|Thank you for sharing your story. I'm offering my review in conjunction with "I Write in 2018" [E].
What a beautiful message this story tells. I wish every little girl received regular roses on their doors so they would grow to be confident and spend their time and energy on things that really matter. My favorite moment happened here:
“Beautiful,” she laughed out loud though inside, her reflection made her want to cry.
Alice's mutterings about the rose being a joke didn't hit home until this moment, when her emotional response softened from anger and disgust to dismay at the reflection of her own appearance.
This story is a contest entry, and I have some constructive suggestions, if you're interested in one reader's opinions.
First, I checked the contest word limit (700 words) and see you're bumping up against the max, so if you end up adding anything to implement any of my suggestions, you'll have to also cut some words. With that in mind, I'll start with how you could cut word count.
1. Adverbs and adverb phrases.
Personally, I find the campaign against adverbs annoying. I LIKE adverbs. So I'm approaching this topic from a strictly practical standpoint: To save word count, where could you cut adverbs and adverb phrases such that your meaning or intent will not suffer? Here are some ideas:
- The note simply stated - since you give us the text of the note, we can see that it's simple.
- Alice mumbled under her breath - pretty much all mumbling occurs under one's breath.
- It was like a suddenly woke up. - while there is a difference between a sudden awakening and a gentle one, when one is speaking of literal waking from sleep, I don't think this metaphor loses meaning if you remove "suddenly."
Etc. I'm sure you could find similar opportunities.
2. Superfluous actions and descriptions.
- on the table beside the door along with her keys - I don't know why this phrase jumped out at me as unnecessary, but visually, I liked the image of dropping rose and keys and mail on the table... I just assumed it was close to the door? It's evident in the amount of action that takes place between opening the door and stepping inside.
- “Happy Valentine’s day,” she continued to mumble. “What a joke.” - I liked this statement because it led me astray. Temporarily, I thought the story was about a girl who hates Valentine's Day (because it's over-marketed, or she's single, or whatever reason), so that, later, "her reflection made her want to cry" hit me harder, when I realized this was really about a woman's lack of self-esteem. So kudos on the redirection, which was engaging. But "she continued to mumble" was unnecessary. She's in an apartment alone (presumably), so it doesn't really matter if she's mumbling or speaking at full voice. Even if it does matter, I assumed she was anyway, since the first thing she said aloud was mumbled. Besides, I found that phrase awkward anyway, even before I realized you had a word count limit. It pulled me out of the story for a split second.
- her now extremely hot frozen dinner - This is another phrase I found awkward even before considering word count. While I understood the meaning - "frozen dinner" implies a meal that came from the freezer, not necessarily one that's still frozen, the combination of words was still jarring. I was going to suggest rewording it, but if you want to cut word count, I argue that the whole phrase is unnecessary anyway, unless it's important to you that the meal was too hot, in which case, you could show that by having her use gloves to handle it, or blow it off as steam billowed off it. But any of that only serves to build out scene description, and in a short story with limited word count, you have to be economic with your description. You could have just said, "retrieved her dinner."
Again, I'm sure you could find additional opportunities if you need to cut more words. Those small phrases can really add up.
Now on to the things that don't necessarily cut word count, starting with editorial comments (spelling, grammar, usage.)
Overall, your language skills are spot on. You had a couple errors that, judging from the general quality of the piece, were probably cut/paste errors or written when you were tired (been there! lol.) Also, I peeked at your bio and see you teach ESL, so I'm not sure if you follow American or British rules for commas, quotations, and the like. My comments are based on American rules, so disregard if they don't apply.
- Before she retreated to her little nook. - This is a sentence fragment.
- They put pressure on me but not nearly as much as I pressured myself. - Needs a comma.
- "...some of you are thinking, ‘this woman is pathetic’ but I have realized..." Capitalize and add a comma: "...thinking, 'This woman is pathetic,' but..."
- walked over to Carla and asked, “who was the rose from?” - Capitalize "Who..."
These two sentences felt forced, like you were trying to find a way to break up the dialog:
She watched as the gears began to turn in the minds of the young ladies surrounding her.
She could tell that some of them were actually starting to get it so she continued.
They felt like "telling" - how did she know what was going on in their minds? Were they watching her intently? Nodding? Waiting for her next words? Shifting uncomfortably in their seats? Is there a way you could use action instead of your protagonist's narrated interpretation?
And then a general comment about the flow and pacing of the piece, which is why I started with how to cut words: I feel like it was paced perfectly until the end, and then I was left a bit befuddled. To whom is Carla speaking? Is she teaching a class? And the mysterious identity of the man left me hanging. I would have preferred to either (1) know who he was, or (2) be told that it didn't matter, because what mattered was what Carla learned from the experience.
Thanks for sharing your work! Good luck in the contest.