Ella sat quietly as she worked on her art project. She and her mother had bought wooden butterflies to hang in Ella’s room. As they worked together at the dining room table, the butterflies came alive with beautifully-colored paint and shimmering glitter. Maggie studied her daughter, who seemed entirely transfixed by the rose and sage paints before her. “I have a surprise for you,” Maggie whispered.
“What is it?” There was interest in the young girl’s voice, but her eyes never left the paint brush as it carefully stroked the wood.
Maggie smirked with excitement. She jumped up to her feet, ran to snatch a brochure from a drawer in the hutch behind her, and joyfully fell back into her chair.
“What’s that?” Ella finally looked up, curiously.
“Your surprise,” Maggie said as she handed her daughter the pamphlet. “I know you have missed the snow every winter since we moved here, and I’ve been able to save with business doing so well. It’s still a few months away, but I thought we would go up north for the holidays.” Maggie was about to burst with excitement, but her daughter remained calm. “Well? What do you think?”
“It’s great, Mommy. Thanks.”
“Ella? You don’t sound at all interested.”
“I am,” she faked a smile.
“You’re not. What’s going on? I thought you’d love this idea.”
“I do... It’s just...”
“Well, ever since I made friends with Daniel, it hasn’t been so bad here.”
“You just met him this year.”
“I know, but...”
“You don’t want to be away from him during the holidays.”
“Yeah. Are you mad?”
Maggie was disappointed, but she had wanted her daughter to make friends and feel comfortable in their new home. Finally, that wish had been granted. “Of course I’m not mad.” She reached across and held her daughter’s small hand in hers. “I didn’t realize just how close you and Daniel had become.”
“Well, I’m not sure we are. But I sure like him. I think he’s quirky.”
Maggie smiled. “Okay, we’ll stay here this year. But I want you to understand that we may not have this chance again for a while.”
“I know,” Ella turned back to her painting. “Mommy?”
“Thank you. It was a really cool idea.” Ella offered a big smile that warmed her mother’s heart.
“Why do you refuse to update your process?” The time had come again for the bi-weekly deliveries to the businesses on Main Street and Lilly had no qualms about criticizing how those deliveries were made.
“This is how Mom did it, and everyone loves it!”
“You mean everyone loves watching you drag around that rickety old cart.”
Ella sent Lilly a sideways glance.
“You know we take bets on whether a wheel is going to pop off that thing, or if it will be the handle that goes first.”
“Hey, Mom was able to convince the business owners that nothing attracts customers quite like fresh flowers. She got everyone to buy in and, to show her appreciation, she personally delivered every order.”
“She had one other employee. What choice did she have? At least she only had to fill the cart once.”
“Well, she loved it and I plan to continue the tradition, even if it does take two trips. Besides, I like taking the chance to chat and browse the shops.”
“Yes, you do that. Meanwhile, your overworked and underpaid employees will be slaving away right here.”
Ella rolled her eyes and stubbornly pushed open the shop door with her butt, carefully working the cart through. Vases rocked precariously, despite the carrying boxes wrapped around them for support. A few drops of water escaped their containers, rolling down the sides of the vases as Lilly snickered in the background. The back wheel turned sideways and jammed against the base of the door frame.
“Not again,” Ella said, her voice straining as she tried to control the cart. “Lilly, just turn that wheel right…” Lilly kicked the wheel and the cart rocked as it rolled onto the sidewalk. “There! And, I’m off!”
“Good luck,” Lilly said as the cart traveled noisily along the sidewalk.
Ella hadn’t seen Eric since their dinner a week ago, but she had been questioned on it every single day since. This morning, she gladly embraced this opportunity to talk to someone other than James and Lilly―who had both become obsessed with her relationship status.
Parked in front of the second to last shop on the street, Ella stacked her orders. Her employees argued, repeatedly, the value of a new cart but, try as they might, Ella preferred to balance the massive pile in her arms, just like her mom used to. With the first bundle of orders in hand, she carefully stepped onto the sidewalk and went into a little boutique.
“Good morning, Francy!” Ella said as she entered.
“Fresh carnations! Thank you, dear.”
“Of course!” Ella set all of her packages down as Francy placed the carnations in vases already prepared throughout the shop.
“Anything new this week?” Ella said as she browsed the many original pieces of jewelry and clothing that Francy and her daughter had designed.
“Oh, you would love these beauties Denise put together. Look at them,” Francy said as she handed Ella the blue and turquoise dangling earrings.
“These are lovely!”
“They would look just adorable on you. But, what wouldn’t! Although,” Francy said, pressing a finger against her lips.
“I know that look,” Ella said. “What are you up to?”
“How about a new necklace to replace that one around your neck? May I see it? That chain is so long, it creates quite a mystery.”
As Ella pulled out the locket and placed it in Francy’s hands, she wondered how many other acquaintances were curious what what dangled on the end of the long chain that disappeared into her shirt, hidden from view.
“This is quite nice. You don’t see many lockets like this one. What’s this?”
Without looking, Ella knew Francy had turned the locket over. “I-M-H-A-M-A,” she recited from memory. “I’m not sure what it means.”
“Hmm.” Francy released the necklace, which immediately found itself tucked away once more. “You’ve warn that for so long. Why not try out something new?”
“Oh, no, thank you. This was from a very dear friend. I couldn’t possibly replace it.”
“A childhood friend, yes?” She lit up when Ella gave a nod to confirm the suspicion. “Hmm, Lilly?”
Ella shook her head and answered with a coy smile as she absently viewed the jewelry.
“She’s been your friend ever since,” Francy paused in thought. “Oh, yes. That adorable little boy you used to play with. I remember, you were new in town yourself. You two spent quite a lot of time together.”
Ella kept her eyes focused and hands busy on the flowers, lacking any desire to think about old, lost times.
“It’s a shame what happened to that boy.”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t want anything? I have a necklace to match those earrings. What about a nice bracelet to match yours? We have plenty in teal, you know.”
Ella absently rolled the bracelet beneath her fingers. “Sorry, Francy. You know my rule.”
“No shopping while on the job,” they said together.
“Yes, I know. But I expect you to come back and visit me soon, and not for business!”
“Yes, Francy, I promise.” Ella gathered her packages and continued with the deliveries. “Have a wonderful day!”
“You as well, dear!”
Boxer Brother’s Hardware was next. Being brothers, Tom and Bill were always arguing about something. Mary, their accountant, had all but perfected the art of tuning them out. They were a couple of grumpy old men, at least 67 years a piece. Tom had never married, but Bill had a son who was anxious to take over the family business. He urged his father and uncle to retire and relax but Tom, the eldest, refused to leave his nephew in charge. And if Tom wasn’t going to retire, neither was Bill. And so continues their endless feud over who works when, where or how the displays should be arranged, should they charge more to make more or charge less to sell more. Poor Mary had to listen to it all day long with no one to vent to other than Bill’s old hound, Dozer. The two owners never ordered anything from Ella, but to make their lives a bit more cheerful she delivered to them anyway. Calla lilies to Mary; and a single yellow rose for the two brothers to share.
Ella leaned back into the shop door and braced herself. She took one last listen, soaking up the sounds of birds chirping, vehicles humming by, and voices engaging in chatter. Then, she stepped into the blizzard. The air inside the shop stirred as shouting rang between Tom and Bill.
“Ella! Will you settle this for us?” Bill grumbled from behind the counter, gesturing to Tom who stood at the end of one of the aisles, grasping a ‘Sale’ sign.
“Now boys, you know I don’t like to get in the middle of your disputes,” she said.
“Nonsense, this is no dispute.”
“Well, what would you call it then?”
“We’re having a discussion,” Tom said.
Ella simply shook her head and smiled as Bill continued.
“Now, hear this. I say the sale sign should be displayed above the items for sale, naturally. But this old geezer here,” he referred to Tom who gave, in return, a look that could stun an ox. “He thinks it should be there at the end of the aisle.”
“It’s more prominent here!” Tom argued his case.
“If you put it there, customers are going to think that entire shelf is on sale!”
With the two distracted with one another again, Ella escaped to the back office to find Mary who was skillfully hiding from her two crazy bosses.
“Oh, go jump off a lake!” Tom’s said, tempting laughter to merge from Ella’s lips.
“Go live in the home you crazy old man! It’s jump in a lake, not off it!” Bill said.
Ella pushed open the office door and Mary jumped up. “You brought me calla lilies! I can’t tell you how nice it is when you visit. Those two old grouches out there are enough to drive me bonkers!”
“Come on! You must be used to them by now?”
“Honey, try as I might, there is no getting used to those two.”
Ella lifted her boxes back off of Mary’s desk, careful not to tip the remaining vases tucked inside. “Well, I hope you’re able to get through the rest if your day.”
“Don’t leave me!” Mary pleaded.
Ella chuckled. “I have to, but know that my thoughts are with you,” she said as she backed out the door.
“Coward!” Mary joked.
On her way out of the shop, Ella managed to slip the rose, unseen, onto the counter between the two brothers. She was out the door before Tom’s eyes fell on the fragrant treasure. “She slipped on by us again,” he said to his brother.
“I’m not blind!” Bill retorted.
“Oh no? Then why didn’t you see her?”
“Why didn’t you! She sure is a sneaky one.” Their voices settled into a softer volume.
“Why a rose, do you think?”
“I don’t know.” The two pondered quietly over this for a moment, as they always did.
Mary leaned back in her chair and enjoyed the brief moment of silence. “Ahh,” she sighed.
“Maybe it symbolizes something. Like, her love for me. She always did see me as a father figure,” Bill said, sweetly.
“She did not!” Tom exclaimed. Mary dropped her arms down along the side of the chair as if in forfeit when she heard them start up again.
“Well, what then? It can’t be about you!”
“Maybe it’s because roses have thorns. This one here signifies the big thorn you are in my side.”
“That’s it!” Bill yelled. “I’m removing you from my will!”
“I’m in your will? How thoughtful... You big pansy! I don’t need to be in your will...” and just like that, a new fight picked up where the other had left off.
The café was next. Since the new business was officially open, Ella was able to make the delivery herself. She dropped off the brightly colored gerbera daisies, chatted briefly with the manager-who had graciously forgiven her prior clumsiness-and continued on to the bookstore and other shops that followed. With all but one package delivered, Ella made her way back to the cart. The final package was for the antique shop. The owner, Mrs. Denson, preferred to talk with Ella on these days, but she wasn’t in yet. Ella carried Mrs. Denson’s pink roses as she peeked in on the shops to her right. She passed by the bookstore and waved to Mrs. Emile who sorted books inside. And as she walked by the large window of the café, Eric popped out of the door.
“Oh, hi!” he said.
“Good morning!” Ella replied. “I haven’t seen you around lately.”
“No, I know. Sorry about that. I really didn’t mean to brush you off.”
“Suuuuure,” Ella replied sarcastically.
“Really. You remember me telling you about my grandmother I’m here visiting?”
Ella felt her stomach sink and guilt tighten around her heart. “Oh no, is she alright?”
“She had a couple of rough nights, but she’s doing much better now. I’ve been there taking care of her.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”
“It’s fine. I just don’t want you to think that I blew you off.”
“No, I understand.” They stood in silence for a moment. Finally, Ella sought to change the subject. “I never pegged you for a coffee drinker.”
“I’m not... Green tea,” Eric corrected her as he lifted up his cup.
“Well, I’d better get going. I’ve missed all of my appointments for the past few days and need to make it up to my clients.”
“Okay. See ya.” As Eric passed Ella to continue on his way, the wind turned and a whiff of his cologne stirred her senses. Suddenly and without control, Ella called out to him. “By the way, do you think you might want to go out again sometime? I’m sure you could really use a break.” The words flew out of her mouth before she could even think them.
“Yeah, that would be great. Just give me a day or two to catch up on work.”
“Okay. Well, I’ll see you then… then.” They both started to walk in the same direction, until Eric stopped. “Weren’t you going that way?”
Ella looked around. Realizing how she had allowed herself to get caught up in the moment. “Right! Thank you!” She continued down the sidewalk again, this time in the direction of the antique shop. Eric stood for a moment, watching her in wonder. She was quirky and unpredictable and maddening, but sometimes he wanted nothing more than to lean in and kiss her.
After all deliveries were made, Ella picked up an early lunch for her employees. ‘Lunchfest’ is what they called it. Lunch food to be eaten no later than 10 a.m. As Ella dropped the food on the counter, Lilly handed her a flyer. “What’s this?” she asked.
“You need a dog,” Lilly said.
“Yeah, so… What’s this?”
“A flyer from a lady who has dogs. Go get one.” Lilly swept her lunchfest away to the office, leaving Ella to ponder this proposal.
“Hmm, maybe I will.”
After leaving the shop, Ella found herself driving along the outskirts of town. The winding roads, cocooned in a canopy of leaves generated in her a feeling of being nestled, hugged almost. The trees and underbrush burst with the richest green, natural, confident, freeing. Windows rolled down, Ella breathed deeply, welcoming the sights and smells of nature. Eventually, she found herself at a stranger’s door.
“My name’s Wendy.” The woman introduced herself with a vigorous handshake. “I don’t normally breed dogs,” Wendy said as she led Ella to her back yard. “In fact, I didn’t mean to this time. I was told both of my dogs were fixed, but here we are.” She gestured toward a box on the patio.
Ella bent down to look at the puppies climbing over each other inside the box. “They are all so sweet!” she said as she reached in and let the puppies tickle her hand with their tiny tongues and soft, fluffy hair. As soon as she did this, one of the larger dogs came running over with a less than threatening bark.
“That’s Doc,” Wendy said. “―Their daddy.”
“Oh! Hello Doc,” Ella turned to pet him. “You made some cute babies!” Doc sniffed Ella for a bit and then, deciding to trust her, ran off to play in the yard, allowing Ella to return her attention to the puppies. “What are they called?”
“Pekingese. They won’t get bigger than Doc over there.”
“Perfect! I don’t have much more room in my apartment.” One of the puppies jumped up and put his paws over the edge of the box, licking every inch of Ella’s hand.
“Looks like this one likes you!”
Ella smiled and kissed the puppy’s head. “I’ll take him!”
Ella bundled the puppy up and swept him away to a pet store before heading home. With the leash in one hand and a bed, blanket, toys, food, and treats filling both arms, Ella made her way down the driveway and across the yard in front of her home. She peeked over the mass of supplies in her arm to see Eric coming her way. Ducking her head behind the supplies, she struggled to maintain her balance.
“Hey!” he said. “Get a new dog?”
Ella turned her body so she could see around her armful of puppy things. “Yep. I’ve wanted one for a while and a lady came into my shop looking for owners. Lilly, very subtle, encouraged me. You wouldn’t happen to want one? She has a bunch.”
“No, thanks. My schedule is too hectic for that.” Eric bent down to pet the puppy. “What did you name him?”
The puppy began barking as another dog that approached along the sidewalk.
“Yup, Doc’s Son.” Ella tugged gently on the leash to quiet her new pet’s barking “Shh, calm down boy.”
“You named a dog after a different type dog?”
Ella looked confused. “What? No. Doc’s Son.”
“Are you saying ‘Doc’s Son’ or ‘Doxen’?”
“What are you saying?” Eric said, thoroughly confused.
“Doc’s… Son… He’s Doc’s son.”
“Would you quiet that dog down!” a neighbor shouted, impatient over the noise.
“Sorry Mrs. Roslyn!” Ella called before quieting her voice to speak to Eric. “I don’t know how that woman ever survived her six children; she can’t stand to hear anything above a whisper.”
“I heard that!”
“Sorry Mrs. Roslyn!”
Eric bent down and pet the dog until he calmed his bark. “Sit,” Eric commanded, pressing gently on his backside. The dog sat.
Ella looked at Eric blankly, wondering how he already had such power over her new dog.
“You have to explain about the name,” he continued.
“His father’s name is Doc. It’s a play on words- You know I really should get inside.” Ella shifted as the load she carried grew heavier.
Eric looked up to see Ella beginning to tip. She lifted one of her knees to push everything up further into her arms. “Can I take something from you?” he asked, standing up to search for sight of her passed the supplies still teetering in her arms.
“Oh no, I’ve got it,” she said as Doc’s Son ran around at seeing how near the other dog had become. He started barking and Ella turned to see what was going on. She stepped back and tripped over the leash, which had wrapped around her legs, sending her onto her back in the grass.
Eric tried to catch her, but she was already out of reach. “Are you alright?” he said, kneeling down by her side.
Ella pushed off the dog bed and bag of food that had landed on top of her. “Wow, I’m striking out with the whole dog thing already.”
“You know you could have brought the dog inside and come back out for this stuff.” Eric offered his advice, along with a hand to help the clumsy woman to her feet.
“Well, aren’t you Mr. Do-It-The-Easy-Way,” she teased as she took his hand and let him pull her up. Ella looked around in search of her new companion. “Where’s Doc’s Son?”
Eric nodded in the direction Doc’s Son ran in when Ella fell. “I think he found a new friend.”
Ella looked to see Doc’s Son playing with the puppy who had caught his attention. She excused herself and went over to retrieve her dog.
Eric watched her go, not realizing the effect that seeing her again had on his smile.