By: TG (musichika_tg on LJ)
Disclaimer: I own nothing!
Summary: Normally Arthur's Valentine's Days are filled with flowers, thorns, demanding customers, and long days. This year, it's about to get a little different. In a good way.
AN: THIS IS WHAT I'VE GONE THROUGH FOR THE LAST FOURTEEN DAYS. And in case you were wondering, the experiences Arthur's had are actually based on mine. Also I guess I should warn here: past (very fleetingly mentioned) FrUK and the entire thing's in present tense 0_0 I'm sorry!
Written for Sweethearts Week Day 7 -Valentine's Day
For most couples, Valentine's Day is a day which defines, celebrates, and honors the love they share between them, be it fleeting or everlasting. Really, the day is supposed to be about appreciation. Arthur often thinks, with each new Valentine's Day that comes and passes, that people sometimes lose sight of the true meaning of the holiday (technically not a holiday, though, and Arthur never fails to remind Francis of that whenever the latter whines about not getting time off work to spend drinking the day away at the local pub). Valentine's Day is just another consumer holiday, a reason for people to buy their love's good graces.
And of course working in a floral shop just proves the theory.
It is not as though Arthur doesn't enjoy working in the floral shop; despite the downs of funeral sprays, he loves what he does for a living. There is nothing like handing a child a flower or a balloon and watching their cherubic little faces light up, and there is nothing like watching a bride's face the first time she sees her bouquet. The unbridled happiness that people get from seeing his arrangements makes him happy –and despite his gruff demeanor, he does love to make others happy.
Yes, he loves working in the floral shop…351 days out of the year, at least. It's the week before and the week of Valentine's that saps his resolve and makes him wonder if he really has the strength to put up with this. And he doesn't just mean the Valentine's rush.
Arthur is single, has been for quite a while, and even though he doesn't begrudge his customers one bit, he still finds it difficult to keep a stiff upper lip while wading through coolers full of roses and heart shaped balloons and boxes of chocolates and simpering women. It is not that he misses being in a relationship. With friends like Francis, who needs a relationship?
Incidentally, Francis is his latest fling which had ended rather poorly, though they still remain friends. It has actually become tradition, surprisingly enough, for the two of them to meet up each year after Arthur's Valentine's Day shift to get themselves piss drunk. Though Francis takes every opportunity to annoy the bloody hell out of him, Arthur really is grateful for his company, and their 'anti-Valentine's dates' are perhaps the only things that keep Arthur sane during the rush.
And when you work twelve hour days every day for two weeks, that night at the bar starts to sound pretty damn good, even if it is with a frog who keeps (futilely) trying to get into your pants.
Normally the floral shop Arthur works in gets several hundred dollars' worth of business each day; the shop is pretty popular and has its regular patrons. But during Valentine's Day, the shop does over $10,000 each day, which is about ten times the amount of business it normally sees. The shop owners have a list of volunteers who take time off from their jobs to come and help out, and even though they have three extra pairs of hands, ears, feet and eyes, it still isn't enough.
February fifth is the beginning of the madness. The first couple of days they only get a few extra boxes of flowers, and a few boxes of extra buckets for the coolers, and Arthur somehow manages to convince himself that this isn't so bad. A few days later, though, and he remembers why he hates this time of year.
On the ninth they get forty-seven boxes of flowers; they normally get twenty boxes over the course of a week, so forty-seven in one day is obscene, in Arthur's humble opinion. That is when the extra helpers are called in, and all seven employees stay hours after they are scheduled trying to strip, cut, and dip a thousand roses while taking care of customers, fielding phone orders, and trying to keep the cooler stocked with fresh arrangements.
Around the eleventh is when Arthur starts getting moody. Forty-seven boxes of flowers seem easy-peasy compared to what they're getting in now, and of course they are dealing with even more phone calls and customers than before. Arthur wouldn't mind this normally; customers are what keep the shop running, they feed money into Arthur's livelihood and it's always nice when people appreciate the arrangements he spends so long on. Even though Arthur is rather introverted in some ways, he really loves the customers.
Arthur has noticed two different types of customers on Valentine's Day –the simpering, starstruck lover who loves everything and has hearts in their eyes, and then there's the gruff customer who is unwilling to admit that they are happy but can't seem to hide it, either. Arthur is amused and intrigued by both types of customer, as long as they are polite and grateful for his time.
There is always one or two who aren't, of course, and Arthur is dealing with one now.
"I'm sorry, sir. I know that arrangement is shown on the poster but we ran out of that vase. And we don't have any pink roses left, either, I'm afraid," Arthur says, trying to sound sympathetic but worried that his impatience was showing through; the man can't make up his mind and is taking up all the time he could be spending on other customers waiting patiently behind him for service.
"That's fucking stupid," the man replies and brushes a hand up through his silvery-white locks, outright ignoring a mother's outraged gasp as her child gazes inquisitively up at her. "Then just give me a dozen classic red, it's not like I give a damn."
"Then why are you ordering a dozen roses if you don't care! They're the most expensive flower we have right now!" Arthur says, resisting the urge to throw his hands up in annoyance.
"Just give me the goddamn roses," the man replies, and Arthur grumbles but grabs an order sheet to start taking down addresses and phone numbers necessary for delivery.
"…and who is this going to?" He asks, pen hovering over the line marked 'Deliver To.'
"My wife, Natalya. I guess she's my wife," the man replies, grumbling and looking even more agitated than before.
"You guess?" Arthur says dryly before he can stop himself.
"Well it's not like we've been living together for the last two months."
Arthur couldn't help it –he snorted. Who spends $70 on a bouquet of expensive red roses on a woman whom you practically aren't even married to? But the man hears it and becomes enraged, and Arthur barely has time to duck out of the way as he swipes an arm across the counter, knocking off glass vases and delicate flowers. The vases shatter and the glass is everywhere; Arthur can't move without hearing the crunch of glass under his feet. The Brit is shocked and barely has time to flinch as the man lifts up one of the vases that didn't shatter and prepares to throw it at him.
When the vase does not come flying at his head, he looks up, worried that the crazy white-haired man has turned on his other customers. Instead he is greeted with calm, brilliant blue eyes and a reassuring smile. The other customer is nowhere to be found; but then again, neither are half of the people who had been waiting in line for service.
Arthur sighs and dusts his work shirt off, watching as tiny bits of glass fall to the floor. The manager comes out from the back room and makes a strangled noise in the back of her throat when she sees the damage.
"Arthur! What have you –? Oh my god, are you okay?"
"Yes, Erzsabet, I'm fine," he replies, sounding calmer than he actually is. In reality his heart is still pitter-pattering inside his chest and his breaths are fast and shallow.
"He's been attacked," the blue-eyed blond at the counter supplies, making Erzsabet's eyes grow huge.
"Oh Arthur, don't worry about the mess, I'll clean up," she says. "Please, just go home for the day. I'm sure we'll be fine without you for a few hours. We're closing soon, anyway."
Arthur tries to argue but he should remember that there is no arguing with Erzsabet, so he ends up going home for the night.
He comes back in the next day –the twelfth –at six in the morning. The shop doesn't technically open until eight but because of the incident the previous day he is now several orders behind and has to catch up.
Arthur unlocks the door and walks in, only to stop in his tracks. On his workspace is a gorgeous arrangement of delphinium, bachelor buttons and daffodils.
'Hm… Anticipation, chivalry and boldness,' he thinks, recalling the meanings of the flowers from one of his many flower encyclopedias at home.
He thinks the arrangement is beautiful until he notices the card is addressed to him. He swallows, reading Erzsabet's familiar swirly handwriting, and backs away from the flowers. The thought that someone would send him flowers simultaneously intrigues and scares him.
He tells himself he won't look at the card until he catches up on his orders. He works diligently all morning as the shop blooms to life around him, and by the time he is ready to look at the card it is well into the afternoon and it's time to take his break.
He sits down in the break room in the back of the shop and stares at the card for a good five minutes before he talks himself into opening it. The card is one of those little cards that come with the arrangements, one he has seen a million times in the last week, but it somehow seems different when it is addressed to him.
The message is simple (and the grammar simply horrendous), but the card he holds in his hands holds such possibilities.
Dear B (I'm callin' u B bc ur beautiful),
Do u believe in love at first sight? Yeah I don't either. It's kind of stupid or thats what I thought until yesterday. I saw u behind the counter, dealing with that scary dude and u were so calm even though he was threatening u. I really admired that. It was very heroic.
Here Arthur has to turn the card over to finish reading the scrawled message.
If I revealed myself to u, would u consider going on a date with me when u get off work on Tuesday? I only saw u for a minute and I thought u were amazing. I can't help but want to spend more time with u.
A. F. J.
Arthur shakes his head, dazed. These kinds of things just don't happen to him, and he thinks that there is probably a catch. No one can possibly be interested in him in that way…can they?
The Brit puts the card back with the arrangement and gets on with his work. Obviously this is a fluke –perhaps someone who wants to make fun of him for how poorly he handled the customer incident yesterday, or someone just wanting to poke fun at his eyebrows. He ignores the fleeting idea that this could be something real, if only he gives it a chance; the thought is too scary and he has been let down too many times in the past, so it is easier for him, perhaps even automatic, to ignore any advances like this.
The day passes in much the same way as the previous day and eventually he stumbles his way home on tired legs and sore feet.
He is surprised when he arrives in the morning and finds yet another arrangement waiting for him at his workspace, this time with lilac, hyacinth and red tulips ('First love, sincerity, and declaration of love,' he recites in his mind). Instead of waiting, he looks around to make sure he is alone (he is, it is only six in the morning) and then makes a beeline for the card.
Have u thought about that date yet?
I hope so, because I'm going to be coming in the shop tomorrow night.
Turn me down, accept me, whatever. I just want to see u.
I hope u have a good day today.
A. F. J.
He isn't given time to think about this card today; the thirteenth is always their third busiest day of the year, behind only Valentine's Day itself and Mother's Day, and of course someone calls in sick so they are forced to do their best a person short. It's hard to get anything done, especially when Arthur ends up sitting at the phone, taking order after order for literally an hour straight, and eventually they have to stop accepting phone calls or else risk not finishing their orders. Of course there are the customers who take ages to decide what they want but still expect Arthur to wait on them as they stand there and stare at the cooler with glazed eyes, and there are rude customers who throw fits when Arthur tells them the shop has run out of certain kinds of flowers, and the people who mutter into their phones when calling in orders so that Arthur has to ask them to repeat their information a dozen times before he finally gets it right.
When all is said and done, Arthur has worked for fourteen hours straight, and the shop has done over $25,000 worth of business. It is the most stressful day of Arthur's year (only because by the time Valentine's rolls around, he is too spent to be that worried).
"Erzsabet, are you ready to leave?" He calls tiredly into the back room, where the shop's manager is making more bows in preparation for the coming day. There is a rustling and the snip of scissors and then Erzsabet appears in the doorway, looking as tired as Arthur is feeling.
She smiles at him and shakes her head, saying "You go on ahead, Arthur. You did a good job today, like you always do. I'll lock up when I'm finished."
He nods, throws his coat over his shoulders and plods home. By the time he gets there, he is too tired and sore to eat, and even though it is only nine in the evening he just goes straight to bed, exhausted.
On Valentine's Day he once again finds himself walking through the floral shop doors at six in the morning, only this time he is not the only one there; he practically runs into the shy but creative Matthew on the way, and they walk in together. He is glad that Matthew is helping out today, because his presence has an almost soothing effect on the Brit and Valentine's Day always rattled his nerves.
"Oh!" Matthew exclaims softly, drawing Arthur's attention to his workspace where, once again, a lovely arrangement is sitting, waiting for him. Matthew approaches the arrangement first, fingering the delicate petals of the lisianthus.
"Hm… Lisianthus, iris and—?"
"Alstroemaria," Arthur supplies, fingers already untucking the card from its envelope.
Please be mine tonight.
And good luck today. As u Brits say, keep calm and carry on.
A. F. J.
Arthur pinches the card between his finger and thumb and allows the corner of his mouth to curve up. This A. F. J. fellow was confident, had confidence in him, and Arthur could practically feel the soothing effect of the man's words –combined with the flowers –already take effect. Aspiration, inspiration, calm.
Arthur breathes in, holds it, and lets it rush out again, as though one breath can prepare him for the chaos to come. He spares a moment to pluck the card and envelope from its pic and slip it into his pocket –his very own worry stone.
The day passes both quickly and slowly. The first part of the day is insane –even more so than the previous day. The phones ring off the hook, the counter is never void of customers, the cash register is always chiming. Arthur is so incredibly busy that he does not have time to spare a thought for the possible upcoming date; he is one of three designers that Erzsabet's shop employs, and he has not moved from his work station (except to answer the phone or tend a customer if the volunteers were busy) in well over eleven hours. Not even to take a break.
But by five in the afternoon everything has been delivered. The employees are so wiped that they can barely muster up the gumption to say thank you to the local church members who volunteered their time to prepare all the orders for delivery. Thankfully the orders had slowed to a trickle early on, and by three they'd had to close the shop to customers and stop taking phone calls because there were so few flowers left in the cooler. Erzsabet had been upset at potentially losing money, but the rest of the employees had secretly cheered when she locked the door after the last customer that afternoon; they had spent the next two hours filling orders.
It is now eight, and all of the volunteers have gone home. Arthur is indescribably thankful that they had closed when they did; it means that he will get to go home and rest his tired feet and not have to work until ten at night like last year.
He sweeps, takes out the garbage, cleans out the buckets and dries them, and when he can find nothing else that needs doing, he grabs his coat from the back and gets ready to leave. Just as he is locking the door and turning around to go out the back there is a loud bang on the glass. Arthur jumps in surprise and whirls around, ready to give the hooligan what-for, but he is stopped in his tracks, jaw hanging open in shock.
The man with blue eyes and blond hair, who had helped him deal with that crazy customer a few days prior.
The man says something, which of course Arthur cannot hear through the glass. Seeming to realize his mistake, the blond breathes on the glass and writes (in surprisingly acceptable grammar, considering his arrangement cards) "I'm here to pick you up for our date." The silly git ruins the mood by next drawing a scrawgly smiley face, but his hopeful grin and bright eyes make up for the mark of immaturity.
Arthur huffs and fights down a smile and decides to unlock the door. He's had a long day, but maybe this man can make it better. He won't know until he gives it a chance, right?
Just as he's about to turn the key to what could possibly be the beginning of a new path in his life ('Don't get too hasty, old chap,' he thinks to himself), his phone chimes, signaling a text message.
We still on for tonight? ;)
For a moment Arthur feels the weight of his decision and he hesitates, but one glance at the beautiful man smiling down at him from the freezing cold makes up his mind. He types out a message to Francis, unlocks the door, and steps into the warmth of the blond's embrace.
"Hi," he says after he pulls back. "My name's Alfred!"
Sorry, frog, I've got a date.
Francis leans back in his chair and grins behind the glass of wine at his lips.
"Well done, mon ami."
OMAKE –TWO YEARS LATER
"So, how did you manage to sneak in those arrangements, anyway? I'd been working open to close every day," Arthur asks, genuinely curious.
Alfred laughs and curls his fingers slightly in the back pocket of Arthur's jeans. Even though they are in public, and though Arthur hates public displays of affection, he supposes he can make an exception for his lover on Valentine's Day.
"It was the boss-lady, Erzsabet. You remember that crazy Russian dude who tried to throw a vase at your head? Yeah, it was that afternoon. She'd sent you home and I remember thinking how beautiful and brave you were, and I just knew, ya know?"
"So you ordered an arrangement to be made each night after I went home…so that's why Erzsabet never left before me!"
"That's right, sweetheart!"
"Well that was a stupid thing to waste your money on. The prices –"
"—were totally worth it. Brought you to me, after all," Alfred mutters. They have stopped walking by now, just a roadblock in the middle of the sidewalk. Arthur reaches a hand up and gently touches the pads of his fingers to Alfred's cheek, smiling as the man hums in contentment and closes his eyes.
"You are such a wanker, saying things like that," Arthur says sternly. "I love you."
"I love you, too, Artie."
The couple kisses under a coffee shop awning, and Arthur is reminded again (for the millionth time in the last two years) of how glad he is that he took that chance and accepted Alfred's date.
AN: EL FIN. I found the information about the flowers on (about flowers (.) com), if anyone cares to know.
And yes, the crazy customer was Russia, and his estranged wife is Belarus. Hungary was the shop owner/manager, Canada was one of the volunteers. And Francis was, of course, France.
TG © February 2012