|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Serious.||Rowena Gets A Surprise, Part 3|
Rowena opened the back door of her father's car, letting the sounds of his current ballgame flood out past her. “Hello,” she said, over the noise.
“Get in, get in,” her father grumbled. “We're wasting time. Never mind the trunk; I'll open it at your sister's.” Rowena tossed her suitcase onto the seat and climbed in after it.
“Hello, dear,” said Rowena's mother. She craned around as best she could, in the front passenger seat. “Are you sure you want to wear blue jeans?”
“Yes, I'm sure,” Rowena said. She shut the door. “For sitting in the car all day, blue jeans are fine. They are comfortable. And nobody will object to them, especially as I've brought a skirt to change into once we arrive.” She turned to wave again at Sammy, up on the sidewalk, and Sammy waved back.
“Just because you're going to visit family doesn't mean it's not a Special Occasion,” her mother was saying. “Show your family, and especially your aunt, a little respect. Close family is best, of course, but—” She interrupted herself with a screech as Rowena's father started the car forward. “Dear! Let Rowena get the rest of her things!”
“I've got all my things,” Rowena said. “In my suitcase.”
“That little thing? Do you have enough?”
“Yes. I have plenty.”
“Mom, I'm fine. Really. Fine. I'm even buckled in. I'm all ready to go.”
“Do you have your toothbrush?”
“Yes, I have my toothbrush.”
“And toothpaste too?”
“Babette,” said Rowena's father, and this time he really did get the car going. He would not stop now, Rowena knew, until he absolutely had to.
She twisted back and waved at Sammy, waved until her father turned the corner and Sammy was out of sight.
“You gotta have guts,” the sportscaster told her. “Ya need guts and strength to do this job.”
“I thought you were never, ever getting into a car with your parents again,” Sammy had said. “Ever.”
It was an old promise, and a good one, too; a liberating promise. “I know,” Rowena had said. “And ordinarily I wouldn't, but we're going to see Aunt Nessie, and my mother says . . .”
Sammy had cleared his throat. “Tell me about your Aunt Nessie.”
“Well, let's see. She's my dad's aunt, and ‘Nessie’ is actually short for ‘Nerissa’—I know that much. I met her once, when I was very small. All I remember is that she was scary. How, I don't remember; she just was.” Her kettle had chosen that moment to whistle, and Rowena had got up to get it. “But she has all these rules; everything has to be done just so. And she won't allow . . . This business now, for instance. Mom says the reason you can't even come along and stay in a separate room is not only because we might sneak off somewhere and do unspeakable things together, or even because we might want to take a separate car and expect to park it somewhere at her place, but also because if you came along you would see her Valuable Antiques, and God knows what you would do then. Force me to marry you, at the very least, just so you could get your paws on some of them.” Her water poured, she'd returned the kettle to the stove. “Provided of course that a) She consents at some point to die, and b) She opts for whatever reason to leave me some little trinket in her will.”
Sammy had grinned. “Is her stuff actually worth anything, or is she, ah . . .?”
“Some of it's worth something, from what I understand. It ought to be; she made her money in antiques. I know she's got a few things my mom is desperate for. ‘Good Stuff,’ as she calls it.” Rowena had been hearing about these things, off and on, for years. It might even have been, as her mother claimed, more a matter of aesthetics than of monetary value.
“So not only does your mom have to make your dad go, in order to stay or get in Aunt Nessie's good graces, but she has to try to get herself and you into the good graces of a woman who doesn't want young ladies such as yourself to be forced into marriage.” He'd picked up a cookie, shaking his head solemnly. “I don't envy your mother. This must be a hell of a moral dilemma for her.”
“Moral?” Rowena had asked, picking up her teaspoon. “You realize, one of the reasons my mom didn't argue the point is because if I go away for an entire weekend and leave you all alone here with only a cat and a dog to keep you company, you'll get so lonely you'll want to marry me at once.”
Sammy had smiled. “Well,” he'd said, “it's a little dilemma.”
It was only a few minutes to Maralynne's apartment; a few minutes' worth of her father's raging at his incompetent athletes and her mother's fussing over whether Rowena had “gone” before she left. A few minutes for her mother to focus her attention just on Rowena—on Rowena and that tacky minimall over there, and the cute, sweet, adorable little baby over there, and wouldn't it be nice, Rowena, to have one just like it—just like it only better, of course, ha ha, smarter and—well, of course, we'll have to get around Sammy first; why is it men always have to be coaxed into marriage and—
Rowena sat in the back seat, saying as little as possible. This was only the beginning.
Maralynne, when they got to her apartment, made a great show of struggling with a rather large bag; Rowena, who'd come out of the car to move her own bag from the back seat into the trunk, sighed to herself and helped with the hoisting. Her sister's suitcase was, in fact, surprisingly heavy.
“Now this one,” Maralynne said, lifting the second. “And now I'll go get the other two, and then my makeup case and my extra shoes and my purse, and we'll be all set.”
“You going to the North Pole?” their father demanded.
“I'm prepared,” Maralynne said. “These are necessities.”
“Rowena,” her mother called, as her father presumably turned purple, “go help your sister.”
Rowena went, was given the largest of the remaining items; a bag larger even than their mother's big suitcase. “Honestly,” Maralynne said, as their father honked the horn.
“You know how he is about trips and delays and Making Time.” Rowena started, wobbling, for the door. “Really, Maralynne, it's only one night.”
“But what if it's cold and what if it's hot and what if it's formal and what if it's casual and what if it's formal both days and maybe in the evening too and I can't wear the same thing twice.”
“And what if it's hot and it's formal and what if there's a producer there I have to look my best.”
“A producer where? It's just family.” Rowena wrestled the suitcase onto her father's bumper; it seemed to her the back end of the car sagged noticeably. “Anyway, you're always trying to look your best.”
“And what's the matter with that?”
“All I meant was, your usual—”
“You two done back there?”
“In a minute, Dad.” Maralynne tried placing the bag she'd just brought alongside the one Rowena had wedged in, but it wouldn't fit. They tried turning this, shifting that, to no avail; Maralynne's four suitcases, in addition to Rowena's one, the one their father had brought, and their mother's three, proved too much even for their father's trunk.
“Then leave it!” their father barked. A roar came from the car radio; Rowena wondered whether it meant good news for his team, or bad.
“Dad-dy! My swimsuit's in there!”
“What do you need a swimsuit for?” he demanded. “There's no water where we're going.”
“That's what you forgot to pack,” Rowena said. Her sister stared at her, uncomprehending, then began digging about in the baggage.
“Dad-dy!” she called. “How 'bout the spare tire? What do you need a spare for?”
Finally they were underway, Maralynne's smaller bags stuffed between the two sisters and under their feet and Rowena's purse, much to her private chagrin, up front with their mother. “Don't put any weight on your feet,” Maralynne said. “My curling iron's in there.”
“I don't want to hear you two bickering back there.” Rowena had not been bickering; she had been about to ask Maralynne whether her more breakable chattels might be concentrated, if they weren't already, in the indestructible-looking, rigid-sided case under Maralynne's feet. Maralynne said, “I wasn't, it was Rowena,” and Rowena, biting her tongue, turned and looked out the window. Maybe she could bring up the baggage issue later.
“I want you girls to play nicely back there,” Rowena's mother said. She didn't sound as if she were joking. How old did she think they were? “Do you hear me, Rowena?”
“I hear you,” Rowena said. She could also hear her father, muttering angry words—angry noises—she couldn't understand. She remembered this from other drives; he would keep up a steady stream of invective against the weather, the other drivers, his family . . . When there was a ballgame on the radio, and it seemed there always was, the muttering would get louder during commercials and quieter (except during moments of crisis, such as a strikeout) while the game was in progress. Rowena had always preferred having a game on; it was easier to have her dad angry at invisible athletes than at road conditions, or herself.
She thought, now, that she made out the word, “luggage.”
“Are you going to get along with your sister?” her mother asked.
Rowena closed her eyes. “I'll try,” she said. She thought she heard, in her father's voice, something about “time.”
“And you'd better make a good impression on Aunt Nessie,” her mother went on. “Both of you. I remember last time, Maralynne; I was so humiliated . . .”
“I wasn't even two yet!” Maralynne objected.
“You think Aunt Nessie is going to forget a thing like that? I'm surprised she's giving you another chance.”
“Is that what she said? Did she say she was still mad at me? Did she mention it at all?”
“I was never so humiliated. Well, almost never.”
“I can't guarantee her reaction when she sees you again.”
Rowena's father braked a bit suddenly, and even though there wasn't a commercial on, the volume of his cursing rose. He started up again.
“If either of you girls annoys her now, there will be Consequences,” their mother said. “She may never forgive us at all. I want you both on your best behavior. Do you understand? Girls?”
It was going to be a long trip. A long trip and a long weekend.
Every trip Rowena could recall having taken with her family, her mother had been obsessed with something. Every single trip, her mother had found some topic on which to ramble on and on.
In this case, it was Aunt Nessie's Good Stuff.
“Of course,” Rowena's mother sighed, “that wonderful dining room set, genuine Chippendale—”
“Chippendale's?” Maralynne perked up visibly. Rowena shut her eyes.
“You're too young, of course—”
“You wouldn't remember, but that set . . . that set was lovely. Exquisite.”
“It's a style of furniture,” Rowena explained, in a whisper.
“Furniture?” Maralynne had clearly been paying even less attention to their mother than Rowena had.
“You better believe it's furniture,” their mother said. “That Davenport, for instance, the—”
“Enough, Babette,” Rowena's father said.
“I was just telling the girls—”
“Honestly.” Rowena's mother pouted. “I was only—”
“Well,” said Rowena's mother. She sat in silence for several seconds; the world outside went by, miles away from home, miles more to go.
“Maralynne,” she said at last, “did you remember to bring your toothbrush?”
About two hours into the drive Rowena's mother began her standard appeal for a restroom stop.
“You went before we left,” Rowena's father said. Which was his standard line. As was, “You can go when we stop for lunch,” “We'll never get there at this rate,” and “The girls can hold it in, why can't you?” Rowena shut her eyes and wished she were asleep, though if she had fallen asleep nothing would have stopped her from dreaming the whole exchange; she knew it by heart. Or so she thought, until her father added a new line: “Why didn't you go at one of the girls' places?”
“When we left Rowena's it was only a few minutes after I did go.”
“You could have gone while they were doing all that baggage stuff,” Rowena's father said. “They certainly took enough time.”
“At Maralynne's? I couldn't go at Maralynne's.” Apparently she was aware, despite Maralynne's best efforts to deceive her, of the normal state of Maralynne's bathroom when it hadn't been specially prepared for company. “Anyway, that was only a few minutes later, too.”
“An entire army could have gone to the bathroom in the time those two—”
“Dad-dy!” said Maralynne.
“Wilder, really,” said Rowena's mother.
“I am not stopping,” said Rowena's father, “every time one of you people has a whim—”
“A whim?” cried Rowena's mother. “A whim?”
They were back in familiar territory now. Rowena snuggled down, leaning as comfortably as she could against the suitcase next to her. “You gotta have guts,” the radio announcer intoned, “and you gotta be strong.”
Rowena closed her eyes.
When they finally did stop—for lunch, in a small, isolated town—Rowena's mother barreled out the door before the car had even properly stopped. “Order for me!” she called back, as she disappeared inside the restaurant at the west end of the parking lot.
“What the hell?” demanded Rowena's father. “We're going there!” And he waved his hand at the fast-food place at the parking lot's south side. “Go drag your mother out here!”
“Too late,” Rowena said. She opened her door, carefully, and tried to wriggle her cramped legs through it without dumping any of Maralynne's things onto the asphalt.
“What do you mean, too late?”
“She means,” said Maralynne, “that Mom is already going. If you catch my drift.”
“But that's a—an actual restaurant. We don't have time for that.” Both his daughters knew that the only reason he didn't use burger joint drive-through windows and make them all eat as he drove was because of the risk of spilling food in the car.
“Actual restaurant,” scoffed Maralynne. “Even Chester wouldn't take me to a place like this. Not any more.”
“Go get your mother!”
“We don't have time for that,” Maralynne said tartly. “She could be in there half an hour.” She stretched elaborately, in a way that was supposed to show off, one by one, each of her curves in turn; Rowena looked around the parking lot but could see no audience.
“Women!” said her father, as Maralynne sauntered towards the restaurant into which her mother had disappeared.
“You gotta have guts,” said the radio announcer. “And this guy is nothing but.”
After lunch they piled back into the car, Maralynne still grumpy because her father had vetoed her first two choices because they would “take too long to eat” and then snapped at her when she waited until after her meal to visit the Ladies' Room, thus making the rest of the family wait several minutes. Even worse, from Maralynne's point of view, he'd confiscated her purse so she wouldn't be able to fix her makeup. This move had even surprised Rowena; it seemed (among other things) unusually astute. Now he started the car up again, the radio coming to life and reminding them all that they had to have guts.
“ . . . Doesn't care if I look like a dowdy old . . . Honestly!” Maralynne carefully removed her stiletto heels, donned for the lunch break, and set them back on top of her indestructible suitcase.
“Maralynne, you're always beautiful,” their mother said.
Maralynne grumbled. “Now keep your eyes out for a service station,” Rowena's father said. “Out here in the middle of nowhere, it'll be our last chance for miles.” They were approaching another small town, set in a vast expanse of farmland.
“There's a station,” said Rowena's mother helpfully.
“Not that one. I'm not getting gas from there.”
“You haven't been puttin' that crap in the car, have you?”
“There's a station,” said Rowena quickly. “The kind you like.”
“Now, girls,” said Rowena's mother, “I don't want to hear any fighting.”
“We're not fighting,” said Maralynne. “That's the kind of gas Dad buys.”
“You should know by now,” Rowena's father said, “what kind—”
“That kind!” said Maralynne. “Right there!”
“There's a station,” said Rowena's father, and he moved over into the appropriate lane. “No help from you people at all.”
Rowena and her sister exchanged a look; Maralynne's mouth was open. She threw herself back in her seat, crossed her arms, and fumed; Rowena closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
She opened them again just as her father pulled into the gas station driveway, into the end of a long line stretching, now that they were a part of it, just into the street. “Look at this!” her father roared. “Look at this!” He was so enraged that if Rowena hadn't known better, she'd have thought some umpire or referee had made a bad call against one of his teams. Never a good sport on such trips, he was worse than usual today.
“I'm sure it won't take too long,” Rowena's mother began.
“We'll never get out of here! We'll never get to Nessie's . . . thing. We'll be stuck here forever! And without a television!”
“Wilder,” said Rowena's mother. “Please.”
“This was your stupid idea, going to this thing. This was your idea!”
“Wilder, you know perfectly well that if we—”
“For furniture! For a couple damn pieces of furniture which she probably won't leave us anyway!”
“Watch your language,” Rowena's mother said. “It's not furniture, it's family. The traditions of family, the closeness . . . Family.” Rowena thought of her own little family, left behind; of Sammy and their pets, of the warmth and comfort of them.
“It's not just about the Good Stuff,” her mother went on, “it's—”
“Family! It's not even your family, it's mine. Why would you care?”
“The girls have—”
“Dammit, look at this line! It isn't even moving!”
“Wilder! There are children here!”
“What!” yelled Maralynne. “Who's a child?”
Rowena's father began honking his horn. “Come on, come on! Let's get moving! What does that guy up there think he's doing?” The young man at the head of their line sauntered away from his vehicle and disappeared into the station's convenience store, the pump nozzle still protruding from his car. “What the hell is he DOING?”
“Wilder! Watch your—”
“None of these other lines are moving either! What the hell is—”
The man at the head of the line next to theirs came over, and Rowena's father stopped honking. “Now you've got him mad at us!” Rowena's mother said, but the man did not look particularly annoyed. He leaned down to Rowena's father's open window.
“Pumps are running slow here,” he said. “I don't know what it is, but they're real slow.”
“Really?” said Rowena's father.
“I've been pumpin' here for twenty minutes,” the man said. “Twenty minutes,” he repeated, “for four an' a half gallons of gas.”
“Really,” said Rowena's father. The man nodded, amiably.
“Pumpin' real slow,” he said. “Dunno what the problem is.”
“I see,” said Rowena's father.
The man shrugged. “Anyway,” he said, “that's what's goin' on.”
“Thanks,” said Rowena's father, heavily, and the man shrugged again and left them.
“Now, what'm I s'posed to do with that?” he demanded, once the man was out of hearing. “What'm I s'posed to do?”
“Well,” Rowena's mother began.
“I can't be waitin' around all day! There's gotta be another station in this town.” He managed, somehow, to pull out of line (there were people behind him now), weave through the clot of cars jamming the station, and swing back onto the highway. “Now, keep your eyes open,” he said. They kept their eyes open but all they saw, thirty seconds or so later, was the town coming to an abrupt end.
“What!” yelled Rowena's father. “I don't remember this!” He thumped the steering wheel. “That's supposed to be a proper town back there!”
“It is a proper town,” said Rowena's mother. “It's a proper small town.”
“How can they only have one gas station?”
“They don't only have one gas station. They only have one—”
“Now we're stuck! Stuck! We don't have enough gas to get to the next town! Do you hear me? We are stuck!”
His family looked out at the acres—miles—of farmland rolling out before them and to both sides. “We're stuck!” Rowena's father said.
“Well, turn around, then,” said Rowena's mother.
“Turn around? Turn around!” Rowena's father waved one of his hands. “There's nowhere to turn! There's nowhere to turn! It's a fucking highway!”
“There aren't any cars coming,” Maralynne said brightly. “You can pull a U-ie.”
“‘Pull a U-ie.’ Shit.”
“There's a street up ahead,” Rowena said. “Try that.”
Still muttering, he signaled and pulled into the street, which appeared to be a private road leading to somebody's farmhouse. He just managed to turn around again and sped back onto the highway. “Go back,” he muttered. “Go back. I don't have time to go back.”
Nobody else said anything. He approached the gas station from the other side, pulled in through the driveway he'd used to leave. “Look at that!” he said. “They're all still there!” He sat a moment, staring, then instead of staying in line he pulled around and started circling.
“What are you doing?” asked Rowena's mother.
“What does it look like I'm doing?” he growled. Finally he spotted what he was looking for: An unused pump, rendered invisible from the lines by row after row of trucks and SUVs. “Finally,” he said, pulling in. He got out, and Rowena cautiously opened her door and, keeping both hands protectively on various of her sister's bags, eased her legs out. She half-listened as her father unscrewed the gas cap, then lifted the pump nozzle and shoved it into the car.
“Hey,” said Maralynne. “Lookit the numbers.” Rowena managed to turn without quite bringing her feet in. Sure enough, her father's Gallons Pumped display showed a blur of numbers, shooting ever upwards. “It's fast,” Maralynne said. “Faster than usual.”
“Now, that is peculiar,” said their mother. Rowena just sat and watched until the display froze and her father began removing the nozzle. She got her feet pulled in and her door securely shut before he opened his own door and dropped into his seat.
“Did you see that?” he asked.
“Yeah,” said Maralynne. “What happened?”
He wrote his mileage carefully on his receipt. “Idiots,” he said.
“The lever on the handle? There's no catch. You have to hold the damn thing in.”
“They're not pumpin' a damn thing and they don't even know it.” He paused; Rowena wondered if he were waiting to be scolded for swearing. Her mother, in any case, said nothing for once. “They don't even know how to work the pumps,” he said.
There was a pause. “Are you going to tell them?” Rowena's mother asked.
He shook his head, started the car up. “No time,” he said. “Anyway, let 'em work it out for themselves.” He pulled hard on the steering wheel, then took one hand away and gave it a shake.
“Are you okay?” Rowena's mother asked.
“It's nothing,” he told her. “Hurt my hand a little on the pump. I'm fine.” He sounded, Rowena noted, less annoyed than he had been since the trip began. She leaned her head against her backrest.
“You gotta be strong,” the sports announcer said. “You gotta have guts and you gotta be strong.”
Rowena thought that if she looked, she would see her father driving with a swagger.
“Okay,” her father said, heavily. “We're here.” He sat in the car without moving. He had been oddly lethargic, Rowena had noticed, ever since they checked into the motel. He had allowed his womenfolk to change their clothes, and had not even complained about the length of Maralynne's makeup-and-hair session.
“I want you girls to be good, now,” said Rowena's mother, unbuckling her seat belt.
“Oh, Mom,” said Maralynne.
“I'm serious. This could get tricky.”
“Whatever happened,” Rowena asked, “to The Bosom of the Family?”
“Well, it's still . . . I mean, it really . . . Well, Aunt Nessie's a bit touchy, that's all.”
“Touchy?” demanded Maralynne. “If she can't forgive a person who was less than two years—”
“And all the stories you—”
“She's still your aunt. And I want you to show her respect, even if she—”
“Stop talking about her,” Rowena's father said.
They walked up the path to Aunt Nessie's door. “I'll just . . . um . . .” said Rowena's father from somewhere behind them.
“Wilder,” said Rowena's mother. “Get up here.”
“The baggage,” said Rowena's father. “I'll just . . .”
“It's nice and safe at the motel. Come on, now.”
“Shouldn't somebody . . .”
“I thought you were in a hurry,” said Maralynne.
“I . . .”
Guts and strength, Rowena thought. Her mother went back and took him by the arm. She marched him purposefully up to the door and reached around him to ring the doorbell. Rowena, crowding with her sister up onto the porch, was just close enough to her father to hear him make a small, almost whimpering sound. “Now, stop that,” Rowena's mother said.
The door opened, and Rowena recognized her father's Cousin Carol. “Hi, everybody,” Carol said. “Come on in.”
“Hello, Carol,” said Rowena's mother. “Are your kids all here?” Rowena noted the slight edge to her mother's voice; she was indeed speaking to a Rival. She herself smiled at Carol as she entered; she couldn't imagine getting so worked up over a possible inheritance. Even one involving a much bigger estate than she suspected Nessie's to be.
“No; I'm afraid Randy couldn't get the time off. But Clarice is here and Lee will be along in a bit.”
“Oh, poor Randy. That's too bad.” Rowena looked at the floor, then over at her sister. The look Maralynne gave her made it clear that she was not the only one who had heard the insincerity in her mother's voice. She wondered whether she might be able to take her mother aside and, if so, what to say. “Tell him hello for us,” her mother went on. And, in Rowena's ear, “Will you look at that little table.”
Carol gave no sign of having noticed anything amiss. She led them all into the living room, where Aunt Nessie waited for them. Rowena's mother was having some difficulty propelling her husband along; Rowena put her hand on his back, as discreetly as she could.
“Well. Nephew Wilder and family.” Aunt Nessie rose with some difficulty from her chair; with the aid of a walker she came forward a bit to meet them.
“Hello, Aunt Nessie,” said Rowena's father meekly.
Aunt Nessie was tiny. Despite the walker she maintained a rather regal carriage, but she was tiny; Rowena had not remembered this, but then, she hadn't been too tall herself, the first time she'd met Nessie.
“Now,” Nessie was saying. “You're the elder one—Rowena—right? And you're Maralynne.”
“That's right,” said their mother, as though greatly impressed. “How did you know?”
Aunt Nessie tapped her forehead. “You would be surprised,” she said, “at what I know.” She gave Rowena's mother a look that made the latter shrink back just noticeably. Rowena pressed her lips together to keep from smiling, and found Aunt Nessie's eyes on her. They were sharp eyes, behind her glasses, bright blue; and there was something else: Aunt Nessie was as amused as she was.
“So the whole time we were there,” Rowena told Sammy, after she got back, “Aunt Nessie was perfectly polite to everybody, but there was always this little something just below the surface whenever she had anything to do with my parents—my parents and a few other people. The minute he walked in the door my dad, who'd been growling and cursing the whole way over, turned into this timid little boy, and he stayed that way the whole time we were there. And my mom—in about three minutes my mom was practically a nervous wreck.”
Sammy smiled. “And you?” he asked, slipping his fingers into her hair.
“Aunt Nessie treated me as if we had this private joke together. Which I believe we did.” Rowena stroked his thigh with one hand, kept on petting her dog with the other. She had rarely left Linus for more than a day; he was very happy to see her. “She was nice to Maralynne, who didn't seem too disturbed by her, and . . . I don't think she was actually mean to my parents. I think she just let them be tortured by their own guilty consciences.”
“Didn't know your mother had one of those.”
“I didn't either. Isn't that funny?” She ruffled Linus' fur. “And the drive back was actually sort of pleasant. No swearing, no complaining to speak of, no speeches about the wonders of The Family, and no admonitions to Maralynne and me to behave. I guess Dad was relieved and Mom was humbled. Well, maybe not humbled, but she behaved herself. Almost reformed.” She smiled at him. “You should have seen it, though; this tiny, tiny little old lady, welcoming us into her home, and my dad absolutely terrified of her. ‘Yes, Aunt Nessie.’ ‘No, Aunt Nessie.’ Like a little boy afraid of punishment. It certainly wasn't about money or Good Stuff in his case.”
“Makes you wonder what she did to him when he was little.”
“I don't think she had to do anything. She just . . . She was just being Nessie.”
“She even told my mother that she shouldn't try to influence her daughters about marriage, and that it wouldn't be a big disaster if we stayed single. You should have seen my mother! All she could do was turn about twenty shades of red, and then take us aside afterwards to say that Aunt Nessie is, um, you know, ‘not quite right.’ In the head, she meant.”
“Well,” said Sammy, “if she doesn't understand that your mother knows what's best for you . . .”
“Who's telling this story?” Rowena demanded. “As a matter of fact, Aunt Nessie took me aside at one point, ostensibly to show me some Queen Anne chairs and things—my mom was thrilled to see that, but once Aunt Nessie got me alone she told me that her mother was just like mine. She'd tried to get Aunt Nessie married off, tried to keep her from working; and then, after Nessie found somebody she did want to marry, and married him at the very advanced age of twenty-eight, Nessie's mother tried to move in with them.”
Sammy stopped smiling. “You don't suppose your mother—”
“Not as long as we live in an apartment,” Rowena said, and laughed. “But Aunt Nessie was successful by then, and she had a house and some very nice furniture . . . including those very Queen Anne chairs she showed me.”
“Maybe you should have asked her not to will them to you.”
“I considered it; I really did. But then I thought, I'm tough. I'm tough and I've got guts. I can handle my mom, Good Stuff or no Good Stuff. I survived the drive over there, didn't I? Besides,” she added impishly, “I'll have you to back me up.”
“Gee, thanks,” said Sammy. He cleared his throat. “Actually, I think I'd be a lot more intimidating as an actual Husband, and I'm sure your mother would agree . . .”
“Maybe I should have brought you with me after all,” Rowena said. “Sounds as if you need reforming, too.” Sammy laughed.
“You females,” he said. He bunched a good portion of her hair in his hand. “I think I know what of hers you inherited. I think you've already got it.”
Now Rowena laughed. She ruffled up Linus' fur, stood up, and plopped herself into Sammy's lap. “Hey,” she said. “This is the good stuff.” She put her arms around his neck and snuggled in. “This is the good stuff,” she repeated, “and don't you forget it.”
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