The Lover’s Flower
Rosalind plodded along the path, picking flowers to add to the two plain yellow roses she held. The hem of her best black gown was dirty now, but she didn’t care. In three days she would stop wearing black. Her life wouldn’t change, but she would no longer be in mourning.
Everyone but her had forgotten what today was. If they hadn’t forgotten, they didn’t seem to care. She didn’t forget. She would never forget.
She left her mother and sisters to cook and feed the gathering of family and friends, and one stranger, willing to take her punishment for not helping and her avoidance of meeting her future husband. Not today. Maybe tomorrow.
Staying at the house with all the laughter and merriment that seldom included her only increased the void inside of her. Then again, none of them remembered. But she did.
One year ago, her husband of six months had died. Shot by a robber in front of her for not being quick enough to hand over his wallet. They had no chance to say goodbye. Even though he was dying a slow death, she had wanted him to see their baby. But that was taken away in less than a second.
She had held him for his last few breaths, aware he wouldn’t open his eyes again. She held him during the night, crying for the man who loved her and died way too young. She held him until her brother found her the next day while out hunting, checking to see what the turkey buzzards were circling over.
Two days later, she lost their baby. A baby she had wanted because it was a little piece of him. But today, no one seemed to remember that either. Or if they did, they didn’t care.
The bouquets she made were colorful. The flowers representing her love for the husband and the baby she had lost and the light they had given her. Today, she wanted to remember those idyllic six months.
Months of laughter.
Months of being loved.
Months of building a life together they both knew would end too soon.
All that ended with one bullet, taking away what little time they had let together.
Her father refused to let her stay in the house she and Ian had built. The excuse was that she couldn’t care for the small ranch. The home where she had been happy was now empty with her forced return to the family. A family who saw her as a burden. But a useful one.
Her father was wrong. She could have cared for the ranch and survived easier than she did here. Here she had no life other than doing other’s bidding. The family servant to pay for her food and a place to sleep.
She hid the money Ian had given her so no one would find it. No one had seen her take what Ian had on him when he died, having made sure she knew where it was. That was the reason she insisted on cleaning his body by herself, refusing their help.
If her father or mother knew she had the money, they would have taken it saying it was for her care while still using her as an unpaid servant. But it was her money and they weren’t getting it. Ian had given it to her just in case something happened to him. He knew the dangers of his job and that the illness he had was killing him. He wanted her to be able to enjoy life, promising her that she would want for nothing.
She was a very wealthy widow and didn’t need their help. Her plan was to leave when she was eighteen and return to the home she and Ian had built. If she watched what she spent, she had enough to live on for many years.
That was her dream. But in reality she knew her father would physically bring her back. She was their servant and until she married again, that is the way it would remain. He didn’t believe any woman could manage without a man.
The gate to the small graveyard had been left open again. She didn’t know who came here so frequently, but they needed to keep the gate closed. This was one of the little things that grated on her nerves. There were many more, but she learned with in a day of being back to keep her mouth shut since she was now considered a burden and had no right to complain.
She went to the newest graves and put the flowers on them. Ian Collins and Travis Collins. When she married this man her father had found for her, she wouldn’t be buried here with them. This was one of those times when she wished the robber had killed her too. If he had, she wouldn’t have had to go through the past year with little time for herself, doing everything no one else wanted to do.
From the graveyard she headed to the pond. The little hidden grotto was the only place no one from her family could find her. Today, she needed the time alone.
The man she was to marry was here for three days, so she’d meet him this evening whether she wanted to or not. She honestly didn’t care what he thought about her disappearing. You’d think her parents would have remembered her loss a year ago and waited until she wasa officially out of mourning.
But then again, they wanted her married to this man who her father said was wealthy and wanted her and no one else. From his smile, she knew the man had paid for her. That was the only reason her father willing to let her go.
Considering this man had never met her, why would he want only her? She would find out soon enough. For now, she needed to accept she had no control over her life other than the short time she manged to spend in the hidden grotto.
On her way through the briers that keep other from finding where she went, she heard her dress rip. It didn’t matter. She would repair it. Even though it was her best dress and she wouldn’t get another it was fitting that it should have tears and stains after a year of wearing it.
The hidden grotto welcomed her. A little rivulet bubbled over the rocks, the sound soothing her anger and sadness. She sat on the soft grass, criss-crossing her legs under the long dress and closed her eyes, imagining Ian here beside her. This was where he had found her when she was fourteen, saying she had drawn him here. She had laughed when he said he would marry her in two years.
Two years later she married the man who loved to laugh and play. Those were two things she had very little of in her life at home. Now at seventeen she was a widow and being auctioned off to the highest bidder, knowing her father.
He wouldn’t care if the person was old and needed a wife to help him into the grave. That way he could resell her to the next man who wanted a wife to care for them if she was still under twenty one. That was the magic number. Until then, she couldn’t move out and be on her own. Then again, it could be a man who lost his wife and needed someone to take care of him and his children.
The reality was that she was being told to marry a man she didn’t know and didn’t love. She was a prize cow for whoever was in the market for one who was fertile and young. According to her father, women had no value other than for having children and taking care of their husband.
Pushing the anger and sadness away, she let the cool water fall over her hand. The sound taking away the pain of the day. Her eyes went to the unusual plant that grew on a little outcropping of rocks above the tiny falls. She had never seen another plan like it with the dark green velvet leaves. It loved the dimness of where it was, it’s velvety leaves moving with the soft summer breeze.
She leaned over and studied the plant. It was in bloom! In all the years of coming here, she had never seen flowers on this plant.
The violet and white flowers were bright jewels set on green velvet. She examined the flowers, afraid to touch them they were so delicate. Why had she never seen it in bloom until now?
A deep male voice from behind her answered her question. “That plant is known as the Lover’s flower. According to the legend, it only blooms when your true love comes into your life.”
She smiled and turned to the man whose voice seemed to caress her and who she hadn’t heard entering her secret place. He was tall with a pleasant smile. The clothes he wore were well made but simple. But it was the almost purple eyes with a ring of green around them that drew her attention. Other than the green, they were Ian’s eyes. Ian had that same purple but with blue around them.
“How did you find this place?” She needed to know. Had he followed her like Ian had?
“I followed you when your father said you wouldn’t return for hours, unwilling to wait to meet you.”
“And you are?”
“Your intended husband.”
Her smile dimmed with an uncertainty she couldn’t hide. He seemed pleasant enough. But appearances were deceiving. That was something she discovered early in her life.
“My name is Gerard Collins.”
She stared at him, lips open, not sure if she heard the name correctly. He took a seat beside her so he was able to see her face. His face and smile seemed familiar.
With gentle fingers, he touched her cheek. A tear made its way over his cheek, followed by another, then another. Why was he crying?
“Ian said you were the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He made me promise to marry you if I wasn’t married just in case he was killed in his job.”
“Ian?” Who was this man? How did he know Ian?
“Ian was my brother. My twin brother.” Gerard wiped away his tears. “We were very close. When he found you, he told me he was staying here. I now think it was so that I wouldn’t meet you until he had a child, afraid I’d take you from him.”
He ran a finger over the leaf of the plant he said was the lover’s flower. There was a sadness in his eyes when he glanced at her before returning to the plant.
“Ian knew his job was dangerous and wanted to make sure you would be happy and taken care of just in case something happened to him. What we weren’t expecting was for a robber to kill him.”
She finally grasped what he had said. Twin. Ian’s twin.
“But you don’t need to marry me. I’m sure you could find a wife who isn’t a widow.”
“True. I don’t. But after seeing you, I want to marry you. That pretty smile he talked about has gone into hiding and that playful girl he loved disappeared with that smile.”
He studied her. The unusual eyes holding what she had seen in Ian’s. But how could he love her without having met her before now?
“The woman I saw in town the other day that the sheriff pointed out as Ian’s widow was unhappy. I want to see her smile and play and be free to enjoy life. I asked your father to marry you, aware I couldn’t walk away and leave you here.”
“You asked him?”
“I did. Like Ian, I can’t let you slowly wither away. Like those little flowers, if the plant doesn’t have the right conditions, it will never bloom. Here, you are slowly dying. I saw it in your face before you left. I want to see you bloom into the jewel like flower you are.”
Rosalind returned her gaze to the plant. Lover’s flowers. It was a nice story and one she wanted to believe. But could she?
Gerard took her hand and held it. “A year ago I lost my brother. I felt it when it happened. Since I hadn’t married, I made plans to come for you when I got the official news of his death, but I felt you needed the year to mourn him and your child. I know you loved him with all your heart.”
His hand was gentle when he turned her head so she was facing him.
“All I want is a piece of that loving heart. If you can give me that, I’ll do my best to see you have a happy fun life with the beauty of those flowers on thier green velvet bed.”
“Does Daddy know you’re Ian’s brother?”
“No. He remarked on the last name being the same, but didn’t ask if we were related. I didn’t explain for fear he would deny my offer.”
“And you really want to marry me?”
“I do. Like Ian, I feel this connection that pulls me to you. My thought is that those flowers bloomed for us. A sign we were meant to be together.”
Rosalind let her gaze go back to the plant she had seen for years and the jewel like flowers that appeared for the first time today. She reached over and carefully broke off one leaf and took one flower.
Ian had said he made sure she would be taken care of—but she never expected that to be in the form of a twin brother. Rosalind let the smile she had hidden since Ian’s death form.
“I do believe he knew exactly what he was doing.”
Gerard’s sun-bright smile had her ready when he leaned over and kissed her. The kiss was brief but pulled all the feelings she believed were gone back from wherever they had been.
Thank you, Ian. You knew he would love me. You were right to hide me from him. I know that now.
Ian had known her better than she thought he did. But Gerard was wrong. She didn’t love Ian with all her heart. Ian knew that and he had a plan. He had told her before they married he was only a placeholder for the one she would truly love. And he was right.
The velvety plant’s leaves moved in a happy little dance to the sound of the falling water. Maybe it was happy because it knew they were meant to be. Her beautiful velvet plant, the lover’s flower, had bloomed for them.