And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.
Love is like a friendship caught on fire.
Romance, in Emmaline’s opinion, made being a woman special. Romance made every woman beautiful, and every man a prince. A woman with romance in her life lived as grandly as a queen, because her heart was treasured.
Flowers, candlelight, long walks in the moonlight in a secluded garden . . . just the idea brought on a sigh.
Dancing in the moonlight in a secluded garden, now that reached the height of romantic on her scale.
She could imagine it, the scent of summer roses, the music drifting out of the open windows of a ballroom, the way the light turned the edges of everything silver, like in the movies. The way her heart would beat (the way it beat now as she imagined it).
She longed to dance in the moonlight in a secluded garden.
She was eleven.
Because she could see so clearly how it should be—
would be—she described the scene, every detail, to her best friends.
When they had sleepovers, they talked and talked for hours about everything, and listened to music or watched movies. They could stay up as long as they wanted, even all night. Though none of them had managed to. Yet.
When they had a sleepover at Parker’s, they were allowed to sit or play on the terrace outside her bedroom until midnight if the weather was okay for it. In the spring, her favorite time there, she loved to stand on the bedroom terrace, smell the gardens of the Brown Estate and the green from the grass if the gardener had cut it that day.
Mrs. Grady, the housekeeper, would bring the cookies and milk. Or sometimes cupcakes. And Mrs. Brown would come in now and then to see what they were up to.
But mostly, it was just the four of them.
“When I’m a successful businesswoman living in New York, I won’t have time for romance.” Laurel, her own sunny blond hair streaked with green from a lime Kool Aid treatment, worked her fashion sense on Mackensie’s bright red.
“But you have to have romance,” Emma insisted.
“Uh-uh.” With her tongue caught in her teeth, Laurel tirelessly twined another section of Mac’s hair into a long, thin braid. “I’m going to be like my aunt Jennifer. She tells my mother how she doesn’t have time for marriage, and she doesn’t need a man to be complete and stuff. She lives on the Upper East Side and goes to parties with Madonna. My dad says she’s a ballbuster. So I’m going to be a ballbuster and go to parties with Madonna.”
“As if.” Mac snorted. The quick tug on the braid only made Mac giggle. “Dancing’s fun, and I guess romance is okay as long as it doesn’t make you stupid. Romance is all my mother thinks about. Except money. I guess it’s both. It’s like, how can she get romance and money at the same time.”
“That’s not really romance.” But Emma rubbed her hand on Mac’s leg as she said it. “I think romance is when you just do things for each other because you’re in love. I wish we were old enough to be in love.” Emma sighed, hugely. “I think it must feel really good.”
“We should kiss a boy and see what it’s like.”
Everyone stopped to stare at Parker. She lay belly-down on her bed, watching her friends play Hair Salon. “We should pick a boy and get him to kiss us. We’re almost twelve. We need to try it and see if we like it.”
Laurel narrowed her eyes. “Like an experiment?”
“But who would we kiss?” Emma wondered.
“We’ll make a list.” Parker rolled across the bed to grab her newest notebook from her nightstand. This one featured a pair of pink toe shoes on the cover. “We’ll write down all the boys we know, then which ones we think might be okay to kiss. And why or why not.”
“That doesn’t really sound romantic.”
Parker gave Emma a small smile. “We have to start somewhere, and lists always help. Now, I don’t think we can use relatives. I mean like Del,” she said, speaking of her brother, “or either of Emma’s brothers. Besides, Emma’s brothers are way too old.”
She opened the book to a fresh page. “So—”
“Sometimes they stick their tongue in your mouth.”
Mac’s statement brought on squeals, gags, more giggles.
Parker slid off the bed to sit on the floor beside Emma. “Okay, after we make the master list, we can divide it. Yes and No. Then we pick from the Yes list. If we get the boy we pick to kiss us, we have to tell what it was like. And if he puts his tongue in your mouth, we have to know what that’s like.”
“What if we pick one and he doesn’t want to kiss us?”
“Em?” Securing the last braid, Laurel shook her head. “A boy’s going to want to kiss you for sure. You’re really pretty, and you talk to them like they’re regular. Some of the girls get all stupid around boys, but you don’t. Plus you’re starting to get breasts.”
“Boys like breasts,” Mac said wisely. “Anyway, if he won’t kiss you, you just kiss him. I don’t think it’s that big a deal anyway.”
Emma thought it was, or should be.
But they wrote down the list, and just the act of it made them all laugh. Laurel and Mac acted out how one boy or another might approach the moment, and that had them rolling on the floor until Mr. Fish, the cat, stalked out of the bedroom to curl up in Parker’s sitting room.
Parker tucked the notebook away when Mrs. Grady came in with cookies and milk. Then the idea of playing Girl Band had them all pawing through Parker’s closet and dressers to find the right pieces for stage gear.
They fell asleep on the floor, across the bed. Curled up, sprawled out.
Emma woke before sunrise. The room was dark but for the glow of Parker’s night-light, and the stream from the moon through her windows.
Someone had covered her with a light blanket and tucked a pillow under her head. Someone always did when they had sleepovers.
The moonlight drew her, and, half dreaming still, she walked to the terrace doors and out. Cool air, scented by roses, brushed her cheeks.
She looked out over the silver-edged gardens where spring lived in soft colors, sweet shapes. She could almost hear the music, almost see herself dancing among the roses and azaleas, the peonies that still held their petals and perfume in tight balls.
She could almost see the shape of her partner, the one who spun her in the dance. The waltz, she thought with a sigh. It should be a waltz, like in a storybook.
That was romance, she thought, and closed her eyes to breathe in the night air.
One day, she promised herself, she’d know what it was like.
Since details crowded her mind, many of them blurry, Emma checked her appointment book over her first cup of coffee. The back-to-back consults gave her nearly as much of a boost as the strong, sweet coffee. Basking in it, she leaned back in the chair in her cozy office to read over the side notes she’d added to each client.
In her experience, the personality of the couple—or often, more accurately, the bride—helped her determine the tone of the consult, the direction they’d pursue. To Emma’s way of thinking, flowers were the heart of a wedding. Whether they were elegant or fun, elaborate or simple, the flowers were the romance.
It was her job to give the client all the heart and romance they desired.
She sighed, stretched, then smiled at the vase of petite roses on her desk. Spring, she thought, was the best. The wedding season kicked into high gear—which meant busy days and long nights designing, arranging, creating not only for this spring’s weddings, but also next.
She loved the continuity as much as the work itself.
That’s what Vows had given her and her three best friends. Continuity, rewarding work, and that sense of personal accomplishment. And she got to play with flowers, live with flowers, practically swim in flowers every day.
Thoughtfully, she examined her hands, and the little nicks and tiny cuts. Some days she thought of them as battle scars, and others as medals of honor. This morning she just wished she’d remembered to fit in a manicure.
She glanced at the time, calculated. Boosted again, she sprang up. Detouring into her bedroom, she grabbed a scarlet hoodie to zip over her pjs. There was time to walk to the main house before she dressed and prepared for the day. At the main house Mrs. Grady would have breakfast, so Emma wouldn’t have to forage or cook for herself.
Her life, she thought as she jogged downstairs, brimmed with lovely perks.
She passed through the living room she used as a reception and consult area, and took a quick scan around as she headed for the door. She’d freshen up the flowers on display before the first meeting, but oh, hadn’t those stargazer lilies opened beautifully?
She stepped out of what had been a guest house on the Brown Estate but was now her home and the base for Centerpiece—her part of Vows.
She took a deep breath of spring air. And shivered.
Damn it, why couldn’t it be warmer? It was April, for God’s sake. It was daffodil time. Look how cheerful the pansies she’d potted up looked. She refused to let a chilly morning—and okay, it was starting to drizzle on top of it—spoil her mood.
She hunched inside the hoodie, stuck the hand not holding her coffee mug in her pocket, and began to walk to the main house.
Things were coming back to life all around her, she reminded herself. If you looked closely enough you could see the promise of green on the trees, the hint of what would be delicate blooms of dogwood and cherry blossoms. Those daffodils wanted to pop, and the crocuses already had. Maybe there’d be another spring snow, but the worst was over.
Soon it would be time to dig in the dirt, to bring some of her beauties out of the greenhouse and put them on display. She added the bouquets, the swags and garlands, but nothing beat Mother Nature for providing the most poignant landscape for a wedding.
And nothing, in her opinion, beat the Brown Estate for showing it off.
The gardens, showpieces even now, would soon explode with color, bloom, scent, inviting people to stroll along the curving paths, or sit on a bench, relax in sun or shade. Parker put her in charge—as much as Parker could put anyone else in charge—of overseeing them, so every year she got to play, planting something new, or supervising the landscape team.
The terraces and patios created lovely outdoor living spaces, perfect for weddings and events. Poolside receptions, terrace receptions, ceremonies under the rose arbor or the pergola, or perhaps down by the pond under a willow.
We’ve got it all, she thought.
The house itself? Could anything be more graceful, more beautiful? The wonderful soft blue, those warm touches of yellow and cream. All the varied rooflines, the arching windows, the lacy balconies added up to elegant charm. And really, the entrance portico was made for crowding with lush greenery or elaborate colors and textures.
As a child she’d thought of it as a fairyland, complete with castle.
Now it was home.
She veered toward the pool house, where her partner Mac lived and kept her photography studio. Even as she aimed for it, the door opened. Emma beamed a smile, shot out a wave to the lanky man with shaggy hair and a tweed jacket who came out.
Carter’s family and hers had been friends almost as long as she could remember. Now, Carter Maguire, former Yale prof and current professor of English lit at their high school alma mater, was engaged to one of her best friends in the world.
Life wasn’t just good, Emma thought. It was a freaking bed of roses.
Riding on that, she all but danced to Carter, tugged him down by his lapel as she angled up on her toes and kissed him noisily.
“Wow,” he said, and blushed a little.
“Hey.” Mackensie, her eyes sleepy, her cap of red hair bright in the gloom, leaned on the doorjamb. “Are you trying to make time with my guy?”
“If only. I’d steal him away but you’ve dazzled and vamped him.”
“Well.” Carter offered them both a flustered smile. “This is a really nice start to my day. The staff meeting I’m headed to won’t be half as enjoyable.”