I slid myself into the least amount of clothes that I could get away with for Penny’s housewarming party. My skin was already peeling, and clothes were painful reminders of everything that had ever gone wrong in my life. I pulled my hair back into a loose bun, tried to cover my tomato red face with makeup, and headed over to Penny’s house-- walking sort of like a robot since it hurt to bend my limbs. Junior was meeting me at the party, and I couldn’t wait to see him again.
“Addy! You look…” Penny took a good look at me. “Well you look redder than you did earlier.”
“Gee thanks.” I laughed. “Need any help setting things up?”
“No, thanks. I like the dress!” Penny bought me the long maxi dress with a cute retro pattern on it earlier that day.
“Thanks.” I twirled around, forgetting how stupid and rigid I would look trying to twirl.
“Knock, knock!” It was Anna. Anna was never early, but somehow she managed to show up early.
“Anna!” Penny gave her a hug and greeted the man that trailed in behind her. “Who is this?”
“This is Ryan.” Anna looked proud. “Ryan, this is my pet lobster.”
“Hi Ryan.” I smiled and shook his hand. “I’m actually Addy.”
“Hi, Addy. Nice to meet you.” Ryan was a tall red headed man with a brilliant smile that was almost too white.
“Let me guess!” Penny always said what she thought without worrying about people’s feelings. “A dentist?”
Anna shot Penny a look and didn’t give Ryan a chance to confirm the obvious before dragging him over to
Penny’s floral couch. Penny and I laughed. It didn’t take long for he little house to fill up. Penny had managed to round up twenty five friends on short notice.
Junior slipped in just as Penny proposed a toast. “To new beginnings, new attitudes, and old friends! I know it hasn’t been long since our sweet Julianne passed, but I know she would want us all to keep living! Here’s to pushing through!” We all raised our glasses and seconded her sentiments. I grabbed Juniors hand and looked into his eyes-- it truly was a new beginning worth celebrating.
The rest of the night was wonderful. I all but forgot about my sunburn, forgot my troubles, and just enjoyed myself. It was the first party that I had ever attended where I let my guard down completely. I had no reason to compete with Anna, to vie for Mama’s attention, or to give Father the evil eye. Father wasn’t even there.
“You look a little less red than you did last night.” Junior smiled.
“I’ll still need aloe.” I smiled, flirtatiously. Apparently, with the right person, flirting came naturally to me.
Penny snapped our picture, and continued making her rounds around the tiny living room. “I am digging the cottage!” Anna complimented.
“Thanks, I’m digging it too. It is so cozy!” Penny was proud of her purchase. “Where are you two staying tonight?”
“With Addy, I guess.” Anna shrugged her shoulders.
“I could use some company.” Penny had never been lonely, and we all knew she wasn’t lonely now, but I didn’t point it out. I wanted more time alone with Junior, anyway. Anna agreed that she and Ryan would take Penny’s guest bedroom, and Penny informed her that her guest bedroom was the living room couch. Anna kind of made a face, but she had already agreed to stay with Penny.
“A cow!” We were playing charades and I pretended to milk invisible utters.
“Right!” I jumped up and down and told the score keeper to make sure and write down my point!
Junior stood up timidly and began to dance around and wave his arms. I laughed so hard that my stomach hurt. “A ballerina?” “Richard Simmons?” “A tap dancer?” We all shouted guesses, but each time he frowned and tried even harder.
“Time!” one of Penny’s friends shouted.
“What were you?!?” Penny looked worried.
“Someone who was getting robbed.” He sat down beside me and took a big gulp of beer.
The room erupted with laughter! “That is the last thing I would do if I was getting robbed!”
“He might get lucky and accidentally knock the robber out!” I pointed out.
Anna gave me a look like she had no idea who this new girl in her sister’s body was, and I was proud. I was finally an active participant in life’s little pleasures. I was having a ball playing charades! The night just kept getting better and better and before we knew it, it was nearly midnight.
“We’re going to head out.” Most of the party goers were gone and Junior was tired from a long day. “Thank you so much for having us, Penny! I’ll come help you clean up tomorrow.”
Penny hugged me tight, I could tell that she was proud of me. “Don’t bother, I’ll call a cleaning service.”
“Alright, goodnight everyone!” I waved toward Anna and Ryan who were talking to one of Penny’s friends.
“Goodnight Addy! Goodnight Junior!” They called with a wave.
“You were something else, Addy.” Junior smiled as we crossed the yard to the beach house.
“Yeah I can barely feel my sunburn now! Maybe I am numb from the Jello shots!” I laughed as we headed inside. Even though it was after midnight, I wasn’t sleepy at all. I put in a movie and curled up on the couch with Junior. He was worn out from a long day in the sun chasing kids around, and fell asleep almost instantly. I ran my hands through his hair and thought about our future together. I imagined how wonderful life would be. We really were perfect for each other.
“Junior…” I whispered, trying to talk him into heading upstairs to bed. “Junior, wake up.” He wouldn’t budge. “Junior!”
“Let’s go to bed.” I pulled at him, and finally he sleepily followed me upstairs.
“I love you, Addy.” he mumbled as he closed his eyes.
“I love you, too.” I smiled. I couldn’t believe that the perfect man had just wandered into my life. Lying in bed with a man was new to me. Everything about this experience was new to me. I couldn't get over the wonderful reality that I was now faced with. Within a matter of days, my life changed for the better.
For some reason as I curled up beside Junior and watched him sleep, I thought of Father. All the years that I blamed him for something he hadn't even done in the first place. All of the hate that was boiling within my veins for him had finally cooled. I wanted to apologize, I wanted to meet the real Robert Banks and forget the monster that I had created in my head. I wanted my Daddy back. I wasn't sure where to start, but I had to start. In order to love Junior fully, I had to learn to love the man who gave me life. The burning that was now creeping back into my skin could never compare to the pain that I had caused Father. Again, I was thankful for the stinging pain because it reminded me that Junior was more than just a dream, and that the Father I spent my life hating had actually only been a nightmare. One that I was ready to wake up from.