Dee Moyza's Story Archive

Like Sunlight on a Day-blooming Flower


Chapter One

Vivian sat on an ornate bench just off the gravel pathway of the garden and fished a leather-bound notebook from her purse.  Though the air was mild, the morning's chill remained in the concrete and seeped through her pants, reminding her that, despite the plentiful blooms she'd encountered on her walk, summer was still a ways off.   She undid the clasp on the notebook, retrieved the pen from the little loop on its spine, and tried, for the first time in years, to write something other than a business proposal or quarterly report.

She'd loved stories for as long as she could remember, making up grand adventures for her toys before she could even write.  And she loved losing herself in the stories of others, becoming a frequent patron at the library and, once she began earning an allowance, at the bookstore.  This love carried her through school, through college, to a business degree and her own bookstore.  But it came at the expense of her own storytelling; these days, she sold the printed word rather than created it, her time nibbled at by meetings and orders and the general tasks of running a business, until she hardly had any left to call her own.

That's why her store manager suggested that, for the sixth anniversary of the store's opening, Vivian treat herself to a day off.

"A peaceful day, too," Isabel said, sliding a stack of ones under the clip in the cash drawer.  "No going home and mulling over numbers or reading publisher press releases.  Go somewhere different, somewhere nice.  A café, maybe, or the museum."

Vivian chose the botanical gardens.  She'd fallen in love with them when she'd come to this city for college, and often spent nice afternoons sitting on its benches with a good book.  Here, outside of the occasional group of tourists, it was quiet, and she never had to worry about dodging some careless frat boy's frisbee.  Memories of those afternoons flooded back the moment she passed through the garden's gates, though they were tinted now, the vague yellow of old photographs, by nostalgia.  Had it really been fourteen years since she'd crossed the stage with her degree, eager to take on the world, eager to show everyone that actual, brick-and-mortar bookstores were still very much a vital part of the world?  Had she really been that innocent, that naïve, to apply for a business loan straight out of school, with only mediocre credit and student debt to her name?

Vivian smiled.  She may not have always known what she was doing, but she'd always known what she wanted, and she would research and plan and even improvise until she found a way to make it hers.  Now, Typereader, her store specializing in genre fiction, stood proudly in a modest brick building on a street downtown, between a Chinese takeout and a handmade jewelry boutique.

But no amount of effort could force coherent prose from her pen today.  She tried a few opening lines, tried jotting down ideas that had popped into her head at inopportune moments over the past week, even tried sketching the view before her in the margins.  Nothing helped.  Perhaps she couldn't simply conjure the skill anymore, after years of relative disuse.  With a sigh, she scribbled out the failed beginnings and instead wrote about her surroundings.

The garden looks stunning in its spring greens and pastel blooms, she wrote, all dressed up and waiting for summer.  The breeze still has that crisp edge, however, and the clouds are gathering, thick and grey.  It seems, though, that the colors stand out even more on an overcast day, as if in defiance of the sun's disappearance.  The tulips and daffodils are certainly making a statement.  I only wish I knew the names of more flowers offhand.  Bending to read the little plaques gets tiring after a whi—

As if the clouds were offended by her praise of the plants' rebellious brilliance, a cold, fat raindrop landed squarely on the page of Vivian's notebook, smearing the fresh ink there.  It was followed by another, and then many more, until it progressed to a sprinkle, a light drizzle, and without warning, a full downpour.  Vivian cried out and shoved her notebook into her purse, not quickly enough to prevent the pages getting wet, and glanced around for cover.  She was about to ignore the signs that tell visitors to remain on the trail for the only slightly effective cover of tree branches, when she heard quick footsteps behind her and turned around to see a rainbow-dotted umbrella being raised above her head.  The woman beneath it smiled, the corners of her dark eyes crinkling.

"Looks like you could use a little help," she said, then tilted her chin, motioning Vivian closer.  "Come on, there's a gazebo around the next corner.  I don't mind sharing my umbrella with you on the way."

"Thank you."  Vivian slid beneath one side of the umbrella, careful not to force the woman into the rain.  "I saw the clouds gathering, but the same thing happened yesterday without rain, so I figured I was safe."

The woman shrugged.  "It's springtime, and everything's unpredictable, the weather worst of all."  She glanced at Vivian's purse.  "I hope your book didn't get ruined.  I saw you reading just before the rain started."

"It's a journal.  It definitely got damp, but I think it's salvageable."

"Not important memories, I hope."

Vivian chuckled.  "Oh, no.  Just some random musings about my day, about the garden."

"Well, it seems like you'll have a bit to add later on."  The woman smiled again, and Vivian couldn't help but notice that she seemed to radiate warmth, a light of her own, that not even the weather could dampen.  Vivian snuck a furtive glance at the rest of her.  She had soft dark curls that reached to just below her jaw, with a streak of gray swirling through the right side; a slight double chin; and muscular arms, with the bottom half of an elaborate floral tattoo peeking out from beneath the sleeve of her T-shirt.  Vivian complemented her on it, and the woman lifted her sleeve with her free hand to reveal the entire tattoo. 

"Passionflower.  Gorgeous blooms, but they only last for a day or so.  I got the tattoo as a reminder."

"That beauty is fleeting?"

"Yes, but not in regard to myself.  Here we are.  Watch your step, it's slippery."  They had reached the gazebo, in which a small group was already taking shelter, and Vivian stepped up onto its dry wooden floor.  To her surprise, the woman followed her, shaking out her umbrella over the railing.  "I'm a florist," she went on, "which means I work in ephemerality.  No matter how well I care for the flowers, no matter how well the recipient takes care of them—and some are devoted—the bouquet will always wilt.  So, I try to keep the passionflower in mind: if my work can't last forever, it had better be stunning in its short time."

Vivian stared at her.  She knew enough about the passionflower to know that its name had nothing to do with love or art, but this woman embodied the latter definition of passion in a way Vivian had not seen in years, perhaps not since leaving college.  It was in her voice, in her hand gestures when she spoke of her work; it was in the gleam that came to her eyes, at once dreamy and defiant, and Vivian regretted that she'd ever let that light fade from her own eyes, that she'd ever bought into the idea that maturation required sacrifice.

"I'm Lula, by the way."  The woman extended her hand and Vivian shook it.  "Lula Fuentes, manager at Flor Amor.  My uncle owns the place, but these days, it seems I do most of the work."

"I'm Vivian Drake.  I own a bookstore downtown."

"Oh, another entrepreneur!  Pleased to meet you."

Introductions, in this case, seemed to bring the conversation to a standstill, and Vivian spent the next moments staring out at a group of cypress trees dulled behind the curtain of rain.  The air was cool and fresh, the mixture of petrichor and wet leaves practically intoxicating.  Vivian breathed deeply, then turned back to Lula.

"It's so beautiful here," she said.  Lula nodded.  "Do you visit often?"

"Once a week, when I can get away.  I come out here to get inspired.  The plants I work with are mostly already cut, their days and hours numbered.  I come here to remind myself what they look like when they're allowed to flourish, so I can try to replicate that in my own arrangements."

"I haven't been out here in years.  I feel silly for waiting so long, but the days just seem to melt into one another.  Between meetings and sorting orders and running the bookshop, it sometimes feels like I don't have time for much else."

"Then you make time.  You've got to take care of yourself, too.  Treat yourself now and again."

Vivian laughed.  "That's what my manager told me this morning."

"They were right."  Lula turned to face her and leaned against the railing.  "So, your bookstore—what's it called?"



"I specialize in selling genre fiction: you know, romance, mystery, fantasy and sci-fi."

"Hence, 'type.'"

"Yeah.  It sounded a lot better six years ago."

"It's still good.  Catchy, fun.  But I've got to ask, how do you do it?  How do you stay in business with such a niche market?"

"The romance and mystery readers keep me going."  Vivian smiled.  "Seriously, the devotion of genre of readers is impressive.  So much so, that I'm compelled to see literary fiction as more of a niche interest.  They each have their merits, but when people think of reading, especially for fun, they'll usually reach for genre fiction.  A good bodice-ripper, a chilling mystery, an epic quest—those are the stories that let people escape their lives, for a little while."

"And what kind of bodice-rippers do you keep in stock?" Lula asked with an arch of her eyebrow.  "Damsels in the arms of manly men, a parade of Fabios with windblown hair?"

"You read romance?"

"Used to.  But it all got to be the same, after a while.  Granted, I was raiding my aunt's pile of books, and she had some very specific tastes."

"There's a lot more available now.  Historical, contemporary, paranormal; straight, gay, lesbian—"


Vivian's heart hitched in her chest.  Was Lula referring to herself?  Or making a subtle inquiry into Vivian's own preferences?  Vivian glanced quickly at Lula's left hand.  No ring, but that didn't mean she was single.  It didn't even mean she was looking.  Still, Vivian couldn't keep the blood from rushing into her cheeks as she responded, "Sure, we have that, too.  Any orientation, any configuration you're looking for.  If we don't have it, we can order it."

"Great!"  Lula's grin became a satisfied smirk.  "I'm going have to stop by your store someday.  Get this old heart hammering for something other than flowers."

Vivian giggled, a high, girlish sound that she immediately stifled with her fingertips.  "We're open Monday through Saturday, ten to eight, and Sunday, ten to five.  So…whenever you get the chance."  She drew a shaky breath and pursed her lips and turned back to the rain.  The damp, chilly air was no match for the heat that spread from her face to her ears, no matter how much she willed it away.  She spoke to people all the time in her line of work, some of them reserved, some far louder and invasive than Lula, yet Lula's playful questions, her overall exuberance, lit a tiny spark inside Vivian, and her suggestion that she was open to a relationship with a woman coaxed that spark into a flame.

Lula's sigh brought her back to the moment, and she looked over to see Lula frowning at the sky.  "Doesn't look like this'll let up anytime soon," Lula murmured.  "It's good for the plants, they could use a dousing.   But for you…"  She locked eyes with Vivian, and Vivian swallowed hard.  "Why don't we go to the gift shop?   I'm sure they sell umbrellas there.  That way, you won't be stuck out here all afternoon."

"I don't mind."  The words came out soft and tentative, riding on Vivian's breath, so far removed from her usual authoritative voice.

"Neither do I, right now.  But it's almost noon, and you're bound to get hungry."

"Are you?"

"I'm an easy read, aren't I?"

"Definitely more daisy than ranunculus."

Lula tossed her head back with a hearty laugh.  "Hey, that's a pretty good analogy!  Guilty as charged.  I don't see the point of hiding behind layers.  This is me, world, take it or leave it!  As for you," she opened her umbrella and angled it toward Vivian, "last chance for a dry walk.  Take it, or leave it?"

"Take it."  Vivian joined Lula under the umbrella once more and they began a leisurely walk toward the gift shop.  The gravel path crunched beneath their shoes, and the rain kept a cozy, muffled rhythm above them.  They talked some more about their businesses, and how long they'd been in town.  Lula's family had lived here for generations, her maternal grandparents founding the flower shop.  She began working at the shop in high school, accumulating design and business sense along the way, and augmented her knowledge with a few college courses, during the same time Vivian was pursuing her degree.

"Who knows, we might have crossed paths then," she said.

"I probably wouldn't have noticed," Vivian admitted.  "I always had my nose in a book."

"Yeah, that describes about half the people I had classes with.  But I'm really glad we met now.  It's been a pleasure talking with you, Vivian."  They reached the gift shop, and she opened the door.  "After you."

The gift shop was warm and bustling with visitors flipping through books and looking at souvenirs, but Vivian was immediately struck by the smell of coffee and food from the adjoining café.  Lula was right, it was near lunchtime, and she was hungry.  She glanced at a row of colorful umbrellas for sale near the cash register, then back at Lula, who was already en route to the café.  Noticing that the line at the checkout was far too long for her to make her purchase and keep up with Lula, Vivian instead caught up to her at the café's entrance.

"You're not even going to say goodbye?" she asked with a good-natured tilt of her head.

Lula blinked at her.  "I thought I did.  Figured I'd let you get on with your shopping, and then maybe back to your reading."

"Writing.  And no, my little journal has to dry out first."  Vivian took a breath, feeling the window of opportunity to get to know Lula better closing by the second.  "Why don't I buy you lunch," she blurted out, "as a thank-you for helping me?"

"That's very generous of you, but you don't have to."

"No, I insist!  One good deed deserves another, and I…I really enjoy talking with you."

Lula cracked a grin.  "If only my family could hear you say that!  I swear, every night they must pray for me to be stricken mute by morning.  'You're always going on and on, Lula,' they say.  'Habladora, you'll talk the flowers to death.'"

"Have you?"

"Talked them to death?  Not yet."

Vivian fiddled with the zipper of her purse, unzipping it halfway and closing it again.  "And I'm much hardier than a flower, so I think I'll be okay.  What do you say?"

"If you really don't mind…"

"Not at all!  Come on, let's get something to eat."

Their lunchtime conversation centered on light topics, such as musical preferences, and interesting tales from their respective workplaces.  Lula told of a bride who insisted on comparing the shade of each flower in her bouquet to a paint swatch she'd used as inspiration for her wedding's theme, and Vivian told her of the fan of westerns who always volunteered to do a reenactment of the novels he read for the community, should she ever need more promotion. 

"He'd come in every time in full western get-up, with a hat and bandana and holster and everything," she said.  "He's never violent, just…enthusiastic."

"More than I can say about some brides."  Lula took a sip of iced tea.  "Oh, and the quinceañera girls!  Don't get me started on them.  If I'd acted that spoiled at that age, my mother would've spanked me raw.  'You're never too old for the huarache.'  She tells me that even now!"


"A sandal, which can do double duty delivering a smack to, uh...derrieres."  Lula chuckled.  "My brother could tell you all about it.  He was a constant recipient, but never seemed to learn.  Which makes me doubt it's effectiveness, to be honest...Anyway, the demands these quinceañera girls come to the shop with, it's like they've never seen real flowers in their lives!"

Vivian and Lula continued talking long after their plates had been cleared away, and when Vivian next looked out the window, she saw large patches of blue breaking through the clouds.  The rain had passed, and, she feared, so had her time with Lula. 

Lula must've felt similarly, because as Vivian was putting her credit card back into her wallet, Lula handed her a business card.  It was white, with pink flowers on it, and the name, Flor Amor, in the upper-left corner, big and bold.  "If you ever need an arrangement," she said.  "Or, you know, you just want to check us out."

"Thank you!"  Vivian reached into the outer pocket of her purse and produced a Typereader card for Lula.  "Same here.  If you want to read something other than your aunt's books, or…get your heart hammering for something other than flowers."

It already is.  Vivian flinched.  She couldn't tell if Lula had murmured the words, or if her own imagination was playing out what she wanted to hear.  Nonetheless, Lula looked unruffled as she turned the card over in her hand.

"Will do," she said.  "Thanks again for the lunch, and the conversation.  It's been a pleasure meeting you, Vivian.  A real treat!"

With that, Lula gathered her belongings and walked out.  Vivian followed minutes later, letting the rain-washed air clear her mind and steady her limbs.  But nothing could steady the pounding of her heart, or the wealth of possibilities tumbling through her mind.