Someone had started leaving flowers on Chloe’s desk.
The first time it had happened was after she managed to not blow up on an unfortunate freshman who bumped into her and knocked the books out of her hands.
Chloe had simply stood there as they shrank away from the look on her face and knelt to pick up her things. From the corner of her eye she could see Marinette and Alya practically running across the school yard to intervene. What they didn’t know was that Chloe had been working hard all summer to get a hold of her temper with the help of her long-time therapist.
Her hands unclenched at her sides as the familiar breathing exercise entered her mind. Just as Marinette opened her mouth, Chloe let out a long breath and offered the freshman what she hoped looked like a friendly smile.
“Be more careful next time, okay?” she said, accepting her books back. The student nodded and scurried away with a mumbled ‘sorry.’
Chloe turned to the now speechless Marinette and her smile turned saccharine.
“Need something?” she asked.
Marinette shook her head, bewildered, and Chloe turned in the direction of the stairs, flipping her hair as she went. She could tell by the equally dumbstruck faces of her peers that she had thoroughly surprised them. Even the tomato haired Nathaniel openly stared at her, momentarily forgetting his own shy nature.
The thought of her counselor’s praise at Chloe’s self control put a bounce in her step as she made her way to her first class.
It was actually the day after this incident, that the single calycanthus cutting appeared on her desk. Chloe stood in the aisle, staring down at it, confused. She could feel her classmates’ eyes on her, looking for a reaction, one she was thoroughly unwilling to give.
She sat down and carefully slid the flower to the middle of the desk with her hand before taking out her notebook and audibly slapping it down in its place. The disappointment that followed practically oozed from the desks around her and Chloe rolled her eyes to the ceiling.
The nosiness of her peers hadn’t lessened as they had all gotten older. The same class that had been together since elementary school was now more involved with each other than ever. Couples had paired up and secrets had been dispersed. Even as an outsider to the lovefest, Chloe’s life was still a point of interest, perhaps especially so because she refused to partake.
She watched her best friend Sabrina walk up the aisle to their shared desk. She had been by Chloe’s side for years but only recently had Chloe stopped treating her like a personal assistant and more like a friend. (Another benefit to having a therapist was realizing that her interpersonal relationships needed to change.) One day she had invited Sabrina over for a sleepover and, after a mutually tearful conversation, the two had become closer than ever.
Sabrina's smile flickered as her eyes caught sight of the flower and her brows came together in confusion. She slid behind the desk in front of theirs to get to her seat and touched the red petals, feeling that the flower was real.
The class started before she could say anything and within minutes, a scrap of paper was gently pushed against Chloe's arm.
Chloe looked down and read: 'what's with the flower?'
She pursed her lips and wrote back: 'it was at my seat when I came in.' She watched Sabrina read the note.
'Secret admirer? ;)' her friend asked.
Chloe’s face flushed and she hastily wrote back: 'talk later' before turning her attention to the front of the classroom. She pretended that the heat she felt in her cheeks was just the unusually warm Autumn weather.
As soon as the girls sat down to lunch outside, Sabrina grinned at Chloe.
"So. Who do you think it is?"
"It's not an admirer, someone probably just dropped it by accident." Chloe sipped her juice and studied the napkin holder in the center of their table.
"While leaning over your seat? And did they just happen to artfully arrange it with no pesky leaves for your convenience?" Sabrina's newfound confidence involved a lot of sarcasm.
Chloe sighed and looked at her friend. "I'm not exactly the class favorite. It's hard to believe anyone would be interested in me."
"Well, maybe they noticed how nice you've been lately, and decided to show their appreciation. You know, with a message."
"And what would that be?" There had been no note attached. Hardly straight forward.
Sabrina whipped out her phone and furiously began typing. "I don't know, I've never seen this type of flower before," she said excitedly.
Chloe studied the flower, frowning. "Wait, you mean the flower itself is the message? I don't get it."
"Yes! It's all part of the ‘language of flowers,’ it's so romantic." Sabrina threw a hand to her forehead and mock swooned, making Chloe laugh.
“Sounds mushy. Pass.”
“Don’t knock it ‘till I tell you what it says.” Sabrina looked at her phone triumphantly. “Aha! Calycanthus means ‘benevolence.’ I told you!” she squealed.
Chloe blinked in surprise. She was still doubtful but if this really was a message, then maybe it was referring to the events of the previous morning. The timing was too coincidental. Had someone seen what she had done and appreciated it enough to give her a gift? She picked up the flower from where it rested on the table and twirled it around in one hand, willing it to give her some answers.
The next time it happened was the week after the class worked in groups on a particularly challenging assignment. Chloe had been placed with Rose and Nathaniel and between the former’s tendency to daydream and the latter’s silence, she was increasingly frustrated. Years of Sabrina doing all the work had not prepared her to be the one to know what they should be doing and direct accordingly.
She did her best not to hover and after an agonizing week of having to trust her group to get their work done, it was finally over.
The following Monday brought relief and a puff of allium blossom sitting on her desk. This time her classmates didn’t hold back, openly teasing her about being someone’s crush. She only scowled at them and dropped the allium into her bag, later regretting it when she discovered that some of the individual petals had crumpled and fallen off.
If she didn’t know any better, Sabrina almost looked smug when she later informed Chloe that the message this time was “humility” and “patience.” So her admirer had a sense of humor. Chloe mentally added it to the very short list of things she knew about them.
The only other item on the list was that they were a person who tolerated Chloe, maybe even liked her. Not liked as in “had a crush on her” like her classmates and Sabrina assumed, but liked her enough to give her what felt like a reward for making an effort.
She said as much to Sabrina one day in gym class, insisting that it couldn’t be anything but platonic.
The sweet William sitting on her desk the next day begged to differ. Chloe couldn’t stop the blush that dusted her cheeks when she looked up its meaning in a secluded corner of the library during study hall.
“Grant me one smile” was definitely leaning away from platonic and she wondered, not for the first time, if her admirer could really be one of her classmates.
The days steadily grew colder and soon the students were showing up to school bundled against the freezing winds, opting to spend their free period indoors more often than not. Yet, somehow, her potentially non-platonic admirer was still leaving her a fresh flower regularly.
The messages left via flower were mostly polite well wishes which made Sabrina almost lose interest in the whole affair, but Chloe grew more and more invested in figuring out who it was.
She ruled out the class couples immediately, and Sabrina, of course. Adrien liked her well enough but he was too busy being in puppy love with Marinette to catch up with his childhood friend. No salt there, none at all. Alix was out, as was Rose- she and Juleka were only taking a break.
That only left Nathaniel-
Chloe rejected the idea before it could go any further. She used to torment the boy incessantly. No way would he hold any affection for her. Besides, he always had his face buried in a sketchbook. He hardly noticed the ring of the final bell, much less any of his classmates. Her admirer had to be someone outside of her class.
M. Bustier decided one day to take the class on a walking field trip for some ungodly reason, the students shuffling along quietly as they focused on keeping warm. Chloe and Sabrina naturally strayed to the back of the line, immersed in their phones.
Chloe didn’t know what came over her, but when she happened to look up and notice a car driving too close to the sidewalk and threatening to cover Nathaniel in slush, she just acted. Nathaniel yelped as she jerked his arm and maneuvered him behind her.
The car zoomed by, sending up a black spray of partially melted snow and ice that covered her entire front and ruined her brand new, lemon yellow pea coat. Her shriek drew the attention of the rest of the class, who peered over curiously at the shocked Nathaniel and lamenting Chloe.
“Chloe you- wh- I’m sorry,” Nathaniel stuttered.
“It’s fine, I’ll just buy a new one,” she said with a defeated sigh. She brushed what she could off of the now dirt streaked garment before giving up and turning to him. “Are you okay?”
Now under the full force of her gaze, his face reddened. He nodded and started to stammer out another apology, but a call from M. Bustier for them to catch up cut him off.
Chloe hurried over to where Sabrina was waiting, Nathaniel not far behind her, and the class continued its miserable trek. She didn’t think much of the encounter until the next morning.
When Chloe woke with a runny nose and sore throat, she wondered why on Earth she had come to the tomato-head’s rescue. A ruined coat and days stuck in bed were not the thanks she expected from doing a good deed.
When she finally showed up to class after a week of agonizing boredom and endless tissues, she was surprised to find a delicate pink azalea waiting for her. Sabrina must have announced to the class the day before that her best friend was well again, and her admirer had gotten word.
Chloe slipped the bag off her shoulder and sat gingerly in her seat, drawing the flower closer and inhaling its perfume-like scent. She hadn’t been able to smell anything for days through her stuffed up nose, so this was certainly a nice change of pace.
She carefully lifted the azalea to the side of her head and tucked it behind one ear, pinning it in place with a hair clip. She took out her pocket mirror to admire herself and felt her heart skip a beat when it briefly caught the reflection of something behind her.
Chloe slowly tilted the mirror back in that direction and her lips parted in surprise at what she saw.
Nathaniel was looking at her. Smiling at her, even, a soft smile that was gone as quickly as it had appeared when Alix walked over and grabbed his attention. He turned and grinned at Alix, opening his sketchbook to show her something.
Chloe was still staring at him in her mirror when M. Bustier came in and asked the class to quiet down. She watched as Alix left for her own seat and Nathaniel got out his pencil case. His eyes drifted over to her again and widened as they met hers in the mirror.
Chloe gasped and shut the hand mirror with a sharp click. The back of her neck felt hot as she bent to get her notebook out of her bag. When she peeked out behind her hair at the desk at the back of the class, she was relieved to see Nathaniel hunched over his sketchbook.
The lesson began and she was quickly swept off into a series of historical dates and names that served as the perfect distraction from her thoughts.
At the break, Sabrina asked if Chloe wanted to go to a cafe around the corner for a snack. Chloe wasn’t quite ready to hang out at Marinette’s parents’ bakery, despite its convenient location. She heartily agreed and the two headed out. Once they rang up at the counter and secured a table, Sabrina folded her hands and leaned forward.
“I think you should reply,” she said, eyeing the flower in Chloe’s hair.
Nathaniel’s face flashed in her mind and she felt her stomach drop.
“No! I mean...I can’t,” she said.
Sabrina tilted her head. “Why not? Whoever it is has been sending you flowers for months. I’m sure they want to know if you feel the same. There’s flowers for rejection too, you know.” She retrieved her phone from her bag and began typing.
Chloe bit her lip, wondering whether she should voice her theory to her friend. She found it hard to believe that Nathaniel could be her admirer but the look he had given her earlier…
“I don’t even know who it is,” she protested. “What if they’re awkward, or too short or, or…” What if I bullied them mercilessly in the past and this is all an elaborate joke to get back at me? What if I wanted desperately for that not to be true? What if I thought they were kinda cute when their nose scrunched up when they concentrated on something, and their completely unnatural hair color suited them actually and-
Chloe cut off that particular train of thought and rubbed her face. “I don’t have enough information to accept or reject them,” she insisted, and took a hasty gulp of her hot drink, burning her tongue in the process. She avoided Sabrina’s all too perceptive gaze and focused on the mug in her hands, swallowing the pain.
After some scrutiny, her friend eventually resumed scrolling through her phone.
“Oh, do you know who you want to take to the Winter Formal?” Sabrina asked, thankfully changing the subject.
Chloe frowned. The dance had been the last thing on her mind lately. She should order a dress before all the good designers were booked.
“I’m sure I can ask that boy from my cousin’s school I told you about. He couldn’t keep his eyes off me when I went for a visit,” she said, shrugging.
Chloe nodded along as Sabrina talked about her own plans to ask out someone from another class as she typed in “azalea flower meaning” on her phone.
The two sat in comfortable silence for a while until Sabrina jumped up from her seat suddenly. “We’re gonna be late!” she said, shoving her arms into the sleeves of her jacket.
Chloe glanced at the time on her phone and winced before gathering up her own things and following her friend out of the cafe.
They just made it to class as the bell rang, looking at the floor with the expected amount of shame as they walked to their shared desk. Chloe purposefully did not look in Nathaniel’s direction as she settled into her seat.
Her phone felt like it was burning a hole in her pocket for the rest of the day as she continued to turn over the search results in her mind again and again. “Take care of yourself. Temperance,” they whispered.
Weeks went by as exams loomed and the excitement of the Winter Formal, and subsequent Winter Break, built up. Now that she was actually trying to get good grades on her own, Chloe resigned herself to the school library after classes, finding it more suitable for studying than the busy atmosphere of her father’s hotel.
One such day she was procrastinating on a boring history paper that was due in a couple of days. Every so often she would take a break from writing to glance at the viscaria flowers sitting on the table next to her that she had found taped to her locker after the final bell. This was the other reason why focusing on something as trivial as a school assignment seemed impossible to her.
She remembered smothering a screech as she looked up the meaning of this particular gift. The words “will you dance with me?” had felt too loud for the space full of students chatting with each other and retrieving their bags to go home.
Chloe had sat hunched on the bench by her locker until the last person left, staring at the screen of her phone without really seeing it and feeling a complicated mix of elation and anxiety. She still hadn’t pinned down the identity of her admirer and refused to entertain certain impossibilities. Had her admirer meant this as a way to ask her to the Winter Formal? It could be a giant hoax meant to humiliate her. It could also be genuine, and she didn’t know which was scarier. Mostly she felt unusually warm and fuzzy.
An hour and a half later of staring at her tablet, she sighed and sat back in her chair. Clearly she was not going to be able to focus on finishing her assignment. She picked up the flowers and fiddled with the twine that held them together. A little bouquet, just for her. She couldn’t help the grin that slipped onto her face at the thought.
It took her a few moments to register that someone had sat down in the seat across from her, being lost in thought over what the dance would be like and whether she should ask out her cousin’s friend after all, or take the bouquet seriously and see if her admirer intended to meet her there.
Her eyes lifted from the soft pinks and purples of the bouquet to the almost-neon color of Nathaniel’s hair. The sudden change in saturation startled her into awareness.
He was reading a comic book of some sort and resting his chin on one hand. She had never seen him so relaxed before.
As if sensing her thoughts, he looked up from his book and visibly tensed when their eyes met.
Chloe averted her gaze, somewhat irritated with his inability to hide his distaste for her. She was trying, couldn’t he see that? She had been trying all semester to be nice to him, and he still hated her guts. Why was he sitting at her table anyway? The library was practically deserted and there were plenty of open seats at other tables.
Chloe ducked her head and focused on the flowers. She may not have been able to make it up to him, but at least someone had seen her efforts to do better.
“What kind of flowers are those?”
Her eyes snapped up to meet his. Why was he talking to her? The urge to say something mean to make him go away bubbled up but she tamped it down, instead taking a deep breath before responding.
“They’re viscarias,” she said. “They grow naturally in the Spring time in very dry soil.”
“Do you just know that or..?” He asked, looking amused.
Chloe felt her face grow hot. She scoffed and stuck her nose up in the air. “I looked it up of course. Why would I know anything about a random flower?” she said haughtily.
Nathaniel chuckled. Chloe relaxed ever so slightly at the sound. Had she heard him genuinely laugh before? She couldn’t remember the last time they had a conversation about something that wasn’t school work. It was...nice.
“I just thought that you’d be an expert by now, what with all the flowers you’ve gotten this semester.” He traced one of the superheroes on the cover of his book absently.
Chloe smiled as she recalled all the different gifts that had been left for her. There had never been any overlaps. It made her wonder if her admirer owned their own greenhouse or something, that they could give her tropical flowers that only lasted a few days in the humidity of her bathroom before wilting. She had stopped insisting to herself that this was just a nice thing that someone was doing for her. They really, truly cared about her. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach at the thought, and she remembered again the question that came along with today’s bouquet.
Should she show up to the dance alone? Well, unpartnered. Sabrina would be there of course. Or should she avoid the potential embarrassment and bring someone she didn’t care about? Her cousin’s friend was cute, but Chloe no longer wanted simple arm candy. She wanted more. Someone nice, and interesting. Someone like…
She focused back on the boy sitting across the table, lost in his own thoughts as he studied the bouquet she suddenly closed her hands around.
“I should go,” she said suddenly, standing up from her chair.
Nathaniel snapped out of his thoughts and looked up at her curiously. “Oh, I could walk you home.”
He seemed to realize what he said a second too late and his face went up in flames. He stood quickly and flailed his arms, trying to explain away the offer. “I- I just meant, uh, it’s dark outside! And you shouldn’t go alone. You know, what with crime picking up lately- not that that would ever happen to you so don’t worry. I’m just saying, statistically- no wait that doesn’t help...”
Chloe recovered, somewhat, and shook her head. “The hotel is, like, two blocks away on well lit streets. I’ll be fine.” She gathered up her things and glanced at him once more. “But...thanks,” she added, before walking around the table and heading towards the library doors.
Unbeknownst to her, Nathaniel sighed and leaned against the table after she left. He glanced down at his bag, which seemed to mock him from where it sat at his feet. He stooped to pick it up and fished out a small piece of cardstock. The ink had smudged a bit after he hastily shoved it into his bag as M. Mendeliev walked by in class earlier. After a moment, he crumpled the card and shouldered his bag, walking through the now empty library.
Ever since the incident in the library Chloe’s “Nath-radar,” because that was a thing now, was going off constantly. She had never noticed how much time they actually spent in the same physical spaces. The only time that she didn’t see him was when he was in the art room and she was in study hall. So when she ran into him during a rare outing at the park, it came as a bit of an unpleasant shock.
Chloe was going to turn around, she really was, but something made her walk up to where Nath was sitting underneath a tree sketching, and stop. Her heart pounded as she waited for him to notice. What was she doing? What was she going to say? This was a terrible idea, time to go- too late.
Chloe began to sweat as Nath slowly looked up at her. He squinted and adopted a confused expression as he recognized his classmate. "Chloe?" he said in disbelief.
“Hi,” she offered. Smooth.
“Do you...want to sit here?” he asked, visibly uncomfortable. “It’s the best spot in my opinion. I come here a lot. Um...do you? Come here a lot? That didn’t come out right. What I meant to say is, uh-”
His rambling cut off as Chloe abruptly sat down next to him, leaving a few feet of grass between them.
“Sure,” she said.
After a moment, Nath nodded and turned back to his sketchbook.
Chloe couldn’t see what he was drawing from where she was sitting so she scooted over and leaned in, her hair brushing his shoulder.
“Whatcha drawing?” she asked, oblivious to his sharp inhale.
“Oh, uh, I’m working on drawing from life so I’ve mostly been sketching the people walking by,” he said, tilting the book so that she could get a better look.
Chloe was impressed. She knew Nath was an artist and spent most of his time drawing, but she hadn’t seen any of his work since the time she showed his Evillustrator comic to the class. Remembering that day made Chloe cringe and she physically drew back, leaning against the tree and looking at the stone path where Nath’s subjects walked past.
“Looks great,” she said in a monotone.
Nath looked over at her. “Thanks,” he said, confusion creeping into his voice.
Chloe wasn't exactly up for rehashing their past at that moment, so she stayed silent.
The two sat quietly for a while, Nath sketching and Chloe people-watching. She suddenly regretted ever walking up to him. One not-completely-disastrous conversation in the school library didn’t suddenly make them “besties.”
Her inner turmoil over whether to leave or stay was interrupted when Nath set down his pencil and offered her his sketchbook. “Do you want to look through it?” he asked.
After a beat Chloe nodded and took the book from him. She stared down at it, not quite sure of what was happening. It meant something that, this time around, he gave permission for her to hold his sketchbook. She wasn’t sure she deserved it yet.
Nath stood and stretched his arms up over his head. He looked down at her and jerked his thumb behind him. “I’m going to go use the bathroom. Watch my stuff?” he asked.
Chloe nodded and watched as he trotted over to a small stone building nearby. When he was out of sight, she turned her attention back to the book in her hands. The life drawings were impressive, but she preferred his more stylized superhero characters. Chloe flipped through the sketchbook absently, taking it all in. One page in particular made her pause.
It was a rough sketch of a flower.
Chloe made a quick search on her phone and discovered that it was a camellia, unfamiliar to her because her admirer had never sent her one. She automatically tapped her bookmarked website for flower meanings and scrolled through until she found its listing.
Chloe frowned. The website reported multiple meanings depending on the camellia’s color, but Nath’s drawing was in black and white.
She abruptly closed Nath’s sketchbook and set it down on his backpack. Why did she look up the flower’s meaning as if it was meant for her? Nathaniel wasn’t her admirer. He had probably gotten the idea to draw a flower after seeing so many land on her desk.
This line of reasoning left her feeling surprisingly bummed out and soon after Nath returned, she said goodbye and headed home.
It was the end of the final week of classes before Winter Break and Chloe was looking forward to spending the days off doing absolutely nothing. Exams had been held the previous week and it had taken all of her brain power to get through them. Studying for finals had also made an ideal distraction from thinking about her admirer, a distraction that was unfortunately coming to an end. She hadn’t received anything from them in a while which she had tried not to read too much into. It was Winter after all and fresh flowers were scarce.
Now she was slumped over her desk, resting her chin on her folded arms and watching the last of the final projects being presented. Her classmates were also barely listening as they all waited for the final bell to ring. Chloe and Sabrina for their part had some last minute shopping for the Winter Formal to do and were eager to catch the late afternoon train.
The last to present finished speaking right as the bell rang and M. Bustier called out well wishes for the break as students streamed past her desk and out the door. Chloe snatched up her bag and headed for her locker with Sabrina in tow. Once there, she made quick work of the combination lock and swung the door open. Chloe grabbed her jacket and was about to shut the locker when she noticed an envelope taped to the inside of the door that had been pushed through the slits at the top and secured with tape from the outside.
Swinging her bag and jacket over one arm, she swiftly peeled the envelope off of the door and closed her locker, slipping the surprise into her bag for later. She nodded to Sabrina and the two hurried out of the building. Chloe may have appeared calm on the outside, but internally she was buzzing with anticipation. After all but running to catch their train, she collapsed into a seat next to Sabrina and extracted the envelope.
Her friend looked over curiously and grinned at Chloe. “It’s about time they showed up again and just in time to ask you to the dance!” she giggled.
Chloe laughed at her friend’s excitement almost eclipsing her own. She carefully tore open the envelope and pulled out a piece of thick paper and a pressed flower. Sabrina was one step ahead of her, identifying the flower as a zinnia. She gasped and held out her phone for Chloe to look at the screen. According to the language of flowers website, a magenta colored zinnia meant “lasting affection.” Chloe smiled, touched by the devotion her admirer had shown.
She carefully put the pressed zinnia back into the envelope and read the card that had been included with it. She didn’t recognize the handwriting but she hadn’t exactly made a habit of noticing that kind of thing. The note was brief and read:
Please grant me the pleasure of your company at the Winter Formal this Saturday. You will be the belle of the ball. I will be the one holding the bouquet of flowers.
Your Secret Admirer
It took all of her self control to keep from jumping up and celebrating. Loudly. She passed the note to Sabrina to read and stared at the back of the seat in front of her, not really seeing it and instead imagining herself arriving at the dance and finally meeting the person who had been so kind to her over the past few months. They had truly brightened her days and reminded her that she had someone who believed in her, who saw the goodness that she had worked so hard to express.
The two friends spent a pleasant evening accruing everything they needed for the dance, promising to meet up at the hotel to get ready together.
The day of the dance was a bit of a whirlwind, what with getting up early to go to the hair salon, then getting makeup done and finally putting the finishing touches on their ensembles. Sabrina’s dress was a 1920s inspired piece that was a striking, deep blue. Chloe had chosen a golden yellow dress that fell to her calves. Her hair had been done up in a modernized beehive style to complete the ‘60s look. Before they knew it, their limo had arrived and they were whisked off towards the venue.
Chloe and Sabrina stepped out of the car and into the building, finding the entrance to the ballroom. Sabrina made to enter but stopped when she realized Chloe wasn’t moving. She took hold of Chloe’s gloved hands and squeezed.
“It’ll work out. I just know it,” she said kindly.
“You go ahead. I need a minute, that’s all.”
Sabrina nodded and gave her a thumbs up before opening one of the double doors and disappearing into the room beyond in search of her date who was meeting her there.
This was it. The moment of truth. Literally.
Chloe turned to a hall mirror for one final check before pulling open the ballroom door and stepping through to a crowded room full of her school mates. Everyone was still standing around, waiting for the music to start, chatting or taking pictures.
Chloe scanned the faces around her, gravitating towards an unoccupied corner of the room to search from. No sign of any flowers aside from the centerpieces that had been set out on the tables at both sides of the room. She worried her lower lip between her teeth for a second before remembering the meticulously applied lipstick and took to smoothing down her dress to calm her nerves. After a few minutes the DJ started up some fast paced music and the dance floor filled up quickly.
Just when she was debating whether to find Sabrina and stick to her side all night, Chloe noticed a flash of red out of the corner of her eye. She turned her head to see none other than Nathaniel Kurtzburg slowly approaching her corner of the ballroom. The red she had caught sight of had, naturally, been his hair. But as he moved closer she noticed that he had his arms behind his back.
She turned fully to face him as he stopped a foot away and brought his arms out, presenting a bouquet of bright, red roses to her with a flourish. Chloe’s mouth dropped open.
“You?” she asked.
He smiled. “Me,” he confirmed, holding out the bouquet for her to take.
Chloe shut her mouth with a snap and accepted the roses, breathing in the strong scent of them to steady herself.
Nath for his part looked suddenly bashful, glancing behind him at the couples swaying to a slow song that had come up. “I was wondering if you’d like to dance?” he asked, stumbling over his words a bit.
She made a split second decision and nodded, setting the bouquet down on a side table for safe keeping, and taking hold of his offered hand.
He led her to the ballroom and they positioned themselves, her hands placed on his shoulders and his hovering around her waist. As the current song ended and another slow one started up, Chloe focused on her feet as an excuse to avoid looking at her partner. She had a million questions for him but wasn’t sure where to start.
Nath cleared his throat and she looked up at him. Perhaps sensing her internal state of mind, he took the opportunity to explain things.
“It started when one of the first years bumped into you,” he began. “I think we all expected you to tear them apart, but instead you just let it go. It was a shock and I personally wondered if you were sick or something.”
Chloe frowned and he rushed to keep talking.
“The more I thought about it though, the more I figured that you deserved the benefit of the doubt. To be given a chance to change, like you gave that first year the chance to make amends.
He suddenly maneuvered them out of the way of running into another couple and Chloe stumbled into him, his hands steadying her and her arms moving to circle his neck as they stepped closer together.
“There’s a hole-in-the-wall flower shop I always walk by on the way home from school,” he said. “That same day, I stopped to buy a flower for you. I was going to get whatever looked good but then I remembered that different kinds have their own corresponding meanings. I figured I could use it to communicate what I felt.”
The nervous look in his eyes returned and he avoided her gaze. “I always thought you were pretty and confident. But I didn’t think you were nice. After we worked on that group project together things were different. You did your part and I could tell that you really wanted to get it right. I started to notice you more and pay attention to how you interacted with everyone. You had changed.”
He met her eyes again and smiled wide. “It didn’t take long for me to realize that my feelings towards you had changed as well. I like you, Chloe, in case the roses didn’t make it clear,” he joked.
Chloe didn’t quite know what to say so she said what had been on her mind for a while: “I saw a sketch of a camellia in your sketchbook when we hung out at the park.”
He thought for a moment. “Oh, I had forgotten about that. I started sketching while debating whether or not I should give it to you,” he explained.
“Why didn’t you? Give me one, I mean,” she asked, merely curious.
He laughed. “Honestly? I thought that the message would be a bit too intense. I wanted to save that kind of confession for later and in my own words. I suppose that’s what tonight is for me.”
Chloe pressed her lips together and studied his dress shirt.
He spoke again, attempting to reassure her. “You don’t have to say anything now, although I would like to know if you could feel the same. I...I hope you’re not disappointed that it’s me.”
Chloe raised her head to meet his eyes. “I’m not,” she said firmly.
He looked hopeful and she continued: “I denied that it could be you until the minute you walked over to me tonight, but I think part of me hoped it was.” She slowed her movements and he followed suit, the two of them stopping in the middle of the dance floor.
“Do you want to get out of here?”
Nath looked surprised. “And go where?” he asked.
She shrugged. “Anywhere. I have an entire limo at my father’s expense. I’ll send another one to pick up Sabrina later.”
“Okay,” he said, releasing his hands from her waist.
“Okay,” she echoed, removing her arms from around his neck and taking his hand. “Just let me grab the flowers. If we run out of things to say we can always let them speak for us.”