When the shop bell jingles, I know who it is without looking: my most faithful customer. Someone I know and don't. Like a wraith, he appears each February at my flower shop. And though I should know his name, I don't.
It was a rainy afternoon, 1990. I was closing my weeks-old shop when a guy my age eased in just as a gale swept across the river. In just a Cornell sweatshirt and cutoffs, he seemed impervious to Oregon's winter.
"Your shop is on Lovejoy," he said. "Love. Joy. How can I order wrong?"
His order was wrong, though: As I arranged his roses – careful of thorns – he asked for six more pinks. Please.
In my cooler, I had no pinks. A backlash against reds had built among Portland's young set that year; every order for roses was for pinks. I'd offer him a mix. Reds and pinks – so hip!
Except I had no reds! No roses at all!
Embarrassment strangled me. "I'm out."
"But you're a new store." He was grinning and kicking his hacky-sack.
"I've been lucky since opening. I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize for your success." He could've been condescending, but wasn't.
"I'll add delphiniums and ferns. The blue, green, and pink would be lovely."
"She'll love it."
I also added some of my best lilies – no charge – and hoped she did love it.
That was the first of 20 orders. Today, I'll fulfill the 21st. He has long since traded his cutoffs and hacky-sack for Brooks Brothers and BlackBerry. Gray threads his chestnut hair; lines spider from his blue eyes. I still don't know his name.
"I need two dozen," he says.
"Reds? Pinks?" I sweep three gray hairs from my forehead and think about that haircut I promised myself nine months ago.
I've six pinks that will be exquisite with reds.
The pinks will be exquisite by themselves.
In the City of Roses, I'm out of roses. I knew my rose inventory was thin, but I never thought I'd sell out. No one buys roses anymore.
My cheeks burn. "I have six."
"I'll blame Cupid," he says.
I exhale and begin stripping stems.
"I've always thought Cupid was a slacker, haven't you?" he asks.
I nod, eyes on the arrangement, still avoiding thorns. I'll add more lilies and delphiniums. This will be the most beautiful arrangement ever made for a woman I know does not exist.
"I mean, if Cupid weren't lazy, there wouldn't be so many lonely people," he says.
I nod again, wondering how long we'll play his sweet, sad game. I add the last lily, praying for the day when he tells me a name.
Maybe she'll love daisies.
First published: February, 2011
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