Hiromi just happens to be in a rush one night, that’s it. There’s a mistake with an important order at work that he doesn’t notice until he’s just closing the shop for the evening, and at first it seems like something that will only take an extra minute or two to clear up, but then the next time Hiromi checks the clock it’s way too late, and he’s racing like it’s the last section of a particularly tricky beef just to get out the door before he misses too much of that night’s S.
So, he’s in a rush, and he’s a little less organized than he would normally be, and when he gets to the course and shoves the car door open, a stack of fliers from work, haphazardly shoved to one side until now, scatter out of the door and over the ground. There’s no time for Hiromi to grab them, even if most of them weren’t gone in seconds amidst the churning crowd waiting for the next race to start, but it’s fine. No one noticed, so no one’s going to wonder why Shadow, the terrifying anti-hero of S, drives a car full of advertisements for a small local flower shop. And the ground of the abandoned mine is scattered with all kinds of crap after each night of S, so it’s not like anyone will notice the fliers or think anything of them later.
No problem, right?
Three days later, Hiromi’s spritzing the tulips during an afternoon lull in customers when he hears the jingle of the bell on the shop’s door. He glances up, opening his mouth to greet the newest customer, but the words die on his lips because oh shit, that’s Joe.
The S star is dressed in street clothes, but there’s no mistaking that face, no mistaking that body, even though Joe’s wearing an actual shirt for once. Joe, the fastest six-pack, is in Hiromi’s flower shop.
Joe looks around leisurely, calmly, before his gaze falls on Hiromi. It’s not cool at all, but Hiromi gulps. No one from S has ever showed up during the day like this before. What’s Joe doing here? The two of them had raced the other night and Hiromi might have gone a little over the top – there’s no way Joe’s holding some kind of grudge, right?
“So, this is the place.” Joe says, decisively, which doesn’t help Hiromi’s nerves at all. Joe strides over, and Hiromi’s racing to decide how he’s going to tell the others at the shop Hey everyone, I’m in this underground anything-goes skateboarding event, and I may have set off one too many firecrackers in the wrong skater’s face and he came after me, sorry about that, when he sees that Joe’s holding something up for him to see.
The paper is a little scuffed up, a little dirty, but it’s undeniably one of the shop’s fliers. The same ones Hiromi had shoved to the side as he jumped into the car the other night, the same ones that had spilled out when he opened the door at S.
“This is yours, right?” Joe asks. He points to one line of text on the bottom of the flier, and Hiromi realizes that the other skater actually looks excited. “You’re still doing this sale?”
“Oh, uh...” As weird as it still very much is to be talking to Joe in broad daylight, without a skateboard in sight, this is something that Hiromi can discuss easily enough. “That’s right. Fifty percent off on our packages for commercial spaces.”
“So, say, a restaurant.” Joe cuts in eagerly. “If I wanted some flowers for the tables in my restaurant…”
A restaurant? It kind of suits Joe, perhaps. At least, it’s not as unexpected as Shadow having a day job at a flower shop, which may be why, Hiromi realizes, Joe doesn’t seem to recognize him at all. “That’s right,” Hiromi says, feeling more at ease by the second. “You could use the discount. Do you want me to show you some examples of our displays?”
Joe nods. “This is great,” he says, gazing happily once more about the shop. “I’ve been wanting to get some flowers for the place for a while, just to add to the atmosphere a little, you know?”
“Of course,” Hiromi agrees, mentally weighing which arrangements would be most suitable. He wonders what kind of restaurant Joe has.
“I got some from the florist on the east side of the station, but everything started to go brown the same day… But then I came across this flier just by chance, and I thought, why not try again?”
“The east side of the station?” Hiromi snorts, just slightly. “Well. I shouldn’t say anything, but…”
Joe raises an eyebrow, sensing drama. “Yeah?”
“We take much better care of our stock, I promise you. We try to focus on local sources as much as possible, and….” Is he actually chatting about flowers with Joe? Is he actually having fun chatting about flowers with Joe?
In the end, he walks Joe through a purchase of a tasteful selection of seasonal flowers for several different spots inside his restaurant. It’s the biggest sale he’s done all week, even after the fifty percent off and a new customer discount – Hiromi’s feeling generous, and also he should kind of make it up to Joe for those last few firecrackers the other night – and the pride of having brought in a new regular source of business, even by accident, is making his initial apprehension at seeing Joe in his shop feel like ancient history.
“Oh,” Joe says, just as Hiromi’s finished ringing him up. “How about that?”
He’s pointing at a display by the register, a row of small succulents. The pots are shaped like little hearts, painted shades of pink and red and white. They’re there to catch the eye of anyone who might be swayed into making a cute, cheap extra purchase, or anyone who needs an idea for an easy gift.
“You want one of those?” Hiromi asks, a little surprised. “They don’t really match with the rest of what you got, but if you want…”
“Not for me.” Joe shakes his head. It’s clear that some kind of idea’s been formed in his mind. “In fact…” He studies the worn-out flier once again, pointing to another part of the ad copy. Free same-day delivery with purchases of 10,000 yen or more! Perfect for gifts! Why not surprise that special someone? “Since I got all this,” he gestures at the lengthy receipt that the register’s currently spitting out. “Can I get one of those little ones, too, and get it delivered somewhere?”
“Sure,” Hiromi agrees. “Just fill this out… Oh, and it comes with one of these cards, if you want.”
Joe does want a card. He signs simply, just a lazily drawn heart and his real name, Kojiro.
It’s not exactly a surprise that Joe’s sending flowers to someone – the hordes of women hanging off of him at S each night are impossible to miss – but Hiromi can’t help but be a little curious all the same. The delivery address is in a ritzy, newly-developed part of the city, and the woman’s name is…Kaoru?
He shrugs mentally at the whole thing. But later, after Joe’s happily on his way – still, by some miracle, with seemingly no clue that he just purchased flowers from the same guy who nearly knocked him off his board and into a deep gravel pit just the other night – Hiromi decides to take care of the delivery himself, right away.
The building where Joe’s girlfriend – or whoever – lives is fancy, alright. Everything is gleaming metal and glass, and there’s not just a security guard, but all sorts of cameras and scanners and who knows what surveying Hiromi as he enters and makes his way to the elevator. The little cactus in a pink pot in his hands feels wildly out of place here, but Hiromi supposes it’s not his problem if Joe can’t choose a good gift.
He finds the unit indicated on the delivery slip, introduces himself to yet another security camera, and then at last the door opens, revealing…
The cactus very nearly goes tumbling down onto the shiny, spotless floor of the hallway, saved only by the fact that Hiromi’s had a little practice hiding his surprise today already, thanks to the visit from Joe.
It’s Cherry. Cherry Blossom. He’s wearing glasses, and he’s dressed in a dark kimono that’s far more formal than his S costume, but it’s definitely him.
“Yes?” Cherry asks, a little impatiently.
“A delivery,” Hiromi manages to squeak out in a more or less normal tone of voice, holding up the cactus defensively. He hadn’t imagined this when he first laid eyes on Joe earlier in the day.
Cherry takes the cactus. As he does, the bracelet hanging around one wrist lights up, and an artificial female voice chirps, “Astrophytum asterias, a member of the cactus family. Found native in some parts of Mexico and the United States. Commonly kept as a houseplant.”
Okay, weird. If there were any doubts before, this is definitely the same guy who always shows up at S with the stupid AI skateboard.
But who the hell is Kaoru? Joe’s not – he’s not having an affair with Cherry’s wife, or something, is he? Has Hiromi stumbled into some kind of soap opera scenario? The only good news out of all this is that Cherry, just like Joe, doesn’t seem to recognize Hiromi at all without his Shadow getup.
Cherry studies the cactus, and then the attached card. Hiromi holds his breath waiting for whatever comes next, but in the end Cherry just nods. “All right. Do you need me to sign or something?”
“Oh!” Hiromi fumbles for the delivery slip and a pen. Cherry signs gracefully, writing the characters with flowing, artistic strokes. It’s the same name as the one on the delivery information that Joe had filled out.
Oh, Hiromi thinks. This is…a lot.
Cherry – Kaoru Sakurayashiki – is examining the little cactus once more, turning it around in his hand. His lips, just barely, are turned up in a faint smile.
“How do you care for it?” Cherry asks.
Hiromi appreciates the consideration, even though his thoughts are racing a mile a minute trying to keep up with all the information he’s received in the last couple of hours. “You can – “
“Astrophytum asterias is a hearty plant that needs watering only every two to four weeks. Daily sunlight and a specialty cactus soil mix is recommended. If there is insufficient natural light, an LED light is also acceptable.”
“Okay, have a nice day,” Hiromi manages to interject, a little miffed.
Cherry barely glances at him, distracted by his AI assistant – currently rattling off the specs of Cherry’s apartment, and whether or not they’re suitable for a 500-yen novelty cactus – and by his gift. “Mm. Thank you.”
It’s only as Hiromi’s driving away that the implications of the afternoon’s events come together fully in his mind.
First, he’s met both Joe and Cherry Blossom as their normal day-to-day selves.
Second, Joe and Cherry seem, by the strongest possible interpretation of what Hiromi’s witnessed today, to be dating. Or something.
Third, Joe and Cherry still have absolutely no idea who Hiromi is.
Later, at S, Joe and Cherry are both present, and both of them show absolutely no sign of being aware that they’ve encountered Shadow once that day already. Hiromi knows he needs to play it cool, but he finds his eyes being drawn to them again and again, no matter what else is going on. There’s not much of a sign of what Hiromi now knows to be true – Joe and Cherry seem to be squabbling, mostly, when they’re not just doing their own things – but once, for just a moment, he sees Joe murmur something that might be Did you like it? and he sees Cherry’s eyes go wide, and it’s impossible to tell, it’s a split second, and they’re far away, and Cherry’s face is mostly covered, but it’s possible that the man whose real name is Kaoru Sakurayashiki might be blushing a little bit?
Joe wows everyone even more usual than with his performance that night, Cherry a close second. Hiromi, distracted, trips up on an easy turn way too early in his only race of the night.
Several weeks pass uneventfully. The flowers for Joe’s restaurant – a stylish Italian place, it turns out – are well received, and Joe makes a few more orders. He’s friendly with Hiromi, but only in the way that regular customers tend to be. S goes on as usual. Eventually, Joe and Cherry’s real identities, and the fact that they’re secretly involved, becomes less of a novelty, and Hiromi’s able to focus again on just trying to trash them both whenever he faces them in a beef. Everything’s back to normal. Right?
One day, Joe shows up at the shop during another one of Hiromi’s shifts. It’s not quite the usual time for him to come and order a new batch of flowers for his restaurant, and Hiromi’s further surprised to see that there’s a gloomy, hangdog look on his face, like he’s some kid who tried to hop on his board only to fall back on his ass before his first beef could even get started.
Joe nods in acknowledgement when Hiromi welcomes him to the store, and begins to silently browse the flowers on display. Instead of the kind of thing he’s been buying for his restaurant so far, today Joe seems to be gravitating towards the biggest, most romantic arrangements, rich red roses artfully accented here and there with Queen Anne’s Lace, festooned with curls of ribbon.
Hmm. Hiromi’s seen this sight plenty of times before, other men standing where Joe’s standing now, with the exact same sorry look on their faces. Men who forgot a birthday, or said something a little too thoughtless, or spent a little too much time with the cute secretary from the office. Men who really screwed up, and are now hoping that a big enough bouquet will salvage the situation.
“Looking for a gift?” Hiromi asks, unnecessarily.
Joe turns towards him, looking grateful and rather embarrassed. “Ah. Yes.”
“What kind of occasion?” Hiromi is a professional and he knows when to be tactful, even at a time like this.
“It’s…hmm.” Joe hesitates awkwardly, providing enough time for all sorts of intriguing scenarios to run through Hiromi’s mind. He forces them back. Professionalism, always. Not to mention that he’d still rather not risk letting his S identity slip.
“I guess I’m looking for something really good,” he says at last. “A…a peace offering, you could say.”
Joe ends up buying the most expensive romantic bouquet they have, even more extravagant than the first few that Hiromi suggests. He gazes at it glumly as Hiromi runs his credit card, as if he doesn’t quite dare hope that it will work its magic as planned.
“Ah,” he says, as if something’s just occurring to him. “I suppose this will be delivery again. I’d better not…It’s better if someone else brings it over.”
“Of course,” says Hiromi evenly, without a hint of interest or curiosity, using the most self-control he’s ever mustered in his entire life, probably.
The delivery address is Cherry’s, of course. When Hiromi presses the buzzer to the apartment, the apology bouquet balanced awkwardly in one arm – it’s a big bouquet – Cherry greets him with a scowl.
“Oh. I know what this is.” There’s no deep dive into each flower’s characteristics this time. Cherry spends just a moment reading the card attached to the bouquet – it’s in a sealed envelope, which Hiromi has managed not to open on the ride over – before flipping it shut again. He takes the flowers from Hiromi’s arms with as much pleasure as if he's hefting a bag of recycling, signs to acknowledge delivery – still with the same glamorous signature, at least – and disappears back into his apartment again.
Later that night, as he’s pulling up to S, Hiromi’s just managed to convince himself that he does not care about Joe and Cherry’s…lovers’ quarrel, or whatever it is, and he does not need to learn any more about what happened, when something else occurs to him.
A skater’s emotions can play just as big a role in a race as their skill or equipment. Everyone knows that. Hasn’t Hiromi himself been off his game on several nights recently because he’s been too distracted by Joe and Cherry? If someone’s preoccupied, if they’re upset, if they’ve perhaps just had a fight with their partner… Well, it’ll show when they step onto their board, for sure.
Hiromi smiles to himself. It’s not like he has anything personal against Joe or Cherry, but it feels like a very good night for both of them to get knocked down a peg, for Shadow to show everyone who S’s top skater really is.
Sure enough, when Hiromi challenges Joe to a race, the other skater accepts with much less of the bravado that’s typical for an S beef. No one else seems to notice. As they position themselves at the starting line there’s an excited buzz from the crowd of onlookers, everyone placing their bets or yelling encouragement for Shadow or for Joe. Hiromi can taste the sweet taste of victory already. This might, he’s thinking to himself, actually be a little too easy.
Cherry’s there too, a frown on his half-covered face. He and Joe haven’t spoken all night. As Joe glances over the crowd, his eyes meet Cherry’s as if by accident, and Cherry scowls and turns away with a huff. Over the noise of the crowd, Hiromi can just make out “…Stupid gorilla.”
It’s the kind of immature dig the two of them exchange every night – it would be more unusual for Cherry not to say something like that, almost – but tonight, instead of laughing it off or responding with an insult of his own, Joe’s face falls further and he looks, amazingly, genuinely hurt.
“Who’s stupid?” Joe calls to Cherry.
Cherry stubbornly refuses to look at him. “You heard what I said. Or are you deaf, as well?” He pauses for a moment, and then his brow furrows, and Hiromi knows that he’s preparing to jab a little deeper. “But I suppose it’s nothing new if you don’t listen to what I have to say, is it?”
“If I don’t-!?” Joe seems to almost rock back a little on his board, stung. Ignoring Hiromi, who’s still standing there poised to take off down the slope any second, Joe retorts, “Sorry you can’t just program me to do whatever you want, like your precious Carla.”
“You’re bringing Carla into this!?” The insult to his AI program is, apparently, the final straw for Cherry. He strides over to Joe and Hiromi, board in hand. “Fine. If that’s what you want, should I show you just what Carla can do? An insensitive idiot like you won’t stand a chance.”
“Hey!“ Hiromi tries to interrupt – he’s beefing with Joe now, not Cherry – but Joe’s already shot back “Fine, let’s go,” and in the next second, they’re both gone.
The crowd, already amped up, goes absolutely ballistic.
“What was that!?”
“I didn’t really get it, but – but Shadow and Joe were going to race, but then Cherry stepped in and challenged him instead!”
“Joe and Cherry!?”
“Yeah, and they both looked really serious! Hurry, let’s get to the finish line! I gotta see how this ends with my own eyes!”
“This is crazy,” another skater says reverently. He slaps Hiromi – who’s still staring after Cherry and Joe, dumbfounded – on the back. “Did you and Cherry plan that, Shadow?”
Hiromi shrugs him away, and stalks away from the crowd to pull up the stream of the race on his phone. Well, so what if his beef got interrupted? They’ll both suck, anyway.
They don’t. It’s a great race, both of them skating for their lives and pulling out every trick in the book. Cherry almost certainly sets some kind of record for speed going around one especially dangerous turn, and Joe maneuvers around him at the last moment with a finesse that sends all the spectators into rapturous cheers. The only acknowledgement that it was supposed to be Joe and Shadow racing comes when some of Cherry’s fans insist that it wasn’t a real beef, and Joe and Cherry should do it again, properly this time, before anyone can judge who’s truly the best. So they go again. And again.
When it’s time to leave everyone departs in high spirits, debating the most mind-blowing moments of the night’s races. Everyone except Joe and Cherry, who are still uncharacteristically serious – seemingly no one’s curious about this, too caught up in all the hype – and Hiromi, who’s pissed. Why had his plans backfired so heavily? Why the hell does fighting make Joe and Cherry better?
There’s only one thing for it, he realizes, as he’s morosely wiping off his makeup back at home. Those two need to get back together, fast.
And Hiromi’s going to do everything in his power to make that happen.
He doesn’t need to wait long, luckily. Joe’s first bouquet might not have gotten the desired result, but the muscle-bound skater shows up at Hiromi’s shop less than a week later, ready to try again. Hiromi finishes helping his other customer so hastily that a few irises almost get inexcusably bent, and rushes to his side.
“Another gift,” Joe explains sheepishly.
“Sure.” Hiromi’s had some time to think about this and he’s really going to pull out the big guns this time. Whether it’s skating or flowers, he won’t be defeated by the likes of Joe and Cherry. “Maybe a custom arrangement today?”
When Joe seems interested, Hiromi whips out the set of laminated charts they keep behind the register for situations like this.
“See, here are all the flowers and their meanings. You can decide what kind of message you want to send, and put together a bouquet based on that. It’s something – “ It’s something Cherry will probably appreciate, because he’s a fussy nerd. “It’s something lots of people think is really special,” Hiromi catches himself, just in time.
“Really?” Joe looks hopeful, and it occurs to Hiromi, for the first time, just how hard Joe really does seem to be taking this fight with Cherry.
“Want to talk about it?” Hiromi ventures, just once, as Joe flips moodily between the “Romance” page of the chart and the “Apology” page for the umpteenth time.
Joe lets out a dramatic sigh. “I don’t know. We’re at odds and I just can’t get through, no matter what I try. Sometimes it’s just…difficult to make someone understand you, no matter how much you care about each other. You know how it is.”
Hiromi, who definitely knows a thing or two about Cherry and Joe being difficult to understand, nods sympathetically.
In the end, Joe comes up with possibly the most intensely emotional bouquet of flowers ever to exist, not just roses for love, but peach blossoms (“I am your captive”), dogwood blossoms (“Please accept my feelings”), daffodils (“Come back to me”) and plenty of others. It’s not at all easy for Hiromi to carry the whole thing up to Cherry’s apartment.
Cherry surveys this bouquet just as skeptically as the last. “Well, if you brought it all this way,” he sighs. “I suppose I have to take it. Come in.”
When Cherry’s back is turned, Hiromi can’t resist craning his neck to take in as much of his surroundings as possible. Cherry’s apartment is just what you'd expect, sleek and high tech but with plenty of traditional touches tastefully incorporated into the design and furnishings.
Cherry directs him to set the bouquet down on a table, and examines it more closely, one eyebrow raised. “A little unusual, isn’t it?”
“There’s a meaning for each flower,” Hiromi offers eagerly. He explains it all. Cherry listens to him in silence. His expression doesn’t change.
“The effort is there, I suppose,” he says at last. “But if there’s no attention paid to presentation, it just looks like a mess, doesn’t it? No matter what your intentions are, it doesn’t mean much if you aren’t thoughtful about it. But…” Cherry rolls his eyes. “No surprises there, I suppose.”
Even though Hiromi himself knows well that Joe’s hardly put together a refined bouquet, even though the whole thing has nothing to do with Hiromi at all, he can’t help but feel offended. “Hey, Cherry -!”
Cherry’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise, his expression changing in an instant.
Shit. Time to pivot like his board’s about to go sailing over a bone-crunching drop. “C-cherry blossoms!” Hiromi announces, in English, pointing at a traditional art print that’s hanging, by some miracle, on the wall just a little ways away. “Very pretty! So, uh, you do like flowers?”
“Mmm,” Cherry hums, noncommittally, but his focus has shifted to the print, and Hiromi knows that he’s safe. “I suppose. Not so much the real ones, though I’ve dabbled in ikebana in the past. Though it’s a bit different from…” his gaze slides sideways to the bouquet taking up way too much of his table. “…That.”
It’s almost refreshing, in a way, to see that Cherry can be an arrogant jerk about his own skills in all sorts of things, not just skateboarding. “Well, all right,” Hiromi says. “Sorry to bother you.”
“No, it’s no bother,” Cherry says as he walks Hiromi back to the door. “It’s not you, it’s just...” There’s a significant pause. Hiromi suddenly finds himself recalling the way Joe had sighed It’s just...difficult not long before. “It’s a personal problem,” Cherry finishes at last, primly. “But if you get another order from this person,” he adds, as he’s closing the door behind Hiromi. “Just tell him not to bother.”
It isn’t, Hiromi thinks to himself later, as if he wants to get in the middle of whatever’s going on between the two of them. But he can’t help it, not when even S is a bust these days, now that it’s just turned into the Joe and Cherry show. No one else seems to question, or mind, the way that the tension between Joe and Cherry spurs them on to new, ferocious heights of competitive skateboarding night after night, but Hiromi’s sick of it.
What’s worst of all is that Joe and Cherry don’t even seem to be enjoying themselves, no matter who comes out on top in any particular race. They argue, but the energy is all wrong – they’re not pumping up the crowd, or showing off, just slinging the same petty insults at each other again and again. When each race is over, the winner stalks off with the same stony expression as the loser, neither of them paying any attention to the way their fans swarm around them. It’s not right kind of skating for S at all. It’s not the right Joe and Cherry.
The next time Joe visits the flower shop it’s just routine business, more flowers for the restaurant. The season is changing, which means it’s time to reconsider the arrangements Joe’s been using so far, but Joe’s just as morose about handling all that as he every night at S.
“Anything else today?” Hiromi asks pointedly as they’re finishing up.
Joe shakes his head ruefully. “No, not today.” Hiromi wonders if Cherry’s told Joe directly to stop sending him flowers.
On the spur of the moment, Hiromi grabs one of the bouquets on display. “Here.” Before Joe can argue, he presses on. “It’s a freebie we give everyone, every –“ How many times has Joe visited so far? “Every sixth order.”
It’s clear from the look on Joe’s face that Hiromi isn’t being smooth at all. “Thank you,” he starts to say. “I appreciate it, really, but…”
“Why are you giving up?” Hiromi interrupts. “When did you start quitting so easily?”
Joe’s eyes widen, taken aback, and it occurs to Hiromi that he’s probably overdoing it. Too late now. Both sets of wheels off the ground, time to focus on landing the jump well. “Just trust me,” he urges. “One more time. I’ll take care of everything, and it’s a problem, I’ll take the blame. Just don’t give up yet.”
For a moment, Joe just stares at him. Then, slowly, he nods.
The bouquet Hiromi delivers to Cherry’s apartment a little later that day is a fresh, cheerful selection of daisies and sunflowers. It’s nowhere near as ostentatious as the bouquets Joe had previously selected for Cherry, and Hiromi has no idea whether it’ll be to Cherry’s taste or not.
Cherry opens his door just long enough to see what it is, and then starts to pull it closed again. Hiromi wedges his foot in the door just in time.
“Excuse me?” Cherry demands.
“You were here before, weren’t you? I told you – I told him – enough with the flowers! Just throw those away on your way out, I don’t care.”
Okay, Cherry’s really pissing Hiromi off. He can’t stand another day of this, he’s going to put things back to normal now if it’s the last thing he does. “You have to sign for them!” he insists, thinking on his feet.
Cherry blinks at him, dumbfounded. “What? I don’t want them.”
“Still have to sign,” Hiromi says loudly. “It’s the law.”
The look on Cherry’s face says that last part sounded exactly as stupid as Hiromi knew it did the moment the words left his mouth, but it seems to do the trick, at last. Cherry pushes the door open again and shoos Hiromi into the apartment, glaring hard enough to wither the flowers in Hiromi’s arms the entire time.
“Look,” he sighs, at last. “I know Kojiro put you up to this but…”
“He didn’t,” Hiromi interjects. “It was me, I told him to try one more time.”
Cherry frowns. “Do you usually get involved with your customers like this?”
Only when their stupid fights ruin my hobby for three weeks in a row, Hiromi wants to say. “This is…different,” he manages, at last. “It really feels like you two just need to try and work things out a little more. Maybe…you could just talk a bit?” Instead of trying to skate all your emotions out.
The look on Cherry's face is still not at all pleased. “How presumptuous. You don’t know anything about me, or him.”
“But –“ Hiromi’s this close to spilling the beans about everything, no matter how much weirder it’s sure to make all this, when he catches sight of something out of the corner of his eye. Something he hadn’t noticed the last time he’d been in Cherry’s apartment, even though it had surely been there, all along. But it would have been easy to miss, now that it’s been moved out of the cheap pink pot it came in, and into something a little larger, a plain but artistic pot filled with what looks like the perfect mix of soil.
“That cactus,” Hiromi says. “You still have it.”
“So what?” Cherry snaps.
Hiromi steps a little closer, and yep, it’s definitely the same cactus he dropped off some weeks ago, and Cherry’s definitely done a great job of moving it into a more optimal setup. Kudos to him for that, at least.
“Don’t get the wrong idea,” Cherry’s grousing behind him. “I just haven’t been bothered to get rid of it yet.”
It’s clearly a lie, but Hiromi won’t bother to call him out on it. He’s got another idea. “You weren’t expecting a cactus,” he begins carefully. “But you took the time to learn about what it needs. You changed it to fit your space a little bit, maybe but you took care of it, too. It’s, um…” Cherry staring at him, unconvinced, but at least he’s not trying to interrupt for now. “It’s about flexibility. Give and take.”
“With the cactus,” Cherry says, flatly, one eyebrow raised.
“Cacti are tough,” Hiromi presses on. “And they’ll last for a long time in all kinds of situations. But they still need to be watered sometimes, or they’ll die. You can’t take them for granted.”
Cherry says nothing, his lips pressed into a thin line.
“Look, I remember when he bought this.” How many different ways does Hiromi need to try to say this before it makes its way through Cherry’s thick skull? “He was at our shop for something else, but he noticed this, and he thought of you. He wanted to send you something cute, just for fun. It was nice, wasn’t it?
It might be his imagination, but he thinks he sees Cherry’s chin jerk down in a nod, minutely.
“I can tell you really like each other,” Hiromi says at last. “And that you’ve probably liked each other for a long time. Don’t throw it away over something stupid. Just listen to whatever it is J – Kojiro wants to tell you, and tell him how you feel. You’re adults, aren’t you?”
Cherry is silent for a long moment, lost in contemplation.
Finally, he turns his attention back to Hiromi again. “Get out of my apartment,” he says crisply, scribbling his name on the delivery slip and thrusting it at Hiromi. “If you try to stay any longer, I’ll activate the security system, and it’s very advanced.”
As Hiromi’s making his way to the front door – he’s not arguing with that, and he doesn’t have a clue what more he can say at this point, anyway – Cherry calls after him. “You might as well leave those flowers.”
“Huh?” For a moment, Hiromi's sure he's misheard. “I thought – “
“I can find some use for them, I suppose. Leave them.”
Arriving at the next S, the following night, Hiromi isn’t sure what he’s walking into. He hasn’t seen or heard anything from Joe or Cherry, though that’s not unusual. The conversation with Cherry hadn’t felt especially promising in the end, and if things are still weird when they’re skating tonight, Hiromi honestly doesn’t know if he’ll be able to take it.
And yet. You might as well leave those flowers.
He catches sight of Joe first, and challenges him to a race before he can think too much about it. Joe accepts. He seems a little off, a little distracted – but is it the same thing that’s been eating at him all this time? Or something different?
Tonight, at least, they’re able to get started without any unwelcome interruptions. They’re soon neck in neck. Joe’s on top of his game as usual, though he’s not quite bringing the raw emotion that Hiromi’s seen in so many of his recent races with Cherry.
Well, let’s kick things up a notch, Hiromi thinks. At just the right point of the course, the one that takes every ounce of concentration a skater has, he lobs a firecracker into Joe’s path. Not a big one. Maybe he’s getting soft, but Joe has been a valuable customer recently.
Joe swivels, not so much as blinking, and knocks the firecracker harmlessly aside with one edge of his board, never breaking his forward momentum even though he’s skating backwards now. The crowd roars approvingly, and Hiromi sees Joe smirk at him.
Okay, asshole. No more Mr. Nice Shadow. Hiromi’s preparing his next move, the final section of S racing up to meet them, when a new murmur of excitement goes up from the crowd.
“There he is at last! Cherry, over here!”
Hiromi spares a quick glance over his shoulder and yep, there’s Cherry appearing on the sidelines as if he’s trying to steal all the attention on purpose, but there’s no time to dwell on it. The path through the warehouse is straight ahead, and it’s time for a jump off a crumbling pipe here, flip the board for a little flavor, then manual down the next walkway and…
“What’s up with Joe tonight, though?” Hiromi hears someone ask, faint over all the cheering. (Cheering for him, it’s been way too long since the last time he's heard that.)
Looking back the way he came, Hiromi notices for the first time that Joe’s only just making his way to the finish, waving at his fans, a sheepish grin on his face.
“He’s been so good lately, too. What a let-down.”
“It looked even at the start, but he messed up right when they hit the warehouse and he never caught up again. Not like him to make a mistake like that.”
Gleeful laughter bubbles up from Hiromi’s throat. “YEAH!” he yells to the crowd. Joe’s making his way away from the course, surrounded by a tight knot of followers. Cherry’s there now, too. Cherry says something Hiromi can’t make out, turning up his chin scornfully. Joe laughs.
“YEAH!” Hiromi yells again. “I DID IT!!!”
The next afternoon, Hiromi’s organizing a new shipment of live hibiscus plants when the bell on the shop’s door jingles, and Cherry steps inside. His gaze falls immediately on Hiromi.
“I know who you are,” he announces. Behind his glasses, his eyes seem to almost gleam.
Before Hiromi can reply, Cherry keeps talking. “You’re that strange deliveryman who barged into my apartment the other day.”
“Oh,” Hiromi says, his heartbeat slowing back to normal once more. “Yeah, sorry about that. Got a little carried away, I guess.”
Cherry studies him, a little suspiciously. “Well,” he says at last. “I thought I’d give your services a try myself.”
Hiromi blinks at him as the words sink in. “R-really? Okay. What do you want today? We have…”
“I’m thinking of ordering a bouquet for someone. One of the custom-made ones.”
“What’s the occasion?” Hiromi asks.
Cherry seems to take a moment to gather his thoughts, a look on his face that Hiromi can’t quite make out. “It’s for someone who just lost a…a competition. So, sympathy, sort of. Or encouragement. I did some research, so I have a few ideas already.” He adjusts his glasses, suddenly a little awkward. “But if you had anything you’d recommend…”
Hiromi ducks behind the counter to grab the laminated flower chart, his back turned so that Cherry can’t see the grin on his face. “I'll help you come up with something good,” he promises him.