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The Sum of Contradictions: 5. Hyacinths
By beurre blanc


The bell tinkled sweetly as she pushed the door open.

"Good morning Uncle Marc."

"Alex! Alex, my love. Come here!" He bustled out from behind the counter, weaving his way between buckets of tulips, lilies, roses, chrysanthemums, and dozens more flowers she recognized but couldn't name, and enveloped her in a bear-hug. A portly man of fifty-four, his five foot two to her five nine made the embrace comically awkward, but the sentiment was genuine.

"Let me look at you. It's been too long." He held her at arm's length, tilted his head back and peered up over half-moon glasses, which, to Alex's sleep-deprived mind, rendered him disturbingly similar to Kenneth Grahame's Mole. She felt suddenly embarrassed, uncharitable, exhausted. Tears prickled and she looked upwards, blinking, before offering an apologetic smile.

Marcus Fletcher finished the quiet appraisal of his goddaughter then asked, "How is your mother?"

Oh shit! Distracted as she was from another sleepless night spent dealing with the swarm of conflicting emotions generated by her last encounter with Olivia Benson, Alex was entirely unprepared for his question. In fact, it only made her confusion more acute, as she realized she had spared barely a thought for her own mother in the past five days.

"Um, she's been a lot worse recently – she's back on the steroids again, and they're making her moody and bloated. And the pain is worse, especially at night." Alex finished what she thought had been an adequately detailed reply, but she didn't quite succeed in disguising the look of guilt which flashed across normally well-schooled features. After all, her mother's illness should have been paramount, coming as it did so soon after her bereavement. The doctors were cautious in their prognostications - frustratingly so - and Alex had not yet decided whether they had been trained to be circumspect, or whether it was merely that they found dealing with the mother of a Manhattan ADA innately intimidating. But the facts remained that her mother's health was deteriorating, and that Alex had effectively ignored this for the better part of a week.

"But that is not the reason why you look so… tired. Is it?"

Alex shook her head slowly.

"Tell me."

Oh God, where do I start? "I need some flowers." She shrugged.

"Hmm…" He raised his eyebrows, and waited for her to elaborate.

"I have a friend – a work colleague – who was injured. She is in hospital." Alex faltered, unsure how much, or just what, to divulge.

"Is it serious?"

"Yes. No. Not really – broken cheekbone and lacerations. It sounds like a cliché, but she ran into a door… or it ran into her." Alex smiled weakly.

"So, flowers to wish her a speedy recovery?"

"Actually, no." Alex looked away. "It's complicated."

"Alexandra, sweetheart, come and sit down, and tell me," he said. He reached behind her to latch the door, and then led her into the office behind the counter, where he proceeded to make a pot of tea.

Alex sank into a dusty armchair, running a thumbnail along the carved wooden arm, tracing spirals and curves. Round, Like a circle in a spiral, Like a wheel within a wheel… Just as lyrics rose unbidden from the recesses of her tortured subconscious, so was she assaulted again by images and impressions of a dark-haired woman with beautiful eyes, trim body, firm breasts, tears and accusations, a blazing disagreement, hysterical laughter, a compassionate glance … Alex's mind had been in constant and uncharacteristic turmoil, consumed by thoughts of a woman who was really just a colleague – at best a friend. And certainly not someone she ought to… desire. Nothing in Alex's experience or upbringing had prepared her for this relentless preoccupation with another person – any other person. Another woman. She had no personal rubric to deal with her feelings, and she felt disconcerted in the extreme.

"God, this is ridiculous." Snap out of it, Alexandra! It was time she brought this bizarre obsession with Olivia to a stop. Stick to the facts, Alex.

"Olivia works for me – with me. She is a detective with the Manhattan Special Victims Unit. We… argued after our last case. It appears I said something – I'm not sure what – and suddenly she was crying, and-," Alex broke off.

"And, you want to apologize?" prompted Marcus.

"Yes." It was the truth – enough of the truth.

Marcus poured tea, and passed Alex a cup. He had seen the abrupt change in Alex's demeanor, and he knew her well enough to know by the set of her shoulders that whatever she said now would be superficial - sufficient, but unenlightening to both.

"Hyacinths, purple hyacinths. They proffer an apology, and request forgiveness. Alex, I don't wish to sound insensitive, but would this Olivia know enough about flowers to understand their meaning?"

Alex thought for a moment. "Actually I don't know. Maybe not." She gave a self-deprecating smile. "But I'll know…"

The End

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