Chapter One

Windsor High School

Masline, California

June 18, 2002

            The hot Southern California sun beat down upon the group of high school graduates in their caps and gowns. Teachers rushed about, trying to organize the milling students. The excited students didn't listen, and only began to line up for the procession as the time for the graduation ceremony approached.

            Rose DeWitt-Bukater and her best friend, Trudy Bolt, fell into the center of the line. Rose's mother, Ruth, and her boyfriend, Caledon Hockley, had wanted her near the front of the line, but Rose was too hot and uncomfortable to fight for a place at the front.

            Trudy's excited voice cut into her thoughts. "We're almost done, Rose! Isn't this cool?"

            Rose shrugged. "I guess so." She wiped at her sweaty forehead, trying to glimpse her mother and Cal in the bleachers beside the football field where the ceremony would take place.

            "I don't understand you," Trudy grumbled as they filed onto the football field. "We're about to graduate from high school. We're gonna be free! No more school, no more teachers, no more homework, no more dress's gonna be great!"

            "Until college," Rose reminded her.

            "You have more freedom there," Trudy reminded her. "You won't be living with your mom anymore, so you won't have to listen to her." She frowned as Rose fanned herself with the front of her black robe. The top of a formal dress was clearly visible.

            "Why are you wearing that? They have some dumb rules about dress code at Disneyland for grad night, but you don't have to wear something formal."

            "I'm not going to grad night. Mom and Cal are taking me to some fancy restaurant for dinner. Cal says he has something special planned."

            Trudy clapped her hands over her mouth and giggled. "I bet he's gonna ask you to marry him. He keeps hinting at that, you know."

            Rose shook her head. "Oh, no, I don't think so. We've only known each other a few months."

            Trudy just giggled some more. "I think he will! You're so lucky, Rose. You're gonna be the first one to get engaged...and to such a hunk!"

            "Trudy!" Rose opened her mouth to say more, but at that moment the principal called for silence, and the talking stopped.

            Rose sat quietly through the speeches, but inside she was worried. Trudy was right. Cal had been hinting about marriage, ever since Rose's eighteenth birthday in April. Rose was fond of Cal, but she wasn't sure that she was ready for marriage. It would be hard to turn him down, though, if he did want to marry her. Cal could be very persistent when he wanted something, as when they first began dating.

            Rose had met Cal while touring the campus of Elias University, which she would attend in the fall. Cal had been recruiting students for job interviews for the Titan Construction Corporation, where he held a high-ranking position.

            Rose, Trudy, and another friend, Sophie, had been sitting at a table in the eating area when he had approached them. He had talked about the benefits of working for Titan Construction, and coaxed the addresses and phone numbers out of Rose and Sophie. Cal had been intrigued by Rose, and was even more interested when he discovered that she lived only two miles from his apartment in Masline. That night, he had called her and asked her for a date.

            Rose had been shocked at first—wasn't this unprofessional behavior? He had assured her that it would only be unprofessional if she was working for him, and since she wasn't qualified for any positions in his department, she wouldn't be working for him.

            Rose still didn't want to go out with him. He was much older than her—nearly thirty—and she felt uncomfortable with him. Her mother, however, had thought it wonderful that Cal was interested in her, and had finally convinced Rose to go out with him.

            Cal had been a gentleman, for the most part, although he had occasionally tried to go farther than Rose was interested in going, and he had a disconcerting need to keep an eye on her. He was very charming, though, and Rose liked him—usually.

            She hadn't appreciated it when he tried to dictate to her where she would go after school, or where she would look for a summer job, or where they would go when they went out. Cal had insisted upon escorting her to the prom, even going so far as to pay for her dress. He had rented a limousine, and they had arrived at the prom—held in Oceanside—in style. Rose had been embarrassed. Cal was much older than any of the other girls' dates—none of those guys had been older than twenty. The prom had been held in a hotel, and Cal had been more than slightly disgruntled when Rose had refused to go upstairs with him.

            The other girls had been envious—none of them had boyfriends that old, or that rich—but Rose had wanted to sink through the floor with embarrassment. She had spent most of the evening walking along the beach with some other kids. Cal had been cold and angry the next day, but soon forgave her. Rose found out why a few days later—Cal had gone through her pile of acceptance letters from various colleges and had chosen one for her himself—Elias University, his alma mater.

            Rose had been furious. Elias University was one of the most expensive schools around, and even with financial aid, Rose would be hard-pressed to afford it. Her mother had worked hard to keep them living in middle class style, and had had little extra money since Rose's father had died two years earlier.

            Rose had been planning upon attending a community college first, then transferring to another school to finish her degree. She had said as much to Cal, but he had arrogantly informed her that Elias University was the best there was, and that a community college wasn't good enough for her. Her mother had agreed. Intelligent people didn't go to community colleges; those schools were reserved for those who couldn't make it elsewhere. Ruth had insisted that she would come up the money somehow, and Rose had reluctantly agreed.

            Rose was brought back to the present when Trudy yanked on her arm, pointing toward the makeshift stage at the front of the audience. Sophie, the valedictorian, was making her speech.

            Rose listened politely, but her mind was elsewhere. She had been second in line for salutatorian, but had been beaten out by Peter Thio, an Asian immigrant student. Rose's mother had been furious, and had demanded that those in charge reconsider their decision. Rose had gotten the impression that her mother was more upset by the fact that an immigrant had gotten salutatorian, than by the fact that Rose had not gotten the honor.

            Secretly, Rose felt that it was for the better. The last time she had made a speech, at a pep rally the previous January, she had had the students screaming in support of her idea—abolition of the dress code—but had also succeeded in infuriating the principal, the school board, half the teachers, and a number of parents. Ruth had been embarrassed and angry, and Rose was not called upon to make any more speeches that year. Possibly, she realized, it was why she had not been named salutatorian. She wasn't sorry, though. She had always been outspoken about what she thought was right, and no amount of anger on the part of her mother, the principal, or anyone else was going to change that.

            Sophie finished her speech—something about all the wonderful opportunities awaiting them—and stepped down. The students began to file up to the stage to receive the folders that would hold their diplomas—the actual diplomas would be mailed to them later. The rest of the ceremony passed in a blur for Rose, except for when her high-heeled shoe caught in the grassy turf and she nearly knocked over the student in front of her. The students laughed, and as Trudy helped her up, Rose caught sight of her mother ducking her head in embarrassment.

            All too soon, graduation was over, and the students rushed off the field to greet their cheering relatives and friends.