|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life.||Rowena Moves Closer, Part 7|
Rowena and Sammy stood kissing in their room, a very nice way, Rowena thought, to begin their anniversary getaway trip. But they were just getting really warmed up when they were interrupted by a knock at the door.
Rowena and Sammy looked at each other. Then Sammy, who was very slightly nearer the door, went to answer it.
“Hi,” he said. “Everything okay?” Rowena peered around him to see Penny, the innkeeper's young daughter.
“Hi,” Penny said. “Do you need any help?”
“No—no, we've got everything under control.”
“'Cause, 'cause my mom said I could help you with something.”
“Well, that's very nice of you both, but we're doing fine. Thank you.”
“'Cause, 'cause your suitcases.”
“There they are,” said Sammy, pointing. “All ready.”
Penny considered this. “You know where the bathroom is?”
“Right there?” said Sammy, turning to point. But he was looking at Rowena.
“Penny,” said Rowena, “you know what you can do for us?”
“You can go tell your mom that we're getting settled in here and we like it very much.” Rowena tried to make it sound important. “Tell her thank you very much.”
Penny stood and stared at her. “Here,” Sammy said, and offered her a lemon drop left over from the drive. “There's your tip. Now go and deliver the lady's message, okay?”
She looked at him, and at Rowena. And then she took the lemon drop. “Okay,” she said.
“Thank you,” said Rowena.
“Yes, thank you,” Sammy said. And the little girl nodded very seriously and they waved at her and then Sammy very gently closed the door.
They unpacked, “freshened up,” as Rowena's mother would have said, and went into town for lunch. A nice quiet lunch—very nice, despite their weariness—with the whole week before them. And they came back to find Penny waiting for them.
“Want to see my bug collection?” she asked. They looked at each other. “I got bugs I caught in the yard, and bugs in the woods, and bugs from where I used to live. I even got a bug I caught in the kitchen here.”
“Um,” said Rowena.
“What kind of bug is that?” asked Sammy politely.
“A big old bumblebee. I bet I could get more, but Mom won't let me look in the cupboards.”
“I'm sure she has her reasons.”
“Wanna see my bug collection?”
The problem with saying no, Rowena reflected, was that if they refused Penny this, she would only come up with something else. Maybe if they looked at the bugs they could escape afterwards; in any case, they'd save themselves an argument. On the other hand, if Penny had any cockroaches in her collection . . .
“You don't have anything gross in there, do you?” she asked.
“Gross?” asked Penny, surprised. “It's just bugs.” She took hold of Rowena's wrist and marched towards the inn. “Come on,” she said. “You, too,” she called back to Sammy.
It was an order.
After the bugs it was dolls, and after the dolls it was abandoned bird nests—or would have been, had Marcella not come to tell Penny to do her homework. Rowena and Sammy took advantage of the ensuing argument (“I hate math! Why do I have to do math?”) to make their escape. As they relaxed in two of Marcella's lawn chairs, they met a couple of fellow guests, Dale and Trish. “Kid won't leave you alone, will she?” asked Dale.
“She needs some kids of her own age to play with,” Trish said.
“This is no place for a kid,” Dale said. He shook his head. “There's just no way.”
“Well—” began Rowena diplomatically.
“Especially an annoying little brat like that one.”
“Dale—” Trish began, and broke off to look over at Rowena. “Sorry,” she said. “Excuse us.”
“You're always apologizing,” Dale said.
“That's what he says about me.” Rowena didn't tell them that Sammy didn't say it the same way. Trish gave her a brief, relieved smile, but her eyes looked upset.
“What room are you guys in?” Rowena asked, to change the subject.
“The Chopin Room—there on the far right.”
“Been here long?” Sammy asked.
And they talked of general things, but to Rowena Trish still looked unhappy.
When Rowena and Sammy returned from dinner they found Marcella waiting for them. “There you are,” Marcella said. “I've been looking all over for you.”
“What happened?” Rowena asked, fearing an emergency.
“Our nightly game,” Marcella said. “With you two, we have enough for a little bridge tournament. I can't tell you how I've been looking forward to this.”
Rowena and Sammy looked at each other. “I don't play bridge,” Rowena said.
“Neither do I,” said Sammy.
“Neither of you?” Marcella said.
“But you must. Or, one of you must.” They looked at each other.
“Um,” said Rowena. “I really don't—”
“Tell you what, then. You can play Old Maid with Penny, and you,” turning to Sammy, “can be my partner and I'll teach you to play bridge. Consider it one of my little ‘extras.’”
“That's very generous of you,” Sammy began.
“It'll be such fun!” Marcella said. “We play every night but it's been ages since we had enough players for one of my little tournaments. I've been just waiting for this.”
Rowena looked at Sammy. Sammy looked at her. Marcella all but pushed them into the kitchen, where the other guests were waiting. Rowena was installed at a little card table with Penny, and Sammy was waved into a place at the big table, which had been made smaller by the removal of the leaf. The woman to Sammy's left introduced herself as Lisa; her husband's name was Dave. “Don't worry,” Lisa said, “we hardly ever bite beginners.” A second card table had been set up for Trish and Dale and Jan and Clay, who sat waiting patiently. Rowena listened to Marcella explain that the winners of the first rubber played at each table would play each other in the second rubber, and the losers would play each other, and then everybody would be Ranked. Rowena knew nothing about bridge, but she got the impression she and Sammy would be there a long, long time.
“Now,” Penny said, shuffling the Old Maid cards, “these are my rules, okay?”
They were too tired that night for the sort of thorough lovemaking Rowena had envisioned, but, as she told Sammy, at least neither of them had to leave this time. Too tired for more than . . . but it was enough, it was enough; more nights ahead of them and it was enough. Her legs still weak from her own orgasm, she reached back to stroke his buttocks as he came, and afterwards he stayed inside her a moment before he kissed her shoulder and withdrew. He pulled the blankets up over her, let her lie warm and loved as he dealt with the condom, and on his return he kissed her good night and they settled down for a long, long snuggle, Sammy's arm around her, her hands clasping his in front and his erection, still lingering, behind her.
And she slept reasonably well, until morning and a knock at the door.
“Yes?” she managed to call.
“Good morning!” said Marcella, from the other side of the door. “Here's your morning poem.”
Rowena, alarmed, did her best to wake fully as Sammy stirred vaguely beside her. “Our what?”
“I always bring my guests a little Morning Poem to help start the day,” Marcella said. She cleared her throat.
“The wonder of Nature is a glorious thing.
There's all of the flowers that from the earth spring.
There's trees and there's rainbows and birdies that sing
And all of the joy that all of this brings.
“Isn't that nice? I write all my Morning Poems myself.”
“Now, rise and shine. It's almost time for breakfast.” And in a moment Rowena heard her knock on another door and repeat the poem.
“Are we gonna get this every morning?” asked Rowena in low tones.
“Sounds like it.” Sammy stretched. “How much time do we have?” he asked, slipping his hand into her hair. Rowena propped herself up and twisted to look at the clock. She still felt a little disturbed. From farther down the hall, she heard another knocking, and another repetition of the poem.
“Sit down” Marcella said. “Sammy, sit next to me, so I can tell you a little more about bridge. You're not going to make me lose again.” She gave him a wink, evidently meaning the comment to be taken as some sort of mock-threat, but she did not seem disposed to letting him off the hook—then or, Rowena suspected, ever. She sat down and Marcella bustled back and forth bringing breakfast, which consisted of burned toast, greasy bacon, and the worst eggs Benedict Rowena had ever had, with overcooked eggs and a sauce that looked only a little like Hollandaise and tasted like nothing at all. Afterwards Penny was called upon to help clear the table, and Rowena and Sammy took the opportunity to go for a walk.
“Can't say I care much for her lawn furniture,” Sammy remarked as they passed three pink plastic flamingos.
“Better than that pond,” Rowena said. They had peered at the pond the afternoon of their arrival, and had made a note not to look too closely at it again. Molly had told her about the pond: fish, water lilies, a waterfall. The fish and lilies had apparently died, the water was slimy and yellowish, and the waterfall had been replaced by a little stone boy who urinated a pathetic trickle continually into the muck. “I bet the flamingos smell better, too.”
“Think she's going to take the pond out,” asked Sammy, “and put in a topiary Mickey Mouse?”
“Sshh; don't give her any ideas.”
They left Marcella's “backyard” and entered the woods, still walking the little path. “Although,” Rowena said, “you have to admit—what's that?”
The thing she had spotted proved to be a little bench, the seat of which featured some kind of carving. Rowena brushed some fallen leaves away and read:
There's nothing I would rather do
Than sit here on this bench with you.
And if you like to sit with me
Think how happy we will be.
“It's another of her poems,” Rowena said. “You can actually come out here and sit on one of Marcella's poems.”
“No, thanks,” Sammy said. “Though it's probably preferable to reading one.”
“She put it on the seat,” Rowena marveled. “Not on the back; on the seat.”
“I guess she wanted to make an impression,” Sammy suggested. Rowena groaned and he laughed.
“Sorry,” he said. “I can't help it. This place does something to you.”
“It does something to you,” Rowena said. “Or, Marcella does.”
He put his arms around her. “I prefer what you do to me,” he said in her ear. They held each other for a while, then walked on, each with an arm still around the other's back. They passed a second bench without stopping to read what it said and progressed to the creek.
The path came to an end a few feet downstream of a little waterfall. It was a charming little waterfall—or had been, until somebody stuck a large bunch of assorted plastic flowers into the mud on either side of it.
Rowena stared. Sammy stared. They turned away from the waterfall and watched the creek flowing, listened to it. Rowena felt the plastic flowers were lurking behind her. Sammy gave her a squeeze and they turned to leave.
“Hi!” Penny said. “Want some polliwogs?”
They looked at each other. “No, thanks,” said Rowena.
“Good of you to offer,” Sammy added.
Penny held up a jar. “They're good polliwogs.”
“We don't have anywhere to put them,” Rowena said. “And then they'd turn into frogs and they'd need a pond to live in and we don't have one.”
Penny considered. “You could come back here,” she said.
“Maybe we will,” Sammy said, “but we'd better not get any polliwogs until we're sure.”
Penny stared back at him, then at Rowena. “How 'bout some tadpoles, then?”
“Sorry,” said Sammy, before Rowena could ask what the difference was. Penny looked at Rowena, who realized she didn't want to ask her question after all. Instead she watched as Sammy politely turned down a water snake, a newt, and a trio of earthworms.
“We don't have a garden,” he said of the worms. Penny stared at him.
“No. We live in apartments.”
She stared a bit longer, then went to a nearby bush and picked two flowers—two real flowers. “One for you and one for you.”
“Thank you,” said Rowena, taking hers.
“Now you have flowers,” Penny said. “I'll pick you flowers every day.”
“Um, is that okay with your mom? 'Cause we don't want to get you in trouble.”
Penny considered, her forehead wrinkled. “I'll give you flowers to take home,” she said.
They managed to escape Penny to go to dinner; Rowena's relief was somewhat marred by the discovery, when they stopped by their room, of Marcella hanging a new picture on the wall.
“Surprise!” Marcella said. The picture was a cheap print of a garish rendition of a bouquet of flowers that looked no more real than the ones she'd planted by her creek. The colors—largely orange and purple—clashed belligerently with the rest of the room. “I've been redecorating from the outside in,” Marcella continued, “because I don't want to disturb the guests. But I'll get to everything eventually.” She leaned back to study the effect, and nodded with satisfaction. “Perks everything up,” she said, “don't you think?”
“It . . . sure makes a difference.”
“Nothing like a little color,” Marcella said. “Have you been out to the creek yet?”
“Yes . . .”
“I took one look at that creek and thought, ‘Marcella, that place needs a little color.’ I tried to plant real flowers, but in that mud . . .” She shook her head. “So I put in artificial ones, and, you know, they look just as nice. Nicer, 'cause they're always blooming.
“You should see the wallpaper I have picked out for the Debussy room,” Marcella continued. She frowned. “I'm thinking of calling it the Elvis Room,” she said. “Update it a little.”
“Well, I, um . . . hope you won't change too much while we're here,” Rowena said. “I mean, we're already sort of used to it the way it is . . .”
“Well, I don't want to disturb you. I mean, you may be a lousy bridge player”—this, of course, to Sammy—“but you're still my guests.” She picked up her hammer. “Back to the Elvis Room,” she said, and left. Rowena took one more shuddering look at the monstrosity on the wall and went to her purse.
“I am definitely ready,” she told Sammy, “to go to dinner.”
They found themselves staying late at the restaurant. Rowena felt a little disappointed, exiled to a public place when what she most wanted was to get away, just to be very alone with Sammy.
The waiter came by to refill their water glasses and Sammy elicited from him the information that there was no good local place to dance. The waiter left, and Sammy smiled a bit ruefully at Rowena. “Just an idea,” he said.
They returned to Primrose Cottage Inn late enough to miss (they hoped) both Marcella's bridge games and Penny's bedtime by a good safe margin. Sure enough, Marcella gave them a disapproving sniff and a brief lecture as they came in, threatening dire consequences should they mess up another bridge night; and there was no sign of Penny—except a picture, in crayon, propped against their door. The picture showed Rowena and Sammy—with Penny between them—standing in front of the inn. They were holding hands. The picture was signed, “Your friend, Penny M.”
They let themselves in and set the picture on the dresser, propped up in case Penny came by later to check. Rowena looked again at the picture and shook her head.
“Whew,” she said.
Sammy studied her face, then moved his hand to the back of her neck. “Now,” he said, “about this privacy thing.”
Rowena laughed and slipped her hands into his back pockets. “Here's to Sunday night,” she said, “and a whole school week ahead of us.”
A whole school week, and a whole night, many nights, a night right now. He kissed her, his hands moving slowly over her. He undressed her slowly, too; they undressed each other slowly and they stood a while, naked, touching, eyes open eyes closed before going to the bed, Sammy smiling down at her as she lay there and then coming to her, turning this time so that he brought her mouth not his own mouth but his penis. She bent her head back, scooted up a bit, guided him gently to her mouth as she widened the angle of her legs, feeling his hands on her thighs, her bottom; taking him into her mouth and reaching her hand around to take—
Her entire body jerked and stiffened under the first light touch of his tongue.
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