There wasn’t a real story when the first Penn, Just Relax, debuted at the Tonner convention in 2015. The first regular line Penn, Business Day, had a brief origin story. He was involved with the police department as a “big brother” to a troubled adolescent, the pyromaniac Freddy Wilde. Now, the poem that came with Business Day didn’t mention his actual job or volunteer work. Instead,  there was a lot made of Ellowyne gushing that Penn was older than her friends, was so handsome, and that he looked as good in a suit as in jeans. Ellowyne sounds utterly shallow and vapid. That’s not the Ellowyne I love. Penn appeared in one of Ellowyne’s final journal entries, in which she wrote about him stopping by on Halloween, her grandmother suggesting he join the party but insisted he wear a mask. Amber tramped into the house and, mistaking Penn for Rufus, she grabbed him, kissed him, and slapped him for kissing her. 


Since I’m not keen on the canonical stories about Penn, I decided to create my own. And, truth be told, Penn is now one of my favorite characters in the line. I started with the age factor. Ellowyne and her friends are usually college or graduate students in their early 20s. Penn is four years older than they are but he has started college at the same time. The reason for that is…

Penn is a war veteran. After he graduated from high school, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, so he joined the Army and became a medic. He has deployed to Afghanistan three, maybe four times. The doctors, nurses, and his chaplain encouraged him to go to nursing school. Why nursing? I am a registered nurse, no longer working due to health reasons. I have known many remarkable men who were nurses. Most of them became nurses because they had been medics or corpsmen in the military. The strength and integrity of these men I have been privileged to teach, work with, and know inspired me to create a character who epitomizes these traits as an homage to those men. Additionally, Penn embodies the post-9/11 wartime experience. He becomes an adrenaline junkie, a thrill-seeker who feels most alive when surrounded by chaos. Penn’s risk-taking impacts his career in that he works in the ER and eventually wants to become a nurse practitioner on a medivac helicopter. Sometimes he works in Intensive Care and plans to become a nurse anesthetist. Sadly, Penn suffers from PTSD, just like someone I love. My husband is a retired Army National Guard chaplain, and over the course of a 28-year career, has deployed in Operation Desert Storm, a peacekeeping mission to Bosnia, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. His PTSD, which resulted from his time in Iraq, has decreased over time, but he still struggles. It grieves me to see a gentle man explode in a rage because of PTSD. Writing about Penn’s experiences helps me understand my husband’s.

Now that we’ve established who Penn is at the core of his identity, let’s look at some of Penn’s other characteristics. He’s an outgoing man—quite charismatic– with the temperament of a Labrador retriever puppy. He is a risk-taker and an adventurer, often to the chagrin of his friends who try desperately to keep up with him. He is athletic. In middle school, he started studying martial arts, and he was on the football, wrestling, and rugby teams in high school. When he was in the Army, he became interested in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighting. Penn runs, works out in the student fitness center, and occasionally participates in hot yoga with Prudence. Sometimes Penn chides Rufus for getting “a little doughy in the middle” in an effort to get him to run or lift weights. 

Some of Penn’s relationships are complicated. However, two of his friendships are solid and unproblematic. His most straightforward relationship is with his best friend, Rufus. Penn introduces Rufus to some of the finer things in life, like craft beer, poutine, and hockey games. In turn, Rufus tutors Penn in statistics, a subject that Penn doesn’t understand and loathes. The guys like to prank each other, and each one tries to make the other laugh so hard that the beverage he’s drinking spurts out of his nose. 

Penn’s connection with Ellowyne is also uncomplicated. Naturally, he finds her attractive, but when he realizes that Rufus is hopelessly devoted to her, he decides not to pursue her. He simply is not the kind of man who would poach his best friend’s crush. As a nursing student, Penn made friends with many of his classmates, most of them women. So Penn having a platonic relationship with Ellowyne is conceivable and reasonable. 

But here’s where things get convoluted. Penn is a lady’s man. He loves getting female attention. He is a busy fellow with work and/or school, so he doesn’t have time for a committed relationship. However, he makes time for casual dating and occasional hookups. Often, he dates other nursing students, but he also goes out with Prudence, Lizette, Neema, and Amber. Each woman he dates—or hooks up with—knows that Penn dates other girls but doesn’t know who they are. He has sworn each one to secrecy so they can’t compare notes. And that’s no typo. Penn sometimes dates Amber. After she finally learns that she can’t kiss and slap guys, she and Penn make amends. Sometimes Penn and Amber are friends with benefits. Occasionally he thinks he wants a serious, exclusive commitment but Amber, the most likely candidate, isn’t ready. 

There’s one piece of information that was missing from the official canon. What is Penn’s last name? Is he like Cher, Madonna, Bono, or Prince and simply doesn’t need one? In lieu of a real surname, I’ve chosen some of my own. And those last names are subject to change, depending on the role Penn has played in my stories. Sometimes the surname is just funny like State or a vile pun like Penn N. Teller. Every so often, Penn’s last name is Wilde because he is Ellowyne’s cousin or brother. In one of the stories rattling around in my brain, Penn and Ellowyne are twins!

I wasn’t fond of Penn at first, but now that I have given him a whole new story line, he has quickly become a favorite character. I hope he will be one of yours, too!

Spring Break: His


Rufus was blissfully asleep. He had a great time at the Stanhope’s barbecue and kissing Ellowyne goodbye. He was going to miss her but he was glad she got the chance to go somewhere exotic for spring break. He had fun afterwards with Penn at Tequila Mockingbird, everyone’s favorite Mexican restaurant. He got in around 2:00 AM and hoped to sleep at least until noon and head out to the computer lab that afternoon. A statistics major, he relished the task of evaluating the new software. However, it was time-consuming and he was getting by on no more than six hours of sleep each night since the project began. Hopefully he would finish during spring break and his schedule would revert to normal. And although he didn’t want to admit it, he looked forward to spending time in the computer lab without any distractions, especially one as alluring as Ellowyne. 

Suddenly, he was jolted awake when his phone rang. He had a special ringtone assigned to Penn: Batman’s Joker maniacally laughing. He ignored the phone twice, but by the third call, he knew Penn wouldn’t stop calling. When Rufus finally answered, Penn said,  “Dude! It’s 9:00! In the morning! We can’t spend spring break sleeping!”

“What do you want to do?” Rufus asked while stifling a yawn. Actually, sleeping through spring break sounded like a great idea! However, he didn’t want Penn to think he was an indolent weenie, so he planned to go along with whatever he suggested. Within reason.

“Get this! Batman movie marathon! Every Batman from Michael Keaton to Robert Pattinson,” Penn gushed. “It’s at the Cineplex 16, the one with the heated massage seats and food you can eat at the movie. Real food, like burgers and pizza! Beer, too! It starts at 10:00. I’ll pick you up in 15 minutes.”

“Uh, that’s seven movies, right?”

“Eight! Awesome, huh?” 

“Yeah, awesome.” Rufus stroked his unshaved face and decided that Batman was worth a little stubble. Besides, Ellowyne complained that his beard tickled the last time he skipped shaving for a few days. He yawned again. Maybe he could snooze a little during the George Clooney Batman film. 

But a nap was not to be had. Penn kept elbowing Rufus whenever something interesting was on the screen. It didn’t matter if it was Michael Keaton’s Batmobile or Val Kilmer’s bat-suit or Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight.  Penn made sure that his BFF didn’t miss anything. During intermission, Rufus texted Ellowyne and apologized because he probably wouldn’t text her again until another break in the movies.  The guys got burritos and Penn got a beer, and Rufus opted for a vile drink that Amber used to drink when she was doing child pageants: a concoction of Mountain Dew and Red Bull that she called Go-Go juice. 

As they were headed back to their seats, Penn noticed a sign on the poster for the movie marathon. “Hey!” Penn said. “There’s something special at the end of the movies for everyone who watches all of them. Let’s do it!”

“So far we’ve seen, what, the first three movies?” Rufus asked while waiting for his burrito to cool a little. 

“Yup! Next up is the George Clooney movie!”

Rufus groaned. “That movie sucks.”

“Old chum, you need to see Batman and Robin from a different perspective. You know the 1966 TV show? This movie captures the campiness and kitsch of the show. Does it measure up to some of the other films? No. But watch it with an attitude of pure silliness. You can thank me later.”

As much as Rufus hated to admit it, he found the movie amusing as he watched it from Penn’s perspective. They got up, stretched their legs, and got some more food. 

The next three movies were enjoyable. Each of the guys had seen them previously but it was still fun. And then it came time for the last movie. Rufus noticed that it ran for almost three hours, and realized they had been in the theater for fifteen. He tried to doze just a little but Penn was right there, making comments about the villain du jour, who was the best Joker, and Robert Pattinson’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne. 

After the last scheduled movie, the theater manager thanked everyone for coming and announced that the special treat was The LEGO Batman Movie, and each person in attendance would receive one limited-edition LEGO minifigure from the film. Rufus got the elusive Disco Batman and Penn gave him the equally rare Disco Joker, but he was too exhausted to be excited. 

The marathon ended almost nineteen hours after it began. Incredibly, Penn still had stamina and was wakeful and alert. Then again, he was used to keeping erratic hours as an Army medic and a student nurse. Penn drove his friend home, and Rufus stumbled into the house. He splashed his face with water, brushed his teeth, and crawled into bed. He read some texts from Ellowyne and texted her back. He told her that he loved her, that he got some rare LEGO minifigures, and he would text or call her later. 

He closed his eyes but, after drinking so much Go-Go juice, Rufus couldn’t sleep.

Spring Break: Hers


At 4:00 AM, Amber went to the guest rooms. “Wake up! Wake up! Come on ladies! Wake up!!”

Prudence, Ellowyne, and Lizette groaned. Why get up so early? 

“It will give you plenty of time to shower, dry your hair, and put on some makeup. Marisol is making a wonderful breakfast and she will serve it at 5:00 AM sharp. You do not want to miss her sourdough waffles,” Amber stated. “Besides, you can sleep on the plane.”

Once they were ready, Pru, Liz, and Ellowyne dragged themselves to the breakfast table. They greeted the Stanhopes and perked up when they saw the delicious food Marisol had prepared. Her waffles alone were worth getting up so early. She put a variety of fresh fruits on the table and made mimosas. Marisol even baked some cookies, granola, and muffins to take on their trip. 

After breakfast, the Stanhopes ushered the women into their limousine, and they all rode to the airport. They were staying at the same resort to be there in case anyone needed them but vowed to not intrude on the girls or interfere with their fun. Once they were settled in and the plane was cleared for takeoff, Prudence and Lizette dozed off in their seats, leaving Amber and Ellowyne awake to talk. 

Amber asked, “You doing okay, Ellowyne? You’re so quiet—much quieter than usual.”

“I guess I miss Rufus,” Ellowyne admitted. “I wish he was with us but he’s helping his advisor with that statistics software. It’s what he wants to do and it should help him get admitted to graduate school. His advisor thinks he could do a PhD. So I hope he gets a lot done over break. Maybe his schedule might be somewhat normal when he’s finished.”

“You know what?” Amber whispered. “I wish Penn was here.”

Ellowyne’s mouth was agape. “Are you and Penn dating?”

“Please don’t tell Pru or Liz, but we’re seeing each other casually. We just started talking one day, after we’d all gone out for coffee and cupcakes. Then we went to a movie and a game and started hanging out. I know Liz and Pru are interested in him, too, and neither of us wants to hurt anyone’s feelings. So we’re keeping it on the down-low for now. We can’t see each other that often because he’s so busy with school. He has a full load of classes and clinicals and he has to keep up his GPA or he could get expelled from the program. If he gets more than 3 C’s, he’s out.”

“Ohmygosh,” Ellowyne said. “That kind of pressure would have to be intense.”

Amber nodded. “It’s crazy. And the worst thing is that Penn procrastinates. He does his work at the very last minute. Maybe he gets an adrenaline rush. I mean, he’s used to intense situations. When he was in the Army, he was on alert all the time. It could be the middle of the night when he’d get called in to triage patients or take care of them in a makeshift hospital. When he was finished with his tours of duty—I think he had been deployed three, maybe four times—he thought about re-enlisting but his chaplain talked him out of it. The chaplain said that Penn was becoming a combat junkie and needed to take some time to be a civilian. The Army would be there if and when he decided to make it his career. The chaplain wrote one of the letters of recommendation for Penn when he decided to go to nursing school. You know, I think the chaplain was right. Penn is a thrill-seeker and enjoys things that most cautious souls would avoid.”

“Do you remember that time we all of us went to Disneyland? Penn was the first one in line for Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain railroad, and Splash Mountain,” Ellowyne commented. “And when he was done with a ride, he’d get in line to go again. Rufus did Space Mountain and that was enough for him.” 

“Hmmm. I recall that you didn’t ride very many rides. You stayed behind with Rufus.” Amber asked, “Were the two of you making out while everyone else was on the rides?”

Ellowyne grinned. “I never kiss and tell. But back to Penn! You know how he tries to convince Rufus to do stuff with him, even though Rufus is cautious and not all that interested in physical activity.” 

Amber smirked, then snickered. “I guess that would depend on what the physical activity was!” 

Ellowyne blushed and chuckled.

Amber went on. “I wonder what the guys will do when we’re away. Penn’s supposed to work on his paper, but he’ll probably wait until Friday to do it.”

“Rufus wants to wrap up the work he’s doing with his advisor. I hope Penn doesn’t distract him too much,” Ellowyne replied.

Eventually Amber and Ellowyne got drowsy and leaned back in their seats to take catnaps without cats. 

Spring Break

This story is rooted in my headcanon. Amber is still a spoiled rich girl but she has grown to become a real friend to everyone in Ellowyne’s circle. Everyone is a junior at San Francisco State University but only Penn and Rufus’ majors are relevant. Penn is a nursing student and Rufus is majoring in statistics. Ellowyne and Rufus are finally dating. The rating for this story is T.

Their spirits were high as Lizette, Prudence, and Amber were saying goodbye to Rufus and Penn before they left for an all-inclusive spring break in the Bahamas, paid for by Amber’s father. Mr. Stanhope’s generosity didn’t end with that because he was flying them there on his private plane. Ellowyne was also going on the trip, but she seemed rather despondent in spite of the festive mood at the Stanhope’s pre-spring break barbecue. Amber was oblivious to Ellowyne’s mood because she was busy hosting her friends. Lizette thought that it might be her ennui rearing its ugly head but Prudence knew the real reason. It would be the longest time Ellowyne will be away from Rufus since they started dating. Ellowyne wished that he and Penn were going as well. They were invited but regretfully declined. Penn needed to finish a paper for his epidemiology class and Rufus was assisting his academic advisor evaluate new statistical analysis software the university was considering purchasing.

The barbecue ended early because Amber’s father wanted to leave at sunrise. Pru, Ellowyne, and Lizette were staying overnight at the Stanhope’s mansion so the girls wouldn’t have to drive there in the morning and have to wait if one of them was late. After the party, the lads decided to get some cerveza and nachos at their favorite Mexican restaurant and were out until 1:30 AM.