The bell above the shop door jingled brightly. Putting a smile on her face, Angela Taylor set aside the bouquet she’d been working on and turned.
“May I help --"
She stopped short, blinked, and glanced at the bell.
No one stood before the tall, wooden counter.
Angela might have worried that she’d lost her mind if it hadn’t been for the chubby little hand reaching up. She smiled and leaned over the counter. A small boy with big blue eyes and a huge smile looked back at her.
“I want to buy some flowers.” He opened his hand to show her the gleaming copper pennies he held. “Lots of flowers.” His smile grew bigger and brighter. “For Valentine’s Day.” The boy turned his hand over and let the coins drop to the counter.
Angela’s heart ached. She recognized the child. Jared Manning. He lived with his father in the little house next door to the florist’s shop. A year before, on a cold January day, both Angela and the shop owner had stayed busy making floral arrangements for Suzanne Manning’s funeral. Only twenty-seven, Jared’s mother had lost control of her car on an icy hill.
Sadly missed by husband and son ...
Angela saw Jared almost every morning when she came to work. She made a point to smile and wave. He always returned her greeting with a smile of his own.
“Hi, sweetie. “ She peered down, barely able to see beyond the tears welling in her eyes. Maybe she could find a few less-than-perfect blooms -- ones destined for the trash bin -- and gather them up for the child. “Let’s see what we can do,” she suggested.
Jared nodded. “My mommy’s in heaven. Did you know that?” He didn’t wait for a reply. “My daddy says she’s still watching over us. He says she’s in our hearts.”
Angela cleared her throat, afraid her tears would spill down her cheeks. Touched by the thought of this brave little boy buying flowers for his mother in heaven, she silently vowed to create the perfect bouquet. No less-than-perfect blooms would do. No wilted stems or mis-shapen blossoms. Only the best for this cherubic little angel.
She stepped out from the behind the counter and held out her hand. “Let’s look around a bit. You can tell me which flowers you like best.”
He smiled and placed his hand in hers. “I think I like those.” He pointed toward the roses, then shook his head. “I don’t know. What do you like?” Big blue eyes looked up at her.
“Oh, I like roses,” Angela assured him. “I think every woman likes roses. What color?”
Jared shrugged. “I don’t know. What’s your favorite?”
She opened the display case and took out several yellow roses. “How about these?”
He grinned. “Yeah, I like those. And maybe some of those flowers over there?”
Angela winced when he pointed toward the orchids.
“Do I have enough money for them?” Jared asked.
“Yes, honey.” She would gladly cover the cost. Although she barely made enough money to pay her bills and put food on the table, her financial woes didn’t matter. She could pick up a few cans of tuna on sale next week. Live on ramen noodles and peanut butter sandwiches. Whatever it took, Jared would have the bouquet he wanted.
He scurried through the shop, pointing here, pointing there, and Angela followed along, plucking only the most perfect blooms for Jared's bouquet.
The bell above the door jangled again and a harried-looking older woman burst in.
“Jared Michael Manning! There you are! I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” She rushed across the shop and swept him into her arms.
“I told you I wanted to get some flowers, Granny. Didn’t you listen?”
She ignored Jared and turned toward Angela. “I’m sorry if he’s been bothering you."
“No, he hasn’t been a bother at all.”
“I look after him, you know, while his father is working.” the grandmother said. “Sometimes it’s a little hard for me to keep up with him.” She let out a long breath. “If he comes over here again, just send him back home, all right?”
Once again the bell jangled and through the door came Missy Cadwallader, the shop’s owner. She’d been out making deliveries all morning.
“Do you have the next round of orders finished?” she asked, glancing toward the unfinished bouquet on the worktable. “What are you doing with those flowers in your hands?”
Jared’s grandmother took that as her cue to leave. With Jared safely in her arms, she waved good-bye and hurried out.
Angela stared down at the roses, the orchid, and the crazy assortment of other colorful blossoms.
“Working on a special order,” she said, returning to her workstation.
Missy went to the receipt book. She frowned. “I don’t see any new order written up. And what about the arrangements you're supposed to have ready? You know this is going to be a busy day."
Angela nodded. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll get back to work right now.” She placed Jared’s special bouquet in a vase of water, then returned to her work table.
“Who’s the special order for?” Missy asked. She grabbed a pencil and jotted down a few notes. “It’s going to run $119.75. Did you get payment in advance?”
“It's mine." Angela lifted her chin. "I’m paying for it. Take it out of my check.”
Missy sighed. “What’s going on?”
While Angela worked, she told Missy about Jared’s visit. “He’s buying a bouquet for his mother. In heaven.” She brushed away a tear.
“No, he’s not. You’re buying a bouquet.”
“Well, you know what I mean.”
“You’re a real bleeding heart, I swear." Missy rolled her eyes. “It’s your money.” She began packing the boxes as Angela finished each Valentine arrangement. “Off for the next round of deliveries. I’ll be back in about an hour.”
Throughout the day, Angela continued working. From time to time she glanced toward Jared’s unfinished bouquet. She was a real bleeding heart, all right. She couldn’t afford to pay such an exorbitant price. And the sweet little boy next door had probably forgotten all about it. Maybe it would be best to put the roses back in the display, the orchid, too and the other flowers, as well.
Angela reached for the roses, then drew back her hand. She couldn't do it. It didn’t matter how much it cost. A child’s love was priceless. Jared would get his bouquet.
For the rest of the day, Angela smiled as she worked. She could hardly wait for quitting time. Once the shop closed, she turned her attention back to Jared’s bouquet. She added in a bit of baby’s breath, a few sprigs of ferns. She carefully arranged the flowers, tied a yellow ribbon around the vase, and re-figured the cost to include all she’d added.
Don't worry about how much it costs. It will be worth it.
Wrapping the bouquet carefully, she bid Missy good-night and stepped outside. She turned toward the little house next door and hurried toward it, anticipating the happiness she would see on Jared’s face when she handed him his bouquet.
She knocked at the door, expecting the boy’s grandmother to answer. Instead, when the door opened, a handsome, blond-haired man stood in front of her. He looked very much like an older version of Jared. His blue eyes held a touch of sadness.
“You must have the wrong house,” he explained, nodding toward the bouquet in her hands. “I didn’t order --“
“Daddy! My flowers! They’re here!” Jared dashed past his father and ran to Angela. He jumped up and down, shouting for his father to look. “See, Daddy! I bought all these flowers!”
Angela bent down and carefully handed the bouquet to the boy. Her heart felt as though it might burst with joy. She turned and walked back toward the store. Her car was parked in the lot behind the red-brick building.
“Hey! Miss! Wait a minute.” Jared’s father called after her. "I don’t know what this is all about," he said when she turned around, "but --“ He stopped and looked down. Jared was pulling on his sleeve. “What is it, son?”
He handed the bouquet to his father. “You’re supposed to give the flowers to her.” He pointed in Angela’s direction.
“Well, yes, that’s what I’m trying to do.” He came to her. “I have no idea why you brought these flowers over --“ He stopped again. As before, Jared stood at his side, tugging at his sleeve.
“Now, you ask to her be your valentine.”
“Jared, what --“
“She picked out all her favorite flowers.” His chubby face glowed. “I made sure she got just what she wanted.”
Angela’s mouth fell open. She looked at Jared. “I thought you wanted the flowers for your mother.”
“She’s in heaven,” Jared said, pointing toward the evening sky. “And in our hearts, too,” he added. “But since she’s in heaven, I don’t have any way to give her flowers.” He looked at Angela and then at his father. He pointed at Angela again. “But, she’s here, Daddy, and I think you’d like her. She always smiles and waves to me. And don’t you think she’s pretty?”
A deep blush heated Angela’s cheeks. She didn’t know what to say.
“Yes, Jared, I think she’s very pretty.” Jared’s father looked into her eyes.
“Give her the flowers, Daddy.”
“I don’t even know your name,” the man said, his voice soft and gentle. “But maybe we could get to know each other. I think I'd like that. I’m Robert, by the way. Robert Manning.”
Jared tugged again at his father’s sleeve. “The flowers.” He reached up, took the bouquet from his father’s hands and let out a very long, important-sounding breath. “Here’s how you do it, Daddy.” He held the flowers out toward Angela. “Will you be his valentine? Please? Ever since Mommy went to heaven, he’s been all alone. Well, except for me. But we’re both alone. So I just thought maybe --“
Robert stepped forward. “Jared, I think I can handle it from here.” He grinned at his son, then smiled at Angela. “This is a little awkward, but will you be my valentine, Miss --“
“Miss Taylor. Angela Taylor.” She lifted the bouquet and inhaled the sweet fragrances.
“I will pay for the flowers, Angela.”
“No need to do that.”
“We can talk about it, I suppose.”
She smiled. “I think I’d like that.”
“So, will you be my valentine, Miss Angela Taylor?"
She smiled again. “I think I’d like that, too.”
Angela and Robert exchanged glances. No one could know what the future might hold or where this impromptu meeting might lead. But it didn’t matter, did it? Life was short, and every moment deserved to be lived and enjoyed to the fullest.
That’s what really counted in life. Making the most of whatever life handed you.
Angela looked at Jared's bouquet and smiled once more.