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DEAD FLOWERS by Rasmenia Massoud

We didn’t know how to talk to Troy’s new girl. Then again, we didn’t know how to talk to the last one, either. Sunny, giggling girls flocked around him, their shiny polished nails drawn to his brown arms and the thick blond waves of hair that touched his shoulders.

Things were that way. People came and went. Stuck together like it was life and death in one moment, an almost forgotten odd character in a funny anecdote the next.

To a girl who’d had a few and met Troy for the first time, it might’ve seemed as if he’d been forged by some golden god of hair metal, but Brad and I laughed and watched him cut the sleeves and collars off his concert t-shirts so they’d show off his arms and chest hair, combing his fingers through his mane to make it perfect. Accidental sexiness is a carefully crafted look.

Troy’s previous girl peed on Brad’s couch. For days, Brad threatened to find another roommate, and criticized Troy for going out with a girl who couldn’t handle her booze and let it go all over the leather couch. There was no sense in pointing out the couch was vinyl, or that the blanket she and Troy were curled up in soaked up most of her drunken pee.

“We’re not buying any more booze for minors.” Brad turned to me. “Except you, Justine. You’re housebroken.”

I smiled, feeling validated because back then, flattery and belittling other women often looked the same.

We laughed off Brad’s ranting, and Troy found a new girl. She rolled around on the living room floor in her cut-off shorts, showing the three of us her ass cheeks while we sat on a tattered sleeping bag that now served as a sofa cover. A movie played in the VHS, but we were watching Troy’s girl, who refused a chair, preferring to lay on the floor, sitting up now and then to smear more lotion onto her legs.

“I like lotion,” she said, giggling as she squirted another gob into her hand. I wondered how long she could keep rubbing the stuff on her skin before gummy gobs began balling up on her fingers.

Brad and I looked at one another, stifling laughter, and took our beers outside. Maybe she’d pee on the couch. Maybe she’d leave a greasy lotion smear in the middle of the living room. Maybe she’d be gone and replaced in a week. None of it mattered because by the same time the following year, Brad had a new roommate. Troy chopped off his wavy heavy metal hair and joined the Navy. The 25-year-old stripper Brad was fucking behind my back would be nursing their kid on the vinyl pee couch as I became a memory, sweating through the graveyard shift in a plastics factory, still a year away from being able to buy my own booze.

We drank and smoked outside on the wooden steps leading up to the trailer door. Brad peeked inside and snorted. He shook his head, squinting his blue eyes, pushing his shaggy brown hair from his face. That shaggy brown hair was just a few years from falling out completely. “That chick, what’s her name? Annie? Amy? What the fuck is the deal with the lotion?”

I shrug. “You know how it is with Troy’s girlfriends. It’s always something.” Brad offers to buy me my own barrel of lotion. Leaning on each other, we laugh until tears blur our already doubled vision. We laugh because of the weirdness Troy always brought around, and because we thought he was the fool, and we were so smart. Like we knew something he didn’t. Like we knew anything about what was real, or how to make anything last.

I try to stand and realize how drunk I am. Brad gets to his feet, teeters a bit, then staggers across the dirt road to a dried up sunflower, dying from the summer heat. He reels as he yanks and pulls at it until it’s free from the Earth and returns to me, holding out his prize. Behind him, in the distance, the first glimpse of sunrise appears, warning that another night is coming to an end.

“What is this?” I’m swaying, gripping his arm for balance.

“My gift to you,” he says, “To immortalize this moment.”

“And what’s so special about this moment?”

“Nothing. We’re here,” he says. “That’s all.”

He shrugs, stumbles again, and pulls me tighter to him, crispy dead flower fragments falling around us.

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