I'm sorry it took me so long to finish this chapter! I was binge watching Attack on Titan in my very limited free time. Did you know that it's going to take until APRIL before the next episode is out? What. The. Hell. Is. That. About?
At least the writer decided not to kill Potato Girl. Yet.
Anyway, thank you so much for the reviews! I get all motivated to write more when I see them.
RaptureRaptor, I think you're right and I plan to change it :)
The next day, Penny was able to get quite a lot of work done. The only inconvenience was that Roger had attempted to call several times. Penny finally answered one of his calls, hoping to ward him off. She tried to tell him she just wasn't ready to talk yet.
"Please," she'd told him. "I need time." She needed a whole lot more than that, but it was a start.
But Roger, with characteristic simplemindedness, wouldn't listen.
"Penny. I can't, this is killing me. I miss you. Courtney means nothing to me-," there was a strangled sound in the background followed by the clear noise of a door slamming.
It suddenly dawned on her. "Roger...where are you staying?"
"With a friend," his voice took on a high pitched note; an indication that he was lying.
Penny felt like the air had been knocked out of her. Suddenly, the phone felt heavy in her hand and cold against her ear. "You're with her now. And you dare to call me and beg me to take you back?" she asked the question softly.
If was like something inside her snapped, something that had been keeping all of her hurt and anger in check. But now it was gone, and rage built up in her like a firestorm. It was fairly liberating.
"Roger, you have been the single biggest mistake I've ever made! I let you leech off of me for two solid years, while you cheated on me for God knows how long. You're a weasel. No, that would be an insult to weasels, and they've never done anything to me. Just do me a favor. Go to hell!"
she practically threw the phone onto the table.
The calls stopped for a few hours, but by evening the phone was ringing every ten minutes.
Each time Penny would answer and set it down in front of her stereo speakers. Then she'd crank up the volume and press play on Aretha Franklin's 'Respect'.
"Respect! Just a little bit! Sockittome, sockittome, sockittome, sockittome, sockittome! Respect!"
After a while, a perturbed Luke had yelled at her over the fence to turn down the music, folding his muscled arms over the edge with an easy grace that annoyed Penny. She pretended not to hear him.
"R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Find out what it means to meeeee!"
"What?" she called out from the kitchen window, yelling to be heard over Aretha's powerful voice. She tried not to laugh as he stared at her in open disgust, his jaw tightening and his big shoulders squaring off.
Eventually, he left the fence. Penny wondered if he was calling the sheriff's office. She wasn't terribly concerned. The entire department was shouldering Courtney's shame and she doubted anyone was going to make a house call tonight.
Shadow was outside. Apparently, he had similar feelings to Luke about Miss Franklin and was hiding out until Penny came out of her mood. Well, she wasn't planning to anytime soon.
The phone rang again for at least the tenth time. Penny debated turning the phone off, but then changed her mind. It was the principle of the thing. She clicked the answer button without looking and pressed repeat on the stereo.
Mixing herself a vodka tonic, liberally adding another shot of vodka, she pulled up a chair next to the phone.
It was going to be a long night.
"You're not going to be able to pull this off," Parker had told him. He was talking about retiring, and at the time, Luke had tuned his colleague out. All he wanted anymore was peace and quiet and the opportunity to do nothing all day.
His friend had scoffed at the idea. "This sort of life tends to follow you around. You think you can just escape it?" Parker had asked him skeptically.
Luke wasn't sure, but he intended to try.
Luke had made a list of things that he thought regular people did in their free time. Since he was struggling to fill his day with things to do that fit into the 'nothing' category, he thought this would help.
The first item on his list was 'fishing', but he had tried that yesterday and resolved never to get on another boat again, so that was out. Next came 'putting together a jigsaw puzzle'.
So that's what he did. But 500 tiny pieces and one ugly picture of a trout later, and he was back to the list.
'Crocheting'. Hmmm. He'd secretly always been curious. Luke could almost hear Parker snorting in disgust.
Then the music started. Loudly. But it didn't end, and just got louder. Initially, he'd tried to ignore it. He'd even turned on the television, but the contrast of noise from Penny's house and the tv made it impossible to concentrate.
By midnight, Luke had had enough. It wouldn't have been so bad if it wasn't the exact same song, over and over.
This was a legitimate torture tactic, and he was starting to crack.
When she pressed repeat for at least the 15th time and he realized he was internally singing the lyrics as the song droned on, Luke was starting to rethink his cardinal rule about not harming women. He'd always felt like a sky scraper around most women and the thought of using his brute force against someone unable to match him always seemed appalling, in almost every circumstance. But this woman was testing his resolve.
Groaning, he went to his fence, again, and tried to reason with her.
"For the love of all that is holy," he shouted. "Turn that off!"
She came to the window, all wide eyed innocence. "What?" she called out.
He just glared at her.
His fingers were gripping the top of the wooden fence so tightly that he knew he'd have splinters.
That was the final straw.
He went around the long line of fence and up her driveway. Shadow was sitting by a big tree on the side of the porch. He was hiding from the music too, Luke realized with a surge of sympathy. He went up the stairs and knocked on the door. No one answered, and he wasn't surprised; it was impossible to make himself heard over the music. He tried the door handle. It was unlocked.
Shadow was watching him with trepidation. He was torn between his canine duty of keeping strangers out of the house, but he also liked this man. So he sat at the foot of the stairs, whining and wagging his tail.
"Don't worry. I'll make it stop," Luke reassured him. And then he went inside.
He could see Penny in the kitchen, dancing weirdly to the music, her back to him. The stereo was on a shelf next to the large oak table, and he walked over to it. He pressed the eject button, and Penny flipped around in surprise.
The tray opened and he grabbed the cd and tossed it out of the window.
When he looked up at Penny again, she was brandishing a frying pan. Her blonde hair was pulled up into a messy bun and held up by a paintbrush twisted in the middle. She was dressed in a paint stained white tee shirt and Minnie Mouse shorts. He couldn't help but notice how curvy her legs were, while simultaneously staying out of her reach as she swung the cast iron pan threateningly.
"What are you doing in my house?" she asked in tones of outrage.
"Saving myself and your dog from the torture you're inflicting. Isn't there some ordinance about how loud music can be played at midnight in this town?" He folded his arms across his chest.
"I'm sure. But I'm thinking the ordinance against breaking and entering trumps it," she said, glaring at him.
He calmly leaned a shoulder against the wall. "Probably. But there was no breaking, only entering."
The phone rang from in front of the stereo, startling them both.
Penny glanced at it and then at him, scowling.
"Thanks a lot. Now I have to pick another song." She started rummaging through her CDs.
Suddenly, Luke understood. "You're trying to get rid of a guy, aren't you?"
The phone started ringing again. Before she could stop him, he grabbed it and answered.
"Hello," he answered calmly.
Penny started trying to grab the phone, but he fended her off with one hand. She could hear Roger asking who he was.
"I'm the new guy she's sleeping with...she's done with you. Have some self respect," he winced at the word, recalling the song, "and stop calling."
He pressed the end call button. Penny watched him quietly for a moment, looking comical with her shocked expression whilst still clutching the frying pan.
And then she burst into tears.
Luke hated seeing women cry. He literally couldn't stand it. Throw together a bomb with household cleaners? Not a problem. Comfort a crying woman? Big, big problem.
He stood for a moment, watching her shoulders shake with silent sobs. He grimaced and edged toward her. Luke awkwardly patted her back a few times, wondering what else he should do. Suddenly, she wrapped her arms around him and began crying in earnest.
Abort mission, ABORT! his brain cried. Instead, he stood very still, frozen to the spot. He noted with a degree of discomfort that his shirt was getting damp.
She pulled back after a few minutes, and glared at him through her tears. "I didn't need your help!" She was slurring slightly and it occurred to Luke for the first time that she was a bit inebriated.
"How much have you had to drink?" he asked her.
Her glare intensified. Defcon level 4, he thought to himself.
"That's none of your business," she took a few extra steps back, again brandishing the pan. "Now get out!" She swung up and out, punctuating her demand, and accidentally knocked several glasses on the shelf behind her. Glass rained down on the floor and together they stared at it for a minute, both equally shocked.
He scowled at her. "You're crazy. Certifiable." He started to leave and then turned back to her again. "I'm taking Shadow with me. You can have him back when you're not being a lunatic."
She just stared at him like he'd grown an extra head. "You can't just take my dog! Anyway, he won't go with you."
He opened the screen door and called to Shadow. The dog came to him, wagging his tail and followed him out of the driveway. Luke turned and gave her a meaningful look.
Penny just watched them go, the big man and the big dog, leaving her alone to wallow in her misery.
Waking up was a painful experience for Penny. Her head was pounding and her mouth was dry.
The night before came flooding back.
She pulled herself up and cringed.
When she went to the kitchen to get water, broken glass was scattered on the floor, evidence of her behavior.
Moaning to herself, she swept it up, grimacing as her head protested when she bent down to brush the shards Into the dust pan. Clicking on the coffee machine, she sat down and let her skull meet the table.
There was a knock on the door.
"No!" she called. "Go away! Whoever it is, I don't care." She winced. It hurt to yell.
The unlocked door creaked open. It occurred to Penny that she needed to start taking home security much more seriously.
A tall woman with long, curly hair came inside. When she saw Penny, rumpled and obviously not at her best, she frowned.
"Oh no, Natalie. Not you. I can't right now," Penny pleaded. Her sister's frown deepened.
"You promised to watch Amy for me today. What the hell happened to you?" Even when Nat was angry, she was undeniably lovely. Long limbed with bronze skin, most had trouble noting family resemblance between the two. But, despite having different fathers, both women had the same scowl; a genetic gift from their flighty mother.
Penny sighed and started to answer, but Natalie interrupted. "I don't care, Pen. You promised. I have a job interview and nothing," she emphasized the word with a menacing sweep of her hand, "is going to ruin this for me. Are you- are you drunk?" Natalie looked disgusted.
"Not currently, no." She tried to sit up straight and look alert. The other woman snorted.
"Well you picked a bad morning to be hungover. Amy is in one of her moods."
Penny groaned. Amy was her five year old niece. Equal parts adorable and contrary, Amy was a whirlwind with a smile and it was much worse when she was in A Mood.
"Where is she?" she asked warily.
"Outside, looking for Shadow."
Crap. "He's not here, he's with the neighbor."
"What? Why is he-," Nat started.
"It's a long story," Penny interrupted.
"Go to your interview. I'll go find her and we will have a fun day together," she pasted on a smile, and Nat looked satisfied.
"Ok, thanks Pen!" She paused at the screen door. "Don't give her any cookies. She's had enough sugar today."
"Okay." Amy rivaled all horror movie monsters when she had too much sugar.
Nat left, and Penny dropped her face into her hands.
Luke was trying to figure out what to feed Shadow for breakfast. He'd never had a dog as a kid. The foster families he'd lived with wouldn't allow one and his dad would have been too drunk to take care of anything besides himself- and he didn't do that very well, either.
As an adult he had thought about it, but he was never in one place long enough to have a pet.
He was reasonably sure a dog wouldn't want his customary egg white omelet with a red grapefruit half. So he gave him two cans of tuna. When Shadow gobbled it down and looked at him with large, expectant eyes, Luke then gave him a hunk of cheese. Shadow seemed fairly pleased with that, but then sat near the table and licked his chops as he stared longingly at Luke's plate.
He sighed and put it down on the tile kitchen floor. To his surprise, the egg white omelet disappeared quickly but Shadow only sniffed at the grapefruit with disdain.
"What are you doing with my dog?" A small but powerful voice startled him. Luke turned around and was confronted by a little girl. Her curly hair was done up in pigtails that lent an air of innocence to an otherwise mischievous face. She looked tall for her age and her brown eyes were piercingly curious.
"Your dog?" He asked through the screen door. "I think he belongs to my neighbor."
She gave him an impatient look. Her scowl reminded of him of someone, but he couldn't put his finger on it. "Penny is my aunt. Which makes Shadow mine, too."
"Oh," so that's why she looked familiar. "Do you want to come inside?" he opened the door for her.
"No thanks. My mom says never to go inside a stranger's house." She shook her head, sending curls flying across her face.
Luke smiled. "Your mom is a smart lady."
"She thinks so."
Luke burst out laughing; what a cool little kid. "Where is your mom?"
"She's at a job interview. Aunt Pen is watching me." Shadow went outside, big tail wagging, and slurped his tongue across the little girl's face. She hugged him around his massive, shaggy neck.
Luke cocked an eyebrow. "She's watching you, huh? Well, where is she?"
"Probably drinking coffee. She doesn't like mornings."
Luke guessed from what he'd seen last night, that Penny had an intense dislike for this particular morning.
"What's your name, kid?" Luke asked as he stepped out onto the porch and into the warm morning air.
"Amy," she told him, and extended her hand. He grinned at her and shook it.
"I'm Luke. Let's go see what your aunt's doing."