A Rose for Joey

August 7, 2011
Foggy steam clouded the dim afternoon air, and Joey found himself squinting in order to see through the fumes. There was not much for him to see; the bus station held little interest for Joey. It was what lay beyond the route of the bus station that enticed him.

Boarding the bus that particular day was crucial to young Joey, for it was Valentine's Day. He'd been waiting for this day a long time. His babysitter wouldn't miss him because she had been busy preparing dinner. Since he'd been so sly, Joey suspected she hadn't picked up the tiniest sound as he crept hurriedly out the door. Spotting the flower vase, Joey had quickly plucked from it a tiny red rose before allowing the door to shut behind him. He now regretted having to sneak out of the house, yet he had to in order to do what he'd been planning for so long. He'd seen the city so often that he had not the slightest doubt he would find his way to the nearby bus station. He had always been a city child.

Beside him sat a tall man dressed in a sagging overcoat. The man, who gripped a newspaper in his gloved hands, grumbled as he skimmed the articles. Spotting the boy out of the corner of his eye, the man glanced over at him and grinned warmly. Joey shivered and attempted a polite smile in return; however, the man's own smile had vanished.

“Say, kid, what're you doing hanging around the bus station all by yourself?”

Before given the chance to answer, Joey was interrupted.

“Where's your mother, anyhow?”

Joey was immediately stabbed with a furious pang, remembering the other occasions when someone would ask him where his mother was.

“I...” His sentence broke and drifted into silence. It wasn't uncommon that question of his mother arrived; what caused him discomfort was revealing the delicate truth to a complete stranger. Joey took a deep breath, and continued. “I don't actually have a real mother. Not one I live with, anyway.”

He'd grown so incredibly succumbed to reiterating this statement over and over that he hardly noticed when the man shot him a puzzled expression.

“You have no mother?”

“No, sir,” Joey muttered, staring at his frost-coated feet. “I'm adopted, you see, and I live with my adopted parents. I always have since I was a baby.”

“I see,” the man said quietly, studying him.

“Living with adoptive parents is almost like living with real parents. It's no different, really.” The words seemed to escape Joey's lips without his consent. “But the reason I'm here today is because I'm going to find my real mother, and I'm going to give her this.” Joey gestured to the rose clutched in his balled fist, as though it were going to be carried away with the wind if his grip loosened. He refused to relax his tightened fingers, for that single rose was what was most important.

The man did not reply, but simply stared at the rose. After a moment of silence, the man looked down at the boy and said, “That's quite interesting. How old are you, and what's your name?”

Startled, the boy quickly responded with, “My name's Joey, sir. I'm eight years old.”

“And tell me, Joey, where exactly are you planning on heading?”

Joey hesitated, then mumbled, “My mother's house. I'm sure if I ask the bus driver if he knows her, he will be able to find her.” He smiled excitedly at the thought. “She'll be so happy when I show up at her house with this rose especially for her. I know she still cares about me. I can feel it; I just know she didn't mean to give me up.”

The man continued to appear confused. “I'm not certain I understand.”

Joey hesitated, for he was suddenly doubting whether or not to carry on this conversation with this strange man. He didn't even know his name; therefore, how could he possibly trust him? Yet he
shoved away those thoughts of doubts and concluded that this man seemed rather harmless, and so far
had not said or done anything worth becoming suspicious about. “Well, you see, today is Valentine's
Day; it's a day where everyone chooses who their valentine is going to be. I decided I wanted to meet her today, my mother, and ask her to be my valentine. I would give her this rose, 'cause that's what people do when they love someone: they give them flowers. I've seen them do it in the movies.” The boy beamed, growing more and more ecstatic by simply speaking of his plan.

However, the man continued to stare at the boy, his expression unreadable. Joey remained still, expecting him to add something to what he'd just told him, yet the man remained silent. Finally, he chuckled softly and said, “I really hate to break this to you, 'cause you seem like a real nice kid. But today ain't Valentine's Day; it was yesterday.”

Joey merely stared back at the man, speechless. But then he choked out the words: “No, you can't mean that.”

The man nodded solemnly, and said apologetically, “I'm afraid I do, kid.”

He gazed up at the man with watery eyes, and whimpered, “It's gotta be today, sir.”

But the man shook his head and murmured, “Ah, but it isn't. I remember it was yesterday because my own mother's birthday happens to be on Valentine's Day. I bought her a big ol' box of her favorite chocolates just yesterday afternoon, about this time, in fact.”

The deafening sound of creaking breaks suddenly shrieked beside the curb. Joey's head whirled to the side, and stared at the bus he'd been awaiting for what seemed like forever.

“Need a chaperone for the ride home?” asked the man. Joey hesitated, then nodded.

The great doors of the steaming bus burst open, and the man offered his hand to Joey. He accepted it and as the two of them strode towards the doors of the bus, Joey let his fingers loose around the stem of the rose. He did not glance back as the rose floated soundlessly to the icy ground, its last petals dancing like snowflakes as they departed entirely from the stem.

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