The Language of Thorns
He knows what people see him as. They say he’s not a kind man. He’s not affectionate with anyone. He would agree with them entirely if he had not met Kathleen Rose. She was fourteen when his heart stopped at the sight of her, refusing to beat without the first smile she cast at him.
And that smile meant more to him than anything else in his twenty years of life.
After that fateful moment, Edward Blake found himself habitually visiting the little rose garden that was placed near the estates of several wealthy families. He always sat on a stone bench, watching as she flitted around the rose bushes, admiring her as much as she admired the beauty of the flowers. He had not expected her to come up to him, as he averted his eyes some umpteenth time to pretend he had not been watching her, and smile that bright luminous smile of hers at him.
“Hullo there. I’m Kathleen Rose. Will you take a walk with me around the garden?”
He silently accepted and held out his arm for her to take, the cloth of his dress jacket stretching. Her gentle hand touched his forearm slightly before holding just a little tighter. His breath sped up, but he wouldn’t dare to show his feelings.
She talked the whole time and he listened attentively, his narrow face stoic. But he was still content to feel her soft brown curls against his fingers as he sneaked in a touch, and was more than happy to peer into her wide amber eyes.
It was the same routine after two months of knowing each other. Every day he would not say a thing to her, but they would walk around the rose garden contentedly. He addressed her then, more comfortable around her presence than anyone else’s.
“Miss Rose, please accept this and find its meaning,” he said as he slipped a thorn-less violet rose into her hand, turning it to place a chaste kiss on the smooth skin of the back of her hand.
He took his leave, returning the next day to sit on his bench. He took note of her arriving early, harried and frantically looking for him. Her lithe legs strained themselves to reach him quickly and she held something tightly in her right hand.
“My mum told me what the rose meant,” she said shyly, ducking her eyes once before bashfully raising them to reach his. “A violet rose means love at first sight, the same if it is thorn-less.”
He hid a smile and focused his cobalt eyes on her blushing face. He wondered what he would say, for he didn’t have any prior knowledge of courting.
“The language of flowers was meant to convey the feelings of humans. Their beauty enables us to speak when our mouths and looks cannot. Not even all our actions can show the truth, when our actions can be misrepresented. This is the language I can speak to you, my Rose.”
She smiled, and what a lovely smile she always gave, and handed him a flower in return. It was what was clenched tightly in her hand before. A single red tulip that made his heart soar.
Though he didn’t express it outwardly, he was delighted at her declaration of love.
His hand itched for the bottle of brandy sitting innocently on his cabinet. His head was aching, but he still wanted a shot of the liquor to burn down his throat, if only to erase the image of his father sitting calmly in front of him.
“Edward, she’s a commoner. You can’t expect to marry her into the family,” Edward watched his father thread his hand through his peppered hair. The cold gray eyes of William Blake bore into Edward with damnation and disappointment in them.
“I can and I will,” Edward answered brusquely, refusing to give into the urge to throttle his father.
“Edward,” William spoke in a threatening tone.
“Father,” he echoed mockingly.
“Don’t be a fool,” his father glared angrily, his cool slipping from his tight grasp.
Edward’s normal calm façade broke down first.
“Bloody Hell! I’m old enough to decide if I want to be a fool or not. I don’t want you meddling in my affairs. It shouldn’t be your business who I want to be with for the rest of my life,” Edward growled, his lip curling up in anger.
William’s face was wiped blank and his father stood up abruptly.
“Don’t marry her. I will disown you if you do.”
When his father turned on his heel and strode out without another word, Edward went to his expensive bottle of brandy, uncapped it, tossed a gulp into his mouth, and then threw it at the wall.
Fingering the smooth band of the ring in his breast pocket, he was determined to defy his father. The next day, he proposed to Kathleen Rose and never showed his happiness when she accepted.
Despite William’s threat, he never went through with disowning Edward from the family. Edward was the heir of the Blake fortune, and the only one to have been trained in taking over the family estate. Without Edward, William would have to start all over from the beginning with his other son, who had shown nothing but rebellion since he was born. The two brothers were comparatively alike.
In the months following, he had briefly met Kathleen’s family, but neither of them had come to know anything about the other. The only mutual link between Edward and her family was Kathleen herself.
Kathleen was as bright as always and her smile always made him happy. He loved listening to her and did whatever he could to make her happy. His only regret was his inability to show any emotion towards her.
He loved her. Truly, he did. But in the Blake family, one learned to mask their emotions since an early age. He didn’t have the time he needed to unlearn any of his family’s teachings, and he knew he came off cold to her. He tried, continuously giving her a different flower to signify his devotion to her, but she was still unable to understand him as completely as he had come to understand her.
He feared he would lose her.
“I’m not doing this.”
“Why not? Lieutenant Blake, you’ve been inactive for awhile. We need you to go undercover for this to work.”
Edward sighed. The only reason he had joined the army was to spite his father. Now that he had met Kathleen he wanted no part in the war.
“I’m engaged to Kathleen Rose. I’ll buy my way out of the ranks if I have to.”
His superior officer smirked at him. “Oh, but Miss Rose’s father is funding the Germans.”
Edward froze, his body stiffening and he knew he was cornered.
“Alright. Do I at least get to work with Alexander Rose personally?”
He had to protect Kathleen, even if it was from her own father.
“Of course. You’ll be spying on him and several other men. The mission perimeters are in this folder. You’ll have to pick an alias.”
“William…William Dover,” he said absentmindedly, picking up the folder that had been turned over to him and skimming through it.
“How long will it take?”
Edward’s heart ached. To protect Kathleen. He had to do this for her.
He’ll lose her.
He wore his military uniform the day he told her. Her chin was up defiantly and he imagined her eyes were boring into him much like his father’s had when William had confronted Edward about Kathleen. He had placed her hand onto one of his buttons, willing the ice to melt from his eyes so that she would see a warm look come from him at least just this once. His mouth was pressed in a firm line and he no doubt looked uncaring to her.
But he did care so very much. So much that it hurt.
As he told her he was leaving and how long, he made sure to make her promise to wait for him. He didn’t even realize how hard he had her pressing her hand against his button, so desperate for her to give him a reason to come back to this life. If it made a mark, Edward wished it would stay to keep others away.
He knew he was being selfish, but he’d rather be selfish than lose the first thing that ever made him happy. And he wanted to let the wishful mark on her hand mark her as his when he could not claim her otherwise.
So many thoughts whirled through his mind as he gazed at her, a girl who probably thought him unkind and perhaps even cruel. He suddenly regretted the mark he had forced onto her, not wanting to mar her beautiful skin.
Please don’t hate me.
Don’t leave me.
Promise…you promised you’ll wait for me. Don’t break your promise.
…I don’t want to lose you…
He walked away feeling heavier with every step, abandoning his life as Edward Blake for the time being. Now, he was William Dover and he mustn’t look back. He couldn’t.
He wouldn’t if it meant seeing a happy look on her face on the thought of his leave.