part one

Kurt set up his flower shop downtown after his father died.

He always had a passion for the beautiful things, stopping to stare admiringly at a perfectly-arranged bouquet, enjoying the way the smell of the flowers wafted throughout the house in the summertime when the wind was heavy and the windows were open. Burt encouraged it. But then, Burt encouraged everything Kurt did.

Kurt bought flowers instead of video games when he got his allowance, and later on when he started earning a paycheck bagging groceries, he bought them for nearly every occasion — birthdays, Christmases, Thanksgivings. He kept them until they began to wilt and eventually started to grow his own.

When Burt died, it was May, and the flowers were starting to bloom. Kurt brought a bouquet to the hospital room everyday. By the time the doctors told him the inevitable fate of his father, the room was already full of the heady scent, so when Burt died, he died with that smell in his nostrils. It was, Kurt thought, a good way to die. A beautiful way to die.

Burt had lived with Kurt in a modest apartment building in Brooklyn for a short time, when it became clear that the hospital back in Lima wouldn't be able to treat his cancer. They spent thousands of dollars on his treatment and in the end, it went to waste. Burt left everything to Kurt.

Kurt went back home to bury his father, in the place he had grown up. Out of nostalgia, out of distress, even, he made the hasty and irrational decision to move back home. He wanted to be closer to where Burt was buried, and though he'd made friends in Brooklyn, he didn't quite know how he'd stand the loneliness of the distance between Burt's final resting place and his apartment. Burt's house was left to him in the will, and Kurt silently settled down.

Then he made the decision to set up shop.

The first time Sam bought flowers from Kurt, it was June. Quinn's birthday was coming up, slowly edging up over the horizon, and he was desperate for something to give her, knowing that if he forgot again, she wouldn't speak to him for weeks again. Hands shoved in his pockets, he shuffled up and down the street, hoping for inspiration to come to him.

Then he smelled the flowers.

Lifting his head, he found almost at once the source — just across the street, a small store painted green on the outside stood nestled in between a cafe and a novelty magic store. The door was wide open, creaking on rusty hinges every time the wind blew. Kurt's is all the sign read in pink embroidery.

Sam hunched his shoulders and looked twice before crossing the road, stepping past the threshold with a moment's hesitation. The entire store smelled of something sickly sweet. Sam stared at a line of vases with roses, daffodils, tulips, many more he couldn't name, sitting just before an open window. It emanated springtime.

Someone cleared his throat. Sam glanced up, momentarily blinded by the face over the counter. Brown hair slicked back, green eyes wide, pale skin which was so unusual during these hot days. There was a hint of sunburn on his cheeks. This, Sam thought, must be the store's namesake.

"Uh," and he shifted his weight to one side nervously, "Kurt, I'm guessing?"

A smile so full and genuine that Sam couldn't look straight at it, like looking at the sun. "The one and only." A chuckle that sent a warm feeling to Sam's stomach.

Sam returned the smile. "My girlfriend's birthday," he blurted out, gesturing vaguely to the green wallpaper. "It's in a week. I was just — you know, looking to buy her something."

Kurt rested his elbow on the counter, fitting his chin in his palm, watching Sam with a calmness and ease that Sam almost envied. "How serious are you about her?"

The exceedingly personal question threw Sam off-guard. "I'd guess, uh — I don't know." He said he loved her without feeling or heart. She smiled at him and it felt flat. But he'd liked her for some time, enjoyed having her around. "I guess it's serious enough." He didn't quite like the way his voice trembled.

Kurt swung around the counter, pointing to the vase of daffodils. "The daffodils mean happiness. The red roses, over there — true love. Lavender, devotion. It's all about what you want to convey."

Sam flushed red. "Where'd you learn this stuff?"

"Sometimes you just know." Up close, Kurt smelled just like the store — sweet and sour and flowery too, like he bathed in it. "Red roses are universal. It's a language everyone knows how to speak."

Sam stared long and hard at the roses, a tight feeling in his chest. "How much is a dozen of those?"

He could feel Kurt's gaze on him, but he didn't look back, somehow feeling ashamed, like he was lying. "$40." His breath even smelled sweet. "I can deliver them to her with a personalized note for an extra $5."

"Yeah. Yeah, okay." He fished out a few tens and fives, what he made from odd jobs in and around the town. "Just, uh — write that I love her, and stuff."

"Address?" Kurt popped the cap off a pen with his teeth, quickly scribbling it down. Sam could feel his heart thrumming in his chest, tightening and contracting. He was bad at gifts, but underneath Kurt's gaze, he felt even worse about it. Like he was telling a lie to his girlfriend. To everyone.

Kurt gave him a beaming smile and Sam swallowed thickly. "It was really nice meeting you — er, I didn't catch your —"

"Sam." He gave a weak grin. "Sam Evans."

(And so it began.)

Sam moved to Lima to be closer to his family. They were struggling with money and needed his help — his father wasn't as young as he used to be, and construction work was hard to find these days. Stevie and Stacey, his twin siblings, were teenagers now, and they'd benefit from having him around. Sam always had trouble saying no to his dad. He moved to Lima, abandoning college in Columbus to take community college courses until his family could get back on their feet.

He did whatever jobs he could to help generate income, but it wasn't until he landed a job with Burt Hummel at the auto-repair shop in town that he was able to give significant help. The money wasn't fantastic, but Sam was a quick learner and Burt a good teacher, and he found himself enjoying working with his hands. It was there that Sam met Quinn. Sometimes, she would perch herself on a stool and watch him work, silent and peaceful; before long, it was a regular habit. Silence was their virtue — maybe because if someone opened their mouth, they'd say the wrong thing.

Since then, Burt had to close down the shop, at first temporarily but soon indefinitely, when they discovered a tumor in his brain and had to move him up to New York to be with his son. Sam sometimes drove by the place in his truck, hoping miraculously to see it up and running again, but through the grapevine he heard that Burt's illness progressed and he died up in Brooklyn. They buried him in Lima — Sam was too busy looking for work to visit him yet. He barely had any time for Quinn.

The sad thing was that Sam didn't think he loved her quite like he should. He'd had girlfriends in high school, but they were faceless and plain, like they didn't matter. Quinn was much the same, except he genuinely cared for her — just not like he should. Sometimes, when he had his arm around her, he would catch her staring off into the distance, thinking of something else, someone else, and it was almost tragic to him that they carried on pretending.

(Sam thought about Kurt more than he cared to admit.)

"Did your girlfriend like the flowers?"

Sam rolled his shoulders despondently. Before the week was even up, when they were innocently watching a movie, Sam's arm awkwardly fitted around her shoulders, Quinn turned to him and said, calmly, in a voice unlike her own, that they should simply split up. "We're not doing us any good."

Sam hadn't objected to the flatness of her voice, and she sent him a nice thank-you card for the flowers, but no indication being that she regretted what she said. Sam felt like he could finally breathe.

But out of guilt, he felt he couldn't tell Kurt what happened. He had spent so much of his time delicately and intricately arranging the bouquet. It would seem too much of a waste.

"She liked them," Sam said, dully, but if Kurt noticed the weakness behind the words, he didn't question it. Instead, he grinned wide, his cheeks blooming with color and his eyes crinkling with pleasure.

"I'm glad." Sam watched the way Kurt's eyes lit up with genuine excitement at the news and couldn't keep a smile off his face. "I'm assuming you're just back to thank me?"

Sam hesitated. Not for the first time, he found himself thinking mindlessly about Kurt and the shop, the green wallpaper and the smell of flowers and sunlight, the way the room seemed to glow with the sense of springtime. He was simply walking along the street, mulling over things, and found himself stepping into the shop, almost by accident. He figured it was time he visited Burt's grave, and maybe it was just his mind's way of telling him to leave flowers.

"I'm here for more flowers, actually," Sam admitted, ducking his head. "A dozen daffodils, this time."

Kurt laughed, shaking his head. "You're my biggest fan, you know? Wal-Mart sells them for $20 cheaper." Nevertheless, he stepped around the counter to count the flowers in the bouquet he kept for display. "You'd have a much easier time going there."

Sam watched him work with a sick fascination, watched his fingers glide over the stems and the petals, as if terrified they'll break under feather-soft weight. He swallowed soundly and managed a weak laugh. "I feel like you put a lot more care into it, I guess." Kurt's eyes were so focused on the flowers that Sam was afraid he hadn't heard him.

"It's my life," Kurt said simply, and Sam didn't doubt it. "I know that probably sounds crazy."

"I don't think it sounds crazy," Sam murmured quietly, still staring at Kurt's hands. "I think it's pretty cool you love it so much." Sam didn't really feel that way about anything.

Kurt finished his quick arrangement of the flowers, glancing up at last to give Sam a wide smile. "I don't think anyone's ever noticed it before. Except for my dad." There was a heavy sadness behind the words that Sam didn't dare touch upon, and Kurt's smile faltered for a hairbreadth of a second.

"How much?" Sam would do anything to distract Kurt from the dark memory flitting behind his eyes.

"$15. I think buying two arrangements in the span of two weeks warrants you a half-off deal."

Sam grinned. "Good call." He gently placed a ten and a five on the counter, taking the bouquet in both hands. He gave a muffled thank-you.

From behind him, Kurt yelled, "I hope your girlfriend likes them again."

Sam felt his heart sink.

Every week for the next month, Sam wandered into Kurt's shop, buying a dozen flowers and carrying them back to his truck, making the short journey to the cemetery just a few blocks away. He left them on Burt's grave and came back a few days later to pick them up before they began to rot, and the cycle went over and over and over. Each time, Kurt wished Sam good luck, hoping his girlfriend would enjoy the flowers, and each time Sam never admitted the truth.

On the fourth week, Sam buys chrysanthemums. When Kurt finds them lying on his father's grave four days later, he doesn't say a thing. He doesn't even breathe. He turns around, shifting his body just a sliver, until he can see Sam standing there, frozen, out of the corner of his eye.

And everything just kind of — clicks.