Chapter 13

By Dabeagle


At work Monday I had to make up something about laryngitis to explain why I was a bit hoarse – no way I was going to tell them I pitched a fit. Anita went outside to smoke and Kari was with Nicole behind the counter as I brought up a stack of clothes that had to be repriced and rehung as they'd just gone on clearance.

A large woman came into the store by herself – and I say that not to shame the lady, but because it describes her appearance. She had her hair pulled back severely and had one of those butt shelves going on. Her elbows were dimples. She smiled at Nicole and handed her a sheet of paper.

“I filled out an application, are you able to take it?” she asked.

“Sure! The manager will be back shortly, I'll make sure she gets it,” Nicole told her.

“Great. Can you give her a message?” she asked, huffing a little.

“Of course,” Nicole replied and picked up a pen.

“There's a gap in my work history,” she said, nodding her head toward the application. “Just tell her it's because I was in jail, okay? It was only because he was more beat up than I was. But while I was in there I became a Jehovah Witness.” She took a breath. “Will that affect my employment?”

Nicole looked frozen for a split second. “No, ma'am, I don't see why it would.”

“Okay,” the woman replied and reached under her shirt for another piece of paper. “Could you sign this? It's for the probation department that I applied.”

“Oh. Oh, well, I don't know if I'm allowed. Let me just go get Anita for you. She's just outside,” Nicole stammered. Kari dashed off and brought a sour looking Anita into the store. Anita signed the paper, for which the lady thanked her before folding it and putting it back under her shirt.

It was gross. And hilarious that it hadn't happened to me. And Nicole's face told the entire story. I walked up to Nicole and leaned closer. “Um, excuse me? I used to sell dead baby parts, but now I'm-”

“Asshole!” Nicole said fiercely and punched my arm. I hopped back, complaining and laughing in one.

Caleb showed up after his shift, sweaty and kind of adorable and disgusting all in one.

“Hey. What are you doing here?” I asked, smiling at seeing him.

“You're here,” he said as if that were the obvious conclusion. I left with him, and he took me for a coffee as I told him about the lady who filed the application.

After he stopped laughing he asked, “What's going on with your voice?”

“Ugh,” I said with a wave of my hand. “Finally had it out with Andy. I wouldn't really have minded that she gave you a little help if she hadn't been being such an unholy bitch about me helping Bruce, you know? She's such a hypocrite.”

He glanced at me, back to the road, and then back again. “But you're okay with you and me. I'm not in trouble?”

I chuckled. “It does make me wonder why we didn't just hang out. Why ask Andy?”

“Did I mention I couldn't figure out how? The last thing I wanted to do was to come off as a weirdo to you.”

Caleb pulled into a large, empty parking lot of a failed discount retailer. Coming to a stop he put the little truck in park. He unbuckled his seat belt and half-turned to face me as I shot him a questioning expression. Were we about to make out?

“So. Why don't you drive?”

And you thought we might make out! I chided myself. “Well, Andy for one. She could drive me anywhere. Ride shares make it easy to get around mostly. But the overall reason is...I like to blow my paychecks on clothes.”

He pushed his lips together and off to one side.

“What?” I asked.

He tilted his head to one side.

“What?” I asked, very nearly whining.

“Seems have a fixation on clothes.”

I frowned. “Why do you think I work in a clothing store? It's not for the public, let me tell you.”

“Well, I had a lot of sweats. You have a lot-”

“No, no!” I said, shaking my head., “My clothes are nothing like your old sweats!”

The corner of his mouth curled up. “They're just clothes, Hunt. You look good however you dress.”

“You think that because you've seen me wearing these nice things for a long time,” I said, being reasonable.

“I thought you looked good in jeans and a tee shirt, dirt on your face and a leaf in your hair.”

I frowned. “Why are you picking on my clothes?”

He tilted his head the other way. “Well, it's not sustainable.”

“You mean when I go to college? I know. I should get all I can now, then.”

“But you've given up other things in order to get so many clothes – your dresser, the little closet, your armoire – they're all stuffed. You can't possibly wear that many clothes.”

“Your point?”

He chuckled. “You could be driving. You could have a light ring or a better camera with video for your photo shoots. Why don't you have enough or a little more than enough in the clothes category so you can have money for other things?”

I scratched my ear. “Well. It didn't seem that important before,” I replied.

“Well. Seems like you should learn. Come on,” he said, climbing from the driver's seat. I sat still for a moment in doubt as he rounded the front of the little truck and opened my door. “Scoot over.”

Uncertainly I unbuckled my belt and made my way awkwardly to the driver's seat.

“I don't want a car,” I protested weakly. “The expense. Maintenance, insurance, gas.”

“Which is all true,” he said reasonably. “But you should still know how to drive, right? What if I'd been hurt when you and I were working, how would I get to a hospital? Wait for an ambulance? There are some good reasons to learn, even if you don't own a car. Right?”

I sighed. He had a point. He also teased me as he tried getting me to steer around the parking lot to get used to the idea of driving. The damn thing lunged forward if you so much as put your foot near the gas pedal – and the brakes! It was like hitting a brick wall you stopped so suddenly!

I slapped the steering wheel in frustration and embarrassment. “Why are we doing this?”

He rested his hand on mine, which was white-knuckling the steering wheel. “To show you there are things I can teach you, too. You showed me good reasons to dress better and take better care of myself, of my appearance. I can do some things you can't, too. But you will.”

I groaned and tried again. And again. I mean really, what asshole came up with driving to begin with?


Wednesday I was having a break outside, just flipping through Caleb's pictures and wondering if it would be obsessive to text him when a shadow fell across me. Bruce.

“Hi, Hunt,” he said, taking a seat next to me. Or by me, I guess. The tables were shaped like clover leafs – the four leaf kind – and there was a single seat at the end of each leaf to me but not.

“What's up, Bruce?” I put my phone down, wondering what he wanted.

“I'm sorry I put you in a bad spot with your sister,” he said, looking like he was actually sorry for something. “I had no idea it was going to cause such a problem between you.”

I squinted a little at him. “Did Andy tell you we fought?”

He nodded. “Ranted about it, more like.” He sighed. “I love your sister. I like that she wants to be equals – partners. She doesn't want to sit home and play on her phone while someone else goes to work. She doesn't want to be owned, but she's not interested in owning anyone else, either. But I guess it was inevitable.”

Curious I asked, “What was inevitable?”

“That we'd have a fight at some point,” he said and shrugged.

I grunted. “Yeah, had to expect that.”

“I just didn't think I’d start it,” he said with a grunt.

I looked at him in surprise. “Why? You had her right where you wanted her!”

He smiled shyly. “I like that she fights for what she believes in, but we all have blind spots, Hunt. When she told me how you tore her a new one and what she said, I told her she had that coming.”

I was shocked. Stunned. Paralyzed with the idea that Bruce had gone against his girlfriend on my behalf. “Why would you do that? What can you gain from that kind of gesture?”

He blew out a breath and laced his fingers in front of him, resting his hands on the tabletop. “It's like this, Hunt. I think when you care about people, you call them out. You have to hold them – and yourself – accountable. I didn't know asking for your help would cause such trouble, and I honestly think I'd probably have asked you anyway even if I did, because I'm desperate for your sister.”

“Eww. Please don't say things like that to me,” I said covering my mouth and pretending to hold back a barf.

He grinned. “But I agree with you. I'm not that bad, and she's finding out we're good together. But,” he said with a sigh, “she couldn't see where she was wrong with you. I can't be a good partner to her if I never stand up to her.”

Hesitantly I asked, “Did you guys break up?”

He shook his head. “Nah. I mean she said we were, but I kept telling her nah. Kind of pissed her off more,” he said with a grin. “I know I'm a decent guy and that I'm good to her. She knows it too. It's true I've been kind of wrangling her, even with your advice, but she's finally getting the message that I want to be with her for her, that I want to be an equal partner to her and sometimes that means I disagree. That we disagree.”

I looked at him with a dubious expression.

“Look. It's all about balance in anything, right? If I was just having sex with her for the summer, I'd be looking for the rest of a relationship elsewhere. I had to show her that being equal means sometimes we're going to fight. Doesn't mean we toss the relationship, just means we each get a say.”

“So you....used me as a lesson to her? You poor fool.”

He grinned. “She was pretty mad at first, I'll give you that. But she's entered her thinking mode. She'll get there.”

I shook my head and chuckled. Standing I said, “I have to get back to work. Thanks for the apology, I guess,'re good for her. I'd have told you anyway, I imagine.”

“Even knowing what you know now?”

I sighed. “Probably. She deserves to be happy, even if neither of us know how to do that.”

Bruce stood as well. “Well, if you want I can make it up to you a little.”

I laughed. “How?”

He turned. “Go ahead. Grab my butt.”

After a moment of shock I burst out laughing. “Bruce! I'm got grabbing your ass!”

“But you like it!” he said, shaking his butt in a halfway decent twerk.

“You're dating my sister. I will not go where she's been,” I said firmly, while trying not to laugh.

He turned slowly to face me, a smile playing about his lips. “Well. You had your chance, Hunter. I guess you'll have to be happy knowing you're the only guy I would have willingly let touch my ass.”

“Well...thank you,” I said, grinning and finding the whole situation awkward and amusing. Bruce was kind enough to drop me at home, and I ended up going through my clothes to get rid of things I knew I’d never wear again. Caleb was right – for what I’d paid for things I’d worn only a few times...maybe I did have a tiny problem.

Later that week I had a mid-shift and was sitting outside with Kari for my lunch as she waited for her ride home. Her brother was supposed to be coming to pick her up – her older brother. Kari was pretty and I had seen Hal before, but I wondered if I'd get a better look today.

“So,” she said with relish. “How's Caleb?”

I sighed. “He's going to be the death of me.”

She laughed. “Tell me!”

I rolled my eyes. “We're going on a date Friday night.” She squealed, and I held a hand up. “Wait. He won't tell me where we're going or what we're doing.”

She let her eyes go wide. “So you think he's going to have you help him sell dead baby parts?”

I dropped my chin. “It was funny when I said it to Nicole,” I said dryly.

She giggled. “So. What do you think he'll do for the perfect date?”

I shook my head. “I wish I knew. It's driving me nuts. He's being a jerk in texts – not even giving me a clue!”

She chuckled. “That's so cute.” I glared. “I mean, just so...wrong! Wrong.”

I let out a sigh. “I just...I want it to go well. I don't want to dress the wrong way – like I'd dress differently for a night at, I don't know, an art gallery than I would if we were jumping the fence to swim in a quarry or something.”

“Well, yeah,” she said agreeably. “You need some idea. Maybe you could send him a few pictures of you in different outfits and have him pick one?”

I perked up. “That's actually genius!”

“That's me,” she agreed.

I slumped a little. “It'll never work, though.”

“What won't?”

“Me. Caleb.” I sighed. “Little known fact about me: I love romance. I love improbable pairings. I love, love the pair that are enemies at the beginning and lovers by the end. Caleb has been like that for me – improbable, not that we hated each other,” I said, clarifying. “But I'm familiar with how those stories all work. First there will be the problem, then there is the growing realization that there is something special going on, then there's this...tiny burst of happiness. This fleeting moment, like when a flower blooms. While it's opening it's beautiful, and we get to see what it looks like as it emerges – but then it can get dirt in it, and bugs and plant sex.”

“Plant sex? Plants don't have sex.”

“Even worse,” I said, pointing at her. “You grow from a seed, push up through the ground and don't get eaten by ants so that you can have that one moment of wonderful where you bloom, and you don't even get sex out if it? But you do get bugs and dirt?”

“I think you're getting off track.”

I sighed. “What I mean is once you have that moment of wonderful, the stories all go the same way. There is a traumatic event, someone does something monumentally stupid – and you've met Caleb, so you know it's going to be me. Then there's anger and sadness before the author makes the choice of finishing the story as a tragedy or a happily ever after. We don't have any train stations for the hero to be leaving town on, only to have the love interest show up to sweep him off his feet in a deep kiss while orchestral music rises in the background.”

She stared at me for a few moments. “You're a little melodramatic.”

“It's a gift.”

“I think there's a third way,” she said.


“If someone writes a movie or a book and they are plotting things along, can't they choose to skip the mistake part?”

“No. It creates drama. People read or watch for drama. It's okay to create by formula as long as you make a familiar journey all about the journey, not the formula.”

“But still...there have to be stories out there where the couple doesn't have some tragic incident for dramatic reasons, right? Maybe they are more boring, but it sounds just as probable to me.”

I sighed. “I don't know. Sounds like something that doesn't get a theatrical run.”

“Oh, here comes my ride.”

I took a good look at her brother – her older brother – who had the same blond hair, but his eyes were green versus her own hazel ones – unless she wore contacts that I hadn't noticed. He was hot. I'd totally date him; he wouldn't even have to pay me.

“Hal, this is Hunter,” Kari was saying. Oh, I guess there were introductions to be made.

“Hello,” I said, smiling and giving him a small wave that I hoped didn't come across as flirty. The man beside Hal, presumably the older man Hal had married – Brandon – was also very attractive, but in a very mature 'I have my shit together, don't fuck with me' kind of way. Of course, I'd already met her twinkie brother.

“It's nice to meet you, Hunter. Kari has talked about you a lot. First jobs can be a pain, but it sounds like she has fun at work with you.”

I turned to look at Kari. “Wait. You work here?”

She dropped her chin and looked at me and I laughed at her.

“I was thinking,” Kari said. “Hunter helped his friend out with a bit of a makeover, and now he's getting a date. Maybe Hunter could help out Isaac, and then he could pick someone finally.”

After a round of chuckles and Isaac giving her a 'Really?' expression, the older man said, “Well, Zac could use some new clothes.”

“As if me wearing anything will push Liz or Tim along,” he said with a bored tone, but a wicked grin.

“Well, normally I'd love to help, but I have a system. Have to start from the skin up,” I said, trying to mess with Isaac.

“I understand,” he said. “I'd be afraid to see me naked, too.”

I cleared my throat. “Well, Kari did describe your...condition.”

He raised an eyebrow and looked back and forth between myself and his sister. A slow smile spread across his face. “You should meet my friend Derry.”

“Why? Because we're both gay?”

He frowned. “No. He's funny, and you're trying to be. He could probably help you.”

Brandon cleared his throat, but Hal beat him to it. “While teenage boys have a generally deserved reputation for being jerks, Zac is not one in that category.”

“Hey!” Isaac said, turning to Hal. “Like I'm a jerk about other things?”

“We really don't have time to go into all that,” Brandon said with a grin. “But you do need some summer clothes. We have some time, if you want to look.”

Kari grabbed my hand, “Come on. Zac is your new Ken doll!”

“I'm not a Ken doll!” he groused as he fell in behind us. “Ken literally has no genitals.”

“He's your kid,” Hal said to his husband.

“What sort of things do you like?” I asked Isaac, trying to smooth over my jerky statement.

He appeared to think for a moment. “I just like comfortable stuff. Do you have sweats and shorts?”

“A few,” I said. “But they honestly aren't the best product. If you like shorts, I'd suggest these.” I took him over to a display. “They have a liner that makes them soft against the skin, but the outside is pretty tough. Plus it has pockets for your cell and wallet. I hear you work outside, so this might work for you.” I turned to the couple. “And they just got marked down.”

“You,” Brandon said, “are quite the salesman.”

I spent about a half an hour with Kari's family, working with her to find a few nice things for her brother. He was nice once we'd gotten past my snippy little comment, and I actually liked him. Hal went outside to take a call while Brandon was paying for the clothes. I was standing with Kari and Isaac.

“So. I hear you're a bit of a gay baiter,” I said to him.

He shrugged. “Not really. Liz hits on me and then Tim does, or sometimes they reverse it. I didn't start anything.”

I tilted my head. “But you don't discourage it, either.”

He shrugged again. “I can't help what they like.”

“He likes the attention,” Kari said with a smirk.

“Well, duh,” he agreed. “They're making it weird now, though. Weirder. They both started dating different people, but they are still doing whatever they do with me. I'm like...what is that, even?”

“Isn't there anyone you like?” I asked.

“Sure. Doesn't everyone?”

I was going to try and pin him down to which sexuality he might be leaning toward, just because Kari had told me all about his weird three-way love-fest with his best friends. But the moment passed and they were on their way.

Thursday Caleb showed up after work, and we moved the clock face to my room. We used construction paper to make a black and white tiled floor and hung a black curtain behind the clock face, something I kept handy for shoots. Mom had already altered the suit a bit, but as we got set up Caleb frowned.


“I just...there's something missing.”

I studied the clock and muttered to myself. The minute hand was missing, of course, but I'd be blocking that. There was no company name on the clock face – was that it? A nice script, maybe in a glittery gold color? Was that the issue?

“What are you doing?”

“Looking for what might be missing,” I said.

“The clock is fine. I think you need something else for the costume.”

I glanced at him and then went to my mirror and looked at myself. I struck a few poses that I might try in front of the clock for the shoot – and then it hit me. “My hands have nothing to do.”

“Maybe that's it,” he agreed.

I thought for a moment, fiddling with the buttons on the jacket. With a burst of excitement I shed the suit and got Caleb's help to open the attic. My mother saves a lot of things that may be able to be reused, and one thing was a tote full of our old Halloween costumes. I dug through the old junk thinking back to when I'd been a vampire one year and I'd had this – aha! It was a black plastic cane with a white tip. Perfect! I popped the top back on the tote and slipped back down from the attic.

“Okay, Let me get dressed again,” I said.

“Or not,” Caleb said. “I'm fine either way.”

I paused and realized that in my haste to not dirty the suit and my excitement to dig in the attic, I was pretty bare. Not that he hadn't seen me in my underwear before, but now he was making comments. And I liked that. And I felt silly. He's messing with my insides again, I thought to myself.

“Well… Sorry, Cal, but we have a shoot to do,” I said, trying not to sound eager at his comment nor frigid. I pulled the clothes back on, and he held my jacket for me, then handed me the cane.

“You look like magic,” he said with a grin.

He's doing it again! “Well, thank you, kind sir,” I replied, trying to be flirty.

We set up the camera and started taking pictures and making adjustments. It took quite a while before I got some shots I was good with. Once that was set he helped me clean up, putting the clock face behind my headboard for storage. Eventually I got dressed in more normal clothes, he asked me out for coffee, and I wondered again if this were the date, even though he'd said Friday.

I rode in his little truck over to our favorite coffee place, then he took me over to his house.

“What are we doing?” I asked him as I sipped my drink.

“I've been working on some flowers. I thought I'd show you what I've been boring you with when I talk about them,” he said with a little smile.

“I'm not bored,” I protested. “I may not understand everything you tell me, but that's not being bored.”

“Come on.” He climbed from the truck and I met him in front of it, and then he took my hand. I was so surprised and enjoying the feeling that when he pulled me off toward the greenhouses I barely noticed. He was holding my hand like it was just a thing you do. Like he'd done it before, was doing it now and would do it again. It was a confidence I felt I lacked, but fuck it – I was going to enjoy it. Even if it was making me nervous as all hell.

He guided me to a small greenhouse behind the main ones, which I decided must be the main ones because of how long they all were. His was more like a green room than a whole house. But inside he had dozens of flowering plants and the room seemed both larger and smaller than I'd have thought. There were a few big, fluffy bees lazily tending to flowers, but I was kind of overcome by the different types I saw. The planters ringed the sides of the room and there was a square table in the center with a narrow walkway around it so you could access all the plants.

“Hey. Those are the red ones you were talking about last week, right?” I asked.

“Yep,” he said with a pleased tone. I let go of his hand and walked into the heart of his biggest interest in life. Threads of many conversations came back to me as I noted his plants and the pretty flowers or unique leaves that he'd eagerly told me about. I'm no gardener, but I could appreciate the time he'd obviously spent out here and how much it meant to him – and how much it meant that he brought me to this place.

“This place looked smaller on the outside,” I told him.

“It's partially hidden by the primary hothouses, but it's big enough for the things I like to work on,” he said, trailing behind me. He pulled out a battered stool and waved me to sit down, which I did. He put his hands on my shoulders and pointed me to a small tray of blue flowers. He stood behind me, his fingers lightly squeezing – squeeze, relax, squeeze, relax.

“When I came to dinner at your house, your dad told a story that really resonated with me,” he said quietly.

“Really? My dad?” I asked, trying to be funny. I had to be funny, because we were building to a moment, and I wasn't sure I could take it. I could feel it like static in the air. His fingers closed and opened softly on my shoulders, and I wanted to lean back into him, to be at peace here in the heart of everything that was Caleb Montgomery. I'd bet there weren't many people that had been in here, and a bigger bet was that no one from school had been in here – and that was oddly important to me. Those dickheads from school could have gone anyplace we'd gone together, Caleb and I, like where we work or shop. But they'd never been in my home, my workshop, my room – and they'd never been here, in Caleb's most important place. In a sense it felt like it was a holy spot and his bringing me here was a big deal.

“Yes, your dad,” he said with a little chuckle. “He was talking about why he calls your mom Rose.”

“Oh, that!” I said and laughed a little. “I've heard that story so many times. Why did that stick with you?”

“You know the lyrics, of course,” he said.

“Yeah, of course.” I paused. “Oh. You like it because it's about a seed that blooms.”

“Kind of,” he said quietly. “But really it's about all the times we try and fail to connect with the world around us, how some people see love as these forces that break us down. But I see it as something to be nurtured, to be cared for until it's ready to bloom on its own. It's about timing, so you can be there when it finally opens its petals and turns its face toward the one they love.”

God, he's good at that. “Caleb,” I said gently. “You should write books. The things you say....”

“Cheesy, huh?”

I turned on the stool to look back at him. “No, actually. You have the most romantic...soul I've ever met.”

“Just the way I planned,” he said with a curve of his lip. He gently turned my face from him, and I sighed at the touch of his fingers on my cheek. His hand drew back to my shoulder, but his forefinger was on the skin of my neck. “People are common,” he said. “We're on every continent. We build cities, we fight wars. We're loving and we're spiteful. We're generous and greedy. We love and we hate.”

I sat quietly while he spoke, not sure what he was trying to say, but letting him do this his way. As he spoke I looked at the flowers in front of me – a blue color on a pretty flower that was hard to describe because there were a few different petal shapes in the bed before me.

“Andrea told me about your unusual middle names,” he said quietly. “Larkspur is a flower, you know.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said. “I know mine is, too. I got the weirder middle name between us.”

“Aciano. It's a common flower that grows in fields and between crops, often called a Cornflower.”

I chuckled. “Of course you'd know what my plant-based middle name was.”

“Of course I do,” he said quietly. “Do you remember when we would start a new school year and we'd have to fill out those cards with all our information – like they didn't already have them on computers in the office?”

I snorted. “Yeah. Big waste of time.”

“Not for me,” he said softly, his finger twitching and lightly stroking my neck. “In seventh grade I was sitting at a desk ahead of you and I saw yours when we handed them to the front of the room,” he said. “Ever since then I've been growing them, trying to get them to match your eyes.”

I stared at the blue flowers in front of me. They were very pretty, all different shades of blue. “These?” I asked, my voice a whisper. “These are Aciano flowers?”

“Yes. None of them as pretty as your eyes, but that's what they are. My unique flower.” Then I did lean back against him, and I put my hand over his. I had been right, this was a moment. Not just that, it was a capital 'M' Moment. I didn't think I'd ever been in a place where I felt more...treasured. Valued.

“Caleb. They're beautiful.”

He murmured something, probably something very sweet, but I was too caught up in myself. Too awash with the flood of feelings too mixed together to separate enough to recognize, not even for a moment. But for as odd as it may sound, it was a peaceful flood. It was good. Cleansing. I pulled his hand down so that he was giving me a one-armed hug – and it was good. It was all good.

If this were a movie or a book then we'd stay like this for an untold amount of time, and even though I kept my hand over his to keep some of this moment flowing, I was pricked by Andy yet again – telling Caleb about me.

“I'm a little confused,” I said. “You knew my middle name from our emergency cards, but Andy still told you – what?”

“She told me about you both having the unusual names. I thought it was just you, so you can let that tension out of your shoulders,” he said with a little snicker.

“You laugh,” I said, “But you don't live with her. We've been at odds since just before school ended, between Bruce and you.”

“I'm not sure I understand at all,” he confessed. “You seem happy enough that we're hanging out and she likes Bruce so...what's the problem?”

I chuckled and shook my head, moving my fingers to feel the back of his hand. “We're interfering in each other's lives. I guess we each think we know what's best for the other, and even if we're right, we resent the meddling.”

“Meddling,” he said with a chuckle. “Like Scooby-Doo.”

I snorted. “Yeah.” I swallowed. It would be so cheesy. It would be ridiculous. It probably wouldn't mean to him what it does to me, so I should keep it to myself – but it seems I have little control when it comes to Caleb at this stage. “So. I have to tell you. Looking up my middle name and growing flowers that remind you of me...waiting for me to be ready for you...I feel pretty special.”

“You are,” he said quietly. “But it wasn't strictly that. I was also scared, and I twisted my thinking into knots over you. I wanted you close to me, but like I said before...I went with weird and passing out because I couldn't control those. As it happens, I can't control any of it.” He hesitated. “I don't feel anxious about things, but after we've been together I...analyze our time together. I do wonder if there were things I could have done differently. I regret not trying to start something with you in high school, but I've been thinking that....”

I turned my head, which left my cheek pressed to his chest as I tried to look up at him. “What have you been thinking?”

He looked down. He was doing it again. His eyes. That smile. I knew they were just for me. “Maybe you and I are a bit like that song your dad likes so much. Maybe we both needed time to grow and heal before we bloomed together.”

Okay, if I didn't do something we were going to have sex here on the floor, and I did not want a first time with Caleb to be like that.

“I have an idea,” I said, panicked thoughts slowly coalescing.


I nodded forcefully and stood up, breaking our contact – and hating the loss. I turned and grinned at him. “In my live Andy-” Oh, fuck no. I was going to say Andy announced she was dating, but I wasn't – we weren't – dating. Not yet. “Well, I was just thinking, we could do a quick shoot out here with your plants. What do you think?”

His face brightened visibly. “Really? What should we do?”

We spent the next little while taking selfies, smearing a little potting soil on our faces as if we were savages and smiling into the camera, mugging with our faces pressed close and surrounded by flowers. I didn't do anything embarrassing, but after I got home all I could do was replay the things he'd said and the emotions he'd brought out in me. I felt...cautiously hopeful. Perhaps, in terms Caleb would appreciate, I was like a flower that had broken the surface and was tentatively opening its petals.


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