People usually got excited over having their plants grow out. Marinette, however, felt an acute sense of dread.
It wasn’t as if she didn’t foresee herself meeting the love of her life, (if anything, she was part thankful and baffled her plant was growing at her age; she had heard of people budding past their thirties!) only that she was absolutely certain her rotten luck would jinx the whole experience.
…like the caterpillar that would choose her could die in the middle of feeding or not reach the butterfly stage, or turn out to be a bird and fly off somewhere way too far and she’d never know on whom it landed on thus not being able to meet her partner anyway or nothing would land on her at all and she’d have to watch her plant wither and fall off and she’d probably die a miserable, lonely death—
“Marinette?” her mother called from the kitchen. “Breakfast!”
She inhaled sharply and smacked her face with both hands, bringing herself out of her spiral. She hoped her plant would turn out to be some sort of lucky mandarin tree.
It was summer and the first bumps that had gently pushed their way past Marinette’s skin had already popped. Small, green shoots of a yet-unknown plant dotted the expanse of her shoulders and tapered past her upper arms. It made wearing clothes feel a bit awkward, and until she found her Fated Someone™, she’d have to maim a few choice pieces from her wardrobe if she wanted to look decent with leaves sticking out every which way (or she could buy clothes made for people budding and blooming, but the holes never seem to fit right or didn’t look good). Her hands itched with the thought of trying out better alterations.
“I remember my own plants growing out,” Sabine said fondly, setting a plate of fresh, buttery soft croissants down on the table, along with a small assortment of fruit jams and hazelnut spread. The morning’s baked goods had been moved fresh from the ovens onto the display shelves. Tom was busy with the early rush of customers.
“I was already in university studying Nutrition and my bàba was worried I wouldn’t be giving them grandkids!” she continued, pouring herself some coffee as Marinette prepared her breakfast, making sure to be careful mixing cocoa into her mug of milk.
“My parents were excited when I grew flowers, and it bloomed into the biggest azaleas anyone had ever seen. Pink and white and all over my hair! I had to pin a few in place or else I couldn’t see,” she giggled at this before smiling fondly at Marinette absently toying with a bud on the back of her hand, ready to pop. “A swallow landed on me during my first spring,” she said gently. “Do you know who it was?”
A bird? Usually that meant one’s fated partner came from afar. Marinette thought of her father, born and raised in the heart of Paris, meeting her mother, who emigrated from Jiangsu when she was three.
Sabine’s gentle smile grew warmer as she shook her head. “Auntie Nadja. Madame Chamakh.”
That caught Marinette’s attention, even if she was absolutely confused for a minute. “You…were in love with Madame Chamakh?”
Her mother laughed, a tittering bell-like sound. “No, ma cherié, we became best friends. Until now, we trust each other with many things. Of course, she may come off as stern, but she means well. That’s how she always is.”
Marinette apparently hadn’t gotten what Sabine wanted to say, as she continued. “What I mean is whatever chooses your plant doesn’t always signal a romantic relationship. It can be just as important, such as a friend you make for life.”
Marinette’s eyes widened a fraction, realization touching her but she didn’t know exactly what it was, only a strange sort of feeling that her luck wasn’t as bad as she usually thought. Her mother reached across their humble dining table to smooth an errant lock of hair away from her face, eyes sparkling with a bit of mischief.
“I met your father a semester after. We took a major together,” Sabine added, seemingly answering the question Marinette didn’t ask. “His leaves were the perfect match to my flowers. We met when his butterfly landed on me. And,” she winked conspiratorially and Marinette had to lean to hear what she said. “It wasn’t love at first sight. Don’t believe anyone who says you have to fall in love with who found you right away.” Sabine straightened back up. “Even your father wanted to woo me properly. Little did he know I was fond of him already.”
“Fond of who?” Tom asked, striding into the kitchen with a little smile, slightly breathless from non-stop entertaining the last customers of the morning rush.
“Good morning, Papa,” Marinette said, leaning up to kiss her father on the cheek. “Maman was telling me about her flowers growing out.”
“Oh, and such wonderful flowers they were!” Tom said emphatically, accepting the coffee mug his wife handed him and taking a grateful sip. “Giant azaleas! The moment I saw her walk into class, I felt my leaves shake and when we locked eyes, I knew it was her!”
Marinette was giggling as she watched her father swoop down to give her mother a kiss.
“Do you know what your plant is, my dear?” Tom asked, turning to her.
“Not yet, Papa. They’ve only started popping.”
“How does it feel?”
Marinette cast a glance at her shoulders, where her small leaves were being bent under her shirt. “I thought it would hurt, but it doesn’t? It feels weird though. I might need to make a few adjustments on my clothes…”
Tom smiled warmly. “You’ll get used to it,” he said and finished his coffee with a pensive hum while Sabine took Marientte’s dishes to the sink. “It looks like you’ll be getting leaves though…”
That was a bit of a surprise. When one grew out leaves, it meant they would be the one doing the finding instead of simply being found. “How do you know?”
Marinette’s father winked. “Just a hunch,” he said and returned to the store.
And true enough, they were.
The world worked in mysterious ways, as Marinette soon found out weeks before returning to school, when not one but three fat caterpillars chose her as their home and began devouring her growing leaves.
She wasn’t particularly squeamish towards bugs but waking up to see caterpillars crawling about and happily munching away on the youngest, brightest green leaves with the gusto of miniature lawnmowers was cause for worry. Can people run out of leaves to feed whatever landed on them? What happens when that happens? Does that even happen? Will her caterpillars die? Will they lose interest and crawl away?
Marinette was unaware of the mildly panicked ‘hiiiiiiiii—‘ noise coming from her like a boiling kettle until her mother knocked on her room with freshly folded laundry.
“What’s this?” she asked and gasped in pleasant surprise. “Three caterpillars? Oh, ma cherié, this is exciting!”
“I didn’t know they ate so fast,” Marinette said with a tiny voice, staring at her reflection in the floor length mirror of her room. Two out of the three caterpillars were eating with a particular amount of gusto, completely finishing whatever leaf they were on before moving to the next. “What if they run out of leaves to eat?”
Sabine regarded her daughter with thoughtful bemusement. “I haven’t heard of that happening. We’ll have to make sure you eat well so that your leaves keep growing!”
“Merci, Maman,” she laughed and gave her a quick hug.
After Sabine left the room, Marinette returned to her reflection, sighing. All three caterpillars had such appetites that they even went after the smallest shoots that had yet to fully unfold and meet the sun, making her look more like she was growing twigs than anything else. She wondered if this meant they would be cocooning soon, and it would only be a matter of time before the butterflies her caterpillars would turn into flew toward someone with the exact same plant as hers.
They were lilies, the neighboring florist had told them, a popular growing-out plant among Parisians (or rather a lot of the French). It wasn’t uncommon to find several people with the same type of flowers and shrubs sprouting from them, it was a matter of finding the perfect match.
“You’ll feel it in your bones,” her father had said.
And quite literally too, it seems. Over the past few weeks, Marinette was beginning to feel the ache that came with having roots embed themselves in your muscles and veins, soft green stems push past tissue darkening and firming as they grew, see one particular branch gently pulse along with your heartbeat, or move upon the intake of breath. It didn’t exactly sting or hurt; rather it felt as if parts of you were exposed, sticking out of every which way, sensitive as one’s hair would be if someone played with it. Marinette had spent the rest of her summer altering her clothes to make way for her leaves.
“It looks like your caterpillars are getting ready to cocoon in time for the new school year,” her mother cheerfully observed one day.
Sure enough, when the first day of school rolled around, two cocoons hung from dark long leaves, while the one remaining caterpillar lazily wound its way further into her plant and curled asleep.
“You can bet Chloé’s going to be in my class again,” Marinette said forlornly, giving her mother a good morning kiss. It’s the first day back in school and she had (thankfully) woken up on time.
“Four years in a row?” Sabine asked with mild incredulity. “Is that even possible?”
“With my rotten luck it is,” Marinette answered while preparing her breakfast.
She made the mistake of decisively putting down the cocoa box, setting off a chain reaction of fruit and milk rolling and spilling off the table. Marinette’s face transitioned from acute horror to deep resignation, feeling the sting of the world’s resounding ‘heck yeah!’ to her statement. Sabine said nothing and hurried with the motions of cleaning up the mess, heart going out to the truly sad look on her daughter’s face. Marinette felt her mother touch her cheek in a gentle sign of reassurance and it was hard not to be comforted at that.
“You’ve got three butterflies about to hatch, or well, two” her mother said. “I’d say your luck is turning around already.”
“Tada!” Marinette’s father called as she stepped into the bakery with her school things. He showed her a box of delicate macarons and Marinette squealed.
“Thank you, Papa! My class is going to love love them! You’re the best!”
He gave her a one-armed, hearty hug, making her leaves shake at the motion. “We’re the best,” Tom amended and held up a paper bag emblazoned with the bakery’s new logo Marinette had designed last week. “Thanks to this!”
Inexplicable warmth grew and spread in her chest and she jumped up to give him a kiss.
“Looks like some of your caterpillars are about to hatch soon,” Tom added with a wink. “Make sure to tell whoever they land on to swing by the bakery! Pain au chocolate is on the house.”
Marinette laughed as she rushed to school, feeling significantly better.
…a feeling that later dialed back and forth after several (unfortunate) crushed macarons on the street (and one given to a sweet old man she’d helped cross), (fortunately) making it to class quite a few minutes before the bell rang, (fortunately) finding her old seat empty and claiming it, and (unfortunately) not feeling too close to anyone to talk about how summer went, aside from exchanging a few ‘hellos’ from former classmates, and having a few finger guns pointed her way at seeing her plant growing out.
Their new homeroom teacher was already in front of the class, but busy consulting what was either a syllabus or a class list, occasionally asking a few students to switch seats. On her hair were red roses, many of which had yet to fully open.
There wasn’t a set age to budding and blooming. It was just that a lot of people grew out during their teens and it was often a cause for a few anxieties for those who didn’t have a plant while their peers did. Marinette surreptitiously glanced around the classroom, wondering who had lilies like her.
Rose had gotten a cute pixie cut over the summer, she observed, and had (funnily enough) pink chrysanthemums in her hair. She and Juleka sat together watching a video on Rose’s smartphone hidden beneath their desk. While Marinette wasn’t adept at deciphering foliage, the small orange butterfly meandering between Juleka’s leaves and Roses’ blooms told her just as much.
Nathaniel was asleep, face down on his own desk. There were sprouts in his hair and shoulders, but not grown enough to tell whether they were leaves or flowers. Kim and Max sat together as well, animatedly discussing the results from a regional tennis match televised a few days before. They were both plant-less, having both grown out kumquats last year and chosen by a single magpie to devour Kim’s fruit while nesting in Max’s leaves.
Alix wasn’t growing out either, not because she already did before (or as far as Marinette knew; they had been in different classes until now), but she didn’t seem bothered by it as she continued scrolling through her phone. Mylène was beside her, sporting a lovely array of bright blue hydrangeas that complimented her multi-colored curls. Across them, Ivan sat grumpily, his own head decked with leaves (Marinette wondered if it matched Mylène’s, as there was a single large cocoon hanging from one of his stems).
“Nino?” their teacher called to one exceptionally bored Nino at the back who had crammed whatever he was growing out under an orange baseball cap. “How about you sit in the front row this year? And take off your cap while indoors.”
Marinette turned to look as Nino trudged to the front. He took his cap off with a dejected sigh and shook his leaves (some of which were bent from being squished). They were lily leaves like hers. Huh.
And before Marinette had a chance to look around the rest of the room, a hand slammed down on her desk, along with a sharp voice she (unfortunately) knew all too well.
“Marinette Dupain-Cheng!” Chloé Bourgeois snapped by way of greeting.
Here we go again, Marinette mentally sighed.
“You’re sitting in my seat,” she declared.
“But Chloé,” Marinette began, hoping her tone of voice was firm enough to be convincing. “I’ve always sat here.”
“Well, not anymore!” Sabrina quipped, appearing on her other side. “New year, new seat!”
“So stand up and go sit next to the new girl!” Chloé said and pointed to the front row across where Nino was.
True enough, there was a girl Marinette hadn’t seen in school before. She had shoulder-length, mahogany ombre hair and terracotta skin. At Chloé’s insinuation, she looked up from her phone and glared.
“But—“ Marinette felt herself deflate, not too enthusiastic about the idea of beginning the year with someone she didn’t know, but Chloé was speaking again.
“Listen. Adrien is coming today, and since that” she gestured to the space in front of Marinette. “will be his seat, here becomes my seat!” Chloé slammed both her hands on the table this time.
Marinette frowned. “Who’s Adrien?”
At this, Chloé laughed, sharp and mocking. “I’m dreaming! She doesn’t know who Adrien is! Under what rock do you live on?!”
“He’s a famous super model—” Sabrina supplied.
“I’m his best friend,” interrupted Chloé. “He’s crazy about me. So move.”
“And who elected you queen of seats?”
Marinette was staring wide-eyed at the confrontation, struck with not only the fact that someone had the guts to stick up against Chloé Bourgeois, but also the fact that this girl had large while lilies blooming all around her head, back, and shoulders.
And then she felt it.
A vibration in her stems, a quiver in her leaves, one heartbeat stronger than the others, the blind anticipation of something big about to happen.
“Aw, did you see, Sabrina?” Chloé sang. “We’ve got a rebel in class this year! What are you going to do about it, super-noob? Shoot rays at me with your glasses?”
“Are you sure you want to know?” the girl snapped back and grabbed Marinette by the arm. “Come on,” she said and tugged. Marinette barely had time to grab her box of macarons before she missed a step and sent its contents flying. All but one piece was left.
At least she had found a seat and Chloé wasn’t chewing her ear off. Still, she felt winded.
“Sorry! Sorry…” Marinette squeaked, turning to her new seatmate. The class finally settled down and their teacher introduced herself.
“It’s okay, girl. Chill. It’s no big deal!”
She sighed. “That was amazing, though. I wish I could stand up to Chloé like you.”
“Like Majestia, you mean!” the girl enthusiastically said, showing Marinette her phone from underneath their desk. It was the cover of a comic book featuring a female superhero. Marinette was only vaguely familiar with it. “She says the only thing that lets the forces of evil prevail is good people’s inaction. And well,” the girl put an arm around Marinette’s shoulder. “The force of evil is that girl,” she pointed to Chloé, looking expectantly out the window, mildly annoyed. “And we’re the good people! We can’t allow ourselves to be pushed around.”
Marinette made a face. “Well, she’s a superhero, with superpowers. I’m just a normal person, and that’s easier said than done.”
“Don’t worry!” the girl reassured. “Starting now, you’re going to be more confident! Uh…”
The delicate crunch of Marinette breaking her last macaron in half seemingly resounded louder when the crack of a chrysalis opening accompanied it. A butterfly, small and powder blue with black outlining the outer curve of its wings emerged, already dry and flapping out. Both girls watched in quiet awe as it flitted from Marinette’s leaves to the girl’s large blooms. She felt her pleasant surprise make itself known in her quiet intake of breath.
“Ah,” the girl beside her said absently, as if seeing Marinette’s leaves for the first time. “They’re lilies too…”
“I’m Marinette,” she said with a smile, handing her half of the macaron.
“Alya,” the girl replied, coming to and accepting it. Together, they broke into quiet giggles while discreetly sharing the pastry.