Pennie Jackson had just finished her junior year at one of the best private high schools in Greenwich, Connecticut. It prepared its students for admission into the finest colleges in the country, and required a high standard of academic excellence. Community projects and additional activities were encouraged to strengthen their college applications. As a result, the list of colleges they got into was impressive.
Pennie had turned seventeen in December and would be entering her senior year in the fall. Her boyfriend, Tim Blake, had just graduated two weeks before. With Tim leaving for college at the end of August, Pennie wasn’t looking forward to senior year. They’d been dating for almost three years and it was going to be lonely without him. He’d been accepted at Stanford, in California. He’d had top grades, perfect board scores, had been captain of the basketball team, and had worked as an intern for a senator in Washington, D.C., in the summer for two years in a row.
Pennie and Tim had been dating since her freshman year, and she couldn’t imagine her daily life without him. In spite of their serious relationship, they had both remained diligent about school, sports, extracurricular activities, and maintaining their grades. Pennie had volunteered with children at a homeless shelter since freshman year, and had created and run a toy drive for them every Christmas. She loved kids and they all loved her. She never missed a Saturday at the shelter.
She had watched Tim throw his mortarboard in the air with the rest of his class, with a sadness she had hidden well. They both knew what it meant. They had made the decision when he’d been accepted in early admissions at Stanford. They had considered it carefully, and felt it was the right choice for both of them. They wanted to be sensible, neither of them wanted a long distance relationship and the hardships it entailed, pining for each other, only seeing each other at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and spring break, and probably disappointing each other at some point. They had promised that they would break up after Tim’s graduation. He was going to spend the summer traveling in China, which was his parents’ graduation gift to him, and she was going to be a junior counselor at the summer camp she had attended for five years. It would be her first summer as a junior counselor. In August, Tim would be off to Stanford, and she’d be back at their old school, without him, missing him, applying to college, and doing her volunteer work.
They had made their agreement and stuck to it. They had broken up three days before, and were both leaving for the summer in two weeks. They didn’t want to drag it out in the end. They had cried like children when they left each other, but true to their word, they hadn’t called, texted, or spoken to each other for the past three days. It was much harder than she’d expected. They wanted to stay friends, but for now, they were trying to get used to being apart. She felt as though her heart had been torn in half as he drove away from her house after he’d come to say goodbye. They had been inseparable for the past three years, and now suddenly, she was on her own. He was not only her boyfriend, but her confidant and best friend. It was so much to lose, letting him go was the hardest and most adult thing she’d ever done.
Pennie was a beautiful green-eyed blonde, with long, straight, wheat-colored hair, slim legs that never seemed to end, a striking figure, full breasts, and a waist Tim could almost circle with both hands. She looked like the proverbial girl next door, or the girl everyone wished lived next door. Tim had spotted her on her first day at their school, at the beginning of her freshman year and his sophomore year. By Christmas, they were already in love. They made love for the first time a month after she turned fifteen, and were responsible about it. They rarely took any chances, although they had a few times, but nothing had happened.
Tim was as handsome as she was pretty. He was tall, athletic, with broad shoulders and a chiseled face that made him look manly for his age. His blond hair was the same color as hers, and he had deep blue eyes. People often commented that they looked like brother and sister. Tim was an only child, adored by his parents. Pennie had twin brothers six years younger than she, who annoyed her much of the time. She loved them but they invaded her space, took her things and never returned them, and teased her at every opportunity. Seth was slightly more sensitive, and Mark always landed with both feet in his plate on every subject. He was tactless in the extreme. Tim thought they were funny.
Pennie and Tim had talked about marriage a few times in the past few years, what that would be like, whether or not they could keep their relationship alive long enough, until they grew up. But once college became a reality, they both realized that marriage wouldn’t be possible. After his parents’ constant protection and scrutiny, he was ready to spread his wings and was looking forward to college. He thought that Pennie deserved the same freedom, to grow wings of her own. She had thought about applying to Stanford to be near him, but her parents didn’t want her going that far from home. They wanted her to apply to the eastern Ivy League colleges, which had always been her goal too. Her grades were as high as Tim’s, and with her board scores and volunteer work, she had a good chance of getting in.
Tim wanted to be an econ major, and go to business school later. Pennie hadn’t discovered her passion yet. She was strong in English, writing, and history. She was thinking about a teaching degree, or a major in English literature. Her path wasn’t as clear as Tim’s. His father was an investment banker in New York, and Tim wanted to work in finance too. His mother did extensive charity work and headed up several committees.
Marriage was light-years away for Tim and Pennie, and they knew it. They didn’t delude themselves about that anymore. They had years ahead of them to find jobs, pursue careers, and go where life and their respective opportunities led them. Tim’s parents were more conservative and older than Pennie’s. They both came from reserved eastern families. They had worried that Tim and Pennie’s relationship would distract him and affect his grades. But Tim had managed all his responsibilities and the relationship well. Pennie’s parents were a little younger and somewhat more free-form. Pennie’s mother, Eileen, knew that they had been sleeping together for two and a half years. Pennie had told her. She had always been honest and open with her mother. Tim’s parents hoped they weren’t sexually involved and didn’t ask. His father had warned him about not getting anyone pregnant and ruining his life. The conversation had been stilted and awkward, since he and his father both knew that the “anyone” they were talking about was Pennie. But he hadn’t gotten “anyone” pregnant, and his parents were relieved that he was going away to college, before his relationship with Pennie got even more serious. He had told them that they were planning to break up before he left for Stanford, which they thought was a wise decision. They liked her, and conceded that she was a nice girl, and very bright, but they made it obvious that they thought the relationship was potentially dangerous for their son, and too serious for young people their age. It worried them that the romance went on for several years. They occasionally advised him to date other girls, which Tim ignored. But inevitably he would now, at Stanford.
When Pennie turned fifteen, her mother had told her the truth about her own marriage. Eileen and Paul had met and started dating during her senior year at Boston College. Paul was at Harvard Business School then, headed for Wall Street, and eventually wanted to become an entrepreneur. He had big dreams. They both did. Immediately after graduation, Eileen got a job as an editorial assistant at a publishing house in New York, which had always been her dream. She had three roommates in Greenwich Village, and loved her job. Once she had graduated and moved to New York, her relationship with Paul became too complicated with him in Cambridge and her in New York, and it petered out. They’d enjoyed dating, but they weren’t madly in love. Eileen was more excited about starting her career than pursuing the relationship with Paul.
She’d been in her job for a few months when Eileen figured out that she was pregnant. She’d been in denial and misread all the signs. She took the train to Boston one weekend to tell Paul, not sure what to do next. The news hit both of them like a bomb. They told their parents, who were horrified. Hers were devastated, and his were outraged. Paul made his own decision to do what he felt was the right thing. Against his parents’ wishes, he left business school, and he and Eileen got married at City Hall in New York. He got a job at an ad agency in the city and they rented a small, depressing, inexpensive apartment they could afford in Queens. Eileen stayed on at the publishing house until a week before Pennie was born. They were twenty-two and twenty-four when they got married, and Pennie’s arrival changed everything. All their dreams went right out the window. Their families treated them like criminals or outcasts. Eileen’s mother, who had been bitter and disappointed all her life, with a difficult marriage, told Eileen regularly how she had disgraced them. Neither family offered to help them and felt they deserved the hardships they were facing on their own.
Copyright © 2020 by Danielle Steel. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.