Chapter 3: Taste Of His Own Medicine

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I barged my way past the chattering, excited bystanders and sprinted to my bicycle, keeping a watchful eye out for Ms Smith who was expecting me to attend my after school detention. As if that was going to happen when I promised my father that I would arrive on time for once!

I cycled to the nearest florist, situated about a minute's walk away from the town cemetery. Positioning my bike against the shop's exterior, I scraped my hair back into a low ponytail and pushed the door open, ignoring the ring of the bell overhead.

Mrs Henderson - the plump, old florist - came bustling out of the storage room behind the counter, struggling to balance two gigantic wreaths between her frail arms. Her azure eyes twinkled as they met mine and a sympathetic smile was etched onto her lips.

"Good afternoon dear, your mother stopped by this morning and ordered an extra large bouquet - a wonderful explosion of carnations. Absolutely marvelous, I must say, but it did take quite some time to prepare it," She babbled, placing the wreaths on the floor before standing straight to beam at me.

I approached the counter, taking care not to stamp on the numerous flower arrangements that were discarded to the side, blocking my pathway to the front counter. The entire boxy shop consisted of bouquets splashed with white, red and yellow petals.

"Really?" I mused, nodding as I caught her eye even though I wasn't paying the slightest attention to her phatic talk.

Slowly, Mrs Henderson caught on that my mind was elsewhere and the sympathetic smile returned, this time flashing her pearly whites which made my insides churn with unease. Exasperation swelled up inside my chest but I forced myself to give her a tight-lipped smile. I just wish she would stop looking at me like an injured puppy.

I cleared my throat, frowning deeply as I leaned on the counter. "She didn't look too bad, did she?"

Her azure eyes shifted uncomfortably, darting around the store before coming to a halt on my face.

"Diane seemed quite..." Mrs Henderson trailed off, averting her gaze and focusing on the counter between us, searching for the right word. "...unsettled and restless."

My chest tightened when her blue eyes met mine, conveying the truth that my mother had stumbled into the shop a complete mess, either intoxicated or drugged on antideppresants. Suddenly, I felt guilty for declining Mom's offer in the morning to visit my father with her. Maybe she wouldn't have felt the need to turn to a bottle for courage.

I swallowed the lump lodged in my throat, blinking rapidly as I clung onto my composure, counting to ten. Mrs Henderson acknowledged my deflated shoulders, studying me from behind her large glasses with a consoling smile.

"You shouldn't worry, she's the second strongest person I have ever met."

My eyebrows perked up a fraction. I straightened my back and gave her a questioning glance.

"And the first being?" I asked shakily, clearing my raspy voice.

The warmth of her smile heated my cheek when she tilted her chin at me.

"Why, you, of course," Mrs Henderson chuckled softly, making her chin wobble. "Well there is this young man too, but I needn't worry you about his affairs. You probably don't know him dear, but he has been through a lot. I think it's truly remarkable that the soul can withstand the burden of loss at such a young age."

Confused, I blinked at her, struggling to make sense of her words but I thought better than to interrupt her digression. Mrs Henderson often voiced her thoughts, going off on a tangent and telling me all about her customers. Sometimes her stories were heart-warming and other times they were comical; but there were times when I couldn't be bothered to listen to her prattle about everybody's hardships, like right now.

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