Red Roses for a Blue Lady

Rachel Ellenstein sighed deeply as she faced another day. Throwing back the heavy drapes of her single woman's bedroom, she stared out into the dull gray of a February morning and wondered again what had happened to her life.

"When did life pass me by?" she whispered to the snowy sleet spitting and spinning in the cold of New York City. She'd always thought this city cold. Perhaps it was the wind whistling through the concrete canyons of the city… or perhaps the lack of green and growing things everywhere she looked.

Rachel let the drapes fall back and turned to complete her morning routine. She brushed her hair… still blonde with the help of Miss Clairol and applied her makeup on skin that despite her age still glowed creamy and unblemished. With that she had been lucky.

Over coffee and Danish she skimmed the headlines in the newspaper and then turned to the classified ads where she occasionally marked one giving notice of an estate sale. As the de facto owner of Nash Antiques, she was determined to keep her foster father's business on a successful and even keel until the day he returned to New York to take control once more. She doubted she'd be alive then. The business was hers until her death when it would be turned over to Daniel Morgan. Her father had left her the instructions as to how to leave it to the next in the long line of identities he had set up over the last two hundred or so years.

Tears sprinkled in Rachel's eyes. That she missed Connor was a fact of her existence. At the same time, he'd left to pursue a romantic relationship with another woman which was something that Rachel had often prayed for as a child… that her "father" would marry and that Rachel would have a mother. She smiled at the thought of Brenda Wyatt being twenty years her junior. "Where did the years go, Connor?" she asked the black and white photo of the two of them. She had been ten at the time the photo was taken.

"I'm getting maudlin," Rachel snapped to herself and quickly rose, grabbed her coat and purse and slammed out of her apartment. Madly she stabbed at the elevator button, as if doing so would bring it sooner. It finally arrived.

Once on the street, she hailed a cab and gave them the address of the estate sale she planned to attend today and sat back in the seat still shaking from her emotional outburst. She must be getting old.

I've done you a great wrong, Rachel.

She shuddered slightly as Connor's voice drifted across her memory. She missed him more than she could imagine. At the same time, she knew he was happy in his new life. Happy and at last content. Something he'd never been before. Like a silent black and white film, her memories of Connor from that first day he'd found her and rescued her during World War II to the last night she'd seen him a few years ago when he'd told her that "Russell Nash dies tonight" flickered through her thoughts. She closed her eyes as she relaxed back into the tax's rear seat, and let them flow through her as they took back through her life.

All too soon the taxi halted. Rachel glanced up at the tall Georgian mansion with its stately pillars. She paid the driver, climbed out and slowly ascended the stairs and followed the signs. As Rachel moved through the rooms, making notes in her pad on the furniture and accessories that she was interested in, she could almost hear Connor assessing them as well, and mentioning what had happened in the year it was created. So absorbed in both her viewing of the auction items and her memories was she, that she failed to notice the slight, man in the well-tailored suit watching her with a thoughtful expression. Finally, while she was making notes on a Louis XV desk that she was especially interested in, he stepped up beside her.

"My great-aunt said that desk nearly ended up on bonfires during the French Revolution," he said with an easy-going charm and an educated English accent.

Rachel started at his comment, so close to something Connor might have said and smiled at him. "Oh? Your great-aunt?"

The man smiled and held out a hand for her to shake. "Denis Mayweather. Lucille Vanderberg was my great-aunt. Did you know she was one hundred and ten years old when she died?"

Rachel shook his hand as she nodded. "Yes. I did read that."

"Can you imagine the history she saw," Mayweather continued, "the changes that took place in her long life?"

Rachel's smile widened. "As a matter of fact… I can."

"Her husband Josiah was one of the robber barons. He made his money in oil." Denis was clearly warming up to his subject. He gestured for Rachel to walk with him as they continued viewing the auction items. "He left Lucille a very wealthy widow with two children. She never remarried."

"I thought there weren't any descendants," Rachel murmured, pausing to expertly eye a Baroque mirror.

"Well Lucille outlived both her sons… and the five grandchildren. Three died as children and the other two died before they had children. So I'm the nearest living relative. I just came over England to administer the estate."

By this time they'd reached the conservatory where a profusion of bright flowers burst riotously amongst the green foliage. The room felt warm and humid. Rachel glanced up at the green-glass roof. Even on a cloudy day, this room felt like a piece of the tropics.

Denis stopped at some rose bushes and snapped off one which he handed to Rachel. "My aunt was quite the gardener. She developed this one… it's called 'Josiah's Dream'."

Rachel stared at the cream and red rose. The red seemed like blood splashed over the blossom from a beheading. She gulped and turned away.

"Is something wrong?"

"No… well yes. It almost looks like blood."

Denis nodded and laughed sheepishly. "I knew I liked you. I once told Aunt Lucille the same thing. She did not find it amusing."

Together they laughed as at some secret joke. Rachel felt oddly comfortable with the young Englishman. Glancing up as the announcement calling for bidders to take their seat, Rachel bid him adieu reluctantly. He squeezed her hand as she took her seat. "I'll speak to you later."

Rachel wondered if he truly meant it. She pulled out a business card. "If you get busy later, feel free to call me at my business."

His eyes twinkled merrily even as he took the card and bowed to her. "Good luck on your bidding. I have a feeling that you will do well."

She did well, getting successful and reasonable bids on several of the pieces she wanted. Even as she made arrangements for the delivery she glanced around hoping to see Denis Mayweather. But if he was still about… she failed to see him.

After a taxi ride back to the Hudson Street antique store, Rachel checked through messages, disappointed that they were all business related. She still hoped Connor would call at some point. Hearing the buzzer of the front door, she glanced in a mirror, smoothed her blonde hair, and with a smile pasted on her face, she entered the main showroom only to stop in surprise.

Denis Mayweather stood with hat in hand and a dozen red roses. "I hope you don't mind," he said softly and gestured with the roses. "I wanted to make amends for earlier. And… I wondered if you were free for dinner?"

Rachel chuckled slightly. "Aren't red roses more appropriate for passion or love?"

"Well," Denis shrugged. "One can always hope. Seriously though, they seemed far more appropriate than Aunt Lucille's 'blood-splattered' ones." He winked jovially.

"Thank you." Rachel murmured as she took the roses into her arms.

"Now put them in a vase (he pronounced it 'vaz') and then join me for dinner. Please? It's Valentine's Day and I'm all alone in this city. And… unless I'm very much mistaken… so are you. Dinner? No strings? No commitments."

Deep within her, Rachel felt warmth and a sense of hope that she hadn't felt in years. "Yes… I'll be right back." Quickly she retreated to store's small kitchen area and began arranging them, wondering if she should take the chance and dare to move on with her life. Denis Mayweather seemed a kind and gentle soul whose sense of humor was much like her own. With a smile and a lighter step than she'd had for many a day, Rachel Ellenstein turned to face a future of possibilities.

#30#