She heard the old bell bounce wildly against the doorknob as someone entered the store. She set down the tweezers she was using to search for caterpillars that might eat her petunias.
“Hello?” a male voice called into the foliage.
“Hi! I’ll be right there!” She turned toward the sound of the voice, rustling the leaves of a tall display of sunflowers as she stepped around to the only register in the store, an antique thing sitting on an old wooden counter filled with plant food packages. She ignored her braided hair as it slapped the back of her neck and smiled at the young man in front of her. He was dressed in a blazer and blue jeans, a curious, bemused expression on his face.
“Sorry about that,” she told him. The man did not seem to hear her. He was studying her name tag, a flower shaped pin she had made herself, pinned to the lime green apron that covered her light, yellow sundress.
“It’s no problem, Lucy,” the man finally said.
“Well then, how can I help you…”
“John,” the young man finished. “I’m looking for flowers for my girlfriend.”
Lucy’s face lit with delight. There was nothing more joyous than the days when love is in the air and couples visit the parks and rose gardens where beauty blooms around them. She remembered the times her botanist father had taken her to the gardens when she was little. They had smiled at the couples, talked about the flowers. “What’s the occasion?” she asked happily.
“Well I’m planning to propose to her.”
“That’s fantastic!” Lucy exclaimed. “There’s no better way to propose than through flowers. They are the most beautiful things in nature! Beauty is the reason people get up in the morning. That’s why I’ve made them my livelihood, you know.” Lucy could tell by the look on John’s face that he did not know, so she hurried on. “I’ll help you pick the best flowers possible. Let’s see,” she turned to a wall of vases behind her. “We have everything you could imagine!” she said as she began her search. She reached into one of the rows to select a group of small white flowers blooming on slight tree limbs. “These are perfect!”
John plucked them from her hand.
“They’re apple blossoms,” she explained. “They mean promise, which is perfect for a proposal.” Her father had given the same flowers to her on her birthday the year before he died; a promise to take care of her forever.
John nodded, “They’re a little small though. And these are plain.”
Lucy frowned a little, then nodded her head. There was more to marriage than promise. She took the blossoms from John and reached back into the wall, this time selecting a bouquet of pink flowers, each with five petals extended like stars. “These are azaleas,” she explained. “They represent abundance. You want to promise your girl abundance, right?”
John nodded, but he did not take the offered flowers. “They are beautiful, but I’m afraid Rachel doesn’t really like the color pink. It’s not one of her favorites.”
“That’s too bad,” Lucy said, though she did not quite understand why the color of the flower should matter so much. She turned back to her display. “No pink, then? Well you could always go with a classic. We have red roses, those mean passionate love.”
“Yeah,” there was a hint of impatience in John’s voice. “Roses are pretty, but they’re so overdone. I want something more unique, more Rachel.”
“How could something like passion be overdone?” Lucy wondered. She said, “No roses and no pink and no plain?”
The man shrugged, “I’m sorry if I’m being difficult. I actually did have an idea. Do you have rhododendrons? I think that’s the name. Rachel and I saw some red ones growing in the park. She really liked them.”
Lucy’s eyes had widened at the name of the flower. “Oh, no,” she said.
“Well do you know where I could get some?”
Lucy frowned, “We do have those flowers, but I can’t let you buy them. Not for a future fiancé.”
John’s eyebrows pulled low over his green eyes, “Why not?”
Lucy wasn’t sure how to explain. Her father had planted the flowers the week before he died. “Rhododendrons mean the receiver should beware. You don’t want to send that kind of message,” she finally said, her voice nervous.
John shifted uncomfortably, “Okay then. How about marigolds? Rachel likes marigolds.”
“Nope,” Lucy said stubbornly. “Those convey a desire for riches.”
“What about the ones to the left of them? Rachel likes purple.”
“The lavenders?” Lucy was becoming more confused. Why did he keep referring to flowers by their color? That was like defining a person by their hair cut.
“Yeah,” he responded. “Actually, I really like those. I think I’ll get them.”
Lucy shook her head vigorously as she spoke. “Lavenders would be worse than marigolds and rhododendrons combined! Lavenders mean distrust! What a horrible way to begin an engagement!”
“Just give me the lavenders,” John said, exasperated. “Enough for a small bouquet.”
Lucy began to panic and stepped in front of the lavenders as if guarding John from them, “Didn’t you hear what I just said?”
“Yes, and I don’t care.”
“How can you not care? This is your relationship that’s at stake!”
“Lucy, they’re just flowers. Plants that grow in the ground. They don’t mean anything.”
“That’s not true! They have a meaning!” Lucy exclaimed.
“No,” John said curtly. “They don’t.”
Lucy stared at him, her hands shaking. The pause stretched until John finally shook his head. “I’ll just go to another shop,” he said, turning to leave.
The bell tied to the doorknob bounced wildly as the young man left the store. Lucy stood still, watching the space where John had stood.
She had made flowers her life. Her father had made flowers his life. Was his life meaningless? Was hers?
Autumn Keiss writes in Illinois, USA.