“A love story that starts and ends in 24 hours”
Thanks to Reedsy for the prompt!
Augustus Martinelli walked into his shop, as he did every morning, on the nose of 6:30. He was greeted, as usual, by the full, embracing fragrance of a multitude of flowers. He flipped on the light switch by the door and walked through the storefront, bidding good morning to each of the spring-kissed bouquets he inspected.
“And how are my peonies this morning?” he asked. “Not looking too droopy yet.”
Then he went on to the roses, and the bunches of violets, and, lastly, nearest his little cashier’s desk, the mixed bouquets he prepared every day in the morning, or when there was a lull of quiet in the store.
He would then proceed to check if any orders had come in over the course of the evening. He pressed the power button on his age-ridden CPU, and prepared himself a cup of tea to the rhythm of the computer powering up. At the desk, with a few clicks of his mouse, he was was in the order database. There, in the system his young shop assistant had convinced him was invaluable, there was a solitary request.
It looked much like any other he had received—there had only been five or six so far—but as he clicked on it twice in quick succession, he felt a little jolt of excitement that was unusual and intriguing.
His eyes scanned the form.
Order for: Louisa Alcove
“What a pretty name,” he mused.
Request: A simple bouquet of spring flowers in pale colours and quite fragrant to use as a dining-table centrepiece.
Delivery date: Tomorrow morning
He would have to work on it during the day, and maybe this evening if the store got too busy.
Augustus read over the request form again, noting the details on his yellow pad of paper and jotting down some preliminary ideas for the bouquet. Lilacs, white carnations, baby’s breath, freesias.
As he started visualizing the bouquet in his head, he could not help but wonder on the type of woman behind the pretty name. Was she tall? No, perhaps of slight build. He imagined that she had green eyes, maybe hazel, and that her brown hair was starting to show signs of grey, but in a very discreet and elegant manner.
Roses! He must include a pale pink rose or two. He was certain that she would like that. He imagined that she was a woman of fine taste. A lady.
Was she lonely? He wondered. He could picture her, a cup of tea poised in one hand while the other softly caressed her chin, staring out the window onto her street, watching as people—couples—walked by hand in hand.
Augustus felt a sudden sense of yearning for this woman. A deep desire to make her feel safe, accompanied, unafraid.
His musings were soon interrupted by his assistant, Alex, entering the store with the loud, tinny music from his headphones penetrating the holy silence that Augustus had ensconced himself within.
“Morning, boss!” the youth shouted, having not yet removed his head gear.
Augustus waved in response and tucked the piece of paper under the mouse pad.
Alex’s arrival heralded the start of the work day. They had an hour before they opened the doors, during which they would top up water in the buckets, receive a delivery of new flowers, and quickly cut these into shape for display.
As he went through the standard tasks of his morning, the shop owner found himself still in the grips of the spell cast by the morning’s order. His cheeks were flushed and he felt a light perspiration induced by anticipation hanging upon his forehead, and his head—despite the task he might have at hand—was perpetually exercising his imagination, picturing Louisa and what she might be doing at that very moment.
Was she at her breakfast table, reading the newspaper as the soft sun of that semi-illuminated morning seeped through her window? Or was she out on a morning walk with her small dog—a poodle mix—greeting the neighbours as she walked by?
As customers started coming into the shop, Augustus found himself looking for her in their faces. He knew she would not be coming in, of course, but perhaps she was related to the young man who came in, bursting with nerves, wanting to put together the perfect bouquet for the girl he hoped would soon be his fiancee.
Perhaps she was friends with the young lady, meek and quiet as she was, who came in asking for a simple bunch of daisies she said she always bought to brighten her day.
Or perhaps she had recommended his store to the old lady who had come in in the hopes of finding pink peonies that were almost out of season.
It was a busy day at the shop and he didn’t find time to look after the order until Alex stepped out of the shop, the echoes of his music cut off as the door closed behind him.
Augustus sat at his desk and let the happenings of the day fall off him with every breath he took. Bit by bit he freed his mind and refocused his thoughts to the bouquet he had started planning that morning. He pulled out the sheet where he had started and scanned the notes. He pulled down the prettiest glass vase he had, placed a soaked planter sponge in it, and added a little water for safe measure. He then shuffled around the store, picking flower by flower from the buckets around the room, thinking all the while about Ms. Louisa Alcove.
Did she like to read? Did she paint landscapes from her window? What was the colour of her favourite sweater? Lilac?
He went over to the work table and spread out the flowers in a neat line. He picked up the green leaves first, eucalyptus, and placed them in as fillers.
Next came a couples of lilacs—like the sweater—which he placed tenderly, making sure they weren’t spoiled. He looked at them critically and pulled one out to cut the stem a little shorter. Next went the cream-hued freesias, their fragrant aroma mixing sweetly with that of the lilacs; the two scents working together and not overpowering the other. He then plopped in the baby’s breath, adding some delicate features.
Would she like that? Did she appreciate the little details in life? Like the shape of a snowflake or the number of whiskers on the face of a kitten.
There were some pink carnations to add as well. Three, in fact. He liked adding uneven numbers to disrupt the symmetry. A design flare of sorts.
The last touch was a pair of pink roses, small and delicate. The icing to the bouquet.
Augustus placed the last flower and stepped back. The finished product was lovely. He took a sniff and was pleased with what he had accomplished. It was a light palette, as Louise had asked. It would sit beautifully in her dining room, standing against the pale blue colour she had chosen for her walls.
He put the finishing touch on the bouquet by tying a ribbon around the vase. He picked it up and held it close to his body, like a dear child, and rocked it as he moved through the store for the last time that day, turned off the light, and locked the door. He would take it with him because Louisa’s address was closer to his home than to the store. Alex would open the store the next morning. This was a delivery he had to make himself anyway.
He had to see her.
He drove home with the vase positioned carefully in a box in the seat next to him. He drove slowly, making sure not to hit any bumps in the road. She had to get home safely.
When he got home, he made room in the fridge for the bouquet, wanting to keep it fresh.
He slept deeply, dreaming of the vision of Louisa, picturing her, glowing, as she sat in the twilight.
The next morning he took great pains to get ready. He brushed his hair carefully, making sure not a wisp was out of place. He picked out his cleanest unwrinkled shirt—the one with the navy dots uniformly spread across the cream fabric. And his blue trousers. He debated on whether he should add a bowtie, but decided that she would think that too noisy; too brash.
When 8:30 came around, he decided it was time to go. He pulled the vase back out, grasping it preciously, and settled her back into the passenger seat.
He arrived at the address and took a moment to take it in. It was as he had pictured; as it had presented itself in his dream. The garden was immaculate, the front door painted in a strong shade of blue, not a scrap of paint amiss. She did appreciate the details, then.
He walked up the pathway and stopped midway. There she was. Louisa. She was standing at her kitchen window, a cup of coffee in her hand, and she was looking down the street pensively, oblivious to Augustus’ presence on the path up to her doorway. Her face resembled that of his thoughts, although her hair was a little longer, and her noise a little pointier. Her face looked like it carried wisdom bestowed on her by experience, love, loss.
The flower shop owner took his final steps towards the door, and he rang the doorbell, swallowing hard as he waited for her.
The door opened.
There she stood.
“Delivery,” he said, handing the flowers over.
“Thank you,” she said warmly. “They’re lovely.”
“It’s our pleasure.”
“Have a lovely day.”
And the door closed.