|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life.||Rowena Gets A Boyfriend, Part 6|
Rowena looked in the mirror again, then at the clock. Just about time . . . She looked back in the mirror, picked her brush back up, set it down again.
If she messed with her hair any longer it might get worse.
“I hate to even mention it to you,” Sammy had said, “but she heard that I'd met your mother, and I can hardly tell her—”
“You might even like her. I think she'll like you.”
Rowena looked down at her dress. She had chosen it hoping to look tasteful but informal, so that—
The doorbell rang.
“At least there's only one of her,” Sammy said.
“I'm really sorry about all that, Sammy.”
“It's okay,” Sammy said, “and this will be too. Look, I've told her about you. She knows we've just started going out together; she's not going to bug you or anything.”
“Then why does she want to meet me?” Rowena asked.
Sammy slowed to a halt for a Stop sign, then started up again. “Curiosity,” he said. “And jealousy. Because I met your mother, and she doesn't want to be left out.”
Rowena smoothed her skirt. “What have you told her about me?” She didn't look at him.
“Nice things,” Sammy said. “I told her you have a good sense of humor. I told her you're intelligent and gentle and just generally nice. I told her you're pretty.”
Rowena looked out the window. “Did you tell her I'm always complaining about my mother?”
Sammy laughed. “Don't worry. I haven't told her about any of that, or all that much about your mother, either.”
“Good,” Rowena said.
Sammy's mother peered out at them through the curtain before she opened the door. She was a tallish woman, and thin; her eyes were a faded-looking blue and her hair looked frail and almost colorless. “Good evening, Mother,” Sammy said. “This is Rowena.”
“Come in,” she replied, stepping back. “If you were planning to be so formal, Samuel, why didn't you wear a suit?”
Sammy laughed. “Hi, Mom,” he said, and gave her a peck on the cheek. “What's for dinner?”
She gave him an affectionate little push; for a moment she looked much younger. She extended a hand to Rowena. “I'm Rosemary,” she said.
“Hello,” Rowena said. “Nice to meet you.” Rosemary's hand was thin and dry. As she shook it, Sammy disappeared somewhere, and they were left alone.
The house was perfectly silent.
“Well,” Rowena said, looking nervously around. No sign of Sammy at all. Rosemary's house gave the impression of being dark and dusty, though when Rowena looked more closely she could see that everything was actually very tidy.
“That's not quite fair of him, is it?” Rosemary asked. “Would you like something to drink?”
She took Rowena to the kitchen, let her select a soda. From another room finally came a break in the silence: Vivaldi. So that was what Sammy had been doing. The music sounded strange; muted by the wall, by the solemn air of Rosemary's house.
Rowena went to the stove. “It smells good,” she said.
“I took the liberty of asking Sammy what you like,” Rosemary told her.
“Now, now, Mom,” Sammy said, approaching them. “You're supposed to make her think it's all magic.”
“What if I thought it was ESP and got paranoid instead of impressed?”
“Impossible. Nobody gets paranoid on Mom's cooking.” Sammy reached for a lid, but his mother shooed him away.
“Why don't you take Rowena into the living room or show her the garden or something?” she asked. “I've got a few things to take care of here.”
“I can help,” Rowena offered.
“Mom hates people hanging around her kitchen,” Sammy told her. “Come on.” They went into the living room. Sammy pulled open the drapes so Rowena got a view of the garden. “Would you like to stay here or go out there?”
“It's lovely. If—if I could see it before it gets too dark—”
“Come on, then.”
“But—I mean, shouldn't your mother—”
Sammy leaned closer. “I'll tell you a secret,” he said. “She couldn't tell you anything about it anyway. The landscapers and gardeners do it all. Actually, if I show it to you without her, she doesn't have to tell you that.”
“Well,” said Rowena, “let's go, then.”
“I think she likes you.”
“She doesn't even know me yet.” Rowena leaned down to an unfamiliar flower, one she had no one to ask about, and sniffed. She felt Sammy take her hand.
“Trust me,” he said.
They ambled over to a jacaranda; Rowena realized that many of Rosemary's plants bore flowers that had at least a little purple in them. She put her hand on the tree's trunk. “Do you have many other relatives?” she asked.
“Not many. They mostly live hundreds or thousands of miles away.” He looked up at the darkening sky. “We see Aunt Loris sometimes, my dad's sister; the rest of his family we don't have much to do with. If—if I ever do—which I'd like to if I can get the nerve—if I ever get in touch with the rest of them, I don't think I could tell Mom about it.”
“Oh, Sammy.” A mockingbird practiced, briefly, his night song. Rowena raised her hands, put them in her hair, took them out again before she messed it up too badly, there out of Rosemary's sight.
Sammy looked at her, looked abruptly away. “This is what I was afraid of,” he said. “Not you hating her, or her hating you. This.”
“What?” She spoke softly. There was something inside her that would stay there a while.
He said nothing for some time. A breeze ran past; leaves flittered. “Just a little everyday pathos. Wouldn't even make it onto a soap opera.” He shook his head. “And here I go, making it worse.”
“You're not making it worse.”
“I shouldn't be unloading all this on you. You're supposed to be here for a nice dinner—”
“What's so awful about understanding something?”
His expression changed. He reached out and touched her face. “You're so sweet,” he said. “Are—are you sure this—that I'm not making you unhappy?”
“You're not making me unhappy,” Rowena said. “And no one who saw your mother look at you could think you make her unhappy either.”
He moved his hand, took hold of a fistful of her hair, then suddenly threw both arms around her and held her tightly.
Vivaldi gave way to Bach. Rosemary seemed to enjoy her guests' appreciation of the food, which was in fact very good. But she was still quiet. Rowena and Sammy kept up most of the conversation; Sammy seemed to feel no strain at all.
And the music, like their voices a thing separate from the stillness.
“I saw a nature show the other night, about lemurs,” Sammy said. “I told you Rowena and I met at a lemur fight, didn't I, Mom?”
“Yes,” Rosemary said. “You told me about that.”
“I watch this whole show about lemurs,” Sammy said, “and I still don't know what they were fighting about. I got to see what a baby lemur looks like, though.”
“What does a baby lemur look like?” Rowena asked.
“About what you'd expect a baby lemur to look like. At least, they look the way I expected baby lemurs would look.”
They stood in the hallway, saying goodbye. Rosemary did not seem to want to let them go. The music was over and the house waited; just waited, cool and silent.
“I will drive carefully,” Sammy said. “Just as I always do.”
The sorts of worries, Rowena thought, that any mother would have. But with Rosemary, and all she had lost already . . .
“So nice to meet you,” Rosemary said. She didn't want to let go of Rowena either.
“Well?” Sammy asked.
“She's nice,” Rowena said. “It was a little nerve-racking, but . . .”
“I think she'd like me to bring you back,” he said. He glanced at her, then returned his gaze to the road. “She told me you were, quote, ‘a lovely girl.’”
“Did she really? I thought—I mean, I felt kind of dumb.”
“I'm afraid,” said Sammy, “that this time I side with my mother. Sorry.”
Rowena opened her mouth, then shut it again. It was no use. She shook her head and laughed.
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