I was sitting in the library, composing a note/letter to leave in a book for Rose when I heard her door open. I threw the hood up on my jacket- I still didn’t like being seen by anyone so I didn’t turn to face her when she came into the room.
“This is getting a little silly… writing letters from one room to the next.” she said.
“I… agree. Perhaps I should give you my telephone number and you can call me.” I was only partly joking- I didn’t want to frighten her back into her room for another month or six. But she laughed.
“Ok, I’ve been sulking. I’m sorry and I think I’m mostly over it by now.”
“It’s okay. I’ve been known to sulk from time to time. Did you want to talk?”
“It would be easier if you’d look at me.”
“Oh, really? I don’t think that it would.” It wouldn’t at all be easier for me. I hated being looked at now.
She came in and sat down in one of the chairs next to the fireplace. “It really would. I like to see who I’m talking to.”
I half turned to look at her. The hood would still hide most of my face. “Ok, but my face hasn’t improved at all. What would you like to talk about?”
She didn’t reply. Instead, she got up and came over, pulled the hood off and looked me eye to eye… at about six inches. “That is rude of me but I’m not going to say ‘I’m sorry’ about it. Now come sit down with me and let’s talk.”
I didn’t have much choice- I went and sat in the other chair and we continued the discussion we’d been having via letters in books. Rose was an animated and sometimes opinionated talker but she was willing to listen to opinions other than her own. I was actually glad to have the discussion face to face because I expect I would have had writer’s cramp if we’d written all of it out. Not to mention that I forgot what I looked like now and enjoyed watching her expressions which were as changeable as water in the sun.
Having finished with her favorite book, for which I now had a heightened appreciation, we drifted onto other topics.
“I have to ask- are the roses you’ve been bringing me from the greenhouse on the roof? I’ve tried to watch you there but you always turn your back or move away if you see me.”
I grinned. “They are… and the turning away is intentional. I don’t like people to see me.” Mostly, I didn’t like for her to see me and, becoming aware of it again I put my hand up to cover my face. She reached over and pulled it down again.
“Stop that. They’re lovely- the roses. Have you always grown them?”
“I just started. I’m still learning a lot about them but they’re not as difficult as I expected them to be.”
She looked surprised at this. “Maybe you have a green thumb for roses.”
“Maybe… but more likely, I just have the time to work with them. Roses are time intensive and, unlike most people, I have plenty of spare time to spend.” I considered for a second. “If you’d like to see it, you’re welcome to come up anytime. The skylight opens up right into the greenhouse.”
“That would be a bit of a climb- I don’t think any of the chairs reach so high. Maybe I should come around the other way.”
“If you like. But I can build you stairs so you could go up there any time.” Ok, I didn’t know how to build stairs yet… but a year ago, I had no idea how to paint or lay floor or build a greenhouse or grow roses. I could learn.
“You wouldn’t mind me messing about in your garden?” she asked.
“Of course not! I made it for you.”
There was an awkward pause. ” Maybe I shouldn’t have said that?”
Rose was blushing. “No, it’s ok… but why?”
“I thought you would like it.”
Possibly I embarrassed her worse with that because she got up and began roaming around the room, looking at the books and randomly opening them.
“I think you got cheated on this book.” She commented pulling a very thick one down.
I looked to see which one she had. “I don’t think so, why do you say that?”
“There’s nothing in it- it’s all blank pages.”
That had been my first impression too but I knew better now. “Run your finger over the page, lightly.”
“It’s all bumpy.”
“Braille? For blind people?” She looked at me questioningly.
“Yeah- it’s not mine, it’s one of Will’s books.”
“Ok, spill. Who is Will and why are his books in Braille?”
“Will is my tutor and he’s blind. So I got all the books I’m reading for him in Braille so we can talk about them. Plus others that he’s teaching me out of- those are mostly classics. He’s tutoring me in literature.”
“You’re still in school?”
“Ah, not exactly. I’m a bit old for school. But my previous degree is not something I can use anymore so it looks like I’m changing careers.”
“What did you do before?”
Rose wrinkled her nose. “Ew.”
“Well, I was good at it. But I’m finding that I like literature more.” Which was true… although what I would do with a literature degree, I had no idea. Teach? I suppose I would at least have advantage of riveting students’ attention.
“So, this wasn’t your idea. You said that the first night.”
Careful now. “No, not at all.”
“Then what happened to you?”
“I can’t tell you right now. One day, I will and I’ll go into every detail you want but right now, I can’t.” Stupid gag order. I wanted to tell her… but the result would be not ever being able to break the spell.
“Um. Can’t or won’t?”
She thought about this. “Can you tell me if I guess?”
“Yes!” I was afraid to say more but I guess I was pretty enthusiastic about the one word because she smiled.
“Ok, 20 questions then. What happened to you was recent?”
“Sudden and unexpected.”
I shrugged. “Yes.”
“No.” Oh, not in the right direction at all.
“Intentional then… and by someone else.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that so I was silent. In a way, the gypsy did it to me… but in a way, I did it to myself. Either way, if I said anything, even gave her a hint, it could be breaking the rules and I didn’t want to risk that. So I changed the subject.
“You could meet Will if you would come down to dinner with me. Although I warn you, he’ll be after you to join me in our informal class.”
“I would like that, I think. I’ve always wanted to study literature.” I had a sudden premonition that my ‘class’ was about to get a lot harder.
Coaxing Rose to come to dinner with everyone else was an easy proposition after that. Will was delighted at the prospect of a new student and Maggie was just her warm self.
I was glad Rose and Will hit it off so well even if it did make me work harder in ‘class’. They would go off on tangents that I wasn’t even sure what they were talking about. I didn’t much care- I got to spend time with Rose.
With time, my days fell into something like a routine. I’d work out before breakfast – before anyone else was awake. After breakfast, Will would hold ‘class’ which could be anywhere although as the weather grew warmer, we’d often go up to the greenhouse. After lunch, Rose would read or study, usually in her room. She preferred to be left alone so I would study as well- trying to keep up with her agile mind was a full time occupation. Evenings were more fluid- we’d watch TV or play chess or something. Will played chess and he taught everyone else. I wasn’t bad but Maggie was his favorite partner- mostly because she gave him the best game and beat him as often as not. After everyone else retired, I would go out for a walk.
Partly, I wanted to keep tabs on the Rabbits and I wanted to make sure that Rose’s father was ok. He was still living in the same place and seemed to be getting a handle on his addiction.
Sometimes I would see the gypsy’s shop- sometimes I wouldn’t. It didn’t seem to always be there and it wasn’t always in the same place. One night, instead of ‘Come Back Tomorrow’ the sign on the door said ‘Come In’.
It was late, a lot later than it had often been when the shop was closed, but I went in anyway. The gypsy was waiting for me.
“Good evening, Thorne.”
I pushed back my hood. It was her spell and she could just deal with the results. “Hi.”
“Come to ask me to take the spell off?”
“Ah, no…” the thought hadn’t actually occurred to me. “I thought you wanted to see me.”
“That was a year ago,” she pointed out.
“This is the first time I’ve seen the shop open! If you wanted to see me, you could have left it open so I could come in.” I remembered night after night with the stupid ‘Come Back Tomorrow’ sign. “Why call me here and then not be here?”
She smiled. “You needed direction. I gave you a little help.”
A little help… more riddles. But if she was willing to help me then, maybe she would now. “Ok, thank you, I guess. Would you be willing to help again?”
She considered. “What do you want? I can’t take the spell off, if that’s what you’re after.”
Did she really think that was the only thing I could possibly want? “No, not for me. For Will and Maggie. They deserve something for being trapped with me all this time.”
“So you want me to help them? How?” She looked interested.
“Give Will his sight back and convince Maggie’s family to come here.” Impossible things- but then again, what she had done to me was beyond impossible. Maybe she could do this.
“If I do, they might leave you.”
Ugh. “Hadn’t thought of that. But it changes nothing. So, please… if you can. And Rose- I know she wants her life back.”
“That’s for you to do. I’ll tell you what, if you break the spell, I’ll help Will and Maggie. That’s the best I can do.” Then she whispered “Six more months for someone to day ‘I love you’.”
A flash of green eyes… and I was outside on the sidewalk. The shop was no where to be seen. Man, she had a good bouncer service! I pulled up my hood and walked home in a brown study. Now it wasn’t just my appearance on the line… the stakes were a lot higher. And what had she meant when she said that it was up to me to give Rose her life back?
The leaves on the rose tree tattoo were falling again, soon it would be bare. I was running out of time.