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Renee’s eyes rested on her daughter, a look of pride lighting up the mother’s face. As Penelope rested peacefully with sunlight streaming down in glittery beams upon her thin face, Renee couldn’t help but thank God for giving her such a beautiful baby.
Well, maybe she wasn’t a baby anymore. But whether Penelope was five or fifty, Renee could still find the child in her features. She wanted to hold her daughter, but now was not the place, nor the time. She looked so tranquil with her lids closed seamlessly and a tint of a smile on her lips.
Whenever Renee would blink, even if it was just for a very quick moment, her mind would travel back in time, years and years ago. Always to different moments; she had endless memories of her daughter growing up. And what better time to remember than now?
Usually, she would drift slightly into the past, but then cling on to something in the present to keep her grounded to reality. But now, she let loose. Closing her eyes, Renee allowed herself to remember.
September 11, 1984.
No matter how calamitous and mortifying they eleventh day of the ninth month was branded into the history of America, Renee was fearless to admit that it was her favorite day, but she’d had her claim on it first. It was the day her first and only child, Penelope Jane Westin, was brought into the world. She could recall the soft, flawless heartbeat of her child as she held her in her arms, cradling her against her chest. She would never forget her baby’s impossibly tiny fingers, reaching up to her mother with a need that equated Renee’s absolute devotion for her child.
The scene flashed to a tiny toddler, wobbling around the kitchen with peanut butter smeared all over her face, with a dollop right on the tip of her button nose. “What have you gotten into?” Renee cooed, laughing at her tiny daughter, wiping a smear off of her magenta cupcake shirt. Penelope’s returning smile was slightly devious—she was proud of her mess—but mostly playful, and innocent.
Then, maybe days, weeks, or even months later, she could see her angelic child dancing around the living room like a forest elf to the song from the TV. She was in her church clothes, a short, fluffy yellow dress that made her look like a chubby banana. Even at the age of two, Penelope was already a beautiful dancer. In fact, she could dance better than she could walk on her own two feet.
Of course, just like any other parents, Renee had to endure the idea of her child going to school. She bought Penelope a bright green backpack to match her eyes, a whole new outfit, and the sixty-four pack of crayons. If she was going to make friends, the easiest way was by Crayola. Renee could recall her child dancing down the school hallway, always a few steps ahead of her mother. She was possibly the only kid in the universe to actually enjoy school for everything it was. Renee remembered how her daughter had hugged her for two minutes straight before finally parting with her on the first day. “Mommy, be okay without me,” she’d told her. Renee couldn’t help but laugh.
Nevertheless, not all of her memories were pleasant. One night, she’d been lying in bed, waiting for Penelope to drift to sleep when suddenly, her daughter’s bright emerald eyes shot open. “Mommy?” she’d whispered quietly.
In all seriousness, her daughter looked up to her mother’s eyes and said solemnly, “Ginny has two parents. She has a mommy and a daddy. Why do I only have a mommy?”
Not until she was older could Renee honestly admit to her daughter that she didn’t know who Penelope’s father was—she had made seemingly countless numbers of terrible choices back before her child was born. Penelope was what brought her back to life, and kept her honest.
She remembered how her heart felt warm when she saw her daughter skipping around her backyard with Ginny Tate, her ultimately closest companion. From the very start, Penelope was a popular girl. Was it because of the Crayola sixty-four pack? Who knew.
And then, there was her first dance recital. Renee was the proud parent of the girl in the white tutu who looked like a swan when she danced, even at the age of six. One day, her little Penny was going to be great. She knew it.
The scariest moment for Renee during her daughter’s childhood was when Penelope hung up the phone after talking to the person on the other end of the line for an hour.
“Penny, was that Ginny?”
Color flooded her daughter’s cheeks. “No, that was Paul. He’s in my English class.”
Renee felt like passing out. Her daughter liked a boy! How? She was only in the sixth grade! She should’ve still thought that boys had cooties, right? Wasn’t that how it worked?
Little did she know, she should’ve prepared herself for a lot more where that came from. Looking back on it, Renee saw that it was practically predictable. By the time Penelope was in the eighth grade, she was already five feet, seven inches tall, with glossy chestnut hair that fell down to her mid-back, and the largest green eyes, framed with thick, dark lashes. She was a dancer—the best in her ballet class. There was no shortage of boys calling her within her entire junior high career.
And then, before she knew it, Penelope was in a violet floor-length gown, a tiara in her hair, cascading down the stairs to meet her prom date. Yes, she could definitely remember Oliver Hudson, the star wide receiver of their football team. Renee saw the adoration in her child’s eyes, and even though she was afraid of her little baby girl growing up so fast, she couldn’t help but wish for her daughter to have a magical night with her date.
Just one blink of the eye later, Penny was lobbing her navy graduation cap up in the air, running to Renee and embracing her in the tightest hug—with her diploma locked irremovably in her grasp.
The later years flew by so much quicker, because suddenly, Penelope was in Renee’s life less and less. She was accepted to Juilliard, and even though it was extremely difficult to pay and the distance between them would be endless, Renee knew it was best for her daughter. At first, Penny would obsessively call and email, missing her mother almost as much as her mother missed her. But as time went on, Penelope only came back to visit her mother on the breaks; sometimes, she wouldn’t call for a week or two at a time. Renee had no life beside her daughter, and now that she was off in a completely different state… Renee felt that her life was nearly pointless.
Then, one day, Penelope brought a boy back home with her. His name was Carson Vaughn, and he’d been two years ahead of Penny at Juilliard. He’d just graduated and signed a record deal, and Renee knew that Penelope felt as if she was living the dream, dating a possible rising star.
And then, before Renee had time to digest everything, she was watching her twenty-three-year-old daughter march down the isle in a stunning white gown and a bouquet of roses in her hand, proud to call herself Mrs. Penelope Vaughn.
Five seconds later, Penelope was pregnant.
Two seconds later, Penelope and Carson had a baby son named James.
And then only three blinks later…
Renee was here.
She stood silently beside her son-in-law as he held her grandson, who was only three years old at the time. He pointed at his mother, who was in a deep sleep, resting in the open sun.
“Momma!” James cried out, squirming in his father’s arms. Carson had tears streaming down his cheeks.
When little Jimmy turned his head to his father, a puzzled expression lingering in his bright green eyes—exactly like his mother’s—Carson kissed him on the forehead.
“Momma can’t talk to you right now, Jimmy.”
Renee watched her daughter, her eyes draining of every ounce of emotion, the world turning suddenly cold under the blazing sun.
The three of them watched motionlessly as the casket was sealed and then lowered slowly into the earth.