The Flower Shop
by Dee Gallagher Boyd
Angie and I loved making deliveries. She drove the truck well, and I didn’t, so we made a good team. We had worked at Keller’s Flower Shop since high school, and were closing in on college graduation, so the place didn’t bug us as it sometimes did when there was no exit in sight.
Mimi Keller inherited the shop from her parents, and she added the pizzazz and charm the place needed. Her nimble fingers picked through flowers with an artist’s eye. Her baskets and vases meshed color and form into masterpieces. The shop was busy.
The owner hired Angie and me as a package deal. Newly sixteen, we arrived at job interviews together, brazenly insisting they needed us both. When we met Mimi she hired us both right away. She had twin daughters, so maybe she didn’t find dealing in twos unusual.
Rachel and Jody had been urging their mom to let them work at Keller’s since we started. Mimi put the twins on clean- up duty, a job that was losing its luster as they entered high school. We didn’t know their dad too well, but there was no mistaking they were his. Their thick auburn hair and aquiline features bore little resemblance to Mimi.
“It’s as if I weren’t even there,” Mimi would say, “they look so much like John Randall.” She was clearly in love with her husband, and often used his full name. Angie and I knew she was also proud of keeping her own name. She was a Keller, and everybody in town knew her as such.
Most people knew we worked at Keller’s and called out ” Angie! Chrissy!” when they saw the truck go by.
“Chrissy, there is nothing wrong with being a townie,” Angie often reminded me.
“Yeah, but the boarders think we’re scum,” I would tell her. “None of those pampered creeps could ever work like we do.”
The pampered creeps were our classmates at Chester College, which was in walking distance from the Flower Shop. Angie felt no shame driving the truck through the streets of the college. I ducked down in the seat when we passed the campus Starbucks, until Angie mocked me out of it. It was the week before Valentine’s Day. We were surrounded by roses, exquisite and fragrant. Angie yelled out to the crowd at Starbucks, and my slouching days were over.
Not only was Mimi Keller a fair boss, Angie and I liked her, and shared her love of flowers. She would ask our opinion while pulling together an arrangement, her pink rubber gloves in the air. We told her the truth, that the white lilies needed something colorful,like African violets, or the lavender orchid was wimpy. She respected us and eventually trusted us with a key to the shop.
“I’m going to be prepared this Mother’s Day,” Mimi told us pursing her lips as she did when determined. “You girls may have to let yourselves in around then. If I miss the twins’ recital another year, there will be no living with them.”
Angie and I exchanged a look, finding the twins hard on their mom. We noticed their Michael Kors bags and hair styled at Sensations, the cost of such things beyond us. Angie’s Uncle Tony sometimes hooked her up, no kids of his own to spoil. And Angie often split the spoils with me, like the time she gave me her gift card to Sensations for my cousin’s wedding.
“They mark John Randall on a curve,” Mimi continued. “I guess it’s how kids are with their dads. John can do no wrong.”
That very day we saw John Randall, as we thought of him, going into the bank, his charcoal suit adding to his dignified carriage. The shock of auburn hair was so like his daughters. He was truly handsome. I could see how Mimi was wacky over him.
I mentioned this to Angie and she said, “I think he’s too stiff. Not my type.”
“You don’t get a vote on Mimi’s taste,” I told her as we were gearing up for the Easter rush.
“We’ve got to let Mimi know Easter is exam week,” Angie said as we approached a two story colonial with a vase filled with orange and yellow tulips, so spring – like, so special. Mimi screened the recipients of our labor, the town’s being so known. She didn’t risk our safety when her full-time guys could venture into parts unknown.
“Chrissy, please warn Mimi. You have a way with her. Tell her if we keep busting our butts for her, we won’t graduate.”
“Yeah, I’ll wait for her husband and the twin brats to be there when I say that.”
“Listen to you, talking trash, like that,” she said, and I felt chastened and guilty for trying to be cool. More seriously, Angie grabbed my sleeve and made me look at her.
“Chrissy, you’re good. Don’t lose that,” she said, and I had to look away.
When we returned to Keller’s, we inhaled the scents of gardenias and lilies of the valley. Mimi gestured to the bundles and said, “A fresh shipment. Heavenly, aren’t they?” None of us tired of the magic of flowers.
While adding a bow to a baby girl arrangement, Mimi asked, “Could you two clip the ends of the lilies before storing them?”
Angie handed me the cutting shears and blurted, “Mimi, Easter week is a problem.” I rolled my eyes, like she took my job of telling. I had been rehearsing my lines in the truck as we skidded across a few icy patches.
Angie explained how busy we’d be with school, and Mimi told us her husband could help out. “He does the books, collects the sales, and makes bank deposits, so he knows the shop… and the neighborhood.”
“I don’t want to think about losing you two when you graduate,” Mimi said affectionately.
I felt myself tear up, and I think Angie did too, though she’d never admit it.
Bringing a burst of cold air with him, John Randall brushed by us and pulled Mimi aside. She smiled at him, hugged him, and they spoke quietly. He’d never taken the time to get to know us, but Angie and I didn’t expect him to.
Cutting shears resting in my hand, I let myself picture being with a John Randall of my own. I realized I was staring at Mimi’s husband, and continued to trim the lilies laid out before me. Keller’s cutting table needed a replacement. Too many nights left me fighting with a splinter from my work.
We survived the exams with lots of late nights at the campus library or Angie’s house. Her family was so proud of her scholastic life, her mother set up a work/study area in the den. Her Uncle Tony stuck his head in to cheer her on, including me in his pep talks.
“You kids are doing us proud,” his face often smudged with soot from the fires he fought. When we were too shot to sit up, we sprawled on Angie’s bed, our lap tops and books spread about us. We didn’t do this too often, as Angie respected her mother’s feelings about the study den.
We were in the den on a crisp spring day, our graduation invitations stacked on the table before us. “Is it pushy to invite people, like we’re looking for presents?” I asked Angie.
“Leave it to you, Chrissy, to worry what people think,” she said, as she looked up at me, her pen in hand. “I’m about to address Mimi’s. Should I just put the Randall family?”
“I think Rachel and Jody would like to see their names on it. Kids don’t get much snail mail,” I said, careful not to talk trash about them again. Angie was a tougher boss than Mimi.
“Too many names. I’m putting the Randall family.Do you think they will come?”
I told her I couldn’t imagine Mimi’s missing it, and the twins might be singing at the ceremony. When we arrived at Keller’s after school the next day, Mimi was in a great mood. “The twins’ recital will be a week before Mother’s Day, so this place won’t be such a madhouse. I may just ask you to pick up a few deliveries the night I’m busy.”
We took pride in our work, but we were relieved that Mimi would be with us for the Mother’s Day crazies.
The evening of the recital, I arrived at the shop before Angie. I decided to let myself in and place the flowers in the truck. The flower shop was as quiet as a church at dawn. I took a few steps and bumped into the cutting table. It was then that I saw John Randall looking tenderly down at Mark Collins. His right hand cupped Mark’s jaw, and his left clutched the buttons of Professor Collins’s jacket. I couldn’t breathe. I almost screamed.
Stricken. The word that entered my jumbled brain. Mimi’s husband looked stricken when he saw me. Mark had moved to another part of the shop, leaving John and me together.
“Deliveries,” I managed to say.
“My job tonight,” he said.
I made my way to my car, grateful that Angie was late. I trusted her, but needed time to absorb the shock of what I’d seen. I thought of Mimi and started to cry. And yet, I had never seen her husband look so comfortable, so at home with himself. I was horrified and moved by the loving embrace I stumbled upon.
Angie’s car pulled up, and I had visions of one of Uncle Tony’s pool hall buddies making little of John Randall. I tried to pull myself together to keep this to myself.
Angie knew me too well.
I hugged her fiercely, and said, “Your car. Your room.”
“I’ll kill him.” she growled, when I could bring myself to talk.
Never being a fan of his, Angie continued in this mode till she caught the look on my face. “What is wrong with you, Chrissy?” her loyalty to Mimi as big as her heart.
I was too stunned to say much. “He looked happy, Angie.”
“Don’t you care about Mimi?” she said.
This pierced me in a way that only Angie could. Like wind whipping up before a storm, Angie’s mood changed. She saw she had hurt me, and was beginning to accept what I saw.
“I’ll bet she knows,” Angie said. I let this sink in, knowing I would never reveal it to Mimi. In the way shock lets normal thoughts through, I realized we had never been so quiet in Angie’s room.
“Why do you think she knows, Ang?”
“Simple. Because she loves him.”
Dreading my next shift at work, I practiced looking normal in the mirror. I applied my make-up with care, hoping Mimi didn’t see any change in me. Mimi pulled me into her office as soon as I arrived. She looked haggard. She knew…… but I was sure…. she was just as shocked as I. “John told me.” Three words with the power to explode her universe.
“It’s new to me. . . We’re talking. . . He does love me, Chrissy, ” she whispered.
Straightening her shoulders she switched gears, realizing she had said too much.
“John and I accept the invitation to your graduation,” she said with a weak smile.
“Angie and I would be honored,” was all I could manage to say. I grabbed her hand with both of mine and said. “Only Angie have I told. Nobody else, I promise.”
After a few awkward days at work, Mimi and I had an unspoken understanding. If I said I hadn’t told Angie, she would have seen the lie, and there would be little between us. As the days grew into weeks, we accepted each other as two women who knew the other well. And she trusted I said nothing to others.
There was also among the three us, Angie, Mimi and me, the melancholy of an ending, and the memories of our time together at Keller’s Flower Shop.
Graduation day was spectacular. Chester College Commencement was outdoors on a sunny June evening. Angie picked me up in the new Jeep Uncle Tony had given her. We arrived amidst a sea of flowers surrounding the stage. They were hauntingly familiar, all those flowers.
We stood together on the stage looking out at the guests, and I saw Mimi and John.
They were smiling at the twins, who were to our right in gold choir gowns. The sun was setting behind them, and I saw the blend of color, vibrant, complex, yet simple in its beauty, much like love itself.
Dee Gallagher Boyd is former French teacher and a graduate of Temple University. She grew up in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, the youngest of the seven Gallagher children. She is the author of “Dr. McGill,” “The Baldwin Inn,” and other short stories. Dee and her husband live in Jupiter, Florida.