|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Married.||Book 8, Part 1|
Rowena hesitated only slightly at the door of her workplace. It was Monday, her first day back at work since she and Sammy had become engaged, and she couldn't help feeling nervous. But there was one person, at least, whom she did want to see, one person at least whom she wanted to tell. She checked the arrangement of her things; purse over her right shoulder, jacket slung strategically over her left arm so that it covered her hand. She took a breath and pushed open the door.
It was silly, she knew, to refuse to take her ring off even briefly. All the same, she couldn't bear to do it.
She walked in, trading a brief greeting with the receptionist, who appeared not to notice anything, and continued her stroll in the direction of Molly's desk. She had promised to tell Molly first of all her coworkers; it had been a joke at the time, but Rowena would have wanted to tell her first in any case. Molly had listened to her, calmed her, advised her, helped her . . . She had to tell Molly and to thank her. She had tried to arrive early enough to make her announcement before work, but not so early that she would have to wait long for Molly to arrive. She only hoped Molly was in—and that nothing happened before she found her.
“Hey, Rowena.” It was Jim, in early for some reason. “Could you gimme a hand with these? Just for a second?”
“Um . . .”
“Just for a second,” he repeated, already coming at her with a big stack of folders. He shoved them at her, holding them at an alarming tilt, and Rowena had little choice but to quickly divest herself of her purse and jacket, and grab the mess out of his hands.
“Jim,” she said, “what are you doing with all these?” At least her left hand, like her right, was under the pile.
“If I had time to tell you,” Jim said, “I wouldn't have to be doing it in the first place, would I?”
“I guess not.” She had no idea what he was talking about, of course, except that Jim was nearly always behind in his work, and that any occupational heroics on his part only took place at the last minute, if then. Jim grabbed up a couple more folders from a nearby desk (not his own) and dumped them without too much attention onto the stack Rowena held. “Jim!” she said, her arms full, trying to tip everything in such a way that nothing would fall.
“Sorry,” mumbled Jim, adding a pile of loose papers.
“Why don't you go get a cart or something?” Rowena asked.
“Didn't want to waste time looking for one.”
“Well, you'll waste plenty of time picking all this stuff off the floor if I drop it,” Rowena retorted as best she could; she was holding this last addition in place with her chin.
“What? Can't hear you. Look, I gotta put these books on, so—”
“In ten seconds,” said Rowena as clearly as she could,“ I am going to drop all this on the floor, and then I am going to walk away. One . . . Two . . .”
“All right, all right. Geez.” He started lifting things off the pile and dumping them onto the desk. Rowena handed him the last of it with some relief, until without thinking she bent to retrieve a fallen paper and saw her ring, clearly visible. She switched the paper to her right and and stuffed her left into her pocket; too late, clearly, but—
“Thanks,” Jim said, “I think.” He glared with some disgust at the mound of material on his coworker's desk.
He hadn't noticed her ring.
Rowena retrieved her jacket and purse, one-handed. “We haven't even opened yet,” she said, trusting that this was so; her watch was on her left wrist and she didn't want to consult it. “Go find a cart, and you'll be better off than you would have been if I hadn't—if nobody had come by here.”
“Jim, I have to go. You know where the carts are kept. If—”
“Hey! What's this crap all over my desk?”
“Uh, Leo,” Jim said. “I—she did it.” Leo glanced in Rowena's direction.
“What happened—” Rowena began.
“What happened,” said Leo, “is pretty obvious, with Jim in the vicinity. Get rid of that,” he told Jim. “I'm getting a cup of coffee, and my desk had better be clean—except for my stuff, and I mean all of my stuff—by the time I get back.”
“She made me put that there!”
“And I'm making you take it away again.” He looked at Rowena. “What time is it?”
Rowena pulled her hand partly from her pocket, glanced at her watch, and told Leo the time. She felt her behavior very suspicious, but Leo, like Jim before him—like Jim now—didn't seem to notice.
“Eight minutes,” Leo said. “You got eight minutes to get all that off my desk.” And he left.
“Rowena,” Jim whined. “Help me. Unload this while I—”
“Go get a cart,” Rowena said. “You can't unload more than an armful until you've got a cart. It's not a two-person job.”
“You're wasting time. Look, I gotta go do something. I'll be back in a few minutes, but I'll bet if you try you'll be gone by then.” And she left, not waiting for an argument.
The last thing she wanted right now was a fuss that would draw attention to her. Behind her she could hear Jim muttering, but the sound was growing fainter.
At least I've managed to get rid of Jim, Rowena thought. Now if I can just get around this corner, I'll be nearly there. If I can just get—
Of all people, it was Leslie Campbell.
Rowena stopped. She closed her eyes. “What is it, Leslie?”
He sidled up to her, too close for Rowena's peace of mind. “I just thought, you're here and I'm here—”
“That is a problem,” Rowena said, “but it's easily fixed. Go away, Leslie.”
“You can't just send me away!”
“Fine. Then I'll leave myself.” And she began to, knowing that it wouldn't work.
“Rowena! You're here and I'm here and we have almost ten minutes—”
“For the millionth time, No,” Rowena said, and turned to walk off. She knew that this wouldn't work either, and she was right.
“Rowena! How can you waste your time hanging around with that guy who—how long have you been with him? And he's taking all of your time and you can't go anywhere and you can't do anything and you don't have any fun and you're too young to be tied to one guy and he won't even marry you.”
The temptation to show him her engagement ring was very strong, but Rowena had promised Molly, and even if she hadn't, she thought, Leslie certainly did not deserve to be the first at Rorschach & Schmed—or anywhere else, for that matter—to know. “I'm having more fun than I did before I met Sammy,” Rowena said. “And I—”
“Leslie, give it up,” said Berna. Rowena winced. Berna was an ally against Leslie's pestering, but she had sharper eyes than either Jim or Leslie, and she was, in some ways, even harder to get rid of. She enjoyed these confrontations too much.
“All I said was—”
“I know what you said,” Berna told him. “Everybody knows what you said. You only ever—”
“And she stands there,” Leslie complained, “with her hand in her pocket like Miss Unconcerned, while I pour out my—”
“Your load of rubbish is what you're pouring out,” Berna said. “And you're just lucky she doesn't take her hand out of her pocket and belt you one. Has it ever occurred to you, Prince Charming, that you're a royal pain in the ass?”
“Look who's talking!” Leslie retorted, as Rowena began gently edging away. Part of her felt guilty, but as nothing she ever contributed to these disagreements seemed to make any difference, she couldn't feel entirely unjustified.
“Your ass deserves a pain,” Berna said.
“At least I don't go sticking my nose into other people's business!”
“Not successfully. What do you think you're doing, going around trying to break up people's relationships? The only reason—”
Rowena slunk around the corner, then scooted off towards Molly's desk, listening as she did so to the sound of strife growing, thankfully, fainter behind her. And there was Molly's desk, finally, and Molly—wasn't there.
Rowena stopped. After all that, she thought. Now what? She raised her hand slightly and peeked at her watch; five minutes left. Molly wasn't the tardy sort; where could she be? If she was already off somewhere on a project . . .
It was Molly's voice.
“Hi,” Rowena said. She felt, suddenly, a bit breathless. “Happy Monday.”
“Happy Monday,” said Molly, looking at her a bit oddly. She put her purse down and lowered herself into her chair, still watching Rowena, waiting. Rowena took a breath but instead of speaking she pulled her hand from her pocket and set it flat on Molly's desk.
“Oh, Rowena!” Molly sprang from her chair and around her desk and gave Rowena a hug. “That's wonderful! Congratulations; I'm so happy for you!”
“Thank you, Molly. Thank you for everything.”
“So tell me all about it, or as much as you can—” she looked at her watch—“well, tell me something.”
Rowena gave a concise description of how Sammy had found out that she had overcome her fears of turning into her mother and her resentment of her mother's harassing her to get married, and how this freed him to decide both to go to law school and to propose to her. Molly laughed and all but applauded. But before she could give a detailed response they saw Eloise bearing down on them.
“Oops,” said Rowena, looking at her watch.
“Got any problems with your current project?” asked Molly quickly.
“Well . . .” Rowena tried to think of a work-related “issue” that she might plausibly have brought to Molly. But then Eloise was upon them.
“I trust you are both aware,” Eloise said, “that our workday has begun, as of twenty seconds ago. I trust that you are engaged in your duties and not in idle chitchat.”
“We are not idle, Eloise,” Molly began, as Rowena cringed inwardly at Eloise's use of the word “engaged.” If Eloise knew—or guessed—what they'd been talking about . . . Molly was meanwhile trying to come up with some kind of excuse. “Rowena was—” she began.
“What—is—that?” Eloise interrupted. She was staring at Rowena's left hand.
“It's my engagement ring,” Rowena said a bit faintly.
“Yours? Not—your grandmother's? Your engagement ring?”
“Yes, it's mine.”
“Your engagement ring? You're going to be married?”
“Yes,” Rowena said, and volunteered the date. At which Eloise turned and dashed off in the direction of her office—hers and, Rowena reminded herself, Mr. Schmed's.
“Well,” said Molly, “I guess the cat is out of the bag.”
“What's she going to do?”
“Who knows? But I wouldn't worry about it, if I were you. You just get your work done, and I doubt she could do anything to you even if she wanted to.” Rowena hesitated. “She likes you,” Molly reminded her. “About as much as she likes anybody here, that is. Just go do your work.”
“Right,” Rowena said.
“And give my regards to your fiancé.” Molly smiled, and Rowena had to smile back.
“Thanks, Molly,” she said. And she took her leave.
Now, she thought, to survive the rest of her day.
Including the rest of her coworkers.
“You're late,” announced Marjorie, as Rowena settled her things at her desk. She gave her current gumwad a triumphant snap. “I hope you have a good excuse.”
Rowena sat down. “It isn't any of your business whether I do or not,” she said. She had already decided that once Molly had seen her ring she would make no effort to hide it. She took a stack of papers out of her In box as casually as she could, aware that Marjorie, at the next desk, was more than close enough for a fair view.
“Miss High-and-Mighty,” Marjorie scoffed.
“Marjorie,” Rowena reminded her, “you're not my boss. You're not Eloise either.”
“So? Just be—” She broke off abruptly, and Rowena braced herself. Here we go, she thought. “What's that on your hand?” Marjorie yelled.
“It's an engagement ring,” Rowena told her. “Don't sound so surprised. You've been expecting this for—”
“You got engaged? To be married?”
“That is the general idea, yes.”
“You're getting married?”
“You have some nerve.”
Rowena stared at her. “What?”
“You gonna stop working here?”
“No, not for a few years, anyway.” Even if she wanted to, she wouldn't be able to stop working until after Sammy was out of law school, but Rowena wasn't about to say anything to Marjorie about Sammy's going to law school until she'd calmed down. If then.
“Waving that thing around,” Marjorie complained, “showing off in front of everybody, while some of us have to slave away—”
“If you didn't want me to get married, why have you been nagging me about it all this time?”
“Oh, like it's my fault.” Rowena put her head down on her arms.
“Marjorie,” she said, “you're out of your mind.”
“What's this I hear?” demanded Berna's voice.
“Look at that!” cried Sara.
This was the moment Rowena had been afraid of.
“When is it?” asked Carla.
“How'd he ask?”
“How'd you get him to ask?”
“You gonna keep working here?”
“You got everything planned yet?”
“Are you gonna have a house?”
“Are you gonna have kids?”
“What're your in-laws like?”
“Is this that same guy you've been going with?”
“Yes!” said Rowena, raising her head; this last she could not stand. “Good grief, yes it's my boyfriend I'm marrying! What did you think?”
“Marrying?” said Leslie Campbell.
This was the other moment Rowena had been afraid of.
“This last weekend,” she said, “my boyfriend and I became engaged to be married.”
“Engaged? You can't do that! You're too young!”
“No,” said Rowena, “I am not. And neither is he. And—”
“One last fling,” Leslie said. “We gotta have one last fling.”
“No,” said Rowena.
“Oh, come on! He doesn't have to know.”
“Yes, he does,” said Berna.
“No, he doesn't.”
“Yes, he does.”
“Excuse me?” said Rowena. “If you don't mind? I really think I should have some kind of say in this, and personally I think—”
“There she goes,” said Sara. “Thinking again.”
“‘We’ can't have a last fling because there was never a first fling, as you well know. I don't want a fling,” Rowena said. “Do you hear me, Leslie? I don't want a fling. I never did want a fling. And I'm not going to have a fling.”
Leslie stood a while contemplating his shoes. “You gonna have a bachelorette party?” he asked.
“Leslie! Don't do this to me, okay? Show some class for once.”
“Leslie. Please. I don't—”
“If she agrees to one fling,” said Berna, “do you swear to leave her the hell alone for ever and ever on pain of death?” And she began rolling up he sleeves as if preparing to enforce this. Leslie looked at her, then went away, muttering.
“So,” said Berna, turning back to Rowena, “when is it?”
“Are we invited?”
“What color are the bridesmaids' dresses?”
“Are you gonna have kids?” persisted Lorraine.
“Come on,” wheedled Carla. “We're your friends.”
“Why,” wailed Marjorie, “doesn't anybody ever think of me?” They turned to look at her.
“Nobody ever notices me!” Marjorie went on. “Nobody cares! When she leaves who knows who's gonna get that desk? What if they move Leslie there? You didn't think of that, did you? Nobody even notices me!”
“You sure you wanna be noticed?” Berna asked, gazing over her head. “'Cause Eloise is headed this way.”
And she and the others scattered. Rowena returned as best she could to the contents of her In box.
Eloise marched up to her desk and stopped.
“Well,” she said. Rowena looked up. “Mr. Schmed would like you to know that he personally, along with the entire company, wishes you a happy marriage.”
“Thank you,” Rowena said. “And thank Mr. Schmed for me too, please.”
Which should, Rowena thought, have concluded Eloise's business there, or at least have enabled her to move on to some other topic, such as giving Rowena a new assignment or asking Marjorie why she was staring and obviously listening instead of doing her work. But instead of leaving, Eloise hung uncomfortably around.
“I hope,” she said, “that you will not soon find it necessary to leave your employment here.”
“No,” Rowena said, “I should still be here a while yet.”
“Good,” Eloise said. “Very good. I . . .” Her voice trailed off, and Rowena saw her gaze drift down, once again, to the ring on Rowena's finger. The silence became uncomfortable, even more uncomfortable than listening to Eloise speak.
“Eloise?” Rowena said. Eloise came to herself with a start.
“Well. Good luck,” she said, “and work hard.” And with that she turned and left.
“What's the matter with her?” Marjorie asked. Rowena took a deep breath.
“I have no idea,” she said, and went back to her papers.
“Just like Pamella,” Marjorie said, in a head-shaking voice. Rowena did not ask whether Marjorie referred to Eloise or to herself, or which soap opera Pamella appeared on, despite having the impression that Marjorie was waiting to be asked. After a moment she heard pencil-tapping and gum-popping, followed, eventually, by silence.
And, for the moment, all was peaceful.
For the rest of the day people came trooping by to offer congratulations, to ask questions, and to look at Rowena's ring. People she hardly knew came by, as did people a fair distance up the chain of command.
“It's you, right?” asked somebody who identified herself as Megan.
“Good luck,” said Don, one of the managers.
“Congratulations,” said Ida, another manager.
“I hope you're not taking too much time off,” said Sylvia.
“I just thought of something,” said Carla, back again. “Are you gonna change your name?”
Most of the inquiries Rowena had received she had answered more or less automatically. This time she found herself saying, “What difference would it make here? Everybody just calls me by my first name.”
“Um, actually, I was gonna ask about that too. What is your last name?”
And, every few hours, Eloise came back.
“I'd like you to know,” she said with something like humility, “that I've asked Mr. Schmed to consider giving you a pay increase, as an incentive to keeping you here.”
Rowena wondered how to reassure her without jeopardizing the proposed raise. “That's very thoughtful of you, Eloise,” she said, feeling grateful that Marjorie was away from her desk and couldn't hear this. “I don't have any immediate plans to leave, but—”
“It isn't just Rorschach & Schmed I'm thinking of,” Eloise said. “I'd hate to see you turn into a dissatisfied housewife.”
Did anybody these days, Rowena wondered, quit her job when she married, solely because she was married, and not because she had kids or was going back to school? “I'll keep that in mind,” she said aloud. “Thank you, Eloise.”
“Personal fulfillment,” said Eloise. “And a steady paycheck. Very important in life.”
“I know,” Rowena said. She wondered when Eloise would go away.
With one finger Eloise began poking a paper on Rowena's spindle, making it spin slowly and jerkily. “Well. We like to look out for our employees here,” she said. “The good ones, at least.”
“Thank you,” Rowena said again. “That's very good of you.”
Eloise looked at her, and Rowena saw what looked like tears in her eyes. “You're getting married!” Eloise said softly. For once she seemed actually shy. “What's his name?”
“Sammy,” Rowena said. Eloise repeated this under her breath. “I hope you'll be very happy!” she said.
“Thank you,” Rowena managed to reply.
“Both of you!”
“Thank you,” Rowena said yet again. “I'll tell him.”
“Getting married,” Eloise mused. She nodded vigorously, her lips pressed together, then turned and all but ran away.
Rowena watched her go. She felt peculiar. She wished she could tell whether Eloise was happy or envious; it would be easier, she thought, if she knew whether she should feel guilty. She looked down at the papers on her desk and suddenly could almost hear her friend Terese say, “Of course you shouldn't feel guilty. It's not as if you were gloating. And it's not your fault Eloise is the way she is.”
The same advice, Rowena realized, that Molly would have given her, or Sammy himself.
She smiled a little, and went back to work.
By the end of the day she had actually managed to make some progress. She was rechecking Page Eight when Lorraine came back to show her some baby pictures as an incentive to producing a baby of her own.
“Very cute,” Rowena said.
“And just think how happy your parents would be! Why, my mother—”
“Lorraine,” Rowena said, “could we leave my mother out of this?”
“When I'm ready, Lorraine—when Sammy and I are ready—but not before. It isn't fair to the child to—”
“But just look!”
“Lorraine . . . No offense, but I've seen babies before. All the—”
“Babies!” said Leslie Campbell. “What do you want to tie yourself down with babies for? Even worse than tying yourself down with a husband.” He tried to sit on the corner of Rowena's desk—on top of some baby pictures—but Lorraine shoved him away with an outraged squawk. “Babies!” said Leslie. “Now, what you want—”
“You should know by now what I want,” Rowena said. “For the umpteenth time, go away.”
“Jim!” Leslie called. “Jim, c'mere.”
“Jim, Lorraine's trying to get Rowena to have babies.”
“You need a guy,” said Jim helpfully. “You can't do it with Lorraine.”
“What!” Lorraine yelled.
“She shouldn't have babies, should she?” Leslie asked.
“Maybe if she gets married,” Jim said. “If she wants to.”
“She is getting married!” said Lorraine. “Where have you been all day?”
“If it were somebody else,” Berna remarked, materializing again, “I'd say he'd been working.”
“Oh, like you are? I'll have you know that I personally—”
“I was working,” Rowena observed, “a couple of minutes ago.”
“Oh,” said Jim. “Well, if she's getting married. If she wants to. And he does.”
“You always have to make some kind of a fuss,” Marjorie said. “Nobody can get anything done around here.”
“What fuss?” asked Jim. “Look, I just—”
“Not you. Rowena.”
“Me? What did I—”
“Always the center of attention. You can't just quietly get married, you have to—”
“Marjorie, if I went and eloped or something, you'd never forgive me.”
“Marjorie,” said Berna in a warning voice, “you had better not mention a soap-opera character, or so help me—”
“What's all this?” asked Eloise. Everybody froze. Eloise handed a folder to Rowena. “The Endswell Report. As soon as you're done with your current project.” She looked at her watch. “The rest of you still have three minutes to work,” she said, and left. She had not exactly smiled or anything, but Rowena felt sure, somehow, that Eloise bore her no ill will.
“Man!” said Berna. “She didn't even chew us out! This engagement of yours must have put her in a good mood somehow.”
“She doesn't even know!” Lorraine said. “She didn't even notice, any more than Jim did.”
“She noticed earlier,” Rowena said. “You weren't around.”
“Yeah!” cried Marjorie. “She knows! And all she did was give you a project!”
“I'm supposed to have projects,” Rowena said. “I work here.”
“She could at least be happy for you,” Marjorie said, indignant. “Everybody else is here, wishing you happiness and everything—except him—” pointing at Leslie “—'cause we know why, and him—” pointing at Jim “—'cause he's too lame, but everyone else is all happy for you except for Ms. Sourpuss, who can't even—I mean, really!” She snapped her gum angrily. “Well!” she concluded. “I guess you know who your friends are here!”
Rowena recalled Molly, who had been by only once that day since Rowena had showed her the ring, and who had only smiled at her.
“I know who my friends are,” Rowena said.
“I guess,” Marjorie went on, as Berna in particular stared at her incredulously, “you know about the nutcases here too.” And she glared at Leslie and Jim.
“I know about them too,” Rowena said. She saw that their day, as Eloise would put it, was over. “Time to go,” she said, picking up her jacket. “See you all tomorrow.”
And as they drifted off she put on her jacket, picked up her purse, and prepared to go home to Sammy.
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