Character's Folly

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Chapter Five

So, you think you’ve got us all figured out, now do you? Brad was annoyed. What did the author know about him, any way?

Brad. That is you, isn’t it? What’s the matter?

I just don’t care for how this is all going down.

What do you mean? What’s wrong? Everything seems to be going okay.

Sure, if you’re okay with lazy-a** writing, then I’m sure that it’s fine. Brad shifted from one foot to the other.

I’m not trying to be lazy.

Well, what do you call it? You haven’t described any of us. The closest that you have come is to a couple of references to Jessica and her long blond hair. That’s it. And me; you had completely forgotten about me. Then I show up as David and you’re okay with that? How can you be okay with that when we’re two completely different characters: Not only that; but we live in two different parts of the country! How do you justify crap like that?

I’m not trying to justify anything, Brad. I’m just trying to write you out of my mind and onto the paper so that I can get on with my life.

Yeah, see there. So that you can get on with your life! You give us half-a**ed plots and call that a book?

Really, Brad! Can you watch your language?

I’m doing the best that I can over here, but I’m annoyed. You claim to be an author, but you haven’t authored anyone. At least not yet. I want to see some descriptions going on, and some character definition. What makes us special, and what in the world do we even look like? Seriously!

You’ve got a point there. I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking about that. I just wanted to give you all a story line that was plausible and that you could live with – you know, somewhere besides for in my mind!

Well, I’m willing to work with you on this. I’d hate to see you write all of this out, and then realize what a wack job you’ve done on it!

Do you realize how critical you sound? Carrie couldn’t help but be defensive.

My apologies, but you really needed someone to speak up on the technical end of this, I mean, really!

Okay, well, where should we start?

How about with my character? Brad offered.

You would.

All right. Enough with the sarcasm. I have a right to be a bit miffed! You first of all, did not even remember me; and secondly, you allowed another character to prance right in here and steal my ‘birth right’.

You do have a point. Again, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get so confused about the whole deal.

Regardless; let’s just move on, can’t we? Brad wasn’t there to fight with the author, he just wanted to see some things straightened out. As far as he was concerned, her manuscript was a mess!

Let’s do this thing. Carrie said with a new determination. Brad had some very valid points.

Okay, so, with me. I’m not sure what you want to do. I’m pretty sure that I had blond hair and blue eyes. But then when David appeared that was pretty much out the window. He really did swoop on my character, you know. Except for I’m not really sad that he’s him, and not actually me. A wife and three kids. Whatever! That is not my ideal. You had me right all along. That guy, he’s just a poser who snuck in when opportunity knocked.

Maybe he was a character that I was going to create? Carrie still wasn’t willing to take any responsibility for the whole situation.

If that’s the case, then why would he have jumped in and claimed mine? Brad countered. The author’s theory had holes all through it.

I don’t know. Where were you at the time of their revolt? Seems you should have spoke up then. Carrie had him on that one.

I was, well, I was kind of busy.

Too busy to exist? And you say that I’m lacking over here?

You got a point there. Can we just let bygones be bygones? Brad was ready to call it a draw.

I’m willing. Carrie was happy to let that one go, for sure! She really had slighted the poor guy…

Okay, so if I decided to add some descriptions to the characters then I’m not sure how to introduce it. You got any ideas?

Brad stood just a little bit taller. He liked having the lead. Well, while on the set to a lot of the commercials that I watch I’ve noticed that the director zooms in on the actor – you know, right at the beginning – like when you start the story. You’ve got this little girl standing on a chair, wearing a dress, but I have no clue what she looks like or what the dress looks like. It’s kind of hard to visualize that.

Oh, good point. Give me a sec. I have to think about this one.

After a couple of minutes of serious, uninterrupted contemplation Carrie came to a realization that she was going to have to start over, completely, again! That thought did not make her happy. I don’t want to start over. It’s redundant.

It’s not my fault, you know. You know better. I’ve seen some of your other writing. You can do it; you just have to apply yourself.

You’re right. I can do this. Any special requests before I get on with this? Carrie was curious what Brad would have to offer. The other characters had come up with some interesting concepts.

No, not really. I’ve been enough of a pain. I like the rebel that you first saw in me. That suited me. The other characters, they just didn’t get it. Jessica though, she gets me. I get her pretty good too.

A love interest with Jessica? Carrie was pretty out of touch with her original intentions and wanted to get some input while he was offering.

Oh, I don’t know. The rest of your story is all a bit of a soap opera already. Daniel and Mitzi; Daniel and Penelopy; David and Debbie… And thank God you lost that Goliath for a name! I just about came out of my skin on that one! Talk about lack of creative genius! You did good putting that to bed! But a love interest with Jessica? It’s just not like me to commit myself to only one girl. Now, she’d be pretty sweet to –

Brad! I’m not going to let you take advantage of her like that!

What are you talking about? She’s a grown woman. She can do what she pleases.

But she’d be so hurt. Carrie couldn’t believe that they were even having such a conversation.

Hey, that’s life. Anyway, you need to let her decide what she wants in her life – it is her life is it not? Because if it’s not, then why bother to write it in the first place?

You’re way off subject.

No, these things need to be addressed. The sooner that you realize that you’re not in control here the better off we’ll all be. Brad stood straight once again and dared her to tell him that he was wrong. Of course, she couldn’t.

Okay, I admit it. I’m a mess. How am I ever going to get this story anywhere, let alone finished?

One step at a time, girl. Just one step at a time. Brad was done. Carrie was on her own.

But, I – Brad! It was useless. He had made himself scarce, again. Thanks, she thought. Open up all these things that I need to fix and then bail on me. What a guy.

***

The petite little seven-year-old girl stood on a chair and looked in the mirror. Her golden little curls bound tightly with two sassy little bows; and her green eyes sparkled. The beautifully beaded ultra-suede evening gown hung like a drape on her tiny figure; burgundy and grace, cascading down to the floor. Suzie fluffed up her matching piggy tails with her hands and challenged the mirror, “Look at me! I’m beautiful!”

The reflection of her older sister, Penelopy came up from behind. The mirror captured her striking beauty. The glow that Penelopy had reflected on her special night remained. She had been the belle of the ball at her coming out party. Her auburn hair was streaked with satiny highlights that caught the sun and shined. Although dressed in a simple flowered dress she still carried the elegance and poise of the night before. Her equally green eyes spoke volumes of love for her little sister. “You’re beautiful, kitten. Do you like the dress?”

“Oh, I do! It’s the most! The absolute most! You were so pretty last night! I just had to try it on!”

“Tell you what,” Penelopy took her little sister in her arms and swung her to the floor. “You can have it.”

“For reals?”

“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.

“Penelopy. How are you?” Daniel’s voice was low and clear, and made Penelopy’s heart flutter wildly. It took her mind back to the very first time that she had heard it; back to the very beginning…

It had all started with Jessica’s return from her visit to Oklahoma. Daniel and Jessica were child-hood friends, and Daniel’s dad had a tragic accident that took his life. Except for a person would have sworn that the blonde haired, blue eyed girl had just come back from California by the tan she had and the glow to her skin.

“You look great,” Penelopy said, as she greeted Jessica at the airport.

The fit and trim one hundred and fifteen pound Jessica was the perfect Size five. Of course she looked great. She was after all, a model: A New York model, no less. She stood with all of her five foot ten grace and still modestly replied, “Oh, yeah? Thanks.”

“What’d you do? Lay out in the sun all day for a week?” Penelopy asked.

“Not hardly. I was working on the farm. I was just helping Daniel out. He’s overwhelmed with busy, that’s for sure.”

“How’s he doing?”

Jessica paused a moment before answering. “He seemed to be okay. I’m going to have to keep better contact with him. He’s awful lonely; I could tell.”

“Isn’t there anyone there, you know, that will kind of be there for him?”

“That’s the funny thing. There is a girl. We all went to school together. Her name is Mitzi. She seems to like him, and he didn’t seem to mind.”

“Well, that’s good, I guess. But don’t you mind? I kind of get the idea that maybe you like him.” Penelopy was concerned about her friend.

“Me, like Daniel? No, he’s more like a brother to me.”

It wasn’t long after that news from Oklahoma came through that Daniel had asked Mitzi to marry him. Again he was a topic of the two girl’s discussion.

“Daniel’s getting married.” Jessica just threw it out there. She was still trying to process the information herself.

“Not really!” Penelopy was taken back. It had only been a few months since he had lost his dad.

“Yeah, really. Daniel called me last night. He said that he wondered if it was too soon, but that he had come to understand that life was too short. He wanted to move forward with his life, and that he believed that he and Mitzi would be happy together.”

“And what’d you tell him.”

“What could I say? I told him that we’d be there for the wedding.”

“Us? You mean you and me?” Penelopy wasn’t sure about that idea. She had never been that far away from home before. And what about her little sister? She couldn’t leave Suzie behind.

“Well, yeah. Why not? And I know, before you object, I haven’t forgotten about Suzie. In fact, that’s what brought you into my mind in the first place. When I was back home tending to the horses with Daniel I got to thinking about how much fun I had growing up on a farm. I know that I grew to hate being out in the country, but it wasn’t always that way. When I was a kid I loved the farm. I loved feeding the chickens, and even the pigs. They sure are stinky though.”

“Which ones? The chickens or the pigs?”

“Both. Terrible stink; especially in the summer. But as a kid, I never noticed. Anyway, I thought about Suzie a lot when I was back there.”

“You never said anything.”

“Yeah, what was there to say? I didn’t plan on going back, so what was the point? When Daniel told me that he’s getting married I knew that I couldn’t miss the wedding; and then I thought about the farm. Well, then Suzie came to mind. So, I guess that’s where this all came from. Do you think your uncle will let you go?”

“Wow, I don’t know. I don’t see why not. It won’t hurt to ask.” And so she did; and he said yes; yes to both of them going with Jessica to Oklahoma. They were on their way to see the farm; and to meet Daniel…

“Daniel, this is my friend, Penelopy: Penelopy; Daniel.” And there he stood, in all of his six feet of pure tanned brute strength. Penelopy looked into his dark brown eyes and had to glance away. He was beautiful. She was a little amused at the blue jeans and the snap-button up cowboy shirt and the western boots and the big-brimmed cowboy hat though. He looked a little bit like he belonged in an old western. She didn’t know that people actually dressed that way.

“And this here is Suzie.” Jessica continued. She hadn’t noticed Penelopy’s reaction to Daniel at all. And neither had Daniel as he was busy meeting the rambunctious little six-year-old, Suzie. Oh, he had noticed Penelopy’s obvious beauty, but he only had eyes for Mitzi. He wasn’t the cheating kind.

The visit had been great, and so was the wedding. Jessica was pleased for her friend, but she wasn’t that enamored by the whole deal. She was in no way of any kind of marrying mind. Now Penelopy on the other hand soaked in every detail; and in her mind began thinking about wedding preparations of her own. She had dreamed of being a bride since she was a little girl. For her, Mitzi’s wedding was perfect! She was so happy for her.

“Isn’t she beautiful!” Suzie had exclaimed as Mitzi walked like a Princess down the aisle, with her light brown hair delicately placed in an up-do with curls cascading down. She had on an ivory gown that was trimmed with lace and tiny beaded pearls, and she had a veil that crowned her softly and hung down half-way to the floor. She was altogether lovely.

“Gorgeous,” Penelopy had agreed.

The stay had been relatively short, but Penelopy had gotten a taste of the country life. If she had learned nothing else, she had learned this; it was a life of hard work and of beauty. She had never considered it a life that would ever one day be her own, but she had found a sense of peacefulness in the quiet life that she had never felt in the city.

It had never really been Penelopy’s idea to make such a good friend of Mitzi. She didn’t know the woman, but Suzie had insisted that they keep in touch. Almost weekly Suzie would ask Penelopy if she had talked to Mitzi…

And so the relationship grew. When Mitzi found out that she was pregnant, Penelopy was the first to know that side of the Mississippi. They had both chatted on for what seemed forever; Mitzi sharing her hopes and dreams; with Penelopy right there helping her to pick out a name for the baby.

When the baby came, and tragedy struck, Penelopy was lost. Her new-found friend was gone. The memorial was a somber event and was closed to only family. It was just too painful for Daniel, or for Mitzi’s family either one to share in their grief.

Again it was little Suzie that was instrumental in trying to put the pieces back together again. “But you have to check on the baby.” She insisted. Penelopy wasn’t up to arguing with her little sister and so she had placed that first phone call.

The sparks didn’t ignite right away between Daniel and Penelopy. At first theirs were solemn visits on the phone. Penelopy would ask about little Brittany, and Daniel would be brief and polite. He didn’t want to chit-chat, but he didn’t want to be rude either. Anyway, there wasn’t anyone else banging down his door to ask him how he was doing…

As time went by the phone conversations became more frequent and more relaxed. Penelopy was able to start to really get to know Daniel, and Daniel had a reprieve from the seemingly endless days and virtually sleepless nights. He found a friend in Penelopy, and in him she found a warmth and sincerity that she hadn’t known in a man before.

The months went by, and there began to be a distance between the two of them that neither knew how to gap. And it wasn’t only the physical separation that bothered them as time went by. In each other’s hearts and minds they were bonding together; knit together in a friendship of another kind: The kind that promises and dreams came from.

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.

“I’m good, and Brittany is doing 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. It wasn’t her first time to invite him. It wasn’t the easiest thing for her to do, but she did it anyway.

“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 Jesse of course. Everybody supports you. You could come here and no one would say anything. But there; it’s different. They all knew her, Daniel. What would they think of me?”

“Who cares what anyone thinks? You were Mitzi’s friend, Penelopy: A true friend. 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.”

“I just don’t think that it’s right, Daniel. I can’t come there.”

“I want to see you. Maybe I could come; you know; for just a little while. I’ve got a friend. His name is David. I’m sure that he’d be willing to take over for me for a week or so, and then maybe we could come.”

“How about we plan on you coming next month?” Penelopy asked hopefully, her heart beating wildly in her chest.

“Shouldn’t you ask your uncle?”

“I will. Don’t worry. He’ll say ‘yes’, he just has to!”

But will you? Daniel thought, but only voiced, “Let me look at my calendar. How about on Saturday, the 10th?”

Forget about her heart beating wildly, at his words her heart actually skipped a beat. “I’ll mark it on my calendar.” Penelopy tried to mask her excitement.

“And Penelopy,” Daniel threw caution to the wind.

“Yes?” She replied.

“I love you.” Daniel stated as he gently placed the receiver back on its cradle.

Penelopy hung up the phone and she sat there for the longest time, wondering what it could all mean. She looked out the window and day-dreamed about what she had just heard. ‘I love you’; such strange and wonderful words. Could they really be true?

~

A tall and lanky David showed up at half-past five o’clock, just like Daniel had asked him to. He took off his cowboy hat and wiped the sweat off of his brow with a hankie, and placed it back in his shirt pocket. It had been a long day. His blonde hair was flattened by the hat and the perspiration. He replaced his hat and waited. 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.

Daniel was right on time, as he pulled up in his pale blue Chevy Pick up truck. He could have afforded a newer one, but he and his dad had rebuilt the engine on the one that he had and it ran great. Anyway, he didn’t want to part with the truck, or the memories.

Daniel made long strides up to the porch to meet his friend, and greeted him with a smile and a handshake. “Hey, thanks for meeting me. I can always count on you.”

“Anytime, Dan, you know that. What’s up?”

“Well, 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’ve got about sixty head of Mustangs in the back eighty that need to be settled in before winter. I’m talking about the daily maintenance too; 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 in 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, and you ain’t gettin’ no younger.” At twenty-nine, David was less than ten years Daniel’s senior, but Daniel loved to poke fun at him just the same.

“Kind of like calling the kettle black, old man.” David said, and then added, “It has been quite the 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…

***

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 two weeks until their arrival. Two weeks! She could hardly contain the excitement that she was feeling inside. She was anxious about bringing everything up to her uncle, but she needed to. There was going to be so much to do. 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. Her heart fluttered wildly as she prepared herself to speak.

“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?” Their Uncle Ray asked with only slight concern. He absently ran his hand through his thinning hair; it was a natural gesture that he did when contemplating something. His blue-green eyes were gentle and kind. He could tell that something was going on with Penelopy, but it didn’t appear to be anything that should give him any concern. He was well into his forties, and he wasn’t easily excitable.

“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 from the couch and walked over to her uncle; bent down; and placed herself into her uncle’s safe and welcome arms for a hug. His slightly overweight, rounded body was soft and a comfort to her. “I love you so much.” She gave him a big, full-armed squeeze. Then she stood back up and looked at Suzie and told her, “I love you too, Kitten.”

She placed herself between her uncle and Suzie and shared, “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 wants to visit, and to bring the baby. I hope that you don’t mind, but I told him that he’d be more than welcome to come. He’s arriving on the 15th. That is, if it’s okay.”

“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.” Penelopy swirled around and bent down and placed a kiss on her uncle’s cheek.

“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, and then tomorrow we could go shopping?”

“You mean like a crib and stuff?” Suzie asked, with eyes full of anticipation and wonder.

“You intend to buy a crib?” Her uncle was nothing, if not practical.

“Well, no. I’m sure that we can rent a crib, but we’ll need all kinds of other things.” She respectfully answered her uncle’s concern; then turned her attention back to Suzie. “Maybe you could help me to know what we’ll need.”

“Like diapers and bath soap, and maybe baby wash cloths?”

“You got it. Run along. I’ll be up in just a little bit.”

“Promise?” Suzie still wasn’t all that convinced that going upstairs was a good idea; but she knew that it was pointless to fuss.

“I promise. Give me a hug, you little rascal.” It didn’t take much to get Suzie into Penelopy’s arms. Penelopy swung her little sister around and placed her gently back down on the floor. “Run along. I’ll be right behind you. Now, go!”

Suzie danced up the stairs. “Don’t be too long!”

“Get!” Penelopy called behind her, and then turned her attention back to her uncle.

“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 calmly and slowly stood 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.”

Penelopy was a little embarrassed to share, but she knew that she had to be honest with her uncle. “Well, he did tell me that he loves me. But that was only today. Only once.” By the time that she got the words spit out, they were barely at a whisper.

“And what did you say?” Her uncle’s gentle persuasion encouraged her to go on with her personal disclosures.

“He didn’t wait for any kind of an answer.” Penelopy shared with the uncertainty that this had caused her to feel. “He just hung up the phone.”

“Well, he probably surprised even himself. And when a man says something of that magnitude, there’s always a chance for rejection. His hanging up like that may have just been his own self-defense from the vulnerability that he had exposed himself to. He’s not going to be able to help how he’s going to feel about you Penelopy. He’s alone, and he really is very vulnerable. He’s got a lot of responsibilities and I know that he could use a hand. I know what it’s like to have a family 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 stepped close to her uncle and wrapped her arms around his neck. She planted another kiss on his cheek. “I’m so glad that I can talk to you. It’s all so new and 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 too, and that he understood how great their loss was, because he had lost so much himself…

“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!

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