|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Married.||Rowena Gets Ready, Part 6|
Rowena set the salad on the table. “And Eloise's car broke down,” she told Sammy.
“Really?” Sammy asked. “I don't see how it dared.” He filled Rowena's glass and then his own as Rowena began a story about the car and its effect on everybody in the office—which she had only just begun before the phone rang.
Rowena sighed and answered it. “Hello?”
“Rowena. Glad I caught you at home.”
“Terese? What's up?” Her friend Terese never called at dinnertime. Rowena looked over at Sammy.
“Well, I've got a new boss now,” Terese told her. “And he's got these new rules and things. Like, we've got a new filing system and he doesn't want us to use the lunchroom and if we've got some minor legal point he wants us to ask any lawyer friends we might have for their opinions so his lawyers can't charge him.”
“So you're calling to get Sammy's help with something?” It seemed unlike Terese, and Sammy wasn't even an actual lawyer yet.
“Hell, no,” Terese said. “You think I'd take advantage of Sammy like that? I'm calling to get your help because you're the expert on insane job situations. What do I do about this jerk?”
She came over after dinner, to describe her situation. “I have to admit,” she began, “I feel kind of funny asking you of all people how to have a pleasant workplace.”
“Well,” Rowena said, “at least I have experience in trying to have a pleasant workplace.”
“That's about how I was looking at it. So what do I do?”
“Well, have you tried bringing this up with your boss' boss?”
“Rowena, I hardly even know the guy. All I know is he hired this guy, and introduced him to us as the greatest thing since chocolate.”
Rowena looked at her, then at Sammy. He shrugged; he was trying (though not very hard) to keep a straight face. “Well,” Rowena began, slowly, “you've done the complaining-to-friends part . . .”
“So kind of you to notice,” Terese said.
“And the asking-for-advice part . . .”
“More like begging, really.”
“So . . . if I were you, I'd . . .”
“I'd get some smarter friends.”
“C'mon,” said Terese. “You can do better than that.”
“Maybe,” Rowena said. “Give me a few days and a couple of gallons of tea.”
The next day, fortified by a cup of her own tea and an unasked-for promise by Terese of several boxes more, Rowena began making her way to Molly's desk. She wasn't sure Molly had ever faced any of the problems Terese was having, but she was the only person at Rorschach & Schmed whose advise Rowena trusted.
“Rowena! Hang on!”
Rowena ground to a reluctant halt. “What is it, Jim?” she asked, without looking at him. In fact, she closed her eyes.
“I have this friend who has a problem,” Jim said.
“A friend?” Rowena asked.
“Yeah. See, he, um, he had this—at his job there was this, like, she was just like Eloise, and he, well, one day he—”
“Just like Eloise?” Rowena interrupted.
“Yeah, it's unreal. Anyway, he—I swear it was an accident, totally—”
“Jim,” said Rowena, “what did your ‘friend’ do?”
“He, like, accidentally drew a cartoon in the Men's Room of El—of this person, um, doing something rude.”
“How rude?” Rowena asked.
“Very rude. So of course the janitor saw it there, and he told—um, he told this person, and—”
“Jim,” Rowena said, “I think you and your 'friend' are on your own.”
“Whatever possessed you?”
“It was funny,” Jim said.
“And it never occurred to you—”
“My friend,” Jim said. “It was my friend. And he never—”
“Right,” said Rowena. “Has it ever occurred to you that there's a reason certain people get in trouble more often than others? Do—”
“I don't get in trouble as much as Leslie Campbell does,” Jim said.
“Well, yes; but—”
“Hey, Rowena, thanks.”
Rowena stared at him. “Thanks? For what?”
“For the idea. I knew I could count on you.”
“Jim,” Rowena said, “what idea?”
“Blaming it on Leslie Campbell,” Jim said. “It's perfect.”
Rowena closed her eyes and took a deep breath. It was tempting to let Leslie take the blame for this, but, strictly speaking, it was not exactly fair. “Jim,” she began.
“Gotta go!” Jim said. “Thanks again!” And he took off at a run. Rowena hesitated, then continued on towards Molly's desk.
“There you are! I've been looking all over for you.”
Rowena sagged to a halt. “What is it, Marjorie?”
Marjorie ran the last few steps to her, panting. She waved a largish envelope. “It's Buck! He wrote back!”
“Buck. From All My Hospitals.” Marjorie waved the envelope again. She was out of breath. “Remember, I wrote him and you said it wouldn't do any good and everybody laughed at me?”
Rowena remembered this. “Only because he's a made-up soap opera character,” she said. “And you were proposing marriage or something.”
“Well, he wrote back.” Marjorie clutched the envelope to her. “I will treasure this forever,” she said. “Years from now, when the kids are away and we're curled up in front of his enormous fireplace and—”
“Marjorie, have you even opened that yet?”
“Of course I've opened it,” Marjorie said, and carefully folded back the flap. Even more carefully, she extracted a glossy photograph. “Look, but don't touch,” she warned, holding it up for Rowena's benefit.
“He, um, he has kind of feminine handwriting, doesn't he?” she asked, noting with a sinking feeling that he—or his assistant—had inscribed the photo, “For Marjorie with love.” Obviously they had no idea whom they were dealing with.
“Feminine?” Marjorie demanded. “What's that supposed to mean? Look at him; are you blind or something?”
“Marjorie, this is a—they send these things out to fans all the time. This doesn't mean—”
But Marjorie was too busy kissing the picture to listen. Rowena waited until she was done. “Is there a letter,” she began, “or just the photo?”
“There's a letter,” Marjorie sighed. She fished this out and held it up; apparently Rowena was not to touch this, either. She read through it quickly; it looked like a form letter, printed out with Marjorie's name inserted into the salutation.
“We'll have a big wedding,” Marjorie was saying, “and—”
“Marjorie, it doesn't say anything about a wedding. In fact—”
“Oh,” said Berna, walking up. “You got your letter.”
“Yes!” Marjorie cried. “It just arrived! I put our address here so I'd get it right away unless it arrived on Saturday and so he'd see I have a steady job, not like that worthless Felina he dumped last year, and—”
Berna clasped her hands in front of her chest and gazed raptly at the ceiling. “‘Thank you so much for your loyalty!’” she quoted. “‘It's loyal viewers like you who—’”
“Hey!” Marjorie objected. “You read my letter! That's private!”
“Private nothing; it's the same one he sent me.”
“You wrote him a fan letter too?” Rowena asked.
“Yeah. Marjorie said she had, and I thought it'd be a lark. Loyal fan, ha! I've never even seen that stupid show.”
“Show me,” Marjorie demanded. “Show me your letter.”
“Sure.” Berna dug it out of her purse and handed it over; Rowena could tell, watching Marjorie's face, that it was in fact the same as her own.
“That—that—that two-timer!” Marjorie sputtered.
“More like about a million-timer,” Berna remarked.
“How dare he!” Marjorie yelled. She wheeled on Berna. “How dare you? Stealing my—”
“Marjorie,” began Rowena, “he's a character. I mean, an actor. That is—he gets fan mail every day and—”
“And, um, he thought your letter was—”
“Duh,” Berna said. She snatched her copy of the letter out of Marjorie's grasp and waved it at her.
Marjorie went quiet. “I told him,” she said, “that—well, it's private. But it wasn't fan mail.”
“I guess I should try again,” Marjorie said. “Write ‘Personal’ on the envelope or something.”
“Marjorie,” Berna began. But Marjorie was gone.
“Can you believe that girl?” Berna asked.
“Are you kidding?” Rowena replied. “I have a hard enough time believing you.”
Berna refolded her letter and put it back in her purse. “What, just because I wrote an idiot fan letter to an actor I'd never heard of, just to prove a point?”
“That kind of thing, yeah,” Rowena said.
Berna shrugged. “No biggie. The only annoying thing is, they sent a picture of the guy and I don't even think he's attractive. Kinda wish I'd known beforehand.”
“Well,” Rowena said. “I was on my way to see Molly about something, so—”
“Molly?” asked Berna. “She's in a meeting.” Rowena stared at her a moment, then strode to the corner and peeked around at Molly's desk. It was vacant. She turned back to speak to Berna, but Berna was gone too.
“I never did manage to get ahold of Molly,” Rowena reported over the phone that night. “She was in a meeting, she was at lunch—”
“I think I get the picture,” Terese said. “So to speak.” Rowena groaned.
“I did manage to send her an email,” she said. “Just to say that I wanted to discuss something. But I haven't heard back yet.”
“I sincerely wish you luck,” Terese said. “So. Any ideas of your own?”
Rowena sighed. “Aside from the one about complaining to your boss' boss? No.”
“I don't come to you for boring,” Terese said. “Or for stuff that might get me in trouble, either. You sure you don't have anything else?”
Her situation had escalated a bit; the new boss had stolen her stapler and moved one of her deadlines up so as to impress the big boss with his efficiency. Rowena sighed.
“I'm sorry, Terese. I haven't thought of a thing.”
“How about Sammy?”
“Sammy says that between studying and his job he doesn't have the strength to be devious right now. He is working awfully hard; I can tell you that.”
“I know. Just figured it wouldn't hurt to ask. Hey, I even pestered nice little Beth about this.”
Rowena wondered how Beth would feel if she heard herself described that way. “What did Beth say?”
“Something about complaining to my boss' boss. Told you she was too nice.” Slight pause. “No offense.”
And Terese seemed actually to wait for an answer.
Molly wrote back the next day, promising to come by as soon as she could, and Rowena did her best to stay available. As it turned out, the staying at her desk part wasn't very hard, but the able-to-drop-what-she-was-doing part was a challenge.
“How's this?” asked Marjorie. She cleared her throat dramatically, then picked up a piece of paper and read from it with relish. “‘My darling Buck. This is not a fan letter but a—’”
“Marjorie,” Rowena said.
“‘—desperate plea from your—’”
“‘—devoted admirer who worships—’”
“Will you stop interrupting?” Marjorie complained. “How am I going to—”
“I thought we explained this to you. Buck isn't real. He's a character. On a soap opera. Which isn't real either. He can't marry you, he can't fall in love with you, he can't—”
“What do you know; you don't even watch the show.” Marjorie returned to her letter. “‘. . . worships the very ground you walk on, and whose—’”
Rowena dropped her face onto her hands. “If you insist on making a fool of yourself writing to imaginary people, go ahead,” she told Marjorie. “But could you be a little less trite about it?”
“‘—heart is aching with—’”
“Rowena!” Jim said. “They want to know how I know it was Leslie!”
“Leslie!” exclaimed Marjorie, looking up with a shudder. “Jim, I am reading a love letter here, and you're talking about Leslie Campbell!”
“Love letter?” asked Jim, and shuddered in much the same way Marjorie had.
“I don't know either of you,” Rowena said.
“Rowena!” cried Jim and Marjorie in chorus. “You have to help me!”
“I told them he told me,” Jim said. “And they wanted to know when and I said yesterday and he wasn't here yesterday!”
“You think you have problems,” Marjorie sniffed.
Clearly this was one of those days. Rowena took a breath. “Will you guys—”
“Hey, Rowena,” Janet said. “Could you help me with—”
“You wait your turn!” said Jim and Marjorie.
“Rowena?” It was Molly; finally, it was Molly. “Is this a bad time? I can come back later.”
“No,” Rowena said, rising. “No; let's take care of it now.” She was hoping to make it sound like official business.
“Rowena!” called a number of voices behind them, but Rowena kept on walking.
“Anybody using the little conference room?” she asked Molly.
“No,” Molly said, “but are you sure this isn't a bad time.”
“This,” Rowena said, “is definitely not a bad time.” And she opened the conference room door.
Molly listened with her usual attention and empathy until Rowena had detailed Terese's complaints. “Well,” said Molly at last. “Has she tried talking to her boss' boss?”
“She's afraid to do that because her boss' boss thinks the guy's terrific,” Rowena said. “Really talked him up to them.”
“Well, if he's made up his mind . . . How old is your friend? About your age?”
“You know, if worst comes to worst she can get another job.”
“I know, I know; she doesn't want to go through all that. And she didn't need anybody to point that out to her. But if it comes to that . . .” And Molly shrugged.
And that was all the advice Rowena managed to get.
Somehow Rowena managed to survive the rest of her work day. She managed to pretty much avoid both Jim and Leslie—the latter this time too intent on hunting down the former to make any passes at her—and she gave up trying to talk sense into Marjorie, who, satisfied that Rowena approved of her letter, drifted off into a reverie Rowena was happy not to have to hear about. At the end of the day Jim was officially convicted and given a reprimand, and everything settled into a state approaching normality.
Except that Terese was expecting her to give some advice.
She went home, had dinner, got a hug of encouragement from Sammy, and picked up the telephone.
“Hi, Terese. I, um, finally talked to Molly.”
“Oh? And what did she say?”
“She wanted to know whether you tried talking to your boss' boss, and then she said that if worst came to worst—if you had to—she said you . . . you could get another job.”
A short pause. “She did, huh?”
“Talk to my boss' boss or get another job?”
“Well,” Terese said, “it's actually not such bad advice.”
It took Rowena a moment to respond, and when she did she only said, “Terese?”
“I had this project I'd been working on for months,” Terese said. “This morning the new boss threw it at me all torn to shreds. He wanted it done all differently, from the beginning onwards. He started screaming at me; what kind of idiot, blah, blah, blah.”
“And I'd done it exactly the way I'd been told to; exactly. Just the way the big boss wanted it.”
“Well, there I was, and this jackass was screaming at me, and I thought, I could tell the big boss, but Mr. Huff and Puff would just deny everything, and then where would I be?”
“Yeah.” Rowena sighed.
“Remember,” Terese said, “a few months ago, for some strange reason, the big boss had this intercom system put it? So we all have these silly little buttons on our desks?”
“I just kind of discreetly, you know, broadcast the screamfest into the big boss' office.” Rowena could see Terese giving an overly-nonchalant shrug.
“So what happened?” she asked.
“I don't have to deal with the jerk any more,” Terese said. “In fact, no one at my company does.”
“Then there's also the matter of my little raise,” Terese said. “Which is not quite the same as getting a new job, but I figure it's close enough.”
“Close enough,” Rowena said. “Congratulations again!”
“So that's that,” Terese told her. “Thanks for your help.”
“Help? I didn't do anything.”
“You listened. You steadied me. And I'm sure you were an inspiration of some kind.” Slight pause. “I mean that in the nicest way, of course.”
Rowena closed her eyes. “Of course.”
“So all's well that ends well, et cetera. Have you spoken to Beth?”
“Beth? Not in the last day or so.”
“I told her to call you. She's got a problem with a coworker, and I thought . . .”
Terese laughed. “Don't worry; this one'll be a piece of cake for you. You'll get her fixed up in no time.”
Rowena put her head in her palm. She supposed there were worse reputations a person could have. “I'll see what I can do,” she said.
Volume III: Rowena Gets Married.
Book 8: Rowena Gets Ready.
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