Nervousness. Exhilaration. I never had so much crashing through my head. Well, except the first time I kissed her.
I walked her home, letting her talk about how much she enjoyed this night, and asking more questions about me. I was surprised (but thrilled) she found me so fascinating. The truth was that I didn't think a girl like her would have time for me. And yet, here I was anyway. I kissed her goodnight and made her promise that we would see each other tomorrow.
I don't remember how I got back to my apartment last night. All I remember is that I was wandering around town for the longest time, my eyes closed, my face bent towards the sky, and my arms thrown wide in celebration of what was possibly the best night of my life…
"Johnny, what's gotten into you, mate?"
The drummer is staring at me. All the other musicians glance at each other.
"You've been smiling all day."
"Oh…" I grin but shake my head and say nothing.
"Aw, it's something all right," he said, as he gets up from his drum set to take a break. I stay at the piano and run through one of our songs.
Moments later: "Hey Johnny, there's a girl here who wants to see you."
And then my insides turn. Penelope. I rush off the stage and sweep her up.
"It's good to see you too," she laughs.
"Penelope, I would like you to meet the best band members in the world." I introduce her to everyone. Greetings go all around. Everyone glances at Penelope and decides that we had done enough rehearsal for the day. Penelope waves goodbye to them as they leave. Then she looks at me.
"So, I kept my promise to come see you."
"That you did. Come on," I say, excited like a kid all over again. "There's some place I want to show you."
I take her to my favorite tree in the park. Penelope and I climb up. We sit for a while and I go on and on about how many times I spent in this very tree thinking about things, about life…about her. I notice how quiet she is and when I look over, I see her just…gazing at me. I panic for a second.
"I'm sorry. I, uh, I must be boring you."
Penelope shakes her head and takes my hand. "Not at all." She says. "There's no way you could bore me."
I squeeze her hand and kiss it.
We go out to dinner and then, as much as I hate to do it, I tell her that I have to go home and unpack. Normally, I would put it off, but I need to do some unpacking so I would have a place to sleep tonight. I cringe as I tell her this. Would she get mad?
"How about I come help you?" she asks.
"What?" I ask, completely taken aback.
"No, really. I want to come help you. Besides, I don't want to leave you."
I stare at her. Then I kiss her hair. Penelope walks with me to the apartment. I show her all the things I love about Midtown. Penelope tells me about how she used to dream about doing stuff like this when she was young, and how it all reminded her of things she read in books.
"Like what?" I ask. "What reminds you of the things you read in books?" I never read much, but I never tire of hearing about what she had read.
"I read about times like this. Walking along unexplored streets, the open sky in autumn…" Penelope and I look up. We can only see patches of sky through the towering buildings, but to Penelope, it all looked awe-inspiring anyway. It was amazing how appreciative Penelope could be of little things like that.
"I also read about people too," she continues. "People like bag ladies on the subway, people like drama queens on the soap operas I used to watch, but nothing compares to seeing people in real life. They are so much more than their appearance."
I take a lightning-quick glance at her. I knew what she was talking about. Surprisingly, I saw her staring back at me. "I never read about anyone like you though," she says quietly.
"What do you mean?"
"People who could be so kind. People who rose above their problems. People who could see things everyone else overlooked. People who didn't run away." She laughed suddenly. "You know, you were the only suitor I've ever had that was chased out and then forced his way back in."
I thought about that. It was true. As soon as Penelope's mother found that I was conspiring with Lemon, I had been thrown out…and then I jumped the fence to fight my way back to her. To explain. Even if I really couldn't explain right then. Because I couldn't tell her everything. Not that I didn't consider it. As I stood there, staring up at the woman I was falling in love with, I thought about forgetting everything and telling her. Somehow, I didn't. Somehow, I didn't want her to see me as anything…less than worthy of her, anything less than a blue blood. Now that I think about it, maybe I should have trusted her more and hoped for the best. All I could think of at the time was that, as much as it tore me up inside to reject her, it would hurt unbearably more if I took away her chance for happiness.
Her voice weaves silkily into my thoughts.
"Hmmm?" And that's when I realize that we had stopped. Just as well since: "We're here," I announce as I unlock the door.
Penelope steps in and glances around. "It's cute. Needs a little sprucing up but it shouldn't take much."
Oh no, I think. Is she going to give my place a makeover?
But Penelope had something different in mind. She goes to the store while I unpack. Before Penelope leaves, she asks:"Are you allowed to decorate your apartment any way you want?"
"Yes...Well, as long as it doesn't require knocking down a wall or something."
An hour later, Penelope returns with buckets and buckets of paint. Handing me a paintbrush: "Paint something."
I pause. "Like what?"
"Whatever you like. Let's see. What DO you like? Music, the park..."
"Being with you," I say, jabbing her playfully.
We drape a cloth over all the furniture and Penelope takes one wall and I take the other.
Hours later, we collapse in an exhausted heap on my living room floor.
"Wow," I remark, looking around at our handiwork. On one wall, I had drawn piano keys and autumn leaves. Penelope drew flowers and twisting vines on the opposite one. In the middle, they melt together and it looks as if autumn leaves are falling onto flowering piano keys.
Penelope holds up a paintbrush in salute. "Same time, next week?"
I kiss her in reply. "Yes. Same time, next week."
We decide to watch a movie to round out the night, but Penelope is asleep before it ends. Stretching my free arm, I pull the quilt off the back of the couch and wrap it around her. I can't move much since she's sleeping on my arm so in the end, I settle down for some sleep, too.
Penelope wakes up when I shift. "Hey sleepy," I say to her.
"Johnny?" she asks. "How long was I asleep?"
I glance at the clock. "About two and a half hours." Then I grin at her. "You know, if I knew the movie was going to be that boring, I wouldn't have suggested it."
She hits me playfully. I laugh.
Then I notice her shiver so I drape the quilt around her again and she moves closer to me. I watch her get comfortable. "Good night, Penelope," I whisper, kissing her hair.
I think she doesn't hear me, but then I see her gazing up at me. She smiles ever so slowly; it's the happiest smile I've ever seen. That's when I realize that she understood all the things I meant by those words, all the things I left unsaid that she heard anyway.
"Good night, Johnny," she whispers. I pull the quilt closer around us. She snuggles into me and we fall back asleep.