The house she rents is being sold and the flower shop she manages in downtown Baltimore is going out of business, which leaves her with devoted cat Trixie, best friend Wendy and a razor-sharp wit to keep her sane.
Though Amy's trying to make a comeback, it isn't easy. The accident left its mark on every aspect of her life. And just when it seems she'll be stuck in neutral forever, in walks the slick and sexy Henry Castle.
But Henry's not just a hotshot lawyer who knows his way around the sheets. He's one of Amy's steadiest flower shop customers, sending weekly bouquets as thanks for "incomparable evenings." Amy knows smart girls don't fall for flower-sending gigolos, and though she can't quite figure him out, she also can't shake the feeling that Henry's exactly what she needs.
|Publisher:||Red Dress Ink|
|File size:||1 MB|
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Red carnation: Alas for my poor heart!
Before I knew what flowers meant, I’d planned a bridal bouquet of mixed blooms. I didn’t know then that ivy, which means fidelity, was a traditional bouquet ingredient. I was thinking merely of color—splashes of red and blue and pink against my ivory satin gown. The white roses and the blue cornflowers I selected were no problem. But when I lit on tiny red carnations, the florist raised her eyebrows, a gesture I interpreted at the time as one of haughty contempt for young brides who didn’t really appreciate the nuances of color and texture. Now I wonder if she, like the flower, was trying to tell me something.
My goal in life is to own an in-ground pool. A cool rectangle of clean, safe recreation -- just like the one my high school best friend, Sheila Vleznevchik, had installed in her yard our freshman year, setting up what was, in retrospect, the best summer of my life. All play and no worries -- no job, no school and, best of all, no boyfriend. The calm before the storm, so to speak.
But my goal for today is to get rid of my migraine. This Friday afternoon, my mouth tastes of ash from the fire above my eyes. I have a scraping, yammering headache, and I’m trying to get rid of it without resorting to taking one of my "magic pills," the pain reliever my doctor prescribed six months ago with perhaps too much giddy enthusiasm. A new product, he assured me. Does wonders for other women. The way he said it, I half expected to see the lights dim, smoke rise from the floor and a voice cackle in the background.
I’m convinced my pills will eventually show up in some Dateline-like exposé ten years from now. You know the kind -- Drug’s Hidden Side Effect: Insanity.
No thank you, I’m crazy enough as it is.
Crazy or not, it’s hard to save up enough money for an in-ground pool when you’re just the manager of a slow moving flower shop in the middle of Baltimore’s business district.
Maybe if I take four Motrin, drink a Coke and eat a Hostess cupcake my headache will go away. I reach for my purse under the counter and pull out the plastic pill bottle. Grabbing a Coke -- my third for the day -- from the college-dorm fridge behind me, I swig the pills back.
I hold my breath and feel no pain. Exhaling, the throb begins.
Breathing always makes migraines worse.
The vise tightens around my forehead and squeezes in on my temples. If the Coke and Motrin don’t work in an hour, I’m reaching for the magic pills. Damn the side effects. Already my sister thinks I’m nuts. And my parents tend to agree. My sister married well, whereas I, well, I managed to kill my fiancé.
I tie a green ribbon around yellow roses and pull out a note.
It’s Henry Castle’s order. He orders flowers nearly every week, at least once a month -- different girls but always the same flowers. If Henry Castle has a heart, I’ve decided it is somewhere east of the moon, with his pulse beamed in from a satellite signal.
Scrunching up my eyelids, I try to remember his order. I should have written it down, dammit.But he called right before lunch, when my head was screaming at me, and it was hard to hear him over the din. I remember thinking,"Oh yeah, her again," but I didn’t write it down because the pen was on the other side of the counter, which would have meant, well, moving. And moving, like breathing, is to migraines what lightning is to a forest fire. No good ever comes of it.
Note to self: do not trust memory when in throes of migraine.
It doesn’t seem fair to get migraines on this job. After all, one of its attractions was its lack of pressure, its lack of decisions. The customer phones in the order and I fill it. What could be simpler?
I’ve always been artistic, and the shop’s former owner was kind enough to give me a few days’ training on arranging flowers and filling orders. He also left me a couple of handy guidebooks to ease the transition. One of them, The Victorian’s Hidden Language of Flowers, has become my slow-period reading. I can tell you what every flower in the shop means, and why the yellow lily is a bad choice for a husband eager to make amends with a wife. It means falsehood.
But this brings me back to Henry and his dozen roses. Filling orders might not be rocket science, but it does require remembering to whom the orders go. Think, Amy, think.
An image dances across my mind’s screen: "Thanking you for an incomparable night. Yours, Henry." But what about the "To . . ." part? Who gave him the incomparable night?
Yawning, I shake my head to clear it as I tuck in a stray fern around the sweet buds. The names of previous "incomparable night" givers parade through my addled brain in singsong fashion to the tune of the alphabet song. Anne, Bea, Bess, Blanche, Cele, Di, Des, Fran, Kate, Mare, Ren, Carol, Maude, Tess . . .
Tess. Yes, that was it. The memory floods back, temporarily displacing my headache. If only I could continually think, really think, with no annoying pauses, no blank moments, a constant stream of thought,disconnected words and images, pineapple ice cream followed by dog-running-after-boy, that sort of thing. Thinking stops the pain.
It had to be Tess. It had to be Tess, it had to be Tess, beautiful Tess . . .
It’s nearly closing time. Sunlight blazes through the front window like flame. I’ll deliver the flowers myself.
Pulling off my gloves and smock I run a hand through my hair, and look at my reflection in a dime-store mirror over the sink in back of me. My hair is short, sandy-brown and curly. Not very stylish. I’m short, too. And also not very stylish.
Minutes later, I am on the road in my ten-year-old Pontiac peering at addresses along upper Charles Street looking for the 3900 block. There it is -- an old apartment house near Johns Hopkins University.
The university is the demilitarized zone of northern Baltimore. To the south and west of it are crumbling neighborhoods that saw their best days during a time when workers tramped off to Bethlehem Steel in the wee hours. To the north is old Baltimore, where they had gated communities before gated communities were cool.
After circling the block two times, I give up and double-park outside the door of a three-story building that exudes old charm. While juggling the unwieldy flower box in my left arm and pushing my sunglasses back with my right, I buzz the lobby with my elbow.
I want to see exactly what kind of woman gets suckered in by the promiscuous-flower-giver Henry Castle. I have conjured up an image -- very fat and very silly. Surely he doesn’t snare the good-looking ones week after week. There must be some kind of good-looking-women’s club where his wanted poster adorns sea-foam-green walls.
The doorman opens up.
"I’ll take those," he says huffily,eyeing my jeans and T-shirt as if they are a personal affront to him.
"Uh, I was supposed to deliver these in person. Mr. Castle insisted."
"I am authorized to sign for them, I assure you." He speaks with an exaggerated punctiliousness, as if he just graduated from elocution class the night before.
Across the lobby an elevator door opens and a long cool woman in a black dress glides across the floor. Her three-inch- heel sandals beat out a distant tattoo on the black-and-white tiles. She has shoulder-length brunette hair in one of those iron-straight ragged styles concocted by gorgeous women to make other women who try them look bad.
When the doorman catches her in his peripheral vision, he straightens, grabs the box from me and holds it out like an offering to a goddess.
"Miss Wintergarten," he simpers."These just arrived."
So this is Tess. Not fat and silly at all. In fact, I’m feeling pretty fat and silly myself and I’m not even fat. She must have magical powers.
"Why, thank you, Ralph," she coos in an accent dripping with mint julep. As she takes the box I catch a whiff of her perfume and I know it’s expensive because I always spritz myself with it whenever I’m in a department store. While she heads to a lobby chair and unwraps the note, Ralph turns back to me. His silent face says I should leave now since my work is done. No need for me to be around here and what am I staring at, anyway.
Ralph shuts the glass door on my face, effectively muting the scene. When I turn around to get in my car I notice I did not escape unscathed. A ticket has miraculously appeared on the windshield. If Tess does have magical powers, they’re obviously from the Dark Side.
"Shit!" I screech, ripping the paper from under the wiper blade. I stomp my foot, but this does nothing.
It’s this headache. It’s ruining my life. Pineapple ice cream dog running after boy. Pineapple ice cream boy smacking dog. Pineapple ice cream all over dog and boy. Pineapple boy running into dog!
I slam the car door shut behind me and the window handle drops off. With an exasperated sigh, I stick it back in place, then turn the ignition and head out of town.
I make my way north of the city. The rolling farmland usually fills me with a sense of peace -- an elusive emotion ever since the car crash that ended my engagement -- but peace skitters ahead of me and I never quite catch up.
Maybe I need a change? Maybe I should look into that storefront in Craftsbury, Pennsylvania, that my sister, Gina, told me about?
Gina, bless her overprotective heart, is always trying to get me to focus on The Future, always trying to reignite my pilot flame of ambition.
Since I’ve moved to the country, her plans for me have moved there as well, settling on quaint little Craftsbury with its musty antique stores and picturesque Amish. Gina really likes visiting Craftsbury, and I suspect that her suggestions for me stem from her own unrealized dreams as much as from a desire to help me. She’s suffering from Dream Transference, dropping me into her secret desires. If I follow through and do as she suggests, she would be able to live vicariously through my success.
But Craftsbury -- man, it’s a one-horse town. Who in the hell would be buying flowers there? Well, let’s see -- people with deaths in the family, weddings. Hmm, that’s nice. Pin your business start to a high mortality and divorce rate (with the subsequent remarriages.) Perhaps plot out some ideas to help along the natural flow.
"Take a memo, Brad," I say out loud, talking to my imaginary secretary. "Investigate Pennsylvania mortality rates and ways to hasten same . . ."
Sometimes when Chuck,my delivery boy, messes up, or I let something slip, I blame it on "Brad." "That Brad," I say, "all looks and no brains. But hey, what can I do? Good help is hard to find."
Just that afternoon, a customer had been in the store asking about tuberoses. My shop specializes in flowers that other florists overlook. In addition to the usual roses, carnations, daisies and dried-flower arrangements, I carry sprigs of lavender, passion flowers, pussy willows, rare irises and exotic orchids. If a customer wants it, I find it. I should have had some tuberoses, but the shipment had not arrived.
So I’d blamed it on Brad, and much to my surprise, the customer had said, "Oh, is Brad your boss?"
"Why, no," I had replied indignantly. "Brad works for me!" Damn straight he does, all muscles and chiseled face and surfer-boy hair. And he works for me! You got a problem with that?
Even my secretary can’t take my mind off my headache tonight, so I give up the game and spend the remainder of the drive in silence, letting the cool air rush through the window, creating a wall of white noise.
I pull off the highway at Route 439 and drive for five miles until I come to a dirt road that leads back through a corn field.
Bumping and sputtering, my car delivers me to my house, an old farm home with peeling yellow paint, a wraparound front porch and windows that are long since overdue for reglazing. Trixie purrs from the front step then saunters away as I stop.
"Trix, you old devil, what did you fix for dinner tonight?" At the door, I reach down to pet the old calico as she meows saucily under my hand before slinking away. After I unlock the front door, I look straight back, past the messy living room, into the kitchen. A twenty-dollar bill lies undisturbed on its countertop.
"You should keep a twenty on your counter," my sister told me last week, "and if you come home and it’s not there, leave immediately. It means you might be coming in on a thief."
And I said,"Why, Gina, what a great idea. I normally just keep a bloody dagger out, but this will be so much tidier."
I have no doubt I’ll spend that twenty soon. Like tonight, in fact. No cash on me, no food worth making and I couldn’t make anything, anyway, when this headache is like Kryptonite zapping out my energy source.
After ordering pizza, I pop open a beer and sit on the front porch. Smelling of Friskies salmon dinner, Trixie sidles up and not so subtly slips her head against my arm. I nuzzle her behind the ear.
"Maybe it’s not the Coke that does it," I tell her as my headache starts to ease away. Trixie is always interested in my headache cures. "Maybe the headache goes away on its own by the end of the day and I think it’s the Coke and the Motrin and the chocolate."
I am an expatriate from the city. I left last year and only intend to return if my current abode is threatened by war. Looking around at the wide skies and windblown fields, I’m reassured that no tanks lumber over the horizon.
When Rick and I were together, we shared a flat on Calvert Street in a renovated row home on a quiet but trendy block. Three flights up, only windows on the back, very little sunshine. But then again, we created our own light and heat.
The beer tastes good even though I know I’m tempting another headache by going for the alcohol on the heels of a head-blaster day. I don’t care. It clears the cobwebs and eases a different kind of pain.
"Come on, Trix, let’s go look at the lower forty." Trix likes to walk our land together.
Actually, it’s not my land. I rent the place for a pittance. Who but a city expat would rent a house in the middle of nowhere? But after Rick and I ceased being a couple, I needed to reduce expenses, especially since I was out of work for a while.
My head begins to throb again. Thinking. That’s the ticket.
Or maybe not? Maybe some thinking -- thinking about the accident that took place on this very date two years ago -- is what makes it worse.
Goldenrod: Encouragement or precaution
For our reception, Rick and I had chosen a restaurant in Dulaney Valley -- quiet, away from the city and very expensive. We chose it partly for sentimental reasons because it was on a date to that restaurant, Rick told me later, that he realized he wanted to marry me. I remember that date but not because of any special simpatico feelings between us. If anything, I was distracted during dinner because Rick was sneezing a lot, and I was worried he was coming down with something. It was only when we left the restaurant that I noticed a field of blooming goldenrod beyond the parking lot."Make sure you take an antihistamine the next time we come here," I told Rick. He smiled and joked, "Maybe I’m allergic to you."
Surely keeping my house scrupulously clean will convince my landlord how pool-worthy I am. Cleanliness is next to godliness, after all. So I spend Saturday morning cleaning, the kind of spring cleaning my mother used to do when I was a kid. She’d wash the walls. Who washes walls these days? Only nuts, and since I’m doomed by my headache pills, anyway, might as well get a taste of the white-jacket life now.
I beat the dust out of rugs, sort through clothes, polish silver and even take a mop with water and bleach to the porch ceiling that is encrusted with mildew. The landlord should be paying me I’m doing such a good job on his property. A pool would just be a down payment.
In the late afternoon, constant downpours replace the sun fading from view. Dagnabit, I think as I lean against my doorjamb peering into the dark clouds as if they’d searched me out specially.
The steady rain refuses to surrender to my mean-spirited stares. Giving up, I go into the kitchen and microwave some leftover pizza.
Forget opening a store in Craftsbury. I should just retire at the grand old age of twenty-six. Note to self: buy lottery tickets.
I reach for the phone and dial Wendy’s number. Wendy and I met when I worked at an ad agency, where she still slaves away. I left when things came crashing down on me. Or rather into me. We shared the special bond of the downtrodden: low women on the totem pole trying to prove how clever and bright and creative we were, all the while afraid someone would find out we might be none of the above. And after the accident, Wendy was a rock, visiting me in the hospital and at Gina’s, gently nudging me back into the world again and always careful to help me move at my own pace.
Not back yet from a visit to her folks’ new home in Connecticut, she’s left her chipper voice mail message on.
"Hey, Wen, give me a call when you . . ."