Well, this came from no where. This is a little break-away from Flashlight. I don't know where it would even fit in. It's not apart of the story, unfortunately. Not like this, anyway. But please read it, if you're a fan of Flashlight.

Um . . . yeah.

Love Lolly.

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Who knew that this dark, dank school had a garden?

Honestly. And here's me thinking the whole PLACE is dead.

It wasn't.

Seriously, right in the very center of the Fortunaschwein ex-Boarding School for Boys, was this little courtyard thing. Don't get me wrong – a vast majority of the plants in there were totally dead. Shriveled up, or black, or crisp and lifeless. But nevertheless, there was a garden, and this courtyard seemed to stretch up to the roof. It was apparently behind the stairs, which was the center of the school.

The dark, muggy stillborn flora was majorly depressing, let me assure you. I'd found this little Garden of Death as I was exploring, again.

By myself.

Oh, shut up.

Screw the rules, I was a WILD CHILD.

. . . Again . . . shut up.

I'd imagine that, in it's time, this garden could have been an Eden. The remnants of climbing flowers still clung with dismal delicacy to the lattice that stretched up the adobe walls of the exterior of Fortunaschwein. Yet, still, you know, kind of IN the school? Just not, inside?

. . . Ugh. Same difference.

There were islands all around the courtyard, with rocks in them, looking as though some plantlife had been thriving there, long ago. But not now. It was dead, now.

Brown-green weeds were roaring in every nook and cranny there was, scavengers of survival that they were. Very small half-alive flowers were spotted around the place. So sue me for not knowing my foliage facts? I do not exactly have a green thumb, okay? Gardens were not my THING.

But I can appreciate them.

Just . . . not so much when they're dead.

A very large pillar, kind of green with mold, reached up to the topmost point of the courtyard, offering support to the several bridges that crossed at different storeys of the school, as to get across this area on different planes of this building. But here, on the ground floor, I stood, wondering how I could feel so at rest in a place that was obviously smothered with death.

I was a shifter.

Death meant next to nothing, to me.

Ha. The joys of my life.

My "Life"? It barely deserves that definition.

I felt really low, especially when creeping vines snaked up the lattice walls, up several storeys, mocking me with their high flying.

Just like Paul did.

Mr Hot-Shot Lawyer, smirking down at me from his prime position in life. I was nothing, to him. I was merely another bug he had to squish, in order for him to carry on sailing through his prosperous existence. Given half the chance, I had no doubt that he WOULD step on me, and twist his foot, pasting me on the pavement. He knew that he would always win. It was a disgusting turn of events. So long ago . . . five whole years . . . I had him wanting me so badly, he'd do anything – hurt anyone – to make me his. It had been a burden, as well as something I'd secretly, darkly relished. To be wanted that desperately made me feel something very forbidden, and sensual, and almost lascivious.

It's a terrible, sinful thing.

But I'd felt it all the same, no matter how my heart had belonged to Jesse.

Though, this feeling had meant little to me.

The fact that Paul Slater, this extremely hot, dark, tall, powerful, cunning guy, lusted after me like that, made me feel like I had this bizarre ascendancy. Like I . . . I was better than him. Superior to him. It was a complex thing, because I knew that in all things academic, physical, and astral, he had the greater knowledge.

But in this one aspect . . . how he wanted me for himself . . . I knew that I'd won one over him.

Just one thing.

But now . . . after all these years, after the way things had gone down, he wanted me to realize that things change. That I was now on the same level of existence as ants were. Right at the bottom of the food chain, while Paul? He was right up the top.

The Predator.

He devoured the weak.

I knew I didn't stand a chance.

Oh yeah . . . and then there was Dani.

Ha. Danielle Moore. Internationally famous supermodel, just signed a contract with Rimmel London. You know, as soon as they kicked Kate Moss out of the job. Dani, with her Posh-Spice boobs and her flaming red hair, and her every-colour-of-the-colour-spectrum contacts and her flawless cosmetics and her six feet of feminine dominance?

The Femme Fatale?

Yeah.

Again . . . I was road kill.

If God created us equal . . . why did we not stay that way? How could some people race on to such high power, while others stood in the shadows, choking on their dust? Dani and Paul, they had stature that I could only dream of. With their power, their money, their charisma, their fame . . . they were unstoppable.

I knew, soon enough, that I would completely be annihilated by the Collagen Couple.

Um . . . Not that Paul has had plastic surgery.

Well, you know, er . . . none that I know of.

Eww.

I stood in this Garden of Death, in my Gap clothes, feeling so low. So far down on the ladder of life.

Oops. There I go again, with my disgraceful abuse of the term, "life". When will I learn, that what I do cannot be classified as "living"?

Not anytime soon. All I was doing was going through the motions one might go through in the act of life. I stumble through this role, like it wasn't even meant for me anymore. I lose myself in my attempts to enjoy life, and find myself suddenly, lost in the garden of a haunted school.

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

With an irritated sigh, I glared around at all that remained of what must have been a beautiful garden, thirty years ago. But now, it had not been cared for in so long. It had not been treated right.

And it had died.

Dirt was everywhere. Old, unturned soil was heaped on the ground, and had stained the bricks from their scarce moisture.

Ever so slowly, I wandered through the strangling weeds that crept up through the aged paving. It was as if, they too wanted to tear me apart. More so than I already had been, in my scarlet past.

But, as I rounded the huge pillar in the very center of the dead courtyard, I was astonished.

I swear to God . . . it was SO Beauty and the Beast . . . I'm SO SERIOUS.

There, on the other side of the pillar, was a very small bed of roses.

ROSES,

Okay, all of three.

But they were all an intense blood red. The leaves were a rich shade of green, and although the two on the side looked a little weather worn, the center rose was truly a picturesque sight for sore eyes.

'Whoa,' I gasped, stepping up to them, ignorant of any cobwebs that blocked my way. I sat on the dirty ledge, next to the central rose, completely awed that I'd found something so beautiful in what seemed like a place of melancholy solemnity.

I extended a gentle finger to one of the petals. It was as soft as velvet, yet firm in its growth. The lushness and vibrancy of the crimson colour was almost dazzling, in a sanctuary of all things dead. The petals were embellished with crystalline droplets of water overlapped elegantly, and the ones at the heart of the rose curled clandestinely, as if concealing something very precious and secret from me. With soft breath, as if strong exhaling would cause the petals to fall, I edged closer, smiling slightly.

Even something that seemed dead could still harbor things so beautiful.

'What an exquisite rose,' said a deep voice from behind me.

HUH?!?!

I spun around, as my enchantment was shattered suddenly. In his incandescent glory, Jesse stood over me, smiling peacefully at the large, gorgeous blossom. His eyes were darkly clouded with their usual mystery, as he hid things away from me that I needed to know.

I blinked up at him, like a deer caught in head lights. My first thought was, "Oh shit . . . I've been caught touching the cool rose, now the beast is gonna chuck a psycho at me."

But upon more rational thinking, I realized that Jesse was SO not a beast. Sure, he was a hothead. And he'd done some pretty beastly things to me in the past. You know, his method of breaking up with me and all. Heartless messages and Graduation Dance, and all.

Which totally sucked.

But still. Jesse has a LOT less hair than the Beast from the Disney movie.

Well . . . I seriously hope he does.

That would be kind of gross, otherwise.

But still . . . it was Jesse. This was the guy who'd broke my heart so brutally, that I had never fully recovered. Call me pathetic, call me immature . . . I don't care. Despite my attempts, I could not accelerate the healing process.

I felt like I'd never love again, though.

So he wasn't doing much to help, being here.

Jeez. Beats me why he ever loved me in the first place.

Maybe he was desperate? Ha. Yeah. That was kind of obvious, now.

Jesse's eyes were smiling down at me. I was still staring at his for a moment, completely incapable of looking away from his unwavering Latino gaze. It was almost hypnotic. Mesmerizing. Enchanting . . .

Suze, WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?!?!

I jerked my eyes away from his, furious with myself. Why did I let my mind WANDER like that?

And my GAZE???

Gah. I KNEW that Jesse's eyes were like, everlasting glue. I already KNEW that. So I had NO BUSINESS looking at them, if I wanted to make it out of this stupid school alive. Because, hell, if these ghosts didn't kill me, then Jesse sure would.

No, not intentionally. He'd just drive me to a breaking point.

Because EVERYONE has a breaking point.

Well . . . except Paul. He's not a human. So yeah, he's immune.

And Dani's an Extra-Terrestrial herself. So she's safe, too.

I stared determinedly at the sincere beauty of the trio of roses. The other two could not measure up to the middle one. That was when I noticed that the petals on the bottom were not, in fact, perfect. The ones beneath were actually, dying.

A moment of anguish for the rose passed.

Then I remembered. Um . . . Suze? It's inanimate. Who cares?

But somehow I did. This rose was totally dying, in a place that proclaimed death. Jesse just added to that atmosphere. You know, being kind of DEAD too, and all?

After an eternity of my freakishly random thoughts, I finally spoke up.

'Yeah, it's cool.'

YEAH IT'S COOL?!?!?!?! WHAT THE –?!

My GOD. I really DO SUCK.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH.

Jesse was still smiling with his eyes – I glanced up – yet there was something underlying there. Like, sympathy or something.

Oh, that's nice.

He's SYMPATHETIC. "Must be TOUGH, being a loser, Susannah. My heart BLEEDS for you."

Ugh.

I crossed my left leg over my right. Well. Um. This was, um . . . kind of awkward.

Jesse took that opportunity to sit next to me.

Which I kind of freaked at. I mean, just a LITTLE. All I did was flinch in shock, and gawk at him like a weirdo. But that was about it, which is pretty good for me, right? Hmm. But whatever. So there was this hot Latino sitting next to me, saying exactly nothing, with a stunning red rose in between us.

Then, Jesse turned his head. 'What is wrong, Susannah?'

What a question.

Everything, Jesse. Everything in my life. I'm nothing. Can't you see that? Can't you see that this is all partly your fault? Don't you realize that I'm the only one in the SIA that truly has no meaning in life? No where to go? No belief in myself? Miles below everyone else? Below Danielle Moore, a SUPERMODEL? Yeah. What's wrong? Everything is wrong.

And it won't ever be right again.

'Huh? Wrong? Me? Never,' I shrugged offhandedly.

Lie.

I was pointedly staring at the rose. This thing of such splendor, in a valley of the dead. And the surroundings were starting to have influence over it.

I was losing myself in my morbid reflections again, and was startled when Jesse's hand came over mine. It was FAR too warm for a ghost. It wasn't fair, how all other ghosts felt like ice on my skin, and Jesse felt like liquid heat, scorching my soul and shining in the darkness.

I didn't want to come out from the shadows, though. Not with Jesse's help.

But yet, I couldn't resist.

And stupid, STUPID me, I raised my gaze again.

. . . And I was spellbound by his eyes, again.

'Susannah . . . you must tell me what is wrong,' Jesse said softly, looking eloquent. 'You are torturing yourself inside. I know this. You are acting foolishly, in your endeavors to push me away, and you are only hurting yourself.'

Ha. He didn't even know about Cole Kennedy. I didn't have to hurt myself when he was around. He took good care of that.

But still . . . I couldn't tear my eyes away from his. I was trapped in a place that confined only Jesse and I, and he would not let me leave, until he knew the truth.

Unfortunately, despite my determination to keep my mouth shut, my eyes told a story that Jesse could interpret perfectly.

Aww, shit.

Jesse sighed, and gave me a very gentle smile, before looking at the rose again. 'Susannah . . . in your time, I hear that they, er, manufacture flowers to replicate these,' he nodded to the one in between us. I blinked down, not understand where he was going with this. 'Yeah?'

He cleared his throat, and his hand, which was still over mine, became a little tighter, much to my alarm.

Don't let yourself . . . no, Suze, don't . . .

'These manufactured roses, they are made of fabric and plastic, I assume?' he asked quietly.

In confusion, I nodded my head dumbly.

'I see. And yet, they still look amazing,' he said fairly. 'I have seen them, in the reception of the Juniperro Serra Mission. There are beautiful arrangements, with many flowers, there. Vibrant colours. They look perfect. Everyone loves them.'

I stared at him curiously. Was he talking about . . . nah.

'To imagine, Susannah . . . would you prefer to be a real rose, or one of these artificial things that seem to look so magnificent, all the time?' he queried, angling his face lower, yet still locking his gaze on mine, making me flush slightly. An unpleasant heat washed through my body, and I felt my cheeks burst into flames of embarrassment.

God . . . what the hell was THAT question supposed to mean?!

I frowned. 'I don't get it,' I shook my head, baffled.

He smiled slightly. 'I see . . . in that case, I shall explain what I mean. Artificial roses, Susannah, last forever. They are made to perfection. They look charming, and these drops of glue the manufacturers seem to sprinkle on them, give them an everlasting appearance of water. The material used to construct the petals is of fine quality, and these flowers usually cost a great deal, when they are made correctly. Am I accurate in saying this?' he checked, his gaze becoming more intense, and my face becoming hotter and hotter . . .

'Um . . . yeah,' I dazzled him with my wit.

'The thorns on these inorganic do not prick. They are no danger to any fingers. This rose would not burn. It would only melt. It's a fine imitation of a truly glorious aspect of nature, and it showers true flowers with vanity.'

. . . Huh?

I still didn't understand. I mean, what did it matter? It was just a pretend rose.

Jesse paused, and stood up. THEN, guess what?! He just TOTALLY went and plucked the center rose from the ground. I opened my mouth in evanescent horror, but then closed it. The flower was going to die anyway. Why not sooner?

He carefully transferred it to his other hand. I lazily stood up too, and crossed my arms, as nervousness crept across my skin, raising goosebumps.

Oh God . . . Jesse looked so hot standing there, giving me a very unintentionally seductive look, with this brilliant red rose in his left hand. I think I burst the blush-o-meter, about then. I swallowed. Hard.

VERY hard.

'Or,' he spread out his free hand, 'Would you choose to be a true rose? A creation of God, himself. Symbol of beauty . . . love,' he added, his voice dipping low, and causing my already hazardous world to spin dangerously. 'A true rose would not last forever. It would bloom, drink in the rays of sunlight, and the water, play the centerpiece of one's garden. Inspire the poets of all time, to write tales of romance, tragedy, truth . . . '

Jesse's philosophy was extremely weird . . . but the commitment in his voice captivated me. I was caught in a web of possibilities. What the possibilities were, I knew not.

'A true rose would wilt. The thorns would cut deep, and draw out blood as red as the petals that are destined to wither,' he said, stepping closer to me. I didn't know what the hell he was doing. What was he even on about?! Roses?! BAH. What a NUT.

'But then,' he stopped, so he was standing over me, the crimson flower in his hand, 'The scent of this true rose is so pure. A fragrance quite like no other, and its intentions so good . . . ' he whispered down to me. 'A fake rose would not have this aroma. It has nothing in its center. The heart of this rose,' Jesse blinked, his face one of such seriousness, it almost scared me, 'Is so beautiful, Susannah.'

My throat was dry. My tongue seemed to be stuck to the roof of my mouth. Never a good thing.

'Jesse,' I choked out in parched tones, 'I don't know – '

'Do not compare yourself to Danielle,' Jesse told me firmly, closing the very small distance between us, so his right hand came to my lower back. At point of contact, thrills I'd been trying to prevent shot down every nerve of my body, immobilizing my spine, and making me gasp with a pleasure that I had not dared to treat myself to, ever again.

'I – ' I tried, but he cut me off, breathing quickly.

'You do, Susannah. But, you must remember. You are the true rose. You have true beauty. You do not need to be enhanced in anyway, to become perfect. It is your imperfections, and your mortality, that make you perfect.'

These things he was saying . . . it was in a tone so passionate, so deep, so amorous, that I could do little but breathe. When he pulled me abruptly into him, so my body was molded against his, I could do little to resist.

I didn't want to.

After five years, I knew I had to stop being a child, stop holding onto the past . . . I had to recognize this love that Jesse had for me, instead of trying to run from it.

My blood pumped hotly in my veins, as Jesse's urgent lips came to my neck, and I let out a sharp gasp of indulgence, as a long-dormant fire seared through my every inch, as his hand raked through my dark hair. His other hand gripped my back hard, dragging me into him as if he never wanted to lose me again. My arms were around his neck before I could even find myself. My heart was pounding louder than the ocean's rhythmic crashing in a raging storm. There was a roaring in my head, with words that I couldn't identify. My body burnt with heat, and the taste of Jesse's lips finally on mine again was sweeter than the sweetest rose that William Shakespeare could ever spill sonnets about.

I abandoned every doubt, and surrendered myself to his kiss.

And I realized something.

. . . This was all I had ever wanted.

Jesse.

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