The colorful conclusion:
Friday morning has it out for me; he turns off my alarms. Any other day, it doesn’t matter if I’m late, but our staff meeting is at nine o’clock on Friday. It is a snore, but they bring everyone a tarte tropézienne, and Searle gives me his. He says it doesn’t do waistline any favors.
I’m so late, I take the bus and clumsily spill my euros on the feet of other passengers. By the time I trip my bedraggled, unshowered, makeup-less self through the office doors, Mr. Bogart is taking his usual deep breath before he begins. All the heads of the gathered employees turn at my clamorous arrival.
I grin, “Bonjour!” For the twentieth time, I try to tamp down my bedhead, regretting my fourth rendezvous with Monsieur Chardonnay the night before. Why couldn’t Berneen have waited and had our soiree on the weekend?
Slipping through the group, I grab a tarte from the stack, and Mr. Bogart restarts his deep breath, “We have made an executive decision to postpone the purchase of property for the homeless support center.”
“Oh la, la!”
“Calme vous. We will revisit the project in six months’ time.”
Jean pipes in, “But by then, the property on Rue de Metz will have sold.”
“It is probable, but, who knows, we might find a better property closer to the main center.”
“That would make my life easier,” Margery grumbles.
Someone I can’t see asks, “But pourquoi?”
“It has come to my attention that we have gotten ahead of ourselves. We still believe this is the direction God is leading us, but we think it wise to ensure we embark on this endeavor from a place of financial stability.”
Murmurs pass around.
“Are we in trouble?” Fabien sounds frazzled.
“Non, non,” Mr. Bogart whispers to Darcel and Birk, the other board members, who nod, “The opposite, we are prioritizing the raises we promised you all.”
“Quel soulegement,” someone sighs, “What a relief.”
“Je vous remerci!”
Mr. Bogart waves us down and says, “Now, we have lots of adjustments to make, so to work! Vite!”
The mass disperses in cheerful conversation, and I receive many winks and pats on the back.
Fabien catches me, “I’ll have to redo the entire newsletter!”
“Do you have time?” I think of all the hours I put into reworking his precious collage.
“Not really,” He shifts his bulky form, “I’ll have to extend the deadline to Monday.”
I swallow the resentful lava in my stomach, “Do you need me to create another collage?”
He scratches his fuzzy arm, “Non, I can write around the first set you sent, but what will I write about?”
I sigh. Good, now I don’t have to be cross with him, “Eh… the staff took the aftercare children on a tour of Chateau Bleu Vineyard last week. And… eight people attended the resumé workshop. Five of them already have jobs.”
“Merci, that is enough to start on. Let me know if you think of something else,” Fabien lopes away.
At the café bar, I run into Vick, who is grinning ear to ear.
“Ah, merci Soliel! Now I can quit my second job!” He is the Center’s handsome public figure: attending events, speaking, handshaking, and even giving a few radio interviews.
“I’ll actually get to see mes enfants!” He strides away to chinwag with Jean. The man is all schmaltz, but he means well.
A sudden fear comes upon me. What if my anonymous florist is married? And that is why he has stayed in the shadows! I force this idea away. Apprécier la romance, Soliel! Don’t spoil it!
Before scurrying to my desk, I stop by Searle’s to retrieve le tarte.
I lean on the divider, chuckling, “I’m so relieved to have a job still.”
“They wouldn’t fire you,” Searle adjusts his glasses but doesn’t look away from his screen.
“Non, but they didn’t have to give me a raise.” I sigh, “Now I won’t be evicted, ha!”
I dance to my desk, where sits a red trumpet-like flower. I hurry to set things down and read the tag, but there isn’t one. Instead, le petit vase is sitting on a flat object wrapped in brown paper. I tear it off, and inside is a thin book with a hard, Veridian canvas cover and gilt filigree script which reads:
Mademoiselle Genevieve Larraine
The Language of Flowers
Giddy, I open it to the front page, published in 1893. The pages are delicately yellowed, each filled with exquisite watercolors depicting dozens of flowers. Along with each flower’s common and scientific name, Mademoiselle Genevieve provides the flower’s meaning. My fingertips touch the whimsical plants, vining and blossoming in vivid color. I gently flip through the leaves, searching for a picture matching the flower on my desk.
I find it near the beginning:
Amaryllis — Belladonna
I laugh out loud because there are tarte crumbs on my shirt and my face is puffy from lack of sleep. But secretly, my insides feel warm and happy all the way down to my toes.
I flip through the book until I find the perfect flower, then run a search in my photo folders. Voila, I find a match. Thank goodness I’ve taken about a million photographs and labeled them meticulously.
I send the image to my photo printer, admire its lush shades of plum, and set the picture of an anemone on my desk, right on the spot where my flower was delivered. According to Genevieve:
Anemone — Coronaria
Satisfied, I twist the amaryllis into my belt and head for the door.
“Au revoir!” I shout to the cheerful people, all of whom are too busy celebrating to work —all except Fabien, who is click-clacking wildly away on his keyboard.
“Tchao!” They wave back.
Everyone in the office spends one afternoon a week in the Family Hope Center to ensure we stay well connected with the staff there and the purpose behind our desk work. Fridays are my day, and I adore them.
Today, I play with the toddlers whose favorite activity is posing for pictures. When the elementary kids get back from school, we dress up and play Bluebeard the Pirate. Then I tutor some of the older youth for a while, though I’m not much help. Finally, I chat with a few staff-members, noting their needs and plans for the upcoming week.
Everyone I see comments on my appearance, saying I look as though I belong in a musical. I feel like I do too.
I spend dinner with my neighbor’s family and end the day in a bubble bath, passionately singing Carmen, loudly and off-tune.
Saturday morning, I sleep into eleven, dreaming I’m in a garden. At first, it’s dazzling rapture, but then the flowers grow about me higher and tighter until their thorns prick me on every side. A figure appears, and I reach out for help. I can’t see his face, but as he reaches down for me, I can almost make out his blurry features when I wake.
Pouah! Who is he?
For lunch, I drive outside the city of Toulouse to meet my cousins for a picnic by the Garonne River. We eat, kick a football around, and later I snatch a photo of Margeaux pushing her brother into the shallow water. Our mothers will love it.
The rest of the day is dull: shopping and laundry, distinctly flowerless. Except in the evening, when I fall to sleep looking through my livre de fleurs.
At services the next day, Berneen is both apologetic and put out about her wrong deduction concerning Pascual. Instead of resigning, she makes many new suggestions and appraises every male who goes by. It is so irritating I swear to myself not to make any further guesses. I will know le monsieur when he makes himself known. That is that.
But Berneen makes no such vow and continues to peruse the congregation throughout the service. She is so distracting I cannot tell you three words the minister said. Neither, I’m fairly certain, can her husband.
Monday morning, I bike to the office early, again surprising my collégues. I dash to my éscritoire, but it’s empty, so I fly to the balcony. On the patio table is a gorgeous fuchsia peony.
I flitter with excitement and bite my lip. Did he understand my photo? Will he ignore my message? I rummage through my bag, pull out the thin, green book, and flip to the “P’s.”
Peony — Paeonia
I touch the flower’s overflow of soft petals. Timide? Pourquoi? Was he hideous? Old? Married? Stupid? How can an unknown person suddenly become so grotesque and so aggravating? For a few crabby moments, I tear through Genevieve’s guide in search of a flower that means “WHY?”
Unsuccessful, I recline in my chair, and the cold metal digs into my back. I am ponderously munching the fraises brought when Jean opens the balcony door.
“Salut! You’re here early. Comment allez-vous?”
“Pas mal, et toi?”
“Je vais bien,” he rubs the bridge of his nose, “I’m glad you’re here; do you need anything picked up?” Jean makes all the supply purchases for the Center and the office.
“Some wine would be nice.”
He smiles, “Are you okay?” Jean is always compassionate. That is why Vick snagged him, to reach out to people who might need our services. While Vick is getting the publics’ attention, Jean is in the background holding the bandages, so to speak.
“I’m fine, it is silly,” I shrug, then add, “I think the woman’s bathroom is almost out of papier toilette. What’s your hurry?”
Jean looked at his list, “Oui, Margery told me. I am hoping to finish shopping early to prepare for our booth.”
My ears prick, “Booth?”
“Oui, you know, for Le Festival,” Jean’s face fell pale, “You did receive my email?”
“We need a banner! Le Festival is tomorrow! Je ne comprends pas! Why didn’t it go through?”
“Je ne sais pas! What are the dimensions?”
“One by three meters.”
“Ohhh la, la, quell travail! Here, I’ve found the email; it went to my junk, ugh!” I slap my forehead then encourage myself, “I can do it. I can do it! I just need to get something to the printers before two.” My mind is a slideshow of possible designs.
Jean faltered, “Not just ‘something;’ it needs to be good.”
I send him a chilly look, and he retreats indoors.
I work feverishly all morning and through lunch. When Fabien comes asking for more material to put in the newsletter, I tell him to go to the Center and ask them. I complete my design at 1:45 pm and race around the block to the printer.
Panting, I beg Jon, the oily clerk, to finish the banner by tomorrow morning. He scratches his neck, hems, and haws, but finally says he can manage it, if I kiss him. Jon likes playing imbécile games like this.
Dramatically, I sweep up his hand and kiss it, then give him a hearty slap across the cheek and chassé out the door, “A bientôt!”
Walking down the cobbled street, I think, ‘Jon is definitely not romantic enough to be le fleur monsieur.’
Once at my desk, I deliberate over what flower to send in return. If the man is nervous, how do I encourage him? I find Mademoiselle Genevive to have the answer.
Bluebell — Hyacinthoides Non-Scripta
I find an old photo of bluebells on my laptop. I had taken it with my very first camera when I was sixteen. The image is pixelated and the composition poor, so I spend a few minutes cropping and retouching it before printing. With care, I place the photo on my desk and pack to leave. On my way out, I notice Searle is working feverishly.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
He rubs his eyes as though my presence wearies him, “Jean needs new pamphlets for the Festival. His email went to my junk folder too.”
“Quelle horreur! Do you need pictures for it?”
“Non, merci. It is mostly formatting and logos. I have a few feature photos you sent me a while ago. They will do.”
“Le bien, good luck. I’ll warn you, printer-Jon is in a mood today. You will have to kiss him to get your order done on time! Au revoir.”
And I’m off to an engagement shoot in St. Etienne Cathedrale.
The Tuesday morning sun is just finishing drinking in the morning dew when I burst into the office, proffering a roll of vinyl and a neat stack of pamphlets to Jean.
“You are a miracle!” He exclaims.
I give him a sidelong glance, but he is already out the door to go set up for le festival.
Today, I have headshots to edit for our website’s employee page. Vick has red-eye; light is gleaming off Searle’s glasses; Margery wants me to fill in the gap between her front teeth, and Birk likes to look thinner. He would never say it outright, but he will say that ‘something doesn’t look quite right’ until I take a few pounds off his face. He is in charge of legal, so I try to stay on his good side.
While on my way to my workspace, Fabien trips on the leg of a chair and careens into my path. I reach out to stabilize him, grimacing because next to him, I’m the size of a ladybug. Thankfully, he catches his balance before squishing me.
“Are you alright?” I ask.
“Oui, Je suis juste fatigué,” He sighs, “But I finished the newsletter. What do you think?”
The layout is decent, as is the content. I spot a typo but pat Fabien on the back and say, “Superbe.” He lumbers away with a loopy, sleep-deprived smile.
Gracing my workspace today is what looks like a purple daisy. I page through the book, but there is no such thing as a purple daisy, which is good because regular daisies mean ‘newborn baby.’ Finally, I discover what my flowers are.
Aster — Amellus
Patience? Really? Ugh, this man! I flash through the pages of le guide de fleur so violently, for a moment I’m afraid I tore a page. I find what I want, but it’s so obscure I must resort to the internet for an image. I have never even seen one before.
I realize I have been making such a slam-bang spectacle of myself that Searle is watching me over his divider. He blinks at me, long and slow, with raised brows.
“Désolé,” I apologize. I print the photo, set it under the vase, and depart for the festival.
King Protea — Cynaroides
The centre square of the Botanical Garden is bustling when I arrive. There are beignets frying and sausages smoking. Booths sell fine wine paired with exotic cheeses and chocolates. Vendors call attention to their homemade soap, jewelry, and local produce. At the hub of activity, a guitar, double bass, and violin thrump out Parisian jazz. Near them, an old couple is dancing in a stiff, sweet way while grandchildren run around their knees.
I head to the quarter where the business booths have sprouted. Here people give away raffle tickets and cheap candy, a poor consolation for those trapped into talking about investments, capital, or political movements. Compared to these stalls, our booth looks clean and inviting, with my banner as the icing on the cake, colorful, engaging, and gracefully demonstrating our mission.
Vick is out front, wooing donators, while Jean stands to one side, talking with a weary couple holding twin toddlers. Mr. Bogart and Darcel pass out the croissants Mrs. Bogart made, and Birk is looking formidable in the background, keeping an eye on the goings-on.
Pinching a raspberry pastry, I make idle chit-chat with those that come and go and click pictures of our staff speaking with clusters of passersby. I make sure to catch the twins before they leave and am rewarded with an adorable snapshot of them squeezing each other in a tight hug.
I spend the rest of the afternoon milling around, looking at wares, meeting artisans, handing out my business cards, and listening to the different musicians. Before I know it, the sun is setting, and paper lanterns pass through the throng. I select one with lotus blossoms and sneak away to the garden of fountains, having reached my limit of elbow-bumping.
I snatch a few pictures of the setting light as it dances through the cascades of water, relishing how the babbling sounds subdue the crowd’s chatter. When the sun disappears below the horizon, I light my lantern and release it to join the flood of others, drifting up to the stars.
In the distance, an accordion begins a peaceful serenade, and the night is filled with magic and beauty.
“Oui?” I turn to face the voice and freeze.
Fairy lights on the trees behind the figure make him imperceptible. I shield my eyes and see the silhouette of a bouquet in the stranger’s hand. A thrill travels up my spine.
“They are white violets,” the floating voice utters.
Book page number 47 flits to my memory.
White Violet — Viola Blanda
Take a Chance
The man takes a step closer, and a glint of stray light shines off his glasses.
“Searle?” I’m flabbergasted, “But I… I irritate you!”
“You close your eyes every time I talk to you, just like my grand-mère when I wear on her last nerve.”
“Non, non!” His free hand holds his forehead at the misunderstanding, “My eyes give me trouble from staring at a screen all day.” Searle continues awkwardly, “I —I am seeing a doctor about it.”
“Oh, la la!” I laugh. I’m so surprised I do not know what to say. Neither does Searle.
“Pourquoi,” I ask, stepping closer, “Why were you nervous that I should know?”
“Because,” he shuffled his feet, “Because I didn’t think you would be interested in me.”
I cock my head at the man with frizzy hair and weak eyes, who I assumed was always cranky. But now, through my more accurate rose glasses, I see a man who has listened to everything I have said all these months about loving to photograph flowers in the morning. A man who always gives me his Friday tarte and has told me he cares for me in the most romantically ingenious way known to man.
“That was a silly thing to think,” I say and kiss his blushing cheek. “Would you like to dance?”