"What are you running away from?"
Hours after Harriet had shown her to the guestroom, that question resonated in her mind. Here this woman, whom she hadn't seen in six years, could see she was running from something. And it wasn't just her—everyone could tell she was running, even Rose herself. She had been running this marathon for years and it drained every ounce of energy she had, both physically and emotionally. She was just tired—so very, very tired. As she sat there on the bed, her legs curled up to her chest and staring at the unopened manuscript, she finally had an answer to Harriet's question.
Everything…I'm running from everything.
It was the first time in so long that she had given herself an honest answer. It felt odd to her; after all, denial had been her way of life for so many years. But yet at the same time, it felt right—liberating, actually. Rose continued to stare at that dreaded manuscript.
She could practically hear Martha's voice admonishing her, "Staring at it isn't gonna change anything, Rose."
Even though it was already well into the night, Rose decided it was time. She gingerly picked up the manuscript, almost as if she was afraid its pages would burn her. Slowly, she lowered her legs from her chest and leaned against the headboard. The bedside lamp cast a faint glow into the room, but that was enough for her—she was already facing the harsh light of truth. Rose closed her eyes and let out a steadying breath. With that, she opened to the first page.
Hours passed, at least Rose assumed it had been hours—she hadn't been focused on the time. With each passing page, tears began to roll down her cheeks, gaining strength the further she got. They were, in part, the result of the sentiments that reached out of the pages and touched her heart. John's love and adoration of her radiated from the pages, and began filling the emptiness that had consumed her soul for what seemed like an eternity. The other reason for her tears was due to the shame she felt over the presumptuous and irrational anger with which she had attacked John. Even as she threw her bitter and hateful words at him, she knew that they were not completely justified. John had been right—it was her perfect excuse. Deep within her soul, she knew that he would never hurt her, but she had refused to acknowledge that truth. Rather, she had clung to that irrational fear that had come to feel so natural to her over the years. She had been hiding behind her wall of protection—a wall she had begun to build after the first time Jimmy had struck her. With each slap, with each bruise, another brick was added. Then when her dad had become sick, she continued to add to that wall. It was a way of distancing herself from the harsh realities that were beginning to become too painful. And after watching her parents die in front of her, after fighting and clawing her way to them in a futile attempt to help them, that wall had finally reached completion. Nothing was going to hurt her again. She had Mickey, Martha, and Tony, and for years she had been convinced that they were all that she needed—that they were all that mattered. They were her life and allowing anyone else in would just be begging for heartache and pain.
And then, Rose had met him. It was by no means love at first sight—far from it, actually. Oh make no mistake, she had found John extremely attractive. But at the time, she had been more focused on restraining herself from inflicting bodily harm on him. (Again…another irrational action.) When he had implied that she had been negligent with Tony, Rose had almost wished he had physically struck her, because those words inflicted more pain than any literal blow could ever cause. She had thrown him out, incredulous of the fact that this stranger could possibly know anything about her and her family. But, she had put her pride aside and questioned Tony about what had led up to the incident. His answer forced her to acknowledge her error. Rose had never expected to see John again, let alone receive an apology. She was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. And then on seeing the genuine joy and enthusiasm between John and Tony, she had felt something spark within her—something she hadn't felt in a long time, if ever. Each time she saw him, each conversation they had just fueled that spark. Before she could smother that flame, it was already well on its way to becoming a fierce, uncontainable blaze. The way John looked at her, the way he held her hand, the way he held her caused that fire to course through her veins. It was all-consuming. It was exhilarating. It was…terrifying. That moment on the dance floor, with the music at its crescendo and his eyes dark and raging with emotion, she came to the startling realization that the wall she had enclosed around herself had crumbled at her feet. She was exposed like a nerve. Rose couldn't focus on the completion being with John would bring. All she could focus on was the remote chance that she would once again feel the pain from which she had gone to such great lengths to protect herself.
Her thoughts inevitably went to the kiss they had shared. Rose ghosted her fingertips over her lips, recalling how the feel of his lips had caused a shockwave throughout her entire being. She remembered the building intensity between them. Remembered tearing herself away from what she so desperately wanted—him. She recalled the devastation she felt when he suggested she had been leading him on. The words that ensued reminded her of what she was trying to avoid and so she decided to do what she did best—she ran. Ran away from him, ran from herself.
Then she had awoken in the hospital to John's tearstained face. She had run, but he had found her. His presence comforted her, almost more than her family's. Rose had almost confessed how she felt about him. She had been so close, but had twistedly been relieved at the nurse's intrusion. But, she had decided to try in spite of her natural inclination. And when she had awakened and found herself in his arms that one morning, she had felt almost euphoric. The moments they were together, the touches they shared all stoked that fire within her. She was…happy. And that…that was what Rose found the most terrifying. Because all happiness ends, doesn't it? And then that wretched woman came into the shop, flashing her false smiles and fake persona. Finding out about John's novel had infuriated her. She never even stopped to think about asking him about it. That fight…she replayed it over and over in her mind. In the clear light of day, she realized the truth of his words and the irrationality of hers. He had been right about so many things. At the time she couldn't admit to it. Admitting it would mean she would have to acknowledge it, and that she would have to change it.
John said he watched her die, a fact which still shook her to the core. Then…then he admitted that he loved her. And not just that he loved her, but that he wanted her, that he wasn't complete without her, that he needed her. Then he had confronted her with a fact Rose had refused to acknowledge—that she loved him.
And what did I do? I ran…again.
All these things led to her being here—hiding out in the house of John's surrogate parents. (A fact Rose was sure was the Universe's twisted take on irony.) She turned her attention away from her meditations and back to the words on the page. What she read next took her breath away.
"She knew the unknown was full of darkness—conscious that pain would more than likely be a certainty. That knowledge caused the breath within her lungs to dissipate. Was this journey worth the risk? She doubted herself—either refusing to acknowledge or unconscious of the strength within her, evidently ignorant of its ferocity. Fear gripped her. Its icy fingers curled around her neck, threatening to suffocate her. In that instant, the memory of his last word to her resurfaced—'always.' It was more than a word. It was a promise. A promise that no matter what tragedy threatened to befall them, no matter what trials the universe had in mind that one thing would remain constant—he would never leave. They would stand together hand in hand, just as it should be. The war within her ceased. The fire within her burned, driving that fear back towards its cowardly abode. With that promise seared into her soul, she flung herself across the void—knowing with absolute certainty that she would find him. That he would be waiting. Always."
Rose could feel that her neck and chest were saturated with her tears. She finally realized that the words were for her. John wasn't drawing attention to her weakness or capitalizing on the trials she had experienced. He was telling her how he saw her—what she was to him, what he was promising to be for her. With that realization, stray tears were no longer sufficient. Rose hugged the tearstained pages close to her heart, even though the words were already etched within her. At the moment, it was the only way she could think of to be near to him. She curled into herself and sank onto the bed, quiet sobs racking her body till that steady rhythm allowed sleep to finally claim her.