Everyone must have a number of lives, Penelope thinks. Not like cats, so much as like gardens, and the plants within them. Or the colours of hydrangeas; the pinks, the blues, the lavenders; the same plant, moved from one soil to another, just one little alteration, bursting forth in a different shade.
The number of lives, like in the books she has read, where one choice made, one word spoken, can give birth to a whole new universe.
Sometimes, awake in bed on a Sunday morning, Penelope thinks of her other lives. The lives that might be out there, somewhere. A life with Edward. A life with Max. A life with Annie. A life, perhaps, on her own. Penelope doesn't think about them long – just for a moment, just a touch of mind, lighter than the sheets against her skin – thinks, then lets them go. It isn't a regretful kind of consideration. It isn't even particularly pensive. It's simply there and, rather than distancing her from reality, it brings her closer. Rather than making her think of things she cannot have, it's more like – it's more like having the liberty to flick through a dull book, a bad book, a plain book, a book left on a bench in the laundrette she's learnt to love: the liberty to be reassured that there are, indeed, better things she could be reading.
Especially in bed, on a Sunday morning.
Johnny isn't awake yet – his work keeps him up late, but it keeps him honest, he says, when he puts his hands to her face, to kiss her outside of her school of an evening – but he's here for her to read, awake or not. He has become her favourite book; the Book of Johnny. There's intrigue, she's told him, and simplicity, and hurt, and warmth, and so much life. Son of a plumber, hands that still sing for cards and chips, but which fit so well against her – press of thumb and brush of palm – it's all part of the story that leads to Sunday morning. The first time she'd told him, he'd done that thing; that thing where he jiggles, where he dips downwards, as he laughs, as though he can't quite keep his laughter from reaching the arches of his feet, the backs of his knees, and she couldn't help but blush at the sight of it – not with false-innocence, false-modesty, for she's been leading his hands to undress her of those as just as much as they divest her of the bright bows of her clothing – but with pleasure, with delight, with the bright blush of joy, at the words that his face writes before her.
The way that he sometimes looks wistful, sometimes looks tired, sometimes looks as though he's waging a war against all the world upon his shoulders, but always, always, looks as though she, here, now, she is his.
Is her own, yes, but is also his.
That is the sentiment drawn upon the frontispiece of the book that they are becoming.
That those two states of being are not incompatible. Not contrary.
That everyone can have the choice of a number of lives, is something Penelope thinks on a Sunday morning. In the quiet of her mind. In the touch of the sheets against her. In the ease of Johnny's smile, as he wakes and reaches for her, pulling her in and down, and his eyes are so blue, so bright, as he blinks them open. A number of lives, she thinks, on a day like this, on a good day like this, on a brilliant day like this, with sunshine at the blinds and Johnny's mouth beneath the sheets. A number of lives, she thinks, and the rain can come, and the winter, and the soil can shift the petals from pink to blue. A number of lives, and she expects them, as gardener, as reader, as woman, as wife – lets the story write and weave around her.
This garden is the one she's chosen.