|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Serious.||Rowena Moves In, Part 12|
Rowena shook her head. “It terrifies me, the thought of my mother and my sister meeting everybody.”
“Come on,” said Sammy. “It's just a party. There's nobody coming you haven't already met and made a good impression on. What's the worst that could possibly happen?”
Rowena groaned. “Look,” Sammy said. “We'll have some interesting, entertaining people here. I'm sure somebody will be able to keep your mother and Maralynne distracted.”
“Yeah,” said Rowena. “Like Terese. She'll keep them distracted, or drive them to distraction. I can't wait.”
“I'm sure Terese can behave. Anyway, they must have met her already.”
“True. And as long as Terese stays at one end of the apartment so they can hide at the other end, all three of them should be fine.”
“Well,” said Sammy. “You see? Nothing to worry about. Hand me that shoebox, will you? Thanks.”
They still had just a little bit of unpacking to do before their big housewarming party. But it was not the unpacking that worried Rowena. “And then they'll be meeting your mom.” Rowena stopped, a fuzzy stuffed pig named Truffles in her hands.
“Relax. My mom's cool. And she's already been warned.”
Rowena hugged the pig to her. “What if—”
“Darling, it'll be fine.” He came to her, put his hands on her shoulders, and kissed her. “It's just a party,” he said.
The phone rang, and Rowena went to answer it. “Hello?”
“Hello, Rowena; this is your mother. I just wanted to see if everything's all right over there.”
“Everything's fine,” Rowena said. “Everything is still fine.”
“If you need any help unpacking—”
“We're just finishing up.”
“Already done. Same as yesterday, and the day before, and the day—”
“Thanks, Mom, but I really—”
“Or your laundry, you know, to give you time—”
“Mom, that really isn't—”
“You just let me know.”
“I'm so excited!” her mother said.
Finally Rowena managed to hang up the phone. “She really is a basket case,” she told Sammy. She noticed she was clutching her pig, and loosened her grip somewhat. “You sure we shouldn't have told her to come an hour after everybody else?” She'd suggested this some days ago, in hopes of keeping her mother from popping in early to “help.”
“I thought you decided she'd find out, and guess why, and get mad at you.”
“Oh, I don't know.”
“If it helps any,” Sammy suggested, “you could tell her we like to cook together in the nude.”
“You,” said Rowena loftily, “are a very big help.” She flounced off, with pig, doing her best to look offended.
But she did feel a little better.
By the day of the party, Rowena and Sammy were entirely unpacked, the apartment was tidy, and the food preparations were on schedule. “Everything still fine?” Terese had asked the night before. “Continued fine, with occasional scattered mothers?” At the time, Rowena had groaned in response; now, frosting the cake, she found herself smiling.
And the phone rang. This time, it was her sister. “Are there gonna be any Capricorns at your party?” she demanded.
“I have no idea.”
“You don't know? You didn't bother to check?”
“I wasn't aware,” Rowena told her, “that it was going to be a problem.”
“Great. That's just great. Madame Zelda—”
“Maralynne, I can hardly be responsible for anything Madame Zelda says. I—”
“Some sister you are. You know I'm delicate.”
When Rowena finally got off the line she told Sammy, “This party is driving me nuts and it hasn't even started yet.” She gestured at the phone. “Next time, you answer it.” They didn't have to wait long; “next time” came about ten minutes later, as Rowena was putting the cake away. Sammy glanced at her, then picked up the receiver. “Hello? . . . No, thank you; we're not interested. Goodbye.” He set the receiver down and grinned at her. “Piece of cake. So to speak.” He kissed her temple. “Courage,” he said. “I'm going to take my shower now.”
He was still taking it when the phone rang again. Rowena reminded herself that she had, earlier that morning, absolutely forbidden her mother to call again, and bravely picked it up. “Hello?” Rowena said.
“Your mother wanted me to check and see how everything's going there.” It was her father. Rowena was so surprised to hear his voice she wasn't even annoyed. He went on, “She says you just keep telling her it's fine.”
“It is fine,” Rowena said.
“Glad to hear it. I'll tell your mother.” And he rang off.
Rowena stared a moment at the receiver, then hung it up. Let her mother sort that one out. What a day, she thought. What a family.
And they were all coming to her housewarming party.
Once the guests began to arrive Rowena slipped all but effortlessly into what Terese called Hostess Mode. Terese herself laughed and chatted with Sammy's friends; Beth, a little less outgoing, also seemed to be mixing well. The apartment was crowded, with people in the living room and in the kitchen, but nobody seemed to mind at all. Rowena's parents and sister had yet to appear, a fact noted by by Sammy's friend Mike, who came in, glanced around the assemblage, and remarked that Rowena's relatives must be late, as he didn't see anybody causing a scene or even looking peculiar. Rowena took him over and introduced him to Terese; this was, she told herself, the only reasonable thing to do.
“Keep him out of trouble,” she said.
“Why, what kind of trouble does he get into?”
“He's been asking about my family. Tell him what you like, but don't let me hear it.”
Terese laughed. “They're dominating the party and they aren't even here yet,” she said. “How's that for psychic powers?”
“Please,” said Rowena, and left them.
Her parents arrived a few minutes later.
“Oh, my, I hope we're not late?” Rowena's mother scanned anxiously around, looking, Rowena knew, for some sign of a woman who might be Sammy's mother. “Your father just had to see the end of his ballgame, and I simply could not get—if we're too late—”
“You're not too late. Rosemary's not here yet. Could I—”
“Oh, that's a relief. But she is coming? How nice. What makes you think I'm only here to meet Sammy's mother? Are you sure you don't need any help in the kitchen?”
“Everything's already done; I just have to bring it out. There's nothing all that complicated anyway; we can't put everybody around the table, so—”
“Rowena! Are you sure that's going to be good enough?”
“Rosemary won't mind.”
“Rosemary this, Rosemary that. You'd think this was her party.” And her mother swept into the room, leaving Rowena staring after her. And then Rowena turned around.
“Hi, Dad,” she said.
“Got any beer?” asked Rowena's father.
Rowena installed him, with beer, over by a couple of Sammy's mellower friends. She retreated to the kitchen, to open a fresh bag of potato chips.
“. . . So I just didn't feel I had any choice.”
“God. I don't blame you.”
“Is this my glass or yours?”
“What a cute little dog! Isn't he a sweetie? Hi there, Sweetie!”
“His name's Linus. He's Rowena's dog.”
“I know; Sammy's told me about him. Hi there!”
Rowena smiled, listening. And then the doorbell rang and before she could get to it the door opened and she heard Rosemary's voice and, much as she liked Sammy's mother, all she could think now was, here it comes.
And, sure enough, her mother whizzed past as if pulled by elastic. “So you're Sammy's mother! How nice to meet you at last!”
“Hello,” said Rowena. “Good to—”
“I've heard so much about you! I kept saying, ‘When am I going to meet Sammy's mother?’ but you know how these kids are, they just can't take a hint.”
“Hello,” Rosemary began.
“Wilder!” called Rowena's mother. “Over here! Come and meet Sammy's mother!”
Rowena tried again. “Could I take—”
It had begun.
By the time Rowena put out the actual dinner, all the guests had arrived but Maralynne and Chester. Rowena's father had found that he could discuss sports with Sammy's friend Ken, without even having to raise his voice; her own friends and her cousin Claudia mixed nicely with the people Sammy had invited; people were talking and laughing, and everyone seemed to be getting along quite well . . . with one possible exception.
“We have to get together on this,” Rowena heard her mother say. She had, of course, seated herself next to Rosemary, who sat quietly and inoffensively eating. “We need a Strategy.”
“Strategy?” asked Rosemary politely.
“Oh, my, doesn't this taste good? My daughter made all the food herself; isn't she a wonderful cook? Now, let's see; I'm sure you have a lot of influence over your son. He always speaks so highly of you. Such a fine boy . . .” She put her hand on Rosemary's sleeve. “I'm sure that if he only understood the importance of—”
Rowena couldn't think of a good enough excuse to haul her mother away, and had to settle for getting herself out of earshot. She wished the apartment were bigger, so that she could do this more effectively.
“Your mom is really hot on the trail, isn't she?” It was Rowena's cousin Claudia.
“Tell me about it,” Rowena said. Her mother seemed too worked up to even notice Maralynne's tardiness.
Claudia sipped her soda. “On the warpath, even. So to speak. Good chow, by the way.”
“At least nobody's yelling or anything.”
“Well—” Rowena began, when somebody impatient enough to be Maralynne rang the doorbell.
“I hope there's some food left because Chester is starving. Is everybody here?”
“Yes,” Rowena said. It was an important point, for Maralynne; what she really meant was, “Do I have a full audience for my Entrance?” A more important point for Rowena was, “Who is this person with you?” because whoever she was, she certainly wasn't Chester.
Maralynne swept into the living room, loudly exclaiming her delight at being there, and her sorrow at being late, and so on. And then she announced, more or less in her sister's direction, “I would like you to meet my friend, the up-and-coming psychic Sunnie Daye.”
“That's S-U-N-N-I-E-D-A-Y-E,” said Sunnie Daye primly. Sunnie Daye did not look very prim. She was a small, colorfully dressed creature with very long blonde hair and iridescent blue eyeshadow. She also had dimples, which for some reason Rowena found annoying; she had the impression that they had been acquired, or that they were a trick that Sunnie had trained her face to do. “Tarot readings, Astrology, Numerology, Palm Reading, and . . . Aural Adjustments.”
“So what happened to Madame Zelda?” asked Rowena. “And where's Chester?”
“Sunnie is a student of Madame Zelda's. Madame Zelda says she's very gifted. Madame Zelda says Sunnie has a light-fingered touch with the cards. Madame Zelda says—”
“A light touch,” corrected Sunnie. “I have a light touch with the Tarot.”
“Whatever,” said Maralynne. She sashayed herself over to the table. “Let's get some food,” she said. “Sunnie Sue.” She reached, not for a plate, but for a pickle. “Sunnie Sue Daye.”
Rowena followed her. “Where's Chester?” she asked again.
“Chester? Chester's getting the stuff out of the car.”
“What stuff?” asked Rowena, guardedly.
“Not supposed to tell you. It's Chester's idea.” And she went back to her browsing.
Rowena stood a moment, irresolute; the doorbell rang. Sammy let in Chester, or somebody who was probably Chester, though it was hard to tell behind all the computer parts he carried.
“I got your new network for you,” Chester said. “Surprise!”
“Our . . .”
“It's a Housewarming Present,” Maralynne explained.
Rowena looked at Sammy. “Chester, it was very thoughtful of you, but I'm afraid you spent an awful—”
“Chester knows how to get, like, all these really good Deals and stuff, and free stuff and . . . stuff,” Maralynne said. She picked up a plate and put a slice of bread on it.
“Well . . .” Rowena began.
“So where'd ya want it?”
Rowena looked again at Sammy; he gave a very slight shrug. “Let's check out the office,” he told Chester. And the two of them disappeared. When they didn't come out for a while, Rowena, recalling Maralynne's assertion that Chester was hungry, brought in a moderately-loaded plate and a couple of sodas.
“Hi,” she said, to Sammy and to the part of Chester that was poking out from under her desk. Rowena looked uneasily at the pile of hardware all over her workspace; she wasn't at all sure she wanted it there, but there didn't seem to be much she could do about it right now. “I brought you some food.”
From under Rowena's desk came a grunting noise that might possibly have been meant to convey “Thanks.” Rowena, after a moment's hesitation, set the plate down on top of her file box. She gave one of the sodas to Sammy, who thanked her intelligibly and was about to say something more when Chester demanded he grab a cable poking over the top of the desk. “Got it,” said Sammy, and Chester wriggled out from under the desk and plugged the cable into the back of the gizmo that sat where Rowena's organizer had been.
“Well, that's it for the cables,” Chester said. “Your very own home network. Pretty soon you'll wonder how you ever managed without one.”
“I'm afraid I don't quite understand,” Rowena said. She was aware of her party, going on without a host or hostess, on the other side of the wall.
“You're going to have a network. Your own computer, hooked up to his. You can do . . . all kinds of things.” He gazed at the beige boxes invading Rowena's territory. “And these are real good machines. Sure, they're obsolete, but they're obsolete professional machines.” Rowena wondered whether this meant he took them from work.
“I'm done with the cables,” he repeated, “but you can stay and watch, if you like.” This apparently was directed at both of them. Regarding his handiwork with satisfaction, Chester picked up his plate and surveyed its contents. Rowena was suddenly not sure it passed muster as proper nerd food.
“Thanks, Chester,” Sammy was saying, “but we really should be getting back to the party, if that's all right.”
“I'm afraid we're being a little rude to the other guests,” Rowena said.
“Sure,” said Chester. “Fine.” And he went back to work; as Rowena paused at the door he was typing away and swearing happily.
“Do we really need all that stuff?” Rowena asked Sammy in a low voice. “What are we going to do with it?”
“From what I gather, we're going to conquer the world, Chester style.” Sammy smiled. “If you'd rather not conquer the world, I expect we can find some way around it, though not tonight.”
“Not tonight.” They were back in the party now. Rowena's mother still had Rosemary cornered. “I know if I had a son,” she was saying, “I would want the best for him. And I would especially want—” Rowena fled for the kitchen before she had to hear any more.
But things were not much better there. Sammy's friend Dean, whom Rowena had met only once before, stood leaning against the counter and quizzing Sunnie Daye and Maralynne.
Sunnie appeared to be trying hard not to show her exasperation. “If you'd just read that book I told you—”
“If it's for real,” he said, “and you can do it, I know where we can get a million bucks for a demonstration. Split with you, fifty-fifty.”
“She's not in it for the money,” Maralynne said.
“You don't have to keep your half.” He raised his glass. “Whaddaya say?”
Rowena turned and found Terese by the door, listening and smiling to herself. Behind her now, she could hear Sunnie making some general excuse, only to be drowned out by Maralynne, indignantly demanding to know what made Dean think he was so smart anyway, when he didn't even know his own moon sign; and was he absolutely sure he was born in June and not, say, late December? Rowena squeezed out past Terese, even though it meant possibly having to listen to her mother again. Anything but her sister and Sunnie Daye. She took a moment to look around her, then drifted off to where Mike stood with Claudia and Sammy's cousin Jean, the three of them talking and laughing together.
“And then,” Claudia was saying, as Rowena approached, “Aunt Babette called up my mother and said, ‘Would Claudia happen to have any old boyfriends she's not using any more?’”
“Oh, no!” cried Jean, as all three of them laughed and laughed, Claudia trying hard to finish what she'd been saying.
“‘Preferably,’” Claudia gasped, “‘preferably cute ones?’” She saw Rowena hesitating nearby and waved her closer. “And my mother—my mother said—she said, ‘Well, would you rather have the scumbag or the mooch?’” Claudia, beside herself, grabbed at Rowena's arm; when she could speak she said, “Isn't that true, Rowena?”
“I'm not sure I want into this conversation,” Rowena said, quite content to leave off the end of the story, which Claudia seemed to have forgotten; her mother, apparently without batting an eye, had requested the mooch.
“But it happened.”
“It happened.” Rowena looked at them all in turn. “Have you guys been talking about my mother the whole time?”
“No, of course not,” Claudia said. “What do you take us for?”
“We were also talking about your sister,” said Jean.
“Sorry,” added Mike.
Rowena looked at him, then at the others, pondering her next remark. From the kitchen Maralynne, evidently exasperated beyond all endurance, cried, “You can't catch an angel in a test tube, stupid. They're angels.”
Rowena closed her eyes. “Excuse me,” she said.
In the kitchen she found her sister and Sunnie Daye making what appeared to be a sort of Last Stand. “There is none so blind as he who will not see.” Sunnie Daye's prim voice, raised, was not so prim any more.
“You know what they call it,” said Dean, “when somebody sees things that aren't there?”
“You think you're so smart just 'cause you went to college!” said Maralynne furiously. “Well, my sister went to college! So there!”
Rowena stared at her. Dean stared at her. So did Terese, leaning now by the fridge. Rowena looked at Dean and Terese, and after a moment Dean and Terese looked at Rowena. “Smarties!” said Maralynne, in triumph. “And my boyfriend went to college too! And he said for me it would be a waste of time!”
Rowena tried to think of something to say. She was saved by Sammy, who popped his head through the doorway and said, “Dean?”
“Chester's got the network rigged up and he wants to show ‘all the guys.’ So if you're free . . .” And Sammy made a small beckoning movement with his head.
“Chester went to college,” Maralynne told him. He looked at her a moment, then at Rowena, who could only give a small shrug. She couldn't see Terese just now, but she could almost hear the storm of giggles building up inside her.
“Free enough,” Dean said. He looked over in Terese's direction. “They're all yours now,” he said. “If you want 'em.” And he and Sammy left.
“Um, actually, Terese,” Rowena said. “I wonder if you could help me bring out some more drinks?”
“More drinks?” asked Terese, and the first of the giggles broke free. But she helped Rowena with the drinks, and did not go back into the kitchen afterwards. She was, in fact, standing right next to Rowena when Rowena's mother exclaimed, to a somewhat larger audience now, “You know, the first time I met Sammy, I just looked at him and thought, ‘My, what beautiful babies he and Rowena would have!’ Can't you just see . . .”
“Let's go check out this computer thing,” Rowena told Terese. Terese nodded, as if afraid she would laugh if she spoke, and they went into the office, Jean's voice behind them inquiring politely, “So how many grandchildren do you want?”
“So there's the file on this machine,” Chester was saying. All the younger males from the party stood clustered around the computer on Rowena's desk. Rowena, from where she stood in the doorway, could make out a screenful of text; she couldn't tell what it was, but with Sammy there supervising, she wasn't worried. “Now,” Chester went on, “over here—” and they all moved over to Sammy's desk, which sat just a bit farther along the wall than Rowena's, “—I'll bring up the Web browser, and we can . . . There we go . . .”
Rowena was on the point of going herself when the screen went pink and the words GLAM CAM appeared across it.
Rowena put her hands over her mouth. Much as she had heard about her sister's naughty Web site, she had never seen it before. Now it was on display to half her party guests, at her party. She didn't even hear Chester's next comment, though she was dimly aware he said something; he clicked the mouse, clicked it again, and a picture of Maralynne appeared, beaming out at the world in a very small bikini.
“This is from the archive, of course,” Chester said. “I'm gonna hafta redo this part . . . Let's see; here's a good one.” And he clicked again.
Terese took her by the arm and led her away; they went into the bedroom this time, not back to her mother. “I don't believe it,” Rowena said. “I mean, I do, but I don't.” They were alone, except for Caesar, who sat curled on Sammy's pillow, watching them with his great round cat's eyes.
“You know what your sister's like,” said Terese, “and Chester. There's nothing going on in there that's really any news to you. And nothing is going to change on its account.”
“But—Sammy's friends. His relatives. This whole party—”
“So it went downhill after Maralynne and your mom arrived. Everybody has squirrelly relatives. They're not that much of a reflection on you. Not really.”
“Listen. Who do you think is more important to Sammy, you or those friends of his?” She paused for an answer, but didn't get one. “And the main ones—his mom and Jean and Mike—they liked you already. Right?”
Rowena looked at her, even smiled a little. “Yeah.”
“Right. So let's get back out there and outclass 'em all. Okay?”
Rowena looked at her friend and laughed. “Okay,” she said. She reached to scratch Caesar behind the ears, and he pushed his furry head against her hand.
And back to the living room they went, greeted again by the voice of Rowena's mother. “And she doesn't have any allergies, either!”
“Well,” whispered Terese in her ear, “maybe just a couple.”
After the party, Sammy did his best to reassure her, using the same arguments Terese had, plus a few more. And she started hearing from other people.
“I've got that nice Rosemary on our side now,” Rowena's mother announced. “It's just a matter of time.” She paused a moment, and then delivered her killer line. “What nice people,” she said. “I'm so glad to see you marrying into such a nice family.”
“At least she approves,” said Beth. “Imagine if she didn't.”
Jean also called. “Wow,” she said. “I wasn't sure whether to believe all those stories of yours. I'll never doubt you again.”
“I wish I'd been able to spend more time with you, dear,” Rosemary said. “But your mother did rather monopolize me. She was so eager. It was almost touching, in a way. She's not a sensible woman, but she does care about you.”
“For once I gotta wish your mom success,” Claudia said. “Very nice people, Sammy and his lot. Great party. Lots of fun.”
“That party sucked,” said Maralynne. “I'd expect that sort of thing out of Terese, but . . . Where'd Sammy find those jerks?”
“So how's the Psychic Sun Daye?” Terese asked. “Not that I can really complain: a) I thought she was great fun, and b) I've got a date with Dean, for Friday night.”
“Wonderful; have a good time,” Rowena said. “Mind if I don't tell my sister?” She was gratified, and slightly amazed, to find that everybody (except perhaps for Maralynne) seemed to be on her side. And then Mike came back, to visit.
“You know how we sort of had a pesky-mother contest going?” he asked.
“Well, I'm not actually conceding defeat just yet, mind you, but I think for the moment you're ahead on points.”
“Terrific,” Rowena said.
“And your sister.” He grinned at her. “Also as advertised. I understand you know her boyfriend showed us her Web site?”
“Yeah. How considerate of him.”
“Hey, all the really smutty parts were ‘under construction.’ Rather like Maralynne herself, from the look of things.” Rowena groaned.
“She's no competition for you,” Sammy said, not for the first time.
“None,” agreed Mike. And he gave her a look that was much more serious than usual, for him.
“You know,” he said, “I gotta hand it to you.”
“To grow up in a family like yours and turn out the way you did. Remarkable.”
“Hear, hear,” said Sammy.
Rowena hadn't thought of it that way. Sammy came up to her and slipped his arm around her waist. “So,” he said. “You made a good impression and you're allowed to live here with me and you're not going to worry about what anybody else thinks. Right?”
Rowena smiled, and leaned up against him. “Right,” she said.
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