He ties up the flowers with silk ribbons. He sprays them with a little water before they leave his shop. He delivers the flowers.
They say arranging flowers was a woman's work, but Michael had never cared for ideas of traditional femininity. He has been turning a steady profit selling flowers to the locals each year for the past decade. Still resolutely refused to hire another assistant though. A part-timer was enough.
On one lazy afternoon, Michael is thinking of closing up early for a stroll in the park when a man comes in.
Upon first glance, he registers dark hair and tired eyes. Michael could have sworn there was something familiar about him. Then again, he didn't have the best memory for faces and this one looked like he could have easily been the son of his Jewish neighbours or a bartender downtown. Not the typical type he greets in his shop.
"Hi there," he offers a cheery smile. "What can I do for you, Mister?"
"Do you sell flowers?"
Michael tips his head towards the writing on the glass windows. "Well, it does say Festive Florals out there, doesn't it? Unless the sign has changed since this morning."
"Right," the man frowns slightly, before straightening. "I need a nice bouquet."
"The decent sort. For a classy woman."
A man in love, Michael narrows his eyes, he could work with that.
"Um, flowers are your area," the man makes a motion with his hand. "Her favourite color is pink."
"I see," he nods. "What else?"
"Look, I just want one of your standard arrangements, alright? Somethin' like the ones you have in your window. Don't care what you put in it. It's not like you're building a ship to outer space."
"Hmm, I'll get started on it right away," Michael says mildly. "Why don't you write a card and leave me her address for delivery?"
He bustles over to the pink peonies and plucks the brightest ones out of the glass vase. They would look lovely with the pink carnations in the back, or maybe that would end up being too much pink, and no one likes too much of any good thing.
When he returns to the counter, the man is done with the card.
Michael looks the card over. There was something about an umbrella and an invitation, though he doesn't get to read it properly. He checks the address, which is in a far nicer part of Manhattan than his shop. The man is staring at him intently.
"Promise it'll be pretty?"
As pretty as the girl you're sweet on, he thinks. Downtown boy trying to woo an uptown girl.
"It'll be two-fifty and worth every penny."
"Thanks, pal," the man places the money directly into Michael's hand. "Would you mind getting them to her by the evening?"
He sighs, thoughts of a golden afternoon in the park faded in an instant.
"I'll see to it myself, Mister."
"A one-man band, huh?" His customer raises his eyebrows, a shadow of a smile on his face. The tall man then turns on his heel and exits the shop, hands in his pockets.
"Have a nice day," he calls out after him and gets back to his beautiful flowers.
Ronnie knows that he was born with a way with women.
He captivated them with his winning smile and neat clothing. Yet he never found one that would stay after one night.
Maybe today the odds would be in his favour. It was Miami after all, and women on vacation were more susceptible to his charms.
He sidles into the hotel bar, cataloguing the women within. A lot of them were already chatting with men, and he heads straight to bar.
There Ronnie sees her. A slender, brown-haired figure in a nice check dress, scribbling into a pink notebook.
A ripe target for him.
"Good book?" He asks, smiling a little, showing his teeth.
The woman tilts her face him and Ronnie gets a waft of floral perfume. She wasn't horribly good-looking but she had these bright blue eyes and smooth, creamy skin. Not that bad.
And she was alone.
"Not yet," she replies curtly, giving him a brief glance before deciding that he might not be worth her attention.
This was going to be a tough girl to crack.
"Can I buy you a drink?"
That was a tried and true line in Florida. Everyone welcomes a free drink.
She wrinkles her cute pointed nose and she waves her hand at the bartender. "Got one coming."
Not dissuaded, he presses on.
"Put it on my tab."
"Oh no, thank you," Ronnie finally places her accent as a Northern one, likely from one of the big cities. "That's very sweet, but I'm working."
He leans in closer to her and she frowns. "Really working? Well, this hotel certainly attracts a nicer class of working girls."
At once, he realises that he has offended the woman and attempts to smile. Maybe he should apologize-
"Yeah, look, Mom, I'm not a hooker," the brunette snaps. "I'm working on my act, and I can pay for my own drink."
"Okay," Ronnie holds his hands up in mock surrender. "You're a modern woman. I get it."
He goes on, grinning. "Maybe I should just keep you company so no other man makes the mistake I just did."
That should do it.
"I appreciate you wanting to be the saviour of my reputation," her words come faster and sharper. "But I'm busy writing dick jokes, so if you don't mind-"
She is interrupted by a tall man in a black suit, who appears to her left with a cigarette held between two fingers. "Number three really paints a picture."
There is no mistaking the note of happy surprise in her voice as she says, "What are you doing here?"
Feeling a little ignored, Ronnie sips his drink as the conversation next to him continues.
"I am living here."
"In Florida?" The woman sounds shocked, leaning closer.
"At some point, every Jew must live in Florida," the man hasn't even bothered to look at Ronnie once. "It's in the Torah."
"Wow," the woman says admiringly, as though the Torah was a good spot in town. "You know it's weird, I never pictured you living anywhere. To me, you just exist."
"Well, sorry to disappoint you," the man is amused. "But I do live places, and right now, it's here. I got a key, I get mail, I got an apron."
"Must look good with that tie," is the woman's quick reply.
"I heard Shy was in town, so I thought I would stop by and say hello."
"Hello," the man says after that, and to Ronnie's ears, he sounded deeply fond.
This is when he meets man's dark eyes for the first time. He immediately catches the protective glimmer in them above the woman's head. The Jewish chick was his.
"Goodbye," the other man says to him pointedly.
There was no point in pursuing a lost cause. Ronnie stands stiffly, offers a weak smile for the brunette, and leaves with his tail between his legs.
Nancy tosses her red hair over her shoulder, hoping that it wasn't as short and tomboyish as it looked.
She had gotten a haircut the day before she left for Miami with the kids. Her children were currently asleep in their hotel room with the nanny and she was doing god knows what in the hotel theatre, waiting for Shy Baldwin to come on.
The stage lights were dimmed and the curtains were still closed. She had shown up early to get to her table. Alone.
Robert was busy working on some project in Virginia and had given them tickets to the coast for a whole week with the new nanny. Top secret: not for the eyes of a common housewife.
Anyway, it was a promising night. The kids were in bed and she was going to listen to Shy Baldwin without her husband saying something disparaging about popular music. Shy had the voice of an angel and Robert seemed to hate it.
"Hello!" A sharp voice says from the stage. It must be the comedienne who was warming up for the singer. "Hello everyone!"
From her seat, Nancy squinted to see a young-ish woman in a black dress and pearls holding the microphone. She tried to remember what her name was, but couldn't.
"I'm Mrs Maisel, and I'm the comedian opening for Shy tonight," the woman says brightly. Nancy thinks the spotlights made her look far too pale. "Do you know what I like best about Miami? The men. I mean, really-"
Nancy found herself laughing at the jokes which poked fun at everything from shrimp to swimming in Florida. This was one funny woman and the audience apparently thought so too.
She stands in the middle of a bit about Mrs Maisel losing her virginity to head to the bathroom.
A spectator leaning against a column gives her a look as she is walking to the doors, taking his dark eyes off the woman on the stage.
Nancy meets the man's direct gaze and says loudly enough to be heard above the woman on the stage, "Marvellous show."
"Yeah," the man says, exhaling a puff of cigarette smoke. "She's good."
"Just going to the ladies," she replies, then wonders why she felt the need to justify her departure to this stranger.
"Uh-huh," the man says, turning his gaze back to the stage, cigarette already halfway to his mouth. Clearly he had other things on his mind.
Nancy leaves the hall to the thunderous laughter of the audience.
She slips into a slinky black dress in the changing room, cigarette dangling between her lips. Next to her, two new dancers are laughing about the guests on the show tonight.
"I hear he's very funny- in an obscene way," one of them says. "Never does a single TV interview."
"Oh, how mysterious," her friend giggles, patting powder onto her cheeks. "Maybe it's because he's a Jew."
Jessica sighs and fills in her lips with bright red lipstick. She's never been a sucker for comedy, preferring romances with a touch of drama in them.
It was part of the reason she worked on Miami After Dark and it wasn't because of the paycheck. Jessica dreamed of getting close to glamorous movie stars, wishing that their luck would rub off on her.
If she could, she would rather be one of the assistant producers of the show, milling around the set and bossing other people around. But that job was something only men were supposed to do.
She leaves the dressing room to head to the break room for a cup of water, fussing with her blonde hair. After the show, Jessica was going to meet her prospective boyfriend at the cinema and she definitely didn't want to be too early for the date. Dating in the 60s for a woman like her was a sport and really wanted to bring up her job at the studio in the conversation.
As she walks down the corridor, she spots a couple leaning against a wall that separated the rest of the set. The woman, a petite brunette, gives her a sweet smile. Jessica notes the strapless evening dress she was wearing with approval. Floral prints were very in season.
The man she was talking with doesn't acknowledge her beyond a tiny nod. She smiles kindly at them, hoping that they weren't lost.
The two made a handsome couple.
After the short break, Jessica tosses her cigarette into an ashtray and moves to take her position in the background.
In the corner of her eye, she recognises the suited man from earlier, sitting casually on Brian's couch. Jessica sees him looking off in the direction where the guests of the guests were situated. Too bad she couldn't see into waiting area.
When she moved a little closer, she could see him smiling at someone. Probably the nice girl from earlier.
She finally places that man as Lenny Bruce, one of tonight's guests. Upon closer inspection, he looked quite dashing, if exhausted.
As Zsa Zsa and Bella take their seats, Lenny laughs out loud at something his date had done, ducking his head for a brief moment. After it passes, his expression reverts to a serious one.
Brian does his usual spiel, introducing his guests, making them feel comfortable. Jessica enjoys the music and chats in low voices with Tom, her 'partner' for the evening.
Sometimes the camera would settle near them. Tom tries to slip into the view of the camera. Jessica does not bother to.
Lenny says something daring that makes the guests titter, and Jessica finds herself smiling a little. Even though she disliked comedians, she admired their quick wit.
"Uh, but actually Brye, I'm here with someone special tonight," Lenny says, gesturing with his hands. "Someone I love dearly, almost as much as I love myself."
He gets up in the process, moving out of sight of the cameras. Jessica almost giggles at the uncertain look on Brye's face. Not a lot of his guests went off-script.
"Uh, uh, sweetheart? Where are you?" Lenny heads off to the viewing area. "Ah, there you are."
"Lenny-" Brye is half-standing, unsure of how to react to a guest like this. Jessica takes a sip of her wine to hide her amusement. "We have a wandering Mister Bruce."
The man comes out a moment later. Jessica could see Lenny reaching for the hand of his date, who looks both shocked and bemused. Yet she had a glitter in her eyes. Trust, that's what it was.
The woman he was with says something and then gets up. She licks her fingers quickly before Lenny drags her in front of the camera.
"Oh, he's back," Brye says, relieved. "Well, who have we here?"
"Brye, I'd like you to meet my wife, or possibly my sister."
Jessica cranes her head to listen to him. Her partner tonight, John, gives her a dirty look.
"Stop moving around," he murmurs.
"I want to hear this," she replies, crossing her arms.
"-let's go 'wife'. What the hell?"
She hadn't noticed a ring on the woman's finger, but what did she know. It could be true or just a harmless joke.
"Well, it's nice to meet you, whoever you are."
"It's nice to meet you too."
The woman's voice is what is strange about her. Her words tumbled out of her mouth like nothing was holding them back.
"She's a very big fan. Called in sick just to be here tonight."
"Oh? What do you do?"
"I'm a Mountie."
"Yes, she's very good with horses."
"And moose," the woman adds.
Lenny turns his head towards her. "And squirrel."
"A female Mountie? I didn't know there were female Mounties."
Jessica wished Brye would get rid of the silly pipe when he was on air. It was just not as sophisticated as a simple cigarette.
"Are you kidding? Have you seen the hats?" The woman says. "There are only female Mounties."
"So how long have you two been married and/or related?"
There is a pause.
Jessica wonders where this bit would go next. She had heard that Lenny had gotten divorced or something two years ago. The couple on the couch must be in the early stages of their relationship them, but it didn’t feel like it.
"Oh it's been six-" the brunette trails off.
"Uh, seven. You forgot our time at sea."
"Yes, lost at sea. I almost killed you and ate you."
"But then we remembered fish."
John shuffles his feet next to her. "I don't think they're very funny."
Jessica rolls her eyes discreetly. "Shut up."
The couple were looking at each other, and even from her spot, Jessica could see them grinning.
"Well, you two make a very handsome couple."
"Oh, well, we get our looks from our mother," Lenny says to Brye.
"Oh! They just put out some new onion dip and I heard Betty Bacall is a notorious double-dipper," the woman shifts. "I've got to go."
"It was nice to meet you..."
"Rhoda," says Lenny.
"Scheherazade," says the woman at the same time.
Lenny lets out a soft laugh, clapping his hands together.
Jessica comes to the realisation that this man likely didn't laugh a lot, despite his line of work. It was only when he was with this woman, whatever her name was, that he lowered his guard.
The woman bustles off with a final smile and Brye says, "Great girl."
Like all comedians, Lenny had to have the last word on that matter.
"Well, you should see her rob a liquor store."
Joseph has been sweeping streets since he came back from the war- the one in Korea, which everyone seemed to have forgotten overnight. He also has a side-job waiting tables at a mediocre restaurant downtown. It's not as tough as people think (they look down on him for keeping their streets tidy and their food warm). More importantly, it paid his bills.
It's late at night as he walks back to the hotel, almost a new day.
Joeseph has been living there for two months, landing there when he got a job in Miami. It was affordable and close to where he worked. He should probably get an apartment, but the relaxed mood of everyone around him was infectious. He just didn't have the energy to go home-hunting right now.
He whistles a Sinatra song off-tune, hands in his pockets. Maybe someday he'll get his wife back or even find a new sweetheart. Florida was where crazy things happened, especially in the dead of the night on the harbourfront. He might stay here forever.
There was an ache in his bones that wouldn't go away. Sometimes at night, he was transported back to the war. The fighting and the blood and the death. He is tired now, but he doesn't want to go to sleep.
Joseph leans against the railing separating him and the sea and lights up a cigarette. He craves a drink. Haven't had a proper one in a week.
The sea is calm tonight and the lights from the hotel illuminate the waves. He closes his eyes, savouring the cool breeze.
He hears voices, which make him turn away from the ocean.
There are two people. One wearing a white shirt and black slacks and the other in an evening dress covered in flowers. If he squinted, Joseph could see that the woman had a pink flower in her hair and had a suit jacket draped over her shoulders.
I guess, he thinks, it isn't unusual for a couple to return to their room this late. Summer's the best season for lovers.
His gaze stays on the two a little while longer. People-watching was an activity of a leisurely Miami night, particularly if one was feeling exhausted and sentimental like Joseph. He liked to guess their stories sometimes, and how their paths may cross but never intersect.
The door to their room was open, he sees. No one was making a move to go in. They lingered at the entrance, in each other’s personal space.
A first time, perhaps. Or the last time?
He turns back to the rolling sea, and sighs.
After a moment, naturally curious, Joseph look back to see if the couple was still there.
The man was there on his own, his back against the wall, arms crossed. The woman departs with a jaunty wave of her hand and without a backward glance.
Wonder how long he’s going to stay there. He tries to get his thoughts across to the man. Go after her, buddy!
It doesn’t appear like the man was going to make a move on the woman. Joseph suddenly has the desire to go back to his room.
“Evenin’,” he says softly when he passes the man, who stood as still as a statue. He had a forlorn look on his face and his suit, upon closer inspection, was slightly crumpled. “Your girl just say goodbye to you?”
The man shoots him a heavily-lidded look and doesn’t respond.
Joseph shakes his head, feeling quite sympathetic. He knew firsthand that it hurt to be rejected.
Even so, maybe the girl had promised to come back another day.
With that in mind, he slowly walks to the staircase, leaving the man all alone.
"Ever since this world began
There is nothing sadder than
A long lost loser
Looking for the gal that got away."
Frank Sinatra, The Gal That Got Away