|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Serious.||Rowena Gets A Surprise, Part 15|
Rowena took her menu from the waiter, and thanked him. If Sammy had brought her here to tell her his law school decision, she thought, he almost certainly had decided to go. Hadn't he? The restaurant was their special-occasions place; it was elegant and quiet, and the food was excellent. And he'd certainly had enough time to have reached some kind of decision; she herself had been fretting over the matter for days. She opened the menu and looked through it until she had made her choice, then closed it again.
“It's so private and relaxing here,” she told Sammy. It was true, although tonight she didn't feel especially relaxed. There was nothing to worry about, she told herself; if he hadn't already decided he soon would, and he would tell her about it too. Nothing to worry about, except getting to his mother's house in time for dessert, and that was hours away. She smiled at him and waited for him to say, “I've made up my mind. I'm going to law school.”
But he didn't. “Mrs. Masters came by today, while you were out,” Sammy remarked. “She wanted to loan us a cup of sugar.”
“Mrs. Masters bought some sugar and it wouldn't all fit into her canister. So I said sure, and we now owe our landlady a cup of sugar. Only you might want to bake something soon, because it didn't really fit in our canister either, what with our just having bought sugar. I had to put it in one of those storage tubs you bought for the fridge.”
“That's what you get for being neighborly, or a good tenant, or whatever,” Rowena told him.
Sammy shrugged. “As long as we get a receipt,” he said.
They talked, they laughed, they ate, and then they paid and left, Rowena keeping her anticipation to herself. Was he planning to wait and tell her along with his mother? Then why the fancy restaurant? She walked with him back to the car, neither of them mentioning law school.
“That was nice,” Rowena said, and it was, even though the announcement she'd been expecting had not been made.
“It was, wasn't it?” Sammy opened the car door for her and closed it once she was inside. He went around to the driver's side and got in, but said nothing more until his keys were in the ignition.
“You know,” he said, “I don't want to go home just yet. How would you like to see what our park looks like at night?” “Their park” was the park Sammy had taken her to on their first official date. They still visited it from time to time, but only during the day.
“Sounds good,” Rowena said. She couldn't remember any signs posted stating park hours.
They said little on the way. The parking lot, when they arrived, was empty. “Ever see it like this before?” asked Sammy, pulling into one of the spaces.
“The parking lot? I don't think so.”
They walked to the entrance. In fact there was a sign posting hours there, which told them that they could legally stay for quite a while. They went in.
The park was empty and silent, the darkness of the air around them touched golden around the park lights. The world seemed infinite, yet scaled to fit them. Rowena reached to take Sammy's hand, and he gave hers a squeeze. They walked on holding hands. A cool breeze that smelled faintly floral brushed by them and rustled the leaves above their heads. Rowena tried to identify the scent but couldn't quite; it was familiar, but in a vague, long-ago way. A crunch-crunch behind them; a lone jogger on the path.
“Let's go over to that bench,” Sammy suggested, pointing to a picnic table, and they strolled across the dewy grass. Rowena pictured her mother saying, “Your nice shoes!” and “Your feet are getting wet!” and she smiled to herself. Her mother was a million miles away, and Rowena didn't care what she thought. They walked across the lawn—the very lawn on which they'd once flown a kite, back on their first official date. They reached the bench, sat down, and watched the jogger wind with the path to the far end of the park.
“Well,” Sammy said after a moment, “with your kind and continued approval, I've decided to take my boss up on his offer and go to law school.”
“Sammy!” Rowena cried. She threw her arms around him. “How wonderful! Of course; of course I approve.”
He held her close. She felt him inhale deeply, then exhale again. He can't have doubted, Rowena thought, that I'd want him to do this. He can't have.
He kissed her on the neck and released her. “It'll be hard on us both,” he said.
“It'll be worth it.”
“I might not succeed.”
“I'm sure you will,” Rowena said. “Anyway, you have to try.”
He touched her face. “You are so good to me,” he said.
“Well, you're good to me,” Rowena said. It occurred to her, suddenly, that he had after all told her first, before his mother, that he had even asked her permission. Of course they were living together, and the matter more directly affected her than Rosemary, but still . . .
Sammy smiled, then leaned over and kissed her. For some time. And then he leaned back again and looked at her.
“Rowena,” he said. “I love you.”
She started to reply, but he wasn't done. “This law school business . . . it's going to keep me pretty busy for . . . quite a while. You too, I expect.”
“I know, darling.” Another breeze brushed past; Rowena caught the faint scent of flowers and, this time, distant laughter. Hair tickled her face, and Sammy gently brushed it back.
“I know you're willing to do this,” he went on. “but I still . . . Even if it's no problem at all, there are still certain things we won't be able to do during that time. Including at least one thing that's very important to me.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a tiny box—a tiny jewelry box—and set it on the picnic table.
Rowena stared at it. Then she stared at Sammy. She was sure she couldn't speak.
“Rowena, I love you,” he said again. “I tried to come up with a speech to tell you how much, but . . .” He shook his head, looked down at the box, then back at her. “I love you and I want to make a commitment to you, and a life with you, and I don't want to wait until I'm out of school. Rowena—” He began to reach towards her face, changed his mind, and opened the little box instead, turning it so she could see the ring, the ring and the light it threw into the nighttime.
“Will you marry me?”
She wasn't sure she could even catch her breath. She blinked her eyes to keep him in focus, and nodded. And managed to say, “Yes. I will.”
She had only the briefest look at his face after that, and then his arms were around her again and she was crying. She heard him whisper, “Thank you,” but couldn't think of a response. And then he said, “Wait a minute; I forgot.” And he gave her an extra squeeze and then released her, sat back and looked at her.
“Give me your hand,” he said. “Physically.”
Rowena laughed shakily, wiped her eyes, and held out her left hand. He took the ring from its case and slipped it onto her finger where it belonged. They admired it there, then he kissed her hands and then her, and then pulled her onto his lap and held her.
“Happy?” was the next thing Sammy said. Rowena nodded.
“Very,” she said. “You?”
“What a question.” He stroked her hair. “You have no idea,” he said.
“I thought I'd ruined everything,” Rowena said. “I thought—it only occurred to me a few days ago that I might be holding up your—your education and your career and everything, and I couldn't see how to tell you I was—that I'd marry you if you asked again, and not just because of law school—”
“That's it,” Sammy said, smiling. “Blame the lawyers. Well, I guess I'll have to get used to it sometime.”
Rowena laughed, although she wanted to ask something fairly serious. “How did you have the nerve to ask me again? After I was so—” She shook her head, smiling at him. “You definitely have the guts to be a lawyer.”
And then she stopped, puzzled. Sammy was grinning as though terribly amused and more than a little embarrassed. “Sammy?” she asked.
“I was afraid you'd ask that,” he said. “Actually, I have something even more important to a lawyer than guts: Inside information.”
She stared at him. “What?”
He raised her hand and kissed it again. “My darling,” he began, “Forgive me. I'm afraid there's been a bit of a conspiracy.”
“Brace yourself. It—I got a phone call from your mother.”
“It seems that she had just spoken to your Aunt Irene, who told her that your cousin Claudia had told her about a certain Girl Talk meeting she'd attended—”
“At which a certain beautiful, charming, sweet and very beloved lady got badgered into agreeing not to refuse her swain for, quote, ‘stupid reasons,’ such as the fact that her mother was badgering her to marry him, and that said charming lady further admitted that she had no good reasons to say no.”
Of all the things colliding in Rowena's head the one that came out first was, “Aunt Irene told my mother I turned you down because she was badgering me?”
“It seemed more along the lines of, ‘She's feeling too many pressures to make such a big decision right now.’ I didn't get a very clear picture from your mother, actually; mostly she just begged me to propose because Claudia said you'd accept.” He paused a moment to admire Rowena's ring. “I got the details from Beth.”
“I called her; I had to. I had to know. And I thought it best to ask somebody who was . . . maybe a little less opinionated than Claudia or Terese. Somebody who could just answer my questions and tell me about any doubts she thought you might have.”
“I don't have any doubts about you,” Rowena said softly. “I never did.”
He pulled her face to his and kissed her, tenderly. Then he sat with his arms loosely around her; he smiled at her, then looked out over the park.
“So I talked to Beth,” he went on. “She didn't make any promises, but she told me what happened, and she was pretty sure the ‘stupid reasons’ weren't haunting you any more.” He returned his gaze to hers, and waited.
“Not really,” Rowena said, smiling. She looked down at her ring. “So Beth finked on me and gave you the courage to accept your boss' offer.”
“No,” Sammy said. “Beth finked on you and gave me the courage to ask my boss about a promotion.”
She stared at him. “I told him,” Sammy said, “that I wanted to get married and was going to need a better job. I told him I enjoyed my work and liked the firm, but that if I married I would need more of a career, and I wanted to know whether there were any suitable positions that I could apply for or work towards.” He gave a small shrug. “I just wanted to know what my options were. This law school deal—I didn't see it coming.”
“So he gave you this great offer, and it complicated things.”
“Yeah. I needed something like that in order to marry you, and I needed to marry you before I could put us through all that.” He shook his head. “I harassed poor Beth some more, until she threatened to sic Terese on me, and then I called my mom. She was absolutely delighted, and gave me her blessing. And then I went to a jewelry store.”
Rowena closed her eyes, briefly. “There was one other person you could have asked, if you'd known,” she said. “Molly, at work. I . . . confided in her. But I didn't tell Beth or anybody else that I'd done it.”
“Molly. I'll keep that in mind.” He smiled at her, just a bit impishly, and gave her a squeeze. “So you're not angry with me, or with Beth?”
“Angry?” Rowena said. “I—I feel a little funny about . . . other people already knowing. But how could I be angry?” She lowered her gaze. “Especially since it was my fault.”
He kissed her on the cheek. “But it's okay now,” he said. “In fact, it's wonderful.”
She leaned up against him. “Furthermore,” she said, “you've just proved, in case there was any doubt, that you're going to make a great lawyer.”
“Funny,” he remarked, “that's what my boss said when I asked to have his offer in writing.”
“I did. And he gave it to me, too. And happy to do it.”
Rowena laughed. She knew, she simply knew, that everything was going to work out.
And she hadn't ruined their lives after all.
They talked a little longer, then Sammy pulled a calendar from his pocket and they set a tentative date for the wedding, sufficiently after an LSAT test date and sufficiently before the probable start of Sammy's first semester; as these events were months apart, they had a large window, and could easily change their plans if they found a scheduling problem. “I'm going to want to go through with the wedding even if I flunk the test,” Sammy warned her.
“Don't worry,” Rowena said. “In the first place, you're going to do great on the test, and in the second place, I'll marry you even if you don't.”
“You sure?” Sammy waggled the calendar at her. “Too late to back out.”
He put his hand in her hair, drew her to him, and kissed her.
And kissed her again.
They left the park hand-in-hand; they did not speak, but simply were aware of each other. Almost to the parking lot the dark, timeless air suddenly brought them laughter and the sound of a child's voice.
“At this hour,” Rowena said, “that child should be in bed.”
“I often think that, seeing kids up late,” Sammy said. “I don't know what's with parents these days.”
They smiled at each other, and Rowena butted up even closer to him. They reached the car and got in.
“Time to leave for my mom's place,” Sammy said. “Confess our happiness, as they say.”
“Sure,” Rowena said. Rosemary had given her blessing, after all. Actually, a lot of people were responsible, one way or another, and after they told Rosemary, they would have to thank them somehow.
“Think we could have a party?” Rowena asked. “To celebrate and kind of to—to thank people?”
“A party?” asked Sammy. “Sure.” He pulled out his phone, called his mother, and told her that he and Rowena were on their way over. “Great,” he said. “Thanks, Mom. See you in a few.” He put the phone away and started the car.
Rowena spent much of the drive planning her party. Sammy pulled up in front of his mother's house and they got out and walked up the drive.
“I still don't know how you got up the nerve,” Rowena said as they approached Rosemary's door. The lights were on, and as she drew near Rowena could hear music.
“You don't know how much nerve I have,” Sammy told her, stepping onto the porch. He rang the bell, and after a moment Rosemary appeared.
“My,” Rosemary said. “Don't you two look happy? Come in.” Had Sammy told her he'd propose tonight? Rowena was still working out a way to ask her when turning to enter the living room—
The room was full of people, full of—Everybody, it seemed. Rowena stared, trying to take it all in, but hadn't managed to recognize half of them when her mother ran up and nearly smothered her in a hug.
“I knew we could do it!” her mother cried. “I knew we could!”
Rowena manged to wheeze, “Mother—” but to no effect; if anything, her mother only squeezed harder.
“Have you seen the ring?” inquired Terese's voice. “Oh, my, look at that!” Rowena's mother abruptly let go of her and seized her hand instead. Terese, an odd little smile on her face, slipped around to fold her in a warm and less-painful hug.
“Saved you again,” she said in Rowena's ear. “I hope that fiancé of yours is sneaky enough to take care of you.”
The implication—that her best and oldest friend was turning her over to Sammy's care—brought tears to Rowena's eyes, though she wasn't sure whether she wanted to laugh or to cry. “Sneaky enough,” she said. She couldn't see Sammy but could hear him nearby, fielding congratulations. “Look at all this,” Rowena said, “All this, and I never suspected a thing.”
“Oh, how lovely!” her mother was saying. “Look at this, Wilder! Maralynne! Look! Everybody, look at this!”
“The best of everything,” said Terese, quietly. “Hear me? The best of everything.”
“Wilder!” Rowena's mother yelled. “Maralynne!” Rowena squeezed her friend harder.
“Thank you so much, Terese,” she said.
And they all came by, not as orderly as in a receiving line, and Rowena at times felt a little swamped. But they all came by, and were all happy for her—for her and Sammy both.
“Congratulations,” said Rowena's Aunt Irene. “I'm so happy for you.”
“I'm glad you approve,” Rowena told her, “especially as it's partly your doing.”
“Just looking out for you,” said Aunt Irene, “and sharing a little gossip. Anyone would have done the same.”
“Well, thank you.”
“Thank you,” said Aunt Irene, “for bringing such a fine young man into the family.”
“Isn't that nice?” demanded Rowena's mother.
“Nice,” said Rowena's father.
“I'm gonna have a bigger one,” said Rowena's sister.
Aside from Terese, the Girl Talk veterans hung back a bit in a somewhat-guilty clump. Sammy's cousin Jean hovered around them a while before coming forward. “Welcome to the family,” she said. “We'll try not to be too hard on you.”
“You'd better,” retorted Rowena's cousin Claudia. Rowena thanked and hugged them both, and her friend Kim as well (“So glad you could be here!” “I wouldn't miss it for the world!”), but Beth continued to hover out of reach.
“Beth!” Rowena said. “Get over here!”
“Giving orders already,” said Terese, still at hand and apparently supervising. “Sammy'd better watch himself.”
Rowena held her hand out. “Beth!” She tried to say it warningly, to go along with Terese's joke, but the laughter came out instead. Beth came, a bit shamefaced, for her hug.
“Oh, Beth,” Rowena said. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
“I told on you,” Beth said. “I told him everything.”
“I wouldn't have done it except—”
“I know,” Rowena said again. “That's what I'm thanking you for.”
“I'm so happy for you!” cried Beth.
“Isn't it wonderful!” cried Rowena's mother, apparently reactivated. “Didn't I say we could do it? Didn't I say we could?”
“Mother,” Rowena said, “I've still got some people to—”
“Oh, I'm so happy!” her mother cried. “You don't know how I've been looking forward to this, working for it, hoping for it! You can't imagine!”
Rowena caught Terese's eye and they started to laugh. And then all of Rowena's friends were laughing and laughing, hanging onto each other, hanging onto Rowena, doubling over with laughter. Rowena's mother eyed them dubiously.
“What's so funny?” she demanded. “I think after so much hard work a person has a right—”
“We're just so happy,” gasped Terese. “We're hysterical with joy!”
Rowena's mother looked at her. “I know you're still young,” she said, “but you're going to have to learn to control yourselves.”
Which of course only started them up again.
“Here's to the happy couple!” said Rowena's Uncle Harry, raising his glass. “A long life together, and much joy.” Murmurs of assent and the clinking of glasses. There were many more toasts around Rosemary's much-extended and card-table-augmented dining room table, including one from Sammy's friend Mike. “I know I'm supposed to rib you about the loss of your freedom and all that,” he told Sammy, “but I have to admit you're a lucky guy. I mean I have to. I'm not sure I'd get out of here alive otherwise.” And he glanced, just briefly, at Rowena's mother. “But it's true,” he went on, looking first at Sammy and then at Rowena, and back at Sammy. “You're a lucky guy, and I won't do anything to jeopardize that by telling her about, say, the time you . . . well, I won't say it. All the best to you both, now and always.” And he sat down.
“The time he what?” demanded Rowena's mother in a stage whisper, leaning towards Mike. She wasn't all that close to begin with. “The time he what?”
“It's a joke, Mom,” Rowena said. “It's just a joke.”
“Are you sure?” worried her mother. She leaned over again at Mike, who didn't wait for her to ask again.
“Just a joke,” he said. “Really. Sammy doesn't get into trouble; you should know that by now.”
“But . . .”
“If you don't believe me, ask his mom.” And Mike nodded in Rosemary's direction. Rowena's mother watched Rosemary warily; she was talking to Sammy's Aunt Frances as though nothing were wrong. “Rowena,” her mother said, “are you sure . . .”
But now there was another commotion; Chester was being goaded into speech. He rose uncomfortably, shrugged, looked over at Sammy, shrugged again, and said, “If this is what you want, congratulations.” He waved his glass in the air and plopped back down.
“Chester!” cried Rowena's mother. “What a thing to say!”
“I didn't think he did too badly,” Terese remarked. “I mean, he didn't use any jargon. I even understood him.”
“You're supposed to compliment the bride, not insult her!” Clearly any momentary reservations she had had were gone now.
“He's not insulting anyone,” Maralynne said. She tossed her head. “Chester's just spoiled 'cause he's got me. Chester, get me some peanuts, and don't forget to peel that icky paper stuff off them this time.”
Rowena looked over at Terese, who very clearly telegraphed back, “Chester is spoiled?” Maybe Maralynne will always be Maralynne, Rowena thought, but Terese will always be Terese. Always.
“Still,” Rowena's mother was saying. “You should compliment the bride.”
“I'm not a bride yet,” Rowena reminded her. And, to Chester, “Don't worry about it. You don't have to—”
“Compliment the bride!” insisted her mother. Chester began to fidget.
“Really, Mom,” Rowena began, “he doesn't—”
“Yes, he does!”
“You're okay,” said Chester, with an effort. He turned to Sammy. “She's okay,” he said.
“There!” said Terese. “What more could you ask?” She raised her glass. “To Rowena, who's okay!”
“Really, Terese!” said Rowena's mother. She looked quite scandalized, but Rowena noticed that most of the guests raised their glasses and drank. Terese, when she saw the glasses set back down, rose to her feet.
“Seriously,” Terese said, “and I'll have you know that's not a word I often use—seriously, Rowena is a dear friend and—and just a great person, and if Sammy weren't such a great guy I wouldn't put up with this business for a minute. But he is, and—my best to both of you, health and love and happiness and everything you could want. Take care of each other—especially you”—pretending to glare a moment at Sammy—“and appreciate each other and—and all those other things you're already doing, and again: To Rowena and Sammy, the best of everything!”
A sentiment to which everyone drank, and which even seemed to mollify Rowena's mother. She prodded Rowena's father.
“Now you,” she said. Rowena winced.
“Now me what?” her father asked.
“Give a toast!”
After a certain amount of coaxing and fumbling, he said, “Be happy,” and subsided. Rowena's mother instantly objected, but before the ensuing squabble got very far Sammy himself stood up.
Even Rowena's mother, when this was pointed out to her, immediately hushed.
“I want to thank everyone for the kind words and wishes,” Sammy said. “And for simply being here to share this with us. I think we're all grateful to my mom for playing hostess—” he gave her a nod and everyone applauded, “—Thank you so much, Mom.
“There are a lot of people here to whom I owe a great deal of happiness, present and future. I know I thanked you earlier, individually, but . . .” “Get on with it,” said a male voice, indulgently. Sammy laughed a little, and looked around the group, his gaze lingering. “However, there's one person to whom I am especially grateful. One person who has given me so much . . .”
And now he was looking at Rowena, who found it hard to keep her composure. “Rowena,” he said. “Thank you for the promise you made tonight, and for all the love and support and . . . everything you've given me since we met. I . . . really can not thank you enough, certainly not in a speech. Maybe over the next few decades, I can try.” He seemed about to say something more, changed his mind, and smiled at her. And he raised his glass. “To Rowena,” he said, “my friend, my beloved, and now my fiancée. I give you my gratitude, my love, all the good things I have in me . . . including the hope that I can make you as happy as you have made me.”
She was still blinking back tears when he sat down, his glass drained, and kissed her.
Later, after seeing everyone else off and thanking Sammy's mother once again, they drove home, and, back in their own little nest, made love.
Rowena kept her ring on, but was very careful with it. The hardest substance in the universe, she knew, but she wasn't taking any chances.
Not with this.
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