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.