Like in a movie Jimmy raced across town to the one flower shop that didn’t close at six. He whirled around the corner and burst inside, setting off the jangling bells that hung from the door.
“Man,” he said, “I’m glad you’re still open.”
“Another minute and we wouldn’t be. What can I do for you?”
“Save my life, that’s all. Give me a dozen roses, any color you got. In fact, if you can mix ’em up, that would be great.”
The florist’s practiced hands plucked four yellows, six reds and two pinks, wrapped the stems in clear plastic, and tied a slender silver ribbon around it all.
“Twenty-four ninety-nine, my friend, and good luck – I’m guessing you need it.”
Jimmy grabbed a tiny chocolate heart from a bowl on the counter with a one-dollar tag on it, handed the man a twenty and a ten — “keep it” — saluted happily and bolted back out to the sidewalk.
He crossed the avenues heading back home, confident that if he were to walk briskly he’d make it before his ladylove returned from work. And that was good because it had been her birthday since even before they’d woken today but he hadn’t realized it until an hour ago, which likely explained the odd look she had given him as she left in the morning.
Ileana was a wonk and a number cruncher but she had her soft side, too, and he wanted to stay as close to it as he could. His own day had been at a jobsite encumbered by a nervous architect, an inquiring inspector, an untimely delivery of ill-stacked bricks and a remarkably unskilled team of bricklayers — not an atypical day for a foreman, but one that was jolted into panic when one of his best workers mentioned that it was his twins’ first birthday tomorrow, and what the heck kind of world was it where you had to work on such a day? The real world, Jimmy had answered, and they both laughed. Jimmy had laughed, and then he had remembered: Holy cats, Ileana’s birthday!
He’d phoned in an order for braised tofu and eggplant with garlic sauce from NaNa’s Kitchen, her favorite, and it would be delivered at seven-thirty. He remembered they had a four-pack of Ginger Beers in the fridge, plus an unopened bottle of sparkling apple cider, so he was covered on the beverage side. Dessert would be one of the dark chocolate bars that they rationed for each other; that is, if any remained tucked inside the jar on the top shelf. If no chocolate remained then dessert would have to be, if he dared say so himself, himself. Tomorrow he would sneak the little heart into her purse.
Two blocks from their apartment he almost collided with a short grey-haired woman who was pushing a stroller — a noisy stroller. The actual noisemaker was a bawling toddler, perhaps three years old. His face was red, so bright that the September setting sun could not compete. The three waited at the long light at Ninth, the grandma shushing the child, the child screaming, and Jimmy offering what he hoped was a commiserating smile for both of them.
“Does he have a particular complaint, or is he just showing off his pipes?”
“Oh, he’s hungry and tired and scared. I’m keeping him outside because his mommy and daddy are having a little argument. Well, not so little.”
The light changed and Jimmy started across but the grandma and little boy remained on the curb. “Aren’t you coming? It’s green.”
“No, not yet. I think we’ll just go around the block some more.” She pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders. Jimmy realized that the temperature had dropped since he’d started his journey. He walked toward them, handed one rose to her and the little heart to the boy, gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and scurried back in time to make the light.
In minutes he was home. In fifteen, Ileana was sipping a Ginger Beer, admiring the dinner set out on the good plates, and giving a kiss of her own to the lips that had just graced the stranger at Center and Ninth.
“You are a sweet man and I love you, but either you or the flower guy failed Math 101. I’m not complaining, but I count eleven roses in the vase. Which, mi hombre guapo, is just short of the traditional twelve.”
The handsome man was ready. “That’s because you are the twelfth. And the most beautiful.”
She kissed him again, longer, and they moved to the couch. The dinner could wait. Just like the movies, all over again.
Tony Press lives near San Francisco and tries to pay attention. Even when drinking hot chocolate in Oaxaca, Mexico, or in Bristol, England. You can find many of his stories and not as many of his poems, in print, online, and next to his desk, including such journals as The Lake; One Sentence Poems; Boston Literary Magazine; Misty Mountains, Right Hand Pointing; Poetry Storehouse; Turtle Island Quarterly; Sleet; Digging through the Fat; Grey Sparrow; JMWW; The Stare’s Nest; Rio Grande Review; Riverbabble; SFWP Journal; Literary Orphans; Boston Literary Magazine; Penmen Review; Fiction on the Web.