The Rose Garden

It was late at night and she knew she was due at home in a half hour. But she couldn’t make her feet move to the door, couldn’t even make herself rise from her seat in the coffee shop. She sat at a small table for two in a corner, contentedly sipping a cup of hot chocolate and quietly tapping on her laptop.

She was a writer at heart and often came here on weekends to tap out her thoughts and emotions into her characters. Sometimes she would come with her best friend, also a writer, but she usually came alone.

Tonight, she wished her friend was with her, wished so hard she thought she would pass out from the strain of trying to telepathically communicate with Lizzie. But she knew it wouldn’t work, knew she was all alone.

She wanted to get up and waltz out of there, the sooner the better, but she was held immobile, held immobile by the one young man who had managed to let in a tiny beam of sunlight through that red brick wall she had erected around her heart over a decade before, when her first male friend, and first crush, had moved across the country, leaving her alone and empty.

Then she had met him, the one boy who always spared her a smile and genial words when no one else cared if she was alive or not. They were friends of sorts and often worked together since they had four of their five classes together. They were even headed for the same college in the fall, and both on scholarship. She secretly hoped they would be assigned the same residence hall, hoped they would still have classes together.

Their meeting had been utterly random. It was junior year, the previous year, and she didn’t have a first period, but still came to school early to converse lightly with what few friends she did have. But they all had class and she was left alone. She would often idly wander around the campus and stare at the trees and flowers. One morning, though, it began to rain and her umbrella had managed to malfunction. That was when she, with her head down and hunched over the stack of textbooks in her arms, turned a corner and ran smack into something or someone.

At first, she thought she had accidentally run into the wall, but it had felt too warm and now it wasn’t raining on her head. She glanced up, bewildered, and stared into deep blue eyes that were staring down at her in concern.

He had helped her pick up her books and walked with her to the library. He introduced himself and remained with her for the remainder of the class period since he didn’t have class either. They continued to meet every morning from then on and soon learned they lived only a block away from each other.

Now, this year, they had managed to get all but one class together and had become as close as she and her best friend were. She would never tell him, and risk ruining their friendship, that she loved him. And she never thought there would be a rival for his heart.

Yet, there she was. She was a petite blond with clear blue eyes and pale complexion. Her smile was bright and her laughter like bells. She dressed sedately, but well, and he stared at her as though she were an angel, a hand lightly resting on hers as they conversed softly and smilingly.

She didn’t know who this blond angel was, but she instantly knew that she had just lost the one boy she would ever truly love. She would never match up to the other girl. For one thing, she had black curls and large brown eyes. She was no blond goddess. She was, though, about the same height and build as this girl, but she didn’t wear a halo around her head.

The minutes were ticking by and, suddenly, she was standing and shoving her things into her bag. She hurried away, scurrying out of the coffee shop before she even knew what she was doing. She thought she heard him call out her name, but was already out into the parking lot, and he didn’t come out to catch her.

She drove as fast as she dared, holding off the tears for as long as she could.

She gave a muttered welcome to her mother and quickly ran into her bedroom and locked the door. She pushed her curls out of the way and sat down at her desk in the darkness. She sat, still and silent, for long minutes. She could hear the seconds ticking by on her little clock, but couldn’t comprehend the time. She heard her mother softly rap on the door and call out a goodnight. And, still, she sat in the darkness, staring unseeingly out the window into the night.

There was a full moon in the cloudless sky. It was bright and pearly and cast a silvery blue glow upon the earth. The stars twinkled merrily, as though they were mocking her.

Quickly, like a wraith, she stood and changed into her long, white nightgown and then resumed her seat at her desk. This time, she clicked on the small rose lamp sitting at her elbow and bent over a piece of paper to write one last letter.

It was nearly midnight by the time her final composition to the one she loved was finished. She quickly and quietly drew open her desk drawer and drew out a sheaf of papers tied with a pale rose colored ribbon. She added the newest letter to the pile and retied the ribbon. Then she opened another draw and pulled out a small rosewood box. Carefully, she lifted the lid and placed the letters inside. She hesitated and then pressed two fingers to her lips and the fingers to the center of the tied ribbon. Tears glistened silver in her eyes and she didn’t brush them away. She let one, two, three, four tears drop onto the letters, two from each eye. Then she drew down the lid and locked the little box for the first time.

She clicked off the lamp and stole out of the house, barefoot, a tiny shovel from her windowsill next to her window box of marigolds clasped tightly in her hand.

There was an ancient lemon tree out in a corner of the backyard. She knelt beneath this tree and gently placed the box on the ground. With the shovel, she slowly dug a deep, deep hole. Finished, she pressed her lips to the box and lowered it into the hole. She stared long and hard at it, a fleeting thought of pulling it out and running back into her room crossing her mind. But she tamped it down and ruthlessly buried the rosewood box.

She stood and flitted back across the garden and into the house. She locked herself into her bedroom and sat at her desk again, wondering what she would do now.

She awoke the next morning, her head on her arms at her desk, her nightgown soiled and her feet dirty. Quickly, before anyone else was up, she showered and changed into a print dress. She pulled her hair into a tight bun at the back of her head and went out to the kitchen to await her family’s awakening.

She ghosted into her first class that morning, pale and stern, quiet and sedate. He came in a few minutes later and dropped down at the desk beside hers. He talked of the previous night and she learned his angel’s name was indeed Angel. But, when he saw she was unresponsive, he sobered and quickly pulled from his pocket a small, wrapped object. She politely thanked him and moved to put it away. But he stopped her and implored her to open it.

She did. Into her hand tumbled a necklace from which hung a little golden heart engraved with their initials. She glanced up at him, her eyes wide and bewildered. He whispered a happy birthday to her and moved to clasp the necklace around her long, graceful neck.

She lived in bliss all that day, with him attentive to her. But it would not last, as well she should know. After all, a favored poem of hers that seemed too entirely true was “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”

That night, he held her hand and told her he cared for her…and told her he was deathly ill. He wouldn’t survive to see the summer, nor would he graduate. The angel she had seen him with was a volunteer at the hospital he was receiving help from, a girl who had gotten to know him and wanted to do something nice for him. She wept bitterly and he held her tight, whispering softly to her and pleading that she wear his necklace until the day she died.

He didn’t last a week. The illness crept upon him at an alarming rate. By Thursday, he was in the hospital. By Saturday, he was dead in her arms.

That night, she sat at her desk, with the rosewood box she had recovered that afternoon from under the lemon tree sitting beside her. She wrote out a final letter, unlocked the box, and slipped it inside, not bothering to tie it up with the others.

Again, dressed in her white nightgown, she flittered out of the house and across the yard to the rose garden, clasping the box to her chest. Roses of various brilliant and muted tones bloomed wildly in the garden, nodding towards the moon, pearled with the evening dew. She knelt down beside the ancient red rose bush with crimson fire blooms and dug a deep hole. She tenderly placed the box inside and covered it over.

She lay down on the ground, facing that rose bush, tears falling down her cheeks and across her nose. The golden heart remained steadfastly clasped around her neck. She closed her eyes and slept soundly and peacefully.

Her family was in turmoil the following morning. She was not in her bed and not in the house. It was her little sister who caught sight of a figure in white lying out in the rose garden.

She was discovered lying beside a tiny grave, her eyes closed, a smile upon her lips, her cheek cold, and her soul gone.

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