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Kissing Tiny Flowers

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Occasionally Penny wonders if she should go back to being Lady. Her mother is long gone by now, the expectations of that name no longer a weight on Penny’s shoulders. Their relationship was never a regular mother-daughter one, hard to be when your mom fixates on you marrying rich and stepping up in some imagined society only she really cared about. It didn’t get easier when Penny came back from Morocco and realised she couldn’t stay home, not the way her mother wanted her to. Not with all the reasons she left in the first place still being thrown at her in every conversation she had with her mom.

Complicated would be the only way Penny could describe their relationship in the later years of her mom’s life. Penny had come back from Morocco with a mended heart, beautiful clothes, and an appreciation for foods she’d never tasted before. Her mom continued to push her to chase a man with status to make her life better, and Penny would drink her coke with lemon and contemplate all the ways her mom couldn’t accept the world had changed. Still, when the doctors told her that her mom wouldn’t see out the year, Penny stayed, and she couldn’t bring herself to regret it.

Afterwards, closing up her childhood home, boxing up memories and things she’d forgotten, Penny found herself a little lost. Sapphire had come through LA, giving Penny passes for the ‘77 Zeppelin tour and, with nothing else to do after selling her mom’s house, Penny found herself on the plane.

It wasn’t the same. The music, the show, that had been the same, but watching them—old friends, the band—ended up breaking her heart. The drugs weren’t fun anymore, the cracks in the band becoming a little more obvious with each day that went by, and by the time they ended up back in LA, Penny was grateful for the excuse of finding somewhere to live.

When she showed up at the Rainbow during the break between legs, Bonzo looked at her, cupped her face and told her she could do better than this. It was the last time Penny saw him.

*

“Lady Goodman,” Penny says to herself as she goes through a delivery from Morocco, the silks flowing against her skin, memories flooding her senses with every touch. Looking at the mirror across the store, she scrunches up her face. “Doesn’t sound right.”

“Who’s that?” Cassie asks as she unpacks a box, her hair teased to high heaven, lips ruby red, and her lace up leather pants creaking with every movement.

“Someone I used to be,” Penny says with a sigh before looking over at her. “What are you doing here? I thought you were heading to the Strip?”

“I’ve got time,” Cassie says, peering into the box. “You can’t do everything alone, Penny.”

Penny smiles into the silks she’s got in her hands before turning to Cassie. “Go,” she says. “Enjoy yourself. Call me if you need something.”

Cassie puts up a slight protest, but eventually she grabs her bag and heads out, calling a thank you to Penny as she goes. There’s a mixtape Cassie brought in playing in the background, and Penny lets the sounds wash over her as she finishes up going through the deliveries.

*

Bonzo died, Zeppelin broke up, Lennon died, Ozzy made headlines, and somehow the world kept turning.

The money from selling her mom’s house was enough to open up a clothing store in LA, and Penny used the connections she’d made over the years to stock her store with everything you couldn’t get in California. As the trends changed, Penny kept up, loving the moments when someone would find the perfect piece that made their face light up.

The vibes were good at the store, and even as what was in fashion changed, Penny always stocked her Moroccan silks, keeping them in the back for anyone willing to seek them out, for the people who understood what a treasure they were.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was close to that. A place that was hers and hers alone. Her sanctuary.

And then Russell turned up in her doorway.

*

Penny didn’t avoid Stillwater when she came back from Morocco, it would’ve been impossible to. They were still going, selling out stadiums, working on another album, Russell and Jeff somehow staying together despite all the deep cracks Penny knew about. She never went to see them when they came through California, even though she knew her name was on the list. It always was, according to Polexia, even after she left.

There’s something about that, Penny supposes, considering how she left them, how she gave Russell to William because William still saw Russell as a rockstar, even after everything.

It’s nice to be remembered, even when Penny’s not sure she wants to be.

*

“What are you doing here?”

“Recording.”

“I didn’t mean in LA,” Penny says, looking down at the t-shirts she’s folding. “And you know that.”

“Can I—” Russell takes two steps inside the store. “I heard you were back.”

“I’ve been back for years.”

“Yeah,” Russell says. “I saw you in the Zeppelin photos.”

Penny hides a smile as she looks up, enjoying the note of jealousy she can hear in Russell’s voice. “What do you want?”

“You look good.”

The same can’t be said about Russell, Penny thinks as she looks at him. His hair’s greasy, lank, hanging around his face. Moustache gone, in favour of an unkempt beard, and she can’t tell if the bloat is from alcohol or cocaine, or both.

“I wanted to see you,” Russell says. “Jeff’s girl was talking, said you ran a store out this way, and I—”

“You should leave.”

“Penny, I wanted—”

“I know,” she says softly. “I know what you wanted. It’s always been about what you wanted, and I can’t—” Penny breaks off and takes a deep breath. “You know what Bonzo told me, the last time I saw him?”

“No.”

“That I could do better than that life,” she says. “And he was right.”

Russell flares his nostrils, and for a split second Penny wonders if she’s made a mistake by saying that. Reaching underneath the desk, her fingers close around the bat she keeps there, but as she watches, Russell’s shoulders slump and he sighs heavily.

“He was right,” Russell says, looking at her, his eyes slightly clearer than they were when he walked in. “We wouldn’t have been shit without you. I didn’t mean to—fuck. I’ll leave you alone. Have a good life, Penny. You deserve it.”

Penny doesn’t say a word as he leaves, just watches him close the door behind him and step out onto the sidewalk, disappearing into the crowds.

*

There’s less of an innocence around music now, Penny thinks whenever she’s been dragged out to a show at the Roxy by Cassie and the other girls who work at the store. She’s not even thirty yet, but she feels so old sitting on a stool by the bar, watching a band with too much hair spray and a bassist that’s setting fire to his legs. It’s new, kind of, she’s seen fire before, and she’s definitely seen the way the lead singer uses his too pretty face to make all the girls swoon one too many times. The music, though, it’s fun, the guitar sending those familiar sparks down her spine, the steady beat of the drum taking her away somewhere in her own head.

It might not be Zeppelin, or Stillwater, but it’s still music and it still hits her right in the heart.

*

William called the store before he showed up back in her life, he always had been more considerate than he should’ve been for the world he wanted to live in. They meet up in a cafe near Venice Beach, the drive out there giving Penny time to think, to get her head on straight, and she wonders if William picked that location specifically for that reason.

“I’m sorry about your mom,” William says as she sits down. “I know she wasn’t—”

“A mom?”

“Yeah. Still, that’s—”

“It happens,” Penny says, as the waiter brings over their drinks. It’s a coke with lemon and ice that’s placed in front of her, and she smiles, picking it up and taking a sip through the straw. “But thank you.”

“You like what you’re doing now?”

“Is this an interview, William Miller?”

William laughs, shaking his head. He’s older now, they all are, but Penny never really thought about them getting older, the boys and girls she ran with. At the time it felt like they would never grow up, while simultaneously feeling like they were world weary and tired. “No,” William says. “Not unless you want to be.”

“I’ll pass,” she says, picking a piece of bread from the bowl on the table and twisting it between her fingers. “I do like what I’m doing,” she continues after a beat. “My mom never wanted me to work, you know that, she had other plans for me.”

“Keith Richards said he bought a gift for his new girl from you,” William says. “It’s how I knew where you were.”

“I haven’t been hiding,” Penny says, putting the bread down on her plate, hearing the implications in William’s comment. “I’m not ashamed of my past, I’m just—”

“A lot of girls are talking about what they did.”

Penny nods, rests her elbow on the table, her chin in her hand, and looks across the table at William. “You want to write my story, William?”

“It’s your story to tell,” William says with a smile. “If you want to, one day.”

Raising her eyebrows, Penny examines him the way she did back when they first met, and still she finds no ulterior motive behind his eyes. “You haven’t changed,” she says, straightening up.

“Is that a good thing?”

“For you it is,” she says. “Tell me what you’re doing next.”

William looks around and leans forward. “I want to get into movies,” he says, a glint in his eye that’s far too familiar.

She’s so proud of him.

*

Penny’s not sure if she’s ever going to tell her story, she’s not sure if she’s ever going to marry, or have children, or leave LA again. She’s sure about her store, about the people she hires, about the relationships she’s built up since leaving the circus.

And she’s sure about music. She’s always going to be sure about music.

Her old records are stacked in her apartment, keeping her company on warm evenings when she doesn’t want to go out. Instead she listens to the crackle of vinyl, with a glass of wine and a joint, and closes her eyes when the memories get a little too raw.

Sapphire asks her to come back, sometimes, but the wounds still cut deep and she—. She can’t go back the way Sapphire thinks she should, the way everyone would expect her to. Penny can make appearances at some shows, can laugh and smile and catch up with old friends, but now she knows she needs to protect her heart more than she did back then.

“Do you regret it?” Polexia asked one night, having shown up on Penny’s door with a bottle of whiskey and a bag of good weed. “Those years with those boys.”

“Not ever,” Penny had said. “People dream of doing what we did, of being where we were.”

“But you didn’t get anything from it.”

“I got me.”

Polexia had looked at her, a frown on her face. “Too much weed for you,” she’d said, and that was that.

And maybe that’s the difference between Penny and everyone else. She hadn’t liked to think about it back then, the way she’d been held up higher than the other girls, as if they hadn’t all been on their knees for musicians at some point. Now, with distance, with people from that world still dropping in on her, she can pause to look back and know it made her who she is today.

Living that way let her change her name, let her find out who she was away from her mother, away from the expectations put on her when she was only known as Lady.

And maybe one day she’ll tell her story. Or let William tell it.

One day.