Epilogue

            Rose never returned to Masline. She left California that summer and spent the next year and half wandering throughout the United States, and into Canada and Mexico. She discovered that she had a talent for singing, and often used this ability to provide herself with food and shelter. There were times when she was cold, or hungry, or afraid, but she never gave up.

            Eventually, she settled down in a small town in New Mexico, took a job as a waitress, and went to college, this time studying what she wanted. She had a strong interest in politics and music, and graduated with a degree in Political Science. Her interest in reform, and in music, led her to become a protest singer. Wherever there was turmoil, Rose could be counted upon to be present, adding her voice to the struggle.

            In 2008, when she was twenty-four, Rose met and married Miguel Calvert, a union organizer, in Los Angeles. They had two daughters: Lizzy, born in 2009, and Cora, born in 2012.

            Ruth was reunited with Rose in 2008, after seeing her daughter on the evening news. Their relationship was always strained, although they put up with each other so that Rose's daughters would know their grandmother.

            Cal married in 2006. True to form, he didn't treat his wife any better than he had treated Rose. He and his wife had one child, a son. In 2019, Cal was indicted in a pyramid scheme that had cost hundreds of elderly people their life savings. He was never brought to trial, however. When the police came to arrest him, they found him lying dead in his study, a bullet through his head and the gun beside him. His death was ruled a suicide, although his wife's fingerprints were found on the gun.

            Jack's death was ruled a homicide. The autopsy showed that he had died from massive blood loss. Ownership of the gun was traced to an elderly woman in Southland, who told police that her thirteen-year-old grandson had stolen it. The grandson was unavailable for questioning, having died in the earthquake. The killer was never found.

            Helga moved back in with Tommy. Despite the earthquake, the house had remained mostly intact, and was still livable. On January 19, 2004, nine months to the day she had married Fabrizio, she gave birth to a healthy son, Daniel.

            Tommy remained a bachelor for many years, then surprised everyone by marrying Sophie in 2011. They had three children.

            Rose and her friends were reunited in Los Angeles in 2010, and kept in touch throughout the years that followed. Rose's daughter Lizzy married Helga's son Daniel in 2029, although Rose wasn't there to see it.

            In 2022, when she was thirty-eight, Rose was diagnosed with cancer, an aftereffect of the radiation she had been exposed to following the earthquake. Despite aggressive treatment, the disease spread, and by her fortieth birthday Rose knew that she didn't have much time left. She wrote her memoirs, finally telling her story, interspersing the paragraphs with pictures collected over a lifetime. There were two pictures in particular that she valued—a photograph of herself, her husband, and her children on Olvera street in Los Angeles, and an ancient, brittle drawing of a young woman standing on the edge of a cliff, the wind in her hair and a smile on her face. On the evening of June 21, 2024, Rose went to sleep and never woke up.

*****

            Rose opened her eyes to see someone standing at the end of a long tunnel of light, waiting for her. Walking down the tunnel, she recognized her father. He was healthy and strong now, with no signs of the disease that had killed him so many years before. He looked just as Rose remembered him from her childhood.

            Looking back, she saw herself lying in her bed, unmoving. A pang of sadness, mingled with joy, shot through her. She had lived out her life as she was meant to, and now she was moving on.

            Looking at her hands, she realized that she had left the miseries of the disease that had killed her behind. She was healthy again, no longer in pain. She had no regrets, except for her loved ones left behind. But it was time. Turning toward her father, she walked into the light.

            They didn't speak as they continued onward. As they left the tunnel, Rose saw others waiting for her—Trudy, Fabrizio, her grandparents. The golden retriever that she had had as a child ran up to her, wagging its tail with joy. Rose was home.

            There was only one person missing. As Rose greeted the people waiting for her, she saw the city of Masline, as bright and strong as it had been before the earthquake. Beyond that lay the hills, covered with green grass and flowers.

            Rose moved toward the hills, her feet barely touching the ground. Looking down, she realized that she was wearing the same dress that she had worn on that day so long ago—but now it was made of white silk, with a long train. Touching her head, she felt the flowers that adorned her hair.

            Almost running now, she crossed a field of grass and flowers, coming to the base of a trail that wound its way up around the hills. She started up it.

            Near the top of the hill, she saw him. Jack turned and held out his hand to her, smiling. Rose came forward and took his hand.

            They embraced, and it was as though they had never been apart. The light grew brighter, and the world faded away, until it was just the two of them, forever this time, surrounded by the light.

The End.