AUTHOR OF THE ROAR OF A DRAGON SERIES
Rose was so ready for this day to be over … and this year, for that matter.
That wasn’t any reflection on her job—she loved working at the library. Looking at her, you wouldn’t expect her to, with her pigtailed black hair with red streaks, dark eyes, and trademark Goth attire. In fact, Rose was quite surprised when the library hired her—with the way she tended to dress, people usually wanted nothing to do with her. But all Rose’s boss had asked is for her to tone the Goth look down just a little. Rose had no problem with that (she really needed the job), and now she had a job she loved with people she really liked.
Life was beginning to turn around just a little for her, and it couldn’t have come a moment too soon.
Rose grabbed her things from under the main counter and said bye to Mary, who smiled brightly at her. Rose smiled back and left, stopping just before she reached her ’05 Dodge Stratus in the parking lot to pull out a cigarette. She was fond of her car and loved how new it still looked, but unfortunately, it ran like crap.
Lighting her cigarette, she got in her car and started it before rolling down the windows.
“Hey, Rose! Wait up!”
Rose smiled as Jerry Randolph ran toward her. Jerry worked at the library too, and had for the last several months. He was a little bit on the quiet side, but it was clear that he was very intelligent, and he kept mostly to himself. Still, Rose liked him quite a bit—even secretly thought he was a bit cute, with his curly red hair and bright smile, which he rarely displayed.
“How’s it going, Jerry?”
“Oh, okay, I guess,” he answered. “Look, could I catch a ride with you?”
Rose frowned in confusion. “Don’t you usually take the bus?”
Jerry nodded solemnly. “Yes, but I just missed it, and now I have to wait an hour for the next one. I have something that I really need to do at home. Will you help me, please?”
Something inside Rose implored her to say no, though she couldn’t figure out why. Jerry was a nice enough guy—why was she suddenly so apprehensive? Because he liked to be by himself? So what—some people just aren’t “people-people,” if that made any sense …
“Sure, Jerry,” Rose said.
“Oh, thank you, Rose,” Jerry said. “What I have to do is very important, and it can’t be ignored.”
Rose blushed a little—Jerry looked so happy, and for some reason, that made her happy.
Rose unlocked her passenger door and let Jerry in, who sat down quickly and fastened his seat belt. Rose smiled inwardly—normally, when someone rode in her car, she would have to argue with them to wear their seat belt. It was good to see that someone was safety-conscious.
“So where do you live?” Rose asked.
“Just get on 33 and drive north,” Jerry answered, looking out the window.
Rose thought this odd, that Jerry just wouldn’t tell her where he lived—he probably didn’t live far away, and she’d probably know where it was, having lived here her whole life. But she just shook it off and did as he said.
A short ways up the long road, Rose tossed her cigarette out the window and rolled it up. “So how long have you lived in the area?”
Jerry continued to stare out the window. “Not very long.”
“Not much for words, are you?”
Jerry shrugged. “Eh … sometimes I talk a lot.”
Rose gave him a curious look. “Oh, yeah? I’ve never seen it.”
Jerry glanced at her, his face expressionless. “You will—I promise.”
Alarm bells went off again in Rose’s head. She didn’t like the ominous sound of his voice.
“Jerry … are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Jerry replied turning toward her abruptly.
Catching this out of the corner of her eye, Rose glanced at him.
Jerry had a gun pointed at her.
Rose’s first thought was, Oh, shit.
And then, for some odd reason, she couldn’t help but laugh.
“Really? Really? A gun? Great, that’s just great … exactly what I needed, a madman with a gun. The only thing that could truly make this year the best one ever!” She got a wide-eyed happy-little-kid looked on her face that dripped of sarcasm. “Really, I couldn’t have asked for anything more in my life—it wouldn’t have been complete without—”
“That’s enough,” Jerry said, raising his voice just an octave.
Hearing his chilling voice, Rose was suddenly brought back to the very harsh reality that was suddenly in front of her. Sweat instantly began to pour from her forehead, and her hands became clammy. Her heart starting to ram against her chest, threatening to break free and run for its life just like Rose sorely wanted to at that moment.
“What do you want?” She asked, her voice shaking.
With the gun still pointed at her, Jerry leaned in a little closer, which made Rose recoil in disgust. “I don’t want anything from you,” he began, “except for you to wake up.”
This threw Rose for a loop, temporarily dissolving her fear. “What do you mean, ‘wake up’?”
Jerry leaned against the armrest. “You are a beautiful young woman, plagued by events from the past. They’re not all your fault, Rose.”
Rose frowned at him, and her bad feeling got even worse. “What exactly are you talking about?”
Jerry leaned in even further, almost conspiratorially. “I know about the problems with your husband, Rose,” he whispered.
She gasped as he reveal something she had never told anyone at work. “How do you know about that?”
“How I know isn’t important,” Jerry shrugged.
“Wrong,” Rose replied evenly, suddenly angry. “Because if you’ve been snooping around in my life—”
“You’ll do what, exactly?” Jerry asked, pointing the gun at her even closer.
Rose glared at him, but the point had been made clear—Jerry had the gun, he had the power.
Damn him …
Jerry leaned back, his tone becoming conversational. “So let’s start with the problems with your husband, shall we?”
“That’s none of your business,” Rose said, scowling.
“Um, I believe it is,” Jerry said, wiggling the gun.
“Why do you want to know, anyway?” Rose asked, raising her voice.
“I already know all about it,” Jerry said with a smile, “but I want you to tell me.”
If Rose could have at that moment, she would have punched him in his mouth and wiped that smile clean off his face—with sandpaper. But she had no choice but to do what he wanted.
Rose didn’t like to talk about her problems with her husband with anyone—bringing them up always made her angry and upset. In fact, she was already getting mad now just thinking about it.
Rose shuddered with her sobs, trying to figure out how he could know so much and coming to the realization that she had no choice but to comply at the same time. She started to lower her head in despair, but Jerry spoke again.
“Eyes on the road,” he said, speaking to her like he was her parent, or perhaps driving instructor. “That’s it—that’s a good girl. Take a deep breath … there you go. Now, tell me.”
Rose’s deep breath was harshly interrupted by another sob. There was a reason she kept her personal life and her work life separate—a reason she enjoyed being at work far more than she enjoyed being home. Everyone she worked with respected her space, didn’t force her to talk about anything she didn’t want to.
And Rose took full advantage, choosing to never talk about her husband.
But now, her right to privacy was nonexistent—if she didn’t start talking, Jerry would kill her.
Drawing another deep breath, Rose hesitated before she spoke. “Rick and I—” she stopped again, fighting her mental instinct to keep these things to herself— “we married very, very young. We didn’t know it at the time, but … neither of us were ready. We thought it would be the same as always, just … more official, I suppose. But for Rick, over time it became more of an ownership situation. He had his own problems at the time too—he gotten hurt at work, and as a result he was feeling more useless, more depressed. He began to get more and more angry, not liking it anytime I was out of his sight. ‘You’re my wife!’ He would constantly yell at me. Eventually, it got to be too much, and I told him I wanted a divorce.”
“What happened then?” Jerry asked, although it was clear he already knew.
“He—” Rose struggled to get the words out, as tears streamed from her eyes— “he raped me.”
Those words pushed her over her emotional edge, and Rose began to cry harshly. Jerry watched silently, then he put his hand on her arm.
Rose jerked her arm away.
Jerry tilted his head slightly, like a parent warning their child that they were about to make a mistake. Rose was repulsed by the very idea of him touching her, but knew she had no choice.
Rose placed her arm slowly back on the armrest.
Jerry put his hand back on her forearm, nodding in approval. “That-a-girl. Now, what happened after?”
Rose seethed in anger for a moment, incensed that he was forcing her to continue, wondering how he could be so cold and callous. Inwardly, she wondered again why he was doing this, but she knew that, for the moment, it was pointless to ask.
“After he was … done,” Rose continued, wiping her eyes, “he left, leaving me lying there. The apartment was destroyed—I had fought him tooth-and-nail. Finally, not knowing what else to do, I picked myself up, cleaned myself up, and cleaned the apartment. I never went to the hospital, never reported the rape to the cops, because—”
“—because then you could pretend it was just a bad dream,” Jerry finished.
Rose looked at him in surprise, then she nodded agreement. It surprised her greatly that he seemed to understand, even sympathize.
“But that’s not the end of your problems, is it?” Jerry asked.
Rose chuckled derisively as she shook her head. “No. I went to see my parents, for support I guess, but also … to tell them I was sorry.”
“Sorry for what?” Jerry asked.
Rose paused before she spoke. “My parents, they … they had never liked Rick. They warned me that I was making a huge mistake, that Rick wasn’t right for me, that I was marrying too young. Of course, at the time, I wouldn’t listen, and we had some major fights over it. From the time Rick and I had married to the point where he … attacked me—about a year-and-a-half—we hadn’t spoken a single word to each other. Now I wanted to go to them, admit I was wrong, and tell them how sorry I was. But they … they wouldn’t hear it. I broke into tears and finally admitted that he had raped me, but …”
“But?” Jerry asked, prompting her.
Rose was quiet for a moment, as the horrible memories forced their way into her mind against her will. Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore. “What do you care?! What do you want? Why are you doing this?”
Jerry didn’t even flinch. “Don’t worry about ‘why’, Rose … it’s not important. As to what I want … I want you to tell me about your problems.”
Rose glared at him. “But you claim to know them all already.”
“I do indeed,” Jerry agreed. “I’m not doing this for me—I’m doing this for you.”
“Me?!” Rose asked him incredulously. “Stalking me, pointing a gun at me, forcing me to talk about things I’m doing everything in my power to forget—you’re doing this for me?”
“Absolutely,” Jerry answered, unfazed. “I’m trying to help you.”
“Help me!” Rose repeated, almost laughing. “Clearly you don’t realize it, but you’re kinda making things worse.”
“I’m sure it seems that way,” Jerry said, “but I promise that a year from now, you will thank me.”
“I doubt it,” Rose replied.
She glanced into her rearview mirror—and then her breath caught in her throat.
“What’s wrong?” Jerry asked.
Rose hesitated, wondering if she should say anything—then she decided that she should, fearing that he would panic and shoot her if and when he found out.
“There’s a cop behind us,” she said in a low voice.
That was enough to make Jerry almost panic. “A cop?” He looked out the back window into the darkness for quite some time. “Dammit! Why would he be following us?”
“Why wouldn’t he be?” Rose shot back. “I’d be willing to bet that with all of the yelling and screaming I’ve done because of you, I’ve been swerving all over the road!”
Jerry sighed heavily. “Well, then you drive normally so that he will go away!”
“What do you think I’m doing?”
But Rose had barely gotten the words out of her mouth when the cop’s lights came on.
“Rrrrrrr!” Jerry actually growled. He pointed the gun closer to Rose, but was careful to keep it low and out of range of the window. “You will not breathe a word of what is going on. If you do, I promise you, one of you will die. And chances are, I’ll probably shoot him first, since he has the weapon.”
“He would kill you before you ever got the chance,” Rose smirked.
“Are you willing to take that chance?” Jerry asked confidently. “Think about it—he doesn’t know I have a gun, so I have the element of surprise. I’m sure his lovely family would miss him if I did manage to kill him.”
Rose’s hopes deflated as quickly as they had come, crushing her soaring spirits. Jerry was right—the cop would be at a disadvantage if and when he did approach the vehicle. To her, it wasn’t worth it to risk his life to save her own skin.
Rose pulled over slowly to the side of the deserted road and killed the engine, trying desperately to keep her hands from shaking. She had to try to keep as calm as possible in order to convince this cop that everything was okay, that she was in no danger …
But I am in danger! Cops are trained for this kind of thing … even if you give him some kind of signal or something …
But the fact remained—Jerry was ready with his weapon, and could probably get a shot off before the cop got his gun unholstered. Hell, as unstable as he was, he might just shoot the cop anyway, just because.
Alerting the cop was out of the question. Once again, Rose had no choice but to do what Jerry said.
“License and registration, please,” the cop said as she rolled down the window.
Rose obeyed, taking a deep breath as she did to try and settle her nerves. The cop looked at the documentation and asked the usual question, “Do you know why I pulled you over?”
“Was I speeding?” Rose asked honestly.
“Actually, you were quite a ways under the speed limit,” the cop replied. “I pulled you over because you were swerving quite a bit back there. Have you had any alcoholic beverages?”
“No, officer, I haven’t,” Rose responded. “I’m very sorry … it won’t happen again, I promise.”
The cop leaned in suddenly, squinting his eyes as he examined Rose’s face. “You look as if you’ve been crying,” he observed, then he leaned in and looked at Jerry, then back at Rose. “Is everything alright?”
“Of course,” Rose replied. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
But that last part came out more sarcastically than intended. Rose realized her mistake and held her breath in anticipation.
The cop gazed at her intently, then took another look at Jerry. Jerry just stared back, unflinching.
After a while, though he still looked suspicious, the cop straightened up his stance. “Alright then … I’ll let you off with a warning this time. Just be more careful.”
“I will, officer … thank you,” Rose said, feelings of relief combining with desperation—down deep, she was still hoping that the cop would find a reason to arrest Jerry, or at least investigate further.
As the cop walked away, Rose’s desperation grew as she watched her only hope walking into the deepening night. Part of her screamed at her to escape the car and run for him.
But she didn’t.
The cop got back in his car, but he didn’t leave. Figuring he was on the radio or something, Rose started the car (after about five attempts) and drove away.
“What was that all about?” Jerry suddenly snapped, pointing the gun at Rose again.
“What? What was what all about?” Rose lashed back, angry.
“Because you couldn’t keep yourself under control, now he suspicious,” Jerry barked.
“What the hell do you want from me?” Rose yelled at him as her eyes misted over. “With all you’ve put me through this entire car ride, you should be happy I got him to go away!”
In spite of herself, Rose burst into tears, the weight of the whole situation suffocating her like a thick blanket. Jerry was silent, then he put his hand back on her arm in an attempt to soothe her.
It was about as effective as a snake crawling across her arm.
“There, there,” Jerry said in a low voice. “Let us return to the subject at hand—where were we?”
Rose had calmed herself down a bit by this point. “We were talking … about my parents.”
“Ah, yes,” Jerry said, putting his finger in the air as he remembered. “What exactly did your parents say to you when you told them that Rick had raped you?”
Rose glared at him, her tear-filled eyes threatening to overflow once more. Finally, hopelessness overwhelmed her, and she relented.
“They … they told me that I deserved it, that I brought it on myself.”
Jerry said nothing in response, and Rose’s pent-up emotions erupted once more. Bursting into tears, she tried as hard as she could to focus on the road, lest they get pulled over again.
“That’s right, dear,” Jerry said soothingly, though it had the opposite effect on the distraught Rose. “Let it all out, and you’ll feel better.” He somehow managed to sound like a therapist and a stalker at the same time.
After Rose had cried for a bit, Jerry continued. “And that’s why you dress the way you do, isn’t it? Why you hide under all that makeup?”
Rose’s response was to burn a hole through him with her suddenly wide eyes. “That’s why you’re doing this? Because you have a problem with the way I dress?” Jerry tried to respond, but Rose cut him off. “I’ve been dressing like this for as long as I can remember. I wear Goth clothes because I like Goth clothes. I like the style. The makeup usually goes along with that. There’s no real reason for it. If you have a problem with that, tough titty, said the kitty.”
Jerry’s eyes were wide with amusement. “And there she is—she comes alive!” He seemed genuinely happy. “You know, Rose, that is the most emotion I’ve seen you show since I met you. You are a beautiful woman, trapped under the weight of what has happened to you, and the emotions you keep pent up. That’s what I’m here to help you with—to deal with this so you can move on with your life.”
Rose glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “You’re helping me, all the while pointing a gun at me?”
Jerry held up the gun, still pointed at her. “Sometimes, instruments like these are the only way to help people.”
Rose shook her head slightly in disgust, but remained silent. After a while, Jerry continued. “So is there anything else?”
Rose sighed harshly in exasperation. Every time she was forced to continue, she could feel the despair swelling inside of her, threatening to take control—and there was nothing she hated more than not being in control of herself. “Come on, Jerry! When is this going to end? When are you going to let me go?”
Jerry narrowed his eyes. “It will end when I say it will end. Come on, dearie … you are doing so well.” He uttered the last like a proud parent would speak to their children after they had colored inside the lines for the first time.
Rose could feel the tears welling up in her eyes again. This year had truly been one from hell, and it seemed that her pain was never going to reach an end.
“After—” she paused as she sniffled— “after my parents and I fought, we didn’t speak for several months—by far, the longest we hadn’t spoken. It made me feel even more lonely because they were the ones I talked to the most, and when we weren’t talking, I felt even more alone.” She hated saying things like that, hated that she felt like she was whining. “Then … a friend of the family told me that my mother was in a car accident. She said that it was serious. I was scared to death for my mother, and it hurt that I had to find out from a friend and not my father.”
Rose paused again, struggling to gain control of her emotions. “I rushed to the hospital, and found out where they had put her. When I got to the room, my father was there, and he immediately jumped up out of his chair and screamed at me to get out of the room, that I wasn’t wanted there.”
She glanced at Jerry, whose facial expression didn’t change—he didn’t seem surprised, just waiting for her to continue.
“I was so pissed, I screamed back at him—I had never, ever done that before. We screamed at each other in the halls of the hospital, until I was dragged away by security.” Her tears flowed down her cheeks at the terrible memory. “As I was being dragged away, my father yelled at me to never show my face in their presence again. When I heard those words … my heart broke all over again.”
Rose’s body convulsed with sobs, and she struggled to maintain control of the car.
“Easy, Rose,” Jerry uttered in a low voice.
“Shut up!” Rose snapped, which caused Jerry to recoil just a little. “You don’t give a shit about me—you’re just getting some sick pleasure in seeing me suffer!”
“On the contrary, my dear,” Jerry replied calmly, “I care about you very much, and I hate seeing you in such pain.”
Just then, Rose saw the truth, in Jerry’s eyes …
He’s in love with me!
And with that, Rose remembered her earlier thoughts about Jerry—that she thought he was kinda cute.
Figures—the mutual love I can find comes from a psycho.
That was just like her life. Rose’s heart wrenched just a little more.
“And then,” Jerry continued, coaxing her, “you felt like your world was shrinking, collapsing into a black hole …”
Rose’s eyes suddenly snapped wide open. “What did you say?”
Jerry’s eyes widened in return, and it seemed as if he’d just made a mistake. “I, um—I mean—”
“Those words,” Rose breathed, suddenly feeling like the air had just left her body, “they came from my journal … which is missing from my apartment.”
Jerry suddenly grew deathly pale as Rose’s mind pieced together the truth—which she now absolutely knew in her heart.
“There was a break-in at my apartment a month ago, but upon inspection, there didn’t seem to be anything missing. I thought that was odd, but everything was there—my TV, my jewelry, everything. Anything that would have been of worth to common garden-variety thieves was there. Sometime later, I realized that my journal was missing—I didn’t write in it regularly. But I didn’t put two and two together, because why would I think anyone would want to steal my journal? I thought I’d just lost it … I searched everywhere for it.”
Rose’s eyes seemed to have drifted off into space as she spoke, but now she locked eyes with Jerry. “But those words … they can’t be coincidence. They came from my journal.”
Jerry’s eyes narrowed. “Alright, dearie, that’s quite enough.” He pointed the gun at Rose.
At that moment, something in Rose’s mind snapped. The crushing weight of everything in her twisted life on her shoulders, events that she was being forced to relive, compounded by a stunning realization—
He’s not going to let me live. He can’t—I’ve seen him with the gun, he can’t let anyone know he’s done this to me.
Everything suddenly came sharply into focus. Seemingly of its own volition, Rose’s right foot pressed down on the accelerator just a little harder.
“What are you doing?” Jerry asked, clearly very apprehensive.
Rose suddenly laughed hysterically—even she didn’t quite know what she was doing. All she knew was that she was in a situation from which there was no escape, and that if she was going out, it was going to be on her terms.
“Well, if you read my journal,” she said, her laughter dying just a little, “you’d know that I tried to commit suicide not long after those things happened. The only thing that saved me, oddly enough, was the phone ringing—it was the library, asking me to come in the next day when it was my day off. I remember thinking, somebody needs me. For some reason, that brought me comfort, and I knew I couldn’t do it. But now—I’m never going to see them again anyway.”
“Yes, you will, Rose … yes you will!” Jerry yelled frantically, as the car gradually gained speed, exceeding the limit. “I was never going to kill you … I just wanted to help you!”
“You LIAR!!!” Rose screamed in Jerry’s face. “You’re a goddamn liar … you never had any intention of letting me live, or else you wouldn’t be forcing to drive out to the middle of nowhere with a gun!”
“No, no, Rose!” Jerry screamed. “I could never kill you … I love you!”
Rage instantly flooded through Rose’s system at those words, and she jammed her foot down on the accelerator hard.
Police sirens sounded behind them.
Jerry bellowed in fear, and suddenly the gun was in Rose’s face. “Stop the car! Stop the car, or I will shoot you!”
“Go ahead!” Rose yelled back, spitting at him. “Go ahead! The result will be the same anyway!”
Jerry screamed, and in Rose’s mind, he seemed to sound like a little girl who’d just been told she couldn’t have her snack. For some reason, Rose found that amusing …
Up ahead, a sharp left turn.
Without fear of what was to come, Rose instinctively yanked the wheel to left, attempting to make the turn even knowing that there was no chance.
Still, she almost made it—the passenger side of the car hit the end of the guard rail, knocking the car halfway around, the tires squealing on the road. The impact of the crash sent the car off the road and into a large ditch, where the car rolled and settled on its roof.
Seconds later, Rose opened her eyes slowly. For a moment, she was sure she was dead—it’s not very often that people walk away from a wreck like that. Her head hurt, but everything else seemed okay—there was no excruciating pain, only discomfort from laying very painfully on her neck and shoulder, and she could still move her arms and legs. She was alive.
Rose really wasn’t sure how she felt about that.
Jerry groaned beside her.
Suddenly afraid of being in the car with him, especially after what had just happened, Rose frantically struggled to free herself from the seat belt. But this is much harder upside down than it sounds, and the buckle wouldn’t come loose.
“Come on … come on …” Rose whispered, her desperation rising. But she still couldn’t get the belt free, so she tried the door itself, to no avail.
“Oh, Rose,” Jerry grumbled, and the two locked eyes. “That was very interesting …”
Rose’s eyes were wide with despair, but then she saw Jerry’s gun, sitting right above them on the ceiling of the car.
Or below them … whichever.
Jerry got the same idea at the same time she did, and suddenly both were fumbling for the gun. In that moment, Rose’s mind was empty save for one thought …
If he gets that gun, he will kill me this time for sure.
She fumbled and grabbed, until she suddenly realized that the gun wasn’t there anymore.
Jerry was pointing it at her.
Oh, no …
Suddenly, the glass beside her shattered.
“Drop the gun!” Came a forceful voice. “Drop the gun or I will shoot! Drop it now!”
Rose looked in the direction of the voice, to find that it was that cop—the same one who had pulled her over earlier.
She looked back over at Jerry who, with a final wistful glance, dropped the gun.
Rose sighed heavily in relief, nearly bursting into tears.
Jerry’s door opened, and the cop’s partner was dragging Jerry out of the car. The cop on Rose’s side yanked the door open after some difficulty, and helped Rose out of the car, laying her gently on the ground.
“How … did you know?” Rose groaned, suddenly weak.
“Well, I really didn’t,” the cop answered. “But I had a bad feeling something was wrong when I pulled you over last time, I just wasn’t sure what. Just before I left you, I could see the fear in your eyes, almost like you were silently pleading for help. So I followed you.”
“I’m glad you did,” Rose whispered.
The cop smiled in response. “The ambulance is on its way—just hang tight.”
Rose laid her head back down on the ground, trying to relax. The longer she waited, the easier she found it—the adrenaline that had been raging through her system only moments earlier was beginning to dissipate, leaving her feeling deflated. As she laid there reflecting on the events of the night, one thought kept looping through her mind …
It feels good to be alive.