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The smiles, the flowers, everything

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The sound of a hand slapping on the flower shop’s desk.

“How do I passive-aggressively say fuck you in flower?”

Hiromi Higa was having a normal day for a florist. Some birthdays, some apologizes, some meeting-the-parents. A sweet grandma, a complicated middle-aged man, a few teenagers coming in just to smell the flowers without buying anything.

Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing new to the routine he made for himself.

However, Joe, that was a different story. Or is it Nanjo? They are in public after all, and Hiromi would hate for his skater name to be used at his workplace… Then again, the others called him Joe...

So Joe coming in 10 minutes before Hiromi was to close the shop, slapping a bill on the desk and requesting a flowery “fuck you” was very much not a part of the routine. Blinking his eyes a few times to shake away the surprise, Hiromi quickly returned to his “customer appropriate behaviour” and shot the man a polite smile.

“I’m sorry, could you repeat that?”

“Listen man.” Answered Joe, looking very much pissed at something. “I just… I don’t understand how flower language works but I know hedoes, and I know youdo. Googling it would be too much work and I can’t be bothered. So I’m asking for your help.”

“So let me rephrase this. You’re going to spend a bunch of money buying Cherry a custom flower bouquet instead of just Googling it?”

“I never mentioned Kaoru!”

It took Hiromi all his years of training with difficult customers to resist the urge to sigh. He never quite understood the relationship between the two childhood friends and at this point, he was too afraid to ask. Miya swore they were married, Reki bet 20 dollars they were just dating and obviously, Langa followed. Hiromi mainly thought they were idiots.

The two men stared at each other for a while, Joe not moving an inch and Hiromi already feeling too exhausted by the whole situation to do so. Then he remembered his day was done in 7 minutes and that he was really looking forward to having his weekly drink with Manager Oka. No time to lose.

So he got to work.

Walking around the shop, he gathered a few different types of flowers to fit Joe’s peculiar request. He was tempted to mess with Joe and give the bouquet a whole different meaning, especially since he now knew that Cherry understood the flower language. But a paying customer was a paying customer, regardless of if they were a S skater or not and Hiromi took his job very seriously.

Having gathered all the flowers he needed, he walked back to his worktable next to the front desk where Joe was still waiting, fidgeting on his phone. The florist threw a quick glance at the clock. 5 minutes. He let out a sight and got to work. He would definitely be late for his drink with Oka.

A few minutes later, he was finally done. Turning to face his.. friends? Were they friends? Turning to face Joe, he put the bouquet on the desk and turn it so it would face the customer.

“Wow dude, this looks so good!”

It did. One of Hiromi’s best recent work and he was almost sad to know they would probably be thrown in the bin by Cherry in less than twenty-four hours.

“Foxglove.” Started Hiromi, walking Joe through the bouquet he had ordered and pointing to the tall purple flowers on the side. “For insincerity. Next to those are orange lilies for hatred. In front of those are geraniums, they symbolise stupidity. Then you have yellow carnations for disappointment and finally, meadowsweet in the middle for uselessness.”

Joe let out a loud hearty laugh, and Hiromi swore he saw a glint of mischief in his red eyes, matching the grin that was appearing on his eyes. The florist shuddered, the man has never looked more like Miya.

“Dude this is amazing, it’s perfect and it’s almost too good for Kaoru. He’s gonna hate it.”

“Thanks?”

A moment of silence fell between the two men until the florist finally felt brave enough to break it.

“… You don’t actually expect that 1,000 bill to pay for the entire bouquet, right?”

“Aw come on man. You get free food at my restaurant almost every week!”

“Keyword, your restaurant. The day I get my own flower shop, then we can discuss discounts. But for now, pay up.”

❀❀❀❀❀❀❀

Three days later, driving Miya to S, Shadow wasn’t sure what to expect. He didn’t hear back from Joe, didn’t hear anything from Cherry although this wasn’t a surprise as the pink-haired man did his very best to keep his private life separated from his skater life.

“Drive faster, old man. I don’t want to be late for my beef.” Said Miya, interrupting his thoughts, his eyes never leaving his Switch. How the boy managed to not get sick playing his console in a car, Shadow did not know.

“I wouldn’t expect a child to understand speed limit, but no. I will not drive faster but I WILL turn around and bring you home.”

“Whatever. Just keep driving.” Grumbled Miya.

Shadow gave an exaggerated eye-roll that held no real annoyance to it. Anyone who really knew Miya knew that the kid wasn’t nearly as tough and uncaring as he pretended to be, and Shadow knew he was just stressed about his beef. Not that Miya would lose; it was a given that he would win. He just wanted to do good.
When they arrived at S, Langa and Reki were already here, sitting on a little brick wall and looking way too much in love for two teenagers who still called each other “bro”.

“Ugh.” Sighed Miya. “Can they figure it out already? This is exhausting to watch.”

“I wish, kid. They are almost as bad as your parents.” Snickered Shadow, moving to the right just fast enough to dodge a tiny elbow making its way towards his side.

“They’re not my parents, you slime! And I’m not a kid”

“Sure” laughed Shadow, only to be interrupted by yelling. “Speaking of the devils…”

He turned around to be faced with, of course, Cherry and Joe fighting. If anything, Shadow was glad to see them as it meant that Joe wasn’t dead, and Cherry wasn’t in jail for killing him.

“I swear you stupid Gorilla, I will ask Carla to send your internet history to all your customers and make sure you go out of business!”

“Oh yeah? Then have fun starving because you sure can’t cook anything decent!”

“I’ll learn out of spite!”

“Dream on, strawberry shortcake!”

Sure enough, for two grown-ups who appeared to be fighting, they were standing awfully close to each other.

“You know,” said Miya, his eyes going back and forth between the Young Disaster Gays and the Old Disaster Gays. “Sometimes I remember that most days, YOU are the responsible and mature adult in this group and that really makes me want to die.”

Shadow couldn’t blame him.

❀❀❀❀❀❀❀

A few days later and Hiromi’s routine was broken again when Cherry Blossom (or was it Kaoru? Sakurayashiki? Ugh, they really needed to have a conversation about names outside of S) entered his shop. If Joe’s entrance had been loud and angry, Cherry’s entrance was anything but. He almost looked like he just came out of the Host Club. Not that Hiromi would dare to voice this comparison at loud.

“Good afternoon, Shadow.” The pink-haired man politely said, dressed in his usual yukata.

“Eh, Higa or Hiromi is fine.” Replied the florist, scratching at his neck. “Anything I can help you with?”

Hiromi cringed at how awkward he was feeling. It wasn’t that Cherry or Joe or anyone in their little group was unpleasant to be around, but it was Shadowwho was used to hanging out with them, not Hiromi. He wasn’t used to interacting with any of them outside of his rude and over-the-top persona. Except for that one time at the hot spring, but Hiromi had found that this particular weekend was something none of the adults of the group were fond of remembering.

“I believe that you helped the Gorilla with the…gift I got last week.”

“I did. How did you know it was me?” Hiromi of course, knew that the name of the shop had been on the wrapping, but he didn’t expect Cherry to make the connection with his day activities. Now that Hiromi thought about it, how did Joe even find him in the first place? The only people that ever visited him here were Langa, Reki and... Oh goddammit.

Miya.

“It’s easy.” Said Cherry, trying and failing to hide a smirk behind his fan. “I don’t believe this man to be nearly educated and delicate enough to know any flower shop. In fact, I’m not even sure such a brute completely understands the purpose of flowers, you might be the only florist he’s ever interacted with. In addition to the fact that his request was quite peculiar, it seems logical to me he would ask for directions the only person that would love to see any type of confrontation unfold. My guess is that he went to Miya who gave him this address.”

Damn.

“Yeah, I had the same idea. Not that I mind, business is business, you know.”

“I do. Which is what brings me here. Do you have anything with buttercups?”

Hiromi did a double take at the man in front of him. Joe coming to him made sense, to some extent. But Cherry? It wasn’t necessarily out of character for him, Hiromi had seen the other man regress to a petty teenager way too often when it came to Joe. But that was Cherry. This was Sakurayashiki Kaoru, a renowned professional calligrapher. So what was he doing here? Not that Hiromi wasn’t very proud of his job and very much attached to this shop. He had just expected Cherry to have high-end professional florists readily available.

“Buttercups.” Repeated Hiromi. Then, trying to conceal his laughter. “For childish behaviour, right?”

“Indeed. I think it would be quite appropriate.”

But aren’t you technically doing the same thing?

Before Hiromi could voice that comment, he saw Cherry putting his fan back into his sleeve and sure enough, he had a very modern-looking black watch with purple highlights on his wrist. It made for an interesting contrast, but Hiromi knew all too well what that piece of technology was, and he was not about to find out what Cherry could get away with using Carla.

“R-right. We actually have something that might fit your request.” Said the florist, pointing at the shelf on Cherry’s right while making its way to it. He carefully picked a small flowerpot. It looked very small in his hands and he was sure it would look the same in Joe’s. The pot was painted white and the bouquet itself composed of buttercups as well as a few decorative pieces of wood that offered quite a lovely gift… For someone who had no idea what buttercups mean, that is.

“Would that be ok?” he asked the customer that had been eyeing the rest of the shop, a curious look on his face that Hiromi had trouble associating with the fierce skater he was used to seeing at S.

“It would. Thank you.”

“Sure. Do you need a card with that?”

“No need.” Smiled Cherry and Hiromi found in his eyes the same mischief he had seen in Joe’s when the other man had come here. “I’ll let the Gorilla figure this one.”

“Alright, then that would be- “

He wasn’t even done with his sentence that Cherry had already swiped his watch over the card reader.

“The payment has gone through, Master.” A robotic voice suddenly spoke.

Cherry smiled softly as he took the flowerpot in his hands. “Thank you, Carla.”

It was not a first for Hiromi to feel like a third wheel around this man and his AI, but it was as weird every time.
After thanking Hiromi for his help again, Cherry delicately exited the shop. The florist let out a sigh. Anyone with two eyes could tell the two older men were in love, it was plain to see. It was the way Joe looked at Cherry when the other wasn’t looking, the way Cherry cursed everything that came out of Joe’s kitchen but would always finish his plate with a small smile. It was the way Joe complained about Cherry coming in too often after a busy day yet e never locked the door. It was the way Cherry’s eyes were always scanning at the crowd whenever they were at S, never stopping on anyone but Joe.

Hiromi was way too single for this. At least, Cherry had had the decency of not showing up minutes before closing.

❀❀❀❀❀❀❀

It continued for a few weeks after that. Joe would show up every two weeks and so would Cherry.

Petunia for deep resentment, tansies for war and hate, cyclamens for good riddance, aconite for hatred, butterfly weed for “leave me”. Manager had looked at Hiromi weird when he started ordering a bunch of flowers that usually wouldn’t sell well due to their harsh meaning, but she soon found herself delighted upon realizing they were selling quite well, thanks to the enormous bouquets her employee was asked to make by two strange men every week.

Truth be told, Hiromi had learned to get over the surprise and confusion. Even if Shadow was supposed to be a secret kept away from his world of flowers, it was quite nice to have friends that weren’t teenager. They never mentioned it outside of the shop, not even at S but both Joe and Cherry were now engaging in friendly conversations with him while waiting for their orders. It was nice, it was the new routine.

The huge raised in the shop’s numbers this past month was also quite nice.

Then, one day, Langa showed up.

As soon as he saw a light-blue head entering the shop, Hiromi rolled his eyes. He was about to tell the kids they know damn well he works late on Tuesdays when he suddenly realized Langa was alone and looking very lost.

Huh? Not here to beg for a ride?

“Hi, Shadow.” The young boy timidly said.

“I’ve told you kid, it’s “Higa” if we’re in the shop.”

“Right, sorry.” Answered Langa, looking very much not sorry at all. “I… I need your help?”

“Langa I’ve been telling you and your boyfriend for months now, I’m not your chauffeur.”

“No.” corrected Langa while shaking his head. “I’m not here for that... And Reki’s not my boyfriend...”

Now. Hiromi was maybe not an expert in teen feelings, but he knew a pout when he saw one and Langa was pouting. “Not your boyfriend, I can’t believe. They’re almost worse than the older two”. If the relationship between Joe and Cherry was often discussed between the kids and himself, Hiromi knew damn well that everyone in the group was aware that Reki and Langa had a special relationship of their own. Well, everyone but them it would seem.

Sometimes, he really had to remember that Miya, the 13-year-old bratty child, was probably the most insightful person of the group.

“Ok then. What do you need?”

“Flowers.”

Another eye roll.

“I would hope so if you come during my work hours. Care to elaborate?”

“Flowers…for Reki…” said Langa, doing his very best to look anywhere but Hiromi’s face.

Meanwhile the florist raised his eyebrows so much they could probably have done an ollie. Maybe Langa wasn’t as deep in denial as they thought him to be.

“I see. I still need more information. What do you want your flowers to say?”

Langa finally raised his head to look at Hiromi, only to tilt it slightly to the side, clearly not having understood a thing. Hiromi sighed (again) and explained the concept of “flower language” to the most stoic teenager he had ever seen in his life.

“So, what do you want to tell Reki?”

“What I want to tell him? Well…My love….”

HUH?

“…of skateboarding is because of him.”

Oh.

Well that was disappointing.

“I admire him a lot.” Continued Langa, lowering his eyes and smiling to himself. “He’s amazing and he’s kind and he never makes fun of my Japanese even when I mess up really badly. Skating with him feels amazing and I feel so alive when he’s skating with me or when he’s cheering me on! And he never minds when I’m always hungry and he teaches me everything I need to know about Japanese culture or skateboarding or math and he’s so just warm, like the sun. Also his hair is cool.”

“…”

“…”

“Langa, are you absolutely sure you want this bouquet to be about love of skateboarding?”

The teenager blushed so intensely; Hiromi could feel the heat coming from his face. He still had no idea if Langa was aware of his feelings or if he was really that stupid.

“Just… Flowers, please.”

“Alright, what’s your budget?”

“My what?”

Hiromi was almost starting to miss Joe.

In the end, and as expected, Langa had about 1,000 yens. Still, Hiromi built him a small bouquet of red carnations for love and devotion and sunflowers for admiration and loyalty. When he presented it to the teen, he saw the sparkles in his eyes and the way his mouth shaped an O form.

“It’s red and yellow, it’s like Reki!!”

“That’s the point, kid.” Smiled Hiromi, momentarily forgetting he wasn’t supposed to show his softer side to the high schoolers. Oh well. Better Langa than Miya.

Picking up the small bouquet like it was the most precious thing in the world, he placed his bill on Hiromi’s desk, a small glint of worry in his eyes.

Truth was, he didn’t have enough. But the flower’s shop had gained quite a lot of money since Joe, Cherry and their ridiculous demands had become a routine, Hiromi was certain he could afford making the teen a small gesture. As long as no one in their group ever heard of it.

“All good kid. Now hurry up and go so they don’t stay out of the water too much.”

“Wait, I need to put them in water again?”

Goddammit.

❀❀❀❀❀❀❀

And suddenly, it stopped.

First it was Joe. Hiromi was closing the shop on his last workday of the week when he realized he hadn’t seen the chef since S. He racked his brain, trying to think if anything was different. He thought the teasing had been a little harsher than usual, but who was he to judge? He still had no idea how that relationship worked. Thinking harder, Hiromi was able to focus on smaller details.

How Cherry’s eyes scanned the crowd during his beef, never stopping on anyone this time. How they were standing further apart than usual, with Miya between them. How when time came to say goodbye, they waved at the kids and Hiromi, but not at each other. How Joe made what had seemed back then like a nonchalant comment on how proud he was to have remembered to close the front door of his restaurant earlier after service. It was the little things.

But when it came to Joe and Cherry, little things meant a lot.

At the end of the following week, he realized he hadn’t seen Cherry either. He wasn’t there at S that week and when the kids asked Joe where the other man was, he just shrugged and said it was none of his business. Maybe Hiromi had imagined the glint of sadness that had appeared in his eyes.

Thankfully, the kids had seemed satisfied with the answer (although Miya was definitely pouting) and Shadow knew better than to ask. He really didn’t get enough credit for his emotional skills.

Sighing, Shadow took a look around the shop and decided to start his lunchbreak. It had been a slow day and his manager had left him in charge of the shop, no one would blame him for closing two minutes already. He took out his phone and decided to send a text to Miya, who was probably on a lunch break as well.

‘Any news from Cherry and Joe?’

‘Creep dont txt me while im @ school’

‘You’re the one who wanted my number, brat.’

‘So itd be easier 2 make you drive me everywhere old man’

‘I’M NOT AN OLD MAN.’

‘U sure txt like 1’

‘You text like you’re going to fail middle-school.’

‘U look like ur gonna fail dating a manager fr the 2nd time’

Hiromi groaned. He had no idea how the news of his…interest in Manager Oka had reached the brat’s ears, but he wasn’t about to get bullied by a 13-year-old child in a cat hoodie.

‘Just answer my question, Miya.’

‘No news’

‘Are you okay?’

‘Stupid, y wouldnt I b’

‘Because we all know they basically adopted you.’

‘ur wrong’

‘Alright so you’re not going to Cherry after school so he can help you with your math homework like he does every other week?’

‘Yea im just gonna stop talkin 2 u’

‘Bitch’

“Brat.” Thought Hiromi, not offended in the slightest. Despite the young boy’s sass, Hiromi was worried about him. He had been through a lot and had way too much pressure on his shoulders for a kid his age. Last time the group had any tension, it had been after Reki and Langa’s fight, and anyone had been able to see the toll it had taken on Miya. The last thing he needed was his unofficial parental figures splitting up.

That was the last thing any of them needed, really.

❀❀❀❀❀❀❀

Eventually, a month after his last visit, Joe came back. Hiromi had seen him and Cherry at S, of course (and the uncomfortable cold surrounding the two adults quickly became a new normal, although a normal neither Hiromi nor the kids were very fond of) but seeing Joe in the middle of the day again, Hiromi only had one thought.

“You look terrible.”

“Come one, man.” Laughed Joe, his slight smile doing very little to mask the weariness in his eyes. “Is that a way to talk to a customer?”

“That’s my way of talking to ghosts.”

He promised himself he was not going to be petty, promised himself he was going to keep respecting Joe and Cherry’s need for privacy. But Miya wasn’t the only one who had been hurting by the group seemingly falling apart for the second time.

“I’m-” started Joe before stopping himself. Shaking his head, he looked at Hiromi. “No, you’re right. I’m sorry. Kaoru and I have been…going through some stuff.”

Yeah. This is about the only thing we understood from this situation.

“Can’t you just talk it out? You’re both pushing 30 and I know you’ve been friends for half of that. It can’t be that hard.”

“It’s…different this time.” Admitted Joe. It was obvious the florist that the other man was dying to say more, but he didn’t. Hiromi sighed. How did he end up being the responsible adult of their group?

“My shift ends in 10 minutes, wanna grab a coffee?”

“Yeah”. A smile that faded as quickly as it appeared. “In the meantime, I need flowers.”

“Oh. Sure but if we’re going out, I don’t think- “

“No!” said Joe abruptly. “I don’t want to giv- Can I get those delivered? Surely you don’t drive that pink care around for fun.”

“Screw you.” Laughed Hiromi, the soft part of his brain happy to see his friends joking again. “She’s a thing of beauty and an important member of this shop. So, what type of flowers do you need?”

After a conversation that was painful on Hiromi’s side (Joe had learned nothing of the past weeks and still wanted to pick flowers because “they are pretty”), they settled on pear blossom. Hope, lasting friendship. Hope for a lasting friendship. Perfect to apologize. (And also quite a common wedding flower. But Joe probably was not ready for that conversation.)

“Yeah,” smiled Joe, looking at the small delicate-looking flowers. “Kaoru will love those.”

“So why not giving the bouquet to him in person?”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, right now”.

Glancing over his work-in-progress, Hiromi marvelled at Joe’s capacity to look like 189cm puppy that had just been told it wasn’t allowed any snack. The florist knew he wasn’t the most experienced person out there when it came to romance ; a girlfriend there, a boyfriend there, one manager who had broken his heart and another who was unknowingly healing it. But even a blind inexperienced person could easily see how smitten Joe was with Cherry. How the insults were loud, but the little smiles were just as telling.

After finishing the bouquet, taking the money from Joe and closing the shop, the two men headed out to a coffee shop down the street. Neither one of them were talking on the way there, Joe too lost in his thoughts and Hiromi too lost in general.

As they sit down and order something to drink, Hiromi couldn’t help but notice Joe’s choice was a bit strong for a 4pm drink. Then again, with all that muscle mass, he probably wasn’t a light-weight.
However Hiromi cannot relate to that and sticked to a beer.

“So.” Started Joe after a few minutes of silence. “How’s your thing with Oka doing?”

Hiromi almost spit back his beer.

“How do you even know that?”

“Bro, you keep giving him flowers with your shop’s name on it. He put some around his shop and unluckily for you, his only employees are two noisy teenagers.”

Hiromi groaned and hid his face in his hand. “I’m gonna kill those brats and the next time I’ll drive them somewhere will be their own funerals.”

Joe let out a laugh. Hiromi’s annoyance was about as believable as Kaoru’s. At the thought of the pink-haired man, Joe could feel his shoulders sag. These past weeks had been tiring in every possible way. Trying to go on with his daily routine without Kaoru had been challenging, to say the least. Their friendship and Joe’s carefully hidden feelings had been everything he knew for about 20 years. They had become inseparable as teenagers, had gone through graduation, Adam, a road trip around the world that was initially Kojiro’s plan but that had been so much more enjoyable as a duo. They came home and started their own lives, with different jobs and hobbies but never ever forgetting the other in their routine. They had gone through Adam again, adopted 3 kids and even one adult somehow.

The fact that it could very well come to an end because of Kojiro’s mistake was killing him.

“But enough about my love life.” Said Hiromi, taking a sip of his drink, his eyes never leaving the man sitting across him. “How’s yours”?

“Kaoru and I… are not dating.”

“I figured that much. What’s taking you so long?” A surprised look. “Oh PLEASE. We’ve all caught up by now, it’s disgustingly obvious how in love the two of you are. Just tell me what happened.”

Joe sighed, running a hand over his face and looking very briefly at the door as if he were looking for the nearest exit and Hiromi was about to tell him he better not even try.

But then Joe started talking.

Talking about how he had been in love with Kaoru since their high schools days, about how he had no choice but to watch him fall in love with Adam, about how he had dried every tears created by Adam’s betrayal, cursing on the inside because he would never make Kaoru cry. He talked about learning to live with these feelings, getting used to them and loving Kaoru from afar. He talked about how giving Kaoru flowers made him smile, and how receiving flowers back made him smile even more, even when he was perfectly aware that the meaning was probably anything but tender. He talked about giving each other flowers felt a bit too real and about how the feelings went from being comfortable and comforting to smothering again. So he had decided to confess.

“So what?” asked Hiromi, halfway through his second beer while Joe finished downing his 3rd shot of the afternoon. “I highly doubt he rejected you.”

“He didn’t…initially.”

“So what happened?”

“Well. I figured 15 years was enough pining for a life-time so I thought I’d confess. I’m not completely dumb.” Said Joe, missing Hiromi’s dubitative look. “I knew I had a chance. So I confessed and I even bought a red rose and- no it wasn’t from your shop but I wanted to avoid the exact look of judgement you’re giving me right now- and Kaoru just made a silly joke about my choice of flower being cliché and ridiculous.”

“Which it was.”

“Shut up! Anyway, I knew Kaoru had…issues with feelings so I knew this was a way for him to process things and to be more comfortable. So I teased him, thinking it’d help. But it escalated and I said some things and he did too. I saw him taking out something from his yukata and I thought he was going to slap me with his goddamn fan so I pushed his hand. It wasn’t violent but… Kaoru is strong but he just wasn’t expecting it. It wasn’t his fan, but his phone. It flew across the room and the screen broke. Kaoru asked me to leave after that and I knew better than fighting back at this point….” Finished Joe, his head in the hand that wasn’t holding an empty glass.

For a moment, Hiromi waited for the rest of the story. But nothing came. Surely, the fight couldn’t have been because Joe had accidentally broke a phone screen, right? He voiced that thought to the man sitting in front of him, unwilling to believe there wasn’t anything more to the story.

“No, you don’t get it.” Said Joe, running yet again a hand over his face. “His phone is were Carla’s maintenance app is. She…it…ugh whatever. Carla can be used on any device Cherry possesses but the maintenance is on his phone. And I broke it.”

“So what? Cherry is disgustingly rich, I bet he had it fixed an hour after it happened. Probably spent the evening cuddling his skateboard too.” Laughed Hiromi.

“Dude it’s about the principle. I beat up an innocent woman!”

“… you broke a phone screen.”

I know that. Tell that to him!” yelled Joe.

Me? YOU’RE the one who’s in love with him!” Hiromi yelled back, feeling Shadow’s energy coursing through him.

“I’m not-“ started Joe. He stopped mid-sentence upon seeing the way Hiromi was looking at him. “I’m not fooling anyone, am I?”

“At this point I think even Sketchy caught up.”

“Fucking great.”

A silence.

“He is going to forgive you, you know?”

“You think so?” asked Joe, a look of self-consciousness Hiromi’d never thought he’d see on him.

“I do.” He shrugged. “So many years of friendship and pining, it won’t end on a broken screen.”

❀❀❀❀❀❀❀

It took two weeks after their first drink for Kaoru to show up. At this point, Hiromi had found a new routine and now had a weekly meeting with Joe to get drinks after his shift. They had gotten quite close, to the point Hiromi was starting to think about telling his friend he and Oka had officially started a relationship a few days ago. But that was fresh and delicate and precious and he wasn’t sure he wanted to take it to the outside world yet. Their new-found bubble of happiness worked well for him.

“Hello, Hiromi. It has been a while.”

“Don’t know about that. We still see you every week, it’s just that you’ve stopped talking to us.”

Cherry had the decency to a bit ashamed, at least. As he should, thought Hiromi. The kids, especially Miya were worried sick and Hiromi had to talk the middle-schooler down from a literal panic attack when Langa carelessly said that Cherry was maybe leaving them behind. One day, they would need to address Miya’s abandonment issues and Langa’s inability to activate his brain-mouth filter. Not that the kid ever meant any harm, he had looked so lost upon seeing Miya’s eyes filled with tears. He was just a bit too blunt.

“I do apologize for that.”

“How’s Carla?”

“You have been talking to Joe.”. Cherry let out a sigh. “She is fine. I got my phone fixed a few hours after he left.”

“So why are you still giving each other the cold shoulder like a bunch of kids?”

“I am not a kid. Now, I can’t say the same about the ape but-“

“No no you’re right.” Cut Hiromi, the pressure from the past weeks building up again in his chest. “You are not kids because the actual kids in this group would love for this thing to end. Do you know what it’s like to drive Reki and Langa around with them asking constantly if I’ve heard from either of you? To try to help Miya with a panic attack at the very thought of this group dissolving? You may not act like children, but you sure are hurting the ones who are looking up to you.”

An awkward silence fell in the quiet shop. Hiromi cringed at the thought of the emotional speech he had just delivered, but Cherry and Joe needed to hear this. For half of their lives, they had been living as a duo in their own little world. But that world had gotten bigger the second they let Hiromi and the kids in. Now, their actions had consequences on others and it was time for them to realise that.

“I will present my apologies to the kids as well. Unlike what you seem the think, I am very much aware of the role that I unwillingly endorsed in their lives, much like I am aware of my role in yours. Which is why I came here to apologize and that I did.” Said Cherry, his lips now pressed together into a fine line that was not working in the favour of a man here to make amends. But then again, Hiromi knew Cherry’s apology was as heartfelt as it gets when it came to him. Not that Hiromi had excepted something dramatic anyway.

“Fine.” Said the florist, running a hand through his hair. He had recently stopped trying to make it look too tidy and took Oka’s advice of using just a small amount of gel to make it a bit messy. It was something between Hiromi and Shadow and, truth be told, a haircut that suited him much more.

“Also, I did get the gorilla’s pear blossoms.”

“I know. I’m the one who delivered them. Hope for a lasting friendship. Bit of a weird choice considering what we all already knew and what Joe confirmed, but I didn’t want to push it too far.”

“I see.” A pause. Cherry seemed deep I thoughts for a few seconds. Maybe even a bit embarrassed but Hiromi knew better than to bring up the slight blush on his cheeks. “So he told you about our… conversation.”

“Yeah, if you can call that a conversation.” Grumbled Hiromi. “From what I’ve heard, it was more shouting than anything and you dumbasses couldn’t even resolve anything.”

“Which is why I’m here.”

Looking at Cherry, Hiromi could see how nervous the other man was behind his usual collected and professional appearance. It was obvious that he was here for something but couldn’t find the courage to ask. Florists recognize those type of behaviour from miles away and Hiromi was a damn good florist. So he asked the other man what he wanted in the hopes that this messy situation would finally end. After all, for all their childish gimmicks, they were still adults (to some extent) and no amount of fighting and teasing would convince anyone Cherry and Joe weren’t each other’s most important person. Hiromi’s manager would always say that her favourite part of their job was bringing people together and the man would be damned if he didn’t do anything he could to make her proud. Even with his new boyfriend, he still aspired to be a man his manager could be proud of, proud to be his boss and his friend.

“So.” He started, one elbow on his desk and a glimmer of excitement in his eyes. “What are you thinking?”

Cherry looked a bit reluctant to share his idea and although he was fiercely meeting Hiromi’s eyes, something in his look was different, almost vulnerable. Hiromi thought it made a lot of sense, the man probably wasn’t used to talking about his feelings too much. He was not nearly as expressive with them as Hiromi himself was. Still, Cherry took a deep breath and calmly said.”

“I’m thinking ivy.”

Eternity, fidelity, strong affectionate attachment.

“Perfect.”

❀❀❀❀❀❀❀

“Yo, old man. Ready to get your ass beaten by a 13 year-old?”

“Still planning to beef against me, kid? Don’t you have some homework to do?”

Miya stuck out his tongue out at him as he climbed into the car, calling shot-gun before Shadow arrived at Reki’s house to pick out the red-haired and his boyfriend. That is, if they weren’t too busy making out to check the clock and realise it was time to leave.

Which happened once.

Neither Shadow nor Miya saw any interest in letting them live this down.

The ride to Reki’s house was silent. Over the last few weeks, Miya had gotten used to the idea that their group was no longer what it used to be, but that never made it easier on him.

“Relax.” Said Shadow, a slight smile on his lips, his eyes never leaving the road once as they pulled out in front of Reki’s home. “I have the feelings this night will be fine. Well, you ARE going to lose a beef, but I’m sure the rest will be fine.”

“I am NOT losing against YOU.”

“Sure, sure. But relax, will you? Not to say too much, but I’m pretty sure your parents have worked things out since the last time we saw them.”

“Di-did they?” asked Miya, his eyes unable to hide the joy and hope that had started to illuminate them. The fact that he hadn’t bothered to correct the older man calling Joe and Cherry “his parents” was proof of how deeply affected the kid was by this whole situation. “Did you talk to them? What did they-“

“YO MIYA. READY TO WIN THIS THING TONIGHT?” A loud voice interrupted him.

Reki climbed behind him, his hand never once letting go of Langa’s who looked more in love with Reki every time Shadow saw him. He was glad they had talked things out and although he never mentioned it, he did notice that Reki’s board now spotted a few little sunflowers on them. He wouldn’t be caught dead saying it, but they formed quite a cute couple.

“The kid’s not gonna win shit, now put your seatbelts on.” Grumbled Shadow. “We’re gonna be late."

❀❀❀❀❀❀❀

Several things happened, that night.

When they arrived, Cherry and Joe were standing next to each other, like they used to. Joe jumped on them and ruffled the kids’ hair while Cherry watched, his thin face mask doing a poor job at hiding his smile and his hand discreetly going to press Miya’s in a silent promise. From an outside point of view, nothing had changed.

Shadow won his beef against Miya who claimed to have let him win.

Reki won a beef against a nobody who, if you were to ask Shadow, never stood a chance anyway.

High on happiness and pride, Langa kissed Reki in public for the first time, although everyone by now already knew about their relationship.

From an outside point of view, nothing changed.

Shadow knew better. He knew the real meaning behind Cherry’s new pear blossoms tattoo on his left arm. And he also knew about the meaning behind Joe’s new ivy tattoo on his right arm.

But he kept those to yourself, just like he kept his words to Miya.

This night had been fine.