Here’s my (somewhat lengthy) response for Eugi’s challenge this time!
This Week’s Prompt (Sept 16) – BOUQUET.
HOW THE CHALLENGE WORKS: Go where the prompt leads you and publish a post on your blog that responds to the prompt. It can be any variation of the prompt and/or image. Remember to keep it family friendly; this needs to be a safe and fun space for all.
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Ella admired the shelves upon shelves of antiques with wonder. She inhaled deeply, taking in the musty smell of the store, a hint of lavender lingering in the air.
“Planning to get anything today?”
The twenty-year-old jumped slightly at the voice that came from the end of the aisle. “Didn’t see you there, Mrs Flynn,” she said, giggling softly, tucking a strand of brown hair behind her ear.
“Your head’s always in the clouds, young lady,” remarked Mrs Flynn, a woman with sleek silver hair, also the owner of the antique store. “Don’t know if I should call you a regular customer—you come everyday yet leave empty-handed! Sometimes I wonder if you’ll ever find what you’re looking for.”
“Well, I do enjoy discovering new bits of history here…it’s fascinating how each one must have played a part in someone’s life long ago, no matter how small. And as for why I don’t buy anything off your shelves”—she stroked her chin, pretending to be in deep thought—“maybe they’re all a bit too pricy.”
“Wow, you offend me.” Mrs Flynn feigned a look of hurt. Her store was especially popular for selling authentic antique as well as vintage items at very reasonable rates.
Ella laughed. Mrs Flynn sure looked fifty-something but was an absolute youngster at heart.
“I was joking. Honestly, I prefer not to take away something that doesn’t belong to me just because it’d look pretty on my mantelpiece.”
Before Mrs Flynn could say anything in reply, the bell above the store’s door tinkled, announcing the arrival of a new customer. “I’ll be back, hon.”
The young woman nodded and headed further into the maze of things left forgotten, just waiting to be found by the right hands. At one point, she reached a part of the store that was much quieter, where the conversation between Mrs Flynn and her customers was reduced to a murmur. She’d never visited this section before.
All articles here were covered in a thick layer of dust and looked as though they hadn’t been arranged or rearranged in a long time. Eager to explore, Ella carefully dodged an old toy train set displayed on the floor and made her way over to the aisle beyond.
The centrepiece on display was a fine wooden table, sturdy and skilfully made, upon which figurines of various sizes stood. Through the table’s legs, she noticed a pair of cool-looking cowboy boots on the other side. Heart beating with excitement, she walked around to it and saw the most unusual sight: right in the middle of these boots was a beautiful bouquet of flowers.
So stunning was its beauty that she held her breath for a good few seconds, forgetting about the boots entirely. Unlike the rest of its surroundings, it was brand new.
“Ella? Where are you?” Mrs Flynn’s voice surprised her once again. It seemed to be coming from the place she’d last seen her.
“Here, Mrs Flynn, at the very back!” she called.
In about thirty seconds, the store owner located her. “I see we’ve got some work to do here,” she said, wiping some dust off a clock with her finger. “So, what’s caught your interest?”
“Um,” Ella said, pointing at the bouquet propped up against the table. “Did somebody leave these flowers here?”
“These?” Mrs Flynn squatted for a closer look. “Oh, it’s this one.”
“Hmm?” What did that mean?
“This one’s a curious—if not mysterious—case,” the older lady said, getting up. “You see this date here? On the tag? It says May 28, 1942. I found this lying on the counter two years ago, when I got back from lunch. No note, don’t know who brought it. From the day it arrived up to this moment, it’s looked exactly the same.”
“The flowers’ve never wilted?” asked Ella nervously. “Are they even real?”
“Oh yes, 100 percent. Smell ‘em if you want.”
She picked up the bouquet and let her nose touch the roses. Mrs Flynn was right—they smelt as fresh as morning dew and the stems were so cool to touch, as though they’d been picked and bound together just a few minutes back. Even the petals were as soft as a baby’s cheek. Certainly nothing fake about it.
“It’s a riddle you’ll have to figure out yourself! Now, excuse me as I go rummage the front desk drawer for a feather duster.”
With Mrs Flynn gone again, Ella turned the bouquet slowly in her hands. She held the tag between her index finger and thumb, re-reading the date inked on it. She flipped it over and was shocked by what it said.
She flipped it back to check the date. Still the same. She flipped it again—the shock only grew, for there were different words now.
It’s been worth the wait, dear.
Ella ran her thumb over the crisp paper, then lifted her head.
She was now standing in a completely different place—by the ocean, seagulls squawking in the background—wearing a pretty blue dress and facing a handsome young man in khakis. She realised the bouquet wasn’t in her hands anymore. It was in his.
“Ella, I’ll soon be heading to the airbase, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to see you again.”
“Wh-who—?” she croaked, stepping back in alarm.
“Wait, don’t go!” He chuckled, reaching for her hand when he noticed her draw away. “I brought you these flowers since I’ll be missing your birthday on Tuesday.”
Ella inhaled sharply as she accepted it from him. How did he know? she thought, absolutely puzzled. Nevertheless, she replied: “Thank you,”—she glanced at the badge on his shirt—“John.” Somehow, the name rang a bell in her head, although a very distant and faint one.
“Oh, and one more thing.” John dug into his bag and retrieved a dainty pocket watch, depositing it into her palm. “I want you to keep my watch. That way, you can always feel I’m close to you.” He smiled earnestly.
Ella found herself nodding and smiling in return. “OK.”
“I love you, Ella.”
But before he could take her into his embrace, a deafening explosion pushed them apart with a force no one could overcome. Ella screwed her eyes shut as she saw shrapnel attack her from all sides. However, when she felt nothing strike her skin for several moments, she opened them wide and once again beheld the familiar surroundings of Mrs Flynn’s store.
She gulped, breathless from the impact of whatever she’d just experienced. Her knuckles were white as they clutched John’s pocket watch and bouquet. She shakily clicked the former open; the needles weren’t moving.
“Ella?” a deep voice called softly from behind.
The watch started ticking again.