|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life.||Rowena Moves Closer, Part 1|
Rowena stopped just a moment outside the lingerie store and looked at the window display. Big red hearts, of course, trimmed with white lace. Undergarments composed of smaller red hearts trimmed with white lace or white fake fur. White lace stockings on the mannequins. Rowena wasn't sure Sammy liked white stockings. She went in. She stood in the aisle and looked around.
The problem was she wasn't sure what she was looking for. Had she actually needed anything in particular—a nightgown, say—she'd have known what to do. Had there been a sign up somewhere labeled “Something Different,” she would probably have gone to investigate. But there wasn't, so she just started where she was.
“Can I help you?” asked the pleasant-looking 300-pound saleslady. “May I help you?” was what her nametag said. Her name was Luanna.
“No, thank you,” said Rowena. “I—I'm just looking.”
“Well, let me know if you need anything. Bras over there, stockings and garter belts there, nighties of course right here, panties over there, body stockings, merry widows, bustiers, camisoles, and teddies there, accessories there, girdles in the far corner . . .”
“Thank you,” said Rowena again. She didn't know anyone still wore girdles. She didn't even know they were still being made.
Long gowns, waltz gowns, peignoir sets, and baby dolls. Most of them looked pretty similar. Some were so plain Rowena couldn't see the point. She found a nice lacy one she already had; the price had gone up about fifteen dollars. This did not seem a good sign.
Sammy had seen her naked. He had seen her in black lace, white lace, and pink lace. She didn't like the way she looked in red. She found a long gown with unusually nice lace down the front, and on sale, too; much too large for her, but . . . She hunted around, found one in her size, lavender. Lavender. Well, it was such nice lace . . . Only then did she notice the underwiring. Underwiring on a nightgown. She stuffed it back onto the rack. Sammy didn't like underwires anyway; he compared them to steel girders and said they got in the way and that Rowena didn't need them anyhow. She moved on, but kept thinking about the nightgown. Who wanted to sleep in underwires?
Luanna came and accosted her again while Rowena examined a bodysuit. She thought they weren't supposed to do that, pester you while you looked at something. She said, “No, thank you,” again, and Luanna went through her entire spiel, pointing everything out all over again. She seemed to have no recollection of having spoken to Rowena already. Rowena decided she didn't look quite so pleasant after all. She also wondered, as Luanna strolled away, what sort of underwear she had on.
“No, thank you,” she told Luanna again as she held up a dress. Luanna recited for her and left as Rowena turned back to the dress and wondered what she'd been thinking about it. Ah, yes—the loose thread. Did she want to bother with fixing it? Only, Rowena decided, if she could find nothing better.
She completed a circuit of the store and made her tentative choices, then got Luanna to give her a little plastic hanger with a 3 on it (“Yes, thank you”) and allow her into the fitting rooms. In the little hallway there she found her path blocked by a girl—a young woman—well, really a girl—with expensive hair and Barbie proportions in a black lace teddy.
“It is just so hard to find clothes that fit,” the girl complained. Her voice was quite loud. “I'm spilling right over the top of this and I'll still have to take the waist in an inch and a half.”
“You're supposed to spill out of that,” Rowena said. She could see an open door just a yard or so down. “Excuse me.”
“Not like this,” the girl said. “Look, the underwiring comes way up here on me.”
“Maybe you'll just have to wear regular undies,” Rowena said. “Excuse me; I'm kind of in a hurry.” She pushed past the girl and into the empty fitting room, which was equipped, thank God, with a little deadbolt. It was a good thing she hadn't brought Maralynne along, she thought; that girl would have given Maralynne a complex for sure. She set her purse down on the little bench and looked at the garments she'd brought to try on. They hung limply over her arm; a limp black thing, a limp pink thing, and a limp green thing. Rowena hung them on the hook, looked at them there on the wall, upright but still limp. She wondered why she was even here. Sammy had seen her naked. He had seen her in black lace, white lace, pink lace—why would any of this stuff change anything? Especially when he was supposed to like her mostly for other reasons.
She started with the black dress. Slinky. It fit almost better than she'd hoped. Soft caressable fabric. Inviting. Not bad. The black dress would do. She turned, admired herself a bit longer. Yes. The black was a yes.
She dropped it to the floor, picked it up, slung it over the bench and reached for the pink negligee with lace and embroidered flowers. Out in the hall she could hear the Barbie Girl accosting another victim. “Will you look at this!” she said. “They make these for flat-chested little butterballs!” The woman she was talking to burst into tears. Rowena shut her eyes. She pushed the pink thing over her head, wishing she were someplace else. A cheap door slammed feebly shut and the sobbing continued, very near. Rowena wondered about reporting all this to Luanna and having the troublemaker kicked out. She would have to get dressed first. She looked at what she had on, which did not fit, which was much too full across the bust. “Well, you don't have to take it personally.” A door very near Rowena opened, and a pair of feet became visible under her little wall. “You're actually lucky. I bet you can wear anything.” Rowena wished the Barbie Girl would wear a sock in her mouth. Something black appeared around the Barbie Girl's feet; it looked as if it might have been the dress Rowena had just tried on. She sighed and removed her negligee. She'd liked the little embroidered flowers. She reached for the last garment, the green—actually teal—teddy.
The color was always a good one for her. Bright her hair, red, unashamed. Lace perfect. Perfect fit. Ah, miracle.
She really did look good. She thought it almost sophisticated, the way it wasn't black or red or white or pink but . . . dark and different and hers. Yes. This also she would have.
Waiting to pay, Rowena heard a minor commotion; a customer complaining to one of the salesladies about some mean woman in the dressing rooms.
“Oh, now, I'm sure—” the saleslady began. Rowena took a breath.
“She did it to me, too,” she said. She looked at the complainant, a nicely plump young woman with enormous dark eyes. “Presumably to everyone. She strikes these poses and waits.”
The dark-eyed woman sniffed. “Like a spider,” she said. She was still puffy and red from her cry. Rowena handed the clerk her credit card.
“I expect this is her Valentine's Day present to herself,” Rowena remarked. “Probably nobody else likes her very much.”
Somebody behind her let out a sort of whoop. The culprit's voice drifted back from the dressing rooms and somebody else yelled, “Leave me alone!” The dark-eyed woman was staring at Rowena; she put her hand over her mouth.
“Probably she doesn't like herself either.”
“Probably,” said Rowena. The voice behind her demanded, “What's to like?” and the saleslady started for the dressing rooms.
“I'm throwing her out,” she said, “before you two start feeling sorry for her.” Rowena took back her credit card and hoisted her bag of purchases. She was almost tempted to ask her compatriot to lunch. But of course one didn't do that in real life.
Rowena peeked at the Valentine's dinner, a full apron protecting her newly-donned black dress. Sammy was due shortly. She'd put her hair up and taken it down again; she didn't have time to change her mind once more, so down it would stay. She took a fork and gave a chicken breast a poke. She should have picked something that would take longer; she should have started it later. It was nearly done, and if Sammy was late for once—
But there he was at the door. Rowena threw off her apron and she and Linus tripped over each other in their dash across the room. When Sammy finally got his first glimpse of Rowena in her slinky black dress she was laughing and cradling the dog in one arm.
“Happy Valentine's Day.”
“Happy Valentine's Day.” He tried to kiss her but Linus lunged at him, tongue first, and there was almost an accident. The humans laughed. “Ya mutt,” Rowena said to Linus. “Oh, thank you,” to Sammy; she took the wine he offered and let him in. She deposited Linus on the floor and the wine on the table, and Sammy found a place to set the package he'd brought.
“Look at this,” Rowena said. “Dog hair.” She brushed at her dress in mock dismay.
“Let me help,” Sammy offered; and at first actually pretended to. Rowena kept her dress on, though, and managed to get the dinner served before it overcooked.
It was after dinner, after a brief romp with Linus, after the gifts, and after some talk that Rowena rose from Sammy's lap and then in front of him unfastened her dress and let it fall. She watched his eyes widen, saw the twinkle in them, the interest that was not simply due to some lace. “Come here,” he said, and it was in his voice too.
“There was this woman in the fitting rooms,” she said, stepping out of the soft heap on the floor. “She made a big stink about how much better-looking she was than everybody else.” She bent slowly, gracefully for the dress and deposited it on the coffee table out of Linus' reach.
Sammy gathered her up. “You must have made her feel terrible,” he said.
“I don't know,” Rowena said, “but you would have, if she'd known about you.” His hand slipped between her legs and she gasped.
“Forget her,” said Sammy, his teeth on her ear.
And Rowena did.
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