Actions

Work Header

boom!

Chapter Text

As soon as he arrives, Isak regrets everything. The whole time he’s hanging up his hoodie and tying the strings of the pale pink apron around his back, Isak is cursing Eva for getting him into this situation. Then he curses himself for letting Eva find a job for him. And then part of him wonders if this is a form of payback for the shit that he did to her relationship last year.

But in the end he doesn’t really have a choice. When the person whose couch you’ve been living on for the past month suggests that you should get a job, then you kind of have to take up their offer. And it’s marginally better than sitting on his ass all summer and watching Narcos or playing video games with Jonas and his buddies. But still. A fucking flower shop. Elias would have a goddamn field day if he knew.

“Isak!”

Eva’s voice jolts him out of his thoughts. He can’t help but smile a little at her, leaning against the doorway and smirking at him, her coppery hair brushing her shoulders. “You ready for your first real day?”

“I guess,” Isak mutters.

“You okay?” she asks. “Nervous?”

He hates that question. He hates that she can read him so well. “Nah, I’m fine.” He looks her in the eye and tries to muster a smile. “Alright. I’m ready.”

 

The three weeks of training were one thing. Then, he was able to just stand off to the side and watch Eva deal with the customer and grab the necessary flowers. The only work he had to do was trim and wrap up the flowers as Eva guided him, or just ring people up at the register. Besides that, he could just stand off to the side and pretend he wasn’t there, wasn’t a part of the machine of the shop. Now that he’s a full worker, he has to be engaged all the time. There’s no way for him to separate himself anymore.

Isak tries at first. He really does. He smiles at the customers and listens to their requests and limitations and fixes the bouquet again and again until they’re finally satisfied and take their flowers from him to the register without so much of a thank you and completely ignore his “Have a nice day!” He tries so hard to not let them get to him, but by lunchtime he’s already just so damn sick of the kind of people who go into flower shops: the little old ladies coming in and cooing about what a nice boy he must be to be working in a flower shop, and how the girls must love him because he knows how to make nice bouquets; and then the guys who come in looking completely clueless, who, without fail, always try to hide their look of surprise when Eva directs them to Isak, a guy, to be served. Who always go on about how they’re shopping for their mom or a girlfriend while they’re looking at the flowers, and how Isak  knows how girls are, and always settling on some sort of rose arrangement (really, Isak thinks, how basic can you get?). And this other girl, Emily or Ella or something that starts with an E, keeps making excuses to talk to him and help him with wrapping the flowers, always smiling and touching his hands way too much.

And then one old lady who’s asked him to unwrap and fix her bouquet four times sweetly tells him that he’s doing it wrong again, and he snaps and tells her that he can’t do it right if she doesn’t know what she wants and then another another worker, a girl with a black hijab and a blinding smile, jumps in between them and says she’ll finish the wrapping and pointedly suggests to Isak that he take his lunch break now, her smile never faltering. If it was someone else he would have fought back, but something about this girl tells him that he shouldn’t mess with her. So he does what she says.

He’s been sitting in the break room for about five minutes, just wallowing in how much this job sucks already when the girl with the hijab comes in, sits down next to him, and smiles. Her smile is one of the scariest things Isak’s ever seen. He braces himself.

“You need to get your shit together.”

“What?” He wasn’t expecting that harsh of an opener, and he has no idea to respond.

She glares at him. “Okay. Do you know how hard Eva had to push to get you hired? How many strings she had to pull?” she asks.

Isak blinks. “What?” he asks again.

She rolls her eyes. “Do you know how hard Eva had to push to get you hired?” she repeats, slower. She’s still smiling.

“No?” Isak mutters defensively. It’s taking too much effort to look her in the eyes, so he glances down at her nametag. It says ‘Sana’.

“She spent a week working overtime and talking you up. Saying you were really smart, a hard worker, responsible, knew a lot about plants. Said you’d be a great worker. She spent a week riding Mr. Pedersen’s back about this, and finally he caved. Said that he’d give you a trial run and see if you really were as good as she said. Did you know that?”

“No…” Isak’s kind of in shock. Eva really said that many good things about him after what he did to her? “She said she’d be able to get me a job. I didn’t question how.”

“Well, maybe you should have,” Sana snaps. “Because you’re out there right now snapping at customers. And maybe you think that’s okay, maybe you think you can just get another job if you’re fired. But what you don’t realize is that you’re making Eva look bad. This girl spent so much time fighting for you to get hired, and it turns out you’re just an immature asshole. Mr. Pedersen isn’t gonna be happy with her. And if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s when someone fucks over their friends.”

Isak winces. She’s got a point, but he doesn’t want to admit it. “But those people are crazy!” he protests. “They have no idea how to make a floral arrangement, but they tell you you’re doing it wrong anyway!”

Sana raises her eyebrows. “You think I don’t know that? I’ve worked here longer than you, bucko.”

“Yeah, but--” Isak splutters. “It’s worse for me! You’re a girl! No one expects there to be a guy working at a flower shop, and everyone makes a big deal about it! I can’t get any peace.”

If looks could kill, Isak would be a dead man. “Really?” Sana asks quietly. “Really, you think it’s easier for me? Do you really?”

Isak doesn’t understand why she’s so angry. Then he realizes. “Fuck--I didn’t mean--”

“Didn’t mean what?” she shoots back. “Look, maybe you didn’t mean anything, or maybe you did and didn’t realize it. But don’t think that I haven’t gotten extra shit from customers because I have . And it fucking sucks, but sometimes you gotta grin and bear it. You can’t spend your entire work day fighting with bigots. Believe me, I’ve tried.”

Her demeanor changes as she says this, no longer all cold sharpness and anger. She seems almost--sad. And Isak is struck by the realization that she must feel as much like an outsider at times as he does. “Look, Sana, I’m sorry,” Isak says. He’s finally able to meet her eyes.

Sana shares his gaze for a few moments, and an understanding seems to pass between them. “Just be good, okay? For Eva’s sake.”

“Okay,” Isak says.

She gets up, and Isak hears the door close as she lets herself out.

 

The rest of the day is a little better. The old ladies and the obnoxious guys are still there, but every time they say something completely ridiculous, he just looks across the shop and shares a knowing look with Sana. And if he can concentrate enough, he thinks he feels something whenever the other girl--Emma, he remembers now--smiles at him, and he even manages to flirt back a bit. Actually laugh and smile with her. And he even starts feeling okay for a bit. Like maybe there’s not something wrong with him, after all.

It’s closing time, so he helps Eva, Sana, and Emma clean up the shop before he heads out. Then he hangs up his apron, grabs his stuff, and heads out the back door to go to the tram station.

That’s when he sees him. Leaning up against the wall like he’s right at home, legs for days and carefully coiffed blond hair and a leather jacket and a joint stuck behind his ear like he thinks he’s fucking James Dean. And Isak feels every molecule in his body freeze up and catch fire simultaneously as his internal monologue becomes nothing more than a repeating fuck fuck fuck fuck as he tries to walk past and take a seat on the bench without looking at the other guy.

He checks the clock. 25 minutes till the next tram. Fuck. He’s stuck.

He resigns himself to playing a dumb game on his phone, eyes fixed resolutely on the screen and definitely don’t dart to glance at the guy sharing the platform with him, ever.

The Guy moves from his position against the wall, and Isak nearly leaps out of his skin. But he just kneels down to look at the nearly-empty newsstand next to the bench, grabbing the last few papers and shoving them into his backpack, leaving the empty shelf behind. Isak only has time to wonder why the fuck The Guy would want like ten copies of Morgenbladet when he says, “Sorry, did you want one?”

It takes Isak way too long to realize that The Guy is talking to him because why would he think Isak would have wanted a newspaper, if he’d wanted one wouldn’t he have grabbed one already? and it takes him even longer for his tongue to unfreeze and for him to choke out a “Wha--no.” The king of eloquence, as always.

“Cool,” the guy says, and sits down next to Isak on the bench.

Isak feels like every sense in his body has been turned up, hyperaware of everything around him. The soft gust of wind across the platform, the slow sound of The Guy’s breath, the rustle of fabric as he searches in his jean pockets for something, the way the gold of the setting sun slices across his profile like he's in a fucking Renaissance painting, outlining the delicate structure of his face and allowing the shadow of his lashes to rest gently on his cheekbones--

”Want some?”

Isak blinks. The Guy’s offering him a lit joint, perched delicately between his middle and index fingers. What the hell, Isak thinks. He’s sitting on a bench next to probably the most beautiful guy he’s ever seen who has a strange love of newspapers and is now offering him marijuana. “What the hell,” he says, and takes a drag.

The pot helps him relax a little, and Isak gets up the courage to say, “So, you like newspapers?”

The Guy chuckles, and Isak feels a strange swooping in his stomach. “Yeah, yeah,” he laughs. “Gotta keep up with the times, you know?”

“Can’t you get that from just one newspaper, though?” Isak asks, laughing too.

“Different perspectives,” The Guy says, as if that explains everything.

“How? It’s the same newspaper.” The weed’s making him brave, and probably also stupid.

“Sure.” The Guy blows a perfect smoke ring. “But no newspaper copy is exactly alike. There’s always something slightly different. They all have their own...character.”

“So you just, like, take a magnifying glass and search for like ink smudges and stuff? That’s how you spend your time?” Isak cracks up.

“It’s a thoroughly rewarding experience.” But The Guy’s laughing too, and they sit there laughing like idiots for a minute or two. Isak wonders if he’s always like this, or if it’s just the weed talking.

“So,” The Guy says. “You work at Pedersens Blomsterbutikk?”

“Yeah.” Isak heaves a dramatic sigh. “First day.”

“Cool,” The Guy says, “how was it?”

Isak rolls his eyes. “It was okay, I guess. It’s just--those old ladies, man.”

The Guy finds that absolutely hilarious. He throws back his head in laughter, and Isak notices that he has a small gold hoop in one of his ears. “So, what about you?” Isak asks. “What do you--do?”

“Me?” The Guy asks. “Oh, I work a Magnum Opus next door.”

“Cool.” Isak realizes he’s actually seen this guy before, probably going in and out of that tattoo parlor while Isak’s getting trained. He nods very seriously. Then they both crack up again.

“Isak?”

Isak groans inwardly. It’s Emma.

“Isak!” She hurries onto the platform. “How cool that we meet again! I was wondering if you--if you wanted to maybe--get dinner somewhere?”

“Um,” Isak says. His brain is too muddled from the pot to figure out a way to let her down nicely. “Um..”

“Sorry,” The Guy says, “But, uh, Isak and I were already planning on hanging tonight.”

Isak feels just as floored as Emma looks. “Well,:” she says, “we could all hang out together. I mean, the more the merrier, right?”

“Um,” Isak says again, a very helpful contribution to the conversation. “Well, you see, Emma, me and--” he realizes that he doesn’t know The Guy’s name--”me and--”

“Even,” The Guy supplies, and Isak takes a moment to relish how the word falls on his ears.

Even,” Isak repeats, “he was gonna help me set up something. At Eva’s house. You know. Guy stuff. Not fun.”

Even nods, very seriously. Isak struggles to keep a straight face. He hears footsteps thudding towards them, and at the same time the tram arrives, sliding neatly in next to the platform. Eva skids to a halt on the platform. “Hey, Isak,” she says. “Ready to go home?”

Isak looks at Even frantically, realizing he’s about to be caught in a lie. Even pulls out his phone and glances at the screen. “Fuck,” he says. “I’m sorry, Isak. I completely forgot. I already promised a friend I’d do something with him this evening. Some other time?”

“Yeah,” Isak says, breathlessly aware of how easy it was for Even to read his body language. “Yeah, some other time sounds good.”

“Isak!” Eva calls. “It’s about to leave!”

Isak gets on the tram right before the doors slide closed, his heart pounding in his ears. He can’t believe that the past half hour of his life actually happened, wasn’t some crazy dream.

“Who was that?” Eva asks as the tram picks up speed.

“His name is Even,” Isak says slowly, feeling the sounds roll off his tongue. Even.

 

The next day Isak finds himself actually excited to go to work. He bumbles around the kitchen, trying (and probably failing) to help Eva make some breakfast, the images of long legs and blond hair swimming through his brain. He can’t help smiling a little.

“You seem cheerful today,” Eva says as they head out to the tram stop. “Anything in particular got you in a good mood?”

Blond hair and long legs and golden earring--Isak shakes his head. “Just excited to go to work,” he says. “Making that cash money, y’know?”

Eva laughs. “This wouldn’t have to do with a certain person at work, would it?”

Isak freezes. Blonde hair and long legs and--she couldn’t possibly know, could she? “What--what do you mean?” he sputters.

Eva grins. “Don’t worry, Isak. Your secret’s safe with me. She’s a nice girl.”

She? Isak is completely lost. Eva notices his puzzled look. “You don’t have to hide it Isak. I saw you and Emma flirting yesterday. Quite a lot.”

“Oh. Right.” Isak breathes again, but the tight knot in his stomach doesn’t loosen. “Yeah, me and Emma….yeah.” He tries to smile with Eva.

“Don’t be nervous, bud. I’m pretty sure she likes you.” Eva nudges him.

Maybe it’s the rattling of the tram, or Eva’s cooking, but Isak feels slightly queasy.

 

The shop’s not as busy today as it was yesterday. Isak manages to smile and laugh along with the old ladies and the guys as best he can, and he makes sure to wink or smile at Emma every once in awhile. She always beams back at him.

He’s strangely exhausted at the end of the day, a kind of bone-deep weariness. As he waits outside for Eva to lock up the shop, he catches a glimpse of blond hair and long legs and his heart quickens. And sinks as he sees Even’s not alone. He’s walking and laughing with two girls. Three sets of blond hair and long legs, and Isak just watches them go.

Eva’s taking a longer time than he thinks would be necessary to lock up the store, and he finds himself wandering over to the tattoo parlor and peering in through the front window. Everything’s all dark and stacked up for closing time, and it’s completely empty. He stands there for a few minutes, looking at the tattoo displays and the plastic chairs in the waiting room. As he turns to go, Isak notices several pieces of paper tapes up to the door like a restaurant menu. They’re drawings, samples from the tattoo artists that work in the parlor. He leans over to study the images. There’s a ribcage entwined with vines, the leaves and buds poking through the bones. The name next to it reads “Noora Amalie Sætre”. The one next to it is a drawing of a dandelion gone to seed, bent over as if in a breeze. The credit for this drawing goes to someone named Sonja. And under it--

Isak sucks in a breath. Under Sonja’s drawing is a calligraphy piece--the words “alt er love” curling into each other, the ends of the letters disintegrating into specks. No, Isak realizes as he looks closer. Tiny, tiny stars. By Even Bech Næsheim. Even.

“Isak?” Eva calls. “Where did you go?”

Shit.

Isak pulls out his phone and quickly snaps a picture of the name. Then he turns to run after Eva.

 

It’s after midnight, but Isak is still awake, sitting on the couch and watching a video playing on the screen.

As soon as he and Eva had arrived home, he’d hurried as fast as he could to grab his laptop and find out more about Even. All he’s been able to find, however, is a fat load of nothing. According to the internet, Even Bech Næsheim does not exist. Except for this one goofy video of Even being interviewed by some guy named Mikael. So that’s what he’s watched. Over and over again. At this point, Isak’s seen it so many times that he’s almost memorized the dialogue between the boys, the pauses and inflections in Even’s voice as he talks about Captain America and Vladimir Putin’s forbidden love affair. The reverence in his voice when he talks about Baz Luhrmann. As far as Isak can tell, he mainly makes campy period dramas, but Even’s definitely cute enough to make up for his poor taste in films.

It’s about 2:00 in the morning now, and Isak has long since realized that sleep is not a thing that’s going to be happening tonight, so Isak figures what the hell. He chooses the least cringey-sounding Baz Luhrmann film, which happens to be Romeo + Juliet , and he begins to watch.

 

The next day his head is completely clouded from exhaustion, and the coffee he drinks doesn’t do anything more than make his heart race. Throughout the day, everything is kind of hazy and he has trouble concentrating. Sana gets frustrated with him because he keeps messing up the arrangements. Emma’s incessant flirting begins to chafe at his nerves, and no matter how short or curt he keeps his responses, she can’t seem to take a fucking hint.

In other words, today is basically shit.

It’s almost time for his lunch break and Isak can only think of the couch in the breakroom and how he might be able to catch a short nap on it when he hears the bell ring at the door and turns and blond hair and long legs and golden earring and he must be dreaming, must be, because Even’s here in the shop, in Isak’s corner of the universe, talking and smiling with Eva at the register, and then--Isak thinks he might have a heart attack. He starts heading towards Isak.

“Halla,” Even says, and Isak forgets for a moment how to breathe or speak.

“H-halla,” he chokes out. Then trying his best to sound like someone who didn’t spend five hours last night watching a cheesy video of Even and his friend, he asks, “What-what are you looking for?”

“Yellow chrysanthemums.” Even smiles.

Isak blinks. He wasn’t expecting something so specific, or confident. Most of the guys who come into the shop spend about twenty minutes staring at the flowers in the fridge before they just go fuck it and choose a flower at random. “Alright,” he murmurs, “Some yellow chrysanthemums coming right up.” He winces at how corny the words sound.

He can feel Even’s eyes on him as he opens the fridge and pulls out the flowers. He tries not to blush.

While Isak’s wrapping the bouquet for him, he realizes that if Even’s buying flowers, he must have a person he wants to give flowers to. The thought makes his stomach twist uncomfortably. Somehow, despite his shaking hands that he really really hopes Even doesn't notice, he finishes his work, and hands the bouquet to Even. “Here you go.”

“Thank you, Isak,” Even says as he takes it.

Isak’s stomach swoops a little when he says this. He tries to keep a passive face. “No problem, have a nice day,” he answers like he says to every customer.

Even doesn’t move for a second, just stands there and looks Isak in the eye. Then he says, “See you around, Isak,” and turns to head toward the counter.

Isak watches him go. He feels slightly dizzy.

 

It’s Isak’s turn to help lock up the store, so Eva and Emma head out to wait at the tram stop and Sana stays to make sure Isak’s doing it right.

“Rough day?” she asks him as he finishes wiping off the counter.

Isak shrugs. “Didn’t get much sleep last night,” he mutters.

Sana doesn’t respond, but she nods.

 

As he heads out that night, Isak sees a familiar figure walking ahead of him. He considers hurrying to catch up with him for a second. Then he hears another voice calling Even’s name, and a blonde girl hurries from behind him to catch up with Even. He turns to smile at her, and she puts her arm around him.

Isak doesn’t even need to see Even lean in to kiss her to understand, and it hits like a punch to the gut. Of course . He’s been a complete idiot. Too blinded by blond hair and long legs and golden earring, he’s let himself see hope when there isn’t any. Of course Even Bech Næsheim wouldn’t be--wouldn’t be like him. God, what an idiot.

He can’t breathe.

Isak sees Eva and Emma at the tram stop, chatting with Even and the blonde girl. He closes his eyes and tries not to be sick. He wishes his stomach would stop churning. God, he feels sick. He focuses on his breathing. In and out, in and out.

Isak approaches the platform and Even sees him. Smiles at him.

He hates the jump in his chest that the smile causes. Hates the quickening of his heartbeat, the spring it adds to his step. The flush in his cheeks. He takes a deep breath and joins them.

Of course.

Chapter Text

It’s raining when Isak and Eva get off the tram. Fat, heavy drops hammer onto the roof over the platform, and Eva grabs a few copies of Morgenbladet from the newspaper stand to protect her head from the rain. Isak almost does the same, but as soon as he gets to the newsstand he’s reminded of a sunny evening and sharing a joint and the blond hair and long legs that have been lurking at the back of his mind ever since his first day of work, almost two weeks ago now-- God, Isak thinks, I must be the most pathetic person in the history of crushes. Can’t even look at a fucking newspaper. And it doesn’t help that he keeps coming into the shop nearly every day Isak’s working, buying some very specific bouquet, probably for his perfect girlfriend who has blonde hair and long legs to match his, who he goes home with every night, who knows him, who has kissed him and held his hand and probably been with him and--

By the time he gets to Pedersens, he’s soaked to the skin.

 

It’s a slow day at the shop, probably due to the rain, and Eva’s getting bored standing alone at the register with no one to ring up. Isak, Sana, and Emma are standing around in the back near the flower fridge, talking. They’ve all got pieces of ribbon in their hands, and it seems that Emma is trying to teach them how to tie a fancy bow or something. Sana’s concentrating hard and seems to be doing well. Isak looks like he’s struggling, and Eva notices with a small smile that Emma seems to be touching his hands quite a lot as she tries to help him.

She’s thinking about going back to join them and just leaving the register empty when the bell at the door jingles, signaling the entrance of a customer, and Eva spins around.

It’s a girl. A girl about her age with curly short white-blonde hair that’s damp from the rain and red lips and dark eyeliner and a silver septum piercing who’s standing in the doorway looking completely lost. And Eva feels like her heart has stopped and is about to burst out of her chest at the same moment.

Eva realizes the girl is looking at her kind of expectantly, and suddenly remembers that she is at work and this girl is a customer. “C-can I help you?” she stammers out.

The girl smiles, and Eva feels like the sun has suddenly come out from behind the clouds and is now filling the shop. “Hi--yeah! Ummm, I’m looking for--” she pulls out a slip of paper from her pocket--”some gardens?” She squints at the paper. “Oh, gardenias. Sorry, I’m just getting an order for my coworker who didn’t have time to come in today, and his handwriting is shit. But he said the order was of the ‘utmost importance’, so here I am.”

Eva realizes she’s been staring at the girl’s lips, watching them shape and cradle the words she speaks, the shy smile that appears as she corrects herself, the faint blush. Then Eva realizes that the girl’s  just placed an order, and it’s her job to help her.

“Umm--gardenias! Right! We have gardenias,” Eva blurts, cringing at how awkward the words sound. “Here”--Eva notices that Sana, Emma, and Isak are still busy messing with the ribbons--”um, I can help you.”

“Great!” the girl smiles again, and Eva feels an odd lightness in her step as she turns and heads toward the flower fridge.

Before she gets there, Emma looks up from her work and jumps up. “Don’t worry, Eva,” she says. “I can take care of this.”

“Oh,” Eva says, suddenly remembering that she’s the cashier and supposed to leave the flowers to the other workers. “Well, you guys seemed to be having fun so--”

“It’s okay,” Emma says, “it’s my job, after all.”

“Right.” Eva forces herself to smile back.

“Great!” Emma smiles brightly. “Now, what are you looking for today?”

“Gardenias,” Eva says quietly.

“Lovely!” Emma shepherds the girl away.

Eva heads back to the register, feeling strangely let down and embarrassed. Of course, she thinks, Emma was right. It’s not your job.

But as she goes back to watching the rain trickle down the windows of the shop, her mind keeps flashing back to red lips and pale-silk hair and soft smile

Eva hears someone cough quietly behind her and she turns around and the girl’s there, she came back, she’s right behind her, she’s real and Eva didn’t dream her and then Eva remembers that she’s a cashier and the girl needs to pay. As Eva rings her up, neither of them speak, and Eva cringes internally at the silence. Finally, as she’s handing her the receipt, Eva musters her courage and says, “My name’s Eva. What’s yours?”

As soon as she says those words, Eva regrets them. How awkward can you get? She can feel her cheeks getting warm. But the girl just smiles and says, “Noora. My name’s Noora.”

Noora . “Noora,” Eva repeats, and then blushes again.

“Eva,” Noora repeats, and beams at her. Eva loves how she says her name. Then Noora starts and grabs at her pocket. “I almost forgot! My coworker also wanted me to give this to you.” She pulls a slip of paper out of her pocket. “Um, it's from Even.”

“Oh,” Eva says, mystified. The paper reads “Magnum Opus” on the top in curly script. And below it, written in pen, is ten digits. A phone number. “Magnum Opus?” Eva asks. “You work at the tattoo place next store?”

“Yeah!” Noora laughs. “I’m an artist there.”

Wow. “An artist?” Eva asks. “Wow.”

“That’s me.” Noora smiles and Eva thinks she sees a hint of a blush. “If you get the chance, I could show you some of my drawings some time.”
The words echo around Eva’s head for a moment before she fully comprehends them. Show you…sometime. “T-that’d be super cool,” Eva whispers. Her head is spinning.

“Great!” Noora beams again. They stand together for a few seconds, smiling and not talking. Then Noora says, “Well, I guess I have to go. Nice meeting you Eva.”

“You too,” Eva breathes.

She watches Noora go out the door and into the rain.

 

“Hey.” Isak’s voice comes from behind her, making her jump.

“Hey,” she says.

“What’s that?” he asks, gesturing to the paper. There’s something funny in his voice, but Eva doesn’t know what.

“Oh, this.” Eva laughs. “It’s the number of that guy who works at the tattoo parlor, Even?”

“I see,” Isak says. He stands there for a moment.

“Yup,” Eva says. She puts the slip of paper in the jar of pens by the register.

Red lips and pale silk hair and soft smile….

Flowers. Wrappings.

It’s a stupid idea.

 

It’s Isak’s turn to close today, so Eva heads out to try and catch the early tram while Isak stays back to clean up. As she says good bye, she notices with a smile  that Emma is staying behind too. Nice, Isak.

Eva entertains the idea of Emma and Isak becoming a couple as she wanders her way over to the tram stop, thinking about how pretty Emma is, and how much she seems to like Isak, and maybe he’ll be able to help her get over his breakup with Sara, and that she looked so nice today in her white lace top and jean shorts and red lipstick...and then Eva starts thinking about another set of red lips, one that’s paired with pale silk hair and soft smile and-- Eva hears a whooshing and rattling sound. Fuck!

It’s the tram. She’s missed it.

“Shit!”

Eva hears a voice behind her and turns around to red lips and pale silk hair and soft smile and she’s there, right behind her. Like Eva conjured her in her mind. Noora is behind her and Noora missed her tram and Eva missed her tram too. And now they’re both there together, standing on the platform and not talking and Eva’s wracking her brains for something to say, anything, but for some reason her mind has decided to stop working.

“You too, huh?” Noora gestures at the empty tracks.

“Huh?” Eva asks, lost in thought.

Noora laughs. “The tram?”

“Oh,” Eva says. She’s still distracted, and Noora’s smile isn’t helping. Then she realizes. “Oh. Yeah. Missed it. Sorry, I’m a little absent minded. That’s probably why I’m here now.” Eva tries to laugh at her joke, but she’s cringing on the inside because Noora must think she’s a complete idiot but no, she’s smiling and laughing too and Eva feels like her heart is about to jump out her chest and she feels oddly like her feet are about to leave the ground.

“So,” Noora says, “we’ve got about 25 minutes until the next tram comes.”

“Yeah,” Eva says, and wishes she could think of something more to say.

“Well,” Noora says, “Um, there’s a pretty nice coffee shop down the street. Do you want to come with me?”

For a moment Eva hears Noora’s words echoing in her head over and over again (do you want to come with me? do you want to come with me?) and then Eva remembers that questions need answers and manages to choke out a “S-sure. I mean, that’d be nice.”

Noora beams at her. “Great!” She starts walking.

Today, Eva decides as she hurries to walk beside her, must not be real.

 

The coffee shop is a cute little place, with window boxes full of daisies and a wooden door with a curly, wrought-iron handle. The inside is full of high tables, and a few squashy armchairs arranged in a circle. Noora orders an apple tea, and Eva spends probably way too long figuring out what drink she should choose, and finally settles on a hot chocolate. Noora chooses a seat at a table by the open window, and Eva scrambles into the chair across from her. “Hot chocolate in the summer?” Noora asks, grinning at her.

“Hey,” Eva says, “Why mess with a classic?”

“Fair enough.” Noora sips her tea, and it’s quiet for a moment.

“So,” Eva says, casting around in her head for something that could start a conversation. “You’re a tattoo artist? How did that happen?”

“Honestly, I’m not quite sure how it happened,” Noora answers. “I mean, I’ve been into drawing for almost as long as I can remember, and I’ve always found tattoos and the idea of tattoos to be...incredibly beautiful. So I guess--it just worked.”

“What do you mean by the idea of tattoos?” Eva asks.

“Like, the idea of putting art on your body. Turning the blank canvas you’re given at birth into something that’s wholly your own. It’s a way of--reclaiming yourself, your body, you know?”

There’s something in Noora’s voice as she says, a memory, some distant sadness as she says this. Her eyes are full of the sky. Eva feels like she could listen to her talk forever.

Noora clears her throat abruptly. “Anyway, what made you want to work at a flower shop?”

“Honestly,” Eva says, “the paycheck.”

Noora laughs, and the air feels a lot lighter. “Not your passion for flowers and floral arrangements?”

“That too,” Eva jokes. “Nah, I mean, flowers are nice I guess. And it’s a pretty nice place to work. But it’s not something I’m invested in.

  Noora nods. “Are you in school?” she asks.

“Yeah,” Eva says, “I’m a ‘99-er.”

“Hey, me too,” Noora says. “Or well, I was.”

“Was?” Eva asks. There’s a story there.

“Maybe still,” Noora answers. “Haven’t quite decided if I’m going back this fall. Things have gotten...kinda messed up.”

Eva nods, and doesn’t press anymore.

“But I love working at Magnum. I’ve got a pretty good deal going there.” Noora stands up to return her glass.

Eva realizes she’s getting ready to go, and quickly swallows the last of her drink.

The sun’s come out while they’ve been in the cafe, and the air is full of the smell of wet asphalt. Before they start heading back to the platform, Noora stops to pick a few dandelions from the side of the road. Eva watches her fiddle with them as she walks.

Isak and Emma have just about finished cleaning up, which is good because if he has to listen to Emma’s senseless chatter much longer he’ll go crazy. Today’s been a shitty day anyway, ever since that girl Noora came into the shop and left that paper that paper with Even’s number, full of things that are not, could not, must not be possible, that paper--

“Isak?” Emma’s trying to get his attention. “Did you hear me?”

“Sorry, no,” he says distractedly.

“I was wondering”--she’s shifting oddly, her eyes pointed at the ground--”if you might want to--on Friday when we get out of work--you might want to go out and get dinner or something?”

Go out and get dinner. Isak’s insides seem to have left his body. Go out. Get dinner.

Blonde hair and long legs and golden earring--

“Sure,” Isak says.

Emma grins. “Great!”

As he gets his coat and tries to calm his stomach, tell himself she’s a pretty girl, and she’s into you, this is good, this is good, this is good he notices something next to his hat. It’s a square package, wrapped carefully in the comics section of a newspaper. With the word Isak written on it in thick black letters. It's a present. For him.

From who?

 

When Isak arrives at the tram platform, Eva’s still there, standing and talking with the blonde girl from earlier, Noora. The two seem really engrossed in their conversation, so much that Isak has to clear his throat to get their attention.

“Hey, Isak,” Eva says cheerfully.

“You're still here?” Isak asks.

“Yeah, missed the tram.” Eva shrugs. “Oh, looks like the next one’s coming now!”

And that's the end of that conversation.

 

Noora, it turns out, doesn’t live too far from Eva and Isak. She stays with them until they arrive at their stop, and then exits with them. She walks with them for about a block, but once they reach the corner and Eva and Isak start to turn, Noora says, “Ah, I keep going on this street”, and reaches and takes Eva’s hand and presses something into it, and says, “Something to remember me by,” and Eva feels like all the air has been knocked out of her lungs.

“I-I don't think I'll need any help remembering you,” she manages to choke out, and then realizes how it sounds and feels her cheeks heat up. But Noora’s already walking away and it's too late to take it back. She turns around to smile at Eva one last time, and then she's gone.

Eva looks down to see what Noora’s given her: the dandelions she'd been fiddling with the entire trip home, now intricately braided.

Today, Eva decides, is most definitely not real.

Chapter Text

Noora’s just entered Magnum when Sonja appears. “Did you see them? Do you know who they’re from?”  She grabs her hand excitedly.

“The what? See what?” Noora’s completely lost.

“Come see!” Sonja exclaims, and drags Noora into the shop, down the hall to their little break room. “They were here when we opened this morning.”

Noora stops. On the counter by the microwave rests a small bundle of flowers, tied together by a pale purple ribbon with a tag. Flowers. Noora’s heart begins to pound. From who? From--

Slowly, like she’s in a dream, she goes over to pick them up, turning it over in her fingers. A few sprigs of lavender, stalks of larkspur, arranged with a some baby’s breath, the little clusters of flowers as light as clouds. The card simply reads “Noora” in messy cursive, with a heart drawn next to it. It’s not a big bouquet, she can hold it in one hand. It’s not extravagant or overwhelming, it’s quiet and intimate. And then Noora remembers it’s from someone, someone who knew her, knew her favorite flowers and knew she wouldn’t want a giant, extravagant, impersonal bouquet. And there in the breakroom, holding those flowers, Noora feels bare, exposed in some deep, emotional way. Like whoever sent those flowers could see right through her, past her outward facade and safeguards, right into her soul.

“Noora?” Sonja’s voice makes her jump. “Do you know who sent them?”
Noora looks up and shakes her head. “No, there’s no name on the tag.”

“Wow,” Sonja says. “A secret admirer! How exciting!”

“I guess,” Noora forces a laugh, but her mind keeps spinning and she doesn’t like the thoughts that keep reappearing.

“What’s going on?” Even appears in the doorway.

“Noora’s gotten some flowers from a secret admirer!” Sonja explains.

Noora winces a little, this isn’t exactly something she wants everyone in the shop to be buzzing about. But Even nods and asks, “Do you have any idea who it could be?”

She shakes her head. “There’s no name...did you see anyone this morning?” It can’t be from him, it’s not his style, he’d go obnoxious, BIG, not quiet like this, and he’d want me to know it was from him, so he could get back in my head, you need to stop, he’s over you, he doesn’t care about you and you don’t care about him, stop THINKING ABOUT HIM--

“No,” Even answers, cutting through her thoughts for just a moment, “I didn’t see anyone.”

There’s a glint in his eye as he says this, one that makes Noora wonder, just a little, but then Sonja jumps up and cries “Even! Your 10:00! You have to get going! It’s almost time.”

“I’m going, I’m going.” The glint vanishes and Even’s face darkens into the beginnings of a scowl. He starts to head back out into the hall and Sonja follows him. As Noora watches them go, she hears him mutter, “You know I know my own schedule, right? I don’t need you to remind me all the time.”
Sonja murmurs a reply, but Noora can’t quite catch it.

Alone, Noora sits down on the cracked leather couch in the break room, turning the flowers over and over in her hands, wondering, wondering.

 

Noora does her best to focus all morning, to concentrate on the pen and skin and the steady rhythm of sketching and drawing and shading until there’s nothing else there but the buzz of the machine and the iron in her hand. Normally this routine calms her, offers her a distraction from the thoughts in her head that cause her to jolt awake in the morning with her heart pounding, and her hands to shake around her mug of tea. But today, her mind keeps drifting back to the flowers in the breakroom, the flowers from someone who truly knows her,  but Noora doesn’t know at all. The flowers--and him, him who she thought was out of her head but just keeps creeping back--

Noora is glad to have a break, even though it’s a rough day and she knows as soon as she pulls out her lunch that it’s going to be a struggle. So she takes a deep breath, tries to calm the nerves churning in her stomach, and begins.

Even and Sonja burst in, and Noora immediately feels the tension in the room heighten. Sonja goes straight to the refrigerator and yanks it open, pulling out two paper bags as the door bangs against the wall and swings back. Even plops down on the couch and stares resolutely across the room. “Here,” Sonja says, thrusting a bag at him. “There’s your lunch.”

Even ignores her. Sonja sighs and sits down next to him on the couch. Noora’s forcefully reminded of why she doesn’t like to date coworkers. There’s silence for a moment. Then Even mutters, almost to himself, “If I want a kebab, I can get a kebab.”

Sonja heaves a sigh. “You’ve gone out for lunch almost every day this week. It won’t kill you to actually eat what I’ve packed you for lunch.”

“It won’t kill you to not smother me for once, either,” Even responds coldly, eyes still fixed resolutely on the wall in front of him. He props up his legs on the table and crosses his ankles, bouncing his foot.

The air thickens and it’s quiet for a moment. Noora wishes she’d decided to go out for lunch, even despite the added complications. This is definitely not a conversation she really wants to, or should be hearing. But at this point, she figures it’s probably even more awkward to leave now and draw attention to her presence. So she sits there and tries to eat and make as little noise as possible.

“Even,” Sonja says softly. “I don’t mean to smother you. But we do need to be more conscious about what we’re spending money on. You can’t go out to eat every day on a tattoo artist’s salary. We won’t be able to pay rent.”

Quiet. Noora becomes conscious of how loud her chewing must be. Then--

“I guess.” Even sighs. Noora hears the crumpling of paper and guesses that Even’s relented and taken his bag. The two don’t speak again for the rest of their lunch break.

 

Isak’s mind is drifting again, and the book in his bag isn’t helping.

He tries, tries so hard to be present and not mess up arrangements and be a good employee, but as soon as the customer he’s working with has gone to ring up their bouquet, his mind floats back to it. The book from the package.

He’d thought he’d been dreaming at first when he opened it once he and Eva arrived at their house. When he ripped off the newspaper comics and pulled it out, a book on the meanings of flowers and certain floral arrangements. And then it fell open, and Isak saw the message that had been scribbled on the inside cover, in the same handwriting as the number on the piece of paper in the pencil cup by the register: Something to distract you from the old ladies--Even .

Even.

Isak hasn’t slept since.

Emma keeps catching him lost in his thoughts, trying to talk to him and get his attention, but no matter how hard he tries to focus on a conversation with her his mind keeps drifting back to blond hair and long legs and golden earring and the question why? Why would Even, who he’s only really talked to once or twice, who he barely knows, go through all the trouble of finding a book, wrapping it, sneaking into the flower shop’s backroom at who knows what time just to give him some book on flower meanings of all things. All for a boy he’s only had one private conversation with. Ever.

It just doesn’t add up.

Except in the one case that it would. Which he won’t let himself think about. At all.

Even though he keeps coming in almost every other day to get some random bouquet (Isak can’t help but wonder exactly how he has the money for it), and it’s gotten so every time the bell chimes to signal the entrance of a customer his heart jumps into his throat--only to sink in what’s definitely not disappointment, he tells himself, and he’s definitely not more short-tempered the evenings after Even-less days when he doesn’t get a chance to share a joke or a smile with him as he ties up the flowers he’s getting for his girlfriend, idiot, he has a girlfriend. Of course not.

Today it’s almost closing time and still no sign of him. Isak tries to ignore the churning in his stomach as the clock hands keep moving. When Eva sighs and says, “That’s all, folks” and unties her apron, Isak feels faintly sick and forces himself to swallow down...whatever it is he’s feeling. Isak feels strangely out of his body as he goes through the motions of the rest of the day, travelling on the tram with Eva, picking silently at whatever takeout she’s gotten for dinner, ignoring the text notification from his mom that appears right when he’s about to go to bed.

And, of fucking course, Isak thinks, he can’t sleep.

It’s a far too common occurrence now, no wonder he feels like a zombie most days. But tonight it’s especially obnoxious. His thoughts keep whirring around his head, thoughts he doesn’t want to be thinking, and doesn’t want to know he’s thinking. And somehow, after a few hours of dicking around on his phone and the laptop, Isak finds himself holding the book.

He stares at the inscription for a while, watching the words fade in and out of focus until he can see them burnt onto the insides of his eyelids. And then he starts flipping through it, looking up random flowers--ones that are popular with customers, ones he can remember from a particular order. He knows most people don’t know or care much about flower meanings when they make their selections, but it’s still sort of amusing to his muddled, sleep-deprived brain that this one douchey guy chose gardenias, a flower that symbolizes forbidden love, to give to his grandmother--

Isak stops. Gardenias. Why does that seem so important? It’s pretty late, almost late enough that his brain can no longer function, but Isak’s able to recall a hazy memory of a girl with white-blonde hair and red lipstick...Isak’s heart stops. Noora. The girl from the tattoo place. Who came in one day to place an order for her coworker...for Even.

Even though it’s past 1:00, Isak’s never felt more awake.

Even gave him the book. Even placed an order for gardenias, a flower that can symbolize forbidden love.

No, he tells himself firmly, it’s just a coincidence. It doesn’t mean...anything.

But that doesn’t stop him from flipping, hands trembling slightly, to check out other orders he can remembers. Earlier this week, Isak recalls, he came in to buy tuberoses... his stomach jumps. Forbidden pleasure, dangerous love.

He checks another that Even came in to buy the previous week, Queen Anne’s Lace. He realizes he’s shaking a little when he reads the meaning: I fantasize about you.

His head is spinning. This can’t be true this isn’t real this can’t be right…

He decides to check one more. The flower that Even first bought from them. Yellow chrysanthemums.

Isak realizes he’s holding his breath as he flips through the pages. Slowly, heart pounding, he looks down to Chrysanthemums, yellow.

His head begins to ache. It says--

It says--

Secret admirer.

Isak throws the book across the room and wills silently for his mind to stop.

Chapter Text

Noora’s almost been able to put the bouquet out of her mind by Friday (if by out of her mind you mean not taking up all of her thinkspace at all hours of the day), until she enters the breakroom of the tattoo parlor and sees Even standing by the fridge, holding a cluster of flowers. He starts when he sees her, and holds the bundle out to her. “These are for you.”

“Me?” Noora’s stomach jumps. “What, they’re not from... you, are they?”

Even laughs, a bright, clear sound. “No, no, no, Noora. They’re not from me. Seems your, uh, secret admirer has struck again.”

Violets. Clover. Lily of the Valley. Everything soft, quiet, personal. A gentle, tentative gesture that says, “I am opening myself up to you. Would you be willing to do the same?”

Noora can’t breathe for a moment. She takes the flowers from Even and sinks into the couch, turning them over and over in her hands. Trying to imagine the person who could have sent them, that if she concentrates hard enough, she’ll be able to see them in the intertwined stems, the petals, the ribbons. The person who belongs to the hands that wrapped these flowers, trimmed them, and wrote her name on the card. Noora.

“Noora?” Even asks. “Are you alright?”

Noora blinks. “Yeah,” she says quickly, “yeah, I’m fine. It’s just--this is so weird, you know? I’ve never had a-a secret admirer, as you say. It’s just--I don’t know what to think.”

Even speaks softly. “Are you sure it’s not W--”

“Yes,” Noora interrupts, too fast, but she needs to say it, needs it to be true. “It’s not--him. Not his style.”

“Okay.” Even nods, and doesn’t push any further.

They sit in silence for about ten minutes, Noora reading some old magazine from the waiting room, trying to force her hands to stop trembling. Even plays a game on his phone.

When it’s time for their first appointments of the day, the two leave the room without speaking.

 

Surprisingly, Noora’s able to put the flowers out of her mind for a bit and concentrate on her work. But as soon as she enters the breakroom for lunch and sees the bouquet lying on the table, it all comes flooding back--the confusion, the worry, the wondering . Even as she sits down on the couch for lunch and tries to concentrate on eating, it’s still there, lurking in the corner of her eye, distracting her. It’s too quiet in the room. She can hear the clock ticking on the wall, each beat pounding its way into her brain.

She realizes she’s been holding her fork halfway to her mouth for the last five minutes.

It’s a relief when she hears the door open and Even comes in, holding an apple. He sits down next to her and takes a bite. She scooches over to make room for him and tries to get back to her salad. For a moment, it’s quiet. The only noises in the room are the ticking of the clock and the two of them chewing. Noora tries to focus on these sounds, staring at the wall across from the couch, trying not to think about it, don’t think about it, don’t worry about it--

Noora sets down her salad abruptly and picks up her flowers. Turning it over in fingers, she examines the bouquet; the buds, the intertwined stems, the petals, the scent. She glances at the card again, reads the inscription: Noora <3 . Noora. Someone, somewhere, placed this order, someone wrapped these flowers and tied them up with a pale purple ribbon. Someone took the card and wrote her name on it. Someone did all of this for her. Someone...

Noora glances at the words again, the loops of the o’s, the way the tail of the a curves up and extends across the card in a wild flourish. The curves of the heart, slightly asymmetrical, the tips of the lines that form the peak crisscrossing. Not perfect. Human. Noora runs a fingernail over the letters again, from the curl at the beginning of the N to the runaway tip of the a... Noora notices something, printed in very fine type on the corner of the card. Two words. She squints. It says--it says--

Pedersens Blomsterbutikk.

Noora lets out a gasp of air she doesn’t realize she’s been holding.

“What?” Even asks. “What happened?”

She realizes he’s been watching her examine the tag like some TV detective. “These flowers--” the realization washes over her “--these flowers came from Pedersens Blomsterbutikk. The shop next store. I could go over right now--and ask them who placed the order.”

Even sits back. “Wow,” he says. “Well--do you want to?”

Noora blinks. “I guess--I mean--well, wouldn’t you?”

He shrugs. “I mean, probably. But whoever’s sending you those flowers will probably reveal themselves eventually. Right now, they must want it to be a secret. You could go and kickstart your story, I suppose, or you could let things unfold naturally. See where this mystery takes you.”

Part of Noora is ready to run out the door right now and interrogate whoever’s working as cashier at the shop (she remembers the pretty girl with copper-red hair and the brightest green eyes she’s ever seen…) But the other part of Noora, the one that keeps coming back no matter how hard she tries to push it down, doesn’t want to know who’s sending her those flowers, who knows Noora so intimately. Part of her doesn’t want this mystery solved, because what if it is him who’s sending them, what if he’s found her, what if he wants back into her life? And then there’s the other question, the one she doesn’t want to think about, the one with the answer she’s most afraid of: What if it’s not him?

“I need to know, Even,” Noora says resolutely.

She stands up and grabs her bag.

 

Noora bangs through the door of Pedersens Blomsterbutikk louder than intended, and winces as she hears it crash into the frame behind her, the bell jingling wildly. For a moment, she considers just forgetting about her mission and going back to have lunch with Even in that quiet breakroom. But someone’s already noticed her, the pretty red-haired girl ( Eva, Noora remembers), and it’s too late.

“Can I--” she calls from the counter, her gaze dropping to the bundle of flowers in Noora’s hands--”help you? Sorry, we don’t do returns--”
“No, no,” Noora says quickly. “I just--have a few questions for whoever was your cashier this morning.”

“O-kay,” Eva says with a puzzled smile. “Um..” She looks around for a second. “Uh, that’s me. What’s up?”

Noora opens her mouth to explain her predicament, and then hesitates. The whole situation suddenly seems incredibly embarrassing and pointless, and the idea of telling Eva everything makes her want to sink into the floor. She’s thinking that maybe Even was right, maybe I don’t want to know, but then she sees Eva’s face, eyes attentive and expectant, completely open and ready to listen. And the words just fall out. “I need to find out who sent me these flowers.”

Eva blinks, so fast Noora almost misses it. “Those flowers,” she says slowly.

Noora nods. “Yeah, these ones.” She offers them to Eva.

Eva is still for a moment, staring at the bouquet. She doesn’t take them. Noora starts to feel foolish, standing there with her arm outstretched. Eva clears her throat. “Um,” she starts, “well, you see, we’re, um, a pretty busy, uh, establishment, you see. The amount of people that come through here everyday--what, is there something wrong with them?”

“No!” Noora blurts out. “No, they’re...really nice, honestly. I like them a lot. But...I just really need to know who sent them.”

Eva lets out a breath. “Well--like I said--the amount of people coming through here everyday--all the different orders--”

Noora understands. “You can’t remember.”

Eva shakes her head, cheeks faintly pink. Noora realizes that her face is red as well. It must be hot in the shop. Or something.

“Okay,” Noora says.

“Sorry I couldn’t help,” Eva says apologetically. Her fingers are drumming on the counter.

“Don’t worry about it,” Noora mumbles absent-mindedly. There’s one more thing she could ask, but her hands shake at the thought of asking it and her stomach’s already a bundle of nerves…

“Anything else I can help you with?” Eva asks carefully.

“Yes,” Noora answers before she can stop herself. “Um, did a guy come in today? A guy in his late teens, floppy dark brown hair, big square nose?”

Eva thinks for a moment. “Um, I don’t think so?”

Noora feels something in her stomach, heavy like a stone. She doesn’t let herself think about it long enough to identify what it is. “Are you sure?” she asks, one last time.

“Uh, pretty sure,” Eva answers. “But I could have missed him--Sana?” she calls to a hijabi girl who’s hanging out a few feet away, spinning around the rack of cards. She looks up. “Sana,” Eva says again, “can I ask you a real quick question?”

Noora realizes she really doesn’t want another person involved in her quest and tries to excuse herself. “It’s okay, really, I can see myself out--”
“Nah, don’t worry,” Eva tries to reassure her. “Sana, did you see a guy come in today with floppy brown hair and a big nose?”

The hijabi girl, ( Sana, Noora reminds herself) purses her lips as she ponders the question. “Don’t think so. What’s up?”

Noora realizes that they’re both waiting for her to respond. “Um, I was just trying to figure out who sent me these flowers. But it’s okay if you don’t know; I need to get back to work anyway.” She starts to head towards the door.

“Um, okay, have a nice day, Noora!” Eva calls after her as Noora hurries away.

Noora feels her cheeks burn as the bell jingles behind her. Eva’s voice echoes in her head: have a nice day, Noora...a nice day, Noora…

Her stomach feels oddly light as she reenters the tattoo parlor.

 

“Eva?”

Sana’s voice makes her jump. She’s staring at Noora through the window by the counter, watching the sunlight as it catches in her wavy white-blonde hair, the wind rustling the flowers clutched tightly in her hand…

“Eva!”

Eva tears her gaze away. “Sorry, Sana. What’s up?”

Sana looks Eva right in the eye. “Are you doing okay?”

“I--” Eva feels bare, naked under her gaze. Like Sana can see right through her, into her heart. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m okay. W-why do you ask?”

“Eva.” Sana’s voice is so soft. “I came in this morning early, before the shop opened. I-I saw you.”

The words sink in, and Eva feels them like a punch in the stomach “Y-you saw?” she whispers. She feels like she’s about to throw up. Sana’s voice keep echoing in her head-- I saw you...this morning...before the shop opened, I saw you-- and then they’re overpowered by panic, by the realization that Sana knows, Sana knows, Sana knows, she knows, she knows how you feel, she knows what you are, Sana knows, she knows, she knows--

Eva thinks she might pass out.

“Eva.” Sana’s voice sounds like it’s far away, so gentle, so persistent. Eva wishes she’d stop saying her name. “Why didn’t you tell her that you sent her the flowers?”

“I--” Eva’s throat feels like it’s about to close up. She swallows. “I-I-I don’t know. I guess--I guess I was...scared. Scared of how she’d react. I mean--did you see how upset she was? She definitely doesn’t like them. Or--or--did you hear her talking about a guy?” Eva knows she’s babbling, but she can’t stop. “She clearly likes him. She definitely doesn’t like--me.”

Sana shakes her head slowly. “Oh, Eva,” she sighs. “I don’t know exactly how she feels about the bouquet. But I can tell you--she did not like that guy. That look in her eyes--definitely not love. Why--why are you so sure she wouldn’t like you?”

“I--” Eva tries to think of an answer, but her mind’s stuck. “I don’t know...I--we’ve only just met. She probably doesn’t even think about me at all. She probably doesn’t even remember my name.”

“Maybe not now,” Sana says. “But the person who sent her those flowers? She wants to get to know them. And I don’t see why that would change just because that person happens to be you. You’re a really lovely, cool girl, Eva. There are so many people who love you.”

Eva feels something stirring in her chest, lifting her, something that’s a little too close to hope. She tries to shove it down. She can’t let herself hope, expect that she even has a chance, because--”But how do I know--I mean, what if she’s not--” Like me. “Like--like that?”

Sana sighs. “I guess--that’s just a chance you have to take. Do you really like this girl?”

The lump in her throat is back. Eva can hardly breathe as she nods, once, twice. “I-I’ve never felt this before. For a girl. And maybe--maybe for a guy too, I don’t know.”

“Then,” Sana says decisively, “You should go for it. See what happens.”

It’s simultaneously what Eva wanted to hear, and what Eva was afraid she’d say. Go for it... Her heart is pounding. “Thank you, Sana,” she whispers.

“Of course.” Sana smiles.

“Well…” Eva tries to lighten the mood, shift the attention away from her. “Enough about my love life. Is there anyone you like, Sana?”

Sana doesn’t answer, but her smile brightens a little, and she glances down. “Oh my God,” Eva says. “You do like someone. Who?”

“What?” Sana cries. “No! No, I don’t like anyone. I mean, not really.

“So you do.” Eva grins. “Who is it? Tell me about them!”

“I told you, there’s no one.” Sana’s struggling to keep a straight face.

“Sana Bakkoush, we both know that’s bullshit. So tell me about who you like!” Eva’s never seen Sana like this before, so flustered and uncomposed.

“Well…” Sana murmurs, and Eva leans in close. “Well, there’s this girl who was in my German class this year…”

 

Even’s sitting in the same spot in the breakroom when Noora returns, typing something on his phone. When she enters, he looks up. “Find anything out?”

Noora shakes her head. “The cashier, Eva, she couldn’t remember. But it’s not--it’s not him.

Even breaks into a wide grin. “I see.”

“Wait.” Noora wasn’t expecting that reaction. “What do you see?”

Even shakes his head. “Just--just glad that it’s not your creeper ex trying to get back with you.”

“Yeah,” Noora murmurs. Her thoughts are still racing. “Me too.”

She takes a seat next to Even on the couch and picks up her half-eaten salad. For a few moments, it’s just her eating in silence. And then Noora realizes something.

“Even? Where’s Sonja?”

 

Isak scuffs his feet as he walks to the tram stop. Eva and Sana are still in the shop, engaged in some conversation that involves a lot of whispering and giggling. Well, Isak thinks bitterly as he walks, at least someone in this shop is happy. He’s got that date with Emma tonight which means he’s got to take a different tram than usual and he can hardly concentrate and remember the number because he’s barely slept since that night, the night when he found out that-- no, stop, it can’t be true, it’s not true, don’t get your hopes up it’s a coincidence it’s NOT TRUE--

“Halla, Isak!”
It only takes two words for Isak to stop in his tracks because it’s him, it’s him, he’s right behind him right there and he bought those flowers and he gave Isak that book and it could be--but it’s not--but it could be--

“Halla,” Isak chokes out.

“Seems we keep meeting here.” Even’s grinning, and Isak has somehow lost the ability to speak.

“W-well,” he manages to stammer out. “We all have to go home at the end of the day.” Wow, he thinks to himself, way to state the obvious, dumbass.

But Even’s laughing and smiling and he says “That’s true” and Isak feels like he must be floating several inches off the ground. And he’s trying so, so hard to not think about a few certain orders of flowers…

The tram comes in a gust of wind and the part of Isak’s brain that isn’t completely occupied with Even’s smile, and the way his hair billows in the breeze and catches the late afternoon sunlight realizes that it’s the same number from Emma’s text message earlier this morning.

Even turns to look at him again, one eyebrow raised. “This is my tram.”

“Wow,” Isak murmurs breathlessly. “It’s mine too.”

Because, by some miracle, it is.

Chapter Text

Isak’s not sure exactly how he managed to get himself into Even’s apartment. His memories of the tram ride are very much a blur, a faint recollection of a few exchanged words and blond hair and long legs and golden earring and suddenly he’s exiting the tram with Even and now he’s sitting on a window seat and watching him rummage around in his closet for something. Everything around him seems to have a dreamlike quality about it, the kitchen counter a little too brightly white, the light about the table just a little too fuzzy, the rumpled sheets on the bed (Isak tries very hard to not think about Even lying in that bed with Sonja, and what activities that may involve) a little too vibrantly colored. Everything about the situation he’s in feels slightly unreal.

And that’s before Even gets out the weed.

 

“So.” Even takes a drag from the joint and blows a cloud of smoke out the window, then turns and quirks an eyebrow at Isak. “How’s life at Pedersens? Are the old ladies, still, uh, getting you down?”

Isak snorts with laughter too soon after he takes a hit, and dissolves into a coughing fit for a few moments. “Yeah-yeah, a little, but you get used to them. Used to their ways.”

“Used to their ways?” Even laughs. “Are you an old lady expert now, Isak?”

Isak nods, trying to keep a straight face. “World-renowned. I’ve studied their habits, their language, their culture…”

“Wow.” Even shakes his head. “I can’t believe I didn’t realize I was smoking with the world’s foremost expert on old ladies. Excuse me.”

Isak sighs dramatically. “Don’t worry about it. It’s a thankless position, really.”

“No, I insist. Please, tell me more about your field.” Even’s acting very serious, but Isak can tell he’s trying not to smile. It makes Isak feel like he’s floating a few inches above the windowsill. It’s me, he’s laughing at me, with me, he thinks I’m funny, he wants to hear what I have to say--

“Well, you see.” Isak clears his throat, trying to sound distinguished. He takes a long drag from the joint and blows the smoke out slowly. He remembers he has a pair of sunglasses in his pocket, and pulls them out, lowering them to the bridge of his nose like his Norwegian teacher wears them. “The most difficult part is learning to understand their language. The thing that makes it so difficult are the idioms. Old ladies often say one thing, when in actuality they mean something completely different.”

He hears a wheezing sound and realizes that Even’s choking with laughter next to him. Heartened, Isak clears his throat again.

“You see, if an old lady says something like--" (he puts on a squeaky, high-pitched voice) "--‘would you be a doll and do this for me’, it means, ‘you better do this right now, or in the next five minutes, or else I won’t openly get mad, but I’ll sigh a lot and make a comment about the moral decay of today’s youth’. And if they say something along the lines of ‘oh dear, it seems that there is a minute detail that makes me unhappy with my floral arrangement’, it’s not a casual observation. What they really mean is, ‘fix this now, or when the cashier won’t give me a discount on my unsatisfactory bouquet, I’ll ask to speak to the manager and do my best to get you fired, oh, and I’ll also give you a one-star review on Yelp’. And when--” Even’s absolutely dying with laughter, and Isak can’t help feeling incredibly proud of himself, of his absolute genius sense of humor that allowed him to make this beautiful boy laugh "--when they say ‘oh, isn’t it lovely to see a young man working at a florist’s’ they mean--” (Isak takes a deep breath) "--they mean, ‘what the hell are you doing here? A flower shop is a place for girls’ .”

Isak feels a faint weight pressing against his knee, and looks down to see Even’s hand. He feels his breath catch in his chest and his heart beginning to pound, so fast and hard that he’s convinced Even must be able to feel it through the denim of his jeans, and then he looks up. And he sees Even’s face. And it feels like his lungs, his heart, his brain, every part of his body has just stopped. Because Even’s eyes are surprisingly clear considering all the pot they’ve been smoking, and there’s this look in them, this steely cool blue look, and Isak realizes he’s no longer laughing.

“Isak,” Even says. His name in Even’s mouth...it’s enough to make shivers go down his spine and knock whatever air that’s left out of his lungs, and all he can do is sit, breathless, and listen.

“Isak--" ( again...) "-- fuck them.” Isak blinks. “I mean it,” Even continues. “Fuck. Them. They don’t get to say shit about you when you’re the one doing all the work for them. Fuck that. Fuck those old ladies. They’ll probably have a heart attack anyway.”

The part of Isak’s brain that can register what Even’s saying allows him to laugh at that, but the rest of his brain is stuck thinking those words over and over again (fuck them, Isak...fuck...Isak...fuck) , and Isak decides that this must be some weed-induced dream. But he pinches himself and blinks over and over again, and Even is still in front of him, face completely serious and completely honest, and Isak’s lungs still seem to have ceased to function, but he manages to choke out an “I guess...thank you.”

Even smiles, not a wide, toothy grin, but a quiet, gentle encouragement. And even though it’s just as stunning as every single other face Even makes, Isak finally feels like he can really breathe again. He can’t help but smile back.

Even’s grin widens. “I think I have another joint hidden somewhere around here. Do you wanna--”

Isak’s nodding yes almost before Even asks the question.

 

They’ve been passing the second joint back and forth for a few minutes in silence when Isak gets really distracted by the drawings posted on the wall by the windowsill; struck dumb by the intricate line-work, the shading, the way the individual pencil strokes and ink blots stretch out into space and meet with other pencil marks and dots to form shapes, and the shapes go on to make up entire pictures. Isak imagines himself wandering down the paths of these lines, chasing the loops and curves and changing paths at places where lines intersect, hopping from dot to dot to dot across the page until he feels like he’s become one with the drawing, that he’s somehow managed to transport himself onto the sheet of paper.

“Like them?” Even asks, jolting Isak out of the pages and back into the room with him. He has a twinkle in his eye as he blows out a ring of smoke, and then passes the joint to Isak.

“Y-yeah,” Isak stammers out. He takes a hit. “They’re really good. Did you draw them?”

“Some of them,” Even answers. “Some of them are Sonja’s, too.”

“Right.” For the first time in a while, Isak’s been able to forget about Sonja, been able to imagine that it’s just him and Even sitting in Even’s apartment, alone together, and Even bought those flowers and sent him a book so he could understand the meanings of them, that it was actually a possibility that Even could like him, he could actually think about Isak the way Isak thinks about him and that maybe...just maybe...with the two of them alone in his apartment...something could happen. And then Even says that. And Isak remembers. And suddenly, Isak doesn’t feel like smoking anymore.

It’s quiet for a moment. Even blows out another ring of smoke and passes to Isak. Isak waves it away and stares out the window, at the dirty street and a single street lamp below. And maybe it’s the weed giving him courage, or all the questions that have been bouncing around his head since he looked up those flower meanings and how despite all his reason, and his attempts to suppress it, he's started to hope, but Isak finds himself asking, “So, Sonja. Is she your...girlfriend, or something?”

Even sits back and stubs out the joint. “Yeah,” he mutters, “something like that.”

There’s a story in his response, in the silence that follows, in the glance that he casts out the window. Something’s up with their relationship, and Isak knows it’s not his place to ask but GOD does he want to know. And he can feel something rising in his chest, something a lot like flower meanings and too much hope. And Isak realizes that he needs to change the subject, to think of something else, and suddenly he finds himself asking, “So, what’s it like working at a tattoo parlor?” as if that previous moment never happened, as if him and Even are at some cocktail event making small talk. He goes back to staring out the window, trying to pretend that he doesn’t want desperately to sink into the floor as he waits for what seems like ages for Even to respond.

“It’s pretty good, I’d say,” Even answers, and Isak feels like his insides are melting in relief. “Less old ladies, for sure, but more consequences if you mess up.”

Isak laughs, probably a little too loudly, but the tension’s broken and he’s still pretty high, and so he finds himself asking, “The people there cool?” because honestly, he could listen to Even joking about his work life, or really talking about anything for hours.

“Yeah, pretty cool.” Even sits back. “All really talented people, definitely. Noora’s a really amazing person. Been through hell, honestly, but she’s so strong. And Sonja--” Fuck, Isak thinks, great deflection “--well, she’s Sonja. And that’s always--something, for sure.” That feeling’s back, and Isak’s mentally cursing himself for somehow bringing the conversation back to Sonja again, but Even gives him a small smile and says, “What about you? How are the people at Pedersens--the ones that aren’t old ladies, of course. I’ve been talking with Eva a lot, but not much with the others.”

Isak laughs. “They’re pretty cool, for the most part. I’ve been friends with Eva forever, and Sana--Sana gives me the strength to keep going when the old ladies are being particularly... aggressive. And Emma--well, she’s Emma. That’s something.” As he says this, Isak feels something lurking in the back of his mind, something that he’s forgetting, but Even is smiling and laughing and saying, “I’m sure”, so he pushes it out of his mind, but then--

“Wait,” Isak says. His brain still feels jumbled from the pot. “You’ve been talking to Eva? I didn’t know that.”

Even blinks a little. “Yeah, yeah, we’ve been texting about--about, uh, flowers and stuff.”

Flowers... This is news to Isak. Even’s been talking to Eva...about flowers? Is it possible that flower meanings could  play a part in this as well? Is there a chance that--that Eva knows about--about whatever it is that Even’s doing?

And suddenly, Isak can’t breathe again. His thoughts keep coming and coming and they won’t stop, and no matter how hard he tries to just take a deep breath, think for a second he can’t, because he needs to know he needs to know GOD he NEEDS TO KNOW and maybe it’s that last bit of news, and maybe it's the way Even said Sonja’s name today, and maybe it’s the weed giving him stupid courage, but somehow Isak finds the breath and the strength to whisper, “So, is that how you learned about different flower meanings?”

As soon as the words are out of his mouth, Isak’s mind goes into overdrive and all he can think is what have I done what have I done what have I done WHAT HAVE I DONE but then Even smiles, and laughs, and he says, “Ah, so you figured it out” and Isak feels like he’s about to explode because it couldn’t be real--but it was real, it was real all along, he did it on purpose, he WANTED you to find the meanings and there WAS a message and he MEANT it...he meant all of it... and Isak feels like pinching himself because there’s no way, this must be a dream, it can’t be real, he wouldn’t--

But Even’s still talking, saying something like Come with me, I want to show you something and Isak meets his eyes, and suddenly there’s no Sonja, or Emma, it’s just the two of them and the possibility of something... something.

Isak hurries to follow Even out the apartment door.

 

The thing that Even wants to show Isak is apparently not in his apartment building, and somehow Isak finds himself riding behind Even on his bike, his chest against Even’s back, knees bumping against knees, and the wind is blowing and the sun is setting and Even keeps turning to look at him and laughing, and Isak’s laughing too, and he can’t remember a time where he’s felt this light, or happy, and for a moment he almost feels like there’s no need for beer or weed anymore, he could ride this high for the rest of his life. He doesn’t want it to ever end.

But after about fifteen minutes of pedalling, Even pulls over and says, “Here we are”, and Isak is surprised to find that his legs can still work as he shakily gets off the bike and looks around to see where Even’s taken him.

It’s a pond, the water as smooth and reflective as a mirror, a painting of the pinky-orange fire of the setting sun set in the ground. The surface is completely undisturbed, with the exception of a few clusters of lily pads, scattered across the water in handfuls of green and purple disks. On the other side of the pond lies a rocky hillside, blocky brown stones falling over each other as water trickles down their sides to the pool below. And surrounding the rocks and the pool and Isak on all sides is the lush green of the summer plants; the grasses, the shrubbery, the moss and lichen hanging off the trees and stones, offset by colorful patches of flowers scattered across the lawn and on the banks of the pond.

As he stands there, taking it all in, Isak feels like he’s somehow been dropped into the Garden of Eden from his mom’s Bible. “Wow,” he breathes. “What is this place? Are we even still in Oslo?”

Even looks over from where he’s in the process of propping his bike up against a tree. “The University’s Botanical Garden. My mom used to take me here as a kid. All of it’s incredible, but this was always my favorite spot.”

“I can see why,” Isak murmurs. It’s probably the most beautiful place he’s ever seen.

There’s a short stone bench near the edge of the pond, and Isak sits down on it, staring at the glassy surface of the water below. After a moment, Even joins him. “There used to be fish here,” he says. “Some really nice fat, orange koi. I’d always try to feed them grass and flowers and shit, and sometimes they’d nibble at my fingers.”

“Weird,” Isak says, because he doesn’t know how else to respond.

Even chuckles. “I guess, yeah. Honestly, I think it’s my fault that there’s no fish now. They probably got sick, eating all the crap I fed them. Even when they put up signs that said ‘don’t feed the fish’, I’d still do it.”

“Nice,” Isak jokes, “fight the power.”

“Exactly.” Even turns to smile at him, and suddenly the sunset is dim in comparison. “My first act of rebellion.”

Isak laughs a little, and the two of them resume staring at sky as it’s mirrored at their feet. It’s a quiet evening. There’s no sounds of traffic in the distance, no people shouting and whooping like there are on a typical Friday night. Just the rustle of the wind in the trees, the lapping of the water against the rocks, and the faint sounds of Even’s breathing next to him. And for the first time in an incredibly long time, Isak’s mind is blissfully, utterly empty.

“So,” Even murmurs, his voice almost blending into the swaying of the leaves, “this is how I learned about--about the symbolism of flowers. My mom had a friend who worked here, and on her breaks she’d give us tours, and tell us all about what each plant could mean. I guess--I never really forgot that.”

“So you mean,” Isak whispers, his throat suddenly dry, “you don’t go into just any flower shop and buy certain bouquets to get messages across to certain employees?”

Even shakes his head. He's smiling a little. “No. You’re the first, Isak.”

Their faces are so close together....Isak barely has to lean forward…

And suddenly there’s a fffsssshhh coming from behind him, and Even’s jumping up and going “fuck, fuck, what time is it? fuck!” and suddenly Isak’s being slapped in the face by this stream of water, and then Even grabs his hand and the two of them are running, running as fast as they can to get away from the sprinklers that have just now turned on, and Isak, of course, being the incredible athlete he is, ends up slipping on the grass and suddenly he’s flat on his back, his shirt and pants completely soaked through, and Even’s landed, in a mess of completely drenched long legs practically on top of him, but somehow still clutching Isak’s hand tightly, looking down at him…

And suddenly Isak can’t breathe again, but not because the wind’s been knocked out of him from the fall, or the water in his face, but because Even has leaned forward closer and closer and he’s kissing him, oh God! Even is kissing him, he’s lying on top of Isak and he’s kissing him and it’s not a dream, it’s not fake, because the water that’s spraying them sure as hell is real, he’s at the University’s Botanical Gardens and he’s being completely drenched by automatic sprinklers, but that doesn’t matter, none of it matter, because he’s got his hands tangled in damp Blond Hair and he’s being straddled by Long Legs and--and--

Even is kissing him, and suddenly Isak feels like he’ll never need to breathe air again.

 

Eva folds the piece of paper in her hands, and then unfolds it again.

She stares at the figures on the page. Eight digits. Six letters…

Sana’s voice is in her head, telling her to go for it, see what happens.

Go for it…

She folds the paper again. Unfolds it again.

See what happens…

She stares at the letters, the numbers. What they represent. What they could lead to.

Go

For

It

Eva folds the paper and shoves it into an envelope. When she leaves the shop, she tries not to run.

Chapter Text

Isak wakes up the next morning feeling so warm and safe and comfortable that he’s completely disoriented. It’s been so long since he’s had such a good night’s sleep--actually waking up feeling energized instead of instantly craving the moment he can close his eyes again--and the feeling is so unfamiliar that he feels like he’s woken up in some parallel universe--like his body has been taken and replaced with something that looks and feels like Isak Valtersen, but isn’t quite the same. And he’s completely lost.

And then he hears someone murmur his name in his ear, and feels a soft kiss brush against his forehead, and suddenly he remembers everything--how he and Even biked their way back to the apartment, the wind that sliced through their soaked clothes not making him shiver as much as the feeling of having Even pressed against him, how Even looked with his shirt completely drenched and clinging to his chest, and then how he looked clean and dried off and fresh in a white t-shirt after a shower, and how he gave clothes to Isak to change into, and how when he put them on it didn’t feel like he was trying on some other guy’s pants, but felt somehow like coming home, and how they lay next to each other on Even’s bed, kissing, kissing, kissing, and holding each other until slowly, softly, they fell asleep...

And Isak turns to look up, and Even’s face smiling down at him is like the morning sun but twice as radiant, and then Even leans down to kiss him properly, lacing his fingers through Isak’s hair and pulling him closer, and even then, somehow, it still doesn’t quite feel real.

 

Isak comes in late to work on Saturday. Eva’s already set herself up at the cash register as he hurries in, hair messy and grinning wildly. “Had a fun night?” she teases him.

“Huh?” he asks.

Eva laughs a little. “Did you have a good night last night? You didn’t come home.”
Isak smiles wider. “Oh, yeah. It was pretty good. Sorry, I should have texted.”

“It’s okay.” Eva’s glad to see him so happy, he’s been so moody for so long. “I can tell you were...otherwise occupied.”

“What?” Isak looks confused. Then he shakes his head in mock disapproval. “You have a dirty mind, Eva.”

Eva raises her eyebrows at him, hoping he’ll elaborate further, but he doesn’t. “Well, whoever it was, they seem to be good for you. I think I’ll approve.”

“Yeah,” Isak murmurs. “Yeah…” He wanders over to the fridge, where Emma and Sana are standing.

Eva shakes her head. She’s never seen Isak like this before, so cheerful and dreamy. Who could have done this?

 

Isak’s riding high, and he feels great. For the first time in forever he’s not fuzzy-minded with exhaustion, and his stomach’s full of the delicious breakfast Even made for him before they took the tram to work together, hands brushing against each other as they clung onto the same pole...he knows he’s grinning like an idiot at the memory, but for once in his life he doesn’t care.

He wanders over to the fridge and for the first time since he’s met her, his heart doesn’t sink into his stomach when he sees Emma. Until she turns to him and fixes him with a deep glare, and it’s like there’s a cartoon record scratch--all the good, warm feelings in his stomach melt away and he’s thrust into reality.

“So,” she says shortly. “Seems you had a fun Friday night.”

“Yeah…” Isak says carefully. Some shit’s about to go down, he can tell.

“Sounds nice,” Emma murmurs. Her voice is dangerously soft. Isak wishes she would yell, this calm is somehow so much worse. “Unfortunately,” she continues, “I didn’t. Do you know why?”

She’s still glaring at him, and Isak’s mind is completely blank. He’s still half-thinking about how Even kissed him behind Pedersens before he went in and then promised to meet him after work, and why does she think he’d know so much about her social life anyway? “I don’t know,” he says.

She inhales sharply. Isak almost expects to see sparks flying out of her nostrils. “Well,” she says, voice clipped, “you may be interested to know that it was because this asshole who I’d made plans with earlier this week decided to stand me up at the last minute. So yeah. Not the best night for me.”
There’s a moment where Isak’s caught in her gaze and totally lost, and then it hits him. “Oh,” he says, “fuck, Emma, I’m so sorry, I completely forgot.”

She shakes her head. “Whatever, Isak. It’s clear you had more important things to do.” She stalks off to stand by the window.

Isak glances at Sana, hoping to find some pity or understanding, but she doesn’t meet his eye.

 

Saturdays tend to be either the busiest day of the week where they’re working their asses off almost from the moment they open up the shop to half an hour after closing time, or a day that’s so mind-numbingly slow that it practically feels like the clock is going backwards.

This Saturday is one of those slow days, and it’s the opposite of what Eva needs. She’s alone at her register, waiting to ring up customers that never show up, and there’s nothing to distract her from the growing anxiety that she’s totally fucked up. She tries to put the note out of her mind, tries to think of something, anything else, but every time she closes her eyes she sees those same eight digits and six letters, wrapped up in a pretty purple ribbon, and the dread in her stomach slowly grows until she feels like she’ll be sick with it because she doesn’t know what to do she doesn’t know what to do she doesn’t know what to do.

The bell on the door keeps not ringing and the fridge door stays closed and the clock keeps ticking and Eva’s not positive but she thinks that something’s up with the other three workers because the back of the shop is oddly quiet, and she’s sick of tapping her fingers on the counter and doodling randomly on the backs of cards and then finally she can’t take it anymore. She grabs her phone.

 

Eva: freaking out

Even: why?? What’s happened???

 

Eva: did something dumb

Eva: gave her my number

 

Even: ????? why do you say that’s dumb?

 

Eva: she doesn’t know it’s me

Eva: just some mystery person who’s been giving her flowers

 

Even: ah

Even: do you want her to know it’s you?

 

Eva: yes

Eva: no

Eva: i really don’t know

Eva: see my problem?

 

Even: i think

Even: what’s the worst that could happen if she knows it’s you?

 

Eva: i don’t know

Eva: she doesn’t like me

Eva: she’s disappointed

 

Even: i see

Even: and what’s the worst that could happen if she doesn’t know

 

Eva: ….

Eva: i never know what could have happened

 

Even: do you see now?

 

Eva: i think

Eva: yeah

Eva: but what do i do if she texts me??? get coffee??

 

Even: always a solid option

Even: look, if you’re really nervous just text her to meet you somewhere. she’ll come

 

Eva: ok, but where?

 

Even: somewhere nice, obviously.

Even: since you’ve been sending her flowers, maybe some place with flowers?

 

Eva: maybe, yeah

Eva: i think i know a spot

 

Isak’s exhausted by the time work ends. Both Sana and Emma have been giving him the cold shoulder all day and he’s sure they’re talking about him behind his back, Eva seems to be totally distracted by something on her phone, and there have been almost no customers to distract him from his problems. Because sure, he feels bad he accidentally stood Emma up last night, but it’s hard to regret it when he remembers how it felt to be alone with Even--like safety, like freedom to just be for once, no walls and no fronts. Something like peace. Something like the opposite of how he’s feeling now.

More and more, Isak realizes, he’s being caught between two parts of himself--the person he is when he’s alone with Even, and the person he is everywhere else. But he can’t for the life of him think of a way to reconcile these two parts.

He’s never been happier for a work day to end. The moment the clock strikes 15:00, he’s hanging up his apron and hurrying out the door before he can be dragged back in and forced to help clean and close the shop. Out of habit, he immediately turns and begins walking towards the tram station, and then he hears a voice say, “Leaving without me?” and he turns around, and blond hair and long legs and golden earring and Even is standing there, grinning at him, and suddenly everything feels a thousand pounds lighter. “Did you think I wasn’t coming?” he asks.

“Yeah, I was so sad,” Isak jokes.

Even pulls him close, and Isak’s smiling so much that he can barely kiss Even back.

 

Noora folds the paper in half, and then unfolds it again.

She stares at the writing on the page. The 8-digit phone number. The two words: Call me.

She could do this. She could text this number, find out for once and for all where these flowers are coming from. Who sent them. She could stop wondering, thinking, obsessing over these mysterious floral arrangements, be able to walk past the flower shop next store without thinking of the people who buy flowers there, who could have taken one of those cards and written her name on it in pen, and then paid the money to the cashier, the one with hair like a coppery waterfall and the clearest, greenest eyes she’s ever seen , she could walk into the breakroom at Magnum Opus without wondering if there will be another mysterious bundle of flowers, if Even will be standing there saying, these are for you.

She could do all of that, but the number sits in her phone, and the words “Hey, it’s noora”, written out and then subsequently deleted almost a dozen times, remain unsent. And Noora wishes more than anything that she could be that brave, but she can’t do this. She starts deleting the message again, slowly.

There’s a smudge on the right side of her screen, and she stops for a moment to scrub at it with her knuckle.

Her phone makes a little whooosh sound, and she looks down. Shit! Noora sits up. SHIT!!

At the very last moment, right before the message disappeared completely, she’d hit send. She’d accidentally sent a single letter H to her secret admirer.

Noora leans back into the breakroom couch and closes her eyes, trying to calm herself down. That’s decided, I guess.

 

Eva sits on the park bench, trying to resist the urge to check her phone every five seconds.

It’s 16:00. Almost six hours since Noora should have received the flowers from Even, since she received the note with Eva’s number and the request to call her. Six hours, but Eva’s phone’s not chiming with any new texts from any unfamiliar numbers and the longer she waits the worse she feels. She tries to think rationally, come up with different explanations for the radio silence-- maybe she couldn’t come into work today, maybe she didn’t have a chance to read the card, maybe she’s too nervous to text, maybe her phone’s dead, maybe she doesn’t have a phone-- but she can’t help think that there’s something else, that she was wrong and Noora doesn’t want to know, or her handwriting was too messy on the card and she couldn’t read it, or some other thing has gone wrong--

Eva’s phone buzzes and she lunges for it. Her heart racing and her hands trembling, she glances down at the screen.

 

Unknown: H

 

Eva squints in confusion. H? What’s that supposed to mean? Is it a code? A joke? Is it Noora? Or some other wrong number at exactly the wrong time? Her stomach’s churning and her phone’s still shaking in her hands and she can’t stop thinking that this was a mistake this was a mistake this was a mistake this was a mistake why would she text you why would she want to meet YOU, why would you think she would like you at all--

Her phone buzzes again. Eva takes a breath before she lowers her eyes to see what it says.

 

Isak: when are you planning on coming back to the house?

 

Her heart sinks. Fucking Isak, she thinks to herself, never texting at the right time. She begins to type out a reply, but then realizes she doesn’t know what to say. She’s planned her entire afternoon around Noora texting her, but that doesn’t seem to be happening and she doesn’t know whether she should wait a little longer or just give up and go home. And then her phone buzzes again.

Eva can barely stand to look at it, her heart is pounding so much. But she also can’t stand to not look, so she lifts her phone up.

 

Unknown: Hey, it’s Noora is what I meant to send. I accidentally pressed enter too soon.

Unknown: Haha

 

It feels like ten thousand pounds of anxiety have been lifted off of Eva’s chest. The sun suddenly feels much brighter than it did a moment ago. She closes her eyes for a moment, savoring the warmth. There’s a small flock of pigeons nearby, and group of little kids feeding them bread, laughing and shrieking as the birds swarm around the crumbs, and suddenly Eva feels a strange desire to join them. Or run through the flock and scatter them all into the clear blue sky. It’s such a beautiful day. Eva can’t help grinning as she begins to type out a response to Noora.

 

Eva: haha

Eva: i’m happy to hear from you

 

Barely a moment passes before her phone buzzes with a response. As she reads it, her smiles widens.

 

Noora: Yeah, it’s nice to talk to you too :)

 

And then a second later:

 

Noora: So, what do we do now?

 

Eva thinks for a moment before she presses send.

 

Eva: up to you

Eva: do you want to meet me?

 

It takes a little longer for Noora to respond this time. A few times the typing bubbles pop up, and then disappear again. Eva begins to feel a little anxious again, watching this moment of indecision. But then her phone buzzes, and then buzzes again with another message.

 

Noora: Yes

Noora: Somewhere public.

 

Eva feels a thrill as she reads these two texts, and then rereads them again, and again. She wants to meet me...or whoever she thinks ‘me’ is.

 

Eva: of course

Eva: you doing anything later today?

 

Again, that pause, and again, those text bubbles appear and then disappear again, and Eva’s struck by the realization that it’s possible Noora might be just as nervous as she is. And then--

 

Noora: No, I’m not doing anything…

 

Eva types the next message, but before she hits send it hits her, what this could lead to. What sending this text could mean for her future. If she sends it, Noora will come, and Eva will meet her, and Noora will know that it’s her, and then--and then something will happen next. Eva just doesn’t know what. She takes a deep breath and, like ripping off the bandaid, she hits send and closes her eyes for a moment.

 

Eva: ok, so here’s where you need to go

 

She sends an attachment of her current location. A moment passes, and then:

 

Noora: Be there in about half an hour

 

She smiles, and texts Isak back.

 

Eva: not for a while, don’t wait up for me

 

Noora’s been holding onto the plastic yellow handle hanging from the ceiling of the tram for half an hour before it hits her, what she’s about to do.

She’s about to go meet a person who’s been in her life for only about a week but who knows her name and where she works and enough about her to know what kind of flowers she’d want, a person who knows so much about her, but Noora doesn’t even know who they are. The longer she waits for her stop, listening to the rattling of the tracks and the soft dings and voices over the intercom, the more anxious she gets. What if it’s a joke, what if they’re just going to stand me up, what if it’s some elaborate kidnapping scheme, what if they’re a serial killer, what if--what if it is him, after all…

The bell dings. It’s the end of the line, and it’s her stop. As the door slides open, Noora considers letting them close. Sitting back on the plastic seats and letting the tram take her back to the heart of Oslo. Letting this mystery remain unsolved. The gap between the doorway and the platform feels miles-long, the distance between her old life and this new, mystery-filled existence. She stops at the edge staring down, and then someone shoves past her and jolts her out of her thoughts. Before she can stop herself, before she can think, she takes a step right as the doors begin to close.

 

“So,” Even murmurs to Isak, “my place, or yours?”

They’re sitting next to each other, waiting for the next tram to come, and Isak can’t help the thrill that runs down his spine at these words. For a moment, he lets himself imagine being alone with Even in his apartment, and though the concept excites him, there’s still a question that’s been nagging him since yesterday, and he hasn’t gotten a full answer yet. “I don’t know,” Isak says, “but Even, I have to ask--if--if this is something we’re going to be doing, what--what’s up with you and Sonja? Are you broken up?”

Even sighs and closes his eyes. “Sonja and I--we’re having...problems. She’s been at her friend’s house all week.”

“And?” Isak doesn’t want to pry, but after everything that happened last year, he feels a little antsy about being with someone who’s still dating someone else.

“And--well--it’s complicated.” Even takes a deep breath. “I really like you, Isak, but I share an apartment with her, you know? It’s messy.”

Isak nods. “Yeah, I get that.”

“I’ll figure it out, okay?” Even murmurs. “I’ll figure it out.”

“Okay,” Isak says. He still feels a little uneasy about this, but he doesn’t want to push the issue anymore since Even’s clearly uncomfortable. “Well, um, back to your question--we might be able to go to my place, depending on where Eva is. She ran off a bit before the store closed. I can ask, just a second.” He pulls out his phone to text her.

“Eva?” Even asks. “You live with Eva?”

Isak laughs, more out of surprise than humor. “Oh, yeah. It’s--it’s a long story.”

Even gestures to the clock hanging above the platform. It reads ‘15:37 minutes till the next tram’, and Isak watches for a moment as the seconds tick down. “We’ve got a bit of time,” Even says, “only if you’re comfortable, of course.”

Isak watches the clock tick down a few more seconds, and then he feels Even’s hand brush against his, and looks up at him, at his gentle smile and the way he looks at Isak like he understands, like he knows what it’s like to have something inside him that he doesn’t want to think about, doesn’t want to know, but some days it builds up and builds up until it feels like it’s the only part of you that exists, that it must be etched across your face because whenever someone looks at you, it’s all they can see. And that look and the empty platform give Isak the courage to wind his fingers through Even’s, and begin to speak.

“My dad--” (Isak clears his throat) “--my dad left when I was 16. And after, my mom--well, my mom had always been bad, but when he left, she got so much worse. She had like--delusions, I guess, or paranoia, or something. She’d be convinced that like--I don’t know, the world was ending, or there were people following her, or that I was going to die, and end up in hell and I guess one day--I couldn’t take it anymore. I don’t even remember that night, I was so drunk. And I guess I somehow ended up outside Eva’s bedroom window. And--yeah. That’s how it happened.”

At some point during Isak’s story Even’s scooched closer to him. His thigh’s now pressed against Isak’s leg, a comforting weight. He reaches us to touch Isak’s face. “I’m so sorry, Isak.”

There’s such softness in Even’s eyes as he runs his thumb across Isak’s cheek, and bends over to gently kiss his forehead. Isak’s throat feels too tight to respond, so he just nods slightly and leans into Even’s chest. For a moment, it’s just the two of them, alone in the universe, and for a moment, Isak can forget to be nervous about being seen.

They stay like that for a few minutes, Isak’s ear pressed against Even’s ribs, Even’s face buried in Isak’s hair, and then Even asks him quietly, “Do you ever still talk to your parents?”

Isak shakes his head. “My dad a little, I guess, if I need some cash, but my mom--no, I kinda decided that I don’t really need...crazy people in my life, you know?”

Even doesn’t respond, just pulls Isak closer into his chest and breathes deeply. Isak lets himself sink into his embrace. There’s a rush of air as the tram finally pulls into the station, and Even lets go abruptly. “Shit, I’m sorry Isak. I just remembered--I was supposed to help my friend with something today. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Isak says, though he can’t quite push down the feeling of disappointment gripping him. “See you later, then?” he calls, but the tram doors slide closed and Even’s gone.

 

Noora stands at the end of the path, trying to get up the courage to go forward. She checks her phone again:

 

Mystery Flower Person: meet me at the bench by the violet patch

 

The bench is right in front of her, and presently empty. She tries to reason with herself-- maybe they’re waiting for me to show up before they sit down, maybe they’re not here yet, maybe it’s a different violet patch-- but the longer she stands there, staring at the empty bench, the more anxious she gets. Maybe I should go--no, Noora pushes that thought aside. She’s made it this far. Empty or not, she’s going to go through with this. She takes a few steps forward, and then backs up hurriedly. Come on, Noora, she scolds herself, get it together. Would you rather spend the rest of your life wondering, or find out now?

As she takes a step forward, and then another, she repeats that to herself, over and over again: Would you rather spend the rest of your life wondering?

 

Eva watches Noora start down the path, and then stop, and then start walking again from a tree she’s most definitely not hiding behind.

Slowly but surely, Noora makes her way down the path. As Eva watches her halting, shaky steps, she realizes she’s right: Noora is just as nervous to meet her as Eva is, maybe even more so. Nervous about what? Eva asks herself. Nervous that I won’t be who she thought I would be? Nervous that she won’t be able to reconcile the person of her dreams with who’s standing in front her? Nervous that she’ll be disappointed?

Eva makes to move out from behind the tree, but something holds her back. All she can think of is her stepping out and saying it’s me, I sent those flowers, and Noora not responding, just looking at her with that same disappointment in her eyes that day Eva couldn’t tell her who had placed the order, except worse, because now instead of being upset that she doesn’t know who it was that sent her the flowers, she does know. And it’s not good enough. Not good enough. Not good enough, not good enough, you’re not good enough--

Eva takes one last glance at Noora, sitting patiently on that parking bench, and then turns and runs away.

Chapter Text

Noora sits on the couch in the Magnum Opus breakroom, tapping her foot. She stares at the messages on her phone. The messages from someone she doesn’t even know. The messages from someone she thought, for God knows what reason, she could trust. Now, she doesn’t even know what to think.

She looks at the messages again. i’m happy to hear from you...do you want to meet me…

What happened between those messages and the moment when they were supposed to meet? What changed? How could the person who planned everything out, from the floral arrangements to the meeting place just...not show up?

Noora knows the answer, the possibility that worms its way into the back of her brain no matter how how hard she tries to shove it back down. At some point between the moment she accidentally sent that text and the moment she sat down on that park bench, the mystery of the flowers somehow became...more. Not just some puzzle to be solved, but a real genuine person who knows Noora and wants to get to know her more, a person who doesn’t know a thing about what Noora went through last year and won’t always be thinking of that when they look at her. A person that she can start fresh with. Until they didn’t show up. And now Noora’s left staring at old messages, at a relationship that barely lasted three hours, and wondering if it was all a joke.

 She hears the door open and looks up as Even plops down on the couch next to her. He’s got a new earring in, a shiny crystal stud, and he twirls it a little as he leans back. For a moment, the two of them sit together in silence. Then Even asks, “So...how are things going?”

A short laugh escapes Noora before she can help it. “It’s going--” For a moment, she considers telling Even everything, but when she opens her mouth she can’t get the words out. “It’s going--fine. You?”

She hears Even sigh. The couch sinks a little as he shifts his position. “It’s going...it’s going…”

Then he grins. “What about you? Any news on your uh-- secret admirer ?” He wiggles his eyebrows at her.

This is the last thing Noora wants to talk about, and as soon as he asks her, she can feel the atmosphere of the room thicken. She opens her mouth to answer, and then closes it again. In the silence, Even’s grin falters ever so slightly, and Noora quickly forces a small smile. “No, nothing new.”

Noora doesn’t know exactly why she doesn’t tell Even the truth. She’s told him almost everything else about the bouquets so far. She briefly considers taking it back and talking, telling him everything about the texting, the plan to meet at the bench in the park. It’s Even, after all. He’s seen you go through a lot of shit, worse shit than this, and he’s never judged you, or thought less of you. You can trust him…

But Noora can’t seem to get the words out. There’s something about this whole situation that just feels so embarrassing to her, or shameful. Maybe it’s because it’s the first romantic thing that’s happened to her since her last relationship imploded. Or maybe she’s just afraid of talking about how she’s feeling. Or maybe, maybe after everything that’s happened, you still don’t believe that anyone could love you, or that you deserve anyone’s love--

Noora sits back and looks at her phone again, trying to find something to distract her from her thoughts. But something about the air around them has changed. Even’s smile has disappeared, in fact it’s been replaced by something that looks a lot more like a scowl. Noora hears him sigh again, and she’s suddenly struck with the realization that she might not be the only one in the room hiding how they’ve been feeling. “What about you?” she asks carefully. “How are things with you--and Sonja?”

“Sonja,” Even murmurs. “It’s kind of--”

The door opens, and suddenly Sonja’s flying into the room as if Noora’s summoned her. “Hey, Even, Noora--you guys ready for work?”

She’s as confident and beaming as ever, as if she hadn’t been out of work for an entire week, and as Noora follows Even and Sonja out of the room, she feels as if the world has suddenly slipped sideways, and everything is somehow off.

 

Eva wakes up feeling like shit, just as she has everyday since Saturday. She’s barely slept the past few days. Every time she closes her eyes, she sees Noora, sitting on that bench. Alone, staring at her phone. Waiting for someone who won’t ever show up, who’s too much of a coward to finish what she started. For someone who will never be able to rise above a note in a  bouquet of flowers, or a mysterious text message. Someone who’s just too scared to ever try and be what she wants to be. Someone Noora could never feel the same way about...

Eva opens her phone and finds Noora’s last few text messages staring her in the face.

Noora: I’m here! Where are you?

And then, ten minutes later:

Noora: Excuse me? What’s happening?

And finally--

Noora: Okay. I have to go.

Eva throws her phone on her bed in frustration. Why couldn’t you have just gone up to her? Just said hi? Why did you leave her waiting, why didn’t you at least text her and say you weren’t going to show up, why are you SO STUPID--

“Eva?” Eva looks up. Isak is standing in her doorway. “Eva--it’s 8:30. We have to go, or else we’ll miss the tram.”

“Oh.” Eva’s almost forgotten about her job. “Right. Yeah. Do you need breakfast before we go, or--”
“No, no, I’m fine,” Isak mutters. “Come on, let’s go. You’re assistant manager, it would look pretty bad if you were late.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know.” Eva forces herself to push back the covers, place her feet on the floor. “I’ll be ready in a minute.”

As she gets dressed, Eva hears her phone buzz with a new message.

Even: noora didn’t say anything about meeting you saturday--is everything ok?

Eva’s stomach drops. This message only confirms her fears: she’s ruined everything.

 

Isak stares at his phone on the tram, arm wrapped aimlessly around a pole to keep his balance. Illuminated on the screen is the last text message he received from Even:

Even Magnum Opus: talk to you later.

The date on the text is two days ago, and Isak’s heard nothing since. He’s probably spent hours staring at that message, typing out hundreds of potential responses and promptly deleting all of them. At work, when he’s not helping out customers and trying his best to ignore Emma and Sana’s cold stares and whispering, or jumping out of his skin every time he hears the bell at the door ring, hoping to catch a glimpse of blond hair and long legs and golden earring , all he can think of is the look on Even’s face when he left Isak on the tram platform that Saturday, the way he suddenly stopped meeting Isak’s eyes, how he moved just a little too fast to board that tram...or maybe he didn’t, and Isak’s just overthinking everything like always.

Still, Isak can’t help feeling anxious about Even’s radio silence. He tries to calm the nerves in his stomach, tell himself that he hasn’t been texting Even for that long, that maybe this is normal for him, but the fact that this is happening directly after he told Even about his fucked up family situation nags at Isak, and he can’t help thinking that he’s made a mistake. Shouldn’t have told him. Idiot.

But the longer he stares at that message the more he wants, needs to know, to see if he’s paranoid or his fears are justified, to try and figure out what’s happening in Even’s head and if he’s still interested in Isak, to find out if that kiss in the park and that night at his apartment actually meant anything, or if it was just a one-time thing. To find out what exactly it is that Even wants. Before he can think too much about what he’s doing, he types out a message and hits send.

Isak: you free after work?

He shoves his phone into his pocket as the tram pulls into their stop. “You ready to go?” Eva asks, bumping his shoulder good-naturedly.

Isak takes a deep breath and forces all thoughts of texts and phones from his mind for a moment. He forces a grin. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

 

Eva’s distracted at work. She keeps dropping off in the middle of sentences and fumbling with the money and ringing customers up wrong and stuttering her way through apologies like it’s her first ever day on the job. No matter how much she tries to focus on her the machine and the money and making sure the customers are satisfied, she’ll see things like a young girl with pale blonde hair, clutching her mother’s hand, or a middle-aged woman reapplying the brightest red lipstick she’s ever seen, and it throws her completely off her game, wiping her mind clean until all that’s left is just Noora Noora Noora.

It’s a relief when her lunch break comes and Emma can relieve her. Eva’s out from behind the counter as fast as she can, and she brushes shoulders with Sana as she enters the breakroom. But as soon as the door closes behind them and Eva makes to collapse on the couch, Sana says, “Okay, what’s up?”

Shit. “What do you mean?” Eva asks, trying her best to sound casual and knowing that she’s failing.

“Eva.” Sana looks her in the eye. “You’re an amazing cashier. You could hit those buttons in your sleep. You’re Pedersen’s star employee. Something’s definitely up.”

She’s got Eva there, and Eva knows she can’t hope to deny it. But the thought of admitting her cowardice to Sana, the bravest person she’s ever known, makes her stomach twist and her face grow hot with shame. “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it, Sana.”

“It’s obviously not nothing, Eva, if it distracts you so much.” Sana sits on the couch next to her. “You don’t have to tell me anything if you don’t want to, but know that I’m here to listen, and I do not judge.

Sana’s voice is steady, and her gaze doesn’t falter from Eva’s face as she speaks. Eva’s struck again by just how strong Sana is, how loyal and brave and unwavering, and she feels tears welling up in her eyes. “I--” Eva takes a shuddering breath. “I--Sana--I--” The dam breaks, and suddenly she’s sobbing, all the pent-up emotion she’s been struggling with the past few days let loose in ugly tears and snot streaming down her face and soaking Sana’s shoulder as she pulls Eva into a hug. “I fucked up Sana,” Eva gasps between tears. She’s shaking, trembling uncontrollably in Sana’s arms. “I fucked up so bad.”

It takes about half a box of tissues and almost 20 minutes for Eva to calm down enough to form coherent sentences, and she finds herself spilling everything. “I told her to meet me--and then there she was--I saw her there--on the bench--and I just thought--what was I thinking, you know? A girl like that and a girl like--like me? And I just--I couldn’t do it, Sana. I couldn’t. I ran. I left her. I couldn’t do it.”

Eva’s crying again. Sana hands her a tissue and she blows her nose. “Oh, Eva,” she murmurs. “What am I going to do with her? You just left her? No texts or anything?”

“I told you, nothing.” Eva doesn’t feel like repeating herself. Her head’s begun to ache, and all she wants to do is sleep and forget all her problems.

“Eva,” Sana says quietly, but firmly. “You need to talk to her again. You don’t have to tell her what happened exactly, but you should let her know that you were real. You cared about her. You care about her.”

Eva doesn’t respond, just buries her face in her hands. Sana gently takes her wrist. “I know it’s going to be hard,” she says, “but she deserves some closure. You both do.”

It’s not what Eva wants to hear, but she knows Sana’s right. “You’re right,” she mutters.

“I always am.” Sana winks at her. “But Eva, really, why are you so sure that she wouldn’t want to meet you? You’ve been sending her flowers from a secret admirer! I’m sure she’s dying to know you, whether she knows it’s you exactly or not.”

“Oh, Sana!” Eva pulls her into a hug. “I guess--I guess, you know, I’ve always been willing to accept sort of-- less than I want in a relationship. But now--I guess I’m afraid that it’s the only kind of relationship I’m able to get.”

Sana nods and squeezes her hand. “But you won’t know unless you write her, will you?”

“I guess not.” Eva manages a small, nervous smile.

“Well,” Sana says, more cheerfully now, “I’m going to get some lunch. You want anything?”

Eva shakes her head. “I’m okay.”

She waits until Sana closes the door behind her, then pulls out her phone.

To: Even

Eva: i fucked up. i need your help fixing it.

 

Noora eats lunch outside today. The atmosphere of the breakroom has gotten to be too much for her, too hot and stifling, too full of unshared secrets and half-truths. Too full of people lying to each other, and themselves. And anyways, now that Sonja’s back, there’s not enough room on the couch. So she takes her bag lunch from the fridge and heads up to the tram platform, where she sits and eats her granola and watches the trams go by. It’s a pleasant summer day, sunny and breezy and not too hot, and for a while Noora enjoys this quick breath of freedom, a change in the routine. But after a while her mind starts to wander, and suddenly she’s thinking again of another beautiful summer day, of sitting on another bench, and the smell of violets.

And then her phone buzzes.

 

Even: well your relationship so far has been kinda extravagant romantic gestures right?
Even: secret admirers and stuff
Even: kinda like out of a movie

Eva: yeah i guess

Even: so it would make sense for your big meeting to be like that
Even: something extravagant and romantic, have some fun

Even: you really like her, right?

Eva: ….yes. i do

Even: and you feel really bad about what happened?

Eva: dammit, even i told you yes

Even: show her how much you like her. show her you’re serious. do something big. like out of a movie
Even: you have any movies you like?

Eva: yeah of course
Eva: i may have an idea, actually...

 

Eva paces the breakroom of Pedersens Blomsterbutikk, clutching her phone in her hands and trying to calm her nerves. For the first time since Saturday she feels hopeful about this. Like maybe she has a chance to fix her mistakes. She’s got the makings of a plan in her head, a plan that if she executes well enough should work. All that she needs now is for Noora to text back. So the waiting game begins.

She stops for a moment and glances at her screen, rereading the messages for the dozenth time:

Eva: i’m incredibly sorry--something came up and i couldn’t meet you on saturday.
Eva: but i want to meet you. sometime this week.

It’s been twenty minutes. And though Eva knows she knows nothing about Noora’s schedule and can’t exactly expect her to respond immediately, it doesn’t stop her from checking her phone every five seconds, looking for text bubbles, read receipts, anything to show that Noora’s gotten the message, and wants to respond.

Eva manages to wait about thirty more seconds before she checks again, and when she does, her heart stops. There they are, the three little bubbles, flashing back and forth across her screen, signifying hope, a chance to salvage what’s between them. Eva waits for a moment in breathless anticipation. Then the bubbles disappear.

Eva throws her phone at the couch in frustration. She should have known. It’s too late now, you’ve fucked everything up too much. Even if she wanted to meet you before she sure as hell doesn’t wanna meet you now, after you stood her up and didn’t tell her why until three days later. It’s over. It’s over--

Eva’s phone buzzes. She practically lunges for it, almost falling over the arm of the sofa. When she reads the message, she practically cries in relief.

Noora: Okay. But this time it has to be real.

 

Isak feels his phone buzz about fifteen minutes before his lunch break, right when he’s in the middle of arranging a particularly complicated bouquet that requires about half the different kinds of flowers in the shop and at least three different shades of pink tissue paper. The next few minutes are agony as he tries to focus on his work, talking and charming customers and doing his best to not think about whatever text he just got, to not convince himself that it’s Even when it could be one of his friends with a stupid meme, or his dad, trying to check in on him, or (his stomach clenches thinking about it) his mom, with another barely-legible string of biblical verses. He feels like this shift will never end.

As soon as the clock strikes 13:00 he’s off, shoving a chagrined Sana over to finish his half-wrapped bouquet and murmuring an excuse about a bathroom emergency. As soon as he’s inside and locked the door he yanks his phone out of his pocket and reads the message on the glowing screen.

Even Magnum Opus: I think it’s best that we don’t see each other for a little while. Need to work some things out. I’m sorry, Isak.

Isak feels like the bathroom floor has fallen out from beneath, and all that’s left for him to do is plummet down.

 

Isak drags his feet on the pavement as he wends his way up to the tram platform. Today’s been absolute shit, even worse than usual, and the only thing he wants to do now is bury his face in a pillow and go the fuck to sleep. Waking up, as far as he’s concerned, is optional.

To make matters worse, Eva’s acting annoyingly cheerful, shrieking and giggling with Sana about some girl that Sana’s friends with, and interrupting every once in awhile to comment on what a lovely day it is. The whole thing makes Isak want to hit something.

His foot slips over a rock and he stumbles, almost falling flat on his face. He kicks at the piece of gravel, trying to send it spinning, skidding over the asphalt until it feels exactly how he feels inside, but he only succeeds in stubbing his foot against the ground and almost falling again. Well, Isak reflects sourly, doesn’t that just sum up these past few days. That pillow is seeming more and more inviting by the second.

Another laugh splits the air, a different one than Sana or Eva’s shrieking. A laugh that makes Isak’s stomach clench and his heart pound because he knows it, remembers it from biking through Oslo with the wind slicing through his hair, from slipping and falling in the mud while trying to escape the sprinklers. From lying there, in the dark, tangled up in sheets and each other, holding each other close and never wanting to let go. The laugh that Isak feels he could recognize in a hundred lifetimes, a hundred different universes because it’s the laugh that belongs to blond hair and long legs and golden earring, but also unanswered texts, and glancing eyes, and I think it’s best we don’t see each other for a while. And Isak wants to run, as far away from that laugh as possible and never hear it again, and also run towards him, into his arms, and hear him say that he was wrong, that he never wants to be away from Isak again.

It’s pretty fucking pathetic.

But whether he wants to or not he knows he can’t, knows that he should respect Even’s wishes and keep his distance, wait and see if things change in the future. It sucks, but he knows it’s what he should do. And then he walks on the platform and feels the rush of wind that signals the approach of a tram and suddenly he’s seeing double, two sets of blond hair and long legs, the one he expected to see and the one he never hoped to see again, and they’re standing together, so close together, and it hits Isak all at once. He understands everything. The elusive answers about his relationship, the text--all of it makes sense.

It was just a fling, an experiment. It didn’t--YOU--didn’t mean anything to him.

He feels sick. He feels stupid. He feels numb. And all he can do is stand there, watch as Even plants a kiss on his fucking beautiful blonde girlfriend’s cheek as the two of them step through the tram doors and the wind whisks them away, and all the while his dumb fucking mind keeps playing those scenes over and over again --the newspapers, the weed, the book and the flowers, the fucking flowers, what even was the point of all those damn flowers, his apartment and the bike ride and the pond and the kiss, and all those kisses afterwards, on his lips and cheeks and neck and chest, and it was all nothing, it was nothing, fucking nothing, YOU were nothing, it was all NOTHING to him-- and less than five feet away is that bench and that fucking newsstand where they first met and smoked their first joint together, before any of this shit happened, before he even thought he could have a chance, before he was stupid enough to think he had one, and then Eva lets out this loud high-pitched scream of a laugh and something inside him snaps. And the next thing he knows his leg is aching and the newsstand’s fallen on its side and there are newspapers everywhere, swooping around him and off the platform and onto the tracks.

“Isak!” Eva cries. “What the hell are you doing?”

Isak opens his mouth, probably to tell her to fuck off, but before he can get the words out there’s a rush of wind and their tram comes. He boards in silence, trying his best to look away from Eva’s disappointed gaze. The two ride in silence.

Right as the tram pulls into their stop, Isak feels his phone buzz and for a moment, Isak feels a rush of hope. It’s quickly swallowed by disappointment, and then surprise and confusion as he sees a name he hasn’t seen in a long time.

Jonas: haven’t seen you in a while. wanna get a kebab or something sometime?

Chapter Text

Jonas comes into the shop on Thursday, about ten minutes before Isak’s lunch break starts. He’s busy finishing up an arrangement when he hears the bell ring and sees that familiar mop of curly hair in the doorway. He just manages to make eye contact and share a quick nod with Jonas when the bell rings again, and over Jonas’s shoulder he sees-- he SEES--

Isak’s stomach drops to his knees. He sees blond hair, and he sees long legs and he doesn’t see golden earring, but some new earring that looks like a fake diamond or something, but golden earring or not, it’s still Even, he’s just entered the shop and he’s walking straight towards Isak, he’s looking at Isak, Isak’s going to have to serve him, and suddenly he’s panicking. And pissed off. Because what does he think he’s doing here, honestly, after everything, when he kissed and spent the night with Isak and then just left him like he was nothing, without even saying anything to him, just messed around with him for weeks and then returned to his perfect fucking girlfriend. And now he’s back in the shop as if nothing ever happened. As if he can just waltz in and look Isak in the eye and ask for a bouquet of flowers as if they’re strangers.

Well, Isak’s not having it. Just before Even gets into speaking distance, he turns to Sana and says, “Hey, can you take this? I have to head out early,” and practically runs to the breakroom to rip off his apron before she can say no. He grabs his jacket, bursts back through the breakroom doors, and hurries over to the cash register where Jonas is standing, and promptly interrupting the small talk that he’s making with Eva to say that he’s sorry but his break is kind of short, so can they go now ?

He hopes he’s imagining the feeling of Even’s eyes burning into his back, and then he hopes that he’s not.

 

Isak and Jonas don’t speak at first as they head down the street, looking for a place to stop for lunch. There’s so much Isak wants to say, but can’t bring himself to say, or could never say, like I’m sorry I fucked up your relationship last year, I just seem to have a thing for unavailable guys and then feel like shit when nothing can happen--

“So,” Jonas says slowly, turning to look at Isak, “you like your job?”

The question takes him by surprise. “Y-yeah,” he manages to stammer out. “It’s alright. Good enough pay. Customers can be a bitch, though.”

Jonas laughs. “I’m sure. Can’t be easy, having to meet every single person’s individual preferences all the time.”

“God, you have no idea.” Isak finds himself laughing too. He’s missed this--the conversations, the easy humor, the simple safety and security of being in Jonas’s presence. It’s been about two months since they’ve seen each other, but really it’s been so much longer since they’ve really hung out like this.

“How are the guys?” he finds himself asking, even though he’s not sure how much he actually cares to know the answer.

Jonas takes a little while to respond. “You mean Elias and his friends? I don’t know. I haven’t seen them since that end-of-year party.”

Isak blinks. “Really? Why not?”

Jonas shrugs. “I don’t know. I think I got sick of their attitudes. They were kind of douchebags, you know. And I’m trying to cut back on how much I smoke. So yeah, I haven’t seen them.”

Isak doesn’t know how to respond, so he just nods.

“I’ve been hanging with some other guys recently, though. You should come hang with us some time.”

Isak takes a moment to picture that, him and Jonas and some nameless, faceless guys their age, laughing and joking and picking up girls together. Being normal teenage guys. He doesn’t respond.

“Oh, look.” Jonas points at a shop. “Kebab?”

 

The kebabs are good. Isak’s never tried this place before. He doesn’t really tend to go out for lunch most days at work, instead he generally has some haphazard sandwich he’s managed to scrape together from the contents of Eva’s fridge. In more recent weeks, his stomach’s been so fucked up from all those nerves and shit feelings that he hasn’t even been able to eat lunch at all. But by some miracle today, it’s subsided and he feels hungry enough to eat, and listen and laugh as Jonas tells him stories of his new friends, which all seem to involve getting high or drunk and doing dumb shit at parties. And it’s good. For a moment, things are good.

Jonas finishes a particularly wild story about a party in which a completely hammered guy named Magnus ended up falling out a window and ended up in the emergency room with a dozen stitches, and then he asks Isak, “Well, how about you? Anything exciting going on in your life?”

Isak opens his mouth. Closes it. “Nothing much. Mainly working,” he says finally.

Jonas nods. He takes a bite and chews. Isak sets aside his kebab. That sick feeling in his stomach has come back, and he doesn’t think he can eat anymore. They sit in silence for a few moments, Jonas, busily eating; Isak, picking at his food, and trying to ignore his thoughts of say it, say it, do it you coward, SAY IT--

Jonas checks his watch. “Well,” he says, “I have to head out soon if I want to get the tram--”

“I’ve been seeing someone!” Isak blurts out. “On and off but--I’ve been seeing someone.”

Jonas breaks out into a grin. “That’s great, Isak!”

Great... as of now, that’s not the first word that comes to mind when Isak thinks about this whatever-it-is he has with Even. But Jonas’s genuine, happy smile just makes Isak feel so warm and good inside, like how friendship is always meant to feel, so he manages a small smile back. And then Jonas’s smile falters a little. “Is it good, Isak?”

Fuck. After two months of hiding his emotions from everyone around him, it’s jarring to be with someone who can read him so well. But that’s always been the case with Jonas. Ever since they were kids, he’s known Isak like no one else ever has, and maybe ever will. Like a best friend does. And that thought gives Isak the courage to turn, look Jonas in the face, and say, “I--I don’t know. It’s really--complicated.”

Complicated. As Isak says the word, he’s thrust into memories of that day on the tram platform, when Even wouldn’t meet his eyes, and hurried away a little too quickly, and used that exact word when Isak asked him about Sonja. Complicated.

“How so?” Jonas asks carefully.

His eyes are warm, and his face is soft, absolutely free of judgment and marked only by concern for his friend. And Isak feels something in his chest, this overflowing sensation of goodness and safety, so strong that all of a sudden he can feel his eyes welling with tears. And he hears his voice say, “It’s a guy.”

Jonas doesn’t even flinch. “Okay,” he says.

Isak feels his throat tightening up, but he forces himself to speak. “And he has a girlfriend.”

Jonas blinks a little at that, but his expression remains the same. “I see.”

Isak swallows. “And--well, we only hung out once, but we--we kissed, and then we were planning on hanging out the next day, but at the last minute he bailed on me and wouldn’t say why. And then a few days later, he texted me and said, ‘sorry, but i can’t see you right now’.”

“Ah,” Jonas says.

“But that’s not even all of it.” With every word, Isak feels like a weight is being lifted slowly off his chest, a weight he didn’t even realize was there until he felt its absence. “Before we--kissed, he would come in the shop and buy flowers, at least once a week. With very specific orders, and he’d always make sure to be served by me. And then one day, he gave me this book that had like a list of different meanings behind certain bouquets and floral arrangements. And so one night I just looked up one arrangement I remembered him ordering, just on like a whim, and then another, and another, and--” (Isak swallows again) “--Jonas, they all meant things like “secret crush”, and “forbidden love”, and “infatuation”. All of them. Like it was some kind of code, or something, a message he was trying to give me.”

“Wow.” Jonas’s brow furrows. He doesn’t speak for a while. Isak shifts in his seat, trying to see what he’s thinking, but he’s never been as good at reading Jonas as he is at reading Isak.

“Well,” Jonas says finally, “he’s going to have to break up with his girlfriend first.”

 

Isak returns to the shop, feeling lighter in a way. Even though things are still fucked up with Even, and Sana and Emma still glare at him when he walks in, five minutes late from lunch, he can still see Jonas’s face in his mind, can still hear his voice saying text me anytime, okay? And although Isak doesn’t know what’s going to happen with Even, or even where he’s going to be living in a year, there’s some part of him, deep down, that thinks, maybe I can be okay.

“Hey.” Eva’s voice stops him.

He turns to face her. “What?”

She smiles. “I’ve been thinking, it’s about time you learned the ropes on the register. But also, I have something to give you.”

Something for him? Except for his birthday, Eva’s never really given Isak any gifts. And Isak sure doesn’t want a present from her right now, especially since he’s been living on her couch for the past few months, and hasn’t exactly been paying rent. But he walks around to behind the register where Eva’s standing anyway feeling bewildered, and then even more confused when she gives him a small, folded slip of paper. It’s a drawing--a light, pencilled sketch of a window seat, with a large, cartoonish speech bubble that reads in looping letters, “Miss you :(“. For a moment, Isak thinks it’s just a goofy comic and wonders why Eva’s decided to give it to him, or how she could miss him when they literally live together. But then Isak looks at it again. And then he realizes--

He’s seen this before. Not the drawing, exactly, but the cushions, the curtains draped loosely over the open window, the top of the streetlamp from the street below. He knows this window seat.

“Eva,” Isak says carefully. He can feel the paper shaking in his hands, and he tries to steady it. “Eva, where did you get this, and why did you give it to me?”
“Oh,” Eva answers, rearranging the business cards at the front of the register. “That blond guy who came in earlier, you know the one who works next door at Magnum? He asked me to give it to you since you ran out with Jonas. Why, what is it?”

“Oh.” Isak folds it quickly and stows it in his apron pocket. “Nothing, really. Did he uh...did he buy any flowers?”

“Huh? No,” Eva says. “He left pretty soon after you did, actually. Just stopped by to give me the paper.

He tries to focus on Eva as she gives him the rundown of working the register, but the drawing weighs down his pocket, and his mind is spinning.

 

Eva wakes up early Sunday morning, heart in her throat and butterflies in her stomach. Today is the day. The day she’s going to meet Noora. She’s thought about this day for so long, preparing for it, going over the plan countless times until she can see in her sleep. And now it’s here.

She can barely eat breakfast that morning, her stomach’s so twisted in knots. She’s feeling excited, anxious, apprehensive, terrified, and almost every other emotion she’s experienced in her life, all at once. But, more than anything, she feels certain. It’s been so long since Eva’s felt this certain about anything. And so Eva smiles, because she knows: she’s going to be able to go through with this, if it’s the last thing she ever does.

She pulls out her phone and begins to type the first text message.

 

Noora’s just heard the kettle start to whistle on the stove in her apartment when she hears her phone buzz on the counter. Pausing for a moment to pull out a mug from a cabinet, Noora picks up her phone to read the message.

 

Mysterious Flower Person: if u want and can, meet me at the fountain today. 13:00

 

Noora switches off the stove and grabs her phone. Tea can wait.

 

Noora arrives at the fountain at 12:57. Her heart is pounding hard in her chest, and the sight of the empty bench nearly makes her panic. For a moment, she’s convinced that it’s a trap, or a prank, and that she needs to turn around and go home right now or she’ll end up on someone’s Youtube channel. But despite her misgivings her feet keep moving, one after the other, until she gets to the bench and sits down, just like she did before.

She’s been sitting there for a few minutes, looking around the park for a familiar face (or really anyone coming towards her that isn’t an adult with a group of squirming children) when something catches her eye, shining silver and tangled in the branches of a tree across the path. It’s--Noora squints, trying to get a better look. It’s a helium balloon, swaying a little in in the breeze. Probably left over from some little kid’s birthday party . She looks away.

A moment later, however, Noora realizes she’s still staring at that balloon. There’s something about it that keeps distracting her, drawing her eyes away from her mission. It’s probably because it’s shiny, or manmade, or maybe its shape. It’s a weird shape. What is that shape? Noora finds herself leaning forward, trying to get a better look. And then her heart stops. It’s a shiny silver N.

No, she tells herself. It’s probably nothing. It’s a coincidence. How many kids have the letter N in their name? A lot, Noora, a lot. But it’s 13:20 and still no one’s showed up, and Noora finds herself wandering over to the balloon, looking to examine it closely. It’s something to do, at least, to distract her from the fact that she’s being stood up again. But as she approaches the tree, there’s another flash of silver in the corner of her eye. And Noora realizes there’s another balloon, tied to another tree a few meters down the path. It’s shiny and silvery, just like the other one, but this one is rounder, fuller, and--Noora can’t believe her eyes. She can’t tell for certain at this distance, but it almost-- almost looks like it could be...an O.

Noora practically sprints down the path towards it.

When she arrives at the tree, panting, the balloon almost seems larger than life, a shiny moon looming over her. It’s definitely an O. And Noora thinks she can see another one, further down the path, just as bright and round as the one in front of her now…

It’s too much to be a coincidence.

 

N-O-O-R-A.

Noora follows the letters all the way down the path, heart thudding in her throat. Part of her thinks that this is kind of creepy, that she could be putting herself in danger, but the rest of her is just burning with curiosity to find out who went through all this trouble just so they could meet her. But then the letters stop.

Noora looks around. She’s at a crossroad now. There’s a labelled signpost pointing to her right, and another one pointing straight at her. And then there’s a silver arrow, spray-painted on the ground, beckoning to her like a calling card and pointing towards a small, wooded area off the main path. Noora looks back at the last balloon, that shiny A, glowing softly silver (silver…) in the summer sun, and then at the path in front of her. And then she turns, and steps off the road.

Noora can’t help feeling kind of silly for trudging across a field towards the trees. She doesn’t really know exactly what direction she should be going, since she can only estimate the direction of the arrow from far away. Just head towards the wood... Noora tries her best not to think too much about Stephen King’s It.

After walking for a few more minutes, Noora notices a small dirt path carved out through the trees by several years of footsteps. It doesn’t look like an official trail, but it’s definitely a place that people have been before, so Noora guesses it’s her best bet. Her anxiety’s begun to catch up with her, and she quickens her pace. She’s not quite sure exactly what the flower person is trying to do with this complex scavenger hunt, but she hopes it’s over soon. I’m ready to know the truth.

 

There’s another arrow at the end of the path, leading her to the left, and another after that. And then Noora finds herself back at the tram platform. Of course, Noora thinks. A week ago, she stood on this same platform, about to make the same decision she’s trying to make now. It’s such blatant symbolism that she feels like she’s a character in one of those overly dramatic movies Even always wants her to watch.

“Are you Noora?”

Noora jumps a little. “Huh?” It takes her a moment to realize who’s speaking to her.

It’s a man, standing next to her on the platform, and Noora immediately feels about ten times tenser. She doesn’t know why this guy is talking to her, or how he knows her name, but she knows that she’s getting on the next tram that comes.

“Well, if you are,” he says, “I’m supposed to give this to you.” He holds out a piece of paper.

Noora wants to ask this guy what the hell that’s supposed to mean, but all she finds herself doing is reaching out to take the little slip of paper, and then turning away so she can read it away from him.

 

Noora-

Sorry for the roundabout way of getting this to you. But I gotta keep up some air of mystery, right? After all, I am the secret admirer. But anyways. You’re very close now. You’ll be seeing me soon. All you have left to do is take the 14:07 shuttle south and get off after 6 stops. Then, meet me at the place we first talked...

-E

 

E?

The place we first talked?

These are the first real clues Noora’s had that hint at the identity of this person. A name that starts with an E... a person she’s talked to before. A few times, from the sound of it, and apparently memorable discussions. But who? Noora finds herself trying to remember the names of every single person she’s interacted with more than twice in the past year, and whether or not any of them showed any particular interest in her. Then she hears the voice of the woman over the loudspeaker and realizes that she’s gotten on the tram, and needs to concentrate on counting stops now.

 

1.

First person is Him, of course, Noora can’t forget about Him. How he wormed his way into her life that January and took root, and how she could only manage to get him out in June when his daddy called and he had to go away. But this secret admirer stuff, this scavenger hunt--not his style. He’s the kind of guy who wants all the credit, Noora remembers, the kind of guy who wants to do public proposals because he knows it’s harder for the girl to say know. Thinking about this is making Noora’s stomach ache, so she tries to think of someone, anyone else.

2.

She’s got a few regular clients she’s seen a few times throughout the year--a girl who’s come in a few times to get small tattoos of quotes on her wrists and collar bone and another girl who books an appointment every few months to get inked with some new mandala she’s designed for herself. A guy who has a detailed cluster of leaves on his left shoulder that he likes to get touched up every few months. But it’s been awhile since she’s seen any of them, so long that she can’t quite remember their names anymore. Also, if she’s going with this theory, it really could be any one of the customers she’s had in the past few months. None of these options appeal to her.

3.

It could be one his friends, Noora supposes. Some other creep who probably partied with him in high school and drunkenly catcalled girls through the bus window and blasted that God-awful Penetrators song and probably whispered gross shit about her and her friends to him, and he probably just agreed and laughed along--the idea of any of these guys trying to make their way into her life makes Noora feel sick to her stomach. But really, she thinks to herself, would any of these guys be able to think up something like this? Between all the alcohol and coke and dumb choices? Also maybe she’s just repressing her memories at this point, but she can’t recall a guy whose name starts with E.

Even??

Noora tries to push this thought away because the more she thinks about it, the more it makes sense. The flowers, the cryptic text messages, the clues--they all have this dramatic air that practically screams Even. And that would explain the awkward silences in the breakroom and how Even always seemed to know just a bit more about the flowers than he has and that weird tension she’s seen between him and Sonja and--and--fuck, Noora thinks to herself I KNEW I should have told him sooner, I SHOULD have told him and now everything’s fucked up between us and WRONG.

5.

Noora wishes it could be a girl, really, hopes to God it’s a girl, because then everything would be so much easier. But she’s no fool. She knows how courting rituals between girls tend to go, and it’s nothing like this--grand gestures and secret notes and winking faces. More like mutual pining and being too scared to talk to each other and never resolving feelings. Plus, Noora’s barely talked to any girls in the past few months, besides Sonja, of course, and her roommate Linn, and she’s pretty confident it’s neither of them. And there’s no other girls she knows, not really, except--

6.

It takes a moment for Noora to register that it’s her stop, the stop, and by the time she realizes she’s already being pushed gently but firmly by the crowd towards out the doors and doesn’t have time to stop and think and try and turn around, and then she’s stumbling onto the platform and the people around her is dispersing and then--

She sees her eyes first, sharp and green and full of light, and then her hair, shining red-copper in the sun, and then Noora lifts her gaze up and sees the giant, silver balloon she’s carrying, floating freely in the breeze above her head, and--

“Hi,” Eva says breathlessly.

 

Chapter Text

Isak spends the rest of the work day thinking about his conversation with Jonas, turning the words over and over in his head until his brain feels like it’s turning into mush. He’s so tired of all this, really, tired of feeling anxious and scared all the time, tired of jumping out of his skin whenever his phone buzzes, and that sinking disappointment that envelops him when he sees it’s from Eva, or his mother or father, or Jonas, and never the person that he really wants it to be from, never saying what he really wants it to say. And he’s left wondering what he really expects to happen, and what he seriously hopes for. A love confession? A proposal to elope? Maybe an explanation, an apology, and plans for a rendezvous? But no matter how much Isak lets himself dream, now, he can’t help hearing Jonas’s voice in his head, quiet and pragmatic: Well, he’s going to have to break up with his girlfriend first… and Isak, no matter how frustrating it is, can’t deny that his best friend is absolutely right.

These feelings have been bubbling around inside Isak for a while, but today it’s much harder than usual to push it down and paste on a patient smile for his old lady/disgruntled heterosexual customers. He finds himself on the verge of snapping at customers far too often, so much that Sana keeps giving him glaring, warning looks. Even the shred of euphoria he feels when he really lets himself think about what happened (I’m out, really out to him, he’s okay, he’s supportive, I’m out to Jonas and it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay) isn’t enough to really cheer him up, because God, Isak thinks, what’s the point of being out if I can’t even get a fucking BOYFRIEND?

Isak’s never wanted to leave the shop more, to go home and collapse on his bed and sleep, but right now he barely even has a real home, or a bed that he can really call his own, and it’s not like he’ll be able to sleep anyway . And as if he needs more evidence that the universe is the only thing that desperately wants to fuck him, it’s his turn to close the store. So he’s stuck sweeping the floors and wiping the counters and fridge doors while Sana and Emma gather their things and talk and laugh as they leave. When the door slams shut behind them, it feels almost like it’s the door to his tomb closing. He wonders vaguely where Eva’s gone. He hasn’t seen her since her lunch break.

He’s just finished sweeping the floor and is heading to the cleaning closet to get supplies, so when his phone buzzes he doesn’t pay it too much attention as he wrings out the rag and begins swiping it sloppily over the glass countertop. It’s probably Eva… But then it buzzes again, and his curiosity begins to rise. He glances over at it, and his heart almost stops. It can’t be-- but it is, glowing on his screen like a mirage or a dream. He almost wants to pinch himself.

 

Even Magnum Opus: Hey, what are you up to?

Even Magnum Opus: Can we talk?

 

Isak reads the messages again, and again, and again, hardly daring to believe that they’re real. For a moment he wonders if he’s asleep, dreaming of a different, better lifetime, and soon he’ll wake up to no notifications and a freshly broken heart. But then the clock over the counter chimes a quarter past, a jarring sound in the silence of the closed shop, and Isak jolts back to earth. This is real life. Even just texted him, and it’s real, and he wants to talk. And maybe, just maybe, Isak still has a chance.

He’s typing out a tentative response, something about how he’s just about to get out from work and to meet him on the tram platform, when Jonas’s words come back to him and bring him sharply down to earth. He’s got to break up with his girlfriend first…

With a sinking feeling, Isak knows he’s right. And so he finds himself deleting the words he’s written, and typing out instead:

 

Isak: I’ll meet up when you break up with your girlfriend. Your drawing was nice, but if you don’t want something more, please stop texting me.

 

Heaving a deep breath, Isak hits send and closes his eyes.

 

The waiting is agony. Isak’s stomach is in knots and it’s like all the different bad feelings he’s been dealing with for the past month have decided to resurface all at once, except they’re magnified ten times over and it feels like his body is trying to shake itself apart. And his phone doesn’t buzz and either Even’s read receipts are off or he’s ignoring him or he just hasn’t seen it, and all Isak can do is stare and stare at that cursed “delivered”, waiting for texting bubbles, a “read” sign, anything. Waiting.

Minutes pass and there’s nothing, and the ticking of the clock above the counter seems louder and more jarring than before in the empty quiet of the shop, and the longer he waits and the longer Even doesn’t text back, the more Isak is just ready for this to be over. For Even to be upfront and honest, and to find out where he stands. To know, finally, whether  he has a shot at this relationship.

Isak’s just taken his first deep breath in the nearly ten minutes since he’s sent the message when there’s a knock on the door of the shop, a short sharp rap on the glass that snaps him out of his daze and back to the real world because the shop’s been closed for half an hour, who the fuck needs flowers so badly that they’re ignoring the giant LUKKA sign on the door? Isak turns to bark out a gruff “We’re closed--”

And nearly shits himself, because it's Even, EVEN is standing there, outside the door with his hands in his pockets as though everything's perfectly normal. And Isak finds himself walking towards the door, his mind barely registering his movements because all he can think is he came, he came, he came--

“We’re closed,” Isak stammers out breathlessly as he opens the door.

Even looks him dead in the eye. “I’m not here for the flowers.”

Isak opens his mouth but he can’t think for the life of him what to say, and then he doesn’t need to because Even’s mouth is on his and they’re moving backwards into the shop and the bell above the door jingles as it slams shut behind him and his apron gets pulled off and lands somewhere on the floor and Isak’s tripping over both their feet but it doesn’t matter, nothing else matters, because Even is with him, he chose HIM, he’s kissing him and his hands are in his hair and then creeping down and both their shirts are off and his lips are on his face and neck and cheeks and Isak’s steering the two of them towards the breakroom, where he only just remembers they’ve got a couch, because for the first time in weeks, months, years, his entire life really, Isak’s mind is blissfully, perfectly blank, and he can truly breathe.

 

Even’s fingers are entwined with his and Even’s back is warm against his chest and Isak thinks the breakroom couch is the most wonderful place he's ever been. Nothing about this feels real and yet everything about this feels real, feels good, feels right. Feels like he's been waiting his entire life to be here, to be lying next to Even on a cracked leather couch after spending the past half-hour or so making out with him, in the breakroom at the job he used to hate, and now can't help but love, because without it he never would have met Even, never would have come out to Jonas, never would have known it was possible for him, for people like him, to feel this way.

“Thank God for Eva,” he mumbles into Even’s shoulder.

“Eva?” Even twists around to face him. “Eva?”

“She's the girl who works the register here,” Isak explains. “And she’s uh..she’s the reason I got a job here. So she’s--she’s”--Isak’s cheeks are reddening and feels embarrassed despite everything--”she’s the reason I met you.”

Even’s grinning at him and Isak somehow feels a hundred times more embarrassed about sharing that small truth than the fact that they’re currently lying almost naked together on the breakroom couch.

“Stop,” he mutters.”

“Stop? Stop what?”
“Looking at me like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like--I don’t know.” Isak shifts uncomfortably.

“Like you’re beautiful? Because you are.” Even’s voice isn’t joking anymore. It’s breathless and quiet and dead serious, and it’s both terrifying and exhilarating. “You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I mean it.”

Isak’s throat has become so tight, and he realizes, horrified, that he’s crying. Fuck. FUCK!

“What’s wrong?” Even asks. His voice has a panicky edge to it and Isak curses himself for ruining the moment. God, you’re pathetic!

“Nothing,” he says quickly. “Nothing in the world is wrong. It’s just--it’s just--I never thought that I could--that I could feel like this before--that this”-- he gestures at their bodies, lying wrapped around each other--”could feel like this.”

Even doesn’t say anything for a moment, and Isak worries that now he’s really ruined it. But then Even takes his face in his hands, and whispers, “Neither did I,” and kisses him, more gentle than Isak ever thought a kiss could be, and everything in the world is perfect and right.

 

The sound of the back door opening jolts Isak out of his half-dozing, half-awake haze. Someone's just come into the shop, and Isak’s immediately on edge. He doesn't know if anyone would really want to break into a flower shop, but he feels compelled to go investigate anyway.

“Baby, don't leave me,” Even mumbles in protest as Isak sits up.

Isak shushes him. “There's someone in the shop.”

“Oh, fuck.” Even sits up too.

“Stay here,” Isak whispers. He pulls on his pants as quietly as possible, and inches his way towards the door. He’s just put his hand on the doorknob when the door flies open, and Isak realizes who's behind it--

“Eva?”

“Isak?” Eva looks as shocked as he feels. “Why aren't you wearing pants ?”

“I--”

“Eva? What’s happening?” There's another voice behind the door, and then a blonde girl that Isak vaguely recognizes comes into view. “Even?”

“Noora?” Isak turns to look at Even, and cringes as he realizes what they're seeing. Him, wearing a t-shirt and boxers; Even, sitting on the breakroom couch, wearing just boxers and nothing else. It couldn't be more obvious what's happened. He takes an involuntary step back, and then hears Even gasp again. “Eva!”

“Even, holy fuck!” Eva turns to look at him. “Did you two--the fucking couch?!”

“It’s not--wait-- hang on. ” Isak feels like his head’s about to explode. There's too much going on. “You two know each other? Since when?”

“Yeah,” the blonde girl ( Noora, Isak remembers) says. “What exactly’s going on here?”

She moves closer to Eva, and Isak realizes  with a start that they're holding hands. Wait a second…

He look around him. Behind him, Even (his boyfriend? Lover? Something??) , barely clothed and looking beautifully dishevelled. In front of him, Eva, his long-time best friend who somehow knows Even and neither of them thought to tell him, looking both scandalized and impressed. And next to her, Noora, Even’s co-worker and somehow connected to Eva, possibly romantically, looking just as bemused as he feels. Well, he figures, what the hell. Guess this is a good enough way for her to find out as any.

“Eva--” Isak clears his throat. “I’m, uh, gay.”

Chapter Text

“No way!” Noora cries for like the fifth time. “It was you? You were my secret admirer?”

Eva smiles awkwardly. “Is that--is that okay?”

Noora laughs. “Yes, yes, of course it’s okay! I--” She stops. “Oh my gosh.” She points a finger at Eva. “You--when I came to the shop that one time to ask you about who bought the flowers-- you answered my questions!”

Eva winces. “Yeah...yeah, I’m sorry about that. It was too soon--I wasn’t ready to tell you yet. And also--I’m sorry about standing you up in the park. I just--I was scared but it wasn’t fair to you, and I should have--”

“Eva.” Noora reaches out and takes her hand. “It’s okay. I understand.”

“I--” Eva knows she should say something, but Noora’s eyes are so bright and sparkling when she’s smiling, and it hits Eva that she’s holding her hand, her HAND, that’s what couples do and suddenly she’s completely lost the power of speech and all she can do is grin like a fool.

They just stand there for a few minutes, caught up in a silence that’s a bit awkward, but pleasantly so. Then Noora speaks. “So…do you have any other plans for this afternoon?”

“Ummm…” Eva wills her tongue to work. “I--I don’t know. I didn’t think I’d get this far.” As soon as she says that, she immediately jams her mouth shut. Eva you IDIOT!

She feels slightly relieved when Noora just smiles and laughs kindly, but her cheeks are still flaming and she still feels totally ridiculous. “Well,” Noora says, “I’m always down to get a coffee. Does that sound okay?”
“Coffee!” Eva yelps. “I mean, yes! Coffee sounds great.”

“Great, let’s go!” Noora winks. “I know a place.”

She begins to walk, and Eva follows after her, their joined hands swinging between them.

 

Noora takes Eva to the same coffee shop as before, and even though they order the same drinks and sit in the same high table at the window, things feel different. A bit tingly, like the air’s slightly electric. Eva keeps jumping at the smallest of things.

Noora keeps holding Eva’s hand all the way there, and only lets go to fumble with her wallet when she pays for her order. Eva can’t help feeling a little disappointed when she lets go, but as soon as they’re settled at the table, she reaches over and laces her fingers through Eva’s again. Eva feels a shiver run through her entire being. She glances down at their hands, then up into Noora’s eyes. She gives Eva a small grin, and Eva feels herself grinning too.

“So--” Noora starts.

“So--” Eva says at the same time, and then bursts into giggles.

“I’m sorry, you go,” Noora says, laughing too.

“No, no, it’s fine.” Eva waves her hand. “Say what you were going to say!”

“Okay.” Noora smiles sheepishly. “I just wanted to say--I feel like you know a good deal about me right now, but I’d like to know some more about you.”

Like to know more about you...about YOU...that’s ME! Eva feels herself blushing. “O-okay,” she stammers out. “Sure! What-what would you like to know?”

(Someday, Eva scowls inwardly, I will learn to talk like a normal person around girls.)

“Well…” Noora taps her fingers against her tea mug. Then she gives Eva a mischievous smile. “What made you decide to become a secret admirer?”

Eva feels herself blush, and traces a finger around the rim of her mug. “Honestly?” she murmurs. “Fear.”

“Fear?” Noora asks carefully. Her tone is open, gentle, and Eva knows that she could clam up now if she wanted to, and Noora would understand. But she doesn’t want to.

“Yeah,” she murmurs. “I--I--sort of never really realized that I could feel this way before. I--I’ve had only boyfriends in the past and--and I won’t say I never thought about it, and there was this one girl I was friends with before in middle school--but it never really-- hit me before--” Eva grins sheepishly --”before that day, at Pedersens. When you came in.”

Eva’s heart feels likes it’s going to jump out of her chest when she finishes speaking, and even more so when Noora doesn’t say anything for a few seconds. Then she glances over and realizes Noora’s blushing, actually blushing, a pale pink flush spread over her cheeks that somehow makes her look even more ethereal and beautiful. “Me?” she asks. “Wow--I’ve never been someone’s gaywakening before.”
“Hey,” Eva jokes, raising her mug to her, “not that you know of.”

Noora laughs. “True.”

Eva feels a light breeze wend its way through her hair, and everything feels a bit lighter, happier. The confession she’s just made no longer feels like something embarrassing, something she should take back, but something perfectly natural that needed to be said.

“So I was like, screw it,” Eva says. “‘I don’t know if she’s g-gay--or if she even really noticed me--but I’ll send her a few bouquets of flowers and see what happens.’”

Noora laughs. “Oh, Eva,” she says, squeezing her hand, “I definitely noticed you.”

It’s Eva’s turn to blush. And sit there, dumbfounded and tongue-tied while Noora grins at her. “Wow,” is all she can muster up the ability to say, and it’s so stupid that she blushes even harder. “W-well, here’s a fun fact about me,” she says when she’s regained the power of speech somewhat. “I’m a mess. Like, a huge fucking disaster, really.”

Noora laughs. “Aren’t we all?”

Eva smiles. “I don’t know if I could see you being a disaster.”
Something in Noora’s eyes changes, and Eva worries that she’s said something wrong. “Well, you’re seeing me now,” she says. “If you’d seen me a year ago, it would be a totally different story.”

“I’m sorry,” Eva says awkwardly.

“Don’t worry about it.” Noora squeezes her hand again. “I mean it, Eva. But I want to say--I was in a similar place as you not long ago. I had--a boyfriend, who didn’t treat me well at all, and when I finally broke up with him and realized I didn’t like guys at all--it was scary.”

Eva remembers the second time she and Noora met, the anxiety in Noora’s voice as she showed Eva a picture of a guy on her phone, trembling in her hand. “Was it--was that the guy you showed me, when you were trying to figure out who was sending the flowers?” she asks carefully. Noora nods. “I’m sorry I scared you like that,” Eva whispers.

Noora shakes her head. “Don’t worry about it. You couldn’t have known. And it wasn’t him. It was you. And I’m so glad it was you. I was so scared it was going to be a man.”

Eva finds herself laughing at that. “I’m--so glad that you’re happy it was me,” she breathes.

Noora smiles, and takes Eva’s other hand. “And, I think you should know,” she says, “this is the first time I’ve ever gone on a--date with a girl too.”

A date... Eva lets the weight of what that means sink in, fill her with both parts exhilaration and fear. She’s on a date. With a girl. With Noora. She can’t help grinning at that. Noora smiles too, and they just sit like that for a moment, holding hands and smiling at each other.

“So,” Noora says playfully, tilting her head to one side, “I know you’re a reluctant but incredibly brave flower shop worker with a taste for grand romantic gestures. That sound about right?”

“Also a huge fucking disaster,” Eva reminds her.

“Also a huge fucking disaster.” Noora grins at Eva. “ And you like hot chocolate in the summers.”

“Of course!” Eva waggles her eyebrows. “Don’t knock it till you try it!”
“All right.” Noora waggles her eyebrows back. “May I?”

She’s managed to shock Eva again. Eva wordlessly slides the mug across the table to Noora. Their thumbs brush as she takes it, and Eva feels herself melt just a little. “Well?” she asks as Noora takes a sip.

Noora looks up and smiles. “Delicious!” she declares. “But still...it’s a bit hot, isn’t it?”

“Well, it is in the name,” Eva says, but she’s not thinking about hot chocolate anymore. She’s thinking about how Noora’s got whipped cream and marshmallow foam on her upper lip, and how much she wants to kiss it off.

“I really want to kiss you right now.” The words slip out before Eva can stop them, and she almost can’t believe her ears. Who just said that? “Did I really say that?” she hears herself say.

“Yeah,” Noora breathes. “And...I want to kiss you too.”

 

Eva’s back is pressed against warm stone and the sun’s shining brightly above her and right now she feels like this is truly what summer’s supposed to be about.

Noora’s arms are wrapped around her waist and Eva’s got her fingers tangled in her pale blonde hair and they’re both kissing, kissing, kissing and Eva never wants to let go. It’s different, kissing a girl, but in a good way, she feels. Noora smells amazing, like lavender and vanilla, all around her  and intoxicating, and she kisses in a way that’s determined and deliberate (and makes her wonder what else she can do with her tongue), and the way she holds Eva’s hips tight against hers makes her want more. Eva feels awkward and clumsy in comparison, but the way Noora keeps pulling her closer and gasping gently against her mouth suggests that maybe she’s not doing too badly after all.

In short, it’s probably the most amazing thing she’s every experienced and she can’t believe it’s even real.

She, Eva Kviig Mohn, didn’t even know she wasn’t straight just a month ago, and now she’s kissing a girl she romanced with flowers and secret admirer texts in the alley behind the coffee shop where they first met.

What a life she’s living, honestly.

Time’s totally melted away, and Eva has no idea how long they’ve been like this when Noora pulls away briefly and then bursts into giggles. “Shit , Eva!”

“What?” Eva cries. “What happened?”

“I didn’t even think--my lipstick!”

Eva glances at Noora’s lips in surprise. The smooth, sleek red that Eva found so alluring is gone, smudged into a pale pink, and judging by the look on Noora’s face, it’s clear where it’s all gone--all over her mouth. “Oops,” she says. Noora’s laughter’s infectious, and Eva finds herself giggling too. “I didn’t even think--I’ve never had to keep that in mind before!”
“Occupational hazard, I guess.” Noora grins at her.

“Yes, but it’s a job I love to have.” Eva winks, and she feels Noora’s hands on her hips, pulling her in again.

 

“Wait.” Eva has an idea a few minutes later. “I want to get you one more bouquet. As a sort of-- symbol, you know?”

“Alright,” Noora laughs. “I’d never say no to more flowers, especially ones from you.”

Eva can't help beaming at this. “If you want,” she murmurs, “you can pick them out, and you can see my flower arranging skills in action.”

“That--” Noora pulls Eva in close again “--sounds incredible.”

Eva can barely keep kissing Noora, she’s smiling so much.

 

Eva unlocks the door to Pedersens and gestures grandly at the doorway. “After you, my dear.”

Noora laughs. “Why, thank you!” She steps through. “This is where the magic happens, huh?”

“Yes,” Eva declares. “All sorts of floral arranging and ribbon tying and stem-cutting magic--” She stops. Something’s not right. The door to the breakroom is cracked open, and Eva can swear she just heard voices coming from it. “Just a second…”

She tiptoes over to the door, grabs the doorknob and yanks it open--

And comes face to face with none other than her sort-of best friend, kind-of housemate Isak Valtersen. Wearing nothing but a pair of boxers and a t-shirt.

“Eva?” he gasps.

“Isak?” Eva gasps in response. “Why aren’t you wearing pants?”
“I--” Isak stutters.

Eva notices something over his shoulder and realizes Isak’s not alone. A familiar blond head is poking up from the couch, and Eva realizes with a shock that the head is attached to a body, and that body is wearing practically nothing at all.

“Eva? What’s happening?” Noora’s followed her to the door, and Eva watches, frozen, as her mouth falls open in recognition. “Even?”

“Noora?” Even gasps in response. “Eva!”

“Even, holy fuck!” Isak…with Even?? No… It all falls into place and Eva realizes what’s happened. Holy FUCK . “Did you two--the fucking couch?!”

“It’s not--wait-- hang on ,” Isak stutters, “You two know each other? Since when?”

“Yeah,” Noora says, “What’s going on here exactly?”
Eva realizes with jolt that she’s never told Noora about Even. “Um--”

“Eva,” Isak bursts out. “I’m, uh, gay.”

Things are moving too fast for Eva to comprehend, and all she can stutter out is, “Um, actually, me too.”

Isak blinks. “What?”

This whole situation feels so ridiculous that all Eva can think of doing is to keep talking. “Well, bi, I guess. Me and Noora,” she explains. “We’re--together.”

“Oh, really?” Even’s getting up, trying to find his clothes. “You guys are together now? That’s great!”

Eva smiles. She’s glad that Even knows all his help paid off. “And you and Isak?” She asks carefully.

There's a beat. Isak shifts his weight and glances at Even. Even nods and says, “Yes, we’re together too,” and Isak’s face splits into the largest smile that Eva’s ever seen him wear.

“Wow,” Eva says, and she can feel herself grinning too. “That’s great, Isak. Honestly, it’s about time someone came along to cheer you up.”

Isak smiles wider. “I suppose so.”

“And you and Noora.” Even smiles. “I’m so glad you were able to tell her.”
Eva glances at Noora, at her quiet, bright beauty, and she can feeling herself smiling even wider than Isak. “I wouldn't have been able to do it without your help.”

“Wait,” Noora says. “Even helped? How?”

Isak’s look is equally baffled as Noora’s. “I didn't even know you two knew each other.”

Eva glances at Isak, her it’s complicated best friend who’s just come out to her, and his boyfriend, the guy who's been helping her romance his coworker. And his coworker, Noora, (her girlfriend? Is that how it works?) who she’s just been on a date and made out with, something that doesn't even feel real yet. She looks at Even again, and sees that he's holding back a grin. She feels herself grinning too, and can't help it.

“Yeah,” she says, “about that--”

Chapter Text

“So let me get this straight,” Noora says.

“You can’t,” Even jokes.

Noora rolls her eyes. She and Even are sitting in the breakroom along with Eva and Isak, the two guys having thankfully put their clothes back on. “You knew it was Eva this whole time, and you never told me?”

Even laughs and shrugs. He and Isak are sitting together on the couch, and Even’s arm is wrapped around his shoulders. “Eva asked me not to tell, and I gave her my word,” he says. “Also, you know I love a good love story.”

Noora rolls her eyes again, but she’s smiling. Eva leans against her shoulder.

Isak looks pointedly at Eva. “And you knew Even all along, but never told me?”
“Why would I?” Eva crosses her arms. “I had no clue you and Even knew each other’s names, much less were involved!”

“She’s got a point,” Even turns to grin at Isak.

“Shut up!” Isak rolls his eyes.

Eva smiles as she watches their banter. It strikes her how truly beautiful this scene is: her, sitting next to her new girlfriend; her best friend, sitting across from them with his new boyfriend, looking happier than she’s ever seen him even though he’s pretending to be exasperated right now.

“You should be grateful,” she says. “You never would have met Even if I hadn’t gotten that job at Pedersens for you.”

“That’s true!” Noora beams at her.

“Well,” Isak splutters, “you never would have gotten together with Noora if Even hadn’t given you advice!”

Even shrugs. “I just love love!”

Noora smirks. “But the reason I met Eva is because Even sent me to go drop off his number for Isak, who he wouldn’t have even met if it wasn’t for Eva getting Isak that job!”

Isak blinks. He opens his mouth, and shuts it. Eva kisses her girlfriend on the cheek. “Now that we’ve decided I’m the queen of romance,” she declares (Isak rolls his eyes again, but she can see he’s trying not to smile), “I feel like we need to celebrate, you know? I mean, look at us! We’re friends, we’re happy, we’re in love. We’re out. We gotta do something!”

“Like what?” Isak asks. His eyes are shining too.

Eva thinks for a moment, and then breaks into a smile. “Isak, how do you feel about getting a tattoo?”

 

Even uses his key to unlock the door and holds it open for everyone, and Eva feels a thrill go through her as she walks into the closed tattoo parlor. Despite the sun still shining brightly outside, it’s dark in the shop and the sight of the books, chairs, and instruments all cleaned up for the day feels a bit spooky, mysterious, otherworldly. Even Noora flicking a switch and the fluorescent lights buzzing to life doesn’t do much to diminish the effect.

She and Even show Eva and Isak the books of their designs and instruct them to flip through them to find some inspiration while they set up the equipment. “It doesn’t have to be one of these, though,” Even explains. “If you have an idea, we can work some sketches out.”

He and Noora leave to go set everything up, and Eva and Isak are left alone together to page through the books. For a moment everything is quiet, and the only sounds are the pages being turned. Then Isak stops and looks at Eva. “Thank you,” he says quietly.

“Huh?” Eva wasn’t expecting this.

“I mean it,” Isak says. His voice is wavering a little, but as he continues talking it grows stronger. “You were right. It’s because of you that I got this job, and it’s because of you that I met Even. And it’s because of you that I haven’t been sleeping on the street for the past four months. I know I haven’t exactly been the best friend, or the easiest housemate to have. But you’ve done so much for me, and I just want to let you know how grateful I am.”

Isak feels his eyes stinging a little, and realizes with a jolt of horror that he’s starting to cry. But then he looks over at Eva, and realizes her eyes are welling up too. “Thank you, Isak,” she whispers. “And you don’t know how happy I am to see you with Even, to see some joy break through that grumpy teenager facade of yours. I feel so happy to have helped with that.”

Isak smiles, and he’s really crying now, tears trickling out from under his lashes and down his cheeks. Eva reaches over to pull him into a hug, and he wraps his arms around her too, burying his face against into her shoulder.

“I love you,” Eva says. “Know that, okay?”

Isak’s so very glad his face is hidden from her view right now. “I love you too, Eva.”

 

“I have to tell you something,” Even says as he leads Isak into the room he’s set up for them.

Isak blinks. That’s not exactly a promising thing to hear from someone who’s about to stick a needle in you, especially not when that someone is also your new boyfriend. He can sense the nervous energy radiating off of Even, and suddenly he’s anxious all over again too. “You do?” he asks carefully.

Even sits down on the chair, and Isak sits down next to him. Even turns to look him in the eye. “I’m bipolar,” he says.

Isak blinks again. Whatever he was expecting this wasn’t it, and he’s at a loss for what to say. “Oh?”

“Yeah.” Even nods.

Isak takes a moment to let that sink in. He wonders why Even is so nervous, bouncing his knee next to him as they sit in silence. It’s not like it’s that uncommon. Shit, he even has a friend, Magnus, whose mom is bipolar--

And then suddenly Isak flashes back to a different time and day, sitting next to Even on a bench by a tram station instead of a chair in a tattoo parlor. And he hears his own voice: I kinda decided that I don’t really need...crazy people in my life, you know? His heart sinks in his chest.

“Oh, Even.” Isak reaches over to take his hand. “Fuck, Even, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean--I can’t imagine how it must have been for you to hear that--I’m so sorry.” He presses Even’s hand in between his. “I--I love you, Even,” he whispers. “And I am here for you, all of you, no matter what. I love you.”

Even face is hard to read after Isak finishes his pronouncement, and he doesn’t say anything. Isak begins to worry that he’s said something wrong when Even pulls him close and kisses him, and then rests his head against Isak’s chest. “I love you, Isak,” he murmurs.

Isak’s throat is getting tight again, so he closes his eyes and holds Even tight, allowing himself to be comforted by his weight.

He doesn’t know how much time has passed, only that he doesn’t want this moment to end. So he’s a little disappointed when Even pulls away and asks, “So what tattoo are you thinking?”

“Ummmm…” Isak’s mind is blank. He honestly hasn’t been able to think this far ahead. A tattoo is a big decision, honestly, and it’s been kind of sprung on him. He’s seen Even’s tattoos, kissed the semicolon on his wrist and touched the phrase The world is yours as it’s etched on his ribcage. Even though he doesn’t know exactly why Even has chosen these designs, he can sense the deep meaning behind each of them. He doesn’t know what could be that important to him, what he would want permanently etched on his body. All he knows is that he wants to remember this summer...

And then it hits him. “I think I want--a flower, maybe?”

Even grins. “Sounds perfect. Do you know what kind?”

Isak thinks back on the fridge in the shop, on all the flowers on display and all the countless bouquets he’s made over the past month. None of them seem quite right, they all feel a bit off, a bit superficial, fake. But then a memory creeps into his head, a memory of when he was a child and carefree, when his dad leaving was just a twinkle in his eye and he played with his parents and his friends all day long. A flower just as beautiful as any sold in the shop, but constantly decried as a weed.

“Even,” he asks, “what’s the special meaning behind dandelions?”

Even smiles at him. “It represents a gift to a loved one,” he says. “One that will provide happiness, and promises total faithfulness. Does that sound good?”

“Yeah.” Isak grins up at his boyfriend and pulls him close. “That sounds perfect.”

 

“Does it hurt?” Eva asks as Noora preps the machine. “Getting a tattoo, I mean?”

“I can’t say it doesn’t,” Noora answers. “But it’s not that bad. You get used to it, honestly.”

“Okay,” Eva says hesitantly. She knows that this was her idea, but now that she’s actually face to face with the needle, she’s having second thoughts. “Can I hold your hand?”

Noora laughs. “Of course, babe.” She pulls out her sketch pad. “So what are you thinking?”

Eva smiles. She’s been thinking about this one for a while, honestly, ever since she started sending flowers to Noora. “I want--two crescent moons,” she says carefully. “Touching at the top of the curve of one, and the bottom of the curve of the other. And the crescents are facing away from each other.” She holds out her phone. “Here, I have a picture.”

Noora glances at the photo, and then grins at her. “I love it.”

 

Eva glances over the tattoos on Noora’s skin as Noora cleans her upper arm with rubbing alcohol. She immediately notices the Venus sign on her collarbone, the sprig of lavender on her wrist. When Noora reaches over to adjust part of the machine, her shirt gets hiked up a little and Eva sees a third tattoo on her hip, a mark shaped sort of like a candle flame, or maybe a heart. “What’s that?” she asks, pointing.

“Huh?” Noora looks over to where she’s gesturing, and something shifts in her face. “Oh--it’s a--a recovery heart. For--” she takes a breath “--for people who are recovering from eating disorders.”

Eva understands immediately. Oh… She reaches out to pull Noora into a hug, smooth her hair and kiss her on the cheek. She feels Noora’s arms wrap around her waist too, allowing herself to be held.

 

“What’s that one mean?” Eva asks later. The needle is buzzing against her skin, and although it isn’t black-out painful it does hurt, and she’s trying to take her mind off it. The tattoo she’s pointed out is one at the base of Noora’s neck. “Hollow-backed?” she reads.

Noora smiles. “That’s from a poem I read once.”
“A poem?” Eva asks. The needle traces a path across her upper arm. “How does it go?”

“It’s called ‘Hollow’,” Noora says. “It goes,

 

“I am hollow backed.” She told me. I lacked understanding.

I saw only Loveliness growing within the garden she kept in the nest of her back. “You are not!” I insisted, pulling out flower after flower, as were it proof she was wrong.

“I am hollow backed.” She repeated, and I was stunned, for where she saw a gaping hole I saw only the entrance a universe of her. Pulling trails of stardust from where her spine should have grown, I sprinkled it over her hair so the passing pond would mirror her internal shine.

“I am hollow backed.” She stated, steadfast this time, still soft, and so I crawled inside, past those jagged edges. I felt her every breath. The rhythm of my heart fell into beat with hers.”

 

Noora finishes her work and switches off the machine. She reaches out and takes Eva’s face in her hands.

 

“She was in bloom around me.  I needed nothing else.”

 

Noora leans in close so that her forehead is touching Eva’s, so that her lips are almost brushing against hers.

 

“I am full.”

 

THE END