Letter from John

Dear Rosa,

I guess I should start off by saying, “thank you.” Although I’m not quite sure it’s gratitude that I truly feel for you. For telling my story. For creating my story. For creating me.

Even as I sit here writing this letter, listening to Drake’s new album, Scorpion, which I’m sure you’ve heard by now. I’m unsure if I wanted to be exposed to the world, exposed to every person who reads the words you wrote from my standpoint, from Heathers. I know I’m the villain in your story; there always has to be a villain, right? Nobody wants to be the bad guy. I know you tried your best to show the good in me, in the beginning at least. I guess I can say I appreciate you for this, even though I know it wasn’t to humanize me, but more-so to demonize me, all to prove your point. I am not all bad, just as Heather is not all good. You are not all good, Rosa. But this isn’t your story, it’s mine. You’re telling my story, as me. You’re writing the words with my consciousness in front of your own, but even you can only know so much.

When you created me in that small room in Oakland, high off good sex and good weed you were different. Different than you are today and different than you will be once you’ve completed my story. You were much like me in that moment you created me. I could even go as far to say you were me when you created me. The best and the worst parts of you are me. Your vulnerability transferred to me. The evil in you my brain, the love my heart, the hurt my ribs, the bliss my lungs, the dreamer my soul. Like Adam, I am your creation; and like Adam I will betray you and disappoint you. It’s inevitable.

Please remember as you write my story, as you paint my picture that you keep this in mind; even though you created me, you don’t know everything about me. You are not God. Although you created me, an allegory for your views on the power of love. I still have secrets, secrets that you will never know. I urge you not to forget how you felt, when you were in my shoes, falling in love for the first time and then that second time love swooping in out of no-where. It changes you. I know it changed you because it changed me. Heather changed me. She brought out the best in me. The new me, Enhancement Man, came with a price and the price was love. You know what it’s like, how the darkness can beckon you. The light is magnetic, yes, but it’s the darkness that pulls you, entices you. Heather was the light in a hallway that led to darkness. I could have lived in that hallway forever, but I needed to know what it led to. I needed to know if the darkness felt better than the light. Much like you, Rosa. I know you too went down a dark path, curious to see if it was better than living a life basking in the light. But again, this isn’t the story of Rosa Palacios; it’s Enhancement Man, the story of John Nichols. A story about love and power; the struggle, the journey, the supernatural. Keep writing Rosa. Finish my story.

Yours,

John

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Chapter 5: C.R.E.A.M.

I smoked the remainder of my joint as I drove down Sunset towards the 101 highway. It was close to midnight, and there was no traffic, a rarity for Los Angeles. This was what people spoke of when they described directions “without traffic”; the pocket of time where the majority of the four million Angelenos were sleeping, opposed to aggressively honking and screaming “GO!” the second the stop light’s changed from red to green. I could actually enjoy driving when the streets were clear, I could focus on where I was going, instead of the chaos of getting there. Driving typically gave me anxiety, mostly because the majority of my experience involved making deliveries for the shop when Shane and my dad were preoccupied. Customers were always overzealous about getting their deliveries on-time, and the excuse of “stuck in traffic” held no weight: a late delivery was the difference between a referral and a three-star YELP review. I shook my head and wiped my eyes, I didn’t want to think about the shop. Despite the ease of my ride, I still needed to calm my nerves while driving the twenty-five minutes from my house to meet Heather. The weed was a really good Indica strain. After a few hits, I settled into a comfortable driving position and coasted towards my destination. I fished out my dads USB cord from in between the seat and the console and connected my phone. Bryson Tiller, Northern Lights, and the cool Cali night air allowed me to mellow. Heather had agreed to meet me at the Universal City Overlook, on Mulholland Drive. I was relieved when she didn’t ask to come over to my place after I texted her I’m at home; I wasn’t ready for her to know I still lived with my parents. She seemed eager to see me, although it had always been extremely difficult for me to read emotions through text. I wanted our first time spent alone to be special. I wanted to put forth an actual effort, to show her I was more than #FlowerBae; I figured The Overlook was a pretty impressive spot. To my surprise, my dad was awake and sitting at the kitchen table drinking a cup of black coffee, when I went to swipe the keys to his pickup without asking. He didn’t ask any questions, he just told me to be back in time for him to open the shop at 5:00 a.m. I agreed and raced out the door before he changed his mind. I knew he wouldn’t be too happy if he smelled traces of the smoke in the morning, but the risk was worth the reward. “First, I gotta get a place, then I gotta get a whip,” I said aloud as I drove. I felt a slight pang of guilt as the words left my mouth; I was officially embarrassed about living in my parent’s house, and I knew it was time for me to secure my exit plan. The guilt came from my acknowledgment of the hard work and sacrifice that went into buying our home. It wasn’t that I was embarrassed by our house, our house was really nice, and in one of the best neighborhoods in LA. I was embarrassed that I had no other choice than to live with my parents because I couldn’t afford an apartment, even with a roommate. I was embarrassed that I had no privacy. I was embarrassed that I was so heavily reliant on my parents. I was embarrassed about my room. I was embarrassed that Heather unknowingly made me feel embarrassed. I never really put much thought into my room, it was the room I grew up in; I made slight adjustments here and there, but nothing significant enough to say “a grown man lived here”. In high school, I painted one of my walls black, but it made my room too gloomy so I painted it back to the light tan color my parents chose for all the bedrooms when they bought the house. My freshman year at UCLA, my parents bought me a desk and a bookshelf, as a “good luck in college” gift. The bookshelf ended up in the garage, where my dad used it to store his smaller gardening tools. The desk housed my MacBook, my stash and rolling papers, and other random trinkets that I collected over the years, like the Kobe Bryant bobblehead I got when my dad took me and my brother to our first Laker game. Overall, my room had no style, no vibe; it looked like a random collection of things acquired by someone who didn’t have any specific interests. There was nothing remotely sexy about my room, so I assumed that a woman like Heather would be absolutely uninterested in having sex with me in it. My first, and only girlfriend, Sarah, didn’t mind my room. She was the only girl that had ever been in my room, aside from my mom, and our babysitter, Catherine. The first time she saw my room, she said it was “cool”, which was good enough for me; but then again, that was puppy love. Sarah and Heather couldn’t be more different, or so I thought. The thought of being intimate with Heather not only intimidated the hell out of me, it scared the shit out of me. I would have never admitted it, but I wasn’t ready for sex with HPtheBeauty. It was like wheelchair Jimmy stepping to present day Rihanna; not the Pon de Replay princess, The Fenty Beauty mogul.

The closer I got, the small voice of insecurity, that hung out in the back of my mind, got louder. Was I an insane person for thinking I had a shot with HP? It felt like it. It really felt like it. Maybe my newfound social media popularity created an unmerited boost of confidence. Maybe the constant “likes” and new followers were subconsciously stroking my ego because the reality was; Heather was way out of my league. Maybe I smoked too much weed. Whatever it was, I began to question myself. Was it just luck? Would it run out? In a month’s time, I went from stressing over potentially losing my family’s business to having more customers than we could handle. For the first time, our demand superseded our supply. I saw the burdened furrow of uncertainty lifts from my mother’s brow, in a matter of a week. I saw my dads smoke sessions in the garage, shrink from hours in the evenings to a few minutes before he went to bed. Heather’s endorsement was like winning the lottery, my life had changed so drastically, in such a short period of time. It seemed that my fate had taken a drastic turn, the possibility of achieving my dreams seemed like more of a reality with each passing day. When I met Heather, everything changed; she became a part of the newly developed dreams I had for myself. I wanted to become part of her world, and I wanted her to be the center of mine. It was obvious that she could be with any guy she wanted, but for some unexplainable reason, she was entertaining this flirtation that started the day she walked into my parent’s shop. Maybe it was meant to be. I had never been a romantic kind of guy, but I did believe in soulmates. My parents were my blueprint for true love and evidence enough for me that there was another person on this Earth, that existed just for me. Although my only relationship ended badly, I figured I would find love later in life. My anticipation peaked as I cautiously followed the curvy road that climbed to The Overlook. I was no stranger to driving in The Hills; when Ralph first got his drivers license we would take out his dads latest lease and race through Laurel Canyon at reckless speeds. We were literally going nowhere fast, but that night I had a destination that made me want to speed and drive slowly at the same time; my anxious nervousness mixed with excited anticipation. As I approached the overlook opening, I spotted Heather, leaned against a white Porsche Cayenne. She was looking down at her phone, the light from the screen illuminating her beautiful face. Her hair was pulled up into a loose bun that a few curls had escaped. She was wearing an oversized white tee shirt that hung off her shoulder, black loose fitting jogging pants that hung low on her hips, and black and white retro Jordan’s. She looked perfectly put together and effortless at the same time. To say I was turned on, would be an understatement; I was fully aroused. The proof was in the pressure in my pants. “Calm down,” I said aloud, as I pinched my inner thigh, held my breath and counted to thirty. She looked up from her phone as I exhaled and pulled into an open spot across the street from her. We locked eyes and she smiled and waved. My abdomen tightened. I took another deep breath and made sure to engage the emergency brake after I put the pickup in park and turned off the engine. To be safe, I tucked my guy in my waistband before exiting the truck. I didn’t want to risk him ruining an intentionally innocent interaction.

“Hey, FlowerBae!” she said flirtatiously as I approached her. I laughed, somewhat embarrassed by my new nickname. “Hey, beautiful,” I said, leaning into her space. She raised her arms and embraced me. Her enticing aroma filling my lungs; it was overwhelmingly sexy, a scent I had never smelled before, a mixture of spice and sweet. Her hair brushed against my cheek as she stepped into and then out of my embrace. I silently and inappropriately thanked God that the waistband of my favorite grey sweatpants was so thick. “How have I never heard of this place?” she asked, her voice filled with awe. “I’m sure a lot of LA natives haven’t. The only reason I know about this place is because my dad would bring me and my brother here when we were little” I explained. “That’s awesome,” she said, as she turned away from me and drifted towards the edge of The Overlook to get a better view. I watched as her face radiated from the genuine excitement of discovering an L.A. gem for the first time.The view was so clear we could see the lights that electrified The Valley for miles and miles until they disappeared in the far off distance. I looked to the right at Universal Studios and City Walk and wondered if she had ever been. The last time I went was with Ralph to visit Harry Potter Land. I silently brainstormed other places I could take her. I made a mental note to make a list on my phone when I got home. “Thank you for bringing me here John,” she said, interrupting the silence, as her gaze shifted from the view to me. Hearing her say my name stirred me into a new nervousness. “Yeah… of course. You’re very welcome. Anytime. Of course” I said, slightly fumbling over my words. I took a deep breath and swallowed hard to collect myself. “Thank you for meeting me here, Heather,” I said, as I moved closer towards her. The evening breeze picked up her decadent aroma, and it filled the space around us, creating a small invisible bubble. My thoughts drifted back to the shower. “This is exactly what I needed after the day I’ve had. It was brutal” she said, as she nudged closer to me and leaned her head on my shoulder. I slid my arm around her back to cradle her head more securely and feel her warmth. I felt her body relax as she sunk deeper into my embrace. It felt so right. “You want to talk about it?” I asked, repeating the question my dad often asked my mom when she came home in a bad mood. She let out a soft sign. “It’s just…” she began. “I don’t know, I mean I don’t want to bore you with my privileged problems.” I laughed, she didn’t want me to label her as a poor-little-rich-girl. “Do you need 600 more white roses?” I teased. “See I knew you thought I was silly” she giggled, hiding her face with her hands. With my free arm, I pulled her in front of me in one smooth motion that was so effortless, it surprised me. She dropped her hands from her face and rested them under her chin, which was now propped against my chest. She looked up at me, as I allowed my arms to wrap around the small of her back. Damn, this feels good, I thought as she looked up at me with a soft comfort in her eyes. She was enjoying being in my arms, just as much as I was enjoying having her there. I could hear a faint sound of music coming from behind us. Another car had pulled into the free parking space behind Heather’s. It was a young couple in a light blue Honda. I recognized the song they were listening to; Best Part by H.E.R. and Daniel Caesar. “I love this song,” Heather said softly. She closed her eyes and hummed softly. I kissed her forehead softly and then her lips. She parted her mouth and ran her tongue over my bottom lip, sending a billion sensations throughout my body, the epicenter constrained by the questionably secured waistband of my sweats. My tongue met hers, and we got lost in a passionate kiss for what felt like the quickest eternity. The song faded, and we drifted back from heaven into our surroundings. “You do really love that song,” I said, as I came up for air. “Ummmmmm” she hummed against my chest. It was the perfect first kiss. We stood in silence for a few moments. “I just love how small this place makes me feel. It’s kinda like the feeling I get when I’m at the beach watching the ocean. Sometimes I need perspective to remind myself how insignificant I am, in the grand scheme of things. This might sound crazy, but I wasn’t prepared to be famous; the occasional ego check is necessary to my existence. It sounds weird even saying it sometimes; that I’m famous. I just have to remind myself that I’m not saving lives. My fame is based on some pretty superficial shit. People treat me like I’ve cured cancer, it’s weird. It’s ridiculous, I’m a twenty two year old, social media influencer for Christ’s sake. People expect me to act a certain way, but I’m just a regular girl, who got really lucky” she said in a passionate whisper, as if she had been waiting to unload her private insecurities on someone she trusted. I understood her initial apprehension in revealing her truth; for the first time I thought; it’s not easy being HPTheBeauty. Her vulnerability made me feel closer to her. The dripping lust I had for her softened into a sweet intimacy. The alien feelings excited me, the more time I spent with her, the luckier I felt. The same kiss that had relaxed her, invigorated me. It felt good to be the person on the receiving end of her self-assessment. I mustered up a response, “I think everyone has that feeling at some point, especially at our age. Despite what you’ve accomplished, I think it’s pretty normal to question your contribution to the world as a whole. It would be a bit egocentric not to.” I wasn’t sure where my wisdom was coming from, but she was engaged, her eyes focused, so I kept talking. “When I walked across that stage at graduation, I was nervous as hell. I knew my parents had all these expectations for me. I had all these expectations for myself. I wasn’t excited about my future, I was terrified of it. I decided to focus on the things I could change, and not worry too much about the other stuff. I knew if I did my best, I wouldn’t disappoint my parents or myself.” Her facial expression changed from pensive to adoring, and she stood on her tippy-toes, meeting her lips to mine, and kissed me again.
“I know it’s late, but I’m really hungry,” she said as we walked back to the empty road hand-and-hand, a new air of intimacy hovered above us. The Honda had left, and we were alone again. “Do you want to go grab something to eat?” I asked her. I wasn’t hungry, but I jumped at the opportunity to elongate our night together. I wanted to kiss her again. I didn’t want to stop kissing her. She tucked a thick curl behind her ear and bit her bottom lip in contemplation of my offer. My stomach tightened at her hesitation. I thought she was hinting that she wanted to get something to eat, with me. Or maybe it was her exit, she was hungry and ready to go home and eat something, without me. I pulled her closer, as to say; I’m not ready to leave you, yet. “Do you know anything close that’s open this late?” she replied, glancing down at her Rolex. For the first time since I’d arrived, I thought to check the time. I pulled my phone from my pocket. 3:05 AM. I had no idea that we had been at The Overlook for nearly three hours, it felt like twenty minutes. I knew I needed to be home in a couple of hours, but I wasn’t ready to leave her. I hadn’t eaten in The Valley in ages, but I knew a few late-night spots. “Have you ever been to Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank?” I asked her, remembering it was one of my favorite diners. My dad would take me and my brother to eat greasy burgers and fries, unbeknownst to my mom. She laughed, “I have not, but it sounds retro, so I’m down.” Confirming we existed in two very different worlds, despite living in the same city. Her’s was glamorous, brunch in Malibu or Santa Monica, dinner downtown on a rooftop. My LA was cheap diners and natures free entertainment; scenic views and hiking trails. “It’s good, American fare and I think it’s open 24 hours.” It should take about twenty minutes for us to get there, an hour to eat, leaving me thirty minutes to get home, I calculated, not wanting to let Heather know that I had to get my dad’s truck back home before 5:00 AM. “Should we drive separately, or do you wanna ride with me?” she asked, as she leaned against her SUV. It made more sense for us to drive separately, even though I wanted to spend every second I could close to her. A glimpse of my dad’s disappointed face flashed across my mind. Your irresponsibility concerns me, John, he would say. “You live downtown, right?” I asked her, knowing the answer. She shook her head, “yes”. “Well, the 134 is right there, you can take the 5 downtown and be home in like twenty minutes. I know you have a busy day tomorrow… well, today. I just want you to get a little rest.” I said, hoping my reasoning translated as accommodating and not rushed. She smiled, “that makes sense to me. I’ll just follow you.” The words sounded foreign coming out of her mouth. I’ll just follow you. I kissed her cheek, before slow jogging across the road to the pickup.

I couldn’t help but watch her in the rearview mirror on the ride to the diner. She smiled and winked when she caught me staring at the first red light we stopped at. It was nerve-wracking watching her; even her most subtle movements made my body react so intensely. My admiration was too obvious to pretend I wasn’t completely in awe of her. Like her millions of followers, I wanted to be apart of her seemingly perfect world. Unlike her followers, I wanted to know the side of Heather that only a few knew; only lovers and close friends. I wanted her to confide in me like she did at The Overlook. I wanted our first unofficial date, to be perfect. The clock reminded me that I was on borrowed time. I picked up speed, glancing in the rearview to make sure Heather wasn’t too far behind. She was right on my tail. I’ll just follow you. I had been riding in silence, satisfied with the echo of her voice fresh on my mind.

“It’s gonna be a twenty-minute wait,” the hostess said annoyed, as she popped her pink bubble gum loudly, twirling her index finger around her thin, hot pink braid. I cringed, “okay cool, thank you,” I said, with a forced calmness. Although the restaurant was relatively busy for a weekday, there were several open tables. “They must be short staffed,” I said, as I turned back to Heather. She shrugged, and slid her hand into mine, intertwining our fingers. Her touch soothed me instantly, and thoughts of time and my dad’s disappointment slipped away. “This place is super cute, John. It reminds me of those 1950’s diners where the waitresses would serve you in roller skates. I’m getting a milkshake!” she said excitedly as we sat down in the waiting area. I laughed, she was adorable. She leaned her head on my shoulder. I felt the snarky hostesses eyes on us. “Oh my God!” she screeched. “I am obsessed with your YouTube Channel HP! I follow you on Insta!” she said loudly as she walked towards us. Heather smiled graciously, “awww thanks for your support babes,” she said genuinely. “I can seat you guys right now! I am so sorry you had to wait, HP! We only have two servers working tonight, but I’ll personally make sure you’re taken care of” she said apologetically. “No worries, we don’t mind waiting” Heather replied, placing her hand on my knee. The hostess blushed as she realized her idol was on a date. “I can take you two to a table now if you’re ready,” she said hurriedly. “Sounds good,” Heather said as she stood up. I trailed a few steps behind them as the hostess gushed over HP. When we reached the table, she pulled her phone from her back pocket. “Do you mind taking a selfie with me?” she asked as Heather slid into the booth. “Sure” Heather replied as if she was anticipating the inevitable. Pink Braid snapped a few selfies and thanked Heather profusely. “I forgot to grab some menus. I’ll go get them now, and take y’alls orders as soon are you’re ready” she said and hurriedly walked off. “Does that ever feel normal?” I asked her as I settled into the booth. She laughed and shook her head “ Short answer, no. Long answer, it happens all the time. Every single day. Sometimes it’s more awkward than others; like last week, I was at my new gynecologist’s office and I caught her receptionist taking a picture of me in the lobby. It was just weird. I didn’t want to tell on her because I know she could lose her job because of a stupid mistake” she said nonchalantly. “That’s crazy” I replied. I thought back to my In-N-Out experience and decided to keep it to myself; I didn’t want her to think I was bragging about being recognized by her fans, it seemed weird and inappropriate to bring up. Then again, I didn’t know how she would react, in that moment I realized how little I really knew about her. I had to take the time to get to know her, instead of relying on preconceived notions that I gathered from following her social media persona. HPTheBeauty and Heather Poussey were two separate people. I felt a rush to learn her, but she wasn’t a Biology exam; I couldn’t memorize her and regurgitate her on an exam. I would have to take my time if I wanted something real with her. She was a real living breathing person, and for whatever crazy reason, she was allowing me to be a part of her world. Pink Braid had returned and recommended that Heather try her favorite, “the Super Big Boy Combo, with a root beer float.” Heather looked at me “Will you split that with me, John?” she asked. I smiled, we were already sharing food. “Yeah, that’s what I usually get. Can we get a strawberry shake with that, too?” I asked Pink braid, who was still smiling at Heather admiringly. Without taking her eyes off Heather she said “sure thing” and darted off to the kitchen. Heather extended her legs under the table, resting her feet in between mine, bringing my dormant Johnson back to life. “So what do you have to do today, John?” she asked, oblivious to my arousal. My stomach tightened with piercing anxiety, I was forced to think about the time and my responsibilities. I fought the urge to tell her the truth, “I just have to run a few errands for the shop. We’ve been crazy busy lately. Thank you again for directing all those recent inquiries to our page. I really appreciate all you’ve done, Heather” I said, hoping she heard the sincerity in my voice. It wasn’t my plan to thank her, but I couldn’t neglect that she was the reason that Flores De Amor was doing so well. “John, don’t mention it, really. Those flowers, they really made my day, but meeting you made my year. I really like you John. There’s something special about you that I’m drawn to. We just met, and I feel like I’ve known you forever. I just feel like I can trust you” her big brown eyes glistened as she spoke. “I haven’t stopped thinking about you since I came across your IG page. There’s something about you that’s so authentic, so beautiful” she said softly. The pulsing in my pants had relocated to my chest, my heart was racing. “Heather” I began. “Here goes your strawberry shake and the root beer float” Pink Braid announced loudly, as she plopped the drinks down in front of us and interrupting our intimate conversation. “Your food is almost ready HP!” she said, and scurried away. “Thanks babes” Heather replied, before she removed the small piece of paper from the top of the straw sticking out of the root beer float. She closed her eyes and took a long sip. “This is exactly what I needed.” I hesitated, uncertain if I should continue expressing my feelings, knowing Pink braid was going to pop back up at any moment with our food. Even though she hadn’t acknowledged me since we’d arrived, I didn’t want to bear my soul in front of one of Heather’s beauty groupies. I was surprised how easily Heather admitted her feelings, how she expressed them, like poetry. “I’m drawn to… so authentic, so beautiful.” I was relieved that my own feelings weren’t unrequited. My luck hadn’t run out yet. I had a chance. She smiled sweetly at me as she slurped her float. “Don’t think too much, John” she said, as if she heard everything I was thinking. I laughed nervously, feeling a bit overwhelmed. Pink Braid was back with two large plates. “Okay guys, here’s your Super, with extra fries. I figured it’s your cheat day HP, so I brought you a slice of my favorite pie too! It’s strawberry!” Heather laughed and thanked Pink Braid again. I felt my phone vibrate against my leg, in the pocket of my sweatpants. I didn’t have to look to know it was my dad. I was afraid to check the time, so I ignored it. “What was that cheat day comment about?” I asked Heather, hoping she didn’t hear the buzz coming from under the table. “Silly shit. People assume I only eat healthy food, because that’s all I post. Sometimes I have to take a break from counting calories, juicing and acai bowls. I mean they photograph well, but I can’t eat that shit everyday. The other day, I had my assistant get me a Chili cheese dog and chili cheese fries from Tommy’s. I almost had an orgasm when I took the first bite” she said, pleased with herself. I shifted in my seat, feeling my best-friend perk back up at the thought of Heather having an orgasm. I watched her as she took a huge bite of the burger. “I’m not going to lie, I was sure you were a vegan” I confessed, relieved that she wasn’t. “Everybody in LA is vegan. It’s annoying. I can’t take anyone seriously who says they’re a vegan, but does coke every weekend” she said matter-of-factly, stuffing a handful of fries in her mouth. “You better take a bite of this burger, before I murder it.” I laughed; she was adorable. My phone began to vibrate again. “You can check at your phone, John. It might be important” she said between bites of the half eaten burger. “It’s okay. I’m sure it’s just my dad, asking what time I’m coming into the shop today. My parents wake up at the crack of dawn” I said. “Please, John. Just check it. It will make me feel better. I have had you out all night after all” she said, as she reached across the table and gently squeezed my hand. I reached in my pocket and pulled out my phone. Three missed calls and three new text messages, all from my dad. John, call me. the first one read. This isn’t cool, son. I hope you are o.k. I felt like shit, my dad was so cool about me leaving with his truck late at night and this is how I thanked him. It was 4:36 a.m. and I was in Burbank. Shane is going to pick me up from the house. We can talk later. Call me., his last text read. I inhaled deeply, slightly relieved. I would call him when I was alone in the truck. “Everything good?” Heather asked. She had finished the burger, fries and root beer shake and was digging her fork into the pie. “Everything is perfect. Being here with you is perfect. I’m glad you enjoyed the food” I said teasingly. She laughed “I’m sorry I demolished everything, John. We were supposed to share. I was really hungry, I hadn’t eaten much today. Should I order you something else?” I had only taken a few sips of the strawberry shake, I had zero appetite. “I’m fine, seriously. I’m just teasing. I wasn’t hungry. I like watching you eat.” She scoffed “I’m sure you do. You have the perfect body, and you probably don’t even work out and eat whatever you want, whenever you want to!” She reached for the strawberry shake and took a sip. I was shocked to hear her refer to my body as perfect; I had always thought myself scrawny and awkward. I wasn’t sure if I should thank her or return her compliment. I was worried if I told her how beautiful I thought she was, she would think I was only interested in her for superficial reasons. “How do you do it?” I asked her, in an attempt to be suave. She grinned, intrigued. She continued slurping down the rest of the strawberry shake. “How do you manage to be so effortlessly incredible?” I asked, surprised by my own corny words. She put the shake down, licked her lips, stood up and came over to my side of the booth. She scooted in close to me and kissed my neck, her lips still cold from the shake. I turned to face her, placing my hand gently on her thigh and kissed her slowly. I had never kissed anyone in public, I felt a wave of excitement and adrenaline take over me. I had never been so turned on. I felt high, higher than I’d ever been. I couldn’t stop kissing her, her lips were incredible soft and her mouth warm and welcoming. I felt myself slipping into her universe, filled with an intimate pleasure that I had never experienced. In that moment, I knew I would love her, I knew she would be the greatest love I’d ever know.
I drove home in silence, allowing myself to savor the fresh memories of my perfect evening with Heather. I didn’t want to leave her, but she had an 8:00 A.M. meeting that couldn’t be rescheduled. We left the diner around 5:45 A.M. after Pink Braid announced our food and shakes were “on the house!” When I walked her to her SUV, Heather asked me to come by her place later that evening. “I’ll cook something special for you,” she said with a sexy grin. More and more cars joined me on the 405 freeway as I drove towards my house, the sun rising in the distance. I knew my dad was probably furious with me, and I vaguely remembered Ralph mentioning something about a photo shoot, but I could only focus on Heather. Nothing else mattered. I had just left her, and I was already anxiously awaiting the next time I got to kiss her soft lips. I wasn’t ready to return to my dull reality, I wanted to spend the remainder of my ride home wrapped up in the fantasy world where passionate kisses with Heather Poussey were inexhaustible, a place where I deserved her affection. I tried to wrap my mind around Heather’s interest in me. I decided to stop trying to make sense of it, and just enjoy the ride.
“Have you checked IG this morning?” Ralph asked frantically. I had answered my phone, still half-asleep. The constant vibration in my pocket had awakened me, and before I was able to become fully coherent, Ralph was screaming in my ear. “I need you to get your ass to the beach ASAP, Johnny boy! We have to strike while the iron is hot! We need to get this photoshoot done, and a new pic posted by 7:00 PM tonight!” I was still sitting in my dad’s truck. I had fallen asleep as soon as I pulled into the driveway and turned the engine off. “Photo-shoot?” I asked sluggishly. “Don’t play with me, John. I told you last night when I dropped you off that I booked a photographer for a shoot today. You agreed. Are you high?” he said in his I’m-being-serious voice. “Calm down, Ralph. I remember, I just had a long night” I said calmly as I pulled the keys out of the ignition. “I know you had a long night Johnny! It’s all over the blogs. The picture of you and HP is trending on IG right now!” Suddenly I was wide awake. “What picture?” I asked. We hadn’t taken any pics that I knew of. “Bro, are you serious? So that’s not you in the picture sucking face with HP in some diner in Burbank last night?” Ralph asked sarcastically. My stomach dropped. “Pull up your Insta bro” Ralph instructed me, realizing I was clueless. I pressed the speaker button on my phone and switched screens to the Instagram app. I had fifty thousand new followers! “What the hell…” I said after pressing the tiny magnifying glass at the bottom of my screen. There I was, making out with Heather in Big Boy, unaware that someone was taking a picture of us. The caption read “HPTheBeauty gets hot and heavy with FlowerBae in Burbank”. I felt violated, our private moment all over the internet for the world to see. “This is weird, Ralph,” I said, scrolling through the countless re-posts of the same pic. “Yeah, it’s pretty creepy, but it’s good for business. Your stock is going up, and we have to capitalize on this moment. The timing couldn’t be more perfect!” I was beginning to become annoyed with Manager Ralph. “I’m being serious Ralph. This is an invasion of our privacy. We were sharing a private moment, and whoever took this picture without our knowledge, is seriously twisted.” The lack of sleep mixed with the Insta-bomb Ralph had just dropped on me made me dizzy. “Look, Ralph, I’m not feeling well. I need to lay down for a few hours before I do anything. If you can push the photoshoot back, cool. If not, we’re going to have to reschedule it because I just can’t do shit right now” I said. Ralph took a deep breath, followed by a minute of silence. I headed into the house, hoping it was empty. As I opened the kitchen door, Ralph decided to speak again. “Johnny, I understand. You’re overwhelmed. I’m fine with giving you a few hours, but I don’t want this to become a habit. If we’re going to be successful, you cant just shut down when something like this happens. As long as you’re involved with Heather, this is going to be an everyday thing” he said. Everyday thing. Heather had said the same thing. That’s when I realized who took the photo of us; it was Pink Braid. I was willing to bet my left nut it was that pink haired, snarky little stalker. Ralph was still lecturing me when I slipped my tee-shirt over my head and slid into my bed. I interrupted him, “Ralph, let me get some rest so I can talk to you with a clearer head.” He laughed, “get your beauty rest Johnny boy. I’m not mad at you, a little disappointed, but not mad. I actually have about a hundred emails to read, anyway. I’ll give you today to get your shit together, but tomorrow we have to get some work done. Unless you want to keep jerking off in your parent’s house for the rest of your life. I wonder how long your broke botanist swag is going to be attractive to HP” he said and ended the call. Ralph was right, but I was too tired to care.
I’ll be there in twenty minutes, I texted Heather from the backseat of a Lyft. I was headed downtown LA to meet her at her place. She texted me her address when I was sleep and told me she would be home around 10:00 P.M. My dad spared me a long-winded lecture and just told me, “don’t touch my keys for a week man.” I was certain my mom told him not to be so hard on me since I was the reason the shop was doing so well. Whatever the reason, I was relieved. “You got a hot date tonight, buddy?” the Lyft driver asked me, just as I was pulling my headphones from my pocket. I wasn’t in the mood to talk, but I knew he was just being friendly. Yeah man, something like that” I said vaguely, wondering what about me gave him an on-my-way-to-a-hot-date vibe. “Enjoy yourself, buddy. You’re a good-looking young chap. I’m sure your lady friend, or guy friend or gender fluid friend, whatever kind of friend you got is just as good looking.” I laughed at his political correctness, “Thanks, man, I really appreciate that.” He looked at me in his rearview mirror and smiled. “Just enjoy yourself,” he said again, a slight warning in his tone. He was an older white guy, probably a few years older than my parents; he had a bald head and tired eyes. In that moment, I was once again conscious of my luck. I was headed to see the woman of my dreams in her penthouse condo and he would probably spend the rest of his night driving around entitled assholes around L.A. He would go home, sleep a few hours and head to his 9-5 job, and do it again. So many people in Los Angeles worked several jobs just to pay their rent and take care of their families. Ralph’s words echoed in my mind, “I wonder how long your broke botanist swag is going to be attractive to HP.” Ralph knew how to get under my skin. His words were harsh but effective. After all, he did know a hell of a lot more about wealth than I did; he learned first hand from his millionaire father. I wondered if Heather would still be attracted to me if worked a regular 9-5 and drove Lyft to make ends meet. She didn’t seem superficial, but she was driven, and I was certain she expected her man to be ambitious too. “Is the temperature okay buddy?” the driver asked. “Yeah, it’s perfect man. Thanks so much” I said politely. “I’m going to take a little cat nap if you don’t mind, I had a really long day. Can you wake me when we get there” I told him in an attempt to avoid his small talk. “Of course buddy, no worries. You relax back there and I’ll let you know when we arrive” he replied, a faint disappointment in his voice. I closed my eyes and leaned my head back on the headrest, but I didn’t fall asleep. My anticipation to see Heather wouldn’t allow me to relax. We were going to be alone at her place. I didn’t expect anything to happen, but the possibility of sex had my stomach in nervous knots. I had slipped a few condoms in my pocket before leaving my room, just in case. I wondered if sex was on Heather’s mind. I wondered if she was romantically involved with anyone else. The thought of another guy kissing and touching her made my stomach churn with jealousy. I wanted her to only want me because I only wanted her. I took a deep breath, in an attempt to calm myself from my unwarranted distress. If she was involved with anyone else, he had surely seen the picture of us making out online. Pink braid’s invasion of our privacy had ended up working in my favor. Little did she know, she aided me in marking my digital territory.
“John, we’ve arrived!” the Lyft driver said cheerfully as we pulled into the semi-circle driveway at Heather’s place. I opened my eyes, the building was just as I imagined, modern and dripping of luxury. “This is a nice place, buddy!” I smiled and thanked him for the ride, handing him five folded singles as I exited his car. I texted Heather, I’m here, as I entered the lobby where I was greeted by an attendant, a good-looking twenty-something guy who I imagined to be an aspiring actor by day, lobby attendant by night. “Good evening sir,” he said, with an air of sophistication. “Evening” I replied, uncertain of what to say next. My phone began vibrating in my hand, it was Heather. “Hey John, tell the lobby attendant you’re going penthouse five,” she said. The attendant escorted me to the elevator, placed his fob on the digital touchpad and pressed P5. “Have a good evening sir” he said, as the elevator doors opened. “Thank you” I replied, insecurely wondering how many other guys he had let up to Heather’s penthouse. The door to her place was cracked when I arrived, so I let myself in. “Hey Heather, I’m here” I announced, as I walked down a hallway that led me into her dining room. To the right of me a spacious living room and to the left an open kitchen with an island.“Hey John!” she yelled from another room ‘I’ll be out in a second, I’m just getting out of the shower. Make yourself at home. The food’s on the counter if you want to make our plates.” The thought of her naked, dressing just a few hundred feet away, turned me on. Her condo was immaculate, wall to wall white decor, it looked like something out of a magazine. There were a dozen white roses on her dining room table, they looked familiar; I was certain they came from our shop. The food was on the kitchen island; she had ordered food from a popular soul-food restaurant, Comfort LA. The kitchen looked as if it had never been cooked in, everything was brand new, including the black and white plates that I found in the cabinet next to the refrigerator. I washed my hands and began to fix our plates. I placed three pieces of fried chicken wings on each plate. I added mac-n-cheese, greens, candied yams and a large piece of cornbread. I transferred the gingerade from the to-go cups into glasses and placed everything on the dining room table with silverware. Just as I sat down, Heather entered from behind the kitchen. She looked stunning. She was wearing baggy white sweatpants, and a white hoody, her hair was wet and parted down the middle, her skin dewy and fresh. I stood back up and walked towards her. “You look beautiful,” I said, without thinking. She smiled and said, “so do you.” I wrapped my arms around her and kissed her forehead, she smelled incredible like cucumber and rose water. She slid her hands under my sweater, touching my bare back; the softness of her hands sent a shiver up my spine. I gently tilted her head back, my hands grazing her moist curls, and kissed her. Her mouth tasted of fresh mint and lemon. She moved her hands from my back to my stomach, caressing my abs. I clenched my stomach slightly in an effort to make my muscles more defined. She ran her hands up to my chest, sliding my sweater as she went. Once my sweater reached my chin, I helped her pull it completely off, placing it on the island behind us. She placed her arms around my neck and slowly slid her hands into my of unruly curls. I slid my hands from the small of her back, up her spine to remove her hoodie. Just as I was about to slide it over her head, her breasts pressed against my naked chest, the doorbell rang. We stopped kissing and looked towards the door. She pulled her hoodie down and I reached for my sweater. “Shit! It’s my assistant, Nicole. I totally forgot that I asked her to bring me the paperwork from the deal I signed today” she said, walking towards the door. “I’m so sorry Nicole” I heard her say, as she opened the door. I slipped my sweater back over my head, expecting them to both walk back into the living room. I heard a soft mumbling and the door close. Heather returned alone, with a white folder in her hand. “I’m sorry about that. I signed a huge deal today and asked Nicole to bring me a copy to put in my safe. It totally slipped my mind that she texted me she was on the way before I jumped in the shower” she explained. “Big deal?” I said, quizzically. “Well I wanted to tell you about it over dinner, but we didn’t make it that far,” she said. “Well, let’s eat!” I said enthusiastically, walking over to the dining room table. “I want to hear all about it.” I pulled out two of the six dining table chairs, sat down and motioned for her to join me. She walked to the table, sat down and sat the folder face down next to her. We began eating and after a few moments, she began. “Okay, so you can’t share with anyone, what I’m about to tell you” she said cautiously. I nodded, crossed my fingers and placed my hand over my heart. She took a deep breath, “I just signed a seven-figure deal with an international beauty brand.” My mouth dropped open, I wasn’t expecting her to say that. “I still can’t believe it” she said excitedly. “I’ve signed a lot of big deals before, I mean I’ve signed six-figure deals before… but this is a milestone for me John, and I just really wanted to share it with you.” I squeezed her hand “Congratulations! You are truly an amazing woman, and I am so proud of you” I said, as I gazed into her eyes. “John, I feel so close to you. I’m scared by how much I trust you” she said, a slight quiver in her voice. “I feel the same way Heather. I feel like I knew you before, and I don’t even believe in that past-life stuff, but it feels like that” I confessed. She told me everything about the deal; how she negotiated an additional half-million dollars, how much commission her assistant would receive for helping her close, her plan to invest in a piece of art and her accountant’s reaction to her massive increase in her net worth. “I haven’t even told my parents, yet,” she said after drinking the last of her gingerade. After we finished eating, I cleared our plates, rinsed them and placed them in her empty dishwasher. I followed her into her bedroom and watched her slip out of her sweats and into her canopy bed draped in gauzy white curtains. Her room was just as I imagined it would be; elegant and luxurious. “John, I’m not ready to have sex yet, but I do want you to spend the night” she said, bluntly. “I want to get to know you better before I make that decision. I know we’re very attracted to each other, but I want more than a psychical attraction. I want to know your likes, dislikes, your dreams, your fears, your passions.” I sat on the edge of her bed and kissed her forehead. “Okay” I said softly, wanting the same thing. I removed my sweater, and kept my sweatpants on. I climbed into her bed, nuzzled up behind her and spooned her. We talked for hours, until the sun peaked through her white curtains. As she drifted to sleep in my arms, I decided; I would create a plant-based cream and ask HP to endorse it.

Chapter 4: Insta-Famous

“So what’s it like being Insta-famous?” Ralph teased me, as he stuffed half of a pastrami sandwich in his mouth. Watching Ralph eat was disturbing, to say the least. He always talked with a mouth full of food, half of which ended up on his shirt. Ralph was the kind of guy who always had a mustard stain on his shirt, no matter what time of the day it was. Who has mustard stains on their shirt at 8:00 a.m.? Ralph, that’s who. He also drank milk with practically every meal, which I found socially unacceptable for a 22-year-old man. “Are you seriously not going to eat?” He asked me, annoyed. I shrugged, I didn’t have much of an appetite. I was overwhelmed, and processing the aftermath of an HPtheBeauty endorsement. I knew social media stars had influence, but I never thought one post would change my life so drastically, so abruptly. Ralph interrupted my thoughts; “I know you’re all Hollywood now and watching your girlish figure, but it’s on the house, Johnny boy!” We were sitting in the kitchen of Ralph’s family’s deli on La Brea in Hollywood. They were famous for their pastrami on rye; there was always a line out the door. The last of the kitchen staff was leaving for the day, it was a little after 7:00 p.m. “It’s not that” I explained. “The shop has been non-stop since HP tagged us. I’ve been working around the clock. This is the first time I’ve been able to sit down for more than five minutes, in three days. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I just don’t know how to handle all of this.” Ralph looked at me with concern in his eyes. A piece of pastrami escaped the bread he was holding and fell on his light colored khakis. Without looking down, he picked it up and shoved it in his mouth. He chewed in silence for a moment, looking towards the kitchen entrance. I pulled my phone from my pocket, not to interrupt his process. I wasn’t sure what he was pondering, but I knew he would share it with me soon enough. Damn, two thousand new followers! I had just checked my phone in the Lyft from the shop to the deli. In three days I went from having about three hundred followers to over sixty thousand! The day after Heather’s party the shop phone was ringing off the hook; we had over a hundred requests to replicate the step-and-repeat. This Beverly Hills housewife even offered to pay us triple the cost if we could make one in time for her daughter’s sweet sixteen, which was two days away. Luckily she wanted pink roses, instead of white, which we had an abundance of. Surprisingly, the grassy slab wasn’t that difficult to re-create. My dad, Shane and I pulled an all-nighter to get it done. My mom helped with the flower placement. Shane and I delivered it at 7:00 a.m. the morning of the party, before we went into the shop. She was so pleased with how good it looked, she tipped us $500 cash, in addition to the $3,000 we charged her. I thanked her and asked her to keep Flores de Amor in mind for any future floral needs. “Okay, John” Ralph said, breaking the silence. “I’ve decided to manage you.” I scoffed. “No offense Ralph, but you can barely manage to take a shower every day. How are you going to manage me? And what is there to manage? I don’t do anything. I’m just a guy who got lucky. Don’t you have enough going on helping your parents with their fifty businesses?” Ralph stared at me blankly. I shook my head and looked back at my phone. “Manage me” I said mockingly under my breath, as I began to read through some of the hundreds of direct messages I received. Ralph reached over and slapped my phone out of my hand, ricocheting it off the kitchen floor. “What the hell Ralph!” I yelled, jumping out of my seat to retrieve my phone, that had slid under one of the massive stoves. I grabbed a nearby broom and fished it out from underneath. Once I got it and checked the screen for cracks, I walked out of the kitchen. I wasn’t in the mood for Ralph’s theatrics; I was sleep deprived and anxious, I just wanted to get home and get in my bed. “John! Johnny! Johnny boy!” Ralph called behind me. I kept walking briskly towards the entrance, as I requested a ride home. As I was unlocking the deli doors to exit, Ralph caught up to me. He was red and out of breath. I couldn’t help but laugh. “Look bro, I’m sorry for being so dramatic.” He began, “I just see this as a huge opportunity for you. For your family. You’re already overwhelmed after three days John. Three days. You have thousands of people following you because of one freaking photo. I don’t think you understand the magnitude of this opportunity. Your parent’s shop has seen more business in the last three days than it has all year. You’ve got to ride this wave. Who knows when your fifteen minutes are going to be up? Now is the time to be an opportunists, not only for the sake of your parent’s business, but for your own future. I may not have experience managing a Insta-star, but I grew up in a household with a Jewish businessman as a father. Albeit, he’s a monster and dead inside, but I’ve learned a lot watching him. Look dude, my folks are millionaires, a few times over. Our house is worth millions of dollars man. I know I’m goofy and fat and might not have your dashing good looks, but John, I know an opportunity of a lifetime when I see one. I don’t need the money, I just want to come along for the ride. This is your big break and I want to help you take advantage of it before it passes you by.” My ride pulled up, just as Ralph finished his heartfelt speech. I walked towards the car and looked back at him, before getting in the back seat. I saw the sincerity in his eyes. “Lock up and come on” I said. “You’re buying me a new screen protector.”

It had been a week since I’d seen Heather in person. I kept up with her via her daily postings on Instagram. We exchanged a few text messages, but she had a crazy busy schedule and it usually took her hours to respond. The photo was still getting a lot of attention; it was the most “liked” photo on her page, with over three millions likes and over fifty thousand comments. It had been re-posted by thousands of her followers and tons of the gossip blogs. There were even a few memes floating around, every one referring to me as #FlowerBae. I didn’t mind it, but I didn’t want to be known as FlowerBae for the rest of my life. I also didn’t want to miss my window of opportunity with HP. With each day that passed, she felt further and further away. I decided to skip the text messages and give her a call. I wanted to hear her voice. After a long day of craziness at the shop, I texted Ralph to meet me at the In-N-Out burger in Westwood. It wasn’t far from the shop, so I decided to call her on my walk over. The phone rang several times before going to voicemail. “Hey! You’ve reached Heather Poussey. Leave something beautiful at the beep! Bye!” I smiled, as an image of her flashing her stunning smile flashed across my mind. I hated leaving messages, but I felt compelled to do so anyway. “Um, hey Heather. It’s John Nichols. I know you’re super busy, but I wanted to invite you to have dinner with me tomorrow night. You know, as a thank you for everything. Call me or text me and let me know if you’re free. I hope you’re having a really good day, Heather.” I said, attempting to mask the slight tremble of nervousness in my voice. I ended the call and shoved my phone back in my pocket. I quickened my pace as I saw the familiar sign in the distance. I wasn’t much of a meat eater, being that my mom was Vegan and my dad Pescatarian. We never had meat in the house, but occasionally I craved a juicy double cheese burger from In-N-Out or FatBurger. I didn’t tell my parents about my meat escapades; they would just lecture me about how disgusting and inhumane it was to eat beef. When I arrived, Ralph was already there, sitting in a booth and slurping on a milkshake. “Hey, Johnny. You got a message from this girl Maggie who’s the president of sorority and fraternity life at UCLA. She said she wants the shop to do all their events for next school year. She wants to meet with you next week. I’m going to schedule it for Monday afternoon, if you’re interested.” He said excitedly, milkshake dripping down the side of his mouth. I shook my head. “I’m down. Let me order some food first, and then you can give me the rundown.” I said, as I walked over the the surprisingly short line. There were a few teenage girls standing in front of me wearing matching UCLA tee shirts and shorts. Even thought I knew what I wanted to order, I stared at the menu. The girls kept tuning around and looking at me, giggling like crazy as they whispered amongst themselves. I smiled awkwardly, when I made eye contact with the girl standing closest to me. She burst into a fit of giggles and turned around and whispered something to her friends. I’ll never understand women, I thought to myself as I watched the girls order and walk off giggling towards the soda fountain. I ordered my food and walked back to the table where Ralph was sitting, by now he was on the phone. “Yeah, so FlowerBae doesn’t really do club appearances. It’s not really his thing.” He had his manager “hat” on. I shook my head and laughed under my breath as I slid into the booth. “Three thousand dollars is a very generous offer, Max. It really is, and we appreciate your generosity, we really do. Club appearances are just not in alignment with the brand we’re building. You’re a businessman, you understand.” Ralph rolled his eyes and picked up what was left of his burger. “If anything changes, you’ll be the first to know Max. I’m driving into an underground parking structure right now, so you might lose me.” Ralph ended the call and put his phone face down on the table. “Promoters” he scoffed. “So fill me in on everything” I began. Just as Ralph was about to unload, the teenage girls from the line approached our table. The one who had been standing closest to me spoke first “Sorry to interrupt you guys” she giggled “ but are you FlowerBae?” She asked, blushing. “He sure is!” Ralph said, loudly before I had the chance to respond. “Oh my God!” One of the other girls squealed. “I knew it was you! I saw you on HP’s page! I’m obsessed with her! She practically taught me everything I know about makeup. You two are the cutest couple!” Ralph gleamed “How sweet! Would you girls like me to take a picture of you and John. I mean FlowerBae?” He asked them. “Oh my God! If it’s not too much trouble, that would be amazing!” The first girl screamed, jumping up and down. Ralph took our photos with each of their phones and they hugged me and thanked me. By the time we finished, my food had been sitting on the counter for a few minutes. I walked up and gave the teenage boy who was passing the food my receipt. “Hey dude, are you famous or something?” He asked me. I laughed. “No bro. I’m just a regular guy.” After Ralph and I finished our food and Flowerbae business, he gave me a ride home in his dad’s Tesla. “That was pretty epic, Johnny boy” he said, as he pulled in front of my house. I shrugged “I wouldn’t get too excited about that Ralph. Teenage girls notice everything. They get excited about everything. Plus, they’re Heather’s fans, not mine.” Ralph turned down the music. “John, when are you going to realize; Heather’s fans are becoming your fans. You have to give them something to keep them interested. You have to give them something to fan out over!” As much as I hated it, he was right. “Tomorrow, I booked a professional photographer. I also just locked in this up-and-coming stylist I found on IG, who’s looking to gain more followers. We’re having a photoshoot tomorrow. You need quality content to post on your page.” I was too tired to oppose, so I just said “okay”.

I walked into a quiet house; I was so relieved that my parents weren’t home. I didn’t feel like talking. I only wanted to smoke a joint, watch something funny and relax. I decided to take a shower first. The hot water felt amazing as it cascaded down my body. I closed my eyes and imagined Heather in the shower with me; the water glistening on her perfect skin, her silky curls moist at the tips and her full lips partially open, waiting for me to kiss her. My fantasy was interrupted by a faint sound of talking from downstairs. “I need to get my own place” I said to myself. “I can’t even jerk-off in peace.” I hurriedly finished up in the bathroom, went to my room and shut the door. I put on some clean sweatpants and placed my towel on the floor in front of my closed door to cover the space between the door and the floor. I sparked my joint and inhaled deeply. I exhaled out the window, trying to keep as much smoke out of my room as possible. I grabbed my phone to put it on the charger and saw that I had a missed call from Heather. She left a voicemail; “John, it’s Heather. I’m sorry I missed your call. I was in this stupid meeting. I really want to see you. Are you in Westwood? Send me your location. I can come to you.”

Chapter 3: #FlowerBae

I never cared much about clothes. Growing up in Southern California, my wardrobe was made up of mostly cotton V-necks and cargo shorts. Ninety percent of my clothes were purchased by my mother; including the polo shirt and slacks I wore on graduation day. I stood in front of my closet; suddenly very aware that none of its contents were suitable to show up at a party hosted by Heather Poussey. While skimming through the comments under her photos, I realized how much her followers cared about everything she wore. I couldn’t show up looking like I just left Venice beach. “Son, I need you at the shop!” My dad yelled from downstairs. I pushed aside a few hangers, reaching towards the back of my closet. “Graduation outfit, it is” I said aloud, as I slung my towel over my desk chair. I hurriedly got dressed and ran downstairs. My dad was in the kitchen pouring coffee into his thermos. He saw me and shook his head. “Have a seat son” he said, firmly. Shit! I didn’t have time for one of his lectures; I thought as I took a deep breath and sat down at the kitchen table. “I’ll keep this short because were both running late. I need you to step up John; this is the last morning I’m waking you up for work. If you weren’t my son, I would have fired you by now. I know you’re adjusting from being a full-time college student to working full-time at the shop, but this is unacceptable. How are you ever going to be great if you have zero discipline?” His eyes were serious. “I know you don’t want to hear this right now, and to be honest, I don’t want to say this; but this is your final warning. If you drop the ball again, I’m going to have to hire a new shop manager, and you can work at the nursery. We don’t have room for error right now, son. You know the shop isn’t doing well, you know we’re at risk of losing it. Step up, or step out.” I swallowed hard “Yes, sir” I replied, too anxious to formulate a better response. I glanced at my phone, it was 10:09 a.m. “Dad, would you mind dropping me off at the shop?” I asked. He rolled his eyes, “Lets go” he said, as he secured the top of his thermos and grabbed his keys from the counter. The brief ride to the shop was a somber one. My dad was a huge supporter of NPR, it was pretty much the only station he ever listened to, for as long as I could remember. We listened to the news of another black teenager being shot and killed by a police officer in Detroit, Michigan, where my dad was born and raised. “Julius was an honor student at Cass Technical high school, he had just been accepted to Stanford University, where he was planning to attend in the fall” the reported said. A wave of sadness filled the air, and I watched my father as his body tensed and a single tear fell down his right cheek. He turned the radio off and we continued on in silence. My stomach was in knots. I didn’t know what to say, for the first time that morning I wasn’t thinking about Heather, I wasn’t thinking about the 600 white roses, I wasn’t thinking about the shop. I was thinking about a boy from Detroit named Julius. My dad pulled in front of the shop behind a large white delivery van. “Thank you dad” I said as I unbuckled my seat belt. My dad grabbed my arm. “I love you son” he said, with a slight tremble in his voice. “I love you too dad.” I sat in my dad’s truck for a few more moments before I opened the door and jumped out. I looked back at him before I shut the door “I’m not going to let you down, dad” I told him.

The rest of the morning was a blur, and before I knew it I was at the delivery entrance of the new Waldorf Astoria in Beverly Hills unloading the roses. Ralph’s guy had delivered the 600 white roses, as promised, and he also was instructed by Ralph’s mother to ride to the hotel with me to help unload them. Heather texted me very specific directions, so when I arrived, I knew exactly what to do. I was greeted by Heather’s best friend, Vivian Brickner. Heather and Vivian were cut from the same cloth. Vivian was also incredibly beautiful. She had shoulder length brown hair with blonde highlights. Her skin was sun kissed and it looked stunning against the white silk dress she was wearing. She looked like one of the actresses from the telenovelas my mom was always watching. “John! Thank you so much for the gorgeous roses, Heather is going to love them. She’s still getting ready, but if you don’t mind staying around a little longer, we could really use a extra set of hands. Time is flying by and the party starts in a few hours” Vivian said, as she led me from the elevator to the rooftop area where the party was being held. I wasn’t going anywhere until I saw Heather. “No worries. I’m happy to help” I said, with a grin. Vivian informed me of Heather’s plans for the roses, and why she needed so many. “We’re going to make a step-and-repeat style backdrop with the roses. We had someone make a custom grass wall situation; all you have to do is slide the roses through 600 small holes to form an “H” and a “P”. It’s the first thing our guests will see when they exit the elevator, so it’s super important that it’s done right. We have two assistants to help you get it done, so it shouldn’t take too long.” Vivian snapped her fingers and mouthed “come here” to two girls in white tank tops with the letters “AAA” in pink writing across the front. They immediately stopped talking and hurriedly walked towards us. “Ladies, this is John. You’re going to assist him setting up the step-and-repeat. This needs to be completed as expeditiously as possible, so please take his direction and get it done” she said. “Yes, big sister Vivian!” They responded harmoniously. Vivian rolled her eyes and turned to me “They’re all yours John. If we could get this done in less than an hour and a half, that would be awesome” she said, as she glanced at her phone. “I have to check on the food, have fun!” she said, before she scurried away. I smiled awkwardly at the two girls who looked a few years younger than me. They were perky and alert, ready for direction. “Lucky for us, we don’t have to de-thorn these roses. All we need to do is follow the guide and push the stems through the holes. I’ll start from the top and you two can start from the bottom.” They nodded and began working diligently. We finished in an hour, and it looked incredible.The backdrop was about eight feet wide, and seven feet tall; with the flowers perfectly arranged, it looked like Heathers initials were growing out of the grass. I was extremely proud of the outcome. I was excited for Heather to see the end result, I knew she would love it. I thanked the girls for their help and went to find a broom to sweep up the fallen debris. I scanned the restaurant looking for Heather. She was still nowhere to be found. I check my phone to see if she had texted me. I had messages from Ralph and my mom. My mom agreed to watch the shop for a few hours while I delivered the roses.“John, I need to leave in an hour. How much longer will you be?” her text message read. After the talk I had with my father earlier, I couldn’t afford to mess up again. I texted my mom back; “Sorry for the delay mom. Heather needed my help setting up the roses. I’ll be leaving here soon.” I slid my phone back in my pocket and headed towards the kitchen area, where I found Vivian giving directions to the wait staff. I waited for her to finish talking before I approached her. “Vivian, we finished the backdrop, so I’m going to head back to work. I just need a broom and a dust pan so I can clean up before I go.” I told her. “Thank you so much John! You’ve been amazing. Heather had a wardrobe malfunction so she’s still in her hotel room getting ready. I’m sorry she couldn’t see you before you leave, but just know she’s super grateful” she said, apologetically. “I’ll have someone else clean up, you’ve done more than enough.” I forced a smile and asked her where the restroom was. “I’ll walk you over, I have to make sure the ladies room is up to par, I haven’t checked it out yet.” I followed her as she walked briskly, continuing to give directions as she made a beeline for the restrooms. When we arrived, she thanked me again and disappeared into the ladies room. The bathroom was fancy, as I expected it to be. I washed my hands and splashed some cold water on my face. I picked up one of the white hand towels and patted my face dry. I looked in the mirror. “What exactly were you expecting, John?” I asked myself aloud. I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. I knew it was my mother calling. I pulled it out my pocket, and answered it. “Hey mom, I’m sorry. I’m about to get in a Lyft right now” I said. “Mijo, please hurry. I have an important meeting with a client in an hour for a wedding. I can’t be late, I’ve already had to reschedule once. Please, just get here” she said desperately. “Okay, mom. I’m leaving now.” I ended the call and requested a ride.

The rooftop had an amazing view. As I waited for the elevator, I gazed at the skyline in the distance. Heather and I lived in very different worlds; she lived in a world of rooftop parties and millions of followers who adored her. I lived a world of early mornings in the flower shop and late nights of playing video games and smoking weed with my highly offensive best friend. I wasn’t sure what my expectations were, after all it was just flowers, albeit 600 flowers, but flowers nonetheless. The “ding” from the elevator interrupted my thoughts. I approached the sliding doors, anxious to get back to the shop to come up with a Plan B. The doors slid open and there she was! A sudden warmth took over me, and all my disappointed instantly melted away. “John! I’m so glad I caught you before you left. I saw the step-and-repeat on SnapChat and it’s amazing! Thank you so much! I love it! You have no idea how much it means to me!” She said, as she grabbed my hand, pulling me back in the restaurant. “You’re very welcome Heather. I’m so glad you like it, but I have to go back to the shop. I’m sorry I cant stay, my ride’s downstairs” I explained. “Of course. Of course. I’m so sorry, I’ve been so busy getting ready. I wanted to thank you personally.” She looked incredible. She was wearing a white, floor-length, lace dress. There were small white roses pinned in her hair; she looked like an angel. “Just take a quick photo with me before you go, John” she said, pulling me in front of the stand-and-repeat. She asked someone standing near by to take our photo. She positioned me to the right of her initials and stood next to me. She wrapped her right arm around my waist, and I put my left arm over her bare shoulder. Her skin was silky and smooth, just as I imagined it to be, but better. She smelled incredible. All of my senses were aroused. I could have stood next to her, with her arm around me for the rest of the night. “Ready?” Our photographer asked. “Yes! Give us a count of three” Heather replied. “Okay. One…Two…” On three she kissed me on the left side of my mouth.

On my way back to the shop I sat in silence as I replayed the kiss over and over again in my mind; it was so unexpected. I glanced at my phone, another text from my mom flashed across the screen. “I’m leaving. I put the “back in fifteen minutes” sign on the door, so please get there ASAP.” I replied to her text, apologizing again, and assuring her that I would be at the shop in ten minutes. I pressed send and clicked on Instagram, anxious to see if Heather had posted our pic. I was shocked by what I saw next; I had over twenty-thousand new followers. Heather posted the photo of us with the caption;“A special thank you to @JohNicholsBotanist for making my night magical with 600 white roses from @FloresDeAmorWestwood #FlowerBae.” The photo already had a half-million “likes”. I had to admit, we looked really good together.

Chapter 2: By any means necessary…

I don’t think I’ve ever been so aroused in my life. It was the way she said my name. “John.” She made my one syllable, boring ass, vanilla name sound sultry and mystical; like a sirens song. In that moment I knew; Heather Poussey was going to either be the best thing that ever happened to me, or the worst. “I’ll be waiting for your text, John.” How the hell did HPtheBeauty know my name? She had to have checked out my Instagram page, after I commented under her pic. It was naive of me to assume she would just check out the flower shop page without investigating the person who made the referral. My page wasn’t private, so anyone had access to my pictures; all twenty of them. None of which were exciting; half were lame memes. She probably thought I was lame; and if I’m being honest, I was. I immediately became self-conscious about the content on my page. I grabbed my phone from the counter and clicked on Instagram. From the home page, I noticed a little red dot next to the heart icon, indicating that someone had “liked” or commented on one of my posts. I clicked on it: “HPtheBeautyliked your post.” The previous sensation to piss myself violently returned, and I sprinted to the bathroom in the back of the shop. “John! John” I heard my mother yelling behind me. She probably thought I had lost my mind. I would have to make up something to explain my odd behavior, after I emptied my bladder. I aimed with one hand and clicked with the other. I immediately recognized the photo that Heather “liked”. It was a photo that my mom had taken of me at Zuma beach, a few days after graduation. I was standing in my favorite camouflage trunks, with my back to the mountains, the sun was setting, it was a pretty dope picture. My body didn’t look bad, you could see traces of my four-pack in the shadows that outlined my body against the scenery, if you looked hard enough. I guess it was the best photo of the twenty. I looked through my other pics, with a new sense of embarrassment. If these twenty pics summed up my digital persona, I definitely had room for improvement. I never thought of myself as a particularly attractive person; I knew I wasn’t ugly, but I wouldn’t describe myself as handsome. People always commented on how good-looking my parents were, and I agreed. They were a good looking pair. My dad was handsome, people were always comparing him to actors, mainly the guy who played Luke Cage on Netflix. My mom was really beautiful; Ralph always teased me saying she looked like Selma Hayek, which was disturbing on so many levels.The most obvious being Selma was my first celebrity crush, very Oedipal of me. I had somehow made my way back to Heather’s page. She had just posted a new photo of her having lunch with a pretty blonde lady in a light blue pants suit, at this brand new cafe in Westwood called Bon temps pour Bruins. The caption read; “Sitting pretty brunching with the newly appointed Director of Special events at #UCLA, and my #AlphaAlphaAlpha sorority sister @MadelineGraceTriAlpha #BruinLove.” “John! John! Are you okay in there? You’re acting very odd, mijo” my mom said loudly as she banged on the bathroom door, and interrupted my anxious excitement. “I’ll be out in a minute mom!” I yelled. I quickly finished up and returned to the shop floor, where I found my mother standing behind the counter with a concerned look sprawled across her face. “Mijo, I know you mean well, but we don’t even have half of that order available. Those arrangements that went out this morning took all the white roses we had on hand. We have about a hundred at the nursery, but they’re not in full bloom” she said apologetically. “I know mom. I’m going to call in a favor. I’ll do whatever it takes to get those flowers. Heather is a very influential person mom; a favor from her could save the shop. Just let me handle this, don’t you worry about it. I just need to take off a little early today so I can make sure I can get the white roses before noon tomorrow.” I said as I grabbed Heather’s business card off the counter, and stuffed it in my pocket. “That’s fine, John. Take the rest of the day off. I’ll close up the shop and see you at home this evening. I hope everything works out. I can see how important this is to you. Just listen to your mother’s advice” she began, earnestly. “Don’t get in the habit of promising girls like that things you don’t already have in front of you.” I nodded at my overprotective mother, she was always trying to protect me. “I won’t mom. Trust me, this is a one time thing” I said, before I darted out the door.

I figured I’d take the bus home; it was cheap and would give me time to devise a plan. I scrolled through my contacts. I had a few acquaintances from high school whose parents were also in the flower business. Phillip Anderson was probably my best bet; his parents owned a large nursery in Los Angeles. Phillip and I weren’t friends, but we had friendly interactions in the past. Phillip graduated from Yale, and the last time I checked he was still in New Haven. I didn’t have time to wait for text response, so I clicked on his name and tapped the phone icon. A good old fashioned phone call. The call immediately went to voicemail. “You’ve reached Phillip Anderson. I’m out of the country for the summer. Cambodia to be exact. I won’t be answering my phone, so if it’s important, send me a message through social media. I check it a few times a week” a recording said. “Well there goes that plan” I said aloud. The seemingly homeless gentleman seated across from me smiled and said “If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again!” He was right. I couldn’t let Phillip being in Cambodia stop me from getting those 600 white roses. I was determined to get those roses Malcolm X style; by any means necessary. Maybe I could order the followers offline, from one of the big name delivery services. I did some research and made a few calls only to find out that the earliest anyone could get me an order of that size would be 72 hours. “I’m sure Heather tried all of these guys” I said to my transient friend. He grinned and nodded. My stop had arrived. I pressed the stop request button, gave my buddy the three dollars I had on me and exited the bus. On my walk home from the bus stop I decided to text my dad. I didn’t want to involve him, because I knew he had his hands full, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try. Hey pops. Call me, when you’re free. Within seconds I got a response; Your mother told me about your wild goose hunt. I’m sorry Johnny, but I cant help you with this one. I’ve used up all my business favors.” I couldn’t help but hear my moms warning echo through my mind “Don’t get in the habit of promising girls like that things you don’t already have in front of you.” I knew I was in over my head, but I also knew I couldn’t give up; I was in too deep to pull out now. I called my best friend, Ralph. “Please pick up. Please pick up. Please pick up!” I chanted. Ralph had a bad habit of leaving his phone laying around all over the place. He was also working at one of his families bakeries, right next to The Grove for the summer. “Hey there Johnny boy! It’s been a minute homeboy. Where you been? Jerking off all summer 17’ I assume” he yelled, obnoxiously from the other end of the phone. “Ralph I need you” I said, seriously. I wasn’t in a joking mood. Unfortunately for me, Ralph was never in a serious mood. “Whoa, whoa, whoa there! I haven’t spoken to you since graduation night, and you call me. No wait, you need me, and I’m supposed to just pull my panties to the side and welcome you in?” He asked, self-righteously. I allowed him to bust my balls for a few more minutes before I gave him a rundown of the Heather situation. “Sweet Jesus!” He exclaimed after I finished. “Ralph, you cant say that, you’re Jewish.” Ralph was unapologetically offensive. “ I know. I know.” He said, and paused. I waited; I knew he was thinking. The only time Ralph was quiet was if he was thinking of a solution to a really hard problem. “Okay Johnny boy. I’m in. I want to help you bag Kim K., UCLA edition, but here’s the thing. My warm, cuddly bear of a father is in Israel right now. I can email him; he checks it religiously, but I can’t promise anything. You know how much he hates me” his voice, solemn for the first time. Ralph had an interesting, to say the least, relationship with his father. Ralphs father was an extremely successful businessman. He was also devoutly involved in the Beverly Grove Jewish community. Everything Ralph loved, his father hated, and vice versa. Although Mr. Eckerman never seemed to particularly like me, but he was cordial during our few, brief interactions. The thought of the fate of my families flower shop being in the hands of Mr. Eckerman sent a chill up my spine. I couldn’t risk it; the stakes were too high. “Ralph bro, I really appreciate you caring enough to ask your dad, but I think we both know the likeliness of him calling in a favor, for me, is slim to none. If you think of anyone else who might have access to 600 or even 500 white roses, let me know” I said, attempting to sound hopeful. “Absolutely. I’m sorry I couldn’t be more helpful.” Ralph was a good friend. He always came through for me when I really needed him, but it was a huge favor and a short notice.

My stomach grumbled as I opened the kitchen door. I decided I’d better eat something before I used what was left of my energy to reach out to everyone I knew that could possibly link me to someone with a flower hook-up. I grabbed some jalapeño hummus and baby carrots out of the refrigerator. My parents were big on only keeping healthy snacks in the house. I chomped on the carrots as I surveyed the fridge for something quick and filling to eat. There were some leftovers from dinner the night before in tupperware; spinach lasagna. I was too lazy to heat it up, so I ate it cold. I sat at the kitchen table feeling partially defeated. I reached in my pocket for Heather’s business card and typed her number into my phone. Hey Heather, it’s John from the flower shop. Don’t worry about the cost of the flowers. They’re on me 😉 I pressed the blue up arrow before I could even process how stupid I was being. “That-a-boy John, if you’re going to disappoint, you may as well go all out” I said aloud, disgusted with my reckless text. The three dots danced across the screen of my iPhone, she was replying. OMG!! You are the sweetest! I can’t believe you got all 600 THIS FAST! You just made my day. I’m Venmo-ing you money anyway. Maybe you can take your gf to dinner 😉 Girlfriend? What made her think I had a girlfriend? Just as I was about to respond, she sent another text. Or maybe you can take me lol either way I’ll text you the address tomorrow morning. Thanks again John! She ended the conversation before I could even reply. Heather Poussey was no amateur. She was used to getting her way, it was obvious. I was momentarily annoyed by how calm she was, while I was sweating bullets trying to pull 600 roses out my ass. I had to remind myself that I was the one who went under her post and recommended my parents shop. I also promised her flowers I knew we didn’t have. I couldn’t be mad at anyone but myself. After texting every contact in my phone, including my ex-girlfriend, Sarah, who politely told me “go f*ck yourself.” I headed to my room to take a power nap. I was drained. “Hey, Siri. Set an alarm for an hour” I said a loud. “Okay, I’ve set an alarm for 6:15 p.m.” Siri replied. If only I could ask Siri how to make 600 white roses magically appear. I decided against smoking what was left of my stash. I didn’t want to take the edge off; I needed to experience every uncomfortable pang in the pit of my stomach. I couldn’t be that guy. I couldn’t be the guy who completely ruined an opportunity to get in the good graces of HPtheBeauty. I couldn’t be the son that pissed away the opportunity to save my parents business, because of my inability to deliver. I couldn’t be a failure. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. As I inhaled, I could smell Heather’s unique aroma. Even though I knew so little about her, I was infatuated with her. I imagined what her lips felt like against mine. What the weight of her body felt atop of mine. I envisioned what her curvy body would look like as she jumped up and down with excitement from me delivering the 600 white roses. I drifted into a world where Heather Poussey was just as infatuated with me, as I was with her.

“John! John! I’m not going to do this dance with you every morning! Wake yo lil’ ugly ass up!” The sound of my dads baritone voice, and the banging on my door startled me. I grabbed my phone. It was 9:00 a.m. “I let you sleep in a extra two hours, son. Your mom went to open up, but I need you to get to the shop, John. Now!” I couldn’t believe I slept through the entire night. Hot tears began to stream out of my eyes. I wiped my face, disgusted, and rolled out of the bed. I opened the door. My dad took one look at me and embraced me is his big muscular arms. I stood there sobbing like a small child. After a few minutes my dad spoke; “Whatever it is son, we’ll get through it together. Now go clean yourself up. We don’t want your mother to see you like this.” After giving me a final squeeze he turned around and headed downstairs. I went straight to the bathroom to shower, since I hadn’t in two days. The hot water felt amazing as it streamed down my face. “I guess Heather Poussey is just going to have to survive without her 600 white roses” I said aloud, as I wiped the condensation off the bathroom mirror. While brushung my teeth, I could hear the sound of my phone ringing in my room. I cringed. I couldn’t face her; I couldn’t tell her I wouldn’t have the flowers by noon. I decided to put some of my moms hair products in my hair to prolong the inevitable. After another ten minutes of attempting to tame my unruly curls, I gave up and returned to my room. My phone was still ringing; it was Ralph. “Hello” I said, slightly annoyed. “Johnny boy! Johnny boy! Not sure why it took seven phone calls for me to get ahold of you this fine morning, but I’ve got news for you” Ralph said, in a singsong manner. My stomach dropped. “Kim UCL-K is gonna throw that ass in a circle when she see’s these 600 white roses. My mom pulled some strings. They’ll be delivered to your parents shop in an hour, so get your ass there. Wank me later.”

Chapter 1: Nothing was the same…

I like Drake. I mean, his music was pretty much the soundtrack of my collegiate career. Nothing was the same got me through freshman year. If you’re reading this its too late made biology bearable. What a time tobe alive helped me study for plant taxonomy. Views was my all-time favorite, that is, until More Life dropped, a few months before graduation. Twenty-two tracks, helped me obtain a degree in Botany from UCLA. Of course I listened to other music, but it was Drake that I connected with the most. Maybe it was his transformation from wheel-chair Jimmy on Degrassi to superstardom. Maybe it was the stories he told, or the way he told them; the women, the money, the internal conflict, the fame. I never wanted to be famous. I never wanted to be exposed, for the world to judge. I was afraid if people knew the real me, they’d find me boring and uninteresting.

I admired Drake’s charisma and confidence. I’ve always been socially awkward; the thought of being the center of attention would give me severe anxiety. Never, in a million years, would I think I would have as many followers on social media as my idol. Yesterday, I surpassed his Instagram followers by twenty thousand. The fact that I even know that is insane. The fact that millions of people care enough about my existence to “follow” me and “like” my pictures is insane. I guess that makes me famous; which is even more insane. Before I start to sound like a complete tool, let me explain. I have a degree in Botany, for Christ’s sake. I got laid exactly thirty three times in college; every time with the same girl (but I won’t get into that right now). My best friend is in a Dungeons and Dragons league. His name is Ralph, and unfortunately he got laid thirty two less times than I did in undergrad. All that to say; I’m the last guy on the planet who should have people stopping me in the street asking for selfies. The last year of my life has felt like an out of body experience; a lucid dream. I wake up every morning expecting to be disappointed by what should be my reality, but instead I wake up next to a beautiful woman in my penthouse in downtown Los Angeles. Ironically, I too had transformed from Jimmy to Drake.

A year ago, I had 300 Instagram followers. A year ago, I was a nobody. The son of two florists; my mother, a Mexican immigrant and my father, a black man born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. A year ago, I was a recent UCLA grad. I thought I was ready for the next chapter of my life, little did I know it would turn out to be a epic novel. This is the story of the past year of my life. This is the story of a girl. The girl who changed everything. The girl who made me famous. The girl who enhanced me. Heather Poussey. She was the kind of girl Drake sang about; the girl every guy wanted and every girl wanted to be. She was unfairly beautiful, a social butterfly, incredibly successful and genuinely nice. I hated myself for what I did to her. I hated that she hated me. I hated that I had become her arch nemesis, and even though I didn’t want to accept it, she had become mine. She used to be so nice.

Let me start from the beginning…

Two weeks after I graduated, my mom dropped a bomb on me. “We’re going to lose the shop, John” she confessed, fighting back tears. I sat at the kitchen table in silent shock. I knew the shop wasn’t thriving, like it had in the past, but I didn’t realize things had gotten so bad. “We have a lot of debt, and we already took out a second mortgage on the house. If things don’t change drastically in the next few months, we’re going to be forced to close the doors.” My parents put their blood, sweat and tears into our families flower shop. My heart broke as I listened to my mom talk about how difficult the past year had been. “Your father and I didn’t want to worry you. We wanted you to focus on your studies and finish strong” she explained, when I asked her why she didn’t tell me what was going on sooner. “We really need your help managing and running the shop while your father and I do everything we can to try and drum up some new business. We’re going to have to do something innovative and exciting, I just don’t know what. We lost one of our biggest accounts when the director of special events at UCLA retired. We tried reaching out to the new director, but she already has florists that she works with” her voice was beginning to tremble, she was overwhelmed. I felt sick to my stomach. I hated seeing my mother in such a fragile state, she was the strongest person I knew. I knew it had to be serious if she was freaking out. I stood up and wrapped my arms around my moms petite frame. She always smelled like fresh roses. She was such a beautiful lady. Her olive skin was bronzed from all her time spent in the sun at our nursery. Her light brown hair was thick like mine, but her curls were softer and bouncier; she kept them tied tight in a massive bun. “It’s going to be okay mom. I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure the shop stays in business” I assured her. I must have sounded somewhat convincing because she exhaled deeply and said “ I know mijo. You’re the brains of this family, with your fancy plant degree. I know you’ll save the shop. Te amo.” There’s something about making a promise to your mom. It’s a defining moment. I felt my balls drop; I had officially become a man. “ I love you too mom. I won’t let you down.”

That night I tossed and turned for hours thinking of ways I could help the shop reach a new demographic. Most of my parents loyal customers were Westwood locals who had been coming to the shop for years. My mom was right; we needed something new and innovative. We needed to appeal to millennial customers. I grabbed my phone off the nightstand and went to Safari. I typed “how do businesses appeal to millennial customers?” I read article after article, and after a few hours I had come up with a plan. I was going to use social media to connect with local millennials and entice them to come into the shop or order online. This idea was completely out of my comfort zone, but I knew I needed to do something drastic to shake things up, and bring new life into the shop. I felt a slight sense of accomplishment. I clicked out of Safari and went to Instagram. I mainly used the app for mindless entertainment; Ralph and I would tag or DM each other funny videos and memes. I went to the search page and typed flower shop. I wanted to see how other flower shops used social media; who had the most followers, how they engaged with their followers, their content and the links to their websites. There was over a million #flowershop posts. The Top Post immediately grabbed my attention. It was a picture of a beautiful girl wearing a light pink dress, holding a massive bouquet of white roses. I clicked on the photo, to get a better look. The photo had 1.4 million “likes”. Her Instagram handle was HPtheBeauty and she had 40 million followers. The caption under the photo read “I need about 600 more of these beauties for my party in two days! Tag your favorite florist!” The location tag was set to Los Angeles, CA. I went back and read her short bio “Heather Poussey. Los Angeles, CA. Beauty. Is. My. Life. UCLA alum.” There was also a link to her youtube channel, which had 50 million subscribers, only six million less than the most subscribed to YouTube star, who was a gamer with 56 million subscribers.

My plan had just graduated from decent to brilliant. Not only was she local, but she went to UCLA. I logged off my Instagram and created an account for the flower shop; I chose the handle FloresDeAmorWestwood, since FloresDeAmor, the name of our shop, was already taken. I posted the five recent photos I had saved in my phone; four arrangements that my dad designed and an old photo my family standing in front of the shop. My older brother, Richard, and I stood in front of our parents, who were in their early twenties at the time. Richard had his arm wrapped around me, and we all looked incredibly happy. I missed my brother. He moved to New York my freshman year and only visited for Thanksgiving and Christmas. After I posted the pics, I went on a “liking” and “following” spree. I found myself back on HPtheBeauty’s page. I needed some courage. I crawled out of bed and closed my bedroom door. I flipped open my MacBook, sat down at my desk and clicked on Drake’s Pandora station. I opened my bedroom window wider, so more air could get in. Feel No Ways began to play as I sparked one of the joints I had rolled earlier. I smoked half of it, and got back into bed. I scrolled through HPtheBeauty’s pics, and “liked” a few. She was stunning; deep bronze skin, big curly hair, big brown eyes, her lips were full and pouty, she was voluptuous and her confidence oozed through the screen. Every single picture was perfect. One picture shook me to the core. She was standing in front of the beach in a white swimsuit. He body looked amazing, but I was more drawn to her bare face. She had dozens of freckles splattered across her cheeks. She looked so beautiful. I felt a foreign desire rise in the pit of my stomach. Of course I had been attracted to women before, but this was different. This was lust. She had tons of videos of herself doing her makeup, which I assumed was the reason behind her immense fame. Not only did she have millions of “likes” but she had thousands of comments under every post. I was mesmerized. I started to feel like a creep so I logged off the FloresDeAmorWestwood account and logged back in to my personal account, JohNicholsBotanist. I went back to the original photo of HPtheBeauty with the bouquet and commented under the photo “@FloresDeAmorWestwood” and put a few flower emojis. A flicker of anxiousness stung my ego, when I realized there were 900 comments above mine. Although most were just comments on how great she looked, and questions about where she bought her dress; there were tons of flower shops tags. I clicked on some of the other flower shops; some of them had thousands of followers. “She may never see my comment, but at least I tried” I said aloud to myself, as I placed my phone back on the nightstand. It was five a.m., and I had to be up in an hour to open the shop.

“John! John!” A loud banging at my bedroom door jolted me out of my sleep. It was my dad. “John! You need to get up and open the shop! It’s seven-thirty and I’ve got Shane coming at eight to pick up a huge order!” he yelled. He was pissed. I jumped out of bed and pulled on my sweats and a tee shirt. I opened the door to find my dad standing there shaking his head with a smirk on his face. I was relieved. My dad could be pretty scary when he was mad. He was 6’2, (exactly one inch taller than me) with a deep brown complexion, a bald head, salt-and-pepper beard and a muscular build; people often commented on how handsome he was. People also said I looked a lot like him, but I didn’t see it. I was skinny and awkward, with a head full of curly, unruly hair. I wasn’t unfortunate looking, but I sure as hell wouldn’t describe myself as handsome. “Have you been smoking in your room again, Johnny?” he asked. The man had a heightened sense of smell, I couldn’t lie to him. “I couldn’t sleep dad. I was up till five a.m.” I began to explain. My dad knew I smoked to deal with anxiety and insomnia, he didn’t have a problem with it, he just asked me not to do it in the house. “Okay, whatever. Just get yo ass to the shop, before you make us lose a $2,500 wedding order.” Our house was only a fifteen-minute bike ride to the shop, but I didn’t want to risk it, so I requested a ride with Lyft. The driver was at my house within five minutes, and lucky for me traffic wasn’t insane. I got to the shop in seven minutes flat. Our delivery driver, Shane, was pacing nervously in front of the shop. Shane was short, stout and always sunburnt. He was a Louisiana Creole, and he spoke with a thick southern accent. I jumped out the car and sprinted towards him. “Boy, I was nervous” Shane said frantically. “Your pops said you were on the way, but I gotta get these arrangements to Marina del Rey within the hour, and you know how bad traffic is” he continued, a hint of annoyance in his tone. Shane was a good guy, he worked very hard and took his job very seriously. I apologized profusely and unlocked the shop doors. We loaded the arrangements into the van, quickly and carefully, not to ruin any of the flowers, and Shane was off. I checked traffic, and assured him he would make it in more than enough time.

The morning was surprisingly busy. There was a lot of foot traffic in the shop. I sold a few bouquets of flowers and took a few over-the-phone orders. My mom got the shop around noon, she had been at our nursery all morning. I was relieved to see her with two large cups of coffee in her hands. She handed me one of the cups. “Here you go mijo. I heard you didn’t get much sleep last night. I hope you weren’t up worrying about the shop” she said warmly. I took the cup and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “No mom, I was just up doing some research. I’ll fill you and dad in on the details over dinner tonight” I said. I took a long sip of the hot coffee. It was perfect. My confidence in my ability to make it to four o’clock heightened. I began telling my mom about the orders I took, when the doorbell jingled, and we both looked up to say “hello”. My jaw dropped and I blinked hard three times, to make sure I wasn’t still high from last nights joint. It was Heather Poussey. She was wearing a white dress that accentuated her every curve and large white sunglasses. She removed the glasses and flashed her 1,000 watt smile, as she glided towards my mom. I’m pretty sure I peed on myself a little. “Good afternoon, beautiful” my mom said, turning on her charm. I stood there in shock, mortified and holding in my urine. Thank God I was standing behind the counter. Heather told my mom how she found us on Instagram. “Your page didn’t have a lot of photos, but I really liked what I saw” she said, full of energy. “I was in the neighborhood meeting with one of my sorority sisters, so I thought I’d just stop by and check you guys out!” She was even more beautiful in person. Her skin was glowing and her hair was shiny and pinned back, not a strand out of place. Her lips were full and ruby red; I couldn’t help but stare at them while she talked to my mom. My mom had no idea what Instagram was, let alone that I had set up a page. She just smiled and told Heather, “We can absolutely fulfill any of your flower needs!” Heather towered over my mom, she was easily six feet tall in the heels she was wearing; she bent down and gave her a huge hug. “Amazing! So, I know it’s super short notice, but I’ll need the six hundred white roses by tomorrow, noon” she said. My moms eyes widened with surprise. Before she could open her mouth to tell Heather it was impossible, I spoke for the first time. “We got you, Heather! I’ll personally deliver the flowers to you tomorrow at noon” I said. Her eyes lit up with excitement. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” she squealed. She ran up to the counter, she was so close that I could smell her perfume. The rich notes filled my nostrils, and I felt higher than any marijuana strain had ever gotten me. She reached into her bag, pulled out a business card and handed it to me. “Text me the detail, please. I’ll Venmo you the money ASAP” she said, her fingers brushing against mine. She smiled sweetly, her eyes were so kind. “Thank you so much for reaching out to me! I am so excited! I hate to run, but I have a meeting in Santa Monica in twenty minutes” she said, heading towards the door. “I’ll be waiting for your text, John” she said with a wink.