Blood Rose: Ch. 1

The ball came out of nowhere. Smack! The blow to the side of my face was like a fistful of needles as I lost my balance, falling onto the icy concrete of the street. I blinked away the snowflakes already collecting in my eyelashes, and looked up at the grey Parisian sky, regretting my decision to join my family in a friendly game of soccer—here called futball— outside our hotel. 

“Grace!” Adam, my boyfriend of three years, yelped. Immediately rushing to my side, kneeling on the ground beside me with a furrow of worry, he asked, “Are you okay?”

“Remind me not to play against Derrick,” I said, taking the hand Adam offered to help me sit up. My head throbbed in response, and I felt a warm liquid trickling down my forehead. 

“You’re bleeding,” Adam said, his eyes widening in horror as his golden-bronze skin started to pale.

Adam had a pretty intense blood phobia, and I immediately reached up to wipe away the blood with the sleeve of my jacket before he could end up passed out on the ground next to me. 

“I’m fine,” I said.

Adam looked down at my bloodied sleeve, and swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat, his tell that he was trying his hardest not to vomit. Luckily, my brother Derrick, the soccer-star of our family, came running up to us with the ball tucked under his arm, distracting Adam from humiliation.

“I’m so sorry, Grace!” Derrick said, struggling to catch his breath. “I didn’t mean to kick it that hard. Are you alright?”

“She hit the ground pretty hard, I think,” Adam said. 

“I’m fine,” I said.

To demonstrate my well-being, I fought against the dizzyingly spinning Earth and attempted to stand right as my cousin, Brooke, blew into the whistle she was wearing around her neck, emitting a piercing sound that knocked me right back to the ground. Adam and Derrick both lunged to catch me before I could fall, but ended up colliding into each other and falling on top of me in an uncomfortable doggy-pile instead.

“Ouch!” Adam cried out as the air was sucked out of my lungs.

“Brooke, what the hell!” Derrick yelled.

Star-like bubbles swirled around the pink laces of Brooke’s boots as she approached us. I didn’t have to see her to know she had her arms crossed in front of her chest, and a defiant scowl on her face.

“What?” Brooke asked. “I thought I was supposed to signal for an injury?”

“Not like that!” Derrick said as he jumped to his feet. “That was a little late, don’t you think?”

“Well, sor-rry. I never said I was a good referee.”

Adam pushed himself to a squat beside me, and placed a hand lightly on my back. “Grace, are you okay?”

I rolled over onto my back, fighting a groan. My veins seemed to be pumping throbbing pain throughout my entire body, the ache intensified in the cold.

“Peachy,” I strained.

“We should get her inside,” Adam said. “Help me lift her?”

I winced as my body changed positions, and closed my eyes to focus on the floating sensation of being carried. I had crowdsurfed once at a concert Adam and I had gone to for our first real date. Yes, think happy thoughts Grace. Oh, yes. Warmth. 

“I’m really sorry, Grace,” Derrick said. I could hear the worry in his voice. “I really didn’t mean to kick it so hard, but you know how I get.”

“I’m fine, really. You can put me down now,” I said.

“Are you sure?” Adam asked. There was audible concern in his voice too.

“I’m sure. Put me down,” I said.

My feet met the ground of the hotel lobby with a wave of pulsating pain rushing to my head. I leaned into Adam’s arm still wrapped around my waist as the pain subsided into a dull throbbing ache, and my body adjusted to being upright again. 

“Grandpa!” Derrick said as our grandfather appeared from the opening elevator doors.

“Ah, there you are. I was just on my way to tell you guys you should start cleaning up for supper,” Grandpa said with a grin. His grin faded as he noticed I was injured. “Grace, my dear, what happened?”

“I accidentally kicked the ball too hard, and it knocked her down,” Derrick confessed.

“She was bleeding,” Adam said.

“I’m fine,” I insisted.

“Well, let’s have your mother take a look at it, shall we?” Grandpa said, wrapping an arm around my shoulders and leading me toward the elevator.

I nodded. My mother was an ICU nurse at our local hospital back home in Arizona, and was our family’s go-to person for any medical questions or concerns.

“Why don't you boys help Grace to your mother while I let the other's know it's time to head in?” Grandpa suggested. Adam and Derrick eagerly nodded their consent. “And don't forget to practice your French! We’ll be having another family quiz during dinner tonight. The winner will get to pick what we do first tomorrow.”

I grinned as I pushed the up button for the elevator. Grandpa had signed us all up for French lessons over the summer to prepare for the trip to Paris, but I had already been taking lessons since the fifth grade. I had always had a fascination for the language and culture. My bedroom back home was Paris themed, and I had been the one to pick Paris as our family vacation for the year. At Christmas every year, every member of the family wrote down their dream vacation destination, and at the start of every summer, Grandpa would randomly select one of the ballots, and the family would take a vote. My ballot had said Paris every year since I was ten, so I was more than prepared when my ballot was finally chosen. I had won every Family Quiz competition since the first one on the flight here, and was confident I would be the winner at supper as well.

“Now, Grace, I know you’re excited, but I want the others to have a chance, so I’m going to disqualify you from the competition tonight. You’ll be a judge with me tonight instead,” Grandpa said, and I frowned.

“Yeah, okay,” I said, disheartened.

Grandpa patted me on the shoulder as the elevator doors opened and Adam, Derrick, and I stepped in. I gave Grandpa my best reassuring smile to hide my disappointment as the doors closed us in. I don't think he bought it, but it was worth the shot. 

        My mother was removing the floaties from the twins, my four year old brothers Finn and Griffen, when we walked into our suite. They had just gotten back from the hotel pool. 

“Gracie b-weeding!” Finn said, pointing a tiny finger at my head.

My mom looked up, saw the blood on my face and sighed. “Derrick, how many times do I have to remind you to take it easy with your family?”

“It was an accident!” Derrick said. “I swear I didn’t mean to kick it that hard.”

“You never do,” Mom said, shaking her head. “Have a seat, Grace. I’ll fix you up in a minute. Derrick, grab my kit for me, please. Adam, do you mind helping with the boys?”

“Of course, Mrs. Sheppard,” Adam said as Derrick said, “On it.”

I sat down on the couch with a sigh. “I’m fine, Mom, really. I just need to shower.”

“I’m sure you are, sweetie, but I’m still going to take a look,” Mom said as she wiggled the last float off Griffen’s arm.

“First one to the bath gets a scoop of my ice cream tonight!” Adam said, rallying the boys to their bath.

As Adam and the twins retreated for bath time, Derrick arrived with Mom’s medical kit. She always had one with her, wherever she went. It came in handy more often than not.

“Thanks, Derrick,” Mom said. “Go help with the twins, please. And if your father is still sleeping, will you wake him up for me, please? Tell him we’re getting ready for dinner.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Derrick said, giving our mother a mock-salute as he turned to leave.

I gritted my teeth to keep from wincing as Mom began cleaning the cut on my forehead. 

“Well, Derrick definitely got you good this time, but at least you won’t need stitches.”

“So it’s better than his baseball phase?” 

Mom chuckled. “Yes, I suppose it is. I really wish he’d be more careful.”

“It was an accident, Mom. He was trying to be careful. The ground was just really slippery. It wasn’t his fault.”

“I'm sure, sweetheart. But let’s maybe try to steer the group away from sports while we’re here, huh?”

“I can try. Not making any promises, though. You know Grandpa is banning me from the Family Quiz tonight? He wants to make it ‘fair for the others.’ So I won’t be picking the family activity tomorrow.”

“If I were you, I’d take that as a compliment,” she said as she stuck a bandaid over the cut. “Now, go get ready for dinner. I need to make sure your dad’s up, and check on the boys.”

The restaurant that night was absolutely incredible. Sitting down at one of the tables made everyone instantly feel like royalty, and the best part was the perfect view of the Eiffel Tower outside the window. 

Unfortunately, I was stuck sitting at the “kid’s” end of the table, unable to participate in any of the adult conversation going on at the other end of the long table. Instead, I had a front-row seat to Finn and Griffen’s “How Far Can I Stick This Piece of Bread Up My Nose Before Mom Yells at Me” competition. Ugh.

“Grace, how do you pronounce this word again?” Derrick asked as he pointed at something on the menu.

Terre,” I said. "Like 'to tear a piece of paper' but with a little roll of the r's."

Terre,” he repeated.

“Are you seriously just going to get a baked potato again?” I asked.

Derrick shrugged. “Better than frogs legs. Or duck.”

“How would you know if you’ve never tried it?”

“I’m not in a try-it mood tonight. I’m hungry! I want to eat!”

“What about a crepe?”

“Isn’t that a dessert?”

“Not always. Look, this one here has spinach, ham, and cheese with a gravy-like sauce.”

“You can read all that?”

I rolled my eyes as Derrick stared at the menu with a concentrated look on his face. The waiter came by then to take our order, and I helped everyone with the translation of their order, noticing Grandpa’s proud grin as he watched me. I felt a swell of joy knowing I was the one who made him proud.

After the waiter left to put in our order, Grandpa announced it was time for the Family Quiz. Everyone groaned except for me, but we all wound up having a lot of fun. The laughter never seemed to stop. It was one of those priceless, picture-perfect nights that you never want to end. We couldn’t have imagined the horror that was waiting for us in the days to come. 

As the saying goes, ignorance was bliss.

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