“What are you talking about, Honey?” Hours later I was still upset from the fight with Katie and babbling incoherently to Peter over the phone. “Just hang tight, Penny. I’ll be right over.”
When Pete arrived I told him everything that had happened. I was completely broken in a way I hadn’t been in years. I had no idea how I let a teenager, let alone my niece, crush me in such a way.
“She said what! Oh, honey. That wasn’t what I said at all!”
“So it’s true?” I couldn’t even look at him. I didn’t want to see what his eyes might say.
“Only in her mind maybe. When I was here last week I told her she was a smart, beautiful young lady and that her behavior might give some men the wrong idea about her. I was speaking as a father. I didn’t mean anything else by it.”
I heard in his voice that he meant it. I was struck by another odd thought in that moment. “I meant it like a father…” I was still lost in my own little world when I realized that Pete was still talking to me.
“Come here, Penn. You have no reason to feel sorry for yourself or the way you look. Yes, you might weigh more than you did 10 years ago but it’s beautiful. You know why? Because you grew a life inside of you. You’re gorgeous.”
I was so busy enjoying this moment that I wasn’t thinking about anyone but myself.
“Penny? Where is Katie now?”
“Shit. I really don’t know, Pete.” I’d been so upset that I hadn’t even thought about the fact that she was still gone. I didn’t know how I managed to let a teenager, let alone my own niece, get under my skin like that. After months of watching her destroy herself my resolve was broken.
“Don’t worry, Penny. We’ll find her.”
Katie finally returned in the wee hours of the morning.
“Hi, Penny. I’m sorry for what I said and I’m sorry I ran away.”
“I’m sorry too. Let’s just leave it at that. We both screwed up and we both have things we need to work on. You head up to bed. We’ll start fresh in the morning.”
Katie grabbed on to me a sobbed. I knew I would never replace her mother. I just hoped we could weather these teen years together.