"You work here?"
The words are innocuous. The way they are growled at him in a pitch so low as to be barely audible, less so.
The person who asked them, when Henry stands up from behind the counter and turns around, much, much less so.
"Yes," he says to the hulking tattooed black-leather-clad man, "but if you are attempting to rough me up for protection money you should know that I am very nearly insolvent."
The Mafia enforcer frowns. Not a Mafia enforcer? Or a Mafia enforcer with no sense of humor about being a Mafia enforcer. A self-hating Mafia enforcer.
"I need flowers."
"Are flowers code for protection money?"
"Flowers are those things that are pretty and smell good."
"Ah! My specialty," Henry says. "I know all about looking pretty and smelling good."
The thug frowns and looks back toward the exit. "Maybe I should just get chocolates."
"No, no, stay. What is the occasion? I will create an arrangement so perfect it causes tears of joy."
And now his customer is starting to look off-kilter. Good. Confused, scared customers spend more money. "Can't you just give me flowers?"
"I could, if you wanted an imperfect arrangement that did not convey your love and care. Is that the message you want to send?"
Henry gets a distinct impression that his customer is only caving out of a desire to make the conversation end. "They're for my mom."
"Ah!" Henry holds up a hand, a stop in the name of love gesture. "Say no more."
The customer sighs something that would sound like so now I can shut up? had Henry deigned to hear it.
Normally he'd sort out price point, timeline, delivery, ask if the customer wanted to see any of the prearranged bouquets, but -- it's not like he's drowning in better things to do. His classmates from his one unbearable semester in business school would probably have done market research before opening their shop and thus probably would have foreseen the lack of demand for a florist in the area. But that was why they were doomed to live boring, unfulfilling, bankruptcy-free lives! They would never know the joy of making a muscled and bewildered white boy watch as they arranged a perfect mother-pleasing bouquet.
"There!" Henry says, with a final expert twist of ribbon. "Is that not exactly what your heart saw in its mind's eye?"
"You got some fucked up anatomy," but he fills out a delivery form. Henry blatantly spies as he signs the message card, mom, love you. get well soon. Ronan.
Ronan comes back in two weeks later. Henry instantly remembers him, which is due entirely to the fact of Ronan's supreme memorableness and not at all to the shop's lack of foot traffic. The man is a walking mnemonic device of his own existence.
"Have you returned for a further demonstration of filial piety?"
"Ah, so you just came for the pleasure of my company."
"I came to buy flowers," Ronan says. "You have a weirdly hard time understanding your own business model."
"So, flowers, but not for your mother," Henry says. "You know that I simply have to know who these are for."
Ronan doesn't fight him this time. "My sister's school play is tonight." He even goes so far as to pull out his wallet and show Henry a photo of a small child sticking out her tongue at the camera.
"She has a masterful stage presence," he says. "Who is she playing?"
"Ghost of Christmas Future. She's spooky as shit," and Ronan sounds unapologetically proud.
"Wonderful," and Henry puts together the spookiest bouquet he can manage. They can't teach you that in business school. That requires the soul of an artist.
Henry is pleased with his first customer of the day. For one thing, he comes in five minutes after the shop opens, which enables Henry's daydreams of having a customer every five minutes. For another thing, he's gorgeous.
That's not shallow. Henry is a florist. His whole life is about beauty.
"How can I help you?"
"I'm not sure," the customer says. "My neighbor recommended this shop to me -- "
"And you were wondering, what flowers do I give as a thank you gift for someone who recommends such excellent local businesses?"
"Well, if you're sure." People are allowed to be wrong about how they live their lives. "What can I help you find?"
He takes a second to answer, like he's having to recalibrate his understanding of the situation. A surprising number of Henry's customers react to him like that. So many people just don't know how to buy flowers.
"I'm looking for something I can give my coworkers for the holidays," he says. "Something professional but not too impersonal and sort of classy without looking like I tried too hard."
"That is a narrow and very neurotic needle you are trying to thread."
The customer blushes and looks self-conscious. It's precisely the sort of thing that would make Henry feel ashamed if he had not consciously and cheerfully thrown all his shame overboard years ago.
"I don't give a lot of gifts."
"Then lucky for you, I have just the thing." He brandishes a poinsettia. "Traditional. Beautiful. Devoid of any pesky romantic subtext. Poisonous to cats, if your workplace happens to be infested with unwanted felines."
"It isn't." Aha, he has found his feet again after all. "And these are...good flowers?"
Henry whips the plant away from where the customer was just leaning forward to inspect it.
"I will pretend you did not just insult the honor of my store by implying I would sell any substandard flowers," and then he adds, "Do not further mock me by laughing!"
"Sorry," the customer says, sounding anything but. "This just isn't what I was expecting when Ronan sent me here."
"Oh, did he lead you to believe this would be a den of Gothic horror, filled with belladonna and nightshade?"
The handsome stranger shrugs, self-conscious again. "I guess I never really know what to expect from him," and with a tone of voice like that, there is only one course of action for Henry to pursue.
"Unfortunately, this is my very last poinsettia," and if he says that with enough confidence then the handsome man in front of him will not look over his shoulder and see the entire row of poinsettias in the next room. "I will have some more in tomorrow, come back then, they will be the very finest of coworker-giftable flowers."
"All right," and he fills out the entirely unnecessary order form whose only purpose is for Henry to find out his name. Adam. Lovely.
As soon as Adam is gone, Henry makes a phone call.
Adam returns to the store the next day, early morning again, and Henry drags his feet trying to take as long as humanly possible to ring up a half a dozen poinsettias.
It pays off, because the universe loves Henry Cheng, if not enough to funnel a consistent and adoring stream of customers to his business, than at least enough to keep him entertained. The bell over the door rings and Ronan enters the shop.
And then Ronan stops entering the shop and stands frozen in the doorway. His eyes are fixed on Adam with a horrible desperate painful longing.
Interestinger and interestinger.
"Ronan, come right in!"
Ronan's expression turns to a scowl before Adam can see him. Adam, for his part, gives no reaction but to say, "hey, Lynch." How dare he have the nerve to be inscrutable. Henry detests straight faces as he detests all things straight.
"Parrish." Ronan nods coolly at him, like he hadn't just been pining from afar from the doorway, and then he turns to Henry. "Why're you calling me about a problem with my delivery? I didn't order shit."
"Oh?" Henry asks, the picture of innocent confusion. "But the last time you had flowers delivered to a certain special someone, you said you wanted it to be a regular occurrence."
Adam's voice is completely neutral in that way that you can only be if you are working very very hard at it. Henry does so love being right. "Subscription flower delivery? You're desperate to impress someone."
"They're for my mom, Parrish, butt out."
Adam doesn't look at all relieved to discover that Ronan's errand isn't a romantic one. And with that tone of voice Henry can't blame him. This is why Mafia enforcers don't get laid, Ronan apparently-your-name-is-Lynch.
"So do you wish for me to go ahead with the delivery?" because as much as Henry wants to shove these two beautiful faces together, he also has a business to run into the ground.
Ronan looks thoughtful, and surprises Henry by saying, "yeah, go ahead, same as last time."
Henry finishes Adam's transaction and then rings Ronan up lightning quick, so that he's done before Adam has managed to successfully corral his multiple poinsettias.
"Oh, I have to see to my other customer," Henry lies, because Adam and Ronan are far too busy pretending not to look at each other out of the corner of their eyes to notice that the shop is empty. "Do the two of you think you can get those to your cars without my assistance?"
"Can't handle all this?" Ronan asks Adam snidely.
"Don't trouble yourself on my account, it's only Christmas."
"Don't lecture me about Christmas, pagan," and that gets them out the door together, if not together. Henry supposes that even his elevated intellect and charm might need more than five minutes to make two people fall in love.
Adam returns to the shop a few days later.
"No! Do not tell me, let me guess," Henry says. "The poinsettias were such a hit you have decided to devote yourself to the horticultural arts and you have come to ask me for my secrets."
"You could have played along for even a minute." Henry sighs. "You have no generosity for indulging a madman, you're even worse than that neighbor of yours."
Adam, who was in the middle of pulling something out of his pocket, falls still. Henry pretends not to notice.
"So how can I help you, oh tragically un-botanical one?"
"There were flowers delivered to my apartment yesterday," Adam says. "From this shop."
"Oh?" Henry asks, like he didn't know this already.
"Yeah. I want to know who sent them."
Henry hms and haws and flips through several pages of a ledger that mostly contains doodles of cyborg hydrangeas. "I don't see any record of that, it must have been a cash transaction," he says. "Was there a card?"
Adam hesitates. "It wasn't signed."
"What did it say?"
Adam hesitates again.
"I'd remember a personal message better than just the flowers," Henry says.
Adam finishes taking the card out of his pocket. Henry makes sure to look at it long enough to read it -- you're amazing. It had caused his soul untold hurt, to not unleash even a smidgen of the poetry that runs through his veins, but he had needed something that could plausibly sound like Ronan had dictated it as part of a business transaction. That had pretty thoroughly ruled out any you're the stars that light the night sky of my heart et cetera et cetera.
Oh well. Even boring prosaic people deserve love.
"Hm, I don't recall taking an order like this," which is true, "my associate must have done it," which isn't. The shop doesn't do enough business for Henry to have employees. Maybe it's time for him to diversify. If he pulls this off perhaps he can branch out into matchmaking. Or crime solving. He's been watching a lot of Murder, She Wrote while business is slow. He thinks he's got the hang of it.
"Could you ask them?"
"There's no one else in right now," and then he adds, "I don't really know that we'd remember one particular customer, unless they were a regular, like you or Ronan."
Hm. He might have overplayed his hand there. Subtlety is just so obviously inferior to all other approaches that life offers.
Overplaying or not, Adam does not look like he's paying much attention to Henry. "Okay, thanks," and he walks very slowly out of the store.
The next few days are maddening. Business is too slow to distract him, and even Angela Lansbury cannot soothe his busy mind. He considers phoning Ronan about another fake order, just to get him to show up, but decides against it. That might push Ronan into burning down the shop, despite his professed disinterest in protection money.
Henry spends a lot of time doing research online, instead. There's fewer qualifications than he expected to get certified as a private detective. It seems like a savvier choice than matchmaking. There's no Tinder for solving murders.
Ronan shows up on the third day, which is probably just a coincidence and not actually because Henry had said his name three times to the mirror in the employee bathroom.
"You sent that bouquet to Parrish's place."
"Of course," Henry says. "I hope you had the good sense to take credit for it."
"Ronan I-don't-know-your-middle-name Lynch," Henry admonishes him.
"I told him I wished I'd thought of it."
"Ah. Surprisingly smooth."
"Thanks," Ronan says, like he means it, which is all the warning that Henry needs; he's not caught off guard at the shark-like smile that Ronan gives him, or the way his voice drops. "The next time you send my boyfriend a bouquet I'm going to set this place on fire."
"You cannot!" Henry protests. "You just said boyfriend! I made that happen! You owe me!"
"Bullshit. I would've gotten there on my own."
"Uh-huh, and how long have you been trying to 'get there'?"
Ronan glares. Intently.
"By which I mean, congratulations, have a long-stemmed red rose for your paramour."
"What do I look like, a virgin asking someone to prom? Gimme an orchid."
"You are the most compelling and multifaceted Mafia enforcer I've ever met," Henry says. "Have you ever considered co-owning a private detective agency?"
Ronan snorts. "You'd make a shitty detective."
"I figured you out pretty fast."
"You think I work for the Mafia."
"So I'm Irish, idiot," and he leaves with his orchid.
six months later
"Every time I think I'm out," Henry broods, "there's one more job that pulls me back in."
Adam sighs. "Remind me why we're doing this."
"What," Ronan says, "you want to get your flowers from someone that isn't a detective?"
"Yes. That sounds like exactly what I want."
"At least this time he didn't talk about how your legs go all the way to the floor."
"Is it too late to elope?"
"Yes," Henry says at the same time as Ronan. That's the sort of thing that pisses him off sometimes, but today he just quirks a smile at Henry. Being engaged must be good for his mood: case closed. "And may I say congratulations? I approve wholeheartedly of the accelerated pace of your courtship."
Adam says, deadpan, "we have to get married so the prosecutor can't force me to testify against him."
"You jest," Henry says. "And yet, if your fiancé were not a member of an organized crime syndicate, what reason would he have for not accepting any of my numerous offers of employment?"
"I don't work for anyone but me," Ronan says.
"Also he has allergies," Adam adds.
"Also your detective agency does even less business than your flower shop," Ronan continues, a pitiful attempt to deflect from this revelation of pollen-based vulnerability.
"I may have been mislead by daytime reruns about the frequency with which people mysteriously perish."
Ronan pats him on the shoulder. Good-mood Ronan is, frankly, unnerving. "Aw, cheer up. I'm sure someone will get horribly murdered around here someday."
"I'm really going to regret letting you write your own vows, aren't I," Adam says.
"Look on the bright side," Henry says. "The flowers will be perfect."