|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life.||Rowena Deals With Life, Part 7|
Rowena closed her eyes. “Mother,” she said into the phone, “I will not be home tomorrow afternoon. And I can't be at your house either. I have to go to work.”
“But that's your birthday.”
“I know it's my birthday. I have not forgotten when my birthday is, or my day off, either. I am telling you I have been ordered to come in and help finish—”
“Make somebody else do it.”
“There is nobody to ‘make’ do it. Everybody who can already is. Look, I'll see you—”
“Stay late tonight, then.”
“Mother, the guy who's supposed to prepare the stuff I'm supposed to work with is staying late tonight so that I can start in the morning. Until then, I have nothing to—”
“Is he cute?” her mother asked, and giggled. “Oops. Don't tell Sammy I said that. I wouldn't want to cause a problem or anything. I mean, if—”
“Mother, I will see you and Dad the day after my birthday. Right?”
“I'll come tomorrow after work.”
“Sammy is coming after work. To take me to a restaurant. Listen, all I want to do is to move our little get-together to—”
“Sammy? How nice. You know, you don't bring him over often enough.”
Rowena put her head down. Some coffee breaks were longer than others—sometimes much, much longer.
Nobody had much time for goofing around the next day, and Rowena worked virtually without interruption—at least, aside from the phone calls, the jammed copier, and the missing Page Five that turned up, finally, under somebody's desk. But just before noon she hurried her share of the project over to Eloise. Done! She was done! And now, perhaps, home early and . . .
“Mmmm-hmm; looks to be in order,” said Eloise, shuffling through the papers. “Okay, then; go back to your desk and we'll see.”
“See?” Rowena had really been hoping to leave.
“I have to give this to Steve and Janet, and they have to check with—we have a few more stages to go through and I don't want you going home when you might be needed.” Eloise gave Rowena one of her strange, rare smiles.
“Okay,” said Rowena. Maybe she couldn't go home yet, but she could get away from Eloise. “Let me know.”
“Why don't you start on the Bacon Report to while away the time?” Eloise suggested. “I was going to give it to somebody else, but since you're so efficient, I'm sure it won't add much to your workload.”
Happy Birthday, Rowena thought, trudging back to her desk with the folder under her arm.
“The Muggins Project has been completed on schedule and sent off!” said Eloise to everybody. There was scattered applause, and Rowena reached for her purse, glancing as she did so at the clock; four-thirty. Not as early as she'd hoped, but it could have been worse. And Sammy—
“We have just one other matter,” Eloise said, “and then you may go.” Rowena stuffed her purse back out of the way. What now?
Molly entered with a birthday cake, heading right for her. A party, a party for her—they were keeping her late (well—later) on her birthday so they could throw a party for her when she wasn't even supposed to be there. Rowena received her birthday wishes as gracefully as she could, trying all the while not to be seen looking at the clock. She admired the card they'd all signed—Leslie Campbell had put in his phone number and Eloise had written, stiffly, “Many more happy years with Rorschach & Schmed,” as if this were the anniversary of her employment and not of her birth. Same thing, perhaps, to Eloise.
“As if I have no other life,” Rowena told Berna.
“Life?” Berna asked.
“At least you get a party, such as it is. Cake, anyway.” Sara eyed the remainder judiciously.
“That and the Bacon Report.”
“You could take it home and work on it there,” suggested Leslie Campbell. “Then you'd be bringing home the Bacon. Ha ha ha!”
“Ham it up!”
“In your Birthday Suit!” he leered.
“Reminds me,” said Berna. “I got you something. Here.” She handed Rowena a little spice bottle. Rowena held it up. Mace. “I couldn't afford the dangerous kind,” Berna said. Rowena thrust the mace at Leslie, who backed quickly away.
“Thanks, Berna,” Rowena said. “I'll treasure it always.”
“Linus! Hi! Wishing me a happy birthday?” She scooped him up and Linus, delirious as always, swiped at her with his tongue. Rowena closed and locked the door behind her, and glanced at the clock. “Now, you ol' poochdog, let me go and take my shower, huh?” She had just half an hour before Sammy was due. She started the hot water running and was just reaching into the hall closet for a clean towel when her doorbell rang.
“Sammy?” she asked aloud. “Already?” She hadn't undressed yet, so she hurried to the door and—
“Happy Birthday, dear.” Her mother, smiling broadly, poked a wrapped box at her.
“Mom, I—I'm going to see you tomorrow, remember?”
“Of course,” said her mother. “I haven't forgotten.”
“If I had, I'd have brought your father, which I haven't; that is, if I could forget a thing like that, which of course I never would.”
“Um, Mom—” Her mother pushed past her and set the box down on the coffee table. “Just a little something,” she said.
“Mom, I'm just about to take a shower. Sammy will be over in—”
“Dear Sammy. Well, don't let me keep you; you go take your shower and I'll just sit here.”
“I couldn't ask—”
“I'll just play with my grandpuppy. Linus! Come here!”
“This really—I mean, I need to take a shower, and I need to get dressed, and—”
“What are you going to wear?”
“Could I see it?”
Rowena went to her bathroom and turned off the water. She went into her bedroom and grabbed a dress that wasn't quite as sexy as the one she'd planned to wear. She brought it out.
“Oh, dear,” her mother said. “Do you really think that's special enough?”
“Try something a little darker, maybe. And the skirt—you want a nice flare to the skirt. That dress there—”
“How about the one I bought you? You remember, the one with the sleeves?”
“With the sleeves. Of course.”
“Wear that.” The wardrobe question settled, her mother pointed at the box on the table. “Aren't you going to open it? Don't turn it over.”
Inside Rowena found a pink bakery box. And inside that—
“A wedding cake?”
“It was on sale at the bakery.”
“You bought me a wedding cake.”
“It just looked so nice,” her mother said. “It's only two layers, but you know, you don't eat a lot of—”
“Mother, this is my birthday. Not wedding. BIRTHDAY.”
“This can be, what do you call it, subliminal advertising? For Sammy. See, it's got little doves on top instead of a bride and groom, so you can say it's just a cake, but—”
“It's attempted blackmail, and it won't work. Anyway, I baked a cake last night.”
“I'm sure you—”
“Two cakes, Mother. This makes two cakes. Most of which, may I remind you, I will have to eat myself. Anyway, it's probably bad luck.” Rowena wondered how that statement would go over out of her sister's presence, but she needn't have worried. Her mother paled.
“Giving somebody a cake that was baked for a wedding that was called off. Why do you think it was on sale?”
“I'll—I'll just . . . I was only showing it to you. Yes! Showing it to you. I'll take it away now.” She picked up the cake and headed for the door. “I'm going away now,” she called out to the Powers That Be. “I'm taking my cake with me.” She opened the door. “Goodbye, Rowena,” she said in that same loud voice. “We'll see you tomorrow and have some birthday cake.”
Rowena pulled Linus back. “Goodbye!” she said. “Thank you.” And she closed and locked the door. She gave Linus a ruffle and dashed for the bathroom.
“A wedding cake?” Sammy laughed.
“A wedding cake. A small but actual wedding cake.”
Sammy shook his head. “You gotta give her credit for trying. I wonder how long before I find a ring in my mailbox.”
“Not so loud.” Rowena smiled at him, at the whole restaurant. It was so nice, being able to talk to him about these things without his feeling threatened.
“So then what?” Sammy asked.
She told him all about her mother's visit; the “grandpuppy” remark and the speedy exit. She told him about her mother's trying to choose her outfit for her.
“‘The one with the sleeves,’” he mused. “Do you know which one she's talking about?”
“Possibly. Not necessarily.”
He reached over and squeezed her hand. “You're always beautiful,” he said. “You don't really have to worry about impressing me.”
Rowena squeezed back. “Actually, I figure if my mom doesn't scare you off, no stupid dress can,” she said.
And she told him about her day at the office. It was so nice, relaxing with him.
“Wonderful cake,” said Sammy, putting his plate down. “I can't wait for my birthday.”
“Thank you,” Rowena said. They were in her apartment, sitting on her couch.
“Time for your present?” Sammy suggested. He passed it to her; a substantial size, but light. Rowena opened it and lifted out—a stuffed lemur.
“Oh, Sammy.” She found herself laughing. “Wherever did you get this?” The tag the creature sported identified her as Loretta Lemur.
“Do I have to give up all my secrets so soon?” Sammy asked. He ran his hand down Loretta's long striped tail. “I never thought about lemurs all that much until I met you,” he said. “Now they're everywhere, or should be.”
“Oh, Sammy,” said Rowena again. He moved closer, put a hand in her hair.
“Sometimes I kind of wish they hadn't been fighting,” he said.
“Don't you go talking about omens,” Rowena said, “Anyway, it wouldn't have made such a funny story. We'll just have to be extra nice to compensate; how's that for an omen?” She kissed him. “Anyway, as long as it worked . . .”
“It worked,” he said. “It definitely worked.” He drew her to him; Rowena found she was still clutching the stuffed lemur. “It worked,” Sammy whispered, “better than I had dared to hope.” He kissed her in such a way she almost didn't notice Linus' little jealousy dance. “Happy birthday, darling,” Sammy said. “I hope to share many more with you.”
She moved her hand slowly down to his buttocks. “I love you,” she said. Even though she wasn't, she felt almost as though she were saying it for the first time. And he moved in her arms as if to kiss her again, or to whisper—
It was so nice; so nice.
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