|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Serious.||Rowena Gets A Surprise, Part 14|
Rowena picked up her phone. “Rorschach & Schmed.”
“Hi. Are you free for lunch?”
“Sammy! Of course. At one o'clock.”
“One o'clock. Great. I'll pick you up there. Okay?”
“I'd talk longer, but I have to go and take care of something. See you at one, then.”
“One o'clock. See you.” Rowena was still smiling as she put down the phone.
“Hot date, huh?” Rowena hadn't known Berna was there. She turned back to her papers without looking up.
“I am meeting my boyfriend for lunch,” she said with dignity. “And I hate to have to tell you this, but that is a perfectly normal thing to do.” She just didn't do it very often during her workweek, was all.
“Not normal for you,” said Berna.
“Berna, please. I still have some work to do first.” Rowena smoothed the Falcopt Project and frowned at it. Hard.
“So what is it?” asked Sara, from out of nowhere. “He gonna pop the question?”
“Sara!” Rowena caught herself, and winced. She hadn't meant to react.
“Come on. A nice romantic—”
“In the middle of a workday? On a Wednesday?”
“To surprise you!”
“You know what would really surprise me?” Rowena asked. “If you let me get some work done.”
“Geez, you're crabby. I bet—”
“Hey, what's up?” asked Leslie Campbell.
Rowena buried her face in her arms. “Nothing. Go away.”
“Rowena's got a hot date for lunch,” Berna informed him.
“I bet he's gonna propose,” added Sara.
“I'll give you five seconds,” Rowena said. “All three of you.”
“Propose? No way!”
“You can't marry this guy.”
“Why not?” Berna demanded.
“Two,” Rowena said.
“She just can't.”
“What, you think she's supposed to marry you?”
“Three!” Rowena said.
“Not necessarily marry me, but she should at least—”
“Hey,” Leslie complained. “You're speeding up.”
“Yes, you are,” said Sara.
“She's too young to make a commitment like that,” Leslie went on.
“But she's too smart to get involved with you,” said Berna.
“How can she know if she's got Mr. Right if she hasn't even tried me?”
“Because anybody with two brain cells can see that you're Mr. Wrong. And a half.”
“Hey, you haven't even seen my—”
“SIX!” Rowena yelled. Where was Eloise when she needed her?
“You were only going to do five,” observed Marjorie, unhelpfully. She popped a gum bubble; even from a desk away Rowena could hear it without looking.
“You wanna know something?” Berna went on. “Nobody with any sense has seen it. If there's ever a fire, you could clear the building just by dropping your pants.”
“That would be a disaster,” Marjorie said. “All by itself.”
“Nobody listens to me,” Rowena complained, her head still in her arms. “I could—”
“Nonsense; I listen to you,” Berna said.
“So do I,” Marjorie announced. “I did just now.”
“Me, too,” Sara said.
“You guys are nuts,” said Leslie.
“Sammy listens to me all the time,” said Rowena, raising her head. They all turned and looked at her.
“Shit,” said Leslie, and left.
“I do too listen,” said Marjorie.
“Shit,” said Berna, and she left. Sara, seeing the party break up, shrugged and followed suit. Rowena looked at her clock. Two and a half hours to go. She wondered whether Sammy did indeed have a reason for inviting her to lunch. She was pretty sure it wasn't the reason Sara had come up with, but she had no idea what it might be instead. Even his decision about law school, if he'd made it, would probably wait until they were home and had the entire evening to themselves.
Rowena did manage to get some work done, in between occasional glances at her clock and occasionally wondering, despite herself, whether Sammy really did have a special reason for inviting her to lunch. Her coworkers were always jumping to conclusions, and Rowena didn't really put any weight behind what they thought. That didn't mean, of course, that Sammy had no reason at all. But there wasn't any holiday, or even personal anniversary. Perhaps there was something wrong. At his job? He was doing so well. And why would he tell her about it in the middle of the day?
“Daydreaming?” asked Lorraine, stopping by.
“I'm not surprised. You have so much to think about. Have you decided who your bridesmaids are gonna be?”
Rowena slapped her pen down. “Not you too!” Actually she wasn't surprised.
“As a former bride myself,” said Lorraine, “I personally think that four or five—”
“Lorraine. You're getting way ahead of yourself. You're getting ahead of me. Anyway,” Rowena went on, “my friends are already planning my wedding. You'll have to get in line.”
“C'mon,” said Sara, appearing again from nowhere to settle herself on the edge of Rowena's desk. “Lighten up. Have some fun.”
Rowena could see Berna approaching; it seemed she was in for another siege. She took a deep breath. “How much fun do you think it'll be if I don't get my report finished?” she asked Sara. “For that matter, how much fun do you think it is having every—”
“If you do it in June—”
“Naw,” said Marjorie, from the next desk. “She'll need more time than that.”
“I don't have to be here at all,” Rowena said. “I can just let you guys settle everything for me.”
“She's acting just like Ricarda,” Marjorie announced. “You'll see. When—”
“Marjorie!” yelled Berna as she arrived. “For the umpteenth time, will you stop talking about those stupid soap operas?”
“No,” said Marjorie. “See, she and Atherton had this thing—”
“Are you gonna keep working here after you're married?” Sara asked Rowena.
“I'm barely able to work here now.”
Lorraine looked at Sara. “She's been dreaming about her—”
“Lorraine,” Rowena said. “And Sara, and Marjorie, and Berna. If anything like that happens, I'll be sure not to try too hard to hide it from you.”
“Oh, we'll find out,” said Berna. “At least, I will.”
“Hey,” Marjorie objected.
“Look,” Rowena said. “I do have work to do. So—”
“So do we,” Sara said, to Lorraine. “There's the shower, the gown and bouquet research, the—”
“Do you mind?” Rowena demanded. “That's really not—”
“She's right,” Lorraine said—to Rowena. “We gotta go.” As they walked off, Rowena could hear her say, “I know this florist, actually he's a cousin of mine . . .” Rowena took a deep breath and returned to her project. At least they were gone.
“Just like Ricarda,” Marjorie said, shaking her head almost sadly.
The rest of the morning and pre-lunch afternoon went slowly. People kept stopping by to ask Rowena if it were really true, or to offer advice or assistance on the assumption that it was. Rowena tried to explain, but it did her little good, especially as she didn't actually know what, if anything, Sammy had planned. The only person who seemed really inclined to listen to her was Molly.
“What's this I'm hearing about a wedding?” Molly asked. “Is there anything to it, or is it just Sara going off on a tear again?”
“It isn't just Sara going off on a tear,” Rowena told her. “It's Sara, Lorraine, Marjorie, and Berna going off on a tear.” She looked meaningfully over at Marjorie's desk, but Marjorie was busily scribbling something down and pretending not to listen. Rowena wondered what she was writing, and whether it was by some miracle work-related.
Molly followed her gaze. “Lorraine and Marjorie too? I should have known.” She shook her head. Molly was older—not quite old enough to be Rowena's mother—and more sensible than most of Rowena's coworkers.
“They're trying to tell me,” Rowena continued, watching Marjorie out of the corner of her eye, “that they know more about this than I do.”
“Ridiculous,” Molly said.
“They're telling me all about what's on my boyfriend's mind, they're planning a wedding . . . or something . . .”
“Unbelievable,” Molly said.
“You'd think they'd have learned by now. You'd think—”
“They're not going to learn,” Molly said. “They're having fun.”
“Why do they have to have fun with me?”
“Some people,” said Molly, “are just naturally pesky. Don't let them get to you.” Rowena sighed. “Cheer up,” Molly said. “At least you're popular.”
Rowena snorted, and Molly laughed. “Look, I gotta go,” she said. “Hang in there, don't sweat it, and do just one thing for me.”
“If he does propose, tell me first.”
Rowena opened her mouth to protest, but Molly winked at her. Rowena found herself laughing instead. “Okay,” she said. “You'll be the first one here to know.” Molly patted her arm. “You promised,” she said, and left. Rowena looked at her clock, then at her project, and shook her head.
“You laugh,” said Marjorie darkly—she was, Rowena found, sitting with her eyes fixed on the papers before her—“but just you wait. It'll be Gisellette all over again.”
“Gisellette? I thought I was being Ricarda,” Rowena said.
“You wish,” Marjorie retorted.
Sammy arrived right on time, but Rowena, collecting her things, thought he seemed a bit subdued. Leaving, they had to weather a little heckling and quite a few stares. Leslie Campbell managed to intercept them; he gave Rowena a meaning look. “Remember what I said!” he told her; Rowena said, “Goodbye, Leslie,” and kept walking.
“What was all that about?” asked Sammy, once they were outside.
Rowena took a breath. “Berna was hanging around my desk when you called and before I knew it everybody decided that you were going to propose.”
“Did they? I wish I'd known; I could have shown up in a tuxedo.” Rowena laughed. “Did they decide you were going to accept?” Sammy asked.
“Them? They were too busy planning the reception to bother with minor details.” Sammy smiled at her, though there was something a little grave about him.
“Actually,” he said, “I did have a reason for wanting to see you today, although that wasn't it.” They reached his car and he opened the passenger-side door. Rowena got in, and had to wait until he closed her door, walked around to his side, and sat down. “First, everything is okay now.”
Rowena looked at him. “What happened?”
“Just after you left this morning I dropped one of the glasses and broke it. And Linus was right there already—”
“He's okay,” Sammy repeated. “He has a bandage on his foot, but the vet says it was an unusually clean cut and he got all the glass out.”
“I got everything cleaned up and Caesar never came near it. So we're just short one glass and you have a dog with a bandaged paw.” He reached out and touched her hair. “I thought you might want to hear about it . . . fairly promptly, and in person, and that maybe you'd want to see him. Just to . . .”
“Yes,” Rowena said. “Please.”
Rowena went back to work with only a quick sandwich in her stomach, but feeling much reassured. Linus was fine. Sammy and the vet had taken wonderful care of him and he was fine.
Sammy had taken wonderful care of her, too. She gave him a hug and a kiss when he dropped her off at work, not even thinking until she had waved good-bye and was halfway across the parking lot that anyone may have seen her. She looked around. If anyone had seen her, they were hiding now. She reached the door, opened it, and went in.
“Let me see! Let me see!” A small stampede, and several grabbing hands; it was Sara who captured Rowena's left wrist and held it up.
“Where is it?” she demanded.
“My hand?” asked Rowena innocently. “It's right there. Until you pull it off. Could I have it back, please?”
“Where is it?”
“I don't know how to tell you people this, but if it's an engagement ring you're looking for, I don't have one.”
“You don't have one? He's too cheap to buy an engagement ring?”
“He could have got you a little one, if he doesn't have the money,” said somebody else. “What's wrong with him?”
“What's ‘wrong’ with him is we're not engaged,” Rowena said. “He didn't ask me to lunch in order to propose. Therefore, no ring. Understand?”
“What a rip-off,” said Sara. “And after all the work we did.”
“I told you not to jump to conclusions,” Rowena said. She looked around at everybody as she spoke. A few members of the mob wandered off, grumbling under their breaths. The rest stayed.
“Do you mean to tell us you and this guy aren't serious?” Lorraine demanded.
“No, I mean to tell you that we're not engaged. Not at this moment in time, and probably not five minutes from now either, so don't bother to check back then.” Rowena turned to Sara. “Could I have my hand back?”
“Give it back,” Berna said, “so she can give it to that boyfriend of hers, when he decides to do his duty.”
“Thank you,” said Rowena to Sara, who had released her. “Now, if you will all excuse me, I have some work to do.”
“That work thing again,” said Berna, shaking her head in mock dismay.
“Well,” suggested Lorraine, “he'll be getting a hardworking wife.”
Rowena started for her desk. She found Marjorie in front of her.
“Gisellette, my ass,” said Marjorie. She turned on her heel and stalked off.
Of course they massed again a little later around Rowena's desk, demanding explanations. Reluctantly, Rowena told them about the accident and the trip to the vet, but not everyone was satisfied.
“Was it an expensive glass?” asked Janet.
“Forget the glass; what about the vet bill?”
“Is he always that clumsy?”
“It wasn't an heirloom, was it?”
“Did he really get all of it swept up? You have to be careful with glass.”
“Would you have said yes if he had asked?”
“He sounds like a loser,” said Leslie Campbell.
“Leslie!” cried everybody, Rowena included. Leslie began shifting his weight back and forth and staring at the floor.
“He hurt your dog,” Leslie persisted. “You can't marry him.”
“He took care of my dog. He went to a lot of trouble and . . . care.”
“And then he goes and makes a big mystery out of it all, and lets you think he's gonna—that there's some kinda good news or something—”
“You guys were the ones who came up with all that. He waited until lunchtime because he didn't want to worry me. He took me to see Linus, and see that he was okay, which he was. And I wasn't worried, and I also didn't think—”
“Okay, okay. But he was still clumsy and he still hurt your dog and here you're treating him like some kind of hero and—”
“Leslie, he handled the situation exactly as I would have wanted him to. He's been very good to me and to my dog—”
“Yeah!” said somebody behind her. Rowena tried to continue, but was interrupted again.
“Everybody's ganging up on me,” Leslie complained. “All I—”
“All you're trying to do is spoil everything,” Rowena said. “I don't care what you say, and for that matter, I don't care what anybody else says either. Sammy's been very good to me,” she repeated, “and to my dog, and we're all very happy together.”
“The subject is closed. Good-bye, everybody. I am going back to work.” And Rowena picked up her project with such an air of finality that people, Leslie included. actually began drifting away. She did not look up to see them go.
“She's gonna do it,” Berna told Sara as they left. “It's only a matter of time.”
Rowena bent and fumbled in her purse. She did not respond. She did want to marry Sammy, but she didn't want to discuss the matter with them. She didn't care how they took her silence, as long as they left her alone. They were always excited about something anyway; apparently boredom made them pesky. Even if she'd taken care to explain how grave Sammy had sounded over the phone, they'd have made their own assumptions as to why; they'd have been sure it was because he was going to propose and was afraid she'd say no. Even if she'd made references to his job, say, or his pending decision about law school, they'd have insisted he'd had marriage on his mind. Not that she herself understood why the law school thing would perturb him so much, but still. If she—
Suddenly she stopped. “Oh, my God,” she whispered. She closed her eyes.
She knew why he was hesitating over the law school decision.
He wouldn't commit the time and money—her money—for law school if they weren't married. He wouldn't want to owe her that, put her through that. Nor could he afford to pass this chance up if he ever wanted to take it; his boss' offer wouldn't stay good forever.
She could feel the blood in her face. She pushed herself back up upright and tried to hide behind her project.
If she told Sammy she would marry him he would think, perhaps, that she wouldn't have married him otherwise. There was nothing she could say that could entirely convince him that she would have, given the timing; he would always have to doubt, to wonder if she had done it for his sake and not because she wanted to. Not because she loved him that much, wanted to really join her life to his. He would have to doubt, at least from time to time. And Sammy deserved better than that; needed better than that. She had to—somehow—
It was her fault. She had turned him down, stupidly turned him down and just moved in with him instead. And now . . .
She tried to think of something, something she could say, something she could do, but her mind just went around and around.
It was no use. She got up and made her way to Molly's desk, hoping only that Molly would be there. She was; quietly doing her work and suspecting nothing—until she looked up and saw Rowena.
“Rowena! What is it?”
“Molly. Could I talk to you?”
“Of course. Let's—here; let's try the first-floor conference room.” The one hardly anybody used. Rowena was vastly relieved to see, when they got there, that it was empty. Molly sat her down and brought her a cup of water.
“There you go,” she said, and sat down herself and simply waited. Rowena stared into her cup.
“Molly. Have you ever had the feeling you'd ruined your life? And somebody else's too?”
“A few times,” Molly said, and waited. Rowena took a drink of water, and then a deep breath, and did her best to explain, from the beginning, as Molly listened.
“So now,” Rowena finished, “I don't know what to do.” She put her elbow on the table and her head in her hand.
“You're trying so hard to do the right thing,” Molly said. “Both of you.” Rowena sat with her eyes shut. “You're right,” Molly went on. “He may turn the offer down. But that would be his choice, and it wouldn't be the end of the world.”
“But—it isn't a career, what he's doing now. And—and he should have a real career; work is such an important part of life, of his life. And it's all my fault.”
“Once you get really involved with somebody, everything is your fault,” Molly said. “That's the way it goes.” Rowena sighed. “You could beg him to do it,” Molly continued, “to take the offer and to marry you, but if the firm goes under and he's stuck with no job and a pile of debt, that would be your fault too. Likewise if you say nothing, and possibly cost him a career opportunity and cause you both to feel that you're holding him back professionally. Even though it may not be the only opportunity he'll have.
“You know,” Molly continued, “he could have ended up in a very similar situation even if he hadn't met you; getting an offer and being unsure he could raise the money, do all the work, and get the degree. It still wouldn't have been an easy choice, even if he didn't have you to consider, or the possibility of a house and kids in the near future. There are a lot of concerns; he may actually have another reason for hesitating. And if you worry about all this too much, that could even cause a problem where there might not have been one before.”
It took Rowena a moment to reply. “But it's such a good opportunity.”
“I know,” Molly said. “And if you tell him you want to marry him you'd always wonder if he thought you'd done it out of guilt, and in fact he could never be entirely sure. You want it clear the marriage is founded on love, but there would always be this little doubt, and any time anything went wrong . . .” Molly paused. “You regret now that you turned him down in the past,” she said. “But was it really such a bad decision at the time?”
Rowena looked at her. “Molly,” she said. “I had the stupidest reason in the world. I turned him down because my mother wanted me not to.”
“I know; you mentioned that. And I can see where, once you stopped caring what your mother thinks and no longer had a reason to refuse him you would feel you'd done the wrong thing. But think about it: Was it really that bad a decision? You'd known him . . . how long?”
“At the time? Over a year and a half.”
“Less than two years. You weren't living together yet. Do you really think it was so terribly stupid not to marry him then?”
Rowena sighed. “No,” she admitted. “Not really. But—”
“You had a bad reason, but that doesn't make it a bad decision. And it wasn't one. You had no way of knowing it would result in something like this.” There was a pause.
“What can I do now?” Rowena asked.
“Sometimes,” Molly said, “you just have to trust somebody to make the right choice. You were ready to accept his decision yesterday; you should be willing to accept it today. You were just now telling everybody what a great guy he is, and how good his judgment is,” Molly continued. “Trust him. You have to trust him to make the right decision, and you have to trust that the decision he makes is right. Let him consider you in everything he does, because he has to. Everything he does now involves you—might even be because of you. And despite that, he doesn't have to choose the way you want him to, and he doesn't have to justify himself to you. Do you understand?” Rowena nodded. “Do you see where all of this also goes the other way? That it also applies to decisions you make?”
“Well,” said Rowena, “the part about considering Sammy makes perfect sense.” Molly laughed.
“I think you're getting the hang of it,” she said. “Both of you. A serious relationship changes your life. It's not just that you aren't dating other people any more. That's the part you hear people your age talking about, but it's the least of it.”
“I know,” Rowena said.
“Well, you're seeing now that you're affecting Sammy's life and his choices. And that's as it should be.”
“Welcome to adulthood, decision capital of the world,” Molly said. “And you'll never know everything you want to know, or need to know. You don't know what he's thinking, you don't know that your mother won't be an even bigger pest after you're married and she can start demanding grandchildren. But—”
“But that's up to them,” Rowena said. “Not me.”
“Got it.” Molly smiled at her. “You gonna be all right, kiddo? If I can still call you that?” Rowena smiled back.
“Better than I was,” she said. “Thanks, Molly.”
“Any time. Really. Look, I may never have a daughter I can say these things to.” Rowena glanced away, remembering how many years Molly and her husband had been trying to have a baby, how close Molly was to the time this would be impossible. She heard Molly say, “I hope everything works out for you two,” and looked back at her.
“Thanks,” Rowena said again, and gave her another smile. And walking back to her desk, she did feel better.
She sat down. She picked up her pen, but did not immediately look at her project.
Nothing to do, Molly had said, but trust him.
Volume II: Rowena Gets Serious.
Book 7: Rowena Gets A Surprise.
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