* This is very long. Go get a snack. Also, it took me a really long time to write it, I worked hard on it. It’s different than anything I’ve posted. It’s a lot of dialogue, so let me know what you think. My Microsoft Word recently died so I am using a different program which makes editing a nightmare. Hopefully I did an alright job. So let me know what you think. There’s two clickable links for songs in certain parts. That is all. -Elle
“One year after his online EP debut, Connor Wylie re-emerges with a whimsically romantic album,” Holding his iPad up in the air right in his face, Ashton walked back and forth in front of the kitchen table’s length, reading out loud from the online Billboard article with sunshine dressing his tanned skin, a lazy morning outfit of raggedy beach shorts and a ripped up Sonic Youth tee shirt in desperate need of the extra touch. “Whimsically romantic!” His eyes beamed as he looked around the side of his tablet, not taking into account that Connor wasn’t paying much attention. He was chewing on soggy bran flakes with his hand still twirling the spoon through the bowl while his eyes read an article on his own tablet, one about the new line of Gibson guitars coming out next year. “My son, whimsically romantic…” Ashton mumbled to himself, trying to soak the compliment in.
“Dad, I told you, I’m not interested in reviews.” Connor sighed with a smile that had barely woken up on. He shook out his shaggy golden hair, reaching around to tie it up into a low half pony with the brown elastic on his wrist.
Connor just wanted to make music. He didn’t really have any concern for what many people thought about it. The opinion of his pseudo uncles mattered since he respected their own musicianship greatly, his father was a decent influence, and if the great Eddie Vedder would ever acknowledge him, he would lose his mind. Beyond that, it was just fun for Connor who recorded most of his album in his bathroom on his laptop with his best friend, Joey Carmichael.
“But this is a big one. Billboard music! Connor, how are you just eating cereal right now like nothing is going on?” He truly could not believe his son wasn’t bouncing off the walls or hyperventilating into a hand towel.
“I’m hungry?” With his mouth full, Connor answered as if it was a real reason. The truth of the matter was, he didn’t want anyone else’s opinion to mess with his head. He wanted to stay mellow before his first really big show. He was headlining at the The Dynamo Cabaret where his album was going to launch and he worried if he thought about it too much, he might lose his nerve. Up until now, it had just been wedding gigs, late night diner jams, and posting his stuff online. It was estimated that 1,000 people would come around tonight and with his Dad around, Connor knew some of the ears listening would have major musical power.
Ashton slid his iPad across the table in defeat, collapsing lazily into the chair across from his relaxed seventeen year old. He reached into the middle of the table and stole the uneaten half of kiwi in front of his son, scooping it out without hesitation.
“I was not as calm as you are when our first album came out.” His legs shaking under the table, Ashton while trying not to bother his seventeen year old son stories of when he was first starting out. It was difficult though. He felt too much pride that it was practically radiating out of him like indoor sunlight. “Granted, we weren’t indie and doing it ourselves, but I was freaking out.” Ashton chuckled, trying to contain the excitement he felt for his son while keeping his nostalgia for the glory days to himself. He was miserably failing at both. “What’s going to be your preshow ritual?”
“I don’t know.” Swallowing a large spoonful, Connor thought out loud. “Probably shower.” He itched at his leg and then scratched the top of Rocco, their German Sherpard mutt beneath the table, finding pleasure in his father’s lack of enthusiasm due to his mundane answer. “If Molly gets in early enough, we can go to hot yoga.” She was taking the a Greyhound bus special just to be there for her brother’s big show.
Ashton began to snore obnoxiously, rocking his face over both his hands as if Connor was putting him to sleep with his lack of excitement.
“What, like, you guys did anything cool? You guys made grainy videos and, like, wrote songs about fruit.” Connor retorted, squishing up his face and shaking it at his Dad before getting up along with Rocco to take his bowl over to the sink. People sent him the video of his father singing ‘It’s My Lime’ constantly through social media. He knew all about what went on back in the day.
“Well after I met your mother, my pre show ritual changed dramatically!” Spooning the last bite of kiwi fruit into his mouth, Ashton claimed, earning a gagging sound from his son behind him.
“That is my cue to leave.” His plate loudly clanged against their stainless steel sink and Connor was jogging out of the kitchen, leaving his father alone with the review and their other dog, perpetually exhausted Golden lab, Gatsby as Connor headed up the steps with Rocco right behind. The young Irwin was at the top of their winding steps when the doorbell rang, listening to the kitchen chair scratch against the floor as his father called out that he would answer it. Connor was mindlessly going through the chord change of one of his songs in his head when he noted out the top window that nobody ever looked out of unless on the top floor balcony and spotted his Uncle Luke’s blue vintage Mustang, the long legs of Penelope stepping out of it. Instantly, he stopped playing guitar in his head and ran back to the steps.
“I’ll get it, I’ll get it, I’ll get it, I’ll get it.” He was at the front door at warp speed, gasping to breathe as he reached for the handle of the door at the same time of his dad. Connor backed off as his father stared at him like he was suddenly insane. He didn’t want to look too eager, like he knew she was coming or anything, so Connor stuffed his hands into the pocket of his capri sweats and let his Dad pull open the door while he stood back.
On the other side of the door, standing tall with legs like sticks of butter underneath her lake blue board shorts, her usually exposed stomach hidden under a thin black zip up and covering the gold belly button piercing that Connor had written drunk diddies about, Penelope Hemmings was a glowing dewy mess of blond locks.
“Hi Uncle Ash!” Chipper, she greeted him with a wave and looked beyond his head to try and catch a glimpse of Connor somewhere, not spotting him standing to the side and feasting his freckled hazel eyes on her goddess-like beauty. She was truly a creature from another world to him even if he kept that to himself. “I hope I’m not interrupting something, I know it’s early…” Penny never slept in. Despite her laid back nature, eight AM was the latest she slept herself stay in bed. There was too many opportunities for waves wasted if she stayed in any longer than that.
“Nope. You know you’re always welcome, Penny.” Ashton grinned back, trying to match the wattage that naturally radiated from her grinning lips. He slid his eyes over to his son who had yet to say anything or even make himself known. It was strange given how usually Connor was attached to Penelope’s hip when they were around one another. The girl couldn’t breathe without Connor counting it. “What’s up?”
“I just picked up all the merch for Connor’s show tonight. I wanted to show it to him. Is he around?” The question had just fumbled out of her freshly balmed lips when the Connor finally stepped into frame, waving his hand at her anxiously and then folding it behind his head, his peace sign tattoo revealed on his thumbs as his fingers separated themselves from each other. “There you are, Mr. Whimsically Romantic.” Laughing, Penny reached in and gave his hard stomach a light smack.
“You read the review?” Connor scrunched up his face in order to properly allow an embarrassed laugh out. “I’m trying to avoid them.” He admitted while itching at his mane of hair.
“Why!? It went on and on to say how you’re climbing up a hill on your way to becoming a musical voice of our generation. They called you a young sunshiny Bob Dylan….or something like that.” Penelope babbled only to stop herself to rethink the quote.
“He has the makings to be the musical voice of a new generation.” Ashton happily corrected, staring up at his son with a smile that he couldn’t wash off even if he tried using an industrial sponge and heavy duty bleach. “The Bob Dylan thing was right.” He winked, looking back at Penelope. “Merch. Let’s see this merch!” Ashton clapped his hands together, the dogs already outside on the lawn and sniffing around the Mustang that neither Connor or Ashton could believe Luke let Penelope take out for the day.
Ashton led the way outside, stopping to throw his arm over Penelope’s shoulder and walking with her toward the freshly washed ride. Connor followed behind, slipping on flip flops and closing the door. He tried to behave himself and not take a sneak peek of Penelope’s peach of a butt in her beach shorts, but it was nearly impossible, not when it was paired with her long legs toned by a life balancing over a board in the water. He slid his eyes up quickly at the sound of his name being called, catching Penelope looking at him as she reached over the side of the backseat, drumming on the nearest box top.
“I said this one is stickers and buttons.” She smacked the center of it. “That one is tanks and tees, women’s, then the two on the floor are tanks and tees for men, and wristbands and trucker hats because Emme predicts they’re making a comeback.”
“Cool. Let’s see!” He lunged forward right between his father and Penny to peer into her full car, Rocco coming up and brushing by both his leg and her’s.
“Well, I’m wearing my favorite.” Casually, she turned to face the Irwin men and as if she was acting out Connor’s wildest fantasy, Penelope reached for the silver pull of her zipper and brought it open, teasing his eyes indirectly, and revealing a black tank top that read 'Connor Wylie Music’ in a sleek Bordeaux colored Georgia font.
“Amazing.” Connor breathed out, nodding at her flat chest that almost looked full due to the low cut design. “I like the clean print.” He mentioned, using the center of his chin to point at her top.
“Iden designed everything. I just printed it.” Penny pulled on the bottom of her tank top to show it off to her Uncle, earning two thumbs up. She opened up the passenger side door and climbed in to push back the front seat, cutting open the tape from the first box with her finger. “Here.” She reached in and took two cellophane packs out, handing the buttons to Ashton and stickers to Connor. “There’s one that says Connor Wylie in each and the rest have lyrics or your album title,” Namesake, a discreet shout out to his parents who had been a major musical influence and encouragement from day one for him. “You’ll notice each pack has lyrics from 'Dreamgirl’ on it because I think that’s my favorite song.” Along with a couple magazines, blogs, and family members, Penelope had been presented with a special early disc from Connor, asking for her honest opinion as they drove around in his Dad’s car last week, coming home from a late night school assembly together. “Nora must love that you wrote a song about her,” Mindlessly, Penelope gushed in a great effort to be supportive. She didn’t notice that even her Uncle Ashton looked up at her with a wiggle of his nose, not sure he heard her properly. Did she really think that his son wrote Track 4 about his latest girlfriend? “Maybe one day a cute boy will write a song for me.” Joking, Penny laughed and started to tear on the box of men’s shirts on the car floor, instantly tossing one at both Irwin men.
“I don’t think she…” Connor turned to pay attention to the family dogs, not sure how to answer Penny without giving himself away completely. “It’s not really about Nora.” He shrugged and then opened up the baseball style top in his hands. “This is sick!” Genuinely, Connor began to feel excited as he held up the shirt with his name on it, the track listing of his album on the back. “I love this.”
“How much are you selling these for?” Ashton asked both kids.
“In order to make profit, 25.” She squinted as she stood up, tight fists on her hip bones as she shone vibrantly beneath the glowing morning rays. “I’m going to run in and get my wallet. One second.” Ashton tossed the shirt back at her, her hands catching it in the middle of a clap, before he whistled at his two dogs and chased them back inside, leaving the two teenagers alone in the driveway.
“Thanks so much for doing this, Pen, I really appreciate it.” Connor moved in closer, careful not to touch the Mustang that was keeping him from being able to even brush his fingers against Penelope’s boiling skin.
“No sweat.” Shrugging, she swiped the air in front of her with a fast hand gesture. “The guys at Wax 'n’ Wake owe me anyway since I spend so much time and money there.” She had used their print screen machine in the back to print up all the merchandise, sneaking Iden in through the receiving door so he could give her his designs and put in his artistic two cents. “I just need a box of CDs from you and I’m good to go or you can just bring them with you…I’m going to get there early to set up.”
“Man, you’re so good to me.” Shaking his head, eyes thin as whispers, he said with soft disbelief. “I could ask Nora to bring them to you. I just have to so much to do.” He explained with his hands, a habit he inherited from his father and despised. Out of frustration, Connor quickly tossed the shirt over his shoulder and then stuffed his hands into his pockets in an effort to keep them still.
“Understandable.” It was his show, of course he would be busy. “I could just pick them up now, how about? You know…since last time I ran into you and Nora she basically told me to stay away from you…” Penelope laughed it off as if it was nothing, but it had sunk beneath her usually thick skin. She had grown up alongside Connor, the two of them only a few months apart from one another, and to have a girlfriend of his openly disregard her felt a lot like having Connor cast her aside. Since she was so deeply anti-drama, Penelope pretended to let it go, but she wasn’t going to go out of her way to befriend the redhead who had no interest in knowing her.
“I talked to her about that. She just felt threatened.” Connor knew that his girlfriend had good reason to feel the way she did considering that he always lit up when Penelope came around. She was instant caffeine to him, a fast shot straight through the veins directly to his heart. It didn’t matter what kind of day he was having, the Hemmings girl had the power to put pep in his step and a smile right in the center of his face. She was his muse.
“I’m not threatening, I’m just tall.”
Amused, Connor let a laugh puff out his chest and reached up to help Penelope out from the confines of the car as his father came out to the house with his wallet, “She’ll love you when she gets to know you. Doesn’t everybody?” Connor knew the answer to his question, holding her elbows gently in his calloused hands.
“Alright,” Clueless to the moment he was interrupting, Ashton shuffled right over to the kids while thumbing through his leather wallet that he had been using since before Connor was given his first Fisher Price instrument. “Give me three, no, four of everything.” Shaking out his hair in desperate need of a trim, Ashton instructed Penelope as she backed out of his son’s fingers.
“Does he have to pay?” She looked between both men, checking with Connor. “I mean, you’re credited on one track after all.” Fulfilling his Dad’s fantasy (and one of his own), Connor had asked his father to co-write one song for the album with him as well as record drums for it. It was easily the most upbeat track on the whole record, reminiscent to early 5 Seconds of Summer songs.
“Of course, he has to pay!” Sounding outraged by the suggestion of otherwise, Connor shouted. “He makes me pay for his merch.”
“You pay!?” Penelope laughed into her wrists, hiding the burst of happiness that poured effortlessly from her open mouth. “There’s literally a room of 5 Seconds of Summer merchandise in Daphne’s basement. We all just take stuff whenever.” Before March and Daphne found themselves deeply devoted to one another, March was notorious for going through the overstock and giving shirts to girls as a flirting strategy.
“Seriously?” As soon as she nodded in return, Connor rolled his eyes at himself and let his limbs go limp. “Whatever. He still has to pay.”
Penelope climbed back into the Mustang, opening up boxes to dole out merchandise to her Uncle unaware of Connor’s bashful, but watchful eyes on her. He was painting her in his mind, using different shades of yellow as she seemed to explode with light in every movement that she made. He had debated asking her out before, the first time when they were fourteen, but accepted Marisol Ramierez’s invite to their junior high dance instead. Ever since, Connor found himself in casual moments like this, standing in his driveway or eating burgers at a cement table outside of a McDonald’s where he just wanted to tell her, not ask, but tell her to be his girlfriend. The only time where Penelope hadn’t been the number one on his list of girls was all through out last year when things ended between his first girlfriend, Katie, who cheated on him and broke his heart - leaving it up to Penelope to help him put the pieces back together in a way that fit. Even though he was with someone new, he found himself ditching his new girlfriend to watch Penelope surf or try out her weird kitchen creations.
“Alright, I have to go.” She slid in behind the wheel, stepping over the seat with her flip flop the exact way her father made her promise she wouldn’t. Penelope accepted a kiss on the cheek from her Uncle while turning the keys in the ignition, the radio playing one of Connor’s new songs from her plugged in iPod. “I’m picking up your video vixen.” She teased him while finding her aviator sunglasses in the glove compartment and slipping them over herself.
“Say 'hi’ to Emmy for me.” Ashton waved while carrying all his Connor Wylie goodies inside.
“You know, it’s not too late for you to agree to star in my video." Clutching the side of the car, Connor leaned in and smoothly suggested. He had chosen Emmeline since she was a newly signed model and seemed to naturally shine in front of a camera, but Connor would have been happy to have Penelope as the star of his first professional video.
"Please, Emmeline was born for this.” She laughed. “Though she doesn’t like that you chose something new for her to wear in it. Her exact quote was, 'Does he think I’m a nun or does he think I’m fat? A chemise, seriously!?” The wardrobe Connor had chosen was anything, but modest. It was long, but sheer with embroidered tulle down to her ankles and a tinted pink bustier that hugged her chest so tightly it brought her boobs up to her shoulders. Penelope had warned both Connor and Emmeline that Uncle Mikey would freak out when he saw it. He was already unhappy that his daughter would be rolling around in the sand to the tune of Connor’s soulful ballad.
“Of course she would think it’s too much.” Connor laughed. “Let me go get you those CDS. Hold on, Pretty Girl.” He said like it was nothing, slapping the car’s door and heading back inside in a rush.
As he ran back down the stairs, a large box of his discs in hand, his Dad caught him before he could fly out the door to where Penelope waited.
“Connor…” He spoke up from the living room where he was taking pictures of Connor’s new merchandise to upload to his social media.“Are you trying to be whimsically romantic with Penny?” Ashton asked without so much as turning around, still studying the photograph on his phone’s screen.
“Dad, I’m…” Of course, he was, but Connor knew in his gut that she was far too out of his league. He considered himself lucky just to be her friend most days. Penelope was a work of art and he was just a museum wanderer happy to stare. “We’re not like that.” He grumbled, his resentment ringing out and hitting the ceiling of their house.
“Yeah, but are you - ”
“Dad, Penny’s waiting for me.” Connor didn’t want to talk about it. He wanted to write about it and sing about it, maybe even drink alone about it, but he didn’t want to talk about it at all. He opened up the front door before Ashton could say another word, bringing Penny what she was waiting for.
+ Unorganized at best, Penny moved back and forth almost rhythmically as she set up the merchandise table in the stretch of hall that led into the actual club room of The Dynamo, doors still closed for the next half hour. She anxiously tugged at the bottom of shorts, denim having changed from the morning, while frowning at her set up. Penelope didn’t put much effort into the things she did, but she could acknowledge that right now everything looked as if a merchandise monster threw up.
The sound of Emmeline singing one of Connor’s songs faintly under her breath pulled the beach bunny’s attention to her left, holding the image of her friend painting her lips a bold red with the help of a liner and open compact mirror steady in her raised brows.
“Emme, I need you to shut down shop.” Leaning into the table, Penelope began to pick up all the make up pieces that Emmeline had laid out over the other end of the table and drop them into the fabric cosmetic case. “And help me.”
“I carried in two boxes.” Subtly, Emmeline reminded Penny while barely moving her lips. “It looks good.” She said without checking.
“Are you sure?” Penelope dropped the eyeshadow quad in her hand and walked backwards, judging the table from a further distance.
“I always thought it was just Connor who was into you, but are you into Connor? You’re acting like it, trying to make his booth all perfect…” Emmeline held her thin lip liner pencil between two fingers like an evening cigarette, smacking her lips together before resting everything into her bag and putting it away. She grinned merrily at the glare Penelope was giving her.
“You know I don’t feel that way for him.” She grumbled and moved back to the table to use the now free space to spread out the signs she had printed up and some of his albums.
“Even though he wrote songs about you?” Emmeline planted her feet onto the edge of the plastic chair, hiking her knees over her 'Connor Wylie Music’ shirt
“Those songs aren’t about me.” Penny shook her head, tired of having heard this from Emmeline and even Molly when they e-mailed. “They’re about Nora. Why would you write about another girl when you have a girlfriend?” Logically, she thought out loud.
“Yeah because guys don’t do slimy things.” Emme snarled sarcastically while raking her painted navy nails through her strawberry blond locks. “Haven’t you heard about Daphne’s parents?” She captured Penelope’s attention instantly with her question. “Uncle Cal was dating some supermodel and they had been together for a bit, but Daph’s mom had, like, just been hired to assist Uncle Ash or something…” Feverishly, she pointed her finger back and forth while Penelope half-listened, reaching up to adjust the tee shirts hung to the wall until her own tank was exposing her belly button ring and even tan. “Anyway, they became super tight and on her birthday, he uploaded this, like, really beautiful acoustic song on his Twitter, you know the one….'Such a pretty little thing, you don’t look right not wearing my candy ring…’ Something like that…” Mouthing the words, Penelope recalled.
“And that’s how everyone knew it wasn’t about his girlfriend because there was some Keek video - ”
“Keek.” Penelope chuckled at the old website her parents always referred to, now terribly outdated.
“Yeah, where he gave Daph’s mom a Ring Pop and he said something stupid and smooth like,” Clearing her throat, Emmeline tried on a voice to imitate her Uncle Calum. “Hey baby, I only give cherry flavor to pretty girls…”
“My dad doesn’t sound like that.” Struggling to get through the door with her hands carrying a cardboard tray full of coffees, Daphne emerged and caught both her friends by surprise.
“Hey Daffy.” Penelope adjusted her shirt and made a run for her tiny friend, pushing the door open completely for her. “Emme is telling me the story of how your parents got together…”
“I thought so.” Sashaying her hips that were tightly sealed beneath a skin tight mini skirt, Daphne wandered in and rested the drinks on the table, pointing out which one was for who. “You told her about the song?” Her large brown eyes opened on Emmeline to check. “Because after that song was uploaded, my mom knew it was about her and she was so touched so they, like, hooked up, gross, I know…” Quietly, she babbled while picking up her own iced tea from the tray and playing with the straw in the lid. “And then the next day, the girl my Dad was dating stormed into their hotel room and beat him up with a hair dryer. That’s why he has that little scar on his forehead.” With a brush of her pinkie finger, Daphne pointed to her hairline and nodded before sipping on her drink.
“Well…I’m not into Connor, so this is not going to happen to me."Defiantly, Penelope claimed while picking up her coffee order. "Here, take a shirt.” She walked around the table and pulled out a tee shirt for Daphne, tossing it at her.
Daphne was never one to have to be told orders twice and put her drink down long enough to pull the fabric over her head.
“Drop it, you guys, she’ll never listen to you. She doesn’t see what the rest of the world does.” Causing a delighted scream to flee from the pit of Emmeline’s stomach, Molly Irwin stood before them, peeking out of the club doors coming from backstage where she had been listening to her brother warm up with his band.
Emmeline jumped out of her chair and ran over to the girl they had all missed nearly since she left for University, throwing her arms around her neck and pulling her into her strong cinnamon scent. Waiting their turns, Daphne and Penny stood behind.
“The line is crazy outside….” Daphne mumbled, glancing out the door as if there was a window to see out of. “We couldn’t even find parking. Is Connor ready?”
“He’s starting to get really nervous.” Molly pouted. “March is kind of wigging him out.” She laughed in thought of Penelope’s brothers backstage antics. “The table looks great, Pen. Where do you want me?” She asked while giving her fellow tall blond friend a quick squeeze.
“In Emme’s chair….” Penny pointed, noting that Molly already had a Connor Wylie tank top already on. “Because she isn’t helpful.”
The loud chorus of female screaming and male celebratory grunts should have been a clear indication to the girls that their parents were on their way in, but they still felt surprised when the doors opened and 5 Seconds of Summer emerged. The girls had grown up within the soundtrack of their fans and had allowed it to become background noise to their own lives.
“Oh my God, Uncle Ash!” Emmeline noticed first, her Uncle’s signature bandana tied in his hair with his son’s logo printed over it, matching his tee shirt and wrist bands and complimenting the pride that looked as if it was oozing out of him perfectly. “You look - ” She searched for the word, but a warning glare from her mother shut her red lips right up.
“Be nice. He’s having a fan girl moment.” Mrs. Irwin added in while gravitating to her daughter and giving her a hug. It didn’t matter how many times she saw her today, she was so happy to have her home for a weekend.
“I want a picture of all the girls at the merch table. You look so cute.” Ashton was fumbling with his camera in his hand, looking down to adjust the settings.
“We don’t look cute.” Emmeline stated while walking behind the table, the model in her instantly turning to her best angle. “We look super hot.”
“I don’t want to be super hot in front of my parents.” Daphne mumbled as quietly as she could while heading over to stand in between Molly and Penelope in the picture, accidentally making herself look tinier than she already was compared to their tall statures.
Ashton took four pictures, just to make sure he had a perfect shot, before the door opened again to screaming and a cool summer breeze. Penelope unfolded her arms from around the shoulders of her friends and stepped forward, not sure who else could be coming in as everyone she knew to be in her family was already in the building with the exception of grandparents.
“Sorry, doors don’t open for a couple more minutes.” Kindly, she pointed out before her eyes settled in on the five foot redhead and her friends. If she didn’t already know what Connor’s girlfriend looked like, the way the girl ran her stare up and down Penelope like she was a witch that needed to be burned in the center of town would have introduced her clearly. “Oh, of course you can come in Nora. Sorry.”
Discreetly, barely smiling as she did, Nora only acknowledged Ashton and his wife before walking through the main doors and into the club, finding a perfect spot to watch Connor tear the place down in.
“Does that girl not like you?” Confused by why he suddenly had a line of goosebumps rushing down his arms, Luke asked his daughter. He wasn’t used to people being rude to Penelope as she seemed to be universally loved wherever she went.
“She’s just jealous.” Forever Penelope’s biggest fan, Daphne mumbled while taking cash from her Dad and giving him a tee shirt to wear in exchange.
“Uncle Cal?” Emmeline kept her devious eyes focused on Penny with a humored smile, but called on Daphne’s father, catching him looking up at her out of the corner of her foggy blues. “Did it hurt when you got smacked in the head with a hair dryer?” All to harmlessly tease Penelope, she asked.
“Uh…” Calum had to think back, remembering years ago when his then lingerie clad girlfriend stormed into his suite and used the hair tool as her weapon of choice after he told her through text that he had been unfaithful. “Yeah, it wasn’t great.” There was bloodshed after all.
“Just as I suspected.” Emme crossed her arms and licked at her teeth, making sure there wasn’t any lipstick stained over them, while she maintained tight eye contact with Penny.
“We’re going to head inside.” Luke led the way, nodding at the door with a large poster of Connor and the night’s event taped to it, earning a photograph from Ashton who was dedicated to documenting the whole night. “See you girls in a bit.” He waved before opening up the door and holding it for his gaggle of friends.
+ On stage, wailing away against his ebony Les Paul guitar with his blond locks soggy against his sweating face, Connor had forgotten all about the packed club calling out his name. He was on a level separate from the rest of the world, levitating through Nirvana while riffing next to his best friend, his left hand cramping against the strings, but never giving into the pain. He was the Billboard Review come to life behind the mic stand: “raw”, “charged”, and “transparent”. Connor Irwin was exactly where he belonged and against the ledge of the balcony of the club, Ashton Irwin was feeding off his son’s energy, tearing up as he moved his head along furiously to the song that he knew was his son’s soul through chords.
“Your dad is so cute.” Penelope whined into Molly’s stud pierced ear, the two of them shimming their shoulders along with the song as best they could, standing behind Emmeline who was going to town dancing with her hair thrown out like a mane alongside her little brother who had his hands in his pockets, standing still among a crowd of flailing bodies. “But why do our Dads dance like such dorks?” Leaning into her friend, Molly asked back over the music, nodding at the cluster of their parents. It was surprising that for a group of musicians none of them could seem to feel music in their hips, jerking around with their arms shaking out like the blow up sign outside a car dealership. Michael seemed to have a particular penchant for bending his elbows, balling his hands into fists, and dancing strictly with his upper body while his knees bounced.
“Okay!” As the crowd sprayed the sound of cheering throughout the venue, Emmeline popped up between her friends, forcing them to look down at her as she adjusted the very high pony that was spraying out from her apex like a fountain. “Uncle Luke is doing finger dancing, so we need to move down to the main floor pronto.” She snapped and nodded, shifting her eyes at Penelope’s father who had only curled his pointer fingers inward in order to clap for Connor. Emmeline sounded desperate to restore her reputation for being an untouchable queen that Luke was indirectly ruining with his poor choreography.
Emmeline slid her hand over Molly’s and began to lead the way to the creaky stairs in order to go down to where most of the younger crowd was, the warm bodies close together, but not to tightly knit that she couldn’t force her way through. Emmeline didn’t care about rude remarks or offended glares, she intended to push her way through everyone until she was right in the front row. She had her eyes on Connor’s drummer and felt she was looking particularly cute in her Connor Wylie top.
As the girls made their way to the edge of the stage, Penelope found the emerald eyes of Connor’s girlfriend drawing long scratches through her skin. She tried not to pay attention, but lifted her hand to wave to the girl anyway. If she wasn’t Connor’s girlfriend, Penelope imagined that she would have never bothered making an effort with Nora, but she wanted to like her for his sake. The girl didn’t welcome Penny’s silent gesture though. She merely rolled her eyes and turned her back to Penny, leaning in to talk to the group of girls that she came with.
Sighing, Penelope rolled her own eyes and then took her phone from the pocket of her jean shorts to keep an eye on the time. Currently, she had left the merchandise booth to Daphne, who couldn’t calculate totals to save her life, and March, who had just recently become Daphne’s boyfriend. She had an accurate hunch that the two of them were getting more acquainted with the taste of each other’s lip balms than doing any actual selling, but Penelope had badly wanted to watch the show and left it to the new lovebirds to hold court.
While fully immersed in a cover of one of his favorite Tom Petty songs, ’Last Dance With Mary Jane’, Connor found eye contact with the Hemmings girl who inspired a good half of the notes he wrote and recorded on his album. He smiled brightly at her and lit up her own grin. Penelope willingly forgot about how her brother was probably making out with one of her best friends and how the evil redhead was probably putting a hex on her and just danced. She danced like her father up in the lobby, carefree, and she danced like Emmeline with fluid stomach movements and fingers in her air.
Connor wasn’t even in control of himself, fingers working the strings of his guitar the way he wished to play with Penelope’s sunkissed skin. He couldn’t peel his eyes off of her as she kept looking him dead on in the eyes, laughing as she mouthed the words to the rock classic.
“Con is killing it.” Luke tossed his arm around Ashton’s shoulder, pulling him a step away from the balcony’s gold ledge, squeezing him tightly the way he had when congratulating Ashton on the birth of both his children. “It’s crazy!” Ashton tossed his head back, eyes still glistening as he shook with joy. “He’s got more talent than any of us ever had.” He said without any exaggeration. Ashton wasn’t biased when it came to his son. He had sat in on his band practices and fed him constant criticism when it was due, but the truth of the matter was proving itself down below: Connor Wylie Irwin had what it took.
“His energy is crazy.” Calum chimed in, his hand out as he recorded the cover on his phone. “Like they love him.” Nodding at Ashton, he smiled at the sight of his friend so close to breaking down into proud tears, "He’s going places for sure.“ Ashton agreed with a tiny nod, eyes back on his son singing directly to Penelope through the microphone. While he was excited for his son who as clearly on the verge of breaking into the industry that his father knew well, Ashton couldn’t help, but feel nervous for Connor. He knew what the business of show was like and he knew how it could take someone’s pure passion for music and dry it up like the skin of a shriveled grape. It didn’t help matters that Ashton was going through major Penelope withdrawal with her away at University. Now he knew he was going to have to say goodbye to his youngest too .
"Oh man.” As the song moved into silence, applause taking over The Dynamo, Connor laughed into his mic, lips brushing up against it as he took a moment to scan the crowd from wall to wall, looking at everyone who was there for him and his music. A knot in his stomach tightened and, for a second, he didn’t know if he would be able to keep breathing. He was lost in gratitude and disbelief, his hands shaking as they became pins and needles in front of his beloved guitar.
“You’re so hot, Connor! I want to have your babies!” Bringing him back to reality, Emmeline screamed right in front of him and forced the room to erupt with laughter even if her father up on the balcony was shaking his head.
“Thanks, Emme.” He chuckled into the mic and let go of the neck of his guitar to tousle his locks around for a moment, feeling his own perspiration in them like a sticky gel. “You guys are awesome. We can’t believe it up here. This is crazy.” From the back of his throat, he told the room. “I’m going to play some piano, you guys cool with that?” He checked with the crowd while pulling his leather guitar strap over his head, listening to the affirmative applause and cheering. He handed off his Les Paul to the stage hand before walking carefully around the floor of chords and taking a seat on the brown piano bench, cold even under the yellow spotlights. “If you guys picked up an album out in the hall, track thirteen there’s a hidden track under it, if you let it play a bit…” He explained while stretching his fingers over the keys, randomly smacking notes with quick swipes of his tips. “It’s a song I’m a bit sheepish about,” All of this was news to his father who was certain that he had played the whole disc through over a dozen times in his car alone. “It’s about my best friend, this awesome, gorgeous girl who helped me so much with tonight…” He was stroking at his stubbly chin, trying to avoid eye contact with Penelope below.
“Oh no.” Shaking his head, Ashton could see the future for a moment and held his breath that his son wasn’t about to make a grand gesture in front of everyone. “Don’t, Connor, don’t do it.” He whispered quietly, knowing he couldn’t be heard. He glanced over his shoulder to see Luke taking another plastic cup of beer from their waiter, sucking back the thin top layer of foam clueless to the unrequited love story going on below them.
Down at the stage, Penelope was watching Nora stare up at the stage with adoring eyes. While Penelope wasn’t fond of the girl, she could admit that it was sweet to see Connor taking a moment to make his girlfriend feel special and appreciate her. She nearly gave herself whiplash, snapping forward to look over at Connor behind the piano when he announced the song to the room.
“It’s called ’Penny & Me’ and it’s for the pretty girl up front.” He winked and pointed at her before jumping right into playing the song. He cocked his head back and sang right to her, her eyes huge and still in shock while Emmeline laughed beside her and Molly glared at her brother by Penny’s other shoulder.
“Better hope nobody has a hair dryer on them.” Emmeline muttered before being quiet to fully listen to the lyrics, a song sewn together entirely of all the different moments over the last year where Connor had felt inclined to kiss Penny.
Up on the balcony, Luke’s blue eyes matched his daughter’s, round and confused as he accidentally dribbled beer down his chin, forgetting to swallow when he heard Connor’s announcement. He had just become used to the fact that his son was with Calum’s daughter and now Connor was confessing his deep admiration for his daughter.
“I’m going to go take over for March and Daph…” Into Molly’s ear, Penny explained. She felt uncomfortable with the attention that Connor had forced over her. Penelope never liked to be the center of attention. It was why she could get on so swimmingly with people like Connor and Emmeline who shone brightest when under limelight.
“Do you want me to come?” Molly asked only to have Penelope shake her head 'no’.
Penelope spun around, her blond hair falling over her shoulders like white rapids, but she didn’t start to walk. She was startled by the sight of Nora so close to her, backed up by one of her own friends. Unbeknownst to Penny, she was being firmly watched up above by her father. He knew his daughter well enough to know that this wasn’t her scene anymore. She never liked being the star, throwing a fit during her kindergarten Christmas pageant when she was told to stand at center stage and introduce 'Frosty the Snowman’ to the small audience of proud parents. Unless she was immersed in the water, when Penelope felt eyes on her, her anxiety spiked.
“Nora, I know this looks bad…” She started to explain sincerely, her back to the stage and Connor as he continued through the end of 'Penny & Me’ into a different song. “He and I are just friends, I swear. That song is not romantic, I don’t take it that way…” Sighing deeply from the pit of her stomach, Penny explained with pure irritation.
“I told you to stay away from him.” Looking right up at Penelope with her chin pointed to hers, Nora growled, finally speaking to the blond and acknowledging her presence.
“Okay, but I didn’t ask for this!” Trying to remain chill, Penny’s words loudly shouted above the piano melody behind her. “Connor and I grew up together, we’re close. When our mothers were pregnant, they would rub their stomachs together so we could kick at each other. We’ve been friends forever. I’m sure that’s all that song was about.” Penny, herself, wanted to believe that much to be true. “He wrote 'Dreamgirl’ about you and that’s a beautiful song.”
Insulted, Nora interrupted Penelope before she could go on any further. “That’s song is about you, too!” She huffed, feeling her skin boil from the embarrassment her boyfriend had just put her through.
“No, it isn’t. It’s about you.” With her whole brain, Penelope believed that.
“The lyrics are, 'Tall and blond, she sleeps on the beach/I’ve known her since day one and she’s still out of reach.’” Nora quoted, almost singing it to the melody. “I’m short with red hair and I met him last year…and I hate the beach.” She clarified before taking her glass of Pepsi and tossing it right up in Penny’s face, spraying it those around her. “Slut.” Nora snarled before turning to walk away, wanting nothing more than to leave the premise entirely.
“You better fucking run, Gingerbush.” Emmeline hissed and moved swiftly on her feet before Molly grabbed her back by the collar of her shirt.
“Um, I’m going to leave you with the sounds of Joseph Carmichael for just a second!” Having watched the whole thing without much sound, Connor leaned into the microphone and put great weight on his music partner before running off stage, Penelope and her sticky face walking out to the hall.
Both her palms flat against the back door, Penelope pushed it open and revealed herself out of the steamy darkness into the lit up hallway. Her muddled blue eyes didn’t even take notice of her brother’s lips taking full gulps of Daphne’s formerly hot pink lips behind the merch table that she had set up.
“Whoa. What happened to you!?” March remarked once he had pulled his face off of his girlfriend in a hurry, instantly going to fix his lip ring that Daphne had bitten by accident a few times. He looked his older sister up and down, the little make up she wore dripping from her face as her usually soft as cotton hair was sticky to her head. Not to mention, her tee shirt was stained a light brown shade.
“You guys can go inside. I’m going to cover the table for a bit.” Penny didn’t bother to answer him, walking around to where she had been sitting earlier in the night and bending onto her knees to take a clean top for herself.
“Are you okay?” With her legs still over March’s lap, Daphne asked Penelope, worried about her best friend who she hadn’t seen look so solemn before.
“Yeah. Just go be infatuated with each other somewhere else, please?” Penny asked while pulling her shirt off over her soda slicked hair, revealing her bikini top as a bra for a brief second before she pulled a different Connor Wylie Music t-shirt over her head.
March didn’t need to be asked again. He slid Daphne’s legs off of him and took her hand to stand her up and lead her into the packed music hall, ready to find a spot in the crowd to kiss her along with the sound of his friend’s songs.
From one end of the hall, Connor emerged quickly, the rubber soles of his canvas sneakers squeaking against the floor while Luke was just around the corner. He stopped himself from going any further when he saw Connor coming, so he pressed his back against the wall and waited, not sure if he should really be listening in or not.
“Penny - ” Connor began as soon as he saw her behind the table, still on her knees, but she tossed her hair back and interrupted him, rising into the strong girl she was known to be.
“How could you do that to her, Connor?” Even though she her skin was sticky and coated with syrupy soda, Penelope still had Connor’s girlfriend on his mind. She understood the girl’s reaction and felt terrible about how everything had played out. “You’ve been cheated on before and you still made her feel the same way you felt!” Exasperated, Penelope explained. She kept her hands busy, opening up the small metal cash box and taking to counting the dollar bills to see if March and Daphne sold anything while they were working the station.
“I didn’t cheat on her! It was just a song.” Confused by the reactions, Connor scrunched up his worn out face and defended himself.
“It was a song named after me about me and you made a statement about me being all these nice things…you know, I don’t like things like that.” Shaking the money tightly in her fist, Penny sent her eyes into his like daggers.
“You said this morning that you wished a cute guy would write a song about you.”
Penny rolled her eyes as if it was reflex, “I didn’t mean you. I meant someone single or, like, a young Sting or something.” Sting had been Penny’s first crush having found one of his records when she was four years old in her father’s extensive collection and then listening to it on replay until it wore out. “We’re just friends, Connor. That’s all I want from you.” Penelope sat down on the fold out chair that Daphne had vacated, her wrists against the table’s edge as she put the money back in the box.
If it wasn’t for the live band behind the wall, Penelope might have heard Connor’s high from his amazing night fall, picking up his ego on the way down, and shitting all over his heart. He held the lump in his throat tightly while lifting up both arms and beginning to itch at the back of his head. There had been some small part of Connor that hoped Penny would hear the song or realize 'Dreamgirl’ was about her and throw her arms around him in order to properly tattoo her lips to his. At the very least, Connor just wanted her to smile and say that she liked them. This wasn’t at all what he imagined would happen.
“That’s all?” Looking down he checked, pressing his thumb with the peace sign on it into the corner of the table.
“I’m going away for school next year and, after tonight, you’re going to be going somewhere too. What could possibly happen between us? We’re friends. We’re great friends. I love you the way I love March and Miles…” Anyone who knew Penny knew that her little brothers were her entire world. They were her two most favorite people on the planet even when they were making fun of her for getting in trouble with their Dad or for having her bikini bottom come off while surfing wild waves. She was trying to pay Connor a compliment, but all he heard was her comparing him to her brothers.
“You’re my muse, Penny.” Licking his lips and tasting nothing, but bitterness, Connor confessed to the toes of his sneakers. “I’m flattered, but I am so embarrassed right now.”
“I wasn’t trying to embarrass you.” Connor swiped his falling hairs behind his ears, eyes staring down into Penny’s and wishing she could look back at him the way he always looked at her. He thought about standing there longer even though the crowd behind the wall was chanting out his name in perfect harmony.
Having been a touring musician for more than half his life now, Luke knew when to come in and took the moment of silence between the two teenagers as his cue. He dug his boots into the ground and sharply turned the corner, feigning surprise at the sight of the two torn kids he had known since their first days on the planet.
“Hey, Con, you got to get back out there! They’re dying for you. You’re killing it.” Encouraging him, Luke nodded furiously at Connor, not looking at his daughter at all, but able to see she had her focus down on her lap pensively. “You’re really killing it.” He could see in Connor’s face that the electricity he felt up on stage had died while talking to Penny and tried to make him feel better. Connor was meant to be up on stage, not with his daughter.
Connor quietly thanked Luke while keeping his stare on Penny, waiting for her to notice him. Eventually, he just rushed away, jogging to get back to his set.
Luke took a moment to just watch his daughter from a few steps away. She looked everything like four year old Penelope, fresh on a time out backstage at the Warped Tour after not listening to him for the umpteenth time when he told her to behave for her mother. She had her nose aligned with her knees while she held her down in shame. Even though Penelope was a tall stick of limbs now, she suddenly appeared small before Luke and, for a second, he wondered if he could still pick her up and hold her at his hip like he used to.
“Do you want to be alone or…?” Unsure, he asked.
“I’m fine, Dad.” Penny breathed in deeply through her nose and slowly raised her head up, her blank stare setting it’s sights right on her Dad, offering her a meek smile of 'sorry’ in return. “It just sucks when you know you’re about to hurt someone.” She shrugged. “It’s no big deal.” Luke moseyed over and sat down in the spot that had been March’s, smelling his son’s cologne immediately. He leaned forward on the table, picking up one of the Connor Wylie trucker hats and playing with the beak between his hands.
“It was a nice song though. It’s flattering that you inspire him…” Luke could see the situation from where Connor was standing considering he was a songwriter himself, but he would always side with Penelope. Since the January afternoon she came into the world, he had been living his life in her corner.
“Yeah, it is, but…he put me in a crummy position. He has a girlfriend and…he knows I don’t like big gestures like that.” Penelope wasn’t the kind of girl that planned her wedding out with doves and fairy tale place settings. She longed for quiet fires on the beach and private conversations while driving along the coast, all the things Connor sang about while exposing her to the crowd. PDA made her deeply uncomfortable. She fumbled with her fingers together and sighed again, feeling awful about the verbal punch to the gut she gave Connor.
“He’s seen me dedicate songs to you on stage, he probably thought …” Luke tried to reason.
“You’re my Dad. It’s different.” Penelope shook her head. Luke was the only guy that she was okay with loving her and giving her affection. Everything else made her feel uncomfortable on the inside. She never longed for a boyfriend like her friends did. She instantly put every male in the friend zone.
Despite coming from a loving home herself with parents who were together, Penelope was terrified of being in a relationship, of giving yourself to someone, sharing your life, and being cautious of another person. She didn’t know the reason why she felt so nervous about being someone, she just had for as long as she could remember. “I’ve known for a long time that he liked me…”
“Everyone has.” Luke nodded, always feeling an energy between the two sandy blonds.
“So this had to happen, it just…it still sucks.” She shrugged and opened up the cash box again, staring at the piles of paper money. “He really is one of my best friends."
"On the brightside, you probably just inspired a whole bunch of new songs for his next album.” Trying, Luke chuckled and poked his daughter in the ribs.
“Oh great!” Penny laughed loudly, mouth open as her head dipped back against the chair. She came back down to reality, thinking of different ways to go backstage later and congratulate Connor on the evening without things feeling weird. Mindlessly, she rested her head on her dad’s shoulder and decompressed. “Do you think his girlfriend is going to try to beat me with a blow dryer?” Seriously, she wondered aloud.
“Do you want me to go ask Calum how he survived?” Luke put his head against hers and asked right back, both Hemmings smiling quietly to themselves. Penny pictured her Uncle Calum being attacked by a tall woman in lingerie and instantly felt a bit better while Luke recalled the whole moment with bittersweet nostalgia.
Somehow finishing his set, Connor had managed to work himself back up to a tightrope wire high that he couldn’t jump down from even if he tried. He rushed backstage with his friends from the band, the crowd still clapping for more, and his smile was laughing loudly along with the static and noise. As the drummer pushed open the door, the guys charged through, but Connor stopped at the sight of his dream girl standing with his name on the chest of her t-shirt, smiling coyly. He wasn’t sure what to expect from her now and feared she might kick him off his cloud again.
“You were amazing!” Penelope revealed, her lips curling upward as she showed off her crossbite. “You’re such a star.” Proud of her friend, she complimented him sincerely and folded her arms behind his neck, glad to feel his hands on her back without reluctance in his fingers.
“I wanted to be the first to tell you that…” She backed off, taking his hands in hers and swinging them around. “Because you’re my best friend and I love you.” She promised while intertwining their fingers. “And because your Dad is a sobbing mess in the dressing room and I won’t be able to get a word in edgewise once he starts talking about you.” Penny laughed and began to lead Connor down the hallway, his hand leaving hers so he could put his full arm over her shoulder, her own arm creeping up to rest on his back.