Spring was Sara Hunter’s favorite time of year. She leaned over her kitchen sink and looked out the window of her Southern California home. The pool was littered with leaves. Her garden over grown with weeds and tufts of grass sprouted like cities beneath her small orchard. Her garden was in need of serious tending…much like her life.
Sara shook her head. How had things come to this? A year ago her catering business was flourishing. So well in fact, they had sent her partner and daughter, Jennifer, to Paris to study pastry for three months under a world-renowned chef. Her son Jerrod and his lovely wife had just presented them with their second grandbaby. Life seemed complete and full, maybe a little too full, but satisfying to Sara.
Then her husband Jake had come home from work one day to tell her that his company was downsizing. He had two choices, take the severance package or relocate to Atlanta. Sara’s world started spinning. She loved her work and her home. The last thing she wanted was change. She told Jake to take the severance package.
“Why? So I can stay home while you work twelve hours a day, seven days a week?” he replied.
It was the spark that set off the explosion. It had been building for a long time. He worked weekdays. Catering took her away night and weekends, when he was home. They had drifted apart.
They argued about the move for months, right up until she dropped Jake off at the airport with two suitcases. It was almost a relief to have him gone. The constant bickering had worn her down. Once he was gone, she could concentrate on her business again.
At first, they checked in with each other once a week. Then less and less. There wasn’t anyone else involved, for her or for Jake. She was certain of that. It might have been better if there was. Anything would have been better than just watching her marriage fade away.
She hung her head. The house was quiet. Too quiet. She could hear the Grandfather clock in the hall ticking. It was going to be even quieter from now on. A week ago she’d sent Jake a letter with an airplane ticket. She’d asked him to come home to discuss their future. She’d told him if he didn’t come, she would know it was over and she would start divorce proceedings. She’d sent the letter certified. She knew he’d received it but he hadn’t answered. The plane was scheduled to arrive at LAX this morning at 9a.m.
It was two o’clock.
Time to face the fact that her thirty-year marriage was over. The tears that had come and gone threatened to flood through. She pushed them back again. Her garden needed tending. She didn’t have time to indulge in tears. She headed out the back door to the potting shed, slipped on her large sun hat and gloves and tackled the weeds with purpose.
The sun beat down on her back. Sweat trickled down the sides of her neck. The rich smell of the earth and the hard work made her feel alive. She finished the garden and looked up at her small orchard, knowing she’d been avoiding this area. She stood beneath the shade of the peach tree. Peaches for peach pie.
She and Jake had met in college. They’d dated for almost six months before she knew he was the one. She remembered the exact moment. They were starving students and had just enough money for one piece of pie at their favorite restaurant. They pooled their money and split the pie. She’d told Jake how someday, she’d liked to use her grandmother’s pie recipes and open a business. Jake told her how he planned to be the best human resources manager the planet had ever seen.
As he talked, his dark, wavy hair fell over his forehead and he pushed the last bite of peaches and crust toward her. He didn’t even think about it, just unselfishly handed her the choicest part. Love flooded through her and she told him so. How had she forgotten the look on his face when she said it?
To celebrate the one-year anniversary of buying their own home, he’d bought this peach tree. When Jerrod was born, he bought her an apple tree. Jennifer garnered her apricots. A cherry and a pear tree followed. In the years after, she used the fruit to bake her pies. Jake never complained when she quit her job to stay home while the children were little. When she said she wanted to start the catering business, he never questioned her, he just applied for a loan and helped her set up the business plan. In the beginning, he’d even helped her cook and serve. He’d always been there.
But when he needed her, when he’d asked her to support the career that had given them so much security over the years, she balked. Why hadn’t she even tried to make a concession or meet in the middle? How had her business become more important than her marriage?
“I’m sorry,” she whispered out loud as she gazed up at the sky through the budding tree branches. “If I could just have another chance....”
Her only answer was a bird, twittering high in the tree. The tears she’d been holding back burst through. She attacked the tufts of grass as if it were her own foolish mistakes she could dig out and throw in the trash. She sobbed and shoveled. After a while, the weeds were hacked and raked into a pile. Sara pulled off her gloves and wiped at her wet, grimy cheeks with the back of her hands. That’s when she heard the doorbell through the open window.
She wasn’t expecting anyone and she was a mess with her swollen eyes and mud streaked face. She wasn’t going to answer the door. When it rang a third time, she knew whoever it was wasn’t going to go away. She grabbed a tissue from the potting shed, wiped at her cheeks, plopped her floppy hat back on her sweat flattened hair and headed around the side gate.
A delivery truck was in the horseshoe shaped driveway and a teenage boy stood at her door. “Can I help you?”
“Yeah, ummm, I have delivery for you, I think.”
“Yeah. There was a glitch. The computer crashed. We got the orders and the addresses but we didn’t get what gift went with what address. The computer’s still down so we thought the best thing would be to make the deliveries and let the customer choose which might be their gift.”
Sara’s heart jumped. A delivery. Could it be something from Jake? “Let me see what you have,” she said already turning toward the truck. The teenager barely beat her back to the van. He slid open the door and Sara looked at the gifts situated in boxes.
First he handed her a vellum envelope. She showed him her dirt caked hands so he opened it for her. Inside was beautiful, ornate calligraphy. It was an invitation to a restaurant she’d didn’t recognize.
“I don’t think this is for me,” she said.
Next he handed her a beautiful clear box of individually wrapped chocolates in gold paper. The box was tied with a giant, pink silk ribbon.
She shook her head and he reached behind the seat, pulling out a beautiful, antique bird cage. Sitting inside were two, teal-colored love birds. “They’re beautiful,” Sara murmured, “but I don’t know anyone who would send me those.”
At last, he pulled out a lovely green, glass vase with a dozen red roses. Sara felt all of the hope drain out of her.
“I’m sorry but I don’t think any of those gifts were meant for me. You’d better send them on to the next address.” She folded her arms and stepped back. Just as the delivery boy hopped into the back of the van, a small truck pulled into the driveway. The side of the truck said Delectable Edible Arrangements.
Sara’s heart jumped again. A young woman climbed out of the truck.
“Hello!” she said as she headed around the side. She took out a beautifully wrapped arrangement of cut, fresh fruit and walked forward. “I have a delivery for Sara Hunter.”
“That’s me,” Sara said, her gaze fixed on the sliced strawberries, blackberries, apples, peaches and apricots arranged in the shape of a tree. The young woman handed her a card.
Sara ripped it open. It said: Bad weather. Delayed in Denver. I’ll be home tonight. Keep the pie warm. Jake.
Clamping the card next to her heart, Sara’s gaze flew up to the bright blue sky. “Thank you,” she said. Then she hugged the young woman. “Thank you!” she said again, as she took the arrangement out of the women’s arms. “And thank you, too!” she called out to the delivery boy as she walked backwards to the house. “You’ll have to excuse me, now. I have some baking to do!”
Widow Paisley Robbins rounded the corner of her front walk, ever on the look out for flowers to divide or trim. The transplanted Nebraskan missed specific seasonal changes, but spring was definitely in the air here in southern California.
The sound of a slamming car door drew her gaze off the slate path. Three houses up, at the curve of the cul-de-sac, Sara Hunter walked toward her front door backward, face almost obscured by…a tree made of fruit? They exchanged a wave.
Paisley eyed the delivery van parked in front of the edible fruit truck, and wondered what Sara was celebrating. The driver of the van exited the horseshoe drive. Instead of gaining speed, he swung into Paisley’s drive. Curious. She hadn’t ordered anything.
“Ms. Robbins,” the teenaged driver greeted, “we had a mix-up of orders and one of these is yours.”
“One of what?”
He jumped out and opened the slider. “Take your pick. The names are here on the clipboard, but Gramps and I don’t know who gets what ‘cuz the computer’s messed up.”
The choices were a handwritten restaurant invitation. Her heart hitched at the writing that looked like her deceased father’s. She shook her head.
Delectable chocolates packaged in gold and pink wouldn’t be for her because she had celiac disease.
The dozen red roses vased in emerald glass weren’t for her either. She may have awakened that morning with a heightened sense of spring fever, but her love lay in a cemetery across town.
“How about these?” The delivery boy held up an ornate replica of a Victorian bird cage. Through the resin slats a pair of cuddling, teal love birds cocked their curious heads. Their iridescent feathers reminded her of an Indigo bunting she’d once seen back home.
She knew who the birds were meant for. “I’ll sign for those.”
This was the fourth time deliveries or mail had been mixed up with a man named Robin Paisley. The last time was the previous week when a package of organic bird seed had been left on her porch.
The teenager carried the cage up her steps and set it in the shade. Then he placed the invoice on the top of his clipboard for her to sign. “Thanks, three to go.”
She thanked the youth for the delivery. It was time she met the bird man.
Their first contact was when he’d called. Her number was on the invoice for a delivery of calla lilies, left at his door. She’d picked up her package when he was at work. The next two exchanges were over mail left in each others' box.
The turquoise love birds were probably fine on the porch. She went inside to get her cell.
For some reason, a flutter of anticipation wiggled through her tummy as she waited for him to answer.
“Mr. Paisley, Paisley Robbins here.”
She smiled when he chuckled, low and long. “It happened again?”
“Right the first time. I think this one calls for a personal retrieval.” That flirtatious tone had come from her mouth?
“Be right over.”
What had she done?
Would Gabe be turning over in his grave?
She sat without moving, mesmerized by the pair of love birds. They nuzzled and clacked, engrossed in one another as they perched.
A car soon swished into her driveway. She took a deep breath and turned at the snick of the door. And almost forgot to exhale.
He wasn’t Hollywood handsome. Separately, features were mismatched, kind of unbalanced. But all together, she approved of the approaching package. When he was close enough, Paisley blinked. Robin’s blue and green eyes matched the feathers of the love birds.
He extended his hand. “We finally meet.”
At the touch of their palms, her hungry heart sighed.
Something beyond attraction was born. Peace. Familiarity. The sense of rightness. And above all, she could almost hear Gabe whisper, “It’s time to let me go.”
He ignored the steps and leaped onto the porch. “Oh, what lovely blues and greens you are.”
“Is that what they’re really called?”
“Generically. The bright green with the target eyes are called Fischers.”
“Why such a fancy cage?”
“It’s all for show. They’ll live in a wire cage in the breezeway behind my house.”
She tipped her head and wondered if she looked too much like his birds. “They seem pretty content here on my front porch. Would you like some lemonade?”
“I would. And I’d like to get to know more about you.”
Paisley had no idea what Robin’s life story was. But she knew deep inside she was beginning a new chapter of hers. A part of her would always miss Gabe, yet she was certain he wouldn’t want her to go through life alone.
She suppressed a giggle at the crazy romantic notion of the name, Paisley Robbins-Paisley. But that sounded a whole lot better than Paisley Paisley.
Kenzie Kinkaid moved slightly on the white-cushioned posing couch. The scent of artist’s oils, turpenoid, and drying canvases filled the small studio. Though she tired of holding her back straight and trying to appear relaxed, she never tired of gazing at the artist. His dark chocolate eyes seemed to look right into her soul and enjoy what they found. And the way his wavy black hair fell over his forehead each time he bent to dip his brush into his palette made her toes tingle. She wanted to jump up and run her fingers through that wavy hair, then smooth it back out of his eyes. The feeling had grown stronger during the five weeks they’d been working together.
“This is the last sitting, Kenzie, and I think your parents will find the portrait worth waiting for.”
The deep timbre of his voice sent the kind of delicious shivers to Kenzie’s stomach that she hadn’t experienced in the two years since her fiancé died in a sky-diving accident the week before their wedding. “Did they tell you this was to be my bridal portrait, and that I wanted them to cancel?”
“Yes. But I was glad to extend you all the time you needed.” He stepped back and chose a new brush. “You’re a remarkable model. Usually I only ask for one sitting and then complete the portrait from photographs I take, but…you’re so stunning, I wanted to make certain I caught the real person beneath the beauty.”
Heat flooded her face. “You’ve been sniffing turpenoid, Jeffrey Gordon. I’m not beautiful.”
He propped a foot on the nearby stool, leaned an elbow on his knee, and dangled the brush from his fingers. “I got the impression from your parents they wanted me to get to know you.” The cleft in his chin stood out when he smiled.
“Please don’t feel obligated. Mom and Dad have been matchmaking for the past year. I’ve resisted, but they’ve thrown me together with every eligible bachelor they know. And they made no secret of the fact that you are single. The situation is quite awkward.” She smoothed the yellow silk dress where it clung to her thighs and then flared to the floor.
“Don’t be too tough on them.” His smile made his eyes twinkle. “I named this portrait Daffodils.”
“Because of my dress.”
“Partially. But mostly because you have an inner glow that lights up the studio.“
This was too much. He was coming on to her. She stood. “You can finish the portrait from the pictures you took of me.”
“Please don’t get upset. I’m sorry. I should have kept my mouth shut.”
She settled back down on the couch, but now his constant gaze seemed intrusive. She hadn’t accepted any of the dates her parents had arranged. Instead, she’d dived headlong into her marine biology work using all her energy and loving what she did. When she was ready to date again, God would let her know. She didn’t need matchmakers.
“Almost finished,” Jeffrey mumbled around the brush handle in his mouth.
She would miss the concentrated expression that changed the artist’s face from being merely attractive to being a man with purpose and drive and vision. She’d loved watching him work. Loved seeing the magic his hands created. Loved talking with him. Up until a few minutes ago they’d had a comfortable, relaxed relationship.
“All finished. You can view the portrait now.” He stood back, his usually direct gaze guarded.
Did he think she wouldn’t like his work? She shot up, almost afraid to look. Her stilettos tapping on the hardwood floor, she glided over to the easel.
“It takes my breath away. It’s like looking into a mirror. I…I love the way you captured my skin tones.” She pointed. “And, and do I really look that lovely?” Heat flooded her from her scalp to her ears. “I’m sure my parents will be happy with it.”
The following Saturday morning, Kenzie paced in the tiny garden behind her rented house. The sun shone, the air smelled sweet, and a hummingbird flashed around the nectar of a scarlet bougainvillea bush. She should be happy or at least content. But, now that the portrait hung in her parent’s living room over their ornate mantle, she missed her mornings spent with Jeff. Missed their casual conversations. Missed their spirited discussions about God, and how He works in a believer’s life.
Probably missed him because spring had come to Southern California in a burst of sunshine and blooming flowers. And probably because daffodils’ ranged up and down her short walkway. Probably because a Blue Jay darted down to lure her away from its nest full of new born chicks. Well, she’d get over it. Her bare feet slid over the smooth stones between the waving daffodils as she sauntered around the house to the front.
With a screech of brakes, a delivery truck pulled into the horseshoe drive in front of Sara Hunter’s house. Kenzie rested her hands on her hips and watched. Sara walked to the truck while the delivery man slid the side open. Because the truck obscured her view, Kenzie couldn’t see what else Sarah did, but her neighbor soon turned toward her front door. Then a Delectable Edible Arrangements truck pulled up behind the departing delivery truck.
Another squeal of brakes distracted Kenzie from Sarah’s drive to her other neighbor, Paisley Robbins. Kenzie only had a nod and hello acquaintance with the two older ladies, but she liked them both. Paisley came outside and talked with the delivery driver. Kenzie glimpsed an antique cage with some tiny birds fluttering inside, and was about to walk across the street to talk with Paisley, when the delivery truck gunned out of her drive…and right up Kenzie’s.
Kenzie sucked in a quick breath. What? She hadn’t ordered anything online. Maybe the truck was simply turning around in her drive.
But the truck pulled up, stopped, and a teenager with spiked hair jumped down. “Kenzie Kinkaid?” The boy carried a clipboard.
He grinned. “Um, Miss. You got a delivery.”
“Really, I’m not expecting anything.”
“Yep. Only problem is—um, we got a glitch in our computer. So, Gramps sent me out with these names on this here clipboard, and I got packages, but I don’t know which deliveries go to which names.”
Kenzie chuckled. “Really?”
Untied sneakers flopping on the drive, he hurried to the side of the white van and Kenzie followed. “Can you look at these orders and see which one is yours?” He opened the slider.
“Well, yes, but I can’t imagine…” Kenzie let her words fade as the boy took out a huge box of chocolates in a gold package with a fancy pink ribbon. The thought that a man sent candy made her heart race. She remembered the expectation such gifts brought. “Is there no card?”
“No card, Miss. Do you think this is for you?”
She shook her head. “No. I wish they were, but I don’t think so.”
“These must be for you then.” He pointed to an emerald vase filled with a dozen long-stemmed red roses.
She bent inside the van, stuck her nose close to a velvet bloom, and inhaled the rich rose scent. How many bouquets had she received and taken for granted? Why had she turned her back on love? She’d been too cautious to risk her heart again. And with that restraint she’d lost the joy and excitement and deep satisfaction of caring about someone else more than about herself. She inhaled the sweet, rose fragrance again. And, she’d totally discouraged the one man who’d caught her interest.
“I’ve got this one more,” the teenaged voice cracked. His expression looked so sympathetic Kenzie knew he must have sensed her regret. He handed her a vellum envelope.
The envelope felt smooth and rich in her hand. Spring-like yellow paper shown through the translucent material. She had to peek inside. “This looks as if it’s been opened.”
“Yes, Miss. Ms. Hunter and Ms. Robbins opened the letter to see if it was for them. But it wasn’t, and I only have two other addresses. And the two other packages. Do you think this one’s for you?”
She slipped the textured paper out of the envelope. Her heart fluttered. Beautiful inked calligraphy invited the reader to a dinner that evening at the Café Parisian. She knew that Café. It nestled just around the corner from Jeff’s studio. She’d thought some evening she might stop by and have dinner in the romantic spot. Tears pricked her eyelids. This couldn’t be for her either. The restaurant was for lovers. She was about to fold the note and return it to its envelope when she glimpsed a sort of signature in the corner—an artist’s palette.
“There’s daffodils embossed on the front of the envelope, Miss.”
Kenzie couldn’t stop smiling. “Yes, thank you; this one is mine.”
With a hitch of his drooping pants, a slapping of sneakers, and a squeal of burning rubber, the delivery truck drove away.
Kenzie clasped her hands and gazed at the glorious azure sky. “Thank You, Lord for these three messages. I hear what You’re saying. My parents aren’t the only matchmakers.”
She would no long turn her back on the promise of love.
Tomorrow, look for a new installment of Love is Blooming!