Final days of summer, and Penelope spends most of her free time with Otto. She will miss him when she’s stuck back in a classroom; he doesn’t know how lucky he has it.
She calls him her happy chum, although she doesn’t quite know what the word means. It usually makes him giggle, and she can’t get enough of it.
She won’t exactly miss her Dad, he’s been kicking her butt at games for her entire life, and she’s had it. She can beat her best friend, Eileen, but she can’t beat her Dad, and there’s something extra frustrating about that, like perhaps she isn’t as good as thinks.
The best part of August is Penelope turns six, birthday parties always raise her spirits. Unfortunately, it’s after school starts. At least she will be able to hand deliver her invitation to Eileen instead of her Mom just texting the other Mom, all lazy-like and unfun.
The night before school starts, Penelope heard a raucous outside, and she decided to be a big girl (almost six!) and check it out herself. Thankfully it was only a stray dog in their trash instead of a kidnapper.
She lured him away with a treat, out of her parents line of sight if they looked out the front window.
After a few treats, he allowed her to pet him, and her tiny heart melted.
Suddenly, all she wanted for her birthday was this stray puppy, who was so hungry, he whimpered.
She had to bid him goodbye, and run inside when her Dad said it was time for a shower. If she was quick enough, he’d watch a cartoon with her before bed, and while she didn’t exactly enjoy television, she did like being by her Dad.
Plus, there was always the chance, he’d get caught up in his book and lose track of time.
Her Mom tucked them both in, and Penelope choked on asking for the stray. It was risky to blurt it out without any type of warm-up; she had to finesse her parents and make a stray sound like a wonderful idea. It seemed impossible, but she was determined.
All night long, a dog howled outside their house. Penelope worried it was her stray, and regardless if it was or wasn’t, that it would deter her parents more. She could hear them grumbling about all the noise in their bedroom, it wasn’t a good sign.
The next morning, her Dad made breakfast while her Mom was already at work accepting a stock truck for the restaurant. Penelope could tell her brother was going to be really upset when she left on the bus, he didn’t have any idea what the day held because he was still sort of dumb.
Over breakfast her Dad broached the subject of her birthday party, and this was the time to ask, she could feel it. Her Mom would probably say no, she wasn’t really fond of animals, but her Dad, well he always talked of the beagle he had as a kid. It always ran away, and while his parents didn’t appreciate it, apparently her Dad enjoyed chasing after him and finding his secret places to hide.
So she went for it. She laid it all out on the table, she wanted a dog, a big dog, and he wouldn’t cost anything to adopt, and she knew he’d eat anything, so he wasn’t picky (like she was).
It was too early and a complete misdirection from what Marshal was expecting, he just sort of stared at Penelope, feeling she was more like her Mother than they knew.
He tabled the discussion, encouraging her to think of her party so Eileen could be invited, and sent her off to school.
She didn’t hear Otto cry when she left, and she was starting to think he might not miss her at all. Her parents didn’t understand her hesitation, after all she’d been attending Longfellow Elementary for two years already, but she wasn’t going to be in Ms. Dwyer, now Siew’s class. Worse of all, Ms. Siew wasn’t even going to be at school, because she’d had a baby.
It sounded babyish, but Penelope really liked her kindergarten teacher, and not seeing her in the halls was taking away the slim bit of sunshine she’d mustered up about starting a new grade.
Even worse, when she came into the classroom, her best friend Eileen was talking to an older girl. Because first grade was mixed all the way up to third grade, Penelope didn’t know some of the students at all.
Dax was in her class, and he kept showing off, because Mr. McCarthy was his uncle. Even more unfair. Penelope’s uncles were Zeke, a boring computer-or-something guy, and Dean, who was fine-ish, but he was never around.
Thomas was her good buddy, and somehow sorta related to Penelope, like first cousins-once removed or some other adult nonsense, but he was assigned to the backrow. Penelope couldn’t even look at him during class. Mr. McCarthy was ruining everything.
The biggest sting was Eileen was also in the backrow, thankfully not by the big mean girl, Mavis who was stealing her best friend.
Then Mr. McCarthy started talking about seeds, and how giant oak trees come from small acorns, and Penelope began to feel she was too stupid for first grade. How was she ever going to remember all this useless information?
She raised her hands and asked when they were going to start doing fun stuff, and Mr. McCarthy said he didn’t know, he thought acorns were fun!
If Penelope had her own phone, she would have called her Mom to get her, because she was sick, sick of the first grade.
At least Eileen came up to her during recess, but then the Mavis girl was staring awkwardly at them, and it dampened Penelope’s mood.
Thankfully, Eileen agreed to play cops and robbers, and they went off to play without Mavis, who just stayed under the tree, watching everyone play.
Before recess was over, Penelope invited Eileen to her sixth birthday party. She felt decently confident that they were still friends.
They ended the first day with a hug by their separate buses, with Eileen living in Millwood and Penelope in South Port.
While Penelope was at school, struggling through the new routines, classmates, and teacher, Lorelei’s parents came to visit. They hadn’t been invited, but they rarely needed such a thing with their daughter.
Her Father, Tyler got accosted by a stray dog while waiting for someone to answer the door.
When he came inside, he immediately began looking up signs of rabies in the dictionary he’d bought Lorelei for Christmas. Tyler was an author, and he couldn’t imagine a family living without a dictionary or thesaurus. He was mighty glad he’d been such a genius to gift them the dictionary, because he was certain the stray had rabies.
Marshal wandered off, dismissing Tyler’s concerns, and he went outside to scold the dog. He was pretty sure it was the same one Penelope was falling in love with, and he figured it was more an issue of manners than disease.
Kenzie was already in the house, having missed the whole dog debacle. Dean had just moved back in, but he was looking to get his own place, and she wondered if Lorelei knew anyone who needed a roommate. Kenzie felt that everyone who worked at Lorelei’s restaurant was a vagabond in need of money and living situations.
It wasn’t really worth Lorelei’s energy to try and persuade her yet again, that almost all of them had serious relationships, roofs over their heads, and some had kids.
When Kenzie heard her husband making a fuss about the dog, she went outside to show him just how sweet it was. She couldn’t believe her husband, he barely came out of his home office, and when he did, he was scared of his own shadow. Writers.
That evening, Marshal called the animal control. Whether it had rabies or not, it ought to have a home, he felt. He knew Penelope would feel betrayed, but it seemed to be in the animal’s best interest.
The next day, the stray was back, attacking their gardening supplies. Animal control had clearly not caught the animal, and Penelope was certain the dog had chosen them for his home.
That night, Penelope’s birthday weekend began with a sleepover. The girls caught fireflies in their pajamas.
Eileen grew bored and started looking for shooting stars, which were allegedly very common in August. Penelope wasn’t entirely interested in shooting stars, she really wanted to light her bedroom up with fireflies, however, if the August thing were true, then that was pretty special.
In the bedroom, they giggled about people in school. Mostly they laughed about Mallory Louie, even when they didn’t have anything to say, they just laughed about her anyway.
The next morning, Lorelei made her famous (to her family) blueberry pancakes while the girls played outside.
Penelope was determined to figure out why she could defeat Eileen but not her Father.
Eileen distracted herself and Penelope with stories, which was fantastic timing.
As Penelope’s parents were being gross, again.
Penelope couldn’t imagine having a better friend than Eileen, they just got eachother, and always had the most fun together.
Finally they left for the aquarium, her Mom invited Elise and her daughter, Irina so Otto could have a friend. Penelope was pretty sure it was for her own Mom, who was really enjoying Elise’s company.
Mostly Penelope didn’t care though. Her Mom and brother stayed behind to play in the kids area, while her Dad took her and Eileen around the aquarium to look at all the fish.
If Penelope could have one wish, it’d be to be a mermaid, for at least one day.
Her Dad was really into the fish too, something her Mom didn’t really care too much about either way.
Even Eileen got weary looking at fish, but Penelope felt a connection like she knew what they were thinking.
The Moms stayed on the second floor almost the entire time. Which Penelope thought was boring, she would have liked her Mom to join her in the aquarium, but she didn’t really want Otto to start crying.
Elise kept an eye on Otto while they went downstairs to each lunch in the restaurant. Otto had already eaten a packed lunch, and he would just fuss about being contained when there was so much to do.
Her Dad started teasing that they hadn’t bought a birthday gift afterall. Which Penelope thought was a lie, until both her parents agreed, and there was something about their tone that made Penelope nervous.
Then her Dad told her that her gift would require supplies, and that they could pick those up after lunch. Which interested Penelope and Eileen, who were both struggling to think what it could be. Swimming pool? Basketball court? For some reason, they could only think of sporting equipment.
Then Penelope got an idea… could it be a pet?
Could it be a stray?
When her Dad said yes, on the condition that it was healthy, could be caught, and stuck around, then yes. Otherwise, her Mother highly encouraged a pet from the shelter or the pet store.
When her parents started showing affection, Penelope didn’t even care this time. She was over having a birthday party, she wanted to leave immediately, go find her stray dog, and get him all the supplies he’d ever need.
When it was time to leave, Otto threw a tantrum, but Penelope didn’t even realize.
She was outside, skipping in the rain to their car, because she was going to get a dog!
It didn’t take long before the dog came back around, and Lorelei concedes that it’s temporary. The dog must behave himself and not attack Otto or Penelope.
Penelope is confident he will be a good boy, now she just needs a name for him.
Notes: The girls kept gossiping about Mallory, but there wasn’t anything that popped up, like peeing herself. They just kept gossiping about her, about nothing, then laughing. Poor Mallory, first graders make fun of her.
Penelope has not adopted the dog yet, because they are friends, and there still isn’t an option. His personality is Genius, Hyper, Independent, and Aggressive. Penelope and Marshal want to adopt a dog, but Lorelei doesn’t have any such want, and I think the aggressive would be a deal breaker for her. Grace’s aggressive dog never outgrew it either, he’d be snappy even to Grace, his owner, but they’ll go through with it if I can get the option.
Mavis is a third grader, and she’s extremely shy. So I was impressed she was talking with Eileen at all, and Penelope immediately didn’t like her.
Thanks for reading!