Match Nine: Lebanon Cedar:
Two weeks in and the marks on Florence’s skin got darker. Alfred took her straight to the doctor on the first night. He sat across the room unable to sit still. The American man could feel himself shaking. No, he told himself. The hero is no supposed to act scared. I have to be strong for Florence. Florence looked so calm as the doctor looked at her neck.
“How long have you had this?” he asked her.
“About three days now,” she said. Alfred lifted his head. What? What did she say?
“Does it hurt?” the doctor asked. Florence shook her head.
“I see,” he said. “How are your other symptoms? Are you still feeling tired? Have you been eating? Any illness?”
“I still don’t want to get out of bed at times,” Florence said. “I haven’t been hungry. I haven’t been sick though.”
“I see,” the doctor said. “Does Lydia know about this?”
“Not yet,” Florence said. “She’s went out west to find some friends of her parents.” He raised an eyebrow at her.
“Really? Who’s been staying with you?” he asked. Florence pointed over at Alfred. The doctor turned to him. The American man sat there, dumbfounded. She hadn’t shared any of this with him. Why would she not say anything? The doctor walked over to him.
“Were you aware of any of this?” he asked.
“No…” Alfred said sheepishly. The doctor frowned.
“Do you have Lydia’s number?” he asked.
“Sure, hang on,” the American man said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. Alfred scrolled through the numbers until he found hers. He instantly dialed up her number.
“It’s ringing,” he said. The doctor waited with his arms folded across his chest. Florence looked up at the men on the other side of the room. Alfred lowered his phone.
“She’s not picking up,” he said.
“Try again,” the doctor said. “If she doesn’t answer, leave a message.”
“Okay,” Alfred said. He dialed Lydia’s number again and waited. Florence and the doctor had their eyes on him.
“Hey, it’s me,” Lydia’s voicemail said. “I am not available right now. Leave a message and I might get back to you. Maybe.” The American man frowned when he heard the beep.
“Hey, Lydia,” he said. “This is Alfred. Please call back. It’s really important. There’s something wrong with Florence. Call me back ASAP!” The American man took a breath as he hung up.
“How was that?” he asked.
“Fine,” the doctor said.
“Now what?” Alfred asked.
“We wait,” he said.
“Oh…” the American man mumbled.
“Why did you tell me about the marks on your neck?” Alfred asked Florence once they left the doctor’s office. She shook her head.
“Why?” he asked again.
“I didn’t want to upset you,” she admitted. Alfred struggled to speak at first.
“What?” he asked at last. She looked up at him.
“I know more than Lydia wants me to know,” the tree spirit confessed. “I do not have long to live. The thought doesn’t really scare me but Lydia…” She shook her head. “I don’t think she can handle it. Lydia probably won’t know what to do after I am gone.”
“And you thought that not telling us would help?” Alfred asked. He grabbed her by the wrists. “I want to help you but I can’t do that if you won’t tell me the truth.”
“Alfred,” Florence said. “I don’t think you can help me.”
“I want to try,” he said. She gave him a sympathetic smile. How could she be some calm? Alfred felt himself trembling.
“You can’t do this me,” he said. “We can’t keep secrets from each other. You have to let me in!” He started shaking as tears filled his eyes.
“I never know what you are thinking. I can’t tell if we are close or not. You won’t even talk to me about that night,” he lamented. “I don’t even know how you feel about me.” Florence looked him in the eye.
“You love me, right?” she asked.
“Yes!” the American man shouted. He tried to ignore two college-aged boys walking passed them across the street. They had pulled to a standstill, staring at them.
“What?!” Alfred shouted. “There’s nothing to see here! Move it along! Go on, shoo!” The men hurried away, silent. Alfred puffed up his cheeks. Florence didn’t say a word the whole time. The American man gritted his teeth.
“Say something,” he pleaded. Her silence made things worse.
“I understand,” she said at last. Alfred’s face dropped.
“What?” he asked.
“We can talk about this later,” Florence said in a low voice.
“Will we though?” Alfred asked. Florence looked at him with no emotion on her face. He groaned and threw back his head.
“I can’t do this anymore,” he said. “Please don’t leave me hanging like this.”
“Hanging?” she asked.
“Look, I love you!” he said. “I don’t know how to spell it out for you. I keep telling you but I don’t think it’s sticking! You told me that I was one of your favorite people.”
“Yes,” Florence said.
“What does that mean?” Alfred asked.
“I really like you.”
“In what way?” He braced himself for the answer. But she said nothing. Alfred let go of her hands.
“Just forget,” he muttered.
“Alfred?” Florence asked as he turned and walked away. She had to run to keep up with him. The American man couldn’t even look at her.
Florence’s feelings towards him wasn’t the only problem he had to deal with.
Lydia had gone missing since she left town to meet up with an old friend of her parents’. Alfred and the doctor couldn’t get hold of her. The American man hadn’t noticed until the doctor brought it up this morning.
“Hey Florence,” Alfred asked over his shoulder.
“Hm?” she asked.
“Have you heard from Lydia lately?” he asked.
“No, I have not,” Florence said. “Why do you ask?”
“Hm…” the American man said. When he took her home, Alfred pulled out his phone and made another call. Once again, Lydia’s phone went to voicemail. The American man took a heavy breath.
“Lydia,” he said. “How have you been? We haven’t heard from you in weeks. Call me back, dude. Florence needs you. Bye-bye.” Alfred hung up and sighed. She didn’t tell him where she was going. He thought that she was going be gone for a couple of weeks. Lydia was supposed to be due back by now. No one else knew where she went either.
Alfred looked up at the living room and sighed.
“Now what?” he asked.
Lydia still didn’t pick up her phone. Alfred and the doctor still kept trying to call her.
“Do you know the number of this family friend?” the doctor asked.
“No,” the American man admitted. “She didn’t really give me much detail of what she was doing.” That was all that the doctor needed to hear.
“I’m going to call the police,” he said.
“Whoa! Is that necessary?” Alfred asked.
“Yes!” the doctor said. “I do not have a good feeling about this. Something might have happened to her.” Alfred couldn’t argue there.
“Let’s file a report together,” he said.
“I’ll go get my jacket,” the doctor said. Both men handed out to the police station.
Three weeks later, there was a knock on Florence’s front door. Alfred sat up from the couch he was napping.
“Coming!” he shouted. The American man hurried to the door. He looked out the peep hole. Alfred’s jaw dropped.
“Lydia?” he asked as he opened the door. The young woman looked up at him. She looked so pale and didn’t speak. She looked like she had lost so much weight. Her clothes hung from her skinny frame. Lydia looked like she was ready to cry.
“Lydia?” Alfred asked again. “What’s wrong?” She didn’t answer him. The young woman gripped her by the right arm. Her whole body started to tremble. She lowered her eyes and ran into the house.
“Lydia? Lydia?” he asked. The American man followed after her.