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The little girl lay flat on her stomach with her legs dangling in the air. She pursed her lips in great determination and attacked the blank sheet of parchment.
"A long line here..."
"A curving spiral here..."
"Some spots of course..."
"Can't forget about the sky..."
"There, all done!" The seven year old admired the fruits of her labor. What was supposed to be her family resembled a few squiggly lines and multiple failed attempts at ovals. Dissatisfied with her work, Grace crumpled the parchment and threw it over her shoulder where it joined the pile of twenty other "masterpieces." She scratched her nose, inadvertently getting ink on her cheek, and began to brainstorm her next idea.
She acquired her love of drawing when her father purchased parchment and ink from sailors two weeks before. Her parents kept stressing how important it was that she learned to read and write, but Grace preferred doodling and folding the parchment into different shapes. Her passion for drawing couldn't really be classified as a "talent," but she enjoyed it nonetheless.
She contemplated different ideas for her next project:
"Fish? - Too boring."
"The sun? - I need to get a better look first."
"Trees? - Too easy."
"Birds? - It's been done."
Her father interrupted her brainstorm as he entered the house. He found the nearest rag and wiped the sweat off his brow; he had been working all morning on the rice terraces. He filled a cup with water and gulped it down, letting out a satisfied "ahhhh" as he set the empty cup down on the table. Only after he caught his breath did he notice the little girl lying randomly in the middle of the floor.
"What are you working on Gracie?"
"Just some pictures," said Grace, not looking up.
Upon further examination, he noticed the black ink smudged across her face.
"Hey come here for a second. You've got a little something."
Grace groaned, but obeyed her father. He used his sleeve to clear off most of the ink, but some of the faded black just wouldn't come out. Grace crinkled her nose as he brushed away the ink.
"Hold still! There's still some left."
"I'm sorry, but it tickles!"
After a solid minute or two, Ren realized the hopelessness of trying any longer. She would just have to look a bit odd for a couple of days until the color naturally faded away.
"Eh...that's good enough, I guess."
The little girl promptly returned to her designated drawing spot in the middle of the floor and resumed her brainstorming process. The father looked around the house, passing the time. Over the last few years, Ren and Fay made a few renovations to their home, most noticeably the wooden floors. The house consisted of two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a "living space," for lack of a better word. Fay always picked new flowers for the vase that eternally rested on the table. Today, multicolored wildflowers brightened the room.
Another piece of crumpled parchment sailed across the room and joined its comrades piled in the corner.
The family of three kept the home clean and tidy most of the time. Occasionally, Grace tracked dirt into the house after her outdoor "adventures." She really was a wild child, running around barefoot and climbing anything in sight. Her knees and elbows were perpetually scabbed and bruised. She seemingly ran on a continuous motor and never tired. Well, that's not really an accurate comparison. She ran on a continuous motor ninety percent of the time, and the other ten percent of the time she slept like a snail-sloth. It was an odd sight to see her relaxed and calm, drawing picture after picture.
Yet another projectile piece of parchment took flight and subsequently crash-landed with the rest. Grace groaned in annoyance:
"I can't think of anything good to draw."
"Why don't you take a break for a bit and go outside? It's a beautiful day," said Ren.
The little girl let her chin rest on the floor.
"I'll take you on the forest trail."
Grace's head shot up like a rocket.
Her father nodded.
The forest had always enchanted Grace, mostly because she wasn't allowed to go there unattended. It was probably for the best. In the deep forest, the trees muddled together in confusing patterns, making it easy to get lost. Straying away from the trails, even for a couple minutes, could throw a traveler off course and into the maze. It's not that Grace couldn't stick to the trail. Her parents just knew her curiosity would take over. It was better to be safe than sorry with the wild child.
The girl flew out the door and sprinted to the opening of the trail. She waited and waited until she realized her father hadn't left the house. She sprinted back to the house to find Ren just leaving.
"Let's go already!" she yelled.
"Settle down. Your father's getting to be an old man."
"That is true, but keeping up with you makes me feel like I'm sixty-two."
At first, father and daughter walked hand in hand along the forest trail. Before long, however, Grace let go of his hand and ran ahead, always staying in sight. She urged him to walk faster, and when he couldn't hear her yelling from far away, she ran back to tell him. This process continued for most of the walk. Well, it really wasn't a walk, more like one little person running ahead, turning around and running back. Only the father actually walked at a constant pace.
The girl's long white hair trailed her as she ran. She loved the trail, not because of the scenery, but because of the unknown feeling of being someplace new. She was mostly concerned with the destination, whatever that destination happened to be. Ren, on the other hand, took in all of the sights and sounds of the familiar trail. Seven years ago, saplings sprouted on the edges of the trail, but now they had grown into young maples with rusty red leaves. During summers like these, all the trees created a shrouded canopy with their leaves, absorbing all the sunlight possible. In the branches overhead, songbirds and critters built nests. Every now and then, one could discern the chattering of squirrel-monks gnawing at the hollow wood of tree trunk. The father smiled to himself.
Just as the forest had grown up, so had his daughter. She had grown up right before his eyes. Now, he scoffed at the fact that he had ever doubted fatherhood. He used to wonder if he was ready for the responsibility, but now he realized it didn't even matter. Spending time with his daughter, watching her run and climb, it wasn't a responsibility: it wasn't work. If he could, he wanted to spend every waking second with her. He loved everything about the little girl with white hair, from her contagious laughter to her reckless antics. She had her mother's personality. That was for sure.
Seven years later, new hibiscus flowers and fiery dragon plants painted the edges of the pond, yet the tranquil atmosphere still remained. The pond skaters still darted across the surface, and the cattails still swayed in the summer breeze. Soft moss blanketed the earth. Most noticeably, the white lotus buds floated methodically, rhythmically, undisturbed by the visitors. Nothing about the pond had changed. Well, some of the plants were new, of course. But, mostly everything about the place was the same. The only difference was that the man was no longer troubled, and he didn't have to sit alone.
The little girl stood in awe.
Ren laid a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"This is my favorite place to go when I need to think."
The father sat cross-legged, as usual, and the daughter tried her best to do the same. For a while, they sat there and just listened to the forest. Ren closed his eyes and relaxed. Grace, with the attention span of a rodent, soon tired of listening to the forest. She picked at the moss on the ground, and discovered she could peel off large chunks like a carpet. By the time Ren opened his eyes and told her to cut it out, she had utterly destroyed most of the moss blanket.
"Hey dad what's that smell?"
"That, my dear, is the aroma of a butterfly bush," said Ren, feeling rather scholarly.
"The butterfly bush attracts insects with its nectar, and that's what you smelled just now."
Grace absently nodded.
"In fact," Ren stated, "I know quite a bit about the pollination process."
"It all begins in the flower. Flowering plants have several different parts that are important in pollination. Stamens produce the powdery pollen. Aside from causing allergies for people like us, pollen is vital in plant reproduction. Accidentally, bugs or birds will pick up pollen while they drink the flower nectar. Then, when they fly over to the next flower, they rub pollen on the stigma, which is usually located in the middle of the flower. From the stigma, the pollen travels into the fruit at the bottom of the ovule. The result is seeds that you and I can plant!"
He glanced at his daughter.
"I know this because pollination is very important for farmers like myself. We couldn't have a harvest if the rice didn't grow back each year."
More depressing than Ren's unhealthy fascination with plant reproduction was the fact that Grace ignored every single word he said. Pollination simply wasn't an interesting topic. Not to mention she didn't understand half the words he said. Instead, she remained fixated on the white lotus floating towards her. The way the flower effortlessly glided across the water captivated the little girl. Ren was about to begin another "enjoyable" lecture on the importance of sunlight when Grace interrupted him and asked:
"What is that floating flower called?"
He snapped out of his botanical daze.
"Oh, that's a white lotus."
When the girl didn't speak up, he continued.
"Actually, the white lotus has a really important meaning to me."
"It helped me get through a confusing time in my life, the day you were born, actually."
Upon hearing herself mentioned, Grace's eyes lit up.
"Oooh! Tell me the story!"
"It's nothing really. I guess the white lotus helped me realize I had to raise you as delicately and carefully as I would pick up a flower from the pond."
Grace smiled and leaned Ren.
"You're an awesome dad."
The white lotus floated over to the visitors sitting on the moss. The bigger of the two scooped up the flower, and he gently put it in her hair.
"Wow, that's pretty neat. The white lotus blends into your hair like it isn't even there! You should keep it and see if your mother even notices!"
Father and daughter remained that way, sitting quietly by the pond, staying until the sun went down, and forgetting about the worrying mother who waited at home. These days weren't frequent, but Ren savored each and every one. By the time they left, the sun had set under the trees and candles lit up the windows of the village huts. They snuck around the back of the house to avoid an angry mother waiting at the front door.
Later that evening, Grace resumed her adventures in the world of art. Except this time she knew exactly what she wanted to draw. Instead of hastily doodling, she took her time making sure each line-stroke was just right, and she rolled up her sleeves to avoid smudging the ink. The curved petals radiated from the center with perfect symmetry, and the flower floated effortlessly on the page like it did in the pond. For the first time that day, Grace breathed a sigh of relief as she admired her own rendition of the white lotus.
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