The Roses

The Roses

A Story by Here's What I Say

What lies in the secret garden could grow forever or die alone.


“What’s in a name?” Lily quoted to the teacher as she leaned back into the seat of her desk. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”


Knox Conroy pretended not to hear her, but couldn’t stop the inclination towards her, being how he was left-handed and sat in the desk created for left-handed students. Leaning to his right, where she usually sat in class, would not have made any sense if he had to explain himself to her. He wanted to, though. He was sure he wanted to do more than just lean towards her and reach out and touch one of the wavy curls cascading down her back.


Even though Lily more than piqued his curiosity, a curious shudder ran through him with the thought of delving deeper into her personality and deeper into her life. Sure, looking at her made him want to know more about her. He knew deep down that he wanted to explore Lily Dale, to give her a chance to show who she really was. At the same time, however, Knox couldn’t control a wave of terror, even hatred that this girl could possess him or that he could find out that her sweet, smiling face was simply a façade.


“Yes, someone got me these flowers today,” the professor said, arranging the innocent pink carnations in the vase filled with clear water.


“Is it your birthday?” Lily asked the professor. The professor laughed heartily.


“Certainly not,” the professor said. “I keep my birthday a secret so I can tell people I’m twenty-five forever. No, someone sent me these because I helped them out with an exam.” Knox watched the professor lean down and smell the carnations. The professor stood up, a look of knowing disappointment on her face.


“What’s the matter?” Lily asked.


“I don’t mind that they’re not roses,” the professor said, sitting down and closing her vest over her silk blouse. “Just that I can’t smell anything.”


“What do you expect from store bought flowers?” Lily asked, opening her notebook and beginning to write the date on the page. Knox gulped audibly�"louder than he intended.


“I didn’t know you liked flowers so much,” Knox said meekly. Lily looked at him in mild shock, almost as if she never expected Knox to speak to her.


Of course she likes flowers, you idiot, Knox berated himself. She just quoted one of Shakespeare’s more famous lines and just had a good conversation with the teacher about flowers.


“Yeah, I do,” Lily said, lowering her voice and softening it. Knox noticed that Lily spoke up in class a lot and projected her voice much stronger than he ever could, and hearing her speak so softly, almost intimately, to him made him tense and relaxed all at once.


“Why do you like them so much?” Knox asked. If Knox could kick himself in his desk, he would have.


“I don’t know,” Lily said, shrugging and still using her soft voice. “I just do. Our family has roses in our yard and I helped them take care of the rose bushes, so I got used to the sweet smell of roses. I noticed that store bought roses always smell different from roses grown in an actual yard. And I always liked the smell of real roses better than anything in the store. It just makes me feel safe and secure. Not to mention brings back a lot of good memories of my parents. And of course, they are the signature flower of romance.” Knox smiled at the last line involuntarily and when Lily smiled back at him, he realized he didn’t care too much if she was just being polite or if maybe it was more.


When Lily took notes for the rest of class, Knox wondered how to get her attention. And he realized she was leaning a little more left, towards him.



                                    *            *            *            *


Knox jumped over the fence of the Lokalia family, not realizing that in recent years, they finally installed a burglary system. While he got out in time before he set the alarm off, the shadow of the dark, bulging Hawaiian father in the window was an indicator that his presence hadn’t gone completely unnoticed.


The family had wild roses sprouting from almost every inch of ground that covered their front yard, and roses that peeked through the chain-link fence that divided their front yard from the public sidewalk could easily be yanked off by passer-bys. Yet the threat of being caught and thrown in jail over a flower seemed illogical unless he really expected Lily to stop by the station to bail him out. There was only one option left.


Standing outside the faded, pale yellow two-story house, Knox looked it up and down and froze to the spot. A shudder with an eight-point magnitude ran through his entire body, almost as if his personal earthquake threatened to tear the plates of his body apart. Knox wanted to run, like he did before, but how would he justify running away at twenty-three years old? At eight, it was acceptable. At twenty-three, he thought, it was downright cowardly.


I’m a man now, Knox said to reassure himself. I’m the man now. I can handle this.


Knox pushed the white gate open, and walked down the cement path that was in desperate need of resurfacing or total replacement. Climbing the steps of the porch, Knox’s heart rate skyrocketed, almost the same way and the same fervor whenever he saw Lily.


He knocked hard, but politely, on his front door. He waited a few beats before knocking the same way again.


When the door opened, he realized his mother hadn’t changed a bit. In her late forties, she still looked like she hadn’t aged much, if at all. Loud Bon Jovi music blasted from the speakers in the den, combined with a myriad of rich spices coming from the kitchen.


“How nice of you to see me, Knox,” his mother greeted him with a big smile. Knox could only grimace. “Come on in. I was just finishing dinner.”


Knox sullenly followed his mother to the kitchen where she was stirring whatever concoction she created this time. He sat down at the table, where he used to sit at dinnertime, closest to the door. He ran his hands through his dark brown hair and rested his chin on his left palm. The refrigerator by some miracle was still working; his mother could do all kinds of choreography from her college years, yet couldn’t understand the concept of a wrench. The faucet was still dripping of course, and with that same brown stain that had been there long before he was born. A few tiles were missing and the ones left were fading from a clean white to a filthy light yellow with scuffmarks and random spots ranging from red to even blue. He assumed those spots were from his mother’s eccentric cooking.


“Spaghetti noodles with fried cabbage and shredded chicken,” his mother said, bringing the pot to the table and resting it on a chicken-shaped coaster. “My personal best, if I do say so myself.”


“Thanks, Mom, but that’s not why I’m here,” Knox said, trying to get to the point.


“Well, geez, you’re welcome,” she said, turning around, grabbing two plates and putting them on the table. “I’ll leave you a plate just in case. So why are you here? And with that sourpuss face you had walking in here, I guess it’s got nothing to do with asking to borrow my Madonna CD?”


“Uh, no,” Knox said. “No um…actually, I was wondering if you’d let me go into the backyard and let me pick out some roses. I wanted to make a bunch of them.”


“Do you mean a bouquet of roses?” his mother asked, raising a stenciled eyebrow.


“Uh, yeah, that,” Knox said. His mother stood still like an abandoned lake, unmoving, even though it should have.


“Since when did you grow a green thumb?” his mother asked.


“I wanted to give them to someone,” Knox said vaguely.


“A girl,” his mother said suspiciously.


“If you gotta know, yes.”


“That explains why. You never cared for flowers before.”


“Boys don’t usually care for flowers.”


“Some do.”


“But I don’t.”


Knox hated the feeling of his mother’s eyes boring right into him, and if he hadn’t felt so vulnerable from admitting that he wanted flowers for a girl, he would stare right back at her�"just to let her know what it felt like to be stared at with her own hazel eyes.


“I don’t usually let people into my rose garden,” she said flatly.


“You never let me in.”


“You never wanted to.”


“You never offered. Or even forced me to.”


“And have you fight me? Or fall into a rose bush and have thorns all over your body? Not likely.” Knox perked up at her last statement. He didn’t remember the last time she expressed such motherly tendencies.


“Mom, I just want to go in there and cut a few roses,” Knox said impatiently and getting up. “You don’t ever cut them and put them in a vase in the house or give them away. You just let them die on the branch. Might as well let me take a few and give them to someone who’d appreciate them.”


“I leave them to die on a branch because that’s the way they’re supposed to die,” his mother said sternly. “Not in a vase, caged in a house, on a table. That’s not the way anything is supposed to die.”


“Then what’s the point?” Knox asked, crossing his arms. “What’s the point of having those roses anyway? Nobody ever gets to see them. Nobody gets to smell them. Only you do. That’s not fair. You’ve never let anyone into the garden�"ever. Not even before Dad�"”


“Don’t you ever talk about him,” his mother said in a dead voice. “Ever.”


“You have to sometime. Stop trying to be brave, Mom. There’s no point trying to protect me, I’m not a kid anymore.”


“I never said I was trying to protect you,” she said, still in her soft, dead voice. “Who the hell suggested such a thing? I never talked about it to you or anyone because I didn’t want to. Not because I thought it was going to scar you for life anyway. Although I knew that it would. But, fine. Go into the garden. Go pick some flowers for your sweetheart. Give her my regards. I hope she likes the roses I grew.” His mother shoved past him and ran up the stairs. Knox heard the master bedroom door slam over his head, over the sounds of the CD player switching from the loud screaming Bon Jovi to the soft, tender voice of Bryan Adams. Knox noticed the pair of garden clippers right by the knobs of the stove and grabbed them. He walked down the hallway, through the den and to the glass sliding door that led to the backyard where his mother’s rose garden sat, tucked in a corner. He opened the door stealthily, and closed it as such�"as if his mother were upstairs sleeping and he dared not wake her. Knox walked to the rose bushes, fear creeping into his blood system like cough medicine.


The rainbow of colors that filled the garden made him feel like he had stepped into a small corner of heaven. The roses of many sizes, many petal counts, those that were still encased in their green wombs, those that had just bloomed, those that were in full bloom, and those that were browning and dying all caught his eyes. Knox reached out to touch the firm, fleshy petals, noticing that he would have to grip very hard to pull all of the petals off. He also noticed a few bushes were some roses had seem to prematurely lost their petals, but the bushes were already busy bearing new flowers, denoted by the tender, red leaves, getting ready to bring a new rose into life.


Knox found the first rose that was young enough to not have blossomed completely yet old enough that if he bent down to smell it, he could smell the sweet scent, similar to apple juice. He saw why Lily liked them so much. The sweet smell surrounded him.


Knox clipped the rose and immediately began his search for the next. One by one, he clipped the brightest, fullest, and best of the roses. The thorns stung his hands, making small dents in his skin, but never breaking it. He finally had enough and stopped a moment to pull the thorns off the stems, letting them fall onto the soil from which they all had sprung.


After he had pulled the thorns off of a white rose he found and moved to reach for a red rose he picked, the white rose fell from his hand, taking down the red rose as well. Knox bent down to pick them up, and noticed a green bulb hanging from one of the branches. As he picked up the roses, he noticed something shiny in the ground. Knox reached into the rich soil and pulled it up, unsure what possession of his mother’s would ever be there.


Knox lay down on the ground and wiped the soil off the gold locket. It seemed faded but he realized that it was only the make of the gold the manufacturer used. Knox fingered the locket, trying to find the latch that locked it. When his index found the tiny latch, he clicked it open and peered inside.


The tiny pictures were typical of the eighties�"the color seemed to be as dull as the decade he was born in. Yet the smiles on each picture were as alive as the roses surrounding him. His mother, with her big blond hair, was turned towards the camera as if the person holding it had said something amusing to get her attention, and the camera caught her in the middle of a large laughing fit. He certainly remembered his father�"straight, serious brown hair, pale skin, piercing green eyes that were amplified with the huge coke-bottle glasses he wore, and he wore his gray accountant’s suit so much that Knox thought that maybe he slept in it too.


This man was swarthy, but healthy looking. He had brown eyes like the earth under him, his curly brown hair gelled to perfection, and his smile seemed inspired by his mother’s. Looking at this man, he could almost hear the saxophones in the picture, the same he would hear on the “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack his mother played religiously. There was no name anywhere on the locket or on the pictures, but Knox knew that this was the man his mother should have married.


Sitting up, he noticed one more gold object in the dirt. Knox winced; one of the thorns he pulled off was lodged into the top of his thumb and he pulled it out before grabbing the object. Pulling that up with confidence, he held the fading gold wedding ring in his palm. Now he knew where his father hid his wedding ring when he was covering up his marital status to his mistresses and the cause for why his mother and father fought for the last time�"the missing wedding ring was only a signal of the missing love. And Knox noticed that he was bleeding where the thorn had stabbed him.


Knox stood up, holding both pieces of jewelry�"the locket in his right hand, the wedding ring in his left hand. He looked up and saw his mother looking down at him through her window, as if she were a ghost haunting the house, transparent and in another world. Knox looked at the two gold pieces of jewelry, knowing his mother was waiting for him to make a choice. Knox kneeled down again, where the green bulb was hanging, letting the roses he picked earlier to fall to the ground, whether or not they had thorns.



                                    *            *            *            *


Knox sat up straight in his desk. He noticed he had increased blood flow to his brain now, and if this were a normal day of class, he would have been able to pay more attention to the professor and her dying carnations. He glanced at Lily’s empty seat and a rush of adrenaline and excitement ran through him. He looked out the window, and noticed the blue sky and the lush green grass outside the building, along with the tree with new grown leaves. Spring finally looked like spring to him.


Lily came into class, smiling as usual, most likely because of the happy, bubbly music she was listening to. Knox couldn’t wait to find out what song she was listening to.


Knox turned to his right, and steady as a rock, he watched Lily’s reaction when she saw the green bulb sitting on her desk. She stood, unsure of what was on her desk, but the epiphany was in her eyes. She picked up the bulb and inspected it before turning to look at Knox.


“Why?” she asked softly, with a gentle smile. Knox shrugged.


“I could have given you roses from my mom’s garden,” Knox said. “But…I wanted to give you something longer lasting than that. I wanted to give you something you could grow and keep for years to come. Even though it’s still from my mom’s garden, I thought maybe you could grow your own rose garden.”


Knox never found out what his mother did with the roses he had taken from her garden. But now, he visits two rose gardens.





© 2009 Here's What I Say

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Added on December 25, 2009
Last Updated on December 25, 2009


Here's What I Say
Here's What I Say

Torrance, CA

I was born on July 3rd 1986 in Torrance, California, and grew up there all my life. I had a hankering to start writing when I was eight, but didn't start actively pursuing it until I was thirteen and .. more..