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don’t leaf me alone

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“Gusu Floral Shop. How may I help you?” Lan Zhan says as he picks up the phone.

“Hi. Um. Are you open right now?”

Lan Zhan glances at the time: seven o’clock, on the dot. Earlier than the typical order. Perhaps this person is desperate. “Yes, we’re open. Would you like to place an order?”

They do. Of course they do. Lan Zhan’s flower shop is the best place in town to purchase flowers. His cozy corner store sits halfway up a hill that overlooks the ocean, the very picture of an idyllic seaside shop.

Lan Zhan jots down notes for the order: elaborate, celebration, small enough to carry, to be delivered the day after tomorrow. Lan Zhan can work with that. His camelias will be in full bloom by then.

He hangs up, leaves the note at the front counter so he can come back to it later. For now he’s got other duties to fulfill: water the plants. Inspect the flowers. Grind the coffee beans. Clean the windows. Pour 60 grams of hot water, wait 30 seconds. Another 90 grams of water, 50 seconds. 100 grams, pause until the drips stop. Another 100 grams. Wipe down the counters. Recount the cash in the register. Pour the coffee in a to-go cup, don’t forget the sleeve.

Lan Zhan has just pulled the morning deliveries out of the chiller when the shop’s front door swings open, the little bell above the entrance tinkling.

Lan Zhan smiles to himself. “You’re late,” he says without turning around.

“It’s seven thirty-two, Lan Zhan! It’s hardly the end of the world here!” insists Wei Ying. He yawns, stretching his arms out. “Most people aren’t even up yet, you know.”

“The first delivery is at eight o’clock.” Lan Zhan pushes three bouquets across the counter. “Take these ones, please.”

Wei Ying flaps his hands. “And it’ll be delivered right on time! Have you no faith in me, Lan Zhan? I would never ruin your shop’s flawless reputation for quality service.”

“The address is on the other side of town.” Lan Zhan looks at the clock as he hoists up another floral arrangement. “And you are down to twenty-seven minutes.”

“Well it’s a good thing I bike fast.” He carefully gathers up the three bouquets in one arm and wraps both hands around the coffee cup, humming before taking a sip. “And once I drink all this coffee, maybe I’ll set a new personal record.”

The bell chimes as Lan Zhan pushes the door open.“Please adhere to the speed limits. Your safety is more important than the flowers.”

Wei Ying snorts. “If that’s true, then why do you always come out to help pack up my bike for your deliveries?”

“Because the flowers pay my bills,” he says easily, securing the large arrangement to the back of the bicycle. In truth, it’s another flimsy excuse to be close to Wei Ying as he sips his morning coffee. While Lan Zhan double checks the bungee cords he asks, “Do you like the coffee today?”

Wei Ying pulls an incredulous face. “Do I like—I don’t like the coffee, Lan Zhan. I foxgLOVE it.”

Lan Zhan waits for the laughing fit that usually follows, but this time Wei Ying is silent.

After a few moments Wei Ying blows a loose strand of hair out of his face. “Ugh, that one was so far beneath my standards,” he eventually mumbles. He places the three bouquets in the handlebar basket and pats the wrapping. “That was so bad it’ll get my pay docked for sure.”

“I don’t think you are paid based on the quality of your puns,” reminds Lan Zhan.

“Technically yes, you’re correct. But the mental tally of who doesn’t laugh at my jokes for each delivery? That’s worth much more than money, Lan Zhan.” He jams the helmet onto his head and lifts his coffee. “I’ll be back soon! I know we’ve got those huge pillar thingies to bring to the mayor later, those’ll be suuuuper fun to get on the bike. No having fun without me, okay?”

“Wait.” Lan Zhan reaches out and gently tips Wei Ying’s head up with his fingers, fastens the helmet’s buckles underneath Wei Ying’s chin. He wiggles the helmet around a little to make sure it’s a snug fit, and then nods. “There.”

Wei Ying beams up at him. “Thanks. Don’t know why I never remember to do that part before taking off. One of these days I should tie the straps into forget-me-knots eh, Lan Zhan?”

Lan Zhan tightens and double knots the strings securing the bouquets in the handlebar basket while Wei Ying laughs.

“Get it? Because the—”

“I get it, Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says patiently. He steps back onto the curb. “Be safe.”

“I always am,” replies Wei Ying brightly.

Lan Zhan’s gaze lingers on the back of his helmet as Wei Ying pedals away. “Hurry back,” he whispers, like he does every time Wei Ying leaves. Then he returns to his shop.

Wei Ying shuffles in and complains, “Man, that road construction out near the beach is so annoying. My routes over there are all messed up now.” But then his mouth quirks up to one side. “You could say it’s a real thorn in my side. Know what I mean, Lan Zhan?”

The fading light of the sunset refracts through the chimes in the window, and soft, warm sparkles of light dance across Wei Ying’s face.

It takes Lan Zhan’s breath away. He slides a hot cup of tea across the counter. “Something to take the edge off,” he says magnanimously.

“You’re a lifesaver. What kind is it today?”

“Chamomile. To soothe the nerves.” Lan Zhan grew the flowers himself in his personal garden. “It’s the least I could do for our best flower courier.”

Wei Ying stops drinking. “Su She does the deliveries on my days off.”

“I said what I said,” Lan Zhan says primly, and it makes Wei Ying laugh. Mission accomplished.

“Thanks for the tea! You’re the best bud—” Wei Ying points at a not-quite-bloomed sunflower head in the window. “—a guy could ask for.”

Lan Zhan just nods. He’s a bud for now, but he has plans to change that. He has the card and the flowers already picked out. The beginning of the speech is ready, too: Wei Ying, I like you a lotus. The card is below the counter, within arm’s reach when he’s at the register. Ready at a moment’s notice. Any day now, he's going to tell him. During any of the three daily interactions Lan Zhan has with the cute, charming delivery boy with the corniest sense of humor on earth.

Except Lan Zhan can never make himself do it. No matter how much he wants to.

Sometimes these feelings threaten to burst out of Lan Zhan. It’s really only a matter of time before it does—inevitable, like the coming of spring. But for some reason something always holds him back. And every day all he can manage is the same quiet, private request.

“Hurry back.”

Wei Ying kicks the door open, holding up two long paper bags. “It’s our lucky day, Lan Zhan! Wen Ning was feeling extra gene-rose today. Look how much youtiao he just gave me!”

“Mn, it’s very exciting. However it’s concerning to me that you didn’t stop to look for cars before you ran across the street to bring it here.”

“Lan Zhan. How could I think about cross-traffic when I got us some free youtiao.

Lan Zhan has his hands full, so all he can do is nod toward the other end of the bicycle. “Wei Ying, the hydrangeas.”

“Oh of course, of course, my bad,” he says, hurrying over. Wei Ying delicately pinches the stem of one of the flowers. “Hi, drangeas. I’m Wei Ying,” he says solemnly, and then proceeds to run up and down the sidewalk with both arms raised in victorious exultation, cackling the entire time.

Lan Zhan simply waits, carefully balancing a stack of flower wreaths on the handlebar.

“What do you think, Lan Zhan? Should I start throwing dad jokes into the rotation to keep everyone on their toes?”

“I think you should get a rearview mirror for your bicycle.”

Wei Ying takes off his helmet and shakes out his hair, grinning widely. “That was definitely my fastest delivery ever. You should’ve seen me, Lan Zhan, I was going for the mari-gold today.”

Lan Zhan does some quick calculations in his head. “Wei Ying, please tell me you really stopped at the stop signs.”

“Stop signs only matter when there are other people around.”

Wei Ying.

“Hope you sell lots of flowers at the farmer’s market, Lan Zhan! I’m rooting for you!” Wei Ying yells from his bicycle as he waves goodbye one evening. He almost spills the hibiscus tea Lan Zhan gave him.

Lan Zhan waves back and replies, “Don’t forget to use your headlights on the way home. Be safe, Wei Ying.”

“Lan Zhan, guess what!” Wei Ying is bright and cheery, a stark contrast to the torrential downpour outside. He wipes his wet shoes on the welcome mat and pulls out a paper bag from inside his jacket, waving it as he rushes to the counter. “The bakery was more stocked than usual because of all the rain, so I brought back Wen Ning’s croissants! I got the last strawberry one for you!”

Lan Zhan smiles. “Thank you, Wei Ying. But you are still eighteen minutes late.”

Wei Ying waggles the bag in front of Lan Zhan. “But—strawberry!” he protests.

Lan Zhan pretends to think about it. “You make a good point. Tardiness struck from the record.” He takes the croissant and takes a “wild guess” why his stop at the bakery went long. “How was A-Yuan?”

“He was unbearably cute, thank you for asking.” Wei Ying pulls out his phone and starts playing a video. “Look at him, he washes his hands like he’s going into surgery with Wen Qing. I told him he’s doing a good job killing all the germ-aniums—and then I had to tell him what geraniums look like—which reminds me, can I—”

“You may take some geraniums to show A-Yuan,” Lan Zhan says indulgently. As if he’d ever say no to Wei Ying. “But on one condition.”

“Name it.”

Lan Zhan stoops down to grab the jacket, and drapes it on the countertop.

“This seems a little extreme,” harrumphs Wei Ying.

Lan Zhan folds the reflective raincoat in half. “Visibility is worse when it’s raining.”

“I’ll look like a highlighter on a bike.”

“Mn. A highlighter that drivers will slow down for when the roads are wet.” He holds it out to Wei Ying. “Please. It will make me feel better.”

Wei Ying sighs and takes the coat. “Well when you put it like that, how can I say no?”

“Thank you. Be safe,” he says. And after Wei Ying’s bright, reflective raincoat is no longer visible in the window, Lan Zhan adds, “Hurry back.”

Later that night, Lan Zhan is inconsolable.

He knew that drink would be a mistake. He also knew Nie Huaisang was baiting him when he said it was Wei Ying’s favorite liquor, and didn’t Lan Zhan want to give it a taste to try and see why? And still Lan Zhan took it. Because he was sad, because he wished Wei Ying were here, because he wished Wei Ying didn’t leave.

One cup of baijiu later, and now look at him: sprawled out on the edge of the fountain in the town square, crying silently as the moon’s reflection shimmers across the water. Everything is so peaceful. It’s not fair—how can anything be this peaceful on the worst day of Lan Zhan’s life? He reaches out and splashes the moon so it stops looking at him. Lan Zhan wants to mourn in solitude.

So of course that gets taken away from him too.

“All right Huaisang, I’m here,” announces the person intruding on Lan Zhan’s anguish. “Whatever favor you need from me tonight, just come on out and ask me to my—Lan Zhan?” Footsteps shuffling closer, louder. “Is that you? What in carnation are you doing out here in the middle of the night?”

“Grieving,” Lan Zhan says woefully.

“What?” Someone’s touching Lan Zhan’s shoulder. “Did something happen? Is your uncle okay? Your brother?”

He lolls his head side to side. “Wei Ying is leaving me,” Lan Zhan despairs.

“What are you—it’s for a weekend!

“I’m never going to see him again.”

“I’ll be back on Monday! I told you, it’s a red egg party for my nephew. My sister just became a chrysanthe-mom and I’m spending the weekend with the whole family to say aloe to the baby.”

Lan Zhan gives a hearty sniff. “He misses his family, he doesn’t want to come back. He’ll leave forever and I’ll miss him and I’ll drink his favorite baijiu every day until the day I die.”

“Ohhhh, I see. How much did you have to drink this time, Lan Zhan? Was it two sips instead of the usual one?”

Lan Zhan’s face crumples. “Whole cup.”

A low whistle. “Oh man, so you’re totally wasted now, aren’t you?”

“I’m totally wasted,” he parrots back pathetically.

“Oh boy. Uhhhh. Okay, how about—Lan Zhan, do you think you can sit up for me? We’re gonna drink some water.”

Lan Zhan tries to move, but there’s a loud, frantic noise.

“No no no no, other way! Roll this way, not into the fountain. You’re so silly.” Lan Zhan gets propped upright. Everything looks so blurry. “Look at you, a whole menace to society. You’re acting absolutely ranunculus. Who let you go out like this, huh?”

Lan Zhan frowns, thinking hard. “Nie Huaisang said he would help find Wei Ying.”

“Of course he did. You know what, we’re gonna deal with him later. We'll go find Wei Ying after you drink some water, I promise. Can you take a sip for me, Lan Zhan?”

A water bottle hovers in front of Lan Zhan’s face, the spout held right up to his mouth. Lan Zhan does the only reasonable thing to do.

“No, you don’t bite it! You—okay, you know what, that’s on me. I don’t know what I expected. Now just—Lan Zhan—Lan Zhan please let go, I need to—” Giggling, high and quick. It’s a nice sound. Lan Zhan likes it. “Aiya, I need this back, stop biting! You have to let go! You—oh my god, this is the best thing I’ve ever seen. Okay, okay, how about… Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan, can you open your mouth for me instead? Like this, go ‘ahhhhhhh.’”

“Ahhhhhh,” repeats Lan Zhan, and the spout disappears.

Some clicking sounds. “Almost forgot what a handful you are when you’re like this.”

Lan Zhan spots the moon’s reflection in the water and kicks it. The water ripples, but the moonlight comes back, mocking him. So he kicks it again.

“Lan Zhan, stop! You’ll get all wet!”

“I don’t want to be alone. I want Wei Ying,” he says miserably. A hand around his ankle pulls Lan Zhan’s leg out of the fountain.

“I know, honeysuckle, I know. But water first. Come on, drink up, buttercup. Take a sip, Lan Zhan.”

A cup of water held up to his lips. Lan Zhan drinks.

“Good boy. Three more sips and we can go see Wei Ying!”

Wei Ying. Wei Ying who’s gone. Wei Ying who isn’t coming back.

Lan Zhan bursts into tears.

“What—I thought you wanted to see him! Oh no baby, please don’t cry, how do I make this better?”

“Why does he have to leave? He’s never coming back,” Lan Zhan says in between deep, heaving sobs.

“Wei Ying always comes back though! Seeing you is his favorite part of the day! There’s no way you don’t know that by now.”

“And someday—hic—he’s gonna die—hic—and I’ll never—hic—see him again—” Lan Zhan’s wail echoes through the town square.

“Sweetheart, that’s not gonna happen for a long, long, long time, okay? I swear, I pinky promise. I’m gonna wake up every day and tell you the dumbest puns I can think of forever and ever, okay? Let’s get you home. We’ll go together, does that sound good? Come on, let’s try to stand up, I be-leaf in you.”

The world tilts when Lan Zhan lurches to his feet. “I’m worried about him,” says Lan Zhan, panicked.

“I know you are, sweetie.”

“He’s not safe. He’s never safe. He should stay home and be safe. What if Wei Ying tries to deliver something and he gets a flat tire?” Lan Zhan rambles.

“He’ll call his dumb friend Huaisang, because that guy owes me so many favors right now it’s not even funny.”

“What if Wei Ying’s car breaks down on the way to the party and he’s stranded on the side of the road?”

“He’ll call his dumb brother and get a ride with him in his dumb sports car.”

Lan Zhan stumbles over something. Maybe his own foot. “What if it starts raining and Wei Ying doesn’t have an umbrella and he gets sick?”

“Then his sister will feed him soup and medicine until he’s all better, and he’ll also get to annoy his brother-in-law. That one’s nothing but wins.”

Lan Zhan trips again, slumps against something warm. “What if he goes to the party and meets someone and they fall in love at first sight and get married, and then years later he’s trapped in a loveless marriage until his spouse runs away to be with someone else.”

A pat on top of Lan Zhan’s head. “… Well, that is a very specific hypothetical. And I appreciate the concern, but that doesn’t sound like me or the kind of person I’d want to marry. At all.”

Lan Zhan is suddenly very, very angry. “I’m the one who should marry Wei Ying. Me. If Wei Ying marries someone else, I might as well die. There’s no point anymore.”

They stop moving. The sidewalk still wobbles around Lan Zhan’s feet, the street lamps dancing.

“You… want to marry Wei Ying? Like—like marry, the romantic way?”

Lan Zhan rolls his head back again, blinking up blearily at the moon. “I want to kiss him so much,” Lan Zhan mumbles. “I want to hold his hand. All the time. I have so many dreams about it.”

“D-dreams. You have dreams about—holding hands. And kissing.”

Lan Zhan nods earnestly, many times. “And sexy dreams too. But shhh! Don’t tell anybody.”

A wheeze. Lan Zhan’s support bends forward, and now Lan Zhan’s watching the sidewalk tilt back and forth again. “Uh-huh.” A few pats on Lan Zhan’s back. “Don’t worry, bud. Your secret’s safe with me.”

“I think I’m going to throw up,” Lan Zhan tells the concrete.

“Yep, right, okay, no time to freak out about this. We’ve gotta get you home.”

A car speeds down the road, horn blaring. Wei Ying is on his bike again, flowers overflowing the basket, petals trailing behind his bicycle. He’s not wearing his helmet, why, why isn’t he wearing his helmet. He doesn’t see the car, doesn’t swerve out of the way, doesn’t hear Lan Zhan screaming, running towards him as fast as he can—

“Lan Zhan.”

A deep, sudden inhale as Lan Zhan opens his eyes. Something warm against his cheek. Fingers brushing hair away from his face. “Wei Ying,” he rasps out.

“It’s okay, I’m right here.”

Lan Zhan clutches at the hand wiping his face, desperate to hold on to something. “You didn’t see the car,” he says shakily. “It didn’t slow down, I was too far away, I couldn’t—”

“Just a dream, Lan Zhan. It wasn’t real, I’m here.”

Here. Not real. Here.

Lan Zhan turns his head and kisses the palm of Wei Ying’s hand. He’s trembling all over, pulse racing, breathing hard. Still full of panic.

“I’m here,” Wei Ying repeats softly. “It’s okay, I promise.”

Here. Here, next to Lan Zhan’s bed, where Lan Zhan is half tangled in the sheets. Here, in Lan Zhan’s dark apartment above the flower shop.

Lan Zhan stops breathing. Blinks the nightmare away. Slowly, slowly lets go of Wei Ying’s hand as he sits up in bed. Wei Ying is so close, kneeling at the bedside, and Lan Zhan flinches backwards.

If he’s real and if he’s here, then Lan Zhan just. He just.

The sun isn’t up yet. Lan Zhan isn’t sure what time it is, but it’s still the dead of night. He finds Wei Ying’s face in the dark, slivers of moonlight peeking in past the curtains. He’s looking at Lan Zhan cautiously, like he’s trying to walk up to a rabbit without scaring it.

“Hi,” Wei Ying says quietly.

Lan Zhan’s throat is so dry. “How did—what are you doing here?”

“You got pretty drunk last night. I wanted to make sure you were okay.”

Lan Zhan tries to recall what happened, but comes up empty. He vaguely remembers talking to Nie Huaisang, but nothing afterward. If he got drunk, that does explain why his nightmare was so vivid. It also explains the headache. And the sensation that something crawled into his mouth and died. Lan Zhan wonders if he can use drunkenness to explain everything else he’s done in the last thirty seconds. “What happened? What did I do?” he asks carefully.

“Oh, just the usual public menace stuff,” Wei Ying says casually, and Lan Zhan groans. “No property damage, though. Already an improvement from last time. The town clock tower remains unblemished for another day.”

Lan Zhan’s never gonna live that down. He coughs. “Did… did I say anything?”

“Ahhh. Well, uh… now that you mention it.” Wei Ying takes a deep, slow breath. “When I found you, you were pretty—um, pretty upset.”

This is the most serious Lan Zhan has ever seen Wei Ying. There’s a glaring absence of puns, and it gives Lan Zhan a horrible feeling in his stomach that has nothing to do with his alcohol consumption. “Upset about what?”

“Well—it was very sweet, first of all. Uh. You were worried about me. And sad that I was gonna be gone all weekend. You were kind of—” He clears his throat. “—in the town square, being sad about it. Loudly.”

Lan Zhan almost pulls the bed sheet over his head to hide. He can never look Wei Ying in the eye again. This is where their friendship ends. No more morning coffees, no more afternoon pastries. No more safety precautions as a thinly-veiled excuse to touch him before he goes. Lan Zhan has to move. To a new town, possibly a new country. A new planet, if he can manage it. “I’m sorry you had to see that,” Lan Zhan says hollowly.

“Don’t be sorry, Lan Zhan. I’m definitely not. There was… Something you said made me really happy, actually.”

That’s nice. Maybe Lan Zhan doesn’t have to leave the planet after all. “What was it?”

“You said—um—you said you have dreams where—where we’re holding hands and—and, uh. Kissing.”

Lan Zhan’s insides turn to ice.

But the outline of Wei Ying is nodding, still talking. “That made me happy. That made me really happy.” He looks up at Lan Zhan. “Was that… true?”

Lan Zhan can’t move. Hardly remembers how to breathe.

“And full disclosure there were also allusions to some sexy dreams,” Wei Ying continues in a high-pitched voice, apparently taking the silence as permission to just keep going. “But in the interest of fairness I feel the need to tell you I also frequently have sexy dreams about you, so like—all things considered, I think we’re on the same page here.”

Lan Zhan is getting dizzy, and he’s not sure it’s the “unbearable hangover” kind of dizzy. “What?”

“Yeah so—I don’t know if you’ve noticed, I have a stupidly big crush on you. Like, giant. Redwood-sized. All the times I’m making corny jokes at you it’s because I’m trying to get you to smile. That day I got you to actually laugh out loud with ‘As much as iris-pect your opinion’ was kind of an all-time peak for me. And every day since then I kept wanting to say some really, really dumb stuff: I’m so frond of you. I think we’re mint to be. Will you be vine. Tired of being cacti, I want it to be cactus.

If it weren’t for the headache, Lan Zhan would think he’s fully hallucinating. Because if he’s already shown all his cards, already drunkenly told Wei Ying how he feels, and now Wei Ying is saying all of this, then—

He swings his legs down and turns to fully face Wei Ying. Voice brittle, Lan Zhan says, “So… what you’re saying is…”

A tense, loaded silence. “Lan Zhan, didn’t you know? Chive been in love with you the whole time.”

Lan Zhan has imagined kissing Wei Ying many times. But it was always something grand, romantic—at sunset, after a dinner date, perhaps overlooking the sea. Wearing one of his nicest shirts, brushing Wei Ying’s hair out of his face. It was never this: a dull headache throbbing in his skull, a horrible taste in his mouth, a clumsy jolt forward where he misses most of Wei Ying’s lips on the first try. No part of this was what Lan Zhan had envisioned.

And still, it is bliss.

He feels it when Wei Ying suddenly smiles. “Lan Zhan, guess what.”

Lan Zhan presses their foreheads together. “What, Wei Ying.”

“You just planted one on me.” His laughter is silent, breathless.

Lan Zhan kisses it from the corners of his mouth. “Your puns are my favorite,” he says in between pecks. “I like them a lotus.”

Wei Ying wraps his arms around Lan Zhan’s neck. “Are you serious? Give me a peri-wink-le to let me know you’re joking.”

“I’m not joking. I love them so mulch.”

Wei Ying snorts another laugh into the crook of Lan Zhan’s neck. “Orange you glad we pricked each other.”

It takes a second for Lan Zhan to stomach that one. “Are you mixing fruit puns with cactus puns now?”

“You’re right, that wasn’t my best work,” Wei Ying says solemnly. And then he starts giggling again. “But cactus makes perfect.”

There he is: Lan Zhan’s favorite person in the world, in all his glory. “I think it’s time for both us to sleep.” Lan Zhan wraps his arms around Wei Ying, rolling them both over until they’re curled around each other on the bed. “Comfortable?”

“Perfect,” Wei Ying says, squeezing Lan Zhan’s hand.

Lan Zhan interlaces their fingers. “Good.”

“Hey,” Wei Ying whispers a moment later. “When we wake up, I think you should come with me to the red egg party.”

Lan Zhan would have to close the shop for the whole weekend. Reschedule some orders. Ask his brother to come in and take care of the plants.

“We’ll make a plan in the morning,” he whispers back, and presses a soft kiss to Wei Ying’s cheek.

He feels Wei Ying smile as he wriggles closer. “Okay. Good night, Lan Zhan.” One more kiss to the tips of Lan Zhan’s fingers. “See you tomorrow.”