Embarrassingly, it took Jade nearly five minutes to notice anything different about the kitchen table that evening. She later claimed this was because her glasses had fogged up from the summer rain, and then once they were clean again she'd already been poking through the refrigerator wondering if she should make an impulse grocery run or just stick to her planned dinner menu.
Whatever the truth of her distraction, eventually the bright spray of color in the corner of her vision snagged enough attention that she turned and stared in perplexity.
In her experience, bonsai azaleas didn't appear out of thin air. She hadn't brought it home. Bec and Vodka Mutini certainly hadn't either (though the latter had curled around the shallow oval pot and was industriously washing her paws).
That left Rose. And Rose, despite the taste for high drama she tried to subsume into irony, had never been much for traditional romantic gestures, whereas flowers were about as stereotypically romantic as you could get. Jade had made far too many Valentine and anniversary arrangements (and complained to Rose about Hallmark glurge and impossible customers) for either of them to ever think otherwise.
Still. Azaleas were so poisonous that people had once used their blooms as understated death threats, which definitely fit Rose's aesthetic.
Also there was a suspicious lack of girlfriend wandering into the kitchen to demand food and petting.
Jade picked up the bonsai -- paused long enough for the cat, thus dislodged, to drape herself across Jade's shoulders like an irritable scarf -- and headed toward the sunroom Rose had claimed as her writing lair. Sure enough, Rose was curled up on the love seat, laptop propped on a stack of pillows, industriously pretending to type.
"Thank you. It's lovely," Jade said, and grinned to herself as Rose's spine and shoulders relaxed. "Did I forget an occasion? I could write you some terrible poetry, or buy a fancy skull-shaped pot for the Eldritch Aloe of Doom, or commission Dave to draw gay wizard tentacle sex for your laptop wallpaper."
Rose laughed as she closed her laptop. "No occasion. I was researching bonsai for a scene where Zazzerpan surprises Senior Librarian Nalyx in her garden and they exchange oblique threats using pruning tools as an extended metaphor, and I wound up ordering that one because it reminded me of you."
Jade gave the bonsai in her arms a closer look. On the surface, she couldn't see any resemblance to herself. Bonsai were inherently controlled and sculpted, and she was... well, running a business demanded a certain amount of focus and organization, not to mention she still had an ingrained need to keep important supplies organized and labeled so she could grab them in emergencies, but beyond those necessities she thought of herself more as a wild bramble than a pruned and shaped topiary.
This bonsai did imitate wild exuberance very convincingly, though, and its brilliant blue and magenta flowers were nearly the color of Jade's favorite galaxy-and-nebula t-shirt. And she had traded the freedom of living entirely on her own in favor of creating a shared home with Rose. So maybe the simile wasn't completely unsubstantiated? Or maybe she was missing another layer. Rose's gifts could be like puzzle-boxes that way, all twisty-tangled and a fascinating challenge to unravel.
Jade gnawed her lip, considering, until Rose's voice broke low and ever so slightly hesitant into her thoughts: "No mysteries, I promise. For once, I managed not to overcomplicate everything. The flowers are gorgeous and so are you. That's all."
Oh. Jade's cheeks burned, both from the rush of blood to her skin and the pull as her mouth tried to stretch into a smile broader than her face.
"I-- Well-- So are you," she managed after some seconds. "Gorgeous, I mean. Now come rescue me from your cat before she increases her personal gravitation field again and knocks us both through the floor into the basement."
Rose laughed again, and came to unwind Mutie from Jade's neck. "I should steal that as a murder method -- suitably dressed up in arcane erudition, of course. I still have a half-dozen apprentices and masters in need of ironically nasty deaths."
Jade shook her head. "Nah. Save that for your next Persephone Noir series. That way you can even keep the science jargon -- plus, as much as I like your gay wizard murderfests, my literary heart belongs to Sephy and I'd rather my contributions went toward making her more awesome. In fact, you can consider this blanket permission to nab any random stuff I say and write it in there. Deal?"
"Deal." Rose scratched Mutie briefly under her chin, then stepped back and lowered the cat to the love seat (where she promptly curled up on Rose's residual heat signature, tucked her nose under her tail, and began purring). "Assuming, of course, that I ever do write more in that world, which is not entirely up to me. There are editors and contracts and proposals to get through before I'm willing to budget much time in that direction."
Jade freed one hand from the flowerpot and waved it dismissively. "Don't be ridiculous, of course they'll jump on a sequel tetralogy. Especially if you put in all the cool stuff you've been shedding on post-its all over the house. But hey, change of subject: do you know how to take care of a bonsai? Because I freely admit that is one aspect of botanical care where my skills are shaky to nonexistent."
"Not exactly? I did find a class on bonsai care and aesthetics at the Adult School, though, starting in September. I thought we might learn together." Rose shrugged, looking oddly abashed: perhaps embarrassed by her own sincerity.
Jade crossed the remaining three steps to pull her girlfriend into her arms and kiss her until uncertainty bled into pleasure and anticipation.
The bonsai sat on the love seat, temporarily forgotten, flowers quivering gently to the rhythm of the cat's sleepy purr.