Rosalie never brought up her father unless her mother did first. The reason for this was that she was never sure how Alison would react when he was mentioned. Sometimes she was wistful, romantic, longing, and even happy. Other times, she shut down completely.
As the summer wore on, Rosalie found herself wanting to talk about her father, but not wanting to cross an awkward line that she couldn’t take back. But one morning, she and her mother were both in the kitchen. Sean was still living there, but he was often out for wedding planning; he and Laura had a date set for the end of August, which was fast approaching. Her mother was reading the paper while Rosalie did the dishes. The radio was on, and both were half listening. It was some sort of lifestyle segment, talking about all of the fun ways that families could spend their summer. They were discussing a campground an hour up north, up in Wisconsin by Lake Michigan.
“Did I ever tell you about the time I visited your father when he was working for the CCC?”
“I don’t think so,” Rosalie responded.
A smile crept on Alison’s face. “You weren’t born yet. Sean was maybe two? We’d just got married, and your father got the job with the CCC. We really needed it, but it was hard, being away from him. We drove out, and Sean saw your father and ran straight towards him. That’s my daddy!” Alison was clearly in another place and time, recalling the memory.
“Did I ever do anything like that, when I was younger?”
Alison laughed. “Not that I can think of.”
Rosalie looked at her mother, still distant. Somewhere, she found the courage to ask what she wanted to ask. “Mom,” she said. “How did you two meet?”
“At the soup kitchen,” Alison said, knowing Rosalie had heard the basics of the story before. But she’d been a child then, and it was a simplified version. “We met at the soup kitchen, fell in love, got married, and had Sean and then you.” Now that she was older, Rosalie realized she didn’t know any other specifics.
“But how did you fall in love?”
“We never told you?”
“I don’t think so.”
Alison took a deep breath. “Well, I was living with my parents, your grandparents, and we’d just lost our house. Your aunt Violet had a small apartment with her husband and we all moved in. Five of us in a space meant for two. But we did what we had to do.” Her eyes were far away, and she was reliving that time, if only for a moment.
“Everyone else was occupied one day at lunch, so I went to the soup kitchen by myself, and your father was in line in front of me. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. But he said hello we got to talking from there I told him about the apple pie that I liked from the bakery. But we just talked. Nothing more.” Alison paused to laugh. “I suppose I was oblivious though, because your father told me later he knew then I was the woman he was going to marry. I found I would look forward to going to the soup kitchen just so I’d be able to see him. We’d known each other for about a month, gotten rather close and on Thanksgiving he brought me the apple pie. Found out he’d saved a bit of his wages for weeks to do it. And that’s when I knew too.”
Rosalie imagined the scene in her heard. A wide-eyed, sandy-haired girl, somewhat out of place in the dirt and grime. Her father, overalls, flat cap, unkempt dark hair, but still the same kind face. Two young people about to fall in love, the world ahead of them. As far as Rosalie knew, there had been no one before Jim, and there had certainly been no one after. As far as Alison was concerned, he was it, and to go with anyone else would feel like cheating even though he’d been buried for six years. Rosalie wondered if she’d ever have a love like that.
Sean thought he did with Laura, but at least to Rosalie, it didn’t seem to be the same.
But that didn’t stop the wedding, a small affair with only a handful of guests. They’d found a small apartment on the south side, which they’d secured with help from Laura’s parents, and they’d moved into shortly thereafter. Sean’s summer work as a lifeguard had ended and he was without any prospects, to which Alison had said, “You’re on your own now. You’re going to have to figure it out.” The goal was to sell Laura’s paintings and make enough money to earn a decent living, a fact of which the two seemed to determined to make happen.
The night before, as he’d packed the last of things, Sean had sensed Rosalie’s uneasiness. “I’m only a phone call and a train ride away,” he’d told her. And yet, a month had passed, Rosalie and Alison alone waiting out the dull, bored quiet of summer, where neither sibling spoke. Every time Rosalie thought about picking up the phone, something inside told her not to. He’s busy. He doesn’t have time for me. He’d called to tell them that he’d found steady work with a construction company, but the conversation had not lasted any longer than that.
As the summer winded down, Rosalie began to think about returning to school. She enjoyed class and even though she didn’t have any real friends to speak of, it was better than being at home. Besides, she only had two more years after, and the future was wide open. She could go back east, to New York, go to Barnard. Maybe Radcliffe in Boston. But Barnard was her top choice. She could meet new people. Start her life over. Maybe even have a family of her own. One that would never break apart.