own reading, too. Hydrangea had no idea if this was the result of being a genius’s genius clone, or if all children were like this, but personally she was adding it to her long list of why children were suspicious, strange, creepy creatures. Though Iris was growing on her like damp mold.

Perhaps a few hours on the computer later, Hydrangea could hear crying again. The kid couldn’t be that hungry or lonely already, and she’d seeded potty chairs all over the house just in case, so why -

Oh. Right. Walking wouldn’t help Iris escape the playpen. All that potty training for naught.

“When the ambrosia’s ready,” Hydrangea informed the urn, “you are going to owe me for so much more than resurrecting you.”

--

Alice gave a little cry of dismay. “What happened to all my scrap?”

“Seriously?” Hydrangea demanded instead of informing her about their daughter’s sculpting phase. Besides, it should be obvious from all the scrap metal chairs everywhere. “Years as a ghost, your hardworking wife devoting hours and hours to revive you, and that’s what you’re concerned about?”

“It took me days to collect it all!”

Hydrangea threw her hands in the air. “And now you’ve years to do so again!”

“You’re right,” Alice said. “Absolutely right.” Hydrangea had but a moment’s relief that the stupid argument was over and the heartfelt reunion could begin, when Alice continued, “I’ll get started right away!”

“What about your daughter?” Hydrangea called after her.

“What daughter?”

Hydrangea face-palmed. “This one,” she motioned to Iris, standing quiet and watching it all with an air of fascination. “Right here.”

“She’s not my daughter,” Alice said dismissively. “She’s a genetic experiment.”

The door closed behind her.

“I think,” Hydrangea said slowly, wondering where the romance had gone, “that I want to divorce your mom.”

“She’s not my mom,” Iris said flatly. “She’s my sole genetic donor.”

Hydrangea sighed in exasperation.

“Hey, mom?” Iris asked. “If Alice is going to be out all night collecting scrap, can I have a sleepover?”

Hydrangea really wasn’t a kid person, but she thought hers was pretty alright. “Sure, baby,” she pulled Iris into a hug. “Invite over as many of your sticky-fingered friends as you like.”

“Harvey’s neat!” Iris protested.

“And whenever I turn my back on Ivy, I risk my whole kitchen disappearing.”

“You steal one stove - ” Iris mumbled on her friend’s behalf.

“C’mon,” Hydrangea said. “Let’s order pizza and see how much we can eat before they get here.”

--

“We can’t get a divorce because we’re not married,” Alice informed her when she turned up after yet another several day missing stint.

“Sam took pictures! I still have our wedding arch!” Hydrangea’s little brother, who’d changed his name from Lily the instant he’d grown up and was well out of their family’s flower naming scheme, practically lived through his phone. Anyone who’d read his blog knew everything even tangentially related to his life. A bevy of strangers had probably seen more of Hydrangea’s wedding than she had. “There are at least five blog posts detailing it all over the internet!”

“Yes,” Alice said patiently, “but it was til death do us part. I died.”

“That - ” Hydrangea paused, relented. “That makes sense, actually.”

“We can get married again if you like. We have the rings, and as you said, we still have the wedding arch.”

“That would rather defeat the purpose of a divorce.”

“Wait - ” Alice’s eyes went wide, suddenly grasping the general direction of the conversation. Hydrangea couldn’t be sure how she’d missed it. “Are you breaking up with me?”

“Yes. Yes, I am.”

“But why?”

Hydrangea very carefully did not mention Iris, because she knew she was a complete hypocrite where her daughter was concerned. Instead, as patient as she could manage, she said, “When’s the last time we so much as talked to each other?”

“We’re talking right now!”

“And before that?”

It took Alice a moment. “Three days ago.”

“You thanked me for cooking and asked me to do the dishes.” Forestalling Alice’s response, “And two days before that was the time before. You asked me to take out the recycling.” Hydrangea did her best to curtail herself from shouting. “I was your wife. I’m not your live-in maid.”

Alice sniffed, heartbroken and lovely. “But you brought me back to life.”

“Yes. And I did it because I loved you. I still love you. But I don’t want to live with you. It’s not good for me, and it’s not good for Iris.”

“So like - a trial separation?”

“No.”

--

When Iris got back from school, she found Hydrangea crying over a half-prepared meal. “What’d Alice do this time?”

“I broke up with her. And asked her to move out.”

“Oh.” Iris shooed Hydrangea out of the way. She’d just started high school, and all those burnt muffins in childhood had to be good for something.

Either they were, or fall salad was the easiest possible thing to prepare. Perhaps both. At Iris’s urging, Hydrangea sniffled one last time and joined her at the table.

“How was your day?” Hydrangea asked.

“Ivy told me her mom dumped her third spouse.” Iris carefully eyed her own mom over the dinner table.” “You could try to be lucky number four.”

Hydrangea snorted. “Rose is my cousin.”

“Huh.” For as long as Iris could remember, it had just been her and Hydrangea with the occasional cameo by Uncle Sam. “We have other family?”

“The Hawthornes are a huge family,” Hydrangea said.

The Hawthornes?” Iris took a moment to digest this. “Is this why you took Alice’s last name?”

“It was certainly a bonus.”

Iris chewed thoughtfully, then, “Does this mean I get disowned if I go into crime with Ivy when I grow up?”

Hydrangea patted her shoulder. “I’m sure your grandparents would be proud. Just let me know if we need a treadmill so you can practice running from the police. And don’t tell Sam - his girlfriend’s only a snitch, but she’s trying to work her way up to detective someday.”

--

Iris didn’t go into crime. Or at least, not immediately. Ivy got “Most Likely to Take Over the World,” but Iris made Valedictorian. Well. She also got “Most Likely to Die in a Kitchen Fire,” but that had been her genetic donor’s first death.

There was a reason Hydrangea made her practice burning muffins every night in elementary. She’d even had a shower installed next to the inventor’s bench “just in case it’s not just a cooking thing.” Never mind Iris’s inventory overflowed with flowers for Death.

“I’m very proud of you and your decisions,” Hydrangea said. “But are you sure you want to go to university already?”

“When I was little, you talked about the wonders of boarding school twice weekly. At least.”

“Yes, well, you’ve finally grown out of the creepy stage.”

“Only you,” Iris told her mother, “would consider the entirety of adolescence creepy.”

“I’m not alone!” Hydrangea protested. “Grandma Strange felt much the same way!”

“Which is why I wasn’t allowed to visit before she died. I know.”

In an obvious fit of sentimentality, Hydrangea said, “You can bring any little future brats of your own to visit me any time.”

“Who says I’m having kids?” Iris asked in alarm.

Hydrangea hugged her. “This is why you’re my favorite daughter.”

“I’m your only daughter.”

“And that’s why you’re my least favorite, too.”

--

Iris came back from university a plant person.

“What happened?” Hydrangea asked.

“Can you believe they don’t let plants attend college?” Iris demanded. “I was top of my class! All the professors loved me! I was making breakthroughs in my field even in my downtime!”

“As evident by your current state.”

“Yes,” Iris agreed. “I made the forbidden fruit and made it into the best damn meal I ever had.”

“Just let me know if you decide to change your name to something more plant appropriate.” Hydrangea seemed to be taking this well.

“You named me Iris. How much more appropriate could it be?”

“Your great aunt Hyacinth changed her name to Fern.”

“Of course someone in the family made themselves into a plant first,” Iris said. She should’ve known. There were enough of them that they’d probably left no stone unturned for the later generations. “You know, you’re taking this pretty well.”

“Why wouldn’t I?” Hydrangea asked.

“I was grounded for months when I got a tattoo,” Iris reminded her.

“Yes, well, you’re an adult now. You get to make your own decisions about your body, no parental input required.”

Iris beamed at this faith in her.

“Besides, I’ve always liked plants better than people.”

Iris pouted. Of course.

“Now, if we’re all caught up, it’s time to go to City Hall.”

“Why?”

“Where else are we going to petition for your re-entry to classes?”

“The University?”

“Don’t be silly. They don’t even let you in the town if you’re not faculty, staff, or invited by a young adult to visit. I lost my right to go there years ago.”

--

“Long story short,” Iris told Ivy later, “we fought the law, and the law won.”

“I’ve been there,” Ivy sympathized. “Did I tell you about my last arrest? I was this close to kicking the cop’s ass and getting off scott-free, but then the homeowner decided to jump in.” Ivy huffed. “Other brave people irk me.”

“My mom’s brave.”

“Yeah, but Aunt Hydrangea’s on the list.”

“List?”

“The off-limits list.”

“Didn’t stop you from stealing her stove.”

“Hey! I was twelve at the time. And I returned it the minute I realized it was in my inventory when I got home.”

“Oh, or what about that ugly green sofa?”

“The very next morning!”

“Maybe Mom took the opportunity to throw it out. What about that unicorn painting?”

“. . . Okay,” Ivy admitted. “That one’s still hanging on my bedroom wall.”

--

Hydrangea’s expression was serious as she sat down to their family dinner. “Iris, I have something I need to tell you.”

“You got back together with Alice.”

“I got back together with - how’d you know?”

Iris rolled her eyes. “You Woo-Hooed with her at a party. The whole town knew within twenty minutes.”

“Oh.” Hydrangea stared at her plate a moment. “You don’t mind?”

“Me? No. Do what makes you happy. But Simon Rotter, on the hand, he might have a problem with it.”

Hydrangea tilted her head. “Who’s Simon Rotter?”

“Her husband.”

“Why that - ” Hydrangea pushed back from the table. “Please excuse me. I need to go slap someone silly.” She paused. “How did you know, anyway?”

“Harvey’s still my friend and even more of a social butterfly than when we were in high school. There’s a reason we crowned him gossip king. I think he was on the phone before you and Alice made it through a bedroom door.”

--

As adults, Iris and Hydrangea bonded over the garden. Hydrangea had the green thumb, but Iris could hold actual conversations with the plants. Therefore, it should have been no surprise that one day, when they went out to harvest, Iris turned to Hydrangea and said, “By the way, congrats on being a grandmother,” before tugging on a mysterious sprout and pulling out a little green baby.

Hydrangea pointed in shock. “That’s what that was?”

“Told you she wasn’t a weed,” Iris said smugly.

“Wait,” Hydrangea said. “Where are we going to put her?”

And that’s how it came out that Iris intended to move.

--

“My little baby,” Hydrangea cried. “All grown up.”

“You could always come with us.”

“I’m old,” Hydrangea said. “And I’m pretty sure Death is getting sick of the flowers.”

“You drank an age freeze potion ages ago. They don’t run out. You’d stop seeing him if you stopped kicking vending machines.”

“Fine,” Hydrangea relented. “I’ll be here if you ever want to visit.”

“You’re keeping the grandkids promise?”

“Yes,” Hydrangea sighed. “I’m keeping the grandkids promise. Now, do you have enough flowers for the both of you?”

“You put 300 of them in the family inventory alone. I still have one for almost every day of my childhood.”

“You’re right,” Hydrangea said. “You can’t be too careful. I’d better get you some more.”

--

In the end, Hydrangea ended up visiting every day to tend a whole garden of death flowers.

“Grandma hates kids,” said Daisy, astute for her age. “So why is she always so - ” Daisy waved a hand.

“You get back here, Evergreen, and you put these in your inventory!” Hydrangea shouted, chasing said toddler around the backyard.

“No! Got too many!” Evergreen cried.

“Grandma hates kids,” Iris agreed with Daisy. She continued in a confiding, confident tone, “But she loves you.” Iris dropped a kiss on Daisy’s forehead. “Just don’t use the flowers in your experiments, and you’ll be just fine.”