|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life.||Rowena Tries To Help Her Sister, Part 9|
Rowena pulled her chair closer to her phone. “Maralynne. Slow down. Okay?”
Her sister took a deep breath. “I've got a job,” she said.
“A job?” Rowena hadn't known she'd lost the old one.
“An acting job.” Maralynne was insulted.
“Of course,” said Rowena. “How silly of me. Congratulations; tell me about it.”
“It's at the county computer show. You've heard about it?”
“Well, I'm going to be in a—a skit. It's—well, it's not as good as a movie, but I've been having this kind of dry period and . . .”
“Well, it'll give you . . . a new kind of exposure.” Rowena settled back in her chair. “What kind of skit is it?”
“I get to be the secretary who saves the day,” Maralynne said. “It's a real departure for me—a real broadening of my talents.”
Rowena closed her eyes, briefly. “Congratulations,” she said again.
“So, are you coming?”
“To a computer show?”
“To see me!”
“Well, I . . .” Sucked in again. “When is it?”
“Do you have a piece of paper? I'll give you directions.”
“Just a minute.” Rowena got a notepad and a pen. She did not hurry.
“I think I see it,” Rowena said. She pointed out the sign: Abacus Industries, Inc.
“Lead on, then,” said Sammy. He touched her arm; a quick caress. “So do we applaud, or what?”
“Beats me. I guess we do whatever everyone else does.” Rowena stepped quickly around a man who was walking with his forehead practically touching the screen of a laptop computer. “To think,” she said, “that I once tried to talk her into taking a computer class but she didn't want to deal with nerds.”
Sammy laughed. “Look at it this way,” he said. “If she'd taken your advice then, she may not have been willing to take this job now.”
“And we wouldn't be spending our Saturday at a computer show.” Rowena smiled at him. “I hope she's having fun, but I'm afraid I'm not convinced this is her kind of place. Even if she does dress like the ‘salesladies’ we've seen here.” She stopped at the entrance to the Abacus booth. Sammy stopped with her.
“Okay?” he asked.
“Okay.” They went in.
The booth was one of the larger ones, complete with a little stage with office-furniture props, including a computer. There was no sign of Maralynne. Possible customers milled around; near Rowena a salesman was trying to convince one of them to take the plunge. “What if I don't have the RAM?” the man asked. Somebody behind her said something about a “CPU problem.” She looked at Sammy; he took her arm and led her away. Rowena now found herself looking at the little stage and at the computer there. “Hello!” said the monitor in bright changing colors. Next to the desk sat a file cabinet; Rowena wondered whether it was empty or perhaps filled with brochures. “Welcome to Abacus Industries,” the computer screen said. Rowena turned away before it had a chance to get technical.
“What's with the bimbo?” demanded a male voice. Rowena stiffened. She felt Sammy's hand in hers and looked around to see how the other people were reacting. No one seemed to pay any attention. Rowena realized there were no other women in the booth. She tightened her fingers around Sammy's. She felt very outnumbered.
“Okay, people, we've got a little demonstration for you!” The man who'd said “bimbo” stepped into the middle of the stage and looked over the crowd. When he saw Rowena he gave a start and looked a bit perturbed. Good, Rowena thought; make him squirm. “Let's go!” he yelled, in the general direction of outside.
He retreated and two other men walked up. Their names apparently were Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones, and they were in trouble; the Big Boss was coming to inspect the office and it was a disorganized mess. Payroll, supplies—everything was utter chaos.
“We'll both be downsized!” cried Mr. Jones. “What will we do?”
A short-skirted, low-necklined, high-heeled Maralynne entered the booth, amidst catcalls and applause and followed by a small troop of men from outside. Rowena wanted to hide, but her sister was unfazed; she gave a little wave to nobody in particular before stepping onto the stage. “I can get this office organized in a snap!” she said, holding a package aloft. “With Abacus 3.1416.” Hips swinging, she walked, amidst more catcalls, over to the computer.
“More software,” groaned Mr. Smith. “We don't have time to learn new software.”
“You have time to learn Abacus 3.1416,” Maralynne said. “It's as easy as pie!” Rowena winced. Her sister—bending well over—studied the computer. “Now,” she said. “Ummm . . .” Mr. Jones sidled over and surreptitiously punched a key. The computer's monitor changed to show columns of names and numbers.
“Abacus 3.1416 can do it all,” Maralynne said. “Payroll, planning, word processing—you can count on Abacus.”
Rowena winced again. “The Big Boss will be so pleased,” said Mr. Jones. He punched a few more keys. “Look at that! A spreadsheet!”
Somebody behind Rowena muttered something about Maralynne and sheets. Rowena squeezed Sammy's hand, tightened her empty hand into a fist. She was glad Sammy was there to protect her.
“Abacus does so much,” Maralynne went on, “I almost wonder what you'll need me for.”
“Don't be silly, Bubbles,” Mr. Smith said. “Go get us some coffee. Unless Abacus can do that too.”
All three of them laughed, and the skit was over. Maralynne stepped down to greet a few of her new fans and, eventually, Rowena and Sammy.
“How'd you like it?” she asked.
“I, um—I bet you sell a lot of—product,” Rowena managed.
“Very informative,” Sammy said. Maralynne beamed at him.
“A lot of people don't understand how challenging this sort of thing is,” she said. “You don't have, you know, an hour and a half or something to flesh out your character, like in a movie or something.” Maralynne had never been in a movie.
“Did they have to call you Bubbles, though?” Rowena couldn't help asking.
“That was just her name. You know, just something cute. Friendly.” Maralynne tossed her hair. “You have to get the interest and sympathy of the audience.” She seemed to be quoting from something or somebody. Rowena gave up.
“Sammy and I are going for a bite to eat,” she said. “Wanna come?”
“Sorry; I got lots more shows to do. Come by at 4:30 and we can go then.”
“Okay by me,” Rowena said. “Sammy?”
“Sure.” Sammy slipped his arm around Rowena's waist. “See you then,” he said.
“Okay. I'd better get back to work.” Maralynne leaned forward confidentially. “They can't get enough of me,” she said, looking a little slyly at Sammy. Before Rowena could decide what to do, Maralynne gave them a smile, a wink and a little wave and turned back to her audience. As Rowena and Sammy left they heard Maralynne explain, “It's, like, a real good, um . . .”
“Program,” the customer said.
“Want to see some more of the show?” Sammy asked.
“I don't know. I could use the walk, I guess.” Rowena sighed. “How can she do that?” she asked.
“She's a different person. It doesn't look the same way to her.” He gave Rowena a squeeze. “She just figures she's getting attention.”
“But . . .”
“It's what she wants.”
Rowena trudged along. “Do you think it's good for her?”
Sammy considered. “She needs something,” he said. “Everybody does. Even people who haven't been jilted by assholes.”
Rowena sighed again. Before she could speak, a man stepped in front of her, peering at her and weaving slightly.
“Hey,” he said. “How come you got so much clothes on?”
“Free will,” snapped Sammy. He led Rowena away.
“I think,” Rowena said, “I want to go someplace else now.”
He took her to a coffee shop. He helped her order. She was tempted to have lemonade, but lemonade reminded her of Maralynne.
“Come on,” Sammy said. “Relax.” He put his hand over hers. “They don't mean any harm and they're not actually bothering her.”
“I might feel better if she was bothered,” Rowena said. “Perverse, isn't it?”
“She's your little sister,” Sammy said. “You want to protect her.”
Rowena traced a design in the moisture on her water glass. “Do you think I—that I'm imposing my own—I mean, more than I really should?”
Sammy considered. “Probably,” he said. “But I don't think you should feel too guilty about that.”
“It's all so—”
“I know,” Sammy said. He slid over closer to her, up against her. “Listen. She's happy this way, more or less. And she's really not the kind to get too badly hurt.”
“I know . . .”
“And something nice might even come of all this. She might even be discovered. It happens.”
“She's really not the greatest actress.”
“True,” Sammy said. “But she's got her heart set on it. So maybe it's not such a bad thing that she's willing to—to compromise your standards.”
Rowena smiled. Sammy put his arm around her shoulders, and she leaned against him.
“Here ya go,” said the waitress, lowering Rowena's plate. Rowena smiled at her, too.
They went for a walk and a matinee, returning to the Abacus booth just before Maralynne's last show started. The crowd this time seemed a little less rude; possibly, Rowena thought, the various booths and events had worn them out. She watched her sister deliver her lines, start the Abacus program (she did it herself this time), and laugh (again) at the joke that ended her skit. A salesman took her place on the stage. “Any questions?” he asked of anybody who wasn't too busy watching Maralynne mingle. Rowena was watching Maralynne too; her sister glanced at her but went on trying to sell her product. Rowena waited.
“Didn't I see you here this morning?” she heard Sammy ask. He was addressing a tall pale man who stood gazing after Maralynne and who held, Rowena noted, less computer-show merchandise and printed matter than most of his fellow attendees.
He sighed. “Isn't she something?” he asked.
Sammy regarded him. “She's something, all right. Have you been here all day?”
“All day? What time is it?” He was wearing a watch, but seemed loath to take his eyes from Maralynne. When Sammy told him the time, he did not respond.
Sammy stuck his hands into his pockets. “Have you, um, spoken to her?” he asked.
“Me? Oh, no.”
“You know,” said Sammy, “you seem like a pretty nice guy. I'll bet—”
“She's a goddess.”
Rowena looked away so she wouldn't laugh. “Maybe she seems like a goddess, but she's really a very human—”
“A goddess,” the man repeated.
“I'll tell you a secret,” Sammy said, in a lowered voice. “She's my girlfriend's sister. And I know she's not attached.”
The man turned and stared at Sammy, then at Rowena, who smiled in what she hoped was an ordinary friendly manner. He looked back at Sammy. “Your girlfriend's sister?”
“And she's unattached.” Sammy put out his hand. “Sammy,” he said.
“Uh . . . Chester.” After a certain amount of fumbling, he managed to get a hand free. Sammy glanced briefly across the room. “You, ah, wouldn't happen to be a Scorpio, would you?”
“Uh, no; Virgo. I think. August 27?”
“No idea,” said Sammy. “But Maralynne would know.”
“I would know what?” asked Maralynne. Chester started visibly, but Sammy ignored this.
“Chester here wants to know more about Astrology. His birthday's August 27th.”
“Virgo.” Maralynne looked at Chester with dawning appreciation. “He's an idealist. He can be kind of picky, but very artistic. He can, like, really take care of details and stuff, like a CEO or something.”
“Really? That's fascinating. Isn't it, Chester?”
Chester nodded without speaking. “Sounds like a good sign,” Rowena said.
“Oh, it can be wonderful,” Maralynne said. Rowena looked at Sammy; he met her gaze a moment.
“You free for an early dinner, Chester?” Sammy asked. “We were going to take Maralynne out to celebrate.”
“I . . . uh . . .”
“You're not imposing at all. Is he, Rowena?”
“Not at all,” Rowena said. “And I bet there's lots more Maralynne could tell you about your sign.”
“Oh, lots more.” Maralynne looked from Chester to Rowena. “It is so nice to see you finally taking an interest,” she said.
Sammy came to Rowena's rescue. “So. Shall we go?”
Well fed, Rowena and Sammy strolled out of the restaurant and into the parking lot. “You're shameless,” Rowena said. She snuggled up against him. Sammy gave her a squeeze and a kiss.
“Just doing my duty,” he said.
They reached his car, and Sammy opened her door for her. She paused a moment to look back at the restaurant. Maralynne and Chester still lingered inside. “Think she's going to let him say anything?”
“Eventually, I suppose.” Sammy glanced at the restaurant too, but as the building had no windows Maralynne and Chester could not possibly be seen. Rowena slipped into her seat and Sammy closed her door.
“I hope it works out,” she said, as Sammy got in. “At least for a while. Isn't it silly? I mean—we hardly know this guy either. He seemed nice enough at dinner, but we hardly know him.”
“At least he doesn't have ‘scumbag’ written all over him,” Sammy told her. “That's a start.” He put his key into the ignition.
Rowena looked out her window. “I hope it works out,” she said again. Sammy picked up her hand and kissed it; when he let go she stroked his thigh for a while. She left her hand there afterwards as he drove.
“Wouldn't it be nice?” she asked.
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