A Work in Progress 4

Amber woke uncharacteristically early after another sleepless night. The past few weeks–months really–felt unsettled and awkward as she was trying to deal with the various challenges her friends faced. First, Rufus’ parents died. She tried to empathize—something that didn’t always come easy to her—but it was such an unimaginable loss that Amber couldn’t wrap her head around it. She sent flowers and made an “anonymous” donation to the hospital in their memories. But was it enough? Was it meaningful? Second, Penn sounded exhausted, overwhelmed, and burned out by his experiences taking care of COVID patients. She wanted to see him, to hold him, and to reassure him that he was doing a wonderful job and would be okay. But, obviously, she couldn’t. And she didn’t know if things would be okay. COVID changed everyone’s lives and no one knew if a return to pre-pandemic would ever be possible.

Then Prudence was having problems. It wasn’t like her to rebuff her friends. In fact, Pru was often the one to suggest enjoyable activities and reacted enthusiastically if someone else had a great idea. She rarely turned down an opportunity to have fun. And she never shied away from conversation, whether in person or online. She was lighthearted, hilarious, affable, and thoughtful. Pru was quick to laugh and slow to rage. 

But the pandemic changed her. Gone was the effusive, enthusiastic Pru. In her place was a sullen woman who was socially diffident and withdrawn.

Amber didn’t feel as close to Prudence as she was to their other friends. They liked each other, but Pru got along with Ellowyne and Rufus the best. Then again, they had gone through middle school and high school together and relished being a quirky trio who banded together in their idiosyncrasies. Amber wasn’t their friend back then. She was part of the conventional, cool kid crowd. Interestingly, Amber had no contact with her so-called friends from the academy. But once she realized how horribly she’d been treating Ellowyne, Rufus, and Pru, she vowed to change. Eventually they, Lizette, and Penn welcomed her into their social circle.

So Amber didn’t have as much in common with Prudence, but she vowed to change that. She liked to give things to her friends. That was a way she showed that she cared. But were those gestures appreciated? She texted Ellowyne to ask.

Ellowyne was sewing face masks when Amber texted her. “I can take a break,” she messaged. “What’s up?”

“I have something to ask you and I want you to be honest,” Amber replied. “You know that I like to give things to people I care about. Like when I sent flowers to Rufus and made that donation to the hospital…”

“So it WAS you,” Ellowyne exclaimed. “Rufus and I thought so. And it was a truly welcome gesture. We appreciated it so very much.”

Horrified, Amber realized what she texted. “Ellowyne, please. Never tell anyone, especially Rufus, that I was the one to make that donation. I don’t want to be that person who gives only to impress others.”

“Don’t worry, Amber. You aren’t that kind of person anymore.”

“You know what? It’s fun to give anonymously. It makes me so happy to know I’m doing good with the resources I have. Even my parents have gotten into making anonymous donations. We have money and enjoy giving it to good causes.”

Ellowyne texted thumbs up. “By the way,” she texted. “What did you want?”

“I think I have my answer,” Amber replied. “I don’t want to go all Golden Girls on you, but thank you for being my friend.”

After the conversation with Ellowyne was over, Amber went straight to her computer to look for something that would be a good gift for Prudence. She thought about flowers. However, they were temporary and Amber wanted to give her something that would last longer than a week. She strolled into her family’s sun room, where they kept many plants. An orchid? No, too high-maintenance. A cactus? Too prickly. She did a search for succulents and stumbled across a site that featured terrariums. Perfect! One would require Prudence to do give it some care, not too much, not too little. Amber was about to order a ready-made terrarium online but she realized that creating one herself would give her a creative outlet and hopefully make it more meaningful for Pru. 

Amber found a website for instructions and a list of supplies. Her family’s gardener, Akito, always bought plants and other necessities at a garden center, which offered curbside pick-up during the pandemic. She found the perfect plants: maidenhair fern, pilea silver sparkle, friendship plant, frosty fern spike moss, and a pink polka-dot plant to add some whimsey. She needed a big glass jar with a cork lid, pebbles for drainage, substrate, activated charcoal, and some springtails. Amber crinkled her nose in disgust, realizing she needed to add some insects to her creation, but she wanted to ensure that the terrarium would thrive. Springtails ate mold, the  bane of enclosed plants, so they went on her list of supplies. Lastly, she wanted to add some sort of decorative object, maybe some crystals that might be meaningful to Prudence. She remembered that Pru said that clear quartz was an especially strong healing stone, so she picked out an obelisk that would fit perfectly in the jar. She picked out an opened amethyst geode because of it was supposed to be calming, balancing, and a way to ease stress. Then she chose several tumbled moonstones, but she wasn’t sure why. She asked Akito for feedback, and he agreed with her choices. He questioned Amber about the project because he was afraid that she would delegate the creation of the terrarium to him, but she assured him that this was her project. She placed an online order and waited to hear from the garden center when it would be ready. 

The supplies were ready later that morning. When Amber got behind the wheel of her candy apple red BMW convertible, she realized it had been months when she last drove anywhere. The streets were ominously empty. She didn’t miss fighting traffic but the deserted roads unnerved her. Finally she got to the garden center. As per instructions, she texted them to bring out her items. Amber was quite shocked when she saw all of the things she needed! Her car had only two seats, but the garden center employee put everything but the jar and the plants in the trunk. Plants went on the floor and the well-wrapped jar on the passenger seat. She gave the worker a generous tip and went on her way.

Once she was home, she took the supplies into the ceramic-tiled sun room. She spread out newspapers, pulled up the instructions for creating a terrarium on her laptop, and made sure she could get Akito in case she needed his advice. The smooth, tan pebbles were warm in her hands. She carefully put them on the bottom of the jar and covered them with the charcoal, which made her fingers black. She didn’t like to get dirty but somehow, she didn’t mind it while making her terrarium. Next, she added the substrate, which was made of coconut hulls, aquarium dirt, and earthworm castings.  Earthworm castings? She searched online and learned that they were actually earthworm poop! Eeeuuuwww! But she thought about Lizette, who always teased her about her “weasel poop” coffee, and she went back to work. Then she put in the plants, starting with the tallest one first. She had to be careful because plants for terrariums can be tricky and she only had enough of them for this one project. She could go back to the garden center but, in spite of being a beginner, she wanted to do absolutely everything right the first time. She went outside to find Akito, and asked him what he thought about the placing of the plants. He was surprised when Amber invited him to stretch out on the comfortable wicker chair and gave him a tall, frosty glass of homemade lemonade. He liked her work so far and agreed with Amber’s choice of plants. He suggested the placement of the plants, starting with the tallest one. Akito grinned when he saw Amber poke holes in the substrate. To think that the girl the staff called “Princess’ behind her back would relish the task of digging in dirt! Amber added the moss and thought she was almost done, but then she remembered her springtails. She opened the container of insects and tapped the bottom to get them out and into the jar. There were a few stragglers, so she put her finger into the container and flicked them into the jar. Finally, she placed the crystal and tumbled stones in prominent but not intrusive spots. She closed the jar with the cork and was done!

Akito was pleasantly surprised by Amber’s terrarium. It wasn’t store-shelf perfect like the premade ones sold at the garden center, but it was charming, personal, and thoughtful. In comparison, the terrariums from the garden center seemed cold and soulless. Akito, like all of the servants in the Stanhope home, was told to never, ever criticize any of them, especially Amber. But his praise was genuine, and his heart softened toward Amber. Perhaps she was changing, growing, becoming an empathetic human being. He made sure Amber didn’t see him shedding a single tear.

Amber finished the terrarium in the mid-afternoon, and she was so excited she wanted to take her gift to Prudence immediately. Akito helped secure it in her car, and off she went. 

She felt a little nervous when she got to Prudence’s home. Would she be home? Would she read a text? Would she answer the door? Amber put on her face mask, one made by Ellowyne, and rang the doorbell.

Prudence had slipped on a face mask before answering the door. Her parents once chastised her for not opening the door when a package arrived. That package had been taken by porch pirates. Prudence was quite surprised to see Amber holding a terrarium.

Amber was aghast at Prudence’s appearance. Her eyes were downcast. Her face, which usually glowed even if she wasn’t wearing makeup, looked dull. Her hair was stringy and unkempt, and she was dressed in shorts and a torn, stained t-shirt. She looked puffy, and Amber thought she might have gained some weight. Still, Amber put aside her initial feelings, handed her the terrarium, and said,  “This is for you, Prudence.”

Prudence seemed unenthusiastic about the gift. “What do I do with this?”

Amber gave her a pamphlet about caring for terrariums, but realized that Pru probably wasn’t talking about maintaining the plants. “I just wanted you to have this. I was thinking about you and somehow decided you needed these plants.”

Prudence sighed. “I hope I can take care of it.” She started to close the door but Amber stopped her. 

“I made it myself,” Amber stated. “It’s not much and it’s not as flawless as one you can get from flower and garden shops. But I made it, with love, for you.” She turned toward her car but Prudence called to her before she left.

“Thank you, Amber.”

To be continued…

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