Sub Rosa
Jacqui Barrineau

When the shop bell jingles, I think she knows who it is without looking. I am perhaps her most faithful customer. Someone she knows and doesn't. I appear each February here at her shop. And though I should know her name, I don't.

It was a rainy afternoon, 1990. She was closing when I slipped in just as a gale swept across the river. I was dressed stupidly in a sweatshirt and cutoffs, not ready for Oregon's winter.

My refuge was a flower shop; the patron a green-eyed farmer in overalls and a scrunchy.

Say something.

So I did.

"Your shop is on Lovejoy," I said. "Love. Joy. How can I order wrong?"

It was the best I could manage.

Then, for the first time in my 24 years, I ordered flowers. Roses. The only flower I knew. Color? Pink. A total guess.

My order was perfect. Strands of light brown hair hung in her face as she arranged the roses. I wanted more time with her, so I ordered six more.

What do I say?

She returned from the back flustered. "I'm out."

She's so pretty.

"But you're a new store." I kicked my hacky-sack, showing off my skills.

"I've been lucky since opening. I'm sorry."

"Don't apologize for your success."

Wait – was that snotty?

"I'll add delphiniums and ferns. The blue, green, and pink would be lovely."

"She'll love it." There was no "she."

I think I'm in love.

I was.

That was the first of 20 orders. Today, I'll put in the 21st.  Gone are the cutoffs; a BlackBerry replaced my hacky-sack. My hair is gray but here, and I look tired. And I still don't know her name or what to say.

"I need two dozen." At least there's that.

"Red? Pink?" She sweeps a lock of hair behind her ear. Her hair is
longer this year.

She looks nice today. Tell her.

Instead I say: "Pick."

She smiles, a good sign, and goes to the back.

Deep breaths.

"Would you please have dinner with me tonight?"


"Would you please –"

She's back; her cheeks flush. "I have six."

"I'll blame Cupid."

So dumb.

She sighs and begins stripping the stems.

I have to ask her out.

"I've always thought Cupid was a slacker, haven't you?" This isn't a line.

She nods and adds more lilies – I think -- and the blue things. This
will be one of her best arrangements yet.

"I mean, if Cupid weren't lazy, there wouldn't be so many lonely people."

She nods again, looking sad. She adds the last lily and closes her eyes as if in prayer. I don't want to disturb her, so I leave.

Maybe next year.

First published: February, 2011
All rights Reserved
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