Match Two: Jōmon Sugi:
Alfred doesn’t take no for an answer. Lydia found herself quick to learn this after turning him away many times. This morning, he knocked on the door. As predicted, the young woman greeted him with a frown on her face.
“Yo!” Alfred said with a goofy grin, waving.
“What do you want?” she asked.
“Is Florence in?” he asked. The American man could already see where this game was going to go. He lost count of how many times Lydia turned him away. Alfred told himself each day that this time would be different.
“She’s asleep,” Lydia said with her eyes narrowed.
“Can I come in anyway?” Alfred asked.
She threw back her head and groaned. “Alfred! Why can’t you accept that you aren’t welcome anymore? What is it going to take for you to get that through your thick skull?”
“Have I offended you or something?” the American man asked. Lydia snorted.
“Goodbye, Al,” she said. The young woman started to shut the door, but this time Alfred stuck his foot in the doorway.
“Alfred!” Lydia shouted. “What are you doing?!”
“Let me see Florence,” the American man said. “You keep turning me away every time I come over. I want to see her again. I don’t care if she’s asleep or not!”
“Well, you can’t!”
“Is it because she’s dying?”
Lydia froze with big eyes. Alfred narrowed his eyes. The young woman looked down at her hands. She looked so tiny under him for an eighteen-year-old girl. Earlier in the weeks, Alfred wondered how someone so tiny could be strong enough to stand in his way. Lydia acted like Cerberus when he came by their house. The American man did his best not to get into a fight with her. (He was a big, muscled man, after all. If he laid a hand on her, Alfred could be easily accused of inflicting violence on Lydia from an outsider’s point of view.) He gave her a gentle smile.
“That’s it, isn’t it?” Alfred asked.
“Could you please go away?” Lydia asked. “You’re going to make this harder than it needs to be.”
“And you think letting Florence die alone is any better?”
“She has me.”
“But what if you’re not there when she dies, man? You can’t keep us apart like this. Please let me in.”
Lydia glared as she puffed up her cheeks. “You still won’t go away no matter what?”
“No,” the American man said. Both stood, waiting for the other to make a movie. Lydia dropped her shoulders and sighed.
“You win,” she grumbled. Alfred did his best to keep from squealing like a happy little girl as Lydia moved aside. He hummed as he walked past the young woman. She rolled her eyes and closed the door behind him.
It almost felt like being home again. Alfred looked around at the closed blinds in the living room.
“Isn’t it a bit early to have everything closed up?” he asked. Lydia frowned in the kitchen.
“I don’t understand you,” she said in a low voice. The American man gave her a puzzled look.
“Huh?” he asked.
“Why do you want to see my sister so desperately?” Lydia asked.
“Because I want to…”
“But why?!” She turned around from the sink with a frosty look on her face. Alfred couldn’t see where this was going.
“I’m sorry, but what’s the matter?” Alfred asked. The young woman rubbed her forehead.
“I don’t get it,” she said. The young woman held out her hand as he opened his mouth. “Why are you so interested in my sister? She doesn’t have long to live anyway. Having relationship with her now is pointless.” Lydia curled her hands into fists at her sides.
“I just can’t…” she said.
“Lydia?” a tired voice asked. Alfred and Lydia looked up to see Florence standing in the entrance to the hallway.
“Oh, you’re up,” her sister said. “I’m sorry if I woke you up.” The tree spirit smiled as she shook her head.
“It’s okay,” she said. Florence turned and noticed Alfred sitting on the couch.
“Yo!” he said, waving.
“Alfred, I’m so happy to see you,” she said. “How have you been?”
“Great!” Alfred said, grinning. Lydia snorted and rolled her eyes.
“I’ll be in my room,” she muttered under her breath. The young woman turned and walked down the hall.
“Why is she so cranky around me?” Alfred whispered.
“She means well,” Florence murmured. The American man frowned as he heard the door slam shut. His mood changed when he turned back to his crush.
“Have you eaten yet?” he asked.
“No,” Florence answered. Alfred smacked himself on the lap before standing up.
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll make you something.” The tree spirit gave him a puzzled look.
“Alfred?” she asked. The American man turned to her with a big smile on his face.
“I’ve got this,” he said. “You just sit there and wait.” Alfred flashed her his heroic smile before he walked into the kitchen. The tree spirit blinked as her dear friend started humming “Yankee Doodle”.
Cooking was never America’s strong point. He had never realized that until today. Tofu veggies burgers were supposed to be easy, right? Alfred didn’t plan on sticking some patties in the microwave and going from there. Something inside of him took him to make dinner from scratch. He didn’t have time to think this through.
Still, Alfred was convinced that this would be easy.
The kitchen looked like a bomb had hit it. Alfred leaned over the island, panting. The tofu veggie burgers looked edible, at least. He could see the disapproving look on Lydia’s face if she saw the kitchen. Alfred could already hear her chewing him out.
“Don’t you know that you’re supposed to clean the kitchen as you cook?” she would ask. She would go on and on about how to clean up behind himself and nag him on his techniques. Alfred shook his head. Florence was supposed to be the main focus of this dinner, not little miss “I’m a sour puss”.
Alfred got up and looked at his carnage. The burgers looked cooked right. Their stove always confused him. So much so that Lydia forbade him to touch it.
“We don’t you make us homeless!” she snapped. The more the American man looked at the burgers, the more he became uncertain. They looked done to him. Maybe just heat them a little bit longer in the microwave to be certain.
“Is everything okay there?” Florence asked again.
“Yes!” Alfred said. “Everything is fine! I’ve got this! In fact, why don’t you go and sit at the table?”
“Okay,” she said. Good, that bought him enough time to cook their veggie tofu burgers and clean up the kitchen before Lydia jumped down his throat. He went back over to the fridge and got out the rest of the trimming to make their burgers.
When everything was complete, Alfred leaned against the kitchen, panting.
“Now I see why I don’t cook too often,” he muttered. At least, he produced something that could be eaten and it looked like food. Better than what Arthur could ever do. Alfred put the finishing touches on the burgers and carried dinner out on tray.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” he said. Florence looked up to see Alfred holding tray with burgers and deep-fried vegetables. He broke into a huge grin.
“I made it myself,” he said. “These are tofu veggie burgers topped with mushrooms, tomatoes, lettuce, and some mozzarella cheese.”
“Oh thank you,” Florence said.
“I wasn’t sure if the burgers were cooked all the way,” the American man said as he served her plate. “Please let me know how it is.” He sat down across from her with his plate.
“It looks delicious,” the tree spirit said. She picked up the burger and took a bite. Alfred held his breath as she started chewing. He already had a back-up plan in case things didn’t go right. Her chewing the first bite seemed to drag on. The American man perked up when she finally swallowed.
“How is it?” he asked. Florence broke into a big smile.
“This is really good,” she said.
“Huh?” Alfred asked. The American man picked up his burger and took a bite. He slowly nodded.
“This is really good,” he said. “It turned out better than I thought it would.”
“You made this yourself?”
Alfred broke into a huge grin. “I sure did!”
“Do you cook often?”
Florence looked up with a surprised look. “Really?”
The American man chuckled as he rubbed the back of his head. “Well, I just sticking things into the microwave.”
“So you’ve never used a stove before?”
“I have… once or twice.”
“You’ve done a good job.” Florence took another bite of her burger. Alfred laughed at his sudden success. The tree spirit ate like she hadn’t eaten all day. As he watched her, warm feelings began to bubble up in his chest again.
“I like you,” he said. His crush lifted her eyes.
“Excuse me?” she asked. The American man put down his burger.
“I really do like you,” he said. “Could we good back to Coney Island this summer, just you and I?”
“Coney Island, you and me?” Florence asked.
“Yes,” Alfred said. He had sweet little baby eyes as he spoke. He had some skills with wooing a girl, but Florence was hard for him to read. She didn’t rely on modern life’s toys to be happy. Her idea of a perfect day would be to live out in nature with just the sweet grass underneath her and the warm sun on her face. By now, America had the right plans to win her over before her death.
“When can we go?” Florence asked. Alfred about fell out of his chair.
“You want to go to Coney Island? With me? Alone?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied. “So when are we going?”
“Wow! Uh… Are you free at any time?”
“Yes I am.”
“How does this weekend sound?”
“That sounds great.”
Alfred could have flown away to the clouds. He rubbed the back of his head and chuckled. “Okay.” They spent the rest of dinner talking and eating. Alfred still preferred actual meat in burgers than veggies and tofu. But somehow, eating them with Florence made the taste bearable. Maybe he could suck it up and ask Lydia for cooking tips the next time he made dinner for the girls. Alfred leaned forward on the table with a smile on his face.
“What is it?” the tree spirit asked. He shook his head.
“Nothing,” the American man said. “You’ve got a little bit of lettuce on your chin there.” Florence reached up and wiped her chin with her napkin.
“Did I get it?” she asked.
“Hold on,” he said. Alfred reached out and took the piece of lettuce off of her chin.
“There you go,” he said.
“Thank you,” the tree spirit said. The American man resisted the urge not to laugh. It would be better to sweeten up everything between them before going in to ask her to be his girlfriend.
“How does ten sound for our date?” he asked.
“Date?” Florence asked.
“When we go to Coney Island this weekend.”
“Ah. Yeah, that’s fine.”
“Okay, I’ll put it in my phone.” Alfred grinned to himself. Score! He quickly pushed that out of his head and looked at her face. Wait… can she hear thoughts?
“Hey Florence,” he spoke up.
“Hm?” the tree spirit asked.
“Can you hear thoughts?” Alfred asked.
“No, but I can feel emotions,” Florence said. The American man sat back with intrigued look on his face.
“I see,” he said. “What does that mean?”
“I can’t exactly explain it,” she said. “It’s just something that I was born with.”
“Okay…” Alfred said. It still flew over his head, but it didn’t bother him for the rest of dinner.
“Goodbye,” Alfred said at the door.
“I’m so happy you came by to see me,” Florence said as she saw him out. He broke into a big grin and pointed to his chest.
“I’ll be back to cook dinner for you tomorrow!” the American man bragged. The tree spirit giggled.
“I’ll look forward to it,” she said. “Good night.” Alfred waved as she closed the door. He waited until she had gone into the house before breaking down and shouting loud enough to the skies.
“I did it!” he yelled. The American man raced down the street feeling like he could fly away to bliss. Along the way, he began planning his future with Florence. Their date to Coney Island would be first. Then a few more dates. Pretty soon, they would be a couple.
But, Alfred froze on the sidewalk.
Wait… How would a relationship between them even work? They were two different species. Could they have sex? Could they even have children? Plus, he couldn’t forget the fact that she was dying. The American man knew that he would have to hurry if he wanted a relationship before she died. How long before it all came to an end?
Alfred shook his head.
“I’ll just work through it as I good along,” he said to himself. However, something else caught his attention. That little girl that kept appearing in front of him stood further down the street. Her empty eyes locked on him as she clutched her Hello Kitty backpack. Alfred went pale as he slowly backed away.
“What do you want from me?” he asked. The little girl didn’t answer him. The birds and the crickets filled the dense silence between the man and child.