“Roses are red, violets are blue—”
“Stop it, Jacob,” said Rose. “You know I hate that poem. Try something else.”
Jacob issued his characteristic long-suffering sigh. Rose watched him brush his dirty blonde hair back from his face. His bangs were too long. She should have told him to get them cut three weeks ago, but she hadn’t, and she didn’t want to nag him about his appearance. She didn’t want to be that type of partner, that type of person. So she was stubborn instead. That seemed to work well for them; she annoyed him, and he appeased her by being irritating, in turn. It worked well enough.
“Fine,” Jacob said. “How’s this? ‘Roses are awesome, violets are insidious, Rose is a goddess, and I am an idiot.'”
“Much better,” said Rose, feeling her lips turn upwards into a fond smirk. “That’s a Nobel in poetry for sure.”
She brushed her own bangs back from her forehead, feeling her skin already growing damp with sweat. The trail was at a much higher elevation, now, although they were making good time towards the summit. She fished the map out of her front jacket pocket, prodded its printed ridges with a finger and thumb.
“According to the topo, we should hit the summit around twelve noon,” she said, pausing to survey the rocky path leading upwards through a small gulch choked with loose gravel and scrub grass.
“Screw the topo,” Jacob said, eating a handful of trail mix from a bag he fished out of his pack. “When do we get to do stuff like this anymore? Be out in nature? We’re animals; we’re supposed to be wild. Let’s just enjoy it while it lasts.”
He waved an errant hand at the forest surrounding them, elm and ash and oak with a scattering of pine trees. Above them, an early fall azure sky stretched for miles, dotted with fluffy clouds.
There was no harsh buzz of distant traffic out here at Old Rag mountain, no urgency to be at the office, just the nascent quiet of Mother Nature surrounding them, enveloping them in idyllic, primitive beauty.
For a long moment, Rose allowed herself to fantasize about becoming a hunter-gatherer full-time, living in the wilderness like a pioneer woman. It would be easier, she thought, easier than modern life, but she also knew it wouldn’t. The wilderness brought its own problems, all without the benefit of modern conveniences like indoor plumbing, and microwavable meals, and not dying from tetanus from a simple cut.
Of course, she wasn’t going to live out in the bush, but it was nice to be away for a day, out in nature. The two of them, together. Like old times.
They had just gotten back together, after living apart for six months. They had emailed the entire time, but hadn’t texted or called. Rose had gone on several dates, one of which ended in some kissing, but was otherwise forgettable. The entire time, she hadn’t been able to forget that Andy’s hands weren’t Jacob’s, that Andy’s lips weren’t Jacob’s. Jacob had told her about his one hookup, some girl named Mary or Marley or some other generic name beginning with “M,” an event which she had assumed would happen while they were separated. They weren’t married, so Rose thought it was all fair, and she had only felt a little bit jealous when he had told her.
All’s fair in love and war, she thought, but she also didn’t think Shakespeare would have understood the complicated emotional intricacies of modern dating. If Shakespeare even wrote that, she thought, no longer sure of the source of that quote. She was a writer and English major (freelance editing wasn’t lucrative, but it paid the bills), but she didn’t remember literature trivia like that. While they had been separated, she had seen Jacob’s smile in between the lines of the articles she edited, errant commas and typos echoing the curl of his bangs when he wore them long against the side of his forehead.
“The commas reminded me of you,” she had told him when they had agreed to try again. He had laughed when he heard that.
“That’s so weird,” he had said. “Weird and just like you. I love how weird you are.” He had said the pronouncement casually, but Rose had accepted it as a compliment, like a badge of honor.
He baked bread at the organic food store in the next town over, and they had to drive an hour each way to see each other. Jacob wrote snippets of thought poems on the napkins he collected at work, when his hands weren’t dusted in flour. After getting back together, he gave her one he had written, four months into their separation:
You are rare like a rainbow,
wild like a hidden moonbeam;
while you are gone
I miss the lines around your eyes
when you smiled.
It was one of the ways he tried to relate to her, meeting her on her level, the level of words and language. He had always been more kinetic than her cerebral way of looking at the world, learning by movement and touch. He grounded her, brought her back down to earth when the fancies of her overactive imagination would pull her into the stratosphere.
They sojourned upwards on the way to Old Rag’s summit, moving at a brisk pace, having packed light (the practical advice of the Leave No Trace wilderness course they had taken together in college still held true). Hours passed, and they enjoyed the simple togetherness of a hike in the woods. Rose felt lightheaded on how fresh the air was, the adrenaline of constant walking, of seeing Jacob’s eyes light up. While the written word was her element, nature was his, and the woods transformed him, animated Jacob’s face with his patchwork beard and thicker goatee to something more inspired. It inspired Rose, to see him inspired.
Rather, they made it complicated, with expectations and assumptions. Like when Jacob’s mother, Diane, asked them when they were going to get married, or when Rose’s parents hinted passive aggressively at “thinking about grandkids someday.” Why rush any of that? Rose thought. We’re only 25. We have time.
It was moving fast, though; most of her limited friends’ circle had already gotten married. Katelyn had a 2 year-old kid already; Rose hadn’t talked to her in at least that amount of time.
Defining moments in life, yes, and important ones, but they didn’t make an identity. They didn’t make her who she was, who Jacob was, what they were together. Together, they were weird, making dumb inside jokes, speaking their own language of glances and references to shared experiences. If they made it up as they went along, wasn’t that just as valid as any other couples’ rite of passage? Wasn’t that the limit of what anyone else could do, anyway?
Rose shook her head to clear it, and followed Jacob up along the path, squeezing through the rock crevices and stumbling along dips in the dirt as the trail narrowed.
“How’s this?” she asked him as they walked a bit faster. “‘Violets are red, roses are blue, Jacob is lovely, Rose thinks so too.'”
Jacob looked back at her, his eyes bright beneath his too-long bangs, his mouth turned up in a smile beneath his patchy beard.
“That’s not too bad, Rose,” he said, and took her hand.
Together, they walked ever on.