The echo of the dial tone from her call with Jackson still ringing in her ears, Kate knew immediately what she had to do. Grabbing for the phone again, she quickly punched in a number she knew by memory….
“Hello, Madame Penny’s House of Intuition—”
“Penny,” Kate said breathlessly, “I need to talk to you.”
“But not on the phone,” Kate insisted. “I need to talk to you in person.”
“This sounds serious.”
“It is,” Kate stumbled. “Well. I mean, it’s not like an emergency or anything. At least, I don’t think so—”
“Kate, what’s going on?”
“Can I come by the shop? Are you available at all today?”
Penny took a moment in answering. “Uh. Sure. I have a client coming at noon, but—”
Kate glanced up needlessly at the microwave clock in her kitchen. She knew what time it was. 9:06 a.m.
“Great. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
“I had a feeling you’d be early,” Penny said dryly, seven minutes later, when the curtain marking the entrance to her store was pushed hurriedly aside. Kate hadn’t bothered to knock or announce her presence—which was just as well, because two cups of coffee were already set out expectantly upon the oak tabletop taking over the majority of Penny’s space.
Hair falling anyhow down her back in her rush, Kate’s appearance left something to be desire. A pair of tattered jeans and a loose-fitting green shirt thrown anyhow over her person, she nodded in greeting, before quickly taking a seat.
Penny, on the other hand, looked cool and composed, a blue patterned caftan draped elegantly over her person—smoky gray eye-shadow expertly applied to give her that ‘mysterious’ look.
“Now, to what do I owe the pleasure?”
Kate didn’t mince her words. “I need to talk to you.”
“Yeah, I kind of got that impression,” Penny returned, seemingly unperturbed by Kate’s briskness. “Please, drink. You look like you could use it.” With a wave of her hand, Penny took in the cup and saucer, a creamer of milk and a basket of sugar.
“Look Penny, you’re my best friend—”
Slightly taken aback by the boldness of this statement, Penny nonetheless glowed at this. “And you’re mine.”
Kate nodded impatiently. “And, well, we tell each other everything.”
“At least, we used to.”
Penny frowned. “Used to?”
Kate swallowed, pushing the offended mug of coffee out of her way. “I want to tell you everything.”
“Kate, you’re starting to scare me here.”
“It’s just—there’s something I haven’t told you. Something I really should have, and believe me, I wanted to tell you. I did! Please, don’t think—”
Penny pursed her lips. “You’re getting a bit muddled here, dear.”
“I know.” Kate bit her lip. “It’s just, I’ve never had I friend like you. I don’t ever want to lose you. Only, I thought I had and,” Kate paused. There it was, that thing they weren’t talking about. That stupid fight—the one Kate still wasn’t completely sure was resolved between them.
“Kate, you’re never going to lose me,” Penny assured her.
“But—but I thought… you said you were done with me…” Kate blurted out.
“Oh Kate, I didn’t mean I was done with you—I was just mad, and….and I said things that I regret.”
“You said there were things I couldn’t talk to you about anymore…” Kate hated the whine that invaded her voice.
“That was wrong of me,” Penny admitted. “I’m sorry. But Kate, I will always be your friend. Please, never doubt that. I may get mad at you, and you’ll undoubtedly get mad at me…”
“We didn’t talk to one another,” Kate clarified.
Penny nodded. “I know. And that was my fault.”
“No, not entirely. You were right, too,” Kate confessed. “I was unwilling to make a decision—spinning in circles between Jake and Jackson. And I’m sorry, because that must have been aggravating…”
Penny smiled. “Friends are honest with one another—even when it hurts. That’s what makes them so powerful, so amazing—and precious.”
“I just don’t want you to be mad at me anymore.”
“Well, you may want to table your answer until you hear what I have to say…
“Okay.” Penny waited.
Kate opened her mouth, but the words just wouldn’t come out. “The thing is, something happened—umm, something big. And, it has to do with…ah, with what we were fighting about…”
“I’m with you.”
“You remember that play I did for the LitLiber?”
“Sure. Of course.”
“Well, it was during one of the rehearsals—”
“And things sort of came to ahead.”
“With the play?”
“No with me and—” Kate blew out a hard breath. “You told me I needed to start making my own decisions. To stop being so wishy-washy, and I heard you. And so I acted. Well, actually it wasn’t me who made the first move, but I did make the second one.” Kate smiled tremulously. “I made the second move and, and that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“About you and Jackson, you mean?” Penny asked innocently.
Kate’s mouth dropped open. “You know about us?”
Penny grinned. “Well, I do now.”
Kate’s mouth snapped back shut. “Oh.”
Penny reached over and grabbed Kate’s closed fingers. “I had my suspicions, I’ll grant you that….”
Kate’s face crumpled. “I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you.”
Penny shrugged. “I understand.”
“No, you don’t!” Kate cried earnestly. “I wanted to tell you. Penny, I was going out of my mind with wanting to tell you.”
“Then why didn’t you?” Penny asked, and for just a second, Kate saw a glimmer of hurt underlining the words.
Kate sighed. “I didn’t know how. It was right after you and me and—and everything that happened at Maggie’s—I was practicing with Jackson and then, suddenly…we kissed.”
Kate smiled. “And all I wanted to do was call you and tell you. I knew it would make it all right between us again.”
“Well, I certainly hope that wasn’t why you kissed him…”
“No! No, I kissed him because,” Kate’s voice dropped, taking on a girlish quality. “Because—I had to kiss him. You know what I mean?”
Penny cocked her head to the side. “I think so.”
“…like—every nerve in my body reacted on instinct and I leaned into him.”
Penny grinned. “Yeah?”
“And it was perfect.”
Kate rushed on ahead, her words bubbling up her throat and out of her mouth at tremendous speed. “Only then, just when I was going to tell you about it—we were both going to Maggie’s for dinner and I thought—Now. Say it now. Only…”
“I brought up Jake,” Penny remembered. In retrospect, she could have kicked herself.
Kate sighed. “Yeah.”
“And you thought—”
“Things were so tense between us. I didn’t know how to tell you…”
“That you’d already made your choice,” Penny said. “And it was Jackson.”
Kate ducked her head. “Yeah.”
“Oh Kate,” Penny squeezed her hand. “I’m sorry.”
Kate’s head bobbed up quickly. “For what?”
“For making you feel like you couldn’t tell me everything.”
“I knew you were only trying to be supportive, that you were only encouraging me to make the right decision for me, by giving me permission to have options….”
Penny nodded, careful to keep her face neutral. It wasn’t like she hadn’t seen this coming. She’d had a feeling something was going on with Kate and Jackson. Yesterday’s excursion in the water—she’d seen the way he’d looked at her, the way she’d desperately kept herself from looking at him. She’d added it up and she’d reached the correct number.
Still…before now, she’d been able to pretend. She’d been free to call up Jake with a new scheme or machination, even while some part of her already guessed it was a dead end. She’d been able to push that to the back of her mind—after all it had only been a hunch then, nothing concrete or real— she’d been able to focus instead on finding ways, making up avenues, to keep Jake and Kate close. Hell, she’d faked a sprained ankle for the damned triathlon, knowing all along that she’d have Jake pinch hit for her.
It had been fun, hanging out with her old friend again. Having a reason to call him up, shoot the breeze, meet up for dinner or coffee. It wasn’t like Kate was the only thing they’d talked about, either. In fact, other than those first couple meetings, after Jake had shown up so randomly at Penny’s store, conversation had drifted…. After all, there was only so long someone could talk about Kate’s tone of voice when she mentioned work at LitLiber, or whether she’d brought him up in conversation or whatnot. Pretty soon they’d been talking about their shared experiences as entrepreneurs; they’d reminisced about high school; Jake had regaled Penny with stories about his college days; she’d told him funny stories about psychic work; they’d laughed.
But that would end now. There was no reason to get together anymore. The thread that had brought them together was about to unravel. Jake was bound to know soon enough. And then, what would be the point? It wasn’t like Penny belonged in his circle of friends. No, she’d been on borrowed time with Jake. Always had been
“…Jake was your way of letting me know that no matter what choice I made, it was the right one. Only, at the time, I didn’t understand that. I thought—” Kate laughed, the sound of it bringing Penny back to the present conversation. “Well, it doesn’t matter what I thought. I’m just sorry it took me this long to figure it all out.”
Penny frowned. Kate was making her out to be someone she wasn’t: Altruistic. Selfless. Above reproach. It wasn’t quite true. “Hey,” she said, holding up a hand. “Don’t give me too much praise over here.”
“Why not?” Kate demanded. “You deserve it. You’re a great friend. The best.”
The knot in Penny’s stomach tightened uncomfortably.
“Well, I don’t know about that…”
“You’re not mad? That I didn’t tell you sooner about Jackson?”
Penny considered the question for a moment. “No. I’m not mad. I wish you felt you could have—”
“I do now.”
“I’m really happy for you, Kate.”
Kate blushed, her eyes skirting down demurely. “Thank you.”
“Jackson is one of the kindest, sweetest, most amazing people I know.”
“I’m starting to see that myself.”
A smug sort of smile started to bead across Penny’s features. Leaning back in her chair, she couldn’t stop herself from asking: “So what you’re saying is, I was right all along?”
“I knew you were going to say that!”
“Well, who’s psychic now!”
Kate laughed. “Yes, Penny, you were right.”
Nodding importantly, Penny crossed her arms. “You know, I never tire of hearing that.”
“So perhaps next time, you’ll more seriously heed the advice of a woman with insights into the future?”
Kate glowered playfully. “Are you telling me that you knew I’d end up with Jackson all along? That you had a premonition from the beginning?”
“Would you believe me if I did?”
But Kate only shook her head. “All right, then, tell me this: is Jackson ever going to speak to me again?”
Penny’s smirk dropped off her face. “Come again?”
Kate sighed, and all the playfulness of the last minute melted off her person. With a weary note of self-deprecation, she told Penny about the conversation she’d had with Jackson earlier that morning.
“I thought he’d understand. That he, you know, would at least let me explain,” Kate said in conclusion. “I mean, usually he’s so level-headed, and, and compassionate.”
“Well, is anyone really level-headed when it comes to matters of the heart?” Penny asked.
“He made me out to be some sort of child—slinking around, keeping secrets. He basically accused me of not being one hundred percent committed to this relationship. ”
“Are you? One hundred percent committed?”
“Yes!” Kate paused as the answer popped out of her mouth. Tasting the sound of that one word her tongue, she found it to be absolutely true. “I want to be with him.”
“Maybe it’s time you showed him that.”
Kate snapped backward. “Show him? Wait… are you on his side?”
“Now Kate,” Penny soothed. “It’s not about sides.”
Kate pouted. “It sure feels like it.”
“I’m just repeating what he told you: action over words. That’s what he needs right now. And if the question is, how do you get him to realize you are committed, that you aren’t slinking around, then give the man what he wants. Show Jackson that you’re in this for the long haul, because I don’t think telling him that alone is going to do it.”
Kate slumped in her chair. “I really messed up, didn’t I?”
“Well, Kate put yourself in his position? Would you trust him at his word after yesterday?”
“No. I guess not.”
Kate sniffled. “I didn’t mean to hurt him. I didn’t—I didn’t think how it would look. I thought I’d have time to explain myself.”
“I know that.”
Wiping impatiently at her eyes, she asked: “So what do I do?”
“What they always do in a rom-com.”
“And that is?”
“Make a big romantic gesture.”
Kate blew out a breath. “Yeah? You think that will work?”
Penny winked. “Honey, he won’t stand a chance. Believe me, he wouldn’t be so upset with you if he didn’t care a whole lot.”
“Okay. Where do I start?”
Penny smiled. “Oh, I think I may have an idea or two on that…”
Forty minutes later, walking out of Penny’s shop, Kate’s feet took her in the direction of LitLiber; however, she didn’t walk inside the store. No, her feet carried her determinedly beyond its massive double-doors and down the side of building.
For Penny’s plan to work, Kate had to make one quick stop first.
She needed to talk to Jake.
Slowing to a stop halfway past the storefront, Kate looked up. Jake’s apartment was located directly above the bookstore, and accessed by an outside, wrought-iron staircase.
Squinting against the sun, she looked for any glint of light emanating from inside.
Wait. There—a shadow passed in front of one of the windows. He was home.
Grabbing on to the hand-rail, Kate took a deep breath before propelling her body upward….