|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Serious.||Rowena Gets A Surprise, Part 2|
Rowena clipped a memo to the document it addressed. “For Halloween? I stayed home and handed out candy. You?”
“Went to a party, came home, and found my front window egged.” Berna was matter-of-fact.
“Oh, well.” Rowena had never been egged. She tried to remember whether she had ever even known anybody else who had been.
“At least I didn't stay home,” Berna was saying. “What's with that boyfriend of yours?”
“What do you mean, what's with him?” Rowena had enjoyed her Halloween; all the fancifully-dressed children at the door, Sammy there to share it with her. Their first holiday as a household.
“Why didn't he take you anywhere? It was Halloween.”
“I didn't want to go anywhere,” Rowena said. It was the truth, but somehow she felt defensive. “Anyway, we're having a party for his birthday, and—”
“You didn't want to go anywhere? He's really turning you into Little Miss Boredom, isn't he?”
“You're forgetting,” Rowena said. “I was boring already.” She picked up the next stack of papers.
“You ain't kiddin',” Berna retorted. She seemed entirely unaware that she had just switched sides. Rowena leafed through her papers, suddenly wondered whether she and Sammy had enough napkins for the party. She wondered whether she could make a note of this without Berna's noticing.
“Hey,” said Sara, arriving. “What did you two do for Halloween?”
“I went to a party,” Berna said. “She stayed home. Bo-ring.”
“I wouldn't mind staying home,” Sara said unexpectedly, then added, “from work. Tell that boyfriend of yours you've had it with this place and he can just support you from now on.”
“Stay home? For what?” Rowena asked.
“Whaddaya mean, for what?” Marjorie demanded, from her desk. “I have to wait all day to find out whether Lucia—”
“Enough with the damn soap operas,” Berna said. “Nobody here is interested in soap operas. All we want is to loaf around and be lazy all day. Or at least get some laundry done.”
“That's what I'd like to do with Boris, stay home,” Sara said. “Do you know, he makes almost three times as much as we do? As I do, anyway. It's sickening.”
“They're discussing finances,” Berna said. “This is serious.”
“Not serious enough,” Sara said, mournfully. “The other day I suggested we move in together, and he said, ‘Why?’”
“I'd like to ask you the same question,” Berna said. “How many times have you gone out with this guy? Two? Three?”
“I'm not getting any younger,” Sara said.
“You're gonna get old a lot faster if you try living with every guy you date.”
“Boris,” Sara said, “is like nobody else I—”
“Sara,” said Rowena, “you are being awfully hasty.”
“Right; this from someone who didn't even go out on Halloween. What, were you afraid the goblins would get you?”
“What did you do for Halloween?” Berna asked, before Rowena could reply.
“Went to Boris', tried to talk him into going to a party, tried to talk him into leaving that rat's nest he lives in to spend the night at my place, only he says he can't leave his computers that long; so I gave up, went home, and found my door had been egged.” Sara shrugged. “You know.”
Rowena looked from Sara to Berna. She had no idea what to say. “Look at you,” Berna said.
“A little egg on somebody else's door and you're all disturbed.” She shook her head. “Living with this Sammy guy is making you a regular scaredy-cat.”
“Naw, not a scaredy-cat,” said Sara. “It's making her more of a Miss Priss.”
“A stick-in-the-mud,” said Marjorie.
“Do you people mind?” asked Rowena.
“Fussy,” declared Berna. “Living with Sammy is making you fussy.”
“And boring,” Sara added.
Rowena put down her pen. “Well, that's the shopping list,” she said. Dinner was in the oven, the table was set and ready, and Sammy was already home with her. “Did I tell you what Terese said? She said that instead of baking you a birthday cake, I should just have all the guests bring their leftover Halloween candy.”
Sammy smiled. “How do we put the candles in it?” he asked.
“You're the one having the birthday,” Rowena said. “And as your birthday has always been three days after Halloween, you should have had plenty of time to come up with something.”
“I never thought,” said Sammy, “that I would contemplate serving one of your cakes with a ladle.”
“Is that a compliment?” But the phone rang before he could answer.
“Hello, Rowena; this is your mother.”
“Mom. Hi.” Rowena met Sammy's eyes; he gave her a look she took to be encouraging.
“I just wanted to see how everything is.”
“Everything's fine. The party is all planned out, and we—”
“Oh, I'm so glad to hear. You're turning into quite a homemaker, aren't you?” Rowena tried to think of a response, but her mother didn't bother to wait. “How is Sammy?”
“He's fine. He's right here.”
“Right there? Oh, how nice. Tell him hello for me.”
Rowena tipped the phone a bit away from her but did not cover the mouthpiece. “Mom says hello,” she said.
“Hello, Babette,” Sammy called back.
“Oh, my; he is such a nice boy. I don't suppose you've made any Progress?”
Rowena closed her eyes. “You mean, are we getting married yet? No, we are not.”
“Oh, dear. We'll have to—is he still there? Did he hear you say that?”
“Yes,” Rowena said cautiously, “but—”
“Rowena! Don't let him know! If he knows what we're up to—”
“‘We’ are not ‘up to’ anything. Mother—”
“I have a new Plan! How can we discuss our Plan if Sammy's—”
“Mother, there is nothing to discuss. Nothing. Do you hear me?”
“This party you're having.” Rowena's mother lowered her voice to a whisper, presumably so that Sammy, eight feet away from the other end of the line, wouldn't hear. “This is for his birthday, right? So he's another year older? So, listen, what you do—”
“What I do is I give a party. And I know how to give a party. So there's no—”
“Rowena! Lower your voice!”
Rowena took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and, in the interests of putting a long-overdue end to it, continued in a whisper. “Mother, I do not need any help planning or executing this party.” The word “executing” hovered teasingly in her mind; her eyes still shut, she sat a moment enjoying it.
“What you do,” her mother went on, undeterred, “is you put out pictures of him as a baby, as a little boy . . . Tell him they're for the guests to look at. You know.”
“Uh-huh.” Rowena gave up. She could already see where this was heading anyway.
“And everybody talks about what a cute baby he was and how happy his parents looked . . .”
“Uh-huh.” Sammy's parents had not stayed happy, but Rowena had given up arguing. She really had. She just sat through the rest of the phone call, making listening-person noises until her mother said, “You got him into your household, but your work isn't done until you're married. And here you sit, saying uh-huh and—”
“All I can say is, watch out,” her mother said. “This . . . this Just Living Together is making you complacent.”
Rowena managed to get dinner on the table before it overcooked; she and Sammy had a cozy meal right up to the time Rowena's sister called. Maralynne, of course, had been some kind of seductress vampire type at a friend's Halloween party, and now she wanted to tell Rowena all about the producer she had thought would be there who wasn't. Only after that topic had been exhausted did she move on to more personal matters. “It's not that Chester isn't a great guy,” Maralynne said. “And I've got him trained now and everything. But . . . there's all those other guys out there . . .”
“What other guys?” Rowena wanted to know.
“Just . . . guys. Nobody in particular,” Maralynne said. “It's like half the world is guys or something.”
“That's . . . a lot of guys.”
“So, it's like, Chester is real smart and everything, and he's trained now, like I said, and he helps me with the Glam Cam, but there's all these other guys, and some of 'em have cuter butts or something.”
“Actually, a lot of them have cuter something. Something cuter. But Chester's my guy.”
“Maralynne, there's more to—”
“Only problem is, I have to be his girl. Like—what if we settled down and he wanted me to do his laundry or something?”
“That's always a risk,” Rowena said.
“And what if he stopped bringing me breakfast in bed?”
Rowena took a deep breath. “Maralynne, if you're not living together, you're not getting that most days now. And anyway—”
“Whose side are you on?” Maralynne demanded.
“Maralynne, be reasonable.” Right, Rowena thought. Sure. “When you have a relationship,” she went on, “you each have to make a certain—”
“Maybe you do,” Maralynne said, “but you can't expect me to. As if I were just any—”
Rowena took another deep breath. “Sammy and I have all these little things we do for each other,” she said. “And we both enjoy them. I know I enjoy doing little things for him.”
“I do not do ‘little things,’” Maralynne said. “Everything I do is big. And I don't have to do things to, like, earn some guy's . . . anything.”
“Maralynne,” said Rowena gently, “it would make him happy.”
“Make him happy? He's already got me! How happy can a guy get?” Rowena tried to think of a reply, but before she could say anything Maralynne said, “You're crazy. Living with Sammy is making you soft in the head.”
Rowena looked over at Sammy, who was putting away the dog food. “Terese says hi,” she told him. She looked over her to-do list; still on schedule for the party tomorrow.
“Hello,” Sammy called back. He took the cat food from the cupboard and closed the door.
“Hear that?” Rowena asked, into the phone.
“Close enough,” Terese said. “You know, you never did that when you lived with your parents.”
“You never said hi to anyone else in the household when I lived with my parents. Not that I blame you.” Rowena tipped the phone farther away from her. “Terese said I never passed on a hello during a phone call when I lived with my parents.”
“Geez,” said Terese. “Are you going to do that the entire call?”
“Did you do it when you just lived with Linus?” Sammy asked.
Rowena laughed. “Sammy asked if I did it when I just lived with Linus,” she said. She looked down at Linus, who had already finished his meal and was hopefully polishing his dog bowl. “And I'm only doing it now because you asked for it, more or less.”
“Less, maybe. You gonna be good now?
Rowena laughed. “Sorry.” She settled herself more comfortably in her chair. “So. How's it going?”
“Can't complain. You?”
“Well, right now I'm mostly trying to get ready for Sammy's birthday. We're just having three of four of his friends over; what with the housewarming we just had and everything . . . And, of course, my mother's giving me advice.”
“Of course. What is it this time, a wedding ring for Sammy's birthday present? Or maybe for Halloween you could have had a guy dressed up as a minister do a mock ceremony, only to find that, whoops, it really was legal after all . . .”
“I'm surprised at you, Terese. My mother would never suggest such a thing, and you know it. At least, not without about twenty girls dressed as bridesmaids, a million guests, a church . . .” Sammy gave her a quizzical look; she smiled and waved at him.
Terese laughed. “Of course. How thoughtless of me. I apologize.”
Again Terese laughed. “Really truly. So what else is going on with you these days?”
“Not much, except that practically everyone around me has a leaky marble bag, and they all think I'm nuts. My sister is afraid to commit to Chester because he's not the cutest guy on the planet, and is in danger of dispensing with the breakfast-in-bed routine; she thinks I'm wacko for not making Sammy wait on me hand and foot.”
“Welllll,” said Terese, comically.
“My mother is afraid I'm not committing properly to Sammy; she thinks I'm throwing my life away, but what else is new. My coworkers think 1), Sammy is making me boring and I should have gone out partying like them and let my apartment get egged, and 2), I should get Sammy to support me and just sit here doing nothing all day long, as if that would make me less boring than I already am. What I want to know,” Rowena said, “is why it would be okay for me to spend my days at home but not my evenings? Sammy says—”
“You know what I think?” Terese asked abruptly.
“If you really want to know what I think, I think you're getting a little too wrapped up in all of this—all this domesticity and Sammy and everything. I think you should get away from the apartment once in a while.”
“Get away from the apartment, get away from Sammy even, and have some girl fun.”
“Let's go shopping. Let's go out to lunch. Let's talk, with no men hovering in the background, and no housework, and no piddling domestic worries.”
“You're turning into one of those devoted little wife types. Pretty soon you're not going to have any interests outside Sammy at all. And none of your friends will ever see you again.”
“Oh, Terese. I'm not—Look, how about this coming Sunday?”
“Sunday's good,” Terese said. “For a start.”
“I mean it,” Terese told her. “Living with Sammy is making you give up the whole rest of your life.”
“So my mother thinks it's making me lose my motivation, Berna thinks it's making me dull, Sara thinks I'm letting myself be taken advantage of by not taking advantage of you, Terese thinks it's making me lose my sense of humor, my sense of fun, my independence, and all interest in my friends; and my sister thinks I'm just plain nuts. Half of them think it's making me selfish, and everyone except my mom thinks it's making me into some kind of slave. All because I'm living with you.” Rowena matched two freshly-laundered socks and set them on Sammy's sock pile; they were Sammy's socks. Sammy's party was only minutes away, and except for the laundry, they were ready for it.
Sammy lifted a dish towel from the heap, gave it a little shake, and began to fold it. “What do you think?” he asked.
“I think,” Rowena said, “that they're nuts. My sister, my mother, Sara—”
“Terese isn't doing too badly.”
“No . . . and I can see where she might feel neglected, even though she does have other friends.” Rowena looked up from the T-shirt she was holding. “Not that I'm an expert or anything,” she said, “but as to the rest of it—as to my life—it's my personal opinion that so far living with you is making me . . . what's the scientific term . . .” She folded the shirt and picked up a pair of Sammy's shorts, which she held a moment, looking thoughtful. “Ah, yes,” she said. “That's the word: It's making me happy.”
And she leaned over and kissed him, just as the doorbell announced their first guest.
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