Claire woke up one morning and got ready for class like any other day. She picked up her phone after she dried her hair and saw a text message from her sister wishing her a happy birthday. Claire smiled and grabbed her bag before departing for class. She put up her hood as soon as she walked outside. It was cold, gray, and raining. Beautiful October morning. She walked through puddles on her way to her first class. She walked in after shaking off the water and headed to her seat. She stopped when she saw a single yellow rose on her desk. She looked around, but noticed she was the only one in the room. She smiled and picked it up as she sat down at her desk.
After class, she walked to her next one in the same building and found another rose, this time a pink rose, sitting on her desk. She picked it up and smelled it, inhaling the sweet fragrance. She stayed after class to ask the professor a question about the homework and then headed to the computer lab. She walked to a computer and saw a lavender rose on the keyboard. Claire, astonished, looked around the room for her admirer. She finally sat down at the computer, mesmerized by whoever was sending her roses.
She headed to her last morning class before lunch. She was running a bit late since the printer was acting up in the computer lab. The three roses hung out of her bag as she rushed into the classroom. Some of the girls giggled when they saw her. She looked at her desk and saw an orange rose. She flushed as she quickly sat down and took the rose.
In the lunch line she grabbed a yogurt and a sandwich to go so that she could go study in the library before her next class. She went to check out when the cashier looked at her ID and handed her a red rose.
“A young man wanted me to give this to you.” Claire took it slowly, gazing at the beautiful flower. Then she took her food and went to the library, expecting more roses to show up any minute.
She went to her last class of the day and walked into the room to find a vase of a dozen red roses sitting on her desk. They were beautiful with a red ribbon wrapped around the clear vase. Claire was shocked and blushed as she made her way to her seat. She sat down and hid behind her roses. Everyone who walked into the room looked at her. Then Claire noticed a card folded in between the flowers. She picked it up and read it.
Meet me in the park at 4. Dress nice.
Claire folded it up and smiled to herself. She practically ran to her room after class and put the roses on her dresser. Her roommate raised her eyebrows at her.
“Someone really likes you.”
“Shut up and help me pick out something nice to wear.” She laughed and got up to help Claire search through her closet.
Claire walked through the park. It had stopped raining and a light fog had settled near the ground. She saw Van standing in the fog, wearing a suit. Claire had picked a red knee-length dress that matched her roses to wear. He kissed her cheek when she reached him, and he led her to a blanket on the ground. Claire saw a picnic set out with a basket and everything. They sat down and Claire couldn’t keep from smiling. Van opened the basket and started pulling out food.
“You look gorgeous. That color really compliments our skin.” Claire blushed. Van pulled out a bottle of wine and poured them each a glass. Claire looked at him questioningly. “It’s a special day.”
“Yeah?” Van smiled.
“Yeah.” He set out their food and handed her a plate with chicken alfredo. They began eating, Claire more than Van.
“Did you make this?”
“In more ways than you know.” They continued eating. Van sipped his red wine slowly. “Thank you for the roses.”
“Did you like them?”
“Yes. They were beautiful.”
“Do you know what they mean?” Claire shook her head. Van took her hand, palm up. He traced the creases on her palm slowly. “The yellow rose represents happiness. Pink represents admiration.” He traced his finger up her arm, giving her goosebumps. “The lavender rose represents enchantment.” His finger went up to her shoulder and then her neck. “Orange represents desire.” He cupped her face and then ran his hand up to her cheek and rubbed her skin with his thumb. “Red represents love.” He kissed her lightly on the lips. It was the perfect kiss. Claire could still taste him on her lips as he stood up and pulled her with him. He held her close and they started slow dancing together. Claire sighed happily as she relaxed into his arms. She could feel his breath on her forehead. “Happy Birthday, Claire.” His voice was soft. After several minutes of dancing in the fog, tiny raindrops started to fall. Neither of them cared. They kept dancing, even as the rain fell harder.
Van was confused and decided to focus on his studies the following week, instead of Claire. He even avoided any of the places he might run into her and stayed mainly in the room and taking walks in the forest behind the campus. He knew running away from his problems wouldn’t solve anything, but secretly he wished someone else would solve them for him. On Friday, after his last class of the week, he was walking by the cafeteria when someone called his name.
“Van!” Van stopped walking and turned to see Claire running toward him. She caught up to him with a smile on her face. “Hey!”
“I haven’t seen you all week.”
“I’ve been busy.”
“Yeah, me too. My classes have been crazy with midterms coming up, but . . . you haven’t called.”
“I’ve just been doing some thinking.”
“Oh.” Neither of them said anything. Claire’s smile disappeared. After a few minutes, she turned and started walking away. Van closed his eyes. Selfish bastard.
“Claire, wait.” Claire stopped and turned around, her eyes sad. “I’m sorry. It’s just . . . I’ve been thinking a lot about my parents. I miss them.” Claire walked back to him. “It’s been hard, and each year I feel like I’m losing them more.” He felt bad about lying to her, but that was a small lie compared to his big secret. Claire reached up and touched his cheek as he looked at the ground.
“You’re so strong, though.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I’ve never seen you cry. You know, sometimes it’s good to let it out.” Van turned his face away. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“I’m not as strong as I look. It may appear that way, but . . .” He turned back around and looked at Claire. “I don’t think I’m the kind of guy you want.”
“Why do you say that? How do you know what kind of guy I want?”
“Just not me.”
“You must have really loved them.”
“Your parents. You’re hurting inside, Van. You haven’t healed from their death. I’m here. You can tell me.” Van stared at her incredulously. “You can trust me. I’m choosing to be with you. I’m not going anywhere.” She took his hand and intertwined their fingers.
Van picked Claire up in his car, which was a black Nissan Maxima. Claire slid into the passenger seat.
“Nice car! Is it new?”
“Yeah. It was gift from my parents before coming to college.”
“Are they rich?” Van laughed.
“Kinda.” They started toward the highway. “We’re going to the city.”
“Really?” Van saw the excitement in her eyes.
“I love the city. It’s beautiful at night. By the way, you look fantastic.” Claire blushed.
“You don’t look half bad yourself.” Van could smell the perfume and soap on her body, but that didn’t cover up the scent of her blood. He took a deep breath, wishing he could taste her, but opened the windows a little instead. “Hot?”
“It’s just stuffy in here. Do you mind?”
“Not at all. So…tell me about your brother.”
“Korbin? What do you want to know?”
“He’s older, right? What level is he?”
“He’s a freshman, like us.”
“How old is he?”
“Oh. Why did he wait to go to college?”
“He waited for me to graduate high school. We wanted to go at the same time. We’re pretty close.” Claire smiled to herself. “What are you smiling about?”
“That’s just cute, that’s all.”
“Cute?” Van raised his eyebrows at the word.
“Yeah. You guys are really close. I know brothers who don’t even speak to each other. It’s nice.”
“Oh.” Van shrugged his shoulders. “We’ve always been close. We do most things together, so it just seemed logical to start college together. Do you have any siblings?”
“Yeah. I have a fourteen-year-old sister.”
“Is she a lot like you?”
“No.” Claire laughed. “She is the exact opposite of me. She has a temper and is boy crazy. She’s a hard-worker, but lacks motivation sometimes. She’s a handful, but I love her. We’re pretty close. It’s hard being so far away from her.”
“Ohio. Where’s home for you?”
“Tennessee. What are your parents like?”
“They’re the best parents. They aren’t very strict. They’re fair, and they support me in all of my decisions.”
“Even boys you date?”
“Yeah. They haven’t objected to any yet. Why, worried?”
“What about your parents?”
“They died in a fire when I was young.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay. Their best friends adopted Korbin and I. That’s probably another reason why we’re so close. Anyway, they’re great people. They’ve always been there for us.”
“Do you miss your parents?”
“Yeah. I was only four when it happened. Korbin was nine so he remembers more than I do. We don’t talk about it much.”
“I understand.” Van turned onto the highway toward the city. “So, how did you become so interested in poetry?”
“It’s the only thing I remember about my mother. She used to read me poetry every night before I went to bed. She had the most beautiful voice.”
“So, why does Korbin want to study criminal justice?”
“Well, he was closer to dad, than I was. My father was a…soldier.”
“Oh, okay. What branch?”
“Um…he was more of a Special Forces soldier. Classified stuff.”
“Wow. That’s intense.”
“And Korbin wants to do that?”
“He’s not sure exactly. He wants to do something in the career field. What about your parents?”
“My dad’s a mechanic and my mom’s a waitress. We’ve never had money, but it didn’t bother me. We got by.”
“I’d like to meet your family sometime. They sound pleasant.”
“Well, maybe one day you will. What about your adoptive parents? What do they do?”
“Well, mom doesn’t work. She raised us. She and my real mother were best friends since they were kids. Dad is CEO of a company.”
“So they are rich.” Van smiled.
“I don’t like to advertise it, but, yes. They are well off.” They reached the city and found a parking spot. Van helped Claire out of the car and they walked down the sidewalk. They saw paparazzi flashes their cameras at some stars in a car.
“Is that…?” Van shook his head.
“Yeah. I just don’t understand the whole hype about those books.”
“What? The Twilight series?”
“Yeah. I mean, do girls really want a sparkly vampire?” Claire laughed. “Those vampires just aren’t how they are supposed to be.”
“I don’t know, but I read the books. They weren’t bad. My sister is a fanatic, though.” Claire laughed. “She loves those books.”
“Do you like them?”
“They’re not bad. I don’t particularly like Bella. She’s a little annoying for my taste and she’s not a strong female character. I think women should be strong.”
“And Edward?” Claire smiled.
“He’s…not bad. I don’t want to make you jealous.” Van laughed.
“Me jealous of a fictional vampire? Never. Is that how you’d envision vampires, if they existed?”
“Probably not. I mean, for something to drink human blood, they’d have to be…mean, right?”
“So, you think they have no soul?”
“No. I just think they can’t help themselves. I mean, if there was a buffet of gourmet foods, it’d be hard for me not to dig in. I just think, if vampires existed, it would be very hard for them to control their appetites since humans are basically walking buffets.”
“What if vampires did exist?”
“Yeah. Would you be afraid?” Claire thought about it.
“I don’t know. I wouldn’t be filled with fear. I’d find it fascinating, personally. You?”
“I’d…be cautious.” They arrived at the restaurant and Van said a name to the hostess. They were seated immediately. The restaurant was elegant and lit with candles. Claire looked around in awe. Van smiled as he watched her and pushed her seat in for her. He took a seat across from her. “This lighting makes you look stunning.” Van saw the blood rush to her cheeks.
“I’ve never been to any place this expensive. I feel underdressed.” Van smiled.
“Nonsense. You look better than every other woman in here.” They were given menus and Claire couldn’t believe the prices of the meals. The menus were in a different language, too. “Would you like some assistance?” She looked up at Van, who was smiling.
“What’s good here?”
“Everything, but I’ll order you something that is spectacular.” The waiter came and Van ordered for the two of them. “Also, could you bring a glass of your special red wine, please?” The waiter nodded. Van looked at Claire. “Would you like anything to drink?”
“I’m not twenty-one.”
“It’s okay.” He turned back to the waiter and ordered a light white wine for her. The waiter turned and left, and Van turned his attention back to his date. Claire had her eyebrows raised. “My dad has connections.”