Chapter 1: The First Glance: Part 1
It was just an average day.
Or so he thought.
There wasn’t anything that should have made that man stand out to Gelato.
Yet even still.
His eyes couldn’t help but follow the stranger who perused his flower shop, his gaze pursuing the tall figure who slinked from display to painstakingly organized display with a stoic expression blocking even the slightest hint of emotion from painting his lips. He gave an equal amount of time staring down and judging every vase or pot of flowers and scanning every accent of each composition with the same cold visage before slowly redirecting himself to inspect the next piece. As the minutes ticked on, his unreadable study of each bouquet began to unnerve Gelato, who found himself hungering for even a flicker of praise to appear in the stranger’s eyes. Without so much as a nod of approval, the visitor would dawdle to examine the next specimen of a floral arrangement, each cycle of walk, peer, and carry-on driving another nail of desperation deep into Gelato’s very being. His breath began to shallow; he couldn’t comprehend why exactly he wished to impress this man so badly, and that desire and hunger gnawed fervently at his core, spurring an anxiety which began to buzz around his head; he just wished that the customer would pick something and just leave the store quickly, never to be seen again, and for the store to return to the silent and peaceful morning from which the day had started. Gelato shook his head at this idea, regardless of not even knowing this man’s name, the thought of never encountering this stranger again didn’t sit well with him.
With now a pang of guilt in his belly, Gelato’s focus drifted down to the notebook in front of him. Here lay his list of orders from all over the town, he hadn’t begun to organize these arrangements yet, so, boredly, he read his catalog. Gelato’s store had been open for two or so years, and he had seen a myriad of far more colorful personalities come and go, the proof of this being the customers’ names written on the page before his very own eyes, yet, their faces now were becoming but a blur to his memory, their names now just letters jumbled together into a disorganized pile. His thoughts flurried about, and in vain, Gelato began to grasp a for a vase so that he could attempt to create the first item on his agenda. His hands fumbled under his counter, his fingertips brushing against a variety of glass and ceramics with colors hidden from the sunlight in their dark wooden shelter. Without even the focus to feel satisfied in his decision, Gelato plucked a cobalt blue glass from the inventory under his table, and placed it onto the countertop. He tried to concentrate onto the urn and envision his next project, but this was fruitless, and he fiddled his fingers in frustration as he felt himself drowning in the atmosphere of the room.
The store was far too quiet for Gelato’s liking, and for a brief moment, he considered turning on the radio to break the choking silence. Suddenly, his train of thought was halted by a soft, unrecognizable murmur, which snapped Gelato’s attention back onto the stranger with enough force to cause whiplash in the man’s already dizzy head. The stranger stood in front of a bouquet of white roses and raspberry calla lilies with a finger raised to his chin in thought, and a look of peaceful approval seemed tangible in the visitor’s gaze. Gelato felt his pulse stop, the image before him held an ethereal serenity that took the storekeeper’s breath away: The morning sun palely outlined the mysterious figure, its light dancing off the petals and leaves of the hundreds of blossoms around the man who seemed frozen in time, his soft brown eyes quietly adoring the flowers before him. The world seemed so still to Gelato in that moment, so still and yet so very, indescribably vibrant that he felt his heart twist and putter inside of his chest as if it yearned to break free. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t so much as avert his stare, let alone be pretend to be preoccupied with work; he felt like a deer caught in the headlights of a barreling car.
Then their eyes met.
Chapter 2: The First Glance: Part 2
Gelato didn’t move.
He couldn’t move.
He felt as though all of the air had been snatched from his lungs, as though he were suspended in the air, completely vulnerable, completely defenseless. A stomach-churning numbness which bordered on panic overtook his body, only making the man more aware of how hapless he must be. His own blood rushed in his ears at a deafening volume, muddling all of his senses except for vision, which felt in a stunning and cold clarity the piercing gaze of the stranger that bore itself into his own; a gaze which was emotionless, collected, and cruelly unaware of the unintentional mayhem that it was wreaking. Time itself stopped marching forward, and the two simply existed past it for that seemingly unassuming moment.
With a slow blink, the chain which had so unfairly pulled Gelato away from reality was released; the customer swiveled his attention back to the bouquet, and gave it one last thorough inspection, giving Gelato time to breathe. The storekeeper felt himself crudely snapped back into the shop, feeling incomplete, as if back where he had been he had left some integral part of his being. An overwhelming emptiness grew in his stomach, almost as if he yearned to go back to the unfamiliar numb space he had been trapped in and retrieve what he has forgotten in those few seconds. Suddenly, he felt a rush of heat course its way down his body, flowing out and returning dutifully to his arms and legs, and as if he were thawing, Gelato stiffly moved his fingers to strum seemingly idly on the desk, the movement was jilted, trembling and uneven, but he feared that he wouldn’t be able to return from another moment of stillness.
That was all his stomach could feel as the man steadily reached for the bouquet before making his way to the counter. His footsteps, which were so trivial to the average ear, resonated off of the walls of the small flower shop as he closed off the distance between the two. Gelato prepared himself for the feeling of panic which he was sure to return with a vengeance, and yet…
He felt calm…
He didn’t feel a painful stillness, no, he felt peace, he felt time continue to trek forward, uninterrupted, while the customer made his way to the counter. It was a giddy peace, one which grounded him and would have brought a lofty smile to his lips had he not known any better than to grin at a stranger.
The transaction was formal, near silent except for the obligated greetings and direction from Gelato, who waited with bated breath to hear just what the stranger’s voice sounded like. His waiting was in vain however, and with a small nod, the visitor signaled the end of his visit, leaving the store with the arrangement in hand. The bell which rang whenever a customer entered or exited the store brought with it a desolate air after the man’s departure, leaving the florist completely at the mercy of his thoughts once more. Outside of the door, Gelato had expected to see the Sun begin to set, yet it had barely even moved an inch from its position in the sky. Surprised, he turned his attention to the clock behind him and realized that the entire ordeal with the mysterious new customer had only occurred in a mere thirty minutes. Struggling to grapple as to why this encounter had shaken him so deeply, he raised a finger to his lips, tapping at his ever growing, confused pout in contemplation. He found himself unable to come to any sort of reasoning as to why he had experienced such a whirlwind of emotions, much to his germinating sense of frustration. With a sigh, he dropped the issue for the time in an attempt to cut the sprout of desperate confusion with threatened to plague him for the rest of the day, and threw himself back into organizing another floral piece, noting to himself that he ought to order more white roses and calla lilies.
Chapter 3: The Walk Home
Before he knew it, the day had come to an anticlimactic close.
Gelato felt content, pleased with the fact that he had finished all of the orders on his list so promptly, it was rare that we could have done such a task, but God knows what kind of busy work he was willing to throw himself into so long as it meant that he could get, well, him out of his mind. Him, that unrecognizable face who conjured up a tight warmth which churned and strained against Gelato’s chest whenever it fluttered so modestly into his thoughts; a person with a name Gelato prayed to one day know, not that the visitor’s return was by any means guaranteed. The sound of the name bouncing off of his own tongue, he hoped, would bring solace to the situation he had been cast into so abruptly. Against his own better intuition, he reminisced about that angelic scene he had witnessed what felt like an era ago, how the sunlight that seemed so heaven sent danced and bounced about the room, illuminating the stranger in a beautiful, other worldly light. Gelato felt weightless when he thought about that image, so stunningly calm that a waveless lake seemed turmotulous in comparison. The florist, now angry at himself for letting himself muddle over and over the idea of the earlier visitor, began his way home with a shake of his head.
He stepped outside onto the humble cobblestone street, any rays of warm, orange light which would have indicated the sunset were obscured by the incoming of miles of dark rain clouds, and the late fall evening greeted the man with a sharp, chilling wind. Cursing himself for not bringing a thicker jacket, Gelato briskly trotted down the neighborhoods, eager to make his way back to his apartment and out of the cold. On his journey, he felt almost bored by the damp air and greying surroundings which only grew more and more suffocating as he slipped through alleyways and various shortcuts,and knew that Winter was soon coming and with it another season he spent alone.
The pattering beginning of the rainstorm echoed off of the streets, only motivating Gelato to move even faster and make it back to his apartment before it could get any worse. With his eyes focused on the dark pavement below him, he rushed forward, the ground becoming but an unfocused blur as he paid little attention to anything that wasn’t the goal of getting home. The drops of rain slowly came in droves, soaking through the man’s thin coat and shirt, cascading down his face and clinging to his eyelashes. As he marched forward, he found his attention snagged onto a not unusual sight: the warm glow of lights emanating from a library. He blinked the rainwater from his eyes and paused to peer through the large windows, noticing dozens of faces, young and old, some meandering about through the shelves of books, and others sat and reading novels. He felt compelled to enter the building, wondering if he could catch a break from the weather inside as his breath came out in puffs against the freezing air. He stepped forward tentatively, considering whether or not the storm would clear in an hour or two, before shaking his head and continuing on his journey back home.
He didn’t have the time.
In ten or so minutes, not like Gelato was counting, he was home. He climbed the stairs to the third floor of his apartment complex, suddenly weary from the day, and trudged to his door. His movements felt stretched out, as if he was suspended in honey, and he grasped with a tired sigh for the keys in his pocket. Fumbling, and ready to just end the day, Gelato unlocked the front door and with a low groan entered his apartment, greeted by only a dark, empty space. He closed the door behind him, flicked on a light, and peeled off his damp jacket and shirt, draping the garments over a chair. As he trekked to his bedroom with the dwindling energy he had, he halted and scanned his quarters, the only fellow life in the space being the multitude of potted plants which spilled out from corner to corner of the apartment.
It was quiet.
Gelato yawned, and without another moment’s hesitation, went to his bedroom, and dropped onto his bed, not even bothering to throw himself under his linens.
Chapter 4: The First Morning
Gelato’s eyes shot open from his dreamless sleep.
With a few blinks, his hazy vision slowly adapted to the sunrise which streamed through window, the sharp orange breaking through the smokey purples and blues of the night brilliantly. Gelato stretched as he rose from his bed, and carefully pulled away his blinds so as to get a better view. He was surprised that the sky was so clear, with the only traces of the previous night’s storm being the puddles of water which still collected on the streets below.
That’s how he’d put it. The town before him had yet to stir despite the hour, it was a Sunday, afterall, and Gelato was used to the sleepy town taking hours to shake off the previous night’s sleep and fully awaken. He slowly raised his hand to brush his hair out of his face as he took a deep breath and stretched, that’s right, it was Sunday, he wouldn’t be open for business, but he still had to tend to his plants at the store. He slowly ambled away from his window and over to his closet, rummaging through his humble supply of clothing before eventually deciding that brown slacks and a teal button up would do for the day. His mind was still groggy, something weighed on his mind but he wasn’t yet awake enough to decipher what exactly it was, and he pondered what could be troubling him as he stood motionless under his shower, like a statue in the rain. Gelato’s eyelids drooped and he felt himself only growing more exhausted under the warm water and growing steam. With all remaining resolve, and a growing desire to just snap out of it and wake up, he grasped for the shower handle, and switched it sharply to cold. His breath hitched and his eyes shot open as he felt the water cut like hail over his back, adrenaline dashed through his muscles, and he reflexively shut the shower off without another moment to stand in the freezing water. He stood still, listening to everything drip off of his body for a moment as his thoughts cleared.
“Oh yeah… I’m out of coffee…”
His voice was quiet and bored, yet even still it echoed off of the tile walls of his bathroom. The man continued to mumble to himself as he stepped out of the shower and dried himself off, he had meant to pick up more coffee grounds on his way home from work the night before, but between the weather and his encounter with the stranger in his store, well, he forgave himself for letting that slip his mind.
“I guess I can just go to the cafe.” He figured aloud to his reflection as he buttoned up his shirt and brushed through his now dry, blond locks. With a satisfied nod, he walked out to his living room, watering his plants quickly before slipping on his jacket and strolling out of his door. He descended down the stairwell while considering what type of coffee he would buy. Iced? Sure, why not? Black? A little cream and sugar never hurt him. He wanted to be in and out quickly, as he was eager to see how his plants at his shop had grown in even just a night.
Soon enough, Gelato found himself in front of the coffee shop. The cafe was a small hole in the wall, barely big enough to fit a dozen or so people, yet it was still a town favorite, with a sizeable crowd already formed so early in the morning. Through the mass, Gelato sauntered up to the counter and ordered his drink: An iced coffee with two creams and one sugar, to go. He stifled a yawn and took a sip, and with a smile, he began his trek out of the door and to his own business. He squeezed through the forest of people, his eyes focused on the ground lest he trip and spill his drink all over the place.
“Here.” A man stood and held the door open for Gelato.
“Ah, thank you-” His eyes drifted up, and with a jolt, he realized that he knew who was right in front of him.
It was the man from the day before.
He gulped, and quickly nodded his head before ducking out through the door, his gaze focusing intently on the ground as he rushed to his flower shop.
Flowers were easier to understand than people, he reasoned as he poured water for a hanger of purple petunias.
Chapter 5: An Amble Stroll
Gelato sat behind his counter, having finished his chores long ago and now having not much else to do but idle about his own store. He strummed his fingers on the wooden table top, and hummed along to the jazz tune which played out in fuzzy waves through the old radio, considering buying a new one with his limited funds. He rose, thinking he might as well close up and be on his way back to his apartment to find something else to channel his energy into. He began traversing the aisles of flowers with a final look over as he bobbed his head along to the music, only to be interrupted by a hissing fizzle, followed by a deafening pop. He ducked slightly at the noise and covered his ears, and hesitantly, he turned back to his radio which was now emanating a flume of black smoke, the acrid smell of melting plastic cutting violently through the usual aroma of various blossoms. He cursed under his breath as he unplugged the machine and tucked it under his arm, and with a huff, he locked up his shop, afterwards slinking into a nearby alleyway to chuck the old radio into the trash. Cynically, Gelato chuckled to himself, now knowing that he had at least something to work towards to having instead of just working for the sake of having something to pass the time, and with a brush of his coat to remove a small smudge of soot, he began his walk home.
The evening was much like the day: clear, if not a little brisk, with the thin orange line of sunset which still shone against the purples and blues of the night sky radiating off of the windows of the various buildings on the streets. He marched with heavy footsteps, his eyes falling to focus on the various activities of the townspeople about him. One woman walked with her child into a grocery store, a floggle of older women sat about a table on the opposing sidewalk, chatting about something which Gelato couldn’t quite hear. He wondered if these people knew about the cycles they were in: did they meet with friends every Sunday? Did they go to the grocer’s every other evening? Hell, would they even care to change? Or did they like this steady life.
He turned a corner, not really paying much attention to where he was going now; he was simply roaming through the neighborhoods for the sake of it, or maybe he just needed to clear his thoughts and get out of his own introspective bubble. He pivoted through the valleys between buildings, with neither goal nor purpose, and before he knew it, the Sun had long left the sky, the light of the streetlamps now flooding through the town with a calm hum. Once again, he found himself passing the library he had debated on entering the night before.
Gelato crossed the street, and hesitantly dawdled to the entrance, meekly, he placed his fingertips to the glass door’s metal handle and questioned whether or not he was even worthy of going in. Nevertheless, he pulled, as if he were overcome by the confidence of another, and was greeted by a wave of warm air, which only served to remind him just how cold it was outside. He quietly stepped in, with a new goal in mind: to go as unseen as possible. There were only a handful of people, all who seemed far too encompassed in their own business to bother to lift their glances from their books, so Gelato figured that he could easily grab a few various novels, check out, and go home without calling any attention to himself, lest he be faced with scrutiny. He paused, wondering to himself why he felt so scared of any sort of unjust judgement, and with a smirk, he realized that he must have had enough of eyes being on him. He could go the rest of his life without anyone ever looking at him, and it would still be too soon.
With his pace being dampened by the carpet, Gelato tiptoed through the shelves, his eyes catching every dozen or so titles on a spine with a ping of curiosity. Soon enough, he had collected a good collection of various books from all sorts of genres, albeit, with a majority of the stories being sappy romance novels, and nearly satisfied with his hunt, the young man slid through one last undiscovered corner of the library.
His heart stopped.
There, nestled in the corner of the store, was that damn stranger again. Gelato felt a thin line of sweat begin to form on his temple, his pupils dilating as his breath snagged in his throat. He felt himself grow small, and unable to move, as if he were clamped under a microscope. Before he could feel himself shrink any farther down, and with a wave of relief, he realized that the man’s nose was far too deep in a book for him to have even noticed a shred of his presence. So taking this opportunity without another moment to spare, Gelato silently hurried to the checkout, and as he passed the counter afterwards, he felt his eyes locked briefly onto an all too familiar bouquet.
Chapter 6: Think of the Devil and He Will Appear
The next ten days were just a blur to the young shopkeeper, with each day indistinctly mixing into the next without any sort of meaning or landmark action to separate itself. The customers came and went, not really standing out much to him, yet he dutifully fulfilled each order, noting only the sharp rise in demand for roses and poinsettias. The holiday season was surely upon them, and people were eager to gift their sweethearts with bouquets and arrangements of all sorts, Gelato reasoned with a tinge of bitterness. He felt a surge of jealousy of their fortunate situations, to have a face to come back to every night and to have someone to caress lovingly every morning. He took a sip of his coffee, now lukewarm, hoping that it might dull the sharp edge of emotions which stabbed his mind. With a long sigh, he slumped forward into his fist, giving an almost irritated glare to the pile of books at his side which he had finished, knowing that he ought to return them on his walk home tonight. He only let himself fall further forward, resting his head onto his counter and nestling in his own arms. He shut his eyes tightly and debated whether or not to close up early for the day; it wasn’t that he had nothing to do, far from it, actually. It was because Gelato felt like if he saw another customer requesting a piece for their lover, that his own heart might, in turn, just pop from his own loneliness. A chasm only grew in his chest, a void which ached and churned violently as the minutes of silence ticked on. He pursed his lips and perked his head up, suddenly aware of just how pathetic he would appear to the next customer to enter the store should he continue on in such a state.
He swallowed his growing sense of self-pity and returned his attention back onto the library books, realizing that he may have to face the stranger again if he wants to read anymore novels.
The thought of another encounter with the man bounded vibrantly off of the walls of Gelato’s mind.
Even though it had been nearly two weeks since their first encounter, the thought of that man would still send Gelato into a small tizzy which he would fight to shake from his brain. He resented that meeting, yet he couldn’t bring himself to even hold a small grudge against the mysterious figure. It wasn’t his fault that he had thrown Gelato into an ever shifting river of indescribable emotions; he was smart enough to know better than that. A lump grew in the florist’s throat as he mulled over each of the three previous encounters, doubt plaguing his mind as he now wished that he had said something, anything of meaning to that customer. The painful canyon in his chest only grew deeper, tightening his breath as he yearned for another chance, a moment to talk about more than pleasantries with the man, to know his name at the very least, and the despair grew at the thought that seeing that stranger again wasn’t even a guarantee. Gelato felt himself falling inward, deeper and deeper into that abyss in his chest, his grip on the edge of the table, which he was unaware of, tightened until his knuckles turned white, in an attempt to pull himself out. He took a shaky breath, the only thing keeping him completely grounded being the expectation that another customer may waltz into the shop at any moment, with only their figure outside of the window serving as a warning. With glazed eyes, Gelato stared ahead on the window, internally climbing upwards while in in reality he merely kept his focus attentively ahead.
He lurched forward into his desk in surprise as a tall shadow unassumingly passed before the window, the clear ring of the front door’s bell signaling his arrival. The customer tugged at the cuffs of his green dress shirt’s sleeves as he made his way to the counter, his head turning from side to side to appreciate the various vases filled with flowers and adorned with bows of all shades in silence. The room was filled with a hushed lull, the and the air felt thick as Gelato found himself forgetting to breathe. It was him. It was the stranger. With a plastic smile, Gelato remembered his role, and crashed through the silence.
“Hello there, sir! How can I help you today?” There was a fake pep in his voice, his speech faltering to sound anywhere close to what his ears considered melodic. The customer seemed unaffected, however.
“I’d like to order a custom arrangement.” His voice was deep and tactful, a gruff edge coloring the corners of his diction. “Just mixed stock flowers.”
Gelato was thankful as he scribbled down the order, he was nearly out of poinsettias and he was eager to be given an opportunity to try and create something different for this time of year.
“Any preference on vase color?”
“I’ll leave that decision up to you.”
“And… Can I get a name for this order?” Gelato tapped his pen fervently on the edge of his notebook.
Chapter 7: Complete
Gelato stood with a half-lidded stare in front of his bouquet. His voice was a cracked and tired whisper, weary from the hours he had spent mulling over this arrangement, making sure that each blossom was just perfect and that the bow was tied just right. Every so often, he would turn the black vase slightly to judge his art from another angle, and each time he found something to be fixed. His stomach churned, normally a piece so simple as this would take no time at all, there wasn’t much to this order, so why did Gelato feel the need to have this bouquet look perfect?
Was he just that prideful of his craft?
No. No, it couldn’t be that. If that were the case, he would never have finished an order in his life. So then why did Sorbet’s order matter so much to Gelato?
He bit his lip in frustration and his eyes darted between the clock and the stock flowers frantically. It was a quarter to two, and Sorbet would be in the store to pick up the bouquet at any moment, yet the florist just wasn’t satisfied with his work. With a groan, he questioned to the empty store.
“God, just why does he want this piece-” His mouth went dry and he felt a pit in his stomach drop before he could finish.
It was for a lover, wasn’t it?
Gelato figured, everyone else was buying gifts for their partners at this time of the year, so it wouldn’t be that out of the question to reason that Sorbet was doing the same.
So why did it hurt?
Gelato fiddled with the collar of his shirt, letting out a breath that was more akin to a hiss as he did so. He backed away from the desk where the vase of flowers rested to rest his back against the wall and slapped his head into the palm of his hand.
“No… no you’ve spent enough of the day overthinking everything, Gelato, give yourself a break.” He sighed out and rubbed his temples in frustration, his brows furrowing as he tried to drop his overvalue of the situation. Sorbet’s private life doesn’t matter to Gelato; he may be a customer, but ultimately, he was still just a stranger, right? Gelato felt his teeth clamp down onto the inside of his cheeks, almost hard enough to draw blood. Why did he care so much about a stranger, anyway?
His eyes shot open, it was almost two, and god forbid that the stranger whose opinion mattered to Gelato so much show up at such an inopportune time and see him having a pity party. Gelato straightened his back and walked closer to his work table to give his order just one last look over.
With a nod, he managed to convince himself that the piece wasn’t going to look any better, and he looked back down at his list of other orders, hoping that he could occupy his spare time and not make it look like he was just waiting about all day for Sorbet. Gelato’s head perked up, alerted by the bell of his front door and the rush of cold wind which came with it. The figure who came in was recognizable, but Gelato felt his heart dip with a tinge of disappointment as he realized that it wasn’t Sorbet. However, the face was familiar.
The man, whose long silver hair contradicted his young appearance, spoke softly.
“Hello there, I’m here to pick up an order for Sorbet? He’s a little tied up with work right now, so he asked me to get it for him while I’m on my break.” He smiled, “I have his check, if you don’t believe me.” He held the slip of paper between his front two fingers and winked.
Gelato waved his hand and laughed, “ No worries, I’ll take that off your hands and you can take this off of mine.” With this, the man stepped forward, his mouth slightly agape in awe of the arrangement as he leaned in to get a better look.
“Your pieces certainly are a work of art, Gelato.” His eyes, shining in admiration, rose up to meet the florist’s gaze. Gelato brought a hand to the back of his head and he looked off to the side at nothing in particular.
“Ah… thank you….” He never was one who took praise or compliments well, even if he desired them so greatly.
“I ought to place an order of my own, sometime.” The familiar face whispered mostly to himself as he took another moment to appreciate the stock flowers. “I’m sure Squalo would love flowers like these.” He straightened his posture and nodded at Gelato. “Expect to see me back here soon.” With that, he took the vase and went on his way, the only trace he left being Sorbet’s check. In the now empty store, Gelato went about beginning his next order in peace, until a harmless question bubbled from the corners of his mind. Gelato raised his thumb to his lips, curious.
“I wonder where Sorbet works, anyway?”
Chapter 8: Back to the Library
The day fizzled out into an anticlimactic close. Gelato, with his books in tow, departed his store long after the Sun had set, grateful for a chance to be away from his ever-growing to-do list. He tugged at the hem of his jacket, burrowing his face further and further down into its collar as he cursed himself for not owning a scarf.
“Another thing to save up for.” He thought aloud as he made his way determinedly through the streets and back to the library. He slipped through the door, greeted by a comforting warmth and the smell of old books and leather.
“Hello, again, Gelato.” The man at the counter nodded behind his reading glasses, his long hair tied behind in a bun. Gelato, with his hand mostly obscured under the cuffs of his coat, waved silently in response, his eyes only flickering momentarily to meet the other’s stare before he set his books in front of the librarian. Without another word, he dove into the forest of bookshelves, whose canopy reached far above Gelato’s head. The process was the same as the previous time, his eyes would scan quickly from title to title, sticking every so often on a particular novel, which he would then slip into his arms. Before he knew it, there was only one area of the library which he had yet to explore, and yet…
He shook his head, reluctant to enter that fateful corner, should he happen to see Sorbet by some chance. He pivoted back to the front desk, his steps light and airy as he was happy with his findings: A gardening book, should it happen to have any tips he could use, a floriography book, should there be something he already doesn’t know, and some more romance novels. What could he say? He was a sucker for those things.
“Hello, Tiziano.” He greeted the librarian, his voice barely a whisper in consideration of the others in the room. Tiziano smiled back.
“Long time, no see.” He responded, his voice soft and airy like a breeze. He evaluated Gelato’s selection of books with a tranquil, approving nod, stamping each book’s card quickly and handing the novels back. Gelato collected his treasures, holding them close to his chest as he stepped toward the exit.
“By the way,” He spoke up, a playful smile gracing his lips as he leaned forward and onto one hand, a long lock of his silver hair falling out of place and caressing his cheek, “Sorbet adores the bouquet you organized for him.” He pointed his finger to the familiar black vase which sat throned on the front table, the warm light of the lamps and fairy lights danced from the petals of various hues. Gelato swallowed hard, at a loss for words.
“Oh… I’m… glad…” He paused to look at his work before Tiziano cut in once more.
“He really loves all of your work, last week we had another of your arrangements here. Gelato, you really have a knack for this.” Tiziano whispered as he pulled himself back upright and he swiveled on his chair to a pile of turned in novels. Gelato felt his cheeks flare up and burn brighter than a bonfire at these words and revelations.
“Thank… you…” His voice was jilted and quiet, and he was unsure of how else he could respond in such a situation.
“I’m just saying the truth... “ Tiziano was faced away from Gelato, focused on his work. Seeing this, Gelato turned back towards the front door. He gritted his teeth, the warm red of his cheeks becoming blisteringly obvious as he faced the assault of freezing air which rushed at Gelato as soon as he took one step onto the streets.
As he trudged up to the third floor of his apartment complex, he paused for a moment, his hand which glided along the metal handrail that was decorated with chipped, white paint, lifted itself and idled at his chin.
“So it wasn’t for a lover, after all?” He mumbled to himself, a spark dancing in his chest at this revelation. He grinned and stepped quickly up the remaining few stairs and towards his door.
“So maybe I have a chance-” Gelato cut himself off as he reached to unlock his apartment.
“At… what?” He furrowed his brows and tensed his shoulders at the thought, unsure of what, exactly, he wanted. Gelato pondered as he slipped into his home, greeted once again by an accustomed stillness. He flipped on a light, and swayed over to his bed, plopping onto his back and staring blankly at the ceiling.
“Sure, he’s handsome and all… but…” He focused on a rather large crack in the plaster above him, his mind searching for some creature to liken it to. His eyes narrowed, it was definitely a deer, the water stains around the crack only helped to cement his decision.
He sighed and clamped his eyes shut. If only he could be alone in the forest, among the flowers and trees, away from these tangling emotions caused by other people. Gelato rolled onto his side with a dreamy smile.
Yeah… he’d like a life like that.
Chapter 9: Gratitude
Gelato’s eyes shot open, and he let out a responsive hiss at the loud braying of his alarm clock. Normally, he was the type to wake up long before such a loud and brash song could ever decimate the tranquility of his apartment in the early morning. He took a moment to stare at the deer in his ceiling before unceremoniously lifting his hand from under his pillow and out to swat for the button of his cursed machine.
A satisfying hush blanketed the room as the call of the tiny clock was cut off, and Gelato felt himself sink only deeper still into the safe and plush world of his bed. Yet reluctantly, he pulled himself out from under his covers, shivering at the cold air of the bedroom which nipped at his arms and legs. He stared at his window, hovering his hand closer and closer to its sill before pulling away at the sharp draft.
Had he the money, he’d certainly leave this place.
That idea echoed about his thoughts as he trudged about his daily routine. As he looked at his mirror, his eyes only showed a dreamy glaze, focused on some far off loft without a draft or plaster which fell about his floor as he slept. He slipped on his coat and rushed to his door, taking one last look at his living space with a discontent huff and whipping away to his second home of a store, looking only at the ground the entire journey.
Time clicked on, and Gelato was thoroughly bored of the bouquets on his order list, each one consisting of the same flowers which always twisted his gut in a wash of jealousy. Still, he worked diligently, praying under his breath for some change of pace.
The soft cling of the metal bell signaled his arrival. Sorbet sauntered into the storefront, a cup of coffee, with a curl of steam wafting from its top, was secured in his gloved hand. His face was placid, almost bored, with his dulled grey brown eyes obscured by his half-lidded stare. Gelato caught the figure from the corner of his vision, his heart jumping into his throat as if to escape while the man walked oh so calmly closer to the counter. Sorbet’s face didn’t show any strong expression, much to Gelato’s dismay as he endlessly searched for even a shred of something readable out of Sorbet. Before he could take another moment to find something tangible, Sorbet broke the thick ice which Gelato didn’t even know had frozen over the atmosphere between the two.
“Oi… I’m just here to say that… the arrangement I ordered…” Gelato swallowed hard, a cool sweat beading down his forehead, “It was great... thank you… I wasn’t here to say it in person yesterday, so I figured that I’d… come in and say it.” His speech was a little mumbled and he scratched at the back of his head, not quite at a loss for words, but clearly he wasn’t used to expressing gratitude like this.
Gelato almost gasped, unsure of how to take this praise.
“I… uh… thank you….” He looked down and began to wring at his hands, wishing that he had some order out that he could work on and focus his attention onto. He swiveled his head under his desk, searching for his damn orderbook and looking at everything except for Sorbet.
“I’d spend more time here if I could.” His voice grew almost soft, maybe even yearning. “It’s quite peaceful… but… eh, I’d better be off to work.” He nodded, and without another word, he stepped towards the exit, lingering for a moment in the door frame, like he had stumbled upon something else to say, yet he kept silent, and returned back to the blistering morning outside.
Gelato blinked slowly. Did that really just happen? He bit at his lip and brought his hand to run quickly through his hair. He certainly wasn’t dreaming, so that must have just happened, so…
He felt his face flush and his brows furrowed as a seething wave of frustration washed over him.
“God, I looked like such an idiot…” The young man brought a limp hand to coddle his own cheek in dismay at the realization. His eyes fluttered shut, and he let out a long, low groan.
Well, he figured, he might as well just get back to work.
Chapter 10: A Night at the Bar: Part 1
Gelato gave a dismal sigh as he looked past his lashes which were frosted by the icy air at the bar’s door. The only sign of any life inside was a dull, purple glow emanating into the street from some depth of the pub, but Gelato knew that this was the only place to go on Christmas Eve. It wasn’t like he had anybody he could spend even dinner with, and all other businesses in the town were closed for the festivities. The all too familiar pinch of jealousy tugged at his chest, and he bitterly thought of how the other townspeople didn’t even realize just how lucky they were to not be alone during the holiday season. His brows furrowed and he clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. He was adamant that he wasn’t going to do this, that he wasn’t going to spend Christmas Eve alone, nursing a drink as he had done before. His pride swelled in his throat before a cold breeze sent a shudder up Gelato’s spine, and, admitting his ultimate defeat against his pride, he slipped through the entrance of the bar.
The bar was rather dark, with a flurry of purple and blue neon signs advertising a myriad of various beers and other spirits decorating the walls. It was void of any signs of the holiday sans one scrappy, paper snowman which had been slapped onto the mirror behind the bar’s counter, doubled over as its head and tape had pulled away from the wall long ago.
“Oi, Gelato!” The bartender called from his station as he wiped a beer glass dry. “Fancy seeing you here, eh? You haven’t been around in a while, I was starting to miss ya!” The man gave a toothy smile as he put down his rag and tucked the cup under the counter.
“Hey, if it isn’t Zucchero.” Gelato grinned back and plopped down onto a stool.
“What can I get ya?” Zucchero chirped without missing a beat. Gelato looked down at the counter and ran his finger along its edge in thought, various options tumbling through his mind but nothing quite sticking out to his tastes.
“Whatever it is…” The young man snided, “Just… make it strong…” Zucchero gave a hoarse, knowing chuckle and turned to face his bottles of liquor.
“Lemme see… I think you’ll like this… but first, how do you take your coffee?”
“My… coffee?” Gelato tilted his head and raised a finger to his lips, tapping them as he wondered just what Mario was up to. “Two creams and one sugar, why?”
“You’ll see…” Zucchero grinned with an air of confidence as his hands rapidly went to work mixing and pouring, and soon the room was filled with a song of clinking bottles. Given a moment of free time, Gelato soaked in the calm atmosphere of the room; it was chic, the fixtures all sleek and modern, with their chrome surfaces shining in the cool- toned lights of the bar. A big ben plant sat alone in one corner, perched near an empty couple’s table. That was just it, the bar felt…
“Here you go!” Zucchero snapped Gelato away from his inspection as he slid a drink in front of the man. “It’s an espresso martini, lemme know what ya think!” Gelato took a small sip, his eyes widening in surprise as the bitterness of the drink was washed away with a wave of sweetness.
“It’s… really good!” Gelato raised his glass, “You’re good at this, Mario!” Zucchero rubbed at the back of his smile at the praise.
“Hell, if I wasn’t good at this, I wouldn’t have a business.”
“That’s true…” Gelato swirled the drink idly in his hands before taking another swig, a prickling heat now flushing his cheeks and ears. He looked in the mirror behind Zucchero, who was now stacking away his bottles back onto their proper places on the shelf. “You always were a lightweight, Gelato…” He mumbled to himself under his breath as he caught notice of the blush of red which had now adorned the high points of his face. He finished his martini, relishing in the burn in his throat which had been left as the drink’s final send off, and wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve. He shuddered, the familiar cold of the outside driving a chill into the very core of his being.
“Oi, Sorbet! How are ya?” Zucchero glanced up and called to the newcomer. “What can I get ya?” Gelato drove straight up, now all too conscious of the fact that he was, in fact, not only alone at a bar, but alone at a bar on Christmas Eve, of all times. His eyes widened and he turned away from the door, praying that Sorbet would hop in and out and not see Gelato in such a state.
“The usual.” Sorbet replied, his tone absent of any sort of emotion as he sat at the other end of the bar, not having paid any mind to Gelato, or so Gelato thought, at least.
Zucchero slid some amber drink in a short glass in front of the stoic man before turning his attention back to Gelato.
“Hey, anything else I can get ya?” Zucchero’s hands began to clasp at a clear glass bottle of some alcohol which Gelato couldn’t name. Gelato sighed a silent curse, wishing that he could just fade away into the background, to become one with the blue and violet ambient lighting.
“I’ll leave it up to you, I’ll be your guinea pig for the night.” Gelato looked up and smirked at the bartender, hoping that he wouldn’t have to say another word for the evening with this request and that his silence would buy him anonymity.
Zucchero nodded and began his work while Gelato paid a glance over to Sorbet. He must have at least one foot in the same boat as me. He figured, it wasn’t like just anybody was alone on a holiday one would spend with loved ones, typically. Sorbet only looked down into his drink, one hand limply wrapped over its top as he didn’t so much as entertain the thought of bringing the cup to his lips. He glanced up, his eyes matching to Gelato’s gaze like a puzzle piece before flickering down to the black leather stool next to him in a silent invite for Gelato to sit next to him. Zucchero placed a martini glass filled with a festive red liquid in front of that very stool before turning to Gelato.
“C’mon Gelato!” He walked over to the blond man who was only slinking further and further into his seat and nudged his shoulder. “It’s Christmas… be social!” He laughed and walked back over to Sorbet.
If only Zucchero knew just how right he was.
Chapter 11: A Night at the Bar: Part 2
Gelato relished the taste of his pomegranate martini, sighing with a content huff as the sting of the alcohol faded from the back of his throat and was faded away with a splash of fruit. Before he knew it, another cocktail had been placed before him, its lime green contents standing out like a neon flair against the night sky, and his empty glass was whisked away. Not a word had been shared between Sorbet and Gelato, and yet, the silence was comfortable. Words danced on the tip of Gelato’s tongue, and yet they refused to bound off and into the room outside of his mouth. Various topics of conversation were pulled from the drawers of his mind, and yet he stowed them away. The quiet ambiance was tranquil, it was healing, and it was something that Gelato hadn’t realized that he needed so dearly. He took a sip of his drink; sour notes of green apple now coating his tongue and numbing it briefly of any words he could have yearned to say previously. Soon, the quiet minutes passed by without meaning, not another soul stepped through the doors, and drinks passed through lips with their flavors soon becoming familiarly indistinct, but still pleasant and warming.
“So…” Sorbet was the first to break the silence. “Do you own the flower shop… that you work at?” He turned his cup in his hand, not looking at Gelato.
“Yeah… I opened it two years ago…”
“Where’d you learn?”
“Hm?” Gelato tilted his head and picked through his memories. “I can’t really say I ever had a formal teaching. Once I graduated high school, I took a gap year... I… “ He questioned what information he was willing to divulge, that he didn’t have any money, that he was kicked out of his house, and so he held back. “I didn’t go to university, my life brought me down here from Lecco, in Lombardy, and as I looked for what I wanted to do here, I remembered interests of mine from when I was young.” He laughed and ran a finger over his knuckles as he stared down into his drink like it was a window which showed simpler times. “When I was a kid, I always liked to garden. I would spend hours outside in my backyard or in parks and come home covered in mud with just my arms full of flowers. So I figured hey, why don’t I become a florist? So I picked up some gardening books to brush up on my skills, and a year later I opened up my shop.” He took another swig and finished up his drink before turning his attention back to Sorbet, who was now staring with full attention at Gelato. “So what about you? When’d you become a librarian?”
Sorbet nursed at his glass, finally taking his first drink before beginning. “Well, I’m new around here. I moved up from down south around six months ago.”
“Polignano a Mare.” Sorbet had a soft look in his eyes, nostalgic for his old home. “Near Bari.” More questions tried to worm through Gelato’s teeth, yet he kept his mouth shut and simply nodded. “I moved up here for… many reasons…” Sorbet took another gulp of his drink. “I took up the open librarian position here, I’ve always loved to read, what can I say? One day I might have another job, but for the time being… I’m comfortable here.” Sorbet finished up his drink, leaving Gelato to wonder if by ‘here’ he mean in the town or in this very bar.
“So why’d you move up here?”
At least I can count on Zucchero to be so up front. Gelato almost chuckled to himself at this thought.
“... I’d rather not say…” Sorbet spoke pensively, with words which were so soft yet carried such a weight with them as well.
“I see…” Zucchero looked back down to his glasses, starting on his next drinks for the two patrons.
“How’d you get this business?” Sorbet asked, the answer which Gelato had heard long ago.
“Well…” Zucchero looked glad to be asked about his story, his voice was vibrant as he began. “I moved up here from Salerno to go to university to study engineering. I didn’t have enough money to do more than two years, so I got my associate’s and started bartending to get more money to continue my studies, and well… I found out I like making drinks a hell of a lot more than I like engineering. So now, here I am, five years outta college with my own bar.”
“Why’d you stay up here?” Sorbet prodded further as Zucchero handed him another drink.
“Didn’t have the money to go back down, also I have family up here, so it’s no big deal.” Before Sorbet could open his mouth for another question, Zucchero elaborated. “My mom’s from up here, actually, funny story, she moved down to Salerno from up here, met my dad, and stayed.” Sorbet nodded, satisfied with all of the answers he uncovered in one sitting. He looked down at his watch, his eyes widening slightly at a realization of the time before he quickly gulped down his shot and rose up.
“I ought to get going.” He put a handful of bills onto the table, slid on his jacket, and walked quickly to the door before pausing briefly to turn around. “You two... have a merry Christmas. Zucchero… keep the change...” Gelato heard the door close, taken aback by just how brisk the man’s departure was.
“What do ya think he’s gotta rush back to?” Zucchero leaned forward onto the counter.
“I mean, it is getting late…” Gelato looked at the clock which advertised some import beer on the wall; it was a quarter to eleven already. “I should get back to my place, too, I don’t want to keep you up too late… I’ll finish this drink first, of course.” He nudged the drink, curious as he took his first taste. “What is it, anyway?”
“It’s an aviation cocktail.”
“It’s good, that’s what it is.” He sipped eagerly, almost sad as he finished the purple elixir with one last, slow gulp. “Well…” He slipped out a few bills over to Zucchero before standing up. “Thanks for the evening, Mario. Merry Christmas.”
“You as well, stay warm out there.”
“Will do.” With that, Gelato began the journey home, stumbling with heavy footsteps all the way through the streets which were decorated with various wreaths, a few of which he had made, and a thin layer of snow which muffled any possible noise that the night could bring. Soon he was back to his apartment building’s front door, and he felt almost weary from how lonely the town felt outside of the bar, having encountered not a single soul on his trek home. He slowly climbed the stairs to his floor, all the way to his door which only beared the marker ‘35.’
“We meet again…” He said to the darkened void of a room he faced. Without any more pomp and circumstance, nor even bothering to turn on a light, he closed his door, and slipped off his shoes and shirt. He ambled in a stupor to his room, now fully feeling the effects of his many drinks clutching at his head and blurring his vision, and he gratefully flopped onto his bed, happy for the release from the day. He sighed, still sober enough to be grateful that he at least held a conversation and actually learned about the once mysterious stranger, yet a yearning still gnawed at his belly. Now that one door had been opened, he was only faced with more and more doors, yet no keys to open them with. Every fact he learned about Sorbet only brought him more and more questions to ask. Gelato dug himself further and further into his pillow, praying that sleep would take over quickly and free him from thinking too much tonight. He began to slowly fade off into sleep, although it wasn’t drifting away so much as it was falling to a state where he knew very well he wasn’t awake, but he couldn’t quite place where he was in his consciousness, a state where he couldn’t recall any dreams coming forth past abstract lights and forests fluttering in and out of his vision.
Christmas morning came in like a freight train, every light far too bright and every noise like a hammer banging against Gelato’s skull. He slumped forward in his bed; he had to get up and take care of the plants at his store and yet he had zero willpower to take himself there. He trudged to his shower, blasting only cold water on himself in an effort to wash away his hangover to no song of success. He towled himself off soon enough, paying little mind to what clothes he was throwing on so long as they were clean. The morning was simply a mash of a sensory mess, and with his hair still slightly damp, as he refused to even entertain the thought of blasting a blow dryer anywhere near his face, Gelato began his way to his flower shop.
The cold air felt refreshing on his scalp, and the streets, while still too loud for his current tastes, were peaceful, with everyone else in the city taking the morning to rest. A fresh layer of snow had covered the ground in a clean and even sheet, which Gelato almost felt was sacrilege to leave his mark upon as he made his way to his front door.
“Mornin’” Gelato straightened his back and spun on his heels to face the voice. Donned in his black, leather coat, Sorbet was walking towards Gelato with a small container in his hands. Gelato tilted his head, puzzled as Sorbet plopped the warm cup unceremoniously into his hands. “I’d thought you’d need this… I mean…” He stepped back and cleared his throat. “No one drinks that many cocktails without some sort of effect… and I … figured that… this could help with the hangover…” He motioned to the travel cup. “It’s espresso.”
“... Thanks…” Gelato took a gracious sip of the bitter drink before turning to unlock his front door. “I’m not open for business today, but… would you like to come in? I’m just gonna spend the hour to water plants…”
“Ah… I’d love to… but…” Gelato felt his heart dip slightly as Sorbet continued on. “I can’t…”
“I understand…” Gelato knew that he wouldn’t be able to pry an answer from Sorbet’s lips. “See you around, then?”
“... ‘course.” Sorbet gave a solemn nod, leaving Gelato with a wave of his hand to stew in his own thoughts and even more questions.
Chapter 12: New Year's Eve: Part 1
The cellophane crinkled under Gelato’s fingertips like panes of ice. Days had passed since he had seen Sorbet last, and yet he could still taste the bitter espresso that he had given on the back of his tongue. The year was now about to draw to an anticlimactic close, and yet deep down, some alien sense stirred quietly within Gelato, stretching and shaking itself free from layers of frost and dirt. He brought a finger up to prod and inspect at the carnations. His mind elsewhere as the edge of his skin glided over leaves and petals for signs of the blossom being anything less than perfect.
Perfection was a funny notion, to Gelato, at least.
It was something he always strove to be, from such a young age it was carved into the foundation of his being to be flawless, and to improve upon that already flawless state nevertheless.
The florist’s throat tightened and he felt a shuddering chill claw up his spine.
How quaint and perfect it was.
To be watched under such a suffocating supervision, with such high hopes for his own future only to be dashed away because of who he was.
Gelato felt his breath grow shallow and quick.
He was only fifteen, and yet they threw him to the streets, just like that.
He couldn’t help who he was, but they wouldn’t listen.
Of course they didn’t listen to him, why would they? They never did. His parents, his whole damn family only saw him as a pawn in their own advancement.
He couldn’t get married to that girl.
He just couldn’t.
Even if he had a few years to wait until he was to be married off, he couldn’t.
Gelato slunk back and slid a hand through his hair, the same words he had repeated so often to himself shaping themselves on his lips before a low chuckle escaped his throat.
He liked flowers, they could never be ‘perfect’ as humans defined it, there would always be an odd shaped petal, or a splotch of color here or there which wasn’t meant to be, and yet we saw the blossoms as beautiful nonetheless.
Such things were strong enough to face the sun with each passing day, bejeweled in thousands of glittering dew droplets to feel the dawn’s warmth with an inherit hope.
Gelato paused, his thoughts catching on one words and repeating, slower and slower as its meaning sunk in.
So that was the feeling unearthing itself in his chest, earlier.
He smiled softly to himself as his gaze danced over his latest creation.
Surely this year, things would be different for him.
So Gelato was back in front of the bar door to ring in the new year much like he had rung in Christmas day. The familiar purple glow, now laced with an odd comfort and sweetness, welcomed the man and invited him to sit at the bar’s counter. His eyes skimmed about the room, with noticeably more people than during his last visit. A few familiar faces, enthralled in their own business, sat about the tables, like Tiziano, who was laughing at a joke Squalo had made, and Sale and Monica-people Gelato hadn’t seen in a while- among others. Buzz and chatter flowed through the small room as Gelato took a seat in front of Zucchero, who greeted the florist with a wide smile.
“Gelato! Knew you’d be here tonight!” He poured an emerald bottle over a champagne flute, before stopping himself briefly to look back up at Gelato, a question pursing itself on his lips. “Wait, do you want straight champagne, or do you want a mimosa?”
“A mimosa would be great.” Gelato felt his voice drowning in the sea of voices around him, yet Zucchero’s ears were sharper than he had credited them for, as the bartender reached for a carton of orange juice before fixing Gelato a drink. The young man shifted awkwardly in his seat, one matter nipping persistently at the back of his mind as he began to nurse at the liquor.
A cold wind rushed through the door like a clap of lightning, yet only Gelato turned his head. Sorbet’s focus shifted around the room, as if he were searching for any recognizable face, before falling onto Gelato. He nodded to the man before taking a seat in his personally designated seat at the end of the bar, nestled near the wall, with only one lone, leather stool separating himself from Gelato.
“Glad to see ya here, Sorbie!” Zucchero waltzed over to stoic man before sliding him a glass of bubbly drink. He didn’t say anything in return, instead meeting the gift with a nod and a raised cup in thanks.
“Nice to see ya again.” Sorbet mumbled over Gelato’s way, who stiffened, questioning whether the words were meant for him or not. He didn’t respond, only raising his stare over to the man, and was surprised to find that he was waiting for any fort of acknowledgement of his greeting.
“Ah… same… to you.” He managed to fumbled his words together enough, a searing wash of embarrassment flooding every corner of his body at his own missteps at this dance of a conversation. Gelato felt a presence shift to his other side, he swiveled around, half curious, half courteous, and if there was anymore reason for his actions, it would be a tinge of gratitude, to see the new visitor.
Tiziano leaned over the counter, holding up two fingers to Zucchero before turning about on his feet, before giving a quick glance to the pair, and leaving with a wink.
“So how’s work at the library?”
“Same as usual.” Sorbet replied. “What about the flower shop?”
“Well… the holiday rush is finally over.” Gelato laughed. “So I guess I’m just preparing for the new year, now.”
Gelato paused, before shaking his head. “Not really, what about you?”
“I have a few…” Sorbet mumbled before taking a sip of his drink. Gelato waited for him to continue, but to no avail, the two now stewing in a wordless comradery.
He’d just have to wait for the man to thaw on his own time.
Chapter 13: New Year's Eve: Part 2
“Really? No resolutions, Gelato?” Gelato, just inebriated and no further, took another sip of his nameless lavender- tinted liquor, stewing in a silent moment as the drink burned down his throat and coated it in another numb wave. The night’s chatter always boomeranged back to fixing some hidden flaws, those damn resolutions, as much as Gelato tried to divert the topic, everyone seemed so ready to spill their flaws and explain their plans to start anew, or from what Gelato could overhear, at that.
“What about it?” His tongue felt heavy, thudding without a hint of grace against his lips in speech. “I’ll... “ He waved his hand to swipe at the air before him, his uncertain thoughts and doubts feeling like an ever- thickening smoke. “I’ll think of something, eventually…. “ His head perked up, a bright idea lodging itself like an arrow into his conscious, the string of the bow pulled and released by his stumbling mind, hungry to sway attention away from mentioning anymore of himself. “Say... what are your resolutions, Mario?”
“Funny you should mention it!” A wily smile crack across the bartender’s face, an eager sparkle aflame in his eyes. “I’m gonna man up!”
“Man... up?” Sorbet tilted his head, his curiosity piqued by the boisterous man’s radiating excitement.
“Yeah! Man up!” Zucchero pumped two fists at his side, almost jumping in the air at such a prospect. “There’s-Well-I won’t say much-” His speech was rapid fire, like the bullets of a machine gun with twice the heat. “There’s a special someone. And. I’m gonna make a move! That’s all I’ll give now.”
“And this special someone is….” Gelato leaned forward with brow arched and a smirk painting his rosy lips.
“Hey now, I gotta keep some secrets-”
“Up-bup-bup.” Gelato wagged a finger in the air. “You’ve strung us along too far in this story, least you can do is tell us how you met this ‘special someone.’”
“Well… we... Dammit there aren’t a lot of people where he works... “ Zucchero raised a curled digit to the brim of his mouth. “He… made me coffee one morning… ‘cause he works at a cafe…”
“Hm.” Sorbet gave a knowing grunt as he took a sip of the one drink he had been nursing all throughout the night, his eyes closed as he emptied the amber liquid into his gullet with a satisfied sigh.
“ ‘Hm?’ What was that ‘hm’ hm?” Zucchero leaned in close to the Sorbet, one eye closed as he inspected the taller man.
“I know who you’re talking about.” Sorbet’s face was ever-stoic as he opened his eyes, his tone lack of any feeling.
“How did you-” Zucchero was wordlessly hushed as Sorbet calmly raised his palm before him.
“Mario, only one man works at the one cafe in this town.”
“You’re kidding me!” Zucchero slapped his hand against his temple, his mouth agape at his own folly. “God dammit… don’t tell a soul, got it? I wanna keep it as a surprise.”
Sorbet lifted two pinched fingers and dragged them across his mouth with a wink before rising to his feet. He slipped a bill onto the counter and began tugging his camel- colored coat over his shoulders, not noticing Gelato’s gaze as he made his way towards the door.
“With that, I oughta get going-” He caught Gelato’s stare, his voice halting and refusing to budge past his lips for a moment. Gelato’s eyes betrayed his will, unmoving from Sorbet’s deep- brown, almost ebony, fixed look. The latter’s pupils flickered to nothing in particular at the florist’s feet, and he shifted his weight on his legs with a soft cough to clear his throat. “Do you… need someone to walk you home?” Gelato’s breath hitched violently in his throat.
Did he just hear Sorbet right?
He… offered a walk home?
“I’d… uh…” He downed the rest of his drink in one grand swig and hurriedly fumbled for a handful of crumpled bills. “Yeah, that’d be great-” He lowered his voice to Zucchero, “Keep the change.”
“As I always do.” He gave a wink as he slipped the lire into his breast pocket. “I’ll see you two around.”
“Happy new year, Mario.” Gelato threw his coat over his body and rushed to Sorbet’s side, now fully aware of just how the man towered over everyone around him.
“Same to you!” Zucchero’s voice cut above the buzz of the dwindling bargoers. “Hope you can think of a resolution, Gelato!” The blond nodded, not quite letting the words sink in as he slinked out under Sorbet’s arm and into the icy cold streets of the sleepy town he oh so adored. Small flakes of snow were camouflaged by the midnight sky, only visible in opalescent plumes around the white of the streetlights, the comrades found in the previous snowfall muffling all noise in the corridors of the neighborhood into a breezy stillness, all in all dovetailing into a breathable calm. The pair’s own footsteps cut into the fine layer on the ground, but were, too, sure to be swept away soon, with all traces of their existence to fall into obscurity. He sighed, his breath full of release.
‘These small details will be forgotten, too.’
“So…” Sorbet’s voice was first to cut the distance between them. “Which way?”
“Ah…” Gelato fell back from his lofty crown and back to reality. “I’ll just lead.” He stepped forward by Sorbet’s side, their footsteps near in sync to a half-beat, with a quarter note saved to make up for the difference in the length of their legs. He ambled closer, unaware of the bidding of his gait, to Sorbet, relishing in the small relief from the cutting cold of the wind that the tall librarian provided. Their steps were wordless, but for the time being, that was okay.
Chapter 14: A Journey Home
The snowfall soon thickened and collected onto Gelato’s eyelashes, his clouds of breath barely visible among the flurry of flakes which only grew denser and denser around Sorbet and Gelato as they neared the latter’s apartment.
“Christ…” Gelato mumbled as he dug his hands, which stung bitterly from the icy winds, into the retreat of his pockets. “We’re almost there, just ‘round this last corner.”
“Mm.” Sorbet grunted with a nod. He showed little response to the cold; he had pulled his green, plaid scarf over his lips, making any attempt at conversation rather futile. Not that he was much of a talker, regardless. Soon, in a number of footsteps Gelato could count on his frozen fingers, the pair finished their trek through the wintry streets and to the front of Gelato’s apartment in due time.
“Here we go-” A quick rush of hope flickered in Gelato’s eyes as he and Sorbet stumbled into the building and to base of the stairs which led to Gelato’s home, their boots caked with layers of sloughy ice and leaving a trailer of dirty water behind in their wake. Gelato’s heart swelled in relief as he felt the warm air embrace his shivering figure, and he turned on his feet to face Sorbet. “We made it!” He laughed with arms outstretched as he nodded towards the stairs. “I’m just a few flights up, and…” His voice sputtered to silence, and the young man’s attention quickly jumped towards the sea of white which only grew more powerful as the two lingered longer and longer in the ‘lobby’ of sorts.
Gelato’s mouth moved without any care or regard to his conscience.
“Do you… wanna stay here the night? I mean, uh...” He fumbled over his words, his tongue tying in knots as he began to mentally slap himself for being so brash to someone who was still just an acquaintance. “I’d... uh... Hate to send you out in… that weather.” He sheepishly looked towards the staircase, unaware of just what the hell he was getting himself into, or why he had said that, for that matter.
“... I-” Sorbet hadn’t yet pulled down his scarf to lessen the muffling of his voice, yet it didn’t matter; his speech was violently cut short. The lights above the pair flickered, and soon an inky darkness enveloped the entire complex, the entire street, and the whole town was at the mercy of father winter and his blackout. He stood, stunned at the outage as his eyes adjusted to his surroundings, with no highlight and only shadows to help him get a grip of his environment.
“... If you’re offering, then…” He paused, clearing his throat and taking a second longer to think as he pulled down his scarf, the building now uncomfortably still and growing ever-brisk. “Are you sure it’s not an issue?”
“It’ll be no problem!” He bit down on the inside of his tongue, of course it’d be a problem. He didn’t have an extra bed or even a loveseat that Sorbet could have a proper rest on. “You can take the bed!”
“You don’t…” Sorbet raised his hands in the air, “You don’t have to do that, Gelato.”
Gelato stiffened as he heard his name bounce off of Sorbet’s lips. Something about it, fully unknown to him, just felt natural. Right. As if it was always meant to rest just there, and it would only be static noise if someone else said it.
He couldn’t take a moment to ponder the feeling.
“Hey, I can’t make you sleep on the floor.” Gelato began his way up the stairs, his hand behind him beckoning Sorbet to come along.
“And I’m just a guest.” Sorbet stayed unsurely planted at the base, yet with one foot hovering over the first step. “I’ll sleep on the floor, if anything.”
“Okay, better thought.” Gelato continued up the flight, “I’ll push two of my sofa chairs together, and I’ll sleep on that while you get the bed. Deal?”
“... I’ll sleep on the chairs.”
“Okay, okay, details, details.” Gelato waved his hand.
“... Deal.” Sorbet ambled up the stairs to tail Gelato, and the pair continued up until finally reaching the fated front door of Gelato’s quarters. The blond grappled for his keys in the dark hallway, likely scratching the cheap paint on his door as he searched for the lock with the tip of the latchkey. Yet he couldn’t bring himself to care for something as trivial as damaging the already peeling color.
Success, rung in with a distinct click of the lock, and followed by a shrill creak as he pushed his way into his home.
“Oh shit, the lights…” Gelato dug into his pocket for his cellphone, only to grab at nothing but lint and a spare coin. He slipped his hand into his back pocket, a hint of dread pecking at his stomach as he only felt his wallet the smooth leather of his wallet.
“What’re you looking for?” Sorbet piped up, pulling out his own phone and flicking on his flashlight.
‘That sure would have been helpful a little earlier.’ Gelato thought to himself with a laugh as he gave up on searching his own person. “I’m just looking for my phone… but I think I left it at Mario’s.”
“Must be it, if you don’t have it with you now…”
“Eh, he’s trustworthy, and he owes me so i don’t think he’ll try any funny business with it.” Gelato laughed and motioned for the tall, raven-haired man to step inside.
“Hm, he owes you?” Sorbet shut the door behind him and cocked an eyebrow- barely visible in the small light of his phone that illuminated a small halo around the man- which invited Gelato to continue with his story, much to the florist’s delight.
“Yeah, it’s a running joke between us. One time he spilled red wine on my favorite sweater. It’s not a big deal at all, but he felt really bad about it at the time.” Gelato pushed his two chairs together and patted at them with satisfaction. “And he was insistent that he’d pay me back, and I said I’d hold off the offer, but one day I’d use it.” He chuckled at the memory, “I’m not serious, it’s been almost two years now.”
“Mm... “ Sorbet nestled into the makeshift bed, reclining onto a small throw pillow before speaking once more. “So you two are close?”
“... I’d say so.” Gelato tossed a blanket over to Sorbet, who gave a grateful nod in return, “He’s a good friend, he was the first to… well… welcome me into this town.”
‘To say the least…’ Gelato finished in a thought unheard. Mario was the first to welcome him, period, as a version of his authentic self.
Even still, could he say that it was his true self?
Did he know his own, true self?
Regardless, it was the part of him which burst through when he left his old, terrible home behind to start anew. When he had taken the biggest chance of his life to rebuild everything from absolutely nothing, only being a young adult with no prior connections, no friends, no accepting family…
“He’s a good guy…” Sorbet murmured as he sunk into his pillows and shut off the light of his phone.
“Yeah, I’m thankful as hell to know the guy.” Gelato spoke softly as he idled to his bedroom, taking the return to the dark as his cue to fade away to his room. With steps silent against the thick carpet beneath him, Gelato’s fingers traced along the wall, feeling its smooth ridges like markers along a dusty road until he eventually faltered before his bed. His heart pounded steadily, yet all too loudly in his chest as he, too, sank into his sheets.
Perhaps this was his true self, all along.
Chapter 15: A Night in Thought
Gelato’s legs awoke him with a sharp jerk, his body thudding against his mattress almost as loud as his heartbeat in his ears. His sleep was dreamless, so why was he in such a panic? Guilt? Was he really that guilty over making Sorbet sleep on the makeshift bed rather than on his own bed? His eyes darted about the cracks on his ceiling, frantically searching for something to latch onto in his vision. A slow breath shook through his agape lips.
No, it wasn’t that.
Even if Gelato was the type to wake up in a worried frenzy often, something as little as where his guest was sleeping wasn’t enough to set him off so much.
He felt an ice cold draft run itself with prickling feet over the sweat-covered skin of his face. He rolled over, and for a moment, wondered where the neon, usually blaring red lights of his alarm clock were, until he nearly chuckled with bitterness.
The power was still out, but how long had it been?
He had no way of knowing, his phone was at Mario’s and Sorbet was still asleep, unless he had left already, either decision leaving him unable to use the man’s phone. The Sun hadn’t risen yet, but given that it was winter, that wasn’t much of an indicator of whether it was morning or only a little after midnight. Gelato craned his neck further out from the sanctity of his sheets in an attempt to catch a glimpse of outside of his window.
He scanned for even an inkling of light, yet not desperately. The longer he stayed awake, the more at ease he felt with what was going on about him: the storm, the power outage, Sorbet’s impromptu sleepover, all of it, really. It could go on forever, for all he cared.
Well, maybe not forever.
He’d enjoy the power so that he could make himself a cup of coffee for the morning, but regardless of that.
Gelato felt almost relieved to see a sunless sky; the storm had long since, or so he reasoned, receded, leaving behind still streets hidden under a thick, icy blanket. The clouds which had carried the snowstorm had, too, left, and in their wake left a crescent moon to wane in as much glory as such a small sliver could. The pale light emanating from the moon danced off of the snow, with even a humble window sill such as his being adorned in a shimmering cloak. At the scene before him, the man found himself awestruck to the point where he could ignore even the brisk cold of the unheated room which nipped at his skin.
Gelato slipped out from under the familiar warmth of his covers, not even recoiling at the cold which now snaked over his body. He leaned onto the window pane, his breath clouding its surface and reminding him that he wasn’t just a spectator of the world, and pressed his palm against the glass, almost wishing that he could be out there, as well.
Gelato shook his head; that’d just be dumb, and he’d only freeze to death out there. Besides, it was just snow, and there’d certainly be more of it this winter. The young man began to flick through his mind like the pages of a catalogue discerningly. Did he have any better ideas in that still asleep head of his? He half considered stirring Sorbet, wondering if the man would enjoy watching the city at rest as much as he does.
In the distance, a small light broke, quickly followed by more and more, before the entire city, once again, was alive with the glow of dozens of streetlights. The building rumbled awake, too, under Gelato’s feet, suddenly breathing with the usually forgettable groaning of pipes and heaters, and from the corner of his vision he could see the well-hated red glow of his alarm clock.
Gelato’s stomach dropped in disappointment, and he wished that he could have, even for a moment, shared the view with Sorbet. His heart harped on the thought.
Was Sorbet the kind of man who liked to observe the world like he does?
Gelato nodded his head; Sorbet was certainly analytical from what he had seen, so it was likely they could share simply watching life happen around them as a hobby.
He shuffled back to his bed, throwing himself under the covers as a fresh wave of exhaustion washed over him, the newfound, growling white noise of his apartments vents almost deafening. The young man rolled onto his side to face his clock, clutching a pillow in a vice grip to the sides of his head and hoping that the heartbeat of the building would soon be forgettable once more.
Gelato’s eyes perked up at the sight of a small lump which cast a shadow in the cherry glow before him. He released a hand from the pillow around him and grasped for the object, and an odd rush of familiarity coursed through the tips of his fingers as he felt its smooth, plastic surface.
He must have left it behind before heading out, which made sense, as he hadn’t used it at all during his night at the bar. Gelato flipped it open, his eyes adjusting to the glare of the blue led screen.
“6:00 a.m, huh?”
He flipped his phone shut, placed it back before the clock, and closed his eyes.
So this was the beginning of a brand new year.
But what was he going to do?
Did he have any resolutions?
His brows furrowed over his shuttered eyes. What was it that he wanted, really?
He thought about Mario, almost jealous that he already had the beginning of his year planned out, that he was going to ask out that unnamed barista and everything would just go hunky-dorey.
But hey, if anyone deserved to have everything go smoothly, it was Mario Zucchero.
If anyone deserved a date, it was Mario Zucchero.
Him, and Sorbet too.
Yeah, Sorbet deserved someone to treat him right.
Gelato pursed his lips tightly against his teeth.
Did he deserve a date?
Gelato’s eyes shot open; he hadn’t even realized how much he had been stirring, as he now faced his ceiling. Yet a some small feeling of purpose fluttered about excitedly in his stomach as he realized what he wanted.
No, not exactly a date, but he just wanted one thing: someone in his life he could show his true self to. He wanted just to let someone close to him, and it didn’t matter if it was love, friendship, or whatever just so long as he could find his real sense of being and share it.
Gelato blinked; so he knew what he wanted, yet an even larger question loomed over him: ‘How?’ He nestled himself into his bed; the answer could wait another hour, just an hour of sleep more was all he needed, and surely the daybreak would bring with it some knew revelation. Soon, he found himself dozing off, in a floating state between slumber and the waken world where time etched on forever while webbing away.
Then, he heard a stir from the next room over.
Chapter 16: Morning Coffee
The distant shuffling of sheets didn’t raise any strong emotion in Gelato; it wasn’t unexpected nor was it entirely alien. Yet in response, his eyes instinctively fluttered open; he raised a sleepy hand to grab once more for his phone, noting the thin band of bright, orange light which now had begun to peak through his window.
“7:03…” His voice was dry, inaudible to anyone but himself, who was still groggy with fatigue. The man stretched one bare arm from under his sheets and over his head, snapping his phone shut with a satisfying clasp and returning it to its home on his nightstand. The stirring from the other room grew purposefully quiet, prompting Gelato to sit up straight in his bed; the damn draft of the dilapidated complex unwelcomingly greeting his shoulders.
‘He’s probably waiting for me to get up.’ He thought, slipping the rest of his lithe form off of his mattress and to a stand. He lumbered over to his door and pulled it ajar only slightly, the loud groan of its hinges producing a small jump from Sorbet.
“Ah, you’re awake.” The two voices spoke in unicent, which wasn’t a catalyst of any response from Sorbet, yet nearly strangled a surprised gasp from Gelato’s throat were he not so cautious as to clamp his jaw shut.
Gelato pushed his way fully through the door, the draft of his bedroom now fully at his back.
“Did ya sleep well?” He meandered over to his coffee maker, shuffling about two mugs as he made the drinks without a conscious effort.
“Mhm…” Sorbet affirmed, stretching out both of his arms before rising to his feet to join Gelato in the kitchen. Sorbet’s hair was disheveled, and his navy blue button-up shirt was twisted, untucked, with the collar undone. He stifled a yawn, his usually sharp and stoic expression now more unreadable than intimidating and still clearly fogged with sleep. Gelato ran fingers through his own blond locks; a last moment effort to comb his bed head into some sense of presentable. He was acutely aware of just how groggy he must look, and he cursed himself for not having given even a moment of time to fix up his appearance in the mirror before stepping out. Yet how was Sorbet so damn handsome after having just woken up?
It was almost cruelly unfair and he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t both jealous and in awe.
Gelato stared from the corner of his eyes, not even realizing that he was taking care not to accidentally match the gaze of the other; he couldn’t help it! That man was almost magnetic.
Gelato poured two cups of coffee, the bittersweet aroma warming the air around his face and the mug offering a moment of release from the chill of the early winter morning.
“Happy New Year, then.” Sorbet raised his cup halfheartedly in the air before taking a swig.
“Happy New Year.” Gelato mimed with his own drink, placing the red ceramic to his lips and only letting a drop of coffee fall onto his tongue before almost jerking away in pain; the coffee was like lava in his mouth. He put the cup back onto the counter, keeping one protective hand around its top to keep himself from freezing. “So uh…” Gelato raked through his mind for topics of smalltalk. “How many days do you get off for New Year’s?” Sorbet put his mug back onto the counter as well.
“Just today.” His answer was just that, he didn’t pepper in any other words about himself before bouncing the question back to Gelato. “What about you?”
“I think I’ll just take today off.” He bit the inside of his cheek and thought about the possibility of taking any more days off before shaking away the thought; it’s not like he would have much else to do, anyways. “Business will be… well not slow, b-but less busy than it’s been the past few weeks until Valentine’s Day.”
A jealous and bitter wave washed up his spine at the reminder of that holiday.
“That’ll be here before you know it, huh?” Sorbet took another sip of his drink, lips muffled behind his olive green mug. His usual stoic demeanor was slowly returning to his face, but there was still something soft in his eyes that Gelato couldn’t quite pin.
“Always sneaks up on me, I’ll admit.” Gelato snickered, “I can never seem to have enough red roses prepared for it; I buy more and more every year thinking ‘This’ll definitely be enough’ and yet I’m always wrong, but hey, it’s better than selling nothing, right?”
“That’s for sure.”
“Do you know if the library does anything for Valentine’s Day?”
“Well…” Sorbet looked down, thinking. “We usually decorate for every holiday, so I’m sure Valentine’s Day will be no different. Maybe we’ll highlight our romance novel section.” He gave a low chuckle, which stunned Gelato; it sounded like honey, ringing warm like a campfire, and he felt himself missing it as soon as it ebbed away through the dust in the room.
The steam from Gelato’s drink grew weaker against the palm of his hand, and he finally found it safe enough to drink, meanwhile, Sorbet had long since finished his own mug, and their conversation had long since bounded away from holidays and work to any topic but, before eventually landing to books and authors.
“So what do you typically read?” Sorbet looked at Gelato with a flicker of curiosity dashing through his gaze.
“Well uh…” Gelato scratched the back of his head, “A lot of gardening books, and… novels…”
“Romance?” Gelato shot straight up, almost awash with a pink tinge of embarrassment painting his cheeks.
“How could you tell?”
“That’s a trade secret.” Sorbet tapped his fingers against the kitchen counter, “... but swing by the library soon… I have a few books I think you’d like.”
“Really?” Gelato’s heart pounded in his chest at the idea that Sorbet could see something and think that he might like it, and that he existed in his thoughts more than at just their far too brief feeling encounters.
“Some are more historical romance than modern romance, but I think you’ll enjoy ‘Behind the Juniper Tree’ in particular.”
“What’s it about?”
“I won’t share much, but it’s about a high-class Victorian era woman who falls in love with her gardener.”
“... How does her gardener feel?”
“She feels the same way…” Gelato’s eyes lit up, having grown sick of the past unrequited love stories which he had found himself reading far too often now that he had nearly read all of the modern romance stories in the library.
“Is it bad to say I’m already excited to read it?” Gelato finished off his coffee, now uncomfortably lukewarm, but he didn’t pay much mind to it. He glanced over to Sorbet’s mug. “Ah, do you want any more?”
“I’m fine… actually…” He looked down at his watch, Gelato swearing to see thin lines of disappointment etching along the man’s lips. “I should probably get going.”
“What time is it?” Gelato’s head swiveled sharply to his kitchen clock before realizing that it had reset with the power outage.
Noon? How could nearly five hours pass by in just a blink of an eye? Gelato shuffled away from his kitchen counter while Sorbet, in no rush, meandered over to his makeshift bed and tugged on his coat.
“See you ‘round?”
“...’Course.” Gelato swallowed a small lump in his throat. “I’ll pop over by the library sometime this week.”
“...I’ll look forward to it.” Sorbet spoke quietly as he raised his hand in departure and walked out of Gelato’s apartment, the door groaning shut with a resonant click.
The newfound stillness felt unwelcome. The chill once again brushed against Gelato’s skin, pestering, and everything muddled into a soft static.
Chapter 17: Looking Back
Light on his feet, and as if he were filled with clouds, Gelato found himself practically bounding through the evening streets after work. A small, excited grin on his lips was well hidden by his scarf- which was too thin to really hide his face well from the bitter cold- as he trotted along the sidewalk, its once pristine snow cover now dirtied by the prints of dozens of snow boots. Five days had passed since the New Year’s snow storm, and four days had passed since the town shook itself free and thawed from it, eager to step forward into the shiny future of the new January.
Business had kept Gelato from fulfilling his promise to visit Sorbet at the library and see just what titles had been set aside for him, and he was almost disappointed that he couldn’t have swung by earlier as he had intended to, but with the orders coming in at such an unprecedented rush, he was at least grateful that he had even a spare moment of freetime after work where he still had energy to spare.
The first face to visit his store, as he could recall, was Monica Ultello: a registered nurse at the town’s local clinic. She was always a ray of sunshine, warming up everyone she spoke to with a kind look in her eyes and a voice sweet and slow like molasses.
“Gelato!” Monica smiled as she made her way to the front counter. “How’s the new year been to you?”
“So far, so good!” Gelato replied, putting down the rag he had been using to polish a vase and pulling out his trusty notebook of orders. “How can I help ya?”
“Well…” Monica raised a digit to her lips in thought, “I was thinking about getting my girlfriend a bouquet for our six month anniversary.”
“Wow, six months already, huh?” Gelato whistled incredulously and clicked his tongue. “Where do the days go? It feels like just yesterday you were asking for a red rose for you and Aya’s first date.”
“Doesn’t it? I mean, it just feels like time is passing us all by faster and faster.” Monica laughed, “But I’d be a liar if I said these weren’t some happy six months.”
“Oh to be young and in love.” Joked Gelato, dryly.
“Don’t worry so much about getting a date, Gelato.” Monica winked, “You’ve still got plenty of time, and life’s more than hookups and the endless search to find somebody.” He hadn’t quite thought about it like that, before, and the idea of not focusing and lamenting feeling single was, well, alien to Gelato.
It wouldn’t be resignation to stop worrying so much about relationships and just let things happen as they always do, but some nervous and fearful voice in the back of Gelato’s head tugged him sharply away from such an idea like he were a disobedient dog on a leash.
“You’re right, you’re right.” The florist chuckled, not wanting to give away just how in earth-shattering her small wisp of perspective had been to him.
“Life’s not a race, Gelato, remember that.”
“...Back to the bouquet, what do you have in mind?” He was eager to switch the subject.
“Right, right.” Monica waved her hand, “I was thinking white peonies with some violets lily of the valley as accents, what do you think?”
“Good choice.” Gelato nodded as he scribbled down the order. “When do you need it by?”
“Our anniversary will be the fourth, so either the morning of or tomorrow evening will work fine.”
“I’ll have it ready the day before, I mean, you can surprise her first thing in the morning with it!” Gelato grinned, “Do you have any other plans?”
“Well, we both agreed to take the day off and just go around the town to see all of the shops we’re usually too swamped with work to visit, and then at the end of the day have a nice, home cooked dinner together.”
“Right? We also thought that it’d be nice to not really have concrete plans and more just see where the day takes us, really.” A curious flutter jumped through Gelato’s chest as he wondered what sharing such a day with another person must feel like. “Although we both want to go to the cafe where Sale works and catch up with him- you know Sale, right?”
“Yeah, with the orange hair?” Gelato was jokingly vague, he knew who Sale was; he hadn’t talked to the man that much, and he was much more of a passing face than an acquaintance or friend to Gelato. Nevertheless, a puzzle piece clicked in his head and he realized that Sale wasn’t only just the one male barista at the one cafe in the town, but also the man who Mario had the hots for. “I know him. I- I mean, we’re not close or anything, but we’ve talked before.”
“Yeah, he’s still busy with grad school so He doesn’t quite head out to bars and get around town like he used to.”
“Grad school, huh?” Gelato hadn’t thought of Sale as the studious type, and the thought was a little funny that a man dressed so punk even at work was working towards a higher degree. “What’s he studying?”
“Hm, I’ll have to ask him about it.” Gelato had to learn more about the man his best friend was so interested in.
“Actually, Aya and I want to ask him some questions about grad school. You see, Aya’s thinking about going back and studying to become a plastic surgeon, since right now she just has her aesthetician license. Also, I’ve been thinking of going back to school to become a nurse anesthetist. So I guess our meeting with him may be more of an interview rather than a casual get together.” Monica giggled, “But I think Aya’s set on getting another degree, and I might be, too.”
“Hey, nothing wrong with a change of professions, right? And you two have fun, then, okay?” Gelato smiled, “Come back soon and tell me all about it.”
“Oh, definitely!” Monica giggled, “I’d stay around to chit-chat some more, but work’s calling! Don’t push yourself too hard, promise?”
“I promise!” Gelato waved as Monica left the store with the ring of a bell.
He couldn’t help but wonder how she had gotten the guts to ask Aya Tsuji out in the first place, had he even a moment more he’d surely have asked, but Monica would be back around soon, so Gelato made a small note on the corner of his yellow notebook paper to remind himself to ask.
He wasn’t quite sure why he wanted such advice; he couldn’t quite pin a face to the vague feelings now sprouting in his stomach, but at the very least he could use the information to “man up,” as Mario would put it.
Gelato hated that term
The words felt bitter on his lips.
“Man up and just accept that you’ll have to marry her.” He mocked an unforgotten figure from his youth with a nasally voice, remembering that hated line word for word while he returned to polishing his vases. “It’s for the social future of our family.” His voice began to shake as he pushed the rag a little to hard against the opaque black ceramic over his hand.
“Don’t be such a pansy, you should be grateful that you’ll have someone, anyone, really, you ungrateful brat. It’s all laid out for you, so why don’t you just take it?” Gelato’s father was an overbearing figure, towering over him by easily half a foot even when Gelato was eighteen years old.
“I-I…” Gelato’s voice was caught in his throat. “I…”
“Oh God, don’t tell me Louis was telling the truth when he told me you were fucking gay.” Gelato felt a shock of betrayal and nerves pinch at every fiber in his body, hid stomach flipping itself completely.
His cousin had promised not to tell Gelato’s father a word.
What a fucking liar.
Gelato couldn’t say a word, and that’s what sealed his fate in such an ugly little envelope with guilty in bright, red letters scrawled across the front. By the next day, he was off on the cheapest train with just a suitcase of clothes. No pictures, no books, no prized possessions, and barely any money but he’d have to just make it with what he had.
Maybe his life would be better this way?
At the time he couldn’t tell.
And right now, he couldn’t quite tell, either.
So he put the vase down and waited patiently for the next face to pop into his store.