The Fifth Petal

falling star time lapse during night
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“Charlotte, I have to ask again… One last time… Will you marry me?”

Suddenly my lungs felt two inches deep as my muscles tightened and sweat broke over my brow. The smile on my face felt frozen, then painful before disconnected as if it was a piece on a toy potato. When I opened the door and lead him to the couch, his eyes were shiny with hope. But as the silence stretched, they dulled and his body seemed to wilt like the dying rose he held in his hand. I opened my mouth then closed it, repeating the pattern a dozen times. When it occurred to me I probably looked like a fish I stopped, but still flailed for the words to make it right. A thousand of them flew through my mind but none were the ones he wanted. I thought he deserved so much more than I could give him. I figured he was bound to see it eventually, better he wasn’t tied to me when he did.

My heart stuttered as I fumbled for words. A petal from the wilted rose fell in a crack in the cushions between us. My eyes went to two more like it; one in the opening to the living room and the other in the foyer before the front door. The thing had been shedding since he came in. I sniffed as the corner of my mouth quirked.

“So what’s with the flower? Is it supposed to symbolize your dreams?”

What made me say such a thing? To say my joke fell flat would give it too much dimension. I opened my mouth to apologize, but he kissed it before I could get a word out and I returned the kiss with all the love and feeling I could muster, discovering more than I thought I had in me as it continued. It was always like that between us. He came into my life like a bright star, illuminating all the dark corners of my soul. Instead of scared, I was pleasantly surprised by what I’d found. I felt younger at 35 than I did at 15, but the feeling was very new. It made me nervous.

At my question, his expression became pained. I was just making things worse, the last thing I wanted to do. It just reinforced my decision to do the right thing and let him go.

“It’s not a flower. It’s a clock.”

My mind whirled, sputtered, then stopped at this answer. Inexplicably, alarm was in a dead heat with confusion. Why would my gut go cold at such nonsense? But, nonsensical or not, I flung myself into his arms.  He caught me, as desperate for my touch as I was for his, which made my heart pound so hard it felt as if it moved into my head. There were many words I’d use to describe Rigel: kind, funny, serene and dozens more. Desperate was nowhere on that list.

“What’s happening? How is that a clock?”

“I don’t have much time.”

I shivered at both his words and his breath on my ear. Another petal fell between us as I pulled back. I didn’t understand the significance, but I didn’t like his tone. I scooped up the petal and tried to reattach it. I tried the impossible. He placed his hand on mine to still it.

“I’m only here until the fifth petal falls.”

I felt as if a fire department set up shop in my head. Sirens screamed in my mind as my alarm turned to panic.

“What do you mean?”

He stood and walked to the window. He stared at the sky as if he could see what lay beyond the light pollution of the city. The moon cast a white glow through the pane. I watched, fascinated, by his beauty and the play of light on his skin. It looked as though his face sparkled. It had to be a trick of the light.

“Remember when you and your friends went stargazing a while back?”

I felt my mind lurch at the odd question, but I nodded. “It was my first time doing such a thing.”

“Well, I gazed back and saw you. You took my breath away.”

His smile was sad.

“Figuratively speaking, of course. I didn’t have lungs at the time.”

He chuckled to himself and patted his chest. Then his smile faded.

“I came here to meet you, but it took powerful magic to make me human. My time was limited. I could only stay, if…”

His breath hitched.

“I don’t want to put that off on you.”

His voice was low and I almost didn’t hear that.

The shadow that passed his face was stark as the shimmering about him intensified. He turned back to me and tears fell to my cheeks at his look. What he said was crazy, but I still ran to him. We held each other tight.

I screamed in my head, Yes, yes, yes. I love you. I’ll marry you! The words bloomed in my chest, heated my throat, but stopped at the threshold of my tongue unable to get around the dam of abuse and terror that’d built up in the first decades of my life. Proving I was the loser my family always said I was. The shine around him intensified.

He whispered “I love you, Charlotte” against my lips.  I didn’t want to let him go but was too overcome by the brightness. I closed my eyes and used my hands to shield them but light still bled through. When I opened them, I saw a beam of light shoot across the night sky. I looked down to see the rose stem at my feet with the fifth petal beside it.

© 2018 Genine Tyson

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