Having a Talent could be a gift or a curse. Some people’s Talents were useful: an affinity for helping flora grow, or the ability to ease someone’s fears just by being present. Other Talents were less helpful: always five minutes late no matter how early you left, or dogs hated you on sight. A Talent was either revered or loathed, never something in between.
Martin hated his Talent.
“Did you see that guy? Wow, what a hottie.”
“I’d fuck him in a heartbeat, you know?”
“I’d marry him in heartbeat!”
“Yeah, but you’d fuck him first, right?”
Martin hunched his shoulders under his leather jacket and ducked into the nearest shop. It took him several minutes of wandering through the tightly spaced aisles and breathing heavily through his nose before he sneezed, three times in rapid succession, and realized he was standing in the middle of a flower shop.
“Hey, buddy, you okay?” said a voice, and he jerked back on instinct — some people took the persuasion of his Talent a little too far and liked to touch without permission — and blinked, staring down at the short someone who was staring up at him, cradling an enormous bunch of purple lilacs.
“I’m fine,” said Martin, because that was what you were supposed to say, and sneezed again.
“If you’re allergic to flowers, you probably shouldn’t be in here,” said the young woman, shooting him an entirely unimpressed look. “Are you looking for something in particular?”
“Peace and quiet,” said Martin, before his brain to mouth filter could kick in, but she smiled as her eyes narrowed.
“A little fuck you in flowers, then?” she said, setting the lilacs gently on an empty display before spinning on her heel and motioning for him to follow. “You’re in luck — those are my specialties. And they always come at a discount.”
Martin trailed after her in a pollinated haze — he wasn’t allergic to flowers, per se, he just could only handle so many of them in an enclosed space at a time. And every surface in the shop was loaded with fresh flowers, just waiting to send him into another sneezing fit.
“So who’s the unfortunate soul we’ll be insulting today?” said the woman, reaching behind a towering sunflower to bring forth a terracotta pot of smaller flowers.
Martin stared at her. There was no one person he wanted to tell off — he wanted a big neon billboard to throw at people whenever they tried to approach him with offers of sex or marriage or anything . “Can you say I’m not interested because you don’t love me with flowers?”
She raised an eyebrow at him. “That’s doable,” she said. “Do you want a single bouquet or little ones to hand out?” she was smirking when she finished, but the amusement faded into surprise when he nodded.
“The second one,” he said. “How many can you make?”
The woman set down the flower pot she was holding and reached for another, some sort of towering pink plant with long stems and bunches of soft petals. “How about some foxglove,” she said, and snagged a pot of smaller pink flowers, “and Carolina rose, so they’ll back off.” She frowned, juggling the pots, then shoved the un-rose-like roses into his hands and darted up the aisle, the foxglove bouncing gently against her shoulder. “And some china pink!!”
Martin trailed after her, the plant pot heavy in his hands, and found her at the front counter, sorting the foxglove into a dozen sets with a pink- and white-petaled flower.
“Bring that here,” she said without looking up from her flying hands, and Martin carefully set the plant pot on the counter. “I can make you a baker’s dozen — we’re running low on foxglove. Is that going to be enough?”
“It’s a start,” said Martin, and she shot him a furtive glance.
“Got a lot of girlfriends?” she said. “Or boyfriends?”
Martin shook his head and looked away, squinting over his glasses at the long aisles — the door seemed very far away all of a sudden. “How much?”
“Forty dollars,” said the woman, her voice curt. He glanced back at her as she set the tiny bouquets — the stems of each wrapped in damp paper towels and cheerfully coloured plastic — into a plastic bag. “Anything else I can help you with?”
Martin dug out his wallet and paid her — the bag was heavier than he had thought it would be. “Not today,” he said. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” she said, but the smile she gave him looked pasted on, so unlike the brilliance he had seen in her eyes earlier.
Something tickled his nose and he sneezed again, turning quickly, and Martin fled the shop.
“Hey, you want a catch a drink with me?” purred a woman as he crossed the street, her eyes promising more than a drink at the nearest pub, and he freed one of the bouquets from the bag and handed it to her, grinning sharply when her eyes widened.
“These are special flowers,” he said. “Look ‘em up.” Then he walked as casually as a fast walk could take him away from her and the gaggle of women who had hurried in their direction. He could hear them squealing at each other, and his grin widened into a full-on smile when he heard an outraged shriek.
Thank fuck for the internet.
Martin had almost forgotten about the Flower Fiasco when he was forcefully reminded by stepping out of the path of an oncoming mother and baby stroller, only for the flower girl in question slamming into him, her shoulder hitting his stomach like a linebacker tackle, and all the air was punched from his lungs as they hit the floor with an oomph .
“What the fuck ,” he wheezed, gripping her arms and lifting her off of him as gently as was possible when the lift-ee was squirming, her knee hitting his thigh a little too close to more sensitive spots and making him grunt.
“What the hell, man?” said the woman, finally scrambling off of him and dusting off her pants as he pushed himself up. “You make a habit of being in the way?”
“You make a habit of knocking people down?” he shot back, and attempted to stand. Straightening hurt — he’d be bruised tomorrow — but he didn’t let it show on his face as he glared at her over his glasses. “In a rush?”
“Didn’t you hear me yelling?” she said, snatching up a bag he hadn’t even seen her drop. “I said to get out of the way!”
Martin held up the earbuds that had fallen out during his fall, the wires dangling, and her face turned a most becoming shade of red. Like a tomato.
“Oops,” she said. “I thought you were just ignoring me. Sorry?” she tried, then glanced at her watch. “ Shit , I’m so late! See ya.” And then she was gone, her boots pounding the pavement, weaving through the crowds with enough reckless speed that Martin could only stare after her in shock.
“What a firecracker,” said the mother with the baby, grinning when Martin turned an incredulous look her way. “That girl’s one in a million, didn’t you know?” A different glint was sliding in her eyes as she looked at him, and Martin cursed his Talent and bolted, muttering a nearly inaudible acknowledgement.
That girl’s one in a million, didn’t you know?
“Hey,” said a voice, and he was drunk enough not to shy away from the sudden proximity of another human. Tipsy enough to almost fall of the bar stool, too, and someone grabbed his arm to keep him from falling.
“Hey!” said another voice, and the hand let go — Martin blinked, focusing on the two faces closest to him. “Don’t touch him,” said Cross, his face stern, and Flower Girl’s mouth fell open as she took a step back.
“Geez, I was just saying hello,” she said. There were flowers in her arms, bright even in the dim lights of the bar, and yeah, Martin was drunk. She shoved the flowers at him and he nearly dropped them, his fingers clumsy and slow, and her eyes narrowed. “Also sorry. For running into you earlier.”
“Ohhh, it’s her ,” said Cross, and she leveled a glare at him — he just grinned good-naturedly. “Flower Girl.”
“Flower Girl?” she said, and her tone was accusatory as she swung her gaze back to Martin. He wasn’t drunk enough for this . “What do you mean, Flower Girl?”
“I didn’t know your name,” said Martin. “Still don’t,” he added, when she opened her mouth, and he wondered how she could see with her eyes in such tiny, angry slits.
“You don’t need my name,” she said.
“Then I’ll keep calling you Flower Girl,” he said.
“Fuck you,” she said, and he laughed.
“That wasn’t an offer, asshole .”
“Guys, quit it,” said Cross. “The bartender’s giving us the side eye and I really like this bar. Say thank you for the flowers, Martin, don’t be a jerk.”
“Thank you for the flowers,” said Martin, then frowned down at the bouquet. “I think. This isn’t a fuck you bouquet, is it?”
“Why don’t you Google it and find out,” said Flower Girl, sticking out her tongue before spinning majestically — Martin was captivated by the smooth arc of her hair fanning out as she spun — and marched out of the bar, head held high.
“I like her,” said Cross, and Martin groaned, setting the flowers carefully on the bar before downing the rest of his beer.
“You like everybody,” he retorted, and Cross laughed.
“Everybody likes you,” was his response. “A little too much. This girl? I don’t think she likes you at all.”
And coming from Cross, whose Talent was hyperempathy, there wasn’t much chance of a dispute. “Yeah,” said Martin, pulling the little paper card from the wrapper securing the bouquet and squinting at the fine script. “Yeah, I think you’re right.”
Vervain. Musk roses. Purple hyacinths.
That was what the note said, the hand-writing crisp and efficient without losing a certain looping flair. It seemed an odd assortment, and Martin had stared at the bouquet — happily sucking up tap water from its new perch in an old mason jar — for hours through the fog of his hangover the morning after, trying to decipher the meanings of the blooms.
The hyacinths were what the internet called an apology flower, this he could understand, but the other two had taken some digging. Enchantment and charming seemed an odd coupling for an apology, and after some unfortunate musing, a heavy weight settled in his stomach — still achy and bruised from their abrupt meeting on the sidewalk, curse her bony shoulders.
What if she meant his Talent? That she had felt the pull to him like all others did, and knew it?
Was that why she was so angry with him?
“Fuck,” said Martin, and winced as a pillow connected with the side of his head, knocking his glasses askew.
“Shut up, asshole,” groaned Cross, arm flopping over the side of his bed, his eyes squeezed shut against the light creeping in the window. “‘S too early.”
“It’s almost ten,” said Martin, and Cross groaned again, louder. “Gripps and Vogel will be here any minute, you gotta get moving. They’re bringing their new friend, remember? The girl they met at karaoke night.”
“Fuck karaoke,” said Cross with feeling, and Martin let out a small laugh. “Is there breakfast?”
“Not for you,” said Martin, then grinned at Cross’ betrayed expression. “There’s an omelette in the microwave for you. Should still be warm.”
“I love you,” said Cross, rolling out of bed with a thump and hauling himself up, shuffling toward the microwave.
“I know,” said Martin, and lifted his mug to his lips. “There’s no coffee left.”
“You asshole .”
“Hey, we’re here!” yelled Vogel, and Cross groaned again, shoveling half a dozen bites of omelette into his mouth without turning around.
“You get it,” he said, and Martin handed him the remaining half of his cup of coffee — there really wasn’t any left in the pot, but he wasn’t a complete jerk.
Martin opened the door and was immediately pulled into a bear hug by Gripps. “Let me breathe,” he said, but he was laughing, too happy to see them to mind when Vogel joined the hug and squeezed them both.
“I brought coffee, if that helps,” said a familiar voice. “I know it’s super early…”
Martin wriggled out of the suffocating embrace and stared at the friend Gripps and Vogel had been so excited to introduce to him and Cross. “You!” he said.
“You!” said Flower Girl, and her knuckles turned white on the cardboard box of coffee cups. “What the hell, Gripps? You said you had nice friends!”
“You two know each other?” said Gripps, his wicked grin saying that he’d known very well that they knew each other and hadn’t bothered to inform either of them. “What a coincidence.”
“I’m gonna fucking murder you,” said Flower Girl, and Martin couldn’t tell if she was speaking at him or Gripps. Both, probably, by the way she was glaring daggers at him. Or maybe just him.
“Too messy,” said Cross, snagging a cup of coffee from her box and blinking sleepily at her. “Murder’s too messy this early in the morning.” Then his eyes flew wide. “It’s you!”
“That’s been established,” she said drily. “Maybe I should go...”
“No, no, maybe you should come in,” said Cross, and ushered her inside before there could be any more protests. Coffee was distributed, Martin put on a vest over his shirt — just in case her coffee-holding hand decided to sway in his direction, he wanted an extra layer of protection — and Vogel laughed uproariously for a good ten minutes once Cross had explained what Flower Girl meant.
“She’s Drummer Girl,” said Vogel, still giggling. “She plays wicked snares, man, she’s gonna be great for the band.”
“I never said I would join your band,” said Flower Girl. “I agreed to meet the rest of your band, but I never said I would join.” She stuck her tongue out at Martin, and he reciprocated — Cross planted an elbow in his ribs, next to him on the sofa, but she missed it entirely, already on her feet and moving to the round wooden table that they called the dining room. “You kept them?”
“You gave them to me,” said Martin, tilting his head to the side as she touched the soft petals. “Did you think I was gonna chuck ‘em?”
She shrugged. “Didn’t think you were the sort of guy who kept flowers.”
“What, you think we’re too punk for flowers?” said Cross, and laughed. “Punk is flowers.”
“You’re weird,” said Flower Girl. “But I like you.” She narrowed her eyes at Martin. “Not sure about you.”
Martin smiled at her, and he heard Cross inhale sharply on his right and immediately start choking on coffee.
“Amanda, you made him smile ,” said Vogel. “That’s like, so rare.”
“Fuck you,” said Martin, then paused. “ Amanda …?”
Gripps sipped his coffee. “I thought you two knew each other,” he purred, and Martin wanted to tip his coffee all over his smug face.
“We weren’t properly introduced,” said Flower Girl — Amanda — drily. “He paid in cash.”
All three of Martin’s friends ooooo ed dramatically, and Martin groaned in unison with Amanda.
“Flowers, I bought flowers,” said Martin. “Assholes.”
“Oh, I see, so you are a bunch of dicks,” said Amanda, but she was grinning, and she hadn’t left, and she was sitting comfortably with her coffee and seemingly — improbably — enjoying their company. “So when are we gonna actually jam? I was promised drums and good music.”
Cross groaned into his coffee, and Martin laughed. “Too early for murder or drums,” said Cross.
“We’ll go easy on you today,” said Gripps, “but tomorrow we’re long overdue for some kickass drumming. How long’s it been since we kicked Osmund out?”
Martin shuddered. “Two months,” he said. “Tomorrow.” Osmund Priest could drum, none of them would dispute that, but he’d been a holy terror to work with — always jockeying for more vocals, talking down to Vogel for being the youngest, showing up early to ogle Martin and refusing to take multiple hints that Martin was not interested — and it had been a relief for all when Gripps had finally said enough was enough and they’d left Osmund and his expensive drum set sitting in a pub in Omaha.
They hadn’t had any gigs since then, but they had found a relatively cheap drum kit a student was getting rid of prior to a move for college. And if Amanda was any good, and they could convince her to join… well. Martin wanted to know more about the Flower Girl.
That girl’s one in a million, didn’t you know?
Amanda was amazing.
Martin had barely played a line of notes before she was jumping in head first with a shattering drumroll that had Vogel howling and Cross racing to keep up with the beat — they were full to the brim with a wild energy that didn’t cut as they leapt from song to song, Amanda’s untamable beat setting a pulse that kept them going, going, going until they couldn’t play another song.
“I think I love you,” said Cross, after they had packed up their instruments and settled into the bar down the street for the evening — Rowdy 3 tradition, always. He raised his glass in a toast. “To Amanda, the fifth member of the Rowdy 3.”
“Still haven’t said yes,” said Amanda, but Martin could see her smile over her glass.
“If I have to get down on one knee and propose, I will,” threatened Cross, and she snorted into her glass, his grin widening in response.
“He’d do it, too,” said Gripps.
“Not if I marry her first,” said Vogel, and Amanda laughed.
“I’m not marrying any of you,” she said. “You didn’t even take me out for dinner first, and now you’re all proposing? Get it together, boys.”
“Sure thing, Boss,” said Vogel, and signaled the bartender for another round of shots. “We’re taking a taxi home, right?”
“Hey,” said Martin, as Amanda was gathering up her jacket, the rest of the Rowdies already milling by the doorway, waiting for them.
“Hey,” said Amanda. Her hair had fallen out of the high ponytail she had had it in, and it fanned over her shoulders in dark waves — she brushed loose strands from her face and grimaced when her touch left them staticky.
“I was wondering-” began Martin, only for Amanda to interrupt.
“Vogel told me,” she said, the words spoken swiftly and softly, combined with a glance toward their waiting friends. “About your Talent, I mean.”
Martin said nothing.
“He said everyone always hits on you and you hate it, so I understand why you bought those flowers now,” she continued, her eyes searching his when he didn’t respond. “I thought you were just being a pompous jerk who was dicking people around but I didn’t know you were… just trying to turn people down nicely. Nice-ish. The flower messages weren’t very nice. Um. So, I’m sorry. I misjudged you.” She took a deep breath, and said, “Are you gonna say anything?”
“Vogel has a habit of letting his mouth run away from him,” said Martin. The alcohol that had lent him a pleasant buzz all evening was turning sour in his stomach, and he wanted to go home and sleep and forget for a little while. Forget that a normal relationship was never going to be on the table, because as soon as anyone found out about his Talent, they would card through every memory they had and ultimately dump his lonely ass back in the gutter where he’d started.
“I don’t have a Talent.”
Martin’s eyes snapped back to Amanda from where his gaze had shifted to the bar. “What?” he said.
“I don’t have a Talent,” she said again. “And Talents don’t really affect me. So maybe that is a Talent. So you don’t have to worry about me fawning all over you like a fangirl or anything.” She paused. “You’re staring at me.”
“I really like you,” said Martin, and her eyes widened. “I’m shit with words if I ain’t singing them, but I really like you. And I, uh, I’d like to take you to dinner. If you want.”
Now she was the one staring, and Martin could already feel his heart plummeting at her continued silence.
Then she smiled the most brilliant, blinding smile at him. “Of course, you dummy,” she said. “I really like you, too.”