I know it’s a bad idea talking to strangers especially when I’m alone late at night but there is something so intriguing about this guy. He came out of nowhere with a new pack of cigars and a single red rose with a matching bow. He wasn’t even wearing a jacket, didn’t even own a lighter so I lent him mine. Something about it caught his attention so he held it a little longer than he had to before giving it back. I lit up one of my own cigars- I still can’t get used to smoking alone. We were sitting quietly waiting for the tramp to come but I had this urge to open my mouth and ask him about the rose, the cigars just anything that could start a conversation when he suddenly broke the tense silence: - Do you want to play a game? - his accent caught me off guard. The questions in my head multiplied. - A game? - Yeah, a game. To kill some time while waiting for the tramp or do you prefer to continue smoking in silence? - What kind of game? - my childlike interest made him smile subtly but only for a second. After the moment passed his face went back to the hard to read and pained expression from before. - Have you heard of the game ‘Two lies and a truth’? - I don’t think so. How do you play? - You pick three things and I have to tell you the story behind them. Two will be a lie and one will be true. - And after that you pick and I make up stories? - Exactly. - Well I don’t think it’s a good idea to play games with strangers. My mum taught me better. – I say with a playful tone. - She probably also told you never to talk to strangers and yet here we are having this lovely conversation. - Can’t fight with that argument. – we both start laughing. Even though he’s about the same age as me when he smiles he looks like a little boy. Who exactly is this mysterious guy? - But what will stop you from making up all three stories or lying about which one is true? - You really do have trust issues don’t you? - Maybe a little. I just always take everything with a grain of salt. - Smart girl. Well little sunflower that’s the beauty of the game. You decide what to believe in and since we will probably never meet again it doesn’t matter if it’s a lie. - Then what’s the point in playing at all? - Not everything we do in life has a point sometimes we do things just to have fun and kill some time. So are going to play or not? What am I doing? Am I honestly going to play a game with a guy whose name I don’t even know? The only logical thing to do is to say no. To call a taxi or one of my friends and just walk away. He might not be older than me but he sure is a lot taller and stronger than me and if things start to get out of hand I won’t be able to fight him off. But at the same time I want to play. I want to talk more to him to learn something about him even though it might just be a lie. For once in my life I want to be reckless. Up until now I’ve always been the logical and responsible one and look where it’s gotten me. - Dog tags. - What? – he looks at me in confusion. - My first pick. I want to hear the story about the dog tags around your neck. - Ok little sunflower, but remember it might just be a lie so don’t get disappointed.- he winks at me and touches the dog tags.- When I was little my biggest dream was to grow up and join the military like my uncle. I admired him. Every time he came home after a mission he would let me wear his dog tags. They were his lucky charm and he never left without them that’s why no matter how much I begged him to give them to me he never did. But one day I was determined to make him leave them on me so I hid them. I’m sure he knew I was lying to him when I said I had no idea where they’d gone but he just looked me in the eyes and said ‘Ok. But promise that when you find them you’ll keep them safe for me. They are very near and dear to my heart’. That was the only time he left without them. The following week we got a letter quoting ‘missing in action’ and I haven’t seen him ever since nor have I taken off the dog tags. - Lie. - As I said you choose what to believe. All three might as well be lies as you already said. Now I pick. - So we’re taking turns? - Yes, we are. The tattoo on your wrist. What’s the meaning behind it and don’t say ‘I just liked it ’. - But what if that’s the truth? - Then lie. Please if that’s the case just lie to me. - Don’t worry there is something more to the story. - Thank God! - It’s actually exactly like my sister’s. We got matching ones a week before she moved to New York to study. While growing up people would always tell us we looked like sunflowers with our blonde hair, almost black eyes and freckles and we really liked that comparison so much so we called ourselves ‘sunflower sisters’. That’s why before she left we got them so wherever we were we’d always know we had each other. Seemed fitting. - Now you are either a really good liar or the story is true I can’t quite tell. - That’s for you to decide. I’m just a story teller. - So you really aren’t going to tell me if it’s true or not? - Are you going to tell me if the story about the dog tags is lie or not? - Touche little sunflower. What’s your next pick? - Your accent. - Why did I think you were going to ask something else? - I have one last pick don’t forget. - You are a very intriguing girl now, aren’t you? - I made my pick and I’m waiting for my story. - Ok, ok. The reason I have an accent is because I’m not actually Bulgarian. Well not entirely. My dad is Italian and my mum is half English half Bulgarian. We used to live in England till my parents got divorced. My dad moved back to Milan and my mum decided she would invest all her time and effort into her career and neither of them had the time or energy to take care of me so my mum hired a babysitter. She was Bulgarian and didn’t know English that well so in the beginning we communicated by using a mixture of the English she knew, the little Bulgarian I knew and some form of our own sign language until my Bulgarian got good enough to talk and understand each other. Her English didn’t get any better though. So that’s why I talk with an accent. - Lie. - Why do you think I’m lying again? Do you just assume all three are going to be made up? - No, I just don’t believe you. - Are my stories so hard to believe? - No, it’s just a gut feeling. - If you say so. My turn. Your lighter. The one you lent me earlier with the symbol of medicine on it. It’s an expensive model and if I’m not mistaken made of silver. What’s that all about? That question caught me off guard. My heart starts pounding as I hesitate on what to say. Panic starts to take control of me but I quickly get a grip. - It was a present from my boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend. He gave it to me as a gift when I got into medical school. To turn all my little sparks into flames he said as we turned the sparks between us into an everlasting love. A week after that I found out he had been cheating on me with one of my best friends. What a cliché right? But I still haven’t had the heart to throw it away. - Your ex is a bastard and your friend- a whore. I don’t know how stupid both of them must be to hurt a sweet and smart girl like you. You are better off without them. - How do you know if that’s the true story and not a lie? - I just have a feeling. - What if your feeling is wrong? - What if it’s right? In any case my advice is still accurate. You are amazing and deserve a happy ending with someone who truly loves you. Don’t beat yourself about other people’s mistakes and never settle for less than you are worth. - I don’t know why you are assuming this story is true when you haven’t heard the third one but in the end you choose what to believe isn’t that right. Now’s my last pick. What’s the story behind that single rose? - I thought you’d never ask.- he makes a different kind of expression. So much pain is locked behind those eyes. But is he going to tell me the truth or a lie? - This rose was meant for the most beautiful, charming, funny and amazing girl in my life. The girl who was supposed to be the love of my life. However people sometimes turn out to be completely different from who we believed they were and now I’m here with this single rose with no one to give it to. - Then she just wasn’t the one. Faith has a cruel sense of humor but in the end everything happens for a reason. - Why are you so sure this story isn’t a lie? - I just do. Or at least for me this one is the true story and the other two were lies. - What if all three were lies? - What if all three are truths? In the end of the game we believe the story we want to right? So I choose to believe in this one. And that’s why I’m telling you this. You will find the girl who deserves this rose. - And you will find the guy who will deserve your trust and will turn all your sparks into powerful flames. - Our game has come to it’s end. Time for your last pick.- I pull out the lighter and play with the flame for a moment. I wait for his last question but seems like faith has a different plan for us. As the mysterious stranger opens his mouth the tramp stops loudly in front of us. We stand there staring each other in the eyes. What now? Will our game have an end? - I wasn’t waiting for the tramp.- he says. - I thought so. I can’t miss this one. It’s too late.- I break our eye contact as I turn around to get on the tramp. - Your name. - What did you say?- I’m standing in the tramp and in moments the door is going to shut close. - My last pick. What is your name? - Erica.- As I say it the doors slam in front of me. I don’t even know if he heard me. *** It’s been a week since the game but I still can’t stop thinking about the boy with the rose. We never really got to finish our game since I don’t know if he heard my name or not and neither of us found out which stories were true and which lies. Even though I want to believe the last one is true they might as well all be lies. But they might as well all be truths. That is the beauty of the game isn’t it the whole mystery behind it, the uncertainty. To decide whether to trust a complete stranger or not, to fill all the gaps and choose the ending you want. However I really want to find out who that rose was for. Even if the story was a lie he still should have bought it for someone. And what was he doing at the tramp station if he wasn’t planning on getting on. The more I think about him the more questions without answers occur in my head and I just get frustrated. He is a mystery I desperately want to solve. Even now I’m walking down to the tramp with the hopes of seeing him again. As foolish and childish as this may seem I have no other options because I’m not ready to give up. And then I see at the tramp station a boy sitting in the same spot He sat in the night of the game. His back is turned to me so I can’t see his face but I can see a single red rose in his one hand and a lit up cigar in the other. Can that really be him? My heart skips a beat. Please, read this: This was Elisaveta Tareva’s graduation short story, published here exactly as submitted.