|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Serious.||Rowena Moves In, Part 7|
Rowena sighed into the phone. “Oh, Terese,” she said.
“Still no luck, huh?”
“We figured, there's lots of two-bedroom apartments around; we'll find one in a few days and move in together and have an office and everybody can stay out of everybody else's fur.” Terese laughed. Rowena still had not introduced her dog to Sammy's cat. Otherwise, all members of the proposed foursome got along fine. “And we figured we could afford . . . enough. And all the apartment buildings around here; how hard could it be? But we've been . . . Sammy even called a couple of places outside our calling area. Toll calls, Terese. To find a place to live. And we don't want a long commute.”
“You're not thinking of quitting your job, are you?” Terese demanded. “Where would you find another Eloise? You can't do this to me!”
“My point exactly.”
“Terese . . .”
“Sorry. How long has it been, again?”
“One month and four days.” Anticipating Terese' reaction to such an exact number, she added, “Well, you asked.”
“I guess I did.”
“Anyway, when we started all this we thought it would take a few days, maybe a week. And then we'd give notice to our current landlords and . . . we'd be moved in by now. But here it is the beginning of a new month and we have to pay rent again on our separate apartments with nothing in sight . . . It's just kind of rubbing it in. I mean, we've looked through the whole Classifieds section every week, and all the rental magazines—mostly a bit expensive for us, but we looked—we've even gone around looking for For Rent signs. But we can't find a single two-bedroom apartment in our area—the area we want—that would accept our pets. Not one that was still available.”
Now Terese sighed. “Oh, well. What kind of two-bedroom place do you want?”
“Well, we're looking for something on the second floor rather than the first—with a balcony, of course, but also we'd feel safer, and there's a better breeze up there . . .”
“Tell me about it.”
“ . . . Although air conditioning would be nice, too. And a dishwasher, not that I'd use it every time . . .”
“You know what I'd like?” Terese asked. “A formica countertop, instead of this tile stuff. That probably sounds tacky of me, but it would be so much easier to clean. Probably more sanitary, too.”
“It's on my list,” Rowena said. It was a pretty long list: a bedroom window that didn't face East, a kitchen window right over the sink, an on-site manager, lots of cupboard space, new paint and carpeting . . . “And at least one bathtub,” she said aloud. “As opposed to just a shower stall, I mean.”
“My first place didn't have a tub. I didn't know I'd miss baths so much.”
“Mmmm.” Rowena had a tub; she just didn't want to lose it. There was much about her dream of starting out life with Sammy in their very own love-nest that she didn't want to lose. “So, you know, I've got all these things that would be really nice to have, and I see all these ads that mention all this stuff, or quite a bit of it anyway, and that don't say ‘No pets,’ but when I call . . .” She sighed again. “It's not even like I have a choice between a dishwasher and my dog, not that that is a choice; there's just nothing out there. There were a couple of landlords who'd allow cats but not dogs. Which doesn't do us much good.”
“Well,” said Terese, who had two cats herself, “you went and got a dog instead of a cat . . .”
“Sorry. You know I like Linus; he's a sweetie.”
“He is. And I'm not giving him up.”
“Of course not,” said Terese. “Look. The apartments that weren't available—somebody else got to them first. Next time, you'll just have to be that somebody.”
“Wrong moment for heavy philosophy, huh? Don't worry. It'll work out somehow.”
“Terese, I have never received any complaints about Linus, not from the landlords, not from my neighbors . . . and Sammy's never had a complaint about Caesar. I mean . . . I can't believe nobody's willing to rent to us.”
“If you'll forgive me the hackneyed phrase, tomorrow is another day. Complete with brand-new listings.” Terese paused just a moment. “You'll find something. There's a lot of renters with dogs. You, for instance.”
Plenty of them, Rowena thought; all in competition for the same few openings. She sighed, thinking of her wished-for frost-free refrigerator, her balcony, her new carpeting. And she'd found the idea of an office, once Sammy suggested it, very appealing. Not only could one of them work late without disturbing the other, but it seemed more homelike, somehow, to have a room for a special purpose. “And that way we won't have to pretend computers make elegant living-room furniture,” Sammy had said. He also wanted to make a real home.
“Elegant?” Rowena had asked. “Are we going to be elegant?” Sammy had laughed.
“You know what I mean, though,” he said; and of course Rowena did.
And she'd be living there with Sammy. With Sammy . . . every morning, every evening, all night. And the weekends . . .
“Right?” Terese was saying. “Rowena?”
“Right,” Rowena said.
Linus came by and poked her leg, and she reached down to pet him.
The next morning, Rowena steeled herself for an early start through the newspaper. She went through the ads with her pen, circling some and putting a single line alongside others. These were less likely. Finished, she looked the page over. It would have to do. She reread the first ad to see what she needed to ask. The Pet Question, of course; it was so important and so effective at eliminating possibilities that she always began with it. For this ad, she'd also need to ask the cross street and . . .
She dialed, and a woman answered. “Hello,” Rowena said, “I'm calling about the two-bedroom apartment in . . .”
“It's gone,” the woman said.
“Already? Well, um, thank you.” Rowena hung up. This wasn't the first time she'd been too late, but she still felt foolish. She dialed the next number.
“Hello; I'm calling about the two-bedroom apartment. Your ad doesn't—”
“What's your Social Security Number?”
“Your Social Security Number. I need your Social Security Number to do a background check.”
“I'm not giving you my Social Security Number,” Rowena said. She didn't even know who he was.
“Then I can't help you,” the man said, and hung up. Rowena stared at the phone.
She didn't care whether he accepted pets or not. She suspected he didn't, but she didn't care if he did. She wrote his phone number down in large letters and, above it, DO NOT CALL. And then she moved on to the next place.
“Hello; I'm calling about the two-bedroom apartment for rent. Do you allow pets?” Without quite meaning to, she held her breath.
“No pets,” the landlord said.
Rowena set a pot of water on the stove and turned on the heat. Sammy was coming over. They'd been hoping to look at apartments, but as there were none to look at, they were only going to have dinner. “Don't worry,” Sammy had told her, on the phone. “It'll take a little longer, but we'll manage.”
“Yeah,” Rowena had said. She wasn't sure how much waiting she could stand, or how many more fruitless phone calls to landlords. But she wanted to make a home with Sammy. With Sammy and both their furry dependents.
She took the vegetables out of the crisper and found herself thinking again how nice it would be to have a frost-free fridge. Yellow squash and red bell peppers. If she had a balcony, maybe she could grow her own peppers. She got out her cutting board.
It was not as if they had to stay in the new apartment forever. Even if they stayed together, got married, they wouldn't remain in the same apartment. With any luck, they would someday move into a house. And, she told herself, they didn't actually have to have, right now, every single one of the features they wanted. Not every single one of them.
They did have to have their pets.
Their pets, and each other.
She turned off the burner under the pasta and was just lifting the pot when Sammy knocked on her door. She set the full pot back on the turned-off burner and went to let him in. Linus ran almost under her feet; she gasped out his name half-scoldingly and he wagged his tail. She opened the door.
“Hello; you're just in time.”
“Hi,” said Sammy. He knew she hadn't found anything, and he'd told her on the phone that he hadn't had any luck either. So why was he grinning like that?
She shut the door behind him. “Well?” she asked.
“Well,” Sammy said, “I may have found an affordable place that allows pets.”
“Really? Any details?”
“Two bedrooms, two baths,” Sammy said. “Conveniently located; very near here, in fact. The neighborhood's a lot like this one, the building's the same age . . .”
“Sammy . . .”
“You seen the front of your building lately?”
They hurried out. Sure enough, there in front of the complex, was a Vacancy sign. Two bedrooms, two baths, and Mrs. Masters' phone number for inquiries.
They didn't bother to call her. They hastened to her apartment and knocked on the door. Mrs. Masters certainly allowed dogs. She was nosier than Rowena would have preferred, but she didn't make too many rules and she usually had things repaired without too much delay.
They could do worse than to have—in Rowena's case, continue to have—Mrs. Masters for a landlady.
“Why, hello, dear,” Mrs. Masters said. “I hope there's nothing wrong.”
“No—no, everything's fine, Mrs. Masters. We just—”
“Social call?” Mrs. Masters asked. She looked curiously at Sammy but ushered them in.
“This is my boyfriend, Sammy,” Rowena said. As Sammy said hello she suddenly realized she would have to admit to Mrs. Masters that she was going to be Living In Sin. Not an unknown new landlady, but Mrs. Masters. “You, um, have a vacancy here for a two-bedroom apartment? Because Sammy and I are looking for one, and . . . well . . .”
“How nice!” exclaimed Mrs. Masters. “You're such a good tenant, I don't mind telling you; some of the people we've had here . . . well, you wouldn't believe. It's not for me to spread stories or anything like that, but some of the goings-on . . . People knocking holes in walls, people planting things in bathtubs, people in Number Three trying to pay the rent with forged checks . . . Well!” She paused just slightly for breath. “Are you two getting married?” she asked.
“Um . . . not right now,” Rowena said.
“Well, never mind; we're open-minded here. As long as you're responsible tenants, as I'm sure you will be . . .”
The phone rang, and Mrs. Masters went over to it; she put her hand on it but did not pick it up. It rang a few more times, and then Mr. Master's voice, seldom heard in real life, repeated the Masters' outgoing message. The machine beeped, and the caller began to speak.
“Yes, you have an apartment for rent? I'd like to make an appointment to look at it? My name is Tracy Standler? If you could call me? My number is . . .”
Rowena stood very still, listening. She had not seen the apartment yet, but she did not want some stranger grabbing it before she even had a chance to look it over. Even if she decided she didn't like it, she wanted to at least look it over.
Mrs. Masters let Tracy Standler finish her message. “You know, that's the second call I've had for that apartment, and the sign hasn't been out for half an hour,” she said. “I'd better take you to see it before the first caller arrives, hadn't I?”
“Please,” Rowena said.
She and Sammy dutifully followed as Mrs. Masters led them towards the back of the building. When they reached Rowena's apartment Mrs. Masters turned and started up the steps, right past Rowena's door. Rowena stood a moment, startled, before turning also to follow her up.
Mrs. Masters stopped. Rowena and Sammy waited while she unlocked the door to the apartment directly above Rowena's, Mrs. Frobisher's apartment—to what had been Mrs. Frobisher's apartment, Rowena found, when the door opened to an empty expanse of carpeting. “Well,” said Mrs. Masters, stepping into the room, “let's see now.”
The carpeting was not new, but it looked to be in good shape. So did the paint. The kitchen was very like Rowena's, with a window over the sink, though up here on the second floor—right where Rowena wanted to be—the view was better than the one she had now. No balcony and no dishwasher, but the refrigerator was frost-free and Rowena liked the linoleum. The master bedroom had, like hers, a north exposure so they would not be awakened at dawn. The second bedroom—Rowena found she was already thinking of it as her and Sammy's office—featured a window box full of pansies, fastened on somehow by Mrs. Frobisher and left behind. The bathrooms both had nice new toilets, shiny fixtures, nice linoleum, and big mirrors, and one of them had a second mirror and a much-larger medicine cabinet than the one Rowena was now using. She listened to Mrs. Masters chatter, watched as she pointed out features Rowena had no trouble noticing on her own. As Mrs. Masters talked, Rowena flicked on lights and ran water. She looked from time to time at Sammy, who smiled back in a way that warmed her.
She wanted this apartment.
It didn't have a balcony, it didn't have new paint or carpeting, but she could live here. She could live here with Sammy and Linus and Caesar; she could see it. Their own apartment; their own little family. A real family with a real frost-free fridge and a window box full of real flowers.
It didn't have everything on her list, but it had enough. It definitely had enough.
“Now,” continued Mrs. Masters, “since you're already a tenant, and a good one, I'm prepared to give you a little discount on the rent, say—twenty-five dollars a month. So that would bring it to . . .” With a little difficulty, she did the calculations out loud and on her fingers. Even without the discount the rent fell within the budget Rowena and Sammy had settled on.
“Does that sound reasonable?” Mrs. Masters asked.
“Yes—I think so,” Rowena said, and Sammy nodded judiciously.
“Well, good,” said Mrs. Masters. “Do you have any questions?”
“I'll be bringing a cat, Mrs. Masters,” Sammy said. “So we'll have a dog and a cat.”
“No problem,” Mrs. Masters said. “As long as they're not fighting all day.” And she laughed. Rowena felt just a bit uneasy, but Mrs. Masters didn't seem to notice. “Would you two like to talk it over?” she asked.
They withdrew to the bedroom; their bedroom, Rowena hoped. “Well?” Sammy asked. “What do you think?”
“I don't think we're going to do any better.”
“Neither do I,” said Sammy.
“So . . . we're taking it?”
Sammy smiled. “If you don't mind staying in this building,” he said.
“I don't mind.”
“Then let's do it.”
They went back out and found Mrs. Masters, who was deeply involved in examining the kitchen blind. They told her of their decision, and Mrs. Masters, declaring herself “tickled pink,” brought them back to her apartment to sign the forms. They signed, then left for Rowena's apartment—her current apartment—and what had now become a celebratory dinner.
“The pasta's gonna be ruined,” Rowena said, suddenly remembering.
“Do you have any more?”
“Yes; I just hate to have to throw food away.” She sounded, Rowena thought, like a grownup; like the Lady Of The House. She smiled.
“Well, if it's already spoiled, there's no rush,” Sammy said. “Would you like to take a little detour to the new place, to see it without Mrs. Masters?”
To open the door all by themselves; perhaps even to lock it behind them . . . “Of course,” Rowena began, when she heard a knocking sound behind them. A male voice said something she couldn't quite catch, to which Mrs. Masters' voice replied, “Oh, dear; I'm afraid you're too late. Somebody else got here first, and I had to give it to them.” Rowena clasped Sammy's hand in one of hers; in the other she clutched a shiny key. In a little while she would put it on her key ring. After she'd used it, and it had worked for her. When she was sitting safely down and couldn't lose it. Her key. Her key to . . . so many things.
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