Wednesday 28 February 2018

Snowdrops for Penelope

The light from the sunrise was peeking through the curtains in Penelope's bedroom when the soft bells of her alarm woke her from a deep sleep. It was winter in Massachusetts, and Penelope had planned to get up early to photograph her favourite meadow nearby her parents' house as the sun rose.

The previous evening, after dinner, she had sat by the window and watched the snow settle like powder down in the back yard. In just an hour or so, it had formed a blanket of white so deep that she could no longer see the long, unmown grass sprouting through the top.

Throwing on a puffer jacket, Penelope grabbed her camera and walked down to the meadow. The air was crisp and clean as she wandered down the narrow country lane where she often walked her dog with her neighbour, Harper.

The sky was an orange sorbet shade as the sun slowly surfaced from its nightly slumber, accompanied by a handful of white, puffy clouds. 'Stratus clouds', Penelope seemed to remember from her science class. As she continued to stroll down the path, her boots creating deep imprints in the otherwise untouched snow, she thought about the classes she would attend that day, and whether she would be sitting next to Finn.

Finn, a boy who had transfered to Penelope's school that semester, was in her photography class. She had seen him in town earlier that week, snapping shots of the snow falling over the lake, and she was planning to talk to him about it that day. Little did she know that, recently, Finn was regularly stopping by the meadow to take photos for his final piece, and was already there when Penelope reached the clearing through the tree-shrouded entrance.

Penelope stopped in her tracks, first, at the sight of Finn, and then upon seeing the mass of little white flowers that embroidered the floor of the meadow. Her favourite flowers, snowdrops, had taken over the clearing, and she was so overwhelmed that she didn't even hear Finn say 'hello'.

'Penelope, are you okay?' Finn asked.
She had her hand over her mouth, and Finn could have sworn that he saw the slightest glint of a tear in her eye.
Finn looked at the snowdrops, and then back at Penelope. 'They're beautiful, aren't they?'
Penelope nodded, her eyes still taking in the sight before her. 'Wow,' she said, giggling in disbelief. 'I haven't been here for a while, but the last time I came there was nothing here. Just a few wildflowers.'
'You should take some photos of them, before the light gets too bright,' Finn suggested.
They looked at each other. Penelope was beaming, 'yes, let's get some good shots.'

The pair walked slowly around the meadow to find the right light, treading carefully to avoid the delicate little blooms. The petals from each flower hung like a ballerina's skirt just above the snow, dancing gently in the soft breeze. As Finn was kneeling down to take shots of a small family of snowdrops tinged with a hint of gold in the stem, Penelope peered over his shoulder and gasped as she spotted a beautiful image on his camera screen.

'Wait a second, go back a couple of images,' she said.
Finn tapped the back button on his camera and looked expectantly at Penelope.
Her face lit up, 'that's beautiful.'
Finn looked at the screen and smiled. 'I can print that one out for you, if you like?'
She nodded, 'yes, please!'

It was nearly eight o'clock, and the sun was starting to creep above the tall elms surrounding the meadow. Finn walked Penelope back to her house, before saying goodbye. She watched him leaving for just a moment, and just before walking through her front door, Harper appeared at the side of the porch.

'Did you go to the meadow?' he asked, grinning. He walked round the porch to the bottom of the steps, looking up at Penelope.
'Yeah, sorry I didn't text - I didn't think you'd want to walk Maxwell with me this early,' she replied.
'That's okay,' Harper pointed at her camera, 'did you get some good shots?'
'I did, but Finn's were better. He took this amazing photo of some golden snowdrops in the light.'
'Finn was there?' Harper looked weary. Ever since Finn transfered, Harper couldn't help but get jealous at how confident he was - a stark contrast to Harper's own introversion. Finn had already made friends with everyone in Harper's regular group, and was even liked by all his teachers - despite his average grades.
'Yeah, he was,' Penelope looked concerned, 'are you okay?'
Harper nodded, 'I'm fine.' He looked up and saw a small flock of pigeons flying in the direction of the meadow.
Penelope frowned. 'Walk with me to school?'
He hesitated for a moment, before replying, 'You go ahead. I'll catch up.'

Penelope didn't see Harper for the rest of the day, and he wasn't anywhere to be found on the walk home. The sun hung low in the sky as she reached her front door. The stratus clouds had disappeared, leaving a rich blue sky behind, but the ground was still covered in white. Penelope reached into her backpack to get her keys, but as she did, she spotted a bouquet of snowdrops in a glass jar on the floor. She reached down to pick them up, noticing a tag tied to the stem of one of the flowers. 'For Penelope', it read.

Just as a smile crept across her face, Penelope's mom opened the front door. She almost bumped into her daughter, but stopped just in time to see her grinning at the bouquet. 'Ooh are those from Harper?'
Penelope looked confused, 'What, no!'
'I just saw you guys talking this morning. He's grown up so much.'
'I guess,' Penelope wasn't really listening. Caught in a daydream, she walked past her mom and up to her room.
'I'll be home for dinner!' her mom chanted as she shut the door behind her.

As the days passed, the snow gradually transformed from fluffy white, to solid ice, to grey slush, before finally melting away. The air was still brisk, however, and as Penelope walked home on Friday afternoon, she clutched her scarf close to her neck to keep the warmth in. Looking up at her window, she could see the snowdrops sitting in the glass jar on her windowsill, and her thoughts shifted to Finn. They had briefly chatted about their chance meeting at the meadow in class earlier that week, and waved to each other a couple of times in the corridor, but he hadn't mentioned anything about the gift left by her front door. Maybe he was embarassed to mention it in front of his friends, as most boys would be, she thought.

Just as she walked up the steps to her front door, she spotted Harper's mom sweeping the garden path. 'Hey, is Harper okay? He hasn't walked to school with me for a while.'
'Oh, he's fine,' she said. 'Do you want to check with him? He's out right now but he'll be back for dinner soon. Feel free to join us. I'm making chowder.'
'Thank you, that sounds great. I'll just drop my stuff off and then I'll come back over,' Penelope smiled and turned away, but just as she did, she spotted some snowdrops in the bedding by the house. 'Do you like snowdrops?'
Harper's mom looked at the flowers, now in full bloom and standing proud. 'Not really, they take like a year to bloom and I'm really impatient. But Harper had some bulbs left over from a project he was working on, so I just told him to plant them in the garden.'
At that moment, Penelope felt a flutter in her stomach. Her eyes widened as she realised that she was entirely wrong about who left the snowdrops on her porch.
'Are you okay, honey?'
Penelope turned and bolted towards the meadow, breathlessly shouting, 'I'm fine!' as she ran away.

The journey to the clearing felt like it took so much longer than usual, even though she was sprinting. Her bag rubbed against her shoulders and thudded her back with each step, and she didn't notice her scarf fall off halfway down the country lane. She just wanted to reach the meadow, and when she did, she saw Harper with a rake, clearing the fallen leaves around the snowdrops that had been left after the snow had disappeared. She flung her arms around him, laughing in spite of his stunned expression.

'Thank you,' she said, between gasps of air. 'Thank you so much.'
'For what?' Harper asked.
Penelope pulled away and gestured to the surrounding meadow. The snowdrops, like the ones outside Harper's house, were at the height of bloom, and looked magnificent in their huddled congregrations against the fading light. 'For this.'
Harper smiled, took his backpack off, and pulled out a package wrapped in brown paper. 'I was going to leave it on your porch, but I guess you found me first.'
Penelope took the package, and slowly unwrapped it, her eyes twinkling. As she tore off the paper, she almost stopped when she realised what Harper had given her.
'Do you like it?' he asked, worriedly.
Penelope gazed at the gift within her hands: a framed print of the photograph that she had fallen in love with as soon as she had spied it over Finn's shoulder. Somehow the colours looked even richer than she remembered, and the shapes of the snowdrops even crisper.
She looked at Harper, the same boy that she had walked to school with almost every day since the start of high school. Who had, somehow, planted these snowdrops sometime last year, in the hopes that it would lead to this very moment. Who she had been too distracted to give a second thought, until now.
'I love it,' she breathed. 'But this is Finn's photo. How did you get it?'
'I guess you could say I bought the rights,' Harper giggled. 'As well as some lessons in confidence, in exchange for some tutoring.'
'You don't need extra confidence, Harper,' Penelope reassured. 'I like you just the way you are.'
Harper smiled at the floor, then looked back at Penelope, 'do you want to come over? Mom's making chowder.'
He pulled his backpack onto his shoulders, and the pair walked back through the copse to the lane.
'I know,' Penelope said.
Harper looked at her, inquisitively.
'How do you think I knew it was you who left me the flowers?' she smiled.


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