|As Rose and Gina neared Rose's apartment they found
John and Cora out in front of the building. John was scowling as he threw a rubber ball
against the stoop, while Cora was slumped on the top step with her head down in the crook
of her arm. "What's
wrong, Cora?" Rose asked.
Cora looked up at her, eyes rimmed
"We can't go to the
park," she said between sniffles.
"Cause Mama's sick and Papa
has to stay and care for her," John barked as he rocketed the ball against the bricks
with all his might.
"Let me go see her,"
Rose offered, and she walked up the steps with Gina trailing close behind.
Mrs. O'Reilly was in the kitchen
sitting half-hidden under a blanket, sipping hot tea. She smiled weakly at their entrance.
"Rose, so sorry. I'm just not
feelin up to it today, tis all. The children are mightily disappointed, I know."
Me, too, Rose thought. She
waited as the woman suffered another coughing spell.
"Mrs. O'Reilly, if it's all
right with you and Mr. O'Reilly, I'll take John and Cora to the park."
"Oh, no, Rose, the two of
them might be too much for ya ta handle, but thanks for offerin, then."
Rose was inclined to debate the
point but before she could Gina stepped forward.
"Mrs. O'Reilly, my name is
Gina and I work with Rose. I'd like to go along with her today so I think between the two
of us we could watch over your children. They seem very mindful."
Both Rose and Mrs. O'Reilly
considered Gina's offer. Rose was pleasantly surprised that Gina had the desire to go to
the park after the raw emotions of their morning. Mrs. O'Reilly was obviously assessing
her, and she seemed to finally conclude that she could put her faith in Rose's choice of
"Well, if you two don't mind,
then," the woman answered.
"Great!" Rose replied,
and Gina echoed her response.
Rose tapped on the window and
beckoned the children inside. They trudged into the apartment on heavy feet, a matched
pair of long faces.
"Well, you two
friend Gina and I are going to take you to the park. That is, if it's all right with
you," Rose said, winking at Gina and their mother.
Both youngsters cheered, their
somber moods gone and forgotten in a flash, replaced by shining smiles.
As Cora and John gathered their
belongings, Rose tried to further allay Mrs. O'Reilly's motherly concerns by detailing
their likely agenda for the day.
The four picnickers spent the
afternoon relishing Central Park. They strolled under cool canopies of elm, watched a
pick-up baseball game, and waded knee-deep into the lake while envying the boaters rowing
out to deeper water. After a filling lunch they lounged in a shady nook as Cora taught
Gina to play checkers while Rose and John coached. The laughter flowed easily, and Rose
felt as if she was eight again.
In the late afternoon, after the
edge of the heat had been taken off the day, they tried their luck in foot races that were
staged in an open field. Cora and John valiantly competed in solo races, though neither
was victorious, and then the four paired up to vie in the three-legged races.
Gina and John worked like a
well-oiled machine and actually triumphed in their heat, while Cora and Rose were never
quite able to find their rhythm and they collapsed in a giggling heap halfway down the
As the sun dropped behind the
trees along the western edge of the park they made their way, amidst a steady stream of
others, to the great meadow.
The grassy expanse was splashed
with blankets of summery colors and designs as territories were staked out around the
giant bandstand. Along the southern rim of the park a row of vendor's stands trumpeted
their wares with bold, brightly-lettered signs; the air splashed with the mouth-watering
aromas of their treats. Up on the stage instruments stood quietly in their stands,
awaiting the orchestra members who would coax from them the holiday's musical fare. And on
every strut and support of the arching stage roof, on every available pole and every large
tree trunk, American flags were proudly displayed, shouting patriotically as their bright
colors rippled in the welcome evening breeze.
The lea was soon filled with
people all relaxing, reclining and awaiting the promised spectacular. In the lull before
the festivities began John spotted a pink lemonade stand and asked to have one. They all
agreed a cold drink sounded wonderful and Gina volunteered to get lemonade for them all,
appointing John as her helper. The two left for the drink stand, zig-zagging their way
between the blankets full of people.
Rose and Cora lay on their backs
and stretched their imaginations up to the pink-fringed clouds drifting on the winds high
"Look, that one looks like a
man's head," Rose called out, pointing.
"Yeah, I see it. Hey, that
one looks like a horse."
Rose couldn't see the resemblance
no matter how she turned her head. Cora only giggled at her contortions, and Rose knew
she'd been conned.
As they were letting their fancies
run wild in the sky they heard a voice calling across the meadow.
Rose thought that perhaps Gina and
John had gotten lost on their way back, but the voice didn't sound like either of them.
They sat upright and looked out
over the crowd, searching. The call rang out once again.
"There!" Cora said,
pointing. "It's Thomas!"
"Thomas!" she yelled,
and was off in a sprint towards her brother, barely paying mind to the boundaries of the
blankets separating them.
Thomas heard her answering call
and trotted towards his sister, catching her as she jumped into his arms and lifting her
onto his shoulders. Rose stood to await their arrival, brushing and straightening her
"Rosie, Thomas came after
all!" Cora yelled happily as her brother set her back down to earth.
"So I see! Hello,
"Good day, Rose."
Cora spotted Gina and John on
their way back with the drinks and took off on another mad dash.
"Cora, be careful!" Rose
shouted after her in vain. Thomas watched his sister and then turned to Rose.
"I hope I'm not intruding.
When I returned home this afternoon and found my parents still there they explained what
had happened and told me where you'd be. I thought I might join you all, if I could find
you, and then escort you home."
"We would have been quite all
"Yes, yes, I know. Mother
tells me you are very capable and like a sister to Cora. It's just that, well, New York is
a big city and I'd feel better accompanying you all back."
Rose had a sharp reply ready but
bit her tongue. Thomas seemed sincere in his concern.
"Thank you, Thomas. That is
considerate of you."
When they first met in the dim
lighting of the saloon Rose hadn't had much of a chance to look closely at Thomas, so she
took the opportunity to do so. His brunette hair and light brown eyes must have skipped
his parents' generation and come to him directly from a grandparent. A squared jaw
anchored a sharply angled face that somehow still came together gently. His hair was
scholarly short and neat, face clean-shaven, his build medium and solid, but lacking the
muscles that hard physical labor would put on a man.
I think he's always been
somewhat of a bookworm, Rose thought.
Gina and the children had arrived,
and Rose introduced her friend to Thomas. It seemed to Rose that Thomas flinched slightly
when she informed him that she and Gina were co-workers at the factory.
He's sensitive about that now,
Rose thought. Well, good, he should be.
John and Cora seemed to have
finally depleted their energy reserves and they sat sipping their drinks quietly, John
engrossed with his prized baseball cards and Cora reading a Buster Brown cartoon book.
Gina asked Thomas about his
background and was impressed that he was attending such a prestigious school.
"Oh, don't be, Gina. I never
would be able to attend if my father hadn't set aside money for my schooling, and if one
of his boyhood friends hadn't vouched for me with the dean. I'm the black sheep of my
class, I assure you."
"I doubt that. You know, Rose
could have gone to university, I think," Gina offered. "She's a real whiz at
figures. You should see how Mr. Souster raves over her bookkeeping."
Thomas flashed Rose a look of mild
"A university education
doesn't make one a better person," Rose said, head tilted back slightly.
"Sometimes more the
opposite," Thomas agreed, looking levelly at her. She was surprised at his response,
and was a bit suspicious that he might be making light of her remark.
Their attention was suddenly
captured by an approaching group of men dressed in Revolutionary War garb, trailed by
about a dozen young boys. The leader stopped, saluted, and leaned down to address John.
"Young man, how would you
like to join our troop and carry the American flag in tonight's opening ceremonies?"
John's eyes lit up at the prospect
and he shot a pleading look at Rose. She considered her responsibilities and deemed it
"Well, go ahead if you want
to!" she said to the boy.
"Yeah!" John yelled,
leaping to his feet. The second in command of the makeshift troop produced a three-pointed
Revolutionary War hat and placed it upon John's head. It was a trifle big, but John peered
up from underneath the brim with pride. His enlistment set, the troop set off in search of
Rose found she was a bit uneasy
about John being off on his own. She was about to go with him when Thomas jumped to his
feet and started off after the boys.
"I'll just tag along to be
sure he doesn't get lost on his way back," Thomas said as he took up position at the
rear of the group.
By this time the sun had dropped
low to the horizon, basking the verdant leaves of the trees in the deep orange glow
particular to summer sunsets. Lights around the perimeter of the meadow began to flicker
on and the stage was illuminated brightly as dusk advanced across the New York sky.
"Oh look, they're
starting," Gina said, gesturing to the stage.
Several dozen musicians had taken
their places on the stage and were busily tuning their instruments.
When they were satisfied with
their harmony a rotund man strode to the center of the platform and, one hand held high
above his head, he stood in front of a large, red-white-and-blue megaphone while the
band's percussionist banged his cymbal to call the audience to attention.
"Ladies and gentleman and all
you wonderful children
.Welcome!" his deep voice boomed out over the crowd.
.the colors of these United States of America!"
The drummer started a marching
cadence and the volunteer troop of boys filed on stage, each toting a flag on a long pole.
"Look! There's John!"
Cora cried in delight.
The boys followed the impromptu
directions of their troop leader and formed a ragged semi-circle around the speaker.
Another youngster of perhaps seven strode proudly to the center stage.
"Please stand for the Pledge
of Allegiance," the emcee requested and the huge crowd came to its feet like a wave
rippling out through the meadow. The megaphone was lowered for the boy and in his
strongest voice, right hand over heart, he recited the pledge, not erring on even a single
The crowd saluted him with loud,
warm applause, and as the ovation died away the orchestra played "The Star Spangled
Banner" followed by a patriotic march by John Philip Sousa. The throng settled back
down to enjoy the show.
Midway through the next song
Thomas and John found their way back, the latter sporting an ear-to-ear grin.
"They let me keep the
hat!" John exclaimed, holding his new prized possession out for all to admire.
"Can I try it on?" Cora
"No, it's mine!" John
retorted, holding the hat behind his back, away from his sister.
"John, that's not
polite," Rose scolded. "You should share."
"I'm sure she'll give it
back," Thomas interjected, his voice strong but not demanding. "John, remember
the toy car from last Christmas?"
Rose concluded that that must have
been quite an incident as John's face immediately tightened with guilt and he reluctantly
offered his treasure to Cora. As the girl placed it on it engulfed her head down to her
earlobes, completely covering her eyes, and the group couldn't help bursting out in
laughter at the sight.
Thomas leaned over to whisper
privately to John, but Rose was able to overhear his words.
"That was very grown-up of
Gina next tried on the hat, then
Rose in turn, and both of the women saluted each other in mock military protocol. Rose
returned the hat to John who was about to put it back on his own head when he noticed an
odd expression on Thomas' face.
His big brother wore the sad,
drooping face of an old hound dog and, with exaggerated motions, was wiping an imaginary
flood of tears from his eyes. John's giggle blossomed into a full-fledged laugh and he
placed the hat on Thomas' head. Backwards, but on.
Thomas left it as it was and lay
back with a loud, contented sigh. Everyone laughed and then they turned their attention to
sounds from the stage.
Rose had watched the interplay
between Thomas and his siblings and she liked the quiet way he had with them.
Makes me wish again that I had
had a brother or sister, she thought. I think I missed out on a lot.
She turned to look across the
blanket and noticed Thomas leaning towards Gina, pointing at something on the stage and
speaking close to her ear in order to be understood over the orchestra. Gina was smiling
at his remark.
Looks as if they like one
another, Rose mused. I wouldn't have thought Thomas would go for a working girl.
Maybe I misjudged him a little.
By the time darkness had taken
complete possession of the city the crowd was antsy in anticipation of the main event.
Finally, as the band embraced a stirring rendition of "The Stars and Stripes
Forever," the first few rockets took off from behind the bandstand and, arcing high
overhead, exploded into thousands of sparks.
The music continued as the
fireworks escalated, to the appreciative cries of the crowd. John and Cora reacted to
every explosion with delight, and Rose saw her own childhood mirrored in the girl's wide
eyes. She laid back and tunneled her world until all that existed were the stars and the
beautiful aerial display, letting her mind time-travel as it pleased.
Too soon, the show ended, and the
orchestra left on a break with a promise to return to play dance tunes for those wishing
to carry on the celebration.
Rose looked over her two charges
and noted that the tiring effects of all their activities had finally won the battle over
the excitement of the night.
"Time to head home. I
promised your mother I'd have you back at a decent hour," she told them.
"Oh, Rosie!" the
children moaned in unison.
"Oh, Rosie!" Gina
sing-songed, and Rose shot her a 'you're not helping!' look. Gina giggled.
"Rose is right; gather
everything, time to go," Thomas agreed.
The children grudgingly assembled
their belongings, and the five picked their way through the crowd to the El station at the
southern edge of the park. Their train arrived almost immediately and they filed on board,
fortunate to find two empty benches across the aisle from one another.
Cora and John seated themselves on
either side of Gina on one bench, with Rose and Thomas sharing the other. The children
leaned their heads on Gina's shoulders and, at almost the second that their eyes closed,
they fell fast asleep. Gina smiled and shut her own eyes, nodding off as well.
Rose and Thomas rode in silence,
listening to the engine and rhythmic clacking of the train wheels on the tracks. Rose
found the silence between them uncomfortable and was relieved when Thomas spoke.
I want to
apologize for my comments at the saloon that night. I think some things I said were
inappropriate, and easily mistook. I've wanted to say this for some time but I was sure
you held me in low regard."
"Not everyone can live the
carefree, indifferent life of the university student, Thomas. Even there, though, there
must be SOME sensitivity to the troubles of the real world."
"You're right, of course.
Sometimes it's easy to forget such things in the environment of school. As I told Gina,
I'm really the last one to belong to the coterie at Harvard. I spend most of my energies
there trying to adjust, to fit in, and then I come home and find maybe I don't fit in the
everyday world now."
Rose had been gazing out the train
window as Thomas spoke, but she now turned to face him.
"Oh, you fit in with your
family, that I can plainly see."
"Yes, at home I'm just
'Thomas', no need to act the scholar nor the doctor-in-training."
The silence between them returned
as the train pulled into a station and passengers shuffled on and off. Rose wondered if
Thomas was merely trying to smooth things over; just telling her what he thought she
wanted to hear.
"Rose, can I ask you
"That depends, I suppose.
Seeing as how our initial conversation was derailed by your questions, I think I'll have
to hear this one first."
Thomas nodded in understanding and
then stood up suddenly, moving out into the aisle of the train. Several fellow travelers
eyed him curiously but none had the energy to muster much interest.
"You're right, Rose. We did
start out wrong; totally my fault. I shouldn't have surprised you at the saloon like I
did. I would like to rectify that mistake."
," Rose replied, but he had already walked a few paces down the aisle,
spun around quickly on one heel, and walked back. He stood before her and bowed deeply.
"Good evening, mademoiselle.
I don't believe I've had the pleasure. My name is
"Thomas!" Rose implored,
motioning him to sit back down. Several people around them had taken note of his actions
and she felt self-conscious at their interest.
"So, you already know my
name!" Thomas continued.
He lifted her close hand and
pretended to kiss it, stopping a few polite inches short of her flesh.
"They taught me that at
finishing school," he said as he plopped back down in his seat.
The familiar tone in his voice
made a shiver run down Rose's spine.
"All right, all right,"
Rose said, smiling slightly. "You've re-written your entrance. Go ahead, ask your
"Gina told me about your
working as bookkeeper at the factory. Why didn't you correct me that night when I thought
you were a seamstress?"
"Because it shouldn't matter,
should it?" Rose answered, a bit defiantly.
"No, no, you're right, it
shouldn't. And it doesn't matter to me, please believe that. I was just
as I'm often surprised to see where people's lives have led them, for better or
"And I wondered what your
reasons might be for not beginning our first conversation in complete honesty."
Rose felt her face redden, and she
was thankful for the dim illumination on the train. She almost snapped out a reply about
one minding one's own business, but she realized that, at the core of it, Thomas was
"Mea culpa," she
responded softly, and Thomas' eyebrows lifted slightly.
"Now it's MY turn," Rose
continued. "Would it have made any difference to you if I WAS a bookkeeper or scholar
or doctor instead of a seamstress?"
Rose was startled by his immediate
"So you admit it!"
"Yes, I'll admit to that. If
we had spoken at greater length that night, I'm sure I would have soon enough realized
your intelligence. And if I had found a woman of intelligence who, by choice, was wasting
it in an unchallenging existence, I'd wonder if she even cared about her life."
Rose sat back quickly, surprised
by the depth of his answer.
He has quite a perceptive
nature, she thought. Quite.
"But you still admit to being
a bit of a snob?" she asked, regaining her composure and trying to hide a smile.
"You don't give up, do you?
Yes, I guess I will admit to that, too," he answered, and they both laughed. Rose
noticed that he had a slightly crooked grin; a nice, friendly smile.
Thomas turned to look across the
aisle at the sleeping trio.
"Gina seems exceedingly
nice," he offered. "Is she engaged?"
"No, though she has a steady
boyfriend of many years," Rose replied.
Why did I tell him that?
Almost as if her ears were burning
in her sleep, Gina's eyes fluttered open and she straightened in her seat. She noticed
their attention and smiled inquisitively, a bit self-conscious under their stares.
Their station neared, so the
children were roused to a near-waking state and paraded like zombies to the train door.
Rose, John and Cora said their thanks and farewells to Gina, and then Thomas saw Rose and
the children out onto the platform once the train had screeched to a halt.
"You only have a block to
walk, Rose, I'm sure you'll be all right. I'm going to ride downtown with Gina, to be sure
she gets home safely."
Before she could respond the
warning whistle sounded, and Thomas hopped back into the car as it lurched forward. Rose
saw Thomas sit down next to Gina, and as she herded her charges down the steps to the
avenue Rose found herself thinking about the two still together on the train.
Gina's an adult; she could get
home safely by herself. Why did Thomas have to escort her? She should have told him she
was okay and let him get off with us.
As the sound of their footsteps
echoed along the quiet street Rose shook her head at the strangeness of her own thoughts.