Flowers Of Youth

Allison Hay © Illustration of flowering youth for a fun short story Flowers of Youth


What were the chances that Hazel’s nephew had something to do with her missing bank card?

Hazel was normally scatter-brained, but forgetting the PIN of the debit card she’d been using for twenty years was a new low. At thirty-nine, she couldn’t even blame her age.

She looked hopelessly at the sales assistant, who smiled encouragingly.

Hazel bit her lip.

“I know the digits and I know it’s an important date.” Which meant it had to start with a 1. She keyed in 1578.

It was rejected. She tried 1857, but that was invalid, too. Dare she try a third guess and risk locking the card?

“Have you got another card?” the girl asked helpfully.

“Yes, but I’ve never used the PIN.”

She returned purchases until the total fell below the contactless limit, and paid.

Shortly after she got home, Charlie arrived, displaying the typical cheer and eloquence of a fifteen-year-old. He grunted, dropped his rucksack, then took off his hoodie and hung it on the newel post. This was an improvement – he normally threw that on the floor, too.

“Tick, VG,” she said and dropped an auntie’s kiss in his hair.

He shrugged away. “Geroff!”

She grinned and led him to the dining room where her laptop awaited today’s lesson. Poor Charlie was having a rough time. Mum and Dad splitting up. A new school and having to make new friends had led to skipping lessons, grades dropping and trouble at home. Hazel’s sister needed help.

“You’re a whizz at maths, and he likes you,” Beth had pleaded. It was difficult to believe that sometimes.

The current maths topic, probability, wasn’t going well. Hazel read today’s problem – calculating the chances of throwing two sixes with two dice – and saw Charlie’s expression close.

“I don’t see the point,” he complained. “You need trig and equations for engineering. I won’t be building stuff by throwing dice.”

“Well,” Hazel began, and she related the forgotten PIN story. “It started with a one, but I only had three goes to get it right. What are the chances?”

“It must be millions to one,” he said.

“Really? If the second digit is eight, five or seven, and then the third is one of the remaining two…”

She grabbed a pencil and paper, and together they worked out there were only six combinations.

“With three goes, that’s more or less a one in two chance of success.”

“You went for it?” he asked.

“I had two goes. Both were wrong, which meant a three in four chance of blocking my card with the next number.”

“I guess probability can be useful,” he said thoughtfully. “So much of school seems useless.”

Hazel nodded. “I hated history. We did Henry VIII, but my teacher never mentioned his wives. Why?”

Charlie rolled his eyes. “Yeah.”

“But now I find history fascinating. The characters! Take Mary Queen of Scots. What a sad life she had.”

“Did she get her head chopped off?” Charlie asked with a sudden spark of ghoulish interest.

“Yes, by her cousin! Can you imagine George or Tilly doing that to you?” she asked, referring to her brother’s children.

Charlie looked shocked.

“That’s evil. When did this happen?”

“In 1587. She… Oh… That’s my PIN number. Thanks, partner.” She held up a hand for a high five. Charlie obliged.

“I think it’s time for a cuppa. Do you want one, or have you brought something fluorescent with you?”

Charlie hauled an electric blue soft drink from his rucksack. Hazel pulled a face and headed to the kitchen.

Five minutes later, she returned with a steaming mug, settled down and led Charlie gently through the dice problem. He soon had the correct answer – one chance in thirty-six. “Though,” he added, “for my friend Cookie, it’s more like one in two. He is so jammy.”

“Ah,” Hazel said, “now we’re getting into reality versus theory.”


Heather explained how throwing a double-six on average one time in thirty-six didn’t mean you would always throw one double-six every 36 goes. They spent the next hour throwing dice to prove the point.

Then Hazel pointed out that if she’d stopped to think rationally at the shop, like an organised person, she wouldn’t have tried 1578 because she couldn’t recall an important event in that year. “That should have skewed the odds in my favour,” she finished.

At the end of the session, Charlie patted her awkwardly on the shoulder and said, “Thanks, Auntie Hazel. You make things interesting.”

He left with a smile.

Hazel smiled, too. She was getting somewhere with him. She was sure his behaviour would settle down and everything would turn out fine. In ten years’ time he’d have a glittering engineering career and Beth would be so proud of him.

The next day, Sunday, Hazel noticed her card was missing from her purse, which had been in her bag in the dining room when she left to make the tea. Glumly, she wondered if Charlie had taken it. He knew the PIN, money had gone missing from Beth’s purse recently (with Charlie the only suspect), and he resented pocket money coming with strings to reward better behaviour.

No. He wouldn’t. Her sister had no faith in Charlie right now, but Hazel did.

She hunted for the card, emptying her purse, her bag, all the pockets in the clothes she’d worn the day before, but nothing. She considered calling the supermarket to see if she’d left it there, but it was already after four.

With trepidation, she checked her account online and breathed a huge sigh of relief when she found no transactions after the one for her shopping.

She had her phone ready to call Charlie to ask if he’d seen it, but thought better of it. He might take it the wrong way, which would set them back months. She had to trust him – and if that trust proved misplaced, then she’d deal with it.

She thought about notifying the bank but decided to wait. She’d call the shop tomorrow and if they didn’t have it, she’d cancel her card then.

The shop didn’t have it. Her account still showed no new transactions. Hazel bit her fingernails. Stopping the card meant waiting for a new card and PIN, then changing that back to the original. Now she’d gone through the trauma of forgetting it once, surely that wouldn’t happen again.

She’d wait a bit longer, and check her account every day. She’d probably just misplaced it. It would be typical of her.

By Friday, it still hadn’t turned up, but her account still showed no activity.

Then came the call from Beth.

“Is Charlie there?”

Hazel checked the time; after five.

“No – why?”

“He hasn’t come home from school. His friends don’t know where he is, and he’s not answering his phone.”

“He never answers his phone to you,” she soothed, but was wondering where he could be, what he was doing… and whether he was doing it with her card.

“His friends say he took the 145 bus without telling them why. That’s the one he gets to your house.”

True, but it passed through town, too, where there were still lots of shops open.

“He’ll be in town,” she said. “It’s only been an hour or two. He’ll show up when he’s hungry.”

“What if he’s run away?” Beth continued, beginning to sound hysterical.

“Why would he do that?” Hazel asked.

“He hates me.”

Hazel’s mind whirred with possibilities.

“He doesn’t hate you, and he’s more likely to go see his dad, isn’t he?”

“He’s away on holiday this week. In the Canaries.”

OK, so Charlie hadn’t gone to see his dad. At least, Hazel was pretty sure Charlie hadn’t gone to the airport to buy a ticket with his aunt’s card.

“Will you come over?” Beth pleaded.

“I will if you want me to,” Hazel said. “But what if he turns up here and I’m out?”

“I’ll come to you, then. He’s got a key to get in here.”

At rush hour, it would take Beth the best part of an hour to arrive, so Hazel logged on to her bank app again – the balance still hadn’t changed – and cancelled the card.

Next, she texted Charlie.

Your mum’s worried. Are you OK?

She got a thumbs-up emoji.

She’s on her way over, Hazel continued. When will you be home?

In 10.

Hazel assumed this meant ten minutes, not ten o’clock. She rang Beth and conveyed the good news. The relief in her sister’s voice was palpable, but she didn’t turn round to head home.

“I’d throttle him in this mood,” she explained on arrival at Hazel’s. “I need to calm down a bit.”

“Good idea,” Hazel agreed, putting the kettle on.

“Did he say where he’d been?”

Hazel shook her head.

“The important thing is, he’s safe. He’s nearly an adult and big enough to take care of himself, Beth.”

This was true. He was six feet tall already, and streetwise.

“You hear such terrible things, though, don’t you?”

“Focus on the positives, Beth, not what might be. Has anything happened this week that might make him do something unexpected?”

For the next hour, Hazel listened as Beth poured out all her worries and frustrations. Eventually, Beth’s emotions settled, they hugged and her sister left, assuring Hazel she wouldn’t tell Charlie off when she got in.

Hazel texted, Mum’s on her way home. Hope the place is tidy! See you tomorrow? She wasn’t sure as the end of term was imminent.

Again, a thumbs-up.

She’d take that. It was better than being ignored, like poor Beth.

Charlie arrived bearing a bouquet from a major chain store in town.

“These are to say thank you,” he said, holding them out, his gaze roving over a nearby wall.

Hazel took them and stared.

“These are beautiful, Charlie. My favourite colours.” The bouquet was mostly in orange with brilliant gerberas and marigolds, tastefully balanced by white pincushion daisy-like flowers with a yellow centre, and some off-white snapdragons. “How thoughtful.”

“Women like getting flowers, don’t they?” Charlie mumbled.

“Yes, they do. But why do you need
to thank me?”

“I got my maths mock exam results yesterday. Top of the class. Ninety-
eight per cent!”

Hazel’s jaw dropped.

“Wow. Just wow. That’s amazing. Well done. Did you tell your mother?”

“It’ll be in my report, I expect,” he said, reverting to doing anything but making eye contact.

“Oh, Charlie, tell her yourself. She’ll be over the moon.”

He shrugged, and poked at the carpet with his toe. She decided not to push it.

“Is that where you were yesterday? Buying these for me?”

He nodded.

She put the flowers down, said, “Come here,” and folded him into the biggest hug. He stiffened and resisted a bit but at least he didn’t pull away.

“Soppiness over,” she said when she let him go. “But sometimes you have to show someone just how much you love them. And I should thank you for doing all that hard work and getting such a great mark. Let’s put these in water and get down to some maths, shall we?”

“Haven’t got any,” he admitted. “Term’s finished.”

“You’ve come all this way just to deliver flowers?” Hazel asked. “On the bus? Carrying these?”

“Nothing else to do,” he said,
toe-poking the carpet again.

“Charlie, you are a star.”

After she’d arranged the flowers to the best of her ability, she tentatively suggested, “You could always give your mum a hand. She loves you too, you know – and she does all the boring stuff, like washing your clothes and cooking your meals.”

Saturday was Beth’s washing and cleaning day, she knew.

Again, a shrug.

“I’d probably do it all wrong.”

“You might not,” she said, making a mental note to have a word with Beth about positive reinforcement. “But, fair enough, maybe you could help me instead. I haven’t been shopping yet.”

“Yeah, OK.”

A few minutes later, they climbed into her car. As soon as Charlie sat down, he raised his hips off the seat, fished underneath and brought out the missing debit card. He handed it to her.

“I’ve been looking for that all week.”

“It was stuck in the crease between the backrest and the seat,” he said as he buckled up, totally at ease.

Suddenly she remembered.

“Oh! Yes. When I was faffing about at the shop, I put it in my pocket while I paid with the other one, then I dropped it on the seat to remind me to put it in my purse, but the boot is full of stuff for the dump, so I crammed all the bags onto the seats.” They must have shoved the card backwards, out of sight. She smiled.

“Thanks again, partner.”

They high-fived. And then she remembered she’d cancelled the card. Oh well. Served her right for being disorganised.

“I feel a celebration is in order,” she said as she pulled away.

“What sort of celebration?”


His eyes lit up. “Cool.”

“Then we need to get your mum some flowers, too.”

“Mum? Why?”

“Because I get to do the fun bits with you. Your mum is there the rest of the week, making sure you’re fed, and clothed, and warm, and loved.”

Doesn’t feel like I’m loved

he grumbled, and Hazel’s heart tugged.

“You should have seen her yesterday when you were missing for two hours. She thought you’d run away.”

“Really? Why would she think that?”

“Because no one knew where you were, and you won’t answer her calls. That makes people who love you very worried.”

“She didn’t say anything when I got home,” he said, sounding doubtful.

“Because she was relieved you were safe and sound.”

“But I was safe and sound.”

“She didn’t know that. Would it have hurt to send her a text saying ‘Going into town to get flowers for Auntie Hazel cos I got top marks in maths’? She’d have been over the moon instead of frantic!”

There was a long pause, then a begrudging, “’Spose not.”

“Go on, call her. Tell her your marks.”

“Do I have to?”

“No, but it would be a lovely thing to do. She’ll be thrilled.”

As Hazel said this, she had doubts. Beth seemed quite negative around Charlie, and she prayed, as he dialled, that Beth wouldn’t demand to know what happened to the other two per cent.

“Hi, Mum. Auntie Hazel said I should phone you,” he began.

“Why?” Beth sounded anxious. “What have you done?”

“Nothing,” Hazel yelled. “Just listen. He’s got fabulous news.”

“Oh,” Beth said. “That’s great. Uh, what is it?”

A little more hesitantly, Charlie told her. The whoops of joy that answered him made Hazel’s heart sing, and she noted a huge grin spread across Charlie’s face.

“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Hazel said after the call ended.

“Only because you shouted at her,” Charlie said.

“We’ll work on that,” she said. “Life’s been tough for your mum recently as well, don’t forget. After all the rubbish life’s thrown at her recently, she’s waiting for the next disaster to happen.”

“I didn’t think of that,” he said.

Over a fabulous pizza, they had a long talk. Afterwards, Charlie made for a flower stall. “I think Mum’s more of a rose person, don’t you?” he asked.

Hazel grinned. “Spot on.”

She made a mental note to ring Beth after Charlie left on the bus carrying yet another bouquet. She’d remind her about positive reinforcement.

Charlie would be OK, but he needed reassurance – and when you were too close, as a mother was, sometimes that was hard to remember

Read more fun short stories:

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