“This is far enough, Mom. You can drop me off here,” Jill said to her mother as they pulled up to the gates of Cannondale Heights. “I’ll just walk the rest of the way. I need the exercise.”
“Sorry I couldn’t have Jeeves bring you ’round in the limo,” Jill’s mother said in her best Harvard accent. “But he had to take your father to the airport to catch the Concorde for the summit meeting.”
Jill hadn’t fooled her mother for a second. She never could. It was all too obvious that she didn’t want to be seen pulling up to Courtney Pennington’s palatial mansion in the family’s clunky old blue-or-grey-or-whatever-color-it-used-to-be Impala. Jill was five-foot-eight and not just thin; she was skinny. She ate all the time to gain weight, and now she was telling her mother she needed to walk for exercise on a cold, dark night? She felt guilty about the pretense, so she leaned over and gave her mom an extra big hug, momentarily catching her thick brown hair on the button of her mother’s jacket.
“Have a good time,” her mother said with a smile as Jill jumped out of “Sherman.” That was the affectionate nickname the family had given the car because of its resemblance to a tank.
The night was chilly and as Jill began walking up the hill to the Pennington’s driveway, she wished she would have stayed a little longer in her mother’s soft, warm, cinnamon-smelling embrace.
The huge wrought-iron gate that guarded what looked like a very long lane automatically swung open as soon as Jill neared it. She looked around before entering and noticed she’d crossed through an electric beam that must have alerted whoever was looking at her through a small T.V. camera mounted on the gatepost. “I can’t believe this,” she said to herself. “The Pennington place is unreal!”
Jill thought about the situation as she continued through the gate and up the long, tree-lined drive. Courtney Pennington was the new girl in the ward. She was in Jill’s Mia Maid class but hadn’t immediately drawn a lot of attention because she was quiet—the nice kind of quiet, where you know she’s shy rather than stuck-up. She had long blond hair that was probably curly or wavy, but she kept it pulled back in a braid or a ponytail all the time so it was hard to tell. She dressed well but not flashy, and no one even realized she was rich until one day they saw her hop into a very large, very shiny Mercedes that had come for her after church. The windows were tinted, so no one could see the driver.
Courtney became a sort of enigma after that. No one wanted to be rude and ask too many questions, but everyone in the class was curious about her. They hadn’t ever seen the rest of her family, although one day she showed them a picture she carried in her wallet. The miniportrait revealed one of the best looking brothers they’d ever seen, and two incredibly handsome parents.
The girls just about fell over when she gave their adviser a home address that had to be located in prestigious Cannondale Heights.
They were ecstatic when Courtney offered to host the Mia Maid class party they were planning. Most of them had never even driven through Cannondale Heights, let alone visited one of the elaborate estates there. They couldn’t wait to see what life was like in the lap of luxury.
Courtney, whom Jill had befriended the very first day by offering her half of the candy bar she usually carried in her purse, had asked Jill to come by, see her home, and help plan the party from there. Jill had jumped at the chance.
And now she was standing in front of the Pennington’s massive brass door. What if a butler answers? she wondered. What would you say to a butler? “Good evening. I have come to visit with Miss Courtney. She is expecting me.” Could she say that with a straight face? How about, “Yo! Butle me in!” Or “Beam me up, butler!” The possibilities were endless. She couldn’t help but giggle.
She was relieved when Courtney opened the door just as Jill was reaching for the carved ivory knocker. “I’m so glad you’re here! You’re just in time,” Courtney bubbled, surprising Jill with her enthusiasm. “My parents are on their way out, and I want them to meet you before they go.”
“She wants them to meet me?” Jill thought as Courtney led her through a marble-floored entry and down a wood-paneled hall. She’d heard that Courtney’s father was a very powerful movie executive, and she was sure he met famous movie stars every day. Why would he want to meet some insignificant, skinny kid from the ward?
Courtney opened the door to a room that seemed to be all glass and garden. There were huge bouquets of fresh flowers blooming everywhere. On the other side of the room stood Courtney’s parents, silhouetted against a giant window through which city lights sparkled below.
“You must be Jill,” said a dazzling blond lady, all dressed in gold and black velvet. Could that be Courtney’s mom? Nobody’s mom dressed like that! Most moms Jill knew dressed in sweats or jeans, except on Sundays when they pulled out their flowered dresses.
“Of course that’s Jill,” Courtney’s father answered before Jill could say anything. “It’s so good to get to know Courtney’s friends. C’mon babe, we’ve got to get going—they won’t hold the premiere—not even for me!” he said as he began striding toward the door. He was the only man Jill had ever met who you could actually say “strode.” The tall man in the tuxedo gave the impression that he would never merely walk.
Courtney reached out to give her mother a hug, but only caught her hand as she hurried out behind her husband. “Watch the nails, hon,” Mrs. Pennington said as she quickly drew away. “Monique just did them today. Have a good time.” And they were gone. All that remained was the spicy scent of Mrs. Pennington’s expensive perfume.
“Well, those are my parents,” Courtney said, almost apologetically. “They’re always off somewhere. I wish it was off to church sometimes, but you’ve probably noticed they’re not big on attendance. They haven’t been for a long time.”
“I wasn’t sure if they were members or not,” Jill responded honestly. Then she quickly added, “It’s good they are.”
“Well, I guess you can say they’re members,” Courtney continued. “Dad joined the Church so Mom would marry him, but he never really got into it. Mom’s not into it much anymore either, but at least they’re nice about letting me go.”
“That’s not bad,” Jill said philosophically. She was beginning to wonder about the girl with the beautiful house and glamorous parents. “My parents have to wrestle with us half the time to get us to church. I think it’s good you try so hard to come on your own. I don’t see how you do it.”
“I don’t see how I can’t,” Courtney responded, a small smile crossing her face. “A long time ago I realized that I felt things at church I couldn’t feel anywhere else. The things they taught me there I couldn’t learn anywhere else, and I’ve been a lot of places. Now that I’m older and understand a little more about how the Spirit works, I don’t want to do anything that would separate me from it—like not going to church. I need all the spiritual help I can get. I don’t have a family like yours to teach me and help me learn. I envy you that.”
“Courtney envies me?” Jill thought. “That’s really funny.” And the humor in it grew as Courtney took her from room to room, showing her possible places for the party. The house was amazing. The Persian rugs and rich polished floors were such a contrast to the matted shag and scuffed linoleum in Jill’s house. There were about ten bedrooms—more than half of them guest rooms. They were so different from the bedrooms at Jill’s, where three bedrooms accommodated a family of nine. Two of the rooms were shared by three kids each. And Jill’s older brother Matt slept on the sofa bed in the living room, tormenting the littler kids by tickling them when they crossed through the room to the kitchen at night to get a drink. Oh, and then there were the Pennington’s “recreation rooms.”
“How about if we go swimming in the indoor pool?” Jill suggested when they’d returned to the glass-and-flower room to do the actual planning.
“I thought about that, but Dad said the insurance risk was too high to have a bunch of kids whose parents we don’t know swimming there,” Courtney answered.
“No problem then. Maybe we can get a film and watch it in that neat theater?”
“I don’t think dad would want us fooling with his equipment,” Courtney said.
“That’s all right.” Jill tried again. “I noticed you have a huge kitchen. Maybe we could make some goodies in there. Everybody likes food—especially me. And we could make enough to take to the homeless in the park the next day.
“I think Mom would have a heart attack if we tarnished her copper kitchen stuff,” Courtney said. At this point, she was getting embarrassed.
“Well, we can always just come over and talk girl talk right here,” Jill said, not wanting to disappoint Courtney anymore.
“We can always just come over and talk girl talk!” screeched a Munchkin-like voice that pierced them from every direction. It startled Jill so badly she thought she jumped ten feet in the air. Suddenly, from a slit in the ceiling above a huge white and gold fireplace, a movie screen started descending. When it stopped, a video of their little planning session, played at double speed backwards, started flashing across the screen, their voices screeching in those weird Munchkin tones.
“Selwyn, you dog!” Courtney yelled as she jumped up and ran across the room to a control panel that was neatly concealed behind a tapestry on the wall. She hurriedly flicked a switch that killed the sound.
“It’s my stupid big brother,” Courtney stuttered on the verge of tears. “He takes his video camera everywhere, and he films everything. Then he edits them in weird ways and shows them to everybody. He makes me so mad!”
The girls stood there motionless for a few minutes, watching their images flicker bizarrely across the silent screen.
“Hey—I’ve got a great idea!” Jill said, regaining her composure. “This is a beautiful place, but you’d probably like to get out once in a while. You’ve never been to any of our houses. Why don’t we have the Mia Maid party at mine? Mom will help us make cinnamon rolls. Oh, and Matt has a priests quorum activity that night, so we won’t have competition for the living room. As a matter of fact, I bet Matt would take Selwyn with him, if he wants to go.”
“He’d probably like that,” Courtney said slowly. “He doesn’t have many friends. But do you think your mom would mind?”
“My mom mind? Are you kidding? She loves having people in the house—all over the house,” Jill said, walking over to the golden phone she’d noticed on a desk against the wall. “I’ll call her right now, and we can make plans over there. What’s the exact address of this place so I can have her come right up to the front door and get us?”