The Runaway (A Short Story)

Thursday, February 11

By Lane Bashline

Penelope’s bones rattled as she rang the doorbell. Standing on the other side of the door was the life she left behind. The door opens, slowly. Inside stands a woman with dark brown hair and golden olive skin. Like a goddess from heaven, yet her face turns white when she sees  Penelope, hunching in the doorway with a duffle bag in her hand.

“Hey, Jess,” Penelope manages to mutter. She slowly drags her face up and looks up at Jessica who’s towering above her.

“Penelope?” Jess responds, the word rolling off of her tongue like an old memory. She looks into Penelope's green-blue eyes and begins to sink into the hardwood floors. Her face turns hot and her knees wobble as she grabs Penelope's bag. “Well, come in.” she stops harshly, then starts again, confidently. “you must be freezing, come and sit down. I wish you would have told me you were coming. I haven’t heard from you in a while. ” She comments, as she drops the bag next to the window in the living space. 

Penelope stands like a deer in headlights, then prances into the one-bedroom apartment and sits on the light blue loveseat to get out of Jess’s way. Jess looks out the window and abruptly closes the curtain to the bedroom. She looks over at Penelope, whose gloves are freezing onto her body, and throws a log onto the fireplace. Jess walks over to the small kitchen and makes some tea, she tries to think of words to say but Penelope beats her to it.

“I missed you, Jess” Penelope whispers, waiting for a reaction. Instead silence fills the air. “ You know I would have called but I was just really busy.” Stutters Penelope, sitting on the edge of the loveseat. Warming her hands on the fireplace and taking off her jacket and boots.

“Oh yes, that’s what I’ve heard.” She stops herself, trying to stay calm. Yet the anger bubbles up inside of her. “Studying in Paris is so much work! Must have been terrible! The funny thing is,” She turns around and faces Penelope. The tea is whistling “Six months I didn’t hear from you! Six months, I thought you were dead! I thought you hated me! I wrote to you and never heard a word! Then you just prance in here and. JESUS!” She stops yelling at Penelope to run her hand under cold water after slapping the kettle and burning her hand. Penelope gathers herself from the couch scurries into the kitchen to get ice. 

“You know, this is why I’m the one that cooks.” Penelope chuckles as she wraps Jess’ hand with wet paper towels. She looks into Jess’s red eyes, they become bashful for a moment and they both smile.

“When you are alone for six months, you make do however you can,” Jessica says as she pulls her hand away from Penelope’s. She turns to the stove and puts on an oven mitt to take the kettle off. 

She slams it onto the wooden countertop and bashes two mugs onto the counter. She throws two tea bags into the cups and splashes them with scalding water. She pushes Penelope a mug and goes into the living room.

Penelope stands in the kitchen, looking at the tea, half-filled with water and a broken bag, She puts it on the counter and stares at Jess.

Jess looks back at her and stutters “so, when do you have to leave?” her face looks remorseful for asking the question but her stomach needs the answer. 

Penelope goes silent.

“That’s the thing,” She hesitates, Her face goes numb and she fidgets with her hands. “You see I don't have to go back for about a few months.” she stutters.

“Can you just stop, I’m not in the mood for.” She looks back at her hand and then at Penelope. “when do you go back?” Jess says, sitting more straight and putting down her scolding, chunky tea. 

“Three months.” She says, scared of the words she just said. “They put me on a project. It would have me travel across Germany, studying poetry.” She announces, getting less confident with each word. “It’s my dream,” she whispers hoarsely, waiting for Jess to respond. She hears a slight chuckle and looks up to see Jessica laughing.

“Oh great! Well, don't let me stop you, it is your dream.” She pushes her body off the couch and holds her mug of tea. She walks over to the sink as she chuckles. “How long this time? Two, three years.” She slowly dumps her tea down the sink and gets another piece of ice for her hand. 

“ it would be a semi-permanent position, most likely around 5 years… Jess you know I wanna be with you,” Penelope whispers as she moves closer to the end of the couch.

“Oh my god. FIVE YEARS!” Jess historically laughs dropping the Icecube on the cold floors. Holding the bridge of her nose, she chuckles looking up at the ceiling. “You'll be 30 and i'll be, oh wow, 28, that’s. This is priceless.” she begins to cry and once she starts she can’t stop, waves of tears crash on her cheeks, melting there way down her face.

“Jess you don't understand!” Penelope shouts, walking over to her. “I love you, I am so in love with you. I’m not me without you. I love you so much I just can’t bear to be without you”

Jess walks away from Penelope without looking at her and paces across the room. Every few seconds looking back at the fire. “I know but, you don’t even know me anymore. You don’t even know who you love. You loved having me in your corner. You loved how I’m always here, but you know what! I‘m not here to wait for you! I’m my own person! I’ve changed, I-”

Penelope’s mind skips like an old record, “stop talking! Stop it! Let me finish!” Penelope interrupts. Jessica's face turns red and she begins to scowl. “I want you to come with me.” 

Jessica turns to look at Penelope, their eyes lock. Jessica ran the idea through her head. Living in german, with Penelope for five years maybe even longer. Her brain is running like a hamster in a wheel, but slowly the wheel begins to break, and the hamster dies. 

“what?” she shakily pushes out of her mouth. 

“I want you to come to Germany with me.” She blurted out, tears collecting in her eyes. “You are my everything.” Penelope declares. She walks over to Jessica, who sat herself down on the floor in a pile of her feelings. 

Penelope grabs Jess’ clammy hands and looks into her eyes. “I love you, I love you so much. I want you to be with me. I want to hold you in my arms, I want you.” 

The room is silent for a moment, the only noise being the crackle of the fire. Jess looks at her hands, and then at the floor, and then her hands again.

“Well… well… you can't have me.” shocked that the words made it out of her mouth, she pauses. She looks back at Penelope, eyes drooping like a dog. “You can’t have me. you left me for months, six months. I had to make do without you. And I did a damn good job. I made friends at work, joined a book club with the church” she pauses “I even started talking to my mom again” she stands up then pushes herself onto the sofa. “I have a life, and I can’t just leave it. I’m not like you.” She looks up and grabs her knees. “I can’t just leave and never look back. I will always love you, but I can’t leave.'' She turns to the window and sees the clouds building up outside then looks back at Penelope, now white as a sheet. “I can’t be with you anymore, I can’t do this anymore, I can’t do this to myself anymore.” 

“But-” Penelope tries to muster up words to respond with, but deep down she realizes that Jessica is right. 

“I think you should go,” Jessica says as she grabs the duffle bag from next to the window.

“Oh,” Penelope says, looking up at Jess who is holding her bags and trying not to make eye contact. “I’ll just” she stands herself up and grabs her bag from Jess. Then walks past her and opens the door. She walks out of the door frame and feels a hand on her shoulder. 

“I’m sorry.”

“What,” Penelope says as she turns around to see Jess holding onto her shoulder. She watches a single tear trickle down her supple skin.

“I hope you find her, someone who can run to the pace of your drum.” she chuckles, letting the tears drip down her honey-glazed skin. “ Someone who can run away with you,” Jess whispers to Penelope, who is now sobbing quietly, her feet sinking into the cigarette scented carpeting of the hallway.

“I love you,” Penelope whispers, drawing closer to Jessica. She’s able to hear every breath Jessica takes, but neither of them pull away. Jessica looks into Penelope’s glassy eyes filled with pain and starts to back away.

Penelope lets one tear drop down her cheek before grasping a breath and stepping farther into the hallway. She begins to walk down the stairs and turns back to see Jessica closing the door. 

“I love you too,” Jessica whispers, closing the door, “I love you too.”

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