Weeping Willows - Part 4

"Hey Penny."

She looked up from her desk at Lewis.

"There's a couple of New York cops in here. They're asking for you."

Penny smiled and got up. "If Tara comes, tell her I'll be back in a minute," she told Kay before heading in the direction of the break room. She froze in the doorway when she saw the backs of the two detectives. "Damn."

This wasn't the reaction Meldrick was expecting. "They're not friends of yours?" he asked in a low voice.

"Not by a long shot," she whispered back.

Lewis sat down at the empty table, leaving Penny to face the two alone. Bayliss and Pembleton were seated at the other, talking about their latest case while they ate lunch. The pair of New Yorkers turned around after they had thrown away their cardboard coffee cups, and greeted Penny with the fakest smiles she'd ever seen.

"Well, well, well," the woman said as Penny approached them, "If it isn't the woman who traded her gold badge for silva."

Tim and Frank stopped mid-sentance at the remark, and put their full attention to the two intruders. Lewis continued to observe from his table, watching the situation carefully.

"Hey Murdok, hey Opperilo," she said as a way of greeting, ignoring their comment. "What are you doing here?"

"We were in the neighborhood and we decided to drop by and see how our old friends were doing," the man, Murdok, replied. "Where's Logan?"

"He's out on a call."

"So how's he? Afta that run in with the Congressman, I didn't think he'd eva wear a badge again," Opperilo commented.

Penny sighed, she knew this was coming. "Mike redeemed himself by walking the beat for three years. You know he earned the right to wear a detective's badge again."

"Yeah, but he didn't have the balls to face us, he had to come down to hicksville."

Penny's temper rose a little. "He wanted to start fresh. There's nothing wrong with that. And if you think this is hicksville, maybe you should check out the board. There's a lot of homicides happening down here in hicksville."

"And what about you?" Murdok asked.

"What about me?"

"How are you doing? After that whole mess with Medil, rumor had it that you were a basket case."

Her temper rose a little more, along with the three other Baltimore detectives' in the room. They didn't like the fact that these two strangers were trying to get a rise out of one of their own.

"I'm fine."

"Do ya know how long he was sleepin' with her before you found out?" Opperilo taunted. "Almost six months."

Even though she was over him, Penny was still wounded by the information. She hadn't wanted to know, and now that she did, it only made her begin to bleed again. "No I didn't know that," she said quietly.

"But you're a detective, you couldn't figure that out? He was fuckin' her right unda ya nose."

"Thanks for the evaluation, but I don't really give a damn any more. Now I have work to do," Penny said, turning her back to them and heading for the other door, since the two were blocking the one she had come in.

"Word has it you have another boyfriend," Murdok called after her.

Penny was getting tired of this game. She turned around. "So?"

"So? It's only been three months. Wouldn't you say a little mourning was in order?"

She almost started to laugh. "Mourning? Lance screwed around behind my back. I broke up with him. He didn't die." She once again turned away.

"Yeah, but your new one...what's his name...Kellerman? He's bad news too."

She faced them again. "Excuse me?"

"Didn't he tell you? He was under Federal indictment for bribe receiving?"

"Naw, how could he tell her a thing like that?" Opperilo joked. "Maybe it's a thing with the name Mike. Maybe they're all dirty."

Penny's mind raced with one thought and one thought alone, "I'm going to kill them." But she stayed where she was, a few feet away from them, not saying a word.

"You sure know how to pick 'em, Pen."

"Yeah. First one cheats on ya, now this one cheats the system. How does it feel to sleep with a cop on the take?"

Her mind exploded. She wouldn't let them talk about her boyfriend like that. She wouldn't let them talk about her best friend like that either. She attacked them both at the same time. Penny shoved Opperilo away, causing the woman to fall back against the wall. She punched Murdok square in the jaw, causing him to fall flat on the floor. Lewis, Pembleton, and Bayliss just sat there for a few seconds. They hadn't expected her to take both of them on.

Penny jumped on Murdok, and was about to start beating his brains in when Opperilo caught her fist. "Don't touch me, bitch," she growled and pushed the woman away. Bayliss leaned over to pry Penny off, but she wouldn't have it. She kicked him right in the stomach, causing him to lose his balance and fall backwards onto Pembleton. Logan walked in at that instant, and dropped his lunch at first sight of the fight. Lewis leaned over, grabbed Penny around the waist and dragged her off the man. "Come on, Champ," he said calmly, "Round one is over."

"Give her to me," Logan instructed. Lewis let go of her waist, and in one motion Logan threw her over his shoulder, "I'm going to put her in the Box until she calms down."

Meanwhile, Tara had arrived in the squad room moments before. The only one around was Kellerman, so she was making small talk with him while she waited for Penny to appear. They heard the commotion from where they were, but didn't think much of it until Logan walked in with Penny over his shoulder caveman style.

"Put me down," she demanded. "I can walk by myself."

When he reached the middle of the room, he did as she said.

"If I ever see them around here again, I'm throwing them in the God damned bay," she snapped before going into the Box.

"You don't see that every day," Tara commented as Logan returned to the break room, but Kellerman didn't have a chance to answer her because Logan and Pembleton returned, this time with two people walking between them. Tara recognized them immediately as the detectives that liked to taunt her friend, and glared at them when they went by.

Lewis came out a moment later and sat across from his partner.

"What the hell happened in there?" Mike asked.

"Your lady love was defending your honor."


"They were hassling her about a bunch of stuff," he said, looking at Tara. "Somethin' about Logan walking the beat," she nodded and he continued, "and somethin' about some guy who was sleeping around."

Tara cringed. "Lance? They brought up Lance? The bastards."

"And then somethin' about her new squeeze being on the take...that's when she went nuts."

"Great, this is great. Just what I need right now," Kellerman grumbled. He glanced over at the Box where Penny was pacing like a caged animal. "I guess I should go talk to her."

"That would be a good idea," Lewis replied.

Mike walked straight to the Box and closed the door behind him. Penny's temper had cooled, but was not completely out. She sat on the corner of the table and took a deep breath.

"I didn't do it," Mike said.


"I didn't take a bribe."

She was confused. "I never said you did."

"But you were thinking it, right? You were wondering."

"No, actually, I wasn't." Penny had no idea what was going on. She was the one who had just been in a fight, and here was Kellerman yelling at her.

"Yes you were, admit it."

"No," she raised her voice, "I wasn't. You're not the type."

Her words should have had a calming effect on Mike, but they only resulted in pissing him off even more. "You know what? I don't think this is working out. I think we should break up."

"What?!" Now she was completely lost. "What brought this on?"

"I just don't think that this is going to work."

Realization crossed Penny's face as she stood and approached Mike. "Oh, so it's not that it isn't working, it's that you don't think it will work." He didn't respond, and she took his hand. "Don't you want to wait and see? We're doing fine, so far. There's no reason to think that it won't work out."

He took his hand back and sat in the corner with his arms crossed. "No reason? What about the fact that none of my relationships ever work out, huh? There's a start."

Penny simply wasn't in the mood to deal with this kind of screwed up logic. "You're breaking up with me because you're afraid that I'll eventually break up with you? That's the stupidest thing I ever heard. I am not your ex-wife. Look at me," she screamed at him. He raised his head. "I am not Annie. I do not go sleeping around behind the back of the man I love. And I don't plan on breaking up with you anytime in the near future!"

"Yeah, not today and not tomorrow, but eventually. I'm sick of it. So I'm through with it. I'm not doing this anymore."

She had an urge to kill Kellerman now. She was so infuriated with him, giving up when she had so much hope for them. "Fine. Great. Super. Suit yourself. But I'd never, ever, screw you over like that."


She left the Box, slamming the door behind her. "MEN!" she yelled into the noisy squad room. By then everyone had returned to their desks, and they all stopped what they were doing and stared at her.

"Graham, I just got a call, you coming?" Kay asked her.


"Penny," Tara called after her, "What about lunch?"

"I'm not hungry."

Lewis watched his partner sit in the Box for a minute before leaving, slamming the door behind him as well. He knew not to say anything to him, and watched him head towards the gym.

"Looks like I don't have plans for lunch," Tara grumbled and sat down in Kellerman's chair.

"My plans just left too. Wanna grab something to eat with me?" Lewis offered.


"You're a lot better looking than my other lunch date," he said as he offered her his arm.

Weeping Willows - Part 5

Penny Graham was quiet on the ride home with Tara. She headed straight for the piano upon arriving at their place of abode and let her emotions flow out of her. She was angry...angry at herself, angry at Kellerman, angry at Murdok and Opperilo, angry at Logan, angry at Lance...angry with the entire world. She closed her eyes and stopped herself from thinking. She just wanted to feel, to let it all out. She could think later. Mik and Tara stood in the doorway and watched their friend pour her heart out over the piano, knowing there was nothing they could do but wait.

Kellerman left the precinct and started to head home before changing his mind. He needed to clear his mind, and what better way to do that than going for a walk. He wandered the streets of Baltimore in seemingly no direction until he found himself in front of the house owned by Penny, Tara, and Mik. With no intention of going in, he walked up the porch steps and sat down. He didn't know what drew him there, but as long as no one came in or went out of the front door, there shouldn't be a problem with him just sitting there. He heard the music from where he was outside. The melody was unfamiliar, but the emotion it portrayed was not - intense anger, rage. He let the music sink into his being, feeling her anger mix with his own. She kept playing...20 minutes, a half hour...and that didn't include how long she was playing before he got there. And then, suddenly, she stopped, almost in mid note. It was like stopping in the middle of a sentence. He was about to get up when it started again. But now, it was slow and sad song, full of pain and longing. Much to his surprise, Mike realized that she was playing the same exact melody. "It really is what you put into it," he thought as he listened. It amazed him that the same notes could sound so different just by the performer's touch. He left before she finished the piece, and spent a long lonely night on his boat.

The song Penny was playing came straight from her heart out to her fingers. It was an original composition, something that she'd never write down or play again. Something that lasted only as long as her fingers flitted along the keys with heartache. She wasn't aware of the fact that Kellerman had stopped by, not that she would have cared anyway. She was only conscious of herself for a full hour, until she ran out of energy and stopped playing. Tara and Mik helped her to her bedroom where she fell into a fitful sleep.

The next day was business as usual in the Homicide unit. Penny started it off apologizing profusely to Bayliss for kicking him in the stomach. He tried to dismiss it with a wave of his hand, but Penny still felt guilty. He was able to convince her that it was no big deal, but only after letting her say how truly sorry she was. The rest of the day went like clockwork, Kellerman and Penny avoiding each other like the plague. It was Friday, the beginning of what would be a lonely weekend for both of them. Friday night and Saturday found Penny in her room, only coming out to eat meals, while Friday night found Kellerman at The Waterfront, and a great part of Saturday nursing a hangover. On Sunday Penny went for a walk along the water. There were tree-lined paths along parts of the harbor, without crowds, the perfect place for her to go to think. She sat under a weeping willow and thought about her argument with Kellerman. She finally decided that there was nothing she could have done to avoid it, that he still had some things he needed to work out before he could get into a relationship. Although it killed her to do so, she came to the conclusion that it would be better for him if they just stayed friends. Even though she hadn't known him long, she cared for him a great deal, and didn't want to let go to what they had. But it was in his best interests, so she made her decision.

Monday was a regular day. She talked to Kellerman exactly once, asking him some generic question about his weekend. He was polite but very formal. Penny knew that things wouldn't be fixed in a day, but hoped that she had started them back on the road to friendship. On the other hand, Mike couldn't understand why she was being nice to him after he dumped her. Little did she know that he had thought about her all weekend, and he couldn't get her music out of his head.

So Monday came and went, followed by Tuesday. Penny stayed after her shift, working on some paper work in the empty squad room. She was typing up a report when her mind began to wander. She sat back in her chair, allowing her eyes to run around the room until they came to Kellerman's desk. She stared at it until Kay's voice interrupted her.

"What are you doing here so late, Champ?" Kay asked. Since her run in with Murdok and Opperilo, most of Penny's friends latched onto the nickname that had inadvertently slipped out of Lewis' mouth as he helped break it up.

"Just workin' on some reports," she replied without looking at Kay.

"Oh...well, watcha thinking about?" She followed Penny's gaze to Kellerman's desk, "Or should I ask who you're thinking about?"

Penny looked back at Kay. "Probably who."

"Ok, who are you thinking about?"


"Yeah, I can tell. You want to talk about it?"

Penny wrestled with the idea for a minute. When it came to her love life, she very rarely asked other's opinions. She made her own choices without any help. Then again, according to Detective Kellerman, her love life was non existent at the moment. "I don't know. I mean, Kellerman's a nice guy, right?"

"I've always thought so."

"Right. And he wanted to break up with me, and that's ok. That's his choice. But it's just, I don't know. We can be friends. I can do that. But not like this."

"What do you mean?"

"Not the way we are now. I can't let him...I can't let myself end it like this. Screaming at each other. It's childish and stupid."

"Why don't you go talk to him?"

Her eyes went back to the open folder on her desk. "I'm afraid he won't listen."

Kay leaned over and closed the folder. "He'll listen. Come on."

She ushered her friend to her car and started off to the marina. Penny looked out of the window towards the sky the entire way there. Kay thought about the past few days. She knew, as did practically everyone else in Homicide, about her big blowout with Kellerman. And she was impressed with the fact that Penny didn't let it affect her work in the slightest. She was as quick as ever, and worked hard without a complaint, though her small jokes and wit weren't forthcoming as they had been.

"I don't know exactly which one is his," she said as they pulled up to the long line of boats.

"I'll find it. Thanks, Kay. Wish me luck."

"Hey, Graham," she said as Penny was about to close the door. Penny stuck her head back in and waited for Kay to continue. "It'll be alright." She smiled at the notion and closed the door. She went in and out of the docks until she came across one named Case Closed.

The wind had picked up and wrecked havoc on her hair. "Mike..." she called into the night. "Mike..." Her voice was getting lost in the wind, and she knew it. She decided on a different approach. "Kellerman..." she yelled, reasoning that it had more syllables, so he'd be more likely to hear it. Meanwhile, Mike was lying on his couch in his sweat pants and a plain black t-shirt. He had just been watching some stupid movie on cable, and it annoyed him that the guy got the girl and they lived happily ever after, because real life wasn't like that. He had his walkman on, blasting his Billy Joel CD. He wasn't really listening to the words until "Tell Her About it" came on.

"Tell her about it.

Tell her everything you feel.

Give her every reason to accept that you're for real.

Tell her about it.

Tell her all your crazy dreams.

Let her know you need her, let her know how much she means."

And at that moment, right after the first round of the chorus, the stupidity of the situation hit him. He broke up with Penny because he thought that she'd break up with him. He was in danger of losing her simply because he was afraid he'd lose her. It was the dumbest thing he'd ever heard of, and it was his own logic. "I have to talk to her," he said, taking his headphones off. That's when he heard a thud, like someone jumping onto his boat. He grabbed his gun and slowly snuck towards the door.

Little did he know that after 15 minutes of yelling futiley into the wind, Penny had decided to just get on the damn boat. She jumped from the dock, landing on the deck with a loud thump. The sliding glass door leading to the living quarters of the boat was shut, and the curtains all drawn. "Don't these things have a doorbell or something?" she asked herself, wondering how on earth she was going to get his attention. "Kellerman..." she yelled again.

Mike immediately recognized her voice and put his gun back before opening his sliding glass door. She was standing on his boat, her hair flying to one side in the wind. It was the most wonderful sight in the world, to see Penny there on his boat in the dark storm. Without speaking, he walked right up to her and slid his right hand onto her left cheek, holding her face in one place, and kissed her. His tongue outlined her lips before she submitted to it, allowing him to explore her mouth. He finally stepped back and looked at her standing there in shock.

"We have to talk," she said after a minute, reciting the line she had repeated over and over in her mind as she called his name for the past twenty minutes.

"Yeah. We do. Come in."

She followed him into what was a combination living room/kitchen. He motioned for her to sit down and asked if she wanted anything to drink. She shook her head, and he sat beside her on the couch. Penny was lost for words. He was her boyfriend, then he broke up with her, then he was her friend, and now he's kissing her on his boat. She hadn't the slightest idea what he was to her, or what she was to him.

"Who am I?" she said. "Who am I to you? What am I to you?"

"You're Penelope Graham." She smiled and he continued. "Honestly, I don't know what you are to me. I know I like you...I like you a lot."

She reached down to his hands, which he was staring at in his lap. She didn't try to hold them in her own, but placed them on top of his. "That's a start." He looked up at her, but she was staring at his hands now. "I like you a lot too." She started to run her fingers along the lines in his hands, sending invisible shivers down his spine. No one else ever made him feel like that. "So where do we go from here?"

"I'm sorry I yelled at you last week."

She looked at him, but continued to gently explore his hands with her own. "I'm sorry that I yelled back...but if you're not ready for this - dating, flowers, kissing...if you're not ready for me, that's ok. I'll wait for you."

It was the most beautiful sentiment Mike had ever heard. No one offered to wait for him, girlfriend or otherwise, before. "Here you are, over your old boyfriend after a few months, and here I am, still hung up on my ex-wife after a few years. I should be telling you that I'll wait, not the other way around."

"You still don't trust women, that's all. I'll just have to earn your trust."

"I want to trust you."

"I know."

Penny stared at the sad, puppy-dog expression on Mike's face. Only time, and nothing but honesty on her part, would allow him to trust her. By coming here tonight, she hoped that she had begun to build upon the foundation of trust they had created on their first date. "Do you know what the name Penelope means, Mike?"

"No," he replied, not knowing what that had to do with anything.

"It means 'the weaver.' It's from The Odyssey ." Mike said nothing. "Didn't you read Homer in high school?"

"Probably, but I don't remember."

She let go of his hands, much to his disappointment, and leaned back on the arm of the couch. "It's about Odysseus, who goes on this long journey. I don't remember all the details, but his many adventures run the course of 30 or 40 years. He's married to the beautiful Penelope. After a few years, everyone believes that Odysseus must be dead, so all these suitors try to win Penelope's heart. She doesn't love any of them, and wants to stay true to her husband, but the men won't leave her alone. She finally agrees that she will start seeing them on one condition: that she can complete the weaving that she's working on." Penny paused to catch her breath before continuing. "The men think that this sounds fair, and decide to wait for her to finish it. Penelope works on the weaving all day...but at night, she sneaks over to her loom and takes out all of the threads that she wove that day. When her husband does return and kills all of her suitors, the weaving still isn't finished thanks to her quick thinking, so she had managed to remain faithful."

"He killed all of her suitors?"

"Wouldn't you? If you came home from a long journey to find 20 guys trying to get your wife in the sack, wouldn't you kill them all?"

Mike thought about it for a second. Forget a long journey, he wanted to kill that guy in bed with Annie after coming home from work. "I guess I would."

"So they lived happily every after."

"But that doesn't happen in real life Pen."

"Sure it does, just not to you and me," she said, crawling down the couch and turning around so that she was leaning back against his torso. "Yet."

He kissed the top of her head and put his arms around her. "What do you want with a guy like me anyway? I'm not particularly smart, I can't dance, I don't have any special talents..."

"You make me feel special, Mikey."

That shut him up fast.

"I can't promise this will last forever," Penny said after a sizable silence passed between them. "I can't say that we'll fall in love, get married and live happily ever after. I can't even guarantee that we'll be together next week. But no matter what, I'll never do anything that I think will hurt you. And I'll always be here for you. Even if we fight again tomorrow and break up for good, I always be your friend Mike. I'll always be faithful."

He listened carefully to her words before responding. "I believe you."

Those were the words that she wanted to hear, even more than the three famous words that women have made such a big deal out of. "So...back to the beginning, what am I to you?"

"You're my girlfriend."

She relaxed into him, letting him hold her as close as he wanted, his strong arms keeping her from falling to the floor as waves tossed the boat around. He laid his head on hers, her hair soft against his skin, and whispered into his quiet quarters, "You'll always be my lucky Penny."

Weeping Willows - Part 6

Wednesday's shift began with Penny walking into the squad room with her signature mirrored sunglasses on, humming. There was a bounce to her step that told everyone that she had made up with Kellerman.

As she passed by Lewis standing at his desk, she stopped to bump his hip. "Hey, Champ, have a good night?"

"Don't you go saying evil dirty things like that to me, Meldrick. I'm a pristine young woman."

"All I said was did you have a good night."

She pushed her sunglasses down her nose and peered over them at him, "I know what you said. And I know what you meant. You know, us chickies aren't as stupid as you think. Right Kay?"

"Right, Pen. If you want to know if the girl got any last night, Lewis, ask her."

"Aw, never mind. I give up, you're too smart for me."

"And don't you forget it," Penny said, playfully slugging him.

"Well, well, is that Penny Graham over there?" Bayliss asked as he came out of the break room. "I hardly recognize her standing over there with a smile on her face."

"Hey handsome. How ya doin'?" she asked as she approached Tim.


"Yeah, Bayliss, you're an attractive man, didn't anyone tell you that before?"

"What about me?" Lewis asked.

"You're married, I don't want your wife coming after me."

"But do you think I'm handsome?"

"Yeah, but you're just not my type," Kellerman answered for her as he walked in.

"Look at this, even Mikey's getting in on this. What happened, you two kiss and make up?" Lewis said.

"This one's a lady, she don't kiss and tell," Logan said from his desk.

"That's right...especially not you guys," she grinned.

"Because we'd take it to have some kind of elaborate meaning about your relationship," Bayliss added.

"You've got it, toots. Now let's get to business, this is a police precinct, isn't it?"

The day went as smoothly as could be expected in the Homicide department. Not many new calls, so the detectives were able to do follow ups on already open cases. Kay was pleased that everything seemed to be working out for Penny, and though she didn't say so outright, Penny understood that her 'partner' was happy for her. Furthermore, Kay was proud to notice that Pen didn't make excuses to go talk to Mike. She did her work as if nothing was different, save the fact that her sarcasm was back in full force.

About a half hour before their shift ended, Mike approached Penny at her desk. "You want to come to The Waterfront with me after work?"

"Are you asking me on a date, Kellerman?" she joked.


"Well, I have a few things to do still, so why don't I meet you over there."

Forty-five minuets later, Penny was getting ready to leave when Brodie brought her coat over. "I'm glad that things are better between you and Kellerman."

"And how did you know that? Did Tara tell you, or did one of my esteemed colleagues from Homicide say something?"

"No, he was whistling before, so I thought..."

"You're very perceptive, Brodie, you know that?" she asked him, looking at him closely. "You probably would've been a good detective."

"Me? A detective? Nah, I can never figure out those murder mysteries in books." He helped her with her coat and studied her for a second. "You wouldn't want to...no. I mean, would you....no..."


He looked at the floor. "I heard that you were a really good dancer. I don't have the slightest clue how to dance...I was wondering if you could teach me."

"Is that all? Sure I could, no sweat. How about tonight?"

"But aren't you meeting Kellerman at The Waterfront?" he asked.

"Yeah, but that doesn't matter, I can teach you there."

He shook his head. "No. Not with all those people in there. They'd laugh at me."

She put her arm around his shoulder as she started towards the stairs. "Tell ya what. Why don't you come on by right before closing. It'll be almost empty, and if any of the ones that are still around say anything to you, I'll beat the hell out of them. What do you say?"

"Munch doesn't like me coming in and..."

"Munch is a pussycat. You leave him to me. I'll be waiting."

"Ok," Brodie said, a little unsure of himself. "Right before closing."

Penny went across the street to her favorite hangout, and was welcomed with smiles. She felt like she was in an episode of Cheers. "Here," she said, putting a wad of money onto the bar, "Drinks on me until this runs out."

"Penny, you can't expect me to..." Munch said.

"Hey, it's the money I won playing pool last week. It might as well go towards something for the guys who lost it."

"You're the boss," Munch replied, knowing it was futile to argue with the girl once she had an idea in her head.

She found Kellerman at a table in the corner, where they sat for the remainder of the evening, sharing quiet conversation about nothing in particular. "Almost closing, kids," Bayliss warned them from behind the bar. Penny turned around to see who else was left. Lewis and Munch were fixing tablecloths and the like, and Logan was at the bar, obviously further than his first beer. When he asked for another, she motioned to Bayliss not to give him anymore. But Mike didn't seem to care, and sat there looking at the bottles of liquor lined up against the wall.

"Mike, you wouldn't mind if I made plans for right now, would you?"

"What kind of plans?"

At that point, Brodie poked his head in the door, which was followed by the rest of his body. "Brodie, what are you doing here?" Munch asked in his typical what-the-hell-do-you-think-you're-doing way.

"He's with me, John," Penny said before turning back to Kellerman. "Brodie asked me to teach him how to dance."

"Well you don't need my permission, go teach him."

She walked over to Brodie and started talking to him quietly and Mike joined Logan at the bar.

"I'm going to put some music on, but we're not going to dance yet. I just want you to listen. Listen to the song and let it enter your soul. Feel it. Live it." She put some money in the juke box and made her selections. The first song was an oldie but a goodie - "Flashdance - What a Feeling." Penny refrained from dancing herself and encouraged Brodie to let the music enter his being. That said and done, when the next song came on, she started him dancing. He was somewhat awkward, partly because he was afraid he was doing something wrong.

"Is this right?"

"Brodie, in dancing there is no right and wrong. Do whatever you feel, that's what's right," she tried to explain. The next song brought better results. He started to relax and let himself go.

"This isn't a dance club, you know," Munch called from across the room.

"Shove it, Munch," she yelled back. She was enjoying herself, and she wasn't going to let John ruin her, or Brodie's, fun.

"It's time to close, come on Pen."

"One more song."

"Fine," he grumbled to the others, "What I do for a pretty face."

About then Mik walked in to an interesting sight. She was supposed to pick up Penny, but instead found her dancing around the bar with the precinct videographer. "I'm almost done, Mik," she said, and Mik joined the guys at the bar.

"What's going on here?"

"Dancing lessons," John replied.

"She's a damn good dancer," Lewis remarked.

"Yeah," the others agreed.

"Why don't you dance with her?" Mik asked Kellerman.

"I'm no good at it. Besides, she's dancing with Brodie."

"When she's done, go dance with her," she urged.

"It's time for them to close up," Mike said.

"Oh, I think we could postpone that long enough for you to dance," Tim said.

"It'd mean a lot to her." Mik nudged him. "Go dance with her. She won't bite."

"At least not until after the first date," Bayliss said, causing her to blush.

"Anybody got a quarter?"

Lewis provided him with fifty cents, and Mike walked over to the jukebox. Penny and Brodie were too involved with what they were doing to notice him. Brodie had finally let loose, and was dancing up a storm alongside his companion. The last song ended, and she was about to tell him it was time to call it a night when music started again: Billy Joel's 'She's got a Way.' She turned around to see Kellerman standing by the jukebox.

"Would you like to dance?"

She looked back at Brodie.

"Go ahead," he told her.

"Hey, Mik, come here and teach Brodie how to slow dance."

Mik did as Penny asked and approached the once again shy Brodie. While she helped him put his arms in the right place, Penny occupied herself with Mike. They slowly swayed back and forth, keeping their eyes locked. He spun her out once, and when he brought her back, rather than facing him, her back was to him. Instead of turning around, she reached up behind her and put her arms around his neck. Mike wrapped his arms around her thin waist and rested his chin on her shoulder. She closed her eyes and soaked up the situation, enjoying every minute of it. Kellerman always liked this song, and it reminded him of Penny, especially one line, which he sung along to into her ear:

"She's got a light around her

And everywhere she goes,

A million dreams of love surround her...everywhere."

Logan, Bayliss, Lewis, and Munch watched the two couples. Brodie and Mik trying to stay on time, trying to 'do it right,' and Penny and Mike naturally moving to the music, not caring what the others thought.

"Look at her dance," Bayliss mused.

"Who?" Meldrick asked.

"Penny. Just look at her. She's wonderful." The four focused on her, and watched her slowly move her hips to the music and she and Mike held on to one another. Even when she slow danced there was a subtle sexuality about her, and that fascinated them...or Tim and Meldrick anyway.

"She'd make a good stripper."

"Don't go talking about my niece like that," Munch warned Lewis.

"Actually," Tim said, thinking about it for a moment, "She probably would. Watch the way she moves."

Munch laughed at them, knowing they were right, "Just don't tell her that."

"Can't you picture her on The Block with the prostitutes?" Lewis asked.

"She's not a prostitute," Mike mumbled, the first words he'd said in hours.

"Hey, man, I was just saying..."

"Penny's not like that, she's not a pros," Mike said, raising his voice.

Penny's eyes popped open, and looked at Logan. One hand held his empty cup, but the other was in a tight fist. She hadn't heard exactly what they were saying over there, but she knew it was about her. She also knew that if they'd said anything, even in jest, that would tarnish her good image, he'd start a fight.

"Mikey, no," she said, breaking from Kellerman and heading over the bar.

Lewis began to back up, and Bayliss moved to get on the other side of Logan to restrain him. "She's not a prostitute," Mike repeated. By then Penny had reached him. She grabbed his right arm and tried to get him to back off, but he pushed her away. He lunged at Lewis, but Tim was ready, and caught him before he could do any damage. Mike calmed down quickly, but there was still anger on his face. Penny took him to a corner table and sat him down.

"What are you doing Mike?"

He looked up at her with drunken eyes, "They were saying stuff that wasn't true."

She sighed. "They were just kidding around."

"They called you a prostitute."

She leaned over, her forehead against his, looking him straight in the eye. "It's just bar talk. They didn't mean it."

"But they said..."

"Shhh, Mikey it's ok..." she said, bringing his head to her shoulder and holding him. "Mik, come here."

Mik left Brodie, who joined the other men at the bar, and went to her friend. "I want you to take him home."

"I don't know where he lives."

"Take him to our place, put him in my bed..."

"Your bed? Where are you going to sleep?" she asked loudly.

"On the couch. I don't want to leave him alone when he's like this. I'll get a ride with one of the guys. There's something I should tell them." She gently pulled Mike off her shoulder, "Mik's going to take you home, ok?"

"What about you?"

She smiled at his concern. "I'll be home in a little bit. I'll tuck you in. But I want you to go with Mik now." She kissed him on the forehead and helped him up. "Now you listen to her. I'll be there soon." She watched the two leave the bar before she turned to the others.

"Boys, boys, boys," she said shaking her head as she approached them, "What am I going to do with you? Somebody tell me what you were talking about, please."

Mike and Brodie looked at the others expectantly, but the three remaining men stood silent, with no explanation forthcoming.

"Look, you guys have a tendency to treat me like a little girl. I know what you talk about in the squad room and I know what you talk about in bars. Just because I'm new to Baltimore, it doesn't mean I'm new to the rest of this. I was on the force over five years before I came down here, and I know what goes on, so somebody spill it." Tim and Meldrick exchanged a sheepish glance, and Munch kept his eyes glued to the bar, where he was determined to shine one section of it. Penny softened her voice a bit before continuing. "I know you were talking about me. The only time Mikey's done something like that was when this guy was hitting on me. I didn't welcome his attention, so Logan hit on him. Literally. Just tell me."

"You know, we was just jokin' around and..." Lewis began.

"Guys, it's bar talk. I know. Just tell me."

"We were saying that you'd make a good stripper," Bayliss admitted.

Penny laughed even though she didn't feel like laughing.

"You said what?" Kellerman asked, tension in his voice.

"We really didn't mean it," Lewis continued, ignoring Mike for the moment.

"You said that my girlfriend would make a good stripper?"

"Cool it, Mike," Penny said, lowering her voice. "I only break up one fight a night." She sat down on a stool, and searched the faces of those in front of her. "They were bound to find out sooner or later," she reasoned in her head, "So they might as well hear it from me."

"Let me tell you something, my parents died when I was 20. I don't have any close relatives, so I had to take care of everything myself. Their insurance only covered about 1/3 of the funeral...and I was still in the academy. I had a job, but I didn't make all that much. I had to sell practically everything of theirs, including the apartment, to cover the costs. With that done, I needed more money. I needed a place to stay, a way to eat, and money for tuition. All my loans were in their name, and the damn bank wouldn't give any to me because I didn't have any credit." She saw compassion in all their faces, and took a deep breath before her next statement. "So, I became a stripper."

They looked at her as if she just told them that she swam to England and back in an hour. "You needed more money, so you became a stripper?" Tim asked, trying to figure it out in his head.

"It's not like I said, 'Hey, I need money, I guess I'll just take my clothes off for some dough.' I needed a flexible schedule because I was still in school, and believe it or not, strippers make good money. So I went to school by day, danced in skimpy rags at night, and got sleep here and there. I was what they called a 'tease,' I didn't take off all my clothes, just the major pieces. I also worked at a strict 'look don't touch' joint. The one guy who ever tried to cop a feel ended up with a broken nose care of one of the bouncers. When I graduated and started on foot patrol, I quit stripping and got a job waitressing when I wasn't on duty."

"Why didn't you say anything about this?" Mike asked her.

"How exactly am I supposed to ease into a conversation like this, huh? 'Oh, by the way, I used to strip, how about you?'" She looked at them each in the face, "And now, whenever you look at me, whenever you see me dance, you'll think, 'Wow, she used to be a stripper.' Whether you want to or not, that will be in the back of your mind. Logan's the only one who knew. He was investigating a murder when I was working there. Years later, as my luck would have it, we ended up in the same precinct." She smiled a little at the memory, "It took him almost a month to recognize me. When he did, I explained the whole situation to him, and he never said a word. But somehow our friends Murdok and Opperilo found out, and they started hassling me. They called me a prostitute, and that got Mike mad because I never sold myself for money. That's why he was so pissed off at you. You must have mentioned prostitutes in there somewhere."

"Yeah, I said somethin' about you hanging out with them on The Block," Lewis said.

"See, that's what gets me mad. You see a stripper and you think 'whore' or 'slut' or worse. The girls I worked with didn't do anything but take their clothes off. Some were single mothers, some were working their way through school like me...they have real lives. That's the difference between you and me," she said to the group as a whole. "I see a stripper, or even a prostitute, and I think 'poor woman to be reduced to this for a buck.' " She put her face in her hands for a moment, trying not to cry over the painful memories.

"You know what?" Brodie asked, sitting next to her, "I won't think of you like that. I think you're a great detective, and I think you're a great dancer. When I see you, I'll think, 'That's Detective Graham. She's a nice lady, and she taught me how to dance.'"

Penny wiped the tears from her eyes. "Thanks, Brodie. It means a lot to me."

The four others stood behind her, not knowing what to say, until Brodie opened his mouth again. "Is that how you learned to dance like that, from stripping?"

This time when Penny laughed, it was because she thought what he just said was hysterical. "No," she giggled, "I've always danced like that, but it sure did come in handy. In fact," she glanced over at the other guys, who were still at a loss, "I could probably teach those girls on The Block a thing or two." The other detectives in the room continued to stare at her, and she became slightly annoyed that they didn't laugh at her little joke. "What do you want me to say? You want to hear how dirty I felt every night after letting those awful men stare at me? You want to hear about the way I'd walk through Times Square at one in the morning with a switchblade in my sock praying that no one would mug me?"

"You walked in Times Square by yourself in the middle of the night?" Brodie asked, impressed. It seemed that he was the only one who's tongue wasn't stuck to the roof of his mouth.

"Yup, but I never had any problems. In fact, I intimidated the scum of the streets more than they could intimidate me. I put the word out that I was handy with my knife, and because I always looked so damned sure of myself all the time, no one was willing to put my claims to the test."

Lewis finally untangled his toung and stepped directly in front of Penny, "You know, you have us all wrong. When we look at you, we ain't gonna be thinking about the fact you used to strip."

"You're not?"

"No. When I look at you I still see a tough detective who stands up for others...who works hard to get the job done. But I will tell you this, the next time I see a stripper, or a prostitute, I'll see them at more than face value. Now I'll think about what you said, about them having real lives."

It was the absolute perfect thing to say, and eased Penny's mind a great deal. "Thanks Meldrick," she said getting up and giving him a brief hug. "Thanks a million."

"Well," he said as a wicked grin crossed his face, "Except for when you're dancin'. Then the stripper thing might come up again...but we were saying that before we even knew."

"You," she giggled and pushed him away. "I guess that's ok, but don't any of you go thinking I'm taking off my clothes here or expect me to do any lap dances."

All of that said and done, that matter, as far as Penny was concerned, was closed. "Good night, gentlemen." She slipped into her coat and walked out the door, leaving the five to think about what just occured.

"She's one hell of a trouper," Bayliss said.

"No kidding," Munch replied, troubled that a girl he really did consider a niece had to go through something like that.

"I'm gonna walk her home," Kellerman announced, fleeing the bar about a minute after her exit, leaving the owners behind to close the bar, and Brodie to return to sleeping in the squad room.

"Penny, wait up."

She stopped in her tracks and turned around, the moonlight bringing out the red highlights in her hair. "'Ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?'" she asked her approaching companion. When he reached her with a puzzled expression on her face, she explained. "Jack Nicholson in 'Batman'."

They continued walking in the direction of her house, and a full five minutes passed before another word was spoken...this time by Mike. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"The devil or stripping?" she asked, but didn't let him answer. "That was a long time ago. I've worked it out and put it behind me. I'm not ashamed of what I did, I'm just afraid that when people find out that they'll look at me differently."

"You know, Lewis was speaking for all of us in there. We don't care."

"Not even you?" she stopped to face him. "You don't mind kissing a girl who let strange men stare at practically her entire body?"


"Why not?"

"Because that's not who you are. Deep down you're not a stripper."

"Most women aren't," she argued.

"That's true, but we aren't talking about most women, we're talking about you. And I care about you, stripping and all." He took her hand and they continued walking. Penny smiled to herself now that the last of her fears had been smashed. Now her friends knew, and they still saw her as the same old Penny; for that she was grateful. As they walked through the streets, Penny's eyes were everywhere, soaking in every possible detail of the city that was finally beginning to feel like home.

Winter Days...: And on to the next section...colder days, bigger problems...
Weeping Willows: Read the first parts over...
Beginnings: Go back to the Beginnings...
Chapters: Skip ahead, or just try to figure out the right order...
Sources: Who really said what? Find out here...

aNOTHer Author's Note

Yeah, yeah, it's me again. Just a little side note - some things in my story may not be totally obvious because I wrote them assuming that the reader had already read my co-authors' stories. Above and beyond that, if you do read theirs, I will admit that not all of the facts gel. We contradict each other sometimes, due to the fact that we're writing first, then finding out what the other two have written. And we don't change our work...so just pretend that everything is ok. After all, it's just a story...