When Sandee arrives on the scene, her four best friends are watching in horror as a can vomits a jet of red paint across the parking lot and over a dozen tiny potted cacti spin out violently under cars, onto the grass, and toward the street. One intrepid little guy even bounces pot-first down the steps, tracking circular red prints as it goes.
Sandee waits for stillness, blinks once, then says, “Explain to me what just happened.”
One of the ongoing problems within their friend group is the profoundly human issue of miscommunication. As far back as their friendship goes, none of them has ever known how to bring up anything without making a joke out of it, making it awkward, or making it sound like something it isn’t. In this case, Sandee didn’t make it clear which idiot she was talking to, so four idiots answer her at once.
Between Kao’s earnest shouting, Pete’s insistent yelling, Thada’s resolute interruptions, and June’s messy screaming, none of it is coherent. But since June is the loudest, as usual, she hears a couple of words distinct from the rest: “Pete’s fault”. Pete also hears them, and this has him switching gears from explaining-to-Sandee to yelling-at-June, who happily yells back. Kao and Thada, slightly better at prioritizing, give up on trying to explain to Sandee so they can pull Pete and June apart.
Sandee rubs her forehead. She had such peaceful plans for this afternoon: a latte, a mountain of pillows on her bed, and a few hours of lo-fi hiphop while she ignores her homework.
Instead: screaming and violence.
“You never park here!” Pete yells. “Why would you park here? This is where Kao parks!”
“Because I was hiding from Thada!” June yells back.
It’s a testimonial to their notoriety at this school that no other student so much as glances at them while they create this disturbance in the parking lot, surrounded by spilled paint and cacti corpses.
She loves her idiots, though, so instead of obeying the sole surviving self-preservation instinct inside her mind telling her to find new friends, Sandee just bellows, “SHUT UP!” at the I’m serious volume.
Then: sweet, uncomplicated silence.
For half a second.
Then June heaves a breath and tells Sandee with wild-eyed, indignant fury, “Pete wanted to surprise Kao for Valentine’s Day, so he was keeping all these cacti in my car, but then Thada got something for your Valentine’s gift, and he also wanted to keep stuff in my car, so I said, ‘No! Pete’s already keeping a bunch of cacti in my car,’ and then I came back from class just now to find your boyfriend breaking into my car to put that paint in it even though I told him he couldn’t and then Pete and Kao showed up and Pete was trying to keep Kao from seeing the cacti so he freaked out and everything went everywhere, so don’t yell at me because it’s not my fault for once!”
Kao gives Pete a deeply judgmental look. ”Why did you get me a bunch of cacti anyway?” he asks. He’s the first to lower his voice, so Sandee loves him a little more than the others right now.
She kind of wants to know the answer to his question also, so she uses the remnants of her commanding authority to raise her eyebrows at Pete.
He glowers at all of them and says, “I was gonna spell something out with ‘em,” in a grudging mutter.
“Aww,” Thada says.
“Shut the fuck up,” Pete says, pink.
“Aww,” Kao says.
Pete reddens. “Shut the fuck up!”
“Hey, do you guys know what a ‘simp’ is?” June asks. “It’s a new English vocab word I picked up.”
Pete ignores him and walks away from the group to begin picking up his little fallen soldiers. Kao, hiding a grin, helps.
That leaves June to snicker at his own joke and Sandee to narrow her eyes at Thada, who widens his in poorly feigned innocence.
“You got me a can of paint?” she asks.
“No,” Thada says. “I got you a motorcycle.”
Pete spins around, mouth open. “What the fuck, man?”
Kao gapes at Thada, Sandee, and then Pete. He contemplates the baby cactus in his hand like he’s considering what level of violence he’s willing to commit.
Sandee grins slowly. “Really?”
Thada shrugs. “I have one, I want you to have one too.” He gestures to the paint splattered on the asphalt with a grimace. “I thought we could paint our helmets together tomorrow after our Valentine’s dinner.”
Potent, incredulous silence.
“Fuck you, man,” Pete complains.
“Fuck you!” June retorts.
“Not you,” Pete says, “Thada.”
“Oh, yeah,” June says. “Fuck Thada.”
“Guys,” Kao says, apparently having decided to commit to pacifism.
“No one’s fucking Thada,” Thada says. “Except Sandee.” He dares wink at her.
She punches him in the arm.
“Ow! Hey, I got you motorcycle!”
“Buying me things doesn’t give you liberties in other areas, dickhead.”
Kao gives Pete a significant look. “What were you gonna spell with these cacti, Pete?”
Everyone waits, aware that the quality of Pete’s evening will be tremendously affected by his answer.
Pete visibly wrestles with something deep inside, his nose wrinkled in miserable rage. Finally, he exhales and, avoiding Kao’s eyes, he says, “Mryme,” under his breath.
“‘MARRY ME’?” June shrieks.
Pete says, “Shut! The! Fuck! Up!” and chucks a small red-stained cactus at June’s feet for each word.
“Hey! You’re ruining the mood, bro!”
Sandee raises her eyebrows high and looks over at Kao, whose entire face is frozen in a tableau of distant shock. Thada wisely says nothing.
Pete points at Thada with furious righteousness. “Who gets their girlfriend a fucking motorcycle before they’ve even graduated? Way to upstage me, asshole!”
“Why cacti?” Kao asks, strained.
“Because they live forever or some shit! Fuck all of you, leave me alone!”
Kao drops his armful of cacti and grabs Pete’s face in his paint-smeared fingers instead. It’s enough to shock Pete into motionlessness, his eyes round with alarm. Then Kao smiles and kisses him with an urgency Sandee is honestly a little impressed by. Not that she’d ever say as much, even under pain of a fifth year here.
June says, “Aww.”
Sandee hits him upside the head, smiling at her friends who are making out in a parking lot and possibly now engaged.
A first-year boy stepping gingerly though the paint to get to his car says into his phone, “Mae, this is the weirdest school,” and Sandee thinks,
You’re welcome, kid.