The Meaning of Roses
The flowers had started appearing about three months ago. Asuka always found them in her dressing room just before all of her duels, always the same arrangement: a crystal vase with a dozen perfect red roses, and next to them, a single black rose, unlucky number thirteen, lying prone and dejected in their shadow. Red roses she knew: those were for passionate love. A black rose usually meant death, but she was guessing this dark loner was meant to indicate something else. Or rather, someone else. She knew Manjoume had never given up his affection for her, any more than he had given up his predilection for that particular shade. When he'd finally been forced to retire his old black school jacket, he'd hired someone to custom-tailor him a new one to match the old. She couldn't see the color black without being reminded of him, and so this lonely rose told her as clearly as a signature who had been sending her these floral tokens week after week. There was never any signature on the card that came with it, though, only three words in black ink: I love you. She picked it up and looked at it, though it was no different from the ones she had received before. Perhaps, she thought, she should answer him.
When Manjoume arrived at the stadium the next day to prepare for his forthcoming game, he found there were flowers waiting for him. At first, he thought they were white, but closer inspection showed the faintest traces of pink in their petals. His face fell a little. White would have been preferable. The message these pale-pink flowers sent was not the one he wanted to hear, but he picked up the card and read it in print anyway.
Just friends, it said.
If Asuka thought that would be the end of it, she was wrong. That evening, while she was quietly reading through a magazine, she heard a knock at her door. She stood up to answer it, and found a deliveryman holding a bouquet of roses. Still red, of course. She frowned at the deliveryman as if he were personally responsible for them.
"Are you Asuka Tenjoin?" he asked uncertainly.
She was forced to admit that she was. The man pressed the bouquet into her unwilling hands, and she turned it over automatically to see if there was a card attached.
"No note," the man said, "but I'm supposed to tell you that these are tea roses."
"Tea roses?" she repeated uncertainly.
He nodded. "Don't know what it means, but that's what I was told. Have a good evening, ma'am."
He left. Asuka took her roses - her tea roses, whatever that meant - and put them in a vase. Then she went back to her magazine.
A moment later, she got up and turned on her computer to do a little research. A few minutes on the internet, running the words "tea rose" and "meaning" through a search engine, gave her the message. She sighed, realizing she should have known what it was all along.
I still love you.
The next message took a little more planning. When Manjoume entered his dressing room, he found that someone had left a mess on his table - a mess of flowers, which under the circumstances didn't please him one bit. A single black rose sat in a slender vase, while scattered around it were lots of other roses in various other colors. He looked over it for a moment before angrily sweeping the whole thing into the trash, along with the hopeful note:
There are lots of other girls out there...
Asuka had actually been looking for a response, but when it came, she almost didn't see it. It turned up on her doorstep one morning, and she almost stepped on it as she hurried out on the way to go shopping. She backed up and took another look. There was another red rose, just one, looking as if someone had dropped it there by accident. She might have convinced herself it was an accident, except that there was a note wrapped around the stem. She pulled it free, and found that someone had written a brief and decisive message, bold and underlined.
It was lunch time. Manjoume was eating lunch at the hotel's restaurant, because it was an important game tonight and he didn't feel like fighting through crowds of tourists to find somewhere else to eat. This section had actually been reserved and roped off for the duelists who were staying there for the big competition, so they wouldn't have to fight their fans for a table. Or away from a table, for that matter. He ate in silence, trying to clear his mind of all extraneous thoughts, so that when the time came to step out on the dueling field, he would be thinking of nothing but his cards. It wasn't always easy.
A waiter walked up to him.
"Excuse me, sir," said the young man, "but the lady at table six sends this to you with her regards."
He placed a single rosebud on the table in front of Manjoume. Manjoume picked it up and studied it. It was white, pure and virginal, closed up tightly, never to open. He raised his eyes and looked across the room, seeking out the face he knew would be there. He found her looking back at him, her face smooth and impassive. He read in her amber eyes the same thing he'd read in the folds of the white rose.
I'm sorry, but I don't love you.
Without a word, he threw a handful of bills on the table and walked out.
There was silence for a long time. Asuka began to worry if she had cut him too deeply, that time... but what else was she supposed to do? How else could she have said it? And really, didn't he already know? She endured the silence with equal stoicism, and tried not to notice how barren the room looked with no more red and white roses to brighten it.
And then one night, there was a rose. It was only one, a black one, its petals withered and falling away. She felt a pang as she realized the message it conveyed: It's dead. It's over. I give up. She raised a hand to touch it tenderly, as if it were the last remains of a beloved pet.
Then she noticed it was lying on a box, a small flat one covered in velvet as black as the rose-petals. She picked it up and opened it. Inside was a necklace with a rose-shaped pendant, its petals made of some black stone, perhaps jet. A single diamond glittered at its heart. A diamond, for eternity...
There was a note in the box, too. It said, Forever yours.
She considered this for a little while. Then she slipped it out of its box and fastened it carefully around her neck. The pendant, she tucked beneath her shirt so that no one else could see it, but she could feel it lying cold against her heart.
A few days later, a vase appeared outside Manjoume's door, mysteriously, in the night. He kicked it over by accident when he went out to get the mail, and swore at it. Then he looked again with a bit more curiosity, as he realized that the vase contained no flowers. There was nothing in it but leaves, rose leaves, still attached to thornless stems. As he turned the vase upright again, he noticed that in the center of the vase was a single bud, still too small and tightly shut to show any signs of what color it might someday be. It was only a hint, a hope, a possibility. There was a card tucked in the middle of it all, and he pulled it out with a trembling hand.
It said, Maybe I was wrong...?
A few minutes later, his immediate neighbors were roused from their morning routines to look out their windows, trying to discover what all the whooping and shouting was about.
The championships were over. The winners had been announced, the stadiums closed up, and the people who made their livelihood as duelists had a few precious weeks to regather their energies and relax for a while, until the season started again. Asuka sat by her mirror, running a comb through her hair. Just as she finished, someone knocked on the door, and she hurried to answer it.
"Hello," she said. "You're right on time."
"Hi," said Manjoume. He was holding one hand behind his back, smiling a bit sheepishly. "You look fantastic. All ready to go?"
"I'm ready," she agreed. She extended a hand, inviting him to take it. He extended his hidden hand, revealing the single red rose he had been hiding along with it.
"Here," he said, offering it to her. "Just a little something to tell you I love you."
"You already said that," she replied.