Silky brown hair spilling down her back, billowing in the wind, the strange woman stared across the beach as if seeing a doorway to paradise that no one else could see.
Her eyes were like green gems sparkling in the evening sun-light, so intently focused on that door, her skin like supple ivory, so smooth and blemish-free that it would seem to ripple like melted white-chocolate if touched. She wasn’t short, but she wasn’t tall, either, and she had a body that was delicate but defined. In short, she looked like something out of a photograph; if she wasn’t perfect then she was very close to it.
Parker woke slowly, blinking the sunlight and the last remnants of sleep out of his eyes. He could still see the image of the mystery-woman—the literal “girl of his dreams”—in his mind’s eye. Though, that didn’t surprise him since this was the fourth time in the past week that he’d had the dream; nights of hardly-remembered visions concluding with the single, solitary image of this woman on the beach.
Night after night he’d seen her, and each morning he’d wake with a renewed sense of wonder and awe. Who was she? Where did she come from? What was her story, held secretly behind those dazzling green eyes? And, oddly, despite all of these questions, he felt a strange kinship with this woman, as if he’d known her for years. And something else, as well: Love. He loved this unknown woman, and it felt as natural as if they’d lain together nightly for years.
Parker lifted himself up and sat on the edge of the bed, stretching muscles that felt unused for years. He looked around his bedroom, soulless except for himself.
He kept his room abnormally clean for a bachelor in his mid-twenties, and adhered to it by making his bed as soon as he got out of it, a queen-sized bed with a royally embroidered red quilt atop it, along with matching pillowcases. The furniture in the room was completed by a black, marble-topped dresser with matching nightstands and a 40-inch flat-screened television that was hardly ever used.
He groggily made his way over to the adjacent bathroom to “break his morning seal”, and then proceeded to brush his teeth. After thoroughly rinsing his mouth with the peppermint mouthwash in the sink, he stopped and looked in the mirror.
A little under six feet tall, Parker Lewis was of an average height for a 27-year-old guy. Scraggly black hair, eyes that were somewhere between black and brown, and black wire-framed glasses, Parker didn’t consider himself unattractive, but he knew he was no Brad Pitt, either. He wasn’t muscular, but had a decent amount of definition, which was mainly due to the fact that he had fairly low body fat. He kept a framed photograph of his mother in the bathroom, which might sound weird to some people, but whenever he looked in the mirror he would look down at his mother and remember her telling him how handsome he was. It was almost like a morning pep-talk.
Parker walked out of his room and looked around at his comfortable apartment. It wasn’t big, but it was his, and he appreciated it; he took very good care of everything, and was very organized. Not to the point of OCD, but to the point where it was noticeable. His books were all organized by author last name on his two bookshelves, and the photos of his parents and grandparents were placed just right on the walls and end-tables. He always made sure that, if everything wasn’t completely clean, then at least it was orderly.
He was also a creature of habit. Every morning, he was up and moving by 8:00am. He made breakfast—generally eggs with bacon, toast, and a cup of orange juice—and ate it to the soothing sounds of Carlos Santana and his guitar, the amazing voice and instrumentals of Imogen Heap, or something else of that sort. And that’s exactly what he set to do.
The smell of breakfast quickly filled the small apartment. Breakfast in the morning was routine, but it was also for the smells. It reminded him of his parents, his father standing over the stove with a towel thrown over his left shoulder, his mother making coffee. The smell of breakfast was like a time portal for him, and he made sure to step through that doorway as often as he could.
After eating, he took his shower, got dressed, and went to work. All in all, though he wasn’t completely fulfilled with his life, the repetition made it bearable.
Parker Lewis was the owner of a relatively well-to-do flower shop on the other side of town, and thus afforded a little more flexibility with his schedule. He generally showed up for work at around 10:30am, confident that his staff was competent enough to handle matters until he arrived.
He pulled his 1995 Jeep Cherokee into his designated parking spot around the back of the two-story building. The top floor was a refurbished apartment that he rented out to his assistant manager, Joe.
Joe had worked for the shop since Parker opened it about 3 years prior, and Parker trusted him wholly. He allowed him to live above the shop for close to nothing, on account of the extraordinarily long hours that he worked and the fantastic job that he did.
Joe Smith was as bland as his name was. He was in his late 30’s, slightly shorter than Parker, and had a face that no one would remember passing on the street. He fit in perfectly with everyone because, if you got to know him, he really didn’t fit in with anyone. He was the most unremarkable person that Parker had ever met.
“Hi, Parker,” Joe offered as soon as the door opened.
“Hey, Joe,” he responded. “How’s business been this morning?”
Joe sighed. “Oh, as good as can be expected on a Wednesday morning. More flies than customers, but I can’t decide whose company I prefer.”
“People tip better, but you probably connect better with the flies,” Parker shot back. He chuckled as he walked back into the office.
As Parker walked into the small room and sat down behind his desk, looking at the mounds of paperwork that he had to go through this morning, he found himself thinking about how he had come upon the shop at such a young age.
As a child, Parker could remember visiting his grandmother’s estate in the country. Even then, he knew that she had more money than he could ever dream of, and as an only grandchild, he knew that eventually it would come to him. Money wasn’t his concern back then, like it wasn’t his concern now, though. Parker had loved his grandmother more than he'd ever cared for anyone else, and she never missed an opportunity to tell him that he was her absolute favorite family member.
When he was barely a teenager, his grandmother passed away; nothing horrific, just old age. Of course, her entire estate went to a trust fund for Parker for when he turned 18. When Parker was 16, his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and passed away before she could see her son become a man, and at 18 his father got into a car accident and died. Not the most enjoyable way to spend your teenage years—grieving for one family member after another—but who ever said teenage life was fair?
Now, whereas his father was frugal and cautious with his money, Parker was simply cheap. He had always hated spending money, even if it was on something that he desperately wanted. That being said, once grieving had turned to loss remembrance following his father's death, Parker knew that he needed to do something with the money that would satisfy his urge to save.
When he was a child, he remembered going to his grandmother’s estate and playing in her garden. He recalled sitting on her lap as she told him the names and characteristics of all the different types of flowers, and of them simply walking through the gardens together. By the time he was 10, he could recite over a hundred different genera of flowers, and by the time he was 12 his grandmother was quizzing him about everything from the exotic flowers in her garden to the most common flowers found on the side of the road. Needless to say, Parker had a special fondness towards them.
And that’s how he decided what to invest his money in. No lease, or payments, or co-owners; this flower shop belonged to Parker. That’s not to say that all of his inheritance went towards the shop, however. Only a small portion; the rest Parker carefully portioned out so that he knew, despite the fact that he worked every day, he would never find himself in a tough spot financially.
Unfortunately, that meant if anything were to go wrong, it was him the IRS came after. It meant that from all sides, the paperwork had to come through him. Oh, but how he hated doing paperwork. He had considered pawning it off on Joe, but Joe practically ran the shop as it was. He was a good enough guy who had gotten into some trouble with the law a few years before Parker met him and was having a tough time finding a job, so Parker had decided to give him a shot. It'd all worked out, and Joe had turned out to be one of the hardest working and most loyal people that he'd ever met.
Parker heaved a sigh and set to work; he had taken the weekend off, so he had to catch up on quite a bit. It always surprised him how quickly all these papers seemed to add up, especially when it came to the simple day-to-day running of the shop.
After what seemed like only five minutes but also like an eternity, a knock came at the door and Joe stuck his balding head in.
“Hey, boss, I’m going to grab some lunch; you want anything?”
Parker looked up at the clock—it was already 2:30pm!—and shook his head. “No thanks, Joe. I actually think I’m going to go grab something myself. I’ll hang around until you get back, and then I’ll punch out a little early today.”
“Suit yourself,” he responded. “I’ll see you in a few.”
As Joe shut the door, Parker thought to himself, Man, time flies whether you’re having fun or not.
A few minutes later, Parker heard the bell over the front door ding and got up to check it out. He had always liked the idea of having a simple, old-fashioned bell to announce the customers; he felt like it added a more comforting feeling than the electronic chime.
It always came as a burst of happiness when he looked into the shop that he called his own, especially when he had been looking at papers for the better part of 5 hours. He'd designed the interior himself, so it had an earthier feel to it. Vines climbed the walls and covered the ceiling—all in precise order, of course, though not unless you knew what you were looking for. Half of the floor of the shop had been built without floorboards, except for narrow planks for people to walk on. This was so he could plant straight through to the soil, which he placed himself and had a team of employees to maintain.
Of course this made the added work of removing plants when they outgrew the area, which wasn’t that big of a problem. He also owned a foundation that was dedicated to numerous things, including building parks where he could put his plants, and delivering flowers free of charge to nursing homes and such. It also meant that he spent a decent amount of money keeping the insect-life out. The shop wasn't just a building or a business, but it was also a living, breathing thing.
When he opened his office door Mrs. Blanchard awaited him. Her husband had passed away many years before, and her kids had long-since moved on and had kids of their own. She lived alone on the outskirts of town, but every week she came in and got two dozen of the same flowers, one to lay at her husband’s grave and one to keep in her home.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Blanchard!” Parker greeted. “I was afraid I might miss you today.”
The smile that beamed across her worn face made it all worth the effort, in his opinion. She reminded him of his grandmother, and he knew that when her body could no longer afford to be as stubborn as her mind was--and she couldn’t make the trip anymore--he’d bring her order to her each week. He’d probably also go lay the rest on her husband’s grave; he’d never met the man personally, but had heard so much about him that it felt as if he'd grown up with him.
“Good afternoon, Parker," she replied. "You’re half the reason I come all the way out here, and I wouldn’t miss visiting you for the entire world.”
“You’re too kind,” he noted in mock bashfulness. “And I see you’re looking just as radiant as ever.”
“Oh, you flatter an old woman, Parker. When are we going to find you a nice wife and settle you down?”
“You know I’m holding out for you, Mrs. B,” he shot back coyly. “You’ll crack eventually.”
She laughed out loud. “You wouldn’t know what to do with a woman like me!”
“You might be right at that,” he chuckled. “So what can I get for you this afternoon?”
“The usual, please, Parker.”
“Two dozen red and white Double Delight roses, coming right up,” he offered. As he walked into the backroom where he kept the freshly cut flowers, he called out to her, “So, you know, Mrs. Blanchard, there are other types of flowers out there. And some are just as nice.”
“Oh, my, yes,” she remarked, “But my Thomas so loved white roses, and I loved red, so what better compromise could there be? You know we had three thousand Double Delight roses at our wedding? I wish you'd been around then; you could’ve made a pretty penny.”
“But then I wouldn’t get to hear you tell me about it every time you came in,” he replied as he walked back out holding her flowers. “And you do tell it so beautifully.”
“You’d better stop, Parker,” she cautioned, “Before I start to think that you really do have a thing for me.” They both laughed as he put the flowers down on the counter.
“So when are you going to start letting us deliver these, Mrs. B?” Parker questioned. “I actually give someone money to do that, you know?”
“I’ve told you time and again, Parker,” she began in a tone that said she was sick of making this argument, “that my car may be an old beat-up clunker, but we gals stick together, and if she can make it then so can I!”
“Fair enough,” he stated simply.
Just then, the door opened and Joe walked in carrying a brown paper bag and a Styrofoam cup with a logo on it that Parker couldn’t see. “Mrs. Blanchard. It’s so nice to see you this afternoon. Two dozen Double Delights?”
“Watch yourself, Parker,” the woman began with a sly smile on the corners of her lips, “You’ve got a clever one there. He might just have your job one day.”
Parker laughed. “Oh, give over, Mrs. B. He probably will have my job one day, and then you’ll have to deal with that mug every week.”
“Oh, I’ll be gone long before you are, Parker,” she noted in jest.
Joe laughed and hollered out, “I have half a mind to believe that you’d refuse to go with Death because he wouldn’t let you drive that beat-up old car down there. Either that, or you’d chase him out with that sparkling personality of yours!”
“I’ll show you a sparkling personality, Joseph!” she chuckled. After she paid she started lifting her flowers and added, “You two are a hoot. Thanks for everything.”
“Always a pleasure, Mrs. Blanchard,” Parker offered, “We’ll see you next week.”
Parker started heading back to the office and called out over his shoulder, “Alright, Joe. I’m going to pack up and head out. I trust that you can handle things here while I’m gone.”
“I think I can manage,” he offered. “Though if anything happens I’ll just call Mrs. Blanchard and have her handle it.”
Parker laughed. “She’d probably do a better job than both of us!”
They made their goodbyes and Parker walked outside. The store wasn’t on a main street, but the town wasn’t the biggest, either, which made him fairly well-known. Also, he liked the fact that there wasn’t a lot of vehicular traffic all the time in this area. He was in a part of town that was easily accessible but that people didn’t venture to much unless they had a reason. In his opinion, it was the perfect location.
He started towards his car and was sticking his key in the lock when he found himself making eye contact with the most beautiful woman that he'd ever seen. Shoulder-length blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and a face that men drool over; she was standing by her opened car hood with an expression on her face that said she had no idea what she was doing.
Parker opened his door, put his bags inside, and walked over to her. He knew very well that when it came to vehicles, he was only slightly more useful than a sponge on a sinking boat. He knew how to change his oil, rotate his tires, jump-start his vehicle, and the rest of the basics, but when it came to anything more complicated than that he knew how to call a mechanic. But he went anyway.
“You look like you’re having a little trouble,” he offered. I’m an idiot, he thought to himself. What am I going to do if she is? Call a tow-truck?
“My car won’t start,” she noted. “I think I just need a jump. If you have some cables, that’d be great.”
Inside his head, Parker began jumping up and down. At least it wasn’t something that would make him look like the useless lump that he felt like. “Yeah, I’ve got them in my car. I’ll be right back.”
When Parker pulled his vehicle up beside her, he was again shocked by how beautiful she was. It wasn’t anything that she was doing, but at the same time it was everything that she was doing, the simple unconscious mannerisms. She was chewing on a bit of her hair, and leaning against her drivers’ side door. She had the most innocent, yet determined look in her eyes. He thought he could lose himself in those eyes. She was resting against the car, her slim frame making her look all the more the damsel in distress.
After they'd gotten everything hooked up and her car running, she turned to him and gave him a hug. “Thank you so much. You really did save my butt.”
“It’s not a big deal,” he deflected shyly.
“Oh, no, it is,” she protested. “I’ve got to get to work, but maybe we could meet up after my shift and I could buy you a drink or something.”
“I’d like that,” he responded truthfully. He held out his hand and continued, “My name is Parker.”
“I’m Alora,” she shook his hand. He immediately felt a kinship towards her, as if being drawn.
“Alora,” he mused, as if tasting the word. It seemed so natural coming out of his mouth. “What time do you get off?”
“I’ll be out by 11:00 tonight.”
“Great. I’ll meet you here.” He could barely contain himself as he walked back to his car, trying to maintain his even footsteps. Driving home, he felt as good as he had in quite some time. He just kept repeating her name.
By the time he got home, Parker suddenly felt very tired. He hadn’t worked that long, but staring at all of those papers would make anyone tired, so he decided to take a nap before their meeting this evening.