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Blooming Carnations

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A group of men, well boys, moved around in the vacant building across the street. That house used to be a bakery of all places, it was since abandoned after competition rose just around the corner. Rafael had to say that the new bakery was better than what they served a few yards from his home and life. Much better croissants.

A beer cooler propped open the glass door as a hunky brunette applied midnight blue to the walls, another carried boxes to the upper floor. A man with a massive black beard and tattoos covering his arms helped a tall blonde carry something akin to a dentist chair into the building.

Rafael stared at them through his closed curtains. He never had them closed, the windowsill plants had to get their light. But he straightened his back and glared a hole through the bearded man's back, as if his glare could run the party out of town. It probably could if they were looking at the stalkerish florist across the street.

“What do you think they’re putting in?”

Rafael flinched and hoped his assistant couldn’t tell how she had caught him off guard, but knowing her she knew. Carmen wasn’t one to point these things out and tease him about it; part of the reason he hired her.

Rafael stepped away from the window and made sure the shop across the street was out of sight. “Well, whatever it is I’m not liking it so far.” He muttered, suddenly finding he had plenty of things to take care of.

Carmen replaced his spot and opened the curtains letting light into the left side of the store. She watched as one of the men unrolled a few drawings of generic tattoo art, but it was styled to be put on the wall in a frame. “I’m betting it’s a tattoo parlor.”

A tattoo parlor. Fantastic. But given recent events, it would make sense. A whole hell of a lot of new people were moving in recently, bringing in their businesses with them. The gang across the street shouldn’t be all that surprising. Each new entrepreneur popped up like weeds in a garden.

Rafael sniffed indignantly and, with a lack of anything better to do, swept the Spanish tiled floor. He hated change. Ironic, since he worked with the thing that changed most in this world. Though flowers were secondary only to people in that regard.

After a while Carmen stopped looking at their new neighbors and left for the greenhouse. He wove his way through the rows of flowers to shut the curtains, just before he snuck another look. The man who went upstairs earlier had come back down and was now talking to the leggy blonde. The man with tattoo sleeves on his arms was messing with cables near the new chairs while his buddy was helping out. Strangely enough from this distance the man with the dark hair appeared to be the only one with tattoos.

Damn this town. If so be, he was willing to be the most unfriendly and unforgiving neighbor. Even from across the street the bearded man was cursing at his failed attempt to wire a chair up to equipment. The brunette was calming him down. It seems it won’t take forever to run him out of town, Rafael smiled.

-

At long last he was finally moved in.

Sonny was ecstatic to be moving to this town. It was the same town a dear friend of his lived in and once given the golden opportunity he pounced on the chance to move like a cat to prey. His friends helped him move in and along with some cursing, a broken finger, and a few broken plates he was truly ready to reinvent himself. Sure it was rocky beginning and as one of them them pointed out, a bad omen, but he wasn’t really one to fall for superstitions (he always thought they were ridiculous).

He was determined to make the best of it. A new town, a new life, a new beginning.

So he stood behind the counter and waited for his first customer to come in. He wasn’t expecting anyone to drop in, after all he just opened his business. But either way a woman with long blonde hair came through the door spilling ease and cool. Hands at her side she took in the dark blue walls and the out of place natural lighting. Behind the man at the counter, she could see two twin chairs surrounded by heavy black curtains and split by a wall. Probably for privacy.

She walked up to the man at the counter who beared a small, sweet smile. “Hi.” She greeted, all southern charm in her voice.

“Hello. How can I help you?” A Staten Island accent poured through his lips, it sounded odd in the air like it had no place being there at all.

She smiled, “Well, I’m looking to get a tattoo.”

“Oh, okay. Do you have a design in mind or…?” He said, bumbling for an notebook.

The man was tall, thin, lean. Like a beanpole. He had shining sky blue eyes; she could’ve gotten lost in the sincerity she found in them. The horrible little rat that graced his upper lip did him no favors however. “I’m looking for a floral design, magnolias preferably. I don’t have any preference on the design.”

“Alright…” He said scribbling down notes. “Where do you want it?”

“The back of my left leg, how long would it take?” She asked.

“It depends. I’ll have to create a design, make sure it’s okay with you and then set up an appointment. For the actual tattoo it would take anywhere from 2 to 5 hours depending on color and size.” The blond spoke clearly, despite the rough accent he sounded friendly like a grandmother who baked a batch of cookies for you because it’s so nice outside.

She really didn’t know much about the tattoo business. Amanda knew what she wanted and was determined to get it but other than that she was clueless. Humming in deliberation she decided, “I want a little bit of color and I want it to take up most of the leg so…”

His smile bloomed again, “Alright. I’ll make a few designs and I’ll call you for a meeting, how’s that?”

She gave a sly smile, “Fine by me. By the way what’s your name? I need to know the name of the only tattoo artist in this town in case he screws it up and I can come and get him,” she pronounced sweetly.

“I’ll have you know that I do a fine job thank you very much.” He reached over to the far side of the counter and grabbed a leather book. “Here’s a collection of my handiwork. And the name’s Dominick Carisi Jr., call me Sonny.” He reached out his hand and she took it strongly. She couldn’t help but feel like some kind of pact had been made.

“Amanda Rollins.” Her smirk soften into a smile as she retreated to flip through the book. There weren’t a lot of tattoos in the portfolio, but each one was beautifully colored and made. Thank god she didn’t have to drive or fly somewhere to get a decent tattoo; Sonny would do just fine. “You just moved here, right?”

“Yeah just a week ago!” He chimed proudly, “Why?”

“Get rid of the stache.” Self consciously he reached up to touch it like he forgot it was there in the first place.

With this new advice he finished writing down her name and after asking, her number. After some heavy teasing at that, Amanda soon left after figuring out prices and such and confirming what kind of colors she wanted. Sonny was determined to do well for his first customer; what were the odds that the first stranger to walk through that door was truly going to get a tattoo? Anyway he wasn’t going to screw this up, small town and people talk, do well on the first job and the name ‘Carisi’ would spread.

But enough wishful thinking. It was time to start drawing magnolia flowers. He had done flower pieces before and always enjoyed doing them, but in the past he’d just look up the flowers or trudge a few blocks just to look at them for a bit before the shop owner kicked him out. Only to come back again with a camera. He was always better when the actual item was in front of him.

New town, so he didn’t know any florists, at least not personally. Luckily for him he happened to move across the street from a flower shop.

Moving behind the counter to the floor to ceiling windows he spied a woman in the front of the shop watering the pair of hydrangea bushes in the front. The building itself was two stories tall, right above the door was a sign, reading in a fading green, Barba’s Flowers.

Very original. Carisi mused.

Connected to the building was a greenhouse which opened onto the patio in the front. On said patio was a collection of all types of potted flowers and bushes as well as a small glass table shaded under a umbrella.

All in all it looked to be a very quaint shop, the owner, perhaps Ms. or Mrs. Barba over there, seemed like a nice lady. If he asked sweetly enough he might be able to draw flowers in her shop. Although in the past he hasn’t had much success in that department. One way or another he rubbed people the wrong way, either with his accent or presence.

He didn’t understand why people disliked him so much. Maybe it was the stache.

He’d take care of that later though, he’d better go over there to introduce himself before the afternoon hit and customers started to come. Plus it would be better to catch her before she’s busy and her own customers start to roll in. The morning sun cast rays down onto the street, making it glow in the way that only a truly nice day could achieve. It was perfectly early enough for him to go and see if Barba would let him draw her flowers.

Carisi flipped the sign over to ‘CLOSED’ and ran back upstairs to his apartment to grab his nearly completed sketchbook. Turning back he locked up the shop and hopped his way across the street, each step boosting his confidence. He no longer saw the woman that was there before.

As he walked up the small concrete flight of stairs he could smell all sorts of flowers. The aroma invaded his senses, taking such a strong hold that lilacs and roses were all he could inhale. Though, if he did go nose blind with the pollinated scent it wouldn’t be half bad. He opened the large grey wooden door, and the sound of a bell welcomed him in.

Two dutch windows flank the sides of the door, each of them bringing sunlight to the little ecosystem on the shelf connected to them. He walked across the simple red spanish tiles and in between rows of flowers to discover a large countertop stretching from wall to wall. The right side was open with all the types of flowers in the way; a small path is there to get around it and lead to a door to the greenhouse.

Sonny knew that a flower shop would be full of flowers, but they’re everywhere. Hanging from the ceiling either upside down or in pots. On carts in the area before the (also) flower filled counter, on the floor in large pots. On the window sills in the back near the tub sink. Racks of them stretch like marble columns into the air. There isn’t a few feet of space where a flower isn’t occupying it.

Standing behind the countertop was not the lady like he was expecting, no, it was a man.

A very, very pretty man.

“How can I help you?”

He was leaned over a piece of paper writing something down and didn’t bother looking up at Sonny to address him. The man behind the counter straightened his back and glanced at the man who attempted to make himself smaller in the space. Unimpressed, he looked back down at his paper and continued to write things down.

Carisi however, was impressed. He was wearing a pine colored apron that reflected his green eyes, he also had his hair neatly kept and styled, like he was a white collar worker and not a florist. To go along with the ensemble he wore a thin white button-up shirt which had the sleeves rolled up to reveal his forearms. God, if only that apron wasn’t in the way.

“I know I don’t have a sign for it, but I generally don’t like loiterers so---” He trailed off.

“Uh. I’m sorry, what?” Carisi said, snapping back to reality and daytime thinking.

The man before him squinted and looked even more detached than before.

He sighed and said, “Is there anything I can help you with?”

Plenty.

Sonny shook away his thoughts and cleared his mind. He had to get down to business and introduce himself to the people working here.

“Well, I’m looking for the owner…” Carisi trailed off, his mouth suddenly dry and uncooperative.

“You would be looking at him.” He said setting his paper aside.

“Oh.” He deflated feeling the embarrassment rush to his cheeks. “Then you must be---”

Hands still on the pen and paper below him, he cut quickly, “Rafael Barba.”

“‘M Dominick Carisi. Call me Sonny.” He replied keeping his hands burrowed in his pockets.

With some uncertainty and a slight arrogance in his voice he asked, “Are you the tattoo artist across the street…?”

“Yeah, I just opened, if you ever need a tattoo I can help you out.” He smiled widely.

Barba looked even more impassive than before. Before the soft questioning glance could get rid of him he had to ask about the flower he was searching for. Carisi’s throat had dried up some though, and he scolded himself for the reason behind it -- yes, the florist’s hot, but he needed to act like a professional. They worked across the street from each other, after all. He couldn’t pine over him forever.

He cleared his throat, licked his lips, and mustered up what confidence he could gather. Carisi asked, “Could you help me out? I’m looking for a flower, magnolias.”

That seemed to get his attention. Rafael furrowed his eyebrows and repeated, “Magnolias?”

“Yeah, yeah, my client wants a tattoo with magnolias, which I understand is a flower so I was wondering if you sold them or something? Or maybe,” Sonny pulled the sketchbook out from underneath his arm. “I can just sit and draw them. I won’t bother you or anything.” He clarified quickly.

Barba’s face split into a smirk. It was sharp and knowing and though Sonny was glad to get a different expression out of him he dreaded what this meant. He felt like this man could and would tear him apart any second. “Sorry to break it to you,” Barba drawled, “but magnolias grow on trees.”

Oh.

Just like that, with calm desinence, Rafael shattered any form of his remaining confidence. Carisi came in here with purpose to parade around, a block to deflect from the real matter which was getting to know his neighbor. A safety net, a prop. Now, he had nothing.

Quickly saving face Sonny thought back to his conversation with Miss Rollins and asked, “Well, uhm. What kinds of white flowers do you sell, or do you have anything that’s like magnolias?”

Barba squinted at him, clearly catching his hitch, but before he could point it out or answer his question the front door opened again to bring in a new customer. He turned to Carisi and stated, “My assistant Carmen will help you. She’s in the greenhouse.” The florist jerked his head left, at a door. Yellow-green light shone through the warped glass. “Now if you’ll excuse me…”

Sonny nodded and slid to the side, he watched as the patron eased up to the counter and started to talk decisively. This man seemed to be a regular judging by Barba’s laidback reaction and seemingly pleasant demeanor, which made Carisi unreasonably jealous. Part of him thought that he was showing off and rubbing this kindness indirectly in his face. Not wanting to linger any longer he walked over the the door and opened it to see soft light filling the greenhouse.

The room was gorgeous. The gentle light brought out all the colors out of the rows and rows of flowers that overtook the ground, the air, and any other space that the florist could find to place plants. And there, in the back near a tub sink, was the woman he saw watering the flora outside.

“Uh, hello. Carmen, right? I’m looking for any flowers that are like magnolias?”

The lady turned around and smiled, “I have a few things.”

Sonny introduced himself and took note of her kindness. For the time being, he would just grab the flowers he needed for now, maybe come back another time to sit and draw. As pretty as that man was, to deal with someone as dismissive as him was going to be a pain in the ass.

He must’ve spent too long staring longingly at the door to the main building because Carmen said, “He’s really not that bad.”

Snapping his head back to the woman who was cutting his flowers to take home, he instinctively replied, “Are you sure?”

Scolding himself and ready to apologize for his rash behavior Carmen cut him off, “I know it seems that way, but don’t let his behavior get to you. He’s actually very kind.”

“Does he treat every new customer like they’re trespassers?” He muttered.

“No, just the ones who are brash. If you wanna get in his good graces I suggest getting rid of the mustache.”

Sonny reached up to the offending stache, “Is it really that bad? You’re the second person to say that.”

Carmen wrapped up the bouquet of white flowers and passed them to Carisi. The bouquet was mostly filled with calla lilies, baby’s breath, white roses, and daffodils. “Then the first person was right, I’m sorry to say.” On top of the bouquet she added a card with some writing on it. But before she gave over the flowers she abruptly pulled them back. “Do you have any pets by the way?”

The question threw him off, but he answered tactfully anyway. “Uh, no. Why?”

“These flowers are very dangerous to eat. I know you probably weren’t planning to eat them of course, but your cat or dog will die if they eat these. Except for the roses.” Startled Sonny was only able to nod in confirmation. She tipped the flowers to him, “Please do come back though. Go pay at the counter.” She sent him off with a kind smile. Sparked with nervousness and renewed determination he walked back into the main building.

Back to Barba.

The florist may be an ass and Carisi wasn’t sure why he liked him so much. Perhaps it was the want to see him on a more regular basis or maybe it was the fact he always had crushes on older men. Despite his rash behavior he would continue to try and get to know him. The chances were high that he was going to come over again for more flowers, so he might as well attempt to be on good terms with the man.

Carisi practically shoved the door open and waltzed to the counter where Rafael just sent off a customer on his way. The fake smile on his face dropped once Carisi tossed the card on the granite countertop.

“I see you found some substitutes.” Rafael muses as he rang him up.

“Carmen really knows what she’s doing.” Carisi baited.

Barba caught him and didn’t take it, instead he chose to place the card (with added writing in red ink) back into the mess of flowers. He pronounced, “Your total is $78.45.”

“What?” Sonny nearly shouted. He immediately apologized under his breath, the sloped shoulders of before were up and ready to fight. Carisi’s face didn’t portray this though, only bewilderment.

Barba didn’t seem bothered by his reaction, he just smirked and tilted his head a fraction in amusement. “Buying a bouquet is a fairly pricey endeavor.”

“Yes, but nearly $100?

“My prices are pretty cheap for the quality you’re getting, and that’s not just me promoting my own brand here. Ask anyone in town and they’ll tell you that my flowers are worth it.”

Carisi bit his cheek. And he thought that he was cocky as can be, but luckily for Barba he was working on not being so… dickish. To put it elegantly. Barba on the other hand was distancing himself further than Voyager 1. Promoting your own business wasn’t going to earn you any friends here. Which brought up the question if he has any at all.

“Alright, alright.” He fished out his card to pay, “Next time, I’ll just sit and draw. If -- if you’ll let me, of course.” Sonny swayed.

Rafael avoided the open question, instead choosing to take on the less noticeable one, “Why do you want to draw the flowers in shop?”

“Natural light is much better, with a photograph you only get one view of your subject. I also like the atmosphere of the place, it’s easy to draw in a environment like this.”

As much as that felt like a lie to say that it was the truth.

A ring of a bell tore Barba’s unreadable eyes away to the door where another customer entered, “Good luck in your endeavors.”

Sonny hugged his bouquet as Carmen pointed out before when she was gathering flowers for him, “Magnolias represent ‘natural’, we don’t have anything that’s as on point as that, but we do have a few flowers that may do the trick. You should talk to your client about this…”

“See ya around Mr. Barba.”

The man didn’t say anything nor did he acknowledge him at all. No, he seemed focused on his next patron.

Carisi left the building without another word.