“The Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory or “The Domes”, is a popular tourist attraction near the heart of the city of Milwaukee,” Avril reads aloud from an article. “Each of the three domes boasts a different ecosystem, from a hot desert to a tropical rainforest to a beautiful floral garden. Stop on by for hours of fu—HHWAUH!” She screeches as Oliver jerkily turns the car around a street corner, and inertia throws all of us as far right in our seats as physically possible. I nearly almost dislocate my shoulder because of the way that me and him are living right now.
When we stop turning, my seatbelt chops me in the throat and I gag. I wiggle myself around to face him in the driver’s seat while he slows down, careful not to tug his arm too much so he can keep his eyes on the road. He is looking about as sure of himself as Evan Hansen was in the beginning of the musical (or in the entire musical of Dear Evan Hansen). “I swear to all that is holy you are gonna decapitate me sometime just by turning on a car.” I say, coughing every couple of words.
“Sorry,” He says with a certain annoyance. “It’s kind of really hard to drive with only one hand.”
For you, maybe. I wish you’d grabbed my other hand instead, you ding-dong.
“Hours of fun and learning,” Avril finishes from the back. “Admission is only six dollars for non-resident minors. We could do that, guys.” She leans forward and pulls some cash out from under the passenger seat. “It’s almost like Henry Doorly, but with three domes ‘steada one big one.”
“And no aquarium?” Oliver pouts.
“Or animals.” She continues as we round another corner and pull into the parking lot that’s semi-packed with cars.
He pulls us into an open stall, and then asks me to put the car into park for him. You got us into this mess, Ollie, I think as I shift the lever forward into park. And you got us into this car, too. Now you’ve got to get us out.
He shuts off the car and opens the door, and then looks at me when he realizes and lets out a groan. “We should have had Avril drive.”
“Just like I told ya before we left!” She says, reaching over and hitting the lever on the side of his seat, making the back go down.
I pull my legs up and squat on my seat as Oliver does the same and leans his head out of the open door. I crawl over the center consol as he gets out and stands up, and I barely manage to squeeze out between him and the unlucky car on the receiving end of his terrible parking job.
The sun’s rays shine sharply into my eyes as I look out over the lot to the buildings in front of us. Someone might expect a profound thought out of me at this moment, I think, but since no one’s expecting anything, at least, I don’t think they are: They do look a lot like the Desert Dome… And also eggs.
“Let’s get to it, team,” Avril says, admission money and her phone in hand. “Time to see the heck out of some plants!”
The arches at the entrance look almost like something I could graph with a quadratic function, except for the fact that they’re made of stone and are like, twenty feet tall. There are buses and lines of students much like yesterday at the museum. “Is this entire city a tourist destination?” I ask Oliver, motioning to all the people milling around us with one finger.
“I mean, yeah, probably. There’re museums and garden things and probably some nice parks or something.” He shrugs. “Bound to be at least one fine arts theater somewhere.”
“Yeah, makes sense I guess.”
We walk through the front doors and into the building packed with people, also much like yesterday. But after yesterday, we won’t be seeing much of Team Mauve, and I bet Avril is pretty happy about that.
A lot of people in the lines by us are looking at us like we’re crazy, probably because they think we’re holding hands out of choice. I don’t feel weird about it, but I am getting a vibe from Oliver that he isn’t the biggest fan of all the staring. Not my fault, buddy.
“I love plants. Flowers especially.” Avril says as we wait in line for admission. “Random question, you two, but what are your guys’ favorite flowers?”
Oliver and I exchange glances like we did earlier. Oliver puts his free hand to his mouth in thought. “I think that it’s probably sunflowers” He says as the line moves swiftly forward.
“Nobody has ever asked me, sorry” I add, to her disappointment.
“That’s sad, Rory. Flowers are cool.” She looks to the separate entrances of the domes. “Maybe today will be the day you’ll figure it out.”
“Maybe. Who knows?” When we get to the front of the line, Avril hands the money to the woman at the register and passes back info pamphlets to us. We break out of the line at last, and head towards the desert dome, Oliver and I desperately trying to open our pamphlets with only one hand each. I look up at the dome in front of us as my pamphlet flaps open. I just hope it’s as cool as the one at the zoo.
‘Kalanchoe Thyrsiflora, Commonly known as flapjack, pancake, or paddle plant, is a succulent plant with round, flat, greenish-grey leaves. It is a member of the family Crassulaceae and flowers through the winter, dying back soon after its flowers bloom.’ Reads the text on the engraved plastic plaque staked in the soil by a gathering of the little plants. They really do look like pancakes!
“Hey, Oliver,” I turn as much as I can and poke him in the arm. “Look at these little plants! They’re pancakes!”
He moves enough to see over the plaque and smiles. “That’s cool! I wonder if they have waffle plants too.” He laughs a little bit before pointing to a really tall cactus on the other side of the dusty path. “This one’s a Saguaro cactus. They can grow up to forty feet tall at the tallest.” I look up to the top, almost twenty feet in the air, and spot some flowers on top. “At least, that’s what I can remember from my biology class last year.”
“Those flowers, Oliver. They look fake.” I point to them, and he smiles again.
“Those flowers only bloom in April, May, June, around that time. Probably earlier here since it’s climate controlled.” He pulls out his phone and snaps a picture of the cactus, the pancake plants, and then a group of squat, spiky little palm trees ahead of us. “I love plants. They’re so cool.”
“Don’t animals live in the cactuses too?” I pull the little snippet of knowledge of Saguaros I have out of my mind.
“Yeah, and they eat the fruits from the pollinated flowers too, which feeds them, and in turn helps new cactuses grow. And Saguaros are also like, the longest-living type of cactus. They can live for like, more than a hundred and fifty years.” He’s visibly excited about it, looking the whole thing over with a certain wonder in his eyes. “And those flowers and their fruits and the plants themselves are really important to a ton of lives, and vice versa. Without one, the other wouldn’t be there. It balances out.”
I look over at him as he’s gazing up to the top of the cactus with a smile. He notices me watching him and says with a lilt in his tone, “Kinda like you and me, Freddie.”
“I still don’t get the Freddie thing.” Avril says before I can think. She walks up to us, folding her pamphlet open and closed, making a sound like laminated paper.
“You’re not supposed to,” I say with a little sigh, pulling Oliver down the path a bit. “Buuuuuut if you really want to know…my middle name is Frederick.”
“Oh, well, I can see that. “ She folds the pamphlet in half unevenly and stuffs it into her pocket. What the heck, just fold it like a regular person. “What’s the big deal? If there was one?”
“It’s just something that mostly only my parents call me and it’s kinda weird if anyone else does it.” I squirm a little. “Oliver just picked it up from them, so I don’t blame him, really.”
“Ah, I see. That’s all fine and dandy.” She passes us, her Caribbean blue hair bouncing with her excited steps, and motions for us to follow her. “I say it’s jungle time, guys. Unless you want more pictures?” She turns around, waiting for an answer.
I look at Oliver, and he gestures for Avril to come back over. She does, and stands behind us as Oliver holds his phone in his free hand and desperately tries to press the camera button without dropping it. We take a couple pictures, one blurrier than the other, and then move on ahead.
“Humph!” Avril dramatically plops down on the stone bench on the other side of Oliver, her legs shooting out in front of her. “God, am I tired.” I lean forward to look at her.
“Same.” Oliver says. “We went from hot and stagnant air to humid and stagnant air in a matter of seconds.”
“And my hair is paying for it, that’s for sure,” She licks her hand and smooths down the turquoise flyaways, and then puts it up in a bun with a ponytail holder from out of nowhere. I turn my head as she does so and look around the third dome: the show dome. Right now, as it says in the pamphlet, there is a floral show inspired by Cirque Du Soleil, with bright colors and sweeping designs and some really interesting looking flowers. Most of them look like Walmart brand petunias, but they have some scattered around that look like green, blue, and orange birds.
All of a sudden (or not so much, I’ve sort of been expecting it), Avril leans forward as well. “So Rory,” She says, making my head snap back to her, “Did you find a favorite flower or no?” She scratches her shoulder, as if it makes her nervous to ask. “It’s alright if you didn’t, because there are literally thousands of different kinds.”
I look back and forth between her and Oliver for a couple seconds, my mind deciding to focus on their two drastically different eye colors instead of flowers. Her eyes are grey as stone, or storm clouds. His are that same pale green, but they seem greener than usual, more lively. What would you call that? Jade? Yeah. Green jade, like one of those dragon statues in movies. Or like the temple in Kung Fu Panda. Yeah, his eyes are the Kung Fu Panda temple.
“Rory?” Oliver snaps his fingers next to my ear, which is loud as (he)ll, of course. “Earth to Rory, do you copy?” Crap. I clear my throat and blink, a little embarrassed I left them hanging for who knows how long.
“So, did you or did you not find one?” Avril says, insistent, like she’s writing a biography and needs answers now before I die.
“I... think I might have.”
“Oh, awesome!” She replies. “What is it?”
“The Saguaro flower." My gaze rests intensely, hopefully, on Oliver, wondering if he’s going to say anything before I continue "Cause even when they themselves die, their memories live on in who they helped and who they saved, and in the generations in the future will remember them too. They're important to so many lives, and I really love that.”
Just then, he smiles in a whole different way than I’ve ever seen him smile. His nose, as wonky as it is, crinkles up, and his eyes get all squinty as the corners of his mouth go up, and as he turns his head and looks to Avril his features explode with a little sigh into excitement. His words leave his mouth in a near breathless awe. “I think we have a winner!”
Click. Delete. Click. Dangit. Delete. Click. Click. Delete. Perfect.
“I love neon lighting,” I say, smiling at the halfway decent picture on my screen before shutting off the camera and pocketing my phone. I refocus my gaze on the bold red glow of the sign catty corner of us. We’ve stopped at the Milwaukee Public Market after getting some gas, which was much easier to do with Avril driving. We aren’t even sure if they have a restaurant here or anything, we’re just hungry and this looks like a place that probably has food. Avril seems to agree with me on the neon lighting thing, for she pulls out the disposable camera she found at the hotel and takes a picture of the sign too.
“Almost forgot about those cameras!” Oliver says as he squats down beside the car, which gives me no other choice but to lean far to the side and twist my arm just enough so that it doesn’t start cramping. “I bought two of them!”
“Good, cause we’re gonna need ‘em.” Avril snaps one of us with a snicker, and I turn my head to her. Really? Oliver digs underneath the seat for some cash, and hands us each a few tens while taking some for himself.
“We should probably count the cash up later, cause that gas was pretty pricey,” He says, pressing his hand against his side awkwardly as he folds up the bills a few times. Yeah, honestly. Like, twenty five bucks for ten gallons.
“Not a bad idea, Oliver.” Avril says, putting hers in her small shirt pocket alongside the camera.
We walk up to the door and head inside, and like the fresh air at the lighthouse the other day, my nostrils take another beating from the smell of a million different kinds of food mixed together. I know your stomach is really wanting to make a dying whale noise, Rory, but you need to control yourself for a bit. I think as we start down the leftmost aisle. Come to think of it, how much would it cost to buy everything here?
"Ooh, look! Kolaches!" Oliver says, pulling us towards a table with pastries filled in the center with jellies of different kinds and colors. "I'll take two of them—strawberry," He says to the woman behind the table. She nods, pulls out a parchment sack and produces a pair of tongs, and hands the kolaches to Oliver. Avril walks on to a cheese booth.
"That'll be $4.75," she says. Oliver hands me the bag and pulls one of the tens from his pocket. The woman takes it, counts out his change, hands it over, and we continue on our way. He turns to me as we walk. “The good thing about being Danish is probably the desserts.” He jokes. “We don’t just have the frosted fruit things with the same name that you can find at any coffee shop. These are way better.”
I laugh. “And the good thing about being Polynesian is that our food is actually healthy.”
He rolls his eyes. “Suit yourself, fun-ruiner. Poi is disgusting!”
“Don’t hate on my poi! Listen, I’ll eat your unfrosted danish fruit circle. Just for you.”
“You could be on Iron Chef with that food deconstruction thing you just did.” He remarks, smiling a ridiculous smile. “And you won’t regret this fruit circle, trust me.”