Disclaimers: I don't know how flower shops operate exactly, I only took one semester of floral design lol. This is just my best guest after having exactly one (1) part time job. I'm not projecting on my OC, you're projecting :0

If you want to leave critiques or commentary, highlight a section and comment :) This is nowhere near finished btw, sorry for cliffhangers (but not really). I'm not exactly sure where this will end up going, I've just been planning out bits and pieces of this story for a few months now. This is serving as a way for me to improve my writing style and how I develop characters.

content warnings: depictions of blood, vomit, anxiety symptoms, and lots of medical/ hospital terminology in general - this is very self indulgent and angsty hnng- If this kind of dramatic story isn't your cup of tea, feel free to skip this read :)

/

Ethan Miller sighed as he boarded the public bus, a half empty cup of coffee forgotten in his left hand. It was bitter and bland: he was trying to stop drinking pure sugar, thank you. The bus squeaked to a start, and he hurriedly grabbed one of the few remaining empty poles. Empty seats were sprinkled throughout the aisles of the bus, but Ethan was especially not in the mood to sit next to a stranger. The gentle bumping of the ride nearly lulled him to sleep, but the dull coffee still in his hand was not nearly inviting enough to make him want to change that. If the bus were emptier, he usually would have sat down to enjoy a few minutes of quiet on his phone, but he relished the excuse to empty his mind for the ride that morning. If anything, him standing up was merely a reason to ignore the barrage of texts and calls he was receiving from his entire family.

His pocket buzzed again, further worsening his mood. He loved his family, really, he did. But they were starting to get on his last nerves. Both his mother and father were texting him separately, venting their grievances about the other parent. His younger brother also contacted him frequently, wanting to find solace when their parents argued.

If Ethan was being honest with himself, he did not expect his parent's marriage to last much longer. It had stayed relatively stable throughout his childhood, but as his high school career came to an end, he started to see the cracks in it widening. Or maybe he just began seeing what was always there. His parents began to fight much more as he made it clear what he wanted to do with his career. His mother had always been more approving of his younger brother, who was more social and studious than Ethan would ever be. He wanted to be happy where he was, but knowing he was disappointing his family did dampen his spirit.

Ethan was coaxed out of his thoughts as the bus came to a stop. His brain seemed to subconsciously be waiting for the right stop as he ruminated, and his feet started moving to exit far before he realized what was happening. The crisp morning air brought him out of his reverie, so he began to walk the block and a half to his work. He took a few more sips of his now lukewarm coffee, pointedly ignoring the occasional buzzes of his phone before dumping the nearly empty cup in a nearby trash can. He stopped in front of the building, fishing the keys out of his pocket at the sight of the darkened windows. Opening the door, he was hit with a wave of fragrant air and a small smile appeared on his face. He made quick work of turning on the lights and depositing his jacket in the break room, tying an apron around his waist so he could get to his favorite part of the morning. With the store quiet and morning light gently filtering in through the windows, he began to water the various potted flowers and foliage throughout the shop.

Amy's Floral Boutique and Garden Center. It rested in a quiet corner of the city where it wasn't overshadowed by larger buildings. It was built over an old residential house from before the city urbanized, and though it was small the business was quite successful. Ethan was finishing up his degree in floral design online, with an emphasis in floriculture. One day he hoped to open a shop of his own, but in the meantime he thoroughly enjoyed the quietness and creative outlet that came with his current apprenticeship. He hummed quietly to himself, grabbing a pair of floral shears and heading to the greenhouse outback. When he walked in he was hit with a wave of humidity and warmth when he stepped in, the hum of the fans calming his nerves. Here they kept the plants they grew in bulk to sell that couldn't survive in the shop itself. He began pruning a row of poinsettias to prevent overgrowth, picking out any dead leaves along the way. It was months until the Christmas season, but they began growing them really early in the year. The stresses of the morning began to melt away as he completed his routine, dumping the dead foliage into a compost bin as he entered the shop proper again. With nothing else to do before his coworkers arrived, he entered the break room and sorted through customer files left from the night before.

A few minutes later the front door chimed, and his boss, Robin, entered the break room to clock in. Her graying hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail, and her face was pulled into an uncharacteristic frown. She addressed Ethan.

"Ethan, I have a big favor to ask of you this morning." He stood up, attention piqued at the unusual request. "Rachel called in sick this morning and we were already short staffed today, would you be able to handle customers up front today?"

His heart rate spiked. He had on that day being a quiet relaxing break from his homework and family. He normally worked in the back, tending to the plants and arranging large orders in the solitude of the workroom. Dealing with customers was not his forte. But then again, neither was disobeying his boss. Despite her calm and happy demeanor, he had seen her deal with difficult clients, and he was grateful he was never in her line of fire.

"Uhmm, sure," he replied, somewhat meekly. "I'll probably need help working the cash register though."

"Oh yes, I'll give you a bit of training before we open."

The next half hour was spent learning how to exchange currency, work the phone, box smaller on site orders, and where to organize customer paperwork. At 9:00 on the dot, the open sign was turned on and his training finished when Robin left to work in the back. The day always began slowly, but picked up around noon when an influx of mothers arranging events, husbands buying spouses flowers, and the bereaved arranging funerals would call or arrive. Many online orders were sent to the back, leaving Ethan to arrange pick up orders like corsages, boutonnieres, and other small arrangements. Customers came and went, whether to buy a potted plant, to make or pick up an order, or merely to browse. As the day dragged on, Ethan found himself growing more and more exhausted. He wasn't used to interacting with so many strangers, and standing in one place for so long was beginning to wear him down. During the slow hours of the afternoon, he felt himself beginning to drift off, his cheek resting on his fist, cursing the bland coffee he'd had that morning.

Seconds before he would have inevitably lost consciousness, the door chimed followed by a large slam, shaking nearby displays. Startled awake, Ethan whipped his head towards the door to see a plump middle aged woman holding a dishevelled arrangement in one hand storming towards him, seething. Before he had a chance to react, she slammed the arrangement down onto the counter in front of him, sloshing the water in the vase and disturbing the arrangement further. The vase looked like it had once been a nice arrangement, with some peach roses, button chrysanthemums, a dash of baby's breath and some foliage. But it was half ripped to shreds now, pieces dangling vicariously from it's edge. The woman gestured vaguely at the flowers, her face red and lips pursed tightly together.

"Uhh… how can I help you today ma'am?" Ethan asked, unable to keep the incredulous expression off of his face.

"Oh, you can help me alright!" The woman yelled indignantly. Ethan expected her to continue, but she folded her arms and glared at him expectantly.

He gestured towards the sad looking vase dripping on the counter. "Is this, er.." He cleared his throat. "Is this something you purchased?"

"Yes, it is something I purchased," she sneered. "How do you not even recognize your own product? The level of incompetence here is astounding!"

Ethan chuckled awkwardly, tension rising in his throat. "Oh well, I don't usually work up front, I'm-"

"Oh I'm sure you don't boy. I'm sure you also have plenty of other excuses for how you ruined my sister's birthday!"

His throat closed up, any sort of automatic response dying before he could sputter it out. Utter bewilderment and confusion were written on his face. The woman rolled her eyes, as if dealing with a petulant child. "I *purchased* this arrangement yesterday as a gift for my sister's birthday," she explicated in a slow and condescending manner. "And the minute I brought it home my dog destroyed it."

Ethan attempted to swallow the ever growing knot in his throat, adopting a sympathetic tone. "Oh, well I'm sorry to hear that ma'am, but I'm afraid we're not responsible for any damage that occurs aft-"

Any remaining patience the woman seemed to be holding left as she slammed her hand on the counter, a manicured finger pointing uncomfortably close to Ethan's chest. "If you were a RESPONSIBLE business you would refund me immediately!" she screeched, her face growing more and more purple. "Is there anyone competent working here? Where is your manager?"

It took a solid five uncomfortable seconds for Ethan's brain to catch up before he could sputter out a response. He was sure his face was an embarrassing shade of tomato at this point. "M-my boss is.. uh, she's not here right now, she's delivering an order." His voice got smaller as he unintentionally imitated a cowering puppy. Is this what dealing with customers was always like? He was so tired..

The woman launched into another tirade, but Ethan was having a hard time registering it. He tugged on the leather bracelet he always kept on his left wrist in a nervous tic. He debated if he could get away with locking himself in the break room without getting fired, but found himself unable to move as his internal moral struggle clashed with the screaming of the woman in front of him. He was yanked back into reality as she grabbed the top of his apron and pulled his body forward. "Look at me when I am talking to you!"

Ethan gulped and feebly tried to pull away only for her grip to tighten and pull back more. He was easily half a foot taller than her, but his body was shaking so hard he was sure if someone breathed on him he'd fall over. Well, maybe not, seeing as the woman in front of him was huffing so hard he could envision steam coming out of her nostrils. She looked near ready to slap him, her other hand raised menacingly, but they both were jolted to reality as the break room door slammed open. Robin examined the scene unfolding and immediately took a stance behind the counter next to Ethan. The woman finally let go and seemed to even be pleased as she folded her arms back in front of her. "Finally, you must be the person in charge around here."

"I am. Do you care to explain why you were harassing my employee?" Robin's face was the pinnacle of calm but her eyes glinted coldly.

The two began to argue, any temporary calmness the lady had disappearing again. Robin must have said something that really upset her, because she smashed the vase onto the ground and marched out of the store, spitting a slew of profanities and insults. The front door slammed and the store was quiet once again.

/

Robin looked at Ethan for the first time since coming in. He wasn't really looking at anything, his face starkly pale. (He was already a very pale person, she mused. Was it possible for skin to be translucent?) He wasn't moving except for a subtle shaking and his hand tugging on his bracelet. She gently touched his shoulder. He jolted a bit and glanced in her direction. "Are you okay?"

Ethan's mouth opened and closed several times, his eyes not quite looking at her face. The only thing she managed to hear was a whispered "excuse me" as he ducked behind her and practically ran into the break room.

Robin sighed, deciding to clean up the shattered vase on the floor to give him some privacy before checking up on him. Working in retail for many years as a single mother had prepared her for dealing with nightmare customers, but Ethan clearly had no such experience

She wouldn't really expect him to, he was still a young college student, new to the workforce. His passion for plants and nature made him a very valuable team member, but his quiet and soft-spoken demeanor were not very compatible with the customer service end of their work. In many ways, he reminded her of her own son, albeit her son was still in high school.

Robin dumped the last of the glass shards from her dustpan, wiping her hands on her work apron. She decided she would mop up the water later and peered into the break room. It was empty. There was only one other door, the one that led to the back porch and greenhouse. She knocked gently before slowly opening the door. The scene laid out in front of her caused her heart to ache.

Ethan was sat on the back steps desperately wiping at his face after noticing her presence. His neck was bright red and his shoulders were tensed. The brown work apron she was so used to him wearing lay discarded on the ground next to him. Before she could collect her thoughts she heard him stutter out an apology.

"S-sorry, I'll get back to-o work, I can, clean up the.. the mess-"

"Don't worry, I already have it handled," Robin said. She sat down on the step below him and patted his knee. He lifted his head confused, and she saw his face was splotchy and dampened from tears. He sniffed and looked away ashamedly.

"Sorry."

"No need to be," she stated matter-of-factly. "I wouldn't expect anyone reasonable to be able to deal with customers like her." Ethan merely groaned and placed his head in his hands.

Robin chuckled to herself. So much like her son. "I've finished up my deliveries for today, whaddya say we close up early today?" She looked at her watch, only two hours until closing. That seemed reasonable. She stood up and dusted her pants off. "I'll finish up inside, you can clock out whenever you're ready."

/

Ethan gripped his hair in his hands as tears began to roll down his cheeks again, more out of embarrassment at that point. He had cried in front of his boss. What a joke. He was always too sensitive for his own good. Too quiet, didn't have a backbone. His mother had never liked that about him. As long as he could remember she would constantly try to get him to be more sociable, to expand his interests. Team sports, signing him up for school clubs, arranging dates with neighborhood girls. His whole life felt like a constant state of trying to seek her approval but coming short. When his younger brother Ben began to grow up, he got lost somewhere in the background. His father was much more understanding and supportive, but he never objected to his wife's plans for her eldest son either. He wasn't sure what hurt worse.

The accumulated stress of the day gave way to a bone aching tiredness. Ethan wiped his face dry for the last time with the front of his shirt and took a few deep breaths. Internally he cursed his ginger hair and freckled, pale complexion. After any bout of emotion it took so long for his face to return to a normal hue. He must have looked like a complete wreck. Ideally he would've liked to continue hiding out back for a few more minutes, but the temptation of being able to return to his apartment was growing stronger than he could resist.

He reentered the break room and clocked out with his name tag. As he exited the building, Robin gave him a warm goodbye that he struggled to return back, settling for a wave and a smile that probably looked more like a grimace. He could feel guilty about that later.

Ethan relished the short walk to the bus stop . Realizing he didn't know when the next bus would arrive, he checked his phone as he sat down on the metal bench. His lock screen was blocked by lengthy texts from his mother, several missed calls from his father, and a short text from his brother: "call me as soon as you're off work."

He tapped on the last one, pointedly ignoring everything else. Pulling up his brother's contact he was met with a picture of them both smiling in the sun at a beach, both their faces burnt to a crisp.

Ben was a junior in high school, not incredibly popular but still very amicable with peers and adored by teachers. He was on the school track team and was a member of the student council. In a sense, everything his parents expected of Ethan. But Ethan held some small pride in the fact that despite all that, Ben looked up to him. He dialed his number.

The line rang once before his brother picked up. "Hello?"

"You wanted me to call?"

"Oh yeah, sorry. If you're still at work we can just talk later"

Ethan rested his chin on a fist. "We uh.. actually closed early today. I'll be at the bus stop for a while so I have time."

"Oh." Ben was quiet for a moment.

"What did you want to talk about?"

"I just needed someone to vent to I guess. Today's been.. rough." Ethan chuckled at that. No kidding. "I left the house early this morning; Dad was sleeping on the couch again. I'm sick of getting ready in the morning while they're both busy not talking to each other."

"Mm." Ethan didn't know how to respond. It seemed his family wanted to talk to anyone but each other. He couldn't blame Ben though, he was roped into the situation with no consideration of his feelings on the matter. And his only sibling left for college right when he needed him most. "Did anything happen after you came home from school?"

"Mom wasn't home. She left a note saying she's staying with Aunt Sheila for the night."

That was new. Their parents had never resorted to leaving the house overnight... yet. Ethan sighed and rubbed his face. " I'm sorry, really. Is there.. anything I can do for you? How about we meet after I get off work tomorrow? You could even spend the weekend at my place." He didn't even stop to consider if his parents would be okay with it: at the moment he wasn't too happy with what they thought anyway.

Ben's voice seemed marginally happier. "That sounds great. I'll uh, see you then."

"Yeah, bye."

"Bye."

/

Once Ethan returned to his apartment he immediately crashed onto the couch and took a nap. He woke up to find his arm was covered in dried up drool and that he hadn't even bothered to take his shoes off. His eyes were burning and he realized he hadn't taken his contacts out. He stumbled to the bathroom and peeled the dry lenses off painfully, drenching his now blurry eyes with eye drops. A quick squint at his phone told him it was just past seven. His mouth was dry and his body was heavy with a bone deep tiredness that could only accompany an ill timed rest.

His stomach grumbled and Ethan realized he hadn't eaten since the ham and cheese sandwich he had packed for his lunch break. He grabbed his glasses he kept for situations like this and headed to his main main room. A quick look through his fridge and pantry reminded him he was in desperate need of groceries.

While he was debating if he had any energy to go shopping he felt his cat Peanut rub up against his leg. He gave her a tired smile as he rubbed her light brown fur. He had adopted Peanut when he had moved into his own apartment a little over a year ago, as a sort of celebration for no longer having human roommates. He realized she was probably hungry and opened up a can of cat food for her. He mused that even if he always ran out of food for himself, at least he had enough food for his cat.

Ultimately, Ethan decided shopping wasn't worth the effort and settled for cereal and a slightly mushy banana. He set his food on the coffee table and snuggled up with Peanut to watch TV and work on some homework. He had a little more energy after the initial nap crash had worn off, and before he knew it it was past midnight. He still wasn't really tired yet, but he had to work again the next day, so he reluctantly closed his laptop and fell into a restless sleep.

It seemed as soon as he was able to drift off, Ethan was awoken by a clanking sound. He nearly ignored it but something else echoed and he grumpily lifted his head and looked around. It sounded like it was coming from the other room. Was Peanut knocking over his plants again? But a glance at her cat tree next to his bed confirmed that she was still sound asleep. He grabbed his phone and glanced at the time. It was 3:28. Great. Just great.

Grumbling, he quietly stepped out of his bed and turned on the flashlight on his phone. Maybe a bunch of ice had fallen out of his fridge, or the coffee maker was… malfunctioning? He was clearly too tired to think about this. Did he lock the door when he came in and napped earlier?

He opened his bedroom door and began down the small hallway. His apartment was a very small one bedroom one bathroom flat, with a common area next to a kitchenette. Not that he needed much more space- well, Peanut would probably appreciate more space. He would take her to the dog park sometimes and she would chase around dogs three times her size, she was such a weird ca-

A figure appeared in front of him and Ethan was pushed up against his fridge, his breath knocked out of him. The figure in front of him slashed its arm up; his phone clattered to the floor. It landed face down and eerily illuminated the figure in front of him revealing a man dressed all in black, a duffel bag slung over his shoulder and a glinting object held in a shaking fist. He locked eyes with the stranger for half a second -pure regret and fear were written across his face- before the man dropped what he was holding and ran out of the apartment.

Nausea crept up Ethan's throat and he stumbled onto his knees. Everything felt hot and dizzying as he tried to regain the breath that was knocked out of him so unreasonably hard. He bent over and a dripping sound pierced his skull. He was bleeding. He looked down at his cotton t-shirt with horror. He had been stabbed.

His breath began to quicken as the pure absurdity of his situation dawned on him. 911. He needed to call 911. He reached his right hand out to grab his phone but white hot pain flashed up his arm and he groaned. His hand was bleeding too, badly. The groan turned into a retch as his nausea peaked and he threw up on the tile floor. The taste of iron and bile sickened him more.

Adrenaline coursed through his body and in a moment of clarity he held his breath and kicked at his fridge, hard. The potted plant on top of his fridge rolled off and crashed to the floor next to him and the door opened, spilling out condiment bottles. His desired effect was achieved and the loud crashing rung in his ears. Hopefully his neighbors were light sleepers, or he was screwed. After breathing hard for a few more seconds to avoid passing out, Ethan rolled over and reached for his phone, this time with his left hand. Clumsily, he fumbled with the now cracked screen and pulled up the emergency call screen. Blood smeared lightly across the screen as he dialed the three number code. The line rang for an agonizing ten seconds before an operator picked up with a calm tone. "911 operator, what's your emergency?"

Ethan hadn't thought out what he was going to say, his brain a foggy adrenaline fueled mess. "My.. I was, someone broke into my apartment. He… I.."

His breath quickened and the nausea became overwhelming again and he turned away from the phone to vomit again. In the light of the open refrigerator he could see he was almost exclusively throwing up blood. His ears were ringing harshly, and it took several seconds before he registered the operator.

"-ir? Sir can you hear me? Are you hurt?"

That was an easier question for him to answer. "Yes! Yes, he.. I was stabbed. He stabbed me." Deliriously he pointed at his stomach, almost laughing when he realized the operator couldn't see that.

"Alright sir, can you tell me your address?" Ethan recited his street and apartment number, wheezing in between breaths. He wasn't sure if it was from the panic, or if he had been impaled in the lung. The thought only caused his breathing to quicken more. The operator informed him an ambulance was on the way and was instructing him to apply pressure to the wound when a knock on the door grabbed Ethan's attention. Help!

/

"Help!" He screamed hoarsely. He tried to scream again but his voice gave out as the door creaked open.

Mark was awoken by a distant crashing coming from his left. His wife, Sophie, stirred next to him and grumbled something about it being his turn to check. It wasn't unusual for the college kids in their building to be making lots of noise late at night. That's what they got for renting an apartment near a college campus. He prayed for the day when they would be able to move out, but he was between jobs. Thankfully they were usually shut up by a loud knocking and the occasional threat of calling the police. An even larger thud echoed followed by what sounded like breaking glass. Hell's sake, what was wrong with kids these days.

There was only one apartment to their left in the building, a one bedroom with a senior rooming in it. Huh, he didn't see him as the partying type. The only time he had ever interacted with the kid was via an awkward housewarming gift exchange. He'd brought over a floral arrangement for his wife. He was a little strange, sure, but not necessarily unkind. But clearly, Mark must have misjudged his character.

He trudged out of his apartment and knocked on the next door. The door was unlocked and opened, so he peered in. "Hey, what's the big idea with all this noise, my wife-"

He gasped as he finally focused on the crime scene in front of him. An open refrigerator cast an eerie glow on the kid, hunched in on himself and wheezing in a pile of… blood. The entire apartment was a mess, broken pots and condiment bottles strewed the floor around him. Sweet mercy. The two of them locked eyes and the raw fear on the other's face caused Mark to break into a cold sweat. He swore under his breath. The young man needed to get help, and fast.

"I- I'll be right back!" He blurted. He shut the door and ran back to his apartment. His mind was racing, and he kept muttering 'don't panic' under his breath. He shook his wife awake, probably more harshly than was necessary. Before she could react past an indignant cry he was pulling her to her feet and wrapping a robe around her shoulders.

She blinked some of the sleep out of her eyes, clearly annoyed at being woken up. "What on earth is going on?"

Mark's hands shook as his mouth tried to catch up with the information he'd taken in thirty seconds before. "The- the kid next door, he's hurt. Real bad, just. There's so much blood." He looked into Sophie's eyes with a silent plea. "He needs help."

She nodded, dazed, as he finished the robe around her and dragged her out of the apartment. She complied, curiosity and concern overruling her previous annoyance.

Sophie gasped when Mark burst through the neighbor's door. Though the light was dim the scene laid in front of her was horrific. The young man was muttering to his phone. Mark ran up to him and glanced at the screen. Sophie turned on the light.

Mark saw the dialed number and interrupted the operator. "Hello? I'm a neighbor, my wife and I came to help." The kid finally looked up at him scared and confused, as if he couldn't process that another person was there.

"Great, one of you needs to find a clean towel to press against his wounds, the other should find something to prop his legs up on to reduce shock." Mark glanced back at Sophie and she nodded, running out the door to get the materials. The operator then instructed Mark to place pressure directly to both wounds with the towels and elevate his hand above his heart. Mark hadn't even noticed a hand wound but it was immediately obvious the blood on his right hand was not from his stomach wound, which he had been holding with his left. The sight of all the blood was nearly enough to make him vomit. Although based off the smell in the room, it seemed the kid already did.

Sophie ran in seconds later holding a variety of bath and hand towels. Mark grabbed the stack and relayed the operators instructions. She grabbed hold of his hand and the kid showed his first sign of reacting to them being there. He keened as they shifted him away from the puddle of vomit and blood he was laying in. They followed the instructions and began applying pressure to the wounds, laying his head to the side so he wouldn't choke if he threw up again. His face twisted and his breathing began to quicken again. Tears began rolling down his face.

Sophie grabbed his good hand with her free one and squeezed it. "It's okay to be scared." Her shaky voice betrayed she was feeling quite similar. "Just keep breathing for me okay?" She tried to meet his glazed eyes with some amount of success. Mark kept talking to the operator, confirming information and relaying their own names.

Distant sirens were audible in the nearly silent room, aside from labored breathing. Mark squeezed his eyes shut. He already knew this night would haunt him for years to come. The towel pitched under him as the kid -Ethan, the operator had called him Ethan- coughed and retched, blood sputtering out of his mouth. The sirens were growing louder.

The wait for paramedics to arrive was agonizing. Sophie tried her hardest to calm Ethan down, but it was hard to do so when she could barely keep her own panic at bay. The growing noise seemed to drive Mark further into hysteria. Finally, the apartment door was opened again, and am EMT quickly pulled Mark and Sophie aside so they could administer emergency first aid. An oxygen mask was pulled over his face, and temporary thick compression bandaging was applied. The couple could only stand helplessly as he was placed on a stretcher and whisked away in a matter of seconds.

Of course they couldn't follow him to the hospital, they barely knew him. But Mark felt so attached to the college kid he'd just witnessed near death in front of him that he had a hard time restraining himself from chasing after the ambulance. He looked down at his hands, covered in another human's blood. Sophie leaned into him, trembling, and broke down into sobs. Mark closed his eyes and hugged her tightly, finally allowing tears of his own to fall.