It was a beautiful day.
The sky was a bright blue, fluffy white clouds were lazily floating across the sky and there was a light breeze, just cool enough for a sweater but not overbearingly warm.
And Michael Guerin was behind the flower shop’s counter, idly picking at a bouquet.
Alex froze in the doorway, blinking owlishly as Guerin’s eyes met his. The curly-haired teen simply tilted his head, a slow, friendly smile slipping onto his face.
“Hey Alex, what are you doing here?”
Alex shrugged, a little stiffly. He’d always known Guerin had a nice smile, had often thought it when he’s caught a glimpse of it when the other was joking around with Max Evans. But being confronted with the full force of it? Somehow, he was rooted to the floor, couldn’t even move his hands.
A moment of awkward silence passed and Alex tried - he tried - to say something. But he realized, in that moment, that they’ve never actually talked. Yes, Liz was friends with Max, and so Alex saw Guerin a lot. But they were rarely alone together, more in the friend-of-a-friend status, had probably never actually had an actual conversation together and now his palms were sweating and Guerin’s smile was so dazzling.
“So…” Guerin’s voice jolted him out of his thoughts, reminding him that he was here for a reason.
“I’m, uh- I’m just here to pick up my brother’s bouquet.”
Guerin nodded, immediately pulling out a binder and quickly skimming through it. Somehow, Alex found the strength to make his way to the counter, curiously staring at the various vibrant flowers as he passed them. Along a wall were buckets, each filled with lavender, or lilies, or roses, or sunflowers.
“Flint Manes, right?”
“Yeah. He wanted to surprise his girlfriend with a bouquet.” Alex finally made it to the counter, and he internally patted himself on the back, because, wow he was having difficulties. Had Guerin’s hair always been that fluffy? His fingers twitched, wanting to reach out and to- “He can’t be here physically, but he wanted to at least give her a bouquet. Like some kind of reminder, like ‘hey, I can’t be there with you but I’m thinking of you and I love you.’ Or something like that.”
“Oh,” Guerin was already shuffling over to the backroom, raising his voice as the distance between them increased, “that’s kind of cheesy.”
Alex shrugged, tugging at his sleeves. There was a dark spot on the wooden countertop, a perfectly circular splotch on the otherwise uniform surface. “I think it’s kind of sweet.”
“Yeah?” Guerin’s voice was suddenly a lot closer, and Alex jerked his head back up. Guerin was in front of him again, this time a bright pink-and-white bouquet in his hands.
Alex swallowed thickly, but nodded once, firmly. “Yeah.”
Guerin looked him in the eyes, considering, and Alex faintly wondered if those were flecks of gold or of green that he saw. He almost missed Guerin’s answering, “Okay,” before the other teen was turning the binder towards him, finger pointing at a box.
“I just need you to sign here and you can be free.”
Alex had never written his name quite so fast.
In music class, the next day, Alex had barely gotten his guitar out of its case when he saw it.
There was a flower, bright yellow, taped to his guitar.
Alex blinked slowly at it, rubbing a finger over it just to make sure it was real. His black polish was instantly stained with yellow pollen, splotched like stars in a night sky.
He gently tugged the tape off, face flushing. With his guitar safely on his lap, he dropped the tiny flower into his case and slammed the lid shut.
“Whoa, what did the case do to you today?”
Maria was looming behind him, an eyebrow raised.
He shakily stood, frowning at the lid of his case. “It’s nothing.”
The next week, when Alex entered the flower shop, he was a little more prepared to see Guerin at the counter.
The other boy glanced up at the sound of the bell’s chime, a smile instantly slipping over his face. “Back so soon?”
Alex’s stride didn’t falter this time, and in a moment, he was in front of Guerin, the counter the only barrier between them. “I saw you literally two hours ago in History.”
Guerin smiled, “It feels a little longer when nothing happens in a flower shop.”
“About that…” Alex tugged at his sweater sleeves, “Don’t you work at the scrapyard?”
“So…” he hesitated, wondering if it was alright for him to be so friendly, “You’re working two jobs?”
Guerin shrugged, already looking away. He busied himself with a bouquet, rearranging them just so. No matter what he did, though, the bouquet looked the same to Alex.
“Technically three,” a pink flower was switched out with an orange one, then an orange with yellow, “The scrapyard, here, and at ‘Beam Me Up’ cafe.”
Alex furrowed his brows. “How the hell do you find time for all that?”
Guerin just hummed nonchalantly, eyes riveted on the bouquet in front of him. “I need the money.”
Alex nodded, letting the subject drop. Instead, he watched Guerin’s hands as he plucked one flower and rearranged the bouquet; it was almost mesmerising, how his hands were so gentle, cradling each flower stem like delicate porcelain. He barely saw a leaf bend when Guerin placed a long-stemmed lily in the centre of the bouquet.
“Aren’t you here to pick something up?” Alex jerked back from where he’d been staring at Guerin’s hands. The other teen didn’t look up from his bouquet, and, embarrassed, Alex stared down at the countertop.
“Yeah, sorry. Another bouquet from Flint to Sofia.”
“Alright, you know the drill. Sign the box and this bouquet is yours.”
“Kind of a last minute build.”
Guerin laughed, a sound as clear as bell. “There was a wedding this week, so we’ve been pretty busy. Don’t tell your brother?”
“Cross my heart.”
The next day, there was another flower taped to his guitar, stem thick and dozens of tiny yellow flowers bursting like a cauliflower
For a moment he thought, ‘They’re nowhere near as brilliant as Guerin’s eyes when he’s excited.’
Disconcerted, Alex dropped the thorow wax beside the wilting suncup.
“So this is where you work.”
Alex peeked up from under to visor to where Guerin was in front of him, a soft smile on his face.
“I like the hat.”
Alex scowled, tugging at the cap. “It’s dumb.”
“It’s, uh, very… shiny.”
“No, no, I mean it! It suits you!” Alex could hear the huff of laughter in Guerin’s voice, and he fought to keep his scowl, though he could feel himself starting to laugh in return.
This time, there was a cluster of flowers; each of them had petals blooming out like stars, reaching out towards Alex.
He wasn’t so gentle when he ripped the tape off, throwing the turpentine on top of the thorow wax’s petals.
Alex didn’t know whether he was thankful for the flowers, or if he was unnerved. He wondered who was leaving the flowers in his case, so gently taped to his guitar. Yellow wildflowers, each still freshly picked by the time he found them. They were beautiful, though he’d never been a flower guy.
But he couldn’t shake the feeling that the gesture was some sort of sick joke.
It wouldn’t have been the first time one of the football assholes tried something like this.
The fourth flower was a desert honeysuckle with eight perfect petals.
Alex resisted the urge to tear each of them off.
“Alex?” Maria placed a hand on his shoulder, her voice filled with concern, “Are you alright?”
He gritted his teeth and said he was fine.
“Back for another bouquet?”
Guerin only glanced up momentarily before focusing on the paper in front of him. Alex vaguely remembered something about an essay for English, something about Marxism?
“Yeah, another one for Flint. I think Sofia’s starting to get a little annoyed, though.”
“Oh?” At this, Guerin frowned, “I thought things were going well.”
“Turns out they’d broken up before Flint left, which he didn’t bother to tell any of us.”
“Yeah.” Alex shrugged, peeking at Michael’s scrawling handwriting, “I feel kind of bad, now, but she said I was just the messenger, so no hard feelings or something like that. Told me not to bring another bouquet. But Flint’s already paid, so I’m not sure…”
“We’ll just switch things up, then.” Guerin was suddenly in front of him. Alex jerked back, wondering when he’d gotten around the counter. Guerin had a light hold on his sleeve, tugging with him as he turned to the back room.
“Uhm, Guerin?” Alex refused to move, his heart pounding just a bit harder. “What’re you doing?”
“I’ll make a bouquet for you.” Guerin shrugged, as though those few words weren’t sending Alex’s heart into overdrive, “No point in wasting your brother’s money.”
“My dad wouldn’t like it. I don’t know where I’d put it.”
“Oh.” Guerin expression fell, almost as though he were disappointed at the lost opportunity. Alex shifted his weight, trying to calm his erratic heart. He stepped closer, shaking Guerin’s hold off his sleeve so that he could catch his fingers.
“How about you let me build a bouquet for you, instead?” Guerin’s eyes snapped to his, and Alex couldn’t help but smile at his stunned expression. He thought he could drown in them, spend hours just staring at amber and gold and greens. “I’m thinking black roses, maybe some black lilies-”
“Can you get anymore stereotypical?” There was a grin on Guerin’s face, and he stepped towards the backroom, tugging at Alex’s fingers to get him to follow.
“Got any black ribbons back there?”
The fifth was a blanketflower, burning red turning to amber, tuning to gold. The sixth, goldenaster, sunny and bright. There were brilliant yellow barberry flowers on the seventh day, a cluster of nearly twenty on a single stem, each crowding and pushing against one another.
Alex’s guitar case piled up with dried, muted yellows, and each time, he slammed the case closed, hoping, praying, that no one else saw the collection that had steadily built up.
He could already hear Valenti’s sneers, could already guess what new nicknames he’d get if anyone saw the flowers in his case.
Even then, he couldn’t seem to find it in him to throw them away.
Lunch had become a strange affair.
Liz had been alternating between eating lunch with her friends and with her boyfriend. More often than not, if Liz was around, Max would follow, and behind him were Guerin and Isobel. Maria would glower and Isobel would glare right back, while Liz and Max would make moon eyes at one another.
And Alex? Alex would sit on the grass, splitting his lunch with Guerin and asking a million questions about chemistry, because chemistry was the worst and he was utterly terrible at figuring out how the molecules bonded.
But Guerin was always patient, and kind, and he smelled like sunflowers and engine grease.
Jessamine, geraniums, clusters of hyacinths.
They filled his case, like a shining, yellow bed for his guitar, crammed into every space until the case was almost overflowing with petals. None of these flowers were wild, and Alex knew, just knew, there was only one person who could be leaving these little ‘gifts’ for him.
He trudged up to Guerin’s truck, guitar case in his hands.
“What do you think you’re doing?” The curly haired boy jerked up at the sound of Alex’s voice, eyes confused. Alex couldn’t help his frown as he came up to Guerin, shoving open his case where the flowers spilt out like golden coins, shining under the sunlight. “I just don’t get it - you’ve been such a nice guy to me, but then you’re leaving flowers where everyone can see and Kyle Valenti ’s gonna have a field day when he sees them. I don’t get if you’re trying to make a joke, or if you’re trying to get me hurt,” at this, Guerin’s eyes widened as he scrambled to the edge of the tailgate, “but you’ve got to stop, Guerin-”
“Yellow flowers mean friendship!” Guerin blurted, words rushing nearly too quickly to understand.
“The flowers,” Guerin licked his lips, eyes focused off to the side, “they’re yellow. Yellow flowers mean friendship.”
Guerin’s eyes met his own, wide and uncertain. Something in them, a little vulnerable, a little worried, made the tension bleed out of Alex.
“You said you thought it’d be sweet,” Guerin’s eyes had flecks of gold, Alex decided, brighter than the jessamine he’d gotten this morning, “like a reminder that someone cares.”
Alex’s breath hitched and he took a step back, Michael’s words hitting him as hard as a physical blow. He could only gape as Michael struggled for a moment.
“I just-” his eyes are so open, “We don’t talk, not really. But you always seem cool. Just… we never had any reason to talk? And I thought. I thought this would be a good way to show you I wanted to be your friend?” He scooted to the edge of the tailgate, his thigh shaking as he quietly murmured, “You looked interested in all the flowers in the shop, but I didn’t think you’d buy any? So I thought I’d just…”
Michael waved his hand in the direction of Alex’s guitar case, face turning a little sheepish, “Though, now that I think about it, it might have been a little strange. Without saying anything.”
A huff of a laugh, then Alex was laughing so hard he had to lean on the truck to keep balance. Michael’s face was momentarily stunned before shifting into a sheepish laugh of his own.
They spent the afternoon after classes on the tailgate of Michael’s truck, flowers splayed around them while they enjoyed the spring weather.
Alex learned what these flowers look like tangled in Michael’s curls, tucked behind his ear. He’s seen what yellow pollen looks like splattered on skin, like stardust on a pale canvas. Has memorized which flowers had a scent that made Michael’s expression lift and which ones made him sneeze.
Alex brought his guitar case home and gently placed each flower between the pages of Coriolanus, the tragic Roman’s second meeting with the Volsci captain stained with gold.
Four months later, there was a stem of purple hyacinths loosely tied around the neck of his guitar, white jasmines curled around the hemp rope - an apology, with love. But thinking about Michael - about Guerin - brought Alex back to the toolshed, to a hammer dropping down where he couldn’t stop it, to where he could only stand by and watch as someone he loved was--
He barely realized he’d torn the flowers apart until he looked down and only saw the shreds of petals left; purple, white, purple, white. Something in him felt hollow, wrung out, and he realized he had a choice to make, come the end of school.
He’d always chosen to run.
Most wildflowers didn’t get a meaning, he learned.
Bulbed or seeded plants usually did - geraniums were friendship, purple hyacinths were sorrow and white jasmines meant sweet love.
But the flowers he remembered, the ones he loved - the tiny suncup, wilting within hours; the turpentine stalks plucked from a bush; the blanketflower, the goldenaster, the thorow wax and barberry - were meaningless. Empty gestures.
So he made some.
Suncups meant curiosity - an olive branch he never knew had been extended to him. Thorow wax meant a secret, one he still kept from his brother; turpentine was a joke, a tease, and honeysuckles meant surprise. Blanketflowers were songs behind the stairwell, and goldenasters were sunny lunch breaks.
They were memories and they had meaning and they made his heart ache and yearn for something he doubted he could ever have again.
And when the nights were cold, adrenaline still sparking under his skin, Alex would close his eyes and open his palms.
He’d imagine the bright, vibrant yellows spilling into his hands, drops of gold, soft and gentle.
And he’d breathe.
(Sometimes, he’d wonder if Michael had known what the flowers said.
He would wonder if Michael created his own meanings for them, too.)
The next time he was gifted flowers, ten years had passed and there was a bouquet duct taped to his cabin door.
There were stems bursting out, stiff leaves and goldenrod reaching out in every direction. Bright, yellow sunflowers fought for space against red roses, small white jasmines speckled in what narrow openings they could find.
“No?” There were arms wrapping themselves around his waist, the scruff of a stubble scratching at his neck. “I think they’re nice.”
Dedicated and passionate love, overflowing and bursting, unable to be contained. Speckles of sweetness, of something delicate and so full of warmth, topped with a call to their past, bright and shining and innocent.
“They kind of look like sardines. And you used duct tape. Duct tape.”
“Hey,” Alex could imagine the pout on Michael’s face, could feel it at the base of his neck, “I worked hard on that.
“Did you really?”
“For you?” Michael pulled away, nudging at his boyfriend until their eyes were locked on one another, “Always. Every time.”
A smile slipped onto Alex’s face, like second nature, like Michael’s very words could conjure happiness from Alex’s core. There was an answering smile on Michael’s face.
Alex couldn’t help but snicker as he tried to shuffle forward, Michael shuffling with him like deadweight, refusing to let him go as they travelled across the porch. With the bouquet in front of him, he tugged at the jasmines, pulling them loose.
“I spent like half an hour on that-”
“Shh,” Alex spun around in Michael’s arms, threading the flower in his curls, “I like them much better on you.”
“Oh?” There was a lopsided grin on Michael’s face, brighter than the yellows of the sunflowers beside him, “Is that so?”
Throughout the day, a sunflower turned towards the sun, tracking it in the sky. Alex was just as helpless to Michael’s pull.
“You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, so yes.”
In the next moment, there were lips on his lips, a smile against his own, then their foreheads, leaning against one another. Alex closed his eyes, arms winding over Michael’s shoulders.
And he basked in the sunshine that was Michael’s love.