Give them enough time and even the best dreams can become nightmares. David Buxton rubbed a bead of sweat off his forehead and took sip of coffee that had cooled hours before.
“It’s not making any sense,” he muttered and shuffled through the stack of financial documents for what was probably the hundredth time in the last hour. He brushed aside a few late payment letters and found the one that showed the last month’s revenue against the mortgage. David studied it for a long moment. “That’s it,” he conceded. “It’s all over.”
David slumped in his chair and peered through the plate glass window at the sun starting to sneak up from behind the Rocky Mountains. “I don’t know, Boots,” he told the old cat who was stalking a piece of fuzz across the wood floor. “That sun rises every morning but all I seem to get are sunsets.”
Boots meowed in response and David adjusted his thick glasses. “Better get to work.” He shuffled to the front door, threw the lock, and flipped a switch. The OPEN light flickered a few times before casting a steady orange glow into the dawn. Buxton’s Flowers had one more day.
David turned and took in the room in which he’d invested the best years of his life. Flowers and plants of all different types lined the walls and carefully arranged displays. The assortment of vibrant colors could still steal his breath and the sweet fragrance was enough to chase any clouds away from his heart…on most days.
He moved back to the counter of scattered papers and raised a single dollar bill he’d taken off the wall. “I’ll never forget this one, Boots. Old Sam Maller needed a dozen red roses. I, er, we were so excited to make our first sale. It was our dream you know – this place.” David paused and lifted a frame holding a picture of a striking woman whose smile seemed too big for any photo to fully capture. He returned it to the counter when his hand began to tremble. “All dreams must come to an end I suppose.”
David spun away before emotion could seize his throat. “Where are you, Boots? Are you hungry? I’ll get you some—”
David startled and noticed a young woman hovering just inside the door. “Oh, I’m sorry, dear,” he apologized. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
“No, I’m sorry,” the girl gushed and brushed a strand of raven hair away from her face. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I just noticed the flowers in the window and was surprised you were open so early.”
David pulled off his glasses and rubbed his red eyes. “Well, you know what they say about the early bird and worm and other such foolishness.” He set his glasses back on his nose and gave her the warmest smile he could muster. “How can I help you, sweetheart?”
She took a few steps forward and let her eyes drift around the room. “I’d love to be able to take something home. After seeing what you had in the window I knew I couldn’t leave without coming in.” The girl stopped and breathed in. “This place is amazing. I mean, it’s not like I’ve never been to a flower shop but there’s something extra here isn’t there.”
That brought a genuine smile to David’s face. “I’d like to think so. Where are you from?”
“Oak Harbor. It’s a small town a lot like this one. I’m sorry.” She held out her hand. “I’m Jill.”
“David,” he replied and shook her hand. “Very nice to meet you. Now, let’s get you something beautiful to take home. What are you looking for?”
Jill shrugged her lean frame out of her jacket and draped it over her arm. “I’m not sure. Everything looks so great.”
David chuckled. “I’d love to sell you everything but I fear you’d have trouble with space.”
“Oh,” Jill gasped. “What are those?”
David led her to the Passions, Gazanias, and Plumerias before showing her the Orchids and Tulips. The way she poured over the beauty and variety was a refreshing wind against his heart that had grown stale over the last few years.
“How long have you had this place?” Jill asked as he led her toward a display of Roses.
David wrinkled his forehead. “Must be coming up on 30 years.”
“Wow,” Jill exclaimed. “Has it just been you that whole time?”
David hesitated. “No, not until the last couple of years.”
Jill seemed to pick up on his meaning. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—”
“No-no-no,” David assured her. “Sue was the light of my life and I’ll not have you apologize for bringing her up.” He lifted a pink rose from an arrangement. “You would have loved her. Everyone did. We built this place together. Our laughter and memories are etched into the walls make no mistake about it.”
He held out the rose to Jill who studied him a moment before taking it. “It’s beautiful,” she told him.
“They were her favorite,” David informed her. “We always made sure to have plenty of pink roses on hand.”
“What about this one?” Jill asked and moved to a plant with no flowers. “Is it supposed to be just a stem?”
David carefully fingered the stem and shook his head. “That is a Franklinia alatamaha. It’s also known as the Franklin tree. It’s a very rare flower and I can’t get it to bloom for the life of me. I’ve done everything I know how to do. Over 30 years of experience hasn’t done me a lick of good.”
Jill dug a few fingers in the soil. “Feels pretty dry.”
“Not for lack of watering I can assure you. Like I said, it’s got me stumped.”
Jill let that settle for a moment before lifting her eyes. “Can I ask you a question?”
David smiled but like most these days it didn’t reach his eyes. “Wouldn’t say much about my customer service if you couldn’t.”
“Are you okay?”
“Well now,” David stammered. “That is a question.”
“I’m sorry,” Jill apologized. “I don’t mean to get in your business I just…I know what loss is like and for some reason I have a feeling you do too.”
David focused on a Daisy to his right before she could spot the grief pouring into his face. These kind of questions today of all days. The last few years had all but solidified his belief that world was nothing but a cruel antagonist. This was just another arrow in his full back. He glanced at Jill. “Sweetie, I’ve had my life, better times than I deserved I’d wager. All that’s gone now and it’s just me and this shop. After today it’ll be just me. I suppose the final destination is always different than we imagine it when taking that first step. I just didn’t expect…” He fixed his blurry eyes back on the Daisy.
A moment later he felt Jill’s hand on his shoulder. “I’m so sorry for everything you’ve been through. I know what it’s like to feel dead and I want you to know there’s so much more life for you than you know.”
David gave a sad chuckle. “Young eyes and a full heart. Hold on to both if you can.”
Jill smiled. “I would’ve lost them both already if it wasn’t for the way Jesus rescued me. I just feel like I need to let you know that your life doesn’t have to be over. I believe that God is always moving us into something greater than what we’ve experienced in the past. It was true for me, and I know it’s true for you. Don’t be afraid to hope.”
Her words surprised him in a couple of different ways. One – that a total stranger had been comfortable sharing something like that and two – that her words were actually finding a place to land inside of him. The losses already suffered and the one looming spread before him like black fog, but for the first time in years he considered an alternative. He believed in God, albeit not as strongly as before, but he was supposed to be love, joy, and all that. He remembered something about hope and a future. Maybe things could turn around. “Well,” he finally said. “That’s very kind of you to say. Now, let’s get you fixed up with one of my best arrangements.”
David carefully arranged a variety of Tulips and wrapped them up. “It’s on the house, sweetie,” he told her. “It’s been a pleasure. I hope to see you again.”
Jill grinned. “Thank you. I’ll be back and next time I’m paying.”
“Well, I’d say that’s a deal then.”
He watched her disappear through the door and noticed the spark he’d felt about the days ahead dim. The old cat crawled out from behind a floor display and David eased down to scratch his head. “It was nice having her here, Boots. Didn’t she remind you of Sue in a way? The hope, energy, and obvious love for the Lord.” He sighed. “But this is the real world. Not everyone gets a fairy tale ending.”
David stood up and groaned at the ache in his knees. The sun was now in full morning mode and brightened everything in the store. “It is a nice day, Boots. Maybe I’ll just—no,” he gasped. “It’s impossible.”
He rushed over to the Franklin tree as his eyes began to fill. He reached out with a shaking finger and let it graze the most beautiful white petals he’d ever seen. The tears streamed down his cheeks and plopped silently into the plantar. “Maybe it’ll be okay, Boots.” He made a sound that was half laugh and half sob. “Maybe it’ll be okay.”
If you like these short stories, make sure you pick up my debut fiction, Finding Home.