"Please, Mr. Jasper."
I could feel my knees trembling; how could I stop them? Asking an old white man to cut up his tree for a first date would already be bad enough, doing so after the balcony incident is definitely a great reason to kick me off his property. A scrutinizing gaze scoured me. I hoped my outfit waved a white flag of modesty; has he ever seen me in casual business attire? Shoes polished, two buttons open and a bouquet of fresh roses should hint at innocent (well, innocent enough) activities.
"Cherry blossoms, huh?" His voice, rough as ever, raised my hopes with his curious undertone. "What, did you Google their meanin' or somethin'?"
I took a breath, gently fixing my grip so that my index finger would quit being poked by a thorn. "No, she... she loves cherry blossoms."
"Did she tell you that?"
"Yes, Mr. Jasper." A pause. "Just a small branch would do, we are only on our second date... well, somewhat second..."
"Give me those roses."
I stuttered over my words for a moment, fist almost instinctively clenching the bouquet. "Pardon?"
"Roses are not for first dates young man -such a bold and common move, even you should know better. Hand them over." Mr. Jasper held his hands out expectantly, and after a moment of doubt I caved and handed him the bouquet. "Wait here."
Without another word from either of us, Mr. Jasper shut his door with his usual abrupt thump. Old habits die hard I suppose. I fixed my shirt and cleared my throat as quietly as I could, wondering when she would come and how embarrassing our first face-to-face meet would be in my current state. I could hardly slow my fingers; fixing my collar, flailing over my top buttons (were two open too much?), casually brushing my pants from their nonexistent dust. All I could hope for was a good first impression. Just then, a gentle tap at my ankle helped curl a (very manly I swear) squeak out of me as I jumped into the railing slightly.
"Pardon me, is this apartment complex 52?"
I knew that voice, and I could hardly contain my shock as I looked up to see delicate, brown eyes gazing past me. "Paulina?"
"Oh my goodness, Teddy?"
Yep, that was her; that adorable white dress in her profile picture, hair intricately weaved into a braid and a pale pink cane gently swaying side to side to bump into the next step. Thinking quickly I held out my hand, murmuring for her to gently reach forward to her left; her hand met mine and she murmured her thanks, awkwardly giggling as I pulled her closer to me until she stood on the banister comfortably.
"Thank you, steps have always been tricky for me..."
"Oh believe me, these two left feet of mine are no help." I couldn't help but grin at her laugh, as beautiful as the one I heard over the phone not so long ago. Paulina was about to speak but paused when the door opened to reveal Mr. Jasper once more; to my relief, this grump of a grandpa had amassed a beautiful bouquet of violets surrounding a long, winding branch delicately hugged by fragile cherry blossoms. Paulina's eyebrows perked up in surprise and she breathed in deeply, leaning forward expectantly.
"Ah yes, this must be the beautiful young lady," Mr. Jasper murmured, voice tender and polite as he handed me the bouquet. I couldn't help but chuckle at how Paulina bounced on the balls of her feet, hand easily wrapping around the thin stems (tied by a piece of twine- man did this grandpa know his stuff) as she took in their scent, eyes scanning their delicate petals.
"How beautiful," she murmured in awe, now grinning. "These must be violets, they have such a unique scent... oh, their colour is simply magnificent, I can only imagine how they look in a bright light..."
I watched as she brought her face close, breathing in their aroma as Mr. Jasper gave me a knowing wink. I gently excused us, giving a secret giddy grin to Mr. Jasper before helping Paulina down the steps, both of us flinching as his door shut quite loudly; I made a mental note to help Mr. Jasper install a proper door closer.
"No way," Paulina suddenly gasped, her cute nose delicately brushing against one of the cherry blossoms. I allowed a half smug, half proud smile as her gaze glanced up in my general direction, jaw slack.
"Smell nice, don't they?"
"How? You're on the fourth floor, no way did you pick these on your own!"
"Hey, I have my sources just as you have yours." I allowed a chuckle as Paulina gave another giddy skip, delicately bumping her nose into the stick before inhaling, smile becoming wider with every breath. "Do they really smell that nice?"
"To me it's more of a nostalgia thing, I guess," Paulina murmured, letting her walking stick hang from a loop on her wrist to feel the petals with a whisper-gentle touch. "I told you about Japan, how vibrant and expressive a country can be... their cherry blossoms are my favorite part, whenever I visit my parents. How I miss seeing them, full bloom, on my way to work."
How could you not listen to her talk forever? Her voice was warm honey tea, soothing over you as you soaked in every word. I cleared my throat and after pinching myself asked her if she was hungry, to which she proceeded to whine about accidentally forgetting breakfast and making me want to kiss her face all over. I began leading her to my favorite café just two blocks away, not thinking twice before offering her my arm; I wished I could see that same blush over and over, her arm wrapped around my bicep as Paulina talked of new orders for her shop and how her mother was coming to visit and possibly stay. I listened to ever word, gently leading us around puddles and passerby's. As if the hours merged together in a waltz, one moment I was sharing a sandwich, the next I was asking her to tell me every type of flower she knew and loved; then we were being politely kicked out of the café at eight in the evening. Paulina kept giggling at all my jokes and funny stories, I kept on gazing at that beautiful smile that shone brighter than the lamps gently brightening our path back to my apartment, where her brother would pick her up. Multiple times, I considered asking her to stay over and have some more coffee, one more croissant she kept on stealing from my plate. I had to remind myself that this was only a first date, that I knew better than to make her uncomfortable in any way.
"Oh my," Paulina suddenly squeaked, giggling. I looked down at her, making a strange sound -half chuckle half gasp- when I saw her side bangs all over her face. Thinking quickly, I used my free hand to help brush her hair aside, using gentle skims and touches to not harm her by any means. As the last of her hair was carefully tucked behind her ear, I looked deep into her eyes and swore we saw one another. Maybe not with our eyes, but with our souls, gently meeting in a place of comfort and peace. Paulina simply smiled, gently bonking our foreheads together as if knowing we both felt the same; cautiously and madly in love. After a moment's hesitation I gave her head a peck, allowing a flustered grin at her delighted hum. If it weren't for her brother pulling up beside us, I would have definitely asked for a kiss. Surprisingly, as we said our goodbyes, Paulina made a cute act of taking my hand and kissing the back, smiling like a goof at how I sputtered in thanks. I practically danced home, climbing up my steps with a spring in my heel and twirling through my door until I collapsed on my bed, waiting until the caffeine settled in my veins. My happily clouded state of mind was gently interrupted by the buzzing of my phone, wondering if a message could join the party.
A picture, taken by I'm assuming Paulina's brother. An angel stood in front of a small flower shop, holding a bouquet of violets and a single cherry blossom branch with both arms and a knowing smile. Her eyes were closed, and yet I felt as if we saw each other once more, heart to heart.