Match Ten: Cryptomeria:
Alfred walked up to Florence’s door. He had on his favorite t-shirt and nicest pair of jeans. It took about thirty minutes to convince Lydia to let Florence come with him for the day.
“You can’t keep her from me forever, dude,” he said over the phone. “Wouldn’t it be better if she died having happy memories? It would be depressing if she died in the house staring at four walls.” Lydia groaned over the phone.
“Fine, whatever,” she grumbled. “Have her back before sundown!”
“Thanks,” the American man said. He broke into a happy dance after she hung up. Today, Alfred knocked the girls’ door. She’s going to love Coney Island in the summer! The American man stepped back when the door opened. Florence’s head came up to his chest. She had her red hair tied back into a messy ponytail. Her skin had a familiar healthy glow she was known to have in the summer. Her red halter top and black rolled up jeans made her look like a teenaged girl. Alfred hadn’t noticed how much prettier she looked when she smiled.
“Hello, Alfred,” Florence greeted him.
“You look cute,” he said.
“Aw, thanks,” she said.
“You ready to go?” Alfred asked.
“Yes,” his date said. The American man held out his arm. Florence took held after a quick paused. Upstairs, Lydia watched them leave with a frown on her face. She shook her head as she closed the curtains.
“You’ll love Coney Island in the summer,” Alfred bragged. “Some of my happiest memories are there with my brothers.”
“Are we going to the aquarium again?” Florence asked.
“Not today,” he said. “I want to show you the boardwalk in all of its summer glory! Have you ever been on a ferris wheel before?”
“Once when I was little,” Florence said. “My parents took me out to a fair in New Orleans so that I would be exposed to society for a change.”
“Good, good,” Alfred said. “Ferris wheels can be very romantic, you know?” The whole time, he was cheering himself in his head. Shame he didn’t stop by a flower shop on the way to her house. Then again, he wasn’t certain what kind of flowers to get her. He went back and forth between roses and sunflowers. By the time he made up his mind, it was time to pick her up. Alfred rubbed his forehead. Maybe I’ll get her some flowers on the way back.
“Is something wrong?” Florence asked.
“Huh?” the American man asked, turning his head. The tree spirit tilted her head.
“You looked like you had a headache or something,” she said. Her date broke into a huge grin.
“I’m fine!” he shouted. “Don’t worry about it.” Alfred broke into loud laughter while people stared at him on the bus. Let them stare. He was determined to make this work, flowers or no flowers.
They arrived at near the boardwalk around eleven. Alfred breathed in the warm salty arm as he raised his arms above his head.
“This is so much better than being in the city!” he shouted. Florence looked like a child who had just discovered the world for the first time. The sun seemed to kiss every inch of her skin. Alfred liked how the wind tussled with her ponytail.
“So, shall we go to the fair first or walk along the boardwalk?” he asked. Florence turned to him with a smile on his face.
“The boardwalk,” she said.
“Okay,” Alfred said. He put his arm around her shoulders and they began their walk. It felt a little to be just the two of them together. Would Lydia sink to be spying on them? The bus didn’t look that crowded and as far as he knew, Florence’s sister didn’t leave the house.
“She’s not following us,” Florence spoke up.
“Wha?” Alfred asked.
“I can’t sense her at all,” she said. “She’s still back at home. We’re alone today.”
“You can tell all of that?” he asked.
Alfred made a strange face. “How?”
“It kind of hard to explain. I’ve had this power since I was little girl. I can tell who’s around just by what mood they are in.”
The American man stared at her like a new animal in the zoo. “Can you tell what mood I’m in right now?” They stopped walking in the middle of the boardwalk. Florence eyed him for a few seconds.
“You seem to be happy, but very worried for some reason. Did something happen?”
Alfred trembled as his eyes shifted away. He didn’t know where to start on the visions of that little girl with the Hello Kitty backpack. Or Arthur looking sick and closing himself off from the family. Or everyone seemed so tense at the world meetings.
“I’ve just had so much on my mind,” the American man said at last. He grabbed her by the hands.
“Let’s not talk about it right now,” Alfred said. “I just want to enjoy this nice day with you.”
“Alright,” Florence said. The two resumed their walk. The seagulls added to the soundtrack of summer playing in the American man’s head. More and more people were starting to show up on the boardwalk. Parents with their kids looked around to purchase balloons. Couples were also out on dates here too. Alfred took in the soft scent of lavender in Florence’s hair. He enjoyed their walk on the boardwalk back in December last year, but summer was making that much perfect.
“Would you like to go and buy a kite?” Alfred asked. His date gave him a puzzled look.
“What for?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” the American man said. “I thought about flying it while we’re on the beach.”
“Can you even fly one?”
“I would love to,” Florence said. She snuggled against his cheek. Alfred broke into a little smile.
“Say, have you ever had salt water taffy?” he asked. His date shook his head.
“You haven’t?” Alfred asked.
“No,” she said. The American man rubbed the back of his head.
“Wow,” he muttered. “Well then, you are in for a treat! I know just the shop that sells the best treats and beach supplies!” Alfred pulled Florence along on their walk.
They found a shop called Louie’s. The bells made a light metal ringing sound as Alfred pushed open the door. As they looked through the kite section, the American man wondered what they should do next. It was still too early to go to the museum. How didn’t know how long they were going to walk on the boardwalk. Ferris wheel and beach felt more appropriate in the evening when the crowds were winding down. They still had some time before lunch. Alfred rubbed his forehead as he struggled for a way to fill time.
“Hey Florence,” he said. The tree spirit looked through the different colored kites in plastic wrap.
“Hm?” she asked.
“You want to look around at some of the shops along the boardwalk until lunch?” Alfred asked.
“Alright,” she said. The tree spirit turned around with her kite of choice in her hands. The picture on the front showed that it’s supposed to be a brightly colored sea turtle.
“Isn’t it cute?” Florence asked. Alfred narrowed his eyes.
“It’s not my taste, but if you like, I’ll buy it for you,” he said.
“Thank you,” she said. Alfred began looking for a kite of his own. The American man settled on an eagle design. It was either going to be that or the Superman kite. In the end, the eagle won.
“I’ll get you next time,” he said to the Superman kite. Alfred turned to see Florence looking at the surfboards.
“Is there anything else you want to buy?” he asked.
“Not really,” she said.
“Alright,” the American man said. He and Florence walked up to the cashier. Alfred spotted the barrels of salt water taffy near the counter. He decided to get two bags worth.
“You’re really going to love this,” the American man said. As he was filling his bag, something else on the counter caught his attention. Alfred first saw the metal silver flower against black velvet. As his eyes trailed upwards, he couldn’t help but admire the black chord attached to the item itself. The necklace wasn’t alone either. Alfred looked in the middle and spotted little white shell studs.
“Hey Florence,” he spoke up.
“Yeah?” she asked.
“Are your ears pierced?” the American man asked.
“No,” the tree spirit said.
Damn it! “Of course not!” Alfred quickly brushed it off. He shrugged to himself and picked up the box. The clerk watched as he put it on the kites.
“Will that be all?” she asked.
“Oh,” Alfred said. He put the bags of taffy on the counter. The clerk rang up everything.
“That will be $25.86,” she said. Alfred paid for all of the things on the counter. The clerk gave him back his change
“Have a nice day,” she said.
“You too,” the American man said. Florence followed him out the store. Alfred stopped just outside the door.
“Hey, Florence,” he spoke up. “Could you hold up for a second? I have something I want to give you.”
“What is it?” she asked.
“Hang on,” he said. The American man reached into his bag and pulled the little box. He took the necklace.
“Could you hold up your ponytail for a minute?” he asked. Florence lifted her hair from her nape.
“Good,” Alfred said. He clasped the silver and black flower necklace around her neck. She looked down just as he came around for a look.
“Do you like it?” Alfred asked.
“It’s beautiful,” she said. The American man felt like flying away.
“I saw it and thought about you,” he said.
“Thank you, Alfred,” Florence said. She wrapped her arms around his neck. The American man pulled her a hug.
The couple walked along the boardwalk, talking. They stopped at a couple more stores. Despite finding a number of interesting trinkets, they didn’t buy anything else at the time.
“Florence, have you ever kissed anyone?” Alfred asked as they resumed their walk.
“No,” she said. Her answer intrigued him. The American man had to shake away any naughty thoughts about his date. Instead, his stomach growled.
“Hey, why don’t we go get lunch?” Alfred said. “I know a great pizza place around here. They even serve vegetarian and dessert pizzas.”
“Dessert pizzas?” Florence asked. “That sounds interesting.” He put his arm around her shoulders.
“Wait until you try it,” he Alfred said. The American man led her along the boardwalk. They ended up at Tony’s Little Italy. Alfred got himself and Florence a talk outside and ordered a four-cheese pizza topped with basil, Spanish, tomatoes, and pesto. These weren’t little slices either. The sizes would put the Italian brothers’ pizzas to shame. Florence took a bite of her first slice.
“Mmm!” she said. “It’s like the blends are dancing in my mouth.”
“We might have to bright Lydia with us next time,” Alfred said as he chowed down on his slice of pizza. “Heck, Feliciano and Lovino would love this place!”
“Uh-hm,” his date said.
“You’ve got a little cheese on your chin there,” Alfred said. Florence reached up and wiped away her chin. The American man looked and nodded.
“You’re good now,” he said.
“Thanks,” she said. Alfred smiled as he watched finish off the pizza on her plate. If she wasn’t going to die soon, maybe he could dream about more dates with her. If they had time, they could probably do Coney Island around Christmastime again.
“Hey Florence,” Alfred spoke up.
“Yeah?” his date asked.
“When is your birthday again?” the American man asked. The tree spirit paused and took a moment to think.
“Mostly in the spring,” she said. “We didn’t exactly stick on a date. Lydia and I would celebrate on the first day of spring. I don’t remember the day my parents found me and took me in.”
“First day of spring… okay…” Alfred said, rubbing his forehead. “And when’s Lydia’s birthday?”
“October 10th,” Florence said.
“October tenth,” he said. “That’s easy to remember.”
“And yours is July 4th,” his date said. The American man nodded.
“Yep!” he said. “The best day ever!” Alfred laughed loud enough to draw stares from the people walking around. Once he calmed down, he finished his last slice.
“Hey, we should go down to the museum before it gets crowded,” he said.
“What about the dessert pizzas?” Florence asked.
“We’ll get the little ones,” Alfred said. They ordered little cinnamon and chocolate pizza pies with icing drizzled on top. The American man found them so sweet that he nearly broke a tooth.
“How is it?” he asked. Florence chewed for about five minutes before swallowing.
“It’s sweet,” she said. “A little too sweet.”
“Would you like me to order some milk?” Alfred asked. His date nodded. The milk turned out to be helpful with polishing off dessert. The American man paid the bill and laid down the tip.
“Ready to go?” he asked.
“Yes,” Florence replied. Her date lid her back to the boardwalk.
Alfred next took Florence to the Coney Island Museum. Before they went inside, he took out his cell phone.
“Before we go inside, we have to get a picture together,” he said. “Hang on.” Alfred looked around and happened to spot a couple about to walk into the museum.
“Excuse me,” he said. “Could you get a picture of us together?” Alfred pointed over at Florence standing a few feet away from him. The man with a baseball cap perked up.
“Sure,” he said. Alfred handed him his phone and walked over to entrance with Florence.
“You ready?” the man asked. Alfred put his arm around his date’s shoulders.
“Yes,” he said. The other man pulled up the camera function on the cell phone.
“Say cheese!” he said.
“Cheese!” the other couple said. They had three pictures done together before the man handed Alfred back his phone.
“Thank you,” the American man said.
“Have a good day,” the other man said before heading inside with his girlfriend. Alfred and Florence followed them inside.
By 4:15, Alfred took Florence back towards Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park. To his surprise, the park wasn’t as crowded at this time of day. The American man had one objective in mind. Okay, two, but that wasn’t the point.
“Welcome to the main attraction on Coney Island!” Alfred said aloud. “Twenty-one rides and one roller coaster! The best part about this place is the Wonder Wheel itself!” Florence gave him a weird look.
“Why are you yelling like that?” she asked. Alfred laughed it off as he lowered his arms. What the hell are you doing, idiot?! You’re getting carried away again! Knock it off! The American man cleared his throat.
“Which one would you like to ride first—Spook-a-Rama or the Wonder Wheel itself?” he asked.
“What’s Spook-a-Rama?” Florence asked. He grabbed her by the waist and chuckled.
“Come along and you’ll see,” he said. The American led her along the path as they disappeared into the crowd. They rode Sook-a-Rama as a starter. Alfred screamed like a little girl while Florence looked around like a child who has just seen fireworks for the first time. By the time they got off, all of the color had drained from the American man’s face. Florence waved her head in front of his face.
“Are you alright?” she asked. “Alfred? Alfred?” Her date was quick to snap out of it.
“Of course!” he lied. “That was fun!” Again, he laughed it off. Florence stared at him with a funny look on her face.
“Say, it’s about dinnertime,” Alfred added. “Let’s grab one of those famous Coney dogs. I’m sure that they have tofu or veggie dog.”
“Okay…” Florence said. He took her by the hand and led her further into the crowd. Dinner consisted of tofu Coney dogs and fresh and fluffy funnel cakes. Florence licked the powdered sugar off of her fingers.
“Good?” Alfred asked.
“Yeah!” Florence said. “I never had this before!” Alfred blinked.
“Are you serious?” he asked. His date nodded once. The American man whistled to himself.
“Wow,” he said. “You really don’t get out much, do you?”
“What?” the tree spirit asked. Alfred waved her off.
“Never mind, let’s get on that ferris wheel, shall we?” he suggested. He handed his date napkin to clean herself off once she finished her funnel cake.
The ferris wheel. Most couples loved this ride because of the romantic opportunities it provided. Just themselves and the view outside. Alfred held Florence’s hand as they slowly went up.
“I really do like you,” he said. His cheeks flushed a light pink.
“Aw, you’re so sweet,” Florence said. The American man wasn’t sure if she understood what way that he liked her. Usually, he would push further to get a clearer meaning, but something inside of him held him back. Instead, he looked out the window of the cab.
“Do you like me too?” he asked in a small voice.
“Of course I do,” Florence said. “You are one of my favorite people.” Alfred froze when she said that. What did she mean by that? She didn’t describe him as “friend”, but it felt she wasn’t really getting what he was saying. The tree spirit wasn’t naïve, but the American man didn’t quite know him to express his feelings without coming off as abrasive. He thought about kissing her then and there, but somewhat it wouldn’t feel right. Besides, they still had one more stop on their date.
Alfred and Florence went down to the beach. To the American man, this was the grand finale. The crowd was starting to wind down and the setting sun provided a gorgeous backdrop.
“Do you think we can fly our kites at this time of day?” Florence asked as she watched Alfred unwrap their kites with their plastic.
“Why not?” he asked. “We’re already out here. Besides, there’s still enough air to keep them up in the sky.” Alfred handed his date her brightly colored turtle.
“How you are flying kites?” he asked. Florence pushed her bangs from her forehead.
“It’s been quite a while,” she admitted.
“That’s okay, we’ll make it work,” her date said. He picked up his eagle. The couple tried their best to fly their kites near the waves. Alfred’s eagle kept looking like it wanted to dive into the water. Florence’s turtle barely floated along the wind. The tree spirit couldn’t stop laugh at how much their poor kites didn’t seem to want to stay in the air.
“Think we should give up?” Florence asked.
“No!” her date insisted. “Just a little bit longer, please? Please?”
“Alright,” the tree spirit said.
“Yay!” Alfred said. After about thirty minutes, the American man gave up.
“What do you want to do now?” he asked as he reeled the kites back in.
“We could just watch the sunset,” she suggested.
“I don’t mind doing that,” Alfred said, perking up. The couple lay in the sand, watching the sun set. The American man replayed the day’s events. They had a good day together. He wished there was still time to do this every summer.
“Promise that you will stay with me, like, forever,” Alfred said. It felt vain to ask her something like that, but it felt so right at the same time.
“I will,” Florence whispered back. The American man leaned in and gently kissed her on the lips. To his pleasant surprise, she kissed him back. Alfred pulled her into his arms. Maybe, there was some help for furthering their relationship after.
But, for every moment of bliss in the Waste Land, a sea of pain comes along and washes it away.