|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Serious.||Rowena Moves In, Part 6|
Rowena tugged gently on her dog's leash. “Not in the flower bed, Linus; come on.” Linus allowed himself to be redirected onto the lawn in front of Rowena's apartment building, his usual spot. Somebody else had used the flower bed recently, Rowena saw, and hadn't cleaned up afterwards. She turned away.
“Good boy, Linus. Good boy.”
“Rowena!” It was Mrs. Masters, the landlady.
“Yes, Mrs. Ma—”
“Are you letting your dog mess the flower bed?”
“No, Mrs. Masters.” Rowena held up her bag. “Linus uses the lawn by the gutter, and I pick up after him.”
Mrs. Masters, who was usually quite friendly to Rowena, came up to her, scowling. “Well, somebody's been messing the flower bed. Look at that!”
“I saw it,” Rowena said. “That's from a bigger dog. It's not from Linus.”
“H'mmm,” said Mrs. Masters. Linus finished his task, and Rowena moved to perform hers, but Mrs. Masters shooed her away. “Let me see that,” she said. She examined the stool closely, then looked again at the one in the flower bed, and then back again. “You're right,” she said. “That one is bigger. Actually, it looks like the size my Wilburette leaves.” Rowena hastened over with her plastic bag, turning her face so Mrs. Masters wouldn't see her smile. She had never actually seen Wilburette going in the flower bed, but she did know that Mrs. Masters' husband could be very lazy.
She left Mrs. Masters standing there and continued with Linus' walk. It was Saturday, a pleasant Saturday—a wonderful Saturday, because she was going to Sammy's place, and she hadn't seen Sammy in days.
“But I can't stay the night,” she told Linus out loud, “because of you.” Linus wagged his tail, happy to be spoken to. Rowena smiled. She had a hard time getting annoyed with him.
They turned the corner. Sometimes Sammy spent the night at her place, when they weren't working late and he wasn't on call, didn't have to stay by his phone and his computer. Twice that week their evening telephone calls had been interrupted by a coworker who'd needed Sammy to do some research. Rowena had decided she did not like Call Waiting.
Linus startled a butterfly and went chasing after it; to Rowena's relief the creature sailed up beyond his reach and flittered to safety. “You little heathen,” she told Linus. “Don't eat butterflies. They're too pretty.” But Linus merely poked his nose into another bush and pretended he hadn't heard.
When Rowena brought him back to her building, she found that Mrs. Masters had gone. The dog doo in the flower bed was nowhere in sight.
“Hi; come on in.” A smiling Sammy opened the door wider to admit her. “Here; let me take that.” He relieved her of the cake she had insisted on bringing and gave her a kiss; a rather longer kiss than one might expect at the front door.
“Glad to see me?” Rowena asked afterwards. Sammy smiled, put his free hand into her hair, and kissed her again.
“Glad to see you,” he said. He touched her cheek and led her to the kitchen, where he set the cake down on the counter.
But Rowena wasn't looking at the counter. Sammy had smoothed a tablecloth over his table, and set a vase of flowers in the middle of it. A candle waited on each side.
“Sammy!” Rowena hadn't even known he had a tablecloth.
“Like it?” he asked.
“Good,” said Sammy. “You can take the flowers home with you.”
She looked from Sammy to the table, and back to Sammy. “Thank you,” she said. “What's the occasion?”
“Do I need an occasion to give my beloved a bouquet?” Sammy asked. Rowena watched him a moment, but decided not to press him further.
“Something smells good,” she told him instead.
“Cornish game hens,” Sammy said. “And red potatoes, and asparagus, and I've got some rolls here, and a salad . . .”
Usually when Sammy cooked for her he made spaghetti or perhaps omelettes. Rowena looked at him. “It's not that complicated,” Sammy said. “Have faith.”
“I'm sure it'll be fine,” Rowena said. From the look he gave her she knew they both knew she suspected something, was humoring him, and that he was letting her.
He made her sit down and simply watch as he finished the preparations, sneaking a peek at the directions on the heat-and-serve roll package as if afraid she would think less of him for having to check. As he worked she told him about her job and about her latest run-in with Mrs. Masters. Sammy was amused. Eventually everything was ready and he brought it all to the table, moved the centerpiece to one side, lit the candles, and turned off the overhead lights. “Wait a minute,” he said. He turned the lights back on and went into the living room; in a moment music started up, soft violin strains. Then Sammy returned and switched the lights back off.
“Music and everything,” Rowena noted. She realized she was smiling.
“Your own private restaurant,” Sammy said. He produced a bottle of wine and a cork remover, then stopped and looked at her. “Feel free to flirt with the waiter,” he said. Rowena laughed. He grinned at her, then went back to the wine bottle.
They toasted each other, and he kissed her again.
“That was lovely,” Rowena said. “Thank you.”
“My pleasure,” Sammy replied. He picked up his wineglass, drank, and put the glass down. “Rowena,” he said.
He looked at her, and then at his glass. Rowena waited, watching him. He looked at her, gave her a little smile, then reached across the table, took her hand, and kissed it.
“I, um, I thought . . . I thought maybe we could talk about something,” Sammy said. Rowena took a breath, let it out.
“Okay,” she said. He squeezed her hand.
“Remember,” he said, “that time the condom broke and we thought maybe . . . maybe we'd have to make some changes?”
“Yes,” Rowena said. Her voice sounded odd to her, distant. “I remember.”
“And you weren't sure you were ready for . . . for marriage.”
He gave her hand another squeeze, rocked both their hands a bit on the table. “Do you still feel the same way?”
She closed her eyes. She couldn't look at him; she couldn't look at anything. “I know it's silly,” she said. “I—I'm afraid I'd turn into my mother. I mean, I know I'm not much like her now, and I know you're not much like my dad, but—but I'm afraid I'd turn into my mom.”
“Well,” Sammy said, “we wouldn't want that.” She opened her eyes and looked at him. He was regarding her steadily; she couldn't quite be sure whether he was smiling or not. “I don't think you would turn into your mother, but I understand the—the fear. Believe me, I understand it.” This time, she squeezed his hand, thinking of his runaway father, still a sore point with Sammy after several years. He returned the squeeze, raised her hand, and gave it another kiss. “Rowena, my darling, I didn't ask you here to pester you. I'm not going to go and . . . I just want to talk about a few things. Okay?”
Sammy looked a while into the distance, considering. “This getting together when we can and calling in the evening when we . . . have to stay apart . . . It wasn't so bad in the beginning, but now . . . now I want more of you. Need more, even.” He looked at her, quite steadily, waiting for a response.
“I know what you mean,” she said. “I feel the same way.”
“I love you,” Sammy said, “and I think we're good for each other. I know you're good for me; I can feel it.” Rowena nodded, looking at their clasped hands; she wasn't sure what would happen to her voice if she tried to speak. Sammy said, “Is there anything else that's bothering you about the idea of marriage?” He paused, looking at her. “Forget it's me you're talking to,” he said. “Pretend I'm your therapist, or your best female friend, or somebody.”
Rowena looked at him. “I don't know anybody else I'd discuss this with,” she said. “Not . . . you know. Seriously.”
He kissed her hand, gently. “Talk to me,” he said. “What do you have to say?”
Rowena took a breath. “I love you,” she began. She wished suddenly she were sitting in his lap. “Everything that happens to me, I want to go and tell you about it, even—even if it's about dog shit.” Sammy gave a brief, soft chuckle, and Rowena went on a little more bravely. “I never spend enough time with you, and when you call me—when I hear your voice on the phone, I . . . I can't even describe what it does to me, it's as if everything inside me lifts up, expands . . . only it's not as good as seeing you, just seeing you . . .”
Sammy waited a moment for her to continue. “But?” he asked, gently.
Rowena shut her eyes. “But what if for some reason it doesn't work, what if I'm not ready, and what if I end up like my mom?” She took a breath. “And she's been pestering me to and pestering me to, and almost anything she likes is a bad idea, and even if she's right this time, I want it to be my idea and not hers.”
Sammy was massaging her hand with both of his. “What if it's my idea?” he asked. “Is that close enough?”
“You know what I mean.”
“I know what you mean.” His tone was still gentle. “I would like you to ask yourself how much control your mother should have over your life. How much you should consider what she wants, and what she doesn't want, and how your own choices will affect her—or your image of her.” Rowena looked at him. “I'm not telling you what to do,” he said. “Especially I'm not telling you what choices to make. But . . . I think it would be something to consider.”
“I know,” Rowena said.
“I didn't mean to upset you, darling,” Sammy said. “I just . . . wanted to see where we stood.”
“I'm not upset,” Rowena said. “Not really.”
Sammy looked into a candle flame. “This wasn't what I had in mind—this conversation. This isn't the way it was supposed to go.”
“How was it supposed to go?”
He looked at her, smiled into her eyes. “I was going to tell you how much you mean to me, and then you were going to—to say something similar. And then I thought you would probably tell me that you didn't feel ready for marriage, because . . . because it's a big step, and a big hassle to arrange, and I just didn't have the impression you'd changed your mind. And I don't want to rush you; I know it's exactly the wrong thing to do, for every reason. So I thought you'd say you weren't ready, and then I'd . . .” He ran one hand over his hair, then spread it out on the table, and then folded it again over hers. “I'd tell you how I'd like to handle the . . . situation. How we could see more of each other and . . . everything.” He looked down, then back at her. “If you're still not ready for marriage,” he said, “I would like you to consider our moving in together.” His eyes were earnest and a bit anxious; they held an appeal he had hinted at before but had never pressed her to answer to. Rowena felt a sort of heat spread in her chest; she felt everything else go very still. “I think it's time,” Sammy said, glancing away again. “I really do. And I do want to live with you. Because I want to see you every day, and every night. And even if you're working late or something, and I'm there alone, it would mean something to me to be in our home, our very own home, and to know that you will join me there in a while.”
“Oh, Sammy.” Rowena looked away from him and at their hands, still lying clasped on the table.
“I love you,” Sammy said. “I don't want to be just the guy you're dating.”
Rowena looked at him, into his warm, earnest eyes, and then back at their hands on the table. She imagined herself telling her parents she was moving in with Sammy, telling her sister. Rowena had never lived with a lover before; neither had Sammy. She had never been quite so responsible for another person. Just Linus . . . She looked back down at her hand and Sammy's, linked. She imagined herself telling Aunt Glad, and actually found herself smiling; then she imagined herself telling her grandmother.
She imagined herself with Sammy, sharing a bed night after night. She thought of the luxury of doing nothing, of spending a quiet evening at home; of a Sunday morning with just the two of them.
“What if Linus and Caesar don't get along?” she asked.
“If we find a new place, they'll both be on neutral territory,” Sammy said. “They should be okay.”
She thought again of telling her mother, of going to dinner at her mother's place in a week and a half. “When are you getting married?” she heard her mother say.
It wouldn't be the first time her mother had said that.
She looked into Sammy's eyes and smiled. “Yes,” she said. “Let's find a place of our own.”
The smile that broke over his face was one she knew she would remember. He leaned towards her but the table was too big; he had to get out of his chair to come kiss her. She met him halfway.
They held each other for a long time.
Eventually Sammy gave her a single, sweet little kiss and stepped back. Keeping one hand on her he reached for one of the candles, blew it out, and set it back down. He picked up the other candle, holder and all, and, carrying it carefully before him, took Rowena by the hand and led her to his bedroom. He placed the candle carefully on his nightstand, turned to Rowena and kissed her again.
And every kiss, and every touch—as he caressed her, as he unfastened her clothing piece by piece and drew it off—every touch seemed both a promise and a reminder. And when he helped her into his bed and then stretched himself out alongside her, there in the candlelight . . . her eyes closed now, his tongue in her mouth, his hand moving down to her hip; once sex with Sammy had been a big step . . .
She shifts herself, spreads her legs wider, invitingly; she is impatient but she wants to prolong this; she feels his desire as well and how it somehow extends beyond this one night, this night when she'll have to go home. And she cries out, his hand between her legs, and she stops thinking for a while, his mouth leaving hers for her breasts, and after a while it goes down where his hand was and she is surprised at how soon she stiffens and convulses, and how loud she has become, her entire body seized and seizing . . .
And then wholly relaxed as Sammy works his way up her, touching, kissing, looking into her eyes as he enters her, his voice just audible above hers, Oh, Rowena; Rowena; I love you; Oh, darling and she knows it's true, she knows it's right, all of it; soon they'll be together every night; soon she won't have to go away, she'll be home, home with him; soon—
And again flung about, jerking and twisting wildly; she feels she could even fling herself right off the bed but for Sammy holding her, holding her safe.
Volume II: Rowena Gets Serious.
Book 6: Rowena Moves In.
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