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A Writer’s Misgiving

A  Writer’s Misgiving

    Rosie stood on the top of the rail of the bridge and looked down at the cold murky water below. Are there any rocks at this point in the river? Rosie wondered but put that thought out of her head. What difference does it make, anyway? Everything she had worked on for so long had gone up in smoke, literally; her loving family had changed, and she had no place left to go for help. As she stood there, knowing no one would show up on this old road on such a night as this, her life flashed before her eyes.

    1

    “Rosie come and look at your baby brother!”

Mother called, as her father brought in his wife’s overnight bag and headed upstairs.

     Rosie was excited. She jumped up and down trying to get a peek at the baby, but there was only something very small wrapped up in a blue blanket.

    “Wait Rosie, give me a chance to unwrap him.”

     Her mother had been in the hospital for three days and Rosie had missed her,  so seeing the two of them finally safe at home made her beam. She wasn’t  used to being around a baby, but she was too old to be jealous.  Ever since her parents had told her that there would be a baby brother coming soon,  Rosie couldn’t wait  for the opportunity to help take care of him. She thought she would always love her little  brother.

    “He’s all mushy!” she said with alarm. “I didn’t know he’d be mushy!”.

     Her mother laughed. “Oh, he’ll look this way for a short while. As he eats and grows he’ll stop looking so ‘mushy’”.

    Rosie leaned down and gave a quick peck on her new brother’s forehead. “If he’s my brother, then he must be cute.” She put her head on her mother’s shoulder and watched her baby brother sleep.

2

    Rosie had to wait for Jimmy at the elementary school and they’d walk the rest of the way home together. Rosie hated doing this simple thing because Jimmy wasn’t as well behaved on these walks as he was once they were home.

    There was a medium sized short haired, and very nasty dog who  lived in a house on a corner that Rosie and Jimmy had to pass.  And every day the  dog was in the front yard, tethered to a large pine.  As much as Rosie wished,  they couldn’t avoid that corner.  Jimmy wouldn’t  cross the street, no matter how much Rosie pleaded.  And every day she told him  to leave that dog alone.  But,  Jimmy  liked to go right up to the fence to  tease  the dog. He wanted to see if he could  get it to bark more viciously than it was already barking.                                      When it saw Jimmy, it would snarl and bark as it ran  towards him. It never failed to run  until  it choked on its own collar from the chain being pulled to its absolute length. That didn’t keep it from trying to bark and get Jimmy , and Jimmy  thought that this was the funniest thing in the world.

   “Jimmy, how many times do I have to tell you to not walk on that brick fence!”  Rosie said again, irritated as she watched her brother walk on the same brick fence that they passed everyday after school, again.

    Jimmy jumped off, walked a few steps, then jumped back on laughing a  silly laugh.

    “Jimmy! What did I just tell you?”

    He laughed some more as he jumped off only because the brick fence had ended.

    “I swear, when we get home, I’m gonna…oh, you  make me so mad that I don’t know what I’m gonna  do to you!”

    “Oh, I’m so afraid”, he teased.

    Rosie threw down her backpack and glared at Jimmy. “That does it!,” she yelled. “You better run home, fast, because when I catch up with you, only Mom will be able to protect you from the punch you’re going to get from me!”

    Jimmy believed that he had truly gotten on his sister’s last nerve, and ran  as fast as he could down the street wearing his heavy backpack.

    Rosie laughed. “That’ll teach him”, she thought to herself.  She picked up her own pack and continued to walk home. He knew the way home, and running like that, he’d surely get home before she did. “Good thing Mom’s at the doctor’s with Tanya, or I’d be in real trouble. As it is now, Jimmy won’t say a thing.” She laughed out loud.

    Before she reached the corner, she saw Jimmy bent over  breathing hard. “What’s the matter with you? I thought  you could run the entire way home,” she yelled.

    “I’m…just…catching…my breath,” he said,” I can still…beat…you home.”

    Jimmie was right next to the house where the dog lived. What was strange, the dog wasn’t barking. As Rosie came closer  to her brother, she became more aware that the dog wasn’t barking. Then she reached the corner where Jimmy was, still bent over, but breathing more comfortably.

    Then Rosie looked into the yard.  “Where’s that dumb mutt?” she said. And that’s, when the dog appeared from behind Jimmie and  jumped on him. Jimmie  lost his balance and fell to the  ground. Then the dog was on him.   Growling menacingly,  it  quickly tore a jagged hole in the leg of Jimmy’s pants, then it began biting Jimmie through that hole.  Blood was on Jimmy’s   hands as he tried to fight the dog off.

    “Rosie! Get him off! Get him off!” he screamed  as he  fought off the dog as best he could. But the dog wouldn’t stop biting his leg .

    Rosie was first too shaken by what she was seeing to react. Then hearing her name being screamed by her brother  she came out of her trance.   “Jimmy!”  Rosie dropped her book pack and ran up to the  dog, and without thinking,  she kicked it as hard as she could in the side. “Get off my brother,  you crazy mutt!”

    The dog yelped, and looked up for a second, but it quickly returned to Jimmy’s leg.  Rosie then started kicking it over and over and over, until the dog gave in and ran away, leaving Jimmy screaming, holding his leg and rocking back and forth.

   “It’s okay, it’s okay. I’ll go get help”, Rosie said as calmly  as she could, so as  not to get Jimmy more excited. She rubbed his back to sooth him.

    “No Rosie, hold me, please hold me!” he begged as he whimpered. So she sat down by him and rocked him in her arms as he cried into her chest. Rosie wanted to call for help, fast, because she was afraid that the dog might come back .

    “Let me look at that bite!” A woman was running towards them from a house across the street carrying a little box. “Let me look at that bite! Oh, it isn’t as bad as I’d thought. Let me clean it. I won’t hurt you, but let me get it cleaned right away, and wrap it with gauze. I’ve already called the hospital emergency telling them I’m bringing you in.”

    Rosie didn’t say anything as the woman cleaned the  wound as best she could, Jimmy still whimpering in her chest.

  “Wait here. Don’t try to stand, sweetie, I’ll help you into my car.” The woman ran back to her house and opened her garage door.

     Jimmy and Rosie were both in too much shock to argue. The woman got them  into the car and drove down the street. “I saw most of what happened! I don’t know how that damn dog got out. It’s always tied up!”, she said. “Don’t worry, they’ll take care of you at the hospital. You can call your parents from there. And I’m a witness, I can tell them anything they need to know. I think the police can go after that dog. It’s dangerous!”

    In the back seat of the car,  through the woman’s chatter, Jimmy  looked up at his sister.   “I love you, Rosie. I’m sorry for being a brat.”

    “It’s okay. Just stay still until we can get you to the hospital.” She squeezed his hand.

3

   Rosie loudly  came in through the front door and threw her keys onto the couch. “Okay, Mom, please explain to me why I got a message in the middle of my Professional Writing class to come home when you know I have other classes this afternoon.”

    “I’m sorry, dear. I have something important to tell you and I wanted to tell you now. But I need to wait for Jimmy and Tanya to come home from school and I’ll tell you all at the same time.”

    “Mom! Why is everything such an emergency with you now a days?”

    “Please, Rosie. Be patient, for my sake. It’s important.”

   “All right, all right!” she said annoyed as she threw herself on the couch, making her keys jingle.  “What’s on TV this time of day, anyway?  You know how much I hate  your soaps.” She picked up the remote and started switching from one channel to the next.

    “Do you want me to fix you something to eat? Jimmy and Tanya are on their way home and I know they’ll be  hungry.”

    “Yeah, whatever, Mom. My class was  interrupted. Why should the same thing happen to my stomach.”

     Her mother went into the kitchen and Rosie could hear the clatter of dishes. She knew that they were all going to get sandwiches for lunch, and she could  have prepared that herself.  But she figured keeping her mother busy was the best thing for her.

    Soon, Rosie’s father came down the stairs with two suitcases. He stopped midway when he saw Rosie on the couch. She ignored him as she continued to click through the channels.

    He dropped his bags at the bottom of the stairs and walked behind Rosie into the kitchen. “No one was supposed to be here, “ Rosie heard  his voice in a very loud whisper. She finally found something on the TV, and was even more  annoyed that her parents were bugging her.

    “I’m sorry, she left as soon as she got the message and arrived home just a short while ago.” her mother explained. “I’m sorry. I also thought you’d be gone before she arrived.”

    Rosie heard that and that’s when she noticed the suitcases at the bottom of the stairs. Her father never went out of town for business,  and the family always went on trips together. Why didn’t she know about her father  leaving home for whatever reason? Certainly they’re not taking the kids out of school for a trip in the middle of the semester.  Why were they so concerned that we’d be  home together for this special “talk”? Then she looked at the bags again and began to listen carefully to their conversation.

    “This isn’t  going to work. I’ll have to say something to Rosie before I leave,” her father said.

    “Rosie won’t pay attention. You know she doesn’t pay any attention to us any longer. You could walk out the door if  you want to, Stephen. But I wish you wouldn’t. Can’t we talk more about this before you leave?  I’ll try. I promise, I can change, you’ll see.”

    “It’s not just that. It’s this house, it’s my job, it’s the kids”.

    “I’m getting a headache. Let me take some medicine and let’s talk more, okay?”

    “That’s another thing! You’re getting worse, Marie!” He remembered that Rosie was in the living room, so he calmed down and lowered, his voice.  “No matter what your doctor provides, it’s all still the same with you. I don’t know how much more I can take!” He paused.  “That’s why I have to leave.”

    Rosie quietly stood up and walked slowly to the bottom of the stairs. She was glad that the house was carpeted as she quietly took her father’s bags up to her parent’s room. She put them down on  their bed, then  sat in  the chair to wait for her father.   He must have talked longer to her mother then he had implied because it took awhile for him to come upstairs.

    She was so into her own thoughts, wondering what she would say,  that she didn’t hear her father until he spoke to her.

    “Why did you bring my bags back to my room? What do you think you’re doing, young lady?” He was obviously irritated from the conversation with her mother, and now he was angry with Rosie for getting involved.

    “Cause I heard you and Mom! I don’t believe you’re leaving us and I’m up here to stop  you!”

    “I’ve already discussed this with your mother, Rosie. I’m not going to go over everything with you. Please get out of the way and let me go.”

    Tears began to fill in the corners of her eyes. “Dad, please listen to me. Please don’t go”, she begged. “If it’s the children and me, and Mom, we can all change. I can lower the amount of classes I take each semester so I can spend more time with Mom.” She paused for a minute, as the tears flowed, in an attempt to keep from crying.  She began to talk quickly, “I heard a  lot of what you said to Mom.  You also mentioned your job. Dad you have a good job, a wonderful job. If you want to leave it, you should look for another job while you’re still working this one.  Dad, jobs are hard to come by for men your age. You need to stay in your job, Dad. You can make it better, I know you can.”

    Her father looked at the floor the entire time she was talking. He didn’t want her to see the tears falling from his own eyes.

    “Please don’t go,”  her voice was now cracking as the tears burned, “we all love you. What are we going to do without you?”

    Then Rosie did something she hadn’t done  in years. She hugged her father. She saw him crying and she didn’t let go. “Please don’t leave us. We all love you, “ she whispered into his ear.

  Stephen couldn’t stand to see his eldest child crying. She shouldn’t have to be put into such a situation.

   “I’ll stay,” he said. Then he let his arms drop to his side, “I hope I can get my job back,” and he laughed. It was just a little chuckled, and his eyes sparked just a bit.  Rosie wasn’t’ sure why but she laughed too. “Okay, young lady. Shouldn’t you get back to school for your afternoon classes?”

    Rosie smiled “Yes, Dad. I’ll eat and go back to school. And I’ll keep my promise, fewer classes from here on out so that I can be with Mom. And I think it’s time to do some redecorating. If we can afford it.”

    “I guess we can.” Her father hugged her one more time then began unpacking the first of his suitcases.

    Just then Marie entered the room surprised to see Stephen unpacking.

    “What? I don’t understand,” she says.

    “I was wrong. You and the kids need me. I’ll get my job back tomorrow, they couldn’t have replaced me by now, and we’ll be a family again.”

  “What happened?”

   “Rosie happened. She reminded me how much she and the kids need me. I’ll stay, but only for a while. It’s best if I leave when the kids are a little older. And Rosie promised to help around the house more including being here with  you.”

    “Thank you, “ Marie said.

    Stephen just looked at her and continued unloading his clothes.

4

     As Rosie started doing more and more around the house, for her mom and her siblings,  the amount of college courses she took became fewer until she no longer went to school. She had originally planned to finish her degree on the college level which would have  helped her transfer to the university to complete her Bachelors degree. Now being with her family became her full-time responsibility. It became hectic at times, but Rosie knew that what was only a little stressful for her  would keep her mother in bed for entire days.

    Stephen, true to his word, started redecorating the living room.  Every weekend found him painting or refinishing furniture. And for the furniture that he could not save, he replaced with something  new.  He even bought new carpeting.    All of this gave Stephen  something to do at the end of each week. Since he no longer had to worry about  Marie and the kids, he  actually enjoyed what he was doing. But at night, he slept in the guest room, alone.

    Marie was doing better with Rosie around but Stephen just couldn’t bring himself to be that close to his wife.  Her spells and depression were something he couldn’t deal with any longer.   On nights when she would go from her bed and come into the guest room to tell him she was lonely, he always woke Rosie from her sleep to be with her mother.  That’s the only way he could stay there. Marie was happy that he had not left the family, but it did sadden her that she was no longer sleeping with her husband.

    And as time went by, Rosie did continue to take courses towards finishing her degree, but not by attending the university as she had originally planned. Instead  she was taking a couple of  online courses from what she hoped was a reliable source.  She knew that she was missing the university life, but the family needed her more, so she never complained. Jimmy , now an undergraduate, went directly into the university on a scholarship, but the scholarship didn’t take care of his entire tuition.  The rest of the money was left up to their father to pay. Since Rosie didn’t want her parents to worry, she never told them how expensive her courses were. Instead, she had to find a way to make more money herself.

5

    One morning, as Rosie  was stacking dishes into the dishwasher from the morning breakfast, she  received a phone call from one of the  locally owned department stores. The man on the other end instructed Rosie  to come and pick up her  mother.

    “Oh, my goodness! Has anything happened to her? I knew I should  have gone with her! She hasn’t fainted has she?”

    “Please come down and pick her up.” Then the phone went dead.

    Rosie rushed to the store  and asked after Marie at the Customer Service desk.  The woman behind the desk picked up the phone and dialed two numbers. Rosie waited nervously. Then she heard the woman say, “She’s here,” and hung up the phone.  She spoke to Rosie. “Mr. Waters will  be here in a moment”, she said, with a forced smile.

    Rosie was so worried about her mother that she wasn’t in the mood for any fake smiles, but she responded with one of her own just the same.  The woman continued stapling papers together.

    “Ms. Swanson?” He emerged from the hallway behind the customer service desk.

    “Yes, yes I am. Can you tell me about Marie Swanson? Do know where she is? How is she?”

    The man held out his right hand in a gesture to shake her own. “I’m Roy Waters, head of security.”

    Rosie was stunned. She suspiciously pulled away from him . “Where is my  mother,” she demanded.

    “Come with me,” he said calmly. He turned around and headed down the hall with Rosie close behind.    He opened the second door and Rosie followed him in. There was her mother, looking sad and strained, sitting in the second chair from behind a desk. She didn’t even look up when Rosie came in and sat down in the first chair.

    “What have you done to her?” Rosie accused as she brought her chair closer in order to put her arm around  Marie as best she could.

    “Wait just a minute Ms. Swanson.” He looked towards a woman standing in the corner behind the desk. “Thanks Gracie. That’ll be all.” Waters closed the door behind her. He sat in his chair and looked sternly at Rosie. “We caught your mother  shoplifting.”

    “What?” Rosie moved her arm from around her mother’s shoulder.”What are you talking about? My mother would never shoplift!”

   “Please calm down, Ms Swanson. I understand how this would be a surprise…”

    “Surprise? Of course I’m surprised!” Rosie stood up glaring at  Waters. “ Why would you harm the reputation of an innocent woman. Look at her?” Rosie pointed at Marie, who had not lifted her head  as she looked down at her lap.   “Does she look like a shoplifter?”

   “We have her on tape.”

    Waters waited, then gestured towards the chair. Rosie sat down.  She asked,“what do you mean?”

    He folded his arms and leaned back in his chair. “We have proof that she has been shoplifting in our store for a long while now. She’s attempted to steal expensive lingerie,  designer purses,  jeans, and a leather jacket.”

    Rosie couldn’t believe what she was hearing. The only thing she wanted to do was to get  out of there.

    “Today”, he continued, “she came in and tried on some diamond rings and  an 18 karat gold bracelets. When the department attendant turned away for a second, your mother was leaving the store wearing a 3,000 dollar diamond ring.”

    “No.” Was all Rosie could say, in real disbelief.

    “Do you want to see the tape?” Waters asked.

   Rosie looked at her mother. She was crying. The tears were running down Marie’s  cheeks freely. Rosie reached into her purse and found a tissue, and gave it to her mother,  then put  her arm back around her shoulder to comfort both of them. Marie softly cried into the tissue.

    “What are going to do? Can I spend a few minutes with her before you take her to jail?”

    Waters  sat up in his chair and put his hands on his desk. “Your family have been  longtime customers, and we appreciate how loyal you all are.  But we don’t want to see your mother in here again. Ever.  Next time, we won’t send her home with you or your father. Next time she will be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

    Now tears of shame began to fill Rosie’s eyes. “I understand.” She looked down at her mother, still crying and looking at her lap. “Can we go now?”

   “Yes. Remember, she’s to never come to the store again. Even with family member, a relative, or a  friend.”

    “I know”, she said a little too loud.  “I understand.”

   When Rosie walked Marie to her car, she began to cry. She couldn’t hold it in any longer. She reached into her purse to retrieve a tissue for herself. Her main concern right then was how was she going to get her mother’s car home.

    Marie took the tissue from Rosie’s hand to wipe away her tears. “Oh, dear, why are you crying? “Marie asked. “It’s going to be all right. Mommy will make it all better.” Then she held her oldest child in her arms.

    Stephen came into the living room cleaning his hands on a towel. “Didn’t you and your mother go shopping? I don’t see any bags.” He looked around smiling like a cat that just ate the canary. “Where’s your mother?” Rosie didn’t answer right away. “Hey, kiddo! Why so serious?”

    “Dad, we’ve got to talk.”

6

     Years passed  and  Rosie reached a point when she realized that the nonfiction and short stories that she wrote on a  freelance basis helped keep the home afloat, but it was not keeping her happy. In addition, it really didn’t bring in the big bucks that she knew she deserved. Of course, what ever else she decided to try, she couldn’t do anything away from home because of  Marie.

    Her friend Bryan once told her, “You can do anything, Rosie. Don’t cut yourself short on what you want to do.”

    So she began to search for  agents who were looking for unknown and up and coming young writers who may or may not have been published. She knew with an agent she would go much further, and she could still work from home as a real writer.

   Of course,  it would be a few weeks before she’d  hear back from  any of the agents she had sent queries. Still she couldn’t help being overly anxious.   In the meantime, she continued writing for the magazine and typing papers for  college  students. What else was there to do?

    An evening came when Rosie had not checked the mailbox earlier that afternoon.  Her mind was too much on the job at hand and she didn’t notice her father had entered her room. When she looked up from her typing, she saw Stephen behind  her holding out two envelopes.  She grabbed the letters. She dropped one on her desk and opened the other.

    “Oh, my goodness, Dad!” she exclaimed as she jumped out of her chair. “ They want me to send a copy of my manuscript!” She jumped up and down, while Stephen simply smiled, holding back the joy he hadn’t felt for  his daughter in a very long time.  “Oh, I know  just the thing to send them, “ she continued. “ Something I’ve been working on that they just might  like.” She started searching for  the manuscript that she kept in a manila folder with other papers that were also there, in a sort of order that no one could figure out,  on top of her desk.

    “I’m so proud of you, dear”, Stephen finally said. “What does the other say?”

    Rosie stopped looking through the folders. “Oh, I forgot.” She gave a little chuckle. “But what could be better than the first letter.” She didn’t expect anything much. “It may simply say, ‘Thanks for your interest…blah, blah, blah. But we, blank, blank, blank’ …go ahead and fill in the blanks with any form of the word ‘No.!’”  Her chuckle had turned into a real laugh, she was still too happy about the first note.

    She took her time as she tore open the second letter, not really caring what it had to say. She skimmed the letter and the shock and disbelief made her lean back against her chair.   “Oh, I can’t believe it!” She read the letter to her father.  “… If  we’re happy with your manuscript, we will seriously consider representing you. In addition, we’ll  represent you in a national writing contest at Bard College where the best novel can win up to 30,000 dollars!” Rosie practically screamed at the end of the last sentence. She began jumping up and down again.

    Stephen’s eyes became brighter when he heard the amount of money, and he was temporarily speechless.

    “Do you know what this means, Dad?” Her voice was still high and she continued, “If I can win that contest, it means I can go back to school and finish my degree. It means I can use the money to set up a business here in the house. Jimmy’s old room would be perfect!  I could be a real published author!” She jumped up and down again.

   Rosie ran out into the room calling,. “Mom! You won’t believe this!”

7

     “Whoa, look at you, “ said Bryan, “all dressed up for graduation.”

       Rosie, turned and there he was, her Bryan.  He was beaming, and she smiled back. “I wouldn’t  have made it if it wasn’t for you. You’ve been my biggest supporter and all the help you gave me to get through the university on the fast pace program  is truly priceless.”

       Bryan agreed with a nod.

     “You’re picking me up at seven o’clock for dinner, right?” she asked over her shoulder as she began to walk to the seats set aside for the graduates.

  “Yes, my lady.”

 Rosie stopped, turned,  and looked seriously at Bryan. “You’re such a gent. What would I do without you?”

      His answer was simple, “I don’t want to know.”

     As the waiter pulled out her chair for her and waited for her to sit down, Rosie looked over the restaurant. It was the most elegant place she had ever seen.  “Bryan, this is a very expensive restaurant.”  She suddenly felt under dressed.

    “Why are you worried. You know I can afford it.  You deserve this.”

   “I would have settled for Angus Steak House.”

   “Yes you would have, and that’s why I didn’t tell you I was bringing you here”.

    “Boy, you do spoil me.” Rosie covered his hand with both of hers for a moment, then let go.

     The appetizers were served and the two started idle chit chat about the last seven years, especially how tough the last two years had been as an intern for Bryan.

    After the entree plates had been taken away, a waiter came up and placed two champagne glasses on the table.  Another waiter was behind him with a champagne bottle in an ice chest on a tray. He opened the bottle and poured the champagne into the two glasses.  Ryan told them that everything was okay, and the two waiters went to attend to other restaurant business.

   “Ryan, what is this? You didn’t  have to do this.”

   “Yes I did,” he said as he reached into his inside pocket to produce a small box. He pushed it across the table.

     Rosie opened the box to find a beautiful diamond engagement ring. She took a breath in as her eyes widened.

     Bryan reached across the table to take her hand into his own. “Rosie, would you be my wife?” Bryan tried to look into her eyes, but she was still stunned by the ring. “Rosie?”

     She looked up, but was still speechless. Bryan waited.  When she was able to speak, she looked up and caught Bryan’s gaze. “This is so unexpected…I don’t know what to say.”

    “It’s easy. Say, ‘yes’.”

    “I’ve never thought of you this way, Bryan. I had no idea that this was coming, ever.”

    “But you love me, right?”

   “Yes…I do.”

   “Then…?”

   “I need to think about this.  I must take my family into consideration. They really rely on me.”

   “Jimmy’s on his own, and Tanya…well…they’ll learn to live without you.”

  “But, there’s my mom…”

  “You can still spend time with your mom. You can spend all day with her, as long as  you’re home with me every evening.” He smiles.

  “We could move in with my parents. It’s a big house, and dad could knock down the wall that was Jimmy’s room, and…”

  “Whoa.  We’ll need our own place. I’m not living with your parents.”

  “I don’t know…” Rosie closed the top of the box.

   “Then think on it.”

    Rosie pushed the box across the table. “I will. Let’s drink the champagne,  and you can me home.”

    For the next few days,  Bryan would call Rosie. Sometimes he’d send flowers or a small gift  and the message would always say,  “Marry Me”.  She had stopped going anywhere with Bryan, and when she did speak to him over the phone, the answer was always, “I need time”.

    Eventually, his phone calls became fewer and fewer. He didn’t sound as excited as he once did. He no longer brought up the subject of marriage,  just talk about work.

   Then there came a time when Rosie realized that she hadn’t heard from Bryan for almost three weeks.

   A car stopped across the street from the  Swanson’s house and the driver looked towards Rosie’s room. Eventually, she walked passed her open window. Then he drove away.

    She was shopping in the local mega mall one evening with Tanya, who was looking for the perfect dress for her after graduation party.

    “I’m thirsty. Do you want anything?” Tanya asked.

    “Yeah. A frozen lemonade.”

    “Gotcha, I’ll be right back”.

    Rosie started watching the people in the mall as they walked past her. Some were in groups, some were alone, still others were a couple. She made a face as a couple passed  her.

    She continued her observation when she saw him.  How long had it been? She had stopped counting the weeks since she had last heard from Bryan, and there he was. He was on the other side of the escalator, as if he was window shopping, checking out the shoes in  the store window directly in front of him. He was carrying a coat, from a distance it looked like a trench coat.  Rosie found herself smiling as she began to walk towards him. But, suddenly, a tall woman with long blond hair emerged from the shoe store with a bag. She went  directly to Bryan. He said something to her, she took the coat and put it on. The two of them turned away from the shoe store and  began walking down the mall aisle in the opposite direction. Rosie stopped and stared at Bryan and the woman. They were holding hands. Her once best friend, the man that she loved, was holding the hands of another woman.

    She felt her eyes burning as she continued to stare at the couple. But Rosie didn’t have time to cry. Not here, not now.

    “Rosie? Here’s your drink.” Tanya pushed the  lemonade  into Rosie’s hand. Rosie took it as if in a spell. “Let’s get going”, Tanya said.  “I still want to look into that boutique down near Penny’s”.

8

         Rosie was still writing for the magazines, nonfiction as well as short stories, and still receiving royalties on them, when her agent found her a publisher who was interested in a novel. She was not bothered by that. “I’ve got a novel from a couple of years ago, but it’s not finished. It’s something I wrote during the novel month challenge a couple of years ago. I participated just to see if I could write a 50,000 word story in  a short amount of time. I didn’t finish the book,  not with everything else happening around me at the same time.  But I still have it on my hard drive.  I could brush it off, make sure that at least the first two chapters make sense, and use that as an opener. If that’s all they need to see. “

    Over the phone she could hear her agent breathing. “They only want another example of  your writing, something that hasn’t been published before. Your work has been mostly  nonfiction and short stories. They want to see if you’re able to engage in a full novel. They’re willing to give you a handsome advance. If they’re still interested after reading a synopsis,  prologue, and the first couple of chapters,  then we can all meet about the end of next week to sign the contract. ”

    “Cool, Stan. I can have that ready for you in the morning. Where should we meet?”

9

      Rosie worked diligently on her novel , keeping the check of the advance pinned to her calendar as an incentive. Each morning she would  cross  the previous day off  of the calendar, and had the day that she was to turn in the manuscript circled with a bright red marker.   And as the days went by,  Tanya arrived early in the morning to help Marie with all of her needs as  she worked on her graduate thesis.   In the evening, Tanya went home to be with her longtime boyfriend, Isaac,  and Rosie would take over and have dinner ready by the time Stephen arrived home from work.

      A few weeks had gone before  her novel was completed. Happily,  Rosie printed a nice clean copy and put it together with a spring clip.  She put the manuscript into a suitcase that Stephen had recently bought for her birthday. Next was a meeting over coffee with Stan  to discuss what would happen with the publishers  in the morning.

10

    “Rosie, I can’t stay with mom! I told  you more than once that  I had my graduate meeting with the faculty  this afternoon! I can’t  reschedule  that!  If I do, it’ll delay my  graduation for, I don’t know for how long, but I can’t miss this meeting!” Tanya swung her backpack over one shoulder and headed for the door when she heard her sister pleading behind her.

  “Tanya, please. My meeting is just as important as yours. What I am I supposed to do with mom?”

   “I don’t know, Rosie.  That’s why I told you more than once ahead of time so that you could make your meeting around mine! But you didn’t, did you? “ Tanya opened the door. “ You dug this hole, sister. Now lie in it!”  She slammed the door behind her.

      Rosie stormed up to her room. She couldn’t believe how selfish her sister  was being.  Her meeting is more important than Tanya’s. If she didn’t get together with Stan to discuss strategy, this entire deal would be over and she’d have to return the advance that was still pinned to her calendar. That advance, and  the publicity she was promised, would be the one great  push she’d been waiting for, and needing. This is the book that would establish her as a serious writer.

    Now she had to do something with Marie. She couldn’t take her with her, and she didn’t  know how long the meeting would last so that she could leave her  in the car.  She didn’t have Tanya, but maybe Mrs. Tapp  next door wouldn’t mind visiting  with mom and watch her while she was gone for a couple of hours.

11

     Rosie  was on her way home, smiling, very happy with herself, and the thought of what she could now do with her advance jumped around in her brain. Stephen already had planned for a long time to knock down the wall of the room next door to give her a very nice office space. Now she could upgrade everything, including that old chair and desk she’d had as long as she could remember.

    “And new clothes,” Rosie said to herself. The pants, shoes and top that she wore to meet with Stan belonged to Marie because Rosie hadn’t bought anything new for herself in many years. Her money had always gone to help put Jimmy and Tanya through college, and for her own courses and degree. New clothes had always seem to be for the rich and famous in her neighborhood.

    “Why shouldn’t I buy new clothes? I’m going to be one of the rich and famous one day,” she giggled as she drove off the freeway and turned left onto  a street that lead to  home.

    A little over a mile  from home, the sirens behind Rosie told her that she needed to move  into the right lane. Even if she could not see them, she knew they were coming.  In the short distance in front of her, Rosie could see smoke rising into the sky. Sure enough, within seconds, a fire engine and truck came barreling down the road passing by in a “whoosh” of wind and loud noise of a variety of sirens.  Behind them was the ambulance and two police cars, and between the five of them, the whirling, blaring, bawling sounds were almost unbearable.

     Rosie  returned to the street and continued driving towards home. Then she  realized that she  didn’t hear those sirens continue down the road.   Instead the alarms  had stopped short not far from where she was heading. And as she became closer to where the crowd had already gathered to watch the emergency as if they were watching a television show, Rosie realized that it was her home that was on fire.

    The police had  already quadrant the area around the house to keep the nosy neighbors at bay, when suddenly, a firefighter exited from the backyard with Tanya in tow. He was carrying Marie.

     Tanya was coughing and one of the ambulance medics ran to her. He yelled, “Is there anyone else in the house?”    Tanya coughed as she shook her head. “Come over here and we’ll help you out!”

    The firefighter quickly ran with Marie to the ambulance, barking out orders to the medics as he approached.

    Rosie was too much in shock to really focus on what was happening right before her eyes. If anyone had come over to tell her that it was her house, her home  that was on fire, she wouldn’t have believed them. Instead she stood, gawking with the others, not even noticing that Marie  had been taken away in the ambulance,  the lights twirling and the horn honking at the drivers who were trying to make a u-turn in the middle of the street.

    The fire engulfed the left side of the house and flames rushed out of the blown windows. Firefighters were in a battle trying to contain the fire from taking the Tapp’s  house, too.

   “Where’s my family? Has anyone seen my wife, the kids?” Stephen came from behind the crowd searching for Marie and Rosie. He always thought of his three children as “his kids”; but now, not only had he forgotten that they were three adults, he also, in the confusion, had forgotten that only Rosie lived with him and Marie.  “I don’t see them! Has anyone seen my kids?”  Stephen was frantic.

    One of the neighbors, an old golfing buddy from down the street,  ran over to get Stephen. “Calm down, Stephen. I’ve got you.” He put his arm around Stephen’s shoulder. “Look, isn’t that your youngest daughter over there?” He was pointing to the other ambulance where Tanya sat on a gurney, covered with a blanket, breathing through an oxygen mask, though she was still coughing a little.

    “Tanya!” Stephen released himself from his neighbor’s arm to run to his daughter. He hadn’t realized just yet why Tanya was at their  house at that hour. Normally she would have been long gone.

    “Daddy!” She screamed underneath the mask. She removed the oxygen mask, stood up, crying, to hug him.

    “Oh, my baby!” He wrapped his arms around her to hold her, comforting both of them. Tanya continued to cry wiping her nose with her sleeve. When Stephen was finally ready to let go, he asked, “What happened? Where’s your mother and sister?”

   “I’m not sure! Rosie and I had a big fight today,” she stopped to wipe her nose and the tears ran down her face,   “before I left to go to the campus. I…I came back to the house to apologize,  you know, I didn’t want Sis to be mad at me. And, and…the house was on fire! I dialed 911 as I took the backstairs looking for mom and Rosie.  I couldn’t find Rosie, I couldn’t find Rosie, I couldn’t find Rosie!”

    “Calm down, Tanya.” He hugs her. “It’s just stuff. We know the drill. We’re all to meet on the front lawn. There’s just too much happening. As long as we’re all okay, it’s gonna be fine. I’m sure they’re here. Let’s look, okay, sweetie.”

    “Daddy,  you don’t understand, I found mom in your room curled up at the side of the bed. Mom is burned! Daddy, mom is burned! And I couldn’t find Rosie!” She grabbed her father and bawled into his chest.

    Stephen was stunned. He stood there with his daughter crying on one of his good shirts, not believing his wife had been endangered. In an instant, all the love and caring he originally felt for Marie  had returned. It had been many years, but Stephen was ready to say, “I love you” again to his wife.

    Mrs. Tapp came stumbling over to the two of them, looking a little frightful. Her husband wasn’t home yet, and she worried about him. She knew that the firefighters would keep her house safe, but she couldn’t help worrying about everything right then.  “Are you okay?” She asked Stephen and Tanya. “Would you like some coffee? I can make some.  And I have some sandwich meat. I’ll make us some sandwiches.”  She had to keep busy, and that was the best she could do.

    Stephen smiled as he continued to hold Tanya, “Yes, please, a cup of coffee sounds great,” When Mrs. Tapp turned in the direction of her own house, she over heard Stephen ask Tanya, “Where could Rosie be?”

    “Oh,” Mrs. Tapp said, “that’s what I was coming back to your house for, to apologize to Rosie for not staying over and visiting with Marie very long. I was going to let her know that Marie could come over  and visit with me tomorrow at anytime.  That’s when I saw the fire and called 911. I didn’t think anyone was home. Well, tell her I’m sorry. ” Mrs. Tapp was a few feet away when it hit Stephen what she had said.

    “I don’t understand,” he said. “Why would she be visiting with Marie? Where was Rosie?”

    Tanya had stopped crying and now looking as confused as her father. ”She wouldn’t have left mom alone, would she?”

    “Who? Mrs. Tapp?”

    “No! Rosie!” Then Tanya told Stephen about the fight and Rosie’s meeting.  He put two and two together and realized why she couldn’t find Rosie.

    “She left your mother with Mrs. Tapp for a coffee shop meeting with her stupid agent!”

    And just then, after sighting Rosie, the old golfing buddy neighbor was pointing her in the direction of the ambulance where her sister and father were. But her father was not in a “glad you’re alright, sweetie” mood. Instead, he began shouting at her.

    “Rosie! Where have you been? Why weren’t you here taking care of your mother? It’s all your fault! I don’t know what she was trying to do, but look what happened because you weren’t here with her. You know she needs constant supervision, and not just a neighbor coming by to have tea. How could  you be so negligent? How could you…” Stephen suddenly stopped ranting when he felt himself gasping for air.

    “Dad, are you alright?”

   No he wasn’t.  Stephen pulled on his shirt collar as his gasping became worse.

Rosie finally came out of her trance. “Dad, oh no!” Rosie screamed. “Someone get a medic over here!”

    Tanya felt helpless. She just asked over and over if he was alright. Stephen had slumped over the gurney when two of medics came running over.

    A quick check up and one medic said to the worried sisters,  “We have to take him to the hospital. We think he’s had a heart attack. “

    What? Rosie didn’t believe it. Marie was taken to the hospital, and now so was Stephen for what could be a heart attack.

    After that,  it felt like  everything was put into fast forward.  Her advance and royalties checks had been lost in the fire, and she had less than 50 dollars in her checking account.

   Tanya was furious with her sister ,  blaming her for everything that had happened and would not take her in for the night.  Jimmy was out of town and his wife wouldn’t take her in for the night after she had received a frantic phone call from Tanya.

    Rosie needed to make it to the meeting with the publisher in the morning. She made a call to her agent  to tell him what had happened. Since it was her room on the left side that had caved in during the fire,  the novel was gone.  Even the original in her hard drive was gone because her computer was completely damaged as well.

     “I’m sorry Rosie,  but there’s nothing that can be done as far as the publishers are concerned. They won’t  care.  They’ll either want the manuscript, or the money back. “ He paused, generally concerned. “I’ll see what I can do, but I don’t know how we can get out of this mess.” He hung up the phone.

    The fire department said that they would come back in the morning to begin the process of finding how the fire started.  The police had said there was nothing they could  do about the safety of what was left in the house, so the neighbors helped  by taking any valuables to their home at least until morning when Rosie, now the temporary head of household, told them what they could do with it. Rosie was still too stunned to be of any real help, so the Tapps on one side of the house, and the Johnsons on the other side help supervise.

12

    It was late into the night before everything had settled down. Rosie was curled up in her car with one of the blankets left behind. She was going over everything in her head. She couldn’t think of anyway to get rid of the “mess” that she had created, how her family blamed her for everything, and wouldn’t help give her a place to sleep.  “The family would be better off if I had never been born.”

    And there she was on the rail of a deserted road looking into the murky water.

   Suddenly she saw the double lights of a car  careening down the road making Rosie  jumped out of the way to keep from being hit by the car.   The car pulled over to the side, and a short stout woman with black short curly hair step  out of the driver’s side. She stood by her car door smiling.

    “What are you smiling at?” Rosie yelled. “You nearly killed me!”

    “No I wouldn’t have Rosie. I’m smiling because it looks like I got here  just in time.”

    Rosie stared at her. She didn’t notice that the woman had used her name. “What were you thinking? You can’t be driving on this bridge road like that? Didn’t you see my blinking lights?”

    The woman kept smiling.

    Rosie stood fuming as the woman came over and put out her hand to shake hers. “Nice to finally meet you Rosie. This is just the perfect time to get to know one another.”

    Now Rosie looked at her in confusion. “How do you know my name?”

    “I know everything about you. Come, take my hand.”

    She didn’t resist and took the hand of the stranger.

   “Come with me child, I want to show you something. I want to show you what it would have been like if you had not been born.”

    Rosie felt a calmness come over her as she held the hand of the stranger who had no name.  She smiled up at Rosie and then, as calmness turned into elation,  she and the stranger transformed.

    Next thing she knew, Rosie was in the house where she and Jimmy were small children, before Tanya was born. “Mom!” she called out.

    “They can’t hear or see us, Rosie. I’m showing you what their lives would have been like if you had not been born.”

    Rosie looked around in amazement. “So, I’m not here when Jimmy was a toddler?”

    “No, and you weren’t here when this happened to Jimmy.”

    Next Rosie found herself on the corner across the street from where that nasty dog had  lived, but this time, there was no one there to protect Jimmy.

    “Get out of here you mutt!” It was the woman from across the street with her medical kit, and a broom. She dropped the kit on the ground as she attacked the dog with her broom.

    “You weren’t there to stop the dog before he could do much damage to Jimmy’s leg. Without you, Jimmy now walks with a limp.”

    “Oh, no!” Rosie exclaimed as they passed through time, and she and the stranger were in the living room of the house where she grew up.

    Stephen stood in the living room holding his two suitcases. “I’m leaving, Marie and you can’t stop me.  No more trying to talk me into staying.”

    “What’s going on?” Rosie asked. “Dad didn’t leave the family.”

    “No he didn’t, because you were there”.

   They moved on and Rosie witnessed her father working the night shift as a foreman at a factory. “Why is dad here? He has a great job as a draftsman.”

   “He left that job, remember? He had a difficult time finding a job in the similar field and had to keep two jobs, sometimes three to pay the alimony.

    Rosie looked helplessly at her father. “Oh, daddy, I’m so sorry”.

   “Come on Rosie, there’s more to see.”

   They were back at the house a few years later. The house looked nothing as it should have. There were clothes everywhere, food in the sink, stacks of newspapers, a bottle collection on what was once the living room coffee and dining room tables, and an unusual odor in the air.

    “Don’t tell me. This is what would have happened without me here to help take care of mom and the house?”

    “Exactly. Your brother and sister would rather stay over at a friend’s house than stay and deal with your mother. Without help, without you, without your father, this is what becomes of her.”

    Rosie stood in shock, but the stranger didn’t leave her to linger. They moved on to the department store where her mother was being handcuffed. Mr. Waters and a police officer were there with the woman Gracie.

    “Marie Swanson, you have the right to remain silent…”

    “No!” Rosie screamed. “This can’t be happening! I came and picked her up, they didn’t arrest her! No, this isn’t the way it happened!”

    “Rosie, you said everyone would have been better without you, as if you weren’t born. Well, here we are, you’re not born, and this is now your family’s life. The one without you.” Rosie wanted to cry. “Come, come, dear. No time for tears.”

   “Wait, so you’re  telling me, without me there wouldn’t have been any writing, stories, contest winnings,  nor a book deal to help support the family?”

   The stout woman said nothing as she took Rosie’s hand. In front of  her was the house in shambles with a  horrific smell. Tanya was there, with about six other people Rosie didn’t know. They didn’t mind the mess or the smell.  They drifted in and out of their unreal real lives for something that they thought was better.

    “And, Jimmy. What’s happened to Jimmy?”

    They were suddenly in a fast food restaurant and Jimmy was taking an order. He turned to finish wrapping a burger, and his limp was obvious.

    “I don’t understand. Jimmy got a scholarship.”

   “You’re not thinking, Rosie.  He couldn’t play in high school because of his bad leg. No athletics, no athletic scholarship. Your father couldn’t afford to pay, and so Jimmy never made it to college. “

    It was all hitting Rosie hard. She just stood and shook her head as she watched her brother from behind the counter.

    “Come, our trip isn’t quite over.”

    Rosie was suddenly in an unfamiliar house. She looked around until she noticed photographs in beautiful ornate frames sitting on a table and on the fireplace. She didn’t really look at them closely until she recognized the smiling face of Bryan. “This is Bryan’s home!” she said excitedly. She picked up the photo of Bryan, beaming as he always did towards the camera, and gently rubbed the surface remembering all of the good times with him.  She thought seeing Bryan would make it seem all real again, that everything would be all right again.

    “Come on kids, your nana is waiting for us!” A voice that Rosie didn’t recognize came to her from the upstairs hallway.

    “Lisa, this isn’t necessary. Let’s just talk about it. I didn’t say you had to leave home  with the children to go to your mother’s house.” It was Bryan, but he didn’t sound like himself. He sounded weary and forlorn.

    “You don’t believe me about Michael!” The woman shouted. “You’d rather believe the lies! Those filthy lies! Well, I don’t have to stay here and listen to your accusations any longer!”

   A tall woman with long flowing blond hair came hurrying downstairs with the children close behind, the baby in her arms was crying.  “Lisa!” Bryan called out, but they were out the door with a loud slam.

     A pang of sorrow passed over Rosie. “What will happen to Bryan?”

    “As far as I know, he’ll have to pay a huge alimony to his wife until the children are 22.” The stranger turned to look up at Rosie. “None of this would have happened to him if he had married his true love.”

    “Please don’t leave me here. Let’s move on, please.”

    They quickly moved from Ryan’s house to the home that Rosie knew for most of her life. And it was on fire.

    The fire brigade was running hoses back and forth as they hurried to put out all of the embers to keep the fire from jumping to the Tapps’ or the Johnson’s houses. But they had given up on saving the Swanson’s house. The watching neighbors waited, this time not with sorrow, but with relief. Mrs. Tapp didn’t offer coffee and sandwiches, just hopeful that nothing would happen to her beautiful home. After all, the Swanson’s  house had been an eyesore for too long, and what was that smell?  They were all happy to see it burn to the ground.

    With all of the flammable materials inside the house, it went up like a match. There was nothing left but a blackened wet disaster area, nothing left of the beautiful home that Rosie’s  parents had bought so many happy years ago.

    Tanya and Jimmy sat stunned, Jimmy holding Tanya, on the gurney allowing the policeman to ask his questions.

    “See, Rosie. Their life would have been better with you than without you.”

    “Yes, but dad had a heart attack, mom was burned!”

    “Your father would have had the heart attack at any time. It was best that he had it early. The years would have made it more difficult on him, and he would not have had the company’s health plan.” Rosie was looking down on the wet ground.”As far as your mother is concerned, sometimes a little bad happens to good people. The difference is to know where you made the mistake, forgive yourself, and not make the same mistake again.”

    “I know. I know where I made my mistake. It’s difficult, but after seeing my family’s life without me, I take back what I was thinking. I have to forgive myself for the big mistakes as well for the little ones, and I believe I can. But I don’t have that chance any longer. ”

    The stout woman with the black curly hair tugged on Rosie’s shirt sleeve to look her directly in the eyes. “That’s all I needed to hear”.

    And with that, the stranger was gone, and Rosie found herself in the living room of her home. And everything was there. Nothing was missing, and nothing had been burned. The family home looked like it should. Even better through Rosie’s new eyes.

    Tanya came hopping down the stairs with her backpack in one hand. “You’re sure you’re alright with this. I can always call and change the date.”

    “No, Tanya, graduate school is your life right now, I don’t want you to miss out on any minute of it. Or make it longer than it should be, I suppose.” The sisters laughed together. “Don’t worry,” she continued, “Mom is upstairs with her favorite movie and Stan doesn’t mind meeting with me here.”

    “Okay. See ‘ya. Tell dad I’ll call him later tonight to tell him how it went.”

    Rosie smiled.

    Suddenly she ran upstairs into her room. Yes, there was her suit case. She hurriedly opened it to find her manuscript all nicely printed and wired clipped together. Rosie breathed a sigh of relief.

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