Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Rose by Any Other Name, written by us

See end of story for contributors' names and links. Minor edits, such as to POV and tenses, were made for overall cohesion. Otherwise, this story appears as submitted by our participating individuals. For details on who wrote which excerpt, see last Friday's post and its comments.

A Rose by Any Other Name

Small. That's only a start to describing the café, like an abandoned shoe box, ugly exterior, dilapidated corners. Still, my choices were slim, and my stomach hungered, so I sluiced through a puddle and parked at the lot edge. Told myself, Some of these places are gold mines, food so good, you forget where you're eating it. Maybe this was one such place.
`
I shoved off regret as I pushed through the inferior door, pushed through the urge to turn and go. A woman spied me then, too soon, before I could second-guess for good. No matter I couldn't tell her place--server? another diner?--as she flumped to a table with a bowl of beans. My presence had been detected, and I couldn't leave.
`
Had I been here before? Why did it look familiar? And why were heads turning my way?
`
I found a booth and took my seat. My back could never be against the door. I needed to watch.
`
The women behind the counter whispered as they stared at me. I read the menu, made my choices, and slid the plastic sleeved paper to the edge of the table. The permed and tattooed one rounded her station and walked to the booth. She had drawn the short straw.
`
"Long time no see," she said, cracking her gum. Her smudged name-tag said 'Cammie.'
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I looked from side to side. "I'm sorry," I said. "I've never been here before."
`
Cammie raised her eyebrows. "Don't worry, Rose. We won't tell anyone you're here."
`
"My name isn't Rose," I said, being careful not to say what my name was. This place was not a hidden gem. It was a creepy, dirty diner, just like it looked. My lunch would probably be inedible.
`
"OK, your name isn't Rose and you don't want coffee with extra milk and two sugars, grilled cheese with tomato and a piece of Ella's peach pie."
`
How did she know?
`
"I'd better go."
`
I tried to edge past the ample woman.
`
"Stay Rose. What's the rush? He isn't here you know."
`
"Um, you have me mistaken with someone else."
`
Again I tried to leave.
`
Who was this Rose? And why did they think I was her? Did she truly resemble me?
`
The pit in my stomach grew larger, the hunger pains aching. I looked out the window hoping to find someone normal would stop by this little place. The woman didn't seem at all displeased at selecting the short straw, then again this Rose person didn't seem to be welcome here. I desperately wanted to leave, but as I inched to slid out of the booth, the woman stood right in my path.
`
"We are all friends, here! Stay a while, and get acquainted, Rose," the woman said.
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"No, I'm not Rose. For the last time, I'm not Rose!"
`
The woman smile with a teasing smirk, "Ok, so you're not Rose. Who would you like to be?"
`
At that moment, a tall, elegant man walked in, nodded at the girls behind the till and slid into a far booth. I couldn't help but stare at his beautiful, and somehow recognizable, face. He caught my eye...and smiled.
`
"Rose, you're here...I thought..." He shook his head then got up from the booth to approach me.
`
"Uh...do I know you? What the hell is going on here?"
`
He stood over me, amusement playing across his face. His brown eyes twinkled, as if they held a secret. His warm hand rested on mine. I should have tucked my hand in my lap, but I couldn't.
`
For one brief moment, I wished I really were Rose.
`
He motioned for me to scoot over so he could sit beside me. At first I didn’t want to. He was, after all, a stranger even though he didn’t see it that way.
`
“You may sit across from me, but I am serious when I say that I am most certainly NOT Rose.”
`
The gentleman sat and scooted across his seat until he was directly in front of me. Then he leaned in close to stare at my face. At first I thought he was going to kiss me and I pulled back from him, but he didn’t. Instead his eyes reflected confusion and eventually he sat back against his seat.
`
“No way.” He shook his head. “This is too strange to be a coincidence.” Then he stared at me again before adding, “Has the thought ever occurred to you that, maybe, you might have a twin sister?”
`
My heart immediately jumped into my throat. I often had dreams of a sister. One who looked exactly like me, but they were just dreams. I was an only child, or at least, I thought I was.
`
My mind can't process this possibility right now. I can feel the anxiety grabbing hold of every inch of me as my heart is like a locomotive in my chest. This is not the time for a discovery or a reunion. It has only been 4 months since George's accident. I sleepwalk through my days.
`
"Miss, are you okay? Do you need a glass of water?"
`
"I'm not sure how I feel right now."
`
"Let me tell you about Rose." I looked up and knew that I had to hear the story. No hiding now.
`
My earlier hunger was replaced with nausea, but my mouth was suddenly dry. Cammie darted a glance at me as she passed and as I held out a hand, she flinched to avoid it. I pulled it back.
`
Um, I just wanted some iced tea, please?"
`
Cammie nodded and sent a concerned look to the man sitting with me before she headed off to get my tea. What on earth had I walked into? And what the hell had Rose done to these people to elicit such a reaction? I looked into the man's eyes.
`
"Go ahead."
`
"Come on, Rose," he said. "We know each other a little to too well for games, don't you think?"
`
He did look familiar in a vague sense of the word. Something about his eyes, the way his mouth turned up slightly more on the left than then right when he spoke, but still I couldn't place him.
`
"Listen, I am not Rose. I have no idea who any of you people are. I stopped in to get a bite to eat, against my better judgment. How about we start this conversation with you telling me who you are? Or better yet, how about I find another place to eat?"
`
He laughed, "Wow, you really are good. Okay, I'll play along. But first, what do you want me to call you?"
`
I gulped. I didn't want to tell him my real name. He'll never believe it. Yet I wasn't sure either if I wanted to make one up. I wasn't the type to lie or even pretend. I was just too honest.
`
I looked over the crowd in the restaurant trying to avoid answering his question.
`
Cammie brought my iced tea with her abrasive flounce, the glass clunking on the table. I gratefully gulped several sips.
`
Be brave, I said to myself. Pull up that courage. Go ahead and answer him. Tell him who you are.
`
I took in a deep breath and said, "Well, I don't even know your name but I might as well tell you mine You'll never believe it."
`
"My name is Peony, if you must know. My mother always said that the "poor man's rose" smelled more lovely and was more beautiful."
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The man raised an eyebrow, and said "Peony, huh? How convenient."
`
Fear gripped me as his eyes roamed over my heavily clad body. A girl could never wear too many clothes in this kind of weather.
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"I knew I shouldn't have told you."
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The man looked more amused. "Peony. Who are your parents? Their names?"
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"No way, I've told you plenty, now it's your turn. Tell me more about this Rose. Is she from here, and where did she go?"
`
"Yes, she grew up here, but..."
`
I raised my head and looked into the eyes that suddenly glazed over and a frown creased his forehead. I noticed his manicured fingernails as they drummed the table.
`
I caught the flicker of gold from his wedding ring; he caught me looking and a smug smile spread across his face.
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“Peony. Peony.” He kept repeating the name, like he was getting used to it. "Maybe it doesn't matter anymore."
`
My pulse jumped out of my skin. I reached over to grab my glass.
`
“Don’t!” Before I could take a sip, he snatched it out of my hand, spewing ice tea all down my front. “Don’t take another sip.”
`
Ignoring the sharp chill of liquid hitting my body, I shot up out of my chair. People were looking. I didn’t care. Disgust and anger had eradicated my fear.
`
This was getting ridiculous.
`
“Just who are you?” I motioned to Cammie who was now cowering behind the bar, “this place? And who in the hell is this Rose?”
`
I stood looking at him. But before he could answer, a woman walked through the front door. She was carrying a gun.
`
The woman's eyes scanned the restaurant and immediately locked on mine. I froze. A small smile flashed across her face. She approached the table and placed a hand on the man's shoulder.
`
"Eric, I'll take it from here. Rose Buckingham, you've been a hard girl to find. I need you to come with me."
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Fear traveled down my spine. "What? No way. I'm not going anywhere with you."
`
"Rose, let's not cause a scene. We can do this my way, or the hard way. I suggest my way." The woman took hold of my arm and led me towards the door... and a waiting police car. It was then I noticed the flash of her badge inside her coat.
`
"Um... you've got the wrong girl. I'm not Rose, I'm Peony!" I started to panic and glanced back at the man still sitting at the booth. He smiled and lifted a hand in a wave.
`
"See you soon Rose..."
`
I was put in the backseat of the cop car. I looked down at my purse. I needed to get to my cell phone, but who would I call? There was no one.
`
The officer slid into the driver's seat and adjusted her mirror to look at me. "You can thank me later for getting you out of there."
`
My eyes grew wide.
`
At this point it only seemed fitting that I keep my mouth shut. My heart pounded, begging to be released from its bony cage. My breath came in short gasps and I briefly wondered if this was it. The culmination of my years ending with an ill timed visit to a diner?
`
"Preposterous," I told myself.
`
"That's what I've been thinking, too, Rose. What should we do about it?" The cop in the front held my eyes in her rear view.
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George will know what to do, I thought.
`
Reality crashed into my head. George was dead. I would never see his smile again. I would never be able to laugh at his bad jokes or hit him when he teased me.
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My throat felt like it would squeeze shut and never open. George would never be able to help me. I was on my own, just like before.
`
I concentrated on my breathing. In. Out. In. Out. This day had gone from odd to downright bizarre.
`
"Where are you taking me? What is it you think I did?"
`
I was going to have to gather my wits and sort this out, without George.
`
I was such an idiot.
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"Do you want to see my driver's license? That will prove I'm not Rose."
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"Sure, but fakes are a dime a dozen around here. You know that."
`
She shook her head like I was an idiot for pretending not to know about counterfeit IDs.
`
I dug in my purse, pulled out my wallet, fumbled with the stupid clip, flipped open the small leather folder and held it out. She took it.
`
"Nice," she said. "This is a pricey wallet."
`
"Look at the license."
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She did. She looked at it, at me, at it, at me, folded and clipped the wallet and handed it back to me.
`
"That's a really good fake," she said. "Must've cost you a bundle."
`
This was going from bad to worse. I had to think of something - and fast. I thought about running, but there were no handles on the back seat doors of the cop car. I considered giving in to the sobs choking my throat. Maybe she'd be the sympathetic type. No. That dubious eyebrow and her belief that my perfectly good ID is fake were a hand I wasn't willing to play against.
`
But there was one possible way to convince her I was telling the truth.
`
"I'm not lying and I can prove it."
`
"Funny, Rose. There's nothing in the world you can say or show me that will help you out of this scrape."
`
"I want you to look at my left hip. Just do that for me, and you'll know for sure what a mistake all this is."
`
[Janna’s conclusion begins here.]
At the nod of her head, I moved to unbutton my pants, fingers numb and fumbling.
`
“No, wait. Stop, Peony.”
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“But… how do you know my…?” Dry, my mouth so dry. I watched her start the car, slide into gear.
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“We have to move from this place. Let me just…” she said, leading my thoughts to endless places.
`
She cranked the wheel, forcing its turn, and I thought, it needs power steering fluid—funny, the things you notice during intense moments. Power
`
She rolled the cruiser around the corner, out of sight from the café, where she slowed to park.
`
“What are you doing?” I couldn’t keep the flame from my voice. “I have a right to know why you’ve got me, what you’re going to do!”
`
She left the engine running but unbuckled, shifted in her seat. Oh God, what’s she doing?
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“Peony, stay calm. I know this is a lot to handle.” She pulled her hair from its clip, freeing long and curly locks. “I’ll make you understand.” She began to pull at her eyes, and my stomach turned.
`
“What are you doing!” My hand flew to the door. There had to be a way out of this car.
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“Shh, shh,” she said. “Just be patient.” And faux lashes peeled away. She removed a mouthpiece; teeth, cheek implants.
`
Repulsion made me weak. My head lolled, banging the window. But I jerked alert fast, wide-eyed. This woman, she wasn’t a cop, I knew it now. And I knew because—
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“Peony?”
`
“You—”
`
“I’m Rose. I’m your sister.”
`
The man in the diner, what was it he’d said? Something about a twin? And my dreams, so many dreams for months, so real…
`
“It’s difficult, I know. Peony, I’ve only known for four months.”
`
She reached for my hand as eerie fingers moved up my spine. “Four?” I stared into the deep brown eyes. The ones just like mine.
`
“I found out before George died.”
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I gasped, the wind knocked from me. George! What did she know about my George?
`
“Things went horribly wrong. Those people,” she said, tipping her head in the diner’s direction, “they’ve been placed.”
`
“What do you mean? Placed by who?”
`
“Let me start at the beginning, as it was told to me…” Rose said. And I listened.
`
I listened for forty-five minutes, rapt, seized by her words. Words about our parents, who’d been witnesses to a murder. Who’d had to go into hiding. Who had to put their young daughters up for adoption. Rose and Peony.
`
“Us,” she said. Her eyes searched the street, the sidewalks. “And those people in the diner, they’re with the bad guys. They want us, it’s about retribution. And about protecting a years-old secret. They already got… our parents.”
`
“They’re dead?” I swallowed around the bile in my throat. “I don’t…” Tears misted, pressure building. It was all too much. Just too much. All I’d wanted was lunch. “But how did you find out? How did you find me?”
`
“It was George. He was an undercover cop, the one brought in to protect us. He was your love. And he was my best friend. He wasn’t supposed to get so close.”
`
“And the accident?”
`
“He wasn’t supposed to get so close.”
`
The face so new to me, the face I saw myself in, blurred. My seat, the car, the world spun.
`
“And we have to go, Peony. We have to leave now.” Rose spun in her seat, tugged the belt over her lap. “They’ll get us if we don’t.”
`
“Where are we supposed to go?”
`
“Cayman Islands,” she whispered low, her eyes darting through the windows. “I’ve wired money. I’ve chartered a plane. We leave in an hour.”
`
“How can you be telling me this?” I spat. “An hour ago I was thinking about a cheeseburger. I was going to rent a movie. And go home for a nap. What you’re telling me is not okay!”
`
“You don’t have a choice, Peony. And neither do I.” She shifted into drive and took off, faster than I could think.
`
“I can’t believe this.”
`
Minutes later, as we flew the freeway, a low sound floated from the front seat. A growl, I thought. No, it was laughter. Rose was laughing, her shoulders began to shake.
`
“I guess there is something, Peony.”
`
It didn’t matter. My life had ended with George’s death. Nothing more Rose had to say would affect me.
`
“Since we’re starting over,” she said, “we’ll get to choose new names.”

***
Contributors: Journaling Woman, Amy Sue Nathan, Tabitha Bird, Jen, Mumsy, P, Michelle Gregory, JLC, septembermom, Sharla, She Writes, JOY, VirtualWordsmith, Kristi Faith, Karen, Silicon Valley Diva, Jill Maxwell, Deb Shucka, and Janna Qualman

38 comments:

Janna Qualman said...

I hope I did your expectations justice, gang. There was a lot to explain and tie up!

Fun, huh? I had a blast.

Tell me, what did you like? What would you have done differently?

She Writes said...

That was great wrap! It was fun to be creative in a group and see what happened!

Tabitha Bird said...

oh that was super fun. You must do it again some time :) Thanks for posting the final version. :)

Kristi Faith said...

I loved the story. So many twists and turns with every different mind. :0)

Great job, Janna!

Amy Sue Nathan said...

Way to go, Janna.

Journaling Woman said...

Oh Janna what a great collection this is. Thanks for the idea and for all your work. And it was so much fun.

I wouldn't change a thing.

This story will make me giggly all day.

Jessica said...

Oh my gosh! That was awesome. :-) Thank you so much for posting it and I'm sorry I didn't play. Maybe next time.
Very cool!

Slamdunk said...

What a fun exercise Janna--very well done. I'll have to get off my duff and write next time.

Mason Canyon said...

WOW. I'm sitting on pins and needles waiting on part two where they plot their justice. This was great. Thanks so much for sharing and for introducing me to some very interesting new links.

Michelle Gregory said...

what fun! i think you did a great job tying up all the loose ends.

P said...

Wow! It turned out SO good!! What a great idea this was :)

Silicon Valley Diva said...

I love this story, especially since I'm an identical twin myself :-)

Thanks again and you tied up things superbly! Bravo! So much fun to be a part of creating this story.

Mumsy said...

This is a wonderful short story! I was on edge reading as each contributor added in..

Fantastic idea, and a great ending, Janna!

Tess said...

Ha! You clever, clever writers.

The Hat Chick said...

I loved the last line! You did a great job of pulling it all together.

myletterstoemily said...

what a fun idea! we used to do that with our five
children on car trips. i loved how you wrapped it
all up.

can't wait to see what you post tomorrow.

blessings,
lea

Constance Marie said...

Turned out great! I love how you tied in the elements everyone else brought up, like George.

destrella said...

Super fun idea. Neat to read. :O)

Melanie Avila said...

This is so cool! Great work everyone, and what an awesome idea.

Debbie said...

That was great, Janna. What a fun, collaborative piece.

septembermom said...

Great job tying it all together Janna! Love the ending. Thanks so much for hosting this collaboration. I had fun :) Everyone added so much to driving the story forward.

Melissa Marsh said...

Brilliant ending, Janna! I love the twist. Awesome!

Sharla said...

Love your ending Janna! Very cool. That was a blast!

patti said...

ABSOLUTELY amazing!!!

I loved the opening. You hooked me in right away by the word "small."

Also the plotting part surprised me and kept tension.

Great job!!!

Kathryn Magendie said...

What fun! I remember doing something like this before but the particulars escape me - however, it was a fun and interesting project! :)

Capri K said...

You all worked so well together!!!

colbymarshall said...

Aw, lots of fun! Love it!

Janna Qualman said...

I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised so many jumped in to participate. Thank you, everyone!

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

That's awesome!

JOY said...

Super finish! This was such fun and I learned how to write more at a detail level in my little part just by reading the other parts. I knew you'd wrap it up like a bouquet of roses!

Nadine said...

So fun!! I'm sad I missed the writing of it!

Karen said...

Whoo Hooo, that was fun! I love your ending!

Angie Muresan said...

That was awesome! Do it again, will you?

WendyCinNYC said...

I'm going to write my next novel that way.

Kara said...

Wow, everyone did a great job:)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Janna -

Great job! I liked the twists and turns the story took.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Deb Shucka said...

I love how you ended this. What a great story, and so fun to be a part of. Let's do it again sometime.

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