Eren lifted the metal shutters and bent down to unlock the glass doors to “The Secret Garden”. He straightened, pushing open the doors of the shop. It felt strange to be there without his mother - Karla Jaeger had been feeling unwell this morning, leaving Eren to open the shop alone. His sister Mikasa was at the pharmacy, getting some aspirin for their mother and would join him later, with coffee and breakfast.
He walked through the shop, heading for the backroom as he did so. He had been helping out in his mother’s shop since he was young and knew everything about it like the back of his hand.
There were quite a few things to be done before the shop officially opened later in the day. There were displays to lay out, flowers to water and plants to trim.
He got the watering can from the cupboard and filled it, before heading out to tend to the flowers, humming softly to himself. He enjoyed this morning ritual – there was something pleasing about the riot of beautiful colours, the heady floral scents that soothed him.
He checked over the potted plants next, adding fertiliser to several pots before rotating and rearranging them.
This was another thing he enjoyed doing- being around plants was calming for him. That was how he had started helping around the shop. He smiled at the thought. After a bad day at school, he recalled, he would run to the shop to find his mother. She would give him a hug before tasking him to tend to the plants and flowers. He'd talk about his day and she would listen as they bent over the plants together.
After that, it became habit. He had a little container garden on the balcony of his room -whenever he needed some time-out, he would silently potter around until he felt better. When he was done with the plants, he began shifting and re-shuffling the flowerpots and other accessories the shop had for sale, getting ready to open the shop later at nine.
Mikasa arrived promptly at eight thirty while he was sweeping the store area. The slender young woman held a brown paper bag in one hand and a small cardboard carrier with two Styrofoam cups in the other. She smiled at her brother in greeting. “Eren.”
“Mika,” Eren looked over at her pleadingly, turquoise eyes wide. “Please tell me there’s coffee in one of those cups.”
“Coffee, with milk and sugar,” was the immediate reply as Mikasa went behind the counter with the food. Eren quickly finished his cleaning, putting the broom back neatly before joining her there. Mikasa pulled out a tall stool from under the counter and hopped onto it before opening the paper bag she had brought with her.
"How's Ma doing?" Eren asked as his sister handed him his coffee and a bagel on a paper napkin.
"Okay. She's taken the aspirin and is resting at home. She said to tell you not to worry though- dad came home after you left." Mikasa pulled the cap off her cup before taking a sip of her own hot chocolate.
"Dad's at home?" Eren took a bit of his bagel, closing his eyes as he relished the taste. "Uhm.. Delicious."
"Yea. He got the other doctor at his clinic, Dr Hannes, to cover for him." Mikasa bit into her own bagel.
"Oh really- that's good then.."
"..Yea." The two ate in silence, relishing the taste of their food and drink. Eren sent a quick text to his father who replied back, assuring Eren that everything was alright at home and told him not to worry.
Mikasa received a call on her work phone just as Eren was polishing off the last bite of his bagel. The early morning shipment had arrived. Eren stood up and cleared their trash while Mikasa went to the door to receive the shipment.
The two siblings moved smoothly like clockwork, working in sync to place the newly arrived cut flowers into tall vases of water, before transferring them to the display area.
They had done this many times before, shuffling and re-arranging the flowers to best advantage before moving on to the potted plants. Sifting quickly through the pots, the two sorted them into full sun and shade plants. Eren added the shade plants to the indoor display while Mikasa took the other plants outside on a trolley. That done, Eren busied himself with making up simple floral arrangements at his workstation in the corner of the store while Mikasa set new gift displays out front before turning the sign on the door to read ‘Open’ at nine.
Eren soon walked over to join his sister at the counter, bringing with him the arrangements he had worked on for display. They were simple, freestanding arrangements.
He picked up his florist’s apron, a dark green apron with the shops’ logo printed tastefully on it in white. He pulled this on over his fitted white polo and dark-coloured slacks while Mikasa admired his handiwork.
"These are beautiful, Eren." The young woman touched a delicate pink rose petal. His cheeks warmed at her quiet words and he flashed her a smile - his reticent sister rarely paid anyone compliments, preferring truth to empty words and meaningless flattery. Feeling slightly embarrassed, Eren took his place behind the counter while his sister put on her own apron, smoothing it down over her white button-up and black slacks before checking the list of orders for the day.
She ducked into the backroom with the list just as Armin came through the shop's doors.
Armin Arlet was a childhood friend and had been a part-time employee at the shop for a time. Karla had taken him on years ago when the Arlets had briefly fallen on difficult times with the sudden death of Armin’s father, the sole breadwinner.
Dressed in a white Henley shirt with dark brown slacks, the small blond looked neat and tidy as usual. He made his way over to the counter, smiling and waving at Eren as he did so. “Good morning!”
“Hey, Ar!” Eren burst into a wide grin as Armin came over to join him. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, Grandpa heard that Aunty Karla was feeling poorly. I decided to come over and help you and Mikasa with the shop.” Armin said simply, as he pulled on one of the employees’ aprons and pinned a nametag on it. Eren was glad to hear that and he said so – he couldn’t ask for a better assistant. There was no one else who knew as much about plants and flowers as the intelligent and bookish Armin did. Plus, he could chat with Armin during the slower periods when there were fewer customers around.
“How’s Aunty Karla?” Armin asked, smoothing his apron down. He took out a small tin of mints and shook out two onto his palm, offering one to Eren just as Mikasa popped her head out to greet Armin.
“Ma’s alright, according to Mikasa. She's taken some aspirin and is resting at home now.” Eren replied as he took a mint and popped it into his mouth.
“That’s good to hear.” Armin smiled. “So, anything I need to know about? Like new products? Stuff like that?”
“Not at the moment, nope.” Eren frowned. “Say. When you called me last night you mentioned something about new ideas for the shop? What was it you wanted to talk to me about?”
“Oh!” Armin brightened up considerably and Eren smiled. He knew that look well – Armin had encountered some interesting factoid or other somewhere.
“I saw this thing online recently on Pinterest,” Armin said, blue eyes alight with excitement. “Do you know what terrariums are?”
Eren tilted his head thoughtfully. “No, but I think I’ve heard of them before.”
Armin took out his smartphone and tapped on it a few times before leaning over to show Eren the screen, which had a few photos on it.
“It's a miniature landscape with living plants contained within a glass container,” Armin informed him as Eren studied the photos. “Anyway, terrariums are all the rage now with working professionals because you don’t really have to water it. That’s why I was thinking that we should stock some here in the shop.”
“Hmm.” Eren stared at the pictures, fascinated. He was definitely on board with this one.
“I know how to make one – I could show you sometime tomorrow or the day after.” Armin told him excitedly. “I just need to get the materials and stuff.”
“Alright. I can show Ma when she comes back, Armin. I like the look of these terrariums.”
The bell chimed just then and the two boys looked up from Armin’s smartphone. A pretty and petite blonde walked in, their first customer of the morning. She looked around her with interest, before spotting the boys, and greeting them as she walked up to the counter. “Hello. I wonder if you can help me?”
Armin smiled at her as Eren nipped into the backroom to discuss with Mikasa about a rotating lunch break for the three of them. He could hear the blonde asking Armin to recommend an easy low - maintenance plant. Their voices soon grew fainter as Armin showed her to the cacti and succulents display.
He emerged from the backroom with Mikasa who promised to get everyone lunch while out doing the day’s deliveries. She loaded the minivan with Eren's help before driving off.
Eren nipped back into the shop as Armin was heading back to the counter with the blonde's selected plants.
The bell on the door chimed happily as Armin was wrapping up the girl’s purchase. Putting on his best working smile, Eren turned to greet the new customer. The smile soon died on his lips as he took in the man’s appearance, his words forgotten.
This man was not one of the shop’s regulars. Eren didn’t remember even seeing the guy in their small town before. And with looks like that, Eren was pretty sure he would have remembered him.
The customer was unusually short for a man, perhaps 5’3”. Yet despite his height he seemed to be an intimidating person, standoffish and proud, with sharp eyes and a cutting stare. The man was well built, with wide shoulders that tapered to narrow hips. He wore ripped jeans and a fitted black tee with short sleeves that hugged his shoulders and revealed sleekly muscled arms. His right arm was smooth and bare, while sleeve tattoos adorned his left arm.
Eren shut his mouth when he realised that it was hanging open. Luckily, the man had not noticed him yet – he was too busy looking around the shop.
Swallowing hard, Eren approached the man who looked decidedly unimpressed with his surroundings. “Hello”, he greeted nervously. “Welcome to The Secret Garden. Is there anything I can help you with?”
The man turned his cold grey eyes on him and Eren gulped at the intensity of his stare. The man raised a thin brow disinterestedly before returning his attention to the floral displays by the shop’s door. “No – I’ll tell you if I need anything.”
The man’s voice was a low monotone, sounding bored and unimpressed. Eren mumbled a reply before quickly retreating behind the counter. He pretended to be busy with paperwork while stealing a glance at the stranger every now and then. He didn’t know why, but he couldn’t seem to look away from this man. The customer’s was handsome with defined features, ivory skin and feather soft black hair that fell across his forehead.
The man turned away, studying the placards on the flowers, which denoted the names of the flowers. He had a strong profile and Eren noticed there were a couple of piercings adorning the man’s ears and a stud that went through his right brow. Eren was intrigued – he could not guess what age the man was from his appearance.
“Uhm.. Eren? Could you help me with this?” Armin’s voice cut through Eren’s reverie. Startled, he looked up at his friend who was standing by the cooler that was situated in the corner furthest from the handsome customer. He frowned at Armin who stared back, eyebrows raised. Eren rubbed his palm over his face and sighed, bracing himself for it. He knew that look on Armin’s face. The kid was too smart for his own good, sometimes.
"I can't reach the pink tissue paper, Eren. Could you get it for me, please?"Eren grumbled under his breath as he joined Armin by the cooler.
Eren stretched up, reaching for the rolls of tissue paper on a high shelf just as Armin subtly shifted closer to him.
"So. Someone's finally caught your attention?" Armin whispered, nearly causing Eren to drop the tissue rolls.
"Huh?! N-no!" Eren hissed under his breath. "I-I don't know what you're talking about!"
"Really? You've been staring at him non-stop the entire time he's been here, you know." Armin teased softly as Eren flushed. “I-I was?”
Was he really that obvious?
He glanced over at the customer, mortified. Had the man noticed his staring?
The man in question currently had his back to them and appeared to be staring at something on his smartphone’s screen. Eren closed his eyes briefly, relieved, before fixing Armin with a sharp stare. “Nobody’s caught my attention!” He hissed at Armin, who just smiled at him with a knowing look on his face. Eren sighed – his friend was pretty sharp and had probably noticed more than Eren even realised yet.
“C’mon Ar. You think I was looking at Tattoos? No way man..” He whispered back, before stalking away from Armin, taking refuge behind the counter once more. He shuffled some papers, trying to look busy as he thought to himself.
So what if he had been staring? The man was good-looking and Eren had a strong appreciation for aesthetics, being the primary floral designer for his mother’s shop. He was keenly in tune with the way things tasted, sounded, felt, smelt and especially, looked - that was what made him good at his job.
However, other than cursory evaluations of another person’s appearance, he had never been particularly interested in anyone in terms of a relationship. He had his job and his friends and that was enough for him.
He was so distracted that he did not realize that the customer was looking in his direction.
“Ah! Yes?” Eren jumped when he realized that the other man was scrutinizing him deeply. His eyes darted over Eren’s startled face, before flicking up to the brunette’s undoubtedly messy hair. Eren immediately felt self-conscious and tried not to squirm beneath the man’s gaze. It felt like those grey eyes could see right through him, and knew every thought going through his head.
“You work here right? You coming over to attend to a customer or not?” Tattoos demanded curtly as Eren flushed, before hurrying over to the man’s side. The man watched his approach in apparent disdain as he crossed his arms over his chest. Eren swallowed hard as the man’s eyes flicked over him from top to toe before turning away to indicate the white chrysanthemums on display. “A dozen of this.”
“Okay.” Eren drew several stems from the display, before turning back to the man. “Uh.. Would you like the stalks trimmed?”
The man stared hard at him, before giving a curt nod.
Eren showed him to the corner of the shop where his workstation was situated. While the man waited impatiently, Eren trimmed the stalks and wrapped the flowers in some simple coloured papers. He tied a pale pink ribbon around it and presented it to the man. The man nodded at him as he cradled the flowers with a surprising gentleness, brushing a finger over a delicate petal as Eren stared in wonderment. The man did not seem like the type, with his stand-offish-ness and his tattoos.
It was only when the man glared at him that he realized what he had done. He turned away in embarrassment as he showed the man to the register, though his mind wondered about the man’s unexpected tenderness. Eren rang up the total cost and Tattoos paid for the flowers. He was just turning away from the counter when another man came into the shop.
Tall and broad shouldered, he wore a dark button-up and fitted black jeans, presenting himself with confident certainty. His sleeves were rolled casually at the elbows, revealing some colourful tattoos on his arms. He had a friendly mien about him, chiselled features and blond hair, parted in the middle and tied back rather messily. He also had a small beard.
This was quickly shaping up to be an interesting morning for Eren with two such good-looking men in his shop. He watched as the blond man glanced around the shop, flashing a polite smile at Eren behind the counter, before walking over to join Tattoos.
He greeted the black haired man politely: “Levi.” Eren perked up at that. Tattoos name was Levi, huh. It suited him. He also couldn't help but notice the blond man had a nice speaking voice, low and mellow.
Tattoos looked up at the other man and nodded once in greeting. “Eld.”
The man looked over Levi’s purchase. Ever the busybody, Eren pretended to look bored and picked at his fingernails, watching the two men out of the corner of his eye. What was the relationship between the two men? He wondered, curiously. The blond man seemed to treat Tattoos with respect, despite being the taller of the two.
“They’re lovely.” Eld said and Levi hummed in agreement, but said nothing otherwise.
“You going there this afternoon?” Eren heard Eld ask softly. Go where? He wondered idly as he pretended to shuffle items around the counter.
“Levi”, as the blond man called Tattoos, merely hummed in response as he led the way out of the shop. As he pushed open the shop’s door, Eren wished him good day. The man glanced back at Eren, who smiled hesitantly as he started to stack papers at the counter.
The dark-haired man said nothing in response, merely flicked his eyes over Eren again as Eld turned around to smile and wave. Eren sighed as the door closed behind the two men.
Another customer came in soon after, and Eren found himself busy, creating a bouquet for the lady. To his chagrin however, his thoughts kept circling back to the two men, especially Tattoos. After the customer eventually paid and left, Eren exhaled noisily and scrubbed his palm over his face.
He shook his head. He was so not interested in Tattoos despite what Armin had seemed to think.
Though if he was being totally honest, he was wondering what it would feel like to hold Tattoo’s hand in his as he leant down to kiss those firm lips.
Armin approached him, a teasing smile on his face, as he set a small bag down and began to unpack the rolls of multi-coloured ribbons inside.
"You liked him, didn't you? It’s rare to see you notice anyone, Eren.”
Eren scowled at his friend. “C’mon, Ar! That guy is totally bad news! Didn’t you see his face? It was totally cold and murderous the way he glared at me!”
Armin merely laughed. “Eren… your imagination is too overactive, I swear.”
Eren threw his hands up in exasperation. “I’m just saying. And with those clothes and tattoos.. I’m not surprised if he’s a thug,” he scowled, conveniently forgetting that he himself had wanted to get ink done before.
Armin rolled his eyes and muttered something about “convincing themselves” under his breath, as he walked away to Eren’s workstation with some of the rolls in his hands.