By Ellen McLeod
By @S F Brooke
I have a routine. A normal one. I wake up at eight in the morning and take a semi-fast jog around the block to rack up a few miles to make me feel good enough to pass out later after eating a bag full of Oreos. When my jog is done, I shower and pack a lunch for work. As a woman in a practical job of running a flower shop, I put on a pair of tennis shoes and grab my keys to head out the door by ten. My drive takes fifteen minutes, with traffic, and I arrive at Manny’s Garden which is a little hole-in-the-wall flower shop that specializes in orchids and lilies. I loved it.
The owner, Manny, gave me a job here when I was down on my luck at nineteen after my parents had died in a car crash. At least…that’s what I was told, my brain honestly doesn’t remember much. Eleven years later, here I still am. At 10:30 every morning I flip the rose-shaped sign on the front glass door to open and start my job as cashier and flower arranger. This is my routine, I do it five times a week. Weekends are for friends and hitting the town wearing Vans and a new sweater and hanging out at a tiny bar called Pippa’s. My routine is mine. There’s no husband, kids, or pets that I need to worry about. Besides the dead plants that continue to die no matter how hard I try to keep them alive that are located in my office at home, there isn’t much that changes in my life.
Until the crazy redhead walked through my shop’s front door.
The redhead was attractive looking, I would say near my own age of mid-thirties. He had a long thin face, a sharp nose, with pale skin. His dark trench coat is almost floor-length but he was over six feet tall so it worked and it swished across the aisles as he looked at a few bouquets of flowers. He looked contemplative and I wondered who he’s buying for that would cause such a frown. He has long thin fingers to reach out to touch a rose bloom before I clear my throat and ask him.
“Anything I can help you find, sir?” My voice is naturally a tad bit high, almost like a dog whistle it makes the man’s gaze whip towards me. I try to give a smile, a less tired one than my normal, and say, “Is there something specific you’re looking for?”
I knew what the man’s blue gaze saw when he looked at me. A petite woman with ink-black hair and light skin, my left eye so brown it looks black, and the other blue. I was wearing a Queen t-shirt, a red flannel, and tennis shoes and was not ashamed. His gaze went to my name tag: Libitina. My parents hated me that’s for sure.
“You can call me Libi,” I offered.
The man came closer to the counter that I was leaning against and we simply stared at one another. There was something intriguing in his gaze that I couldn’t decipher, but it was interesting nonetheless. After a few seconds, he opened his mouth, blinked, and turned around to walk out of the store. There was a small tinkle of bells from the handle and he was gone.
Giving a small shake of my head I mumbled to myself, “That was weird.” And went on with my day. I went on to help an older gentleman find an anniversary gift for his wife of forty-two years, a boyfriend in trouble as he forgot his girl’s birthday, and a little girl who wanted a flower for her mother. There weren’t many people that I helped but it was a good day for the store. The man fled from my mind soon after he left and I didn’t think much more about it. Around five, I closed the shop and headed out with the trash in hand.
“Good evening, Libi!” Came the familiar elderly voice of Mrs. Lousia. The woman and her family ran the bakery across from the flower shop. The whole street was made of mom and pop stores and the owners were close with one another.
“Good evening, Mrs. Lousia,” I told her, shoving the trash into the can. “Did the ravens get into your trash again?” I asked, walking over to help the elderly woman put her own bags into her trash cans.
“Yes, those pesky birds probably just want the sweets but they make such a hassle for my Manuel to clean up every morning.” Mrs. Lousia added, giving my arm a squeeze of thanks. Manuel was her nephew whom she kept trying to set me up with.
“Make sure the bags are tied up in knots and that they’re all the way in the can so the lid can close,” I suggested, bypassing the mention of her nephew. Sweet guy, I’m just not one to date much. I’m a natural at killing relationships, just ask my exes. All two of them. As we were speaking the sharp caw of a raven blared through the quiet street. Mrs. Lousia and I looked across and sure enough, there was a group of ravens hanging on the nearest telephone wires. They were clearly eyeing the bakery’s leftovers. “Maybe try getting a cat or two.” I offered with a smirk.
Mrs. Lousia patted my arm again and we parted to head back to our respective buildings. I headed back to the shop, picked my favorite bloom of the day, and walked towards my car. Getting the keys in the lock, I was startled as I saw the reflection of the redhead in my window. My stomach dropped and I spun around but there was nothing there for me to see. No one. “I need to go to bed,” I mumbled to myself before climbing into the car. Heading home, I put the small white lily in some water and tried to take care of my other plants. Like I said, they’re mostly dead but there’s still some hope for them.
The next day I did my same routine, opening the shop and rearranging flowers. It seemed the redheaded man also had the same routine as he popped in again. He was wearing the same clothes as yesterday which made me wonder if he was doing a walk of shame and had to get some flowers to make up for it.
“Hello again,” I offered conversationally, moving around the counter to perhaps help him with a decision. There was a part of me that was glad the flower shop had large front windows because if anything happened…I would want witnesses. However, there was something about this man that looked…lost. I wanted to help him find what was missing even if it was simply a few flowers.
The redhead pointed to a bundle of white lilies, the fragrance so powerful from the flowers I could smell it from where I was standing a little away. “These are lilies, yes?” He asked, his voice was like melting ice, both sharp and crisp but smooth.
Nodding, I motioned to the row, “There are several types of lilies here, these white ones mean rebirth.” Smiling, I gave the flowers a tender touch, “I am fond of these ones, the spots on the petals remind me of freckles.” My white gloves got a small amount of yellow pollen on the tips, I normally wore gloves to protect the flowers from oils and other such things on my hands.
“Libi…” The man said slowly like he was having a hard time realizing that it was my name. “What would you recommend for a reunion?” His blue eyes met mine and I tried to understand without words what he was going through and where he was from. I hadn’t seen him around town, nor around any of the shops. His accent seemed to be maybe British or a dulled down Scottish, it kept slipping in and out with every few syllables.
I motioned for him to follow me, waving a hand towards the roses and tulips. “These are very beautiful and come in many colors. Yellow roses mean friendship, white means new beginnings. Tulips are less expensive and can mean things like perfection or deep love.” My gaze moved from the flowers to the man, his eyes hadn’t left my face. His brows were furrowed and his dark trench coat made it difficult for me to understand his body language. “Any thoughts?” I asked him, trying to make more conversation instead of silence.
The man finally took his gaze away from me, letting me relax and feel less anxious in my chest.
“No, thank you, you’ve been very helpful.” He added, turning and leaving the store without buying anything. Again.
“Okayyyy.” With that I headed back to the counter, there was still a few hours left before I could close up. Taking my time I swept the shop, putting a few new orders in the fridge so that the flowers didn’t wilt.
Manny would be by later that week with the delivery van to drop off the orders, most of the time I did the delivery since Manny was getting up there in age. He was an older Filipino man, grey-haired and shorter than I was. He had two daughters, Mina, and Mara, who I grew up with who were working in the big city. His wife had passed away several years ago but the flower shop was her dream which is why I knew Manny kept the store up and running.
My phone rang as I finished sweeping, the screen showed the face of one of my beloved friends. Gianna was gorgeous, curvy, with skin the color of the ocean at night: dark and fearsomely beautiful. I wanted to be her when I grew up. Pressing accept to the call, I put the phone to my ear. “Hey G.”
“Libi, girly! You, me, and Ottie are going to Pippa’s this Saturday no if, ands, or buts.” My friend’s voice was excited and I smiled as I thought about it.
“I’m not sure I can, G, I have too much to do at the shop.” The broom was picking up multicolored petals as it moved across the aisles.
“Come on, you do so much already. When was the last time you took a break?” Gianna complained with a whine.
My silence was answer enough, it had been a while since I’d been out in the bigger parts of the city. It was a fun group that would go too, Ottie was a friend of Gianna’s. They met in college and now both women were close friends in my life. I tilted my head back and forth before finally giving Gianna an answer, “Alright, fine.” Saturday was in two days, I could work up enough energy to make it till then.
That night I went home and ate Oreos until I felt sick, thinking about the strange interaction I had with the man that had shown up in my shop twice. I wondered who he was going to have a reunion with and why he was having so much trouble buying something for them.
I’m pretty sure the Oreos attacked me with a vengeance because that night I dreamed of losing my parents in the car crash again. It had been months since I had done so, but I had a fitful night and wasn’t ready for the next morning.
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