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Got So Far to Go

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After the cameras turned off, things got complicated.

They arrested Tracy, of course. Well, she did hit a police officer and go on the run; it was the sort of thing you got arrested for. Penny didn’t think the charges would stick-- goodness knows Daddy had gotten away with worse, before he finally got sent up for knocking over that radio repair shop. “Don’t tell them a thing, Trace!” she shouted as the cops marched her offstage. “You lawyer up, okay?” She must have sounded nervous for her friend, because Seaweed put his arm around her and squeezed her tight.

“You okay, baby?” he asked. “We’ll get Tracy out of this, don’t worry.”

“I know,” Penny said. “The state’s case is a tissue of lies and hearsay. But I worry about her. Oh, and I’m pretty sure I’m officially kicked out of my mom’s house.”

That, at least, was easy to resolve: the Turnblads had to fight Maybelle-- no, Mrs. Stubbs, she was Penny’s boyfriend’s mother-- Penny’s boyfriend! Oh, gosh-- over who got the privilege of taking Penny in. The Turnblads won, on the basis of propriety and them having an empty room while Tracy was locked up.

Penny didn’t think she’d mind sharing a room with Tracy, once she got sprung from the big house. Tracy was the closest thing Penny had to a sister, already.

School that Monday was kind of a mess. Half the white kids were excited that Corny was integrating the show, and impressed that Penny had been on TV; the other half looked at her like she was something disgusting. Some of the black girls were a little snotty, too, but heck, Penny didn’t blame them for being jealous. She was dating the handsomest, smoothest, best-dancing guy in Baltimore, after all.

Penny chastised herself, just a little, for the insult to Link. He was very nearly as good, after all, and Tracy loved him, which counted for a lot.

Tracy was back in school by the end of the week, which was a relief; it meant Link stopped moping his way through his classes with a lost, forlorn sort of look on his face, and started spending every spare moment glued to Tracy’s side. Penny wished, sometimes, that she and Seaweed could be all lovey-dovey in the hallways like Link and Tracey, kissing and holding hands, but the one time they’d tried it they'd gotten threats from the football players and detention from the football coach, so they decided to save their public displays of affection for private.

One thing, at least, wasn’t complicated. Being with Seaweed was simple and right, when it was just the two of them. They could talk about music, about their schoolwork (Seaweed was a good student, despite the frequent detentions), about the show, their friends, anything. And sometimes, they didn’t need to talk at all.

There were *some* things they had to work on a little, though. Even love isn’t always perfect.

“Okay, now, try it like this,” Seaweed said. His weight shifted against her. Penny’s breath hitched a little. She rocked back on her heels.

“One, two, three, *four*,” Seaweed said, and the music kicked in. She stepped back quick, one-two, then turned with Seaweed, his hand steady on her waist. She followed his steps, right to left, shuffle and turn, and tried not to lose the beat.

“I wish that we were married,” the record player sang. “So we’d never, never, never, never say goodbye...”

“Two kids can know what love is,” Seaweed sang in her ear. Penny tried to focus on her feet. “Yes, we know how it feels to be lonely,” she murmured back.

Penny made it halfway through the song before she tripped, that time. A personal best! And Seaweed, her sweetheart, was nothing but proud of her for it.

She just- she wished she was a dancer, sometimes. She could groove along to the music, could follow a few simple steps, but just about every time her friends got together, the choreography got too complicated for her to follow. Well, at least the rhetoric never went over her her head.

“The Civil Rights Act is going to pass,” Tracy said. They were at Mrs. Stubbs’ record shop, listening to Martha and the Vandellas. It had been over a year since the show had integrated; Inez had won Miss Teen Hairspray a second time. Now it was summer, and sticky-hot. They had fans aimed at them while they argued, but that only really helped to move the humid air around a little. Maybe that was why their tempers were a little short. It was hard to stay cheerful when you felt like you were inside a gym sock; unless, Penny thought a little meanly, you were Tracy.

“Not everyone wants things to be fair, Tracy,” she said, maybe a little sharper than she ought to. “You can’t assume things are going to turn out the way they should.”

“Has my blood pressure got a hold on me?” went the radio.

“Well, why not?” said Tracy. “Seems to me things are turning out just fine. The Act is gonna change things, just wait and see.”

Sometimes Penny felt like Tracy’s eyes didn’t work the same way as other people’s. She saw more, yes: the world looked different, bigger and brighter and more full of understanding than the world Penny saw. But there were a lot of things she was blind to-- like plain and simple meanness, the ugly and stupid things Penny had to put up with every time she walked down the street with her boyfriend.

Not that she wasn’t happy with Seaweed. She was. It was the rest of the world she was having trouble with.

The argument continued into class the next day. Penny and Tracy were squabbling quietly in the back row about it, until the teacher rapped on her desk and asked what all the fuss was about.

Amber, that tramp, had to get involved. Her grudge against Tracy was the stuff of school legend, at this point. “Tracy and Penny think they’re Constitutional scholars, Mrs. Kepler. They’re talking about the Civil Rights Act.”

Mrs. Kepler had been consistently giving Penny Cs since she started dating Seaweed, when she’d always gotten As before. She scowled at them. “I suppose Miss Pingleton and Miss Turnblad think they have a career in law ahead of them,” she sniffed. “Well, I suspect they’ll get to know the legal system intimately, one way or another.”

Penny already knew the legal system plenty well, thanks very much; she’d been filing appeals on behalf of her father since she was eleven. But once the thought was in her head, she couldn’t get it out.

That night at Seaweed’s place, they sat listening to the radio together. Mrs. Stubbs was reading the paper; she handed Penny an article on the Loving case as she passed.

“Sweetie?” she asked. “What would you think about me becoming a lawyer? I mean, after we graduate.”

“What do I think?” he said, smiling at her. Lord, but Penny liked his smile. “I think you’d be a great lawyer.” And he pulled her up out of her seat, to sway along with the radio.

“You, you are my pride and joy,” he sang. “And a love like mine is something nobody can ever destroy.”

“You pick me up when I’m down,” Penny sang back, and this time she had the beat. Her feet didn’t miss a step. “And when we go out, pretty baby, you shake up the whole town.”

She heard Mrs. Stubbs chuckle to herself, as she left the room. But Penny wasn’t really paying attention to anything but Seaweed.