In a land far away, there lived a young maiden named Rowena. She loved to traipse along and spread joy where’er she went. One day on her way to the village, she plucked a handful of wildflowers, danced with butterflies, and sang with the meadowlarks along the path. When she reached the cobblestoned streets of town, she searched for the woman who sold her wares from a wooden cart.
“Rowey, dear,” the old woman’s voice crackled. “Over here, Luv.” She held out an old vase ready for the expected bouquet.
Rowena kissed the peddler-woman’s wrinkled, sun-aged cheek. Her young full lips were familiar with the leathery texture. The snaggle-toothed smile filled Rowena’s heart with joy. “I must go, Nan.” Rowena held her tight.
“Yes, off ye go, Love.” An old soul was warmed with an embrace, if only for a moment.
Rowena ducked into the alley and popped out on the other side of the village. There she found Half-Henry on his usual corner, sitting on the ground. His dark eyes glimmered at the sight of the young maiden and with his one arm and one leg; he shifted himself to prepare for his fleeting moment of her magical touch.
“Rowena-hun,” he motioned with his head towards the curb, his white scraggly hair rustled in the breeze.
The innocent girl sat next to Henry and told him about dancing with the butterflies. His eyes brightened as he gazed upon her joy. His thumb frequently rubbed the back of her baby-soft hand that she freely gave for him to hold.
“Well, Henry,” Rowena glanced at the sun. “It’s time for me to go.” She leaned in and kissed his prickly cheek. She fished in her pocket and produced a small coin and let it ker-plunk in his cup.
“Thank you, Hun. God bless you indeed.” Once again, the half-man felt whole, if only for a moment.
Onward she went, tasks filled her mind. A quick stop at the baker, the butcher, and the fruit peddler, too. Then on to the orphanage, her last stop of the day.
“Hello Mrs. Clemens,” Rowena entered through the back door. “I have apples, ham, and sweet buns. Does that sound good?”
Children flooded the kitchen at the sound of her voice. Rowena dropped to her knees and welcomed hugs mixed with giggles before they lined up. Each child prepared for what they knew would come next. Single file, they passed the fair maiden that knelt on the floor. Gentle kisses brushed their dirty faces and bear hugs were bestowed to each one.
They longed for the affectionate caress of a mother and every orphan pretended Rowena could be theirs, if only for a moment.
Rowena slipped out the door and noticed the sun low in the sky. She must hurry home before darkness overtakes her.
“Silly Rowena,” an evil voice jeered from the shadows.
“Drusilla,” Rowena’s heart pounded. Fear threatened to creep in and push aside her joy.
“Don’t you see what you do? You fill them with false hope, for what; a fleeting moment of happiness? You foolish maiden, whose lips have never felt the touch of true love.”
“And what, pray tell, would you know of true love’s kiss?” Rowena crossed her arms, challenging the cruel woman that roamed the village harassing whomever she chose.
Drusilla recoiled but only for a moment. “Your prince will never come. You’re doomed to live alone, unfulfilled.”
Everyone knew when Drusilla became an ugly, evil, tormentor: the day the wealthy landowner she’d loved from afar chose another woman, Rowena’s mother. Sudden loneliness overwhelmed Rowena at the memory of her parent’s death in a suspicious tragic fire. She could nigh on see flames in Drusilla’s guilt-shadowed eyes.
“Each visit to the village,” Rowena remained calm, “I feed the children that live at the orphanage that took me in, and kiss their dirt-smudged faces. I kiss the whiskered cheek of the invalid, injured when he rescued me from flames. My lips press the leathery skin of the peddler woman that longed to raise me, but you...” Rowena refused to hate. “She loved Mother very much.”
“Yes-s-s…her precious baby,” Drusilla hissed bitterly.
“I don’t spend my time searching for my prince, longing for his kiss. What a sad pathetic way to exist.” Rowena stepped close and brushed Drusilla’s cheek with her lips. “My lips know true love’s touch.”
Drusilla’s gnarled finger stroked the burn scarred face of her niece and accepted true love’s kiss, if only for a moment.
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