Merry Christmas, dear readers! Thank you to anyone who's reading this––I know I haven't updated this story in forever. I recently rediscovered some of my old notes for this story, and it made me want to continue it. One of my New Year's resolutions is going to be finishing all of my stories in progress, so I can start working on some new ones as well!
He was bent over a workbench, twisting together wires and tightening tiny screws. The room was dimly lit, and smelled of chemicals. Papers were spread out across the bench––scale-drawings, plans for intricate machines, a blueprint of a building labeled "First National Bank." Above him was a white board covered in crude sketches and equations. A fizzing sound from the other side of the room made him turn; he pulled on a pair of heavy gloves and went to a table where an alarmingly green liquid was bubbling and steaming in a set of glass tubes. He poured some into a beaker, and held it up to the single bare light bulb. A loud knock on the door almost made him drop the glass––someone was knocking on the door, and something told him he could not be seen like this…
Billy's eyes snapped open. His head spun slightly as the dream disappeared, and he blinked under the fluorescent lights. Someone was still knocking on the door of his hospital room. "Come in," he said. Penny peeked in the door. She was clutching a white paper bag in one hand. "You're looking better," she remarked, "How're you feeling?"
"Better," said Billy. A whole lot better since you walked in, he added silently. "You came back," he said. Penny smiled. "I promised I would, didn't I?" She pulled a chair up close to the bed and sat down next to him. She settled the paper bag in her lap, and peered inside with a puzzled face. "That's weird," she said, "I ordered one frozen yogurt and they gave me two." She looked up at Billy, grinning. "You don't happen to like frozen yogurt, do you?"
"Yeah! I mean, um, yes, please; that'd be great."
Billy sat up to take the slightly frosty cup and plastic spork she offered him. For a while they both ate in silence, savoring the cool, creamy taste of their favorite dessert. Billy felt like he ought to say something. "Sooo…" he started out tentatively, "Um, how are you?"
"I'm okay," said Penny. She kept her eyes on her frozen yogurt. A slight sigh escaped her lips.
"Are you sure? I mean, it's none of my business, but you seem kind of…down, I guess?"
"I'll be all right," said Penny.
"Do you, um––is there anything you want to talk about? You don't have to, I just thought, you know, if you want to, I'm, um…"
"I just broke up with my boyfriend."
"Oh." So she's single… "I'm, uh, I'm sorry," said Billy.
"I'm not," Penny said matter-of-factly. "I'm sorry I waited so long. I should've seen Jack for what he really was. People think he's a hero, but he's not. He doesn't care about anyone else's needs or feelings. All he cares about is himself. Just because he's big and strong and popular he thinks he can have anything he wants––"
"Penny?" Billy cut her off. "You're driving a spork into the bed."
Penny looked down at the plastic utensil sticking out of the mattress. "Oops," she said, "Sorry about that." She pulled the spork out, and settled for stirring her frozen yogurt until it threatened to spill over the edge of the cup. Billy thought he saw a tear glistening in the corner of her eye. "Did he…hurt you?" he asked. Penny closed her eyes. "It was my fault," she whispered, "I should have seen him for what he was…I shouldn't have let him…and I tried to tell him 'No,' but he's so strong…It's all my fault."
"No!" Billy wanted so much to hold her and dry her tears, but he did not dare to touch her. "Don't say that. It isn't––you know it's not true. You are the sweetest, kindest person I've ever met, and you deserve someone who'll treat you like you're the most precious, wonderful thing in the world, because––" Billy cleared his throat. He had not meant to say that out loud. But, well, why not? "You're…a really special person. And I really hope you find somebody––who realizes that." Penny looked up at him, her blue eyes framed by wet lashes. "Thanks, Billy buddy," she said quietly.
She rummaged in her purse for a tissue and dabbed quickly at her eyes. "Oh, I don't know why I'm even talking about this; it doesn't matter now."
"Yes, it does," said Billy, "It matters to you, so…I mean, if you ever do want to talk, I'm…well, I won't be going anywhere for a while." Penny took his hand in hers and pressed it lightly. "Thank you," she said.
Penny had just left when a nurse came bustling into the room. "Excuse me, hon," she said, pulling back the bedclothes without much ceremony, "I just need to check on a few things." Before Billy could object to being called "hon," she had switched on the television at the foot of the bed––no doubt trying to provide some distraction while she prodded at his still sore wounds. The blaring noise and fast-moving images were starting to give Billy a headache; he almost asked her to turn it off, when a news report caught his attention.
"A strange turn of events last night at the Caring Hands homeless shelter resulted in one of the city's heroes being placed under arrest," said the news anchor, "and now, we are told, is facing jail time. Captain Hammer's speech at the dedication ceremony of Caring Hands' new downtown facility was interrupted by an armed intruder, who identified himself as Dr. Horrible. According to witnesses, Captain Hammer assaulted the would-be villain and threatened him with his own weapon. When Hammer attempted to fire the weapon, it exploded, and Dr. Horrible was killed. No other deaths or injuries were reported, but Captain Hammer was arrested at the scene, and is now facing charges of involuntary manslaughter. The new Caring Hands shelter will still open as scheduled."