Penny could no longer rely on her tank tops and jeans to cover her growing belly. She could not wear the pretty floral mini-skirts her friends back home wore; her clumsy nature would not allow her to even try low platform heels, much less four-inch ones that some of her favorite pop stars wore.
There was a lot she could no longer do. She couldn’t eat ice cream, oddly, she couldn’t sleep, and she couldn’t focus. She could, however, burp and fart loudly. Most importantly, though, she could no longer hold her head high since becoming pregnant. Bad enough she was just 19 and unmarried; the way in which she got herself in this situation, along with the choice of father, or as she now called him, the “sperm donor”, were greatly embarrassing.
She chose to run away from her uncaring family and all the colorful flower power and peace-loving crowds of her home town, to a place where people did not know her.
Living alone on the streets of New York City’s Greenwich Village might not be smart, but she could hide her history, her roots, and even her belly if she could find a big enough midi dress in a local thrift shop. She also intended on dying her red hair, just in case someone came looking for her; she didn’t want to stand out like a sore, copper thumb.
Penny stepped off the train at West Fourth Street, walking up the stairs and into the crowds, amidst traffic and the noise of street vendors selling flowers and joy, Hare Krishnas touting their religion; on the other side of the street, people shouted that their god was better and would come back to save them. War protestors abounded, and flower children decorated every street corner. Beggars asked for change. She gave one of them some money. She didn’t have much, but she felt sorry for him. Soon, she might need to share a tent or a box with someone.
The most fascinating thing about Greenwich Village, Penny thought, was the cacophony of sounds, beautiful, all of them, the singers, the radios, turned up so loud that the old people walking by pressed their hands over their ears. The familiarity of church bells, except the music seemed to fade away in the crisp breeze. She knew churches no longer used actual bells, at least hers back home did not. But the sound was pleasant nonetheless.
Penny followed the live music she could hear from blocks away. She made her way to Washington Square Park, where jazz, bluegrass, blues, pop and rock tunes permeated as people jumped in and out of the fountain.
One person standing near the fountain caught her eye. He was not tall, but he was quite cute despite being a bit chubby. His thick, long hair was brown with a hint of vermillion. His eyebrows were like giant caterpillars attacking his eyes, which she couldn’t see as they were obscured by his big, embellished sunglasses. He wore multi-colored bell-bottom pants that seemed too tight on his muscular thighs, and a lace shirt and a pink patterned crochet vest over it. He wore a multi-colored knit golf cap that matched the vest. On his feet were shoes with the tallest platform on which she’d ever laid eyes. She loved his look, and moreover, his music, dulcet tones, covers of Bob Dylan, The Temptations, The Byrds and The Beatles.
In front of him on a flimsy homemade stand sat a keyboard whose keys he hammered with a purpose as he jumped around to the music. She heard him say the next tune was his original. Penny stopped to listen, putting one of her three bags on the ground so she could sit comfortably. She rested her chin in her hands and admired this stranger who appeared to possess only his keyboard and a bucket, in which many people placed money. Not just change, like her donation to the beggar, but dollar bills! He deserved this money, as his music was intriguing, uplifting and beguiling. And his tenor voice, so sweet like molasses and tender like well-cooked steak.
For a moment she forgot who she was, her troubles, the life she left behind, her family, friends, neighbors, and the priest who convinced her he loved her enough for her to trust him.
The musician finished his song and received the most applause thus far. “Thank you. Thank you very much.” His speaking voice was interesting. Penny thought about the accent and quickly ascertained he must be English. She recognized the accent from watching TV interviews with the Beatles. This man could give John, Paul, George and Ringo a run for their money, especially since they’d recently broken up.
“I’m Randy,” he told the audience. “I got my first gig at the Singing Siren this coming Friday. There’s no cover, so make sure you’re there.”
“We love you, Randy!” shouted a man in the audience. “Whoo!”
Randy laughed. “Thanks. Here’s your twenty dollars.” He waved a twenty as the audience laughed. He slipped the bill back into his pants pocket.
He was not only talented and cute, but also funny.
“I got one more original tune for you before I take a break,” Randy said, noticing a trio of police officers wander into the park. “The po-lice aren’t always kind. The man hassles us. ‘Are you licensed to perform?’ they ask. But I’m only licensed to make you smile. This one’s called ‘The Unknown Woman’.”
How appropriate, Penny thought.
“She ran away, far away, from the world she knew too well. She wanted a new life, a new life, no strife. Running away from what she knew,” he began. “What she knew was blue. A world unkind that was untrue.”
Penny blushed, feeling he was looking right through her, talking to her soul. He looked her way, removed his sunglasses and nodded, smiling at her. She waved at him and smiled, looking around at the people who sat entranced, hardly noticing her though she felt they did. It was just her paranoia. No one here knew her. She was safe. After this, she thought, it’s the local drug store for hair dye. She urged her wavy hair way from her eyes.
Everyone clapped along as Randy encouraged them to do. What a personality on this character! The song was upbeat and not at all what she’d anticipated. It culminated with the girl finding love and happiness in her new town and returning to her old one to show off.
Not what she was intending, but that was just fine.
“Be back in a few if the pigs let me,” he said, his very British pronunciation shining through every syllable.
“’ello, lass,” he said, walking up to her immediately.
“H-hi.” She felt electricity between them as they shook hands.
“Wot’s your name then, lass?” He removed his cap, revealing a slight bald spot. He rubbed his head, sweaty from his performance in the hot sun.
“Oh, it’s Penny. What’s yours?” Recalling he’d announced his name, she blushed and threw up her hands. “Never mind.”
He laughed. Penny thought he was looking at her belly, but again, probably just her paranoia.
“Are you here alone, dear?” he asked her, wiping his brow and sticking his sunglasses in his vest pocket.
“Um. No. Not really.” She had to lie to protect herself. She’d learned the hard way not to trust every smiling face. In fact, there was a song about that topic with which she was familiar. And another, a new one she’d just heard.
“Are you sure? Because you look alone.”
Talented, cute, funny and astute, Penny thought.
“A penny for your thoughts,” he said.
“’eard it before, eh?”
“I’m not gonna be Randy for much longer,” he started. “See, I’m changing my name. It’s Randy Wilson now. Who wants to ‘ear pop and rock by a bloke named Randy Wilson?”
“No offense, dear, but one fan don’t build a career.”
She looked around. “One of a million, Randy. These people love you.”
“Hey!” Randy shouted at a man who snuck up, attempting to steal the money from his bucket. Randy jogged up to the basket and grabbed it, giving the man a dirty look. The man threw up his hands and walked away. “Didn’t mean nothin’ by it,” he said.
“Sure. You’ve got bollocks the size of London.”
“Is that where you’re from?” Penny asked him when he returned to her.
“What say, lass? Oh, no. Me? I’m from Middlesex, England.”
“I’m from New Rochelle. But don’t tell anyone.”
“Why? It embarrass you?” His eyes pierced through her again. “Oh, sorry, lass. Got to get back on stage straightaway before the acrobats jump in. Hah. I've made a funny. Wait for me, yeah?”
“Oh, yes.” She smiled. “I’ve got nothing better to do.”
“Gee, thanks a bloody lot!” He stroked her arm.
She shook her head, laughed and put her head down.
“This next set is dedicated to my folks back home in Middlesex, England,” he started.
“Set? You think you’re on a real stage, man?” a heckler shouted.
“Ya. I actually am, friend,” Randy replied. “I hope you enjoy my tunes.”
The man waved his hand and scoffed.
“You know, no one’s putting a gun to your head,” Penny told the heckler.
“He’s really good. Give him a chance.” She moved her legs into a yoga pose. “Just give him a chance,” she whispered. “He’s gonna be at the Singing Siren.” The man scoffed and walked away.
Randy finished another two originals interspersed with more covers including one by the Supremes, which he attempted to sing in soprano as a joke. He took his final bows, grabbed his keyboard, stand and bucket and made room for the mime juggler who was waiting on deck.
“He’s good too,” he told Penny as he walked up to her.
“You don’t sound too sure,” she answered.
“Ya, I’m actually not.” He giggled. “But let ‘im fight with the po-lice.”
They both laughed.
“Where you ‘eaded?” he asked her.
“Oh. I’m actually not sure either,” she chuckled.
He put his arm around her. “Don’t worry, lass. I’m a good guy. Despite what you might hear about me in the tabloids one day.”
“Oh, you’re funny.”
“Thank you. Would you enjoy some candyfloss?”
“Oh, you Americans call it cotton candy. I forgot. Sorry. There’s a vendor right over there. I’ll fetch you one.” Before she could say he should not bother as it might make her ill, he jogged over and got her some. He waltzed back with a bounce in his step.
“How do you run in those shoes?”
“Oh, not very well, to be perfectly honest with you. I have to walk around the flat to get used to them.”
“Yeah, where I live.”
“Yeah. I live there with me mate. We write songs together.”
“Oh. What’s her name?”
“Oh, no. Me mate’s a man. I mean, we’re chums.”
“Where’s your flat?”
“I…” Penny didn’t know what to say.
“You don’t ‘ave one, do ya?”
She put her head down and shook it.
He put his hand on her shoulder. “You’re not the only one. Truth? Everyone lacks something. Listen, I told you I’m a sort you can trust. I meant it.” He placed his other hand on her other shoulder and looked her square in the eye, his beautiful hazel globes penetrating her green ones. “You’re coming ‘ome with me.”
“Oh, I know.”
“I’m psychic.” He laughed. “Joshing. Just ultra-sensitive I suppose. A product of who I am.”
“Who are you?”
“Never mind. I’ve enough dough for us to fetch a cab and a bit of supper.”
“No, you don’t have to…”
“I want to. But first let me toss this ridiculous stand I made in the dust bin over here.”
“I can help you make a new one.”
“Much obliged, kind Penny. You know, I don’t want you to worry, love. I won’t make a pass at you. Not that you’re not pretty. You’re very beautiful,” Randy said hailing a cab.
“Thank you.” He opened the taxi door with a playful flourish, waving her in first.
“Three-forty West Fourth Street, mate,” he said. They arrived at his apartment quickly. Randy put money in the compartment in front of him. “Keep the change, mate.”
“Wow. You live real close to Washington Square.”
“I suppose you wonder why we didn’t walk?”
Randy lifted up one of his shoes. “See? The cost of fashion.”
She laughed. He removed both shoes and handed them to her. “You’ll see.”
“Whoa. They weight a ton, man! What do you mean?” She gave them back to him.
“I’m gonna make you try them on!”
She protested. “No, no, no way! I’ll fall and break my neck.”
“Don’t worry. My flat mate will ‘elp pick you up. Actually, you must watch out for him. He might fancy you.”
“He’s a gentleman, though. A pussycat. Don’t worry.”
They walked up the three flights and as Randy jiggled the keys trying to find the right one, the door opened. “Hey, mate. ‘ow was your gig?”
“Who we got here?”
“Penny. This is Penny. She’s a new friend.”
“’ello, Penny, new friend. I’m Andrew. His flatmate.”
“And you’re British too?”
“’ow’d you guess, lass?” Andrew said with a hint of sarcasm.
Randy walked in, tossed his shoes on the floor and leaned his keyboard against the kitchen wall. “Go on, then, Penny. Model the shoes for us, won’t you?”
“No, thank you.”
“If you try them on, then, we might let you stay here tonight.”
Andrew looked at him. “What?”
“She’s ‘asn’t got a place of her own. Methinks she’s running from something.” Randy sighed. “’e’s a bit cautious, this one.”
Penny grew silent and looked away.
“And the poor lass ‘as got herself in trouble, too.”
“Trouble?” Andrew asked.
“Wot are you running from then?” Andrew asked, holding out a chair for her.
“My family. My friends. The baby’s father.”
“Does he know…?” Randy asked, opening a bag of sandwiches he picked up between Washington Square and the taxi.
“I don’t think so.”
“Your family knows?” Andrew asked.
“Yes. My friends know too.”
“Why don’t you talk to the father?” Randy asked, handing her a tuna salad on rye.
“He’s…” She sat down and sighed. “I can’t tell him.”
“Why not?” Randy asked, munching on a roast beef and cheese.
Andrew sat down and grabbed some napkins. “Tell, us, lass.”
“He’s…he’s a…he’s a…p-priest.”
Randy and Andrew looked at each other silently, chewing slowly, their eyes falling to the floor before meeting Penny’s, Andrew’s bright ceruleans were sad.
“Love, that’s tough,” Randy said. “A Catholic priest? I’m so sorry.”
“You poor gal,” Andrew said, wiping away a tear. “But what do you want from us, then?”
“Andrew! She’s got no place to live! How far along are you, then?” Randy asked.
There was silence in the room. They could hear the sirens and shouts outside the window, common for their neighborhood. And they could hear one another chewing. After what seemed like forever, Randy spoke up.
“I’ll marry you, then,” Randy said.
“What?” said both Penny and Andrew in unison.
“Penny, the bloke’s ‘omosexual.” Andrew shook his head.
Randy pointed to himself, crossing his legs. “I am. Me. I like blokes.”
Penny was at a loss for words. “So why would you want to marry me?”
“You’re being barmy, mate! Why don’t you shut it and stop teasing this poor gal, then?”
“A poor attempt at being funny. I’m sorry, love. I don’t know wot else to say. I ‘aven’t got any explanation.” He got up and stroked her cheek. “But I want to ‘elp you.”
“How? What if you find a bloke you want to be with?” she asked.
Randy stroked her hair. “A bloke. You’re learning! I don’t expect I’d be allowed to walk ‘and-in-‘and with him down the street. I might fall for a bloke.” He shrugged. “I might not.” He sighed and sat down. “I want to ‘elp you, Penny.”
Penny rubbed her forehead. “I-I don’t know what to say. You’re too generous.”
“If you ask me, love, this bloke ‘as lost his mind.”
Randy laid his keyboard on the kitchen table and started playing a tune.
“’e’s got talent. Just no common sense. But wouldn’t she get in the way, mate?” Andrew said. “’e’s gonna make it soon. A record deal, touring and the like.”
Randy began compiling a melody, humming and singing, “Mmmm, good bloke. ‘e’d give her a good life. A good life she deserved. Finally, a good life.”
She ran over to Randy and kissed him full on the lips.
“Wow!” Randy chuckled.
Penny smiled. “We share some kind of connection. I know it seems insane. We just met…”
“Okay, you crazy love birds can ‘ave your honeymoon at the Siren this Friday. I’ll toss ya a bouquet!” Andrew shook his head and scoffed.
“Andrew, Andrew, Andrew! Always jesting!” Randy walked over to his friend. “Will you be my best man, mate?”
“Cut the charade, mate.”
“All right, then, Penny, will you please try on the shoes?”
She picked them up, sliding them on. “What is your obsession with these shoes?”
“Well, you’ll ‘ave lots of time, love, to practice walking in them in this flat. Yours now, too, if you’ll ‘ave it,” Randy said. “Right, mate?”
“You always do wot you want, don’t you?” Andrew shook his head.
“They fit pretty well,” Penny beamed as she tried walking from the kitchen to the living room. “Can I borrow them?”
Randy walked over to her and gave her a hug.
“I’ll stay overnight. No promises.”
“But we’ll be friends, yeah?” Randy asked her, appearing very serious.
“Yes. We’re friends.”
Penny had never felt she belonged more than this in her life. Perhaps this place was home.