Jesse swatted another massive leaf from his face as droplets of water scattered across his face and neck. At this point he’d lost count how many of the large tropical leaves Adelaide had let fly back into his face, not to mention the numerous mosquito bites that peppered his arms begging to be itched. What was the use of clothing that covered your skin if it didn’t provide any practical assistance? With the current count against him, he wouldn’t be surprised if some territorial animal attacked, though this was supposed to be a safer part of the jungle due to colonization. A light drizzle seemed to perpetually follow them each day as they set out on their search. Jesse still couldn’t believe he’d let his wife convince him to go on this journey. They were far from the comforts of cool and pleasant Great Britain or Western Europe. Why not Southern France where they could sip wine and sample speciality cheese with bread? Instead she had persuaded him to traipse through clammy and muggy air in tropical Africa.
Except, he knew exactly why he had been cajoled into coming here for their Wedding Tour. He was madly in-love with Adelaide and her adventurous personality. He wanted nothing but happiness for his bride; he had no real reason to complain, but did she really have to pick the jungles of Africa? It was a strange ebb and flow of emotions—it pleased him to see his bride was so happy, but two days into their romp and Jesse missed the familiarity of his homeland.
“Then again, I didn’t have to agree to this trip,” he mumbled to himself as he lost his footing on a slick patch of earth, adding a layer of mud to his already dowdy boots.
“Jesse! Jesse, look!” Adelaide cried, delight tensing her body.
“Did you find it?”
“No, of course not, we’re not even the right habitat, but look at this specimen, isn’t it beautiful?”
“Sure, but you know I am not familiar with plants.”
She clucked her tongue. “It is an Adenium obesum, a species belonging to the family Apocynaceae and order Gentianales. It is native to the Middle East, southern, tropical, and subtropical Africa.”
“Alright, but what is so special about it?”
“Oh, Jesse, we’re lucky to even see this in bloom since it is nearing the end of it’s cycle. Once the petals fall, it will not bloom again until August. Look at these vibrant pink tips that fade so as to draw our eye to the soft yellow throat. See down here, this thick wooded trunk is the caudex. It’s such a hardy plant, it can tolerate drought easily. Such an amazing species,” she said, smiling fondly at the plant as she brushed her fingers along the branches.
If only she would look at him the same way. Jesse shook his head, sending the negative feelings into the canopy. Adelaide really did love her plants and flowers, she might as well be a walking encyclopedia for anything botany-related. Since they had settled into their lodging, she’d identified and collected specimens of different flowers so she could propagate and display them at home.
“Will you be taking a section of this one, too?” He asked, despite knowing and dreading the answer.
“It wouldn’t be happy in our weather.”
“Adelaide, a greenhouse is being built while we are here, I should think the flower would survive.”
Why did he say that? Was he a glutton for punishment? Did he really want to carry another flower home? No, not particularly.
Delight consumed her. “How could I forget about that?”
Because you are too wrapped up in your adventure to remember what you have. The glum thought made his shoulders slump.
The week on the ship here had been wonderful, Jesse had been able to enjoy the alone time with his new bride, but as soon as they landed on the Gold Coast, he had lost Adelaide to the spirit of adventure. It seemed she had taken to Africa far easier than she had taken to him, which stung in more ways than one. Could she not see that their Wedding Tour was temporary and he was permanent? He had a gut feeling his wife would be despondent as they sailed away from Africa, which only served to dampen his spirits more.
It took some time for Adelaide to find the perfect section she wanted to take before carefully cutting the plant and storing it properly in the pack he carried. The small woody stem weighed next to nothing, but she might as well have added a millstone to his back. No “thank you” or sweet kiss rewarded his forbearance, just a satisfied smile as Adelaide set forth again, determined to look for the plant she had come here to find. All Jesse knew was that they were looking for a Calla Lily, though, he was certain that was not the name his bride would use. Those elegant white flowers had graced the church on their wedding day and she desperately wanted to see the bloom growing in its natural habitat.
A shocked gasp came from somewhere up ahead. That was certainly his wife, but Jesse had trailed farther behind than he’d realized. Concern fueled his steps and he burst upon her only to find Adelaide crouched and examining an odd shaped flower that was mostly yellow with bits of blue and red. Irritation welled in his chest at yet another delay. He took a deep breath to soothe the impatience. He hoped she didn’t want to take a splice of this one as well.
“What have you found this time, Adelaide?” He did his best to keep the vexation from his voice, but his wife seemed completely unphased by it, one more example of her lack of attention.
“This is Strelitzia reginae, or a Bird of Paradise. It belongs to the family, Strelitziaceae and the order Zingiberales. It was first introduced to Europe in the year 1773. I’m surprised to find one here since it is more native to South Africa, but this one seems to be really happy.”
Jesse wasn’t sure how she could tell that a plant was happy. He was the son of a bank-investor, numbers were his wheelhouse of comfort, not all of these species and genus names.
“This part here,” she pointed to the green beak-like portion, “is the spathe, and the orange ‘petals’ are actually called sepals, the blue bits are the true petals. It is such a lovely flower. Not at all temperamental like some of these other tropical plants that we’ve come across. It’s why the Strelitzia reginae has flourished as a favorite in Europe.”
Now that he really looked at it Jesse did recognize the plant. It was a popular one, but definitely not the flower they had come here seeking. How long was this going to take?
Rubbing his forehead, he grumbled, “I just do not understand why seeing the natural habitat of this flower is so bloody important.”
He thought he’d mumbled it quietly enough, but her soft voice said, “Jesse, you know why I wanted to come here.”
He wanted to be sorry that she had heard his complaint because he did know the reason, but he could not muster the sympathy. “I do, but this is starting to get absurd, Adelaide.”
“I thought you supported me?”
“I did.” Adelaide frowned. “I mean I do, love, but this is not what I had in mind when you said you wanted to go to Africa for our Wedding Tour.”
“This is important to me.”
Jesse sighed. “Let’s just keep going before we lose too much daylight.”
The companionable silence surrounding them before turned as rigid as a starched shirt, though he wasn’t sure he actually remembered what that should feel like, the weighted air melted clothing to his skin like wax desperately clinging to the outside of a candle. Adelaide had lost some of her fervor, which was both a blessing and a curse. She no longer darted ahead out of sight, but he would rather constantly catch-up to his animated Adelaide than suffer the consequences of her dampened spirit.
He should know better, out here his wife could be free to be herself—the woman he fell in love with and fought to marry. Once they returned to England she would quickly don her polite societal mask. From experience, it was difficult to pull that away from her. She clung to it like a child with a favorite toy. He was about to voice an apology when he nearly ran into his wife.
Before them stood a massive marsh teeming with insects and other life he couldn’t begin to name. Jesse collapsed, the weight of the pack taken up by the rich loam. Adelaide had said more than once they were likely to find the Calla Lily in a marshy area and had told him to prepare as such, but they had left the equipment at the lodging since the majority of it was cumbersome. Of course today had to be the day they would find the area they had been searching for, and he could not see a single white bloom amongst the sea of green and brown. His luck would be that terrible. They would need to turn back and come straight here tomorrow with the appropriate equipment to cross.
“Why are you searching for a way across?” Jesse scowled, he dreaded that look on her face. “You know we cannot go any further.”
“I have come this far, and if there is a way for me to cross today, then I’m going to do it,” Adelaide replied stiffly before pushing a long branch deep into the boggy water. “It can’t be more than waist height.”
“Adelaide, you cannot be serious. You have no idea what sort of dreadful things could be in that water.”
“It seems still enough to me.”
“You are not wading through the water, Adelaide, I forbid it.”
“You do not want me to find the Zantedeschia.”
He couldn’t see them, but Jesse could hear the tears threatening to spill down her cheeks. Why was she being so bloody difficult?
“Adelaide, that is not—”
“Ever since we stepped to ground in Africa you have been against me!”
Jesse vaulted, abandoning the pack he had been burdened to carry. “Against you? If I was against you I would have never agreed to the inane idea of coming to Africa in the first place!”
“Even you can admit you are not the Jesse I married.” The tears this time did tumble down the crease of her nose, her voice so choked that the humid air around them swallowed it easily.
“Oh for the love of…Adelaide, ever since we stepped foot in Africa you’ve done nothing but gone on about this flower, and I’ve been nothing but a pack mule, or did you forget that I am your husband!”
“You’ve never understood why finding this flower is so important to me!”
Jesse narrowed his eyes. “Do not lay guilt where none is merited for your own self-defense. I know exactly why this flower is so important to you, I am the only one who knows, but I am your husband Adelaide, seeing the natural habitation of this flower should not be more important than me. If you’re so bloody determined to wade into water not knowing what’s in there and get yourself hurt then be my guest!”
Spinning, he stalked past the pack, abandoning it to the jungle and leaving Adelaide to her search. He ignored the pleading cries of his wife. She had a compass and a map. Waiting back at camp was infinitely more appealing than arguing with a stubborn, single-minded woman.
The simple wash closet at the jungle lodging did wonders for his nerves. The stickiness of the air would never disappear, but he at least did not feel coated in an additional, unnecessary layer of grime.
A prick of concern knotted his sternum. Adelaide had not returned. Foolish woman. Yet, the admonishing thought did not sit well. The sun was nearly set, she should have returned by now, regardless of whether she tried to cross the marsh or not.
He settled into a chair. He would give it a little more time before becoming concerned, there was no sense in going out looking when she could be but a few minutes from the lodging. Creasing open a newspaper, Jesse attempted to distract himself with the latest news from London. The bank industry seemed to be doing well, which was comforting, except his bouncing foot was beginning to irritate him.
“Piminy.” Jesse paced the length of the room. “I can’t leave her.”
Snatching his hat, he strode from the lodging before breaking into a jog along the trail he and Adelaide had been following. Thank God he’d had enough foresight to grab a torch. The sun was just beginning to hide behind the canopy. The jungle would be quickly steeped with darkness. Not a good time for either of them to be out, but he needed to find his wife.
His shout felt useless. The damp air seemed to snatch it before it could go two meters in front of him. Jesse picked up his pace, continuing to shout his wife’s name. I should have never left her. What was I thinking? A fool always loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back. He groaned as he remembered the words of the priest that had married them. His guilt tripled and desperation fueled his steps.
“Addie!” Thank you, God. “Where are you? Addie?”
“Here, Jesse, I’m here.”
It took little time to find her. Rounding a corner he found his bride huddled against the ground just off the trail sheltered under massive leaves, securely hugging the backpack he had left in his anger.
“Oh, Addie.” Relief flooded him as he pulled her into his lap to caress her hair, holding her close to him. “I am so sorry. I am the biggest—”
“No, Jesse, you were right about my attention. I shouldn’t have been so driven as to put myself and you in danger.”
“That does not excuse my behavior, I should not have left you no matter how cross I was at the time.”
Jesse let out a soft chuckle at her wry tone, but at least she wasn’t livid with him. He rested his forehead against her hair.
“I apologize for not making you a priority, Jesse, I realized the truth of your words not long after you left.”
She rested into him, the tension seeming to leave her body, knowing she was no longer alone in the jungle.
“All is forgiven, but why are you still here, my love?”
“I twisted my ankle—badly.”
“You most certainly did,” he replied, after giving it a cursory look. The ankle was swollen to twice its normal size. “Let’s get you squared away then, shall we?”
Shouldering the pack, Jesse lifted Adelaide into his arms.
“Jesse! You cannot carry me all the way back to the lodging, it is much too far.”
“I’ll manage, Addie. Your job is to keep the torch steady so I can see.”
Adelaide briefly buried her head in his neck. “I love you, Jesse.”
“I love you, Addie.”
“Are you ready?” Jesse asked, unable to help a grin.
This would be the perfect end to their Wedding Tour. Yesterday, while on the hunt for food, he had come across a market vendor selling Calla Lilies. After striking up a conversation with the woman, she’d offered to let Adelaide come to her home to see the lilies growing in a somewhat natural habitat. The space was actually located in the back ‘garden’ of the woman’s house, which seemed to be more a cultivated jungle than what he would consider a garden, but there was no denying the marshiness of one little patch of field that supported the lilies. The space was crammed with the delicate white buds and they seemed to almost dance restlessly despite the lack of a breeze.
The garden was packed with other brightly colored flowers. Next to the Calla Lilies were a group of Fire Lilies, or Gloriosa superba, as Addie had called them when he’d given her a bouquet of them yesterday. This wasn’t exactly what she’d hoped for in coming to Africa, but it was the least he could do for his wife after she sprained her ankle, unable to continue her search. She’d been despondent yesterday, and he thanked God he had the opportunity to do this one thing for her before they departed. He removed his hands, allowing Addie to see. A soft gasp was the only thing to greet him for several seconds.
“Oh, Jesse, this is…this is beautiful.”
He settled into the chair next to her. “I know this is not exactly what you were hoping for, but I thought it worked in a pinch.”
“You made a dream come true for me, Jesse, but I am content you are the one here to share it with me.” She grabbed his hand. “This is more important to me than all the flowers in the world.”
He couldn’t help it, Jesse leaned over and gave his wife a kiss. His own special flower.