Thirteen Roses

Submitted into Contest #211 in response to: End your story with two characters reconciling.... view prompt

24 comments

American

The bar was dark, as a bar should be. 


That didn’t bother John. In fact, it was one of the reasons he had stopped by for a drink.


The last four years had all made sense to him. Boy met girl. Boy fell in love. Happily ever after. It had been a fairy tale to be sure, until tonight. She wanted roses at their wedding, yet his mom wanted lilies. If you really want to make a bride-to-be angry a week before her big day, try changing one of the major decisions at the last moment to please your mother.


John learned that the hard way. Somehow, he knew he should have sided with his fiancée, but he'd spent most of his twenty-three years saying yes to his mom. After all, it was just flowers.


John had obviously miscalculated; after the ensuing skirmish with the women in his life, he wasn’t sure there would be a wedding. 

The only things he was sure of were that he needed a drink and he wanted to be alone. The first was no problem—he was in a bar and over twenty-one. The second was a little more problematic.


“Is this seat taken?”


John scanned the bar before answering. The question practically echoed as the bar was nearly empty. The stool next to his was, in fact, currently unoccupied.


“Um, well, no,” John replied, using his hesitation as a signal that the stranger should find another seat.


“Thanks, my friend. I’m Scott. Pleased to meet you,” replied the man as he sat down and ordered a beer.


John hoped that the stranger, now sitting beside him at the bar, would drink his beer quietly and leave.


No such luck.


“What brings you here?” Scott asked, taking the first sip of his beer. “I don’t know about you, but today has been rough for me. I’m feeling kind of lost.”


"You have no idea," John replied, in a whisper he hoped Scott would ignore.


“Do tell.”


"Honestly, I'd rather not," John answered, darkness hiding a flush of resentment.


"Understood," Scott responded, returning to his beer.


For the next few minutes, the strangers sat next to each other in uncomfortable silence until Scott spoke again.


"Listen, my friend. We're both in a bar in the middle of the day, drinking alone. We might as well make the best of it, so lay it on me. Why is today so bad?"


John had a decision to make. Should he engage the stranger in conversation or shut the whole thing down? It was obvious Scott needed to talk. Somewhere deep inside, John knew he did, too.


“I’m getting married a week from Saturday,” John said, “and I just had the worst fight with my fiancée.”


“Fights before marriages are common. Don’t let it worry you,” Scott reassured him. “What was it about?”


“Flowers,” John answered. “Roses versus lilies. Honestly, I couldn’t care less. I just want to marry the love of my life. Is that too much to ask?”


“Roses,” Scott replied as if he were speaking to himself. “A dozen roses.”


“That sounds like a story begging to be told,” John interjected, knowing he would much rather listen to another man's sob story than tell one of his own. “If you share it, I’ll buy you a beer.” Without waiting, John signaled the bartender to refill both glasses. “A dozen roses, you say?"


“It’s actually a story about one woman, three men, and a dozen roses, but, nevertheless, I accept your offer.” The two men clinked their beer mugs together, a stranger’s contract signed.


“The day she was born was anything but ordinary,” Scott began. “Her mother had been pregnant once before, but her first child was stillborn. The devastation made the young couple fearful during their second pregnancy. Until the little girl was safely in her mother’s arms, neither spoke of the future. Her father had been so cautious that he hadn’t even bought a gift for his daughter, who now slept soundly on her mother’s chest. This, of course, would not do, so he hurried to the hospital gift shop where he bought the most beautiful thing in the store: a single red rose.”


“A single rose?”


“Trust me,” Scott said, chuckling. “By the end of my story, you’ll have your beer’s worth and a dozen roses.”


“Excuse me,” John responded as he bowed slightly, waving his hand like a game show host. “Please, continue.”


“I think I will,” Scott responded with a melancholy smile. “You see every girl is beautiful in her father’s eyes, but this daughter was a little bit of a late bloomer.” Scott wrinkled his forehead, deep in thought. “When she turned thirteen, just like most thirteen-year-old girls, she was hopelessly in love. With more courage than sense, she invited the object of her affection to her birthday party. To hers and everyone else’s surprise, he agreed.”

“Oh no, I think I know what’s coming."

“Exactly,” Scott replied, shaking his head. “She told everyone she knew the good news..."


"But he never showed up," John interrupted.


"Yep.”


“That’s awful.”


“Yes, but it’s also the story of the second rose. You see, her dad, having been around the block a time or two, was afraid that would happen,” Scott took a sip of his beer, interrupting his own story. “You’re going to be a dad someday, and my advice is: be prepared." Scott paused to allow a moment for John to contemplate before continuing. "Now where was I?”


“Her crush didn’t show up at the party.”


“Oh, that’s right. So, the story of the rose had been told at picnics, family gatherings, and holidays—ever since the day she was born, so when her dad knocked on her door and came in holding a single red rose, it made a sad girl smile and a very bad situation not quite so bad.”


“That's a good man, there," John said, offering Scott a small smile. "That's two roses down. You still owe me ten."


“I’m getting there,” Scott assured him. “As I said before, she hadn’t really come into her own at thirteen. That was not the case at eighteen. She had become a head-turner and had more than a few invitations to go to the senior prom, but she declined all but one. I think she knew that particular offer came from the young man who would become her husband."


"High school sweethearts?"


"It was storybook perfect and, five years after getting her second rose, her dad gave her the third rose as she left for her special night. It was a father’s way of saying he approved of her date without using any words. She may have married him without the rose and her father's endorsement, but we’ll never know for sure.”


“I hope their wedding went better than I expect mine will.”


“Like I said, don’t worry. All weddings are stressful. I’m sure yours will be fine.”


"From your mouth to God's ears," John sighed. "So, what’s the story behind the next rose?”


“I think you'll appreciate this one. It was on her wedding day and a little like your fiancée, she was angry and hurt that her mom had made most of the important decisions. Her dad found her sitting alone, and as only a dad can, he fixed it with another red rose. With all the chaos of the day, that one red rose brought her back to the simplicity of it all. Two people who loved each other. The rest was just background noise. She didn’t know it at the time, but it was also the last rose she would ever get from her father.”


“Wait, you promised a dozen roses!”


“I did,” Scott admitted, "but I also told you it involved three men.”


“I’m sorry,” John said sheepishly, more invested in Scott's story than he had realized.


"Go on.”


Scott took a long overdue sip of his beer and continued. “They call the first year of marriage ‘the honeymoon phase’ because it’s expected that couples will be lost in wedded bliss, but it’s also the time when the worst fights happen.”


“Don’t tell me that,” John said, rubbing his eyes. “I was hoping this fight tonight would be the worst.”


“Trust me, you’re going to look back on this fight and laugh,” Scott replied with certainty. “In fact, most of your marital fights will be forgotten as long as you remember one thing.”


“What’s that?"


“Never say anything you can’t take back. When you’re in the middle of a fight with someone you love, winning isn’t the goal. Forever is.”


John sighed, turning to glance at his reflection in the mirror behind the bar before looking back toward Scott. “So, there was a big fight? About what?”


“Well, the important thing isn’t what the fight was about. It’s how it was handled. She walked out the door, got into her car, and headed to her parents' home. She was met at the door by her dad. In tears, she told him all about the kerfuffle between the sobs. After listening intently, her father went and got…”


“The next rose?”


“No, I told you the one at the wedding was the last rose from her dad. He went and got his car keys and left his daughter with her mom. She didn’t know it at the time, but he went to talk to her new husband. Although the conversation was just between the two men, it’s assumed her dad shared the story of the flowers as that was the day the rose tradition was passed down. Less than an hour later, her father and husband both drove up together. Her dad and mom went into the kitchen while her husband presented her with a single red rose. No words needed to be spoken. It wasn’t their last fight, but it was the last one that would require a rose.”


“So, her husband was the second man in your story?”


“He was," Scott confirmed. "That brings us to the next rose which was the most bittersweet.”


“Oh no.”


“Yeah, there is no good way to lose a parent. The call came in the middle of the night. Her mom didn’t have to give any details. They didn’t matter. There had been an accident, and the girl’s father was gone. There is a bond between a father and daughter that is impossible to explain, but if you ever have a daughter—you’ll understand. Arrangements needed to be made and details needed to be ironed out, but right after the funeral, in that quiet time when there is nothing left to do, that’s when the weight of loss truly hits. A good man knows when to talk and when to be silent, and she was married to a good man. She would say in later years she should have known, but the rose he presented genuinely surprised her. Of all the twelve, that one was her favorite.”


“That’s amazing,” John said, wiping away a tear. “I hope I can be such a man.”


“I’m sure you will be,” Scott encouraged. “I have a feeling about you.”


“Thanks.”


“The important thing to know," John continued, "is not every occasion deserves a rose. The next one came on their first anniversary. It was his way of telling her that, as far as he was concerned, the honeymoon would never end.”


“Be careful, Scott. You’re giving me hope that all might be ok.” 


“I told you.”


“So what comes next?”


“Well, that rose was followed by the one she always said had brought her the most joy. She would only have one child—a son—and on the day he was born, her husband presented her with another red rose.”


“Was he the third man you spoke of—her son?”


“He was, but don’t get ahead of the story.”


“You’re right. I promise I’ll just listen.” The two men broke out into laughter.


“So, that was the last rose for many years—the next one, however, was the most exotic. Twenty-five years of marriage is quite an accomplishment, and in honor of the occasion, her husband planned a secret trip for the two of them to Hawaii. When she tells the story, she smiles broadly, recounting tales of blue water and white sand. She laughs hysterically about the wave that pulled her husband's swimsuit completely off. She speaks in hushed tones when she reminisces about the sunset as they walked along the beach, but she truly shines when she talks about the rose. I honestly wonder if she would have been as happy if she’d only gotten that one.”


“Noted,” John said with a smile as he used his finger to pretend he was writing reminders on a cocktail napkin. Though he was joking with Scott, he wasn’t with the plan. He decided when he was married for twenty-five years, he was taking his wife to Hawaii.


“That’s nine roses, only three to go.”


“Yes, three to go,” Scott confirmed, but John could tell he said it with a touch of sadness. “That was the last rose her husband would ever give her. I’m not sure if I should tell you about the next one, considering you’re about to get married.”


“You have your beer, and a deal is a deal,” John said, trying to reassure Scott. He needed to hear the end of the story. 


“You’re right,” Scott continued, a little distracted. “Her husband had plans to give her a rose on their fiftieth anniversary, but he came up two years short. The cancer hit fast and it hit hard. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, he was gone. Not since the day her dad died had she been so devastated. No marriage is perfect, but theirs was perfectly imperfect. Afterward, she was lost, unmoored. Her eyes and ears worked, but she didn’t see or hear anything until her son asked her to join him in the family room. Everyone knew the story of the roses, but only one man could continue the tradition, and continue it her son did, as he presented her with a single red rose. 

In an instant, she felt grounded. Though aching for the loss of the love of her life, her son’s rose let her know, somehow, that everything would be alright.” Scott’s head fell and he choked back tears.


“It’s you," John said. "You’re her son, right?”


Scott nodded in the affirmative, attempting to keep his composure as he finished his story. “Which brings me to the last rose. My mom died a week ago today. I’m on my way to say goodbye and to give her one final rose. Her life has been defined by her flowers and the men who gave them to her. For my grandfather, my father, and myself, I will give her this one last gift.” And with that, Scott finished his beer, stood, and offered his hand to John. “I’m not sure why I came in here, but I'm glad I did. Thanks for listening.”


“It was my pleasure,” John replied earnestly, shaking Scott’s hand. “Thank you for sharing your mother’s roses with me.”


As Scott turned to leave, John put a hand on Scott's shoulder. “That was only eleven. You said there were twelve. Where is the last rose?”


“It’s my mom,” Scott answered with a smile. “You see, my grandparents hadn’t thought of a name before her birth, thinking it would be bad luck. When my mom was born healthy and her dad gave her the first rose, my grandparents quickly agreed on her name. My mom, Rose, is the twelfth.”


Scott again turned towards the door and left without another word. John would never see him again.


Alone once again, John came to a firm decision. A quick phone call to his mom let her know the flowers at the wedding would be roses, just as the love of his life desired. His mom protested a bit but soon relented as John was resolute.


John didn’t call his bride-to-be to let her know of his decision. He wanted to tell her in person, and he also had a story to share. 


He paid his tab and left the bar, no longer apprehensive. He jumped in his car and headed straight home—stopping only once, at a florist, to buy a single red rose.

August 16, 2023 16:00

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24 comments

Yeisha Lee
20:55 Aug 21, 2023

🌹

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Thom With An H
23:10 Aug 21, 2023

My favorite comment so far. Thank you. 😀

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Mary Bendickson
17:08 Aug 16, 2023

Didn't think I had the to read this right now but glad I did. It is a winner.🌹

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Thom With An H
17:31 Aug 16, 2023

I'm so glad you stopped by for a read. I've been tweaking it a little but I'm happy with it's bones. :-)

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Lily Finch
16:33 Aug 16, 2023

Thom, such a lovely story. Nicely done. LF6 D)

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Thom With An H
17:30 Aug 16, 2023

Thanks Lily. You always encourage me. It means more than you know.

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Lily Finch
18:48 Aug 16, 2023

You are such a good writer Thom. It makes encouraging you so easy. D) LF6

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Calvin Kirby
20:34 Feb 03, 2024

A beautiful, touching story! So glad I went back searching your name and stories. You know how to weave a tale.🌷🌷🌷🌷🌷🌷🌷🌷🌷🌷🌷👸

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Stella Aurelius
15:50 Jan 28, 2024

Oh, Thom ! What a story you weaved. I was hooked. Amazing !

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Paromita De
17:27 Dec 14, 2023

Loved this story. I did not know what to expect and was not sure where it was going in the beginning, but I was intrigued at every bit of the story as I read on. Very well written and memorable.

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Fiona Stanley
21:08 Nov 13, 2023

Truly enjoyed this story! You have a gift for story telling

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Sue Schroeder
02:52 Oct 09, 2023

This is absolutely beautiful. Thank you

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Winnie Hsueh
01:50 Sep 06, 2023

Thank you for sharing this amazing story, I'm really touched!

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Helen A Smith
15:59 Sep 04, 2023

Rose is a beautiful flower, as is the story.

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Amanda Lieser
02:33 Aug 30, 2023

Hi Thom, On a personal note, my dear friend is named Rose. I love that you included that in this piece. It was such an epic read. I loved all of those gorgeous details and the story within a story. It was a great answer to the prompt and left me feeling nostalgic and hopeful. The romance was perfectly blended with the beauty of life. Nice work!!

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Susan Catucci
16:20 Aug 23, 2023

Hi Thom! Okay, so I miss reading a couple of your stories (and will offer no excuses why for) but I see the red m, I read the story, every word, and once more, I recognize a work of Thom perfection. Not one word unnecessary, sentences knit together like a fine tapestry, and the story itself is a timeless one. A simple gesture that means everything passed like a baton from each male figure in one girl/woman's life, and beyond that. Well, and then to pass the baton to sad sack at the bar on the way to your mother's funeral? No one writ...

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Jennifer Cameron
07:31 Aug 23, 2023

I don't think I can cope with how much I adore this story. It's definitely in my top 5 :)

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Anna W
02:28 Aug 23, 2023

Really beautiful story, Thom!

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Judith Jerdé
14:51 Aug 21, 2023

Wonderfully heartwarming and brought on few tears to my eyes.

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Marty B
22:40 Aug 20, 2023

Great one about ‘Pragma’ the enduring love over a lifetime. A man who is uncertain about his wedding is given a life lesson about what is important in love, and a way to demonstrate it. And the Best Practice of listen to your wife, not your mom when it comes to the wedding!

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Wendy M
17:58 Aug 20, 2023

A lovely story, really engaging, and well written. Great how you carried the theme right through to his mother's name. Well done

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Nina H
15:58 Aug 20, 2023

I just love this. My dad has grown red roses since I was little, and would cut them, remove the thorns, wrap a little foil around the bottom, and then give them to me. Such a great story about all the love and feeling behind a seemingly simple gesture.

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Ty Warmbrodt
09:10 Aug 20, 2023

Excellent!

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J. D. Lair
01:11 Aug 18, 2023

Getting me all choked up over here Thom! 🥲

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