Herbie walked back in to the dressing room, being sure to wipe away any saliva left. He’d been sickened, truly horrified, at his Rose. Rose, the woman he’d spent untold years pining after, wanting for her to marry him. Well, if he was the one to break their deal, it meant she still kept her promise. After Louise left, Herbie confronted Rose,
“Rose, this can’t happen.”
“—and I need to get her—Why not? She isn’t actually going to strip.” said Rose, not looking up from her search. Herbie shook her head,
“No Rose, although that has to come to an end as well. Us. We can’t happen.” He said the words gently, though he knew Rose was no gentlewoman. Rose dropped the cloth she was holding to her side and turned to look at him,
“What? No way, no way. You been after me for years; don’t tell me you’ll give up on me now.” she scoffed it off, going back to her search. Herbie shook his head,
“I’m leaving, Rose. I can’t stay here and watch you drive little Louise into the ground. I’m gone.” Herbie turned and almost left. His hand was on the doorknob, three-quarters turned, when he heard Rose’s quiet whisper,
Herbie froze. He could hear Rose’s quiet breathing at the dressing table, could hear the lights buzzing overhead. He turned to Rose,
“Rose, we never—“
“Don’t tell me we never, Herbie. Philadelphia, Buffalo. Don’t you dare tell me we never.” she fairly growled. Herbie nodded, slowly removing his hand from the door. He didn’t move towards Rose, but neither did he move away.
“I figure about three months.” Three months… Herbie ran a hand through his hair,
“When were you going to tell me?”
“You’d have figured it out eventually.” said Rose, organizing Louise’s dressing table. Herbie slowly stepped toward Rose,
“You…weren’t going to tell me?” he said in a low voice. Rose shrugged, not meeting his eye,
“Like I said, you’d have figured it out eventually. It’s not like I could hide it forever.” she said. Herbie took a deep breath, running a hand through his hair again. Just like that, all his plans went out the door. Rose was pregnant. With a baby. His baby. Their baby. He was going to be a father. For a brief moment, he entertained the thoughts of playing baseball in the backyard with his boy, or maybe attending helping his daughter with homework. He felt a hopeful smile start forming on his lips, then it disappeared. This was also Rose’s baby. If she had her way, it’d be singing and dancing before it was five. He couldn’t. He couldn’t let Rose force a child into this like she’d forced Louise. He couldn’t let her, but neither could he watch her do it, and that’s what would happen if he stayed. Herbie slowly stepped toward Rose,
“Are you showing?”
“Show me.” said Herbie. Rose stepped back, outraged,
“I will do no such thing! Just because this is a burlesque club doesn’t mean I have to strip and if you come near me I’ll—“
“ROSE!” shouted Herbie. For the first time Herbie could recall, Rose was quiet. He pinched the bridge of his nose,
“Rose, I am two seconds from walking out of here, baby or no. Show. Me.” Rose silently moved to the door and locked it before turning to Herbie. She stared at him, daring him to stop her as she unbuttoned her dress. Once it was unbuttoned, she slid her arms from the sleeves and let it drop to her feet. She was left in only her shimmery slip, reflective enough to show the ever-so-slight bump in her belly. Herbie stared at it, sucking in his breath and slowly letting it out.
“You’re pregnant.” he whispered to himself.
“Haven’t I been trying to tell you that this whole time?” said Rose, throwing up her hands before placing them on her hips. In the blink of an eye, Herbie was directly in front of Rose. His hands came up and gently laid themselves on Rose’s belly. It was pulled taut, just enough that he knew she was pregnant. He rubbed it almost absentmindedly, almost smiling at the idea of his son or daughter growing inches beneath his palm. Almost. He stepped back, sighing,
“I need to go for a walk.” He stepped back and went for the door, almost out before he turned around and pointed at Rose, “Do NOT let Louise take her clothes off.” He was out the door before Rose could even respond. Rose sank into the chair at Louise’s dressing table, one of her hands going to her belly.
“Funny…” she said, smiling as she rubbed her palm over her silky shift.
Herbie sighed, again coming to the door of the burlesque house. Again, he turned and walked again. Rose was willing to marry him. A part of him—a large part of him—was jumping for joy, just as excited about it as he’d been that morning. Of course, it had occurred to him the first time around the block that the reason she’d agreed to marry him was because of the baby. That had been the debate for his second time around the block. This time, it was the final time around the block, and he had a single debate to finish: Would he stay with Rose. She was Rose, his Rosie. He’d followed her for years, arranging her shows, helping her feed the kids, holding her on the few days she cried, even picking up after Chowsie. They’d been married in all but name. And here she was, pregnant with his baby and willing to marry him. This should have been a dream come true. Instead, he was still forcing bile back down his throat every so often.
He’d always thought Rose’s ways were harmless. A little much determined, but for the most part harmless. But here they were, Rose sending out Louise to strip for fame and money. Little Louise, who he’d watch grow up from the ignored girl to the ignored woman to the only woman Rose could see. Louise would do anything for her mother’s attention, absolutely anything. Herbie knew that, he knew that was the only reason the girl had agreed to this scheme. He knew how it was to be desperate for Rose’s temperamental approval. He could only imagine how it would be for the baby, fighting for attention with Louise and himself and, of course, Rose’s dreams and delusions. This had to stop. If he left, his baby would be left with Rose and would undoubtedly grow up to live a life in the gutters with Rose rambling about how her baby would be a star. If he stayed, he would be fighting Rose all the way. He’d be fighting to get Rose to get them all a house, to get the baby in school with the time came, hell he’d be fighting Rose to stay with Rose. It couldn’t be worth it.
And yet… This was Rose. He’d seen her bad days, her good days, everything. When they’d met, they couldn’t have been more different. Of course, by now, they’d worn each other down until his grooves fit hers, like two stones banged together enough until the met smoothly where once there had been jagged edges. Leaving Rose…Herbie wasn’t sure what he’d do. He’d settle down, of course. Probably go back into the candy business. Get a house or apartment. Maybe get a cat or some fish. But Rose wouldn’t be there. He wouldn’t wake up to her shouting and yelling. He wouldn’t fall asleep to her snores, even listening through the paper-thin walls they’d become accustomed to. There wouldn’t be anyone. Herbie had to admit, no matter her faults, Rose was definitely somebody. He wasn’t sure if could take much more of her need to be somebody, though.
As he neared the burlesque house for the last time, Herbie had his mind made up.