|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life.||Rowena Tries To Help Her Sister, Part 6|
Rowena picked up her glass, then put it down. “I'm sick of letting her push me around. It's my life, and if I want to have you over, I can have you over.” She picked the glass up again and took a sip. “If you want to go through with this. I've made her promise to behave, but it's not the most pleasant place right now. We fight about the mess she's making, the amount of energy she is or isn't putting into finding a new place, which of us had the crummiest childhood . . .”
“Sounds like you've covered all the bases,” Sammy said.
“And, of course, men. Specifically, why she got a loser like Brian, why she lost a loser like Brian, and why I have you.”
“Your sister,” said Sammy, “is not my type.”
“I know that. But she thinks she's everyone's type.” Rowena went after some noodles. “I tried to tell her there's no such thing as a woman who's irresistible to everybody, or to nobody, but she wouldn't listen.” Rowena raised her fork, eyeing its burden. “I said, ‘after all, we don't all like the same men,’ and she just exploded.”
“My darling, rationality was never your sister's strong point. I applaud your efforts, but don't expect too much from her.”
Rowena closed her eyes. “She's quoting Madame Zelda at me. ‘It's not my fault I can't find a place. Madame Zelda says stay away from yellow buildings; Madame Zelda says avoid men with striped ties; Madame Zelda says wear something green so can I borrow your sweater?’”
“Maybe I should nip home and grab a striped tie.”
Rowena laughed. “I'm not sure one warning from Madame Zelda can overcome your irresistible Scorpio-ness,” she said. “You'd probably do better to bring a doctored birth certificate. Claim you're a nasty old Leo, like me.”
Sammy smiled. “As nasty as you?” he asked, stroking her cheek.
“According to Maralynne, that's pretty damn nasty.”
“Come on,” said Sammy. “You're far from nasty and your sister doesn't hate you.”
“It might be easier if she did,” Rowena said. “Then she'd be staying with somebody else, and maybe trying to steal her boyfriend instead of mine.”
Rowena cautiously opened the door to her apartment. Linus came bounding to her, tail wagging; she stepped in and scooped him up. “Hi there, pooch!” she said. She stepped farther in, careful to avoid a box of Maralynne's things, and looked around as Sammy entered and secured the door. No sign of her sister. “Maralynne?”
The bathroom door opened and Maralynne came sauntering out. “Hi,” she said. She was wearing a micro-miniskirt (as usual), pulled over what looked like a mostly-lace teddy.
“Maralynne,” said Rowena. “Remember that little chat we had?”
“I'm not bothering anybody,” Maralynne said. “I'll just watch my program, and you can do whatever.” She bent way over to turn the set on and fetch the remote control, then plopped onto the couch and put her feet on the coffee table with her knees up and not together.
“Really,” said Rowena. She set Linus down and—
“Maralynne!” she yelped. “Not Chow Hall! Not now!”
“Don't be silly,” Maralynne said. “Chow Hall is on in the afternoon. This is just a tape.”
“Do you have to watch it right now?” Rowena asked.
“It's either that,” said Maralynne darkly, “or Ethel Does Everybody.”
“Macaroni and Cheese is pretty challenging for Guy Food,” said Harry or Joe from Rowena's television, “because it involves pasta, and pasta can actually be ruined.”
“Why don't you watch Gone With the Wind again?”
“Seventeen times is enough,” said Maralynne. “Anyway, I've lived it.”
Rowena opened her mouth, then closed it again. “Now, the first step in making pasta,” said Joe or Harry, “is boiling the water. Okay? You may recall we boiled water in a previous program, when—”
“Okay, so first you put some water in the pot. Not too little and not too much—about like that. Then you put the pot on the stove, like this.”
“There, there.” He patted her shoulder.
“They say a watched pot never boils, so you might want to do something else at this point. Say, read the instructions on the box again.” Rowena peered around Sammy at the television screen, where she saw Harry or Joe frowning intently at a box of packaged macaroni and cheese.
“I don't believe this,” she told Sammy. “They're mixing it up out of a box!”
“It's Guy Food,” Sammy said. “What do you expect? At least it isn't canned beans.”
“That was weeks ago,” Maralynne told them. She turned the sound up.
“Okay, so now it's boiling. We dump in our pasta, being careful not to dump the cheese packet in as well. Try taking it out first.”
“They're going to dissolve my brain,” Rowena said.
“Let's go in the kitchen.” Sammy guided her around Maralynne and her stuff, and sat her down at the table. “Coffee?” he asked. “Tea?”
“Oh, thank you,” Rowena said. “Tea, please, if you don't mind.” She could still see the television from where she sat, but this didn't seem so important now. Sammy picked up her teakettle and took it to the sink.
“This is how I boil water,” he said.
Rowena laughed. From the other room one of the Chow Hall hosts was explaining that a colander was a sort of bowl with holes in it and that he hoped you had one because you needed it to drain your macaroni, which was what the noodle things were called, so if you didn't have a colander, you would have to use something else.
“Macaroni and cheese,” said Sammy. “That was kind of fun.” He and Rowena were still in the kitchen, where they could either look through the living room at the television, or away somewhere else.
“The Pickle Pointer is next,” Maralynne reported from the couch.
“Is she trying to make me leave?” Rowena asked, in an undertone.
“Could be,” Sammy said. “But at least she's quiet.”
“Pickled Pomegranates with Pansy Petals!”
Sammy stared around Rowena at the television screen. “My God,” he said.
“I told you.”
He looked very peculiar. “I'm not sure whether to watch it or not,” he said. “It's like a road accident.”
“I think I lucked out the first time,” Rowena said, “when it put me to sleep.”
“Oh, I disagree, Joe. Balsamic vinegar isn't just for sissies and wimps. It's just not a vinegar to dilute.”
“Do you really think we should—these are the guys who gave her that vinegarade idea, aren't they?”
“Where's your spirit of adventure?” Rowena asked. She sipped her tea. “I thought you were going to be brave about all this.”
“I just ate,” Sammy objected. “And I thought you were going to be chicken.”
“I think chicken would be too much of a challenge for them,” Rowena said. Sammy grinned at her, his eyes twinkling. He pushed back his chair.
“Come here,” he said, indicating his lap. Rowena got up and went to him.
“Or if they did try chicken,” she said, “they could make Pickled Pullet.”
Sammy laughed and pulled her down. “If I kiss you, will you stop making jokes?”
“Guess I'll have to.” She put her arms around him.
In the living room there was a crashing noise and Maralynne screamed. Rowena jumped up.
“My cup fell off the table,” Maralynne said. “Sorry.”
Rowena scooped up Linus, who was on his way to investigate, and found the cup in pieces on the floor. She was sure it would have survived the fall had it not somehow landed on its saucer. And perhaps from higher than the table.
She shut Linus in the bedroom. Sammy helped her clean up the spill while Joe and Harry told Maralynne how to make Deviled Ham Salad. Rowena dumped two wet and stained towels into the bathtub, and turned to see that Sammy had followed her.
“She did it on purpose,” Rowena whispered. Sammy nodded.
“What do I do with her? Does she even know she—”
“I suspect not,” Sammy said. He kissed her gently. “Go back before she breaks something else,” he said, and caught a handful of her hair. “It'll be okay.”
Rowena left the bathroom and freed Linus. The Chow Hall closing theme came into the hallway to meet her; as she joined her sister Harry (or was it Joe?) announced that next week's show would feature Peppered Popcorn and Pickled Prickly Pear. Rowena blinked.
“And for the main course, we're having dessert again—this time Pineapple Sideways Cake. So until next week, this is Joe—”
“Reminding you to cook up and chow down. Goodbye!”
“Pineapple Sideways Cake,” said Rowena. She wasn't sure Sammy would believe this.
“Why do you keep repeating everything?” Maralynne asked. “Where's Sammy?”
“Bathroom.” She had no idea whether Sammy had actually needed to go. She stood a while, watching her sister stare at a commercial.
“Maralynne,” she said at length.
Rowena sighed. “I'm not picking on you. All I—”
“You're always picking on me.”
The bathroom door opened. Rowena looked up to meet Sammy's gaze; he stood quite motionless in the hallway. “Maybe it's time for you to go,” she told him.
“You can't kick me out! I'm—”
“I was talking to Sammy.” Maralynne stared at her, then turned to stare at Sammy.
“I know what,” she said. “Why don't you let me do a reading for you?” She tried to get off the couch in such a way as to give Sammy a look down her top. As she'd had her back to him, this wasn't easy. Rowena shut her eyes.
“Maybe later,” Sammy said. He fetched his jacket.
“Oh, really,” Maralynne pouted. “Don't let her push you around. She's just being a Leo again.”
“I said I could only stay a little while,” Sammy said, before Rowena could comment.
“We could—we could play card games or something.” Maralynne gave what was meant to be a dazzling smile. “Rowena, go get the cards.”
“Sorry.” Sammy's smile was polite, but little more. “I've got things to do.”
“Oh, but really—”
“Really,” said Sammy. “Good night, Maralynne.”
Rowena went with him to his car. “Sorry,” she said.
“I won't apologize if you don't.” Sammy kissed her temple. Rowena turned and put her arms around him, burrowing up against him.
At least this was easy.
Rowena braced herself, opened the door, caught Linus, and reentered her apartment. Maralynne was looking surprisingly pleased. “He said my name,” she said.
Rowena stopped in her tracks. “For God's sake,” she said.
“Maralynne. Let me explain something to you. Sammy is not a saint and he is not a celebrity and he hasn't discovered a cure for cancer. Got that? He does happen to be your sister's boyfriend, but what that means is you should be leaving him alone because a) he's not available, and b) attempting to steal things from your sister is mean, even when you don't succeed.”
“Don't suc—” Maralynne stopped abruptly, then tried a different tack. “Who said anything about stealing?”
“Come on, Maralynne.” Rowena put Linus back on the floor.
“You're so insecure,” said Maralynne, adding, shrewdly, “If you really were meant for each other, you'd know it.”
Rowena wanted to say, “Like you knew about you and Brian?” but she bit her tongue. “I know that I love him,” she said instead. “And I know that you don't.”
“I'm just stating a fact. There is no value judgment involved.” Rowena went to a chair, dumped a pile of Maralynne's laundry out of it, and sat down. Linus came over for a sniff and she hoisted him onto her lap. “And I know that he loves me. And I can see where—”
“God,” said Maralynne. “Listen to you.”
“Yes,” Rowena said. “Listen to me.” She scratched Linus behind the ears. “The only special thing about Sammy as far as you're concerned is that your sister, who happens to be an entirely different person with entirely different priorities and an entirely different personality—”
“—from yours, is happy with him. And that's it. That's—”
“And he's a Scorpio.”
“Will you—” Rowena took a deep breath. “Listen. If you hadn't been told he's a Scorpio . . .”
“I'd have found out eventually.”
“But if no one told you, Maralynne? Or if he'd said he was a—a Libra or something—”
“That would have worked too.”
“You're missing the point. What about him—what that he's actually said or done—has really demonstrated—”
“You sound like a teacher,” Maralynne said.
“If I were a teacher, you'd be flunking right now.” Rowena ruffled Linus' fur. “What do you want a boyfriend for?” she asked. “What would be his purpose in your life?”
“Would he just prop up your ego and keep you from being alone with yourself? Is that all you want him for?” Maralynne just stared, open-mouthed. “Get a life, Maralynne. Get an identity. I'll help you if I can, but I have a life and I want to live it. Does that make any sense to you? Just because you're filling my living room with your junk, refusing to let my boyfriend visit, refusing to let me ask Terese to visit, giving me extra housework, using my stuff, bothering my neighbors, making me listen to your idiotic TV shows, keeping me up with your complaining until well past my bedtime, making me deal with your cooking mistakes, borrowing my clothes—”
“Only a couple of times. Your things are so frumpy.”
“—tying up my phone line, sassing Eloise when she called—”
“But she's such a—”
“—doesn't mean you can run my life.”
“You're a fine one to talk,” Maralynne said. “You leave me alone all day and then you come home and yell at me.”
“And you torture me with your relationship and then have a fit when I say hello.”
“I never objected to your saying hello.”
“He's not even—”
“If you tell me once more he's the wrong astrological sign for me I'll scream. How can you claim he or anyone else is perfect for you based on some irrelevant, stupid thing he has in common with a twelfth of the population—it's so dumb. And the way you pick and choose the things you—I mean, you reject a landlord because Madame Zelda told you some nonsense about striped ties and here comes Sammy in a striped tie and you're still—”
“Oh, that.” Maralynne waved her hand. “That was just for the beginning of the week.”
“This is ridiculous,” Rowena said. Her sister picked up the remote control, and Chow Hall's opening theme poured into the room. Rowena groaned.
“That's ridiculous too,” she said. Her sister did not comment. Rowena went into her bathroom and got an aspirin, then rejoined her sister in front of the TV.
“Got any snacks?” she inquired. Her sister fished around under a fashion magazine, some junk mail, and the current TV Guide and came up with a bowl of popcorn, which she handed to Rowena. Rowena examined the popcorn and gave it a sniff. Slightly stale, perhaps, but no pepper. She took a handful and set the bowl down between them.
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