"I would love you in any shape,
in any world, with any past.
Never doubt that."
The town possessed plenty of flower shops, but the one on Harvest Way had plants practically bursting from the rooftop, while ivy crawled its walls like Nature personally blessed its foundations. It boasted two floors, one for the actual shop, the other for a cramped and cluttered apartment filled with gardening tools and new floral deliveries. An iron-wrought balcony jutted out from the second floor, nearly sagging under the weight of the greenery it held.
But no matter how many magical blossoms and houseplants the shop sold, the town always showed far more interest in its owners. Everyone recognized the shopkeepers from word of mouth before seeing them in person: the florist—who looked more movie star than town settler—and her redheaded flame of a daughter.
“Hollywood scandal,” Liz proclaimed one day at the pub, wagging her finger. “Only that can make a good-looking woman like her come to a place like this and raise a kid.”
At the end of the bar, Tyrone drunkenly scoffed. “You’re reaching too far, Liz. She’s obviously a trophy wife in exile.”
“A trophy wife who’d get dirt in her fingernails?”
Paula slammed her drink down. “All I know is that they don’t go to church. Says plenty for me.”
“Not this again—”
“Frankly, I like that.” Phil said, nodding solemnly. “You seen the girl’s hair? Red as sin. We can’t have that around on Sundays; no matter how many psalms she’ll recite, she’ll grow up a troublemaker.”
“Like her mother,” someone snickered. When the pub turned to stare at him questioningly, the man only raised his hands in surrender. “What? I know nothing ‘bout the lady! It’s just in the hair difference. She’s got golden locks, while her girl’s got—”
“Fire for a head.”
“Hm, that’s right. What was the kid’s name again? It was some fancy ass city—”
“Florence. Yeah. And her mother Stevie.”
“Who names their kid after a city? And isn’t Stevie a boy’s name?”
“Shit, who even knows with these Hollywood people.”
The door to the pub creaked open, but the gossip continued to flow. Only when the man at the head of the group tapped the bar for attention did the chatter stop.
“Four old-fashions and a Black ‘N Blacks.”
The pub looked at the group from head to toe. Three women and two men, clothed in varying degrees of denim and cotton. Nothing too interesting, besides the fact that one of the women hid her eyes behind a pair of abnormally round sunglasses. But Friday nights always brought out the eccentricities in strangers, and the regulars soon went back to gossiping.
“Budge your ass to let the travelers sit, Phil.” Liz griped, hands already busy taking glasses off the shelves. “Your mother would be weeping in her grave at your antics.”
“But Liz, the seat’s for my date!”
“You’ve been saying that for the past few hours. Next time, take a hint when you see it; now move.”
Phil grumbled, but slid down the bar to let the five sit at the bar. Liz sized each of the strangers up once she finished and handed out each drink for the group. Three of the old-fashions went to the women. The first had a piercing stare and purple lips, complete with hair as black as midnight and a dark leather jacket swung loosely whenever she moved. The second, the shortest of the crew, sported a pile of locs that spilled artfully across her shoulders. When Liz set down her drink in front of her, the woman slowly took over her sunglasses, murmured a slow thank-you, and began to sip delicately at her drink, her brown fingers curling around the glass.
“You staying here long?” Liz asked, turning to the third woman—Asian, short hair tied back in a mini ponytail.
The third shrugged her shoulders, her eyes glittering mischievously. “Depends on you, I guess.”
“Depends on what now—”
“What Mits meant to say,” the man who ordered the drinks interrupted, shooting (Mits apparently) an exasperated glare. “was that we’re a band who’s interested in playing for crowds, and were wondering if you could let us play at your pub.”
Mits stuck her tongue out at the man. “Sure, ruin the surprise for everyone, Jaymes.”
Liz blinked, not missing the y that stretched in the name as she slid Jaymes’ old-fashioned to him. “I…well. Isn’t there Issy’s club at the west side of town?”
“We tried that.” A soothing voice answered. “But apparently we look too boring for them.”
Liz turned to the final member of the group and wondered why she didn’t pay attention sooner. She slowly gave the single Black N’ Blacks without breaking eye contact, careful not to spill a single drop.
“You don’t look boring to me,” Liz said, drinking in the sight of the man. He was the tallest out of the group, taller than all the saplings she bought from the mysterious florist three days ago. His long dark hair spread like a shadow over a worn denim jacket, while a scarf wound itself haphazardly around his neck.
The man laughed softly and Liz swore she heard robins chirping. “Well, thank you.”
“Liz! Refill this, please?”
Liz’s smile slid off her face and she breathed in for a few seconds before walking over to glare at Phil’s smirking face.
“Thanks,” He drawled, eyes dancing with mirth. “You looked a little out of breath back there, so I did you a favor.”
“I haven’t picked up anyone in months, you fucking ass.” Liz swore, swiping Phil’s empty glass from the bar and angrily pouring more bourbon in it. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t interrupt my game.”
Phil leaned back, arching an eyebrow when he took a good look at the man she was about to flirt with. “What game? Liz, you couldn’t touch that with a five-foot pole; he’s on a whole other level.”
Liz ground her teeth as she handed the glass back to him. “Watch me. Unlike you, I’m not someone who gets stood up easily.”
She left Phil spluttering behind her as she sailed back to the group (band?), her service smile already plastered on her lips. “Everything alright?”
“Yeah.” The purple-lipped woman said, her long fingers already playing with an empty glass. “Can you get me a dirty martini this time?”
The tall man—Attractive Stranger, Liz decided, would better fit him—sighed. “Have some mercy on my poor wallet, Amy.”
“It’s Friday,” Amy said, rolling her eyes. “If you’re looking for a better excuse, then I’m gonna think you’re underage, because you clearly don’t understand the rules of drinking, let alone a band leader treating his coworkers right.”
The woman with locs choked on her next sip of old-fashioned while Jaymes hid a snicker behind his hand. Attractive Stranger wilted, looking like a kicked puppy; Mits caught Liz’s indignant stare and winked at her knowingly.
“Don’t worry. You should see us in the van.”
“Who drives?” Liz asked, ignoring Mits’ glances and angling herself closer to Attractive Stranger.
Attractive Stranger raised his head almost sheepishly. “I do. It’s chaos.”
“Now that’s an outright lie.” The woman with the locs said, setting her glass back on the bar with a snap. “Hoz, don’t you remember when we switched the last twenty miles?”
“If you call twenty miles five, Twigs.”
Jaymes patted Hoz’s denim-covered shoulder sympathetically. “You were kind of out of it from financing, so you probably don’t remember any of that.”
“Oh, right.” Hoz said, starting a slow nod. “Monday, right?”
“Anything for you, Twigs.”
Liz cleared her throat, hoping for more information. “Your offer for pub playing still stands, but I’ll need more information. What do you all play?”
The playful spark in Hoz’s eyes faded to something more serious. “Instrument-wise or genre-wise?”
“Give me everything you’ve got.” Liz blurted out, desperate to hear Hoz speak again.
Hoz began to list the band’s preferences (“We’re an indie soul group, but we can play blues or folk if you want.”), favorites (“Annie Lennox, Broadway, Cindi Lauper…we’re a whole mix.”) and the positions (“Amy, Twigs, and Mits—don’t ask, she just likes that better than Mitski—man the backup vocals and guitars, while Jaymes has the drums and keyboard.”)
Liz latched onto the last comment, a not-so-subtle desperation in her voice. “What do you do?”
“Me? Oh, I songwrite.”
Jaymes snorted. “You humble sap. Don’t believe a word he says; he’s lead vocalist and guitar, as well as doing most of the songwriting, for some masochist reason.”
“All of us work together for song sessions.” Hoz said with a shrug. “I can hardly take all the credit.”
“And who obsesses over every lyric we made at two in the morning?” Mits said. “You sell yourself too short, Hoz.”
Liz shook herself of the imagery of a sleep-deprived Hoz bent over a notebook, frantically jotting down lyrics as they flooded his mind. “And your pay?”
Hoz’s spine straightened. For the next fifteen minutes, Liz haggled and tussled over pay rates with the dark-haired man, and she found herself all too glad when the group finished their drinks and began to amble out the pub. She looked down at the bar: all cash from Hoz’s wallet. Not at all what she expected to end up with for the night.
Apparently disappointment was written across her face, because Amy gave her a pitiful glance before leaving the bar. “Sorry. He gets really oblivious or uninterested when it comes to these scenes. It’s usually both, so it’s not your fault.”
Liz nodded slowly, still in shock at the contrast she saw between the soft voiced Hoz who laughed lightly with his bandmates and the sharp-eyed, straight laced Hoz who navigated finances as well as any New York banker.
Phil slid back over to her, a satisfied smirk playing on his lips. “So, did I mess up your game?”
“Shut up and drink your bourbon.”
“You just missed another chance, you know that? At this rate, we’ll leave a string of broken hearts behind us instead of fans.”
Hozier blinked, tearing his gaze from the ground to look at an exasperated Twigs.
“What? The bartender?”
“Yes, you big loser.” Mits said, jolting his shoulder. “She kept questioning us, but you most of all.”
Hozier shook his head, letting his hair fall in front of his face. “She wasn’t interested. Didn’t you see how eager she was to shoo us out?”
Twigs slowly dragged her manicured nails down her cheeks. “That’s because you get serious when it comes to finances!”
“I have the right to, remember?”
“Andrew Hozier-Bryne.” Twigs said slowly. “If you’re going to start with that pawnshop inheritance story one more time, you’ll be hearing from my lawyers.”
Amy scoffed as they approached their battered grey van. “We can’t afford individual lawyers, let alone one.”
“I don’t even know if the neighborhood’ll offer us one.” Mits said gloomily. “Didn’t you hear the nasty things they were saying about that florist? The town clearly runs on the rumor mill, and we’ve basically just dumped ourselves in front of them as fresh meat.”
“Guys.” Jaymes said, waving his hands in a settle down gesture. “Let’s not do this, ok? It’s Friday night and we deserve a little break.”
“He deserves a little break, if you know what I mean—”
“Got it.” Hozier sighed, unlocking the van and sliding into the driver’s seat. “But there’s no time to date for me, not when the bankers have a death grip on the pawnshop’s debts.”
“You’ll never know, Hoz.” Mits said cryptically, and gave him a grin when he stared at her through the rear-view mirror. “Now drive us back. I don’t want my ass freezing in the van all night.”
Hozier slowly started to smile. “Yes, ma’am.”