"She doesn't know."
Beck turned his attention away from his tablet to stare at the worried expression on his co-worker Sung-ji's face. When he realized whom she was referring to, he dropped his tablet pen.
"No. No," he said as he searched for the pen. He picked it up. "She has to know. There's no way."
"She doesn't. When I asked her about their picnic date last weekend, she was like, 'What date? We were scouting a location to take reference photos.' To her, it was work."
Beck rolled his eyes and resumed working on one stubborn bounce light on his tablet. "She's just being shy. I don't think she's the type to broadcast a workplace romance."
"But she didn't look like she was hiding anything. She looked genuinely confused."
Beck frowned. "But it's been, what, three months? She can't not know."
"She's new here. It's completely possible she doesn't see what we see. I don't want another repeat of the last one. I can't go through another blue period."
"It wasn't that bad," Beck chided.
"That particular shade of blue had to be imported from Italy. I had to learn Italian just to order it." She shuddered. "Never again. Let's deal with this."
"Why? If he wants to play coy, that's his problem."
"If I'm right and they're not dating, Clark didn't win the pool."
Beck stood up immediately. "Let's get our money back."
The moment Clark finished a sculpting session, Beck and Sung-ji dragged him into the meeting room. Clark took his apron off and tossed it on the table while they told him the news.
Clark sat down, crossing his arms. "She can't be that dense. He's been making moves for three months already. Sure, he's a little on the cold side, but the hints were so obvious, even I saw it."
Sitting across from him, Sung-ji replied, "You know how he is, Clark. He doesn't use his words—well, the right ones. An obvious sign to us might seem like a backhanded compliment to her."
He scoffed. "I still say they're dating and she's just hiding it."
Sung-ji narrowed her eyes at him. "How are you going to confirm that?"
"Easy. By asking her."
"That's all well and good," Beck said from his sitting position on the floor, stretching his shoulder muscles. "But say she's not dating him, like Sung-ji claims. That would mean we're missing a vital bit of info."
"What info?" Clark asked.
Beck's neck released a cracking sound. "How she feels about him. Does she even know he likes her?"
"And if she doesn't know," Sung-ji added, "how do we fix that?"
"That's easy, too," Clark said. "We just tell her."
Sung-ji shook her head. "She thought I was crazy for thinking she went on a date with him. We can't just tell her. She has to be convinced."
Beck cracked his neck again, letting out a satisfied groan. "Fine. Leave it to me."
A few days later, Beck, Clark, and Sung-ji sat in the meeting room, waiting for the intern. Beck was fiddling with the laser pointer with one hand and clicking through his laptop with the other, itching to get started.
"Good morning," she said when she slipped into the room, closing the door behind her.
The intern looked at her colleagues with curiosity and her round eyes swept the room for signs of what they would do today. Her hair looked the same as always, pulled into a braid with a cherry blossom pin sitting prettily near her ear.
"Good, you're here," Beck said. "Have a seat so we can begin the meeting."
The intern's head tilted to the side, but she took a seat, her flower-printed dress swishing with the movement. "We don't need to wait for—?"
"He'll be here soon. It's fine. Now," Beck brandished the pointer like a wand, "Behold!"
A projector next to his laptop turned on, flaring light on the wall nearest him. With an eye roll, Clark leaned back and reached out to slap the light switches. The lights dimmed.
On the projector wall, a now visible title card in bold pink letters read, "Exhibit A."
Sung-ji gaped. "A Powerpoint? Really?"
"I was expecting animation," Clark said.
"It was short notice." Beck gave his co-workers a long-suffering look before turning his attention to the intern. "Anyway. We're having this meeting because it has come to our attention that several… concepts are in need of explanation. But first and foremost!"
The intern sat up straighter, probably because Beck was pointing at her. "Yes...?"
"Are you aware that our resident landscaper has taken a liking to you?"
The intern looked confused. "I've only talked to Chuck a few times, but okay."
"Not the gardener," Clark said. "Landscape artist."
"We have a gardener named Chuck?" Beck asked Clark. "What happened to Larry?"
"Larry retired," Sung-ji replied.
"What?" Beck was distraught. "Why wasn't I invited to the retirement party?"
"There was no retirement party," Clark announced, pinching the bridge of his nose in annoyance. "Kid, answer the question."
A blush spilled across the intern's face. "But he's my mentor. He doesn't like me that way. Where are you all getting this from?"
Clark took a deep breath to calm himself while Beck and Sung-ji glanced at each other.
Beck smirked. "Exhibit A!" He used the pointer to reveal a sketch of coffee cups. "He buys you coffee."
As quickly as it came, the blush on the intern's face faded. "But he gets everyone coffee from Moondollar. It's not a company expense?"
"No, sweetie," Sung-ji said, shaking her head. "Everyone here pays him in advance, and then he goes on the coffee run."
The intern's eyes widened. "He never told me. I haven't been keeping track. How much do I owe him?"
"If he didn't tell you, he treated you. Don't worry about it." Beck waved her off, making the laser pointer shoot off a distracting red dot in his dismissal. "Exhibit B!"
The next slide had the title card, "Worker Appreciation Gift," with a big question mark under it.
"What did he give you on Worker Appreciation Day?" Beck asked the intern.
The smile on her face told everyone she loved the gift. "A sculpture of a cherry blossom tree. Like a bonsai."
"What do you think he gave us?"
She blinked. "Different sculptures?"
"I got a check," Clark said.
"Wait, you got a check?" Beck asked. "For how much?"
"Enough to justify still working with you."
Sung-ji put up a hand in between the bickering men. "I got a gift card for a gas station. What did you get, Beck?"
A pause. The begrudging reply was, "I got a textbook on perspective."
"Oh." Sung-ji nodded. "That's why you got better."
Clark scoffed. "He gave you a book?"
"Apparently, this is payback for me giving him The Art of War," Beck explained. "He had issues with the cover art. But as you can see, our little intern got a special gift. And when you get a chance, ask him where he got the sculpture." He gave the intern a wink. "You'll be surprised, I'm sure. Exhibit C!"
With a flourish and a click, the next slide was the marketing photo for the intern's first exhibit and her social media post about it.
"He went to your exhibit!" Beck declared.
Clark's and Sung-ji's heads bobbed in agreement, but the intern frowned.
"I don't understand," she said. "It's basic moral support. As my mentor."
"Clark, would you mind filling her in?" Beck asked.
Clark obliged. "He doesn't go to exhibits, not even his own. I have to go for him and act as an agent, even if the gallery can sell just fine."
"'Sell just fine?'" Sung-ji was incredulous. "You always complain that the gallery sells short. That's why you go."
"Someone's gotta make a commission," Clark said. "You think I go in his place for free?"
"Wait," the intern interrupted, voice uncertain. "Is that why I was never able to catch him at his exhibits?"
Beck nodded. "He makes the art, photographs it for his online portfolio, and we handle the rest. He's never been to any of our exhibits, with the excuse that he sees us make our work here. But for you," he pointed to her social media post, "he made an effort to show up."
The thoughtful frown on the intern's face showed Beck she was close to believing him. Grinning, he hammed up his next words.
"And the final piece of evidence, the tipping point, the irrefutable Exhibit D!"
The next slide revealed nothing.
It was blank.
Clark sighed, Sung-ji stared, and the intern opened and closed her mouth, unsure if she should ask the obvious question.
"I don't need to put any visual information up," Beck bragged. "Because you already have it all in your head. You know his portfolio backwards and forwards, don't you?"
The intern couldn't help but smile as she replied, "Of course. He even let me see the work he didn't publish online."
"Then you know he has periods of intense focus on certain subject matter."
She nodded. "One time it was mountains, then deserts, then urban landscapes," Sung-ji flinched, "and now it's trees."
"Which trees, specifically?"
"Cherry blossom trees."
Beck nodded slowly and gestured for her to continue.
"He wouldn't paint cherry blossoms just because I like them. He must like them, too. Just last weekend, he and I went to—"
"Think about his portfolio," Beck cut her off. "When did the cherry blossoms start popping up?"
The intern frowned and looked down at the white table in front of them. Beck was glad her face was so expressive; he could practically see her thumbing through the paintings in her mind, looking for proof that her mentor was interested in cherry blossoms before she came into his life.
The man was known for capturing the broad and expansive beauty of nature. His work never featured close-up shots or heavy details until his blue period. During that time, he produced by far his least quintessential work, a mad jumble of dilapidated buildings and graffiti that evoked discomfort and claustrophobia. He was still painting this way when she sought out his blistering critique and offered to pay for his time by assisting him and his creative partners in his studio.
Gradually, the claustrophobia lessened. More colors entered his palette. And the first hint of nature in his urban landscapes was a budding cherry blossom tree fenced on a sidewalk.
Beck watched as the intern sorted through the mental evidence, the crease in her forehead deepening. Then, her brows relaxed and lips parted. When her fingers started drifting towards her hair pin, he saw her threading the connection together, and when her wide eyes locked onto his, he knew.
The door opened, casting a bright light behind her.
A deep voice broke the silence. "What are you all doing in here?"