Kelsi Nielsen wasn't happy. It was February 13th and she was in her apartment in New York City with her boyfriend since their senior year of high school, Ryan Evans. That in and of itself wasn't why she wasn't happy. No, the reason for her current state of unhappiness was the fact that Ryan would be flying out of the city that night to take care of something for his father. Kelsi had done just about everything she could think of to get him to change his mind and while he had apologized about a thousand times, it wasn't possible. Ryan felt completely awful about the whole thing but there wasn't anything he could do about it. Aside from continue to apologize and come over that night to have dinner with her before he left.
If it had been any other time of the year, Kelsi wouldn't have cared. But the fact of the matter was that not only was tomorrow Valentine's Day, it also happened to be her birthday. She would be turning twenty-five and had absolutely no one to spend it with. Her parents were in Albuquerque and her friends were scattered around the country. Before this trip had come about, she had been perfectly content with spending the day with Ryan – looked forward to it, in fact. But then everything had changed.
"I really am sorry, Kelsi." She couldn't help smiling as he said it once again. She may not have been happy about the situation, but she was having a hard time being mad at him about it. After all, it wasn't his fault.
"I know," she assured him. "It's okay."
"No it's not," he argued. "I wish I didn't have to go."
"Me too." She sighed and snuggled up to him on her couch, yawning as she did so. "When do you have to leave?" He glanced at the clock across the room.
"In a little less than an hour," he answered, letting out a sigh of his own. He kissed the top of her head. "I wish I didn't have to go."
"Me too," she yawned again and he chuckled. It was a little early in the evening for her to be so tired, but she had had a tough day at work and hadn't gotten enough sleep the night before. As a result, she had nearly fallen asleep while they ate.
"Okay, that's it," he decided. "You need to get some sleep."
"You're leaving?" she sounded so sad at the idea that he couldn't help kissing the top of her head again.
"Not right this second," he promised. "Why don't you go change and whatever else you have to do? I'll stay with you until you fall asleep." He smiled. "I don't think that'll take very long." He watched as she reluctantly got up and headed into her bedroom to change. As soon as the door closed, he picked up his cell phone and quickly dialed a number. "Hey...everything's good here...well she's not happy, but she doesn't seem to suspect anything...is everything okay on your end?...Great!...thanks for helping out with this, I really appreciate it...I'll talk to you later...bye."
"Who was that?" Ryan jumped at the sound of Kelsi's voice.
"That was fast," he commented. She shrugged.
"Not much to do," she yawned and it seemed to annoy her.
"Yeah...you definitely need sleep," he nodded and hopped off the couch to join her. "Come on."
"The phone?" she asked, leaning against him as they walked back to her bedroom.
"Oh that was just my dad making sure everything was all set," he replied. She nodded once and it occurred to him that she would more than likely be asleep within minutes. Upon reaching her bed, she crawled into it and turned over onto her side. She reached out a hand to him and he took it, sitting down next to her on the bed. "Tomorrow won't be that bad."
"Yeah right." She let out a huff. "Alone and by myself on Valentine's Day...and my birthday. Sounds like a lot of fun."
"I'll call you throughout the day," he promised. "And I'll make it up to you."
"You better," she said sleepily, letting her eyes close. He reached over and gently brushed her hair from her face, humming softly as he did so. "Love you Ryan."
"I love you too," he said softly, leaning down to kiss her cheek. She smiled faintly and he sat there for a few more minutes. When he was certain she was asleep, he carefully got up and quietly put the beginning of his plan in motion. He smiled to himself as he headed out of the apartment, stopping to lock the door with the key she had given him before leaving. Kelsi didn't know it, but she was about to have a Valentine's Day slash birthday that she would never forget.
Kelsi woke up slowly, half hoping to find Ryan still sitting on the bed beside her and knowing that he wouldn't be. She rolled over with a sigh.
"Happy birthday to me," she muttered. She had just decided to try and get some more sleep when something on her bedside table caught her attention. She propped herself up and saw a beautiful white rose. Next to it was a folded up piece of paper with her name written on top in Ryan's handwriting. Feeling more awake now, she reached over and carefully grabbed the rose first and held it up to her nose to smell it. She loved roses. Loved the way they looked and loved the sweet way they smelled. Ryan, of course, knew of her love for roses and she was touched that he had thought to leave her one. She smiled as she set it back down on the table and picked up the note. She flopped back onto her back as she opened it and started to read...
Good morning beautiful,
First things first: happy birthday! And happy Valentine's Day! You didn't seriously think I'd leave you all alone on today of all days and not leave something behind, did you? You really should know me better than that if you did. This, by the way, is only the first thing you will be getting from me today. In honor of your twenty-fifth birthday, throughout the day you will be receiving twenty-five roses. One for every year. I thought about just leaving you a bouquet or two, but that's no fun. It's also way too easy. You're going to have to work for your roses, so to speak. Along with every rose will be a message from me in one form or another. Each message will contain two things. The first is a reason why I love you. The second is a clue to the location of the next rose.
You may be wondering why you're starting the day out with a white rose instead of a red one, though I promise you that red roses are coming. White roses symbolize innocence and purity and those are two words I would use to describe you. Especially in high school. That was actually one of the first things that intrigued me about you in the first place. Being involved in theater and having a sister like mine means that I've seen how ruthless people can be. You don't have a ruthless bone in your body, Kelsi. You lived through Sharpay's reign of terror and all the drama that went on at Julliard and are still the same sweet, innocent person you were in the beginning. That's one of the most beautiful things about you. You're my own personal breath of fresh air in a world that can get pretty mean sometimes. Knowing that there are still people like you in this world is sometimes one of the only things that keep me going. And it's one of the many, many reasons why I love you.
As far as your clue, all I'll say is that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Make sure you grab something to eat before you continue on this little scavenger hunt that I'm putting you on. You'll hear from me later. I love you more than you could possibly imagine.
Until your next note,
In the years that she had been dating Ryan, Kelsi should have almost expected that he would come up with something like this. After all, the two of them had started dating while he had planned several activities to help get her in the Christmas spirit their senior year. Ryan definitely had a talent for making grand gestures and always enjoyed making them. Kelsi smiled as she reread his note, touched by his sweet words. She then set the note back on her bedside table and hurried into the kitchen to where she was convinced he had placed the next rose.
Sure enough, there was a beautiful rose with the accompanying note lying right next to her teapot where she'd be sure to see it. This time the rose was yellow. She headed over and picked up the note, leaning against the counter as she read…
As you've noticed, this second rose is yellow. The yellow rose symbolizes joy and friendship. I chose this for your second rose because we were friends before we were anything else. I think that's one of the reasons why our relationship is so strong. You are, without question, my best friend. I know I can talk to you about anything and everything and vice versa. I also know that no matter what happens in our lives, that there is absolutely nothing that could destroy our friendship. I love you for not only being a wonderful girlfriend, but for also being the best friend I could ever have.
You know, it occurs to me that since you're going to be collecting so many roses it may be a good idea to have something to put them in. Check out the table by your TV and I think you may find something that'll work.
"Aw Ryan," Kelsi whispered to herself, finding a smile spread across her face once again. He was right: they were best friends and would always be. Her smile stayed in place as she headed towards the table he had mentioned and gasped when she saw the brightly wrapped present sitting on it. Shaking her head, she walked over to it and noticed another yellow rose lying on top of it. The note that also lay on the present was short and to the point...
This is from my parents. I know they'll want to talk to you after you open it and they just might have a clue for you.
Kelsi wasted no more time in opening the present and let out another gasp as she pulled out a beautiful crystal vase. She was certain that she didn't want to know how much it had cost. Sometimes it was so easy to forget how wealthy Derby and Vance Evans were since they were so laid back and kind. They had presented her with beautiful gifts that she never wanted to accept several times over the years . Kelsi didn't want them to feel they needed to spend so much money on her, but the truth was that this was their way of showing her how much they cared about her. Derby and Vance had practically become a second set of parents to her and so Kelsi had learned pretty quickly to just accept their gifts with a thank you – especially since they were always so insistent that she keep everything anyway. She let out a soft chuckle as she dialed their phone number.
"Hello?" Kelsi was surprised to find that it was Derby who answered the phone. Usually it was one of the housekeepers.
"Derby? It's Kelsi..." Kelsi started.
"Oh! Vance, pick up another phone, it's Kelsi!" Derby exclaimed happily. "Happy birthday sweetheart!"
"Happy birthday, Kelsi," Vance added as he picked up another phone to join the conversation.
"Thank you! Both of you. The vase is beautiful!" Kelsi paused. "Even if I don't want to ever know how much it cost. It's stunning."
"You're very welcome, dear," Derby laughed. "I'm so happy you finally decided just to accept our gifts instead of arguing about them."
"Well in my experience, it's easier not to argue with an Evans. I never win!" Kelsi exclaimed. Both Derby and Vance laughed in response.
"I think you've probably won a few with Ryan," Vance argued.
"I'm so happy you called, Kelsi," Derby said. "Though we were expecting it what with Ryan's plan and all."
"That's some son you two raised," Kelsi said softly. "He treats me so much better than I deserve. I can't believe all the planning he must've done to pull this one off."
"You have no idea," Vance chuckled. "Your day is just beginning."
"Speaking of which, I think that we should probably help Kelsi out on her search, don't you think dear?" Derby asked.
"Go ahead," Vance agreed.
"First, the rose. I believe he already wrote you about your friendship, yes?"
"Yes," Kelsi confirmed.
"Well then, we're here to talk to you about the other meaning of the yellow rose that he mentioned. Joy. I can't even begin to tell you how much joy you have brought into his life. I wish you could hear how he talks about you; see how his face just lights up whenever someone says your name. Sometimes I don't think you know how happy you make him. In fact, based on your comment about him treating you better than you deserve, I'm certain of it. I wish you'd stop thinking that, sweetheart, because it's not true. He treats you like a princess because that's what you are to him. He loves you and because he does, he's willing to make the effort to let you know he does," Derby began. "It may surprise you to find out that sometimes he's not sure he deserves to be treated as well as you treat him too."
"What?" Kelsi was stunned.
"I really wish you two wouldn't be so hard on yourselves in that respect. It's not about how deserving you are; it's about being in love. You guys treat each other so well because you love each other so much. It's really that simple," Derby said gently. "Kelsi, you can make him smile even if he's having the worst day of his life. You make him laugh and you have fun together. He could spend an entire day with you doing absolutely nothing at all and still be content."
Derby's voice grew thoughtful. "You know, as parents, there is nothing we want for our children more than for them to be safe and happy. As they both got older, we started hoping and praying that they would meet the right people to make them happy. We worried sometimes about both of them, but we hit the jackpot with you and Zeke. There couldn't be anyone better suited for either of them and you should know that we, Vance and I, will always love you and Zeke as our own. Thank you so much for being such a ray of sunshine in Ryan's life." Derby paused and both she and Kelsi sniffled. "Thank you for being such a source of joy, not only to our son but to us as well."
"Oh…" Kelsi sniffled again, touched beyond words.
"We love you Kelsi," Vance said softly.
"I love you both," Kelsi whispered in response.
"Now," Vance started and Kelsi could hear the smile in his voice. "Ryan wanted us to remind you of a certain spot on the Julliard campus. A place where you loved to practice the piano as often as you could." Kelsi nodded to herself, knowing exactly what he was talking about. She finished her conversation with Derby and Vance and then headed back into her bedroom to get dressed for the day.
It was weird being back on the Julliard campus, Kelsi mused as she parked by the building that held all of the practice rooms. It had been a couple of years since they had graduated and neither one had been by there in a while. As she made her way to the room that had been her favorite to practice in, Kelsi was flooded by memories of the time she spent here. She knocked softly when she reached the room, not wanting to barge in on anyone who may be in there. She then slowly opened the door and found another rose lying on the piano. This time it was a beautiful shade of light pink. She was surprised to find a tape recorder next to it instead of a note. A Post-it note with the words "play me" was stuck on it. Kelsi peeled off the note and hit play.
Kelsi felt her eyes sting with tears as she listened to Ryan singing a medley of songs she had written while they were in high school. "I've never had someone that knows me like you do, the way you do. I've never had someone as good for me as you, no one like you...When I hear my favorite song, I know that we belong. You are the music in me...Everyday of our lives, wanna find you there, wanna hold on tight...All I wanna do, is be with you, be with you. There's nothing we can do, just wanna be with you, only you. No matter where life takes us nothing can break us apart. You know it's true, I just wanna be with you."
There was a pause and then he started talking. "Sometimes I wonder if you know how talented you are, Kelsi. You write songs from your heart, songs that I can't help but feel. All of those lyrics I sang just now...they're all so true. There's never been anyone that knows me as well as you do and there can't possibly be anyone better for me than you. Your music inspires me; it gives me a reason to dance when I don't feel like it. You are my music," Ryan began.
When he spoke again, she could hear the smile in his voice. "I do want to find you there everyday and hold on to you as much as I can. And at the end of the day, the thing that I want more than anything else is just to be with you... I chose pink for this flower because the pink rose; particularly the light pink rose like that one is; is a symbol of admiration. As we've gone through high school and Julliard and now as we're working on our dreams in the real world, I've watched your talent grow. You're so dedicated to your craft and you put so much of yourself in your work. It's another reason why I love you so much," his voice had grown softer as he spoke, but when he started talked again he sounded more upbeat. "Okay now if I know you like I think I do, you're probably in tears right now. While that was sort of the goal, I don't want you to be crying for too long and actually think there's something I can do about that. Remember our old dorm? It might be a good idea to head on over there for a visit. You just might come across someone that you'll be happy to see. I hope you're having a good day so far. There's still plenty of surprises in store for you, so you better get going. Oh, and one more thing?" His voice grew soft again. "I love you."
Kelsi had all practically flown to their old dormitory in hopes that it would be Ryan who was going to be the person she'd be happy to see. She still had a lot of roses left, but she couldn't imagine how Ryan could find something to say and do for each one. As it was she was already dying for the chance to hold him in her arms and thank him properly for all the trouble he had gone to and all the sweet words he had already written. Or spoken in the case of the last message. She was out of breath when she finally reached the building and she came to a stop in the middle of the main room. She scanned the room and felt her heart sink slightly when she saw no sign of Ryan. She was about to wonder if maybe she should head up to her old room when she heard a familiar voice.
"Hey, small person!" There was only one person in the world who called her that and it wasn't Ryan. Even so, it was someone she'd be happy to see. She spun around and grinned as she came face to face with the person in question: Chad Danforth. He returned her grin with one of his own. "Happy birthday!"
"Chad!" she exclaimed, stepping forward to give him a hug. "What are you doing here?"
"I got a phone call from Evans," he laughed. "When he told me what he was planning, I couldn't wait to help. And speaking of helping..." He held out another pink rose, one she hadn't even noticed he was holding. He cleared his throat. "I can't believe I'm about to talk to you about roses," he muttered and Kelsi laughed. "Apparently aside from being a symbol of admiration, this shade of rose also means gentleness. That's something else he loves about you. You have a gentle spirit, Kelsi. It allowed you to be friends with Ryan even while dealing with the whirlwind that was his sister in her Ice Queen days. It allowed you to reach out to Troy and Gabriella with no other intent, in the beginning, other than to hear your song the way you wrote it." Chad paused as a new thought seemed to come to him. "You know, in a lot of ways your gentleness brought our group together."
"Gabriella brought our group together," Kelsi argued. She had always thought that was true. Because, after all, things didn't start to shake up until Gabriella had transferred to East High.
"Gabriella did have a big role in bringing the group together," Chad agreed. "But here's the thing – suppose you hadn't of been around. She would have still transferred and her and Hoops probably would've ended up together at some point. But as far as the rest? It wouldn't have happened. Troy and Gabriella got pulled into drama by accident, remember? You tripped and they went to help you and found that song. You got them to sing it and Ms. Darbus happened to hear it. The rest is history. If anyone was willing to start breaking down the lines between all the groups it was you. Because you didn't care that Troy was on the basketball team or that Gabriella was a brain – you just wanted to hear them sing your song. There were no ulterior motives and we both know what happened next." Chad shook his head. "If you hadn't of been the sweet person you are, all ten of us never would've been friends. I believe that completely."
"That's very sweet of you to say Chad but..." Kelsi started, but stopped when she saw him shaking his head.
"But nothing, small person," he said. He smiled at her. "You know what we should do?"
"Head back to your apartment," he nodded and checked his watch. Kelsi raised an eyebrow.
"Would there be anyone waiting for us over there by any chance?" she asked.
"You catch on quick, Kelsi. I like that about you," he chuckled and flung an arm around her shoulders. "The question for you to consider is: who is it?"