by Jordan Elizabeth Mierek
The knock made Eva drop the pan, but she caught it before it could do more than clip the edge of the counter. The knock came again; the insistent rhythm that was almost, but not quite, reminiscent of “Mary had a little lamb.”
“Coming!” She set the pan on the stove. Wiping her hands on her thighs, the worn jeans soft against her palms, Eva jogged from the kitchen. The clock in the hallway followed her progress with a soothing tick.
She pulled open the front door to find her best friend. “Hey, Jesse.”
Afternoon sunlight enfolded him in an orangey layer, highlighting his brown hair, and reflected off his glasses so she couldn’t see his eyes. He stood with his hands behind his back.
“What’s up?” Eva asked. “You want dinner? I’m making pancakes.”
He didn’t laugh, not like he used to. Before, he would’ve shaken with mirth. Now, he cocked his head as if contemplating. “I just wanted to say... thanks.”
A butterfly fluttered by his head, and the wind, as if propelled by those delicate wings, made a curl fall over his brow.
“Aw, you sure? You love pancakes. We can even roll in the syrup later.” Eva winked. He still didn’t join in, merely watched her with an expression she couldn’t read, didn’t recognize.
She couldn’t remember the last time he’d laughed. It had to have been ages, months, probably.
He thrust a bouquet of flowers into her hands from behind his back. It took her a minute to register their presence. Daisies and roses, and some kind of purple blossom she couldn’t name. Her fingers closed over the stems wrapped in crinkled paper.
Words faded from her lips. Each flower head smiled at the world in blatant innocence. The scents were sweet, beautiful... gentle.
“Thanks,” he repeated. “You were there when all the whiskey ruined my life and I could... I could always call you, Eva. Whenever.” He shuffled the toe of his sneaker through the dirt.
She rolled her eyes to destroy the heaviness. “Jesse. Friends stand by each other.” She punched his arm, but he shrugged, his eyes on her hands where they held the bouquet. Pancake batter transferred off her skin onto the paper — pancakes, each one different and fragile, easy to burn. Once eaten, they were gone forever.
No one had given her flowers before. She pressed her nose into them, breathing their exotic scent. She bit her lower lip, wishing she had something to give to him in return.
“The flowers reminded me of that time in the field.” Jesse pulled his fingers through his unruly hair. “Remember how we ran? You were practicing for that marathon. You said it all smelled great.”
Eva laughed into the petals. “Of course I remember.”
She lifted her face, and his lips enfolded hers in a chaste kiss; the first time he had done more than give her forehead a playful peck. Memories of the days when she’d held him during his drunken stupors rushed back, the times when she’d dropped everything to run to him whenever he called.
He leaned back. “Goodbye, Eva.”
“Bye, Jesse. Are you sure you don’t want any pancakes?” She wanted him for a few more seconds, but she didn’t want to yank his head back down, loath to ruin their friendship.
He walked away without answering. Before, he would’ve laughed while he waved, and said something like, “Save me some for tomorrow, okay? Better yet, make me some fresh, and squeeze me some grapefruit juice.”
He didn’t look back.
She flashed him the peace symbol as he climbed into his car. After he backed out of her driveway, she carried the flowers into the kitchen. Eva found a crystalline vase of her mother’s, and filled it with water. She trimmed the ends off the stems before dropping the flowers into the long, skinny neck.
She set the vase on the middle of the table and finished her pancakes. The flowers made the drab beige walls more exciting. As she carried the pancakes into the living room to watch television, the flowers silently called to her not to leave them alone, so she brought them with her and rested them on the coffee table. They watched her for the day, whispers drifting around her, tantalizing in their coyness. Each hour that passed, the whispers grew stronger, fiercer.
No. They were only flowers, Jesse’s flowers.
As she carried them up to bed, the telephone rang. She grabbed the portable phone off the bedside table. “No, Jesse, I didn’t save you any pancakes.”
“Eva?” a female asked.
She stiffened. “Oh. Hey, Heather. What’s up?”
“It’s about my brother. Jesse.”
“I saw him earlier.” Eva had never liked Heather. When Jesse turned to whiskey, Heather had all but wiped her hands clean of him.
“Um, Eva?” Heather’s voice cracked. “I’m not sure how to tell you this, since you were his best friend, but I think you should hear it from me before you see it on the news.”
Eva’s heart thundered in her chest. “What is it?”
“Um, Jesse tried to overdose on pills. At the last minute, he changed his mind and called 911. He’s in the hospital now, but he’s stable. I’m in the lobby now. He said you changed his mind.” Heather gulped. “Thank you.”
Eva dropped the phone, but she didn’t hear it smack the floor. She couldn’t hear anything except a roaring in her ears. She saw only the flowers.
Copyright © 2012 by Jordan Elizabeth Mierek