|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life.||Rowena Tries To Help Her Sister, Part 2|
Rowena looked around her sister's kitchen. Cooking Lesson Number One was supposedly minutes away, with a human guinea pig and everything, but Maralynne's kitchen seemed determined to put up a fight. “I thought you said you were going to clean up,” she said bravely.
Maralynne rolled her eyes. “I did clean up,” she said. “I washed a whole sinkful of dishes and took out the garbage.”
“Well, that's very commendable, I'm sure, but—”
“It took me three and a half trips. The garbage.”
“Three and a—”
“Don't laugh. If you laugh at me I'll—”
“I wasn't laughing. I just never heard of anyone making half a trip before. Listen, don't you think we should clean up a little extra? For Sammy, who is after all not your sister?”
“Um, actually, I thought it would be easier—I thought maybe if I got all dressed up he might not notice—”
Rowena closed her eyes. “Maralynne,” she said, “haven't you realized by now that that only works with jerks? You know, like Brian? The one you're trying to replace with someone better?”
Maralynne rolled her eyes again. “If I'm going out with a guy, he has to be interested.”
“If he's going out with you he can't be too repelled. Maralynne, listen. Clothes do not make the woman. A relationship based on sex appeal is—”
“You feel threatened, don't you? Admit it. You feel threatened.”
“Mostly,” said Rowena, “I feel you're threatening to bring me your boy troubles for the rest of my life.
“Now at least let's clear a little counter space so we can work,” she continued, before Maralynne could object. “You know? Cook? What I supposedly came here to help you with?”
Maralynne sighed. “Shee-yit. If you're going to be like that—”
“One of us has to be. Maralynne, there isn't a square inch here. Or on the table. Either we do this—”
“All right, all right. As long as you help. Let me find my washrag.”
Rowena called Sammy and moved the dinner back an hour. “That bad?” Sammy asked. Rowena looked over at Maralynne, banging dishes around in the sink and pretending not to listen. “I gotta go,” Rowena said. “See you later.”
Rowena located a clean dishcloth and began drying dishes. “So he's your boyfriend,” Maralynne muttered. “Doesn't make him blind, necessarily.” Rowena pretended she hadn't heard.
“I've been preparing,” said Maralynne proudly. “Look.” She had a videotape in her hand. Rowena eyed it dubiously.
“What is it?”
“It's a tape I've been making of Chow Hall. I've been taping the shows and studying them at night. Or I was taping them until they shut off my cable a couple of days ago.”
“You don't know Chow Hall? It's a cooking show. It's really great. See, these two guys, Harry and Joe, they run a cooking school. Or maybe it's just part of a school; anyway, it's called Chow Hall. They even have this segment where they explain about some kind of guy food, only it turned out to be stuff like peanut butter sandwiches, so I don't pay so much attention to that part usually.”
“But the rest of it is great. I'm learning so much about vinegar, for instance; I never knew how versatile vinegar is.”
“Vinegar and pepper. Joe and Harry call it ‘getting back to basics.’ They say that all these fancy new spices are—”
“Tell me about it later,” Rowena said. “We have to get started.”
Maralynne held up the tape. “Just a few minutes. I want you to see this.”
“All right, then,” said Rowena. “A few minutes.” She went to the couch, newly cleared of laundry, and sat down. Chow Hall. She felt very dutiful.
The show began with, naturally, a view of a collegiate-looking building with a sign over the door that said “Chow Hall.” Then they were inside.
“See, that's Joe,” said Maralynne helpfully, “and that's Harry.”
“Mmmm,” said Rowena.
Maralynne settled herself comfortably. “Cute, aren't they?”
“Mmmm.” Joe and Harry introduced themselves and the show, and began cavorting around. One of them sliced a bit of butter from a convenient stick and flicked it at the other. Rowena heard Maralynne giggle. She closed her eyes, letting it all wash over her. She must have dozed, for suddenly she was startled into wakefulness by a loud explosion. “Uh-oh, Harry; looks like you forgot to punch holes in your hot dog before you put it in the microwave!” The camera zoomed in for a closer look. Maralynne giggled. Rowena shut her eyes again. Eventually she heard, “Well, so much for hot dogs,” and dared to peek. Joe and Harry, their aprons splattered with butter and miscellany, looked attentively at the camera. “Now,” said one—Rowena found she couldn't tell them apart any more—“today's Pickle Pointer.”
“Pickle Pointer?” asked Rowena.
“Sssh,” said Maralynne. The camera swept across a row of pickle jars, each containing some kind of cucumber, egg, or vegetable that Joe and Harry had put up in a previous show. “Today we're going for variety, aren't we, Joe?”
“That we are, Harry. Today we're pickling a potpourri, if you will: Pickled Plums, Prunes, Pears & Peaches.”
Rowena stared at the screen. A shudder ran through her entire body. “Maralynne,” she said nervously.
“Wait a minute, Joe. First we have to sample our previous Pickled Parsnips with Parsley.”
Rowena closed her eyes. “Mmmmmmmm,” said Harry and Joe. After a moment she heard one of them say, “Well, on to the Pickled Plums, Prunes, Pears & Peaches. As you recall, when we pickle cherries or watermelon rinds, we add a little sugar. Well, to pickle plums, prunes, pears & peaches perfectly . . .”
Rowena struggled up from the couch and snuck off to the safety of the bathroom. She stayed there until she heard what she took to be the closing theme, and then she snuck back to find Maralynne still staring at the screen, oblivious to all else.
“Next week's Guy Food will be a grilled cheese sandwich,” said Joe or Harry, “after which we'll make Pickled Persimmons. I can't wait.”
“And the Piece of Resistance—Vinegar Pie,” put in Harry or Joe. “So until next week, this is Joe—”
“Reminding you to cook up and chow down. Goodbye!”
Rowena glanced at her watch and winced. She wondered how long she'd been asleep. “Okay, Maralynne,” she said, “Time to get to work.”
“The one about Vinegar Pie is next,” Maralynne said, “but they had some kind of technical difficulties and it got—”
“Maralynne, I think one episode is enough for now, don't you?”
“Just let me see—” But Rowena got up and turned off the set.
“Listen,” she said. “Sammy is due here any minute. Let's get started.”
She was pleased to put off voicing an opinion on Chow Hall, but was less pleased to find that Maralynne did not have an apron. Rowena hesitated. She'd brought along her own apron, to wear herself, but—
“I sent away for the Chow Hall Apron & Oven Mitt Set,” said Maralynne, “but it hasn't arrived yet.” Rowena decided not to ask whether the aprons—presumably copies of the ones Joe and Harry had worn on the show—came pre-stained or not. “And the Chow Hall book and the Chow Hall trivet and the Chow Hall coffee mug; you can always use an extra coffee mug. By the way, what's a trivet?”
Rowena took a deep breath and began explaining, but before she got very far the doorbell rang. Maralynne let out a squeal. “I'm not dressed!” she said, and dashed for the bedroom. Rowena stared after her a moment, then went to let Sammy in.
“If you recall,” Rowena told him in a low voice, “I asked you along because you're kind of obligated to forgive me—”
“Relax,” said Sammy.
“Relax.” He kissed her, and Rowena almost did relax.
“I didn't ask my parents because—”
“Your dad wouldn't come anyway because Maralynne doesn't have cable right now and your mom would invite Ferd Frannon, who is so appalling even your sister hates him.”
“So I have to subject you of all people—”
“What do you mean, ‘of all people?’” demanded Sammy. “Not only am I indeed eminently qualified to determine whether something is ‘guy food,’ or otherwise fit to be fed to a boyfriend, but I have a sense of humor and I love you. What could be better?”
“Don't say ‘guy food.’ Maralynne made me watch this imbecilic show that, when it wasn't putting me to sleep or showing us how to have a food fight, seemed to consist mainly of demonstrations of ways to terrorize people with exploding hot dogs and weird pickles.”
“Were the hot dogs pickled?”
“I dunno; I was asleep. You could ask Maralynne, but try to do it when I'm not around.”
Sammy smiled at her. “I'm more interested in things I can do when she's not around,” he said, and kissed her again. She was feeling much better by the time Maralynne returned.
“Hi,” said Maralynne casually, posing in the doorway. A red silk top threatened to slide from her shoulders and down to her black vinyl micro-miniskirt. A couple of inches of bare flesh was visible between her hem and the tops of her fishnet stockings—a couple of inches of flesh and of red-and-black garter. Her shoes of course were standard-issue Maralynne shoes, of which Rowena's friend Terese had once remarked, “Her heels are higher than her IQ.” Now Rowena looked at Maralynne and groaned inwardly. She didn't say anything, though, until she got her sister into the kitchen.
“Could I use your apron?” Maralynne asked. “I don't want to ruin my outfit.”
Rowena was wearing a new dress, a nice one. She fought to keep her temper down. “Maralynne. If you're not even prepared—” But Maralynne grabbed Rowena's apron off the counter, popped it over her head, and began tying the strings. “Good idea,” Rowena said. “At least now your garter belt won't show.” But this didn't work either.
“Men like to see women's underwear,” said Maralynne. “Don't you know anything?”
“You're so possessive. Let the poor guy enjoy himself.”
“Funny,” said Rowena. “That's not what you said when Kate—”
“That was different. She was—I don't even want to discuss it.”
“No, I don't suppose you do.” She looked up at the ceiling. “You got any old rags that are still wearable?”
“Rowena, you are not going to make me—”
“For me,” said Rowena. “Okay? For me.”
Later, as she supervised the potato-washing, she wondered why she'd been so upset when Maralynne stole her apron. They weren't making anything that splattered all that much. Except maybe the steaks, she reminded herself. She'd picked the menu herself. The book they were using, Cooking For Morons, lay propped open, sticky notes marking the relevant pages. Rowena was making Maralynne consult the book at every turn, making sure she read the instructions aloud, and then either followed them herself, or, if she was too confused, watched Rowena do it. Maralynne managed to do as she was told while behaving as if she would have figured everything out on her own if she'd felt like it. After a while, Rowena found this more-than-usually annoying.
Potatoes first, then broccoli and water into a pot and onto the stove, waiting to be turned on. Then it was time for the steaks; the salad and table-setting would be taken care of while the meat cooked. Rowena showed her sister where the broiler was, and Maralynne went to ask Sammy (suggestively, of course, and whisking off Rowena's apron) how he wanted his steak. Rowena, who'd sent her out there mainly to get rid of her for a moment, leaned against the counter and took a deep breath. Rolls; they were not to forget the rolls. She was glad she'd decided to give Maralynne (and, of course, herself) a break and simply buy the rolls.
“Apron,” she said when Maralynne returned. “Now, let's see what the book says for ‘Medium.’”
Maralynne stared at her accusingly. “How did you know he wanted Medium?” she demanded. “You were spying!”
“This place isn't exactly soundproofed,” Rowena said. “Anyway, he's my boyfriend. I've seen him eat steaks before.”
“You—then why'd you—”
“I'm trying to show you what's involved here. The whole process. Now, look at the book.”
At last they brought the food to the table, and to Sammy. “Rowena only helped a little,” said Maralynne. Rowena bit her tongue. She'd let Maralynne follow one piece of remembered Chow Hall advice; she'd brushed the steaks with vinegar and sprinkled them with pepper before putting them in to cook. Rowena wondered how her sister could remember something like that and know nothing whatever about slashing the fat. She wondered if Maralynne had slept through that part.
Sammy smiled and said something complimentary about the cooking smells. Rowena saw him look with amusement at her coverup—a giant sleepshirt emblazoned with the words, “Hot Enough For Ya?”—and decided to leave it on through dinner. She sat down, pleased to have survived the hard part.
The meal went well enough until Sammy's glass ran empty. “I don't have anything else,” said Maralynne, frowning at the empty bottle. Rowena mentally kicked herself.
“Never mind,” said Sammy pleasantly, “I'll just get some water.” And he pushed back his chair.
“I've got an idea!” Maralynne cried. “Wait, wait, wait!” She jumped up, grabbed Sammy's glass, and disappeared with it. Sammy and Rowena looked at each other. “I can't imagine,” Rowena said.
Maralynne returned eventually with a full glass and a not-full pitcher. “Here you go,” she said. The liquid looked like water. Sammy dutifully took a sip—and sat with an extraordinary expression on his face.
“Surprised?” asked Maralynne.
“I'm stunned,” said Sammy. “Um, what—”
“Homemade lemonade!” Maralynne announced. “Remember, Rowena, how Aunt Glad used to make us all lemonade? Well, I looked through the cookbook and I found the recipe and there it is!”
“It doesn't look like lemonade,” said Rowena.
“Not really. See, I didn't have any lemon juice, but I remembered that Joe and Harry were making sour milk one day and they said you could use either lemon juice or vinegar, that there's lots of times you can—are you okay?” Sammy had turned a very odd color and was staring very seriously down at his food, his mouth in a tight line. He tried to say something, looked at Rowena—and burst out laughing.
Maralynne watched him. “For Pete's sake,” she said, miffed. “Making fun of me.”
“Harry and Joe.” Rowena tried not to giggle. “Or Joe and Harry; whichever.”
Rowena took Sammy's glass, which smelled of vinegar, and had a sip. Sweet diluted vinegar. The taste was even funnier than the idea. She began to laugh.
“Give me that!” said Maralynne crossly. She took a sip. She frowned as if puzzled, looked at the glass, then at Rowena and Sammy, and took another sip.
“You know,” she said thoughtfully, “Harry said once that substitutions don't always work out.”
Rowena almost slid under the table. “Good for Harry!” she managed to say. “Maybe we should drink to his health.”
Sammy and Rowena walked to their respective cars. “See?” said Sammy. “That wasn't so bad.”
“Vinegarade,” said Rowena. “Wow.”
“We had fun,” Sammy told her. “And the food itself was fine.”
“The baked apples?”
“Almost the best part.” He kissed her. “Come visit?”
Rowena nodded. But she kept him standing there a while longer. “She needs more lessons,” she said.
“One mistake down, 999 to go,” said Sammy.
“You do look on the bright side, don't you?” asked Rowena. She gave him what she thought would be a quick hug, and was surprised at how long it lasted.
Volume I: Rowena Gets a Life.
Book 4: Rowena Tries To Help Her Sister.
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