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.”