Penny tried to lighten the tense mood that had developed between us with her usual jokes. After reading Mama’s first letter, I hadn’t been able to look at her the same. No, the letter didn’t say anything about Penny at all, but something about the way she acted made me sense that something major was up. I just knew I had already predicted that whole purpose of the letters and that my big lesson was going to include forgiveness or some mumbo jumbo about not holding grudges. Apparently Mama did not want me despising Father no matter what he had done or who he had done it with. Any person in their right mind would have fired Maria and ditched Penny!
“You okay?” Penny was wearing her tiny bikini and I wanted to tell her that people her age wore one pieces with skirts. Her blonde hair made her look like she was trying too hard, the few wrinkles she had made her look like she had spent her entire life frowning, and her tiny spot of cellulite was back. I was successfully turning myself against one of the only people, if not the only person, that I had left.
“I’m okay.” I sighed, lying. I wasn’t okay. I had to know what was in the next letter. I had to confirm my suspicions. I had to validate the hate that was building inside me toward Penny. One more person I could scratch off my list. “What’s for lunch?”
“Sandwiches.” Penny always cooked for me or else bought me something delicious, maybe she had picked up on the dissonance between us. I hadn’t dealt with many people in my life, maybe I was that out of practice at hiding my emotions.
“Oh,” I was unimpressed and annoyed even more. “I’m going to read my next letter.” I narrowed my eyes at her, hoping she would squirm. Instead of squirming she smiled pleasantly and headed to the kitchen to get out all of the fixings for sandwiches.
I grabbed the letter with the number two in the corner, mumbled something mean under my breath, and bolted up the stairs. I felt bitter and I was approaching the whole situation in the wrong way. I ripped the end of the envelope, pulled the letter out, and plopped down on the bed. My daily dose. Just as I read “Dear Addy,” Penny came in and snatched the letter from my hands. She had a mustard bottle in one hand and a dish towel slung over her shoulder. I was caught off guard and didn’t react fast enough to retrieve it.
I chased behind her, wondering what she was doing. “That is my letter!”
“I have strict instructions from your beloved Mama, God rest her soul, to only let you read these when you are in your right mind. You have been mean as a snake since yesterday, and I think you have some thinking to do before you read.” Penny left no room for questions.
“I- I…” I was at a loss for words.
“Any progress we made here disappeared after you read that letter. Now I know it is hard to lose your Mama, I get it! I used to have a Mama too. But, you seemed to be changing and growing and living for a day or two. What the hell happened?” Fire danced in her eyes and I realized that beneath the bleached blonde façade was probably a head full of red hair.
I suddenly found my words, but held them in. I wanted to scream that Mama’s message from the grave was nothing more than a slap in the face! All those years of trying to protect her from my Father accomplished nothing! She was defending him and it was my fault that she had been to afraid to leave him in the first place! I wanted to scream that it didn’t take a psychic to see that she was one of my father’s conquests. I wanted to run away and forget about the rest of the letters. I wanted to collapse into a pile of tears on the floor. I wanted to punch the wall. I wanted Mama back. God, of all the things to want, I wanted Mama back the most.
“Why are you digressing all of the sudden, Addy?” Penny’s face softened. She wanted to help me, I could tell.
“Adeline. My name is Adeline.” I said calmly, turning around and heading toward the door. “Where are my keys?”
“In the mailbox by now.” Penny was still holding the letter and I felt like ripping it from her hands. “Adeline, your car is still at your Daddy’s house.” I hadn’t thought of that.
“I don’t know what to say.” I really didn’t. I didn’t want to be a jerk and hurt Penny’s feelings more. I didn’t want to accuse her of something that I had no proof of. I even wondered if it was just my imagination running wild to begin with. “I really don’t.”
Penny wrapped her arms around me. I wondered how I had let my life spiral so far out of control. I wondered how I could have let hate and bitterness overtake me like weeds. We went from shopping and doing each other’s makeup to battling it out in the foyer. I went from seeing Penny as my first real friend since Mama, to viewing her as an enemy. I was so confused.
“I’m sorry.” I whispered. I had no proof that she had betrayed Mama’s friendship. I had no reason to believe that she and Father had been involved. I was grasping at straws and blaming the pain of losing Mama on anything I could find. “I’m sorry for assuming you slept with Father.” It just came out, I didn’t mean to say it. But once it was out I couldn’t take it back.
Penny froze, pulled away from me, and furrowed her nicely arched brow. “You think I slept with Robert? That’s what this is about?”
“I just saw how you acted about the letters and assumed.” I had obviously assumed wrong. “You didn’t?”
Tears filled Penny’s eyes and she started down the hall towards her room.
“You didn’t did you?” I wanted to be sure.
“No!” The door slammed behind her and I realized I had managed to extinguish the last flicker of hope I had left. The letter was on the floor. I picked it up, placed it in the stack with the others, and went to bed. Even after I heard Penny’s bare feet pat down the hall hours later, I stayed in bed. I had managed to ruin a perfectly good day, hurt the only person who was pulling for me, and make myself look like a selfish child before noon. I obviously had a long long way to go and a lot to learn.