#61 White lilies
Today is not a good day.
First of all, it was a difficult day at work. I had to fire a waiter for stealing from the tip jar, and he didn’t react very nicely. On top of that, the replacement I found for Hollister quit on us, leaving Kieran all alone in the kitchen. Michel couldn’t fill in, so I ended up working with Kieran in the kitchen. And while I am capable of cooking at home, I am not chef material. Instead of me yelling at Kieran, he had to yell at me the entire day, trying to get me to hurry up, while I was just trying not to chop off my fingers or set the place on fire.
On top of that, I had to tell Francesca that I won’t be coming to the strip club with her. Dshawn said he was okay with it, but it doesn’t feel right to go without him. It’s not important to me to see naked women, so I’d rather bow out and keep my man comfortable. Franny is annoyed and even tells me that now that I have a boyfriend, I never have time for her anymore. She’s right, I realize. We do still hang out, but it’s usually with Dshawn and Aston, which is uncomfortable for her. I need to make some time for just her, but today is just not the right day for that.
The worst thing happens when I come home and see a large bouquet of white lilies standing on the kitchen table, smelling strongly. The smell alone is enough to speed up my breaths and make my heart thud in my ears. Why are there white lilies here? I close my eyes for a moment and take a deep breath to steady myself, but that just makes it worse. The smell brings back a memory that I never wanted to recall.
“I bought you flowers to apologize for last night,” Melchior said, smiling his sweetest smile, his grey eyes misty. “I never should have treated you like that. I’m so lucky to have you, baby.”
I took the bouquet from him and inhaled deeply. White lilies. No one had ever gotten me flowers before, so I felt special. Mature. Like the kind of woman who deserved to be spoiled. Last night was just a mistake. Melchior loved me.
“Did you know that white lilies are the flowers you get someone for their 30th anniversary?” Melchior asked, getting a vase and filling it with water in the kitchen. “They symbolize devotion. Of course we’re not married or anything, and we’re nowhere near 30 years, but I want to show you just how devoted I am to you.”
“That’s so sweet,” I said, putting the flowers in the vase he’s holding in his hands. “I love them.”
“I love you,” Melchior said, kissing me softly. “You’re amazing. And like I said, last night… nothing like that will ever happen again. I was just a little drunk and hurt.”
I nodded and smiled. It hurt when he hit me and the bruise was still there on my upper arm, but it was just one hit. One time. He’d never done anything like that before. And he was right, I did flirt with that guy. I shouldn’t have done that.
“Where do you want the flowers?” Melchior asked, turning around in the middle of his apartment, eyeing the possible places.
“Windowsill?” I asked, looking around as well. “Or coffee table maybe?”
He moved over to the coffee table and put down the flowers just when my phone lit up on the edge of the table. Melchior picked it up to hand it to me, but right when I reached for it, his eyes darkened when he saw the name on the screen.
“Who the fuck is Aksel?” he asked, entering my code. I didn’t even know he knew the entrance code to my phone. “Why is he asking you if you’re still on for tonight?”
“He’s the Danish exchange student,” I reminded him. “I told you about him last week. He doesn’t have a car, and there’s a belated graduation party from a mutual friend tonight, so I’m giving him a ride.”
“You’re giving some random guy a ride to a party?” Melchior asked, throwing my phone on the couch. “Are you fucking kidding me, Shay? After last night, you’re still going to keep flirting with other guys? I thought I made it clear how I feel about that!”
I backed away from him a little. He didn’t sound and look like my Melchior anymore. This was the angry side of him I saw the night before, the one that scared me. “We’re not flirting. Aksel is just a friend, and he’s far away from home, living with a classmate of ours who doesn’t let him borrow his car. He just needs a ride. I probably won’t even hang out with him at the party.”
“Why not?” His voice was dangerously low. “Are you going to be too busy with other guys to pay attention to Aksel? Or are you planning on screwing him in the car before you even get to the party?”
“W-what?” I couldn’t believe what he was saying to me. “No, of course not.”
“You’re not going,” Melchior decided. “You’re saying here with me for a romantic night.”
“No, I’m going to that party,” I said, not quite grasping just he serious he was. Surely he didn’t think he could just tell me what to do? “You can come, if you want.”
“I said, you’re NOT going,” he hissed.
“Melchior…” I sighed. “Look, I get that yesterday is still fresh, and I admit that I might have flirted a little with that guy, but you can trust me. Nothing is going on between me and Aksel. I love you.”
“Is this how you show love?” Melchior asked, picking up the vase of flowers from the coffee table, holding it up to me. “I buy you these beautiful flowers and you thank me by going on a date with someone else? That’s not-”
“I’m not going on a date w-”
“Don’t fucking interrupt me!” Melchior roared. “Is this how you repay me for loving you? For providing for you? For giving you a home?”
Before I could respond, he threw the vase of flowers at me, taking me completely by surprise. The vase shattered at my feet, shards piercing my bare feet and lower legs. I cried out in pain, my body trembling with fear.
“Oh, baby,” Melchior said, kneeling down to assess the damage. “You’re bleeding. Come on, let’s get you cleaned up.” He put his arms around me and picked me up, carrying me to the bathroom and putting me down on the edge of the tub.
I didn’t know what to say or do. He did this to me, but now he’s being so sweet again, pulling out the shards of glass and cleaning the cuts, bandaging them and kissing my feet before moving on to my legs. What was going on? Did I imagine what just happened?
“You make me so angry sometimes,” he whispered, stroking my hair when he was done patching me up. “But I love you too much to stay mad. It’s okay, you don’t need to apologize. You can go to the party. Just make sure to wear some pants, so the cuts will be protected.”
I kissed him back when his lips met mine, my mind reeling, unable to grasp the meaning of all of this.
“Let’s clean up the mess in the living room together,” he said with a little smile. “Maybe we can still save those lilies. And I’d love to come to the party with you and Aksel. Sounds like a fun night. I love you, Shay.”
“Yeah,” I breathed, following him back into the living room. The shards on the floor didn’t seem real, nor did the pool of water, mingled with my blood. “I love you too.”
When I open my eyes, I feel the panic attack closing in on me, restricting my breathing. Those flowers need to go. I take them out of the vase, petals falling all over the table, and throw the bouquet into the bin. Still, it’s not enough. I can still smell them. I pull the bag out of the bin and tie it close.
“What are you doing?” Dshawn’s voice sounds from behind me.
I turn around, still working to control my breathing. “Taking out the trash.”
“What happened?” he asks, catching onto the fact that something is very wrong with me. “Did you just…” His eyes move to the now empty vase and the lonely petals on the table. “Did you just throw out the flowers I got for you?”
“Yes,” I manage to get out. Please don’t hurt me, my mind is screaming, turning me back into 18-year-old Shaughna. The rational part of me is trying to convey to the rest of my trembling body that this is Dshawn, not Melchior. He’s not going to hurt me.
“What do you need?” Dshawn asks, taken a tentative step in my direction, but quickly moving back after a second of thought. “I want to come closer, but I can see that you’re panicking, so I am just going to stay here until you tell me what you need, okay? I’m not going to touch you, and I promise I won’t hurt you.”
Somehow, Dshawn knows that this is about him, the ghost that I can’t seem to shake. I inhale and exhale as slowly as possible, trying to ignore the smell of the lilies.
“Open a window,” I tell him when I have my voice back under control. “Take the bag from me and get the petals off the table. Throw it out, all of it. Out of the apartment.”
Dshawn does exactly as he’s told, running out to get the bag downstairs to the large bins before rushing back up and closing the front door behind him as quietly as possible, trying not to spook me. With the window open and the flowers gone, the smell is slowly dwindling, making me feel a little more centered. I take the vase from the table, throw the water down the sink and put bleach in it so the smell is truly gone now. I set the vase on the counter to soak for a while and grab a wet cloth to clean the table.
“Can I hold you?” Dshawn asks softly. “Or should I just stay away from you? Do I need to leave the room?”
I look up into his large brown eyes, filled with worry. Opening my arms, I nod at him, giving him the signal to come over and wrap his arms around me. He complies immediately, holding me close and stroking my hair and back in soft soothing motions.
“You’re safe,” he whispers. “I’m here. No one is going to hurt you, baby.”
The smell of oranges and Dshawn’s deodorant fills my nostrils, replacing the lilies and bleach. Finally, my body relaxes and I’m able to truly breathe again without having to force myself to keep inhaling and exhaling.
“Sorry,” I mumbled against his chest. “Thanks for the flowers. That was really sweet. I just…”
“No need to apologize.” Dshawn leans back to kiss my forehead. “Just for future reference… no flowers at all, or just no white lilies?”
“Especially no lilies,” I reply with a shudder, “but I dislike all flowers, to be honest.”
“Any other triggers?” he asks, looking into my eyes with so much love that it almost hurts.
I shrug. “Probably, but sometimes I don’t know what they are until something happens. The main thing is no pain, no violence, not even a little smack or love bite during sex. I don’t like it. I can’t separate it from…”
“Not a problem,” he says immediately. “I already figured that out, to be honest. I meant if there are other things I shouldn’t buy for you.”
I shake my head. “Just never put anything around my neck.” I shudder at the memory of Melchior putting a necklace on me, all smiles and kisses, and then suddenly pulling it around my throat so tightly that I couldn’t breathe anymore, smiling at me in the mirror while he choked me.
Dshawn takes my face between his large hands, tilting it up so he can kiss me. It’s a soft and tender kiss, just what I need. “Do you want to talk about it, or should I just get you a cup of tea or something?” he asks.
I blink a few times. “You don’t… I mean, don’t you want to know…?”
“Honey, Melchior obviously did something to you involving lilies. If you want to talk about it, we can, for as long as you want. But I don’t need to know if you just want to get your mind off of it.” He gives me a peck on the lips. “I love you.”
We move to the couch, cuddling while he turns on the TV, putting on a show we started watching a week ago. He just sits with me for a long time, holding me close, letting me decide if I want to talk or not.
After I while, I speak up. “Why did you buy me the lilies?”
“This new show opened up a week ago just around the corner and I wanted to get you something nice,” he shrugs. “I was actually going to get red roses, but I got to talking to this guy who was buying flowers for his girlfriend as well, he said that roses are such a cliché, and he told me that he always buys his girl white lilies because they symbolize-”
“-devotion,” I finish for him, feeling sick to my stomach.
“Yes,” Dshawn confirms. “Exactly. Apparently, they’re the flowers you buy when you celebrate your-”
“-30th wedding anniversary,” I interrupt him, sitting up straight to look him in the eyes. “What did this guy look like?” It can’t be him, I tell myself. He’s in Dubai. It can’t be him. Many people know stuff about flowers. It’s a coincidence.
“He had red hair and freckles,” Dshawn says, his brown pinched. “Why? Do you think…?”
I shake my head. Red hair? No, that’s definitely not him. “I’m sorry, I’m getting paranoid. It’s just that the past months have been so great, and being with you pushed most of the memories away, but the smell of those lilies… they brought back a bad one. A confusing one, from when it all started. It rattled me. Thanks for being so understanding.”
“I always thought white lilies were funeral flowers,” he says, trying to get me to smile again. “Let’s just pretend that I bought them to put on Melchior’s grave. Let’s kill off that ugly memory and bury it.”
“Sounds like a plan,” I agree, snuggling back up to Dshawn. “Could you restart the episode? I wasn’t really paying attention and I don’t want to miss anything.”
“Ugh, woman,” Dshawn complains, squeezing my hip where his hand rests comfortably. “You make me crazy. We’re already at the end!”
I laugh. “Hey, I’m fragile! I might snap if you don’t give me what I want.”
“Fine…” He rolls his eyes and rewinds to the start. “I’m getting a beer though. I can’t watch this twice without some booze. No fucking way.”