John held the small, yellow flower in his hand, clutching it for all he was worth. The rest of the gang sat around him, speaking in low voices, offering cigarettes that he took, lit, forgot about. John's world was full of color and bemused confusion. He was close to the edge. He knew it. He wished everyone would stop talking to him like he was holding a grenade. If his mind blew, there would be little collateral damage. The flower. The flower was everything.
The flower had been given to John hours before. A lovely girl with black hair had handed it to him, and a maelstrom of chaos had erupted inside him. Who was she? She was pretty. Then she was gone. But he had the flower. His need for the flower had nothing to do with the girl, who seemed more like an apparition in hindsight - no, the flower was an anchor. Safety.
The girl had given John the flower because he looked scared. He always looked scared. He wasn't scared, but you couldn't convince some people. John ran his fingers lightly over the bark of the tree holding him up. The tree held John up. John would hold the flower.
The mushrooms were the cause of it all, of course. All the day-glo wonderment and uncertainty. Sky bulging and leaves dripping off trees. Hilarity that blossomed into gasping laughter. Soft voices. Cold beer.
Sen took the flower because that was his trip. It was fucking hilarious. John's face crumpled like an old love letter. The flower hurtled through the air. John couldn't process it. If the flower was gone, then everything was gone. Without it, he was nothing.
The others were angry.
"Why'd you do that, man?"
"That was fucked."
"What? It's just a stupid flower?"
John hugged his knees and rocked slowly. He shut his eyes and plasma blasts of neon exploded behind his eyelids. He was thinking about the time he'd lost the big game. Ten years ago, but he could still remember it. The bat in his hand. The knowledge that he would fail. The grumbling from the bleachers. They'd had the same kind of flowers in that field. John picked one once and the coach called him a faggot. The other boys laughed. John didn't know what it meant.
He could hear the laughter around him, but John was going to a very small place inside his mind. A cool, dark place. The place he used when his Dad was drunk. In the blackness, everything was nothing. John stretched his mind to fill the blackness and barely noticed when the stub of a cigarette burned his hand.