“My, my, my…” She smiled as she took a seat.
“Cream and sugar?” I smiled, feeling proud of my cooking debut.
“Neither.” She held her cup in front of her mouth and breathed in the coffee’s scent. I chuckled, proud that something I had brewed could so closely mimic a classic commercial.
“What is on the agenda for today?” I knew that the first step was getting out of bed, and I had accomplished that!
“Let’s just see where the day takes us.” Penny was always adventurous in a laid back and easy going kind of way. I could imagine her as a young woman, closing her eyes and pushing a tack into a map on the wall, just to see where to head for vacation. She seemed like someone who would leave everything up to chance. I envied Penny, even though she was more like me than I probably cared to admit.
The ocean air was fresh and crisp and I finally felt like heading down to the ocean. I put on a bikini, tied my hair back, and grabbed a book from Mama‘s shelf in the corner. Just knowing that Mama’s hands had been on the books made them worth reading, every single one. Penny agreed to come down and join me after while and I set out to get some sand between my toes.
I was lying on a towel when Penny finally made her way toward me. I thought back to our countless hours together on this very shore-- her figure hadn’t changed much and her bathing suits seemed to get littler and littler through the years. “Now, Penny… What would Mama say if she saw you parading around like a sixteen year old?”
“Honey,” Penny opened her beach chair and sat down, burrowing her toes into the sand, and setting a beer in her cup holder. “Your Mama would be proud. It took her three summers to convince me to take my cover up off. I had two tiny patches of cellulite on my thighs that held me back.”
I laughed and wondered where the cellulite had gone. Apparently money can help you get better with age. “I never thought much about my body.” It had never occurred to me to be self-conscious. Maybe that is something that only people who get noticed have to worry about.
“Your body is flawless. How tall are you?” Penny had been looking up to me since I was twelve.
“Five ten.” I looked down at my legs that seemed to build two bridges straight from the sand to the ocean.
“Well I am five two. I always wanted to be tall.” Penny took a sip of her beer and stared off into the distance. I smiled, I could tell she was imagining herself eight inches taller.
“Well it is easier to reach the top shelf. That’s about all I have to report.” I smiled and watched a group of kids rough housing in the waves. “Did you ever wish you had kids?”
Penny thought about it for a second and shook her head. “I kind of did have kids, I spent enough time around you girls to stake a claim.” I smiled. Penny was reminding me, in her own way, that I hadn’t totally lost my Mama. She really had been in my life from the start and would look after me now that my real Mama was gone.
“Was Mama happy, Penny?” I knew that if anybody knew she would.
“Your Mama was always happy. You have no idea how happy she was.” Penny smiled and then slowly her smile drifted away. “She loved more than anybody I have ever seen.”
I knew Penny was right. “But was she loved enough? You know, with my father’s affairs.” I had never breathed a word of his infidelity. I almost felt as if speaking it lifted a million pounds off of my one hundred and thirty three pound frame. I looked over at Penny, her expression had not changed. I could see a tinge of sadness in her eyes and wondered if she hated him as much as me.
“Addy,” she began, “Your Mama was loved. Don’t you worry about that. If nothing else, your Daddy loved that woman with all of his heart. More than you realize.”
“If he loved her, why would he risk losing her?”
Penny was silent. I couldn’t tell whether she didn’t know what to say, or whether she was pondering the question too. “I’m heading inside now. You enjoy the sun. I’ve had enough moles removed to know my limit.”
I watched as she gathered her things and retreated from the impossible question that I had raised. Was Mama loved enough? Could anyone really love you and do what my father had done? I didn’t have the answers either, and wondered if I ever would.
The sun was sinking again, a reminder that we had wasted another day being lazy and simply living life. I was thankful for Penny and wondered if my “lesson” would ever be spelled out for me or if it would just be something I caught onto after a few days of being around Mama’s closest and dearest friend. Penny told me stories about my Mama and painted a much different picture of her times by my father’s side than I could have ever imagined. She told me about their ten years of marriage before I arrived and stirred things up. They had traveled a lot, had worked hard to make their way in the world, and had eventually felt stable enough to give the parenting thing a go. I had never realized that they had intentionally waited until they were rich to reproduce.
I wondered if my father was cheating on her from the start, but didn’t dare ask. I had seen Penny’s reaction to my accusations earlier and didn’t want to take that path again. “Wasn’t she beautiful?” I couldn’t talk about anything for long without bringing Mama up. I had spent my entire life worshiping the ground she walked on and nothing, not even death, could change that.
“The most beautiful woman around.”
“Anna is so lucky.” I thought of my sister’s perfect features, crisp blue eyes, dark flowing hair, and curvy figure. She was almost the exact opposite of me. I was tall, gangly, rather plain, and had my father’s wavy hair. My father was handsome, but he was a man. Who wanted to look like a man?
“You’re lucky too.” Penny consoled. “You got your Mama’s heart. That will last a lot longer than looks.”
“Mama was beautiful until the end.” I thought about the last time that I had seen her. She was frail, tired looking, and pale. She looked like an older, more weathered, version of the woman I knew. I felt like crying, but instead I sat and listened to more of Penny’s endless supply of stories about better days. The days when Mama was still the force that kept the earth in motion.