Something was off. Cara Kryzik was no psychic, but the minute her bare feet hit the floor that morning, she sensed it.
She sniffed the air apprehensively and was met with the sweet perfume from the tiny nosegay of gardenias—her favorites—that she’d placed in a sterling bud vase on her dresser the night before.
Had she overslept? No. The big bells of St. John the Baptist cathedral were ringing the eight-o’clock hour as she descended the stairs from her apartment to her shop one floor below.
Cara shuffled down the narrow hallway to the front of the darkened flower shop. She flicked on the wall switch, and the multitude of thrift-shop chandeliers she’d hung at varying heights from the tall-ceilinged room twinkled to light, their images reflecting from all the mirrors staged around the space. It was a small room, but she thought the chandeliers and mirrors expanded the space visually.
See? She scoffed at her own foolish sense of foreboding. All was well.
She pulled up the shades over the front windows and smiled. It was a bright, sunny Friday morning, and within seconds, her puppy, Poppy, had her nose pressed against the glass-paneled front door, watching a pair of squirrels scamper past on the sidewalk outside on Jones Street.
The message-waiting light was blinking on the shop’s answering machine. She gave the machine a fond pat. Business had been slow. But it was May. Mother’s Day was next Sunday, it was prom season, and wedding season, too. Things were already picking up.
And then? She felt a single bead of perspiration trickle down her back. She frowned. Why was it so hot in the shop? Even for Savannah the room seemed stuffy and overheated. Cara went to the thermostat on the wall and squinted, trying to see the reading.
She’d turned the thermostat up before bed last night, just to 81, hoping to save a little on her always spiraling electricity bill. The air-conditioning unit was temperamental at best, and her landlord was never prompt when it came to making repairs. She had a string of appointments in the shop today, and it wouldn’t do to have brides and their mamas stewing in their own juices.
She fiddled with the control for a moment, holding her breath, waiting to hear the compressor click to life. When it did, she exhaled. See? All is well.
Before she could sit down to check her emails, the shop phone rang.
She’d known who the caller would be. “Good morning, Lillian,” Cara chirped. “How’s our bride today? Is she getting jittery?”
“She’s still asleep, thank God,” Lillian Fanning said. Never one to waste time on pleasantries, Lillian got right down to business. “Listen, Cara, I’ve been thinking. I know we said white candles for the altar, but with an early-evening wedding, I really believe ivory or ecru would be much more effective.”
Cara crossed her eyes in exasperation. She’d already special-ordered two dozen hand-dipped organic soy white candles for Torie Fanning’s wedding tomorrow. But it was useless to tell the mother of the bride that it was impossible to get the candles in a different color at this late date.
She heard the bell on the front door jingle and looked up to see her assistant, Bert, let himself in, a large coffee in one hand and his bicycle helmet in the other.
“Lillian Fanning?” He mouthed the words, and Cara nodded. For the past two weeks, Lillian had called Bloom at least twice a day, every day.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Cara said, being deliberately vague.
“Ecru or ivory, not white,” Lillian repeated.
Cara sighed. “Of course.”
“What about the flowers? Did everything get delivered? And you’ve got Torie’s grandmother’s epergne polished for the bride’s table?”
“Everything is absolutely under control,” Cara assured Lillian. “I’ve got all the bridesmaids’ bouquets finished, and I’ll start on Torie’s this afternoon, so it will be absolutely the freshest possible. And Lillian? I have to say the two of you have made the most exquisite flower choices I’ve ever seen in this town.”
“I should hope so, for what this wedding is costing us,” Lillian Fanning said. “I’ll see you at the church tomorrow.”
Cara hung up and stuck out her tongue at the phone.
“Is it hot in here, or is it just me?” Bert asked, standing in front of the thermostat and fanning himself with an envelope he grabbed off a stack of bills on her desk.
“I turned it up last night before I went to bed, but I think it’s starting to cool down now,” Cara said.
“Well, I’m roasting,” Bert declared. He looked at her closely. “You’re not having chills again, are you?”
“No! I’m fine. I took the last of those darned antibiotics on Tuesday. I can’t afford to get sick ever again.”
Cara took Bert’s hand and placed it on her own forehead. “See? Cool as a cucumber. No fever, no temp, no problem.”
But Bert wasn’t paying attention. He was staring at the glass door of their flower cooler. Even through the door, beaded as it was with condensation, it was a grim sight.
Cara flung the door of the cooler open. “Oh, God.”
She couldn’t believe her eyes. All the flowers in all the buckets in the cooler were limp, dead, dying. Torie Fanning’s bridesmaids’ bouquets, so carefully wrapped in their silk-satin binding, were toast. She glanced at the thermometer hanging from the top shelf and felt like weeping. It had been at 35 degrees last night, before she’d gone upstairs. But now it was at 86.
She let the door close and pressed her face against the glass. The reassuring hum of the compressor motor was silent.
“The cooler is dead,” she said. “And so are the flowers. The motor must have conked out sometime overnight.”
Bert reached for the Rolodex on the desk. “I’ll call the repairman. Didn’t he just fix this thing like six weeks ago?”
Cara nodded glumly. “He did. To the tune of three hundred dollars. But he warned me then, he didn’t know how long it would keep running. When I opened the shop I bought it off a guy whose pizza place had gone out of business. Turns out this thing is so old, you can’t find new parts for it. My guy had to jerry-rig it with secondhand parts he had lying around his shop.”
“What are we gonna do?”
Cara closed her eyes, hoping for inspiration. “I have no idea. All I know is, Lillian Fanning will shit a brick if she finds out about this. You heard me, I just promised her we had everything under control. The most demanding bride I’ve ever worked with—and this had to happen today.”