|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Serious.||Rowena Moves In, Part 8|
Rowena sat at her table, trying to work out a menu. Sammy had suggested she prepare something her mother would see as hearty and practical; food a real housewife would serve her family. A promising beginning to True Domesticity. A casserole. Pot roast. Stew. Potatoes. Make it look as though she were planning to cook that way always, just the same, every night, respectably. Bonus points for vitamins and economy. And nothing exotic in the salad.
It made sense; Rowena had prepared elaborate dishes for her parents before, only to have them fail not only to appreciate the food, but even to comprehend it. Unfortunately, she herself was not the beef-and-potatoes type.
“Whatever you like,” Sammy had said. “You cook it, I'll eat it.” He wasn't worried about her parents; he wasn't worried about anybody. Her parents couldn't stop them; nobody could. “I am looking forward,” Sammy told her, “to beginning our life together.”
And Rowena had smiled at him and said, “That does sound nice.”
Now, sitting at her table, Rowena tapped her pencil eraser on the sheet of paper that was supposed to become a shopping list. Roast chicken. She wanted chicken and she would have chicken; everyone liked it, and she could make a nice presentation without too much work. Chicken and . . . red potatoes . . . and . . . buttermilk biscuits . . . and . . .
She started writing. A menu. One step closer to telling her parents that she and Sammy were going to live together.
“Something smells delicious!” Rowena's mother said. But instead of going into the kitchen to interfere with the food, she sat down on the couch. Just as if—Rowena had to hope—just as if to finally acknowledge that Rowena was an adult.
An adult who could make her own decisions and live her own life.
“My job is fine,” Sammy was saying. “We just got a very interesting case.”
“Did you hear that?” Rowena's mother asked Rowena's father. “The lawyer Sammy works for just got an interesting case.”
“Mmm.” His eyes, as usual, never left the TV ballgame.
She turned back to Sammy. “So you get to do the research, right?”
“Among other things.”
“How fascinating! So, this is good training to be a lawyer yourself?”
Rowena knew where this conversation was heading; her mother was desperate to make Sammy become a wealthy lawyer and marry Rowena off to him, not necessarily in that order. “I'll just go check on dinner,” she said, and left. She did not feel too guilty about this; Sammy was not as irritated by her mother as she was.
“There might be a little scene,” Sammy had told her, “but it'll be okay. They're not that bad.”
“You'll be fine,” Terese had said. “Your sister did it, remember? And they didn't have her fed to the lions.”
“With her, I think they were grateful she wasn't doing something worse. Like, starting her own X-rated circus, or moving in with five or six guys instead of just one. So even though she was younger than I am, and the guy she was moving in with was a creep, not that they'd notice a little thing like that, and—”
“Rowena,” Terese had said, “you're more than a match for both your parents together. If not, just gimme a call. I'll take care of 'em for you.”
All was fine in the kitchen, and the chicken was ready. She finished the last few things and set the food out on her nice tablecloth, half-listening as Sammy told her mother how one got into, and through, law school.
“My!” her mother said. “They'd better pay you well after all that! I'm sure it's all a lot easier when you have a good wife looking after you.”
“Dinner's ready,” Rowena said. Sammy could explain if he wanted to that he hadn't actually decided to go to law school; she herself had tried repeatedly to explain it to no apparent effect.
They all trooped to the table. “Oh, my,” her mother said. “Oh, my! Everything looks so good!”
“Thank you,” said Rowena. It did look pretty good. The chicken a dark, reddish gold, the little red potatoes, dotted with parsley and cut into bite-sized chunks, the green salad cool in its glass bowl at one end of the table, and, at the other, still-steaming green peas with pearl onions. The biscuits, covered in their basket, waiting for someone to turn back the cloth that kept them hot.
“Isn't Rowena a wonderful cook, Sammy?” Rowena's mother asked. She continued to ask the same question, repeatedly, throughout the meal, despite Sammy's reliably affirmative answers. Rowena's father ate steadily, his eyes on the television, which Rowena had moved for his convenience to a spot visible from the table; he spoke only to yell at the ballplayers now and then.
“That was wonderful,” her mother said, setting down her dessert fork. “Marvelous. What a baker you are. Wasn't that wonderful, Sammy?”
“Wonderful,” Sammy said. “Could I have some more, please?” He held out his plate.
“Absolutely wonderful,” her mother said, as Rowena cut Sammy another piece. “And what a wonderful filling; how do you do it?”
“It came out of a can,” Rowena said. “I opened a can of cherry pie filling and there it was.”
“Still,” said her mother, and Rowena took a deep breath.
“I was hoping,” she began, “that we could have a little talk.”
“You want to sit and talk to your parents? What a good girl you are.” Rowena closed her eyes briefly and thought about tea. “You see what a good girl she is, Sammy? So thoughtful.”
“Maybe we could all have some coffee,” Sammy suggested. “Or tea.”
“I would love to have a cup of coffee with my daughter and her young man,” Rowena's mother said.
“I'll go make some.” Rowena pushed herself up out of her chair and back towards the sink. When she returned with a tray bearing two cups of coffee, one cup of tea, and a beer for her father (who grunted in appreciation when she set his beverage down), she felt just a little braver than she had. She sat, took a sip of tea and replaced her cup in its saucer. “There's something I want to tell you.”
“You're getting married?”
“No, Mom.” She should have seen that coming. “I—”
“You got a promotion?” asked her mother, visibly disappointed.
“Not exactly.” She took a breath, steeled herself. “Sammy and I are going to be moving into a new apartment. Together.”
Her mother watched her. “You're moving and Sammy's going to help you? Well, that's—”
“No, Mom. Sammy and I are going to live together.”
“You . . .”
“We have a new apartment and we're going to move into it and there is at present no wedding planned,” Rowena said.
“No . . . wedding?”
“But . . .” She shot a panicked look at Rowena, then at Sammy, and finally at Rowena's father. “Wilder! Did you hear what your daughter just said?”
“Mmmmph,” he replied. She stared at him a moment longer, then gave up on him and turned back to Rowena. “How can you do this to me?”
“Mother, I'm not—”
“I had such hopes for you. I—” She broke off to round on Sammy. “Why aren't you marrying my daughter?”
“I assure you, Babette; I love your daughter very much, and I will do my best to take good care of her, married or not.”
“Babette, I understand your concern. If I had a daughter, I would be concerned too.” Rowena could see her mother ponder the possibility of a future grandchild or two. “But I think you'll agree with me,” Sammy went on, “that Rowena is a very sensible and responsible person. She's made a considered decision here, and maybe you should trust her judgment.”
“Her decision? After the way I raised her?”
But it had been Rowena's decision; it was Sammy who had wanted to get married. And it was partly because of her mother that Rowena had balked. She tried to think of a way to rescue Sammy without making things worse.
“I wasn't blaming Rowena,” Sammy said. “I only wanted you to understand that she isn't being forced. We had a talk, and this is what we decided. The two of us. Together.”
“But . . . Commitment . . . Responsibility . . . Family . . . My Daughter!”
“I don't make important decisions lightly, Babette. I feel a very deep commitment to Rowena, even if I have no legal obligation. And I trust she feels the same way about me.” He looked at Rowena then, and his eyes gave her a familiar warmth. Rowena's mother looked from Sammy to Rowena and back again.
“Is it . . . money?” she asked. “Are you afraid you can't support a family? Because I'm sure Wilder and I would be willing to pay for the wedding and the reception and everything, and—and give you enough to get you nicely started, maybe even—”
“Babette!” roared Rowena's father. Rowena hadn't known he was listening. There wasn't even a commercial on; the game was still going and his eyes were still on the screen. “Don't give my money away like that.”
There was a slight, very slight, pause. “Well,” said Rowena's mother, turning back to Sammy, “we could do the wedding and the reception, anyway.” She waited, presumably for another outburst, but none came. “If that's the problem.”
“Thank you, Babette,” said Sammy. “We may take you up on that some day, but not just yet.”
“It's very nice of you to offer,” Rowena found herself saying. Her mother turned to look at her.
“Do you—” she began, but at that point the game gave way to a commercial, and Rowena's father turned around.
“Babette,” he said, “don't you ever again—”
“But it was only to—didn't you hear? Didn't you hear what your daughter is planning to do?”
He looked from her to Rowena, then back again. “Didn't seem to hurt the other one,” he said.
“If they want to get married, they'll get married. If they don't want to you can't make 'em.”
“Nobody's talking about making—”
“I don't know what it is with you and this marriage business,” he said. “Never met anybody with such a one-track mind.” The commercial break ended, and he returned to his game.
“Really,” said Rowena's mother. But he did not respond, and she gave up on him and went back to work on Rowena.
“I'll be so mortified. How can I tell The Girls?”
“And here after I went and told them my daughter was dating such a nice young man!”
“It's better than marrying a nasty young man. Mom—”
“I'll be a leper! A social leper! How can you—”
“Mother, half of your friends have kids who are or were living with somebody. Anyway, Maralynne already—”
“We'll all be lepers. We'll be a leper colony. How can you—”
“You know what?” Rowena demanded. “I don't believe you. I don't believe a word you're saying. You're just trying to manipulate me and it's not going to work. Do you hear me? It's not going to work.”
“Rowena! How can you say that? I am wounded.” Before Rowena could answer, her mother turned to Sammy. “Does your mother know about this?”
“Yes,” replied Sammy readily. “She's pleased. She's very fond of Rowena.”
Rowena's mother stared at him a while, and was silent. Very briefly silent. Then she started up again, and continued until the ballgame ended and Rowena's father hoisted himself out of his chair and announced that it was time to go. This meant, Rowena knew, that as usual he wanted to leave while the experts were still commenting on the last event, and before the next one began.
“Rowena, dear, could you come help me get my coat?” her mother asked.
“Of course,” said Rowena, as casually as she could. Her mother always brought her coat, no mater how warm it might be, but she had never needed help with it.
Not until tonight.
They went into Rowena's little hallway, and Rowena's mother got her coat, then looked back to make sure the menfolk weren't listening. She took hold of Rowena's arm, a little above the elbow. “You've almost got him,” she said, all but trembling with half-suppressed excitement. “All you have to do is prove to him that you'd make an excellent wife—cook only food he likes, keep everything clean, never complain about anything—do whatever he wants—let him watch all his favorite TV shows—and, after a while, tell him that you simply can't go on unless he marries you.”
Rowena put her free hand against the wall to steady herself. “I'll keep that in mind,” she said.
“I'll help you; I'll get you some more cookbooks, I'll—you do know how to sew on buttons, don't you?”
“Yes,” said Rowena evenly, “I know how to sew on buttons.”
“That's my girl.” She gave Rowena a pat on the cheek. “We'll get him yet.” We? Rowena wanted to say. “You just do what I tell you,” her mother went on, “and do what he tells you, and he won't stand a chance.”
“Mom,” Rowena began.
But her mother was already moving off. “Thank you so much for helping me with my coat,” she said loudly. “And thank you for the lovely dinner. Isn't she a terrific cook, Sammy?”
“You're welcome,” said Rowena, before Sammy could reply.
And Rowena's parents left.
By the time Rowena phoned her friend Terese the next day, her mother had already called twice with more Helpful Suggestions. “You can tell him you're, you know, in the, um, family . . . you know.” “You could talk to your sister's psychic about all this. It wouldn't hurt anything.” She had told her mother that she wouldn't lie to Sammy; she had told her mother that a conversation with Madame Zelda would hurt something, most likely Madame Zelda herself. She had told her mother to please stop trying to help; and then she had called Terese and told her about the big dinner and the current state of affairs.
“So now,” Rowena concluded, “she's giving me all these terrific strategies so I can snare Sammy after all. She's delighted, Terese. She's gleeful. All we have to do is appeal to his Sense of Decency and he'll Do the Right Thing. Especially as we'll be reminding him endlessly of the many advantages of husbandhood, and so on.”
Terese laughed. “She really wants you to wait on him hand and foot? How about after the wedding?”
“After that, presumably, I take my rightful place as Queen of the Apartment, and he'd better not complain.”
“You're supposed to keep him too busy to complain,” Terese said. “Not only will it be his turn to wait on you hand and foot, but you gotta get him working on getting you a Real House to be queen of.”
“You been talking to my mother behind my back?” Rowena switched the phone to her other ear. “She's taken to referring to him as ‘your fiancé’ and ‘my future son-in-law.’ When I told her the news I was my dad's daughter; now Sammy's her own personal future son-in-law. You'd think she was trying to disown me and adopt him instead.”
“The son she never had.”
“I really hadn't expected her to think of this as a good thing, in any way, shape, or form. But she's all excited now about how we are going to ‘get’ him. ‘You just do what I tell you, and do what he tells you, and he won't stand a chance.’ I wanna know why, if he's the one in trouble—why do I feel I'm under attack?”
“Because,” Terese explained, “she's your mother. And she's behaving the way your mother behaves. That's why.”
“Thank you,” Rowena said. “You've made it all so clear.”
“Speaking of time,” Rowena said, looking at her watch, “I should go and get ready; Sammy's coming over.”
“All right; say hi for me. I suppose he's taking all this with his usual aplomb?”
“If by that you mean, does he still think my mother is funny, the answer is yes. What else?” Rowena remembered her mother, sitting in shock, trying to digest what she'd just been told. She had looked so helpless. That part hadn't been entirely funny, but Rowena kept thinking about it, remembering it and wondering if her mother were a little bit afraid of her. An adult child with a mind of her own and a separate life.
“They say laughter is important in a relationship,” Terese was saying. “I can hear it now: ‘Why did you marry your wife?’ ‘I wanted a funny mother-in-law.’”
“'Bye, Rowena. Take care.”
Rowena hung up the phone, then checked her watch again. Plenty of time. She went to take her shower.
“And maybe my little bookcase over here?” Rowena pointed. “And then your desk can go there, with that bookcase you've got next to it now . . .”
“And then we'd each have our own little corner. Mini-offices, as it were.” Sammy nodded. “Each with a view out the window, if we turn our heads.”
They were in their new office, planning; they had saved the office for last. They were planning everything, their whole apartment, how they would live. During the week they would box up their belongings and next weekend they would move, efficiently and with a minimum of fuss because they'd be prepared. They were preparing and they were enjoying their plans, enjoying getting together in their rooms—their very own; the first month paid for already—and planning.
They went into the bedroom, and Rowena stood where they had already decided the bed would go. Sammy came to her, put his hand in her hair.
“This is it,” Rowena said. “The landlords aren't going to stop us; my mom isn't going to stop us . . .”
“This is it,” Sammy said. “This is for real.”
“For real,” Rowena said. It was her life, their life, their own together. And it was starting right now. It would start—they would start it—even if her parents had objected, had tried to forbid her. Her parents had no real power over her; she knew this, standing in the new apartment, standing where the bed would go, looking at Sammy. She and Sammy, on their own. She slipped her arms around him and kissed him.
It was a good way to begin.
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