After six years, he was finally going to do something. Six years of street games or run-ins at corner shops or tips of hats or glances between bookshelves, Skoochy was going to make something of it.
He was terrified.
He'd known Jinora for over half a decade. He'd seen her, talked to her a few times. They'd played games sometimes when they were children. He wouldn't have even wanted to say anything to her now if it weren't for the times he'd caught her staring at him from between the pages of her books or the flush that rose on her cheeks when he'd say "Morning, Jinora" on his way to work. He probably never would have said another word if it weren't for the flustered way she'd dropped her books on the asphalt last week when he said he liked her tattoos.
Yet here he was. He rifled through the battered leather suitcase he kept wedged between wooden crates in an alleyway. His clothes hadn't been washed in a few days and he was suddenly very aware of the way his hair tufted out from under his hat. He pulled on the best-smelling shirt and pants he had and made a note to walk by the perfume vendors before he saw her.
On his way there, he tried to think of anything his father might've said about women before he died. Most of Skoochy's memories of his parents were blurry or morphed or faded, but he conjured an image of his father handing his mother flowers. He wasn't even sure if this memory was real but it seemed natural enough, so he picked some flowers illegally in the park. As he rounded the corner, his palms began to sweat against the stems of the blooms so he transitioned carrying the flowers in one hand while he wiped the other across his pant leg.
He took a seat at Wan Shi Tong's Book Sellers, Jinora's favorite store. She went there on this day once a week to thumb through old volumes or buy new books or read novels while drinking Lychee juice.
The sun made its way high in the sky and began to dip back down and Skoochy began to worry. What if Jinora didn't come? Would all his efforts had been for naught? He couldn't bare to think he'd have to do this all over again.
The day lulled into evening. Skoochy thought about giving up and going back to the alley when he realized his feet had fallen asleep and his legs were still shaking. He figured if he stood anytime soon, his knees would buckle and he'd fall over, so for that reason he concluded that he'd stay there until next week waiting for Jinora if he had to.
It was well into the evening and Skoochy had plucked off the petals and leaves from the flowers he'd illegally obtained from the park. He was feeling hopeless, but his legs weren't any steadier.
In that moment, he caught a flick of long brown hair from the corner of his eye. He turned to see Jinora hurriedly pulling books from shelves. He found the strength to stand – he'd be damned if he did nothing once more – and inched over to the clerk's counter slowly, withered buds still in hand.
"I'm sorry I'm in such a rush today," Jinora explained breathlessly to the clerk as she counted out coins on the counter. "I was caught up on the island and my dad thought it was too late for me to be out. I had to beg him to let me come, because I've got nothing to read, you see." She exchanged her yuans for the stack of novels and said a hurried "thank you" and – whack – ran right into Skoochy.
"Oh, hi Skoochy," she said, stopping in her tracks and hugging her books to her chest. Pink splotches crept up her neck as she stared up at him.
"Hi, Jinora." He was about to hand her the flowers when he remembered he'd shredded them, so he dropped the bundle behind his back and kicked them away. "Jinora, I ..." He cleared his throat and spoke in even tones, staring right above her eyes. "Jinora, I think you're very beautiful and I want to ask you if you'd like to go out with me sometime."
Jinora couldn't help it when her lips parted into a small 'o.' "I ...I..." She laughed lightly and nervously. "Yes, Skoochy, I'd love to go out with you sometime."
Skoochy was no prince charming. He was goofy and lanky and a little awkward, but she hugged her books to her chest and bit her bottom lip at the tufts of hair poking adorably out of his cap and she knew she'd jump into a volcano for him any day.