forest story, Part II

The next move is obvious. Prescribed, even. Conceived by some bolder, more seductive version of herself lured from hiding by the intent eyes of a stranger in plaid.

But as she composes the message for his delivery boy, Riley questions her verve. Where is she going with this, anyway? Will she follow through? Does she even want to? The illicit thrill of committing mutiny with Baxter just inches away in the driver's seat is too delicious, though. She hits send.

Tell your boss I'll come drink his moonshine, but only if he does NOT sell my boss that trash can. 

Her heart thumps. Shots fired.

Ok will do, comes the reply at once. Would you like me to give him your number, or make him wait?

Another flutter of inspiration. The tenth muse is hovering close. The Muse of Modern Flirtation.

You can keep it as collateral for now. Give it to him on Friday...but only if he's nice to you for the rest of the week.

It's hard not to smile at the scene she knows she's just created. She can picture the laughter, the teasing that has doubtlessly erupted amongst the lumberyard crew. The proprietor's pleased grin. He's handsome, yes, but substantially older than his strapping--and also handsome--young assistants. Riley knows this will constitute a win for him. And she enjoys giving it to him.

After a pause during which she imagines the colorful exchange between employer and employee, an affirmation of her thrown-down gauntlet comes back: I like how you think.

Riley is barely aware of the ride back to the office.

---

Thursday, just after ten a.m. The optimistic ping! of an incoming text. Riley unlocks her phone.

He wanted me to send you these pictures and tell you he was up all night making moonshine for you.

A kitchen counter. Vials, rubber tubing. A gallon glass jug nearly full of yellowish fluid. Riley ignores all of it, honing in on other, much more interesting clues to this stranger's life. The clean, white subway tile backsplash. An expensive looking gas range. A vintage surfboard propped against a wood-paneled wall. And most curiously, a vase teeming with the elegant stalks of peach-pink peonies.

She stares. They're her absolute favorite. What are the chances? And why on earth? A single, straight man buying himself cut flowers? Riley decides to fish a little, when she does reply--but she waits until nearly 3pm to do so.

Tell him his flower arrangement is very pretty... But the intermediary doesn't pick up on her sarcastic implication.

Are you going to be there when I deliver the beams? I'm leaving here now to bring them.

I'm not, no. Riley wonders whether, if she were, there'd be something for her to receive as well as Baxter. Maybe it's the flowers, she thinks. Maybe they're for me? She decides to give the mystery moonshiner the benefit of the doubt. His advances were much too direct to be hiding a wife or girlfriend.

Impulsively, she continues: But tomorrow when you see him, tell him I just signed the lease on a new apartment, a 1920s building with what I believe are original hardwood floors. Tell him I could use his advice on how best to care for them. She sends a photo of her new place, the richly grained floor striking in the empty space. He might have to do the consultation in person, though. Oh, and he can have my number...as soon as he let you guys go home for the day.  

---

Friday, at the office. Riley's phone lights up with a unrecognized number. She swipes the screen.

The flowers are for you. I hope you like peonies.

She looks at the time. It isn't even noon. Has he really let his employees go a full half day early, just to get her number that much sooner?

I guess there's no point in not admitting that they're my favorite. 

Too bad you made me wait to get your number. They're a bit wilted now. And I only just today got the picture of your floors. If I'd had that sooner I'd have delivered them in person to your door once I tracked you down. That seemed a little stalkerish, though, so I figured I should wait to be invited in.

Well that's a bold claim. You really think based on a pic of my floor you could find me? Lots of old buildings in this city. Either way, here's a better shot. Though I won't be walking on them for a couple weeks yet. 

Riley, thoroughly enjoying herself, watches the phone as he types his reply. When it comes, however, her smile evaporates and her jaw drops, as she sees her street address pop up in the message window. Then, a second later, a link to the Craiglist ad for her very apartment. The one she'd just signed a lease on.

Are we really going to make me wait a couple more weeks? I'm a pretty popular guy walking around with all these flowers.

Gobsmacked, flattered, upended, and slightly nervous, Riley shakes her head. Okay I'm impressed.

By the way, I believe the floors are 3.25" face CVG Douglas Fir. Haphazardly replaced with a knotty pine. 

Okay, I'm *really* impressed.

Good. You're meant to be. Now, when are you free? You can come to Santa Monica tonight and drink my moonshine, or if you'd like, come with me to the forest tomorrow to look for wood.

The next move is obvious, too.