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Chapter 02: Bittersweet

In the end, Evan hadn't been able to go back to the flower shop and cancel his date with Sascha. He figured, it was only a lunch date, he could get through it and just forgot the whole mess had ever happened. So, after leaving Drew (who kept laughing every time he looked at Evan) to buy his aunt some flowers, and dropping off his own bouquet at his co-worker's small celebration, he headed back to the flower shop to pick up Sascha.

By the time he got to the shop it was nearly one o'clock and Sascha was cleaning up and getting ready to close up for the day. He looked up and smiled when he saw it was Evan.

"Oh, you're here," Sascha said, pausing in his sweeping.

"Yeah, guess I'm a bit early," Evan glanced at the clock, still about ten minutes left before one.

"It's fine, I can close up a bit earlier," Sascha told him, moving behind the counter. "I'll be done in a minute."

Evan nodded, still standing awkwardly by the door. "Right, I'll wait for you outside." He didn't waste any time in stepping out.

Just as he'd said, Sascha was out of the shop and locking up in just a few minutes, and Evan took the time to discreetly observe him. Sascha had a slender frame, a bit on the short side for a man and with a face with a shape that wasn't masculine in the least. But there were small hints to his gender (and Evan supposed that explained why Sascha had no breasts whatsoever, though Evan had always blamed the apron the florist always wore) like his voice for one, Evan had never thought it to be very feminine, but it was still very soft and not very low pitched. It just had a boyish sort of quality to it, and Evan hadn't thought much of it.

"So where are we going?" Sascha asked once they were in Evan's car.

"Just to a cafe a few blocks over," the other man answered.

"Oh, that sounds nice," the florist commented.

Evan was aware that he wasn't being very talkative, but he couldn't really help it. He was still pretty freaked out from finding out Sascha was a man.

It wasn't long before they had arrived at the cafe, a cozy little business with the scent of fresh coffee and warm pastries. Evan always liked visiting the place on the weekends for a nice breakfast or sometimes for a quiet lunch without Drew pestering him.

The waitress politely asked them for their order and then walked off to get their food, leaving them alone, and Evan didn't know what to do. He just couldn't help but give Sascha curious looks, wondering how he had gone three weeks without noticing he wasn't the pretty girl he'd thought he was.

"So, did your friend like the flowers?" Sascha asked after a while, attempting to end the uncomfortable silence.

"What friend?" Evan asked, still a bit distracted.

"The one getting the promotion."

"Oh! Yeah, she did, she was really happy to get them," Evan said, recalling the flowers he'd given to Julia earlier.

"I'm glad she liked them." Sascha looked truly happy to hear his flowers had been well received.

Evan really couldn't help but smile a bit, because he had always liked the dedication Sascha showed in regards to his shop.

"How did you decide to get into the flower selling business anyway?" he asked.

"My parents owned a flower shop, so I grew up helping out with the store. Guess that's how I really grew to like plants so much, so I decided to try opening my own shop," Sascha explained.

"Why not take over your parent's shop instead of opening a new one?" Evan assumed Sascha's parents were retired, much like his own.

"Well, they had to sell it a few years ago. Business wasn't going too well since a large store opened up nearby and they couldn't really compete."

Evan wasn't really surprised to hear that. A lot of small businesses closed up due to all the new department stores opening up everywhere. It was hard to compete with the low prices the larger shops could offer, not to mention the advertising and convenience attracted more people.

"You've done really well though, you said you've been open for a few years now," he said, recalling Sascha telling him about his shop.

He nodded, smiling at the waitress that had just returned with their food and drinks.

"Yes, well, I was lucky enough to find a place away from any large stores and the people in the neighborhood are nice enough to return to my shop," Sascha said.

"It's because you're nice," Evan commented absentmindedly. "And you're really good at what you do, I mean, knowing all that stuff about flowers."

"Oh, thank you." Evan could see Sascha was trying to hide his blushing face.

He didn't think what he'd said was reason enough to blush like that, but then Sascha was very proud of his shop. Evan felt a bit bad, though, thinking that he was just leading him on without having any real interest in the florist. As pretty as Sascha was, he was a man, and Evan was fairly certain he could only be in a real relationship with a woman(and that was hard enough already).

"So, what do you do for a living?" Sascha asked, and Evan was a bit surprised at the question.

If he were to be honest, he would admit that he wasn't one to talk about himself, and he really hadn't told Sascha anything about his own life, always having worked on learning more about the florist instead.

"I work in advertising for a magazine," he said.

"That sounds interesting." Sascha really did sound interested.

"It's not, just a boring old office job. It can be a bit stressful at times, but I guess it could be worse." Evan shrugged, sipping his coffee.

At least, that's what Evan thought. Sascha, on the other hand, seemed to be a bit more interested, and Evan soon found himself talking more about himself than he had in a while. It was nice, after all, to just chat with someone, without having to worry about whether they liked you or not. Evan was pretty sure Sascha at least liked him (he had to after all the flowers he'd bought from him, Evan was sure he was his favorite customer), but now that he wasn't interested in dating him, he could relax and not have to worry about what he said. He almost forgot that he wasn't supposed to get Sascha's hopes up.

"You know, I'm really glad you asked me out, after all," Sascha eventually admitted.

"I don't really go out often, so this was nice."

Evan tried not to look at Sascha, because he was smiling too honestly and it kind of made him feel like a scumbag because he'd have to explain how he hadn't known he was a man. He really wanted to delay that though (and if possible he had hoped to avoid it and just never return to Sascha's flower shop after that day).

"What, you don't go out with friends or date?" he asked, because maybe if Sascha said he did Evan could feel a bit better.

"Not really, most of my friends are back in my hometown, and I don't meet many people outside the shop. Plus, I've never had much luck when it comes to relationships," he said with a small shrug.

And if possible, Evan felt even worse now, because he'd be another failed attempt at a relationship to add to Sascha's history.

"Ah, is that so?" he said, with a shaky laugh.

"You know, it's getting a bit late in the day, and I'm sure you have things to do." Evan motioned for the waitress, ready to pay and leave.

Sascha was a bit surprised by the sudden change of subject, but said nothing as they walked out. Once outside, he stopped in front of the cafe, smiling as always.

"Thanks again for lunch," he said.

"Yeah, don't mention it." Evan sure didn't want to, even though Drew would probably ask on Monday and make him feel like a jerk. Not that he didn't deserve it.

"So, will I be seeing you back at the shop anytime soon?"

Evan wished Sascha wouldn't look so damn pretty with that shy smile and faint blush (though he really wished he hadn't turned out to be a man). It made it real hard to just be honest because he knew Sascha would be hurt and offended. He sure as hell would be, but there really was no helping it. He just had to tell Sascha the truth. So, with a resigned sigh, he looked straight at him, ready to just spit it out.

"Listen, Sascha, you're really nice and all," he began lamely. "But, well, when I asked you out I was a bit, ah, mistaken about you."

Sascha frowned, his brow furrowing slightly, clearly confused.

"Mistaken? I don't understand," he said.

"Well, I uh, I was under the impression that you, er," Evan wished he could stop with the damn stuttering because it was really irritating and it was just making him feel even more stupid than he already did. "I thought you were, well, a woman," he finished, and he felt both relieved and nervous (and also extremely embarrassed), because he had no idea how Sascha would react.

Whatever it was that Evan had expected it hadn't been the look of vapid resignation that Sascha had suddenly taken on. It was a strange shift from the usually gentle and happy look the florist wore, and Evan felt unexpectedly guilty for being responsible for it.

"Oh, I see," Sascha said, with what could only be disappointment.

He still managed to smile, though it wasn't nearly as bright as before.

"Well, thank you for being honest," he said.

It really wasn't anything to thank Evan for.

"I guess, I'll leave you alone now." Sascha turned to leave, looking too damn dejected for Evan to ignore.

"Sascha, wait, I can drive you back if you want." Evan thought the least he could do was give the man a ride home.

But he just shook his head.

"No, it's fine, I'd rather just go back on my own." He didn't wait to hear if Evan had anything more to say before walking off.

Just as Evan had predicted, Drew made him feel like a complete bastard when he went back to work on Monday. It wasn't like he didn't deserve it though, so he did his best not to get too mad at his friend.

"Maybe this'll teach you to stop playing around with people," Drew said during their lunch break. "Whether it's a man or a woman, getting dumped is just as bad."

Evan knew that was true, but he admitted to himself that he had never stopped to think about other people's feelings before he decided to ask them out. It had always been about him, about what he wanted, who he wanted, never about how the other person would feel once he lost interest.

"I feel bad for Sascha," he continued.

"Didn't look like it when you were laughing about it," Evan said, glaring at the other man.

"Actually I was laughing at you and your inability to determine someone's gender after spending three weeks trying to get in their pants."

And Evan honestly had nothing to say to that because it was pretty much the truth. Apparently, Drew thought his friend looked miserable enough, because he decided to stop making fun of him.

"You know, it's not the first time someone confuses Sascha for a woman," he admitted.

"Really?" and yeah, maybe Evan sounded a bit too happy to hear that.

"Yeah, I mean, I don't think anyone's ever asked him out before, but it's happened."

Evan felt a tiny bit better about that. However, he still wasn't quite up to the task of asking Laura out like he had previously planned. He'd give it a week before he was back to his old self, though.

Two weeks had passed and Evan was still single and wondering what the hell had happened to him.

He wasn't dating and he wasn't chasing after anyone, not even Laura, who he had been interested in for so long. His life had become a dull routine of working and going home to sleep before repeating over and over again and it was driving him mad. Even Drew and Kathleen, another friend of his, had been asking what was wrong. The odd part was, he couldn't give them an answer, because he didn't know what was wrong with him either. Evan did his best not to worry though, because he was sure it would pass.

On the third week he realized he had taken to driving by Sascha's shop on his way to work, but he dismissed this as him just opting for a faster road. He didn't want to think much about what other reasons there might be for it.

By the time a month had passed he was convinced there was something seriously wrong with him because Laura had asked him out and he had declined. Drew had gaped at him when he was informed and Evan had decided something had to be done. So a few days later he drove up to Sascha's shop because Drew had suggested that he visit the florist, saying maybe it was just Evan's guilt making him act so oddly.

"Maybe once you make sure he's okay you'll feel better," Drew had said.

Evan certainly hoped so. Not that he hadn't stopped to wonder if maybe it was a bad idea. After all, Sascha had seemed pretty upset and probably didn't want to see him again. Not to mention, Evan himself wasn't sure what he'd say or how he could possibly excuse himself. More than that though, he wasn't sure what feelings seeing Sascha again would bring up.

It had been a while since he'd seen the florist. Long enough for Evan to really think about things, regardless of how little he wanted to do so, and he didn't know if he was ready for the answer he was being led to.

He'd made up his mind though, so he'd go through with it. Plus he was already there and he didn't want to admit to Drew that he had chickened out. So, he stepped out of his car and walked into the shop, a bit startled by the little bell that announced his arrival.

"Welcome!" came Sascha's familiar voice, and Evan was glad that he at least sounded cheerful enough.

That changed when he saw who it was that had just entered his shop though. He stopped what he was doing behind the counter and Evan though his smile wasn't as bright as it had been just seconds before when he had expected a complete stranger. Evan had to stop and stare as well, because Sascha had changed a bit since he had last seen him. His hair, for one, was shorter, though it was still long enough to frame his face nicely.

"Uh, hi, Sascha," he greeted awkwardly.

To his credit, Sascha only faltered for a moment before speaking.

"Hello, how may I help you today?" he said, tone entirely businesslike.

"Well, I, uh," Evan stuttered, not entirely sure what to say, but he was determined to try. "I just wanted to apologize, I guess. I don't think I did a very good job of it last time," he admitted.

Sascha looked away awkwardly, probably not having wanted to be reminded of that.

"It's fine," he said after a while. "It's actually not the first time someone's thought I was a woman."

He tried to brush it off as nothing of importance, but Evan wasn't buying it. Especially not when Sascha moved to brush away a stray strand of hair. It was probably a subconscious move, but it showed just how self-conscious he was of the way he looked.

"Is that why you cut your hair?" Evan asked bluntly.

Sascha seemed a bit taken aback by the question, glancing up at Evan before averting his eyes.

"Oh, yes, I thought it would help avoid any confusion."

Evan wasn't so sure that would work because Sascha still looked pretty feminine and it wasn't all that uncommon for women to have short hair.

"It looks good on you," Evan said sincerely.

He hadn't expected for Sascha to blush and shrink back at the compliment.

"Thank you," he said quietly, and there was a moment of awkward silence before he spoke again. "Why are you here, Evan?" he said, sighing tiredly.

Evan recognized this as his chance to be honest and tell Sascha that he was sorry. It was the opportune time to put the whole thing behind him and move on.

But he couldn't, because when he looked at Sascha, who appeared so apprehensive and so unlike the man he'd met nearly two months earlier, he knew he couldn't just forget about him. Sascha was too different, too interesting to just forget. It was in the way he always smiled when he spoke with someone, and the devotion he showed to his job. The way he made Evan feel so comfortable, like he could be himself without worrying about being judged.

With a mixture of dread and something like resignation, he realized he really did like Sascha, maybe enough to actually want to date him, but there was still that part of his mind that kept reminding him Sascha was a man. He was kind and smart and beautiful, but he was a man, and Evan doubted he could really love him, and for some reason, he didn't want to hurt him again. That, more than anything else, made it clear to Evan just how much he cared for the florist, because he'd never bothered to think about anyone else in that way before.

"Evan?" Sascha called, when the man wouldn't speak.

Evan looked straight into those clover green eyes and inwardly groaned at what he was about to do.

"Sascha, I really like you," he said.

The florist stared at him for a moment, looking a bit confused before smiling a bit uncertainly. "I like you too Evan, you're a very nice man, and I'm not really upset at you so don't worry about it."

Evan sighed in frustration, because Sascha had misunderstood what he was saying.

"No, I mean, I really like you," Evan repeated.

"What?" and Sascha looked a bit worried now and very surprised. "You mean you love me?" there was clear doubt in his words, spoken so hesitantly and with definite disbelief.

"No! I mean, maybe, I don't know," the other man tried to explain. "My point is, I don't know what I feel, but I do feel something. It's why I came back, and at first I thought maybe it was guilt because of what happened before, but now that I'm here, well," Evan trailed off, not knowing how to finish that sentence. In all honesty, he wasn't sure of much at the moment, least of all his feelings towards the florist.

Sascha still seemed skeptical, maybe a bit apprehensive, and Evan understood why he would have trouble believing him. He seemed hesitant to say anything, biting his lip and appearing to think of how to respond before speaking.

"You know, I really do like you," he started tentatively.

"I was actually really happy when you asked me out, see, I thought you probably weren't interested in me, especially with all the flowers you kept buying for that friend of yours. So, when you asked me out I didn't really know what to say, or rather, I couldn't really believe it. I've never had the best luck with any relationships I've been in, so from the start I thought things wouldn't work out, but I was really excited and you were so nice to me, I had to try," he confessed, and Evan was a bit surprised at how much Sascha actually liked him.

While he had always been nice, he had never shown any real interest in Evan, never flirted or gave any hints that he was attracted to him. Now though, now Evan knew that it was just because he had been scared of entering another relationship that would just fail. And he had been right.

"I know you feel bad about how things turned out and honestly, it did hurt when you said you weren't interested in me, because I wasn't a woman after all," at the very least, he didn't sound accusing, which was a relief for Evan. "I still like you Evan, but I don't want to be disappointed again, and you don't like men. You don't like me, you're just confused and I really don't think you know what you want."

Evan didn't know how to respond to that, because what Sascha had said made so much sense. He understood howSascha felt, why he couldn't believe him, but Evan still didn't think it was just guilt or confusion drawing him to the other man. There was a sort of attraction there, the same one he'd felt the moment he saw Sascha. He couldn't even try to deny it and he didn't know how he hadn't realized it before. Maybe he had just been unwilling to see it, maybe he really was confused, but at the very least, he wanted to get to know Sascha better.

Sascha looked up at the clock hanging on the wall behind him and turned back to Evan, taking off his apron.

"Listen, I really appreciate you coming here to apologize. You really didn't have to, but it was nice of you to do so. It's getting late though, and I think it would be best if you went home and got some rest. Maybe things will be clearer then," Sascha said, basically kicking Evan out as nicely as he could.

Evan looked at Sascha, and made up his mind.

"Fine I'll leave," he said. "But you can expect me back sometime soon." He grinned at Sascha, taking the man off guard.

"I can't really tell what it is I feel, but at the very least I'd like to get to know you better, even if it's just as friends." He frowned a bit, looking uncertain. "That is, if you're okay with it. I get it if you don't want to see me again." Evan wouldn't like it, but he would understand that much.

Sascha just stared at him, clearly not having expected that, but after a moment, he let out a soft laugh.

"Alright," he said. "I'll look forward to it then." Then he smiled at Evan, the way he used to smile at him before Evan screwed things up.

Evan left feeling better and he supposed a simple friendship was alright after all.

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