“She’s in your bedroom. I just put her in the first bed I found.” His voice was still shaking, he was worried about me. Poor Junior. Too bad he didn’t know how crazy I was when he saw me on the beach. He never would have wanted anything to do with me.
“Addy.” Penny came in and sat on the bed beside me. I stared straight ahead, not acknowledging her. I thought of all the weekends that Penny was Mama's alibi, all the important moments in my life that Mama had missed, all the lies that Mama had obviously told. I couldn’t believe that Penny hadn’t told me about Mama’s lover. I couldn’t believe that they let me hate my Father for so many years. I couldn’t believe that Father had never even technically cheated on her.
My entire world was suddenly upside down. Penny had led me directly into the pain! She could have protected me from it, after all she was Mama’s best friend! She knew how much I hated Father! She knew how afraid I was to trust a man for fear that he would turn out just like Robert Banks. She should have warned me! She should have prepared me! She should have done something-- anything!
By the time the thoughts crossed my mind, I realized how crazy they were. After years of blaming Father, I was looking for someone else to blame. It wasn’t Penny’s fault. She had to follow Mama’s wishes about the letters. She had to let me read all of them, regardless of how bad they hurt me. I knew deep down that it was time to put blame where it belonged, but I couldn’t. Not yet. I wasn’t ready to shift the hate that was reawakening inside of me on my beloved Mama. I still couldn’t face the truth.
Penny pried my fingers opened and took the letter. She skimmed over it and shook her head. “I’m sorry, Addy. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know he stayed faithful, or else I would have stood up for him more!!!” Tears filled her eyes and she wiped them away with her arm. “Holy shit.”
“Holy shit.” I repeated after her. It was really all that could be said.
“You girls okay?” Junior came in after waiting as long as he could stand and found us lying on the bed, side-by-side staring up at the ceiling fan in silence. “Girls?”
“Women.” I sat up and looked at him. “After today, I’m a woman.” I held out my hand to him and he came and climbed into bed between us. He probably had no idea what the letter revealed to me, he hadn’t even known about the letters in the first place, but regardless of his limited knowledge, he wrapped his arms around me and held me while I cried.
It was dark when I finally woke up. I looked around the room, hoping to God that it had all been a terrible dream. Junior was asleep on me, and Penny was in the kitchen rounding up some food for us all. “Junior,” I whispered. It hadn’t been a dream. It was real.
“Huh?” He opened his eyes and any peace that was in his face disappeared. “Addy, are you okay?”
“I am.” I nodded, telling the truth. I was going to be okay regardless. I had to be. “One of these days I’ll tell you all about it.”
“Okay,” he ran his hand across my face and kissed my forehead. “Only when you’re ready.”
I realized how lucky I was to have Junior. I didn’t even want to think about what would have happened if he hadn’t come along when he did. I realized that he was one of my only reasons left to push on.
“Supper’s ready.” Penny called from the kitchen.
“You go ahead.” I switched on the lamp by the bed and sat up. “I’m going to take a hot bath.”
“Okay, we’ll save you some.” Junior stood up, adjusted his clothes, and headed out, leaving me alone again with my new set of thoughts.
I thought about Mama. So many years of hating Father and adoring her. I had been so blind. I thought of all the trips that she had been on with “Penny” and cringed to think that Father had known the whole time that she was probably in her lover’s arms. I felt sorry for him. I felt sorry for me. All the times that I had compared Anna to Father! I should have been comparing her to Mama-- no wonder they looked so much alike.
I climbed into the Jacuzzi tub, not even running water. I curled up, naked, and thought about the orphaned hate that was eating me alive. I had no idea where to place it. It didn’t belong to Father anymore, but after so many years of idolizing Mama I couldn’t find a place for it with her either. I couldn’t hate her, even though pieces of me wanted to.
“Honey,” Penny had come in to check on me. “Sit up, let’s run some water.”
“No,” I closed my eyes tighter, still running the same thoughts through my mind over and over again.
“Sit up.” Penny said firmly, turning the knobs and sending a flood of water into the tub. I did as I was told, Penny knew what I needed better than I did. She poured bubbles in and waited for the foam to cover me before she began talking some sense into me. “Now listen, I’m just as surprised as you are about that letter. I found out things that I never knew, but you can’t let it consume you. You can’t go crazy.”
“I don’t know what else to do.” I began to sob again.
“I know, but you have to swallow it and accept it. It can’t be changed. Everything you ever knew was wrong and honey the letters aren’t even through yet.” Penny handed me a bottle of shampoo. “You have a man out there who wants to love you. He wants to wrap his arms around you and wipe away these giant tears.”
She was right. I couldn’t do this alone. “But what if he leaves me?”
“What if he cheats on me?” I realized how crazy that sounded after learning that it had been Mama who had done the cheating. “What if I cheat on him?”
Penny laughed until her face turned red. “You have never kissed a man, honey. I highly doubt you have to worry about suddenly wanting to cheat on Junior.” She was right. I probably didn’t have to worry about that. “Now get cleaned up and come eat. He’s worried about you.”