by Jordan Wellnitz

            A long, long time ago (about eighteen years ago), a little girl picked a flower oh so gently. And she plucked the petals off one by one, lovingly. As she did, she whispered. First petal, "he loves me." Second petal, "he loves me not." And so on, until she came to the sixth and final petal. "He..." she pauses, glancing over at the two women reading on the bench, and her best friend, playing with action figures in the grass. "Loves me!" she finishes with a sheepish grin. One of the women, her mother, glances over at her blushing daughter, smiling to herself. "You love me, Jace! The flower said so." The little girl speaks sweetly, her cheeks aflame, to her best friend.

            "Only 'cause you cheated," the little boy says indignantly, turning his flaming cheeks away from the grinning girl.

            "It's okay, Jace. I'll wait," she says patiently. Blushing, she gives him a quick kiss on the cheek before rushing over to her mother's side to leave.

            The two best friends return to that same park every month. Throughout elementary school they stay together, braving cooties together; middle school, helping each other to make sense of all the new discoveries, and even high school, saving each other from bullies and bad decisions. They always returned to that spot. The girl always performed the exact same flower ritual; always patiently waiting for her friend to return her love. She watched, with the patience of Buddha, as Jace dated girl after girl after girl, her smile never faltering.

            Again, the two best friends meet in the park and, again, the, now not so little, girl gently picks a flower. Carefully, she pulls the first petal off and smiles, "he loves me." Then she pulls the second off with a frown, "he loves me not." The third, "he loves me." Again, she smiles. This continues until she gets to the sixth and final petal.

            Pluck. "He..." she frowns for a moment before continuing, "loves me." She grins at the teenager sitting beside her.

            "You cheated," Jace tells her, as he did every month. However, this time, Jace reaches for a flower of his own. He plucks the first petal and begins the girl's ritual. When he comes to the final petal, he looks down at the petal and pauses. "I love you," he carefully says, treating each word like fragile china. He glances shyly up at his friend, checking for her reaction.

            "You cheated, Jace," the girl says, quoting her friend, allowing the wind to blow her long hair into her face to cover the color now burning in her face.

            "I don't need a flower to tell me whether or not I love you, Angel," he says, speaking her name like a prayer. Angel looks over at her best friend, brushing her hair from her face, allowing Jace to see the happy tears cascading down Angel's face.

            The two friends share a kiss, take hands, and make their way into the future.

                                                                        Always Together

                                                                        Always Happy

                                                                        Always In Love

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