A Rose Between Two Thorns
Considering Simon’s fractured childhood, he’d done well to become a content, right-minded doctor in this small, quaint village. His early years in the orphanage hadn’t been kind, but there had been moments of elation, like the day he was chosen by an adopting family named Thorn. Sadly, that was short lived. All those hopes and dreams of a loving family life ended abruptly the day he met his new older stepbrother. Since adulthood, he’d consoled himself with the notion that the torment and violence of his past had forced him to become a respected member of society.
“Another cup of tea, Simon?” asked his ever-efficient receptionist.
“No thanks, love—anyone left on the books?”
“No one in the waiting room and no appointments, just a phone message from a rude man. He said to tell you Jake was in town and wanted to see you. I don’t think he was sick or anything. I asked if it was an emergency and he just snorted and said something like yes, but not for him”.
Simon felt the scar on the side of his neck grow hot and knew it had turned crimson as it always did at the sound of that name. Oh God it can’t be.
“Sorry, Simon, what was that?”
“Nothing, Emily. Did he say anything else?”
“No he didn’t. I’m sorry I didn’t get more details b—”
“It’s okay, Emily, I’ll deal with it. Look about tonight, I’d love to go to the quiz but I might get caught up with this guy.”
“Who is he anyway?”
“If it’s who I think it is it’s someone I used to know. Haven’t seen him in twenty years, but I suspect it’s him.”
Emily could sense that something was wrong. It was as if a ghost had walked into the room and cast its deathly shadow over this gentle man she had come to know and love.
“I’ll walk around with some supper later if you like—how about seven thirty–and see how you’re placed for the quiz?”
“Best not tonight, Emily, just in case this character comes round. I don’t want him seeing you.”
“Simon, you’ve got me worried now; I’ve a right to know what’s going on. Who is he and how come you’re so rattled?”
“We’re not married yet, but I guess you’ve a right to know. If it’s whom I think, it’s my stepbrother. I didn’t realize he was out yet but I can’t think of another rude sod called Jake that would be looking for me.”
“I’d forgotten about him. I guess more like I’d put him out of my mind. What was he inside for?”
“He bashed an elderly couple in their home when they walked in on him robbing it. The man died of his injuries and the poor woman went into a home.”
“My God I really had put that out of my mind!”
“I might not have told you the details before. He wasn’t very nice to me either.”
“I remember you telling me about your broken nose and the neck scar when he tried to hang you. Oh, Simon, I’m really worried he’s here. What can we do?”
“What you can do is keep out of the way. I’m not frightened of him like I used to be, but he’s not suddenly going to be Mr. Nice Guy after being inside all those years.”
“Should we call the police or something?”
“And tell them what—that my stepbrother has come to visit? Look, Emily, it’ll be fine, he probably just wants money and I’ll just send him packing. Can’t imagine he wants to start anything stupid and risk going back inside.”
“Simon, why don’t you come and stay at my place tonight? I could set you up on the couch or you could sleep in my bed,” she said, blushing slightly.
“Kind of you, Emily, but I don’t want you involved in this. Besides, we’ve talked about sleeping together; you know how I feel about that before we’re married. I’m sure he won’t turn up, more likely he’ll come here tomorrow.”
“Simon please be careful.”
“Tell you what, after I’ve walked you home, you can lock yourself in for the night and I’ll call you just before bed. We can even have one of those naughty chats if you like?”
“I like those chats—can’t wait for the real thing. Sure you don’t want to sleep over?”
“Get your hat and coat and I’ll grab my little black bag,” said Simon.
Outside is was cold and windy as if an Arctic wind had found this little corner to spread its winter misery two months early. The branches of the trees had few leaves left and seemed to be turning away from the wind in a show of disgust as they bent and rustled. Simon didn’t like this time of year. He found autumn a strange mixture of remembered summer delights and the uncertain dark days ahead. It made him uneasy. This afternoon he was more uneasy than usual.
They huddled close as they walked down the quiet lane towards Emily’s cottage, neither speaking, just enjoying the closeness that only a couple in love can know. That’s when Simon spotted the black clothed figure across the road behind the tree. There seemed to be an even greater chill in the air and it was as if the figure was sucking any goodness and warmth into a vortex around him.
Simon thought quickly, “Tell you what, Emily—how about I take you straight to the pub. George and Mary will be there and can keep you entertained until I turn up?”
“I wasn’t really feeling like a mum and dad sort of evening. Maybe I’ll just go home like we said.”
The figure was gone but Simon sensed they were still being watched. “Emily, I’d feel more relaxed knowing you’re safe with your mum and dad. Just until I deal with Jake”.
Huddling closer as the wind-driven rain started to sting her rosy cheeks, Emily replied tentatively, “Sure, if it’ll help you relax—you think you’ll make it to the quiz?”
“I reckon I’ll be there. You can get me a beer for the eight o'clock start; I think we’re going to win tonight.” Simon knew his enthusiasm sounded forced and Emily had heard it.
Leaving Emily in the pub with her mum and dad had been awkward because of his newfound exaggerated enthusiasm for the quiz night. Maybe he was just overreacting to Jake showing up, but his uneasiness was real. It was as if his intuition was on high alert for the upcoming confrontation with his stepbrother. Emily felt uneasy too and tried hard to think of an excuse to go with him, but he insisted she stay in the warm, cozy atmosphere of the lounge bar.
Simon stepped outside. The wind whipped and sharp pellets of rain stung his face like tiny shards of glass. The gusts were out of the north and packed an icy chill, more so than usual this early in autumn.
It was a fifteen-minute walk from the pub to his detached house at the end of the village—twelve if he hurried, and hurry he did. After about five minutes, he walked past Emily's little cottage shielded from the outside world in a shroud of ivy and roses. He heard her dog barking angrily inside, which was unusual for the normally placid creature. For a moment he considered stopping off to pat the Pitbull Staffy who he’d become so attached to, but the thought passed quickly as he hurried on.
Trudging along with light fading fast, he bent his head against the whipping rain. Simon became mesmerized by the sound of splashing through the puddles now formed in the uneven footpath. He thought it strange that the footfalls seemed to be out of sync with his shoes actually hitting the ground. Then, with the same trepidation of a character in a cheap horror film expecting the predator to appear any moment, it dawned on him: they were not his footfalls. The stupid, schoolyard rhyme penetrated his wafer thin calmness as he recognized the dreaded yet familiar guttural voice,
“Simple Simon met a Pieman going to the fair,
Said Simple Simon to the Pieman, what have you got there?
Said the Pieman to Simple Simon -Pies you stupid tosser!”
“Speaking of stupid tossers, how is little Simple Simon?
Emily's mum Mary knew something was wrong. “What's up, dear?” she asked over her gin and tonic.
“Is Simon misbehaving love? I knew all that talk about waiting ‘til after you're married—”
Emily cut her father short. “Look, it’s nothing like that and everything’s fine. It’s just that, I er, forgot to call in home and let the dog out to do her business. She’ll be sitting there with all her legs crossed. I came here straight from work. Tell you what, I’ll just nip home and let her out, give her some biscuits and be back in a jiffy.”
“Oh, love,” pleaded her mum “She can wait. It sounds like the rain’s even heavier and it’s bloody cold out there. She’ll be alright for a while.”
“No, Mum, if I leave her I’ll get home to a very smelly house and I could do without that. Besides, I don’t want her chewing on those lovely cushions you just gave me. I’ll be back in a flash, and then I’ll be able to relax for the quiz.” She pecked her mum’s cheek then blew her dad a kiss and moved quickly towards the door, pulling on her still damp raincoat.
Emily half ran, half stumbled through the driving rain towards her little cottage. As she drew close, she could hear the dog barking inside. Opening the door, it flew past her with anger in its eyes and a fearsome display of teeth; it shot outside to search around the front garden in the fading light that spilled through the open door. How strange thought Emily, having never seen her beloved dog act in such a way before. She’d been told how fearsome Staffordshire Pit Bulls could be but that was not her experience of them. She’d grown up with one at home and when it was time to move out into her own place, there was no thought of any other breed to keep her company. The strange thing was that whilst she’d looked around the pound at all the caged dogs this particular female puppy had mysteriously chosen her rather than the other way round. That had been three years ago and in that time they’d grown very close. Meanwhile, the dog had grown strong and powerful, though it was difficult to see anything but the eternally energetic puppy dancing behind her loving brown eyes.
Today, though, the dog was not its normal self and was clearly agitated. It combed the small front garden as if searching, stopping every few paces to sniff the air. Eventually, it moved warily to its usual spot and took care of business. Emily too felt something was amiss but couldn’t identify what was causing her uneasy feeling. Gathering the chain from the hat rack, she called to her beloved pet who looked as if it’d seen a doggy ghost.
“Walkies, walkies.” The dog waved its tail purposefully but not with the usual frantic excitement of this special time with her human.
Once outside, the dog pulled hard on the chain and Emily fought to hold the powerful creature. As she struggled against the animal to open the gate, it began dragging her down the wet pavement in the direction of Simon’s house.
“Why are you here, Jake—what do you want?” asked Simon, walking on not bothering to turn around.
“Take it easy you toffee-nosed asshole. I just got out last week. Took me a while to track you down, but now I’ve found you. I figured you’d want to help your big brother, yer know, maybe somewhere to stay for a while, a little bit of cash.”
“You’re not welcome here. Be on your way and don’t come back.”
“What sort of reception is that?”
“You murdered an old man and sent his wife to a mental home. I’ll have nothing to do with you—bugger off!”
They had reached Simon’s gate. When he opened it to walk up the path, Jake sneered,
“Why don’t you tell me about the cute little lady? Got a nice house, she has—shame about the dog; I would’ve liked to have a look around, maybe sniff her knickers.”
“Go near her and I’ll kill you!”
“Big talk from the little doctor. She’s a good poke I bet.”
Simon wanted to smash his brother into the ground, wanted him out of his life, forever. Now standing at his front door he spun on the spot and loaded his right hand to punch him. That’s when he saw the knife.
“If you’re not going to help me, I’ll just have to help myself.”
“What’s going on?” Emily screamed through the dim watery light.
“Get away, Emily—run!”
The dog was too powerful for her. Recognizing the scent of the intruder who tried to break into her home earlier, she lunged.
Jake acted quickly from years in prison and landed a left uppercut into Simon’s gut that doubled him over as he slid to the wet pathway. He then spun on a dime to deal with the dog, which was already in mid-air heading straight for him. The Staffy snapped hard aiming for his crotch but failed to connect. This attack incensed Jake to swing the knife low and fast in a curve towards the dog’s neck. It connected with the studded collar and bounced off. The dog was knocked to the ground by the force of the blow.
“No, Rosie—No!” screamed Emily at her Pit Bull Staffy as the dog picked itself up to lunge again.
Jake’s scream stopped Rose from pouncing as he doubled over clutching his upper leg where the razor sharp blade had scored a deep glancing cut. That’s when Emily saw the bright red liquid spurting through his grasping fingers.
Ignoring Jake’s desperate pleas and casting only a fleeting look at the dog, she ran to Simon who was still doubled over desperately searching for breath. Rose with teeth bared still ready to attack just stared menacingly at the black clad figure bleeding to death from the severed artery.
It seemed like an eternity, but it was less than two minutes before Simon’s gasps for oxygen were satisfied enough for him to take in what was happening. “My bag, Emily—get my bag!” But it was too late for the unconscious Jake whose flowing lifeblood was being washed away by the heavily falling rain.
“You saved my life, Emily.”
“It wasn’t me, Simon; it was Rose who came between you two.”