Playing at Forever - By Michelle Brewer

Chapter One

Penelope Lang lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling as she waited for the alarm to go off. She dreaded the day ahead of her, as she always did, and so she prolonged the start for as long as she could manage.

Eventually, though, the alarm sounded and she rolled over, pressing the button to silence the incessant, raucous beeping.

She remained there for several moments, laying on her side, her eyes roaming around the room. Boxes were still stacked neatly along the wall, waiting for their fate to be decided. Unfortunately, Penny was no closer to knowing what lay ahead for her belongings than she was in regard to her own future. Not that there was any hurry—no, Penny was well aware that she had time to ponder.

Sounds stirred below. She heard the high pitched voices of two young girls, and then the responding voice that of her best friend Amy McCaan. Penny sighed, rising to a sitting position and swinging her feet over the edge of the bed. It was difficult to even drag herself to her feet, let alone walk out and begin readying herself for the day.

But she did, knowing she had responsibilities to tend to.

Downstairs, Penny found the pale-haired Amy and her two young daughters sitting at the dining table, finishing off their breakfast. Abruptly, the older of the two girls turned to face Penny. “Aunt Penny, will you tell Mommy that ice cream is okay for dinner?” Penny laughed then, shaking her head even as she felt a slight blush color her cheeks. She immediately understood why the little girl might make such a request.

Darla pouted in response. “But you did it!”

Amy stepped in, the guilt clearly displayed on Penny’s face. “Well, Darla, Aunt Penny is old enough to do what she wants. When you get old enough to move out and live on your own, you’ll be more than welcome to eat all the ice cream you like.” Her tone was that which only a mother could possess and Penny was taken back to her own childhood, hearing the voice of her mother providing almost the same exact lecture.

“Aunt Penny doesn’t live by herself.” Amy’s eyes darted in the direction of her best friend and Penny looked down for a moment before shrugging indifferently. The blush livened once more, but Penny ignored it.

“That’s because Mommy asked her to stay here with us while Daddy’s away.” It was at least partially the truth, Penny mused as she took the mug of coffee being offered to her.

Of course, Amy had more demanded that Penny move in. And not because her husband was away on business. No, it had nothing at all to do with Amy, and everything to do with Penny.

An image of a man conjured in her mind—attractive, well-maintained. The image brought with it a familiar dull ache which possessed her chest only momentarily. She had grown accustomed to the pain now.

“Well you can stay as long as you want, Aunt Penny.” It was the younger girl who spoke now, reaching up and taking Penny’s hand. “You make me happy.” A different ache now swelled within her as she set her mug aside and lowered herself to her knee so that she was at eye-level with the young blonde-haired girl.

“You make me happy too, Amber,” Penny whispered, leaning forward and pressing her lips to the little girl’s forehead, the ache swelling ever-so-subtly. “Now you better hurry, you don’t want to miss your bus.” Amber touched her lips to Penny’s cheek before turning and grabbing her backpack. Darla blew her mom a kiss before turning to Penny and doing the same.

“You girls have a good day,” Amy called as they hurried toward the door. The house suddenly grew quiet as the heavy thudding of the door signaled their departure. Penny raised herself to her feet with a deep sigh, reaching out for the mug of coffee.

“Sorry about the ice cream,” she apologized, taking a sip of the bitter liquid and perching herself on a stool at the bar.

“You’ve earned as much ice cream as you want, Pen.” Penny shrugged, not really agreeing. She shouldn’t be setting bad examples for the girls. They were, after all, still young and impressionable. “Especially when you have to spend all day, every day—”

“Don’t remind me,” Penny held up a hand to silence her friend, the image of the same attractive man fluttering before her eyes.

“Well, I’m just saying…it can’t be easy.” Penny couldn’t agree more, but what choice did she