“I learned the names of some of the artists who recorded your music and then went out and bought the CDs. The song that Bonnie Raitt sang, ‘Fire and Smoke’—it’s wonderful. ‘Bottom of the Sea’ that Chely Wright recorded—it gave me goose bumps.”
“That is so kind of you to say.”
“Honestly, Pen. Why aren’t you rich and famous?”
“I’m working on it, I’m working on it.”
“You make Carole King look like an amateur.”
“‘A Natural Woman,’ ‘I Feel The Earth Move,’ ‘You’ve Got a Friend’—that Carole King? Let’s not get carried away, Jake.”
“I mean it.”
Pen leaned across the table. “You’re sweet,” she said, giving my hand a squeeze.
After my heart restarted, I gave her my Groucho Marx eyebrows and said, “Given a choice, I’d rather be sexy.”
Pen let her hand rest on mine. Her touch was as light as a hummingbird perched on my finger.
“Trust me. Sweet is better.”
We ordered drinks and then dinner. While we were waiting for the food, Pen said, “Do you know why I’m having dinner with you? I mean besides wanting the table?”
“I figured it was because of my charm and Russell Crowe—like good looks.”
“It’s because my husband wouldn’t like it.” She watched my face to see if her words registered. “You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”
I figured she was being brave, standing up to her husband without actually having to stand up to him, but said, “Not really,” just the same.
“I’m not sure I know, either.” She added quickly, “You’re not married, are you?”
“Have you ever been married?”
I shook my head.
“The usual reasons.”
“I’m still waiting for the perfect woman to sweep me off my feet.”
“There are no perfect women.”
“Yes, there are.”
I meant her, and Pen knew it. Her eyes brightened, and blood rushed to her face, making her freckles that much more noticeable. She shifted in her chair and toyed with her wineglass. A black and orange monarch butterfly flitted around the table and drifted behind the tree. Pen watched its flight carefully.
She said, “A song Tommy and I wrote, I wanted to call it ‘Butterfly.’ But Tommy changed the title, named it ‘Dragonfly.’ It’s a better title, I have no complaints. Except I had worked on it for a couple weeks calling it ‘Butterfly’ and it stuck in my head. It has to do with the danger of staying in one place too long. ‘Wings were made to fly, lovers born to say good-bye.’ That’s one of the lyrics. Only—I don’t believe it. I never have. Anyway, we’re trying to sell it to the Indigo Girls.”
I had to admire the way she so deftly made her point and moved on.
We had just finished dessert when it began to rain.
The rain had come in a hurry, one of those fast-moving cloudbursts that took everyone by surprise. Customers began scurrying for cover, some laughing, others cursing, while the waitstaff cleared everything off the terrace except tables and chairs.
Pen and I hid beneath the great oak during the few minutes until the deluge passed. She looked marvelous, a happy grin on her face, hair wet with rain, and the bodice of her summery dress clinging to her curves. I removed my jacket and slipped it over her shoulders. She smiled at me with such an expression of gratitude that I flinched—It’s just a coat, lady—and wondered at how she could find such value in a simple act of courtesy.
“I love rain,” she said. “I love snow, too. And …”
I leaned in and kissed her softly. I had never kissed a married woman before—not like that—and was both surprised and thrilled by the way it made me feel. She didn’t move away when I finished. Instead, her eyes shined with pleasure and excitement and anticipation. So I kissed her again. Longer this time. It’s was a little thing, I told myself, and her husband wouldn’t mind.
Pen began to tremble like a teardrop that hadn’t fallen—the chill, I told myself. She set her hands on my chest and pushed me away. There was nothing urgent in her gesture, but it was determined just the same.
“I can’t,” she said. “I’d like to. More than you know. But I can’t. There’s just no way.”
She slipped my coat off her shoulders and thrust it into my hands. A moment later she was gone, with only the faint scent of her herbal shampoo remaining behind.
I paid for the meal and wandered into the restaurant’s lobby. I found Pen working the pay phone.
“You can’t get a cab in this town,” she said.
“I’ll drive you home.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“I can’t be as bad as all that.”
“No.” She shook her head. “No, it’s … Hilltop is a small community, and I don’t want to be a target of gossip.”