By Marilyn Callaly
I leaned against the cooler in the downtown flower shop I ran with my husband, Hugh, in Cleveland, Ohio. Every bit of me ached. Working 13 hours a day for a week straight has that effect on you, especially when you're coming up on 65 years old. But I had to do it. After all, the week leading up to Christmas was one of our busiest.
I glanced at the mirror and laughed. My Santa hat and poinsettia-print shirt were covered with gold and silver glitter. I looked a sight.
Outside, the late December sun cast a glow on the festive decorations. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, 1993. The rush was over and our floral designers were gone. The streets were deserted. Even the Salvation Army trio had packed up their instruments and gone home. Nothing to do now but lock the door, clean up the store and make sure all our holiday orders had been delivered.
Hugh picked up some flower buckets and dumped the water into the sink. "Another holiday down the drain", he said. He'd told the same joke every holiday for the past 35 years. Still, I laughed. It was tradition.
Hugh went to straighten up in the back room and I grabbed a broom. As I circled the arranger's bench and neared the counter, my eye caught movement outside the front door. Next thing I knew the door flew open and three very large young men walked in. Hugh and I had run this shop for so long we knew everyone in town. Everyone and their guardian angels too. I had no clue who these three were.
From the looks of them, they were T-R-O-U-B-L-E. Grimy black leather jackets and filthy jeans. Wool caps pulled down low. Mean-looking. Real mean. I thought of what Hugh always told me: "If we are ever robbed, don't argue. Just do what you're told and give them whatever they want".
Lord only knew what they wanted. "Help you?" I managed to choke out.
They looked around and must have figured I was alone. They surrounded me. One of them blocked the door. The biggest thug flashed a cruel grin. "Hey, mama", he sneered. "Got any specials?" The other two snorted.
"I'm sorry", I said. "We're closed. I was just cleaning up".
"Whadda ya mean, closed?" he snapped. He brought his face right up to mine. "It's Christmas", he said. "I need some flowers. Now! "
His breath reeked. I turned my head, nearly gagging. I saw Hugh coming from the back room. He stopped short, took in the situation, then quickly came to my side. "What do you need, fellas?" Hugh said. "Make it quick".
"Lookie here, another one", said the leader. "You're not closing yet. First I wanna see what you got". He looked around. "Let's see them shiny things up there". He pointed toward the vase-filled shelves high on the wall. "Come on, let's see 'em".
Hugh reached to get one down.
"Not that one. The one over there". He pointed to the far end of the shelf and cackled. Hugh walked over and had just started to take the vase down when the thug said, "Old man, can't you get anything right? I meant the red one, back there". This time he pointed to another shelf.
The other two stood close by me. No way they'd let me make it to the phone, let alone the front door. The sun was down now. It was completely black. Please, God, show us a way out of this.
Hugh raced around the store, the three toying with him. They laughed harder and harder. Hugh got winded, disoriented. It seemed to go on forever. Suddenly Hugh stopped and shouted, "Enough! I've had enough! "
No, Hugh! Just do what they say.
"What do you mean 'enough', old man?" the leader shouted. "We're just startin' to have fun, aren't we?" Suddenly all three converged on my husband. I ran to the phone.
At that moment the front door opened. A rush of cold winter air blew in.
The thugs looked up. Two young men entered the shop. Both were neatly dressed in brown suits and hats. Each carried a briefcase. One of them walked over to the near-empty display case. The second walked up to the counter. Neither of them said a word.
In the silence, I felt a presence. My eardrums pounded from the overwhelming presence of strength and goodness. I glanced over at Hugh, untouched by the thugs. They seemed spellbound, frozen in mid-attack. They couldn't seem to take their eyes off the two mysterious young men.
Then I saw Hugh react, as if some power had struck him. He puffed up before my eyes. "You guys don't want anything", he yelled. "Quit jerking me around and get out of here! "
The thugs looked at Hugh, then at the two newcomers, who stared silently back. The tables had been turned. The menace in the hoodlums' eyes vanished, and was replaced by fear. By sheer terror! They bolted for the door and disappeared back into the night.
I tried to collect myself, thanking our two saviors again and again. They didn't look identical, yet I could not help but think of them as twins.
"Do you have a white rose?" one asked. "Do you have a white rose?" repeated the other.
"I'm so sorry, no", I said. "Could I offer you a red one instead?"
They shook their heads no, said "thank you" and turned to leave.
Hugh followed them to the door, locked it behind them, then switched off the overheard lights. He reached out to me and I hugged him close, still trembling. It was a long time till I finally broke the silence. "Those young men".
"Never saw them before in my life". We knew everyone in town, all right, but it appeared that there were a few guardian angels we hadn't yet met.