Before Penny Met Sam

This is a companion piece to The Dreamwalker and should be read in conjunction with the book. This piece is set around the same time as The Dreamwalker, Chapter 3....

Penny Larsen sat in her ‘usual’ lunchtime spot - on a bench at the side of the school, overlooking the lawn. It gave her and her friend Sara a great view of the social frenzy that was lunch hour, but allowed them to be removed enough that they wouldn’t be dragged into anything unless they really wanted to be. That was a rarity. Usually, they were happy to sit and people watch. It took real weather to drive them from their spot, and most of the school knew that by now.

Penny and Sara were fixtures at the school. Both girls stood out in very different ways. Penny had her ever-changing hair color (currently blonde with blue tips) and quirky style. Sara’s Native American heritage was the distinctive element her appearance. She was a striking girl, with nearly black eyes and a sun bronzed complexion that others envied. Neither girl seemed to belong to any kind of social group of clique. Penny had a way of moving from group to group which allowed her to be accepted everywhere. Sara was quieter, more removed, seemingly content with her own company. Yet she had an air about her which kept any would-be bullies away.

Today Penny was sat behind Sara on the bench, twisting the other girl’s black hair into a complicated arrangement of braids.

“Did you hear that Carly broke up with Carson last night?” Sara asked. “She’s still going through with the party though. I talked to her fist thing and her attitude was pretty much ‘screw him, I don’t need a guy to be able to enjoy myself with my friends’. She wouldn’t tell me what went down though.” Sara didn’t sound surprised - she wasn’t really the kind of girl that people took into their confidences.

“It doesn’t matter, they’ll get back together,” Penny said, wrapping a band round the end of one braid and pushing it off to the side as she started on the next one.

Sara chuckled. “She seemed pretty determined about it, but you’re like the relationship whisperer or something. You going to see what you can do? I know she’s your friend, but…”

“I’m not going to do anything,” Penny promised, her eyes flicking to a tree across the grass and the boy sitting under it. “I have another project in mind. What do you think of Sam Gardener?” she asked.

Sara half looked around at the other girl. “Mr. Don’t-Talk-To-Me? He used to live next door to me when we were in kindergarten, you know? Before my family moved out to the edge of town? My mom used to take me there for like, play dates and all. I remember he had this weird thing where he…”

“Not then, silly,” Penny said with a laugh, batting Sara lightly on her arm. “I mean now. I know you’ve heard the rumors. Everyone has heard the rumors.”

“Yeah, and I’d bet three month’s allowance that it’s all complete bull,” Sara said, though she did take the question more seriously then, narrowing her gaze on Sam, thoughtfully. “He’s completely oblivious, isn’t he? He walks down the halls, trying to keep out of everyone’s way, but not like he’s some kind of victim who thinks he’s about to be attacked. It’s more like he’s in his own world, apart from the rest of us. He’s in my history class, but he doesn’t take part unless Mr. Knight presses him. Still, he seems to do the work. He keeps his head down - it’s like he’s just biding his time until he can get out of here.”

“Right - makes you wonder why he even came back,” Penny agreed, starting to twist Sara’s long hair up into a complicated style.

“Clearly not to make friends and hang with the popular crowd. Though, I hear Darren Keyes pinpointed him on the first day back to see what was what. Guess Sam failed that test though,” she said, glancing over to where the Witch Lake Phantoms’ quarterback was throwing a ball around with his teammates.

“You mean the ‘are you cool enough to hang with us’ test? I can’t believe that they actually have that,” Penny said, rolling her eyes. “Some people really need to get out more.” She paused, finishing off Sara’s hair and then resting her arms on her friend’s shoulders, peering over at Sam. “There’s something about him though…”

Sara laughed, saying, “Yeah, there’s something about him! For a start, he’s sitting under a tree talking to himself. And not just kind of - he actually looks like he’s holding a whole conversation with the air. Even Andrea and the idiots have noticed,” she added, referencing the group of overly made up and styled freshman girls nearby whose very existence seemed to revolve around trying to catch as much attention as possible. Their laughter rang out across the grass and the pair watched as Sam seemed to realize. The boy grimaced and pulled his hoodie up.

“He’s still talking to himself, you know,” Sara observed. “He’s just making a show of trying to hide it. Like he’s thinking aloud or something. But, he’s definitely talking to himself.”

“Leave him alone,” Penny mused. “If he’s got Andrea on his case, then he really doesn’t need you. He doesn’t need more rumors being added to the ones already going around.”

“Oh, yeah - because I’m known to be the gossip queen of the school,” Sara quipped, sarcastically. “The guy’s in no danger from me. It’s just weird, is all. Maybe he’s got problems, like… Up there,” she said, twirling her finger near her temple.

“Maybe… There’s definitely something though,” Penny said, before pulling back and standing up abruptly. Moments later, the bell went to signal the end of the lunch period. “I’m going to go talk to him,” she declared.

“Of course you are,” Sara replied, dryly. That was her friend, through and through. Always deciding to do things that others wouldn’t. So far, nobody had talked to Sam that hadn’t had to for some reason. Not since the second day of school. Looking at it, Sara wondered why she hadn’t guessed before that Penny would be the one to break through that blockade.

Penny grinned down at the other girl. “Wish me luck - see you later,” she said, giving a little wave, her eyes flashing with excitement. Then she was off to intercept the dark haired boy. Sara just shook her head and, realizing that Penny had seemingly done something really weird to her hair, started to undo the ‘design’ before she had to head for class. She’d get the news about Sam Gardener later, that much was for sure.