S. trifasciata (or The Cure for a Black Thumb)

Note: This takes place about a month after the conclusion of Back to School, Ring the Bell, but contains no spoilers.

Seb wiggled to get out of my arms. Assuming he was embarrassed by being held for so long on the sidewalk, with other mids passing us by to start their own liberty, I hugged him tighter. I don’t like him worrying about what people think of us. Plus, it usually makes him squirm against me more, which is not unpleasant.

He huffed. “Z, I just need to get your gift from the car.”

“Gift?” I let go immediately. “What’d you bring me?”

A small snake plant in a yellow potInstead of answering, he turned to the rental car behind him and opened the passenger-side door. There was a black plastic bag on the seat. He reached into it, produced a bright yellow flower pot, with a clump of spiky, broad leaves growing straight up from the center of it, and gave it to me.

I held it the way you’d hold a grenade with the safety pin removed. Gingerly, I stuck my finger in the soil filling the pot, then touched one of the leaves. It was real. “Uh. Babe, do you remember the Great Orchid Massacre of 2014?”

Seb put his hands over mine on the pot and met my gaze across the top spikes of the plant. “That was my fault. I gave you too much responsibility too quickly. Trust me, you can’t kill this. It’s a Sansevieria trifasciata.”

“You say that like it means something to me,” I said, smiling. “What’s a sansev-whatever?”

“You can just call it a snake plant,” he said. “Or mother-in-law’s tongue; that’s the other common name for it.”

I looked down at the plant again. Maeve would probably not appreciate me comparing it to her tongue. “Okay,” I said. “What’s a snake plant?”

“The easiest houseplant to grow in the world,” he said. “It likes being ignored. And look how beautiful it is, with the variegation.” He traced over one of the squiggly, pale-green lines running horizontally across the leaves. “It’ll look great on your windowsill in the dorm, plus it’ll purify the air. I checked the regulations, too. You’re allowed to have one potted plant this year.”

That was true. Still… “What if you keep it, and I get a nice plastic plant and pretend it’s real?” I asked.

He did not look impressed. “Zain.”

Sighing, I set the pot down on the roof of the car and tried to explain. “I like the idea of having something green in the room, habibi, and I love that you gave it to me, because I know it’ll remind me of you.” All lush things reminded me of him. “I just…”

“You’re scared,” Seb said, in a voice of dawning realization.

“No,” I said.

“Yes, you are.” He was starting to smile. “You look like you did the first time you saw Babar.”

“I am not scared of a plant,” I insisted. “Or that damn elephant, for that matter.”

“Then what’s the issue?” he asked.

“Don’t you tilt your head at me,” I said, laughing and chucking him under the chin to make him straighten it. “I trademarked that.”

He stopped, but kept looking at me with green eyes filled with paler green squiggles, just like the leaves of the snake plant, and waited for an answer.

I shook my head. “I don’t want to kill something you gave to me. It’ll make you sad, and then I’ll be sad, and then you’ll feel guilty for making me sad, and then–”

“I told you, you can’t kill it,” he said, full of calm. He picked the pot up and held it out again. “Touch the bottom of the outer leaf there. Squeeze it between your fingers.”

I did, carefully.

“Feel how thick it is?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. It felt like at least a fourth of an inch.

“Don’t water it until it starts to feel thin. That can take weeks. If you’re not sure if it’s time yet, wait a few more days and check again to see if it feels thinner. They really do like being ignored.”

Considering it, I said, “So, if I forget to water it for, say, a month?”

“It’ll be fine,” he said. “In winter, once a month would probably be too frequent. There’s cases of them living for two years without being watered. Don’t do that, though.”

I grinned. “I’m sure you’d remind me before two years passed.” Taking the pot from him, I raised it up to my eye level and turned it to see the other side of the little plant. “I think it’s starting to grow on me.”

Seb gave me a flat look. “Was that a pun?”

Laughing, I said, “Well, it is now.”

He smacked my arm.

“Hey!” I said. “I’m letting you win, and this is how you treat me?”

“Letting me win?” he asked.

“I’m accepting your gift,” I explained. “Thank you, babe.” I kissed him, and felt his lips curve under mine before he kissed back.

When he was free to speak again, he asked, “Did you notice the color of the pot?”

I looked down at it between us. Now that he mentioned… “It’s unmellow yellow!”

“The closest I could find to it,” he said, shrugging a little. “I went to three different garden centers.”

“Babe. I love it.” I smacked another kiss on his lips, then put my arm over his shoulder to guide him towards the gate to the Yard. “Maybe once I practice on this guy, I can try taking care of an orchid again,” I suggested as we walked.

He snorted. “No. You’re staying away from them.”

“Yeaaah, that’s probably a good idea.”

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