When arrived, Sean bought them both vanilla ice cream cones and they ate them in a shaded spot in Grant Park. It had been two weeks since the fourth of July and yet the city was still packed with people. They hadn’t celebrated, so Rosalie had no idea how this compared to the holiday crowds. Rosalie ate her ice cream cone, searching desperately for something, anything to say.
“So, what do you want to do today?” Sean finally asked her.
“I don’t know,” Rosalie said.
They’d been a family once, but that was a very long time ago. She longed to feel it again, and maybe there was some part of Sean that wanted to feel it too. Rosalie hadn’t thought so before, but the fact they were together now, on her birthday, was something. Still, he had yet to say it. Two words. Happy birthday. “I was thinking we could go see Treasure Island. We’re not far from Uptown.”
“Sure,” Rosalie said. Pirates would be fine. Rosalie had read the book once, and it hadn’t left much of an impression on her, but maybe doing something Sean wanted to do would make him happy. Break him out of the sour mood he always seemed to be in. Nevermind that it was her birthday.
They finished their ice cream, got up, and began to walk. There were on Michigan Avenue now, the hub of the the city. Rosalie liked Chicago, but to her, it always seemed to be a lesser version of New York. At least, New York the way Rosalie always remembered it. New York had her father. Finally, as they walked, Sean acknowledged it. “So, is there anything you want for your birthday?”
Rosalie said nothing.
“I don’t have a ton of money to spend,” Sean said. “But I can buy you something.” Rosalie stared at her brother, dumbfounded. It had been a while, a long while, since she’d gotten any kind of present. For birthday or for Christmas. It wasn’t something their family had talked about in a long while. “Don’t just look at me. Come on, I want to do something nice for you.”
“Maybe, after the movie, we could stop by a bookstore? I’d like a new book.”
“Sure,” Sean said. They walked for a little while longer in silence. As they got closer to the theater, Sean stopped and turned to her. “Are you having fun?”
This caught Rosalie off guard. “Of course I’m having fun.”
“You don’t really seem like it.”
“Sean. I’m having fun.”
They got to the theater, sat down, and watched the movie. It was fairly crowded. After all, it was a Saturday and the movie had only been out for a few days. It was fine. Nothing spectacular, but not bad, either.
Afterwards, it was more of the same.
“What did you think?” Sean asked her.
“It was good,” Rosalie said.
Somehow, it had gotten even hotter. It was almost too hot to be comfortable. Not that it would be any more comfortable at home. They didn’t have air conditioning; that was only for rich people to afford, rich people with their apartments on Michigan Avenue. And if Rosalie ever complained, her mother would always bring up the Depression, about how good Rosalie and Sean it compared to what she and their father went through when they were just starting out.
Afterwards, they stopped by the bookstore and Sean bought her The Grapes of Wrath. She’d never read it before, but she vaguely remembered her father talking about the movie once. It was funny how much, in his younger pictures, shirt, overalls and flat cap, he resembled Tom Joad. “Dad was from Oklahoma,” Rosalie said. Sean nodded vaguely and bought her the book.
Before they knew it, they were on the train back home, without having accomplished much of anything at all. I can’t even talk to my own brother, she thought. Why can’t I talk to my own brother? It wasn’t always like this. When they got back, Alison must have been lying down, because she was nowhere in sight. Sean went to his room and Rosalie went to hers.
The rest of the summer dredged on. There were so many long, lonely days that the two weeks between Rosalie’s birthday and when Laura came over for dinner felt like much longer. She had enrolled in a summer painting class at Columbia College downtown, so she had a portfolio of some of her pieces with her. As she waited with Laura and Sean in the living room for Alison to finish cooking, they mostly ignored her.
Laura Martin was rather plain looking and always had been, but she had always carried herself with a confidence that Rosalie never had. She had been Sean’s steady for nearly four years and Rosalie was still unsure of what she thought of Laura. Things were simpler when she wasn’t around. She saw more of her brother before Laura. She confided in him more and he confided in her. Rosalie always got the impression that Laura would prefer she was not around, so that she could have Sean all to herself.
Alison announced dinner and the three of them sat down at the dining table. Shortly thereafter, they all began to eat. It was a quiet, rather awkward dinner. There was a lull in the meal, at which point Sean took Laura’s hand and it got very quiet.
“We have something that we would like to announce,” Laura said.
Alison and Rosalie both turned to them. Sean spoke. “We talked it over this afternoon. We’re going to be married.”
Rosalie felt numb. She already saw how it was going to go. They would marry. Move in to their own apartment. Start their own life. Rosalie would be left with her mother, and she would be even more alone than she was before. Alison didn’t seem thrilled either, but still, she began to ask questions. About the wedding. If they had a plan. Without a word, Rosalie got up from the table, walked into her room, and slammed the door. She could feel their eyes on her but she didn’t care.
I’m alone. I’ve always been alone.