My name is Yellow Rose. My dad says my mama loved that name, because it reminded her of sunshine and cheerful gardens. I love it too, but Dad says you simply can’t go around saying, “Good day, Yellow Rose,” or “How are you, Yellow Rose,” or “What do you want for breakfast, Yellow Rose,” so everybody calls me just Rose.
My mama wouldn’t like that at all. She’d say, “That’s my baby’s name, and we’re going to sing it from the hilltops, no matter what people say,” but Mama isn’t here anymore. One day she was just gone.
I was only three. I came to Dad in paint-stained overalls and lopsided pigtails, clutching Little Rose. I sat straight on his lap and said, “Where’s Mama?” I traced patterns on my dad’s jeans. The fabric was rough but also soft under my tiny fingertips. I traced bunnies, castles, and crowns—all the things that made me think of Mama’s warm smile.
I hugged Little Rose. Mama made her for me with a needle and thread. She was soft like a pillow and wore a yellow dress with buttons down the front.
Finally, the silence was too much for me. I turned around in his lap, ready to shout, but I stopped dead at the look in his eyes. It was so intense, my heart started to swell like a balloon ready to pop.
“Daddy?” I asked in an unsure voice. “Where’s Mama?”
My dad refocused his distant eyes on me. They swirled with so many emotions, it made my head swim.
“Answer me, Daddy,” I demanded.
“She’s with the angels, hon.” He laughed delicately.
I let out a sigh of relief. I believed in magic back then.
“The angels will take care of Mama. They’ll fetch her chamomile tea with two extra sugar cubes, just like she likes. They’ll let her nap on the clouds and maybe they’ll give her a pet to bring home to me!”
My dad smiled at me. He knew my dream was to have a dog.
“Mama will stay up there, but the angels told me to tell you that when you look for her, look here.” He patted his chest right where his heart pumped away. Then he slid me off his lap and went into his bedroom, closing the door with a loud creak.
For a moment, it was just me and the summer sounds—the birds chirping, the leaves rustling, the faint sound of a barking dog.
I got up and walked to the freezer. I opened the heavy drawer and pulled out a tangerine popsicle. I took a lick. Instead of tasting big, salty tears, I tasted its tangy sweetness. I was too young to realize Mama was dead.
* * *
EIGHT YEARS LATER
Our car pulls into the driveway. When I get out, I sigh. I’m happy to be home. I had missed the faded blue paint that was chipping from age and the flower pots that decorated the front porch. The wind chimes tinkle their welcome.
We have just gotten back from my grandmother’s house. It isn’t like our house, which makes me think of ocean cliffs. Her house is dull brown, without a speck of personality and nothing but spotless pieces of Victorian furniture.
“How does it feel to be home, Rose?” Dad asks, holding out my backpack. I look at him.
Dad and I aren’t close. We barely talk, and our conversations are always awkward.
“Fine,” I say after a long pause. My dad nods. Then we just stand there, letting the wind tousle our hair. The breeze is heavy with moisture. I inhale and taste the coming rain.
“Go inside, Rose,” Dad says, tossing me the house key. The key flies past me, so I turn around to retrieve it. Before I pick it up, I see a girl waving at me from across the street.
She’s barefoot, and her hair is long, red, and rippling in the wind. I see her parents stacking boxes in their open garage. The “For Sale” sign I had gotten used to is missing.
“Hey!” the girl shouts at me.
My fingers snatch the house key, and I run inside, before she can cross the street. I slam the front door and kick off my shoes.
The floor is icy as I cross to my bedroom. Just before I make my retreat, I see my father outside the window. He’s staring at the door I just ran through, looking sad.
I feel a pang of guilt. He must think I ran from him, even though I was really running from the redheaded girl. My eyes travel to her. She’s staring at my house, slightly confused. Her blue eyes are glimmering. They stand out in the gloom, like two sapphires.
Now, I feel so guilty that I want to run outside and apologize. I could shout it to the world, and maybe a piece of sunshine would appear from behind the clouds.
My thought is trampled by my dad’s high-heel-loving, auburn-haired girlfriend, running across the lawn to him on her cloud of bliss. She throws her arms around his neck, and I watch him laugh soundlessly through the glass.
I bite my cheek before slamming my bedroom door so hard the windows rattle. I definitely don’t feel guilty anymore.
* * *
The next day, my dad’s girlfriend comes into my bedroom, carrying a cheap, plastic tray with steaming pancakes on top. I glance up from my magazine, then down at the tray. The pancakes look slightly crisp, and they are covered in some kind of berry sauce. My mouth waters.
“Hello, Rose,” Susan says, putting the tray down on my bed. I just stare at her, refusing to speak. I can tell she is nervous, because her hands shake as she twirls them through her hair.
Finally, after I unsuccessfully will her to leave by boring my eyes into hers, she sits down at the foot of my bed.
“You should go hang out with your friends,” she says, gazing at me with a serious look in her amber eyes.
I raise the magazine to hide my face.
“If you want a night with my dad, just ask me, OK?” I say. I can tell she’s stung.
“Rose, I care about you, and I think it’s healthy to play with other kids your age, especially in summer.”
“It’s raining,” I state gloomily.
“Come on, that’s no excuse. I’ll take you to my friend’s house. She has twins around your age. I’m sure they’d be pleased to meet you. Besides, you’re practically my step-daughter.”
I glare. I suddenly notice that my doll is missing from her usual place on my ancient dresser. My heart jumps.
“Where is Little Rose?” I demand.
“Who?” Susan asks, her perfect eyebrows furrowed in confusion and concern.
“You took her!” I shout. With that, I throw down my magazine and rush from the room, leaving Susan gaping.
* * *
“What would your mom think of your behavior, Yellow Rose?” I stare at my dad, my arms folded. My cheeks feel hot and throbbing. “She’d think, what a shame, Yellow Rose’s garden full of flowers is wilting,” he says poetically.
“I’m going for a walk,” I say, grabbing my raincoat off the rack and putting it on inside-out.
“This is the worst summer ever!” I say before shoving through the front door.
What waits for me on the porch are sheets and sheets of rain. I start to walk, the small holly leaves brushing my coat as I pass the picket fence around my house.
I stomp through the puddles, getting soaked, but I don’t care. Susan doesn’t even live with us, but she spends all her time trying to get me out of the house, so she can be alone with my dad.
I slosh down the sidewalk, getting more furious by the minute, until I see the redheaded girl ahead, just standing there in a blue coat.
We’re yards apart, and I’m terrified. My head swivels, looking for the nearest bush to dive into. Unfortunately, her yard is bare of bushes.
No, I think, just before I hear her voice say, “Hi, are you crazy like me, spending your whole day outside in the rain?”
I spin around and find myself within inches of her friendly face. Up close, I notice her millions of brilliant-orange freckles. Some people don’t like freckles, but I think they show character.
“Hi,” the girl laughs, sticking out her hand. “I’m Scarlet, your new neighbor.”
I take her hand. “My name’s Yellow Rose,” I say before putting both hands in my pockets. “I really should be going, but it’s nice meeting you.” I’ll probably never see or hear from you again, considering I’m the nobody here on Everybody-Has-an-Awesome-Life Street, I think before turning around.
“Wait!” she calls, letting a note of desperation creep into her voice. I halt in my tracks but don’t turn around.
“Look,” Scarlet says in a firm but delicate voice. “I don’t know anybody. I’m not used to being lonely. It’s weird.”
I can sort of relate to that feeling. I am actually used to being lonely, but it does still feel weird. I turn and stare at her, reconsidering.
“I also wanted to return this. You dropped your doll in your front yard earlier.” She pulls Little Rose out of her pocket and places her in my hand. The wind gusts and rain bursts toward us. We both scream and laugh.
“Want to come inside?” she calls over the rising noise of the wind and rain. “My mom and brother just made cookies.”
I pause, my heart thumping beneath my coat. I look down at Little Rose and gaze at her frozen smile.
“Yes,” I say.