14:32, January 12
White lillies, white orchids, white lies on his lips and the tips of his fingers as he pokes and prods, snapping stems and stamens into place. The babies’ breath fogs the crisp edges, adds a softness and depth where there should be none. Patches of green peek out beneath layers of white like snow melt giving way to spring. Eucalyptus and lily leaves, soft, ticklish, faintly sheathed in powder blue and emerald green.
White flowers, white lies.
To lose a child is not peaceful.
To lose a child is not to be at rest.
The flowers would invoke one emotion, one story, to tell of doves and angel’s wings and the beat of white feathers, of forgiveness and peace in unending sleep.
But to lose a child is another tale entirely, woven words of rage and regret and reckless abandon in the face of a world that only takes and never gives.
He hates these bouquets the most. He regrets the need to make them, regrets his nimble fingers slipping in and out, trimming, primping, prepping each stem and tendril and petal and wire to perfect agreement.
He regrets that he knows how it feels to watch a faltering father bury a beloved son.
The dead of winter, the dead of night, the death of a child undeservēd.
An icy road to be left upon, an icy path to relive again and again in his nightmares each time he sinks to fitful sleep. A younger brother bleeding out, stark red on pure white. Warm blood melting through soft powder snow, freezing at the edges into crystals of pink. A father, clutching a broken body, cradling a corpse on a callous road. Forgetting everything but the pain of his loss, forgetting even the sons still beside him.
17:30, January 12
This hour is always busy - the after work rush. White collars eager for their evening kick. Something to revive them from a long day of work, something to allow them to drive home unharried by the creeping clutches of exhaustion.
He knows the roasts and recipes like a well loved song, the quantities and spices are as lyrics he feels in his head and his heart and the tip of his tongue. He knows the regulars like a book to be flipped through, pages worn and torn around the edges, but read again and again until threadbare and tattered.
He enjoys his job, the respite it brings him. The constant motion and orders to memorize are a reprieve from the relentless thoughts in his head.
He must always be busy, must always be moving, must always be talking or humming or creating or distracting in some way or other.
21:56, January 12
The rush of the day has soon died down, given way in its’ passing to the quiet calm of night. The gentle shuffles of feet leaving the cafe, the scuffs and squeaks of chairs pushed in, barstools vacated, laptops closing and textbooks shut and all manner of work cast aside like clockwork.
A few minutes until close. A few minutes until he can go home to the silence of an empty apartment, the only echoes of lasting life a kitten curled on the sofa. A few minutes until he can be alone with his thoughts and his regrets and all the held hopes that plague him in the dark of night when he can’t stop the flood and the feelings and fear.
Once those sleek glass doors close for the night, he will await every minute for his day to start again.
Once those sleek glass doors shift open to allow the last patron to vacate, a new face slips in.
A new face at a dead time.
Minutes to close and another customer.
Despite the fact he’s already cleaned up, already put each tool meticulously in its place, already prepped the ingredients for tomorrow - despite the fact he should be angry or annoyed at the lack of courtesy on this customer’s part - a small part of him is thankful. Thankful for something else to do, to keep his mind off things as is his want.
It can’t hurt either, that this newcomer is cute.
21:57, January 12
He enters nervously, aware of the faux pas, but he can’t help himself. The cafe is along his walk home and he doesn’t have any teas or coffees in his cabinet and he just wants so badly to stay awake tonight.
He just wants so badly to not slip into nightmares for once.
The door chimes a welcoming jingle as he crosses the threshhold, catches the eye of the lone barista.
“What can I get ya?” A gruff voice, charming, deep, an unplaced accent lilting rough edges.
He is overwhelmed by the choices on the board, so many names he doesn’t know, so many words he doesn’t understand in this context.
Breve, affogato, macchiato, cortado…
flat, long, white, drip…
(So many synonyms for what?)
He feels stupid, he feels foolish, he feels stuck under the judgmental gaze of the barista who’s smirking at him like he’s an idiot.
“Need a recommendation?” The drawl heavy, the syllables dropping off slowly in taunt.
“I. I’ll just have a large black coffee. Thanks.” He smacks his wallet on the counter, panics at the prompt. He doesn’t drink his coffee black. He doesn’t know why he said that. He doesn’t know why he feels so disarmed. So caught off guard.
21:59, January 12
This newcomer is the only customer in the shop, he doesn’t need a name for the order.
But he wants to hear it anyway.
He wants to put a title to that curious, sharp face. Cheekbones that cut like the edge of cold steel, eyes even sharper than that.
“Can I get your name?”
The boy stares, flustered.
He taps the pen thoughtfully to his lips, can feel them curling in a crooked smile.
“For the order,” he would add a “dipshit” on the end, but he is at work, after all.
“Oh, yeah. Uh. Of course. It’s Connor. C-O-N-N-O-R.”
“Alright, give me a mo’.”
The boy, Connor, is cute when he’s flustered. Out of his element.
Out of his league.
And the devil he is, he wants to needle him more.
A simple phrase, a name on a cup, carefully misspelled, if such an oxymoron can be said.
In bold black scrawl - tiny, capslocked, cramped letters.
He fills the cup with a simple drip, the house blend.
A single origin curated seasonally with care.
Brought to the perfect temperature.
He takes his coffee black, as well, no frills, no faults, just notes of dark and bitter and a hint of nutty.
Perhaps they are as kindred spirits.
Or perhaps he’s just a (little) pretentious and reads too much into these things.
The coffee drips, and so, too, the words drip from his lips.
“Its late. You got a big paper to write or somethin’?”
Talkative, as always; he never shuts up.
It gives him something to do. And people’s lives and problems to focus on besides his own unfulfilling one.
“Something along those lines, yes.”
He catches the lie, but merely nods in agreement, hums along with the stereotypical folk-indie bullshit crooning quietly in the background.
22:02, January 12
The barista turns; coy grey eyes meet his own, close in a wink.
A double wink.
The worst wink he has ever had the ultimately unfortunate privilege of witnessing.
He is so embarrassed and so second-hand embarrassed and he can feel the laughter rising in his chest and he can feel his stomach turn in on itself and…
It's been so long since he’s felt a smile like this on his face.
“Well, good luck on your paper , Connor.” A tip of his head, dark hair falling into gunmetal eyes.
It takes all his composure to recollect himself, to will his shaking hands to grab the cup and not drop it on the floor and make an even bigger embarrassment of himself than he already has.
The chime of the door is as light as the feeling in his chest, as light as the small smile still gracing his lips as he rushes out of the cafe.
01:16, January 13
He doesn’t sleep that night. The nightmares don’t plague him, but other thoughts do.
For once, they’re happy.
Daydreams, if they could be called that in the dead of the night.
He knows he will be exhausted at work the next day, make mistakes, misplace ribbons and stems and scissors and twine, put the wrong colored roses in sentimental bouquets, put the wrong garnishing leaves in decorative pieces.
But he doesn’t care.
He’d rather think of grey eyes and crooked smiles than red blood on white snow.
14:16, January 13
That’s what the woman requested. Flowers to convey her regrets to a daughter slighted. He didn’t ask for further details. He doesn’t like to get involved in the personal lives, the personal problems. The joys and faults and special occasions of people he will likely never see again.
But the sentiment is one he can appreciate.
White and pink peonies like dappled clouds.
Pale purple hyacinth in bundled tendrils.
Soft spring lilies in startling starbursts.
A sentiment his own father never expressed.
He realizes too late that he’s gripping the floral wire too tight, the thin green metal cutting into pale skin.
Red blood rises to the surface, envelopes the green - drowning, choking, suffocating the cable in a sticky maroon sea.
He huffs a sigh, bandages his hand, snips the ruined length of wire.
He returns to work, trying to shut out the thoughts of a father lost in the depths of despair.
A father wasting too much time grieving one son to care about the two still left behind.
21:52, January 13
He’s never actually enjoyed coffee. The earthy smell is a reminder of too many mornings trying to sober up a drunk father.
The bitter taste is too sharp on his tongue.
But even moreso, he doesn’t like the nightmares that whittle their way into his head, his heart, his lungs, screaming out in his sleep; guilt and shame and fear and pain eating away at his heart like rot on wet leaves. A small price to pay to stay awake.
And he wants to see the barista again.
The cafe is vacant once more, just before close.
The barista’s eyes are vacant, as well, lost in some far off train of thought. He hums the tune of some folk-pop jam, taps his fingers on the counter in time.
He clears his throat, stands unnaturally straight at the edge of the counter. The sound cuts the quiet cadence, awakens the man from his reprieve.
And those eyes, those unnerving grey eyes meet his.
And he forgets everything he was going to say.
“Welcome back, Connor. ” He smirks, looks down again, taps calloused fingers on marble counter in feigned nonchalance. “Same thing, tonight?”
The florist balks, blanches.
He remembered his name.
Remembered his order.
His mind is blank, he can’t think straight, simply nods his head in a quiet acquiesce.
As the barista turns, he finds his voice.
“Its. Its Connor. With an O this time.”
“You got it,” dips his head, bites his lip. Pulls the pen from behind his ear and carefully scribbles in cramped scrawl:
Conner with an O >;P
15:34, January 14
A kitschy bouquet for a grandmother in the hospital.
Flowers carefully arranged in the face of a puppy.
He’s never cared much for these gimmicky arrangements, much prefers the simple, clean shapes - elegant, refined, refreshing.
But he does like dogs.
The white carnations are soft to the touch, the sunflowers tickling, bright, cheerful.
It reminds him of his own dog at home.
The massive St. Bernard with the disposition of daisies.
Like his father only a few years before. The dog is a steady foothold, a reminder of the normalcy, a reminder of how everything can change.
He finds as much comfort in burying his face in the dog’s thick fur as he does clinging to his twin’s arm when the emotions are too much and threaten to drown him.
He is thankful for them both.
21:54, January 14
“Hey, I-” He glances down shyly, searching for a name tag, any hint of identity, but not finding one.
A cocky grin meets him, waiting, prompting, welcoming the end of the sentence, regardless of how long it takes.
“I don’t even know your name.”
The barista breathes out, somewhere caught in a blurred line between a sigh and a laugh.
“Gavin. Call me Gavin.”
He doesn’t know whether to offer his hand up in an introductory shake, settles for awkwardly shoving his palms into his coat pockets instead.
“Okay, Gavin. My name is Connor. Connor spelled C - O - N - N - O - R.”
Gavin politely waits for him to finish, tapping cracked knuckles on cold marble countertops.
“Got it, Connor-with-an-o. Same thing tonight?” His back is turned already to make the usual.
If two cups can be called a usual.
“Actually, I - “ His hands are shaking in his pockets, fingers searching for something to fidget with.
Gavin stops in his tracks, casts a curious glance over his shoulder, turns again to lean over the counter.
He’s careless, haphazard, stubbled chin resting on a lined and creased palm, elbow propped on the cool, clean counter.
“I don’t actually like black coffee. Could you possibly recommend something else for me to try? Preferably something with a high quantity of caffeine.”
Gavin cocks his head to the side, lips twisting ever so slightly in silent appraisal. A moment’s pause and he knows just the thing. Sweet and smooth with grassy notes underneath. A calm hit of energy, peaceful, rather than the stomach churning jitters of a triple shot of espresso.
“Do you like cats?”
“Wh- cats? I hardly see how that’s relevant to coffee.”
The barista turns with a shake of his head, mixes a dust of bright green and powdery white with careful movements. A bamboo whisk in frantic circles as steamed milk meets the base. He doesn’t necessarily enjoy matcha himself, but he certainly enjoys making it. He’s always had a knack for latte art, and the stark whites of the cream against the greens of the tea are among the most pleasing of canvasses. Cold cream meets warm tea, spills in controlled splashes, here, there, twisting and turning and mingling in pastel beauty.
His favourite to pour is a kitten face, with whiskers of cream and eyes of deep emerald.
It reminds him of his own cat at home.
She is a constant companion, something to keep him grounded despite the day to day setbacks and unpredictable moods. A bit of warmth in a cold world.
A reminder that someone, something depends on him. That he matters. That without him, she would fade or go feral. He has to take care of himself so that he can take care of her.
He adds the final touch before handing it across, black sharpie to paper cup in careful scratches:
13:27, January 15
Dark red roses like fresh blood, perfectly coiled and velvet soft. Buds of babies’ breath like fragile white snowflakes, delicate dapples hanging in air. The bouquet is fragrant, enticing, intoxicating.
One of his favourites.
Pristine and clean and elegant and refined.
And so full of emotion he wishes he had.
An anniversary bouquet, a gift between lovers.
A life he wishes he had for his own.
He daydreams of jittery, calloused fingers interlacing with his own; hands clasped tight to never let go.
Stubbled face grazing the back of his neck, prickly, tickling, like the leaves of the roses he grasps in his hands instead. Warm breath ghosting over his ear as he sinks back into a strong embrace. Broad arms, broad chest, gentle and strong, to never him go.
The perfume of the roses is replaced with something earthy instead. Coffee and chamomile and clove cigarettes, simultaneously acrid and inviting, dark and warm and musky.
He sees eyes of gunmetal grey, irises dark and wide as the wild night sky.
He realizes too late that this daydream has ventured into dangerous territory. Imagining someone as real as the flowers in his hand, yet just as tentative and inclined to whither.
He shouldn’t indulge, shouldn’t imagine, shouldn’t think of a real person to fill that gaping hole in his chest.
But he can’t help the butterflies that flit back and forth in his stomach like a flurry of snow, can’t help the warmth rising to his cheeks, red as the roses he carefully trims.
21:53, January 15
He leans over the counter, puts on what he hopes is his most winning smile.
Taps his fingers as always.
Too much energy.
Too many thoughts in his head.
Though, when this boy is around they seem to go quieter, just a bit, the tiniest fraction of a decibel.
Enough to put him at ease.
“And what can I make you today,
“I was hoping you could give me another recommendation, Gavin.”
He breaks eye contact, glances at his dancing fingers leaving little fingerprints on the white and black counter.
“How was the matcha last night?”
The boy cocks his head to the side like a goddamn puppy , he swears to God, and he can feel his knees go weak.
He contemplates the question, considers the words carefully, perhaps so as not to hurt his feelings.
“The cat was adorable but the tea was too…” He’s searching for words that he doesn’t know how to describe.
“...Dry?” The barista supplies. It’s how he feels about matcha, as well, after all.
“Yes, that’s exactly it. But truly, the cat was a surprise.”
“I think I’ve got something you’ll like, then.”
As he spins on his heels, cup in hand and heart in his throat, a hand catches his arm.
Then reaches back as suddenly as it came, as if in fear that he overstepped his boundaries.
Freckled fingers still hang in the air between them, reluctant to go back down to their pockets, out of sight, out of temptation.
“Its Connor. I know you can get it right this time.”
He smiles even wider, gives that signature wink which earns him a laugh like the bell at the door.
Something simple, smooth, warm. A hit of caffeine without the bitter. The beauty of matcha without the brightness and dryness.
Steamed milk in controlled splashes, pouring a heart from his heart, putting the feelings into a visual reminder.
He never draws latte hearts. They are trite, cliche, among the simplest designs. He’s too good for that.
But for Connor, it is fitting. For Connor, it is more than he can say aloud.
He writes the final finishing flourish:
16:18, January 16
A crying sky, storm clouds textured as Degas’ gauche. Grey rain on grey clouds on grey city skyline.
The rainy days are the worst. It’s hard to get out of bed when the sun won’t make the effort, either.
It’s hard to get out of bed, period.
The bouquet is simplistic, quaint, rustic, yet elegant in its own way. Lavenders in heathered grey, fronds like ticklish tails. Foxgloves of plum and cream, plump and heavy under their own weight, sagging, sinking to the floor with the lethargy of the overgrown. Eucalyptus leaves complete the pallet, greys and blues and frosted greens like a thin layer of dust coating each piece.
A grey ribbon around the vase, laced with mossy green; tied in a simplistic bow, not distracting or detracting. Homely.
The ribbon reminds him of stormcloud eyes, frosted with the same freckles of green.
It’s hard to get out of bed on rainy days, but the thought of that gunmetal stare is motivation enough.
21:50, January 16
Tapping, tapping, always tapping.
But today the tapping stops. As soon as those brown eyes meet his own, his fingers go still, his head goes silent.
The only movement is the butterflies in his stomach, wings fluttering, fighting to be finally free.
The only sound is the blood in his ears, the pulse hammering in his throat to burst its way forth.
“Surprise me, today, Gavin.”
He grins, cocks his head. “Don’t I always?”
A London Fog for a rainy day. It seems a fitting choice.
The fragrant Earl Grey is a blessing and a curse. A favourite of a forgotten brother, a reminder of better times. Days spent in quiet company before paths diverged and families fought. Bergamot and vanilla and cornflower, bright citrus notes mixed with rich black tea, complex, incomparable, incongruous. Elevated and refined and just a hint of pretentious.
Just like Eli.
Steamed milk, frothy and foaming like the turbulent clouds on the city skyline. The perfect drink for a dreary day.
He likes the rain. He likes the cold wind whipping his face, tussling his hair like the hands of a lover. He likes the wet squeak of his shoes on the slippery tile as he paces back and forth, an added instrument to the symphonic arrangement of his shop.
He marks the cup with shaky hands, pen squeaking like his boots.
Trembling fingers reach out for the cup. Whether from the cold and the wet or from misplaced anxiety, he is unsure.
A suspicious glance at the name on the cardboard, annoyance already taught on sharp features.
Then softening in shock.
A quick exhale, choppy and shuddering
(Whether from the cold and the wet or from misplaced anxiety he is unsure) .
“You spelled my name right.”
“You asked me to surprise you.”
17:45, January 17
This is the most important bouquet he will ever make. He can feel it in his chest, his lungs, his head, his heart.
This is the only bouquet that matters.
The others were merely practice for this. The hours spent with twine and wire. Twine and wire that are no longer tied in a noose around his fragile neck; instead, a tying two fates together. Cuts on his hands from shearing thorns off roses, microfissures in skin soft as petals. All mere practice.
A simple bouquet for a simple statement.
A simple step, of course, but not an easy one to take. More like leaping off a cliff.
Pink roses, soft and fragrant and sweet, curled in tight spirals. Velvety smooth, not too strong. Like a latte. Or a london fog. Like the feelings in his chest, unsure, chaste, but capable of growth if only he takes that first step.
A tag on the brown wax wrap, perfectly written in sans serif. Impeccable penmanship for an impeccable man.
21:59, January 17
The boy walks stiffly, arms behind his back. Unusual, as his hands are always in his pockets.
He was beginning to worry the boy wouldn’t show.
The sight of his face forces his world silent, the sight of his face has his heart in his throat.
No longer is it his fingers tapping, instead it’s the rabbit-hearted racing of his pulse in his ears.
He says the words quickly before the florist can even speak, shaking and lilting with anxiety. “I have a special drink for you to try today.”
The boy looks at him curiously, eyebrows and forehead wrinkling in question, head dipping in consent.
Another latte, carefully crafted with trembling hands, rosewater syrup and a new design.
Written in milky whites on tan coffee cream.
22:03, January 17
Their hands tremble as each reaches out across the counter, offering a question, but receiving one in return.
A bouquet for a barista, with sweet, soft roses.
A latte for a florist, with sweet, rose notes.
A look of surprise gracing both faces, trembling hands and fluttering hearts.
A smile gracing both lips, then the widest smiles either has shown in years.
The word, “Yes,” breathed from two sets of lungs, simultaneous and binding.