“Here, hold these.” Mom held out two small containers of pink flowers. Then she picked up a white one and a yellow one. Frowning, she asked, “Can you carry one more?”
“I have a better idea.” I put the pink flowers down. “I’ll get a cart and you buy as many as you want.” I knew she would protest, so I immediately headed for the front of the store.
Shouting just outside the doors made me stop to see what was happening. The female protester, who looked so demure when we arrived, was now wild-eyed, shouting, and jabbing a finger at a greenhouse employee. The male protester was trying to keep the two separated.
A growing crowd had encircled them as a police cruiser pulled up. The officer exited and walked towards them. The squabbling had distracted them so much that they didn’t notice him. I could only pick out a shouted word here and there. The officer’s gestures indicated he was asking for calm.
The man locked eyes with me again. Then quickly looked away as he tried to pull the female protester away. The employee shook her head ‘no’ while shaking a stack of orange paper.
A thump on my back, timed with a loud, “Mikey, did you forget about me?” I jumped and turned around. My heart thudded in my chest.
Mom and a haggard employee had sneaked up on me. She carried two small planters of pink flowers. The employee was balancing six different ones in a combination of white, yellow, and purple. Mom had her arm looped through the employee’s causing the man to hunch.
I rolled a cart around so they could deposit the flowers. Then shrugged at the employee and mouthed ‘thank you’. “I didn’t forget. There is a fight just outside that distracted me.”
The employee groaned and closed his eyes. “No sooner do we get rid them and think things will be calm, they come back. They insist some of the plants we sell are environmentally unsafe. I’ve read their flyers. They’ve given no tangible proof. You both have a good day,” he concluded before stepping outside to offer assistance.
The argument had become calm by the time we finished our purchase and exited the store. As we walked by, the man said, “Hey, buddy you dropped this.” He held out a greenhouse ad. I began to protest. Now, he held my gaze and gave a tiny shake of his head. His expression was grim.
He looked like Alex, only thinner and older. I hadn’t heard from him since his short, out-of-character text five years ago. I had only known him to be clean shaven, but this man was heavily bearded with streaks of gray. Again, I started to say something and he shook his head and pushed the ad closer to me. “Thank you,” I said and took it.
In the SUV, I opened the ad. At first, nothing looked out of the ordinary. Then I noticed the message scrawled in tiny letters around the border. ‘Need to talk. Meet me in the library lobby as soon as it opens tomorrow morning.’