I was going to call. I was going to pick up the phone and dial and finish this time, then I saw a flash of green in the mirror.
“Oh damn it, what now?” I went to look anyway. I didn’t hurry in. I was expecting it to be the gypsy- possibly gloating that my time was almost up.
It wasn’t. It was Rose, in a warehouse, being threatened by a man with a gun.
“Where?” I probably shouted.
The scene shifted to the outside of the warehouse- with number and then to a corner. A corner I knew and not far from here. I grabbed a jacket, putting it on as I ran. I leaped down the stairs and shouted to Maggie
“Call the police! Send them to 4692 Row St and tell them to hurry!”
I must have passed people, the must have stared at me- it was midday and I hadn’t covered my face or even my head- but I don’t remember any of them. My one thought was to get to Rose before they hurt her.
When I got to the warehouse, two men were coming out. I scuffled with them briefly. One of them grabbed the back of my jacket and I slithered out of it and knocked their heads together. I ran on, not even waiting to see if I had knocked them out or not.
“Rose!” I called as soon as I was in the door.
“Up…” she shouted back and was cut off. Never mind, I could tell she was on the second floor. There was one door closed when I got up there- I kicked it open not even checking to see if it was locked or not. Rose was standing there and some idiot was pointing a gun at her. Then he was pointing it at me, which was infinitely preferable.
“You’re here” Rose breathed.
“Who are you?” The idiot was talking.
“Every rose has thorns, I’m hers.” How cheesy was that? If I’d put it in a paper, Will would have dismembered me. I rushed the idiot and smacked his gun away. He let go of Rose… and I threw him out the window.
“Are you hurt? Are you okay?” I asked
Rose stared at me, a bit in shock, I think and then shook herself. “I’m okay. Oh Thorne, you came! But how?” She hugged me tight.
I never wanted to let her go but we were anything but safe. “I’ll tell you later. For now, we should leave. More men will be here soon.”
I could hear sirens, the cavalry would be here soon too… and I did not want Rose caught in the middle or even very close. Stray bullets can be just as lethal as one aimed at you.
We ran down the wood steps I had come up, past the two I had taken out. I hadn’t killed them, they were both moving. As we ran down the street, I felt something smack me in the back and heard a shot but we kept going. In an alley to our left, I saw a green flash.
“Here, this way.” I said and pulled Rose into the alley. The gypsy shop was there and she was standing in the door.
“Come in, come in!” she called to us. We darted through the door and she closed it behind us.
“Thank you!” I said and took a deep breath, which hurt, and coughed… which hurt more. “We’re safe here, I told Rose.
She looked at me, concerned. I was shirtless and barefoot, I’d lost the jacket in the scuffle at the door and I was breathing hard. “You’re hurt,” she said.
I tried to shrug it off. “Not so much- one more scar…” I trailed off. Instead of catching my breath it was getting harder to breathe and where I’d been smacked in the back with something was hurting more instead of less.
“She is right, you are badly hurt,” the gypsy said calmly. “Sit down before you fall down.”
Rose turned to her. “Do we need to call an ambulance?”
“That won’t be necessary. I will take care of it.” She opened a cupboard and handed Rose a square of white cloth and a roll of tape. “If you would, put that on his back, please.” She vanished through a beaded curtain, beads clacking and dancing behind her.
Now we were alone for a minute, I half turned to talk to Rose over my shoulder, “What were you doing at the warehouse?” I asked. “I thought you were safe- in witness protection, in point of fact.”
“Hold still. My dad’s in witness protection. I was coming to see you since you won’t pick up your damned phone… and the gang grabbed me.” She finished bandaging my back, not that it felt any better, and sat down next to me.
“I thought you were going with him… “ I was getting woozy, even sitting down, and there was a metallic taste in my mouth.
The gypsy reappeared with a cup for each of us. “Drink this,” she told me.
I tasted it, made a face and almost spat it out. It was horribly bitter. “I’m sorry, Madame…”I realized I didn’t even know her name.
“Verdi. I know it tastes bad- drink it anyway.”
So I did, in big gulps to keep from tasting it as much as possible. Madame Verdi- I was glad to finally know her name- took that cup and handed me another. I looked at it dubiously.
“It’s just tea- that one.” She smiled and took the empty away through the curtain.
Rose was sipping hers- obviously tea and not medicine. What had I been saying? I was still pretty foggy.
“I thought you were going with your father.” I said.
She looked at me with a funny expression. “That’s because you’re being stupid.” She sounded far away- the medicine must be working. I felt prickly all over but I didn’t want to derail the conversation by saying so. “How could I go into witness protection with him? I would never see you again.”
“ I wouldn’t like that.”
“Then why wouldn’t you call me back?” she demanded.
“I didn’t want you to say goodbye.”
She snorted. “Okay, how you got that turned around is beyond me. I had to say goodbye to my dad, not you. Idiot.”
Wait, what? “You weren’t calling to say goodbye?”
“Of course not. I love my dad… but I can’t just leave you.”
“Why not? You would have been safe.”
“Because I love you.”
Magic words… quite literally, for me. But hadn’t my time already run out? It didn’t matter- in spite of the itching and the dull pain in my back and the fog in my head, I’ve never been happier than I was right at that moment.
“I love you too.” It was a stupid trite thing to say but it was all I could come up with.
“I know- I found your note in my book. Thorne? Are you okay? You look all fuzzy.”
“I don’t know- I feel weird.” I did too. Weirder by the second.
“Madame Verdi!” Rose called.
She came back into the room. “Yes?”
“Something’s happening to Thorne.”
She looked at me carefully. “You broke the spell. He’s shifting back to the way he looked before.”
Rose didn’t look happy about that… in fact, she looked quite distressed. “Make it stop- can you make it stop, please?”
Madame Verdi held up her hand over me. “Okay- I have paused it. But why, Rose? Aren’t you happy to have broken the spell that was on him? He’s really very handsome.”
“I don’t want some stranger, no matter how handsome! I love Thorne, just the way he is!”
Madame turned to me. “Well, Thorne?”
I tried to think- which wasn’t easy. “Will. And Maggie. If I don’t change, will you help them anyway?”
“You are changed- you would never have thought of someone else first, before. But yes, I will help Will.” She was smiling.
“What about Maggie?” She had stood by me even longer.
“I don’t need to help Maggie- you already did everything that was needed in her case. Now, please decide. It’s hard to hold something static like this.”
I looked at Rose. She was biting her lip. “I’ll stay the same, then. What I look like to the rest of the world doesn’t matter.”
Madame took her hand down and I could feel things shift and solidify. The fog was gone. “You don’t look entirely the same now. I stopped the change but I couldn’t reverse it.”
Rose came and studied me carefully. “How different is it?” I asked her.
“Not too bad- your scars are gone but I can still tell it’s you.”
I looked at my hands. All the scarring on the back and wrapping around my arms was gone but the tattoos seemed intact. The rose tree was blooming- full of white roses. Suddenly, I didn’t care. “I love you.”
Rose took my face in her hands and kissed me. “I love you back.”
The pain in my back had vanished with the fog in my head. Madame Verdi was still standing there, watching us. I got up.
“Madame, I… Thank you. Thank you for everything.” It seemed inadequate but I didn’t know how to say anything more or even what I should say. Regardless, she seemed to understand.
“You’re very welcome. And Thorne?”
“You’ll see me again. You both will.” She smiled and let us out the door, for once. There was no green flash but as soon as we were on the sidewalk, there was no shop.