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This Is What Life Is All About

Chapter Text

They were at the train station. Rose was in front of him, suitcase in hand, and suddenly it all became clear.

“Albert... you wanted us to miss the train!" Albert beamed, glad that she was catching on.

"Well, it stands to reason, Rose! Why get on a train to New York when you have two tickets to Pumpkin Falls, Iowa?" And with a flourish he pulled the tickets from his pocket. Well, one of them anyway. Albert's smile disappeared, and he began to anxiously check his other pockets. "Well, I thought I had two tickets," he muttered.

"Albert? What's in Pumpkin Falls, Iowa?" Rose asked.

"Huh?" Albert looked up. "Oh, there's an opening in the teaching staff at Pumpkin Falls Middle School… they want someone to teach English and domestic science— Rose, I'm so sorry. I think I lost the other ticket! I could have sworn they were both in my pocket..." He resumed searching his pockets, stopping only when he realized Rose was no longer standing beside him.  Albert turned and saw Rose at the ticket counter.

"...train to Pumpkin Falls?...Thank you." Rose walked back to Albert and offered him her newly purchased ticket. "Does this solve our problem?"

"Yes, yes it does," Albert said, relieved. He leaned down and kissed Rose, taking the other ticket. "I hope you're not as forgetful as I am, Rose." She frowned.

"What do you mean?"

"You do have your papers, don't you? Because over in Pumpkin Falls, they prefer members of their teaching staff to be married."

"Oh, Albert!" Rose cried. She threw her arms around him and Albert hugged her back, tickets still in hand. "I do have them,” she said, pulling away, "Would you like me to hold on to those tickets for you? Just to be safe?" Albert blushed.

"Yes, I think that would be a good idea."

Before the hour was up, Albert and Rose were on a train to Pumpkin Falls, much too caught up in each other to pay attention to the passing countryside. Rose leaned against Albert, arm linked with his, and Albert could not stop staring at his beautiful fiancée. Everything was quiet and peaceful and perfect; after all, they were together.

That is, until the silence was disrupted by the arrival of a passenger from the next car over.

"Sonny!" Albert and Rose both turned around in their seats, shocked. However, while Albert felt nothing but a sense of growing dismay, Rose was furious. She immediately turned on Albert.

"Albert, what is she doing here?" Albert looked back and forth between his mother, who was unsteadily making her way down the aisle of the car, and Rose, who was glaring at him with barely contained rage. "Well?" Rose demanded.

“I— I don't know!" he sputtered. “She—”

"We were supposed to be done with her!" Rose snapped. "And now she just happens to be on the same train we are? You know, for a minute, I almost believed your 'new man' act. I really thought you had changed." Rose's glare flicked to Mae and back to Albert. "Looks like I was wrong," she spat. "You're the same wishy-washy, pathetic man I met eight years ago! I'm done with you. And you!" she added when Mae finally reached the arguing couple. Rose pulled her suitcase down from the luggage rack. Albert jumped to his feet and took one of Rose's hands.

"Rosie, please... you're overreacting!"

"I am not overreacting!" Rose cried, pulling her hand out of Albert's grasp. "I just cannot believe you brought her with us! I thought... I don't know what I thought. But I'm leaving. Don't try to follow me." The train pulled to a stop at the next station, and without a word to either of the Petersons, Rose stepped off onto the platform. She didn't look back. Albert tried to get off the train after Rose, but his mother stood in the way.

"Mama, let me through!" he demanded.

"Albert, just let her go. You can always find a new secre—”

"Mama, for the last time: I do not need a new secretary! I don't need a secretary at all! Rose and I are going to Pumpkin Falls so I can teach English! So we can be together..." Albert finally succeeded in pushing his mother aside, but it was too late. The train had started moving again, leaving Rose behind.

"She's gone," Albert said, more to himself than anyone else. "I've lost her."

"Albert? Shouldn't we get off the train too? So we can go home?" Albert slowly turned to his mother, trying hard to maintain a calm expression on his face. "To repeat Rose's question Mama, why are you here? How did you even know which train we were on?" Mae pulled a train ticket from her purse and silently handed it to Albert.

SWEET APPLE, OHIO TO PUMPKIN FALLS, IOWA 7:00 AM

Suddenly Albert realized what he had done. He hadn’t lost one of his tickets… “I gave you one of our tickets,” he said softly. “Didn’t I? I gave you a ticket to Pumpkin Falls instead of one for the train to New York.”

"Albert, I—”

"You and Conrad were supposed to be on that train to New York for a reason!" he said, beginning to yell and attract attention from the other passengers. "Pumpkin Falls was supposed to be the start of a new life for me and Rose. There's no point going there now." Albert sighed and sat down again; Mae joined him in Rose's vacated seat. "I'll get off at the next stop so I can call to tell the school I won't be taking the job. Then we can go back to New York. You'll go home, and I'll... I'll start looking for an apartment of my own."

"Sonny!" Mae cried, putting a hand over her heart.

"It's about time, Mama! I'm thirty-three years old; I can't keep living with you. I'll find an apartment, and hopefully there'll be a school somewhere in Manhattan that will take me."

"You really have changed, haven't you, sonny?" Mae sighed. If only Rosie could see that, Albert thought.


Rose hurried to the ticket counter as soon as she stepped foot on the platform; she thought that, maybe if she kept herself moving, she wouldn't have time to think about the man she was leaving behind.

"Excuse me, when is—” Rose stopped and asked again, hoping her voice wouldn't waver this time.

"When is the next train to New York?" The young man behind the counter looked up from the book he was reading and glanced over his shoulder, presumably to look at a clock.

"Next one leaves in about forty-five minutes. Why, you wanna buy a ticket?"

"Yes, please," Rose said, reaching into her purse for her wallet. As she paid for her ticket the thought suddenly struck her that she was now without a job, without any means to support herself. She couldn’t— wouldn't go back to Almaelou, assuming the company was even still together. She'd have to find another job when she got back to New York.

Rose spent the trip home sitting in stony silence, clutching her purse tightly on her lap as she stared straight ahead, trying not to think about— about him. She managed that task very well until she arrived back home. When she let herself into her small apartment and shut the door behind her, Rose couldn't help it any longer; she burst into tears and sank to the ground with her back against the door.

"How did it all go so wrong?" she whispered brokenly. That morning, she and her fiancé were moving to a new town, ready to begin their new life together; now, he was hundreds of miles away, and she was right back where they had started. Alone. Now that— her boss— was working in another state and the company that had been the center of her life for the past eight years had been abandoned, Rose was alone. She had moved to New York eight, almost nine years ago, and had immediately found work at Almaelou. Over the years, Rose and Mary had developed a casual sort of friendship— friendly enough at the office, but they never really talked outside of work. And then there was—

"No," Rose whispered. "No, no, no." She was done with him, she left him. It was too late to wonder if she had made the right decision or not. Maybe she had overreacted. But now she was back in New York, and he was in Pumpkin Falls, Iowa with his mother. All set to teach English. He had no reason to come back. What Rose had done and said didn't matter anymore. There was nothing she could do. He was gone. And Rose needed to move on. She picked up her suitcase and took it into her room to unpack.

It was then that she uncovered the pile of papers that had been thrown in with hastily packed clothes. Rose had forgotten them until now, and if she wanted to be able to move on with her life, she would have to forget them again. So she took the papers into her kitchen and, one by one, tore them up over the trash can. There, she thought. I'm done. Rose glanced at the clock hanging by her cupboards. Eleven thirty. She brushed aside a few lingering tears and runny makeup and collapsed onto her bed, only pausing to kick off her shoes. It had been a long day.