Even hardy perennials don’t always last forever, as Karen – shrinking violet amid the star lilies – discovers…
When the doorbell rang, my heart sank.
Naomi was punctual as ever and I knew she’d have golden skin, fabulous clothes and her hair framing her face. I wasn’t wrong.
“Off we go,” she chirped, ignoring my apprehension. “The others are already there.”
My heart sank further at the prospect of joining my other friends outside Labamba, the trendy café-bar they favoured. It buzzed with suntanned people sporting fabulous accessories and oodles of confidence.
I’d always thanked my lucky stars that I’d been too preoccupied to go to Labamba or anywhere similar.
That was right up until my lucky stars had suddenly stopped shining.
My dad described me as beautiful inside. My mum said I grew on people. This was true and when I went out with my friends, who were all gorgeous in different ways, I didn’t stand out.
I worked as a gardener; my hair was practical and my nails short.
Then I met Tom. He’d never have seen me in a nightclub or fancy bar. He wouldn’t have got past Naomi’s eye-catching hair or Amanda’s stunning legs, and Lisa’s indescribable allure would’ve buckled his knees.
Luckily for me, we met in my first humble garden centre and I could show off my green fingers.
“All these geraniums from one plant? Will you show me how to do it?”
He was the competition and had opened a swankier place a few miles away… but he didn’t have my knack for growing things.
“What, so that you can steal my customers? No.”
I didn’t want to be mean but I’d scrimped to purchase the main road plot to realise my ambitions and do the only thing I was good at.
I was adamant, even though his eyes were irresistible and his worn hands were the sort I liked.
He returned several times but never again asked for my trade secrets.
Instead he drank coffee with me, sitting on pallets in the days before the tea-shop. We discussed plants, lawns, trade and the seasons.
I fell for his windswept hair and tanned skin, and he saw past my plain exterior to the beautiful bit inside.
“How did you bag him?” my friends shrieked with astonishment when I said I was getting married. We were so in love that I was confident I could hang onto him even after he’d seen Lisa, Amanda and Naomi. And I did.
She’s here.” My friends are around a table outside the Labamba when I arrive, guided by Naomi into the seat waiting for me. Ice buckets with empty, upturned wine bottles inside litter the tables.
I notice how they appraise my clothes and approve. I’ve made an effort. A fitted dress with red and violet stripes blending softly into each other. I never could do much with my hair, but I’ve had it cut and a beautician has worked miracles with my gardener’s hands.
“You look great,” Naomi encourages me. She’s exaggerating but I appreciate the gesture.
“Great to see you out for once.” Amanda leans across to kiss me and I glimpse legs that have made men swoon for decades.
“Thanks.” I accept a glass of wine.
Lisa, whose Zen-like presence has had men guessing forever, grins charmingly and raises a glass to me.
“Great to see you. The gang back together. Fantastic.”
I join in, but it isn’t fantastic.
If Tom hadn’t fallen for the Dutch flower merchant he met when our business expanded, I wouldn’t be here.
Eighteen years, all utterly happy and filled with work and children, purpose and flowers. No one could have asked for more.
I travelled far on my plain looks and green fingers but the night Tom met his new love, my lucky stars weren’t out. I couldn’t compete with her athletic figure and interesting background.
Her business acumen and breathtaking ambition put my green fingers in the shade, where nothing can grow.
My glittering friends have fallen in and out of love and marriage.
As our wine and laughter flow I notice the admiring glances that come their way and know they’ll find love again and again.
“Oh no! Don’t look! My ex has just come in!”
Naomi hides behind her glass as a man whose wedding I attended appears with her replacement. The girls hoot at the look on his face when he sees her.
Enigmatic Lisa soon warms up when a handsome man squeezes his chair in next to her. Amanda’s legs cross and uncross, heating collars up all over the place, and I am wafted in the face with Naomi’s gorgeous hair.
“It’s like old times, isn’t it?” Amanda smiles and filled my glass.
“It is,” I say ruefully. I’m sitting here, beautiful on the inside and invisible on the outside. I join in with the fun, though, and our table expands as people join the buzz.
“You’ve missed this.” Naomi winks as her current beau joins us, which seems to cramp her style.
I hadn’t missed it. I’d been ordinary and contented. I accept that my marriage is over and wonder how I can shine amidst my dazzling friends.
“I’ve not seen you before.” A man appears next to me as his friend chats to Lisa. “Who are you?”
“How d’you know this crowd?”
He nods, understanding that although I’m not like them, old ties are strong.
“My brother fancies Lisa.” He nods to the young man making Lisa laugh. “We go through this ritual frequently.”
He rolls his eyes.
“Oh.” There is a silence between us, amid the chatter and laughter that is noticeable but not unpleasant.
“What d’you do?” he asks.
I tell him about my green fingers, my knack with anything that grows. It’s all I know and somewhere, a while ago, my knowledge worked a magic spell that lasted long enough in an uncertain world.
He is happy to listen to something solid amidst the fizz around us.
It grows dark; the stars come out above us and I swear, some of them look lucky.