Albert stepped into the crowded bar, very conscious of the ring in his pocket. The small box thumped gently against his leg with every step he took. He looked around desperately searching for Rose; he was positive this was the bar he had reached her at earlier. He hadn't been able to win her back with his words alone, and the thought that he might actually lose his beloved secretary and girlfriend finally spurred him into action. Sweet Apple only had one small jewelry store, and Albert was surprised (and relieved) to find that it was still open at this time of night. He had gone in and bought the very first engagement ring he had laid eyes on. For the tenth or eleventh time since he had bought it, Albert pulled the ring out of his pocket to sneak a glance at it. He smiled to himself. It wasn't very fancy, but it was about all he could afford. Besides, he liked it. And he was sure Rose would too. If only he could find her...
Albert began to head up to the barkeeper, thinking about asking him if he'd seen Rose, when a man burst out of the back room. He motioned the barkeeper closer and whispered frantically behind his hand. The barkeeper's eyes went wide. Albert stepped up to the bar, hoping to get the man's attention.
"Not now, not now!" the barkeeper said impatiently, picking up the phone. "A woman's just been killed!" Albert suddenly felt sick.
"A woman? Who?"
The man who had come out of the back room spoke up. "Nobody knows who she is. She just came running in and started dancing with everyone. Things got kinda rough and…" The man shrugged. “She fell off a table, landed funny. I think she said her name was Rose something—”
"No…" Albert whispered, backing away from the bar. He turned and started anxiously pushing his way through the crowd to the back room, bumping into people left and right. He couldn't believe everyone was moving so slowly. "Let me through!" he cried.
The man from the bar came up behind him, adding his voice to the din. "Come on, let the man through! He might know who it was who's been killed!" Eventually the crowd parted enough to let Albert through, and he burst through the door into the back room.
Lying on the floor in a crumpled heap, her neck bent at an awkward angle, was Rose. His Rosie. Albert's knees went weak, he stumbled forward and dropped to the floor at Rose's side. Tentatively he reached forward and brushed her hair away from her face.
"No…" he breathed. "It's not— she— she can't be..." He held his breath for a moment, waiting for her to breathe, sit up, anything. When she didn't, Albert broke. He sobbed, he cried, and he swept Rose up and held her close to him, clutching her head to his chest. “Oh, Rosie Rosie ROSIE!" he moaned. Over and over again. The world around him fell away. Not that there was much of a world left, if Rose was truly gone.
The rest of that night was a blur. Albert vaguely remembered being pried away from Rose so that she— so that her body could be brought back to New York. He stumbled back to the MacAfees' home in a daze. He had told Mr. MacAfee he would be leaving in the morning.
"Leaving?" he asked. "But why? I can't say I'll be sad to see you go, but I never would have hoped it would be this soon." Albert stopped on the staircase and did not turn around.
"Ms. Alvarez is dead," he said in a flat voice.
“…I’m sorry, Mr. Peterson." Albert nodded again. “But— but what about Mr. Birdie? He's still running around with my daughter! What do you plan to do about him?"
This time Albert did turn around. "Do you honestly think I care what is done with Conrad?" he said coldly, glaring at Mr. MacAfee. "He is the least of my concerns right now." Without waiting for a response he continued up the stairs, wondering how he was going to get through the next couple of days. Let alone the rest of his life.
A WEEK LATER
Albert walked into the small apartment he shared with Mama. Rose's funeral had been that morning and Albert felt like he couldn't breathe. "Mama!" he called. "I'm going to take a walk, try to clear my head a little!"
"All right sonny!" Albert closed his eyes and stopped where he was, hand on the doorknob and about to leave.
"Mama?" he called, softer this time.
"What is it?"
"Please don't call me that. I'm not a child anymore." She didn't respond right away. Albert hoped he hadn't upset her. Then her heard her reply.
"You're right, Albert."
Albert stuck his hands in his pockets. He didn't know where he was going and he didn't care. All he knew was that he wanted to distract himself from the events of earlier that morning. The wake, funeral, and burial had all taken place in one day. Albert didn't remember much from the wake. He hadn't stayed very long.
Albert stepped into the funeral parlor, looking for Rose's mother. He found her quickly and hurried over. "Mrs. Alvarez!" She turned around and smiled slightly when she saw Albert.
"Hello, Mr. Peterson," she said softly.
"I wanted to ask you something." He pulled the ring out of his pocket and showed it to Mrs. Alvarez. "I bought this for Rose, but I never had the chance to give it to her. Well, offer it to her, really. I wanted to know if it would be all right to leave it with Rose, to bury her with it." Mrs. Alvarez smiled again and put her hands over Albert's, gently snapping the little ring box shut.
"Go right ahead, Albert. It's a beautiful ring. I'm sure Rose would have loved it." He whispered thank you and walked over to Rose's casket. Like his ring, the coffin was quite simple, but beautiful all the same. She lay with her hands clasped over her stomach and an almost peaceful sort of smile on her face.
Albert knelt down and gently lifted Rose's hands. He tucked the ring in its box underneath, so she might hold it. He then pressed a kiss to her cold cheek, and whispered a goodbye.
The funeral service had been long, and a good bit of it in Spanish. The burial was the worst. He had cried silently as the casket was lowered into the ground. When that was done he remained only to allow his mother to make peace with Rose. After her brief apology, they left. Albert couldn't stand to look at the mound of earth and the pale tombstone any longer.
Albert stopped and looked around. He found himself on one of the many bridges in New York, stopped right in the middle, overlooking the river. He hadn't realized he had walked this far, nor had he intended to. For a few minutes he just watched the river flow by underneath, with the occasional boat or barge going by. Rose is gone, he thought. She's gone, and there's nothing you can do to bring her back. Albert had never thought one could feel so miserable. Hardly aware of what he was doing, Albert climbed on top of the concrete wall separating the walkway from the open air. He clung onto a steel cable and closed his eyes. He stood there for a moment, just breathing deeply and swaying forward slightly with the breeze. He inched marginally closer to the edge, and began loosening his grip on the cable, bit by bit. Finally he let go completely...
"Excuse me sir, but what are you doing?"
And a young girl's voice broke into his thoughts. Startled by her sudden appearance and now a little bit afraid of falling, Albert's eyes shot open and he grabbed for the cable once more. He let out his breath in a huff and answered without turning around.
"What does it look like I'm doing?" he said weakly. Albert felt tears begin to form in his eyes.
"It looks like you're about to make a big mistake," the girl answered. "Won't you come down and talk to me? Just for a minute?"
Albert sighed. I wouldn't have been able to do it anyway, he thought. He turned and jumped down to face the girl. She looked to be about fifteen. Besides that, all Albert cared to notice was that she had bright green eyes. She sat down on the concrete wall and patted the space next to her. Silently Albert joined her, though he chose to look at his shoes rather than her face.
"What were you doing up there?" she inquired. Albert paused a little before he finally chose to answer.
"If you must know, a woman I loved very much just died."
"I'm sorry" was all she said. Albert nodded, still staring at the ground. They sat in silence for a while before Albert looked up, and really saw the girl for the first time. She had a kind face, and her green eyes were full of sympathy. He decided to tell her more.
"Her name was Rose," he said softly. "We worked together for a while. Eight years. She was my secretary. She loved me from the very beginning. It took a little time for me to realize I loved her back." Tears were now freely rolling down Albert's face. "She died the night I was finally planning to propose. I had the r-ring and everything. All I had to do was find her and ask her," he moaned miserably. He put his face in his hands and continued to cry silently, unable to say anymore.
"I'm sorry," the girl said again. "Maybe you could make it up to her somehow."
"Make it up to her?" Albert straightened and looked at the girl, trying his best to stifle his sobs. "H-how? She's dead."
"Honor her memory maybe. Show her you still care about her." Once again the pair sat in silence. Eventually Albert stood and dried his eyes.
"That's something to think about I suppose. Thank you." The girl looked him in the eyes and smiled. She then stood, dusted off her skirt and left.
Albert turned and headed for home as well. I'll have to tell Mama that Almaelou is dissolved for good this time, he thought. Albert looked up at the sky and, for the first time in days, felt a smile creeping onto his face. I'm going to teach English, Rose. I'm doing it for you...
SIX MONTHS LATER
Rose Alvarez stepped out onto the clouds, and was surprised to find that they held her weight. She looked around, and saw more clouds. A few people off in the distance. A few yards to her right the clouds dropped off suddenly, giving way to a deep blue abyss. She looked down at her attire, and saw that she was wearing a simple black skirt and a pale blue top. Not exactly a halo and wings, she thought. Rose knew she was dead; she was sure of that. She just hadn't expected it to be so lonely. She said down at the edge of the clouds and stared off into the void, thinking.
"Ms. Alvarez?" Rose sat up with a jerk. She knew that voice!
"Albert?" she asked. She turned around and saw not Albert, but a rather tall man with glasses. "Oh, I- I'm sorry. I thought you were someone else," she mumbled. The man sat down right next to her.
"It's all right," he said, with a smile on his face. "You see, I'm Albert's father." Rose laughed a little, taking a closer look at the man's face. A little older perhaps, and much darker hair, but besides that and the glasses he could be Albert's twin.
"It's nice to meet you," she said. “But... how did you know who I am?"
"I've been keeping a pretty close eye on my son over the years. And the two of you have spent an awful lot of time together," he added. Rose blushed. "You know," Mr. Peterson said, "I'm sorry you and Mae didn't get along better. She really was a lovely woman when I knew her. I suppose she didn't take my death very well. " Rose nodded silently, but didn't respond. "She did apologize to you," he went on. "When you were buried. Said she hadn't been fair to you. That she was sorry she was a factor in what had been keeping you and Albert apart. I suppose she just didn't want to lose him to someone else. After I died, he was all she had left, really."
Rose shrugged. "That makes sense, I suppose." All of a sudden, Mr. Peterson slapped his hand to his forehead, evidently having just remembered something.
"Oh! Something else," he said brightly. "Did you know that Albert buried the ring with you!"
"Ring?" Rose said, shocked. "What ring?"
"The engagement ring, Rose. Albert had been planning to propose. I assumed you knew, since you're wearing it," he said as he gestured to her clasped hands. Rose looked down and gasped.
"How did— I mean..." She cleared her throat. "How am I wearing it... if I never even knew— Albert bought this for me?" she asked softly. Mr. Peterson nodded and took Rose's hand to get a better look at her ring.
"Of course. I'm guessing you would have said yes?" Rose nodded immediately, and then sighed.
"I just miss him so much," she admitted. Albert's father smiled sadly.
"As do I. Though I don't think you've been here quite as long as I have."
"What day is it? Down there?"
"First of October."
"Oh. Then I've only been here six months. Well, that's when I died, in any case. It feels as though I've only been here an hour or two." Mr. Peterson smiled broadly at her.
"Well done, Ms. Alvarez! Most people don't make it through purgatory so quickly." Rose smiled a little, though her thoughts were still on Albert, and the ring.
"Mr. Peterson," she said after a while, "you mentioned watching Albert. Can I do that too? I just... I would like to see him again."
"Of course you can. All you do is look out there," he gestured to the dark blue abyss, "and think about him. You should see him soon enough. In fact, I think Albert may be coming to see you."
Albert pulled up to the little cemetery and got out of the car. For the first time since she had been buried, Albert was visiting Rose's grave. He was glad he had remembered to pick up something for Rose on his way here. He had never bought flowers for Rose before, but he hoped she would appreciate the small bundle of roses. They were her namesake after all. Albert approached the small grave and knelt down by the headstone. Everything was still and quiet; it was early in the morning and he was the only person around for miles, it seemed. Already grass had begun to cover the little mound of earth, serving as a reminder to Albert of how long it had been already. He put down the flowers and sighed, wondering where to begin.
"Oh Rosie," he murmured. “I... I don't know what to say. I suppose I could start with how much I've missed you. Or how much I love you. Or maybe the dozens of apologies I need to make. I do have some good news for you though. I'm done with Almaelou, for good. I got a job working at a library, just shelving books and the like. But the important part is that I've been going to night school. Two more weeks of classes and I'll finally be certified to teach English. Like you wanted," he concluded softly.
"I just... I wish I had done this years ago! When you wanted me to. Maybe if I had, we'd be together now. I'd have been teaching English for years; we could have been married!" Albert began to lose control, growing more agitated with every 'What if' that crossed his mind. "If I had listened to you we might not have ever met Conrad! We would have never gone to Sweet Apple, and— and you wouldn't be dead! You'd be here... with me," he sobbed. "This is all my fault. I should have listened to you."
"I can't believe this!" Rose cried. "Albert is blaming himself for my death; this is so wrong! How could he possibly think this was his fault?" she moaned.
"Rose, maybe you should go talk to him," Mr. Peterson suggested. Rose looked up and brushed away her tears.
"Can we do that? Are we allowed to?" Rose asked.
"We can, but we're not really supposed to. I think if we're quick, no one will mind. I'll go with you, come on!" Mr. Peterson stood and offered Rose his hand. She took it, and together they stepped out into the void.
Albert still knelt by Rose's grave, doubled over with his arms folded across his stomach as he desperately tried to get his breathing under control. Huge, shuddering gasps were about all he could manage at he moment. I can't believe I was ever stupid enough to think that Almaelou was so important to me, he thought. I had everything I ever really wanted and needed within my grasp, and I threw it all away! I'd give anything to have Rose back, if only for a few minutes... He dragged his sleeve across his face, trying to dry his eyes, when he heard footsteps. He sat up to see a figure coming through the early morning mist. There was something familiar about this man… Albert knew he had seen him before. Maybe an old picture or something. Then it hit him.
"D-dad?" he stammered. Albert couldn't believe this, surely it wasn't possible. His father had died the year after he was born. The year Mama had started drinking. It couldn't really be...
“Hello, Albert," the man said. Albert felt as if his heart must have stopped. He stared blankly at the man— his father— for a few moments.
"But you— you're dead, how—” Mr. Peterson knelt down in front of his son and put his hands on his shoulders.
"I'm only visiting. It is me though, and I've been watching you Albert. You've grown into a fine young man," he said, beaming. "And I'm proud of you." Albert let out a sob and threw his arms around his father, embracing him for the first time in his life. His father held him tight and whispered "There's someone else here too, Albert. Go look."
Slowly, Albert pulled away from his father and looked over his shoulder. There was indeed another person coming out of the mist. As the figure came into view Albert leapt to his feet, only to be knocked down again as Rose Alvarez threw herself into his arms. She cried out in joy as Albert held her close to him, laughing and crying all at once, and just doing his best to keep breathing. Albert pulled Rose up against his chest, murmuring her name over and over. They separated briefly, and Albert had the opportunity to look over Rose's face, drinking in all of her features and memorizing every detail. He opened his mouth to speak, but found no words fit to express his absolute joy at seeing Rose again, and instead kissed her full on the lips. Rose responded eagerly; she threw her arms around Albert's neck and moaned in delight. She was obviously thrilled to see him again. Gradually they broke apart. Albert cupped Rose's cheek in his palm, staring into her eyes.
"Rosie, is it really you? You feel warm— alive!” he exclaimed. “Are— are you really here?" Rose reached up and took Albert's hand in her own.
"It's really me, Albert. But... I'm not really here," she told him sadly. "I don't belong here. Not anymore," she sighed. The truth of what she said hit Albert hard. He nodded slowly, as if it pained him, and squeezed her hand to make sure she was still there. That she hadn't left him. Not yet anyway.
"Albert," she said softly, "I can only be here a short time, and there's something I have to tell you. You have to listen, all right?" He met her eyes and gave a single nod. "Albert, my death was not your fault," she said carefully. "It. Was. An. Accident. You cannot blame yourself, or— or torment yourself with 'What ifs'!" she urged. "It happened, Albert! All right? And we're both going to have to just learn to deal with it. Do you understand?" Tearfully, Albert nodded again.
They sat there for a minute, until Rose remembered something, her face seeming to light up.
"Oh, Albert I nearly forgot!" she exclaimed. "I wanted to thank you for the ring!"
"Ring?" a shocked Albert repeated. "You know about it? Have you seen it?"
"Albert, I'm wearing it," she said as she showed him her hand. Albert beamed when he saw his ring proudly displayed on Rose's hand. He took her hand and ran his thumb over it a few times, at a loss for words. It looked absolutely perfect.
"Something else," Rose added. "I want you to know... even though I'm not here anymore," she ran her fingers through the grass at their feet, "I will always be here." She placed her hand on Albert's chest, over his heart, and looked him right in the eyes. "And I don't care if you never got a chance to ask me. My answer is yes." Albert gasped, not sure if he had heard her right.
"Yes? You— you say yes?" She nodded in confirmation, and Albert swept Rose into his arms once more, laughing jubilantly. “Oh Rose, you have no idea how happy hearing that one little word has made me," he whispered to her.
All too soon, Mr. Peterson interrupted.
"Rose, we should go," he told her gently. He turned to his son. "Albert, tell your mother I love her." He nodded.
"Of course," he said, his voice catching a little. Rose looked over her shoulder, silently pleading with Mr. Peterson, but he simply shook his head. She sighed and turned back to Albert. She took his face in his hands, and told him she had to go. Slowly she rose and began to back away until Albert grabbed her hand.
"Rosie, no— please don't go... don't leave me," he begged. She sunk back down to her knees and put her hands in Albert's. Speaking softly so only he could hear her.
"Oh Albert, I don't want to go! But I have to."
"Goodbye," she whispered. Rose leaned forward and pressed her lips to Albert's forehead.
"Did you mean it?" Albert asked in a very small voice. "When you said yes... you really would have married me?"
"Of course, Albert!" she said immediately, without a doubt. "I love you." Albert's heart clenched. His chest grew tight and once more tears came to his eyes.
"I love you too, Rosie!" The words came out a choked and strangled sob. Rose gave him a sad smile, and slowly shut her eyes. It may have been the mist playing tricks on his eyes, but she appeared to fade away right before his eyes. Albert felt her hands sliding out of his grasp, and looked down to see the engagement ring sitting in his palm. He closed his fist tightly around it. "Goodbye, Rose," he whispered. But she was already gone.
Albert sat alone at the table in his apartment. He slid Rose's ring onto a small chain he had borrowed from Mama, and held it up to the light, admiring it a little before he slipped the chain around his neck and tucked the ring into his shirt. Rose may not be here in body, he thought, but she's here in spirit. And… she wants to marry me! Albert smiled to himself, content with that thought, and at last ready to continue on with the rest of his life. Knowing that at the end if it, there'd be a Mrs. Albert Peterson waiting for him.