|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Serious.||Rowena Moves In, Part 3|
Rowena took a breath. “Dinner?” she asked her sister. “At your place?”
“It'll be great,” Maralynne said. She added, significantly, “You won't even have to do any cooking.”
“No?” Rowena asked.
“I'm gonna cook for you!” Maralynne yelped happily. “For you and Sammy and Chester—I'm gonna cook for everybody!”
“Well!” said Rowena. “That's very—”
“I'm gonna do everything myself!” Maralynne announced. “Everything! Isn't that great?”
“Terrific,” Rowena said, with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. “Maralynne, I'm so happy—”
“I know everything I need to know,” Maralynne said. “Everything.”
“Can you come by a little early, like, two o'clock?”
“And bring a mop and a bucket and your vacuum cleaner, so we can clean up?”
Rowena took another breath. “Anything else you need?”
“Well . . . what do you use when you clean up?”
“If you're sure you wanna go,” Rowena told Sammy.
“Hey,” Sammy said. “You gotta take a few risks in life.”
“Great,” Rowena told him. “Mind if I don't quote you on that?” Sammy laughed, reached over and patted her hand. They were in a restaurant, eating proper food.
“It's more Chester's risk than ours,” Sammy said. “Theoretically, he could get stuck with her cooking every night.”
“He doesn't seem all that fussy,” Rowena said.
“Could be he's distracted. Did she say what she's going to make?”
“No. And I'm afraid to ask.”
“Seriously,” Sammy said. “It'll be fine. I'll bet you. Enough of it will be edible, and maybe you can actually teach her something about housekeeping this time.”
“A bet, huh?” She eyed him; Sammy was not one for making bets. “What are you betting?”
“Let's see . . . If I win, I get a seven-course home-cooked meal over at your place, complete with an incredibly complicated dessert.”
Rowena raised her eyebrows. “And if I win?” she asked.
“If you win, you come over to my place and I'll fix you spaghetti and heated-up garlic bread.”
“Hey!” Rowena said. “No fair!” She met Sammy's teasing grin with the best outrage she could muster.
“Don't like that? How's this sound?” He leaned forward, confidentially. “If I win, I get a night of wild, passionate sex.”
She tried not to smile. “And if I win?”
“If you win,” said Sammy, “you get a night of wild, passionate sex.”
She almost managed not to laugh. “Deal,” she said, and they shook hands.
Actually, this sounded like a Sammy bet.
Rowena was beginning to suspect that her sister's major housekeeping strategy was to wait until the mess in her apartment was too much even for her, and then to announce some sort of party and demand Rowena help her prepare for it. And here she was, dutifully playing her part . . .
She trudged up to her sister's door with her mop and bucket, holding the mop awkwardly away from her legs and hoping no one saw her. She set the bucket down, plunked the mop into it, and knocked. Maralynne answered the door and Rowena stared at her; she was wearing a decidedly impractical Little French Maid costume and a pair of stiletto heels.
“Ummm . . . Maralynne . . .”
“Where's your stuff?” Maralynne asked. Rowena's mop and bucket sat in plain sight, but the rest of her equipment was still in the car. “Go get it,” Maralynne said, and disappeared back into the apartment. Rowena set down the bucket just inside Maralynne's door, stuck the mop back into it, closed the door and trudged back to her car. She returned with the vacuum and the soap for the floor, but Maralynne was nowhere to be seen.
“Maralynne?” No reply, though it wasn't that big an apartment. “Maralynne?”
“In a minute,” Maralynne called back. “I'm posing for the GlamCam.”
Rowena was happy to stay away from that. She looked about her sister's living room, decided to begin by carrying Maralynne's errant dishes back to the kitchen. She piled them onto the littered countertop, as close to the overflowing sink as she could, and regarded the results. She was not going to allow Maralynne to claim a complete ignorance of dish-washing.
“So.” Maralynne was back. “How do you like my outfit?”
“You're not gong to clean the apartment in that, are you?” Maralynne was still wearing the maid costume, although now she had added the maid's cap and, sticking up behind it, a pink feather duster.
“Of course not,” Maralynne said. “It's for the GlamCam.” She rotated slowly. “How do you like it?”
“Um, fine,” Rowena said. “But why did you put the feather duster in your hair?”
“Feather duster.” Rowena pointed. Maralynne pulled the duster out of her hair and studied it.
“This? I thought it was a headdress. Like a showgirl or something.” She looked at Rowena. “Feather duster?” she asked. “For dusting?”
Maralynne wrinkled her nose. “Why would they include a thing like that in a French maid costume?” She tossed the duster disdainfully onto the couch. “Why don't you get started,” she asked Rowena, “while I change into something else?”
And she disappeared into the bedroom.
Rowena scrubbed the toilet and the bathroom sink while her sister changed; she was just about finished by the time Maralynne appeared in a pair of blue jeans. How could anyone take so much time changing into blue jeans? Rowena noted their fit and saw the problem; and then she remembered the GlamCam and stopped wondering altogether.
“Why don't you mop the floor in here while I vacuum?” she suggested.
“Okay,” said Maralynne. “As long as I don't have to bend over.”
Rowena made a mental note of this. “Fine,” she said. She got her sister started and returned to the living room, where her vacuum cleaner waited. When Maralynne reappeared to signal that she was done, Rowena allowed herself to be led back to the bathroom, where she found that Maralynne had dumped the dirty mop water into the freshly-cleaned sink and not bothered even to rinse it out. She had also dribbled a good deal of the mess right back onto the floor.
“I couldn't put it in the bathtub,” said Maralynne, horrified. “I take baths in there.”
“Well, just clean it up,” Rowena said, wondering how she was going to rinse the mop. Probably it would end up stuffed, dirty as ever, back into the bucket and into Rowena's car. She shut her eyes a moment, then went back to work.
They washed the dishes, the kitchen sink, the counter. Maralynne bundled all the laundry and extraneous bits and pieces off of the living room furniture and into her bedroom; she was some time in coming out after each of the trips, and Rowena regretted allowing her into the vicinity of the GlamCam.
“Maralynne,” she said, “let's concentrate on the housework, okay?”
Maralynne expelled a great deal of air through her nose. “I have to wait; it only updates every two minutes when we're not having a show—when Chester's not here.”
They moved the dinner hour back and dusted the furniture and swept the kitchen floor; so much of their work had to be done in the kitchen that Rowena was sure there would not be time, no matter how they worked it, to allow a mopped floor to dry. They cleared piles of magazines, catalogues, and unpaid bills from the kitchen table and sponged it down.
And then they got themselves cleaned up and ready. Rowena brought from the car the dress she'd picked out, and changed in the bathroom.
And after a while Chester arrived and plopped himself down on Maralynne's couch, and Rowena found herself alone with him and having to make conversation. Of a sort.
“Have you seen the GlamCam?” Chester asked.
“No,” said Rowena. She did not want to see flirtatious pictures of her sister half-dressed—or worse.
Chester did not immediately respond. Finally he said, “Maralynne is very beautiful.”
“I'm sure it's a popular site,” Rowena offered.
Chester sat and fidgeted. Rowena wished her sister would appear, or, rather more selfishly, that Sammy would. But Sammy, who was very punctual by nature, had apparently opted to give Maralynne a little extra time, just in case. She tried not to ask Chester about his job, and he tried, apparently, not to fidget; they sat like that for several minutes, until Sammy finally knocked on the door.
“Hi,” Rowena said. “Come in.” She felt too awkward about Chester's presence to kiss Sammy, but she put a hand on his back in a way that almost constituted a hug.
“Hi,” Sammy said. “How's it going?”
“Not bad,” Rowena said. He looked at her in a very seeing way, then gave her a kiss on the cheek. She closed the door and he went to Maralynne's only living room chair and sat on the floor next to it. He patted the chair's cushion and she sat down with thanks; she put her arm on the armrest and he closed his hand over hers.
“How you doing, Chester?” Sammy asked. “The place looks nice, doesn't it?”
Apparently the sight of another male was all Chester needed; visibly relieved, he opened the floodgates and launched into a computer story. Never mind that Sammy was not a programmer, that Chester knew he wasn't a programmer. He got excited; he gestured. He didn't look as if he planned to stop or even slow down.
And Sammy and Rowena sat, holding hands, Rowena at least glad she didn't have to say anything now.
“Have you seen the GlamCam?” Chester asked Sammy.
“So I told the guy, ‘I bet that's classic K&R,’” Chester said. “And he said, ‘No, I—’”
“Chester!” It was Maralynne at last. He leaped up from the couch and threw his arms around her. Rowena stared, greatly surprised; she looked over at Sammy, remembering their own chaste greeting. Sammy smiled at her and brought her hand to his mouth.
“Chester,” Maralynne said, “what have you been telling my sister?” She was wearing a bright-red minidress, and—of course—stiletto heels. Rowena sometimes wondered whether her sister were even capable of putting her feet flat on the floor, after all these years in heels.
“Her?” Chester turned to look briefly at Rowena. “I told her you're beautiful.”
“I really did! Didn't I?”
“He did,” Rowena said. Maralynne beamed.
“You're so bad,” she told Chester. “You have no manners at all.” She gave him a noisy kiss. “Did you see me in my maid costume today?” she asked. “See; I'm cleaning up and cooking, so I wore a maid outfit. Get it? Did you see me?”
“I saw you,” Chester said. “You looked great.”
Maralynne beamed at him. “Now you people sit here and be nice, and I will cook us all dinner. By myself,” she added, for emphasis. Rowena wondered whether they were supposed to applaud. She tried to think of something to say, but Maralynne charged off to the television.
“I'm gonna put on Chow Hall,” Maralynne said. “'Cause I need the inspiration.” Rowena and Sammy exchanged a glance: Chow Hall! Rowena was tired enough already. A hideous thought struck her: Was her sister going to forget everything she had tried to teach her and prepare a Chow Hall meal? Was she going to prepare it according to the tape they were about to watch, a tape Maralynne herself had perhaps not seen? She opened her mouth to say something, then closed it.
She could not object to the meal before she had eaten it.
Maralynne turned on the tape, then skipped off into the kitchen.
On this episode of Chow Hall, Joe and Harry, to Rowena's horror, announced their intention to “scorch up” some Bacon Flambé.
“It's a showstopper!” one of them said. “Your guests will be speechless.” Rowena felt Sammy squeeze her hand; evidently he was thinking the same thing she was. She watched doubtfully as Joe and Harry sprinkled pepper on each other, then settled down—to the extent that Joe and Harry ever settled down—to cook the bacon. She shut her eyes when they removed it from the heat and prepared to set it alight.
“Will you look at that,” said Chester. Rowena peeked, not altogether willingly, and winced at the flaming, sputtering grease. “Taa-daaaa!” said Harry or Joe. In the kitchen, Maralynne cheered; no one in the living room moved.
“I wonder what they pay for insurance,” mused Chester, after awhile.
“Next—Marshmallow and Jelly Parfait.” Joe or Harry clapped his hands as his partner took the Bacon Flambé somewhere off-camera and, Rowena hoped, disposed of it. “I told you we were gonna be exotic today.”
“Exotic is one way to put it,” said Harry or Joe, returning from his trip. “I call it delicious.” He rubbed his stomach, licking his chops extravagantly.
“Well, I won't argue with you there.” Joe—or Harry—gestured proudly at the counter, on which now rested a jar of marshmallow filling, two jars of jelly, and four parfait glasses. “These tall clear glasses are good for parfait because you can see the layers. That's what a parfait is; a layered dessert. It's spelled p-a-r-f-a-i-t. Write that down.” Rowena decided it was just as well she couldn't see whether her sister was following their advice. She sat quietly and as calmly as she could while two parfaits were assembled, but when Joe and Harry got to their Pickle Pointer—“Today—Pickled Pickerel with Pike!” she sank down into her chair. She wondered whether she could get up and sneak out of the room and—
And doom, if it turned out her sister needed her while she was gone. She watched silently as Joe and Harry sampled their “previously presented Pickled Pollock,” then sighed very quietly as they lowered strips of fish into their pickling jars and slapped each other with sprigs of dill. She was very glad when the sealed jars were lifted from the boiling water and set on the counter. “As always,” remarked Joe or Harry, “we need to let our pickles ‘pop’ to make sure the jars are sealed and the food inside is safe.”
“Remember,” added Harry or Joe, “if your pickles don't pop, you're gonna poop. Or worse.”
“Did you just think that up?”
“I sure did. I want our viewers to be sure and remember, because we don't want to get anybody sick.”
“Except from your jokes.”
“Hey. My jokes never got us sued.” Joe and Harry laughed a moment, then faced the camera again.
“Well, looks like that's all we have time for,” one of them said. “Next week our Guy Food will be Chips & Dip. And for our Pickle Pointer: Pickled Perch.”
“And we'll also be doing another tasty dessert—Whipped Cream Pie. So until next time, this is Joe—”
“Reminding you to cook up and chow down. Goodbye!”
Maralynne, unseen, applauded the show. Rowena closed her eyes. She had not heard, and still did not hear, anything coming from her sister's kitchen that sounded like bacon cooking, although with the television on, she couldn't be sure.
The television screen went blank. “Oh, poo,” Maralynne called. “Is that it?”
“That's it, Chicken,” said Chester.
“There isn't another episode?”
“Not on that tape,” Chester said. “I don't think.”
“Wait and see if anything comes up.”
What came up was a shot of Maralynne herself in a lacy nightgown. She winked suggestively at her viewers; Rowena closed her eyes and heard Chester get up hastily and switch off the set.
“What was that?” Maralynne called. “I didn't see.”
“Nothing,” Chester said.
“Don't worry about it.”
“Oh, you,” Maralynne said. “You never talk.” She began banging pots and pans around, and while she was done doing that, she started humming, Chester apparently forgotten.
“Well, let's see,” Chester said now. “On Tuesday we found a root exploit in a daemon we happened to be running, but the vendor's patch barfed because we'd kludged the source to update the shadow file on the fly. So naturally I . . .”
Rowena stared at the blank TV screen. She didn't exactly miss Joe and Harry, she told herself; she really was better off now that the show was over.
After a while she began to notice a sizzling noise. Sizzling . . . And then she smelled things; cooking things. Things that seemed they might be edible.
Things that did not seem to be bacon.
And then there was a clattering on the table, which Maralynne's guests did their best to ignore, and then Maralynne was calling, “Dinner is served!” and they got up and Maralynne said, “Chester, you wash your hands before you eat my food!” and Rowena looked over at Sammy. They let Chester at the sink first, then followed him.
“Something to do with ground cow,” Sammy whispered.
“That's it,” Rowena said. “Cow Hall. It'll be a hit.”
Sammy laughed and kissed her, then kissed her again. “Where are you guys?” Maralynne demanded. “It'll get cold.”
They joined Maralynne and Chester at the table, which was spread with:
Bottled ketchup and mustard
A jar of relish
French fries, apparently the kind that come frozen in a bag
And a tossed green salad.
“Dig in!” said Maralynne happily.
And they did.
“What did I tell you?” asked Sammy, putting his hand on Rowena's shoulder. They had taken their leave of Maralynne and Chester, after a dish of ice cream each for dessert and about a dozen compliments for their hostess. Maralynne, brimming with pride, had even announced that she was going to do the dishes all by herself, with maybe only Chester to help. Rowena had certain doubts about this, but kept them to herself.
“See?” Sammy said. They were standing by her car. “Wasn't it edible?”
“Yeah,” Rowena said. “It was.”
He moved his hand to her cheek. “Now,” he said. “We had a little bet . . . ?”
She laughed. “Time to pay up, huh?” she said. “I think that can be arranged.”
He drew her to him and kissed her for quite a while.
The next day she called her sister to thank her for the dinner. She thought of giving her sister some flowers; not roses, something less formal; gerbera daisies, perhaps.
“Oh, you're welcome, ”Maralynne said. “Did you really enjoy it?”
“Yes, I did. And so did Sammy.”
“Oh, that's good. I feel a whole lot better, now that I can cook and everything.”
“Well, I'm glad I—”
“Independent,” Maralynne said. “You know?”
“So now that I can do all that,” Maralynne said, “you can teach me some complicated stuff.”
“Complicated . . .”
“Like petits fours and soufflés and lasagna and how to remove stains,” Maralynne said. “You know.”
“Ah,” said Rowena. “That stuff.”
“Yeah,” said Maralynne. “So, like, is next week good for you?”
Rowena took a deep, deep breath. “Well, maybe the lasagna part,” she said. “If you do all the cleaning yourself.”
“Myself?” asked Maralynne. “But it's only cleaning.”
“All by yourself,” said Rowena firmly.
“Well . . . okay. But it better be good.”
“It'll be good,” Rowena said. “It'll be good.”
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