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Daffodils & Gardenias

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“Looks like someone's finally moving into that shop next door, Jere,” Alvarez said as she craned her neck to get a better view out the window from her position on the couch in the waiting area of the tattoo parlor.

“Nice, finally. I think that vacant store was scaring people off from ours. Hopefully they’ll clean it up nicely,” Jeremy responded, then added, “Do you think we should drop by now to say hi and ask if they need help or anything? Or should we just wait until they’re more settled? I wonder what they’re planning on doing with the place, imagine how convenient it would be if they opened up, like, a cafe or bakery or something there; the walk to the place on the corner every morning is so long .”

Laila walked into the waiting room of the tattoo parlor and laughed. “Okay, Knox, calm down. I don’t see anyone except movers over there now, anyway. And you ,” she said, turning a playful glare into Alvarez’s direction, “Get those feet off the coffee table.”

“Aw, babe, c’mon, I only just got comfy,” Alvarez whined, widening her eyes and pouting at her girlfriend. “But, something else would be comfier,” she said, her expression turning from innocent to mischievous as she grabbed Laila’s hand and pulled her onto her lap, laughing.

“Fine, fine, I see your point…” Laila said, wrapping her arms around Alvarez and pressing her face close to her neck.

“Yeah, okay, well I don’t have any appointments till 2 so I’ll just leave you guys to it. Maybe I’ll go check out who’s moving in…” Jeremy laughed as he walked to the front door, whistling at them as he left.

“Whatever, asshole, see you later!” Laila shouted at him, muffled by her girlfriend’s neck and the door closing behind Jeremy.


 

Jeremy Knox was the owner of a small tattoo parlor, Trojan Tattoos, that he ran with the help of his two college friends, Laila and Alvarez. Together, they had kept the shop running for three years and built their own steady clientele and name for themselves.  Now 26, he and his shop had finally gotten past the rougher years of owning your own business. While Jeremy himself didn’t have many tattoos beyond the half sleeve on his upper arm, the tattoos he did have were all beautifully intricate, done by Laila and Alvarez at the end of their apprenticeship, which he would gladly show off and boast about to anyone willing to listen about his, quote, “amazing, wonderfully talented friends, really they’re just the best tattoo artists you’ll find..." really, he could go on.

The vacant store next door, however, had always been a bit of an eyesore for him. It had briefly been a boutique owned by a very nice middle-aged woman selling lots of polka-dotted, monogrammed clothing, but she went out of business shortly after Jeremy moved into the building connected to hers. It was a shame, because she and Jeremy would have coffee together once a week to share gossip, but they hadn’t kept in touch. She left behind a small, fairly open floor plan shop with a small apartment upstairs, likely mirroring the setup of Jeremy’s apartment atop the parlor.

That of course meant that whoever had bought the store wouldn’t just be Jeremy’s business neighbor, but they’d be living next door to each other as well. Alvarez and Laila had their own apartment not too far from their parlor, and Jeremy had lived with them when they were all still apprenticing together, but as soon as he got the chance to have his own place, he wasn’t going to waste the opportunity. He loved them more than anything, but sharing an apartment with the couple when he had been single a majority of that time was… well, he invested in ear plugs, at least.

Jeremy wandered onto the sidewalk in front of the two shops and watched as the the two movers unloaded the truck and began taking boxes into the building. There wasn’t too much work for them to do, Jeremy noticed. Whoever was moving in seemed to have only wanted to take the essentials with them, with a bed frame, nightstand, dresser, bookshelf, and a table with a couple of chairs being the extent of furniture they brought. The movers unloaded a few boxes as well, but still, Jeremy was curious who the minimalist moving in was. He wanted to ask them to help him declutter his own room, honestly; he was too sentimental to throw a lot of his knick knacks out, especially if they were a gift from one of his siblings, even the terrible macaroni art. Jeremy laughed a little to himself thinking of some his younger siblings earliest attempts at art, and began walking towards one of the movers.

“Hey, do you you know when whoever bought this place is going to get here? I work at the shop next door,” Jeremy said, flashing a smile at the man and jerking his thumb over his shoulder to Trojan Tattoo.

“Uh, no sorry man, I don’t. He just wanted us to have his shit in there for whenever he gets here,” the mover shrugged.

“No worries. Thanks anyway, man.” Jeremy gave the man another grin as he turned to go, glancing back at the no longer vacant storefront.


 

The next day, when Jeremy walked by his new neighbor’s shop carrying his coffee on his way back from the cafe that is actually super far from Jeremy’s place no matter how much Laila and Alvarez insist it’s basically just across the street, he noticed that all the boxes the movers had left inside the store had been put up and that whoever had moved in had already started getting the place ready to open. Jeremy still had no idea who had moved in or what the store was, but he figured he’d run into the person eventually.

 


 

He didn’t, actually. Either they were just missing each other or the person was staying inside, Jeremy didn’t run into the new tenant at all that week. It wasn’t until the store had a new sign reading La Jonquille and flower displays in the window did Jeremy find out that it was a flower shop opening up next door. There was a sign in the window saying the grand opening would be in two days, and Jeremy was already pulling out his phone to check what times he didn’t have any appointments that day.

Chapter Text

“Are we finally gonna get to meet this mysterious florist? The suspense has been killing me,” Laila complained on the day of La Jonquille’s grand opening.

“Whoever it is could’ve tried to introduce themselves instead of staying locked up in that place. I knocked once but they just completely ignored me,” Alvarez pouted.

“Oh, come on guys, you remember how stressful it was when we first opened this place up. I’m sure they’ve just been working getting the shop ready for today,” Jeremy said, looking up from the tattoo design he was finishing up.

“Well yeah, but if I remember correctly we still took the time to introduce ourselves to the neighbors so that we could make a good first impression,” Alvarez said as she stuck her tongue out at Jeremy.

Jeremy snickered at her sour expression and threw his pencil at her as he stood up.

“Hey! Betrayal!”

“Well, unlike you two I actually give people the benefit of the doubt. So, are you guys ready to go?”

“It’s you we’ve been waiting on this whole time, cap’n,” Laila said, throwing an arm around Jeremy’s shoulder and leading him to the door.

“Conspiring with the enemy! Fine! Just leave me here to die!” Alvarez cried, throwing her arm across her eyes as she leant back dramatically in her chair.

“So you’re not coming, then?” Jeremy asked sweetly as he pushed open the front door.

“Ugh, fine, I’m coming, hold up,” she said, jumping from her seat and following them out the door. “Quit hogging my girlfriend,” Alvarez said as they walked to the doors of the flower shop, taking Laila’s arm in hers.

They walked into the shop, whose doors had been propped open with a pot of pansies, and looked around. Because the interior of the flower shop didn’t need to have all the different rooms Trojan Tattoo had, it felt a lot more spacious to the trio. Different types of flowers that could be put into bouquets and arrangements lined the walls and short aisles in the center of the shop had a wide variety of potted flowers and plants. The ceiling was adorned with numerous hanging plants whose leaves draped over their pots to graze the tops of some of the taller customers heads.

“This place is amazing! It looks like it belongs in a movie or a fairy tale or something,” Laila said excitedly. “Come on, looks like someone’s by the register.”

Tugging them forward, they spotted a short girl with white pastel hair standing behind the counter.

“Why does she look exactly like you’d expect a florist in a place like this to look?” Alvarez whispered as the approached the counter.

“Hey! Are you the owner of this place? It’s amazing! It feels like it could be part of a dream or something, you know?” Jeremy gushed to the girl, reaching out his hand to shake hers.

“Well, thanks. I’m not the owner, actually, I’m a friend. I’m just here helping to set up and help with the grand opening. I’m Renee.”

As she spoke, someone came from the back room of the shop. Jeremy was immediately taken aback by the tall man’s appearance, noting the grey sweater stretching across his broad shoulders, his dark, softly curling hair and stubble, his grey eyes, the dark roman numeral tattoo of the number three on his amazing cheekbone, and holy shit Jeremy stop staring with your jaw hanging down like some lovestruck idiot oh my god.

“Ah, this is the owner, actually,” Renee said, standing on her toes to throw her arm around his shoulders and smiling up at him. Jeremy felt a pang of disappointment seeing that interaction, of course they’re probably dating, but whatever, he doesn’t even know this guy’s name yet, anyway, and oh right they were making introductions maybe they should get back to that?

He saw Laila and Alvarez exchange a knowing glance out of the corner of his eye as he cleared his throat and flashed Renee and the man a smile. “I’m Jeremy. Knox. And this is Laila Dermott and Alvarez,” he said, gesturing to the two women in turn, who were both smirking in a way that could mean absolutely nothing good.

Laila gave a small mock salute as Alvarez said, “We’re all tattoo artists at the place next door, Trojan Tattoo. We came to meet our new neighbors.” She stared at the tall man who waited a beat, then responded.

“Jean Moreau,” he said, nodding at them.

“Well, I’m really glad we got this chance to meet, your shop is amazing by the way, but I’m sure you’re busy with the grand opening and all and I have some appointments with clients soon, but hey, we should all get lunch together sometime since we’re working right next to each other. But yeah, uh, bye!” Jeremy rambled then quickly dragged Laila and Alvarez to the exit of the shop.

Once they were safely back inside, Jeremy collapsed onto the couch, throwing an arm over his eyes. He sighed melodramatically, wailing, “This is the end of Jeremy Knox! I hope you guys have been preparing my eulogy. Tell my mother I love her and that Jackson doesn’t get all my tattoo machines in my will. That little asshole has been asking for them since he was ten.”

“I thought Alvarez was dramatic, but damn Knox, are you sure you didn’t go to Julliard?” Laila laughed, dropping onto the couch beside him as her girlfriend looked affronted.

“I can’t believe you ever thought I was more of a drama queen than Knox! Don’t you remember that one time I ate the last granola bar and he said he was going to starve because of me?”

“I think we can agree that you’re both ridiculous and obsessed with melodramatics, hm?” Laila said sweetly, looking up at her girlfriend.

“Okay, whatever, that is not the point. The point is that our beloved friend Jeremy here has just gotten a huge crush on tall, dark, and handsome florist next door. Ohhh, young love!” Alvarez swooned, clasping her hands together.

Jeremy fell onto his side, burying his head in Laila’s shoulder, mumbling something the girls couldn’t hear.

“Oh, stop being so pathetic, Jere. What?” Laila said nudging Jeremy up from his position.

“I said that it doesn’t matter if I have a crush or not because he’s probably straight and he has a girlfriend,” he said miserably, pouting up at Alvarez.

“I’m sorry, what? What makes you think he has a girlfriend?” Alvarez said, confused.

“Renee, obviously. Didn’t you see the way she hugged him and smiled up at him? They’re a couple.”

“Jeremy, honey, I love you, but your gaydar fucking sucks. I’ll bet you fifty bucks right now that Renee is a lesbian,” Alvarez said, crossing her arms and looking to Laila for support.

“She’s right, Jere. That girl was seriously giving off some gay vibes. Honestly, I bet she even has a girlfriend.”

“Ugh! False hope! Even if they’re not together that doesn’t mean he likes guys, and even if he likes guys that doesn’t he’ll like me.”

“Okay, nope, not happening. We’re not having a pity party over some guy you met for two seconds before fleeing. Jeremy Knox, you are a goddamn catch, and hot as fuck, which means alot coming from me, a huge fucking lesbian. All right?” Alvarez took a breath and added, “You’re not doing yourself any favors if you give up before you try.”

“Plus, like, you barely know the guy. It’s entirely possible he’s actually an asshole. Just, like, give it some time,” Laila said, throwing her arm around Jeremy.

“Yeah, all right.”

Chapter Text

The next day Jeremy decided to go to La Jonquille in the morning before his first client arrived, to see if Jean and Renee wanted to have lunch over at the tattoo shop. As he stepped inside, he saw Jean working at the counter, arranging a beautiful pink and yellow bouquet.

“Hey,” Jeremy said, grinning as he walked up to lean against the counter. “What’s this for?”

“A baby shower.” Jean briefly looked up, then returned to finishing the arrangement. He took another minute or two to add a few more small white buds to the bouquet, and stepped back, seemingly satisfied with his work. He glanced up, and seemed surprised to see Jeremy still standing there, having watched him finish up the bouquet. “Did you need something?”

“Yes, actually. I wanted to know if you and Renee wanted to come by my shop for lunch with me, Laila, and Alvarez. I don’t know if you’re new to the area or not, but if you are, I figured maybe you don’t know all the good places to eat yet. You don’t have to, obviously, but-”

“Did I hear someone mention food?” Renee said, popping her head out of the storage room. “We would love to, right?”

She smiled innocently up at Jean, annoyance flashing across his face for a moment before he regained his neutral expression. “Fine.” Then he added, “I am new in town. I’m not familiar with the area.”

“Hey, if you want, I’m also available for free guided tours. And I can introduce you to some of my friends if you don’t really know anyone here. I’ve been here a while, but I remember moving here and not knowing anyone but Laila and Alvarez; it can be tough.”

“I’ll think about it,” Jean said, noncommittally.

Jeremy shrugged and smiled at them both. “Is 12 good for lunch? I have about two hours free between clients then.”

“That sounds great,” Renee said grinning at Jeremy in return.

“Well, I’ll leave you guys alone now, see you later!” Jeremy turned and waved at them over his shoulder as he left to return to his own store.


 

Jeremy was helping Laila clean up after their last clients before their lunch break when Renee entered the shop, followed closely by Jean.

“Heys, guys! You can go ahead and make yourselves comfortable, we’re almost done,” Laila called out, wiping down the last of her station.

She and Jeremy walked into the waiting room where Renee and Jean were sitting on the two armchairs near the coffee table and couch. Alvarez soon joined them and asked, “So, what are you guys thinking for lunch? We were gonna order before you got here but we decided to just wait and ask what you wanted. So, Thai, American, Greek, none of the above?” She looked from Jean to Renee as she took a seat on the couch, pulling Laila down with her. Jeremy took the remaining space on the couch, next to Alvarez with Jean on his other side.

“Greek sounds alright to me if that’s what everyone else wants,” Renee said as she tucked her legs underneath her.

“Oh, I was hoping you would say that. There’s this great place that delivers, and it’s only like five minutes away…” Laila was rubbing her hands together, already getting ready to place their order.

After the food was ordered, as they waited for it to be delivered, Alvarez turned to Jean and Renee. “So. You guys are new to the area. What brought you here, exactly?”

Renee glanced at Jean, then responded, “Well… It’s a nice area, isn’t it? And there aren’t too many flower shops around here already so it’s not too competitive. Personally, I also think Jean could use a little bit of California sun.” She smiled softly, nudging Jean’s elbow with her own.

“Do you work with Jean or are you just here until he’s settled?” Jeremy asked, looking curiously between them.

“I live just a bit upstate, but I’m staying here until Jean has everything all set up. I know he doesn’t need me to,” she said, with the tone of someone who has had many conversations about this already, “But I still wanted to help however I can.”

“So what do you do back home?” Laila asked.

“I work for a nonprofit. We help organize sports teams for kids from, uh, not great homes. We also do fundraisers, that kind of thing.”

“Woah, really? Although I can’t say I’m surprised to hear you do charity work,” Alvarez said, smiling.

“Can I ask why you decided to become a florist, Jean?” Jeremy asked, looking directly at Jean this time.

Jean stared back for a moment, considering, then said, quietly, “I’m not sure, exactly. I guess it was as different from my old job as I could get.”

His words were said with little inflection, impassively, but Jeremy got the feeling it wasn’t just because he got bored sitting in a cubicle all day.

“Why did you all become tattoo artists?” Jean asked, although Jeremy wasn’t entirely sure whether it was curiosity that motivated the question or if he just wanted to steer the conversation away from himself.

“Jeremy and I went to highschool together, actually,” Laila began, “and we were in some of the same classes, including art. I think we both just kinda agreed that it would be pretty fucking cool, I guess? I mean designing something to go on someone’s body forever, especially when it has some special meaning to them? So after high school we got an apprenticeship together, and Alvarez was apprenticing with us. That’s how the golden trio all got together, and later we opened up this place.”

“And you two are dating, it looks like?” Renee said, smiling at Laila and Alvarez.

“Aw, shit, what gave it away?” Laila said, pulling Alvarez in tighter. “We thought we were being so discreet.”

“We really don’t like to go around flaunting our relationship,” Alvarez said as she pressed a kiss to Laila’s cheek.

“God, stop it, you two are making me sick! Honestly!” Jeremy said, throwing up his hands and getting up off the couch.

“Oh, hush. He’s just jealous because he hasn’t had a boyfriend in ages,” Alvarez said, winking at Jean. Jeremy narrowed his eyes at her and her lack of subtlety; she might as well have said, “Hey, Jean, by the way, Jeremy has a massive boner for you.” He glanced at Jean for a moment, but saw no discernible change in his expression. Renee, on the other hand, was grinning widely, and Jeremy held back a groan.

The food arrived and the conversation continued as Jeremy went to grab the bags and bring them to the table for everyone, reclaiming his seat on the couch.

“Do you have a special someone, Renee?” Alvarez asked, ridiculously wiggling her eyebrows at her, causing the pastel haired girl to laugh.

“I do, actually. Allison Reynolds. We’ve been together since college,” she said, smiling shyly. Alvarez gave Jeremy the most blatant I told you so look Jeremy had ever received, and he groaned.

“Alvarez doesn’t know the meaning of subtlety, Renee, I apologize on her behalf. Actually, can i just go ahead and apologize for all future embarrassments both of them cause? They live to torment me, honestly,” Jeremy laughed, grinning cheekily at the pair of girlfriends.

“Oh come off it, you know that’s why you love us, asshole,” Laila said, smacking Jeremy’s arm.

“What about you, Jean? Seeing anybody?” Laila asked in what she may have thought was a nonchalant manner, but made Jeremy want to physically cringe.

“No.”

His answer didn’t provide much invitation for follow ups, so they steered the conversation away from their romantic lives towards more neutral topics. They talked about Exy for a bit, as they had all played during high school at least, discussed some aspects about owning a business, and talked about some of the shows they were all watching. Jeremy may have spent more than his fair share of questions on Jean, but it seemed as though the man was disinclined to share unless he was directly addressed. Jeremy didn’t want to say that he was unfriendly, but he hadn’t warmed to the group yet and Jeremy wanted to do what he could to make him feel included and comfortable.

Okay, so he also really wanted to get to know all these things about Jean, like the fact that he didn’t have a TV in his apartment yet because he preferred books anyway, or that he grew up in France, oh so that explains his accent, or that he’s actually a really good cook, and maybe half of these things were actually told by Renee, but the other half was things Jean himself shared with Jeremy. Well, with Jeremy and Laila and Alvarez, but still.


 

It was an hour later when they finished their lunch and Renee and Jean were getting up to go back to their own shop. As they were leaving, Renee said they should all exchange numbers, and handed her phone over to the three friends. Jean stood stoically to the side as Renee made a group chat with the five of them so they would all have each other’s contact. They said their goodbyes and then Renee and Jean were leaving with a smile and wave from the former, and a polite nod from the latter. Laila laughed and nudged Alvarez so that she would glance over at Jeremy, who was watching through the window as Jean walked across the sidewalk.

“Oh you poor thing,” Laila said, patting Jeremy’s head.

“What?”

“You have such a crush.”

“Maybe I have a little crush,” Jeremy said, knowing that denying it completely would be pointless, “but it’s not that bad.”

“You’ve talked to him… twice? And you spent all of lunch looking at him with big heart eyes trying to get him to join the conversation. Which was sweet, don’t get me wrong, but damn, when you crush on someone, you crush hard and fast.”

“First of all, please get your innuendos out of here, second of all… I am a very passionate person, okay? It’s just my nature. It doesn’t mean anything.”

“I mean, if you say so…” Alvarez raised her eyebrows and turned away, snickering.

“Hey, we got your back. I just wish you could’ve chosen to crush on someone less broody,” Laila said. At Jeremy’s glare she shrugged and added, “Part of his charm, I’m sure. Whatever. We all have a type.”

Chapter Text

The day after, Jeremy, Laila, and Alvarez were all eating dinner together in Jeremy’s apartment. More takeout, because Jeremy was a disaster in the kitchen no matter how much he tried to help people prepare meals, so his pantry wasn’t as well stocked as it could have been. Jeremy was exhausted after dealing with some of his more opinionated clients that day, but he still kept occasionally checking his phone, restless.

After the third time, Alvarez put down her plastic fork and turned her attention from her fried rice to him. “You know, he doesn’t strike me as the type of guy who would text first. Or are you at least waiting for a response?”

“Who doesn’t? What?”

Alvarez and Laila both levelled him with a stare for a few moments before Jeremy sighed. “Right. Jean. Of course. How do you know I wasn’t waiting for a call from a client or something?” he asked weakly, trying to avoid the topic of his newfound crush.

“Are we going to dignify that with a response?” Laila glanced to Alvarez, who solemnly shook her head.

“Ok, so yeah, I’m waiting for a text from Jean. But it’s not as pathetic as it looks, I swear. Here,” he said to the two as he took his phone from the table and handed it to them, a conversation already open on the screen.

Jeremy: my offer for a tour still stands, if ur up for it :-P

Jean: sure

Jeremy: nice!!

when did u wanna go?

Jean: whenever works well for you is fine

Jeremy: are u free fri afternoon then?

Jean: that sounds fine

Jeremy: cool, ill see u then :-)

 

The conversation ended there, and there were no new messages from Jean. “Wow. Jean texts just like he talks,” Alvarez muttered. She handed the phone back to Jeremy.

“There’s a really distressing lack of emojis on Jean’s part, I’d say. Are we sure he’s human?” Laila asked, tapping her chin.

“Those messages are all from yesterday, and he hasn’t texted me at all since then. Isn’t it like an unspoken rule that whoever texted first last time doesn’t have to the next time? What if he’s just humoring me, but he really just wants me to get the hint and leave him alone?” Jeremy sighed again, propping his head up on his hand.

“Well, whether or not he texts you again, you only have to wait til tomorrow to try and get a feel for whether or not he’s like, an asshole or just an unenthusiastic texter,” Alvarez said to him.

“Yeah, I know I’m just being ridiculous. But, I mean, have you seen him? With his face and his shoulders ,” Jeremy said despairingly, throwing his arms out. Laila and Alvarez exchanged a glance as they tried not to laugh, and Laila patted him on the back.

“Chill out, Knox. Anybody who doesn’t want to fuck you is crazy,” Alvarez said with a snicker as she pulled out her phone and shot off a text. She looked back up to Laila and smiled wickedly at her girlfriend, who continued to console their friend from where he had moved his head to rest on the table.


 

The next day, after Jeremy finished up with a client who insisted on a Fred Flintstone tattoo for reasons he couldn’t begin to fathom, he ran back up to his apartment, passing by Laila who shot him a wink and thumbs up, to choose an outfit suitable for an outing with Jean. An outing, of course, not a date or anything, so there was no need to overthink what he was going to wear, honestly he could just keep on the clothes he had now, and oh who am I kidding of course I’m going to overthink everything about this.

“Should I text Laila and Alvarez for advice? They’d make fun of me forever, but…” Jeremy’s muttering trailed off as he stepped in front of his wardrobe.

All the options seemed daunting at first, but once he started combing through his shirts he suddenly felt as though he didn’t own a single decent article of clothing. Sighing to himself, he sat back on his bed and opened the chat with his two friends.

 

Jeremy: i need clothes advice :((((

Alvarez: pathetic

Jeremy: dont bully me just tell me what i should wear!!!! >:-(

Alvarez: lmao calm down my dude ur hot no matter what ;^***

Laila: u should wear ur red henley with the jeans u had on this morning

henley + skinny jeans + ur killer ass = damnnnnn boy ;)))

Jeremy: thnx ily ur the best <333

 

Jeremy threw his phone on the bed and quickly grabbed the henley Laila suggested from his drawers. Throwing it on, he glanced behind him and saw his phone screen lit up with a couple text notifications from Alvarez and Jean. He opened the text from Alvarez first, seeing a good luck text with an obscene amount of water drop emojis. He quickly responded and then thumbed over to the new text from Jean, feeling his heart speed up embarrassingly.

 

Jean: are you coming here or should i go to your shop

Jeremy: on my way over now :)

 

He grinned to himself as he bounded back down the stairs and through the shop, once again passing by Laila. She called out, “Good luck on your not date,” and winked, making Jeremy laugh as he waved behind him, pulling open the door. He made the short walk to the florist’s doors and listened to faint chime as he pushed the door open and stepped inside. He took a small breath and then smiled brightly as he walked toward the counter where Jean was leaning, tapping on his phone.

“Hey! You ready to go out on the town?” Jeremy asked, grinning more widely at Jean.

“Lead the way,” the man replied as he slipped his phone back in his pocket and stepped away from the counter.

“Great! So, have you eaten lunch yet?”

Chapter Text

As they left, Renee came downstairs from, presumably, Jean’s apartment. Waving, she said, “Have fun, guys! I’ll keep the shop safe for you, Jean.”

“I told you you didn’t need to. You can come too, if you want,” Jean replied, crossing his arms.

“Yeah, it’s gonna be fun! Why don’t you join us?”

Jeremy did really like Renee, and they had texted a few times since lunch a few days ago, but he was secretly hoping she would deny the invitation, as it would give him the chance to spend the afternoon with Jean alone.

Maybe she sensed the slight insincerity in Jeremy’s invitation, although he liked to think he didn’t give anything away, but she politely refused. “No, thanks. La Jonquille’s only just open, I’ll stay here and help anyone that comes by. You boys try to have fun without me,” she said. Giving Jean an innocent smile, she added, “I’m sure you’ll manage.”

“If you’re sure.”

“We’ll see you later, then. I’ll bring him home safe, don’t worry,” Jeremy laughed, and headed towards the door.

“Bye, boys!”


 

Jeremy led Jean through the streets of the downtown area both their shops were situated in, pointing towards different buildings with words such as, “They have the best teriyaki around, I swear,” and, “If you go there, you should talk to the manager. But only if you have a while. She has the best stories, but they’re always really long.” Every building the passed seemed to have someone Jeremy knew, or an anecdote to share with Jean. There wasn’t a hole in the wall that he had yet to explore, his naturally outgoing and curious nature leading him to make friends everywhere he went.

Jeremy really loved the area, loved how close it was to the mountains, loved all the people and shops surrounding him, and he got a bit carried away in relaying that Jean. Pausing in front of a cafe, not Jeremy’s usual place, but a nice one a few blocks away, Jeremy turned to Jean.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to, like, domineer the entire conversation. I got a bit carried away, but feel free to just cut me off whenever that happens, I won’t mind, I kind of tend to ramble sometimes,” Jeremy chuckled, glancing up at Jean.

“No, it’s fine. Your stories were…” Jean hesitated, searching for the right word. “Interesting,” he finished lamely.

Jeremy, brightening up at his words, said, “Well, I figured we could stop here for some coffee, maybe get food if you’re hungry?”

He tried not to overthink his own words, not wanting Jean to think he was trying to… do what exactly? Jeremy wasn’t even sure, but he felt as though Jean was slowly starting to warm up to him, and he didn’t want to ruin his chances at friendship with the man by bringing his unreciprocated crush into things. You can’t accidentally go on a date with someone, can you?

Jean brought him back out of his thoughts by saying, “That sounds good,” and Jeremy grinned, leading them into the shop.

“You can grab a table while I order, do you know what you want? The cappuccinos here are really good, so are the wraps,” Jeremy said.

Jean turned from the menu and told Jeremy what to order, all while pulling his wallet from his pocket to give Jeremy money for his food.

Jeremy waved his hand away, saying, “Nah, you’re good. I’ve got this one.”

Jean seemed ready to argue with that, but appeared to think better of it. “Alright. Thank you.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he said, flashing a grin.


 

He placed their order and turned, seeing Jean already sitting down at one of the small tables by the window. Jean was texting as he approached, but he set his phone back on the table as Jeremy sat down across from him.

Jeremy smiled at him, but he paused, unsure of how to continue the conversation. Jeremy wasn’t the best with awkward silences, and as the lull in conversation continued, he grew less confident. Jean seemed equally unsure of what to say, and Jeremy decided he may as well ask about something that had intrigued him about the man since they met just about a week ago.

“I’ve wanted to ask,” Jeremy said, tapping his thumb to his cheekbone, “about this.” Jeremy knew that sometimes tattoos had personal stories, and worried that Jean might see the question as invasive, but as a tattoo artist himself, Jeremy couldn’t help but wonder, especially since it was on a place as visible as Jean’s cheekbone. “If it’s not something you wanna share, that’s completely fine. But a while ago, this guy came in, like, completely wasted, and had me do a cover up for one just like yours. Kevin, I think it was. Do you know him?” Jeremy rambled on, letting his nervousness lead his tongue away from.

At the mention of Kevin’s name, Jean paled and froze. Taking a few shallow breaths, he attempted to regain his typical unaffected composure, but Jeremy realized that line of questioning had struck a chord with him, enough so to make the stoic man lose his composure, if only for a few moments. It had been stupid to ask, and he regretted it immediately.

He scrambled to take back his words, rushing out, ”No, sorry, I shouldn’t have even asked, that was a dumb question, don’t even worry-”

His rambling apology was, fortunately or unfortunately, Jeremy couldn’t decide, interrupted by the barista carrying out a tray with their orders on it. Jeremy thanked him, giving Jean a moment to fully collect himself, before turning back to him.

“You don’t need to apologize,” Jean began, looking Jeremy in the eye, “I shouldn’t have reacted so severely.” Jean seemed to struggle to get those words out, letting out a tiny frustrated sigh. “But I would prefer not to talk about it.”

He could clearly see that Jean’s frustration wasn’t directed at Jeremy, but at himself, and Jeremy gave him a small, sympathetic smile.

“Yeah, sure, sure. Of course, man,” he said, smiling even wider at Jean. He grasped for words, something to say to smooth over the conversation and return them to safer waters, but Jean beat him to it.

“Are you sure that’s enough sugar for you,” he said dryly, eyes flicking to Jeremy’s meal, which consisted of a sugary cinnamon pastry and a caffe mocha, extra chocolate.

Jeremy laughed brightly, saying, “Okay, mom. How about this, when I get home, I’ll make sure to eat extra carrots and shit, just for you.”

Jean huffed out a small laugh, looking down at his own plate. Jeremy felt warmth spread through him at the sound, feeling his heart beat just that much faster because of it. He grinned once again, relieved at the fact that his fumble earlier hadn’t just ruined the entire outing with Jean. He could still feel the weight of some unsaid words between them, but knew better than to bring it up. He would rather have Jean share it at his own pace than to only tell Jeremy about it because he felt obligated or pressured to do so.

After that, conversation was able to flow more easily between them, although Jeremy still carried more of the conversation than Jean. Jeremy was beginning to see that Jean’s original standoffishness was due, in part, to his natural inclination to observe rather than comment. He appreciated that quality in Jean, if only because he often felt as though he lacked it himself, always wanting to strike up a conversation and often letting his excitement get the best of him, causing him to ramble. Jean never seemed to mind, though, always listening intently to his words. And the fact that he was less talkative than Jeremy simply caused him to hang onto every last detail Jean shared with him, the words feeling more precious and valuable to him given how sparingly they were offered up.

Their conversation eventually lead them to talk about their childhoods, as Jeremy had mentioned his siblings, naturally leading him to enthusiastically tell Jean about a particularly disastrous trip to the beach he went on with his family when he was younger.

“How many siblings do you have?” Jean asked curiously after another mention of a seemingly endless supply of Knoxes.

Jeremy smiled wide at the question, always eager to talk about his family. “Four. I’m the oldest, and then there’s Nolan, who’s 23, Sophia, who’s 19, Leandra, who’s 17, and our baby brother, Tanner, who just turned 14.” He laughed a little to himself before adding, “I feel bad for Mom, we were the worst kids. I don’t know how she handles all these teenagers at once, honestly, she must have superpowers or something. But what about you?”

“I’m an only child. I grew up in Marseille with my parents… At least before I, uh, moved to the States.” Jean faltered over his words at the end, and they were faintly tinted with sadness, maybe nostalgia. Jeremy’s smile slipped a bit at the corners before he brightened back up, knowing that pity wasn’t something Jean would want from him.

“That must’ve been a hard transition for you, moving overseas. Do you get to see your family much?”

Jean snorted, before glancing up at Jeremy, looking almost surprised at his own sudden reaction. “Not really, no.”

Jeremy made a sympathetic noise and replied, “I know how much that can suck. I only get the chance to go back home for longer than a weekend for holidays, and my family only lives in northern California, I can’t imagine how hard it must be to visit family overseas.”

Jean nodded stiffly, then said, “I guess it’s hard to leave the shop unattended for such long periods of time.”

“I trust Laila and Alvarez to look after it, but they have their own relatives to go visit, too, you know? Plus, we tend to get a lot of bookings on holiday breaks. It gets kinda hectic,” Jeremy chuckled. “I can’t imagine how chaotic your shop is going to get with the holidays. I know there’s still, what, like two months? But I’d start mentally and emotionally preparing yourself now.”

Jean quirked an eyebrow, giving Jeremy an unimpressed look, and said, deadpan, “I think I’ll survive.”

“You say that now, but…” he trailed off, raising his eyebrows at Jean with a mock serious expression, before breaking back out into a smile. “Nah, if anyone can handle it, you can.”


 

They left the cafe soon after that, carrying their conversation on the way back to their respective shops. Jeremy followed Jean into La Jonquille, and they turned to each other.

“Thanks for showing me around.”

Jeremy smiled up at Jean, trying to calm the jittery feeling in his stomach at those words, then said, “No problem. I had a good time-we should do it again.” Jeremy almost cringed at his own words, realising too late that sounded just like something people say after a date, which that definitely wasn’t, nevermind the nervous feeling Jeremy got just being around Jean, or the fact that when Jean had laughed earlier, he had honestly felt his heart speed up a little, and that was just a small laugh, barely a chuckle, he couldn’t imagine how he could possibly handle hearing Jean laugh a real, full body laugh, the kind that you can’t help from bubbling up, and oh no, Jean just said something to him didn’t he?

Yeah, fuck, he did. Jean was looking at Jeremy like he expected him to respond, and Jeremy floundered for a second before responding eloquently, “Wait, what?”

Jeremy saw the corner of Jean’s mouth quirk up, barely noticeable, as he replied, “I said Renee is leaving soon, and I’m sure she’ll want to see you and your friends before she goes.”

“Aw, Jean, if you wanted to hang out with us, all you had to do was ask,” Jeremy crooned, trying to contain a laugh.

Jean stared, deadpan, before Jeremy relented with a snort. “Alright, alright. You make grown men cower before your gaze, Jean Moreau. This Saturday night is movie night for us, up at my apartment, you guys should join us. I’ll even let you guys pick the movie,” Jeremy added with a wink. Or an attempt at a wink, at least.

Jean raised his eyebrows then said, “That sounds good. I’ll let Renee know.”

“I’ll text you the details later, then. See you!” Jeremy said, giving Jean one last smile and a wave, before he turned and returned to his own shop.

Chapter Text

Jeremy lost himself in his work sometimes, the act of designing a new tattoo for someone incredibly cathartic to him. He was especially known for his more abstract designs, loving to create vibrant, living pieces. He would sometimes sit down and fill pages of his sketchbook at a time, combining geometric and natural, curving lines to create dynamic designs. When things felt stressful, or he needed a way to ease his racing thoughts, or just when he needed an outlet for all his restless energy, he often turned to his sketchbook to help.

That was what he was doing on Saturday, having already met with his last client, who had just commissioned Jeremy for one of his designs. He sat cross legged on one of the chairs, typically reserved for those getting their tattoo done, and was bent forward over the sketchbook in his lap. He was somewhat relieved at the opportunity to get lost in his work like this, as he had been beginning to feel anxious at the thought of Jean coming to his apartment that night. He had been rethinking their conversation from the cafe, and couldn’t stop himself from wondering about the tattooed three on Jean’s cheekbone. He felt almost guilty, pondering it like that, when he knew that Jean wasn’t comfortable talking about it, but he couldn’t stop his racing thoughts, his imagination running away from him as he guessed at all the reasons Jean had the tattoo, and why Kevin’s name had made the man react like that.

Glancing up at the clock, Jeremy saw that he had spent an hour on the design without realizing, and that Jean, and all the others, would be showing up soon. He sighed and got up, stretching out the muscles that had gotten tense in his back from the position he had been sitting in, getting ready to La Jonquille to get his neighbors.


 

Jeremy opened up the door to his apartment with Renee and Jean in tow saying, “It’s only called movie night on a technicality. We always just end up talking over the movie like, ten minutes in.”

Renee laughed at that and said, “That’s fine, our friends are the same way.”

Jeremy grinned at her and Jean and led them further into his apartment, where Laila and Alvarez had already taken up residence on the couch. Connor had already arrived as well, and raised his can to them in greeting from where he had sunk into Jeremy’s plush armchair.

“I’m Connor, who I’m sure you’ve already heard much about.”

“Not a thing,” Jean said dryly, startling a laugh out of Jeremy.

Connor raised a hand to his chest and said, “Jeremy, how could you? I’m your dearest friend.” He gave Jeremy big puppy dog eyes and added, “You can repay me by getting us pizza, since your fridge is a barren wasteland. And by that I mean I already ordered pizza, but when it comes you can pay for.”

Jeremy rolled his eyes and gestured to the two behind him, “ Anyways , this is Renee and Jean.”

“Hey, guys!” Alvarez said, “Don’t mind Connor. We’ve all learned to ignore him.”

“Hey!”

“Jordan was going to be here, too, but he ditched us for a hot date instead.”

Renee laughed and sat where Laila had patted the couch in invitation, greeting her friends as she did.

“Guess we’re taking the floor then,” Jeremy said, looking to Jean.


 

They all got settled and, after a brief but heated debate between Alvarez and Connor, put on some action movie half of them had already seen.

As predicted, it didn’t take long for them to lose focus on the movie, and all pretense was lost when the pizza arrived, everyone abandoning the movie in favor of conversation.

Laila and Renee were deep in an intent discussion about Renee’s job, while on the other side of the couch, Alvarez was leaning over to argue with Connor about the merits of the action movie genre, with her stance being primarily, “explosions are cool.”

Jean and Jeremy were leaning back against the couch, a few pillows and a blanket scattered on the floor around them. Jeremy shifted, trying to get more comfortable, while Jean’s attention was still somehow on the movie rather than the conversations around them. Jeremy noted the small distance between them and his stomach fluttered at the proximity, realizing that if he inched his hand just a bit to the side, he and Jean would basically be holding hands.

Jeremy shook his head little, chasing away those thoughts, and twisted to face Jean. “How’s La Jonquille been doing?”

Jean’s attention shifted from the screen to him and he replied, “Good. Renee insisted on a website weeks ago, so we had orders before we opened.”

“That’s cool! The shop looks amazing, so I’m sure you draw people in all the time.”

Jean nodded, then shot a glance around the room, noting how everyone else was apparently absorbed in their own conversation. Clearing his throat, he said, “I’m sorry for the other day. I know I made things uncomfortable. I was just caught off guard.”

Jeremy flashed Jean a smile, nodding. “Don’t worry about it. It was my fault for bringing it up, anyways.”

“You didn’t know. It’s fine.”

Jeremy shot Jean another grin as silence settled between them again, and Jeremy shifted, uncomfortable. He tried to think of a new topic, something to take their minds off the incident at the cafe, but felt himself blanking.

Sitting close enough to smell Jean’s body wash was not conducive to higher thought processes, it seemed.

“I, uh, never asked you how you and Renee know each other. You guys seem pretty close, do you know her from school or something?”

Jeremy noticed Jean’s eyes crinkle slightly at the corners at the mention of Renee, the barest hint of a smile brightening his features. “No. We only met around a year ago, I think. Although in that time she has become my closest friend… I met her through a, ah, friend of mine, when I needed a place to stay. I worked with her at the charity for some time, and we became friends quickly.”

Jean’s answers were typically restrained to a sentence or less, and seeing him speak of his friend so fondly made Jeremy grin with a warm feeling in his stomach.

“So you guys were roommates, too, then?”

“For a while. But then Allison asked Renee to move in with her. It was probably for the best. I need to adjust to living on my own, and I’m very happy for her.” Jean looked down at his lap with a slight smile. He snorted and added, “She thinks I should get a pet, to help with the transition.”

“Jean,” Jeremy began seriously, causing Jean to look over to him, “you have to promise me, promise me that if you get a pet, you’ll let me come over and pet it. All the time. Especially if it’s a dog.”

Jean’s expression, which had become serious at Jeremy’s tone, relaxed as he snorted. “Of course.”

“I can even help you name it. I’m great at naming pets. I once had a fish named Sir Quinn the Bubbly. Also, I’m calling dibs on being the godfather right now, so don’t even think about giving that title to anyone else. Don’t worry though, I promise that if anything happens to you, I’ll raise them as I would my own.”

“I would expect nothing less. Keep my memory alive,” Jean said solemnly.

At his response, Jeremy couldn’t help but let his serious expression fall away as he broke into a laugh. Glancing to Jean, he saw that the man’s face had broken out into a smirk, the biggest smile Jeremy had seen on him yet.

The way his smile, even such a small one, lit up his face, causing his eyes to crinkle and shine, made Jeremy’s breath catch, and he had to stop himself from staring. Looking down at his lap, he coughed and said, “I wasn’t kidding about letting me pet whatever animal you get, although I do kinda see you as more of a cat person…”

Jeremy trailed off as he tapped his chin thoughtfully, “Or maybe, like, one of those huge ass lizards. The bearded dragons! I can totally imagine you taking one of those for a walk around the neighborhood…” He snickered at the mental image his words produced, and his eyes darted back to Jean, who was giving him a truly awe-inspiring unimpressed look.

He laughed again as he relented, “Maybe not, then.”

“Oh, come on, Connor! At least action movies are interesting! There’s fighting! And-and explosions! Rom coms are all the same boring plot about straight white people that don't know how to actually communicate!”

Jeremy and Jean were interrupted by Alvarez’s outburst, and she turned to the rest of the group.

“I’m right, right?”

“I hate to be the one to break this to you, but action movies are also all the same plot with a bunch of straight white people,” Jeremy said, turning around to face her.

“Isn’t that essentially every genre?” Jean asked, quirking an eyebrow at her.

Alvarez sunk into the couch, muttering, “Well, yeah, but at least action movies are cool .”

“Hollywood is just a really flawed industry, babe, I’m sorry,” Laila said, patting Alvarez on the knee.

Connor looked to Renee for help, saying, “C’mon, romantic comedies have their flaws, but in the end it’s a heartwarming story about two people who love each other, right, Renee?”

Renee nodded, then said diplomatically, “I don’t think one has merits over the other. It’s not really fair to compare the genres.”

Connor stuck his tongue out at Alvarez then said, “All I said was that we should watch Leap Year, man.”


 

The night continued on like that, with even Jean feeling comfortable enough with the group to chime in occasionally. He and Laila especially seemed to be getting along, but as it started getting later, Renee said she would need to be heading out soon.

Jeremy showed all the guests out, everyone saying their goodnights. Renee was the last one lingering in the doorway after she waved Jean back into the shop.

She turned to Jeremy with a smile and said, “I wanted to tell you… I was kind of worried about leaving so soon after Jean moved here. He kept saying he would be fine, that I don’t need to worry about him, but I know it’s still really hard for him to be alone. I know that he can be pretty quiet and hard to read sometimes, but he actually really likes you. I actually don’t think he’s ever warmed up to someone so quickly… And I’m just really glad that I know I’m leaving him with some friends that’ll have his back when I can’t.”

Her words sent warmth through Jeremy’s body, and he felt his cheeks warm with a slight blush. “It’s really great that he has a friend like you, you know. I can already tell you’re like family to him.”

At that, it was Renee’s turn to blush, and she smiled happily. “We have a lot in common, actually. We come from similar backgrounds, I mean. He likes to keep those things… locked away; he doesn’t really talk about it, but I can already tell having you in his life will be good for him.” She grinned up at Jean, and added, “And I want you to know, that if you ever do anything to hurt him, I will not hesitate to come back here and make what I do to you look like an accident.”

Jeremy almost laughed at her words, as they were so at odds with what he had seen of Renee so far, with her pastel hair and cross necklace, but when he saw the serious look in her eyes, the laughter died in his throat and he nodded, wide-eyed.

“Good.” With that, the look in her eyes was replaced with her usual gentle demeanor and she said, “It was great having the chance to hang out with you guys, I’m gonna visit soon!”

She waved to Jeremy as she walked back to Jean’s shop, and Jeremy waved weakly after her, turning to return to his apartment.

Chapter Text

At noon, Jeremy decided to go to La Jonquille to check in with Jean. He figured that having the only person he knew before moving here leave might be tough on him, and he suspected that Jean might be planning to work through lunch.

Laila and Alvarez both gave him a knowing look as he headed out the door, and Jeremy steadfastly ignored them as he went to a sandwich shop and picked up their food.


 

As Jeremy entered the flower shop, hearing the door chime with a tune that was quickly becoming familiar to him, he looked to the back to see Jean working behind the counter as he had suspected.

Jean had looked up when the door chimed and gave Jeremy a quizzical look as he set the large bag of food down in front of him.

“I come bearing gifts! I figured you seemed the type to forget to eat lunch, so I got us some sandwiches.”

“Did Renee tell you to do this?” Jean asked skeptically, folding his arms and leaning back slightly. The gesture made the man imposing, but considering they were talking about sandwiches, the threat was lost somewhere.

Jeremy ignored how attractive the pose made Jean look and shook his head. “But I will admit I did text her to ask what kind of sandwich to get you. I figured you’d just tell me not to trouble myself.”

Jean opened his mouth in protest, before shutting it again with a slight nod in concession. “You didn’t need to trouble yourself. But thank you. I’m sure Renee is happy there is someone here dedicated to making sure I eat lunch. Because despite being an adult, I apparently cannot be trusted to handle it myself.”

Jeremy snorted and slid Jean’s wrapped sub to him. “Look me in the eye and tell me you were going on a lunch break in the next hour.”

Jean’s lips quirked and he looked down at the sandwich in front of him, before slowly unwrapping it in concession to Jeremy’s remark.

Jeremy gave Jean a triumphant grin. “I thought so. So, what were you working on when I came in?” he asked, gesturing at a half completed bouquet resting on the counter.

“A man ordered an apology bouquet for his girlfriend. Again.”

Again ? You’ve been open for like, less than a week. How is that possible?”

“Apology bouquets are our most popular item.”

“I don’t know why that’s so surprising. This guy seems like a real gem.” Jeremy laughed.

“He’s an asshole,” Jean replied flatly, earning another startled laugh from Jeremy.

“Okay, so it seems like apology roses aren’t exactly your favorite. What kinds of bouquets do you like?”

Jean seemed thrown by the question, as though he hadn’t ever taken the time to think about it, and he took a another bite of his sub as he considered.

“I don’t like any particular occasion, I think. I’ve always liked when people spontaneously order a bouquet as a gift just because they wanted to.”

Jeremy was having really warm gay feelings for Jean right at that moment, and had to physically restrain himself from just responding, “Oh my God, I am so, so gay.”

Instead he grinned at Jean and said, “That’s… really nice. I see why you’d like making those best. But what about you ? What kinds of flowers do you like using in arrangements, what colors?”

“Oh. Well, I like daffodils, I suppose. I mean, they’re what my shop is named after, after all.”

“Oh, yeah, of course! We all google translated the shop name when you first put your sign up because none of us speak French. We weren’t even entirely sure it was French at the time, actually. I should’ve known that was obviously your favorite flower! Is there, like, any reason behind daffodils specifically? If you named your store after them, they must mean something to you, right?”

Jean seemed hesitant to answer, his eyes darting around the shop for a second as he thought. He looked back to Jeremy as he decided, and said, “Daffodils haven’t always been my favorite flower. Before, I never really had one, but when I was living with Renee and started gardening again, I was looking up flower symbolism and things along those lines… Daffodils have a special meaning, for me, and for Renee as well, I think.”

Jean looked uncomfortable, as he usually did when he shared anything that bordered on personal, and he didn’t elaborate on what that “special meaning” was. Jeremy didn’t push, as he was grateful enough that Jean decided to share that information in the first place, but he couldn’t shake his curiosity. Rather than succumb to the temptation he was feeling to ask Jean for more details, he smiled and continued the conversation on a lighter note.

“That’s really cool, man! I honestly, don’t even know that much about flowers, but my mom had all sorts in her garden. I remember she always grew marigolds, and they’ve always been my favorite.”

Maybe he was imagining it, but Jean looked a little relieved that Jeremy chose not to prod.

“We have marigolds of different colors over there,” Jean said, gesturing with his free hand to one of the racks of plants in the center of the room. “You’re free to look to see if there’s a plant you might like, no charge”

Jeremy smiled, his cheeks flushing slightly. “I couldn’t. That’s hardly good business practice is it? I mean, you just opened and you’re already giving stuff away for free?”

Jean stared at him blankly for a moment, then said, “You’ve gotten me two meals already that you insisted on paying for. Three, if you count the pizza, too. Just take a plant.”

Jeremy pretended to consider for a moment longer before he said, “I guess I can’t argue with that kind of logic. Maybe we can just resurrect the barter and trade system and I’ll get plants in exchange for food.”

Jean didn’t respond, but he flicked his eyes to the rack of plants before looking back at Jeremy with his brows raised. Jeremy got the hint and set the remainder of his sandwich down as he strode over to it.

He appraised the shelf for a moment, taking in the assortment of potted plants. The shop had a variety of marigolds, mostly orange and yellow, but there were some in red and white as well. Jeremy singled out one of the small planters of budding red marigolds and presented it proudly to Jean as he walked back over.

“Isn’t he adorable? Maybe I’ll name him Jean in honor of you.”

Jean’s shot him a look he was quickly becoming familiar with, that exasperated and unimpressed quirk of his brows, but Jeremy saw the corners of his mouth twitching slightly as he tried to contain a smile.

“You know, marigolds are usually associated with warmth and the sun. They suit you.”

Jeremy had to fight down the too-pleased expression that was threatening to take over his face as he looked over the plant. He knew people usually thought he had a rather cheerful disposition, but hearing Jean say that Jeremy reminded him of the sun and warmth was heartening, causing a fluttery feeling in his stomach, and he coughed awkwardly, looking away with a blush.

“I’m actually kinda terrible at keeping plants alive, to be honest. I’ll take good care of Lil Jean, though. I can set reminders on my phone to make sure I water him, I don’t want to commit plant infanticide again,” Jeremy chuckled, looking back over to Jean.

“Right, of course not. I wouldn’t want my generosity going to waste.”

“I will let your snide remarks slide because I don’t want to get into an argument in front of my new son, whom I love,” Jeremy said, playfully narrowing his eyes at Jean as he set his plant down on the counter and walked to the other side to hop up. As he did, he grabbed his sandwich, almost missing the fond way the Jean rolled his eyes at him with a smirk.

Jeremy nudged Jean’s shoulder with his elbow from his position on the countertop and said, “But anyways, did I tell you about this ridiculous tattoo commission someone wanted me to do? I think I was, like, morally and ethically obligated to turn them away.”


 

Later, after Jeremy got back from lunch with Jean, he was still considering his words from earlier. He had said that daffodils meant a lot to him, and to Renee, and his curiosity as to why hadn’t faded. Jeremy didn’t waste any time in commandeering the front desk’s computer from Laila, ignoring her protests as he carefully set down his new plant.

“Hey, what are you doing, man? I was working ,” she said as she crossed her arms.

“Sorry, I’m just looking something up real quick. You can have the computer back in a sec,” Jeremy said, hesitating at the search bar.

Jean had seemed reluctant to talk about the meaning behind the daffodil that made it so important, but at the same time… Surely he wouldn’t have mentioned it in the first place if he didn’t want Jeremy looking it up, right?

Jeremy shook his head a little, and continued typing. He clicked on the first link that popped up, and Laila leaned over to read over his shoulder.

“'Meaning and symbolism of narcissus slash daffodils’ Gee, Jere, I can only wonder why you’re suddenly interested in flower symbolism.”

“Maybe I was just curious, you don’t know!”

“Oh, yeah, of course, and I’m a straight,” she said, arching a brow at him.

“Okay, fine. So, maybe the reasons for this are a kind of about Jean, but you did more embarrassing things before you started dating Alvarez,” he said, glaring at her over his shoulder before he continued to read the entry.

“'Symbolizing rebirth and new beginnings, the daffodil is virtually synonymous with spring.’ Hm.”

Jeremy thought about what Jean had revealed to him about his past, about the vague way he described his time in between living in France with his parents and when he moved in with Renee. It seemed like looking up the flower meaning had left him with more questions than he had before, but he resigned himself to not getting the answers any time soon. Jean would tell him in his own time, when he felt comfortable with it. As much as Jeremy wanted to, he wouldn’t push him for explanation.

“Ooooh, mysterious ,” Laila murmured, only somewhat sarcastically, from behind him, pushing him out of the way of the computer so she could resume her work.

Chapter Text

After that day, lunch started to become a bit of a routine for them. Jeremy would pick up some food for them, sometimes asking Jean what he wanted and sometimes choosing one of his own favorites to surprise him with, Jean would try to pay for his own food, and then Jeremy would refuse payment, leading him to return to his apartment with a new plant or a flower that he would take and press between the pages of some encyclopedia he found. As a result, Jeremy’s small terrace was overflowing with plants and the few shelves in his living room were at capacity, which Laila and Alvarez both noted with great amusement. Despite their teasing, he was still incredibly proud of his growing collection, as he had yet to have killed more than two of the plants, which he and his friends gave proper funerals to.

Jeremy was also happy to note that Jean was coming to their movie nights more often, and was seemingly getting much more comfortable with Jeremy’s small, close-knit group. Jean had gotten the chance to finally meet Jay as well, and the two seemed to get on well enough, but Jeremy couldn’t help but laugh at the way Jean’s deadpan remarks always went straight over Jay’s head. He couldn’t help but feel a small swell of pride at how well Jean was settling in, despite his reserved manner.

Mostly, though, Jeremy was pleased at how well he and Jean were getting along. While Jeremy was quick to consider someone his friend, he could tell that Jean had grown comfortable around him too, and he felt it was safe to say the other man considered him one as well.

Jeremy was thinking about this, while devoutly ignoring the accompanying thoughts about how nice Jean’s mouth looked when he gave Jeremy that exasperated half-smile he was so familiar with by now, as he watered the many plants now scattered across his home. He smiled as he looked around, admiring all the plants that were blooming and healthy as a result of his studious care. And about four different notifications he set up on his phone to remind him to actually water them every day. But still.

As he flopped down onto his couch after he finished with the plants, he felt his phone vibrate with a new text notification. Fishing it out, he saw that Jean had texted him, and his stomach did a tiny flip. Which was not something he would ever admit because he was a grown adult and did not react like a teenager to his crush texting him. Whatever.

 

Jean: renee’s birthday is next week and i need help to find her a gift

Jeremy: !!!!

why is this the first im hearing about this!!!!!

ofc ill help tho!!

Jean: thanks. are you free now?

Jeremy: yea totally!! if u give me like five minutes i can be over there :-D

Jean: okay. ill let you in when you get here

 

 

Jeremy felt his heart speed up with panic as he looked down at his pajama bottoms. He had only just gotten up to his apartment and changed into his sweats. Would it be too pathetic to search for a new outfit?

Jeremy groaned to himself and shook his head. He was over thinking this, he knew that, just like he knew that he was being ridiculous for nothing. Jean wouldn’t care what clothes he showed up in, and wearing those jeans that Alvarez claimed did wonders for his ass wouldn’t change the fact that Jean didn’t have feelings for him, anyways.

But… It couldn’t hurt either, could it?

Making up his mind, Jeremy quickly scrambled for the jeans strewn haphazardly across his bed and stripped out of his pajama bottoms to put them on. He quickly moved out of his room and jogged down the stairs to the front. He just barely remembered to lock the front doors behind him as he crossed the short distance to La Jonquille, smiling widely as he saw Jean straightening up a row of planters in the display window.

Jean looked up as Jeremy approached and his features brightened almost imperceptibly, which for Jean was like a bright smile. Jeremy pushed open the doors to the familiar jingle of the bell and Jean strode over to him.

“Thanks for coming over so quickly. I didn’t mean to make you come by if you had something else you needed to be doing.”

“Hey, it’s no problem, man! I wasn’t gonna do anything except watch Project Runway reruns, anyway. Plus, I’ll need to get Renee a gift, too. We’ve been talking a lot and she’s never even mentioned it to me!”

Jeremy wasn’t surprised by that fact, to be perfectly honest. It seemed like Renee to not want people making a fuss over her, but Jeremy reveled in every opportunity to make a fuss over his friends. And even though they hadn’t seen each other in person for a month, not since Renee had helped Jean move in, he still considered her such.

“She probably didn’t want you to feel obligated to get her anything. Or maybe she assumed I’d end up telling you, anyway.”

Jean turned them towards the back of the shop to the door leading to the stairs and Jeremy shrugged up at Jean as they walked and grinned lopsidedly. “Probably. But I am definitely getting her a gift. In fact, I think I might be coming up with a pretty good one right now…”

Jeremy smiled again, this time with a wicked glint in his eye, and Jean rolled his eyes at him.

“Well, I’m sure she’ll love whatever you get her.”

“What, you’re not curious?” Jeremy asked as they reached the stairs and Jean led them up.

“Based on the look on your face, I don’t think I want to know,” Jean replied, quirking up an eyebrow at him. Jeremy noticed the corner of Jean’s lip twitching as he tried to contain a smile, though, and he laughed.

“Fair… But anyways, what are you getting her? Do you have any ideas already or…?”

Jeremy let the question hang in the air as he took in the sheepish look on Jean’s face.

“Well… I have some ideas but. I’ve never really… done birthdays. Not since I was little at least, and, uh, last year I wasn’t really… I wasn’t exactly in a fit state to celebrate her birthday with her. She spent it helping me, actually. I guess I want to get a nice gift for her to try and repay her in a small way.”

Jean fiddled with the doorknob for a moment to avoid Jeremy’s eyes and then swung the door open, gesturing Jeremy forward and closing the door behind them.

Jeremy considered asking Jean about what he meant about not being “in a fit state.” It was one of the rare moments that Jean alluded to his life before, with the same level of vagueness he always used. In the time Jeremy had known him, he had let very little actual information about his past slip. All he could actually gather from what Jean had told him so far was that he had moved to West Virginia alone when he was only fourteen and he hasn’t spoken to his parents since then, but he had no idea why . After that, Jeremy barely knew anything except that about a year and a half ago something must have happened, something terrible that Jean didn’t want to talk about, probably involving that Kevin guy he refused to talk about, and then he met Renee and moved in with her while he worked in a flower shop before moving here. It felt like most of Jean’s life was a mystery to Jeremy, and he was being teased with these tiny tidbits of information, especially in contrast to home much Jean must know about him by now. Admittedly, that was because Jeremy let his mouth run away with him more often than not, but still.

Jeremy wasn’t sure if Jean would want him to ask, and he was afraid of making him uncomfortable or bringing up bad memories, but it also felt like maybe Jean wanted to talk about it and he didn’t know how. Or maybe Jeremy was reading too much into this.

He played with the pocket of his jeans as he followed Jean to the connected living room and kitchen, which, as he suspected, mirrored the layout of his apartment, although it was much more sparsely decorated.

“Um… You know, if you ever wanted to talk? About whatever it is that happened, I’m here to listen. Not that you have to tell me anything, of course, but um, yeah. I just wanted to put that out there,” Jeremy finished lamely, shooting Jean a little half grin as the other man’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.

Jean blinked, then said, “Okay. I mean. I will.”

It was a more heartening response than Jeremy was expecting. He had been afraid when he asked that Jean would brush it off or, even worse, put back up all the walls that Jeremy felt like he was slowly getting through.

His response turned Jeremy’s awkward half smile into a genuine one, and he said, “That offer stands for as long as you want it to. Now, what are these gift ideas of yours?”

Chapter Text

Those ideas, as it turns out, were nonexistent. Jeremy was able to gather as much from Jean’s sheepish, half-hearted answers that revealed next to nothing about what he wanted to get Renee.

It was clearly important to Jean that he somehow find the perfect gift, something nice and thoughtful and just on this side of expensive, which was the problem. He knew he wanted an amazing gift, so he felt like all the possibilities were coming up short.

“I think you’re overthinking this, dude. She’s your best friend, so she’ll love anything you get her, to be honest. It’s the thought that counts and all that jazz,” Jeremy said, nudging Jean with his elbow as they sat on the couch, looking for inspiration on Jean’s laptop.

Jean breathed out a small sigh. “I know. I just… want something to show her how much I appreciate everything she’s done for me.”

Jeremy grinned over at him, fondness warming his chest as he realized how deeply Jean cared for Renee. Jean was not one to display his emotions, and he certainly wasn’t one to open up to a lot of people, but he and Renee had clearly formed a close bond over the time they had known each other.

If Jeremy was being honest, he found it adorable how much thought Jean was putting into this gift, especially when he crinkled his brow ever so slightly and worked his bottom lip between his teeth as he thought… Well. That wasn’t the point.

“Umm… Renee mentioned that she and Allison were looking for a new place, right? Maybe you could get her something for whenever they move in?”

Jean looked up from the computer at that with a thoughtful expression. Turning to face Jeremy, he saw a small smirk forming on his lips as he said, “That’s true… and one of the things she mentioned was that they were considering a couple of apartments that allow pets.”

Jeremy’s face broke out into a wide smile as he considered that.

“Getting someone a pet as a gift is a risky move… but I think you might be onto something.”

“Renee has mentioned quite a few times how she’s always wanted a cat, but her apartment now doesn’t allow them. She’s gone into extensive detail about what kind of cat she’d get and what she’d name it.”

“That sounds like her,” Jeremy said, smothering a laugh, “So are we settled then? I can’t believe how easy that was, yet you were having a crisis over it all.”

Jean shot him a withering look at that, but Jeremy could tell he was holding back a smile.

“Thank you for coming over to help me with my crisis , anyways.”

“Like I said, anytime. I’m always happy to help out my favorite florist,” Jeremy winked, then started to push himself up off the couch. “I guess I should get back to my own place, then. But you better make sure I’m there when you’re picking out the cat for Renee. I never waste a chance to see kittens.”

Before he finished the sentence, though, Jean was reaching up and said, “Wait! I mean, uh, you don’t need to leave right now, if you don’t want to. We can just, uh, hang out here for a bit… If you wanted to, I mean.”

Jeremy looked down in surprise, noting the dusting of pink across Jean’s cheeks and flushing in satisfaction.

Lowering himself back down, he said, “Yeah, of course! I don’t have anything I need to get done tonight so I’m free.” He shot Jean a grin before his eyes dropped down to his forearm, where Jean’s hand was still gripping him.

Jean’s eyes followed Jeremy’s gaze, and he quickly released his hold on his arm, returning his hand to his lap. Jeremy’s arm felt a chill with the loss of contact, but his body was still buzzing with the thrill of it. He tried not to let the disappointment he felt when Jean let go bleed into his expression, instead looking back up to Jean and saying, “Please tell me you have Netflix.”


 

Jean didn’t, which was, in Jeremy’s opinion, a crime, but he quickly logged into his own account instead.

They scrolled through Jeremy’s queue, filled with a quite frankly embarrassing number of two star romantic comedies, before settling on a B-rated horror movie neither of them had any issues talking over.

Jeremy couldn’t help but point out ridiculous flaws in the movies logic, and Jean rolled his eyes.

“If you’re concerned with accuracy, maybe we should put on something other than the zombie bird movie.”

Jeremy laughed, bringing his feet up onto the couch in a position that forced him to lean in closer to Jean. Purely by accident, of course.

“I’m just saying that if the birds are zombies, then maybe fleeing into a clearing wasn’t the best idea.”

“And yet you had no issues with the logic that a bird could turn someone into a zombie by shitting on them,” Jean said with a sideways glance.

“Hey! For all you know, maybe the virus, like… seeped into his pores or something!”

That made Jean pause, and he glanced over again before bending over in a fit of barely suppressed laughter, his shoulders shaking.

Jeremy stared in surprise for a moment before his own laughter bubbled over. He laughed into his hand, leaning over to bump his and Jean’s shoulders together as they collected themselves. Jean’s laugh was the most infectious sound Jeremy had ever heard. It was a light, almost raspy sound that he suspected was likely because Jean seldom found cause to lose control like that.

It was odd, in a way. Jeremy was used to seeing Jean carefully control his reactions, but now, here with Jeremy, he was allowing himself this small display. It made Jeremy flush, deepening his resolve to get Jean to let go more often. To feel like he could.

Jean exhaled a last time, before straightening up and turning to Jeremy with a small smile brightening his face.

Jeremy grinned right back before leaning into the couch so that their shoulders were practically touching.

They continued watching the movie in silence for a few minutes before Jean spoke up.

Jeremy looked over to see him gazing down at the half sleeve adorning his arm. “What do these designs mean?”

Jeremy looked down at his arm as though he couldn’t remember what the designs were, though in reality he likely had it memorized. The swirling design was all black and grey inkwork, illustrating a stylized mountain landscape that turned into an ocean. In the negative space was even more designs, some abstract and others clearly making shapes of birds or trees, among other things.

“Oh, uh, well Laila and Alvarez helped me design it when we were still working at this other shop, a couple years before I bought my place… Um, I mean obviously the mountains and ocean are because I love the outdoors. I always went camping with my family when I was younger. We still go sometimes. And the other designs are for my siblings.” Jeremy pointed to the silhouette of an owl in the inky black sky, saying, “See, that one’s for my brother, Nolan. And that,” Jeremy dragged his finger to a patch of flowers in the design, “is for my sister, Sophia.”

Jeremy continued on, pointing out several other aspects of the design and describing the symbolism behind them. Sometimes just a simple, “I wanted something cool to fill in the space there.”

Jean’s expression was unreadable as Jeremy talked. When Jeremy finally finished his rambling explanation he looked up, trying to read Jean’s face and considering his next words.

“Can I… Can I ask what yours means?”

Jean looked away, but he didn’t startle at the question, or even react at all beyond averting his gaze. He likely knew that question was coming, maybe even anticipated it from the moment he asked Jeremy about his tattoo.

“It meant I’m property. Third best…. It marked me as-as his. ” Jean spat out the last word as though it pained him to say it, bitterness marring the face that had seemed so content just ten minutes before. Jean shook his head a little, as though clearing it and said, “I’m sorry, that doesn’t make any sense-”

Jeremy cut off his apology with a hand to his arm and said, “No, you don’t need to apologize. You don’t need to tell me if you don’t want to.”

Jean gaze finally drifted back to meet Jeremy’s, and he saw some of the tension bleed out from his shoulders.

“I know. But. I guess I want to. I… know that I can be-that I can be difficult to talk to,” Jean continued, halting over his words, biting them out before he lost his nerve, “I tend to keep to myself. With Riko… I was never exactly encouraged to share my thoughts. My feelings. ” He said the last word with a bitter snort. “Maybe I had Kevin there with me, but he was an ally, not a friend. It’s not like we had late night gossip sessions to talk about our crushes over ice cream. And then he left.”

Jean’s voiced was stronger now, but it was dripping with bitterness and anger. Jeremy couldn’t tell if all that anger was directed at Kevin, or at Riko, or even just at the world in general.

Then Jean sighed, his eyes losing their intensity and dropping to the coffee table in front of them. “It’s easier for me to talk to Renee… And to you,” he added, his eyes darting up to meet Jeremy’s for a moment before settling back on the table. “But even now… I find it difficult to speak up, especially with people that-that I don’t know very well… But, uh… thank you for, uh, for listening to me?” he finished, saying the last part as a question.

Jeremy was getting better at reading Jean, and he could clearly see the uncertainty in his body language and his inability to look Jeremy in the eyes. Looking at Jean, seeing him appear defeated and tired, seeing him feel the need to thank Jeremy for not punishing him for sharing his thoughts, it all made Jeremy feel a jumble of emotions at once. He felt a hard jolt of anger at Riko for doing this to Jean, deep sadness that Jean had been put through all that, and even a bit of happiness over the fact that he had earned Jean’s trust enough for him to be willing to share all that with him.

Most of all, Jeremy felt protective; he felt a deep intensity of he didn’t know what… A need to remind Jean that he was important, that he was important to him and to all his friends, that Jeremy would be there for him no matter what.

It all caused him to tighten his fingers around Jean’s forearm until he was looking back into Jeremy’s eyes as he said, “Jean, no. You don’t need to thank me, God, you just don’t, okay? I will be here to listen to you for as long as you want me to. I don’t want you to think that what you have to say isn’t important enough, or worth enough to share with me. To share with anyone! If you want to tell me about some annoying customer, or some dumb thing you saw on the street, I’ll listen. Fuck, you could recite your grocery list to me if that’s what you wanted to say. Because you’re my friend, Jean, you’re important to me, and what you think, what you have to say is important to me, too. I’ll tell you that as many times as you need to hear to believe it, alright?”

The words tumbled out of his mouth with a startling intensity before he could stop them, and his eyes flicked between Jean’s. He would’ve regretted the harsh words and the way they betrayed too much about how strongly Jeremy felt, but he couldn’t bring himself too. He saw the pained expression on the man’s face as he nodded slowly, letting out a breath. “Okay,” he said softly, his voice sounding suspiciously scratchy.

Jean repeated himself, “Okay,” voice stronger that time.

Jeremy smiled gently at Jean. “Good,” he said, finally loosening his grip on Jean’s arm.

Jean glanced around the room, clearly unused to such openness. He looked slightly uncomfortable, but he also seemed more relaxed now than Jeremy could recall ever seeing him.

He took a small breath and began, “I’m sor-” but was quickly cut off by Jeremy.

“I might’ve lied. The one thing I don’t want you to say to me is ‘ I’m sorry ’ because you have nothing you need to apologize for, are you kidding? If anything, I’m just really happy that you felt like you could tell me all this.” Jeremy flashed Jean a warm smile before he let out an angry huff. “I mean that, and mad as fuck at whoever this fucking Riko asshole is, but that’s not helpful to anyone right now.”

Jean let out a small chuckle at that and Jeremy’s smile returned. He dropped his hand from where it still rested on Jean’s arm to his wrist and the moment hung comfortably between them.

Before Jeremy even realized what Jean was doing, he had had laced their fingers together and and gave Jeremy’s hand a small squeeze.

“I know you said I don’t need to but… Merci. Thank you. For everything.”