|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Married.||Rowena Gets Ready, Part 4|
Rowena was innocently sitting at her desk re-reading her report when Marjorie, at the next desk over, gave an audible gasp. Rowena was pretty well used to Marjorie's reactions, but for some reason she looked up anyway. Marjorie's eyes were enormous, and her jaw had dropped. But she wasn't staring at the papers on her desk.
“Marjorie?” asked Rowena.
In answer, Marjorie could only make vague waving motions. “Marjorie?” Rowena said again.
This time Marjorie was coherent enough to say, “Oooooh.”
Marjorie swallowed, and waved her hand again. This time she seemed to be waving it in some particular direction. “Oh,” she moaned. “Oh . . .”
“Marjorie?” Rowena was beginning to worry about her. But Marjorie took a deep breath and managed a sentence.
“Rowena,” she said, though without actually looking at Rowena, “It's happened.”
“I've seen him. He's here.” Marjorie heaved a great sigh. “Oh, my God, he's here.”
“Who?” Rowena looked around. “Where?”
“Here,” said Marjorie, and sighed again. “Mr. Right.”
That sinking “I think I'm in trouble now” feeling had only just started to take hold of Rowena when Marjorie added, “You have to help me get him.”
“My God!” cried Berna, running up, “Did you see him? Did you?”
Marjorie whipped around. “He's mine!” she cried, as the sinking feeling in Rowena solidified into certainty:
I know I'm in trouble now.
They were introduced an hour or two later; formally introduced, as it was Eloise doing the introducing. “This is our new employee, Mr. Fitzwilliam,” Eloise said.
“Sebastian,” corrected Mr. Fitzwilliam, smiling. Rowena had the feeling the two of them had gone through that little routine several times so far. He extended a hand to her and she shook it and told him she was pleased to meet him.
Which she might have been, under other circumstances. He seemed friendly, and there was something steady about him, as though he were not easily flustered—a rare quality at Rorschach & Schmed.
He was also tall, dark, and handsome—handsome enough to cause no end of trouble among those less steady. Of course, Rowena had already seen some of this, but she feared, actually looking at him, that she was going to be seeing more.
Probably lots more.
“Oh, Sebastian!” Marjorie fluttered, in her turn. Rowena buried herself in her papers.
She couldn't bear to watch.
Within a couple of hours the entire place was in an uproar. Rowena kept thinking: One new employee! All this over one new employee. Because it wasn't just Marjorie and Berna. Of course it wasn't.
“I'll have him help me with my project; that ought to flatter him no end, especially since he's new,” Sara said, half-leaning against and half-perched upon Rowena's desk. “But if that doesn't work and he won't have me, at least he'll have made Boris jealous. Either way, you have to help me, Rowena.”
“Me! Why me?”
“Because you're the only one around here I trust. Plus, being as how you're engaged now, you must know something we don't.”
“I didn't ‘trap’ Sammy. I don't have any ‘techniques.’”
“Modesty, modesty. What I need—”
“Watch it. Here comes one of your rivals.”
“Only Marjorie,” said Sara under her breath, but she did change the subject. “Hey, Marjorie,” she said. “How are your soap operas?”
Marjorie sighed heavily. “Who has time for soap operas?” she asked. She did not seem fully aware that she had actually, finally, been asked about her soaps instead of simply being told to shut up about them. She dumped herself into her chair.
Sara stared at her. “You do,” she said, “morning, noon, and night. They're all you ever—”
“No more,” Marjorie said. “Now that I have . . . him.”
“Define ‘have,’” said Sara.
“Sara,” Rowena said, “I have a lot of—”
“There you are,” Berna said, approaching. She seemed to be speaking to Rowena.
“This is my desk,” Rowena said. “Where else should I be?”
“Scoping out Prince Charming for me, what do you think? Listen, I—”
“He's mine!” said Sara.
“He's mine!” said Marjorie.
“I saw him first,” Berna said.
“Please,” Rowena said. “I'm sure he—”
“Rowena!” Carla said, walking up and planting her hands on Rowena's desk. “You have to do me a favor.”
Rowena closed her eyes. “Do I already know what it is?”
“You have to . . . put in a good word for me with—”
“He's mine!” snapped Marjorie. “And Rowena's helping me!”
“She's helping me!” said Sara. “Aren't you, Rowena?”
“No, she's helping me,” said Berna. “We're a team, aren't we, Rowena? Thick and thin?”
Rowena ducked her head into her hands. “I haven't said I'd help anybody! And I won't if you're going to be like this all day!”
There was a silence. When Rowena peeked, she saw that they'd all snuck away . . . all except Marjorie, who still sat at her desk next door.
“I'm being good,” Marjorie said, hopefully. “See?”
It wasn't until some half-hour later that Sara came by with a chocolate eclair for her, followed, after a while, by Carla with a brownie, and finally Berna with a box of staples. After which Marjorie disappeared and returned with a cupcake. “I hope you're not on a diet,” she said—as if it mattered, Rowena thought. “Of course,” Marjorie went on, “you don't need a diet; you look great as you are.” The last of these petitioners was Janet, not part of the original mob but stopping by anyway with a cup of hot tea.
“Tea!” wailed Marjorie. “I should have brought you—”
“Marjorie,” said Rowena, “it doesn't matter. Honest. Look, I can't side with anybody on this—”
“Not even me?”
“—with anybody, and even if I could . . . Marjorie, I don't even know the guy. I wouldn't know what to say—what would appeal to him—and why should he listen to me anyway? Look, just leave him alone, all right? He came here to work, or he came here to make a living, or whatever, but he didn't come here to be harassed.”
“Harassed? By me?”
“Or by me,” said Rowena, deliberately misunderstanding. She took a sip of the tea Janet had brought; she didn't want to seem to play favorites, but she really needed the tea.
“Great,” said Marjorie. “That's just great.” She broke off suddenly and came to attention. “Hello, Sebastian,” she said sweetly.
“Hello,” said Sebastian. But it was Rowena's desk he stopped by. “Hello,” he said again. “I'm told you can help me with this.” And he handed her a sheet of paper.
“Let's see,” Rowena said, looking it over. She would never, ever admit just how aware she was of his presence; not to anybody. She explained the paper to him, told him where to take it when he was done; he thanked her with a very nice smile and went on his way.
“He ‘won't listen to you,’ huh?” Marjorie hissed.
“You can help me,” Marjorie said. “You have to.”
By afternoon the unrest had spread to Rowena's male coworkers. “Who does he think he is?” demanded Jim.
“Sebastian Fitzwilliam,” said Rowena, without looking up. “Do you mind? I have to make a phone call.”
“Use email,” advised Jim.
“‘Sebastian Fitzwilliam!’” said Leslie Campbell. “What a name!”
“It's not my fault. My phone call?”
“Use email,” said Jim again.
“Hey,” said Leslie, “he's not getting fresh with you, is he?”
Rowena looked at him. “That's rich,” she said. “Coming from you, that's rich.”
“'Cause if he is—”
“He is not,” said Rowena, “and it wouldn't be any of your business if he were. My fiancé's business, maybe, but not yours.”
“Ha!” said Steve, jabbing Leslie in the ribs. “She got you there!”
“Look, guys,” Rowena said, “I really have to—”
“You have to help us,” said Jim.
“Help you? What with?”
“You have to do something about this Fitzwilliam guy.”
“Do something? Like what?”
“Sebastian,” said Leslie Campbell. “Get it? Like ‘bastard?’”
Rowena said, “I have no idea what any of you are talking about. Maybe it's better that way, but—”
“The guy is ruining us,” said Steve. “None of the gir—women pay any attention to us any more. It's bad enough we can't flirt or anything, but I showed a couple of 'em my project and they wouldn't even look at it.”
“That wasn't very polite of them,” Rowena admitted, “but I have to say that there are times—”
“You have to do something,” Jim said.
“You have to help us,” said Steve.
“Especially me,” said Leslie, leering.
“Leslie!” Rowena yelled. “Get out of here!” Whereupon Steve and Jim immediately set upon Leslie, seized him, and hustled him away, protesting feebly. But as they went, Steve called back over his shoulder, “You will, though, won't you? Rowena?”
The next delegation was, again, female. “Rowena,” said Berna, in a spokesmanlike way, “We just can't stand it any longer.”
“You look like a group of vigilantes,” Rowena said.
“As you may have noticed,” Berna went on, “Sebastian wears no wedding ring.”
Rowena hadn't noticed. “That doesn't mean he's not married.”
“Our point,” said Sara. “Janet, on a reconnaissance mission, checked his desk and failed to find any photos of a possible wife or children.”
“Janet!” said Rowena.
“She failed, in fact, to find any personal items at all.”
“It's his first day,” said Rowena.
“Exactly,” said Berna. “But we can't sit around and wait for his second day.” She whacked a folder unceremoniously onto Rowena's desk and leaned on it. “We want you,” she said, “to find out for us.”
“What? Berna, I don't even care whether he's married.”
“Exactly. That's why you're going.” Berna opened the file and extracted a piece of paper. “Here are the things we need to know,” she said, and handed the paper to Rowena, who, after staring at her a moment, took the paper and read:
“Current Marital Status. Any kids? Girlfriend? Any ex-wives? Favorite food. Favorite music. Favorite movie. Favorite book. Fond of dogs? Fond of cats? Romantic walks? Fond of kids?” Rowena stopped reading. “Berna, this sounds like a classified ad.”
“Thanks,” said Berna.
“You can't expect me—”
“And find out if he's gay,” said Sara. “A lot of the good ones are gay.”
“You people are out of your minds,” said Rowena.
“This whole business! This whole—why don't you just try to make friends with him? Then, maybe—”
“No time,” said Janet. “He could be snapped up any day.”
“If he's not married,” said Berna solemnly.
“Or gay,” said Sara.
“Look,” Rowena said, “Why don't you get Lorraine? I'm sure she'd enjoy this more than I would, and she's married already, and—”
“Lorraine's out sick,” said Berna, surprised—just as it occurred to Rowena that it might not have been such a good idea to involve Lorraine after all. “Where have you been all day?”
Rowena sighed. “Buried under you guys, that's where.”
Rowena had to be shown, discreetly, where Sebastian's desk was. She trudged up to it, armed only with Berna's piece of paper and everybody's solemn promise to leave her alone if she only did this one thing.
Yeah, she thought. Right.
He was at his desk, looked up and saw her. Rowena walked the rest of the way to him and stopped. “Oh, hello,” he said.
“Hi,” said Rowena. She had no idea how to begin. “Um, listen, there's—there's something you maybe haven't been warned about.”
His eyebrows went up. “Oh?”
“Yeah. There's—there's some very nosy people here.”
“Very nosy people.” Rowena put the paper on his desk. “New Guy Questionnaire,” she said.
He picked up the paper, looked it over, and laughed. “Blunt, aren't they?” he asked. He looked at Rowena, nodded at her engagement ring. “You're getting married?” he asked.
“Congratulations and best of luck.”
“That's why they sent you over here?”
Rowena looked at him, looked into a pair of dark, twinkling eyes. He has no illusions, she thought. He knows exactly what's going on, and always did. “Afraid so,” she told him.
Sebastian laughed. “Okay,” he said, setting Berna's paper down and picking up a pen, “let's get this thing filled out.” Rowena watched as he methodically answered all of the questions, then handed the paper back to her. She glanced at the top few answers: Single, No kids, No girlfriend, No ex-wife.
“One other thing, if you don't mind,” she said. “I'm also supposed to find out whether you're gay.”
He smiled and shook his head in a can-you-beat-that way. “But they didn't have the nerve to write it down?”
“Evidently not. But I had strict orders.” Sebastian laughed, and shook his head again.
“No,” he said. “Not gay.”
They didn't even wait for Rowena to get back to her desk but set upon her as soon as she turned the corner, out of Sebastian's view. They snatched the paper out of her hands and clustered around it as Rowena made her getaway. Sebastian may not have been able to see them, but he likely heard the squeals of delight: Single! No girlfriend! Likes dogs! Sara came running up to her to demand, “And—you know—the other thing?”
“No,” Rowena said. “He isn't.”
Sara gave another squeal and hopped into the air. She literally skipped back to the others, and they all squealed some more.
Rowena went back to her nice quiet desk.
At least, nice and quiet for now.
“Tall, dark, and handsome, huh?” asked Sammy, that evening.
“Tall, dark, handsome, and amused,” Rowena told him. “Problem is, he seems like a nice-enough guy, at least to work with. He's thrown the place into utter chaos, but I'm gonna have a hard time hating him.”
“You say that,” said Sammy, “as if the place weren't usually chaotic.”
“Well . . . it's certainly been better.”
Sammy reached out and touched her face. “You know, sometimes . . .”
“Sammy?” When he didn't answer, she said, “Sammy, you're not jealous, are you?”
“No,” he said. “Not exactly.”
“Sammy?” she asked again. He smiled at her, slowly.
“Not jealous,” he repeated. “Just lucky.”
“Hey!” objected Rowena, approaching her desk the next morning—her desk, not theirs—“I thought you guys promised.” Actually she was not surprised to see them there, though she had hoped they would wait an hour or two.
“You have to choose which of us you're going to—”
“I'm not doing any such thing! You told me yesterday that if I got your silly questions answered, you'd leave me alone!”
“We did,” said Berna, “for the rest of the day. Now we're into Phase Two.”
“Pick me, Rowena,” said Sara plaintively. “If you can't get Sebastian for me, you can fix things with Boris. I told him I was probably going to go out with Sebastian and he said, ‘Sebastian who?’ without even looking up from his keyboard.”
“Pick me,” said Marjorie. “I'm your neighbor!”
“What's this all about?” asked Molly, approaching. They told her, expecting, to Rowena's surprise, a great deal more sympathy from her than Rowena felt she was likely to give them. In fact, the first thing Molly said was, “Why don't you just leave them both alone?”
“But, Molly! Admit it. If you were single . . .”
Molly considered. “If I were single and your age, I'd probably find him attractive,” she said, “but I wouldn't hound him half to death, or Rowena either.”
“He's, what, ten years younger than I am? Approximately? I'm not into that.”
“Look, I gotta go.” She patted Rowena on the arm, and Rowena understood the message: You know where to find me. “Good luck, kiddo,” said Molly aloud, and left.
Rowena looked at the clock and managed, somehow, to fight her way over to her chair and sit down. “C'mon, guys,” she said. “Hup, hup.”
But they were all too outraged by Molly to even argue with Rowena. In the angry buzz she caught the words “Not into him?” and “What's wrong with her?” They were so distracted they didn't even notice when Eloise appeared.
“What are you all doing here?” Eloise demanded.
Belatedly, they shrank back. But she'd asked them a question. “Um, we were . . . we were just . . .”
“We were trying,” said Berna, “to think of a way to welcome Sebastian to the company.”
“Really,” said Eloise. She scanned the room and called out, “Sebastian!” And Rowena noted that her coworkers seemed much less happy than they might have been to see Sebastian himself walking over. Marjorie in particular seemed to be in a state of near-collapse.
“These young ladies want to welcome you to Rorschach & Schmed,” said Eloise. “They are going to do that right now and then get back to work.”
“Are they, now? That's nice of them.” Sebastian looked at all of them, but gave Rowena the slightest wink. Berna alone managed to rouse herself into some kind of mumble.
Sebastian waited. “Are you sure they want to say something?” he asked at last. “They seem awfully quiet, Aunt Eloise.”
The words hung in the air.
Rowena's coworkers gawped. Rowena herself put her chin in her hand in such a way as to hide her smile.
One by one her coworkers mumbled something that sounded like “Welcome,” and drifted off until Rowena was left with just Sebastian and Eloise, plus perhaps a stunned Marjorie, sitting at her desk next door with her head down as though reading something.
Rowena said, “Welcome to Rorschach & Schmed, Sebastian.”
“Thank you,” said Sebastian, smiling. He tipped an imaginary hat to her and took his leave of them. Eloise watched him a moment, then put some papers on Rowena's desk.
“Lost their minds,” said Eloise tartly. “Every one of them.”
Rowena wasn't sure whether Eloise had any idea what had happened, or any idea of the effect her nephew had on women. “Maybe it's a full moon,” she suggested.
“Full moon, ha! Superstition,” Eloise said. She gave Rowena a stern look and left also. Rowena picked up the papers Eloise had left her and leafed through them.
Ah, she thought. The Ariolimax Report. How wonderfully unromantic.
She picked up her pen and got to work.
Volume III: Rowena Gets Married.
Book 8: Rowena Gets Ready.
About the Stories.
About the Author.
Contact the Author.