Free for readers of this website, the first chapter of my newest novel, Penelope. I hope you love reading about her as much as I enjoyed creating her story! Comment below and share! I’d love to hear what you think!
Penelope Kildare hung up her apron and marvelled again at how blessed she was. At 19, she had a loving family, an amazing boyfriend, and this great place to work. Penelope also had Down syndrome, but she didn’t wonder about that. Not that it wasn’t something to be wondered at, but she’d sooner wonder why her honey-blonde hair was wavy or why her eyes were blue; it was as much a part of her as they were.
“All done?” Mary O’Malley asked, smiling at her affectionately.
Penelope reached up to tug the pink, flowery elastic from her hair. “Yep!” She grinned at her boss. “See ya later, Mrs. O!”
Pushing through the restaurant door, Penelope breathed in the fresh spring air. It was bright but cold. The snow was finally gone, but the wind still bit at her nose. She was glad she’d worn a sweater under her puffy, pink vest, which she zipped up to her chin. She adjusted her fuzzy, pink earmuffs and pulled on matching gloves. Glancing at her reflection in the window, she grinned in approval. She was wearing her favourite jeans, the ones with the little embroidered flowers on the pockets, and a pair of ankle boots with rhinestone straps.
A couple of girls walked past. The one closest to Penelope looked at her outfit from the top of her earmuffs to her sparkly boots. Penelope gave her a little wave and smiled. Maybe she thinks my outfit is cute! Instead of smiling back, though, the girl elbowed her friend who turned around to stare at Penelope and shake her head. Penelope frowned and shrugged off the look. Maybe not. A ding from her pocket distracted her. Just Mom, checking up on me. Again. She sighed and sat down on a bench to answer.
“Hi, Mom.” Ugh. She kept hitting the wrong buttons and huffed in frustration.
An old man on his afternoon stroll paused and laughed. “The buttons on those new-fangled phones are too dang small!”
Penelope smiled up at him. She had seen him in the restaurant many times. Today he was wearing a dark coat and soft-looking trousers. He had square brown shoes and a black and tan scarf with a flat grey cap. She always noticed what people were wearing. Her mom said she had the gift of observation.
The old man continued, “You know, I sent my wife a message the other day telling her I’d gone to pick up the mail. By the time I got home, she was beside herself. I had accidentally typed “Hi, honey, I’ve gone to the jail.” He laughed at the memory, and Penelope laughed at his chortling. “She was fit to be tied.” The old man walked away shaking his head.
Penelope tried to picture his wife sitting beside herself all tied up. Her phone dinged again, and she shook herself. I think he was mixed up. You can’t sit beside yourself! Her attention returned to the little screen and she texted back.
“I’m uptown. I’ll see you later.”
‘Uptown’ was Penelope’s word for the main street of Hartford. After work, she liked to wander down the street and look in the windows to see what was new. There was the bakery with all the good, fresh bread smells. Right next to that was the butcher shop with the long chain of sausages hanging in the window. And then there was her favourite, Smiley’s Bookstore. The little bell tinkled as she walked in.
“Hi, Penelope! All done work for the day?” James Smiley called from behind the counter.
Penelope pulled off her gloves and earmuffs. Leaning on the counter, she grinned up at the tall proprietor. “Is Alex here today?” She glanced around as though expecting him to materialize from the bookshelves.
James shook his head. “Sorry, Alex is working today. I’ll tell him you stopped by, though.” Alex and Penelope had been dating since graduating together from Hartford High last June. James really liked his son’s bubbly girlfriend. “You’re welcome to look around if you’d like.” He watched her frown disappear. He thought, not for the first time, how quickly moods could pass with Penelope—like clouds scudding across the face of the moon.
“That’s okay, Mr. Smiley. I’m still reading that last book I bought.” She blinked sky-blue eyes. “I’m a slow reader.”
James smiled. “Sometimes I think that’s better than reading too fast and missing half the story, don’t you?” Penelope nodded, and James went on. “What do you think of it so far?”
“I really like it. I’m gonna go now.” Penelope smiled at him and headed for the door. “See you later!” James wasn’t surprised by her abrupt departure. That was Penelope. She didn’t waste time with small talk like other folks. Through the large, store window, he watched her pink earmuffs bounce by, and then she was gone. Over the course of the relationship, he had observed his son and his girlfriend and the way they handled conflict and marvelled at the way they got along. At times, Penelope seemed to get upset at something Alex did but was clueless about. Instead of arguing, his sweet son would talk to her and apologize just to see her smile again. James thought a lot of married folks could learn a thing or two from the young couple.
Penelope stopped in front of another window. A notice had caught her eye. There was a picture of a counter and a phone on it with a broom leaning up against it.
Help Wanted. Part Time. Apply Within.
A buzzer sounded when she opened the door. Penelope noticed that whenever she went inside a shop there would be a noise. A bell rang or a doorbell buzzed or something. Maybe a lot of people are hard of hearing, she thought. Penelope approached the long, white counter and saw a girl about her age sitting on a stool behind it. She was reading a beauty magazine and chewing gum. Her hair was jet black, shaved on the sides, and long on top. Penelope noticed she had a nose ring and an eyebrow piercing and pierced ears. She stared in amazement at a little blue tattoo on the girl’s hand.
“What?” The girl glared at her. Her eyes were hard black stones in her white face. “What are you looking at?” the girl asked briskly.
Penelope had had a lisp for as long as she could remember. After years of speech therapy, it was all but gone except when she was nervous or upset. And right now, facing this intimidating girl, she was both. “Oh, sorry, I just noticed your pwetty bird there.”
The girl’s lips curled up in a sneer. “It’s a butterfly.”
Penelope felt a hot blush rising to her cheeks and gaped at her red face in the mirror behind the counter. Just ask about the sign and get out of here! She took a deep breath to calm her nerves. “So, I saw the sign, the one in the window?” She pointed helpfully in that direction.
The girl looked at her with raised eyebrows. “Oh, really?” Her eyes travelled from Penelope’s hair down to her shoes. “Hmm…I’m not sure you’re what she’s looking for, but I’ll let the owner know. Wait over there.” She pointed to a little seating area by the door.
Penelope sat on the leather sofa and watched as the girl approached one of the hairdressers. She pointed at Penelope and seemed to be conveying her doubts, but the hairdresser caught Penelope’s eye and smiled encouragingly. Immediately, Penelope felt hope return. Maybe she’ll give me a chance after all!
The hairdresser said a few words to the counter girl, as Penelope had started to think of her, and went back to her client. Minutes later, she joined Penelope in the sitting area. The lady held out her hand. “Hello, my name is Delta. Josie said you were interested in the position?”
Penelope shook her hand and nodded. “Yes, I think so.” Delta sat back. “Don’t you work at O’Malley’s?”
“Yes, how did you know?” Penelope asked.
“My friend and I have lunch there once a week. I think I saw you the last time we were in.”
Penelope smiled. “Oh, yeah, I think I remember. Yeah, I’ve worked there for almost a year.”
“Do you like it?”
“Yes, the people are so nice, and I like getting a paycheque every two weeks.”
“So, why leave then?” Delta asked with a smile.
Penelope frowned. She looked up at the ceiling for a minute and cocked her head. Finally, she looked back at Delta. “Well, I do like it there, but I don’t think I want to work there forever. I want to try something else. I’ve always liked doing hair and playing with makeup, so I thought it would be fun to work here for a while and get some more experience.”
“That’s a great answer.” Delta nodded at Penelope’s sudden grin. “You know,” she said, leaning toward Penelope, “When you smile it’s like the sun coming out from behind the clouds!”
“That’s what my dad says!”
“Well, he’s right. And I think our customers would really like to come in and see that smile too.”
“Really? How soon would I be able to start cutting hair?”
The corners of Delta’s mouth turned in an apologetic frown. “What we are looking for right now is someone to answer the phones and take down appointments. Also, some cleaning.”
Penelope’s disappointment was obvious. “Did you think we were hiring a hair- dresser?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. No, that position requires some training. If you like what you see while you’re here, then I might be able to help you find somewhere to do the training, how’s that?”
Penelope swallowed the lump in her throat and blinked back her tears. Delta’s eyes were very kind, and she found herself nodding at her words. “That sounds good,” she whispered.
“Okay, good! Here’s a form that needs filling out. You take that home and have a good look at it. If you’re still interested, fill it out and bring it back to me.”
Penelope sighed as she left the shop, the form tucked securely in her drawstring bag. She was happy Delta seemed to like her but sad that she couldn’t do the makeup and hair right away. She’d said something about training. Wondering how long that might take, she slowly walked home.
“Penelope? Is that you?” Her mother’s voice rang out from the kitchen. “Yeah.” Penelope hung up her vest and scarf and carefully arranged
her pink earmuffs on top of the hook in the front hall.
The smell of supper cooking led her down the long hall into the modern kitchen. Her mom was perched at the island looking at a recipe
book. Penelope jumped up on the stool beside her.
Her mom smiled. “Did you have a good day?”
“I guess.” Penelope shrugged.
“You guess?” Her mom’s smile slipped a little, and Penelope saw the worry line appear on her forehead. She always knew when her mom was upset when she saw that telltale line. “Did something happen?”
Penelope frowned and looked around the kitchen before answering. “Not weawy.” She sighed and quickly corrected herself. “Not really. It’s just, well, I went into Delta’s on the way home, they had a help sign in the window, and at first, the counter girl, Josie, she wasn’t really nice, but then Delta said I could fill out the form and one day maybe I could do the hair and makeup.”
This came out in one long sentence, and her mom waited until Penelope was finished. “Okay. So, you went into Delta’s looking for a new job?” Her daughter nodded. “Don’t you like working at O’Malley’s anymore?”
Penelope shifted on her stool. “I just wanna try something else.” She was getting bored with this conversation and jumped down to go to her room. Remembering the form, she ran to the front door to dig it out of her bag. “Delta says fill that in and I can work there,” she said, tossing it on the counter.
Her mom unfolded the form and quickly read it over. From the corner of her eye, she could see Penelope inching toward the pantry. “Supper will be ready in fifteen minutes.” Penelope stopped in her tracks. “You could have an apple?” Her mom asked doubtfully. She knew her daughter’s penchant for salty snacks far outweighed her desire for fruit.
“No thanks,” Penelope replied, rolling her eyes, and headed for the stairs.
I hope you enjoyed this first chapter from Penelope: A Companion Book to the Forged in Flames Series. Penelope is available from the author, wordalivepress.ca, Amazon, B&N, Indigo and many other outlets worldwide.