Author's note: Ever wonder how Penny and Tracy met? So did I. Penny is my favorite character from Hairspray so I really wanted to give her some love and I was honored to write her character. Technically it's canon that Tracy and Penny knew each other from birth (if anyone's read Hairspray: The Roots) but in my version they are both twelve. I thought this would be a good age because it gave them a few years for their friendship to solidify before the events of Hairspray. This story gave me some trouble and I'm still not 100% satisfied with it, so please rate and review. Hope you guys enjoy!
It was a beautiful day in Baltimore. Well, actually, it was overcast and hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk, but that did nothing to stop Penny as she skipped her way through town. She always walked with a spring in her step on the way to the record store; it was the high-point of her day after all. Penny's mother, Prudy, never let her out of the house except to go to school so Penny had to find some way to escape. Since her mother believed she was riding the bus home every day, Prudy was completely unaware that the ten extra minutes it took Penny to get home was not, in fact, due to the frequent bus stops, but because of Penny's secret trips to the record store. Perhaps it was the disadvantage of being so young, but Penny felt that all she did was take orders, whether it was from her overbearing mother, teachers, or other adults, and the wonderful reprieve never lasted as long as she would've liked. Still, it was better than none at all.
Before she knew it, she had reached the record store and was pulling open the brightly colored door. The smell of mildew and the sound of the music playing swirled around her as if welcoming her home. Making her way towards the back, Penny tried not to make eye-contact with the shop owner, Mrs. Kramer, a middle-aged women with graying hair and wire-framed glasses sitting behind the cash register looking bored. Eyes on the ground and head hung low, Penny tried to walk as slow as she could through the store even though she wanted to sprint past Mrs. Kramer's desk. Prudy controlled every move her daughter made as if Penny was merely a marionette and any time Penny would do something she considered "unruly", Prudy would yank the strings in another direction and restrict even more of what little freewill Penny had. This included socializing with anyone and because of this, Penny was a very awkward and introverted young girl. I hope Mrs. Kramer doesn't think I'm being rude, Penny thought, as she glanced over her shoulder at the woman who had begun to fan herself with a newspaper.
Carpet turned into tile once she reached the back of the shop, causing Penny's saddle shoes to click loudly on the polished floor. Once she was safely in solitude, she picked up a record and examined it, then another and another. She could never buy anything - her mother never gave her an allowance - but she was content with simply being surrounded by, what she assumed to be, great music.
Time flew by as it always did when she immersed herself in her own world. After checking her watch and finding the ten minutes to be up, she made her way to the door, relieved to find Mrs. Kramer had left her post. However, as she was about to open the door, she happened to glance out the window to see a group of boys several years older than herself standing across the street and staring at something on the ground. They were huddled so close together that no matter how hard Penny tried she couldn't see what it was. Penny was tall for her age but even so, she could barely see out the shop window without standing on her tip-toes. Pressing her face against the dirty window, an internal battle between curiosity to go outside and see what was happening and fear of getting in the middle of it waged a war in her mind. In the end, as it usually did, fear won out and she remained rooted to the spot. For a minute, nothing happened and Penny casually blew bubbles with the gum in her mouth, also something Prudy didn't allow, and waited for something to happen. Suddenly one of the boys stepped out of the circle to reveal a young black boy curled into a ball on the ground. The boy had his face covered with his hands as each of the boys towering over him took turns kicking him. Penny gasped, almost inhaling her gum, and backpedaled from the window.
Although Penny was still only twelve and lived a sheltered life, she wasn't as naive as you would assume. Penny was used to seeing people treated this way; it was commonplace and she was told that it was simply the way things were. It still doesn't make it right, she always may have been accepted by society, but it still made her furious. She fiddled in her backpack and produced another stick gum which she unwrapped and stuck in her mouth. It was more out of something to distract her from the rage she felt than out of a real hankering for it.
Cautiously, she stepped back up the window clutching her skirt to keep her hands from shaking and chewing her gum vehemently. She wasn't worried about the boys seeing her; they wouldn't care, in fact, people on the street were casually walking by, not even sparing a glance, let alone a helping hand to the boy who so desperately needed it. Some had even stopped to cheer them on. The boys were taking turns beating their victim while others applauded and laughed. Their mouths were moving but Penny couldn't hear what they were saying; she wasn't sure she wanted to. This went on for several minutes and all the while Penny was finding it harder to watch. The guilt she always felt about standing idly by and letting this happen was rearing its ugly head and she wanted desperately to help the boy who had done nothing wrong, but her trepidation was stronger than her desire to help. What would her mother do to her if she ever found out she had gotten in a fight, or worse, helped a black boy? She would be called names and treated like more of an outcast than she already was.
Feeling defeated and ashamed, she was about to tear her eyes away from the window and head back home when suddenly out of nowhere, Penny saw a girl about her age running up the street. She was quite chubby and Penny was amazed at how fast she was racing up the sidewalk. Admiration and horror seized Penny as the girl ran straight up to the mob of boys who were at least several inches taller and much more muscular than her. She began gesturing wildly and shouting, pointing at the boy on the ground before turning her enraged expression back to the mob. Even from a distance, Penny could see there wasn't a hint of apprehension in her eyes. There wasn't the slightest bit of attention paid to the onlookers who were glaring at her for stepping in and ruining the show. There was no doubt in this girl's mind that she was doing the right thing, and Penny couldn't have felt more respect for her.
After the boys had gotten over the shock of their beating session being interrupted by a stout girl with teased-up hair, one of the boys, the leader apparently, got right into her face and yelled something loud enough that Penny could almost hear it through the glass. While the mob's attention was fully turned on the girl, Penny began to smile and silently cheered as the black boy took this opportunity to pick himself up off the ground and take off down the alleyway. Run!, Penny thought, Run! She bit her lip, waiting to see if the mob had noticed, and she felt her stomach drop as one of the boys spotted him and yelled something to the tall one, who was raising his fist to strike the girl standing defiantly in front of him.
Hearing that their victim had escaped, he took off with the rest of the boys to try and catch him, but not before shoving the mystery girl to the ground and spitting on her. Maybe it was seeing someone so ordinary show such an act of courage, or maybe it was because her mind was still reeling from what happened that she wasn't thinking straight, but whatever it was, Penny couldn't take it anymore. Her legs betrayed her mind and without even realizing what was happening she was out the door and running across the street. All thoughts of how her mother was going to punish her, or if anyone was watching, or most importantly if any cars were coming down the road, fled Penny's mind. Suddenly she was standing over the brave young soul who was still laying on the ground and wiping the spit off her face, disgusted.
"Are...are you okay?" Penny squeaked, offering her hand.
"Yeah, I think so. Thanks." The girl took Penny's hand, nearly pulling her down on top of her. When they were both standing face to face, the rotund girl, still clutching Penny's hand, began to shake it and gave Penny a wide, confident smile.
"My name's Tracy Turnblad." Penny stared at their intermingled hands in awe. She couldn't recall the last time someone just came up to her and introduced themselves.
"Um, I'm Penny Lou Pingleton. It's nice to meet you, Tracy."
"Well, Penny Lou, it's nice to meet you to."
Penny wasn't sure where to go from this point, especially since Tracy was giving her an expectant look, and Penny had to resist the urge to look down at her shoes. Luckily Tracy was a lot more adept at conversation than herself.
"Did you see what those jerks were doing to that that poor kid?" Tracy asked.
By this point, Penny was already to starting to fidget and she was already worried that she was going to say the wrong thing. Out of habit, she began blowing bubbles as she tried to think of a way out of answering. Penny wanted to tell Tracy everything; she wanted her to know how she truly felt, but now that the thunderstorm of emotions in Penny's mind had cleared, reality was setting back in and the fact that she was actually talking to someone hit her like a ton of bricks. Her breathing quickened and her mind started racing with thoughts of what her mother would do if she ever found out. She was late getting home as it was, and now Prudy was probably out looking for her. Just as Penny was about to bolt towards home, content with keeping the secret that there was someone just like her to herself, she glanced at her hefty hero one last time. Overweight as she was, Tracy, Penny realized, was actually quite pretty. Brown hair teased up to new heights that Penny's copper colored hair could only dream of, an outgoing smile, and bright-blue eyes that almost seemed to shine with exuberance and optimism. Suddenly, Penny realized that not only was she not staring the ground, but she wasn't the slightest bit uncomfortable at staring into Tracy's eyes; she almost felt like they were welcoming her home after being gone for some time. Then, just like back at the record store, all of Penny's inhibitions were gone. It was almost as if Tracy's self-assuredness was flowing into her and before she knew it, words were tumbling out of her mouth.
"Yeah. You did the right thing. I was watching from that record store over there and believe me, I would've done what you did if only I had the courage. It's just, things are so backwards. Just because it's 'the way things are' doesn't..."
"...doesn't make it right." Tracy finished Penny's thought. Penny snapped her head up to look at Tracy and was shocked to find that her eyes were brimming with unshed tears.
"I've never met anyone who felt the same way."
For the first time all day, Penny smiled, and for the first time in her life, she felt like she belonged.
"I never have either."
Suddenly, Tracy' s eyes widened as she got an idea.
"Hey, do you want to see something cool?"
Penny knew there would be hell to pay once she got home, but she didn't know if she'd ever see Tracy again, and she wanted to make the moment last.
"I'd love to."
They walked for several blocks, chatting about anything they could think of until Tracy led Penny to a glass window with several black and white TV's behind it.
Tracy was practically buzzing with excitement as the two stared at one of the many televisions. "It's four o'clock. It should be starting any minute."
Penny watched as a dapperly dressed man with slicked back hair and a microphone announced that the Corny Collins show was starting. Behind him, several good-looking teenagers were dancing to the rhythm of a catchy tune. Soon, Penny found herself tapping her foot to the beat. Tracy began dancing in perfect unison with dancers on TV. Wow, she's amazing! Penny thought. Tracy continued her groove as Penny watched in awe at the dancers on TV, drinking in the upbeat vibe that seemed to radiate from the screen.
"Aren't those dancers amazing? Someday you'll be watching me on that show!" Tracy exclamied proudly.
"I'm surprised you're not on now! You have as much talent as they do! Maybe more." Penny said, smiling. Tracy blushed, touched by the compliment. Normally people would offer an "Oh, that's nice" or some other display of false sincerity, knowing full well that Tracy wasn't "TV material". Worse yet, sometimes people would flat out tell her that unless she lost the pounds, she could keep dreaming. Not Penny though. She was different, and if there's one thing Tracy loved, it was being different.
"Thanks. Have you seen the Corny Collins show before?" Tracy asked, resuming her jive.
"My mother thinks dancing is..." Penny made air quotes with her fingers. "'only for rebellious delinquents' so I'm not allowed to."
Tracy was taken aback.
"But dancing is a way to express yourself! How can you live without it? Something needs to be done about this!" Tracy declared.
"Tracy, I - woah!" Penny never got to finish her sentence before Tracy grabbed her hands and began twirling her around. She had never danced in her life but somehow she was doing everything from the Madison to a foxtrot; it was such a carefree feeling and she was utterly content, even with Tracy yanking her to and fro like a ragdoll. Normally she'd be worried about looking stupid, but with Tracy whirling her in all different directions, the world had been reduced to blurry colors and she could barely make out the occasional flash of Tracy's white blouse, let alone anyone on the street watching them. Any concept of time and space seemed to vanish as the two new friends danced away the hours. Eventually, the two were so worn out, and a little dizzy, that they were stumbling around in circles more than dancing. Leaning up against the brick wall of the TV store, Penny readjusted her glasses and fixed her headband that had become askew in her auburn hair during all the jostling around. Tracy plopped down on the sidewalk and wiped the sweat off her forehead. A ray of golden light poured over the two as the last of the sun's rays snuck through the trees. It was then that Penny realized the sun was setting. Panicking, she looked down at her watch to find it was almost six-thirty. Penny gasped, grabbing her schoolbag off the ground as Tracy eyed her with confusion.
"I have to go, Tracy. Today was one of the best days of my life and I can't thank you enough. My mother's probably going to lock me up in the basement for a while, so I don't know when I'll get to see you again, but I won't forget about you." Penny was already starting to make her way down the sidewalk. A myriad of emotions washed over Tracy's features until she finally processed Penny's words and ran after her.
"Penny, wait!" Tracy yelled, grabbing Penny's arm and spinning her around. "This doesn't have to be goodbye! We could meet here every day at the TV store! We can watch Corny Collins."
Penny smiled, although there was no joy in her eyes. There was no way she could explain to Tracy why it wasn't so simple, but in the end she sighed and said, "I'd love to, believe me, but...my mother...it's...it's hard to explain."
Tracy nodded, although her voice quavered when she spoke. "I understand." Just as Penny turned to start heading back home, Tracy called after her.
Penny turned around, the setting sun forming a halo around her.
"Don't worry, someday, things will be different!" Tracy yelled, waving goodbye.
Penny didn't know if Tracy was referring to the events of the afternoon, her mother, or something else entirely, but as she watched her new friend - her first friend - become a small dot on the horizon, she felt something in the pit of her stomach that wasn't there before. A strange warmth; a spark of hope. Hope that maybe one day, people wouldn't grow up watching innocent children getting beaten on the sidewalk. Hope that Penny would have the best friend she always dreamed up. Hope that the future she and Tracy dreamed of would be reality. Little did Penny know, this wouldn't be the last time she would see Tracy. There would be many more days spent laughing and dancing to Corny Collins, because no a matter what obstacles kept the two apart, fate, as it did on this day, brought people together for a reason. Someday, what Tracy had said would ring true; it was just that neither of them new it yet. Neither of them knew that their friendship was the beginning of a whole lot of adventure.