The Art of Arranging Flowers
Berkley / June 3, 2014 / $15.00 print, $9.99 digital
Ruby Jewell knows flowers. In her twenty years as a florist she has stood behind the counter at the Flower Shoppe with her faithful dog, Clementine, resting at her feet. A customer can walk in, and with just a glance or a few words, Ruby can throw together the perfect arrangement for any occasion. Whether intended to rekindle a romance, mark a celebration, offer sympathy, or heal a broken heart, her expressive floral designs mark the moments and milestones in the lives of her neighbors. It’s as though she knows just what they want to say, just what they need.
Yet Ruby’s own heart’s desires have gone ignored since the death of her beloved sister. It will take an invitation from a man who’s flown to the moon, the arrival of a unique little boy, and concern from a charming veterinarian to reawaken her wounded spirit. Any life can be derailed, but the healing power of community can put it right again.
There is nothing more satisfying than being charmed by a sleeper book, a book you pick up on a whim with no expectations, and then discover that it is a gem. Within a couple of chapters of starting Lynne Branard's The Art of Arranging Flowers, a book I had no expectations for, I was enchanted by the characters and the story. It is a gentle story; there is not a lot of conflict, but all of the individuals in the book have a roadblock preventing them from achieving true happiness.
As the storyteller, Ruby is a pivotal part of the book. She loves to help people find what they need with flowers—flowers to celebrate love, flowers to ease grief, flowers to ask for forgiveness, and flowers just to say I care. She is involved in the grand gestures, and the secret admirer’s anonymous offerings. And if she can add a flower to the arrangement that will promote a certain feeling or emotion, then she doesn’t hesitate:
What is this order from Kyle Bridges?” I glance down at the ticket she filled out.
“He wants twelve long-stemmed roses for Nancy,” she answers, referring to Kyle’s wife.
“He work an extra shift again?” I ask.
Kyle buys twelve long-stemmed roses when Nancy gets mad, and she usually only gets mad when he takes an extra shift at the fire station. . . Nancy doesn’t think Kyle is as much kind and generous to his colleagues as he is invested in the late-night domino games that take place at the fire station.
I go into the cooler and pull out twelve of the healthiest red roses I have. . . I also grab one full bodied stem of snapdragons, tiny white flowers that I can delicately place somewhere in the bouquet. Snapdragons are a natural reducer of anger, and I figure Nancy could use a little anger reduction even though I’m pretty sure that the newlyweds are going to have to find some way of compromise regarding Kyle’s work schedule. The flowers help, but eventually the fireman is going to have to make a choice: the buddies at the station or his lonesome wife…I think maybe I should add a few white chestnut leaves in the bottom of the vase. Maybe the herb can help Kyle decide to settle in more at home.
Ruby is not a busybody because she t00 reserved for that—after her sister’s death, she walled a part of herself away from everyone—but she is there in a caring, behind the scenes way. She is the cog that keeps the romance in her community alive and well. She wants the course of true love to run smooth, and she not afraid to steer a man straight if she thinks he going off course, like Steven Peters.
“So, you want a Valentine’s Day special but don’t want it sent on Valentine’s Day, is that your order?”
He stalls a bit and I can see he hates that he ever made this call. “It’s a joke,” he finally explains.
“It’s not a very funny one,” I say. “Haven’t you and Jessica been dating a while?”…
“About a year,” he says. “But this is our first Valentine’s Day together and I always get dates for special occasions wrong. He hesitates. “It’s like a private joke. She thinks it’s funny.”
“Steven, she really doesn’t,” I reply. . . She’s acting like she thinks it’s funny because that’s what girls do for the first year they’re dating somebody. . . but trust me, nobody likes to think their significant other forgets important dates. See, it’ll be February fourteenth and all of Jessica’s friends will have gotten something—cards, flowers, candy, jewelry, something—and even though she might remember your little private joke, for three days she has to be hiding from her friends so as not to have to say you didn’t get her anything. . . Missing Valentine’s Day really isn’t funny.”
“Could I send it the twelfth?”
I sigh. “Well, it’s better than the seventeenth,” I say.
Ruby also extends her caring to the people that work for her. There is Jimmy, a former alcoholic, and her delivery man, and Nora who helps her in the shop. She also takes under her wing, a lonely boy, now living with his grandparents, and missing his newly deceased mother:
“I learned about flowers from my mom,” he says, as if the information will somehow influence my decision. And, oddly enough, it does.
“Okay, Will,” I acquiesce. “You can sweep up in the afternoons, carry out the trash, wash out vases, and just help me around the shop.”
“Can I walk your dog? Can I find flowers for you?”
I see the hunger in his eyes, the grief, the desperate way he is trying to stay connected to his dead mother.
“Yes, to both,” I answer. . .
It is only after she agrees to accompany Captain Miller—the most famous man in town to a gala for the President of the United States, that she understands that part of living is not only giving and nurturing others’ lives, but letting them nurture you. The people that she has always supported want to show her that they care too. Of course this means that they feel free to ask personal questions:
The van is full. Jimmy put the seats back in so that the floral delivery vehicle is now transporting six people and one canine to Spokane to buy me a dress.
“I think it’s nice you’re going on a date, Ruby.” Jimmy has joined the conversation.
“It’s n0t a date,” I reiterate to those riding in the van, but it’s as if no one is listening.
So, why don’t you date?” It’s Lucy again.
I was hoping that we had moved on from this topic. Everyone is waiting.
She sits up now, shifts in her seat so she’s very close to me and Nora. “You’re not a lesbian are you? She whispers. Carl answers for me. “Mom, no, Ruby is not a lesbian. As far as I know I’m the only gay person in the van.”
And this awareness makes her more observant about the people around her, like John Cash, the town’s new veterinarian:
I smile as I study John Cash . . . he is tall, lanky. . . He has long hands and beautiful blue eyes. His hair is thick and messy and he is wearing a long-sleeved flannel shirt, red and blue stripes, and a pair of tan cargo pants.
The Art of Arranging Flowers celebrates all variations of love—love between friends, love between lovers, love of family, even those that are gone. It is a touching journey and one you won’t want to miss.
Learn more or pre-order a copy of The Art of Arranging Flowers by Lynne Branard, available June 3, 2014:
Leigh Davis, blogger