The next couple weeks were spent in a bit of a trance. Everything seemed slow and dreamlike. I told Teri it was just because I was distracted by work, which was technically true. I was distracted by my work on the formula.
A lot of my time was spent in Uncle Aiden’s garage at the station he had installed for extra studying. He didn’t mind at all and I think he was glad of the company, since his daughters had moved out. I didn’t tell him exactly what I was up to and he never really asked. Though when I asked questions, he had answers and helped me for a week straight with a big problem I had.
It had been a long time since I did this, and I made several mistakes before I felt confident enough that it would work. I wish I had something to test it out on but Penny was one-of-a-kind. I stared at the dark liquid I had made, hoping that this was right. It will work, I told myself as I stripped down to get a shower and wash the grime off my body. It has to work. After all that trouble to get that one addition, this HAS to work!
As I went home, my stomach was twisting violently. So many thoughts flew around my head and my heart kept leaping into my throat. What if this didn’t work? What if it did work? What would I do if Penny became a real person? What would she do? What would Teri do? I would be glad to prove that I wasn’t crazy but… I really didn’t think Teri would feel appreciative that another female might be living in our house. But I wasn’t going to just kick Penny out, no matter what. If she wanted to leave then I’d let her go, I just wouldn’t be the one pushing her out.
When I got home, I found Teri curled up on the couch reading. I pulled her to her feet, trying to figure out how to explain this properly. She thought I was nutso though always indulged me whenever she found me talking to ‘thin air’.
First I reminded her that Penny was real, then I showed her the vial with the formula in it. “This will make her real,” I said, avoiding the worried look in Teri’s eyes. “At least, I think it will. It should. I don’t know for sure…” I looked over at Penny who had emerged from what would be her bedroom once she was real. “I am pretty sure it will work,” I added as she shut the door and approached me slowly.
“That will make me real?” she asked. Her voice was slightly rushed and excited.
“I hope so,” I told her, looking down at the vial I was handing over to her. “But it might not. It might not do anything. But it might… do something bad. If you don’t want to take it, I won’t make you. It’s up to you.” Her fingers held the vial and I put my hand around hers.
She looked into my eyes, nodding very slightly. “This might even destroy me.”
I shuddered at that and put a hand on my stomach to try to quell the queasiness. “Maybe you shouldn’t try it,” I said, unable to hide the fear.
“Cal,” Teri cut in, “why are you doing this? You’re starting to worry me…”
“Teri!” I exclaimed, my right hand still around Penny’s hand and the vial. “Just trust me. Please trust me. This is–something very important to me.” I looked into Penny’s doll face and wondered if this would be the last time I would see it anywhere other than the painting I had done. I started to lift my other hand to touch her cheek but then I stepped away, letting go of her hand. I hoped that the reason I wouldn’t see her like this anymore was because she turned human and not because she was destroyed.
Penny looked down at the bubbling formula for a moment and I wondered if she was even going to do this. “In case it turns out badly…” She gave me one more blank look. “Goodbye, Cal.”
“Don’t say that!” I begged, biting down on my bottom lip so hard that I drew blood. I licked the red away and tucked my hands under my chin, watching with wide, worried eyes.
“Please say it,” she said. “Just in case.”
My chest heaved as I tried to control the wild fear trying to take over me. “No…” I twisted my hands in one another and bowed my head low. “No. This is not goodbye. I–I know it will work, Pens. It has to work. It will work.”
“Calcifer…” she trailed off, her voice very small. All I could do was focus on my breathing as I told myself over and over that soon she would be human. The formula had to be right. I hadn’t made any mistakes. I just… really wished… I coulda tested it on something else before giving it to Penny.
“Penny,” I said, opening my eyes and looking into into hers. “No matter what happens. Eh?” I gave her a shaky smile. “Either you’ll be human again, or still like this. And if you’re still like this I swear I’ll work on another formula.”
“Calcifer,” she repeated. “Have you forgotten what I said before?” Her head tilted very slightly and the tone of her voice made me feel like I could see a smile on her face. “I trust you. Always. No matter what.”
Penny raised the vial to her lips and slowly started pouring it into whatever made up her insides. Teri seemed bored by this but stayed by my side, waiting for nothing to happen so she could pull an ‘I-told-you-so’. But then her eyes widened and I gave a gasp as there was a flash of light, almost like when Penny turned from a doll to this form.
Sparkles started twinkling around her and my heart stopped beating. This had to be a good sign. The sparkles, not my heart stopping. I mean–sparkles usually happened when someone went through their Big Birthday. Sparkles also happened when she changed form. This was good, this had to be good!
Penny staggered and doubled over. I personally couldn’t move, I was frozen with shock and fear. I wanted to call her name but couldn’t get any words to fall off my lips. Penny began gasping and coughing, her cloth body shaking. The sparkles were still there. But she seemed to be in pain.
“Penny?” I finally managed to force out. My tongue was thick and my throat was dry. My heart was still stopped, or maybe time had stopped?
“Calcifer, it’s so beautiful!” she breathed out as lights and bubbles swarmed around her body. “I can see so much! I can see the stars, rushing all around me… I feel like I’m flying, Calcifer!”
Teri was staring, her eyes getting bigger and bigger. “Cal,” she sputtered. “The lights, Cal. Wh-what’s going on?”
“It’s Penny!” I replied, not sure whether I had shouted or whispered. Penny was staring upwards, her body still shaking. “Pens?”
“I feel so strange, Calcifer!” she said, swaying as she spoke. “It feels like… like… everything is… moving through me… I feel like… this it it…”
“It?” I asked, every nerve of my body sizzling. “No! Penny, it’s not it. Please!”
I started to reach for her but the whirling lights were whipping around like wind. As soon as I got closer I felt as though my jacket was going to be ripped right off my body. I was forced to step back and do nothing but watch in terror. ‘It’ was not ‘the end’. ‘It’ was just… ‘it’. Not the end, never the end. Penny would be fine. I had destroyed my father, I was not going to destroy someone else I loved! It wasn’t fair!
“Please… Penny…” But what could I ask her to do. She was staring at her hands as if she could see something I didn’t. She was helpless in this tornado. The formula was already in her. Nothing could be done.
I’m a monster… I wasn’t even human, how could I ever think I could help someone else become human?
It was a frenzy now. I could hear strange sounds and from them emerged Penny’s voice. “Calcifer… I can’t believe this is happening to me…”
“Calcifer!” Teri said, raising her hands to her ears. “I can hear a voice. I can–what is in those lights?” She looked at me, her eyes bigger than I ever imagined they could go. “I can see something!”
“It’s Penny!” I shouted back, trying to get my voice above the sounds. It was like music, strange, otherworldly music. It was so beautiful but so loud, and I felt like it was putting me on the edge of a cliff. There was something in that music, something deep and frightening. Something dangerous. Something dark.
“Penny…” She was so still and I couldn’t hear her voice anymore. Was she…? “Penny, don’t leave me,” I begged, tears dripping down my face. I quickly wiped them away and felt a hand on my arm. Teri was gripping tightly, still staring at the lights.
“I can see her,” she whispered. “I can see Penny. She’s what you painted–that green and white and… oh my Watcher, I can see her.”
When I looked up again, I realized if Teri could see Penny then… didn’t that mean…? “You can really see her?” I asked, unable to tear my gaze away from Penny. Had her head moved? Was she okay?
“Yes!” Teri shrieked. “Oh my gosh–Cal, I’m so sorry I ever doubted you!”
Suddenly there was a flash of light so bright that I couldn’t see anything. The music had roared in my ears, deafening me. But before I could react, it was all gone. The sounds, the lights, the bubbles… and Penny…? Was she…?
“Holy cow!” Teri’s voice pierced my mind, sweeping away the remains of the light and sound. “Calcifer… it’s…”
I just stared. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The lights and bubbles were indeed gone. And Penny was… real. She was real. Completely, one hundred percent, without a doubt real. The formula had worked. She hadn’t been destroyed. She was real!
I was still staring at her feet. Nervously, my gaze swept upward. By the time I reached the lower half of her face, her mouth opened and closed without a sound. She gulped slightly and then opened her mouth once more. When she spoke, her voice was so similar but so different from what it had been before. A little deeper, more solid–more real.
Her blue eyes locked onto mine as she spoke and suddenly I felt very woozy as I stared into that face I had wondered about for so long. Everything inside me shattered and I felt like I was going to pass out.
Penny was real. And I finally realized that I loved her.