The moment my Mama died changed my life. Not only did I inherit her secrets, but I inherited her best friend too. I inherited a stack of letters that had the power to change my life. I inherited the truth about my Father that allowed me to love him again and let go of the hate that stood between us. I inherited the beach house and along the way I found Junior. Penny had always promised me a summer romance and the summer my Mama died, the man I would grow old with walked into my life.
I spent my entire life worshipping my Mama and for good reason. Her letters reaffirmed my faith in her, and even after death Mama taught me lessons about life and about love. Mama handed me the power to forgive Father, accept Anna, like Maria, love Junior, and understand Penny. When Mama died, my life was turned upside down-- but fortunately that turned out to be right side up. Everything fell into place and I finally found my place in the world.
“Welcome to Harley’s Sidewalk Café!” A skinny teenager wearing converse all-stars met us at the door with a smile. We slid into the familiar booths and pulled out the menus that we didn’t need.
“I’ll have one Surprise Me Special!” I smiled, handing the unused menu back to my husband.
“Make that two.” Junior smiled.
“What would you like, honey?” I asked my five year old daughter, Julianna. We were on our way to the beach house for a weekend of relaxation. We were now the weekenders that we once laughed at.
“Is Surprise Me Special named after Grandma Hanks?” Julianna’s long brown pigtails framed her rosy cheeks.
“Yes, it is.” Junior nodded. He loved his little girl more than anything, and she loved him with every ounce of sweetness that her little body could hold. They reminded me of Father and I all those years ago.
“You’re Miss Penny’s daughter?” The waitress asked excitedly.
“Daughter in law.” I nodded, with a sense of pride.
“She’s famous around Harley’s!”
“I’ll have one Surprise Me Special, too!” Julianna announced with a smile.
“Three Surprise Me Specials coming right up!” she didn’t need her pad for that.
“On the house!” Gene the giant owner and cook called through the tiny window. “Tell Penny I said hello!”
“Will do!” Junior grinned. Even after six years of marriage, I loved him more and more everyday. As we sat and waited on our mystery meal, I looked across the table at the four big brown eyes that stared back at me. Mama set my life in motion and put me on the right course by telling me the truth. The truth about Mama’s secrets could have ruined me, but she knew that they would set me free. I made her secrets mine, and in the process found love.
I didn’t sleep a single wink! Junior was coming the next day, his Father was sleeping in the guest room, Penny was sleeping the bed beside me, and I again had nowhere to put my hate. I studied Penny’s face and couldn’t help but forgive her for her relationship with my Mama. How could you hate someone who gave up their dreams for a few fleeting moments with someone they loved? How could you put the weight of detest on the woman who mailed your keys to the beach just so that you wouldn’t head all the way home without healing? How could you loathe the woman who spoon fed you daily dose after daily dose of Mama’s knowledge? I couldn’t hate her. I didn’t even want to hate her anymore.
I thought about the life that Penny could have had were it not for Mama. She could have had a huge wedding, had tons of kids, and probably wouldn’t have ended up lonely when her best friend in the world died. She could have put herself first, but instead she hung around waiting for her moment with Mama. She loved her enough to wait and hide. She must have really loved Mama with all of her heart.
I had been so selfish. I hadn’t looked at the bigger picture. Penny had done nothing but loved me throughout the years. She gave freely of herself to me when I needed her most… She even had the foresight to get the hell out of my way before I read the letter that gave away her secret. There were only three people left in the world who knew Mama’s secret-- Me, Penny, and Junior. I realized that Mama and Penny’s secrets bonded me to him, and I realized that I had been so stupid to let him go.
I couldn’t wait to see Junior! I couldn’t wait to tell him how sorry I was and I hoped and prayed that he would understand. Junior had been hurt twice before, and this may be one hurt that he couldn’t find the strength to overcome. I spent my night wishing upon every star in the southern night sky. I had never wished upon a star before, I had always been far too sensible for that, but not now. I wished until finally I was out of stars. If that didn’t do the trick, I didn’t know what would.
Around six o’clock I headed down the stairs and out the door. The morning air was crisp and the grass beneath my feet was wet with dew. I didn’t know where I was heading, but I walked. I found myself in Mama’s garden. Hank was still tending to it, and it look beautiful in the soft morning light. “I miss you, Mama.” I whispered into the nothingness the surrounded me. “I love you….” No one was there to hear me. Mama would never hear me profess my love for her again. I wanted somewhere to put my love now-- I needed somewhere! I loved Father, I loved Anna, I loved Penny, I even loved Maria, but I still had love left over to give. I thought about Junior, his handsome face, radiant smile, warm brown eyes, and strong arms. I knew where my love belonged. It belonged with him.
I was nervous. Anna and Penny helped me get ready for Junior’s arrival. I looked at myself in the mirror and laughed. It was far too formal for an early morning meeting. I had on tons of blush, a big web of black lashes, and a shiny sequined dress that Penny had brought along. “I don’t think so!” I shook my honey blonde curls from side to side.
“Oh why not? You look like a beauty queen!” Penny beamed with pride.
“That wasn’t exactly what I was going for,” I confessed hesitantly.
“Lose the sequins?” Anna laughed.
“I think so.” I headed into my room and pulled out a pair of blue jeans, a tank top, and some brown sandals. I slid the clothes on and brushed the curls from my hair. I still looked silly. “The makeup has to go too, ladies.”
“No!” Penny insisted. A girl could never wear too much makeup in her opinion.
“I don’t want to look like, like this. I’m sorry.” I pulled a washrag from the drawer and lathered my face up with soap. The white cloth was pink, black, and brown by the time my face was clean. I stared at myself in the mirror, red from scrubbing. I wondered how in the world Junior could see beauty in such a messed up girl.
“Junior is here.” Maria reported excitedly. “He is muy caliente!”
We all laughed and I dried my face before heading down to see the man of my dreams. I smiled at the sight of him. There he stood in my house for the first time, looking more handsome than I remembered. “Hi.”
“Hey, Addy.” Junior looked shy, he reminded me of Joe Haynes on his first time coming to woo Anna. I suddenly felt a flush of guilt rush over me as I stood three steps from the bottom staring at him. I looked at the first lips that had ever met mine and wanted more than anything to feel his lips again.
“Want to go for a walk?” Going for walks seemed to be the way to make amends around here. I walked the same path that Father and I had walked. At first we didn’t talk, but eventually I heard myself begin to speak. “I made a mistake.”
“You made a lot of mistakes…” Junior smiled.
“Yeah, I did.” I nodded. He may have been joking, but I wasn’t. I had made more mistakes than the stars that I counted the night before. “I lost it. I couldn’t handle the truth about Mama and Penny, and I decided that I didn’t have the ability to truly love. But I’ve been thinking about it, Junior.”
“And?” Junior led me to the old tire swing.
“And I love you.” I did. I loved him! It was the second time that I had come to that conclusion, and hopefully was the last.
“Addy,” he began, “I don’t know. I can’t open myself up to be hurt again.”
His words were bullets and the ripped through my body. I wanted to run away, stay and beg, and curl up and die all at the same time. I didn’t know how to make him see that I was sorry. I didn’t know how normal people in relationships righted wrongs. “Junior, I don’t know what to say. You are the first man that I have ever kissed, ever made love to, ever loved. I can’t imagine hurting you again, but I am so messed up that I can’t promise I won’t. I don’t know how to protect you, but I also have no idea how to stay away.”
Junior looked at me. I knew I probably looked awful in my ripped jeans and white tank top, but if anybody could see past that I knew he could. “Addy,” he whispered. I couldn’t read the expression on his face. I braced myself, I knew that it was his turn to walk away from me. I had ruined my first and last chance at love. “I love you. I told myself that I wasn’t going to give in right away, but I can’t even for a second imagine my life without you in it.”
I fell into his arms, tears streaming down my face. He loved me! He wanted to be with me! Junior loved me! “I missed you!”
“I missed you, too.” Junior kissed me and I knew that everything was right in the world. Finally, I had someone to help me keep the secrets that haunted me. I didn’t have to carry Mama’s secrets alone as I had carried Father’s secrets alone for so many years. I didn’t have to let hate cripple me, because with a heart so full of love there was no room for hate!
“Let’s go inside and tell everybody!” I thought about Penny, and how excited she would be. I thought about Anna, who finally seemed to be in love with a good guy. I thought about Daddy, it finally felt right to call him Daddy again. I couldn’t contain my excitement! I pushed the empty tire swing as hard as I could and it came back and knocked us over. Junior pulled me on top of him and kissed me again.
“There is one thing left to do first,” he whispered pulling my white tank top off and freeing my hair from its pony tail. We made love in the meadow, surrounded by the familiar summer sounds that I spent my entire life getting used to. Everything about Junior was perfect, and I knew as I held him close and felt the rhythm of our love, that I would never let him go.
“Ready or not, here I come!” Anna’s voice was muffled and distant.
I giggled as I stood behind the shower curtain in the bathroom. I was six years old. Anna and I loved playing hide-and-go seek! Our house had an endless supply of places to hide, and when I couldn’t find Anna, Maria would give me a hint. It didn’t occur to me at the time that she probably gave Anna hints too!
I stood behind the shower curtain for what seemed like years. I could hear Anna out in the hall opening and closing doors, but she still hadn’t come close to the guest bathroom. Finally I sat down on the side of the tub and waited impatiently. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood for hiding after all.
“Addy!” Anna said in a sing song voice. “Addy, where are you?”
I giggled as she turned the door knob and braced myself for being found. Maybe she wouldn’t check behind the curtain. The door knob rattled again and then I heard my little sister walk down the hall.
“I give up!” I heard her say. “Come out, Addy!”
Why hadn’t she come in? I climbed out of the cold porcelain tub and jiggled the door knob myself. It wouldn’t budge. I switched on the light and looked up at the top of the door, which stretched above my head for miles. The latch at the top of the door was locked. Who had locked it? I didn’t lock it! I couldn’t have.
I felt myself begin the panic. What if I was locked in the bathroom forever? What if I was in the bathroom until I was an old lady? What if I never ever got out?
“Addy?” I heard Maria call through the bathroom door. “You okay, senorita?”
“I’m stuck! It’s locked!” I cried banging on the wooden door with all of my might.
“Oh no!” Maria jiggled the knob. “Unlock it, bonita!”
“Found you!” Anna chimed in, not realizing the gravity of the situation at hand.
“I go get your Daddy.” Maria headed down the hall to find Father.
It took them what seemed like years to return to the door that stood between me and freedom.
“Addy?” Father called. “Can you reach the lock?”
“No! It is at the top, Daddy! I’m scared and I have to go pee-pee!”
“Go pee-pee then, honey! You’re in the bathroom. Go pee-pee and I’ll have you out of there in no time!” Father’s voice was reassuring. I scurried over to the toilet and hoisted myself up. Father jiggled the door knob and bumped into the door several times. I heard Mama’s voice in the hall ask what was going on.
“Mama!” I yelled frantically. I wanted out!
“How long has she been in there?” Mama asked. “Honey it is going to be okay!”
“Twenty minutes.” Maria said with sadness in her voice. Twenty minutes? I could have watched a whole episode of Andy Griffith in twenty minutes! I began to cry harder than I had before.
“Hang on baby, Daddy will get you out!”
I listened through tears as they concocted a plan. Father would take the door off of its hinges and free me. Maria hurried off for his tools and Mama assured me calmly that everything would be okay.
After a series of bangs and knocks, Father announced that it wouldn’t work. He couldn’t get the door off of its hinges. “Please get me out!” I cried beating on the door.
“Step back, Addy! I’m going to have to break the door down.” Father said confidently. “Go to the farthest corner of the bathroom!”
“Addy, go to the window. Get away from the door! It is going to be okay!” Mama said, I could hear the worry in her voice.
I ran across the cold tile floor and crouched down against the wall. I covered my head with my hands and hummed a Beatles song to block out the loud noises that were coming from the door. It was louder than anything I had ever heard. It took forever, but eventually Daddy came bursting through the broken door. I was rocking back and forth, humming, and crying.
Father took me in his arms and held me tight. Mama rushed in through the splintered wood and embraced us both. I was finally free. I was still humming “Eleanor Rigby” and didn’t even notice. “Shhh…” Mama consoled. “You’re okay now.”
I opened my eyes and looked around. The door was in a million pieces on the floor. I never played hide-and-go seek again.
I stood as Penny and her date came up the walk. I was going to be nice if it killed me. I realized suddenly that I recognized her date, and I could feel heat rising in me. “Mr. Hanks?”
“Hi, Addy!” Junior’s father gave me a warm hug.
“You’re Penny’s date?” I was so confused! He wasn’t a woman.
“I wouldn’t call it a date, but we’ve had dinner a few times.” Penny said, giving me a peck on the cheek like nothing was wrong.
“I’m a little confused.” I confessed, searching her face for answers. She looked pretty, as much as I hated to admit it. Why in the world was she pretending to like men? Was this all a show to throw Father and Anna off of her scent? I should have known she’d be too smart to bring a woman, but why Mr. Hanks?
“We’ll talk later.” Penny led me in the house and introduced Thomas Hanks, Sr. to my family. They all got a big laugh out of him being named Tom Hanks, and I couldn’t help but feel that Penny was stealing my thunder. That joke should have been reserved for my family’s first time meeting Junior. I was supposed to introduce him as Tom Hanks, Jr. Especially since Anna spent her childhood claiming that she would someday marry Tom Hanks.
“Tom is actually Addy’s friend Junior’s Dad.” Penny announced with a cheeky smile. How dare she mention Junior?
Maria served us all and we small talked the night away. I finally got over the fact that Penny was using Mr. Hanks as a decoy, and decided to just enjoy myself. No one thought it was strange that Penny brought a man around so soon after Mama’s death, which proved to me that I was the only person who knew her secret. I was the only one who had the bear the pain of the truth about them, and somehow I felt relieved.
Penny was her usual bubbly self, and everyone seemed glad to have her around. I looked at her and then at Mrs. Bailey and accidentally laughed out loud. She wasn’t Penny’s type. Father invited everyone out onto the deck for drinks after dinner, and Penny pulled me aside. “Want to go for a walk? Please?”
I begrudgingly agreed and followed her out the front door as everyone else headed out back. I didn’t know what to say. “Mr. Hanks?” I asked, taking special care to have a condescending tone.
“Yes, Mr. Hanks.” Penny studied my face.
“I just think it is crooked. Using that poor, sweet man as a decoy.” I didn’t hold anything back.
“Yes, to make sure Daddy and Anna don’t know about you and Mama. Of course you couldn’t bring a woman! That would make things obvious.” I felt like screaming, but lowered my voice instead.
“Addy.” Penny shook her head. “Let’s sit down.”
“Here?” I looked down at the grass.
“Yes.” Penny pulled me down, my dress fanned out as I plopped down in the grass. “You obviously don’t understand.”
“What is there to understand?”
“Addy, I’m not a lesbian.” Penny didn’t mince words.
“Aren’t a lesbian? Well then how do you explain you and Mama?” I was getting more and more frustrated by the second. How could she claim not to be a lesbian? She was with Mama for decades!
“I’m not. I’m not gay, I’m… Well, I’m Julianne.” Penny shook her head, probably wondering if it made sense. It did. It had never occurred to me that Mama and Penny weren’t lesbians or bisexuals. Penny didn’t like women, she liked Mama. I felt like my eyes were seeing Penny for the first time. Suddenly, she was hard to be mad at.
“Oh.” I couldn’t find any words, so I just listened.
“Addy, I dreamed of growing up and getting married just like all other little girls do. I wanted a big house, a bunch of kids, a handsome husband, and a picket fence. I had boyfriends, but then I met Julianne. It didn’t matter that she was a woman, what mattered was that we were kindred spirits. We made sense. We belonged together.” Penny’s eyes filled with tears as she spoke of Mama. “Your Mama started dating your Daddy soon after we discovered our feelings for each other. She loved him, and we put our feelings aside for many many years.”
“In college?” I asked.
“Yes,” Penny wiped away a tear. “She loved him so much and wanted a life that involved a man and children. She wanted to be with him, but after awhile we realized that what we had couldn’t be put aside any longer. We decided that we couldn’t just be best friends anymore and she asked Robert for an open marriage. To our surprise he agreed…”
“So you became lovers?”
“Yes, we became lovers again. I didn’t have the same capacity for loving two people, and so I put my dreams of having children and a husband aside. Your Mama was worth it, Addy.” Penny took my hand in hers’. I couldn’t believe my ears. Penny had sacrificed her chance at a normal life, at having children and being a wife, just so that she could be by Mama’s side.
“Oh, Penny!” I hugged her tighter than I had ever hugged her before. “I’m so sorry.”
“For what, honey? Don’t be sorry! I loved your Mama, she was worth it.” Penny whispered.
“You never got to have kids or a husband. You sat back and watched Mama and Daddy live the perfect life!” I couldn’t believe how drastically my opinion of Penny had changed.
“I had children, Addy. Why do you think I took you so many places and did so much for you? In my own way, I had two daughters.” Penny ran her hand through my hair.
“Thank you for telling me, Penny.”
“You’re welcome baby girl. I love you.” Penny smiled brightly, visibly relieved at getting the weight of my hate off of her shoulders. “And as for Mr. Hanks, I hope you don’t mind. We’re not dating yet, but I like him a lot.”
“I don’t mind at all.” I stood up and helped Penny to her feet. “Oh, and I love you too.”
“Do me a favor?” Penny and I walked back toward the sprawling estate that I called home.
“Okay, what?” I knew that I would literally do anything that she asked.
“When Junior gets here tomorrow, give him a chance.”
“Tomorrow? Junior’s coming tomorrow?” I felt my heart skip a beat.
“He is.” Penny nodded. “He’s hurting pretty bad, but I think I know just the girl to fix it.”
I stood frozen, peeking around the curtain at the audience. I was, as usual, the grand finale to Mrs. Smith’s annual piano recital. I hadn’t been nervous in front of an audience in years, but the fact that seat beside Father sat empty, made me antsy. Mama had never missed one of my performances, and I couldn’t believe that she wasn’t there.
I popped my fingers and listened to the first year piano student play staccato notes on a piece that was supposed to be legato. The choppy song resonated through the recital hall and put me even more on edge than I already was.
“You okay?” Mrs. Smith came and stood beside me. She was pregnant again, and her stomach looked like it was about to burst.
“I’m okay, just wondering where Mama is.” I confessed.
“Oh, she’ll be here.”
“I hope so.” I adjusted my dress and took a deep breath. The names on the program dwindled down to only two people left, and still no Mama. I had worked very hard on Stravinsky’s Petrushka Transciption, and knew that it would be a piece that took Mama’s breath away.
I looked out at Father, who had a pleasant look on his face, enjoying the final notes of the teenage girl’s piece. She smiled and bowed, and I knew that it was my turn. I tried to forget the fact that Mama hadn’t come, but was so disappointed that I could barely walk out and sit on the bench. I decided that she must have a good reason and put my hands on the black and white expanse of keys.
The piece was comprised of three movements. I blocked out the nagging disappointment and focused on the music that I was creating. The piece was originally written as a ballet and I could see the little tu-tus frantically scurrying around the stage in my imagination. My fingers danced across the keys skillfully, and I knew that I was wowing the audience once again. The anger poured out through my fingers as I banged out the frantic movement that piece called for. I felt the warmth of a tear escape my eye and tried to blink away the rest. Mama wasn’t there, she wasn’t hearing the fruit of my hard work. By the end of the first movement I was damp with tears, and I knew that there was nothing I could do to hide them. I had no choice but to finish.
After I played the final notes, I stood and bowed. My eyes, instead of seeing the smiling faces misted with tears, I saw the empty seat. I forced a smile and headed off stage. Mrs. Smith, who was already emotional from the pregnancy hormones, had mascara streaking down her cheeks. “Amazing!”
“Thank you.” I said, dodging her open arms. “Please tell my Father that I’ll be waiting in the car.”
After Father finally escaped the clutches of all the praise that people had for my piano playing, he came out and found me in the car. “You were wonderful!”
“Thanks.” I sighed, thankful that the car was finally moving. I needed to cry harder, but was too proud to do it in front of him. “Where was she?”
“Anna hurt her ankle at tennis practice. They are at the hospital.” Father explained, realizing that the tears were not tears of passion but that they were tears of pain.
“Oh.” I nodded. “I guess that is a good excuse.”
The article in the local newspaper the next day spoke of my amazing technical skills, but focused on the emotional connection that I had with Stravinsky’s work. It quoted Mrs. Smith as calling me a “piano virtuoso,” and had a black and white photograph of me hovering over the keys quietly sobbing. I slid the paper in the trash before Mama could see it, I didn’t want her knowing just how devastating the experience had been. I was starting to wonder if my reliance on Mama was healthy or not, but knew that it was too late to turn back the clock either way.
Anna made her way to the trash can on her crutches and pulled the unread paper out. “What are you doing?”
“Just embarrassed about being on the front page…” I lied.
“Mama will want to see it! I thought she was going to kill me for breaking my ankle.” Anna put it on the counter and hobbled out. I couldn’t help but smile, Mama wanted to be there. She didn’t abandon me after all.
After a day or two of reacquainting myself with my long lost Father, I began to come to terms with Mama’s secret. I was a mess of ups and downs. One minute I realized that Mama’s love life did not define her and that she was still the same Mama I had worshiped and adored, and the next minute I was angry and felt betrayed that Mama and Penny had risked ruining our lives for an affair. An affair-- was it really even an affair? Father knew that Mama had a lover, he knew exactly when she was heading out to be with her lover, and he accepted it. Mama still loved him, and he still loved her.
I was more confused than anything. I couldn’t help but wonder if Father would have still accepted Mama’s affair if he had known that it was with Penny. Would he have welcomed Penny into his home? Would he have allowed Penny to be a part of his daughters’ lives? I didn’t have answers and wouldn’t have answers. I could never breathe a word of Mama’s lover’s identity to him. I had a feeling it would crush him. He made a conscious decision not to find out who it was, and I intended to keep it that way.
Maria kept me well fed and I even left my bed unmade for her to take care of. It was almost like a little peace offering. She was much jollier than I had ever remembered, and I realized that I liked Maria a lot. It made sense that she had fallen like putty into Father’s arms all those years ago-- she had a husband who was never around and Father was a handsome nice man who was always kind to her. I was seeing Maria through completely new eyes.
I pulled Mama’s letters out and reread them. I knew good and well that the way I was treating Penny was the complete opposite of how I should act if I was taking heed to the lessons that Mama had written into her letters for me. I knew I was way off course, but I also knew that I wasn’t ready to forgive Penny yet. I needed to hold this against her.
I slid the letters under me as Father came out onto the porch and sat beside me on the swing. “Morning.”
“Good Morning, Daddy.” The morning fog was slowly burning away and letting sun through. The dew on the ground was shining in the sun’s gilded rays, and I saw certain beauty in Father’s estate that I hadn’t taken time to notice in years. “It’s a beautiful day.”
“It sure is. Anna and her boyfriend Ryan are coming tonight for dinner. I think they are brining Penny.” Father studied my face. “I don’t know what has happened between the two of you, but Penny has always gone out of her way for our family, and I don’t think that you should cut her off, Addy. I know how bad that can feel.”
I looked at him, he didn’t know half of it, finally I had found someone who deserved to be hated, and I couldn’t quite find the meanness inside of me to hate her. “I won’t cut her off, Daddy. I just don’t understand her.”
“She was only trying to help you by shipping you off to the beach house with your Mama’s letters. She cares about you, otherwise she wouldn’t have bothered.” Father made sense.
“True.” I sighed. I wasn’t looking forward to seeing Penny, but at the same time I had to face her. I was only hurting myself by hating people anyway.
“I think she is bringing a date.” Father stood up and patted me on the leg before heading back inside. The screen door bounced shut behind him and I felt like screaming. My mind wandered back to Junior referring to Penny’s
“hot date” the week before, and I just couldn’t believe that Penny had already moved on. How could she already have someone else? God, what if seeing her with a woman put all of the pieces of the puzzle together in Father’s mind? What if he would realize that Penny had been Mama’s other man? I didn’t know what to do! Should I call and warn Penny not to make such a huge mistake? Should I call Anna? What could I do?
After awhile, I stopped debating my options and realized that my only real option was to be there for Father. I had to protect him from the pain that Penny had the potential to cause. If he suspected Mama and Penny, I would help him debunk his suspicions. I would prove to him that there was no way that his wife liked women. I could do this.
I climbed into the claw footed tub and sank into the scorching hot water. Steam danced in the air around me. I knew that our visitors would arrive within the next few hours, and I needed to relax and prepare myself for the emotional reunion. I didn’t know if I could face Penny. I was hurt and angry. No matter what Penny had done for me, I couldn’t ignore all of the bad things that she had done to me either. I would muster up all of my strength and put on a happy face, but I couldn’t imagine liking her ever again.
Wrapped in a towel I pulled out my makeup bag for the first time since arriving home. I wanted to erase the evidence of the tears that I had cried and the evidence of the piece of me that was missing. I missed Junior. I had ruined my chances with him, and was kicking myself for it. I knew that he would never want me back, and had decided not to even try. I would send apologies back to him through Penny, and wish him luck with the rest of his life. That would at least make Penny useful to me again.
After fixing my hair, putting on makeup, and sliding on the off the shoulder A-line number that I had worn on my first official date with Junior, I headed downstairs to see if Maria needed any help. “Can I help?”
Maria looked up from her stir fry and smiled. “You look beautiful.”
“Oh thank you. I guess you haven’t seen me fix up much.” I pulled an apron around my waist and took over stirring so that Maria could check on the salads.
“I like. You look nice.” Maria approved.
“Thanks.” I felt pretty for the first time in several days. Maybe I was getting over Junior already.
Father came in and gave me a peck on the cheek, “Lovely.”
“You don’t look so bad yourself.” I teased. He really did look handsome.
“Want to play hostess? I’m heading down to the basement to grab some wine, but I saw car lights coming down the drive."
“Sure.” I handed Maria her spoon, slid out of the apron, and smoothed my hair into place. I had to face Penny whether I was ready or not.
I smiled warmly as Anna, Ryan, and a woman I didn’t recognize climbed out of Anna’s Mercedes. So this was Penny’s lover? I studied her as she climbed the stairs to the porch, and I felt like vomiting. How could Penny go from Mama’s beauty to this woman’s plainness? Couldn’t she see how ordinary this red-headed, freckle-faced, buck-toothed lady was? Oh God.
“Where is Penny?” I asked the woman. She looked to Anna for the answer, without saying a word to me. She must have already been warned about me.
“Penny will be along in a little while. We left about twenty minutes before she did.” Anna gave me a look. Did she know about Penny and Mama? Wasn’t she surprised that Penny was a lesbian?
I smiled at Ryan and asked Penny’s new fling her name. “I’m Ellen Bailey. Ryan’s Mother.”
“Oh!” I exclaimed, blushing. I couldn’t believe that I had almost snubbed Ryan, the dentist’s Mom! “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Bailey. I’m Anna’s sister Adeline.”
“Nice to meet you, too.” She smiled, I wondered why he didn’t do something about his own mother’s teeth, but was relieved that Penny hadn’t traded Mama in for a chubby red-head so soon after her death. Thank goodness I hadn’t said anything mean.
Anna took Mrs. Bailey by the arm and led her inside to meet Father. I sat on the porch and tried to recover. Apparently I wasn’t as mentally prepared for the evening as I thought I was. In less than twenty minutes, I would be facing my new arch nemesis. Penelope Quinn. The woman who had taken me under her wing and helped me discover who I had the potential of becoming. The woman who had bought me thousands of dollars worth of clothes. The woman who always made me giggle when I was a little girl. The woman who brought the best out in ordinary people like Beth the waitress. The woman who Mama obviously loved. Most people would adore Penny regardless, but I couldn’t help but loathe her. I inherited Mama’s secrets and Penny inherited my hate for Father. As her lights sped down the drive, I took a deep breath. Only a few more hours and I would be free of Penny forever. I could play nice until then.
“A yard sale? Are you kidding me?” Anna, who was at the height of her teenage popularity, couldn’t believe that we had tables lined up across our front lawn and gawdy signs posted around town. She was embarrassed to say the least.
“Yes, it is for charity.” I slid past her and put down a box of items from her room with a thud. She eyed the items and made a face before rushing inside. “I don’t understand your daughter.”
“Me either sometimes,” Mama shook her head. I was glad that she was seeing Anna’s true colors. “Hand me that piece of poster board.”
Father came out and handed me a box of books from his study. He didn’t bother saying much to me, but was glad to help out with my cause. I realized a few years earlier that I could take advantage of our rich contacts and raise money for charities around town. It was my first yard sale, but if it went well I was sure that it wouldn’t be my last. Mama had even managed to have it announced in the monthly newletter that the country club sent out.
“I’m so proud of you.” Mama put her arm around me as the first cars rolled down the drive.
“Thanks, Mama. Too bad Anna doesn’t want to help…” I wanted her to realize how selfish Anna was. Mama nodded, probably pondering the disappointment that she felt in her second born child over and over again.
Within two hours I had already sold around three hundred dollars worth, and we were just getting started good. Every time I turned around I saw Mama running in the house for more items to donate, Maria was passing around cookies, and Father taking people in the house to see large items that he would be willing to part with.
“Got any good movies to sell?” Penny pranced up to me wearing heels and a dress. She always got dolled up, even if she was just going to a Saturday morning yard sale.
“Hey Penny.” I pointed toward the crate with movies in it. “I’ll cut you a deal if you buy them all.”
“I just sold two chairs. Fifty bucks a piece.” Father reported.
“Great!” I smiled. I couldn’t wait to see the final total at the end of the day!
After lunch, a woman caught my eye. She wasn’t dressed up or made up like the socialites who were meandering around the tables for charity sake, but she was searching the tables for items that she needed. It was obvious that she was wearing hand me downs and it was obvious that she was not from my parents’ circle of friend. “Hi,” I headed over to greet her.
“Hi.” She nodded in my direction and looked back down at the table of shoes that she was sizing up.
“Most of them are size eights, but I think my Mama put in a few pairs and she wears a seven…” I knew that none of the high heel fancy shoes would be practical for this woman, but didn’t say anything.
“I’m looking for tennis shoes, but these red ones sure are nice. I wear an eight.” She ran her hand across the snakeskin stilettos. She was warming up to me a little.
“Oh! I’ve got a whole stack of tennis shoes inside that didn’t make it out, thanks for reminding me! Stay right here…” I ran into the house, straight up the stairs to my bedroom, and started digging through the shoes in my closet. I had a ton of athletic shoes, but really only wore one pair that was my favorite. I gathered boxes of unworn shoes, and headed back out. “Found them.”
She opened the boxes and her eyes grew wide. “These have never been worn?”
“No, that’s why I wanted to sell them.” I was a bit embarrassed that I had eight pairs of unworn sneakers. How selfish of me.
“I’ll give you all of these and the red pair of heels for five.” I hoped that wasn’t too much.
“Oh I just need one…” She looked at a white and pink pair of Nikes. “Maybe two. I could get a pair for my sister.”
“Take them all. You can give your sister a few and keep a few… Really. I insist.” I glanced down at her worn out canvas shoes.
“Well, I guess I could. Thank you!” She eyed the red heels again and smiled.
“I’ll help you carry them.” I took armloads of shoes to her beat up car. She had a car seat in the back and I asked her if she had a baby.
“I have four kids.”
“I’m Addy, what was your name?” I extended my hand, hoping she would come find more items that she needed.
“I’m Rachael.” she took my hand timidly and shook it.
“Let’s see if we have anything else you want to buy, Rachael.” I smiled and we headed back over to the tables. I wanted to give her everything, but I knew she wouldn’t accept any of it without paying. “We have pots and pans that have never even been opened.”
“Really… Want to look at them?” I asked, knowing that the fifty dollar price tag would never do. Suddenly I didn’t care about making money for charity, I cared about being charitable. I slid the price tag off and crumpled it up into my pocket before she could see it. “I think we are asking six dollars for these, if you’re interested."
“Oh I am! Do you have any blankets?” It was warm outside, but Rachael was practical enough to know that winter was on its way.
“We do! I saw a whole stack of them somewhere earlier!” I searched for the blankets while Rachael gathered up other items that she needed. By the end of the afternoon Rachael’s car was loaded up with items that she bought. She spent twenty nine dollars in all, and had no clue that I was making up prices as I went. Mama watched me in wonder, and Father brought out several items for her. She thanked us for our attention and headed down the drive with a smile.
“I’m proud of you.” Mama whispered as I wheeled and dealed with Aunt Elise over a pearl necklace.
“Thanks,” I smiled, turning my attention back to Elise. “Now you know these pearls are worth at least thirty.”
“Okay, I’ll do thirty…” Elise pulled out a fifty dollar bill. “For charity.”
By the end of the day I had sold eight hundred dollars for charity, Icould have easily reached my goal of one thousand had I not given Rachael three hundred dollars worth of merchandise for less than thirty, but I didn’t care. I was thankful to see the items actually go to the someone who needed them instead of being taken home to the yard sale pile in the corner of some rich person’s garage.
“Oh, I forgot to pay for my movies…” Penny had stayed behind to help us load the leftovers into the basement.
“Oh, take them!” I urged, she had been a big help.
“No, actually I counted them up and if I pay five dollars a piece, I owe you two hundred and ten dollars.” Penny whipped out her leopard print checkbook.
“Penny! You are not paying full price for those movies.” Mama shook her head.
“Let her,” Father smiled, pointing out that it would help me reach my goal.
“I insist.” Penny slid the folded check into my hand with a smile, put her shoes on top of the crate full of movies and headed off toward her fancy car.
“Thank you Penny!” I called behind her with a smile. I met my goal!