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Basement Blooms

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For some reason, people had the idea that florists were either kindly little matrons who named each plant or elitist snobs who declared roses were a cliche. In either case, the customers of Basement Blooms weren't usually expecting Eddie Gluskin's 6-foot something frame behind the counter. Truly, the flower shop had been his mother's invention. After a messy divorce and televised court case airing her and her son's abuse, the re-minted Luella Gluskin had needed a safe haven more than a profession--the old bastard was good for a settlement at least--when she'd taken up gardening.

Eddie helped out with the heavy lifting and his (court-appointed) therapist thought it was a lovely outlet for his aggression. Better to stab at dirt, slicing out plots and rows, than at other people. Luella had a knack for growing things, bushes and bundles of flowers displayed to the rubbernecking passerbys. A friend begged some blooms for her daughter's prom corsage and Luella happily listened to the woman prattle on about some meanings she'd looked up in the library after discovering the language of flowers in a paperback novel.

It had taken one book of Victorian flower meanings, checked out by a bored and curious Eddie, to get him hooked. In his spare time the teen began memorizing this new code, and practiced different arrangements for the dinner table. Once again his therapist was ecstatic he'd found a way to express his feelings comfortably. The next prom season more mothers were lined up for corsage. Eddie set up a workshop in the basement and cut stems, twisted them through lace and elastic, snickering at the lewd messages some of the women had accidentally chosen.

More calls kept coming throughout the year and Luella had to decide how to handle her unexpected business. While Eddie worked through homeschool courses on history and math, Luella took on night courses on business and management. The two Gluskins worked on their homework together at the table after dinner, Luella commenting on his inconsistent cursive and Eddie telling her to take it up with his teacher. She added mandatory calligraphy to his curriculum after and he showed her how to program the second-hand register she'd bought to calculate sales tax.

Business started slow, a rented out store front along a back street with "Basement Blooms" painted on the brick in Eddie's sharp script. Trial and error taught them how to best store and transport flowers, which roads to take on deliveries, and how to prepare for the hell that was wedding season. Luella manned the register while Eddie did grunt work and arrangements. Eventually Frank, a kid from the neighborhood around Eddie's age, became their first part-timer. He preferred deliveries, but learned how to run the counter when Luella decided to stay home and garden for the day.

Unfortunately, Frank decided to go and chase some chick in beauty school and fell in love with hair dressing. The girl didn't last, but the professional choice did. He stuck around through school and started a shop right next door to the Basement. The butcher's son from three shops to the right was volunteered into service by his mother. The kid was massive but "too sensitive for the family business". Chris was a good guy, if quiet, and his help let Eddie take up more counter work when Luella decided to take a step back from the business and ease into retirement. Then again, she had told Eddie for years she'd be ready to turn the business over to him when he was 24 and retire fully, but they has celebrated his 36th last August and she was still scheduling hours for herself each week.

 

"Morning," Chris grunted as he came in from the January frost.

"Mornin', hun. How's your mom's party?" Eddie asked, checking water levels as Chris formulated an answer.

"Good. She liked the little bouquet of pink ones best. Says thanks." Chris pulled on a white canvas apron and clocked in. The two worked in comfortable silence until the front bell rang.

"Welcome! One moment, darling," Eddie called. He wanted to grab just a few more wilted stalks out of this bucket before turning around.

"Aww, Eddikins, I feel all gooey." The florist snorted as the nosy tattoo artist from across the street kept talking.

"Miles," he interrupted, "it's before noon. Are you just in or have you actually learned to use that alarm clock I bought you?" There was a small click as Miles stuck his tongue out, the stud knocking against his teeth.

"Chris woke me up when he left, thank you very much! I know how to use clocks, honestly--" The man was ridiculous. He was normally decked out in various offensive shades of highlighter and never stopped talking. He and Chris were a testament to how opposites attract, managing to keep together two years now. Eddie had dragged his friend over to say hello when Miles had opened and both of them had left with the artist's number penned on their hands. "The only ink you'll get free here at Wallrider," Miles had winked. He never explained the name either, just made vague allusions to his promiscuous past. Eddie had considered calling, but saw Chris put Miles down in his contacts and had kept off.

"But how is my favorite grump nuts? Balls gone blue yet? There was this pretty chick in yesterday, just your type, oh and a cute guy came in too--" Miles gave a play by play of each of his customers and their requests, how his counter boy was looking for a second job to get through school, and how great his new piercer and tattoo operator's portfolio was. Eddie made "mhm"s and "oh"s in all the right places as he went about helping his customers. The regulars just made conversation over Miles' chatter while newcomers looked between the three men skeptically. To be fair, Miles was wearing fluorescent orange pants with a strawberry print tank, no less than twelve pieces of metal sticking through his face. Chris was listening attentively, staying to the side of the shop, but had taken after his father in physique and looked like he tossed around 18-wheelers for fun. Whereas Eddie had built up some impressive bulk from gardening and running the shop, Chris looked like he could eat him and have room to down Miles for dessert.

Finally, Miles was herded out to start his own workday, just in time for lunch break. The two took in the blissful silence of the shop while it lasted, exchanging amused but weary looks. It was Wednesday which meant it wouldn't last.

"Oi, skunk head, brought your food." Frank barged into the shop, absently flipping the sign to closed on the way. They had lunch together every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday so "You don't starve on chips and crackers and turn into fertilizer" as Frank put it.

"Ugh, you again. Why do I put up with you when I'm not pay I'm not paying you?"

"Hush, you love me and my cooking. At least your taste there isn't piss awful."

"Still not going to let you shave my head, Frank. You gave me this style and you're going to live with the consequences. Now move so Chris can go badger Miles into working." Frank stepped out of the way, handing over a plastic container of salad for Chris and getting a grunt of thanks in return. He opened another container of lasagna and put it on the counter for Eddie.

"Not even a little bit of edge work? You're killing me, Ed. I've even been practicing and could dye little flowers to cover your greys."

"Oh please, love, you haven't managed to convince me the entirety of our time together. When are you going to drop it?"

"When I'm good and dea--"

 

"Um, should I come back later?" The two turned to see that a young man had entered while they were bickering. "I think I interrupted..." He was cute, dirty blond hair just a bit too long and a silver camera charm dangling from his lip ring. He must be Miles' new toy.

"Lunch. Shop's closed," Frank shoved a big bite of lasagna into his mouth pointedly.

"Oh! Uhm..."

"Ignore him, darling. Welcome to Basement Blooms, are you looking for anything in particular?" Frank snorted and Eddie made sure to swing a kick at his shin when he stepped out from behind the counter.

"Oh, ah, Miles said--I mean I'm Waylon. Not that Miles said that! He just wanted me to come over and say hi! And, uh, tell E-Eddie that Chris will be back late?" The blond looked mortified, but shifted to look around the shop for the owner.

"Speaking, dear." Eddie chuckled, trying not to coo as Waylon turned bright red. His whole face was glowing and the color spread down his neck, inching across collar bones to--

"Frank. I work next door, at the salon not the insurance place." Frank cut in and made Waylon start a little.

"Nice to meet you! Silky said you're the best and he loves his undercut. I don't think I'm quite ready for high style yet, but I'll be sure you're the first I go to then." He was still a violent red, his hand inching up to ruffle his hair self-consciously.

"Silky? Is that the kid who runs Miles' desk? Didn't know his name. Beautiful platinum hair, pity he doesn't go out without a hat more often."

"Given his albinism I would think he'd have to cover up or burn." Eddie pointed out. "Besides, Waylon, your hair looks just fine. As long as it doesn't get in your way at work why worry?" Waylon stared at him blankly then up to his hair before pointedly not saying anything. Ouch. Frank gave him a side eye and smirked when Waylon opened his mouth only to think better of it and close it again.

"Thanks, I tie it back so no problem. Anyway, I should go..."

"Oh, just a moment." Eddie caught the blond's shoulder briefly before gliding around the shop to put together a quick arrangement. A couple wisteria, some white clover, chickweed, and cuphea should do. "Here, as a welcome to the street."

Waylon was short up close, Eddie thought as the man gently lifted the bouquet. He was scrawny too, but Frank would take care of that soon enough, the mother hen. Eddie could now see splashes of color peeking up from Waylon's shirt, the edges curling like petals around the collar bones.

"Thank you, Eddie, that's sweet, really sweet." Waylon beamed, petting petals gently. "I have to get back or I'll be late too, but I'll stop by soon!" He waved to Frank and Eddie finally noticed motion across the street. Miles was at his window, seemingly flipping out about the scene in the flower shop--probably demanding Chris get him a bouquet too. He gave Eddie a scarily big smile and a thumbs up before a large hand dragged him away.

"Until then, Eddie. Frank." Waylon left the store and sprinted back across the road.

"Oh how sweet, Eddie, you're just so sweet, sweet," Frank sang out.

"Shove it, old man."

"Only by a couple years, but don't think playing my vanity will distract me, mister. I remember enough of your nerdy flower talk to know you've got a crush. Wisteria? Really?" Eddie felt his cheeks warm up and sent an impressive pout his friend's way and mumbled out a response.

"What's that? My poor old man hearing couldn't pick it up."

"Shut up and get out of my store. Lunch break's over, and no you don't! That lasagna is mine." Frank laughed all the way back to his salon and Eddie could still hear it from through the wall. He just groaned when Chris came back and gave him a look.

Chapter Text

Eddie wondered what he did wrong this time. Waylon hadn't stopped in for another visit--which was fine! Honestly. Or at least, it would be fine if there hadn't been several blatant snubs of invitations over. Lunch, chats, coffee, none of it. Recently, Eddie had gone over to deliver Frank's lunch boxes to the artists and Miles decided he wanted to eat at the flower shop. Waylon took one look at Eddie and said he'd stay back and watch the parlor. The one Miles had already flipped the door sign to Closed for....

Now, Eddie knew people had preconceptions about him. He was a big guy and, apparently, had a resting face that looked like he was plotting ways to kill you and perform horrible rituals with your corpse (as Miles had so eloquently put it). He'd also been told that his speech sounded like the rehearsed lines of a serial killer (again, thank you, Miles). Point was, he could be intimidating at first meeting and plenty of people had avoided him. Still, it was hard not to be a bit hurt when he thought he had done well.

"He's just shy," Miles announced through a mouthful of pastrami. "He wouldn't shut up about that bouquet you have him and looked like a kicked puppy when they began wilting." Chris grunted and it seemed to be in agreement.

"Who's shy?" Eddie tore his eyes from the shop window to see Miles giving him one of his patented Upshur looks of the "Really? I'm totally not going to dignify your poor stupidity with a response, but then again that's against my nature, so prepare yourself, sucker. You've earned this" variety.

"Waylon Park. My artist and the guy you've been making calf eyes at for half an hour now. It's sickening!" A piece of breading flew out of his mouth and Eddie cringed. "See? Even you find it pathetic!" The young man ranted off, swinging the last few bites of lunch around for emphasis, dropping pieces here and there. Eddie was wondering if he could get Chris to clean it up before reopening when the door bell chimed.

"Um, hi?" Waylon peeked in, eyeing his boss curiously.

"Way-way! 'Bout time you showed up! Poor Edster was starting to think you were avoiding him!" Both men in question turned bright pink.

"Miles!" Eddie hissed, throwing him a glare for good measure.

"Oh! Um, I'm...Um." Waylon met the florist's eyes before doing his best to look anywhere else. "I washed this out for you in the back sink." The lunch container. He shifted awkwardly before holding it out to Eddie.

"Thank you, darling, but that's Frank's." Eddie pointed to the stylist before realizing that could be a bit blunt. Waylon winced and turned redder.

"Oh, sorry. I just...you just brought it over and..." Waylon tripped over words as bad as he did.

"No problem, kid. Just leave it with Eddie and he can get it back to me later. My break's over and it'll save me from carrying everything." Frank stood and stretched and Eddie wondered why Frank only had half a break today. "And Silky was talking about Miles having an appointment."

"What? WHE--?" Chris clamped a hand over his boyfriend's mouth and frog marched him out.

"See you later, Gluskin," Frank followed them out and Miles suddenly cottoned on to what was going on with a sharp "Oooh!" The door shut and Eddie wondered of that could have been more obvious or awkward.

"'M not 'voiding you." Waylon muttered.

"Sorry, dear. I didn't quite catch that." Eddie turned to look at his remaining guest.

"I'm not avoiding you. My landlord kicked me out and I've been busy moving in with my friend."

"That's awful! I know some people around--who was your landlord, dear?"

"You probably don't know him, but the guy's name is Jeremy Blaire." Eddie's face darkened."Or maybe you do. That's, uh, quite the strong reaction there."

"Blaire kicked up a fuss when Mama and I tried to set up shop here. Heavily implied someone of my background was a danger to the community and a failing business would lower the street's value." Eddie hissed out.

"Well that's none of his fu-fricking business! I mean? How dare he? Not only is that rude but you seem lovely! Whatever background you have is none of his business and obviously not an issue! Where does he get off--" Eddie could only blink in wonder as the previously shy and unassuming artist straightened up and spat the vilest curses in his defense. There was almost literal fire in his eyes and he seemed ready to pummel Blaire into a pile of unidentifiable goop for a man he'd only really met once. He must really have a vendetta against his prior landlord.

"Murkoff Insurances next door was trying to get this building same time we were. Blaire has some shady deal going with them because an audit showed his matchbox houses were overinsured by the company. Given how many of them have mysteriously burned literally to the ground, he wasn't too pleased when Mama and I took his harassment to court and he received legal scrutiny. Really he is simply a prick and should be castrated for the greater good." Eddie sniggered. "Don't worry yourself about him, darling. You're better off out of one of his deathtraps, though if you're feeling petty...sounds like he broke lease without proper notice. You could take this before a court and get some reimbursement. Especially if you have photos or proof that you were inundated conditions."

Waylon stared at him, mouth having fallen open and forgotten at some point. Insecurities crept back in and Eddie wondered if he had overshared. Had he been rambling? Was it rude to imply Waylon should go to court, or worse, that he had live in squalor? He didn't seem to be one of Blaire's cronies, but--

"That's brilliant!" Waylon beamed, barking out a laugh. "The bastard didn't give me any notice and I was too frantic to realize! And when you called him a prick? Priceless. Oh, Eddie, I could kiss you."

That was...a thing. Not a thing that he expected to happen, but seemed like a good thing?

"You're welcome?" He didn't know if he meant for the advice or as encouragement.

"How'd you know so much about legal stuff anyway?" Eddie cringed. Visibly, if Waylon's sudden worried look was any indication. "Sorry, you don't have to answer if it's bad. I just--"

"Didn't take me for it?" Eddie smiled sardonically. "No worries,love, I get it a lot." He straightened to his full height to avoid meeting Waylon's eyes. "I had time to look up different legal information when I was a child tying to..." find a way to expose his father and his filthy brother"be an invested citizen. Blaire threw out some talk of structural soundness and equity value et cetera when he tried to argue Mama's possession of the building was ruining the integrity and putting the street and civilians in danger." Eddie huffed at the memory of a red-faced Blaire pointing dramatically at his mother,a little lady in her Easter Sunday best, as judge and jurors looked on skeptically.

"Seriously? A metal bit of Murkoff's awning fell on my head yesterday and your immaculate shop is the problem. Sure. I mean, even the cobwebs in this place are aesthetically pleasing!" Waylon snorted, pointing at one such dewy web near the petunias.

"Thank you? I like to keep the little ladies here so other bugs don't take bites." Eddie had no idea how their conversation had gotten...here?

The two stared at each other blankly a moment before Eddie shifted and his hand brushed against Waylon's much closer than it was a second ago waist. The young man sprang back and flailed about awkwardly for a moment before Eddie could fully process what happened. He felt his face heat up and ducked it down.

"Wait here a moment." Eddie called over his shoulder as he practically stormed to his workshop. Words were getting tangled so flowers would have to speak for him. He pulled some dainty blossoms out before remembering Waylon's righteous anger earlier. He was pretty, but by no means weak. He set disassembled the original arrangement and started over with cleome and chamapeuce. Adding in some apple germanium made him smile, pairing it off with some centauridium before wrapping it all together.

"Here. As condolences for having become acquainted with Blaire." Eddie handed the bouquet off to a guilty looking Waylon and felt no small amount of appreciation the gentle way the artist cradled the blooms.

"Thank you, Eddie." Waylon gave him a crooked smile. "I should probably go make sure Miles hasn't stabbed anyone while I was gone, but..."

"But?"

"Would you mind if I stopped in sometime? Outside of lunch?" He looked so soft and hopeful it made Eddie melt.

"Of course, Waylon. As long as I am here, you're welcome." He couldn't help but smile as Waylon nodded and scurried back to work. Dangerous but good indeed.

Chapter Text

Waylon didn't really keep a set schedule, but he did show up at the flower shop more often. He'd chat while Eddie worked, sometimes mindlessly taking the broom to sweep or changing a trash bag for the florist. Eddie didn't have much to say, but Waylon kept a lively stream of information, a lot involving technology, and didn't mind when Eddie tuned him out to focus. If it was important he'd repeat it later.

This was also how Eddie learned that Waylon was amicably divorced with two toddlers in joint custody. He and his ex, Lisa, lived together and had, if Eddie heard correctly, mainly gotten married to get on an adoption list. Something about back up spouse pacts and wanting kids together, but it was too confusing for Eddie's old-fashioned romanticism. Especially since Lisa had invited her long-term partner to live with her and Waylon had offered his room, only to end up at one of Blaire's rat holes.

"You should meet Lis sometime. I think she'd like you." Waylon concluded another anecdote about his son's birthday party last month.

"This pot isn't getting enough sun."

"...is that a no?"

"I would love to meet your family sometime, darling. Hand me the extension cord by your hip."

"Where? I only see notecards." Eddie sighed and went behind the counter to look for himself.

"Oh dear..."

"Yes?" Waylon answered quizzically.

"Wh--? Oh, no, love. I meant 'Oh dear, Frank must have stolen it'. He's been complaining about the reach of his flat iron at home. I guess I should check after close." Eddie sighed, adding that to his mental check list. He hadn't been feeling well and something was building a strong migraine sure to split his skull when it occurred.

"We could switch it with pot 26 over there? It looks like the leaves are about to start curling?" Waylon lifted the pot from its holder and the metal shrieked through Eddie's nerves and the prophesied migraine reared up. He sucked in a quick breath, being into the counter as he tried to block out some of the shop lights.

"Eddie? You okay, big guy?" Waylon must have moved closer because a hand was now pressing onto his shoulder.

Some things, no matter how small, sparked memories. The pain, the adrenaline, the nickname. It all tipped over at once. His father holding his shoulder just a little too tight, a little too long. Joking about how big Eddie had gotten and that he'd be a man soon and rubbing at his shoulder and neck and arm before pulling Eddie from the room.

"I don't know! I moved one of the pots and when I turned around he was like this." The voice drifted through the air, muddled but somehow frantic. It wasn't Father or Uncle or Mama. It felt like Mama's though, nice and warm and safe.

"Ed? Gluskin, you with me here?" Familiar again, but more clear. Frank. When had he come in? He knew there was something he had to ask Frank about later, but Father was here and didn't like when Eddie left without him.

"Come on, Eds. Breathe with me. He's not here, just you and me and our Waylon, yeah?" Frank was talking, at him. But what did he mean? Father was--another harsh shift in reality and all he could see was wisteria.

"Wh-what-t-tt?" He hissed out.

"These were some of the first flowers you gave me when we met." Waylon stated firmly. "What are they called?"

"Wh-ih--" Eddie sucked in more breath and tried to force the word out through a clumsy mouth. "Wissst-air-a." Not quite. "Wisteria." Finally the word bent to his will and another word came to mind. "Waylon?"

The blond sagged in relief and smiled with relief. "Yeah, Waylon. How ya doing there?" Eddie opened his mouth to speak but a strangled groan came out instead. His head was killing him and he felt like his insides had been scraped out.

"I bet. You had a...moment."Frank's eyes shifted to Waylon warily. "Waylon ran to grab me,only to then ignore everything I said in a panic." He huffed out a shaky laugh that Eddie couldn't mimic. "Shoving flowers in a guys face isn't in my manual, but glad it worked this time." Frank held a hand out and dragged Eddie to his feet. He must have fallen, crouched down in fetal positioning likely.

"Thank you, both of you. Think I'll close today and go hom--"

"I'll take you." Frank interjected. The two stared at each other in a contest of wills before Eddie slumped in defeat.

"My coat's in back." His voice was hoarse and flat.

"Go on then, I'll lock up here and see Waylon out." Frank shooed him off and Eddie hobbled to his back room. It had been awhile since the last attack and he had stupidly thought he wouldn't have another. Then again, it wasn't called Complex PTSD for nothing. Frank came in and closed the door quietly. This wasn't the first time he'd helped Eddie through aftermath, far from. Frank was a master at it, offering touch but not forcing it and herding Eddie to home and to bed. With painkillers and plenty of water.

"Sleep." Frank commanded as Eddie snuggled into his nest of comforters and pillows. "Take tomorrow off as well." He started a mother hen rant that worked better than any lullaby.

--
When he finally resurfaced, feeling drained and hollow and achy, he reached for the water Frank left him and his fingers brushed over paper. A colorful sketch, splashed with water color, showing the front of Basement Blooms with Eddie framed by a window, picking blooms with a small smile. It didn't show who was behind the counter, but the heft implied Chris. There was an angular signature blocked in the corner but Eddie had an idea who it was from by the scrawl along the side: "Can't get a florist flowers when he's ill. Get well soon!" He hummed appreciatively and allowed the warm bed to lure him back to sleep with a smile, not letting go of the picture as he drifted off

Chapter Text

Eddie went ahead and took the next day off as a precaution. He felt cottony, body too heavy yet soul too light--or perhaps it was the other way around. Regardless, he found himself running a finger over the calming colors of Waylon's painting, wondering if he could pull from some of them for his next crafting project. The deep cobalt of the framing street was especially enticing.

Frank must have let Mama know what was going on, a text ordering him to rest was all he'd heard of her all day. The downside of nothing to do all day was his brain being free to wander without distraction. For all he'd done, Frank had forgotten to turn off the bedside alarm, meaning Eddie had been up since dawn and left alone with his thoughts, unable to go back to sleep.

There were only so many hours he could flip through catalogs and patterns before wanting to die. What the poor florist needed was some noise, and who did he know that would gladly provide it?

---

"Hello, welcome to Walrider, Mr. Gluskin!" the desk boy called out cheerfully. It was March and yet the poor thing was wrapped in so many layers--hat, scarf, sweater, gloves with more piled aside--they were all Eddie could see.

"Gluskin?" Miles popped out of his work space and beamed when he saw Eddie up and steady. "Gluskin!" The lingering intrusive thoughts were pushed from his brain, just as the air was pushed from his lungs by the artist's hug.

Miles had plenty to talk about: sorority girls wanting butterflies on their hips, frat boy tribal junk, Chris not letting him draw moths and dicks instead. It was a comfortable hour as Eddie was allowed to sit outside the workspaces and listen to Miles ramble on.

"Eddie's here?" The chatter finally broke when Waylon stepped inside, speaking with Silky. A smile pushed itself to Eddie's face unbidden and Miles seemed to puff up, ready to tease his friend.

"Hello, darling. Aren't you a bit late?"

"Are you supposed to be here?" Waylon snapped back. Oh.

Eddie froze, not quite sure how he'd sidestepped, only the cold dread of knowing he was in the wrong.

"A-apologies. I seem to be in the way." He moved to leave, but Miles caught his arm.

"Dude, what crawled up your ass?" Miles frowned, shifting as if to hide the larger man behind him. Oh no, they were going to fight and rift and it is Eddie's fault--no, wait. Breathe. Calm down, remove yourself.

"Sorry." Eddie repeated and ducked down and away from Miles' defensive position. "I'll be back--"

"Don't hurry." Waylon cut him off and Eddie's heart stopped. Unfortunately, Waylon didn't. "You're not exactly young anymore so it's going to take longer to recover. Stay home and have Chris mind the store if you're really worried about it." That was...pointed.

"I'll try to stay out of your way then." It was a terrifyingly hollow sound, scratching against the broken edges inside him, a relic from his teenage years.

"Hey, hold it--" Waylon was held back by an angry Upshur.

"Step off, Park. Gluskin, text or call when you're home safe." Eddie couldn't trust his voice to not break so he just nodded before stepping quickly out of the shop, a confused Silky rising from his seat in alarm. It was all so cliche. Just like him.

---

Rather than a straight flight home, he tried to calm himself by going back to some of the projects he had drafted that morning. A new vest might be nice. Fabric store. Deep blue, gunmetal, not cobalt, with a black matte silk seemed appealing. He pulled several bolts out to compare and picked up some clear nylon as well.

Sewing was always relaxing. The him of the motor, the even stitches puncturing the fabric, cutting and stitching and forming into a coherent piece. When the trance wore off, Eddie was home. The sun was gone and a dim sewing lamp was on, showcasing a finished vest with clear embroidery. Rather than his normal roses and irises, there were Dianthus chinesis, Colchicum, Adonis, and Whitlavia catching the lamplight.

Old, alone, helpless but not hopeless. He let out a breath of laughter--fit him to a t. He shook the best out and folded it with care, placing it by the shirt and slacks he had already selected for tomorrow. He had wanted to get in early to have more time to speak with Waylon, but...

Eddie sighed and rubbed his forehead. He had lived through worse than an unrequited crush, and as Mama always tells him, "This too shall pass."

Tomorrow was another day.

Chapter Text

Eddie opened the shop and tried not to keep an eye out for Waylon, pretending not to be disappointed when no one stopped in. When the bell dinged just after opening, he forced himself to stay behind the counter. Good thing too.

"Business going well?" A voice with the charm of half rotten leaves muddied into sludge pushing into the gutter outside a dive bar rolled into his store.

"Something like that." Eddie pulled his face into a caricature resembling cheerful. The first echoes of attics and men laughing behind camera flashes washed over him, but did not stick, thank God. Last time Blaire had been nearby after an...episode had ended horribly. "What do you want, Blaire?"

"Is that any way to speak to an old flame? Jeremy, please."

"Is that what you were?" Eddie drawled. "Forgive me, I remember it differently." He straightened to his full height and shot a side glance at the suit. "Don't make me repeat myself."

"Never, Edward, dear." Blaire perked up. "Oh, and I hear that noisy tattoo junkie has a new hire." Ah, that's what he was after--and fairly straightforward for Jeremy's usual manipulations.

"Yes, the quiet fellow. Comes over some times for lunch. Doesn't say much. How did you meet?" Give him enough rope....

"Oh, just neighborhood gossip, you hear." Blaire seemed smug about something--the silence? The idea that Waylon hadn't let anyone in on his living conditions? Pbfft, sucker. Eddie had to hide his face behind a hanging pot to keep from laughing.

"I hear the local press is having a field day with Packer and his optometry. Licked a patient's face." Blaire droned on and Eddie ducked under a long leaf before getting a nifty little idea. Pulling some of the more...colorful blooms to mind, a gift for began to form for the interloper. Mandrake just about fit Jeremy's unique personality. As Jeremy prattled on, Eddie caught sight of a bundle of knit scurrying down the street. Unless Mama's back carpet had come alive with a vengeance, it had to be Silky. No one else could survive under that many layers. Just like no one could survive Blair'es drawing the oxygen out of a space with his narcissism.

Wild sorrel, wild sorrel. He could swore he had some in. Ah, there it was, and by the meadowsweet too! Well, it seems a shame to separate them now~

Silky did a double-take at Jeremy and marched into the shop, the bell cutting off whatever slurge the suited lizard was on now. Perfect opportunity to snatch some yellow carnations and push the whole mess into Jeremy's arms.

"If that was all, Jer, I have a customer to see to." Blaire sneered at Silky, but seemed appeased by the free merchandise. Damned self-righteous cheapskate.

"Of course, Edward, dear. We really should have that dinner to catch up. You still have my number, right?" Cod suckle was already walking out, not listening for an answer, but Eddie did wonder if dinner had been mentioned. Regardless, Blaire slithered off to whence he came and Silky was standing tensely, worrying for the normally relaxed boy.

"Hey," he called, voice soft and smooth like when he tried to soothe squirrels as a kid. Silky was certainly jumpy enough. "Darling, you all right?"

Silky melted a bit but jumped when Eddie made contact with his sweater. Suddenly a piece of paper was being shoved into his chest and Silky was halfway across the street toward Walrider.

"Um...thank you?" He frowned and looked at the now-crumpled sheet. It was another sketch, this time of the inside of Basement Blooms. Eddie was leaning against the counter like he does when he's tired, but there was a soft smile on his face that he'd never seen before. The paper was rougher here, like it had been rubbed within an inch of its life, perhaps by a tetchy artist erasing too much. Eddie snorted, probably tried to get rid of his usual frown and having trouble imagining it. The flowers had watercolor patterns, but Eddie's portrait was colored with the soft strokes of colored pencils, only his apron being filled with watercolor. He sighed and traced over the details long enough for Chris to arrive with a grunt.

"Long day?" Eddie joked, lowering the paper politely. Chris gave him a dirty look and slowly grit his teeth.

"Silky got the flu and called out. Waylon had to come in, but was late before barging in like a bat outta heck. Hasn't been able to concentrate either." Eddie blinked in surprise before going back to his flower bins.

---
Waylon groaned as the front door chimed. He had just gotten caught up enough to take a lunch break, just gotten his food, and had JUST been about to take a bite. Figures. He trudged to the front and was peeved to find no one in the waiting area.

"Ooh, Way-way. Have yourself an admirer?" Miles whistled.

"Huh?"

"Those are some pretty lovesick meanings in those flowers there." Waylon turned to find a bouquet of small white and yellowish flowers with a pinkish one he recognized.

"Snapdragons?"

"I am flattered with false hope," Miles sighed. Waylon jerked upright.

"What?" Miles gave him an odd look.

"Language of flowers, dude. Didn't you...oh no."

"What?"

"Bro..."

"What!?" Miles came over and settled his hands on Waylon's shoulders, looking deep into his eyes.

"Oh my dear, dumb little love biscuit. Have you been pining after a romantic florist sop like Eddie and never even heard of the language of flowers?" Waylon blushed and spluttered about how he obviously wasn't pining, but Miles kept giving him a flat yet pitying look.

"Poor Eddie's even given you bouquets and you never bothered?" Another long sigh.

"Fine, fine! Whatever. Tell me what the bouquet means." Waylon was practically glowing red and Miles seemed to delight in his suffering.

"Fine, but let's close up first. You're not going to be getting much done today."