This entry was the first of several stories I wrote in collaboration with a friend. We had very different styles of writing but she mostly prefered to edit what I wrote so most of the stories don't sound too much different from my normal ones other than there are commas where they should be, shorter sentences and better grammar. Most of the plot was frequently her suggestion with me doing the development. I loved doing stories this way and miss it a lot. It didnt' last long as she quickly lost interest as other things in her life pulled her in other directions but it was nice while it lasted.
Hal trudged down the sidewalk, watching for icy spots and tugging his coat a bit tighter around him in response to a frigid blast of wind. As he entered the florist shop, he found it refreshingly warm, although just as crowded as he had expected at 4 p.m. But nothing would make him miss getting Martha her special bouquet for Valentine's Day, as he'd been doing for over 40 years. He opened his coat to let the humid, fragrant heat of the shop soak in; and as he took his place in line, he looked around at the other faces, smiling at the one or two people who made eye contact.
Impressed at his cheerful demeanor in the light of their obvious lengthy wait, the young woman next to him struck up a conversation. "I see you waited until the last minute, too," she said.
Hal grinned and replied, "No, late afternoon is my usual time to buy Valentine flowers for my wife. She's always loved watching them open from beginning to end, so I have to be sure they're good and fresh when I present them to her!"
Her eyes widened slightly as she responded, "What a lucky lady she is, to have someone who cares about her that much, to be willing to stand in line every Valentine's Day! I sure know my husband wouldn't! In fact, neither would I, except I got tied up at work today."
Hal glanced down for a moment, and pushed his hands into his coat pockets; and with a wistful smile on his face, he continued. "Oh, I'm the lucky one; my Martha is one in a million. In fact, luck plays a little part in her special bouquet. The first twelve years of our marriage, I bought her one red rose on Valentine's Day for each year we were married. And when the next year came, she joked that I'd better stop with an even dozen, as thirteen roses might be bad luck. Butinstead, I got her one more that year--a yellow one--just to show her that we make our own luck. And ever since then, I've gotten her twelve red roses, plus one yellow one for good luck, on Valentine's Day."
When it was his turn to order Martha's bouquet, he saw that the clerk seemed very harried and uninterested in anything but getting through the line of customers, so he didn't expound on the meaning behind it. When his order was ready and wrapped for the cold, he did the same to himself, buttoning his coat up securely and pulling the collar tight around his neck. And as he left the shop, he was delighted with the cheery goodbye and smile he received from the young woman he'd met in line, and reciprocated in kind.
He shuddered as the warmth and comfort of the flower shop quickly drained out of him, and the icy wind gripped him once again. He walked two blocks to the bus stop, and as he arrived, he was thankful that the next bus was already in view. It was crowded with people going home from work, but it would be a short ride for him. He sat next to a young man in a suit who was busily talking on his cell phone, but who was also eyeing Hal's flowers. Ending his call, the young man turned to Hal and said in a disgruntled tone, "Oh that's right; it's Valentine's Day. I suppose I should pick up something for my wife."
Hal couldn't imagine the word "should" being attached to such a gift; it kind of defeated the whole purpose of it. He thought for a few seconds, and then replied, "I'm sure she would appreciate it. I love to get my Martha flowers for Valentine's Day, as I know how much she enjoys them." And then leaning a little closer, he added, "I've discovered over the years that when a wife knows you're thinking about her, and you have made an effort to do something extra... the pleasure she feels comes back to us in very special ways."
The young man said, "But flowers die in just a few days. Wouldn't something long-lasting be more practical?"
"Well, I guess everyone is different," Hal answered, "but for Martha and me, this bouquet has a significance way beyond just a bunch of flowers." He then related the story of the dozen red and one yellow rose. "Besides," he continued, "I'm sure your wife already has a lot of practical things; anybody can give her those. But when I get flowers for Martha, I'm saying she's worth something more. Even though some people think of them as a frivolous expense, I don't feel like I'm just giving her a thing; I feel like I'm giving her my love and attention."
Seeing that his corner was coming up, Hal rose and signaled the driver to stop. Before he headed to the door, he looked down and smiled at the young man and said, "I hope you and your wife have a wonderful evening tonight."
As he exited the bus, he thought of all the many years of Valentine's Day evenings he and Martha had shared. His presentation of flowers was just the beginning of their celebration. She always made him a very special meal, using a linen tablecloth and the good china, and it was accompanied by soft music in the background of a room illuminated only by candlelight. And the thirteen roses always sat at the center of the table while they ate, stopping their conversation now and then to fit in a quick hand-squeeze or a soft kiss.
As he passed through the gates of Hillside Cemetery, taking his usual path to Martha's grave, he decided he would tell her about the young man and woman he'd met today, and how he had shared the story of their special bouquet.