One Lump or Two - Chapter Two

Several minutes and curses later, Penelope found her errant keys, and the friends sat safely ensconced in the back seat of Zara’s Duesenberg—or rather, Zara sprawled, Penelope perched.
Paolo turned his comely face around to address the ladies and simply said, “Dove?
“Yes?” Penelope said, staring at his olive skin and green eyes. She had no idea what he’d said, but was willing to agree with anything as she gazed at his beauty.
Zara smiled. She knew Penelope’s goofy look all too well—a look most women, and at least a few men, adopted when face to face with Paolo. It bolstered her morale and confidence in her powers of allurement to know she could still capture the attention and affection of such a sought-after young man, and to the devil with Costas! “Do-vay’ is how you say, ‘where’ in Italian. Paolo wants to know where we want to go now.”
Before Penelope could speak, her growling stomach answered.
“Food … restaurant,” Zara said loudly.
“Ahh, ristorante!” Paolo said, turning back toward the steering wheel and putting the car in gear.
Penelope and Zara gloried in the view of the town that was to be their new home. Buildings and streets all appeared to have been freshly washed down and tended with great care. Surfaces gleamed, floral blooms burst forth in colorful joy, and the complexion of the sky changed to match the mood of the time of day.
The coastal four-square-mile city was considered by many to be the jewel of California’s Monterey County. Dubbed Butterfly Town USA, Pacific Grove served as home to a yearly migration of monarch butterflies, and Penelope regarded the place as a fairy tale township where she could live in tranquil independence. Now that her parents had both passed away, she no longer felt obligated to remain in Southern California. No, her sister, Pauline, could find someone else’s life to disparage and manage into the ground.
As the childhood friends motored down the picturesque streets toward the city center, each smiled and pondered her dreams and prospects for their new life together. Their school days were the last during which they’d lived in the same municipality, and both women were looking forward to continuing their friendship in person. While they’d remained in contact during the intervening years, they really didn’t know much about the women into whom they’d grown or what to expect now that they’d reunited.
Zara’s large luxury automobile drew more than a few stares from the local gentry, and when Paolo parked the long vehicle across two parking spaces, a small crowd assembled around it. He got out and greeted the onlookers, posing against the car like a haute couture model, commanding even more attention as a chattering of young women flocked around him, blushing and whispering to one another.
Zara regarded the scene, thinking back on the days when she and Penelope would have been among the group of tittering teen girls. More accurately, Zara would have walked right up to a handsome older man such as Paolo and asked him to light her cigarette. Penelope would most likely have been secreted behind a tree, looking on covertly.
“I suppose I’ll have to hire a full-time local driver. Pity. Paolo has certain  … skills,” Zara purred, trying to cover her growing forlornness with bawdy suggestiveness.
“Can’t he stay on?” Penelope asked, glossing over Zara’s provocative patter.
“I fear this town would bore him to distraction. He’s used to the pace of San Francisco. Come to think of it, it might be a nice change to have a bed all to myself,” Zara lied, looking out the window to avoid eye contact with Penelope while waiting for Paolo to open her door.
Penelope held the auto’s door closed. “You mean he’s staying in your bed with you?!” she whispered, worried the town folk might hear and disapprove.
“Oh don’t be such a wet blanket. Of course he shares my bed. Do the math, P.”
Penelope pulled the brim of her large festooned hat down over her eyes as a means of hiding from the milling townies in case they overheard her conversation with Zara.
“I’ll say one thing for you,” Zara said. “The size of your carpetbag is matched only by the size of your hat!”
“Balance, it’s all about balance, Z,” Penelope sputtered, opening the Duesenberg’s door and breaking a sweat as she toiled to pull her carpetbag from the backseat.
Once inside city hall, they found the real estate registry was closed for lunch. Penelope wrote a note and slid it under the registry office’s door, explaining that she and Zara were interested in purchasing lodgings. Zara busied herself looking at a board listing homes for sale in the area.
The friends had been raised in a seaside bedroom community, in some ways similar to the new town, but that was where the similarity in their previous residential situations ended. Until coming to Pacific Grove, Penelope had never ventured more than twenty miles beyond San Pedro. Since leaving home, Zara had lived in nine countries and visited dozens more. Most recently, she too had lived in a coastal village—that of Mykonos, Greece. There, she was treated like local royalty. In Pacific Grove she despaired of being treated like everyone else, or far worse, like a harlot, should anyone learn of her career as a courtesan. Penelope was not nearly so reflective—she was too caught up in the sudden tempest of life changes and requisite activity to pay her status or place any heed.
A short time later, the ladies got back into the Duesenberg and instructed Paolo to look for the bustling El Carmelo Hotel Penelope had read about prior to coming to town. When they arrived at the site, they found the place had been dismantled due to lack of business. Instead, they toured the streets looking for restaurants, ultimately opting for The Butterfly Café, a small lunchroom with six cramped tables. They invited Paolo to join them for lunch, but he chose to sleep in the car. Penelope suspected he wanted a reprieve from female prattling.
Penelope generally had a hard time deciding what to eat, whether at a restaurant or standing in front of her open icebox, and that day was no exception. After several irresolute minutes, she took the bold step of proclaiming she’d narrowed down her selection to the hot sandwich column. Zara was impressed with her friend’s relative decisiveness.  But when a lethargic waitress arrived to find Penelope in a panic over whether to get the meatloaf or open-faced turkey with gravy, Zara intervened and ordered both.
“We can share,” Zara said, gently lowering the menu into which Penelope was gabbling unintelligibly.
Penelope heaved a relieved sigh. “You really know how to live, Z.”
Zara let out a hearty laugh. “Amen! Who needs caviar and champagne when you can have meatloaf and hot turkey?!”
“I’m sincere! You’re always so cool and relaxed. Nothing flusters you. I don’t know how to operate like that. I wish I did.”
“Well, there are plenty of things that fluster me, but no, I generally don’t let the flotsam and jetsam send me into a tailspin. It’s a matter of abiding in the given moment, and it takes practice.”
“I’m not sure what ‘abiding in the given moment’ means exactly, but if it means being calm and poised like you, I could go for some given momentness myself.”
“We’re going to have a marvelous time being together as adults,” Zara said, reaching a hand across the table.
“We most certainly are,” Penelope replied, squeezing Zara’s hand and sighing again, this time in contentment.
Just then, the waitress approached with their beverages, her tedium having turned to admiration at the sight of the two women holding hands. “That’s beautiful,” she said, placing the drinks on the table and nodding her approval. “Love is where you find it. This conservative town needs people like you. Your drinks are on me, ladies!”
Penelope’s mouth dropped open as she watched the waitress bounce up to the kitchen’s pass-through window and whisper to the cook. When the two employees looked over and caught Penelope’s eye, the waitress placed her fist over her heart and nodded.
“I … I don’t … What just happened?” Penelope said to Zara.
“Looks to me like she thinks we’re partners … in the Sapphic sense,” Zara said, blowing a kiss to Penelope over the rim of her iced tea glass.
“We’re what!?” Penelope screeched, knocking her knees hard on the underside of the table as she involuntarily began to rise.
“Don’t tell me you’re homophobic, P.”
“I won’t … because I am not!” she rejoined, rubbing her knees.
“Not homophobic or not a lesbian?”  Zara returned, leaning back in the booth and languidly stirring her drink with her straw.
“Not either … neither! … This is terrible … right when we’re about to settle in town.”
“And now that I’ll be staying with you …”
“Oh no! We’re doomed!”
“Relax, P. Our small town stock just skyrocketed. Trust me … lover,” she added, punctuating the term with an exaggerated wink.
“Stop that, Z. I’m serious.”
“Seriously too tightly laced, you mean. Loosen up those corset strings.”
“You don’t understand. I’m a business owner now.”
“Good grief, you mean to tell me—“
Just then the waitress brought their order.
“I pre-split both sandwiches for you already. I think it’s so endearing how you both share,” she said, smiling approvingly. “And here—I dished you up some apple crumble—my treat!”

* * * *
Penelope was reclined nearly horizontally in the car as Paolo commenced a leisurely motor circuit of the neighborhoods.
“Don't tell me you’re hiding in embarrassment after our scenario in the diner,” Zara said.
“I’m not hiding. I’m just painfully full … It was that apple crumble did me in … groan.
“You didn’t have to eat every morsel of everything served, P.”
“Clearly, you don’t remember childhood dinners at my house.  ‘You’ll sit at that table ’til you’ve swallowed every crumb, young lady! There are urchins starving in the gutters of New York!’”
“Your mom did have a flair for the dramatic,” Zara remembered with a smile. “… P …”
“Z,” Penelope moaned as she slid further down the seat, her digestive discomfort building.
“How did they … you know.”
“No, I don’t know. How did who do what?” Penelope blurted, wriggling to sit upright.
“How exactly did they die … your parents, that is.”
“Oh …”
“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”
“Nice of you to pretend, but you and I both know you’re not letting me out of this car until I tell you.”
Zara blinked slowly in a beguiling sort of way—a habit she was used to employing on gentlemen whom she wished to bend to her will.
Penelope exhaled. “The truth is, they never got over Joe’s death—especially Mother. She cried herself into a state daily, off in the pantry with the door closed, where she thought no one could hear her. I think she truly died of a broken heart. Nothing nefarious happened. She just passed in her sleep. Three months later, Father did the same—which was frankly just as well. He was a shell of himself after first losing his only son to the war and then his wife of forty years.”
“Did their passing bring you and Pauline closer?”
“You’d think so, but unfortunately not. My little sister just got meaner and more judgmental. She became nothing short of an ogress.”
“The war tore so many families apart. Sounds like Pauline hasn’t handled the loss of Joe or your parents so well.”
“I never thought of it that way, Z. Thank you. That makes me think a little more kindly of her.”
“Really? Well how ’bout that,” Zara said with a triumphant mien.
“I said ‘a little,’” Penelope added.
The friends both laughed, a warm yet weary laugh of those who had seen better days, as well as some they’d sooner forget.
Zara reached for the telephone embedded in the backseat’s console. “Paolo?”
Olá,” Paolo answered, speaking into the front seat’s telephone.
“Oh, brother,” Penelope said, sliding down in her seat once more. “He’s sitting right in front of us. You can hear each other plenty well without resorting to those gadgets.
“We could … but this is much more fun. Isn’t it, Paolo?” Zara said, speaking loudly into the phone.
Si, Signorina Zara,” Paolo replied, his ardent gaze once more catching hers by way of the rear view mirror.
Zara let out a slight squeak and bit her lower lip seductively as she and Paolo continued to hold their respective telephones in silence, relying on their eyes to convey their lusty desires.
“Weren’t you going to tell him something, Z?”
“Oh, there’s plenty I’d like to tell him.”
Ugh,” Penelope protested, still annoyingly full from lunch and feeling the apple crumble creeping up her throat as she labored to stomach Zara’s libidinous banter.
“Yes,” Zara said, snapping out of her steamy daydream and tapping the auto’s canvas top. “Paolo, be a pet and lower the cabriolet.”
“The what?” Penelope asked.
“It’s French for the fabric top of the car that folds away like an open carriage,” Zara said. “Down, per favore,” she reiterated to Paolo, pointing downward to get her point across.
Paolo pulled the car to the side of the road, unlatched the top’s front hooks, then got out to push the covering back and secure it.
“What’s going on? This can’t be safe,” Penelope said, gripping the back of the driver’s seat in front of her tightly and rubbernecking to keep an eagle eye on Paolo’s actions.
“Hold onto your hat, P,” Zara said, pulling her cloche down tight as Paolo got in the car and stepped on the gas.
“Whatever for?” Penelope asked as a gust of wind sent her picture hat soaring. Miraculously, in less than a second, she managed to catch the hat mid-air, locate a hatpin in her junk-laden carpetbag, and secure her hat against all flurries.
“Why on earth do you insist on still wearing Gainsborough Chapeaux? They’ve been out of style for nearly a decade,” Zara said, shaking her head in disapproval.
“I figure if I wear them long enough they’ll come back in style,” Penelope answered with a grin.
“You actually may be on to something there,” Zara said, her brow creased in contemplation.
At the ladies’ command, Paolo inched up and down the neighborhood streets. Penelope gasped in veneration at each of the many Victorians they passed. Zara groaned her displeasure.
“Ooh look at that one!” Penelope cried, jumping to her knees on the back seat in order to gawk out the rear of the open car at a corner house bearing a for-sale sign.
“That tired old thing? Victorian architecture is so passé, P. Let’s get something bolder, more daring, minimalist. Frank Lloyd Wright is starting to do some compelling things with concrete blocks, I hear. Let’s get him to design something for us.”
“Us? You mean you’re actually setting up house with Paolo?” Penelope asked, raising an eyebrow.
“No! I mean for you and me!”
“Oh no, unh unh. You’re my best friend, and I want to keep it that way. So moving in together permanently is out of the question.”
“But—” Zara interjected.
“I’m in earnest, Z. I’m putting my foot down on this.”
“Good lord, not with those feet, you’re not. Look at those court shoes and Louis heels! I really must take you to the City of Paris Dry Goods store in San Francisco for a day. That should be enough time to burn your existing wardrobe. How do you feel about arson, Paolo?” Zara called out loudly.
“You’ll do no such thing. Besides, the new Holman’s Department Store here in town is said to be quite posh, you’ll be happy to know,” Penelope said.
“Very happy to know, in fact,” Zara said.
“Paolo, stop the car, please,” Penelope said with authority. “I’d like to get out and look at that corner Victorian we passed.”
“Well if you’re going to be a fuddy-duddy … Paolo, arresto. Be a love and turn the car around? Penelope wants us to retire to a dusty, styleless, antediluvian old folks home.”
“Say what you will, I love Victorian architecture. It will make a comeback someday too. Mark my words.”
“Whatever you say, P,” Zara said, rolling her eyes.
Paolo pulled to the side of the street, and Penelope bounded out of the car.
“Ya know, for someone who prides herself on not attracting attention, this place is awfully gaudy,” Zara said, following her up to the house.
“Isn’t it grand?” Penelope asked in wide-eyed wonder. “It’s a Queen Anne. That’s my favorite style. Do you see how every surface is ornamented?”
“Oh yes, it’s hard to miss.”
Built in 1888, the multi-gabled seaside home was a standout among Pacific Grove’s exquisitely maintained Victorian homes. British engineer and amateur architect William Lacy had originally built the residence as a vacation home for his family who lived in Los Angeles. Sadly, they never had the opportunity to occupy the place. Framed entirely of redwood, the house boasted solid maple floors along with a massive mantelpiece accenting the parlor’s fireplace. The doors and window fixtures were constructed of copper and brass.
“Look at the multi-textured façade. And do you note all the gables? There are windows overlooking the ocean from every angle … it even has stained glass flanking the chimney! It’s perfect!”
“It’s something, all right,” Zara said.
“And an English garden! I adore English gardens.”
“Of course you do,” Zara lamented.
“I’m going to see if I can peek in the windows … Oooooh … don’t you just love this archway with the creeping roses? Don’t answer that!” Penelope said just as Zara’s mouth opened to hurl a creatively scurrilous comment.
“I’m heading back to the car,” Zara said with a languid wave of her hand.
“It already feels like home. Look at the imposingly high ceiling and that stately banister! The crown molding is exquisite and … will you look at that … it has a floor to ceiling built-in bar.”
“Did you say bar?” Zara asked, turning around and double-timing her steps to meet Penelope at the window.
“Not just any bar—a proper bar with a carved bar-back. Do you see that gilt mirror and those tall bar chairs?
“Oh, P, you were right. This place is rather stunning. I don’t know how I didn’t see it before. Just think how we could do up that parlor!”
“You’re not just saying that because of the prospect of evening cocktails on a daily basis?”
“Of course not … well, not entirely anyway. Let’s go around the other side.”
The boon companions locked arms and tittered their way around the house, dirtying their noses and gloves on the windows, verbally decorating and redecorating each room they came upon, and nearly getting into an altercation over the potential dining room’s color scheme.
“Hello … is someone here?”
The ladies froze in their tracks, clutching each other for moral support.
“Is somebody back there?”
Sheepishly, the two spies extricated themselves from the flower bed they’d inadvertently trampled in their enthusiasm to view the kitchen.
“Is there something I can do for you ladies?” said a smartly dressed women carrying a sign resembling the one Penelope had first seen on the front lawn.
“How do you do?” Penelope said, clearing her throat and smoothing her skirt. “I’m Penelope Price and this is Zara …”
“Just Zara,” the cohort in question interjected.
“I’m interested in possibly purchasing this place. Might we go inside?” Not waiting for the expected answer, Penelope strode toward the front door.
“I’m afraid that’s impossible, Miss Price. This house has just been sold. I’m Nell Stewart, the realty agent representing the seller,” the woman said, handing Penelope a business card.
“A female realtor. Good for you!” Zara said, slapping the unwitting Nell on her back in triumph.
“Thank you, Miss … ehrm, Zara. I’d be happy to show you something else in the area … perhaps something more modern?”
Zara snickered. Penelope kicked her in the shin.
“That’s very kind of you …” Penelope began, crestfallen and not the least bit interested in seeing or considering any other residence.
“Unfortunately, it is imperative Miss Price own this house,” Zara said, rubbing her calf against her aching shin.
“That’s out of the question. Escrow has already closed, and the new family will be moving in a week Saturday.”
“Family, you say …” Zara said slowly, her eyes flitting as she hatched a plan.
“Yes, the husband, Mr. Jenkins, has procured employment just outside of town at the new Del Monte Lodge in Pebble Beach. He starts on Monday actually, and he’s staying at the town inn here in Pacific Grove until his family arrives.”
“So there’s absolutely nothing we might say or do to persuade you or him to release the house to my friend, Penelope here.”
“Not a thing. And now if you’ll excuse me, I really must go. I moonlight as a switchboard operator. The real estate market in California just doesn’t pay the bills. Never will, I dare say.”
* * * *
Twenty minutes later, Zara called out from a bedroom on the upper floor of the Queen Anne Victorian. “This is my room, definitely. Did you get a load of this closet? I think it could hold a football field.”
“I counted three fireplaces and six rooms. Can you beat that? And one of the bedrooms has a bathroom actually set in a gable! Plus, there’s a carriage house,” Penelope returned, ambling around the top level of the house in an incredulous daze.
“Lucky thing. You’ll need an entire house to store all of the stuff from the antiques store!”
Zara crawled into the shared bathroom’s empty tub and glanced out the window at the Pacific. “Every room in this place has an ocean view! And did you see my room’s adorable window seat?”
“I still don’t understand how you did it,” Penelope called out from within the fireplace she was inspecting from the inside out.
“It wasn’t me! All the credit goes to John Knox,” Zara called back.
“I don’t follow,” Penelope said, entering the shared bathroom.
Zara snickered as she noted the soot on her friend’s face, but decided not to mention it. “Hundred dollar bills?”
“You know, John J. Knox … the financier whose face is on the hundred dollar bill?”
“Oh, sorry, yes. I don’t see many of those. But I promise, I’ll pay you back, Z. You really didn’t have to do that.”
“Oh, but I did if you were to get your dream house … Why don’t you look ecstatic?”
“I am … I guess … It’s just … that poor man and his family … They were all set to move in and—”
“And now they have enough money to move wherever they want, with a tidy nest egg to boot. Relax, P. A few months from now they won’t remember a week’s worth of inconvenience when they’re living in their new and bigger home. This place was too small for that enormous family of theirs anyway.”
“I didn’t think of it that way. That makes me feel better.”
“Of course it does.”
“But truly, I will pay you back … just as soon as—”
“I know, as soon as the tearoom is making a profit. There’s no rush, P.”
“No, you didn’t let me finish. I was going to say, ‘As soon as we can go to the bank.’”
“I don’t follow. Where would you get that kind of money? We courtesans tend to have money coming out of our ears … at least for a time … but you respectable types…”
“It’s from my parents’ inheritance,” Penelope said quietly, looking to the ground and exiting the room to sit at the top of the second floor landing.
Zara vaulted out of the tub and hurried after her. “I wasn’t thinking. I apologize, P.”
“Nothing to apologize for,” Penelope said, her voice quavering in emotion. “They’d be proud and pleased to see me getting settled in a home of my own in such a lovely little town.”
Unlike her mercurial sister, Pauline, who was at constant loggerheads with their mother, Penelope had always been close to both of her parents. In fact, she considered them her best friends. As a result, she’d never thought to move out of San Pedro, and had only left the nest to take a room at the local boarding house at her mother’s prodding.
At the time, Mr. Price’s own mother came to live with Penelope’s family when she turned ninety-three and required a good deal of looking after. Penelope was happy to surrender her room to Gran and had planned to camp out on the living room couch throughout the rest of her grandmother’s days.
Penelope’s mother kindly suggested that, as a young working woman, Penelope might want to move into lodgings where she could live among her peers instead of spending her nights playing board games with her elders. Penelope had reluctantly agreed, though she wished daily to return to the loving comfort of home. The plus side of the move was that sister Pauline had stopped giving her grief about ‘mooching’ off of their parents.
Meanwhile, Pauline rarely contacted her mother or father unless to ask for money for her own family, comprised of herself, her henpecked husband, and spoiled six-year-old son. Based on how often Pauline wanted money, she spoke to her parents frequently.
Penelope stood up and looked around the top floor before descending the stairway. “Mother and Father would be even happier to see me take up residence in such a beautiful home … especially if they knew I was keeping an eye on you,” she added with bittersweet humor.
“Brat!” Zara said, swatting Penelope’s backside as they headed down the stairs and out the front door. Once on the porch, Penelope fumbled through her bag, feeling for her key fob.
“Now you have another key to lose,” Zara jested.
“I really must make a list of all these keys.”
“Paolo, start your engine!” Zara shouted. “Too bad he’s oblivious to my lurid double meanings,” she added as she bounded into the back seat of the luxurious auto and basked in the seaside sun while Penelope continued her key search.
At length, a jingle of metal resonated from the bowels of the carpetbag, and Penelope thrust her arm into the depths, seized the brass ring, attached the new key to it, and locked the door of the home, her home, the first home of her very own.
“Thanks, Mother. Thanks, Father,” she whispered as she gently placed her palm on the front door.
“Shake a leg, P!” Zara called.
Penelope walked to the car, carrying her large bag in her arms as if it were a stack of wood. Reaching the sidewalk, she turned around to take in the view of the house and grounds. She let out a humble and grateful sigh, then crawled into the back seat of the automobile, still holding the bag, her eyes fixed on the domicile until the car turned the corner.
“Now where to? We should celebrate!” Zara exclaimed. “Paolo, we really must locate the speakeasies in this town,” she said, imitating the gesture of drinking.
“Si, signorina,” Paolo replied, paying little attention to what had been said.
“I’m choosing to disregard that last incendiary comment of yours, Z. Really, I’d like to go to the boarding house, if it’s all the same to you. My head is swimming, and I just want to be somewhere quiet where I can think.”
“And make lists?”
“That too.”

“Home, Paolo! And don’t spare the horsepower!” Zara cheered.

... to be continued ...