Fiction

2018

When Flowers Cry

By Brook von Ehrenkrook
Avon Middle High School. Class of 2017.

Part 1

Hanahaki disease is a rare illness born from unrequited romantic love, in which the
patient coughs up flowers. The plant grows in the lungs, and eventually becomes deadly
if left alone. The disease is cured when the love is reciprocated, or when it fades
naturally. Alternatively, the plant can be removed through surgery, but the feelings
and memories of love disappear along with the petals. 1
⚘ ⚘ ⚘

At first, Davon thought it was just a cold. The persistent cough, the tightening in his chest ― that
was nothing unusual. It would go away sooner or later.
But a month later, the cough still showed no signs of letting up. Instead, Davon’s
wheezing seemed to get worse with each passing week. The only thing that helped was his
inhaler, and even that couldn’t take away the dull ache in his chest.
“You should see a doctor,” Peter said one morning when Davon entered the common
room coughing. He was standing at the coffee maker, his back turned, but Davon could imagine
his face, serious, his forehead wrinkling the way it did when he was studying art.
Davon realized he was staring at Peter’s bare back and looked away. “I’m fine,” he said.
“It’s been a month. Colds don’t last that long. It could be pneumonia.” Peter turned to
face him, coffee mug steaming in his hand. Sunlight caught on his tousled hair, highlighting the
soft brown with a golden glow.
Davon didn’t want to admit it, but Peter was probably right. It would be better to get this
checked sooner rather than later, just in case. “I’ll make an appointment today.”
Peter nodded.
“By the way,” Davon said, “You’re rarely up so early. What’s the occasion?”
“Just an art project I have to finish. It’s due tomorrow.”
“Ever the perfectionist.”
“Not really―”
Davon raised his eyebrows, and Peter smiled sheepishly. “Yeah, I guess so. But it’s a gift
too, so it needs to be perfect.”
“Everything you make is perfect.”
“Maybe to one who thinks his stick-figure self-portrait is a masterpiece.”
Davon grinned at the jab. “Just because I can’t draw it doesn’t mean I can’t judge it.”
“Doubtful.” Peter was grinning too. “It takes talent to know talent.”
“Are you implying I’m not talented?”
“Of course not, whatever would make you think such a thing?”
“Hmph. Well, whoever it’s for, they’d better be worth all the effort you’re putting into
this.”
“Don’t worry, she is.”

⚘ ⚘ ⚘

Davon sat in the glaring fluorescent lights, unnerved by utter whiteness of the room. He hated
how cold and empty it seemed, a stark contrast to Peter’s bright, messy paintings.

2

Dr. Liu walked in, a manila folder in his hand. “I have the results,” he said as he sat
down. Davon avoided his eyes. He was afraid of what he would see in them.
Davon had been surprised when Dr. Liu had asked for x-rays. He had assured Davon that
it was just to help eliminate some possibilities and pinpoint the source of his sickness. But still,
he felt uneasy.
The doctor handed the x-rays to him. “You should see for yourself,” he said.
Davon glanced up. Dr. Liu’s face was grim, and his heart sped up, thudding hard in his
chest. He hesitated before opening the folder.
The black-and- white images were grainy, but it wasn’t hard to see the small white vine-
like curves in the lowest corner of his right lung.
“Hanahaki,” he whispered.
Dr. Liu nodded. “It hasn’t taken root yet,” he said, “so it could die before it gets serious.
Your asthma might make this harder, though.”
No, Davon thought, even as he nodded. I can’t have hanahaki. It’s not possible.
He knew a fair amount about the disease ― the medical and bio students at Adams State
University had done a joint research project on hanahaki. The disease was extremely rare. It
seemed to occur almost completely at random, and each case was different, the plant unique to
the individual. Though leading scientists and doctors were searching furiously for a cure, so far
the only option was a surgery that not only removed the flowers, but also the feelings of love
associated with them.
“This―” Dr. Liu handed him a paper “―is Dr. Sherryl Marie’s contact information. She
specializes in hanahaki. If you start having serious trouble breathing, contact her right away.
Otherwise, come back here in a month for a checkup on its progress.”
Davon nodded and left the room.
He had hanahaki disease. Davon couldn’t understand it. How could he, of all people,
have hanahaki? Why him?
Maybe the flowers will die, he thought. They haven’t taken root yet. Maybe I’ll fall out
of love.
But that was impossible. Though he didn’t want to admit it, Davon knew who the flowers
were for, and he knew his love wasn’t going to die anytime soon. It had been a quiet whisper in
the back of his mind for a long time. He’d just never realized how deep it had grown.
Peter. Peter, who’d been a privileged member of the middle school popular kids, and still
decided to take the quiet new kid under his wing. Peter, who let Davon see the feelings he’d
hidden from everyone else. Peter, who had saved Davon’s life.
Now, more than ever, he couldn’t tell Peter how he felt. There was no way Davon could
burden him with the knowledge that he might be the cause of his best friend’s death. This had to
stay a secret.

⚘ ⚘ ⚘

“I’ll be leaving for a couple nights, so you’ll have the room to yourself,” Davon’s roommate said
one night.
“Oh.” Davon wasn’t sure what else to say. Was he supposed to congratulate Zach? Say
he’d miss him? But he wouldn’t; the two weren’t exactly close.
It was all rather abrupt.

3

“Just visiting my girlfriend,” Zach muttered into the dark. “Her grandfather died.”
“I’m sorry.” There was a long silence. Eventually Davon realized Zach wasn’t going to say
anything else, and he turned towards the wall.
Well, he was glad to finally be alone, even if it was only for a few days. It would give him
some room to think, to figure out what he was going to do about the hanahaki disease.
Davon wished he could tell Peter about it. He hated keeping secrets.
His thoughts wandered, flashing through memories and dreams and the many, many
secrets he’d kept from most of the world during high school. Peter was the only one Davon could
talk to. His uncle was rarely home, and his aunt rarely sober. His cousins were already out of the
house, leaving him the main target of his aunt’s anger. In sixth grade, when Davon had first
moved in with his relatives, it wasn’t so bad. But then his uncle lost his job, and everything fell
apart.
He had missed his old friends, and his house, and his little puppy Lycan. He had missed
feeling safe and loved and wanted. Most of all, he’d missed his parents.
More and more, Davon had found himself at Peter’s house after school, and eventually
he started sneaking out overnight, staying the weekends. Peter’s parents never minded. It was
the only place Davon felt safe, the only place he didn’t have to worry about anxiety and panic
attacks and depression.
The one thing he’d never felt safe talking about, even there, was being gay. Davon knew
how quickly a safe space could turn into a hostile one, and Peter’s parents were Christian ― he
wasn’t sure how Peter would react, and he didn’t want to risk losing his only sanctuary.
But now that secret was tangled up in another, and coming out was no longer so simple.
It would have been so much easier if he’d just done it right after coming to college, but he had
kept putting it off, with the excuse that he had to find the right moment. Of course, the right
moment had never come, and now Davon wasn’t sure if it ever would.

⚘ ⚘ ⚘

The first petals came a couple weeks later, during a fit of dry coughing.
Davon had been out late, and he was walking across campus towards Coronado Hall
when he felt something deep in the back of his throat. He couldn’t breathe.
He managed to hold it back, but as soon as he’d closed the bedroom door behind him,
the cough erupted. He bent over, leaning against the door, as the petals forced their way up his
throat.
Thankfully, Zach was out that night, probably visiting his girlfriend again. Davon
definitely didn’t want Zach knowing about this. He just had to keep it secret for another month,
and then sophomore year was over and he could get an apartment off campus.
Davon picked up one of the petals as soon as the fit had subsided. It was torn,
incomplete, a pale indigo with a single dark streak running through it. He looked it up
immediately.

Campanula trachelium. Commonly known as a blue bell, or as throatwort.
In floriography, symbolizes gratitude.
Rumor had it that the plant represented the type of love it had grown out of, but Davon
was skeptical. While it was true that he’d always been grateful for Peter’s friendship, that wasn’t

4

the reason Davon loved him. Besides, there was no way the disease’s plants could associate
themselves with the meanings humans had randomly assigned to them.
Davon checked the clock. 11:53. It was far too late to call his doctor now; he’d have to do
it tomorrow.
He hated this. He hated himself for falling in love with his straight best friend, but there
was nothing he could do to change it. Davon stared at the petal in his hand, pale against his dark
skin. He had a feeling the flowers wouldn’t be going away anytime soon. He picked the other
petals up hurriedly and threw them in the trash.
⚘ ⚘ ⚘

“At this point, the disease probably won’t go away on its own, unless your interests change.” Dr.
Marie paused. “I recommend having the surgery done now, before it gets worse.”
Davon looked down at his knees. He didn’t want to die, but the thought of living without
any remembrance of the love he felt now was unbearable. His love was too tangled up with his
friendship ― what if losing the first also removed the second? For a long time, Peter had been
the only good in his life. To lose his friendship… it was too much.
“The disease normally takes three to five years to reach the final stages, but because of
your asthma… that time could be shortened.” Dr. Marie spoke softly, her face sympathetic. But
she could never know what Davon was feeling.
He shook his head slowly. “I can’t lose the memories I have right now. I just―” he broke
off. “I can’t,” he whispered.
Dr. Marie nodded. “In that case, here’s a prescription for a medicine that should relieve
some of the pain and make it easier to breathe.” She handed Davon a paper. “You’ll need a
checkup at least every other month, even if it seems like nothing has changed. Hanahaki is rare,
and whatever information can be gathered…”
“I understand,” Davon said. “Thank you.”
“I’ll do whatever I can to help you through this. And… well, I hope she realizes.”
Davon smiled bitterly, then stood and left the room.
⚘ ⚘ ⚘

They had planned for a while to get an apartment together for their junior and senior years of
college. But when Peter brought it up this time, Davon was uncertain.
“Is something wrong?” Peter asked.
Davon shook his head. “I just want to think about it.”
“You have thought about it. We’ve both thought about it, for years.” Peter’s eyes searched
his face.
“I―”
“I thought you wanted to do this. What changed?”
“Of course I want to; I just don’t know if I can.”
“Why the hell wouldn’t you be able to?” His voice was sharp, and Davon flinched. He
didn’t know what to say. He didn’t want Peter to find out about the hanahaki, not yet. But he
hadn’t considered that keeping it secret could hurt so much.
“Did something happen?” Peter asked, quieter. “Davon, what’s wrong?”

5

“Nothing, nothing happened,” he said. He could feel Peter’s eyes on him, questioning. “I
just need some time.”
“Fine,” Peter said softly. And then he was gone.
Davon stared silently at the empty chair in front of him.
He’ll have to find out eventually, he thought. But it wasn’t something he could just bring
up in conversation. Right now, only his doctors knew about his disease. It somehow felt like
admitting its existence out loud would make it more real.
But it was already very real. Too real. Davon was going to die.
If someone has to find out, I’d rather it be Peter than anyone else.

Part 2

“You’ve been coughing an awful lot lately. Are you okay?” Peter asked.
They were almost finished with the first semester of junior year, and Davon was curled
up on the couch, studying furiously for his bio finals. He looked over at Peter, who was sitting at
their kitchen table, also studying.
His medicine had been working extremely well, and though his chest was constantly
uncomfortably tight, he rarely had a coughing fit during the day. But the medicine wore off at
night, and that’s when it would start. Davon hadn’t gotten much sleep lately.
“I―” he started, but then something was crushing his lungs, and clawing up his throat,
and he couldn’t hold it back. The flowers came cascading out, burning, tearing at his throat. He
heard his textbook thud to the ground as he bent over, eyes squeezed shut against the pain.

6

As the coughing died down, as he started to breathe again, Davon became aware of the
hand on his shoulder. Peter. He opened his eyes. Indigo petals were scattered around his feet,
trembling.
“Hanahaki,” Peter said shakily.
Davon nodded. He was still breathing hard from the force of the coughing.
“How long has it been?”
“...A year.” His voice was hoarse, foreign.
“A year? You’ve had this for a year?! Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I had hoped it would go away.”
Peter was quiet for a moment. “Who is it?” he finally asked.
Davon didn’t answer. He couldn’t. So he knelt down and started picking up the petals.
Peter joined him silently.

⚘ ⚘ ⚘

“The social-cognitive perspective on personality proposed by Albert Bandura emphasizes...” The
professor droned on, and Davon sighed. While he loved psychology, this particular professor
had zero inflection in his voice. Davon and Sam, his roommate from freshman year and fellow
bio classmate, often joked about whether he was even human.
Davon yawned, and winced. His throat was raw from coughing almost every night. He
needed to talk to Dr. Marie about a medicine that would last through the night, so he wouldn’t
lose so much sleep...
Then, deep in his throat, Davon felt a slight tickle. Wait, not here! Davon thought, but he
was coughing, and the world was blurring, and then everyone knew.
“Davon! Are you okay?” Marissa, Peter’s girlfriend, was standing above his desk.
“It’s hanahaki,” came another voice ― the professor.
“You should go home,” Sam said, standing next to Marissa.
“I―” Davon croaked “I’ll be fine.”
“You just coughed up flowers! You’re not fine!” Marissa said.
“I might be missing class a lot more in the future… I want to be here when I can.”
“Do you need water?” Sam asked. “Or aspirin or something?”
“Water please,” he said. Sam ran out.
“I can clean up the petals,” he said to Marissa, who had started gathering them up.
“No. You sit. I’ll clean this up.”
“But―”
“Shush. No buts.” She grabbed a handful and carried them over to the garbage.
Sam ran back in, bottle in hand. “Here,” he said.
“Thank you.” Davon drank slowly, each swallow feeling like a knife down his throat. But
eventually it started to hurt less. Davon looked up at the professor. “You can keep going,” he
said. “I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah.” Davon grabbed a cough drop and tried to focus as the monotonous voice
resumed.
After class, Sam joined Davon on the walk back to the apartments just off campus.

7

“Are you okay?” Davon asked. “You’re a lot quieter than usual.”
“I was just thinking…” He trailed off, then started again. “So, hanahaki… You… Will you
be alright? I mean…”
“I’m fine, Sam. Don’t worry about me ― I’m not going anywhere.” Davon smiled.
“Okay… but if you ever need anything, I’m here. I’ll bring notes if you miss class and
stuff…”
“Thank you. Hopefully I won’t need that for a while though.”
“Yeah.” Sam laughed, his voice wavering. “Okay, I’ll see you next week then. Or maybe―
if you have time, you wanna get a coffee this weekend? It’s been a while since we’ve hung out.”
“Sure, I’d like that.”
“Great. I’ll― well, I have to check my calendar, so I’ll text you about a time later.”
“Okay. See you later then.”
“Yup! You too!” Sam waved as he turned back towards campus, and Davon smiled. He
missed talking to his friend. They had met at freshman orientation, and though Davon had
always been reserved, somehow he’d felt instantly comfortable around Sam. Lately, though, with
Sam becoming involved in multiple clubs, and with Davon trying to avoid as many social
gatherings as possible, they hadn’t really seen each other outside of classes. So this would be
nice.
Davon unlocked the apartment door and stepped in. It was quiet ― it looked like Peter
wasn’t home yet.
This is what it’ll be like for Peter when I’m gone… The thought slipped in quietly.
No! Davon didn’t want to think about that. No no no no. But the thought was stuck.
You’re going to―
No, I’m not―
You’re going to die.
I don’t want to―
Die.
His breath was short, shallow. Breathe.
I can’t― I can’t―
You told Sam you weren’t going anywhere―
You worthless liar, you’re dying―
What if you never see him again―
I need to―
Davon gasped for breath. Tears slid down his cheeks, down his neck. He collapsed
against the wall, sinking slowly to the floor.
I can’t do anything.
I can’t―
“Davon!”
Davon looked up. Peter’s backpack thudded to the floor and he ran to Davon.
You worthless―
You’re going to leave him―
I can’t leave―

8

“Davon, Davon.” Peter sat in front of him and grabbed his trembling hands. “It’s okay,
you’re going to be okay. Breathe, Davon, breathe―”
Davon stared at Peter’s hands wrapped around his, darkness shadowing the edges of his
vision. He tried to breathe deep, but―
“Davon, I’m right here, you’re not alone.” Peter kept talking, his fingers rubbing small
circles on Davon’s hands. Davon focused on breathing. In through the nose, but he couldn’t get
enough breath, and he needed more air, and…
“See, it’s okay, you’ve got this. You’re not alone, just keep breathing. I’m not gonna leave
you.”
And Davon was breathing. Peter’s hands were warm. His eyes, flecked with gold, stared
intently at Davon. They were beautiful.
“T-thank you,” he whispered.
“Davon…” Peter leaned forward and hugged him. Davon sank into his arms, relaxing in
the familiar smell of newly cleaned shirts and, faintly, shampoo.
⚘ ⚘ ⚘

“Davon!” Peter called from the kitchen.
“Yeah?” Davon called back. He was in his room, finishing up the last of his homework for
the night.
“Marissa and a couple of her friends and I are going to see a movie.” Peter appeared in
the doorway. “Do you want to come?”
“What movie?” Davon asked.
“We were going to decide once we got there. We’re going out to eat afterwards too.”
“I… don’t think so.”
“You sure?”
“Yeah. I’m sort of tired.”
“Okay. See you later, then.”
Davon leaned back against his pillows. Almost a year had passed since Peter had found
out about the hanahaki disease. The fits came more often during the day now; the medicine was
losing its effect. Davon didn’t really care who saw him. It just didn’t seem to matter anymore.
Recently, though, he’d been starting to feel a lot weaker afterwards. He wanted to be fine,
but when even walking became a struggle, it was hard to pretend everything was okay. He was
rarely ever that weak, but he knew it would only get worse, especially with spring and allergies
starting up again. Now he’d have to deal with the normal breathing problems on top of the
flowers consuming his lungs.
What time is it? Davon wondered. It was dark out, and his eyes were starting to get
heavy. He glanced at his clock. Only 9:00? That’s not that late, he thought. Still, he’d already
finished his work for the night; he might as well go to bed.
There was blood on the flowers.
Davon had woken up coughing, and when it finally subsided, his pillow was covered in
full bell flowers, slightly torn and spotted with blood.
Davon’s skin prickled with sweat, his heart thudding violently in his chest. His cheeks
were wet with tears, and he curled into himself, his body shaking.

9

Blood.
Blood wasn’t good.
Davon wondered how long he had left, and wished it would all just go away.

Part 3

It was starting to feel more like summer than spring. The late April flowers were in full bloom,
and the air smelt of nostalgia and freedom and warmth.
It felt good, like peace.
But peace never lasted long. With the rigor of classes as they got closer to final exams
and the extensive preparations for graduation, Davon was constantly busy. Of course, the
flowers and his growing weakness didn’t help much. Each week, it seemed to be getting even
harder to breathe.
Graduation is only a couple weeks away, Davon reminded himself. He was determined
to make it to the ceremony, even if he had to do it in a wheelchair.
Davon had, as much as he could, reconciled himself to the fact of his death. Now he just
wanted to live his last months as fully as possible. He never turned down an invitation to hang
out with people anymore, unless he was feeling too sick. He wanted to be with his friends ― and
most of all, he wanted to be with Peter.
Peter had been wonderful, ever since he’d found out about the hanahaki. He stayed home
whenever Davon was feeling particularly horrible, sat with him as he hacked and spluttered,
flowers pouring from his mouth. He got glass after glass of water for Davon, and once even
brought him a bouquet of white chrysanthemums and anemones. “I’m sorry if this is rude,” he’d
said. “Before hanahaki, you really liked flowers, so I thought― But if you don’t like them, I’ll

10

throw them out, of course.” Davon wouldn’t let him get rid of them. When they’d finally started
to wilt, Peter had to convince him to let them be thrown away and replaced with new ones.
Thankfully, though Davon was coughing more often, the petals rarely came up bloody.
The few times it had happened, Davon was alone ― which probably wasn’t good, as those were
the worst coughing fits ― but Davon knew Peter would freak if he found out about the blood.
Peter was worried enough as it was.
Lately, especially for the past couple of weeks, he’d seemed quieter than usual. Davon
wondered if it was his fault. He hadn’t told his friend yet about his deadline, but Peter must’ve
had his suspicions. Davon wished he could do something to lessen the burden.
He had talked to Marissa about it a couple days ago. He was sitting on the green,
reading, and she’d come up to him and asked how he was doing. He didn’t hide the truth, but he
didn’t tell her about the blood either.
“I’m really worried about him,” Davon had said. “I… I’m going to die, and Peter… We’ve
been friends for a long time, and this will probably hurt him a lot…” He paused. “I won’t be able
to be there for him. He’ll need someone... could you―?”
“Of course!” Marissa had replied. “I’ll take care of him, I promise. It’s the least I can do…
I just wish― Why do you have to die? Can’t you get the surgery?”
Davon shook his head. “I couldn’t live without the love I have now. He―” Oh no. “She’s
the reason I’m even alive now… Without her, I don’t think I could live anymore…” Please don’t
notice, don’t notice, don’t question me…
Marissa hadn’t mentioned the slip-up. She just nodded, looking down at her lap. “I’m
sorry they don’t realize,” she had said.
Somehow, even though Marissa was Peter’s girlfriend, Davon couldn’t hate her for it. He
was jealous, yes, but she was so friendly and cheerful; he understood why Peter liked her. He
noticed how happy Peter was around her, and he knew he could trust her with this. He knew she
would take care of Peter in his place.

⚘ ⚘ ⚘

Davon took a deep breath, though it hurt to try expanding his lungs too much. The fresh air was
invigorating, and despite having felt horribly weak that morning, Davon decided to take the
stairs up to the apartment.
He had to take a break after the second flight of stairs. His breath came in short, erratic
bursts, mirroring his heartbeat. I used to be able to run over five miles, and now I can’t even
walk up two flights of stairs. He sat there and caught his breath before standing and climbing
the last flight to their apartment.
By the time he got to the doorway, he was out of breath all over again. He unlocked the
door, stumbled over to the table, and sat down heavily in the empty chair. Peter was sitting
across from him, painting.
“Are you okay?” Peter asked.
“Yeah,” Davon breathed, glancing up at his friend.
Peter’s eyes were rimmed with red. “What’s wrong?” Davon asked, alarmed.
“Marissa broke up with me,” Peter responded, voice bitter.
“What?!” She promised ― how could she do this? She knows I won’t make it, she knows
how it’ll affect Peter. Why would she break up with him now?! Peter and Marissa had been

11

together for over two years, and they’d seemed so perfect for each other; Davon had never
expected this to happen. A small part of him was secretly glad, as though their breaking up
actually gave him a chance. It didn’t of course, and Davon hated himself for the thought. “I’m so
sorry,” he said.
Peter was silent, focusing on the sunrays on his canvas, before he started talking. “I
wanted to start getting more serious with her… to talk about some long-term things… but this
week I never got the chance to bring it up. Something just… felt off.”
He paused to mix a new color.
“I tried to ask her what was wrong,” Peter continued, “but she said it was nothing. I don’t
know… is it my fault? Have I changed?”
Davon shook his head. “It’s not your fault.”
“...She was crying when she said it. When she told me this wouldn’t work anymore…”
“I’m sorry…”
“Don’t apologize; it’s not your fault. I just― Damn it! I can’t lose both of you. I can’t―”
Davon gagged suddenly and started coughing, but it passed quickly, leaving him with
only a few indigo petals. No blood ― good. “I’m okay,” he said, and crushed the petals in his
hand.
“Why haven’t you ever dated?” Peter asked suddenly. “You’ve turned down every girl
since the one you dated back in eighth grade.”
“I just… haven’t found the right person, I guess.” Davon felt his face heating up. He
hadn’t expected that question.
“But you’re obviously in love with someone. Why won’t you talk to her?”
Davon cringed at the pronoun and looked down. “I don’t want them to think they caused
this.”
“But she did, and you deserve to live! At least if you talked to her, you’d have a chance.”
Davon shook his head. “It’s impossible.”
“Then at least get the surgery! It’s not too late yet―”
“I can’t―”
“Yes you can!” Peter grabbed his wrist. Davon’s head jerked up at the touch, his eyes
meeting Peter’s intense stare. “Whoever you love doesn’t love you back. She’s not worth dying
for!”
“No,” Davon whispered, the blood rushing in his ears. It’s you, his mind screamed.
Peter’s hand was hot on his wrist. It’s you, it’s you, it’s you. Peter’s face was too close, his lips…
Davon pulled back, standing up and twisting his wrist out of Peter’s grasp. He needed to
get away.
“Davon?”
He needed to get out.
Davon ran, heard the click of the door as he slammed it behind him. He ran, barely
registering the pound of his feet on the steps, oblivious to the stares of other residents as he left
the building. Before he knew it, he was sitting in his car, chest heaving, gasping in as much air as
he could while the vines contracted around his lungs.
He waited for his heart to calm, for the dizziness to pass, before starting the engine. He
needed to drive, to go somewhere far away ― it didn’t matter where.

12

So he drove, away from campus, until he reached the edge of town. And he kept going.
He probably shouldn’t have been out there, driving by himself. He probably shouldn’t
have taken highway 17, which led only to farms and mountains and utter isolation. But Davon
wanted to be alone.
It wasn’t long before the town was swallowed by the horizon in the rearview mirror.
Davon was alone, surrounded only by low yellow shrub and the occasional scraggly tree. The sky
was a deep, deep blue, a few wispy clouds breaking its monotony. He cracked open his window,
letting the warm air of late afternoon rush over him.
It was quiet out here, peaceful. It might be nice to die in a place like this, he thought.
Davon was tired, tired of the illness, tired of keeping secrets. Why did it have to be him?
And why did it have to be Peter? He didn’t want to hide anymore. But if you actually did tell
him, all that would do is hurt him. And I don’t want to hurt him anymore. I’ve hurt him enough
already.
He hated himself. He hated the thin, weak creature he’d become. He hated the fear he
felt at the thought of coming out. He hated himself for his jealousy of Marissa, when Marissa
made Peter happy in a way Davon knew he never could.
But Marissa had left, and Davon suspected it was his fault. Maybe he’d asked too much of
her. Or maybe she’d been jealous; Peter had been spending a lot less time with her lately. But
surely she would have understood, surely she wouldn’t blame him for taking care of me.
He hated himself for being so selfish.
A high dinging pulled Davon from his thoughts: he was low on fuel. It’s only been twenty
minutes ― I shouldn’t be out yet. He must have forgotten to get gas earlier. But there was a gas
station in Hooper, which wasn’t far. He’d stop there.
Davon pulled into the small, run-down gas station. It was one of the few buildings in an
area that was probably too small to even be considered a town. He wondered if the place would
ever grow, or if it’d stay unchanged, static for a few more decades, until it just died altogether.
Looking at the low, faded buildings surrounded by empty land, Davon guessed it would be the
latter.
He was back on the road in five minutes, and in five minutes he was thinking about Peter
again. It’s always you, isn’t it?... But he let the memories come.
Some of his clearest memories with Peter were from high school, when he’d stay at his
friend’s for the weekends. He remembered once, in ninth grade, sneaking out of the house in the
middle of the night and walking the two miles to Peter’s, unannounced because his phone had
been smashed to pieces earlier that evening during one of his aunt’s rages. Peter had let him in
immediately and listened as Davon spoke. All the little bits of feeling he’d stored away finally
broke through that night. That was the first time since he was a child that Davon had cried in
front of another person.
Davon was struck suddenly by an image of Peter’s own tear-streaked face. How, how
could Marissa have left him now? Peter needed her. She was everything to him.
She did not deserve him. To hurt Peter like this ― she didn’t deserve him at all.
Davon turned on the radio, but there was nothing besides gospel, sports news, and static,
so he switched it back off. The foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains had risen up on either

13

side of him. Gray clouds sat heavy and low, trapped by the hills. Davon shivered and rolled up
the windows. It was starting to get colder.
Davon wondered how far he’d go. He’d have to turn around at some point. He’d already
been driving for nearly an hour… but he wasn’t ready to go back quite yet.
In the distance sat the low buildings of another just-barely- there town. After that, there
was nothing for miles. At some point in that nothingness, he’d turn around.
It was really beautiful out here. The mountains seemed almost immortal; they made
Davon feel small and unimportant. But somehow, that helped: it meant that, even if he died, the
world would go on, back to normal, like it always did. The mountains, the sky, the sun ― they
would always be there. The plants living on the Earth would keep surviving. Eventually, Peter
would move on, and though the thought hurt, there was also some comfort in it.
Davon took a deep breath, let it out slowly. Everything will be okay, he told himself.
Everything will be okay. And he believed it. Because even if he wouldn’t be okay, Peter would
be, and at that point, that was all that mattered. Everything will be okay.
Suddenly, Davon choked. The flowers were in his throat, in his mouth, clogging his
airways. He coughed violently, swerving, and screeched to a stop on the side of the road. Full
bell flowers spilled from his mouth, making what breath he could catch ragged and painful. Dark
splotches flecked the pale indigo petals. Davon grabbed at the stabbing pain in his throat and
retched, bumping his head on the steering wheel with the force of it.
Then it was over. Davon was hot, incredibly hot, and he couldn’t stop shaking. His lips
were cracked and split. He sucked in weak, trembling gasps of air as he reached for his inhaler,
but it was completely useless. He wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand; it came away
streaked with blood.
He needed to cool down.
Davon opened the door, glad for the shock of the cool evening air. He staggered around
the front of the car to the grass on the other side and sat. His whole body ached. He was weak,
weaker than he’d ever been before.
This might be it. Davon pushed the small, unwanted thought away, but it kept returning.
He looked out at the empty land before him.
I don’t want to die, he thought. Not here, not now. I want to see Peter again. And I still
have to graduate. He couldn’t leave Peter like this, with no warning. He had to―
The coughing started again, harsh and wet, consuming his thoughts. Davon fell onto his
forearms. Something sharp and hard dug into his knee, and the flowers wouldn’t stop coming.
Davon closed his eyes at the sight of them, those vile, ugly things that were taking his life away.
He could feel his strength slipping, could feel weakness gripping his limbs. It was more blood
than flowers now. His mind screamed.
Davon sputtered up the last few blood-soaked petals and collapsed onto his stomach in
the bed of scarlet and indigo, his breath short and harsh. The world swam before his eyes. His
body was heavy, too heavy to move, so he lay there and tried to focus on breathing, one painful
gasp after another.
The silence was deafening. Davon could feel the desperate heartbeat of the hard Earth
against his skin. The mountains in front of him blurred and faded. When they returned, there

14

was water ― beautiful, dark water ― flooding from the base of the hills. They’re crying, he
thought.
Somewhere over there, far away, someone started playing music. It was high and clear,
weaving a melody he didn’t know. Davon wondered what instrument it was. He concentrated on
the sound, trying to ignore the tightness of his chest. Little wisps of light danced over the water
in mesmerizing patterns, blurred and wavering.
Davon shivered. His shirt clung to his skin, cold and wet. He wished for fire.
In the distance, over the music, Davon heard his name. Someone was calling him ― but
it was so peaceful and empty out here, he must have been dreaming.
Then strong hands gripped his shoulders, and he was half sitting up, leaning into
someone’s arms ― Peter’s arms, because there was Peter’s terrified face looking down at him.
And there was Peter’s jacket draped over him, still warm. It smelled like paint.
“Peter―”
But his chest was tightening and tightening and crushing his lungs, and he couldn’t
breathe.
Save me, he thought, but he knew it was too late.
“They’re― you’re― why didn’t you tell me it was this bad?”
Davon couldn’t answer. The air was a dagger, scraping at his throat with each breath.
“Water,” he rhasped when his breathing had calmed down.
There was a cool hand on his forehead, and Davon shivered again. “Shit, Davon, you’re
burning up!”
“Water,” he whispered.
Peter left, then appeared again with a near-empty bottle. “This is all I have,” he said,
kneeling and tilting the bottle into Davon’s mouth.
The water was gone too quickly. “How… are you here?” Davon croaked out when he’d
finished drinking.
“I saw blood on the flowers in the trash… Please, Davon, tell me who it is. Let me call her,
tell her to come here. Maybe she’ll―”
“It’s too late,” Davon whispered.
“No― don’t say that! You’re going to be fine, the ambulance is coming, you’ll be okay.”
“No―”
“Just let me do this, let me help. Let me call her.” Peter was crying now. “Please―”
“Peter,” he said. Peter fell silent. “It’s you.”
Peter’s eyes widened. He was shocked; Davon had known he would be. “I caused this?”
he whispered.
“No!” Davon said with surprising force. “I chose this. Don’t blame yourself.”
“But― I thought― Why didn’t you tell me? I could have― I could have loved you back―”
Davon shook his head. “It’s okay... You like girls; it’s fine.”
“No, it’s not like that! I mean, it is, but I― I like guys too. But I thought you’d be
uncomfortable if you knew―” Peter’s eyes were desperate. “Please, Davon, I need you to keep
living, I need you to stay…”
Davon’s heart pounded hard in his chest. How hadn’t he known? Why hadn’t he―
Peter’s face blurred, and a wave of dizziness passed over Davon. He closed his eyes.

15

“Wait, Davon! Open your eyes, I’m right here, don’t go yet.”
Davon dragged his eyes open again, feeling as though something heavy was pulling them
shut.
“Good, stay with me now. The ambulance should be here soon... You just have to hold on
a little longer.”
It took too much effort to nod or say yes, so Davon just stared into Peter’s tired, pain-
filled eyes.
“Now, remember that time, back in tenth grade…” Whatever Peter was saying lost its
meaning, drowned in the music of his voice. Davon listened intently to the beautiful rise and fall
of the words. His breath was starting to come easier now, and the tightness around his lungs
seemed to have faded a bit. Very faintly, he could hear the mournful call of a siren.
Peter was here, and Peter loved him, even if it wasn’t in the way Davon needed.
His eyes were heavy; it was getting harder and harder to keep them open. Davon tried to
focus on the freckles sprinkled lightly over Peter’s nose, but they slipped out of sight.
“I love you, Peter.”
It felt good to finally say that out loud. Davon let his eyes fall shut. Far away, someone
was shouting his name, and then that, too, faded.