Love Was a Daisy

There is a flower, a little flower
With silver crest and golden eye,
That welcomes every changing hour,
And weathers every sky.

-James Montgomery

i.

David's footsteps faltered as he made his way home from the comic store, two issues under his arm, when he saw the new kid from a few houses down sprawled out in the vacant lot on the corner. The kid (he sifted his thoughts and plucked the name Jack out like a shell at the seashore) was asleep, head resting on his folded arms. His skin was beginning to glow a painful shade of red.

David considered. Maybe Jack wanted to stay out in the dirt and shrivel up under the sun and get skin cancer and god knows what else. It was possible. He probably didn't want someone he didn't know (and watching someone haul boxes marked "kitchen" down the driveway and waving hopefully at someone your age didn't count as knowing someone, not really) waking him up and pointing out that hi, you're sleeping outside. There was a way to go about befriending someone, and David had found that stating the obvious was not it.

Then again he'd like to think that, if he was ever to fall asleep in an empty lot, that someone with a familiar face would wake him up. It was the kind of thing you did for people, he thought. Especially people with fathers who didn't seem like the type to get worried and go looking for their sons when they didn't show up for dinner and it looked like rain tonight.

David shuffled closer, worrying at his lip. The edges of the comics crinkled between his fingers. The lot was filled with a riot of daisies, the first growing things brave enough to poke up now that spring was here. He stared and stared at a clump of weeds and shorn daisies by Jack's head and thought about how much he wanted Jack to like him. He took a deep breath.

"Hey," he said, as he squatted and gently pushed at Jack's shoulder. "Wake up."

Jack drew in a sharp breath and opened his eyes wide.

"Um, hi," David said, (and if it was possible for him to say anything else, anything, he would have), "you're sleeping outside." Then he flushed and more words, stupider words, came tumbling out, Niagra-like. "I mean, uh, you were burning and I thought, hey, skin cancer or something, you know? My science teacher was telling us about melanoma the other day, and..."

He bit down on his tongue, hard.

Jack had sat up and was brushing dirt off his back with a bemused look. "Yeah, thanks. That's...thanks." He tilted his head, and his eyes dropped to the comics clutched in David's fist. "Oh, hey, what titles are those?"

"Superman," David said, relinquishing them over to Jack.

"Superman's awesome," Jack said approvingly, "even though Batman could kick his butt any day."

David grinned and sat down next to Jack. "No way! He's got super strength, flight, and all kinds of other powers."

"But Batman's got Kryptonite and--"

The clump of daisies nodded between them.

ii.

David's senior prom, he went with his aunt's best friend's youngest daughter, who was visiting and if he didn't plan on bringing someone from school, why not bring her, and wasn't she just pretty as anything, didn't he think? David had said yes because he knew his mom wouldn't stop until he had someone to take lots of pictures with before she let them leave the house.

He'd called politely and asked her what color her dress would be, so he could buy the right color corsage. He'd been very careful not to groan when she said lilac (although he vowed that nothing lilac would touch his tux).

David's senior prom, Jack went with Samantha Hawthorne, who was pretty and quiet and dark-haired.

They made plans to pick up their dates and meet at a restaurant before prom, mutually agreed not to be Italian, because all they needed was spaghetti stains on their rented tuxes. David had picked Ruth up promptly at six, endured the pinched cheeks and pictures from his aunt, apologized profusely to Ruth as he swung by his place (on pain of lingering death) to have his mom take pictures, and had them to the restaurant by seven, just in time to see Jack kiss Samantha in the parking lot. Laying on the horn as he pulled up beside them was almost undoubtedly unnecessary, but it eased something inside him to see them jump apart.

Inside, while they sipped drinks and waited for their orders to arrive, David stared across the table at Jack and Samantha. Jack had an arm draped around her shoulders, and his fingers played idly with the leaves of her wildflower corsage. David thought about earlier, when he had picked up Ruth, pinning the bunch of purple (lilac) flowers over her breast while his aunt watched with sharp eyes to make sure nothing inappropriate was going on. The corsage had still been cold from being stashed in the fridge and he'd pricked his finger on the pin in his efforts not to prick her with the pin (because, after all, that would almost be worse than feeling her up). Now he stared at Jack's hand and Jack's fingers and the way they absentmindedly stroked the petals of a single daisy, and he had to excuse himself to the bathroom because he suddenly felt sick.

iii.

David's hands were deep in his coat pockets and his eyes were on the rain-drenched sidewalk, watching out for the worms that crawled out of the earth after every spring shower. Today, the weather had chosen to be cloudy and nippy, which meant tomorrow it'd be a day for shorts and short sleeves.

He'd almost gone to Florida for spring break with his college friends, almost been talked into warm weather and sunshine and beaches, but had backed out at the last moment. To do what? To come here. Home-cooking, free laundry service (and best friends).

Jack had flown in two days ago, but David had cited jet lag as a reason not to see him yet. His own or Jack's he wasn't clear on, but it hardly mattered. Excuses were excuses were excuses. All it meant was that he was so wound up at the thought of seeing Jack that his nerves thrummed and jangled. After their last conversation, David wasn't sure what he was supposed to say.
(Dear Ann,
What is the proper etiquette for approaching someone you've confessed muddled feelings toward?
--Baffled in New York

Dear Baffled,
Grow a pair.
--Ann)
His excuses had become so transparently lame that his mom had begun clucking worriedly and hovering, his dad had begun shooting him glances that spoke strongly of man-to-man talks in the near future, his sister had begun to roll her eyes at an exponential rate, and his brother had...well, his brother had remained oblivious. He'd finally fled the house to escape the sheer combined weight of familial focus.

The problem with beating a hasty retreat, he'd found, was that, while he remembered to grab his coat, he hadn't put socks on with his shoes, his wallet was on the table beside his bed, and he had no place to go. He'd ended up circling the block aimlessly and although Mrs. Fitro, who was out walking her toy poodle, might have been glad to see him those (three? four? who was counting?) times, he was still no less muddled.

He stopped and studied the ground, hoping that a hidden fortune-telling gene would make itself known and that he'd be able to read the slimy worm-trails the way ancient diviners had read ox entrails or the flights of birds, that he'd suddenly know what to do to untangle the knot of frustration and fear in his gut. Instead, he noticed that his feet were growing clammy and his nose prickled from the sharp, loamy scent of freshly turned dirt. Where the sidewalk met the lawn, someone had planted a line of daises and begonias (a strange combination).

Eyes following the march of flowers up the driveway, David realized where his wandering feet had taken him. If he looked down the street, he'd see his own house, just three doors away from Jack's house. He was at Jack's house.

Jack's mom loved those flowers. David had sent her a vase full of daisies with a funny card when he'd heard she was back in for treatments. Now that she was out of the hospital again, Jack (not his father, not that man) had probably planted them for her, never mind proper planting seasons. He'd probably plant new ones if these died from a late frost, and continue to do so as long as it took. It was the sort of thing he did. It was the sort of thing he did that made David...

Well. It hadn't taken him entrails to untangle it after all. Just some daisies. David tugged at the cuffs of his jacket and walked up the driveway.

iv.

They'd neither of them thought it would rain. Rain only fell on other couples in the flush of a new relationship. Of course, it did rain, and they were caught by fat rain droplets plopping onto face and tongue and lips while they kissed. Jack was sheepish and David was triumphant. He might not have thought it would rain, but he'd brought an umbrella anyway (and spare change for a phone call, because his mother raised him well).

It was no hardship to squeeze beneath the umbrella, elbows and bits of protruding limbs getting soaked, while they murmured silly love-things and nuzzled and kissed. They continued their walk through the park until Jack stooped to pick something from the ground. It was a daisy, a bit worse for the wear. He smiled and plucked a petal.

"He loves me," he began. Then stopped. He regarded the flower. "Guess there's no need to finish that, is there?"

David tweaked the flower from between Jack's fingers and tucked it gently into his pocket, returning the smile. "Sounds finished to me."

v.

Every year on a certain date, David would find a solitary daisy (by his toothbrush, in his desk drawer, once tucked into the roll of toilet paper). It would always be missing a single petal and David would smile and think he loves me.

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