hearts don't break around here
"Gaillardias grandifloras," Mr. Sears said. "Also known as 'blanket flowers,'" he said again, and TK smiled a bit with the new piece of information.
"And what does it mean?" the paramedic asked, and Mr. Sears let out a happy huff with that question. It was almost a rule by now that any new flower would result in those two questions coming from TK, and the older man couldn't say he was annoyed by it.
"Modesty, charm, happiness," the man answered, and TK smiled. "Joy of being together, too. It's a subtle option to give to friends or that boy you are crushing on and never dare to speak your feelings to," he said, and it caused TK to laugh a bit before rolling his eyes.
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Chapter two: in agrimonies, thou thankfulness glistens
Austin was calm for a big city.
Sure, it had lights and noise, and people walking around their own misery all the time ― but it was calmer, for their distress didn't seem to be constantly under a spotlight. There were more trees here and there, and you could hear the birds every morning, just like dogs barking and whatever it is that seems to be screaming when the sun comes up.
The streets were large and full of lights, and it was crowded as long as daylight was shining over them and reflecting on the buildings ― but it would settle as the moonlight started to replace the golden glow for a pale, gentle one. Things would seem to be a little more silent, and the pace would slow down significantly, making it look like the big city went to sleep.
Austin was calm for a big city, indeed.
It was the first thing to cross his mind whenever he woke up by the morning or in the middle of the night, and it was possible to hear crickets sharpening the silence surrounding the streets. If he tried hard enough, he would be able to listen to the sleepy city itself, a few cars and motorcycles every now and then, a few owls hiding from the remaining lights of the streetlights.
It was a feeling he had forgotten he could ever feel ― if he ever did, for growing up in New York takes away most of the sense of silence. It was soothing, most of the time, and it helped whenever he couldn't get to sleep after a busy day.
Because, even if Austin was calm for a big city, he could count on his fingers the number of slow days he had gotten since the job had started.
Today wasn't one to add to the math.
After killing the truck engines, it hadn't been a second before the alarms blared around the station.
Thankfully, as TK leaped out of the ambulance, the other paramedic team from the B-shift was already running in their direction, taking over the vehicle and thanking the Universe that the last call they've been to didn't require more than some gauze and the stethoscope.
He chuckled to himself before wishing the other team good luck that day and stretching his back, walking towards the kitchen to grab a glass of water.
The firehouse was well organized, despite the messy crew that was usually there. It had light, cream-painted walls and more space than other firehouses had ― and maybe hitting walls with a hammer when they first got to Texas had something to do with that.
The kitchen was well equipped, solid wooden colors contrasting with the light ones around and the glass walls that were brought up upstairs to be the captains' offices ― "because I don't want walls between me and my team, TK," his father had said. It had a marble island in the middle, more cups inside the cabinets than mouths to feed in the firehouse, and a coffee machine that seemed to be the most precious acquaintance the fire captain ever had in his entire life.
Further, the dinner table and the room in which the fire crew and the EMTs spent their free time, with couches, some puffs, a television, and all the dog's toys they could find ― including a shoe that didn't belong to them, and a plastic shovel no one dared to search for the owner.
Mostly, it was a peaceful place. TK liked it quite a lot, and it was one of the things that made him happy to get to work every day ― it was a comfortable place he could just sit still and wait for the following rescue and then relax when they got back from one.
Yet, it was his second favorite place in the world.
"Oh, thank God it's over," TK heard Marjan say, stepping into the kitchen and dropping herself in one of the chairs. "I can't believe I made it out alive," she groaned, dramatically faking to bump her head against the marble surface of the island.
"C'mon, Marj; it was far from being the worst shift we've had," another voice came around, and TK turned his body, a glass of water in his hand, pressing his hip against the counter and looking at Paul, who was smiling at his friend's complaint.
"Yeah, I mean, I think the worst call was the woman trapped in the birdcage," TK said, chuckling a bit to the memory. "I still can't believe that."
Paul, who was laughing with him, huffed.
"Tell me about it," he said. "People are getting more insane each day. I wonder what we'll see every time I step into this firehouse," he concluded, and TK nodded in agreement, sipping his water.
Marjan groaned one more time.
"I see my bed every time I step into this firehouse," she said, her tone muffled by her arm. "And you two are only happy because you didn't get to be with the kids while that man was hanging from the foul treehouse," she commented again, passing her hands over her hijab and lifting her head again.
At the deadly look that she gave the both of them, both men swallowed the chuckle that escaped their lips, Paul looking around and TK taking one more sip of water from his glass. Marjan sighed, throwing her body back and letting her head bend back, too, closing her eyes for a second.
Paul and TK shared a look, shrugging shortly after and moving around the kitchen one more time. The black man took an apple out of the basket over the sink and sat in front of Marjan at the island while TK just washed the glass and turned around, checking the clock before moving to the lockers.
Paul stopped him before he could do it, though.
"Are you going home, man?" he asked, and TK turned around again to look at him before answering.
A smile took over his lips as he did so.
"To the flower shop," he said, watching as Marjan, with a vexed expression, looked back at him.
"You just worked a forty-eight-hour shift and are going to work more?" she asked, her voice seeming to be cautious and thoroughly disbelieved. "What the hell, TK?"
He only shrugged, but Paul pointed at Marjan, agreeing with a nod.
"She's right, dude," he said. "You should get some rest. It doesn't matter how slow the shift seemed to be; it's not good to overdo yourself like this," he said, his voice just as steady as it always was when he was right.
And Paul was usually right.
But TK dismissed that fact as he usually did, too.
"It's barely a job, guys, and you know it," TK replied, waving his hand. "I like being there, Mr. Sears likes having me around, and flowers are a good way to end the day," he pointed out, smiling as his friends rolled their eyes.
"You know another good way to end the day, Strand?" Marjan asked, and TK kept quiet, knowing it was rhetorical. "Pillows. And a mattress. And hours and more hours of silence," she sighed, closing her eyes for a second with a soft smile on her face. On the next second, though, it fell, and she groaned. "But I'll still have to drive, argh," Marjan complained, and TK swallowed a smile.
"I'll give you a ride; you take your car tomorrow," Paul said, and Marjan lit up again. "And, again, TK; she's right. You should get some sleep, man," he repeated, and TK only shrugged one more time.
"Don't worry about me," he said. "Promise I'll sleep all night through," TK completed, looking at the clock on the wall once more before clapping one hand on the other. "But I'll be late if I don't go change now. So, goodbye, sleep well, and I'll talk to you two tomorrow!"
TK didn't wait for the stressed answers before turning around and jogging to the stairs, chuckling to himself as Marjan said something about bringing her a flower since her wisdom had been completely ignored. He hopped up to the lockers, glad that it was empty the moment when he stepped into the showers to wash the day off him before getting to the flower shop.
As the water fell upon his skin, TK sighed. It hadn't been a hard day, but it was always good to relieve the tension that the job as a first-responder brought over his shoulders. Ending a shift without a loss and a scratch was always a blessing, and TK couldn't be more thankful for that, especially with his record of injuries.
He washed his hair quickly, doing the same to his body and then grabbing the towel to go to the lockers and get his clothes ― his "civilian uniform," as Judd called it ― which counted with a pair of jeans, buttoned-up, printed t-shirt, and a hoodie. That was basically his whole wardrobe if being honest. It even caused Paul to ask why he had so many printed clothes if he only ever wore hoodies over it, no matter how hot it was outside.
He couldn't deny it, for it was true ― but he wouldn't change his clothing choices either.
Less than twenty minutes, TK was already getting his bag from his locker and passing his fingers through his dumped hair, just to destroy how he had combed it mere minutes before. It became a habit to have his strands messy because, some days, he would be in such a hurry or such a low place he would forget his hair needed brushing.
Now, it was almost his mark.
After throwing his bag over his back, TK took his earphones and chose a random playlist to play as he walked to the flower shop. Walking down the stairs, he changed track by track, though, until there was a song he was willing to listen to while getting out of the firehouse as if the shuffle play hadn't been chosen three seconds earlier.
"Going home, Strand?" he heard someone calling beside him and turned around to see Tommy and a bunch of papers over the counter. TK smiled at her, taking one of the earphones off and slowing his pace to talk to her.
"Not quite," he replied. "Heading to the flower shop. You, on the other hand..." he said, gesturing to all the papers. Tommy chuckled.
"Yeah. I'm stuck here for a while longer," the captain said, looking down at the documents on the counter too. "And I'd give a lot for the chance to sleep tight now, Strand. Why don't you do that?" she asked, and TK arched his eyebrows.
"You too, Cap?" he asked, then, sighing. "I'm fine. And the flower shop is never stressful," TK assured, and Tommy raised an eyebrow, too.
"Dealing with people is stressful, Strand, even when they're buying flowers," she said, and TK rolled his eyes lightly. "Besides, even if it isn't, I'm sure that a forty-eight-hour shift does the job, uh?"
And, sure, she had a point. And TK didn't really care about it.
"I'm fine, Cap. I appreciate your worries, though," he said, smiling. "I'll make sure to bring you a daisy tomorrow."
Tommy chuckled, looking back at the documents in her hand.
"Of course, Strand," she said. "And tell Mr. Sears I said 'hello,' will you? It's been a while since I've last been there," Tommy requested. TK nodded, smiling and patting the counter quickly before walking away after the paramedic captain chuckled, shaking her head softly.
TK was only capable of walking six more steps before someone else called his name. Owen, this time, with a pile of paper like Tommy's under his arm and a cup of coffee in his hands as he walked in TK's direction.
"Going home already, son?" Owen asked, stopping in front of TK and taking a sip from his cup. TK stopped too with earphones still on without music playing.
"Flower shop," the man replied, looking at his cellphone screen to check the hour again and then looking up at his father. "Need me to bring you something?"
Owen pressed his lips for a second, shaking his head, just before he lifted his chin and gestured up with one finger, making TK arch one of his eyebrows.
"Actually, I think we ran out of spinach. Do you mind―?" the man started, and TK was quick to cut him off.
"Oh, no. No, nope," TK said, and Owen frowned. "I'm not being part of your lethal smoothies schemes, Dad. Not a chance," he said, and Owen opened his mouth in some sort of betrayal. TK kept on shaking his head, and his father blinked.
"Spinach is healthy, TK! And what do you mean by "lethal smoothie schemes"? There's no―"
"No, Dad, I'm not buying the spinach," TK said again. "And you're not buying it either, or else I'm getting rid of it," he pointed out, starting to walk again as Owen retorted something. "Bye, Dad. Love you, see you at home!" he greeted him goodbye, walking away and laughing at the expression his father had on his face.
Pressing play on his song, then, TK kept a quick rhythm out of the firehouse, his eyes darting to the time on the screen one more time. He sighed, and his fingers squeezed the strap of his bag over his shoulder, his feet walking a bit faster.
And, for Austin was calm for a big city, it was easy to dodge the crowd as he paced the sidewalks and streets. Sidewalks were extensive, and although crowded, there were much fewer people than Times Square whenever it was peak season.
The heat, though, was something TK still longed to get along with. While New York streets were crowded and always in movement, there would always be a gentle breeze every now and then, brushing over people's heads and rustling through their clothes as they walked in the shadows buildings made.
The city of Austin, on the other hand, was far too heated ― and TK could swear that the sun was vaster there than it was in New York ―, which would make him struggle to leave his house, especially in summer. He should have gotten used to it by now, but his muscles would always seem to melt, and his brain would most likely fry whenever he needed to take a walk under the sun.
At least, TK could tell, it had more trees than New York did, and it was an advantage when it came to hiding from the sun. Although the shadows weren't exactly chill, it was better than the soul-wrecking sunlight over his skin.
Judd would make fun of him, and so would Tommy ― Marjan would try to, but she would be struggling with the heat just as much, sometimes. And then, Paul would make fun of her, for someone from Miami should be slightly used to the heat and the sun.
Those were funny interactions ― except that one time when TK passed out due to the heat ― that would make him chuckle every time he remembered it, especially on the way to the flower shop, not really far from the fire station but not exactly close to it either. TK would hold his breath whenever a funny comment came to his mind, so he wouldn't sound entirely crazy while laughing as he kind of ran to where he needed to be.
In less than fifteen minutes ― of running and bumping into a few people ― TK could already see the mirrored building that stood before the flower shop. The building, a law firm, was an immense construction with large windows and busy people, although TK never really paid attention. The flowers and the people were better to look at than a skyscraper with walking headaches and ties.
Other than that, the lawyers that worked there would rarely stop their busy day to talk to anybody ― and TK could swear he never heard any of them in his life. Overall, he could understand; his mother was a lawyer herself, and TK witnessed closely how much time the job took and how much stress they were put under, but, still, it was a bit hard to believe none of them could ever do anything but to frown.
TK doubted that even more after he had met Grace, who was more an angel than an actual person.
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