Love in Bloom

Sheila Roberts

St. Martin's Griffin

-1-

            “I need flowers, dead ones. Have you got any that are starting to wilt?”

            “Excuse me?” Hope Walker stared at the scowling woman standing in front of her. She looked like she could scorch a pansy at twenty paces. This was a new one for Changing Seasons Floral. Was this some sort of April Fools Day joke? Had she just been punked?

            “I want to send flowers to my dog,” the woman explained. Hope took in the woman’s dark hair and angry eyes and thought, Cruella de Ville.

            Hope frowned and ran a hand through her hair – all those curls, still hard to get used to. “Excuse me?”

            The woman talked right over her. “My ex has custody, so I don’t want anything pretty sitting on his doorstep. And I want the card to read, ‘These aren’t for you, they’re for the dog. Condolences, Schatsi, on getting stuck with Daddy.’ I’ll pay for it with Mastercard.”

            For everything else there’s Mastercard. But not for this. Life was too short to waste it helping people be bitter.

            “I’m afraid I can’t help you,” said Hope with a smile of faux regret. “All my flowers are fresh.”

            “Well, you must have something,” snapped the woman, making Hope feel like she was twelve instead of thirty.

            You are a businesswoman. You can deal with difficult people.

            No she couldn’t. If she could she’d be a lawyer. Or a cop. Or a baseball referee. She went into this business so she could spread love and comfort with pretty flower arrangements.

            Hope’s heart rate picked up a notch. At five feet five inches she could look most women in the eye, but this one had a couple of inches on her. And her foul mood made her look seven feet tall.         

What to say to someone like this? Hope arranged flowers for happy: weddings, graduations, birthdays. She arranged flowers for sad: funerals, hospital stays. And she arranged flowers for love and sex, and probably not always in that order. But what she didn’t arrange flowers for was bitter, angry, or vindictive, and this woman could qualify for all three. It was all Hope could do not to say, Get visiting rights for the dog and come back when I can help you in a positive way. 

            “I don’t care what you do, just do something that gets the message across. Okay?”

            Okay. This was a business. She had to be professional. “How much do you want to spend?”

            “Whatever it takes.”

            Whatever it takes? That wasn’t something a woman said when she wanted to prove a point and then move on. That was something a woman said when she was hurt and angry and, deep down, hoping that one desperate gesture would work magic and take her to a Hallmark happy ending.

            Now Hope knew these flowers weren’t for the dog. She also knew the message this woman really wanted to send and just how she could help. “All right,” she said crisply. “I think I can help you. But you need to allow me creative license.”

            “Do whatever you want,” said the woman.

            There it was. Permission to do what she did best: speak what was in someone’s heart with her flowers. She took the credit card information and Schatsi and Daddy’s address, then, after assuring the woman she would get just what she needed, Hope sent her on her way with a little shamrock plant to make her feel better.

            Then she slipped behind the thick velvet curtains that hid her work area at the back of the shop and got busy. She combined red carnations,which symbolized an aching heart, with red roses, for love, remembrance, and passion. Ferns made the perfect green for this arrangement because they symbolized sincerity. On the card she wrote the message behind the message: Schatsi, I wish things could be different. She added a quick note explaining the symbolism of the flowers. She’d wait a day before delivering. The flowers wouldn’t be wilted, but they wouldn’t be fresh, either. It felt like a good compromise.

            But would her customer think so? Would the woman call and yell at her? Storm into the shop and threaten to sue her? Had this really been the right thing to do?

            She emerged with her masterpiece and looked around her shop, all gussied up in anticipation of Easter with baskets brimming with tulips and daffodils, Easter eggs trees and pastel egg garlands. “Well, everyone,” she said as she set the bouquet on the counter, “you heard. She insisted. And this will accomplish so much more than what she originally wanted.”

            Of course none of the flowers responded, but if they could have Hope knew they would have cheered her brilliance, clapped their petals even.

            The little bell over the shop door jingled and Clarice, her girl Friday, walked in, ten minutes late as usual, a vision in retro hippy clothes, maroon hair and ear piercings. Clarice was nineteen and very creative, and she liked to make sure people picked up on that at first glance. “Who are you talking to?”

            If it had been anyone else, Hope would have been embarrassed. She shrugged. “Just myself. I had the weirdest order. This woman wanted to send a wilted bouquet to her dog.”

            “Oooh, can I do it?”

            Hope pointed to the bouquet next to her. “It’s already done.”

            “Those don’t look wilted to me.”

            “By tomorrow when we deliver they’ll be as close as I can get. If she’s not happy I’ll refund her money.”

            Clarice frowned and shook her head. “It’s a good thing you’ve got the touch with flowers ‘cause you suck at business.”

            “Look who’s talking,” Hope retorted. “I swear if you ever get a real job you’ll get canned the first week.”

            Clarice dumped her messenger bag behind the counter with a sigh. “I know I’m late. I overslept. I met the most amazing guy last night.” She hugged herself and closed her eyes. “He was like, totally incredible, with the most amazing mouth.” She opened her eyes and shrugged. “I was dreaming about him this morning. I just couldn’t wake up. Sorry.”

            A teeny weed of jealousy popped up in Hope’s heart. She gave it a mental yank and threw it as far from her as possible. Just because she would probably never find a man didn’t mean that she had to resent it when someone else got lucky.

            Clarice got lucky a lot.

            Another weed. Yank, toss. Sigh.

            The bell over the door jingled again and in walked the hunk of the century.            “Wow,” breathed Clarice, speaking for both of them.

            Hope shot her a look, then asked, “May I help you?” May I have your children? How soon?

            He looked a little embarrassed, whether from Clarice’s unbridled admiration or the fact that he was in a flower shop, who knew? He was tall, with an Arnold Schwarzenegger chest, and fit with the flower shop as well as the proverbial bull in the china closet. Dressed in jeans, a denim shirt and work boots, he had sandy hair and brown eyes and the tanned skin of a man accustomed to working outside. He belonged on a calendar. Mr. March. No, lose the shirt and make that Mr. July.

            “I need to order some flowers,” he said, stating the obvious.

            Hope walked over to him. He smelled like sawdust and aftershave, a fragrance more enticing than gardenias. “Did you want an arrangement?” She suddenly felt like every bit of estrogen in her body had decided to samba. She smoothed her hands down her jeans in the hope that the rest of her would get the message and stop with the attraction tremors.

            He looked around, taking in the Easter frillies, the balloons, and the flowers in the refrigerated case. His gaze rested on Audrey, the shop mascot. “That’s quite a plant.”

            The Christmas cactus that got away. Many people had offered to buy Audrey. With those red glittered heels holding up her pot and her “Feed me” sign, she was something. “Audrey’s not for sale,” Hope said quickly. Audrey had shared her apartment and cheered her up when she went through those nightmare months. Audrey was family. A girl didn’t sell her family.

            He cocked an eyebrow. “Audrey?”

            Hope felt her cheeks warming. “Like in Little Shop of Horrors. It was a musical. About a plant that ate people.”

            He grinned and nodded slowly. “Yeah, I should have got that.”

            A man who knew about musicals. Was he gay? “You know that musical?”

            He shrugged. “I was in it in high school. I played the dentist. Rode a Harley up on stage.”

            “Awesome,” gushed Clarice.

            It wasn’t hard to picture this guy all studded up in black leather making an entrance on a motorcycle. Hope cleared her throat. The tremors were still there. The hand-smoothing thing hadn’t helped.

            He shook his head. “The bike’s probably the only reason I got the part. Anyway, don’t worry about your man-eating plant. I’m looking for something smaller.”

            “Do you have anything in mind?” Hope asked. She did, but it had nothing to do with flowers.

            “I don’t know. Some kind of arrangement.”

            “For your girlfriend?” chirped Clarice from behind the counter. Clarice of the short-term memory loss. So much for the amazing guy she had met the night before.

            The customer shook his head. “My mom. It’s her birthday.”

            A hunk who loved his mother. The man had to have a flaw somewhere. Hope walked over to the wrought iron café table where she kept the book with pictures of all her arrangements and flipped it open. “Would you like to look at some samples?”

            He eyed the delicate white chair as if he was wondering whether or not it would hold him. “Uh, I actually have to get back to work. My company’s doing the renovations on this building.”

            The renovations on the long building that housed her flower shop, From the Heart Gifts and Emma’s Quilt Corner had made the sound of hammers and saws familiar background noise as builders shored up some of the sagging structure at the back of the building. So she’d heard him before she saw him. Emma was fretting about sawdust filtering into her new shop and coating her fabric, but the idea of sawdust didn’t bother Hope. Good topsoil always had some sawdust in it.

            “Maybe you can just pick something out,” he suggested.

            Hope hated it when people said that. Flowers had a language all their own, and every arrangement should say something special that reflected the heart of the giver. Even the angry woman who wanted to send flowers to her dog had had something in mind when she came in.

            “Flowers are so personal,” Hope told him. “Does your mother have a favorite?”

            “She likes roses.” His brows knit. “She doesn’t live in Heart Lake. She’s closer to Lyndale. Do you deliver that far?”

            For you? To the ends of the earth. Hope nodded. “No problem. How much did you want to spend?”

            “Cost doesn’t matter.”

            “A bouquet of roses in full bloom symbolizes gratitude. You could also add some daffodils.”

            “Do those symbolize something?”

            “Every flower does. Daffodils symbolize respect.”

            He snapped his fingers and pointed at her like she’d just come up with something brilliant. “Perfect. Add those.”

            “All right then,” she said. She moved to the counter and he followed her, pulling out his wallet. She brought up an order form on her computer and took the name and address of the lucky flower recipient. “And how would you like the card to read?”

            “Happy birthday.”

            “You don’t want to say anything else?” Hope prompted.

            “Happy birthday Mom?” he guessed.

            Clarice snickered and Hope frowned at her.

            “Am I missing something here?” he asked.

            “Well, women, even moms, sometimes like to receive a special message. We’re sentimental that way.”

            “Words aren’t exactly my specialty. I was more of a math-science guy in college. I appreciate words though,” he added. “I’m open to suggestions.”

            Hope loved this part of her job. She enjoyed helping people with the little cards that accompanied their gift almost as much as she enjoyed creating the floral arrangements. “Since you’re picking such symbolic flowers it would be nice to tell her what they symbolize.”

            He beamed. “Great idea.”

            “So how about something like, ‘Roses for gratitude, daffodils for respect.”

            “Maybe they’ll make up for my neglect,” added Clarice, and Hope shot her a silencing look.

            “I like it,” he said with a nod. “Not the part about neglect though.”

            “Of course not,” Hope said. “And sign it?”

            “Love, Jason. Wait. Make that love and gratitude. How’s that?”

            “Aw, that’s sweet,” said Clarice, who was now busy watering plants.

            He was looking at Hope as if waiting for her approval. “That says it all,” she told him. You’re perfect. For some other woman, not for her. “Now,” she said briskly, yanking herself out of her lust trance. “Do you want to put that on your charge card?”

            He handed over the card, nodding. She looked at the name on it. Jason Wells. It was a nice, solid sounding name to go with those nice, solid muscles. Oh, stop already.

            Their business done, he gave her a nod and a smile and an easy, “Thanks,” then left the shop.

            Hope watched him go.

            “Great butt,” Clarice said, echoing her thoughts. “No wedding ring. I wonder if he’s got a girlfriend.”

            “Didn’t you just meet Mr. Amazing last night?” Hope teased.

            Clarice made a face. “Not for me, for you. He’s probably at least thirty. That’s your age.”

            “Me?” Hope shook her head. “He’s not my type.”

            “A man like that is anybody’s type.”

            Not anybody’s, thought Hope. A man like that needed a perfect woman, not one who was scarred and had an alien implant where her left boob used to be.

            Never mind. You may look like the Bride of Frankenstein and have an alien implant, but you have your flower shop, you have your life. And you have a floral arrangement to make.