I have been writing “with intent” for the last ten years. Because I am a “plotter,” I know where my story is headed, how it will end, and who will step onto and off the stage. Up till now, I have omitted many a scene and character, but I have never before had a minor character, who was supposed to be “only a name,” spring full grown onto the page. But such is Ava York (originally named “Rourke”), the most delightful surprise of my writing journey. Here’s a scene from Chapter 4, “Appointment,” from Lawson Payne, Part V of The Magnolia Arms Chronicles.
The morning after her husband’s funeral, Ava York, sipping Earl Grey tea from a china cup, stood at her bay window, and peered through the sheer white curtains, hoping the delivery van that came every Valentine’s Day—her anniversary—would not appear.
Two dozen long-stemmed red roses in a crystal vase arrived like clockwork every February 14th, a gesture her friends envied, but she found irksome. A gift, no matter how grand, given out of obligation and habit, rather than love, did not elate.
Her heart ached for the sweet, simple days of her youth, when the sky seemed bluer—she remembered actually thinking this—because she loved Martin. On their first anniversary, he had brought home a single rose—all he could afford—promising more.
Someday, he said, I’ll bring home a dozen roses for our anniversary and a dozen for Valentine’s Day. What do you think of that?
Sweeping her up, he had twirled her around the tiny living room of their garage apartment. She could still feel the stem in her hand and the stubble of his beard against her face. That rose was pressed in her volume of Wordsworth.
She brought the cup to her lips. The tea was cold. The van pulled into the driveway.
Ava placed her cup on the marble-topped table beside her. Slipping her hand into the pocket of her dusty rose cashmere cardigan, she fingered the crisp bill. Then she strolled to the door and opened it as the driver rang the bell.
Startled, he stepped back. This elegant woman, a sapphire pendant at her throat and diamond rings on both hands, could not be the maid. She must be a guest. The owners of the houses on Dover Road never answered their own doors.
He peeked around the bouquet he was holding, jostling the cherry-red blossoms with the bill of his “Lane’s Florist” uniform hat.
“I…have a delivery for Ava York…Mrs. Ava York,” he said, meaning no disrespect.
Ava glanced at his hands, gripping the vase, and noticed his wedding band.
“How long have you been married?” she asked.
Did he hand the bouquet to her? People who lived in houses like this never toted their own flowers inside. How long would he have to stand here before she called for a maid?
She drew the folded bill from her pocket. “And you’re working hard to support her.”
Head tilted left to see around the arrangement, he felt light-headed and confused.
“Yes, ma’am. We’re both still in college. Our parents wanted us to wait till we graduated to get married, but we couldn’t. We’ve been in love since we were fifteen.”
He was so nervous his hands were sweating and he feared the vase would slip to the stone-paved porch and shatter before he handed it over. When the lady stepped outside to join him, he felt his knees weaken, nearly buckling.
Why hadn’t he eaten breakfast and had one more cup of coffee?
“What’s your wife’s name?” she asked.
“And your name?”
“And what have you bought Sadie for Valentine’s Day, Hudson?” Ava asked.
He grinned. “A card and a Snickers bar. That’s her favorite. We agreed not to spend—”
She reached out a gentle hand, and opening his shirt pocket, slipped the bill inside.
“Eat the Snickers yourself, Hudson. Take these flowers home to Sadie. Or better yet, take them to her workplace. Then take her out to dinner tonight.”
Hudson gulped. “We… have to wait till the weekend to go out. I have a huge paper due tomorrow.”
She raised her perfect eyebrows. “Take Sadie to dinner tonight. If your professor gives you any grief over your paper, have him call me. I’ll get you an extension. I guarantee it.”
Hudson did not doubt for a moment she could do exactly that.
“Thank you, ma’am.” Relieved, he laughed. “No Valentine’s Day will ever top this one.”
“I hope that’s not true,” she said.
“Are you sure you want me to keep these flowers? They’re top of the line, the best ones we carry.”
“Positive,” Ava said. “I grow my own roses out back.” She closed the door.
Retracing his steps, Hudson returned the flowers to the van. Only after he was back behind the wheel did he reach into his pocket and pull out the tip from Mrs. York. Knocked senseless again, he was glad he was sitting down.
A $100 bill.
He and Sadie were most definitely going out tonight.
Leaning her head against the door, Ava closed her eyes, picturing Sadie’s face when Hudson entered like a victorious emperor returning with spoils of war. Her eyes would light up, she would put her hand to her lips to stifle a cry.
At least one coworker observing would storm to the phone to call her husband, the man who had plucked a plastic-encased rose from a black bucket next to the cash register at the gas station, laid it by his wife’s coffee mug at breakfast, and called it a day.
Do you know what just happened? perhaps the wife would say. That sweet Hudson who is still in college and doesn’t have two nickels to rub together bought Sadie two dozen red roses for Valentine’s Day. What do you think of that?
Ava smiled. That’s one mistake that husband won’t make again.
But was that hypothetical man any better than her husband who years ago had turned over the honoring of all significant days—birthday, Mother’s Day, and of course, today—to the capable oversight of his secretary, who insured the proper gift was delivered on time with an appropriate greeting? Deep in her heart Ava knew the truth, but had dared to hope the usual bouquet would not arrive today. Martin had been hospitalized for weeks and could not have possibly ordered them himself. An interruption would imply he, not Mrs. Stroup, had been sending the roses all these years.