“It’s not too overdone, do you think?” I looked down at the marshmallow skirt.
“No, you look perfect.” He kissed my cheek. “You’re so grown up, so before your time.” He stopped then with a slight sigh. “I’m proud of you, Ara-Rose—and your mother—” Dad touched my inherited veil, “—I know she’d be proud of you too.”
I nodded, looking down at Dad’s hand holding mine.
“You know you’re supposed to take your engagement ring off when you get married. It goes on in front of your wedding ring after the ceremony.”
“Really? Well, here, hold on to it for me.”
He placed my ruby ring in his top pocket with a little pat. “Are you ready?” he asked softly.
Ready? I wasn’t sure if that was the right word. I inhaled a deep, shaky-yet-excited breath, and let it out in a gust. “No! Wait. I forgot my bouquet.” I spun on my heel, hitched my dress up at the front, feeling it swish around the tops of my feet as I bolted back to my room. The warmth of my yellow walls greeted me with the sun’s smile as I burst through the door and grabbed the lone bouquet sitting on the table.
But, as I turned to walk away, a wave of nostalgia hit me. I took two slow steps back to where my bed used to be, and let my arms fall to my sides.
It was so empty in here now. The crystals that once cast rainbows from the sun were all gone, so too were the photos on the walls, and the innocence of childhood. They were all just a memory now, and it felt strange to be saying goodbye to a place that’d been such a big part of my life, for such a short time. Despite the pain I suffered here, what I was leaving behind today were mostly fond memories.
Then, as I turned to walk away again, a splash of a forbidden colour caught my eye—resting in the hinge of the old mirror.
Breathless, bonded to the spot, I could no longer feel my arms or lips—my thumping heart was all that existed. No one would have put that there. I was very clear. There were to be no red roses around today.
I walked over and plucked the rose from the mirror, dropping it as soon as my fingers touched the thornless stem.
A silent moment passed, but only the stammering of my wanting heart echoed back. Please be here. Please.
The red rose sat by my feet. I stared at it for a moment. One red rose. The single element of colour inside a completely white bouquet; the scarlet representation of my love for David—of the part of me that would always be his. I left it out. I wanted to move on—to forget about him. But we both knew I was fooling myself to think I could ever move on. There was no moving on, and he wouldn’t let me.
No. I shook my head and took a step away from the rose. I would not let his memory reside here, in this life, with me. The past was his dwelling now—long forgotten and hidden in a dark corner of my heart, like a favourite old book at the back of a shelf.
The reflection of the bride holding a colourless bouquet was one of picturesque beauty, but not what I saw in my dream, in what seemed a lifetime ago. This was a different image. I was no longer the empty shell of a girl I used to be. I had moved on, without David, away from David, and slowly, I was growing out of the mask I used to hide behind. Happiness was becoming a real part of my life, and it was because of Mike that I could finally be just a girl. Just Ara.
Leaving the rose on the floor where it fell, I smiled. Mike was all I needed now. I loved David with all of my heart once, and when Mike came back into my life, my heart simply grew bigger.
With one hand, I unclasped the silver chain David returned to me. “I will always be yours, David,” I said into the mirror. “And you will always have a special place in my heart, but—” I placed the locket on the floor over the rose and stood back. “But this is me saying goodbye. Saying…this is the way things should be. Don’t let your life be about me now. It’s time to move on and let things fall where they may.” My heart and my voice steadied then with the last of my goodbye. “I love you, David Knight. I’ll love you for forever—but it just has to be forever apart.”
Slowly and reluctantly, I walked to the door and placed my fingers over the handle. When I turned back to look around my room for the last time—the rose and the locket were gone.
With faltering resolution and a tender heart, I blinked back the pain, and closed the door behind me.
Dad winked at me when I took his arm, and we walked down the stairs to the warm spring morning—the last morning I would ever look across the road at the oval of the school where I once met a boy. He wasn't there anymore—no longer waiting by the grass for me to take his hand. He was gone, and I was moving on.
The photographer placed us in position to document the momentous occasion before we could climb into the bridal car and drive away, leaving behind all the innocence of youth and the sadness of eternal nights. Bright, sunny days were my path now.
I looked up at the blue sky, just as I did that first day I came to live here, only, back then, in my heart, I wanted nothing more than to go back home, while today, the idea had me stealing glances at my dad, Sam, and even Vicki, wondering how I was going to cope with missing them.
I guess life has a funny way of granting the things we want, when we no longer really want them. I came here alone, and I was leaving with a heart full of family and friends who loved me. I knew that when the night descended and I said my final farewells, I’d cry, because at some point in all my growing up, I learned that home was built with the hearts of people you love; it was a place you knew you could always return, where waiting arms would greet you and make you safe.
And I guess, in that sense, I never really needed to find my way home, because I’d truly been there all along.