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Tiger Lilies in June

Abigail Sanders

First, you have to ask your boss to take your break early. When he asks why, you’ll smile and blush, muttering that name under your breath like a forbidden prayer. When he says yes, your smile will turn to a grin, wide, wild, and uninhibited; you will rush to the bathroom, fix your hair, your makeup—your stained uniform isn’t salvageable, but that’s alright, he’s coming from work too, his hands will be stained with car oil, and he’ll smell like gasoline, so who cares if you smell a little like fried chicken and ranch dressing. After you’ve tamed your hair and wiped away the circles of black mascara from under your eyes, you’ll run back to the break room and grab your phone; you don’t keep it on you, of course, you don’t wanna get written up, your mom has taught you to follow the rules and you’re not like your sister who sneaks chocolates into her bed at night and stains the sheets and the pages of the books she reads under the covers with a flashlight.  


He messaged half an hour ago, saying he’s on his way, and you’ll feel that grin on your face again, that wild, animal thing, like some primal instinct screaming, “You’re wanted, don’t you see? He wants you.” You’ll shove the phone into your pocket and peer out the window, looking for his headlights on the highway, his engine roaring with a mechanical scream; he loves that engine, you know, the one his dad bought for him when he turned 18, something you’d never understand, your dad’s a teacher, and you know that on your 18th birthday, you sure as hell won’t be getting a shining chrome mustang. That’s fine, though; you’re leaving home soon, parents and family be damned.  


Maybe you’ll leave with him, you realize in a wave of awe, it’s entirely possible, and wouldn’t it be perfect, running away with the dark-haired man you met a week ago, the man you swear understands you like no one else ever has, the one who paints your sky with stars and claims you sing like an angel. Those are things lovers say; you know this; you’ve read enough romance novels to be familiar with illicit phrases and whispers in the dark; you know the form they should take, soft, lush, and forbidden. You think of the way your mother looks at your father, the image shoving its way into your mind, a picture of pure love, kind and whole. You will not have this kind of love, you swear to yourself, you will have something tangible and vibrant, nothing like them.  


You will be nothing like them.  


The phone in your pocket buzzes, and you jump a little before yanking the thing up to your face; he’s here, he’s really here, he’s here for you. His thirty-minute drive feels like a herculean effort, some sort of ancient promise fulfilled. You meet him in the parking lot, reach up to hug him and grin as he holds you. He murmurs something about your body, and the two of you walk to where you work. You sit at a small table, and your boss walks by, winking at you. That same blush from before fills your cheeks, and the man across from you smirks at your girlish embarrassment.  


He knows just what to say to you. He mocks your height, praises your face, your body, your hair, your voice, your eyes, and you do the same. “God, you’re so tall,” you’ll say, raising a brow knowingly. You’re a knowledgeable girl; you read things, and you know things, and he knows this, respects this, you’re sure of it. Your comment earns you a kindly scoff, and you lean back in your chair, confidence incarnate, you are in charge; you are worthy, you’re something now—you savor every word he says to you, every syllable like sweet nectar on your tongue. You’re something within the warmth of his gaze; you bloom like tiger lilies in the June air.  


He asks your favorite flower now, and you talk about those lilies, their burning orange petals, and freckled features; they’re on fire, you explain. They burn without being consumed, they’re eternal, and don’t you feel that way? A fire eternal? 


He offers to drive you to his home, and you accept, knowing what it’ll lead to. You turn your notifications off on your phone and ignore the frantic calls from your parents; they would understand if they had ever burned like this before. You know they’ve never bloomed like a tiger lily in June, and you can’t help but feel sorry for them as you sit in this man’s front seat, going a hundred and twenty on the interstate. You joke about your car not being able to go over seventy without shaking, and he smiles down at you, foot pushing down on the pedal, sending the two of you hurtling into space. You could fly right now if you wanted to, you realize, send yourself up into the air with the electricity between the two of you; you could lay on the clouds and sleep forever.  


It’s funny how far away the world seems right now, how your family’s house being half an hour away is enough to send you to another planet, one where it’s June all the time and tiger lilies never stop blooming, where orange and fire burn constantly, and you roam with him, limbs intertwined, promises kept forever and ever and ever.  


He pulls into his driveway, and the two of you get out; he opens the car door for you, leaning over you, beckoning you in. You take his hand and walk into his house; it’s clear he lives here with his father, no woman touching the dust on the top shelves or the books strewn across the floor or the hollow beer cans clustered in corners of the kitchen. He asks you to pardon the mess, and you laugh at him, laugh at the idea that anything would dissuade you from him: his sea green eyes, his inky hair, his arms, his chest, him.  


He closes the door of his room behind the two of you, and you look around. The windows are covered, the bed unmade, the floor cluttered and full, drawers are open, and a guitar stands in the corner. You wilt a little, but that’s alright, you’ll be fine. He looks at you and smiles; it’s not kind, and you don’t mind one bit.  


You start to forget the planet of tiger lilies; you start to forget June. You forget your mother and her smile, your father and his hands. Your sister and her singing, your brother and his dancing. Your friends, your home, your life, yourself. You give these memories up at his feet because it’s worth it, you swear.  


It has to be.  

Spring 2024

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