The petite little seven-year-old stood on a chair and the beautiful, yet oversized evening gown hung down to the floor. She fluffed up her hair with her hands and challenged the mirror, “Look at me! I’m beautiful!”
The reflection of her older sister, Penelopy came from behind. “You are beautiful, kitten. Do you like the dress?”
“Oh, do I! It’s the most! The absolute most!”
“Tell you what,” Penelopy took her little sister into her arms and swung her to the floor. “You can have it.”
“For reals. Now go along before I change my mind.” Penelopy teased.
The happy little girl grabbed up as much of the dress that she could manage and hurried up the stairs; only tripping a little bit on the way.
Before the child was out of sight, the telephone borrowed some of Penelopy’s attention. “Yes?” A whimsical Penelopy uncharacteristically answered. Her more formal demeanor was lost in the enchantment of an adorable little Suzie, still prancing up the stairs.
A little déjà-vu as Suzie once again let out a contented sigh. Carrie lifted up an eyebrow; but this time had to smile; and continued – Hopefully this would be the last time that she had to write those lines…
“Penelopy. How are you?” Daniel’s voice was low and clear, and made Penelopy’s heart flutter wildly.
The sound of his voice was enough to make Penelopy question everything about her life. She didn’t dare admit it, but she knew; she was in love.
“I’m good.” Penelopy softly stated.
Just the sound of her voice and Daniel was in heaven. He was in love; he was certain.
“And you?” She continued.
The characters were silent. She had their attention… They had heard everything else before, but this; this was new, and promising. Anticipation was thick as each character wondered what would happen next.
“The baby is well.” Daniel offered. How could he tell her how he really felt? How could he tell her how much these past months had meant to him? It was too soon, and he knew it.
“You should come, you know; and visit.” There. She said it. She didn’t want to be forward, but he needed her, and she knew it.
“We’ve had this conversation before. I can’t come. You know that. I have responsibilities. I have the farm. My dad worked all of his life for this place. Come here, Penelopy; at least come and visit.”
“But isn’t it too soon; I mean; people will talk. No one knows anything here. Only my family, and you know that they support you. But there; it’s different. They all knew her, Daniel.”
“I knew her better, Penelopy. Let them talk. Mitzi wouldn’t care, and I don’t care. We’re not doing anything wrong. I was faithful to her; you know that. But I can’t live my life being faithful to a woman who is gone, now can I?”
“But how do you even know that I’m the one? How can you be so sure?”
“You’ve been here for me. I couldn’t have made it without you. I need you Penelopy; and Brittany needs you too.”
Penelopy thought of the child and her heart swelled. She had never so much as held the baby in her arms, but in her heart she loved that infant as though it were her very own. She would video-chat with Daniel and she would hear Brittany coo as her daddy held her in his arms. All that she could think was how she wanted to be in his arms.
Daniel offered Brittany up for Penelopy. No, I can wait. She absolutely loved this new story line.
“Maybe you guys should take a walk? I need to get some writing done.” Carrie smiled. She was grateful for the character revolt after all. How could she not be? They really were some pretty nice people.
“No, we better stick around. You might need us.” Daniel smiled and snuggled the blanket just a little bit tighter under Brittany’s little chin. Penelopy scooted her chair over a little closer to listen as their lives unfolded.
“Maybe I could come; you know; for just a little while. I’ve got a friend. His name is David. Maybe he’d take over for me for a week or so, and maybe we could come.”
Daniel sat up straighter in his chair. She was making a way where there had seemed to be no way. David also sat up a bit straighter. He had wondered if and where he would actually fit in the story.
“I’ll get back to you. And Babe.”
Penelopy’s heart skipped a beat.
“I love you.”
There. He had said it. Before Penelopy could respond Daniel gently set the phone on the cradle. Think on that. He smiled as he stood with his little bundle in his arms and went to place her in her own cradle. He had some planning to get done. He was not only going to go to New York, but he had every intention of returning home with his bride.
Penelopy’s eyes glazed over as she considered what Carrie had just written. Daniel took a hold of her hand and his eyes said it all. He would not object to this chain of events; no; not at all. “Maybe we could take a little walk after all.” Daniel suggested. Penelopy smiled with a crimson blush, but didn’t say no. The two quietly exited, with Daniel holding his infant in one arm and his promised future in the other.
“But what about me?” Little Suzie liked the way that the story was going, except for the fact that she hadn’t been included.
“Don’t worry about it,” Carrie quieted little Suzie’s fears. “I won’t leave you out, I promise. Can I go on?” Suzie smiled anxiously, and sat back down. She would be still.
Brad anxiously picked up the telephone. He didn’t know what he was going to do if she didn’t answer.
Jessica’s ears perked up. Could he be calling her? She stayed deathly quiet; not realizing that she wasn’t breathing. She so desperately wanted somewhere to belong.
Carrie glanced over at Jessica, who was now sitting in the chair that Daniel had recently been seated in. Carrie waited to go on to see if she was going to be interrupted. She was greeted with the desired silence that she needed to focus and went on.
Jessica was in the small garden that was outside of her studio apartment. She was gathering roses for a centerpiece for her small dining room table. She loved fresh flowers. She heard the phone ring and headed inside; picking up the phone on the third ring.
“Hello?” She asked; already knowing it was Brad, and grateful for caller ID. She liked the upper hand that it gave her. She straightened her back and sounded as professional as possible. She wanted the work, and she needed to be at the best of her game. Jessica knew that Brad had a lot of clout, and she wanted to impress him on every front. It was no secret to her how he looked at her; but she didn’t let on. She was definitely ‘hard to get’.
“Hey, it’s Brad. I got a gig in Manhattan, but you’ll need to be there here in the next few. Sorry for the short notice. I just got the call and I thought about you. It’s for a car commercial.”
“A car?” Jessica wasn’t sold. She had an image to protect.
Jessica looked at Carrie. Was she crazy? What image? Just have me say, Yes!
Carrie maintained control of the scene.
“I don’t know, Brad. Weren’t we shooting for a more ‘high fashion’ image?”
“That’s my girl. Always the professional. Not to worry. You’ll be modeling those designer jeans that you wear so well; just in a bit of a different setting.”
“It’s not cheap or cheesy is it?” Jessica asked calmly.
Jessica stared in disbelief at Carrie. How could you?
Just relax. I got this. Carrie shot the thought to Jessica; along with a look that told her to leave it alone and just watch.
“Of course not.” Brad couldn’t help but smile. He loved Jessica’s spunk. He had been in the business in the heart of New York for so long. It was refreshing to actually work with someone who had principals, and not only that, but had the guts to stand on them! “It’s a classy commercial doll. You’ll even get to showcase a Beamer. Does that suit you, Jesse?”
“What time do you need me, and what exactly is it that they want me to do?”
“The film crew is already there. They had the spot filled with one of their regulars, but she’s a no show. Sometimes I just don’t understand those Prima-Dona’s. We’re wasting time here. I’m just around the corner. Can I pick you up?”
“You still didn’t tell me –”
“I’ll be there in ten. We’ll talk on the way.”
The phone went dead in her ear. Ten minutes! That wasn’t any time at all! Jessica hurried and clipped her roses and got them into some water. She set the vase on the table and shot into the bathroom. A photo shoot, and be ready in ten minutes? What did he think she was, a genie?
She looked in the mirror. It was a good thing that she always wore make-up and that she was a guru at hair design! She freshened up her rouge and applied fresh lip-stick. She grabbed her brush and put her hair up in a tussled pony. Then she rushed into her bedroom and opened her closet wide.
First she grabbed a skinny pair of jeans. She slipped out of her sweats and stepped into the designer side of herself. She then paired the jeans up with a leopard patterned top that was snug fitting on the top with a little bit of looseness in the material to compliment the waist of her jeans. She looked in the full-length mirror. She wasn’t sure about the shirt and so she peeled out of it. She selected a tiny black blouse instead. It looked good against the jeans and there was no mistaking the slender figure underneath the tailored v-shaped neck with the tapered sides. She was ready!
It was a good thing too. Brad wasn’t all that much of a gentleman; at least not when it came to chivalry. He honked his horn. Jessica didn’t mind as she left everything in wild abandon as she grabbed up her purse and hustled out the door and locked it behind her.
Jessica could feel the tightness of the jeans as she had to bend to get into Brad’s sports car. She sure did like his fancy little Mazda, but it challenged her as she got in it! She regained her composure as she settled down in the seat and buckled up. Brad wasn’t all that great of a driver. Oh, he could drive okay, but he sure did like that accelerator!
“You look great.” Brad smiled. He knew that she would. She could show up in a pair of sweat pants and look good. She had a natural beauty that he appreciated. Jessica knew that she looked good and returned Brad’s smile.
“I would have liked to have had time to get around.” She fussed.
“It’s a waterfront shooting so what you’ve done with yourself is perfect. Your hair will look great in the shots too. How’d you know to put it up like that?”
“Desperate people do desperate things.” Jessica quipped. “But you never did tell me any more about the shoot.”
“It’ll be pretty standard. BMW’s a pretty good firm. It’ll be top of the line; but I’m sure that you know that.”
Jessica just nodded. She was in her element and was happy. Brad glanced over at her and he was glad that she was there. He could always count on her. They made a great team.
The tiny family was gathered in the living room, watching some old episodes of ‘I Love Lucy’ on TV. Penelopy knew that she needed to bring up the ‘Daniel’ situation with her uncle and with her sister. It was only fair. She knew that he was going to come for a visit and she needed them to be ready. Their Penthouse had a spare bedroom upstairs that would need to be readied for a guest and an infant. The thought of a baby in the home was exciting all in itself! Penelopy couldn’t wait to meet precious little Brittany. But the baby wasn’t all that she was excited about! I love you. The last words that Daniel had said: No, she hadn’t forgotten.
“Sweetie, could you sit up?” Suzie had her head rested on Penelopy’s lap. It was her most favorite way to relax of an evening. When she was there with Penelopy she knew that everything was okay. She sat up reluctantly. She had been comfortable.
“What’s going on?” Uncle Ray asked with only slight concern. He could tell that something was going on with Penelopy, but it didn’t appear to be anything that should give him any concern.
“I just wanted us to talk, you know, like a family.”
“You know you can always talk to me. We are a family. You know that.”
Penelopy got up and gave her uncle a big hug. “I love you so much.” Then she looked at Suzie and told her, “I love you too, Kitten.”
Penelopy remained standing. “I’m not exactly sure when, but we’re going to have company.” Both Ray and Suzie listened intently. “I spoke with Daniel and he said that he could get away from the farm for a week or so. He wanted to visit, and to bring the baby.”
“The baby!” Suzie was ecstatic! She had seen pictures of little Brittany and loved her from afar. She had always wanted a little sister!
“They are certainly welcome to stay here.” Ray was more than open to the idea. He knew of Daniel and respected the man greatly. He knew that no young man should have to have suffered so much loss at such a tender age. And on top of that, to be raising an infant on his own; it was commendable.
“Oh, thank you, Uncle! I knew that you would say that. I can always count on you.”
“You know you can. But are there undertones of a little bit more going on here?”
“No,” Penelopy was evasive. “Like what?” She tried to act like she had no idea what in the world he could possibly be talking about.
“Seems to me like maybe there is. I know that you’re not a little girl anymore. But I also know that you haven’t had a chance to really explore the world. Daniel coming seems like it could be the start of something a little bit more serious than anything that you might be ready for.” Ray was blunt, but he had to be. He was the only Daddy that Penelopy had.
“Uncle! I hardly know him!”
Suzie scooted to the arm of the couch and pretended to be invisible. She didn’t want to be sent out of the room while they had an ‘adult’ conversation.
“Isn’t there something that you should be doing?” Her Uncle Ray asked a not quite invisible after all, Suzie.
“Aw, I don’t want to go anywhere. I’m a big girl. Please let me stay. I want to know what you guys are talking about.”
“Suzie,” Penelopy said with a quiet assurance, “We won’t leave you out. But me and Uncle Ray need to talk, just a little bit. We have to make plans. Could you go upstairs and see what all you think that we might need for little Brittany? Maybe you could write up a list for me, and then tomorrow we could go shopping.”
“You mean like a crib and stuff?”
“Well, no. Not a crib sweetie. We’ll rent a crib, but we’ll need all kinds of other things. Maybe you could help me to know what.”
“Like diapers and bath soap, and maybe baby wash cloths?”
“You got it. Run along. Make a list and bring it back to me.”
“But I know you’re gonna talk without me.” Suzie pouted, just the same.
“Sometimes that’s just what we have to do, Kitten. Run along, and help me out, okay? I’d sure appreciate it.”
Suzie reluctantly got up off of the couch, but by the time she reached the stairs she was a little girl on a mission. “Like lotion and cotton balls?”
“Sure. Whatever you can think of. And don’t forget about the different kinds of clothes.”
“We get to go baby clothes shopping?” Suzie smiled. She loved to go shopping, and she’d never shopped for a real live baby! It was going to be better than shopping for her dolls!
“First thing in the morning; so long as we have a list!”
“Oh, what fun! I love to go shopping.” Suzie forgot all about her disappointment as she bounced up the stairs.
“What is it, I mean really. What’s wrong?” Penelopy looked her uncle square in the eyes.
“I’m just concerned about you. You can’t think that a grown man with a child is coming to visit just because he’s bored.”
“What do you mean? We honestly don’t know each other that well.”
“Well enough for him to know that he cares about you. You really need to think about it, before he comes. You don’t want to end up in a bad situation.”
“Uncle! I never! I would never –”
Ray reached out and put both arms on his niece’s shoulders. “Relax. I never said that you would do anything wrong. That’s not my point. I trust you completely. I have no reason not to. My concerns aren’t that you are going to make some kind of a moral judgment mistake. I’m much more concerned about the degree of commitment that this man may need and expect. Are you really ready for that?”
“You mean like getting married?” Penelopy had seriously never considered that even for a minute. She felt like the care-free teenager that she was. She knew that Daniel was a little bit older, and yes, he had been married, and he did have a child. But marry him? It was not on her list of things to do that summer…
“What do you think, Penelopy? He’s not going to be coming here so that he can meet his phone buddy or pen pal.”
“But that’s all we really are right now. We hardly know each other all that well.”
“He cares about you. Of that I’m certain.”
“Well, he did tell me that he loves me. But that was only today. Only once.”
“And what did you say?”
He didn’t let me answer. He just hung up the phone.
“Well, he probably surprised even himself. He’s not going to be able to help how he’s going to feel about you Penelopy. He’s alone, and he’s vulnerable. He’s got a lot of responsibilities and I know that he could use a hand. I know what it’s like to raise a little girl on my own. I wouldn’t trade the time that I’ve had with you and Suzie for the world, but it’s not the same as being a bachelor, and that’s a fact.”
“You’ve given me a lot to think about. You’re such a good ‘Daddy’ to me.” Penelopy bent down and wrapped her arms around her uncle’s neck. She planted a kiss on his cheek and stood back up. “I’m so glad that I can talk to you. It’s all a little scary.”
“Well, don’t let it bother you too much, angel. You know, your mama was your age when she started dating your daddy. And, well, they turned out okay.”
Penelopy loved how her Uncle Ray was so very good to her. She also loved how open he was when it came to talking about her parents. He didn’t act like they were some painful taboo, but that they had meant a lot to him and that he understood how exceedingly great was their loss…
“He really is a great guy. I know that you’ll like him.”
“I’m sure that I will. Just weigh all of your options before you make any kind of plans, deal?”
“Deal.” Penelopy smiled as she headed to the stairs. She glanced back at her uncle one more time. “I love you.” She silently lipped as she made a heart with her hand on her chest. It was their little ‘love’ sign.
‘I love you, too.’ Ray traced a heart upon his own chest as she then turned, and he watched his little girl mount the stairs.
Oh, Lord. Give me wisdom. He breathed a silent prayer. We’re certainly going to need it!
David showed up at half-past five o’clock, just like Daniel had asked him to. He didn’t know what Daniel wanted, but whenever his foreman wanted to have dialog with him, David went out of his way to make himself available.
“I might be going out of town for a week or so, and I wondered if I did if you could cover for me.” Daniel stood on the steps of his farm house and pushed the cowboy hat back off of his forehead a bit. It had been a long day. He still had so much to do. He had to pick up the baby from the sitter; get her fed and bathed and put down for the night. Then he had to find himself some dinner, and get a load of clothes in the wash. It never ended.
“You know that I’d be more than happy to.” David removed his own hat as he spoke. “I appreciate you coming to me. It means a lot to me.” David stood a little bit straighter. He was honored that Daniel had come to him with such an important proposition.
“Well, I need someone that I can trust; and that I can count on. There’s a lot that needs done around here. I know that you have a family, but I also know that you’re the best man I’ve got on board.”
“I’m honored. What all would you need me to take care of?”
“Everything. It’s a lot I know. I’ve got the horses that need tending; and that doesn’t include the rounding up and the branding. I’m talking about the daily maintenance; feeding them and giving them fresh water. And then there’s the cows. I hate to even ask you about that. I know that milking cows isn’t on your job description, but someone will have to do it. It’s the whole gamut. Everything.”
“You know that you can count on me. And all that farm stuff; don’t none of it bother me. I’m an old farm hand from way back. Heck, we’ve even got ourselves some chickens these days. I could just get up a little bit earlier, is all. It wouldn’t be any problem.”
“I sure appreciate it. I’ll certainly be sure to pay you well for your time.”
“Well, Debbie sure would like that! That girl sure does like to shop.”
“She’s a good gal.”
“Yeah, that she is. Hey, mind if I ask you something?” David wasn’t sure how to approach such a sensitive subject, but he did it any way.
“Yeah, what’s that?”
“You going off to get yourself a woman?”
Daniel looked at his friend and worker. “Is it that obvious?”
“Well, why else would a working man abandon everything, if it wasn’t for a woman?”
“She’s a good one. Pretty young though. I’m not sure that I’m going to have any luck.”
“Sometimes it ain’t about luck. Sometimes the stars just have to shine on you. You been though a lot. Surely its time for something good to come your way.”
“I’ll keep telling myself that. I sure appreciate you, bud.”
“No problem, Daniel. No problem at all. Anything else? It’s getting to be about supper time.”
“No, that’s about it. I’ll let you know once I’ve got everything scheduled and arranged.”
“You hungry, man? I can give you a lift to get the little one, and then you could come on over for some grub.”
“Appreciate the offer, but I have to get some stuff done around here. Seems like my work is never done.”
“I feel for you. Keep me posted.”
“I will. Thanks, man. I can’t say how much it means.”
“No problem. I’m happy to do it. You’ll have to have a pretty detailed work schedule laid out too. You know how the crew is when you’re not around.”
“I’ll take care of it, I promise. You go on home to your wife. I know it’s been a long day.”
“That it has. Take care. Call me if you need me. I’ll see you tomorrow.” David placed his hat back upon his head and headed down the walkway. Debbie and the three little ones would be waiting for him. He loved it when the kids ran to greet him at the door. The twins would try to rough-house him, and his little princess: she would throw herself into his arms. Yes, he was looking forward to going home.
Daniel was happy to have such a good friend in David. He knew that he could count on him. He got into his pick up truck and headed across town. It was getting late and he had a lot to do before he would be able to lay his weary body down… How he could just be twenty-one-years-old was beyond him. He felt so much older, and much more tired than any young man ever should…