It was wonderful being home, having Penny in my arms again. We spent an hour just holding each other and snuggling, hardly even speaking. I wanted to wait to tell her everything but she started asking me questions that night. So I told her, explaining about how I found the Reddings–or rather, how they had found me. I told her about how I had fought with Jay, and how Kay had become young again to convince his sister to answer my questions. I explained that Kay was really my other parent, and that apparently aliens used to pollinate that way. I told her how insane Jay was and how I just let her go, no point in getting any revenge. Besides, Kay was my father–I couldn’t do anything to him.
I wasn’t sure whether to tell her about the dolls suddenly. Holding her close, I was scared of how she would react. But finally I told her. I explained that the real dolls were different and that Jay had wanted to just do it on her own. I explained about the souls, and told her all I knew about who she used to be. She was very quiet and began crying, so I held her tight against me.
I admitted that I hadn’t gotten any name but I would do anything she wanted, even go find the Reddings again to get more information. But Penny promised it was okay. She had no memory of whatever happened and she was happy now.
“Are you sure?” I whispered, running my fingers through her hair.
“I am me now,” she said simply. “I do not want to be anyone else.”
For a long time after that, though, I would occasionally find her crying but she refused to admit why.
The morning after I got home, I greeted all my children. Kyle and Orion didn’t want to go to school and I had to practically push them onto the bus, promising I’d still be there after they got back. I spent the day playing with Tempest and Luna, thinking carefully of what exactly I’d tell the boys.
That night I told them about their grandfather, about Jacob. “He wanted a child more than anything in the world,” I explained. “You know that award I have hanging up? ‘Most Likely To Have A Big Family’? That was his. He wanted that more than anything, and one day he met these twins called Redding…”
I gave them a loose, careful version. I explained that they did something to him and he had me, and that the townspeople got very angry and kicked the Reddings out of town. Because of how he had me, he was very sick and he died not long after I was an adult.
I continued, explaining to them that I had been very mad and wanted to hurt the twins. That was why I went to Twinbrook, to find the Reddings and confront them.
“Did you find them, Daddy?” Orion asked.
“Yes,” I said and went on. I told them that the female one had done some very bad things and didn’t care about hurting people, or what had happened to Jacob.
“And the guy?” Kyle inquired.
“It turned out that he helped with the experiment and is your other grandfather,” I said, eying Orion and hoping that that made enough sense.
“So both your parents are dudes?” Kyle asked, looking a lot more shocked and confused than Orion.
“Yes,” I answered. “And my Redding parent is a good guy, just very misguided. He did his best to help me while I was there, and regretted a lot of things they did. But as much as he regretted everything, he wanted to stay with his sister–to try to help her not be as…” I hesitated, frowning. “To help her not do too many bad things.”
“So he wasn’t bad?” Orion asked, squinting his face. “But Jay was?”
“Yep,” I said with a shrug. “Jay is very bad.”
“So if she is the sister of your other daddy, that makes her related?” Orion continued slowly.
“Er, well, yes,” I sighed.
“Does that make us bad?” he asked, looking sad now. “I got in trouble for talking in class the other day…”
“No!” I exclaimed, kneeling in front of him. “No, Rion. None of you are bad like her. What she did was very bad. She doesn’t care about other people. She thinks she is better than everyone else. She doesn’t have any kindness, or love, or caring. Understand?”
“I guess,” he said, pursing his lips. “But Kay is good?”
“He has good in him,” I said.
They didn’t have many questions and afterward they both gave me big hugs. Orion clung to me tightly, sniffling.
“Don’t go ‘way anymore, Daddy,” he whimpered into my ear.
“I won’t,” I promised. “I’m not gonna leave anymore.”
Kyle gave me a looser hug and when he pulled away and saw that Orion was scampering towards the kitchen, he looked up at me. “There’s more you’re not telling us, is there?” he asked. I nodded. “What is it?”
“Something to tell you when you’re older,” I said, patting his head. “All right?”
“Eh,” he groaned. “No point in arguing, right?”
“Nope,” I laughed. “Cause I’m not telling you yet.”
It was wonderful being home. I wallowed in the joy of home life for quite some time and during those weeks, Tempest went through her big birthday.
She was as happy a child as she was a toddler. She loved following Orion around and he didn’t mind at all. I often found them playing tag or making sandcastles.
As life pressed on, I realized there wasn’t much for me to pursue. I had done everything. I had a beautiful wife and four beautiful children. I made plenty of money selling paintings and playing in the park. And I had confronted the twins, even if it didn’t turn out how I expected. I realized that soon Kyle would be an adult and then what? I knew all my babies would be successful in life but I wanted to give one of them my dad’s award. The question was… who would I hand it over to?
On Kyle’s fifteenth birthday, I gave him a special present.
“Make sure you are ready to use it,” I said as he looked down at the wrapped gift. “It’s to turn Peanut real.”
“Wow!” Kyle said and then whistled. “Thanks Dad. But what do you mean ready to use it?”
“If you turn an imaginary friend into someone real before you’re knowledgeable enough about the human body, they might not become completely human. I was an adult when I turned your mother real, so she–“
“EW!” Kyle shrieked, flinching back. “No! Just, no! Don’t even go into that, Dad, please! Ewwww!!”
I laughed, shaking my head. “My point is–I think you’re old enough. Plus Peanut is also a guy. So as long as you’re both ready, I think it will be fine.”
Kyle looked down at the box and then nodded. “Yeah, okay. I know what you mean. Um… Dad, can I ask you something?”
“Anything,” I said.
Kyle began rubbing the back of his head, a habit I suddenly realized I had. “When I’m old enough… I mean, after I finish school and everything… I want to go to France. I–I want to meet my real mother.”
I sucked in some air and lowered my head slightly. “I understand.”
“I love you, Dad! And I love Mom too. So much!” He pulled the box against his chest and leaned forward. “But, you know, I need to meet her.”
“It’s fine, Kyle,” I promised with a smile. Inside, though, I felt slightly scared. I trusted Kyle but the thought of him going to France and trying to find Teri… it kinda scared me. “We’ll start saving up for the trip. Okay?”
“Thanks Dad,” he said with a big grin. “You’re the best.”
I must admit, it was very interesting seeing the transformation from the side of someone unable to see the imaginary friend. I watched with interest, staring at a form appeared in the pink and purple light.
I was surprised at how much Peanut resembled Penny. The hair, the eyes–but I supposed it had something to do with being in doll form because Penny told me that others had similar features.
Penny and Peanut became fast friends. I often found them chatting away, discussing who-knew-what. I bought another bunk bed and extended the boys’ room so Peanut could sleep there. I figured he and Kyle would be gone by the time Lucky became real, but better safe than sorry.
As time ticked on, I continually stared at my father’s award. I couldn’t figure out who to give it to. Kyle would be an adult soon–but for some reason, I didn’t feel like it was for him. As Penny and I discussed it, I realized it wasn’t so much what the award was for–a big family–but there was a bit of my father in it. There was some of him in it, some of his strength. It had given me strength so the question was, which of my children needed it?
I realized that Kyle had more than enough strength, which explained why he didn’t feel like the child to hand it over to. He had an amazing strength inside of him and such courage! I realized this when he came out, about three months after his fifteenth birthday. Penny and I were both really surprised but promised we’d support him in any and all decisions he made. We loved him so much, and nothing would change that.
Before I knew it, it was time for my birthday. My big birthday! Forty. I felt so old as Penny put the two cakes out and lit the candles for me to blow out.
It had felt like several lifetimes since I last saw those sparkles around me. I heard my wife and children cheering and clapping for me as I began a new part of my life.
It felt a bit strange for a brief moment, being older. But that was part of life–something that Jay Redding would never understand. Life and yes, death. And I felt a sort of pity for her. She may be living a long time, eternal youth, but what was that? A life alone didn’t seem like much to me. And while she had her eternal youth, I had something better. I had love. And even though she felt that what she did was putting her above humans… without love, she seemed so much lower. Even animals had love. And love, in my opinion, was the best thing in the world. The pity for her grew and grew, forming a sort of bitter ball inside me that I knew would remain there for the rest of my life–as much as I didn’t want to feel anything but hatred towards her.
Penny looked so incredibly adorable when the sparkles surrounded her. She had never gone through this as a human and I wondered if it felt different.
When she finished changing, I could see nothing but beauty in her. My heart swelled and I went over to her, putting an arm around her waist.
“I probably look old now,” she sighed, her brilliant eyes meeting my faded ones.
“You look just as beautiful as always,” I promised her, kissing her gently. “More so, really. You are the most exquisite creature in the world, Penny Danevbie.”
“Ewww!” Orion called out. “Stop being gross and let us have some cake!”
I laughed and began cutting the cake, giving everyone a slice. Penny watched me with her lovely smile and I beamed back at her.
It was that night I came to my decision. I stared at the award for quite some time, thinking carefully about each of my children. They were all in bed, though it had taken some time to get Tempest tucked in since she was a bit wound up on cake.
Penny came over and slid her arms around me, resting her chin on my shoulder. “We should get some sleep,” she whispered.
I turned around, taking her hand in mine. “I’m going to give that to Luna,” I stated.
Her eyebrows raised slightly and she smiled. “I am glad you finally decided, but why Luna? She is still a baby!”
“That’s just it,” I said, pulling Penny towards our room. “She’s the baby. Kyle is so strong. He came out without much fear at all and is still so determined to go to France. And Orion–he always talks about his dreams, and is always with his friends from school. He’s a stubborn, strong little boy.” I suddenly stopped and wrapped my arms around her tightly, enjoying the feel of holding my wife. “And Tempest is so sweet, and so cheerful. She loves life so much and is so excited about everything. But Luna has always been spoiled and a bit babied, and I doubt that will stop as she gets older.”
Penny began nodding. “I see. That makes sense.”
“I think Dad woulda wanted me to give that to Luna,” I said, pressing my forehead against Penny’s. “When she’s old enough, that is.”
We shared a deep kiss after a moment more of staring at each other. A tingle of excitement and joy went down my spine and as we pulled apart, I said, “I wish my father could see all of this. You, the children–everything.”
“I think he knows,” she said quietly, stroking my hair now. “And I know he would be so proud. As proud of you as I am.”
“It’s been a rough road getting here,” I laughed. “But I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.”
“Me either,” she replied, meeting my eyes once more. “And I would do it all again. Every moment.”
“Even the whole Teri thing?” I asked, slightly surprised.
“Yes,” she answered. “For without her there would be no Kyle, and I do love him so.”
“You’re an amazing woman, Penny,” I said, rubbing my nose against hers.
She giggled slightly and grinned even more. “And you, Calcifer, are a most amazing man. I love you so much.”
“And I love you,” I said, staring deep in her eyes. “But I think it’s time for bed.”
She chuckled and gave me another quick kiss. “I think so too.”
I held her hand tightly as we walked into the bedroom. I let go so she could start changing and I turned, slowly shutting the door and staring across the living room to the door that led to my children. The nursery, where the girls were sound asleep. And beyond that was the boys’ room. I think it’s over, I thought as the door clicked shut. Everything I wanted has happened, and the rest of my journey isn’t much at all.
I turned around and rested back against the door, closing my eyes. The words my father had finished his diaries with filled my head. Whatever will be, will be. As I opened my eyes, I could almost see him there. Penny was right–he would be proud.
Goodnight, Dad, I thought as I climbed into bed. Thank you for everything.