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Roses For Josie

bouquet of flowers lying on the bed

Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.

You know the expression “be careful what you wish for?” Well, have I got a story that illustrates that notion perfectly…  

Josie Bennett is someone I’ve known my entire life. We grew up going to elementary school together, having lived on the same block. We weren’t best-best friends, but we were friendly enough, walking to and from school together at least a few days a week, playing basketball at the park on occasion, and going to each other’s birthday parties…  

But, as we got older, things started to change. I wasn’t exactly sure what had prompted the change, but sometime around middle school Josie became distant. And it wasn’t just me who thought so; others were saying it too – that Josie wasn’t going out anywhere, except for school, that she’d say no whenever invited out to lunch or to the movies.  

Apparently, she’d stopped going to her dance classes too, even though the family had paid through the year. And, soon, she even stopped going to school, opting to homeschool instead. 

My parents were friendly with Josie’s parents and knew the full scoop but they wanted to respect Josie’s privacy so they never told me what the deal was; they just encouraged me to keep reaching out, without pressure, just to let Josie know I was there if she never needed me,  which is exactly what I did.

I made a point to send her a text or leave her a quick phone message at least once a  week. And by high school, we’d established a fairly steady rhythm of texting back and forth every couple of days, which seemed to be her preferred form of communication. 

Eventually, sometime around our junior year, she told me she suffered from social anxiety disorder – a case so severe that it made it hard to leave the house. But, eventually she had to leave. Her parents were splitting up. The house was being sold. Her younger sister Paula was going off to college. 

Around that time, Josie got an offer to move into her aunt’s one-bedroom cottage. The tenant who’d been living at the cottage had recently moved out. The place was empty and surrounded by acres of land. It sounded perfect, except for one thing… It was a two-hour drive from home.  

But Josie loved the idea of starting anew someplace different, getting away from her everyday surroundings, in a smallish town where life moved at a slower pace.  And, actually, things were great in the beginning. Josie loved the cottage. She said it was like the setting of a storybook – so green and peaceful, with a babbling brook that ran alongside the property and a front porch where she could sit and read.  

With no neighbors right on top of her, Josie felt comfortable to get outside; she made a huge rose garden and kept a bunch of birdhouses.  

But, as much as the remote location provided a tranquil advantage, it had its disadvantages too. There was no one to people-watch. No passersby, aside from the postal carrier who’d come once a day. She was on a dead-end road, so not many cars or bikes ventured her way unless someone was lost, and she was getting a bit lonely. 

One night, surfing around online, she came across a website dedicated to helping users find the perfect mate. And while she wasn’t a stranger to social sites, this one seemed different.

For one, there was a huge emphasis on providing a detailed psychological profile. For another,  she couldn’t find reviews of the site to see if it was any good.  

Still, she liked the sales pitch – that there was someone for anyone, that we custom order things like couches and sneakers so why shouldn’t we do the same for our partners? 

So…she started the psychological profile. The questions were easy at first, asking about hobbies, entertainment preferences, educational background, general interests… But soon they got a bit more personal, covering topics like politics, religion, family, past relationships… As she was answering, these cute little message bubbles would appear on the screen,  saying things like, “We know this is hard, but answer as honestly as you can.” And, “The more  authentic you are, the closer you’ll get to your perfect person.”  

So, she kept answering. 

And answering. 

And answering more questions… Even when they got totally bizarre, like: “Have you ever cheated on a partner? Would you if guaranteed you’d never get caught?” “Have you ever been violent? Can you give a specific example?” 

“Have you ever sought revenge? If so, what was the outcome?” 

And, also, “What’s the most malicious thing you’ve ever done? Does anyone know about  it?” 

More than once, Josie thought about exiting out of the site. But she’d already invested so much time. So, she kept on going, eventually opening up about her anxiety. “My home has become my safe space,” she wrote. “But it’s also my prison, if that makes any sense. And  sometimes I wish someone would just steal me away, free me from these self-made bars.”  

As soon as she hit send on that answer, she wished she hadn’t. That wasn’t what she’d meant. The words hadn’t come out right. Plus, it was now after midnight, three hours of questions later. She wasn’t thinking straight.

She was just about to close her laptop when a message popped up on the screen. Not another question; this time a statement: “We’ve found the perfect person who will make your wish come true.” 

Josie’s skin chilled. She closed her laptop, a sickly feeling deep in her gut.  Just then, her cell phone rang. She peeked at the screen. It said PRIVATE CALLER, so she let it go to voicemail. But, the person didn’t leave a message. 

Not two seconds later, the phone rang again. The words PRIVATE CALLER flashed across the screen once more. 

This time Josie answered it. “Hello?” 

There was silence for several seconds, but she could hear someone there: the subtle sound of breathing.  

“Who is this?” she asked. 

“Your soulmate,” a male voice answered. “Your perfect match.” 

Josie’s whole body shook. She hung up, but the phone rang again.  

With trembling hands, she clicked to answer. “What do you want?” she asked; her voice trembled too. 

The soft purr of his voice made her skin crawl: “To make your wish come true,” he said.  “Would you like that too?” 

Instantly, she ended the call, then FaceTimed me, her sounding board. 

“Slow down,” I said, trying to keep up with her words, snapping myself out of dream-fog.  It was nearly one a.m.  

But Josie was hysterical, her eyes red, her face blotched… She just kept repeating, “He’s  going to come for me.” 

“Who is?” I asked. “Tell me what happened.”

I was concerned for sure, but I also knew Josie all too well. She had a wild imagination,  always looking over her shoulder, thinking the random guy on the corner looked like one of the suspects on America’s Most Wanted. Even in our text chats, it wasn’t so uncommon for me to be putting out fires, so to speak, because of something that had triggered her.  

Which was fine. I mean, I got triggered sometimes too. And so, I stayed on the phone as she double-checked the doors and windows, then listened as she explained all that had happened with the site and the calls from the private caller. 

“Could you tell me the name of that website?” I asked her. 

But that was part of the problem. When she went back through her browser history and tried to go back on the site, it appeared it’d been shut down.  

“Don’t panic,” I told her. “He doesn’t know where you live.”  

She hadn’t provided her physical address, only her cell phone number.  

“But you should definitely report the site to the police tomorrow morning,” I told her. Finally, Josie had started to calm down. I made sure she had the phone number of her nearest neighbor, and she promised to call me if anything else came up.  The following night, something did come up. My phone rang around two a.m. I sprung up in bed. 

“I think he’s here,” she blurted, as soon as I picked up. 

“Wait, what?” 

“The guy from the website,” she explained. “He’s at the front door.” 

“What?” I repeated. I mean, it sounded so crazy. 

But Josie’s voice was riddled with tears. “I think he’s picking the lock.” 

“Josie…?” My heart tightened. “You need to hang up and call 9-1-1. Do you hear me? Where are you in the house?” 

“Under the bed,” she muttered. “He’s coming. He’s already inside.”

“He’s coming,” she repeated, keeping her voice low. 

“What’s your address?” I asked; I didn’t have it in my phone. 

Part of me wanted to hang up and call her sister to get the address, then call 9-1-1. But I  didn’t want to leave her, and I didn’t have a landline. 

“Are you still there?” she whispered. 

“I’m here. Is there something within reach that can help you? A spray? Something sharp? Can you sneak out another way – maybe through a back entrance?” “I see his shoes,” she said. “Work boots. Dark brown, wrinkled leather, yellow laces,  black stitching…”  

illustration of girl hiding under a bed from an intruder on the phone - rose petals on the floor
Created by Danny Ingrassia

I had no other choice. I disconnected and called her sister, who phoned 9-1-1.  When the police got to the cottage, they found Josie huddled beneath the bed, trembling and crying. 

They checked out the house, but there were no signs of forced entry or proof that anyone had ever been there. Josie hadn’t taken any pictures. The website seemed nonexistent.  The page just had an error message. And when she went to show the police the private calls that’d come in on her phone the previous night, the calls were no longer there; there was just a  series of “unknown callers,” which appeared to be spam.

Josie was frantic.  

And I couldn’t blame her. No one believed her. Nothing made sense. Had she accidentally deleted those calls? And, what about the boots she’d described? She’d been so specific about the color and even the stitching.  

“Someone was there,” I insisted on a call with her sister right after. 

“Maybe,” Paula said. “Or maybe she just wanted you to believe there was.” “And why would she want that?” I asked. 

“Attention, loneliness…” Paula said. “Living on her own, in a new place, has been a  major transition. Plus, you know how jumpy Josie can be. Also, why did the guy leave if he  supposedly wanted to take her?” 

A good question. And I couldn’t even begin to guess at an answer. 

“Look, I’m not saying she makes things up,” Paula continued. “But I am saying that  sometimes her imagination gets the best of her – you know that.” 

Admittedly, I did. It was absolutely true. 

“Did I ever tell you the time she was convinced an intruder was living in our basement?”  Paula laughed. “Trust me. The police checked everything out. They know her quite well, by the way. She has them on speed-dial. This wasn’t the first time they’ve paid her a visit.” 

After the call, I didn’t feel any better. I couldn’t sleep. Nothing seemed right. I mean, yes,  Josie could be jumpy and dramatic.  

But, so could I.  

Plus, she wasn’t a liar.  

So, I did the one thing any good friend would do. I got in my car, typed her address into my nav, and started to drive.  

After about thirty minutes on the road, a call came in – from Josie.  

“He left me roses,” she said as soon as I picked up. “A bouquet of them, by my bed. I  only just noticed.” 

“How did you not notice before?” How did the police not notice? 

“Because there are bunches of roses all over the house. From the garden… But these  are different roses.” 

Different roses? “Are you sure?” I asked, because it sounded kind of crazy. “Josie? Are  you there?

Finally, she responded: “Maybe you’re right.” But her voice sounded distant,  distracted…. “I’m sorry to bother you.” 

“Josie, no. Don’t be silly. You’re not bothering me.” 

Still, she hung up, without a goodbye, which totally wasn’t like her.  

When I got to her cottage hours later, I called her cell, but she didn’t answer. She didn’t come to the door when I knocked or rang the doorbell either. I tried the knob, surprised when it turned.  

I stepped into the living room. The lights were on, but it didn’t seem she was there, even though it was just after four in the morning. 

I called her cell phone again, able to hear ringing. The sound was coming from another room, inside the cottage. I moved toward it, the floorboards creaking beneath my feet. “Josie?” I called. 

No one answered. 

I stood in the doorway of her bedroom. The phone was there, on the bed. She’d left it behind. A bouquet of roses sat on her bedside table, just as she’d described, different from the others; these were long-stemmed red roses tied together with ribbon, as opposed to the bunches of yellow, pink, and white roses crammed into vases about the house. 

I went to grab her phone, but a rustling noise stopped me, freezing me in place. A  creaking noise followed, by the entryway. 

Had I left the door open?  

Yes, I had. 

My heart clenched. I scooted behind the bedroom door, able to see someone there:  darkish clothes, auburn hair, a bouquet of red roses. It was all somewhat of a blur, because the only thing I could really focus on were the dark brown work boots.

With the wrinkled leather. 

And the yellow laces. 

And the black stitching…  

I grabbed my keyring and prepared my sharpest key to fight. It was only then it dawned on me – to grab my phone, to call 9-1-1. I fumbled with the code. The phone wouldn’t read my face.  

“Josie…?” he sang, drawing out her name. “I’m back to grant your wish. A promise is a  promise.” 

I held my breath, trying not to panic. I peered down at my phone screen and dialed 9-1- 1, then turned down the volume so he couldn’t hear a voice.  

How fast could they trace my call? How far were they from here?  

Just moments later, sirens sounded in the distance – but they weren’t because of me.  Someone in the area had seen a suspicious character lurking about the neighborhood and called the police just minutes before I did. Meanwhile, Josie, completely spooked, had gone to her neighbor’s house, accidentally leaving her phone behind and the door unlocked.  

The guy was gone, only his roses remained. And, unfortunately, police never found him or took the story seriously – even with my report. 

It was days later that Josie moved back home. She lives with her cousin now. We don’t often talk about what happened – or how no one believed her. But just the other day, she brought it up, telling me about a bouquet of long-stemmed red roses that appeared on her doorstep last Friday. It included a card. There was no name, only a message: “I always keep my  promise.”

I could hear the whine of a door. And the creak of a floorboard.