Cindy cried when Ed told her he was going to be gone for six days. He explained to her that this was his job and he had to do this every month. He told her that if he hadn't been away and returning home, he never would have found her three weeks ago.
Penny was on light duty and could handle everything that had to do with meals, no cleaning, though. Besides, Mrs. Butler would be returning from Branson on Tuesday the week Ed was away, and she would be there on Wednesday to resume her duties.
Ed left for the northern part of the state Sunday afternoon. He had an early meeting on Monday morning. Sitting in his motel room that first evening, Ed was lonelier than he had been for a long time. As it neared Cindy's bedtime he wondered how she was doing. There was one way to find out and that was to call her. Penny answered the phone. "Hello, this is the Ed Bowen residence. Penny speaking."
"Hi Penny, is Cindy still up? I wanted to wish her a goodnight before she went to sleep."
"She is still up. I'll get her." Ed heard her lay the receiver down. In the background Penny was calling Cindy. "Cindy, Ed is on the phone and he wants to talk to you. Now don't you dare tell him you cried last night when he wasn't here to read to you? Just tell him you miss him."
"Hi Ed, I didn't think you would call but I was hoping. Miss Emmy said she thought you might. She took me to the library and I have a new book for you to read to me when you get home next week.
"I think it will be good. It is about a puppy that is kidnapped and gets away and finds its way home. The puppy must have felt awful. I hope nobody ever steals me so I can't come home. If anyone did, you would look for me and bring me home, wouldn't you?"
"Yes I would look for you and I would miss you terribly until I found you. That's not going to happen, I promise. Now go get ready for bed and think of me when you go to sleep. I miss you. Good night, Cindy."
"Ed, thank you very much for calling me tonight. I can go to sleep now without crying. Bye"
Ed could hear Cindy running away and knew Penny was holding the phone. "Ed, I think I have a problem. Cindy just dotes on you. When we have to leave here it is going to break her heart. We can't stay either. Mrs. Butler will be back tomorrow and you can't let her go after all these years.
"You hired me to keep house for you and I haven't done anything. I've just been sitting around and letting you take care of me and Cindy. I do have my pride and I can't let you take care of us forever without being able to pay you back."
"Penny you worry too much. Look at all of the friends you have found since I picked you up on that cold and rainy night. You've got George and Emmy. Mrs. Butler called the other night asking and hoping you were still with me." Ed didn't say anything for a few seconds before he continued.
"And then there is me. I am going to do everything possible not to break Cindy's heart. So you go to bed and stop worrying. Okay? Now how are you feeling? You aren't trying to do more than you should are you? George would skin me alive if you did."
"No, I'm being good and I feel better today than yesterday. I think I'm almost well. I forgot to ask, but may I make a long distance call? I left behind some keepsakes when I left Bob. I have a friend there who I hope can get them for me and sometime I will want to go get them. Most of the things are from when I was married, although there are a few things from my childhood. You know pictures and my high school graduation book.
"Cindy had some favorite things too. It is like she and I never had a past. We did though, and some of it was really nice. I don't want to lose all my memories. Some day I may want to share them with someone."
"Of course, Penny, you didn't have to ask. I wish you luck in your quest for your keepsakes. I'm going to hang up now. You have a good night. I'll probably call Cindy tomorrow night so she doesn't forget me."
"Goodnight, Ed. I don't think either of us will ever forget you."
The week went like that for Cindy and Ed. Ed always seemed to end up talking to Penny and thoughts of her lingered after he hung up. Not always about Cindy either. Penny was feeling bad about the fact that she and Cindy were sleeping in his bed while he had to sleep in the other bedroom.
The shower off the master bedroom was the only one in his house. This took some coordinating among the three of them who had to use it. Ed solved the problem by having a contractor and plumber install another shower the first week he was home. Mrs. Butler had some puritanical leanings and thought it was more appropriate for two unmarried adults to have their own facilities.
A dinner was held on the six-week anniversary of Penny's arrival. At that time, George said Penny was healed and good as new. Mrs. Butler and Tim were there along with Emmy and George. After dinner Mrs. Butler announced that she was retiring from keeping house outside of her own. She had become fast friends with Penny and intended to visit often with Ed and Penny, even though she wasn't working for "The Master" anymore.
That evening Ed said to Penny, "I'd like to make your stay here more permanent. This is what I am proposing. I will pay you what I paid Mrs. Butler for keeping the house clean. I will provide board and room in return for you preparing my meals.
"Things are pretty well set outside for the winter, but come spring, I would like you to take over keeping the flower beds and the grounds neat. To me this seems as though we both could benefit from this arrangement. Any free time you have, and I'm sure there will be a lot, you can pursue whatever outside interests you want to."
Cindy who had been listening piped up, "If you don't, Mom, I will. I want to stay with Ed and I don't want to leave. Tell him Mom. You don't want to leave either."
Penny was laughing, "I guess Cindy just said it all. I think your proposal is more than generous and I accept. I was beginning to wonder what my next move was going to be. Let's talk about the money you have loaned me. You wrote me a check for a thousand dollars and you gave me one hundred to use before I cashed it. I'd like to return the one hundred now and when I am confident I won't need the other, I will give that back.
"I made George take the money for the medicines I needed, but he won't take anything for doctoring me." Tears were starting in Penny's eyes. "George and Emmy have been so nice to me and I wonder where Cindy and I would be if it wasn't for you. You all are so wonderful!"
Penny got up and left the room. Cindy said, "Mom is crying. Why? I don't feel like crying. I feel like shouting for joy."
"Sometimes people shed tears for joy when they are happy. I hope something I said made your mom happy. Let's go into the kitchen and plan what we want to eat for Thanksgiving. Your mom has to cook it and it is only two weeks away. I think we should invite George and Emmy and we can sit around and stuff ourselves with all kind of goodies. Does that sound like fun?"
"You know Cindy; I have to leave on Thursday next week. I will be gone over the weekend, but I will be home Tuesday evening. It is going to be up to you and your mom to prepare the Thanksgiving meal. Does your mom have any special friends? She must have had someone she was close to before she came here. Do you know of anyone? Maybe we could arrange for them to have dinner with us."
"Just Aunt Sally and Paul. It would great if they could come. We always had them eat with us. I miss Paul even though he is different. He doesn't go to school and makes funny noises and can't talk so you can tell what he is saying. When he gets excited he can't even feed himself 'cause he doesn't sit still. Mom took care of him while Aunt Sally worked on the late shift. I bet he misses Mom. I know she misses him 'cause she talks about him when she is praying to God."
"Is Sally really your aunt?"
"No, but she almost was. She is Bob's sister and would have been if Mom had been dumb enough to marry Bob. Bob doesn't like Paul and makes fun of him and teases him, and that's one reason Mom wouldn't marry Bob when he asked her to. Paul doesn't have a daddy either, just like me. His daddy ran away when he found out Paul is like he is. My daddy wouldn't have done that, I know he wouldn't have, if I was like Paul."
Ed was finding out more about Penny and what her life must have been like before he came on the scene. It must have been a very unhappy existence, especially at the end. She never ran down the man she had been living with and at one point must have considered marrying him. Her only comment being, "I made some choices and they weren't always the right ones."
Penny came back to the kitchen and helped complete the plans for Thanksgiving. Again before going to bed that night Penny mentioned how bad she felt about taking Ed's bed away from him. Ed was just a little exasperated and said, "Penny I'm going to be away for a week starting Thursday. If you want to go to all the trouble of moving my things and moving into that room, okay, go ahead.
"You might as well sort through all of Alice's things. Keep what you want for yourself and send the rest to the secondhand shop or church sale that will be coming up next month. Emmy can help you sort stuff. You can store what you don't dispose of in boxes in the cellar. I know how women love to rearrange, so do your darnedest. You are the housekeeper here so you don't need to ask my permission."
Cindy piped up, "Can we start tonight, Mom."
Penny laughed, "I guess we women all have the same inclination. No, Cindy, we will wait until Ed has left on his trip."
When Ed was paying bills, he noticed that Penny had made three calls on the phone to a number in the town she had come from. Curious, but not really snooping, he copied the number and put it in his briefcase. He was going through that town so figured he would find out who she talked to. If this was the person he thought it was, maybe he could get some of Cindy's things and Penny's graduation book, the book she had mentioned several times.
Ed arranged his route so that he ended in that town late Saturday afternoon. Stopping at a filling station, Ed rang the number. The phone was picked up on the first ring. "The Goodwin residence, this is Sally speaking."
"Hi Sally, this is Ed Bowen. I think we have a mutual friend. I think Penny Peters may have spoken to you about me. I am in town overnight and I thought I would like to meet you. That is if you aren't busy."
"Oh yes, I'd love to meet you. Is Penny with you?"
"No, she isn't. I'm working and have a layover for the weekend. If you give me directions, I can find your house." The address of the Goodwin residence was on a nice street, but the Goodwin residence was the poorest house situated in the middle of the block.
Sally was standing in the open doorway of a dilapidated bungalow when Ed pulled into the driveway. The woman came down off some broken steps and extended her hand to meet Ed. "Penny has said so many nice things about you. I miss her so much, but I'm glad she finally got away from my brother. Won't you come in? My house isn't very nice, but you are welcome."
Ed came into a room that was small with very few pieces of furniture. Those that were there looked to be fairly clean, although they probably were new at least twenty years ago. Sitting in the corner at a small desk was a boy about sixteen. His body was in continual motion, first back and forth and then from one side to the other. Unintelligible noises were emitting from the boy who was playing "Free Cell" on and old computer.
Sally said, "Just as soon as Paul gets done with that game we will speak to him. I have to catch him quick though, before he starts another. Otherwise we will have to wait again. Did Penny tell you about Paul?"
"No, but Cindy has. I take it he is autistic?"
"Yes he is. He is really smart though. When we get his attention I will have him show you his score. He is unbelievable at that game."
The boy gave a "Yaakk" when the screen flashed "You win."
Sally placed a hand on his shoulder and said, "We have company, Paul. Meet Mr. Bowen." Paul jumped up and turned, upsetting his chair with a bang as he did so. "Mr. Bowen is a friend of Penny and Cindy. He came by to tell us about how they are. You sit down and listen while he talks. Calm now, Paul, very calm. Can you do that?"
Ed had to give Sally credit for she wasn't making excuses for her son's condition. That is the way he felt it should be. "Sally, maybe I should apologize for being here. Penny doesn't know I planned on stopping. Cindy talked about you and Paul and I knew Penny had called you. I saved your number from my phone bill. I really came for a doll of Cindy's and Penny's graduation book. She misses it and I thought you might know where it was. I wanted to surprise her when I got home Tuesday night. Can you help me out?"
"I certainly can. All of Penny's and Cindy's effects are here. Bob lost his apartment and Dad agreed to let him move back with him and Mom to see if they can't straighten him out. They know he beat up Penny and they are afraid she is going to come back at him. How bad did he hurt her, anyway?"
"She didn't tell you?"
"No, she just said that she had some bruises."
"I am afraid it was much more than that. He kicked her in the thigh and hit her in the head. The worst things were the three broken ribs. It took her six weeks for them to heal and she was in terrible pain."