DRAMIONEPERFECTED NOTES AND DISCLAIMERS
This chapter is named after that brilliant song by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. As has been said in the past 4 chapters, I don't own. If you still think I do, you're delirious. Oh, and much love to VendettaAndGrunge, who gave me the longest review in the history of reviews - and some amazing advice. In true Baltimore spirit, thanks, Hon! X :-)
Chapter 5 - Why Do Fools Fall in Love?
28th October 1963
After receiving Seaweed's first letter from 'Nam, Penny felt his absence was more obvious than ever. Her life became a misery, and not one person could deny it. She treaded sadly about the town, a weight on her shoulder and a cloud above her head. She stopped eating candy altogether; she never watched Tracy or Link or Inez dance anymore, let alone joined in - in fact, it was as if her life had pretty much ended. She was an empty shell of a girl; her eyes, once a bright and shining blue, seemed as grey as the October sky. And though outwards her face was collective and blank, inside Penny was on the edge, and just the smallest thing would make her snap.
On the afternoon of Monday, 28th October 1963, Penny was reaching breaking point. She shuffled through the school halls, Seaweed's letter clutched close to her chest as she made for Math class. She had read it one hundred times, and one hundred times again, tracing every loop and squiggle and cross in his inky writing with the tip of her pinkie finger. If she closed her eyes, it was like she could still hear him - still feel him. If she strained her ears, she could hear the beats of The Marvellettes and The Supremes playing from the so-called 'special-ed' room… the room where Seaweed would spend his days joking and singing with all the other kids who weren't permitted to join her lessons, despite their academic ability… the other Negro kids.
The school-bell rang again, loud and shrill, and Penny opened her eyes just in time to catch glimpse of a blur of silver as a bobby-pin hit her in the nose - hard. High-pitched giggles filled the air as Amber Von Tussle stepped into view, linking onto the arms of Shelley and Brenda and smirking from ear to ear. "Oops!" Her voice sounded sickly sweet, but was as bitter as poison. "Should watch where you're going, Pingleton." Amber smiled sweetly, batting her lashes. "Wouldn't want you to trip up, now, would we, Hon?"
Brenda snorted, turning her head away. Penny glared, looking daggers at the back of her head. 'What a tramp.' she thought. 'As if we don't know what that nine-month break was for. Mom at sixteen - your parents must be so proud.' Shelley giggled. "Wow, Penny! We're just being nice! Somebody's feeling a little… tightly wound."
Amber stepped forwards, and prodded Penny forcefully in the shoulder, knocking her back. Startled, Penny dropped the letter to the ground. Brenda pounced, and scooped it up with the tips of her scarlet-painted talons, shrieking with delight. "Aw, I forgot! The little nigger-lover's boyfriend's went on out to Nam! Hey, Shelley, ain't this cute?" The girls scrambled for the letter like angry vultures, tugging and shoving.
"Oh, Lordy! The negro can write!"
"As if! He probably has a scribe."
"Oh, I thought as much. The page is a little too clean "
Penny was forced to stand against the wall, helpless, hands balled into fists at her sides. Rage surged through her like a tidal wave, blood pounding in her ears, her face turning scarlet. "Leave it!" she yelled. "Leave it alone!"
Amber's smirk widened. "Relax, Hon. I won't hurt it." Her voice dropped to a hiss, callous and cruel. "A letter from a negro soldier? Don't expect another. They're just as hated over there, if not more. He'll be dead by the end of the week - and good riddance." And with that, she dropped the letter to the ground, tearing across the address as it went.
At that moment, something inside Penny snapped, turning her vision red. Within a few seconds, a scream echoed throughout the corridor, causing both student and teacher to run out of the class to witness the commotion. Amber was reeling backwards, clutching her cheek as a trickle of blood dripped onto her pale pink dress, leaving a startling crimson smear across the collar. "She… s-she hit me! You clawed me, you little cat!" Amber's cry was indignant. A small crowd began to gather around them, whispering and pointing.
"Penelope Pingleton! How dare you attack another student!" Mr Russo, the principal, stood glowering before them, a look of sheer fury upon his face. "Miss Von Tussle could have been seriously hurt! This behaviour is completely unacceptable. Never, in all my time as a - Pingleton! Are you even listening to me?" Penny gazed at the peeling green painted on the main entrance door, unable to comprehend what had happened. It was like she had lost all self control; like she couldn't have stopped herself if she tried. The letter lay crumpled at her feet; Penny picked it up, smoothing it, doing her best to ignore the staring students and the ranting principal. "You mother will be informed, and you will be removed to detention immediately! Pingleton? Pingleton!"
Heart pounding furiously in her chest, Penny turned and ran; ran from the corridor, from the principal, from the squealing Amber and her cronies, out of the school and onto the streets. The teacher's were yelling after her, but now she had started running, she just couldn't stop. If she wasn't in trouble then, she most certainly was now.
Sooner or later the screams and shouts faded out, leaving Penny with the hum of car engines and the thumping of her own heart. What had she done? A few weeks ago, Penny wouldn't have dreamed of starting a fight, or ignoring the principal, or of running out of school. And when Prudy finds out… Penny gulped, her legs turning to lead, and forced herself to keep on walking. In the end, she ended up in one of the few places she had felt safe, like she really belonged - Motormouth Records.
The bell tinkled as the troubled teen stepped inside. The store appeared empty - Maybelle was most likely out, at station WYZT to help set up for the Corny Collins show before the stars were dismissed early from class. Alone, Penny sank to the ground, tears falling from her eyes, her sobs barely audible above the singing of Little Eva. It seemed like an eternity until a pair of warm arms wrapped around her, pulling her to her feet. "Oh, hush, child. Don't you cry, don't you cry!" Penny pulled back to see the kind, chocolate brown eyes of Maybelle Stubbs, full of concern, gazing down at her. "Maybelle? Shouldn't you be at the studio?"
"Why Penny, shouldn't you be in class?" Maybelle spoke kindly, but realised immediately she had made a terrible mistake as Penny began to sob harder than ever.
"Oh Maybelle, I'm gonna be in so much trouble!" Maybelle pulled Penny back into her warm embrace, rocking her like a baby.
"There, there, Honey. It'll be ok." Maybelle led Penny through the back of the shop to her apartment, and sat her down at the kitchen table. As Maybelle fussed around the room, pouring out two mugs of cocoa, Penny looked at the pictures on the mantelpiece: almost all of which featured Seaweed, laughing, posing, hugging Inez and his grandmother… and in the last picture on the mantelpiece, Penny herself. They were sitting in Mr Frosty's ice-cream parlour, tall thin glasses in front of them, the flavours melting and mingling: strawberry, chocolate and vanilla. It had been really hot that day, the start of an Indian summer, and they'd gone for a sundae and iced tea. The jukebox had been playing 'Teenager in Love' by Dion and The Belmont's, and Seaweed had laughed at her when she had started singing along.
"What, Sea? Am I that bad?" Seaweed had shook his head, holding her hand., grinning like he'd never stop.
"I think it's beautiful."
"That was our first date."
Maybelle looked up. "What's that, Hon?"
"The picture." Penny sighed wistfully, gesturing vaguely towards the framed image. "We'd been on a date to the ice-cream parlour, it was so hot that day, and the owner took that picture for us."
Maybelle took the picture from the mantle, propping it against the fruit bowl. "I knew there was reason he wanted me to keep it for you."
"You got that right, Hon." Maybelle handed her picture, frame and all. Carved in tiny letters at the bottom read the family name - Stubbs. Penny's heart beat faster as she slipped it into her bag, barely noticing as Maybelle said: "It's cause of my Sea you gone got inta trouble today, ain't it?"
"What's that, May?" Maybelle smiled, a knowing look upon her face.
"I know a here guilty look when I see one, mm-hmm." Maybelle sighed, placing the mug straight onto the creaking, groaning kitchen table, adding another water-ring to the kaleidoscopic pattern that was ingrained deep into the woodwork after years of loyally serving the family. Penny imagined her mother Prudy, how she'd itch to grab the nearest throw or cloth and cover up the stains, how she'd long to set out enough coasters to support the cups of a small army, and woe betide those who ignored their purpose. She imagined her mother at home, on the phone to the principal, cursing her name, belt coiled at her side, awaiting her daughter's arrival. Penny shuddered, and knew begrudgingly that if anyone deserved to know the truth, it was Miss Maybelle Stubbs. "Look, Maybelle, it's almost four o'clock, and you need to get to the station, and once I start talking, I just won't stop."
"Nice try Hon. Today's my day off. I got all the time in the world" Maybelle rose, gesturing for her to go ahead into the living room. It was a small room, with fading green walls, and a fading beige floor, and a tiny black-and-white set in the corner. The mother flicked on the set, and after a few seconds of grainy, crackly nothingness, the picture came into view. The Corny Collins Show had just begun.
The upbeat bass seemed almost surreal in comparison to Penny's tears as she told of that days happenings, of Amber, of the letter, of the principal, and of what her mother would do if she found out. "… and I know I shouldn't care what they say, but I do, I do! That's why I did what I did!" Penny cried, tears streaming down her flushed cheeks and onto Maybelle's ruby-red-clad shoulder . "I did what I did because I love him! I love him with all my heart, and no bully nor principle, nor mother, not even a whole goddamn war is gonna stop me!"
Penny stared defiantly at Maybelle, expecting to see a look of pity, hut was instead met with a study gaze to meet her own. "Penny," said Maybelle, cocoa in one hand, cigarette in the other. "How old be you, girl?"
"I'm seventeen, ma'am. Eighteen in April."
"Eighteen in April. Lordy, don't time fly? Near old enough to start makin your own choices, wouldn't you say?"
There was an edge of deeper meaning her voice, one that Penny recognised well. The same voice she used to make a point, to make a stand. "Penny, I know your momma ain't giving you an easy ride when you get home. And what's more, I know you don't care for a second what that stuck-up hussy thinks"
Maybelle grabbed Penny's hand, almost urgently. "Penny, girl. I know you know your mind. And I know your momma knows hers. Just you know… if ever you need to get away from all that-" here Maybelle paused to stir the contents of her mug and nod toward the window, as if Prudy was out there as they spoke, "-there's always room for one more here."
Penny rose from her seat, leaving the cocoa untouched, and pulled Maybelle into a brief hug. "Thank you. For everything." And with that, Penny left, and walked the long windy way through the ghettoes home, her small smile revealing her heart was lighter than it had been moments before.
When Prudence Pingleton arrived home from Bible Class that evening, there was something strange about her surroundings. The very air seemed too quiet, too still. It was her house, but yet, it was not. Only her shoes sat beside the doormat; on her coat hug from the peg. In the hall, small, pale squares that had been hidden by lopsided Kindergarten ashtrays were visible, and in the living room, the years school certificates and class photos were gone. Reaching out for the coil of rope she kept hung beside the door, she called out to her daughter, long, shrill and impatient. "Penny? PENNY?" When only silence met her, fury that she had previously hidden exploded outwards, like fireworks on the 4th of July. Thundering up the stairs, she flung herself forwards, expecting to hit the usually barred door. The door, however, flew open, leaving Prudy lying on the floor of the empty room where once her daughter had slept. Leaping up wildly, she spun round and round, but yet still it was only her in the bare room, and nothing other than one single framed photo; of the Pingletons when they were a family, when they were a whole. Running from the house to the street, Prudy let out a wild shriek as she realised Perfect Penny had gone for good.
Soooo, yeah. I took a while on this one. But I've watched Forrest Gump for the millionth time and I'm finally getting some ideas. Wish me luck! R&R xxx