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beautiful stranger, it's finally safe for me to fall

Chapter Text

this morning

I told the flowers

what I'd do for you

and they blossomed

 

― Rupi Kaur, from “ The Sun and Her Flowers





“Perfect timing! Help me load these into the car.”

 

“Hello to you too,” Mallory says with the hint of a smile.

 

Thunder rumbles in the cloudy New Orleans skies as Misty gathers the flower pots and buckets from the sidewalk and secures them in the back of her kombi van. “Don’t be a big baby. It’s gon’ rain soon.”

 

“What are these for?” Mallory asks, motioning with her chin to the intricate arrangements lined up on the floor.

 

“Some fancy art gala.”

 

“Fancy sounds right.” Dubiously eyeing Misty, with her bohemian-styled dress and untamed curls she hadn’t even bothered to braid, Mallory chuckles fondly before asking, “Shouldn’t you be dressed up for this?”

 

“Nah, I’ll be in n’ out.”

 

“Are you still coming out with me Friday night?”

 

“I’ll check, ‘cause I have that thing.”

 

“What thing?”

 

“The thing I told ya ‘bout.” 

 

“Misty–”

 

Mallory’s cut off by the sound of the orange car doors closing and a quick peck on the cheek she can’t even reciprocate.

 

“Got your keys?” Misty asks her, jumping in the driver’s seat.

 

“Yes,” she says, reaching in her back pocket for the spare key to the flower shop Misty had given her.

 

“Bye Mal, catch ya later, yeah?”

 

With her trunk full of petals and the engine roaring, Misty drives away humming along to a tune on the radio.

 

Miraculously, she arrives at the museum where the event is taking place just in time. Though she’d foreseen the elegance of the gala, she hadn’t actually expected such level of luxury for a university fundraiser. It’s truly unlike anything she’s ever attended; from the carpeted entrance to the decorated, roman style columns and the bright lights illuminating the pieces hung up on the walls. People in long elegant dresses and tailored suits dart around the conference hall, alongside at least fifteen men and women in uniformed tuxedos carrying trays with appetizers and glassware, preparing for the first guests to trickle in.

 

Glittery people; rich, snobby men in the art scene with money and expensive tastes, and women with analyzing eyes and judgemental, condescending voices. Dangling earrings, delicate perfume, needle stilettos. The inherent glamour of it all. A desperate need to be noticed and acclaimed.

 

Misty isn’t a glittery person herself. She’s obviously out of place, suddenly self-conscious of her outfit and her beaten down, leather boots. But then again, this is a university fundraiser, and she shouldn’t be so quick to judge anyone.

 

In no time she unloads the decorations and has everything set in place. Misty carries the last arrangement of lilac orchids and acacias over to a table, face hidden behind long leafs when someone collides with her side and almost knocks her over. She stumbles backwards in an ungraceful movement that makes her feel a little embarrassed, and barely manages to regain her balance before landing on her butt.

 

“Oh! I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there!” a woman apologizes. Her voice is sweet and when Misty manages to set the arrangement down the first thing she sees are chocolate pools melting under thick mascara lashes.

 

Honey blonde hair frames her face, falling straight with a slight curl at the ends, and her ivory skin is complemented by a deep emerald dress that hugs all the right places but manages to stay classy. The sight alone makes Misty dizzy. God she’s dazzling . Misty makes a very conscious effort not to stare for long, but it’s impossible not to swoon when this woman is ridiculously alluring.

 

Mouth running dry, Misty has to physically make herself reply, “No worries.”

 

“Here, let me.” 

 

In her stupor, she’d failed to notice how some of the white decorative gravel spilled over her chest. The other blonde frets around it, not sure where to put her hands, instead pulling a handkerchief from her clutch and dabbing at Misty’s dress.

 

“It’s fine, don’t worry ‘bout it.” Misty dusts herself off with the pad of her fingers and offers a lopsided smile. “Wanna know a secret? It’s an old thing. I’ve patched up this baby plenty a’ times.”

 

“I really am sorry,” she apologizes again, wringing her wrists. “Did you help with one of the pieces?”

 

“Nah, I did the flowers.”

 

Something must click inside the blonde’s head because her defensive posture visibly relaxes. “They’re gorgeous.”

 

( So are you .)

 

“Sorry, I didn’t catch your name?”

 

“Misty. My name is Misty.”

 

“That’s a beautiful name. Fitting,” is all she says before she finally grins, barely a quirk of the lips that manages to make Misty’s breath hitch.

 

“Cordelia,” calls a man, said blonde whipping her head toward him. 

 

In Misty’s head, the sound of his voice is far off in another plane of existence altogether. She barely registers it. Everything else is muted. It’s as if the world around her melted away except for Cordelia.

 

Cordelia , her name claims Misty’s heart, fits right in the god-shaped hole behind her sternum; thinks the mere uttering of those eight letters could open the gates to heaven and build emerald empires and magical, yellow brick roads.

 

He strides toward them with an arrogant smirk on his face. His cologne is strong and his black hair is slick with too much styling wax. The navy blue suit he chose for the night isn’t as attractive as he believes it to be, and there is nothing Misty can actually do to stir him away, to leave intact this precious moment she was gifted with the other blonde.

 

Cordelia tenses her jaw and squares her shoulders, armor back in place to regard this particularly annoying man. “Hello, Richard.”

 

“Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes. What a pity you’re spoken for.”

 

“It’s nice to see you too.” 

 

Misty’s face falls minutely, ridiculously disappointed. Of course she isn’t single. Why would she be? Cordelia is the kind of stunning that’s hard to describe, not just conventionally attractive but more . She wouldn’t be plastered in the covers of magazines, wouldn’t be the face of fashion houses– no , Cordelia is the kind of gorgeous that’s subtle, that makes you look twice and stop and marvel at her. The kind of beauty that doesn’t demand attention but glows nonetheless.

 

“Where’s the boyfriend? Wouldn’t want his arm candy prancing around in that dress all alone.”

 

Cordelia grimaces at his comment, clearly uncomfortable with the way his roaming eyes land on her ass. “Aren’t you a charmer.”

 

Grinning in a way that’s supposed to be nice, but is instead triumphant and cocky, Richard acknowledges Misty.

 

“And who might this be?”

 

“I’m Misty.”

 

“Richard. But you can call me anything you’d like.”

 

“And I’m sure I will.” Misty shakes his outstretched hand politely, her grip strong and assertive over his. Her fingers are calloused and muddy, and she thoroughly enjoys the way his brow furrows in the most absurd way. It throws Richard completely off guard.

 

“Right.”

 

“Well, Richard if you’ll excuse us,” Cordelia says.

 

“Are you sure you two ladies don’t need a date for the night?”

 

“Ya know what they say: three’s a crowd, Dicky.”

 

Richard’s smugness drops at Misty’s nickname and Cordelia has to suppress the urge to laugh. 

 

“I can assure you we’re fine.” Cordelia stirs Misty away resting a casual palm in her arm. Misty would have appreciated a warning before it completely wrecked her senses. Anyone passing by would be able to see her pounding heartbeat through the soft skin on her chest. The touch is nothing short of electric, and it’s not lost on either of them.

 

When she’s sure they’re out of earshot, Cordelia lets her shoulders sag and groans.

 

“Wow, what’n asshole.”

 

Cordelia chuckles. “And the evening’s just begun. I’ll need a drink if I hope to make it through the rest of the event.”

 

(Not a glittery person under the glittery layers, after all.)

 

“I’ll leave you to it then,” Misty sighs. Wiping her hands clean on the rumpled fabric of her dress, she extends one to Cordelia. “‘S pleasure to meet–”

 

“No, don’t go. I mean- I, I could really use some good company.” Cordelia winces at the desperation dripping from her voice, ashamed at her insistence. With her cheeks tinting pink, she backtracks, “What am I saying, you don’t have to–”

 

“Cordelia, I’d love to stay.”

 

Big brown eyes light up instantly. Though Misty isn’t exactly sure what compelled her to agree to this. Maybe it’s the way Cordelia talks, how she seems to give Misty her full attention; or the way she transformed into somebody else–completely let her defenses vanish–after learning Misty wasn’t a snobby colleague. Either way, Misty finds herself desperate to make her brighten up again, has now decided she wants to make those brown eyes glimmer and put the night sky to shame.

 

“So, drinks?”

 

Intercepting a waiter, Cordelia takes two champagne flutes from his tray and offers one to Misty. The room is quickly full of people with a luxurious air of importance. If it weren’t for the blonde standing by her side, Misty would’ve felt terribly intimidated.

 

“Why don’t we find a table?” 

 

Misty allows Cordelia to guide her to a round table near the entrance. When they’re seated Misty takes her time to properly take in the conference hall (arched entryways, high ceiling supported on double columns, thus big enough for at least 300 guests plus staff), but it’s not long until her stare lands back on Cordelia, who was already watching her though she pretends not to. Misty’s just about to speak when the chatter around the room begins to quiet down. She’s actually thankful for the interruption.

 

A short man walks up to the middle of the room, clinking his glass twice to gather everyone’s attention. Under the thick frame of his glasses he takes a quick glance around before clearing his throat.

 

“Esteemed guests, welcome to Tulane’s annual Celebration of the Arts Gala, brought to you by the School of Liberal Arts of our university,” Quentin Fleming says in a very peculiar high pitch. Misty recognizes him from the Gala brochure. “One of New Orleans’ premier fundraising events and an important showcase for local performing and visual artists.”

 

“Wow, this some fancy shit,” Misty leans in to whisper. “Imma take a wild guess n’ say ya work for the museum?”

 

“No, but that was close.” Cordelia takes her eyes off of him and turns to Misty. “I teach art history at the university.”

 

“This event helps to support our grant and scholarship programs here at Tulane. Most importantly, the mission of this Gala is to create a space where the arts flourish without restrictions and are properly appreciated,” Quentin continues, “Without further adieu, let’s give a round of applause to our faculty staff members, who made all of this possible.”

 

The plaudits are loud. Mr. Fleming doesn’t move from his spot, and Misty’s not sure what she’s doing here. She was supposed to be in and out–this wasn’t part of the job. But with the angel sitting beside her, does she regret it? Certainly not.

 

“Here, follow me.” Misty takes advantage of the noisy room and pushes her seat back, waiting for Cordelia to do the same. If she doesn’t get her alone now, she won’t have the guts to do it later; she knows she shouldn't stay for long.

 

“We’re leaving?”

 

“Only for a minute, if that’s okay with ya.”

 

All guests have their attention on Quentin, so Cordelia doesn’t think twice to say, “Lead the way.”

 

Weaving through waitresses and chairs, the pair slip out of the room unnoticed. Cordelia imagines they’re both little girls, playing hide and seek through the halls of an enchanted castle. Enchanted , that’s the term she’d use to describe this precise moment. It’s a refreshing feeling, out of her monotonous routine. Freeing and brand new. She’s drowned in the urge to reach for Misty’s hand, but decides against it. They don’t even know each other. And yet, here she is, following this beautiful stranger more than willingly.

 

Turning a corner, Misty doesn’t hesitate before pushing the first door open.

 

“I don’t think we should–”

 

The lights flicker on, illuminating the small space drowned in paintings and statues, some unfinished, some in the middle of being restored. Inside this room, time doesn’t exist. They found the secret chamber hiding the kingdom’s lost treasure.

 

Oh .”

 

“Real pretty, ain’t it?”

 

“Yes. I’ve never been back here on my own.”

 

“I might’ve gotten lost a couple hours ago. Stumbled in here.”

 

“I’ve always wanted to do curation.” Cordelia says softly, her focus on the deconstructed art. It’s magical, the way her whole face brightens at the sight. An awe that’s almost tangible. She could very well be another piece for the collection. Misty could stare at her forever; a marble statue sculpted by incredibly talented hands. Worthy of Michelangelo’s time. 

 

Cordelia’s freckled arms stay locked in front of her, as if she were intentionally preventing herself from touching anything she shouldn’t. Her eyes flick over the pieces rapidly, not staying focused solely in one for long.

 

“You paint?”

 

“Oh no. I’ve written a few columns for the university newspaper and pieces for exhibitions, but I don’t paint. I wish though.” As she speaks, Cordelia mindlessly plays with the engagement ring on her finger. It glints under the room’s lighting, flaring Misty’s blue eyes. “Do you?”

 

“Paint? Nah, not really. I can strum a guitar, but that’s as far as I go on m’art skills.”

 

“That’s pretty nice.”

 

“Are ya married?”

 

“Engaged.” Though she doesn’t sound excited. “He’s not one for art though, has never liked it. The one and only time he came to the Gala he fell asleep mid-speech.”

 

Misty fails to see how that’s humorous. Cordelia chortles, a dry little chuckle, but it sounds more like an exhale or a sigh than anything else.

 

“Well, congratulations. That Dick guy back there sure missed the memo.”

 

“Richard’s a jackass.”

 

Misty laughs heartily. “Miss Cordelia, what’a filthy mouth.” She hadn’t meant for it to sound as flirtatious as it does. All Misty can do is smile again, allowing herself a bit of gratification at being the reason for Cordelia’s sheepishness.

 

All of Cordelia’s attention is on her and she’s blushing furiously.

 

It’s like she’s entranced. Misty’s gaze is incredibly charged, Cordelia can’t tear her eyes away. She wonders if she stares too long in those ocean blue eyes, how deep could she swim without drowning. Or does she want to drown? 

 

(Let those eyes consume her, sit at the bottom of the sea never to be found again. Stored away safely in Misty’s consciousness.)

 

This is one of those particular occasions–and they’re few and far between–when Cordelia finds herself truly here. She has a tendency to always look ahead, be a step forward, constantly thinking on the next task to tackle. Most of the time she just feels detached. But now she is hyper-aware: the green flecks in Misty’s eyes like lily pads on the bluest pond, the faint smell of oil paint and dissolvent, hushed applause, her strong pulse thumping in her ears, Misty’s cheeky dimples. A memory that will forever be burned in her brain. Everything feels significant.

 

Shuffling outside the door breaks this spontaneously crafted bubble of silent but powerful emotions.

 

In the most nervous movement from her all night, Misty clears her throat, moving her hair behind her ears. It feels like they’ve been standing in the same spot for hours. “You better get back to your party. And I should get goin’.”

 

“Yes, you’re right.”

 

Misty opens the door for Cordelia and takes her back to the conference hall. Both women hover by the closed twin doors. Misty’s not ready to go, doesn’t want this to end. Meeting Cordelia is no coincidence, she can feel that in her bones. She takes a good last look at her, as if trying to memorize every inch of her angelic features just in case they never meet again. Misty won’t be satisfied, could never be, but at least she is calm to know she met the right person; and if just for a few hours, she was hers.

 

“It was nice meetin’ ya.” 

 

“You too, Misty.” ( Will I see you again? )

 

From an arrangement in the entrance Misty pulls a single thin stem with tiny blooms dotted over the top, rolling it between the pad of her fingers.

 

“Here, take it.” Their fingertips graze and Misty’s surprised the tiny white flowers don’t fry up with the electricity. “They look pretty with the dress.”

 

She’d purposefully decided not to tell her white clovers mean ‘ think of me ’.





Rain pours incessantly outside the flower shop, drops running down the glass windows like tears. 

 

Chiming softly, the small bell above the entrance announces her presence. A whirl of honey-blonde hair and a long dark skirt breezes through the doorway. Cordelia comes in a rush, basically strutting. Her purposeful step fails her as soon as she walks in, conveyed confidence melting away easily with the warmth of the morning sun and the coziness of the abounding shop. She seems to be all made up of long elegant lines and symmetrical curves; sophisticated and somehow so simple, so easy to look at.

 

Perhaps Misty wouldn’t be as baffled if Cordelia weren’t so damn pretty.

 

As Cordelia shakes her umbrella and straightens her knit sweater, her clothes drip and her muddy shoes squish against the clean wooden floor, but Misty can’t bring herself to care. The fact that she’s here makes hope fizz in Misty’s chest. 

 

From behind the counter Misty timidly stares at her, following her every movement, as subtle as it might be. When their eyes finally meet, Misty recognizes the longing that runs deep within those brown orbs, the exhaustion around them, the sad, downturn of the corners. She offers a kind smile, which Cordelia instantly returns.

 

“Hi.”

 

“Hey.” Misty only hopes she sounds as casual as she is pretending to be. “How you doin’?”

 

“Good, great,” Cordelia says. “I came by to say thank you. For the other day at the Gala.”

 

“I had so much fun. Never been t’one a’ those before.”

 

“I’m glad then. You saved me from a dreadfully boring night.”

 

“My pleasure.”

 

Her shoes squish again, and she chuckles. “I had to ask Quentin for the address, I should’ve asked you that night but uh, it totally slipped my mind.”

 

“I’m glad you did.”

 

They stare at each other for a moment too long before Cordelia adverts her gaze, letting the color rise to her cheeks. Now standing here, in more casual clothes and without heavy makeup, Cordelia is somehow more beautiful than before.

 

“Anyway I uh- I’m also looking for apology flowers? My fiancé and I,” ( oh right ) “well, we had a fight last night and I may have said some things I didn’t mean.” 

 

“Of course.” The disappointment shoots through her like an arrow, bent and splintered. Based on the way she’d described him the other night, Misty finds it to be a strange gift, supposes the flowers are merely a pacifier. “Well, let me fix you somethin’ up real quick.” 

 

Misty glides around the floor with ease, skipping from one stack to the next much like a bumblebee. Racking her brain for possible flowers, she decides on a bunch of purple blossoms, unthreading the stems with her fingers in a skilled action, and throws in some small white blooms finished with a splash of fuchsia petals in the middle. 

 

Cordelia’s left in awe at her, from the unruly golden mane to the joviality dancing in her eyes. “What do those mean?” she inquires as she motions to the white flowers surrounding the bigger, purple ones.

 

“Dogwood flowers say ‘ love undiminished by adversity’ .” Misty points to the purple blooms next. “Asters mean ‘ patience .’” 

 

Cordelia looks skeptically at the single flower in the middle, big white petals dipped in pink at the edges. 

 

“A striped carnation says ‘ my heart breaks’ ,” supplies Misty quietly. “They don’t really fit together, but the meanin’ goes well with the rest’a them, don’t you think?”

 

“They’re beautiful,” but Cordelia’s bright eyes seem to dull. “He’ll hate me,” she mumbles. 

 

If Misty weren’t paying rapt attention to her, she probably wouldn’t even have heard it. It’s a breathy confession that Misty’s aware isn’t for her, isn’t to be shared and so, she lets the wind carry it away.

 

(During her childhood, all her momma’s friends would relentlessly complain about their marriages, moan about how unhappy they were, laugh humorlessly about the hardships of it.

 

There was one particular woman with frivolous, wiry black hair who always kept silent. She listened, she laughed appropriately, but she never chimed in. Everyone else, including Misty’s mother, thought her marriage was one of those perfect matches made in heaven. In reality, they’d all later learn she was the most miserable of them all.

 

Misty was never one to mess with other people’s relationships–she never cared for gossip the way her mother did.

 

For a moment, Misty’s taken back to her childhood home, regarding Cordelia as if she were that very woman who always held back her love.)

 

You’re beautiful . Does he deserve them? Does he deserve you?

 

Or is he the reason you look so goddamn tired?

 

Cordelia seems to be captivated by the arrangement, touching her fingertips to the soft petals. 

 

She doesn’t look up at Misty as she sheepishly asks, “Do you think he’ll like them?”

 

Good God , if Misty could she’d wrap her arms around Cordelia and squeeze until all the self-doubt drained from her body, until all the insecurities flushed away and the chipped edges of her heart smoothed out. Instead, she settles for a simple “I have no doubt.”

 

Her reassurance does little to placate Cordelia’s racing mind. 

 

“Hey.” Misty places a tender hand atop Cordelia’s own shaking ones, and the blonde is momentarily distracted from her worries. A subtle blush creeps up her neck at the contact. “It’ll all work out, alright?” 

 

She squeezes, and moves her hand away. Cordelia almost feels disappointed when she does.

 

What a strange thing, to sprout in the middle of winter, to know you’ll bloom in spring .

 

“How much do I owe you?”

 

“Please, consider it a ‘thank you’, for the other night.”

 

“Thank you, Misty.” She takes the craft-papered bouquet from her hands and grins one last time.

 

As Cordelia steps out of the shop and into the rain that’s nothing more than a subtle drizzle now, Misty smiles to herself. She’s met customers every single day, brief passings and countless irrelevant moments. But Cordelia? Cordelia isn’t just anyone. She is a lightning bolt that strikes Misty and imprints herself in gold on Misty’s heart.





Hank comes home two days before planned from his work trip.

 

It’s just becoming light outside when he rolls his suitcase through the front door. The house is silent, his boots echoing through the hallways.

 

Already awake, Cordelia listens enraptured from under the covers of their bed. Today she doesn’t have the energy for much. As if the day ahead required more energy than she could muster. The room is engulfed in a dull, golden light, and she watches the way it spreads as the minutes tick by. When Hank’s footfalls drag up the stairs she closes her eyes and for some reason she can’t explain, pretends to be asleep.

 

The door opens softly. His boots squeak against the tiled floor despite his best efforts. He places something heavy on the bedside table and then sits on the edge of the bed next to a sleeping Cordelia, moving a strand of tousled hair behind her ear.

 

“Cordelia, wake up.”

 

Cordelia stirs. She fakes a yawn, fluttering her eyes open. “Hey, when did you come back?”

 

“I just came through the door.”

 

Curling her lips in a way she hopes resembles happiness, Cordelia can’t bring herself to say she’s glad he’s home. “What a nice surprise.”

 

“I brought you some gifts,” he says. Hank scratches his freshly shaved beard. He smells nice. “Flowers and those swiss chocolates you like.”

 

(No, the swiss chocolates he likes. The vase of red roses make her think of Misty.

 

She berates herself for that thought.)

 

“Thank you, Hank.”

 

And in the most uncharacteristic move that takes her by absolute surprise, Hank leans down to peck her cheek. It’s incredibly sweet but unfamiliar.

 

These are the moments she likes him the most.

 

He tends to do this, after a work trip; performs a grand act of affection that makes her feel as besotted with him as she’d been that very first year after they met. When there was excitement, and she thought she truly had found something good . She misses those days, wishes she could claim them back. Or place herself in one of her own memories to experience them again. Hank spoils Cordelia rotten and for a couple days, she believes he loves her still. Just for a couple days.

 

Outside, the sun rises fully and filters through the drapes. A sense of peace washes over Cordelia. Perchance she’s reading it all wrong, fishing for lies in her swarming thoughts. Sure, he’s rarely affectionate, somewhat possessive (not to mention egotistical), dismissive about some of her stronger emotions, things that remain unspoken now–but that’s just the way he was built. He’s the man she fell for. Besides, those things aren’t important in the grand scheme of things. If anyone asked her, she’d tell without a doubt he’s a good boyfriend, will undeniably be a good husband. They’re just going through hard times; they’ll get through it. It is always such a glorious relief when she allows herself to believe Hank never stopped loving her.

 

And then she feels terribly selfish for not appreciating what they have built together . A life. How ungrateful.

 

Her life has so much joy.

 

“Let me take you out to breakfast,” Hank says.

 

“Really?”

 

“Why do you sound so surprised?”

 

“Nothing.” Cordelia studies him. He looks good, with his jaw set and his skin slightly tanner from his trip. Even with his hair shaggy and outgrown. This is the problem, she is helplessly attracted to him. She is helplessly, dumbly charmed. 

 

“Think you can be ready in twenty minutes?”

 

“Sure. Yes.”

 

“Alright. I’ll wait downstairs.” He runs a fingertip down the length of her arm. It sends shivers down her spine. “Wear something nice.”

 

Under different circumstances, Hank would have stumbled home and crashed face first on his side of the bed. There wouldn’t have been any chocolate or roses. He would have slept into the late afternoon and woken only when he got hungry. Those circumstances aren’t real, because that’s not how their relationship works.

 

This is how they always behave around each other after Hank travels; tender and sickeningly tremulous. As if being away helped him remember he has a fiancée he should appreciate. He’s not just a visitor in her life, he’s not just a friend crashing on her couch.

 

She wonders if he ever feels guilty about the things he does with other women; other women that aren’t Cordelia. Perhaps he feels guilty now –she’s been part of this rehearsed performance too many times for her to ignore. The thought makes her eagerness fade. Whatever this is isn’t an act of love , it’s an act born from guilt.

 

Cordelia isn’t sure when she got comfortable with his indifference, when she was okay with him not loving her. Because she loves him. She really does.

 

“Whatever you want.”

 

Some days, she doesn’t even have to repeat it like a mantra to convince herself.





It’s been four days since she’s been to the shop. Four days since she’d last seen Misty. Which shouldn't be important, but is for some reason she can’t quite figure out. It’s as if the moment they met everything changed (for better or worse, Cordelia isn’t sure either). Misty barged into her life, rooted herself in her heart and now the stems travel through her aorta and bloom at her hypothalamus.

 

She keeps wondering when Misty became the only thought strolling through her mind. Cordelia feels horribly guilty about it.

 

So, it’s been four days and Cordelia’s desperate to get in her car and drive there just to see her . (She doesn’t, because it’s silly. Utterly irrational. Misty makes her feel that way.) As much as she tries, Cordelia can’t stop daydreaming about her, watering said plant vigorously. Only momentarily distracted by Hank, who’s been chipper and more attentive than usual. Naturally Cordelia lets him, though she keeps him at arm’s length lest she begins to get too comfortable in a makeshift fantasy that won’t last for long.

 

That’s why the next morning Cordelia drives to the shop with only a smidge of guilt, all thoughts of Hank shoved to the back of her mind.

 

“You must really like flowers, huh?” Is the first thing Misty says when she comes stumbling through the door.

 

Cordelia chuckles. Maybe I just like you .

 

“Gimme a minute,” Misty adds, subtly pointing to a man in a grey trench coat rummaging through the succulents. “You find anyhtin’ you like, sir?”

 

The man in question turns to look at her with a tiny pot cradled in his hands. His nose is pointy, bushy eyebrows that frame his chubby face with an overall friendly energy. Under hooded lids, his brown eyes are small but kind. “Might be a nice addition to the terrarium, eh?”

 

“Yes, Mr. Pearson. I do believe so, but–” Misty reaches for a cacti topped with a small pink bud and hands it to the man, “–to add some color, don’tcha think?”

 

He laughs, admiring the plant as if it were something precious. Then he says to Cordelia, “She has a good eye. Quite something, this one.”

 

Yes, definitely something , Cordelia thinks. Something good .

 

Misty clicks her tongue abashedly. “Alright, stop embarrassin’ me in front of m’customers, Harold.”

 

“My wife will love it,” Harold says, following Misty to the counter and paying for both plants.

 

Cordelia watches her intently. She’s wearing a long breezy skirt that grazes her ankles with a sleeveless top. Strong arms, sharp shoulders. Any movement of her arm makes her biceps flex. Her hands catch Cordelia’s eye; capable hands, delicate hands that are also sturdy and firm. (Misty winks when she catches her staring.)

 

“Have a nice weekend, dear!” He calls from the entryway, interrupting Cordelia’s perilous train of thought. Her skin pulses, touch me again!

 

He’s gone and the moment the door shuts Misty turns to her with the most endearing smile.

 

“Do you, maybe want to grab some coffee?” Cordelia asks abruptly with her cheeks aflame.

 

Honestly she doesn’t know what she’s doing, mostly because she’s aware her intentions aren’t clear, though she isn’t ready to admit that yet. Not to herself, and definitely not to Misty.

 

For her part, Misty definitely wasn’t expecting such forwardness and it must show on her face because Cordelia bites her lip and clasps her hands, twiddling with her thumbs at the prolonged beat of silence. Misty gives her an apologetic pout. “Can’t leave the shop today, I’ve got a few deliveries to make.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“How about Tuesday?”

 

Cordelia contemplates her schedule, but nothing stands out. Though she’d clear anything she had for Tuesday, as absurd as that might be, just to spend time with Misty. “Perfect.”

 

(She’d be more than happy with five minutes of her time. What’s a couple more days, right?)


...

 

Tuesday doesn’t come as fast as Misty would like. The nearest cafe is in walking distance from Misty’s shop, and the women take advantage of the brief stroll to make small chatter and catch up on their days. They stand together in line, shoulders brushing and the proximity makes Misty’s palms sweaty. Although she doesn’t feel as nervous as Cordelia looks. It’s cute; she doesn’t comment on it. She learns Cordelia takes her coffee black, one sugar, and it’s the exact color of her eyes. Cordelia offers to pay for both her drink and Misty’s green tea– of course she does–but Misty insists she doesn’t have to. 

 

“Please, let me,” Misty said, and somehow Cordelia conceded.

 

“Only this time.” Meaning there could be a next one, meaning they could do this again.

 

The cool mid-September breeze of the evening has the women walking close together. They sip on their drinks silently for a moment before Misty can’t contain the urge to know everything about Cordelia: what her favorite book is, if she sleeps with socks on, her biggest fears, the simple dreams she deems unimportant but desperately wants to accomplish.

 

She puts a leash to her rabid curiosity and asks instead, “So, how long have ya worked at Tulane?”

 

“Around four years now. It’s great, I really do love it. Before that I worked at the New Orleans University.”

 

“Did you major there?”

 

“Yes.” Cordelia pushes her tongue on the inside of her cheek, as if deciding whether or not to continue talking. “That’s where I met Hank too, my fiancé.” 

 

At the mention of his name Misty’s smile crooks faintly, and she might not be as discreet as she’d planned to be because Cordelia’s demeanor bleaks.

 

Cordelia recovers quickly. “What about you?”

 

Misty traces the edge of her cup. “There isn’t much t’say. I grew up around the bayou and I’ve always felt this connection to nature n’ the earth.”

 

“I can see that,” Cordelia says, mostly referring to Misty’s bohemian style. Her aunt Myrtle used to dress that way back in the 70’s too. Admittedly she likes it a lot; it suits her.

 

“Yeah. I thought about bein’ a vet, but I can’t watch those lil’ creatures sufferin’,” Misty says. “And blood makes my stomach flip. I couldn’t do it.” She doesn’t plan to elaborate, but then Cordelia tilts her head, urging her to continue, wanting to know more, asking if she can get anymore of Misty. “Did three semesters before I dropped out. There wasn’t much decidin’ to do.”

 

“How did you come to work at a flower shop?”

 

“As a kid I used to spend m’summers with my grandma workin’ at the big backyard of her house. Gardenin’ gives me some peace of mind,” she explains. “With some odd jobs here n’ there after high school I managed to save up enough to make the first payment and the rest is history.”

 

“Wait, the shop is yours?” Cordelia’s excitement seeps through her pores. The skin around her eyes crinkle with a face splitting grin. “That’s incredible, Misty.”

 

Misty smiles at the genuity of it. “Thank you.”

 

“You should teach me about all this plant stuff someday.” Cordelia asks timidly. “I have a little garden in the back of the house. It’s nothing much really, but I never have time for it anymore.”

 

“Really? Of course, I’d love to.” 

 

They walk in relative silence for a couple minutes until Cordelia says with an amused tilt to her voice, “So, special someone?”

 

Misty laughs, her blue eyes glinting green with the sunset. “Hmm, jus’ me and Elvis.”

 

“Elvis? Is he your…”

 

“It’s complicated.” Misty purses her lips, teasing Cordelia unashamedly.

 

“I see.”

 

She doesn’t understand why Cordelia looks almost disappointed when she’s the one who’s engaged .

 

“Elvis is my turtle,” Misty chuckles. Cordelia’s bemused expression pulls a laugh that rumbles deep in her chest. “I’m sorry darlin’, you should’ve seen your face.”

 

Cordelia just gives her a dangerously saccharine grin. “You have a turtle?”

 

“Well, he’s a tortoise,” Misty says, “but that usually seems to scare people. Big shells.”

 

Wincing, Cordelia pictures the size of the animal.

 

“Exactly what I’m sayin’.”

 

“I’m not the biggest fan of animals,” Cordelia confesses. “Don’t get me wrong, they’re cute and all but better have them at a distance.”

 

“That’a shame. I’m sure you and Elvis would’ve been best friends,” Misty jokes, which earns her a poke to the ribs.

 

From Cordelia’s pocket her phone buzzes. At the name displayed on the screen her face falls. Does she really need to pick up? Her brow furrows while she gives Misty an apologetic look.

 

(It sends an illogical pang of jealousy and melancholy through Misty’s chest.)

 

“Hey, Hank.”

 

“Where are you?”

 

“I’m having coffee with a friend. Why?”

 

“You were supposed to meet me home thirty minutes ago.” 

 

Cordelia grows quiet, admittedly confused and Hank groans at the other end of the line. Annoyed he says, “We agreed to have dinner with my father tonight.”

 

“Shit, I forgot. I’m sorry, I’ll be right there.”

 

“Hurry up,” is all he says before he hangs up.

 

The line goes quiet and Cordelia stares dumbly at the screen. Frantically she rummages through her bag for her car keys, suddenly stopping when she remembers her companion. She turns sideways to look at Misty, mouth opening and closing like a flap, searching for the right words to say.

 

“Go, don’t worry.”

 

“I’m sorry. Thanks for–” Awkwardly biting her bottom lip, Cordelia motions to the coffee cup clutched in her hand. “Thank you.”

 

“Any time.”

 

Misty’s ashamed to admit it hurts watching her walk away. She finishes her lukewarm tea, and begins her short trek home. Her own phone rings as she’s just about locking the door to her apartment. Her sister’s ringtone pulls a snicker from her belly, not even bothering to glance at the contact name before she answers the call.

 

“How was the date?” Mallory asks.

 

“Wasn’t a date, Mal. She’s engaged.”

 

“It sure seemed like a date. A romantic date.”

 

“I know what a date is.” Misty rolls her eyes. If Mallory could see her face now she probably wouldn’t be teasing her at all. She didn’t have a chance to tell her sister much about Cordelia after the art gala but now she wishes she would’ve at least told her about the boyfriend. “Anyway, it was fine, we had coffee, chatted a lil’.”

 

“Just chatted?”

 

“Yes, we jus’ talked. She’s amazing, like really somethin’, y’know?” Misty says dreamily. “She’s an art teacher at Tulane and she’s written for museums and exhibitions. Some smart shit.”

 

“Mhm.”

 

“And she’s so damn pretty and soft. I can’t even find the words.”

 

“Oh you got it bad. Real bad, Mist.”

 

“What are ya talkin’ about?” Misty groans. “We’re just friends.”

 

Her sister laughs at Misty’s exasperation, though it’s not unkind. “Uh-huh. So why was it just fine ? It sounds great to me. Well, for being a non-date date.”

 

Because ,” Misty whines, “her fiancé called and she had to run home.” She exhales, a headache blooming already. Mallory waits for her to continue, because she knows Misty has something important to add. “And I’m jealous .”

 

The line goes quiet for a minute, Mallory thinking hard. “Oh,” she says finally. “Shit, sorry. It’s just nice to hear you so happy. You haven’t been this excited about someone for a while.”

 

“Fuck my life.”

 

“You really like her, don’t you?”

 

For a moment, Misty can’t bring herself to speak. “Can I lie?”