The drive to Apple loosa Pie took twice as long as Penny said it would due to a major highway being closed for construction, but I took in every last second. About an hour into the drive, I passed a bustling city with skyscrapers so enormous I could only guess how tall they truly were. There were hundreds of people and gigantic, flowering parks, and although the atmosphere was filled with the chaotic honking of cars, it sounded like a symphony compared to my quiet life at home.
When we finally reached the countryside, I nearly cried. I practically gave the driver a heart attack when I squeaked for him to open my window so I could stick my head out. There was an endless amount of new inspiration for my paintings. Trees so bright with color you could determine their shade in the pitch black night generously lined either side of the road. And the stars! They lit up the sky with an unapologetic glow, and not a single bit of smog adulterated their magnificence. Sunset Valley had clearly been too close to the neighboring city I drove through, for the stars back home never shined so bright.
And now, at this very moment, as I pull onto a narrow dirt road, I enter Apple loosa Pie. Day has just begun to break, and my body aches with exhaustion, but I refuse to allow myself to sleep now. As I continue down the road, gazing with absolute astonishment at the houses painted every shade of the rainbow, my driver speaks for the first time in a while.
“Do you know that man?” she asks me, gesturing with her head towards a house on the left. She brings the car to a slow stop, and that is when I realize I’ve reached my destination.
“Er, well, not exactly, but I believe I know who he may be.” I fumble with my seat belt and open the car door, taking a few moments to stretch out my body that’s been stuck in a sitting position for hours. “Thank you so much for your service.” I place several bills in the driver’s hand and give her a small smile. She nods and opens the trunk to retrieve my luggage.
As I approach the tiny house, the voice in my head screams with excitement when I realize the man is pink. I knew I was going to meet a berry today, but I didn’t know I would feel this ecstatic!
“Er, hello!” I shout a little too loudly. “Are you Hibiscus? Penny told me you’d be waiting for me. I’m Celeste, and I’m from Sunset Valley. I can’t believe how beautiful Apple loosa Pie is! You’re so lucky to have lived here all your life. Before last night, I’d never even left my house, so you can imagine how amazed I am by everything! I love-”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he chuckles. “For someone who presumably didn’t sleep a wink last night, you’re quite the chipper one.”
My pale cheeks turn a bright red. “Sorry, like I said, I’d never even left my house until last night. I’m so overwhelmed by everything; you must think I’m silly.”
“Not at all.” The corners of his lips turn up into a small smile. “Penny gave me the low-down. I’m sorry things turned out this way for you.”
“Don’t be. I didn’t ask for the past twenty years, but they weren’t all bad. I had Penny, and I had my art. I’ve dreamt of this day since I was a child, and now here I am. I may not be here in the way I’d hoped, but nonetheless, I’m here; that’s all that matters now.” I hold out my hand to shake his, and he kindly takes it.
“Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Celeste. I’m Hibiscus Blush, and truly, I don’t think you’re silly. You have the maturity and poise of an adult, but the pure innocence and enthusiasm of a child. It’s refreshing, actually.” He chuckles again, and I feel my cheeks go hot once more. I’m unable to determine if my nerves are due to his obvious attractiveness or my general anxiety about this whole unexpected experience. “Well, may I help you with your luggage?” he asks.
“Oh, no, that’s okay. This is all I have, so I can manage. Thanks, though!” I reply.
Hibiscus’ eyes widen. “That’s all you brought?”
I frown. “Like I said, this whole ordeal was a little unexpected. I didn’t have much to begin with, but this is all that my parents allowed me to bring.”
Hibiscus is frowning now as well. “So, I guess that means there won’t be a moving van filled with furniture, paintings, and fancy vases?” He offers a playful smile, but I shake my head and Hibiscus shifts uncomfortably in place.
“What?” I ask.
“It’s just that, well, I guess Penny forgot,” he begins. “About a year ago, there was this massive rainstorm and a lot of the houses here flooded, including this one. Everything was ruined. I was able to repair the floors myself, but the furniture wasn’t salvageable, to say the least. I installed the necessities, like a kitchen and bathroom, and my parents let Penny have an old bed they otherwise would’ve trashed, but that’s it. Penny had plans to furnish the place the next time she came to visit, but that hasn’t happened yet. She told me you didn’t have much money with you, but I was hoping you might have a little more to get settled.”
“Oh,” I manage to say. “I’m sure it’s not as bad as you say.”
Hibiscus unlocks the front door and allows me to enter first, and he was right. There is absolutely nothing here, which is stressful because I have $10 leftover from the ride here, no job, and a suitcase filled with two pairs of pants and three t-shirts.
“But it’s okay!” he insists. “There’s a department store right up the road. I’m sure we can find you a few items to spruce this place up in no time. How much money do you have?”
I swallow a lump in my throat. “Ten,” I respond.
“Ten? Ten what? Ten thousand? Penny told me your parents are rich, so you shouldn’t worry about this at all if they gave you-”
“Ten dollars,” I whisper, barely audible. “My parents are rich, but like I said, this is all they allowed me to bring.” I gesture to my suitcase. “And the $10 is leftover cab fare that Penny gave me.” Hibiscus stares at what I assume to be the bedroom door in deep thought.
“I know where we can go where ten dollars can stretch a little farther.” He gives me a reassuring smile and grabs my hand.
“This little table is only two dollars!” I hear Hibiscus yell from the other side of the consignment store. “And it’s white! Matches the color scheme,” he adds, giving me a cheesy smile and a thumbs up. I laugh and nod my head, so he lifts it up and places it by the cash register for later. I can’t help but dwell on how grateful I am for his presence. His support is already making this drastic change that much more bearable. I don’t think I could do this by myself.
“So, they don’t have a washing machine, but I think I saw one in the junk yard the other day. I could try to get it running if you’d like,” Hibiscus offers. He picks up an old video game and turns it over in his hands.
“You are a literal saint,” I answer. “When I realized I don’t have a washing machine and Apple loosa Pie doesn’t have a laundry mat, I thought I was going to need to do my laundry in the river.”
He laughs. “Nonsense. If I can’t fix up the one I just mentioned, you can use mine. You can use anything of mine, actually, but I know it’s comforting to have your own possessions, so that’s why I brought you here.” He smiles. “Is there anything else you’re looking for?” He glances at the chair I have my arm rested on.
“I’d really love to find an easel. If I could get my hands on one of those, I’m sure I-”
“Be right back!” he hollers while running to the back of the store. Within a minute, I hear the scrape of wood on wood as he drags an old, chipped easel back to me. I gasp and run towards it. Hibiscus grins at my enthusiasm as I run my hand over the ledge where my imaginary canvas now sits.
“It’s perfect,” I announce cheerfully.
Hibiscus helps me bring the chair I found and the easel to the cash register to purchase. I must have a little luck left because my three items add up to $9.50, but as I pull out my crumpled ten-dollar bill, the woman shakes her head.
“No need, honey. You must be the newbie who just arrived to stay in Penny’s vacation home. That place needs some love. Don’t worry about the money,” she decides. I open my mouth to protest, but Hibiscus speaks before I get the chance.
“This is Celeste. Celeste, this is Spring.”
“It’s wonderful to meet you,” I say, “but I have to pay you. I don’t feel right just taking your things.” I hold out the ten dollars, but she doesn’t move a muscle to accept it.
“I see you have an easel amidst your items. Are you a painter?” she asks. I nod my head. “I’m going to make the assumption that you’re good. You must be because someone who has so little wouldn’t buy an easel unless they were good and they could put it to use. I understand you don’t want to walk away without paying me, but I also don’t want to accept your money, so what about a deal?” she proposes. I don’t comprehend what she’s suggesting, but she clarifies before I need to ask. “Pay me in paintings. You can sell them to me in the future, and I will put them up for sale here, so we both make money.” She smiles and waits for my response.
“That sounds wonderful! Thank you so much. I don’t know what to say,” I squeal excitedly. “You’re too kind.”
“No need to thank me,” she insists. “We help one another out here. This town is a family, and you just so happen to be its newest member.”
My eyes fill with tears as I experience an emotion I’ve never felt before: acceptance. I nod my head to her in thanks, and Hibiscus starts to gather my items to take back to the house.
“Where do you want to go next?” Hibiscus asks as we walk down the street. “I can show you around town and introduce you to people.”
Still overwhelmed by the amount of color around me, it takes me a few seconds to reply. “Could you take me to the park? I passed several on the way here, and they look so lovely.”
“One park coming right up!” Hibiscus proclaims. “We have a few, but I’ll take you to my favorite.”
As we arrive at the park, I understand why Hibiscus claimed it as his favorite. Trees, bushes, and flowers adorn virtually every inch of it, and the few buildings that house activities for pets or small children are painted beautiful shades of green. Hibiscus grabs both of us some ice cream from the truck parked outside the park’s entrance, and we sit on a bench to enjoy it.
“So, what did you do for fun growing up?” Hibiscus asks as he takes a lick of his popsicle.
“Mostly painted,” I answer. “There wasn’t much to do considering I was cooped up inside all the time. I also read a bit, but my paintings kept me occupied the most. What about you?”
“Anything, really. Although, soccer was, is, my absolute favorite. I played on my school’s team until I graduated. Now I only play when I have a day off, well, minus today.” He chuckles. “Work takes up most of my time.”
“What do you do?”
“I’m in law enforcement. The hours are crazy, but I enjoy what I do, so it’s worth it. My best friend, Amethyst, is actually my partner. We’ve been friends since we were kids.”
“What’s he like?” I ask.
Hibiscus’ eyes focus on the opposite end of the park, and he says, “Speak of the devil. You’re about to find out.” He points ahead, and I notice a tall, purple man approaching us. I don’t realize I’m staring until a trail of melted ice cream has nearly reached my elbow and Hibiscus hands me a napkin with a smirk.
My heart seems to be beating as quickly as he appears to be approaching us. His thick, shiny hair is slicked back with product, and a few buttons of his shirt are left unbuttoned, exposing a bit of his bare, muscular chest. I notice my palms are sweating despite the cool ice cream cone in my hand.
“Amethyst!” Hibiscus greets. “Why aren’t you at work?”
“I’m on break for twenty minutes and decided to eat my lunch in the park. I noticed you as soon as I walked in.” He glances at me and asks, “Who is this cute little snowflake?” My cheeks feel as though they may melt off any second. I struggle for words, but Hibiscus comes to my rescue.
“Please excuse Amethyst,” Hibiscus explains. “He constantly forgets he’s not a contestant on The Bachelorette. At this point, I’m certain he flirts with even me.” The two look at each other and burst into laughter. Hibiscus then gestures towards me. “This is Celeste. She’s the one I told you would be staying in Penny’s vacation house. She arrived this morning, and I’m helping her settle in and showing her around.”
“It’s nice to meet you, little dove,” he welcomes as he gingerly picks up my hand and gives it a kiss.
“You too,” is all I manage to say. I’m so embarrassed at this point I can barely stand it. He just laughs and looks back at Hibiscus.
“I don’t have much time left for lunch, so I’ll see you two later.” He begins to back up, leaving the conversation, but I quickly (a little too quickly) yell goodbye and wink at him. As soon as I do, I am absolutely mortified. Amethyst just keeps on walking (maybe he didn’t see!?), and Hibiscus gently touches my arm to signal it’s time to leave.
“I can’t believe I winked at him!” I moan as I plop on the bed. Hibiscus joins me because it’s the only place to sit other than the floor.
“It wasn’t that bad,” he laughs.
“See! You’re laughing! It definitely was that bad!” I pick up a pillow and let out another anguished moan into it.
“I assume someone has a little crush?” Hibiscus teases.
“I don’t even know! I’ve never had one of those before. If it means you act like an idiot and embarrass yourself, then that’s probably it.”
“That’s it,” he answers with a laugh. “If it were anyone other than Amethyst, I’d say it was simply because you haven’t seen an actual guy until today, but Amethyst is popular with the ladies. He’s got everything going for him. It would be unusual for you to not act like an idiot around him. Practically every female in this town is after him. Trust me, he’s used to it.”
“So you think he won’t remember I winked at him?” I ask hopefully.
“Nah, he’ll totally remember that. That was a first for him.”
I moan yet again. “Great.”
“Hey.” He moves the pillow away from my face. “I’m just teasing. Don’t worry about it. Amethyst didn’t even bat an eye. He won’t actually remember it a few days from now. Plus, you literally just left your dungeon of a house. You get a free pass for any stupid crap you do.”
“You think so?”
“I know so,” he insists. I’ve known Hibiscus for less than a day, but he’s already proving to be just as kind and supportive as Penny.
Hibiscus stays at my new house for a few more hours checking the appliances and plumbing to make sure everything works, and he is just about to leave when the doorbell rings.
“Were you expecting anyone?” he asks while heading to open the door.
“I don’t know anyone,” I reply. I reach the door just as Hibiscus opens it and both of our eyes widen. Several people stand on my front lawn carrying platters of food and balloons. A little banner reading “Welcome to Apple loosa Pie” hangs from my mailbox.
“This was totally Spring’s doing,” Hibiscus interjects amidst the people’s greetings. I stand frozen in my doorway in absolute awe as these wonderful people hand over pies, casseroles, soups, you name it. I’m in so much shock I can’t recall a single name or report how many hugs I received, but I can conclude one thing: I’ve finally found where I belong.
Note: I’ve started school now, so I likely won’t be able to post as frequently. I’m going to spend the next few weeks playing things by ear, but based on the way things are looking so far, I may need to revamp the way I post and rely on shorter posts on Tumblr. It’s not what I want to do, but I haven’t had a second of free time since school started. It’s literally been waking up, going to classes, doing homework, and going to bed. I want to continue posting this story, however, so if things continue the way they are, I’ll just switch to the Tumblr method. Thanks for understanding!