|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life.||Rowena Tries To Help Her Sister, Part 4|
Rowena sighed. “I just don't know,” she said.
“Electronics?” asked Terese. “Of some kind?”
“I don't think so.” Rowena shifted the phone to her other ear.
“Well, what did he give you for your birthday?”
“A stuffed lemur.” She listened to Terese saying nothing for a second or two.
“He gave you a stuffed lemur,” Terese said. “I think you're on your own here, kid.”
After she hung up, Rowena went back to her dishes, wondering all the time what she was going to give Sammy. Her mother called. Rowena really did not want her mother's advice, but of course she ended up having to explain why she would not be available that particular day, and . . .
“Oh, how nice!” her mother cried, overcome, as far as Rowena could tell, by Sammy's having been born on a real live birthday. “What are you going to give him?”
“I—I'm not quite sure.”
“I remember I once gave your father a box of handkerchiefs I'd doused with my scent, to remind him of me. Just in time, too; that very night he started sneezing, and he didn't stop for three days.”
“How romantic,” said Rowena.
“He said whenever he was sick he'd think of me,” her mother reminisced. Rowena wondered how her parents had managed to get married at all. “That's what you need, Rowena; a nice thoughtful romantic gesture.”
“Rowena, you don't seem to be taking this very seriously. If—”
“Mother, please. I think I should come up with something really personal, you know? Something only I could think of.”
There was a pause. “Well, if you think so,” said her mother, cautiously. “Just remember what I said.”
“Of course,” said Rowena. She wouldn't forget, no matter how irrelevant. At least, she wouldn't forget until she'd told a few people.
The Men's Department was all but empty, and there were no salesclerks in sight, which for Rowena was just as well; she was not at all sure Menswear was even the right place to look. She wasn't sure why she had come here, after striking out at a couple of men's clothing stores already, and she was not convinced that this was the right approach. But as the toy store hadn't worked either, and the bookstore had yielded up only one little paperback . . .
She went vaguely through the clothing. Shirts. Pants. Suits. Ties. Nothing right. There was a small table displaying G-strings and other such items; Rowena hesitated. All different colors, patterns, and sizes. But these weren't quite right either, especially since she wasn't even sure how Sammy felt about sexy underwear for men. Whether he would wear it.
Next, pajamas and bathrobes. Rowena stopped. Sammy had an old beat-up robe she would love to replace with something warmer—if she could be sure he wasn't sentimental about it. She reached out and stroked a sleeve. Plush. Nice. And on sale, too. She bit her lip. She'd never asked the history of his old robe—why he still wore it in such a bedraggled condition. Had an old girlfriend given it to him? If Rowena gave him a new one, would he think—
It was awfully nice. She would like to wrap such a thing around him. Rowena wavered. It wasn't as stunningly original as she'd hoped, but it was so nice, and it would keep him so warm and . . .
Eventually she bought it.
And she told the clerk she would wrap it herself.
As planned, Rowena arrived before anyone else. She gave Sammy the cake; he kissed her and ushered her in.
“Where do you want your present?”
“H'mmmm; hadn't thought of that. How 'bout over there?” Sammy waved at a corner of the living room. “I think we're going to need the coffee table for dinner.”
Rowena set the package down. “Who's coming?” She was supposed to help set up, but Sammy already had his dining table laden with potato chips, nuts, and raw vegetables for dipping.
“Steve and Barb, Mike of course, Ken, and a couple of people I don't think you've met.”
Rowena lifted her hair and let it go. “How's your mom?” she asked.
“I love it when you do that,” Sammy said, smiling. “Mom's fine. We had a very nice lunch. She says hello.”
“I hope you told her hello from me.”
“Of course.” Sammy stood a moment looking at her. “She really likes you,” he said.
“Good,” said Rowena. “I like her.”
“I knew you'd get along. I just knew it.”
“Expecting your girlfriend and your perfectly nice mother to like each other,” Rowena said. “Entirely unreasonable of you.”
“How's your mother?” Mike asked her. He always asked her that. They were awaiting delivery of dinner, which was a large selection (happily argued over) of Chinese food from one of Sammy's favorite restaurants.
“The same,” Rowena said. “Now she's a Gift Selection Consultant; she was telling me how great it was when she gave my dad some handkerchiefs soaked in enough of her cologne to make him sneeze for three days. Apparently if I do the same I too can have a couch-potato husband and two ungrateful daughters, just like her.”
Mike grinned. “So which package is yours?”
“The big one with the blue and purple paper.”
He shook his head. “That's a lot of hankies, lady.”
“So how's your mother?” Mike's mother did not speak much English, and his stories about her always included at least one barrage of rapid Spanish, not a word of which Rowena could understand, but she always laughed at the faces he made and at the translations that followed.
Barb leaned over. “Don't you believe a word of it,” she told Rowena. “I've never heard such nonsense in my life.” Before Rowena could think up a response, Mike turned and let loose a flood of Spanish in Barb's direction. Rowena still didn't know any of the words, but the general meaning seemed pretty clear.
“Got that?” she inquired.
“Close enough,” Barb said. She shook her head at Mike. “And they let you teach our children.”
“I don't teach swear words. That's for, let's see, the coach, the shop teacher, and the poor sap in charge of computer literacy. Anyway, all I said was that your refrigerator is full of panthers and—”
“Our refrigerator couldn't hold one panther. Shows what you know.”
“You mean,” Rowena asked Mike, “that junior scientists don't need swear words?”
“Not yet. I gotta get 'em past the planarians at least.”
“Planarians,” said somebody named Dean. “I wanted to take mine home.”
“What, for a pet?”
“Oh, yeah. First on my block.”
“At least it'd be easy to keep. No grooming, no walks, no getting hit by a car; and if it does have an accident, well, you got yourself two planarians.”
Rowena thought of her friend Terese, and how much Terese would have enjoyed herself here. She should have a party herself, she decided, and invite her friends and Sammy's. As many of them as her apartment could hold.
She began to feel self-conscious, watching Sammy open his presents. Most of Sammy's friends seemed to have brought him gifts that were funny or at least a bit whimsical. He had a T-shirt, a coffee mug, a Venus Flytrap . . . Rowena felt very out of place. She'd been telling herself that none of Sammy's friends would be shocked that she was giving him a bathrobe, but now she felt entirely inappropriate.
And then Steve handed him her package. Sammy looked up at Rowena and smiled.
“Let's save this one for later,” he said. “Hand me something else.” No explanation; no excuses. Steve just handed him the next package and nobody said anything.
He opened it after everyone else had gone. Rowena just sat a bit nervously, watching him. He lifted the robe by the shoulders and held it up.
“Beautiful,” he said. “Soft and warm and everything. Thank you.”
“Is it—I don't mean to criticize the one you've got . . .” He lowered the robe and smiled at her.
“My mother gave me that one, years ago. There was nothing all that special about the occasion or anything; I just never really felt like buying myself a new one—buying it for myself, you know?”
She nodded. “So you like it?”
“I love it.” He stroked a sleeve, just as Rowena had done in the store. “I'm afraid you've spent a lot of—”
“It was on sale. Anyway, you pay for my dinner half the time.” Sammy began gathering the robe up—and stopped, his hand on the pocket and the small weight inside. He reached in and pulled the book out, a collection of Loren Eiseley essays.
“I thought—the picnic and the walks and the Legal Eagles and everything . . .” The Legal Eagles were a family of falcons who'd nested on a window ledge near Sammy's office at the law firm. “I—I think I mentioned him to you. I like his writing. He was assigned in one of my classes and I like him. I thought you would, too.”
Sammy looked at her a moment, then opened the book at random. “I'm sure I will,” he said, eyes on the page. “Thank you again.” He put the book on top of the robe and set them both aside. He rose and came over to her.
“I wish I'd met you sooner,” Rowena said. He put his arms around her.
“We can try and make up for that,” Sammy told her. “And the future . . .” He kissed her, gently. “Let's just say I have hopes,” he said. “Is that unreasonable?”
“No,” said Rowena. “Not unreasonable at all.”
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