The bell above the door rang sharply; young Mr. Potts looked up as a well-to-do-looking gentleman hustled in, gawking at the explosion of colored petals covering the display shelves.
“Can I help you?”
“Flowers,” the man said gruffly. “I need flowers.”
“Well, you’ve come to the—”
“I know I’m in the right place. That’s why I’m in here! I need something, and it can’t wait. I need it right now. I need . . .” He trailed off, lost in a thought, thick fingers fiddling absently with his tie. Potts recognized the look softening those hard eyes.
“For a woman?”
The eyes snapped hard again. “Of course for a woman, you fool. The most beautiful woman you ever saw.”
“From around here?” Potts said. “In this neighborhood?”
“How did you know?”
“It’s a small shop, sir. I assume you just left her, and for you to have wound up here—well, isn’t a difficult deduction, sir.”
“I don’t know where she lives, but she’s the waitress at the café around the corner.”
“Ah!” Potts’s own voice grew dreamy. “Hair as rich and black as the ink God used to write the world, skin as smooth as Shakespeare’s sonnets, and when you look into her eyes, it’s like the whole night sky is looking back, for ever and ever?”
The customer stared. “How do you—”
“That’s Georgia, sir. Every man around here is aware of Georgia. Some of the women, too, I understand.”
“Well, now I’m aware, and I’m doing something about it. Women like flowers.”
“That’s been my experience, sir.”
The man snapped his fingers—once as if an idea had just come to him, then twice more, snap-snap, to get Potts’s attention. “Give me every rose you have. That should impress the hell out of her.”
Potts shook his head. “I’m afraid roses won’t be enough to impress Georgia, sir.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Roses are pretty, sure, and they’re the most expensive thing I have in the shop, but Georgia likes to smell her flowers. Roses are pretty,” he repeated, “but not to the nose. Those won’t do it.”
The eyes grew harder, rubbery lips pulled into a grimace. “What, is this Georgia your woman or something?”
“My woman?” Potts laughed. “No, sir. No, Georgia is her own. So far as I know, she’s no one’s woman.”
“Then how do you know what she likes?”
Potts spread his hands, indicating the florist’s shop around them. “It’s my business.”
“All right.” A gold Rolex flashed. “I need to get back before her shift ends. Can we hurry this up? You know, chop-chop? There’s got to be roses—every damn rose you have—but what else should go in there? You’re the expert: suggest!”
Potts got started, explaining it would take many, many displays to use every rose in Flower Potts as he moved about the shop, plucking things from here and there, rapidly building a beautiful display based on roses.
The customer repeatedly checked his watch. “Just move this along,” he said after the second arrangement had taken shape. “More workee, less talkee. I’m paying for this, and you’re on the clock.”
“Are you sure you want arrangements made with every rose in my shop? It’s going to be—”
“Every one, I said! A little life lesson for you, kid: you see something you want, you go out and grab it. I want this girl, and I’m using you to grab her. You understand?”
Potts called the delivery boy out of the back, and José fetched materials for him so he could work faster. Potts’s hands were almost a blur for an hour and a half, José ferrying finished vases out through the back to make room for the boss to work.
Eventually, the shelves nearly denuded, a tired Potts approached the waiting customer, long piece of paper in hand. “Here you are.”
Potts grinned. “The bill.”
~ ~ * * ~ ~
The bell above the door rang sharply. In walked a woman with hair like ink, skin like a sonnet, and eyes like the nighttime sky. Between long slender fingers she held a florist’s card. “Is this a joke?” She slapped the card on the counter, face down, revealing four words scrawled across the back: Let him down easy.
“Not at all,” said Potts. “I didn’t want you to break his heart or anything.”
“The man was an ass the first time he was in,” she said. “I didn’t want him to come back!”
“But this time he had flowers,” said Potts.
“All of them!”
“He tried to buy me a cup of coffee, but his card was declined. And he didn’t have any cash. I had to buy him one.”
Potts shrugged. “He used the cash for the delivery charge, after he maxed out his card on materials, labor, and the extreme rush job.”
“So, did you let him down easy?”
“This was pretty self-explanatory.” She held up her left hand, a ring sparkling on the third finger. “I had to explain I don’t wear it at work so it doesn’t get ruined, but he got it.”
“He couldn’t afford to take you to dinner, though, right?”
She just stared.
“Well,” he said, gesturing at the emptied shelves, so recently home to flowers uncountable. “It seems I’ve had a really good day. So good, in fact, I have to close early—and I happen to have a whole bunch of cash on hand. Now that you have all the flowers, what say you go to dinner with me, instead?”
She continued to stare, though now she was smiling.
“You know, he even asked if you were my woman.”
She snorted. “And?”
“I said you were your own, and didn’t belong to anyone.”
“I also said,” said Potts with a grin, “knowing what you liked was my business.”
She sighed. “It’s lucky for you I’m hungry. And”—she leaned across the counter—“that clever is the new sexy.”
And Georgia Potts kissed her husband on the mouth.
Rob Smales is the author of Dead of Winter, which won the Superior Achievement in Dark Fiction Award from Firbolg Publishing’s Gothic Library in 2014. His short stories have been published in two dozen anthologies and magazines. His story “Photo Finish” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and won the Preditors & Editors’ Readers Choice Award for Best Horror Short Story of 2012.
His latest work is a collection of short stories entitled Echoes of Darkness, published by Books & Boos Press (2016). Most recently, his story “A Night at the Show” received an honorable mention on Ellen Datlow’s list of the Best Horror of 2014, and was also nominated as best short story by the eFestival of Words.
More about his work can be found at www.RobSmales.com, or you can look him up on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Robert.T.Smales.