“Home,” Asher’s escort said, handing him a set of keys. He splayed the keys out in his palm. Which one?

 

But his escort had already returned to the car and started the engine.

 

Asher tested several keys in the lock before one turned. The door creaked as he pushed it open. He cringed at the noise. But why did it bother him?

 

The inside of the house was smaller than he’d imagined. A pair of leather couches monopolized the living room and framed a dark red rug. Ick. Who chose the furniture?

 

He inhaled, trying to fill his lungs with a familiar scent. But nothing brought any memories or comfort. Where was he?

 

This wasn’t home.

 

His footsteps rattled the contents of a cupboard with glass doors. When did I develop a fascination with china plates? He entered the spotless kitchen and blinked. And who lives like this?

 

Waking in a hospital bed was confusing enough. But don’t tell me the life I’ve forgotten was no different from my grandmother’s.

 

Grandmother. Did he still have one of those? Other family members had visited him. His parents. His two siblings. His wife.

 

Why could he remember some details but not others? How could he unlock a door, yet not recognize the woman who claimed to love him?

 

Asher closed his eyes, envisioning her beautiful face leaning over him…

 

She wasn’t here. The doctors had advised her to give him space. But he hated being alone.

 

He sucked in another deep breath. All was not lost. Maybe he owned a dog who missed him and would keep him company.

 

He hurried into the next room, where the curtains were drawn. He hoped a canine would be curled up in the splash of sunshine on the floor. Instead, a potted flower sat on a table beside the window, soaking up every ray that touched it.

 

Asher traced the blue petals, frowning that they belonged to the only plant in the room. Surely this flower felt as forlorn as he did.

 

His fingers slid down the stalk, and he pursed his lips. The leaves should be green and soft, not brown and crinkly. But how did he know that?

 

One dried leaf fluttered to the dirt below, and his eyes widened in horror. Gingerly, he picked it up and attempted to reattach it. “There you go, little buddy,” he whispered, his lips barely moving.

 

The leaf didn’t hold.

 

What was wrong? Was the plant sick? He tried to swallow, but his throat was dry.

 

Dry. Was the plant dry? Water would help, wouldn’t it?

 

Asher raced to the kitchen, grabbed a glass, and switched on the tap. People were nourished by this liquid, and so were plants. Plants had many of the same needs as people. So, what did people need?

 

Asher lifted his gaze. In a frame above the sink, he saw himself. A family of three surrounded him, their smiles wide and their eyes a deep blue.

 

I have a wife and children who adore me. Why can’t I remember them? Don’t I need them?

 

People needed people. Did plants need people?

 

My flower! Asher shut off the water that had begun to overflow the glass and rushed to the sunroom.

 

“Did you miss me, little buddy?” He never raised his voice above a hoarse whisper, but speaking lessened his loneliness. “Don’t worry. I won’t leave you.” He tipped the glass over the soil and watched the plant drink with great satisfaction.

 

His flower’s thirst had been quenched. It would perk up at any moment. He sensed it in his green thumb.

 

His brow furrowed, and he glanced down at his hand. Don’t be silly. It’s just a saying, Asher.

 

Where and when had he learned that?

 

He abandoned the question as he looked back to the flower. A second wilted leaf broke loose and fell.

 

No! Not another! He cradled the leaf, but it crumbled between his fingers. This wasn’t supposed to happen.

 

Clouds masked the sun, and the room darkened. What right did these walls have to call themselves a sunroom? This was a cloud room, just like Asher’s head. Memories floated around him that he couldn’t reach.

 

He checked his wristwatch. Two o’clock. What had the doctor said? Someone would come…when? Four. Yes, that was it. Two more hours of loneliness. If he didn’t suffocate by then.

 

Could loneliness kill? Was that why the flower languished?

 

Maybe plants didn’t need people. Maybe they needed other plants.

 

Asher would keep his flower alive if he had to uproot a shrub from the yard outside. Driven by this new resolve, he backtracked to the kitchen and spotted a plant that resembled prickled camel humps near the sink. How had he missed that before?

 

Never mind. He scooped it up and triumphantly carried it into the sunroom. “Hey, little buddy. I brought you a friend.” He positioned the two pots side by side and waited for the flower to show its delight.

 

But it remained wilted, its stem perhaps even yellower than a few moments ago.

 

His heart sank. No growth in his flower, or in his memory.

 

I can’t protect my flower?

 

Of course not. He couldn’t protect anything. Not even Lily.

 

Who is Lily?

 

Asher rubbed his temples and squeezed his eyes shut. A lily was a flower—a tall stalk? Large petals? No, weren’t lilies small?

 

“I’ll look after you, little flower.”

 

He snapped his eyes open. He hadn’t spoken those words to a plant. Who had he been talking to?

 

Warmth enveloped his hand. “You’re safe with me, little plant.”

 

Who had touched him? What plant had he promised to keep safe, and why? Where was it now?

 

He shook his head to clear his thoughts. He couldn’t puzzle about the imaginary flower when a real one needed his attention. But what would revive it?

 

Light. Where was the sun? As if on cue, the clouds parted, and a smile spread across Asher’s face. This was the key to saving his flower. It was all coming back.

 

What’s coming back?

 

No time to wonder. He situated the flowerpot on the windowsill, where it could bask in the full strength of the rays. “You’re going to be okay, little buddy.”

 

His plant had been cared for. Now to find himself.

 

The picture frame drew him to the kitchen once more, and he mirrored the happy faces that greeted him.

 

The youngest, held in her father’s grasp, was toothless and couldn’t be older than a year. A knitted headband embellished with a flower crowned her head. Asher’s heart melted at the yellow dress bunching around her knees and the white boots she appeared to be kicking off.

 

He ran his hands down his arms. Had he truly held such a tiny tot?

 

The other child—a boy of maybe three—clung to his mother’s shirt and grinned widely at the camera. In his other hand he gripped a baseball tightly as if he’d been told over and over to leave it out of the photo. Asher shook his head in amusement.

 

But their mother—his wife—stood beside them with the brightest smile of all, her glittering eyes unmatched. He trailed his finger across the glass, starting from her shoulder and ending at her fingertips curled around her husband’s arm. His arm.

 

Tears pricked at Asher’s eyes. The most beautiful family in the world belonged to him, and he couldn’t remember any of it.

 

What were his children like? They hadn’t been permitted to see him at the hospital. No toddler could pronounce amnesia, much less process the words, “Daddy can’t remember you.”

 

Maybe his son enjoyed tossing the baseball with him. Maybe he needed constant reminders that baseballs shouldn’t be thrown near the garden.

 

Maybe his daughter loved gathering bouquets. Maybe she needed continual teaching that wildflowers were meant to be picked, while garden flowers were meant to be tended.

 

Asher’s eyes glinted with pride. He’d tended one flower, and it wasn’t even outside. His life was returning to normal already. With a spring in his step, he rounded the corner to the sunroom.

 

“Hey, little buddy. How are you thriving?”

 

The plant met him with an even browner complexion than before, its leaves curling inward and cracking at the curves. He dropped to his knees by its side.

 

“No, no, no.” He stroked the dried leaves and petals. How long had he stared at that picture? Didn’t plants crave plenty of sun? He was a gardener, he was supposed to nurture plants, and—

 

A gardener?

 

He blinked. Yes, a gardener, wasn’t he? That would explain the house plants, the flowers and produce lining the yard, and why his children played in trees and tangled blossoms in their hair.

 

Am I a good gardener? A good father?

 

If the fading flower indicated his ability to care for living things, it offered little hope.

 

“You’re safe with me, little plant.”

 

But she isn’t.

 

Yellow dresses and flower-knit headbands pierced his memory, and his vision blurred. Lily.

 

His arms trembled. How had he supported such a precious weight? He struggled to salvage a dying plant, yet here he was, a father.

 

A father? Or simply an incapable man with children?

 

He should be caring for his children, not wallowing in a misery he couldn’t remember and watering flowers that wouldn’t grow. He should be tossing a baseball with his son while the afternoon slipped through their fingers like the petals Lily plucked from weeds.

 

His heartbeat sped up. Lily was a baby. She’d try to eat the pretty treasures she found in the grass. If harmful plants were within her reach, especially in her condition—

 

Asher’s throat tightened, and tears brimmed his eyes. Condition? What’s wrong with me? The question circled his mind like a beady-eyed vulture, feeding on his confusion.

 

What was wrong with him, yes—but what was wrong with Lily?

 

“No. She’s our baby. Must protect her, keep her safe.”

 

His fear had context. He closed his eyes, searching for it. White rooms. His wife’s strong face. Let me hear her voice. Please.

 

“But we can’t smother her. We need to let her grow.”

 

Asher rocked back and forth on his heels, his head in his hands. Lily wilted in the sunlight, and she slept more and ate less than her brother did at her age. He remembered those facts. But would he ever remember why she was so fragile?

 

“All we can do is take care of her. The rest is not in our hands.”

 

His wife’s tear-streaked face hovered in his memory, as lovely as ever. Maybe even more so.

 

I don’t remember you. But I trust you.

 

He swiped the moisture out of his eyes so he could survey his flower again. The soil had dried. The bright petals were edged with brown. The stem had streaks of yellow.

 

All I can do is take care of you. The rest is not in my hands.

 

His gaze wandered to the window and his backyard beyond it. A hummingbird danced around a rosebush, and a squirrel darted through rows of daisies.

 

It was a small backyard, but what a big world for a flower confined to a ceramic pot.

 

Asher stood. He nestled the flower in his arms and headed for the door. Outside was unfamiliar territory to him as well—but if he had his flower, he was content to be afraid together.

 

A shovel leaned against the back porch, ready for use. How many memories lay within that wooden handle? How many afternoons had it watched him dig homes for the apple trees and brush the hair from his wife’s eyes with dirty fingers?

 

He set the flower down, then pressed the shovel against soft ground and tipped it upward. “You’ll be home soon, buddy.”

 

He donned the gloves resting on the porch behind him and eased the shaped soil out of the pot. His flower became one with the garden as he drew dirt around it like a blanket. He smiled. “Now grow, little plant.”

 

“Daddy!”

 

He turned at the shriek, and his smile grew as three-year-old legs scampered toward him. The woman who followed the boy made his heart beat faster. She carried his precious Lily on her hip.

 

I don’t remember you—

 

A little body crashed into his legs, arms winding tightly around them.

 

But oh, I can love you.

 

He bent to return his son’s embrace.

 

As the woman—his wife—approached, Lily met his watery gaze and gave him a big toothless grin. He found himself grinning back. She looked healthier than the picture had allowed him to hope.

 

His family. His.

 

He may not always be able to protect them, but he could take care of them. The rest was not in his hands. And, for this moment, Lily would be in his arms.

 

You’re safe, little plant. Now grow.

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