by Christine Verstraete
Say It With Flowers was originally published in Mouth Full of Bullets!
Maggie McAllister unlocked the front door and walked into the floral shop, her head still throbbing from the argument she’d had with her daughter, Jenna.
Maggie knew that sometimes she was overprotective, but they’d only moved here six months ago. She didn’t yet trust her daughter being too far away from her. All she wanted was to keep both of them safe and out of the reach of her abusive ex, George, just like she’d done since Jenna was a toddler.
The jangle of the bell over the front door of her garden shop, The Potting Shed, broke Maggie’s reverie. She glanced up to where Jenna fidgeted in the doorway, the expression on her face sulky, yet unsure.
“Why aren’t you in school?” Maggie snapped, instantly regretting her sharpness.
Jenna sighed and rolled her eyes. “Mom-m-m. I told you. We got a half-day.” The thirteen-year-old gazed at the floor, then looked at her mother, her face uncertain.”Don’t you want me here?”
“Of course I do, honey.” Maggie waved her daughter in with a smile. “C’mon, help me unpack these flowers. You do those, I’ll get the ones in the back, okay?”
Jenna flashed her mother a big grin, tossed her backpack purse aside, and began opening the box of fragrant blooms. Maggie gave her daughter’s shoulder a squeeze on her way to the back.
The two of them worked quietly. Maggie glanced over the louvered door occasionally in pride at how well Jenna treated the different plants. “Honey, you’re doing a nice job,” she said. “You must like flowers.”
“Thanks, Mom, I guess I do. They smell good.”
The phone’s shrill ring stopped Maggie in mid-cut of a lovely red rose. She answered it, then took off her apron and grabbed a package from the cooler. “Sweetie, Ed forgot this. I’ll have to go deliver it. Will you be okay? Can you handle things? I’ll only be gone ten minutes.”
“Mom, go,” Jenna said. “I’ll be fine. Really.”
Several minutes later, a tall blond man walked into the store. Jenna smiled and greeted him. “Hi, can I help you?”
“I need some flowers,” he snapped. “How soon do you deliver?”
Jenna tried not to show her surprise at his rudeness. “Usually in an hour, if it’s here in town or–”
“Fine.” He gave her a haughty stare, slid his wallet out of his coat pocket, and carelessly flipped a credit card onto the counter. He peered past her at the display case and pointed at several vases. “I’ll take those roses and carnations.”
“What color would–”
“I don’t care.”
“Anything else?” She bit her bottom lip to keep herself calm and carefully scribbled down the order.
“That’s enough,” he growled. “Just fancy it up a little.” He dug in his pocket and tossed her a folded piece of paper. “I want three. Send ’em here.”
She frowned. “Do you want them all the same?”
He watched her intently, his forehead crinkling with small creases. “Why not?” He leaned towards her and winked. “It’ll keep ’em happy. All I care about.”
Jenna felt her face grow warm and tried not to show her uneasiness as she slid his credit card, transaction receipt and order slip across the counter. “Do you want a card with each one?”
“Oh yeah.” He signed one card and slipped it into an envelope. “This goes to the Orchard address. Sign the others Love, George, okay?”
Jenna watched him grab his receipts and credit card. Her heart pounded as he stopped at the door and turned.
“Those will go out right away?”
Her nod brought a quick “good” and a wink from him before he left.
It wasn’t long before her mother returned and headed straight for the counter. “Anyone come in while…” Maggie’s words faltered as she picked up the receipt and read the name. “Honey, was this man here?”
“Yeah, he was really rude, too. Creeped me out.”
Maggie gripped the edge of the counter and managed to hold the lightheadedness at bay.
“Mom, you okay?”
“Fine, honey,” Maggie lied, taking a deep breath. “Just a little dizzy. I should’ve eaten something. Get the roses and we’ll get these bouquets done, all right?”
Maggie’s mind raced as she watched her daughter open the cooler and lift out one of the vases full of velvety red roses. Their fragrance scented the air. “Honey, are the bouquets all the same?”
“That’s what he said. Weird, huh?”
The front door opened and Maggie sighed in relief as Ed walked in. He’d been such a help with the business and did all the deliveries. Maggie smiled at him, appreciating how much he cared for Jenna and how special he made her feel, too–something George had never done.
“Any problems?” Ed asked, checking the delivery schedule before giving her a quick smooch.
“Nuttin’ honey.” She smiled as he winced at her joke. “Jenna, I’ll finish those. How about you help Ed pack up the rest of the orders? I’m going to take a break and get some food in me.”
Her eyes filled as she watched the two of them a moment before heading to the office in the back. Shutting the door, she grabbed a granola bar, went to the computer and Googled George’s name. She pursed her lips as a string of newspaper stories downloaded. The articles, though, turned out to be about someone else with the same name.
Nothing else came up, but Maggie wasn’t convinced that George’s being here was a coincidence. She had changed her name and even had a little plastic surgery done as an added precaution against his finding her. Until now, she and Jenna had moved at least once a year.
Maggie’s disappointment grew. She hated to think all her planning had been in vain. The business was doing well. Despite a few initial bumps, Jenna liked her school and was settling in. Then there was Ed…Maggie had started to think that this time, they’d finally found someplace they could stay. It was beginning to feel like home.
The granola bar finished, Maggie tapped her fingers on the desk and evaluated her options. Maybe George had changed? She doubted it. And she wasn’t about to let him ruin her life again.
She went back into the store. “Jenna? Why don’t you and Ed go finish those deliveries? That’ll give me time to get these ready by the time you get back, okay?”
After they left, Maggie looked at the card George signed and the names on the orders. She chose two other gift cards, signed them with a flourish, and slid them into envelopes. The bouquets wrapped and boxed, Maggie taped the gift cards on the front and added a sprig of baby’s breath as an extra touch. Admiring her work, she couldn’t help but smile.
The next morning, a thump at the back door of her small bungalow signaled the arrival of the daily paper. Maggie unfolded the newspaper and slowly read the lead story about the arrest of one George Simms for domestic abuse following an argument with his wife about some flowers she’d received.
Ed shuffled into the kitchen and stared when he saw what Maggie was reading. He scanned the page and frowned. “Hey, I know I delivered those flowers to the right addresses.” He gave Maggie a worried look. “I’m positive.”
“It’s not your fault,” she said. “I must’ve mixed the cards up. The wife got the card and flowers meant for one of her husband’s two mistresses.”
“Rotten luck on his part, huh?” Ed chuckled and ducked as Maggie threw a towel at him. “Seriously, don’t feel bad. Anybody could’ve mixed them up.”
“I guess you’re right, it was just a mistake,” she murmured. “An innocent mistake.”