JOHN AND ROSE
September 5, 1926
Rose stood on the front porch of the Calvert home, sipping a cup of coffee as she watched the sun rise in the east. Though it was only September, the early morning chill hinted at the winter weather that would soon be upon Cedar Rapids.
It reminded her of just how far she was from California. At this time in California, the early morning weather would be coolly pleasant, while the days were still scorching hot. Summer was a good month from losing its grip on Los Angeles.
She sat down in a chair, watching the light brighten. She and Christopher would be returning to California in three days, and it surprised her how reluctant she was to go. She had enjoyed this vacation from the bustle and strain of Hollywood, and even after two and a half weeks, she didn’t miss the constant pressure.
Not that she was suddenly interested in settling down into an ordinary life; far from it. She knew that she would never be satisfied to settle into the life of a homemaker, spending her time keeping house instead of making her way in the world, as she had for the last ten years. No, simply settling down was not an option.
But her trip to Cedar Rapids had brought home to her something that had been on her mind for a long time–it was time for a change. Her career was slowly fading; she wouldn’t be a star for much longer, and she had no desire to join the ranks of those who had been discarded by the popular mind and the popular notion of what a star should be.
It wasn’t her status as a star that had kept her in Hollywood for the past decade; stardom had never meant to her what it meant to some. She loved acting, and wanted to continue with it, but she was tired of the constant pressure and the need to meet people’s expectations. Even her refusal to meet expectations had become a strain in itself–people expected her to go a different way from everyone else, and were shocked when she did decide to follow the latest trends.
Rose crossed her feet, thinking. It wasn’t that she was ready to retire from entertaining; in fact, she had other ideas as to what she wanted to do. But implementing those ideas would take time, and she wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do, anyway.
She could give up being an actress for a year or so, but the fickle mind of the public quickly forgot those not in the spotlight, and she needed to remain in the spotlight to make use of the ideas she had. Much as she loved acting, she wanted to try new things, directing, producing, and the like.
But something had to give. When she went back to Los Angeles, she would plunge back into the competitive world of movie acting, competing against ever more young and pretty actresses, some of whom were rising quickly in the business and weren’t afraid to use whatever tricks they could think of to promote their careers, while Rose was thirty-one and picky about what actions she took for her career. She had a teenage son, and couldn’t afford to do things that she didn’t want him to do.
Rose got to her feet, walking to the edge of porch as Allegro walked slowly up to her, his tail wagging. Crouching down, she scratched the dog’s ears, thinking of another possible plan that she had thought of during her vacation.
Just as Mary had said, her friends had been very impressed by Rose. Movie stars rarely came to Cedar Rapids, and she was the first they had ever had a chance to meet, though all of them pored over movie magazines and discussed the latest pictures and stars. She had been inundated with requests for autographs, which she had given freely, and those who had a mind to go to Hollywood had pestered her with questions. Had a movie star simply come to their town, the teenagers would have been nervous and twittery about meeting them, but Rose’s status as Mary’s aunt made them more comfortable with her.
The local newspaper had run an article about her, drawing more people into town in hopes of seeing her. Rose had been a little surprised at the adulation; she didn’t receive nearly so much attention in Hollywood. But movie stars were much more common in Hollywood, and her presence there didn’t draw nearly so much attention. In Cedar Rapids, she was a novelty, someone that people came from all around to see.
It had occurred to Rose that she could use that adulation to her own benefit. After talking to the drama teacher at the high school, and the director of a small local theater, she had begun to consider the untapped talent available in the area. If she wanted to try directing and producing, she could do it here, away from the heavy competition in Hollywood. Of course, there were few trained actors in Cedar Rapids, besides a few very talented drama students and their teacher, but she hadn’t had any training when she had begun, either, and her status as a star might well attract people if she was to try making a picture in the area.
Rose sighed, sitting back down as Allegro curled up his arthritic limbs and dozed off at her feet. She wasn’t sure what to do. She had plenty of money, and her fame was an asset, but she was used to taking life as it came, and long-term planning had rarely been necessary. If she did come to Cedar Rapids to make a picture, she would have to decide what to do about her home in California, and find a place to live while she made the picture–which could take a very long time, she knew, and enroll Christopher in school here.
He would object to staying in Cedar Rapids for long, she also knew. Christopher liked California, and had whined, as only a young adolescent could, about having to spend three weeks away from home. He had wanted to stay home with his friends, or go someplace exciting, like New York or Europe, rather than visit relatives he didn’t know very well in a Midwestern town.
Christopher may have complained, though his complaints had lessened when he had been allowed to explore the town on his own, and had met some kids his own age, who were impressed that his mother was a movie star, but Rose had enjoyed her vacation. Mary and Nadia were eager to show her around, and introduce her to their friends and even their teachers, and had shown the favorite places for teenagers to gather. In spite of the fact that Rose was much older than them, she had been accepted by most, though there had been some who had resented her because she was an adult, or because they considered her home and work to be immoral.
Actresses had grown in fame and acceptance over the years, but some people still considered them to be little more than prostitutes. And indeed, some of them were, though not Rose. She had never sold herself to advance her career; she was more interested in her art–acting–than in gaining fame. Nor was she as mercenary and opportunistic as some–if she had been, she would have married Cal long ago for his money and status, or married John when he had begun to rise in the business world. She had wanted her own life, for herself, and she had gotten it.
Rose smiled, thinking of John. They had spent more time together during this vacation than they had in all the years she had been his housekeeper and Mary and Nadia’s nanny. Of course, he had risen much higher in the world now, and had more leisure time. Though he still worked hard, it was a different kind of work, and he had taken her on a tour of Anders Cedar Rapids, showing her what he did and how the business and factory were run.
She had been impressed. The business was well-run and successful, and the factory did not resemble the sweatshops she was familiar with. John had long been of the opinion, enforced by Elizabeth Anders and by her daughter Miriam, who was long dead but still influenced his decisions with his memories of her, that people who were paid well and treated fairly worked harder and better than those who were oppressed and thus angry and resentful. He had raised no objections when a union was formed, and listened openly when there were complaints or problems.
He respected Rose, too, showing her what he did without assuming that a mere female couldn’t understand business, unlike many men. But then, it was his mother-in-law who had made Anders the success that it was. She had built it into an empire, and he was only a part of it.
Rose stood up, nudging Allegro out of the way as she returned to the house. John would be leaving for work soon, and she had promised to take Mary and Nadia shopping for school clothes, relenting when Christopher had begged to stay behind. He hated shopping for clothes, especially with females who took their time and considered the very experience of shopping to be a pleasure.
Later that day, after John returned home from work, he talked Rose into going out to dinner with him. They had gone out together several times since Rose had come to visit, but it was usually with the teenagers along. Tonight, he wanted it to be just the two of them, so he had given the three adolescents money to buy their own dinner in town, much to Mary’s delight, since he had almost forgotten about her grounding.
John and Rose took the car into town, leaving the kids to find their own way. Rose perched on the front seat, looking out at the passing fields and buildings, her heart light and contented. In spite of all the years she had spent in large cities, she liked Cedar Rapids’ small town ambiance, the way that everyone knew everyone else. It was different from anything she had known before, and she liked it. It felt homey.
As they entered the restaurant, John and Rose were laughing, talking over the events of the day. Rose had spent the day shopping and taking lunch with the girls, while he had spent his day running Anders Cedar Rapids, a job that could be a strain at times, but was never dull.
They were still laughing when they sat down. Rose smiled at John, feeling comfortable and content in his presence, and knew that being around him would almost be enough to get her to stay in Cedar Rapids. She enjoyed his company, enjoyed being around him more than she had enjoyed the presence of any of the men in Hollywood–and she had almost become engaged to one of them. Whether it was their shared experiences, the camaraderie, or their mutual attraction to each other, she couldn’t say, but it was probably a combination of all three, and more.
"It’s been a long time," John suddenly commented, looking at Rose from over his menu.
"Years," Rose agreed. "Has it really been fourteen and half years since the Titanic sank?"
"It has, though it doesn’t feel like it. But I guess time passes faster than we think. Here it is 1926, and the kids are almost grown."
"Or, according to what they think, they are grown, and we just want them to stay children forever."
"Wait until they get to be our age. They’ll think they were so young then."
"I was only a few months older than Mary is now when I set out on my own, and I thought I knew everything. I sure had a lot to learn." Rose shook her head. "But I learned, faster than I would have guessed. Life does that to you sometimes."
"It does," he agreed. "We were both starting new lives in a new place, with young children. Or at least I had young children. You didn’t have Christopher until 1913."
"And now they’re all teenagers, and getting close to adulthood. Where did the time go?"
"It passed in a flurry of activity, as it always has. We’ve both lived a lot, and raised some good kids."
"Usually they’re good, though there are times when I’d like to take them over my knee and spank them, especially Christopher and Mary."
"Nadia always has been the quiet one, though she’s done her share of rebelling over the years, too."
"But they do grow up eventually, thank goodness."
"And we love them anyway, in spite of themselves."
"They do have their calm moments."
"Mostly between ten at night and seven in the morning."
Rose laughed. "But we’ll get our revenge. Someday, they’ll have adolescents of their own."
"And they’ll sit and wonder what happened to their sweet children."
"They can still be sweet, even though they’d rather we didn’t know that. It’s part of the growing up process. We did it, too, though my life really was stifled, and I had to leave it behind to make my own life." Rose paused, looking at her water glass. "I’ve never been sorry."
"Neither have I."
Rose smiled at him, knowing what he meant. When she had abandoned her old life, she had joined his. Though they had never been more than friends, even when John had proposed to her, they had always been close.
"You’re going back soon, aren’t you?" John asked.
Rose nodded, sighing. "In three days. Back to Hollywood, and acting, and competing with young, pretty actresses..."
"You’re still young and pretty."
"Not by Hollywood standards. By those standards, I’m getting too old for this business."
"What would you do, if you stopped making pictures?"
Rose paused, considering. "I would like to try directing and producing. I have a lot of money put away, so I think I could afford to try it. There’s so much competition, though, and many people don’t believe a woman is capable of making pictures, except as an actress."
"I think you could prove them wrong."
"I’m sure I’m capable, but convincing everyone else is the problem. There’s so much competition in all parts of Hollywood." She smiled sheepishly. "I even considered coming out here to start my own production company. Silly of me, isn’t it?"
"I don’t think so. There’s more talent here than you might think. It’s certainly not Hollywood, or New York, but how many aspiring stars come from the Midwest? Plenty, I would bet."
"There are a few, though many never make it very far. But then, that’s true of people from anywhere, and it isn’t just a lack of talent. There’s so much competition, so many people fighting for so little. I was lucky to get where I am."
"But you did it."
"After a lot of hard work. That’s something that many would-be stars don’t understand–how much work it is. The movie magazines don’t talk about that, and the motion pictures make it all look so easy."
"And yet, in spite of that, you made it. You became a star. And I’m willing to bet that you’d make it as a director and a producer, too. After all, you know how the industry works."
"I do know that much," Rose agreed. "But I don’t know if I want to fight with everyone else for my place. I’m tired of the constant strain. I think I’d like to try it here first, outside of the bustle and politics of Hollywood."
"So why don’t you?"
"I’m not sure I’m cut out for it. What will I do if I fail?"
"Find something else, I suppose, or try again. You’re not one to give up easily."
"No, I’m not." She nodded, as though coming to a decision. "I think I will come here to make my first picture. Not just because there’s less competition, but because I like it here. I like the slower pace of life, and I like being around you and the girls."
John smiled, raising an eyebrow at her. "We like you being here, too."
Rose looked at her plate, fidgeting with her napkin, wondering if she had the courage to say what was in her heart. Would he laugh at her? No, she decided, he wouldn’t. John was a true gentleman, and he wouldn’t laugh and ridicule her if he did not return her feelings.
"I like spending time with you," she told him. "The time we’ve spent together has been wonderful. In all my years in Hollywood, I never met a man I got along with so well as you." She looked up, gauging his reaction.
He looked surprised for a moment, then nodded. "I like being with you, too, Rose. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed you until we met again. If you come to live in Cedar Rapids...well...we’ll have the chance to see more of each other."
"I’d like that. And maybe...maybe it could become something more."
"Or maybe it could be something more right from the start." John said it before he had time to consider the words.
"Do you mean...getting married?" Rose blushed when she said it. Of course he didn’t mean getting married–he would want to date her first, if indeed they ever did get married.
John noticed her discomfiture, but didn’t comment on it. "Well...actually...yes, I think that is what I mean."
"You think it’s what you mean?"
"It is what I mean," he corrected himself, more sure of himself now. "But if you don’t want to..."
"I do want to," Rose told him, surprising herself with her response. But she meant it. She’d decided not to marry until she found the right man...but he’d been there all along. Before, when he’d proposed to her, the timing hadn’t been right. She had needed to go out into the world and make it on her own, and her feelings hadn’t been strong enough. Nor had his, she suspected. But time and maturity had settled them both down, and they were ready for that next step, the one they began moving towards when they had met after the Carpathia docked.
They stared at each other a moment, overwhelmed by what they’d suddenly decided. But neither of them had any desire to go back on what they’d said. They’d been waiting for this moment for a long time, never consciously realizing it, but always knowing inside what they’d finally spoken aloud.
Rose broke the silence. "I love you, John," she whispered, reaching across the table to take his hand. "I have for years, since I was your employee. But I could never say it before, or acknowledge it, even to myself."
John nodded in understanding. He felt the same way himself, though he could never have said it as eloquently as Rose did. He simply returned her sentiments.
"I love you, too, Rose."