“I can understand that.” Little did he know the grave meaning behind my words. I’d never exactly had a high opinion of the world even when I had been living in the orphanage, but once I’d been exposed to the truth that vampires existed, I was astounded by how evil the world was. There was some beauty to it, but there was also a hell of a lot of evil, as well. It festered and writhed under the surface, almost as though it was some kind of boiling disease that bubbled underneath the flesh of the world just waiting to emerge and ruin everything.
The teacher didn’t seem to mind us talking. It was a relaxing lesson and I was glad to feel under less pressure than I had been in Mr. Shackleton’s class. Tending the plants was an exercise in mindfulness, although it did require concentration. A few times I snipped healthy leaves away and they fell to the desk, swaying through the air. Adam smirked. His plant looked pristine.
“I hope this plant isn’t angry with me,” I joked.
“I think it’ll be okay. They’re pretty friendly here,” he said, and stroked the petals of his plants. I tilted my head and looked at him curiously.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m just showing them a little bit of affection. They grow better when they know they’re wanted.” He immediately dipped his head in shame and I could tell that he had been ridiculed for this before. I felt awful for the scorn in my voice. “Never mind,” he added. “It doesn’t matter.”
“No, please, go on,” I said, taking a few steps to the side to be closer to him. I could smell the scent of the rose in the air. I admired his plant. The petals were full of color and the stem was straight and strong. It looked perfect. “Do you mean to say that the plants have feelings just like we do?”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s stupid.”
“No, please,” I pressed. Adam licked his lips nervously. His desire to talk about this seemed to override his embarrassment. His words tumbled out quickly, and his eyes lit up in a way that I hadn’t seen them do, until now.
“Well of course they have feelings. It makes sense if you think about it. After all, they are life, just like us and just like animals. They might not be as advanced as we are or capable of complicated thoughts, but they still react to their environment, they still thirst for nourishment and nutrition, and like everything else they want to spread their seed so that they might live on through their children. They respond to care and attention. I talk to all of the plants. It helps them grow. It helps me as well. Sometimes I think they understand me better than anyone else. You probably think I’m weird.”
“I admit it’s something I’ve never heard before, but we all have our little quirks. When I was growing up I had lots of imaginary friends because all my real ones kept leaving. But what about Troy and Josh? Don’t they know you better than these plants ever could?”
“They’re great, but I can talk to plants in a way I can’t talk with anyone else. I guess I just feel I can be myself around them. They don’t judge me. They don’t argue with me. They don’t doubt me. They just listen. And look at how well they grow?”
He turned his body to point behind him at the rows and rows of plants in the classroom. I followed his gesture and my mouth dropped open at the sight of all the colorful flowers. There was such a mixture that I lost track of counting them. Some I recognized from my brief foray into the garden, although I wouldn’t have known what species there were. I had seen them when I came in, of course, but I had assumed that the teacher tended to them, not Adam.
“You made them all grow so vividly?” I asked, astonished.
“I did,” Adam’s eyes gleamed with pride. “I figured I had the time to do it, so I come in here when I can’t sleep. It’s relaxing and peaceful. One day I want to be the gardener here and take care of all the plants.”
“I think you certainly have a talent for it,” I said. He smiled at me and then a shadow loomed over us. The smile faded from his face and he shrunk into himself once again, turning back to his plant. I turned to see Julia standing before us.
“Is he going on about his precious plants again? As if they’re alive,” she barked a laugh. “Still, it makes sense that you would attach yourself to someone like him.” She wielded the clippers like a weapon. Each one of her movements was fraught with danger, as though she might have lunged forward and cut us at any moment. However, she only seemed to want to pour scorn on our conversation, as though she thought we needed her approval to be friendly. I threw a glance over to her desk where her flower sat. It was an ugly, thorny thing. The stem was twisted and the head of the flower drooped. The thorns were spiky, as though it was afraid of anything getting too close.
Adam withdrew into himself and despite my best efforts to get him to talk he wouldn’t open his mouth for the rest of the lesson. As soon as it was over he rose and pulled his hoody around him, pushing the whole world away again. I couldn’t understand how he could wear such a thing outside when the sun was shining brightly, but he dug his hands into his pockets and walked briskly back to the main building, dipping his head so that nobody had to see him. I looked with ire at Julia as she confidently strode out of the classroom. I didn’t know what had happened in her life to make her such a vile person and I didn’t much care. There were some basic standards that people should have followed and she was not paying attention to them at all. She was evil, I had no doubt in my mind of that, and I hated how she treated people. I could handle her needling me, but Adam seemed so timid and harmless. All he wanted to do was tend to his plants; there was no need, absolutely no need, for her to treat him so cruelly.
I left class myself and I had a bit of time that I was supposed to use for studying, but since I had only just started and didn’t have any assignments yet I decided to explore the school a little more. I hoped to run into Josh again and dreaded an encounter with Julia and her cronies. As I walked back to the main building the sunlight danced on my arms. It was a nice feeling. So much of my life was spent in the shadows of the night, I liked the moments when I could enjoy the sun. It reminded me that I was a part of the normal world.
I thought about what Adam had said too, about how plants had lives and wanted the same thing as the rest of us; to endure. I wasn’t sure I agreed with him about plants having feelings, although part of me was tempted to apologize to the grass I was treading on. But the rest of what he had said made sense. After all, wasn’t that the driving force through life, to live? Maybe it was that simple and the meaning of life was to be alive. It was the same for vampires. That’s why they did what they did. They turned other creatures so that the species could continue, and even Slayers were the same. We were taught that we’d have to have children one day to continue the bloodline and make sure the world is protected from evil. Everything just seems to keep going, as though there’s no end. We’re all just a link in the chain and the only point of the chain existing, is that it does exist.
I wasn’t sure how that made me feel. I suppose it made me feel kind of empty, so I tried to push the thoughts from my mind. I was envious of Adam in that moment, because at least his hobby was making things grow and thrive. Although I was making the world a better place, I was doing so by killing things. I was no better than pest control really. I didn’t create life or put anything of worth into the world. I just took things away.
I ended up walking through the hallways, strolling aimlessly, and my path took me to the gym. I heard the loud, squeaking echo of sneakers against the polished floor and the heavy impact of basketballs pounding against the backboards. As I entered I saw Troy in mid-flight, one arm stretched high, the ball leaving his hand and nestling into the net with a satisfying ripple. He landed and grinned, then high-fived one of his teammates. His flesh glistened with sweat and his muscles were tensed as he sprinted around the court in this practice game. He was clearly the best player on the court and I leaned against the wall, watching him with interest. I’d never been one for sports, apart from when the Olympics rolled around, but watching him caught my attention. I admired the way he used his body. It was like watching an animal whose body had been honed over years of evolution to be perfect for one purpose and one purpose alone. Everything moved exactly how he wanted it. Every step he took was measured, every movement of the arm and flick of the wrist was timed perfectly and when he had the ball it became an extension of himself.
I’m sure there were plenty of nuances to the game that I simply couldn’t grasp, but I could see the talent he had and I was in awe of him.
It wasn’t too long until the game ended. Troy embraced the other players as they gave each other high-fives. They laughed and left the court, soaked in sweat, eagerly grabbing towels. I noticed that I hadn’t been the only one watching the game. A few other girls had taken quite the interest, and they flocked to the players, pairing off with them. Only a few, including Troy, didn’t seem to be interested, although he was glad of a towel. He wrapped it around his shoulders and wiped his face. His cheeks were ruddy and his chest heaved as he panted. His loose shirt clung to him and when he saw me he smiled widely.
“You thinking of joining us?” he asked.
“I’m happy watching at the moment. I’m not sure it’s my game,” I lied. I could probably smash all the records of the school, if I put my mind to it, but it felt like cheating in a way. It wasn’t like I was taking steroids or anything, but since I had been blessed with magic, I felt it was unfair to people who trained and worked hard every day of their lives. Plus it wouldn’t help me remain stealthy. Shame though, because it looked like a lot of fun.
“Well, no matter, we always appreciate a crowd anyway.”
“You look good out there. I never realized up close how intense it could be.”
“Yeah,” he wiped his brow again, as sweat dripped down his temples. “It’s a hard workout, but it’s good to work off energy.”