Rafael stood in the alleyway a few hours before dawn, his heart fluttering faster than the wings of moths dancing through the air.
He couldn’t stop thinking about her.
He’d lived two doors up from Lola until his family moved closer to the city a year ago. They saw each other at school, having several classes together, but the distance between them revealed a truth he could no longer deny. Rafael harboured his secret for twelve months. Like the ships along the coast, it longed to set sail, anticipating a journey full of adventure, full of excitement, and full of the unknown.
She could deflate his sails with a single word, his destroyed hope choking up the canals of his heart.
Lola’s mother opened the front door. “Do you have everything you need?”
Rafael nodded. “I’m a bit nervous.”
She offered him a warm smile. “Me too, cherub. Do you need my help?”
“I’ll be fine, thank you.”
“Well, I’ll let you get to work.”
He’d planned it out. Lola painted a red carnation in a mossy flowerpot during an art lesson. It grew across the canvas, petals unfurling with delicate strokes.
“Why are you painting that?” he asked.
Lola’s gaze clouded over. “There’s one outside my house. It grows every year. I planted it with my dad before…” She swallowed. “I guess it reminds me of him. If I paint it, it’ll never fade.”
Rafael worked until dawn. Pink clouds drifted across the sky. Soil collected under his fingernails, sweat speckling his complexion.
Her mother appeared again. “She’s awake,” she whispered.
He breathed deeply, his stomach coiled in knots. “Lola,” he shouted.
She appeared at the balcony, her serene face crumpled with confusion, her limbs heavy with sleep. Her eyes glistened as she beheld the bunches of red carnations blooming in all the flowerpots along the alley. Petals were scattered in a heart outside her door.
“It’s always been you, Lola. I can’t hide it any longer. I love you.” His pulse quickened. “I need to know…Will you be mine?”
Learn more about the contest which inspired this story: Photo Flora 2019-01