|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life.||Rowena's Life, Part 5|
Rowena and her friend Terese met at a coffeeshop for lunch.
“So,” asked Terese, picking up her menu, “how was your Christmas?”
Rowena grimaced. “Don't even ask.”
“Let me have some coffee first. Or tea. Whichever.”
She ended up ordering Earl Grey, and when it arrived she cooled it just a bit before sipping slowly.
“Okay,” said Terese, setting her cappuccino down. “Now tell me about your Christmas.”
Rowena sipped again, savoring the smoky dry flavor of her tea. “Just the usual,” she answered, “only a little worse.”
“Worse? What happened, somebody tell your mother about Santa Claus?”
“They wouldn't dare; not with my little cousins there. Linda and Lindsey, the Terrible Twins, and Ryan and Tiffany and little Bobby, who, being too young to run screeching through the house, join in the fruitcake fight, and try to pull down the Christmas tree, had to content himself with crying the entire evening at the top of his lungs.”
“Ah, childhood,” said Terese.
“My mother told my grandmother and my aunts about this cute little dinner I fixed for her and Dad some time back,” Rowena continued. “She made it sound like I'd built it out of Play-Doh. But it seems the kitchen was too small for my sister and me, so they sent us off to baby-sit.”
“I won't even ask,” said Terese. “You know what your problem is? You haven't had any operations. I bet if you had an operation or a tubal pregnancy or something else suitably gory to tell them about, they'd let you at least toss the salad.”
“Funny thing about that kitchen,” Rowena said. “It grew magically bigger after dinner when there were dishes to be done.”
“So who watched the kids?”
“They were sent out to play with the dog. But luckily for him he's a smart dog, so they just spent a few minutes trying to find him and then got bored and played with Tiffany instead, Bobby being unavailable for the purpose. But Uncle Harry heard her screaming and went charging out there before they actually managed to amputate anything.”
“Good for Uncle Harry.”
“He got into a big fight with Aunt Dottie because of it. She thought he was being too harsh on the little dears.”
“Spare the rod,” said Terese.
“Normally I don't go in for that sort of thing,” said Rowena, “but as they say, there's an exception to everything, and as my aunts will gladly tell you, these are exceptional kids.”
The waitress brought their sandwiches; Rowena waited until she was gone before continuing. “And speaking of exceptions, Uncle Bernie was there.”
“The one your mother would never leave alone with you?”
“That's the one. This year Aunt Yvette was in the hospital until the 23rd having another fascinating operation—”
“Please, I'm eating.”
“So Uncle Bernie did the Christmas shopping for her.” Rowena bit into her sandwich, taking her time, letting the possibilities sink in. “Uncle Bernie,” she said at length, “gave all the women lingerie.”
“He gave Maralynne and me lace teddies,” Rowena continued. “Maralynne was furious. He gave the white one with pink trim to her, and the black one with red trim to me.”
Terese made a small choking noise. “No wonder,” she said.
“My mother was mad too,” Rowena said. “Aunt Yvette tried to ignore the whole business, but my mother was mad. Partly because her innocents were being corrupted, and partly because he gave her a nightgown marked Size Large.”
“Nice to know she hasn't lost the protective instinct,” said Terese.
“I can't even tell you what he gave Uncle Harry. The moment he opened it his face got all red and he banged the lid down and refused to let anybody see it. He wouldn't talk about it either; he just told Aunt Irene he'd show it to her when they got home.”
“The mind boggles,” said Terese.
“The children, of course, all got anatomically correct dolls.”
“Grandma apparently knew about Uncle Bernie's gifts via ESP and tried to take the curse off them by giving Maralynne and me sheets with teddy bears printed on them,” Rowena said. “Aunt Dottie gave Maralynne the book I asked for, and of course gave me Maralynne's New Age tape; we got them quietly switched when she wasn't looking.”
“What about the teddies?”
“We kept the ones we were given. I told Maralynne the white one would show off her tan.”
Rowena raised her cup. “Here's to the teddies,” she said. “Here's to Aunt Irene's duplicate coffee machines and Uncle Milo's computer-printout Christmas letters.”
Terese raised what was left of her cappuccino. “Here's to the yellow parakeet Dad bought Mom thinking it was a canary,” she said. “Here's to the kids who play with the boxes instead of the presents.”
“Here's to the stale popcorn they eat off the string,” said Rowena. Suddenly a hand appeared in front of her, holding a glass one-third full of orange juice. “To the meaning of Christmas,” said a voice. “And to Santas who never fill your stocking with coal no matter what you've done.”
Rowena turned, followed the arm back to a grinning stranger behind her. He was about her own age, fair-haired and, despite his intrusion, basically harmless-looking. He was wearing a necktie with SammySammySammySammySammySammySammy embroidered a bit crookedly all over it.
“New tie?” was all she said. His grin widened.
“How'd you guess?” he asked. He clinked his glass against their cups. “Merry Christmas, ladies,” he said. “Happy New Year. Peace and Plenty, and always remember, it's the thought that counts.”
He withdrew his arm, drained his orange juice, and got up. From the yellow smear on his plate Rowena guessed he'd been eating breakfast. He set some money on his table and gave them a little bow. “And while we're at it, Happy Valentine's Day,” he said, and left.
“How strange,” said Terese.
Rowena picked up the last of her sandwich. “Strange?” she asked. “You sit there and listen to me tell you about my nutso family and all you can say is that he's strange? I'm insulted.”
“I said strange,” said Terese. “Not strange-er.”
“Okay,” said Rowena, “then I forgive you.” She raised her cup once again. “Here's to friendship,” she said, and they clinked.
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