Penny left the precinct early the next day. She showed up a few hours earlier than she was supposed to that morning, so she had hoped to slip free early as well. She had to talk to Gee about it though, and was a little afraid that he might make her stay anyway.
"We're not in the habit of letting our detectives come and go whenever they please, Detective Graham," were the first words out of his mouth when she asked.
"Yes, sir, I understand that, but I thought it was worth a shot," was her quick reply as she started to leave.
"But..." he continued, causing Penny to pause at the door, "Considering the great job you've been doing these past couple of months, and the fact that you've always been on time, I suppose just this once wouldn't hurt."
"Thanks Gee, I really appreciate it," Penny beamed as she opened the door to his office.
"And Graham?" he called after her. She poked her head back inside, waiting for him to finish. "It's good to finally see a sincere smile coming from you."
"It's good to finally have something to smile about. Have a great weekend."
That was her last exchange with anyone in the precinct. She headed straight home, and drew a nice hot bath. She always thought best when surrounded by hot, bubbly water. As she sat in the tub with her hair pinned up, her mind wandered back to her first day in Baltimore...
She had been driving three and a half hours straight when Tara woke up.
"You were supposed to wake me up after 2 hours, Pen. We were supposed to split the driving hours 50/50," Tara said sleepily.
"You looked tired, I didn't want to wake you. Besides, we sat in a traffic jam for about an hour, so I figured one of us would have to drive longer. Since I was alreday behind the wheel..."
"Well, I'm up now, so you might as well pull over and let me have a chance behind the wheel."
Penny did as she was told, and scooted over to the passenger's side of the moving van. She had been hoping to drive the rest of the way, but she was also getting tired, so she knew that she really should take a break. Unfortunately, now that she didn't have to concentrate on the road, her mind went to the life she was leaving behind. She slumped down in her seat, with her hair tucked up in her Yankees cap and her mirrored sunglasses in place, and remained silent for the rest of the journey.
After approximately two hours, the women pulled up in front of a brownish house that wasn't very big, but also wasn't quite small. It was just about the right size for the three friends. Right away, Penny noticed the three men waiting patiently on the porch.
"I guess those are our movers," Tara said cheerfully as she pulled the van over and turned the van off.
Penny straightened up in her seat and reached for the door handle, "Ten bucks says that I can figure out who's who right off the bat."
Immediately Penny changed her whole demeanor. Trying to bury her hurt feelings deep inside, she adopted the friendly attitude which had become her trademark in the 2-7.
"So," she said as she briskly walked down the path toward the house, with Tara close behind, "You must be the willing souls that John convinced to help us poor, weak females out."
The three stood at her approach, and she paused in mid-stride and took them all in. "Let's see, you must be Bayliss," she said to the brown haired man in the green golf shirt and jeans, "You must be Pembleton," she nodded at the tall, black man in the BCPD shirt and jeans, "And you must be Kellerman," she motioned to the sandy haired man in the undershirt and jeans.
The three looked at each other in surprise before Pembleton spoke, "That's right. And you are..."
"Penny Graham," she replied without hesitation, and shook all of their hands, "And this is my partner in crime, Tara." After they shook hands with Tara, Penny spoke up again. "I'm assuming you all have first names that Munch just happened to forget to share with us..."
"I'm Tim, this is Frank, and blondie over there is Mike," Bayliss responded.
"Well, Tim, Frank, and Mike, shall we begin?"
Those words began three hours of hard, manual labor, though not so much for Tara and Penny. The three men who were sent to help out wouldn't dream of letting them near anything they considered 'too heavy.' Penny tried to argue that they were big strong girls, but to no avail. She inwardly laughed at the fact that she worked out regularly in New York, and probably could've been a big help. But Tim, Frank, and Mike would hear nothing about them lifting any large pieces of furniture, partially because they truly didn't believe that any female would be able to help, but also because they wanted to show off their own strength...or so Penny thought.
While the 'men' worked on the bigger stuff, Penny and Tara moved smaller things, like lamps, an end table, basically light stuff. And they did have to struggle a few times, though it was because Tara had very little muscle, and Penny was having to carry most of the weight on her own.
Because Pen and Tara weren't working all that hard, they were able to observe the three others much more than the men were able to check them out. When she first saw them, Penny was initially struck by each man's physique. The muscles in their arms were evident, as were their pecs, which were subtly outlined by the fabric in their shirts. She had never seen that many 'buff' guys in one precinct before; although most of the members of the 2-7 worked out, none of them...not one of them looked like this...She found herself admiring all of them behind her sunglasses and silently thanked God that they were mirrored, so as not to be caught staring. She especially focused on blondie...Mike Kellerman. Something about him struck a chord with her. She couldn't quite put her finger on it. But when she started to consider asking him for his phone number, Lance's face ran through her mind.
"How about a break?" Tara asked the three guys. They all nodded, and sat down on the wooden porch, breathing heavily from all the physical activity.
"I'm going to go sit by myself for a while, ok Tar?" Penny whispered in her friend's ear.
"Sure, no problem," Tara replied with understanding in her voice.
Penny excused herself from the moving party and climbed into the moving van. They still had tons of stuff to get in the house, so she had to climb and maneuver around everything else to get where she wanted to go - the couch. She plopped down and sighed, removing her sunglasses and allowing her eyes to once again be exposed to natural light. "Damn, damn, damn," she whispered to the still air, "Why can't I just forget about him? He's a jerk, he doesn't deserve me, and I should just stop thinking about him." But that's easier said than done, and she replayed the events of the day in question over again in her mind. Her boyfriend of 3 years, who she loved, who she wanted to marry, decided to play doctor with another ME. She was the lucky 'nurse' who walked in on the scene.
Her memory was interrupted by another figure who had climbed into the van. He skillfully managed to make his way through the piles of furniture, to where she was sitting. It was Mike Kellerman. He sat beside her, saying nothing. She watched him curiously, wondering exactly what he was doing in there with her. Without a word, he reached up and took off her baseball cap, the last barrier she had from the outside world, which allowed her own hair the freedom it had been waiting for. Her blonde locks fell over her shoulders, and down her back a few inches. She herself was speechless, not knowing what this whole exchange between them was all about. She searched his pale blue eyes for a reason why...why he was helping them move, why he was in the van with her, why he was so damn good-looking...but only saw beauty. Beautiful eyes, not unlike her own, full of love, life, and even a touch of the pain she was feeling.
She didn't see the kiss coming. It was a gentle kiss, and lasted only a few seconds. Mike pulled away, and she saw the confusion that she felt in his eyes. But for some reason, she leaned forward for another kiss...and then another. Soon, he was partially on top of her, his kisses warm and passionate. Penny responded to each with equal vigor, until they were in a full make-out session on the couch...until Tara interrupted them.
"So," she called into the van, "I guess you two have enough energy to get back to business?"
Penny and Mike shot up to a sitting position at the sound of her voice. She had a Cheshire cat grin on her face, which annoyed Pen a bit, but she decided that she deserved it. She and Kellerman climbed out of the van, and the five continued moving furniture until the last piece was in the house. Tara and Pen thanked the three detectives for their help, Penny trying to avoid Kellerman's eyes, and they left.
"Hey, Pen, what time is Kellerman picking you up tonight?" the voice of her friend asked through the door.
"Because it's 25 to now."
"Jesus Christ," Penny muttered and jumped out of the bath. She slipped into her fuzzy bathrobe as she emptied the water from the tub. She opened the door and ran to her room, where she began frantically going through her closet to find the new dress she bought. Tara and Mik followed her into the room, and watched with great interest. They were half-amused, and half-awed by Penny's reaction to her upcoming date. They were amused at her behavior since she announced last night that Mike asked her to go out to dinner. She was giddy, impatient, and nervous all at the same time. Pen was usually in control of her emotions, and her two friends thought it was funny that she was acting so irrational. They were awed at the effect this guy was having on her as well. Not even when she had started going out with Lance had she been this excited. She met Kellerman only once, proceeded to have a tongue fest with him - which was also very much unlike her - and now she was scampering around the house like terrified little rabbit trying to get ready.
Penny decided to do her makeup first because it would take the most time to do. She grabbed her cosmetic bag and rushed back to the bathroom, her friends in tow. She began with foundation, a little blush, a touch of eye shadow. The problem occurred when it came to the details. As she started to apply her eyeliner, she became aware of her shaking hands. She dropped her eye pencil in the sink and turned to Tara and Mik.
"I can't do this. I can't..."
The two girls hugged their friend for a full minute before letting go.
"Of course you can, sweetie," Tara told her.
"No," Pen shook her head, "I can't."
Tara and Mik exchanged looks. They'd never had to convince her to do something before, it was always her trying to get them to try new things. With Penny, if she wanted to do something, she'd do it, but if she didn't want to, the hell with everyone else - she wouldn't do it.
"Penny, listen to me," Mik said gently, "You're just a little nervous because this is the first guy you're going out with since Lance, that's all. It's going to take some getting used to."
"He's the first guy I've had any kind of feeling for since Lance...and I'm not nervous, I'm terrified," Penny groaned. "The first date I ever went on didn't make me feel like this."
The phone rang before Tara and Mik could respond, which was good since they didn't know what they could possibly say to bring back the confident Penny they had always known.
"It's for you," Tara said from the next room.
"Good," Pen mumbled, "Maybe he's canceling." She took the phone from Tara and held it up to her ear. "Hello?"
"Just wanted to wish you luck on your big date tonight," the gravely voice said.
"How'd you know about that, Uncle J?"
"I have my sources," Munch replied.
"Well, I don't know if I'm going or not," she told him.
"Penelope Graham, I don't want to hear that from you. You'd break Mikey's little heart, and I don't how he'd take it this time."
Penny paused. "This time?" she asked herself. "If there's a 'this time' there must have been a last time...and if anyone could understand what she had been going through, it would be someone who'd been through it himself," she thought. "Well..." she said aloud.
"Come on, Pen. The guy's crazy about you. He's been glowing since yesterday...in fact I don't think I've ever seen him react to a member of the opposite sex like this before."
"Oh, but you have seen him react like this to a member of the same sex?" she joked.
"Now there's my Penny. Always the kidder. Knock him dead."
"Literally, or figuratively?"
"That's a girl, you just go on talking back to your poor old uncle and get some of that Graham spirit back in you," Munch encouraged her.
"'Poor old uncle,' huh? And did my poor old uncle make any threats on my behalf?" Penny asked suspiciously.
"I wouldn't exactly call it a threat..."
"A warning, perhaps?" Penny suggested.
"Yeah, more like a warning," John replied, smiling at the other end of the phone.
"And that warning would entail what exactly?"
"Oh, I just said something to the effect that if Kellerman put a hand on you that I'd rip both of his lungs out."
"Lungs? Isn't it supposed to be the heart?"
"Yeah, well, I wanted to be original," Munch replied.
Penny laughed out loud. "You're always an original Uncle John. Thanks...I really needed a boost of confidence."
"I'm glad I was able to help. Have a good time tonight, Penny"
"I will, John. Bye." She said and hung up the phone.
Tara and Mik marveled at the fact that John Munch certainly lived up to the promise he made to them that he could fix anything. Penny's mood made a complete 360, and when she hung up the phone, she still had a smile on her face.
"What are you two standing there looking at? I have a date to get ready for!"
Penny was outwardly optimistic now, but her insides were still shaking like a leaf. "At least I'm closer to being myself," she thought while her friends finished her makeup for her.
"Done," Mik announced, and Pen peered into the mirror.
"Couldn't have done it better myself," Penny said, and the three went back to her room to find her dress, which was lost somewhere in the inner depths of her closet. "Why the hell do I own so many clothes?"
The phone rang again, and this time it scared Penny. Maybe it was Kellerman canceling.
"How's my favorite pocket change doing?"
"Jeez, Mike, you scared me!" she sighed into the phone as Mik held up a black dress. Penny nodded and her friends laid it on the bed and began picking up all the other outfits that had found their way to her floor.
"A little nervous, are we?" Mike chuckled at the other end of the phone.
"Oh no, not you too. Does the whole BCPD know I have a date tonight?"
"Only the Homicide detectives," he responded.
"Great...just what I always wanted, to be the subject of precinct gossip," she said.
"Hey, the only reason I know is because Bayliss told me. It seems your newest admirer wanted some advice on the kind of flowers you like, and asked Tim to ask me."
"And I told him that you didn't believe in flowers, but that you did enjoy large amounts of chocolate," Mike said mischievously.
"You didn't. You better not have. Do you know what I'll do to you if you really said that?" Penny threatened.
"Slow down my pretty Penny, I'd never do that to you," he said quickly, surprised at her apparent lack of sense of humor of the situation. "I know what you like, and I sent the info to this Kellerman guy through Bayliss."
"What did you tell him?" she wondered aloud.
"It's a surprise," Mike grinned.
Penny paused for a moment, trying to figure out if she would kiss Mike the next time she saw him, or kill him. He was always playing games, and it drove her nuts, but that's what big brothers are for. That's when she heard a voice in the background. "Come on, Logan, leave the poor girl alone."
"Who's that?" she asked.
"That would be my ever polite partner, standing up for you."
"Put him on the phone," Penny demanded. After a slight confusion when handing the phone over his desk, she finally heard Bayliss's voice on the line.
"Excited about tonight?"
"Scared to death is more like it," she admitted to a man she'd only known for two months. "Well don't you worry. Mikey holds you in the highest of regards, he'll take good care of you," the good-natured detective assured her.
She smiled at Bayliss's comment...he was always such a sweetheart. "Speaking of taking care of me, you did quite a nice job of that yourself, bringing my Logan back to visit."
"That? Oh, that was nothing."
"But it wasn't nothing. I really needed that, Tim. And I'm going to pay you back by arranging a date between you and someone you hold in high regards."
"And that would be..." Tim Bayliss feigned innocence, but was blushing on the other side of the phone.
"Like you don't know. That would be the great Mikayla Fitzgerald." Mik's head shot up at the mention of her name. She hadn't been following the conversation, and was wondering why the hell her friend was talking about her.
"Well, Mike and I are off night shift starting next Friday..."
"Then you'll have to go out and celebrate, so you might as well have a beautiful woman on your arm when you paint the town red."
"But I don't know her...it could be awkward..."
"Tim, that would be the purpose of dating, to get to know people better. What do I know about Kellerman? Not much, but I'm sure by the end of tonight I'll have a better idea who he is," Pen said, barely believing that it was her talking.
He didn't respond for a few seconds, and Penny knew he was tossing the idea around. "Sure, we can go out on Friday, but only if you and Kellerman come."
"What makes you think Mike and I will still be together next Friday?" she asked him. "Tonight could be a total bomb."
"Nah, I doubt it," he said, "And besides, I'm sure my two friends could pretend to want to double date with me, even if they didn't want to."
Penny smiled at Tim's shyness. "All right, if he and I are both free, we'll be there too."
"Well, it looks like Gee wants us in his office, so I better go."
"Don't work too hard," Penny told him.
"Wait one sec, Pen," Bayliss said and held out the phone.
"Have fun, Graham Cracker, and if he tries anything, I'll rip his face off," Logan yelled across the room.
"Did you get that, Penny?" Tim asked her.
"Yeah, I got it," Penny smiled, "But tell him not to worry, if Kellerman tries anything, I'll take care of him."
Bayliss laughed at her, "I don't doubt it. Have fun, Pen," Bayliss said, and the two hung up.
Penny looked at the clock in her room - 7:00. "I gotta get ready quick" She proceeded to slide on a pair of 'natural' colored stockings, and her newest dress. She always went on first dates in a black dress, simple, yet sophisticated. She went to her jewelry box and searched for something decent that wasn't too gaudy. She settled on a small silver star covered with tiny Austrian crystals on a silver chain, and matching earrings. The necklace had been a birthday present from Mike, and the earrings a going away present from Lennie. How on earth Lennie found earrings that matched a necklace she had received four years earlier, she hadn't the slightest idea, but somehow he did it. Her final touch was a silver ring with a shiny black stone in it...this was the first Christmas present Tara and Mik got her. She put on a little perfume, which was also new because she liked to start totally fresh with a new boyfriend, Estee Lauder's Pleasures. She kept her hair loose, not much different than she wore it to work.
She glanced at the clock again - 7:15. "Where is he?" she asked Tara and Mik.
"Traffic?" Tara offered.
"Maybe he had to finish something up at the precinct," Mik suggested.
But at that moment, the doorbell rang, which stopped them from coming up with any other excuses.
"Shoes," Penny said quickly, "I don't know where my shoes are."
As she and Mik fell to their knees, searching for her pair of black heels, Tara left to answer the door.
Mike Kellerman finished with his work a little faster than he expected to, which was good because he could use the extra time to work out. He quickly changed into his typical workout gear - BCFD shirt, navy sweat pants, and white sneakers. He was nervous as hell about his date with Penny, and hoped that lifting weights would help ease some of his tension.
He started with the bench press, easily managing the 150 pound dumbbell. "Inhale, exhale, 1, 2, inhale, exhale, 3,4," he said in his mind over and over, until he did three sets of 15 lifts each. He then went on to a various number of machines, working himself to the limit, but to no avail. Nothing could get rid of that feeling in the pit of his stomach. As he approached the punching bag and began a series of punches and jabs, Munch walked in.
"Lewis said you were in here."
"Well, he must've been right 'cause here I am," Mike replied, hoping to cover his feelings with sarcasm. He danced around Munch in a typical boxer-type way, taking swings, but missing on purpose.
"Tonight's the big night, isn't it?" John asked, knowing full well that it was.
"Yup," Mike replied before once again concentrating on the punching bag.
"Listen, Kellerman...can you stop that for a minute?"
"What's up?" he asked as he forced himself to sit still for more than two seconds.
"You know Penny is like a niece to me, right?" Mike nodded, and Munch continued, "So you know that if you do anything, anything at all that upsets her, that I'll kill you."
"Oh really?" Mike secretly smiled at the statement. No way Munch could take him on.
"I'll rip both of your dirty little lungs out and eat them for dinner," he stated matter-of-factly.
Kellerman was taken back by the fact that John was serious about this. "Look, Munch, I have no intention of..."
John Munch sighed, knowing that he was overreacting a bit. "Kellerman, just treat her good. That's all I ask. She's been through a lot the past few months, and deserves a change of pace."
Now Munch had his attention completely, "Such as..." he carefully inquired, hoping for some insight into what had been troubling her.
Munch knew he shouldn't be repeating this, especially since Tara had told him in confidence, but he thought that it might help Mike understand why she had been acting so differently than the Penny Graham he had described to the Homicide unit. "Right before she came here...the reason she moved, as a matter of fact...she caught her boyfriend cheating on her."
That was a subject Mike had no problem relating to. There was still a part of his heart that ached with the pain he felt when he walked in on his bride of a little more than a year, and some schmuck in bed... his bed, as a matter of fact. "How long were they going together?"
"A little over three years...the bastard. It broke her heart. I never thought she'd leave New York, but she wanted to start over, so her friend called her kindly uncle, and voilla, here they are." Munch paused and tried to figure what was going on in Kellerman's head, but was unable to. "So if you value your life, you'll treat her like a queen," he said and walked out.
Mike checked his watch to discover it was nearly 6:00. He took a quick shower, thinking about the guy who cheated on Penny...and how he'd like to rip his head off. He also marveled at the fact that she was such a sweetheart even after the event. After his discovery about his wife, he didn't trust women in general for a long time. Even now he sometimes felt like everyone of the opposite sex was just waiting for a good time to screw him over. But he saw Penny's reaction to Logan, as well as witnessing some superficial flirting with other members of Homicide. He knew that she didn't blame all men for what one did to her. He admired that.
He decided to make a quick stop at his place to change before going on his trek, so he simply put his slacks, shirt, and suit jacket on, not bothering with his tie. He passed through the squad room with faces smiling on both sides of him.
"Have fun, Mikey," Bayliss smirked as Kellerman passed by.
"Yeah, Mike, don't keep her out too late," Lewis snickered as means of a good bye.
"Thanks guys," he muttered, "Thanks a lot."
Mikey was so distracted by his friends that he almost walked into another man by the same name. The two Mikes gave each other a once over, one trying to figure what exactly to make of the other.
"You're Kellerman?" Logan asked.
"Yep. You're Logan?" Mike asked, although he already knew the answer.
"You're the one taking Penny out tonight," Logan said, as if he was trying to picture Penny and Kellerman together.
"Yeah," Kellerman answered uneasily.
"Did Tim tell you about the flowers?"
"Yeah, he did, thanks."
Logan seemed satisfied by this and started walking again. Kellerman was almost out of the squad room when he heard his name and turned around. Logan had taken off his beat-up leather jacket and was standing next to his desk. Mike thought he was going to get another one of those 'be nice to Penny or I'll rip out one of your internal organs' speeches, and little did he know that he almost did, but Logan changed his mind the last second. "Don't be in such a rush. You know women, they're never ready on time."
Kellerman smiled at the comment, and he heard Logan and Bayliss laughing at it as Mike rushed down the stairs.
He half-jogged down the pier until he reached Case Closed, his pride and joy. "Funny that most people called their kids that," he thought as he jumped onto his boat. It was relatively small, enough room for one, but somewhat cramped for two. He loved his boat, though. He loved the way the water rocked it back and forth constantly; normally he found it peaceful and comforting. But today, the rocking motion was a little unnerving as he tried to pick out the right suit to wear. He wanted to look nice, but not like he was actually trying to look nice. He finally settled on his black suit and a blue shirt. He glanced in his mirror and noticed that his hair was a disaster. With a few quick motions of his hand, he managed to make it look presentable, but not all that great.
"Where the hell is my comb?" he asked the wall as he fumbled through his drawers. He succeeded in throwing things all over his room, but not in finding the object he was in desperate need of. He laughed at himself when he saw the mess he had made, "Do I even own a comb?" He picked up everything and shoved it back into his dresser. He went back to the mirror and decided that his hair didn't look half bad. He once again tried to neaten it using only his hands, and did so successfully this time. He checked his watch - 6:40. Time to get flowers.
Mike drove to a nearby florist and picked up a bouquet of "Downy Gentian" and Cattails...which looked unusual to say the least. The truth of the matter was he'd never heard of any kind of "Gentian," forget the "Downy Gentian," but Logan said that Penny would love it. In fact, Logan had even instructed Kellerman where he could get such flowers. Since it was obvious that he knew Penny well, Mike knew not to argue, and when Bayliss told him what to get and where to get it, he immediately wrote it down.
Next stop, the house of Penny, Tara, and Mikayla. He hadn't had the opportunity to meet the latter, and was looking forward to it, especially since he'd been hearing Bayliss go on and on about what a fox she was. And Bayliss rarely ever rambled like that when it came to women, so he wanted to see just who this woman was that got his friend's heart a-thumping. But when he reached the house, he couldn't quite make himself get out of the car. It was five to seven, and he still felt like he was about to be executed. Mike took a deep breath and told himself to relax. He thought back to the day they first met...
It was turning into a pretty hot day, so Kellerman decided to take off his sweatshirt, and threw it in his car. He returned to Pembleton and Bayliss, who had been smart enough to wear short sleeves, and sat on the porch with them.
"How'd we let Munch talk us into this?" Bayliss asked the other two.
"Munch didn't talk us into anything. If I remember correctly, he asked for volunteers, and you jumped at the chance," Pembleton corrected him. "And then you volunteered Kellerman and myself."
"Yeah, well, we're the three strongest guys in Homicide, right?"
Mike shook his head at his friend, "You asked Pembleton because he's your partner, and you talked me into it because I'm still the new guy."
"Very perceptive, Kellerman, but you won't be the new guy for much longer," Frank said. "We'll have someone new to torture."
"But she's a woman. Tell me you don't go easy on new women. I bet you're harder on the men. And besides, she'll be the new girl...I'll still be the new guy."
"Thanks for pointing that out," Tim grinned, "So I guess we'll still be able to treat you like the new guy then. And we are the strongest guys in Homicide...I don't care what you two say."
Mike sighed. "Are they ever going to get here?"
"Women are never on time. I bet they stopped to fix their makeup or something," Tim commented.
The three continued to mumble and groan about the fact they were sitting around doing nothing even though it didn't really bother them. If they hadn't come to help, they'd just be sitting around at home doing nothing. Being sarcastic and complaining was just how they'd grown accustomed to dealing with being bored. And these 'nieces' of Munch's weren't late yet either, they were supposed to arrive about noon, and it was only quarter to.
Ten minutes later, a moving van pulled up to the curb in front of the house. Two women were seated in it. The one who was driving had ginger-colored hair, and seemed eager enough, but the woman in the passenger seat was slouched down in her seat, unexcited by their arrival. But her attitude changed as soon as she got out of the van. She was about 5'7'' in a 'I love New York' t-shirt, worn jeans, and old tennis shoes. Her black rimmed sunglasses reflected not only the sun's light, but also whatever was in front of her. Her hair was stuffed into her Yankee's cap, save a few stray blonde strands that had escaped from their imprisonment. The driver was about the same build, but she bore neither sunglasses nor a baseball cap. Her t-shirt was tighter, scattered with small flowers, and her jeans looked newer. On her feet were sandals. The passenger was dressed to do some dirty work, while the driver either didn't know that she should wear old clothes to work in, or didn't plan on working at all.
"So," the passenger chirped with a slight New York accent as she walked up the front path in long, quick strides, "You must be the willing souls that John convinced to help us poor, weak females out."
The three friends stood, but before they could get a word in, the woman managed to guess each man's name correctly. "Let's see, you must be Bayliss," she said to Tim, "You must be Pembleton," she nodded at Frank, "And you must be Kellerman," she motioned to Mike.
The three looked at each other in surprise. Either she was well-informed, or she was a damn good detective. This must be the new addition to the force. "That's right," Pembleton answered for them, "And you are..."
"Penny Graham," was the quick response, and she proceeded to shake all of their hands, "And this is my partner in crime, Tara." The three willingly shook hands with Tara, who they understood was Munch's blood niece, before Penny spoke up again. "I'm assuming you all have first names that Munch just happened to forget to share with us..."
"I'm Tim, this is Frank, and blondie over there is Mike," Bayliss responded. Mike inwardly cringed at being referred to as 'blondie,' and silently cursed the fact that Bayliss decided to use that particular word to describe him.
Penny smiled at them, a friendly, yet somehow not quite real smile, and continued, "Well, Tim, Frank, and Mike, shall we begin?"
And so they started to move the furniture, piece by piece into the house. The girls tried to help, but their movers wouldn't let them touch anything they thought would be too big for them to lift. Penny seemed a bit miffed at the fact they wouldn't let her help them, but she and Tara did volunteer to carry in the smaller things.
There were two reasons they didn't allow the two women to help - first of all, they were women. Women just weren't as strong as men. It was that simple. And besides, that Tara girl had enough trouble with the lamps. Although Penny seemed pretty strong, they weren't sure of her limitations, and they didn't want her to hurt herself trying to carry something that was too heavy. The other reason they wanted to do the work themselves was because they wanted to show off a little. Even Pembleton, who was married, liked the idea of showing off his strength in front of two young, attractive girls. So Tim, Frank, and Mike silently agreed that they were going to try to outdo each other, and worked themselves harder than they ever did before.
Finally, though, Tara said, "How about a break?" They all nodded, exhausted from the hours of grueling labor and collapsed on the porch, each trying to get their breathing back to a normal pace.
Penny leaned over and whispered something to Tara, who whispered something back. Pen hastily excused herself and headed for the van. Kellerman's eyes followed her all the way there, and when he turned back to the others, Tim and Frank were smiling at him.
"You'll have to excuse Penny, she's been through a rough time," Tara said, her voice drifting off in the breeze.
They sat there for a few minutes, unsure how to break the awkward silence that had followed Penny's departure. That is, until Tim's curiosity got the best of him.
"Who's this?" he asked as he produced a picture from seemingly nowhere.
Tara took the picture from his hands, puzzled at where he could've possibly found it.
"It was on the top of one of the piles of stuff in a box," he said by means of an explanation, "And it wasn't quite closed, so I saw the picture and I was wondering..."
"That's Mikayla," Tara responded, handing the picture back to Tim, who held it out for his friends to see. There was a girl in a white short sleeved shirt and red and green plaid shorts. Her feet were in sandals similar to those worn by the girl they were speaking to now. Her dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she was kissing an oversized stuffed panda bear on the nose.
"She did some modeling a few years back, and this was one of our favorite shots because she looks so darn cute in it," Tara continued.
Bayliss's face was glowing, and it was obvious that he was wishing that he was the panda bear in the picture. "Where is she now?"
"She had to go back to Atlanta for a few days, but she'll be around in about a week or two. And I'm sure she'll want to thank all of you personally for helping to move her stuff," her last sentence was directed at Tim, but he was so busy admiring the photo that he didn't notice. Meanwhile, Mike's gaze lingered back in the direction that Penny had disappeared.
"Go talk to her," Frank said.
Mike realized that he was making a fool of himself and forced his attention back to the others. "So that's your third roommate?"
"Yeah," Tara said, looking intensely at Mike. She thought for a moment before saying anything else. "I think you should go talk to her."
Mike's heart almost skipped a beat. These three girls were definitely very close, and if one of them was telling him to talk to another, she must think he had some kind of chance. "Do you really think I should?"
"It wouldn't hurt," she replied.
That's all of a push he needed. Mike practically jumped up off the porch, and made himself walk relatively slowly towards the van, so as not to make his excitement apparent. When he reached it, he climbed inside and looked for Penny. He eventually could make out her form in the depths of the van, sitting on a lavender couch. She was staring into space, but soon noticed him standing there. He crawled through the unmoved furniture until he reached her. The first thing he noticed about her was her eyes, since she had removed her sunglasses. They were such a beautiful shade of baby blue, and so expressive. He could see every imaginable emotion in them, though pain was the dominant one at the moment. The expression 'Betty Davis eyes' came to mind. Of course, Kellerman neither knew nor cared what color eyes Betty Davis had, but he had always associated the expression with eyes of insurmountable beauty. And here were a pair of such eyes, with lovely long eyelashes, looking up at him. He sat down and gently removed her cap, and a pile of golden-red hair flowed down her back. Surprisingly enough, she said nothing. She searched his face for rhyme and reason while he tried to figure out what he was doing.
That's when he leaned forward and kissed her. It had come out of nowhere, almost like an instinct. When Mike came to his senses, he pulled back, afraid that he might have offended her by being so forward. Penny looked at him curiously as he tried to get a hold of himself and figure out exactly what was happening. But before any kind of rationalization came to him, she initiated a kiss of her own, which he welcomed wholeheartedly. They positioned themselves so she was partially underneath him as the minutes flew by, and his kisses became more passionate and fervorous. Mike had lost all rational thought save the fact that he wanted to be near this woman who intrigued him so. She held him close and responded to him in kind as he continued to bathe her in kisses.
"So," a feminine voice called into the van, "I guess you two have enough energy to get back to business?"
Mike and Penny shot up at the sound of Tara's voice as she gave them a sly smile and walked away. He helped Penny climb out, and once again started moving heavy furniture with Tim and Frank. Hours later, when they were finally done, the girls thanked them, though Penny avoided Mike's eyes. And he was a little hurt by that, because he hadn't meant to do that...he almost felt like he had taken advantage of her situation, which he wasn't aware of at the moment. He tried to think of a way to tell her he was sorry, but the words simply wouldn't come.
Kellerman came back to reality at approximately 7:15. "Damn, I'm late."
He climbed out of his car and slowly made his way up the path, his stomach doing flip flops with each step. He finally made it to the doorbell and pressed the small button.
Approaching footsteps could be heard, and he prayed it wasn't Penny. He wanted to get some small talk in with one of her roommates before he saw her. The door opened and revealed Tara in a light yellow jumpsuit.
"Mike, come in," she greeted him.
He stepped inside and Tara led him to the living room, where ironically enough, the infamous lavender couch sat.
"Penny will be right down," she said as she motioned for him to sit, "She just has to find her shoes."
"Penny's here," a soft voice said from the entrance of the living room.
Kellerman jumped up and turned around, holding the flowers behind his back.
His outfit hit her like a ton of bricks. "Now I know why women swoon," she thought to herself as she took him in with her eyes. He wore a black suit with a dark blue shirt and a black tie. His hair was relatively neat, save a few strands that fell carelessly on his forehead. "Hi," she finally said.
Little did she know that Kellerman was equally enticed by her apparel. Her black dress was fitted to the waist, where it turned into a loose fitting skirt that flowed until an inch above her knees. The straps of the dress were two inches wide, and helped to form the square neckline which was high enough not to be too revealing, but low enough to start any hot-blooded man's imagination. Around her neck lay a star necklace, and the matching earrings sparkled in her strawberry blonde hair. "Hi," Mike replied, bringing his arm from behind his back, "These are for you."
Her face lit up at the flowers, as he handed them to her and she carefully fingered the arrangement. "Gentians and Cattails! My favorites!" She walked up to Mike and gave him a brief hug, which he hadn't expected. "Thank you so much. I love them." With her face so close to his as she broke the embrace, and the flowers in her hand, he noticed that their color were a perfect match to her eyes.
"Let me just put these in some water for you," Tara said as she gently took them from Penny.
"Oh, I almost forgot. Mik, this is Mike Kellerman, Mike, this is Mikayla Fitzgerald," she said, stepping back and allowing the two to shake hands.
"Yes, the girl from the picture...the model," Mike said. "The one Bayliss keeps talking about."
Mik blushed at his words, "Yeah, well, modeling was a long time ago for me. And it's good to finally meet you after hearing so much about you from Pen." The last statement was sort of a payback for mentioning the modeling job, and it worked. Penny's face got a little pinker at her words.
"So," Tara said, returning to the living room, the flowers in a vase. "Where is the happy couple going this evening?" She placed the vase in the middle of the coffee table and turned to face them.
"Dinner," Kellerman replied.
"And after dinner?" Mik asked with a wicked grin on her face.
"Stop it," Penny hissed at them, wishing she could disappear into the carpet.
"That's ok, I got the same thing at the precinct," Mike said good naturedly. Penny grabbed her black purse and headed for the door.
"Well, at least they didn't do it in front of me," she said, glaring at her two friends.
"That's probably because they're afraid that you'd kick their asses if they did."
Penny laughed and relaxed a little, "If only my roommates were that smart," she said.
"Don't stay out too late," Tara said as they opened the door.
Mike and Penny faced them, "Don't worry, I'll have her back in one piece," Mike promised.
"Bye mom, bye dad...don't stay up," Penny kidded with them to show that she wasn't really mad at them. They watched their friend leave and Kellerman close the door behind him, too shocked at how good they looked together, standing side by side, so get another snide remark out.
Kellerman drove until they reached Baltimore Harbor. He and Penny didn't say much to one another during the drive, but he did manage to point out the occasional landmark on the way. She seemed content to take in the sights of the city, and Mike assumed that she hadn't been out much since arriving two months ago.
He parked his car, and she followed him into a large mall called Harbor Place. They walked up to the second floor where they immediately came across a restaurant. They patiently waited for a host to seat them, and Penny played with the ring on her hand, still scared out of her mind at the prospect of dating.
"Two?" the middle-aged man asked them. Mike nodded. "Outside or inside?"
Mike glanced at Penny. "Your choice."
"Definitely outside," she smiled shyly.
The host led them out to a balcony, and put their menus on a table right next to the railing. Mike pulled Penny's chair out for her before sitting down himself.
"This is beautiful," she commented, looking out into the harbor.
"So are you," Kellerman thought, but couldn't bring himself to say out loud.
She gazed out into the water for a few seconds longer before picking up her menu. "Let's see, what am I in the mood for?"
"They have great crab cakes," Mike suggested.
"Nah, I'm not in the mood for crab. What about the chicken?"
"I don't know, I've never had the chicken here before."
"Well," she said, looking at him over her menu, "What are you having?"
"Steak," he said.
"Mmmmm. Sounds good, but I think I'm going to try the chicken," she stated.
Their waiter came and took their orders, Penny with her herb chicken and rice, and Mike with a steak - medium rare - and mashed potatoes. To drink, Penny was considering a nice mug of beer, but decided on 7up. Mike too decided to avoid the alcohol route, and opted for a Coke. With the waiter gone and their dinners ordered, they were going to have to actually talk.
"So..." Mike started, not sure where he was going with the sentence.
"So..." Penny replied flirtatiously. There was a short pause, and then she burst into laughter. "This is off to a great start, wouldn't you say?" Mike started to laugh too, and the initial tension was finally broken. "I'm sorry, I'm a bit out of practice with this whole dating thing," Penny apologized.
"Hey, no problem. I'm not quite sweeping you off your feet or anything."
"Is that what you plan on doing?" Penny raised an eyebrow at him.
"I mean," Kellerman blushed, "I'm not all that good at this either."
She grinned, "Oh...so that's what you mean? Darn, I was beginning to think that you were going to be a dashing knight in shining armor and save me."
Now this was the Penelope Graham Munch had told him about. Funny, flirtatious, with a quick mind. "So Penny Graham, tell me about yourself."
"Not much to tell. My life isn't all that exciting," she replied. She waited while the waiter brought their drinks before continuing. "Let's see, I was born and raised in the most wonderful city in the world, New York City. I absolutely love it there...it's my city. I've never been far from it until now. My mom and dad are dead, they died in a car accident when I was 20, so I've been on my own since then. I don't have much of a family, no brothers or sisters, just a few aunts who don't feel it necessary to stay in contact with me. Except for the NYPD...they're my family in every sense of the word. I miss those guys."
"What made you want to be a cop?" Mike asked, taking a sip of his Coke.
"I wanted to make New York a better place so I could raise children there. But I guess that's not happening any time soon, now is it?" She paused to take a drink of her soda, and stirred it with her straw. "Actually, there is one thing that made me want to be a cop, a homicide detective."
"I feel so silly. You know that show Columbo? I loved that show. I wanted to be just like him, with a rumpled coat and cigar. I wanted to figure out mysteries by looking at the details and pushing witnesses until I finally go the truth."
"You became a cop because of a TV show?" Kellerman asked in disbelief.
"Yeah, that's what first inspired me. But then I decided I wanted to help clean up the streets and fight crime. Why, what made you want to be a cop?" she asked somewhat defensively.
"Oh no, it's not my turn yet. Tell me more. How many partners did you have?" he asked, not noticing her reaction to his reply.
"Two," she said lowering her eyes. "My first one, Bobby, was the kindest man I've ever known. He taught me everything he knew. He was like a father to me. We spent three good years together."
"What happened to him?" Mike asked.
"We were going to pick up a suspect. Bobby was on point, which probably wouldn't have mattered anyway. No way he'd ever let me go first if there was a threat of danger. The perp shot him in the chest before he could get a shot out."
"Did they catch the guy?"
"You could say that. I shot him in the head," she said looking back up at him. "Nobody messes with my partner. But that kid had it lucky, he died instantly. Bobby bled to death in my arms. And let me tell you, it's not an easy way to die. After that I had a desk job for a while, my captain was afraid that if he put me back too soon I'd break down or something 'cause I'm a woman. My next partner was Lennie, Mike's old partner. We were together for two years before I came down here."
There was that name - Mike. As in Mike Logan. As in the one that brought a smile to Penny's face and knew what kind of flowers to buy her. "So...what exactly is between you and Logan?"
Penny was surprised by the touch of jealousy in his voice. "Logan? Logan is like a big brother to me. He thinks it's his duty to protect me from the rest of the world...or the rest of the world from me, depending on how you look at it."
Kellerman was instantly relieved, "You mean you two were never an item?"
"No," she giggled, "I mean, don't get me wrong, the man tried, but he never succeeded. He was put off a bit that I wouldn't go to bed with him, but he soon realized that we were much better suited to be friends, and 'adopted' me."
"How'd you meet Tara and Mik?"
Boy, Mike sure was curious about her. "Their place was robbed and I was one of the investigating officers. We hit it off, and I eventually moved in with them. It was a lot better than my apartment...not as lonely."
She just used the magic word - lonely. For all his friends and all his work, Mike always ended up lonely. It had been a long time since he had done any serious dating, and he was beginning to hate going back to his boat. It felt so empty...which reminded him..."Ever been married?"
There it was again, the word married. She used two days ago when she was talking to Logan, and could still remember the look of shock on his face when she said it. "No, I've never been married." The waiter brought their food during the latest pause in their conversation. Penny decided that she had said enough. "So, Mike Kellerman, tell me about yourself," she said as she started to cut her chicken.
"Me? I'm born and raised Baltimore material. My dad works at the distillery and my mom's a housewife. I wanted to be a cop because I thought I could make the streets safer for kids and little old ladies. I used to work in Arson, but a few years back I was transferred to Homicide, and I've been there ever since."
"And your partners?"
"I've only had one. Back in Arson, we pretty much work alone...it's different than Homicide. But now I'm with Lewis, and we're usually pretty ok with each other," he replied.
"That's it? Nothing else to intrigue me with? Come on, Mike, aren't you supposed to try to impress me?" she kidded.
"Well, I do live on a boat," he admitted.
That caught her attention. "Really, a boat? What's her name?"
"That's clever. That's cute...I like it," she smiled as she took another fork full of rice. "A boat, huh? That's romantic."
"You know, girls are always saying that to me, 'Oh, living on a boat is so romantic.' Why? What is so romantic about living on a boat? I mean, the waves get too rough and you fall out of bed."
She laughed at his small outburst. "It's romantic because you can just leave one day. Just like that," she snapped her fingers. "You could leave your whole life behind and start again. It makes you kind of a rebel. Plus water is usually associated with love - walks along the beach, cruises, that sort of thing."
"And here I thought I was just a regular guy...but now I'm a romantic rebel."
"But only if you keep the boat."
"Yeah," he repeated with a grin, "Only if I keep the boat."
Penny tried to think back to what she had told him about herself, to make sure they were on even ground. That's when she remembered the married question. There was only one reason he would ask something like that - he must have been married, with a possibility that he wanted her to ask about it. "Were you ever married?"
The question caught Mike off guard even though it really shouldn't have. After all, he asked first. "Yeah, I was married."
"Annie didn't think that marriage should be mutually exclusive, and unfortunately I didn't find out until after the vows."
So that's where the pain in his eyes stemmed from. "I'm sorry."
Kellerman looked back up at Penny. The concern in her voice obvious, and the sympathy in her face genuine. "Hey, it's not your fault. It was a long time ago...and I probably should've seen it coming."
"No," Penny said, "Sometimes the writing on the wall is only visible to the one who writes it."
"But I'm a detective."
"And she's a woman. Women are tricky, Kellerman. They can fool almost anybody, especially men."
"Oh really? Why are they so good at fooling men?" Mike asked.
"Because men are suckers for a pretty face and teary eyes, that's why," Penny stated.
"What about you? Can you fool men?"
"Absolutely, but I don't have to," Penny smiled.
"And why is that?"
"I don't need to manipulate people to get what I want, I can get it on my own. And if I need help, I ask for it. I'm not your typical, 'turn on the waterworks to get a present' chick. I'm charming. I'm real."
The waiter asked if they needed anything else before leaving the check with them. "You certainly are, Penny," Kellerman told her. He paid the check, though Penny wanted to help out, with his own money, and they left the mall. Between Harbor Palace and The Gallery, which was a mall across from the one they had just exited, there was a big concrete courtyard.
"What's this for?" Penny asked as they walked through the courtyard.
"Sometimes they have outdoor concerts here," Mike explained.
"Wow, that's pretty neat," Penny said as she walked over to the edge of the concrete and gazed out into the harbor.
Mike followed her to the edge and studied her. "Do you want to sit here and talk for a while?"
"I'd like that," she replied, tearing her eyes from the water.
"I'll be right back," Mike said and headed towards his car. He liked to sit on the edge of the concrete and stare into the water for hours, and was prepared with a blanket in the trunk of his car. He ruined one suit by sitting on the textured concrete, he certainly wasn't going to make that mistake again.
Penny continued to ponder the water when Kellerman left. She gazed into the darkness, unable to distinguish the water from the sky, unable to find the horizon in the blackness of the night. The wind picked up a bit, catching her hair and picking it up. Her skirt tickled her thighs as her hair pranced in the wind. She almost felt like she could fly.
"'It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee.'"
She recited the poem from memory, closing her eyes and allowing the wind to caress her with unseen fingers.
When Mike came back with the blanket, he was welcomed with an interesting sight. Soft words of Edgar Allen Poe filled the air as Penny's form welcomed the night air off the harbor.
"'And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling - my darling - my life and my bride...'"
Kellerman racked his brain for the next lines.
"'In the sepulchre there by the sea,'" he said.
Penny spun around, her hair flying in her face as Mike finished the poem.
"'In her tomb by the sounding sea.'"
"You know Poe," she said, impressed with the notion.
"Yeah, I know a few of his works," Mike said, lying the blanket down and sitting on it. Penny took off her shoes before sitting beside him, dangling her feet over the edge.
"If I don't take them off, they'll fall into the water and I'll have to go in there and get them," she said as means of explanation.
"That would be an adventure and a half. I'd never be able to get you out, it's too big a drop."
"I'd manage somehow, I always do." Penny's eyes once again drifted out to the water, but soon changed their focus to the sky.
"You miss New York."
It wasn't a question, but she felt that she should answer it anyway. "Yeah. I miss the sights and sounds. I miss the hot pretzel vendors on street corners. I miss the George Washington Bridge and the old, peeling walls of the 27th precinct. But when I look up at the stars, I remember that I'm not all that far away. I mean, these are the same stars that were over my head in New York. The same planets, the same constillations...they haven't gone anywhere. Then I don't miss it as much."
"Just looking at the stars helps you not feel homesick."
Now this wasn't a question either, but it was meant to be one. "Whenever I feel lost or sad, I look up at the sky. The stars are always there, and for some reason that comforts me. I always thought of stars as sparks of hope in the nothingness of the universe."
"I've always found the water comforting," Mike said, opening up a little. "It somehow always fits my mood. Sometimes it's calm, sometimes is rough and angry...it expresses every possible emotion."
She smiled a little at his observation, but continued to concentrate on the void of space.
"Why do people hurt each other?" she finally asked.
She brought her mind back to her present situation and looked Mike right in the eye. "Why do people hurt each other? Why do they leave? Why do they break promises? Is it in our nature, or is it learned?"
Mike heard wisdom in her voice and saw innocence in her eyes. The combination of the two had a profound affect on him. He was unable to unlock his eyes from hers for the longest time. "I don't know," he eventually responded, and looked into the harbor himself. "Maybe it's because we're selfish and we don't think of others. Maybe it's instinct. Maybe we just don't care."
"What would aliens say if they were listening to our conversation right now?"
Kellerman looked back at her with a smirk on his face.
"No, I'm serious. What would they say, watching us and listening to us...two people who have obviously been hurt before?"
Mike thought a bit. "I think one might reason that not all people aren't like that. That all people don't try to hurt each other."
"But the other would say, 'Maybe they are all like that. Maybe that's just the way these human beings act.'"
"And the first one would say, 'I don't think that these two humans would ever do that to each other. They both seem to know how it feels to be betrayed, and I don't think they'd ever purposely cause that kind of pain'."
"He's flirting with me," Penny thought to herself before responding. "'How would you know, it's only their first date,' the other one would say."
"'What's a first date?'"
Penny burst out laughing. She fell backwards onto the blanket and held her stomach, making every attempt to stop, but failing. When she finally got control over herself, she sat back up. "You're so bad, Mike. Do you know that?"
"Am I?" he grinned.
"Yeah, but you do it so well," she said, slugging him in the arm lightly.
Even though they were only fooling around, and even though it wasn't much of a compliment, Mike was touched by the sentiment. Of course, Mr. Tough Guy that he was, he'd never let her see what an affect she had on him. "I do a lot more than that well."
"I'm sure you do," Penny replied carefully, "But I don't planning on finding that out tonight." Her eyes shifted back to the sky, and the moment between them was lost. Now Mike felt like a complete jerk. He really hadn't meant to say that...it just slipped out. He did that sometimes when he was goofing off with the guys in Homicide, he'd go too far, and ruin it. He studied her for a few minutes, watching the wind play with her hair and her eyes search the sky.
"You haven't lost hope, have you Kellerman?"
"Lost hope for what?" he asked, still watching her.
"Love," she replied and looked back at him.
"No, I don't think..." he started, but she didn't let him finish.
"And I'm not talking about sex, I'm talking about love. 'It's not lack of sex we die from, it's lack of love.'"
"Who said that?"
"Margaret Atwood. And I believe it. My question is, do you?"
"I wasn't sure until I met you." The words slipped out of his mouth before he could stop them.
Penny didn't know what to make of that. "What do you mean?"
"Well," he started, slightly embarrassed that his thoughts escaped without his permission, "Just look at you. You were in a situation similar to mine, and you're still so friendly. After I found out about Annie...I didn't trust any woman for years. No matter who they were. It's only been a few months and you're talking to everyone in the squad room without a trace of bitterness."
"Somebody opened their big mouth about Lance," Penny reasoned in her head. "Not Logan because Mike wouldn't go to him, not Tara or Mik because Mike doesn't really know them. Somebody told Munch, and before letting Kellerman go out with me, he must have said something about it to him."
"I don't blame the whole for the sins of one," she said. "That wouldn't be fair. Plus I've always been really close with a bunch of the guys at the 2-7, so as angry and hurt as I was, it didn't make sense to blame them all."
"I've never had any close friendships with women."
"That's why. I've always been 'one of the guys.' Even when I was little I'd much rather get dirty with the boys than stay pretty sitting bored on the stoop with the other girls. You didn't have a reason to not distrust all women, while I had enough close male friends to know that they all weren't like Lance."
"And you still believe in love?"
She closed her eyes, "I'll always believe in love. That's the one thing that connects all human beings." She opened them again and the corners of her mouth ever so slightly turned up. "And as stars shine there is no doubt, that love remains when time runs out."
"Who said that?"
"I did," she said with pride in her voice, "In high school. Even then I believed in the power of love."
"You must have been very perceptive," he replied.
"Nah, I read too many fairy tales as a child and picked up all that 'happily ever after' stuff," she picked up her purse and started looking through it. "Speaking of picking up, I have something for you."
"What?" Mike asked, genuinely curious.
"This," she said, opening one of his hands and placing a penny in it. "It's the first penny I picked up in Baltimore."
He examined the small coin in his hand and remembered how she had given Logan the last penny she picked up in New York. "You remember where you pick them up?"
"If it's some kind of special event, I sure do. I save them, or give them away depending on the circumstances. They're my lucky pennies."
The wind picked up even more as Mike slipped the penny in his pocket and he made a mental note to save it. That's when he realized that his date must be more than a bit chilly in that dress she was wearing. Feeling chivalrous, he took his suit jacket off and put it around her shoulders.
"Mike, I'm ok, I really don't need..."
"Hey, it took me long enough to pick up on the fact that it's getting cold. Take it."
She slipped her arms into the sleeves of the jacket, feeling its warmth, as well as the heat that was left from Mike wearing it, envelop her. She quietly inhaled, allowing the smell of Zest, which was the soap he used, to overwhelm her senses. They didn't say anything else, but continued to look out into the darkness together. In a matter of minutes, Mike managed to slowly scoot closer to Penny through a series of carefully planned moves. Of course, Penny picked up on it right away, and it was all she could do to not fall into a fit of hysterical laughter, but she wanted to be near him, so she forced herself to remain silent. When his thighs were almost brushing hers, she figured he was close enough. Without giving herself a chance to reconsider, she quickly, but gently, placed her head on his shoulder.
The motion startled Mike, but he didn't object. He glanced down at her hands, which were nervously playing with her purse in her lap. He reached down to her right hand with his left, and took it away from her other. Her hand was cold, with long delicate fingers and nails in silver nail polish. He enclosed his own big, soft hand around hers, and they sat there for a long time enjoying each other's company without a word.
Mike checked his watch and realized that it was eleven o'clock, and they couldn't possibly stay out there all night. But he didn't want the night to end. He didn't want to go back to being alone again. "Come on, time to go," he made himself say.
"Why, what time is it?"
"A little past eleven."
Penny nuzzled her head on his shoulder before removing it. She let go of his hand as she swung her feet onto the blanket and put her shoes back on. She stood up and waited for him to pick up the blanket and they walked back to his car. The drive back to her house was similar to the drive to Harbor Place in that few words were spoken. But the silence that filled the car was a comfortable, reflective silence, not the uncomfortable I-don't know-what-to-say one that had previously loomed over them.
He offered to walk her to the door, and Penny eagerly accepted. The two once again locked hands as they walked down the front path as slowly as they could.
"I had a great time tonight," Penny said as they climbed the three steps onto the porch, "Thanks for taking me to dinner." She felt like a teenager again, giddy and scared at the prospect of the 'goodnight kiss.'
"So did I," Mike replied, equally nervous about the upcoming kiss...should it be long, short, close mouthed, open mouthed..."We should do it again."
Penny's eyes widened as she remembered her promise to Tim, "We already are," she giggled, covering her mouth with her free hand.
"What do you mean?"
"I arranged a date between Bayliss and Mik before you picked me up, and he was nervous about going out with her alone, so he asked if we would come too. How could I say no?"
"Good old Bayliss. When are we going out?"
"Friday, if that's ok with you," she said.
"Fine with me," he replied.
"So..." she said, ending the date with the same way they began it.
"So..." he said, once again lost for words. Mike leaned over and kissed her on the cheek, allowing his lips to linger for just a moment before heading down the stairs.
It was the sweetest thing anyone had ever done for Penny. The most tender kiss she had ever received. She knew that Mike didn't want to push her, as well as realizing for the first time that he probably shared her embarrassment over the whole 'tongue hockey' incident. She still had his hand though, and before he could get away, she pulled him back. She kissed him right on the mouth, much to his surprise and pleasure. Neither moved to hold the other, they simply stayed hand in hand until Penny broke the deep, though far from French, kiss.
"Goodnight Penny," Mike managed to get out, and held her hand as long as possible as he walked towards his car.
"Night," she responded as her hand slipped out of his and hung by her side. She stayed on the porch until he drove away. When he was gone, she slipped her key into the lock, opened the door, and almost had a heart attack at the sight of her two friends sitting on the stairs waiting for her.
"Well?" they both said at the same time.
Penny closed the door and leaned back on it, with a smile she couldn't begin to remove from her face. "I'm going to bed."
"What?" Tara said. "Penny, come on, give us more than that."
"Nope," Pen responded, confidently walking to her room.
"You had a good time, though, right?" Mik called after her.
She turned around, glowing with excitement and happiness. "I had a wonderful time."
Her two friends followed her into her room, where Penny proceeded to collapse on her bed. They sat down beside her and she sat up. She talked rapidly, giving them a rough sketch of how the evening went, but not giving away all the details. Tara and Mik listened with enthusiasm, knowing that Penny and Mike would be going on many more dates in the future. When she was done with her story, she shooed her friends out, changed into her NYPD t-shirt and sweats, and climbed into bed, where she replayed the events of the evening in her head until she fell asleep.
Meanwhile, Mike retreated to his boat, which was dark, with no one waiting to greet him. But he didn't mind that tonight. Not after he had such an enjoyable conversation with a woman who he felt he could trust completely...and perhaps one day even love. He thought back to the date with a smile on his face as he changed into his BCPD sweat pants. The waves rocked him to sleep while he thought ahead to the next day they'd spend time together.