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small town

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So. New town. Should be exciting, except it's not.

And that's a good thing! Really, it is. Like, everyone's just so sleepy, and relaxed, and nothing ever really happens. Sometimes there's a bluejay on the street corner, pecking at nothing. Last night there was a full moon. Gabe tripped over someone's foot in the park. So entertaining.

...

Okay. So she's bored. Is that a crime? No, but it should be.

Her brother is so profoundly unhelpful, too. He's taking this small-town-chill-vibe thing way too far, watching the local stories like the anchor isn't spinning the same old tale about a new coffee shop opening a few streets away (it has literally been aired seven times in the past month).

"Gabe, I am going crazy," Alex says to him, very seriously. "I am going to knock over the bird feeder. This is what boredom does to a girl."

"Oh no," he says, blue-lit face glued to the screen, "not the bird feeder."

"I'm serious."

Gabe nods absently. The news casts shadows over his eyes. "So am I."

"Ryan'll never forgive you for not stopping me."

He barks out a laugh and shifts on the couch, turns to her. "You really hate Haven that much?"

"No! I actually really like it, it's just..." How is she going to phrase this without hurting his feelings. Boring? No. Uninteresting? Even worse. She feels like she should be a whole lot better at this words thing considering she literally writes songs for fun. "...eventless?"

"I don't think that's a word," Gabe says, leaning back and squinting contemplatively. "But if you're really that bored, I think I've got an idea."

Alex narrows her eyes at him. "Shoot."

 

"So, this is how you wrap the flowers," Ryan says, doing something vague and complicated with his hands and the plastic that she barely follows. "Smile at customers, I guess, I dunno. I kinda just played it by ear."

Alex smiles at him, because even though she has no idea what he just did or said, he's trying. And it's the thought that counts. Also, he's kind of pretty. "Thanks, Ryan."

Turns out, it's fine.

One: nobody comes to the flower shop except random people from the town that she already knows. They're forgiving of any fumbles and mistakes she makes, just demand that she come visit their establishments in return. Which is just- they make her feel at home like she hasn't been in years.

Two: the girl across the street is, like. Attractive.

See, Alex is usually good about crushes. She keeps them hidden unless the other person reciprocates, and then grins and blushes and does the smooth crushy thing that everyone does. She can handle boys, and she can handle girls, and she can handle everyone else, too. She's Alex Chen, okay, she's got all her bases covered - she does the guitar thing herself, so girls with guitars don't make her swoon. She does the muscle thing, so buff people don't make her stammer all that much.

BUT THEN.

The bell above the door jingles in the middle of her second week. Alex looks up from the pale-pink flowers she's wrangling and blinks.

She knows everyone in town. She does not know this girl. She thinks she would've remembered if she did (which is so cliche, god, but. It's true).

"Hi," Alex says.

"Hey!" the person says, slouching over the counter. She's wearing a faded red jacket, a beanie, and her jawline is probably death-inducing. Alex's gaydar beeps like a microwave and doesn't shut up. "Alex, right? I know your brother."

"Yeah, that's me!" Alex carefully sets the flowers aside. They can wait. "Hey, who are you, exactly? Sorry if that was super rude, I've just- never seen you before."

"Oh. My bad. I'm Steph Gingrich," she says, extending a hand. "I work across the street. Just wanted to introduce myself."

Alex takes it a second too late, notes that her palms are cool, and rough. "The tattoo parlor? You work at the tattoo parlor?"

Steph crinkles an eyebrow as she tucks her hand away. "...yes?"

"Woah, sorry. I didn't mean it to sound like that, just-" that's so cool, Alex thinks, and then realizes that is a thought she can actually translate to real life. "I've never met anyone who did ink? Like, that's so cool. Do you draw the designs or, like, do the needle stuff?"

The frown on her face melts into something warm. "Both, actually. Why? You want?"

"Wasn't planning on it," Alex laughs, "but I'd love to come over sometime. Never seen a tattoo artist in action."

"Dude, yeah," Steph slaps the counter with a palm, making Alex jump. "Stop by anytime. Well, not anytime, 'cause I work from ten to three, but close."

It's not her fault, okay, when her eyes catch on the ripple of Steph's forearms. Not her fault when she notices the green, green eyes.

Alex goes: "I'll come by tomorrow. I gotta finish up these, uh. Flower things."

"They're dahlias," says Steph, glancing down at the bouquet. The corner of her mouth tugs downwards, and suddenly, her voice is a lot quieter. "My friend used to love them."

For a moment, Alex pauses, hands still over the pink buds. She kind of wants to say something meaningful, but really, she's not the best with on-the-fly stuff. So she smiles and says the truth, which is, "They're my favorite. I think me and your friend would get along."

"Maybe, maybe not," Steph says, but her mouth curls again.

"These are only, like, a dollar. You could buy one."

She grins, and it sparks something slow and giddy in Alex's chest. "Are you using my emotions for profit, Alex?"

"Yes," she says drily, trying to ignore how good the name sounds from Steph's lips, "I am playing you like a fiddle. Soon I will be exactly one dollar richer."

Steph snorts. She buys a dahlia.

 

Later, her brother asks: "So? Still boring?" and Alex flops back down onto the leather couch, turns her face to watch the news, and says, "Not as much."