I was greeted at breakfast by a shriek. My mom’s coffee mug shattered on the kitchen tile.
“Who are you?” she screamed, brandishing a cream-cheese covered butter knife.
“Your son?” I was still half-asleep, trying to rub the drowsiness out of my head.
“Get out of my house, you lunatic! Get out!”
A bagel bounced off my forehead, and I made a hasty retreat as she rushed me, wildly waving the knife.
I was chased out of the house, pelted with bagels and threats of the police hauling me away if I came within ten feet of her again. The front door slammed behind me. I stood on the sidewalk in my plaid flannel pajamas, rubbing my cold bare feet against my ankles. My mom was peering out of the blinds.
They say you can never go home again, but this was ridiculous. If she was trying to make a point that I didn’t visit enough, she could at least have let me get a coat first.
“Hello, Mrs. Jones,” I said, waving halfheartedly at the elderly woman walking by with her Pomeranian.
She put her head down and sped past me, glancing anxiously back as she reached her front porch and fumbled with her keys. The door slammed behind her.
She’d known me my whole life. Either she was in on this too or something odd was going on. I walked gingerly down the street, wincing at the icy pavement beneath my feet. Four blocks down, the small street met a larger road, and a dingy diner huddled on the corner. I stopped in front of it, rubbing one foot over the other to wipe off the pebbles that had stuck to me. At least it would be warm inside.
As I appeared in the doorway, the waitress behind the counter loudly cleared her throat. She was looking pointedly downward, and I followed her gaze to my bare feet. With a sigh, I trudged back outside. I had no keys, no wallet, no shoes, and no idea what was going on. I only knew it was cold.
A stack of typo-ridden local newspapers sat in a sad damp heap in the metal rack outside the door. I folded two of them around my feet, scrunching the paper together to make paper slippers.
When I walked back through the door, I was given a disapproving look but was allowed to enter.
The scuffed metal tables were mostly empty, but a young woman sat near the window, gazing forlornly out. She was wearing fuchsia pajama pants and paper bags on her feet. She straightened up when she noticed me.
“No shoes, no service,” she said sadly when I sat down across from her.
“Where’d you get the bags?” I asked.
I flagged down the waitress and watched eagerly as she filled a slightly dirty mug with steaming coffee. She looked at our thin pajamas and paper-wrapped feet, clucked sympathetically, and brought us six packs of crumbling crackers.
“What are you doing?” the woman across from me asked as I peered at myself in the metal napkin dispenser.
“Making sure I’m still me,” I said.
“Did everybody forget you too?”
I took a sip of the scalding coffee-flavored water and grimaced. “I think so. My mom tried to kill me with a bagel.”
“I came downstairs for pancakes and nearly got arrested.” She sighed. “It’s been a weird morning.”
We sat in silence as I sipped my coffee and she stared out the window, a blank expression on her face.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
She considered a moment. “Better not take the chance. If we don’t know each other, we can’t forget each other.”
“There’s got to be a reason this is happening. Something we did,” I said, cupping my mug to catch the last hints of warmth. “That or our families… and my neighbor… all went crazy at the same time.”
“Seems unlikely.” She absently tapped her spoon against the handle of her mug. “But why us? I don’t know you. At least, I don’t think I do.”
I drank three more cups of the vile coffee as we tried to figure why. She was in town to visit her parents. I was in town to visit my mom, but she had arrived three days ago, and I arrived yesterday. Her birthday was in the spring, mine in the fall. Nothing added up.
“Maybe it’s something that happened yesterday,” I said, brushing cracker crumbs off my lap.
“I haven’t gone anywhere or done anything!” she said. “And now I’m going to spend the rest of my life in a cardboard box wearing Barbie pajamas. I forgot to bring pajamas. These were all I could find, and they don’t fit anymore.” Her face crumpled, and she let out a hiccuping sob.
I grabbed her hand. “At least we have each other.”
“Yeah, great,” she mumbled, wiping her nose on a paper napkin. “We can die cold and miserable, together.”
“Just try to remember. Yesterday. Walk me through it.”
She sighed and buried her fingers in her tangled hair, leaning her elbows on the table. “I got up… watched a documentary with my dad and fell asleep on the couch… played Scrabble with my mom. Oh, I ran to the store for milk, and on the way home, I bought some flowers.”
I leaned forward. “Flowers? Where?”
“Some man on the corner over there.” She pointed out the window.
I was bouncing in my seat. “What kind of flowers? Purple roses?”
Her eyes widened. “How did you know?”
I jumped to my feet, instinctively grabbing for my wallet that wasn’t there. “I bought the same ones for my mom. Let’s go.”
My left shoe blew away and her bags rustled as she waddled like a snowshoer toward the flower stand.
The flower vendor, a big man with a thick mustache, stood next to the stand laden with brightly colored bouquets, all cheerfully blossoming despite the frigid weather. He examined us curiously as we shuffled up. A woman picking through bunches of daisies looked up, started, took her child’s hand, and walked around to the other side of the stand away from us.
“We both bought your purple roses yesterday,” I said to the vendor. “And now nobody knows who we are.”
“Ah, yes.” He nodded knowingly. “I did notice two bunches were missing this morning.” He was watching us keenly now, tugging at the end of his mustache. “I didn’t think they’d work so quickly, but they are special flowers.”
The woman in pink pajamas glared at him. “How’d you like some special flowers up your—”
“Special how?” I cut in.
A customer asked for carnations, and the vendor turned to dig around through the bunches. “I’ve never sold two bunches in one day. It’s, uh, what’s the word?” He waved his hand like he could snatch the elusive word out of thin air. “Kismet.”
“It’s our fate to die alone in our pajamas?” the woman in pink snarled.
“No, no, no. You misunderstand.” He handed off the carnations and shoved the cash in his pocket. “These flowers brought you together, changed the rules of the universe to help you find each other, to help you find your true love.”
The woman in pink pajamas and I exchanged a wide-eyed glance before edging away from each other.
“Him?” she asked, eyebrows raised higher than I felt was necessary.
“You don’t have to look so disgusted,” I grumbled.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she snapped. “I didn’t realize this was a serious conversation. Next time a crazy flower vendor erases me from existence and tells me my true love is a man with newspapers on his feet, I’ll try to be more cheerful about it.”
“They blew away, so there!” I said, turning on her. “You’re not the picture of hygiene either.”
She threw her hands up. “How is this what you’re worried about?”
“Shut up!” the vendor yelled, and we turned to stare at him, mouths still open. “You’re scaring my customers. Don’t you realize how lucky you are? Some people spend their whole lives looking.”
“I want to go home!” she yelled.
“Clearly, we’re miserable,” I said. “Whatever the flowers intended, it didn’t work. So, fix it.”
He shrugged, leaning back against the stand. “I can’t. The spell stays until the blossoms fade.”
“And how long does that take?”
“Eh, five or six days, give or take. But look on the bright side, now you’ve got almost a week together. There’s nobody else in the world for you but your true love.”
“You’re crazy, man,” I said and turned to the woman in pink pajamas beside me. “Let’s go.”
“Don’t buy the flowers!” she shrieked at the gawking customers as I pulled her away from the stand. “The flowers are a lie!”
She yanked her arm away and stomped down the street. Her jaw stuck out and her eyes blazed.
“Where are we going?” I asked, hurrying after her.
“To send those flowers to an early grave,” she growled, nearly falling as she tripped over the bags on her feet.
“But how are we going to get inside? My mom is going to stab me if I come anywhere near her.”
She slowed, her forehead wrinkling in thought. “There’s two of us, and she doesn’t know who I am. I can lure her outside while you destroy the flowers.”
It was better than my plan to huddle up in the diner, living off weak coffee and cracker crumbs until they dragged me away. A bitter wind whistled down the street.
“I’m so cold,” she groaned, hugging herself.
I held out an arm to her, and she huddled against me, clutching my shirt with icy fingers, as we shuffled down the street toward my house.
“I’m holding you purely for survival purposes,” she said through chattering teeth.
My mom’s house was quiet. No accusing eyes glared out of the blinds. I hid behind a tall shrub, out of view but ready to dart through the door.
The woman in pink pajamas tossed the damp paper bags aside and rang the doorbell, gasping as the door opened. “Oh, thank god! I can’t find Frito. I’ve been out here for hours.” Her face morphed into the picture of wide-eyed innocence, and her lip trembled a little. “Please. He’s just a little dog.”
Her performance was impressive; I’d have believed it myself if I hadn’t known better.
“Oh, you poor thing,” my mom said. “Let me get my coat.”
They were halfway down the walk when I ran inside and slammed the door behind me, bolting it. My mom beat on it, screaming and cursing with a fervor I had no idea she had.
The roses were sitting passively in a glass vase on the table. I grabbed them and frantically looked around the kitchen before throwing them in the microwave and setting it on high.
“Come on, come on, come on,” I muttered as the petals slowly wilted, shriveling, folding in on themselves until they were dark purple clumps.
The banging had stopped. I threw the front door open.
“Evan.” My mom stood on the porch, surprise on her face. “I didn’t think you were ever going to get out of bed.”
“Oh, uh,”—I pulled on my winter boots and a coat—“man, I was just really exhausted.”
I handed the woman in the pink pajamas my slippers and a sweater.
“Who’s your friend?” my mom asked.
She didn’t seem to remember anything. We exchanged a glance, and the woman in pink pajamas sighed resignedly. “Elle.”
My mom eyed Elle’s pajamas before looking between us with an increasingly suspicious look on her face.
“So, we’re going to go,” I said unnecessarily loudly. “I’ll be back in a bit.”
“Alright,” my mom said, absently, looking down at her coat then back at the door. “I forgot why I came out here.”
“Don’t use the microwave,” I called as she disappeared inside.
Elle snorted out a laugh. “She thinks we were—”
“Yeah, I know.”
She had my sweater pulled up over her nose like a little turtle in its shell. “You could’ve put some clothes on.”
“Nah. Let’s get you home.”
Her eyes crinkled, her smile hidden behind my sweater.
“What’s the plan?” I asked as we trudged down the street toward her parent’s house.
“There’s a window in the back that doesn’t lock, but I need a boost to reach it. Then you distract them.”
We sneaked along the side of the house, keeping out of view of the curtained windows, and through the back gate. She put her slippered foot in my hands, and I hoisted her up to the narrow window, struggling not to drop her as she yanked at it.
“A little further,” she grunted, and I shoved her upward.
“Oh sh—” She vanished through the window.
There was a loud thud.
“Are you okay?” I called anxiously, trying to pull myself up to see inside.
“They moved the couch,” she moaned, then a moment later, “ow.”
“They might have heard that. I’m going around front.”
I sprinted to the front and mashed the doorbell.
“Hello!” I extended my hand to the woman who opened the door. “I’m Evan. I woke up this morning and decided to introduce myself to the entire neighborhood. It’s the neighborly thing to do, and after twenty-six years of living here, it’s about darn time, don’t you think? You sir!” I waved over the man walking down the stairs. “Hi! Hello! I live a few houses down, on the corner, next to the old lady that talks to her plants.”
I proceeded to ramble through my life story. It didn’t matter what I said as long as I kept them occupied.
“I’m still terrified of zoos. Then in the sixth grade, I sat on my friend’s hamster, accidentally of course. He still thinks it was the cat, but—“
“Evan,” a soft voice interrupted me.
Elle was standing behind them. Her parents shook the glazed expressions off their faces.
“There she is!” Her dad mussed her hair. “Sleeping ‘til noon, like usual. Your pancakes are regular pans by now.”
He wandered off, chuckling at his awful joke.
“You two know each other?” her mom asked. “Evan was just telling us that he, uh…” She blinked several times “Oh, is that a new sweater, honey?”
Her mom bustled off to the kitchen to reheat the pancakes, and Elle joined me on the porch, pulling the door shut behind her.
“All fixed then?” I asked.
“Seems to be,” she said. “Come on. I’ll walk you home.”
We stood on the curb and waited for a van to lumber by, leaving clouds of exhaust in the wintry air.
“How much of that did you hear?” I asked, trying to sound indifferent.
“I didn’t hear anything,” she said, unsuccessfully hiding her smile.
Five houses. That was all that stood between her house and mine. I counted them as we walked past.
“Kismet,” I snorted, kicking a pebble.
“True love.” She rolled her eyes. “I’d be happy if I never saw you again.”
“The feeling’s mutual.”
But when we reached my mom’s front porch, we stood and looked out at the bare trees and quiet houses. I shoved my hands in my coat pockets, rocking on the balls of my feet. “You, uh, always live down the street?”
“Only since high school. Still, it’s kind of crazy we’ve never met.”
She shifted her weight, rubbing her arms against the cruel wind. She had to be freezing.
“So…” I loudly cleared my throat. “How about dinner?”
She tugged my sweater up to hide her smile. “Ya, sure. Might as well since the universe went to all this trouble. And I have to give your slippers back anyway.”
She shuffled off down the street, tugging at her too-tight Barbie pajamas.
“I’ll bring you flowers,” I yelled.
She flipped me off. I grinned after her. True love flowers, what a joke.
Now I just needed to figure out how to explain a microwave full of wilted roses.
Photo Credit: ladyloneranger / Marcia Thompson, from Colorado Springs, USA