When Flare awoke again, it was morning. He stretched his rays out, yawning as he did so, and set about tending to them — kindling the rays in some places and patting some flames out in others, until he was all groomed and ready for the day. He did not immediately check on the sunflower, whom he had left trembling and whimpering the night before, because he had quite forgotten about it. (We must forgive Flare a little, for the task was new; but only a little because when you are responsible for the life of something else, you ought to be very serious about it indeed.)
When Flare did remember to check on the sunflower moments later, he was startled to see that the tip of the sunflower shoot drooping.
“Oh! Were you trembling and whimpering the entire night?” Flare asked anxiously as he moved closer to the sunflower shoot and peered at it. He was worried about failing his task, of course. But although we know Flare as a proud sun, he was also kind, and he was genuinely sorry that the sunflower was feeling poorly because of his neglect.
“All right then, what can I do?” Flare asked, inching closer to the sunflower. As he did, he noticed that the sunflower shoot grew a little more upright. “Oh, do you want me to come closer to you?” Flare moved towards the shoot again. He did so cautiously to avoiding burning the sunflower with his flames. Then the most curious thing happened, two budding leaves, which Flare had not noticed before, began to wave excitedly. “Ah this is what you want then!” Flare felt very pleased with himself.
But it was not easy for Flare to be close to the sunflower shoot without hurting it. Suns are very hot and although Flare could pull his flames closer to him and cool some of them, he could not put them out altogether without putting himself out as a sun. So he had to hold himself very carefully, and very still. But this he did, because he noticed that the sunflower shoot stood taller the nearer he went, and finally its budding leaves rustled in a sigh of delight when Flare was almost right beside it.
And so, Flare stood beside it all through the day; and then he stood beside it until stars rose in the inky night and both of them slept once again.
The next day, Flare awoke to a soft but clear “meep”. The sunflower was no longer a shoot, but had a tight bud at the tip of its stem.
“You have grown!” Flare exclaimed!
The sunflower waved the sharp tip of its bud in response.
“Can you understand me?” Flare asked in wonder as he leaned his warm face closer to the sunflower, careful not to burn him.
The sunflower rustled its leaves then, lightly tickling Flare’s cheeks.
Flare laughed at the touch, and then realised that the sunflower was not burnt although his face was as hot as the rest of him.
“You’re a hardy little one! Shall I take you around your little glass house then?” Flare smiled and swept the sunflower up on a flattened palm of flame. “I shall show you this, our home, for a while.”
And so, Flare and the sunflower spent many days exploring the nooks and crannies of the glass house; and the sunflower slept each night wrapped in the warm licks of Flare’s flames.
Then one day, Flare woke up to a mewling yawn. When he opened his eyes, he saw the sunflower’s tight bud began to unfurl slowly, until a sooty face framed with bright yellow petals was revealed.
“Hello,” the Sunflower said shyly.
“Oh hello!” Flare exclaimed, wondering at the constant surprises the sunflower brought. “I’m Flare.”
“So you are!” Flare said. “You are all sturdy and grown up now — a real sunflower! Come! Let us go out of this glass house, and explore this planet today!” For Flare was an explorer at heart, and quite delighted that he could now bring Sunflower out of the glass house, and into the warm beauty of the golden planet.
So for many day, Sunflower kept by Flare’s side as they explored the planet together. He snuggled in Flare’s warm flames at night, accompanied him around the glass house in the day, watched as Flare blazed across the skies of the planet.
It was a new feeling for Flare. He lit up entire planets as a sun, his light moved civilizations, but no on had depended on him in this way. On him, not his energy, not what he could give in warmth and life. No one had liked him in any way for he had always was a proud sun.
“Why do you like me?” He asked the Sunflower one day.
“You are my sun.” Sunflower said simply, and something in Flare’s roaring heart stirred. Perhaps, this was the start of the peace he wanted to find all along, here, in this Garden.
(But you must know by now, that there is a catch in the story. There always is.)
Suns, they are not made for glasshouses. Not while they are young and blazing. Not even if the glasshouse had a sunflower in it. Suns are not made even for an entire golden planet. Soon, Flare found himself longing for the breath of the skies and the wind from the stars. He did not want to leave the sunflower, but the sunflower was a flower. He was too young and delicate for Flare to bring beyond the warm atmosphere of the golden planet and into the biting ocean of stars and planets.
(You may know how this feels. Sometimes you love someone very much and want to make them happy; but you also want to do things which you know will not. We are all selfish sometimes.)
So Flare began to sneak out of the glass house, off the golden planet. First, for short snaps of time when Sunflower was having his afternoon naps. He always came back before Sunflower awoke.
But slowly, Flare felt the need to go further, for longer. Here was an asteroid belt, glittering like diamonds, just a bit further away. Here was a rain of comets, here a sparkling bridge across the galaxies. And so, he did. But Sunflower was always asleep when he returned.
Until one day, he came home to the sad sooty face of the Sunflower.
“Why do you leave?” Sunflower had asked him. It was after Flare had spent a particularly long time away, basking in a seasonal shower of stars.
“I leave because I am a sun, and I had always roamed the entire universe.” Flare said gently, feeling guilty at Sunflower’s forlorn expression.
“This house, this planet, it is not enough?” Sunflower asked.
“It was enough for many many days. And you are still the light of my mornings, and the warmth of my nights.” Flare answered.
“Can I come?” Sunflower asked timidly.
“Ah, you are a sunflower, I am a sun. You are not made to go beyond this planet. I fear you will wither out where I go.” Flare answered solemnly.
“Oh.” Sunflower said sadly. “But you must go. So here, I shall wait.”
“I will always come back.” Flare said then, but with a heavy heavy heart.
(Of course, Flare did not know it then. He would never know. But Sunflower had adored him so — he knew from the very first time Flare left him, and had even then, Sunflower had been waiting.)
Then one day, Flare returned him after his afternoon jaunts as usual. To his surprise, Sunflower was not in the glass house and there was shattered glass in a corner of the house. Flare looked round hurriedly and caught a glimpse of bright yellow out by the stream. He sped over.
“Look!” Sunflower said, looking up in excitement when he heard Flare. He was brandishing a roughly hewn prism of glass. “It took many tries to get the shape right, but look! When the glass is like so, and the sun shines through it… Rainbows!” Sunflower beamed widely then, pleased with himself, as his prism broke light into little rainbows on the grass.
“Oh yes.” Flare said, relieved that Sunflower was safe. “Have you been at this the whole afternoon?”
Sunflower nodded. There was no trace of disappointment or sadness at being left behind by Flare on this day.
“Tomorrow, I’ll try to make a bigger one!” Sunflower declared happily.
“All right then, let’s head back now.” Flare reached out to Sunflower and linked a flame with one of Sunflower’s leaves, pleased that Sunflower now had interests of his own.
Of course Flare did not see it then, not in that moment when he glimpsed the return of his freedom. But later on, he would remember that this was first time the sunflower had stopped longing for him. This was the first time Flare was no longer the centre of Sunflower’s world. Sunflower was no longer waiting for him.
Then time, time came and went.
(You may remember that Flare was on a quest to find a permanent place in the Garden. He had almost forgotten himself because in some way, he already had what he wanted. But every story must move towards an end, and here is how it happened for Flare.)
For at long last, Flare woke up one day to feel a rising warmth beside him, and opened his eyes to find that Sunflower was no longer a lanky shoot with a sooty face framed by bright yellow petals.
“You are a sun!” Flare exclaimed in wonder, realising at once that this was the miraculous occurrence the Gardener had spoken of, the first time he set foot on the edge of the Garden.
“Yes!” Sunflower, now the sun named Sunflower, smiled.