Colin’s family had moved when he was younger, and not just short distances like across town, or even within the same county. Instead, they had traveled hundreds of miles to start life anew, and each time they did, Colin was struck by the drastic change in flora that existed from one place to the next. For the last trip, his Dad had filled a trailer full of their things, and had towed it behind the car as they headed from one province to the next. As the afternoons wore on, and his mother asked if they could please have quiet as the sun was giving her a headache, and she was just going to take a small nap, Colin had spent hours staring out of his window, watching the fields of wildflowers. Flowers were for girls, though, so he never asked if they could stop and let him take a closer look.
Later, when his sister Laura started receiving flowers from boys, Colin was fascinated with the way they wilted, no two ever doing it in exactly the same way. His books talked about xylem and phloem and photosynthesis, but Colin still didn’t know why they died, just that they always did.
As an adult, most of the flowers Colin came in contact with were ones that he bought for his girlfriends, and later, his wife. They stayed around the house for few days, but as soon as they started to wilt, they disappeared. He found himself missing watching their colours change.
He had received a few bouquets of flowers himself, as he obtained notoriety. Most of those were in cities far from home, and so Colin eventually ended up leaving them behind, often before they had even begun to wilt. He carried with him the memories of those perfect flowers, all different shapes and colours, as he kept moving on.
The other flowers he came into contact with as an adult were ones that he remembered and wished he didn’t. These were the ones that he left on the graves of friends who died too soon, too young. He doesn’t visit them often, but he tried to go at least once. His friend Mary, who had succumbed to cancer after a long and difficult battle, was the only one he made sure to get to at least once a year. He left her black roses (death), which always stood out starkly against the blinding whiteness of the snow and the cool gray of the marker. Sometimes, he wondered why he never visited in the summer, but knows that he would miss the contrast if he tried. When he goes home after visiting her and stands in front of the heater, overcoat dripping on the floor, staring blankly at something only he can see, Deb knows better than to ask why.
Whatever it is that Colin feels about flowers, he never shares, with anyone. It just isn’t something that you talk about in normal conversation, and there’s always something more interesting going on. He’s not interested in why he’s interested in flowers; he’s accepted that a long time ago. It’s just a part of him, like his nose, or feet, or his receding hairline. So, when Ryan asked him why he was placing a boutonnière in a book, Colin was rather startled. Didn’t everyone know that’s what he always did?
“I like to save them,” was all he said. Ryan, it seemed, didn’t know quite what to think of this, but accepted it anyway. It wasn’t like he didn’t have eccentricities of his own. That night Colin dreamed of a field of flowers that changed with each shift in the wind, and large, warm hands that covered his and told him that this was how it should be. He woke to sticky sheets, cooling rapidly against his skin, and a sense of loss that took his breath away. It was a long time before he was able to convince himself that everything was fine, and that he could sleep again.
They were taping the next day, and Colin went into his dressing room to find that someone had left a bunch of black-eyed susans (justice) on the low table that stood in front of his mirror. They were a common flower (more of a weed, really), but to him, they were magnificent. There was no note, and no one mentioned them. It was the beginning of something that Colin only barely began to grasp. Everytime he was in the same city as Ryan, there were flowers waiting for him. Roses, pansies, mums, everything from the common to the rare appeared at his home, at the studio, on the windshield of his car. No one ever claimed them, but he knew that Ryan was responsible. He loved him for it.
Looking back, there was no one day that Colin could point to and say “that’s when I fell in love;” rather, he became gradually aware, like a flower blooming in the sun. When he was away from Ryan, the world seemed appropriately darker, dreary, gray. He said the right words at the right time, and smiled for the cameras. Deb tried, but couldn’t reach him. He would hold her close, feel her warmth, and it meant nothing. He told Luke about Neverland, where children never grew up, and life was always good. His son looked at him with eyes too old for his face, and had told him it was ok.
“What is?” Colin had asked, amused. Luke had merely looked at him seriously and patted his arm in comfort.
“You’re going away.”
“To Neverland.” He had gone back to colouring then, a surreal scene containing many flowers that Colin was sure were never found in nature, leaving his father to look after him in shock. There was nothing Colin could say to that, and when he kissed his son goodnight later that evening, it was with a trace of regret. He left the next day for a taping in LA.
There’s always a price for immortality. The fake flowers are beautiful, full of colour and light, yet it is always apparent that they are dead. They will never wilt, but given half a chance, they will fade like the photographs of yesteryear. His mother used to have a fake plant that she kept in the kitchen window. Claimed it brightened up the place without all the hassle of a real plant. She had kept it through all their moves, and it was always the last thing packed and the first thing unpacked. Colin had visited his parents recently, and the same plant was in the kitchen, the side facing them a vibrant array of greens and purples. The other side was nearly bleached white. She kept it because it reminded her of when he was a boy, she said. Besides, no one ever looked at the other side.
Los Angeles was hot, muggy, and, in short, it reminded Colin why he was generally so happy to live up north. The sun reflected off of the sidewalk and nearby buildings, and he found himself stopping at a street vender to purchase a pair of cheap sunglasses. He vaguely remembered that at one point in time he had owned a rather expensive pair, but they, like so many other things, are lost to the recesses of time. He had time before he had to be at the studio, and so wandered around aimlessly for awhile. The sun was even brighter at the beach, and the sounds of laughter from the college students frolicking reminded him of something he had forgotten. He just sat there, in his slacks and long sleeved dress shirt while the temperature climbed to above ninety, until the buzzing of his cell phone reminded him that he had places to go. When he got to the studio, there was a bunch of purple hyacinths waiting for him, reflected in the mirror and so seemingly larger than it really was. He remembered reading somewhere that they once stood for sorrow and apologies. He tried not to think of anything except the coming show, and failed miserably.
While on stage, Colin was full of self confidence and assurance. He felt that he could do anything, be anything, and it would be fine because he was up there with friends who wouldn’t let him fall. When Ryan touched his arm or leg in reassurance, Colin was able to laugh it off, giddy with the feeling of being on stage again. He vowed to himself that after the taping, he would talk to Ryan about the flowers, and what it meant to him. But then the camera’s turned off and he found himself no longer larger than life, and Ryan left the studio with nothing being said between them. There are orange blossoms waiting on his car (innocence, eternal love). The wind moved them, and they danced in the breeze and fading light. Colin was able to catch a handful, and despite how carefully he held them, some are crushed anyway, releasing their sweet aroma. His hand still smelt of oranges when he went to sleep, despite repeated washings.
He wandered again the next day, on foot this time, up and down the maze of streets. Occasionally something in one of the windows would catch his eye, but when he turned, it would be some cheap plastic knick-knack, not worth the asking price. He kept on walking, and eventually he saw it. It was hanging in the upper corner of a shop window, high enough so that most wouldn’t even bother looking. It was perfect, and he quickened his pace to purchase it from a bored shopkeeper, who looked at him incredulously when he mentioned what he wanted.
“You want that?!?! It’s been hanging there for at least eight years; no one wants it.” Colin had merely smiled tightly and reiterated his claim. Later, he sneaked into the studio and Ryan’s dressing room to leave it on the table there. While almost certainly a reproduction, he knew that Ryan would enjoy the Celtic hanging bowl all the same.
He left it, in a plain cardboard box, on top of the desk in Ryan’s dressing room. He half expected Ryan to say something to him about it, but was nonetheless surprised when he was slammed into a wall just off stage. The breath left his lungs in a loud whoosh and for a second the stage with its lights and laughter as Greg and Drew tossed quips back and forth wavered in his vision.
“Why?” the word was a hot burst of air across his ear, and Colin hung limply, supported only by Ryan’s hands on his shoulders. There were a hundred different things he could say, excuses to turn this into something light that they could both laugh at, words to make Ryan angry, phrases that would only serve to make him sad. They died on his tongue, wilting like so many flowers, and all he could say was the truth.
“Because I love you.” They were both silent for a moment, the only sound being that of Ryan’s breaths hot and heavy against Colin’s neck. When Ryan’s lips met his, they were closed tightly much like the stage kisses they had shared before, and Colin spared a moment’s thought for how dangerous this was, they really weren’t that far from the stage and any second now someone could walk by, or look over and see them, and was that what Ryan really wanted? Then Ryan relaxed, and moved his lips gently against Colin’s. All thoughts fled, save one; this was home. This is what he had been looking for.
Tomorrow there would be questions, accusations and decisions. But right here, right now, there was only Ryan and the faint smell of gardenias (joy).