You always brought me flowers.
It didn’t much matter what the fight had been about. By the time I lifted my face from inhaling their scent, I had forgiven you. Do you remember when we decided on that? It was the very first time it had happened; I’ll always remember the day. For once, neither of us were right nor wrong. Just upset and pained and unable to stop feeling upset.
“You know what?” you said. “Let’s make a deal.”
I had to fight the effort to keep from sniffling again. I hated the feeling after crying, where my face would be all puffy, and I felt my nose threatening to run. But I didn’t have a tissue and like hell was I going to use my sleeve. “What deal?”
You dug through your bag to find some old Starbucks napkins to hand to me. “We’re both stubborn fucks. But we’re best friends and I can’t stand us butting heads like this without doing anything in return.”
“Like what?” I blew my nose messily and wiped it, crumbling the napkin up and holding it in my hand like I could forget it ever existed.
“Gifts?” You shrugged. “I mean, no matter what dumb thing we argue about, we’re always going to be friends, right?”
I couldn’t help but smile at that. “Right.”
“So, whoever starts the fight—or argument, debate, whatever. They get the other a gift. And when it’s over, it’s over.”
“That’s sweet.” It sort of was, in our messed-up friendship kind of way. Not like we’d ever stop fighting. Sometimes it was fun. Sometimes it was not. It’s just how it was. “What kind of gift?”
“I dunno. Flowers?”
I laughed, then hiccuped, and laughed again. “You hate plants.”
Your laugh joined mine, and we both smiled at each other. “Yeah, but you love them.”
“How many clocks does your collection have now?”
You didn’t even have to think about it. “Eight now.”
I nodded and hid the moist napkin in my pocket. “I see them in thrift shops all the time.”
“So we have a deal?”
I shook my head. “I don’t remember who even started it.”
“We both start then?” You shrugged and stood up, holding out your hand to me. “Let’s go buy some gifts.”
I found you some silly little Mickey Mouse clock with ears that bobbled whenever it was moved. Tick tick tick tock. Bobble bobble bobble. The paint was scratched, so I took out some of my paints and set to restoring it before I wrapped it up and set it in front of your door. When I got home, I found a little potted buttercup on my welcome mat. It immediately claimed the kitchen table for its home.
Months didn’t keep track of the passing years as much as our arguments did. Potted flowers soon filled up my apartment, as your clocks began to pile up on your shelves. Sometimes you cheated and got me plants that weren’t technically flowers, like the cactus or succulents. But I loved them anyway. And sometimes I cheated and got you clocks that were just different colors from ones I had gotten you before. But you loved them anyway.
It was cathartic like that. We had a lot to say and a lot of opinions, and they clashed more often than not. But as soon as it was over and the gift was passed, we could just go back to laughing and joking as usual. There wasn’t any reason to resent each other or dwell on what had passed. When either of us hurt the other, we made it better the only way we could.
Honestly, I should have been the one to get you a clock that time.
I think you felt bad, though. I ended up crying even though I had started the whole thing. And I knew from the way you touched my shoulder and the look in your eye, you didn’t like the cost of this win. It was dumb, really. I shouldn’t have pushed that hard from the beginning; I knew as well as any other that I was being irrational. But in that moment, I didn’t. And you could see it too, so you told me that you were going out to get some flowers and that you’d be back soon.
Sometimes it hits you that you should have said goodbye, even if you think you’ll see them again in ten minutes. Sometimes it hits you that you don’t say goodbye enough. Or things like “I love you”. Especially to your friends.
Ten minutes turned to twenty. Thirty. An hour. I tried calling you at two hours, and a woman with a sterile voice picked up. I thought it at the time. I thought that she sounded how bleach smells. Clear and sharp; the kind of voice you don’t forget easily. Cuts through all sorts of noise, even the kind in your own mind.
Well, after she stopped speaking to me, there wasn’t any kind of noise in my mind. Just empty disbelief. And loss. I couldn’t believe it even as she was telling me. Even as she asked me to drive to the hospital. It’s not the kind of thing that just happens to people you know, right? You see it on the news, but it’s always others. No one you know and care about and actually could wrap your arms around and hold.
I looked around at all the flowers.
Each one was a time you hurt me and I hurt you. Each one was a reminder of that deal we made all those years ago; a deal of a friendship that would never falter no matter what. Of wounds healed and amends made. I didn’t even know which one had been the last; they all blurred together in a floral and scented rainbow.
I should have been the one to go out and give you a clock. So I owed you that. That was the deal, and even though I ended up crying, I knew I had hurt you.
But now you owed me too. So I’ll be waiting for those flowers.