“Do you think,” Deanna grabs a jar of Jiffy peanut butter from the grocery store shelf, “That buying new underwear instead of washing my dirty ones makes me more or less adult-ish?”
I pluck the jar out of her hands and replace it with an off-brand. “I think it makes you gross.”
“Because, like, if I wash my dirty underwear then that’s very responsible of me, but if I’m able to afford buying new ones that means I’m making even a little money, which is the American Dream.”
“Is destroying the environment with your wasteful approach to undergarments the American Dream?”
“Um yeah? Haven’t you read The Great Gatsby?”
“I must have missed the part where Daisy throws all her underwear off the edge of her dock at the end of every week. No wonder I barely passed high school English.”
Deanna holds up a loaf of whole wheat bread.
I groan. “Do we have to?”
“Yes. It’s better for you.”
I waved a loaf of white bread in her face. “Look at it. Fluffy. Sweet. Like a kiss from an angel.”
“Yeah, the angel of death.”
I scowl and put the bread back.
The produce section–a battleground where the winner decides what our fresh fruit/vegetable of the week will be–is more crowded than usual. We spend our time there brandishing our preference from across the rows, making increasingly insistent faces and gestures to avoid yelling through the crowd, until I’m told by a tired-looking employee to “please handle the oranges gently, sir.”
“Yeah, Kip. God. No respect for mother nature.”
I give Deanna the finger. A soccer mom sees, scandalized, and works her way across the apple aisle for some good old-fashioned confrontation before Deanna pulls me into the flower section.
She’s giggling, looks present and childlike, eyes clear of that glaze that I assumed was just a part of her.
“We are a menace to society,” I sigh.
Deanna’s looking at me with something akin to pride, which is a weird reaction to me being scolded by a supermarket attendant and then escaping murder-by-soccer-mom. It makes me feel shy, like when a teacher you want to impress gives you a smiley face on your test, so I avert my gaze to the left, eyes landing on a bouquet of tulips. I pick them up.
I nod. “My mom used to get flowers for the kitchen window every week.”
“Yeah?” Her tone is cautious.
“Yeah. Once, uh–once she wanted to get a fresh batch of roses because she had some important people coming over, and I. Um. I asked if I could take the old ones up to my room, you know, cause they were pretty and still perfectly fresh looking.”
“Mm. How’d that go?”
“She let me take them; said it was good for a man to appreciate the more delicate things. My dad, though…”
“Not a fan of the ‘men’ and ‘delicate’ combo?”
“Something like that.”
Deanna nods, somber, and I chide myself for bringing the mood down. She motions to the tulips in my hand. “You wanna pick some out?”
“Flowers. You wanna get some for the apartment?”
“No, no.” I put the bouquet back as fast as I can. “They’re expensive and we don’t need them.”
She shrugs. “We got off-brand peanut butter. We can afford it.”
“We got whole wheat bread. No we can’t.”
“Bananas were our fruit of the week. Cheapest there is.”
“Good, then we can save our money.”
“Kiiiiiiiip.” She picks up the bouquet closest to her and sticks it under my nose. “Stop and smell the roses, Kip.”
I cross my arms. “Those are baby’s breath.”
“Kiiiiip,” She swings them back and forth like she’s trying to hypnotize me. “Don’t be a pedantic dick, Kip.”
The smell of the flowers seeps into my brain, sending me back to that bright kitchen with its nearly-fresh roses. I gently push the flowers out of my face. “Dea, seriously. We’ll just get what we got and save some money.”
She appraises me for a moment, then shrugs. “Fine, spoilsport.”
The next stop is the gas station. When we pull in, Deanna begins texting her boss about scheduling, and asks if I’ll hop out and fill up the car.
I feel heavy. I can’t unbuckle.
“My mom called the other day.”
“Shit,” she mutters. “You answer?”
“Shit.” She’s looking at me. “Wanna talk about it?”
My gaze remains in strict dashboard territory. “No, I just… ” I squeeze my eyes shut until the prickling feeling behind them goes away. “I just wanted to tell you.”
“Okay, well, if you change your mind–”
“I’ll get the gas.” I unbuckle and throw myself out of the car, slamming the door behind me. Good. Good job, Kip.
It’s a wide, unbusy two-lane road surrounded by empty fields that Deanna pulls over on, shifting the gear to park with an edge of defiance. I think, this is it, though I’m not sure what “it” is. A lecture, at best, a “your life is too much and I need you to move out” at worst.
Instead she points to the field and says, “flower time, baby.”
The bark of laughter that bursts through my chest, unexpected and giddy, is enough of a catalyst for me to undo my seatbelt and follow her out into the open air. The wildflowers are small, insignificant. Free, in both senses of the word. Dandelions are the only ones I know by name, but there are tiny white ones with petals that look like they’re made of porcelain, purples that work their way up the stem like a vine, and the yellows attract the most bumble bees. Deanna is brave enough to fetch those for me. By the time we’re done, we’ve got two bouquets of chaotic, brambly weeds that are already beginning to wilt.
She holds up our bounty with a combination of horror and delight. “Look at our perfect, ugly children.”
I giggle. “I can’t wait to watch them succeed in their perfect, ugly plant lives.”
“They’re gonna grow up, get married. These are 401k flowers, I can tell.”
I should say thank you, I want to say thank you, but I can’t. Thanking her means acknowledging that she helped me. Which means I needed help. “Deanna.”
“My flowers are better than yours.”