It was as if the argument and accusations had never happened! Penny and I picked back up where we left off without looking back. My keys still sat, unopened, in the mailbox, my super was still feeding my cats in Boston, and my anger towards the world seemed to be dissolving piece by piece.
Our plans for the day included heading back toward home a little ways and visiting Harley’s Sidewalk Café. Penny wanted to check on the waitress who she had managed to rattle, and I was on board completely with the idea. I had a newfound respect for the girl now that I had become one of Penny’s science projects too.
Beatles music was blaring on the radio, and we both sang along. It felt good to get out and drive, and I felt alive. “Who is your favorite Beatle, Addy?”
“That is like asking a mother which child is her favorite! I can’t answer that.”
“Come on, there is no way you like Ringo!” Penny laughed.
“He was my favorite when I was a little girl, until I realized he didn’t really wear rings on every finger. Okay, okay, if I had to pick one… I don’t really like Ringo.” I picked up my sunglasses and looked at her.
“Nobody likes Ringo.”
We pulled into the café and I hoped that the girl would be working, we would both be disappointed if she wasn’t there.“Welcome to Harley’s Sidewalk Café,” she hadn’t looked up from her customers yet to see who we were, but when she finally did she broke into a huge smile.
We settled into a booth and waited for her to come and take our order. “Two surprises?” she didn’t even have her pad and pen out.
Penny looked at me and I shrugged. I figured it was a safe bet after her last ground breaking selection of a BLT and agreed to let her surprise me too. “We’ll see if she has manned up any.” Penny said.
“Yes, we’ll see. Knowing my luck she’ll bring me tuna salad or something.” I hated tuna salad.
“Well if she does we’ll trade.” Penny clicked her nails on the table, I could tell she was hoping that the waitress would show signs of progress.
“One chocolate milkshake and one sweet tea.” She set the milkshake in front of me and the tea in front of Penny. “The rest will be right up.”
“I’m impressed.” Penny commented taking a sip of her tea and winking at the waitress. “What is your name, honey?”
“Beth!” she said enthusiastically.
“Good job, Beth!” Penny smiled, I nodded. I was proud of her too! I wondered what it was that made Penny care so much about other people, and also already knew that it was the very thing that endeared me to her. Penny had one of the biggest hearts that I had ever seen.
“When did you and Mama meet?” I wanted to pick her brain for any memories of Mama that she could share with me.
“Were you instant friends?” I wasn’t getting the response I wanted. I was ready for tons of details and stories, even if I had already heard them a million times before.
“Pretty much.” Penny looked around, waiting for her surprise meal. “Anna will be coming tomorrow. You aren’t going to sink back into your mean old self with her around are you?”
Mean old self? Was I really that mean? “No, I am excited to spend time with her!” I wanted to add SO THERE, but held my tongue and tried to smile pleasantly. I didn’t want to be accused of being a snob. I wanted Penny to see that I was changing.
“I hope you’re right.” Penny’s face softened. “Anyway, you going to read another letter today?”
“Honestly I never know until I open the envelope! We shall see.” I wanted to read another letter, but really couldn’t imagine what else Mama had to say to me. What she had already said was a lot to chew on. I had a feeling I had some work to do before I read the next installment.
“One bacon cheeseburger, and one birdy dog…” Beth blushed as she put the burger in front of me and the birdy dog in front of Penny. She waited nervously for our reactions.
“Yum!” I nodded enthusiastically and looked at Penny. Beth and I both waited for her reaction, but her face remained expressionless.
“Is your boss here today, honey?” Penny’s face still was unmoved by the surprise.
“Yes ma’am.” The chubby waitress trudged to the back nervously and emerged with a modern day giant wearing an apron and holding a spatula. “This is Gene.”
“Hello Gene, I asked Beth here to surprise me and she brought me a bird dog.” Penny’s looked up at the man with a blank expression. “Last week she brought me a BLT.”
“You want another BLT?” The huge cook and owner named Gene didn’t try to hide his confusion. He reached for her plate and she stopped him abruptly.
Penny broke into a smile that made even Gene look little and winked. “I am so proud of her! Look how far she has come! I mean a bird dog and a BLT are worlds apart!“ Her voice was loud and full of excitement, “What the hell is a bird dog anyway?”
We all paused for a moment and then erupted into uncontrollable laughter. Beth looked like she had seen a ghost as she doubled over in hysterics, Gene looked like he had been in a fight as his missing teeth were put on display, and I probably looked like a tomato! We laughed and laughed until every eye in the café was on us, and then we laughed some more. After the laughter died down, Beth explained that a birdy dog was a chicken strip with bacon and cheese in a hot dog bun. Penny took a big bite and gave her a thumbs up sign. I was again reminded why Penny was impossible to stay mad at!
After an enjoyable lunch, we bid Beth and Gene farewell with an open invitation to dine there as often as we would like. We headed out into the mid-afternoon sun and climbed back into her red convertible for a cruise along the seashore. Penny turned the radio on and began singing along with Beyonce. “All the single ladies, all the single ladies…”
“What in the world?” I laughed, never surprised by Penny.
“If you like it then ya shoulda put a ring on it…”
“I just don’t know about you, Penny!” I reached for her CD binder and started shuffling through.
“Oh oh oh oh oh oh.” Penny began flipping her hand back and forth.
“You even know the dance? I veto this!” I slid a Joni Mitchell CD in and braced myself for her reaction.
“I like this just as much, sorry to disappoint.” Penny turned the volume up and sang along with Joni's smoky voice, “My old man, he’s a singer in the park, he’s a walker in the rain, he’s a dancer in the dark. We don’t need no piece of paper…”
I joined in. “From the city hall, keeping us tide and true, no. My old man singin away my blues…”
“You know what’s wrong with you?”
“What?” I stopped singing and let Joni take it away.
“You’re an old soul.” Penny smiled, proud to analyze me as usual.
“And what’s wrong with that?” I smiled lazily, squinting against the sun.
“Not a damn thing, honey. I like it! Only problem with being an old soul is that you fit in better with your Mama and her friends than you ever have with people your own age.” Penny was right, and I had never looked at it from that perspective before.
“You know what’s wrong with you?” I retorted.
“You’re an old hag.” I laughed and she laughed with me. Laughing seemed to be the theme of the day!