She was surrounded by beauty...by riches, by polished surfaces, by sparkling glitter...but she couldn't quite comprehend what was going on until she found herself at home.
Penny Graham stood in the middle of her New York apartment. She was in a dazzling gown fit for a princess. Off the shoulders, fitted to the waist where it puffed out like the dress Cinderella wore to the ball, her gown was a white opalescent. It shimmered with pastel greens, blues, and pinks. Her hand reached up to her neck, where she felt a jeweled choker around her throat. She walked over to the hall mirror where she saw that her hair was curled and loose, with a variety of precious stones woven into it. She jumped at the sudden sound of music, and walked back into the living room, where she made a startling discovery.
Her mother was in an emerald green dress, sitting at the piano. Her father was waiting for her in the middle of the room in a tux.
"You weren't here a second ago," she said.
"We were in the kitchen," her father explained, taking his daughter in his arms and dancing her around the room.
It felt like it had been a long time since she had done this with her father, which didn't make sense because he danced with her every night. She laughed as they skillfully made their way around the furniture, and watched her mother play over his shoulder. She went through four songs before speaking.
"Here's your favorite, Penelope."
The tune was familiar, but Penny couldn't remember where it was from. The fact started to bother her, and she began to think that the whole situation didn't feel right. She noticed that there was a smoky aspect to the room, as if everything there was made out of clouds. She continued to dance, but her worry increased with each step.
Finally, she realized where she knew the song from, it was "Weeping Willows." But her mother had it all wrong...she wasn't singing the right words. Penny listened closely and tried to make something of it.
MICHAEL LOGAN, BAYLISS, KELLERMAN, AND BRODIE.
HOMICIDES, INTERVIEWS, BODIES IN THE SNOW; MUNCH AT THE WATERFRONT, WITH AN AFTER HOURS DRINK.
MICHAEL LOGAN, BAYLISS, KELLERMAN, AND BRODIE.
PEMBLETON IN THE BOX, GEE IN HIS OFFICE; KAY HELPING OUT WHEREVER SHE CAN.
HANDCUFFING THE SUSPECT, GETTING OUT YOUR GUN...
Her mother continued to sing until she broke from her father. She still didn't understand the words, but it was becoming increasingly clear that something about this didn't make sense.
"What is it sweetie?" her father asked.
Her mother stopped playing and approached her, "Are you alright?"
Penny backed away from her parents, "No. I'm not alright. This isn't alright. What's going on?"
Her parents exchanged a glance. "What on earth do you mean?"
She still wasn't sure what was going on, but an idea had solidified in her head. "I don't belong here."
Her mother's face fell, and her father put his arm around his wife. "Of course you do, honey," he told her.
"You're dead," Penny said, shocked at her own words. Her parents grimaced at her comment, but said nothing. "Am I?"
"You can stay if you want," her mother began, once again approaching her daughter. "It's your choice. If you want to stay here with your father and I, you can."
Penny shook her head, "I can't stay, I don't belong here. I have to go back."
Her mother stopped in her tracks. "Is that what you really want?"
"It's what I need to do."
Her father walked up to her mother, and the two looked at her for a moment. "Ok, if that's what you want."
"Penny," her mother called after her. She stopped at the door and turned around. "Your father and I have always been proud of you. I want you to know that. And we love you very much."
"I love you too," she said with a sad smile before leaving the apartment. She had to go back...but go back where? She didn't know where she was going, or how to get there, but she raced down the stairs, one hand holding her dress up, thinking that she didn't have much time.
"I don't know Mike, are you sure you want to be coming here twice a day like this?"
"I have to, Sarge."
Kay Howard was seated in the same spot that Meldrick sat the day before. "Kellerman, you're getting obsessive."
"I'm not going to leave her, Kay," he replied, picking up the book that Tara had left behind.
"I'm not saying leave her, I'm saying that I'm sure she wouldn't want you hanging around here all the time. She'd want you to hang out with the guys, have a few drinks..."
"Yeah, well I want her to wake up, and she's not doing that either," he said, and began to read to Penny. "Once upon a midnight dreary..."
Penny was standing on top of a rocky cliff. She didn't know how she got there, and better yet, she didn't know how she was going to get down. She was in a black, loose fitting sari-type thing. She was looking down at the lake beneath her when she heard a voice at her back. She turned around to discover a young girl in a similar outfit standing behind her.
The girl searched her face curiously. "No one is making you leave. You have one more chance to change your mind."
"I have to go back."
The little girl nodded, she had expected the answer. "It's not going to be easy."
"What do I have to do?"
She motioned to the water.
"I have to jump in there?" she asked, bewildered.
"You're going to have to fight for your life, or you're going to end up staying here whether you want to or not."
"I will fight and I will win," Penny said confidently, backing up so she could get a running start.
The little girl gave her a kiss on the cheek, and Penny noticed how much the child resembled herself at the age of 7. But before she allowed herself to get caught up in the idea, she ran and jumped. On the way down, she didn't feel so much as if she was falling, more like she was flying. She hit the water gently, and sank to the bottom. The water was warm, which surprised her for some reason. She pushed off the sandy floor, but when she reached the surface, she found a layer of ice separating her from the air. It was too warm for ice, she knew that for a fact...but more importantly, she knew that if she didn't get through, she was going to drown. She heard a man's voice mumbling. It sounded like it was coming from the other side of the ice...he was reading "The Raven." She swam down a few feet, and came up, pounding her fists on the ice. Nothing. She repeated the action several times with little effect. Her lungs were screaming for oxygen and her body was weakening. She swam all the way to the bottom again, and pushed off of it with all her might, as she approached the ice, she heard the voice begin her favorite line. She broke through with one hard hit, and as she took a deep breath, she screamed at the top of her lungs, "Nevermore!"
Mike looked up from the book. He could have sworn that Penny just said something. He leaned near her head and whispered, "What did you say?"
"'Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore.''...that's the next line," she mumbled. Kellerman dropped the book on the floor and knelt beside the bed. Her eyelids were fluttering in an attempt to open. "What the hell are you doing in my bedroom, Kellerman?"
"That's our Penny, all right," Kay said, moving to sit in the chair on the other side of the bed.
"Red, what are you doing in my bedroom?" She opened her eyes and looked around. "Better yet, where the hell is my bedroom?" Everything came back to her in a flash...her job, her friends, her dream...but most of all, Tommy. "How's Tommy, is he ok?"
Kellerman stroked her cheek with his hand. "Yeah, Tommy's fine. He has a little cold, but nothing big."
"Good," she sighed, briefly closing her eyes. When she opened them, she realized that her friends were with her instead of being on the job. "Hey, shouldn't you to be..."
"We're on lunch break, Pen, relax," Kay interrupted. "And now, I think I'll head back and spread the good news," she said, looking at Kellerman who couldn't tear his eyes away from Penny. "We missed you, Champ."
"I missed me too, Kay," she smiled. "Thanks for being here." She gave her friend a weak hug, and Kay walked out of the door. She turned to Kellerman, whose face she'd never seen so relieved. "Miss me?"
"I was so worried," he admitted.
"But, Mike, I told you..."
He took his hand away and sat back in his chair, his face darkening. "I know what you told me. And I also watched you sink beneath the waves and not come back. I saw you lying at the bottom of a boat, medics trying to get your heart started. I heard the doctors say that you probably wouldn't wake up." He sounded hurt and angry as he continued. "I watched you sleep for over a week."
With all the energy she could muster, she reached up to his face. "It was hard for you," she said with understanding in her voice.
He brushed away her hand and looked at her. "It was hard to watch you die, to watch you fade into the ocean...and not do anything about it."
"There was nothing you could've done to..."
"Get off it, Pen. I could've gone in after you."
Penny knew that it had been a difficult experience for him, but it annoyed her that he was getting mad at himself. "Mikey, I don't need a hero. I'm not waiting for a night in shining armor to come and save me, that's Mikayla. Don't you think that I wanted you to stay up there? That's why I handed Mary over to you, that's why I told you to find out about my allergies. I wanted you to be distracted for as long as possible. I didn't want you coming in after me."
"Why not?" he asked, his anger gone, replace by curiosity.
"Because even if you did swim well enough to reach me, I probably would've inadvertently killed you. A drowning person does everything she can to stay above water. The only reason Tommy didn't push me under is the fact that I'm so much bigger and stronger than him. As strong as you are, I would've pushed you right under...and I couldn't have your death on my conscience."
"So you're not mad at me? You don't think any less of me?"
She yawned before responding. "Of course not. That's the silliest thing I ever heard."
He relaxed and took her hand. "No knights in shining armor, huh? What about a romantic rebel?"
"That's the only thing I've ever needed, know where I can find one?" she joked.
"I'll tell you when I find one," he kidded back. "But now I better be going."
"That's right, don't let the cases slide just because of lil' ole me. And do me a favor, Mike, get a doctor in here or something. I want to find out what the next step of recovery is."
"Yes 'mam." He leaned over and kissed her cheek. "I'll be back when the shift is over, and I'll bring everybody back with me."
"You better," she replied. Mike left her room smiling, knowing that Penny was back and tougher than ever.
Mike knocked lightly on Penny's door. When she didn't answer, he entered without her permission. He almost panicked when he saw her eyes clothes and her chest rhythmically going up and down. He rushed over to the bed and gently shook her. "Penny?"
"Can't a girl get her beauty sleep?" she muttered before opening her eyes. Once again, she saw relief cross Kellerman's face. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you."
"That's ok," Mike said, trying to hide the obvious fact that he was shaken up. "You up to seeing a few people?"
"Definitely...but do me a favor, help me sit up, will you?" He took her pillow, fluffed it a bit, and put it against the wall before gently helping her scoot up. "I'm ready now."
Kellerman stuck his head out the door, looked both ways, and then made a quick hand motion. The entire Homicide unit from her shift quickly ran into her room before a nurse could stop them. Kellerman returned to his 'post' at her side, while all of her friends surrounded the rest of the bed.
"Hey, babe," Logan said, "How ya doin'?"
"I'm just fine, tough guy." She addressed the group as a whole, "And you know what they say - 'A woman is like a tea bag, you don't know how strong she is until you put her in hot water.'" The whole group laughed at her joke before it quieted down.
Suddenly everyone began talking at once. Gee, Munch, Lewis, Tara, Mik, Brodie, Kay, Bayliss, Pembleton, and Logan...all trying to get a word in edgewise. Kellerman remained silent, content to simply sit and watch. After a minute of incoherent babbling, Penny burst out laughing.
"Come on, guys. I can't understand a word any of you are saying."
"Well, Champ, we gotta talk before the nurse comes back and sees us all in here," Lewis said.
She smiled. "Ok, ok. Why don't I tell you what the doctors told me?" No one spoke up, so she continued. "They said that they want to keep me here tomorrow, but I can go home on Friday. They also said that I shouldn't worry about any relapses," she glanced at Kellerman, "So I won't be going back into another coma any time soon...but I will be pretty tired for the next few days. That means I'll need a lot of sleep. But I should be back on the job Monday or Tuesday, depending on how I feel."
"That's great," Gee stepped forward. "But I guess that means we should go and leave so you can rest."
"Nah, I'm wide awake at the moment...when I start to get tired, I'll let you know."
The large group was able to stay in her room undetected for almost a half hour. A nurse finally discovered them, and said that only four people could visit at once. Most of them left, giving Penny a kiss on the way out, except Tara and Mike, Mik and Tim, and Kellerman.
"So, how are my roomies doing?"
"We're great now that you're back," Mik gushed.
Pen stifled a yawn, intent on forcing herself to stay awake, but Logan noticed, and announced that they better be going.
"Not yet, Mike," Tara protested, "We just got here."
"I know, but she really needs to gather her strength."
Tara and Mik gave her two friends a hug. "It's all good, guys. You can come by tomorrow."
Bayliss leaned over and gave her a kiss. "It's good to have you back Penny."
"It's good to be back, Timmy boy."
Mike also leaned over to give Pen a kiss. "If you ever scare me like that again, I'm gonna kill you, you know that?"
"I know, Mike. Go on, take care of the girls." Even though no one had told Penny about Bayliss and Logan staying with her friends, she assumed that they had something like that set up because she knew that her roommates would need the extra support.
The four left, only Penny and Kellerman remaining in the room.
"Thanks for bringing everybody by, it really lifted my spirits."
"As if I could've kept them away," Kellerman said, wanting to sit on the bed next to her, but afraid that he might accidentally hurt her. "They were counting the hours 'til we could head over here. They were so happy when they found out you were awake."
"Sit," Penny said, patting the space next to her with her hand. "Go ahead. You're not going to hurt me."
Mike eased himself onto the hospital bed. "I should go, you need your rest."
"Stay with me a little longer."
Mike looked at Penny closely. She was obviously tired, but there was something else to it. He took her hand in both of his. "You sure you're ok?"
"Sure," she lied. She was terrified, not of anything in particular, just in general. She'd been through so much in the past week, from her initial plunge into the freezing bay to her decision to leave what could have been paradise to come back to the land of the living. Penny was strong, she always had been, but sometimes she needed someone else to be strong with her. "You know, I think I will go to sleep now."
With those words, she moved into a laying position and brought the pillow under her head. Mike stayed where he was and watched her. He wanted to hold her, to comfort her, but he wasn't sure how she'd react...if she'd push him away out of pride. He still had her hand in his, and brought it to his lips. He kissed her fingers with a brush of his lips before giving her hand back to her. "Sweet dreams, Pen."
"I hope so."
He stroked her cheek, not ready to leave just yet, but knowing that he must. "Do you have any idea how happy you've made me?"
"By waking up?"
He smiled. "Yeah." He got up and headed for the door. "I'll be back tomorrow at lunch."
"I'll see if I can manage to be awake," she giggled.
"Get some sleep."
"You too," she called after him. She closed her eyes and gave in to the waves of exhaustion, floating into a deep sleep. She did not dream.
The next day, Penny woke up, ate breakfast, and went back to sleep. The nurse woke her up for lunch, and she forced herself to stay awake until Mike came. She didn't want him coming in to find her asleep again...that's all he needed.
A little after twelve, there was a knock on the door, followed by Kellerman's head poking in. "You up for some extra company?"
"You bet," she replied, moving to a sitting position.
No sooner did she have the words out than a small child slipped past Mike. "Detective Penny!" the little girl yelled as she ran up to her and jumped on the bed.
"Well hello there, Mary. Did your brother come with you?"
Mike held the door open for Tommy and his mother. Tommy was carrying a flat package wrapped in brown paper about 10 inches by 8 inches. He asked with a look if he could climb onto the bed as well, and Penny patted the empty space next to her. He carefully crawled across the bed and sat down. Mary still had her arms around Penny, and was sitting on her lap when Tommy gave her the package.
"This is for you," he said.
Mary scooted off her lap in order to allow Penny more freedom of movement. Pen slowly unwrapped the large, flat object, and gasped when she first saw what it was. "It's wonderful."
It was an oil painting of her. She was wearing a long, plain white sundress with spaghetti straps, walking along the shore, the water almost reaching her feet. The sky was filled with dozens of stars, and she was looking off into the distance at the horizon. In her left hand, she carried a golden, old-fashioned telescope. The expression on her face was unfathomable; it was full of mystery and allure. Just by looking at the painting, she could see her inner strength and kindness glowing from within. This eleven year old boy captured her essence.
"Tommy, did you paint this?" she asked when she found her voice.
"Yes. That's how I see you."
It was all she could do to keep from crying. It was just so beautiful...she couldn't find the words to express how much it meant to her. "Does it have a name?"
"I call it 'She Walks in Beauty.'"
"Like the night," Penny whispered, finishing the line.
The child smiled at her, pleased that she followed his train of thought. "You saved my life. You have a beauty that I couldn't begin to show...I thought this would be a good start."
"A good start?"
"I'm going to paint a series dedicated to you. There are so many things I see in you...I've touched them all in this one, but I want to try and catch each one separately."
Penny was awestruck. "You don't have to do this Tommy."
He shyly leaned over and gave her a hug. "You inspired me. I want to do this," he whispered in her ear.
She didn't know what to say to that, so she wrapped the painting back up and handed it to Mike, who put it on a table. She spent 15 minutes with the children, singing songs and telling them jokes. Their mother watched wordlessly, her lips tight. Kellerman watched intensely; she was so relaxed and natural with the kids that he could easily see her as a mother.
"Come on, it's time to go," their mother said.
"Do we have to, mommy?" Mary whined.
"Go on," Penny said gently, "Listen to your mother."
"Can we visit you again?" Tommy asked as he climbed down from the bed.
"Well, I'm going home tomorrow, but why don't you come visit me at the police precinct?"
Their eyes widened. "A real life police precinct?"
"Yeah. If you two come at about noon, I can give you a tour and everything. What do you say?"
They started to jump up and down. "Yeah! We're going to the police precinct!"
Their mother told them to wait outside and approached Pen. "Why did you do it?
Penny had been expecting a thank you, and was surprised at the question. "Excuse me?"
"Why did you have to save him, why didn't you let him die?"
Penny was at a loss for words, she didn't understand how Tommy's mother could say something like that.
"He's dying," the pale woman explained. "He has a rare form of cancer...he's gone into remission three times." She wiped her eyes with a handkerchief. "Why couldn't you just let him go nice and easy?"
"Excuse me, Mrs. Hunter, but drowning is not easy. Trust me, I almost did myself." She paused for a moment. "But why would you want him dead. Don't you want him to live as long as he can?"
"I don't want him to go through the pain," she responded, her voice a little sharper. Then she changed the subject. "When can I bring the children to visit you at your precinct?"
"Next week sometime...I'll be back on Tuesday the latest, so..."
"Fine. We'll see you then," Mrs. Hunter said, and left.
Mike sat on Penny's bed. "You ok?" he asked.
Things had gone too fast for her, she couldn't believe what had happened in just a few minutes. "I think so." He swung his legs onto the bed and moved back until he was next to her. He put his arm around her shoulder, and she leaned against him. "That kid is some kind of genius. He's a born artist...if my saving him means that he's able to make even one more painting, then I'm glad I did it." She sat up on her own after a few minutes. "Bring me my painting."
He retrieved the painting and brought it back for her. When she took off the wrapper, he was astonished at the detail. "That's you."
"Look at it, Mike. He doesn't paint with oils...he paints with life."
Kellerman sat with her for a little longer, before having to leave for work. That night, when he arrived, she was asleep. He didn't want to wake her, so he left and went to The Waterfront. Once there, he and the others made plans to throw the party she had missed the week before tomorrow. Everyone bubbled with excitement at the prospect of Penny joining them again, and none of them could wait until the next evening.