(The second in the Short Story Series)
Doris Gaines Rapp
Copyright 2017 Doris Gaines Rapp
“Well, if it isn’t Greg Granger,” Deanna said as she placed one hand on her hip and held the grocery cart with the other. “You’re back in town.”
“You know I’ve been home for nearly a month, Deanna Flowerpot,” Greg teased.
“Deanna Flowers,” she spit back, “as you well know.” She opened the corner of the Oreo cookie package from the top of her grocery sack and pulled out a comfort treat. Savoring the taste and intoxicating aroma of the chocolate she admitted, “Yes, I’ve seen you around town. You seem to turn up everywhere. Are you following me?”
“Why would I follow you?”
“That’s what I’d like to know,” she said as she straightened her shoulders. “We used to be friends.”
“More than friends,” Greg whispered as he boldly stepped into her space.
“Back off, stranger-Granger,” she lowered her voice and growled, then remembered and hoped the chocolate was not sticking to her teeth. “It’s been seven years, and you haven’t changed a bit.”
“Changed?” he questioned. “Deanna, I’m not the one who changed or needs to change now. As I remember it, Stanley came into your life.” He drew out the name slowly.
“Stan Lee,” she enunciated clearly, “not Stanley. Anyway, he was your friend first, Greg,” she reminded him as she stared him down.
“Right, but he quickly became more than a friend to you, didn’t he?” he laughed incredulously. “From a football huddle with the team, to a romantic huddle with you only took a few weeks.”
Deanna began to push her mound of groceries toward her car again and turned abruptly, tipping the cart onto two wheels. “I did nothing, Greg. It was only after you and Tiffy—” she started to continue but decided there was no need to finish. “Oh, never mind.”
Greg threw up his hands in surrender as he watched her open the hatchback of her SUV. “Can I help you with those?”
“The king needs to be gallant and help his weak and helpless Homecoming Queen ... right? Even still, Greg?” she hissed as she gritted her teeth. “You tried to comfort me when I was upset because you betrayed me with Tiffy…like you did nothing wrong. You came to the conclusion my depression was because I’m a female, not because of what you did. You’ll never change.” She got in, put her car in gear and backed out.
“That was seven years ago. You never let me explain,” he called after her.
“Explain?” Deanna mumbled to herself as she zipped out of the parking lot. “He always thought if he talked enough, long enough, and loud enough, he could convince me it was snowing on the fourth of July.” She grabbed a tissue from her pocket and wiped tears from her eyes with angry swipes. “Well, there was that one time…but…not this time.” When she stopped at the next light, she wondered aloud, “I haven’t seen dear Tiffy Monroe around town. Wonder where he’s hiding her.” Talking to Greg again after all those years made it a hard afternoon for Deanna Flowers to enjoy.
The next morning promised to be a gorgeous sunny day. The sun was warm through the windshield and sent happy rainbows of light onto the seat beside her. It was the kind of weather in which she would have spent the whole day outside as a child. Deanna remembered the summer afternoons she spent with Greg from the time he moved into town when they were both ten-years-old. Mornings down by the river skipping rocks; mid-day excursions in the wooded area behind Flowers’ house; every day was an adventure. As Deanna drove down to her job at the family’s florist shop, Flowers’ Flowers, she fought tears she thought had dried up years ago. “He’ll never change.”
The store had been open for an hour when she walked in. The fragrance of flowers filled the room and escaped out the door as she entered. Deanna reached over and gently touched the pedals of a pot of orange tipped red tulips, a habit she always did when she entered. It was her way of making the dream of expanding the store real—a touch with reality. She came in an hour late and stayed an hour after her parents left as part of their partnership agreement. “Mamma,” she called out in fun, “I’m home.”
“Good morning, dear,” Greg called out in jest. “Don’t you know you’re not supposed to bruise the flowers?”
“I’m not hurting them. I’m encouraging them,” she mocked. “Oh, it’s you again,” she sighed as her shoulders drooped. “What are you doing here?”
“Now, Deanna,” her mother cautioned, “Greg came in to get some flowers for his mother.”
“For your mother?”
“She had another heart attack last night,” Greg explained. “She spent the night in the hospital.”
“Last night?” Deanna asked as her voice softened. She had been close to Mrs. Granger since the fifth grade. Spending all of her time with Greg, his mom was like another mother to her.
“How is she doing?” Mrs. Flowers asked.
Deanna felt her chest grow tight. “Greg, I am so sorry.” She reached out and stroked his arm gently.
“The doctor said she got to the hospital in time. She probably won’t have any permanent damage,” he said as he placed his hand over Deanna’s. “She dodged another near fatal attack.”
“Another one?” Deanna asked as her mother slipped quietly over to the floral cooler.
“Yellow roses?” Connie Flowers called back over her shoulder.
“Yes,” Greg agreed. “That’s right. Mom’s favorite.”
Deanna asked again, “Another heart attack, Greg?”
“Yeah,” he agreed as he continued to stroke her hand still resting on his arm. “She had her first heart attack seven years ago.”
“Seven years ago?” she gasped. The past seven years rolled through her mind in rapid succession. “Is that why you backed out of going to State University like we had both planned?”
“Yeah,” he admitted. “Dad was so busy with the hardware store and helping Mom, living at home and going to Community College was a way I could go on to school and still help out.”
“I came back after college to take over the business end of the florist shop as my parents began to expand it. When they needed me, my business degree came in handy too,” she explained while the smell of roses her mother was wrapping drifted her way. “Where have you been in the last few years, if you needed to be here in town?”
“Mom continued to be free from heart episodes, so she encouraged me to go to law school.” Greg explained as he looked into Deanna’s eyes. “I recently passed the bar exam and have joined Jeffrey Baker’s law office here in town.”
“Oh…” Deanna said, amazed at all Greg had accomplished, and angry she hadn’t known anything about his accomplishments. “But, Greg, you never told me any of it, not about your mother or law school or anything,” she said shaking her head in shock and disbelief.
“You got mad when I said I wouldn’t be going to State. You wouldn’t talk to me, remember?” he whispered. “And, you haven’t let me explain anything since.”
“I got mad because you said you changed your plans and would go to Community College with Tiffy,” she choked as tears gathered in her eyes.
“Deanna,” he said softly. “I told you I needed to change my plans and go to school locally,” he explained as she started to turn away. “No, Deanna, please listen to me. I told you that Tiffy had researched the school here in town and found my major, paralegal studies, had a good rating. She knew because she was going to have a minor in that field.”
“You weren’t going to date Tiffy?” she asked as her eyes welled up.
“Date Tiffy?” he asked as he grabbed her into a forceful embrace. “I loved you, Deanna,” he assured her as he brushed tears from her cheeks. “And…I still love you.”
“I have waited for you to grow up for seven years, Greg,” she said as she leaned in and put her forehead on his chest. “And…it was me who had to change, not you. Today, I was finally willing to listen and heard the words I had waited to hear all these years…words that you had tried to tell me all along.”
Deanna didn’t care who was watching or if, in fact, anyone else as in the store. She reached up on tip-toes and kissed him like they had just gotten home from the prom in their fine party clothes. She even thought she heard taffeta rustle as she moved.
“I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you,” she said while her voice cracked. “Even Mom tried to explain your situation to me and I didn’t want to talk about it. I just complained about how you would always remain the same. All you wanted to do was give excuses for bad behavior.”
“You’ll have to admit, I was a real pain when I was a teenager,” Greg said with a laugh.
“You’ll have to admit, I’ve been a real pain since I’ve grown up,” she admitted. “When I listened to you, it gave you room to maneuver out of the corner I shoved you in.”
“Maybe you’re right,” he said as he threw his head back. “I don’t feel as tapped—wrong if I speak and wrong if I don’t.”
“I understand now,” she admitted as she blushed. “I am so sorry, Greg. It wasn’t you. It was me all along. Grandma was always speaking in wise phrases I didn’t understand until now. She said—the only person you can change is yourself.” She kissed Greg again. “She was right.”