Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Married. Book 8, Part 13

Rowena Helps With A Surprise

Fiction by S. D. Youngren



Rowena put her hand over her eyes. “Maralynne,” she said into the phone, “I'm very sorry, but—”

“Rowena!” Her sister had a patented wail she used on such occasions, which had been modified only slightly over the twenty-plus years she'd used it. “I need this dress for my audition, and I promise I'll pay you back when I get paid!”

“Paid for what?” Rowena asked, though she already knew the answer.

“For the role I'm going to get! Please?”

“Since when do you have to audition in costume?” Rowena asked. She kept to herself the other question, Since when do you get paying roles?

There was a slight pause. “It isn't really a costume costume,” Maralynne said. “It's just—just to impress them.”

Rowena slapped her palm on the table and Caesar the cat looked up at her with lazy surprise. “Maralynne!” Rowena said. “You must have hundreds of outfits, every one of them an absolute—”

“But this dress is different,” Maralynne said. “You should see it. The neckline—”

“No,” Rowena said.

“And it's—“

No.

“But—”

“Find something cheaper. Preferably something you can actually afford. Maybe even something you already own.”

“But I'm your sister! We're family! We have to do things for each other!”

As if Maralynne ever did anything for her. “I am hanging up now,” Rowena said. “Goodbye, Maralynne.” And she put the phone down. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, then got up and started a cup of tea. The water had just begun to boil when the phone rang again. She let out a groan, poured the water quickly, then picked up the phone.

“Hello?” she said, as nicely as she could in case the caller wasn't Maralynne.

“Rowena, this is your mother.” Rowena closed her eyes. “I know you must be very busy planning your Big Day and everything, but I was wondering if you might just reconsider the catering.”

What?

“The catering. The Girls had our annual Big Brunch and it was Libby's turn to choose the restaurant—you remember Libby Antwerp?”

“I remember Libby Antwerp. Mother, I—”

“Libby chose the nicest place, we're all sure it was an accident, of course, considering Libby, but it's a—”

“Mother. We have our caterer. All that has been arranged. It's settled.”

“The most wonderful crepes, and these darling little—”

“Mother. We have our caterer. Our caterer is perfectly—”

“Wonderful! The most wonderful pastries, and I asked if they do wedding cake, and they—”

Mother!

It took quite a bit longer to end the call this time, and though Rowena managed to keep her caterer she found that her tea, when she finally managed to get to it, was not only very strong but cold as well. She drank it anyway, then made a fresh cup. This was just about ready when the phone rang.

She took a deep breath before answering. “Hello?”

“Hi, Rowena. Is Sammy there?”

“Mike, hi.” She could feel herself relaxing; unlike her sister and her mother, Mike was not on her “problem people” list. “He's not home yet, but I could have him call you when he gets here.”

“No, actually this is—we want to—we're planning a surprise party for him. If we can get you to go along with it.”

“A surprise party?”

“Yeah. We can't seem to agree on whether it's a ‘good luck on your LSAT’ party or a sort of co-ed pre-bachelor-party thing. But we figure he needs a party either way.”

Rowena laughed. “Sounds good,” she heard herself saying.

“Great. Here's what we've got so far.” And he began to outline the plans.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

It was pretty simple, really. Sammy's friends would gather at Rowena and Sammy's apartment before he came home and surprise him there with some take-out food. Sammy wouldn't have to be coerced into going anywhere, and the guests wouldn't have to stay very long if he was tired.

“Sounds like a pretty low-key surprise party,” Rowena said.

“Yeah, well, we don't want to really disrupt anything. I mean, he does have to study; he just . . . doesn't have to do it every single minute. And . . . we want to make it pretty easy on you as well.”

“Well, thank you. If—wait, I think I hear him. I'll call you from work tomorrow, okay?”

“Great. Thanks, Rowena.”

She hung up the phone, and managed to be digging a saucepan out of the cupboard when Sammy walked into the kitchen. They greeted each other, and she asked him about his day. Sammy groaned and shook his head.

“My computer crashed,” he said. “I had all this stuff on it that I hadn't printed out yet or backed up or anything. As far as I know it's gone.”

“Oh, Sammy. How bad is it?”

“Bad enough. A bunch of addresses and so on. A draft of a rather important letter. What gets me is I do back everything up; I was gonna take care of that tonight.”

“Oh, Sammy.”

“About three hours after the crash, I was gonna back everything up.”

“Is it still down?”

“As of when I left. The IT guy said he might know what went wrong, and that if he's right he can probably fix it.” Sammy shook his head again, then gave her a kiss. “Let's forget about all that. What's for dinner?”

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

Rowena called Mike's cell phone the next day, got his recording, and left a message with her work number. He called her back during his lunch, which was before Rowena's lunch, and told her how many guests to expect. They settled on Chinese food, which Mike would bring, and a decorated cake, which Barb would bring. Somebody had crepe-paper streamers, which everyone could help put up, and somebody else would bring wine.

“Wine,” Rowena repeated, writing this down as she had everything else. “Good. Thanks, Mike.”

“No problem. See you soon.”

“See you. I'm looking forward to this. 'Bye.”

“'Bye.”

Rowena hung up, then looked over the list she'd made. Everything seemed pretty well under control. About all she had to do was get home on time and enjoy the party.

“Mac?” asked Marjorie, who hadn't been there a minute ago. “I thought your boyfriend's name was Simon or something.”

“Sammy,” Rowena corrected. “And he's my fiancé.”

“Fiancé,” Marjorie said. “Excuse me.” She eyed Rowena shrewdly; shrewdly, that is, for Marjorie. “So what do you and this Mac guy need wine for?”

“What?”

“You got a hot date with somebody else? You sure you want to go through with this marriage thing?”

No! I mean, yes I want to marry Sammy and no, I don't have any kind of date with anyone else! We're just--”

“Because when Clytemnestra decided she—”

“Clytemnestra?” Rowena stared at her. She had no idea Marjorie had any knowledge at all of Greek mythology. “What—”

“Clytemnestra. From Search for Our Lives. Who did you think?” Luckily she didn't wait for Rowena to answer. “Clytemnestra had this affair with Lancelot while she was trying on her wedding dress for her wedding to—”

“Marjorie,” said Rowena, “you're not making any sense at all.”

“I am too. She was trying on the dress when—”

“Is this another soap opera story?” demanded Berna, walking up to them. “Because if it is—”

“I am trying to explain something to Rowena,” said Marjorie haughtily. “She was talking to somebody named Mac or something about having some wine and—”

Berna crossed her arms. “And?”

“And so I was telling her about Clytemnestra's affair so she wouldn't go and ruin her life by taking up with this Mac guy and—”

“Marjorie,” said Berna, “you're nuts.”

“Hey!”

“I can't believe you sometimes. Clytemnestra, indeed. You get things so mixed up—”

“But I heard her! She said ‘wine.’ I—”

“You don't know what you're talking about. A person can't mention wine unless she's having an affair? Get real.”

“But—”

“This is Rowena we're talking about. Rowena. Geez..”

Marjorie pouted. “I just wanted to help.”

“Sure you did,” Berna said. Marjorie was about to object, but her phone rang. She tossed Berna a final dirty look and picked up the receiver.

“Thanks, Berna,” Rowena said. Berna sidled closer.

“So,” she said. “What's the deal on this Mac guy?”

“Berna!”

“C'mon,” Berna said. “You can tell me.

So Rowena told her, not without some misgivings. But Berna just laughed, said, “Clytemnestra,” and walked away.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

“Could I leave a little early on Thursday?” Rowena asked.

Eloise, sitting rigidly as usual behind her polished desk, regarded Rowena with only slight annoyance. “How early?” she asked.

“About half an hour. I just—there's something I just want to make sure I'm not late for.”

“Half an hour,” Eloise said. “You don't have any deadlines for the next three weeks.”

“No,” said Rowena, reflecting that it was just like Eloise to keep such close track of everybody's projects. “No, I don't.”

“I don't see why not,” said Eloise. “As long as you get your work done.”

“Thank you, Eloise,” Rowena said.

“And stay half an hour late on Friday.”

“I . . .” Rowena caught herself. Friday evening with Sammy used to be special, but now with Sammy's studying and her own wedding arrangements, it wasn't so different from the other nights . . . except that she was more tired than usual. “I can do that,” she told Eloise.

“This isn't . . . anything to do with your wedding, is it?” Eloise asked.

“Um . . . only kind of,” Rowena said. She avoided mentioning her wedding to Eloise, and was surprised that Eloise had mentioned it to her.

“Just so you keep all that in perspective,” Eloise said. “After all, this is your Career.” And she dismissed her while Rowena was still wondering how to respond.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

“I'm afraid she'll find some way to torpedo me,” Rowena told Mike. She was using her cell phone, sitting in her car in the parking lot at work and looking nervously around for Eloise.

“If you want,” Mike said, “you can get copies of your keys made and give 'em to me. If you're late getting home—if you're not early enough, whatever—I can let everybody in and we can start decorating and putting the food out.”

How would Sammy feel about finding his friends in his home, but no Rowena? How did she feel about their being there without her or Sammy? Not, she thought, that she didn't trust them, but . . .

“Heck,” Mike was saying, “I could even give your dog a biscuit. He won't tear me to shreds, will he?”

Rowena had to laugh at the idea of Linus' tearing anyone to shreds. Even a stranger, which Mike was not. “I think he might spare you if you give him a biscuit,” she said.

“Glad to hear it. So should we do the keys?”

Rowena considered. Briefly. “Okay. When can I get them to you?” When, for that matter, could she have them made? Her lunch hour? She didn't know offhand of any places near her job that did that sort of thing. The simple party seemed to be getting more complicated.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

The next complication turned up when she got home. Sammy was already there, which was not alarming—not usual, but not alarming. The alarming part was that he had been there for over two hours.

“The computer's still down,” he told her. “I'm helpless. I did all the work I could do without it, and then came home.”

“Oh, no,” she said, despite herself.

Sammy shrugged. “The modern age,” he said. “I suppose in an earlier time we'd have run out of kerosene for the lamps.”

“I guess.”

“Hey,” he said. “What's the matter? We can afford for me to miss a day or two of work.”

“Well . . . yes, but . . .”

“But?”

Rowena reached up and tugged at her hair. “I don't know,” she said. “Do they know how long it'll take to fix it?”

Sammy gave her another shrug. “Dunno. Could be a while.”

“Oh.”

He peered at her, closely. “You sure you're okay?”

“I have a headache,” she said, hoping this would satisfy him. Besides, it happened to be true.

Sammy got her a couple of aspirins and some tea, then put her to bed for a nap. He went back to his dinner preparations, set the table, and didn't ask her any questions.

All of which was convenient, and nice, but it made her feel worse about fibbing to him. Though at least her headache went away.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

It's just a party, she told herself. It won't be the end of the world if it doesn't work out.

Just a party for her overworked fiancé and his closest, most supportive friends.

Just a party.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

Rowena set her fresh copies on her desk and picked up the contents of her In box. Memo, memo, requested information, memo, project—

Project? Rowena flipped through it, then checked the deadline.

Bad news. It was due the day after the party.

Rowena stared at it, flipped through it again. It was largely to do with vendors—not a normal part of her job. Was it a mistake? Or . . . Rowena took a deep breath and started off towards Eloise's office.

“Yes?” asked Eloise in an unpromising manner. But then most of Eloise's manners were unpromising.

“I seem to have been given a new project,” Rowena began.

“Oh, yes; the vendors. What of it?”

Not a mistake, then. “Um, it's due on Friday.”

“Well, you'd better get busy, then.”

“But I—you said—I was supposed to leave early on Thursday, and—”

“Well, perhaps you had better come in early, then.”

Rowena took another deep breath. She didn't have time to count to ten, much less a hundred, but she did her best at least to sound calm. “How early do they open the doors?” she asked.

“If you knock,” Eloise told her, “they might let you in an hour early.”

It was a pretty big building. Rowena could picture herself knocking and knocking and not being heard. “Eloise,” she began.

“You have been given an assignment,” Eloise said. “You are responsible for seeing that it is done.” Despite herself Rowena sighed, and Eloise softened just a bit. “It shouldn't take you too long,” she said. “It isn't complicated. Just a little research; that's all. You're good at that.” Rowena looked at the papers in her hand. “Now go,” Eloise said. “Get started and it'll be done before you know it.”

There was nothing to do but leave.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

Of course she had to put off the project she had been working on. Of course she found herself working through lunch.

And of course her coworkers were no help at all.

“A party, huh?” Berna asked. “So if we asked this fiancé of yours he'd verify it?”

“Of course not,” Rowena said. “I told you, it's a surprise party. For him.”

“Surprise party, huh? How convenient.”

“Berna,” Rowena said, “On Friday you can call him up and ask him. If it's that important to you. Until then, just butt out.”

“Geez, what a grouch.” Berna said, and left for greener, or more easily pestered, pastures. Rowena was sure that Berna actually believed her about the party—she seemed too amused to really think she was on the scent of a scandal—but she knew nothing would make her confess such a thing. She called Mike during her coffee break.

“What did you say that project was?” Mike asked. Rowena told him, though she couldn't see what difference it made. “It's not a huge amount of work, but it has to be done and it is enough to maybe make me late getting home.”

“If you're not there I'll let everybody in,” he said.

“And if Sammy is there because he couldn't go to work?”

“Then we'll yell ‘Surprise!’ right there on the doormat,” Mike said. “Look, it's only a party. As long as everybody has fun, it'll be fine.”

It made sense. “Right,” Rowena said. “Thanks, Mike.”

She hung up. And heard Marjorie say, “So you're worried that your fiancé won't be at work?”

“Marjorie. It's a surprise party. I told you that.”

“That's the oldest story,” Marjorie said. “Even Clytemnestra said that.

Rowena looked at the clock. Six minutes of coffee break left. She called her friend Terese. She hoped Marjorie would stick around; this would be a much more convenient conversation for her to hear.

“Mike's right,” Terese said. “It's only a party.”

“I know, but—”

“Are you still worried about making a good impression? 'Cause if you are, stop it. All of Sammy's friends think you're great. With reason, might I add.”

“Thanks, Terese, but I—”

“What is this project, anyway?” Rowena told her. “Heck,” said Terese. “No sweat.”

“I just wish they hadn't sprung it on me. Just another day or two—”

“Rowena,” Terese said, “Trust me. It'll be fine.”

It was what Rowena had known she would say. And it helped, sort of. Not so much the words themselves, but knowing how Terese meant them.

From the next desk Marjorie popped her gum. “Can I come to the party?” she asked.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

Wednesday Rowena came home to find that Sammy had been there since lunchtime. “There really wasn't anything I could do there,” he said.

“That's too bad,” Rowena said, rather lamely, she thought. Of course this had to happen now, the day before the party; of course it did.

“The good news is I did the laundry and some shopping,” Sammy said. “And dinner is almost ready.”

“Wonderful,” Rowena said, as innocently as possible. “Thank you.” But minutes after they sat down to eat the phone rang.

“I'll come by tomorrow night,” said her mother.

“Tomorrow night? For what?”

“So you can try some samples from the caterer, of course.”

Rowena had managed to forget about the caterer. “Mother,” she said, “I told you we already have our caterer.” She looked at Sammy, sitting at the table ignoring a perpetually hopeful, wag-tailed Linus. Rowena would never be able to tell her mother about the party without being overheard. Besides, her mother of course would only offer to come with her samples on a different day, and Rowena didn't want the samples at all.

“But Rowena, just wait'll you taste—”

“Mother, I told you, it's all set! I'm not going to go changing things like that. Besides, I like the caterer we have. Sammy and I like the caterer we have.”

“Rowena, for your own Special Day—”

“For my Special Day,” said Rowena, “I want my special caterer.” She had never hired a caterer before, but she had hired this one for her wedding, and even without the surprise party to contend with she didn't want to give them up. “We paid a deposit,” she said. “Remember?”

Silence. For a bit. “Sometimes,” her mother said, “these things are worth a little sacrifice.”

“Mother,” Rowena said, “I think you're just bent out of shape because I picked this caterer—Sammy and I did—and not you.” Her mother gasped, but Rowena continued. “I think,” she said, “that you're bored or something, and you're afraid you won't be able to ‘help’ me after I'm married, and so you're—”

“Rowena! What a thing to say!”

“Mother, I promised. I promised the caterer, and I promised Sammy—”

“Sammy can try the new caterer. I'm sure he'll—”

“Mother, no. Just no. I'm too busy; I can't be fussing with—”

Her mother made a noise that sounded very much like a snort. “You obviously have no idea how to throw a party,” she said. “For your information, the food is the most important thing. People who think they can just invite a bunch of people and serve them any old—”

Sammy appeared at her elbow, put out his hand for the phone. Rowena gave it to him and stepped back. Sammy stood a while, not speaking; apparently Rowena's mother was on a roll. Then Sammy said, “Babette,” and then he waited again, while the raptures Rowena's mother reserved for her future son-in-law ran through their course and finally wound down.

And then he began to talk, and Rowena thought, there's one problem solved. Sammy, at least until he was an official and legal son-in-law, was the only person who could really handle Rowena's mother.

And standing there, with her fiancé on the phone, she found herself wondering whether at one time her own father had been able to handle his wife-to-be.

It was a strange thought.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

It only took Rowena three or four minutes to get somebody to let her in at work the next day—Thursday morning, the day of the party. She went to her desk, sat down, and checked her email. There was a message from Mike, so she opened it.

“Took the liberty of checking a few things for you,” Mike wrote. “Hope this is helpful.”

Rowena was supposed to compile three lists and make a series of phone calls. She had done the first list the day before. The second list was the list of new vendors; Mike had scoured the Internet for her and given her a good start; a very good start, she thought, looking it over. She felt a weight leave her.

She sent him a thank-you message and promised him a batch of cookies. Even though this was his party, really, she felt he deserved at least that.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

Rowena got home early, as she'd hoped. There was no sign of Sammy. Before long his friends started to arrive, with decorations, with food, with drinks. They put some music on the stereo and set everything up. Rowena kept looking at the clock; it got closer and closer to Sammy's expected arrival time.

Then the phone rang.

“Hello?” Rowena asked, after shushing everyone just in case.

“Hi, love; it's me. I'm afraid I'm going to be late tonight.”

“Late?” Rowena asked. She looked at his friends, saw Barb roll her eyes, saw Mike grin and shake his head. Dean raised his glass in a toast to the telephone—presumably to Sammy, on the other end of it.

“Yeah,” Sammy was saying. “They got my computer running and right now they're checking it out. After that I'll have to do a few things. But don't worry; I should be home in a couple hours.”

After Rowena hung up she began to laugh. She knew Sammy might be later than two hours. She knew the food would have to be reheated, and that Sammy himself, by the time he arrived, might not be in the mood for a party at all. But she laughed, and all his friends laughed with her, and while she was laughing somebody put a drink in her hand and she didn't even notice who.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

By the time Ken, taking his shift at the window, called, “He's coming! Quiet!” most of the food was gone and the party could almost be said to be in full swing; Rowena almost felt that she was not just the only nervous person there but the only one who was really waiting for the surprisee. Almost . . . save for all the people who kept drifting to the window to look out with whoever was on guard duty.

At Ken's alarm, the room hushed quickly, aside from a certain amount of giggling and panicked dashes for cover. And then the sound of the door, of Sammy's voice calling her. And then Sammy walked in.

“Surprise!”

His face was blank at first; once he realized what was going on he looked almost as confused as pleased. “Thanks,” he said, “but what'd I do?”

“We've decided,” Mike said, “that you've been overworked, underamused, underconfused, and . . . so on and so forth.”

“We thought this would be more civilized than kidnapping you,” said Barb.

“And less likely to get us punched,” added Dean.

“To Sammy!” Mike yelled, hoisting his glass as Rowena handed another, newly filled, to her fiancé. “Future lawyer, future husband, and past, present, and future great guy!”

“To Sammy!” yelled everybody else. And in the quiet that followed as they drank Rowena heard the phone ring.

“Oops!” she said. “Neighbors. Sorry.” And she went to apologize for the noise.

“Hello?” she said.

“Rowena!” yelled her sister. “You know that dress you wouldn't buy—um, wouldn't loan me the money for?”

“Maralynne,” said Rowena, “could we talk about this later? We're having a party.”

“A what?

“A party.” Rowena signalled to the guests, who obliged her with peals of somewhat maniacal laughter.

“A party? Can I come?”

“It's a bunch of people Sammy knows. Professional types. Not in the entertainment industry,” she added hastily. Dean rushed over and began declaiming some sort of nonsense—at least Rowena thought it was nonsense—about tax codes. She tried not to listen.

Bor-ing,” Maralynne said. “Why don't you have a good party? Special. With good people and stuff? Fun people, like me, plus some producers. Important people. And invite me when you do.”

Rowena looked around at her fiancé's friends. She remembered the work Mike had done for her, and of how patient everybody had been with Sammy's lateness and everything else. How some of them had arranged to leave their jobs early tonight, how they'd brought the food and decorations, and helped her with them.

To her sister she said, “Maybe someday we will. Listen, Maralynne, I have to go. Talk to you later.”

And she hung up the phone and rejoined the party.



_____________________________/


What's Next?
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