Pen finished off the last of her pretzel as she and Kellerman made their way through the maze of hallways that made up the crime lab/medical examiners' offices. These were decorated in a similar style as the precinct, but the paint job was much fresher. You had to look really hard to find any cracks.
"Hey," a woman yelled after them. "What do you want?"
Penny and Mike did an about face and went back to the last door they passed. The M.E. pulled her mask down, at the same time covering the body she was working on, ready to lace into the two intruders. But when she got a better look at them, the woman in particular, she stopped herself.
"Graham, long time no see."
"Hi, Rogers," Pen greeted the carrot-topped medical examiner. "Sorry I didn't call first, I just thought..."
"No problem. You know I always get a little jumpy when I'm hanging around bodies too long."
"This is Mike Kellerman, he's a detective with me down in Baltimore," she said, repeating the introduction she had already made three times today."
"Kellerman," Rogers nodded at him, as she uncovered the body in front of her. "Pen, you know I'd love to chat, but I gotta get this done..."
"Yeah, I know. Is Medil around?"
Rogers froze and looked back up at her. "Medil?" she asked distractedly.
"Yeah. You remember him...dark hair, beard, sarcastic..."
"He's in his office, I think."
"Thanks," Penny replied, leaving the room with Kellerman close behind.
"You wouldn't mind if I asked what the hell you were doing, would you?"
"No, not if you asked," she replied before stopping and turning to face him. "I don't know Mike...I have to see him. I'm here anyway, why not? It's not like I plan on doing him on his desk or anything."
"If you say so..."
"I wanna make sure he's all right. I heard a rumor that Julianna dumped him."
"Penny, I'm not arguing with you."
She stepped back and studied Kellerman. He looked annoyed. And maybe a tad jealous. Her intention really wasn't to set him off...but there were a few things she still had to say to her ex, and now was as good a time as any. Besides, how could she possibly go fool around with Lance when she had Kellerman with her, wearing that sweater, and looking so damn fine.
She reached up and pulled him to her, initiating a kissing session which lasted several minutes. "If that doesn't convince you, Blondie, nothing will."
"All right, all right," he said, taking her hand, "Let's go see the M.E."
Like a couple of mice searching for cheese, the two walked the halls in a slightly confused direction. Penny had gotten lost down there before, no big deal, but it was kinda spooky in the eerie silence of the morgue and the offices that surrounded it. She finally figured out where they were, and headed to his office. She left Kellerman outside, and slipped in the office as she had so many times before, without being noticed. Medil had his back to her, looking at some test results.
"It's like 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' in here," she started, wondering if he'd even bother to answer.
"The only body I really like to snatch is yours," was his quiet response.
"It was," she replied carefully, not wanting to lead him on about the reason for her surprise visit. He turned to face her, and she put her hand to her mouth in surprise when she saw his face. "I can't believe it, Lance," she whispered in disbelief, walking up to him and touching his now smooth cheeks.
The beardless man shrugged it off, but allowed her fingers to remain on his face. It was good to feel her touch again. Kellerman, who was watching through a window, couldn't help but feel his temper rise as he watched his girlfriend get touchy-feely with another man.
She let her hands drop to her sides after the initial shock wore off. "So, is it true?"
"That yet another woman I was sleeping with dumped me? Of course. There seems to be a pattern emerging, don't you think?"
"She's a slut, Lance."
"You're just saying that because of what happened to..."
"No," she cut him off. "I'm just saying that because I'm friends with some of the guys she's done this to in the past. It's just the way she is. There must be some kind of psychological thing going on...you know, she's really looking for a male figure in her life for some reason."
"And to think I could still be with you."
Penny didn't respond. What could she do, agree with him? She decided to change the subject instead. "I just came to thank you."
"For coming to see me a couple months ago. Because of that, I can once again look back and remember things without feeling pain. I cut three whole years out of my life because I was so mad at you...that's a long time. You gave me part of my life back."
Lance smiled. "You were always unique, Pen. I don't think anyone would ever say that kind of thing but you. No matter what happens, don't let anybody tell you different."
She smiled back. "I won't." She suddenly became aware that time was flying by while she was there, and she had so many things she wanted to do. "I gotta go."
An awkwardness appeared out of nowhere, seeping into the room from under the doors as the two just stared at each other, wondering how to say goodbye. Penny finally decided that she had to stop acting like a jerk, and gave Medil a hug.
And God it was good to hold Penny again, if only for a few seconds. She let go far too soon, and was almost out the door before Lance could repeat the line...that special line from that special song that reminded him of Penny Graham every time he heard it since their breakup. "'Your coming back to me was against all odds'."
She paused with her hand on the doorknob. Of course, she recognized it...she was the great quoter, was she not? And she was touched that he had found a line in a song that he felt described her, or them, actually. "I've always beat the odds, Lance," she said with a look over her shoulder and a smile on her face. Then she was gone.
"Jack, there's no way he's going to accept this," the woman with the boyish haircut argued.
"He better...or I'll indict his daughter as an accessory for murder," he shot back, leaning back in his chair. It would be a long shot, he knew, but there wasn't a father he could think of that would take that kind of chance with his daughter's life. Jamie glared at him across his desk, her icy blue eyes giving away her disapproval. But he was used to that look by now...it didn't phase him. He used the angry silence to study his co-worker's face, as he had a number of times before. Jack McCoy didn't even consider sleeping with her as he stared deep into her beauty, thoughts like that had ended with Claire. Poor Claire. Dead Claire.
"All I'm saying is his lawyer won't buy it," she said in a calm voice. "He'll know we're just blowing smoke."
"Yeah, but do you think Mr. Mutram will believe his sleazy lawyer when it comes to his daughter?"
She didn't have the opportunity to answer, the buzzer on McCoy's desk interrupting them as soon as he had finished speaking. "Mr. McCoy, there's a Detective Graham to see you."
"Send her in," he instructed after a moment's pause, wondering what she was doing back in New York.
"Detective Graham?" Jamie asked. "I don't remember hearing about any..."
Penny Graham didn't knock before entering Jack McCoy's office. She never did. Ignoring the woman already present, she headed straight for the EADA's desk. He stood at her arrival, as he always did, and gave her a kiss on the cheek she offered him.
"Penny, this is a surprise," he said, sitting back down.
"Just the way I like it," was the young woman with the dirty-blonde hair's response.
"And you brought a friend," he continued as he motioned for the two to sit. "Is it safe to assume that this is Detective Kellerman?"
"You bet. Mike, meet the Executive Assistant to the District Attorney, Mr. Jack McCoy."
Kellerman recognized the man from one of the photos on Penny's mirror. He was the gray haired man in the sweater...but the woman in the office with him was not the same one as was in the photo. "Hello."
"This is my new assistant, Miss Jamie Ross," McCoy said after he shook Detective Kellerman's hand.
"If you don't mind me asking," Jamie said in her typically unexcited way, "Who on earth are you?"
"The first female Homicide Detective in the 2-7...and one of the first ones in the city of New York," Jack answered for her. "She's much more pleasant to look at."
"And a lot more fun then those other cops," Penny continued for him before explaining herself to Miss Ross...who had a slight resemblance to former ADA Claire Kincaid. "Just this summer I moved down to Baltimore. I'm back for the weekend, though, and thought that it might be nice to pop in on old Jackie boy."
Jamie glanced at Jack and back to this teeny-bopper, the insinuation clear - that old McCoy wasn't just sleeping with his assistants for the past few years, he had dipped his wick in the police department ink as well. "I don't think so, Jamie," Jack said outright, before she could even open her mouth.
Pen decided that Jamie didn't resemble Claire at all, except for the fact that they shared the same hair color. "I was dating an M.E. back then," she stated, wondering why she was even bothering with an explanation.
"I didn't say a thing," the woman protested.
Then Penny decided that she didn't like Miss Ross at all. "Did you like your flowers?" she asked Jack, changing the subject.
"Yeah...they really brightened the office," he replied, pointing at the arrangement behind him. "Reminded me of when you used to burst in without calling first."
"And when I wasn't bright, the sparks I was shooting certainly did the trick, didn't they?"
"I don't mean to be rude but..." Jamie interrupted.
"Yeah, we better be getting back to work," Jack finished for her. "It was good seeing you Pen. Doing anything special today?"
She checked her watch, it was already 11:30. "Grabbing lunch, stopping by St. Pat's, visiting some old ghosts..."
McCoy's head shot up at her last comment. Hours before, Lennie had heard the same thing, but ignored it because he wasn't quite sure what to say. "Now?"
He considered the situation and nodded to himself. "Need a mode of transportation?"
Penny shook her head. "I didn't come here for that."
"I know...but I'm also very aware of how much you used to love..."
"How much I still love to feel the wind in my face..."
"Take it," he insisted, standing up and heading for the clothing rack in the corner of his office. "But you have to promise me..."
"Not this again," she protested. "I'm a big girl."
"You don't wear a helmet, you don't get the bike."
"Fine," she snapped, grabbing the helmet from his hand and passing it to Kellerman. "But I want you to know that you're no fun."
He handed over his other helmet as well as his keys. "I just don't want any more ghosts of my own to visit."
"I know...I'll bring her back after I go to the ends of the earth and back."
"As long as that's before 8pm, it doesn't matter."
"Thanks, Jackie," she said, returning to the cheerful disposition she entered with. "I'll make sure to mention that you send your love." Now it was her turn to give him a peck on the cheek before she headed for the door. "I'll be in touch," she called as she and her quiet boyfriend breezed out the door, leaving Jamie to ponder the reason why a man like Jack McCoy would bother to stay in touch with a woman like that.
"Where are we going?" Kellerman yelled into the rushing air, but Penny didn't respond. It was either because she couldn't hear him, or she was ignoring him...probably the former, so he waited for her to stop at a red light before repeating his question. This time she answered him.
"To the cemetery."
"Oh," he said, but they were once again on the move, and he doubted she could hear him. Now he knew why they had stopped at the florist and purchased 5 roses "the color of blood," as per Penny's request. He carefully held them in his left hand, making sure to hold on to her small waist all the tighter with his right. Although both of his arms were around her, he didn't want to squish the flowers, so his left hand wouldn't be the one that kept him from falling off the bike.
After about 20 minutes, Pen pulled into the parking lot of a large cemetery. She put the kickstand in place and took off her helmet, shaking her hair in the process. It would be a risk, but she decided that they should leave the helmets on the bike rather than lugging them around. If they were stolen, she could always buy Jack new ones.
Kellerman followed her in silence as they made it over a series of hills. She remembered exactly where this particular grave was...it had only been six months since the last time she had been there. Penny was somewhat thrown off by the fact that a gravestone now loomed over the plot...McCoy hadn't mentioned that it had come in. But nonetheless she knew the woman it belonged to, and approached it without hesitation.
"Claire Kincaid," Kellerman read aloud next to her. "May 16, 1969 - August 4, 1998. Beloved Daughter and Friend." He looked at Penny, standing silent behind him, waiting to find out who Claire Kincaid was.
"Claire died right after I left," Penny said, still staring at the new gravestone. "A drunk driver hit her...she was in a coma for a few weeks, but I guess it was too much for her to fight."
"And you were friends." He was trying to fill in the blanks that he didn't think she would mention.
"Yeah, me, her, and McCoy would go out together sometimes. When I first met her...man I didn't like her at all. Fresh from a job as a judge's clerk, she was such a friggin' wimp. Back then she was working for another EADA, Ben Stone. And she rarely ever gave her opinion, never asserted herself. Pissed me off. So I started giving her little shouts of encouragement here and there. When Stone resigned, she was requested by McCoy, so I prepped her for that too...I had worked with him a few times, and I knew what a hard ass he could be." She shrugged. "She was still a little timid, but over time that diminished, and she became a very strong, assertive woman."
"She was young."
"Yeah," she replied, taking two roses from Mike and set them on the ground. "Jack sends his love," she said to the stone, "As do I."
Penny abruptly left the one grave and started heading deeper into the cemetery. What could Mike do but follow? As they walked, they passed a number of statues and mausoleums...all very dark and ominous, all angular and cut with purposeful strokes. They finally stopped at an older grave, where the stone was weather worn and the grass wasn't as fresh.
This time Kellerman read the name to himself, "Robert McMillan."
"Kellerman, meet Detective Bobby McMillan," Penny said, taking another rose from his hand and placing it on the cold ground. "One of the only cops in the 2-7 who didn't consistently refer to me as 'that bimbo with a gun'."
Mike watched his girlfriend attentively...her mood had dramatically changed since leaving the DA's office. It wasn't so much that she was sadder, it was that she had become alarmingly quiet, which was definitely not like her. She stood in silence in front of the grave for a few minutes before suddenly walking away, in much the same way she acted at Claire's. Kellerman followed her lead, not saying a word as they made their way back to the bike. Once again the were traveling God only knew where, Penny in complete control of the bike as well as her emotions. This trip was longer than their previous one, taking a good 45 minutes, if not longer.
Pen went through the same motions of parking the bike and heading into the cemetery. Mike followed her closely, mentally comparing this graveyard with the last. This one was smaller with more trees...friendlier almost. It seemed more natural and relaxed compared to the larger, more gothic one they had just visited.
This time their walk lasted less than 5 minutes before they came across two graves sitting side by side. These were older than Detective Bobby McMillan's, and though they stones were slightly worn by bad weather, they were still in excellent condition. Kellerman hesitated to read the names that had been carved into the lifeless stones 10 years before, but Penny motioned that it was all right. He leaned forward and got a closer look at all there was left of his girlfriend's parents, Colin and Jacqueline Graham.
"Mom, dad, I'd like you to meet, Mike Kellerman," she said as she took the remaining two roses from his hand and placed them on the ground. "Kellerman, my parents."
He didn't know what to say...these were the fourth and fifth graves Penny had visited in the past month, and he wasn't sure how to console her, because there was no way to fix it. There was nothing he could say or do to change things. "I'm sorry, Pen."
She looked at him curiously, realizing only then that he had misunderstood her change in mood, mistaking introspection for grief. "Everything dies, Mike."
"Yeah," she smiled, slipping back into her usual persona. "I should have warned you...I get really quiet when I visit old ghosts. That's just because I like to remember them, you know, replay past events in my head for a while. I pay homage to them in my head. I don't often have a chance to think about them on an everyday basis, so I save it all up for when I visit them."
"Makes sense," he nodded.
"And yes, it does make me sad, but I'm not gonna go jump off the GWB or anything, so chill."
"Where to next?" Kellerman asked after she spent some time with her parents and were making their way back to the bike.
"First we return McCoy's fave toy, then we're off to St. Patrick's Cathedral."
"Can I drive?"
She didn't take any time to consider. "Sure. Know how?"
"A long time ago I had one of my own...but things changed and I got rid of it."
"Now you have a boat," she reminded him, getting on the bike behind him.
"So I'm no longer a lowly rebel, but a romantic one."
She kissed him on the cheek, wrapping her arms around his torso and holding him close. "Hell yeah."
Penny and Mike walked up the steps of the church hand in hand. They had just dropped off bike in the parking garage, and returned Jack's helmets to his office. And because it was such a lovely day, they decided to walk to St. Pat's, stopping at a street vender for vintage New York hot dogs. When they entered the stone building, Penny broke from Kellerman and headed straight for the pool of holy water situated in the center of the entrance hall. She dipped her right hand into the cool liquid and purposefully blessed herself. Kellerman hung back...unsettled by the unnatural silence that always hung within the walls of churches. He always felt like God had swallowed him whole...that He could feel his every movement, see his every action, and hear his every thought. This was one of the reasons he hadn't been a very religious person for some years now. Well, that and the fact that the holy sacrament of matrimony hadn't worked out for him...that his bride hadn't really meant it when she promised to love and cherish him for the rest of her life...especially since he had meant it with all his heart and soul when he said, "I do."
And then there were the bodies...the bodies he saw almost every day of the week. Every body didn't bother him, though, it was the innocents that got to him. How could God allow a small child to die? Or a little old lady? He wasn't ready to wrestle with that kind of question, so he tried not to think about it. Staying out of church was one way of not bringing the subject up.
Penny turned around and saw him lingering in the doorway. She didn't bother to wonder why, she was too excited to be analytical. She waved him in, and he reluctantly followed her into the large cathedral. There were three aisles, with two rows of pews between them. At the end of each row was a table filled with candles, most of which were out at the moment. Penny lead him through the main arch to the aisle on the right, where they passed more tables covered with candles, standing in front of statues of a number of different saints. She didn't slow down until they were at the end of the aisle, at a statue of the Virgin Mary, where a priest with his back to them was replacing spent candles with new ones.
Penny stopped short when they were about 10 feet away from it, Kellerman bumping into her because he hadn't anticipated the sudden halt. "Sorry," he whispered, trying to keep his voice from echoing in the large building, but Penny didn't hear him. She was transfixed on the sight of the priest...she couldn't take her eyes off him. She stood frozen in place, watching him carefully trade each old candle with a new one - content to perform such a simple task. The whole picture amazed her.
"Hello, boy," she said, reciting the line that had been her trademark in grade school.
The priest paused at this, standing up slowly. "Hello, Penny-lady," he replied, turning around to face the couple. They grinned at each other for a minute before he finally ran up to her and threw his arms around her. Penny's laugh echoed through the church as he picked her up and swung her around in a circle.
Kellerman wasn't sure what to make of the situation, especially when the priest kissed her on the cheek and said, "Hey, babe. How's it goin'?" This wasn't like any priest he'd ever seen, and at the same time, he was familiar somehow. Mike had seen this man somewhere before...he looked just like somebody else...
"Everything is great, Matt," she replied, stepping back to take a look at him. "And aren't you looking fantastic. If you weren't a priest, I swear the girls would be hanging off you."
"Who says they don't?" he smiled. "After all, I don't dress in uniform unless I have to."
Penny reached up and brushed a stray lock of hair off his forehead. This motion, along with the priest's smile struck a chord with Kellerman. It was the same action he'd seen her perform dozens of times before, and the same charming smile as...
"Kellerman, come back to reality," she said, grabbing the priest's arm and bringing him with her. "It's time to meet my oldest, dearest friend. Detective Mike Kellerman, I present to you Father Matthew Logan."
"Logan," he nodded as he shook the priest's hand. "I was just noticing that you have some of the same characteristics as your brother."
"But I'm the better looking one," Matt replied seriously.
"And the shorter one," Penny continued, equally serious.
"And the younger one," Matt went on.
"And the luckier one...you've known me longer."
"Belle, you haven't changed a bit," Matt laughed.
She didn't shoot a response back, but paused to consider his comment before speaking. "My sarcasm hasn't."
He took the hint and opted to change the subject. "So," he said turning to Kellerman, "You are the great Mike Kellerman. I can't go 5 minutes without hearing how wonderful you are."
"Mattie, don't!" she scolded, shoving him gently into a nearby column.
"Really," he went on, ignoring his friend's pleas, "She goes on and on and on about you. You took her this place, you said this, you said that, you did this for her, you did that...the list goes on and on."
"I wish you took a vow of silence," Penny pouted, crossing her arms.
"Come on, Belle, you know I'm just ragging on you."
"Belle?" Kellerman asked.
"Tinkerbell," Penny replied, thankful for the break. "Mikey calls me Tink, Mattie calls me Belle." "You know, you never did explain that to me."
"She hasn't?" Matt had a twinkle in his eye as he glanced at Penny, whose expression told him that he should probably shut up. But he was having fun. "Ok, then I will. See, one day in kindergarten she came in all excited because Disney's "Peter Pan" had been on TV. Her favorite character was Tinkerbell. She talked about the fairy for days, driving everyone crazy. About a week or so later, she was playing with the blocks, and some kid came over and tried to take a few of them. There was a fight, and Penny ended up falling back into the closet where all the dust was. It flew into the air when she landed on her butt, and we all thought it looked like pixie dust. That, plus the fact that her hair color was so light, started the whole nickname thing."
"That's pretty cute," Kellerman said, looking over at Penny.
"Yeah. Cute. Just what a 30 year old woman wants to be," Penny sighed.
Kellerman walked over and stood face to face with her. "Hey, cute is good. And besides, when you're not cute, you're sexy." He cupped her face in his hand and brought her lips to his own, backing up his statement with a delicious kiss.
"Ditto," she whispered at the end of their lips' prayer.
"Pssst, guys, this is a church," Matt reminded them in a loud whisper.
"You're just jealous that you don't get the same treatment from me," Penny replied.
"You got me, I admit it," he replied, hanging his head in shame.
"Poor Matt," she mocked.
"You know, I think I'll let you two catch up," Mike said, starting to walk away.
"No, Kellerman, you really don't..."
"I'll just take my time and look around. You know, light a candle or something. Stay and talk for a while 'til I come back."
"Thanks, Mike. You don't have to, but thanks," she said, kissing him on the cheek before he slowly walked back towards the back of the church.
"Well, you were right about one thing," Matt commented as they watched him go.
"And what was that?" she asked distractedly, her eyes glued to the object of her affection.
"He's different from the other guys you've gone out with."
"Yeah, I'm sure you can tell from talking to him for two seconds," she said sarcastically as she walked to a pew and sat down.
"Trust me on this, Belle," he said, sitting next to her. "He's good for you."
"You really think so?"
Penny relaxed a little after hearing this. She knew that Kellerman's biggest critic would be Matt because he was so protective of her. She also trusted his judgment above anyone else's, so if he thought that Mike was ok, then there was no doubt in her mind that the match was a decent one.
"So, you have anything juicy to tell me?" he asked, moving closer to her in an attempt to make their conversation as private as possible.
"What do you want to hear? I've told you everything...well, except about our trip here. This is my Valentine's Day present. Isn't that the sweetest thing you've ever heard?"
"Yeah, that's really nice of him. So, are you sleeping with him or what?"
The question didn't surprise her...she and Matt had always been very frank with each other, and for the past few weeks she knew that he was dying to ask, but was too polite to do so. "You know my feelings about sex, Matt."
"That as long as you're in love it's all right?" She nodded. He made an exaggerated look in both directions to make sure no one was near them, and whispered in her ear. "Well, to tell you the truth, I absolutely agree with you on that. Just don't let that little fact get to the Pope." When she didn't laugh at his joke, he leaned back and studied her. "What?"
"Nothing," she shook her head. "It's nothing."
"Do you love him?" he asked seriously.
Penny closed her eyes for a moment, trying to gather her emotions. "More than anything," she replied as she looked at her friend.
"That's great," he said gently. "I thought so...the way you are when you're with him is something else."
"Pen, you glow. You have such a bright light coming from deep within that even a fool standing miles away could see it."
"I wish I knew if he felt the same way."
Matt took her hand in his. "Of course he does. Haven't you ever noticed that every time he looks at you, it's like he's seeing you for the very first time?" She shook her head no. "I'm surprised neither of you has talked about this. You've never told him?"
"If it's so obvious, I shouldn't have to," she reasoned.
"He's as blind as you are...jeez, I'm a friggin' priest and I've got to give you a lesson on love? Come on, use your head. You know how guys are, they're reluctant to pour out their souls. Sometimes they need a push. Or better yet, they need to follow someone's example. Tell him how you feel about him. There's no doubt that'll open him up."
"Ok, so you love him," Matt decided not to push the matter further and moved on, "So why haven't you slept with him yet?"
"I don't know," she confessed. "It's because...it's like..." she paused to organize her thoughts. "Remember when my mom used to take us into those expensive stores when we were little?"
"And she told us to be careful or she'd make us buy whatever we broke?"
"Yeah. Well that's how I feel now. It's like I see a beautiful music box on the shelf, but it's so fragile that I'm afraid if I pick it up to wind it, I'll drop it. Then it'll shatter into a million pieces. And I won't be able to pay for it because it's priceless...and I'll regret it for the rest of my life."
"But if you don't pick it up, you'll never hear the music. Looking at it will bring you a lot of pleasure, but you'll never really get the full experience unless you take a chance," Matt explained.
"I know that."
"What is it, then?" Matt was puzzled at her lack of self confidence. He had known Penny for most of his life, and he'd never seen her so unsure of herself.
"I don't know if I could handle it if he decided to break it off," she looked down at her hand that was still locked with his. "I've given myself to men I've been in love with before, Matt. But I've never been in love like this...it's different somehow. I'm afraid that after I've handed my heart, soul, and body to him, he'll eventually throw them out with the trash."
"Silly girl," he sighed, stroking her hair with his free hand. "You're one of the strongest people I know. If something happens to your relationship with Mike, you'll deal with it, just like you've dealt with everything life has thrown your way. So stop worrying about the end of it and concentrate on the here and now."
"When the time comes to declare your love, you'll know it. Don't push anything, let it be natural. And enjoy the time you have to spend with him, because I know he thinks you're something special."
"When did you become such an expert on love?" she asked suspiciously.
"Hey, kid, you taught me everything I know. You've just forgotten."
"Working around death all the time can sure kill good thoughts," she agreed with a smile.
"You and my brother...always with the stupid puns." Matt leaned back and let go of her hand. "So Charm City has changed my Belle?"
"Your Belle has grown, that's all. She's not quite the person who left New York, but her essence remains the same."
"Good. That's what I was hoping you'd say." Matt scanned the church trying to locate Mike. "And here comes the love of your life."
"Hush," she hissed at him, following his gaze to where Kellerman was sauntering. He was taking in his surroundings, looking here and there, keeping his pace as slow as he could. "I don't want him to hear you say that."
Without missing a beat, Matt continued the conversation in French, going on the assumption that Mike wouldn't be able to understand what they were saying in the event that he got close enough to hear them. "Pourqoui pas? C'est vrai" Why not? It's true.
"Oui, mais ce n'est pas pour tu dire a lui." Yes, but it's not your place to tell him.
"Il sait. D'interieur lui-meme, il sait, ainsi dit-le." He knows, deep down inside he knows, so just say it.
"Pas maintenant." Not now.
"Pourqoui pas?" Why not?
"Si vous ne taisez pas maintenant, je fais preter serment a Dieu, je veux..." If you don't shut up right now I swear to God I'll...
"Si tu lui ne dit pas bientot, je veux lui dire." If you don't tell him soon, I will.
Kellerman finally reached the two friends, and heard part of their argument, but since he didn't understand a word of French, he had no idea what it was about.
"I know," Matt began, allowing the twinkle in his eye to remain, "Why don't we all go over to my office and talk? It's a lot more private than this."
"Sounds good to me," Kellerman replied, curious about what Penny and Matt had been saying. He was pretty sure that they had been talking about him...but he didn't know if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
"Follow me," he said, offering his arm to Penny, who accepted it after a moment's hesitation. Kellerman followed the couple out of the church and into a building next door. They climbed the stairs to the fourth floor and went into the third door on the left.
"Moonbeam..." Penny called into the office as soon as she entered. "Where's my pretty little Moonbeam?"
The silver-gray cat recognized her voice the second time her name was mentioned. She ran out from her hiding place behind her owner's desk and rubbed against Penny's leg. Meanwhile, the two men watched the scene from the doorway.
"She loves that cat," Matt told Mike, closing the door behind them. "In fact, if her building had allowed pets, it would've been hers."
"That's a good girl," Penny cooed, scooping the cat in her arms and scratching between her ears. "That's my Moonbeam." A contented purr filled the room as Moonbeam nuzzled her head into Penny's chest. She turned to the guys with a wicked smile on her face and said, "See, Kellerman, you're not the only one I can make purr."
"Fine, then. Stay here with the cat. I'll be on my way."
"But making you purr is so much more fun," she added mischievously.
He glanced at Matt before responding. "In that case, I guess I'll stay."
"Good," she replied, letting Moonbeam out of her arms. While the cat suspiciously approached Mike, Penny took it upon herself to sit on the edge of Matt's desk. She examined all of his knickknacks carefully, trying to figure out the significance of each. When she reached the black and white picture in the black frame, her face lit up, and she laughed.
"Mattie, what the hell is this doing here?"
Matt joined her at his desk, followed by Kellerman a few seconds later...after Moonbeam had sniffed his jeans and decided that he wasn't a threat. The picture was of a young woman in a black, skin-tight bodysuit made out of what looked like snakeskin. She wore heeled black boots on her feet, a loose black belt that hung on her hips, and a sinfully sexy grin on her face. Her hair was about an inch past her shoulders, curled slightly towards her face...probably medium-brown, but hard to tell in the photo. Her weight was over her right leg, with her left leg slightly bent, and her hands placed deliberately on her hips.
"If someone wants to become a priest, I make sure they get a good look at this before they make their final decision. I want them to know what their missing while they can still change their minds."
"And what am I, the poster girl for sex and fun in the sun?"
"Lock, stock, and barrel," Mike answered for him.
"Give me that," she said as she snatched the photo from him. She was about to put it back on the desk when she hesitated and took a long look at herself. "Just look at me," she murmured to herself before brushing the past aside and replacing it.
"You were every schoolboy's dream, Pen," Matt nodded. "In fact, you still are."
"Nah...I lost that a long time ago, babe," she sighed with a touch of regret in her voice.
"Never," he argued. "Never in a million years could you lose what you had...what you still have."
"And what's that?"
Matt thought back to a previous conversation they had and smiled. "'You've got a smile that heals me. I don't know what it is, but I have to laugh when you reveal me.'"
Looking back at the past always made her a little sad. "'I have a light around me, and everywhere I go...'"
"'A million dreams of love surround you, everywhere,'" Kellerman finished for her. Their first dance...the end of their first fight. She really had been telling Matt about him.
"I guess the both of you couldn't be wrong..." she reasoned, though she wasn't sure that she believed her own words. But ah the memories those lines brought back...dancing with Kellerman in The Waterfront. She always remembered stupid little details about events that seemed insignificant to everyone else...let's see, she was in black slacks and a white blouse, similar to the outfit she had worn a few nights before when she danced with Logan. Her sleeves were rolled up, and she had tied her shirt a few inches above her bellybutton when she and Brodie had been dancing. Her gun was securely in its place on her hip, the cold metal of the handcuffs seeping through the fabric of the top of her panties to chill the small of her back. And Kellerman...he was in a light green shirt. A spring green. He was in his black suit, and a black, white, and green striped tie. His tie was loose around his neck, the top button of his shirt undone so she could see the very edge of the neck of his undershirt. But when they had danced, he wasn't wearing his suit jacket, he had left that at the bar. And when he picked out a song just for her, and she turned to see him standing by the jukebox looking like a nervous little boy, he stole her heart completely.
So she walked up to him and placed her hand on his shoulder as he slipped one hand onto her waist, and the other into her free hand. They swayed back and forth to the beat of the music, and Kellerman's hair fell from its neat, somewhat professional look, to the more relaxed position of brushing his forehead and tickling his eyes. Then he twirled her away and back, but she was facing the wrong direction. Fine with her, she winged it, reaching behind her to put her arms around her neck. He complied with his partner, pulling her closer as his strong arms wrapped around her waist. And when he rested his chin on her shoulder, it was utterly perfect. She was so incredibly happy to be standing there with him. And for a few seconds, they only existed for each other. Maybe that's where her love for him began to grow...or maybe it was one of the many things that, added up, made up her love him...or maybe...
"Belle," Matt's voice interrupted her thoughts just when she was beginning to piece the whole thing together.
"I'm sorry," she replied, getting rid of her distraction with a shake of her head. "What were we talking about?"
"Why you're dressed in a catsuit with dyed hair," he said, motioning to the picture she had picked up a short while ago.
"Oh," she nodded, turning to Mike, "Yeah, that was the last of my famous Halloween costumes."
"Famous because we went to Catholic school," Matt jumped in. "Famous because every year Penny always managed to get kicked out because her outfit was deemed inappropriate."
She shrugged at the comment, "Well, hemming my skirt could be done any time during the year...I had to do something more original for Halloween."
She was still sitting on the edge of Matt's desk, while Matt sat in the chair behind it, and Kellerman had made himself comfortable in one of the two chairs facing the desk. Matt leaned forward and began to tell the story. "Ok, so freshman year we're told we can dress up as anything 'tasteful' for Halloween. Belle and I come in wearing plain outfits. Hers is pure white...virginal, if you will, with a brown rope tied around her waist. Her hair was all straight and..." he jumped up, ran to his bookshelf and after a few seconds of searching, grabbed a dusty photo album from its shelves. "Here, I'll show you." He sat next to Mike and thumbed through the pages quickly until he came across a set of pictures that fit the description. They were black and white, but still in pretty good condition. A few contained Penny alone, in the outfit already described, with sandals on her feet. Matt also appeared in a few of them with her, wearing a similar outfit, though his was in a darker color.
"Anyway, we were walking to third period when a nun stopped us. She wanted to know which saints we were supposed to be." He glanced at Penny, who said nothing. "And Pen said, 'We're not saints,' so the nun said, 'Well, what are you supposed to be then?'"
"God," Penny stated for him. "I told her that I was God, and Matt was my Moses. She totally flipped out, and kicked us out of school for the day. Your brother was in college, right?" Matt nodded. "They called Mattie's house, and the only one home was Mike. They made him pick us up, to make sure we didn't get in any trouble on the way home. Mike had no complaints 'cause this was just the kind of thing he loved to do." She began to giggle uncontrollably at her own story. "I never thought they'd let us back there..."
"But they did, unfortunately," Matt continued. "And we decided that every year we had to come up with costumes to get us kicked out...but they'd have to be clever."
"Sophomore year, I was a prostitute and Matt was my pimp...junior year was something religious again. Oh yeah, I was Mary Magdelin, and Matt was Judas."
"Senior year we wanted to do something special...and there was a series called 'The Avengers,'" Matt kept going.
"Yeah, I've heard of it...they made a movie based on it last summer with Uma Thurman," Kellerman said. "There was some English guy who worked with that chick who always wore those outfits..."
"Right," Pen took over again. "Emma Peel. It was my mom's favorite show. I decided that I should come as Emma, and Matt could be my John Steed. Back then I worked for a seamstress, so she helped me make my own catsuit. I bought the black two inch heeled boots in early October so I could practice walking in them...good thing too, since I'd never worn anything higher than an inch before that. My parents, as usual, were out of town, so I borrowed my dad's car. Thank God he had a thing for cars. We showed up in style in his convertible."
Matt got up and walked to where Penny was still perched on his desk. "We pulled in front of the school and turned off the engine. I got out, wearing a gray suit, a bowler hat, and carrying an umbrella. I walked around the car and opened the door for my Emma," he made the motion of opening a car door, and Penny offered him her hand. "I helped her out, and we walked side-by-side to the other side of the car." She walked in front of the desk and adopted the same pose as she had years before in the picture, with Matt standing beside her.
"Practically the whole school was there," she continued. "They knew that we'd do something really special for our last year, so they made sure to come early."
"The guys especially," Matt directed at Mike. "And I can't say that they were disappointed."
"We didn't even get into the front doors," Penny said dreamily, not noticing Matt's aside. "The nuns stopped us before we could set foot in there. They sent us away without another thought. So we turned around and went back to Mattie's house."
"Where my camera was, and my mother wasn't. I was fascinated with film and cameras, and took tons of pictures. Luckily, Belle was never camera shy. This one," he pointed to the photo on his desk, "is probably one of my best. It looks professional."
"And so ends the story of one of my many adventures." Penny had made her way over to Matt's bookcase, which looked very much like hers, crammed to the hilt with books. Her eyes skimmed the titles, assorted trifles, and scattering of pictures while Matt showed Kellerman all of their Halloween costumes in the photo album. When they had gone through the large number of photos of the four creative costumes, they looked up to see what Penny had occupied herself with. She was holding another frame in her left hand, touching the glass lightly with her right.
"What ya got there, babe?" Matt asked, as the two men approached her and looked over her shoulder. It was another picture of her, this one with her hair its natural yellow-brown hue. Her hair was approximately the same length, perhaps an inch longer, loosely curled at the ends, with a carefully made crown of downy Gentians on her head. She wore a blue gown sprinkled with silver dust. Off the shoulders, sleeves were twin puffs that turned into fitted sleeves, ending as a point on the back of each hand. The bodice of the dress was fitted as well, stopping at a point just below her belly button, where the blue fabric puffed out like the stereotypical princess gown of Grimm's Fairy Tales. The photo was relatively close to her, only allowing the viewer to see from her head to about mid-thigh. And she was lovely.
"I was so young," she whispered, looking up at the men with a light in her eyes that hadn't been there in years. "I had so much to look forward to. So many dreams...so much possibility..."
"And now?" he pushed.
"'Now that I've grown, everything's changed. I'll never be the same'." She handed them the photo and turned away. "I've lost something since then. I expected to...but I didn't realize that I had, 'til I was reminded of who I was back then."
Kellerman handled the photo carefully, looking at the smiling girl in it. This time her smile was natural...happy even. Her eyes radiated her love of life, a life that wasn't yet encumbered with the demise of her parents, or a job that would eventually consume her life with little more than death. She looked free from all worries.
"But I wouldn't change a thing," Penny said, turning back to them.
"You grew up, Belle," Matt stated, trying to help her express her thoughts.
"I didn't want to," she replied, "But I guess it happens, huh?"
"You still have the magic, though...and as long as you don't lose that, you'll still be the little blonde pixie who's best friends with the boy who never did."
"Sure he did," Penny argued with a grin, referring to "Hook," one of their favorite movies. "And even he forgot what it was to be a child after a while. It only took a little pixie dust to change that, though...and I still got a bag full."
Kellerman put the picture back on the shelf and looked at the Penny of today. She looked older...there were a few lines where there once had been perfectly smooth skin. She was a woman now, with the wear and tear of about 10 years. She was more experienced, more in the world and of the world, wiser. And although the light in her eyes wasn't the same, it still glowed bright.
Her question jolted him back into reality. "Nothin'."
"I gotta say my beads before we get outta here," she said to Matt, keeping an eye on Kellerman, who had been staring at her for the past minute or so. "Why don't you show him another set of pics while I do?"
"Sure," he agreed, grabbing another album as they left his office.