SHELLY'S WORLD FICTION ... The Happy Store # 29 - The Magnificent Bouquet

Updated 8 weeks ago By Shelly Reuben
SHELLY'S WORLD    FICTION ...  The Happy Store # 29 - The Magnificent Bouquet

Clementine tests Walter’s patience in her 29th adventure at The Happy Store.

 

Trust. Distrust. And validation. All three permeated the atmosphere of The Happy Store that Friday like threads woven into one of the ribbons in Clementine’s father’s ribbon factory.

On the trust front, there was Athena Eliopoulis, second-in-command to Walter Graybill, the store manager. Although statuesque, boldly beautiful, and reserved, Athena sometimes exhibited a surprisingly laissez faire attitude toward customers, allowing, as she said, “Whatever is going to happen, to happen.”

She was thinking, that day, of Shepherd Chapman, whose frequent visits to the store and often eccentric behavior had endeared him to most of the staff. Walter, however, was not one of Shepherd’s fans. He thought the man was annoying, time-consuming, and not worth the trouble.

When he came into the store at 11:37 a.m., Walter said “Good morning” in a manner neither more nor less courteous than to anyone else. Then he disappeared behind the scented candle aisle to rearrange diffusers on hidden shelves.

Athena, who was wrangling spring pillows, many of which featured bunnies popping out of baskets and colorful trees bearing Easter eggs, smiled at the newcomer. She called, “Clementine,” and with a nod of her head in Shepherd’s direction, indicated that the sales associate should offer to help.

Clementine greeted Shepherd in front of the Bloom Shop.

What, you may ask, is a Bloom Shop?

Well, it’s a pretty name on a pretty sign that hangs from the ceiling over an explosion of manmade flowers so gloriously colorful and perfectly crafted that, but for the absence of scent, one could be fooled into thinking that he or she was at a Paris flower market on a spring morning on the Champs-Elysees.

With her usual lack of preamble, Clementine said, “Hi. I’m Clementine. What’s your name?”

The man she addressed had a smooth, unlined face and wore a cowboy hat, which she later discovered covered a baby-bottom bald head. Wearing it, he looked like a good natured if slightly over-ripe boy. When he took it off, he looked twenty years older. The rest of his attire was unexceptional, except for the bedroom slippers on his feet.

He stuck out his hand and said, “Shepherd Chapman.”

“Well,” Clementine said, shaking it warmly. “That’s not a name I’m likely to forget. What can I do for you?”

“Nothing.” His smile was amiable. He grabbed a huge verdigris Grecian urn off a nearby shelf and added, “Just stay out of my way.”

Over the next hour, extracting a multitude of stems from Bloom Shop vases, Shepherd Chapman meticulously arranged stargazer lilies, white magnolias, pink cherry blossoms, eucalyptus sprays, and sprigs of wild coral in the Grecian urn.

Three times during that hour, Walter pulled Clementine aside and whispered, “Get rid of him.”

She, in turn, nodded. But fascinated by Shepherd’s progress, instead of brushing him off, she helped him to create. When he was finished, Clementine said, “It’s gorgeous. But the urn is too heavy for me to lift. Help me carry it to the cash register, and I’ll ring you up.”

To which Shepherd cheerfully replied, “Oh, Honey. I’m not buying it.”

“Then why…?”

“I thought the place needed jazzing up.”

Suddenly, Clementine felt familiar eyes boring through the back of her head. She turned. Walter, his handlebar mustache twitching, bestowed upon her an incinerating glare.

But Walter was as wrong as he was right. And Athena, who had known the bald faux cowboy for years, could have predicted what his next words would be. He said, “I came here to order that eighty-inch Roanoke walnut dining room table at the front of the store. I want the six matching chairs, too.”

Half-an-hour later, Shepherd thanked Clementine for her help, winked at Athena, tipped his Stetson to the world at large, and flip-flopped (bedroom slippers leave little room for dignity) out the front door.

Suddenly standing beside the bewildered sales associate, Walter, growled, “See? I told you so.”

Clementine nodded.

He jutted his head toward the urn.

“Now take out all of the flowers.”

Appalled, she responded. “Oh no, Walter. It’s so pretty.”

“Maybe it is. But they aren’t saleable in that…”

However, he never finished the sentence, because Eleanor Dardanelle, seemingly out of nowhere, materialized less than three feet away. You may remember Eleanor from last year when she (long ago a Happy Store employee) slipped behind the counter during Clementine’s first week at work, and on the busiest Saturday of the Christmas season, helped the overwhelmed neophyte to ring up sales.

Sleek, stylish, and looking like the socialite wife of a millionaire, which she was, Eleanor put one hand on either side of the urn, and with a determined look in her eye, said, “Thank God! I thought I’d never find anything good enough for the Children’s Hospital Benefit Auction tonight. I’ll take it. Just the way it is.”

And so the day ended.

With Walter’s distrust of Shepherd’s motives in the Bloom Shop validated.

With Athena’s trust in Shepherd’s ultimate worth as a customer affirmed (the dining room set cost over two thousand dollars.)

And with the value of Shepherd’s flower arrangement acknowledged. For at the Children’s Hospital Benefit Auction that night, the winning bid for his magnificent bouquet was twenty-five thousand dollars.

And the man who made that bid was …

Well, you already know who it was.

Wearing a cowboy hat, a tuxedo, and bedroom slippers, it was our old friend, Shepherd Chapman.

Of course.

Copyright © 2020, Shelly Reuben - Originally published in The Evening Sun, Norwich, NY - evesun.com Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her books, visit www.shellyreuben.com.

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