It might have been a lie. In truth, I didn’t know how long ivy plants lived and I’d had Lily Junior since I was eighteen. She was close to her prime, but regardless, I didn’t want to give up on the one accomplishment I had in life.
I shook the pot again, just a fraction this time, but enough three brown, crispy leaves fell from her stems and floated to the dingy tile floor of my shop.
Lily Junior was my namesake. She’d been a present from the same grandmother who left me the Pelican Bay flower shop in her will a few months earlier. She sat on my desk at Valiant Industries—the company I worked for right out of college. Lily Junior and I had history.
She was the only thing I’d ever successfully kept alive for more than a few months.
The goldfish, Steve, I bought my freshman year of college?
Little Pointy, the tiny cactus my ex-boyfriend gave me on our two-year anniversary?
Just like our relationship.
I’d even struggled to keep a Tamagotchi alive when I went through a retro phrase in high school.
I didn’t have an outstanding track record.
My mother didn’t trust me with a cat or dog, and if Lily Junior died?
Forget me having children.
But all of those issues paled in comparison to the big, big, big one. I was now the proud owner of the local plant and flower shop in Pelican Bay, which meant I needed to keep plants alive. I couldn’t kill Lily Junior because I’d be a laughingstock in the plant community. How would I sell plants to people if I couldn’t keep them alive? No one would trust my advice. There’d be plant madness.
I’d have to retire in disgrace and I was too young to retire.
So far, I hadn’t even figured out if there was a plant community, but just in case, I didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot. I imagined they were a discerning crowd.
My gaze fell to Lily Junior once again, and I sighed. “Live, damn you.”
I’d be a failure before I’d even gotten started unless something changed and soon. The whole flower shop was crumbling around me, and I knew nothing about running this type of business. When I heard my grandmother, Rose, left me the shop, I imagined a bright beautiful greenhouse full of natural sunlight and gorgeous healthy plants of all varieties. I’d intrinsically learn how to take care of each one without having to kill a few hundred as practice. Plants were in my blood. Right?
I shook my head. The whole fantasy swung in a hazardous direction, and I needed to grab on to my future and steer it properly. Toward prosperity and healthy green things.
The building where I expected plants to flourish was bleak, and while it had three good windows, a gargantuan building blocked the biggest, best sun-facing one. They were constructing a mini skyscraper right beside my shop, and it ate up all the good sunlight for the plants. The only window not at least partially blocked was my front one, and it had horrible light flow.
I ordered a few rolly carts, and during the day wheeled the worst of the plants out to the sidewalk to catch rays, but winter was fast approaching. I didn’t know if they’d make it through the cold months. I couldn’t use that method and hope for the best in January. None of us would survive Maine’s cold winter in those conditions and grow lights were too pricey for the number I’d need.
At least until sales grew.
Some plants were going to die.
A slow and painful death.
Some of them definitely were not making it to the new year. Even still, I hadn’t reached a full low. I had further to fall. Worse case scenario I’d have to eat crow and ask for help. But not yet.
I’d make a few sacrifices—eat Ramen and carry plants around with me to the best windows—but I wasn’t ready to make the important phone call at the particular moment. Not yet.
I’d hold on for a while longer.
I didn’t want to ask for help. Especially from him.
A bang rattled the windows at the back of the shop, and I rolled my eyes, casting a glare at the building being constructed next door. Not only were they stealing my light, but I constantly had noise disruptions.
Plants needed peace. Or at least the person in charge of growing them did.
Another bang, this one softer. It didn’t vibrate the windows, but I still scowled at the back of my store. When I left Michigan for a better life in Pelican Bay, my plans of owning a flower shop looked a hell of a lot different than they were currently.
But I wouldn’t fail. Not until I absolutely had no other choices. I tightened the messy bun on top of my head, where I shoved my dark brown strands earlier that morning and squared my shoulders. Lily Dianthus didn’t give up without a fight.
Besides, my ex-boyfriend Mark offered to cosign a personal loan for fifty thousand dollars to help me make improvements to the shop and pay bills while I get a handle on things. At the time, I turned down the offer, but as the days grew longer, it looked more likely I’d have to take him up on the loan if I wanted any plants left to sell in the spring. But not yet. He was a last resort.
Mark wasn’t a bad guy or boyfriend. In fact, our relationship had been fine. We just didn’t want the same things in life. He lacked an adventurous spirit. We’d broken up two months before I inherited the shop, but I suggested he move with me to Pelican Bay and we’d run the shop together. See if it might rekindle something in our relationship. He wasn’t willing to hinge his livelihood on my plant skills. Mark remembered the fish, and the cactus.
I glanced around the dimly lit shop and for the first time realized he’d been right.
No, I shook my head, bringing me back to my senses. I’d make these plants grow and thrive here. The windows shook again from another loud boom in the building beside me, and my smile quickly fell into a frown.
I would use the winter to figure out how to get my plants more light, learn everything about raising flowers, and figure out how to run a flower shop. I’d have a flowering business by the spring.
I also needed to work on my flower puns.
It’d be wasted effort if the stupid construction put me out of business before I honed my skills. Well, learned any skills. When I agreed to take over the store, I didn’t realize the condition of the plant shop, and I really didn’t realize they were constructing a tall ass building next to it. Not until I drove into town late one afternoon and saw the shadows cast over my new home. The mini skyscraper stole every ounce of light in the evenings.
Having this plant shop was my big chance to make something of my life. I hadn’t been close with Grandma Rose, but I wanted this to prove myself to everyone. I wouldn’t give up and lose it now. Not so close to a possible success.
No one could steal it from me.
And definitely not a rich dude with poor architectural taste. He didn’t care how stupid his building looked, towering eight stories higher than all the others on Main Street. We were like David and Goliath, except if I brought Goliath down, he’d crush my store when he fell on top of it.
Pelican Bay wasn’t the town to build a ten-story high skyscraper in and go unnoticed.
A black sports car worth way too much money for me to know the name of pulled up in front of my building, blocking two parking spots. The jerk. He probably didn’t want to get his pretty vehicle dinged, but he was taking up valuable spaces for my customers. Paying customers.
Not that I had any currently.
But that wouldn’t ever change if he didn’t get his car moving to make room.
Not many people in Pelican Bay could afford a car with so many swoops and chrome. It had to be the Mr. Big Shot from New York. Katy said he planned to live on the top floor of his shitty tall building, and I hoped he didn’t plan to park like such a jackass every day. If so, we’d have problems. My tolerance of negativity was fast reaching its limit. Soon I’d lose my shit.
Somewhere behind me a toilet flushed. I cocked my head to the side, listening to the swirling water for a moment before I realized the sound was coming from the bathroom at the back of the shop. My shop. My bathroom. But I wasn’t using it.
What the hell?
I picked up Lily Junior in her clay pot and wielded her like a weapon as I inched my way to toward the bathroom, pretending to be a ninja. When I reached the short hallway leading to the restroom, I glanced at my sorry looking plant.
“Sorry, Lily Junior. We all have to make sacrifices.”
The door to the bathroom opened into the hallway and I sucked in a breath, getting ready to launch my beloved plant. A large man who had to be at least six and a half feet tall, his shoulders twice the size of mine, stepped out into the walkway. He had on a pair of dirty jeans and a reflective vest. He looked like the kind of dude who directed traffic around construction sites.
We each moved back with wide eyes, caught off guard. I held on to Lily Junior, wanting to use her when he least expected it or if he lunged in my direction. He had to be a construction worker from the building next door rather than a rabid killer, and that pissed me off even more.
He smiled, the hair of his thick beard parting. Actually smiled as if I wouldn’t care he’d somehow gotten into my building and upped my water bill. As his sticky grin stretched across his face, I lost my patience.
“What do you think you’re doing in here? Using my bathroom.”
His eyes widened even further as he stumble over his words. “I didn’t know you were here. I thought this place was vacant.”
I threw my hand up and out to encompass the building. “Does it look vacant? You have no right to come in here and use my bathroom, even if it was empty. I’ve had absolutely enough of your crew.”
With a new resolve—I wasn’t sure where it came from, but I didn’t want to lose it—I grabbed on to the side of his arm, dug my nails into his skin, and dragged him outside of the store. In reality, the man was three times my size, and he only came with me because he chose not to fight it. But I didn’t concern myself with those facts while I dragged him out.
With Lily Junior in one hand and the big construction worker in the other, I stopped right in front of the expensive car, and glared even though I couldn’t make out a feature in the tinted windows. Finally, when it became obvious we weren’t going anywhere in hurry, I walked right up to the driver’s side door and tapped my knuckles against the glass.
After five consecutive taps growing in intensity, the door opened, and a man stepped out.
Except it wasn’t any man. In his three-piece suit, he belonged to New York and not to Pelican Bay. A gold watch caught the light, and I forcibly told my mouth to close. He ran his hand through his hair, and his gaze darted back and forth between both me and the lumbering construction worker.
“What are you going to do about this?” I asked, shaking the man’s arm, but he didn’t budge. “You can’t just let people in my building to use the bathroom. It’s not my problem you can’t provide adequate facilities. Who is going to pay the water bill?”
New York dude stared at me, not speaking, even as I lashed out at him. I removed my hand from his worker, and the gentleman slowly wandered off, the light reflecting on his vest as he turned the corner.
“Well, aren’t you going to say something?”
He should at least fake an apology like a decent human being.
The too-handsome-for-his-own-good man stepped over the curb and placed himself on the sidewalk right beside me. “I’m so sorry. You must be the owner of the flower shop. Are the crew bothering you?”
I tried to cross my arms over my chest, but Lily Junior made it difficult. “Yes. You’re constantly disturbing my customers with your construction.” Hadn’t I already implied that with my rant?
He didn’t even frown. Instead, the jerk smirked. “I’m so terribly sorry. I asked that we bump up our timeline to have the building finish by spring. Currently, we’re focused on finishing the penthouse.”
“I don’t care about your penthouse. I care about my sunlight.” And water bill.
“Excuse me?” he asked, looking puzzled.
Did they not have sunlight in New York? Was it really so difficult of a concept for him? Even as I continued to scowl in his direction, I didn’t miss the way his suit coat tucked in at all the right spots, accentuating certain respectable areas.
I had no business being attracted to the man who was actively ruining my business.
“I really am sorry about the inconvenience. It’s simply business,” he said, sounding truthful, but unless he planned to tear down his building, an apology solved nothing. And it was so much more than just business. It was my life! “Would you be interested in having dinner tonight and we could discuss the issues?”
What? I stepped away, needing space. “No,” I lied. As much as I would have loved the opportunity to stare at his chiseled jaw over dinner, if he thought food would fix my problems, he was sorely mistaken. “I don’t want food. I want you to keep your men out of my shop.”
He startled, as if just realizing why exactly I’d been manhandling his employee and nodded. “Of course, I didn’t recognize the man you brought out with you, but I will make sure my foreman is aware of the situation.”
I jerked my head once in acceptance. Now that I yelled at him and he placated me, I wanted to shut up and put distance between us. It’s not like we had anything else to talk about besides how his building was going to starve me and my plant babies to death.
With the lapse in our conversation and my mouth staying shut from other complaints, he smiled and stuck his hand toward me. “I’m Jerome Kensington,” he said, as if his name mattered to me.
I switched Lily Junior to my other hand and gave him a professional handshake. Jerome Kensington couldn’t use his good looks, charm, or money to make me look the other way on this. I wanted my sunlight back and his people out of my shop unless they came with cold hard cash.
“Just keep your people on your side of the block,” I said before turning around and stomping back into the plant shop.