Chapter Sixteen

Rose was still upset when she came home from school. She dragged herself into the house, finding, to her surprise, that her mother was already home. Ruth was seldom home this early.

"Mother, what are you doing home? I didn't expect you back until dinner."

"Don't tell me you've forgotten, Rose. We're going to a dinner party tonight."

"Tonight? But it's the middle of the week. I have school in the morning."

"We won't be out late—probably not later than ten."

Rose had forgotten—or maybe Ruth had neglected to tell her. "Who's giving the party, Mother?"

"The Hockleys, Rose. I know that you and Cal had a disagreement, but he's willing to forgive you and make up."

"Mother, that wasn't just a disagreement—"

"Yes, Rose, I'm well aware of how rude you were, but Cal understands that young women like yourself sometimes indulge in flights of fancy. It will be all right, Rose."

"Flights of fancy! Mother, he was abusing me!"

"Don't be ridiculous, Rose. A fine gentleman like Cal would never abuse anyone, let alone the woman he loves."

"Yes, he did! Mother, he hit me, and tried to tear my dress off—"

"Rose!" Ruth's eyes grew hard. "Not another word out of you. You'll go to the party tonight, and you'll behave appropriately."

When Rose opened her mouth to object again, Ruth put up a hand to stop her, her eyes narrowing. "I talked to the boarding school today, Rose. They'll take you anytime. We'll simply transfer your grades from your current school to the new one."

Rose clamped her mouth shut, glaring furiously at her mother. It was a threat that Ruth used whenever she wanted Rose to behave—and it worked. Rose had visited the cold, bleak boarding school, and had no desire to be sent there.

"Now, Rose, I want you to go upstairs and get dressed for dinner. I think your red dress with the black lace would be best. Wear your new red and black boots, too—the ones that match the dress. And I think you should wear your emerald necklace and earrings."

"Mother—"

"Do as I told you, Rose. This is a very important dinner. The best members of our society will be there, as well as several candidates for office. And Rose—I expect you to be on your best behavior." Ruth moved toward the stairs. "We will be leaving in two hours. Get a shower and get dressed. I expect you to look your best and to be on time. Your behavior of late has been abominable, and I won't stand for it. Do you understand me, Rose?"

Rose tried to wipe the anger off her face, knowing that it only made her mother angrier. "Yes, Mother."

"Good. We will be leaving at six, and I expect you be ready."

XXXXX

Rose stood in the hot shower, her hands clenched furiously around the thick washcloth. A dinner party! On a school night! She hadn't wanted to go out at all, but if she had to, why couldn't she do something fun, like go out for pizza or go to the football game? Anything would be better than another dull, pointless dinner party, where she was expected to dress up and act like a lady.

And worse yet, the Hockleys were hosting the party. That meant that Cal would be there, and her mother would do her best to push them together again. Rose had been miserable with Cal the first time, and she wasn't looking forward to seeing him again. But she knew that Ruth would insist, and Rose would have no choice but to be polite and talk to him, no matter what she really felt.

Why did she have to go, anyway? There would be some people running for office, but Rose was too young to vote. It wouldn't do them any good to have her support, and they were probably people handpicked by the Hockleys—people who supported them and their society, not people with any interesting ideas or thoughts about the rest of the people.

What would Jack think? Rose wondered. He would probably be either bored or disgusted with the whole thing, maybe both. The people of her society were so petty—the thought of themselves as giants on the earth, but they never saw what went on outside of their little world. One day, something would happen to burst their bubble—and none of them would see it coming. Then there would be anger, and recriminations, and people would be looked for to take the blame. And then, slowly but surely, they'd forget, and retreat into their own little world, until the next time it happened.

Rose hated the life she led. There was so much more to the world than what her society saw and approved, but she wasn't allowed to experience any of it. When she even tried, she was slapped down. She knew her place, and knew that there was nothing else for her, no matter how much she wished it.

Rose's whole seventeen years seemed to her to be pointless, and she saw no way out.