The Carnation Conundrum

Author’s note: I’m not sure where this fits into my timeline, or even if it does.  The reference to Watson’s ill-timed proposal could put it sometime after their advenures at Baskerville, or it could be any time since.  I didn’t set out to write fiction.  I was working on a post about Victorian Valentine’s traditions, and this happened instead.  

I don’t know why I decided Watson would be the recepient, or the POV character.  I do kind of like the idea of Charlotte planning all this.  Only she could make a romantic gesture so methodical.

Happy (belated) Valentine’s Day, everybody!

John Watson is used to waking up alone. Even on the nights he starts out in Charlotte’s bed, or she starts out in his, they always end up on their own before morning. It doesn’t matter that her aunt knows – or that he’s aware she knows, whether anyone knows he is or not – they go through the motions of pretending that they’re clever and getting one over on Mrs. Hudson all the same. Meanwhile, he pretends he didn’t offer Charlotte a solution to all this that would make the need for sneaking about and skullduggery unnecessary. It went so well the first time he suggested it that he hasn’t dared broach the topic of marriage since. Thus, Watson always wakes to a half-empty bed and a growing sense of dissatisfaction with that singular fact.This morning, though, he’s not entirely alone. When he turns his head to stare longingly at the empty stretch of bed next to him, he’s greeted by the sight of a single red carnation left on the pillow. There’s no note or visible context; just one perfect flower. He stares at it for whole minutes, as if doing so would either provoke explanation, or prove it a remnant of a fading dream. When it remains – and remains unexplained – he plucks it from its perch and climbs out of bed still perplexed.

He trims the stem with every intent of turning it into an impromptu boutonnière, but someone has beat him to the punch. When he pulls his jacket out of his wardrobe, there’s another carnation, just as red and perfect, already in place. Two more are tucked inside his shoes. He finds a fifth waiting in his shaving cup.

“Wasn’t aware I slept so soundly,” he mutters to himself as he sets them all aside so he can dress and shave.

Breakfast goes much the same. While he eats – alone, but that’s not entirely unusual with Charlotte’s hours – he finds another carnation tucked inside the newspaper, bookmarking the account of a recent cricket match he’d shown interest in. Another bloom somehow finds its way into his teacup; he finds it floating there only after he blindly pours the tea.

“Do you know what all this is about?” he asks the landlady when she brings in his plate.

“I couldn’t begin to guess,” Anne Hudson says, and there’s something in the way she glares at him that makes him question the statement.

His office is a floral scavenger hunt as well. He finds flowers tucked in drawers, hidden inside books, nestled in test tubes. When he accidentally mutters something about wondering what the mad woman’s up to during Mrs. Livingston’s appointment, she only laughs.

“Consider the question a bit longer, doctor,” she says, patting his shoulder in a very “there, there you silly thing,” sort of way. “Maybe an answer will come to you.”

When he has enough carnations to fill multiple bouquets and has had four different patients giggle at his cluelessness, he gives up and goes in search of their distributor, but she’s nowhere to be found. The sitting room is vacant. Her own is empty, too, save another carnation sitting in the middle of her bed, tucked inside a folded piece of paper. “Langham Hotel,” it reads in Holmes’ precise scrawl. “Six p.m.. Room 214. Bypass the front desk, please. –CH.”

He’s nervous as he enters the hotel, though he can’t pinpoint the exact cause. Most of the staff are busy herding guests so it’s not difficult for him to slip unseen across the lobby to the stairs. Things begin to click as he passes the entrance to the restaurant and the sign there, advertising their special Valentine’s Day service. He stops and curses himself as the giggles and glares his questions earned him all day begin to make perfect, mortifying sense.

And there he is, arriving empty-handed. Leave it to him to forget Valentine’s Day because he thought Holmes would find it useless. Leave it to him to forget, like everyone else, that she’s human, too.

He finds the room easily enough and knocks. After a moment, a quiet voice within bids him enter. As he steps inside, Charlotte is waiting in the middle of the room. Her hair is down. Her dress is new. In her hands is a single red carnation. It is shaking with the force of the tremble in those hands. Watson swears he’s never seen her look more unsure in all the time he’s known her.

“Does Fidelia know you’re borrowing her room?” One of her eyebrows lifts in silent question and he chuckles. “I do make house calls on occasion, Holmes. For certain patients.”

She nods, one rebellious dark curl falling across her forehead with the movement. “She offered me the use of it for the night. Her tab with room service as well. Said it was her Valentine’s gift to the two most stubborn people she knows. She thought we might appreciate some actual time alone, where no one’s worried about rushing back to their own bed before daybreak.”

“And what will your aunt think of the both of us being gone overnight?”

“Nothing good, I’d wager. I don’t find I’m overly worried, though. Are you?”

He steps further into the room, locking the door behind him as he does. “Not really,” he says, nodding briefly to the flower she’s still holding. “And those?”

Dianthus caryophyllus,” she says in that matter-of-fact, you-should-already-know-this tone that he both loathes and adores. This time, though, that usually confident tone wavers and her eyes remain fixed on the flower in her unsteady hands. “Common carnation. Native to the Mediterranean, but its reach has spread considerably due to widespread introduction into various areas since the time of its initial discovery.”

He nods. A teasing smile tugs at one corner of his mouth. “I thought you didn’t have room in your mental library for botany beyond hemlock and henbane and digitalis.”

She looks up, then. Blinks. Frowns, too. “I make room for relevant things. Important ones. Things – people – that matter.”

His amusement falters. He takes a step forward, a hand outstretched. “Holmes…”

“I considered one of those silly cards, you know, with all the…the paper lace and overwrought sentiment. I couldn’t find one that didn’t make my teeth ache.” Her eyes roll and a smug grin tries to find purchase on her lips, but fails. “Then I thought, well, there are more meaningful ways of saying it. Less ridiculous ways.”

He gently takes the flower from her and tosses it at the bed. He misses his target entirely, and he doesn’t care. “To say what?” he prompts her gently, tipping her chin up until she has to look at him. “What is the small flower shop you’ve set up in 221B trying to tell me?”

“Well, traditionally, red carnations symbolize love and affection. Darker reds tend to imply a deeper degree of…”

He doesn’t let her finish the sentence. His lips find hers, kissing her with as much passion and emotion as delivery of half the city’s supply of red carnations had tried to impart to him. Her arms wind around his neck and he sweeps her up into his arms without interrupting that kiss, even for a moment. As they tumble onto the bed, he pulls away just long enough to whisper “I love you, too,” against her lips. It’s the first of many places he plans to leave the words.

And later, when they fall asleep tangled up with each other, it’s with the knowledge, that for once, neither of them will be waking up alone.