|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Serious.||Rowena Moves In, Part 9|
Rowena looked up from Mr. Schmed's latest memo to see Eloise standing by her desk. “I just want you to know,” Eloise said, “that your name came up in the big meeting.”
“Oh,” Rowena said, and waited. As Eloise did not seem angry this was probably not a bad thing, but one could never be too careful with Eloise.
“It was said,” Eloise went on, “that you are a good problem-solver and can work with others.”
“Ah,” Rowena said. “That's nice.” She had a small sinking feeling; what problem were they going to give her, and what (presumably difficult) people was she going to have to work with?
Eloise offered no clues; she only nodded so that her stiff, false-looking curls bobbed precisely twice. “Just thought you'd like to know,” she said. “Keep up the good work!”
“Um, who said it? If you don't mind?”
This time Eloise shook her head so that the curls went sideways. “Can't tell you. Have a productive day.” And she left.
Rowena considered this a while, then went back to her memo. “All employees are important to the company,” it read. “We recognize that everyone has something to offer. W. Schmed.”
Rowena suspected that both the memo and the visit from Eloise were meant to be encouraging, or even motivating, but they weren't. She picked up her report and started in on it, trying to act as though nothing were happening.
“Hi; how's it going?” Rowena put her finger down to mark her place and looked up; Carla was holding a folder in both hands and smiling down at her.
“Not too bad,” Rowena said, and waited. Carla put the folder down on Rowena's desk.
“Good,” she said. “Because I can't figure out Paragraph 6, and I was wondering . . .”
Rowena opened the folder and found the paragraph in question. She read it, then read it again, then checked to see who'd written it, but there was no name.
“Where'd you get this thing?” she asked.
“Eloise. Where'd you think?”
“It doesn't make a whole lot of sense.”
“No kidding; why'd you think I brought it to you?”
Rowena tried reading it again, slowly. And then she took a sharp pencil and began making light, very fine lines. “Let's see,” she said. “If we just take out all of the buzzwords and obvious gobbledygook . . .” Carla peered over her shoulder.
“Hey!” she said. “Hey!”
“That any help?” Rowena asked.
“Yeah; great. Thanks.” Carla picked up her report. “A minute ago I had no idea what this was about. Now I know it's stupid.”
Rowena watched her leave, then went back to her own project. She'd only managed a couple of paragraphs before she was interrupted again.
“Rowena!” said Jim. “You're a girl.”
Rowena put her pen down and turned to face him. “What?”
“You're a girl. I mean, you know . . . girl things.”
Rowena took a deep breath. “What girl things did you have in mind?” she asked.
He picked up Rowena's spindle and began to fidget with it. The spindle had papers stuck onto it; one of them slid off and away through the air. Rowena snatched the spindle from Jim's hands and he went off after the errant paper. He handed it to Rowena a bit sheepishly, and she stuck it back where it belonged.
“Jim,” she said, “what is it?”
“Oh, yeah, right. Well, it's Candace. You know Candace?”
“You've mentioned her.”
“Right. Well, she had a fit last night because I went to a movie with some friends instead of going to see her.”
“Had you told her you would see her?” Rowena asked.
“Well, yeah, but—I mean, my friends were going to this movie, and Candace would have hated it, so I couldn't have taken her to it, so if I hadn't gone last night with my friends, I would have had to go see it alone. Or missed it.” Jim paused, staring dreamily off into the space above Rowena's head. “You wouldn'ta believed this explosion they had.”
“So was this movie more important than Candace?”
“Well, that's how it's going to look to her, isn't it?” He stared at her.
“A movie?” He picked Rowena's paper clip holder off the desk and began to fiddle with it. “It was just a movie,” he said.
“Well, then, maybe you shouldn't have gone. Or—”
“Rowena!” Jim objected. The paper clip holder went sideways and paper clips scattered everywhere. Jim stared at them a moment, as if unsure as to how they got there, and then bent to pick them up.
“You want my advice?” Rowena asked. “You go apologize to her and don't do anything like that again. Okay? That's my advice.”
From somewhere on the other side of the desk came Jim's voice, aggrieved. “Rowena!”
“Jim, I have work to do. Okay? You did a bad thing and now you have to apologize. Right?”
Jim got up and poured Rowena's paper clips back into their cup. “That's what I get for finding your paper clips for you,” he said, and left.
Rowena took a deep breath and went back to work. This time she got through three paragraphs. “Rowena, could you look this over for me?”
This obviously was not going to be a day for getting her project done. She sighed, took Janet's papers, and looked them over.
“Well,” she began, “what's the—”
“Hey, Rowena, could you do mine next?”
“And ours after that.”
“I've got a personal problem,” said Sara. “You can do mine last, after everybody else leaves.”
“My problem's more personal than yours,” said Leslie Campbell.
“What is going on here?” demanded Rowena. There were seven people around her desk. She looked at them all in turn. There was a brief silence.
“We, um . . . we heard you were good with problems—”
“And . . . people stuff . . .”
“So . . . here we are.”
Rowena put her forehead on the palm of her hand. She wondered when or if this would ever end. “Listen,” she said. “There are too many of you.”
“I was here first!” said Janet.
“No,” said Rowena, “you were here third. And I have a project of my own.”
“But I only—”
“It's okay, Janet. Leslie, get out of here.”
“But I have this problem that—”
“Is it the same problem you always have?” Rowena asked. Everybody knew about Leslie, how he was continually chasing Rowena around. There were snickers, and Leslie slunk off muttering to himself.
“Sara,” Rowena continued, “could you wait until after lunch?”
“How 'bout during lunch? Noon?”
“Sorry,” said Rowena, not sorry at all. “I'm one o'clock today.”
That left five people and only three problems; two problems really, as it turned out that one of the people just wanted to complain. Rowena did what she could for them, wondering all the while whether this was Eloise's fault. And if not Eloise's—whose?
It seemed to take forever for the hands of Rowena's clock to turn to one o'clock and lunchtime. She left promptly, before anybody else could pounce on her. An hour; a whole hour by herself.
Just Rowena and her barely-touched report.
When Rowena returned she brought not only her report, rather less pathetic-looking than it had been, but also a cup of carry-out tea, to fortify her for the afternoon. Sara, as she had expected, was waiting for her.
“He won't notice me! What do I do?”
“Hang on,” Rowena said. She sat down, arranged her things, and took a sip of tea. “Is this Boris you're talking about?”
“Of course it's Boris! Who else?” Sara tried to sit on Rowena's desk but there were too many papers on it and Rowena waved her away. “I smile at him, I tell him jokes, I wore my blazer that matches my eyes . . . He doesn't even know I'm alive!”
“Well,” said Rowena, “he is a computer nerd.”
“And what is that supposed to mean?”
“My sister's boyfriend is a nerd,” Rowena said. This was not quite the answer to Sara's question, but she thought it would get her attention. “He noticed her right off. She was wearing a miniskirt with a low-cut—”
“I can't dress like that here!”
“So ask him out. Or—”
“I hinted and hinted—”
“So be blunt. Ask him right out. Or come here dressed like a tart some day you're off and he's working. Or show him a picture of yourself and tell him you have a ‘technical’ question about it. Ask him what he thinks of—of the exposure.”
“Rowena!” Sara's eyes were enormous. But Rowena thought she looked a little pleased.
“Remember,” Rowena said, “Boris is a hard guy to influence or intimidate or, I suspect, impress. You can't just hint.”
After Sara left, Rowena tried again to get back to work. But after a while she saw a movement and looked up to see Lorraine bearing down on her with paper in her hand. Well, Rowena thought resignedly, as long as it's work and not some personal loopiness. Lorraine came and stood at attention by her desk, holding the paper or papers up in front of her chest like a shield. “Hey, Rowena. Could you help me with something?”
“If it's important,” Rowena said, “then maybe I can.”
“Oh, thanks,” said Lorraine. She reverently placed a form of some kind on top of Rowena's own paperwork.
Rowena scanned over it. “What the hell is this?”
“Rowena! Watch your language!” Lorraine, who was not old enough to say things like that to anyone Rowena's age without looking very foolish, picked the papers up reverently, as if to save them from contagion. “It's the entry form for the Beautiful Baby Contest.”
“The what?” Rowena demanded.
“The Beautiful Baby Contest. We're entering Macky. See—”
“You're entering your baby in a beauty contest? Lorraine, that's—”
“You can't start too young to make a name for yourself. And the prize money will go to her education.”
“Ah,” Rowena said. “I was wondering why Ms. Progressive Mother would get involved in something like that.”
“Rowena! That's not fair.”
“Lorraine, get somebody else to help you. I don't have time for this. I've had people coming up all—”
“You don't have time! I've got to get this mailed today!” Lorraine waved her arms in a manner clearly designed to instill a sense of urgency in the observer. “This is my daughter's future we're talking about!”
“Not me,” said Rowena. “I'm talking about my job.” She picked up her pen and tried to look engrossed in her report. But Lorraine was not discouraged.
“Is that the most important thing in your life, your stupid job?” she asked. “I feel sorry for you. I really do.”
“My stupid job is not the most important thing in my life, but it's definitely more important than some stupid beauty contest. Especially when the contestant is too young to even know she's in a contest at all!”
“Well!” said Lorraine. “Just wait'll you have children of your own, that's all I can say. Just wait! See if I give you any help with them!” And she marched off, but stopped after two or three steps and turned back. “And they said you're good with people's problems,” she said, and flounced off.
Rowena felt she would not mind being ignored by Lorraine, but she suspected she had not escaped that easily. She allowed herself a quick glance at her clock, then returned to her report.
Her coworkers kept coming: She sent Larry to his supervisor and Berna, who didn't have a problem but had heard that everybody else was pestering Rowena and thought it sounded like a good idea, back to her desk. She was just thinking how glad she was that Marjorie was out all day when Eloise reappeared. Rowena, who was really afraid of Eloise only when her projects weren't going well, greeted her a bit nervously. “Here,” Eloise said, setting a folder on her desk. “The Macavity Report.”
“I'm not done with my—”
“Don't worry; finish what you've got first. We're trying an experiment in Empowerment. We give the Macavity Report to you, and you get to choose the rest of your team.”
“Oh,” said Rowena. She supposed it might be an honor, of a sort, but she didn't really want to work with a team.
“Once you get your team selected, you can divide up the work however you like; whatever you and your teammates feel most comfortable with.” She gave Rowena her rare, rather worrisome smile. “It's all there, in the top sheet. For now, just finish your other project and start thinking about who you want on your team.”
“Thanks,” Rowena said. She didn't know what else to say. Eloise patted her back, or, more accurately, the back of her chair.
“Keep up the good work,” she said, and left.
Rowena looked over the instruction sheet Eloise had left. It seemed pretty straightforward. She was leafing through the report, just to get an idea of what was involved, when Steve walked up.
She didn't give him a chance to tell her what his problem was. “Hi, Steve. Eloise just gave me the Macavity Report. I'm supposed to assemble a team to work on it,” she continued casually. “Whoever I want, and I get to divide up the workload, too.” She smiled at him, very sweetly. “What was it you wanted from me?”
“Nothing,” he said, backing away. “I didn't want anything. Just—to say hello.” He almost backed into Marjorie's desk. He turned and made his escape as Rowena continued to smile as though nothing were wrong.
Which was one way to describe her mood. Rowena picked up her original report and went back to work. Let them come, she thought; let them come. I dare them.
Volume II: Rowena Gets Serious.
Book 6: Rowena Moves In.
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