Penny turns amongst the crowd. Pens and playbills are thrust at her from all sides. She smiles warmly at fans eager to establish contact with a woman they have only seen on TV. This is what Penny loves about theater: the instant connection with the audience, feeding on their visceral reactions to the words she speaks on stage. It is the best summer she has had in years.
Another playbill is proffered to her and she reaches for it until her eyes fall on the hand holding it. Against her will, her eyes travel upward until they are blinded by the blue she just knew would be there. For once, New York is totally silent. They stare at each other across a chasm of lost time.
"Penny." Her agent touches her shoulder; a cacophony of horns and sirens makes her jump. She tugs at the playbill and, like all their interactions, he tugs in the opposite direction.
This time she yields.
She follows him like she should have long ago
They walk in silence- she is only a step behind him and the playbill tethers them to each other. He still walks with purpose, turning down streets and bounding around corners without hesitation. He walks until he comes to a door of smoky cut glass. The restaurant behind it is dimly lit and half empty. Penny orders a glass of red wine. Predictably, he doesn't join her.
She waits patiently for him to say something. Why is he here? Where has he been? Why didn't he call? Does he recommend the veal? He is a mass of tics, twitches, throat clearing and eyes that skip nervously around. His hands reach for the water glass that is perilously close to her hand then draw back. Penny takes pity on him and pushes the glass closer to him. He grabs it and she watches him gulp down the contents. Exposed over the white collared shirt are the fluid motion of his Adam's apple and the workings of the muscles in his throat. Penny feels the low burn of desire that was always present whenever she looked at him, no matter who she was with.
"I thought I could do this." He rasps. The uncertainty in his voice is something new. He who never faltered or wavered is visibly shaken before her.
"Sweetie…" Her hands reach toward him but he leans back.
"Don't." He chokes out. "Don't act as if nothing changed. If things weren't said…"
"Nothing was ever said. I believe that was the problem." Penny flares. Unbelievable. All this time and no one can bring her from tranquil to blinding rage as quickly as he. His forearms rest on the table, the sleeves of the dress shirt rolled neatly up to the elbow. Her brow furrows when she notices the slight tan on them. That's new. The burn flames a bit and she sips her wine to hide her discomfort. He stares down at the untouched dinner roll on his bread plate and his fists clench so tightly the knuckles are white.
Penny clears her throat to try again. Just as she opens her mouth, he hisses, "You married him."
"And divorced him." She snaps. God! Can they ever have a normal conversation? Must it always be thrust and parry? He's looking at some nondescript abstract painting on the wall to his left. Penny keeps talking. "Something was missing." She regrets her marriage-the shambles it made of all her closest relationships, the havoc it nearly caused on her fledgling career.
Two plates of steaming pasta, bejeweled with vegetables and seafood are placed before them.
"Let's start over." Penny says brightly. "What have you been doing?"
He pokes and prods at the food before him until everything is separated by color. She watches, intrigued once again by the need for order he has to make out of any level of presumed chaos.
"So?" she prods.
He lays down his fork. His eyes are dark with sadness and, though she can't believe it, the same feeling in her that has grown from burn to flame in the longest forty minute dinner she has ever experienced.
"I've been trying to forget you and forgive you."*
She runs her index finger along the rim of her wine glass. Her mouth hooks into a half smile and she feels the playful glint in her eyes as she raises the glass to her lips
"Did you succeed?" Penny takes a deliberate swallow. His hands flutter up to indicate the two of them seated across from each other.
*The last three lines are dialogue lifted straight from The Lake House when Alex reunites with his father Simon. They inspired this fic.