Chapter Twenty

Friday, October 1, 2004

Rose spent most of the night laying down in her bedroom after returning home from the hospital. She had gone through her classes like a ghost at school on Friday, and hardly felt like eating dinner that night, even though her mother had ordered a pizza.

The events of the hospital had certainly taken a toll on her…the image of Jack covered in vomit and deathly pale hit her like a ton of bricks. He did tell me it was going to be bad, she thought as she hugged her pillow to her chest, watching as the clock changed from 9:32 to 9:33. She felt even worse about having run out, calling him gross, even though she apologized later. That still didn't excuse her behavior.

There was a knock on her door after a while, and she groaned, not wanting to get up. She was only half watching one of her usual sitcoms, but she dragged her weary body to the floor anyway. Standing in the doorway was her mother, holding a tray with a plate of graham crackers and a cup of tea.

Rose sighed, not really wanting to talk to her mother at the moment.

"You didn't eat much at dinner tonight, Rose, so I brought you a little something." Ruth carried the tray into the room and set it on her daughter's bed. For a few moments, they stood staring at each other, and Ruth wet her lips. "Are you quite sure you're going to be all right?" she asked, and Rose sat down, nibbling on the edge of a graham cracker.

"I'll be fine," she said, giving her mother a fake smile.

Ruth sighed, sitting down on the bed, and encouraged Rose to join her. Immediately, the atmosphere changed, and Rose had a bad feeling she knew what was coming.

"Didn't I tell you dating Jack would be a bad idea?" Ruth asked once she got her bearings and Rose was facing her again. Rose set her mug of tea down, only having taken a sip, and glowered at her mother.

"I don't think you have the power to tell me who I can or can't love, Mom!" she retorted.

Ruth sighed. "Rose…" She held up her hand, trying to emphasize her point. "People like him…they're infested with diseases! I wasn't the least bit surprised when you told me he had cancer."

Rose glared. "My friends Meg and Jo aren't disease-infested, thank you!" she snapped. "Mom, you're unbelievable. Cancer is an illness common in all social classes…rich people get cancer, too. Not just the poor and middle class. I wish you'd stop judging people so much."

Ruth stared at her daughter. "Watch your tone," she warned, and Rose looked up.

"Mom, I really want to be alone right now," she said quietly. "I have to get up early for work tomorrow, and I just…" She took a deep breath. "Please, Mom."

Ruth looked at her sternly. "All right." She got up at last, and went to the door. Rose watched as her mother paused in the doorway, frowning at her. "Hearts are fragile," she began, "and I'm just worried about seeing yours broken." She turned to leave, and Rose fingered her lukewarm mug for a moment or two once her mother was out of earshot. She felt tears filling her eyes and had to set the mug aside to wipe them with the palms of her hands.

It was so hard to believe she was related to Ruth DeWitt Bukater, considering how narrow-minded the woman was. Rose didn't care about how much money her friends' families had, or what race they were.

Sniffing, Rose decided to get ready for bed, due to the fact that she had to be to work at nine the next morning. She had no idea how she was going to survive her eight-hour shift, especially with the cloud of Jack's chemotherapy treatments over her head.

She slipped into her nightshirt, went into the bathroom to brush her teeth and wash her face, and then climbed into bed around ten. She lay staring into the darkness for quite some time, praying to God that Jack's life would be spared for a third time. She couldn't imagine losing him; he'd been a gift to her after the torturous relationship with Cal. Jack is one of those boys who are a once in a lifetime find, she thought, pulling her blankets closer to her chin.

It was 11:30 before she officially drifted off.

Saturday, October 2, 2004

The next morning, Rose woke at seven and hopped into the shower. She got dressed in jeans and a nice t-shirt, slipped into her sneakers, pulled her hair back into a ponytail, and applied a little makeup to her face. She rushed downstairs by 7:45 and found her mother setting a plate with a bagel on it on the kitchen table.

"I'm not really hungry, Mom," Rose insisted, slumping into the chair, and Ruth looked at her.

"You don't get a lunch break until at least one, Rose. You have to put something into your stomach, or you'll pass out from all that heavy lifting."

Rose blew out her breath…she figured she might as well humor her mother, because she didn't want to leave on a sour note. She spread a light amount of cream cheese onto her bagel and ate as much as she could. After drinking a glass of orange juice, she said good-bye and dashed out the door around 8:15.

She arrived at Sam's club by 8:40 and bolted in just in time to be grabbed by Marietta.

"Thank God you're here early…we had two cashiers call out today, so we need you on register as quickly as possible."

Rose watched Annabelle and Susanna as they were furiously ringing up the lines of customers, who definitely looked agitated by the limited help available to them. Sam's Club technically didn't open until ten o'clock in the morning, but business owners had the right to come in between the hours of seven and ten to avoid the heavy traffic of regular member hours. This was the main reason for her being scheduled nine to five—some of her co-workers were scheduled from seven to three, or 6:30 to 2:30. It wasn't always busy that early in the morning, but it only really happened when they were short on help.

The front end was notorious for their employees to call out or not show up period, and it was getting a bit aggravating.

"All right," Rose promised, and ran upstairs to the break room. She passed by a few of her other co-workers from different departments and made sure to say hello to them. Everyone she worked with was very friendly, for the most part, and it hadn't taken long before she'd gotten to know most of them.

After putting her purse into her locker, she grabbed her red vest, slipped it on, and pinned her name tag to the pocket. It took barely five minutes to get all of this taken care of, and she was on register by exactly nine, and was put in one of the busiest sections of the front end.

Almost before she could turn her light on, she was serving customers. Ringing them up, as well as making sure to promote the Sam's Club credit card.

Normally, Rose didn't mind busy days, for it made the shifts go much faster. However, every other customer who came through her line seemed to have some issue or other. Either they brought items that didn't have price tags, complained about the belt being wet due to frozen groceries, or were upset because they couldn't find exactly what they were looking for.

Marietta even reprimanded Rose for missing three relatively important items underneath the carts, and thankfully the customers were honest enough to bring them back in to pay for them.

"What are you doing, Rose?" the manager asked, narrowing her eyes. "I usually never have to scold you for this type of thing! Come on, get your act together!"

Rose felt her throat choking up with tears, and it was very difficult not to break down right there. Just before Marietta was about to turn away, she was called by the door greeter. "Jesus, just a minute!" she cried, and after giving Rose an exasperated look, went towards the cry of distress.

Rose was grateful when her lunch break came, though it was almost an hour later than usual due to the volume of customers that particular Saturday. Rose was grateful the break room was empty when she came up, because she couldn't take it anymore. She sat down at one of the round white tables, buried her face in her arms, and let the tears fall.

For at least five minutes she cried, her shoulders shaking. Why, Jack, why? she thought as she took a deep breath, sniffling loudly. Why does this have to happen to us? I've barely been dating you for two months!

She didn't notice when Marietta came up the steps about fifteen minutes into her break, carrying a thick manila envelope to her chest. The manager stopped short of her employee, startled by this sudden attack of emotions from Rose. In the year and a half since she'd been working at Sam's, Marietta never once saw Rose lose it. In fact, Rose put up with a lot more crap from customers than most of the other employees, and she just took it like a rock normally.

"Rose?" Marietta set the folder down on one of the tables and then went to sit beside the girl. Rose immediately covered her face, embarrassed at having been caught in this state.

"I'm sorry," she apologized hoarsely, and accepted a napkin from the dispenser in front of her. Marietta put a hand on Rose's shoulder after she wiped her eyes and blew her nose, and encouraged her to talk about what was bothering her.

"Honey, I didn't mean to upset you earlier," Marietta promised. "I was just surprised, because you're usually on top of scanning. I was just trying to help you."

Rose shook her head, giving another sniff. "It's not you," she insisted, and Marietta looked relieved.

"What's wrong, then? Tell me, eh?"

Rose took a shaky breath. "My boyfriend just found out he has leukemia. He's in the hospital for chemotherapy treatments." She felt her eyes welling up again, and squeezed the napkin in her hands.

"Oh, God," Marietta breathed after a moment of awkward silence. "The cute blond one, right?"

Rose gave a soft chuckle; she wouldn't feel even remotely like this if Cal were in the same situation.

"Yeah," she replied. "He was in remission for three years, but the symptoms started coming back a few months ago." She gave her nose another blow, feeling a little weird talking about this with her boss. She'd never been particularly close to Marietta…in fact, she often thought of the front-end manager as being a bit of a bitch more often than not.

"Wow," Marietta breathed. "Rose, I'm really sorry. I appreciate your coming in today."

Rose shook her head, tossing her dirty napkins into the nearby trash can. "Well…I needed the money," she admitted, and Marietta chuckled.

"Is there anything I can do for you? Maybe send you home early or something?"

Rose gulped. "What?" she asked, checking her watch. It was 2:25, and she had three hours left of her shift. "I couldn't do that," she stuttered.

"You'll leave at four, all right?" Marietta asked.

"But…" Rose protested again, and Marietta narrowed her eyes.

"Four o'clock, and end of story."

Rose bit her lip, watching as her manager checked her watch. "Dammit…I have to get these to Danielle in the marketing office, and I'm running behind. You have five minutes, right?"

Rose nodded, watching as her boss disappeared through the small hallway connecting to the marketing office. She sat still for a few moments, having to pinch herself. Was Marietta actually being kind to her for a change? Did Marietta actually take the time to comfort her? Her boss rarely gave her the privilege of leaving early, even when the store was dead.

Rose managed a small smile, feeling more cheerful by the time her break came to an end. The rest of the shift went much more smoothly, and Rose was sent up to count down her till at 3:45. As she sat using the adding machine to count the money, she thought she would stop by and see Jack at the hospital after she left.

She called home to leave her mother a message, saying there was a possibility she wouldn't make it for dinner. Besides, Rose was still annoyed with her mother for being so arrogant the night before, and found herself clutching the steering wheel more tightly than was necessary when she drove in the direction of the hospital.

When she arrived, she went to the front desk, where the nurse signed her in.

"Go on up," the middle-aged woman told Rose with a smile, and Rose took the elevator. She got to Jack's room, peering in, and saw he was sitting up watching television. Fabrizio was the only other guy in the room, and he had a book in front of him.

Jack turned his head when Rose knocked and smiled at the sight of her, inviting her to enter.

"What are you doing here so early?" Jack asked quietly as she came to give him a hug and a kiss on the lips. Fabrizio grinned to himself, shutting the book and folding his arms.

"Tommy and Richard both owe me five dollars," he said smugly, and Rose blinked.

"Sorry?" she asked, and Jack rolled his eyes.

"The guys had a bet whether you would be back or not after yesterday."

Rose blushed furiously, knowing her behavior had been appalling.

"I insisted you would come back," Fabrizio told her, smiling. "You were just shocked and not used to what you saw."

Rose felt her heart swelling at the Italian boy's comment.

"Tommy and Richard are two minds that unfortunately think alike." Jack snorted.

"Where are they?" Rose asked, and Jack gestured towards the door.

"There was some checkers match going on in the common area, and Tommy's always up for a challenge," he replied, and Fabrizio nodded.

"And wherever Tommy goes, Richard sticks to him like glue. They grew up together, you know. They're so BFF it makes me sick sometimes."

Rose smirked. "What is it with guys and being sentimental?" she asked. "You cringe at it for some reason." She kept her arm around Jack's shoulders, burying her face against his hair.

He touched her cheek, smiling softly. "I think I'm pretty sentimental, don't you, Rose?" he asked, and she rolled her eyes, taking his cheeks into her palms.

"Of course you are," she replied in a cooing voice, and he stuck out his tongue. "How are you feeling today, Jack? You haven't gotten sick since I came in." Of course, it's only been ten minutes, moron, she told herself.

"I did throw up all morning," Jack groaned when she inquired how he was feeling. "I got the oral chemo at 8:30, and didn't stop vomiting until at least 12:45."

Fabrizio pointed at him. "I beat you by an hour and a half," he growled, and Rose giggled when Jack threw an extra pillow at him.

"And you're proud of that?" she teased, and Fabrizio shrugged.

"It's always a competition in here," Jack said.

For the next hour or so, Rose sat talking to Jack, telling him about school, work, and how she had plans to have a girl's night out with Joanna and Meg the following weekend.

"That should be fun," Jack told her. "Tell them I said hi when you see them."

She nodded. "I've gotten at least two or three phone calls from each asking how you were." She laughed, and he chuckled warmly.

"Joanna and I practically grew up together, so I'm not surprised," he said, and Rose felt her throat choking up again. She'd only been dating Jack for a month and a half, which was such a short time frame in the general scheme of things. He held her while she lay her head against his shoulder, clinging to him.

"Oh, Jack," she sobbed, and he rubbed her shoulders, reaching up to stroke her ponytail.

"It's going to be okay, Rose," he promised, kissing her temple. "I'm going to be fine."

Fabrizio bit his lip from where he sat, watching as Tommy and Richard eventually came in. The other guys stopped short at the sight of Rose, and Fabrizio held out his hand.

"Cough it up," he said, and Tommy raised an eyebrow as Rose stood to greet them.

"Well, I'll be damned," Richard muttered quietly, after shaking her hand, and hobbling over to his bed. He pulled out his wallet from his nightstand and slapped a five dollar bill into Fabrizio's hand. Tommy did the same, muttering "Bastard" afterwards.

"You guys don't know me very well at all," Rose said. "I would never abandon Jack. My shock doesn't last long."

Jack smiled at her, and she kissed him.

"How long has she been here?" Tommy asked, and Jack looked at him.

"About two hours."

Tommy nodded, clearly impressed, and slid into bed. "God, I feel like bloody shit."

"Need a basin?" Fabrizio asked, watching as Richard struggled to get comfortable against his pillows.

"I'm trying not to think about it," Tommy growled, and Jack grinned.

"You know it'll help if you just let it come up," he said, and Tommy gave his friend a murderous glare.

"How do I put up with this?" Richard asked a bit too loudly, and all three cancer patients turned to him as one. Three pillows came at his head, and he laughed after they fell to the floor.

Rose decided to stay until at least seven, which was a good two and a half hours since she arrived at the hospital.

"I wish you could stay longer," Jack whined, holding onto her hands after she got off of his bed, straightening her outfit once she let go of him.

"I wish I could, too," she replied. "Jack, this is killing me. I don't know how I make it through the day when I know you're like this."

Jack frowned, hearing the cracking in her voice, and he touched her arm.

"Rose," he began, "You have to be strong for me. It won't help to have both of us collapsing. I'm depending on you to be the strong one."

She sighed; that was definitely a lot of responsibility on her part, but she knew it was worth it.

"I'm trying," she whispered, and she kissed him again.

"Well, glad you came back," Tommy said once she prepared to leave and said her good-byes to Jack's roommates. "I was wrong about you."

She laughed. "You certainly were," she replied, and he grinned innocently. "It was good seeing you three again. I'll be back as soon as I can, okay? Hopefully for a few hours tomorrow."

Jack hugged her, and watched as she left, glancing over her shoulder towards the doorway window as she walked down the hall towards the elevator. When she was out of sight, he turned back to his friends, shaking his head.

"You're lucky," Richard breathed. "To have someone who cares that much for you."

Fabrizio and Tommy shared a nod.

"I definitely am," Jack insisted. "If it weren't for Rose, I don't know what I'd do." He watched as his friends settled into their evening routines, trying to concentrate on one of his drawings as he had been doing before.