hen May came, Chloe happily adjusted her Friday morning runs to the longer, warmer days. With more people about, the whole neighborhood seemed to bloom. There was so much to see, hear, and smell that she’d take off her headphones and let listen to the joyous symphony overtaking the blocks around Prospect Park.
On her walk home she passed the usual flower shop where she would stock up — first on daffodils and tulips, which, though virtually without scent, seemed to smile. The warmth made the lilies bloom, and finally the hyacinth and freesia burst on the scene in all their creamy opulence.
One warm afternoon, as she rounded the corner of her street, her arms cradling a massive bouquet, she paused for a coffee. She’d brought just enough change for an iced espresso.
There was a new face greeting her from behind the counter. The young man had giant brown eyes and his face bore the careless nicks of someone who hadn’t shaved long enough to care. His name was Cole.
She put the flowers on the counter and pulled off her sunglasses. She wasn’t wearing any make-up but she knew her face was glowing from her run, and she’d certainly picked up some sun.
She took her cup at the counter and watched him run a damp rag across it. His forearms bulged, but not overtly. His was a natural musculature, untrained and swollen from years of tossing around footballs and lifting heaving things. He walked with the hesitant swagger of a young man who’s just realizing an appeal he’s almost self-conscious about, yet can’t mask.
She kept her glance low and played with the brim of the plastic between her lips. She watched him move about the kitchen and stifled a small gasp when his shirt stretched tight across his back.
She left with her head in the clouds and without her bouquet.
Halfway down the block she heard someone calling out her name.
He was trotting behind her, flowers in hand. He wiped on palm on his jeans and handed them over. She thanked him and rushed off, ashamed and ignited.
He was far too young, but something about his innocent, budding heat made him impossible to ignore.
And so she did what any normal healthy woman would do. She stalked him. Delicately, of course.
She never stopped into the café more than twice a day, but she’d pause on her way around the corner, casting a glance inside as if to seek out a friend or neighbor. If Cole was there she’d feign surprise and give him a little nod.
When she went inside she would always order the same thing, a short and strong espresso.
Over the course of several weeks she learned when he closed. She knew she had to make her move before the nights got too light. If anything were to happen, she needed the cloak and confidence that came with muted sunlight and the first stars.
It was a Thursday when she decided to approach him.
He’d already shut off the lights at the front of the café but he had left the side door ajar. She could make out his shadowy forms moving around in the kitchen. He wore a white t-shirt, the sleeves pulled tightly over his biceps. He’d tucked a rag into the low-slung waist of his pants and it swung back and forth as he swept the floor and slid the last few bags of coffee into place with the side of his foot.
She crept up to the side door and ventured two fingers inside. The door creaked slightly but he didn’t turn around.
Not until she whispered his name.
His face went sharp when he heard her.
“Cole? Can I come inside?”
She slipped inside the door and let it close quietly behind her.
“You shouldn’t be-“
“Shhhh,” she murmured. “I think I forgot some flowers. Have you seen them?”
He looked around, as if some bouquet might magically appear and clear up everything.
“I’ve looked everywhere… I don’t think-“
Chloe took a step toward him and let her spring coat fall open.
Maybe you should look a little closer?
A heady scent of tuberose filled the room when she took another step forward and dropped her coat to the floor.
He reached for the last light switch.