A flower thief finally runs into the owner of the garden he's been stealing from.
|You would think I’d question why I steal for a girl who’s been dead almost a year now, but it’s become a regular thing for me. I pulled up to my usual corner, trying to get a glimpse of what she had this time.
“No daffodils,” I muttered, stepping out of the car. “Those were always her favorite.”
I don’t know what it was that day. I wasn’t as careful as I usually was. I forgot to look around the corner of the house to see if there was a car in the driveway. Maybe it was the California heat that I still somehow wasn’t used to yet. Moving from Virginia Beach to Bakersfield, California is a huge change. But it’s something I had to do. Well, my parents told me I had to go. It ended up being a really good decision for me. I came to Bakersfield because if I had to go to college, I was going to go as far away from Virginia Beach as I could. I’ve spent my entire life there; it was time for a change. Bakersfield was one of the cheapest options I had as well. This was my fifth year in Bakersfield, so I still wasn’t as accustomed to my life here as I was back in Virginia Beach.
Since there were no daffodils this time, I had to go for my second choice which were the red carnations. Looking in the garden, I saw red carnations, asters, and gardenias. After daffodils, her favorite flowers were any red ones. I bent down to carefully pull the flower from the garden but a loud bang on the window above my head scared me and I only pulled off a petal before falling back. When the curtains in the window started to move around, I scrambled to my feet, afraid of what that noise was. Nobody’s supposed to be home at this time. I’ve been doing this for so long now and nobody is ever home at this time. I couldn’t be more wrong today.
I stared at the curtains until they were pulled back revealing a very disgruntled girl. She searched her yard for a brief second until her eyes fell on me and in that moment, I don’t think I’ve ever seen more anger in someone’s eyes.
“You!” she yelled from behind the window. “You’re the … stealing … my flowers … move …” The window made it extremely hard to understand her but I could only assume she wanted me to stay in the yard until she got outside - presumably to get my information to report me to the police, but I could only hope for the best. The thought of making a mad dash for my car crossed my mind, but something kept me rooted in that spot.
“I’ve been wondering for months who’s been stealing my flowers and now I’ve finally caught you!” Once she came around the corner of the house she stopped dead in her tracks. “But … I never thought … they would look like you …”
“Please don’t call the police, I’m sorry, this is really important to me,” I blurted out.
“You know, I thought it was gonna be a little punk teenager. Not a grown man.”
“I just never pictured a big guy like yourself stealing flowers.”
“I, um, well - I’m sorry about this, it won’t happen again.” I started to back up in the direction of my car. I felt around for my keys in my pocket.
“No, no, no, you can’t leave yet. What’s your name?” The anger in her eyes faded and it was replaced with a look of curiosity.
“Uh, are you gonna report me to the police?”
“Only if you run.”
“Then my name’s Duston. Twenty-four.” I tried to give my best smile but I was still shaken up from what just happened.
“Ok Duston, I’m Alina,” she laughed, “twenty-two.” She’s mocking me, but I feel like she’s earned the right to do so. “So, why have you been stealing my flowers for so long?”
Uh-oh. There’s the question I didn’t want to answer.
“Well, uh, about that...don’t you have to plant more flowers? I mean, I was hoping you’d plant some daffodils by now. I really like the daffodils you pick out.” I tried my best to derail that question but it didn’t seem to work. Alina’s mood immediately shifted. Bad timing. Too soon?
“Alright, I’m really trying to be nice here. I could still call the police at any time, keep that in mind. I love my garden and I take great pride in it. I tend to it every day. So, I would like to know why you’ve decided to destroy my garden. Please.” Her voice was stern but pleading.
“I’d really rather not, I’m sorry…” My voice trailed off as Alina stomped closer to me.
“Listen here, you low-level thief. You have two options here. I can either call the police and you can get arrested for destruction of property and theft, or you can tell me why you’ve been slithering around my garden for so long.”
She saw that I was pulling my keys out of my pocket. I was ready to make a run for it.
“Oh! Or, even better, you can take me to where you’re taking my flowers.” She took my hand and looked around the neighborhood. “Where’s your car?”
“Now hold on just a minute,” I said, pulling my hand away from hers. “You can’t come with me. You just can’t, I’m sorry. I’m taking these on a, uh,” She raised an eyebrow, expecting something as important as a family member’s funeral. “Date. I am taking these to my date with my beautiful, perfect, amazing girlfriend Mallory.”
“Really?” she asked. “You’ve been stealing my flowers for months all for little dates with your girlfriend?” She rolled her eyes. “God, now I really have to come with you. I want to make sure this girl is pretty enough to warrant flower theft.”
“Come on, you’re gonna be late. We don’t wanna keep her waiting for too long.” She urged me forward, unaware my car was behind us. I sighed and gave in. She’s persistent, I can say that much. After I turned her around and led her in the right direction to my car, she stopped suddenly. “Wait, you still need flowers. Since I’m here and you’re showing me where you’re taking my flowers, I’ll give you some more. You wanted the red carnations, right?” Without waiting for my answer, she walked back over to her garden and pulled out about a half dozen flowers and handed them to me. “There you go. Now, where were we?”
I didn’t know what to say the entire ride there. We were both silent. My silence stemmed from fear while hers came from finally getting the justice she’s wanted for a long time.
I pulled up to where I needed to be and all I heard was a soft ‘oh’ from Alina.
“Alright, we’re here. My girlfriend Mallory is in the back. It’s not a long walk.” Now she was the one who was sitting in stunned silence. We got out of the car and I took her hand and walked down the path I know all too well. “So, have you been to this graveyard before? Do you have anyone here?” After a moment had passed where she was still silent, I added, “If you don’t mind me asking, of course.”
She shook her head, pulling herself out of the trance she was in. “No, I haven’t. This place is so small, I don’t know why anyone is even here.”
“It feels more personal to me, you know? Less people around. Less people to see you grieve.” We were close. I let go of her hand and started to take the lead. She stayed behind a small distance.
When I got closer to Mallory’s headstone, I didn’t care about Alina. I didn’t care about anything. In that moment, it’s just me and Mallory and all the times we missed, all the times we could’ve had together. I still can’t help but to blame myself for what happened. I’ll never forget when I found out. I was at a restaurant, sitting in the corner booth by the window. It was a nice day but you could tell it was going to rain later. I was reconnecting with my old roommates from college. My phone rang, and it was from an unknown caller. Usually, I don’t answer unknown callers but I felt compelled to this time. Looking back, I wish I didn’t. I wish I never even had my phone that day. I excused myself from the booth and walked outside, listening to what this caller had to say. They asked if they were speaking to Duston and I said yes. Then they said hello, we are contacting you with unfortunate news, Mallory Robar has died in a house robbery, she was shot and died on scene, we are very sorry for your loss, you should be getting visitation information in the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours, have a nice day. That was it.
“Hey Mal, I’m back. Like I promised. I couldn’t get my hands on any daffodils, so I got your second favorite - red flowers. I know you never mind what kind of red flowers I get, but these ones are red carnations. You always told me you thought roses were stupid.” I let out a sad laugh. “I hope you’re happy wherever you are. I hope you’re living out the life that you missed. I’m sorry I was never there when you needed me.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
Usually after I say my speech, there’s an eerie silence. Today, however, it felt different. I never have someone here with me. I stood up from her grave and turned around to face Alina, a look of sadness and regret on her face.
“Thank you. And I’m sorry for stealing your flowers all this time. She used to love flowers picked straight from gardens or fields, not just store-bought. I shouldn’t have done what I did. I could’ve at least asked, you know,” I sighed.
Alina gave me a warm smile. “I understand,” she said, “I would do the same for someone I love too. I forgive you.”
That was nice to hear. The burden I’ve been carrying on my shoulders for the past few months lightened up a bit now that I knew she doesn’t completely resent me for what I did. I shouldn’t have stolen like I did, but I did it for Mallory. Like she said, she would do the same for someone she loved.
“Let me take you home,” I said, reaching my hand out to her. She laughed.
“Of course you’re taking me home Duston, you were my ride here.” She took my hand and we walked the path back to the entrance of the graveyard.
The ride back to her house was still silent, but it didn’t feel like it did before. Something changed. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was though. It just felt calm, comfortable - peaceful. We got back to her house and she got out of the car.
“Thank you for not running,” she said before closing the door.
“What are you thanking me for?” I laughed. “I’ve been stealing your flowers and I just drove you to meet my dead girlfriend. I should be thanking you over and over again. So, thank you.”
“Don’t worry about it. I wasn’t going to call the police anyways. When I saw you, I could tell you had good intentions. I just wanted to see if you’d live up to those expectations. You did,” she said, “and that’s more than I could’ve asked for. Flowers are flowers, you know? I mean, you could’ve done much worse and you didn’t. So, really, don’t worry about it.”
She’s so sweet. Part of me wants her to be furious with me. I feel like I deserve it. But it’s just in her nature to be so understanding.
“I appreciate it Alina, I really do. It was nice meeting you,” I said.
“It was nice meeting you too Duston. Hopefully we’ll meet again someday - just not when I catch you stealing flowers from my garden.”
“I’m sure we will,” I laughed. She smiled at me one more time and closed the door.
As I drove away, I saw her waving goodbye in my rear-view mirror. I hope I don’t see her again. It’s not because I don’t like her. It’s because the guilt would get to be too much to bear.
The next time I visited Mallory, I didn’t stop at Alina’s house. Though she forgave me, I still felt guilty. It was easier to steal when I didn’t see who I was stealing from. I stopped at a corner store before I got to the graveyard. I hated buying flowers from the store because I knew Mallory would hate it too, but at least they had daffodils. I got to the graveyard and started my walk back to Mallory but as I got closer something caught my eye. The flowers I put there with Alina should be wilted and dying. But her grave was so colorful, it’s almost as if Mallory came back to life and decorated it herself. Once I could see clearly, I noticed that her grave had a new, fresh bouquet of asters, red carnations, and gardenias.