|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Serious.||Rowena Moves In, Part 5|
Rowena leaned back in her chair. “Does it have to be tomorrow night?” she asked Terese. Tomorrow night she had a date with Sammy.
“If they're not collected by tomorrow night, my mom says she's throwing them away,” Terese said. “And it's a little late to do it tonight.”
Rowena shifted the phone to her other ear, as if she thought that would help. “What's the big rush?” she asked.
“Something to do with painting all the rooms and something to do with being sick of looking at the things,” Terese said. “Especially the rocking chair. Which . . . it may not be the most gorgeous rocking chair in the world, but it's not that bad.” Rowena sighed. “She says if I take it back while I'm ‘between boyfriends’ I don't have to tell the next one why my mother had my rocking chair and where it came from and he doesn't have to get a complex about its being a gift from somebody else and make me get rid of it again.”
Rowena remembered this. “Because you got it from a previous boyfriend?” she'd asked at the time. “No,” Terese had answered, “because of what I used to do in it with the previous boyfriend.” This had made only partial sense to Rowena—was he going to make her get rid of the bed, too, or perhaps the floor?—but there were certain things she didn't believe in arguing about. Now she said, “Well, if you want to keep them . . .”
“I want to keep them,” Terese said. “At least the chair and the mirror. That's why I have to go get them before my mom does something I'll regret later.”
“Okay,” Rowena said. “I'll help.”
“Thanks,” said Terese. “I'll even throw in a free, albeit cheap, dinner as a personal thank-you. Just like one of those Call Now ads on TV.”
“I'm overwhelmed,” Rowena said.
“And it can't wait?” Sammy asked.
“Not according to Terese.”
“Well, let's see. Want to make it . . . no, wait, I have to deliver something . . . Sweetheart, I don't know that I have any free evenings until the weekend.”
“Oh, Sammy.” Rowena sighed.
“Saturday, my love,” Sammy said. “I'll see you Saturday. Right?”
Rowena smiled a bit into the phone. “Right,” she said.
They had time to make plans for the weekend, to share a little news, to laugh a bit together. It wasn't so bad being unable to see Sammy tomorrow night when she had him on the phone right now. She listened to his voice, the warmth of it. She couldn't see him, couldn't touch him, but he was almost, almost right there.
“Thanks again,” said Terese. “I really appreciate this.” She had just picked Rowena up; they were in the car.
“Don't mention it,” Rowena said. She felt uncomfortable when someone thanked her for doing something she wasn't sure she wanted to do.
Terese eased out for a left turn. “Did I tell you my mom's looking forward to seeing you again?” she said. “Prepare to explain all about your life these days.”
“Haven't you told her anything about that?”
“What difference does that make?” Terese slowed to a stop. “Besides, no one tells Eloise stories like you.”
“How many people do you know who tell Eloise stories at all?”
Terese laughed. “Trust me,” she said. “Nobody does it better.” Rowena rolled her eyes, although not at the prospect of talking to Terese's mother. She liked Terese's mother.
They drove on. Rowena got Terese to tell her a few stories from her job, something Terese generally seemed reluctant to do; Terese maintained that Rowena's job was much more interesting. “Well, last week Tom took some copies out of the copy machine a little, shall we say, inattentively, and stapled them without looking at them. He figured he'd had the copies printed last page first, and what was there to check?”
“What indeed?” asked Rowena, and waited.
“He held it upside down,” Terese said, “and stapled the wrong corner. The lower right.” She gave Rowena a moment to think about it. “And never did notice it until Ms. Farnham nicely pointed it out to him.”
“Nicely nicely,” Rowena asked, “or not-so nicely?”
“Depends on who's telling the story. As it's me . . .” She gave Rowena a brief but wicked grin.
“So what happened?” She had not told Terese about her own recent mistake. Not that she thought Terese was perfect, but . . .
“Same thing as happens to a Certain Person at your place,” Terese said. “Nothing. Except of course that he had to do it over.” She pulled up to a stoplight. “Told you your job is more interesting than mine.”
They arrived at Terese's parents' house. Terese parked in front, and her mother greeted them at the door.
“Hello, Terese, thank you. Hello, Rowena; good to see you. It's been so long.”
“Yes, it has,” Rowena said. Terese's mother's name was Anne, but Rowena had a hard time calling her that; she had been too young when they had first met, years and years ago.
Anne ushered them in. She was already preparing the living room for painting; furniture was missing, drop cloths were spread all over the floor, and Rowena now noticed a roll of masking tape in Anne's hand and a number of old stains on the faded sweatshirt she wore.
“Geez, Mom,” Terese said. “You've made your point.”
“What was that?” Anne asked. “Did I hear an offer to help paint?”
“I said, I always did like that sweatshirt you've got on,” said Terese gamely.
“What, this old thing?” Anne asked, and they all laughed. “Terese, your dad's at the store now, picking up a few odds and ends for me; I don't know how soon he'll be back. Can I get you two anything?”
The kitchen was still in order. They sat down at Anne's table and ate thick slices of Anne's homemade bread, toasted light for Rowena and a bit darker for Terese.
“So how have you been, Rowena?” her hostess asked. “How's your family, your job . . . ?”
Rowena looked over at Terese; she didn't know how much Terese may have said already about these topics. “My family's fine,” she said. “My job . . . well, let's see; there's this guy named Leslie Campbell . . .”
Beside her, Terese stifled a snicker.
They were just finishing their toast when Terese's father came home. “What's with you girls?” he demanded. “I though you were going to be working.” He handed a bag of purchases to his wife, who disappeared back into the living room. “Now, be nice, Gordon,” she called as she went.
“Women,” said Terese's father. He greeted his daughter, squinted at Rowena and announced that she'd grown since he'd seen her last.
“Really, Dad,” Terese said. “It hasn't been that long.”
It hadn't, of course, but he'd always liked to tease. Rowena had long suspected that Terese had developed her own sense of humor as a defense, although she had never actually said as much. But Terese's father, once he'd finished his initial jokes, went on to ask the same sorts of questions his wife had, to which Rowena gave answers that did not involve Leslie Campbell.
And then they got to work. The chair and mirror had been moved into Terese's old bedroom, along with as much living room furniture as her parents could cram in; the items Terese and Rowena were to move had been set, considerately, nearest the door. They decided to take the mirror first, as it could go safely into Terese's back seat, whereas the rocking chair would have to be tied down, either in the car's trunk, or, if it came to that, on the roof.
Terese got hold of the top of the mirror, and carefully tipped it to one side so that Rowena could grab the bottom. “Are you girls sure you're all right with that?” asked Gordon, and he was not joking this time.
“We'd better be,” Terese said. “We've got to get it back out of the car and into my apartment afterwards.”
“If you need any help—”
“If we need any help, we'll holler,” Terese said. “Even scream. Trust me.” Rowena got a good grip on her end, and lifted. It was a big mirror, wide enough to be difficult to hold, tall enough—or long, at the moment—to be hard to maneuver, and big enough generally to be heavy. Rowena clutched the mirror's frame, grateful that it was wooden, and much less slippery than the glass.
“Are you sure you're all right?” Gordon asked again. But he got out of the way as they edged into the hall.
“Fine, Dad,” said Terese. They half-walked, half-shuffled towards the door, which Anne hurried to open for them. “Thanks, Mom,” said Terese, as they eased past. At the curb, Rowena stood in the driveway and held the mirror up while Terese opened the car door. The grass, due to some oversight, had just been watered, which meant they didn't have to debate the relative demerits of possible grass stains versus possible pavement damage.
“I hope I'm not scratching the frame or anything,” Rowena said, eyeing the concrete on which it rested.
“Don't worry,” said Terese. “If that edge gets scratched or dented or anything, I'll just put it on the bottom. Actually, the size that thing is, it wouldn't even show if I put it on top.” She came back to reclaim her portion, and, bending and twisting, they wrestled the mirror part-way into the back seat.
“Hang on,” Terese said. She went round to the other side, and after a few minutes of pulling on her part and pushing on Rowena's, they got the mirror in.
Terese closed the door on her side, then came around to Rowena's side, pushed the mirror in a bit farther, wiggled it around until it stopped shifting carefully closed that door as well. “Whew,” Terese said. “Thanks.”
“You're welcome,” Rowena said. She eyed the mirror as it rested, on a slightly troubling slant. She couldn't help but feel a bit satisfied, even though she knew they would only have to get it back out again. After they had dealt with the rocking chair. She said, “I wish I could believe that was the hard part.”
Terese laughed. “A little cynicism makes for excellent disillusionment insurance,” she said. “I heartily recommend it.”
“Cynicism?” Rowena asked. “I thought I was being realistic.”
“Sorry,” said Terese. “People keep telling me I can't tell the difference. Though usually they're the ones using the ‘C’ word.”
They went back into the house. The rocking chair was of course much easier to carry; Rowena could have done it by herself. They did not need to put it on top of the car, as it happened, but they did need the rope. They thanked Terese's parents, then got in the car and left.
“Thanks again,” Terese said. She handed Rowena a cup of tea.
“Thank you.” Rowena took the cup and leaned back in Terese's chair—Terese's non-rocking chair. She inhaled the fragrant steam and closed her eyes.
“Geez,” Terese said. “It's just a cup of tea.” She seated herself, with her trademark coffee mug, on the couch. “I was glad to have you help, though,” she said. “And I'm glad to have you here now. I haven't seen so much of you lately.”
“No,” said Rowena. “I guess not.”
“Is it Sammy?” Terese asked. Rowena opened her eyes and looked at her; Terese kept a straight face very briefly, then smiled.
“I've been spending as much time with him as I can,” Rowena admitted. “Which lately hasn't been—we've both been kind of busy at work and so on.”
Terese nodded. “Been there,” she said.
Rowena blew on her tea. “I don't mean to be neglecting you,” she said, “if that's how—how it seems. I just feel kind of squeezed these days.”
“I will refrain,” said Terese with dignity, “from making a slightly rude joke.”
Rowena laughed. “That's one of the things I like about you, Terese; your self-restraint.” She slipped the saucer out from under her cup and set it on Terese's coffee table.
“Somebody's gotta do it,” Terese said. She set her coffee on the table and rearranged herself so that she was reclining against the far arm of the couch. She leaned over and retrieved her coffee. “You're happy, though, right?”
“Yes . . .” Rowena said, and waited.
“That's good.” Terese took a sip of coffee. Rowena continued to wait. She could not always tell whether Terese was happy, or even whether she wanted Rowena to believe that she was.
Terese regarded the photograph on the wall beyond her feet; the waterfall on her wall, as she liked to call it. “If you and Sammy are happy, that's good.”
Another sip of tea. “Do you disapprove?”
“Of Sammy? I don't disapprove of Sammy. I like Sammy.”
Rowena sipped warily. “Good,” she said. She set the teacup on its saucer.
“If I disapproved, it would be because you seem to be getting a bit . . . swallowed up.”
“Swallowed up?” asked Rowena, as casually as she could. “In what way?”
“All your time, all your energy . . . if you're not careful, there won't be any you left. Just Sammy's Girlfriend.”
“And is this happening to Sammy too?” She was risking Terese's wrath this time, but she couldn't help it.
But all Terese said was, “Maybe.”
Rowena considered. Terese had a little more coffee. “Personally,” she said, “I can't think of anything worse than getting married at seventeen and just settling into a life of drudgery and low horizons, without ever having had any kind of a life.”
“I'm not seventeen,” Rowena said.
“No, no; I was thinking of the old-fashioned ideal. Or, the reality; the ideal would have involved servants.”
“I wouldn't want that, either,” Rowena said. “To spend my life sitting around making messes for other people to clean up.”
Terese laughed, laughed so hard she had to put her coffee down. Rowena hadn't thought it was that funny. She looked into her tea. “Well, I wouldn't,” she said.
“Oh, my,” said Terese. “You see why I don't want you to change?” A timer went off in the kitchen, and Terese went to check on the meatloaf she was warming over. It smelled ready to Rowena. She got up and followed Terese.
“I'm sorry if I was rude, or if I hurt your feelings or anything,” Terese said.
“I just . . .” Terese jabbed her fork into a broccoli floret. “It really looks to me like you're spending all your time with this guy. And he's nice and everything, but . . .” She raised her head, finally, to look directly at Rowena. “It probably sounds like sour grapes,” she said, “but, well . . . don't you have anything else to do?”
Rowena wasn't at all sure how to respond to this. “I do plenty of things,” she said. “But you can either be alone or with someone else, and I really like to be with Sammy. I like other people, too,” she added, “but, well . . . on those days I can spend a little time with Sammy, I tend to want to do that.” It was, she admitted to herself, more than a tendency, but she did not say this to Terese. Nor did she ask what was wrong with spending lots of time with Sammy, seeing as how she was only going to be thinking of him anyway.
Terese picked up her glass and drank. “I really don't feel I have less of a life than I did before,” Rowena said. Quite the reverse, she added to herself.
“I didn't mean that,” Terese said. Rowena waited for her to explain what she had meant, but Terese merely scooped some instant mashed potatoes onto her fork.
“I should think,” Rowena said, “that you'd be glad somebody was keeping me away from my family.”
Terese looked up at her and grinned. “What? And deprive me of your Goofy Relatives stories?”
Rowena relaxed. “Always the altruist,” she said. Terese laughed.
“Hey. It's my personal theory that there's a set amount of insanity on the world, and that secret acts of looniness—say, things Rowena's mother does that Rowena doesn't mention to anyone—secret acts of looniness just sort of waste away into the void to be replaced by more acts of looniness. Whereas things Rowena's mother does that Rowena tells people about live on in some way so that worse acts of looniness can't replace them. Therefore, your telling me those stories helps keep the whole world from dissolving into weirdness.”
Rowena wasn't sure whether to laugh or groan. “Do you really believe that?” she asked.
Terese just grinned at her.
Rowena helped Terese with the dishes. She tried not to watch the clock, although it had occurred to her that she would probably get home in time to call Sammy. She wondered whether Terese suspected what she was thinking. But if she did, she gave no sign. She told a story about a coworker's car breaking down, how he'd seen some small, oddly-shaped metal object lying three very busy lanes away, and was tempted to try fetching it in case it had come from his car. “Then some enormous truck comes by and flattens the thing,” Terese reported. “Probably saved the guy's life. And when Professional Help finally arrived, it turned out that some hose in the car's engine had come loose. No missing metal gizmo at all—that thing he'd almost killed himself to get had nothing to do with him.”
“Whew,” said Rowena. And she gave Terese a look. “So how much weirdness have you saved us from, telling me that?”
They laughed. “I dunno,” Terese said. “My Weirdometer is broken. Pity, too; especially with you here.” Rowena felt something push against her leg; Terese's cat Bonnie had come out of hiding.
“Hi, there, Bonnie!” she said. Terese looked down.
“Decided to make an appearance, huh? Well, you missed dinner.” Bonnie looked over her shoulder at Terese, then turned and rubbed Rowena with her other side, her plumy grey tail lingering.
“Where's Clyde?” Rowena asked her. Sometimes this made Bonnie's ears twitch, but this time she couldn't be bothered. She turned around and came at Rowena a third time.
“That Clyde,” Terese said. “He'll wake up after you've gone and come out here and smell you on the chair or something and act like it's my fault he missed you.”
This was not the first time Terese had made this comment. Rowena looked down again at Bonnie, now looking up at her expectantly. “Bonnie, could you wait a couple minutes? Look, we've got all these dishes—”
“Don't point at them,” Terese warned. “She'll want to jump up and see.”
“Could you wait?” Rowena asked again. But Bonnie sauntered off into the living room. Rowena shrugged and waited for Terese to hand her the second plate. But Terese stood, plate in hand, looking in the direction her cat had gone.
“I never had anybody who was everything for me,” she said. “I don't know; maybe you're lucky. But it looks a little strange to me, I must admit.”
“Terese . . .”
“I don't see myself quite doing that. Or having anybody get like that over me. I'm not sure I'd want to; I mean . . . I'm not sure I'm up to it.”
Rowena decided not to argue the term “everything.” “Whatever works for you,” she said. “As long as you're both getting out of it what you want.”
Terese turned and smiled at her, then handed her the wet plate. “I should have known you'd say something like that,” she said.
“What else could I say?”
Terese smiled again, then reached back into the sink. “You could channel your mother,” she said. “Let out a high-pitched scream of horror that would wake up even Clyde.”
“Even Clyde? Uh-oh.” Rowena busied herself with the dish towel. Terese lifted the bowl in which she'd prepared the mashed potatoes.
“You know,” she said, “I have to admit I'm glad you didn't get like this over that creep Neil.”
“This is nothing like anything that happened with Neil.”
“I know. I am acknowledging that.” Terese finished washing the bowl, then rinsed it and held it, upside-down and dripping, for Rowena, who had forgotten the plate in her hands. She hastened to put it away. Terese waited, letting the bowl drip. “I just . . . I hope everything works out for you.”
Rowena took the bowl from her. “You, too, Terese,” she said. And she went back to her drying, and she let Terese talk about something else.
When they went back into the living room, they found Bonnie there waiting for them. She looked very self-satisfied, and purred loudly when Rowena petted her.
“Hi, Linus! Do I smell like a cat?” Linus danced around, wagging his tail; he did sniff at Rowena, but he had smelled Terese's cats before, and the experience was not novel. And, of course, he knew the smell of Sammy's cat . . .
It was early enough to call, but Rowena waited a bit—several minutes—while she petted her dog. And then she went to the phone and dialed.
Terese would probably not approve, despite her parting, “Say hi to Sammy.” Rowena couldn't help hoping for some romance for her friend, though of course it was hardly up to her to dictate its terms.
“Hello?” Sammy's voice, hopeful, she thought; hoping that she was the one who had called.
“Hi,” she said. “From me and Terese both.”
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