I didn’t understand the sparkles. It was too early. My big birthday wasn’t for a couple more years. Why was this happening?
It felt as if every inch of me was being squeezed and crushed. My muscles were like needles, my bones felt so brittle. Was this normal? Elouia had said she felt fine when she got older, ditto for Aiden. They hadn’t had any complaints except the wrinkles. It wasn’t until Elle had gotten a lot older before she started having trouble.
This pain probably wasn’t normal.
It felt like everything inside me popped and I knew I was different. My stomach was churning and I felt as though I was going to throw up.
But what could I do? Whatever the reason, I was now older–I couldn’t change it. I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t change it. Judging from the fire coursing through me I wondered if this was connected somehow with all the pain I had been through since my pregnancy.
Could my premature aging be because of Lab C?
In the morning I went out to get some new clothes and a cane. Why hadn’t I thought of a cane before? It felt good to rest my weight against it. Now that I was pretty much in pain every moment, the cane really helped.
I considered retiring. I wasn’t sure how much I would get, but I couldn’t keep working. Between the house, the land, and the few thousand I had in the bank… I was sure Cal would be okay. He wouldn’t be rich, but I was sure he’d be all right starting off. He’d have more than I did.
I hadn’t seen Cal that morning so when he came in after school, he dropped his bag and just stared at me.
“D-Dad?” he whispered, slowly approaching me. He looked a little afraid.
“Yeah,” I said with a small smile. “It’s me. I didn’t feel much like partying last night, all things considering. I figured you were partied out.”
He looked up at me, his brow furrowed, his eyes glistening with confusion. “But I thought you were younger than that. Or did you lie about your age too?”
“I never lied about my age,” I said, ignoring the painful remark. “If you must know, I haven’t been feeling terrific lately. I guess some people age quicker than others.”
He crossed his arms over his chest and pursed his lips. “Yeah, and some men get pregnant and some don’t. Stop it, Dad. Does this have anything to do with the science experiments?”
I looked into his face, and then looked away. “I honestly don’t know,” I finally muttered. “It might. I just don’t know.”
“I see. Well since I can’t go anywhere yet, I’m gonna go do my homework. C’mon, Penny.” He went into his room but instead of slamming his door shut, he quietly closed it behind him. I smiled, hoping that that was a good sign.
I talked with my boss and I agreed to finish working out the week, then I would retire. I hoped I could at least make it the week.
Early the next morning, I woke up to the sounds of broken glass and loud cussing. I grabbed my cane and pulled myself out of bed, worried we had an intruder or something. Our alarm hadn’t gone off but maybe they had gotten around it. Loud, screechy music started playing which confused me even more.
Cal was tossing aside the remote to the stereo system he had bought for his illegal party and was staggering over to his science station. I saw broken glass all around it and chemicals spilling.
“Cal?” I asked, stumbling slightly, trying to keep most of my weight against the cane.
Cal said something I never expected to hear come out of his mouth. I knew he was sometimes punkish, but fourteen was way too young to be saying that sort of word.
“What’s going on? Did you drop stuff?” I asked, noticing he hadn’t put on his coat or goggles. “You okay?”
He cussed again and kicked the desk. “Downfufall!” he slurred and my eyes widened as I realized he had been drinking. He swore again and grabbed a beaker, throwing it onto the desk. “Ullemaa…” he groaned, swaying and grabbing for something else.
I seized the back of his shirt and pulled him back. He fell against me and I dug my cane into the floor to stop from us falling over. “Calcifer, come on. Why don’t you get a shower, calm down, maybe get some coffee.”
“NO!” he cried out, wrenching away from me. I could smell the alcohol on his breath. He swore again and threw a jar of something at the station. “Izzanuufarra!” he cried, tears falling onto my arm. “Izaa deee!” He turned around and wrapped his arms around me, sobbing loudly.
I began pulling him towards the bathroom when there was a loud FFFOOOOOMPH sound. Heat blistered against my skin and I fell to the floor, just barely able to roll away from landing on Cal. He was still crying into his arms and I sat up as the fire alarm began blaring.
I gasped out and began dragging Cal towards the bathroom. He was a complete wreck and not even noticing anything around him. He just kept wailing and crying as the fire got bigger and bigger. I pushed him into the bathroom, somehow managing to get up. I turned the sink on and began dumping water over Cal to try to wake him up.
I could smell chemicals burning and began to get dizzy. Cal was still blubbering incoherently. I didn’t want to stay by the bathroom in case the firefighters didn’t get here in time so I started dragging him towards the door. It was close to the fire but I pushed Cal outside and then slid out, just in time to hear the sirens from the fire truck.
The only thing ruined was the science station. There were scorch marks all over the floor, walls, windows, and blinds–but nothing else had been ruined.
Calcifer was extremely quiet in the morning. I asked about the alcohol and just got a teary-eyed look in return. He looked over at the burnt spot then went to the fridge, pulling out a piece of cake.
“What happened last night?” I asked.
He slumped down at the table and kicked back the other other chair. “My head hurts,” he finally whispered.
“You probably have a hangover,” I said, folding my arms and giving him a stern look. “Why did you go and get drunk? Where did you get the stuff? You’re too young.”
He shot me an annoyed look then lowered his face so much I thought he’d get cake on it. “From a friend. Don’t lecture me, Penny already did.” He glanced at the empty chair and sighed. “Yeah, I know, Penny. I’m sorry.”
He started eating and then finally broke down, crying. “I ruin everything!” he whimpered, putting his arms on the table and burying his face in them. “I ruined my chances of helping you, and helping Dad, and now I can’t do anything!”
“Helping me?” I asked quietly, approaching him. “What did you want to help me with.”
He stood up so quickly that the stool clattered back, scratching up the floor. “Whatever the hell those crazy scientists did to you!” he yelled. “Your pain, your problems–I wanted to try to help you! And I wanted to find that right formula to help her!” He waved his arm at the empty folding chair. “But when I saw what happened to you yesterday, I just couldn’t stand it anymore!”
He went over to the ashes and spit on them. “They destroyed you, Dad. And for what? For nothing!”
“Don’t you ever say that!” I exclaimed, dropping my cane. “They gave me you! You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me!”
“If it wasn’t for me then you coulda had a normal life,” he said, clenching his hands into fists and pressing them against his face. “You might have met someone and gotten married and had kids, lots of kids, but you were saddled with me–a test tube freak!”
“I have never considered it to be ‘saddled’!” I said. “I love you and wouldn’t change any of this for the world!” He ignored me, throwing open the door and running outside. I didn’t have energy to go chasing him. All I could do was watch as he ran off. In his underwear, no less.
When Calcifer came home, he seemed kinda off. I think he was drunk again but he just mumbled something and went to bed. I heard him yelling at Penny before things went quiet.
He’s too young, I thought miserably. What do I do?
I had to do something. I had to ground him, I had to be strict. But what if he just abandons me forever, like I…
Did my father feel this way? I didn’t even know when he died. If he was even dead. For all I knew he was still living, but I doubted it. He probably didn’t regret his words and actions. If he looked back on his time as a father, it was probably only to think how lucky he was that I was gone.
Maybe deep down he loved me… I blinked away the tears that were starting to come. I had studiously tried to forget my father but now everything was flooding back, a sea of sorrow, pulling me into the blackness I didn’t want to go to.
My dreams from so long ago seemed so bitter now. I had done so many things wrong, I had been duped, lied to, torn down, built up–and Cal… when I finally thought everything was going to be okay, when I had my son. At last my dreams had seemed to come true. A family. My family. My legacy.
Had it all been a mistake? Leaving Bridgeport, Nicky, Lab C, lying to Cal, and now what was I left with? A drunken fourteen-year-old son who despised me.
Everything swirled around my head like a tornado. Jabbing at my mind, tearing at my heart. I cried and cried, unable to stop, unable to focus on anything. Everything had gone so wrong. Everything was nothing but a big mess, a disaster. How could I think that I could do this? I had been so young, full of hopes… now I was old, and full of despair.
It had all not been for nothing. How could I even think that? He may have not turned out to be the picture-perfect child I once dreamed about, but I still had Cal. The pain, the loss–it was all worth it. I had Calcifer. He was my everything now. This was the only thing I had left, but until the day I died I would be his father. No matter what he did, no matter how bad he acted… with every passing hour, I was going to love him with all I had left.