|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life.||Rowena Gets A Boyfriend, Part 3|
Rowena stared out at the houses as they passed. “I must be out of my mind,” she said.
“No, you're not,” said Sammy. “Which way here?”
“You're out of yours, too,” said Rowena. “Left.” She watched Sammy make the turn. He looked so calm. “I can't believe we're doing this,” she said.
“It won't be that bad.”
“You hardly know my mother. You don't know my dad or my sister at all. Or my sister's idiot boyfriend.”
“The more entertaining your sister and her boyfriend are, the less pressure there will be on us,” Sammy said.
“Come on,” Sammy said. “Your mother says she's making your fav—”
“She is not!” Rowena said. “I bet I know what she's making. She's making that steak she keeps bugging me to make, to catch men with. That's you, in case you hadn't guessed.”
“It'll be okay,” Sammy told her. “How much farther?”
“Five or six blocks.”
“Let's walk.” He pulled the car over. “I think a little walk right now would do you good.”
“A little pneumonia right now would do me good,” Rowena said. “Or chicken pox or appendicitis or anything else that would give me an excuse to cancel.”
“Tomorrow night,” Sammy said, “we will laugh about this over our nice quiet restaurant dinner.”
“If you still want to have anything to do with me,” said Rowena.
Rowena's mother opened the door before the bell had even stopped ringing. “Rowena, dear,” she began, though it wasn't Rowena she was looking at. “And you must be Sammy.”
“Must be,” he replied. “Nice to meet you, Mrs.—”
“Call me Babette,” she interrupted, extending her hand and smiling in her most ingratiating manner. Sammy shook the hand; instead of letting him go she pulled him into the hall. “Come in, come in,” she said. Rowena followed and her mother gave her a squeeze. “You look beautiful,” she said. “Isn't she beautiful, Sammy?”
“Now, Rowena, aren't people always telling you you could be a model?”
“Yeah,” said Rowena. “Like you, and Grandma, and Aunt—”
“The most beautiful girls are always the most modest,” her mother said. “Isn't that right, Sammy?”
“Always,” Sammy said.
“Are Maralynne and Brian here yet?” asked Rowena quickly. She didn't ask where her father was; she could hear the buzz of the television from where she stood.
“Oh, how rude of me! Don't let me keep you here in the hall. No, they're not here yet, but come on in. You must think I'm terrible, Sammy.”
“Not at all. In fact, I was just admiring your wallpaper.”
Rowena went into the living room, where her father was watching a bowling tournament. “Hi, Dad,” she said, and because it was only bowling, he grunted in response. Rowena remembered the days before 24-hour sports channels. She sat down on the couch and watched with him until her mother and Sammy entered.
“Dear,” said Rowena's mother, “this is Sammy. Rowena's young man. I told you about him, remember? Dear?”
“Wait for the commercials,” said Rowena placidly.
Maralynne made an Entrance, as usual; this time in a red miniskirt. Rowena saw that she had made a few more refinements to the walk that would supposedly become famous, one of her many trademarks. Maralynne tossed her bleached blonde hair at Sammy and asked his birthdate.
He told her.
Maralynne's eyes went very round. “No kidding,” she said. She looked from Sammy to Rowena, then back at Sammy, and started to giggle.
“So, Maralynne, have you heard from your agent lately?” asked Rowena hastily. She knew she was going to regret this, but she could think of nothing else to say.
Maralynne launched into a lengthy diatribe on the subject of agents, luck, talent, money, and stupidity. Rowena looked over at Sammy, who appeared to be listening attentively; when he caught her glance he gave her the barest wink. Rowena looked away from her sister and Sammy both. She tried very hard not to smile.
Their mother had Maralynne set the table and Rowena make the salad; she herself did all the rest of the work but Rowena knew that when the food was served she would make a fuss about what good cooks her daughters were.
Which she did.
“Yeah, well,” Brian said with his mouth full of steak, “if you like canned soup and bean sprouts.”
“I keep telling you, I can't mess around with knives and all that on account of my nails!” said Maralynne. “You've got to think of my Career.”
“Maybe if you made more money so we could eat out more—”
“Maralynne has lovely hands,” her mother said. “Of course, they'd be even lovelier if she had a ring, but—”
“Oh, God,” said Brian.
“It was a simple observation,” Rowena's mother said. “No need to get all offended. I just happen to think that—”
Rowena's father pushed back his chair, picked up the remote control, and turned the TV off. “Damn golfing,” he said. Even he had his limits. He scooped up a forkful of baked potato and, suddenly conscious of he duties as a host, turned to Sammy. “So who'd you figure for Sunday's game?”
“I'm sorry,” said Sammy politely, “I'm afraid I don't really follow sports.”
Rowena's father stopped. His mouth dropped open. His fork crashed to his plate.
“I'm sorry,” said Sammy.
Rowena's father stared some more, then slowly, deliberately, went back to his food.
“Cincinnati,” said Brian.
“Cincinnati?” yelled Rowena's father. “Cincinnati?” The two of them began shouting at each other, gesturing, turning red in the face.
“Men talk!” said Rowena's mother indulgently, somewhere in the uproar. Then she looked at Sammy, quietly eating his dinner, and went red.
“I—” she stammered. “I don't mean to say . . . that's not to say that you—”
“I understand, Babette,” Sammy replied, as the battle raged on. “It's just one of those things. My father was never that interested so I just kind of grew up without it.”
“How fascinating,” said Rowena's mother. “What does your father do for a living?”
“Mom—” said Rowena.
“Rowena, it's just polite conversation.”
“It's okay, Babette,” said Sammy calmly. “Rowena is just a little uncomfortable because she knows my father is dead.”
“Oh, I—I'm sorry.”
“It's all right. It's—you get used to people asking—”
Whatever else Sammy wanted to say was lost in an uproar that lasted for twenty minutes.
Rowena's mother did not really need two people helping her rinse the dishes and put them in the dishwasher. One helper was more than capable of getting underfoot at her sink. Rowena brought them stacks of dishes, then swept the crumbs from the tablecloth.
She heard all about Cousin Peter's operation, even though she had never met him.
She heard about somebody's neighbor's baby, and she listened as her mother dropped more hints at Maralynne on the subject of marriage and family.
“This is the absolute worst time for that,” Maralynne said. “According to my agent and Madame Zelda both.”
“Maralynne, your mother knows you better—”
“Madame Zelda is the best! You have no idea what ordinary people like you miss just using five senses.”
“And my big break will come any minute; I have to watch my figure.”
“You could still get married.”
“But Madame Zelda says—”
Eventually their mother gave up arguing long enough to send Rowena out to the living room to see what kind of dessert the men wanted. The sound of a basketball game grew louder as Rowena approached; she wondered how Sammy was getting along.
From the doorway she regarded the backs of three heads, and her father's basketball game. The two younger men were closer to her, on the couch, and as she opened her mouth to speak she heard Brian say, in confidential tones, “She looks pretty good—nice and firm, you know? I hate it when you take their clothes off and everything falls—unless they're really stacked, you know.”
Sammy said something brief in a noncommittal voice; Rowena couldn't hear the words. Brian went on: “What's she look like?”
“I don't know that either,” said Sammy. “I told you, we only had our second date scheduled for tomorrow night.”
“Rowena,” Sammy said, looking at the ceiling, “has other qualities.” He paused, brought his gaze down—and saw her. He stopped full for a moment, turning red, and looked away. “I like her,” he concluded, returning his gaze to hers.
“But, shit—” began Brian. Rowena decided she'd had enough.
“Listen up, guys,” she said brightly. “What would you like for dessert? We've got apple pie, vanilla ice cream, butter pecan ice cream, and Cool Whip. Mix and Match.”
As she approached the kitchen, Rowena heard her sister say, “—kind of a wimp.”
“Now, Maralynne,” her mother said, “he's very nice really. And that thing with the sports—”
Rowena barged in before she could continue. “One extra-large slice with Cool Whip and both kinds of ice cream, for Brian . . .”
As she sliced pie, Rowena heard her sister whisper, “Anyway, you can't deny he's a Scorpio, which for Rowena—”
“What an ordeal,” Rowena said, as they walked back to Sammy's car.
He looked at her. “Are you okay?”
“I don't know.” She peered up at the tree that branched over them, watched the leaves turn, slip by each other as they passed. “It's just—the rest of my life, you know?”
“Sometimes,” Rowena said, “I feel I should do something mean to them.”
“Do something very mean,” suggested Sammy. “Live your life despite them.”
“I'm sorry you had to go through all that—my mother, and Brian—”
Sammy looked away. “He was a jerk,” he told her. “Like you said. But that's not our problem.”
“Would you feel better if I took you to meet my mother?”
Sammy laughed. “Save a little angst for when she starts bugging you about marriage,” he said, “if she isn't already. And then, of course, it'll be children, and then special anti-grey-hair shampoo and wrinkle creams—”
Rowena smiled in spite of herself. “Don't you ever take anything seriously?” she asked—and immediately wished she hadn't. She started to stammer an apology, but Sammy's expression, even under the streetlight, was thoughtful rather than hurt.
“Some things,” he said eventually. “Some things.”
She had to ask. “Like what?”
He stopped walking, just looked at her. Rowena waited. He reached out, brushed some hair back from her face, and kissed her.
They walked on. Rowena wondered what it was Sammy was taking seriously; love, or sex, or her.
She didn't ask him.
“So we're still on for tomorrow night?” They were on her doorstep; he was trying to say goodbye.
“Sure,” said Rowena.
“Good.” He kissed her again, a second time. When he stepped back it was with some effort.
“Good night, Rowena,” he said. He turned his head a moment, fighting a sudden odd smile. “Don't tell Brian I didn't break down your door and force myself on you.”
“Hell,” Rowena said, “I don't talk to him anyway.”
He laughed, took hold of her hands. “Good night,” he said. “See you tomorrow evening.”
“See you tomorrow,” she said. “Good night.”
And she watched him go, and waved when he turned around.
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