Mallory and Susan left Sister Swan’s old stone house with cookies in their hands and the usual happy feeling in their hearts that being with Sister Swan always gave them.
“Isn’t she the nicest lady!” Susan said, munching on her cookie.
Mallory nodded. “It’s been six years since she was our Sunbeam teacher in Primary, and she still treats us just the same.”
“When I had my tonsils out, she brought over something cool and creamy for me to eat every day that week,” Susan said as she skipped over the lines in the sidewalk.
Mallory brushed the cookie crumbs off her hands, “When I was trying to earn money for my bike, she’d send me to the store for something about every other day and pay me a quarter.” Both girls were quiet for a minute, enjoying the warm spring sunshine.
“You know,” Mallory said, “I’d like to do something really nice for her, something special.”
“Like what? What could we do?” Susan asked, “I don’t have any money to buy her anything.”
“Neither do I,” Mallory said. They thought for a few minutes. “She really loves flowers. Remember the other day when she said she missed having cut flowers in the house now that she’s getting too busy to work in the yard?”
“That’s right,” Susan said. “But where would we get flowers? We don’t have any in bloom in my yard right now.”
“We had a few tulips, but they’re gone now,” Mallory said.
Both girls stopped and looked at the Jensen’s yard. All along the fence enormous red and white peonies were blossoming, and the rosebushes by the house were covered with blooms. They walked on silently and came to the Allreds’ house. In the middle of the lawn was an oval flower bed full of irises and tulips. They stopped and looked.
“What are you thinking?” Susan said. “Would they let us pick any?”
“Maybe,” Mallory said thoughtfully. “But I’d like Sister Swan to have a really huge bouquet, something so big you could hardly get through the door with it. That would show her how much we really love and appreciate her.”
“Well, we couldn’t ask anybody for that many flowers.”
“No.” Mallory was thoughtful again. “What if we got our bikes and went around and just picked a few flowers from everybody’s yard?”
“You mean without asking?”
“Well, yeah, but they wouldn’t miss just a few flowers.”
“Mmmm,” Susan mused. “There are lots of flowers around that we could make into a giant-size bouquet. … Let’s do it!”
The girls were soon making their way around the block, plucking a few flowers from each yard and filling the baskets on their handlebars. Susan had even remembered to get a paring knife to cut some roses. No one seemed to notice them. Soon they were back in Susan’s garage, their baskets overflowing with blossoms of every color.
“Aren’t they beautiful!” Susan exclaimed.
“Sister Swan will love them! What can we put them in?” asked Mallory.
“My dad has some old plastic milk jugs in here somewhere. Let’s find one and cut off the top and put on some pretty contact paper.”
They worked hard arranging the flowers, putting the huge peonies in the center, the irises and tulips around the edges, and the roses throughout. When they were finished, they sat back and admired the magnificent bouquet.
“She’ll love them!” Mallory repeated. They left their bikes and walked to Sister Swan’s. Mallory carried the bouquet very carefully—it would be disastrous to stumble. They climbed the steps to Sister Swan’s house and rang the bell.
Sister Swan opened the door and peered out. “My goodness,” she said. “Come in.” She stepped back and opened the door wide. “What’s all this? I can’t even see you. Is that you, Mallory? Susan?”
The girls giggled. “Yes, it’s us,” Mallory said. “We brought you a bouquet.”
“It’s beautiful. Bring it into the kitchen and put it on the table.” The girls followed her into the kitchen, and Mallory set the bouquet carefully in the center of the round oak table. Sister Swan looked at the bouquet. “Where did you get all these gorgeous flowers?”
The girls looked at each other. Somehow it had never occurred to them that Sister Swan would ask this question. “We wanted you to have a great big bouquet because we really love you,” Mallory said.
“And because you do so many nice things for us,” Susan added.
Sister Swan nodded. “Sit down,” she said. The two girls sat, and Sister Swan stood between them and looked first at Mallory and then at Susan. She moved the bouquet over so that she could see them better. The fragrance from the flowers hung heavy in the silence.
“You said you missed having cut flowers, and we wanted you to have a whole bunch,” Susan ventured.
Sister Swan looked at the flowers, then said thoughtfully, “I wonder if this enormous bouquet will last any longer than a small one would. I wonder if it will last any longer than one rose in a vase would.”
Susan and Mallory looked at each other. Sister Swan wasn’t as pleased as they had thought she would be.
“I’m touched that you wanted to do this for me”—tears welled up in Sister Swan’s eyes—“but you didn’t answer my question, and now I’m not sure I want to hear the answer.”
Mallory looked down at the linoleum under her feet. Susan looked sadly at the flowers. “What should we do?” Susan finally asked. “We can’t take them back.”
“No,” Sister Swan said quietly.
“I guess we could go back to the houses and tell the people we’re sorry.”
Mallory looked up. “Every one? We went to a lot of houses.”
“It would take a lot of time,” Sister Swan said. “And some courage.”
Mallory faltered, “It’ll be embarrassing to knock on their doors and apologize. But Susan is probably right.”
“We could even do some yard work for some of them, especially the ones where we took a lot,” Susan suggested.
Sister Swan smiled a little. “Another good idea.”
“But what can we do for you?” Mallory asked. “We wanted to do something special for you.”
Sister Swan stood up and went around the table. She leaned over and put an arm around each girl. “I know,” she said, “and I love that. But here’s some advice from your old teacher: Never express your love for someone by doing something wrong. It never works out.”
Standing up straight, she smiled again at the girls and added, “You know, if you have time after making amends with the neighbors, I’ve been wishing someone would spade up that little spot by my porch and plant me some snapdragons.”
“We could do that!” Susan whooped.
“Yes!” Mallory shouted. “Come on, Susan, let’s get going!”