April was looking for a rosebush on the easterly section of the hiking trail to verify the note she’d received was genuine. She found none. If this were a safe place, I’d find a rose somewhere. At least a rose bush.
Stephen always told her to beware of false messages. It was one of the hazards of being in love with a spy. “You must understand the risks,” he’d say in that delightful Irish accent of his.
April sighed. She loved thinking about Stephen, the way he talked, walked, even the way he smelled! But now she had to find the rose or leave. That was the rule.
Stephen’s work was very dangerous. He never said what agency employed him, and sometimes he couldn’t say where he was going or when he’d return. “If I come back,” he’d say as she swam in his Irish green eyes.
The message had been pushed under her door but addressed to them both. Stephen wasn’t home, so she opened it alone. It said, “the usual clues would be present to assure them of their safety”, and to “hurry, a matter of life or death.”
There was no rosebush. After teaching all day she was tired, and besides, if she turned west she could see the sunset. There was no danger, just an old car battery by a tree. Something about that bothered her, but the beauty of the view captured her thoughts.
She sat on the ground and worshiped the setting sun. Her thoughts wandered from the missing rose bush to how she first met Stephen. “How can I help you?” April had asked, thinking this incredibly handsome man must be the father of a student who was about to enter her class.
“I can’t explain, but can you tell me the name of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter?” This question seemed absurd coming out in an Irish brogue. Once April’s giggles were under control, she replied, “Her name was Rose.”
Stephen had leaned forward till he was almost a kiss away. “And your name?”
April’s throat went dry.
“April,” she whispered.
“A fine name. The name of a rose with cheeks as pink as yours.”
She had smiled at him. “The April rose is actually a pinkish-orangish rose.”
Stephen response was to take her hand. “Perhaps you are right. But whatever the color of that rose, I’m hoping you and your pink cheeks will dine with me tonight.”
April sighed as she watched the pink sky turn orange. It was such a pleasure to remember their first meeting. Later, when they used roses as a code, it made Stephen’s spy work seem fun.
“Pink roses are fine.”
“Because you are mine,” April chimed in.
“But run fast as hell when I wear red,” Stephen warned.
“Or we both may end up very dead.”
“This is serious!” Stephen had grabbed her shoulders. “I don’t want to lose you! You don’t know how much I worry about you! Please! I don’t care if it is a bush, bouquet, or boutonniere. Roses are the clue.”
Once they were meeting at a park. He was carrying pink roses, so she approached only to see him throw them to the ground and stomp on them. Instead of running to his side, she decided it must have originally been safe for them to meet but now meeting was dangerous. She walked back to her apartment taking several confusing detours in case she was being followed. Stephen met her there three hours later.
“You understood the clue…” April thought Stephen almost purred as he carried her to bed.
April had never felt love so tender…and then so passionate. She felt true happiness was finally hers — until the next morning when he gave her a present. It was a very small, very deadly, gun. “Please carry this always.”
“Not to school!”
“I cannot always protect you, and people will eventually come.”
“I’d never talk! Even if they tortured me!”
Stephen’s eyes twinkled, and after a few jokes about “his mighty gun” more lovemaking had followed.
Suddenly April realized that the sun had set. She had found no roses and she had not gone home. She looked around, saw nothing, and began walking down the path. Reaching the tree, she noticed the battery was gone. What was an old car battery doing on a walking trail anyway? April looked at her clothing. Her jacket was bright but the rest of her clothing was dark. Removing the gun and keys from her jacket and putting them in her shirt pocket, she nonchalantly dropped the jacket before running into the darkness.
She left the trail and took to the thicket. It was awkward, and sometimes painful, crawling through the brambles, but she maintained her silence by keeping her teeth clenched. Once she crawled through the end of the thicket, she quickly found her car, unlocked the door, and sped away.
Home was full of lovely smells. Stephen was busy cooking dinner and called out to her to “be ready to experience the virtues of the potato!” She was glad he wasn’t upset by her lateness, but something felt wrong. Then, through the mist of roasting chicken and potato soup, she saw the message she’d received on the floor. He hadn’t seen it.
Stephen’s voice floated to her through the potato fog. “April, where did that car battery come from?”
Although her reaction was quick, she felt as if she were moving in slow motion. Pushing Stephen out the door, into the car, and driving down the street while she was trying to explain seemed almost as if she was watching someone else do it.
The explosion rocked the car despite their being two blocks away by the time it detonated.
April barely managed to get the car to the side of the road before Stephen pulled her into his arms. He pressed his lips on hers, but she pushed him away so that she could finish telling him about the battery. Tears of shame pierced her cheeks when she confessed that she hadn’t left despite there being no rose, but she brushed the tears aside and managed to describe how she’d crawled through the thicket of thorns.
“They were hoping to catch us both on the trail,” Stephen quietly said. “Which means one thing.”
April looked up at him. She wanted him to know that she’d already guessed the truth. “They think I know something so now they want us both.”
Stephen nodded. “When you came to the trail alone, they moved the bomb to the apartment.”
“But Stephen, at least I did things right in the end.”
April felt Stephen’s strong arms around her again. His heartbeat pounded in rhythm with her own.
“Perhaps I don’t need to worry about you so much,” Stephen whispered, “I’ve been so in love with you that I’ve been blind – blind to how much you’ve learned! But please, let me worry just a little, if only for old time’s sake. My April Rose. Who now takes care of me.”
© 2017 Leslie Muzingo
About Leslie: Leslie Muzingo grew up in Iowa but relocated to the Deep South some years ago. She has recently begun spending her summers in Prince Edward Island and finds great similarities between PEI and the rural Iowa of her youth.
She was published in last year’s Iowa State Writers Guild, The World Retold, (2016). Her stories have also been found in ‘Literary Mama‘, (2015) and Puff Puff Prose Poetry and a Play (2015). She considers herself an emerging writer. Her emergence is a slow one as she has so many things she likes to do, and there are only so many hours in a day.
She recently had a story published in the anthology, “Two Eyes Open” by MacKenzie Publishing.
Another story of Leslie’s will appear this spring in “The Forgotten and the Fantastical, IV” by Mother’s Milk Books.
Follow Leslie on Twitter @sootfoot5.