Title: "Spinning Gently"
Author: Mala
E-mail: malisita@yahoo.com
Fandom: "General Hospital"
Rating/Classification: PG-13, general
Disclaimer: Nope, I don't own them, even though they *are* peripheral characters.
Summary: A day in the life of someone in the middle of Port Charles and yet on the outside.
Notes: I have no actual idea what Penny's ethnicity is, so I guessed.

"Penelope...! Why you work at diner? Huh? Why you no go to school like your father want? You finish your medical classes, you hear? You be doctor! You be somebody!"

The water running in the bathtub, hot, with steam rising from it, wasn't enough to drown out the voice on her answering machine. Mommy. Of course. Her discordant screech and clashing syllables echoed through the small apartment like the gunfire that split apart the Cellar every few months.

She slipped off her robe, letting it fall to the faded linoleum as the tape wore itself out. "You bring shame to our family, Penelope! You worthless! You fat! No good Chinese boy ever going to marry you!"

It was hard to take seriously someone who named you "Penelope"...and then couldn't pronounce it.

But, of course, she did. She took Mommy way too seriously. Like the weight of a full tray of dishes headed for the scalding depths of the back sink. She'd gotten to the point where that was the only temperature she could stand and when she slid into the bathtub, her feet resting against the cheap, cracked, porcelain, her skin only pinkened just slightly.

Another fourteen hour day. No downtime. No Elizabeth, no Courtney. No Bobbie. She was practically keeping Kelly's afloat all by herself. Simmering chili in the crockpot, taking orders as teenagers jostled each other on the bar stools and people fought outside. If that was shameful...well... chalk her up with ashes and sackcloth and a side of Blur drifting from her stereo speakers as she pretended there wasn't a stack of textbooks gathering dust under her desk.

Her summer course load had consisted of a path lab and upper level genetics lecture class. She couldn't even remember if she attended a single session of either. She was too used to early morning phone calls, bleary and panicked, about somebody whose boyfriend was shot or who'd been kidnapped, so she had to grab her most comfortable flats, throw on a t-shirt, and open up for the day. She usually worked till close...although, on occasion Lucky would offer to sweep and put the chairs up because he lived upstairs and had nowhere to be.

She sometimes wondered why she didn't lead a life as exciting as the other girls. Then, she came home, checked her machine, and thanked God.

She could just imagine *those* calls.

"You get kidnapped by psycho, Penelope? How dare you? What people will say? Daughter of mine too dumb to get out of locked room? Shame! Shame! This what happens when you have sex with Americans!"

According to Mommy, it was pretty much what happened when you had sex at *all*.

Luckily, she'd learned to ignore *that* particular warning a very long time ago.

"Pen...? Baby, you all right?"

The bathroom door opened with a creak and she made a mental note to buy some WD-40 on her next trip to the store. Her head lolled on the rolled up towel and she felt the tension slowly drain from her tight shoulders as strong hands reached over and began to knead them.

"You let yourself in?" she wondered with a small smile.

Her bathroom was insanely tiny. Kneeling on the floor, Max seemed to fill up the room. Of course, that was because he was built like a brick house. It was even more insane whenever he climbed into the tub and leaned her against his chest so he could 'help' her wash all her hard-to-reach places. Water usually splashed *everywhere* and she wound up blotting it out of the cheap hall carpet after he left. She was always mopping and scrubbing, it seemed. Always.

He specialized in clean-up, too... just a different kind.

"Picked the lock," he said, huskily. "Keeps me on my game."

His fingers were warm, hard, digging into the knots. He stroked beneath the damp ends of her hair and she shuddered, arched. Her zone. He knew her zone. That expanse of skin behind her ear all the way to the base of her neck.

"Capelli invited us out for a round of pool...but I figured you'd be exhausted covering all those shifts...had Vinnie at the No Name whip us up something...a quick pasta puttanesca..."

Leticia thought it was extremely bizarre that they went out with Andy once a week. "He's a *cop*. A *good* cop."

"And I'm a bodyguard. A *good* bodyguard" was always Max's tactful response. As if there was no conflict of interest whatsoever. And when they were out drinking long-necked beers at Jake's, there really *wasn't*.

"Mmm...sounds nice...I've got a bottle of house red above the stove..."

"You can *reach* above the stove? I thought that's why you kept *me* around?"

"Shut up!"

Sometimes, she just liked to hear him talk. His voice was low and held a faint trace of an Italian accent, but she figured that was just an occupational hazard. She'd thought Johnny was Italian for two years before he, sheepishly, told her his last name was O'Brien. Fair was fair... he'd thought she was Vietnamese.

Come to think of it, she hadn't seen Johnny in weeks. He usually came in on Wednesdays for coffee and chipped beef on toast. Maybe he'd gotten kidnapped? Or shot? Or kidnapped *and* shot? She knew better than to ask. Instead, she opened her eyes, fumbling for the loofah that was floating somewhere beneath the rapidly flattening soap suds.

"Let me." A hand in the water...fingertips teasing the underside of her knee as he quested for the elusive bath sponge. He'd rolled up the sleeves of his starched white shirt and the sight of his lightly-haired arms, all tanned from weekends spent riding his Harley through the countryside, made her stomach flutter.

He was not a good Chinese boy. No way.

And he definitely wasn't going to marry her.

She wasn't worried.

She wound her arms around him as he lifted her, bodily, from the bath. His shirt was soaked through and as they stumbled into the hallway, leaving pools of scented water in their wake, the buttons gave way to her will.

"I thought you were tired?" he laughed, softly.

"I thought you knew where my towels were," she countered.

His lips quirked as if he was about to say something obscene but, instead, he kissed her. His mouth slanted across hers hungrily and if she had any lingering feelings about stupid phone calls and missed labs and blond waitresses who never showed up for work, they vanished in the taste of him. In the collision of their bodies as he bore her down to the sofa and she divested him of his perfectly-pressed pants.

The pasta puttanesca was cold when they finally got around to it, eating out of the styrofoam carton even though she was perfectly capable of re-heating it. The wine was room temperature and perfect. And the phone was, thankfully, silent.

*Penelope, why you work and work and work with no breaks? Why you come when a killer touch you? Why you a nobody?*

Because she liked her life. In spite of everything.

She liked it just the way it was.

Maybe even loved it.


August 13, 2003.

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