Penny was gone, and with her–everything. I had searched for hours, going all over town until my legs hurt and my feet ached. I didn’t stop. I couldn’t stop. I searched all night long until dawn broke and I felt in tatters. I finally came home and collapsed on the bed, unable to even move anymore.
I slept on and off as the sun cut its path across the sky. I never got off the bed, not having any appetite at all. I considered filling the tub with scalding water but that required effort, and I had none left.
When the sun went down, I started feeling more awake. I got a quick bath, massaged my sore feet, then got dressed in my most comfortable clothes and my athletic shoes. I began walking all over the place again, asking the few people out if they had seen her. I tried the stores, and the hotels (and wound up getting thrown out of an inn when I got into an argument with the receptionist). I went to the police station but when I told them about why she left and the letter, they were less inclined to help me.
In the morning when I got home, I was too miserable to sleep. I tried to eat but couldn’t get much down so I tried to do some cleaning.
Not that that was the best of ideas when it came to working in the kitchen. I tried to ignore the painting as best I could but found my gaze drifting towards it several times. How could I have been so stupid…? I wished I could go back in time and change things. That night I asked Penny then proposed to Teri…
Ugh, I thought, rubbing my fingers over my eyelids lightly. I had been so angry and upset, and had made a big mistake. Now everything was a disaster. I just wanted Penny to come home. I wanted to tell her how much she really meant to me. How much I loved her. How much I needed her.
I knew I had made so many mistakes, I knew perfectly well I was a screw-up. I didn’t deserve Penny. But I wanted her. And if she came back, I would do my best to become someone who deserved her.
That afternoon I slept a little bit on the couch and was pulled out when my phone rang. It was work, wanting to know why I had missed last night and why I wasn’t in now. I stared at the ceiling of my living room, wondering what to say. My fiance left me. That would make the most sense. The woman I love is missing. That, too, would make sense.
“I don’t feel like working,” I finally said.
“Calcifer!” My boss said, sounding rather stressed. “I’m gonna be docking your pay. You need to come in.”
I closed my eyes and shrugged slightly, not wanting this conversation. I can paint, I can play the guitar for tips. “I don’t want to work anymore,” I whispered. I had never really completely enjoyed working there. If I was to become a better man, how could I stay in a job I wasn’t that happy in all the time? Or was quitting just proving I was worse than I wanted to be?
“Are you… are you quitting?” my boss asked me incredulously.
“Yeah, I guess I am,” I replied, hoping that I wasn’t making yet another bad choice.
There was a stretch of silence and then, “Calcifer, what’s going on? You don’t want to quit, do you?”
“Yes, I do,” I answered, crossing the room and sliding down to the couch. “I’m sorry. I’ll come in after the weekend, and work for the final two weeks. But I can’t stay any longer after that. It’s never really been something I’ve wanted to do. I guess I’m just a deadbeat,” I added, rolling my eyes towards the ceiling once more. “But I’ll continue painting and selling those. But working at the theater…”
“All right,” my now-soon-to-be-ex boss sighed. “I get the point. Unpaid vacation time till Monday, but you better be in on Monday. Please.”
“I will,” I promised and I hung up the phone, letting my arm fall over my face as I drifted off into the dark relief of sleep.
I didn’t go out that night, I was too achy. I stayed up and made plenty of phone calls but eventually fell asleep once more, my body trying to recover from the nights I spent searching. I couldn’t stay in my old bed, so I slept in Penny’s. I’d rather go to sleep with her scent lingering in my mind instead of Teri’s.
I was awoken at around ten by the doorbell ringing. I fell out of bed and hurried towards the door, hoping it was Penny. I tried not to show the disappointment when I saw it was Teri. I put a small smile on my face and let her in.
“I came to get some of my stuff,” she said, not able to meet my eyes.
I helped her pack and carry stuff out to the car. We hardly spoke and she never mentioned Penny. Once the last box was in her car I offered her something to drink and she agreed. So we went back inside and after we had some tea, we just sort of stood in an awkward silence. I realized that I smelled pretty bad, since I hadn’t gotten cleaned up in a while and the clothes I was wearing were pretty dirty.
“How is everything?” she finally asked.
I shrugged, pushing my bangs from my face. “All right, I guess. How are… you doing?”
She blinked and looked down, her arms wrapping around herself. “I don’t know.” She shook her head. “I mean, I’m okay I guess I just–have a lot on my mind.”
“Teri, I’m sorry,” I blurted out. “I never meant to hurt you.” I looked up at her and frowned. “I guess I’m not helping anything.”
She shrugged, turning slightly away from me. “Sometimes things just don’t work out. This is just one of them.” She looked over to the door to the smaller bedroom then turned back to face me. “How is Penny?”
“She’s…” I trailed off, trying to figure out what to say. “She’s not here right now. Things have just been weird since…” I saw surprise in her eyes and realized I shouldn’t tell her Penny had just up and left. “She’s been taking some walks around the town a lot,” I lied. “I guess, you know, cooped up in the house and all was getting to her.”
Teri reached out and touched my hand gently. “Cal, please. It’s okay. I… I know that you have feelings for her and I’ll be okay.” She gave me a wry smile and pulled her hand away. “There is something I need to tell you though…”
“What is it?” I asked, raising my eyebrows slightly.
She quickly averted her gaze and began picking at her shirt slightly. After a moment she said, “I’m gonna be moving. O-out of town. I’m thinking about moving to France.” She tugged rather hard at her sleeve and began smiling again. “I think I’d like it there.”
“Wow…” I wasn’t sure what else to say. “Um, congrats.”
“Cal…” She gave me a rather distant stare then stepped back away from me. “I really want to go, you know, exploring. Adventuring…” She hugged herself and took several steps towards the door. “I want to explore.”
“That’s great,” I said with an encouraging smile. “Um, I was thinking since, you know, you helped… buy furniture and all… I was gonna sell some stuff and thought I could give you half the money.”
She tilted her head and smiled. “That would be nice. Thank you. Can I talk to Penny?”
“She’s not here,” I said, jolting a bit. “I don’t know when she’ll be back.”
Teri blinked and then hurried over to me, giving me a small hug. “Have her call me? Please? It’s important.” She then darted out of the house. I went over to the door and leaned against the glass, watching her leave.
Four days. Four days since she went missing. I spent some of my spare time searching for her, and then once it started going to sundown I headed home and just tried painting to get my mind off things. I hoped that she would just show up…
What if she’s hurt somewhere? The questions invaded my mind, gripping my heart. She’s so new to everything… what if some thugs hurt her or–or worse?
I set my paintbrushes down and left the house, going to the police station. I talked to them for a while though they didn’t have any information. They did, however, check with the hospital to see if a Jane Doe had shown up. I was both relieved and worried when there was nothing, so after the cops apologized slightly (they still really didn’t like me or the name Danevbie; at least, that’s what I assumed) I went out to continue searching.
The bed, I decided, would be the first thing sold. I didn’t want it. I didn’t even want to stay in this room anymore. I could turn it into a studio or something, but I’d have to build a new bedroom for myself once I got enough money. I figured I’d sell most the furniture from this room, except my easel. I might even sell some of the kitchen appliances… give half the money to Teri and buy new furniture with the other half. Non-Teri-Furniture. Furniture Penny and I would pick out…
Please come home.
Day five. I had to go to work which I did reluctantly. My co-workers didn’t seem too pleased with me but I didn’t care. I felt like a zombie, meandering my way through my job. Only two weeks of this and then I would be free. Living off my paintings and my own music, that is if anyone would give me tips if I played at the park or something.
I got home late and took a slow bath, miserably cleaning off my body. I stepped out of the bath and wrapped a towel around myself, heading out of the bathroom and towards my door. I stopped when I saw something out the front window. At first I couldn’t believe my eyes so I rubbed them and looked again, my heart leaping up into my throat.
I was about to run out when I realized I was in a towel. I slunk back to the bathroom and threw on some shorts and a shirt. Please don’t disappear, please don’t disappear, please don’t disappear! I came back out of the bathroom and saw she was still there.
She looked up as I ran outside and I was worried she’d take off, but she just stood still, her eyes on me as I hurried towards her. The moon was on her face, making her skin light up and her eyes practically glow.
“Calcifer…” Her voice floated around me as I took the final few steps. “I’m sorry.”
Her eyes widened as I came even closer to her. I could see nothing but her face, hear nothing but my heart beating. She started to take a step away from me but I quickly put my hands up. “No. I’m the one who is sorry.” I came even closer and exhaled slowly. “I’m so sorry for the horrible things I did and said and… Please don’t do this to me again,” I whispered, my arms going around her before I could stop them; not that I wanted to stop them. “I don’t want to lose you.”
“Calcifer,” she said again as my arms around around her body. “You saw my letter…?”
“Yes,” I said, closing my eyes as I held her close against my body. “You said you loved me.”
She started to pull away from me, her hands moving away from my body. “I do not want to come between you and Teri,” she said, her voice choking up slightly with emotion. “I just w-wanted you t-to be happy…”
“Penny…” I said as my heart tried to crash out of my body. “How can I be happy without you?”
She stared at me, her eyes getting bigger and bigger. “Calcifer?”
“Penny…” I closed my eyes, bowing my head. “I made so many mistakes, and I won’t make them again. There is no me and Teri, not anymore.”
“What?” she breathed out. “What do you…?”
I looked up into her face again, seeing the shock playing on her features. “I loved you for so long that I guess I didn’t realize it until it was too late. After you became human… I wasn’t sure if you felt…” The words felt wrong. I figured I was just bungling them up, making things worse somehow. So I settled for something simple. “I love you, Penny. Only you.”
I leaned forward, pressing my lips against hers. Her entire body stiffened slightly and for a brief moment I thought she might tear away from me. I put my arms around her holding her firmly against me, pushing everything into the kiss… all the feelings I had for her. The love, the need, the want, the ache
Slowly, slower than anything, her arms went around me and she began kissing me back. And as she did, I could feel the love she still had for me.