There was a gentle chime from the dainty bell over the door of 'Leigh Floristry' as Lewis stepped inside, taking in the familiar colours that lined the walls and the gentle scent of the roses in a vase to his left. He'd been coming to this particular florist for many years now, and returning was always a welcome, though now somewhat melancholy, experience.
As he approached the counter, a young man in a black apron emerged from the back room. Lewis looked him up and down: he was tall and slender with short blond hair, and decidedly not Mrs Leigh, the small elderly lady who had run the shop for as long as he could remember. His name badge was obscured by a large bucket of lilies.
"Can I help you, sir?" the young man asked, snapping Lewis out of his thoughts.
"Is Mrs Leigh not here?"
"I'm afraid not, sir. She'll be away for a few weeks - her daughter's just had a baby. Is there anything I can do?"
"Oh, congratulations. To her of course." Lewis furrowed his brow slightly, hoping he didn't seem daft. "Yes, there's a bouquet Mrs Leigh usually does for me, I'd like to get the same thing if you could do it instead?"
"Of course, sir. Do you know which flowers she uses?" He emerged from behind the counter, and his name badge came into view - 'J. Hathaway'.
"Orchids," Lewis nodded, wandering over to a vibrant tub of them. Hathaway came and stood beside him, pulling a notebook out of his apron pocket as he did so. Lewis looked up at him as he jotted something down and was suddenly aware of the height difference between them. The other man was a good half a head taller than him - a few inches over six foot, he estimated. "Oh, they're from the Virgin Islands?" he added when he noticed the label.
"Yes, we get them in fresh every day," Hathaway replied. "Have you been there?"
"Not long back actually."
"Ah, then you might have seen these ones while you were there," the light humour was accompanied by a friendly smile as he took a handful of orchids and laid them on the counter. "I've never been, but if these are anything to go by it must be very pretty." Lewis met his eyes then, and returned the smile with one of his own. "Now," Hathaway continued, and Lewis dropped his gaze, "what else would you like with these?"
"I'm not actually sure what they're called," Lewis scanned the shop, trying to recognise the flower he was looking for. When he first bought this arrangement many years ago, he'd asked for certain meanings of flower. This one meant beauty, and though it certainly embodied that he couldn't for the life of him remember its name. "It's some kind of lily, I think, shaped a bit like a trumpet?" Hathaway went to the left of the counter and pulled a stem out of a bucket, holding it up for Lewis to see. It was a simple white flower, its one petal curled in on itself to form a somewhat heart-shaped bell, with a small yellow part growing out of the middle. He joined Hathaway by the bucket and read the label while the other man picked out some stems. "Calla lily. I'll have to remember that."
"I've made a note of it."
"Yes, but it's nice to know what they're called, you know?" Hathaway nodded thoughtfully.
Once Hathaway had finished collecting the lilies, plus a single deep pink rose in full bloom as requested, he set to work arranging them. The shop had been quiet all morning and the last order he'd been left with had gone out over an hour ago, so there was plenty of time to get this bouquet just right. The gentleman who was currently browsing the selection of chrysanthemums seemed at ease now, but he'd definitely given Hathaway the impression that there was some kind of emotional importance to this, and with the choice of flowers too...
"Are these for someone special?" he asked suddenly. Why had he done that? He was never one for small talk; he should have just prepared the flowers like usual. But this felt different. More meaningful, somehow.
"My wife," the man responded, a hint of wistfulness colouring his voice. He had a nice accent, Hathaway noted - definitely not local, somewhere in the North East maybe?
"Special occasion?" As soon as he said it, he realised how wrong it felt. The man didn't seem cheery enough for it to be a birthday nor an anniversary. What if...?
"Sort of." He shuffled his feet a little. "She passed away four years ago."
Hathaway inhaled slightly, pulling his lips inwards. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-"
"You're alright, lad," the man offered a hint of a smile as he spoke. "She'd have liked the orchids, they were her favourite."
The change of topic was small but welcome. Hathaway picked one out of the half-finished bouquet and admired it. "She had good taste. Love and beauty; fitting, I should imagine."
"They are." The smile grew a little bigger, a little stronger.
The bouquet was beautiful, the singular rose in the centre surrounded by bursts of white and pink. Hathaway had suggested adding some forget-me-nots (something Mrs Leigh had never considered) and the delicate clusters of blue were, Lewis thought, quite star-like.
Hathaway's smile was bashful. "I'm glad you like them, sir. If you wouldn't mind signing the invoice?" He handed it over along with a pen, and glanced at the name once it was complete. 'Robert Lewis'. "Thank you, Mr Lewis."
"Oh, just call me Robbie, lad. I get enough of the 'Lewis's and 'sir's at work. Do you prefer Hathaway or...?" He nodded towards the name badge.
The young man glanced down. "James."
"Thank you, James." Lewis held up the bouquet and nodded appreciatively.
And then he was gone.