Blame it on the Bees
by Rachel Menard
I can’t find it. Digging through my drawer, shoving aside patchy band shirts and pilled hoodies, I feel for the soft fabric of one, very important Sex Pistols tank top. My fingers hit the base of the drawer. No shirt.
Maybe it’s in my bed.
For the first few weeks, I slept with it wrapped around my pillow, cheek pressed to the chipping paint on the logo. That was when it still smelled like Haley, like strawberries and her baby powder deodorant. When I closed my eyes, I could see her in it, the way the soft cotton hugged her body. She’d left it here because we’d gotten caught in the rain on the way home from the skate park. I’d slid it off her wet skin, around her draping curls of strawberry blonde hair, and kissed the lingering rain drops on her shoulders. She tasted like salt and cool rain.
A pain hits me in the gut. I need that shirt.
“Dee, it’s time for school,” Mom’s voice rings up the stairwell.
“Coming!” I push aside a shoebox full of broken skate wheels to see if the shirt is hiding with the dust bunnies. My hand skirts something small. I jerk back when I see yellow stripes. It’s a bee. A dead bee. Even so, I check my finger to make sure I haven’t been pricked, a force of habit seeing as how when I am stung, I can’t breathe.
It seems I’m safe.
I push the dead bee aside and grab something else. It’s a purple hairbrush. Haley’s purple hairbrush.
I lock my fingers around the handle and blow off the dust. Long strands of red-gold hair weave through the bristles. When I hold it to my nose, I smell strawberries and remember Haley sitting on the edge of my bed, one leg crossed over the other, running this brush through her hair.
“Deanna Marie Crane!” Mom again, and she means business. I stuff the hairbrush in my backpack and shove my feet into my ragged Converse.
Halfway down the stairs, I hear her talking about me to Dad.
“This has to stop,” she says. “I know she’s upset, but she can’t live the rest of her life like this.”
“It’s only been three months,” Dad says in my defense. “She and Haley were close.”
Close, he says, with a long pause at the end, and I wonder if he knows how close we were. I never told my parents, “Hey, I’m gay, and on those sleepover nights, Haley and I did a lot more than paint toenails.” That would have been the end to sleepovers.
“Carol recommended a therapist,” Mom says. “She specializes in teens in grief.”
I stomp my sneakers on the stairs to drive the thought out of her head. Would you be okay three months after Dad died? I want to shout it and can’t. Not without admitting Haley and I were much more than she thinks we were. There would be no point to it now. I would literally be dredging up ghosts at a time when I need less problems, not more.
“Good morning, sweetheart.” Dad offers me a cautious smile.
“You’re going to be late for school.” Mom shoves five dollars at me for lunch. As the money passes from hand to hand, her scrutinizing blue eyes take me in, from my short, messy purple hair to my vintage Nirvana shirt, baggy shorts, and mismatched socks. A quiet sigh escapes her lips when she reaches the scuffed toes of my sneakers.
“Mom,” I ask. “Have you seen a white tank top in my room? It’s a Sex Pistols shirt.”
“Good band,” Dad mutters before he sips his coffee.
“It’s in the laundry,” Mom says, and my heart stops. She washed it. She washed the wrinkles from it that Haley’s body had left behind. She washed Haley’s smell from the fibers. She took the few physical breaths I had left of her and killed them with Downy.
“That was Haley’s,” I say in a choked voice, knowing this defiance could push me one step closer to a therapist’s office, and then Mom can have her way, erasing Haley completely from my life, from shirt to mind.
“It’s in the wash, Dee. I didn’t throw it in the fireplace.” She says it like a warning, like if I don’t pull myself out of this slump, that’s where it will go next.
Protectively, I grab the lump of the hairbrush inside my backpack. “I have to go.” I turn away from her and swallow back the tears. Beside the door, I grab my board and throw it on the sidewalk to get it rolling. I step on the center and kick off once, leaning back to curl my deck around the driveway.
She washed the shirt!
It’s just like what Haley’s family did to her at the funeral. They dressed her in a pale blue dress with ruffles. The living, breathing Haley would have ripped off the sleeves, cut slashes in the skirt, and used the ragged remnants to tie back her hair. The mortician painted her to look like a little girl, strawberry blonde hair in ringlets and black patent leather flats. The purple feather earrings she’d always worn were gone. The black eyeliner had been washed away. They erased everything beautiful about her and shoved her in a box.
They say Haley didn’t feel anything that night. In his sobbing eulogy, Haley’s uncle said when she fell off the bookshelf, she snapped her neck and severed the connection to her nerves. But how long did she lie there, numb, waiting for someone to find her?
That’s how I feel now, like I’m stuck in the crevice behind a heavy piece of furniture, just trying to breathe.
At school, the halls are marked with holes of her absence: her empty chair in English, the untouched locker, the barren seat beside me at lunch. I grip the lump of the hairbrush in my bag, for some sense of realness. As my knuckles turn white, holding it so tightly, I realize Mom might be right. Haley isn’t in her unwashed Sex Pistols shirt. She’s gone. And I’m holding onto an old hairbrush.
After I school, I skate home hard. I don’t trust myself to leave the hairbrush alone if I stuff it in a drawer. I bury it in Mom’s garden just like they put Haley in the ground. Once it’s safely under a pile of dirt, I stare at the empty space for a few seconds, tears filling my eyes. I can’t do this. I have to go somewhere.
I head for the skate park, exactly what Haley and I would have done if she were still here. The park used to be an old textile mill. The remnants of the water wheel are still plunked down in the river, which is why they call it the Wheelhouse. Haley used to call it the Steal-House because of how much it costs to skate here. She even managed to argue her monthly fee down by five dollars a month. She could do that. I never had the nerve.
The sound of wheels rumbling down oiled wooden ramps mixes with the pop-punk tunes blasting from the speakers. I dig my kneepads and helmet out of my bag and head toward the half-pipe. As I kick off the cement floors, I keep seeing flashes of Haley. Any of the other skaters whizzing by me could be her, with her hair tucked up under her skull and crossbones helmet.
My wheels reach the top of the pipe. I ollie up and roll back down the other side, building speed. The ramp looms before me, almost vertical against the aluminum wall. Cool wind rushes against my cheeks, and I close my eyes for just a second.
It’s a second too long. My wheels catch on the rounded edge of the pipe and I’m off my board, skidding down the ramp on my arm. It stings like a burn. I pinch my eyes tight and wait for my body to stop rolling. My board comes down after me.
Someone blows the whistle and the sound of rolling wheels stops. A girl runs over to me, about my age. I’ve seen her before; she’s short and compact, brown skin, black curls and a dimple in her left cheek.
“Hey, are you okay?”
“Yeah.” I sit up and examine my arm. Elbow to shoulder is red and raw—road rash. Or ramp rash, I guess.
“Clear the ramp,” one of the attendees says, wearing rollerblades and a black and white striped shirt like a ref. He’s more concerned about cleaning the skin I left behind than on my well-being. Everyone signs an ironclad waiver before skating here. I could get decapitated in the park and it wouldn’t be the park’s problem.
The girl helps me up instead.
“You made falling look like an art,” she says.
I give her a half-cocked eyebrow. People don’t joke with me anymore. Since Haley died, I’m like this dark cloud everyone tries to avoid.
“Are you okay?” she asks. I must look as shocked as I feel.
“Oh yeah,” I mutter and examine my arm again. Blood bursts out in tiny dots, the places where too much skin ripped away.
“You know, it’s easier to skate when you keep your eyes open.” She winks at me, driving that single dimple into her cheeks. She’s wearing pink Converse, like mine, with detailed ink drawings on them of swirly designs. She also has on a short black mini skirt with bike shorts underneath and a t-shirt that reads, “My eyes are up here,” with an arrow pointing upward.
She’s the kind of girl Haley and I would have been instant friends with, except we hadn’t been because if Haley were here and this cute girl started talking to us, I would have burst into flames of jealousy.
“I’m Melinda,” she says.
“Dee,” I reply.
“Do you need some Band-Aids or something?”
“Maybe.” The blood droplets on my arm are growing.
“Where’s that girl you used to come with?” She scans the park, looking for Haley and her skull helmet.
She might possibly be the one person in the universe who thinks Haley is still alive. In her mind, Haley is home sick with a cold, or in the library studying for a test, and for second, it’s like I can believe it too. I want to believe it.
“She has a big chem test tomorrow,” I say. “She’s cramming.”
“Oh, God,” Melinda says. “I hate chem.”
My stomach turns. I suddenly feel sick with myself for telling the lie. “I have to go.”
I skate hard and fast home. It’s too soon to move on. I’m not ready. I dump my board in the driveway and head for the garden to dig up the hairbrush. Right before I reach it, I stop. Next to Mom’s rosebush, where I distinctly remember burying the hairbrush, something new rises from the dirt. It’s a single purple flower on a long stalk. It wasn’t here before, and Mom’s not home. She couldn’t have planted it.
That’s strange. Flowers don’t spring up in an hour. I lean over it, wrinkling my nose. The petals are deep purple, a plum color, but down inside the folds, pale pink stares up at me. I reach out and touch one of the petals. It’s smooth like silk.
I snatch my hand back. That was Haley’s voice inside my head except it was clearer than it has been, like she was standing right here in front of me, whispering in my ear.
Dee, is that you? Where are you? I can’t see anything.
I clutch my hand to my chest and back away from the strange flower. Now I’m hearing voices? But at the same time, I’m straining to hear more.
I clear my throat. “Haley?”
Thank God. I was starting to think I’d died or something.
I bite down on my lower lip. That is Haley’s voice, but this is all in my head. I need to shut it down.
But I can’t.
Dee? Haley calls again.
“Yes,” I whisper.
Where am I?
Her voice cracks inside my head. I can see her lip pouting outward, her eyes filling with tears. This is all in my imagination. I should yank the flower out of the ground and crush it under my sneakers. I should go talk to Mom’s therapist. I should do what everyone wants me to and heal, but I can’t.
“Would you believe you’re in my garden?” I say instead. “You’re dead, Haley. You fell off the bookcase in your living room and broke your neck. Now you’re growing out of my garden.”
It sounds even weirder when I say it out loud, and maybe that’s all I need—to hear how strange this is.
The bee, Haley says.
“What bee?” I scan the bursts of flowers for a bee among them, panic rising.
The one in my living room. I wanted it dead in case you came over. It landed on the top of the bookshelf, I climbed up to swat it and…I remember falling.
If this is real, then Haley died trying to protect me. My throat swells, as tightly as if the bee had actually stung me.
“I miss you so much,” I say.
I miss you too.
I sit by the flower, talking for hours. I tell Haley about her funeral. I tell her how Laura came and wept in high-pitched whining sobs. She had been the one to out us at school, always making comments that we better not “check her out in the locker room.” I don’t know if she cried out of true guilt or to prove to everyone that she cared.
I tell Haley about sleeping with her shirt pillow.
Her hard laugh fills my ears. You’re pathetic, you know that right?
But if it were you, I would have done something weirder, like made a bracelet out of your leg hair or something.
Only Haley would say something like that.
A car pulls into the driveway. It’s Mom. I lean away from the flower, but she’s noticed. As Mom approaches, she looks at Haley, the most beautiful flower in the world, like she’s a weed.
“What is that?” She points at Haley.
“School project,” I say. “We’re checking to see how tropical plants thrive in more temperate climates.”
That’s the most pathetic lie I’ve ever heard.
It is, but Mom buys it. “Oh,” she says. “I’m making chicken for dinner. It will be ready in an hour.”
I stay with Haley until dinner and visit her again afterward. I ask her where she went between the funeral and now. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t remember anything. It was like being asleep and now she’s awake. She can feel when I touch her, she can understand what I’m saying…not necessarily hear me, but she gets the message. She can’t see, and she can’t move.
It’s like I’m wearing cement boots, and my arms have gone to sleep.
It’s dark when Mom pokes her head through the door. “Dee, that flower isn’t going to do anything tonight,” she says in her suspicious voice. I’ve never been this intent on a science project before.
I’m more careful when I visit Haley. I make sure to water her and not block her sunlight when I’m leaned over her petals. I buy her some fertilizer sticks and plant them near her roots.
That feels good.
Her petals turn upward, curving into something like a smile. Having her here, even as a flower, makes me feel alive again. I can breathe. I run my finger across her smooth petals.
That feels good too. I wish I had hands to return the sentiment.
“I do too,” I say.
And lips to kiss you with.
“I wish that too,” I say.
Kiss me, Haley demands.
“Okay.” I lean into her petals, close my eyes, and press my lips to them, inhaling the sweet scent of strawberries. My heart patters like it did when I kissed the human version of her. I start to wonder how long we can do this. Flowers don’t live forever. The weather is turning warmer. Haley will wither and wilt. I might be able to re-pot her and bring her inside, but I’ll only be prolonging the inevitable. This extra time we have – maybe it’s for me to say the things I need to say.
“I love you,” I whisper into her petals. “And I will never love anyone else like you.”
I love you too.
I feel a cool shadow at my shoulders and open my eyes to see Mom hovering over me, lips pursed, arms crossed. My voice skitters away like a scared mouse. Mom turns on her heel and storms into the house, but this isn’t over.
“She was talking to a flower,” Mom whispers to Dad that night.
“Lots of people talk to flowers. It’s supposed to be good for them.”
“She was kissing it. She said she loved it. It’s strange. I understand she’s upset about Haley, we all are, but this has gone on too long. We can’t sit idle anymore.”
“You might be right.”
I clutch my pillow to my chest, wrapped in Haley’s old tank top, freshly washed and smelling like my own detergent. I do want to be better. I want to stop feeling like I’m about to burst into tears all the time, or like I’m just floating through life like an untethered balloon. But Mom’s version of getting “better” is taking Haley away, and that’s not “better” to me.
In the morning, I leave a note and go to the skate park, partaking in the “normal” routine to set Mom at ease, but all I want to do is get back to Haley. I get to the Wheelhouse ten minutes before it opens, and there’s someone else waiting, the girl from the other day—Melinda.
She grins at me and waves. The dimple sinks deep into her cheek. “Hey,” she says. “I thought maybe you hung up your wheels after that fall.”
“No way. I’ve had much worse than that.”
“Me too.” She sticks out her leg to show me a long, pink scar. “I was skating at this construction site and a nail ripped right through my shin.”
“Ouch.” I hold up my arm and show her a ringed scar around my elbow. “I got this my first summer trying to ollie. The skin peeled right off the bone. Twenty-six stitches.”
Melinda sticks out her tongue. “Let’s try not to peel any skin off today.”
The door clicks open for the park, and we go in together. It isn’t until I step onto the cement floor that I realize, twenty seconds passed where I didn’t think about Haley. It’s the first time that’s happened.
Melinda and I are alone in the park. Skater boys and girls aren’t known for being early risers. At first, I take the one ramp and let her have the other. Then she moves to my side, and we settle into a pattern, she goes up one side, I go up the other.
Today her shirt reads, “Boys are ok, but girls are better.” Now I know without a doubt that she’s queer.
“Hey!” she shouts over the music. “I’m going to take a break. Want to join me?” She kicks up her board, and I do the same, unclasping my knee pads and wiping the sweat from my cheek. She buys two sodas from the vending machine, and we sit at one of the tables, scrawled in initials and wannabe gang tags and a few of the swirly designs that are on Melinda’s sneakers.
“Are these yours?” I point to the drawings.
“Yeah.” She sinks into her shoulders. “It’s nothing special. I just start making lines, and then I connect those lines, and then I have something that looks like a never-ending maze.”
“They’re nice.” I really do like them. It’s not how they look; it’s how they move. The one on the table looks like wind, if the wind was made of swirling black lines.
She twists the soda cap in her fingers and leans across the table. Her dimpled cheek rests in her palm, and I’m stung by the fact that I can’t watch it as she talks. “So, is the girl studying for another chem test?”
I almost choke on my next sip of soda. Here is my lie, coming back to haunt me, and now I realize I’ve not thought about Haley for more than twenty minutes.
“She’s not studying,” I say. “She’s gone. She died in a freak accident three months ago.”
“Oh my God.” Melinda covers her mouth with one hand and grabs my wrist with the other. “I am so sorry. I didn’t know.”
“I lied to you because you didn’t know. I wanted to believe she was alive for a while.”
“I don’t blame you.” She runs her finger across the back of my palm, sliding over my knuckles, and I marvel at how good it feels to be touched again.
I pull my hand back because I can’t do this. Not now. “I have to go.” I stand up, and she does too.
“Wait.” She pulls a pen and crinkled paper from her pocket and scribbles on it. “Here’s my number if you ever want to talk about it. When my Gran died, I was a real mess.” She tucks the paper in my palm.
“Thanks.” I close my hand around it and grab my board.
I jam the paper into my pocket. I don’t know what I’ll tell Haley, if I’ll mention Melinda to her or not, and I can’t believe I’m considering lying to her.
It leaves a sickly feeling in my stomach that worsens when I’m halfway down the block. Turning around the driveway, I see Mom knelt over the garden—with a pair of shears in her hand. I throw down my board and run to stop her. From there, everything falls in heartbeats: the pound of my feet on the driveway, the shriek I hear in my head, the snap of the shear blades coming together, and the defiant curl of Mom’s lips.
I jump, launching toward Mom, and catch her around the shoulders. We both fall to the grass. The shears skitter across the lawn as Mom lets out a gasp. She elbows me away from her and sits upright, throwing off her gardening gloves.
“Deanna, what are you doing?”
“Don’t cut the flower,” I say. “If you kill that flower, I will never speak to you again.”
Dee? Dee? What’s happening?
I can hear Haley calling to me. If I had been a second later, if I had sat with Melinda a minute longer, I would have been too late.
“This is exactly what I’m talking about. It’s a flower!” Mom shoves a hand at it. “And you’re choosing it over me? Over your family? I know you’re hurting about Haley, but you have to let her go.”
“She was your friend, Dee. She would want you to move on.”
“She wasn’t just my friend,” I say. “I loved her…love her.”
Mom drops her hand in her lap, and her face goes slack while she swallows my confession. I don’t know what she’ll do, if she’ll scream, cry, or pretend like I never said it, like this is all just a phase that I’ll grow out of.
She raises her arms, I flinch, and she throws them both around me, pulling me tight.
“I’m so sorry, Baby,” she breathes into my hair. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
I close my arms around her ribs and hold her tight, crying into the shoulder of her sweater. “I didn’t think you would understand.”
“I don’t,” she says. “But I don’t have to understand it.”
I told you she would be cool with it.
The smugness rings in Haley’s voice. I should have told Mom ages ago, when Haley had been here to see it.
Mom doesn’t touch the flower again, but she doesn’t have to. Two days later, the sun beats down on Haley’s petals, turning them soggy and brown.
I’m so tired, Dee. I don’t have much time, Haley says.
“Don’t say that.” I stroke one of her petals with my finger, and it sags lower.
Promise me you won’t disappear when I’m gone. You’ll do things. You’ll find someone.
I pull my finger back. Now seems like a good time to tell her about Melinda. “There’s a girl at The Wheelhouse.”
The super-cute Latina girl?
“Yeah, how did you know?”
I saw her watching you. You just didn’t notice because you were too busy watching me. Promise me you’ll call her.
No, really promise it. Don’t just repeat what I want to hear.
I take a breath. Even as a flower, she knows me. No one will ever know me like this. “I promise,” I say and mean it this time. My eyes burn hot with tears. “I’m so sorry,” I sob. “I wish you hadn’t fallen. I wish you hadn’t gone after that bee.”
It’s not your fault. It’s no one’s fault…well, maybe the bee’s fault. Let’s blame it on the bees! Horrible, stinging monsters.
“Yeah.” I rub the tear from my cheek. “Blame it on the bees!” I raise my fist in the air and catch Mom watching me from the kitchen window. She only nods and walks away.
I pour another cup of water onto Haley’s roots to keep her here a little longer. A few more days. If she can last a few more days, I’ll be okay.
But she doesn’t.
The next day, she’s face down in the dirt, lifeless.
“Haley!” I skid through the dirt to her side and lift her upright. “Haley, answer me!” The petals are more brown than purple now. A bubble rises in my chest and explodes into sobs. I could have lived like that. I could have made a life with her as a flower.
When my eyes go dry, I claw at the dirt to dig Haley from the ground. My fingers hit something hard—the hairbrush. Haley’s roots rise up from the tangle of strawberry blonde hairs. This time, I’m going to do things right. No blue dresses. No ringlets.
I wrap what’s left of her in the Sex Pistols tank top and tuck her into a shoe box. I hold her tight to my side as I skate to the Wheelhouse. I leave my deck by the door and make my way down the rocks to the river’s edge. I lift the lid for one last look at flower Haley.
“Goodbye,” I whisper before I set her in the water.
The river carries her swiftly from me, toward the ocean. Haley loved the water, almost as much as she loved skating. And me. The box sails around the bend, and I can’t see her anymore. She’s gone.
I climb back up the embankment and grab my board.
Melinda waves to me from the parking lot. I smile and wave back. My heart flutters like it would when I’d see Haley across a room.
“What were you doing by the water? Anything interesting down there?” She leans over my shoulder, and I smell cinnamon on her breath.
“No, I was just checking out the fish.”
“Oh.” She holds up her deck. “Wanna skate?”
Today her shirt reads, “Tomorrow’s not guaranteed. If you want it, grab it now.”
I wholeheartedly agree.
About the Author
Rachel Menard earned her degree in marketing from ASU, during which time her work was featured in the university paper and her own, self-published punk zine, Chelsea. She was also a college radio DJ. She currently works for a seasonal design company, creating whimsical copy for Christmas ornaments. Her short fiction has been featured in the New England Speculative Writers’ Anthology, The Final Summons. She hosts the Rhode Island Meet & Greets for the NESCBWI, and in her free time, writes strange and fantastical stories for teens. For more of her writings and ramblings, visit www.rachelmenard.com.
About the Narrator
Tina Connolly is the author of the Ironskin and Seriously Wicked series, and the collection On the Eyeball Floor. She has been a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, Norton, and World Fantasy awards.
She co-hosts Escape Pod, narrates for Beneath Ceaseless Skies and all four Escape Artists podcasts, and runs Toasted Cake.
Find her at tinaconnolly.com.