Chapter 4 - Penny Serenade

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On the way to school, Jonathon looked out the car window feeling awful as he thought of Helen. Within the week, the invitation to Billy's birthday dance would arrive at her home. Ever since dinner the previous day, he'd agonized about whether he should warn her about it ahead of time.

As he imagined the uncomfortable conversation that would follow, about how she'd be expected to wear a party gown, and her having to admit she couldn't afford one, his stomach churned. He didn't want to have that talk with her. But if he said nothing, it wasn't going to stop the inevitable. With nothing to wear, she'd have to decline the invitation, and Mother would be outraged.

He'd been trying to think of a way to keep it from happening, but it was useless. Once Mother felt slighted, Helen would no longer be welcome at their home, and that would doom his future with her.

James pulled the Duesenberg up to the curb, and after Billy climbed out, Jonathon followed. He headed towards the entrance with his eyes on the pavement, not wanting to talk to anyone.

"Hey, Johnny!"

Hearing familiar female voices, he turned to face the girls with a sigh.

"I heard about the hot dog roast this weekend," Edna said with a big smile.

"Yeah, it should be a swell time," he replied half-heartedly.

As the girls continued to chatter about the hot dog roast, he examined each of them more closely. He'd known these girls his whole life - and there wasn't one thing about any of them that appealed to him.

It wasn't that they weren't attractive. Their curls were still fresh from the previous night's pinning, and they always dressed well. Being the daughters of wealthier families, they had money for the latest fashions. But they seemed drab, dull, the products of their small town upbringing.

Helen was something else entirely. She was smart, and funny. Almost every time he'd talked to her, she'd caught him off guard. He liked it when she challenged him. And she'd lived. She'd gone through things that Jonathon could only imagine, and it had changed her, given her depth.

But what did all that matter, thought bitterly. As soon as his mother opposed him starting a relationship with her, these would be the only girls left for him to date, and eventually marry. Anger surged through him at the thought. He didn't want any of them.

"Listen girls," he said loudly, and they immediately quieted. "I'm seeing Helen Anderson now." Their mouths dropped open and he could almost hear a chorus of disappointed 'oh's' coming from them. "You should give the other fellows a chance. Go talk to them," he said, indicating his friends who were standing some distance away. "I'll see you this weekend at the hot dog roast."

Before any of them could speak, he turned away. As he continued down the sidewalk, it hit him what he'd just blurted out. Why had he said he was seeing Helen? Because I want it to be true. He wanted it so badly he could taste it, and it would probably never happen. White hot anger flared up inside him again. It wasn't fair that he couldn't have her for his girl.

"Hello, Johnny."

He lifted his head and his heart skipped a beat. Helen was standing in front him, bathed in the morning light. And she was smiling at him, her blue eyes lively. Her cheeks were flushed pink against her pale skin, and he wondered if she'd just arrived at school on her bike. She was so beautiful, it took his breath away.

"Why so down in the mouth?" she asked with her eyes twinkling.

Her smile was infectious, and he couldn't help returning it. "What?" he asked with confusion.

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