Dumped for Valentine’s by J. Sterling

 

VAL’S STEMS

“I hate Valentine’s Day!” my floral assistant, Karina, yelled from the back room, and I giggled to myself before apologizing to the older woman standing in front of me.

“She’s de-thorning the roses we got in this morning for the big day,” I explained, and the woman simply grinned back.

“Those little pricks hurt like a bitch,” she said with a wink before turning on her heel to leave with her order in hand.

I stood behind the counter with my jaw hanging open, shocked by the old woman’s candor as I watched her walk out the door, the tiny bell jingling as it swung closed behind her.

“Did that old lady just say the word bitch?” Karina’s blonde head popped out from behind the wall, and I turned to cast a fake evil glare at her as she stepped into the room, standing next to me.

“You’re one to talk. You can’t shout obscenities from the back room, Karina! Everyone can hear you,” I attempted to reprimand my best friend, but it was no use.

She was always shouting something or singing at the top of her lungs. I’d learned long ago that the girl had no volume control. And I loved her for it anyway.

Her head cocked back. “I didn’t even use an obscenity, Valerie,” she said, her tone mimicking mine before she continued, “I simply said that I hate Valentine’s Day.”

“And that’s pretty much blasphemy in these parts, and you know it. Why don’t you just take a shearing knife and stab me right in the heart?”

“Ooh, can I? Please?” she mocked, and I narrowed my eyes at her. “Then, I’d never have to take another thorn off these stupid life-sized roses again.”

Karina had always loathed Valentine’s Day, and she had no shame in letting everyone know it. Half the universe seemed to agree with her, calling it names and claiming it was a made-up, meant-nothing, thoughtless, stupid excuse to spend way too much unnecessary money, of a holiday.

I, on the other hand, was part of the group who loved it and not just because I owned a floral shop. I thought Valentine’s Day was sweet, romantic, and I didn’t see why so many people complained about having an extra day to show their person just how much they loved them. Sure, it was a completely random date on a calendar that signified nothing of importance to most people, but why couldn’t we go a little overboard for our significant other, or our children, or our best friends for no reason? See, I loved every single thing about it.

“Stop calling my roses stupid. They’ll hear you.”

“And probably murder me in my sleep,” she bit back. “I bet they’re plotting it now.” She stabbed the air with her shears like she was fighting an invisible enemy.

For as much as Karina complained, I couldn’t run the shop without her. She handled the books and the marketing and advertising, and she ran all of our social media accounts. She only had to get her hands dirty and help me with the flowers twice a year—Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. Since we’d opened, we were always overwhelmed with incoming and pending orders on both of those days. Even with a part-time staff of three, I needed the extra set of hands.

Karina pretended to hate it, but I knew it was only because she was single and mad that none of the roses were going to her. Which was why I’d had a dozen dropped off at her apartment earlier. I knew it wouldn’t be the same, coming from me instead of a guy, but still, I wanted to brighten her otherwise empty apartment and make her smile.

“Stop taking your bitterness out on my sweet babies.”

“Your sweet babies have torn up both my hands and almost every finger. They’re evil.” She held up her hands, and I laughed at the bandages wrapped around eight of her ten fingers. “You’re laughing? You’re actually laughing at my pain?”

Shaking my head, I informed her, “I’m just laughing because this happens every time. You never learn.”

“It doesn’t matter. It’s not like I have anyone to keep my fingers pretty for. Unlike you. Where is Mr. Perfect taking you to dinner tonight?”

“Oblange,” I said as a smile erupted.

“Ooh la la. The perfect place for the perfect proposal.” She wagged her eyebrows at me.

I smacked her shoulder. “Stop it.”

“No.”

“You’re not helping,” I complained as my insides twisted at the thought.

“I’m not trying to help,” she argued before cocking her head to the side. “Wait, what am I not trying to help with?”

I laughed again. “You seriously just argued with me without thinking? You said the exact opposite thing for no reason other than to say it? Who are you?”

“Your best friend. Your business partner. Your future cat-owning roommate if neither one of us ever gets a ring put on it. Pick one.”

I stood, smiling at my crazy best friend, wondering what on earth I’d do without her. The things that came out of her mouth never ceased to amaze or amuse me.

“Now, tell me why I wasn’t helping. What’s really going on?” All pretenses dropped, along with her trademark smile, as Karina grew serious and stepped toward me, putting one hand on my shoulder.

“I just don’t want to get my hopes up,” I admitted, but it fell on deaf ears. And on an even more deaf heart.

My hopes were already up. My heart was already hopeful. Proposing was the next step in my and Moore’s relationship, and I’d be lying if I didn’t think it was bound to happen any day now. Each time he asked me out to a fancy dinner, I donned a pretty dress and styled my hair and makeup perfectly just in case that night turned into the night. It might be a little vain, but I wanted to look nice for the pictures that I assumed would be taken without my knowing while he asked.

“It’s been three years. If he doesn’t ask you soon, I will.” Her arm lowered, and she offered me an almost-sympathetic smile, which made me start to lose my composure.

We’d all met during college here in New York.

Karina and I had bonded in a junior year business class and had been inseparable ever since, coming up with a solid business plan for opening the flower shop together even though I was the majority owner. With or without Karina, Val’s Stems was always going to be a reality, but we solidified the partnership one night over pizza and cheap boxed wine.

The two of us met Moore at a senior year mixer, where it seemed like everyone and everything gravitated around his pull. If the party were a match, then Moore was the oxygen the flame needed to survive. Take Moore out of the equation, and the whole thing snuffed out, faded to black, and died. I’d never been so taken with someone’s energy before. He was so self-assured and confident. And after talking to him for a whole ten minutes, I was convinced I’d met someone who would change my life for the better.

Moore knew exactly what he wanted to do and what it would take to get there. Instead of the usual scared college senior who wasn’t quite sure where they’d go after graduation, he seemed to have all his ducks in a row. I related to him on a visceral level. It had seemed like we were the only two people on campus who were tired of waiting to get degrees to start our real lives.

I sucked in a long breath, pulling it together. “He has been acting weird lately,” I admitted, a little too excited for my own good.

“He’s always weird. That’s why you like him,” Karina teased because weird was the very last thing Moore ever was.

“He’s never weird,” I countered.

Predictable, stable, and motivated—those words described him more accurately.

“You’re right. He’s probably just nervous because he’s going to propose!” she shouted before disappearing into the back room at the same time the bell jangled with the opening of the door.

I tamped down my eagerness for tonight and turned to the approaching customer. “Hi there, sir. How can I help you today?”