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The Red Rose
The Red Rose
I had been taught that a rose painted the color of red symbolized love. Whether this love was an endearing, bittersweet Romeo and Juliet love or just a simple, soft melancholy kiss, it did not matter. Love was love no matter how many scars it carved into one’s heart with its treacherous, scalding knife. Some lucky people in this stifling world claim that love is a virtue to all life; without it, how is it possible for pure joy and bliss to exist? I used to believe them, those out-of-the-ordinary, romantic poets. But, now…now I believe their stupendous claims to be outrageous lies. Cupid’s existence was a fallacy and his fiery arrow of love would never pierce my forbidden heart. But, the red rose still taunted me.
A fine, fluffy layer of snow began to slowly descend from the deathly-grey sky. I closed my eyes and breathed in the icy air. It didn’t make me shiver uncontrollably like it would’ve a year ago. No, now my heart was just as cold.
I kept my eyes shut as I began my grim trek amid the field protruding with shadowy, engraved stones. I didn’t need my precious sight to allow myself to proceed to my destination. And, frankly, I didn’t want it either. As I pondered this, something sharp prodded itself into my inner thigh. I reached down and into the deep, dark pocket of my black trench coat, wrapping my hand almost protectively around the stinging metal. The touch made my heart hammer as hard as thunder and my skin prickled, finally sensing the white surrounding me.
My heart dropped to the empty pit of my stomach when my foot suddenly struck something as thick and as strong as a brick wall. My breathing quickened to an almost inhumane speed and my glittery eyelids fluttered open involuntarily, allowing teardrops in the form of icicles to trickle down my frozen, red cheeks. I brought my black-gloved hand up to my face and wiped the moisture away, angry at myself for releasing my feelings out of their soulless cage within my chest. Then, I looked down.
It was just a simple, grey headstone; an ordinary grave that wouldn’t ever immediately attract the human eye. The words carved into it, however, were not withered and worn down like so many of the stones hiding in this forbidden graveyard. No…the letters and symbols so carefully drawn were shiny and new, but they reflected the purity of the snow with an eerie glow. With a deep trembling breath, I heard the squeaky sound of rubber against liquid as I knelt down by the memorial. With shaking fingers, I traced the letters that created the name of the one person I still undoubtedly and so unconditionally loved: Liam Carter. I felt an unfamiliar throbbing in the back of my throat as I moved my hand across the numbers…the date…so small, so little time: June 14, 1993---January 5, 2010. I forced my hand across the cold stone and down another row, but I briefly hesitated before I traced the symbols engraved there. For the symbols were of a long, twisting, breathtakingly beautiful vine of roses. Though they were as grey as death imprinted on the headstone, I knew they were meant to be red.
The impact of the roses hit me so incredibly hard that I lost my breath in the frigid air and my head began to spin. Instinctively, I laid back into the snow, not caring that the cold flakes were drifting through my wool hat and into my ears. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t feel. I could only breathe. And, even though it felt all wrong, I just kept breathing…
One Year Earlier
“Breathe, Cassie! It’s really not that scary.”
I giggled and burrowed my head further into Liam’s warm shoulder, making a meek attempt to hide myself away from the bloody, screaming mess flashing on the TV screen. “It is so scary!” My words were muffled by his shoulder, my voice getting lost in a sea of comfortable fabric. “You’re just a guy so you’re not affected by this kind of stuff.”
A bubbly sensation filtered through me as I felt his fingers tug through my long, dark hair. “Trust me on this, Cass; I’m just as scared as you right now. But, as society goes, I’m a guy, so I’m supposed to be the strong one here.”
I peeked up from his shoulder, my impossibly dark brown eyes meeting his electrifying blue ones, before the terror moving across the screen sent me back to my original hiding place. “The strong one? I doubt that.”
I felt the tremors zig and zag through his muscular chest as he laughed, a sound that I so adored. “We can test that.”
“I’m willing to try.”
Before Liam could reply to our lively banter, the piercing shriek of breaking glass cut into our relaxed zone, making both of us freeze in our places simultaneously.
Time stood still as more glass continued to break. The noise sounded from the upstairs kitchen and my breathing began to quicken as I took in our situation. Liam’s parents had gone out with friends about two hours earlier. There was no way that they could’ve been back already; if they were, why would they enter by breaking the kitchen window? It was then that realization slammed into me head-on.
Liam must’ve also recognized the reality of our complication because, in one fluent movement, he had turned off the TV and swept me up in his arms. Upstairs, the crashing of glass had turned into the pounding of heavy footsteps. I saw Liam cast a ghostly-nervous glance towards the ceiling before he set off towards the faraway basement escape.
The pounding and profanity of the intruder continued to echo closer and closer to the stairs that led to the basement. Liam’s whispery footsteps became brisker, faster, but, with every beat of my heart, the intruder drew closer to us. I hugged Liam tighter and tighter as he sprinted and weaved throughout the basement’s shadowy rooms. I muffled my oncoming sobs and tears into Liam’s shirt, just like I had stifled my giggles just minutes earlier, as my sharp ears picked up the booming noise of somebody descending the stairs.
I lifted my tear streaked, frightened face to Liam’s voice and saw through the darkness that he was staring straight ahead, his face hardened with fear. “Cassie,” he whispered again. “The door is only a few feet ahead. When we get outside, call 9-1-1.”
“Okay.” My voice was barely audible as I reached into my pocket to feel the hard lump of my cell phone. I reminded myself to breathe and I concentrated on the way my chest rose and feel with my every breath of sweet, delicious air: in…out…in…out…
The creak of an opening door broke into my meditation. I looked up to see the white of the snow beating bright like the sun against the power of the night. Liam set me on my feet and I took out the cellular device that would save both of our lives. But, Liam shook his head. “Not yet,” he whispered as he intertwined our fingers. “Wait until we make it away from---“
I didn’t have time to register the noise before I was running. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t feel, I just forced my legs to take each and every step as I concentrated again on how to breathe: in…out…in…out…
My only means to safety slipped out of my grip and fell, to be forever lost, in the slushy snow, but I didn’t care nor did I realize it. I just kept running and breathing, clinging to the hope that each breath wouldn’t be my last. I lost track of myself, lost track of time. It was a while, though, before I finally realized that Liam wasn’t keeping up beside me, breathless and sweaty, his sandy-blond hair sticking to his forehead. It was then that I blacked out. Hours later, fighting against a wave of blackness, I heard my parents’ quiet, concerned voices, whispering about how to tell me of Liam’s fate.
I opened my eyes and gazed up at the soft flurry of snow, counting each breath that I took into my swelling chest, knowing that one of them would be my very last. Slowly, I reached my hand into my pocket, pulling out the shiny, metallic, blade of my release. Taking a deep, wavering breath, I held the knife above my heart, mentally silencing all my screaming second thoughts, numbing my mind. I kept my eyes open and lifted my face towards the cloudy sky. I wanted to die gazing up towards God’s eternal kingdom of life, towards Liam. I didn’t want to die drowning in the darkness waiting behind my closed eyelids.
I took another deep breath as I gripped the handle of my weapon, summoning the courage to end everything. Before I could plunge the final blow, however, something tiny and red floated down from the clouds, sticking out from the snow like a black sheep among a white herd. I followed it carefully with my eyes as it made its way towards the earth, my breath catching in my throat as it came to a gentle halt right on my heart. The knife that I had planned to use to stab my life away fell from my trembling, blue fingers and into the snow, its fate to be forever forgotten and lost. All the tears that I had held in throughout the past year burst forth from my eyes and rolled down my cold, cold cheeks.
The red rose had found me.