"Can I help you?"
Eric gave the woman a quick glance. She was perhaps in her fifties, short and plump, but with a friendly smile on her face. She looked as if she was one with the shop, with flowers and plants high and low, in vases and pots of every shape, size and color imaginable. Eric had a vague memory of someone saying that there were something like a million different shades of green and this little shop seemed to hold at least half of that number, and at least five of them were represented in the woman's clothes.
He felt very inappropriate in there, with his dark jeans and dark jacket, and the sunglasses (though he had removed those when he entered the shop).
"I think so" he said, looking around the shop again. "I would like to send a flower to a friend."
"How nice" the woman smiled, "is it a birthday? A baby?"
Her words caused a confusing reaction in his body. A baby? Well, he was in the age when people probably got around to starting their families, but that was not the reason he had stepped into a flower shop for perhaps the fourth time in his life.
"Unfortunately, no" he said. "A condolence."
"I'm so sorry!" the woman said, her expression apologetic and full of sympathy in an instant. "Are you looking for some cut flowers then? A bouquet?"
"I guess so. You see, I'm not very good at flowers but I was sent here to get some and…"
"I understand" she said, smiling again, though this time much softer. "What about these roses?"
Eric eyed the flowers, a deep, almost crimson red. As he had said, he had no comprehension for floral matters, but Sam had sent him on this errand and he tried to see it through the eyes of a well renowned lawyer with a flair for interior design. He was unsure whether or not he succeeded.
"They're nice" he said, "but there should be something else to go with them, right?"
"Yes, I'd say so" the woman replied, "maybe some baby's breath? It fills out nicely."
It did, but it was somehow not quite right. It seemed too… generic. Sam would probably shake his head disapprovingly if he heard that Eric had bought it, no matter how nice it looked. He searched the stands of flowers for anything else that might be good, but it was impossible to know how one thing would turn out next to another.
"Do you have anything other than roses?" he asked.
"Well, there are lilies and chrysanthemums. And carnations, of course."
She pointed out the flowers as she mentioned them by name, a gesture which Eric was thankful for as he tried to evaluate them from his Sam-scale. Lilies were probably a no-no, they were too high-fashion for Robert, or Danny for that matter… However, now that he heard the name of it and saw what it looked like, he remembered something Danny had once told him – one of the first times they met, actually. They had been at a party, with lots of people and lots of alcohol. Eric had been standing awkwardly in a corner of the room, staring into the distance, and Danny had approached him and put his arm around Eric's shoulder.
You know what, he had said and pointed on the vase of flowers standing in front of them, back in the day, if you saw a man you fancied, you gave him one of these flowers, and if he gave it back to you with a needle or a toothpick or anything, pierced through the flower, you knew you'd be going home with him that night.
Really? Eric had asked, not at all comfortable with the situation, but not uncomfortable enough to actually flee. Why?
Well you see, the older man had said, winking, the word chrysanthemum is partly derived from the Greek word for gold, and there's a certain part of the human anatomy that is sometimes referred to as the chrysanthemum gate…
And then he had slapped Eric's behind in a very descriptive way before walking away, laughing.
"I think the chrysanthemums would be great" he said, "and perhaps those purple…"
He waved his hand at the flowers.
"Oh, the carnations?" she said. "That's an interesting choice."
"Is it?" Maybe that had been a bad move. It had just seemed appropriate with purple, seeing as Danny had been one of the gay rights' movement's most active members.
"Oh, it's not a bad choice, not at all" the woman said, obviously sensing Eric's doubt, but adding some of the selected flowers to the small white ones already in her hand. "The mums are a very common flower for grief and sorrow in many parts of the world, and the carnations too. Especially the purple ones are very common for funerals in France, for example, even though they symbolize capriciousness."
Then it was absolutely not a bad choice. Among his many other traits, Danny had been erratic and whimsical, swinging this way and that, depending on his mood or the time of the day. The only thing he had apparently never changed his mind about was his sexuality.
"Would you like a card with the flowers?"
"There are some pre-printed ones in that stand there."
It did not take long to find a fitting card, simple but elegant in white with silver print on the front. Nor was it very hard to find the words to put in it. Thinking of you, Sam had said in that voice that did not allow for other alternatives. That was just how it was going to be. The hard part was signing it.
Eric and Sam? Sam and Eric?
The normal thing to do would be to put his own name last, right? And Robert and Danny had been friends with Sam for several years before Eric entered the picture. But somehow, Eric and Sam sounded more right. Something about how Sam's name ended more softly.
Still, he put Sam's name down first, then his own, and handed it over to the woman to fasten it in the bouquet. As soon as she had taken it, Eric realized that this was a big moment in his relationship with Sam. Perhaps it was horrible to think of it that way, when Danny's death had left Robert, his partner for more than twenty years, devastated, but it was true. This was the first time Eric had signed anything with both his own and Sam's name. Like they were a couple.
Which we are, he corrected himself, feeling a familiar warmth inside as he did. Me and Sam.
"Excuse me" he said, causing the woman to look up from packing the flowers, "do you have anything that could fit in a lawyer's office?"
"What's this?" Sam looked quite amazed to see Eric waiting in the reception of the law firm where he worked, which was not very surprising. Eric had only been there two times before, and they had been seeing each other for one and a half year by now. "Has something happened?"
"No, not at all" Eric said. "Can we…?"
"Yes, of course, come on in" Sam said and ushered him inside his office. He looked very correct in his white shirt and the black suit, the bottle green tie the only splash of color besides his blue eyes – eyes which were still worried as he closed the door behind them. "What's that?"
Eric put the package down on one of the visitors' chairs and took out his phone.
"First things first. This is what we have sent to Robert."
Sam took the phone from him and as he examined the picture displayed there, he smiled.
"Mums, huh?" he said as he gave the phone back. "That's perfect."
"I take it I passed the test?" Eric said, putting it back into his pocket.
"With flying colors. That still doesn't explain why you're here though. Do you want a reward? Because I could give you a better one at home tonight…"
Eric actually blushed at that. Sure, they were alone, but they were still in Sam's office and even though everyone there probably knew about Sam's orientation they did not have to know about Eric's. No matter how appealing the thought of a reward from Sam was…
To still his confused thoughts he lifted up the package and handed it to Sam.
"No, that's not why. I got this for you. To have here."
Sam cocked an eyebrow at this but started to unwrap the paper, soon revealing a small, potted orange tree. It was no more than a foot high and sported several small oranges on its branches. Sam looked from the plant to Eric, then back to the plant, then again to Eric.
"Go on, read the card" Eric said and leaned back against the chair, for once feeling in control of the situation at hand. Sam found the card, nestled in between the branches, and opened it.
"Fruit for a fruit" he read, and it was clear from his strained voice that he was trying not to laugh out loud. Eric, too, smiled.
"They had this other plant called Tinkerbell, but I just had a hard time imagining you as an actual fairy."
"And it was easier picturing me as an orange?" Sam's words were filled to the brim with mirth.
"Look at it this way: if your clients are annoying, you can just open the window and throw fruit at them as they leave."
"From twelve stories up?"
"You can practice your aim with paper balls."
Sam closed the distance between them, putting his hand to Eric's cheek before leaning in kissing him, a warm, soft kiss. Eric did not even worry about the door opening.
"Thank you" Sam said as he withdrew a few inches. "Is there a special occasion I've forgotten about?"
"No" Eric said earnestly. "I just realized, when I was there in that flower shop, that I'm very happy to have you. And lucky to have you."
"Is this because of Robert and Danny?"
"Yes. And no. It's just that I was very happy writing both our names on that card. You know, Eric and Sam, Sam and Eric…"
"It has a nice ring to it."
"Let's keep it that way, shall we?"
Never mind the birds and the bees, Eric thought as they shared a second kiss. Better with fruits and flowers.