Copyright (C) 2013 Savannah Hensley
"He gave her a dozen roses, eleven real and one fake, and he told her, "I'll love you until the last rose dies.""
Hope closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, savoring the crisp scent of the February snow. She always came here, to the walkbridge over the river, to calm her beating heart and to clear her mind. For there was a decision to be made today that must be the right one, as it involved her future.
In her gloved hands, she held two roses. The rose in her right hand was a silk rose, elaborately crafted to resemble a true blossom fresh off the bush - it was even faintly scented with sweet perfume. The rose in her left hand, however, was a real rose, given to her not even an hour ago. The two roses symbolized the love of two men whose hearts had been pledged to her, and since she could not go forward in life with both of them in her hands, she had come to the bridge today to drop one in the water.
The silk rose had been very dear to her for nearly four years now. It had been a gift from her first love and high school sweetheart, Zachary Cliffton, on a day where she had nearly given up on life. She had been in the midst of her parents' marital issues and abuse from her father, only to have her boyfriend - her one rock in a shaken world - tell her that he needed time to decide whether he wanted her or not. And when he approached her with a dozen roses, telling her that he would love her until the last rose died, her heart nearly broke under the heavy burden. But, once she had gone home and arranged the roses in a vase, she realized that one of the roses was silk and would never die.
Symbolism had always been very important to Hope, because she dearly loved to write her own stories and often believed her life to be one of them. The silk rose had been treasured and kept in a safe place, even when she and Zachary were forcibly separated by their parents for three years. In the times when her father's abuse was too much and she was nearly ready to give up on the world, she needed only to take out the rose to reassure herself that someone somewhere still loved her and gave her a reason to live. The silk rose stood for a love that would last for eternity.
Yet, after four years, Zachary had still not come to rescue her from her father. In fact, Hope had had to rescue herself; for the past few months she had been struggling financially until she was taken in by an older woman she met at the local domestic violence shelter. Zachary apologized over and over, continuing to promise his undying love, but the simple fact was, he wasn't there for her. He was hundreds of miles away, in the state of Michigan while she waited patiently in Indiana for his return. As a result, Hope had begun to lose faith in him little by little.
The real rose, although not so precious to her, was a symbol all its own. It had been given by Nathan Kingsley, son of the woman who took her in. Now, Nathan certainly hadn't been in Hope's life quite so long as Zachary - little more than four months - but in that short time he had proven himself far more than Zachary had in four years.
Tears came to Hope's eyes and slid down her cheeks, falling over the bridge and dropping into the icy waters below. It hurt to remember the many long nights she'd spent crying in her room, needing nothing more than someone to hold her, comfort her, and dry her tears. She'd wished for Zachary. But instead of Zachary, it was Nathan who came into her room at night to stay with her so she wouldn't be alone.
Besides, the rose Nathan had given her was real. Maybe it had an expiration date attached to its life, but it was a flesh and blood rose nonetheless. Hope realized that now she must come to terms with the simple fact that Zachary's rose was nothing more than a cheap, sorry imitation of true love.
Perhaps the love Zachary offered would last forever. But Hope wasn't a girl anymore. She couldn't live off of fairytales and promises. She needed something real, something tangible, something now. And true love is not unconditional. It is not easy. It is something that must be fought for every single day. Hope was a woman now, and a woman needs the love of a man, not of a boy.
Nathan was here and now. He'd already proven his love was true. Though he had always known her heart belonged to Zachary, he patiently waited with his offering of love and had never turned away. She needed only to accept the token of his love, nourish it, and cherish it, to make it last forever. Hope now knew there would always be doubt, but true love takes work - and most importantly, blind faith. If she took the time to preserve this rose, it may be delicate since it would be dried and easily crumbled; but she need only protect it, and it would always and forever stand for reality, not a dream.
Hope took a deep, shaky break and closed her eyes. She had made her decision. "I'm sorry, Zachary," she whispered to the wind, and gave the silk rose one last kiss. Just like that, she let the rose slip through her fingers and fall down, down, down to be taken far away by the waters below; and the real rose, Nathan's rose, she tucked in her coat to keep safe.
Dedicated to my husband, Cole Hensley.