|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Serious.||Rowena Moves In, Part 1|
Rowena shook her head, even though her mother was on the phone and couldn't see her. “I can't make it that Saturday,” she said. “An old friend of Sammy's is getting married, and he asked Sammy to—”
“A wedding!” her mother cried. “He's taking you to a wedding? How exciting! Aren't you excited?”
“Do you think it'll give Sammy Ideas?”
“Be prepared,” her mother said. “Check out the wedding gown and the bridesmaids' dresses and the decorations at the reception and the food and everything, and remember everything you like. And make sure you look really, really good.”
“You'll need a gorgeous new dress—make that a new wardrobe—and a new hairstyle, a makeover, a manicure—”
“Mo-ther! In the first place, this is somebody else's wedding, not mine. In—”
“For heaven's sake, Rowena.”
“In the second place, Sammy likes me the way I am.”
Rowena's friend Terese, sitting at ease on Rowena's couch a few feet away, said, “So there!” in tones Rowena's mother, unfortunately, couldn't hear.
“He likes you, but is he marrying you? Rowena—”
“Mother, there is no rush. Things are fine the way they are. I—”
“What a stubborn daughter I raised. You must take after your father.”
Rowena took a breath. “Listen,” she said.
“Let me tell you a secret,” her mother said. “I've still got the bobby pins I was wearing when I married your father. I can loan them to you; they can be your ‘something borrowed.’ I've been thinking about this for a long time; for the old thing, we can—”
“Mom, thank you; I'm touched, really. But right now there's no—”
“I've got an idea!” her mother interrupted. “You know what you should do? You should bring your sister and Chester.”
“Rowena, your poor sister has such a hard—”
“She's not invited. I can't go around bringing—”
“Oh, Rowena. Two more people; what harm can it do? I'm sure somebody who was invited will fail to show up.”
“Mother, I am not—”
“And if you don't catch the bouquet, maybe she will.”
“Ah,” said Rowena. “Is that it?”
“You just want to double your chances of unloading one of us—”
“Rowena! What a thing to say!”
“What a thing to do. Mother, it's not only unspeakably tacky and rude, but that bouquet thing is just a silly—”
“And there's the garter, too.”
“Silly superstition, and—”
“And if Maralynne does catch the bouquet, you can tell Sammy that you have to get married first because you're the oldest, and—”
“Are you listening to a word I'm saying?”
“What a way to talk to your only mother who only wants the best for you.”
“Mother. I know you're only trying to look out for—”
“Now, be a good girl,” her mother told her. “Fix yourself up and invite your sister—”
“I can't do that.”
“Oh, Rowena. Be reasonable.”
Rowena put down her teacup. “It could have been worse,” she said. She did her best to imitate her mother's voice. “‘Maybe you should wear basketball shoes and take a butterfly net so you'll be sure to catch the bouquet.’”
Terese put her coffee cup down just in time. “Rowena!” she gasped, laughing.
“A slight exaggeration,” Rowena said. “Perhaps.”
Terese composed herself. “So. You say Sammy's going to be an usher.”
“An actual member of the Wedding Party,” Rowena said. “Yes, he is. And he hasn't seen these people—the groom and the Best Man and the other ushers—for some time. So it'll be pretty exciting for him.”
“And for you?”
“Well, I won't know too many people, but it's a party, and Sammy'll be there.” Terese looked at her.
“Don't tell anybody,” she said, “but I'm not always all that cynical at weddings.” Rowena smiled and picked up her teacup. “What about you?” Terese asked.
Rowena hesitated. “Come on,” Terese said. “Don't you get just a little sentimental?”
“Not if my mother's around.”
Terese looked over her right shoulder, then her left. “I don't see her,” she said. “Now 'fess up. You do get a bit sentimental, don't you?”
Rowena smiled, then gazed off out the window. “I do,” she said, “if you want to know the truth. But every time I think of my mother . . .”
“So don't think about your mother,” Terese said. She leaned forward to pat Rowena's arm. “She won't be there. But Sammy will. And don't be surprised if it isn't a bit romantic.”
“I'd be surprised if it wasn't,” Rowena said. “Sammy . . . Sammy makes things romantic.” She glanced up at her friend, embarrassed. “He . . . I mean . . .”
“You mean,” said Terese, her voice unusually gentle, “that you guys are pretty serious.”
“Yeah,” Rowena said. “Don't tell my mom, but . . . Yeah, I'd say so.”
“Well, that's how it looks to me.” She patted Rowena's arm again. “So. You're going to this nice wedding, and you're going to go ahead and get as romantic as you like despite the fact that it wouldn't annoy your mother if she knew.”
“I don't try to annoy my mother. I just . . . try to stay out of her clutches.”
Terese laughed. “C'mon, Cinderella. Now you can go to the ball.”
“We'll see, Fairy Godmother,” Rowena replied. “We'll see.”
“How's that?” Rowena held up the package, newly resplendent in the doves-and-roses pattern they had picked out. Inside were four champagne flutes; lead crystal, faceted, sparkling. Sammy had wanted to give something romantic.
“Beautiful,” Sammy said. He admired it a moment, then handed her the card. “Why don't you sign it?” he asked.
Rowena hesitated, then opened the card and took the pen Sammy offered. While she was wrapping the gift, Sammy had not only signed the card but, as it turned out, added an inscription. “To Will and Melissa,” he'd written. “Wishing you much joy and love in your life together.”
Rowena looked up. “That's sweet. What you wrote.”
He smiled. “You approve?”
“Of course.” She looked at the card again, then put it down on the table and signed her name under Sammy's. “It seems a little funny, though,” she remarked, giving the card one more look before handing it back to Sammy, “my signing it when they've never met me or anything.”
“You're still a guest at their wedding. And you may meet them at the reception.” Sammy took the card, studied it. “I just think it's a little odd having two signatures with different last names,” he said. “Other than that . . .”
“I suppose,” Rowena remarked, “there must be a lot of that these days.”
“I suppose,” said Sammy. He took another look at the card, first the inside and then the front; and then picked up the envelope, slid the card inside, and sealed it. After they'd settled on the gift, Sammy had invited her to take a closer look at the cookware he'd caught her admiring despite its not being on the registry list. “What, for me?” she'd asked. “I can't afford those.”
“Let's look at them anyway,” Sammy had said. “Maybe someday somebody will have an excuse to buy them for you.”
Promptly after work the day before the wedding, Rowena took Sammy to the church for the wedding rehearsal. Rowena would not be in the rehearsal, of course; she was going along to meet the other members of the wedding party before the rehearsal began. She'd been a bit taken aback to find that she would also not attend the dinner afterwards, which was to be followed by a bachelor party. “I'm afraid it's rather tedious for you,” Sammy had said. “But if you like you can drive me there, and I'll get a ride back.”
“Sure,” Rowena had said, thinking that it sounded like a long night.
“Sorry about this,” Sammy said now. “I'd rather have you along myself.”
“Well . . . yeah.” Rowena stopped at a traffic light and reached over and put her hand on his knee; Sammy put his own hand over hers, closing his fingers around it. They held hands until the light changed.
At least she had a little time with him. A little time.
At the church they found several other members of the wedding party standing outside in little groups, waiting. Somebody caught sight of Sammy and waved.
“That's Bill,” said Sammy, as they approached. “I told you about him.”
“Bill? Of the Bill and Will and Jill Club?”
“That's the one. But don't mention Jill, please; the groom's old girlfriend, you know.”
Rowena laughed. “I'll be good,” she said. Sammy patted her arm. “Which one is Will?”
“Over there, in the group by the door.” Will would be the youngest of the men there; the two others were older, at least as old as Rowena's father. With them was a dark-haired young woman Rowena took to be the bride—yes, she was holding Will's hand, and now leaning up against him. Sammy patted her arm again, and then as they drew near he let go of her and held out his hand to Bill.
“Hey. How's it going?”
“Sammy! Long time.” Rowena watched them shake hands, waited for Sammy to introduce her, which he soon did.
“Nice to meet you,” Bill said. “Hope you don't believe anything Sammy may have said about me. At least, not unless you're willing to hear what I have to say about him.”
“I thought you guys were supposed to make fun of Will today,” Rowena said.
“Oh, God; don't remind me; I'm supposed to do the toast.” He rolled his eyes and leaned in towards Sammy. “Mr. Best Man Pete is too shy.”
“You're looking forward to it,” countered somebody else. “You know you are. Sammy; how goes it?”
“Pretty good.” Another handshake. “Got yourself a mustache, huh? May wonders never cease.”
“I'll skip the question about whether you've changed. Good to see you.”
“And you, Andy. I'd like you to meet my girlfriend, Rowena. Rowena, Andy is the groom's brother.”
“Hi, Rowena; good to meet you.”
“Good to meet you.”
“So where is Pete?”
“Not here yet. I think the Best Man is the one who needs help—a Second-Best Man, I suppose.”
“I've got a Cracker Jacks ring,” said Bill, “just in case. Emergency backup.”
“Oh, no.” Rowena hadn't meant to say it. Bill grinned at her.
“Don't worry,” he said. “We'll keep him in line.”
“He'll be okay,” Sammy said. “He'll be fine.”
“Here he comes,” Andy said.
And the Best Man was there, and Rowena was introduced again; and the group by the door came over and she met Will and Melissa and Melissa's father—of course one of the men was Melissa's father—and the minister who would perform the service.
“Well,” said the minister, “let's get started.” Rowena said goodbye to Sammy, told him to have a good time, and left.
She went home and fixed herself dinner. She washed the dishes, something she rarely did alone on Fridays, even when she and Sammy didn't eat out. She read for several hours, occasionally looking at the clock and wondering what Sammy was doing, and whether he was enjoying himself. Normally on a Friday night they would be together somewhere—out somewhere; at her place or his; in bed. Even when Sammy worked late, he usually managed to call her. He did not call tonight. Eventually she put her book down and went to bed—alone, on Friday night. Friday night before somebody else's wedding.
In the morning Rowena dressed and left for the hotel at which the out-of-town guests were staying, and where the reception would be held; she had arranged to meet Sammy there for breakfast. She brought her wedding-guest finery so that she could change at Sammy's apartment while he was getting ready; this seemed not only efficient but very cozy. She parked the car, walked into the lobby right on time, and was immediately set upon by a distressed and somewhat familiar-looking young woman.
“I saw you yesterday, right?” the woman said. “Sammy's girlfriend?”
“I'm Renee, the Maid of Honor. We've got a—we can't find the groom.”
“You can't find him?” Rowena looked again around the lobby, which was where Sammy was supposed to meet her. He wasn't there. I should have known, Rowena thought; it was a bachelor party, even if it involved Sammy and his friends. Aloud she said, “Have you tried Pete's room? They were having a party there . . .” She remembered how Sammy had told her their plan. “Don't tell Pete this, but Bill says it's not a bachelor party if you don't trash a hotel room,” he'd said. She winced.
“I tried calling there, but the line was busy. I went there and knocked on the door and nobody answered. I've called Will's place, and Andy's, and Bill's, and Sammy's, and only got their answering machines.” She paused and took a breath. “And Melissa is . . .” Her voice trailed off; she looked around as if distracted. Rowena glanced around the room herself; she saw nobody she knew.
“I've got to go,” Renee said. “Could you check Pete's room again?”
“All right,” Rowena said. “Is there a number where you can be reached?”
Renee jotted down a phone number and gave it to Rowena, “I've got one or two other places to try,” she said. “The bride's mother is threatening to kill me if we can't find them.” She left. Rowena took one more look around the lobby, then checked her watch. Sammy really should have been here by now. She dug Pete's room number out of her purse, and set off.
Rowena stood before Pete's door and listened, just for a moment. She heard nothing, which meant very little, she reminded herself. She knocked, waited for a response, then knocked again. And again.
At any moment, she was sure, somebody would stick his head out of one of the other rooms and tell her to go away and stop making so much noise. She shut her eyes and knocked once more. “Anybody in there?” she called.
She was answered this time by a muffled moan. She stepped back just a bit and waited. If nobody actually came to the door—
But the door opened almost halfway, and there was Sammy, his hair very rumpled. He was still in the clothes he'd worn the night before. “Hi,” he said. “It is you. What time is it?”
She looked at her watch. “Eight forty-three.”
“Oh—breakfast. Right.” He tried unsuccessfully to hide a yawn. “Sorry I'm late. I, um, overslept.”
“Is Will in there? I saw Renee downstairs; she's frantic.”
“Renee? Oh—right.” Sammy turned back to face into the room. “Will?” he called. “Will?”
Somebody Rowena couldn't see mumbled something unintelligible. “Check the bathtub,” Sammy said. “Is he still in there?”
“Oh, right,” said the voice, a little more clearly.
“The bathtub?” Rowena asked.
“Yeah, that's where he slept last night. Closer to the toilet, if you know what I mean.”
“Found him!” somebody said. And then, “Hey, Sammy!”
“'Scuse me.” And Sammy went to answer the summons, leaving the door ajar. The part of the room Rowena could see was not exactly “trashed,” but the party hadn't done it any favors. The groom and his other attendants were nowhere in sight, but Rowena heard somebody turn the shower on.
“Come on,” said a voice inside the bathroom. “You can do it.”
Presently Sammy returned, still fully clothed but rather damper than he had been. “He's here . . . He's fine—he'll be fine,” he said. In the bathroom somebody said, “Whoops!” and somebody else laughed.
Rowena noted Sammy's correction, but decided not to respond to it. “Good,” she said. “Listen, Renee tried to call, but only got busy signals.”
Sammy looked at her a moment, then ducked his head briefly back into the room. “The phone's off the hook,” he said.
“Yes, well, maybe you should put it back on,” Rowena said. He looked at her.
“That's a good idea,” he said.
Rowena took a breath. “And then call Renee,” she said. “And tell her . . . Tell her Will's here and . . .”
“Renee?” Sammy considered. “I'll tell her Will's here . . . and he'll be okay. Okay and on time. He was . . . celebrating, but he'll be okay.”
“Yep,” Sammy said. “Promise.”
“Okay,” Rowena said. “I'll give you her phone number. Just let me copy it down.” She dug a piece of paper out of her purse, and a pencil, and copied the number Renee had given her. As she handed it to Sammy, she heard the shower water switch off. “Sammy?” somebody called.
“Gotta go,” Sammy told her. “Thanks for the wake-up.” He moved to touch her, then looked at his wet hand and drew back.
“Keep that number dry,” she said. “Anything else you need?”
“Well, you might see if they'll give you a refill for the coffee maker.” He rubbed his eyes. “They probably didn't give us enough.”
Rowena dug in her purse again, located her aspirin bottle. “Here,” she said. “Take this too.”
“Thanks. Thank you very much.” He took the bottle. “See you at breakfast.”
“At breakfast,” Rowena said.
Just before the door closed, Rowena heard a hairdryer switch on.
But it was Pete, not Sammy, who finally walked into the hotel's lobby. He was apologetic, embarrassed, and just a bit unsteady.
“Red hair,” he said, stopping in front of her and glancing, as if for confirmation, at a slip of paper in his hand. “You're Rowena, right?”
“Yes . . .”
“Note for you. From Sammy.” He held it out to her. With a sense of foreboding, she took it.
The note was written on hotel stationery; across the top Sammy had written, in large capitals, “RED HAIR. NAME: ROWENA” She glanced very briefly at Pete, then read on.
Rowena— V. sorry I can't make breakfast, have to drive everybody home for tuxes, etc. Called Renee; all fine. Meet me at my apt. 10:45 & I'll drive you to church. Love always, S.
P.S.—Tell Pete not to forget the sandwiches.
She looked up from the letter at Pete, who stood looking uncomfortable. “Why does Sammy have to drive everybody?” she asked.
“He's the only one who feels well enough to drive,” Pete said, looking at the floor.
Rowena sighed. Usually she was glad Sammy was so stable and responsible.
Pete peered at his watch. “I gotta get back. But I'm glad I found you. Sammy woulda killed me if I'd left you here waiting.”
“Well, thank you,” Rowena said. “Good luck—and don't forget the sandwiches,”
“Sandwiches!” He turned away, slapping his forehead, and then stopped abruptly. Rowena heard him inhale. She was about to ask him whether he was all right when he said, “Thanks for the aspirin.”
He left before she could reply.
Rowena went home. She left a message on Sammy's answering machine, telling him that she would be at his apartment, dressed up and ready, at 10:45. And then she had breakfast alone in her apartment.
Sammy was driving Pete's rental car, chosen because it was the largest of the vehicles at his disposal. They were on their way to fetch everyone back, but for just a few minutes, she had Sammy to herself. She wished he had farther to drive, or that the traffic were heavier. “Sorry about breakfast,” Sammy said, “But I had to drive everybody around, and then take a shower and change—”
“What,” Rowena said, “another shower?” Sammy looked over at her and laughed, then put his fingers over her mouth.
“Not a word of that to Melissa or her family,” he said. “Not for at least a year or so.”
Rowena smiled. “So how was the rehearsal and everything?”
“The rehearsal?” Sammy asked. “The rehearsal went fine; no disaster stories to tell. The dinner was okay, if a little boring without you there. The party . . . well, it wasn't a party you'd have wanted to crash.”
“Was it scandalous?”
He gave a snort of laughter. “The amount certain parties had to drink was a scandal, but I think you know that already. We didn't have a sex scandal, though, because Bill assigned Pete to arrange a cake-popper or something, but Pete never got the nerve to.”
“Oh, well,” said Rowena.
“If you ask me, it's exactly what Bill wanted. He didn't have to worry about getting anybody in trouble, nobody had to pay for it, and it wasn't his fault the grand tradition wasn't upheld.”
Rowena laughed. “So did you have fun?”
“At first, when we were reminiscing and so on. Then . . . then it wasn't so interesting, and I missed you.”
She touched his shoulder, and he leaned his head briefly against her hand.
And he pulled up to Andy's apartment building.
Sammy parked in the church lot, and everybody piled out of the car. Pete was there to greet them—Rowena presumed he'd borrowed somebody else's car—with a bag of sandwiches, which the groom and his attendants devoured (carefully, and leaning well forward) for the three minutes it took for the photographer to arrive. “I told you,” said Will a bit irritably, “no onions!”
“Okay,” said the photographer, “let's get started!” Grumbling just a bit, they found a place to stash the remains of their meal so that they could get back to it later. Sammy gave Rowena a kiss, then left her to pose for somebody else's wedding pictures and do whatever else ushers did before any guests were allowed in. Rowena watched him go, still admiring him in his tuxedo; she had never seen him in a tuxedo before. She felt a little foolish for coming with him when she wasn't a part of the morning's activities, but she had had enough of not seeing him, did not want to leave open the possibility of driving separately home in their separate cars. She watched the photography for a while; just the groom and his attendants and family, the bride still hidden somewhere. She watched for a while, feeling foolish for continuing to stand there now that she had come. She didn't want to drive anywhere, and she didn't want to stand there forever, out of place, so she decided to take a walk. As soon as Sammy looked her way again—
He saw her. The groom was posing with just his family, and Sammy, en route to his sandwich, looked over at her. She waved, and he waved back. The photographer said something to his subjects, and Rowena left.
She walked around the block, found a restaurant, checked her watch and went in for a cup of tea. There must be a way, she thought, sipping, to plan a wedding so that this sort of thing didn't happen. She didn't want it to happen at hers.
At what seemed a reasonable time she went back to the church.
“It's my turn,” Bill said. “Unless you'd rather wait for Sammy.”
“Well . . .” She didn't want to make Bill look lazy, standing around talking to guests outside. But there was no sign of Sammy.
She allowed Bill to escort her to a pew on the “Groom's Side.” Rowena did not know the man next to her, and as the church filled she discovered she did not know anybody in her immediate area. She looked for Sammy's friend Mike and Mike's girlfriend, Sue, then remembered that they hadn't been able to attend. She went on looking anyway, to see if anyone else seemed familiar somehow, but of course she saw only strangers. She sat and waited. Every once in a she caught a glimpse of Sammy as he seated other guests, but of course he couldn't pay much attention to her.
She found it hard to be properly sentimental.
She watched Sammy sometimes, and sometimes the groom; and sometimes she watched for the bride. First the music, and the anticipation, and the bride . . . the bride would come. And here she was, in her white dress and her veil; all Rowena could see of Melissa through that veil was the long dark hair. She couldn't tell whether Melissa was nervous; she herself would be, she thought; all these people watching her do something so important. Melissa's father, walking her down the aisle, his head high, his back very straight. Would her father be so proud; would he walk so tall, protecting her one last time?
She snuck a peek at Sammy, standing solemnly by, then returned her attention properly to the bride. The bride's father released his daughter to the groom's care and turned away, trying to look unaffected.
Up at the altar, the bride and groom stood, waiting, alone together in front of everyone.
The music stopped. The minister addressed them in a solemn baritone, speaking the well-known words, speaking them for real. Will and Melissa stood very still; the bridesmaids resolutely solemn, the groomsmen very stiff. The minister spoke of love and faith and duty and patience. And promises. A lady in front of Rowena dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief. The minister spoke of family, of the couple's love for and responsibility to each other and each other's relatives, who would soon be the relatives of both. And he spoke of their love and care for any children they might have.
The lady in front of Rowena dabbed her eyes again. The minister paused, and then began to read the marriage service.
Rowena caught herself just briefly holding her breath—holding her breath and hoping, in that moment, that everything would go well for these people she didn't know. She wondered what would happen to them.
She wondered what would happen to her.
The minister's words, his question, filled the church.
“I do,” said Will quietly, looking at his bride.
Even after the ceremony she couldn't be with Sammy right away; he had more pictures to pose for, pictures involving the bride this time. And once that was finally over and they had all gone back to the hotel for the reception, he was held back with the rest of the wedding party so that they could all make a grand entrance into the crowd. Fuss and bustle by the door. And then they swept in, not, perhaps, quite as grandly as they'd intended; but they were there, and one of them was Sammy.
As soon as she judged it seemly, she went to him—but here he was, coming to her.
“Hi,” she said. “Miss me?” He really did look good in his tuxedo. She put her hand on his arm.
“Actually, yes.” He took hold of both her arms just above the elbows. “Did you miss me?”
She nodded, then bent her head; he kissed the top of it. She raised her head and looked at him, but before she could say anything somebody behind her said, “Excuse me?” She turned; the woman was addressing Sammy.
“Sam; how are you?” she said. “So good to see you, after all these years. So glad you could come.”
“Good to see you, Mrs. Douglas,” Sammy replied. “And I wouldn't miss it.”
“Mrs. Douglas! Good heavens. Call me Lorna; you're old enough now.”
“Lorna. I'd like you to meet my girlfriend, Rowena. Rowena, Lorna is Will's mother.”
“Nice to meet you,” Rowena said. Lorna looked as if she were a bit flustered by her son's wedding, but she held Rowena's hand firmly, steadily.
“Sam's girlfriend. So glad you could come.”
Rowena smiled. “So am I,” she said. Lorna looked away, across the room.
“She's a beautiful bride, isn't she?”
“Yes, she is.” It was an unavoidable thought; Melissa with her pale, creamy skin, just flushed with pink, her big black eyes and long black hair. It was exactly the kind of hair Rowena had wanted when she was little.
“And such a sweet girl.” Rowena looked at her; Lorna seemed a bit embarrassed by her confession, but she continued anyway. “I'm so happy; she's the daughter I never had.”
“Well, you've got her now.”
“I have!” Lorna cried. “I'm a mother-in-law! Of all things.”
“A nice mother-in-law,” Sammy said. “A good one.”
“Oh, thank you! I hope so.” She looked past them, around at the room. “Looks like we're getting underway here. Let's get you two seated.”
She found a place for Rowena at a table with several of Will's friends and a cousin or two, and then spirited Sammy away to the head table, where most of the wedding party already sat. Rowena looked a little forlornly at Sammy, so far away again with old friends of his she barely knew. Romantic, indeed, she thought. She wondered whether the groom's mother was supposed to be seating people—she could see Lorna across the room, still at it—and concluded that, as Sammy might say, no one was stopping her. And of course she would want to get the reception dinner started, and to meet people, however briefly . . .
The guests at Rowena's table chatted among themselves, stealing occasional glances at the head table, where the wedding party sat a bit self-consciously. Rowena tried to join in the conversation around her. Like the rest of them, she kept looking at the wedding party; unlike them, she was mostly watching Sammy. Sometimes Sammy was looking back at her; when he was, he smiled. On a few occasions her gaze drifted over to the pile of gifts; she thought she could just see the box containing the champagne flutes she and Sammy had bought. She remembered Sammy in the store, saying, “I think romance is very important.” She looked at him again, so handsome in his tuxedo, and he turned as if he could feel her looking, and even from where she sat she could feel the warmth in his eyes.
And her food arrived.
“Calling all single women! Single women! Come on, don't be shy! We're doing the bouquet!”
“Here's your chance to do your daughterly duty,” someone at her table said. Rowena wasn't even sure he was talking to her, but she gave him a quick, rather defiant look (and found he was indeed looking at her) and pushed back her chair. She stopped just a moment and looked to Sammy for support; he smiled again at her, and gave her what she took to be a “good luck” nod.
There were quite a few of them; teenagers, young women like Rowena, women older than she, a few women who were her mother's age, and one good-natured elderly lady who was loudly cheered by younger relatives. Rowena wasn't sure whether to feel foolish or not; it was a superstition, but it was also an old tradition. She waited nervously; she was surprised at how nervous she felt.
The bride smiled at them all, then turned her back. She hesitated a moment, then threw. The bouquet sailed up and out—coming nowhere near Rowena, nowhere near her at all. There was a flurry, and an excited-looking girl with wild hair emerged triumphant.
“Better luck next time, Aunt Jenny!” somebody yelled. The little old lady waved. The unmarried women, Rowena included, drifted back to their seats. At least she hadn't made a fool of herself, jumping at it and missing. Although, even if she had, she would only have been fulfilling the tradition.
“Single men! It's your turn! Block the exits, somebody; don't let them get away.” Snickers all around. “Come on, guys; it's time to meet your doom.”
As if men always had to be forced into marriage. Sammy smiled at her again as he stood and walked to where the single men were assembling. Rowena watched him go, then watched Will carefully remove the garter from his wife's leg.
“Raymond! Get up here! Come on, people, help me out; who else here is unhitched?” Fingers pointed in three directions; one of the holdouts was at Rowena's own half-empty table. “Come on! No shirking. Get your eligible backsides up here.”
“Good grief,” said somebody nearby.
Eventually the guests were satisfied that all the single men were assembled up front, and herded together closely enough (“No outlyers! Come on, guys!”), and Will, garter in hand, surveyed them a moment and turned his back.
The garter flew into the crowd; Sammy was one of the few to make a grab for it but he wasn't quite close enough. A cry of “Yea, Paul!” went up, and there was scattered applause and a whoop or two. Sammy, in returning to his seat, made a detour over to Rowena.
“Sorry about that,” he said. “You can tell your mother I tried, though.”
“I'm not telling her anything of the kind,” Rowena said. Sammy laughed. “Anyway, it's just as well you didn't catch it. You might have had to marry the girl who caught the bouquet.”
“Tracy?” asked one of the cousins—a male cousin. “Naw; you don't want to do that.”
“Todd!” His wife gave him one of those little slaps on the arm.
“You think he should, Connie? Leave his girlfriend and—”
“I didn't mean that either. Really, Todd!”
“Another problem with marrying Tracy, with which my wife might just agree.” Todd leaned in conspiratorially towards Sammy. “You're probably better off not marrying into this family.”
“I won't comment on that,” Connie said.
“Actually, the in-laws Sammy would get if he married me . . . I think he's brave just to date me.” Rowena checked herself; she didn't want to be coaxed into telling any more stories about her parents or her sister.
“Now, now,” Sammy said. He put a hand on her shoulder, massaged it gently. “They don't make me kill dragons; they don't make me fight evil witches—”
“Terese might argue with you on that last one.”
“Terese isn't here.” Sammy gave her a squeeze. “Anyway, she's not the one who—”
“I think you're wanted,” interrupted Todd. He nodded towards the head table, where the rest of the wedding party had already reassembled, and where two or three people were waving and making “come here” gestures. Sammy bent quickly and kissed Rowena's temple, then went to take what other people, at least, considered to be his proper seat.
Without warning, the band struck up a waltz. Rowena turned to watch the bride and groom dance their first dance as Mr. and Mrs. Douglas. Round and round; Melissa's full white skirts and Will's trim tuxedo.
“They do make a nice-looking couple, don't they?” asked Connie. Rowena nodded, but didn't say anything. She glanced away from the dancers just long enough to find her champagne glass and pick it up.
And the bride had her dance with her father, and then the bridesmaids and groomsmen were paired up—rather forcibly, in some cases; Andy and Pete tried to sneak off but were herded back. Rowena watched Sammy's brief dance with somebody else; she was not jealous so much as envious. She felt more like an outsider than ever. She watched Sammy on the dance floor; she had never watched Sammy dance before. Soon they had him paired with a different bridesmaid, as the maid of honor and Pete both tried to escape and were recaptured. Rowena took a sip of champagne, watched as the official dances dissolved into disorder.
And then the band struck up a new tune and there were other people on the dance floor and Sammy came to her and actually bowed before her, asked with a solemn voice and twinkling eyes if he might have the honor . . . And she moved her champagne to the safety of the middle of the table and rose and slipped her hand into his and they walked to the dance floor and they held each other at last and Sammy whispered “I love you” into her ear and she held onto him and leaned her head against him and they went round and round, round and round.
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