The first few days after Penny turned human were a bit awkward. We redecorated the small bedroom and traded in Teri’s old bed for a new one that Penny picked out. She also got some new clothes though didn’t seem too interested in changing her hair.
I wanted to talk to her alone but always lost my courage. I kept finding excuses to put it off. The first night was too soon. The second day was too busy. And so on and so forth, until it had been a week.
Things between me and Teri were also strange. We had hardly spoken, which was mostly my fault. Though she seemed pretty upset about something. I wanted to make things right but I didn’t know what to do. How could I hurt Teri? How could I hurt Penny? I loved them both… and Teri loved me. But how did Penny feel about me now that she was human? I hadn’t even been a hundred percent sure of her feelings as a doll. Had giving her a heart changed things? I needed to find out.
The day I decided to finally talk to Penny I ran into Teri first. She was making our bed. For the tenth time. That hour. She pounded at the pillows and then tore the blanket back, shaking it out and pulling it back on.
“You okay?” I asked and she jumped, her hair floating around her worried face.
“Yes,” she said as she chewed at her fingernail. Then she shook her head. “No, not really. I’m sorry, I guess I have been acting strange. I just…”
“What is it?” I asked, watching as she tucked the corners of the blanket tightly under the mattress. Part of me didn’t want to know. Part of me really, really didn’t want to know. But if it was about what I thought it was about then we had to talk, as much as I didn’t want to. I was still so unsure about things. What could I possibly tell her?
She spoke the words I was dreading. “Penny’s just your friend. Right?” She stared at the wall then slowly turned to stare at me, her eyes full of sadness. “I’m sorry! I mean… Oh I don’t know what I mean. When Penny became real I thought…” She stopped and shook her head even more. “But then after I, um, was around her more I started thinking that it wasn’t like that but you’ve been watching her all the time and… Cal…” She rushed over to me seizing my hands. “I know I shouldn’t be jealous. I’m sorry!”
I squeezed her hands. “Penny and I are friends,” I said, dancing around the truth without completely lying.
Teri flinched back and pulled her hands away from mine. “You must think I’m so stupid.”
“You’re not stupid, Ter!” I exclaimed. “If you had some guy friend suddenly appear out of no where then I might get a bit jealous.” I looked down at my empty hands and let them fall against my thighs. A slight whimper escaped without me meaning it to and I pressed my fingertips against my forehead. “Have I done anything to make it seem…?”
“No!” She grabbed my hands again and pulled them up near her face. “No Cal, you’re so wonderful. It’s just… I’m so scared of losing you again.” She pressed her face against the back of my hands and sniffled. “I love you so much Cal. I’d do anything to make you happy. And if you and Penny…”
“Hey now, stop it,” I said, pulling her against me and putting my arms around her. Her hands automatically went around me and I gave her a reassuring smile. “Teri, you make me happy. I don’t want to lose you either. I’d do anything not to hurt you. I love you… I really do…” I stroked her cheek, realizing how much I meant those words. But if I said them to Penny, I would mean it too. Damn it! I was the worst kind of person! Now here I was, telling Teri…….. well… the truth, okay so it was the truth. However if Penny told me the feelings I had for her were mutual…
What would I do?
“I love you!” she cried out, throwing herself against me. “Calcifer, I’m sorry I’m such an idiot!”
I held her tightly, glad she couldn’t see my face anymore. “You’re not an idiot, stop calling yourself that. You don’t like it when I call myself a monster! Well I hate it when you call yourself stupid. You’re not stupid.” I closed my eyes, holding her even tighter. “Everything will be okay.” I rubbed her back gently, drawing in a big breath and slowly letting it out so I could calm myself down. The words I were saying were probably more for me than they were for her. “Everything will be okay,” I said again, trying to convince myself of that.
We pulled a little away and she gave my cheek a slight nuzzle before putting more space between our faces. “I’m trying to be her friend. I know you like her so I’ll do my best to be her friend, too. She really is a sweet girl.”
I was going to agree but decided against it, worried that my feelings would show too much if I said anything about her being sweet. Obviously she expected me to say something so finally I said, “You don’t mind she stays here, do you?”
“Of course I don’t,” she replied which made me feel marginally better. She got a sort of vague look in her eyes. “You’re just her friend. And she’s just your friend…” She blinked and then got a big smile on her face. “And you’re my boyfriend, and I will do my best to become friends with her.” She kissed my cheek and gave my behind a slight pat (causing me to jerk in surprise) as she walked out of the room to go get changed for work.
I pushed my hair back and felt sicker than ever. I just set Teri up for the worst possible heartbreak, if things went bad. Or if things went right. No! It was bad! But how could I dismiss Penny if she told me she wanted me? I wanted her, very badly. She’s so amazing. Plus we had so much in common, like the painting. Teri wasn’t a big fan of art and sometimes I suspected she hated it. But she was willing to put up with it for me.
Once I finally got control over myself I stepped out of the bedroom. Teri was in the middle of chatting with Penny. Teri’s voice was a bit higher than normal and I could tell she was putting a lot of effort into whatever she was saying. When Penny replied, her voice was soft and low. Which for her meant she was putting a lot of effort into whatever she was saying. Both girls were trying hard to be friends. For me. While I was trying to figure out which one I was going to hurt.
I backed up into the room before they noticed me and tried to pull me into their conversation. Okay. I knew I said this all the time but really… I was a monster. The word swirled around me, tattooing itself onto my soul.
I felt like complete scum.
No putting it off. Not anymore.
Two days later, and I knew I had to do it. I had come to a decision. I was going to talk to Penny and hear what she had to say. If she told me she felt the same way about me as I did her, well then I would start trying to sort my feelings out. I’d have to choose a girl. Something inside me kept whispering that I would choose Penny. The feelings I had for her were a bit different than what I had with Teri.
I didn’t get a chance until late at night. Teri was in bed already and I had gotten ready but found Penny still awake. I could not put it off any longer so I pulled her over to the couch and sat down. She seemed so quiet and I wasn’t sure how to begin. This was gonna be really difficult.
“Pens…” I looked up into her beautiful face and felt a twinge of pain. “This is important. What I’m gonna say. What I’m gonna ask. I need… I need to know something.”
“You’re my best friend,” I said, diving into things and not looking back. “But I need to know something. I know it’s kinda sudden but I can’t just let things continue how they are now. It’s not fair to any of us. So if you get mad at me then yeah, that’s fine and I’ll understand. But Penny I really need to know…” All cards on the table, the big question, this is it. “Do you like me as more than a friend?”
She was silent, hardly even breathing. I could only see her profile so I wasn’t sure what she was thinking. Her eyes were so expressive now that she was human, I knew as soon as I saw them I’d know what she was thinking.
“Do I like you?” she whispered, her voice thick. “As more than a friend?”
“Penny, we’ve been through so much,” I moaned, putting my head in my hands. “You’re my best friend. I–I need to know. I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I just… I’m so…” I gripped my hair tightly, my fingers digging painfully into my scalp. “You can slap me if you want. I know what I just asked is sorta sudden.”
“Calcifer,” she said and I sat up straight, looking at her. “I care so much about you. You’re my best friend, too. I will always love you…” She hesitated and then gave me the fakest smile I had ever seen in my life. “But you’re just my friend.”
I stared in disbelief. That smile was not a genuine smile. She was lying to me. “Tell me the truth, Penny,” I said a bit angrily. “Please!”
“I am telling the truth!” she exclaimed. “Why do you think I am not? Why would I lie to you? I trust you, so shouldn’t you trust me?”
I gripped my sweatpants now, my jaw tightening. “I’m only your friend,” I said flatly, not able to look at her anymore. “Nothing else. Nothing more.”
“Does that upset you?” she asked very quietly. “Do you not love Teri?”
“Yes.” The word was crisp and short. It almost sounded like a gunshot to me. “I love Teri. I truly love her.” I didn’t care if I sounded honest or not. The pain squeezing my heart was too much to bear. I needed her to tell the truth! What would shake her up badly enough? “So… as my friend… you wouldn’t care if I, say, propose to Teri?”
The silence was louder than I thought silence could be. The words had felt alien coming out of my mouth, a foreign language. Had I really said it? Had I just said I would propose to Teri? It was something I had thought about before, sure. I thought about what our lives together would be so many times. If Penny wasn’t… if I couldn’t have Penny… Which was apparent that I couldn’t. Unless she told me the truth. Why would she be lying? Unless…
She’s not lying… I finally chanced a look at her. Her face was as still as stone. Maybe the smile was fake because my question surprised her…
“That would be lovely.” Her voice was very monotone, something she hadn’t done in a long time. The last time I heard her sound like that was when she was a doll. “You two make a lovely couple.”
I stood up quickly, ready to yell. She slowly looked up at me, her face still blank. The rage subsided and I felt like breaking down. “Do you mean that?”
“Of course I do,” she said, standing up as well. She stepped past me, her arm brushing against mine. “You both love each other very much and I know you’ll both be… very happy…”
She walked purposely to the bathroom as the rage slowly crept back into my body. Right. If that was the way she felt.. then that’s the way she felt. I loved Teri. Teri loved me. Penny didn’t. So I’d stay with Teri. I’d propose to Teri and marry her–in fact, I’d propose to her as soon as possible. No point in second thoughts, right?
In fact… why wait at all? I had a ring. It wasn’t a fancy ring or anything, but I had a ring. I had bought it with the intention of giving it to her eventually. Or to Penny. But now I would never be slipping a band onto Penny’s hand. So why flippin’ wait?
I went into the bathroom before he could see me crying. I did not want him to see that. I was amazed I could hold the tears back as long as I did.
I had done it. I had lied to the person I loved. It felt so wrong. I wished I hadn’t done it but how could I tell him the truth? I would be like the families in ‘Romeo and Juliet’, keeping the lovers apart, or the gods keeping the weaving maid and the cowherd apart. I would be Prince Humperdink from ‘The Princess Bride’! I did not want to be them. I did not want to keep Calcifer from being with Teri, the woman he loved.
After a moment I heard Calcifer calling out for Teri. I cracked open the door and peaked out, wondering what was going on.
Perhaps becoming human was a mistake.
I did not think my heart could handle this.
But he would be happy.
And if Calcifer was happy, I would be happy. I loved him, and had loved him since before I really knew what love really was. And what was that saying?
If you love something, then you should be willing to let it go.
I loved Calcifer and would always be there for him as long as he wanted me around. But I had to be willing to let him go, I had to let him be with the woman he loved as much as it hurt me.
As long as he was happy.
I never realized how much pain a human could be in. And wasn’t it rather ironic?
I had spent twenty-some years as a toy and it wasn’t until I became human that I learned what it meant to be broken.