THE ROSES by Susan Buffum
“The gallery is closing,” says a male voice from just behind me. “Are you intending to purchase this canvas or are you merely committing it to memory?”
“She doesn’t even realize the danger that she’s in,” I reply.
There is a long silence then he asks, “By which you mean?”
“The man in the shadows at the stern of the boat, half hidden in the canvas there. She may think she’s escaped from the man in the castle who held her captive, but the greater danger is adrift with her in the small boat, yet she’s clueless.” I shake my head. “I want to shout at her to turn around, go back, jump overboard and swim for it! Do something because surely he means to kill her.” Another bank of lights goes off leaving the gallery half in shadow. “I’m going to have nightmares about this tonight.”
Behind me, footsteps retreat toward the door of this room in the art gallery. I hear him call to someone to leave the remaining lights on, that he will finish closing up. A few moments later there is a quick, hushed exchange at the doorway, then the footsteps return. “What makes you think she’s trying to flee from the castle? Perhaps she’s broken the chain that’s held her bound elsewhere and she is sailing toward the castle.”
“She would have dropped the chain by now and relaxed if she had escaped from elsewhere and was approaching a safe harbor.” I shake my head. “No, she’s only just escaped a few minutes ago and she’s terrified of being seen from the castle and pursued.”
“Suppose I tell you there is no man in the stern of the boat.”
“You’d be wrong. He’s right there, half hidden in the shadows, but while he is hidden to her, I can see him.”
“There is no man,” he says.
“He’s right there!” I say, pointing him out in the painting. “See him? There’s the slope of his nose, the jut of his chin, and there the gleam of his eye, and here the tangle of his hair.”
“You have a very vivid imagination.”
I turn, exasperated with him. He almost seems to be mocking me. I open my mouth to say something but the breath freezes in the back of my throat and my heart sort of begins to pound in my breast. He gives me a somewhat sardonic look, one black brow cocked. He is tall, lean but he radiates sinewy power just standing there with his arms folded in a relaxed stance looking at me. “Did you paint this?” I ask, already knowing that he’s the artist. Who else would be so adamant about there not being a man lurking in the stern of the boat.
“I know what I painted, and there is no man.”
“You fooled my eye then.”
“Do you have a discerning eye?” he asks.
“I thought I did, until a moment ago.” This draws a quiet amused chuckle from him. “I’m Sabrina Ellison. I’m a journalist and photographer. I just started working for the Adirondacks Lakes Region Journal.”
“The magazine in which I am routinely trashed, characterized as a mediocre and melodramatic artist clinging to the past, finding safely in the redundant rather than exploring new avenues and putting myself out there?”
I give him a quick grin, “That would be the one.”
“Then let me escort you to the door so that we may part as acquaintances rather than bitter enemies.” He turns toward the double doors of the gallery where his art is on display.
“Wait!” I cry, not moving. “You never allow anyone to interview you. You’re known as a recluse, a rather unfriendly one at that. You’ve been given numerous opportunities to set the record straight about your work, but you shun every chance. You’re not even very friendly with the people who come and actually buy your art.”
“Are you quite finished denigrating me, Miss Ellison? It’s been a long day. I am quite ready to have my dinner and retire.”
“Have dinner with me,” I say, still stubbornly refusing to budge from in front of the large painting we have been disagreeing on.
“I hardly think…”
“The Cask & Crown in Prescott. My treat. I’ll have you back before your nine o’clock curfew.” He is staring at me through eyes that are so dark they are almost all black. “Am I asking too much of you on a first date?”
“Is this a date?” he asks, saying the word as if he is sampling it on his tongue and not quite sure that he finds the flavor to his liking.
“Yes! And if it goes well, then, maybe we’ll have a second date sometime. Maybe in a week or so.”
He seems about to refuse, to decline dinner, but then there is a subtle shift in him. A hint of a cautious, yet more playful side surfaces as he asks, “You don’t expect me to put out on a first date, do you? I’m afraid we’d have to stop at a pharmacy as I am ill-prepared for that sort of thing.”
I feel heat rise in my face but I come right back at him with, “I wouldn’t want to rush you into an intimate relationship if you’re not ready for that. Perhaps a kiss on the cheek as I drop you off after dinner will suffice for tonight?”
He turns away. “Wait for me at the main entrance, Miss Ellison. I need to retrieve a few things from my apartment. Are you driving, by the way?”
“Will you mind riding in my Toyota Rav4?”
“That should be all right.”
“I’ll drive then.”
“I’ll be with you shortly. And please do help yourself to a catalog at the reception desk. I believe Francesca just set them out in preparation for this weekend’s exhibition.” He walks off toward the grand staircase and I hear him go rapidly upstairs. He lives on the third floor of this medieval castle-like mansion. The ballroom where the Exhibition Gala is held every winter holiday season is also on the third floor. There are five open galleries on the main floor with an additional three rooms that are opened during the major exhibitions. There are two large galleries on the second floor, plus offices and studios. His studio is in the east wing. I have heard that he allows no one entry into his studio. I have also heard that he is known for very brief incendiary affairs, that once he has made love to a girl he cannot abide to remain in bed. He obviously enjoys sex but deplores physical closeness once the act is over and done with. He can be cold, rude, arrogant, indifferent, however, he donates generously to various charities. He has no pets. He travels frequently to Europe to paint and attend seminars. He produces huge volumes of work yet, prior to nine years ago, Sebastian Rose did not exist. He is an enigma. I find him fascinating, but I am not interested in cracking him open and extracting his secrets. He is a man of dark mystery. I like that about him.
I have secrets of my own.
The remaining gallery lights go off, only the night lights dimly illuminating the halls and galleries. I look up and watch him descend the stairs. He wears only black. His longish black hair is combed back severely from his forehead and tied at the nape of his neck with an elastic band, creating a brush of a ponytail. He is astonishingly handsome, no, he’s gorgeous, but he doesn’t act like a narcissist. He most likely finds his looks merely useful for attracting females when he’s in the mood to mate, otherwise he probably doesn’t think much about how he looks. “Shall we go?”
I step outside. He secures the door, activating the alarm with a fob on his key ring. We walk down the steps to the curved walkway leading to the parking lot. There’s no problem finding my red Rav4. It’s virtually the only vehicle in the lot.
I slide behind the wheel. He eases his tall frame into the passenger seat, reaching down between his legs to push the seat back completely to allow himself leg room. “You’ve only worked for the ALR Journal for five months,” he remarks. Has he researched me on line? “I vividly recall the article you did on a rare species of duck at Whisper Lake. It must have taken amazing stealth and stamina to stalk the nesting female to capture that series of stunning photographs of the eggs hatching, the little ducklings emerging with their slicked feathers and the membranes still clinging to their wings. I’m surprised the father and mother allowed you so close.”
“I have a way with animals, birds and things. They tolerate me.”
“Whereas we more humble beings can barely tolerate you?”
“Something like that,” I admit.
“You are rather persistent.”
I turn my head and look at him, then give him a quick grin. “You’re here, aren’t you?’
He stares at me a moment before turning his head away. I refocus on the road and drive, letting him stew in that cauldron of truth a bit. “Your smile is incandescent,” he says. “Perhaps you would agree to pose for me one day?”
“Like for a portrait?’
“A series of studies.” There is a twitching of the muscles along the ridge of his shadowed jaw. “Nude studies.”
Okay. Now he’s gotten me back for my remarks. “It would require some rather intense persuading before I’d agree to take off my clothes for you.”
“I can be very persuasive when I want something badly enough.”
I give a little shrug. “As long as these studies don’t wind up on the walls of your gallery, I might consider it.”
“These would be strictly private, for my eyes only.”
“If you were saying that to a teenaged or younger girl it would be positively disturbing.”
“How old are you, Miss Ellison?”
“You can call me Sabrina. I’m almost twenty-five years old.”
“I am thirty-one.”
“You wear your age well. I would hardly know you were a day over twenty-nine.” He reaches out to adjust the volume of the CD player. I have acoustic guitar music, no vocals, playing. He turns it up slightly.
We fall silent. I wonder if he is regretting his decision to accompany me to dinner. I really hadn’t expected him to agree. This will have to go on the credit card tonight. It can get quite costly if he’s a drinker. I hadn’t thought about that. Nothing I’ve read about him so far has led me to think he is a heavy drinker. Nothing I’ve read about him has deterred me from blurting out this invitation, but now that he’s agreed and he is essentially a hostage in my SUV at the moment, I find myself unable to broach all the curiosities that led me to Peekskill Gallery. I find it, quite frankly, a bit unnerving to have him as my passenger.
He doesn’t seem to mind that I’m not grilling him over hot coals while he’s stuck in a moving vehicle. Occasionally, I cast a sideways glance at him and watch the slant of a streetlight play across his face before he slips into darkness again. “Is there some reason for your abrupt silence? I had steeled myself for an incessant barrage of questions that I would adroitly deflect in an attempt to discourage you from probing more deeply into matters that do not concern you, or anyone else.”
“I guess I’m just sort of awed by being in your presence.”
“Allow me a prediction. That will rapidly wear off.”
“I don’t want it to. I kind of like the tingle, the dance of sparks across my skin.” He turns his head and regards me for a long moment. “You’re not feeling it, are you?” I ask.
“Then just sit there quietly and let me revel in a rare sensation I will never experience again in this lifetime.”
“Be my guest.” He turns his head to gaze out the passenger side window. We’re going around the far end of the lake now and will be taking a right to head northeast to Prescott shortly. “Does your being so close to me, being alone with me, arouse you?’ he asks.
I find I can’t lie to him. “It does.” And that surprises me since I’m not normally a person who reacts like this to a physical presence.
“Females tend to read signals that I am not aware of sending. I apologize if you’re being misled into some ridiculous romantic notion that I’ll be ravishing you before midnight strikes on the village clock tower.”
“I’m not a ridiculous girl nor am I a particularly romantic girl.”
“Good. I do not have a romantic bone in my body. In fact, I do not have a romantic cell in my entire physical make-up. I am a predatory animal who merely enjoys satisfying my physical cravings periodically with whatever willing partner I can procure.”
“You are such an animal!” I cry. I glance at him and see that he is grinning. Is he toying with me? Pulling my leg? Or is he laughing at me, thinking I am hopelessly naïve?
“A wolf, perhaps?”
“I don’t know what, exactly!”
“You can’t tame me. I will devour you before you even get started cracking your whip.”
I sigh. “Maybe I’m not interested in taming you, Mr. Rose. Maybe I like that wild and dangerous nature in a man.”
He is quiet for several moments as I take the turn toward Prescott. Finally, he says, “If you see a pharmacy perhaps you should stop.” This suggestion gives me pause. Does that mean he wants to have sex with me? That’s not something I’m ready for. It’s not what drew me to the gallery by any means.
“I’m really not interested in being a notch on your bedpost, a conquest.”
“Then what do you want from me, Miss Ellison?”
“A story,” I reply truthfully.
“I see.” He clams up. The truth is certainly a mood killer.
I stare at the road, annoyed with myself. I’d been enjoying his banter, discovering that he had a sense of humor and a smokin’ hot, sexy side to his personality, or lack thereof. I had actually been thinking I would swing by a pharmacy and let him go inside to make his purchase. At least he was a responsible predator, one who didn’t want to perpetuate his species, or have to pay eighteen years of child support.
“I’m sorry,” I say, as I pull into the gravel parking lot of the Cask & Crown and park. I switch off the ignition and we sit in the dark as the lot is not well illuminated.
“It’s what you do. Unfortunately, I went against my better judgment agreeing to accompany you this evening. So, let us go inside, have dinner and get this over with as quickly and painlessly as possible.”
“I can just drive you home and you can microwave something.”
“Are you implying that I can’t cook for myself?”
“I don’t know. Can you cook?”
“Do I look as if I’m a starving artist?”
“You look healthy enough. I wouldn’t say you were starving.”
“I can cook my own meals. I do not have to rely on pre-packaged dinners like many single men do. I enjoy cooking, Miss Ellison. I find it relaxing and rewarding in the end when I sit down and eat something I have prepared myself.”
“Stop calling me Miss Ellison. I find that annoying. Call me Sabrina.”
“Fine, Sabrina. Shall we go in and order dinner before closing time arrives?”
I get out of the SUV and slam the door. He gets out of the passenger side and slams his door. I hit the lock button on my key fob and we head to the front entrance of the Old English-style tavern. It surprises me when he opens the door for me. I murmur a thank you and precede him into the tavern.
The hostess glances at me and then notices him behind me and her face lights up like a chandelier. “Mr. Rose, how nice to see you again! Your usual booth?” she asks. He must nod because she leads us directly to a rather secluded booth in the far corner. “Jessica will be your server this evening. Can I have her bring you something to drink now?”
He orders a bottle of red wine and she smiles, nods, and walks away to give his order to Jessica. He picks up his menu and studies it as if he’s not seen it before in his life. It seems to me as if he is a regular here. I am the one who has only been here once before. I really do have to study the menu.
“Hi, Mr. Rose. How are you tonight?” asks a perky voice.
“I’m fine, Jessica. Thank you for asking.”
“Are you ready to order?”
He orders a filet mignon, medium-rare with a baked potato with sour cream on the side and steamed vegetables. He chooses the soup, French onion instead of the salad. I have to scramble to make my decision as she turns to me, pen poised above her order pad. “The petite New York strip steak with rice pilaf and steamed vegetables. I’ll have the tossed salad with Italian dressing on the side.”
“Any appetizers tonight?” I am about to shake my head when he orders the stuffed mushrooms. “I’ll put your order right in.” She takes a corkscrew from the pocket of her apron and lays it close to his plate then walks away.
He opens the bottle in a deft manner that tells me he’s opened plenty of wine bottles in his thirty years. He pours some of the wine into each of the two glasses, slides one across the table to me then sets the bottle down. His eyes fall on me and I feel a frisson of apprehension. This could be the biggest, stupidest mistake of my life. “You may have one glass of wine. You’re the designated driver. Meanwhile, I will most likely annihilate myself as there is no reason to stay sober if I’m not going to have to perform in the bedroom tonight.”
I narrow my eyes at him. Now he is just being a jerk. “Do whatever you want. If I change my mind you’ll just be another disappointment in a long string of disappointments I’ve suffered because men are such asses.” He stiffens at that, clearly offended, but he asked for it.
“What they say about ginger-haired girls is woefully correct. You have a very tempestuous and contrary nature, Sabrina. You have difficulty controlling your acerbic tongue. You snap words at me like verbal whips. If you expect me to flinch and cower at ever crack of your tongue you’re misleading yourself.”
“I don’t expect you to do anything but enjoy your dinner.”
“I shall do that.” He lifts his glass and savors the wine, nodding to himself. He drinks what he’s poured into his glass, refills it, filling it nearly to the brim this time. After drinking half of the contents, he sets the glass down. “Is your photography skill natural or a result of study and instruction?”
“You’ve been gifted with a great eye then.”
“Don’t be sulky. We can converse like polite, civil people, can’t we?”
“I don’t know, can we?”
He gives a casual shrug of his shoulder. “I am not normally a polite man, as you may have heard.”
“Then why pretend to be now?”
“Because I am a man with physical needs and you are a reasonably attractive young lady, therefore, I still harbor some slim hope of landing you in my bed tonight.”
Well, at least he’s honest if rather blunt about it. “What if I say I’m not interested?”
“You seemed to be earlier.”
“I was employing feminine wiles.”
“Of which you have no regard for the consequences, I take it?”
“I am not flirting with you!”
“No, you certainly are not. I find that rather infuriating, and somewhat annoying. I really don’t know why I am sitting here across from you when there are perhaps thirty prettier young ladies I could be with at…” I abruptly stand up and stalk off to the ladies room, basically to hide the fact that he has stung me with his second reference to his not finding me attractive.
I lock myself in a stall, relieve myself, and then just sit there dreading going back to the table. My eyes are burning with unshed tears. I got myself into this predicament and now I have to get myself out despite my no longer wanting to be anywhere near him. I haven’t insulted him, as far as I’m aware, yet he has twice told me he does not find me attractive. My self-esteem has been seriously undermined. No, I am not a ravishing beauty, but I’ve always been told that I’m a pretty girl. No one has ever used the word lovely, beautiful, breathtaking, or gorgeous to describe me. I have no false notion that I am anything beyond pretty. I don’t feel the need to cover my head with a paper bag to hide my looks or lack thereof. Yet, he has cut me deeply by more or less telling me that I am not the caliber of girl he usually takes to his bed. Not that I want to be taken there anyway. That’s not what this is about.
Finally, I leave the stall, wash my hands, splash some cold water on my face and grimace at my reflection. It’s obvious to me I am miserable. It’s going to be more than obvious to a man who has an eye for detail that I am miserable.
I return to the booth, slide back into my seat. He is eating a stuffed mushroom. I keep my head down and do not look at him. He continues to eat and does not say anything. I eat no mushrooms. Jessica comes and whisks the plate away, delivers his soup and my salad. “Is there anything else you need right now?” she asks.
“We’re fine,” he replies. When she walks away he says, “Kindly pick up your fork and eat your salad like a good girl.”
I open my purse, take out all the money I have in my wallet and lay it on the table, then slide out of the booth. “I’m sorry. You’re going to have to take a cab home.” I grab my jacket and pull it on as I walk through the restaurant toward the door.
I get into my SUV, jam the key into the ignition and switch it on. And then I just lose it. I fold my arms on the steering wheel, put my head down, and let the tears come, unable to hold them back any longer. This has all gone terribly, horribly wrong. I just wanted to get his attention and maybe get some sort of article out of it, but now I don’t care. I’m not going to write anything about Sebastian Rose. He’s a cold, cruel man like they say. He just uses girls and has no desire to have any sort of deeper relationship with any of them. He’s an animal. That is all he is- a beast who preys on lovely women, beautiful girls. He likes attractive females. He’s just been toying with me like a homely little mouse he’s cornered in his pantry.
I raise my head, brushing at the tears on my face, twisting the switch to turn on the headlights. As I go to put the vehicle into drive something materializes just beyond where the headlights reach and approaches quickly. I think it’s Rose as its dressed all in black, but as it comes into the arc of light across the gravel I realize it’s wearing a black robe of some sort. And then it is illuminated wholly by my headlights and I see what it is that has rapidly approached. I feel a scream of terror race up my throat. “Sabrina!” the ghastly, grinning skull shouts. It has hollow eye sockets yet I can sense it looking directly at me. Death knows my name, and he is coming around to the passenger side now. My hands are numb from gripping the wheel so hard. I cannot relinquish my death grip on the steering wheel. Death opens the passenger side door and my heart feels as if it will burst. A rush of multiple regrets floods through my mind. I have so many unfinished things to accomplish in my life. How can it be cut short so quickly? What’s wrong with me that Death has come for me right this instant.
He heaves his scythe between the front seats, shoving it into the rear area. I am still unable to make a sound as he climbs into the passenger seat and pulls the door closed. “Turn off the engine and shut off the lights,” he says.
“Am I going to be murdered?” I manage to whisper.
“Am I already dead?’
“You have a long life ahead of you.”
“Then what do you want with me?”
“I’ve come to apologize for my rude behavior.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” How surreal is this? Death is sitting in my car as large as life and feels he must apologize to me. I can feel the chill of the grave emanating off of him, yet curiously there is heat inside of me that I cannot explain.
“I hurt your feelings. I apologize.”
I cannot look directly at him, still afraid he’ll grab that big blade and slice my head off with it. “Are we in the same world here?”
“I believe so.” He sighs deeply. “And, now, I have lost all hope that you’ll change your mind and willingly join me in my bed.”
It’s that remark that sends a jolt through me. Death speaks in the same voice as Sebastian Rose. I gasp and find myself turning my head to look straight upon him. He is frightening and gruesome with his bone-white, skeletal face shrouded in a black hood. One bony hand rests on the dashboard, the other still grips the door handle as if he wants to hurl himself out of the vehicle and flee. “Sebastian?”
“You wanted a story. Here it is,” he says icily.
“How can this be?”
“How can anything be in this universe, Sabrina? I am what I am. You are what you are. I cannot allow myself to indulge in any long term relationships. I cannot let myself enjoy a woman for more than one night. My secret is terrible. It will destroy the world I have created, the world that I derive my pleasure from. I have a grim and gruesome responsibility. And that is why I grab at the few pleasures I can get, enjoy them thoroughly and then push them away. Do you think there is a female out there who would willingly stay with me knowing what I am? What I do?”
“Why are you showing me this then?”
“Because I want you to understand!”
“Well, I don’t understand!” I flare.
He transforms, his grim reaper form dissolving as his human form as Sebastian Rose emerges. Sebastian’s face is much more expressive, and he looks both anguished and angry. “You are a rare rose I want to pluck from this earthly garden! You incite me! You tempt me beyond what I can bear! You provoke me! Arouse me! I do not understand what it is about you that inflames me so that I can barely think clearly!” He laughs, throws his hands up, shakes his head. “I am not thinking clearly! If I were thinking clearly I would be at home by myself and you would be safe in your home and this would not be happening!” I just look at him, speechless. “You are the undoing of me, Sabrina Ellison. I will have to uproot myself, go somewhere else and start over establishing a new life here in this world for myself.”
“No. I don’t want you to go.”
“I will have to…” He looks at me and my eyes widen. “…ask you to forget everything you saw and heard tonight. You must never write about it.”
“As if anyone would believe me if I did.”
“You mustn’t even try.”
“No, of course not. I don’t write fantasy. I write about nature, people, places, art, music. I can’t even begin to imagine myself writing about the supernatural. I know nothing about it.”
He warily studies my face. “Will you accompany me back inside and have dinner with me?”
“I’m not sure about my appetite.”
“Humor me. Allow me a semblance of normalcy tonight. You can’t begin to comprehend what it’s like to live as I do.”
“No, I don’t suppose I can.” I shrug, my fear having dissolved during the past few minutes. There is a newly perceived vulnerability in him. He has shown me his darker side, his true nature, whether intentionally or not, and now I carry his secret, have the potential to expose him and I can’t do that. I will not do that. He has made a niche and a name for himself as an artist here in the Adirondacks. I cannot be responsible for uprooting him, sending him fleeing from the life he has established for himself. “I’m not going to die, am I?”
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“Do you know in advance? Ever?”
“Rarely,” he replies.
My stomach chooses that moment to growl. Loudly. He quirks a half grin at me. I smile, shrug. “Unless I suddenly die of hunger.”
“Then I guess we should go eat dinner.”
He pulls a wad of cash from his pocket and hands it to me. “My treat tonight. I insist,” he says.
“Please, Sabrina. It’s the least I can do. I believe I gave you a bit of a fright.”
“You think? Only a bit?” I open my door and get out. He remembers to grab the keys because I am still rattled and forget them. He locks the doors, pockets the keys and we walk back to the tavern where we take our former seats. His soup and my salad still await our attention there. Jessica doesn’t seem fazed in the least by our waking out and then returning. She brings our dinners, leaves the soup and salad as we’ve only just begun eating. Rose asks her to bring me a cup of tea.
He finishes his soup, sets the bowl aside and starts his dinner. I eat half my salad then start on my steak. Neither one of us is inclined to speak at this point. I do catch him sort of studying me and frown at him, hoping he’ll desist. “I am merely memorizing you,” he says.
“For what reason? I thought I was forgettable.”
“I believe I confessed in your vehicle my rather unaccountable attraction to you,” he replies.
“I thought you were just trying to make nice so I wouldn’t strand you here.”
A flash of annoyance crosses his handsome face. “I am not in the habit of making nice, nor being nice. You caught me with my pants down, so to speak.”
I give him an incredulous look and the great icy bastard actually gets some color in his face. “I was just thinking that that would be an interesting predicament for you to be in.”
“You think too much.”
“I think too vividly.” His color deepens. I have him totally off balance now. Somehow, having the advantage over him seems wrong, like I am being mean to him. “It makes for a rather enthralling mental image.”
His fork rattles against his plate. “Miss Ellison…”
“Sabrina, yes. I thought you wanted a story, not a tumble in my bed.”
“I’m still on the fence about that second thing, but a girl can fantasize just like a man can, can’t she?” I saw another piece off my tender and delicious steak and stuff it into my cheek and say, “A girl can dream.”
“I suppose.” He looks down at his plate for a long moment then back at me as I slowly chew my bite of steak. “I seldom dream,” he says, and the way he says it, I’m inclined to believe he’s being honest. “However, perhaps three nights ago, I dreamt of a ginger-haired girl who was chasing me through a barren forest. I was a black wolf and she wore a gown of pristine white that floated behind her as she ran as if there was a spectral wind. Her hair was in long curls. She had startling sapphire eyes.”
“You saw her in detail while running from her?”
“It was as if I were standing outside of myself observing the wolf and the girl. I could move close to her but I could not touch her nor influence her in any way. I could not touch the wolf. I was separate from both of them, yet I was aware that I was the wolf as well as this omnipotent observer.” He looks down at his plate again, toys with his remaining food. “Curiously, I wanted to be caught. I wanted to be embraced by that ethereal being.” He sighs. “I wanted to know her, in the Biblical sense.”
“And then you woke up?”
“No,” he replies, his voice quiet, wretched.
“What happened then?”
“I simply stopped running, turned, lunged at her and tore her throat out.” His dark eyes rise very slowly to meet mine across the table.
My eyes shimmer with tears. “You destroyed your heart’s desire,” I say, my own voice as hushed as his, as sorrowful. “But, why?”
He shrugs a shoulder, sets his fork down, reaches for his wine glass and drains the contents in one long swallow. “I deny myself what I want most.”
Jessica appears at the table. “Are you still working on that or are you ready for boxes?”
“We won’t be taking the leftovers,” he replies.
“Would you like to see the dessert menu? Can I get either of you some coffee? Another tea?” She glances at me. I think I still have tears in my eyes because her eyes linger on my face for a few moments longer, then she starts clearing the table.
“I think we’re finished here,” he says.
“I’ll bring your check then.”
She hustles off, obviously thinking that we’ve had another fight, or we’re breaking up. I turn my head and look out the window at the dark woods. I can mostly see my own reflection in the dark glass and I don’t like what I see. I do not having flowing red curls. I have short, spikey red hair in an asymmetrical cut. Left to its own devices it would curl, but not tightly. I used to have long loose curls, back in high school. But I made myself over in college, became someone else- the writer and photographer. My eyes are hazel, but that’s because I wear colored contacts to change my appearance. I don’t wear them to correct my vision. My eyes are a startling shade of blue.
“What are you thinking?’ he asks.
“I’m thinking it might be a good idea if I drop you at your door and never see you again,” I reply.
Jessica returns with the check and he is occupied with digging out his credit card, paying. He, I hope, is allowing for a hefty tip. “Sabrina? Shall we go?”
I slide out of the booth and walk toward the door. He is behind me. Outside, in the dark parking lot, he gives a short whistle. I turn and see my keys spinning in the air in the dim ambient light. I reach up and catch them in my fist. I unlock the doors but he remains where he has stopped. “Get in,” I say.
“I think it would be best if I walk.”
“Are you serious? It’s at least nine miles back to the gallery.” I am stunned that he is refusing to let me drive him home. I am also, strangely enough, wounded by this.
“Quite serious. I thank you for the pleasure of your company this evening, but I think it would be to both our advantages if I find my own way home.”
I want to ask him if he’s angry with me, or disappointed because I haven’t been all over him like a lot of girls would have been. He’s revealed his deepest, darkest secret to me out of sheer desperation and now he is dumping me, trusting me not to go straight home and write about it. “Don’t accept any rides from strangers,” I say as I climb into the driver’s seat. “Have a safe walk home.”
“Thank you. No, I will not accept any rides.” He makes a slight bow then turns and walks off. He is all in black so he quickly blends into the night. I close the door, buckle my seatbelt, start the car, turn on the headlights, put it into gear, and slowly leave the lot. I pass him on my way out but he does not look at me. My heart lies like a stone in my breast.
I head back to Whisper Lake, my thoughts in a dark whirl. I just had dinner with the grim reaper. I can’t quite wrap my head around that fact and find myself looking into the back for his scythe because I don’t remember him removing it. Or maybe it was all some sort of strange illusion?
About four miles down the road, I have to pull over and switch on the interior lights, crane around in my seat and peer hard into the back. There is no scythe. I slowly turn back around and that’s when I catch a glimpse of myself in the rearview mirror. My eyes slide away. I don’t want to see my miserable self at the moment but as I reach up to click the interior lights off I gasp and then lean closer to the mirror, as far as my seat belt allows me to. I have been crying tonight and at some point I have lost my colored contacts. My eyes are sapphire blue like jewels. I have been exposed to him, probably since sobbing in my car when I attempted to leave. Curiously he never said anything about the change in eye color.
I reach for the light buttons again and then drop my hand. He’d told me about his dream, his dream with the ginger-haired girl with the sapphire blue eyes. He’d told me he seldom dreams. Did he make that up? Was he trying to warn me off? Would he harm me if I were to catch him and hold onto him? Or does he merely fear that that would be the outcome of my pursuit of him? Is he afraid of me for whatever reason? Is he afraid of himself and what he might do?
I stab the buttons to extinguish the lights, check the side view and rear view mirrors then pull back out onto the road. I continue driving. I have to go past the gallery. There are lights on gate posts at the end of the driveway. I pass them, continue on. About a half mile further down the road, I find myself making a rather clumsy three-point turn in the road and slowly heading back.
I turn in at the gates, continue up the long drive and come into the parking lot. The mansion, for that is what this building is, a mansion on the lake that has been converted into an art gallery, is mostly in shadow, only some security lights on at the doors. I can see the dim lights inside that suffice as nighttime lighting.
Sitting in my car, I gnaw on my lower lip for a few moments, then get out, close the door and walk toward the mansion, circling it slowly. The lake is black with ripples of moonlight on the surface. A dock extends out into the lake about twenty to thirty feet or more. The yard slopes to a private beach. I look up at the house, at the third floor. It’s entirely dark up there.
Behind the mansion is a patio area, a service entrance. There is a detached carriage house where all the shipping and receiving is carried out. Beside that is a newer, five bay garage, constructed to look like the house and carriage house. All the bay doors are closed.
I circle back around the house and sit down on the front steps, hugging my knees for a bit as I gaze toward the dark waters of the lake. I can hear small waves lapping at the shore. There’s a bit of a breeze. The leaves high in the trees are rustling. Autumn is definitely approaching. There’s a distinct chill in the air tonight. I tilt my head back and look up at the stars. They look crisp and pale tacked to the midnight violet-blue velvet of the sky. It can’t be ten o’clock yet. It is probably only nine. Yet, the traffic on the lake road is very sparse. The summer tourists have returned home. The locals aren’t inclined to come out this way. They’re probably all snug in their homes watching television or surfing the internet. I feel all alone in the world sitting here on the steps.
I try to calculate how long it would take a man to hike nine miles. He’s tall. With a regular rapid stride he might be able to do a mile in fifteen minutes or less. But could he keep up that pace? He’d probably get tired. I didn’t notice what he had on for shoes. Maybe his feet would start to hurt and that would slow him down.
There is a chance that he might be able to hitch a ride back with someone heading this way. Although, I don’t know who would be inclined to stop for a man all in black walking down a dark road. It would have to be a rare, incautious fool who would stop.
I’m debating whether or not I really want to be sitting here. He’d dismissed me. He’d more or less told me he will not pursue me. I’m not the sort of girl who would do this, sit here and wait for a man to walk home after a much less than perfect date. I’m not even sure why I feel compelled to be here when he gets home. I think it’s just that I am troubled by the way this ended and I want to part with him on a better note.
If I can.
Therefore, when the doorknob behind me rattles and the door creaks open, I am badly startled, leap up and bolt for the parking lot. “Sabrina! Stop!” He must be an amazingly fast runner for he catches me by the arm before I am even off the walk. “Stop,” he says.
“How did you get here so quickly? There weren’t any cars that passed me!” I say that, but then I did spend some time walking around the building and could have missed a car dropping him off. Or, maybe he was dropped off at the gate posts and walked up the driveway, saw me sitting on the step staring at the lake and went around back to let himself in? Now, he’s come to kick me off the property after deciding that he cannot allow me to sit out here on the stoop all night.
“What are you doing here?” he asks.
“Waiting for you.”
“Waiting for me to do what?”
“To get home.”
“Why is that?”
I shake my wrist free of his hand. “I’m out of sorts,” I say.
He hesitates a moment then says, “The feeling is mutual, to say the least.”
“Did you make up that dream to tell me to back off?”
“I did not make up the dream.”
“Did it surprise you to discover I have blue eyes?”
“I was somewhat taken aback, but not entirely surprised.” He is silent for a long moment and then his hand comes up and he reaches out, around behind my ear to toy with a lock of my hair. “I was intrigued to see this bit of curl here.” His dark eyes meet mine. “When did you cut your hair?”
“During my second year of college.”
“I thought it gave me an edgier, more professional look.”
An owl hoots in the woods behind the carriage house. It is surprisingly loud and I jump a bit. Bats stitch the air above our heads, squeaking like mice. “You should go home,” he says.
“I need to know something before I go,” I say.
“What would that be?”
“Are you absolutely certain you did not paint a man in the stern of that boat?”
“I am certain that I did not.”
“She has red hair, curling red hair. Does she have blue eyes?” I ask. He does not reply. “Sebastian, does she have blue eyes?”
“Yes,” he finally acknowledges.
“Is she me, the girl in the boat? Is the girl in your dream me?” He pulls away. “I’ll leave if you just answer me honestly. I won’t bother you again.” It is so hard to say these words. I do not want to leave him. I want to stay and find answers to all the questions swirling chaotically in my mind. “Please, just tell me.”
“What purpose would it serve?” he asks.
“Do you know me? Have you seen me someplace and I’ve just stuck in your memory? Who am I to you? I mean, I came here to get a story and I am now so confused and disconcerted by how this evening has played out that I can’t go home without some sort of a resolution. I can’t go home without an answer, an explanation, an understanding of what the hell is going on here.”
“Let me ask you this. Why are you really here? What compelled you to be here this afternoon? Why did you come back here tonight? Why didn’t you just go home?”
“I don’t know. I just got it into my head to be here this afternoon near closing time. I thought you might be here alone. I wanted to…to try to get a story, to see if I could get a different angle on you than everyone else has gotten. I really thought there was more to you than meets the eye.” I shrug. “You certainly showed me that there is.”
“I was upset. Deeply upset. I lost control of my corporeal form, reverted to my supernatural form. I apologize again for frightening you. That should never have happened.”
“I didn’t expect that. But, haven’t you noticed that I’m not all that terrified of you? Maybe for ten minutes I was frightened, but when you sat in the car and I recognized your voice I calmed down, right?”
“Yes,” he admits.
I throw my hands up in a helpless gesture. “I don’t know what it is, Sebastian, but I feel some sort of…I don’t know exactly, so let’s just call it a connection to you. I feel like I’ve hurt you somehow tonight or that I’m about to hurt you, or something like that. I feel, uneasy and unsettled. I can’t just go home because there’s something here that we need to resolve first.”
“You were adopted,” he says, catching me completely off guard. How does he know that? Earlier, he’d known how long I’d been working for the magazine. But I don’t think, no, I’m absolutely certain there is nothing online about my having been adopted as an infant by the Ellison’s. I know because they told me when I was fifteen. They never told anyone else as far as I’m aware. “You were two months and fifteen days old. You have a strawberry birthmark on you left hip in the shape of a rose. Your one and only lover mistook it for a tattoo when he made love to you for the first and only time last year. He disappointed you and the relationship ended as quickly as it had kindled.” I am staring at him. How on earth does he know such intimate things about me? How could he possibly know these things? “You always wake just before dawn. You stand at your open window, or go outside into the yard and you listen for something. Tell me what it is you always listen for.”
I shake my head. “No, you know so much about me, you tell me what it is I listen for.”
“Celestial music,” he replies and my eyes leak tears. “I am not wrong, am I?”
“No,” I say around the tightness in my throat. “You’re not wrong.”
“Do you know why you do this?” he asks.
“No,” I whisper.
“You listen for the music because you long for home. But, you cannot go home, Sabrina. You have to stay here.”
“Because I chose you.”
“And now you don’t want me?”
He shakes his head and my heart feels as if it has been pierced by an arrow. “No, you’re mistaken. I do want you. I want you quite desperately.”
“Then why do you want to send me away?”
“I don’t want to send you away,” he replies. “I want to take you upstairs with me and make you completely, irrevocably mine.”
“Then what’s stopping you?” I ask.
“I’m not certain you understand the magnitude of what it will mean for both of us. You are still so young and naïve.”
“Enlighten me then.”
He sighs, tilts his head back and looks up at the stars. “I am a reaper, although I am not the only reaper in this earthly realm. I must live here or in this geographical vicinity. Periodically, I must reinvent myself or human beings begin to notice that I do not age like they do. I do not change. I have been here for eight years. I have maybe ten years more before I must uproot myself and find another place to live. I will become someone else. I am a supernatural chameleon in this world.”
My brain is buzzing, trying to make sense of all of this. “When did you choose me?” I ask because that is the question weighing most heavily on my mind at the moment.
“I chose you before you were delivered to this world and left on the doorstep of a church. The woman who found you assumed you had been abandoned there by an unwed young mother who could not care for you. Since no one claimed you, they gave you the name Baby Rose, because of your one identifying mark. The Ellison’s could not conceive a child of their own. They were guided to the agency where you were placed and the adoption went through. They were delighted to have you, to raise you as their daughter.”
“Have you been spying on me all my life?”
“I have been aware of you all of your life. I have not spied on you. I have seen you on occasion, but not as frequently as I would have liked because there was always the risk of you recognizing me, and that would have complicated things immensely, to have a small child blurt out that she wanted to go live with a strange man.” I can see his point. “Now, out of the blue, you appear in my gallery today. You caught me by surprise.”
“I’m sorry. That wasn’t my intention. I can say the same about you though. You caught me by surprise, too. I never felt such a strong attraction to anyone before.”
He nods, hesitates then says, “We should go inside.”
We go into the gallery. He secures the door, leads me through the dim halls to a service hall, then up to the second floor. We cross the hall where he unlocks another door and we ascend to the third floor, coming out in a hallway that leads to his kitchen. This is obviously the back entrance to his apartment.
The apartment is really very spacious. He must have gutted the original servants’ quarters and redesigned the space to suit his needs. The living room, dining area and kitchen are open in an L-shape. There is a den and a huge master bedroom with an en suite with two walk-in closets, a garden tub, and a walk-in shower stall big enough for three or four people. At the opposite end of the apartment is a hallway off of which are two guest rooms with a shared full bath that is also luxuriously appointed. There is a storage room as well.
He pours himself a glass of wine. I start to make myself a cup of tea. As the water is heating he comes around the counter and holds his glass out to me. “Have a sip,” he says. I look at him and then lean forward. He tilts the glass against my lips. I sip the burgundy-colored fluid, my eyes locked on his. “I am allowed to choose my partner,” he says. “You are the one I chose.”
“Why’d you choose a human?” I ask.
“I didn’t,” he replies. “Haven’t you been paying attention?”
“But you did!”
“I did not. I chose you. You were a fetching being but you could not just be placed in the world without explanation. You had to be born in a human form, apparently born like a human, meaning that you had to begin your existence here as a newborn.”
“Is that how you had to begin your existence here too?” It is finally sinking in that I am different from my peers. I have known this all my life. Now I know why, but it still feels so surreal.
“Yes. I was an infant when I first arrived.”
“Why do you live here and not in the supernatural world and just pop in and out collecting bodies?”
“I collect souls, not bodies. The bodies stay behind. The souls move on. It’s a common misconception.”
“Then what purpose do I serve?”
“You are my partner, my mate. I am allowed to experience the same physical pleasures human males experience with their chosen mates, although I believe my sensations may be more enhanced. You will bear me a son. I have the ability to impregnate you at will with the one seed that I possess. You, of course have to be fertile at the time. I cannot risk a failure to fertilize your egg. I do not get a second chance.”
“Oh.” Well, that’s interesting. I’m his breeding cow.
“Sabrina…I know you find this difficult to comprehend. I am not asking you to work through it all tonight. You’ve been, basically, unaware of who and what you are. I’ve already dumped quite a bit of information into your lap. You should go home and process it.”
“I am home,” I say. He cocks a black eyebrow at that response. “That is if you want me here.”
He carefully sets his wine glass down on the counter. Turning to me, he places his hands on my shoulders. I feel a visceral thrill at his touch, at the way he is looking at me. “Of course I want you here.”
“Then why can’t I stay?”
“Because I have very little self-control around you.”
“Meaning I will have you in my bed in a heartbeat and there will be no stopping me taking what I have waited for for nearly twenty-four years. I am that desperate for you.”
“At least you’re honest and upfront about that.”
“I have always enjoyed sex, but I have been anticipating our union for a long time and know it will be more intense and pleasurable than anything I have yet experienced with human females.”
“Okay, so if sex is supposed to be hotter and more intense with me, does it work both ways? Is it going to be better than anything I’ve experienced so far?”
He gives me a slow sardonic smile, bending his head to gaze at me through sooty lashes. “I cannot answer that question. Do you want to find out?”
In response, I reach out and turn off the burner, no longer interested in heating water for tea. There’s something else I want more. “I suppose I do.”
“There they are!” Alicea Rhys says to her photographer. “The Roses.”
“The artist and the photographer,” murmurs the man. “They seem like normal enough people. Although, she’s a lot younger than he is, isn’t she?”
“Yes, she is younger, but they make a very striking couple, don’t they? They are so obviously in love.” She sighs. “His art and her photographs are rather remarkable. Look at her, she is absolutely glowing. It looks like they’ll be first time parents in a couple months. Hard to believe he was rumored to be a playboy less than a year ago. I wonder how she cured him of that?”
“Beats me. Come on, let’s get this interview in the bag before the place is swamped and we can’t even get close to them,” he mutters, adjusting the position of his camera.
“Let’s do it!” she says, and then, “Mr. and Mrs. Rose! Do you have a minute for a quick interview? I’m Alicea Rhys from Channel 5. I’m here to do a piece on this exhibition.”
“If it’s brief,” he replies, glancing at his wife and then reaching to take her hand. The girl with the collar-length, soft, ginger-colored curls turns her head to look up at him and for a long moment they appear lost in one another’s gaze. “Whenever you’re ready, Miss Rhys.”
“I see you’ll be parents soon. Congratulations. Do you know if it will be a boy or a girl?”
“I am hazarding a guess that it will be a boy. They say a woman becomes more beautiful when she carries a male child. I didn’t think it was possibly, as she was quite lovely when I married her, but Sabrina has blossomed like a rare rose.”
“I remember when she worked for ALR Journal. Her photographs were always the best part of each issue. I’m guessing her large prints sell quickly here?”
“Yes. They do.”
“They have such an ethereal quality. The lighting is so soft it’s as if the world and images she captures glow. How does she do it?”
“She is a very early riser, out before the dawn every morning. She is there when the sun pulls itself above the rim of the earth and casts its first pale rays upon the face of a new day.”
“That is so beautifully put!”
The doors of the gallery open and a stream of patrons file in. “I’m afraid you’ll have to excuse us,” he says. “Perhaps we can conclude this interview another time?”
“Yes, of course. You’re busy. Thank you for taking a moment. Good luck with the exhibition!”
As the gallery manager and assistants close down the exhibition for the night, Sebastian helps me into my coat then pulls on his own. We exit the mansion, cross the patio then follow the path to the dock, walk down its length to stand at the end looking out across the black water of the lake. A sprinkling of stars are scattered across the sky and there is a pale, slender crescent of a moon like a lop-sided smile. The heavens reflect on the water which is rather still tonight.
Sebastian turns me toward him and gazes down into my upturned face. “If you are unhappy with me, after my son is born, I will not hold you here,” he says.
“Why do you think I’m unhappy with you?” I ask.
“There’ve been signs, indications,” he replies.
“Like what?” What have I done to make him think I am less than happy being here, being with him.
“You are less inclined to allow me access to you when my need arises.”
“Sebastian, I’m as fat as a cow! I don’t want you to be turned off by my huge belly.” I look away. “I don’t like being this big. It’s not comfortable. I don’t feel sexy at all. I feel fat and ugly!”
He blows his breath out in a cloud of vapor that drifts over my head. “Silly girl,” he chides me. “I find you as desirable, if not more so, as I did ten months ago when I married you. Maybe I should have restrained myself, but the idea of impregnating you was too overwhelming. I could not stop myself.” He moves his hands to gently cup my swollen belly. “I usher souls out of this world. I am anxious to usher this new little soul into this world. I have all the material things I could ever hope to have, but your love and this baby we have created together, they are the two gifts that I treasure above all else. Instead of being embarrassed by this wonderful distended abdomen, you should be showing it off for me, showing me that you’re happy and excited to be the mother of my son. You refuse to allow me to sketch you nude and pregnant. My fingers ache to capture your image in my sketchbook. I have abided by your wishes and not drawn you this way, although I could have done so in secret, but that would be dishonest and disrespectful of you.” He slides his hands to my hips. “Are you happy, Sabrina? Answer me truthfully.”
“You’re not an easy man to live with, but I knew that from the very beginning. You’ve been here a very long time, had gotten set in your ways. It bothers me that you still look at other girls in that way, however, as far as I know you’ve never been unfaithful to me.”
“I am an artist. If I averted my eyes from every lovely young lady that crosses my path where would I find inspiration? I look at everything through the eyes of an artist. I look at you through the eyes of a lover, a worshipper. You have no reason to be jealous or suspicious. I am still making adjustments. I am trying.”
“I know you are.” He has been. He has changed so much of his lifestyle that I really have no reason to complain about anything. We got married within days of falling into bed together. He suffered the invasion of me and my things into his former bachelor’s pad and private retreat. He allowed me to make some decorative changes to his dark and masculine décor. He’s given me free reign to re-do one of the guest bedrooms into a nursery and future bedroom for our son. I have chosen a steam train and trolley theme that took some months for him to accept. But, once he had accepted the idea, he has been completely onboard, pardon the pun, and has gone so far as to have a trolley car playscape built just off the patio. It will be a while before it will see much use, but it’s nice to look out the window and see it waiting for when our son is old enough to climb aboard and follow his imagination to far away destinations. Sebastian has really made a lot of sacrifices for me. He’s put himself out every day to make me happy. I turn my head and look back up into his eyes because he has not taken his eyes off of me. “I’m so clueless sometimes,” I say.
“Yes, often.” I grab his coat lapels and tug, pulling him down until I can take his head in my hands. I caress his cheeks, his jaw. He is so damn gorgeous it makes my heart ache to look at him. “It’s cold out here. Let’s go back inside. If you make me a cup of hot chocolate, I’ll pose for you.”
“A cup of hot chocolate? I suppose I could handle making that, however, I might scald it. Thinking of you in the next room disrobing may be too distracting for me.”
I pull his face to mine and kiss his cold lips. After a few kisses, his lips warm up and so do I. “I want you to sit in your chair and sketch me in your incorporeal form.” His eyes are very close to mine when he opens them. “I think you’re so damn sexy in that black hooded robe. You always give me a thrill when you walk into the room and you’re all grim reaper-y like that.”
“You are a very strange young lady,” he says. “But I will indulge you if that is your desire.”
“You are my desire,” I reply. “From the moment I first laid eyes on you.”
He gives me another long, lingering kiss, then takes my hand and leads me back toward the mansion. As we walk, he transforms and I find myself clutching his skeletal hand. I look down and smile. This grim reaper wears a gold wedding band. I’m surprised he hasn’t lost it yet, but then I notice he keeps that finger crooked so the band does not slip off. It must impede him a bit when he grips his scythe, but it means a lot to me that he leaves it on, never leaves home or me without it. “What’s that look for?” he asks, vapor streaming from his hollow nostril holes.
“I love you,” I reply.
He laughs. “No one loves Death. They fear me, loathe me, disparage me, rant and rave against me. No one ever says, ‘Oh, Death, I love you!”
“Oh, Death, I love you!” I say in my best bosom-heaving, romance novel heroine voice.
Death laughs as he scoops me up in his arms and carries me into the mansion, kicks the door shut with a bony heel. He turns so I can twist the deadbolt lock, key in the alarm code, and then he carries me to the third floor as if I weigh no more than a puppy.
There is a story I want to write about him, but it will be for his eyes only. Maybe I will write it and present it to him as a first anniversary gift. But right now, he wants a shot at sketching his pregnant wife. According to him, this is the only time I will be pregnant, so I guess I can indulge him in this. Three hundred years from now, maybe we’ll flip through the yellowed, fragile pages of this sketchbook and come across these drawings and reminisce about this time in our lives.
This wasn’t exactly what I was expecting when I lingered at closing time ten months ago. I had hoped for a story with a different angle. Instead, I had provoked him into revealing his deepest, darkest secret, discovered a startling truth about myself, found my heart’s desire, gotten married in a hurry, gotten pregnant quickly, and now I am soon to be a mother. My adopted parents, thankfully, like Sebastian and are excited about impending grandparenthood. We were lucky there. They’ll have ten years to enjoy their grandson before we’ll have to move. Sebastian’s territory is the northeast, so we’re thinking of far northern Maine. From there, we’ll have to wing it.
I ease myself down onto the bed, turn onto my side, prop myself up on my elbow and watch the grim reaper as he sits in a wingchair across the room in the sitting area, legs crossed, bony foot jiggling as his pencil busily strokes the page of his sketchbook. I can feel his eyes caress me now and again and after a while it is as if he is touching me here and there then there and…then he tosses his sketchbook aside, rises from his chair and starts to approach the bed. As he approaches, he transforms into Sebastian Rose. Sebastian is wearing the reaper’s hooded robe, but this he discards in a pool of black silk on the bedroom floor as he joins me on the bed, then joins himself to me. The dark Rose and the light Rose, the black Rose and the red Rose. We are the Roses.