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One Thousand Roses
He knelt beside me on the window sill, silhouetted by the summer twilight. We were framed by silk curtains that billowed in the wind, dreamlike, as if they were left in the water to drown. He was barely moving, each breath a bare whisper, like the crying of a ghost. I could feel his eyes on me, and the question both of us had neglected to ask was lingering there.
“What are we going to do, Tabs? I didn’t pass my physical. I’m going to be killed in three months. And you, unless you come up with something, you’ll suffer the same fate.”
I glanced in his direction, and our gazes met. His expression was serious; he clearly cared about me.
“There’s nothing we can come up with, Alex. Don’t you understand?” I sighed deeply, longing for him to stop praying for me, to stop caring altogether.
“There’s girls entering this competition with millions of dollars, with influence we can’t even begin to imagine. Heck, my own best friend has been working on her dress for months. I don’t even have a base--”
“Alex! It’s time to go, boy.”
It was his father. I could recognize his voice from a mile away.
“Tabs, promise me you’ll wear something while walking the carpet. Anything.”
“I promise.” I couldn’t watch him leave forever, not with an empty heart. We both stood up, and I trapped him in an asphyxiating hug until he insisted on retreating.
I headed back to my room immediately. I had made a promise, and I never gave my word in vain.
As soon as I reached my polished nightstand, I paused. Alex had been giving me roses by the bushel, ever since the council had deemed him unfit to live. Unfit to live? It seemed ridiculous in my head, and in his. But it was the way in this city, and in many other cities I knew.
I fiddled with a single rose, careful to avoid the thorns that protruded from its stem. Its petals were soft, at least. They felt vulnerable, almost as if they would fade away at my very touch.
And then it finally hit me. Weeks and weeks had gone by, and I hadn’t thought to use the roses. One thousand roses, to line my gown’s skirt.
Maybe this whole thing wasn’t a lost cause after all.
I hated how they looked at me, as I stood before them. The whole panel was totally emotionless, sans a few furrowed eyebrows and creased foreheads. So I wasn’t the best seamstress in the city, or even in the top thousand. But the final product was one Alex would’ve been proud of, had he lived to see it.
“Turn, Miss Tabitha. We’d like to see the back of the gown.”
I followed suit, a puppet in the hand of a ruthless performer.
“Pass. Tabitha, you may return home.”
I was in shock. It was over, done with. I wouldn’t be slain for being less than angelic, for lacking the skills the council deemed feminine. I was halfway to the doors when I heard the sound of heels behind me, of another competitor approaching her fate.
She was slender, blonde, and had an air of innocence about her that would deter even the most hardened criminal. Her dress, though, was covered in stitches, a project left incomplete on the day it counted most. She noticed that I hadn’t fled from the room, like the other girls before me. My curiosity was understandable, in her hollow eyes.
“Immediate fail. Visible stitches, Violation Twenty.”
She shivered a bit, like she’d just been lowered into the Arctic. And then she fluttered away in a blur of fabric in tears, past me and into the light of day.
I looked back at the panel, envisioning Alex, and knew this wasn’t right. Something had to be done, and the girl with the dress of one thousand roses was as just as good a heroine as any.