Daybreak blurred the line between the Gulf and the sky. Mark smiled as the gray of the dozing Gulf of Mexico ignored the blush of the morning. Then he turned his back on the waking world, spotted his lover waiting on the shore, and headed in.
Luke met him in the shallows. He laid soft kisses over Mark’s knuckles. “Maybe there’s a way I can finish my schooling online.”
The water dragon shook his head. “SearchLight’s not quite that progressive.” He went for his clothes. “But if you want me to request a temporary reassignment…”
“No.” Luke drew him into a deep but too-brief kiss. “Absolutely not.” He let Mark go.
“Why not?” He snatched his towel, shimmied out of his trunks, and wiped himself hastily dry. “I’m sure Ray would let me go until you’ve graduated in oh-seven. I haven’t been promoted in years and — ”
“And you won’t be promoted unless you stay with the same office. Besides, weren’t you the one who said you had to stay with the same office for a year before they’d transfer you?”
I miss you. You’ve been gone for less than two months and it’s already driving me nuts. Mark tugged his shorts on, and then wriggled his toes into sandals. Slinging the towel and his soaked trunks over one arm and a dry shirt around his neck, he marched up the beach. “Six months.”
Luke caught up with him, reached for his hand, and then pulled back when Mark fisted his hand so he could scratch his palm.
“My shedding will be over on the fifteenth.” Mark increased his pace. “But you have to be back on the sixteenth.”
“I’ll be back here on the twentieth.” The genie spoke softly. “Mark, we have time.” He chuckled. “We are managing to enjoy each other’s’ company in spite of your shedding.”
His lover had a point; the dragon slowed. They’d reached the edge of the beach. He didn’t need to stalk down the street displaying his frustration for all and sundry.
“Good morning, gentlemen. We’re having a Christmas sale the entire month of December. Two bouquets for the price of one. If you’re looking for something for your mothers, or girlfriends maybe…?”
Mark caught Luke’s amused sidelong glance, but decided to behave himself. “I think we’re all right.”
“You have lilacs?” Luke bent over one of the carts on the sidewalk. “That’s unusual, isn’t it?”
“Not for us, sir,” the man said, and he smirked at Mark. “They’re a favorite of many of our female customers. Mothers especially love them. They’re a symbol of — ”
“Do you have heliotrope?” the genie asked, his excitement brightening the air.
Instant Hanukkah gift. And I can’t mess up flowers. I certainly can’t burn them, or forget any ingredients. Mark settled back to listen and watch this exchange out of the corner of his eye even as he pretended to be completely absorbed in a pamphlet on the meaning of different carnation colors.
“Never mind,” Luke said. “What about vivendel?” Luke still sounded excited. “Or geitrams?”
The florist’s smug expression had vanished. “I don’t find this at all funny. You’ll have to leave.”
Burying his need to itch, Mark wrapped his arm around Luke’s waist and kissed his cheek. “Come on. Let’s go home and make breakfast.”
Not a single florist in the Tampa Bay area had heard of the second two flowers Luke had mentioned, although Mark couldn’t be quite sure he was pronouncing them correctly. On the other hand, he knew he’d said heliotrope right, and not a single florist had any of that, either.
He’d managed to gather some of the flowers he wanted: red carnations, which he hoped represented love, and lilacs because Luke’s excitement spoke for itself.
Maybe his enjoyment of the purple lilacs has something to do with the Gay Pride Parade, he thought as he rearranged the flowers for the hundredth time in the vase he’d bought an hour ago. Luke was thrilled by the huge march in Orlando.
His cell phone rang. Without looking at the caller I.D., he answered, “Tavery.”
“That’s an interesting way to answer your mother’s call.”
He groaned. “I’m sorry. It’s been a rough day.”
“I’m trying to find these flowers Luke likes and no one’s ever even heard of them. It’s driving me absolutely crazy. And he’s going to be home in twenty minutes. He’s already given me two beautiful gifts, and the dinner I tried to make for him last night… Mom, it stank up the whole house.”
“Vivendel, geitrams, and heliotrope.”
“The first two are Norwegian flowers.”
“How…” He swallowed his confusion and shocked relief. “How do you know that?” Maybe it even makes sense for Luke to like those. He was born a Viking, and even if he’s been away from his homeland for so long…
Her laughter was the tinkling of silver bells. “Mark, when will you remember that our family, specifically my side of the family, is originally from Austria? Now that doesn’t make me an expert, but it did make me interested in that part of the world, especially when my grandmother and great-aunts told us stories at night about growing up in Germany and touring Europe.
“The bad news is you won’t find those flowers here in the United States.”
“But you might find edelweiss.”
Mark grinned. “Mom, I love you.”
“I know. Hurry. You only have fifteen minutes.”
“Are you going to show me now?” Luke asked.
Mark sat next to the genie and kept the vase behind his back. Heat radiated up from the sand and through the blanket. “Will you conjure the menorah and a table to put it on?” He produced his lighter.
Luke settled beside him and poofed the desired items onto the sand.
The midnight blue of the eastern sky faded toward white and even peach over their heads, turning to soft blues, pinks, and the glowing orange of the sun’s passing in the west. Mark lit the first four candles.
Luke rested his hand on Mark’s thigh. “Now can I see what you brought me?”
“Impatient?” But he couldn’t wait either. Carefully, he took the vase from behind his back.
The candle flames seemed to dance in the depths of Luke’s dark blue eyes. “I’ve never seen…” He touched one of the carnations. “Did you go back to the jerk we dealt with this morning?”
“Not a chance. I hunted all over Gulfport, and I even found out what all the flowers mean.” Ignoring his need to itch for the moment, he laid his hand over Luke’s.
His lover set the vase in the sand within the diamond of his crossed legs. “What do the carnations mean?”
Mark rested his head briefly on Luke’s shoulder, closing his eyes when the genie kissed his hair. “They mean I love you.”
“And the… This is edelweiss! Mark, where did you find this?”
I didn’t mess the flowers up. “There’s a little shop on 58th Street. Edelweiss is the national flower of Austria, but it grows in Norway and Finland too.”
“Yes it does.” He laughed. “Is that why you got it?”
Mark sat up, meeting his lover’s gaze in the growing dimness. “Isn’t that why you like the flower?”
“Sort of.” Luke kissed the tip of Mark’s nose.
The dark-haired man knew he was blushing scarlet.
“I like edelweiss and the others you heard me name today because they’re from your original homeland. My home is wherever you are, my Mark, but I know how much closer you’ve grown to your family during these last few months, and I don’t want you to lose that.” He squeezed Mark’s hand. “What about the lilacs? Is that because I was excited about them today?”
He almost couldn’t confess. Looking toward the water, he said, “They’re purple, and since you showed so much excitement during the Gay Pride Parade back in June, I thought…”
Mark bowed his head. “I know, I know.”
“It’s all right, my Mark. I love them. They’re beautiful.”
“But they’re not right.”
“So?” Luke touched Mark’s cheek with gentle fingers, turning his head until their lips met lightly. “They’re perfect. They’re from the man I love, the man I’ll gladly share the rest of eternity with.”
“But — ”
Luke kissed him into silence. “Enough. Do you trust me?”
Mark sighed. “Yes.”
“Then believe I love this bouquet.”
He returned Luke’s kiss. With interest. “I trust you.” But in two days, I’m going to get this right.