The book sat on the second shelf from the top in the mystery section of Barnes & Noble. Titled Adam’s Apple and written by Loren Raye, the white jacket cover with raised black lettering pictured a deep red apple cut with a knife dripping blood. The inside cover provided an exciting, but brief, description of the story. The back flap of the jacket contained a few details about the author; birthplace, birth year, current residency, and the fact that this was the author’s first published novel.
Loren Raye Nelson stared at the book on the shelf. She hesitated to touch it for fear that she would wake up to find it was all a dream. How long she had worked and dreamed of getting her story published, even through rejection after rejection. Yet she persevered, and here was the proof. She had done it. Her novel was published and sitting on the bookstore shelf ready to be purchased and read.
Picking up the book gently, Loren looked down the aisle to be sure no one was watching. It felt good holding it in her hands. The cover complemented the story well with its picture and colors, story description, and excerpts. She skimmed the pages and tried to imagine it unfamiliar. Impossible. With the time and efforts she had placed in the writing, and then editing, it felt like her child.
Loren shut the book, took a deep breath, and closing her eyes, she hugged the book to her chest. Could life ever be better than this? Loren thought not.
As she opened her eyes, Loren saw someone turn into her aisle and quickly duck away. Or was it her imagination? She hadn’t been sleeping well in all of her excitement.
Wondering if she had imagined the person, Loren walked to the endcap and looked around. There wasn’t a soul in sight, except for the cashier in the front of the store. I really must get more sleep, she thought, as she walked back to the shelf where the book belonged.
Loren reached up to place the book back on its shelf, then froze. In its place sat a single deep red rose. A black rose.
* * * * *
Loren remembered a time long ago. His name was Vincent Jones, and they had not been dating long. After a lovely dinner at Churrascos in
“Dinner was wonderful,” she’d said. “Thank you. And thank you for the rose too. I’ve never seen one this deep red before. It’s almost black.”
“It’s called a black rose. They’re not very popular, but it’s my favorite color rose. I hope you like it,” he’d said.
She’d invited him in for a cup of coffee. Somehow the conversation had turned to their work, and what they had both dreamed of becoming. She had confessed to him that she had always wanted to write and hoped to someday write a novel. She’d even told him she wouldn’t be using her last name in her work, but rather her first and middle name as a pen name. He’d said he would always watch for her books.
If she had only known then how possessive and insecure Vincent was, perhaps she could have saved herself a lot of torment. The restraining order had been a joke; it didn’t do a thing to help, so in the end, Loren had moved from
Loren shuddered. She hadn’t thought about Vincent in a long time, but the rose forced back the memories. She had never seen a black rose before her relationship with Vincent, or since. Who had put the rose on the shelf, she wondered?
Loren stood on trembling legs. She looked around. No one was there. The large bookstore suddenly felt small, tight, as though all the air had been removed and a heavy weight put in its place. Loren became dizzy as she tried to breathe.
Get a hold of yourself, she thought, it’s a rose on a shelf and there is bound to be a logical explanation. Loren quickly left the store and fled to the safety of her Honda Accord. She turned on her car radio; the music relaxed her. The rose had to have been on the shelf all along she decided. Someone must have laid it down to pick up a book, hopefully my book, she thought, and she drove home.
The next morning the alarm clock startled Loren. Volume blaring, a Spanish announcer talked excitedly. She reached over to shut the radio off. She hated Spanish music. It reminded her of Vincent; they had vacationed together in
* * * * *
Loren rushed as she had several errands and still wanted to make an afternoon aerobics class. Pulling into Jiffy Lube for an overdue oil change, Loren was glad for the early start to her day. No lines, and an open bay to service her immediately. An older model, dented, silver Ford Ranger with bumper stickers plastered all over pulled up to the bay behind Loren’s Accord, creating the beginning of what would probably be a continuous line of cars and trucks waiting for oil changes today. Just made it, she thought, and hoped the rest of her day went as well.
The grocery store was much busier, still Loren completed her shopping in less than 45 minutes. Hurrying in hopes to make the gym, Loren almost crashed the grocery carriage into the same silver Ford Ranger she saw at Jiffy Lube, and then noticed it again while in line at the car wash. She wasn’t sure, but she thought the same truck was in the parking lot when she was leaving the gym later after her aerobics class. It sent a cold chill down her arm.
On Monday after work, Loren grabbed the mail and dropped it onto the kitchen table. She was tired and changed into a comfortable sweat suit. After a few chores, she returned to go through her stack of mail.
Junk. Apply for your no interest credit card today.
Junk. Call today and receive free roundtrip airfare anywhere in the U.S.
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Postcard. It was a solid black glassy postcard with the words, “
The book was great. I hope you enjoyed the rose. I guess dreams really can come true. I’m working on making mine come true too.
Loren shrieked and dropped the card.
Vincent had always liked to play riddles and guessing games. He could be evil, she knew, and it would be just like him to send something like this. He was crafty and devious, and would take pleasure in spooking her. The agony he had caused her after their breakup had supplied many of the ideas for her book. But how could Vincent get a
Grabbing her pocketbook, Loren headed to the gym. She needed to get out of the house, to work out and clear her head. Too many weird things had been happening and she didn’t feel comfortable being alone at home.
The Waist Basket was located in an L-shaped strip shopping center. The gym was nestled in the middle where the two sides met, and the front of the center had pillars evenly spaced its entire length. Parking could be a bit of a problem. Not that there wasn’t enough parking, just that there was usually no parking up front, and patrons of The Waist Basket frequently got a second workout when leaving the gym in the walk to get to their car.
It was a grueling workout; the aerobics instructor merciless. Loren was glad, nonetheless, that she had decided to come, and she didn’t mind the walk to her car. It was a crisp, clear night and she loved the fresh air. She felt energized after her workout, and more confident.
Suddenly Vincent was walking right beside Loren. It was as though he’d materialized from thin air. Loren realized he must have been waiting behind a pillar, and she cursed herself for not being more careful.
“Wait up, Loren. I just want to talk,” Vincent said. Loren had actually picked up the pace, wanting to get under one of the lights that illuminated the parking area.
“Vincent, what are you doing here?” Loren stopped and turned, facing her intruder. She had finally reached a major success in her life, and Vincent had found a way to foil her happiness. Here he was. Again.
“I saw your book. I told you I’d always watch for it. Anyway, that’s how I found you. I’ve been looking since you left, you never even said goodbye.”
“This is unbelievable. You came all the way from
“Oh, no. Not to say goodbye. I want you back, Loren. And I intend to have you.” He bent in as if to kiss her.
“Vincent, you’re scaring me. We broke up a long time ago. Let’s not go that route again.”
“I don’t want to go our old route either, Loren. I’ve changed and I want you back. I’ll give you plenty of time, you’ll see. It’ll work this time.” Vincent handed Loren a black rose he had been holding behind his back.
“Please, Vincent. Don’t do this. I don’t want this rose, any more than I wanted that rose at Barnes & Noble. You have to believe me.”
“Good, so you did get the rose I left for you at the bookstore. I was going to talk to you then, but I chickened out.”
“You scared me to death. And you’re scaring me now. This isn’t normal.”
Loren could see his nostrils flare, and she knew she’d hit a nerve. She remembered that his mother had several nervous breakdowns, and as barbaric as it sounded, had even received shock treatments. His brother had been convicted of a heinous crime, the details unknown to Loren, and now lived in a psychiatric ward of a state run hospital. Loren had never met Vincent’s father; he had died when Vincent was a baby. He’d been 63 years old when Vincent was born, nearly 30 years his wife’s senior.
“If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go.” Loren turned on her heels and bravely began walking towards her car, hoping Vincent would not follow.
“This isn’t over, Loren,” Vincent yelled. “I’ll see ya around.”
Trembling, Loren started her car as she watched Vincent walk towards a silver Ford Ranger.
Her memories of constant fear, how she always had to look over her shoulder, and Vincent’s obsessive behavior were revived, and she tossed and turned throughout the night. Having barely slept, the alarm blasted Loren into wakefulness with a Spanish cha-cha playing on the radio. She threw the clock across the room, and then grudgingly got up and ready for work.
The girls at the office invited Loren out for a drink. A welcome change of pace, Loren accepted without hesitation. After a few drinks, the girls decided to head to a club with dancing and urged Loren to go along. Loren declined. She couldn’t wait to get home and curl up with a good book.
It was later than usual for Loren to get home, and the outside porch light was not on. In the darkness, Loren struggled with her key in the door. She finally got the door opened and immediately flipped on some lights. Pouring herself a large glass of water, she noticed the smell of cigarettes and silently cursed all the smokers in the bar.
Loren read nearly every night before she went to bed. Her favorite reading chair was in the TV room, although she rarely turned on the TV. It was a blue chair, worn, but big and fluffy. Loren would tuck her legs under and curl almost into a ball. This is where she headed with book in hand.
Oddly enough, Loren continued to smell cigarettes. The smell did not seem to be dissipating at all. She sniffed her blouse. Weird. The smell didn’t seem to be coming from her blouse. That’s when she noticed the burned cigarette butt smoldering in her incense burner.
Vincent had always been a heavy smoker.
Loren became acutely aware of her breathing. Breathe in, breathe out. Quietly. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine where she had left the cordless telephone and realized it was probably still sitting on its cradle upstairs. Calmly, Loren stared at the pages of her book, trying to look as though she were reading. Inside, her heart pounded.
A weapon. She had to think of something she could use in the room as a weapon. She had the book; she could hit him over the head with the book. Right. The vacuum was in the closet. Maybe she could use the wand like a baseball bat and hit him with that. Of course that would make too much noise getting out, he’d know she wasn’t reading and might make his move. Completely out of options, Loren didn’t know what to do.
Then Vincent waltzed right into the TV room, as though he owned the place, smoking another cigarette and with a drink in hand.
“Worked a little late, didn’t you?” he asked.
Loren stared at Vincent. She didn’t dare move a muscle.
“I would have asked you out to dinner so we could talk, but I figured you’d just refuse. So, I let myself in. You really should get a deadbolt, ya know.”
“There isn’t anything to talk about, Vincent. We said our good-byes years ago.”
“You may have said goodbye, but I didn’t.” Vincent pounded his fist on the coffee table. The wrinkles at the bridge of his nose were furrowed deep with anger.
“You’ve been in here before, haven’t you,” Loren asked thinking about the Spanish radio station set on her alarm clock, and wanting to change his mood.
“Yea. I set your alarm clock to play our music. Spanish music. Remember what a wonderful time we had in
Loren knew he was sick; she just didn’t realize how sick. She thought that her fleeing Vincent years before had ended his obsession. She had simply escaped it. Now she would have to run away again, this time having learned that she could never reveal her whereabouts. She felt sorrow in that she would never be able to write using her name again. Vincent would watch for that. And she was saddened to have to leave the life she had built.
As though Vincent could read Loren’s mind, he said, “Don’t be thinking about running off again. I’m watching you. Real close, this time.”
“Vincent, I’m tired. Could we please talk about this some other time?”
“Some other time? You are kidding, aren’t you? I didn’t come all this way for nothing, Loren. I want you back. You know how much you mean to me. Just because you left before doesn’t mean my feelings stopped.”
“I can’t believe this is happening. This isn’t right. You talk like it was just yesterday that I left. It was 10 years ago, Vincent. Your feelings must be gone. I know mine are. But they’re being replaced with a new feeling, and it’s disgust.”
Swiftly and smoothly, in one continuous fluid movement, Vincent lunged from his seat on the couch. The table lamp cord was in his hand, the plug-in snatched effortlessly from the wall and the lamp ripped from the cord. She didn’t even have time to move, and the cord was wrapped taut around her neck.
“I don’t like you talking to me like that. You’ve pissed me off now.” The veins in Vincent’s neck protruded and his eyes bulged wide like that of a madman.
“This isn’t how it’s supposed to go, but you’re being your mule-headed, selfish self right now. Damn you,” he said as he tightened the cord.
Loren began choking. She instinctively put her hands to her neck, trying to loosen the cord. She felt panic and fear. She waved her hands frantically, voluntarily convulsing. Then she went limp as though she were dead.
It wasn’t a good performance, but it was enough. Vincent dropped the cord he held around Loren’s neck.
“You fake,” he said, turned, and ran. Loren thought she heard him mumble, “Thank God,” as he left the house. She called the police, and they filled out a report labeling it a domestic disturbance.
Vincent returned early the following morning, just as the sun was rising. He knocked on the door. When Loren didn’t answer, Vincent expertly picked the lock and let himself in. He looked softer, less agitated.
“Loren, I did some serious thinking last night. About us. About me,” he started. “I’d like to start by saying I’m sorry. I’m truly sorry, I would never want to hurt you.
“I’ve seen my mother in and out of mental institutes since I was a kid. My brother lives in a hospital, and I don’t have a dad. I don’t want to end up dead or in a hospital somewhere like them. Last night, I may have scared you. But I scared myself worse.”
Vincent swallowed hard. “What was I thinking to let myself into your home uninvited? Hell, not just your home, your life.”
What about trying to kill me, you asshole, Loren thought, but remained silent.
“I keep thinking about the other day, when you said I wasn’t normal. That scared me, ya know. They say mental illnesses can run in the family.”
Loren remained quiet, letting Vincent continue.
“Anyway, I kind-of scared myself into realizing that I can’t stay here. I’m afraid of what I might do.”
Vincent stood up, walked to Loren, and then hugged her tight. Then he turned to the door. “Well, goodbye, Loren.”
Loren firmly closed the door behind him.
Jubilation. Loren felt like dancing. She’d escaped without having to flee. She felt triumphant and an overwhelming sense of relief. She wouldn’t have to give up her life after all. She wanted to jump up and down and shout hooray.
Loren walked back to her reading chair. There, where her book had lain, was a black rose. When did he put the rose there? She didn’t know, and she didn’t care. But one thing became crystal clear. She couldn’t dance, and she couldn’t jump up and down, shouting hooray. Vincent was sick and he could still be there, if not today, tomorrow. Watching. Waiting. He’d won after all.