Match Six: Juniper:
-Five Months Ago-
Alfred was the one who came up with the idea. Lydia gave him a strange look.
"Coney Island?" she asked back in December.
"Yeah," Alfred said, nodding.
"You want to go to Coney Island in December?"
Lydia blinked. "Why?"
Alfred shrugged his shoulders. "It's not good for you guys to be stuffed up in this house."
"But it's December!"
"We can't go to the beach."
"We don't have to. There are other things to do in Coney Island in winter."
Lydia put her hands on her hips. "Like what?"
Alfred's face came within inches of hers. "Why don't you come along and see?"
"But Flo's too sick."
"All the better! She could use a little fresh air. Besides, Flo must be bored in her room sleeping all day." Alfred stared Lydia deep in her eyes. "Anything else?"
She pouted at him, frowning. "No…"
Alfred smiled and patted her on the head. "Good, I'll pick you both up on Saturday."
Lydia's frown deepened. "Uh-huh."
Saturday brought a light snowfall. Alfred, Florence, and Lydia got off the bus all bundled up in coats and winter gear. The teenage girl glared at her sister's friend.
"So why are we out here again?" she asked. Alfred patted her on the head.
"Come along and you shall see," he said.
"I wish you would stop doing that," Lydia mumbled under her breath. Florence held her scarf to her throat. Her skin looked drained of any color. It was a miracle that she could remain standing. Alfred and Lydia let her sleep on the bus ride to Coney Island.
"This really isn't a good idea," Lydia whispered.
"It'll be fine," Alfred insisted. "She needs this anyway!" For now, it was too early to tell since they just got off at their stop.
"Are you okay?" Alfred whispered.
"I'm fine," Florence said in a soft voice.
"We can't stay out in the cold too long," Lydia reminded Alfred.
"Right!" the American man shouted. "Which is why we are off to the aquarium!" Alfred marched down the street. Florence followed behind. Lydia gave her "sister" as unease look as she straggled down the path. The American man caught Florence by the elbow.
"Hey!" he yelled behind him. "Come on or we'll leave you behind!" Lydia frowned, rolling her eyes.
"Yeah, yeah," she grumbled. The girl raced to catch up with the adults.
Usually, Alfred didn't care much about aquariums. He found them rather boring, in fact. They were just filled with fish swimming all for the entertain of humans. Today, Alfred didn't made it. He could've sworn that he saw Florence smile for a second. He noticed that the greenish-blue haze made her look prettier. Even Lydia was quiet as they walked through, looking at the different species of fish.
"Well?" Alfred asked.
"You did okay," Lydia said, nodding. Florence spent most of the aquarium tour sitting on different benches. Alfred brought her a warm cup of tea.
"Thank you," Florence said with a soft voice. The warm drink added a little color to her cheeks.
"Where are we going now?" Lydia asked once they walked out into the snow.
"We're going for a walk along the boardwalk," Alfred said. The teenage girl titled her head.
"Huh?" she asked. The American man smiled and winked.
"Just go with me on this," she said.
Alfred walked with his girls along the boardwalk. Everyone around them was preparing for Christmas coming in a couple of days. Children chattered about what they wanted while their parents tried to keep up. Alfred had the rest of the afternoon planned out. He figured they would walk along the boardwalk for a while, grab a bit to eat, hit the Coney Island Museum, and head home. So far, his impromptu plan was working. Florence was walking a little bit better beside Alfred. Lydia, meanwhile, narrowed her eyes at him.
"I still don't get it," she said.
"Get what?" Alfred asked.
"Why are we out here?" Lydia asked. "Why are you doing this for us?" Alfred placed his hand behind his head.
"I just figured we all could hang up together this Christmas," he said. "I couldn't stand seeing the two of you cooped up in that house for all of winter." Lydia raised an eyebrow.
"Is that all?" she asked.
"Yes. Come on, dude! What do I have to you to get you trust me?"
Lydia turned her head away. "I'll think about it." Alfred sighed as her put his arm around Florence's frail shoulders. Still, today filled him with warm and fuzzy feelings. Could everyday be like this? Alfred began wondering about being in Florence and Lydia's more often. Despite not eating meat, that option seemed like a nice life. That changed when a rather puzzling question entered his head. Is it even possible to have a relationship with a tree spirit?
Alfred got up one morning in April and made that phone call to Arthur.