“I think it’s funny, don’t you?”
“What could possibly be funny about this conversation, Lane?”
“It’s just— we’re both in the business of piecing things together,” he says, “but neither of us knows how to keep a relationship from falling apart.”
I frown. “How does that have anything to do with—”
“You’re breaking up with me, right?”
“Well, yeah,” I stumble, struggling to control my frustration. All I wanted was a clean break. A satisfying end. And off he goes and beats me to it.
“It’s fine, I guess,” he says. He watches me, his hazel eyes wide and expectant like lilies. “If that’s what you really want.”
“What do you mean, ‘if that’s what I want?’ Obviously it is, or I wouldn’t be doing it.”
“Okay,” he shrugs. He begins collecting his things and takes a final sip of his coffee.
“Why are you so okay with this?” I ask. I thought I was worth more to him than a shrug goodbye.
“I dunno. I guess I’ll see you around,” he says. Lane shoulders his bag and walks away, leaving me to fume alone at our regular spot in our favorite coffee shop.
On the drive home, I pass by his floristry shop. Roses and lilies and orchids line the windows like sentinels. They stare into me as if to shame me, petals and stamens sharp with accusations.
I remember he tried to teach me about flower language once, back before we started dating.
“Iris, it means ‘a message,’” he said, handing me a delicate flower.
“How mysterious,” I replied, holding it at a distance, as if it might crumble should I hold it too close. I always was bad with plants.
“This one’s a calla lily.” He passed it to me, already looking for the next flower. “It means beauty.”
“Oh my, I’m flattered,” I said jokingly. His ears flushed red and I started to catch on.
He walked to another corner of the shop and came back with two more flowers. “Violet, for faithfulness. And a red tulip.”
I took the flowers and looked at him, waiting. He stared at the bouquet in my hands for a while as if the paper-thin petals would fortify him.
“It means ‘declaration of love.’”
That was the first time we kissed, with flowers pressed between us like a promise.
I get home, ignore his sweater lying on the arm of the couch, and settle down at my desk to work. There are piles of books strewn about the room, some left open, others with papers or pens sitting inside them to mark a specific page.
My laptop sits open, twenty-three tabs active on my browser. And beside it, a messy college-ruled notebook, covered in scribbled phrases, dark lines, and circled names, dates, facts.
I set my playlist to shuffle and sink into the familiar haze of my research.
Still, he lingers in the footnotes of the pages as I write, the scent of jasmine and sage almost tangible in the air. I hate that he has become tied to me, ivy on the walls of a red brick home.
He used to sit on my bed in the corner of the room, reading books taken at random from my shelves and listening along to the Mendelssohns. We played a game where he tried to guess if a song was by Fanny or Felix. If he got it wrong, he put a dollar in our coffee fund jar.
He paid for all of our coffee shop dates.
I stare at the draft of my dissertation, examine the score of Das Yahr, let the richness of the music flood the room. I hope it will fill the space he left empty. Instead, I see leaves and vines in the measures of the music, and realize that he was right; I wasn’t going to be rid of him so easily.
It wasn’t long into dating Lane that I realized he was steady. His hands never wavered as he pruned the herbs in his kitchen windowsill. He never said anything he didn’t mean, not even when he was angry. He always looked at me with his wide-open lily eyes as if I was the sun itself.
He wasn’t perfect. I knew that before we started dating. He liked to be right, even when he didn’t know enough to have a real opinion. He listened halfway if he wasn’t interested in the topic, like there was something about silence that was more important.
I wasn’t perfect either. I hated letting him help with anything, letting him into the safety of my solitude. He had to fight his way through, like a tree growing roots into stone.
Nearly a year of growing together, and I’m just now realizing how deeply he is woven into me.
I wake up at 11:21 am, my face planted firmly on my desk. My entire body aches when I sit up, unhappy at having been messily folded into sleep. I must have passed out mid-sentence.
The first thing I see when I stand and try to stretch my aching body is the watercolor of a lavender sprig hanging on my wall. Lane got really into painting a few months ago while trying to rebrand his shop. I helped him sort through his designs and chose the font for his business cards, and he gave me the painting as a thank you. Lavender for loyalty and devotion.
Shaking loose from the memory, I grab my phone. Three messages, all from Lane.
8:32 AM - I know you want space, but we need to talk about yesterday.
8:33 AM - I’ll be at The Bean around lunchtime. Hope you’ll be there.
10:01 AM - I just want to explain. I’m sorry for how I acted yesterday, I was upset and I didn’t want to get into a big fight. Please come.
I sigh deeply, knowing that even if I try to talk myself out of it, I’ll be there. And I don’t have long to resist the way he pulls at me; it’s already almost noon.
He sits at our table, coffee in hand and back to me. His long fingers wrap around the mug delicately. They are scratched and calloused as always, from sharp thorns and pruning shears.
“Hey,” I say as I approach.
“You came,” he replies, and I can’t tell if he’s surprised.
We order lunch and hover over the plates, proud and speechless like orchids.
“I thought about bringing you flowers,” he says, breaking the silence. “But I know you wouldn’t have liked that.”
He’s not wrong; I hate receiving bouquets. It feels shameful, admiring a collection of things cut too soon from life.
“If I had brought you flowers, though, they’d be hyacinths. Purple ones.”
“What do purple hyacinths mean?” I ask, pushing my salad around on the plate.
“Sorrow. An apology.”
“What for?” I was the one breaking things off, pulling away.
“I shouldn’t have left yesterday.” He picks at the crust of his sandwich. “I didn’t want to say the wrong thing, but then I went and did the wrong thing. So I’m sorry.”
I don’t know how to respond. We eat in silence for a while, and then he sets his sandwich down abruptly.
“Can I just ask why?”
“Why what?” I ask, without looking up.
“Why you want to end it after almost a year. You never really gave a reason. I think I deserve a reason.”
“I just—I need to focus on my work right now.”
“That’s bull and you know it, Beth.”
“Okay, fine. It’s bull.” I hate that he won’t let me lie to him.
“So, why then? What did I do?”
“Nothing, honest.” I look deep into his hazel eyes, eyes that see me better than anyone ever has. It is a terrifying thing to be known.
“You’re afraid,” he says, and I have to look away. “Why?”
“I don’t know,” I shrug. It’s not worth denying.
“I’m afraid, too, you know.”
“No you aren’t. You’re fearless,” I say.
“I’m serious, Beth. You scare me.”
“That’s sweet,” I retort, rolling my eyes. Underneath, I’m aching, an unresolved cord searching for its cadence.
“I’m not kidding. I haven’t been in love before and this,” he gestures between us, “this is scary.”
I don’t reply. Perhaps if I say nothing he won’t notice that he is softening me.
“I’m not good at this,” he says. “Let’s be honest, neither are you.”
He holds up his hands to slow me down. I wish I could hate him for it. I wish I could do anything but love him.
“I guess all I’m trying to say is that I don’t want us to be over.” He runs his finger along the rim of his coffee mug. “And I don’t think you do either, not really.”
I stare at him for a long time. Usually, I know what to say, but right now my mind is full of petals and symphonies. There is still part of me that hesitates, that doesn’t want to carve space for him. Part of me that wants to run before he and I are bound too tightly together. But he is afraid, like me, and somehow that makes me sure.
I reach my hand out to him. He takes it and intertwines his fingers with mine. I imagine roots weaving through stone, crumbling it, so the tree and the rock can return to the soil where they belong.
I wish there was a flower to describe the way my heart begins to bloom when he smiles at me.