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Once Upon a Rose

By:Laura Florand

Chapter 1


When the car stalled, Layla started to wonder if she hadn’t made a big mistake.

Sure, it was a nice fantasy, escaping to a forgotten heritage in Provence, abandoning the world after first playing in a Paris fountain with your phone in your pocket. No way a producer could email or text a fugitive musician about where her next songs were when her phone was sitting in a box of rice.

But right about now, it would have been nice to have Google Maps.

She climbed out of her little blue van, scrubbing her face. Peace greeted her. Just this soft hush of it, as if all sound had been velveted by rose petals. She leaned back against the van, staring up at the stars. Wow, they were gorgeous here, with so little light to compete with them. Pure and beautiful, a silent song of stars.

She used to feel that way—as if she was pure song. As if everything she did, everything she was existed to pour out music.

Her hand slipped into her pocket, and she worked her fingers over her hand exerciser nervously, in lieu of the guitar she hadn’t touched in days. Not since her last gig, and it had been months before that since she’d written anything new. She’d played her old songs over and over, a new town every night, bombarded by kudos and critics, but the well of creativity those songs had once been drawn from seemed to have gone completely dry.

If you were a singer-songwriter, if that was who you were, and you didn’t write music…who were you?

Maybe she should get some rest. She’d driven straight down from Paris in one go, a drive of ten hours, and then she’d gotten lost for hours more on these impossible back roads.

All to check out some house in the south of France that had found its way down to her years after her erratic father’s passing. Did she have time for this? No. She had an album to write.

Maybe she could hole up in the house and write the damn thing. If she could ever find it. At this point, she was so tired and so sick of driving around lost, she was about ready to sleep in this field of…of…

Flowers? The road was built up higher than the fields around it, so that she could stare over…were those roses?

She straightened from the van, taking a step toward them. Like…a whole field of rose bushes, stretching…how far did they stretch? Moonlight gilded the petals, making leaves stand out sharply as far as the black form of the hills.

She climbed down the bank to touch petals softer than silk, then bent to breathe in. A soft sweetness filled her lungs, as if all those crisp scents of thyme and rosemary and pine that had filled the air in these Provençal hills for the past few hours had decided to lay themselves down in a bed of roses for the night and go to sleep.

Roses.

The little house that she’d inherited was on a road called Rue des Rosiers. Road of the rose bushes. It was supposed to be on the edge of fields of roses, nestled in a valley.

Hills rose around her in the distance, great shapes against the stars, with a handful of lights here and there against their darkness. Meaning she was in a valley, right?

Maybe, at long last, she was getting close to her destination.

She eyed the lights glowing from a house deeper in the valley. A mile off maybe? The house must belong to whoever grew these roses.

Seriously, how bad could someone who grew roses for a living be? She’d once busked her way through Europe when she was still a student, and she’d certainly crashed many a night, while on the music circuit, with near strangers she’d met at whatever festival she was playing. She could handle this. She headed through the field toward the lights.

Walking through the dark rows of roses was the oddest blend of peace and stress. Alarm and pleasure mixed in the strangest way. Stranded alone at night in a foreign country...the sweet scent of roses wafting off an endless field...walking through the darkness, which everyone knew from films was always full of monsters...stars brilliant overhead, a balmy Provençal May night...

Look, don’t let all this fool you! A woman didn’t survive summers busking her way through Europe without learning better than to let the beauty of her surroundings lure her into a false sense of safety. That’s why tourists are always getting in trouble. They think they’ve fallen into a fairy tale and forget fairy tales have ogres.

The noise from the house got louder. She followed a packed dirt road off the main one, and then a long gravel drive, lined with cars. Loud music spilled from open windows, nearly overwhelmed by the drunk voices joining in to sing Allez, allez, allez!

Her body shifted into the rhythm without thought, shoulders and hips dancing a tiny bit to that happy, triumphant rhythm. It was the kind of music that invited a music-lover to throw off tiredness, to bounce into that farmhouse and join the party.

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