The tears came quickly. The quiet of her room was overwhelming, but it didn’t last long. There was a loud knock at her door. “Yes?”
Her brother spoke. “It’s me.”
Sean’s face, masked by the shadows, was tight. Rosalie sat up as he approached her bed. “What was that about?” He demanded.
“You embarrassed me,” he said. He breathed out. He was clearly angry, and Rosalie found herself afraid for what he might do. But after a moment, he seemed to calm down, and he sat on the bed next to his sister. Looked at her. “Aren’t you happy?”
For a moment, Rosalie looked down at the floor. Yes, she supposed she wanted Sean to be happy. Even if she and Laura didn’t connect, she supposed that if they were happy, if they were sure that getting married was the right thing, that was the most important thing. Still, she asked, “are you sure she’s the one?”
“I’m sure,” Sean responded.
“Then you have my blessing.”
Sean was less tense now, and he looked at Rosalie in such a way that she thought that they might hug. She realized that she didn’t remember the last time that they had. But he simply stood up, pursed his lips, and hesitated at the doorway. “Good night, Rosalie,” he said before he left.
It was only about seven thirty at night, not nearly time for bed and Rosalie wasn’t the slightest bit tired. But Sean and Laura went out, for milkshakes and to a movie, ignoring Alison’s advice that if they were going to to get married and move into their own home they needed to be more careful about how they spent their money. Shortly afterward Alison summoned Rosalie into the kitchen to do the dishes. Alison sat on the couch, knitting a new scarf for the winter, even though it was July.
She scanned through the channels before she heard Walt Disney’s voice, and stopped. He was being interviewed about the recent success of Cinderella, a film she had yet to see, and the production the upcoming Alice in Wonderland. It was due to come out the following summer. Rosalie would be seventeen by then, which seemed so far away.
“Didn’t you say you read Alice in Wonderland?” Rosalie asked.
There was no response.
Alison looked up from her knitting.
“Didn’t you say you read Alice in Wonderland growing up?”
“Oh, yes, my mother had it the house.”
“Disney’s doing a film,” Rosalie said. Even though it was clear her mother was not interested, she was trying desperately to keep the conversation going.
“That’s nice,” Alison responded. Then it was silent again. Rosalie sighed, and changed the channel on the radio again. This time, to music. By chance it was Bing Crosby, her mother’s favorite artist. While Alison did continue to knit, Rosalie noticed her mother smile slightly.
After what seemed like a long time, Alison spoke. “So, what do you think?”“About what?”
“Sean and Laura.”
Rosalie had no idea how to respond. She didn’t want to talk about it, not now, and especially not with her mother. So she merely shrugged.
“I don’t think he’s ready.”
“Weren’t you his age when you married Dad?”
Alison got defensive. “Yes, but that was different. We all had it hard back then. We know what it meant to really work for something. To make sacrifices.”
Rosalie said nothing, and before long she’d changed into her pajamas and retreated into her room for the night.
She laid awake for what felt like an eternity. At some point she heard Sean come back, but she stayed in bed, not feeling very much like talking. They’d been a happy family once, but that was a long time ago. She tried to think of where it all had gone wrong.
December would mark eight years since their father had been gone. On their last perfect day together, all the way back in 1942, Jim Hastings had taken his children, then eight and ten, sledding. Alison had stayed home, not wanting to go out in the cold. It was late afternoon, nearing dusk, and there had recently been a fresh snowfall that had transformed the nearby public park into a winter wonderland.
It was half her life ago, but Rosalie could still make out her father’s form at the bottom of the hill. His wide blue eyes watching. The warmth that radiated from him as he called out to tell her that she could do it. As Rosalie stood at the top, shaking beside her sled, Sean was beside their father, squirmy and impatient. Jim turned to Sean. Said something that Rosalie couldn’t quite make out, but it seemed to calm him down.
“Rosalie?” Jim called.
Rosalie was frozen still. The hill seemed so steep, her father so distant. The sun had gone down, and it was beginning to grow dark. Soon it would be black and cold. She started to cry.
“Oh, Rosalie,” muttered Jim before he climbed up the hill. He got on his knee so he was eye to eye with his daughter. “What’s the matter?”
“I’m scared,” she responded.
“Why are you scared?” He responded calmly.
“It’s so high,” she said.
Jim looked down at the hill, managed a smile. “Well, you’ve never done it by yourself before, right? It’ll be just like when I went down with you.”
Rosalie shook her head.
“New things are scary. But you know what?” He looked at her lovingly. “They get less scary after you do it.”
“Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m getting hungry and I’m sure mommy’s got a tasty dinner cooking at home,” he said. “But, if you don’t want to go, we can let your brother go down one more time and then we can go home.” He waited for Rosalie’s response.
“I want to go.”
Jim smiled widely. “I was hoping you’d say that. Want me to give you a push?”
Rosalie nodded. She climbed onto the sled, still scared but a little excited. Jim counted down. He pushed and ran down to meet his daughter, who leapt into his arms with a smile on her face at the bottom. Laughing. “Was that fun?”
Rosalie nodded. They turned to Sean, and Jim gave him a nod. He darted up the hill and went down himself, and once they were all the bottom Jim turned to his two children and hugged them tightly.
It was on lonely nights like this that Rosalie thought she could still feel the warmth of his grasp, something she longed to feel again.