Startled, Alex sat straight up in bed and wondered if she was dreaming or if those were really footsteps in the hall. Shivering, she pulled the covers snugly around her half-dressed body and sat peering into the complete darkness. Her heart skipped a beat, and her blood went cold when she heard the raspy voice whispering through the baby monitor. "So you’re the big deal!"
Forgetting she was half dressed, Alex threw back the covers and leapt off the bed sprinting across the hallway to check on the baby. By now Cody, her eighteen month old son, was wailing. She picked him up and held him against her chest as she peered around the nursery for an intruder. Her heart pounded with fear when she noticed the closet door cracked open. Had she not closed the door earlier, she thought? Taking a few agonizing steps closer, she slung the door fully open holding Cody even tighter against her t-shirt covered chest. Nothing! No one!
She felt the tears well up in her eyes and sting as they rolled down her cheeks. Cody's wailing was now just a whimper. He reached up, wiped a tear from her cheek and spoke in his toddler voice, "It be okay Mommy." She kissed him on the cheek and hugged his little body wondering if it would really be okay.
Her small condo suddenly felt huge as she pondered where to check first. She tiptoed into the hallway and noticed the light in the bathroom. She never left the light on, she thought. In fact, she rarely even used that bathroom since she always used the one by her bedroom. Her pounding heart felt as if it had risen into her throat as she continued to tiptoe towards the unexpected light.
The bathroom door was wide open, and she heard the whooshing of the toilet still running. She leaned over, balancing Cody on her arm and jiggling the handle with the other, when she noticed one little goldfish swimming alone in the bowl. My goldfish, she thought as she took a step back. When she stepped, she felt a cold sensation against her naked calf, and she heard clinking as the bowl teetered back and forth against the tub. When she looked down, her heart sunk into her stomach, the fishbowl was completely empty.
Cody whimpered, “My fish.”
"I'll get you more fish. I promise," she whispered walking down the hall.
She flipped on the light to check the living room. Her heart still pounded and she wondered what she should expect. Everything looked exactly the same as she had left it, except for the missing gold fish bowl. Turning around to get Cody's sippy cup from the kitchen, she noticed it! The white curtain swayed back and forth with the incoming breeze. Damn, she said out loud to herself, when she realized she had left the window unlocked the other day.
Cody mimicked her, "Damn."
"No, don't say that. That's a bad word."
She stepped into the kitchen, it too looked exactly the same as she had left it the night before. She filled his blue sippy cup with milk and carried him back to the living room to rock him back to sleep. Grabbing the quilt from the couch, Alex thought about her mom. Besides the rocking chair, the quilt was one of the only things she had remaining that had belonged to her late mom.
She sat down in the oak rocking chair, the same one her mom had rocked her in as a child and handed Cody his milk. She rocked him, back and forth, as her mind wandered. She thought of her parents and how much she missed them. She was barely more than a teenager when her mom had passed away from ovarian cancer. Damn Mom, she thought, if you hadn't been so hardheaded about going to the doctor, you would still be here with me today.
She missed her dad just as much. She had always been a daddy's girl and his death struck her even harder five years later after losing her Mom. They said it was a heart attack, but all she could think was it could only be a cruel universe that would allow her to walk in that day to find him no longer breathing on the couch. She had only been twenty-six years old, and she wasn’t ready to be an orphan in this world. Being an only child meant she had to handle everything about everything after her dad passed away.
She didn't have the space to have even considered keeping most of what Mom and Dad had accumulated in thirty years of marriage. She had to make decisions and she chose to keep the things that had meant the most to her. It was hard to decide what to keep and no matter what she chose, her ex-husband, Brad, complained incessantly about how they just didn’t have the space for it in their small apartment. Now she wished she hadn't cared so much what Brad had thought. She wished she had kept more.
Brad was a difficult man, she often wondered what she had ever seen in him anyway, unlike Trace. She still loved Trace, even though their relationship had not lasted long. He was the man who gave her the best gift ever, her son Cody. She remembered the evening she had planned to tell Trace about the pregnancy, she had it all planned out, exactly what she would say, but Trace had plans of his own. His ex-girlfriend and high school sweetheart, Susan, wanted to get back together, and he broke off the relationship with Alex on the very same night. Up until that moment she had been completely honest with him, but now she kept one little secret, the baby she held in her arms.
She looked down at Cody’s chubby face, he was finally sound asleep. She carried him to her bed, thinking that she might not ever be able to leave him alone in the nursery again. She crawled in bed next to him, snuggled up beside him and pulled her mother’s quilt up tightly around their bodies. The next thing she knew, the alarm was buzzing, reminding her to get up for work.
Alex heard three familiar knocks on the door. Mabel walked in dressed in her usual, a yellow housecoat which snapped up the front and white slippers. Her silver hair piled into a bun on the top of her head.
“Where’s Cody?” Mabel asked walking through the door.
“Still asleep.” Alex said walking towards the kitchen. “We had a rough night, so I let him sleep in my bed.”
Mabel plopped down on the sofa. “Something’s missing.” She looked around. “Where’s the goldfish?”
“Long story.” Alex grabbed her purse from the table. “Gotta run before I’m late.”
Alex stepped out the door onto the patio and slipped her sunglasses over her eyes. The view from her ocean front condo was her absolute favorite thing about this place. Her second favorite thing was her position as manager of the resort. Each morning she strolled in the warm sunshine across the tropical property to the office. It was medicine for her soul.
She took two steps towards the sidewalk to begin her stroll to work, when in the corner of her eye she noticed it, a box wrapped in brown postal paper with one single label on top. She didn’t remember ordering anything, but when she squatted to read the label, it was clearly addressed to her. She slung her purse over her shoulder and picked up the box, balancing it with one arm, she opened the door.
“Your back.” Mabel looked up from the couch. “What’s that?”
“Not sure. I didn’t order anything.” Alex placed the package on the table. “And there is only one label with my name and address. No return address.”
“That’s strange, maybe it fell off.” She walked to the table to inspect the package. “There’s no markings from the post office either.”
“It’s very odd.” Peeling back the paper from the side, Alex unwrapped the box.
“Maybe it’s just from a friend.”
With the paper removed and the tape pulled back, Alex opened the box and peered inside. There was one brown teddy bear with a blue bow tie, a set of stacking blocks and a nursery rhyme book.
“Cody will love these,” Mabel said holding up the blocks.
“He will.” Alex held up the bear and studied it. “But who would have sent them.”
Alex rushed back out the door, now running late for work. When she reached the office, she plopped into her black leather chair and opened her laptop, hoping work would keep her mind occupied. She worked through her morning routine, but no matter how hard she tried, she just couldn’t shake the thoughts whirling through her head. Who was in her place last night? What could they have possibly wanted? And where in the hell did those toys come from this morning? Her mind was reeling when she was startled back to the present by the cell phone vibrating in her pocket.
“Someone stopped by,” Mabel said when Alex answered.
“Who was it?”
“I don’t know, but she delivered some gorgeous flowers from Trace.”
“Flowers? From Trace? He wouldn’t send me flowers.”
“Well, he did. A beautiful bouquet too.” Mabel hesitated. “And, I might have read the card. Sorry.”
“Well nosey rosy, if you read it, tell me what it said.”
“You’re a great mom. Love, Trace.” Mabel cleared her throat. “It’s a nice thing to say you know.”
“I agree, it’s really nice, but it’s odd. Very odd.”
“Well, maybe it’s time to tell him the truth.”
Alex sighed. “I don’t know about that.”
“One day Cody will ask, you know.”
“Trace loves Susan and I can’t do anything about that. If I tell him now, it might ruin everything for him. He would just be angry.”
After ending the call with Mabel, Alex stepped outside the office and found Trace’s number in her phone. They hadn’t talked in nearly three months, but she figured calling him was the only way to know for sure.
“Hello.” Music from the car radio hummed in the background. “Fancy hearing from you after all this time.”
“Well, I just called to thank you for the flowers.” She could hear her own voice quivering.
“Flowers? What flowers?” His puzzled voice seemed distant.
She felt the quickening pace of her heartbeat. “Didn’t you send me flowers this morning?”
“Ummm…..no.” He chuckled.
She felt her face flush. “But Mabel said your name is on the card.”
“I didn’t send you flowers, I swear.”
“That’s strange.” She lowered her head and stared at the cracks in the concrete.
“Maybe you should check the card for yourself. Mabel must have forgotten her glasses this morning.” He laughed again.
She stammered, “Sorry I bothered you.”
She ended the call. She felt nothing less than stupid as she stuffed the phone into her pocket and rushed back across the property to her own place. She needed to check the card for herself. She ploughed through the door without speaking and snatched the card from the bouquet. Mabel was right, it said exactly what she had said over the phone. Alex held the card in her hand and stared. The business inscription on the top of the card read, Rose’s Flowers – Fifty-Five Maple Street.
“You didn’t believe me?” Mabel sat on the couch with Cody in her lap.
“I called him, and he laughed at me.” Alex picked up her phone and started typing. “He didn’t send the flowers.”
“So now what are you doing?”
“I’ve never heard of a Rose’s Flower Shop. Have you?” Alex asked still looking at the screen.
“Nope, can’t say that I have.”
“I’m going to pay a visit to this flower shop.” Alex stuffed the phone into her pocket.
“So, there really is a Rose’s Flower Shop?”
“No, there’s not one anywhere in this town.” Alex slid the card into her pocket. “This address looks like a residential area.”
“Maybe it’s just some small place. Maybe someone just getting a business started.”
“Maybe,” Alex said and kissed Cody on the forehead, “but it’s going to drive me crazy until I figure it out.”
“You shouldn’t go alone…” Mabel warned watching Alex walk out the door.
Alex hopped into the driver’s seat, started the engine, and sped ten miles across town. Her heart pounded ninety to nothing and her palms began to sweat. She turned onto Maple Street and slowed down to read the addresses on each mailbox. Five houses down she found it, Fifty-Five Maple Street.
Alex stepped out of the car and peered around. This was a normal neighborhood and an average brick house with no signs of a business anywhere to be found. She walked up the cracked sidewalk past beds of pink tulips and yellow daisies. When she reached the front door, she rang the doorbell and waited. She gazed at the wreath wrapped in white dogwood hanging slightly crooked on the door. It had a wooden sign across the center which read “Welcome”. Several moments passed, no one came. She reached with her shaking hand and rang it again. The door flew back, and a sandy haired woman dressed in shorts and a t-shirt stood and stared.
“I knew you would come.”
“Who are you?” Alex stood with her arms crossed over her chest.
The sandy haired woman smirked. “You must have received the gifts.”
“Just tell me who you are.” Alex put both hands on her hips.
The woman tilted her head and half grinned. “Do you think the baby will like them?”
“Tell me who you are before I call the cops.” Alex felt the heat rise in her face.
“The cops?” The sandy haired woman laughed. “And just what are you going to tell them? You’re the one standing on my porch.”
“Just tell me who you are.” Alex stomped her foot.
The woman leaned in and whispered. “I’m just someone who knows your little secret.”
“What in the hell are you talking about?”
“It’s not what. Its who.” The woman’s words dripped heavy with sarcasm.
“So, who are you talking about then?”
“He looks just like him, you know.” She raised her eyebrows and sneered. “I’m surprised he hasn’t noticed.”
“Noticed what?” Alex bit down on her lip so hard, she tasted the blood when it touched her tongue.
“The baby.” The woman placed a hand on her hip. “Babies are a big deal.”
“You stay the hell away from my baby.” Alex noticed the woman’s hand placed closely to the handle of a pistol protruding from the pocket of her shorts.
“So, are you going to tell him about Cody?” Her glare could have burned a hole straight through anything.
Alex took a few steps back preparing to run. “Just tell me who the hell you are, and I’ll go.”
She placed her hand on the pistol’s handle and winked. “I’m Susan.”