Behind the wheel of her car, Penelope fumes at her brother. His infuriatingly judgemental behaviour makes her insane. Ignoring the little part of her brain that thinks maybe he’s right. The part of her brain that made her sneak out of Gil’s house this morning. She looks at her phone for the first time since she woke up: 7 messages. All but one are from Gil. Her heart quickens uncontrollably. Forcing herself to ignore his messages, she opens the one from Rowena.
“You coming over to fill me in on the awesomeness?”
Knowing that her friend will distract her from her worries, she taps in a message that she’s on the way.
The phone dings “Bring icy coffee goodness.”
Twenty minutes later, Penelope pulls the car to a stop in front of Rowena’s house. She sucks in her breath and looks through the other messages.
“Where are you?”
“Please call me.”
“You’re being silly.”
“Are you ignoring me on purpose? Stop being a bitch.”
“I’m sorry, P. You’re not a bitch. You’re special to me.”
“I’m so sorry that I upset you. I didn’t mean to. I just freaked out because of the other students. Call me so we can talk about this before you talk to anyone else. We can straighten this out. It’ll never happen again.”
She pauses after reading the last message. Her lips twitch into a smile. Scanning the words that make it all better. The make everything better. Quickly, she deletes the messages that make her angry. Tucking the tin of peanut brittle under her arm and grabbing the tray of drinks, Penelope heads towards the house. Rowena pulls the door open when Penelope is only halfway up the walkway.
“Who’s the coolest person ever?” The blonde calls from the door.
“Obviously me.” Penelope laughs, increasing her pace.
“I cannot believe that you finally sailed your maiden voyage in the good ship Staalipop.”
“Dude!” Penelope glances around quickly to make sure the street is empty.
“Can we wait until we’re in private? Big slutty ears live across the street from you.” She jerks her head towards Brooke’s house.
“Whatev, there’s no one out here, and there’s no one home but us, so…”
“Just let me in.” Penelope rolls her eyes, pushing the tray of coffee into Rowena’s hands.
“Wanna chill in the hot tub for a while?”
Penelope hears the sounds of music floating down the hallway from Rowena’s room. She grabs her swimsuit from the corner of the closet where she keeps a stash of clothes for days just like this. Soon the two girls are changed and stepping into the chilled air of the enclosed deck. Penelope slides her feet into the warm, steaming water. Her breath catches as her body temperature adjusts to the heat. She sinks into water up to her chin, allowing the tension of what has felt like a never-ending day to seep from her body.
“You don’t seem as chipper as I expected.” Rowena cocks an eyebrow at her best friend as she sips from her iced coffee.
“No? Maybe I’m just distracted.” Penelope smiles. Remembering the feeling of Gil’s arms wrapped around her. His skin pressing against hers. The slip of sweat from the heat of their bodies. The memory making her burn hotter than the water in the tub.
“Okay, dude. That expression on your face. You have got to tell me. Details. And I mean details. Serious, nitty, gritty ones.”
“You’ve had sex before. It’s not like you need me to write a manual for you.”
“I’ve had vanilla sex with vanilla high school boys. You’re having spicy cayenne sex with this super hot, older teacher.”
“Thanks for not making me feel at all inadequate.”
“I’m sure you were fine.”
“Ah yes, fine. That’s the ringing endorsement everyone wants to describe their sexual abilities.”
“Blah, blah.” Rowena splashes water in her friend’s direction. “Now tell me about Mr. S – Furry or smooth? Toned or squishy? Cut or…”
“There are some things you don’t get to know.” Penelope laughs, reaching for her iced tea.
“Well, at least tell me how it happened.”
“It started when he sent me this message last night, asking if I wanted to go running in the morning and saying how much easier it would be if I stayed the night. I get there and he tries to put me in the spare room.”
Rowena raises her eyebrows.
“Yeah, right I know. Like that was happening.” Penelope laughs.
“We end up in his room. He’s got this great bed. So, I just crawled up onto his lap and one thing led to another.”
“And was that thing careful to wrap the junk up?” Rowena raised a sceptical eyebrow.
“I took sex ed, too, Row.” Penelope rolled her eyes. “And his lips… they are amazing. Man. I’ve kissed him before, but this was different. Like he was finally kissing me. Not trying to get over the fact that he was kissing one of his students.” Penelope smiles, remembering the feel of his lips against her. “It was totally perfect. Until we decided to order some pizza and things got a little weird.”
“Like kinky weird?” Rowena grinned.
“Gross, Row. No, like odd weird. We’re sitting there on the couch making out, waiting for the pizza, and suddenly there’s this deafening crashing noise. A beer bottle smashed into the front window!”
“Right?!” Penelope swallowed back her anger, “Gil got a little weird after that, but eventually everything settled down again. Then this morning we’re out for our run and we almost run into some guys from school. Gil totally freaks and wouldn’t touch me again.” Glancing towards her friend for reassurance or judgement, she’s not sure what to expect or what she wants.
“Of course, he freaked. If the school found out about you guys, he’d probably lose his job.” Rowena rationalizes. “And tank his entire future. What school would hire him with that on his record?”
“Logically, I understand that, but I want to be with him. You know what I mean?”
“Yeah, but you’ve always known there would be challenges if things got serious.” Rowena shrugs. “And besides, you get to have a secret love affair. Those are the relationships they write books about.”
“I just needed someone to tell me I’m not over reacting.”
“Except for that whole bottle thing, it sounds pretty much perfect.” Rowena squeezes Penelope’s hand. “You are not overreacting. There are serious complications to your relationship.”
“Stupid Ash.” Penelope mumbles.
“What does Ash have to do with this?”
“It was him. That threw the bottle, I mean.”
“Wow…” Rowena pauses “I actually don’t know what to say about that.”
“I’m pretty pissed off at him. He almost ruined the most perfect night of my life. I can’t imagine ever wanting someone more that I want Gil. I just want to be with him all the time. It’s almost like I can still feel him against my skin.” She shakes her cup to loosen the clumps of ice, unable to look directly at her friend. “There is this one other thing though.”
“What’s that?” Rowena leans back against the tub
“Well, it’s… it’s not a big deal, but he’s got a bit of a temper.”
“Explain.” Rowena leaned forward, looking serious for the first time since they’d gotten in the tub.
“Well, he’s pushed me away from him a couple times. Only when he’s worried about getting caught. He’s never really hurt me. And it’s always been an accident. ” Penelope holds up a finger to silence her friend before she can interrupt, “I know he likes me. I think he may love me. He has to, right? I mean why else would he risk his career to be with me?”
“It’s awfully early to be talking about love, isn’t it?” Rowena appears skeptical for the first time since this thing with Gils started.
“Sweetie, I’m doing it with a hot guy. Of course it’s love.” Penelope laughs. “So, you don’t think the other thing is a bad sign do you?”
“Does he only ever push away when you’re about to get caught?”
“Yeah…” Penelope leaves out the story of him pushing her out of the bed that morning.
“Then he’s protecting both of you. He’d lose his job, but imagine what would happen to your reputation if people found out the two of you? I’m sure he just doesn’t realize that under that muscled, runner’s body, you’re a tiny girl and he’s stronger than you. Did he apologize?”
“Then for now, we say no big deal.” Rowena shrugs. “But, if he ever does it again, we’ll revisit the issue.”
“Right. God, I was getting all worked up over nothing. I knew I just needed to talk it out. You always know how to calm me down.” Penelope exhaled a big sigh of relief. “Maybe we could not mention his temper to anyone else.”
“Are we telling anyone else about any of this?” Rowena asks with the raise of an eyebrow.
”Good point.” Penelope chuckles.
“You’d be silly to give him up. This could be your future.”
“I know. There’s what? Eight more months until graduation? Then we can be together and no one can say anything.”
“And, he’s only a sub. He’ll be out of our school soon enough.”
“That’s what I keep trying to explain to Ash!” Penelope stands and steps out of the hot tub. “I’ll be right back. I gotta pee.”
“And text Gil?” Rowena teases.
“Maybe.” Penelope shrugs and heads into the house. Grabbing her phone from her purse, she quickly dials Gil’s number.
“Hello?” Gil answers distractedly.
“Hey.” Penelope’s voice is sheepish.
“P!” She can hear the sound of papers shuffling on the other side of the phone.
“Are you still mad?” She can barely get the words out, feeling foolish about sneaking out of the house that morning.
“Mad! Me? No way. I wasn’t mad. Where did you get that idea, silly girl? Why did you run out this morning?”
“I just… panicked. I thought that you were embarrassed by me.”
“Oh Penelope, don’t be ridiculous. I was just trying to protect you.”
She pauses for a moment. She wants nothing more than to ask if she can see him, but holds back. She takes a deep breath.
“Are you still there?” He prods.
“Yeah,” She replies quietly, “Can I see you later?” Her voice is full of trepidation.
“Of course! Don’t sound so scared. We’re together. Of course I want to see you.”
“So, should I come to your house again?”
“Well, I can’t some to yours, can I?” He laughs. “Want to do supper?”
“Sure! There’s this great Indian restaurant off Chester Street. It has the best Aloo Ghobi.” Penelope feels her stomach growl. “Do you even like Indian food?”
“I know the place you mean. They make my vindaloo extra spicy. But P, we can’t be going out for supper together, especially not to a restaurant so close to where we live.”
“Oh right. Poopy.” Penelope frowns.
“Just be at my house for 7:30.” He chuckles from his end of the phone. “Maybe you should come in through the back way tonight.”
“Just to avoid any chance of someone seeing you. I discovered today that your brother’s friend lives across the street from me.”
She smiles to herself. “A secret rendezvous. I love it.”
“Everything about this situation is secret, Penelope.” His tone turns serious.
“Of course.” She glances around the room of her friend who knows everything about this little secret.
“You haven’t told anyone right?” His voice takes on a rough edge.
“Of course not. I’m not stupid. I know that this is something we could get us both in big trouble. I’m just trying to come up with something to tell my parents about where I’ll be tonight.”
“Parents are usually easier to get around than their children think. Will they even notice that you’re out? It’s a Saturday.”
“Gilbert, you seem to know an awful lot about getting around parents.” She grins.
He pauses before answering “It wasn’t that long ago that I was in high school.”
“Was I in high school?”
“No silly. Tonight.” She chuckles.
“Right you said that already.”
“Exactly.” He laughs. A voice mumbles something from his end of the conversation. “I have to go, Sweetie. I’ll talk to you later.” The phone disconnects before she can respond.
She giggles, bouncing around the room hugging herself.
“So everything’s good then?” Rowena’s voice sounds from behind her.
“Jesus, Row.” Her hand can feel her heart thudding in her chest. “What the hell! You scared the crap out of me.”
“I was pruning.” She holds up her fingers as evidence. “You’ve been gone forever.”
“Sorry. I was on the phone with Gil.”
“I figured.” Rowena disappears into her closet. “When are you going to see him again?”
“Sweet.” Wandering back out of her closet wrapped in a robe, she lets her hair out of the clip and begins brushing the long strands.
“You’ll cover for me?” Penelope pulls her legs up under her.
“As long as you promise me something.” Rowena turns to face her friend, her expression serious.
“If he ever does anything you don’t feel comfortable about. If it’s ever not about protecting both of you from getting caught. If he ever really hurts you, you need to promise to tell me. Promise.”
“It’s just a bit of a temper. He would never hurt me, Row.” Penelope squeezes her hand into a fist. “I promise he won’t.”