|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Serious.||Rowena Gets A Surprise, Part 13|
Rowena passed Sammy the salad. “How was your day?” she asked. It was one of those weeknight evenings at home they had looked forward to when they moved in together. A dinner she had prepared and the stereotypical “How was your day?”—not an idle question, though, tonight. She suspected that something had happened that day; Sammy seemed to have something on his mind. She waited to hear what it was.
“Had a little office birthday party today for John. Usual stuff.” Sammy shrugged. “Cake wasn't as good as yours.”
“Thank you,” Rowena said, and waited.
Sammy set a slice of bread on his plate. “Still working on the Flanders case,” he told her. “It's getting pretty interesting, actually; there doesn't really seem to be a clear precedent to support the other side. They're going to claim that there is, of course, but I think the judge will see otherwise. I've found a whole folder's worth of pretty convincing stuff on it.”
“Good,” Rowena said. “The more the better, I'm sure.”
“Too early to tell, of course, but it's looking a lot better for us.”
“Glad to hear it,” Rowena said. She was pretty sure that the success of the Flanders research was not really what he was thinking about. “Anything else?” she asked.
“Well,” Sammy said, “I had a talk with my boss.”
“Oh?” Rowena looked at him. He seemed to be choosing his words carefully.
“You know he likes my work,” Sammy said. “Well, he told me today that he thinks I'd make a good attorney, too. Actually, the phrase was ‘more valuable to the firm as an attorney.’ In fact”—Sammy paused a moment—“in fact, he says that if I go to law school, he'll keep me on—I can reduce my work hours while I'm in school—and after I graduate he'll hire me as a lawyer as soon as they have an opening.”
“Sammy! That's wonderful!” She knew he had been thinking about law school for some time, but had felt daunted by the glut of job-hunting would-be lawyers. But if he had a place reserved for him . . .
“I haven't said I will yet,” Sammy told her. “There's a lot to work out before I can commit to anything like that.”
“But you want to?”
“If we can manage it, yes.” He looked at her; she was about to say something but he went on, “Of course it would mean going back to school after several years away, and it's not an easy course. Not even the entrance exam is easy. And after I graduated I'd have to pass the Bar, which isn't easy either. But this would be . . . quite an opportunity. There's a lot of competition out there among people with new law degrees; you can't count on getting a position. This way, I could go through school with an understanding boss and a steady if smaller paycheck; and then if they don't have an opening right away, I'm still employed, doing what I'm doing now. It might take a little while; it's not a terribly big firm, you know, and they don't have vacancies every week. But I like it there, and I like what I'm doing, and it would be much more pleasant than chasing after a job.”
“And then when they do have an opening—you're a lawyer.” Rowena paused. “I think you should go for it.”
“I've already got connections there, of course, and my boss is in a position to do me a lot of good. And there are even a few people who used to work there . . . I seem to have a network of some kind already. The internship you're supposed to do shouldn't be any problem to arrange, and afterwards . . .” Sammy looked briefly away from her, down at his plate. “But it'll involve a lot of time, a lot of money . . . and other things.”
“I have a job,” Rowena reminded him. “And we each have money saved up. It'll be an investment in our future.”
“Investments don't always pay off. There's no guarantee I'd even pass my courses, let alone the Bar. And it's a lot of money,” Sammy repeated, “and a lot of time. Between working and studying, I wouldn't be seeing so much of you. For about three years.”
“Well . . . we'd still be together really. And I . . . you know I wouldn't mind taking care of you. I mean—”
“Really,” Rowena said. “I think you should do it, I mean, go ahead and look over the finances and everything, but if it's at all possible—”
“I feel,” Sammy said, “that I'd be asking an awful lot of you.”
“Don't be silly.”
“And to impose not only on you, but on your bank account—”
“Sammy,” Rowena said, “if you want to look at it that way, you're saving me money on the rent as it is. If we weren't living together—”
“I know, darling.”
“And no matter how late you're up studying, sooner or later, most nights, you'll have to come to bed, and when you do, I'll still be there.”
“Oh, Rowena.” He rose, came to her, held her close.
“It's true,” Rowena said. “You know it's true.”
He squeezed her even more tightly, and she snuggled her head against him.
He was preoccupied the next morning, and left early with some remark about having “things to check on.” Rowena understood that he wanted to make the right decision, but she suspected he was fretting more than was really good for him. “Fretting!” she told her dog, confidentially. Sammy wasn't an impulsive sort, but neither was he a fretter. It wasn't like him at all. She ruffled Linus' fur, then pulled him into her lap for a hug. “He'd have to be crazy to turn this one down,” she said. “Right, Linus?” It was safe to tell Linus such a thing, or Caesar the cat, but otherwise she was on her own. She sighed. She suspected there was nothing she could do.
She got out Linus' leash and took him for his morning walk. They hadn't gone far when they came upon the landlady, Mrs. Masters.
“Why, hello there, dear,” said Mrs. Masters. “I've been wanting to ask you something.”
“What's that?” asked Rowena, a little more warily than she'd intended.
“I've been taking a kind of survey among the tenants. Just two questions. First, the outside of the building could use a little paint. Would you prefer purple or yellow?”
“Yellow,” said Rowena. She had never heard of tenants being consulted about this before.
“Another vote for yellow. I didn't realize it was such a popular color.” She paused, musing. “And question two: Would you like to have one of the washing machines removed from the laundry room?”
“Would I what?”
“Like to have one of the washers removed. You see, Mr. Masters and I are having a teeny disagreement about the noise level in the laundry room, and I thought I'd just see what everybody else thought.”
“The noise level? . . .”
“You know how loud it can get in there when all the machines are going,” said Mrs. Masters. “It gets hard for a person to think straight. Somebody even threw a bright-red shirt into a permanent-press load and turned every single white thing pink.”
“No,” Rowena said. “I would not like to have a washer removed.” It sounded very odd, saying that, like a peculiar foreign-language lesson: Yes, I would like some ice cream; yes, I would like some yellow paint; no, I would not like a washer removed. The mere fact that they did sometimes all go at once seemed, she thought, to suggest that there wasn't a surplus.
“Pink bath towels in a green-and-beige bathroom,” Mrs. Masters went on. “Pink boxer shorts . . .”
“No,” Rowena repeated. “I would not like to have a washer removed.”
“Another no,” said Mrs. Masters. “An even more popular answer than ‘yellow.’ In fact, it's unanimous so far. Imagine nine people all agreeing on something.”
“Imagine,” Rowena said.
“Well, I still have other tenants to ask, including your young man.” She began to turn away, then turned back again. “Are you sure about the yellow?”
“Well, that's not too bad. I'm still winning on the washer issue.”
“So you each win one, then?” Rowena asked.
“The secret to a happy marriage,” said Mrs. Masters, just a bit obscurely. “You have a good day, now.”
“You, too,” Rowena said, and Mrs. Masters was gone.
“So what's new?” Berna inquired, at work.
“Well,” Rowena began, “my boyfriend—”
“Boyfriend!” said Sara. “Don't talk to me about boyfriends!”
“What'd Boris do this time?” Berna asked.
“He was supposed to take me out last night but something happened to his computer and he spent the whole night fixing it instead.”
“And you're surprised?” asked Berna.
“He had to test his network connection,” said Sara. “By logging into porn sites.”
“With you there?” Berna asked. Sara eyed her warily.
“Would it be worse if I was, or worse if I wasn't?”
“Dump him,” advised Marjorie.
“Who asked you?” Sara demanded. “And why should I listen to you anyway; you don't even have a boyfriend.”
“I will, though.” Marjorie gave her a coy, corner-of-the-eye look. “I've written to Buck. He and I are made for each other.”
“Let me guess,” said Berna. “Let me guess. He's a soap-opera character, isn't he?”
“And what if he is?” Marjorie turned back to Sara. “He's on the rebound from Narcissa, and—”
“He is, is he? Marjorie, are you talking about the actor or the character?”
“Actor?” asked Marjorie, bewildered. A worried look crossed her face.
“I know guys like porn,” Sara was saying, “but I don't think they should prefer it to a real girl.”
“Sara,” said Berna, “you have to remember that Boris—”
“Which do you think I should do: Demand he never look at another porn site again as long as he lives, or ask him to fix up a naked-pictures site for me?”
“Pictures of you? Are you sure you've thought this through?”
“Boris is the man of my dreams,” Sara said. “He just drives me nuts is all.”
“Think about it some more,” Berna said. “But for God's sake don't let Eloise know.” She turned back to Rowena, who had said nothing throughout this exchange. “So what were you saying about your boyfriend?”
“He's considering an offer his boss made to hire him as a lawyer if he gets a law degree. He could keep his current position, and—”
“He's considering it?” demanded Berna. “Like, for more than two seconds?”
“He's nuts,” announced Sara.
“Completely nuts,” agreed Marjorie.
“Seriously,” said Berna. “I'd look into finding him a shrink if I were you.”
“What if it's catching?” worried Marjorie. “I remember a time on Search for Our Lives where—”
Rowena put her head on her desk. Sammy could have all the time he wanted to reach his decision. All the time he wanted, and she would not question him or his motives; not even, she resolved, to herself.
“But Buck,” Marjorie was saying, “Buck will take me to Hawaii, and we'll go to nightclubs and everyone will turn to look and—”
Rowena closed her eyes.
By the time Rowena got home from work, she had a sizable People Gone Crazy list. Leslie Campbell had run up to her desk and, as Rowena prepared to rebuff yet another of his advances, crouched down and fired an invisible weapon over her head. “Ha!” he had yelled, and sprinted for the corridor. Rowena turned to see who or what might have provoked such a thing, but there was no one there. Lorraine was in a panic because her husband had switched the Mozart CD that was supposed to make their baby a genius for a CD of his favorite rock group, thus crippling little McAllister for life . . . according to Lorraine. Jim had spent the day walking around communicating solely via lines quoted from his favorite movies; this had not served him very well at the two o'clock meeting. And as for Sara and Marjorie—Rowena took a deep breath and stretched. She would not think about them, or what they'd said about Sammy, or about that stupid new diet they'd been so—
The phone rang, and Rowena went to answer it.
“Oh!” said her mother. “Oh!”
“Mom? Is something wrong?”
“Oh!—Wrong number. Sorry.”
“‘Mom?’ I'm sure I—”
“Mom, it's Rowena!”
“Oh—yes, well—I meant to call Maralynne. I must have hit the wrong button on my automatic dialer thing. Sorry.”
“Well, that's—is something wrong?”
“Wrong? Why would anything be wrong?”
“Mother,” said Rowena, “you sound kind of strange.”
“I can't sound too strange,” her mother said, “if you recognized me.”
“No,” said Rowena, “it's still your voice. I mean you sound—”
“Don't be silly,” said her mother. “Nice talking to you, Rowena, but I have to call Maralynne now. Good-bye.”
“Mom?” But she was already gone. Rowena hung up the phone and stood a while, wondering. Linus came up to her wanting to be petted; she had barely begun when the phone rang again. Rowena picked it up, expecting her mother. But it was Sammy, telling her he would be late.
“Have you started dinner yet?” he asked.
“No; I just got here.”
“Okay; I'll pick something up on the way home. I don't really know when that'll be, so—”
“Sammy, we have those leftovers. I can just heat them up when you get here.”
“Wonderful,” Sammy said. “Then I'll come straight home as soon as I'm done here. See you in a while, darling.”
Rowena got herself an apple and ate it, then remembered her neglected dog, left half-petted when the phone rang. She petted him for a while, then, supposing that she had allowed her mother enough time, went back to the phone and called her sister.
“Hi, Maralynne. Have you talked to Mom?”
“Mom? No. Why?”
“You haven't talked to her? Did she call?”
“Nobody called today. Not my agent, not Chester—nobody.” I called, Rowena thought, but she kept this comment to herself.
“Are you sure?” she asked. “Because—”
“Nobody,” Maralynne repeated. “Not even to sell me something.”
“Oh. Well, 'cause Mom called here sounding really strange and going on about how I was a wrong number and she meant to call you.”
“Oh, Mom's always nuts,” said Maralynne, who was, Rowena thought, no bastion of mental health herself. “Don't worry about Mom. Worry about me instead.”
Rowena took a deep breath. “Is there some reason I should worry about you?”
“You should always worry about me! I'm your sister! And my Career is going nowhere right now and my stupid agent . . .”
Rowena listened to this barrage until Maralynne decided she should end the call and phone the elusive agent instead. It had already occurred to Rowena to suggest this, but she had not been able to interrupt. She put the phone down, and wondered again about her mother. Was this perhaps one of her endless schemes? What sort of scheme would involve such a call? “If she were a burglar, maybe,” Rowena told Linus, “and wanted to know whether anyone was home.” Linus merely responded as usual by thumping his tail. She shook her head. As Maralynne had pointed out, their mother had never been all that stable to begin with. Rowena fixed herself a cup of tea and retired to the couch, Linus following. They had barely settled in when Caesar the cat rocketed across the living room, disappeared into the bedroom, and a moment later was tearing back again. This time he shot into the air inches from where Rowena sat, seized the arm of the couch with his claws, whipped back around, and was off again. Linus retreated to a position of relative safety under the coffee table; he had seen it all before but evidently classified it as Not A Dog Thing and best left alone.
Rowena had seen it too, but never ceased to marvel. The Kitty Krazy, the Feline Freakout, the Careening Cat—she and Sammy had a number of names for it. Many names but no very good explanation, except that Caesar was a cat.
She heard a distant “Merr-oww!” and after a moment Caesar bolted back into the room and came to an abrupt stop, crouched on the floor with his eyes wild and his ears twisted dangerously. There was a catnip mouse more or less within Rowena's reach on the floor; she picked it up and tossed it at him, and he savaged it at high speed for a few seconds and then strolled away calm, his sanity restored. Rowena bent down to peer at Linus.
“Okay, Linus,” she said. “It's safe to come out now.” He got up and wagged his way over so she could resume the petting. Rowena scratched him behind the ears. “You and me,” she said. “We don't go crazy, do we? Not much, anyway.”
Caesar ambled back into the room and began polishing her leg with his fur. She reached down to stroke him. “You can go crazy and still be okay,” she told him. “I'm not so sure about certain other people.” Caesar only purred in response. Rowena looked at the clock. She had no idea when Sammy would be home. She had no idea what exactly he was doing, working or going over and over his law-school brochures. She sighed, and looked again at the clock.
When Sammy did come home he seemed preoccupied. Hoping to amuse him Rowena told him about her day, beginning with Mrs. Masters but leaving out the things her coworkers had said about him. “I thought that was crazy enough,” she said of her run-in with the landlady, “but then I had to go to work, and of course find Sara and Marjorie both on the same idiot crash diet and eating nothing but cabbage. Which could have its own social hazards, above and beyond the business of arguing all day about whether it would be cheating to eat chocolate-dipped cabbage, cabbage with gravy . . . ‘But it isn't coleslaw. It says no coleslaw but it doesn't say no chocolate.’”
“How long does this diet last?” Sammy asked.
“It's already over, for them. They found out that Eloise is on it too.” Sammy laughed. “I personally will not complain,” Rowena told him. “It's actually done wonders for Eloise's temperament. She almost smiled twice.”
“I guess you can't ask for more than that. I don't know that the world is ready for a cheerful Eloise.”
“I'm sure Rorschach & Schmed isn't.” She told him about her other coworkers, and then about her mother's call; of this he only smiled and said, “Whatever's gotten ahold of your mother, I'm sure you'll find out soon enough.”
“I suppose,” Rowena said, “the alternative being her actually keeping a secret. Actually, that's what was so strange about her call: Even if she had wanted to talk to Maralynne instead of me, she'd have told all about whatever she'd meant to call Maralynne about.”
“I wouldn't worry about her,” Sammy said.
“Even though Terese'll hound me to death if I don't find out what's going on?”
Sammy laughed. “Terese is not a problem,” he said. “Terese is your friend, and don't you forget it.” He pushed his chair back from the table and stood up. “Thanks for the nice hot dinner,” he said. “Tasty as always.”
“Sammy, it was just leftovers.”
“I know. It was much appreciated.” He picked up his plate. “I'll do the dishes,” he said.
“After such a long day—”
“A deal's a deal. Besides, it's a good way to wind down mentally.” He bent and gave her a kiss. “Thanks,” he said again, and went off to the sink.
Which, Rowena reflected, would have been behavior to question if her father had done it, but Sammy was different.
She rose and joined him at the sink, and he hugged her as best he could, keeping his wet hands well away.
After dinner Sammy read through some of the forms and brochures he had brought home. He checked test schedules and punched numbers into his calculator. And he thought. Rowena left him to make his own decision, although she thought it was pretty clear which decision was the right one.
And Sammy, she was sure, deserved better than the job he had.
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