This Poison Heart (This Poison Heart #1) - Kalynn Bayron


White roses. Genus Rosa. Family Rosaceae. Common name “Evening Star.”

Mr. Hughes took a dozen of them to his wife’s grave every weekend, rain or shine. He had for the past year. He didn’t care about the genus or the species, only that there were twelve of them waiting for him every Sunday, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. My mom was going to have to tell him that the delivery truck hadn’t arrived last night like it was supposed to—it flipped over on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The driver was okay, but our shipment of Evening Star was scattered across six lanes of traffic.

“I’m so sorry, Robert,” Mom said as Mr. Hughes, dressed in his Sunday best, came into the shop. “There was an accident, and we didn’t get our regular shipment. We should have a new delivery in the next few days.”

He gripped the lapels of his freshly pressed navy blazer, his bottom lip quivering as he ran his hand over his mouth and sighed. He looked like he might fold in on himself. Grief was heavy. It could do that to a person.

“We’ve got some beautiful peonies,” Mom said. “The Ann Cousins variety. They’re gorgeous, Robert. I could put them together for you right now.”

I pushed my glasses up and peered around the arrangement I was working on.

Mr. Hughes’s brow furrowed. “I don’t know, Thandie. The white roses, they were her favorite.”

My mom closed her hand over Mr. Hughes’s as he pulled out a tissue to dab at his eyes. We had a single white rose in a vase on the back counter, a remnant of a wedding bouquet I’d put together the day before. I looked down at my hands, opening and closing them. I wanted to help. But I couldn’t. It was too dangerous.

“I miss her so much, Thandie,” Mr. Hughes said, his voice choked with sadness.

“The people we love are never really gone from us,” Mom said. “Try to remember that. I know it’s hard. It feels like the whole world should just stop spinnin’, but it doesn’t. And we’ve gotta find a way to pick up the pieces.”

Mom always knew exactly what to say. Mr. Hughes and his wife used to come into the shop together. Now, it was just him, and it made me so sad I could hardly stand it. The arrangement on the table in front of me began to wilt.

“Hang on, Mr. Hughes,” I said.

He looked at me quizzically. I glanced at my mom for a second longer than I needed to. Her face grew tight with concern.

I plucked the single rose from the vase, rushed down the short hallway and out the back door. The eight-by-ten square of dirt our landlord had the nerve to call a garden was where we kept the bigger plants that couldn’t fit in the shop. Our recent shipment of chaste tree crowded the space, their spiky violet blooms just beginning to open in the damp heat of summer.

My hands trembled as I knelt and stripped the rose of its velvety petals, down to the pistil, the seedy heart of the flower. Any part of the plant would have been enough to make another like it, but having the pistil made it easier. A familiar tingling sensation crept down my arm. It started in my shoulder and trickled toward my elbow, then into my forearm. I glanced at the newly installed wooden pickets of the rear fence. They reminded me of what could happen if I lost control, even for a second.

I scooped a little hole in the ground and set the pistil inside. Covering it with loose earth, I placed my hands over it, sinking my fingers into the dirt, and closed my eyes.

Just breathe.

The tingling spread into my fingertips, warm and oddly comforting. A swell of anticipation crashed through me as a stout evergreen stalk broke through the dirt and immediately sprouted several small offshoots. They pushed their way up between my outstretched fingers. Sweat dampened my back and forehead. I clenched my teeth until the muscles in my temples ached. The new stalks reached toward the sun, their stems thickening, thorns sprouting, but never close enough to prick my fingers. Buds bloomed white as snow between new leaflets green as emeralds. Right before their petals unfurled, I pulled my hands back, clutching them against my chest. Dizziness washed over me. Orbs of light danced around the edges of my vision as I sucked in a breath, filled my chest with