It was my 16th birthday. I sat at the kitchen table, staring at the unlit candles on my cake. My mom sat next to me, waiting for my grandma to arrive. I ran my fingers through my hair as we waited: it felt strange, having such short hair now. I’d gotten it cut yesterday, wanting to reinvent myself now that I was turning 16.
“Oh, there she is,” my mom said, getting up.
She quickly got up to answer the door. As soon as my grandma saw me, her face lit up with a smile.
“Marigold! Happy birthday.”
I walked over and hugged her, smiling, even though I disliked hearing my full name said aloud. I came from a long line of women named after flowers: my mom was named Rose, and my grandma was Violet. I figured it was because of a gardening tradition in our family. My mom tended to the garden whenever she had free time, and my grandma was the same. But personally, I had an aversion to gardening. I just didn’t get why they spent so much time on it.
"Thanks for coming, Grandma," I said.
We sat down at the table, and my mom lit the candles. I blew them out. After eating the cake, we went to the living room.
“Wait, I’ll be right back,” my mom said.
She came back with an empty flower pot—or at least, I thought it was empty until I looked inside and saw just…dirt.
I looked at my grandmother, and she merely smiled.
“A pot of dirt, Mom? What’s it for?”
I saw my mom exchange glances with my grandma, and then she turned her gaze back to me.
“I need you to try something,” she said. “Place your hand on the edge of the flower pot.”
“Huh?” I said. “Why?”
“Mari, trust me.”
Figuring it was some kind of joke, I did as she said.
“Okay," my mom said. "Now I need you to close your eyes.”
I imagined that my grandma was probably pulling out some surprise gift or something.
“Now… imagine the seed sprouting and growing into a marigold.”
“Into… a marigold?” I said. “Mom, what’s really going on? Can I open my eyes now?”
“Just picture it. That’s all you have to do.”
I pictured it: the green stem rising out of the dirt until a flower began to form, orange petals blossoming. And as I did so, I heard my mom gasp.
“I told you,” Grandma said. “You didn’t need to worry.”
I knew then that I should open my eyes. As soon as I did, my heart leaped; I dropped the pot, spilling dirt onto the floor. There, in the pot, was exactly what I’d pictured: a beautifully formed flower, the color of fire.
“What the hell is going on?” I asked, unable to believe what I was seeing. “Are you playing some trick on me? ‘Cause it’s not funny.”
“You see, Mari, sweetheart, me and your grandma have the ability to grow things. Instantly. And now… so do you.”
“So that’s why—all these years—”
“Why we spend so much time gardening, yes,” Grandma said. “But it’s nothing to be afraid of, dear. It’s a gift.”
My mom pushed the spilled dirt back into the flower pot, then picked it up and put it on the coffee table.
The next day was Monday, and I tried to lift my head up high as I walked into my high school. Ever since elementary school, I’d had long, straight hair. I’d always look down, letting my hair hide my face as I walked. But I didn’t want to hide anymore. Now, with my short hair, I had to show myself. I had to face the world.
I thought of my ability, the ability to grow plants with just a thought and the touch of my hand. It was still hard to believe. But it was something only I, and the other women in my family, could do. If that was the way I began my 16th year of life, then maybe other things would change too.
As I walked in the hallway, I tried to smile at anyone I made eye contact with. It was hard, but I did my best. I walked to my locker and started gathering my books.
But that’s when I heard Stacey’s voice. I recognized it instantly.
“Ew, look at her hair. She looks like a boy,” she said.
My heart started pounding. I suddenly felt really hot, like lava was running through my veins. I took each book out of my locker slowly, to make sure Stacey and her clique were gone before I turned around.
The rest of the day, I couldn’t stop thinking about Stacey’s comment. Even though I couldn’t see her, I knew the comment was directed at me. She’d hated me since elementary school, after all.
I tried not to let it bother me. The reason being, that’s something my old self would do, letting a comment like that drag me down. But even as I tried to think positively, I couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe there was truth to what she said. Maybe I did look like a boy.
By the time I got home that day, I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I ran straight to my room, shutting the door and collapsing onto my bed. I started crying.
A few minutes later, my mom came into the room. She sat down on the bed next to me.
“Mari, sweetheart, what’s wrong?”
I sat up, wiping the tears off my face with the back of my hand.
“What’s the point of being able to grow things instantly, if I can’t even grow anything that matters?”
“What do you mean, nothing that matters? Who’s to say what matters?”
“I can’t grow my hair back, I can’t grow up faster.”
“I don’t see why you’d want to do either of those things, Mari.”
“I wish high school would just be over already,” I said, “so I wouldn’t have to deal with stupid bullies anymore.”
“Is this about that girl Stacey again?”
I nodded my head.
“Remember, Mari… nothing can grow unless you plant the seed first. If you don’t like high school, then think about what would make it better. And nurture that.”
I glanced at the marigold flower on my nightstand.
“It’s still a useless power,” I said.
The next day at school, I wore a beanie to cover my hair. I didn’t want anyone to see me. It looked like my 16th year wasn’t going to be any different than the years before.
In my biology class, though, my teacher insisted that I take the beanie off, saying it was against the dress code. I did take it off, but only until the end of class.
When I was at my locker that day, I saw Stacey approaching again. She had her eyes set on someone, but I couldn’t see who because their locker was blocking their face. But a few moments later, they closed it and I saw who it was: Delilah, a girl with curly brown hair and glasses, carrying a big stack of books. I never talked to her much, but she always seemed really shy, like me.
“Too bad the stack isn’t higher, so it’d cover that face,” Stacey said.
Her friends chuckled, and Delilah simply glanced at them.
A couple weeks passed. I’d stopped watering the marigold, so it was beginning to wilt. My mom’s words, “Nothing can grow unless you plant the seed first,” echoed in my head.
On my walk to school, I thought about what would make high school more bearable. This school year was almost over, and I didn’t want my junior and senior years to end up the same way—lonely and friendless.
I knew one thing for certain: that being a loner was only going to make the time pass slower, and make me an easier target for Stacey and her clique.
In the past couple of weeks, Stacey hadn’t bothered me much, nor did I see her pick on Delilah, for that matter. I tried to just put all that behind, forgetting about what she said.
But at the end of the school day, I saw her coming near Delilah again. Delilah was gathering up her books when, before I could even blink, Stacey pushed Delilah forward, causing her to drop all her books. Delilah quickly bent down to pick them up.
My heart started pounding. Despite the anxiety gripping me, I knew what I needed to do. I walked over to Delilah and knelt down, helping her pick up her books.
“H-hey,” I said, my voice slightly shaky. “I’m Marigold.”
“Hi, I’m Delilah.” She looked up at me, observing me for a second. “Hey, weren’t you in my algebra class last year?”
“Yeah, um, I think so.”
“Thanks for helping,” she said after I handed her the last book.
“No problem. So...what classes are you in now?”
I started walking down the hallway with Delilah, getting to know her. As we talked, my nervousness slowly faded. Eventually, when we reached the exit doors, she stopped and turned to me.
“Would you wanna, maybe, exchange phone numbers?” she asked.
“Sure, that’d be good,” I said.
She handed me her phone to put my number in. Then we said our goodbyes.
I smiled, realizing that I’d actually initiated a conversation myself, something I'd always been too shy to do before.
It was the last day of school. Delilah and I now walked down the hallways together, rather than by ourselves. I stopped wearing my beanie. I felt like finally, things were changing for the better.
But that day, when Delilah and I were chatting next to our lockers before class, Stacey started approaching us.
“Oh, look, the two losers decided to be friends,” Stacey said.
“More like girlfriends,” Stacey’s friend Amber said.
“Girlfriends? I just see two guys,” added another girl in the clique.
While they laughed, I felt the anger rising in my chest.
“Don’t you have anything better to do than bother us?” I said, interrupting their laughter.
Stacey laughed again. Then she rolled her eyes and started walking away, purposely bumping into me as she passed.
At the end of the day, as I was walking out of the school with Delilah, I noticed Stacey walking down the sidewalk by herself. She was passing by some trees when I suddenly imagined the vines from the tree spreading onto the sidewalk and tripping her.
And, to my surprise, the vines began to grow. I couldn’t stop it: the vines began to grow longer and longer, covering the sidewalk, but Stacey didn’t even notice. A few moments later, I heard her scream and then fall, collapsing on the mess of vines. Behind her, some boys started laughing, pointing at her.
“Oh my god,” Delilah said. “Look, Stacey fell.”
I couldn’t believe it. I thought my power only worked if I touched the plant…but as it turned out, it worked from a distance, too.
“Karma, I guess,” Delilah said.
“Yep. Karma,” I agreed, unable to suppress my smile.
When I got home that day, I went to the garage, where my mom kept her gardening supplies. After rummaging through, I finally found what I was looking for: the marigold seeds. I went straight to my room and walked over to the flower pot containing the wilted marigold. I plucked it out of the dirt and planted a new seed in the soil. I stepped away from the flower pot and, with my eyes closed, imagined a marigold growing.
And when I opened them again, there it was: a flame-colored marigold, even more vibrant than the last.