oh, i'm feeling older

courage my love will make me bolder

Her apartment is on the third floor; the fifth floor is the roof, community garden, buckets of half-dead flowers and brown hedge boxes, but one corner is green. Fuuka calls Akihiko apologetically, asks for a hand, her building doesn't have an elevator and she's tiny, always been, thin wrists and small hands. He comes over, carries up the fertilizer, the potted palms, trying to keep his gloves clean. Chore complete, she thanks him, smudging dirt on her cheek as she rubs an itch, and he means to leave but doesn't.

Tar-paper roof and a brick wall, waist high, wires from the stairbox to the next building. A single metal chair. Planter boxes filled with dust. She explains to him about flowers and vines and ivy, he sits on the chair and bakes in the sun. How to plant chrysanthemum, how to pick bulbs, how to grow herbs. Dirt is a science, the way she explains it, nitrogen and clay and loam. Not on a roof, she admits, and her smile is small and shows her teeth. He leaves and returns another day, carries her planters, watches her grow tomatoes and tie then with string, watches her tell him about flowers and leaves and roses; comes back and comes back and comes back.

Never heard you talk so much, he tells her; her cheeks turn to match her flowers. Hyacinth, she tells him. I've never heard Senpai talk so little.

They were both the quiet ones, used to following the lead of others: he's not shy but surrounds himself with the vocally opinionated; she is but no longer minds it. The next visit, she shows him lantana, orange bundles with waxy leaves; he takes off his gloves and allows her to set him to planting. Each visit he wraps around an excuse, stopping in flower stores for pots and plants and earth; she knows each one and marvels at them, even without being surprised, thanks him for the gifts, mint and violet and lily.

On the roof, months later, planted hedges and a white canopy making shade, the earthy-rich smell of leaves and basil and flowers. Others in the building use the roof garden now, too, someone's set up a splashing fountain, someone's hung their laundry. It's less relaxing when there are five or six people besides them and he wants to leave, but her hands are buried in a box of coreopsis, wrists thin and white, dirt smudging her face. He kneels beside her and she tells him, thank for your help, Senpai; it's great, now, thanks to you. All that's left is the watering.

She says her goodbyes with cut camellia, a gift of gratitude, and he no longer wears his gloves, no longer tries to keep clean, touches the wax-white petals.

—Admiration, she tells him; the language of flowers. He looks it up and brings her tulip bulbs, heavy in a paper bag; they'll be red, he tells her; can you show me how to plant them?