|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life.||Rowena Moves Closer, Part 9|
Rowena put her hand on top of her head and bunched up her hair in it. “What am I going to say?” she asked.
Sammy, driving, was calm as usual. “It wasn't that bad,” he said.
“It wasn't good,” Rowena replied.
“No,” he said, “but I'm sure you can come up with something polite to say. Just be glad you're not a theater critic as well as Maralynne's sister.”
“At least then I could claim a conflict of interest,” Rowena said. “Maybe I could've even stayed home.” She put both hands flat on her lap, then reached them up again to mend the damage she'd done to her hair. “At least I won't have to say anything about her performance, since she didn't go on. Not that the actress she'd have replaced was any great prize.”
Sammy pulled up to a stoplight. “None of the actors were very good,” he said, “but I don't think that was the main problem.”
“Anybody,” Rowena said, “who'd try to do Othello over into a politically-correct contemporary play about a black Desdemona being victimized by the entire rest of an otherwise white cast—with the sole exception of the one white female character—”
“You were warned,” said Sammy. “Sort of.”
“I got an earful about how wonderful this Emilia, excuse me, Emily, was,” Rowena said, “at least when played by the sterling understudy, who ought of course to have been the official actress. I was not warned about the quality of the dialogue, and only warned by inference that somebody had decided to put together an ‘Othello’ production containing no appreciable amount of jealousy or envy of any kind, even from Iago. How can they claim it's Othello without jealousy or envy?”
“Nobody stopped them,” said Sammy. The light changed and he started forward. “Anyway, they did change the title to Mona.”
“And advertised it as Othello.”
Sammy grinned. “Name recognition. You know.”
Rowena stared out the windshield and watched the approach of the restaurant at which they were to meet Maralynne and Chester for a congratulatory dinner.
“I could say,” she mused, “that the actress she's an understudy for should have been sick.”
Sammy laughed. “There you go,” he said.
Maralynne had been surprisingly pleased at the theater, especially considering she hadn't gone onstage, and her good mood carried over to the restaurant. “Wasn't it great?” she asked.
“Very . . . unique,” Rowena replied.
“It's only the beginning,” Maralynne said. “Next she's going to write The HMO Officer of Venice.”
“And she says I can be in it,” Maralynne continued. “And not as an understudy.”
“The HMO Officer of—”
“Venice. As in, California. See, there's this evil HMO officer who won't allow this man's kidney transplant. He says, ‘The contract says I have to fund your kidney but not the’—what's that word they use for blood?”
“Plasma,” said Chester.
“You are so smart,” Maralynne said. “‘We won't pay for the plasma or for the removal of your old kidney.’ So—”
“Maralynne,” Rowena said. “Does the person who writes these things—”
“Connie MacCormac; we get to call her Mac but you'd better say Connie. She's our producer/director/playwright. She is so brilliant.”
“Yes, well, does Connie MacCormac do any research?”
“Research?” asked Maralynne. “She's not a scientist; she's a writer.”
“Don't you think,” Maralynne asked, turning to Chester, “that Annette sounded just a little hoarse? I think she's getting a sore throat.”
“Could be,” Chester said.
“I bet she'll be out sick in a couple of days,” Maralynne said with satisfaction. “You'll have to come back, Rowena, so you can see me being Emily.”
“Well,” Rowena began.
“I'm so much better than she is,” Maralynne said. “Sexier, and I can Emote. Right, Chester?”
“The perfect Emily,” Chester said. Rowena didn't ask what sexiness had to do with Connie MacCormac's version of Emilia. She helped herself to a roll and bit off a piece before Maralynne could ask her opinion.
“And the funny thing was,” Chester said, “that IP number wasn't even in their C block.”
Maralynne roared with laughter. “Isn't he great?” she asked her sister.
“Um, I'm sorry,” Rowena said, “but I really didn't understand that very well.”
“Could you explain it, Dumplings?” Maralynne asked. “'Cause I don't get it either.”
“Sure, Chicken.” He launched into a lengthy explanation, but Rowena only managed to understand that he and Maralynne called each other Chicken and Dumplings. Where other people could hear. She looked over at Sammy, who smiled at her with his eyes and took her hand under the table.
“So they keep you pretty busy, then?” Sammy asked Chester.
“Oh, yeah. Yesterday it was one complaint after another, all day long. I'd been hoping to break 200 at Minesweeper, but I barely had a chance to play. And I didn't manage to finish the update to Maralynne's Web site until I got home.”
“Maralynne's what?” Rowena asked.
“Oh, Chester,” Maralynne pouted. Rowena wasn't sure she was actually annoyed.
“Maralynne?” she asked.
Maralynne fidgeted in what was clearly meant to be a “cute” manner. “It's just a little publicity,” she said.
“For your Career.”
“What else?” Maralynne looked at her with big round eyes. “Chester's made me a Web site. It's got my bio and the GlamCam—that's this camera Chester put up over my vanity table so people can look at me—it's increased my audience by so—”
“Are these people looking at you naked?”
“Well, some of them say that they are, but I really have no way to—”
“I mean, are you naked?”
“Only slightly,” Maralynne said. “Sometimes.” She poked at a green bean on her plate. “Listen,” she said. “How would it look if I was the only girl on the whole Web to keep all her clothes on all the time?”
“You would not be the only girl—”
“What are you, my mother? It's none of your business. And if you tell Mom I'll—I'll—I'll do something.”
Rowena picked up her water glass and took a nice long drink before answering. “I just think you should be a little careful. If you put up naked pictures of yourself, for instance; well, that might be a pretty good way to advertise a pornographic film, but I'm not sure—”
“What do you know about it, anyway? Miss Expert.”
“Maralynne. Common sense, okay?”
“I'm not common,” Maralynne said. “There's nothing common about me.” She picked up her fork. “And now, thanks to the GlamCam, thousands of people know that.”
“Maralynne is very beautiful,” Chester said.
Rowena looked to Sammy for help, but he appeared to be busy with his food. “I'm not disputing that,” she told Chester. She addressed her sister. “I just don't want you to be exploited.”
“Exploited?” said Maralynne, and laughed. “You are so old-fashioned. ‘Exploited!’ Honestly!”
Rowena sat, utterly confounded. This time, Sammy did save her. “Are those Web sites very hard to put together?” he asked.
After which all she had to do for the next twenty minutes or so was try to look as if she understood at least some of what Chester was talking about. “Isn't he smart?” Maralynne kept saying. Rowena was confident her sister understood less of it than she did, but neither Maralynne nor Chester seemed concerned.
“I'm going to the Ladies' Room,” Maralynne announced. She looked at Rowena. “Coming?”
Rowena got up, dutifully, and excused herself to Sammy and Chester. She wondered, tagging along behind Maralynne, how her sister could walk as she did without doing herself an injury; dislocating a hip, perhaps. She followed Maralynne without comment into the restroom.
“Isn't he great?” Maralynne, of course, spoke first. “He's a genius.”
“I don't know that he's a genius, exactly—”
“Smart, anyway.” Maralynne gave her a big smile, then went into a stall and closed the door. “He's great. Nobody can understand a thing he says.”
Rowena considered her next comment. “So you're getting along, huh?”
“Imagine, me going out with a smart guy,” Maralynne said. “I mean,” she amended quickly, “a guy who's smart about other things. You know?”
“Yeah,” Rowena said. “I know.” She said nothing for a while, just ignored the noises Maralynne was making. Presently Maralynne flushed the toilet and emerged. She began running water.
“I had to teach him everything, of course,” Maralynne confided. They were alone. “But he doesn't mind that I know more than he does. He seems to like it.”
Rowena wasn't sure what to say; she wasn't sure she wanted to hear about her sister's sex life at all. “Well,” she said, “If you're both happy, that's the main thing.”
“I'm the first girl,” Maralynne announced, “to come up to his standards. The first one!” She beamed a little fiercely, then yanked a paper towel out of the dispenser. “He had some weird ideas about women, though—what women like and what we're able to do. Weird.”
“Well, umm . . .”
Maralynne grabbed a second towel. “All those dirty videos and stories and stuff, and he believed them! He really did.” She shook her head. “Is that weird or what?”
“That . . . can get kind of weird,” said Rowena cautiously.
“He knows better now,” said Maralynne, giving Rowena a glance that was just a little ominous; Rowena wondered what she'd done to him. She looked at her sister and said nothing.
If Maralynne noticed her silence she didn't show it. She tossed her towel with a flourish and dug in her purse, bringing up, after some searching, a tube of lipstick. Rowena could never stand to watch her sister put on makeup. She decided to pay a brief visit to one of the stalls herself. When she joined her sister at the sink, Maralynne was just finishing a fresh coat of mascara.
“Are you gonna make me wait?” she asked, as Rowena washed her hands. Rowena didn't care whether Maralynne waited or not, but kept this to herself. She dried her hands and Maralynne, with a last look at her reflection, swept out of the restroom, Rowena following a little lamely behind.
“The clock speed is really good,” Chester was saying earnestly, “but without any cache, how's it going to process the data?”
“How indeed?” asked Sammy, gazing into his drink. He looked up and saw Rowena, and smiled warmly.
“Hey,” he said, in greeting.
“Hi,” Rowena said. She tried to think up some kind of non-computer topic to introduce before Chester could start up again. But it was Maralynne who spoke first.
“Miss me?” she asked Chester.
“Uh-huh,” said Chester. “Did you miss me?”
“I missed you so much,” Maralynne said. Rowena wondered what Chester would think if he knew what Maralynne had just been saying about him. Now Maralynne leaned over to give Chester a kiss. Rowena looked over at Sammy, who reached out and squeezed her hand.
“I missed you,” he said, smiling.
Chester picked up his glass; Rowena waited for him to drink but he merely used the glass to gesture expansively. “I'd set the guy up with a growable swap file,” he said. “He forgot, but I didn't. So all we had to do—”
“Dessert menu?” asked the waiter. Sammy thanked him and took one, opening it up between himself and Rowena.
“Oh, I don't know,” Maralynne was saying. “My figure . . .”
“It's terrific,” said Chester. Rowena decided to let him handle this, if he really wanted to. She studied the menu. Cheesecake? Key lime pie?
“It's a delicate balance,” Maralynne was saying. Out of the corner of her eye Rowena saw her take a menu anyway. “Just a pound or two could make a big difference.”
“It would take more than a pound or two, in your case,” Chester said. He seemed very earnest, as if he thought this were a real argument that he might actually win. Rowena decided she was not in the mood for cheesecake. She looked up, but the waiter had gone.
She didn't blame him.
Maralynne decided, after more coaxing by Chester, that she would have a dish of ice cream. Chester grinned triumphantly, and bent over the menu himself. “Done?” Sammy asked, tilting the menu he and Rowena had been using.
He closed the menu. “What're you having?” he asked.
“Key lime pie. You?”
“How wholesome of you,” Rowena said. Maralynne looked over, wrinkling her nose.
“Wholesome?” she said. She did not quite seem to approve.
“Joke,” Rowena explained. “Apple pie? Baseball? Picnics? You know?”
“Who eats apple pie at a baseball game?” Maralynne asked. “Or a picnic, even?”
“Donuts,” said Chester. They turned to look at him. “Donuts at a picnic,” he said. “They don't leak—except maybe the jelly ones—and they hardly ever break and they don't need a special container.”
“Or refrigeration,” said Sammy helpfully. He had, when he wanted to, an excellent deadpan.
“Right,” Chester said, pleased.
“You and your donuts,” Maralynne complained. The waiter returned and they ordered their desserts; for a while they sat without speaking and then Chester stepped manfully into the breach with another computer story. Rowena remembered how shy he'd been when they'd first met him; the change, at least tonight with no strangers around, was incredible. Even if he did only have one subject, and an electronic one at that. Their desserts arrived, and they ate. Chester talked.
Maralynne tugged at Rowena's sleeve. “I gotta go to the Ladies',” she said. She had finished her ice cream; Rowena had not finished her pie. But she dutifully got up; she knew a hint when she heard one, and especially one of Maralynne's.
“Don't let him take my pie,” she told Sammy.
“I wouldn't touch your pie,” objected Chester, hurt. Despite the story he'd been telling, he was about halfway through an enormous slice of chocolate cake and a bigger-than-usual scoop of ice cream.
“I meant the waiter,” Rowena said.
“You silly,” said Maralynne, and giggled. She planted a kiss on him—she looked like a fairy godmother bestowing favors—and he brightened noticeably. And then, once again, she led Rowena to the Ladies' Room.
“What do you think?” she asked promptly.
“Of Chester? He seems pretty nice. He's definitely an improvement on Brian.” Although he ate like Brian, Rowena reflected; most of Maralynne's boyfriends had eaten like that. But it was a small matter.
“I didn't think he was all that cute at first,” Maralynne confessed. “But he is so considerate.” There were two stalls in the restroom; one was occupied. Maralynne went into the other one; Rowena wondered how she could go again so soon. She stood silently, waiting, until the woman in the first stall had emerged, washed, and left.
“What do you guys talk about?” she asked, as casually as she could.
“Oh, things. Stuff.” Maralynne considered. Rowena heard the toilet paper dispenser, and then a flushing sound. Maralynne went to the sink, studied herself above the running water, and looked just a moment at Rowena's reflected eyes. “He talks about computers and we talk about me,” she said. She dried her hands, then opened her purse and took out a hairbrush. She made a few careful, very light passes over her hair. “We talk about me, and my Career, and everything, and he tells me I'm beautiful and we have sex.” She shrugged, and glanced again at Rowena. “Like I said, he's considerate.”
“Oh,” Rowena said. Her sister dropped the hairbrush back into her purse and began digging for something else.
“Madame Zelda was so right,” Maralynne said. Rowena had hoped to get through the entire evening without any mention of Madame Zelda.
“What, um, what does Chester think of Madame Zelda?”
Maralynne held up a tube of lipstick, squinted at it, and dropped it back into her purse. “That stupid Sugar Rose,” she said. “I swear, every time I—”
“The wrong lipstick. Every time.” Maralynne held up another tube and smiled, satisfied. She pulled off the cap. “Chester cannot complain about Madame Zelda,” she said. “If it weren't for Madame Zelda he not only wouldn't have me, but he'd still—never mind.”
She smoothed the lipstick on and made far too many kiss faces at herself in the mirror; Rowena really could not stand to watch Maralynne putting on makeup. She turned as nearly away as she dared while Maralynne found a tissue and clamped down on it briefly. “Throw that away, will you?” she asked, handing the stained tissue to Rowena. Rowena took it by the corner and threw it away. “How's my blush look?”
Maralynne rummaged again in her purse. “Actually, Chester's making me a Biorhythm program for the computer. It's got a very special . . . what did he call it? Random-out-something. It's supposed to be real good.” She pulled a little pot of eyeshadow from her purse and regarded it gravely. Rowena leaned against the wall and looked down at her shoes.
Somebody else came in.
Sammy eased out of the parking lot and onto the street.
“Well,” he said. Rowena sighed.
“Better him than that Brian jerk,” Sammy said.
“I feel sorry for him,” Rowena said. “You know what she told me? He talks about computers and she talks about herself, and because he lets her talk about herself he's incredibly considerate and . . . and that's about it.”
“I fully believe,” said Sammy, “that not everyone is willing to let your sister talk about herself to the full extent she wants to.”
Rowena sighed. “I meant,” she said, “that it's not much of a relationship.”
“Not by your standards,” Sammy said, “or mine. But there's not much we can do about it. Aside from being glad we're us. And,” he added, “that she's once again leaving us alone.”
“Well, that I appreciate, believe me. But . . .”
“I know. But he's not mean to her or anything. For your sister, that's something.”
Rowena sighed. He had a point. She wondered how long her sister's relationship would last. She wondered whether her sister were capable of anything deeper.
“And as for Chester,” Sammy continued, “well . . . I really don't think he minds that much.”
“I guess not. And she does admire him, after her fashion. Still . . .”
He turned to glance at her. “Cheer up. I managed to get Chester onto Topic Number Two long enough to find out that after The HMO Officer of Venice Connie MacCormac's doing a play with two female leads. Double Maralynne's chances. Did she tell you?”
“No,” Rowena said, “she didn't.”
“Brace yourself,” Sammy said. “It's Ramona and Juliet.”
Rowena looked out the window. “Well,” she said, “at least for once good old Connie won't have to mess with the actual plot all that much.”
“Wanna bet?” Sammy asked.
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