Chapter 8: Close to You

Watching her brother glide out into the backyard, Penelope continues to pedal the elliptical trainer. She can’t figure out why Ash can’t just keep his feelings to himself. The first time in weeks that they’ve been able to sit down for dinner as a family, and he ruins it. Pushing herself harder, she tries to drown out her annoyance with the sound of her heartbeat and reading. Sweat drips from her hairline, rolling down the side of her face. She wipes it away with an equally sweaty arm. From her room, she hears the sound of her cell phone chiming. The tone set for Gil.

Foregoing her cool down, Penelope jumps down from the still moving pedals. For a second her legs feel like jelly, giving out briefly. She catches herself, ignores the pain, and skips to her bedroom, opening the message as she flops onto her bed. “Why don’t we try out some of the paths near my house tomorrow?”

“Your house is where?” Her fingers fly across the keys. The phone sounds again as she begins stretching.

“Langwood Dr.”

“That’s a long way for a run…”

“I come all the way over to your side of town every morning. And, if you come over tonight, you’d already be here.”

“Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!” Penelope squeals, flopping back on her bed and kicking her feet up in the air. Flipping back onto her stomach, she begins typing. “Are you propositioning me, sir?”

The reply is instantaneous. “I have a guest room for pesky company.”

“Not pesky. Charming.”

“Something like that… So, are you up for it?”

“The question is are you up for it?” She smiles as she types the words.

“Definitely.”

Penelope reads the message, closes her eyes, and takes a deep breath. This is what she’s been wanting. What she’s been waiting for. Opening her eyes, she types the reply before she can change her mind. “I’ll be there in an hour.” Send.

She runs to the stairs. “Mom!” She yells from the landing.

“Yes, honey.” Her mother peeks over the railing above her.

“I’m going to stay at Rowena’s tonight. Okay?”

“Alright. Have a good time.”

“Thanks.” She turns back towards her room.

“Honey?” Her mother’s voice follows her.

“Yeah?”

“I made peanut brittle yesterday. Do you want to take some with you? I know it’s Rowena’s favourite.”

A momentary flash of guilt passes through Penelope. “Sure. Thanks, Mom.”

In her room, she strips out of her sweaty workout clothes. After flipping on the water in the shower, she grabs her phone and punches her friend’s name.

“Ladycakes.” Rowena answers cheerfully.

“Lovelylocks. I need a favour.”

“Does it involve me joining you for a run?”

“Nope.”

“Then ask away.”

“If anyone asks, I’m staying at your house tonight.”

“Where are you staying that you don’t want… wait, are you staying where I think you’re staying?”

“Yeah.”

Her best friend squeals “You are the luckiest girl. He’s so hot.”

“You’ll cover for me? There’s peanut brittle in it for you.”

“I would do it for free. But, if you want to give me candy, I won’t turn it down.”

“You are the best friend ever. I’ll give it to you tomorrow.”

“And we’ll dish about how awesome it was.”

“Dish?” Penelope chuckles.

“I was hoping you wouldn’t notice that.”

“Really? You thought I would just not notice that?”

“Shut up.” Rowena giggles.

“We’ll dish about the dishing tomorrow.” Penelope laughs. “I’m standing here naked, so I’m going to go hop in the shower and stop talking to you.”

“Make yourself smell pretty for you non-date.”

“I always smell pretty. Talk to you tomorrow.” Throwing the phone back onto the bed, Penelope disappears into the steam-filled bathroom.

An hour later, she’s in her car, her still damp curls stiffening in the chill of the evening. Flipping through the dials on the radio, she settles on a synth heavy song before pulling out of the driveway. Halfway to Gil’s house, she decides to grab drinks, hoping it will have the same outcome it did in the parking lot the day they met. Without signalling, she shoots across traffic to take a left-hand turn into the coffee shop drive-thru. A horn blares from behind her. She checks her phone while waiting for the barista to make her drinks. There’s a message from Gil.

“Aren’t you supposed to be here already?”

“Keep your pants on… for now.” Her fingers fly across the keys.

“That’ll be $8.56.” A girl about her age leans out the window.

Twenty minutes later, she parks her car about half a block from the house, just to be safe. Quickly checking her phone for the house number, Penelope grabs her bag and the lattes. She stops in front of a little yellow house. At the end of the sidewalk, she takes a deep breath. A shake of her head loosens her curls. She tells herself that she’s not doing anything wrong before walking towards the house, ringing the doorbell with her elbow and waiting. The coffee cups are getting uncomfortable warm in her hands.

The porch light comes on as the white door swings open. Gilbert stands in the frame, a grin spreading across his face when he sees her standing on the porch.

“You came.” His smile is one of surprised pleasure.

“You asked.” Penelope smirks.

“I just… well, I didn’t know if you were serious.”

“When I decide I want to do something, I do it. That’s something you’re going to need to learn about me if this is going to work.”

“If what is going to work? What exactly do you think is happening here, Ms. Chisholm?” Gil crosses his arms over his chest, his smile falling away.

“I, um… well…” Penelope stumbles over her words, her brain rushing to figure out how she could have misread his signals.

“I’m just teasing.” His big toothy grin returns.

“Oh, thank god. I was about to get really embarrassed and run away. Now, you want to take one of these before they get cold?” She holds out a cup of coffee.

“Hazelnut. My favourite.” His forehead wrinkles in surprise. “How could you possibly know that?”

“I pay attention.” She glances over her shoulder as a car pulls up across the street, music pouring out as the doors opens.

“If you paid that much attention to your school work…”

“Don’t you dare pull the teacher card on me tonight! I don’t like teachers.” Her laughter loud as the music from the car abruptly stops.

“Come on inside.” He pulls her a little more forcefully than required.

She skips across the threshold into the house. Her stomach fluttering, knowing that this is the line she can’t turn back from. Won’t turn back from. Taking her bag, Gil heads into the house.

“You want the tour?”

“Guess so.” She looks around, suddenly realizing that she’s with someone with their own home, not just a bedroom in their parents’ home. For a second, she feels incredibly young and immature.

“Living room.” He points to a room on the left. She looks in to see a giant tv against one wall, video game systems lining the shelves below it. Black leather furniture is arranged around the room. Some straight from Ikea artwork decorates the walls.  “Kitchen, we’ll check that out later.” They walk by quickly. “Bathroom.” A large walk-in shower with glass walls takes up the far side of the room. Dark towels hang from rods on the walls. Pristinely clean. “Spare room.” He walks into the room, setting her bag down on the end of a bed with a geometric patterned quilt. A plain wooden headboard matches the side tables and chest of drawers.

“Gil, this is really… um, well… is my gaydar broken?”

“Excuse me?” His eyebrows rocket up his forehead.

“Well, your house is nothing like what I expected. It’s all fashionable and well designed. And so freaking clean.”

“Because I can decorate and I like a clean house, I must be gay, right?” His lips purse. Penelope shrugs. He steps towards her. “Don’t act like a child, P.” His voice is quieter than normal.

“Penelope.” She interjects, their bodies mere inches apart.

“Don’t make me think I’ve made a mistake, Penelope.” He looks down at her. She stares up into his deep brown eyes. Almost the same colour as hers. Her tongue darts out to wet her lips. Pressing them together, she feels the blood rushing beneath the thin layers of skin. His fingers weave through hers. His skin smooth, calm, dry. Hers slightly clammy with nerves. He backs away from her, pulling her by the hand. “There’s one more room to see.”

Nodding, she follows him silently. He backs down the hall, still facing her. Knowing his way by instinct. The door on the left side of the hallway is closed. His free hand reaches behind him, smoothly swinging the door open as he steps through. Bringing her with him. She’s aware of the space around her, but doesn’t take it in. They continue to glide through the room, coming to a stop as Gil backs into the high bed against the far wall. The bedding an unexpectedly deep red. His ragged jeans standing out against the rich fabric as he lets go of her hand, taking a seat on the edge of the bed. “You like it?”

“Gorgeous.” She replies, without ever looking away from him. Stepping forward, Penelope forces him further back onto the mattress. She pulls herself up onto the bed. One knee on either side of his lap. His hands find their way to her waist. Sliding her closer. The fabric of her jeans slides smoothly along the comforter, until their bodies are pressing firmly against one another. Uncertainty flits across her eyes.

“If you’re not completely sure…” His voice comes out as little more than a breath. “This is your decision.”

“I’m sure.” She leans forward, resting her forehead against his. “But the last time we were this close, you threw me across a classroom.”

“I’m sorry, sweetie. I was scared.” As the words come out, his lips brush against hers.

“Of what?” She slides further into his lap.

“Of you. Of you being my student. Of getting caught.”

“We can’t get caught here.”

“You make me feel like a dirty old man.” He breathes against her ear.

“Are you still scared?” Their voices are so low they’re little more than breath.

“I should be.”

“No you shouldn’t.” She pulls away from him slightly. Confusion flashes across his expression. Her hands pull away from his neck, where they’ve been tracing the edges of his hairline. Her fingers find the hem of her t-shirt and pull it over her head. Her athletic body is firm, not requiring the hindrance of a bra. For a second she just sits. Not letting him know her uncertainty. She reaches forward, wrapping her arms back around his neck. Pulling him in, trapping his lips with her own. His hands pressing against the bare skin of her back. Responding to her advance. Then swiftly, expertly, flipping her onto her back while pulling his own shirt over his head. Looking down at the black curls tumbling out over his pillow. Her pale skin even lighter against the dark bedding. He hovers above her for a second before his hand reaching for her belt.

When they’ve finished, Penelope rests her head against his chest. The smell of Gil’s skin overloads her senses with a mix of soap and cologne. His chest warm against her cheek. She smiles, feeling his fingers playing through her hair.

“Hey, what happened to your dog?” She listens to the rhythmic thumping coming from just below her ear.

“What?”

“The day we met. You were running with that little yappy dog that got all caught up in my feet.” She tickles him playfully. “You know, the reason that we actually met.”

“Oh right.” He chuckles “Wasn’t my dog.”

“What? Are you some kind of creeper that just grabs random dogs and uses them to pick up unsuspecting high school girls?” She giggles. The sound reverberates back from his chest into her ear. The hollow sound makes her giggle even harder.

“I was pet sitting for a friend. It’s why I was even on that side of the city.” He tickes her shoulder.

Sitting up a little, she looks up at him, running her thumb along his jaw line. The bristly feeling of five o’clock shadow had been a pleasant surprise. The other boys she’s fooled around with have all had smooth, baby skin not yet requiring shaving. Penelope had always expected the strong little pieces of hair to be irritating, but she’d actually liked the feeling. Pulling herself up further, she kisses him gently on the base of his neck. Suddenly, overwhelmed by emotions she doesn’t understand, she burrows her face into the crook of his neck. “Was it okay?”

“Was what okay?” His voice distracted as his hands exploring the smooth expanse of skin along her back. Lifting her head, she cocks an eyebrow. Her face giving away her fears before she can hide against his skin again.

“Wait. You mean?” His hands freeze in position, only his fingertips rest against her back. “Was that your first time?” Penelope nods against his chest, not looking up. “You should have told me.”

“So it wasn’t good then?” She mutters. Gil feels hot tears splash against his skin, the warm trail sliding down the side of his chest.

“Hey, hey.” He lifts her chin, making her look at him. He wipes her eye. “What’s this all about?”

“I don’t know. I just feel like I disappointed you. I didn’t want you to think I was just a little kid.” She hates that she suddenly can’t control her emotions.

“Trust me, there is no disappointment here.” He laughs a little. “If there had been, you’d be on your way home already.” He pokes her lightly in the arm.

“Oh, so that’s how you play it, huh?’ She laughs, relaxing again. Sitting up, she holds the sheet to her body as she reaches for her shirt.

“What’s with the clothing?” Gil pouts as Penelope pulls the fabric over her head.

“I’m hungry.” She begins looking for her underwear. “Now get up and order us some pizza.” She tosses his shirt at him and saunters out of the room pulling on her jeans.

“Yes ma’am” He salutes, chuckling.

In the bathroom, Penelope shuts the door, clicking the lock firmly into place. It only takes her a second to type the message and hit send. Looking at herself in the mirror, she tries to see if anything looks different. Her phone vibrates in her hand.

“Hello?” Penelope keeps her voice low.

“Oh! My! God!” Rowena’s voice booms from the earpiece.

“I know!” She flips on the fan to drown out her voice. “I can’t believe that just happened!” Penelope is barely able to contain her excitement.

“I mean, I know we’ve been talking about this happening, but part of me didn’t really think it actually would.”

“You and me both.” Penelope agrees, staring at herself in the mirror. Touching her lips with her fingertips.

“Penelope, you just had sex with a crazy hot teacher. You are such a bad ass!”

“He’s only a sub.” Penelope reminds her friend.

A knock sounds at the door. “What do you want on the pizza, P?”

“I gotta go. We’ll talk tomorrow.” She whispers, jamming the phone into her pocket. “I told you, it’s Penelope.” She grins up at him as she pulls open the door.

Snaking an arm around her waist and pulling her against him, “After that,” he jerks his head in the direction of the bedroom, “I get to call you whatever I want.” He cuts off her protest by jamming him mouth against hers. “Now about that pizza.” She feels the grin spread across his face before he pulls away from her. Laughing, she slips her hand into his and follows him into the kitchen to look at the take-out menu.

Chapter 9

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