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Clemency

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“It’s starting to rain,” Ino murmurs nonchalantly.

Sakura gives a noncommittal grunt in response, eyes never straying from the flower arrangement in front of her. Blindly, she sifts through the pile of loose blooms that reside on the countertop next to her, choosing a long-stemmed daisy and a row of baby’s breath.

Slowly, meticulously, she snips both stems with her shears, making sure that the floras are at the right length before placing them in the vase. Sakura watches how they fall with a critical eye, moving them into more favorable positions that accentuate the piece then, repeats the processes with the remaining buds.

The flower shop is quiet for a while after that, both girls distracted by their work, the patter of rainfall echoing against the window display.

It’s Ino who eventually breaks their silence.

“I wonder if your friend is going to stop by today.”

“Don’t you have a wedding centerpiece to put together?” Sakura pointedly inquires, though there is no real hostility behind her tone.

Jade eyes shift to look at the clock hanging on the opposite wall before sliding back to the blonde.

“Besides,” Sakura adds. “Even if he were to make an appearance, I won’t be around to see him. You know what today is. I have to leave in a half hour.”

Ino perks up for a moment, eyes wide as sudden comprehension dawns. The fair-haired woman smiles, a sad, half-hearted curl of her lips that doesn’t quite reach her eyes as cobalt hues settle on the decorative bouquet Sakura is putting together.

Ino hums. “I almost forgot,” she states gently. “I should have realized when you took out all of the daisies we had in stock.”

Sakura releases a soft chuckle, turning back to her project. “It’s alright. Just come over here and help me. I don’t want to be late.”

-o-

The first time Sakura meets him, it’s a week after her roommate has died.

Ino insists that she take more time off from the shop, it’s not their busy season, and her best friend maintains that she is more than capable of covering both of their shifts. Sakura turns her down, however, preferring to hide her misery behind forced smiles and menial conversations with their customers.

It takes her mind off of it, helps her forget the pain. If only for a little while.

The rain is heavy that day, pounding unrelentingly against the sidewalk, leaving vast puddles in its wake and forcing most people indoors.

Sakura doesn’t hear him when he enters the shop. Their air conditioner is broken, and they are forced to battle the pungent, sticky haze caused by the weather by keeping the front door open. There is no breeze, but the air that does trickle into the store is cool, despite the humidity.

He slips in while she is distracted, re-reading old text messages from her dearly departed friend.

Sakura likes to think that scouring through old conversations, recounting memories, helps her cope. It’s enjoyable, for the time being, until she reaches the last messages that were sent in their chat thread.

Rin N. (8:24 PM): We’re leaving Obito’s in a minute.

Rin N. (8:25 PM): Promise me that you’ll at least consider going to dinner with Kakashi.

Rin N. (8:25 PM): He’s cute! I know you’ll like him.

 Sakura H. (8:26 PM): You’re so worried about my love life! Lol. Focus on your own! 

Sakura H. (8:27 PM): But, I will think about it. Okay, Rin?

Sakura H. (8:27 PM): I’ll let you know where my head’s at after I meet him tonight.

Sakura H. (8:28 PM): What’s your ETA?

He clears his throat then, startling her and Sakura’s head shoots up to find him standing a few paces back from the counter. He’s tall, lanky, and has a messy mop of silver hair that sticks out at a bunch of awkward, different angles.

She can’t tell much beyond that.

There is a strip of black cloth over the left side of his face and a hospital mask of the same color covering from the middle of his nose, down. The latter doesn’t surprise her all that much. Most customers with unmanageable pollen allergies tend to cover their faces before venturing into the shop.

The other fabric, however, is somewhat daunting.

He shifts his weight from one foot to the other, not looking at her, and it takes Sakura a moment to realize that she has forgone a formal greeting, and instead, has been blatantly staring at him.

“Oh,” she says. “Excuse me. I’m so sorry. It’s just one of those days; I can’t help but find myself distracted. Welcome to Yamanaka Flowers. What can I get for you today?”

The new arrival doesn’t immediately say anything, gazing at a fixed point over Sakura’s right shoulder. Another full minute passes before he brings himself to look at her, and when he does, Sakura can’t help but flinch.

He looks…haggard.

Or, at least, that’s what she can make out from the small patch of skin available for inspection.

His lone eye is sunken in, rimmed with the purplish discoloration that comes from extensive lack of sleep. When she gives him another once over, Sakura also notes that he is wearing far too many layers for the season. Despite inclement weather, it’s still summertime in Konoha. The rain could stop in an hour, giving way to the bright, unforgiving rays of the sun. She doesn’t think someone who is dressed in a baggy, mismatching sweat suit would be comfortable when that time came around.

She doesn’t get to explore his fashion choices or how fatigued he looks any further. He decides to speak then, stating, “Hyacinths.”

His request is a raspy croak, muffled behind the material of his mask, and Sakura has no difficulty trying to make out the word.

She blinks, though, somewhat perplexed.

Was that it?

It wasn’t the first time a customer has come in with a specific request, but it was the first time Sakura has dealt with one so vague.

“Ah, okay.” She steps down from the stool she is perched upon, crossing the room towards the refrigerated display. “Um, do you have a preference for the color? Or the amount? We offer small or large bouquets. We’re actually running a sale right now. If you purchase a full bouquet, you can get another for half th–”

“A purple hyacinth,” He cuts in before she could further explain. “Just one.”

“…Just one?” She parrots, confused.

Odd request indeed.

Against her wishes, Ino’s voice pipes up in the back of Sakura’s head, babbling on about the language of flowers.

A purple hyacinth can say many things.

‘I am sorry.’

‘Please forgive me.’

‘I am filled with sorrow.’

At his curt nod, Sakura pulls her cutting sears from the pocket of her apron and snips at a particularly robust hyacinth in the middle of the display. Pulling the flower free, she sets out to intricately wrap the floret with white wrapping paper, tying everything together with a piece of violet twine.

“Here you go,” she declares, holding the bundle out across the counter.

He takes it carefully, and Sakura becomes immediately aware that he is trying to avoid touching her as he extracts it from her grip, his free hand digging into his pants pocket.

“You total is three dollars and tw–” Sakura doesn’t get to finish her statement. In the time it takes her to punch his order into the register, he has already placed a five-dollar bill on the counter and is halfway out the door.

“Hey! Wait! You’re forgetting your change!”

He either doesn’t hear her or chooses to ignore her, because he doesn’t stop, disappearing right out into the rain.

Sakura sits back with a click of her tongue, eyes flicking between the front door and the money that has been set on the counter. She tries to chalk up the oddity of the entire experience as a one-time deal, something that happens every now and again.

The whole situation doesn’t sit well with her for the rest of the shift and remains at the forefront of her mind well into the next day. When she tells Ino about it, the blonde brushes off it off, citing that he was just a loon of a customer and they were bound to get a few of those now and again.

Despite her friend trying to placate her, Sakura still couldn’t help but wonder, just what had he done to be asking for forgiveness?

-o-

Sakura doesn’t see that strange man again for another month.

It’s raining that day also, but it is more of a sun shower than actual rainfall, a quick drizzle to combat the insufferable heat.

They still haven’t gotten the air conditioner fixed, and Ino moans about how her hair is going to frizz. Sakura doesn’t mind all that much. She likes the feel of the wind when it blows through the open door; relishes in the sights, the smells, and the sounds that it brings along with it.

That day though, Sakura’s lethargic and she cannot bring herself to enjoy much of anything.

Obito visited her earlier that afternoon, Chinese takeout in tow. They talk, exchanging as many pleasantries as two people who have lost someone very dear can. She tries her best to avoid the topic altogether, but Sakura has always been curious, and her inquisitive nature has seemed to have gotten the better of her recently.

The scar covering the right half his face is a messy and daunting reminder, and Sakura can’t help but gaze at it when Obito isn’t paying attention. Or, at least, she thought he hadn’t been paying attention. He catches her staring about halfway through their meal and brushes off her hasty attempts at an apology.

He makes some ambiguous joke about how he and his roommate – a man who she has still yet to meet –  now have matching deformed faces. Something about how they can use it in the future as a pick-up line.

Sakura tries to laugh along with him, but she knows her smile is strained and Obito’s chuckles are empty and lifeless.

They still don’t address the elephant in the room, and it’s not soon after that he takes his leave, promising to visit her sometime in the upcoming week.

Sakura is alone for about an hour, trying to distract herself with tidying up around the shop. This time, she hears him when he enters, but that is only because he nearly trips over terracotta pot she has removed from the front display while cleaning.

“Oh my god!” Sakura exclaims, scrambling to her feet. She pushes the potted plant back into its rightful place, rubbing her dirty hands along her apron, while stating, “I am so sorry. Are you alright?”

He grunts his assent, righting himself, but says nothing.

When he turns to regard her, his breath leaves him in a soft ‘whoosh,’ and there is a strange straightening of his spine. He looks shocked to see her and Sakura can accurately make that deduction because, not only is his lone charcoal eye impossibly wide as he looks at her, but this time, he has foregone the mask, mouth parted in a small, stupefied ‘o.’

“Oh,” she breathes, trying not to be enticed by his strong jawline or the mole that decorates his chin. “It’s you.”

Her comment seems to snap him out of his stupor, and he collects himself, arching one dark brow in silent question. Sakura smiles despite his self-imposed muteness and walks behind the counter.

“I was wondering if you were going to come back,” she says, opening the cash register. Sakura pulls out an envelope from one of the slots in the drawer, holding it out towards him. “You forgot your change the last time you were here.”

He takes a step closer to the countertop, eye flickering between her face and the packet in her hands. The silence that envelopes the store for the next few moments is uncomfortable, and just when Sakura thinks that he isn’t going to take the proffered package, he quickly snatches it from her grasp.

“Thanks,” he mutters, and Sakura can’t help but be distracted by the movement of his mouth, by the deep tenor of his voice. “You didn’t have to do that.”

The corner of Sakura’s mouth kicks up, and she brushes off his acknowledgment with a dismissive wave of her hand. “It’s no big deal. We don’t like to overcharge our customers here and with that being said, what can I get for you today?”

His answer is immediate. “White tulips. A dozen.” He hesitates for a second, then adds, “Please.”

Sakura nods, a small smirk playing on her lips, venturing into the back room where they kept more extensive stock of the commonly purchased flowers.  As she’s putting together the garlands per his request, Sakura can’t help but allow her mind to wander to the meaning behind the blooms he chose.

White tulips are used to claim worthiness,’ Ino had said. ‘Or to send a message of forgiveness. Depends on what circumstances you’re buying them for.’

When Sakura returns to the front of the shop, the odd customer is hunched down on the opposite side of the counter, staring at the rather impressive selection of Ino’s imported sword lilies.

“What are these?” he asks, fingers pressed against the glass.

“They’re called Gladiolus. They mean strength and integrity. We got the shipment in this week, just in time for the summer season.”

He nods absentmindedly while standing, reaching into his jeans to extract his wallet. “How much for one of those, along with the rest of them?”

Sakura preens, thinking about how she is going to rub it in Ino’s face that she sold one of her precious flowers before her. It takes Sakura another minute to prepare the additional bud with soft wrappings, but when she’s finished, she places it and the other bouquet on the countertop in front of him.

Quick, deft fingers punch his order into the register and Sakura chirps, “That’ll be fourteen dollars and fifty-three cents.”

Much like their first interaction, by the time the words are out of her mouth, there is money on the counter and he is already out the door.

Unlike their last meeting, however, he leaves Sakura with a twenty-dollar bill and the exotic lily he had purchased last minute.

-o-

It’s three weeks before his next visit.

It’s not raining that day, but the sky is dark with the promise of an impending storm. Sakura is out visiting Sai and Naruto on her lunch break when he comes into the store.

Not only does she get an earful about the ‘really odd, yet totally hot’ customer from Ino when she gets back, but she also finds that he left a single, pink carnation behind.

“It was weird,” Ino states while putting together a bridal shower arraignment. “He bought almost two dozen striped carnations. That caught his eye last minute, and he insisted on buying it, only to leave it here.”

Sakura can’t help but smile for the rest of the day.

-o-

The interval between that visit and his next is extremely short; only five days.

The heavens have opened; lightning streaks across the sky and thunder reverberates throughout the store, leaving Sakura to try and drown out the resonances with soft music from the Ino’s stereo.

The welcoming chime of the bell above the door signals his arrival, and as Sakura looks up, she can’t help but grin.

“Long time no see,” she greets.

He’s not looking at her, but she knows he heard her. His one eye is trained on the single, bubblegum pink carnation sitting in a vase next to the register.

“Ino said you left it here,” Sakura finds herself explaining. She doesn’t really know why. “It was already cut, and I didn’t want to see it go to waste. I figured it would be a cute decoration.”

He gives a short bob of his head, and the very corner of his mouth curls up for just a moment. It’s not a smile, it’s more like a simple twitch of movement, but it’s something, and Sakura feels her heart stutter at the sight of it.

“I’m glad it made it into the right hands, then,” he starts, finally looking up at her from under a frame of dark lashes. “Anemones, please. Just two.”

Sakura puts together his order as specified, trying to blame the rising heat in her cheeks on the fact that they still have yet to get the air conditioner repaired.  She can’t help but wonder what’s hidden underneath that strip of black cloth, about what exactly his face looks like without the obscurity.

“I also don’t have your change from last time,” she calls out as she’s wrapping the flowerets in paper that’s a shade darker than her hair. “Ino mucked up the cash one day and used it to break another customer’s bigger bill.”

He shrugs, seemingly nonplussed by the news.

They finish up their transaction quickly after that. This time he gives Sakura the exact amount of money, down to the penny and offers her a small wave as he makes his way out the door.

“See you soon,” he bids in farewell and Sakura can’t help but beam and wave after him.

-o-

He has a funny definition of ‘soon’ because Sakura doesn’t see him again for another four months.

That’s not to say he doesn’t come into the store, because he does, but summer has given way to fall, and school has started again, taking up most of Sakura’s free time and leaving her with only a handful of shifts at the shop.

Ino informs her of his appearances and proceeds to make fun of Sakura as her eyes light up with the new information. He sometimes leaves her a flower, sometimes he forgets his change, and sometimes he does neither, but his visits never cease.

Sakura brushes off Ino’s teasing, citing that it is not a crush. She does not have a crush on a customer. It is intrigue. Despite his noticeably handsome looks, Sakura is more interested in the mystery behind that mask. Ino doesn’t believe her.

Sakura tries to think up different scenarios in her head, formulating a plan to ask him for his name in the least creepy way possible. Ino joins her in plotting, only because he has yet to use a credit card, and the fair-haired woman is damn curious herself. They giggle maniacally as they come up with different ideas, and for the first time in a long while, Sakura finds herself looking forward to something.

When she finally does see him again, though, Sakura is in a horrid mood and asking for his name is the furthest thing from her mind.

Obito called a few minutes prior wanting to discuss a few things about Rin. They had gotten better at talking. More specifically, they had gotten better at talking about her. Obito stopped looking like he about to burst into tears at the mention of Rin’s name, and Sakura, well, she felt a little less hollow.

The friendly formalities didn’t last long because Obito informed her that he wanted to come to the apartment and clean out some of Rin’s things; keep some for himself, put some in storage, and throw out whatever was left.

Sakura vehemently refused.

Damn it, Sakura! It’s been months!’ he yells in her ear. ‘I don’t know who is worse, you or Kakashi! I miss her too but clinging to all of her stuff like this is toxic. She’s gone, and as much as it kills me to say it, she is never coming back. We need to get rid of some of it. We need to move on.’

If Obito really missed Rin, he wouldn’t be throwing out her belongings. Sakura tells him as much.

That seems to do the trick because his tone is much quieter when he addresses her again.

We’ve been going to grief counseling, Kakashi and I. The therapist says that doing this is a step in the right direction. That things will get better. I…,’ His voice cracks on the other end of the phone. ‘I need to get better. It fucking hurts, and I’m tired of it. You and Kakashi need to stop blaming yourselves. It’s nobody's fault; it was an accident. And we all need to try and move on. I’m doing this, with or without you there.’

Because she is sick of being compared to and roped together with a man she has never met.

Because she doesn’t want to think about how that night was her idea and they would have never gotten into the car if she wasn’t so insistent on them picking her up.

Because she feels physically ill due to their discussion.

And just because she is fucking pissed off that Obito is dropping this on her out of the blue, Sakura hangs up on him.

Obito tries to call her back twice. She lets both calls ring until her voicemail kicks in. He doesn’t try to call her a third time.

Sakura doesn’t turn towards the door when she hears it open, nor does she grant the new customer any attention when she feels their presence draw near the counter.

It is one of the rare occasions that she and Ino are working the same shift, and her best friend – bless her big, goofy heart – heard the entire argument and knew that Sakura is nowhere near capable of talking to anyone at that moment. She interjects with, “Welcome to Yamanaka Flowers. What can I get for you today?”

“Sunflowers,” a very familiar voice demands.

Ino must not have been paying all that much attention to who walked in either, because there is a long, drawn-out silence followed by a sudden shift as Ino scrambles to stand from her stool.

“Hello again,” Sakura hears Ino comment. It sounds more like an excited purr. Ino is laying it on too thick, but Sakura can tell that she is just excited by the prospect of finally getting his name. “Do you want a bouquet or just a specific amount like two or three?”

“I don’t care,” he snaps impatiently. “Just…just give me whatever you can…please.”

The ‘please’ is a last-minute addition that is used to try and take the edge off of his command, but it doesn’t work. Sakura can feel Ino’s irritation from where she is sitting, and when she finally drags her eyes towards the register, the mysterious customer and Ino are glaring each other down.

His expression is thunderous, but Ino’s irritated scowl gives him a run for his money. The young Yamanaka tosses the bundle of flowers on the countertop unceremoniously, uncaring about her lack of social propriety.

He doesn’t even ask for a total, slapping money on the counter without any concern to if it is over or under the correct amount. He takes a step back, quickly glancing in Sakura’s direction before pausing. His gaze feels piercing, like it’s picking her apart from the inside out and looking into her very soul. It carries far too much weight, too much pain and anguish, and it makes her want to squirm in her seat.

In a flurry of movement that neither she nor Ino could follow, he rips one of the sunflowers from its intricate packaging, tosses it onto the counter and turns to the exit, slamming the door as he leaves.

For the next twenty minutes, Sakura half-heartedly listens to Ino gripe and groan about the entire ordeal.

“What a dick,” Ino seethes. “I don’t care if he was in a bad mood, he didn’t have to be so rude about it.”

Sakura hums her agreement, staring at the sunflower in her grasp. She runs her fingers along the stem gently, plucking a single, loose petal free and twirling it between her fingers

The meaning behind them hits her suddenly, like a punch to the gut.

“Loyalty…,” she mumbles under her breath. Her visions blurs as she sighs dejectedly, “…Rin…”

Ino stops, mid-rant, casting Sakura a confused glance. The blonde’s befuddled expression doesn’t last long, her face contorting into a worried frown almost immediately.

“Forehead,” Ino starts, cautiously. “Are you alright?”

It’s only then that Sakura realizes that she’s crying.

-o-

She doesn’t see him again after that and Sakura tries not to dwell on it.

Instead, she throws herself into her work, school, and friends. Focusing all of her attention on bettering herself; on growing, on learning, and on healing. At first, she does it as more of an avoidance tactic, but after an extended visit to Rin’s grave, Sakura comes to terms with the fact that she genuinely isn’t coping as well as she thought.

Something needs to change.

She needs to change.

So, when Obito comes by her apartment later that week to clean out Rin’s things, she joins him.

They spend the better part of the next two days going through all of Rin’s stuff, laughing and crying and reminiscing as they poke and prod through different shelves, piles, and drawers.

After it’s all over, Obito hugs her; a bone-crushing embrace that expresses his sadness and relief and a whole other maelstrom of emotions that Sakura cannot bring herself to try and grasp.

“We’ll be alright,” she hums in his ear, trying to fight off the pinprick of tears in her eyes. He pulls her even closer as she repeats, “We’ll be alright.”

They would be.

-o-

“Are you sure you’re okay with us coming with you?” Naruto asks for the third time that day.

Before Sakura can soothe her friend’s fears, Sasuke answers for her, “Yes, Dobe. Stop asking. Her answer hasn’t changed in the last ten minutes, or are you hard of hearing?”

Naruto shoots Sasuke a dark look but doesn’t rise to the taunt. He instead focuses his attention on the arrangement of daisies in his hand.

“This bouquet is really pretty Sakura-chan,” he compliments with a board grin. “I’m sure Rin would love it.”

“Me too,” Sakura chirps with a smile. She skips on ahead of them, slipping through the iron gates of the cemetery with relative ease.

It’s officially been a year since Rin’s passing and, though, most days it’s still a difficult thing to think about, the wound is no longer fresh. It’s more of a dull ache rather than a festering, scalding burn and Sakura is finding it easier to address openly.

She and Obito have been in contact with one another quite frequently, but her new admission into medical school and his demanding family obligations keep them from meeting as often as they would prefer. That doesn’t stop him from checking in on her at least once a week, and it also helps that he bullied Sasuke and Naruto into looking after her. As smothering as all three of them can sometimes be, Sakura is still warmed by the gesture.

“Will you stop bouncing around?” Sasuke says. “You’re going to give me a headache.”

Sakura sticks her tongue out at him. “I’m excited,” she clarifies. “It’s been a while since I’ve been able to visit Rin. Plus, Obito said he is going to meet us there. I haven’t seen him in ages!”

“Leave her alone, Teme. We’re Sakura-chan’s guest today, so lighten up!”

Sasuke grumbles something under his breath that neither of them can catch but says nothing to refute Naruto’s reprimand.

They travel the rest of the way in companionable silence, and it’s not long before the trio is wandering down a familiar isle of gravestones. At the end of the row, standing in front of a large memorial, are two men.

Whatever Obito’s cheerful salutation is, it falls on deaf ears as Sakura attention is honed in on the male standing next to him.

He appears the same; the same hairstyle, same odd, yet seemingly comfortable fashion sense. But, he doesn’t look as tired.

He looks more firm, solid, like he dealt with whatever had been weighing him down.

He also had foregone his usual facial coverings, and for the first time since she met him all those months ago, Sakura gets a full view of his face. He is just as tragically beautiful as she expected him to be, even more so with the large scar dissecting his left eye.  

Obito catches her gaping and chuckles. “I forgot you two still haven’t met. Kakashi, this is Sakura. Sakura this is my best friend slash roomie Kakashi.”

“It’s good to see you again,” her mysterious customer – Kakashi – greets, hand extended.

Sakura smiles, enveloping his outstretched hand with her own. “Likewise.”

The three other men in the crowd blink, casting them varying speculative glances.

Their handshake extends past what could be considered socially acceptable and when he finally pulls away, Kakashi seems hesitant about letting Sakura go, fingers skimming the inside of her palm.

Sakura is sure that Sasuke catches the caress, and is almost positive that Obito does too because both of their eyes narrow fractionally.

Naruto, ever the bravely uncloth, inquires, “Wait…You two already know each other already?”

-o-

“Did you know?” She asks him sometime later.

After their visit to Rin’s grave is concluded, Naruto suggested grabbing a bite to eat, which everyone, except for Sasuke, readily agreed to.

Kakashi turns to address her, shaking his head. “Not at first,” he says. “Obito came across a picture of you two when he was boxing up some of Rin’s stuff at our apartment. He showed me, but I didn’t put two and two together until after I came to the shop for the second time. Not many girls in Konoha have naturally pink hair.”

Sakura blushes, fingering a wayward cherry strand as she nods slowly. There’s a short pause and then she queries, “Why didn’t you say anything?”

Kakashi doesn’t answer right away and glances away from her, choosing to instead focus his attention on Obito and Naruto, both of whom were trying to see who could finish their bowl of ramen first. Sasuke watched on with an expression of muted horror.

“I didn’t think it was proper,” Kakashi eventually comments. “I was going through some stuff. We were all going through some stuff. Given the circumstances that they were trying to get us to meet originally, it really didn’t seem right for me to push that on you suddenly.”

It was now Sakura’s turn to be quiet as she processed the new information she was given. Kakashi didn’t seem to mind her silence, focusing on finishing off his meal while she mulled over his words.

“I think you’re right,” she starts a few minutes later. “I wouldn’t have handled it well, not with everything going on since the accident.”

Sakura stops to release a deep breath before continuing. “But, I’d like to think that I’m in a better place now and that’s thanks to things I’ve learned from Obito, from Rin, from you. And I’m not…not sure how’d you feel about it, but maybe…would you maybe want to get coffee sometime?”

Before he can respond to her question, the following words are out of her mouth in a jumbled rush, “It doesn’t have to be anything like that. It just would be nice, you know? To talk and stuff…to get to know someone who was important to Rin.”

He gives her a lazy smile; it’s fuller, bigger than the one that made her heart skip a beat that day in the store.

It steals her breath away.

“I’d like that.”