Note: I know I said no more longfics. Well, I can't shake this. And I'm writing this for me more than anyone, so I can't guarantee updating schedules, perfection, etc etc… It's funny admitting that this will be personal. You're not supposed to admit that, haha. But this is something to occupy me for the moment. To express my feelings. And oddly enough, I find myself relating to Popuri a lot, when I used to announce "she's so hard to write! Blahblahblah." I'm also planning to reply to reviews in chapters—I've always, always wanted to, and I find myself being unable to reply personally anymore since I'm a lazyface.

Well. Shall we?

Disclaimer: I own nothing but the opinions expressed in this tale.

First Blush

Chapter One

When I was just a kid, Momma gave me two rules about men: "Don't trust a man who tells you he'll show you the world, and don't open your heart for the first boy who asks." So in my little skirt, huffing behind her, I insisted, "But why, why not?" and she sighed and announced, "Because Popuri, you just might marry him."

That year, Rick slammed a lot of doors. It scared the chickens a lot, and I'd have to hurry behind them to shoo them back behind their fence. My big brother would sometimes just lean against the wall, cover his face with his hands, and I'd be running over to my mom to tattle tale about him not working again as he shrugged off the weight of the world.

So basically, my father left us that year. Well, not left us left us, but ran off to find a cure for my mother's disease. One little flower could cure her, but that one little flower was forever away, so Daddy packed up, kissed my mother goodbye, twirled me about in a final hug, and shook Ricky's hand. Ricky didn't let go of it for a long while.

"Come back soon, okay, Dad?"

"Don't worry, son. I will."

…We're still waiting.

Lots of people find themselves in love with love. They sigh and they swoon at the flowers, the whispers late at night, and the beautiful array of a lover's gifts: the timeline of a romance. On my dresser, I can see mine just fine, though only I know of the bandana stuffed into my drawer. And I know it's silly, and I know it's childish, but I take out that bandana every night. I breathe in the scent of ocean and air, of pineapples and sand. I snuggle it close to my heart, because that way he's close to me, and I guess…

I guess that's what women need. Closeness.

"Poppy, honey, your brother might need a little help outside with the chickens."

Then the scarf is shoved back into the drawer and I skip down the stairs, shouting, "Coming, Momma!" without a care in the world. Momma has skin like lily petals, white and smooth and frail. People used to say I have skin like that. When the sickness spread in her, well, it stopped being a compliment I guess.

"Rickyyyyy, you're doing it wrong." My brother wipes the sweat from his eyes and smirks at me; the sun's been beating on his poor skin all day, and that silly boy isn't going to get the chickens in the pen if he keeps swearing at them like that. "I'll handle it, mk?"

He shrugs. "Let your big brother do his job."

"No, I don't think I will," I decide, and before he can fight me, I grab the chicken feed from his hands, and we begin twirling about, struggling as a shower of chicken feed flies overhead. "Let go!" I laugh, and my brother joins me in my happiness, chuckling as the chickens scamper about us and eat up the feed from our feet. I fall to the ground, double over, and grin. "Hahaha, is it so hard to let someone else take over for you?"

"You'd be surprised," he admits, and I laugh harder.

"Pfft. So serious."

"Yeah, well, it's part of being the head of the family."

I throw chicken feed at him and giggle more. "You and your 'head of family' speeches! Geez, no wonder Karen has been following you around with puppy eyes lately. You're not giving her any fun."

"Wh-what the hell do you know about fun anyway?" he sputters. I have said exactly what I need to make my brother blush red behind those spectacles, and I regret it only when he adds the second half: "Did you and Kai this summer--?"

"For Goddess sakes, Rick! Nothing happened, you paranoid person you." I brush the dirt from my dress and shove the feed back in his able hands. "Sheesh, fine, do it all yourself. Bossy."

I don't know when it became easy to lie. It just happened, like growing up happens and falling in love happens and being hurt can't be stopped. I toss my hair behind me--a ridiculous cotton candy fluff of pink--and I skip to my room. "Kai, Kai, Kai," every step says as I scamper. "Lie, lie, lie."

When did this begin again? When exactly did I throw myself into this big obnoxious mess? My pillow isn't giving me my answers, but that bandana in my drawer just might.

Mary says it helps to write out your problems. She's my only confidante this whole time, the only soul besides this little book who will know everything I have endured and will endure. Oh, I sound so dramatic…well, it's not so bad. Except it is.

….Except it wasn't supposed to be.

A book can't really judge me for my actions. I kind of like that idea. After all, um, being judged isn't a very nice thing, is it? I don't like it. I kind of wilt at it a bit, like a flower scared to bloom. Especially when it's someone I love causing me to shrink.

So…what to write now. I feel kind of awkward now that I actually have to, haha. Bottling things makes them hard to express once you get a chance to. Um, I guess I begin by saying it's not true. That love takes care of itself, I mean.

Honestly? No one ever tells you how much love hurts.

You think of fireworks, of the soft touch of someone's lips on your own, snuggling under a blanket, whispering sweet nothing in your lover's ear. That's what I was told, anyway. That's what I believed.

And I wouldn't say love isn't worth it, or that love is a big messy mistake, except love just…isn't always like that. It'd be nice if it was! Oh Goddess, I'd adore that. And it hurts, sometimes, to know that the beautiful wondrous feeling fades, and that all you're left doing is hugging a pillow, crying, wondering how exactly your life went wrong.

My name is Popuri. And even though I tell you all this, I still don't quite know what love is.