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.