|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life.||Rowena Gets A Boyfriend, Part 9|
Rowena and Terese sat on the floor in Rowena's apartment, playing with Rowena's new puppy. “I feel pretty stupid, just calling him ‘Puppy,’” said Terese.
“I know,” Rowena said, “but I can't think of anything that fits.”
“You'd better,” Terese replied, “before he starts answering to ‘Puppy.’”
“I vary it a little,” said Rowena. “Sometimes I call him ‘Hey, You.’”
The puppy pounced at Terese, wagging his tail furiously. Terese laughed. “Pup! Gotcha, Pup!” She tussled with him a bit, looked over at Rowena. “You say you got him from Sammy?”
“Sort of. Well.” Terese rolled the puppy's ball over to Rowena; he followed with his bounding run. “I had my doubts about him—”
“To put it mildly,” said Rowena.
“Yeah, well, but this is okay. Sympathy, and a nice little dog. He can be all right.”
“Told you so.”
“So when do I get to meet him?”
Rowena had been scratching the puppy's tummy; she looked up at Terese but wasn't aware she had stopped moving until the puppy began to wriggle impatiently. “Welllll . . .” she said.
“Come on. You're not afraid I'm going to steal him, are you?”
“No, but . . . I mean, after all the . . . all the things you've been saying about him all this time . . .”
“Don't be silly,” said Terese. “What could possibly happen?”
“No sweat,” said Sammy.
“But she's been absolutely—she's never quite forgiven you for taking me kite-flying for our first date, or—or for that little scene in the coffeeshop, either.”
“Delicate sensibilities,” Sammy offered. “Don't worry. I'll behave.”
“Hey.” He leaned over and kissed her temple. “Trust me.”
They decided to meet for lunch on a weekday. Rowena arranged her lunch hour to coincide with Sammy's—much to the disgust of the ever-vigilant Eloise—and Terese, who didn't work that day, agreed to pick her up and take her to a restaurant midway between her office and Sammy's.
Rowena started the day worrying that Terese would be late. When Terese showed up a couple minutes early, fidgeting slightly under Eloise's icy frown, Rowena went back to worrying about the meeting itself. She got her things together and they left the building.
“Whew!” said Terese the moment the door closed behind them. “How can you work with that creature?”
“Eloise? She has her own office. She just kind of comes and goes.”
“But really . . .”
They got into Terese's car. Terese kept up a steady stream of conversation, and Rowena did her best to respond. She wasn't sure why she was so nervous; it wasn't as if Terese could make her stop seeing Sammy, or anything like that.
Sammy was already waiting for them. He gave Rowena a kiss and shook Terese's hand. They filed into the restaurant and got a table. Rowena found herself telling Sammy about Terese's reaction to Eloise, which was basically everybody's reaction to Eloise.
“What I wouldn't give,” Terese said, “for some itching powder.”
“An office guerrilla?” Sammy inquired.
“I wonder if that hair of hers is a wig. Any idea, Rowena?”
“None whatever. I've never gotten that close.”
“Pity. Understandable, but a pity. Now, if you could put the itching powder under her wig . . .”
Rowena ordered a seafood salad, Sammy a club sandwich, and Terese a tossed green salad with bleu cheese dressing—and coffee.
“I knew it,” Rowena said when the waitress had gone. “You and your coffee.”
“The nectar of the gods,” Terese insisted.
“With a salad? With bleu cheese dressing?”
“Coffee goes with everything. Basic black.”
“Only you put sugar in yours.”
“But I don't use cream.”
Rowena wondered suddenly whether she was just bantering with Terese as usual or whether she was trying to keep her friend distracted. She fiddled with her fork.
“So,” Terese said. “Tell me about yourself.”
Rowena's fork clattered against her spoon. Next to her, Sammy smiled.
“Why? Hasn't Rowena been doing that for me?”
“She's been trying,” said Terese, “but you know what she's like.”
Rowena was saved by the arrival of the food. For a little while even Terese allowed herself to be distracted. Rowena looked at her watch. Plenty of time.
“So, Sammy,” Terese began, “what do you think of Rowena's parents?”
“A simple question, on which everyone who meets them has an opinion.”
“It's okay,” said Sammy. “Actually,” he continued, turning to Terese, “as long as they like me well enough, I really have no problem with them.”
“Rowena said her dad didn't like you.”
“I didn't say that. I said they had nothing to talk about.”
“Same difference. And then Rowena's mom—”
“My mom would tell me to go out with Jack the Ripper's kid brother, if he was the only guy who asked.”
“Nonsense,” said Sammy. “She checked me out pretty thoroughly, in a superficial kind of way. Her problem is she's too easy to manage.”
“I could never manage her,” Rowena said.
“You take her too seriously. Believe me, if she were somebody else's mother you'd have no trouble with her.”
“If she were somebody else's mother I would have no trouble with her because she wouldn't give me any trouble.”
Terese looked at them over her coffee cup. “So you're going to solve all Rowena's problems for her?”
“That would be nice,” replied Sammy. “And maybe she can help me deal with my dad's suicide.”
His face was calm, but set and deliberate. Rowena looked from him to Terese, who, after staring at Sammy a moment, looked quickly down at her food.
“I—I'm sorry to hear about that,” she said.
Terese peered a moment into her coffee. “I have an aunt who used to threaten to do that when she was young. I always used to wonder about her.”
“You mean, whether she meant it?”
“Whether she meant it, and why. I was too little at the time to hear much, and nobody talks about it now, so . . . so don't ask me for any details.”
“I was going to let Rowena do that anyway,” Sammy said. “I know my place.”
Rowena shrugged. “I wasn't going to say anything,” she said. “I have nothing to contribute.”
“Nonsense,” said Terese warmly. She pushed back her chair. “But you'll have to save it a few minutes.” And she headed for the Ladies' Room.
“Whew,” said Rowena, watching her. She turned back to Sammy. “How did you do that?”
This time Sammy shrugged. “She's just flippant. I figured something serious would bring her down to earth for a while, and maybe convince her I'm not such a nut after all.”
“I don't see how you had the nerve.”
He shrugged again. “She's a friend of yours. How bad could she be?” He slipped his arm around her and gave her a squeeze. “Should be less work managing her than your mother, if that makes you feel any better.”
Rowena looked down. “Do I need managing?”
He brushed her hair back, settled his hand briefly on the back of her neck and took it off again. “If you did,” he said, “I wouldn't go to all this trouble for you.” He brushed her cheek, gently. “Don't you see that? I'm putting up with all this so I can escape it. With you.”
Terese returned, commenting on the time. They finished their meal, Terese asking Sammy about this and that—polite questions, agreeable questions; amusing questions, some of them, but respectful. And when they were ready to leave she paid her portion of the bill by slapping more than enough money on the table and walking to the door.
“I think this is a compliment,” Rowena said.
“Would you like to pay yours?” Sammy asked her. Sometimes she paid and sometimes she didn't.
“Why not?” She reached into her purse.
Sammy gathered the money up, tossed some of it back onto the table for a tip. He paid the bill at the register and held the door for her. Terese stood with her back patiently turned. Sammy grinned.
“Can't disappoint her,” he whispered, and kissed Rowena in a way Rowena had never been kissed on her lunch hour before. He shook hands with Terese and headed back to his car.
In her own car Terese kept punctuating her conversation with repetitions of “He seems like such a nice guy.” Rowena wondered what she'd been so nervous about, because after all he was.
The rest of her day passed painlessly. Rowena had not known just how nervous she'd been. She walked up to her apartment thinking, “That's all taken care of. There's nothing to worry about.”
She opened the door. A small fuzzy bundle of pure joy danced up to her, wagging its tail madly, looking up at her with love. Rowena closed the door, knelt down. “Hi there!” she said. “Hello.” The puppy wriggled, put his front paws up in her lap.
“But what will I call you?” she asked. “What's your name? What's your name?”
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