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Woo-ho-o-o-o! Valtentine’s Day. Randy twisted the key in the ignition and revved the van’s engine. He’d been out of work for six months. Now he’d landed a job, a real one, as the delivery man for Mrs. Benedetti’s Flower Peddler. It was nothing like the sorta, part-time one cleaning stalls at that dairy. What could be better than spending the entire day handing off dozens of red roses to people in love? Especially in the middle of the pandemic which brought loneliness and daily announcements of deaths. People were lost and the hits just kept coming. It was exhausting. But Valentine’s Day—it was like a big helping of hope.

 He thought of Junie . . . A slight girl, with straight, sleek brown hair and those gorgeous gray eyes. It almost made the veins in his head burst. “Junie, Junie, Junie.” He whispered her name softly as he drove.

 He’d met her working at Sheila’s Place, a small lunch spot off Second Street, where he’d  once bussed tables, washed dishes, and did janitorial work. He loved watching Junie direct the people to tables, how she walked with such confidence and recited the day’s specials as if she were quoting scripture: “Mac and cheese, you’ll eat it with gladness,” she’d say. “Our grilled chicken with green salad will fill you with joy. Breakfast a-l-l-l day. It’s a good thing.” He couldn’t take his eyes off her. He almost spilled a whole tray of dirty dishes sneaking peeks.

 Oh, he knew Gus, the line cook, was hot on Junie, too, but he was older, twice divorced, had a gut pressing his belt, and in Randy’s opinion, obnoxious. Okay, so he was tall, had a head full of curly black locks and a tattoo on his arm which said: Make it happen. So what? 

Randy was tall enough and wiry, with smattering of dark facial hair that he thought added to his masculinity.

Gus earned more than Randy, but Junie was above all that, wasn’t she? He knew she’d had lunch with Gus one time at Nathen’s, a bistro in that new strip mall, but the guy probably pushed his way into that. Pushy was Gus’s middle name.

With Randy, Junie talked about dreams. She’d get that longing look in her eyes Randy loved, like it came from deep within and took her to another realm. It was like the one his mother got when she spoke of better times before his father ducked out on them.

Junie insisted she wasn’t going to waitress forever. She hoped to go to business college and get an office job with Wormdahl’s Insurance Agency or First Bank. “You can work your way up, if they let you in.”

 Randy just hoped. Maybe hire one at the steel plant. The guys there made good dough and got paid time-and-a-half for extra hours.

Ah, life seemed filled with possibilities, until the COVID virus snuck up on them like that treacherous fog he’d seen in a movie once, creeping under doors, through key holes and cracks in walls until it got inside and smothered people to death. 

At Sheila’s, they had to mask up and move tables around to make sure people were six-feet apart which meant fewer customers. Confusion hung over them like an about-to-burst cloud. The requirements the authorities issued changed weekly. First this; then that. The café closed and reopened. He and Gus erected a tent outside for sidewalk seating, but things only worsened. There was a race to develop a vaccine. Was it safe? Should he get the shot when it was available? 

Gus definitely wasn’t. “Ah, you’re a wimp,” he said to Randy. “Living in fear ain’t gonna buy you a bag of groceries. Besides, those vaccines can change your DNA, and God knows what else.”

 Randy always thought a change in Gus’s genetics might improve him. His bigger worry, though, was infecting his family, especially his mother, but kids his age, just out of high school, weren’t a priority for shots. The government wanted to vaccinate health care workers, school employees, and old people first.

Randy’s mother worked at the Suds Laundry and his two sisters, Casey and little Lorrae, were still in school, except now, the virus kept them home alone all day. His family lived in a sagging one bedroom rental east of town over by the railroad tracks. His sisters shared the bedroom. His room was a cubby hole in the enclosed back porch which also housed the washer and dryer. His mother slept on the couch. Then she started having heart problems which seemed to worsen when the landlord raised their rent. The doctor told her to quit smoking and lose weight. She struggled with it each morning, swallowing a pill, checking her pulse, while puffing on an unfiltered Camel. “If something happens to me, it’s up to you to look after the girls,” she’d said enough times to worry him.

All kinds of people came into the café. Sheila and Junie were probably at greater risk for the virus, since they had more contact with the public. It wasn’t too long before things came to a head. Customers stayed away, afraid to be in crowds. Finally, Sheila announced she was going out of business. 

There used to be a world out there; now it was COVID crazy. The steel plant wasn’t hiring—hardly anyone was. Junie hunkered down at home, waiting. At least she had a home. He was out there struggling, shoveling shit at that big dairy when they needed him. He didn’t have to wear a mask there, but sometimes with the odor, he wished he did.

On the last day at the café, Junie had said, “Keep in touch. I like having you in my life.” She reached out, squeezed his hand with her small, soft fingers. Electricity shot through him. 

That meant something didn’t it? “Course. Of Course,” he managed to say. He knew where she lived—in that yellow house over by the high school.

Enough of the past. Focus on the present. He slowed the delivery van and stopped at a red light. “There’s nothing like a dozen red roses to turn a girl’s head to love,” Mrs. Benedetti, a chunky Italian, with full eyebrows, graying dark hair, and a mole on her chin, had said, as she helped him load vases of flowers. She sighed. “That’s how it all started for Albert and me. I was just a kid at the time. God rest his soul. My family didn’t have a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of.” She smiled. “I was wandering the streets, looking for work, having a bad day. It was raining something awful. I happened to seek shelter under an awning next to a flower peddler cart, so I could eat the cheese sandwich I carried in my pocket. Albert, he handed me a bright red rose. A simple flower. It changed everything.”

It was hard for Randy to imagine such a scene. It all worked out for them. It seemed simple and easy, but in the life he’d been born into everything was a struggle.

“After our marriage, we scraped and saved, and started our florist business, worked hard, and built it together. Your eagerness reminds me of my Albert. When he was young, I mean.”

“Oh, Mrs. Benedetti,” was all Randy could say at the time. But, she was right. There was something about roses. Wasn’t that Junie’s birth flower? He remembered the time Sheila asked her to set a vase with a fresh rose on each of the tables. How Junie glowed and bragged that it was her flower. She sniffed and kissed each bloom like a butterfly bussing flowers in a garden. 

Roses that was it. A way to win Junie over for good. But he couldn’t afford a dozen of them. They could cost over fifty dollars a bunch, depending on the order and where you got them. At the Flower Peddler, a basic arrangement was fifty-five dollars. That was a lot of groceries. You’d never throw money around like that at home. His mother pinched every penny, except when it came to cigarettes. 

 He parked in front of a white house, slipped on his mask, grabbed a vase of roses, and rang the bell. The delivery was for Mrs. Ottoman. A short squat woman with silver hair answered, wearing a cotton dress, a sweater, and a paper mask. 

“For you,” Randy said, thrusting the flowers toward her.

Her gnarled fingers opened the attached card. “Oh, Arnie,” she cooed. “He never forgets his mother.” She hugged the bouquet to her chest. “Happy Valentine’s Day, young man. Thank you.” 

“Yeah, sure,” Randy said. Such a good feeling, but he knew he had nothing to do with it. Mrs. Benedetti’s customers ordered the flowers and paid the bills.

And so it went, he made several more deliveries to offices, stores, apartments. Girlfriends, wives, mothers, daughters—thin, wide, pretty, plain—came to the door or lobby. For Bethel, Joan, Sandra, and on and on. Each woman, her eyes glowing, her face melting, grabbed the bouquets. Mrs. Benedetti had such a knack for arranging the flowers in clear vases with white Baby’s Breath. Some of the deliveries even came with chocolates.

On his way back to the florist shop to load his second round of deliveries, he drove by Junie’s house. Junie, Junie, Junie. Wait a minute. Oh my God, was that Gus leaving? And there was Junie waving goodbye. Gus had a big smile on his face. Why was he there? Where was his mask? Did he bring her something? How could that be? The last he’d heard, Gus still didn’t have a job, but was sucking up unemployment. Randy ducked down in the van to avoid discovery and drove away.


Back at the florist shop, Mrs. Benedetti was all aglow. “Crazy virus out there,” she said through her floral mask, “but people are still caring for each other. Thank goodness for the love.” Hmm, she thought, this Randy reminded her so much of Albert—the way he smiled, the way his shoulders slumped, his fervent desire to learn the business, and those soulful brown eyes.

 Out back, she helped him load vases into the van, watching as he sniffed each bouquet, almost seeming to kiss the flowers before carefully setting them in the rear compartment. Funny, her Albert always did the same thing, like he had a relationship with the blooms, and they were sacred. They never had children, but if they did, this kid could definitely fill the bill. She was getting on in years and could really use his help. Maybe this Randy was a gift from the universe. 

He tapped the van horn, and she waved as he drove away. Sometimes, she thought, amidst all the calamity out there, the world hands you a small gem.


Randy gunned the engine; his heart heavy. All he could think of was Junie, Junie, Junie. Hmmm. But wait. Maybe there’s a way. Of course, sharing. That was it. Especially in these times. Look after yourself and each other. Wasn’t that the day’s mantra? Oh, there were some bad eggs out there hoarding, buying up all the toilet paper and hand sanitizer. He’d even caught Gus, pilfering toilet paper and paper towels from the café john. The guy almost jumped through the ceiling when he realized Randy spotted him stuffing the loot in his backpack.

 He also remembered seeing the Italians on TV coming out on balconies singing to each other on a bleak night. It was like Mrs. Benedetti had said—people sharing love during dreadful times was a touching thing.

 At his next stop, Randy carefully plucked a rose from the bouquet, cuddled it in his hands, and let it touch his nose as he imagined Junie. He gave it a kiss and stuck it in the extra vase he found in the back of the van which he filled with water from his plastic bottle. Junie, Junie, Junie. He did that each time he made a delivery.

People would still get their bouquets. Oh, those expressions of delight; how enthralled the women were, delighted that the sender thought of them. One little flower wasn’t going to matter. It was still a bouquet. There was no law about how many blooms you needed to fill a vase. Besides, these people had everything. 

Junie wouldn’t need a dozen. Six would do it, and he could use one of those white plastic vases his mother kept under the kitchen sink and maybe cut some greenery from that camellia shrub by the back porch. He pictured Junie’s face as she reached for the flowers, charmed like the women on his route. And then, after kissing the roses, she would kiss him. He was sure of that.

He grinned. Gloated even. Take that, Gus. He smiled again. Oh my God, roses. Lush, velvety, and that sweet, fruity smell.

Randy happily delivered the bouquets until his shift was over. “Junie, Junie, Junie,” he sang on his way back to the shop. “Flowers for my Junie.”

He parked the van and went inside. Mrs. Benedetti was standing there, arms folded, foot tapping the floor, her mouth like a steel vice. 

“Randy!” she shouted. “What have you done? Already, three people have called me . . . complaining they ordered a dozen roses and only got eleven.” She counted on her fingers, Collette Newsome, the banker’s wife; Rinnie Whitlock who works at the hardware store, and now Sybil Chambers’ son. 

Randy’s head hung. He didn’t think people who got those roses counted them. Why would they? Eleven roses still made a fine bouquet and then some. How much was enough?

“Jesu-me!” Mrs. Benedetti exclaimed through her gritted dentures, her hands gyrating through the air. “I gave you a chance, and you, you stole from me. Worse yet, you stole from my customers. What have you got to say for yourself?” 

He didn’t know. His armpits were wet; his dark eyes wide open. Scared. Junie, Junie, Junie, say it soft and it’s like a summer breeze. Say it loud and it’s— Suddenly Junie seemed to evaporate. He saw the desperate looks on the faces of his mother and two sisters. He heard his mother’s plea, “If something happens to me . . .” 

“How many did you take?” Mrs. Benedetti’s demanding voice broke through his thoughts.

“What? Uh, Six, I think, six.”

“Santa Maria Giuseppe!” Her hands held her head.

 Randy cleared his throat, his eyes teared. “Mrs. Benedetti,” he pleaded. “Have you ever been in love?”

Her arms relaxed. She got that faraway look. The one she always got when she spoke of her Albert. The flowers started it all. This boy seems so like my Albert. Sensitive. A little foolish at times. 

“You have a girlfriend?” she asked, amazed.

“Sorta. Junie. We met at the café where I used to work. She . . . she loves roses. It’s her birth flower, and I thought . . . I didn’t think it was stealing. I thought it was sharing.”

The expression on his face. That look, like the time her Albert forgot their anniversary, or when he bet their savings on the horses thinking he could win and buy a florist shop.

“Deceit doesn’t bloom love. That’s what, six people?” 

“I’ll work for free until I make up the amount. I . . . I can go back and return the roses. I . . .”

“You bet you will . . . along with an apology and a discounted bill.” Mrs. Benedetti plunked six fresh roses in individual white vases.

 Each time, she set a vase down hard on the counter and it made him flinch. 

She hurriedly added a sprig of Baby’s Breath, and threw in a few wrapped chocolates. “Roses aren’t cheap.”

Did that mean he still had his job? He didn’t dare ask. His knees were shaking. How would he explain this to his mother? He saw his sisters cowering in the corner as his mother exploded. “You lost your job? What are we gonna do?” And, that worst cut of all, ‘You’re just like your father.”

Mrs. Benedetti’s small eyes moved back and forth, like she was calculating. Have you ever been in love? Love. Sometimes it could make a person’s good intentions take a left turn. 

Randy grasped the foam box holding the vases, swallowed hard, and headed to the door.


He turned to face her. “Yeah?”

She massaged the back of her neck. “Those roses you took . . .”

“They’re in the van. I’ll go get them.”

She gave him a level look. “Give them to your girlfriend.”

“You don’t want them back?” He could hardly say it.

“We’ll work something out, Randy. We’ll work something out.” 

He couldn’t help it. Tears spilled over his mask. All the pangs of shame gnawed at his gut.

Mrs. Benedetti came toward him and pulled him to her. “There, there,” she said, patting his back. “And yes, I have been in love.”


Jean Rover is the author of Touch the Sky, a heart-rending novel, filled with intrigue, about a missing child in Oregon’s backcountry. Her writing has received awards or recognition from Writer’s Digest, Short Story America, Willamette Writers, Oregon Writers Colony, and the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). Her work has appeared in various literary magazines and anthologies, including the Saturday Evening Post’s Great American Fiction Contest Anthology. Other stories were performed at Liars’ League events in London, England and Portland, Oregon. She has also authored a chapbook, Beneath the Boughs Unseen, featuring holiday stories about society’s invisible people. She lives and writes in Oregon’s lush Willamette Valley.


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