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Time to Flourish

Posted on Thu Mar 14th, 2024 @ 18:23 by Oliver Bloomfield & Liana Zhao

Chapter: Winter's Crest Festival
Location: Greenhouse, Avalon Institute
Timeline: Tuesday, 8th of December, 1992
2405 words - 4.8 OF Standard Post Measure

It had been far too long, Liana decided, since she had set aside time for nurturing new life. Having grown up assisting her father with a healthy backyard vegetable patch, it was fair to say that her continued pursuit of anything to do with the outdoors was tailored more towards gardening than most rigorous sports. Exercise came more from daily yoga, a thrice-weekly dose of aerobics and, when the facilities were available, tennis or Claire's beloved squash. She had cultivated over the past few years an emerging penchant for horse riding too though, considering herself still a novice, had no means to take it up outside organised tours. Growing things, on the other hand, was something she could take with her regardless of location, even if lugging around her assortment of house plants took up room on the backseat that was difficult to justify when sharing a car with someone else. Only two had made this trip; the Peace Lily her grandmother had given her last birthday and a Moth Orchid she'd rescued from a colleague's desk the winter before. Both were situated in her private quarters, which left the office space she and Jessica were sharing excessively devoid of greenery.

It was a problem she intended to rectify.

As it happened, it also gave her a perfect excuse for instigating a conversation that sat high on her list of official priorities. As she pushed open the doors to one of the main greenhouses, the counsellor had already been directed by the Institute's groundsman as to the location of her intended charge. Having wrapped herself against the weather, Liana relaxed in instant relief at the dense humidity within the transparent structure and took a moment, closing the door behind her, to simply soak in the warmth and vibrant mixture of perfumes. She couldn't blame Oliver for seeking refuge here; she had a feeling she might follow suit before the season was over.

When Oliver found the time to be in the greenhouse by himself, which was a lot of the time, he tended to zone out. The sensations of flowering plants around him drowned out all the noise from the student body, the weather, even the ever present eb and flow of the Loch all around them. When he was here there was peace.

His hand flowed over the different plants on the far side of the greenhouse, the leaves clearly responding by drawing nearer to him. He needed to exert energy to have any control over the plants, but he had found that being around them also gave him energy back. It wasn't like anything he could explain. It just felt right.

"You know, they didn't quite believe me when I said that orchids would thrive up here in the right conditions."

It took a moment for Liana to speak up, determined not only to avoid frightening the boy but also to give herself time to recognise some of the plants he was currently tending to. Being of a mind not to linger too long in secrecy, however, the counsellor roused herself from her own appreciation and clasped her hands behind her back, an open and non-threatening stance to match her smile.

"Not only thrived but heavily reproduced, by the look of it. Oliver, right?" Given the boy's history, Liana didn't want to drag out introductions since they were critical to him standing any chance at feeling comfortable. "I'm Liana, Ms. Cavendish told me she let you know I'd be arriving soon."

Oliver turned to face the newcomer in the greenhouse. The name did ring some distant bell, "Are you the counsellor?" There was a certain sense of trepidation in his voice as he asked this.

"I am," Liana confirmed, careful to maintain a gentle approach. "But right now, I'm simply someone who enjoys gardening and would love a guided tour, if there was anyone here with the knowledge to provide one." Her smile was encouraging, her choice of phrase somewhat obvious given there wasn't another soul in sight.

"There's not much, since we're in December." Oliver knew that in a plant's life there was ebbs and flows through the seasons, during these times it was more difficult for him to influence them. It was something that Claire had assured him would come with more practice. He already felt that he had practiced a lot, but apparently that wasn't nearly enough. "I try to keep all of it going throughout the winter so that we have nice big fruits and veggies come April."

"You've done a wonderful job," the counsellor reassured, finally approaching to stand alongside the boy as she considered the plants he'd been tending to. "I will admit, I am a little envious of your powers." Her tone was open and warm, which immediately rendered her sentiment a little over-exaggerated and yet the admiration remained. "When I was your age, the only thing mine did was set fire to my grandmother's olive tree."

"That's alright though, olive trees are bastards." Oliver looked at the counsellor for a moment trying to keep a straight face. People always seemed to think that he could actually talk to plants, but plants didn't talk as such, at least not as far as he could tell. He finally broke and laughed a bit at his own joke. "You're a pyromancer?"

"I dangle from the elemental branch, yes." Seeing the attempt at humour as promising, Liana did her best to encourage it. "Which is arguably an arborist's worst nightmare, despite the capacity for forest fire to rejuvenate the landscape it scorches. I decided that climbing trees was probably something I'd be better off leaving to children with a less volatile disposition." She winked at him, her smile not without its degree of mischief despite being well past the age where children tended to believe such things were appropriate.

"A hotheaded councillor. That makes about as much sense as an invisible head mistress." Oliver started to blush a bit as he blurted that out. "Sorry." The apology came quickly but quietly. He turned to tend to the small tomato plant he was standing near. Tomatoes were fickle and they needed constant attention.

Rather than take offense, Liana found herself having to curb a grin so as not to make the boy even more uncomfortable for his boldness. "I would say," she replied, unable to withhold amusement entirely, "that Miss Cavendish would argue that being invisible is a very sensible idea for a head mistress sometimes. But you're right," she added kindly. "There's not a lot of use for my powers in my work, other than being good for the occasional campfire."

"You're not planning on singing songs around a bonfire, are you?" Oliver paused a moment looking at the counsellor, it sounded quite uncomfortable to have to sing in front of his classmates. "Marshmallows we can do, but I'm not a fan of sing-alongs."

"We'll have to see what winter brings." There was mischief to the counsellor's response, though her segue veered immediately towards a kinder approach. "Miss Cavendish said you might be considering staying for the holidays?" It was, she had no doubt, a very difficult topic but was primarily the one that Claire had asked her to address with the boy. It was a complicated situation at the best of times, access visits were not always easy and with the state of affairs, and Oliver's personal involvement in recent attacks, Liana couldn't blame the boy for not wanting to head out into the uncertainty of Christmas dictated by Social Services.

The hand hovering over the tomato plant stopped moving, the plant itself had been reaching towards it but suddenly slouched. "I might." the witty, clear spoken boy retreated into himself, pulling back his hand and turning to face a different plant, away from the counsellor. He prodded at some soil and shrugged a bit, his thoughts running overtime, remembering past holiday seasons. Wondering if they were better or worse now that social services were involved.

"It's a big decision," Liana acknowledged, moving to crouch down and dig a well-manicured nail into the dirt to coax out the tiniest shoot of a weed attempting to take root. Trying to do anything without gloves would involve delicacy and some time with a nail brush later on but the diversion of her attention, under the circumstances, was more important than her vanity.

Oliver quietly plucked at some wilted leaves on the strawberry plant, focusing on those that took more energy to maintain for the plant than what they brought in. His powers didn't allow him to fully regenerate them, he could slow down or speed up the natural processes, the extend and limit of which wasn't quite clear to him yet. Though after Halloween it seemed like things came a little easier than before. "We never really had much of a Christmas anyway." He finally admitted after a couple of minutes of deafening silence in the glasshouse.

"It's a time of tradition for a lot of families." Settling down to kneel properly, Liana reached out with her other hand to work loose a weed's root system. "But those can be quite simple." She herself had grown up with the German side of her family being utterly enthralled with all the trimmings, and her mother's side barely acknowledging it, which had been a confusing blend once the pair were separated. Liana mentioned nothing of that, however, and simply continued to toss out casual observations to act as invitations if they appealed. "And it can be tricky to navigate the ways in which growing up start to change things. That's how new traditions start though."

"I could do with some new traditions." Oliver didn't really want to reflect on the moments he was left home with a passed out mother who saw Christmas as an excuse to get an early start on drinking. He wiped his hands on his trousers and looked over to the counsellor on one knee. "Do you sometimes feel like a weed?"

Though the response was not a swift one, it nevertheless seemed undaunted by the rather philosophical question. "That would depend on how you view weeds. To us, in this setting, they are unwelcoming visitors and yet all we're really punishing them for is being far more independently hardy than our more temperamental crops." Liana smiled across at the boy. "Quite a number of them are beautiful in their own right, so whilst I would hope I'm not prone to smothering others or turning up where I'm not wanted, I don't think I'd find too much to complain about in being a good survivor."

"Out of place. Unwanted. Like a drain on the system." Oliver hadn't really looked at weeds from the perspective that the counselor was giving, she was right of course. Often weeds were the most persistent and hearty plants in a garden or forest. Nothing could really bring them down and you had to remove them down to the root. Even with his powers Oliver sometimes had trouble rooting out weeds completely. "It makes you want to stay small, invisible. If they don't see you, notice you, you're left alone."

This particular weed, Liana noted, had already escaped notice long enough to send its root system reasonably deep. She dug around it carefully with her finger, working in a circle to feel for where the delicate tendrils tapered out. "I suppose there have been times when I have felt a little like I didn't quite fit in." As much as she could relate, it wasn't her preference to divulge too much personal information, and in this case, Liana didn't think that her personal experience was really what was being sought. "There's nothing very unusual about that though. Being invisible isn't something I covet though. I think Miss Cavendish would probably have something to say about it not being all its cracked up to be."

"She can turn it on and off, though." Oliver could obviously exert some control over his power, and it wasn't like the head teacher had controlled her powers of invisibility her entire life. "I see no downsides. Mine either. Aside from the fact that my face was all over the news, I could live out in Wales and nobody would know anything."

"You have a number of options available to you," Liana agreed, dusting her hands off and flicking what dirt she could from her fingertips before rising. "All of which come with the caveat of involving whatever support you think you need." It was time, the counsellor felt, to spell out the practicalities of her visit and then leave the young boy to think about it. "If you would prefer to stay here for the holidays, there will always be a place for you, and people to spend them with. If you think you'd like to see your family, there are also ways we can help with that without sending you off entirely on your own. Have a think about what you'd prefer and we can work out a way to make it happen."

Oliver turned quiet and back to the plant he had been fruitlessly plucking at. There seemed to be a twitch in the tomato sapling. "I think it would be better if I stayed here." He knew how stressful holidays always were for his mother, it always seemed to aggravate her.. needs. It wasn't something he had looked forward to experiencing. "Maybe mom can come visit."

The counsellor smiled. "I can look into arranging that or at least finding out if it's possible, if that will help you decide. But you are definitely welcome to stay. Ms. Cavendish is very anxious that you understand we are willing to help you advocate for choice now that you are approaching an age where the authorities will take your preference into consideration."

Oliver slowly nodded, not quite sure if he wanted to be burdened with that, he'd already been given too many responsibilities growing up, trying to make sure he got a healthy meal in every day. Though as it turned out, he was already getting a lot of nutrients just from going out in the sun. Perhaps that was the only reason he'd been able to cope for so long without standing out to social services. "Thank you, Miss."

A gentle incline of her head became Liana's parting affirmation. "You're always welcome, Oliver. Just remember that."


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