" ... and he's sooo cute and good looking and..."
Penny was an 18-year-old, raven-haired beauty who currently had a dreamy look in her eyes -- as she always did when she thought about William, something she had done a lot of in the last year. Her sister, Cynthia, two years older and similar in appearance, shook her head in mock desperation. They were sitting at the dinner table, and although it was already well past noon, both were still in their nightgowns. Their parents had left just yesterday for a skiing vacation, and Cynthia had convinced Penny to sleep late and then indulge in breakfast in bed.
" ... just look at his arms, so strong, and his smile..." Penny continued distractedly, and Cynthia sighed in exasperation.
"Penny, dear, explain this to me again so I can understand. William is good looking and nice, and you obviously like him. When he invites you to go out to eat and to the cinema with him, why do you always back out? Always reject him? Why? I don't get it."
They had had this same conversation many times now, but Penny was always too shy to do more than look at William from a distance. Before Penny could answer Cynthia's questions with her usual list of excuses, Cynthia saw something on the street.
"Penny, you'll never guess who's just arriving! Your William! And he has a rose in his hand!"
But instead of being happy, Penny went white as a sheet. She immediately backed away from the window, without even looking out, and took cover near the curtain.
"William? Here? But why?" she asked, her voice shaking.
Her sister gave her a withering look. "Do you ever look at your calendar? It's Valentine's Day! And I don't think he's here on my behalf!" she scolded her sister. "Good gracious, calm down, sis!"
Penny was once more overwhelmed by her extreme shyness. "Oh no, Cynthia! Tell him I'm not here!" she begged her sister, tears in her eyes.
"Penny!" her sister answered. "That's enough. You know I won't lie for you any more!"
For the past two years, Penny had been recovering from a failed relationship. The scars that resulted from a boyfriend who had made her a laughing stock still went deep. Penny's almost pathological shyness was one of these scars. When Cynthia had finally realized this, she had sworn to help her sister get through it. In their family an oath was an oath, binding whatever the consequences would be.
Penny's eyes were wide with fear and called Cynthia back from the past. "I ... I'll leave the house. I'll hide in the garden," Penny said anxiously.
"Penny." Cynthia said in a dangerously quiet voice. "It's snowing, and you are only wearing a thin nightgown."
That was true. Penny looked down at the nearly transparent negligee Cynthia had given her on her 18th birthday last week, an additional and unexpected present. Penny had gone beet red when she saw it the first time. Thank God her sister had insisted that she open it in private.
A cold breeze swirled suddenly through the room, and they heard a muffled bang.
"Oh, a window!" Cynthia realized aloud. "Stay here, sis, I'll close it. And I'll tell William that you'll be in bed all day. Is that okay? But you really have to. I won't lie for you! Swear it!"
Penny swore it immediately then hugged her sister. She was relieved. A whole day in bed was not what she had planned, but it would be a solution. She took deep breaths and gradually calmed down while Cynthia went to see about the window. Somewhere above a stair creaked.