Dishwashing wasn’t the intended end-all-be-all for Pennie Udeba but neither her student loans nor her books for class or rent would pay for themselves. It turns out living in a fifth-floor apartment five minutes from campus has more drawbacks than she previously imagined. In fact, she has realized within her fresh three months she’s lived away from her father’s house has been a succession of heartrending firsts. 

One of them, in her first month out of her dad’s house, once he drove Pennie to her new place, has been the adrenaline-pumping, heart-racing walks to school every morning. It seems everyone takes the road that intersects with the street she lives on as the ideal morning commute which causes her to throw caution to the wind and cross with at least a little concern. She had her fair share of near-misses- she narrowly escaped a speeding and drunken four-door sedan driver who scraped her thigh with his bumper- and she could only cry in silence as she panted on campus grounds. 

Another drawback, Pennie noticed faster than she thought she would, is how little work there is available for a university student let alone one majoring in drama. She hoped the universe would give her a break for graduating high school with straight A’s and provide her with an opportunity above the literally starving artist job aka the tried-and-true position of dishwasher or waitress. Of course, she wasn’t necessarily saying that she was better than jobs such as these but it could be implied with what her father inadvertently instilled in her through television and film. 

Naturally, Pennie enjoyed the environment in spite of the clanging of teacups, shifting of dishes on trays and shattering when the balancing act couldn’t be maintained or someone accidentally interrupted the flow leaving the kitchen and the overall noise of chatty, hungry, and sometimes scarily impatient customers. It proved to be overwhelming for her though on the busiest days regardless of her position in the kitchen working through mountains of dishes and every other day was busy. When she finished one wave of dishes caked with food, another towered over her, intimidating her until she went through them only to be faced with a few more hours worth. There was no solace in the noise piercing the thin, dingy white walls surrounding her until closing time and by then, her knees buckled to the point where they could collapse, she thought, if she attempted to journey the five minutes and five flights back up to her apartment. 

The small window of time Pennie had to rehearse lines for her drama class, not taking into account the other subjects pounding her and begging for her attention, has only been on her breaks which come twice a day on slow shifts and once on busy ones and the latter is usually the case. She gets ten allotted minutes to practice lines or study for tests or quizzes since she ends up exhausted beyond what she can manage once she finally drags herself to bed. Where high school found her excelling with ease, the university life has been punishing her with demanding deadlines she makes by the skin of her teeth and grades that reflect the same. 

On one Friday morning though, Pennie figured to herself, in a mirror as sad as her, that things had to change somehow. It’s been three soul-sucking months managing school and work without space to socialize or do anything remotely fun except escape in drama class through method acting until it was over for the day. She approaches her drama teacher while students are running through drills on the art of a believable cry in hopes of at least getting sympathy for her current predicament. 

“Ms. Lesane, I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to nail my lines or drills in general but work has been draining the life out of me and I only get time to study on break at work”, Pennie breaks down in front of her and everyone else pauses to watch.

“I have dishwashing and biology and trig and countless other things to deal with and I don’t have time to myself at home unless I’m dressing for school. I want to enjoy my time in school but it’s been an endless hell for me”, she faces Ms. Lesane and wobbles to her feet. “End scene.” Pennie sniffles and everyone else spectating is in tears as well including Ms. Lesane. 

“Pennie, that was beautiful.” 

Ms. Lesane turns to the rest of the students, wiping at her tears with her scarf. “Everyone, that is how you cry believably. Granted, those were actual tears but you have to capture the essence of true emotion by digging deep. Find something to tap into and the magic of cinema will do the rest.”

“Pennie, you need a day to relax and let it be the rest of today.” Ms. Lesane massages her shoulders. “I don’t typically condone this but Dr. Lesane is prescribing you a day off from work. Call in sick and take in the remainder of the day to yourself.” 

The smile cements the reassurance and nearly chokes more tears from Pennie’s eyes but she pulls it together. She tightens her arms around Ms. Lesane who returns the close embrace before she exits the auditorium to call her manager. 


“Sadie, I can’t come in today. I’m feeling under the weather”, Pennie feigns a genuine cough and she crosses her fingers in hopes that she secures the rest of the day because of it.  

“No problem, Pennie. Get well soon and I hope to see you tomorrow.” She dances in a corner outside the auditorium and the view of anyone she can be embarrassed in front of from flailing her lanky arms. 

Having the day off work means the possibilities are limitless within reason and the first thing Pennie decided to do is visit the mall which thankfully for her is a stone’s throw from campus. She did cartwheels there until she found that people watched her since she started and the sidewalk isn’t the kindest to bare palms skidding against the asphalt repeatedly. She sucks a little blood from her hand and skips the rest of the way.

The mall is more like a castle from Pennie’s perspective and her wide eyes scan over every one of the three floors and 100+ stores in her 20/20 vision. A starting point isn’t something she can decide which is what she shuts her eyes for and points towards at random. Again, people stare except this time, she shrugs and skips towards a candy store larger than her apartment.

“Whoa!”, Pennie yells excitedly and she tumbles, cartwheels and does everything she can recall from her five years of gymnastics around the store. She always wished to be flanked by cameras from paparazzi, professional photographers at red carpet events or adoring fans but candy is suddenly higher on that list. Candy canes, bubble gum, mints, and more towered her and for the first time since she moved, she isn’t feeling overwhelmed by a mountain. 

All the kids and adults there are scooping candy from glass containers pulled down from the wall into their bag and having them weighed on a mini candy giraffe scale. Pennie sprints to an unoccupied corner of the wall and scoops lemon and chocolate creme soft candies into her bag until it’s almost spilling out. She holds the bag shut with her giddy hands and bounces to the register to meet a cashier who causes everything to stand still for her. 

“That’ll be $27.45.” The cashier waves his hair from his eye and lifts his slack jaw at the sight of her. He blushes in sync with her and giggles uncannily with her. He yanks his name tag towards her and grimaces from the needle pinning it to his shirt poking his chest. “I’m Jeremy but you can call me Jeremy or J or using this number here.” 

His handwriting is surprisingly legible for someone who scribbles and Pennie giggles at the thought of it which causes him to blush harder. “Very smooth” She presses the candy against her chest when his hand catches the tips of her fingers. 

“I’m off right now if you want to see the mall.” Pennie furrows her brow and folds her arms at the idea that she needs someone to be her personal directory. At the same time, she’s twirling her hair with her left hand and she stops pretending to resist. 

“I’d love that honestly.” Jeremy and Pennie’s eyes light up in one another’s and they trot away from the candy store. They spend the day at the arcade being competitive in air hockey and teaming up on a fast-paced dancing game that they finished because of her rather than him and his two left feet. They also indulge their frozen yogurt cravings, master the faux rock climbing, try and dislike chai tea ice cream, belt out karaoke songs from long-deceased artists, take cheesy photos in a dodgy photo booth and ride metal ponies that only run for a minute before they need another quarter. 

When Pennie checks her watch and Jeremy his phone, they laugh knowing they've spent roughly eight hours with each other as complete strangers. “My phone is saying it’s 7. How about this perfect stranger walk another perfect stranger home?” She snickers and shoves him into a wall he imagines there and they both laugh about it. 

“Sure. I wouldn’t mind being your bodyguard on the way home.” Jeremy laughs and shoves her now after her smart comment. 

“Who says I need a bodyguard? I’m a full-blown expert in hand-to-hand combat.” 

Pennie giggles and Jeremy stops in front of her to show a display of funny but phony martial arts. 

“At a fantasy school where they awarded you with an imaginary black belt, I’m guessing.” 

Jeremy pulls a frown but it isn’t long before Pennie works it off his face by imitating his goofy moves. Out of nowhere, she extends an arm and hushes him when she notices Sadie across the street hailing a cab. 

“That your boss?” Pennie nods knowing the consequences of lying or method acting as Ms. Lesane would call it, can land her in hot water. That’s when she devises a plan once she finds how long it’s taking Sadie to successfully hail a cab. 

Pennie pulls out her phone and calls a ride-sharing driver in Sadie’s voice. “Yeah hi, this is Sadie. Can you come to Weibo Junction Street? Thanks, bye.” They laugh as the driver pulls up where Sadie has been waiting for a solid 20 minutes and the two of them duck behind a nearby bench when she checks her surroundings and shrugs before leaving in the car. 

On the way to Pennie’s apartment, she and Jeremy discuss her reason for being out as long as she is. “I have school five days a week and work for seven.”

“Which sounds painful.”

“Tell me about it. I told my drama teacher about it and she encouraged me to call in sick.”

Jeremy pauses before her and cackles, drawing the attention of everyone including a businessman who briefly leaves the conversation on his earbuds to yell “shut up” at him. They continue laughing in hushed tones and continue until they make it to Pennie’s place.

“This is me.” Pennie dances as much as her lanky body can manage and finishes with a clumsy spin that nearly ends in a faceplant when Jeremy catches her. 

“This is also me.” Pennie and Jeremy are face-to-face and they feel each other’s hearts pounding, eyes interlocking, mouths closing in for a kiss until she turns his head to press her lips against his cheek. 

“I don’t do lips on the first date.” 

Jeremy twirls her to her feet, nods his head, and gives a graceful bow. 

“I’ll have to remember that for the second one.” 

Jeremy clicks his heels together in midair and Pennie giggles in her hands, dancing dramatically all the way up to her apartment where she was able to dedicate an hour to her biology quiz, an hour to drama and an hour to Jeremy before getting some well-deserved rest. 

Pennie’s phone buzzes while her eyes are barely open scrambling for the origin of the noise and when she finds the text from Sadie, she leaps awake. She was careful with every move to avoid Sadie’s gaze but when she reads the message, she realizes she wasn’t as clever as she had Jeremy believe: 

“Friday, September 20th, 2025, 10:30 PM, Sadie: I knew it was you who ordered the ride for me. I’ll count today as an excused absence but every other time has to be a legitimate reason. Expect a long shift tomorrow; you’ll be taking over the new girl’s 10-hour spot since she called out yet again. And thanks.”

Pennie takes a sigh of relief, shuts her eyes and pulls her blanket over herself in a wide smile. This could be the beginning of her possibly having a life for a change and whether or not dishwashing is in her future a bit longer before her dream takes off is uncertain. What is certain though is that she’ll get to enjoy a life away from home which is something she never could have pictured when she left. 

September 05, 2019 06:58

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