|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life.||Rowena Tries To Help Her Sister, Part 7|
“My mom called the other day,” Rowena told Terese. “I told her about Maralynne staying with me and she said, ‘Oh, how nice!’”
“Your mother would,” said Terese. They were waiting for the waiter to bring lunch; usually at this point Rowena would be talking about her half-completed work day.
“I told her we weren't getting along very well and she told me that Maralynne was my very own only sister and I would have to learn to share.”
“What did you expect?” Terese asked.
“All I really wanted was for Maralynne to talk to her so I wouldn't have to,” Rowena said. “But when I tried to call Maralynne to the phone she shut herself up in the bathroom.”
“Was she afraid she'd get scolded?”
“That's possible, provided she hadn't heard a word of the conversation. She's in for it now, though, for Not Talking To Her Mother.”
“Hey. Your mom raised her.”
“So now she gets to drive me buggy? You should have heard the ingratitude lecture I had to listen to on her behalf.” Rowena picked up her glass and drank. “It's bad enough I buy the wrong kind of soap,” she said.
“Look. You don't have to put up with all this.”
“I actually tried to motivate her to leave by unplugging the TV,” Rowena said. “Would you believe she figured it out?”
Terese laughed. “There's motivation, and then there's motivation. Did you get in trouble?”
“She thinks Linus did it. I had to rescue him from an impending spanking.”
“Poor little guy.”
“I can't even have Sammy over because she goes berserk. He can't even walk in the door. The whole time he's there she tries to steal him from me, and after he's gone she wails and carries on . . .”
“Doesn't like to suffer alone, huh?” Terese patted her arm. “Listen, it could be worse. It could be Eloise.”
Rowena shuddered. “And here I was just thinking that my job never looked so good.”
“That's the spirit. Work hard and maybe you'll get a raise so you can move to a posh new place and get an unlisted phone number and not tell your family where you are.”
“God,” said Rowena. “You know, I'm tempted.”
Rowena became aware of a rapidly-approaching commotion and looked up to see her sister charging breathlessly towards her desk. “Rowena!” yelled Maralynne. “Rowena!”
Rowena put her pen down. “Maralynne, what—”
“Give me some money, quick!”
“I gotta pay the taxi driver. Quick!”
“Taxi driver?” Rowena was already reaching for her purse.
“I gotta go get my car from the shop! And he's insisting on money! And I lost my ATM card! So I told him he could take me here and get some money and then take me back to the garage! Hurry!”
Rowena extracted her wallet. “How much?”
“I forget. Just give me some money. Plenty.”
Rowena located a ten-dollar bill and several fives. “You should have thought of that before you left,” she said. “Or waited for me to take you after—”
“I need my car now,” Maralynne said. “And I thought he'd take—you know—other payment. Miserable old—”
“Maralynne, you're out of your mind.” Maralynne snatched the bills out of Rowena's hand and ran off. Rowena watched her go. “You're welcome!” she called. She put her wallet away.
“Your sister?” asked Marjorie.
“What's this about ‘other payment?’”
“You don't wanna know.”
“I know,” said Marjorie wisely. “But that doesn't work in real life. She's got to learn the difference between real life and make-believe.”
Rowena looked at her. “Marjorie—”
“Look at Abby Sue. Just last week—”
“Marjorie. I really don't want to hear about your soap operas just now. I'm—”
“Who was that?” asked Sara, approaching.
“Whew.” Sara shook her head, then called out, “Hey, Lorraine, you just missed it.”
“Missed what?” Lorraine, a stack of papers in her hand, made a detour to Rowena's desk.
“Rowena's sister was here.”
“Really?” asked Lorraine. “How nice to have a close-knit family.”
“It's not all it's cracked up to be,” Rowena said.
“Come on,” said Lorraine. “I'll bet you—”
“What's up?” Berna asked.
“You missed Rowena's sister.”
“Excuse me,” said Rowena. She got up and went to the Ladies' Room to hide. She had no intention of letting Berna rope her into a “my family is weirder than yours” argument. Even with fresh ammunition.
“Of all the days for you to work late,” Rowena told Sammy. She had so looked forward to seeing him.
“I know,” Sammy said. “But you'll be okay.”
Rowena looked at her watch; an hour and a half left to her own work day, and then she would go not to Sammy but home to her sister. “Well—in the sense of not being dead.”
“Feeble joke. Sorry.” Rowena toyed with the phone cord. “Regards to your boss,” she said.
Sammy laughed. “Told you you'd be okay,” he said. “Happy Friday, Sweetheart.”
“Happy Friday,” Rowena said. “Be productive.”
At least she'd been able to talk to him.
Alone on a Friday night, Rowena let herself into her apartment and greeted Linus at the door. Strewn around them were heaps of Maralynne's clothing and sad little used tissues, but Maralynne herself was nowhere in—
Rowena heard a giggle from behind her bedroom door. A suspicious-sounding giggle. She stiffened. Then—a male voice, coming from her bedroom. Rowena took a breath and went purposefully to the door. She tapped on it; rather gently, she thought. “Maralynne,” she said sweetly.
“Go away!” said Maralynne. “Go to a movie.”
“Maralynne, I'm tired. This—”
She heard the man say something; a question, but she couldn't quite catch it. “My sister,” Maralynne answered. “I told you; I'm letting her stay here until—”
“What?” yelled Rowena. She shoved the door open. Maralynne screamed. Rowena gave them time to scramble for cover before stepping in to glare at them. Her sister clutched Rowena's sheet to her chin, but Maralynne's date seemed unconcerned; he sat naked on Rowena's bed and gave her an insolent appraising look that infuriated her. “Get out,” she told him.
“Go to a motel. Go to his place, if you must. Do it in your car. Do it anywhere, but not in my bed!”
Maralynne shifted under Rowena's covers. “I had no idea you could be so petty.”
“In my bed! With me here! With me not here! Telling him this is your place and that that ungodly mess out there is mine!”
“What difference does it make whose—”
“Damn it, Maralynne, you don't go inviting strangers into other people's homes. It's an abuse of their hospitality.”
“Some hospitality. Anyway, he's not a stranger; he's a—”
“If you dare tell me his astrological sign I will call the manager and have him throw you both out,” Rowena said. “Now. You get out of here right now,” she told the stranger, “and you—you do whatever.” She turned and grabbed the doorknob. She heard a slight sound of bedsprings, of shifting weight, as she stalked out.
“Hey,” the stranger said. “You have a nice—”
Rowena slammed the door behind her, hard. This drowned out whatever the stranger had to say, but started a faint ringing sound—one of her possessions vibrating, or was the sound in her own ears? Either way, she needed a cup of tea. She went into her kitchen and got her teakettle, but her sink was so full of Maralynne's dirty dishes—Rowena's dishes—that there was no room to fill the kettle there. Rowena stared at the mess; burnt something, unrecognizable something else—Maralynne's breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Maralynne, Rowena had learned, liked using large pots. Rowena took the kettle into the bathroom. She looked pointedly elsewhere as the door to her bedroom opened and two pairs of feet and a muttering noise went by. The front door opened and closed. Rowena took her kettle to the stove and turned on the burner: Front Right. The door opened and one of the pairs of feet returned.
“I have never been so humiliated,” Maralynne said.
Rowena dropped an English Breakfast teabag into her cup. “What about that time in the cheesy bar?” she asked. “Or the—”
“He's never coming back. I know it.”
“I don't want him coming here,” Rowena said. “Anyway, what do you care? He's just a chunk of meat, isn't he?”
“I can't believe how cynical you are,” Maralynne said.
“You think I'm cynical?” The water came to a boil and Rowena poured some over her teabag. “Compared to some people I—”
“You are cynical. Madame Zelda says—”
“Oh, God.” Rowena went into her bedroom, Maralynne tagging after, and began yanking the covers from her bed. “To me, frankly, this constant blind search of yours for what Terese so aptly calls ‘Mr. Right Now’ instead of for someone with whom an actual, loving relationship can grow in a natural—”
“What are you doing?” Maralynne demanded.
“Stripping the bed so I can put on clean sheets.”
“If you're going to treat the place like a motel—”
“Maralynne, this is my bed. Not a park bench. Not a hangout for—”
“Don't lecture me.”
“I never could talk any sense into you,” Rowena said. “Nobody ever could. I should just figure we're lucky if you use a condom. If.” She headed back for the kitchen.
“Why do you treat me like this?” Maralynne demanded. “It's like I have germs or something.”
“Maralynne, I want to be able—”
“What you want is for me to be just like you!” Maralynne said. “Little Miss Prissy Perfect.”
“Maralynne, if you'll just—”
“You're always lecturing me!” Maralynne said. “You're always pushing me around! You never want me to have any fun! You're always spoiling everything for me and saying it's for my own good!” She was close to tears. “I never get any respect! Never!” She turned her back. “Never.” Her voice quavered.
Rowena stopped. “I'm sorry,” she said. “Maralynne . . . come on; sit down a minute. Would you like a cup of tea?” She opened her tea cupboard. “How about cinnamon?”
Maralynne sat down, sniffing. Rowena started the tea. The water on to boil, the teabag in its cup, she stood wondering what to say.
“Maralynne . . . I've been a little tactless, and . . . I shouldn't have barged in on you like that. I'm sorry I embarrassed you. I really . . . I don't want you to be lonely.” The water came to a boil and she lifted the kettle. Maralynne said nothing.
“And it must be pretty galling for you to get lectured all the time. But do you know why I keep on—” Maralynne rolled her eyes. “Sorry; I didn't mean that. I meant to say, unlike you I just don't keep looking at the bright side of everything. I'm certain that if—if I acted as if nothing could go wrong, all kinds of horrible things would happen to me. And I don't want horrible things to happen to you.” She set the tea down in front of Maralynne and pulled out another chair. Her own cup was still nice and hot. “I know you're old enough to decide how to live, but I still keep imagining all these awful things and . . . and it's upsetting.”
She lifted her tea with both hands, planted both her elbows, and drank. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Maralynne turning to stare at her. “Really?” Maralynne asked.
Rowena set down her second cup of tea. “And I know I've been kind of bugging you about finding a new apartment. That's partly because I kind of assumed you'd rather have your own place than . . . go on like this.” Rowena lifted her cup. “And maybe I've been mistaken. I mean, I thought that at a time like this you'd want to prove yourself, prove you can make it on your own, that you don't need Brian or . . .” She took a sip. “But maybe you'd rather have someone looking after you. I don't know. And it's wrong for me to assume I do.” She wondered how long she could stand living with her sister. “What do you want?”
She waited. “I don't need Brian,” Maralynne said.
“I know.” They drank their tea.
“Are . . . are you really sorry you threw that guy out?”
“I don't know,” said Rowena. “I shouldn't have been so rude. But if I'd ended up getting crabs or something . . .”
Maralynne looked at the table. “I, ummm . . . I guess I should have taken him someplace else,” she said. “I just . . . you think you're so perfect.”
She still sounded more aggrieved than belligerent. And she had apologized, sort of. “I'm sorry if I come off that way,” Rowena said. “I don't mean to.”
“You still want me to be like you. Everybody wants me to be like you.”
“No, they don't.”
“Mom does. I know it.”
Rowena laughed. “Mom? Mom doesn't even want me to be like me. Come on, now.” Maralynne looked at her and smiled weakly. Rowena touched her sister's wrist. “Can we try for a little mutual respect? Just—you know—give each other a little room?”
“Yeah,” said Maralynne, “we can try.”
Rowena leaned over and gave her a hug. “Thanks.”
“But you being a Leo . . .”
Rowena took a breath. “I'll try to control myself,” she said. “Remember, though, I have a life too. I mean, we both have lives.” Rowena played with her teabag string. “Even a Pisces likes to have her own way. Remember when you moved out of Mom and Dad's place? Remember how excited you were?”
Maralynne laughed. “Who wouldn't be?”
“You were finally going to live the way you wanted to.”
Maralynne looked at her.
“Will you help me find a place?” she asked. “And move?”
“Of course,” Rowena said. “Of course I'll help.”
The first landlord backed out when he found that the apartment would be for Maralynne only, without Rowena. “This is a nice quiet building,” he said.
The second place was out because the bathroom vanity was too small and would not hold all of Maralynne's makeup, perfumes, and assorted bottles; let alone her curling iron and her hot-oil treatment and—
The third place was out because it had a landlady. On this occasion Rowena didn't argue, though, because this particular landlady let them know that she knew what they were up to.
“I hate women landlords,” said Maralynne again.
“I hate crazy ones,” Rowena said. They stopped for lunch; then, at Rowena's insistence, trudged out to the fourth place.
There they went again on the little tour. The kitchen tile needed replacing, Rowena noted; there was nothing special about the rest of the place. The landlord showed them the laundry room. “All new machines,” he said. “And plenty of them. They're almost never all in use.”
“Wonderful,” Maralynne said. “I'll take it.” Rowena stared at her. She hadn't known Maralynne was so interested in laundry. She certainly hadn't shown much interest in Rowena's laundry room. And that kitchen tile . . . They went to the landlord's office and Maralynne signed the papers.
Then back to Rowena's for phone calls, a bottle of wine—and preparations.
“I heard from my sister,” Rowena told Terese. “She's all settled in.”
“Bet you're relieved.”
“I am, but Maralynne's disappointed. I told you it turned out she took the place because she saw a couple of Real Cute Guys in the laundry room?”
“Well, they moved out two days later. Right while Maralynne was moving in. And no one will tell her where they've gone.”
“Sounds like they lucked out.”
Rowena's doorbell rang. “Sammy's here,” she said. “I gotta go.”
“Okay; well, tell him hi for me.”
“Will do,” said Rowena. “'Bye, now.”
Rowena crossed the living room, her nice clean quiet Maralynne-less living room, opened the door, and let Sammy in.
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