I tucked the strand of auburn hair that had worked its way loose from my ponytail behind my ear and sighed.
“Work’s that bad, huh?” my best friend Katy said, looking sideways at me as we took the path that cut right through the town square.
“Yes and no.”
“Well, that’s a clear statement,” she said with a laugh.
“It’s not the work; it's the fact that I don't know diddly-squat about flowers, and that lack of knowledge is proving to be a much bigger deal than I thought.”
“You mean you didn't think running a flower shop would entail you understanding a little bit about flowers?”
“Your sarcasm isn’t helping,” I said crossly, more at myself than at her.
“Presley, you know I’m joking. Plus, I've never seen you back away from a challenge. You’ve got this.”
“Flowers may just be my undoing.”
“You'll get the hang of it.”
“I know. I just hate not knowing everything. At Silk, I knew the business and could run it in my sleep with my eyes closed, standing on my head.”
“I have faith in you. It won't take long, and you'll feel that way about Petal Pushers.”
“Do you want to sit down on the bench for a few minutes? It's one o'clock, and you know it'll still be super busy at the Uptown Café from the lunch rush. If we wait even ten minutes, it'll be better,” I said. The Uptown Café used to be called the Uptown Teahouse, but when new owners bought it, they decided they wanted to offer more than just drinks and light snacks. It was a good move since they did a brisk lunch business now.
“Works for me. I'm not in a huge rush to get back. I don't have any appointments until three. Though I am hungry and can’t wait to get a chicken salad sandwich. No one makes them better than Uptown.”
“Well, Cynthia already took her lunch, so the flower shop is covered for a little while too, which means we have time to hang out for a bit.”
Katy and I sat down on one of the wrought iron benches that dotted the paths throughout the town square, and I looked around at the beautiful green space the town had cultivated in recent years. It had always been a green space in the sense that there was grass and trees, but in the last few years, the revitalization committee had done a great job at landscaping and planting flowers. They also installed a playground for the kids, along with resurfacing the paths that you could use to cut from one side of the town to the other. It had become a favorite place of mine when I needed to get out of the flower shop for a few minutes. I could come here and walk around to clear my head.
“How is business at the salon going?” I asked Katy. She had recently moved back to Hunter’s Hollow and bought back Katy's Klassy Cuts, the business she’d owned before she left town.
“It's like I never left. Even closing for two weeks to paint didn't hurt business because we've been booked ever since I reopened.”
“Of course you have. No one colors hair like you do.” And I wasn’t just saying that. Katy was amazing with color.
“You're so sweet. It doesn't hurt that we're the only game in town.”
“Don't sell yourself short. You do an amazing job with hair, as do your other stylists,” I said firmly. Katy was too modest.
“Hey, I'm just glad that hideous paint job and color scheme that Hannah redid the place in after she bought it didn't scare everyone away,” she joked.
“Yeah, I didn't really get that purple and green paisley. I mean, it actually would have been cute maybe on an accent wall but not on every single wall.”
“And the burgundy trim. That stuff was so hard to cover. I had to put on four coats of primer before it didn't bleed through anymore.”
“At least she didn't change the floor. I've always loved that black-and-white checked pattern.”
“Me too. And it looks great with the white and light Tiffany blue that I repainted everything in.”
“Yes, it does. That's something I wouldn't mind doing at Petal Pushers. Of course, I need to wait until my mom leaves—which, let me tell you, isn't soon enough. I love her, but her micromanaging is about to drive me insane. You'd think I've never run a business before.”
“You can't blame her. She's worked at that flower shop since before you were born and owned it since you were in high school. It has to be hard for her to let go and start this new chapter of her life.”
Leave it to Katy to be the voice of reason. And I did understand. My mom and dad deserved the six-month cruise they were taking to celebrate them both being fully retired.
“You would think with the way she conned me into taking over the flower shop, she would have more faith in me.”
Katy laughed. “You have to admit, giving you the flower shop as a wedding present was pretty genius on her part.”
“She didn't even give me an option,” I grumbled but really wasn't that upset. Cooper and I had talked for months before getting married that maybe it was time to move out of Chicago, and as we had both grown up in Hunter's Hollow and had ties there, it was our first choice. However, when my mom sprung the flower shop on me by giving it to me as a wedding present, I couldn't help but feel a little like I had been railroaded.
“She didn't, but this is where you and Cooper should be, and you know it. I would just get through the rest of today and tomorrow, and then she and your dad will be on their way to their dream vacation and out of your hair.”
“Knowing her, she'll rack up a huge phone bill calling me from the cruise ship,” I said with a smile. I might complain, but it would actually seem odd if she didn't constantly check in with me. Last time she took a vacation and I watched the flower shop, it was almost a daily occurrence. Hopefully, now that she was retired and I was taking over, she might drop it down to once every three days.
“Well, it's ten minutes after one,” Katy said glancing at her watch. “By the time we get to the Uptown Café, the lunch rush should be gone.”
We stood up and started to walk down the path again. I was running through the Uptown menu in my head, trying to decide what I wanted for lunch today. There were three things I rotated between that were my favorite, and I was heavily leaning toward the egg salad sandwich.
The town's beautification committee had done an amazing job with flowers, and I even surprised myself that I recognized a couple. Then saw a couple I didn't recognize. I really needed to get a book about flowers to study.
As we continued our walk, a vibrant section of yellow snapdragons caught my eye. I actually knew what those were because we had a customer in the flower shop a couple of weeks ago who placed an order for some. I hadn't realized they were so pretty.
“Aren't those yellow snapdragons gorgeous?” I pointed them out to Katy.
“See, you do know a little about flowers,” she teased, and I just sighed.
We stopped to admire them when something caught my eye.
“Is that someone’s shoe?” I said to her.
“It sure looks like it.”
“I'll grab it, and we can toss it in the lost and found box at the edge of the playground on the way to the cafe. Though it looks to be an adult shoe. You would think an adult would notice if they were missing a shoe.” It wasn't uncommon to find a kid’s tennis shoe, because of course, they were too busy having fun to notice they were missing a shoe, but I'd never found an adult shoe before.
“Maybe there were some adults here last night having fun—if you know what I mean. They could have gotten startled and bolted and not cared about their shoe.”
“Could be.” I reached over to pick up the shoe, but it didn’t budge. I gave another tug, and then I saw something behind the row of snapdragons that I immediately wanted to unsee. I stood back up.
“I thought you were going to pick up the shoe,” Katy said.
“Uh, I think I found the shoe’s owner,” I said slowly, trying to keep the tremble out of my voice without much luck.
“Did someone have too much to drink last night and pass out behind the bushes?”
“No,” I said, my voice quivering. I backed up and pulled my phone out of my purse to call 911.
“Presley, what's wrong?” I could hear the panic in Katy’s voice as she edged closer to the bed of flowers.
I didn't respond as I punched in the numbers. An operator quickly answered.
“My name is Presley Thurman, uh I mean Sands, and I'm calling to report a murder. It's Mayor Baxter.” The woman on the other end asked me all the routine questions and then told me to stay on the line and hold tight, and police were on their way. Hunter's Hollow was a small town, and the police station was only a couple of blocks away, so I knew it wouldn't take long for the police to get here. I still wished they'd hurry.
“Did you say Mayor Baxter?” Katy asked talking slowly, her eyes wide. I nodded, not trusting my voice to speak as I could hear sirens in the distance. “What makes you think he was murdered? Maybe he's passed out.”
“I don't think so,” I said slowly, knowing the knife stuck in his chest was a good indication this was foul play. I didn't know Mayor Baxter personally, but he had done a lot of good for the community. Who would have wanted him dead?
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