Chapter Fifteen

Apart from Christmas, Rose's favorite holiday was, without a doubt, the Fourth of July. Part of this sprang from her being raised in Philadelphia, cradle of the Constitution, but the lion's share of the excitement that the day held for her stemmed from her wonderful memories of spending the holiday each year with her father.

Together they would stroll through downtown Philadelphia amidst history so tangible you could see the weft and warp of its cloth. Walking on Chestnut, on Walnut, and along Market Street her father, an avid Revolutionary War historian, would spin tales of those days that would have made Ben Franklin pull up a chair and listen. Each and every year they would visit Constitution Hall. There, he and Rose would run their fingers down the crack in the great bronze bell, and Rose could almost hear it ringing as her father described its clarion call going out across the new nation.

The day never seemed long enough, her stomach never big enough for the feast of food her eyes would devour, and the fireworks always, always ended too soon. She would be aglow from the day for weeks afterward, her smile so incessant that her mother would repeatedly ask what was wrong with her.

Rose found thinking about those days set her tingling with pleasure and made the hole in her life left by her father's passing seem that much deeper. So when Mrs. O'Reilly had invited Rose to join her family on their Independence Day outing to Central Park, she had quickly agreed.

On Thursday morning, July the 4th, the sun had barely placed its chin on the shores of Long Island when a rapping began at Rose's apartment door.

She had been gently dreaming of sitting at her father's feet, listening to the warmth of his voice pour over her. He spoke in THAT tone, the one he used when he had Important Things to say.

"Rosebud," he said to her as they floated in a room of white-on-white, "always remember this: 'Receive once, give twice, receive forever'."

He smiled at her, but suddenly the dreamscape dissipated into wisps of light as Rose's consciousness swam up towards the sound of the knocking.

"Coming," Rose shouted. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes she donned her robe and opened the door.

"Hi, Rosie!" Cora said cheerily as she skipped into the room.

"Good morning, Cora. What are you doing up here so early?"

"You're the only one who's up. Everyone else is still asleep."

Can't fault that reasoning, Rose thought, smiling and shaking her head at the same time. She lit a burner to make tea.

"So tell me. What are the plans for today?" Rose asked.

"We usually take the train to the park and spend the whole day and watch the fireworks and everything!"

"That sounds great! Is everyone going?"

"Well, Thomas isn't. He said he had things to do and Mama sure didn't like that, but everyone else is going."

Rose felt a twinge of guilt. She hoped Thomas wasn't going to miss an outing with his family solely on her account. Since the night at the saloon they had nodded in passing several times but hadn't spoken, though he seemed on the verge of addressing her several times, only to hold his tongue.

Rose and Cora ate a simple breakfast and settled down to read. Cora had taken to leaving a few books in Rose's flat and the two usually spent a part of every day together quietly immersed in their stories. Cora would ask Rose's help on the occasional difficult word, and sometimes they would take turns reading aloud from an adventure novel or history book or even a dime-store romance. During the past week they had spent considerable time enjoying a tale about the Revolutionary War.

As they read, the sounds of a family coming awake could be heard beneath them. After an hour or so Mr. O'Reilly called up the stairwell.

"Cora, come down and help us get ready."

"Coming, Papa!"

After Cora's exit, Rose lazily tidied up her flat and readied herself for the festivities. She descended the stairs, but before joining the O'Reilly's decided to step out onto the stoop to breathe in the day.

Though it wasn't yet 10am, the air was already hot and steamy; 'close', as her grandmother liked to say. The sun was burning off the last of the morning haze and the cicadas were busily droning their wild ascending rhythm in the trees along the sidewalks. Rose sat for a few moments enjoying the rare weekday peace and the relaxation of a holiday away from the factory routine.

She went back inside and tapped on the door gently. Mr. O'Reilly answered her summons.

"Good morning, Rose. Come in."

Immediately, Rose became aware of coughing coming from the bedroom.

"Is Mrs. O'Reilly feeling all right?" she asked.

"She's got herself a nasty cough, she does, but I think she'll be fine."

Rose had heard the woman coughing over the last day or two but hadn't thought much of it. A cough was so common a sound in the city that it barely registered in one's mind.

"Thomas has already gone. Cora and John are in the kitchen preparing the basket. They're like two young puppies this morning," Mr. O'Reilly said.

"I feel a bit like that myself today," Rose answered brightly as she went into the kitchen to help.

Cora and John were indeed in a playful mood and Rose joked with them as they packed their lunch. The basket was just about full when Rose heard knocking on the outer door. Mr. O'Reilly's footsteps echoed into the hallway and to the foyer, and after a short time she heard him returning. He stuck his head around the frame of the kitchen doorway.

"Rose, there's someone to see you."

Rose rinsed and dried her hands and hurried down to the entrance, wondering who would be calling on her at home, and so early in the day. She opened the door upon a figure standing on the stoop, looking down the street.

"Gina! What are you doing here?"

Gina turned to face her.

"Hello, Rose. I'm sorry; am I bothering you?"

"No…no. I'm just surprised is all. How did you know where I lived?"

Gina looked away, obviously embarrassed.

"I followed you home one day last week. I don't know, it just made me feel…safer. I hope you're not mad at me."

Rose WAS a little bothered by Gina's sneaking around behind her, but her friend was clearly upset so she brushed it off.

"No, it's okay. Is something wrong?"

"Oh, no…well, yes…," Gina trailed off, subconsciously squeezing her hands into a tight ball.

"Gina, give me a minute and then we can take a walk."


Rose returned inside and excused herself from the O'Reilly's, though Cora blocked her exit and wouldn't allow her to leave until Rose promised to be back in time to go to the park.

Rose and Gina headed west along the tree-lined street. In the blossoming heat the shade of the leaves was a blessing. Rose related her plans for the day.

"That sounds so nice," Gina said.

"What are you going to do?" Rose asked.

Gina didn't seem to hear Rose's question. She walked on a bit further and then stopped, turning to Rose.

"I want to tell you something, Rose, ask you something, but I know you like to keep to yourself so I'll understand if you don't want to hear it. It's just…I don't have anyone else to talk to..."

Gina began to sob and Rose could see her friend was barely keeping her composure. Rose felt a wave of shame wash over her. Had she been so concerned with remaining aloof that her friend had felt unable to confide in her?

"It's okay, Gina. Go on."

"Have you ever felt trapped, like you knew what you should do but you couldn't?"

Rose responded softly, simply.


"What did you do? How were you sure what to do; that you'd be strong enough?"

"It's a long story," Rose replied. "Gina, tell me what's wrong."

Gina's gaze remained on the sidewalk, and as she talked she hugged her arms to her body tightly. She paused to wipe away a few tears that had found their way down onto her cheeks.

"You know Anthony and I have known each other for many years. When we were younger I only knew him a little, through my older brother. It's just recently…

"My family is….was… really poor. My grandfather came to America hoping to give my father and my aunts a better life. He worked hard… too hard; he died when I was very young. My father, he was like his papa- a good man. Maybe he drank a bit too much but he had three children and a wife to care for, and on the East Side life can be cruel."

Gina paused to take a deep breath. Rose spotted an empty bench in the shade of an elm and steered her friend over to sit. Gina continued.

"About two years ago, Mama took really sick. She couldn't do her housework and she had to be cared for constantly, and Papa, well, it was clear he wasn't very good at working and being a nursemaid, and one day he just… disappeared. We looked everywhere for him, contacted the police, but we never found him. We don't know if he died or is in jail or just left us. We don't know….

"I cared for Mama as best I could and my brothers worked, but my younger brother did something stupid and was put in prison and we had little money for food and I was working as a seamstress and running home after work to take care of Mama. It seemed I was always running. All day, all night. I had no time to rest, but still we couldn't seem to make it, it wasn't enough."

Gina bent over and clasped her knees to her chest, wrapping her arms around her legs. Rose noticed deep pools forming again in the corners of her eyes.

"I was hungry, weak, tired…so, so tired all the time. One night, the rent was overdue and I didn't know where to turn and, in a desperate moment, I did something I'm so ashamed of. I….sold myself."

Gina closed her eyes, causing tears to stream down her cheeks. Rose was a little shocked at what she had heard, but that feeling was overwhelmed by the tidal wave of sympathy she felt for Gina for the pain she was enduring in reliving her nightmare.

Gina could barely continue amid her sobs.

"After the first time…the only time….I was trying to make my way home, but I broke down on the sidewalk and just lay there, crying. I wished I could take it back. I wished I was dead."

A cry left Rose's lips. She reached for Gina's hand and held it gently, trying to comfort her. She wanted to say something, anything, to wash away her friend's anguish but she knew that nothing she could say could bring Gina forgiveness. Gina would have to let it all out.

"As I lay there, Anthony happened to walk by on his way from work. He recognized me and helped me home. He stayed to be sure I was all right; he was so sweet, so understanding…"

Gina drew in a quick breath to clear her nose, and she straightened in an effort to steel herself, pressing rigidly back against the bench.

"Mama got worse, and she passed away soon after that. Anthony came around a lot; he helped me with the arrangements and in finding a place to stay afterwards. We became very close; I fell in love with him.

"When he moved to the job at the Worst Saloon, he helped me find a job on the West Side so we could be near and he could look after me. His family sort of adopted me as one of their own.

"Everything seemed fine. I loved him and being with him and he took a lot of the loneliness away, but sometimes Anthony would change, get angry, too angry, or he wouldn't realize his own strength and he would hurt people……hurt me. But the next day he would apologize and beg me to forgive him..and I would."

For the first time since she began her story Gina looked up at Rose.

"Do you remember the drunk at the saloon?"


"I think maybe Anthony hurt him. The man was bleeding badly when I saw him.

"Anthony will be nice to me, a gentleman, and then he will ignore me or scream at me, telling me what to do, treating me like his property. Or he'll threaten me. Then the next day he brings me flowers or takes me dancing, and I get so confused. Lately, it’s been getting worse, more frequent. I think maybe he's not good for me, but I'm afraid to leave."

"You're afraid that he'll hurt you?" Rose asked.

"Yes, that's part of it, but it's more than that. The only person I ever told about that night when I…..the only one I told is Anthony. And now you. When I get angry with him and want to be away from him he threatens to tell everyone about what I did. To tell my brothers, his family, Mr. Souster… and I'm so ashamed. His mother thinks we will be getting married soon; she calls me 'daughter' and I adore her, she's so nice to me. If he told ...I could never face any of them again.

"Rose…I don't know what to do," Gina said, her voice weary.

Rose let the words settle.

"Do you love him?"

"I loved him so much in those first months. I think I still do. Sometimes I feel those same emotions and it feels like it was, like it should be, but now… I've seen another side of him, one that I was too in love to see at first. So…I don't know. Oh God, it's hard for me to be sure of anything…"

Gina paused, looking down, then shook her head slightly.

"No, I don't think I love him anymore. It's like I'm always walking on eggshells around him; sometimes I'm really scared. I've tried to leave a few times, but he always finds me and talks to me and convinces me it's in all my head… and my resolve disappears."

Rose sat back in thought. It sounded all too familiar, too close.

"Gina, I know what you're going through, I do. I dealt with someone in many ways very much like Anthony. I know it's hard to see what is right or wrong; it's hard to find the strength you need. For me, I felt like I was in a tiny jewelry box and it was getting smaller by the minute, the sides were closing in, but even then, despite my deepening misery, it took me a long time to act. I finally reached bottom and almost did a terrible thing, but I made a decision and moved on to deal with the consequences."

As Rose spoke she felt something float forward from the deep recesses of her psyche, a fear that had been lurking there for quite a while. She had tried not to acknowledge the thought, but it now flooded into her consciousness and she couldn't turn away any longer.

What had my actions wrought?

Rose's mind wrapped itself tightly around the question. Was it her fault that Jack died? Could she really ever erase the guilt that perpetually gnawed at her peace of mind?

Jack died so I could live. If not for me, he might have survived. He sacrificed everything for me, everything. But he didn't have to; everything that happened was my fault. If I had stayed with Cal, Jack might have lived.

How can I ever absolve myself of this?

Rose forced her mind back to Gina.

"After I made my choice," she continued, "bad things happened, terrible things. I know it's stupid to think my decisions have any importance in the world but, ever since, I've been afraid that my choice caused all the pain; that I'm responsible for what followed. And that, in a way, it was my punishment."

It was Rose's turn to gaze down into her empty hands as they clenched and opened.

"It's hard to deal with, to carry that kind of weight, but it's mine to bear now. Whether my actions appeared right or wrong to others, I haven't ever regretted my decision to leave.

"Gina, the people who know you, who love you, they will forgive you anything. The people who don't…well…they will remind you of who you DON'T want to be, unceasingly. They're a slow poison, spreading through your life, killing your chance for happiness.

"I can't tell you what to do; your heart will tell you that. I CAN tell you I was scared, too, so frightened of the uncertainty that I was frozen in a life I hated but a life that felt … familiar, comforting. But that comfort was a sham."

Rose paused, looking at Gina. Her friend seemed to be relieved somewhat, sitting a little more relaxed as she listened.

"What made you finally leave?" Gina asked.

"I remembered things from my past, remembered the dreams I'd always had about how true love would feel, I remembered my father, and I drew on all those things. I mustered my strength until I felt I had no more within me to draw upon, and then, when my moment came, I closed my eyes, held my breath and stepped out of that life and into a new one."

"Did you have second thoughts?"

Rose thought back to the moment she had decided to go forward to join Jack at the bow of Titanic. She closed her eyes and floated back to the passions of that sunset. The feeling of rebirth made her shiver despite the summer's heat.

"You know, from that moment on I never questioned my decision. I just wondered why I had waited so long."

They sat in silence, each woman lost in the depths of her own emotions. From the swirling vortex of Rose's thoughts her father's words came to her once more, as if on a breeze.

Receive once, give twice, receive forever.

The words felt wonderfully reassuring to Rose, though she wasn't certain why. There seemed a deep truth about life's harmonies hidden within the simple phrase.

Gina spoke, snapping Rose's contemplation.

"Rose, do you think a true love lies out there for each of us?"


"What happens if we miss our chance; if we don't ever find him?"

"You have to have faith. I always thought if you just opened your heart, true love would find you."

Rose's heart ached at the sound of her own words.

"I hope you're right," Gina said. "It sounds silly, I'm sure, but I've always dreamed of a love that would take me away from this place, this city, and whisk me off to someplace where I could start over again. He wouldn't care what I've done or where I've been; he wouldn't care about anything but me."

"That doesn't sound silly at all," Rose replied. "It sounds wonderful."

Rose glanced at her watch.

"Maybe we should start back," she suggested.

Gina stayed Rose, loosely grasping her arm.

"Thanks, Rose. I needed to talk. Thanks."

Rose reached around her friend and they hugged tightly.


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