Juggling her purse and two brown paper bags full of food, Penelope pulls her cell phone from her pocket to double check the message from Gil: “Going to be about an hour late. Key’s under the blue planter in the backyard. Let yourself in.”
“Where the hell is the damn blue planter?” She glances around the yard, nothing on the back step or near the sides of the house. The evening is darkening as the days get shorter. The ravine the yard backs onto provides no extra light. Setting the food down on the steps, she uses her phone as a flashlight. There it is, sitting beside the metal shed at the back of the yard. She heads over and tips up the heavy blue pottery. The light of her phone catches the glint of the metal key.
She gropes for the light switch after letting herself through the backdoor. When her fingers finally locate the switch, she finds herself in a small entryway at the very back of the house. Only a few square feet of linoleum. A small bench sits in the corner. She sets the food down before unzipping her boots. Entering the kitchen, she puts steaming bags of food on the counter. The clock on the wall reads 8:00. Half an hour until Gil is supposed to be there.
Penelope wanders down the hall to Gil’s bedroom. As the dim glow fills the room, she sees the perfectly made bed across the room. Her stomach flutters are she remembers the previous night. Smiling to herself, she crawls up onto the soft comforter and stretches out on her back. Her mind drifts happily through the events of the last week. Her eyelids flutter heavily and before she realizes what’s happening, she’s asleep.
Shaking herself awake, Penelope looks around groggily. She hears the sound of running water coming from down the hall. She follows the sound to the kitchen and finds Gil, standing at the sink, his back to her, his arms slathered in soap. Mud covering his arms and the cuffs of his pants.
“Babe, what on earth were you doing?” Penelope laughs as she comes up behind him, wrapping her arms around his waist.
“Flat tire.” He growls. Turning his face towards her, he plants a kiss on her lips. “Not impressed.” Washing the last of the residue from his skin, he grabs a dishtowel before turning to face her, smiling. Then his face twists into a look she can’t place, something between pain, anger and sadness.
“Want me to make you feel better.” She pulls herself closer to him.
“Penelope, I don’t know if we should be doing this.” He continues to dry his hands, careful not to touch her.
“This. Us. Maybe we should wait until you’re out of school.”
“I thought we had gotten over this? Didn’t we spend hours talking about this exact thing?”
“That was before your brother came to talk to me.”
“What?” Penelope pulls back from him. “He did what?”
“He came to the school tonight and threatened to turn me in to the school board if we keep dating.”
“Jackass!” Breaking free from Gil’s arms, Penelope walks over to the counter and starts angrily pulling lids off the food containers. “Why is he doing this to me? We used to be so close, but high school is killing us. I just can’t understand him.” She picks up a piece of curried potato and pops it into her mouth absentmindedly.
“But he did say that if we break up, he’ll keep his mouth shut. He won’t take things forward.” Gil rubs his hands against his face, “I just don’t know if we can trust him.”
“Is that what you want? What you really want?” She rips through a piece of naan bread with her teeth, “To break up because of my brother. To be apart for eight months? Plenty of time for you to find someone more age appropriate?”
“I don’t know what I want, Penelope. I want you. I want to not want to want you. I want you to be older.” Gil slumps against the counter “You make me want to be with you. And god, I wish that wasn’t true. This would be so much easier if you were just a girl in my class. But you’re not. You’re special. I’ve never met anyone quite like you before.”
Penelope steps towards him, her fingers splayed against his chest, lowering her hand slowly down his body. A low, gutturally growl of pleasure escapes his lips. She hooks her fingers into his belt loops and pulls him close. Grabbing her waist, Gil lifts Penelope until she’s perching on the edge of the counter. Wrapping her legs around his waist, and her arms around his neck, she pulls herself onto him. “Then fuck Ash.” She breathes into Gil’s ear as he starts down the hallway. “You can’t get rid of me that easily.”
An hour later, they wander back to the kitchen, Penelope wearing one of Gil’s t-shirts. Gil in only a pair of track pants. “Hungry.” He mumbles, pulling plates from the cupboard.
“Yes. That was definitely… invigorating.” She begins spooning heaps of food onto one of the plates. “It was fun, right?” She looks quickly at Gil.
“You are going to have to get over this concern about your abilities.” He leans over to kiss the back of her neck. “You have absolutely nothing to worry about.”
“So back to this Ash thing.” She puts her plate in the microwave.
“Oh yeah, that.”
“I’m telling him we’re breaking up until you’re done subbing at the school, then he has to back off.”
“So, that was what? Break up sex?” anger sparks in Gil’s eyes. He tosses his plate on the counter. “Well, if that was the best you have in you, then I guess it’s good that we’re done.” He paces the kitchen.
“Gil! I said I’m telling him we broke up.” She steps forward, her fingers wrapping around his arm.
“Yeah, I heard you.” He grabs her hand, pushing it away from him.
“I don’t think you’re actually hearing me!” She shakes the throbbing out of her hand.
“We’re breaking up, what more do you want me to hear.” He glares at her. “You think you get to control how this relationship goes?”
“Would you stop being a dumb ass and listen to me.” She chuckles a little.
“Don’t laugh at me.” He turns suddenly, pushing her up against the wall. The heel of his hand driving into her sternum. She feels the breath rush from her lungs. “And don’t you ever call me dumb.”
“But you aren’t listening.” She wheezes, the laughter gone. The situation no longer funny. “I don’t want to break up. I just want to tell him that we did.”
“Oh!” Gil’s hand drops to his side.
“Overreact much?” She rolls her eyes at him, rubbing her chest.
“Maybe.” He puts a hand on either side of her, leaning into her. “I’m sorry, Babe. Just, the thought of losing you when we have such great chemistry…”
She leans towards him, her lips brushing against his. “I know we do.” She grins, ducking under his arm as the microwave dings. “I’m glad you finally caught on, cause I’m hungry.” She switches their plates and turns back to him, opening her mouth to say something about his temper. Wondering if she should say something about his mood swings, but she stops herself. She can’t predict how he’ll react. Pushing aside the heavy feeling in her stomach, she settles down at the table with her plate and waits from him to join her.