It seemed like we had been fighting off the vicious roots for over an hour before the prince returned along with my sketchbook. As soon as he came into sight, the wicked roots shriveled and disappeared. Annie and I all but fell to the ground in exhaustion.
The prince reached us moments later. "She won't hurt you anymore." He said, a sort of strange tone to his voice. I began to wonder what he had done. Had he slain the rose? It seemed unlikely. After all, he hardly had a grasp on what death was.
"What happened?" Asked Annie.
"I apologized." Explained the prince.
"Apologized?" I questioned.
"Yes, for not giving her the attention she deserved."
I knew there was more to the story, but I didn't ask. I thought it was best to leave things as they were. "Well, as long as I'm not fighting for my life anymore, I'm okay with anything."
Annie was less so. "Why did you have to apologize to her? You spent a good amount of time with her."
"But not as much as she needed."
"Where is she now?" I looked to the prince.
"This way. Would you like to see her?"
I nodded. I'll have to say, when we got to the other side of the planet, I was quite surprised. There now lay not one rose, but a whole garden of them.
"What did you do?" I asked, though I was sure I already knew the answer. I think he resolved the problem wonderfully. The rose and him must have had a talk.
"She was lonely, so I drew her some friends." He smiled at me. "Now she can be happy, like the roses in your garden."
I thought it strange that he'd mention that, but then, maybe it wasn't so strange after all. He had visited Annie in the nursery; perhaps he had also visited my garden. I'll have to say I never really thought about my roses ever getting lonely, but then again there were always several in my garden. They were never alone. I guess, in a way, plants are people too. They also need companionship.
"What about you?" Asked Annie, looking out over the rose garden. "You won't get lonely now, will you?"
The way he said it gave me the idea that he had a plan. I looked to the prince expecting him to explain. What he told me I never would have expected.
"Old friend," The prince returned my gaze. "I want to come back to earth with you."
I was shocked at first, but then instantly recovered. To say the very least, I was delighted that he wanted to come back with us. "Well, alright. You're welcome to visit anytime. How long do you plan on staying?"
He and Annie exchanged smiles and then he said. "Forever."
"Forever?" I was taken aback. "You mean--- you want to leave your planet and your rose, forever?"
"I talked to my rose. She wants me to go too. She needs time to heal. She has her new friends now. She said I could go as long as I visited periodically."
I had my doubts if the rose was really so cured, but taking the prince away from this planet would keep him safe and I wouldn't have to worry anymore.
"Besides," He looked to Annie and took her hand in his. "I've found a new rose. One with beauty that goes beyond the surface."
Annie was blushing, but his words meant more to me than I could say. In fact, he had explained something that had been unexplained to me the entire time.
This whole expedition I had noticed a change in Annie, but it wasn't purely physical. She had grown up into a beautiful young woman, that was true, but her personality had continued to stay innocent, young and caring. Through the entire journey, she had been helping other people. Each place she had gone she had made a difference. The prince was right; all along I had had my own little rose. My little granddaughter. Annie was like that. A rose inside and out. Her beauty was beyond skin deep and I was convinced that this inner beauty is what first attracted the prince to her. I had finally found the answer I was looking so hard and long for.
"Well…" I was a bit flustered at first, but I recovered quickly. "When would you like to leave?"
"Today, if we could?"
I nodded. "Of course."
Annie then said she wanted to first bid the rose goodbye. I reluctant to let her go alone at first, but the prince insisted that it would be alright. When she returned to us, she was smiling broadly. It seemed the two women had finally come to terms.
We then set off for home.
Each planet we passed, we were greeted by the dweller. Everyone was happy it seemed. The king and the rat were finally getting along, the conceited man had thrown away his mirror and the drunk seemed more sober. The businessman seemed to have gone on to counting other things besides the stars as we saw him counting rocks upon his planet's surface. The lamplighter couldn't change much about his situation and so we stayed a little longer to give him the time to rest. When we had finally reached the geographer, he was happy to inform us that he had decided to become an explorer as well. He had finished the geography of his planet and was planning to broaden his horizons and travel to other planets.
It seemed that everything was going well, but when we returned to earth, we encountered one minor setback. Annie was seven again and the prince was a boy again as well. I guess it made things easier, though. I didn't have to explain anything to Annie's mother except that I was now taking care of a little orphan boy (I decided to let the prince stay with me).
As for Annie and the prince, they continued on as best friends and attended school together. A decade and a half later, they both graduated from college with degrees in geography (of all things) and then the best thing I could imagine occurred. The prince married my little rose and then the two of them set off on their new life together, beginning at their honeymoon location of choice: asteroid B612.
Yes, it was a happy ending. I wouldn't have asked it to end any other way.