Reynie Muldoon is late for work. This isn’t exactly a rare occurrence – he’s a serial late-riser – but being best friends with his boss has its benefits.
The bookstore is mostly empty by the time he arrives – just Sticky and Constance at the counter, bickering about the recent movie adaptation of a book they’ve both read. A couple of customers are milling about, and there’s a girl waiting to make a purchase. She looks too scared to interrupt the argument unfolding in front of her.
“They absolutely butchered the book! They changed the characters and the ending with that practically CGI baby was just awful!” Constance is almost yelling.
“There wasn’t anything salvageable in the storyline anyway! The book is dull and the characters don’t develop that much. The first two were much more enjoyable,” Sticky says, frowning.
Reynie winces and quickly puts his apron on. The girl waiting to buy her books looks infinitely relieved to see him, so he puts on his best semi-professional smile and tries to ignore Sticky and Constance’s raised voices.
He doesn’t even have to say anything – he just raises his eyebrows and Sticky and Constance frown at each other, but go back to work. He’s about to go and put a returned book back in its place when the bell above the door chimes and another girl walks into the shop.
The girl is very pretty and very tall. She has long blonde hair braided down her back, and dark blue eyes which crinkle at the sides when she smiles brightly at him.
Reynie feels himself blushing, then reminds himself that he’s working and she probably just wants to buy a book and leave.
“Welcome to The Dust Jacket, would you like some help choosing a book?” he says, trying to sound cheerful.
“That’s a very tempting offer, but I’m not here for books,” the girl says, winking.
Reynie frowns, his face heating up even more.
“I’m Kate Wetherall, and I’m new to the area. I’m trying to introduce myself to most of the local shop owners by lunch.”
The girl – Kate – holds out a hand over the counter, looking extremely pleased with herself. She has an iron grip. Reynie feels like his arm is about to be pulled out of its socket.
“Reynie Muldoon. Enchanted,” he says, smiling through the pain.
Constance and Sticky materialise behind him.
“Constance Contraire,” she says, trying to look threatening. “And this is Sticky Washington.”
Kate grins at them and holds out her hands so she can shake both of theirs at once. Constance, politely declining, smiles and nods instead. She’d noticed Reynie’s pained expression. Sticky is not so observant. He cringes and looks hopelessly at Reynie.
Kate seems pleased, sticking her hands in the pockets of her coat and grinning at them all. “Pleased to meet you!”
“It’s a real honour,” Constance drawls, but the sarcasm is mostly lost on Kate.
It seems that Kate Wetherall is one of those people who never stops smiling. Reynie is blushing furiously by now, and it’s extremely embarrassing, made worse by the fact that Kate is exactly his type – tall, blonde, and nicer than should be humanly possible.
“Well, nice to meet you all!” Kate says, and turns on her heel to leave, but pauses and looks back. “Looking forward to seeing you again.”
It feels like she’s looking straight at Reynie.
Two days later, Reynie walks into work with dampened spirits. However –
There’s a single yellow chrysanthemum sitting prettily on the countertop. A white slip of paper is attached to the stem, and Reynie looks around to see if someone dropped it, but the bookstore is almost empty. He picks the flower up by the stem, and unfolds the piece of paper.
It’s a note, which reads:
Are you a magician? Because whenever I look at you everyone else disappears.
Reynie stares at the paper for about a minute before he fully comprehends what it says. He then turns a spectacular shade of red, tucks the chrysanthemum into the pocket of his apron, and goes to work, wondering who on Earth would be sending him flowers and terrible pick-up lines.
Reynie tries and fails to forget about the chrysanthemum. He knows he shouldn’t get his hopes up – he’s probably falling victim to one of Constance’s pranks, or Sticky is attempting to cheer him up. This doesn’t seem to stop him glancing hopefully at the countertop every time he comes back from a break.
Kate has come to visit the bookstore three times since she introduced herself (not that anyone’s counting, and especially not Reynie). She’d bought them coffee the first time, and upon finding out that Reynie and Sticky don’t drink it, had switched to bringing tea. She’s had conversations with the staff about their favourite books, and has even drawn a smile or two out of Constance.
It definitely oversteps the boundaries of “getting to know the locals”.
Reynie isn’t sure whether she does this to everyone or she just enjoys spending time with him, Sticky and Constance.
He secretly hopes it’s the latter. Every time Kate has come in he’s blushed a lot - whenever she smiles, when her shoulder brushes his, when their hands touch as she hands over his tea.
Reynie’s starting to feel like a love-sick teenager. He can’t stop himself hoping that Kate is the one who left the flower for him, even though there’s no way she could like him back after knowing him for a week.
Kate saunters in late one morning, carrying four takeaway cups – two of coffee and two of tea. She hands coffee to Constance and the tea to Sticky and Reynie. They’re all quite grateful, because the heater is broken and it’s cold.
It’s a slow day at the bookstore. People seem to have been put off by the downpour and the broken heating system.
Reynie turns to Kate, who is beaming and wearing a bright yellow raincoat. It clashes terribly with her hair and the green shirt she’s wearing underneath.
She launches straight into conversation, and Reynie nods along to what she’s saying, occasionally offering his opinion, but his mind is elsewhere.
“What’s got you off with the fairies?” Kate asks.
“Oh, nothing, really,” he says absentmindedly, continuing to stir his tea, which is starting to go cold. “Someone left a flower for me last Monday. A yellow chrysanthemum.”
He doesn’t have to elaborate. Kate seems to pick up that this is pretty big news for him.
“So they didn’t leave a name?”
Reynie shakes his head.
“Ah well, you shouldn’t get too down about it. Maybe they’ll leave another one,” Kate says, resting her chin on her hand. She seems far away now, too.
Kate seems sympathetic, taking a sip of her coffee. Reynie looks up at her, face framed by the soft yellow light globe above her head, and sighs internally. It’s so unfair.
He snaps out of it when Constance waves a hand in front of his face.
“Stop staring. You have no idea the amount of second-hand embarrassment I’m feeling right now.”
Luckily, Kate doesn’t notice – she’s checking a message on her phone.
“So,” Reynie starts shakily, trying to steer them away from Constance’s revelation. “You never mentioned why you moved here.”
Kate looks up, a slight frown on her face.
“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to,” Reynie says hurriedly.
“No, that’s fine. I’m here partly because of my dad – he moved last year, and we’ve been apart for ages because he was in the army. I guess I just wanted to spend some more time with him.”
Reynie’s face lights up.
“That’s really nice! I don’t have any family in the area – I’m just here for school.”
“What are you studying?” Kate asks, and puts down her coffee to stare intently at him.
“Creative writing. I’d like to be an author someday.”
“That’s pretty cool. I think you’d be a great author,” Kate is smiling fondly at him now.
Reynie feels his face heat up again. Constance coughs behind him.
“Don’t you have to get back to work?”
He looks away from Kate and at Constance, who has her hands on her hips.
“I’m not paying you to sit around and talk to Kate all day.”
“You’re not paying him at all!” Sticky yells from the back room.
“I have to get going anyway. Thanks for the chat!” Kate says, waving as she walks backwards towards the exit. “I’ll see you around, Reynie.”
He grins and waves her out the door.
Reynie spends the rest of the morning staring forlornly out the window and sighing a lot. Constance notices straight away, and gives him a knowing look. When Sticky asks her why Reynie’s behaving so strangely, she replies with:
“He can’t help it, George. He’s love-struck.”
Later in the week, a customer comes up to Reynie with a flower in his hands.
“Um, you’re Reynie, right? I found this on the coffee table over there and your name is on the card.”
“Oh. Thank you.”
Reynie takes the flower. It’s a white gardenia, and the note attached is on green cardboard. It reads:
Is there an airport nearby or is that my heart taking off?
He smiles softly to himself and looks out the window to the crowded street.
The third time is one day after a new shop has opened across the road. All Reynie knows about it is that it’s a florist with a ridiculous name, and he’s curious. Impressively, the shop has been set up in just under a week, but Reynie’s been busy with university and hasn’t been at work.
Constance decides that the three of them have to go and introduce themselves to their new shop-neighbours (or the competition, as she referred to them as).
Reynie, Sticky and Constance dash across the road (it’s pouring rain and they don’t own a single umbrella between them) and into the florist. Reynie almost misses the name on the sign at the front of the shop – Florist Gump. He has to stop for a second once he’s inside to catch his breath because he’s laughing so hard.
He can’t decide whether the person who came up with that name is a genius or has the worst sense of humour he’s even encountered.
Once he has his breath back, Reynie is overwhelmed by the smell of flowers. From what he can see, Florist Gump has a very large range of plants. There are colourful flowers lining the right wall and leafy, green houseplants interspersed between buckets of roses and bright bunches of tulips. There are small succulents and cacti on a bench in a corner, next to a sign that reads: Hipsters only. Reynie laughs at that.
There’s a girl with chin-length red hair and dark eyes sitting at the counter, reading a magazine. When she sees the trio come in, she puts the magazine down and smiles at them, even though they’re tracking water all through her shop.
“Welcome to Florist Gump, please excuse our terrible name, my boss has a really bad sense of humour. Is there anything in particular I can interest you in, or are you happy browsing?”
“Does your boss know you’ve been saying that to your customers?” he asks.
The red-haired girl snickers.
“Of course. We say it to her face all the time. So would you like some help choosing?”
Constance steps forward and holds out a hand, a winning smile on her face.
“Constance, and these are the losers I work with. We’re just over the road at The Dust Jacket.”
The red-haired girl looks like she wants to laugh, but holds out a hand anyway.
“I’m Isabel. That name is about a thousand time better than ours,” she says, then looks to Reynie and Sticky. “And who are you?”
As they’re introducing themselves, a boy pokes his head around the corner from the storeroom. He has unruly sandy-brown hair and sparkling eyes, and is wearing a jumper in such a garish shade of yellow that it hurts to look at it. He introduces himself as Will, the deputy manager.
“Isabel’s just our underling. She’s only really working here because her girlfriend owns the coffee shop up the street and this way they can run off together during breaks to do who-knows-what,” Will says, and winks outlandishly.
Isabel swats him with her magazine.
“Shut up, I love my job.”
“Whatever you say, sweetheart.”
Constance rolls her eyes.
“I’m leaving. It was nice to meet you both, I suppose.”
She turns on her heel and sashays out the door.
Reynie and Sticky are about to follow her, but Will stops them.
“You’re Reynie Muldoon, right? Look, someone ordered something for you, and I was going to deliver it this afternoon, but seeing as you’re here I’ll give it to you now.”
Will disappears around the corner, and Isabel looks at Reynie strangely.
“Were you expecting anything? It’s a pretty strange order, and we’ve been sworn to secrecy about who bought it. Just one flower – honestly, what’s the point?” she turns back to her magazine.
Will returns with a single pink camellia in his hands.
“We didn’t read the note, I swear.”
Reynie takes the flower, and Sticky looks at him strangely. He thanks Will and Isabel and is about to leave when Will puts a hand on Sticky’s shoulder and passes him a small white card. The card has a phone number written on it with blocky marker pen. Will winks dramatically again.
“Call me sometime, yeah?”
Sticky blushes furiously and nods, then he and Reynie are out the door and standing in the downpour.
When Reynie is back inside The Dust Jacket, he sneaks away from Constance (who is questioning Sticky about how on Earth he managed to get Will’s number after knowing him for approximately four minutes) and sits down on a couch in the corner.
He unfolds the note attached to the stem of the camellia. It’s wet, and the ink is starting to run, but he can still read the message:
You must be a hell of a thief because you stole my heart from across the room.
Reynie’s glad that he still gets a laugh out of the flowers even though they’re either a mean-spirited prank or a sympathy gift. He tucks the note in the pocket of his jacket and puts the camellia in a cup of water by the cash register.
The fourth flower is a yellow tulip resting on a copy of Pride and Prejudice.
The note reads:
Were you in Boy Scouts? Because you sure have tied my heart in a knot.
Reynie doesn’t get embarrassed this time. He takes the flower home and puts it in a vase by his bed. The note gets pinned to his fridge.
Kate shows up one day with Martina Crowe and a golden retriever in tow. She apologises for bringing both into Sticky’s shop, Constance rolls her eyes, and Reynie points to a table where she can tie the dog up.
Martina owns the coffee shop down the road, and is, as Constance puts it, a public menace. She regularly comes into the shop to buy trashy romance novels or self-help books which are apparently for a friend struggling to find love.
They find out that Martina wanted to come to “check up on her favourite nerds”, Kate has some free time to kill, and that the dog’s name is Steve.
Martina sits on the counter like a judgemental bird of prey, and criticizes the reading choices of all the customers trying to buy books. Kate apologies for her again, and Sticky looks like he wants to punch a wall.
To say he and Martina hate each other’s guts would be an understatement.
“You know that book contains more clichés than Love Actually, right?” Martina asks a woman who is about to make a purchase. She frowns, but buys the book anyway.
“Stop terrorising little old ladies,” Kate tells her.
“I’ll stop terrorising the elderly when you stop being blind,” Martina points a thumb over her shoulder in Reynie’s general direction.
Everyone pointedly ignores Martina.
Constance pushes her off the counter and Sticky glares at her back. Kate is peeking over the top of her book, trying not to laugh at Martina sprawled on the floor, dramatically proclaiming that she’s broken bones.
Reynie turns to help a customer find a copy of The Rosie Project, trying hard not to look back at Kate grinning with red cheeks and bright eyes. He sighs dramatically.
When Reynie comes back, Kate, Martina and Steve the dog are gone. There’s a book sitting on the couch where Kate had been, titled: The Secret Language of Flowers.
Reynie thinks nothing of it and puts the book back on the shelf.
He receives the fifth flower one day later – a white violet on the counter.
The note is different this time. It says:
Where do you hide your wings?
Reynie is alone when Kate appears at the door to the bookstore. They’re just about to close, and he told his co-workers to go home ten minutes ago. The bell chimes, and Reynie smiles at her as she comes in from the rain, shrugging off a blue raincoat.
“Hey Reynie,” she says, and there’s hope in her voice.
“Nice to see you,” he replies.
Reynie turns to face Kate.
“I think you need some flowers to brighten up the corner over there,” her voice is quiet, shy.
Reynie thinks he can feel his heart stopping.
“What do you have in mind?”
Reynie’s staring at her now, stepping slowly towards him. The soft orange light from the windows makes her hair look golden.
“Well,” she takes a shaky breath. “I was thinking daffodils.”
Kate takes another step towards him, smiling softly.
“Red carnations and azaleas.”
Reynie swallows the lump in his throat. Kate looks hopeful, inching closer and closer until her feet are slotted up against his and their noses are almost touching.
“Blue violets and red tulips.”
Reynie looks up into her eyes, and she’s smiling a half-smile that could mean anything and she smells like flowers and Reynie momentarily forgets how to breathe.
“Sounds like a pretty mixed bunch of flowers.”
“It’s more about their meaning.”
Reynie bites his lip.
“Red tulips mean a declaration of love,” he whispers.
“Yeah,” she glances down.
He doesn’t back away.
“What time do you have to be back in heaven?” Kate whispers, and it’s not really a question.
He’s smiling softly.
“Around nine,” he says, but his voice sounds shaky.
“I guess I’ll pick you up at seven, then? If that’s what you want, of course.”
There’s hardly any space between them now, and Reynie closes his eyes, because he’s pretty sure he knows what’s going to happen next.
Kate pulls away, and she’s grinning, and she starts to turn.
Reynie grabs her hand, and takes a deep breath.
“Your lips look lonely, would they like to meet mine?” he asks quietly, and surprises himself when he doesn’t blush or stutter.
Kate’s smile widens.
And so, Reynie takes the lapel of Kate’s coat in one hand and tugs her down towards him, and they are finally kissing.
They’re backed against the wall, her arms around his waist. He looks up at Kate, her eyelashes fluttering against her cheekbones, and he can feel her heart beating faster where their chests are touching.
Is it possible for a person to taste like flowers?
Kate arranges the bouquet, and throws in a few sprigs of mistletoe just so she can wave it in front of Reynie’s face and demand he kiss her even though it’s not even close to Christmas.
The bouquet is full of flowers that don’t match. It would be terrible by any florist’s standards.
“God, it’s hideous. You’d think her grand declaration of love would be nicer to look at,” Constance says, arms crossed.
Reynie puts the bouquet in a vase by the cash register anyway, and tells all the customers that he thinks it adds character to the shop. They get a few odd looks, but Reynie doesn’t care. Kate smiles every time she sees them.
She waves the mistletoe above his head and Constance makes a gagging noise. Sticky pretends not to notice and goes back to texting Will.
“Did I mention that I own a florist?” Kate asks teasingly.
“It may have come up in conversation once or twice,” Reynie replies.
Kate smirks, and then leans in to kiss him against the counter.
Customers of The Dust Jacket are still treated to regular displays of the employees flexing their debating skills, rude coffee shop owners questioning their reading choices, and blond boys with too much energy knocking over things.
Occasionally they’ll see a florist holding hands with one of the bookshop employees, or kissing him in front of the shop, or sharing hot chocolate on the lounge chairs.
And they’ll see a bouquet of half-wilted flowers in various unappealing shades sitting in a glass vase. The customers won’t think anything of it, other than that the bookstore has terrible taste in floral arrangements.