So Pathetic






Chapter One





“I want a boyfriend.”

The wail of a dying man would’ve brought Yates more joy. Ranger’s self-pity routine had started to grate on his nerves. Every Friday night, he trundled off on a date with the enthusiasm of a horny cocker spaniel only to crawl into the flower shop the next morning like a dog on its last legs.

Yates ground his teeth. “Go get one.”

“I’m trying. Every dating app you can think of, I’m on it, and nothing. It’s dick pics, ab pics, feet pics.”

“Feet?”

“I’ve been told my feet are cute.”

Yates scrunched his face up and dropped his gaze to Ranger’s boots.

“Hey, hey, can’t have you getting a raging hard-on.”

“Unlikely. Feet don’t do it for me.”

“Why can’t it be like in the movies?” Ranger sighed.

“The movies?”

“A heated look with a passenger on a train. A grounded flight and only one bed at the hotel. A doomed ship that pushes two unlikely lovers together.”

“You’ve got to stop watching Netflix alone. Blood, gore, and action. Those are the type of programs you should be watching.”

“That’s everyday life. I don’t want to go home and see my everyday life. I want to see romance. I want to see a ‘Will you marry me?’ etched in the tag of a new puppy or a proposal with a Haribo ring at the airport.”

Yates tossed his head back and cursed at the ceiling. “Sometimes I miss the old Ranger.”

“Come on, you must feel something here.” Ranger slapped his hand over his heart. “You’re not made of stone.”

“No, I’m made of blood, flesh, bone. All the stuff I hope to see flying through the air in a Netflix movie.”

“You don’t want a boyfriend?”

“Definitely not.”

“Why not?”

“It’d involve giving a shit.”

“Caring, you mean?”

“Look, I care. I care about the guy I’m screwing. I want him to enjoy it. I want him to leave feeling satisfied, but that’s it. Emotions don’t need to be involved.”

“They don’t need to be, but I want them to be. The way Donnie speaks about Elliot…”

“He called him a little shit the last time I spoke to him.”

“Yeah, but it’s how he says it. His tone. The affection. The fondness. The love in the way he says it.” He sighed. “Little shit.”

Sunglasses hid Ranger’s eyes, but Yates suspected they were unfocused, welling up slightly.

He grunted. “You’re thirty seconds away from getting thrown through the window.”

Ranger took off his sunglasses and hooked them over the top of his vest. Just like Yates had predicted, Ranger’s eyes were wide and shimmering. Back to the puppy dog look.

“I mean, what’s wrong with me?”

He still wore his trademark black vest and mirrored shades, but he’d grown out the shaved part of his head with the tattooed snake. Not everyone liked snakes. Yates found his head boring to look at without the scar and the ink. Light-brown hair like most of the population.

“I think I’d make a good boyfriend.”

“You kill people for a living.”

“Does that make me a bad person?”

Yates folded his arms and levelled him with a glare. “It certainly doesn’t make you Jesus.”

“Fuck, Jesus…” Ranger pulled a red rose from a bouquet, and Yates flexed his biceps, flashing Ranger a macho display. Put down my flower. Ranger was too far gone to notice. He sighed as he spoke to the rose. “I would, you know?”

“Would what?”

“Fuck Jesus, that’s how desperate I am.”

“Pay someone to suck your dick and be done with it.”

Ranger began plucking the petals away, dropping them to the floor. Yates nearly hyperventilated behind the counter, paralyzed by the sheer ludicrousness of Ranger’s actions. That rose was from the premium bouquet. The biggest fucking roses in the county, and Ranger was sprinkling the petals from his fingertips.

“I know that’s what you spend your money on, but I don’t.”

“And what do you spend yours on?”

“Magazine subscriptions and hopeless dates.”

Yates lifted his eyebrow. “And we can see which of us is happier…”

“I don’t want to pay someone. I know you like the no-strings sex scene, but I want the strings, and the fights, and the plates left in the sink, and the bins that need taking out. I want the drama.”

He flung the stem away with a huff and reached for another rose.

“There will be drama if you pick up another.”

Ranger rolled his eyes. “Domestic drama.”

The bell to the shop sounded, and Yates plastered on his game face. A welcoming smile. He’d become a master at them. No hint of an assassin. Just a friendly flower shop owner that happened to be heavily scarred and tattooed and had impeccable taste in clothing.

His smile wasn’t returned. The man who’d just entered locked gazes with Yates and didn’t venture any further inside. He’d frozen, and in the odd stand-off, he paled.

“Hey…” Ranger whispered. Yates threw a sideways glance his way. “You might want to put down the guns.”

“What?”

Oh.

Yates stopped tensing his arms and rested them casually on the counter. He smiled again. “Can I help you at all?”

The man strolled forward, seemingly at ease now Yates had stopped his threatening display of muscles. He came to a stop at the counter and held out his hand to Yates.

“I’m Adam. My girlfriend sent me.”

He shook it, frowning at such a formal introduction.

“Lucky you,” Ranger sighed.

Adam inched away from Ranger, who’d picked out another premium rose. Yates kept hold of his anger, but the smile he forced his lips into began to twitch.

“Ignore him. What was your girlfriend after?”

Adam shook his head. “No, she didn’t want flowers.”

Then why come into a flower shop? Yates bit his tongue and waited for an explanation. Ranger had begun picking petals again, taking Yates to boiling point. Sweat itched his scalp, and he used his sleeve to dab his forehead, but it didn’t cool the anger drip feeding into his veins. Ranger was halfway through another goddamn rose, humming a cheerful tune under his breath.

Motherfucker.

“It’s about Edna Green.”

Yates blinked. The anger washed away. “Edna. Is she…?”

“No, she’s still alive.”

Edna Green. Seventy-years old. Grey, wiry hair. Could drive but really shouldn’t. Lived on Maple Avenue with her cat Mr Big. Yoga on Mondays, bingo on Fridays, and had her weekly grocery shopping delivered on Saturdays. Terminally ill but determined to be active until her dying breath. She’d started coming to the shop months ago and sat staring at the flowers for hours, never bought any, though.

Ranger’s fake cough pulled Yates from his thoughts. He blinked, focusing on Adam, who was looking edgy once again. He’d backed away from the counter. Yates’s empty stare did wonders, but it wasn’t the time to intimidate. It was time to listen.

“My girlfriend, Sandy, Edna’s her grandmother, asked me to drop by before work. Edna’s been coming in here a lot the last few months; she always comments on your shirts when we see her.”

Yates looked down at himself. A particularly flowery number. Huge printed sunflowers, to be exact. Ranger’s knee-jerk reaction upon seeing it was to burst out laughing. Then his tragic love life morphed it into an ugly sob.

“What does she say about them?”

“They’re shit,” Ranger muttered.

Yates gritted his teeth. His patience vanished. “Spit it out. What’s happened to Edna?”

“She had a bad fall. She’s fractured her pelvis. It’s pretty nasty, and she could do with some cheering up. This is her favorite place to look at flowers.”

That made Yates feel a surge of pride. There was nothing better than loyal customers. Except Edna had never actually bought anything. He smiled, and Adam smiled back. Everything was just peachy. Even Ranger destroying a rose didn’t seem quite so infuriating.

“I mean, I wanted to go to the supermarket; they’re half the price.”

Yates dropped his smile. Did this man want to die?

“But Edna insisted the best flowers were here. So here I am.” Adam reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. “About to pay a fortune for something I could pull from the ground myself.”

“No, you’re not.”

Adam glanced up with a sparkle in his eyes. “You’ll discount them?”

So that was his game.

Yates smirked. “No, no discount. You can go get your supermarket cheap bouquet.”

And preferably shove them up your arse.

But—”

“I’ll visit Edna with my own bunch.”

Adam slipped his wallet back into his pocket, frowning fiercely as if he was genuinely perplexed. “Okay, but could you write a card saying they’re from Sandy and me too?”

Yates lowered his gaze to the edge of the counter. The message Donnie had written in bold black marker pen screamed at him. He took a deep breath and looked at Adam, flexing his eyebrows.

“Get the fuck out of my shop.”

Adam recoiled as if Yates had flicked him. Only flicked. If Yates had punched him, he would’ve gone sailing through the window. He laughed at his thoughts, a common occurrence since the shop had been petrol bombed and he’d hit his head diving through a window.

“I don’t want any trouble,” Adam murmured, retreating down the aisle.

Manic chuckling scared people. Sometimes Yates forgot. He tensed his arms, showing off his muscle and stared Adam down. A hit of satisfaction inflated his chest when Adam tripped while retreating.

“Don’t come in here and insult my flowers.”

Ranger threw a handful of red petals into the air like confetti. “Boy, is this bitch grumpy about his flowers.”

Adam flung open the door and launched himself down the street. Yates ran his fingers over the message Donnie had stained his refurbished shop with.

DON’T ATTACK THE CUSTOMERS

“It’s hard sometimes,” Yates mumbled.

“Nil points for customer service.”

Yates glared Ranger’s way.

“He said supermarket bought are better.”

“He said cheaper.”

“My flowers are the best in the county.”

Ranger sighed. “Since when was it ever about the flowers?”

“Since I won that award.”

Yates gestured to the glass award on the side. The plaque read Best Bouquets and had a rose, much like the third one Ranger was destroying, etched into the glass.

The award was real. No intimidation, deals, or bribes. He’d won the award fair and square. His rose arrangements were fucking award winning, and Ranger had picked apart three from his goddamn premium bouquet.

“You’re paying for those.”

Ranger looked down at the petals covering the floor. “I’ll tell you what, I’ll buy some roses from the supermarket to replace the ones I took. No one will notice.”

“Get out of my shop before I throw you out.”

“Okay, okay,” Ranger said, backing up to the door. “Later, bitches.”

Yates tilted his head, glaring at Ranger until he registered his mistake.

“Fine, ‘Later, bitch.’ Is that better?”

“Just call me by my name.”

“Got it. Later, bitch.” Ranger slipped out of the door, flicked Yates the bird through the window, and disappeared up the street.

Yates took a long, hard look at his award, then disappeared into the back to attend other business. The windowless office reeked of damp, no matter what air freshener he tried. The two odors merged into a taste that clung to the back of his throat.

He could only endure the office for ten minutes at a time, but his emails confirmed there was no news on his elusive target. Mr Stevenson. It was rare Yates looked forward to a job, but Mr Stevenson was an interesting case. Child trafficker. One of the lucky ones that had escaped and managed to have a life afterward had hired Yates to kill him.

“Bastard,” Yates hissed, checking his phone instead.

No messages, except Darius confirming they were still on that night. Yates flopped back in his chair. A night of fucking until they passed out. No strings. Yates liked to be dominant. Darius got off on being dominated. A sexual match made in heaven, and he’d got a new toy to try. Yates’s cock hardened just thinking about it. He shoved it with a curse. He wasn’t jerking off in the office again, no matter how tempting.

“Fuck, I’m sorry.”

Yates jolted, stopped palming his cock, and swung his head towards the doorway at the foul-mouthed intruder. The man staring at him was young, slim, clutching his rucksack like his life depended on it.

His eyes were close to popping from his head.

“What the hell are you doing back here?”

He flinched and hugged his rucksack tighter. “I was here for…”

Flowers. Of course. Yates pulled himself together. He wasn’t sitting inside his personal jerk-off space; this was the office to the flower shop. The guy was clearly after flowers, and instead, he’d got an eyeful of Yates’s hard-on. He hadn’t retreated, though. He shook like a leaf, his eyes shiny as if he was seconds away from tears. The sight of a clothed erection surely wasn’t that traumatic, but color drained from his face until Yates feared he might faint.

“I’ll…I’ll just shut the computer down, then I’ll be right there.”

The man backed out of the office, still clutching the rucksack like it was a barrier between them. Yates glared down at his traitorous cock that was struggling to deflate. The shaking and the waterlogged eyes were usually a turn-on, want so palpable it took a man into desperate despair, but not like this.

The guy was scared of him without him trying to scare, and Yates thought about what he must’ve looked like.

Tucked away in a dark, dank office, groping himself in front of a computer with a flower arrangement screensaver. Yep, he must have looked crazy, and that was before starting on his physical looks. Heat surged into Yates’s cheeks. He touched them, gaping at the cause. Embarrassment. Why was he embarrassed? What did it matter this guy thought him odd? Some snotty brat terrified of cock.

He strode out of the office and fixed his eyes on the guy waiting behind the counter. In Yates’s peripheral vision, he read Donnie’s message and wondered whether the guy had seen it. Was that the reason for his intense reaction? Did he think Yates might attack him with his cock out?

“I locked the door.”

The guy’s complexion hadn’t warmed. His eyes still looked close to falling from his face. Light-brown freckles covered his cheeks and nose. Not small ones, but big freckles, huge even. His eyes were a darker brown, and his hair was too. Yates wondered whether his freckles darkened when he was turned on or if he could blush so bad the red eclipsed them.

The guy’s words finally caught up with him, and Yates frowned, folding his arms.

“Why would you lock the door?”

“I’m not here for flowers.”

“Okay.”

“I’m here for your other expertise.”

Yates’s cock jolted. Not you, for fuck’s sake. His blue balls had a mind of their own. The guy’s words caught up with Yates again. He tightened his arms, and his frown became harsher. The guy backed up a step before surging forward and knocking into the counter.

“Please.”

Fuck. His eyes were watering again, and he said please with a break in his voice. So bloody alluring. The session with Darius was long overdue. Yates rubbed his cock against the side of the counter. Not humping, but itching…

He nodded. “What exactly are we talking about here?”

The guy’s brows twitched. Another of Yates’s kinks. The facial muscles all firing when the need got too much. It wouldn’t have worked if the nose had twitched, or the lips, but the eyebrows… They looked fucking adorable, flexing and tugging while someone begged for release. Yates felt seconds away from tearing the counter apart and launching himself at the guy.

DON’T ATTACK THE CUSTOMERS

“You…kill people, right?”

Yates didn’t respond.

“That’s what I heard.”

“From who?”

He licked his lips. “There’s rumors.”

“You shouldn’t believe all the rumors you hear.”

“So, it’s not true?”

Yates snorted. “That particular rumor happens to be true.”

The guy released a slow breath. “Good, that’s good.”

Is it?

“I need you to…”

Blow me.

“Yes?”

The guy checked over his shoulder. “I need you to…”

Fuck me.

“Yes?”

“I need you to kill me.”

Oh.

The guy started to cry, full-on tears down his freckled cheeks and snot yo-yoing out of his nose, and that was the end of Yates’s hard-on. He pulled a tissue from his pocket—that absolutely wasn’t there for him to jerk off into—and handed it to the guy bawling on the other side of the counter. Sex, pleasure, desire, lust, Yates could handle those, but emotions, actual emotions… He stared at the guy as he pulled himself together and didn’t think much, other than two words…so pathetic.

“What’s your name?”

He sniffled. “Why do you want to know?”

“I like to know the names of the people I’m gonna kill.”

“Right… It’s Dylan.”

“Okay, Dylan, how much have you got for me?”

He dumped his rucksack on the counter and rooted around inside. Yates looked. He couldn’t help himself. Notebooks, textbooks. One titled Drama and Theatre. That made sense. He had an air of the dramatic about him. Dylan retrieved an envelope from the depths of his bag and handed it to Yates.

“It’s the rest of my student loan.”

Yates peeked inside. A few hundred pounds. A measly amount for an assassin, but it probably seemed a lot for a student.

“How old are you?”

Dylan wiped his face. “Twenty-one.”

“And are you sure you want me to do this?”

The tissue dropped from Dylan’s hand. He blinked. “You’re not gonna ask me why?”

“No.”

Dylan swallowed. His eyes darted around the room, stealing glances at the flowers. “You’re not gonna talk me out of it?”

“No. I just want to know if you’re sure, that’s all.”

“Right.” Dylan licked his lips. Yates found himself staring at them, all shiny and wet. A subtle pink. He wondered what they’d look like after a mauling of a kiss. His cock was hard again. Damn his blue balls. The whole encounter had been humiliating for both of them; Yates just needed it to end.

Dylan lowered his gaze and nipped his bottom lip. Like Yates expected, he began retreating. One step. Two steps. It was a cry for help in the wrong place in front of the wrong person.

Dylan rushed into the counter again.

“I’m sure.”

Yates squinted. “Yeah?”

Dylan nodded. “I want it to be quick.”

“Okay. Put your hand on the counter.”

“What?”

Yates leaned over and spoke close to his ear. “I’m going to use an ancient technique, a pressure point in your hand. It’ll stop your heart.”

Dylan turned back to the door. Yates waited for him to bolt, but he didn’t. He released a slow, shuddering breath.

“But there are people outside.”

Cars were whizzing up and down the road, and a man was leaning against the bakery opposite, munching a sausage roll.

“And?”

“I…I don’t want you to get into trouble.”

Yates tilted his head and studied Dylan. He was breathing fast, still far too pale. Their eyes met, and he didn’t look away. His gaze was sincere. He didn’t want Yates to get into trouble. The situation was beyond bizarre.

“It’ll look like you’ve had a heart attack, that’s all.”

“Okay…is it all right if I close my eyes?”

“If you feel more comfortable, I advise it.”

It was rare someone stunned Yates, but when Dylan placed his hand on the counter and closed his eyes, he gaped. Why the hell was Dylan so sure he wanted to die? What had he done? Or who was after him? The questions assaulted Yates’s mind, but he didn’t dare voice them. They felt too much like caring, and he didn’t care. Not for emotions, and certainly not for someone so tragic. He’d only just met him, for Christ’s sake.

Yates took hold of Dylan’s pinkie finger.

Crunch.

Dylan pulled away, screaming. He clutched his hand, gasping for breath. His eyes widened comically as he took in his finger at a completely unnatural angle.

“You broke my finger?”

Yates shoved the envelope in the rucksack. “It’s dislocated. The hospital’s two miles away. Someone will take pity on you and drive you there. I suggest after they set your finger, you ask to speak to someone.”

“Speak to someone?”

Yates held out the rucksack. Dylan took it and slipped it over his shoulder.

“A therapist, a counsellor. Talk to someone, anyone. Just make sure they care.”

Because he sure as hell didn’t.



Chapter Two





Yates gazed at the bunch of yellow flowers bouncing as he walked, completely at odds with the grey skies and drizzle dropping down around them. Flowers made the summer. The sun liked to play peekaboo and piss everyone off, but the flowers were bright no matter what. Forever vibrant and cheerful. Even at funerals. No one brought dark flowers to a funeral.

The receptionist stopped Yates in his tracks.

“You can’t bring those in the hospital.”

She eyed the flowers like he’d walked into the hospital with a bouquet of lice-infested rats. When he turned to show her, she recoiled, knocking a stack of files off her desk.

“They’re for a friend.”

“They pose a health risk.”

If anything, surely flowers brightened people’s spirits? Yates found them uplifting, and he was a self-proclaimed misery.

Yates looked down at them. “What do you think patients might do? Swallow them? Cut themselves on their leaves? Inhale the pollen? Strangle themselves on the stems?”

The receptionist lifted her chin, all defiant and self-righteous. But Yates didn’t miss the way she flashed a look at the security guard on the door. “Well, actually, it’s to do with the bacteria in the water when plants are left—”

“Save it,” Yates growled, dropping them on the counter.

“You can’t leave them there.”

“Then what am I supposed to do with them?”

She pointed at the doors. “Leave them outside.”

“This is a twenty-five quid bouquet.”

“Get a cheaper bunch next time.”

He told himself to breathe slowly through his mouth, not fast through his nose.

Yates stalked outside and threw them down on a bench. He sighed and rearranged them to snap a picture on his phone. When he went back inside, glaring at the receptionist, she held her palm up at him again.

“What now?”

“Sorry.” She smiled. “The shirt, I thought you were still carrying flowers.”

Someone’s a fucking comedian.

Yates said nothing and breezed by the desk without waiting for her to welcome him in. The labyrinth of corridors boggled his mind, and when he finally located Edna, he imagined he’d aged a few years. Edna looked like she had, not years but decades.

“I love the shirt.”

Yates ran his hands down his chest, not cotton but satin. He’d been pleased with his purchase, but not everybody was a fan, and boy, did they like to tell him.

“I brought you some flowers, your favorites.”

The ones she stared at the most but never bought.

“Sadly, they don’t allow them inside.”

He forced a smile on his face, a sprinkle of mock cheer in his voice, but on the inside, he mentally tore the hospital to pieces. Edna struggled up in bed and waved him closer. Her fingers were so skinny a handshake would’ve snapped them.

“Were they yellow?”

“Of course.”

Her face hung with sadness. Yates didn’t miss her glance at the bedside cabinet, nothing colorful on top. The décor in the hospital was downright depressing.

“That’s a shame,” Edna said. “Yellow’s such a cheerful color.”

Yates pointed at his sunflowers. “Tell me about it. I took a picture, though; I know it’s not the same.”

She reached for her glasses on the table. They hung on a string, and Yates helped her get it over her head. When she glanced at Yates, he jerked back at her bloodshot eyes, magnified by the inch-thick glasses.

“What?”

“You look like some crazy professor.”

She slapped his arm and stuck out her chin towards the phone. “Come on then. Let’s see them.”

Yates showed her the photo of the flowers on the bench. Edna awwed as if she was looking at kittens or a baby. Her frail hand pressed over her equally frail heart, much like the pose Ranger had done earlier in the shop.

“They’re beautiful.”

Yates had made sure of it. The best bunch in the shop. Love, Yates didn’t get, but beauty… He understood that. He’d made sure to pick stunners.

“Better than supermarket bought?”

“No question about it.”

Edna took the phone in her shaking grip and studied the flowers. She scrolled to the next picture and grimaced just as Yates snatched the phone from her.

“What was that?”

A sex toy unboxing video.

“Nothing for you to worry about, some silicone kitchen spoon.”

“Interesting color.”

Yates nodded. He agreed with Edna. It was probably the first bright-green vibrator he’d seen. “It glows in the dark.”

Edna rubbed her head. “Why would you be cooking in the dark?”

Oh.

“How are you feeling, Edna?”

“Sore, that’s all.” She grinned at Yates. “I can’t complain, really. I’ve had a good life overall.”

What was he supposed to say to that?

“It’s still going on, Edna.”

“I know, but you know as well as I do this fall might be it. If I were to die, I just want it known I had a good life.”

Yates sat down beside her. “So, I met your granddaughter’s boyfriend.”

Edna’s face soured. “Right scrounging bastard, isn’t he?”

Yates smiled, not forced, but genuine. If he had a favorite customer, Edna would be it, but alas, favoring someone over another involved emotion, and he lacked those.

Edna made him snort more than anyone else, though. That meant he must like her, the same way he liked Ranger and Donnie.

He sat beside her and listened to her bitch about Adam, and then she recalled the tale of how she hurt her hip, then her husband’s love of vintage cars. Even if he’d wanted to speak, she didn’t allow him any room. It was a continuous stream of a one-sided conversation until her eyes shut, and Yates thought she’d drifted off.

He grabbed his jacket off the back of the chair and got to his feet.

“You’re a good-looking man, you know that?”

“And your eyesight is getting poorer every day.”

“True.” She opened her eyes and winked. “But it’s still not that bad that I’d mistake a dildo for a silicone spoon.”

Yates’s smile grew to painful proportions. “Vibrator, actually.”

“What’s the difference?”

“This specific one is to hit your prostate. It’s called the annihilator.”

Edna pointed to the exit. “Get the hell out of here, dirty dog.”


****


The flowers had vanished from the bench, and as Yates looked up and down the road, he spotted them in the hands of a man standing at a bus stop. He wasn’t facing Yates, but the yellow bursts of color were obvious over his shoulder. Yates didn’t march over and grab them. He let them go.

The guy was probably heading back to his romantic partner, and Yates imagined it would be a nice surprise until they read the label. ‘To my bit on the side.’

It would’ve made Edna laugh; Yates was sure of it, but the man’s partner… Yates prayed for fireworks. What he’d give to be a tarantula on the wall. Tarantula, not fly; he’d never lower himself to a fly. He chuckled at his thoughts.

“Oh my God, have you seen him?”

Yates gritted his teeth. No doubt he was the ‘him’ the shrill voice referred to. The red patches on his face weren’t exactly flattering, but they didn’t deserve to be called out in the street.

“I was in a fire,” he snapped, turning to her.

The woman had her hand slapped over her mouth. She glanced at Yates, then resumed staring at the roof of the hospital. Yates followed her gaze and froze at the sight of Dylan on the roof.

The blood leached from his face. “Oh, fuck.”

Yates took off in a sprint through the whirling maze of a hospital until he found the stairwell. He took the steps two at a time and busted through the door onto the roof.

“What the hell are you doing?”

The boom of his voice made Dylan jump, teasing the drop below. He swayed. Yates looked down at Dylan’s undone shoelaces. Whether he tripped or jumped, it looked like he’d go over the edge.

“Fucking Jesus,” Yates gasped, running his hands through his hair. He felt different; he felt twitchy and on edge, and when he took his pulse at his wrist, it was racing.

What the hell was happening to him?

Dylan shot a look over his shoulder. “You’re the flower shop man?”

“Huh? Yes. My name is Yates; now back away from the edge.”

His heart thundered in his chest, beating so hard he swore it put a shake in his voice.

“Are you going to ask why I’m up here?”

“I’m not qualified to ask, but someone downstairs will be.”

Yates inched closer, his arms out and ready in case he needed to leap. He flexed his fingers, testing his clutch. Was he strong enough? Fast enough? Jesus, he’d never doubted himself before.

“Why don’t you just try it?”

“Try what?” Yates asked.

Dylan looked out at the horizon. “Asking me why.”

“I’m not good at this sort of stuff.” Yates stopped, but hell, he could try. He could pretend he cared to save someone’s life. “Why are you up here, Dylan?”

Dylan glanced over his shoulder. “Well, actually, I’m glad you asked.”

He chuckled, chuckled, then he stared straight down at the street beneath. “He ended it with me. I mean, he’d already ended it, but he ended it again when I asked to see him.”

Yates’s eyes fluttered. He squeezed them shut, letting the words sink in. This was a cry for help over an ended relationship. Heartbreak, most people went through it at some point. Unrequited love or unrequited friendship. It happened. Yates hadn’t experienced it himself, not that he’d never been dumped. It just didn’t affect him. Ending it all because of that, at the tender age of twenty-one. It seemed a pathetic reason.

So pathetic.

Yates shut that voice down. That was why he was rubbish with this kind of stuff. He was emotionally dead, but others weren’t. They cared, they cried, they hurt.

“I love him.”

“This is beyond my capability.”

“Are you a robot?”

He sighed. “Sometimes I wonder.”

Dylan turned around. “You must’ve loved someone?”

“Come away from the edge.”

“Answer me.”

“I love sex, I love money, I love flowers. They’re things, not people. Life is easier that way.”

“That’s kind of…cold.”

Yates shrugged. “We are who we are.”

“It wasn’t a healthy relationship.”

“Maybe he’s done you a favor.”

Dylan licked his lips. “I think I’m upset he ended it but more upset that I wasn’t the one to end it first. Does that make sense?”

No.

“It might make sense, perfect sense, but more so if you came away from the edge.”

“Like, it makes me a worse person because I wasn’t the one to walk away. He took that away from me too, so I’m the bad one.”

“Look, kid, I don’t know what it is you want me to say.”

“I don’t want you to say anything. I just want someone to listen.”

He’d endured hours from Edna. A few minutes listening to Dylan wasn’t too much to ask, right?

“Go ahead.”

“If he calls me or turns up at my flat, I’ll be all over him. I have no willpower. I’m already hoping he’ll change his mind again, ask to see me. That makes me a bad person, the worst.”

His voice broke, and Yates felt it in his chest. It weakened him. That or he was experiencing a cardiac arrest. The idea of the latter appealed to him more.

“On God’s earth, I don’t think you could ever be a bad person.”

“I think I’d surprise you. I feel bad for not breaking up with him first, bad for wanting him to change his mind, and bad for crying if he doesn’t. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now. I don’t know how to pretend to be happy while feeling like I’m being torn apart inside.”

“Fuck pretending, if you’re feeling miserable, feel miserable, but for God’s sake, talk to someone.”

“You said you’d just listen.”

“Sorry,” Yates said, lifting his hands in surrender.

“I don’t want to bring anyone else down. I don’t want to make them unhappy, but it’s hard when you feel like shit and there’s happiness all around you. When you’ve got to smile and be this certain person everyone expects you to be. It’s exhausting.”

Yates held out his hand. “There’s people downstairs who you can talk to.”

“You’re talking to me.”

“They’re trained for this. Anything I say will be more likely to make you jump than change your mind.”

“Jump?” Dylan looked down at the road below. “You think I’m gonna jump?”

“It looks like that, yeah.”

Dylan stepped away from the edge, and Yates let loose a huge sigh.

“I wasn’t going to jump.”

“Right…”

“No, really I wasn’t.”

“What were you doing?”

“I was watching.”

“The road?”

“Yeah.”

Yates crossed his arms. “But you did come to my shop and ask me to kill you?”

Dylan said nothing.

“Come on.” Yates waved him closer. “Let’s get you talking with someone.”

Dylan picked up his rucksack from the roof and slung it over his shoulder. “Someone who cares.”

“Exactly. That person isn’t me.”

As soon as he was within reach, Yates hooked his arm over Dylan’s shoulders and marched him to the door. He sighed right down Dylan’s neck. It left him woozy.

“Why did you come up here then?”

Yates pushed Dylan inside, and out of his view, he frowned. Why had he run up there? Why was his heart jackhammering in his chest? He pressed his hand against it, slowing now Dylan was away from the edge. Strange.

“I didn’t want you to make a mess on the pavement.”

Dylan sneaked a sidewards look at him. “Did you come to the hospital to check on me?”

There was such hope in Dylan’s voice Yates thought about lying, but he didn’t.

“Nope, I’d forgotten all about you until I saw you on the roof.”

He’d been on Yates’s mind in the immediate aftermath of their encounter at the shop, all until Yates jerked off in the office thinking of him, then he was gone. Teary eyes, twitching eyebrows, huge freckles—all gone.

Now here they were, Yates ushering Dylan through the hospital in case he might dive out of the closest window, his heavy hand on Dylan’s shoulder, not to comfort him, but to grab him at a moment’s notice.

“Why are you here then?”

“I was visiting a friend.”

“You have friends?”

Yates snorted. “Hard to believe I know.”

“What happened to them?”

“She slipped on a banana skin and busted her hip.”

“Good one.” Dylan laughed.

Yates stopped Dylan and growled in his ear. “I’m not joking.”

He genuinely wasn’t. That was how Edna had hurt her hip. They’d both laughed their heads off when she’d told him, but Dylan wasn’t in on the joke. He didn’t get to laugh at Edna’s comedic failure.

“Let’s get you sorted out.” He ruffled Dylan’s hair before strangling his wrist and glaring at his hand. It had a mind of its own. Stroking Dylan’s hair. He may have leaned into the touch, but it was a weird reaction for both of them.

Getting someone to speak with Dylan wasn’t as easy as Yates had envisioned. He was put on a waiting list and given a list of numbers to call if he was feeling suicidal. Not good enough in Yates’s eyes, but huffing and puffing out his chest seemed to have absolutely no effect on the doctor sat opposite.

Dr Nick narrowed his eyes. “Do you need something?”

“Like what?”

“Some water.”

“I don’t want water. I want Dylan to speak to someone.”

“As I said, we’re in the middle of a mental health crisis.”

“Can’t you get him admitted somewhere?”

Dylan sprang off his chair like he’d been electrocuted. “Admitted?”

“Yeah, locked away so you can’t hurt yourself.”

Even Dr Nick looked disgusted. Yates rolled his eyes. He’d said something unacceptable again and not even realized it. Pretending to care was hard.

“I don’t understand why what I said is bad?”

“I’m not an animal. You can’t lock me away.”

“I’m thinking of ways of keeping you alive.”

He kicked Yates’s foot. “I’m not suicidal anymore.”

“That’s what a suicidal person would say.”

Dr Nick slumped back in his chair and squeezed the bridge of his nose.

“Maybe you’d like to wait outside and allow me to speak to Dylan alone?”

Yates nodded. He got up and turned to Dylan. “Good luck, kid.”

“What? You’re not leaving, are you?”

Yates checked his watch. Darius was due over at his place in a few hours. He needed to eat, shower, and change the bed sheets. Sex was always better on a blank canvas. “Yeah—”

“He said to wait outside.”

Yates stared at where Dylan had grabbed hold of him. The hem of his sunflower print shirt. His eyebrows twitched, his eyes darted, and Yates inwardly cursed. That wasn’t fair. Dylan was playing dirty and didn’t even know it.

“Will you wait?”

“For a couple of minutes.”

Dylan swallowed; Yates heard it. The slow bob of his throat. He clutched the bottom of Yates shirt with both hands, begging with his eyes and his adorable eyebrows.

“Please, Yates.”

Motherfucker.

“Fine, I’ll wait. Then afterward, I’ll give you a ride home, but that’s it, okay?”

Relief and gratitude brought color to Dylan’s face. He smiled, the first smile Yates had seen, and it was directed at him. He stared, not knowing how to react, before ruffling Dylan’s hair. It tickled through his fingers like strands of silk. He’d lost his mind, but Dylan didn’t back away from the lunatic stroking him like a dog; he beamed.

“Thank you.”