Flowers: An exclusive story by Jane FallonOn February 11, 2018 by Margot
A story of love taken for granted by Jane Fallon
Spontaneity, John had always said, spoke far more than buying a gift or card on a certain day.
In the early days they would delight in surprising each other “just because”.
A kitsch hedgehog pin cushion when Carol was in her dressmaking phase, a battered copy of Moby Dick, his favourite childhood book, that she found in Oxfam.
That hadn’t happened so much lately. In fact, Carol couldn’t remember when the last time had been. Still, they were happy. They were kind to each other. They had things in common. She just sometimes felt as if they took each other for granted.
So when Richard had started to flirt with her at work, she’d been flattered.
He would make a beeline for her office, complimenting whatever she was wearing, admiring her hair. After a while a bunch of red roses started to arrive at her desk every Monday, regular as clockwork. No card. She knew his overtures were generic and cheesy but gradually he wore her down. She wasn’t used to so much attention.
She realised that she was talking about work more than usual at home. Peppering the conversation with Richard this and Richard that, but she couldn’t seem to stop herself.
The night before she and Richard were due to go away for a conference together, just the two of them, she willed John to do something, anything, to make her feel special. To give her the resolve to resist Richard’s advances.
They cooked dinner together as they always did, watched TV in companionable silence, Carol lurching between feelings of frenzied anticipation and guilt. When she left in the morning, John kissed her on the cheek and told her to have a good time.
She could barely look him in the eye.
Carol was feeling intense guilt about her flirting
That evening, in the hotel, after the official get-to-know-you social had finished, Richard made a beeline for her in the bar. He produced a single red rose from behind his back and she blushed even though she knew it was a ridiculous cliché.
She ordered a gin and tonic for Dutch courage. Richard placed a hand in the small of her back and the warmth from it burned right through her.
“Do you come here often?” he said and laughed heartily, showing even white teeth. He looked different out of his suit, she thought.
Nice. She knew that he was going to make a pass at her. That she would refuse because it was too soon, but with enough regret and frustrated longing in her voice that he would know the door was open to try again. It would move their flirtation forward.
She had never done anything like this before but she knew she had to take it slowly. To be able to remind herself later that she had thought it through, not thrown her marriage away lightly.
“Do you know how beautiful you are?” Richard said, holding her gaze as they finally – reluctantly – said goodnight. He put his hand under her chin and stared into her eyes. She hardly slept thinking about the moment, about what might happen in the future.
Back at home the weeks dragged by. Richard’s roses still appeared every Monday like clockwork. One morning – a Tuesday – there was a teddy bear sitting at her desk with the words “I can’t ‘bear’ it when you’re not around” embroidered on its chest.
An unsigned card propped up in front of it. A Valentine.
“Have you got a secret admirer?” Carol’s assistant, Pauline, said.
“Of course not!” Carol said, blushing.
“It’s just someone being silly.” But when Pauline offered to move the bear out of her way, she refused.
Later, Richard stopped by on the pretext of dropping off some paperwork.
“Let’s sneak off for a long lunch,” he said in a low whisper. She felt her heart flutter.
“I’ve got a meeting. Tomorrow.”
That evening, John was hovering by the front door when she let herself in.
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“I’ve got something to show you,” he said, leading her through to their little garden where it was already dark.
The security light sprung on. “Only, it’s a bit… well, it hasn’t quite turned out like I hoped.”
He pointed to a muddy-looking patch of the lawn. Carol could just make out tiny green stubs pushing out of the earth. She stared hard and realised they formed a heart shape.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” John said, almost tripping over the words. “They’re crocuses. I know how much you love crocuses. But I didn’t realise they’d take so long to grow.”
“When did you do this?” she laughed.
He looked her straight in the eye. “The weekend you went to that conference. I was bored… I wanted to do something nice for you. I know it’s stupid. I know we don’t do this kind of thing.”
Carol thought of him down on his hands and knees planting what must be close to a hundred bulbs. John hated gardening. She imagined him there in the mud for hours while she sipped G and T’s and flirted with Richard.
It occurred to her that Richard had probably just placed a regular order with the florist to deliver 12 roses to her every Monday. Maybe even got his assistant to do it.
She thought about John worrying that he was losing her. Wanting to make a gesture. Trying to think of something original. Crocuses were her favourite flower. She thought how well he knew her.
She knew she was going to cancel lunch with Richard tomorrow. Tell him it had to stop.
The light snapped off again and she reached for John’s hand in the dark.
“Thank you,” she said. “It’s perfect.”
Jane Fallon’s new novel, Faking Friends (Penguin, £7.99), is out now.