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Sweet and Sour

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Another Valentine’s Day, another day alone.

Jackson tried his best to put on a happy face as he took orders for the upcoming holiday, making suggestions to random men who seemed absolutely clueless as to what their dates actually wanted. Working in a flower shop during that time of year would be a hassle to most, but to Jackson it was nothing but an exciting, romantic rush - most of the time, at least. Once the shop had closed for the day, Jackson would begin to work on some arrangements with his fellow coworker to lighten the load for the workers taking the morning shift. It was then he realized how lonely he was, reading each note left behind before tucking it into the arrangement where the lucky recipient would see.

“To my first and only love,” Jackson sighed, placing his hand over his heart. “May you always shine like the sun in the sky.”

“Ew,” Yugyeom snickered, reaching for some decorative red ribbon. “That’s so boring.”

“It’s sweet,” Jackson grinned, moving onto the next project for the night. “Who cares if it’s been said a thousand times? It only matters when you hear it from the one you love.”

“Did you only take this job so you could be a voyeur to these messages?” Yugyeom looked over, seemingly proud of his jab.

“No,” Jackson scoffed, curling a ribbon around a bundle of stems with the edge of a pair of scissors. “You’re the one that told me your dad needed the extra help.”

“I didn’t know I’d be working side by side with Mr. Hopeless Romantic when I offered,” Yugyeom reminded him, both of them laughing as they worked together on their tasks, eventually packing things away for the night.

“Do you ever wish that someone would do any of this for you?” Jackson asked, waiting for Yugyeom to finish setting the alarm before the stepped out of the building.

“Yes and no,” Yugyeom shrugged, both men walking to their cars in the parking lot. “Yes, it would be nice but… I’m not really interested in anything that would be serious enough to warrant a sappy message tied to a dozen roses.”

“I’d love it,” Jackson smiled, leaning his back against the driver’s side door. “Even having the bare minimum of a date on Valentine’s Day itself would be a small miracle.”

“Well…” Yugyeom trailed off, opening his mouth to speak before closing it again. “Wait, nevermind.”

“What?” Jackson perked up, pushing himself off his car gently. “Go on…”

“I mean,” Yugyeom cleared his throat, attempting to play it cool. “I could set you up.”

“Really?” Jackson exclaimed, smile wide as he grabbed Yugyeom’s shoulders. “With who?”

“I have someone in mind,” Yugyeom smiled, peeling Jackson off his body carefully. “I’ll check with him to see if he’s free, but don’t worry! I promise, I think it’ll be a good fit if he can make it work.”

“I can’t believe you know a single guy that you think would be perfect for me and you haven’t said a word,” Jackson cackled, unlocking his door as Yugyeom moved to open his own. “You sure you’re not fucking with me?”

“And ruin having a coworker I can finally stand for more than ten minutes? Hell no,” Yugyeom grinned, waving a bit. “I’ll text you once I hear from him.”

“You better!” Jackson giggled, waving back and getting in his own vehicle and shutting the door.

Hoping and praying that whoever Yugyeom had in mind would say yes, Jackson put on his favorite love songs playlist for his trip home, shamelessly singing to a mystery man he had yet to meet.

 



The next afternoon, Jackson entered his shift with an extra bounce in his step and an even brighter smile as he slipped right into the usual routine of customer service, doing his best to wait until the shift had come to an end before leaning against the counter with a cheesy smirk as Yugyeom flipped the sign on the door from open to closed.

Yugyeomieee,” Jackson sang, fluttering his eyelashes lightly. “Did you get my future soulmate to agree to the dream date of the century with me?”

“He has a name,” Yugyeom laughed, reaching for his phone in his pocket. “It’s Mark.”

“I thought you said you’d text me if you heard from him,” Jackson pouted, fussing with the pens near the register. “He said no, didn’t he?”

“Not exactly,” Yugyeom scratched the back of his neck, looking more nervous than Jackson was comfortable with. “You know, let me just give you his number and you can set things up. Maybe he’ll be more responsive that way.”

“Works for me,” Jackson grinned, pulling his phone out to take the digits down. “I’m fine with taking things into my own hands.”

“Whatever you say,” Yugyeom chuckled, leaving to head back to the storage room, leaving Jackson to send the first of what he hoped would be endless text messages.

 

Jackson

hey - it’s jackson :) yugyeom gave me your number

Jackson

do you like flowers?

 

Squealing under his breath in excitement, Jackson placed his phone in his back pocket before going to help tidy up, excitement rushing through him as he finished the mundane tasks necessary before he could leave. After wrapping up closing duties and heading home, Jackson double checked his phone to make sure that he hadn’t missed the tone his phone used for messages, frowning at the lack of notifications on his homescreen. Figuring a few more minutes away from the device wouldn’t hurt, Jackson showered and changed, climbing into bed before pressing the button again, a single message finally waiting for his reply.

 

Mark

hi and i guess they’re ok

 

It wasn’t much, but it was a start; Jackson was thankful he had replied at all to begin with. Turning on his charm to a higher level, Jackson lounged back in his fresh sheets, typing a message back.

 

Jackson

cool :) so idk if he asked but would you like to go out with me on valentine’s day?

 

Unable to even close out of the app due to his excitement, Jackson couldn’t help but feel slightly taken aback at the other’s somewhat rude reply.

 

Mark

a first date on v-day? you’re crazy

 

Fingers hovering over the digital keyboard, Jackson felt his heart drop, wishing that he hadn’t texted the other man to begin with. In fact, he began to wonder if Yugyeom had even spoken to the other as he had offered, leaving Jackson out to dry with his bad ideas and eager intentions. There he was, foolishly messaging another who apparently didn’t even believe in friendliness or emojis. Luckily, Jackson’s fears were quelled, another reply popping up shortly after.

 

Mark

kidding. wanna meet at the bar on the corner of 106th and main at like 730?


Jackson smiled to himself, heart soaring at the simple message.


Jackson

that sounds great :) see you then!



As the date crawled closer, Jackson purchased a brand new outfit, wanting to look like a complete knock-out to his mystery man. Even with a little bit of online lurking, he found it difficult to learn much about the other man, wondering if he were as mysterious as he seemed. If Mark was close with Yugyeom, Jackson felt safe to assume that he had a good sense of humor and a lot of patience, but he shied away from overthinking the date too much, wanting to enjoy the moment once it arrived.

The rush of last-minute orders kept Jackson busy at work before he could clock out and get ready for his big date, dressing in his new outfit and styling his platinum blonde hair in a slicked-back style. It had been a few months since his last first date, but he still felt hopeful that the night would go well, knowing that he was a catch and anyone that couldn’t see that had to be blind. Sending a quick message to Yugyeom that he was heading out for the night, Jackson requested a ride from his phone and wandered downstairs and out to the sidewalk, sliding in the backseat once it arrived.

Moments later, he thanked the driver and stepped outside as the car pulled away, looking up at a bright neon sign hanging above the bar Mark had suggested. Judging by the puns and decor from the outside, it seemed to be one of the new trendy barcades, a combination of an adult drinking experience and a childhood wonderland, something that appealed to Jackson in the present day and his younger side at heart. Searching around through the busy sidewalk, Jackson eventually noticed a younger man deeply enthralled with something on the screen of his phone standing near the entrance. Before Jackson could consider walking over and asking for his name, the stranger looked up from his device, a strange tension filling the air between them as he began to walk over.

“Hey,” Mark said, voice deeper than Jackson had briefly imagined it to be. “Jackson, right?”

“That’s me,” Jackson grinned, reaching out and shaking the other’s hand. “Cool place, looks like it’ll be a great choice.”

“Yeah,” Mark replied nonchalantly, walking over to the door and heading inside, barely holding it open long enough for Jackson to follow in behind him. Trying to not get discouraged by the first four words Mark had spoken, Jackson kept a smile on his face as Mark asked for a table, the pair getting seated at a high top table near the bar itself. Along the back wall, arcade games flashed demo videos and high scores, pleasant noises mixing in with the bustling bar scene around them. After thanking the waitress, Jackson cracked open his menu and looked across the table to the other man deep in thought, finger scanning the list of local breweries.

“So,” Jackson smiled, “Yugyeom barely told me anything about you. What do you do for a living? Or are you still in school?”

“I graduated a few years ago,” Mark replied, not looking up. “I work for a local television station, help produce their morning show or whatever.”

“That’s so cool,” Jackson admired, wishing he could get a better read on his date’s emotions. “I graduated a little bit ago but have been working with Yugyeom at the flower shop, not sure what I really want to do.”

Mark hummed in acknowledgement, Jackson’s next question cut off by the arrival of their waitress who quickly took their drink orders. Closing the drink menu and opening the next for food options, Mark looked up and offered a small smile before casting his gaze back down.

“Flowers, huh?” Mark commented, flipping the pages slowly. “You seem like you’re really into all the cheesy crap out there.”

“I mean, yeah,” Jackson laughed, bubbly personality unwavered by Mark’s lack of excitement. “Romance, love and all the cliches that come with it… that’s kinda my thing.”

“Interesting,” Mark’s lips formed what seemed to be a smile, Jackson grinning back without another comment to follow. Luckily, the waitress came back quickly, dropping off their drinks and jotting down their orders for dinner before taking the menus away. Mark was back to focusing on his phone as he was outside, completely disconnected from the date itself.

“So, uh,” Jackson cleared his throat, hoping to gain Mark’s attention again to no luck, “do you like video games? I’ve only heard of this place from friends.”

“Yeah…” Mark looked up, shrugging again. “It’s a hobby of mine.”

“Cool,” Jackson smiled, figuring he had discovered something Mark would be more open to talking about. “Do you play online? I’ve never been really good at any of those serious ones, maybe you could show me-”

“Look,” Mark’s semi-pleasant smile was back, phone placed down on the table, “I don’t want you to get the wrong idea here.”

“What?” Jackson asked, panic rising in the back of his mind. What kind of wrong idea could he have possibly had? It was a first date and he had barely asked any questions, Mark totally guarded in providing simple answers.

“I said I wouldn’t say anything, but you’re a nice guy,” Mark laughed softly to himself, shaking his head. “I kind of… owed Yugyeom a favor.”

“A favor?” Jackson’s heart sank, stomach twisting in a firm knot as he froze in his seat. Had all of it been an elaborate joke?

“He helped me with something last year and ever since, I’ve owed him,” Mark explained, much calmer about the truth than Jackson was. “I didn’t know it’d be on a date… and I didn’t expect you to be so…”

“Obnoxious?” Jackson finished his sentence bitterly, shaking his head as the all-too-familiar feeling of being ‘too much’ cast a shadow over him. “That’s nothing I haven’t heard before…”

“Let me finish,” Mark put a hand up, keeping a calm and cool vibe about him. “I didn’t expect you to be so… sweet. I didn’t know he would set me up with someone who seems as genuine as you.”

“Are you saying you aren't genuine?” Jackson asked, annoyance still obvious yet toned back as Mark redeemed himself with each response.

“Kind of?” Mark rubbed the back of his neck, smiling and showing off his perfectly white teeth Jackson wished he could hate. “Aren’t you thinking I’m a real dick for going along with this and dragging you out to a bar I like just to get the night over with?”

“I mean,” Jackson laughed and shrugged, sipping on his drink, “this isn’t the worst start to a date I’ve had, believe it or not.”

“Really?” Mark whistled under his breath, lounging back in his seat. “There’s men worse than me?”

“When you’re someone who lives and dies by grand romantic gestures and sappy signs of true love, it’s hard to find the right person to fit your dream persona,” Jackson smiled, giggling softly as he played with the edge of his drink coaster, “not that I’d know or anything.”

“So, you’re saying I’m not really what you’re looking for?” Mark smirked, beer in hand as he waited for Jackson’s response. Of course the other had to be a bit reserved yet cocky, leaving Jackson to wonder what he could say to salvage the rest of the night. Was Mark’s personality ideal for his fantasy of a perfect Valentine’s Day date? Absolutely not. Was it the worst thing in the world to smile through the meal, helping Mark complete his task in return to Yugyeom? No, but Jackson wasn’t sure the other agreed.

“Listen,” Jackson began, trying to find the words to let the other down easy before a stack of lined paper was tossed onto their table, a few pencils sliding next to it. Somehow in sync, Jackson and Mark both looked up at the stranger hovering over the table, a dorky man with glasses smiling back at them both.

“Here for trivia?” The man continued to be oblivious to the trainwreck occuring before his arrival, looking back and forth between the pair. “It’s Valentine’s Day themed!”

“Actually...” Jackson went to gather the supplies to hand back to the man, the difficulty of the date alone more of a challenge than a bunch of questions could be.

“First place wins $250 and a bottle of wine,” the guy continued to sell them on getting involved, smirking in an uncomfortable manner towards them.

“Really?” Mark asked, Jackson snapping his head over in surprised at the other’s reaction.

“Really really,” he laughed. “So, are you two in?”

“Give us a moment,” Jackson forced a smile, the employee nodding and going off to the next table as Mark giggled a bit. “Are you serious?”

“Yes, sir,” Mark grinned, looking completely different than the character he had been moments ago. “Don’t you want to win?”

“How do you know we even stand a chance?” Jackson whined, motioning around them. “There could be tables on tables of geniuses out here and you want to try?”

“I want to fucking win,” Mark confirmed, turning on the charm and offering a handsome smile that immediately reminded Jackson of his dream man in his head.

“Competitive?” Jackson asked, eyebrow raised suspiciously.

“You have no idea,” Mark replied, Jackson swearing he winked at him as he drank from his pint glass.

“Sir!” Jackson smiled, calling the employee back over to confirm their participation. “We’re in!”

“Awesome,” the worker smiled, pulling out a pad from his pocket, writing down a quick note. “What’s your team name?”

“How about…” Jackson pondered, tapping his index finger on his chin as he debated a few generic ideas.

“Sweet and Sour,” Mark suggested, smile a bit reserved as he looked at Jackson for approval.

“That’s perfect,” Jackson agreed, the worker nodding and heading off to finish his rounds at the other tables before the blond turned to face his blind date. “How’d you come up with that so quickly?”

“I have no idea,” Mark laughed, signature giggle too bubbly for Jackson not to immediately fall in love with. “Glad you liked it, though.”

“Of course,” Jackson smiled, picking up a pencil and scribbling their new team name along the top of the first sheet of answer paper. “Let’s win this.”

 

 

Five rounds and three drinks each later, Jackson and Mark were tied for first place with a know-it-all couple lurking in a corner booth, the pair shooting judgmental glares in their direction as Jackson would giggle over each question. From movie trivia to favorite love songs, they had known more than either of them would have guessed, propelling them to the top of the leaderboard with ease. With only a tie-breaker question remaining, Jackson couldn’t help but look at Mark a little differently than when he had learned he was only there to help a friend out, wondering if maybe the date had changed his mind behind his intentions.

“One final question to determine our lucky-in-love winners tonight,” the announcer spoke into the microphone, Mark already pressing the tip of the pencil to the paper below. “For the grand prize, please list the top five most popular types of flowers purchased as gifts for Valentine’s Day.”

“You’re kidding me…” Mark mumbled in awe, glancing over in Jackson’s direction. “Did you plan this?”

“No, start writing!” Jackson giggled, Mark smiling wide as the blond rattled the types off quickly, both unable to believe their dumb luck with the subject of the final question. Once the sheet was filled, Mark ran up to the table where the announcer sat, cutting off the taller member of the other team with a smirk before returning to sit next to Jackson. The blond, suddenly very aware of Mark’s perfect skin and how good he smelled, braced himself to hear the final total, keeping his fingers crossed as the organizers confirmed their responses.

“It was a close one here, folks!” Mark swiftly reached over, grabbing Jackson’s left hand tight as they waited for the announcement. “Our winners tonight get to enjoy a bottle of wine on the house and a hefty sum of $250…”

“Say it!” Jackson couldn’t hold back, knee bouncing with excitement as the other patrons laughed at his eagerness.

“The champions of Valentine’s Day trivia are…”

Breathing in deeply, Jackson closed his eyes.

“Sweet and Sour!”

Cheering loudly, Mark and Jackson leapt out of their seats at the same time, embracing each other as the other customers clapped to congratulate the pair. Somehow, the night had been successfully righted, Jackson sneaking a quick glance over to the newly-titled Loser table, sticking his tongue out before Mark nudged him to turn the other way. Faces barely inches away from each other, Jackson slowly tuned out the rest of the room, lost in Mark’s kind eyes, mesmerized by his sharp smile and pink lips. He had made the mistake of letting himself catch the tiniest of feelings for a man that hated the holiday, someone who made it clear that it was only his duty to stay for the night.

“You were amazing,” Mark complimented him, Jackson’s cheeks tinting pink at the few words spoken.

“Thanks,” Jackson mumbled quietly, debating his next choice of words. “Couldn’t have done it without you.”

“You’re the MVP between us, though,” Mark giggled softly, finally letting go of Jackson as the host brought over their winnings: a stack of cash and a bottle of wine with two glasses. After carefully splitting the money between them, Mark motioned to the expensive bottle on the table, grinning in a way Jackson hadn’t recognized from when they first introduced themselves. “Let’s celebrate.”

Taking their seats at the table again, Mark poured them each a glass, smiling softly as Jackson took a sip.

“So,” Mark began, leaning his elbow against the table, “flowers, huh?”

Giggling to himself, Jackson felt like he had accidentally stumbled into the best first date ever, won over by the other’s charm and determination.

“Yeah,” Jackson smiled back, “they’re kinda my thing.”