NIPPED IN THE BUD • by Beth Cato

“Where did those come from?” Val said. The door slammed shut behind her, causing the thin walls to rattle on every side of the room.

I stuffed the paper I was writing into the nearest book and shut it, pinching my fingers in the process. Val continued to stare at me.

“Where did what come from?” I said.

“Those,” she said, pointing at me again.

I twisted and looked over my shoulder. “Oh. The plants. Callie brought those in this morning. Got them for cheap at the pharmacy across the street. Aren’t they pretty? African violets, I think.”

Val shook her head as she dropped her laden backpack on the floor. The reverberations from the impact made my earrings jingle. “They won’t be for long,” she said. “My mom says I have a killing touch with plants. Doesn’t matter what I do, they always die. Fast.”

“What do you do, overwater? Under-water?”

“Doesn’t matter. Either. Both. They just always die.”

Callie leaned out of her bedroom doorway. “Are you talking about my plants?” She grinned, but then, she always grinned. The girl lived on a natural caffeine high.

“Yeah. Val was just saying she has the opposite of a green thumb,” I said. “We’re about to experience a plant genocide because she entered the apartment.”

Callie bounced over to the window sill. “They’re not wilting yet.”

“I think I need to touch them or try to water them to cause that,” said Val.

“You never babysat, did you? Or worked at a hospital?” Callie said, laughing. She caught my eye and sobered. “I’m sorry, Maura. I wasn’t thinking. I wasn’t trying to imply that — ”

“I know you weren’t,” I said, shrugging, but my fingers worked the protruding edges of paper deeper into the book. “It’s okay.”

Val frowned. “Come on, let’s not talk about Colton or she’ll get all mopey again. Maybe my mom is wrong. Maybe all the plants that died just had some fluke or disease or something. She used to joke about me not babysitting for anyone, too. Said maybe I had a bad vibe for anything that was really young or a seed. I mean, I can touch full-grown trees okay, but saplings…” She shrugged.

“Now we know why global warming exists,” I said, pasting a smile on my face. “I need to go finish up this letter assignment for psych.” I stacked up my books and headed towards my room. Behind me, I heard the sound of running water in the kitchen.

“Come on, Val,” Callie was saying. “You water one of the plants, just a little. We’ll try doing a control group.”

I shut the door with a bump of my rump. I let the tower of textbooks fall into my computer chair, and I opened the top book to pull out the creased and rumpled sheet.

“Dear Colton,” it said. “I miss you so much. It’s been a month now since you died, and every day I feel your loss even more — ”

“What a load of clichéd crap,” I said, wiping away tears with the back of my fist. I crumpled the paper and shoved it into the overflowing trashcan. “I’ll write something else about grief for this stupid assignment.”

I was trying to move on and be brave. I didn’t want to be mopey, but how was I supposed to act? Colton was dead and gone. The love of my life. He had even asked my dad for permission to marry me, but he hadn’t proposed yet. He apparently had been saving that for Christmas while also saving up for the ring.

I had every right to be mopey.

***

The next morning I awoke feeling violently ill, and the watered African violet was dead.

“See?” Callie sounded triumphant, even though it was her wasted money. “She barely watered it at all, and it’s already dead. I moved the other pot to the other window and she didn’t go near it. Val was right! She’s like a blonde grim reaper.”

“That’s nice,” I managed to choke, lifting my head above the rim of the toilet.

“Hey!” Val called from the kitchen. “Is Maura done ralphing yet? I need to pee.” Nothing is sacred in a closet-sized apartment with three girls in it.

I scooted back and sat under the overhang of the sink. “Come on in,” I said. “I think I’m empty now. You use it.”

Val came in to do so. “You think you’ll miss morning class?” she asked.

“Yeah. There’s no way I can do those stairs. Take notes for me, please?”

By ten in the morning, I felt almost normal and I went to my next class. When I got home from the last lab of the evening, the second African violet was dead. Val had touched one leaf.

The next morning, I was sick again.

“Um, Maura,” said Callie as she stood behind me in the bathroom. “You know what this looks like.”

“I know.” I watched my tears plink into the water with gentle ripples. “If I am — if I’m really…” I couldn’t say the word.

“I was going to the pharmacy to see about buying more victims for testing Val’s plant-killing prowess,” she said. “Want me to get you a test, too?”

“Could you? Thanks, Callie. I’ll pay you back later.”

Ten minutes later, the door slammed. Val had returned from a trip to the coffee hut. She poked her head into the bathroom. “You’re sick again? What is this, the morning flu?”

“Maybe,” I said. “It might be morning sickness. Callie’s gone to get a p-p-pregnancy test for me, so — ”

Her eyes went wide. “Oh my God. Colton’s baby?”

“Yes.” I turned to look at her. “I don’t know how I’d finish college, but — ”

“But Colton would live on! Oh, God, Maura, that’s wonderful!”

Without thinking, Val stooped and took my hand.


Beth Cato resides in Buckeye, Arizona with her husband and son. Her work has appeared in publications such as Niteblade Fantasy and Horror Magazine, Crossed Genres, Six Sentences, and the book The Ultimate Cat Lover. Information regarding her current projects can always be found at http://www.bethcato.com.


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