The phone rang, and it was Penny. I had only been seeing her for a couple of weeks, but had already gotten used to her presence in my life. She called a lot.
"Hi honey," she said. She had called me that since halfway through the first date. "I'm done the wrapping paper."
We we scheduled to go to her cousin (and best friend) Della's birthday party that evening. Penny had bought Della some book, but hadn't gone into any detail about it. Instead, Penny seems to have fixated on the wrapping. Penny made her own paper as a hobby.
"The glue is drying now and I'll be able to wrap the book soon. I don't want to smudge the glitter. I got it just right." Penny had produced wrapping paper in various shades of blue and purple all swirled together, and had decided it needed a final touch: glitter and dry macaroni glued all over it, like a kindergarten art project. This apparently played into a story from her childhood with Della.
"Sounds, um... pretty." I said.
"I like pretty things. Like your eyes. What are you wearing tonight?"
"I was going to go with the black shirt I had on last Friday." I answered.
Penny paused for a moment. "Is the green one clean?" she asked. "You should think about wearing that one." I began to object, but she interrupted. "It really works with your eyes."
Naturally, I relented. "Thanks for volunteering your opinion," I said, laughing.
"I'm glad I could help," she answered.
I was ironing the green shirt when Penny called again. "Did you get my e-mail?" she asked.
"The one about your car? Good news. I thought it would be in the shop until next week."
"That's what they told me. But the part came in early. Do you mind if I do the driving this evening?"
"Not at all," I said. "But I figured that I'd drive us. I noticed gas prices are --"
"That's so thoughtful of you," she interrupted. "But your car is kind of..." she hesitated. "You know, I have a coupon for auto detailing, if you want it."
"Are you trying to say my car is too much of a mess for you to be seen in?"
"Well... kind of. You need a woman around to remind you of these things."
I smiled. "And you're volunteering?"
"I'm just trying to help," she answered cheerfully.
I arrived at Penny's place a bit early, as per Penny's instructions. Although the party wasn't actually scheduled to start until later in the evening, Penny wanted to get there early. She had volunteered her services (and mine) to help with preparations.
When Penny answered the door, her eyes were bloodshot. She had apparently been crying. I asked her what was wrong.
"Della hates me!" she sobbed as she threw her arms around me. I held her, and couldn't help but notice the birthday present on the kitchen table, carefully unwrapped so the paper could be re-used for someone else, later.
"What happened?" I asked.
Penny then began to relate the story about Della and her on again, off again boyfriend of two years named Dave. About six months ago, Della and Dave had broken up for about a month.
"So one evening I went over to Dave's place to talk to him about it. I hate it when couples don't get along. And they're a really great couple when they're getting along."
Penny then began to describe in detail Dave's perspective on what had broken up his relationship with Della. And as the story went on, Penny slowly became more hesitant to describe what had happened... but continued anyway. Before she was done relating the tale between sniffles, I had figured out what had happened.
"You slept with your best friend's boyfriend?" I asked.
"Well, I didn't plan it that way. I -- I just thought --"
"...It would help?" I offered.
"It wasn't like that! You don't understand!" she protested. "And she just found out about it today."
I wasn't sure what to do or say, so I patted her back in a comforting manner. And then I noticed the book that Penny had gotten for Della: "The Illustrated Kama Sutra For Couples."
"Interesting choice," I observed.
Penny looked away guiltily. "Dave wasn't very good in bed," she sighed.
"You're so helpful," I said, trying to comfort her.