|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life.||Rowena Tries To Help Her Sister, Part 10|
Rowena waved grandly at her laden table. “Help me eat all this,” she told Terese. “Or at least enough to clear a little space in my fridge; and then you can open your present.”
“I hope it's not more leftovers,” Terese said. “Remember, my mother does Christmas dinner too.”
“I've got leftovers from my mom and from Sammy's mom,” Rowena said. “And this evening is the Christmas party for my dad's side of the family.” It was Christmas afternoon.
“Oof,” said Terese. “I should have jogged over and worked up an appetite.”
“Sure,” Rowena said. “Jog over here and go home by taxi. A big taxi, with lots of room for, say, a box of leftovers.”
Terese reached for Sammy's mother's scalloped potatoes. “You ready to tell me yet about this year's office party?” she asked.
Rowena groaned. “I think I told you I drew Eloise for the gift exchange?”
“Yes, and that you were terrified Leslie Campbell, otherwise known as The Letch, had drawn you.” Terese grinned at her, and scooped some of Rowena's mother's mashed potatoes next to the scalloped ones on her plate.
“I wouldn't say terrified,” Rowena said. “I would say concerned.”
Terese wedged some of Rowena's Aunt Dottie's potato salad in between her helpings of Rosemary's turkey and Aunt Yvette's green beans. “Well?”
“Molly drew me. She gave me that plant over there, in the brass pot.”
Terese looked. “Nice,” she said. “So what'd you get Eloise?”
Rowena buttered one of Sammy's Aunt Frances' rolls. “I may have told you that she got a pen-and-pencil set last year, and another the year before, and how I wanted to get her something different but—what do you get someone like Eloise?”
“Well, I got her a box of candy,” Rowena said. “Which I figured—I just did not have any imagination this year, with the plumbing going out and the—well, I've already told you about all that.”
Terese patted her arm. “So you decided—sweets for the sour.”
“I figured, at least it wasn't a pen-and-pencil set,” Rowena said. “And I got there, and put the box with the rest of 'em, and Berna got me to tell her who I'd drawn and all that, and it turns out that Eloise's pen-and-pencil set is a great big old Rorschach & Schmed tradition.”
“I was sweating. I mean, this is Eloise.” Rowena fortified herself with some of Aunt Irene's homemade cranberry sauce.
“So . . .”
“So we're opening the gifts, and she opens hers, and there's this immense silence.” Rowena put down her fork. “And then—Terese, she practically started to cry.”
“She was so tired of pen-and-pencil sets. And it seems she loves chocolates.”
“I'm still in shock. I really am.”
Terese laughed. “So you got a brownie point or something.”
“Several, I think. I think some of my coworkers hate me now.”
Terese laughed again. “So it all came out well.”
“Sort of. I thought I'd escaped a gift from Leslie Campbell—you know what I mean, some attempt to buy me or guilt me into going out with him—but guess who's waiting by my car afterwards.”
“Oh, no.” Terese rolled her eyes. “So how many times did you remind him on this occasion that you have a boyfriend?”
“I dunno. Three, I guess. Maybe four. I don't think I convinced him of much, but I did manage to leave without the present, whatever it was.”
“You heartbreaker, you.”
“What heart? I don't think that's the organ at stake in this case.”
Terese shook her head. “But you survived all that,” she said. “So what next?”
“Next I took Sammy to meet my Aunt Glad,” Rowena said. She looked down at her plate. “She was having one of her vague days.”
“Oh, Rowena.” Terese touched her arm again, not patting this time. “I'm sorry.”
“Kind of took the—I was all set to tell her about Eloise and the chocolates, which—which was only the day before—and . . . She wasn't unhappy or anything, though, and Sammy—Sammy was—he understood and he wasn't . . . I'd warned him beforehand and anyway . . .”
“Sammy's okay,” Terese said. “And I know your aunt still loves you.”
“I know; I—thanks, Terese.”
“It's—it was nothing I hadn't seen before, you know.”
“Still,” Rowena agreed. She took another bite of mashed potatoes, then had another drink. Terese waited.
“Well, the next thing was Christmas Eve afternoon with Sammy's family. I was a little nervous about it, but his mom's okay and besides her there were only Sammy's grandparents, one aunt, one uncle, and two cousins—not like the mob at my mom's place every year. Not so crazy, either.”
“Not crazy? You mean to tell me you got involved somehow with a non-dysfunctional family?”
“Weird, isn't it? They're all nice; Rosemary gave me a beautiful sweater that I won't be at all ashamed to wear, the grandparents were great and I like the aunt and uncle and cousins—would you believe Sammy's cousin Jean has an Eloise at her job? We were trading work stories.”
“Almost as bad as the original. Only her name is ‘Poppy,’ of all things, and she's Jean's boss. Sammy had to practically drag me away so we wouldn't be late for Christmas Eve at my mom's.”
“Well, you wouldn't want to miss the Event of the Year.”
Rowena cut a piece of turkey. “That went about as expected. My mother was running around being herself and making a fuss; my grandma was treating me simultaneously as a four-year-old and as some kind of marriage-bait for Sammy, whom she was practically patting on the head. Aunt Yvette had a brand-new operation story which she told at great length when she wasn't trying to distract Uncle Bernie, who of course spent the evening leering at Sammy and me.”
“Speaking of leering at Sammy, how's your sister?”
Rowena groaned. “I had to go and ask her whether Chester was coming, not that I really thought he would—I mean, she hasn't even known him that long. Only Mom was standing right behind me at the time, and it seems she didn't know about Chester at all.”
“Not at all? How'd Maralynne manage that?”
“Not sure. But apparently she finds Chester embarrassing—too nerdy—and she's kind of trying to get rid of him and does not want my mother pestering her and teasing her and all that.”
“But now, thanks to you, she can do her motherly duty.”
“She can. Boy, can she. And Maralynne's furious with me.” Rowena went after her scalloped potatoes. “Believe me, I understand her not wanting Mom harassing her to death, but this business about Chester is frankly a little weird. Here she's been chasing after every male biped she encounters who happens to be bigger and presumably older than a pigeon, and finally here's one who's not a complete and utter jerk and who happens to be interested in her for once, and all of a sudden she's going to be particular.”
“He's not what she's used to,” Terese said. “She doesn't know what to make of him.”
“I've always kind of hoped she wasn't actually looking for jerks,” Rowena said, “that she ended up with them because she couldn't tell the difference, but that maybe one day she'd learn.”
“Always the optimist,” said Terese.
“I wish I knew whether I was really meddling,” said Rowena, “so I'd know whether I ought to quit.” Terese laughed. “Well, I don't know,” Rowena said. “Would I be allowing her to live her own life, or just leaving her to her fate?”
“Both, I expect. Rowena, there's only so much you can do for her.”
“Cheer up. I'm sure your devious little mind will come up with something.”
“Devious? Am I really?”
“In this context, I mean you can think.”
“Well,” said Rowena, “okay, then.”
Terese raised a forkful of turkey. “So how are the bratty little cousins?”
“Tiffany and Lindsey had the flu and Ryan had a broken finger—not an arm, just a finger. A rude finger.” Rowena scooped up some more cranberry sauce. “He's getting quite a lot of mileage out of it.” Terese giggled. “There might not have been an actual war, though, had Linda not told Grandma what it all meant.”
“What it meant!”
“Apparently Grandma knew about the gesture, more or less; she just didn't know it when she saw it. Rather, all she saw was poor innocent little Ryan showing everybody his big nasty boo-boo.”
Terese laughed. “How old is this kid?”
“Ryan or my grandma?” Rowena picked up her glass. “Not quite sure. Pre-pubescent, but not by all that much.”
Terese nodded. “And Ryan?”
Rowena rolled her eyes. “But it's over for this year,” Terese said.
“It's over. And afterwards Sammy and I came here for our own gift exchange, with no batty relatives at all.”
Terese pushed her plate away. “Well, that'll do it for me. So any time you're ready . . .”
“Okay.” Rowena stood and reached for a platter. “How's your Christmas so far?”
Terese gave her one of her most innocent smiles. “Do you have any pie?”
“So who goes first?” Rowena asked. In her lap was a gift-wrapped book for Terese.
“You,” Terese said. “Here.” Rowena took the package and unwrapped it. Under the paper she found a basket into which Terese had nestled a box of assorted teabags, a Mozart cassette, and a small box of rose-scented bubblebath.
“I thought maybe you could use some help relaxing,” Terese said. “Try using them all at once. I'd have thrown in a masseuse but they're too hard to wrap, and anyway you've already got Sammy.” Rowena looked at the basket and laughed. “Thank you,” she said.
“If it's not enough and Sammy's not available and you need somebody to talk to, you can call me,” Terese went on. “Any time you like.”
“Oh, Terese.” Rowena put the gifts aside and went to give her friend a hug. “Thank you.”
“I guess I should have given you all this stuff earlier, before all those parties,” Terese said. “But at least you still have one more joyous gathering to get through.”
Rowena laughed and handed Terese her present. “Merry Christmas, Terese,” she said.
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