Epilogue

 

"This morning Mr. Souster had an offer for me. He wants to make me buyer as well as a bookkeeper, and with a substantial raise in pay."

Rose and Gina were on their way home from their Saturday shift at the factory. Gina considered Rose's statement before replying.

"You've earned the chance, Rose, but I know this makes things a bit tougher for you. What did you tell him?"

"I told him I would think about it, but that I didn't feel it would be right to make a commitment, as I don't know where I'll be in a year."

"I wish you'd say you'll be right here!" Gina said, and not for the first time.

They walked for a while in silence through the blustery, colorless, late February afternoon.

"What do you want to do today?" Rose asked, wanting to change the subject. "The flickers?"

"No ... Actually, I'm feeling a bit flushed," Gina responded. "Do you think we could just stay in?"

"Sure. I've got some mending to do, and a few books that have been crying for my attention."

They nestled in their apartment for the afternoon. As Rose started in on her sewing, Gina puttered around the flat, straightening, cleaning, and removing some laundry from the line outside the kitchen window. When those chores were completed, she sat with Rose at the table and idly picked up a garment, eyeing its tear. Rose watched as Gina sorted through the needle case, looking for a proper gauge.

"Just what you need to be doing during your off-hours, huh?" Rose asked with a laugh.

"After using a machine all day, I find it kind of relaxing to sew with my hands; to feel the texture of the material and the pull of the thread. "

"I know what you mean; to sort of taste the flavor of the work," Rose said. "Gina, do you ever think about soaring through the sky in an airplane, or learning to sketch, or even changing to a completely different job?"

Gina laughed.

"Gosh, Rose, I guess…. though I don't expect there's much else I could do."

"You shouldn't underestimate yourself."

"Sounds like you have big plans for your future," Gina ventured, as she twisted up her face, intently focused on threading her needle. Rose laughed at her contortions, and Gina stuck her tongue out in response.

Rose's mind flashed through all the things she wanted to do in her life, like frames in a movie. The list seemed endless.

"I AM going to make my life count," she said, half to herself.

"Nice way of putting it ... 'make it count'."

"Someone close to me used to say that ..."

Rose was interrupted by a knock at their door, and Gina jumped up quickly.

"You sit. I'll get it."

Rose continued sewing, only vaguely aware of the door being opened and of a muted conversation at the threshold. Gina suddenly reappeared at her side.

"It's for you."

"Who? ..." Rose asked as she put her needle and thread down and started for the door. Gina just smiled and leaned back against the table.

Rose looked around the doorframe. A man in a heavy winter coat stood on the landing, his back to her. As he turned, her heart leapt.

"Thomas!" she cried, and then she blushed deeply, embarrassed at her overly exuberant greeting.

"Rose," Thomas answered, removing his hat while he stepped into the apartment. He smiled warmly.

"I didn't know you would be in town ... You should have written that you were coming…What are you doing here?" Rose suddenly realized she was babbling.

Calm down girl.

"I wanted it to be a surprise," he replied, and looking past her, he winked at Gina, who smiled conspiratorially in return. Rose glanced back at her friend.

"No wonder you wanted to stay in this afternoon," she chided. Gina just shrugged her shoulders and turned her palms up in mock innocence.

"Rose, I came to ask you to accompany me this afternoon for a special event, and then to dinner afterwards," Thomas said.

"You came all this way for that? What sort of event?" Rose asked, her interest greatly piqued.

"Oh, it's something you'll definitely enjoy ... but I want to keep it a secret. Will you go?"

"Yes, I'd love to!" she responded, and she knew that, whatever the afternoon may hold in store, going with him was very much what she wanted to do. The freedom she felt in her heart at being able to go without any doubts, without any reservations, was like taking a deep breath after being underwater for too long.

"I'm going to stop downstairs to change and I'll be back for you in half an hour. Stylish but comfortable will do," he added, answering the unspoken question in Rose's eyes.

"It's so nice to see you again, Rose," Thomas said, and then headed down the stairs.

Rose shut the door behind her, her heart aflutter. Gina beamed a wide grin at her, obviously pleased with events.

"You sneak!" Rose kidded, wagging a finger in her direction.

"What are you going to wear?" Gina asked.

Rose answered by walking to her closet and bringing out a dress she had been saving for just the right occasion. Lavender, with a cinched waist drawn to a large matching bow over her right hip, it featured thousands of small beads that lined its arms and neck and worked their way down the torso in swirls of reflected light. It had cost her two weeks' salary, and at the time she had promised herself she would find a very special date on which to wear it.

"Oooooh!" Gina cooed. "Have mercy on the boy, Rose!"

With Gina's aid, Rose was prepared when Thomas again rapped on the door. Gina moved to let him in as Rose retrieved her wool overcoat from the closet.

"Rose, you look beautiful!" Thomas said as he stood in the doorway, hat in hand, transfixed.

Rose's cheeks flushed nearly the color of her hair. It was the first time Thomas had felt comfortable complimenting her so overtly, and she imagined that he must have felt emboldened by her own enthusiasm.

Gina ushered them to the door as Rose donned her coat. Thomas placed his black bowler on and buttoned his heavy coat against the chill.

"You two kids have fun!" Gina said.

"Don't wait up for us, Mama," Thomas shot back, to laughs all around.

Thomas and Rose descended the steps to the sidewalk, her arm crooked in his.

How long has it been since I had the arm of an escort? Rose wondered. Too long.

Waiting curbside was a hansom cab, and the driver deftly stepped down from his perch and opened the door for Rose. Thomas saw that she was settled in and then scooted around and in the opposite door as the driver resumed his position and clucked to his horse. Rose and Thomas turned to one another.

"How was work at the hospital ..." "I'm sorry I couldn't come home for Christmas ..."

They had both begun speaking at once and then stopped simultaneously, causing them to burst into laughter.

"Okay, you first," Thomas said.

"I'm so happy to see you, Thomas! How is University going? How was your stay at the hospital?"

"Great! Very educational, very interesting. It really reinforced my desire to be a doctor; let me put a face to the name of the profession, if you will. I saw people being really helped, lives of being saved, and it was inspirational….. And I am most happy to see you, too, Rose!"

"That sounds like a wonderful experience. It's great to find a career that you can be so passionate about."

"Still, I felt very bad not coming home at Christmas, to see my family, to see you. "

"That was much more important, Thomas. "

He smiled at her, and Rose could feel genuine warmth in his appreciation of her sensibility.

"My father always wanted me to become a doctor, and sometimes I resisted that path, just out of stubbornness, I guess. But now I see it's what was meant for me."

Rose noted the kindness in his eyes and felt that Thomas was certainly right. He would make a wonderful doctor.

They went on to discuss Gina, the Thanksgiving dinner that Thomas had missed, Christmas, the brutal winter ... everything.

Rose glanced out the window and noted that they were moving northeast. Her curiosity got the better of her.

"Where ARE we going, Thomas?"

"Patience. We're almost there. "

The carriage turned onto Lexington Avenue and came to a stop alongside an imposing brick building that stretched nearly the entire block between 25th and 26th Streets. The driver hopped down and opened Rose's door, easing her out onto the sidewalk.

It's been a while since I've been treated like this, she thought. I appreciate it so much more than I used to when I took it for granted.

Rose glanced at the name etched in stone on the building fašade - 69th Regiment Armory - and then turned her attention to the large banners fluttering in the breeze on either side of the entrance:

1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art

"Thomas!" Rose gasped. "That's great!"

"Yes. This was well worth making the trip down from Boston, and I was pretty sure you wouldn't want to miss it. Though we haven't talked about it in much depth, I have the feeling you have a real love for modern art."

Rose remembered the times that they had briefly discussed art and artists. She was amazed - and flattered - that Thomas had been able to discern so much about her likes and dislikes from those conversations, especially since she had been so guarded with him then.

They walked up the steps to the Armory entrance and stopped at the cloakroom to check their heavy outer garments. Thomas saw to their admission as Rose studied the catalogue of the represented styles: Classicists, Realists, Romanticists, Post-impressionists, Contemporary ... the list was exhaustive. Her anticipation heightened when she noted that several of her favorite artists were featured: Van Gogh, Seurat, Picasso, Gauguin ...Monet.

There were also many artists that she had heard of but whose work she had never seen, and keen excitement filled her as Thomas escorted her into the main hall.

The stark brick of the armory seemed to rise up forever, disappearing in the dark recesses overhead. The lower third of the faded walls had been splashed with brightly colored buntings and long fabric slats to combat the inherent dreariness.

Artwork covered every available wall space, and statues stood on draped pedestals throughout the room, interspersed with utilitarian benches. The dark wood of the floor was well worn, its grain blurred by the passage of countless thousands of shoes. The room was, surprisingly, nearly empty of patrons.

Jack, you would have loved this, Rose thought as she took in the scene from the entranceway.

"I would have expected a bigger turnout," Thomas commented, looking around the room.

"The poster says it's here for a full month; maybe word of mouth will bring in more people."

They strolled the afternoon away, admiring the hundreds of pieces and stopping to discuss numerous works in detail. The colors of the paintings leapt off the canvases, calling to the eye and challenging the mind. Thomas had a great knowledge of modern art, and Rose was impressed, as was he with her surprising intimacy with many of the artists' unique styles.

Bless his heart, Rose thought. He has resisted asking how I have come to be familiar with these artists, though I'm sure he's curious.

They overheard several attendees snickering at one of the more cutting-edge works, "Nude Descending A Staircase", and Rose and Thomas chuckled once the people had moved out of earshot.

"I think they're missing the whole point of artists like Duchamp," Rose commented, admiring the flow of the golden brown shades in the painting. "There is more to what he is trying to capture than just what one can see with one's eyes ..."

"Like he's trying to portray the passage of time on a two dimensional surface," Thomas said. "Something a photograph cannot do."

"Exactly!" Rose said. "That's it! It's so much more personal, more gripping, than a photograph."

They walked to examine another piece, one that Rose recognized from her trip to Europe.

"This Picasso fellow will be recognized as an extraordinary talent, I think," Rose offered, and Thomas nodded in agreement.

"There is surely some measure of torture within his inspiration," Thomas added, studying the work with narrowed eyes.

"Yes." And I can understand that, Rose thought. I can understand that very well.

"The press has been less than kind to some of these paintings," Thomas noted. "I don't understand their shock, or their scorn. Look at this piece by Matisse. I would give anything to be able to produce just one painting like this."

"And perhaps Monsieur Matisse would give anything to be able to heal one sick patient. Artistry in life has many faces, I think."

"Rose, you have such a noble view of the world. It's always so refreshing to hear your take on things."

"I can't say that I've always been like this. Events in my life during the past year have… matured me… greatly. I used to think I had such a cosmopolitan outlook, but I found out that all the material trappings and knowledge in the world don't amount to much without some heart behind them."

Rose smiled mischievously.

"Even a seamstress can learn a thing or two," she said.

Thomas blushed, but when he saw the gleam in Rose's eyes he knew he had been forgiven, and his warm laugh was soon echoed by hers. He glanced at the Matisse once again, and then turned to study Rose with the appreciative look that he had thus far reserved for the art around them. Rose averted her eyes, acutely aware of the depth of his gaze.

"Rose…"

She glanced up at him, and it was his turn to look away shyly.

"Yes?" she asked, almost in a whisper.

"Oh….nothing."

It was dark by the time they left the show. Thomas hailed another cab and they took the short ride to their chosen dinner spot.

By the time their plates had been cleared away, Rose was sated from her meal and pleasantly relaxed from the aftereffects of three glasses of wine. She spoke of the wonder of all that magnificent art brought together in one place at one time, and how fortunate she felt to have experienced it.

"There is so much to see in the world," she said. "So much to do. "

"Yes, for sure. Yet, I still think the life for me is a simple, quiet one, with only the occasional plunge into the wild life," Thomas responded with a grin. "Just give me a house with a white picket fence, with perhaps one or two dazzling red slats mixed in, and that will satisfy me….Does that seem a contradiction?"

"Yes!" she kidded him. "Seriously, I think there is room in every life for both. Even more than room, I think there's a need for both, to make life whole and complete.

"Though not both at the same time," she added.

The waiter approached and Rose placed her hand over her glass, declining his offer of more wine.

"Your aim in life seems acutely focused," she said. "I'm not to that point yet ... or maybe I'm just not like that at all."

"Bookkeeping doesn't ignite your fire?"

"No," Rose replied, laughing at his question. "It doesn't quite do it. "

"What then, do you think?"

Rose debated whether to reveal her fantasy to Thomas, and then decided there was no harm in the telling.

"I thought I might like to try acting, like in the movies. "

Thomas was silent, considering.

"You don't think I could do it?" she asked.

"Oh, no! To the contrary, I'm quite sure you'd excel at it. I think you'd master anything you put your mind to. Acting certainly couldn't be as difficult as, say, pulling a horse from the Hudson, now could it?"

Rose found herself blushing. Thomas' admiration was like a warm rain flowing over her. Normally such compliments would have made her uncomfortable, but on this night his words felt wonderful.

"Maybe they'll want me to act that out in a movie," she suggested lightly.

"Nah…Who would believe that?" Thomas said, and they dissolved in laughter.

"I see your mind's made up," he said after a while.

Rose was struck by the truth of his observation. Until that moment, she wasn't absolutely sure of what she planned to do. In the same instant that she recognized that her decision was already made, she realized just being near Thomas was sparking second thoughts.

Thomas fidgeted with his napkin for a time. He finally quieted his hands by clasping them in front of him in a solid knot of fingers, and looked purposefully at her. His expression made her heart melt.

"Rose... Please don't think me too forward, but... well, they may not have a thriving movie business in Boston but there are many theater groups ... and there is much to discover there ..."

He trailed off, embarrassed, desperate for her to end his floundering.

Rose wanted to say, 'Yes, I'd love to go with you', but her visions of exploring her limits, of discovering new passions, seemed incongruous with such a concrete reality. She could feel her heart being pulled both ways, and though Thomas held promise of a future filled with love, she couldn't turn her back on the wide-open vista of her dreams.

Thomas sat uncomfortably under the canopy of her silence, and Rose began to feel guilty at her lack of a response.

"Thomas, believe me when I say that that sounds wonderful, just wonderful ... but not yet. Not now."

He looked at her and nodded in quiet understanding, but Rose thought she saw the candlelight reflect off a small pool in the corner of his eye. She found herself near tears as well.

He is so sweet, she thought. It would not work, his being so close. We would be a distraction to each other's growth. But one day…

"Thomas ..." she began, but she couldn't continue.

-----------------------

Rose opened the door to her apartment quietly, anticipating that Gina might already be asleep. The rest of the evening with Thomas had been great fun, if a bit subdued. He had to head straight back to Harvard on a midnight train, and they parted with both of them awkwardly suppressing their feelings. In the end, he held her hand in his for the longest time and said, simply, 'I enjoyed being with you, Rose... more than you could know.' She had kissed him on the cheek and they had parted with the tight embrace they both so much desired just an unfulfilled wish dissipating on the breeze.

"Rose, you're back!" Gina said. She was seated at the desk, reading.

Rose shut the door and turned to her friend. The time had come. She could feel the first tightness of draw-strings trying to hold her in place, trying to channel her future, and she couldn't have that happen just yet. She knew what she had to do.

"Gina... It's time for me to go. "

------------------

Three weeks later, within sight of spring, Rose's bags were packed, possessions boxed or sold, and her job regretfully terminated.

And so it was for Gina, as well.

When Gina had responded to Rose's spoken intent of heading west with, 'I'm going with you!', Rose had initially resisted, but Gina had resolutely argued that there was nothing for her in the city; it would mean she could have a fresh start as well. In truth, Rose had immediately warmed to the idea of starting anew with her best friend by her side.

For the sake of a clean break, and a false trail just in case, they had agreed to tell everyone that they were moving to Baltimore. Everyone except Thomas.

Rose had struggled with that difficult letter for some time; with explaining to him her need for a time to grow without temptations. For her that meant a move far away, to California. He had responded as she hoped he would - with compassion, understanding and respect. And with regret. He agreed to honor their secrecy.

Rose had said her goodbyes to Red, to Mr. Carson, to the O'Reilly's, and to a tearful Cora. The last had been the hardest for both her and Gina; they felt like they were leaving their own little sister. But when they locked the door to their flat for the final time, they both felt satisfied with their farewell to their old lives and were ready to embrace the future.

The ride to Penn Station was a quiet one, spent in retrospection, and some second thoughts, as well. Their belongings loaded aboard by the porter, they sat on a wooden bench beside the hissing train, passing their final moments in New York.

"Hello, Rose. "

Rose's heart jumped at the familiar voice and she turned to see the one person to whom she really couldn't say goodbye.

"Thomas... How did you ... Gina ..."

"Don't blame Gina. I begged and cajoled her to tell me the exact time when you were leaving…to have this final chance to see you."

Thomas greeted Gina and the two embraced. She kissed him on the cheek and then slung her bag over her shoulder.

"I'll wait on the train, Rose. Goodbye, Thomas. "

"Farewell, Gina. "

Thomas sat next to Rose, their faces inches apart. He took her hand in his.

"Rose, you don't have to say anything. I understand your need to go, I really do. You want to live life first, before you consider settling down, and I respect that. I'll have my own hectic life at University for the next few years. Maybe I was selfish to ask you to give up your dreams so that we could be together. I probably wouldn't have been able to give you the attention that you deserve, anyway. And I don't ever want to take you for granted. I just wanted to be near you."

Rose tried to speak, but he held a finger to her lips.

"No, don't ..." he continued. "Let me say this. Let me get it out. I can tell you've been through a lot, even though you haven't felt comfortable enough to share everything. I can wait for that. ... I told you long ago I had my own cross to bear. I've wanted to tell you but I never found the right moment ... The O'Reilly's are my family, but not my blood. My father and Mr. O'Reilly were best friends; brothers, almost. Godfather to each other's children. Then my parents were killed in an accident when I was just five."

Rose let out a reflexive half-gasp, half-sob.

"The O'Reilly's took me in as their own, raised me as their flesh and blood; so much so that even now Cora and John don't know the whole truth. I still recall the hurt of those days just after the accident, just after they were…gone… and I saw the same kind of pain vivid in your eyes when we first met. There is a common thread that runs through both our lives, Rose. A special connection. Somehow, that first night in the saloon, looking up at you, I knew ... But you disliked me at first, and I couldn't really blame you."

The train whistle blew insistently behind them, signaling imminent departure. Thomas began to speak faster.

"Oh God, Rose, I just wanted to say that I hope you find what you're looking for out there. I will be thinking of you ... you have a special place in my heart now. When my schooling is finished, when I'm ready for that house with the white fence, I'm going to come out and find you, no matter how difficult it may be ..."

Two whistles screamed and the conductor called out 'last aboard' to passengers. Rose stood and strode towards the now-moving train. She hopped on the bottom step of the car and then turned to face Thomas as he walked quickly alongside.

"Oh, Thomas ... I'd like that very much ..."

Their eyes locked as the train slowly approached the tunnel entrance. Suddenly, Thomas was beside her on the step. He took Rose in his arms and leaned close…and, at along last, their lips met. For a few seconds time stopped…the movement of the train, the din of the engines… all ceased to exist….Her senses tingled over the length of her body as she surrendered to the feeling. It was as she had dreamed, as she had hoped, and her heart grieved at the thought of giving it up….

And then, just as suddenly, it ended, he was gone… back down onto the platform, gazing up at her as the train left him in its wake.

"Thomas... I will write….." she called out. A question thrust itself into the forefront of her thoughts.

"Thomas, what is your real name?"

His reply reached Rose as the train disappeared into the black of the underground, hurtling towards that which was dreamed and promised, and his words echoed in her thoughts for all of the trip west, and beyond.

"Calvert... Thomas Calvert."

THE END

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