|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Serious.||Rowena Moves In, Part 11|
Rowena sighed. “Oh, Sammy,” she said. “Already?”
“Believe me, I don't like it any more than you do. Maybe even less.” Rowena had to smile a little; Sammy was, after all, the one who was having to work late.
“I know I wouldn't be seeing you at all if we still lived in separate apartments,” Rowena said. “But I was hoping our first week, at least . . .”
“I know, darling. Me, too.” Slight pause. “Look, I gotta go now. I'm sorry. I'll see you tonight.”
“Okay,” Rowena said. “See you tonight.”
Rowena stared a moment at the phone. This wasn't exactly a honeymoon; they'd just spent the weekend moving into a new apartment, and on Monday they each went back to work. But all the same, she'd wanted their first few days—their first few evenings—to be special. Perfect, even. And now . . .
She could still do something special. Something special for Sammy, if not actually with him. A nice surprise for Sammy; a nice welcome for him. And a little reminder for her.
She could—if she had time. She looked at the clock, considered. With a simple, familiar recipe . . .
She went to her cupboards and began pulling out ingredients.
There was something about the first cake in her new place, in her new oven. Something ceremonial, significant. Especially, somehow, a cake made from one of her standby recipes. A sort of baptism, almost, and a good omen for the future: Starting her new life with something both beautiful and homey. She began the familiar rituals: Preheat oven, melt chocolate, measure cake flour, sugar, baking soda, salt . . .
And answer the phone. “Hello?”
“Hello, dear,” said her mother. “How is everything?”
“Um, fine,” Rowena said. She glanced at the clock, nervously; no time to stand and talk. She edged over to the egg carton on the counter, picked it up, took it over to the mixing bowl. The phone cord stretched farther than she liked; she moved the bowl a bit, scooting it on the countertop.
“Oh, good,” her mother was saying. “And how is Sammy?”
Rowena settled the receiver as securely as she could against her shoulder. “Well, he has to work late today, but other—”
“He's working late?” her mother cried. “Tonight?”
“Rowena,” said her mother, “you can't have this. You—”
“Mother, there is nothing I can do about it. Nothing. Sammy doesn't want to work late, but his boss—”
“Are you sure he has to work? He's not choosing to stay away?”
“Yes,” Rowena said. “I am sure.” She picked up an egg—which slipped from her fingers and smashed on the floor.
“You want to make sure he's comfortable at home,” her mother argued. “You have to make him want to be there. You have to make a real home for Sammy, so he'll understand what a good wife you'll be. That way—”
“Mother, please.” There was a commotion at her feet; Linus had arrived to clean up the mess. She quickly removed the shells, but otherwise let Linus—joined, after a moment, by Caesar—lick the floor clean. At least they aren't fighting over it, she thought.
“You can't afford to be making mistakes,” her mother insisted. “Look what happened to your sister. She wouldn't make a proper home for Brian, and—”
“Proper home? A proper boyfriend was what she needed. The only apartment advice that would have done Maralynne any good would have been to kick Brian out of it.”
“Mother, Sammy and I are fine. Honest. We are fine. Look, I have to go; I have things to do. Talk to you later.” She didn't tell her mother about the cake; she didn't want to appear to be taking her mother's advice, even if she had started before the advice was given. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, hoping to get back into her cake-baking mood, but on a warm day and with the stove and oven going the kitchen was too stuffy for a satisfying deep breath. She should have a nicer place for Sammy to come home to; what was the point of going to all the trouble of baking a special cake only to serve it in a sauna? She opened a couple of windows.
Add remaining ingredients without dropping eggs, and mix. And into the pans, and into the oven. She set the timer, checked the clock again. Pretty tight, timewise, especially with dinner to prepare and the mess to clean up. But it wouldn't take her long to make spaghetti . . .
She cleared off the table, got out her cooling racks and set them up under Caesar's curious gaze. “What do you think of that?” she asked. “Ever smell anything like that before?” This was the first time she, at least, had ever baked a cake with Caesar around. She doubted Sammy had ever done such a thing. Caesar looked up at her and gave a single clear meow. He did not do this often. “I hope that means you approve,” she said, though she suspected he just wanted more petting. She obliged, then had to pet Linus a little too. “Gonna make me even later, huh?” she asked them. “I should make you help. I should. I should.”
She went back to work, but paused just for a moment as she threw away the egg carton she had just emptied. Eggs she'd bought back when she still lived in her old apartment; eggs that had actually moved in here before she did, if only just. Eggs from her old life, all gone now.
The garbage bag was uncomfortably full. Rowena glanced at the timer, took another peek at her cake, which was rising nicely, then lifted the bag and carried it carefully to the front door. “All right, you guys,” she said. “Stay back, now.” She got the door open, slipped through it, turned around to close it and
The door slammed itself with a crash.
She had forgotten about the open windows.
Rowena closed her eyes. A sick, heavy feeling in the pit of her stomach; she knew, absolutely knew, that the cake had fallen. She had never ruined a cake before, but she knew all the same. “Damn,” she whispered. “Damn.”
She trudged out to the dumpster, got rid of the trash, and trudged back again. She washed her hands, then went into the kitchen. She was afraid to look, but looked anyway.
Her beautiful cake, lumpy and less than half its former height.
“Damn,” Rowena said again. Sammy had had her cakes before, of course; she didn't actually need this one to prove to him that she could bake.
But it was her first cake in their new home.
Her supposed good omen.
“How could I be so stupid?” she asked herself. The timer went off and Rowena sighed; she got a toothpick and went back to the oven. The cake—such as it was—was done. She pulled it out of the oven and put it, in the pans, on the cooling racks she had set out. She wasn't sure she could use the racks with this cake, wasn't sure it would stay sufficiently together. Rowena felt like wilting. She had never ruined a cake before—never!—and here this one looked like something her sister might have made. She spent the next ten minutes pacing around, then tried to remove the ugly layers from the pans without their falling completely apart.
They did break, but only into a few large pieces.
She stood and stared at them, then closed her eyes. The phone rang.
It was Sammy.
“I'm almost done here,” he said. “I should be able to leave in just a few minutes.”
Rowena looked around at the wreck of her cake, at all the dirty dishes and the cake crumbs under the cooling racks. “Good,” she said.
“Are you okay?”
Rowena took hold of the phone cord. “Just tired,” she said, which was true, in a way. “I'll see you when you get here.”
“Okay,” Sammy said. “Take it easy.”
Take it easy, Rowena thought, looking again at the mess. Right.
By the time Sammy arrived—proclaiming himself very pleased to be home—Rowena had wiped and set the table and put together a perfectly presentable spaghetti dinner for two. Some dishes still sat in the sink, but there was no sign that a disaster had taken place. Sammy told her about his extended work day; Rowena told him, without mentioning the cake, that her mother had called to interrupt what should have been their dinner hour, to make sure they were having a romantic evening. Sammy laughed at the story, ate his dinner with enjoyment, helped her clear the table, then asked, “Anything special for dessert?”
Special. She made him go sit down. Then she assembled it and brought it out: Two bowls, each containing a scoop of French vanilla ice cream nestled into a jumble of fallen-chocolate-cake pieces, with cherry pie filling poured over the top.
“Goodness,” Sammy said. “What's this?”
“That's, um . . . Chocolate Surprise.”
“It looks wonderful,” Sammy said. He didn't start in, though, until she'd seated herself in front of her own bowl.
It tasted good. Very good.
“Mmmm,” Sammy said. “Wonderful. You sure know how to welcome a guy home.” He scooped up another forkful. “Are you going to have stuff like this for me every night?” He smiled at her to show it was a compliment rather than a demand.
“Um, actually, I wasn't going to make you anything like this tonight. I . . . I ruined a cake, actually, and . . . well, I had to do something to it.”
“This? Was ruined?”
“I tried to bake a cake but it fell. I have never had a—”
“Wow,” Sammy said. “This, from a fallen cake? You are clever.” He was actually impressed. Rowena didn't think she'd done anything that brilliant, and she still felt embarrassed about having made the cake fall in the first place.
Well, maybe just a little embarrassed.
She studied her dessert, the fudgy cake pieces and the ice cream and the cherries in their rich sauce. The whole thing did actually look like a selection from some restaurant's Decadent Sweets menu. “Thank you,” she said, and smiled at him.
And had another bite of Chocolate Surprise.
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