Love in BloomKate pulled her long, brown hair into a ponytail and looked out on the yard of her new home where robins hopped about, snatching up a meal. The sun shone brightly, announcing the approach of spring. Finally! She visualized a row of multicolored flowers bordering her driveway. She squelched a sigh. Had she made the right decision to move so far away from family and friends? At the time, a new position seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. A change had been long overdue, Kate reasoned. And not having a special someone in her life provided further cause to accept the offer. Still, the cold winter had lasted far too long, and she missed the familiar faces back home.Kate stepped away from the window. With a full schedule next week, Saturday was the only time she had to return to Freddy’s Garden Center. Perhaps the promised shipment of flowers had arrived. She grabbed her car keys.When Kate entered the nursery, she spotted a figure working at a metal counter surrounded by plants and pots. As she approached, he turned and fixed his blue eyes on her for what seemed like minutes. “Back so soon?” he asked, grinning.“You’re the one I saw two weeks ago.”He rubbed his chin. “You came back just to see me.”Kate flashed a smile. “Can you help me choose flowers for my yard?”He laughed, revealing straight white teeth. “I’m your man.” He slapped his palms together to dislodge the dirt. “The name’s Fred.”She took his big hand in hers, intrigued by his friendly manner. “Kate.” “Let’s see. You told me you’d moved from the West Coast and wanted flowers that bloomed a long time and didn’t need much care.”“You remembered.” Fred gestured for her to follow him. “That’s my job,” he said over his shoulder. “Another supply came in yesterday. You’re in luck.”They moved down rows of wooden tables overflowing with tulips and daffodils. Kate felt like a schoolgirl on a field trip as she half-ran to keep up, then nearly crashed into him when he stopped and turned around.“I moved from the Midwest to be closer to my eleven-year-old son and opened this garden center a year ago,” he said.Surprised by Fred’s revelation, Kate’s eyes drifted to the bare space on his ring finger. Why hadn’t she done more with her hair and put on a little makeup before coming out this morning? She met his gaze. “It sounds like you’ve been transplanted like these flowers.” A ghost of a smile crept over his face. “Like yourself.”Kate nodded. “Came here six months ago after accepting a new position.”Hyacinths scattered blue, purple, and pink around her. She drew in the sweet fragrance and listened to chimes swaying in a warm breeze. Fred selected a tray of flowers with little faces. His hand caressed the petals as if they were friends. “Pansies provide a variety of colors that last for months.” He moved to the next table. “The lush blooms on these begonias are hardy as well.”“I’ll take both.” He picked up a large white bag. “You’ll need potting soil. I’ll get my son to take these to check-out and to your car. That’s him over there.” Fred motioned for his son.“Well, what do you know,” Kate said as the boy approached. “Billy is in my class!”Billy’s eyes widened in recognition. “Miss Haley!”Fred wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “I finally get to meet the Miss Haley.”Billy kicked a stone with the toe of his shoe. A sheepish grin spread across his face.Kate scrambled for something to say to break the awkward silence. “Lucky you, working here with Dad.” He looked at his father before taking the flowers and bag. “Yep, I know.”Fred tousled his son’s blond hair. “I’m the lucky one.”After Billy left, Fred turned to Kate, pulling his baseball cap forward over his dark, curly hair. “He wasn’t exaggerating when he said you’re pretty.” Kate managed a smile and lowered her head, feeling her cheeks grow warm.“And he’s always going on about how you make science come alive.” “Happy to hear that.” She laughed. “I wish I had that much success with plants.” Or with men.Fred laughed too. “You’ll need these.” As he handed her a trowel and gardening gloves, their hands touched. Did he feel the same attraction? Fred shifted his feet. “Take this slip up front and tell them I said to give you a gardening book.” He cleared his threat before speaking again. “If you need any further help, I’m your man.”“Thanks.” Of course he was her man. Kate recalled her first trip here. Fred answered every question, even the ones she quickly thought up just so she could look into those captivating blue eyes while he answered.He started walking toward another customer.“I want to put in some other things,” Kate called after him.He headed back to where she stood. Her pulse quickened.“What do you have in mind?”Kate shrugged. “I need some suggestions.”“Maybe some shrubs,” he said. “If you like, I could stop by next Saturday, take a look at your yard and give you a few ideas.”“Sounds good. I’ll keep an eye out.” Kate’s casual tone masked the excitement within. Her heart surged with the wonder of spring and the prospect of a fresh start.“Write your address here. If you have no one to put them in, just remember, I’m your man. And don’t worry about not having a green thumb.” He winked. “I’ll teach you what you need to know.”Kate craned her neck to keep him in view as he walked off. Fred glanced back and their eyes met, leaving her with a promise of good things to come.__________This short story appeared in the SplicketyMagazine issue of Spring 2014.