[Flowers, 6,381 words, Genre: Realistic Fiction/Romance]
Cameron was in year ten of high school. He was preparing for serious studies in the coming years as he was preparing for the entrance exams into university. All his life he had wanted to become a doctor and that’s why he dedicated himself to his studies in high school. He was one of those rare individuals that took life seriously, in his spare time he would read different medical texts and would conduct his own experiments in biology. Different experiments that he had read about in scientific textbooks like dissecting frogs and things like that. Early on in life he had seen what doctors did, how they helped communities and were pillars of them. Taking on special commitments inside and outside of their work. He idolized those individuals and had the mind and capabilities to realize that early on in his life. Exams were only one step in the pathway to becoming a doctor, he realized that. But still knew he had to take his exams seriously in order to reach the summit of his own mountain or goal.
He was popular enough to do other things in his life. But those opportunities that were permitted to him, he denied. Remaining focused on his goal of achieving success in the medical profession. He would play football, and was a decent player. Perhaps if he dedicated himself to that, he could have taken that professionally. However, he had a more brilliant mind that some of his fellow players. And for that he realized that he would soon have to give up the sport and focus himself solely on his studies and ambitions of becoming a doctor.
Half way through the school year a new girl came to school. She was from England and her parents had migrated to Australia for work. There was something about her accent that always attracted him and so when she sat in on the same classes together, he paid special attention to everything that she said. Perhaps it was her upbringing in a foreign country, but she always had something unique to say about the subject material. She was different from the other students and so Cameron started writing notes to her.
The letters would begin with, ‘Dear Lucy…’
At first it was small introductions, letters and the like in an attempt to get to know one another better. Cameron spent most of his free time hanging around with his small circle of friends. Most of them were other football players. He would be in arguments and discussions with him about what they all wanted to do with their lives. Seeing as Cameron had already discovered his own ambitions and goals, he didn’t mind helping his friends figure out what they were going to do.
But sometimes he would go to the school’s library and write letters to her. These letters explained the intricacies of his life. Different elements of the trials and tribulations that he had gone through. He didn’t see a counsellor or psychologist, because compared to many others he was well adjusted. But that didn’t mean that he didn’t have his own problems. It’s just that he knew how to handle them better than others’. And for the first time in his life, he found himself explaining this to someone else. It was a tool for him as well. As he would re-read over every sentence that he had written. Examining his own thoughts and his life, seeing this all for the first time written down in the letters that he sent her.
She would write back too. Different things that she had gone through. Her own detailed struggle of fitting into Australian society as the English kid. The problems she had when she left a circle of friends behind and the life she left with it. It was all interesting stuff.
At first they were acquaintances and slowly they built up a trusting relationship. Trusting enough so that they could exchange phone numbers with one another and start having conversations at night with one another after school. It was odd, he thought, she wasn’t as intelligent as he was. But she had this peculiar interest in flowers. She knew the scientific name for each of the flowers and could outwit him in this particular field of knowledge. He understood through reading up on the idea of essentialism that every individual has essential characteristics particular to their own expertise or interest. She was slowly developing hers’ and through his interest in medical science, he knew that many flowers and their essences were used in remedies after being synthesized and used for medicine.
Her specialist knowledge in this area added into his own and they would discuss these type of things for hours. Most other people would become bored with this subject material. But as Lucy and Cameron soon discovered. They were a pair in this knowledge. Lucy would list off the scientific names for the flowers and Cameron would have the corresponding knowledge to know if they were used in any medical antidotes or remedies. She had such a vast knowledge of all the different flowers that it was a great asset to his own learning. When he asked her what she wanted to study at University, she already had the answer, which was botany. They became quick and able friends. And slowly Cameron started developing a romantic interest in Lucy.
After letters, numerous conversations over the phone, he let the floodgates down and expressed his feelings. Over and over again he kept on expressing his love, “I love you.” He repeated himself time and time again. “I love you. I love you. I love you.” And he couldn’t stop. “I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you…” It just went on and on like this. He was completely emotionally overwhelmed. Because his feelings were so powerful, soon his studies started slackening.
Because of the interest Cameron took in Lucy, the other boys in the school started noticing her too. His friends teased him about it. “What’s so good about this one Cam?”
They would joke and jostle when he told them, “Yeah, they all want a piece of her flower don’t they?”
They all admitted that she was a good looking girl, but that’s about all that they could admit to him. Everything else that he said about her, they couldn’t believe what their most intelligent friend was saying. To them, he couldn’t shut up about her.
It went on for months like this and as some of the other students began to dabble in drugs, others focused on their studies. Cameron was half way torn between focusing in on his studies and also focusing his attentions on Lucy. It was a difficult point in his life, it was if the Gods themselves were testing him. Forcing him to choose between the love of his life or his chosen field of expertise.
The real test came when one of his fellow students was throwing a party for his birthday. Cameron knew that there would be drugs and alcohol at the party. Lucy was invited too, as were those in his circle of friends. It came to a pressure point on whether or not he should attend. In the end, he decided not to go. There was a test that acted as an entrance into a specialist mathematics course and he decided that he better concentrate on working towards that goal.
As he sat in his room with the specialist mathematics coursework, it was difficult for him to concentrate. He didn’t know if he had made the correct decision. So he went to the kitchen to talk things through with his father.
His father prepared him a cup of tea and they sat down together. He started talking about his feelings and what was occurring in his life. All of these latest revelations concerning Lucy. His father listened to what he had to say.
Then his father offered the best piece of advice that he could possibly manage, “Your hormones are going wild at this point in your life and all of your friends are going wild too. If you can manage to concentrate while all of this stuff is happening and remain focused on your studies throughout this period of time. I’m sure you’ll do fine and achieve your goal, whatever your goal happens to be.”
And that’s all that needed to be said. Cameron understood what his father had said. While all of the other students were driven by their instincts, he was at home doing the best that he could to remain focused. God only knows what all of the other students were like.
The weekend passed and then the school week commenced. Everyone was filled with stories of what had occurred at the party. It seemed it had been the event of the year. While he was at home studying, everyone else was having the times of their life. He was sitting in on one of the classes with Lucy, not saying anything as one of the other students was engaged in a conversation with her. He listened in, pretending to pay attention to whatever the teacher was saying.
“Yeah, I heard about what you did.” It was the other student, talking to Lucy.
“Really? So what did I do exactly?” Lucy asked.
“You fucked Tom. In one of the bedrooms, away from all of the other kids.”
“So what if I did, you bloody stoner!”
As soon as Cameron heard that, his heart sank. In the pit of his stomach, a seething ball of darkness was created. Tom was one of his best friends. The one that he had kept on talking to about his feelings about Lucy. He maintained his emotions in the classroom. He felt like crying, but he couldn’t let any of the other students see how he felt. Without saying anything, he excused himself from the classroom. The teacher looked at him with a concerned look. It seemed as if the teacher had some idea of what was happening.
Cameron went for a walk and went into one of the school’s bathrooms. He washed his face with water and looked in the mirror. The look on his face was terrible. It was the look of a boy on the edge of tears. He couldn’t go back into the classroom looking like that. He felt like throwing up, completely and utterly ill. The only feeling that was equivalent, was a writer who had written the truth his entire life and been rejected at every turn. He used what he knew about the world of writers in order to focus his mind, to take his mind off of the terrible feelings that were dwelling within the pit of his stomach as he wandered aimlessly around the schoolyard. A writer is not only rejected from the publishing world, but is also rejected from all others around him. His constant engagement in the truth, no matter how abstract or profound it may be, isolates him from others and forces him into the role of the outsider. It’s not that the writer can’t handle the truth. It’s that all of the others around him can’t. And for that he is rejected. The writer writes of a profoundly cruel and absurd world and for that others reject him, because he can’t help himself from telling the truth. All those around him reject him, because they cannot admit to themselves the cruel and perverse nature of the universe. And for once in his life, he was walking in the shoes of a writer. The shoes of a loser. An outcast. A reject. And they understood this feeling more than anybody else in the world. And for that moment, walking around aimlessly, he understood that he was not alone in this horrible and dismal life. He picked himself up.
He had found himself wandering around the football oval and there were a group of other kids skipping class. They were all sitting around in a circle and smoking cigarettes. So he sat down with them and for the first time in his life, he asked for a cigarette. They gave him one and the nicotine gave him a head spin. For the rest of the school day he looked up at the clouds in the sky and talked to the other outcasts of the schoolyard. He found out that none of them had been invited to the party of the year, being the outcasts that they were. He smoked cigarettes with them and looked up at the clouds, talking about what had happened and expressing his feelings.
For the rest of the school year, Cameron avoided Lucy and also his previous group of friends which included Tom. For the most part he continued concentrating on his studies. But sometimes he would go and hang out with the other outcasts. Smoking cigarettes and talking to them about their lives. He had made new friends that day and because of what had happened, he didn’t hang out with his old circle of friends. Most of them were artists, or into the arts. They all had their own troubles to deal with, but they knew who he was and what had happened. He kept on talking about what had happened with Lucy and his former friend, they helped him to heal his own emotional state.
They were all doing their own thing. He found out that they had been doing and experimenting with drugs and alcohol since they had started high school. They were pissed off that now that all of the other kids were doing it, it was now the ‘cool’ thing to do. He didn’t partake in any of their extra-curricular activities, but he enjoyed the cigarettes and the conversation.
Outside of school, he would concentrate on his studies. To his former group of friends, he had become the weird estranged kid who couldn’t handle it. They all thought he was one of those other kids now, one of the rejects who did drugs and obliterated their brains. But he was anything but, he indulged in cigarettes now, that was true. But they were more of a stress relief for all of the hardcore studying he was taking on. He didn’t talk to Lucy, never talked about what had happened. He just continued on doing his own thing.
Say what you would about those weird, estranged kids… But one thing they were was well read and cultured. They introduced him to a wide range of eclectic tastes. And for that, he enjoyed his time alone where he wasn’t studying or doing anything else with himself.
They talked about the shabby education system that they were all confronted with. Cameron’s argument to their ideas were that they had to work within the parameters of the education system in order to do what they wanted to do. Their counter argument to that, was because they were artists they actually benefitted from working outside the social norms or the parameters of the education system. They all eventually agreed that the education system that was in place works for some people and for others it doesn’t. It just depended on what sort of person you were.
Cameron continued doing well in his coursework and then the school year ended. He had the pre-requisite marks to do the subjects that he needed for entrance into medical studies at a university level. Over the school break, he hung out with the arts students. Some of them were in a band and they got a space playing at a free event. He danced and hung out with those kids the entire night. And for a change he decided that he would drink. He was still conservative and didn’t drink that much, but he still became slightly tipsy. That night he went back to the lead singer of the band’s home, they all did. They listened to music and smoked cigarettes until dawn. The lead singer was female, the band was a gothic rock band and that night he lost his virginity to her. The event didn’t last long, but she seemed to understand that it was his first time and told him that you get better the more you do it.
They didn’t start dating or anything afterwards. Afterwards, they barely spoke to each other. It was too awkward for Cameron, and she would wink at him and make all these sly gestures that just embarrassed him further. The rest of his new circle of friends thought it was hilarious.
School recommenced and he was now in the year level that was being assessed for entrance to higher education. He didn’t have much time to spend with anyone. He always found himself in the library preparing for one exam or course of studies after another. All of the other arts students that he had been hanging around with never took any of that stuff seriously, but he did and he knew their reasons for why they thought that way so he didn’t judge them.
Once he found himself in the library studying the same time as Lucy. The event made him nervous and he couldn’t concentrate. With everything that happened afterwards it was all just too much for him. He kept on looking at her while she remained focused on her text book. He wondered what she was up to, what had happened after everything had happened. Had she started dating Tom? What the hell had happened to him for that matter either? It was a lot of distraction to his mind every time that he saw either of those two and so when he did, he went out and had a cigarette with the arts kids again.
None of it caused him any emotional disturbance anymore. It was just a mental distraction. Like an itch that he had to scratch, a small annoyance, it was irritating and he couldn’t say anything about it. He wouldn’t know what to say even if he felt like talking to her again. So he just kept on focusing on his studies and doing his own thing.
The school year passed. He basically aced everything that he did. Getting one hundred percent in all categories. It was pretty amazing what he had achieved.
Over the school break, he ran into Tom and asked him what he had been up to. Tom seemed depressed. He wasn’t doing that well. It was a sombre meeting and they didn’t really say that much to each other. Tom had quit football and was feeling estranged from life. He was going through his own thing and he was hiding a lot of his thoughts and feelings from Cameron. Whatever had happened, was happening, he wasn’t going to tell Cameron about any of it anytime soon.
For most of the break Cameron spent his time alone. In his leisure time he watched a few movies, things that his artistic friends had recommended to him. It was all good stuff. He started going swimming and doing laps in the pool. He had been neglecting the physical side of his endeavours ever since he had stopped playing football. But he knew that a healthy body equated to a healthy mind and so he had to do something to replace it. So over the holiday break. Every third day he went to the local swimming pool and started swimming a kilometre a day. It was a healthy change and then he also started weaning himself off of the cigarettes that he had been smoking. It was a difficult thing to do, but he eased himself off of them and achieved the goal of quitting successfully.
The final year of high school commenced, and he had everything in order. Instead of going out for cigarette breaks, he remained focused solely on his studies. He was so consumed in them, even when he saw Lucy or Tom in the hallways of the school he didn’t react. He was completely focused on everything that he had to do. His mind was acute, he couldn’t make a mistake, couldn’t make an error. And slowly throughout the school year he achieved what he needed to achieve. He did make some errors, but they were so minimal that it was hardly noticeable. It was an intense experience. He knew what he was going through, the amounts of pressure he was under were phenomenal. He had been preparing his entire life to sit these exams and now that they were here, he wouldn’t let anyone or anything screw them up. The rest of the school body knew this and so they all left him alone to help him maintain focus. Anything that was going on in the background was all white noise to him, anything that was happening to him or anybody was beyond his control anyway. Nobody told him anything, they all just left him alone.
The end of year exams came up and he didn’t falter. After everything was said and done, he did the best that he could and that was all there was to it. After the school year broke up, he went home and rested for about a week. He was so tired that he couldn’t attend any of the celebrations that any of the other kids were engaged in. And he was so anxious about the results that he found it difficult to sleep. It was an ambivalent situation where he felt two ways about everything that had happened. He just spent most of his time with his family, discussing his options if he wasn’t successful.
The results were announced in the newspaper and he looked at them. He was a high achiever, but would it be enough? He looked at the results. He got exactly what he was aiming for. For the first time in a long time he could relax. He was ecstatic… That being he wasn’t enthused, it was just that a warm feeling had overcome him and he knew that it had all been worth it.
He started calling up his friends. He called up Katherine, the lead singer of the gothic rock band and told her about it. She couldn’t help complain about her result… She was in the low fifties. She went on this huge tirade about how nobody knew shit about anything and everyone in the education system, all of the teachers were complete fuck-ups and retards. He told her about his result and she congratulated him.
A few days passed. Then he looked at the newspaper with the results again and decided to look up Lucy. She had a mark that was beyond average, in the high seventies. She had obviously been studying. He wondered if it was enough to get into the course that she wanted. For the first time in over two years he made the phone call to her. He was nervous about it. She picked up the phone. The conversation was brief and distanced. She had gotten into the course that she wanted. A botany course. She had achieved well in the right subjects, she had also told him that she had already looked him up and congratulated him on his apparent success. They didn’t know what else to talk about. But she did mention Tom. She told him that he had been going through a whole bunch of shit recently. She didn’t tell him that it was because of him, but there was a subtle implication in bringing this up to him.
So after calling and speaking to Lucy. He called up Tom. His parents answered the phone. One of his parents picked up the phone, the tone in their voice was dismal as soon as he asked for their son. It was his mother and she burst into tears. Tom had committed suicide the day the results were announced. The pressure had been too much for him, his father had been applying that pressure onto him to get into law school. He hadn’t been successful.
For the next month Cameron found himself in a pit of despair. He attended the funeral and spoke to his old friends about what had happened. But he was smart enough to realize that they weren’t giving him the full story. There was something hidden from him, always hidden and because he didn’t know what it was, he couldn’t determine whether it was for his own benefit or not.
On the night of the funeral, he got drunk and found himself wandering back home down the highway towards his suburban home. His mind came cascading back with a torrent of different football games that they had been playing together ever since they were kids. He couldn’t believe it, his friend was dead. And there was nothing that he could do about it. All of the stupid jokes that they used to play on each other, their petty rivalry on the football field… All of it had blown up in his face. It was just bullshit, all of it was. He found himself outside a house, beating the mailbox of a random house along one of the suburban streets.
It had been a game that they used to play. A game where they dared each other to rip apart different mailboxes and steal them from people’s homes. The game worked like this. They pulled a number out of a hat and they were given a street at random. They then had to steal the numbered letter box from said street and return it without being caught.
He now found himself beating at a letter-box, attempting to rip it from its hinges it a fit of internal rage. Somebody from the house must have heard him, for the next moment the inhabitants of the home were chasing him down the street yelling their outrage at his heels. He was running away from the event, the letter-box was damaged, but he hadn’t pulled it free from its stand. There was a man in his forties chasing after him. Eventually the man caught up with him and tackled him to the ground. Then started hammering his fists into Cameron. A car pulled up beside them. The man’s partner. They threw him in the back of the car as the man subdued him. They then drove him down to the police station where the police gave him a lecture and a warning. He would have to pay for any damages caused.
For the next week he felt numb. A hole had been created in his mind. He went to see a doctor about it and they gave him ten free counselling sessions. Over those sessions he discussed what had happened and was able to heal himself. Over that time he found himself a casual job at the local supermarket. He delayed enrolling in his university studies until mid-year. And by that time he had done what he had to do so that his mind was in proper order so that he could focus on his studies.
He found out that Lucy was attending the same university. He would have liked to talk to her, but he didn’t know what to say anymore. Besides, they were both hanging around with different crowds. He kept his casual job at the supermarket and took the units he needed to for his course of study.
He wanted to help out Lucy in whatever way he could. He knew, or at least thought he knew, that she was going through a similar thing. With the loss of Tom, he didn’t know what she was doing with herself. But when he realized the crowd of people that she was hanging around with he started keeping his distance. They were all stoners. Those were her new circle of friends. And those sort of connections brought on a thug like mentality. They weren’t just into smoking marijuana. But they were experimenting with all sorts of drugs. Anything that they could get their hands on to. Cameron wanted to help, wanted to corner her and shake her into reality on the life path that she was on. But she was always avoiding him and he had to keep up his studies at the same time.
For Lucy, anybody who was taking their studies seriously was lame. That was the sort of crowd that she was hanging around with. Real party animals. And apart from joining that scene himself, there was very little else that he could do.
He heard about Katherine, the girl from the gothic rock band. She and her fellow band mates were travelling across the country and playing different bars in rural areas. Any place that would pay them for petrol and food, the band would take up the offer and go out bush. She would sometimes call and tell him of all of the weird experiences that she was having. He would laugh and tell her that country people are like that. She was doing drugs still, but he kind of expected it from her and that circle of friends. Nothing had really changed for them, except that they were now gaining notoriety and a state wide following. He went to a couple of her gigs in the city and had beers with the band afterwards. But they were never going to pursue any sort of relationship after all, she did, however, hold a special place in his heart.
As did Lucy. Sometimes he would stress over the fact of what she was doing with herself. But she never listened to anything that he said. He attempted to send her notes and letters in the hopes that she would wake up to herself. He saw her reading one of them once, she put in the bin straight afterwards. He just couldn’t get through to her.
Finally the day came when she bit off more than she could chew. Cameron heard about it through local gossip at the university. Some of her friends had scored some LSD. It was the first time that any of them had taken the stuff and they didn’t know how much a single dose was. They had gotten some blotter paper and nobody had told any of them how much they should take. So, what they thought was a small dosage was actually five or six hits of the stuff. It drove her insane. She was now taking residence in one of the local hospitals in a psychiatric ward.
He cried about that. She would never be the same again. Her mind would be completely fucked for the rest of her natural life. He went into the psych ward to visit her. She was under the care of the doctors and nurses now. When he went there, she was busy drawing pictures of flowers on pieces of paper with texters and pencils. She was completely immersed in the action. The picture was a colourful scene. When he attempted to talk to her, she ignored most of what he was saying. When he asked her if she knew who he was, she replied, “Of course I do, you’re Cameron.” But that was as far as their conversation went.
When he talked to one of the nurses. They explained it to him, LSD was like a hard reset and the amount of the stuff that she had taken meant that her mind would never be the same again. She would never be the same again.
He left the psychiatric ward and Lucy there under the care of the psychiatric staff knowing full well what he had to do. He talked to some of her friends from the university, the people she had been hanging out with. He found out who had sold them the LSD and where they lived.
He borrowed a friend’s car and a baseball bat. He bought a balaclava from the local outdoors shop in the skiing section. Then he drove down to the house of the drug dealer. He went to the front door of the house, it was in the suburbs, with baseball bat in hand he thumped on the door. Someone from inside called out and asked who it was. He didn’t answer. Instead, he just kept on thumping on the front door, louder and louder. Eventually someone came to answer the door. A skinny, weasel like man with dark hair and his face blotted in acne. As soon as he answered the door and he could get through. He kicked the man in the chest. The man stumbled backwards and fell to the ground.
He then went inside the house with baseball bat in hand. There was a small crowd gathered in the lounge room, smoking bongs and playing video games. With the baseball bat he smashed one across the face. There was someone there asleep on a sofa seat. He didn’t wake up because of the noise. He just slept through the whole ordeal. The other guy put his hands up immediately and began pleading with him, “Whoah man, what’s this about? What’s this about?” Cameron, unrecognizable because of his balaclava just started smashing up the whole house and all of its contents with the baseball bat. They tried to wrestle the baseball bat off of him. But he just fought them off with superior strength.
After smashing up the house and beating up the guys a bit. Leaving them with broken bones and bruised. He ran outside. Got into the car and drove off. One of them had hurt him by smashing the bong across his face. But he wasn’t seriously injured. He drove off and found a bin in which to dump the baseball bat and balaclava. He wouldn’t be doing anything like that again anytime soon.
After all of that was over. A couple of days later, he went to visit Lucy in the psychiatric ward again. She was still drawing pictures of flowers. For a while she was lucid enough to talk. She explained what had happened to Tom. How he knew that Cameron had had a crush on her. That’s why they had gotten along at the party so long ago. And what happened, them getting together, was a complete mistake. And they had both felt bad about it. But when he had started hanging out with the arty kids at that school and ignored them completely, they couldn’t explain any of it to him. She told him that Tom had felt so bad about it, that he couldn’t concentrate on his exams in high school and that’s why he had failed. After she had explained this to him, she asked if he wanted one of her pictures. He picked one of them out from the pile she had created. After he had his picture, she went completely ballistic at him. Screaming at him that it was all his fault. Everything that had happened was his fault. The nursing staff had to come in and take her away. Isolating her from the rest of the psychiatric patients so that she could calm down.
After that, Cameron returned home. He bought a frame for the picture and kept it with him. He thought about everything that had happened. Looking at the picture of the flowers that Lucy had drawn and he felt broken. Not broken physically or anything like that. But emotionally, he was. In a way, he believed, it was his fault. If he had not let his emotions get the better of him in high school all those years ago, he wouldn’t have acted the way he did. He looked at the picture and thought about it. His emotions were a flaw, not just to himself, but to other people. All of those people, his friends and the people that he had cared about had suffered because of it. And now, what of Lucy? Because of him and his inability to think and act logically, they were all broken individuals around him.
He stared at the picture of the flowers that he had hung up on the wall of his bedroom. It acted as a grim reminder, that to do the things that he needed to do. To be the person that he needed to be, he would have to act with cold logic in everything that he did. And for that, he would have to leave Lucy alone, because any reminder of him and their youth would act as a trigger for her.
For the rest of the university course he focused himself on his studies. Life had taught him the lessons that he needed to know in order for him to be the person that he needed to be. He understood that. He kept his casual job at the supermarket and put himself through university. He shared a multitude of different houses with strangers and kept himself focused. Always on his bedroom wall, hung the picture of the flowers that Lucy had drawn for him. He kept his distance from her and allowed her to live her life.
There was only one other time that they ever saw each other again. It was after he had graduated from university and was working as a doctor. He was going on a first date with someone who he considered a suitable match. This was the first date that he was going on. The other woman was also a doctor at a local hospital. He stopped off at a flower shop on his way to her home.
Lucy was working in the flower shop as a florist. He was completely surprised running into her. He didn’t know what flowers to pick and when he told her that he was going on a date, she suggested that he buy a bunch of blue orchids. He was stumped by her suggestion, but he went along with it anyway.
He stood there at the counter of the flower shop. Looking at Lucy, completely surprised by the coincidence. He didn’t know what to say.
When other customers came into the shop. She asked him, “Look, are you going to buy the flowers or not?”
He bought the flowers and left the shop. That was the last time that he ever saw Lucy.