The Flower Thief

Here’s the latest tale on PEP: a sad story but with a HEA.

Simon kept slipping glances at the girl sitting next to him, hand grasped tightly onto the bouquet of flowers. He glanced out of the window to see that they were nearly to their stop and he still hadn’t figured out how to tell her just where they were going.

It was just his life that he should end up in this situation. Granted, it was of his own making, but she’d hadn’t caught him in the months prior to today. So when he’d been walking by her house on the way to the bus stop, he’d glanced around before pulling a few flowers that had been in the back of the flower bed, nearly out of sight anyway. But she’d been around the edge of the house, just out of his sight, and had come around to catch him before he’d gotten the bouquet he’d wanted. He’d offered to give it back, even pay her the measly few dollars he’d had on him to replace them. But she’d given him a shrewd look before informing to stay right there, flowers clutched tightly between pale fingers, as she headed inside.

He still wasn’t sure what’d made him stay there, sweat dripping down his back, terrified she’d gone inside for a knife from the kitchen but he’d still been there when she’d come out, garden boots changed out for a pair of tennis shoes, garden hat gone, revealing a head of thick blond hair tumbling loosely over the sweater now over the jeans and shirt she’d had on before, purse in hand. She locked her door and come down her walk, gesturing for him to come to her. Flowers nearly limp in his hand, he’d done so, still unsure how this woman he’d never met had complete control over his actions so suddenly. The flowers had nearly fell out of his hand in his shock as she informed him that she’d be coming with to ensure the girl was pretty enough to warrant flower theft. Unable to come up with a way out of it, he’d led her to the bus stop.

Even now, as the bus came to a stop at his, no, their stop, he was still trying to come up with a way to break the news of just what he’d taken the flowers for.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ally glanced over at the flower thief as the bus continued down the road. She still didn’t know what had come over her to demand that this complete stranger take her to the girl he’d stolen her flowers for. All she knew was she’d been so angry when she’d come around the corner to spot this dark haired man crouched over her flower bed she’d cultivated so tenderly, just plucking a few iris, asters and gladiolus at random. When she’d shouted, he’d straightened, fingers tight around the flowers, handsome visage revealing shock. She’d noticed flowers missing in the past few months but had presumed someone’s pet had been making a snack. By the time she’d reached him, his green eyes were wide, face nearly pasty. Before she could speak, he started stammering about paying her back what he had on him, even giving them back, the hand clutching hte flowers extended to her. Her blue eyes had narrowed then, clearly he was nervous about something and so she’d demanded he stay there. She headed in, cleaning her appearance up from the morning she’d spent in the back gardens, swiping her purse as she headed out, not sure if he’d even still be there.

To her surprise, he was still standing in the same place, green eyes still wide with surprise and something else she couldn’t name. She gestured for him to meet her where her sidewalk met the public sidewalk and demanded he lead the way to the girl he was stealing flowers for. She hadn’t thought his eyes could get any wider and he opened his mouth a few times, no doubt to try to talk her out of coming with. But in the end, he apparently couldn’t come up with a way to dissuade her from crashing his date and he led the way to the bus stop.

Now, the bus had come to a stop and she stood as he gestured for her to before he led the way off. She glanced around as they stepped off, she recognized the part of town they were in but couldn’t see where on earth he’d be meeting a young woman for a date. This area was the original downtown of their small city before the city had outgrown it and built a newer and upgraded downtown 10 miles to the east. There wasn’t anything here except the library, a few stores that were there primarily for tourists or locals that knew what treasures they held, museums and…

Her chest tightened as the bus pulled away, revealing the old city cemetery directly across the street from the stop. She knew it well, having been here so many times in the last few months. But surely not… She started as he laid a gentle hand on her elbow, leading her across the street to the cemetery.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Simon could see the surprise on his companion’s face when he led her across the street to the cemetery. She glanced around, face tight, eyes shadowed, as he led her to a newer area within the cemetery. Not many people were buried here anymore, many preferring to inter their loved ones in the newer larger cemetery just outside of town. But for ones like himself who didn’t have the money for plots in the new cemetery or had a line of family already buried here, this was where they went. There was still a bit of land at the back corner of the cemetery that wasn’t already bought out for family lines where those like him buried their loved ones. He led her to a new tombstone in the back line, kneeling at the edge, placing the flowers in the center of the dirt in front of the tombstone. She remained a respectful distance for a few minutes before coming closer, stopping a few feet away.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ally spoke, voice not as strong as she’d preferred, “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize…”

Simon shrugged, not looking at her, “Not many would. The conclusion you jumped to was the natural reaction.”

She kneeled, being careful to not touch him or encroach on his personal space in front of this clearly important loved one.

“Who was she? If you don’t mind me asking.”

He reached up, gently smoothing his fingers over the worn letters bearing the name Miranda Aster before withdrawing his hand.

“She was my sister.”

Her hand covered her mouth at just how wrong she’d been in her assumption as he continued.

“Not of blood, of course. But we were the closest thing we had to a family. When she came down ill, I made her go to the doctor even though her insurance wouldn’t cover it and we didn’t really have the money. But what she’d thought was a cold was lingering far too long. It was kidney cancer, stage 3. We’d found it too late, even if we’d had the insurance to properly treat it, it was terminal. She managed a year before passing a few months ago. I come down at least once a week to visit.”

Silence filled the cemetery, broken occasionally by birds in nearby trees.

Finally Ally spoke, “Why did you choose those flowers?”

Surprising her, “They were in the back, I didn’t think they’d be as noticeable missing. But I know those are asters, they were her favorites since it’s her name.”

Moving forward within reach of the flowers, she gently touched the stem of each grouping as she explained.

“Asters mean love, gladiolus mean remembrance, and Iris mean hope. I’d noticed the flowers missing but presumed it was a local animal making a snack. There was little I could do about that. I was angry when I saw you as it’s a memorial flower bed and I believed you to be taking for a cheap bouquet for a date. I planted the flowers for my mother who was killed by a drunk driver 6 months ago.”

He bowed his head, shoulders hunched, “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize… I thought flowers in the front yard were just for looks.”

“I imagine most are, I know the rest of the beds in my front yard are. But my mother loved flowers and I wanted something so important to her in the front, as the focal point.”

He opened his mouth to apologize again but she shook her head, hands long since back in her lap.

“She’d be just as happy with them here as a gesture of love to another lost loved one.”

She stood, shaking off the knees of her jeans before offering a hand to him.

As he took it, she offered, “My name is Allison Rogers, please call me Ally. If you like, I’ll show you how to properly pick the flowers next week.”

He shook her hand before dropping it, falling into step with her as they trekked back to the beginning of the cemetery, “My name is Simon Black, I’d really like that.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As the young man and woman left the cemetery, they never noticed the faint shape of two women standing under the largest oak tree in the cemetery, watching their brother and daughter begin a new chapter of their lives, together.

©Paula Crofoot

Flower Thief

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