|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life.||Rowena Moves Closer, Part 8|
Rowena woke early to her second full day at the inn. She was lying on her back, and Sammy's arm lay across her stomach. She turned to look at him, but his face was hidden in his pillow. She stretched, and he stirred and woke.
“Good morning.” He smiled at her and pulled her closer. They rolled towards each other, and Rowena burrowed her head against him. Nice, loafing naked with Sammy in the morning.
There was a knock at the door and Marcella called out, “Good morning!” in her invasive-innkeeper's voice.
“Good morning,” repled Rowena, bracing herself for another of Marcella's wake-up verses.
“I've got a special Monday poem for you,” Marcella said. She sounded less peppy this morning, though perhaps, Rowena reminded herself, this was more a matter of Rowena's being less sleepy. Marcella cleared her throat.
“It's a whole new week
So don't feel bleak
'Cause it's a brand-new day just for you!
So put on a smile
And maybe in a while
All of your dreams will come true.“
She sniffed dramatically before continuing her rounds. “Wonder what that was about—the sniffing,” Rowena remarked.
“Don't suppose she's suddenly developed some taste,” Sammy said.
Rowena stretched once more, slowly, arms and shoulders first, legs last. She yawned. “Speaking of taste, I hope she's feeding us properly this morning.”
Breakfast, they discovered, consisted of partially-risen popovers, overcooked scrambled eggs, and, mercifully, mounds of fresh fruit. Penny was nowhere to be seen; Rowena wondered whether she had already left for school. Marcella was flustered and kept apologizing for being behind schedule.
“But I had to do my popovers,” Marcella said. “Mondays are so dreary. I like to make 'em just a little special.”
“They're delicious,” Rowena said; and they were, compared to the eggs Benedict they'd had the morning before.
“It's just so hard—” Marcella paused for effect, standing motionless with a plate of cantaloupe in her hand “—when a child is sick.” She put the cantaloupe down in front of Jan, who took a slice without comment.
“Sick?” inquired Trish, as Rowena and Sammy exchanged glances.
“She's got a cold, poor thing. It's so terrible when one is young.”
“It's no picnic when you're old,” said Dave.
“It's when they're tiny babies that I really feel sorry for them,” his wife Lisa said. Lisa and Dave were not much younger than Rowena's parents, a fact which Rowena, watching them, had a hard time comprehending.
“And I don't know what this is going to do to our bridge game,” Marcella said. “I hope you're still available, Sammy.”
“Well, I . . .”
“Rowena could play solitaire,” she continued, then turned to Rowena with an inspired look. “Or, if Penny feels well enough, maybe the two of you could play Old Maid on her bed.”
“Decaf?” asked Clay. Marcella sighed deeply and left.
“Can't say I miss the brat,” muttered Dale.
“Dale—” but Trish said no more. Marcella bustled back with the decaf in one hand and a bowl of sliced kiwifruit in the other.
“So hard,” Marcella repeated, sitting down. She looked around the table. “Is anybody here going into town?” she asked. “There's just a few things I need from the store.”
Rowena and Sammy looked at each other. Before they could come up with any excuses, Trish said, “I'll go. What do you need?”
“Trish,” growled Dale. Trish put her head down, nervously, as Marcella happily rattled off her shopping list. Rowena couldn't think of anything to do; she knew, somehow, that even if she volunteered to go instead of Trish, Dale's mood would not change. Sammy, she could tell, was thinking the same thing. They expressed sympathy to the invalid's mother, finished their breakfast, and left.
“I bet she came here to save the relationship,” Rowena said.
“I expect.” They were taking another walk, off in a new direction this time. Rowena was beginning to feel that the inn and its surroundings—in fact the whole area—seemed just a bit small. But the leaves were green, a few flowers were blooming, the air was just slightly, pleasantly chill, and she felt almost guilty about her restlessness. Almost guilty. She felt guiltier about Trish.
“I don't think he's going to change,” Sammy continued. “And if that's the case, she's got some thinking to do. And I don't think you can help her. Especially as a stranger, I don't think you can help.”
Rowena sighed. “I suppose.” She walked a while in silence. “I feel I shouldn't even be too happy around her. Where she can see, I mean.”
“Sounds cruel,” Sammy said, “but it might even be good for her.”
Rowena sighed again. They walked on. A butterfly flittered across the path before them. It was, despite everything, a nice day.
And Penny for once was not pestering them, and Marcella was busy, and there was a little bird singing and, yes, it was a nice day.
“Do you remember,” Sammy said, “the time we went to the art museum and—”
“The little boy with the balloons?” Rowena asked, laughing. The thought almost made her forget, for a moment, the way Penny had been following them, tagging after them, chattering at them and involving them in her projects—or trying to—ever since they'd arrived. She gave Sammy a squeeze, thanking him for a more pleasant memory.
“‘I told you, Cliffie,’” she said, mimicking the child's flustered, ineffectual mother, “‘if you can't control your balloons, you'll have to leave them at home.’”
Back in their room she began, under Sammy's caresses, to forget what was left of her irritation. She was on top of him, easing herself up and down, when someone knocked on the door. “Rowena?” Penny asked. “Sammy?”
Rowena froze, nearly holding her breath. Sammy thrust gently upwards. Rowena stared over at the clock; Penny should still have been in school, should definitely have been in school, had she gone that day.
“Are you in there?” Penny went on. Rowena was very still, grateful that she hadn't started making any real noise. Sammy slid his hands gently up her thighs, over her hips, up to her waist.
“Sammy? Rowena?” A pause, and Rowena thought—she thought she heard departing feet. She leaned down onto Sammy's chest.
“I just can't believe it,” Rowena said. “She claims she's too sick to go to school, stays in bed just long enough, and then tells her mother she feels better—and her mother believes her—so she gets to wander around and pester us.”
“She did it all on purpose!”
“Our whole week! Dominated by—by that little—”
“Brat,” Sammy suggested.
“I know she's lonely, but—”
“You gonna hate her, or what?” Sammy leaned back and looked at the ceiling.
“I should have stopped, or hesitated, or something,” Rowena said, “when Marcella said the place was under new management . . .”
“Too late now.”
Rowena pulled her pillow onto her lap and smoothed the pillowcase. “How did this happen?” she asked.
“You just said how. Insufficient research.”
“If the kid annoys you, do something about it. Don't encourage her.”
“I'm not encouraging her. No more than you are.”
“She wants attention. You're giving it to her.”
“I feel sorry for her.”
“Then you're out of luck,” Sammy said. “Either stop contributing to the problem, or stop complaining.”
She stared at him. “Sammy—”
“I don't want to hear it. The more you complain, the worse it gets.” He transferred his gaze to something across the room. “It's bad enough I had to all but give up the Foster case to come here.”
For just an instant, Rowena couldn't speak. “I thought you wanted—”
“I didn't know things would get so complicated, at work or here, and I didn't know the place would turn out to be like this. You wanted to come here and I just didn't want to disappoint you.”
“But I thought—”
“It would have been good enough to just go and stay with you, or take turns staying at each other's places. But you wanted to spend all this money and come all the way out here to a place like this, and I just decided to go along with it.”
“But—but I thought—”
“What? What could you think—that the air here would turn Marcella into the perfect hostess? You spoke to her; you must have noticed something.”
“You should at least have put her off and talked to Molly again. See if she had another recommendation. See if anyone had a current recommendation.”
“Nobody else had any kind of recommendation. What did you want me to do, pick something out of the Yellow Pages?”
“They have books for this sort of thing. They have magazines and newspaper columns. You could have asked other people to ask people they know.” He glanced in her direction. “You basically did pick the place at random,” he said. “What good is a recommendation for an inn that's changed hands? What was the point? What were you thinking?”
Without moving the pillow from her lap, Rowena drew her knees up and put her head down on them. She didn't want to tell him what she'd been thinking; didn't want to talk about hope and anticipation and love.
“I hope,” said Sammy, “that you don't make a habit of this kind of thing.”
“I'm sorry,” Rowena managed to say. “Okay? I'm sorry I made a stupid honest mistake. Now will you stop being such a jerk about it?”
“I think I have a right to be annoyed, considering—”
“Considering what? What's your excuse for making this into such a big deal? What's your excuse for attacking me when I feel bad enough already?”
“It is a big deal when you're talking about all that money, and a week out of my life, and away from my job at an inopportune time, just to listen to you complaining as if the whole thing is entirely everyone else's fault.”
“I never said it—”
“Shut up!” Sammy snapped. “Don't complain about something that's your own fault and don't argue about it.”
Rowena crossed her arms. “Yes, Sir,” she said.
“Come off it.”
“Well, don't act so superior.”
“Look. Just don't give me any reason—”
“Okay! Okay! I'm sorry I'm a moron. Okay? And I'm sorry I forced you to come out here and made you submit to sullying yourself sleeping with such a reprehensible—”
“For God's sake!”
“I thought there was some sort of reason to celebrate our getting together. I even thought you might think so, too. So excuse my stupidity, incredible though it is.”
“What makes you think I don't want to celebrate—”
“You didn't even remember, did you? You didn't even know when it was.”
“Does it mean anything to you?” She took as deep a breath as she could. “This—this was supposed to be so nice. I wanted—”
“Molly said it was so wonderful here and I know now it's a mistake but you should have heard what she said and she was only here less than a year ago and I kind of had my—I kind of assumed I'd settled on it, you know how that is? and when she said—when Marcella said she wasn't Sarah I kind of got confused and I know I shouldn't have but I wanted so much; it was like escaping . . .” She drew another ragged breath and shifted her pillow so she'd have a dry spot. Sammy said nothing. “And we weren't supposed to fight.”
She tried to breathe as quietly as she could, waiting and trying to calm herself. Sammy's voice, when he spoke, was no longer raised. “People argue,” he said at last.
“We're not supposed to. Not here.”
“Why not here? What better place to get on each other's nerves?”
“I mean, not now. Not—not on our first vacation, and not on our anniversary.” She wiped her eyes and glanced over at him.
He wasn't looking at her. “Rowena . . .”
“Our anniversary, and maybe you don't like this place and maybe I'm not really crazy about it either but you don't have to be mean about it.”
“Sweetheart, I am not a saint.”
“And neither am I. And I made a mistake and I admit it and why can't we just make the best of it and enjoy what there is to be enjoyed and at least laugh about it a little or something?” She waited a moment, and then asked, a bit timidly, “Is the money really a problem? Because—”
“Don't worry about it.”
“I don't want you to—”
“Don't worry.” He put his hand, briefly, on the pillow she held. “It's just . . . annoyance.” He looked away from her again. “I'm . . . I don't mean to sound . . . It wasn't that I didn't want to come. I was hoping for . . . what you were hoping for, and then this, and all your complaining . . .”
“I would have been content to just stay with you at your place. Not because I'm bent on being disagreeable, but because I love you.” He brushed back a few strands of her hair. “I like trees and streams and all of that, but they're not what I came here for.” He paused; she said nothing. “I shouldn't have said what I did. I'm sorry. I . . . whatever I said just now, however it looked, you really mean a lot to me. And even if I can't remember the exact date, I remember the day very clearly.” She put her head down, let him touch her shoulder. She still felt shaky. She felt she had two separate kinds of tears welling up, coming out. Sammy said, “I remember it because it's important. I remember it because you're important. And it's because you're important that I got so upset about . . . what happened. What we're missing here. What I'm missing.”
Rowena took a deep breath, and found herself crying harder. She leaned up against him and he put his arms around her.
He was almost the Sammy she knew.
“Feel better?” he asked.
“Yeah.” Rowena put her hand on his knee, squeezed it. He patted her hand, then let his own rest on it. For a while, neither spoke.
“You remember,” Sammy said, “how we weren't going to buy each other presents because this place was supposed to be our present?”
“Yes . . .”
“Well, I got you a present anyway,” Sammy said. “Would you like it now?”
He squeezed her hand, gave her a hug and got up off the bed. “You just stay there,” he said, and went to his suitcase.
“I got you something, too.” He turned to look at her, and she felt suddenly self-conscious. She put her hands flat on her thighs and looked down at them. “Can I go get it?”
She got up. As he watched her she found the gift, a flat, rectangular gift-wrapped parcel too light to be a book, then stood and held it out to him.
“Are you cold?” he asked. He retrieved his bathrobe—the one she'd given him for his birthday—and helped her slip her arms into the sleeves.
“Thank you,” Rowena said. They went back to the bed to open the gifts, settling the blankets around their legs. Sammy offered her a little wrapped box almost but not quite as big as the card it sat on.
There was a knock at the door. “Rowena? Sammy?”
Rowena crumpled forward. Sammy, after a moment, put his hand on her back. Rowena didn't know whether to laugh or cry. She stayed very still until she heard Penny go away. And then she sat up and looked at Sammy.
“Go ahead,” he said, very quietly. “Open it.”
She started to speak, then stopped. She opened the card—a sweet card, a beautiful card, though Sammy's added “I love you” in particular made her want to cry again—and then the package.
“Oh, Sammy.” She lifted it, let it hang in the light, little golden linked hearts, each perfectly formed; delicate things but sure, sparkling in her fingers, in the air, looping halfway down her forearm and back up again. “Oh, Sammy.”
“Want me to help you put it on?”
She bit her lip, blinking. She wasn't done looking at it yet.
“So what do we do now?” Rowena asked. She was wearing the necklace, and Sammy had put the enlarged photo where they could both see it, see themselves happy inside the perfect frame Rowena had searched for everywhere. “Maybe threaten to tutor the kid to make up for her missed lessons until she hates us on sight?”
Sammy laughed. “We could threaten to teach her algebra.”
“Algebra? Already? Sammy, she's only—”
“That's the point.” Rowena laughed.
“‘Algebra, Penny,’” she said. “‘It's like math, only much, much worse.’” Sammy laughed and gave her a little squeeze.
“So we're gonna be okay?” he asked. She leaned her head against him.
“We're gonna be okay,” she said.
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