Hellebore Season by Maisie Bishop

Anthea hesitated, took a deep breath of the cold winter air and walked into the community centre where tables were set out for small groups. 

A friendly looking woman came up to her, and shook her hand warmly. 

“Hello, I’m Carol. Welcome to our group.” 

She looked down at her list of names. 

“And you are..?” 

“Anthea, Anthea Christie.” 

“Great. Hello, Anthea. Let me introduce you to the others.” 

“This is Anthea.” 

The people smiled back, and introduced themselves. Anthea caught most of their names, and tried hard to remember them, Tom, Liz, Frances and Jim. 

Several other people came in, and before long, Carol was ready to begin. “Welcome everybody, to our gardening group. I hope you will enjoy being part of it.” 

Anthea found herself at a table with Tom and two others. As she sat down, Tom gave her a kind smile, which helped her to feel more relaxed. 

Carol told them about the plans for the group for the next three months of the course, and showed them a video about planting for small gardens. 

At break time Tom headed over for coffee and biscuits with Anthea. 

“So, what brings you to the gardening group?” he asked. 

“Well, I originally signed up for cake decorating, but the class was full, and they offered me this one, so I’m here by chance really. I hardly know anything about gardening. How about you?” 

“Me? Well, I’ve always loved gardening, and since my wife passed away last year, I haven’t been out and about much, so this seemed like a good idea for the New Year.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear about your wife. I lost my husband, Jack, last year too. It’s very hard, isn’t it? My daughter Fiona talked me into doing a course. She thought it would be good for me, but Jack was the gardener, not me.” 

They both paused wistfully for a moment. Then Tom asked, 

“So why cake decorating?” 

“Ah, I’ve always decorated cakes for all the family birthdays and so on, but I taught myself, and I wanted to learn how to do it properly.” 

“I see. So, do you think you’re going to enjoy gardening instead?” 

Anthea paused for a moment. 

“Actually, yes, I think I am.” 

“Good,'' said Tom. ‘I can’t wait till we get out into the community garden next week and get our hands dirty!” 

The second half of the morning went by in a flash, and at the end of the session, Tom gave Anthea another gentle smile. 

“Bye, see you next week.” 

“Bye, Tom.” 

Later that evening, Fiona called. 

“So, Mum, how was it?” 

“It was great”, she said. “It was just the introductory session today, but everybody was really friendly, and next week we’re going to the community garden. I’m hoping to get some ideas for my little patch.” 

“Oh, Mum, that’s wonderful. Dad would be so pleased to think that you’re going to carry on with the garden. He loved it so much.” 

The following week on a beautiful, crisp wintry day, Anthea headed off to the community centre wrapped up in an old black padded coat, her chunkiest boots and a bright red hat and scarf. 

She and Tom walked the short distance to the community garden together. It was a small but imaginatively planted plot in the nearby park. Fruit, vegetables and flowers were all cleverly

intermingled, and the group was here today to plant some vegetable seeds and to discuss how they could adapt some of the ideas for their gardens at home. 

Anthea noticed a plant with long dark leaves topped with beautiful creamy white flowers. “Those are just gorgeous. What are they?” She turned to Tom. 

“Those are hellebores, or Lenten roses. They’re one of my favourites. I’ve got lots in my garden, all in different shade of white and pink and purple.” 

Anthea smiled. “How lovely.” 

As they headed back to the community centre for the second part of the morning’s session, Anthea quickly dived into her car and brought out a large cake tin. 

“It was my birthday on Saturday, and I thought you might all like a piece of my cake with your coffee”, she said. 

“Oh, wow” exclaimed Tom, as she opened the tin to reveal the remaining half of the cake beautifully decorated with delicate flowers. “You really didn’t need to go to a cake decorating class, did you?” 

Anthea smiled to herself, as all the other members of the class first admired the gorgeous cake, and then silently tucked into a slice. 

The following week, when Anthea arrived for the class, Tom was standing outside the community centre with an exquisite bouquet of hellebores, wrapped in lilac tissue paper and tied with a narrow purple ribbon. 

“Happy belated birthday!” he said as he handed Anthea the little bouquet. “Oh, thank you! I don’t know what to say. They’re absolutely beautiful.” 

“I hope you don’t mind. They’re from my garden.” 

“Mind! Don’t be silly. Thank you so much, Tom. I’ll just put them in the car for safekeeping.” “OK, they’ll be fine till you get home. I’ve wrapped the stems in damp paper.” 

Anthea barely noticed what went on during the session. All she could think about was Tom, the flowers he had given her, and how much she had already started to look forward to seeing him each week.

She was daydreaming like a teenager, and it was a lovely sensation, but questions kept going through her mind, 

“What would Jack think? Is it OK to feel like this? Am I just being silly?” 

As soon as she got home Anthea unwrapped the flowers from their tissue paper, and out fell a tiny envelope with her name on it. Her hands slightly shaking, she opened it and read, 

“Happy Birthday Anthea! Would you like to celebrate by having dinner with me? Tom” Followed by his phone number. 

For a moment, Anthea was stunned. She re-read the card. Yes – Tom was asking her out to dinner. 

Now her hands were shaking even more, and the teenage butterflies returning to her stomach. 

When she calmed down, she realised that she was smiling. She took out her phone and texted Tom. 

“Thank you so much for the beautiful flowers and the invitation. I would love to come to dinner with you.” 

He texted straight back, and they agreed to go to an Italian restaurant that Friday. Fiona dropped in that evening. 

“Mum, what gorgeous flowers! Where did you get them from?” 

“Er, Tom gave them to me for my birthday.” 

“Tom? Oh, so he’s one of the friendly people at the gardening group, is he?” Anthea could hardly believe it, but she could feel herself blushing. 

“Um, yes. He’s, er, very nice. He grows these hellebores in his garden.” 

“Mum, it’s OK. You don’t need to sound all apologetic. You’ve met a nice man, he brings you flowers. That’s lovely,” 

“Yes, he’s very nice. And I’m having dinner with him on Friday.” Anthea blurted out, unsure how her daughter would react. 

“Oh, Mum, that’s wonderful! I’m so pleased for you!”

Anthea hugged her daughter, laughed and said, “Yes. I think it could be rather wonderful.”

Published in Issue #22

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