Copyright is held by the author.
NAOMI NORRIS and her stupid dead roses ruined more than just my chances of passing American History. They also ruined my life. And the worst part is, I shouldn’t have ever seen her again.
I was supposed to be studying for my midterm, which would have been a whole lot easier if I had gone to any of the classes. But that was easier said than done. Study group should have been dry and informative, a college necessity, like coffee and Kraft Dinner. But that was before Caroline, with her long blond hair and her laugh that sounded like wind chimes. American History was over for me the second she put her hand on my shoulder, when I got close enough to smell her. She smelled like roses. I somehow drummed up the courage to ask her out that night and after that, study group was less about the Civil War and more about how far I could get my hand up Caroline’s shirt before she pushed it away. Back then, Naomi Norris wasn’t even a blip on the horizon of my horny, oversexed brain.
I went to buy flowers for Caroline that day. I knew she was studying, and thinking of her laying on her bed, with her laptop on her bare stomach and her hair splayed across her pillow, was enough to drive me crazy. I wanted to surprise her, and she loved flowers. Roses were her favourite. They would be my favourite, too, if they meant I got lucky with Caroline. I got off the bus downtown and walked into the first flower shop I could find. It was like stepping into some freaky urban jungle, with green vines everywhere and that smell, like perfume sprayed on top of dirt. I saw flowers in every colour: purples, pinks, oranges, blues. Flowers with names I couldn’t even pronounce if I tried, but I didn’t see roses.
“Can I help you?” The voice came from behind me. It was low, throaty, maybe the voice of a chronic smoker. It was also oddly familiar, although I couldn’t place from where. I expected an overweight middle-aged woman with nicotine-stained fingers. Then I turned around.
“You looking for anything special?” she said. I opened my mouth to answer but couldn’t get the words out. Now I knew from where — she was my parents’ neighbour, the one who used to babysit me. Naomi Norris, formerly known as “Nasty-Face Naomi” to my six-year-old self. I used to torment her, pull on her frizzy carrot-coloured hair and make fun of her braces, which were always accessorized with bright elastic bands. One time, she locked herself in my parents’ bathroom and cried. I figured Nasty-Face Naomi Norris would grow up to be the kind of spinster who lived alone forever with 20 cats.
I was so obviously wrong.
“You looking for something special?” she said again.
“I think I found it,” I squeaked out. My voice cracked halfway through, an embarrassing echo from puberty choosing that moment to rear its ugly head.
She looked at me quizzically and raised a perfectly sculpted eyebrow. She pushed a loose tendril of hair behind her ear. Nasty-Face Naomi had turned into a knockout, with flawless pale skin and what looked like a great rack. The guys I hung with at school would call her a “10.” High fives all around.
“Sorry, kid. You’re outta luck if you’re looking for roses. All our roses are dead. The last shipment that came in, full of dead roses. Like somebody’s idea of a bad joke.” She laughed, a bitter sound, and tucked her hands into the apron she was wearing. I imagined myself ripping it off her and throwing her down on the counter, and I was embarrassed to feel an erection coming on. Talk about bad timing. I hoped she didn’t notice.
“That sucks,” was all I could muster. I was sweating under my armpits and my heart hammered in my chest.
“You okay, kid?” she said. She obviously had no idea who I was. And why should she? I’m 18 now, the same age she was when she babysat me. To her, I was probably just some stringy awkward teenager, hopelessly out of place in her elegant flower shop.
“You buying flowers for your girlfriend?” she said. “Roses aren’t always the best choice, you know. Girls dig originality. Maybe something like a calla lily? Or a bunch of orchids?
They were always my favourite. Fuck the roses.” She laughed, but this time a giant, hearty sound that seemed to occupy a space of its own.
I swallowed a lump in my throat. Fuck the roses. I wondered if she swore in front of all her customers, or if she chose me for a reason.
“Want me to show you something beautiful?” She headed towards a display of white flowers in tall vases. I took it I was supposed to follow her, but I stood paralyzed in my spot, my eyes fixated on her perfect round ass. I wanted to put my hands on that ass.
“I do want to see something beautiful,” I said dumbly, wanting to add, but it’s definitely not those white flowers.