|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Serious.||Rowena Gets A Surprise, Part 11|
Rowena put her phone down and shook her head. “Claudia, really,” she told the empty room. She picked the phone back up and dialed her friend Terese.
“Expect a slight change in tomorrow night's Girl Talk session,” she said when Terese answered.
“Why; what's up?”
“Would you believe that my cousin Claudia has invited herself along?”
“But that's great!” Terese said. “What are you complaining about? She's a girl, she talks, and we all like her. It'll be great to see her again, and she can help you dish on your mother.” Rowena's mother was a popular topic in Rowena's circle, and her efforts to nag Rowena into marriage were a Girl Talk staple.
“She's also declared it to be a birthday party for herself,” Rowena said. Terese laughed. “No presents,” Rowena went on. “She did allow as how that wouldn't be fair to the rest of you, especially on one days' notice. But it's her birthday party now, all the same.”
“Oh, boy,” Terese said. “You'll have to tell me how that happened.”
“Well, I like to take Claudia out to lunch for her birthday, and when I called her just now to set it up she suggested tomorrow night, and I told her I was going out with friends, and she wanted to know exactly who, and when I told her she said, ‘What fun. Count me in.’ And that seemed to be that. Her present is that I pay for her meal, as usual, and you guys help entertain her.”
“Entertain her? She understands that she has to contribute to the Girl Talk too? That she can't just sit there and be ‘entertained?’”
“She understands. Look, Claudia may not be exactly long-winded, but when she does want to say something, just try to stop her. Just try.”
“So we still get our Girl Talk? We can make fun of your mom?”
“We get our Girl Talk,” Rowena said. “And you can carry on all you like about my mother. As usual.”
Rowena saw Claudia before the restaurant door had a chance to close behind her. She waved, and her cousin came right to their table, walking with her familiar purposeful stride. “Happy Birthday, Claudia,” Rowena said. “And welcome to our Girl Talk session. This is Kim, by the way. We were all friends in high school but we don't get to see her too often anymore—”
“Speak for yourself,” said Beth.
“Luckily, however, she made it here tonight.”
“Hi,” Kim said. “Good to meet you.”
“Happy Birthday,” added Beth and Terese.
“Thanks,” Claudia said, sitting. She turned to Kim. “Nice to meet you, too.”
“We're all here, then,” Terese said. “It is now officially Open Season on Everything.”
“Hear, hear,” said Kim.
“Do you have these sessions often?” Claudia asked.
“Not very often,” said Rowena.
“Whenever Terese declares one,” Beth said.
“You in charge, then?” Claudia asked Terese.
“Nah. It's just that if somebody else wants to get us all together, she doesn't call it a Girl Talk Session. She just calls it Lunch or Dinner or Going to the Museum or whatever.”
“Don't tell her that,” said Beth, in mock horror. “She'll think we're boring.”
“Never,” said Claudia. She picked up her menu. “What's good here?” she asked. “Aside from the company?”
“Flattery!” cried Terese. “You should have tried that before Rowena said, ‘No presents.’”
Somehow they all managed to make their selections, and to order. Rowena sat back, watching the departing waiter. “Well,” she said, “my soap-opera-obsessed coworker was telling a story about somebody named Lucille yesterday, and she—Lucille—turned out to be a real person. Some kind of relative.”
“That's it?” demanded Claudia. Terese burst out laughing.
“Priceless!” she gasped. “Rowena, have you told Claudia about Marjorie?”
“I'm sure I have,” Rowena said.
“She has. I just thought Rowena would have some real scandals.”
“Marjorie is a fountain of scandals,” Terese announced. “It's just that none of them are real.”
“That's the real scandal,” Beth said.
“What about your mother?” Claudia said. “Your sister?”
“Nothing new,” Rowena said.
“They're still the same?” asked Kim. “That's a definite scandal.”
“Come on,” said Terese. “One of them must have done something.”
“Unless they have changed,” said Claudia.
“Well . . . my sister called up all panicked about her boyfriend being jealous, only when I got talking to her it turned out that she was panicked because he wasn't jealous. She'd tried flirting with some other guy right in front of him and he hadn't even noticed.”
“Chester wouldn't,” Terese said.
“So what'd you tell her?” asked Beth.
“That she was lucky he trusted her. Only Maralynne got all huffy at me. ‘He's not supposed to trust me. I'm a Siren. I'm dangerous.’”
Claudia snorted. “To whom?” asked Terese.
“To me, I'm afraid.” Rowena picked up her water glass and took a sip.
“So how'd it come out?” asked Beth.
“Dunno. I said at least he wasn't accusing her of doing things she wasn't doing, and she yelled that that was different and I didn't understand and then she hung up in a snit.”
“I'm afraid I don't understand either,” said Beth.
“Be grateful,” said Terese.
“If that made sense to you,” Kim said, “we wouldn't like you nearly as much as we do.”
“What about your mom?” asked Terese.
“My mom . . . I haven't heard much from my mom lately. She got into some sort of squabble with a friend of hers and now she's apparently sitting by the phone waiting for an apology. I'm having to face the possibility that my sister and I may not be the only things in her life.”
“Oh, dear.” Terese sighed dramatically.
“Is that the best you can do?” asked Kim.
“Or the worst she can do?” said Terese.
“It's been a slow week,” Rowena said.
“Even so,” said Claudia.
“Give her time to think,” said Terese. “Let's see; my boss announced the other day that in order to save money he would no longer supply scratch paper. We're supposed to bring our junk mail and stuff from home. We can't buy our own paper, by the way, unless we can prove we bought it.”
“Captains of Industry,” Kim said. “Don't you love 'em?”
“What about ruined copy paper?” asked Beth. “I know we've got plenty of that where I work.”
“Only if it's a ruined copy of a certified non-sensitive document.”
“Certified?” asked Claudia.
“Suffice to say, they're not saving any money on this.” Terese raised her water glass and drank.
“They've all gone crazy,” Beth offered. “Bosses are all crazy.”
“Speaking of crazy,” Terese said, and turned to Rowena. “Remember any mom stories yet?”
“Or Maralynne stories?” Kim put in.
“Why are you all ganging up on me?” Rowena asked. “My mom is my mom and my sister is my sister and that's about it.”
“Still trying to marry you off?” Claudia asked. “Personally, I'd go for it.”
“Nice guy, nice family. His, I mean.” Claudia picked up her napkin. “You love each other. You get along great. You're already living together. What's the problem?”
“There isn't a problem. We just . . .”
“Just what?” asked Terese.
“Yeah,” said Kim. “What?”
“You guys are supposed to be on my side.” That was the unspoken rule: Rowena's mother pestered her about these things, and Rowena complained to her friends and Claudia and they all—
“C'mon,” said Beth, in a being-reasonable voice. “What gives?”
Rowena fiddled with her fork. “I just . . . I . . . you're gonna laugh at me.”
“No, we're not,” Terese said.
“I just . . . I'm afraid I'd turn into my mother.”
“Oh, God,” said Kim. Terese burst out laughing, and the others joined in.
“Your mother? No way!”
“You are laughing at me!”
“Oh, really now!” said Beth.
“The only way you could turn into your mother is if aliens gave you a brain implant,” said Terese.
“Even then,” said Claudia.
“Your mother works at it,” said Beth.
“You're joking, right?” asked Kim.
“I'm not joking! It's something I've been afraid of my whole life. As far back as I can remember. Literally.” Rowena kept her gaze on the tabletop. “Imagine if she was your mom.” There was a pause. “So, partly I'm afraid that marriage would ruin me and partly I'm rebelling.”
Terese leaned forward; Rowena could see this without actually looking at her. “Rowena,” said Terese with something approaching gentleness, “you rebel by getting a stupid haircut. You rebel by signing up for a Ceramics class instead of Accounting. You do not rebel by refusing to marry the man you love.”
Put that way, it did sound pretty silly. “I just . . .”
“It's very simple,” said Claudia. “When he asks you, say yes.”
“Um,” Rowena said.
“Um?” asked Terese.
Rowena looked very closely at her napkin. Terese said, “Oh, my God. He's already asked you, hasn't he? And you turned him down.”
“Rowena!” An incredulous chorus. Luckily for Rowena, the waiter arrived laden with plates of food, and she had a couple of minutes to collect herself a bit before he disappeared out of earshot. Not so luckily, when he departed he left behind everyone's meal but her own. She had nothing to do but talk.
“You didn't tell me about that!” Terese said, when the waiter had gone.
“Because I knew you'd react this way!”
“You knew I'd react this way because you know I'm right!”
“Terese . . .”
“Admit it,” Claudia said.
“You're all ganging up on me.”
“Rowena,” said Beth quietly, “we care about you.”
“And you're doing this for my own good and it's going to hurt you more than it hurts me and now I've got five mothers nagging me to death instead of just one, which if you ask me was plenty.”
Silence. Then Beth said gently, “Rowena. What do you want to do? Do you want Sammy to have and to hold, or would you rather annoy your mother?”
Rowena looked at her water glass. For a moment it seemed they were actually waiting for her to reply.
“You know,” Claudia said, “I don't think Aunt Babette is really all that annoyed.” Rowena raised her head and looked at her. “Besides, she'll always find something to nag you about no matter what you do. She's got perfect job security. A lifelong hobby.”
“Sammy said that once,” Rowena said. “That there'd always be something.”
“Well, he's smart. Perceptive.”
“A catch,” said Terese, just a bit wickedly.
“Go for it,” said Kim.
“You don't even know him!” Rowena told her.
“Well, is everything Claudia said true? You're happy with him? You're in love, both of you?”
“Yes . . .”
“What else do I need to know?”
“There's—there's more to it . . .”
“Sure there's more to it,” Kim said. “But all you've told us is that your mom wants you to.” She stopped as the waiter came, finally, with Rowena's food. “Do you have a good reason not to marry him?” she asked when he'd left. “A reason that has to do with you and Sammy?”
“And nobody else,” said Terese.
“Even us,” said Claudia.
Rowena picked up her fork and put it down again. “No,” she said.
“Well,” said Claudia. “That's settled.” And with a satisfied air she turned her attention to her food. Rowena took a breath, and decided to follow suit. She picked up her fork.
“So,” said Terese. “what color are the bridesmaids' dresses gonna be?”
Rowena stopped. “Terese,” she said.
“How about red,” suggested Kim, “to go with her hair?”
Giggles. “No, no; green's a much better color for her,” said Terese.
“Not for me,” said Claudia. “Do I get to be a bridesmaid?”
“We all should,” said Kim. “It was our doing.”
“Please!” Rowena said.
“I still think red,” said Kim.
“What about the ring bearer?” mused Claudia. “You can't have one of our nasty little cousins.”
“I'm sure Sammy's got a little cousin who isn't nasty,” Beth said.
“Will Sammy want a groom's cake?”
“Never mind that. What about the wedding cake? Don't have little plastic people on top. Get some sort of a nice glass or ceramic thing.”
“I know an excellent bakery.”
“Two little glass lovebirds or something. Lovey-dovies, I mean.”
“Their lemon filling. Excellent.”
“Or a big glass heart.”
“If you do have plastic people, make sure the bride's a redhead.”
“I don't think I've seen one like that.”
“Don't have plastic people.”
“What kind of flowers? I guess if the bridesmaids have red dresses—”
“Ladies,” said Terese importantly. “The wedding gown.”
Rowena took a very deep breath. “I really think this—”
“A sweetheart neckline.”
“No. Very low-cut. Décolletage. As much as you can muster.”
“And make your sister wear a high neckline, for once.” Laughter.
“You need lots of lace, Rowena. A great big wide skirt.”
“No no; something simple. Identifiably a wedding dress, but without so much fuss.”
“No fuss? It's her wedding.”
“My wedding,” said Rowena. “If I even have one. And I'd appreciate—”
“If she has one.” A rolling of eyes.
“I only meant, something she can sit down in. You know?”
“Could we talk about something else?” Rowena asked.
“Shouldn't she be comfortable at her own reception?”
“No,” said Terese. “Who are you to buck tradition?”
“Anybody read any good books? See any good movies?” Rowena looked from one to the next without much hope.
“Weeeell, there was this book about this girl who was getting married . . .” Giggles. Rowena relaxed just a bit, although she wasn't sure why.
“You just made that up,” she remarked. She crunched her fork into a crouton.
“Okay,” said Terese. “We'll ease up. But when he asks a second time, you'd better not say no for any stupid reasons, okay? Like that business about your mother.”
“If you don't mind our saying so,” said Claudia.
“No stupid reasons the second time, because there may not be a third time. Right?” Rowena did not respond, except by avoiding their eyes. “Right?” persisted Terese. Rowena did not answer.
“Oh, God,” said Beth.
“I don't believe it,” said Terese.
“You didn't,” said Claudia.
“She did,” said Kim.
“You rejected him twice?” cried Terese.
“What if he gives up?” asked Beth.
“Please tell me,” said Terese, “that there hasn't been a third time yet. Please.”
“A person would think he was your boyfriend,” Rowena said.
“We care about you,” Beth said again.
“This is the guy who left work early to take care of you when you were sick before you were even living together,” Terese pointed out.
“This is the guy who helps with the housework,” said Beth.
“This is the guy who never laughs at your problems,” Terese told her. “You've said so yourself.”
“I've seen the way he looks at you,” said Claudia.
“This is the guy who—”
“Enough,” Rowena said. “I know all that better than you do.”
“This,” said Terese anyway, “is the guy you took care of when he was sick. Made a doctor's appointment, drove him to it—”
“No stupid reasons, okay?”
Rowena gave her a small, defeated smile. “Okay.”
“You guys are all witnesses.” Terese reached over and patted Rowena's sleeve. “All right,” she said. “Enough of that. Who's got another Girl Talk topic?”
“Well, we could talk about my mother,” said Kim.
“Perfect,” said Terese, leaning back. “Fire away.”
And they really did talk about Kim's mother, and not Rowena at all, and Rowena was feeling fairly relaxed and was actually laughing when she became aware that the older couple at the table behind her was getting up to leave. “Excuse me,” the woman said. Rowena looked to see if her purse and coat were in the way but the woman was standing next to her, unimpeded.
“Marry him already,” the woman told Rowena.
“I'm sure he'll appreciate it,” added her male companion. The woman, who appeared to be a bit older than Rowena's mother, smiled and winked at Rowena, who was growing very hot in the face. The woman and her companion left, as Rowena's table shook with gales of partially-suppressed laughter.
“Please,” said Rowena, with as much dignity as she could.
“Did we say anything?” Terese managed to ask. “We did not say a thing.”
“Nothing,” Claudia said.
“Anyone like some dessert?” Rowena asked.
“Just had it,” said Terese, and they all but fell on the floor laughing.
“So what'd you talk about?” Sammy asked, once she'd arrived home and removed her shoes.
“Girl stuff,” said Rowena lightly. “Just girl stuff.”
“Girl stuff, huh? Secret girl stuff?”
“Yup,” said Rowena. “Sorry.”
“Conspiracies?” asked Rowena. “Who, us?” She gave him a hug. “Don't worry,” she said. “I think they like you.”
“You think so?”
“Mm-hmm. I don't think you have to worry about any conspiracies from that quarter.”
“Good.” He gave her a kiss. “By the way, your mother called while you were out.”
“I think she wants you to call her back while I'm not around,” Sammy continued, “so she can try to hatch some kind of conspiracy to ‘catch’ me.”
He guided her over to the couch. “How about a nice cup of tea?” he asked.
This is the guy, Rowena thought, who . . .
“Thank you,” she said. “That sounds good.”
And she leaned back and let him take care of her yet again.
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