Well, I suppose you all thought I had passed away. No, this is not so, I am simply a procrastinator. But the good news is that this is the last chapter! Yes, a nice little threesome tied up in a purty pink ribbon! Without a case…I kind of changed it all again….Thanks to my readers and reviewers:
rookie angel hart
I totally love you guys!
Before she went upstairs to see what Jonathan was up to after checking with Max, Jennifer Hart made a slight detour. Digging though the desk in the study, she pulled out her husband's address book, flipping to the 'M's for Maslow, Theodore P.
Dialing the number, she slipped the book back into the desk while the phone rang. At the time, she didn't have a clue of the profound effect this call was going to have on the life of two people; she simply wanted to reunite some old friends. Just as she was about to hang up, a breathless voice answered, "Hello?"
"Ted? This is Jennifer Hart, how are you?"
"Jennifer! Nice to hear from you, I'm doing great. How about yourself?"
After a few more minutes of small talk, Jennifer cleared her throat, "Ted, I called to invite you to dinner…Jonathan and I ran into an old friend of yours."
"I'd love to come, but I have plans tonight. But what friend are you talking about?"
There was a sharp intake of breath, followed by several heartbeats of silence. The young man on the other end of the phone was flashing back eleven years to the girl who'd run away with his heart as surely as she'd just plain run away.
Long, lanky Penny wrapping her arms around a tall, handsome youth with bright blue eyes and honey-brown hair.
The songs she sang, especially the ones she'd written herself… Admit it boy, you blew it, really messed it up/You can make excuses if you really wanna lose her/It's all on the line, do or die time/Getting' on your knees time/Lose your pride while you can/Come on man, be a man
The first time he saw her, standing in the summer sun. Toe to toe with a horse three times her size, cheap sunglasses and a ball cap backwards, daring the horse to defy her.
Her laugh, echoing across the barn and through his dreams.
The first time he kissed her, that day before the fireworks. Her soft, warm lips tasting of tangy sweat mixed with sweet lemonade.
Her green eyes, so deep a person could get lost forever in them.
The way she rode, his little cowgirl. She'd hated that, but she was. She was like an untamable Mustang, proud and wild to the end.
The way his name sounded on her lips.
Her long-legged swagger.
Even the way she adjusted her glasses when she was nervous.
How she'd screamed at him, that night beside the ambulance.
How he'd know she was going to leave, how she had to run.
"Penny?" he asked hoarsely, sitting down on the ornate chair next to the telephone.
"Penny," Jennifer nodded.
Running his hands through his hair, he gulped, "The earliest I can be there is seven. Don't let her leave, I have to see her."
"It might be better that you come later," Jennifer agreed. From her tone, Ted knew that Jonathan had told her, most if not all, of what had happened that summer.
After saying their goodbyes and hanging up, Ted sat limply, his head spinning. Penny. God, how he'd loved that girl. Loves, he corrected himself. He'd never given up loving her. After she'd left and he'd sneaked a peak at the letter she left for Jonathan, he'd searched the state, hell the country, for her. Strings had been pulled, investigators called in, searches and dead ends piled up. It was like Penny had never existed.
Eventually, he'd slowed his search. His feelings hadn't changed, but Penny could always disappear if she truly wanted to. He had obligations, a stupid excuse, but after his father passed away and his mother's health declined, there was a business to run and his life had to move on.
Stumbling up the old, elaborately carved staircase, he pushed past the startled maid and nearly fell into his bed room. Dropping to his knees near the bed, he dug in the antique side table. Towards the back, tucked securely under the Bible, he pulled out a stack of papers and a lone photograph. The picture of Penny and him, dirty after work at the barn, but grinning arm and arm…he kept so he'd know that they were real. The top letter was still in its yellowed, creased envelope, but the others were just in a rambling stack.
It was Penny's song book, the one she'd had in their room, the one she'd probably thought had been lost in the fire. The binding had been damaged by the water and fire, a good chunk of the papers were gone and not all of them were legible, but they were what had kept him going all those years. Reading through them brought back another flash of memories…
Penny, stretched out on her stomach, hair still damp from her shower in the bathroom at the end of hall, wearing a long t-shirt, with the notebook open on her pillow, pen in hand. Ted comes in, grumbling, "Somebody's been nicking my shampoo again."
Jonathan, ever observant, had known Penny had been behind the thefts for weeks, smiled, flipping the pages in his magazine. Ted grumbled some more, "Maybe it was one of the bunk housers, Luz…or maybe Marco, he's got a lot of hair."
Penny snickered, "You are an idiot."
Glaring at her, as well as her wet hair, something seemed to click, "Wait- you?! You're the shampoo thief?"
"Shampoo's expensive. Since you came, I don't have to use the horse stuff anymore."
"I don't appreciate you stealing my stuff."
Penny shrugged, already going back to her notebook, "Like you don't have the money to buy more."
"Why do you bring everything back to the money?" Ted demanded, looking angrier by the second.
" 'Cause when you're poor, it's all that's on your mind." I've seen it all/From the orange of the fall to the green of the summer/But my favorite color is neon/The light they always leave on
Annoyed at her nonchalant attitude, he'd strode across the room and ripped the book from her hand, "What is this thing anyways? A diary?"
Penny's eyes had hardened, her fighting face descending, "Give that back or I will make you regret the day you were born."
Grinning, he'd opened to a page and began to read, "Funny how it's so clear now/I can see the city lights in the rearview/fadin' out of sight/I can see the city lights in the rear view fadin' out of sight/goodbye…What is this crap?"
Before he'd closed his mouth, her bony fist smacked hard into his nose, squirting blood across the room, "Watch it," she'd hissed, "And try anything like that again, I'll make it hurt a lot more than it does now."
He believed her, and considering how much a broken nose hurt, he didn't want to push it. Weeks later, she'd tell him it was her song book and a few weeks after that, she was gone and he was fishing it out of the rubble of the stables.
Flipping through the pages, scraps; who was he kidding? he read more of the fragments of her songs, hearing her voice in his ears:
Ohio was a river bank/A ten-speed laying in the weeds/A cannonball off an old rope swing/Long, long summer days/Tennessee was a guitar/First big dream of mine/If I made it, yeah, that'd be just fine/I just wanted to play/wanted to play
Love is a rhythm of two heart beating/Talk to me baby, tell me what you're feeling/I know what love is/What's it to you?
The most legible of the papers was one of the final ones she'd written, safely tucked at the back of the journal. It hurt him to read it; the words were crushed deeply into the paper, like she couldn't stop them or the emotion that had caused them:
Stupid boy...you can't fence that in
Stupid boy...it's like holdin' back the wind
She laid her heart and soul right in your hands
And you stole her every dream and you crushed her plans
She never even knew she had a choice
And that's what happens when the only voice she hears is telling her she can't
So what made you think you could take a life
And just push it, push it around
I guess to build yourself up so high
You had to take her and break her down
Oh you always had to be right
And now you've lost the only thing that ever made you feel alive
She laid her heart and soul right in your hands
And you stole her every dream and crushed her plans
She never even knew she had a choice
And that's what happens when the only voice she hears is telling her she can't
You stupid boy
Oh, I'm the same old, same old stupid boy
It took a while for her to figure out she could run but when she did she was long gone
He was sure that he was the one that she'd written about, hell, she'd even used a full two pages rather than shoving it all into one. She had been mad alright. He shook his head, enough of that. To hell with the fundraiser, he'd make a private donation sometime. He had to see Penny; he had to know this wasn't just a dream. He was going to tell her everything that he'd been thinking of all these years. Even if she told him she had a new life, a new love, he'd be happy for her. More than anything else in the world, he wanted to see her happy. Sticking the letter on the end table in sight, he headed to the shower with a new air of determination.
Nervously arranging her freshly curled hair over her scarred shoulder, Penny glanced in the mirror of the borrowed diesel truck idling a block away from the Hart residence. It was exactly three 'til six, and her heart was thudding so hard she was afraid that it was going to burst right out of her chest. She'd been in an emotional state when she'd agreed to dinner with Jonny and his wife, she obviously hadn't been thinking straight.
Otherwise she would have never said yes. She seriously considered turning around for home, packing her gear, and disappearing again. But that would have been stupid, she had a good job and Jon was a friend. People don't run away from their friends. Besides, the running wasn't a part of who she was anymore.
Shaking herself, she took one last look in the rearview mirror, pushed her hair back into place and took the truck out of drive. Pulling up to the white gate with the embossed 'H,' she rang the house. A heavily accented man answered, saying she could come right up, and she had to swallow the nervousness down again.
Hopping out of the truck, she winced at the odd feeling of soft material brushing up against her calves. The dress, the hair, the makeup; she hardly felt like herself anymore. She was humming one of her own songs to calm her nerves as she headed towards the house, looking in awe at the beautiful house. After she reached the front door and rang the doorbell, she took one final deep breath; she was going to be just fine. Or at least that's what she'd keep telling herself.
Jonathan opened the door to the transformed Penny Coen. Her soft off-white linen dress wrapped around her torso until it flared out in layers at her waist, reaching to her toned calves. The color made her look even tanner, and the sleeveless top showed off her arms, giving him just a glimpse of the scar that covered her left shoulder. Her long hair was curled in thick waves that were artfully draped over her shoulder and tied with a black ribbon. Her thick glasses made not only her eyes look big, but showed off the light makeup she wore. She stood taller with her black heels, and the only piece of jewelry she wore was a thin gold chain with a delicately braided gold cross hanging on it.
The transformation was amazing, Penny looked beautiful. "What?" she demanded, bringing Jonathan back from his reverie. It reminded him a lot of the first time they met.
He smiled widely, "You look lovely, E. I always thought you'd clean up okay."
She rolled her eyes, pushing past him, "Clean up okay, my a-" she stopped her mouth before she could say anything to insult her hostess, who appeared from the living room.
"Oh, Penny! You do look lovely!" Jennifer said with a genuine smile, increasing Penny's thought that Jonathan had made a very good choice.
There was a heartbeat of awkwardness, which was dispelled by the arrival of Freeway, followed closely by Max. Scooping up the dog, he grinned apologetically, "Sorry Mr. H, he snuck out when I wasn't lookin'. Dinner should be ready in a few."
"Great, Max," Jonathan replied, leading the group towards the living room.
Casting Penny an appraising, and then an approving glance, Max disappeared back to the kitchen before he could be properly introduced. Not that Penny noticed however, her green eyes were glued to the grand piano in the corner of the room. Drifting over to it as she and the Harts made small talk, her fingers found the keys and began to play.
She really wasn't conscience of the tune she was playing, but Jennifer was. It was a hauntingly beautiful melody, something that she'd never heard before, "That's lovely, who wrote it?"
Penny stopped playing, drawing her hands back sheepishly, "Umm, no one? I was just messing around."
Jonathan laughed, taking a sip of the drink in his hand, "Never could keep your hands off a piano."
Penny shrugged, "I don't know. I guess."
"Remember Madam Bleu?" Jonathan asked with a grin.
Penny groaned, "Crazy old bat!"
Jennifer cut in, "Who's Madam Bleu?"
"She owned this little bar a few miles from the barn. We used to go there on Saturday nights, and Penny would play her rickety old piano for drinks and tips," Jonathan informed her.
"And yes, I was well under legal drinking age," Penny added, "But Madam Bleu thought I was a reincarnation of her at seventeen."
"Seventeen?" Jennifer asked, eyebrows raised.
Declining the drink Jonathan offered her, Penny nodded, "I was very young. The funny thing is I haven't touched alcohol since I turned twenty-one. I think I got it all out of my system that summer."
Before anything else could be said, Max appeared to inform the trio that dinner was served out of the patio. When everyone was seated again, Jonathan posed a question, "So E. What have you been up to in these eleven years?"
From the look in his blue eyes, Jennifer could see an unasked question, but Penny could read it. She cleared her throat nervously, "Here and there. I've visited Mexico, Canada, and forty-eight states."
"Forty-eight, that's impressive," Jennifer replied. But Jonathan wasn't satisfied, "And your parents? Have you been back home?"
Forcing a smile, Penny nodded, "As a matter of fact, I was there in September of '68."
"How are things?"
She shrugged, looking down at her plate, "My mother is still a guest of Uncle Sam…but my father passed away."
Jennifer started to say something sympathetic, but Jonathan cut her off, "What happened?"
"He had an accident when he was drinking. Fell and cracked his skull open."
The heartless tone and the look on Penny's face said there was a lot more to the story then she was sharing. And Jonathan could guess what it was. She'd said she had a promise to keep…and she'd never shared what that promise was…
Seventeen year old Penny, standing in the decrepit trailer that she'd called home for most of her life, staring at the man who had fathered her. Sitting back his chair, he leered up at her, "Well, well. Look what the cat dragged in."
"You are a bastard."
"So are you."
She'd looked at him for a moment, "Why do you have to ruin everything?"
He stood up, "Is that any way to talk to your father?"
Penny glanced around, "Is my father in the building?"
The slap was hard and unexpected. Stumbling back a step, Penny kept her hand on her cheek as he laughed. He took another step towards her, deftly reaching out and grabbing her arm, "It's time you learned some manners, girl," his slurred voice purred in her ears.
The next few seconds were a blur. She'd fought, throwing herself around the trailer but it was not use. He had her pinned against the kitchen cabinet and there was nothing good about the look in his eyes. She'd groped behind her in terror, latching onto a heavy wrench that had been lying there for as long as she could remember. Closing her eyes, she brought it down hard on his skull.
Taking a sip of water, she moved the conversation to better topics. From the look on his face, Jonathan knew exactly what she'd done. He'd always been uncanny at reading people. Just then, Max appeared in the doorway, "Sorry to bother you, but you have another guest." Standing out of the way, a figure appeared in the doorway.
It was a very good thing that Penny was sitting down.
Before he worked up the nerve to actually enter the Hart home, Ted had taken out the letter from his jacket pocket. It crinkled familiarly; there was a time when he used to read this letter a dozen times a day. The words were forever embossed in his memory, but he read them over again:
I hope you never lose your sense of wonder, get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger. May you never take one single breath for granted…and God forbid love ever leave you empty handed. I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean. I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance, never settle for the path of least resistance. Living might mean taking chances, but they're worth taking, loving might be a mistake, but it's worth making. When you come close to selling out, reconsider. Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens… When you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.
You may be hurt and angry right now, you have every right to hate me. But please, please, don't give up on the world because of me. Don't let this hell-bent heart leave you bitter. I hope, no I know, you have it in you to dance. And don't waste those dances, tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder where those years have gone?
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance and promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance.
It was such a goodbye note, the kind of note where the meaning between the lines was painfully clear; she wasn't planning on ever coming back. It had always amazed him how much wisdom she had for a girl who was three full years younger than him.
At the time, he had thought she was arrogant and not particularly smart, but as the years passed, all the words made so much sense. There was so much he had to tell her.
Straightening his collar, he stepped out of his car and with his heart in his throat moved to the Hart's front door. Barely registering his greeting to Max, Ted followed him to the patio where he assumed dinner was being served. Max said something to the Harts, then stepped aside.
Seeing her again was not exactly like he'd pictured it. For one thing, she was all dressed up. Not that he minded she looked beautiful; just not what he had expected. The other thing that bothered him was the look on her face, how it went from shock to fear to something hard to put a name to. Then she was getting up, stepping over the pieces of a shattered glass that had somehow fallen to the floor.
"Thanks for dinner, it was great to see you, but I just remembered something I have to do."
"Wait, E-" Jonathan began, glancing at his wife, who he assumed was the one who had arranged this little meeting.
"Penny, I just wanted to see you."
His voice stopped her, having the effect that she knew it would. Her knees weren't under her own command anymore, 'cause they stopped moving, "Well, now you've seen me, Teddy. Gotta go."
Ted reached out and grasped her arm, "Can we talk?"
"We'll be right back," Jennifer cut in, dragging Jonathan and Max back inside of the house with her. Jonathan was asking her why she had invited Ted, she knew how the two of them had left it! and Max was curiously gapping. The answer to her husband's question was a simple one, she couldn't stand to see two people who obviously had feelings for each other hide for the rest of their lives, they needed to talk. And of course, a little match making was always fun.
Back out on the patio, Penny was weighing the pros and cons of making a run for it while Ted tried to get his thoughts in order.
"E," he began, looking straight into her green eyes, "Penny…I don't even know where to begin."
"Why don't you not begin then? Might be easier for all of us."
She was hiding behind her wall, keeping her emotions carefully concealed. He reached out to touch her, but she jumped back, brushing the hair away from her scarred shoulder. It was gnarled and web-like, an off white color that stood out form her tanned skin. When she caught him staring, she quickly covered it back up, turning for the door. "Penny, please, just let me say what I need to, then you can walk away and never look back. Please."
Letting out a sigh, she nodded but her back still to him. He took his own shuttering breath, "To start off, I love you. Always have, probably always will. I spent years trying to track you down after you left, and I never ever gave up. I- I read the letter you gave Jon, you loved me too. I could never understand why you had to hide it, and I understand that '68 was a lifetime ago, and you've probably got someone new-"
"I hid it because you were just a rebel trust fund baby who 'loved' me because it would piss off mommy and daddy," Penny muttered harshly, "and no, there's nobody else."
"No," Ted said, stepping closer, "It was never like that. I loved you because of all the things that you were. Smart, gorgeous, funny, talented, tell me what's not to love?"
"Ha!" was the only reply.
"I sick missing you. Tell me what I have to do to win you over, Penny. What do I need to say to make you believe me? You'll never have to wonder if you need another, you'll never have to wonder if I understand, and I'll always have a hand stretched out for you. I'd do anything for you, anything."
"I wonder if you say that if you knew half the things I've done."
"I would," came the prompt reply.
It was all coming so fast, all the emotions, her life flashing before her eyes. Then suddenly, he was there. His arms wrapped around her like they had all those years ago. She hated to admit it, but the years had been very good to him, and her heart sped up when he looked at her when he was this close. "Do you still love me? I'll understand if you don't."
The fireworks going off in the summer night sky, Ted and Penny racing hand and hand back to the truck where Jonathan sat on the hood. They stopped a few feet away and shared one last breathless kiss, "I love you," he'd whispered then, a devilish grin on his face. She'd giggled, then raced away from him without returning his sentiments. He'd raced after. That seemed to be their relationship, she ran and he always followed.
"There's nothing I'd change about those days, you and Jon are the sweetest things about my past. There's a part of me that always hoped you'd found your dreams and you were happy wherever you were at…but there was a part of me that wanted, wants, that summer back."
It was all of the yes he needed for now, he drew her in and gently kissed her lips, like he'd done that summer all those years ago. They both knew it was going to take things slow, that this might not last forever, but there was a part of them that hoped it would.
Inside the kitchen, Max, Freeway, Jennifer and Jonathan peeked out the kitchen window to see what was going on. The scene before them brought a smile, and Jonathan wrapped his arms around his wife wordlessly. Penny's song danced through his head and he smiled, watching the sound of a million dreams unfold before him.
So I labor for hours 'cause I know the power of a song when a song hits you right
Pouring my soul into stories of life hoping someone will hear one tonight
Maybe my voice will cut through the noise and stir up an old memory
And out of these piano keys comes the sound,
The sound of a million dreams
I don't really like how this story ended up folks…I think I kind of lost my steam. I hope I didn't disappoint anyone too seriously. As you may have guessed/known, the songs were NOT mine, here's the list of songs that lyrics inspired me (yes, a long list, I KNOW) (In NO particular order):
Texas Was You- Jason Aldean
Crying On A Suitcase- Casey James
City Lights- Matt Gray
Neon- Chris Young
What's It To You- Clay Walker
Stupid Boy- Keith Urban
The Sound Of A Million Dreams- David Nail (Title Inspiration)
I Hope You Dance- Lee Ann Womack
Never Alone- Jim Brickman/Lady Antebellum
Your Everything- Keith Urban
My Wish- Rascal Flatts
Hurry Home- Jason Michael Carroll
Let There Be Cowgirls- Chris Cagle
Over- Blake Shelton
Summer Back- Andy Gibson
Thanks again to any one reading this, I think you're all amazing!
~Over and Out.