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I Won't Let Him

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BASIL casually spun the small garden shears around his fingers in thought as he looked at the two bags in front of him.

It was almost around the annual time to replace all the soil for the plants again. The old soil was about to outlive its usefulness in providing nutrients for the plants, so he'll need to move them all over to make sure the plants remain healthy.

The problem he was having trouble deciding was whether to use Long Lasting Soil From Nature, or his usual favorite Fast Sprout Growing Mix.

Which would be more important here? Getting ready to have the plants they already have to last longer, or to get ready to plant new ones quickly just in case the old ones die?

It would have to depend on whether or not the old plants will sell. If not, it'd be a safer bet to plant new ones… It would be a waste to have the old ones die out though...

Decisions decisions decisions… Hmmmm.

BASIL hummed as he flourished the garden shears in his hand, carefully spinning it with practiced precision as he watched his reflection on the metal surface.

Just a small little habit he picked up about a few years ago. For some reason, he just liked to spin his shears around for the fun of it. He got good to the point where he could even do some pretty neat tricks if he concentrated enough.

The time he spent practicing just to be skillful at this was definitely an embarrassing amount though. Not to mention the fact that he's accidentally cut his own fingers multiple times while doing this.

A small memory came back to him as he continued looking at himself in the reflection.

The plants were all watered and the photo album was filled out from today's adventure. The door to HEADSPACE was gone for the time being, and he knew he wouldn't be able to see it again until tomorrow.

He should get ready to wake up now, shouldn't he?

PRINCE gave a contemplative stare at the garden shears in his hands, giving it a quick spin around his fingers before ultimately plunging the blade into his stomach.

The warm blood seeping out of him felt comforting, before…

...

BASIL closed his eyes as the memory washed over him.

To think that he was in such a damaged state at one point that suicide seemed like a reasonable idea to consider.

He'd like to think that he's been doing well for himself these past four years since those dark times. He certainly hasn't had any suicidal thoughts anymore.

Although his past will still follow him, he wouldn't let that affect how he planned to shape his future. One day, he'll be the cool and reliable older BASIL that he always dreamed of being for the people he cared about.

Grandma would be proud. Maybe SUNNY too, if only he knew.

...

Anyways, plant soil. What do?

Hm...

Eh, he'll just do half and half. Couldn't hurt to play it safe both ways.

BASIL gave himself a shrug before moving to cut both bags of plant-soil together as he went to work.


A day in the life of BASIL was usually a simple one.

Most of the time, the day would usually play out with him waking up, going to work, visiting his best friend SUNNY at the hospital, then returning back home after a hard day's work.

It wasn't rare for his day to be filled with fun little distractions to keep him company though. Occasionally he would make time to hang out with friends that he's made while growing up in FARAWAY.

And he's definitely made a decent amount of friends, surprisingly enough.

AUBREY and her SCOOTER GANG were one such example. Being friends with their leader gave him the virtue of being one of their honorary members. It was basically a fancy way of announcing that he would be considered a valued friend, even if he doesn't participate in the nitty-gritty aspect of the gang lifestyle.

They weren't the only ones though. BASIL had plenty of examples of such friends that he's met along the way these past six years.

Working at FIX-IT, he'd gotten to meet all kinds of unique and fun people that kept him company. Some wacky, some normal, but always a pleasure to be around for the most part.

A day doesn't pass by without something happening. That was the charm of his small little town FARAWAY.


Early in the morning when he was mopping the floors, he met up with KIM and VANCE'S dad as he perused the house section. The old man was burning a hole into the products with a fierce glare that only a warrior like him could muster.

"Another broken pipe again, sir?" BASIL asked humorously as he passed by.

"Hm?" The old bearded man turned to him before busting out a big hearty smile, "Oh! Hey there, BASIL! On the contrary, it's not a broken pipe." With a proud smirk, he gloated, "I've actually been upgraded to a leaky hole in my roof this time!"

How that was an upgrade to be proud of, BASIL wasn't sure. Still, the flower boy smiled politely and nodded, "As long as you don't charge head-first directly into the roof and make a human-shaped hole when you get mad. I'm sure you'll be fine."

"Ah pssshaw- Like that's going to happen again! I've practically had enough experience from watching your friend AUBREY to know exactly what I'm doing this time." The man laughed boastfully, only to pause and frown, "Maybe."

"Good luck and please don't die, sir."


Then later in the afternoon when he needed to be on cash register duty, another familiar person of interest would appear to brighten his day.

An effeminate pretty boy with black hair came in with a smile, greeting the flower boy with a soft-spoken, "Hello, BASIL."

"Oh! PB!" BASIL cheerily smiled back, "I haven't seen you since you graduated! How's college going?"

"Better than High School, I must admit." PB replied pleasantly, "It's been a bit lonely, especially with JAY being held back for a year. We make time to visit each other often though! JAY and I have been keeping our relationship under wraps this time around, so we haven't been harassed by anyone so far like back then."

"That's good then, I think..." BASIL offered, "At least the guys who bullied you won't bother you again. Not after what AUBREY and her gang did to make sure!"

PB and JAY often had their lockers vandalized and were once physically assaulted back when they were together in high school. BASIL was lucky enough to have connections with an influential person like AUBREY to have her get the bullying to stop before things got too bad.

No one messes with the SCOOTER GANG on their turf, after all.

The pretty boy chuckled, "JAY and I still owe you and your friends for that. Don't think I'll ever forget it."

"Ah, it's nothing." BASIL waved away, before asking excitedly, "How are things working out with you and JAY by the way? Sounds like things have gotten better between you two."

With a shy smile, P.B. glanced away, "JAY's actually about to come back from a baby shower. I was hoping to get some flowers and surprise him with a visit when he gets home."

A lightbulb lit up in BASIL's head.

"Say no more, I got you covered!" BASIL excitedly went to the backroom to grab some purple and yellow flowers that he knew were perfect for this occasion.

Coming back, he returned with a bouquet full of colorful flowers and presented it to the pretty boy.

The effeminate college student looked at the bright colors in awe, "Ooh, what are these?"

"Iris flowers with yellow acacia. In the language of flowers, the purple Iris flowers represent that they hold an important or secret message for the person they're meant for. By itself, it usually means good news or good luck." BASIL explained softly, "The yellow acacia flowers surrounding them are the real hints though. On the surface, it can mean a highly regarded and cherished friendship… But its other meaning is that they also represent a hidden love."

PB blushed, "Oh… do you think JAY will get the message?"

"Maybe not." BASIL shrugged playfully, "But it's the thought that counts, don't you think?"

The college boy smiled back and nodded, "I can always count on you to teach me something new about flowers whenever I come here. I'll buy it."


It wasn't long after that when another character of interest came into the shop.

BASIL had been busy staring at the tool displays with a bit of annoyance as he thought about how to rearrange them again this time.

Seriously, it was almost as if people couldn't be bothered to put them back where they were originally displayed. This has been happening every week now.

Hearing the door jingle brought him out of his concentrated thoughts though, as the flower boy turned around to see a young middle schooler entering the shop.

Oh, a new customer he hasn't met before! Someone so young too! Usually, a shop like this never gets any interest from kids. BASIL always thought he was the exception.

Watching the kid timidly enter the building as he cautiously looked around, BASIL felt the need to walk up to him with a welcoming smile as he gently greeted, "Hello, little guy! Welcome to FIX-IT! Do you need help with something?"

The small boy gave a bewildered look at him before quickly shaking his head, "No- Well- I mean- Actually- Um…"

BASIL tilted his head curiously, wondering why the kid was so anxious and stuttery.

Clearing his throat and snapping himself out of it, the young kid took a deep breath before staring astutely at BASIL and asking, "Are you the manager?"

With a polite smile, BASIL responded, "I'm sorry. The manager's on a break right now. I'll be more than happy to help you look for whatever you need though."

At this, the kid gave a disappointed frown before shaking his head, "I-I don't think you can. I need the manager specifically. The shopkeep at HOBBEEZ told me so."

"Oh?"

Now this was a strange request. So he was here because PEDRO sent him? What did he need from FIX-IT that he couldn't just go walk over and get himself? Why send a kid?

Seeing the confused look on BASIL's face, the kid blushed as he quickly pulled out a familiar electronic toy from his pocket.

"C-Clash! I need him so that I can clash with his PET ROCK!" The kid quickly explained, hoping that it would make things clear. His face was bright red as if it dawned on him how embarrassing the whole situation was.

As soon as the words left his mouth however, BASIL slowly realized what was going on.

BASIL felt his smile become cocky.

"I see…" BASIL nodded as he chuckled ominously.

Now it was the kid's turn to be confused as he watched BASIL's demeanor shift from a polite employee to a sinister devil.

Looking down on the boy, BASIL narrowed his eyes, "So you're the little upstart that the shopkeep warned us about. I was expecting you'd show up sooner or later."

The kid's eyes went wide in surprise as BASIL pulled out his own PET ROCK as well.

Turning it on to reveal his signature pet, KING CARNIVORE, BASIL continued, "The manager's retired in this sport. I'm his successor. If you want to complete the shopkeep's challenge and beat all the veterans in town, you'll have to face me instead."

The young PET ROCK duelist took a moment to let his shock subside before narrowing his eyes back at BASIL, "So you're one of the veterans?"

"Indeed. I've been playing this game back when you were still in diapers, buddy." BASIL chuckled, "If you can beat me, I'm sure the shopkeep will be impressed. Think you got what it takes?"

The young child briefly looked back and forth at BASIL and KING CARNIVORE, giving a small nervous gulp before nodding resolutely, "Yes! I do!"

BASIL nodded back, impressed with the passion in that answer.

The kid's got some spirit in him. PEDRO was right to give this boy the veteran's challenge.

"Just to warn you, I won't hold back just because you're a kid. Fight me as if your pet's life is on the line and don't show any mercy!" BASIL felt the need to remind the young boy, holding his PET ROCK towards him.

The kid mirrored the gesture, shaking his head, "I'm not a kid! I'm gonna prove that I'm the very best that no one ever was!"

The PET ROCKS connected via magnets as SHARK PLANE appeared on BASIL's screen.

The two clashers stared each other down as their health bars filled up.

"LET'S CLASH!"

Five minutes later, BASIL was panting heavily on his knees after facing an amazing battle against one of the strongest fighters he's ever faced off against.

"I did it! SHARK PLANE and I won!" The kid cheered happily, celebrating with his PET ROCK as he affectionately rubbed the electronic toy against his cheeks.

In the end, BASIL proved to be no match for the next generation of duelists. He and his KING CARNIVORE fought with all their might and put up a decent fight. Alas, the hurdle that BASIL was supposed to represent was toppled over so easily.

"Congratulations. You fought well, young man." BASIL smiled, congratulating the small boy. "I'll let the shopkeep know what happened here."

At the flower boy's words, the small boy beamed with pride as he gave a toothy grin.

"Your next challenger will be working at the candy shop. She's a girl with pigtails and a pink bow, can't miss her. Be prepared to bring your A-game." BASIL warned, standing back up and dusting himself off, "Compared to me, she's a bulldozer. Don't take her lightly just because she's a girl, okay?"

The boy nodded vigorously at this, "Alright. Thanks, MR. BLONDEY!"

MR. BLONDEY? Seriously? He has a name tag on his shirt that clearly says BASIL, you know…

Before BASIL could correct him, the young boy was already sprinting out the door as he waved goodbye.

BASIL gave a soft sigh, smiling fondly at the kid as he ran off.

Ahh, youth. He remembered back when he just first started out playing with PET ROCKS. He and SUNNY started together when it was slowly growing popular.

He wondered briefly how SUNNY would manage to fare against the same kid he just finished fighting against? Surely, the stoic boy would prove to be more than a match with his talent at the game. BASIL never won once against him after all, no matter how hard he fought.

Knowing SUNNY, the stoic boy would've easily steamrolled the entire veteran's challenge without a sweat.

Maybe the CHAMPION of FARAWAY would've even revealed themselves just to personally challenge SUNNY and see who was better.

Wouldn't that be the sight of the century?

So anyway, what was he doing again before he got interrupted?

Oh right, the tool displays. Still need to rearrange them back in order again. Should get back on that before the manager comes back.

Seriously, they needed to put up a sign or something just to stop people from messing the display around.


"And then we have this ceiling fan here with blades made out of mahogany wood, which I think gives off a really homey aesthetic if that's what you're looking for." BASIL explained as he showcased the item to the customer in front of him.

A young girl around his age with light-brown hair smiled as she stared at him intently. Not even once did she ever have her eyes off of him, her pupils studying his features like a predator eyeing up a piece of meat.

BASIL felt a little bit uncomfortable from the prolonged staring after a while, awkwardly asking her, "Y-You said that you're buying a ceiling fan for your mom, right? Do you have any idea what sort of ceiling fan she asked you to buy specifically or are you in the market for just about any?"

Instead of answering the question, the girl instead asked back, "Hey BAGELS, do you have a girlfriend?"

BASIL blanched incredulously at the random question, before awkwardly answering, "Er… No. Not really."

Bagels? What? Did she really just call him that?

"Oh, so you don't?" The girl smiled hopefully at this before giggling, "That's good. So that means you're up for the market, riiight~?"

"BEBE, I'm just… trying to help you look for a ceiling fan." BASIL mumbled as he glanced away.

"I'm single too by the way." BEBE hinted, throwing subtlety into his face like a brick, "I also like confident blond guys. I wonder if you know where I can find any around here, BAGEL-CAKES?"

Seriously, where did the bagels come from and why does she keep calling him that?

BASIL nervously laughed, "I… I'm not really looking for romance right now."

Sheesh, this always seems to happen nowadays ever since he had his growth spurt. For some odd reason, girls just seem to like to flirt with him whenever they have the chance.

BASIL really couldn't wrap his mind around why. It wasn't like he was that handsome or something, right? He was just an average high schooler like any other guy. There's no reason why girls should be attracted to him, is there?

"Aw, really?" BEBE frowned disappointedly, "Are you sure? That seems like such a waste…"

"S-Sorry to dash your hopes…" BASIL awkwardly apologized, unaware as to how he was supposed to talk to her. "S-Should we go back to the ceiling fans?"

"You're really cute too!" The girl continued on despite BASIL's attempt to stay on topic, "A guy like you would be an absolute steal for any girl worth their salt."

BASIL did his best to maintain his smile, even as he felt the corner of his lips repeatedly twitching from anxiety.

"Maybe you're interested in a casual relationship then? It doesn't have to be romantic if you don't want it to be…" BEBE asked in a teasing tone, casually touching shoulders with him as she kept flirting, "I'm just really interested in you, flower boy."

As he felt a bead of sweat dripping down his forehead, BASIL silently prayed to the ethereal realm in hopes of calling out for his dear best friend, SUNNY, please give me strength to get through this alive.

A cynical part of his mind imagined a ghostly image of his stoic friend giving him a thumbs up before casually floating away, making BASIL fend for himself with a quick, "Good luck, BAGELS."

Uuuuuughhh, SUNNY would totally do that if he thought it'd be funny, wouldn't he? What a cruel sense of humor…

BASIL sighed tiredly, doing his best to go back to the ceiling fans, "The next one is made of hard resin and is very cheap if you're buying for a small home-"

BEBE continued rubbing up against him the entire time in an attempt to woo him, much to his dismay.


A few hours later after somehow surviving that dumpster fire of a mess, he found himself in the middle of a conversation with CURTSEY while he restocked the shelves.

Lugging around a box full of wallpapers and colored tiles, he carefully arranged them onto the shelves as he started small talk with his friend.

The cute girl who worked at the candy shop within OTHERMART had come in all of a sudden while she was on her break. A pleasant surprise for BASIL, to be sure. But the downtrodden and tired look on her face made him a bit concerned.

"You don't seem so hot. What's up, CURTSEY?"

As if realizing that she had been acting strangely this whole time, she quickly went to fix her attitude and brightened up as she smiled at BASIL, "OH! No, it's nothing!"

BASIL frowned at the obvious lie.

The silver-haired pig-tailed girl has been visiting him frequently when they both started being friends a few years ago. Being fellow part-time workers and high school students, they found that they had lots of things to relate with each other as they got along over the years.

Stressed out from her job, working under CANDICE's heel and being constantly monitored for imperfections, CURTSEY would often come to vent while BASIL dutifully listened. In return, BASIL would often cheer her up by telling her stories of his life and other silly little things to take her mind off of the stress plaguing her own.

BASIL seemed to have made a very strong impression on the girl, as he had begun to suspect that CURTSEY might be a bit more attached to him than he fully realized.

While BASIL was not dense, he decided not to act on this realization as he was not yet comfortable with the idea of a relationship beyond just being friends.

That didn't mean that he wasn't going to ignore her problems if she was in trouble though.

Noticing that she was clearly bothered by something, BASIL decided to push his luck a bit and asked, "Has CANDICE been overworking you again?"

"Nothing like that anymore, no. I've more or less gotten accustomed to the lifestyle of working under her." the girl quickly reassured, "It's not like all those years ago where I used to fantasize about murdering her whenever she insisted I finish my sentence with SMILEY SMILEY all the freaking time. Eheheh..."

Hm… if it wasn't work problems, then what could cause the girl to be so downtrodden and guilty today?

As if able to read his mind from the concerned looks he gave her, CURTSEY gave a small sigh and finally admitted to him, "I guess I was just a bit bothered by something that happened earlier while I was working. You know that one kid that the shopkeep all warned us about? The kid that's taking the veterans challenge?"

BASIL's eyes lit up at this, "Oh yeah! He came by earlier today and challenged me to a clash! Did he come by to challenge you too?"

CURTSEY fluffed her hair a bit with a small frown, "Yeah… He showed up out of nowhere and asked to clash with me when he saw my PET ROCK. I ended up beating him pretty easily, though…"

BASIL winced at the news, "Oof…"

Guess BASIL shouldn't be too surprised by this. CURTSEY's signature pet OCOTACO has always been a very complicated pet to fight against.

BASIL was going to assume from her guilty expression that the young kid did not react very well to the defeat.

"How did he take it?" BASIL decided to ask.

With an awkward glance at the floor, she remorsefully recalled, "He tried really really hard to take me on seriously, but couldn't seem to outmaneuver my tech-moves. In a way, I kinda humiliated him by being absolutely relentless. When he realized he couldn't put a dent on my health bar… Well… he kinda got so upset that he almost nearly cried."

Yikes. An understandable reaction. The boy was just a kid after all. Probably looked around twelve or something.

"I felt really really really bad about it." CURTSEY mumbled as she covered her face in shame, "He seemed so excited at first, and here I was literally stomping on his hopes and dreams. So to make it up to him, I tried to give him some free candy so that it would cheer him up, you know? But then Candice came in at that exact moment to see me handing off just a single piece of chocolate and was all like 'CURTSEY WHAT DID I TELL YOU ABOUT HANDING OUT FREE CANDY TO BRATS SMILEY SMILEY-' and then went on a tirade in front of the kid."

That definitely didn't sound good. Candice was always known to be a slave driver on top of being spiteful towards children.

Why open a candy shop if you hate children? BASIL never understood that. That old hag was an enigma beyond his comprehension.

"Anyways, I had to keep apologizing to CANDICE over and over again until she finally let me off with a warning by docking my salary."

"Oh… I'm sorry that had to happen to you." BASIL offered his condolences, knowing how little CANDICE was paying the poor girl already.

"No worries, I'm used to it by now." CURTSEY sighed, before continuing with a small smile, "At least I managed to make the kid feel better. I told him that I'd be willing to give him a second chance tomorrow if he was really serious about trying to beat me. He got all excited and told me he'll come back again with even more practice under his belt. You should've seen the fire in his eyes by the time he left. Almost gave me chills."

"Heh, I know what you mean. I saw that passion in his eyes as well when he came to clash with me." BASIL smiled happily, before asking curiously, "So you're not gonna tell PEDRO that the kid failed the veterans challenge?"

"Nah. Let's just keep it a secret between the two of us, yeah?" CURTSEY gave a cute wink at the end.

BASIL winked back, "Sure."

CURTSEY must have not expected him to do that, as she quickly glanced away with a small blush as she frantically fidgeted her pigtails.

Heheh.

Either CURTSEY was just that easy to read, or BASIL was getting much better at reading other people's feelings. Whatever the case, he couldn't help but find the awkward reaction adorable. It reminded him of how AUBREY would act around SUNNY.

"Well, you know what they say. One good deed deserves another." With a gentle smile, BASIL offered happily, "I can help make up for what you had docked from your pay! You don't have to be worried about money if you're still sad about that."

At this, CURTSEY widened her eyes in shock before frantically waving his offer away, "NONONO! BASIL, I can't just take even more money from you again! I haven't even paid you back for the last time you loaned me money!"

Being a part-time working high school girl, CURTSEY had not yet matured in the financial sense. If it had not been for BASIL helping her out, she would probably be stuck in financial ruin more times than not.

Luckily for her, BASIL was more than willing to help out a friend whenever they were in need.

"CURTSEY, I already told you that it wasn't a loan. It was a gift to help you make ends meet. You work harder than anyone I've met, it's not right for you to not be paid properly for that."

He still hasn't figured out why CURTSEY continued working under CANDICE's tyrannical thumb yet either. Poor girl should've run when she had the chance, and yet she still chose to stay working at that candy shop. One of these days, BASIL will figure out why… One of these days...

With a guilty frown, CURTSEY resumed fidgeting with her pigtails, "Still, I feel terrible taking money from you all the time. I feel like I'm just leeching off of your own hard work..."

"Aw, no worries! It's not like I'm strapped for cash." BASIL reassured her, "I'm just working here for fun, not for the money. Remember?"

His parent's monthly checks were often more than enough to pay for his living expenses. Any money he makes during his part time job was honestly just for emergencies. It wasn't like he ever needed to buy anything beyond the essentials. Plants and food were all he needed to keep him living happily.

CURTSEY stared at the generous flower boy for a long while before giving a relenting sigh, "BASIL, seriously, you can be too nice for your own good. One of these days, someone's going to take advantage of you if you're not careful."

Perhaps. While BASIL wasn't dumb, he couldn't say that he wasn't naive either. There may come a day where his kindness will be exploited.

Still, he only acts the way he does because he knew that SUNNY would do the same. Everything was all so that he could one day face his best friend and show off just how much he's matured since the last time they met.

"In that case, at least let me still act cool and reliable until that happens." BASIL chuckled.

CURTSEY shyly looked away and muttered, "I already think you're cool and reliable."

You know, if you're going to keep your crush a secret, at least be more subtle about it.

Then again… Thinking back on it now, he wasn't exactly any better. He was just lucky enough to have both AUBREY and SUNNY be dense enough not to notice.

With that said, time to follow their example.

"Aw, thanks!" BASIL smiled politely.

This only caused CURTSEY to blush even harder as she completely faced the other direction.

God, BASIL really hoped he never acted this obvious towards his crushes before. The embarrassment would kill him if he ever found out that he was.

An awkward silence ensued as BASIL continued restocking the shelves. CURTSEY, meanwhile, continued acting like a shy blushing schoolgirl as she stared at him from afar while leaning against a wall nearby.

BASIL was going to keep acting naturally though and allow his friend to regain her composure for as long as it takes.

It wasn't until BASIL noticed CURTSEY psyching herself up from the corner of his eye did he suddenly get a very bad feeling in his stomach.

Pushing away from the wall and stepping up next to him, she fiddled with her clothes for a bit as she worked up the nerve to say something on her mind.

BASIL noted the extremely conflicted blushing madness that was displayed all over her face.

Oh geez, this wasn't going to end well…

Finally gathering her courage, the girl started sputtering out, "H-Hey, BASIL? I… Um… There's this n-new family restaurant o-opening downtown in the c-city. It looks like a fun place to h-hang out, and I-I'd prefer if somebody could c-come along with m-m-me… a-a-and since I still owe you for everything you've ever done t-to help me… um… UM…!" Clenching her eyes shut, she flinched up as she squeaked out, "D-DO YOU WANNA GO WITH ME?!"

Ah, damn it.

BASIL took a deep breath as his mind ran through a million scenarios in his head whilst working at hyperspeed.

Okay, so let's just make things clear.

It wasn't that BASIL wasn't attracted to CURTSEY or that she wasn't his type. Matter of fact, the cute girl actually fulfills a lot of things on his checklist on what kind of girl he was into. A girly-girl with a cute voice, likes to wear pink all the time, wears a pink bow on her head, was willing to rely on him and trust him with her problems- It was safe to say that she was definitely his type.

So why was he so hesitant in accepting her offer? Why act so oblivious towards her obvious crush towards him?

It was complicated. There were things he had to do first before he felt comfortable with dating. Waiting for SUNNY to wake up, specifically. It just didn't feel fair for BASIL to go ahead and start his own love life when SUNNY and AUBREY haven't even…

...

To oversimplify the answer a bit, he just wasn't ready for a relationship yet.

Perhaps one day, he'll find himself ready to face his feelings and go out looking for romance. Sadly, today was not that day just yet.

Which led to this problem he was having now.

How was he going to turn her down after something like this? BASIL never had to worry about directly rejecting her before since she had never been upfront about her feelings like this. The flower boy was usually able to play it safe by acting dumb up until this point.

He really didn't want to hurt her feelings. If he could, he'd rather keep CURTSEY close by just as a friend. He was always worried that rejecting her would end up breaking her heart and leading them to grow distant from each other. Or even worse, she might even start hating him.

If there was one thing BASIL hated the most out of anything in the world, it was being alone. He didn't want to lose a friend. He had already lost one already, and it still ate him up inside…

Sigh… damn it, MARI.

So how was he supposed to go about this?

Pretend to be dense and think she was just asking him out as a friend? Yeesh, even he's not that cruel and tactless enough to lead her on like that. That would end up practically being torture for her.

Make up a random excuse as to why he couldn't? What could he even say? It wasn't like he was busy with school or anything. It was still summer after all.

Busy with his part-time job maybe? No, he still has days off on Sundays and she'll just try to make a schedule around that in order to spend time with him.

The only logical thing to get out of this was to be upfront and honest towards her by directly saying no. He'd rather keep that as a last resort though…

Sigh…

Relationships can be so hard to maintain sometimes. If only he could ask SUNNY for advice right now. Surely, he'd know what to do. He's always been good at dealing with people and solving problems by listening to others.

Realizing that he would have to answer sooner or later, BASIL forced himself to smile as he prepared to give his friend a response that he hoped would be understandable.

Before he could even begin to form a sentence though, CURTSEY suddenly gave an ear-piercing shriek in front of him as she jumped into the air and stumbled forward.

BASIL was quick to catch her into his arms, already going into protective mode as he firmly shouted, "What's wrong?! What happened?!"

"I just felt something crawling on my back!" CURTSEY panicked in a shrill tone, slapping her entire body with her hands as she shouted repeatedly, "GET IT OFF GET IT OFF GET IT OFF-"

It didn't take long for the girl's panicked maneuvers to cause something to fall off and land onto the floor in a daze.

Realizing that the offending crawler was finally off of her body, she quickly ran behind BASIL as the two of them stared at what landed on the floor.

The creepy crawler was none other than just a harmless little beetle, BASIL quickly realized.

The beetle disorientingly buzzed its wings as it tried to pull itself up from its back, taking the moment to become upright again.

Seeing it flapping around all over the floors didn't sit well for CURTSEY, as she was already shrieking again and using BASIL as a protective shield.

"Oh my god, it's still alive! PLEASE KILL IT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!"

Opposite of CURTSEY'S reaction, BASIL carefully and calmly approached the insect with soft movements before crouching down and collecting it into his palms.

"Aw, there's no need to be scared of this little guy! It's just a beetle that somehow got inside the store!" BASIL reassured her gently. "It's perfectly harmless."

BASIL made a point to bring it up near his face to study it closely. The beetle did nothing except crawl around his hand like a little fly.

Hm, a Japanese garden beetle?

Lucky that there's only just one. BASIL usually liked insects, but these particular buggers always tended to be the bane of his gardens. Unlike most other crawlers that were beneficial to gardens like spiders and bees, these little guys always kept killing his plants by eating everything in sight.

Grandma always called them POTATO BEETLES as a nickname out of habit, classifying anything that eats plants under the category. It always reminded her of her time back as a farmer in the countryside.

Seeing BASIL casually playing around with the insect, CURTSEY began shivering in fear and disgust, "Harmless?! Look at that thing! Its legs are so creepy and weird! How can you even stand touching those things?!"

"Aw, you don't like bugs, CURTSEY?" BASIL asked innocently enough. "They're usually good for the environment most of the time."

CURTSEY feverishly shook her head, "I don't care what they're good for, I hate insects! Name one girl who could stomach the idea of being surrounded by bugs?!"

BASIL could name two immediately off the bat, but he got the feeling that CURTSEY wouldn't be appreciative of that if he did. So he wisely kept his mouth shut.

MARI and AUBREY must be built differently since they could play with bugs just fine. CURTSEY would probably get along better with SUNNY and HERO as fellow bug-phobics, he'd bet.

Ah well.

Knowing that CURTSEY wouldn't calm down unless he got rid of the little fella, BASIL spoke gently to the bug, "You heard the lady, Mr. Beetle. It's about time you go back to nature where you belonged."

Not wanting to waste another second, BASIL went up to a nearby window to open it up and gently threw the bug outside for it to fly away.

With that situation over with, BASIL turned back to CURTSEY and gave a simple smile, "See? What did I tell ya? Harmless."

CURTSEY took multiple deep breaths to calm herself down before finally giving a huge sigh of relief. Eventually, after regaining her composure, CURTSEY gave an embarrassed look at BASIL as she awkwardly glanced away and poked her fingers together like a shy schoolgirl.

"Aheh… Sorry for overreacting. I just… I really hate bugs." She excused herself shamefully, as if thinking he would start thinking less of her for acting sporadically at that moment.

"No worries. I used to know two buddies of mine who were huge anti-bug advocates just like you. It's not that uncommon to be afraid of them if you don't have the stomach for it." BASIL reassured her gently.

Technically spiders are arachnids, but that's semantics at this point.

At that, CURTSEY smiled back with a bit of relief. "Uh…. thanks."

If anyone should be thanked here, it should be that beetle who saved his bacon from nearly getting fried. That little bug managed to save his life from having to deal with the earlier situation of getting asked out by his friend.

Seems like she completely forgot about the whole thing, too caught up with the whole beetle embarrassment to even remember what they were previously talking about earlier.

Phew! Nice save!

Now able to freely change the topic to literally anything else, BASIL asked "Your break is almost over, right? There's no way you can go back to CANDICE while you're riled up like this." Gesturing to the back of the store, he offered, "Let's go visit the flowers and take a breather. I always find myself calming down after a few minutes there. The oxygen will do you wonders!"

When BASIL held a hand out for her to grab, CURTSEY's face became flushed red once more as she nervously stared at the hand with a bit of trepidation. After a while, she finally gulped down her fears and took the hand in hers, giving a resigned, "Y-Yeah, okay. Sure."

The moment their hands connected, BASIL could practically see the smoke coming out of her head like a short-circuited microwave.

A small part of BASIL felt flattered that he could produce such a reaction out of a girl like her.

Oh, if only he could watch SUNNY and AUBREY make each other freak out like this someday. If he was blessed enough to be granted the chance to witness those two lovebirds blushing red just from holding each other's hands, he would burn the memory into his mind and cherish it forever.

Gently leading her towards the back of the shop into the garden section, BASIL pretended to treat her flustered reactions as if she was still freaking out from the beetle earlier. "There, there. Nothing to fear. We won't be seeing Mr. Beetle again anytime soon, okay?"

"R-Right." CURTSEY smiled back softly, grateful for the excuse.

Entering through the garden section, BASIL took the time to breathe in deeply and take in the pleasant aroma of all the plants and flowers that filled the room.

Most of the plants here have been grown by his own two hands over the last four years working here as the gardener of FIX-IT. All his hard work and efforts were put on display in bright colors for anyone to admire. Seeing all the plants here always made him feel so proud, as if he was contributing to something bigger than himself.

"Take a deep breath. Relax. Enjoy the scenery." BASIL gently told his friend.

The girl did so, taking in the calming effects that the room gave off.

After admiring the flowers alongside BASIL, CURTSEY gave a small chuckle as she turned to him, "You really do like gardening, don't you? This place looks so vibrant and beautiful compared to before you started working here. It's practically a night and day difference when I think back on how this place used to look."

"You think so?" BASIL asked hopefully.

"Yeah. This place always seemed boring before you came along." CURTSEY explained, before admitting, "I… Um… I always like visiting whenever I have the chance to see how much you helped change things. It always feels like everything you touch turns into something beautiful. It's fascinating."

"Oh stop~" BASIL began blushing from pride as he listened to her compliments, before humbly waving away, "I don't think I do that much. I just help maintain the plants so that they stay as healthy as possible."

CURTSEY began fidgeting around in place as she admired his face. Even at this distance, BASIL could hear the heart pounding inside her chest.

The pig-tailed girl has long stopped observing the flowers, instead choosing to spend the rest of her time staring longingly at BASIL's skinny face.

The longer she stared, the more BASIL grew uncomfortable as he awkwardly scratched his neck. He seriously was never any good in positions like these.

Shuffling closer to the flower boy while clutching onto his hand even tighter, CURTSEY her head on his shoulder with a newfound courage that not even she knew what to deal with.

BASIL felt himself stiffening up from the touch while he felt the hot melting temperature of her face being so close next to his.

They stood like that for a while, unsure how to really go further from here.

BASIL felt like he should really excuse himself and try to get back to work… Would that be a rude move on his part though? He felt that would be too rude…

Unable to do anything himself, CURTSEY decided to use up all of her remaining courage within her body to begin, "BASIL, is there someone you like? Because… There's someone that I like. I really like him a lot, actually."

Welp, he's boned.

"He's smart… He's confident. He's really gentle and good with words. He's always so nice and generous towards others even when they're such a bother. I can't help but feel like I'm destined to be with him." CURTSEY listed off in a soft tone, before turning to him and almost confessing, "I really like-"

Before that thought could even be finished, BASIL was startled as CURTSEY suddenly screamed and backed away from him in terror.

Oh thank goodness, something came in to interrupt her at that moment.

Wait, no. Why was she screaming and backing away from him in horror? That seemed like a much more pressing matter to focus on right now.

"W-What's wrong?" BASIL asked worriedly.

"B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-" The poor girl stuttered heavily, struggling to form the word as she used the last of her strength to point at him and shout out, "BEETLE!"

Blinking a bit, BASIL carefully examined himself before finding out that another beetle was crawling around his shirt.

Grabbing the offending insect up with his fingers, the flower boy carefully stared at it in suspicion.

Another one? Seeing one beetle hanging around was usually just a fluke. Seeing two was always a bad sign though…

While he was busy examining the one in his hand, he managed to notice out of the corner of his eye another beetle straggling under the bottom of the table.

To BASIL's increasing worry, it was busy chewing on a leaf that looked like it originally belonged to one of his-

One of his plants.

...

Suddenly, all thoughts of worrying about CURTSEY left his mind. His mind began getting wracked with paranoid thoughts as BASIL looked over his garden plants in worry.

Stepping up to a nearby group of potted plants with a nervous gulp, BASIL carefully examined the first flower he came across to check and make sure that his paranoid thoughts were baseless and unfounded. Maybe it was just a fluke? Maybe there were only just a couple of beetles straggling around?

To his horror, he found evidence of something chewing holes in the leaves of his sunflowers.

Oh no… BASIL felt his anxiety flare up as he carefully looked through the rest of the flower pots.

With each passing plant showing leaves with chewed holes on it, BASIL felt himself getting more and more stressed out.

At this point, he was rushing through every single plant as fast as possible to try to find the offender who was eating his precious plants.

"BASIL! ANOTHER BEETLE!" He heard CURTSEY scream again.

Dashing over to where she was pointing, BASIL's sharp eyes managed to locate another beetle that was currently in the process of eating another one of his flowers.

Quickly scooping the beetle away, BASIL assessed the damages to make sure it wasn't that bad.

Tarnished. Tatters. Ruined.

In the process, he found another beetle chomping away at another plant.

Then another.

Then another.

Then another.

It took him a bit to realize as he carefully spun around the room to find that beetles were everywhere, surrounding the entire place like an infestation.

His vision began to darken as his ears suddenly became extremely sensitive to the noise of chewing.

A flower being ruined as it was eaten alive.

A beetle trampling over a corpse of a dead white tulip.

Every single potted plant in this room was being gnawed away, as he was powerless to stop it.

BASIL felt his breath hitch as he crouched to the floor and began to severely panic.

Was it beetle season already? Why didn't he prepare earlier for this?! Did he seriously forget to make sure to protect the plants from beetles?!

Oh god, all of his hard work. They were going to ruin him. He'll need to start from scratch all over again!

Nononononononononono- What was he supposed to do?! What was he going to tell the manager?! What was he going to do with all these plants once they're all destroyed?!

It was so hard to breathe. It was so hard to think. He couldn't make sense of anything. All he could do was wallow in despair as he realized how severely he messed up and lost ALL OF HIS PROGRESS WITH HIS GARDEN!

WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY?! WHY DID THIS HAVE TO HAPPEN TO HIM NOW?! EVERYTHING WAS RUINED!

He could already feel tears start welling up in his eyes as the darkness spread around him, trying to eat him whole.

Oh god, what was he supposed to do?!

STUPID!

WORTHLESS!

IDIOT!

What… What was he supposed to do?

...

BASIL, you're having a panic attack.

The flower boy could hear a voice in the dark, gently calling out to him.

You have to calm down.

BASIL looked up to see SUNNY crouching down in front of him as he comforted the flower boy with a pat on the head.

Come on, take a few deep breaths.

BASIL did as he was told, closing his eyes and taking multiple deep breaths as he did his best to regain his composure.

Repeat after me. Everything is going to be okay.

Everything is going to be okay.

Everything is going to be okay.

Everything is going to be okay.

BASIL opened his eyes and calmly stood back up again.

The image of his best friend nodded proudly at him before disappearing, knowing that BASIL had a handle on the situation now.

BASIL rubbed his face as he cleared his head and felt himself returning back to a rational state of mind again.

Man, he almost nearly relapsed for a second there. Thank goodness he managed to get himself out of that before it got any worse.

"BASIL, there are beetles swarming all over the place!" CURTSEY screamed out in a panic, unaware of the mental turmoil that just happened in his mind, "What do we do?!"

At the mention of the beetles again, BASIL carefully looked around the area to assess how bad it really was.

Now that his mind was calm enough to not freak out over the situation, he could see now that it wasn't as bad as he was making it out to be.

A few dead plants here and there were definitely unfortunate, but it wasn't something he couldn't recover from. He could get those replaced with brand new healthy plants in no time.

With that said, if he doesn't do anything about these beetles soon, then he really will need to grow the entire garden from scratch again. The manager probably wouldn't appreciate having to find out that a whole stockpile of healthy plants was suddenly ruined in a single day.

His face hardened as he cracked his neck dramatically, already prepared to go into action mode.


CURTSEY watched on mesmerizingly as BASIL proceeded to deck himself out with gear fit for battle against the entomo-menaces.

He donned his riot helmet. (It was just an insect head net.)

He flexed his fingers through his combat gloves. (Simple gardening gloves.)

He proudly slammed a hand against his armored vest. (It was more like an apron, to be honest.)

He twirled his twin submachine guns before smoothly placing them back in their holsters. (Insecticide spray.)

Last but not least, he painted dark splotches of eye shadow onto his face to prove that he was a soldier ready for battle. (There wasn't any tactical advantage for doing this, he just thought it'd make him look cool.)

Walking out of the supply closet in slow motion like one of those action heroes in the movies, CURTSEY's eyes were completely wide in awe as she was unable to handle the level of manly testosterone emanating from the flower boy's body.

Slugging his heavy machine gun over his shoulder (it was just a plastic tank of insect repellent with a spray gun), BASIL warned in a serious voice, "You should stay back, CURTSEY. The battlefield is no place for a lady like yourself."

"I want to have your children." CURTSEY confessed immediately.

"I'll give you a call when I get any." BASIL replied back smoothly.

The silver pig-tailed girl proceeded to faint on the spot, overwhelmed from the sheer awesome force that was BASIL.

Without wasting any more time, BASIL went up to the garden section and kicked the door down (there wasn't any door there to begin with since it was already open, so it was more like he just kicked the air as he passed through the entrance) as he took aim of his weapon at the swarm that dared to invade his castle.

"YOU MIGRATED TO THE WRONG HARDWARE SHOP, YOU BUNCH OF SIX-LEGGED-"

The rest of his sentence was drowned out as he opened fire, spraying the entire room with abandon as he watched the insects start flying all over the place in a frenzy.


At some point in the evening, the manager finally returned from his break and excitedly bursted into the room, "BASIL, my dude! I got great news! I just got back from one of my drinking buddies and he agreed to have his son start working here! No more overtime for you, buddy! You can finally go back to regular hours aga-"

He was stunned silent as he just now noticed the carnage that took place in the room.

A shell-shocked BASIL sat on a nearby bag of plant soil, licking his wounds by drinking out of a box of juice.

Several dead beetles were laid waste everywhere, as if a battle of epic proportions had just happened.

The part-time girl from the candy shop was on the floor, snuggling against BASIL'S feet like a stereotypical damsel who just found her personal hero.

The manager looked over the scene with a loose lip, giving himself time to process his thoughts before reassuring BASIL, "I'll come back when you're done reenacting Vietnam, I guess."

Without another word, the manager left BASIL to bask in his victory by his lonesome.

Finishing his box of juice, he threw the plastic box into a nearby recycling bin to protect the environment.

A day in the life of BASIL was usually a simple one.

It wasn't rare for his day to be filled with fun little distractions to keep him company though. This was sometimes how it would usually go.

A day doesn't pass by without something happening. That was the charm of his small little town FARAWAY.