Rose had to turn her back to get her phone out, she was wearing her jeans under the dress and the phone was in her pocket.
“Hello?” she answered it. All the colour and happiness washed out of her face as she listened. “Where?… Okay, I’ll be there as soon as I can.” She hung up and looked up at me.
“It’s my father- he’s in the hospital.”
“I’ll take you to him.” What else could I say? She had to go to him.
Rose ran out of the room and I followed a bit more slowly. Since it was winter, I could chose clothes that hid almost all of me, so I did.
Rose met me on the landing with her backpack and we went out through the kitchen, telling Maggie where we were going.
I drove her to the hospital where her father was but they wouldn’t let me stay with her. Family only, they said. Since there were police guarding him, I thought she would be safe enough and went home.
In spite of Maggie and Will, the house was huge and echoingly empty without Rose. I thought I’d been lonely before… I hadn’t known what lonely even was compared to the way I felt when she was gone. And every room in the house had a memory of her- the books in the library, the roses in the greenhouse, an empty place at the table.
At one point, I wandered into her room. She hadn’t packed everything- just a few clothes and, I did notice, her Christmas book- the dress she had worn dancing with me was discarded on the bed, thrown carelessly in her haste to get to her father. I picked it up, intending to hang it up and then couldn’t let it go. Maggie found me at dinner time, sitting on the window seat and still holding it.
Rose called while I was in the shower and I missed her call. She left a message.
“Hi Thorne! Dad’s doing better. He ODed but he didn’t do it- he says he’s been clean for months now… which I might not believe if the doctor didn’t confirm it. He didn’t take it himself and thinks that that gang might have put it into something just to get him back on it.
I’d be a lot more upset about it but he’s decided to testify against them so he’s going to go into the witness protection program- a whole new life! So very excited about that. I can’t come back right now. I do want to say my goodbyes properly. Anyway, call me… and thank you for being such a good friend.”
I had been going to call her as soon as I listened to her message… but after that, I just couldn’t. I didn’t want to tell her goodbye over the phone… I didn’t want to tell her goodbye at all. It occurred to me that this is what the gypsy had meant by I was the one who could give Rose her life back. All I had to do was stay out of it.
What I hadn’t counted on was Rose being the persistent person she was. She called at least once a day and usually left a message that was a variation on “Call me, damn it!” I didn’t ever pick up. If I talked to her, she would say ‘goodbye’ and I couldn’t listen to that without breaking down.
As it was, I was not too much better than breaking down anyway. I would say I moped or sulked but both of those words imply that I actually did something and nothing could be further from the truth. I did nothing and I avoided Will and Maggie so that I wouldn’t have to talk, even a little. I even stopped getting dressed in the morning. I would drag on a pair of jeans in case I happened to cross paths with Maggie but I didn’t bother with anything else.
Some time passed. I have no idea how much because it felt like time had stopped.
I was sitting on the floor of the ballroom when Will came looking for me. I’d just listened to Rose’s latest message… which included that she was very worried that I never called her back.
“Thorne?” Will called.
“In here.” I would have preferred not to say anything but it would have been mean to make him stop in all the rooms and listen for my breathing.
“Thorne, I just got off the phone with Rose.”
Okay, now that was cheating. Now she was calling people who would pick up the phone.
“She says that you won’t talk to her- you won’t pick up when she calls and you won’t call her back. So what gives?”
“I’m trying to stay out of her life.” I grumbled.
“Doesn’t sound like she wants you out of her life. She told me she was hurt… which is girl-speak for ‘call now, dickhead’.”
“Yeah, okay. I’m not calling because she only wants to say goodbye ‘properly’.”
He considered this. “You love her?”
“Yeah… yes, I do. And I’ll let her go back to her life but it’s going to hurt too much to hear her say it… and I wish she would stop calling… and I never want her to stop calling.”
“Whew! You do have a case on her, don’t you? If you really love her, then man up and call her and let her say goodbye. Letting this go unresolved isn’t helping anything- you’re being a dick and hurting her.” And with that, he stumped out.
I still didn’t call. Will was right but I couldn’t whip up the energy to finish punching her number. I managed the first six digits a dozen times but I just couldn’t dial that last digit. Rose called me again and I didn’t pick up.
“Thorne? What gives? I thought we were friends.”