Today's Reading

I sigh. Who has time to think of such things now, when so much is at stake? Some of our friends have lost their businesses, others have been roughed up on street corners. And yet, so far, our little family has managed to avoid any significant personal or financial harm, and I'm grateful for that every day. I like to believe (pretend?) that we are immune to it, that this war could come and go and we'd continue being our little family of three: Papa, me, and my little girl, Cosi. As the storm rages, we'll manage to stay in its peaceful eye.

I'm no fool, however. There's cause to be concerned, all kinds of it. But caution is a very different thing than paranoia, and I refuse to be ruled by fear. After all, we are French citizens, with the papers to prove it. Even though Papa's mother was half-Jewish, she's long since passed away in a small village outside of Normandy, miles from here. Though unashamed of his ancestry, he has never been defined by it. His father was Catholic, and his mother converted. As far as I know, no one is aware of Papa's ancestry or could trace his bloodline. Besides, the Germans love our shop, stopping in for special bouquets for their wives or mistresses, or any pretty French girl they hope to woo. We will be fine. All three of us.

The bells on the door jingle as Luc appears. He kisses my cheek, then shakes Papa's hand.

"What are you doing here?" I ask with a smile.

He produces a perfect pink grapefruit from his coat pocket. "Look what I found at the market."

My eyes light up. "Luc, really?"

He nods. "I thought you'd be pleased."

"I haven't had a grapefruit since—"

The doorbells jingle again, this time ushering in Madame Bernard, who walks up to the counter in a huff. "I need four dozen tiger lilies," she says to Papa, out of breath. "We're entertaining some of Paris's most important people tomorrow night."

Papa furrows his brow. He knows as well as I do that tiger lilies are hard, if not impossible, to come by.

"Madame Bernard," he says, clearing his throat. "Lilies are a rarity these days. May I suggest roses, carnations, even—"

"I said lilies," she barks, holding her hand out as if to halt any further discussion on the matter.

"Madame Bernard," Luc says suddenly. "How nice to see you."

"Why, Luc!" she exclaims. "I didn't see you there."

He smiles. "How is your husband? I'm told he was ill recently."

"Well, thank you. He made a fine recovery."

"Good," he says.

Madame Bernard looks at me, then Luc, and then back at Papa again. "Roses will be fine. I don't mean to make a fuss." She glances back at me, then Luc. "Especially in these times. Three dozen roses. Various shades of pink will do."

Luc blows me an air kiss, then heads out the door. Papa transcribes the order into his notebook as he always does. "And shall we bring them by at three? Four?"

"Noon," she says. "Last time your delivery boy was late. Make sure he isn't again."

"Of course, madame," Papa says.

"And the flowers were a bit wilted." She shakes her head. "If you're not careful, you'll lose your best customers, including myself."

"With respect, madame," I interject. "We don't sell wilted flowers. Perhaps your memory is what has wilted."

"My memory?" she huffs, turning to Papa. "It's a shame you didn't manage to teach your daughter any manners. On second thought, cancel that order."

After she's gone, I fall into the chair behind the counter with a sigh.

But it's apparent Papa doesn't find any of this funny.

"Céline, you can't let your temper get the better of you like that."

"And let people like Madame Bernard boss us around?" I shrug. "We have plenty of customers, Papa. We don't need her."

He sighs. "And what if she tells her friends and they all stop ordering?"

"They won't," I say. "Our customers are loyal. Madame Bernard, on the other hand, is a known Nazi sympathizer."

Papa looks tired and unconvinced. "All the more reason we should keep her happy."
...

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