Isabel woke feeling refreshed and climbed out of the luxurious bed in anticipation of a wonderful evening. Her eyes rested on the clock on the nightstand.
“Four o’clock...hmmm.” she pondered thoughtfully. Dialing the front desk, she asked for the telephone number for their favorite restaurant and made a reservationfor nine o’clock that night.
“That should give them plenty of time to get here,” she thought.
Opening the curtains, she noticed a few faint stars already winking at her over the clock tower. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the twilight was casting long shadows on the sidewalk in front of the hotel. She was so thankful they had found a room for her on this side, facing Quincy Market. She loved to watch the varied scenes unfolding like acts on a stage, across from the hotel. There were street performers making tourists laugh with their tricks and antics, passionate musicians singing and playing their hearts out with guitar cases open in hopes of a generous donation, locals hurrying around, cutting through the market on their way to the “T” stop at Government Center.
A choir of voices sang a set of Christmas Carols in perfect harmony, asholiday shoppers heavily laden with too many bags, got a jump on their shopping a week before the traditional Black Friday ritual now only a little more than a week away. The Christmas lights strung up in the trees lining both sides of the street gave the whole scene a cheery, festive feel. She let her eyes roam over it all, coming to rest on the greenhouse and its row of pastel buckets that were filled with flowers of many varieties. In the summertime, those colorful displays were outside on the stone pathway in front of the shop, but now, as the season was changing and the weather turning cooler, she could just barely make out their shapes and colors through the steamy condensation on the inside of the glass. Feeling restless, she grabbed her coat and decided to go for a walk, intending to bring fresh flowers back to the hotel room.
Crossing the street in front of the hotel, she noticed how cool the evening air was, and how so many different aromas wafted around her, mingling in a pleasant alliance. The smell of coffee and hot chocolate from the little shop on the corner was so tempting, she put her hand on the door to push it open, but at the last minute she changed her mind, not wanting to ruin her appetite. She gave the cozy interior one last, longing look before letting the door go, smiling and shrugging her shoulders at the man staring quizzically back at her from the tall table by the window. He cocked his head at her ever so slightly with a grin and politely gestured toward the empty chair across from him, enjoying her funny look. She waved with a laugh as she turned away, shaking her head emphatically, no.
“Sorry, bud,” she mouthed from the other side of the window. “I’m soooo taken.”
The flower shop was warm and fragrant on the inside and she was amused to find the theme song to “Frosty the Snowman” playing in the background. “Happy birthday!” her heart sang, remembering the scene from the old Christmas cartoon. Little musical gifts like that seemed to follow her everywhere and she often thought of it as the soundtrack to her life. She loved the poetic magic of a good lyric and music was like a second language to her. She could quote the words to all of her best loved songs without even thinking and she had even written some that only she and Drew knew existed.
Wandering through the shop, she gathered a bouquet of flowers inher arms that complimented each other beautifully. She was particularly fond of roses and their scent in this greenhouse was rich and wonderful. The shop owner watched her, quietly choosing not to influence her.
“She has a very good eye for color,” he thought with appreciation.
She looked up at him several times, wanting to ask questions, but he was busy with other customers, in animated conversation. She was amazed at the sheer variety of flowers around her and when he was finished at last, she stopped to compliment him. He introduced himself as Sean Z. “But my friends just call me “Z, he laughed, and graciously took her out back to show her some of the more exotic species he used for weddings and funerals in and around Boston.
Isabel listened to him intently, interested in his very different lifestyle. Z had a wild head of hair, crazy curly in the most appealing way. He was tall and lanky and he had an animated way of speaking that was very engaging. His smile took up half his face when he spoke of the things he loved. He was completely passionate about all things flower and garden. He told her all about his little shop at the edge of the marketplace and how he had found himself feeling sad as the days of fall approached, bringing the growing season to an end.
“When I made the decision to open up a greenhouse, I never imaginedI would end up in the center of a bustling city like Boston, but I haven’t regretted it for one minute,” he told her.
He supplied all the fresh flowers for the concierge level rooms in the hotel she was currently staying in, as well as the bouquets that adorned the main lobby and special function spaces. He also supplied cut flowers to the Farmer’s Market around the corner and found himself quite busy throughout the year. As a result, he’d sold his little home on the river in New York and now owned an apartment a few blocks away, overlooking Boston Harbor. He kept a boat at the marina and spent all of his spare time out on the ocean, between Boston and Cape Cod.
“This city is a special place, Isabel. He crossed his arms and leaned against the counter. It’s full of heart; we have colorful characters, history, art, and music, all in a small geographical area, but it still retains its natural charm, with narrow streets overflowing with trees, plants, grasses and flowers. We have the beautiful harbor which affords me the ability to travel between here and Provincetown as well as the quaint islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. There are some amazing local seafood restaurants all within walking distance of my apartment. I love it here. Wouldn’t trade places with anyone in the world.”
Isabel smiled, believing him absolutely. She was surprised to find that a whole hour had passed and she sighed as she hugged him goodbye, careful not to crush her armload of flowers. Z had thrown in a few of the special ones from out back as a gift to her for taking such an interest in his life and she touched the beautiful bird of paradise and calla lilies gently, as she made her way back across the street to her hotel.
“I love it here too, Z,” she thought to herself, as memories of her honeymoon flooded her heart and lifted her spirits. It was going to be a great night.
She stopped at the front desk and asked if they might have a vase she could put her flowers in, flashing a brilliant smile. It worked. The manager sent housekeeping to find one for her and she gave him a big hug. On her way to the elevator, she stopped and took off her shoes, padding the rest of the way on the cold marble tile in her socks. She felt more connected to a place when her feet were touching the ground and she supposed it was a Hawaiian thing. Her father had taught her from a very early age to leave her shoes at the door and go barefoot or put on slippers. That worked just fine in a warmer climate, but here, her feet were always freezing. Still, she liked the feeling and even though she occasionally got a weird look from someone who didn’t know her, she didn’t mind. Some habits die hard, when they really aren’t worth killing. She spared this one…it made her feel like she was at home.
Checking her watch, she wondered whether they were in the air yet. She was beginning to feel restless and strangely nervous, longing to see her husband, but at the same time, wanting to run and hide. It was nerve wracking. She ran a bath and slipped into the steamy water, letting it soothe her gently. Leaning her head back she closed her eyes and thought about when they were kids.
John and his sister Carolyn had moved to the village when she and Annie were ten years old. He was a teenager by then and his sister was quite a bit older. His parents bought the Italian restaurant in town and set up the Patisserie out back that made all the bread for their restaurant and many of the surrounding restaurants as well. They also made the most delicious pastries… cupcakes, cannoli, cookies, turnovers, and the most beautiful wedding cakes she had ever seen. Annie and Izzy would walk there after school and stand in front of the big picture window, admiring the decorations on the latest cake. Carolyn would smile and wave and invite them in, allowing them to taste the frosting and giving them a cupcake to share. They whispered little girl secrets about weddings and grown up parties and once, Annie confided to Isabel that she would own the Patisserie herself one day and be as beautiful and sophisticated as Carolyn. Izzy never doubted her once.
On a warm day in early spring, the girls had come running around the corner and Isabel collided with John, knocking both of them to the ground and scraping her knee badly. He reached out a hand to help her up and when she looked at him, the sunlight framing his wavy dark hair from behind made him look like a wayward angel. Her stomach did flip flops and she managed to stammer a thank you before tripping off after Annie, who giggled about how embarrassing that was and could she please be a little more careful in the future. They both were laughing so hard, they didn’t notice Titus watching from the little cast iron table in the courtyard until he called to them. They stopped dead in their tracks thinking they were in big trouble for something.
His smile reassured them that they were not and they approached him shyly at first. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a bandaid with Mickey Mouse on the front. Motioning for her to come near, he tore the paper from one end and took the smooth white pieces off the sticky part, patting his knee. Isabel sat down on it and he carefully laid the bandaid over her scrape, pressing gently. She smiled at him and said, “My grandma has bandaids just like that! She lives in California now and they have earthquakes - BIG ones!” Titus smoothed the hair down her back and said, “I know, child.” She’s a good woman and she loves you, doesn’t she? “She tells me you like angel hair pasta? Is that true? It’s a smart girl who likes angel hair.”
Isabel nodded with a smile and didn’t find it the least bit strange that he knew her Grammy. She patted his cheek and said, “I like you very much, Titus.” Annie stepped up beside him then, and placed her hand on the box that was resting beside him on the table. She looked at him solemnly and he returned her gaze. “What’s inside of it Mr. Titus?” she asked.
“Stories, child.” He replied. “But they are stories from another time and for another day.”
Isabel got out of the tub and dried herself off, thinking hard about something. She remembered seeing a box just like it again recently, but she couldn’t remember where.
Far away in the village, Titus was closing up the library for the day. He had just finished the last entry and he laid the ink pen back in its little black case before carefully wiping each leather bound book and replacing them one at a time in the old cabinet with the etched glass face. The sun danced across the dust particles flying in the shaft of light coming through the front window. He turned to pick up the box that was illuminated brilliantly on the antique table, running his thumb over the four outside edges, feeling each and every line. He didn’t open it. Replacing it carefully beside the books, he closed the cabinet gently and turned the key in the lock. It was on the end of a long brown ribbon and he placed it over his head, resting the key safely against his beating heart. Closing the door softly behind him, he stepped out to the street, tipping his hat to the couple that walked by. He walked to across the street to the gazebo, and sat down at the table, looking out over the lake...
Waiting. For it was not yet time.