Burning Hearts, Lake County Record Bee, September 2019

If anyone thought to ask, I never agreed to marry him.  That was something my mother agreed to, without my permission.  Probably natural for her since I was eighteen. But the truth? Mom fell for Gregory. Not me. Wasn’t surprising, with her romantic nature and the moles on her face. Mom was never pretty. Lots of people had told me, as small town folk are like to do.  “But you, Rose,” they always said, “now you’re different.”  

“So Miss Wonderful, you graduate in two months. Think you’ll finally say yes?”  Mom called me Miss Wonderful when she thought I was being high and mighty, which was most of the time. “Prince Charming isn’t going to hang around forever.” 

Gregory had been proposing to me since we were sixteen. Not that he proposed exactly.  More like, When you and I get married... To him, I was a sure thing, like rain in December.  

“Gregory’s no Prince Charming, Mom.” Last week, after I’d refused his engagement ring, he peeled off in his Mustang, leaving me to walk two miles back home in the dark. Diamonds. A girl’s best friend.  Huh.

“Well, he’s the best looking fella around,” she said, as if that settled everything.  Mom had three moles on her chin, and a tic that quivered her left eyelid, but I wouldn’t say yes to him to make things right for her.  

So one morning, out of the blue, Mr. Brown, my math teacher, said to me: “I taught your mother years back.  She got bullied something awful, not being all that pretty.”  The second period bell had rung, and we were alone. “You probably can’t understand, Rose.” 

If anyone thought to ask, of course I understood.  Mom wasn’t pretty.  I was.  The same old story, a blanket that smelled of mildew, and it was high time I threw it away.  “I’m going to college,” I said.  

He raised his eyebrows. “Pretty thing like you?”

I felt that hot sting in my chest. “Surprise you? Well, you’ll see.” 

“Rose!” he called, but I’d already turned on my heel. And just after I slammed the door, a vision of a locomotive came to me. It was something beautiful, shooting across miles of country, running running running on a burning heart of coal.  A miracle, really, and I couldn’t stop myself from smiling.