Love and Sunflowers

“What can I get for you?”

“What do you have that will shut a jealous boyfriend up?”
The barista turned for a moment to look at the menu before deciding, “Well, just about anything, if you dump it on the right place.”
“Then I’ll take whatever your most expensive drink is in a venti, large, whatever, and he’ll pay.” The blonde brushed past her companion and clipped over to the seating area.

“Anything I can get for you, sir?”

Jake turned his attention back to the barista, “Uh, no. I’ll just- pay for hers. How much will that be?”

“Considering I’m not even sure what she ordered but it’s definitely just gonna be poured on your lap, you don’t have to pay for this. It’s on the house.”

Jake laughed ruefully. “Thanks.”

He turned away from the bar, then stopped short. His eyes scanned back and forth rapidly through the small café. She was not there. How had he lost her?  Whipping around, he saw her yellow scarf catch a breeze in the corner of the picture window. Tripping over customers, Jake ran, well, wrestled, his way out of the Starbucks.

“Milly. Milly!” He yelled, then shouted. Startled, she stopped and turned around to face him.

“For the love of all things, you just ordered a coffee. Can you at least stay and get it?” Jake shoved his cold hands into his deep pockets.

“I don’t like coffee,” Milly announced, standing tall. “I never have liked coffee.”

“Don’t be silly.”

“Okay, I love coffee. But right now I don’t love getting coffee with you.”

“You seem fine getting coffee paid for by me.”

“Jake.”

“Milly.”

She stomped her black high heel on the ground. “Stop it.”

“Stop what? Stop buying your coffee? Stop chasing you? Stop trying? Is that what you want Milly? For me to stop trying? Because if so, I’m going to march back inside that warm Starbucks, drink a deliciously expensive coffee, and stop running after you. But if, for even one second, you think that’s not what you want, then let me at least walk with you, wherever you were rushing off to on this freakishly cold March day.”

Milly stood her ground for a moment, hands balled up in her yellow scarf in contemplation.

“It’s a long walk,” she warned, not looking at him.

“And I’m very cold. Perfect. Lead the way, Forest.”

“Forest?”

“Yeah, like the way you just ran outta the café.” He laughed at his own joke. She just sighed. “Come on Milly, that was funny.”

She only gave him a long look of disapproval.

“Your new boyfriend is sucking all the joy outta you.”

“Jake can you not? We’ve been over this.”

“Yeah, and it’s just getting more ridiculous every time we talk about it. He calls at all hours, has flowers delivered to the apartment, makes up ‘business meetings’ to take you out to dinner. He’s making himself more of a boyfriend than I am. You can call me jealous or stupid or whatever, but I have a right to be jealous or stupid or whatever because I’m your boyfriend. I’m supposed to be the one to get you flowers and take you out to dinner and call at two in the morning to ask you what tie I’m supposed to wear to that banquet I might be going to next year.”

“Jake you’re being ridiculous,” She snapped, impulsively turning down a side street. Jake followed close behind.

“I’m allowed to be, Milly! I feel like I’m competing with a guy who is rich enough to not know how to do his own laundry but calls you to ask questions about separating colors anyway. He can buy you a $100 worth of roses because it’s a Tuesday, like those don’t happen every week, or get a last-minute Valentine’s Day booking at La Chez because he wanted to make sure you got treated right on Valentine’s Day. Milly, I wanted to treat you right on Valentine’s Day.”

At this, Jake stopped on the sidewalk. Walking fast, Milly was a couple steps ahead of him before she realized he had stopped. Hesitantly, she turned back.

“Milly, I love you. I love you enough to buy you sunflowers because I know they’re your favorite even though I have to skip lunch to go to the floral market on 42nd street. They run out before 5. I know because I’ve left empty handed too many times, so I go at noon, even though I miss lunch and have flowers at my desk all day like a fool, but a fool who loves you. I love you enough to watch Gilmore Girls with you, even though I can’t stand any of the women in that show. I love you enough to buy your coffee instead of a coffee for myself, and I love you enough to let you pick the wallpaper in our apartment. I know I told you I didn’t mind the roses, but that’s not true. I don’t like roses, but I do like you. I love you enough to not eat gluten in front of you, and I love you enough to burn candles in the apartment and to wash the coffee pot every time I use it. I love you enough to not make fun of you when you cry in chick flicks. I could, cause it’s really funny, but I don’t! I don’t because I love you.”

Jake rushed to where Milly stood, hands still balled up in her scarf.

“I love you enough to marry you. Milly- Milly, don’t cry. That’s not what this is supposed to be. I’m saying, I love you enough to marry you, which means…” He faltered a moment, searching her eyes for any help. “Which means I love you enough to let you go. I wish I could buy you every rose in Manhattan, and reservations at La Chez every night. I wish I could give you the expensive apartment and the theater tickets and the life that he can give you. But I can’t.” Jake laughed a very small, tired laugh. “I can’t. All I can give you is love and sunflowers. And- and the chance to- walk away, if it’s not what you want. Milly? Am I- am I what you want?”

Quiet tears ran down Milly’s face and dripped onto the cold sidewalk. She couldn’t even look up at him. Pulling his gray hands out of his pockets, Jake gently wrapped his arms around Milly.

“It’s okay.” He choked out, before clearing his throat. “It’s okay. You know I love you, right?”

He felt her head nod against his chest.

“Good. And don’t you forget it-“ Milly’s phone vibrated harshly in her pocket, and he let her go so she could answer it. Looking at the screen, she hesitated.

“You can answer it,” Jake told her, his voice hollow. “I was just leaving anyway.”

Milly turned her back to him as she took the call, and numbly, Jake started back the way they had just come.

 

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