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In this story I take some of the minor characters from Ellen’s Tale, (Penny, Robyn, Helen, and Alana) and go back to the year 2000 to tell the story of Penny and Robyn. It’s set in Melbourne and the leafy suburbs of Mount Dandenong and Kilsyth. I have also brought back the characters from Crossing Over and Melanie’s Story, simply because their story was set in the same part of the city and in the same time frame.
Kilsyth is a suburb on the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, named after Kilsyth in Scotland it is bordered by Montrose, Croydon and Bayswater North. For years it was a semi rural suburb and some of that laid back sleepy charm still exists in its tree-lined streets and main roads but with constant waves of immigration and gentrification of the suburbs Kilsyth has evolved. The people are a mix of middle class professionals, working class families and students, etc. Most choose to shop in the bigger complexes at Eastland or Knox City but some locals use the smaller Kilsyth Shopping centre and many of them drove past the minuscule strip mall in the rather grandiosely named Collins Place. The shopping centre at Collins Place consists of a dozen shops run by sole traders like the hair salon or the ubiquitous milk bar that sells everything from milk to cigarettes but it has no bottle shop and thus most people drive past it to the larger shopping centre just down the road.
Nevertheless, it was in Collins Place that some of the atmosphere of Old Kilsyth still remained. Many shops could change hands and the kind of merchandise on offer frequently and yet there was a spirit of camaraderie that still remained. One of the newest occupants of a former real estate office was Penny Jones, who had relocated from her father’s law firm in the city in the summer of 1995. to the outer suburbs to start her own family law firm in Collins Place. When someone from the local paper questioned Ms Jones why a twenty four year old lawyer with scarcely more than eighteen months practising law had suddenly upped sticks and set up her own practice her reply soon became her mantra.
“Because nobody said I couldn’t.”
Penny attracted attention instantly, especially amongst the men who took note of her long fair hair that was usually worn loose and her slim figure. She had a long angular-shaped face and blue eyes that seemed to regard the rest of the world with bemused curiosity. Her dress sense could be described as corporate chic, silk blouses and finely cut suits, but even when she dressed casually, she could still look good and no one had ever seen her in tracksuit pants. Nevertheless, despite her looks, Penny didn’t appear to have a partner and if she did then she kept him out of sight and out of mind, she seemed more focused on starting her new practice and thus people assumed she was a career professional.
Despite her brave front though, few thought she would last long until fate and the ego of a local councillor clashed. Like most bad ideas, it had started as a ‘good’ idea. Collins Place runs between two major arterial roads, Mt Dandenong Road and Durham Road. The two roads meet not far from Collins Place with a small patch of grassland and shrubs separating the side street from two dual lane roads. When a recently elected councillor stated his intention to pave over the grass and put in a parking lot there was a hue and cry from the local traders who still wanted to retain the on-street parking. They liked their bit of grassland but it was a case of David against Goliath until their newest resident took on the case pro bono and helped organise a petition.
Even then, the Council had been confident. She was young and ambitious but she was also just a new kid on the block. What the hell could an ex private school girl from Camberwell do when going against a fifty eight year old attorney? Frank Cotton was so confident he’d even booked a local photographer to take his victory picture when he came out of the court. An unnamed source even claimed he’d taken out a private wager with someone within the council for an undisclosed sum of money that he’d win the case hands down.
Instead it turned out to the most embarrassing moment of his long and illustrious career when the vivacious blonde shredded his arguments in court so precisely that the judge interrupted Cotton’s carefully crafted rebuttal to ask if he would like to withdraw from the case before he was served a healthy dose of humble pie. He stubbornly refused, thinking his experience would win through and an hour later he walked out of court but sent his minions ahead to shoo away the photographer, who then changed sides and took her picture instead.
The local Leader newspaper carried the story of Penny’s triumph with a picture and the rather corny, Beauty Trumps Brains. Parkland Saved and they even included her reworked quote, because nobody said she couldn’t… save our parkland.
Penny had winced at the article because it had been brains that triumphed over smug egos and the old boy network, but her topkapı escort place in the community had been established. She lived on top of Mount Dandenong in a rustic old house overlooking the city of Melbourne but even her neighbours had never seen anyone staying the night except for family. It seemed that whilst her professional life was known, her personal life was a mystery yet to be unravelled. She went out on dates with men and women but no one could point to any of her dates and state that this particular person was in a relationship with Kilsyth’s newest local hero. However by the year 2000, life had settled into something of a routine. She still made the papers now and then.
Two years ago, the local Leader paper had run an advertorial entitled Women Who Talk About… The advertorial went on to state that Women Who Talk was a new organisation set up to encourage women to talk about sex, sexual orientation, bedroom etiquette, relationship issues and other related matters. Once again Penny’s picture was featured along with her quote underneath. Nobody Said I Couldn’t. Underneath the quote was her age, 27. It was the only newspaper article about herself that Penny had permitted to be mounted in a frame in the reception area.
WWT had grown slowly but surely into a network of local women organised into autonomous chapters of between fifteen to twenty women. Penny’s motive behind starting the group seemed almost counter intuitive. She wanted to empower women to save their marriages before it was too late because the only winners in a divorce court were the lawyers. It merely added another layer of mystery to the enigma that was Penny Jones.
She had five other staff members who shared the open plan office space with her. Lisa, Margaret, Charlott, Anne and Helen. The first three were lawyers whilst Anne and Helen shared the legal secretary duties between them. Paradoxically, she’d never actively sought only female staff for her firm, it was just that she attracted women to herself by virtue of her confident and altruistic nature. Penny was definitely the kind of boss who rewarded her employees and remained faithful to them. However that never evolved into romantic liaisons with any of her staff.
Penny Jones considered herself a competent lawyer with a certain degree of prescience that enabled her to predict the way people would react under different circumstances and most of the time she was proved correct. She had a sharp legal mind and an even sharper tongue when going up against other lawyers in court and yet despite numerous offers from male members of the bar she’d turned down every man who ever asked her out. It had begun to earn her the title the Ice Queen and by the end of the second Millennium there were even some women who had begun to question her sexual orientation but her personal life remained off limits. What no one doubted was her ability to detect the shift in the wind that enabled her to win more than her fair share of cases.
Her ability to predict the way people might react or move was also a regular game played by her staff on a regular occasion. The game was called Where the hell? Whenever a stranger pulled into one of the spaces outside the shops you had to guess which shop they were going to visit or if they were just consulting their street directory. Those who guessed incorrectly put a dollar into the wine carafe on Penny’s desk and at the end of the month someone went out to buy a bottle of wine or two for their after work drinks the last Friday of every month.
Thus it was that when a white Toyota Corolla pulled up outside the hair salon, Helen turned to look at the young blonde woman getting out of the car. It wasn’t surprising she’d noticed her first. The thirty five year old was well known for her high sex drive which consisted of one night stands and brief flings, the latter was now her preferred sexual preference. Helen also had a preference for men’s fashions, trouser suits and shirts and indeed from the back she could be mistaken for a man due to her short brown hair and wedge-shaped figure.
“Hair appointment,” Helen swivelled in her seat.
Penny looked up from the papers in front of her and noticed the woman for the first time. She was wearing a brown, three-quarter length A-line skirt and a matching tailored jacket. Her blonde hair fell past her shoulderblades in cascading waves and both of them noticed her hourglass figure but didn’t pass comment on it. She was in front of the driver’s side window flicking at her hair and examining herself. She then glanced to her right at Moira’s Hair and Nails salon, but a moment later the woman put her handbag on the roof and opening the back door, bent over to grab something from the back seat.
“What the hell’s in the back seat?” Penny mused.
“I was looking at her arse not the inside of the car,” Helen conceded.
Lisa stepped into the office at that point and the petite blonde raised tuzla escort an eyebrow as she saw both of them staring out the window and so she moved to the window and glanced out at the woman.
“That hair’s perfect, I would kill for hair like that, I bet she’s getting her nails done.”
A moment later however she straightened up and pushing the lock down, shut the door and then did the same to the driver’s door. When she turned around she had a piece of paper in one hand and her bag in the other and Penny felt a slight twinge as she stared straight at their window.
“Ooh, she’s looking at me,” Helen straightened up.
“She’s looking at our window,” Penny corrected her, “she’s coming in here.”
The woman stood staring at the windows for the better part of thirty seconds and in that time Penny noted the white blouse. When she took a step forward, Helen looked at Penny.
“Okay, I lost that one,” she took the purse out of her handbag and took out a one dollar coin.
“But what the hell does she want?” Lisa mused as Helen rose and walked to Penny’s desk, “looks too young to be applying for divorce.”
“Maybe she wants a job,” Helen dropped the coin into the carafe, “she’s certainly wearing the right clothes, we could use an office girl.”
“We have two office girls,” Lisa commented as she also took a dollar coin out of her purse, “I’m looking at one of them now and the other is next door.”
Technically, Helen was a legal secretary but she was only in the office two and a half days out of five, the rest of the time was spent in her home office, which was leased by Penny and claimed back on her tax return. It had been the only way to keep her on staff in a full time capacity, the others clashed with her frequently, but Penny was exempt from Helen’s snide remarks.
“But what about a part time office girl?” Helen insisted.
“Because you’d be hanging around like a bad smell and I’d quit,” Lisa walked to Penny’s desk.
“Quit what?” Helen smirked.
“Helen McInnes,” Penny stared at her, “have you got work to do?”
“Doing it now, ma’am.”
A moment later they heard the tinkling of the bell as she opened the door and stepped inside. Lisa and Helen sat down at their computers but Penny turned her head towards the door between the office and reception as she waited. Penny’s black cordless phone rang some thirty seconds later and she picked it up.
“Anne, what’s up?”
“There’s a young lady here who wants to put up a flyer on our community noticeboard.”
“Okay,” Penny frowned and turned towards the door, “and that’s a problem because?”
“You might want to look at the flyer yourself.”
“Okay, be right out,” she put the phone down.
“She wants to put up a flyer on our board,” she stood up, “good job I didn’t try and predict this one,” she glanced at the carafe that was half full of one and two dollar coins.
“You sure you don’t want me to take care of this?” Helen offered.
Lisa just rolled her eyes and Penny smiled as she fluffed out her hair.
“I’m the boss, and it’s my board, Anne wants my approval first.”
She rounded the desk and stepped out into the reception area a few moments later to find the young woman sitting on one of the sofa chairs against the wall. Her handbag was on the coffee table and she was studying the flyer but looked up briefly as Penny stepped over to the counter. She looked at the noticeboard and frowned, and Penny chanced a glance at it. Her original idea had been to put the board up for community groups and local tradesmen to advertise but the uptake had been slow, this wasn’t exactly a party town. Her solution therefore was absurdly simple, she just spaced the flyers out to make it look as if the board was full. There were only two A4 sized flyers on the board with the cards forming a neat border around three sides of the board. Just to the right and a little above was the aforementioned newspaper article in a stylish wooden frame.
Anne looked up at her and raised her eyebrows slightly. Anne was fifty years old and had been with the company for two years after an eighteen year absence from the workforce. She’d originally been a client but when Lisa mentioned matter of factly that their regular receptionist had just handed in her notice, Anne had just as casually informed her that she was on the lookout for a job now that she was soon to be single again. The job was perfect for her, it was literally within walking distance and after a delay of about a month Penny had finally made the call.
Penny coughed and glanced at the woman.
“Can I help you?”
“Um,” she stood up suddenly but knocked over her handbag in the process, a purse popped out and skittered across the glass-topped coffee table and onto the floor.
“Sorry, sorry,” she bent down to retrieve it.
Penny waited for her to pick it up.
“That’s fine, I drop stuff all the time,” Penny smiled crookedly, ümraniye escort “car keys, money, and then there’s things I wished I hadn’t dropped, I’m Penny Jones.”
“G’day, I’m Robyn, Smith,” she took four steps forward and held out her hand.
She had green eyes and a heart-shaped face, her hair had been styled in soft waves and a slim waist, and shapely hips and a generous bosom. The perfume had the hint of apples and when she let go of her hand Penny estimated her age to be early twenties at the oldest but the clothes were not atypical for someone of that age.
She wore a white blouse with two rows of gold-coloured buttons set about four inches apart, the row on the right was hidden under a placket except for the topmost one, the shoulders were puffy and the loose, flowing sleeves ended in deep cuffs. The bodice was further decorated with a pleat on either side of the bodice. A small oval brooch with a black gemstone surrounded by gold leaf was fastened to the top of the blouse, which was tucked into the skirt. A thin black belt adorned the skirt but it was somewhat dwarfed by the waistband, which was considerably wider than the belt. When she’d turned her back Penny had noticed it was fastened with four buttons. The jacket was cut in a double-breasted style with black buttons to match the belt and the knee-high boots. It was the type of outfit her mother had worn, her eyes flickered to the face as she tried to find signs of ageing hidden beneath the makeup.
When was the last time I saw a woman wearing that style of blouse?
“I was hoping to put up a flyer on your noticeboard,” she glanced back at the flyer she’d left on the coffee table.
“A flyer,” Penny answered, “okay, let’s see this flyer.”
Robyn turned and stepped over to the coffee table to retrieve it while Penny waited patiently, she was still trying to recall the last time a woman had worn that sort of outfit. She had the feeling that it hadn’t been that long ago but couldn’t picture the woman and then Robyn was handing the flyer over to her.
“Thanks,” she took it from her and then she knew why Anne had called her out to deal with a trivial matter.
Kilsyth Community Church was at the very top in bold text and under it was the smaller Saturday Night Coffee Shop followed by the blurb. A safe place for teens to gather and eat snacks and drink coffee, tea and soft drinks. The coffee shop is supervised by adults at all times. Trained counsellors are also on hand to provide a sympathetic ear. Come one, come all.
Penny stared at the two A4 flyers on the board.
The first one was an advertisement for Cindy’s Creations. Cindy O’Connor was Penny’s best friend and her dressmaking business had become Penny’s go to place to shop whenever she needed a new outfit or item of clothing. Amongst their circle of friends the standard joke was that Penny could own shares in the small business because she was her best customer.
The second flyer however was more noticeable because it had a studio photograph of two women and one man. One woman in a white blouse and black skirt was seated whilst the second woman in a white tuxedo shirt stood behind her with a hand on her back. The shirt had the top two buttons undone, the bowtie hung loosely from her neck. The man to her left was dressed the same. His hand rested on the other shoulder.
At the very top was a bold headline. Women Who Talk and at the bottom was more bold text. About Sex, Relationships, Body Image, Gender Stereotypes, Work, Family, Home etc. Underneath in smaller text was a brief blurb. Feeling left out? Need to connect with other women? Come join our relaxed weekly get togethers over drinks and good food. Bring a plate or wine, but if not just bring yourself.
A quick glance at Robyn told her that she’d already noted the bisexual subtext and then she took two steps forward to read it once again. She looked at the picture for a few seconds and then she glanced at the other flyer for Cindy’s Creations. When she turned around Penny saw the shift in her eyes as if she’d just stumbled into a lesbian pub to ask for directions to a bible study. She pivoted to the office door as Helen stepped out with a pile of folders in her arms and a purse on top. Penny watched her put the folders on the counter and she fingered her satin tie. It matched the beige satin blouse. She’d worn it buttoned to the top this morning but at this hour of the afternoon she had undone the top button. The blouse was tucked into dark blue, pinstriped trousers.
“I’ll tell you what,” Penny stepped over to the board, “if you can give me a reason to put this up on my board I’ll do it,” she glanced at her.
Robyn looked at her briefly and then the poster on the wall as Helen strolled nonchalantly over to the water cooler.
“How is Cheryl?”
Penny’s eyes narrowed as she looked at the woman in the tuxedo. How did this young woman know a middle-aged actress named Cheryl O’Brien?
“You know Cheryl?” Penny asked as Helen poured a cup of water.
“She was my nanna’s friend,” she replied, “she was there at the end and she was also the witness for her will. The last time I saw her was three and a half years ago when she dropped off a couple of my nanna’s suitcases and some personal effects like CDs and stuff.”
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