The rose had wilted. He cast his eyes over it dispassionately, trying to distance himself from what had been a thing of exceptional beauty. He had not had many things in his life that he would have considered beautiful, but that rose- that single, red, rose had been one of them. But now, the rose had wilted.
Silently scolding himself for not putting it in water earlier, he silently drew it from the vase and prepared to throw it away. He glanced over at the garbage can, full, as usual, and then once again he cast his gaze along the sad wilted petals of the rose.
No. He couldn’t do this. It had been the first time in years that something had happened on this particular day. Usually, he spent it in a surly and irritable mood, snapping occasionally, all the while secretly trying to keep the ache of loneliness from growing too unbearable.
And now the euphoria was still clinging to him, its warm tendrils filling his soul with wonder and bewilderment. Nothing like this had happened ever. No one had ever seemed to notice him or to see him. His friends always seemed to contradict him- but they never saw it from his point of view: No one cared. No one noticed. No one knew.
Three hours previously, he had returned from class, still trying to stave off the aching numbness, the gaping hole of loneliness that threatened to consume him. He had walked down the hill to the river, past the old, antiquated buildings that added an almost classical touch to the campus. He had walked wrapped in his music not making eye contact with the crowds that passed him.
Lost in his thoughts, he had slowly made his way back across the river, glancing back once, as he always did, to look at the central building of the campus, to the shattered ruins where the golden dome should be. Then he had turned his face away, and soon was lost again in the music, his eyes blinking away the shards of the pure, molten sunlight reflecting back from the river.
Then it had been a seemingly short distance over the pedestrian bridge, climbing the long, steep hill, still coated with the slush and the ice from the previous winter storm. It was slow going, his feet methodically hitting the ground in time with the music… the slow chords of the guitar echoing through his head… then the words, the slow Jamaican drawl of the singer weaving his poetry…
More people passed him by, as he reached the crest of the hill- more people who never seemed to give him a second glance. Again, seemingly against his will, his eyes slowly fixed on a tower in the distance, its white incandescence a small point on the horizon.
Then again, he had turned his gaze away and kept walking- numb to almost everything, uncaring of the world and everyone in it. The ache had returned, and the brooding resentment that had been building inside him was looking for a way out. Silently he unlocked the door to his room, the resentment, the ache, the pain swirling inside him- eating away at the inner corners of his soul like acid, hissing and burning.
His roommate was still at class he saw, as he quickly turned the lights on, and shut the door behind him. Good, he thought. Maybe it was time to end this- make the pain go away forever. Slowly, his gaze focused on the pills. He shook his head. No. He turned the knives he kept for eating, their blades silently reflecting the white artificial light of the room. No. Too dull. He cast around for something, anything, desperately trying to find something, anything before…
He wasn’t fast enough. Something pricked at the back of his mind, and he tried to ignore it. There was still time. He could still… and then his mind began to work again, his conscience slowly, quietly whispering the names to him. Every friend he ever had, every relative, everyone he had ever known. No. He shook his head, trying to make it stop. He couldn’t do it now. People cared about him. And he wasn’t vindictive or spiteful- or even selfish enough to hurt them. His shook his head, trying to make his conscience stop.
But it didn’t stop. It kept going, repeating the doubts, the promises he had made to himself- his desire to do something good for the world, to write and be published… to marry, to have a family, to…
With a slow thud he leaned up against the blank, faceless gray door, and slowly slid down it, silent tears streaking down his face. He slid to the floor, burying his face in his hands, not caring if his roommate pushed open the door to find him there. He stayed there, silently weeping as his frustration rained down with his salty tears, disappearing into the dark carpet below him.
He had had no idea of how much time had elapsed when the soft knocking came at his door. He had ignored at first, but it persisted, soft and gentle, until finally, in a fit of near fury, he had wiped at his eyes, and opened the door- and stopped.
There, taped to the door, was the rose.
He had been unbelieving at first, not wanting to hope what he had dared not hope for sometime. Almost automatically, his thoughts drifted back to that night brimming with hope and promise, when he had unburdened his soul and had told the truth. He had been in love, then, and, overall, he had been, and indeed still remained a fundamentally honest person.
And it was that plain, simpleminded, almost naïve honesty that ended up cursing him that night. He had no idea how to talk with women. It was almost a stain on his character, at odds with his easy-going attitude and sense of humor. He had had no idea how to say it, how to confess what he had realized some days previously. He loved her- and that was the simple truth.
So, he didn’t build up to it, didn’t offer gifts or glib phrases, he had just taken a deep breath and said the words. She had been silent for what had seemed to be an eternity.
Soon he had stopped waiting. The silence had continued, festering like some cyst between them, she pushing her pain away, as was her want, and he suffering silently, sinking slowly into the quiet embrace of a sort of emotional numbness, everyday a torture, forcing himself to put on a façade, to joke, to laugh.
Now, he slowly turned the rose over in his hands, reading the simple card addressed to him, and feeling a small spark of hope ignite inside him. Someone liked him.
Someone liked him. Doubts began to take root in his mind, thoughts of some twisted prank, some dream. Maybe he had finally slipped across that almost unreachable line and finally snapped. His ring finger suddenly caught on one of the thorns and he flinched away, cursing. Almost transfixed he watched his blood drip to the floor below, blood, his concrete proof that sanity was still his.
And so he sat, turning it over time and time again, losing himself in its indescribable beauty, the memories of that failed love boiling up through him. He sat there not knowing that another woman was standing on a bridge watching the river, thinking of him.
She silently stood staring blankly down at the swirling currents of the river, ignoring the people walking past her, feeling a sense of nervous excitement coursing through her. She had done it. She had acted almost on impulse, almost playing a hunch, but nevertheless she had done it.
Some weeks previously, she had noticed him in one of her classes, quiet, unassuming, almost invisible- yet all that seemed to be one part of him. The other side of him was funny, intelligent, charming and outgoing all at the same time. At first glance he came across as a vaguely humorous guy, and then one day she had gotten a good look at his eyes.
Those eyes- it was almost impossible to tell what color they were… they seemingly flickered from green to blue to gray and every possible shade in between. Some said that the eyes were the windows to the soul- and in those few seconds that their eyes had met she had seen something in that calm, clear eyed gaze that made her pause and re-evaluate him.
So she watched him, trying not to be too obvious about it, and as the weeks past she had slowly been forced to admit to herself that she found him fairly attractive, in his way. All her life, she had ended up in relationships that were good, but never great. Somehow, after a lifetime of following the crowd, of going to the bars with her friends on the weekend, of shopping incessantly for clothes, it had all left her wondering if there was meant to be something more when it came to life, relationships, everything.
As the weeks past, she exchanged snippets of conversation with him, learning his name, some basic interests- and her interest only grew. She had been lacking something in her life recently, and the more she had learned about him the more she had become convinced that maybe, just maybe he could fill that void.
Somewhere along the way the idea came to her, she couldn’t remember how. Somehow it seemed like the right step to take. Love is a leap of faith, so they say, and she decided to take that leap.
So, she had brought the rose, found his room and taped it to the door- knocked four or five times and then calmly walked away, to see how he would react- to try and figure out where it would go from there- what she would do next.
That had been three hours ago now, and the river had yet to provide her with any guidance. She was excited. She was scared. She was confused. The river almost seemed to hold her, entranced in its ebb and flow and suddenly she knew what she must do. Love is a leap of faith- and, with a dozen different feelings coursing through her, she turned and slowly started walking back towards the dorm.
Almost hesitantly, her feet seemingly moving of their own accord, she crossed back over the pedestrian bridge, and, the doubts only growing stronger with every step, the desire to turn back and run away almost overwhelming her, she forced herself forward up the hill.
Then it was through the door, and down the hallways, first one, then another, past doors, opened and closed, her mind focusing on one door, one person, one room. And then the door was there. She took a deep breath and knocked.
The rose had wilted. He kept scolding himself, wondering what to do next, regretting that he had not acted to preserve it sooner. Suddenly seized by inspiration he rushed to his desk, searching for the multi-colored paper he used to make origami figures, finding the correct colors, began to fold. He paused every once in awhile to gently remove a petal from the rose, crushing it and concealing it in the paper flower that was slowly emerging from his frenzied folding.
Once completed, he gently placed it in the vase. Then that same, soft knocking began again. Slowly, not wanting to know what was waiting for him, trying to control that spark of hope that had failed him so many times before. He paused, his hand almost on the knob, wondering who was knocking, wondering a thousand different things. Then, with a deep breath, he slowly opened the door.
The door slowly opened, and almost instinctively she met his eyes, and was lost in his gaze. Neither of them said anything, each marveling at the beauty of the other, he lost in her stunningly blue eyes, those dark blue, almost sapphire eyes. She lost once again in his calm gaze. Almost automatically, and still without one word, he found the origami rose, and wordlessly handed it to her.
She turned her gaze to the rose, smelling the scent hidden within its folds. Then, she reached out slowly to touch his face gently, smiling in her quiet way. He returned the gesture with a visibly trembling hand, not wanting to believe that the loneliness that had haunted him for all his life was coming to an end.
Then, ever so slowly, she gently reached up and kissed him.
Reality broke in between them then. A steam whistle sounded. An alarm clock began to buzz. Neither of them knew who the other was, and as they awoke, each in their respective rooms, they clung to the sweetness of the dream, desperately trying to keep their self-constructed dam of love and affection from bursting and letting the loneliness rush back in.
They could have been in the same town, in the same place, or on completely different sides of the world- it didn’t matter. Each would have the memory of the other, that mysterious, shadowy figure from their dreams, only for a few minutes before the sweetness began to fade, and the memory began to grow dim. But that would be enough, for as they rolled over, groaning, muttering, wishing they could sleep and preserve that wonderful dream, they shared one last thing. It was a single thought shared by many lonely people on that day, of all days. And it hung silently between them, crossing the distance, echoing across the void between them.
I hate Valentine’s Day.