“I should have done the flowers.” Donovan Harcourt stared around the restaurant. At every turn, the vases fairly glowered at him. Bright yellow Gerbera daisies had been paired with orange zinnias and chrysanthemums to clash with the blue tablecloths. Bicolor roses festooned the bridal arch in shades of fuchsia and burgundy, and his daughter’s bouquet poofed outward with oversized hybrid lilies.
“It’s pretty bad,” Gwen whispered in agreement with her father.
They stood at the back, waiting for the music to change so they could walk down between the tables to the place where the groom waited in an appalling magenta corsage.
“Tell me you didn’t order these,” Donovan pleaded.
“Keep your voice down,” Gwen hissed. “No, of course I didn’t. You were with me when we met the florist. I don’t know what went wrong…yes I do.” Gwen shook herself out. “These are for the wrong wedding. But they were setup before we got here, and it’s a little late to tell Ken’s Mom she should have refused the delivery now.”
“But …that,” Donovan pointed at Gwen’s rounded nosegay. It belonged with a tall bride in a casual wedding. Giving a fat bouquet to his short, plump daughter detracted from her elegance. Her train was some four feet long, and he would have matched that dress with an arm drape filled with roses and gladiolas. He would have spoken his love in calla lilies, delphiniums, and orchids. These oranges, yellows, and reds were suited to a fall, not a winter affair. They were ruining Gwen’s new dress and making him think of all the wrong things.
“Daddy don’t,” Gwen said. “The flowers are fine.”
But they weren’t. Long after the vows had been spoken, long after the restaurant staff had carried in the long head table to replace the wedding arch and carried it out again to make room for dancing, Donovan was sitting alone, twisting chrysanthemums and thinking of his wife.
Gwen left a group of semi-drunken bridesmaids dancing the electric slide and joined her father. “Daddy,” she said. She took the chrysanthemums out of his hand, and suddenly they were both crying. “I just wanted you to be able to enjoy the wedding. I didn’t want you to have to think about details today,” she said.
He said, “Clara would have flayed that other florist alive for these.”
“Yes,” Gwen agreed. “And then she’d have been in a huff for the whole rest of the night. Mother held onto everything for hours. Everyone knows we wanted it different. Ken’s mother feels terrible for accepting the delivery. There’s nothing we can do to change it now.”
She wasn’t just speaking of these flowers. She was speaking, they were both thinking, of seven years ago, in the attic. Donovan took Gwen to a ballgame, and when they got home, there was a note on the table, “Don’t let Gwen find me.”
But he had failed in this, his wife’s last request, because he panicked and fled up the stairs with Gwen following fast behind him. Without consulting or so much as looking at each other, they had both known where Clara would go, what she would do. Father and daughter threw back the attic door together and found Clara’s blood spattered on the windows, her new pink dress stained irrevocably red, a bouquet of last year’s dead chrysanthemums dried brown and fallen at her feet.
How Donovan hated the chrysanthemums after that. Gwen didn’t seem to mind them, so he let her handle those orders these days, and he made a point to ornament the shop in other ways in the months when they would have been most common. He used zinnias and profusions of dahlias to mask this hatred of the most common fall bloom. Yet here they were halfway through December, interrupting the blue tables with orange. He would have used clusters of pink roses and blue nigella to complement the wedding’s theme.
Gwen repeated, “It can’t be changed, and I can’t let it spoil everything for me.”
Donovan smiled a little, “You’re right, of course,” he said.
Gwen used his pocket handkerchief to dab her smeared make-up and returned to her guests. As she walked away, the lights caught her hair, and Donovan realized she had tucked the chrysanthemums behind her ear while they were talking. She had not chosen the flowers, but she loved them. She had detached the four foot train, so now the dress bobbed along at her ankles as she kicked up her right leg to join the electric slide at a pivot. There she was, his daughter, married, laughing, and suddenly Donovan wanted nothing more than to dance with her dancing with all her friends. He got up and made his way along in her wake, the sight of her sliding and stepping rendering the flowers inconsequential.
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Kat challenged me with “Write a story about fatherhood with a florist as the main character and a new dress as the key object. Set your story in a restaurant. ” and I challenged ChrisWhiteWrites with “Write a story based on this sentence (which doesn’t have to appear itself in the final version): Now that he was an old man of thirteen, Stephen dressed like his father used to dress, drank coffee in the morning and spoke strongly to his sisters if they acted up.”