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you don't have to sing it nice, but, honey, sing it strong

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It begins with flowers.

Liana is eleven, and named for the youth she was denied. The world starts at her home and ends at the forbidden path into the woods. If she ventures further, she will fall off the edge of the world into the abyss.

Still, sometimes, she considers it.

Liana is the eldest of four - all girls, and their father never lets them forget it. They are beautiful, though, or so he tells them. They will give whichever lecherous man he married them off to beautiful children. Her father is the local preacher, and claims he is doing God’s work, but Liana finds that hard to believe. She finds many things hard to believe.

She is trying her best. She helps Skipper with her bible studies, tries to calm Stacey’s unladylike athletic displays, lets Chelsea try and charm the world to her favour.

When Liana reaches into the cupboard and finds their only loaf of bread mouldy, she cuts her hair with her mother’s sewing scissors and sells it. She gets them enough bread to last the month.

But, just as she’s making her way home, a bunch of flowers in a window catch her attention.

The girl in the flower shop is beautiful. Liana accidentally locks eyes with her and the girl smiles playfully, like she knows Liana is nervous, and Liana becomes intensely aware that her dress is torn.
The bell above the door chimes so loudly it almost makes her drop her basket.

 

She’s a little taller than the store counter. “Hello, I’m Alexa. How may I help you?”

“Me?” Liana looks around to see if she’s talking to anyone else. No. She’s the only one here. She’s not used to people paying attention to her, especially not pretty girls. “I need uh...flowers. I don’t have much, but...”

“Oh, I know you! You’re one of the preacher’s daughters. And...you were Rachelle’s friend, weren’t you?” As if Alexa can read her mind, she takes the exact bunch from the display in the window that Liana was looking at. “I used to see you two around. You looked...close.”

“I am.” Liana should be glad Alexa even noticed her to begin with, and that she is known for something other than her father, but it still hurts to remember Rachelle. “I was. She’s...she doesn’t talk to me anymore.”

“Well, if it makes you feel better, I never liked her anyway. She was mean.” Alexa comments. “Here’s some beautiful flowers for a beautiful girl.”

Despite herself, Liana laughs.

“Why are you laughing?” Alexa asks. “I mean it.”

Liana tries not to laugh harder. She supposes this is a sales tactic but still gives her more than she should. “Keep the change for yourself.”

That Sunday, she sees Alexa again at her church, and she sits next to Liana willingly, and Liana swears they spend the whole time with their hands touching. That’s the first time they sing together. On their way out, Liana sees a daffodil growing in the weeds outside.

It almost feels like freedom.