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45 Chapter Forty Five - The Roses Reflect His Feelings

    The warm weather had already begun to fade; the sun was not so dominant in the sky during the day, sharing more often than not with thickened clouds.  But at the same time, the winds still had a modicum of warmth, the bitter air from the north was not being swept in their direction.  So it was only after she had dug out a cashmere cardigan from a large walk-in wardrobe from a room that had been left alone as it belonged to the house's previous occupants, did Brooke emerge from the house intending on getting a little fresh air.

    She'd been sick all morning, the contents of her breakfast flushed down a toilet and although she had brushed her teeth, there was still the bitterness of the experience on her tongue.  Feeling restless afterwards, she'd wanted to get a little fresh air to clear her head and the remnant nausea.  Ugh, this was so not what she had expected once she had clung onto the thick thigh of Jonah!

    Still, she thought as she rubbed the expensive and soft material of the cardigan between her fingers, there were still a few perks to be had.

    The front of the large mansion remained the home to an array of flowers, many of which roses, a flower that Brooke felt was old fashioned.  One of her previous boyfriends had sent her a dozen red ones once, which would have been okay had the thorns all been removed.  The scar on her finger tip remained noticeable if one looked hard enough and since then, she had not been too fond of the flower.  The buds here were a peachy colour, some in full bloom, others still budding and the perfume was heady, yet actually settling her nausea, so naturally she bent to inhale the aroma a little more.

    Only, when she touched the silken petals of one, it began to sag visibly upon her fingers.  Glancing around, she noticed that all of the roses were drooping and they were not the only ones.  "What's going on?" She wondered aloud.

    "Ah," came a heavy sigh and she spun around to see the muscular body of Dexter approaching the place where she stood.  He wasn't really a handsome man, his brown hair was choppy and dry, his skin clearly weathered to the point he'd developed lines about his eyes despite still looking like he hadn't yet left his twenties.  He squinted in bright light making his eyes seem small and his jaw was a bit too prominent for his features.  Still, he was obviously a strong man, not only physically, but having developed an ability as well and he was a fair bit younger than Jonah.  In his hand he held a bucket, suggesting that he'd been taking a mix of vegetable scraps, grass and bits of left over grain to feed the sheep before he heard her complaint.  "I'm guessing this has something to do with Nathan."

    "The gardening boy?" Brooke questioned, glancing over Dexter's figure as he lazily moved.  That boy was about the same age as she and her cousin and was good looking, in a cute, but innocent way.  He would have been the sort she bullied in high school, the boys would cry in the toilets after she'd said a few mean words.  Her memories of that time were hazy; not because she was trying to forget some shameful past or anything, just that she didn't bother to remember it.  School was school.  All teenagers were brats in high school!  "But surely he's up to his knees in dirt in the back garden?!"

    Dexter looked down on her in question, his thick brows raised.  "Ordinarily, I might agree with you.  But he's not been out of the cottage since the others left."  Since Ren left, he thought to himself.  "Autumn has been harvesting the vegetables for the past couple of days.  The rest of us can't tell a ripe courgette from a rotten one.  Even your cousin told me that she's a bit unsure, too used to picking up stuff from the supermarket shelves.  Still, at least she can tell if it's edible."

    The girl tempered down the irritability building in her stomach.  "Okay, but what's that got to do with wilting flowers?"

    "You are aware that Nathan has plant abilities as well as water abilities?" Dexter asked her and she couldn't help cross her arms about her chest.  Of course she was aware!  Wasn't mentioning rubbing salt in her wounds?  She'd been so proud to develop her ability that helped lead the squad to sources of clean water, proving her usefulness and worth!  But now that there were two men who could produce water from thin air, what use was she?  That and that stupid Ren refused to teach her how to do that herself.  Some excuse about not having the right 'root'!  He was clearly just some weirdo chauvinist!

    Her internal monologue was interrupted as he continued; "This garden, every plant, every flower, every blade of grass is somehow connected to him.  If he's in trouble, much of this garden will come alive to protect him.  If he wanted shade, the trees move to accommodate him.  If he's upset, I'm guessing..." he pointed to the wilting flowers.

    "Alright," Brooke found it a bit of a stretch to believe, but through out her pessimism for a little open mindedness.  However, while she was not stupid, she could not understand why that boy was so unhappy all of the time.  The first squad treated him like some fragile treasure, accommodating him so much; everyone had to be a bit quieter around him and not make loud or sudden noises, they had to respect his garden and everything in it, they had to leave his parents bedroom alone as if it were some sort of shrine!  Even that ugly, black hound didn't bark or growl much around him!  Being treated like a little prince, what did he have to be unhappy about?

    *****

    Autumn placed three of the Chinese pancakes she'd made upon a plate before adding this upon a tray with two small bowls of the two fillings she'd prepared; marinated cauliflower and shredded green vegetables, both drizzled with a little hoisin sauce she'd found hiding in the back of a cupboard.  "Li Liang," she called to the young Asian boy as he brought his already emptied plate to the sink.  "Would you mind grabbing that bowl of white rice?"

    The boy obediently did so before asking as she picked up the tray; "Where are we going?"

    "Nathan and Lucy haven't left that cottage all day, again," Autumn explained.  "And I'm not sure if they've eaten anything today."  As she spoke, she wandered over to the small cottage to the side of the large garden, weaving carefully through the strange array of plants either side of the small path leading to the front door, with Nan Li Liang following, before knocking lightly.  She waited a while, wondering if her knock had been loud enough, but the door suddenly opened and she watched as a blond, little head peered around it.

    Lucy gave the woman a bright smile and Autumn couldn't help but return it.  The little girl was just too cute!  "I brought something for both you and Nathan to eat," she told her in a low voice.

    The child hopped down from the small stall behind the door and picked it up to move it out of the way, allowing Autumn  and Nan Li Liang entry into the cosy building.  Her eyes couldn't help but glance about and inwardly she felt that this place was nice.  It was homely and more inviting than the large, stately property that she and the others were freeloading inside.  She placed the tray down upon the heavy wood table in the centre of the open plan living space, watching as the little girl ran into one of the rooms at the side of the cottage, before dragging out a listless looking youth.

    Although Nathan was about the same age as herself and her cousin, his face was more youthful, despite his usually indifferent expression.  He stirred in her protective feelings, just as did Lucy; neither seemed suited to the harshness of the apocalypse, the former seeming too innocent and the latter too young.  "Um, I don't know what you like to eat," Autumn said in a low, but fast tone, wincing as she saw a startled glint in Nathan's eyes.  She wasn't sure what she'd done to disturb him, but she remembered Dexter's words and tried to keep her own voice calm as she added; "I hope these pancakes are okay."

    Seeing his blue eyes dull slightly, she couldn't help but frown a bit, but was quickly distracted by the small hand reaching for one of the fried, batter circles.  Gently she asked; "have you washed your hands?"

    The little girl paused and retreated a step, before tugging on Nathan's sleeve.  The youth automatically picked her up and took her to the sink in order to do so.  In that short time, the obvious stiffness in the boy's gait had also relaxed a bit and he returned, with Lucy, less reluctantly.  Nan Li Liang had already placed the rice upon the table and was indulging his curiosity, looking around the cottage.  Autumn wrapped some of the vegetables in one of the pancakes, cut it in two and handed it to Lucy.  Nathan copied her movement, filling a pancake and munching on the crunchy contents.

    A couple of minutes later, the boy surprised her as he spoke in his quiet voice; "These are my vegetables?"

    Autumn paused, before nodding.  "Yes, I hope you don't mind.  I was very carefully in harvesting them."

    "I don't mind," Nathan replied and took another bite.

    Lucy made a satisfied sound, before tearing a piece off of her pancake and stretching out her hand.  A large pink tongue swept the offering from her palm before disappearing into his black muzzle.  Autumn flinched, where had Aslan appeared from?!  She was not so good with large dogs, not frightened per se, but before the end, she always avoided ones that were not leashed.  Neither Nathan nor Lucy, though took any notice regarding his sudden appearance.

    Autumn thought it was time to tactfully retreat; she'd delivered this evening's meal for them and they seemed to have liked it.  She indicated to Nan Li Liang that he should leave with her.  But before they could take more than a couple of steps back, Nathan said aloud; "You should save the rice in the future.  I don't need it.  Ren Zexian likes rice a lot."

    Autumn gave a small sigh, wondering how to deal with his request.  "The rice... we probably only have enough to last the winter, it's a shame."

    Nathan nodded in agreement, before swallowing the hefty bite within his mouth.  "I can't grow rice, I don't have the seed as it doesn't grow in this country.  Otherwise, I'd grow lots of it for Ren Zexian."

    Autumn glanced at his face, surprised to see how his eyes seemed to sparkle as he spoke of the oriental man.  The corners of his lips were also upturned, his expressionless face suddenly appearing soft.  She wondered what sort of feelings he held for the man, did he idolise him, was it brotherly affection or something more...

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    Unable to notice anything out of the ordinary, Nan Li Liang latched onto the conversation with a response; "it's not like you can't actually grow rice in this country, just it might be a bit difficult.  Rice needs warm temperatures, so could be grown in a greenhouse... though you'd need a fairly big greenhouse to grow enough rice to make it worth it.  And as for the seed, whole grain rice can actually be used."

    Nathan's whole face lit up like a bonfire on a cold winter's night.  Suddenly, he was no longer just cute, but beautiful.  Autumn found herself blushing.  "Really?" He asked, eagerly.

    Nan Li Liang also found himself reddening, this was more due to Nathan's intense stare causing him to be embarrassed.  "Yeah, we did this science experiment in school... growing stuff available from the supermarket.  We grew a small amount in a bucket.  We grew dry beans as well...  oh but rice would need a lot of water."  He mentioned, thinking about how precious that last resource was.

    Nathan's brightness dimmed slightly as he considered this detail within his mind.  He could already produce a lot of water, but it wasn't always enough to ensure all of the plants were able to drink, especially with all of the new potted vegetables and fruits growing in the house and the new greenhouse.  He sometimes had to ask Tyler, which made the other man irritable, so he didn't ask too often even though Tyler never actually refused him.  So in order to make rice, wouldn't that mean he would need to just make more water?  Ren Zexian said before that he could teach him a way to do that... like he'd taught Tyler... so it was possible...

    His smile returned and ignoring the guests in his house, he rushed out of the door towards the main property's kitchen in order to confiscate all and any whole grain rice in its cupboards.  Nan Li Liang And Autumn could only look after him with incredulous expressions.

    Lucy grabbed the last pancake on the plate and loyally shared it with Aslan when no one was looking.
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