Sleepyside, 1898

"Ethel," Matilda scolded gently, "I believe you've given the peonies quite enough water. It's the bachelor's buttons that look to be in need of attention."

Five-year-old Ethel Rogers smiled to herself and skipped happily from the patch of peonies to the bachelor's buttons. Anticipation, she remembered. That's what bachelor's buttons stood for. She giggled, imagining each flower as an eager young man waiting for his bride. Tipping the watering can over the brilliant blue flowers, she could almost feel the relief of each flower as it drank in the sun-warmed water. There, she thought to herself. That was better. The bachelor's buttons waved in the breeze, thanking her before she left to answer the call of the next flowers.

The stephanotis flowers were next, for good luck. Ethel studied the tiny white blossoms, imagining good fortune radiating from the delicate flowers. She wasn't sure if the stephanotis actually brought good luck or not, but her grandmother assured her that the meanings of flowers held power. And since Ethel's life was filled with good things when she stayed with her grandmother Matilda, she supposed that the flowers really were bringing her good luck. Because while she might have to eat kale and Swiss chard with her supper, but there would undoubtedly be chocolate cake for dessert, and that was the very best kind of good luck.

"Come along, Ethel," Matilda called, drawing her attention from the lavish flower beds. "It's past time for us to start thinking about putting dinner on the table."

Ethel ran back to her grandmother, sticking carefully to the path to avoid trampling the flowers. She clapped her hands with delight when she saw the perfect pink tulip in Matilda's hand.

"For me?" she asked, knowing full well that her grandmother gave her a flower every time she assisted her in the garden.

"For you, child," she said, and her heavily wrinkled face glowed with delight at Ethel's enthusiasm. "And what does the pink tulip mean, child?"

"Caring," she whispered, her nose buried in the perfect specimen. Still clutching the flower, she threw her arms around Matilda and pressed herself to her chest, immersing herself in the smells of sunshine, flowers, and love.

"Now, then, you run along ahead and I'll be in shortly," Matilda said, and Ethel frowned at the suddenly strained quality of her voice.

"Grandmother?" she questioned, but Matilda waved her hand dismissively.

"Go on, child."

Ethel turned to obey but stopped short at a patch of flowers just to the side of the path. Frowning, she leaned down to examine them but stopped herself from tracing her finger on a blood red petal.

"What are these, Grandmother?" she asked, her eyes still fixed firmly on the unfamiliar blossoms. She thought she knew every flower that she and her grandmother had planted, but she'd never seen these before. They were beautiful, she supposed, but there was something about them that made her chest ache. The dark centres, especially, drew her eye, and she couldn't look away.

Matilda shuffled closer, her gait slow, and joined her in studying the blossoms. "What do you see?" she asked softly.

Ethel frowned. Couldn't her grandmother see the flowers herself? But the garden was Matilda's school, and Ethel knew better than to question her. Not if she wanted that chocolate cake with her supper.

"They're red," she said. "Small red flowers with black centres." When Matilda remained silent, she added, "broad red petals."

"Poppies," Matilda whispered, and though the word was innocent enough, Ethel could sense an underlying tension. "You see poppies."

"Don't you see them?" Ethel asked, pressing her hand to Matilda's skirt. "They're right there."

But Matilda was gazing toward the house. "Run ahead, child," she instructed, though she prevented her from obeying immediately by folding her in an embrace. "And send your grandfather."

"Grandmother?" she questioned, her eyes wide with confusion and growing trepidation. "Grandmother!"

But Matilda thrust Ethel to the side as she pressed her hand to her chest and lowered herself to the ground. "Quickly, now," she urged, her breath coming in ragged gasps, and Ethel obeyed, turning and running as fast as her legs could carry her.

Days later when she returned to the garden, after Matilda had been laid to rest in the church cemetery, Ethel looked for the bed of poppies, but found only the wisteria vine that she now recalled had occupied that spot ever since she could remember. It was no wonder her grandmother had been confused by her question, she realized. And how odd that she'd seen such a different plant that couldn't possibly have been there! Wiping her tears, she trailed her hand over the robust wisteria and decided that if her grandmother had had to die, it was good that it had happened in the place she'd loved most, and next to the steadfast wisteria.

Sleepyside Train Station, 1914

Ethel's hands trembled as she clutched the nasturtium. The train station was crowded with soldiers and their family members, well-wishers come to see the troops off in style. She thought she'd arrived in plenty of time, but there were so many people. Her heart clenched, just as it had every time she'd thought of her beau, Stuart, leaving for the war. She had to fight to remain calm and clear-headed. He had to go. She knew that. And he would come home to her. She had to believe that.

She caught sight of him then, and her heart did a funny little skip at the picture he made in his uniform. He might not be traditionally handsome, she thought. And she wasn't prone to swooning over men in uniform. But there was something compelling about knowing that he was bravely leaving his life behind to defend his country. Compelling, yes. And capable of making her feel as if her heart were a piece of laundry being squeezed and wrung dry. Soon to be set outside to dry and wither.

But not yet.

"Stuart!" she cried, and caught his eye. He hurried toward her, and she was relieved to see him cast aside his serious demeanour and smile at her, love lighting each and every one of his features. It was hard not to cling to him, but she managed it, releasing him when he shifted his stance to look her in the eye.

"I'll be back," he promised, and she desperately wanted to believe him. "I'll be back," he repeated, pressing a fervent kiss to her forehead, "and I will never leave you again."

"Here," she said, tears making her voice waver. "I know it's not regulation, but…" She tucked the nasturtium through a buttonhole in his uniform jacket. "It symbolizes patriotism," she managed to say before tears made it impossible to continue.

And if he looked slightly uncomfortable, she couldn't fault him. It was asking too much of him to think about patriotism when he was leaving behind the only life he'd ever known. When he had no idea if he'd live long enough to return to that life.

The whistle of the train blew, swallowing the words she wanted to say but couldn't.

"I have to go," Stuart said, glancing at the train as his fellow recruits poured past him. He gave her one last kiss, one last kiss to remember him by, to keep her from forgetting about their love and the promises they'd made.

And then he was gone, and she was left behind, raw and empty. A sea of men in uniform surged past her, around her, but she was still as a rock in the ocean, unmoved by the ebb and flow of the people around her. When the whistle blew a second time and the train began to puff, she snapped out of her daze and searched the windows of the train car in front of her. She wouldn't be able to find him; she knew that. There were too many people. The odds that she would be gifted with one last glimpse of him before he was taken from her—

It was the nasturtium that caught her eye. The red flower stood out in the sea of dull uniforms, practically a beacon pointing to its owner.

And though she knew he wouldn't be able to hear her, she called, "Stuart!" and waved her handkerchief. It seemed that he did hear her, though, because he turned in her direction and pressed closer to the window. She could barely see him as people moved around her, obstructing her view, but the flower was always there, drawing her back to him. Only, as the train began to move, the flower seemed to change, its petals flattening and changing to resemble a—

It was a trick of the light, she told herself as the train moved out of the station, gradually picking up speed. The nasturtium and the poppy were similar to begin with. It was somewhat ironic, given the symbolism for both flowers. But it didn't matter, because Stuart's flower hadn't changed to a poppy.

It hadn't.

Sleepyside, 1935

Ethel Rogers smoothed down the folds of her wedding dress. At the age of 42—42!!—she was actually, finally, getting married. She glanced at the round mirror above her vanity for the umpteenth time and nervously patted her hair into place. She hadn't really thought that this day would ever come. She'd been alone for so very long. Well, not alone. But caring for her elderly parents had consumed the majority of her adult life, and she hadn't even entertained the notion of looking for someone.

To have found Sam Elliot at this stage of her life was an unexpected gift. And he loved flowers as much as she did! Oh, he was more scientific about the process than she would ever be, but the fact remained that they were incredibly well suited to one another.

Their marriage would be a true partnership, she told herself, beaming at the thought of growing a successful flower and vegetable business with her husband. Sam had researched it all and she knew that they could make it work. And they could do it all from the home she'd inherited from her grandmother Matilda.

It would be a good life, she knew.

But something was missing. No, that wasn't right. Not missing. There was something she had forgotten to do. Something that she needed to do.

But what?

Her hair and gown were in place and her flowers waited on the kitchen table—flowers. Her eyes darted to the bottom drawer of the vanity, but she hesitated before opening it. Would it be disrespectful to Sam? No, Sam had understood about Stuart, just as she had understood about his deceased wife. It wouldn't surprise her at all if his thoughts drifted to Adelaide this morning, and she certainly couldn't fault him for it if they did. No, Sam would understand.

She slid open the drawer and reached in, drawing out a small wooden box. Closing her eyes, she traced the grain of the wood as she had done each and every day Stuart had been at war. Each and every day until she'd received the terrible news. Each day for far too long as she'd struggled to come to terms with her loss.

But it wouldn't do to dwell. Not on her wedding day.

With only slightly unsteady fingers she lifted the lid and breathed in the faint scent of the dried forget-me-nots. When she'd returned home after seeing Stuart off, she hadn't had the heart to press any of the nasturtium. Instead, she'd plucked a bouquet from the patch of forget-me-nots and set them aside to keep her company as she remembered her fiancé while he was gone. It was one flower, she smiled to herself, that hadn't required a lesson from grandma Matilda in deciphering its meaning. The flowers had kept her company over the years, just as the ones in the garden had.

And they still would, she realized. Marrying Sam didn't change the fact that she'd once loved a different man. And there was nothing the matter with that. These flowers were a part of her past, a part of what had made her who she was.

And she was ready to put them away again.

She reached to place the lid on the box, but frowned when a flash of different colour caught her eye. Forget-me-nots were blue. A gentle, calming blue that spoke of peaceful eternity. Forget-me-nots were not brassy orange. She gently brushed aside a few of the dried flowers, but they were quick to crumble and she was loathe to see them damaged.

It had been a trick of the eye, she told herself as she returned the box to the drawer. Because the only flower that came to mind when she tried to place the orange colour was marigold, and she knew that she had never placed marigolds in the box with the forget-me-nots. It wouldn't have made sense, after all, because marigolds symbolized the desire for wealth, and that had precious little to do with her feelings for Stuart.

Not to mention the fact that she'd never been fond of placing blue and orange flowers together in the same bouquet. It wasn't wrong, of course, and some people liked the combination just fine. She just wasn't one of those people.

She shook her head and laughed a little to herself. It was nerves. Wedding day nerves. And nothing more.

She hoped.

Sleepyside, 1945

"Goodness, Sam!" Ethel clucked, setting her book aside when the front door banged noisily. Joining her husband in the kitchen, she filled the kettle with water and set it on the stove to heat. It might be summer, but the nights grew cool and a cup of hot tea would be just the thing after the evening he'd spent in the field tending to his plants.

His experiments, she amended with a smile. Always doing research, Sam was. Though why some of it needed to be done in the dead of night was a mystery he'd never been able to fully explain to her. Not that it mattered, she supposed. His experiments brought in what seemed to her to be a ridiculous amount of money, and she wasn't about to question it. No, she and Sam had a good business together, and an even better marriage. She wasn't about to taint either by invading his privacy about his research and experiments. It was Sam's gift for growing vegetables that made their life possible, she knew. The money she generated from her flowers couldn't begin to keep them afloat.

Lately, though, Sam had been working longer hours. He'd been talking less, sharing less about his experiments. He was a private man, she knew, and it wouldn't do to push him. He'd tell her whatever was on his mind when he was good and ready and not a moment sooner.

"I baked lemon cookies this evening," she said, and busied herself with plates and cups. She heard Sam's heavy tread as he crossed the room and settled himself at the kitchen table, and smiled to herself. He'd forgotten to remove his shoes, which either meant that he was exhausted or that he was excited about a breakthrough in his research and was about to tell her all about it.

"I'm a lucky man," he said, ignoring the cup of tea she placed in front of him.

Ethel slid a cookie onto his plate. "They're just cookies, dear." She sat down and slid two cookies onto her own plate. She'd worked hard today, too, after all.

"No." Pushing his own plate to the side, he took Ethel's hand. "No, it's not the cookies." He opened his mouth as if he wanted to say more, but the words seemed to stick. He squeezed her hand and kissed her forehead, his lips lingering longer than was normal.

"Sam!" she exclaimed, laughing a little. "What's gotten into you?"

But Sam didn't laugh or even smile. Instead, he pushed his chair back, the scraping sound loud in the quiet house. "I'm a lucky man, Ethel," he repeated, his tone serious. "And I don't deserve you. But I'm trying." Leaving his tea and cookie untouched, he walked slowly up the stairs to their bedroom, his shoes thudding with each step.

Ethel stared after him in amazement. Sam was a good man, generous with his time, skills, and heart. He didn't often speak in flowery language, but he made sure to tell her that he loved her often enough that she didn't feel he was lacking in words. This, though, was different.

Frowning, she brushed the cookie crumbs from the table and carried his mug and her tea cup to the counter. Grandma Matilda had always insisted that tea ought to be served in a tea cup, not a mug, and Ethel followed that practice for herself. Of course, she suspected that Matilda's insistence was based partially on the fact that it was supposedly more accurate to do a reading of tea leaves if the leaves were in a tea cup rather than a mug.

Ethel shook her head as she washed up the last dishes of the day. As a child, she'd had no idea that her grandmother was superstitious. That her knowledge of the meanings of flowers had been the least of her superstitious beliefs. She still didn't know the extent of her grandmother's beliefs, but she suspected that many of the plants that she'd tended as a child had been planted to be used in herbal remedies. And from comments that her mother had let drop over the years, she knew that there was more to the meanings of flowers than Matilda had taught her. Something about omens. And seeing things that others didn't.

But she preferred not to think about that.

Hanging up the tea towel, she reached for the broom to do the last sweep of the day. She might have left it for the morning, but Sam had traipsed through the kitchen in his shoes, and— She frowned, studying the floor by Sam's chair.

A flower petal? He was usually careful about where he walked and she couldn't imagine him ever being so distracted that he would trample her carefully tended flowers. Which bed had he managed to walk through, she wondered? She leaned over to pick up the flower but froze, her hand hovering a good inch above it.

Bright red.

The same bright red that she'd seen the day her grandmother had died. And the day Stuart had left for the Great War.



Her heart pounding painfully, she reached for the flower, knowing that it wasn't really there. That when she went to touch it, it would disappear. Or become a different sort of flower altogether.

Because that was what omens did. They would appear, but only to her. And would disappear or change if she tried to touch it, to prove its existence.

But this wasn't an omen. It couldn't be! She wasn't ready for Sam to leave her, and she wasn't going to let any flower tell her otherwise.

Eyes squeezed closed, she seized the flower.

It wasn't an illusion, she told herself. She could feel the texture of the petal. She couldn't tell just by feel, though, whether the flower was still a poppy. No, she was going to have to open her eyes. Even though they felt as if they were clenched so tightly that she'd never open them again.

Still a poppy.

Her eyes had somehow popped open before she'd told them to, but she was grateful. So grateful that she sank into her own chair and clutched the petal to her heaving chest.

If it was real, it wasn't an omen. And Sam wasn't going to die. Not yet, at least.

It wasn't until an hour later, as she lay in bed unable to sleep, that she stopped to wonder where on earth Sam had come across a poppy. She certainly didn't grow them, and she didn't think that any of his research involved that particular flower.

Odd, that.

Sleepyside, 1970

Ethel's hands trembled as she patted the dirt into place around the flowers. Oh, she didn't garden for the money now. There was plenty of that, thanks to the sale nearly twenty years ago of the strain of yellow sweet peas her late husband had developed. No, these days she gardened simply to be close to her flowers, to enjoy their beauty. And she didn't plant nearly as many, either. Only two years ago—or was it three? It was getting harder and harder to keep track of the years—her stepson Max had been offered a job in upstate New York, and he'd decided to take it. Since then, she'd scaled back gradually. And while she missed seeing the different varieties bloom and prosper, she knew that she couldn't keep up with such a large operation.

And no doubt some people thought it odd that she had chosen to grow only one type of flower. But folks came from all around to see her yard, she reminded herself proudly. Her flowers had even been written up in a few newspapers. Complete with plenty of colour photographs.

Yes, she thought, gazing proudly at the expanse of poppies growing in various patches and out of makeshift containers, she was comfortable with her yard. And with her poppies.

They were only flowers, after all.

And if there were any poppies that weren't only flowers, she was comfortable with those, as well.

Author’s Notes

Since reading Kelley Armstrong's latest series Cainsville, I've been intrigued with the omens she describes. Last year I wrote about the grim, and this year I thought that it was time to explore flowers and their darker meanings.

Many thanks to MaryN and BonnieH for editing and to MaryN for designing these gorgeous graphics. I'd send you both flowers. but... *wink*

Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. Copyright by Ryl, October 2015.

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