The heat of the spotlight is hotter than usual. Or perhaps the long hours are finally weighing her down. Her throat is staring to ache, and by the end of her set her voice cracks on the last high note. Thankfully she can play it off as intentional, given the emotional weight of the song.
Even though she loves her job, loves singing for the dining and drinking crowds, she is relieved at the signal for her break. With a bow and a practiced melancholy grin, she spins on her heels and stalks gracefully from the stage, the patrons applause following her like a shadow. A waterfall of sound as she disappears from that blinding light and heat. Behind the curtains, the sudden darkness sends a shiver down her spine.
She pauses, shoulders slumping as the first keys of the remaining lone piano begin to fill the air. She moves, route long since memorized as she makes her way through the darkness and swishing curtains. Her heels click and echo as she strides across the hardwood towards the door. With a shove, she steps out into the brightly lit corridor.
She blinks, pausing just long enough for her eyes to adjust before continuing on. The hall is empty, for once. Devoid of the usual bustle of staff and performers. Another soft sigh falls from her lips as she makes for her dressing room. An advantage of having a permanent place in the establishments roster. Distantly, she can still here the echoing muffled melody of the pianist. She wonders, as she opens her door, how long her break will last this time, before she is called back out to sing again for the crowd. Or if she’ll be done for the evening?
She hopes she’ll have enough time to properly rest her voice, if it’s the former. If it’s the rarer latter, well —
Her thoughts, and her feet, jerk to a halt.
There are roses in her room.
She slips inside, pulling the door until the frame jerks it from her gloved hand, and strides to her vanity. There are white roses in her room again. Fresh ones. With the thorns still present, stems wet, and the ends speckled with damp earth.
She plucks one up, mindful of the thorns, and takes a deep breath, savoring the flowers scent. The delicate petals ghost across her lips, a phantom reminder of … something else. A painfully familiar sensation, one she knows she will likely never feel again.
She smiles, heartbroken and unspeakably happy at the same time. She sets down the rose, heads over to her desk, and gently lifts the baby blue vase filled with wilting white roses. She dumps the dying blooms in a clear bag she’ll take home and feed her own modest garden. The fresh ones, she places inside the now empty vase. She does not clean off the dirt, nor does she removes the thorns. It never felt right, given the rarity of them.
As she sits in her chair, one hand still curled around the vase, she thinks about how long it’s been since she’s gotten such fresh flowers. Oh, she got white roses every week, sent by him, though he never left a name or note. The workers at the local flower shops thought it was sweet. To have such a dedicated husband that would send her flowers even when he was away. And they would sigh, and ask her how he was when he came home.
She never told them that her husband was always away. That she hadn’t actually seen her husband in nearly ten years. She didn’t have the heart to squash their lovely little daydreams. She didn’t want the pitying looks, nor did she have any desire to have detectives and police sent to her home to hunt him down.
Not that the occasional government authority didn’t come to her home, she just didn’t want to invite any more than she already had to deal with. The men and women who barged into her home snarling and snapping at her for information she didn’t have, she didn’t acre for them, nor their foul attitudes. It wasn’t her fault she had fallen for and married a man with less than respectable pursuits. It wasn’t her fault her husband was a high ranking criminal mastermind.
She did wish they would stop trying to threaten her with guns, and stop trampling through her flowerbeds. Honestly, she didn’t understand why they kept trying, she never had anything more to say than “Sorry, still haven’t seen my husband.” She didn’t know anything about his plans or whereabouts, and even if she did, it wasn’t like they were going to catch him through her.
Did they think her husband stupid? Did they think she had actually known what he was doing? That he had confided such dark secrets to her? Did they think she hadn’t been left in the middle of the night with a quiet kiss and an empty promise? Did they not know that she hadn’t seen her husband in almost a decade? Like she was capable of hiding that bittersweet heartbreak?
Did they think she would betray him even if she knew? Because, bloody hands or not, she could never really hate her husband. She could never hate a man who looked at her like she was his world, kiss her like she was the air he needed to live. She could never be angry with a man who had never stopped gifting her white roses every week they had been married. Even after he stopped handing them to her in person.
But, of course, there was one detail she never told anyone. She hadn’t been lying exactly when she said she hadn’t seen her husband, she really hadn’t looked him in the eye or heard the sound of his voice — but she did know when he came to town. Because there were freshly picked white roses, still damp, with their thorns still attached in her hands.
Her husband often bought the roses himself when they were still in contact, and in the past he had often left on long trips, sending orders to the flower shops to deliver her weekly gifts. But… but on the nights he used to come home, he’d pick the flowers personally, and deliver them, dirty and damp, to her waiting hands. A signal he was home at last.
So, as she breathed in the roses scent, she thought of her husband, and the secret signal she would take to her grave. Her husband who had not forgotten her, even after all the years apart. Her husband who was home, safe and sound, whether he showed himself to her or not.