The sky was gloomy. Not a good day for selling flowers. Or for a farmers market. Selia knew this when she arrived this morning. She had contemplated staying home, under her comfortable fleece blanket. Cuddled up with her small poodle, Gary. She had named him Gary because he reminded her of her grumpy Uncle Gary. Always barking and biting at people, except her. He loved to cuddle her, especially on cold and gloomy days. Yes, she had thought about staying home today. Something nagged at her, telling her to come and sell her flowers.
“Selia, lovely day for a market,” Chris yells from his honey booth across the garden path. She blushes. Chris makes her blush. His handsome boy next door good looks and his need to save the environment were her kryptonite. The man of her dreams, across the way selling honey on Sundays.
“I don’t know why I showed up today. No one will be here,” Selia sings back. Hoping he won’t notice the shaky tone of her voice. She enjoys watching him from afar. She isn’t ready for more than the few words they share each week. Afraid she’ll find out about a girlfriend or wife or even worse a family. This was nice, a fantasy she could create of a life with him. Selling honey and flowers at the same booth someday. Kissing under the tent when the crowds dispersed.
“Yet we always do. Show up. No matter what,” Chris responds, turning his back to Selia and laying out his honey jars. Always lined up tall bottles in the back, smaller ones in the front. Spouting a banner above that reads Best Honey in Three Counties. Selia wonders if that is true or if he just made the banner to attract customers. Either way it must work. He always leaves on Sunday evenings with empty boxes. Maybe Selia should ask him about her marketing strategy. She could use a banner of her own. Most weeks she carries four boxes of flowers in and two boxes of flowers out. Slow selling. She doesn’t mind it much. The flowers will be sold at the shop during the week. People always buy them there. Why does she come weekly if her booth doesn’t sell? Chris, she thinks to herself. For the few moments with him she will keep going.
Selia starts to think it is time to pack up. It is already 11:20. No one had shown up, and Chris is the only other booth set-up. She pulls her collar tighter around her neck, thankful she had grabbed gloves on this chilly April morning. Selia grabs a box to begin filling when she notices a figure out of the corner of her eye. A small older woman, wrapped in a large wool winter coat. A knit cap snug on her head. Holding a colorful umbrella. An older Mary Poppins floating toward her booth. She stops packing up and watches as the woman draws closer.
“Oh good. You came today,” the old woman says. Unwrapping the blue scarf that had been tightly woven around her neck. “I was hoping I would find you here. My Billy always spoke so highly of you and your flowers.”
Selia smiles warmly. She enjoys this part. Meeting new people who feel like old friends. Billy is a regular. He has visited the farmers market every week for three years. Always buying a bouquet of daisies for his wife. The love of his life. His best friend. Millie, I think he calls her.
“Millie, is that you? Billy has told me all about you,” Selia says.
“Oh that old fool. Always talking ‘bout me. Do you know he left me yesterday? Just up and gone,” Millie replies curtly.
“Billy left you? No, that can’t be right.”
“Left…died, same thing. One minute he’s holding my hand. Next he’s gone. Death, loss, sure feels like he just walked out.” Millie states, eyes sparkling with tears.
“Oh Millie. Oh no.” Selia gasps, fingers trembling as they reach her chin. She turns her head trying to hide her own sadness over his loss.
“My daughters are at my house. Making lists. Planning. I got up and told ‘em, I got someplace I need to be. Then drove in his old broke down junker to this here street market. To buy myself flowers. Because I know he would haunt me if I missed a weekend. The old fool has bought me flowers every Sunday for seventy years. Never missed one. I couldn’t miss this one.”
“Millie, I am so glad you came today.” Selia says, glancing over at Chris who has been watching the exchange. He mouths “are you okay” to her. She lifts her lips in a small smile and nods.
Millie turns her head following Selia’s eyes. “Aww, is that your beau?”
Cheeks redden, “No, just acquaintances. Farmer Market friends.”
“Are you sure? He sure is watching you for an acquaintance.” Millie was observant.
“Nothing more. So Millie, do you want his usual?” Selia asks, quickly changing the subject.
“Aww my dear Billy. Bless his soul, I did love him. We met at sixteen years old. Young and in love. Never stopped loving him." Millie pauses, thinking for a moment. Then she begins, "But dear, I hate white daisies. Always have. Just never had the heart to tell him. So for seventy years, I have lived with daisies in my home. Daisies! Man was a horrible listener. I told him I love daffodils. Daffodils, not daisies. Bless his heart, never could listen.”
“Um, I didn’t bring daffodils. I’ve never sold them here.”
“No, no. I need to buy the daisies. Need to keep up the tradition.”
Selia begins to sort some of her best daisies. Wrapping them in her purple tissue paper, the usual package Billy used to pick up. Tears well in her eyes thinking of the old man she would never see again. Lost deep in thoughts of her weekly customer, she doesn’t notice the shadow looming near her. Selia lifts her hand to wipe a tear pooling on her cheek. A firm grip covers it and squeezes. Her eyes shoot up and stare into a beautiful blue green sea. Chris has wandered over to her booth. He is holding her hand, staring into her eyes. Looking for something to help him understand.
“Selia, what is wrong? Has something happened?”
“Oh, Chris, I am okay. Just shocked. One of my customers passed away. His wife Millie has come in his place.” Selia says, eyes directing him toward the old lady waiting nearby.
“Oh. I saw crying and I was concerned. Maybe we can close up our booths early today. Grab some coffee together?”
“Thank you Chris. That sounds lovely, but not today. May I take a rain check?”
“Anytime Selia.” He says as he begins to walk away. Turning every few steps watching her.
“Selia, my dear. May I come under your tent. I have a story to tell.”
Selia nods her head and points her hand toward a folding chair. Two folding chairs sit side by side, given every week by the Farmers Market. And even though Selia only needs one, she takes two, just in case.
“Selia, remember how I told you I have loved Billy since I was sixteen years old? It sounds lovely, right? What if I told you that I turned down his request for a first date hundreds of times? Would you believe that?”
Selia stares at the widow. She has a hat covering her silver hair tightly wound in a bun. Her eyes are a deep brown. Wrinkles decorate her face. A life of laughing and happiness. She looks content, even with the loss of her best friend.
“No, Millie, I guess I wouldn’t. Why would you turn him down? You said young and in love.”
“Yes, it's still true. I loved him before I even spoke to him. Took one look and thought that is the man I am going to marry. Then he came over to me, and he made me laugh. A comedian, my Billy. So I knew I couldn’t lose him. And I feared I would. People came into and out of our lives in my family. People died, people left. I was young and I still understood not everything was forever. We were already working. We started working young back then. He would wait for me everyday outside of the mill. I would smile. I would walk away. This game meant he stayed in my life, even if it wasn’t how I needed him to be. My fear held me back. We played this game for 3 years. He would show up. I would smile. Some days, he would walk with me home. We talked and laughed. And at the end, he would ask me to go out with him. And I always said no. Do you know what I wish for at this moment?”
Selia shakes her head no, waiting to hear what Millie might say.
“I wish I could have those 3 years back. I wish I had said yes the first time he asked. I wish I had three extra years of hugs and kisses and hearing him say, “I love you”. You cannot fear the future. Enjoy the moments, as fleeting as they may be. Enjoy them all. Because someday, even if it's been 70 years of happiness, someday your best friend will leave. And then… then you have the memories.”
Millie reaches out and grabs Selia’s hand. She gives it two squeezes and lets go.
“Well now, thank you for the flowers. I will see you next week for another bouquet of daisies?" Millie asks. Then she pauses and looks into Selia's eyes, "And maybe you can bring me some daffodils too?” Millie says, raising her eyebrows.
“I will.” Selia says, eyes glancing between Millie and Chris.
“And you can tell me all about how that cup of coffee went? It will be nice to hear a story from a friend.”
“Yes, Millie. I think that sounds right. Tell your family I am sorry for their loss. Billy was a special man, he will be missed by more than you know.”
“Billy, dear Billy. It is hard to wake up knowing your better half has gone. I will continue living for him, for us, until my soul is ready to join him.”
“I know you will.” Millie picks up her flowers and starts to walk back in the direction from which she came. She looks up as she passes the honey tent. “Chris, is it? I think our dear friend Selia could use a shoulder right now. Would that be something you could manage?”
Chris smiles at the old woman in the worn out clothes. She doesn’t look like a matchmaker. Although looks can be deceiving.
“Why yes, I think that will be just fine,” Chris says, as he begins to pack up his honey for the day. “It will be a lovely day for a coffee date, don’t you think?” he asks, looking up as the old woman saunters away, almost invisible to the eye.
Selia is packing up her own tent when Chris comes up beside her. “Hey, I know you said you wanted a rain check, but I thought I would try again anyway. Would you like to get out of here early and get coffee with me? A coffee date or something.?”
“You know what, that sounds like the best idea I have ever heard,” Selia replies. Time to start living life, instead of fearing loss.