|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Married.||Rowena Gets Ready, Part 12|
Rowena called her sister for the umpteenth time to try and arrange the choosing of the bridesmaid's dresses for her upcoming wedding. Maralynne had no time, no time at all. Everyone else was flexible; everyone else was fine. “Just kidnap her,” Rowena's maid of honor, Terese, had said. “Or have your mother do it.” Rowena wished her sister were one-tenth as eager to get her married off as her mother was. She took a deep breath and dialed. Maralynne answered the phone in her usual oversexed manner.
“I talked to Mom,” Rowena said, “and she said you have Wednesdays off.”
Rowena did her best to continue calmly. “So you do have Wednesdays off?”
“Well, kinda,” Maralynne said.
Rowena plowed on. “So how about lunchtime Wednesday? Next week? That way everybody—”
Maralynne huffed. “But Chester and I were going to take some more pictures for the GlamCam,” she said. “We always put new pictures up on Wednesday. Wednesday and—”
Sometimes her sister's naughty Web site was just a bit annoying, and sometimes it was an actual problem. “What if you took the pictures on Tuesday night and put them up on Wednesday?” Rowena asked. “I expect Chester can put them up without your even being there.”
“But if I do that I won't get to see all my fans come in and look.” Maralynne said. “I won't be able to—”
“Maralynne, this is important. I have to work something out somehow. Could you maybe . . .” Rowena consulted the notes she had made concerning her sister's schedule. “Could you change your Tuesday manicure appointment? Maybe make it for before work instead of—”
“What, and ruin my nails right after they're done?”
“Maralynne, it's not that much worse than doing them at lunch and then going back to work. Please? Just this one time?”
“Madame Zelda says I need routine. Madame Zelda says—”
Rowena liked her sister's psychic even less than she liked her sister's Web site. “Has Madame Zelda ever tried to get married?” she asked. “And has she ever tried to put you in her wedding party?”
“Rowena! What a thing to—”
“All I meant is that sometimes you have to change your routine, even if it's usually good for you. Maralynne, please. Just this once.”
“I have to do the GlamCam on Wednesday. People are counting on me.”
“Well . . . could you shift something else, then? Or do the GlamCam a little later? You'd probably have more traffic later in the day,” she added, suddenly feeling crafty. “You could put up a teaser of some kind and work up some anticipation, and then later in the day when everyone is—”
“Wow,” said Maralynne. Even over the phone Rowena could see how big her eyes were.
“So,” Rowena continued, pleased with herself, “if you did that, you'd be free Wednesday afternoon for—”
“Wow,” Maralynne said.
“So,” Rowena said to Eloise, “that long lunch I asked about—if I could have it Wednesday of next week.”
“Wednesday,” said Eloise.
“If I could,” Rowena said. If I can't, she thought, I am in trouble. If I have to go through all that with Maralynne one more time . . . She took a deep breath, and let it out again when Eloise reached for her calendar, her notepad, and her pen.
There was a knock at the door, and at Eloise's invitation Sebastian came in. “Excuse me,” he said to Rowena, with a smile that before it was known whose nephew he was would have turned most of his female coworkers into jelly. He went on to discuss with Eloise some details of his current project as Rowena considered, among other things, how lucky she was not to have ended up, like her mother and sister, embarrassingly crazed where men were concerned. She found her slight—very slight, she assured herself—reaction to Sebastian embarrassing enough. She let Eloise and Sebastian talk about names and dates without paying much attention, until finally Sebastian, with a “Thanks” this time, took his leave.
“Now,” said Eloise, “where were we?”
“Wednesday,” said Rowena. “I have to—”
“Right, Wednesday.” Eloise wrote several things down on her calendar, then raised her head to give Rowena her famous stare. “Anything else?”
“Um, no,” said Rowena. “Just my—my long lunch.”
“Very well. You may go.” And Eloise began, without ceremony, to shuffle through her papers. Rowena hesitated just a moment, and left.
Rowena called her other bridesmaids and her maid of honor, called the bridal shop, finalized the arrangements, then put down the phone and sighed with relief. “Finally,” she said aloud. “Finally.”
She had a date and time for the big trip to the bridal shop to pick out the bridesmaids' gowns. All the bridesmaids' schedules, and her own, had finally come together, and she had her appointment all set up.
Now all she had to worry about was the dresses themselves—the dresses and, of course, her sister.
On the day of her appointment she went to work secure in the knowledge that everything was taken care of. She had her appointment, she had her long lunch . . .
Or so she thought.
“Here,” said Eloise, holding out a folder. Rowena took it without thinking. “This is Molly's project,” Eloise said. “It's due by two o'clock, and Molly called in sick today.”
Rowena had a sinking feeling. “Eloise,” she began.
“It's nearly finished,” Eloise said.
“Eloise, I have absolutely no idea—she never told me a thing about this, and—”
“It's nearly finished,” said Eloise again, “and all you have to do is on that yellow sheet in there—and have a look at the graph—”
“It shouldn't take you more than a couple of hours.”
“Eloise, I requested a long lunch today. I was given a long lunch today. I have to—”
“Your long lunch is next week,” Eloise said. “I have it on my calendar.”
“Next week? It was supposed to be for this week. Today!”
“Next week,” Eloise said.
“Eloise, I told you—How can that have—”
“You may have a long lunch today,” Eloise said, “provided this project is finished by two.”
“But I have an appointment in half an hour. And it'll probably—how am I supposed to—”
“I don't know,” Eloise said. “What I do know is that this report needs to be finished by two, and that you can do it.”
“Eloise,” Rowena began. But Eloise turned on her heel and marched off.
Rowena looked at the folder in her hand. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes.
“What's up?” asked a familiar voice—familiar, but out of place. Rowena opened her eyes and looked up at her friend Terese—at Terese and, next to her, Beth. She explained what had happened.
“Organizations,” said Terese, rolling her eyes. “You gotta love 'em. Here, let me handle it.” And she reached for Rowena's phone.
“Don't you dare,” Rowena said, snatching at the receiver. Terese laughed.
“Just kidding,” she said. “Geez, I don't even work here. Who'd listen to me anyway?”
“Around here?” Rowena asked. “I don't know, and I'm not too eager to find out.”
“Can you dump it on somebody else?” Beth asked.
Rowena had been wondering the same thing. She reached for her phone and called Berna, who, as it happened, had a deadline of her own. Next Rowena called Carla, who turned out to be similarly afflicted, then Steve, who wasn't at his desk . . . She even called Lorraine. No takers. Rowena dropped her head into her hands. Who else was there? She could hardly entrust her project, or anything, to Marjorie. Sara was out sick, Janet was on vacation . . .
“There you are.” The voice made Rowena jump. It sounded like her mother. She turned around; it was her mother.
“Mom? What are you doing here?”
“What do you think?” her mother asked. Rowena now was able to see her sister dawdling along behind, carefully undulating her miniskirted and low-necklined self and keeping an eye out, as usual, for men to impress. “You don't think I'd let you do this alone, do you?” her mother went on. “Without a mother's help?”
Rowena closed her eyes. “No,” she said, mentally resolving to have whatever revenge she could on her sister, or whoever else had told her mother her plans, “I don't suppose I did.”
“Well, then.” Her mother nodded, satisfied. “The first thing we have to do—now, I know you have some plans, Rowena, but—”
“Mom.” Rowena cleared her throat, but didn't get a chance to say more.
“What's the matter with this place?” demanded Maralynne, catching up to them at last. “There are no good men.” She leaned up against Rowena's desk, wiggling her backside as though to make herself more comfortable. Rowena was pretty sure, though, that her sister's physical comfort was not the issue.
“When did you ever want a good one anyway?” retorted Terese. Rowena's mother began explaining to Maralynne, with some enthusiasm, that there were lots and lots and lots of good men really, but Terese ignored her. “Time for the carnival to hit the road,” she told Rowena. “Isn't there anyone else you can call?”
“Oh, God,” Rowena said, closing her eyes.
“I mean somebody who works here,” Terese said. “Which, from what you've told me, kind of lets God out.”
Rowena stuck her tongue out without opening her eyes. “Let's see. Sara's out sick, Janet's on vacation—”
“Maybe a supervisor. Somebody who can delegate—”
“We have to leave,” said Rowena's mother. “We can't miss our—”
“I know,” Rowena said. “There's really only Eloise,” she told Terese, “and she's already—”
“Oh, yeah?” said Maralynne. Rowena looked at her. Everyone looked at her. “You're a fine one to be talking about other people's men!” Maralynne said. “You, um, you . . .”
“Never went out with that Brian creep,” Terese suggested, while Rowena was still trying to work out what they were talking about, “let alone lived with him. Never dated that—”
“What was his name, Rowena; that guy with the weird hair? The one who kept—”
“Don't you talk about Chester like that!” Maralynne warned.
“Chester?” Terese blinked. “Chester's the one decent guy you've ever—”
“See?” said Maralynne, triumphant.
“You hang onto Chester,” Terese told her. “I mean it.”
“Please!” Rowena said. “We have an appointment. They'll be waiting for us. Claudia will be waiting for us. We have to get out of here. Just give me a minute.” She looked up at the ceiling. Sara was out sick, Janet was on vacation—
And then she thought of Sebastian. He was new, but once certain of his female coworkers had quit squabbling over him he'd proved a quick learner and a good worker. He would be able to handle a project like this. Sebastian. Sebastian would do.
She called, and quickly explained as much of the situation as she felt he needed to know. “No problem,” Sebastian said. “I'm ahead of schedule with my current project. I'll just swing by and pick it up.”
The thought of Maralynne and her mother encountering Sebastian made Rowena cringe. “No, no,” she said quickly. “Stay where you are. I'll go to you.”
“You sure?” Sebastian asked. “If you're in that big a hurry—”
Rowena glanced around to where her sister had managed to locate her reflection in Rowena's paperweight and was busily making what were obviously meant to be sexy faces at it. “Under the circumstances,” she told Sebastian, “I think it would save time if I went to you.”
His shrug was almost audible. “If you're sure you'd rather,” he said.
Rowena thanked him, hung up, and scrabbled her things together. “I'll be back in a minute,” she said, and dashed off.
Her mission accomplished, Rowena returned to her desk. “Now,” she said, picking up her purse, “just let me make sure I have my—”
“Rowena,” said her mother, “what about the—”
Maralynne let out a gasp. “Oh, my God,” she said.
Rowena stopped rummaging. “What?” she asked, but as soon as she'd said it, she knew.
Of course. What else?
She looked off in the direction of Sebastian's desk and, sure enough, there he was, coming around the corner towards them. She heard her mother say, weakly, “Oh, my. Oh, my.”
“That's Sebastian, huh?” said Terese. Rowena had told Terese about Sebastian. Shaking her head, Terese patted Rowena's arm, leaving her hand there just a moment for moral support. “Good luck,” she said.
“Glad I caught you,” Sebastian said, reaching them. “Do you have the chart for this?”
“The chart?” said Rowena. She rifled through her desk. “You sure it isn't in there?” she asked.
“I'm Maralynne,” her sister said, leaning way over Rowena's desk to make the most of her neckline. Her voice was so breathy it was almost hard to understand her.
“Hi,” said Sebastian briefly. Then, to Rowena, “I didn't see it.”
“Are you sure you looked?” Maralynne asked. “I mean . . . really . . . looked?” She leaned over even farther and made one of her alluring faces.
“Maralynne!” Rowena cried.
“Maralynne, don't insult the poor guy,” Terese said.
“Insult!” Maralynne was so offended she almost straightened up.
“Is that a piece of paper back there on the floor?” Beth asked. Rowena looked. There was a piece of paper, just before the corner. “Insult!” her sister said again, even more affronted than before. Rowena, who was in no mood to deal with Maralynne anyway, all but ran to the paper and flipped it over.
And it was her chart.
She brought it back, much relieved. “How interesting,” Terese was saying, “You know, that same article said that men really value punctuality too. Do you think that's so?”
“Definitely,” Sebastian said. “Nothing worse than a woman who's always late. I can't stand that.”
Rowena held out the chart and he took it with a smile. His eyes were twinkling; he looked more amused than grateful. “Thanks,” he said.
“Oh, just look at the time,” Terese said. “We meant to leave by—”
“Quit goofing around,” Maralynne said. “We gotta get out of here!” She slid off of Rowena's desk. Three or four of Rowena's papers followed her; Beth discreetly picked them up.
“Nice meeting you,” said Beth. Terese said only “'Bye,” but Rowena saw her give Sebastian the thumbs-up behind Maralynne's back.
“Goodbye, ladies,” Sebastian said. “Good luck.”
“Thank you,” said Rowena and her bridesmaids. Especially Rowena. She gave Sebastian a smile and they started off. Rowena took about four hurried steps when Terese stopped her.
“Wait a minute,” Terese said. “Your mom.”
Rowena turned. There was her mother, still standing by Rowena's desk, and still watching Sebastian, who was walking calmly away.
Rowena went to her mother and took her by the arm. “Come on, Mom,” she said. “Time to go.” She pulled harder. “Mom?”
Rowena's mother took a deep breath. “Oh, my,” she said.
“Mom!” Rowena tried pulling still harder, to no avail. Terese came up, shaking her head, and put her hand over Rowena's mother's eyes.
“Come on, now,” she said. “Show's over. Time to go.” With a little bit of teamwork Rowena and Terese got Rowena's mother turned around and began marching her towards the door.
“The coast is clear,” Beth said, looking back in the direction Sebastian had taken. “Take your hand off her eyes before she falls down.”
“I know what I'm doing,” Terese said, but she did take her hand away.
“Hurry up,” Maralynne said. “Sheesh! I'm embarrassed to be seen with you guys.” She turned and looked back, rather as Beth had, except that Maralynne was disappointed by what she saw. “Nuts,” she said. “He's left.”
“What'd you think he was gonna do?” Terese asked. “Throw himself at your feet?”
“Not at my feet,” Maralynne huffed.
“I don't know you,” Rowena said. “I don't know you at all.” She finally, finally reached the door. She pulled it open and helped Terese and Beth herd her mother and sister through. And then they were outside, and soon they were all piled into Rowena's car.
All that, and they weren't even at the shop yet.
“I take back what I said about no good men in that dump,” Maralynne said, as Rowena started the car. “I thought you said God didn't work there.”
“He doesn't. At least, Sebastian's not God, and—”
“Sebastian,” said Maralynne. She sighed heavily. Rowena mentally kicked herself for letting the name slip. Of course, Maralynne had probably heard it anyway, but now she would remember it. Probably.
Terese was in the front next to Rowena; they had seen to that. “Well,” said Terese privately, “better Sebastian than Leslie Campbell.”
“Depends. If she went after Leslie, he might leave me alone.”
“There's always that.” Terese said.
“Do you think Sebastian liked my dress?” Maralynne asked. Rowena wanted to hide under the dashboard, but of course she couldn't do that while driving. She took a deep breath.
“No,” Terese said for her. “Guys like him don't go in for that splashy stuff.”
“How would you know?”
“I went to college,” Terese said airily. “I took a Psychology class. Right, Rowena?”
Rowena did her best to keep her voice level. “Right,” she said. She signalled for a left turn. She could all but hear Maralynne thinking.
“What about my shoes?” Maralynne asked.
There was silence. For a moment. Then, “Chester likes my shoes.”
“See?” said Terese. “You stick with Chester.”
“That Sebastian guy obviously has no taste,” Beth agreed.
“Obviously,” Terese replied.
There was silence. Then Maralynne said, “What do you think, Mom?” She waited for a response. “Mom?”
Even in the front seat Rowena could hear her mother exhale. “Oh, my,” Rowena's mother said.
They had to herd Rowena's mother out of the car and across the parking lot; she offered little resistance this time, and they were only a few minutes late. Rowena began to think that at least she'd get off easy in the mother's-advice department, but the interior of the dress shop worked wonders and in a minute or so her mother had revived sufficiently that Rowena's cousin Claudia had to distract her with some sweet little flower-girl dresses that would look so adorable on her future granddaughters some day, oh, look at that! . . . just so that Rowena could have an uninterrupted word or two with a member of the staff.
“And now,” remarked Terese, under her breath, “the fun begins.”
“That?” Maralynne shrieked. “I'm supposed to wear that?”
“Yes,” Terese said, “you are. Or something very like it. What did you think?”
“But it's so . . . so . . .”
“So like a bridesmaid's dress. Yeah; I think that's the point.”
“But—but it's not sexy!”
“Unless you're a bridesmaid at Hugh Hefner's wedding, it's not really supposed to be.”
“You're supposed to look elegant,” Beth put in.
“Elegant?” Maralynne stared at her. Terese looked over at Rowena with an expression that said, “That is a bit of a stretch for Maralynne, isn't it?”
“Have you never seen a bridesmaid?” asked Claudia, who had exhausted the distraction powers of flower girl dresses. “I think it's lovely.” She fingered a sleeve appreciatively.
“Thank you,” said Rowena, speaking at last. “Actually, there are three others I—”
The saleslady offered the dresses and Maralynne pawed roughly through them. “They all look the same!”
“They do not,” Terese told her, irritated.
“Bridesmaid's dresses. With long skirts and reasonable necklines.”
“Sebastian'll never notice me in these!”
Rowena shut her eyes, but not before she saw Terese glowering tight-jawed up at the ceiling. Rowena said, “Sebastian will never notice you at the wedding because he hasn't been invited.”
Maralynne stared at her dumbly, then turned on her mother. “You didn't invite him? Mo-om!”
“I didn't know.” Rowena's mother almost whispered. “No one told me.”
“Maralynne, be serious. I hardly know the guy. In fact—”
“He can be my guest, then,” said Maralynne, satisfied. “I'm allowed to bring a guest. And then he'll have to notice me. But these dresses—”
“Chester is your guest,” said Rowena and Terese in unison.
“Maralynne, really,” said Beth.
“But Chester is—”
“Your boyfriend?” said Claudia.
“Not elegant?” suggested Terese, wickedly.
“Chester is almost as boring as these dresses,” Maralynne declared. “Almost.” And she gazed at the dresses in disdain.
“Well, I think they're lovely,” Claudia said again. “I vote for this one, Rowena.”
“Oh, that one's nice,” Beth said. “I kind of prefer this one, but—”
“Will you guys quit changing the subject?” Maralynne demanded. “Make a note, Mom. I'm bringing Sebastian and I'll wear this dress if they'll raise the skirt to here and lower the neckline to there.”
“No,” said Rowena, surprising herself; it came out sounding so inarguable.
“Yes,” said Maralynne. “And have them dye it red.”
“No,” said Terese, Claudia, and Beth.
“Yes, red. Or maybe black.”
“Black?” gasped Rowena's mother, all thoughts of Sebastian temporarily gone. “You'd wear black to your sister's wedding?”
“Or,” Terese muttered, “to Sammy's wedding.”
“Maralynne,” Claudia said, “behave.”
Maralynne stamped her foot. “I'm sick of being told what to do!”
“It's not your wedding,” snapped Terese.
“When it is your wedding,” Claudia said, “you can wear a fishnet bodysuit and we won't say boo.”
“Now you've done it,” said Beth, and indeed Maralynne's eyes had lit up.
“Maralynne, NO!” said Terese. “Anyway, Sebastian doesn't like that sort of thing, remember? He likes traditional weddings, with dresses like these.”
Maralynne drooped. “You sure?”
“Positive. And he doesn't like naughty Web sites either.”
Maralynne drooped further. “No GlamCam?”
“But what am I going to—”
“You're going to bring Chester and you're going to wear one of these dresses, that's what you're going to do.”
“But Chester won't like these dresses. If I have to wear one of these dresses I can't bring Chester.”
“Chester will like it. Trust me. He'll—”
“Chester likes me like this.”
“Maralynne,” said Rowena's mother suddenly, “what if there's a producer there? And he's looking for someone to play a bride, or a bridesmaid, or a princess or something?”
They all turned to stare at her. Then they looked at Maralynne.
“H'mmm,” Maralynne said. She thought. “It'd be a new look for me.”
“Glamorous,” Terese suggested, adding quickly, “in a classic kind of way, I mean.”
“You'll look great, Maralynne,” Beth said. “All . . . poised.”
Poised was almost the last word Rowena would normally use to describe her sister, but she shot her friend a grateful look. She felt a huge weight lifted from her.
“Okay,” Maralynne said, making her choice, “this dress, just as it is, and Sebastian.”
“Remember the GlamCam,” Terese sang, discreetly.
Maralynne sighed, defeated. “This dress and Chester,” she said.
“It's customary, I think, to try them on.” Claudia opened the door to one of the fitting rooms. “Let's each try them all before we do the official vote. What size is everybody?”
Back at work, and immeasurably relieved, Rowena checked her In box and then headed out to Sebastian's desk to thank him for finishing the project . . . assuming that he had finished it. It was well after two o'clock. Well after two o'clock, but they had decided; they had really decided, and she had ordered the dresses.
“Got it done,” Sebastian told her. “No problem.”
“Oh, good,” Rowena said. “Good. Thank you on Molly's behalf as well as my own.”
“Sure thing.” Sebastian took a business card from the holder on his desk. “That friend of yours,” he said, “the funny one who was tweaking Miss Miniskirt. What was her name?”
“The funny one? Terese.”
“Terese,” he repeated. He wrote something out on the card and handed it to her. “Could you give this to Terese, if she's unattached? That's my home phone at the top; tell her I'd like to hear from her.”
“Sure,” Rowena said. She tried hard to keep from looking too amused at the thought of Maralynne's reaction to this. “I'll give Terese your card.”
“Thanks,” Sebastian said. “I, um—that crack about Miss Miniskirt. I didn't mean—that is, no offense.”
“None taken,” Rowena said. “None at all.”
And, smiling, she put the card safely into her wallet.
Volume III: Rowena Gets Married.
Book 8: Rowena Gets Ready.
About the Stories.
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