“Doubt I’ll ever see her again,” I said. “But it was kinda funny, yeah? Her walking into the shop outta nowhere. Finally got to apologize, all these years later…”
“You never know,” Cas said. “She might come back! You said she really really likes flowers, right?”
“Likes flowers–and hates me. But hey, that’s one thing that belongs in the past that can stay there now, you know? Don’t have to think about it anymore…”
But I did think about it. Cas probably knew it too, even if he didn’t bust my ass over it. I had a lot of cousins, and if you asked me a few years ago which one I thought I’d ended up closer to, it definitely wouldn’t have been Aunt Daisy and Uncle Leo’s youngest kid.
Didn’t think we had anything in common. When we first started hanging out, I made sure to call him COUSIN real loud, in case anybody thought we were fucking. But somewhere along the way he went from cousin and life coach to the best damn friend I had.
“I sooo want to get Hammy something,” he said. Hammy? Hope the guy likes his nickname. “Do you think he’d like anything here?”
“Uh, maybe if he really likes ducks. You know this place is a tourist trap, yeah? Shit’s expensive. Why shower him with crap?”
“…Things haven’t been going so great with my parents,” Cas admitted. “I thought they’d be sooo happy I finally introduced them to my boyfriend, and Anders was totally okay with it, but even my mom doesn’t think it’s such a good idea, and I don’t want Hammy to feel bad about the past…”
Guy punched his brother and his dad and Cas was still into him. If it was anybody else, I would’ve told him his boyfriend was bad news, but I’d learned to trust his judgment. If he said somebody was good people, I believed him.
But… “You ever think that people can’t change? That a shitty guy’s just shitty forever? That maybe all he’s learned to do is hide his shittiness?”
“Not if he tries,” Cas said firmly. “And Hamlet Richardson has come soooo far. He thought he couldn’t, that it was all over for him, and now he’s pulled his whole life together. He thinks I was the one who did everything, but you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to help himself.”
That’s probably what I liked–and envied–most about Cas: his optimism. Some people just saw the world as beautiful, no matter what. Everybody had redeeming qualities, if you asked him.
“You know you’re an adult, yeah? You can fuck whoever you want–tough shit for your fam.”
“But they’re important to me,” he said, because that’s the kind of guy he was. Mom probably wished she got a son like him. “I want them to love him as much as I do, or at least not be sad about it.”
“Hey,” I said. “Think my mom worked with him on some show way back when.”
“Blood and Bishops,” he said immediately. Probably memorized his guy’s entire filmography. “It was the inspiration for his current vampire lord role.”
“Yeah, well, my mom mentioned he was a good guy.” Had she? Shit, I shouldn’t have tuned her out so much over the years. “Aunt Daisy loves her and Uncle Leo’s kinda afraid of her, so maybe I can ask her to talk to ‘em about what’s-his-name–”
“Yeah. But if he’s as a good a guy as you say”–damn, how I wanted that to be true–“then I’m sure it won’t take long for your parents to come around.”
“…You really think so?”
“Damn right I do,” I said. I wanted to see the world–and the people in it–like he did. Maybe everybody really did deserve a second chance…
But I couldn’t blame Clementine for not thinking the same. Why would she ever come back? I’d treated her like shit. Worse than shit. I wouldn’t come back either.
And then the chimes on the door jingled. “Oh,” came a familiar voice. “I guess you’re open?”
“…Uh, yeah, it’s sunny, and, uh, people buy more flowers when the weather’s good…”
She laughed. “Wow, who knew you were such a flower-selling expert?” Was she making fun of me?
“…Did I sound like an idiot?”
“No more than usual,” she said cheerfully.
Shit, was she flirting?
Damn, had she always been this pretty? I should’ve asked Cas for more of his fancy-ass shampoo before he left. Keeping curly hair long was a bitch.
She acted like she was just here for the flowers, but that was fine. “Those are on sale,” I said.
“Oh? Which ones?”
“…All of them?”
She turned around to smirk at me. “You’ll so go out of business if you run it like that.”
“That’s a risk I’m willing to take, ma’am.”
“Ma’am? Seriously?” She laughed again, then studied the flowers I’d spent hours setting up. “…Nothing’s really grabbing me right now, but maybe I’ll come back another time.”
“Come back whenever you want,” I said, “but don’t forget your lady-wallet next time.”
“…I think that’s still just a wallet, Sly. Or maybe you mean purse? But yeah, that sounds like, obscene. But I’ll be back. Maybe.”
Somehow I knew she’d come back. And the next time, I was ready for her.
“It, uh, reminded me of you,” I said as I held out a flower.
She gave me a skeptical look. “…Do the petals remind you of a vagina or something?”
“Nah. It’s just pretty. And you’re pretty, so…” Shit, was that too much? I didn’t want her to think I was coming on to her.
“…Thanks, Sly. It is pretty. And I love the scent. It’s weird how scents can remind you of old memories so strongly, isn’t it? It’s almost like we’re back in Flora Appreciation with you as the TA…”
I watched her face as she inhaled. Shit, if I’d only met her now instead of back then…maybe I wouldn’t have fucked everything up.
But it was too late now. A flower was all I could give her–and a years-late apology.
“Hey,” she said, “do you think maybe we could like, go out sometime? For coffee, I guess? And like, there’s some stuff I want to talk to you about, maybe. Not a date, but like, as friends?”
“…I can do friends. Uh, not do them. Do friendly shit with friends.”
Ended up going someplace quiet a couple days later, where only the locals really went–no tourists or overpriced coffee.
“You look kinda different,” I said. Couldn’t call her hot, because friends didn’t call friends hot unless they were chick friends.
“It’s been a while? And I cut my hair, I guess. Well, not myself, obviously.” Was it supposed to be obvious? For all I knew, chicks had magic hair-cutting secrets.
Damn, this was awkward. I wanted to apologize again, but once was enough, yeah? Or maybe it’d never be enough no matter how much I said it. I wanted to ask if she had a boyfriend–not that it mattered, because I’d already blown my chance. Was she happy? Couldn’t be worse off than when she was with me…
“…Am I boring you, Sly?”
“What? Shit, no. I just…it’s weird, you know? I can’t stop thinking about…everything. I’m sorry, Clem. I know it’s not enough, but…I’m sorry.”
“…Then make it up to me.”
“How? I’ll do anything.” Shit, now was not the time to be thinking about the start of a porno.
She held out her hand. “Sniff my wrist,” she said. “Okay, I know that sounds weird, but like, I’ve been experimenting with perfumes since I was studying abroad? It’s interesting how places can smell so different–not just the fae realm and here, but different countries too.”
Yeah, she didn’t have to ask me twice to get me to smell her skin. “…That’s real nice,” I said as I breathed in.
She withdrew her hand too soon. “Well, I was thinking about starting my own business maybe, instead of getting some job I hate? I could use a guinea pig, plus someone to supply me with rare flowers and help me with the business side of stuff…”
“Shit, I’d be happy to help. One business owner to another.” I reached out to pat her arm, before remembering that I shouldn’t be touching her.
“Thanks, Sly. I appreciate it.”
But of all the people out there–and all the people who weren’t shitty–why come to me?
But as the days went on, we spent more and more time together. Not just talking about business stuff. Almost-naked time.
“You eat the tuna,” she said. “I’m like, going to die of mercury poisoning if I eat any more this week.”
Damn, if she was my girl, I could make a tuna-eating joke. But she wasn’t, so I didn’t. “Uh. Sure. There’s a turkey sandwich with your name on it.”
Shit, why did this feel like a date? Had to be the almost-naked thing. It was hard to look away from her, but I did. “So, uh, ocean’s real pretty this time of year.”
“It is,” she agreed.
So we just…watched it. Like it was a movie or some shit. For some reason, it wasn’t boring.
I coughed. “Uh. Sorry. Sausage fingers.”
And it was.
…But things almost got kinda weird when Clem decided to give me a hug in the middle of some impromptu guitar-playing. (Luckily, my guitar provided damn good coverage.)
“I’m really glad I ran into you again,” she whispered.
I patted her awkwardly on the back. “Yeah, what’re friends for?”
And for a while, our friendship was nice. Real nice. Even helped Clem get her perfume shop up and running…right next to my flower shop. (The rent was cheap.)
“Oh my god,” she said. “Do you ever feel like you’re just…playing at being an adult? Like everyone will figure out the truth before you can hide all the evidence that you have no idea what you’re doing?”
I wanted to lie to her. I was older. A man. I should know my shit. “…All the damn time.”
And suddenly her face got real close to mine.
“…Thanks, Sly. For everything.”
It was a friendly kiss on the cheek. Friendly.
Because we were friends now. We cared about each other. Wanted the other to succeed, to be happy. Maybe it wasn’t as much as I wanted…but it was more than we’d ever had before.
And who the hell knew what the future might bring?