Petunia returns before Harry has a chance to ask any other questions, but thankfully, Mari manages to distract her well enough for him to slide the flower back into his pocket unnoticed.
Mari pulls out her sketchbook and flips to some of her still life drawings, which seem to delight Petunia as much as she hoped they would.
“Is this one of my teacups?” Petunia asks, almost quiet, as her fingers brush the edge of the page. “Of course, it is,” she continues before Mari can confirm, returning to a more familiar tone. “The staff here have little consideration for their guests.”
Mari grimaces and rolls her eyes. A quiet noise makes her shoulders jump and her gaze flick toward the source of the sound—Harry? They blink at each other and glance toward Petunia, who, thankfully, is still too riveted by the sketch and her own thoughts to pay them any attention. Mari offers Harry a small smile, which grows when he returns it.
Mari returns her attention to Petunia. Snide comments aside, there’s something about the look on Petunia’s face that makes her feel…
“Do you want it?” Mari asks in a stilted tone.
Petunia’s gaze flicks back to Mari, a furrow to her brows.
“Oh, I…” Petunia clears her throat. “If you don’t mind?”
Mari quickly shakes her head.
“Not at all.”
Petunia and Harry watch as Mari pulls the drawing from the pad of sketch paper, careful to keep the bound edge from ripping.
“Want me to sign it?” Mari jokes, extending the page toward Petunia.
“Of course,” Petunia replies, her hands clasped in her lap.
Mari blinks and draws the page back toward herself. She clears her throat.
Well, that was stupid.
“Oh, my pencil’s a little dull,” Mari says, “Better sharpen it.”
Mari keeps her movements steady, hoping that it doesn’t look like she’s stalling as she reaches for her sharpener on her bedside table.
From or Love? Which one is correct? From feels truer, but might hurt Petunia if she expected a Love. If only Mari could know what Petunia expects…
Mari glances up at Petunia, at her small smile and the unusual softness of her pale gaze and—well, is it unusual, though? Hasn’t Petunia shown an odd amount of care for Mari—for Marigold Evans, the younger sister she has so missed? The only sister she has left?
Love is probably the correct answer, but Mari’s hand is too heavy to write it.
Mari, she signs with a normal dot to the “i,” and tries not to hate herself when Petunia accepts the drawing from her with an
unprecedented amount of care.
It gets harder when Mari notices the confusion on Harry’s face—maybe wondering why she signed his differently. For once, Mari is almost grateful for the strained relationship between Harry and Petunia.
And that is when Mari loses the battle with her own guilt.
“Listen,” Allison says, sometime after Petunia and Harry have left, “I understand if you need a break from your family, but next time give me a little warning, okay?”
Mari looks up from her sketchbook to quirk a smile at Allison.
“I thought you’d be happy I didn’t fake an emergency this time.”
Allison purses her lips, propping her hands on her hips as she stands at the end of Mari’s hospital bed.
“I have other patients to take care of, you know.”
Mari drops her gaze back to her sketchbook.
Mari’s eyes burn. She swallows.
“Oh, those are new.”
Mari continues to stare at her sketchbook, rather than follow Allison’s gaze toward the bouquet of white blossoms comprised of four heart-shaped petals surrounding a green middle that popped into existence after Petunia and Harry left.
“What’s going on?” Allison asks. “You’ve been staring at that blank page since I walked in.”
The shift of weight at the end of Mari’s bed has her looking up in surprise.
“Is it because of what I said?” Allison asks, a furrow to her brow.
“No, no, you were right.” Mari smiles. “I shouldn’t bother you so much—you’re busy.”
Allison frowns at her.
“You aren’t bothering me, Mari.” Allison’s tone brooks no argument. “I just don’t appreciate being blindsided by your sister. You know I like spending time with you.”
Mari stares at her.
Allison rolls her eyes.
“Yeah, oh. C’mon, you might be young, but we both know you’re smarter than that.”
“Uh, huh. Right.”
“Right,” Allison concludes, squinting at Mari. “So, I heard you started your own business?”
“Does your sister know about it?”
Mari frowns and closes her sketchbook.
“Did…something happen?” Allison asks, her own frown back. “You were so upbeat after Harry's last visit...”
Mari taps her fingernail on the cover of her sketchbook, a horrible, twisting feeling curling up in her chest.
“What do you think of Harry?” Mari asks in a measured tone.
“Could use a haircut, I think, but he’s adorable.” Allison waits for Mari to say something, but the moment continues long enough for curiosity to get the better of her. “Why do you ask?”
“Did you know that he’s my late sister’s son?” Mari asks, still tapping.
Allison blinks at her.
“Oh, is he? I just assumed he was your sis—Petunia’s.”
“You’ve seen Dudley.”
Allison tilts her head.
“They are quite different, aren’t they?”
Mari stops tapping.
“Interesting how different they are…don’t you think? Considering that they’ve grown up together.”
Allison opens her mouth, but whatever she might’ve said is swallowed in a ruckus outside the room.
“Sorry, Mari, have to go,” Allison throws out just before clearing the doorway.
Mari watches her go before curling around the sketchbook in her lap, pressing her palm to her forehead in the hopes that the pressure will smother her thoughts along with that sick feeling of betrayal in her chest.
 Dogwood Flowers, also known as “Cornus florida.” Associated with rebirth, resurrection, purity, durability, reliability, strength and resilience, as well as pity and regret over a situation beyond your control or a signal of affection to someone who may not reciprocate. During the Victorian era, a bachelor would offer a sprig to a potential lover. A returned flower meant rejection. If the recipient kept the flower, however, this signified interest or mutual attraction.