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, 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 placate 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 even sure there would be a wedding.
The only things he was sure of was 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, yet in truth, the stool right 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 named Scott, 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 a rough day for me. I’m feeling kind of lost.”
"You have no idea."
"Honestly, I'd rather not," John replied, darkness hiding a flush of resentment.
"Understood," Scott responded and returned back to his beer.
For the next few minutes, the strangers sat next to each other in uncomfortable silence until Scott finally 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, and he had to make it quickly. Should he engage the stranger in conversation or shut the whole thing down? It was obvious Scott needed someone to talk with. 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. “It was about flowers. Roses versus lilies. That's what it was about. Honestly, I couldn’t care less about the flowers. I just want to marry the love of my life. Is that too much to ask?”
“Roses,” Scott replied, sighing, although it was as if he was 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 your story, 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 and waved his hand like a presenter on a game show. “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 see what’s coming."
“Exactly,” Scott replied, shaking his head. “She told everyone he was coming, but he never showed up.”
“Yes, but it’s also the second rose. You see, her dad, having been around the block a time or two, was afraid that would happen,” Scott paused, 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 took a sip of his beer 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 very bad situation not so bad.”
“How thoughtful," John said, offering Scott a small smile. "Two down, ten to go."
“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 turned down quite a few offers to go to the senior prom to accept an invitation from the young man who was to be her husband. 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 her husband without the rose, 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 just fine.”
“So, what’s the story behind the next rose?”
“It was on her wedding day. 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. He was 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? I can use all the help I can get."
“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.”
“That’s good advice, Scott.” John paused, then turned back to Scott. “So, there was a big fight. Tell me about the next rose.”
“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 home. She was met by her dad. In tears, she told him all about it. After listening intently he went and got…”
“The next rose?”
“No, I told you the one at the wedding was the last rose from her father. 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 them, 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.”
“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 where 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 just such a man.”
“I’m sure you will be,” Scott encouraged. “I have a feeling about you.”
“The important thing to know is not every occasion deserves a rose. The next one came on their first anniversary. This is supposed to be the end of the honeymoon phase, but her husband, as he presented her with the rose, told her to him the honeymoon would never end."
The rose after that one was probably the most joyful for her. She had only one child, a son. On the day he was born, her husband presented her with another 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, but the next one 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 when talking about the blue water and white sand. She laughs hysterically when she tells about the wave that pulled her husband's swimsuit completely off. She speaks in hushed tones when she recounts the view of the sunset as they walked along the beach, but she only truly shines when she talks about the rose. I honestly wonder if she would have been just 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 notes 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. Afterwards, she was lost, unmoored. Her eyes and ears worked, but she didn’t really see or hear anything until her son asked her to join him in the family room. Everyone in the family 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 roses. For my grandfather, my father, and myself, I will give her this one last gift.” And with that Scott finished off his beer, stood and offered his hand to John. “I’m not sure why I came in here, but I just needed a friend. Thanks for listening.”
“Scott, it was my pleasure,” John replied earnestly, shaking Scott’s hand. “ I needed a friend, too, and I am glad you came in here today. Thank you for sharing your mother’s roses with me.” As Scott turned to leave, John put a hand on his shoulder. “Scott, that was only eleven. You said there were twelve. Where is the last rose?”
“It’s my mom. 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 rose.”
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 confused, and headed straight home stopping only once, at a florist, to buy a single red rose.