"I like all beautiful things."
As she walked into the next room, Jude hung back and tugged Gerard's sleeve "Why's she dressed like that?" He whispered a little too loudly.
"Don't be rude." Gerard replied, putting his arm on Jude's shoulder and steered him into the room.
Penina heard him but pretended that she hadn't. Jennifer noticed this and tried her best to distract her "Would you like to see your bedroom?"
Penina smiled and nodded eagerly. But on the way up, she eyed up Jude furtively, sizing him up. Jennifer pushed open Penina's bedroom door and they both went inside with the rest of the family following. It used to be a nursery for a baby girl but it had been transferred into a room for a little girl. There was a white lace canopy bed covered with a mountain of stuffed animals. Penina turned to Jennifer and Gerard and with a toothpaste-commercial smile "It's perfect."
"I'm glad you like it." Jennifer smiled back at her "Now come downstairs, we have a few surprises for you."
Penina followed her new family downstairs and into the living room. Mia, Eva, Shayla, Mazy and Penina squished onto one sofa while Jude chose to sit on the other sofa with Frank and Valeria. Gerard and Jennifer had gone into the kitchen. They came back into the room, Jennifer holding a large cake with candles on top "This is for you Penina." Jennifer smiled, setting the cake down on the table in front of her.
"B-But it's not my birthday." Penina stammered.
"We know that silly. It's a welcome to the family cake." Mia giggled "I helped make the icing! It's gonna be really tasty! I'd really like a slice so could you maybe blow the candles out now please?"
Penina laughed and blew out all her candles with one blow. She definitely didn't forget to make a wish.
The next morning when Gerard had finally taken Jude swimming, Penina sat in her bedroom with Jennifer. Mia and Eva were downstairs playing together while Penina and Jennifer picked out wallpaper borders "Which one do you like then?" Jennifer asked, spreading them out across the floor.
"These are for younger children." Penina pouted "Did you pick them out for Meredith?"
Jennifer was taken back and stammered her answer "I'm sorry. I'll take them back and pick out something new for you."
"It's all right. I rather like this one." Penina said, pointing to the one she liked best. Then she returned to pinning up all of her paintings.
Jennifer sighed and started rolling up the samples and then noticed that in most of Penina's old pictures there was a large, gothic mansion "Is that a real place?" Jennifer asked.
Penina didn't have to ask what she meant "No. I made it up. It's a haunted castle where a beautiful princess was locked away. She waited so long and was so sad that she filled the moat with her tears and then a handsome prince swam across to rescue her." She looked at Jennifer and smiled "I like happy endings. Don't you?"
Once they were done decorating Penina's bedroom Jennifer took the three girls up to the shopping mall. They walked through the sliding doors and Penina looked around in amazement at the large shopping centre. It was completely alien to her.
They went straight into a clothes shop. All the girls were flicking through the racks, looking for something that Penina might like. Jennifer pulled out a pair of jeans with flowers embroidered onto the pocket "These are cute."
"Jeans are ugly." Penina replied.
"But Sweetie, you need to get something that you can go outside and play in." Jennifer told her patiently.
"That doesn't mean I have to look like a boy."
"I wear jeans and I don't look like a boy!" Mia cried "I like the jeans Mom, can I have them?"
"I suppose so. So long as you promise to tidy your room when you get in." Jennifer ruffled her hair fondly "What about you Eva? Do you want some new jeans?" Eva shrugged vaguely but didn't say anything "Well if you see anything you want then just tel- Show me, okay?" Eva nodded and went off to look at the tee shirts.
Penina looked at Eva and then back at Jennifer "Why doesn't she talk?"
Jennifer swallowed "I don't know." She lied.
Once they were carrying far too many shopping bags they left the clothes store and made their way back to the car. On the way, something caught Penina's eye. She hung back, distracted. In the display of a shop there was an aquarium of tropical fish, their vibrant colours illuminated by the black light in the tank. Penina gazed in, her nose practically against the glass.
Jennifer stopped and looked at what Penina was staring at "You like fish?"
"I like all beautiful things."
Jennifer smiled and put her hand on Mia's shoulder "You should show her Hodgepodge when we get home."
"Yes, yes, yes!" Mia grinned, bouncing up and down.
"Hodgepodge? What's that?" Penina asked, not taking her eyes off of the fish.
When they got home, Jennifer and Mia took Penina straight to Mia's bedroom. It was a sweet room with pink walls with a pink little bed and a pink duvet. There were purple stars on the walls that Jennifer switched on at night because Mia was afraid of the dark. Jennifer, Mia and Penina bent down in front of a cage at the edge of the room. Hodgepodge turned out to be a little hamster. Mia beamed proudly when she saw that Penina liked him.
"Aww!" Penina cooed "Can I pet him?"
"Of course. But you have to promise not to let him out of his cage unless Mommy or Daddy is here to hold him."
"Because he's very delicate and we might accidentally hurt him." Mia told Penina very seriously.
Penina nodded. Jennifer smiled and took the hamster out of his cage and sat in between Mia and Penina so that they could pet him.
Jennifer and Valeria stood in the kitchen together looking outside at their daughters. Gerard and Jude were still away at soccer try outs and Frank had gone to see how things were going. Eva was sat on a bench reading a book by herself, Shayla was sitting on the grass next to Mazy and Mia and Penina were playing some kind of game together. Mia and Penina were wearing matching dresses and looked adorable. "They grow up fast, don't they?" Valeria smiled, looking at her two little girls.
"So what are your plans now?"
"Well, we'll probably get Penina settled, then I'll probably go back to work."
"Oh, so you think they'll take you back?"
Jennifer was a little irritated by that comment but she refused to let it show "I'm not talking about Yale. I'm going to teach piano lessons from home."
"I see. That was such a good position you had at Yale. It's such a shame."
"I didn't quit because I wanted to." Jennifer hissed "I quit because I had to."
"I know. I'm so glad you're doing better now." Valeria paused "How's Eva doing?"
They both looked outside. Penina and Mia were saying something to Eva but she just kept shaking her head at them. In the end Penina and Mia gave up and let Eva return to reading her book "She's fine." Jennifer refused to make eye contact with Valeria.
"Well it's a shame that it took something like that to make you find help but I'm very glad you did."
Jennifer picked up the picnic basket they'd been preparing for the kids and quickly took it outside to the kids.