He noticed him first in the flower shop. He was youngish, like a little kid, as he put flowers up on the shelves. They were great big flower arrangements, with blue and yellow flowers sprouting out of them, accompanied by long, flimsy grasses. The boy would put them on the shelf and turn them so the most appealing side of them faced outwards, before sticking a card in the dirt and moving on to the next one. He continued his little job, putting flowers on the shelf, with a hypnotized look on his face and a small smile.
He went into the flower shop and pretended to be interested in the roses on display. He finally wondered his way over to the boy. He looked at the arrangements and glanced at the boy's name tag: Carter.
"What's your name?" he asked. The boy looked up momentarily before facing him and holding out the name tag.
"Carter," he said. By the sound of his voice, he sounded fairly young, not much older than twelve, if even that.
"Carter?" he echoed.
"Yeah." Carter went back to putting flowers on the shelf and positioning them. The shop had several low shelves to show off various arrangements, and they were all covered with baskets of flowers and bouquets of flowers, of various colors and size. Perhaps there were even in accordance to the Victorian flower language, with ones varying between declarations of love, and ones that were declarations of failed love. There was a glass case underneath the register counter that contained those particularly expensive flowers, tulips and such.
"What's your name?" Carter asked. The cart on which he held the flowers squeaked as he moved it.
"Oh, my name's not important," the man said.
"Hey, you asked mine," Carter whined. "It's only fair."
"Alright then," he said, with the tone one would use if he was giving in to a rather pouty child. "My name is Ethan."
"Ethan?" Carter asked. "You don't look like an Ethan to me." He eyed the older man, and went back to his flowers.
"You seem too young to work here," Ethan said.
"My parents run it. They give me five dollars if I work for a little while."
"Well," Ethan said, and chuckled. "That's quite a fortune for someone your age."
Carter snorted. "I don't know who you're trying to fool. My parents know that that's way under minimum wage. I swear to god the only reason they had me was to work here, so they don't have to do it themselves." He paused. "I'm actually not supposed to be talking to customers if I haven't seen them before. If you want help, go ring that little bell on the counter and my parents will talk to you."
Carter continued placing flowers and didn't look at Ethan again.
Ethan looked a little more at the flowers before leaving. He didn't buy anything, and he didn't say another word. He left the little world of flowers and entered the world that is the chaos of downtown. He didn't say anything to anybody, and simply chose to go home.
While he programmed himself towards home, he let his mind wonder.
He imagined Carter. Little Carter in the flower shop, messing with flowers. Except this Carter was older. Both versions had light brown hair, a sort of tousled look. The only difference was, while it was charming on little Carter, it seemed unkempt on older Carter. It looked careless, inattentive. The older Carter was, of course, taller. Perhaps taller than Ethan himself; Ethan wasn't all that tall when he was that age. He would retain his rounder face, soft features. He would work out regularly, but he wouldn't be buff. His body wouldn't be built for ripped abs, just some soft toning. He wouldn't be handsome, the way that would make women fall over him like ninnies. He would be respectable—except for that hair—presentable, polite, kind, the perfect gentleman, yet he would have that personality that was perfectly forgettable, unless you knew how to look and listen to him. By the time he was that age, he would have several relationships, none of them bad or poor, but none of them lasting. He would remain on civil speaking basis with one of his exes, but nothing more than that. He would date occasionally, but he would undoubtedly forget about an entire half of the playing field. Eventually, one of his more liberal dates would propose a dare where he would have to bring a male date and she a female one, and they would all go out.
Carter would choose him almost randomly, a stranger who posed some interest to him. He would not remember that they've met years ago, one day in the flower shop when Carter was twelve. The thought would not cross his mind. But, despite not remembering, they would have a great time. Afterwards, Ethan would invite him over, in almost a continuation of their dare, but a different one, a dare to go further. Carter replies in the positive, almost too positively. Once they got to his house, Carter would admit that that was the best date that he's ever been on, and that he's honestly attracted to Ethan, and then they would have sex.
Ethan paused outside his apartment, a vision imprinted in his mind. Ethan would be naked, save for his apron, with the name and logo of Ruscoe's Flower shop across the fabric, and he would have a flower grasped in his teeth, which looked like a desert weed, tiny and delicate, with three white blooms on one side. Ethan would later learn that this was a coriander, but that wouldn't matter then, when Carter would pluck one of the leaves off the flower and toss the rest aside. The flower would land on the side of the bed and would be ignored.
Carter would put the leaf in his mouth and slowly chew it before kissing Ethan, who would taste nuts and oranges on his lips. Then Carter would slowly disrobe Ethan, removing his shirt and pants, and Ethan would quickly untie Carter's apron.
Ethan quickly unlocked his apartment door. He felt that the room was vacant without another occupant. But it's been as such since he left college, often empty. It wasn't large, so the lack of another person was far too obvious. Ethan slowly sat on his bed with his head in his hands. He felt all wrapped up in his fantasies, his fantasies of an older Carter, an older Carter who would sit next to him with his arms around him, completely devoid of clothes. His hands would be soft, as evidence of his constant devotion of his flower shop, but they wouldn't feel so soft on his stomach, his thighs.
Yet there was no older Carter there with his soft hands. There was nobody. Ethan slid across the bed, reaching for his phone. It rang softly before someone picked up.
When the phone was answered, Ethan felt a swirl of warm fire spread through his body and settle at the bottom of his stomach. But it was nothing like the soft heat that he felt in the presence of his older Carter, nothing at all. The fire was like lava, boiling and liquid, seething and burning him from the inside out. After several minutes he hung up the phone and laid back against his bed, imagining his fake Carter above him, one knee on either side of his body, his hands next to his head. Carter would dip his head down and nuzzle at Ethan's neck, with soft nips, his breath smelling like orange and spice. The movement would rustle his shirt slightly, which made the fabric move lightly over his body. The nerves within his skin would pick up on the texture and buzz, warming from the fiction, making his whole body hum. It was all simply because of the older Carter's soft movements, so soft and impulsive, yet calculated. He would know just how to move to light Ethan's body with soft, flickering flames, or coolly burning coals, soft, radiant heat. It would be absolute perfect, the quintessential state of being, of comfort.
But it would be years before something like that would happen. It would be years before the boy was old enough to be worth lusting over. Right now, he was simply the beginning, the blank paper upon which to draw and write. There was so much for him to learn before he could crawl, leering, over somebody with an herb between his lips. Ethan longed for him now, his little fantasy, his older Carter. But that was impossible, sorely impossible. His fantasy Carter didn't exist yet, not yet, not for years. Maybe not ever. It was the downfall of fantasies. There was never any assurance that it would actually come to pass. Oh, how one's imagination can tease one dearly, some tantalizing worm on a string, just waiting to be baited and cast and caught.
Ethan moaned softly and placed a hand on his stomach. Oh, what a world, he would moan to himself. Oh, what a world. Ethan waited patiently on his bed, as if two decades would pass for him if he simply waited, to contribute to his little fantasy. It would be the first sensation that he would feel in twenty years, to see the older Carter walk through that door.
There was a soft knock, a knock mindful of the quickly waning day. Ethan slowly rolled himself off his bed and fastened his pants as he walked towards the door and opened it.
He was no Carter. He wasn't anything like Carter, or some pale imitation of Carter. He had no soft brown hair, no soft warm hands. All he brought was a bit of boiling fire, and nothing else. He was nothing more than that fire, didn't signify any more than that fire. He wasn't any softly churned coals or radiant heat. He was simply slipping fire. He was nothing, he compared nothing. He was nothing, not Carter now, nor Carter twenty years from now. Why could he settle for this?
Simply because he was there, and Carter was not.