But if you're curious to know why Lacey's so jaded, here's a bit of insight...
Lacey pulled the purple hyacinths and white carnations out of the cooler before going back for the autumn mums. Death couldn’t care less about her personal problems. She’d awakened to a text from Davidson’s Funeral home about Mr. Hale’s visitation this evening. It had taken months to get them to even take a look at using her shop. Last week, she’d have been thrilled with the message. But not
Perched on a stool in front of her work bench, she clipped flower stems. Providing beauty and comfort at a time of sadness was one of the perks of her job, but her focus was way off today. Her stomach rolled as her work took on a different dimension. What if she had to plan her dad’s funeral? Could she sit here and create beauty for that? What kind of flowers would he want? They’d certainly never discussed it.
Mentally slapping herself, she forced back the hot sting of tears. Stop it. You’re not helping.
At a light tap against the glass front door, Lacey glanced up, welcoming the distraction from her morbid thoughts. Mona held up two steaming Starbucks cups in her mittened hands. Lacey hurried over and unlocked the door, the bell tinkling as the cold wind pushed in around Mona.
“Brrrr.” Mona’s teeth chattered as she handed the cups to Lacey before shedding her coat and gloves. “This is ridiculous. Just a few days ago, it was in the sixties.”
Lacey breathed in the rich coffee. “Thanks so much for coming. You’re a life saver. The job’s too big to take care of around everything else during store hours.”
Mona grabbed one of the lattés and put her other hand on her hip. “Oh, please. Your timing was perfect. I’m worrying myself sick over your father at home by myself. Is Sam on her way?”
Shaking her head, Lacey picked up a yellow mum and positioned it in the spray. “I left her a message but she hasn’t called me back. I take it Spencer’s not home yet? Did you decide to file a report?”
“Not yet. I’m going to give him a couple more days. It’s not like this is the first time it’s happened. I was jumping to conclusions on Saturday because of Bill.” Mona shook her head and forced a smile. “Enough about that. I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.”
Lacey knew a mindless task was what Mona needed. What they both needed. She hugged Mona then handed her the hand-written orders, listing the required flowers for each corresponding arrangement. “Can you go pull these flowers from the cooler?”
On auto-pilot, Lacey put the finishing touches on the casket spray. By the time she was done, Mona had methodically sorted the flowers for the first three arrangements.
Lacey glanced over at the neat stacks. “Very impressive.”She nudged Mona’s shoulder. “And efficient. If you ever decide to expand your horizons, I know a quaint little floral and gift shop that could use somebody like you.”
Mona sighed. “I wish finding your dad was this easy. I’m still having a hard time believing this is real. I keep expecting him to walk through the door.”
Lacey’s smile faded. “I know. It’s so frustrating and we’re not making any progress.”
Mona straightened a lace doily on one of the display tables.“I saw the story last night on the news. Hopefully something will come out of that.”
“I hope so. I was thinking last night about his email files. I wonder if anyone’s scanned them yet. Even if they have, I’d like to see them myself.”
“Wasn’t Caleb up on campus yesterday? Did he have a chance to see them?”
Lacey hadn’t given much thought to Caleb this morning. She was still trying to adjust to the notion of him being part of the conversation.“I don’t think so. He was more interested in the lab.” Lacey wondered how much Mona knew about her dad’s work. Probably not much more than she did.
Mona continued to fidget. “Hmmm.” She nodded. “I thought a lot about what Caleb said about dealing with his younger brother.” Turning toward Lacey, she folded her arms. “You know him. Do you think there’s a chance he could help Spencer?”
Lacey paused. You know him. The words rattled around in her head. Did she? Could she vouch for his character? Hardly.
She’d accepted that he was here to help find her father. But did that put him in the good guy category? And, how much did Mona know about their history? One thing was certain. There was no way she wanted Mona to get too attached to Caleb, or come to depend on him. Better to nip this in the bud.
Pulling a towel from her apron pocket, Lacey wiped her hands and shrugged. “I’m sure he has the best intentions, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up.”
Mona’s face fell. “I understand. I’m sure he’ll have to get back to Chicago soon.”
Lacey’s gut clenched. She felt like she’d just kicked a dog. Handing scissors to Mona, she scooted around her, anxious to get past the subject. “Will you trim these stems? I’m going to run upstairs and get the display easels.”
Lacey wandered around the cramped storage room, moving boxes around until she found the decorative iron pieces. Her conscience began to niggle at her.
Crap. Had she told Mona the truth, or just her truth? She didn’t even know Caleb anymore. Was it fair to taint Mona’s image of him based on her bad experience?
Lacey lugged the pieces downstairs, guilt weighing on her as she recognized the anxiety etched on Mona’s face. With everything going on, she’d just taken away Mona’s one ray of hope. Nice going, Lacey.
She motioned to Mona to join her at the workbench. “Want to help me position these and make sure they look okay?”
Mona rallied. “Sure. Just tell me what I’m looking for.”
After explaining, Lacey placed another few flowers to achieve balance. Her conscience refused to leave her alone. Plopping down on the stool, she sighed. “What I said a few minutes ago wasn’t fair.”
Mona looked up from the white carnation she was about to add. “What?”
“About Caleb. I think he’d love to help with Spencer. I have a bit of a jaded opinion. Water under the bridge.”
Mona’s wise eyes continued to watch her, and Lacey wondered why she’d opened this particular can of worms.
Reaching for another flower, Mona broke the expanding silence. “Pretty deep water, huh?”
Lacey shrugged. “I thought so at the time.” She added a ribbon to the arrangement, a weak smile cracking her face. “First true love and all that.”
“Ah,” Mona sighed. “That is deep stuff. What happened?”
“Pretty simple really. I thought we were in love. I was wrong. I thought we were going to spend our lives together. Wrong again. He left and that was it.” Lacey cocked her head and nodded, satisfied with her arrangement. She removed it from the easel and disappeared into the cooler.
Lacey waited an extra minute after she stored the arrangement, hoping Mona would take the hint and let the conversation about Caleb die. She should’ve known better. Mona’s keen gaze tracked her as she returned and studied the next arrangement.
“My experience tells me that things like that are rarely simple. Why did he leave?”
Lacey wasn’t interested in telling the whole story, but Mona would be like a dog with a bone if she tried to dodge her question. She stifled a sigh. “He was, is, the oldest of six kids. I don’t know much about his upbringing. He never talked about it, but Dad had mentioned that his parents were out of the picture. All I knew was that he was the primary provider for his siblings. It was up to him to make sure they had financial resources. While he was in college, he worked full time to support them. After college, he interned with my dad for a summer then headed off to Chicago to make his fortune.”
Mona leaned forward into Lacey’s line of sight. “That seems pretty noble to me.”
Lacey rushed to explain. “Oh, it was. I admired him for it. We talked a lot about his plans and dreams that summer. I was foolish enough to make the assumption that I was part of those plans, and when it turned out that I wasn’t, I was devastated.”
“That would’ve hurt. Did he stay in touch with you?”
Making quick work of the second arrangement, Lacey added the ribbon and pulled it off the easel. "We were both young, and I was hurt and angry. It was easier to sever ties, so that’s what we did. We hadn’t spoken until he showed up at the farm on Saturday.”
“Huh,” Mona said, her brow knitting.
Lacey stopped and turned around. “Huh, what?”
“I was just thinking that fate’s a funny thing.”
Frowning, Lacey hoisted the easel and headed to the cooler. The only intervention of fate she cared about was making sure her dad survived and returned home safe and sound.