Rose spent most of the next two months at home. She avoided going out, choosing instead to read the collection of books in her late fatherís library. Jackís rejection still stung, but she had almost convinced herself that she didnít care.
Her relationship with her mother had not improved any. Rose had hoped that at Christmas, a time when families traditionally came together, she and Ruth might be able to forgive each other and start over again.
It was not to be. In the past, Ruth had thrown gala Christmas celebrations, but this year the house remained dark and undecorated. No candles or lights adorned the rooms, and Ruth had not even bothered with a Christmas tree. Rose had always enjoyed the decorations, the carolers, and the sight of the piles of brightly wrapped presents around the tree. This year, however, Ruth seemed determined to forget about Christmas, and she and Rose maintained their silence. Rose attempted to speak to Ruth once, when her mother had taken the time to listen to some carolers at the door, but Ruth had maintained her icy silence, and Rose had not tried again.
Mabel had announced that she was leaving after Christmas, to rejoin her family in Pittsburgh. Rose was sorry to see her go; she had been Roseís only friend for a long time. But Mabelís mother had consumption and needed her, so Mabel had no choice but to leave.
Ruth had been interviewing candidates for a new maid, so Rose had little to do. She had no say in who was hired. She went out occasionally, admiring the decorations that the neighbors had put up, but never left her own neighborhood. Her own house looked barren and stark next to the brightly decorated homes of her neighbors. She listened to groups of carolers on the streets, but never approached them. It was the loneliest Christmas of her life.
On Christmas Eve, Ruth went out with a few friends who hadnít dropped her when she had been forced to leave the ranks of high society. Rose sat alone at home--even Mabel was out, and no one had invited her anywhere. On impulse, she went into the back yard and cut a some branches from a pine tree. Carrying them to her room, she placed them in a bowl of water to keep the sap off the furniture and decorated them with a few pieces of her jewelry. Stepping back, she looked at her handiwork.
The wreath glittered in the light, the gold and gems that Rose had once worn hanging from the branches. Picking it up, she carried it downstairs and set in the middle of the dining room table. She could have at least one decoration in the house.
She went to bed just after midnight, remembering how, as a child, she had sneaked downstairs to see if she could meet Santa Claus. She had always fallen asleep, of course, and once she was older she had learned that Santa didnít really exist. But it had been fun while it lasted.
Rose awoke to her motherís angry voice. Ruth had found the wreath on the table and was loudly berating Mabel for its presence. Throwing on a dress and shoes, Rose hurried downstairs.
Ruth turned away from Mabel and attacked the wreath, yanking the jewelry free and tossing it into a corner. She pulled the branches apart, scattering them across the table.
"Mother, stop!" Rose tried to run to her, but Mabel grabbed her arm and pulled her into the kitchen.
Rose tried to pull free. "What are you doing? Sheís destroying my work!"
"You canít stop her, Rose."
Ruth heard Mabelís words and came into the kitchen.
"Thatís it, Mabel. Thatís the last straw. Iíve warned you before. Go pack your bags. Iíll pay you before you leave." She rushed out.
Rose looked at Mabel. "Iím sorry, Mabel. I didnít mean to get you in trouble."
Mabel shook her head. "This has been coming for a long time, Rose." She headed for the stairs.
Rose went back into the dining room. Ruth was sitting at the table, holding a locket that Rose had put on her wreath.
She opened the locket and looked at the pictures inside. One was of her late husband; the other was of Rose as a small child.
"Rose, darling," she whispered, staring at the portraits.
"Mother?" Rose sat down beside her. "Iím sorry about the wreath. I didnít know you felt that strongly about it."
Ruth didnít reply. Snapping the locket shut, she squeezed her hand around it, tears welling in her eyes. "Rose, why did you have to run off like that? I called after you, but you refused to come back."
Rose put her hand on Ruthís shoulder. "Iím sorry, Mother. It was a mistake. Maybe the biggest one I ever made. I should never have taken up with Jack. You were right about him all along."
Ruth didnít reply. Slowly, she fastened the locket around her own neck and went to pick up the rest of the jewelry. Rose watched her, wanting to cry herself.
Ruth walked out of the room, not acknowledging Roseís pleading voice. Rose could take it no more. Stumbling to her feet, she ran through the kitchen and out the door, not stopping for a coat first. Darting through the icy yard, she ran down the street.
Rose didnít know how long she had been running. She didnít notice when the expensive houses of the upper class changed to the smaller homes of the middle class residents of Philadelphia, or when those gave way to the tenements. Finally, she stopped, realizing that she was in a section of Philadelphia she had only visited once before--at her fatherís funeral.
Slowly, she made her way down the street. The cemetery was cold and forbidding in the winter weather, the headstones coated with snow. A few bouquets and Christmas arrangements adorned the newer graves. She walked toward it without really knowing why.
As she walked through the gates, she saw a familiar figure walking along one of the paths. Intrigued in spite of herself, she followed Jack.
He was walking slowly, avoiding icy patches with the sure footing of one who had lived a lifetime in cold climates. He was slightly hunched over, one hand tucked inside his coat, concealing something.
Rose walked beside him. Despite her anger at his rejection of her, she hadnít stopped caring, and he looked miserable.
He headed in the direction of a few new graves in a corner of the cemetery. Rose walked beside him, not speaking, wondering who he could have known that was buried there. She had heard that a few Titanic victims had been brought to Philadelphia; perhaps he knew one of them.
Jack stopped in front of the headstone in the farthest corner. He looked at it for a minute, composing himself. Then, finally, he spoke.
"Merry Christmas, Rose."
Rose looked at him, startled. It was the first time he had acknowledged her since they were rescued. "Jack..."
He didnít look up. "Iím leaving tomorrow...going to New York. I have a job there. My art has done real well, and Iíll be working for a portrait studio there. Mimiís gone on ahead--sheís waiting for me there. I think you would have liked her--sheís got a lot of spirit, just like you. I think you could have been friends." His voice broke.
Rose looked at him, puzzled. What was going on? Why was he telling her this?
He looked up at the sky, blinking his eyes rapidly, before looking back at the headstone. His voice was choked as he spoke again.
"I miss you, Rose."
"Jack, Iím right here..."
He pulled out the item that he had carried inside his coat--a small bouquet of flowers. Rose watched as he set them on the grave next to another, larger arrangement. As he straightened, she looked at the name on the headstone. And suddenly, Rose understood.