First TimeA Rose Can Be Too Sweet
This is based on very current events. It was written over the winter holidays at the end of 2020. Though COVID isn't the main focus, it's significant to the plot. If that might be a "trigger," we ask you to skip this one.
The story extends into late 2021, which doesn't yet have a recorded history. Hopefully this story's prediction will stand the test of time. If you're reading this later than that, and our world's reality becomes very different, then we ask you to consider this to be an alternate, more optimistic fantasy.
This is also the first entry we've made outside of the Romance category, even though this certainly could fit there, too.
As always, every single character is of adult age.
We hope you enjoy: A Rose Can Be Too Sweet
The whole pandemic thing has introduced new words or phrases to the everyday vocabulary of those paying attention to the news. Things like "N95", "social distancing," or "six feet of separation," are front and center, along with "Face Coverings Required" signs, etc.
And now every big-box store has tape on the floor at the registers and many even have "one way" signs in the aisles.
Hell, at least where I live, "curbside pickup" was a very rare convenience at very few restaurants. Now, every single eatery (at least those that have stayed in business) offer it as a way for both the customer and the business itself to try to stay alive.
Early on in the pandemic, a new word was introduced to the unaware.
Anosmia, the loss of smell, was identified as symptom to be watched for.
That's how my older brother realized something wasn't quite right. My mom had made a meal one night, it being his favorite, since it happened to be his birthday. It was a bit rich for my tastes, so I opted for a simple sandwich instead.
I remember him commenting, "Did you change the recipe?"
"No, same as always," Mom said. "Why?"
"It just seems – I don't know, kind of – bland?"
He picked up his plate and sniffed the steaming casserole.
"I can't even smell any spices."
He reached over the table, his hand moving toward the pepper grinder.
He stopped short, and said, "Dude, grind some of that into my hand. I don't think I should touch it."
I just stared at him, but he gesticulated and nodded toward the grinder, so I did what he asked me to.
He held his palm up to his nose, tentatively sniffed, paused, then snorted a number of the fine grinds straight up into his nostrils as if it were some sort of snuff.
"Nothing," he said. "Absolutely nothing."
"Camp has the 'Rona!" I said, getting up and jumping away from the table.
"Campbell, tell me everything you've touched today."
He identified a dozen or so things, and my mom, already having donned her face mask, followed him around the house with a bleach wipe and aerosol sanitizer, leading him back to his bedroom where she told him to keep his door shut and group-text the family if he needed to leave the room for a bio break or something.
She unfolded a TV tray in the hallway next to his door, brought his food and placed it there before coming back to the kitchen to wash and sanitize her hands.
"Lucky him," I said.
"Well, we'll be lucky if the three of us don't already have it," my dad said.
"I guess we should all go to the pharmacy and get tested tomorrow," Mom said.
"Probably best if Camp takes his own car. Finn, you take yours, and your mom and I will go together, I guess."
Lo and behold, three days later, Camp's test result came back positive. Luckily, my mom and dad's came back negative. Mine, too.
At that point, I was about ready to sneak into his room some night, stick my finger in his mouth, then shove it up my nose, because I hoped maybe I'd be similarly affected as he had. But, of course, that never happened, because I'm not a freaking moron (or that disgusting), but I do admit I was a bit envious.
His three-day cough sounded wicked, but he managed to pull through with only sore ribs for a few days after the cough eased. Two weeks later, he cleared his first negative test, and he emerged from his bedroom quarantine.
It'd be almost a blessing in disguise. I lived with its opposite for the majority of my life. Yeah, I have suffered from extreme hyperosmia since I was like nine or ten years old or something. Most of the prior decade was an absolute pain in the ass.
At home, I had no problems managing my condition, because the family (sometimes begrudgingly) adapted to it. Plus, there's the "olfactory fatigue" effect, which means any odors one is constantly subjected to seem to fade into the background. I no longer noticed them.
I know, it sounds absolutely crazy, and by all accounts, it is. My mother was the first to notice something was going weird with me when she tried her hand at cooking a new recipe which contained cooked spinach.
Spinach was not something I was particularly fond of, but I could eat it if I didn't have a choice. I guess I was kind of neutral to it. Never really bothered me until she made that recipe and I found myself, while sitting at my desk working on a reading assignment, suddenly struggling to reach the wastebasket before I began heaving.
The aroma was simply that overpowering, and it completely filled the house. My dad was praising my mom's cooking skills when he smelled it, while I was retching when I did.
So yeah, it sounds crazy. And, at first, my mom thought it was precisely that. Some sort of psychological issue, or prepubescent rebellion or whatever. She didn't believe such a thing was possible.
She tested me. My brother (older by two years) stood with me in the living room. In the kitchen, completely out of view, she opened up a random jar of ground spice or dried herb, wafted her hand over it a few times, then put it away. My brother and I walked through the kitchen. I could smell the oregano before I even got closer to six feet from where she was standing. My brother smelled nothing.
Same result with cinnamon, vanilla extract, nutmeg, and coriander, though I only the knew the names of a few of the scents. I mean, what unpracticed nine-year can identify coriander or oregano by aroma alone? When I was able to prove it was real, she got really worried
Then came a barrage of doctors' appointments as they tried to diagnose me with something they could fix. None could. The final diagnosis was termed "benign idiopathic hyperosmia."
Idiopathic? Maybe. Benign? Hardly.
My family, through fitful and often frustrating trial and error, learned to avoid or eliminate the odors of particular foods, toiletries, detergents, whatever, that I simply could not handle without having to go outside for fresh air.
Jeez. I mean, I love them all to death, and I felt horrible that they had to "make accommodations" for me.
I could smell things no one else would notice. Like opening a jug of milk. Most people don't notice the scent of the sour milk along the threads of the lid, even though the contents of the jug is fresh and tasty.
I notice it, so I have to hold my breath when I pour a glass.
Fantastically delicious aromas can sometimes become overpoweringly strong. And, considering that ninety percent of what we perceive as flavor is actually aroma, it can make otherwise delicious food become inedible to me sometimes.
My condition reached its peak during middle school.
Imagine being crammed into classrooms with twenty plus kids that barely cared to manage hygiene, let alone do so impeccably. Now imagine being forced to walk through the boy's locker room for gym class. I'm sure every single person would find the aroma less than inviting, whether occupied or not. But I'd become green around the gills after mere seconds, and there was no way I could hold my breath for the ten minutes required to change clothes.
And it wasn't just the guys. Even walking past the door to the girls' locker room wasn't any better. Sugar and Spice? My ass.
That's basically when I had to transition to home schooling. Rather, I'd call it "distance learning" sort of like many schoolkids are doing today. The problem was, there was no motivation for the school to equip my classrooms with web cameras or audio feeds. Well, that is, of course, until March 2020 when pretty much every school in the country did exactly that, allowing me to complete the last few months of my senior year online.
My parents weren't teachers. They both worked full time jobs. So, for those years, all I did each morning was log into my email, where teachers would send me their lesson plans and assignments. Since I wasn't able to hear lectures or discussions, the burden was on me to teach myself the material.
And I'll say I actually did pretty darned good. I graduated in the top 26% of my class, with a 3.17 GPA. Yeah, it wasn't stellar, but I was sure it was the highest GPA of any student who'd never been on campus.
All the corona crap started right before graduation, and I wasn't sure I could manage starting at a new college while still remote, so my parents supported my decision to take a gap year.
I little more context may help.
There was a movie that came out decades ago called, "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble." I learned of it before I moved to home schooling because the schoolyard bullies would call me "Bubble Boy." Their favorite prank was to toss one of those sulfur-containing rotten-egg smelling stink-bombs near me, which would immediately provoke a very uncomfortable regurgitative reflex if I happened to be anywhere downwind of it.
Though I certainly had no life-protecting need to live in a bubble as the subject of the movie had, there were times it sure would have been convenient.
The point is I sometimes felt as lonely and isolated as the person in that made-for-TV movie was.
Most of my friends were dating and had girlfriends. I'd not been on one single date in my life.
I craved beyond measure doing some college visits, and my parents finally capitulated and allowed me to visit, in person, both the community college as well as the state university during the slightly eased-up lock-down.
I went to the community college first, and I quickly realized I needed to adjust the way I walked. Or — rather the path. I don't know how to say it, but when people walked in front of me, I could sometimes detect certain things in the air they'd passed through.
I remember walking behind a trio of sophomores that were leading the tour with me and eight or nine others following them. I caught an — aroma. Several, actually.
The dude on the left? No. Oh, hell no. He smelled like his body spray was ordered in bulk. I moved to my right.
Well, I knew it was a particular time in her lunar cycle. It wasn't an unfamiliar scent, just – well, that doesn't matter. I stepped further right.
Oh, my gosh, what the hell?
"Okay, potential Newbies," that girl said, "this wing of Building A holds our . . . "
I couldn't pay any further attention.
I heard, but didn't comprehend her words. All I'm willing to admit is that I followed directly behind her for the remainder of the tour because the air she was walking through . . . oh. It was very, very . . . I'll just say it was pleasant, and I wasn't quite sure why yet.
"How 'bout you, Shortcut?"
"Uh – 'shortcut?' What's that mean?" I asked.
"You haven't asked a single question."
"Actually, I do have a couple."
"Finally," she chuckled.
"Yeah. So, what's the current enrollment, and what're the drop and hire rates?"
"This year, there are twenty-seven thousand of us across all the campuses. Last year's drop rate was barely eight percent, and the hire-at-completion rate was thirty-seven percent.
"That last figure might sound bad, but remember. We're the largest two-year college in the state, and we partner with every public university in the state as well as several of the private universities. Those partner schools guarantee all credits earned here will transfer to approved bachelor level degree plans there. All the same classes at a fifth of the tuition, so most students aren't looking for jobs when they leave, but those that are, usually find one."
"You're welcome. That was a great question. Anything else before we walk over to Building B?" she asked the group.
I made sure I stayed in her path. Ten feet behind her seemed the best distance.
I knew the name of the perfume she wore. One of those sample insert cards had been in the junk mail. Even though I didn't open it, I could still smell it when I tossed it in the garbage. It was, surprisingly, a very pleasant and light scent, so the name stuck in my head.
I remained wordless through the rest of the tour. There were a few parts of the tour where I had to stay behind, particularly the science labs. Sulfur, ammonia, butyric acid, and formaldehyde are not at all pleasant, and I refused to take the risk.
"What's up with you?" she asked, noticing I'd lagged a hundred feet and stayed in the main corridor until the group returned.
"It's a long story."
"Well, try to keep up," she said as we walked toward the final building on the tour. I had no problems keeping up, because I kept my eyes followed the incredibly pretty butt tucked into some incredibly nice-fitting jeans. It shook and moved hypnotically as she walked in long strides. After the trio had shown off the highlights there, people began to walk back to their cars.
"Hey," she said, "you kind of look familiar. Did you happen to go to CL Dalton High?"
"Well, sort of. I was technically enrolled there, but I never went."
She laughed. It was a cute laugh. "Okay. I don't get it. How does that work?"
"You know how people are doing remote schooling now? Well, I had to do the work from home thing for years because I can't function in crowds and classrooms and stuff."
"Yet you're planning on attending here in person next year?"
"Yeah. I am. I have a medical condition, but I've been enrolled in a clinical trial that my parents and I are really hoping might work."
"Do you mind if I ask what it is?"
"It's a long name. Benign idiopathic hyperosmia. It means I can-"
"Smell everything?" she interrupted.
My eyes widened in surprise. "You a Latin Studies major?" I asked.
"No. Either nursing school or pre-med. Haven't decided yet. Since most of the core is the same for either, I'm doing the two-year stuff here. So yeah, the Latin is obvious since the opposite has been in the news so much," she rightly and observantly concluded. "What's it like to be able to smell really good?" she asked.
I caught the opportunity. "You'd have to tell me. Do I smell really good?"
"Oh, you're quick," she groaned. "You know what I meant."
"It's annoying. The cologne or whatever that dude that was also leading the tour was wearing made my sinuses and eyes burn. This mask sometimes helps, but not always. It can be really bad at times. Even things that most people say smell nice can sometimes be overwhelmingly strong and unpleasant. Like a roses, for example. Roses to me are just too sweet-smelling.
"But, for some things, if I'm around it enough, it gets better."
"Yeah? Like what?"
"Coffee," immediately sprang to mind. "I used to love the smell of coffee, and then when this condition hit me, I couldn't be on the first floor of our house while the brewer was running. All I could smell was how bitter it was. Now it's back to smelling good again. I could tell you were sipping on Starbucks Pike Place with a little honey in it, and you're wearing just a small hint of Sienna. Just a small hint."
She chuckled. "That's incredible. A little creepy, but still incredible."
She stared at me for a few seconds. "Oh! I think I know how I recognize you! You're Finn! Camp's brother!"
"Yep," I answered.
"Holy cow! I remember you from when we were all at Susan Meyers Elementary," she said, looking me over. "You're all grown up and your voice is so different!"
I laughed. "Well, sure. That was ten years ago. Puberty and all that."
She grinned. At least, I think she did. The face mask she was wearing hid her mouth, but genuine smiles are evident in the eyes.
"Hey, would you mind taking off your mask?" she asked.
I had no problems complying with her request, though I did take a few steps back to add more space.
"Wow, you're a heck of a lot cuter than Camp. Don't tell him I said that," she laughed.
She took her mask off and a memory immediately flashed back to my mind.
"Mindy," I grunted, snapping my fingers trying to recall her last name, "Mindy, Mindy, um . . . uh – Mindy Boone!"
She laughed. "Yeah! So, you recognize me, too?"
"Barely! Wow. It's so good to see someone at least somewhat familiar. I hardly ever get to much any more. Uhm – – Wow. This has been the highlight of my week. You're looking really, really good. It's really good to see you again."
"Jeez. It's been like ten years. You, too, Finn," she smiled an incredibly bright smile. "Hey, um, the next tour starts in ten minutes, and I've got to get back to Building A to meet the next group. Do you think we might be able to meet up some time? I'd really like to catch up."
'And I'd really like to smell that smell again,' I thought to myself. It had disappeared, probably because the slight breeze was coming from our side as we faced each other.
"You know what? I'd like that, too."
"You ready for my number?"
"Sure," I said, then tapped her number into a new contact in my phone. I sent her a text so she could create one for me.
"I'll text you later, and we can figure out something. Sound good?"
"Yep!" I said, giving her a smile as I began walking to my car.
After a few paces, I looked over my shoulder hoping to catch another glimpse of her incredibly firm butt, but I caught her watching me walking away, thwarting my plan.
"Hey," I said to my brother when he was done with his last class at home. "Guess who I ran into today?"
"Mindy Boone," I said, wondering if it'd pop his memory.
"Seriously?" he replied. "She's such a freaking prima donna."
"Ouch. What the hell?" I asked.
"Yeah, dude. I asked her out like a half dozen times in high school, and she'd just wave me off. Every single time."
"Then why the hell does that make her a prima donna?"
"Everyone should 'Camp' out at least once," he said, air-quoting his name.
"You're such a douche-bag!" I laughed. "Maybe that attitude right there is why. Anyway, she wants to meet up and reminisce. I was going to ask if you wanted to come, too, since you know each other, but, I guess I know the answer to that."
"Did she ask about me?"
"Well," I said with some hesitation, "no."
He scoffed, shaking his head derisively.
My phone bleeped. I looked to see a text had arrived. "Ah. It's her. I've gotta take this," I grinned to ruffle his feathers, then went back to my own room.
We texted back and forth, and agreed to meet in a "safe place," both in the sense of the distancing requirements, and a place that wouldn't likely trigger any olfactory overload.
We decided to meet at a nearby park, and bring a lunch for ourselves, which we'd eat sitting on opposite corners of a picnic table, six-plus feet apart.
After we'd eaten, we decided to mask back up and walk the bike trail around the perimeter of the park so we could continue the conversation. Masking up meant we could walk closer together without people jogging or biking between us as we talked.
"I told Camp a few days ago that we bumped into each other," I said as we began walking.
"Yeah? How's he doing?"
"He's doing good. He got covid last month, so he's now probably immune. Unlike us, he can sort of cast a little fate to the wind, right?"
"Be careful thinking that way, Finn. The jury is still out on the duration of natural immunity."
"The news is saying a vaccine might be out in a few months, and I'm going to be first in line if I can," I said.
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