Pen sat at one of the tables, her bag resting against the chair leg. She was wearing white capri pants and a slate blue sweater set that was no match for her eyes. She didn’t seem to be in a hurry, didn’t seem to be waiting for anyone. Children played around her and neighbors came and went without her noticing. Her notebook was open in front of her, and she stared at it, picked up a pencil, waved it at the book like it was a baton, and set it down again. She never looked up, never glanced at her watch.
Ruth was speaking to me, but I didn’t notice until she nudged me in the ribs.
“I said I need to be going,” she repeated. “I have my tai chi exercises.”
“Yes, yes. Thank you for everything.”
“If you have any more questions, don’t hesitate to call.”
“I appreciate it.”
Ruth’s eyes went from me to Pen and back to me again. She shook her head and smiled.
“I told you,” she said. “Audrey Hepburn.”
Nonsense, I told myself.
After she left, I made my way across the pool deck to Pen’s table. I wasn’t in love with Pen despite what Ruth had to say. How could I be? But I desperately wanted to become friends with her, to get her on my side and keep her there. Question was, how? Years ago, a guy named Eric Weber wrote a tutorial filled with surefire lines designed to impress women called How to Pick Up Girls! I never read it. I was a college sophomore when I came across the book, and I already knew everything. Only now I wish I had memorized it cover-to-cover, because my mind was a complete blank. When I reached Pen’s table I blurted the first thing that came into my head.
“Do you believe in destiny?”
Pen looked up at me, shielding her eyes with her hand, unafraid in such a public place. She smiled when she recognized me.
“I do,” she said. “I do believe in destiny.”
“I’ve been seeing you all day,” I told her. “Outside your trailer, on the street, and now you’re here. It’s fate.”
“I think it’s wishful thinking on your part. But please, sit down.” She gestured at a chair across from her and closed her notebook. Her smile stayed on her face, as if she had forgotten it was there.
“If I’m not interrupting,” I said.
“Not at all. I could use a break. The more I work on this melody, the more it sounds like ‘Skylark.’”
“Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer.”
“Very good. You know music.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Let’s see. Try this one. ‘Here’s That Rainy Day.’” She sang the title.
“Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen.”
“Nice. How about ‘Autumn Leaves’?”
“Johnny Mercer wrote the lyrics. I don’t know who did the melody.”
“I’d be impressed if you did. Actually, the melody was written by the great French film composer Joseph Kosma. He wrote it for a film called Les Portes de la Nuit”—her French accent was a lot better than mine—“back in 1946. In ‘47, Jacques Prévert, who was a poet, wrote lyrics and the song became ’Les Feuilles Mortes,’ which Yves Montand sang in 1947. So even though it’s one of Mercer’s best-known lyrics, he was actually late to the party, writing the English version in the early 50s. I’m boring you.”
“Not even a little bit,” I told her. “Okay, now I have a song for you.”
“‘I’m a Believer.’”
She looked at me like I had insulted her.
“Neil Diamond,” she said.
“Pretty lame, Jake.”
“How ‘bout ’West Coast Blues?’”
She repeated the title several times. “I think you got me.”
“You go from a pop star like Neil Diamond to a jazz guy like Wes Montgomery? What do you listen to?”
“Jazz mostly, but also blues, rock, some classical, even a little opera.”
“Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Mary Chapin Carpenter.”
Pen nodded her head in approval.
“Ever listen to Suzy Bogguss and Chely Wright?”
“They sound familiar, but I don’t think I know them. Why?”
“No reason. Okay, I have one more for you. Something tough. Are you ready?”
She sang, “‘Till You Come Back to Me.’”
I gave it some thought, realized I had never heard the song before, and took a chance.
“Penelope Glass and Tommy Heyward?”
Pen laughed boisterously enough to cause several heads to turn toward her.
“You guessed,” she said.
“I did not.”
“It’s one of my favorite songs.”
“Oh yeah? Hum a few bars.”
I hummed “As Time Goes By.”
“That’s what I thought.”
“I so admire what you do,” I told her.
“Anyone can write music.”
“It’s writing good music that’s hard. I didn’t realize just how difficult it was until I started trying to make money at it.”
“Who’s your favorite composer?”
“I don’t know if I have one, I’ve been influenced by so many people. Sometimes I think Cole Porter is God. Then I change my mind and think it’s Antonio Carlos Jobim. Next day I wake up and pray to Joni Mitchell.”
“If you had to pick one.”
“If I had to pick one.”
“Edward Kennedy Ellington.”
“You could argue that he invented American music.”
I decided I was in love with Penelope Glass after all. Only I held back. I said, “I like you,” instead.
“I like you, too.”