“It’s okay. You can tell them that I –”
“That you forgot to tell me your name.”
She took a breath. “Penelope.”
“Nice to meet you, Penelope.”
He held out his hand. She shook it, laughing at herself for once.
“So…be my date to the carnival tonight.”
What? “Date? Uh…”
“What’s wrong? Never gone out with a fireman before?”
Penelope was dumbfounded. “I’ve never had someone catch me in a lie and then ask me out.”
“And I bet you’ve never had deep fried hot chocolate. It will be a night of firsts. What do you say?”
He was ridiculously charming. Penelope had no idea what to say. Unexpected opportunities didn’t run down the sidewalk after her. She created all her opportunities herself, on her terms in her own way. How was she supposed to deal with this?
“Steve! We gotta roll!” the old man hollered from the firehouse doors.
Penelope could still see the twinkle in Steve’s eyes as he trotted backwards down the sidewalk. “Gotta run. See you at six o’clock tonight. At the bake sale!”
Penelope walked over to the bake sale table. The community had rallied to show their support, so everything was almost gone. She spotted the last of her store bought cookies sitting on a paper plate and handed over a twenty.
“Keep the change,” she said, picking it up with a napkin. She stared at the cookie, hoping she’d get one more chance to see the twinkle in Steve’s eye. To say yes to their date. To take a chance for maybe the first time ever.
“Hope you’re saving that for me.”
Penelope whipped around to see Steve approaching, limping slightly from fatigue but with a smile in his eyes. “Sorry I’m late.”
She smacked his arm, hard. As he winced, she yelled, “You can’t ask a girl out then go off and almost get killed! Who does that?”
He just smiled back. “Didn’t I say this would be a night of firsts?”
She stared at him in disbelief. “You’re crazy.”
“Can I have my cookie now?”
She laughed helplessly, feeling the last remnants of her shell crack and fall away. She handed over the cookie.
“Here. I made it myself.”
“Really?” he said, taking a bite. “Tell me more.”
Steve held out his hand and Penelope took it. Not because he’d kept her secret, not because he’d lived, but because she wanted to.