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  • Last summer, I joined an online writing community. I posted my fiction hoping to receive feedback and constructive criticism. What I found is that I had entered a world filled with alliances. It was like freshman year of high school all over again. I tried to fit in, but everyone seemed to have already established their groups. In a desperate attempt to fit in, I decided to enter my story into one of their contests. The contest prompt was to write a story based on the picture "The Love Letter" by Alan Maley. So, I wrote my heart out. I didn't win any place or honorable mention. I got a comment from the judge (she commented on every story submitted). Her comment was "Good story but sad." I decided to check her comments on other writers' stories and found that she had left enthusiastic comments on stories that were a paragraph long and seemed to have been written in a hurry. That's when I decided to leave that writing community and find refuge in Cowbird. This is the story I submitted:

    Rose Madison sat quietly in a large field of wild flowers. She held a small flower in her hand and pulled at the pedals as she gazed out into the ether. She was deep in thought and a smile was spread across her face as her eyes darted about in rapid curiosity. She was thinking about the sky, the horizon, the clouds, and how it all worked. The mere thought fascinated her. She had so much to learn, so much to discover, and so many things to try. She smiled and laughed softly at her wild thoughts. Her mother had warned her about all of this thinking. Her mother had wanted her to learn about planning for extravagant dinners and how to buy the most elegant of dresses. Rose was not fond of such things and preferred to learn about subjects she found to be more important such as the Earth and the stars that hung above her head every night.

    “Madam!” Rose looked back frightened by the outburst. When she sat quietly in thought, it took a great deal of effort to bring her back to reality. It did not take much effort this time for this gentleman was sure to make his voice heard. She looked at him curiously, unsure of why he had called her.

    “Madam, if you would be so kind as to clear the way,” he spoke gently this time, now that he had caught her attention.

    “And why must I clear the way sir?” she responded boldly, but quite shocked at herself for speaking up. She could feel herself becoming nervous over the thought of how he might react to this. Most men did not like being spoken back to.

    He smiled kindly and drew closer. She welcomed the smile, but, frightened by his strides towards her, she stood quickly from where she was sitting. She dropped the stem of the flower on the ground, and cleaned off her dress. “Madam, excuse me for my rude request, but I must ask you to step aside for several horsemen will be coming through these fields soon in order to cross to the other end of town for a meeting. I would not want you to be trampled or hurt.”

    She smiled back at him and spoke once more before walking through the field to her home, “I thank you for the warning and I will make my way home now.”

    As she walked away, the gentleman softly called out, “You may come back to these fields later today. Possibly two o’clock. I promise you the fields will be clear of horsemen.” She did not look back, but she smiled to herself. He was very charming, and he did not lack in good looks as well. She would certainly return to the fields later in hopes of seeing him again.

    Rose arrived home and joined her mother and sisters for lunch. She spoke to them of what she had discovered today out in the fields. She described the different shapes the clouds take and how all ants are not black. Her mother and sisters did not take much interest in what she had to say. She did not tell them about the gentleman she had spoken to, that was her little secret. She waited anxiously for two o’clock to arrive so that she could run out into the field once more and learn with her eyes. Secretly, although she did not want to admit this to herself either, she was hoping to find him out there too.

    It was a reward indeed when the short arm of the clock struck two. She raced out of the house and straight for the field that never failed to set her free. As she walked slowly through the field of flowers admiring each plant of the Earth, she noticed a person sitting in the exact spot in which she loved to sit. She had sat there so often, the wild flowers had stopped growing there, as if out of respect for her place. She walked closer. She wasn’t planning to make the person move, but she just wanted to know who had come to invade her place in the field. As she approached, she recognized the golden brown hair and clothing of the gentleman she had met earlier. Her heart raced and she bit her lip to keep silent. She turned away slowly and made an attempt to further herself.

    “Madam?” she felt her heart plummet into her chest. “Madam? Did I take your place by mistake? I do apologize. It is quite a nice place to sit and read.”

    Rose’s ears burned with delight. Read? She turned back to face him. He smiled at her pleasantly. “I can leave and find myself another place to sit.”

    “You know how to read?” Rose asked as if she had not heard any other word he had spoken.

    “Yes I do madam. Do you?” the gentleman asked in response.

    Rose looked down at the flowers surrounding her dress and shook her head in shame.

    “There’s nothing to be ashamed of madam. It’s a very easy skill to learn. Would you like me to teach you?”

    “You would… teach me?” Rose uttered nervously. She was very excited about the offer, but she was not sure if it would be appropriate for her to accept such a thing.

    “Yes, it would be my pleasure.”

    “I would like that very much.” Rose smiled, her heart racing over her decision to accept the offer. “Shall we begin today with that book you are reading?” She had realized by the end of that statement that she was much too excited for her own good. She put her hand to her lips in embarrassment.

    The gentleman smiled. “I would like to be more prepared, let us start tomorrow. Today, I would at least like to know your name and what it is that you do out here when you sit in this field and stare out into the horizon.”

    Rose arrived home that evening with a permanent smile spread across her face. She had had the most engaging conversation with that gentleman out in the field. He asked her all about her discoveries and he took interest in all she had to share. She had found out that his name was Albert Brown, the perfect name for a gentleman like himself, she thought. He did not fail to contribute to the conversation with his own discoveries that made her gasp from shock and delight.

    She sat at the dinner table quietly eating and smiling to herself, remembering the words they had shared together. Her mother and sisters stared at her curiously, uncertain of whether to be worried or relieved that she was not forcing them to listen to her discoveries and insights. Rose anxiously awaited tomorrow.

    She found Albert in the same place, reading a few pages further into the same book. She was delighted to see him there. He sensed her approaching and quickly turned to meet her with a smile. “Good afternoon, madam Rose.”

    “Good afternoon to you, Albert.” Rose sat beside him in the field.

    “I have my lesson plan ready,” Albert said as he placed his book in the grass and pulled an envelope from his pocket. He handed the envelope to Rose. “This is for you. This will be your reading material.”

    “A letter?” Rose turned the envelope over in her hands.

    “Yes, by the end of our lessons I hope that you will be able to read the message I have written for you in that letter.” Albert said as he smiled in amusement over the puzzled look on her face.

    “I hope so as well,” Rose finally said.

    The lessons began that day and continued on for two months. One word at a time, Albert stepped through the letter in a random fashion and taught Rose how to pronounce and how to understand what she was pronouncing. He never allowed her to read an entire sentence of the letter, only random words at a time. Each day the letter grew longer and longer as Albert would add more and more words to it before each lesson. It began as less than half of one page and quickly grew into seven pages by the end of the two months. They would spend an hour in lesson and the rest of the time in conversation. Rose secretly wished she would never learn how to read so that this could continue on forever.

    On the last day of the two months, Albert flipped to a page in his book and asked Rose to read it. She was able to read the page without any trouble. Albert smiled, but Rose noticed that his smile was not as enthusiastic as it used to be. Again, as he had done every day before, Albert pulled the envelope from his pocket and placed it gently into Rose’s hands. “You are an outstanding student madam Rose. You no longer need lessons from me. I would like for you to go home this afternoon and read this letter from start to end, you have the skill to do that now. I hope the message behind it will be much clearer to you now.” Albert stood and picked his book up from the ground. “Until we meet again madam,” he said softly and slowly walked away. Rose was anxious to read this letter she had been studying for two months. She lifted herself quickly from the ground and ran home.

    She went into her room and locked the door in ensure that there would not be a single interruption while she put her newly learned skill to the test. She walked over to the largest window in her room and stood beside it. The sun was at the perfect place in the sky to light up the seven pages in her hands.

    She began to read the words. They made much more sense when chained together in this fashion. The letter was addressed to her. Her attention was certainly gained at that point. She read on. As the sentences grew deeper and more elegant, Rose felt her heart racing faster and faster. Tears escaped her eyes and there was not a thing she could do to control them. She could not be sure if these were tears of joy or sadness. She sat at the seat of the window so that she could pull herself together and continue reading.

    “My dearest Rose,

    My name is Albert Brown and I must tell you right away that I am a fugitive of the law. I have been on the run for quite a while and those horsemen have been on my tracks ever since. I had asked you to clear the way yesterday because I knew they were coming and I needed your footprints to distract them from mine. The moment I laid eyes on you, I had instantly regretted all of the terrible decisions I had ever made. I have seen jewels, gold, and glamorous treasure, but they have all fallen short of the beauty you radiate. You are both beautiful and intelligent, and I cannot keep myself from wondering what is going through your mind minute after minute. By this point, your interest in me has probably drifted away due to the fact that you know of my secret and I apologize for that sincerely. If I had known that my heart was capable of love, I would have kept my name clean and come to stay with you forever. It only took one evening with you for me to realize that I was wrong, but there is nothing I can do to change the past. Once they track me again, I will be forced to move on and seek out a new refuge...”

    He continued on to describe his feelings and retell the day they had met.

    “Spending another evening with you has washed all of my worries away. I wish I could stay beside you forever. As you read bits and pieces of this letter to me, I can feel myself falling deeper and deeper into love. I hope that those horsemen lose their way and never return to this town again…”

    His pronouncement of love and emotion pranced out of the ink on every page as he went on for several pages, elegantly describing how his love had grown for her day after day.

    “A month has passed and I cannot imagine spending those days any other way. Meeting you every day out in that beautiful field has been a gem in my secluded life. There are days I selfishly wish you will never learn to read so that I may always be at your side. But such wishes have failed, because you are such a clever and intelligent young woman. It has been a month and the horsemen have not returned. I am feeling more confident now and I hope that soon I may reveal to you who I really am. I hope that you will not turn away from me when I tell you the truth so that I may have the chance to reveal to you my true feelings for you…”

    Rose could feel the desperation in his words as she read paragraph after paragraph of regret woven tightly together by words of love.

    “Sadly, I must bring this letter to an end today. I will see you tomorrow for the last time. It breaks my heart to have to leave, but it would not benefit either of us if I stay. You must know that I loved you the moment I saw you and that love has only grown stronger since then. I hope you have felt the same way about me, but it does not matter either way, because they will be returning to this town soon and they have received word that I have been hiding here for quite some time. They will be looking for me in every corner and behind every tree leaf, so I must go immediately…”

    She focused on every detail of the letter until she reached the end where Albert had, so elegantly, signed his name. She held the papers in her trembling hands and stared out the window. Would she ever see him again? She wasn’t sure how to feel. She was both in love and broken hearted. She folded the seven pages and tucked them back into the envelope. She stared out the window at the leaves dancing in the wind. She had learned more from Albert Brown than she had ever learned from staring out into the ether. He had taught her to read and to love all things, including himself. He was now a fugitive of the law and of her heart.
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