It was late afternoon and it was time to be thinking about getting off to Jessica’s place. Everyone seemed to be about ready, except for Ray had his reservations. He stopped Penelopy in the hall.
“I was fine watching the girls.” He said.
“No, Jesse wants us all there. It’ll be fun.” Penelopy assured.
“How does that work? Wouldn’t you kids have a better time without an old coot underfoot, and not to mention a couple of little kids; one a baby no less.”
“You’re not an ‘old coot’” Penelopy said.
“Well, I ain’t no Spring Chicken.” Ray stated plainly.
“That don’t matter. Like I said, it’ll be fine. We’ve got it all figured out. Me and Jesse, we’re going to do all of the cooking. And we’re going to keep Suzie busy letting her be a little ‘mommy’ to Brittany. We’re going to let her be in complete charge of the baby. And we plan on having a nice meal too. We’ll start out with appetizers, and then –”
“Alright, already. You win. I’ll go.” Teased Ray. He knew that it was useless to argue with her at this point. Once she started making her excuses and sighting instances of her great wisdom then he knew that it was over. That girl didn’t know it, but she had everything that it took to be a fine lawyer. Her reasoning skills were impeccable.
“So you’ll go?” It wasn’t really a question. “We’ll have so much fun!” Penelopy was off to make sure that everyone else was ready to roll. She was excited. She knew that it would be fun to just hang out and get to know Jessica’s friends better, and she liked the idea of getting to know Daniel even better.
“You ready?” Penelopy stood outside of the guest bedroom.
“Yeah, just about. Come on in.” Daniel offered. “I just have to get Brittany changed and throw a few things into her diaper bag.
“Here, I’ll change her.” Penelopy offered.
“You sure?” Daniel asked.
Penelopy didn’t bother to answer; she just took the infant from his arms and headed over to the changing table. It was the most natural thing in the world for her. She had helped her mother with Suzie from the day that she had come home from the hospital.
As she changed the baby she couldn’t help but remember her Mama and how much they had enjoyed just being with each other…
“Mommy, can I change the baby?” Penelopy had asked.
“Sure, sweetie. Let me help you.”
“I’ve watched you. I think I’ve got it.” Penelopy had insisted. She was after all, eleven-years-old.
“Well, that’s not quite how you do it.” Judy had told her, as she smiled with good humor.
The diaper was on, but it wasn’t strapped on tight enough around the baby’s tiny tummy. “As soon as she moves it’s going to fall right off of her.” Her mother had gently warned.
“Oh, mom, it’s fine.” Penelopy stated, with all of the confidence in the world.
Penelopy carefully laid little Suzie back down into her crib. Suzie rolled over, and sure enough, the diaper wasn’t tight enough. Penelopy had to admit that if they didn’t do something then there would be a problem if that baby went potty. There was way too much skin showing as the diaper threatened to remove itself as the baby moved.
“Here, let me show you.” Penelopy had stood at Suzie’s side as her mom showed her how to do a diaper change the right way. Judy placed her hands over Penelopy’s hands and they changed little Suzie together.
Penelopy could almost sense her mama standing there in the room with her as she changed little Brittany’s diaper. She felt a bit sad and nostalgic at the memories, and at her loss. Her mama would never know the joy of being a grandmother – would never know Daniel – would never see what a good mother that Penelopy would one day be…
“Hey. You okay?” Daniel asked. She had a far away look on her face as she placed the child back into his arms.
“Sure. I’m fine. I was just thinking about my mother. I miss her every day.”
“She was young when she passed, wasn’t she?” Daniel knew, but didn’t know how else to allow the subject to play out.
“Very. She was only thirty-five.” Penelopy stated in a low voice. And then she went on to say, “And my daddy, he was only thirty-seven. Too young to die.” She added.
“Much too young. My parents both died too young too. It’s hard. I know.” Daniel said.
“Yeah, it is. But hey, we’re going to a party.” Penelopy tried to lighten the air.
Daniel sat the baby down in the crib and walked over to Penelopy. He stepped close to her and she found her way into his welcome and comforting arms. He wrapped his arms around her and without words told her that she could always come to him; told her that he would always care.
Penelopy accepted the comfort that the safety of his arms allowed. He held her for just a little while; and then they separated.
“Thank you.” Penelopy looked into Daniel’s eyes. “I really needed a hug.”
Daniel could see by the look in Penelopy’s eyes that she was grateful for the chance to share; even if it was such a simple conversation. Another time they would talk again, but for the moment she knew that he was there for her, and that was all that mattered.
“They’re waiting for us.” Daniel stated. “You mind getting Brittany, and I’ll bring her gear.”
“Sure.” Penelopy said as she lifted the baby up into her arms and held her close to her heart; kind of like her daddy had held her close to his…
“Hey, guys; come on in.” Jessica was glad that Penelopy was finally there. She was getting nervous about her soon-coming guests. What in the world had she gotten herself into? She was beyond nervous.
Ray and Daniel stepped into Jessica’s apartment; followed by Penelopy with the baby in her arms and Suzie at her side.
“Come on in,” she repeated, this time to Penelopy and Suzie. “I thought you’d never get here.” She stated to Penelopy.
Jessica closed the door. Her guests were just sort of standing there in the entryway. “Sit down, relax, make yourselves at home.”
Jessica’s small Studio apartment was nothing like Penelopy’s Penthouse. It was clean though, and uncluttered. Jessica had an Oriental partition which separated her bedroom area from the living room. It was a small living space, but well decorated and pleasant.
Daniel used the small dinette to set the baby’s bag on. “Is there anything that you would like us to do?” He offered.
“No, I’ve got it. There’s not much room in the kitchen.” That was amusing to all, as the kitchen was pretty much right there; separated only by the dinette table that indicated that it was the ‘dining’ area. Jessica had a desk with a computer on it in one corner, and a flat-screen TV in the other. She had a couch against the wall and a couple of old fashioned arm chairs flanking it. She didn’t have a coffee table, as there just wasn’t that much room. Each chair had a small end table for drinks to be set on.
“There’s a football game on that I thought you guys might enjoy watching. Suzie, I’ve got my bedroom set up for little Brittany. Did Penelopy tell you that you get to play ‘Mommy’ to Brittany tonight?”
Daniel raised his eyebrows. He hadn’t been told of that arrangement. Suzie looked at Daniel to see what he would think of that. She didn’t know if he would let her. Daniel looked at Suzie and the hope that she had on her cute little face. He didn’t know how to tell her that he thought that she was a little young for that. Then he looked at Penelopy. Her look told him that he needed to trust her judgment. His lack of objection was a sign of his approval, and Suzie carefully let Penelopy place the tiny charge into her arms.
“I’ll be careful with her,” Suzie stated. “I promise.” Then her entire attention was devoted to the baby. She didn’t want to drop her.
“Come on,” Jessica reassured Suzie. “Let’s go see what I’ve got set up for you.”
Jessica grabbed up the diaper bag as Suzie carefully held Brittany in her arms and followed Jessica back behind the partition.
“I’ve got pillows on the outside of my bed so that she won’t roll off when she needs to rest. And I’ve got a blanket here on the floor so that you can play with her. I’ve got this jungle gym that I bought so that you guys would have fun.”
Suzie was pleased. Not only was there a toy on the floor with little rubber ducks hanging down on straps for Brittany to lay on her back and play with; but there was also a mirror and some rattles dangling down also. On top of that there was some stacking rings that the baby could chew on and play with and there was some little half rings that were plastic and interlocking. Suzie felt like she was in her own personal FAO Schwartz playroom.
“Wow.” Suzie stated with wide-eyed wonder. “You’ve got everything here.”
“You like it?” Jessica was pleased. She could tell that Suzie was very happy with what she had set up for her so that she could take care of the baby.
“I do!” Suzie smiled. “Except can I tell you something?” Suzie asked quietly. She didn’t want anyone to hear her, and everyone was just on the other side of the wall.
“What’s that?” Jessica bent down and leaned in close and spoke as equally quiet.
“I really don’t know how to change a diaper.” Suzie admitted.
“I’ll tell you what,” Jessica whispered. “Neither do I. If you think she is stinky, just call me, and I’ll get Penelopy for you. Is that a deal?”
“Deal.” Suzie answered, and then turned her attention back to Brittany. “Look, baby. A new toy…”
Jessica stood and left the two little girls alone. She knew that they would be just fine. There would never be a moment when someone was any farther than earshot away. The men would be going to the recreation room to play pool, but she and Penelopy would be staying in the apartment with the children.
“All settled.” Jessica told Daniel as she came back into the living room. “Suzie will be a great little mommy.”
Suzie could hear what Jessica said, and she smiled. “Did you hear that baby? I’m going to be a good little mommy.”
“So, what do you need me to do?” Penelopy offered.
“I’ve got to get some plates ready is about all. I’ve got the meat on a serving tray. I’ll send the men out to the grill with it once everyone’s here.”
The front door was still open, and Brad stuck his head in as he gave it a soft knock. “Hey, I heard there was a party.” Brad announced as he wandered through the open door.
“Come on in,” Jessica offered, but didn’t need to. Brad was already joining the men on the couch.
“Who’s playing?” He asked.
“Giants and the Red Skins.” Ray offered.
“Who’s winning?” Brad wanted to know.
“Who do you think?” Daniel stated. “Giants up by seven in the fourth.”
“Again? I thought that the Red Skins were going to pull it out.” Brad was a Giant’s fan, but they hadn’t been showing too well the whole season.
“Doesn’t look like it.” Ray stated, every bit a sports fan as the other two.
“Where are the plates?” Penelopy asked. She was about done with football. She was glad that the game was almost over. Once the men were out of there she’d be turning off that TV and putting on the stereo.
“Over here.” Jessica said as the two of them went the few steps that were needed to exit the ‘game’ room. “I bought some nice paper.”
“Great. Less mess.” Penelopy stated.
“You got it.” Jessica smiled.
“Knock, knock,” Ernie stated as he wandered in the open door. “Break out the party hats; your guests have arrived.” He good-naturedly stated. He was looking forward to the down-scaled gathering. “Pete’s parking his car. I saw him pull in.”
Jessica went back into the living room area and introduced her friend to her other friends. “Ernie, I’d like you to meet my friends: This is my friend from Oklahoma, Daniel, and this is my friend Ray; he’s Penelopy’s uncle, and this is my friend, Penelopy.” Penelopy had followed Jessica out to the living room.
At that moment Pete had also found his way to Jessica’s door. “Hey, hey.” He called out. “K if I come in?”
Jessica turned and greeted her new guest. “Pete. Hi. Come on in. I was just introducing everybody.”
By this time all of the men were standing in the small living room and handshakes were being exchanged. Pete offered his name and his hand in friendship.
“You guys go ahead and watch the game. We’ll put you to work soon enough.” Jessica stated as she and Penelopy left the men to find their seats. It wasn’t but a few moments and there was talking and cheering going on. The Red Skins had started to rally and were giving the Giants a run for their money.
Penelopy started getting the serving dishes ready as Jessica took the vegetable tray out of the refrigerator. She poured ranch dressing into the center of the tray for the vegetables and took the tray into the living room as Penelopy followed close behind with the plates and napkins. Next they added a bowl of potato chips and a dish of sour-cream and onion dip. Jessica brought out the finger sandwiches and they were just about ready. They added some silverware and told the men that they were on their own.
The men didn’t need any more of a prompt than that. Each in turn got up and filled their plates with the offered appetizers and then went back to watching the game. The cheers and chatting was replaced by four hungry men snacking away as they were getting ready for the real food.
The rest of the party went pretty much the same way. The women said, “Eat,” and the men said, “What,” and happily obliged.
Brad and Ernie were in charge of the grill, and it was up to Pete and Ray to bring the food to the men to cook, and then back to the women to prepare the final product. The football game had ended, with the Giants remaining on top, and Suzie cared for Brittany without a fuss or complaint. The rifts that had been caused at Ernie’s party were smoothed over, and Jessica had redeemed herself. They never did offer the men the beer that Jessica had bought. They hadn’t seemed to miss it, and it never was brought out. Ray was the pool champion and there was talk of a rematch.
“Thanks for coming.” Jessica stated to her last guest to leave. It was Pete. He had managed to outlast everyone else.
“It was my pleasure. And you know what?” He asked as he was leaving.
“Yeah, what’s that?” Jessica asked.
“I really am glad that you did this.” Pete offered. Jessica waited. “I hated to see everything so messed up, you know, after that party and all….”
“Yeah,” Jessica smiled. “Me too. Night.” She said as she was about to close the door.
“Jesse,” Pete stepped slowly back towards Jessica.
“Wha –” She started to say.
“My kiss.” Pete said, as he gave her a light kiss on the lips goodnight.
She smiled as she closed the door. She had been redeemed.