From: LOVE IN BLOOM, presented by St. Martin's Press, April 2009
"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 Vil. 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. "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 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 an 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 he way with a little shamrock plant to make her feel better.
Then she slipped behind the thick velvet curtains that hid her work area a 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 egg 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 were 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.
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