A Rose for a Rose (Published in People’s Friend, June 2022)

Laura tugged at the roll of ribbon, sliced a length and, with her florist’s expert touch, executed the bow with a flourish. As always, the crimson silk echoed the roses’ dramatic shade. A dozen long-stemmed roses. There was no need to check the wording to be written on the card; it was the same every month. The same as she had written for the past two years. For the most beautiful woman in the world.

‘Wow, wouldn’t I like to find those on my doorstep. Who’s the lucky lady? And for that matter, who’s her admirer? Must be keen if he’s prepared to spend that much every month.’ Jenna, her sister had asked once, filling her lungs with the red roses’ hypnotic scent.

‘Ah, now that would be telling.’ Laura had replied, ever mindful of maintaining customers’ confidentiality. But the truth was, Laura would not have been able to answer the question anyway. The customer behind the regular bouquet of deepest red roses remained a mystery.

Every month the same direct debit order, every month identical delivery instructions to leave the flowers in the porch of the same cottage. To call it a cottage was something of an understatement. In reality, it was one of those stunning Cotswold stone concoctions which had its origins somewhere in the 18th century, but which had been reborn several times creating its charming higgledy-piggledy appearance. Laura had fallen in love with the cottage on sight, together with its romantic connection.

Since opening her floristry shop in the High Street over twenty years before, Laura had built up a respectable register of regular customers. She was popular among the residents of Coombe Lipton and had a reputation for her no-nonsense, down-to-earth approach.

Often while fashioning her beautiful arrangements, she would provide an empathic ear to the moans and groans of the locals. This morning both Mrs Landry who liked fresh flowers in her bed and breakfast rooms and old Jack who’d come to collect the tiny posy for his wife in the nursing home, had stopped to offload their cares. Even during Laura’s weekly visits to The Manor to fill the oversized alabaster vases in the Great Hall, she would be invited into the kitchen to hear the housekeepers’ latest moans.

Laura sighed and placed the bouquet in the storeroom for delivery. As was often the case on a Friday, floral creations covered virtually every surface and most of the floor. Barely a week went by without wedding flowers to prepare. This weekend’s order was a particularly large one. She worked late into the previous evening to ensure it was finished in time.

Laura began her next arrangement. Pairing several stems of Egyptian blue delphiniums with eucalyptus and other delicately shaded foliage, her thoughts turned to her own situation. Nobody ever sent her flowers. Friends said it would be like sending coals to Newcastle. Even when she was still with James, he had been of the same mind. He had shown a romantic streak when they had first met, but almost as soon as they had married, he had shown his true nature. Laura shuddered as if to shake off the memories. Even after six years, those memories sometimes came back to haunt her. The final straw for her had been when she had discovered he had regularly been buying flowers, just not for her. She wasn’t sure she would ever be able to trust a man again. She tied the bouquet’s bow rather tighter than usual.

The shop door opened, dragging her from her thoughts and making her jump.

‘Hi, oh sorry, didn’t mean to startle you. Please finish what you’re doing. That’s stunning, by the way.’

Laura placed the bouquet with the others and turned her attention to the owner of the man’s voice.

‘Thought I’d come and introduce myself. I’m just opening a wine merchants along the street. The signs have been erected this morning.  Mike Carstairs.’ He pushed some stray strands of dark brown hair back from where they had escaped and smiled. The hair was what caught Laura’s attention first. It was thick and naturally curly in an unruly, mind-of-its-own manner. Unusual in a man of his age.

‘Oh hi, yes. I’d heard it had been sold. Welcome. I’m Laura Childs.’ She wiped her hands on her jeans and held out her hand. The skin on the back of his hand had the weathered look of someone who had spent time working outdoors.

‘Aha. Laura’s Flora. I’ve always thought that was an excellent name.’

He looked more youthful when he smiled. Originally putting him at late-fifties, Laura reassessed and guessed him to be a few years older than her 47. There was something vaguely familiar about his face, but she could not put her finger on why.

Returning the smile, Laura unconsciously flicked her red hair over her shoulder.

‘Ah, so you’re local then?’

‘Well, I was brought up a few miles away and I’m just in the process of moving back. I’ve been working in France for the past few years.’ He paused, looking around at the metal tubs of flowers and the racks of indoor plants as if searching for something. ‘I’ve also come to collect the wedding flowers. Carstairs and Roland, St Michael’s Church tomorrow.’

Laura halted the look of surprise which had threatened to spread across her face. So here was tomorrow’s groom. As was common when providing flowers for weddings, she had met the bride, Louisa, several times, but never her fiancé.

‘Of course. They’re in the storeroom. I’m decorating the church this evening.’

Immediately Laura returned to her professional self, locating the order and then beckoning Mike to follow her into the storeroom.

‘Wow. These are spectacular. I’d no idea there would be so many.’ Mike was impressed by the cascades of dusky pink and cream roses filling the storeroom with their heady scent.

‘I’ve had nothing to do with that side of things. The wine and bubbly’s more in my line.’ Again, the engaging smile.

‘Oh, I nearly forgot, there’s one more thing you can do for me while I’m here. I’d like to cancel an order. I’ve been having a monthly flower delivery. I’ve got the info here somewhere.’

Mike pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. Laura checked the details against her order book. A dozen red roses. So, this was her mystery man.  Such a pity there were to be no more deliveries. Momentarily she felt more disappointed now that the puzzle had been solved, rather than over the loss of revenue. Additionally, she felt a slight sadness that the romantic gesture seemed to be ceasing with his marriage, although that was none of her business.

‘I’ve your last order right here. Would you like to take those with you?’

They stowed the precious cargo of flowers into his Range Rover.

‘I’ll be at the church from about five.’ Having decorated St Michael’s numerous times over the years, Laura knew how long it would take, almost to the minute.

For the rest of the afternoon, Laura continued working through her orders. Two floral tributes for a funeral; various birthday bouquets; a rather complicated basket arrangement and several table decorations for this evening’s civic dinner. She loved her job. Loved the texture and smell of the flowers and loved the reactions of her customers when they saw their ideas come to life. There were downsides to working for herself, of course, like spending almost every Friday evening during the summer wedding season, decorating churches or marquees.

Just before five, she loaded her van with copious quantities of the pink and cream blooms and headed for Coombe Lipton’s local church. Louisa, the bride, was an attractive woman in her early forties, who had disclosed to Laura that she had been suddenly widowed a few years before. Over coffee, during one of their planning meetings, Laura had shared that she had been divorced for several years and was content to be on her own. Louisa had also mentioned she had met her future husband while holidaying in France. It all made sense now.

Laura could see the tension in Louisa’s face. ‘I’ll be fine, really. It’ll only take me a couple of hours and I’m much better just left on my own. I’ll text you when it’s all finished.’

Louisa hugged Laura, ‘Well, if you’re sure. Mum’s done the tables in the marquee, but there’s still a hundred things to do. Thank you.’

Systematically Laura worked her way through the church, its pews and pillars soon festooned with the voluptuous old roses. Petals were scattered along the aisle and a floral arch framed the Norman vestry door. Only another half hour and she would be able to head home. She

had already decided to pick up a pizza on the way.

Balanced on a stepladder, reaching to place a stubborn piece of ivy into the second of the two large alter-side arrangements, a voice made her start.

‘Hi Laura. I’ve done it again, haven’t I! I don’t make a habit of roaming the streets frightening women. Well, not on a Friday, anyway. Thank goodness you didn’t topple. You do look a little precarious.’ There was amusement in Mike’s voice. ‘It’s all looking pretty fabulous, though.’

Laura half-turned to face Mike and smiled. ‘Thanks, I’m almost finished. I’d have thought you’d have been busy with Louisa this evening. She seemed a bit stressed earlier.’

‘She’s fine. I feel a bit of a spare part, actually. Everyone else is tied up with tomorrow’s arrangements.’

‘Well, you can make yourself useful and pass me two of those cream-coloured roses, then I think that will do.’ While Laura put the finishing touches to the arrangement, Mike gathered up the spare roses and foliage into her work basket, then helped her climb down from the stepladder.

‘Look, I’ve been thinking. Erm.’ He sounded hesitant. ‘I’m starving and you’ve been working all day. How’s about keeping me company in the Crown for a well-deserved glass of wine and a bite to eat? Louisa mentioned you’re on your own, so unless you have other plans, how about it?’

Laura was astounded and not a little offended. Did he think she was that desperate?

‘Thanks, but no thanks. Yes, I am on my own, but I’ve never been out with a married man, and there’s no way I’m going to start now. I know technically you’re not a married man until tomorrow, but I’ve no intention of amusing you on your last night of freedom.’

Laura could feel the colour in her cheeks and hear the anger in her voice. She was totally unprepared for Mike’s reaction. He laughed.

‘You clot. Louisa’s my sister.’ He was laughing so heartily his words were barely audible. ‘I can say in all honesty, that I’m not currently married and neither do I have any plans to be in the foreseeable future.’

Laura’s hand clutched her forehead in embarrassment. How could she have jumped to such a wrong conclusion? Even to her own ears, her little speech had sounded pompous and melodramatic.

Mike burst into giggles again.

‘Oh Mike, I’m so sorry. What a complete idiot. And when you cancelled the rose order, I just assumed it was because you were getting married.’

‘The roses have been for my mother. My father used to buy them for her, so now I do. She’s moving down to Devon to live with my other sister, so I’ve just put in a new order with a florist down there. I’m moving into her old cottage. Does that clear things up?’

To Laura, the resemblance between the siblings was now plain to see. That was why his face had looked familiar. It was her turn to smile.

‘Look, I may have completely blown any chance now, but, if the offer’s still open, I’d love to join you for supper.’

Mike plucked a pink rose from Laura’s workbasket and tucked it behind her ear. ‘A rose for a rose.’

2 Comments

  1. Diane Rawson

    Hello Lynne. I loved this story. I read it because I recently sent a story to People’s Friend – but it was graciously rejected!

    Your story is full of warmth and you know how to draw in all those little human strands that make a story come to life. I’ve still got a bit to learn!
    Thank you for the help you offered to budding authors in the last U3A magazine. I’ll have another go. Best wishes. Diane Rawson

    Reply
    • Lynne

      Hi Diane.
      Thanks for your generous feedback. It’s always a thrill to know when someone has enjoyed reading one of my stories.
      Yes….do ‘keep at it’. I still get rejections. Recently my editor provided feedback that the fiction editors liked the story, but felt it would be more suited to a different magazine rather than People’s Friend. I’m still struggling to find the balance between following their guidelines with regards to content against producing something that features stereotypes and predictable stories.
      It’s all a great learning curve, and that’s what makes it such fun.
      I’d love to hear how you get on. Do keep in touch.
      Also, if you are ever looking for an ‘independent ear’ to run ideas by / give you honest and constructive feedback on any of your pieces, don’t hesitate to email me.
      Have a great Sunday,

      Lynne

      Reply

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