"You be a good girl."
She stared at his back, watching him walk away from her once and for all. A million words buzzed in her brain, one in particular growing louder with each step he took further away from her.
No. No. No. No.
"No!" Rose cried out, falling to the floor in a heap as hot tears spilled from her eyes. She reached out for him as she sat on her knees, her hands opening and closing around empty air. "Herbie!" She saw him stop walking as she stared at him with her tear-blurred vision.
"Herbie, please? Don't-" she choked on the words, unable to ask him again not to leave her because it meant admitting he was going to.
He still didn't turn around, his fingers the handle of his suitcase tighter as he visibly fought the urge to run to her.
She unwillingly tore her eyes from him to stare at the curtain Louise was changing behind, "Baby, stop. Don't. Don't put on Tessie's dress, don't go out there. I'm sorry! Baby, I'm so sorry!"
Her eyes flicked back to Herbie, who was slowly turning around. She was staring at him now, her attention focused solely on him once again. "I'm sorry. Please don't-" she choked on the words again as tears continued to blur her vision.
Louise's thin, wiry arms closed around her shoulders and pulled her into a warm embrace and the shock of it forced out the sob she'd been holding in. "Oh, Mama, thank you! Thank you, Mama! I didn't want to. I was so afraid, but I didn't want to let you down like June did!"
Rose pulled her daughter close as she continued to stare at Herbie, her free hand reaching for him again. "Please, Herbie. I love you," she mouthed, her fingers closing around open air. But he didn't come any closer, just stared back at her as tears rushed down her cheeks.
Louise pulled away, smiling as she wiped away a few tears that had fallen from her own eyes. Rose tore her eyes away from Herbie again to stare at her daughter, who was dressed in Tessie's dress and looked every bit a lady. "Oh, look at you!" she forced a smile, wiping at her tears with the heel of her hand. "You're beautiful! Maybe you oughta make yourself some dresses when we get home, baby. Right now, why don't you go put on your own clothes?" Louise nodded, beaming as she walked toward the curtain again.
She felt strong hands close around her upper arms and hoist her to her feet. The hands forced her to turn around and she found herself face to face with the theater owner. "What's this about? She ain't gonna strip now, or what?"
Rose narrowed her eyes, "No, my baby is not going to strip. And I'm sorry I even considered it for a minute."
"You said she was gonna do it! It's the star spot so she gets the star salary. That was the deal. Come on!" he argued, his fingers digging into her arms and leaving bruises.
She tried to wrench herself out of his grasp to no avail. "And now I'm sayin' she ain't! Let go of me."
"Let. Her. Go," Herbie interrupted, prying the shorter man's hands off Rose's arms. "She told you Louise isn't stripping and she told you to let go of her." He pushed the theater owner away from Rose and towards the door, stepping protectively between them. "Find someone else."
Angry, the theater owner walked away, shooting dirty looks at the pair over his shoulder and muttering under his breath.
She was staring at his back again, wondering if this meant he was going to stay. "He-Herbie?" she breathed, her fingers reaching for him again and closing around his jacket in fists. "Thank you, Herbie. I-I'm sorry. Are you-Does this mean-? Please don't-Don't leave me, Herbie." She had a vice grip on his jacket now, determined not to let him go, not to let him walk away again. She buried her face in her hands as she gripped his coat fiercely, her body shaking slightly with the quiet sobs she was finally letting out.
"No!" Rose sobbed, falling to the floor again when Herbie pulled out of her grasp. She couldn't even pull her face out of her hands to watch him walking away from her again. "Please! Herbie, don't-Please!"
To her great surprise, she was hauled to her feet again, strong hands firmly but gently gripping her elbows. She was even more surprised when the strong arms encircled her waist and pulled her tightly against a hard chest. Tears still clouding her eyes, she looked into the face of the man who had hoisted her to her feet. Herbie's bright blue eyes stared into her chocolate ones as tears stuck to her eyelashes and she stared open-mouthed at him before burying her face in his coat, wrapping her arms around him to pull herself closer. "I'm sorry, honey! I'm so, so sorry!" she cried against the front of his jacket. "I love you!"
"I love you, Rosie," he told her, pulling her tighter as his voice cracked with the effort to hold back his own tears. "But I want a wife-"
"I can be a wife, Herbie, I can! Just-Just give me the chance! I'll be a good wife and it'll be you and me and our daughter and-Please, Herbie!" she whispered, tears still running down her cheeks. "Just tell me what to do, Herbie! I'll do anything, just don't leave me!"
"I'll cook and clean and keep house-"
"And I won't even go near a theater again, I swear! Just don't leave me!" she begged, pulling away just enough to look up at him. "I love you, Herbie."
He sighed, pulling her close again before kissing her head and burying his face in her red curls, "Rose, I-I love you. Okay, honey. You still got Herbie."
"Thank you, Herbie. Thank you, thank you, thank you!" she cried, her tears now of happiness as she hugged him close.
"Mama?" Louise asked tentatively, still dressed in Tessie's dress as she came out from behind the curtain. "Can I-Can I wear the dress to your wedding?"
Rose looked up at Herbie, searching for confirmation that there would still be a wedding. When he nodded, she turned around, still in Herbie's grasp as she leaned against him, and stretched her arms out to her daughter, "Anything you want, baby. You look beautiful!" Louise rushed to her mother to hug both her and Herbie as she squealed in delight.
Rose suddenly remembered what Herbie had said to her all those months before when June left her, But you and me and our daughter, we're going to have a home!
Tears stung her eyes, her voice coming out strangled, "I love you. Both."