The young man woke before dawn, which was not so unusual except for the fact that it was the vividness of a dream that had roused him and not his brother's cat, for once.
He lay awake for a while, staring at the ceiling and attempting to catch the finer strands of the dream before the sunrise carried it away completely.
He had been in a city, one both similar and different to his own. Or maybe it had only felt the same because there had been so many familiar faces. Either way, it had been full of people he recognized, many of whom he had regular contact with.
That wasn't so strange, he mused, knowing that those he met everyday could filter over into his dreams. There was just one person that he'd never seen before, though he got the sense that they already knew each other somehow, but he was certain they had never met.
The light from the sun made its way slowly into the room as he tried to recall what it was that had woken him. He knew it had to do with the strange young man and he could remember a conversation between them but not the subject. There was something he was missing, something related to the boy in his dream...
He was thinking vaguely that he should get out of bed soon when his contemplation was abruptly interrupted by his door slamming open.
"Russell! The neighbor's cat had her kittens!" his brother shouted excitedly before dashing out again.
Russell groaned, not looking forward to the pleas that were sure to come when Fletcher got too attached to one or four. He once again questioned his own judgment on letting Fletcher keep Puffy in the first place, for that cat was surely the father.
He rose from his bed with a resigned sigh. It was time to open his shop for the day, anyway.
It was shaping up to be a slow day, Sundays usually were, and Russell was using the free time to catch up on inventory. Fletcher had already watered and rearranged the flower displays and had disappeared out back somewhere, presumably to tend their small garden.
Russell had left the front door open to let in a breeze and so he didn't hear anyone enter the store until the sound of footsteps approached the counter.
He looked up from his books, intending to greet the customer, when his voice caught in his throat.
If he wasn't mistaken, it was the same person that had been in his dream. The long blond hair was tied the same way: back in a ponytail, the clothes were eerily similar and his face...
Suddenly aware that he was staring, Russell composed himself.
"What can I help you with today?" he asked with a smile that he hoped masked his shock.
It seemed like the man before him was speechless as well, though Russell had no clue as to why. He felt uneasy has the man's wide eyed gaze took him in.
It reminded Russell of someone who'd been away from a loved one for a long period of time who had just returned home and was comparing the differences that time had wrought. It was slightly unnerving, and Russell half wished he would stop.
Just as he thought it, the other man blinked as though snapping himself out of it.
"I'm...looking for a gift," he began slowly. "For a girl."
Russell grinned, he was back in familiar territory.
He walked out from behind the counter, "what's the occasion?"
"A friend of mine...it's her birthday and I know she likes flowers but..."
"...but you need help finding the right ones?" Russell finished.
The young man nodded stiffly and Russell led him over to one corner of his store, wondering if his customer always acted like this or if it was just Russell's presence that was making him nervous.
"Are you alright?" Russell blurted out and immediately wondered what had made him say it.
The other man looked startled by the question, too.
"You just...remind me of someone I used to know," he said quickly, shaking his head as though to remind himself where he was.
"Oh. Well." Russell replied, mentally berating himself for sounding like an idiot. He cleared his throat.
"If you're looking for something casual, you can try an Iris bouquet," Russell began, feeling slightly flustered and hoping it wasn't obvious. "But if you want something more meaningful, there is primrose or carnations..."
"Irises sound good," the young man said quickly and Russell picked the best, bundled them up and handed them over.
After the man paid and turned to leave, Russell gave in to his curiosity and asked, "what's your name?"
The young man stopped abruptly and, for a moment, Russell thought he had crossed a line.
"It's Ed," he said finally, turning around and Russell noticed the almost pained look on his face.
"I know," Ed replied, leaving the shop quickly without another glance.
Russell was left gaping.
That night, Russell had the same dream. Only this time it felt more like a memory.
"You're leaving again, aren't you?" Russell asked, the sound of falling stone making it difficult to hear.
Ed nodded, glancing up at sky, the heavy black smoke partially obscuring the shapes of crumbled buildings.
"Thank you," Ed said, looking back at Russell, "for everything."
Russell's smile had a tinge of sadness to it and Ed reached up to pull him in for one last kiss before setting off at a run and disappearing around a corner.
Russell stood alone in the middle of the wrecked street, left with nothing but the past and the fading touch of Ed's lips.
Russell woke the next morning, able to remember everything. It was as though the memory had always been there and he had just needed to be reminded.
When Ed returned to the store a week later, for no specific reason, Russell invited him upstairs for a cup of tea and was pleased when Ed accepted.