Epilogue: Saturday, June 14, 2064
Leonard sat on the porch of the log cabin to which he and Penny had retired. He had finally relented a year earlier and retired from his teaching and research position; but he still received video link calls on a weekly basis asking for his opinions on research projects by both former students and colleagues. Some of them, he was sure, were merely attempts to make him feel relevant; and he appreciated the efforts. After twenty years as a researcher at Cal-Tech he had finally left when offered a research position at Cambridge and Penny and the kids had followed him. Penny's career, though never meteoric, had been very fulfilling for her. She had gotten a small part in a sitcom that had blossomed into a ten year run and opened up opportunities for movie roles. She had never been the 'movie star', but she never went long without work. She had taken on the lead role in a revival of "Our Town" in London's theatre district within a month of arriving in England. Leonard had spent almost twenty-five years in Cambridge before the lure of California had called him back to finish out his academic career.
Their daughter had followed in her mother's footsteps and gone into the entertainment industry. She was currently a successful producer in Wilmington, NC. It was still hard to believe that the movie and TV industry had relocated most of their production facilities to the east coast centering around the outer banks. That was part of the reason that he had chosen to move to Woodland, Alabama for retirement; it was much closer to his daughter and the home of one of his best friends.
His son had followed in his footsteps and pursued academia. His son was more successful than he had ever been. Jackson was currently director of the supercollider project that was being built just north of Roswell, NM. It was being constructed to replace the rapidly deteriorating facility at Cern. The Cern facility had taken heavy damage in the European-Greco conflict in the 2030's. Although efforts were made to repair and update, it was eventually determined to be to expense to repair. New Mexico was chosen by the international scientific community because of the discovery that there was a large deposit of a new isotope of uranium; uranium 476. It had the same energy potential of uranium 235, but did not have the drawbacks. It was basically an unstable isotope within a stable molecule. Leonard had been on the original team that was tasked to determine its origin and potential danger vs. potential benefits. Sheldon had been on the team also. It was Sheldon's insight that realized that when in the presence of sodium chloride (table salt) uranium 476 was radioactive neutral and when exposed to potassium chloride it became extremely active and a very effective means of producing vast amounts of energy.
Sheldon had won his second Nobel Prize for the work he did on uranium 476. It had given Leonard his first Nobel Prize. Five years later Leonard had received his second for his work with ceramic molecules excited by u476 and it's application to anti-gravity propulsion systems. This research had led to a new generation of space travel vehicles. The space program had been dead for over twenty years when Leonard's research had launched a new generation of Space Shuttles. They had finally reached Mars ten years later. The Western Hemisphere alliance had established a permanent base on Mars just three years ago. There were now monthly flights leaving for the final frontier. Leonard had been offered the opportunity to take a flight as one of the first civilians to visit Mars, but he had gracefully declined. He had no desire to be that far from his family.
A slight beep sounded in his earpiece and he glanced at an icon in the upper right quadrant of his field of vision; a drop down menu indicated that it was an incoming video call from his wife. He twitched his eye and his field of vision was filled the lovely vision of his wife. Even now in their golden years, she was a vision of loveliness.
"Hey beautiful," Leonard said, "How's everything in London?"
"Okay, but I can't wait to get back home to you." Her hologram shimmered and blinked out. A moment later she was back in focus. "Sorry 'bout that. I was just inserting a video crystal into the master unit. I had them download one of the scenes from today's filming. I think it is some of the best work I've ever done."
Penny had been contacted about three months ago and asked to star in a modern version of Agatha Christies' Ms. Marple. New scripts were being written and updated for the current technological state. "Leonard, I hope to wrap this up in about another week. We're working on the last episode now. I thought we might meet in Wilmington in about two weeks and spend some time with Ashley; maybe call Jackson and see if he can get away for a couple of days. It's been too long since we all spent time together as a family."
"That sounds good," Leonard said. "I'll call him this evening. Will you call Ash?"
They talked a few more minutes and then Penny said they were calling her back to the set. "I'll talk to you again tonight. I love you Leonard."
"I love you too," he said as he signaled the disconnect. The flashing icon in the corner indicated that the video file had downloaded successfully.
He nodded his head and the video file loaded. The first thing he saw was Penny, still in character talking to the recorder. "Just to set the scene up for you; Ms. Marple has just stumbled on the body of her prime suspect and she has to tell his girlfriend that he is dead." She giggled. "The funny thing is... the characters name is Leonard. That made the scene much harder for me, but I think it brought out some extra depth to my performance."
The scene shifted and he saw Penny standing over a dead body and he saw true sadness in her eyes. She stepped around the body and the camera tracked her into the hallway where a young girl stood looking as if she was lost. "Can you help me find my friend?" The girl said. "I've looked everywhere and no one has seen him."
"Oh, poor girl," Ms. Marple said as she laid her hand on the girl's shoulder. "I'm afraid dear girl that your friend is..."
Recognition dawned on the girl's face, "Oh God. Is he... is he..."
"Yes, dear girl. He is deceased." Ms. Marple empathized.
"How," she stuttered.
"Jill, Leonard's been shot in the abdomen," Ms. Marple said, but it was Penny's voice and Leonard gasped. The scene went on but he no longer was paying attention. He had not had that dream in over thirty years and now he was living the dream he had been having since childhood.
The program had recognized that he was no longer focused on the video and had self paused it. He motioned toward the console and turned off the video program. He sat in silence for a moment and slowly a smile came to his face. He felt the first twinge a moment later and grimaced. He prayed that this would not be painful. Tightness pressed on his chest and the world seemed to darken. He leaned back in the rocker and let the inevitable happen. Suddenly a light flashed and he looked up to see Jill standing by his side.
"Hey buddy," Jill said. "I'm here. Everything is gonna be okay."
"I've missed you so much. You don't know how much the last thirty years have been missing... missing you."
"I know how much you've missed me. That's why I waited for you; so you'd have someone to cross over with you."
"Make sure I'm not getting the wrong end of the stick; I am dead, right?" Leonard questioned.
"Just about it," she replied, "Your neurons are shutting down and in the next few moments you should start feeling the euphoria of oxygen deprivation and then you slip into a semi-conscious state." She paused as he cycled through the steps. "Now... you are clinically dead. Come on, let's head toward the light. I can't wait to get over there."
"What happens to all my family and friends?" Leonard asked.
"They'll make their way," she replied.
~ An hour outside of Pasadena, January 12, 2011 ~
Leonard opened his eyes and wondered where he was. As his mind gained focus, he recalled that he was lying in the back seat of Donna's car and they were headed back to Pasadena. Donna and Henry had invited him to drive to Glendale, Arizona to attend the BCS National Championship game between their Auburn Tigers and the Oregon Ducks. He had originally declined but after the fiasco that had been New Year's night and the costume party, he had called Donna to see if the ticket was still available.
Paul, Ashley, Tim and Trisha had flown from Alabama and joined them for the pre-game tailgating and post game celebration. Emily had not been able to make the trip but she had called a thousand times.
As these thoughts flooded over his conscious mind, they fought with the memory of the dream; or was it a dream. He could still feel the ebbing of his soul as Jill had beckoned him to follow her. He felt the calmness and the happiness of a life well lived and a heart that had truly been loved. A tear formed in his eye and he blinked it away. The image of Penny's face as she old him, (or at least one of him) that she loved him. He would never forget the look of pure honesty in her eyes as she said those words. Fear began to insinuate itself in his mind; would he ever hear those words from his Penny? And then he shut his eyes again in an attempt to call back that other reality. If he concentrated hard enough, could he slip back into that other world?
'STOP' he screamed inside his head. 'You know damn well that this is your reality and this is where you must be happy.' He sat up in the back seat and Henry turned around to speak.
"Good morning sleepyhead. You've been asleep for over four hours." Henry smirked. "We'll be back in Pasadena in about 45 minutes or so."
Leonard looked out the window and saw that the sun was still down but he could see a tint of red on the eastern horizon. The sun would be up in less than an hour. He smiled at Henry and then spoke to Donna, "Do you want me to drive the rest of the way in. You have got to be beat."
"No, I just took over about an hour ago. Me and Henry have been tag driving while you snored away," she said with a laugh. Leonard settled back in the rear seat and thought about what to do with the rest of his day; his wasn't due back at work until Thursday the 13th. And then his mind clicked and he remembered what January the 12th was. His friend Paul Harris had been married on January 12th, eight years ago. Paul and his new wife had become good friends over the past couple of years and Paul's death had been very hard on Paul's wife.
Leonard took out his phone and scrolled through the contact info. It was too early to call, but he sent an e-mail message to Sandra Harris asking her to call him as soon as she got a chance. He put his phone away and started a casual conversation with Henry and Donna. In what seemed like no time, they had arrived back at the University, where Leonard had left his car. After they had transferred his luggage and souvenirs into his car, they said their good-byes and 'see ya's' for the picnic this coming Sunday afternoon. Leonard was just about to put his seatbelt on when his phone rang. He looked down to see Sandra's name on the caller ID. He touched the 'accept' icon and put the phone to his ear.
"Hey Sandra," Leonard greeted with as much lightheartedness in his voice as he could muster.
"Hey Leonard. I got you message. What are you up to?" Sandra said, and Leonard could hear the strain of emotion in her voice.
"I just spent a couple of days in Arizona, and I am looking for someone that will have breakfast with me. I've been driving all night and I am famished. Can I talk you into a big breakfast?" Leonard said in a tone that, he hoped, would not brook a negative response.
"Leonard, Thank you…" she began and he could hear her wariness.
"Okay, I wasn't going to admit this up front, but I actually called because I was going to ask you a favor." Leonard countered.
"You don't have to ask me to breakfast in order to ask a favor. You are… were Paul's best friend in college. You know I would do anything I could…"
"Let me buy you breakfast. It will ease my conscience." He paused to let her convince herself that he was telling the truth. "What do you say?"
"Alright Leonard," she conceded. "Where can I meet you?"
"I'm about ten minutes from your house. I'll pick you up and we'll head over to the Parker House. I've got a hankering for some biscuits and gravy."
She laughed. "I haven't been there since…" her voice trailed off.
"Sometimes," Leonard said softly, "we need to remember." He let that statement linger as he heard her quietly sobbing. "Sandra… I know today is going to be… We'll take some time to talk about him and the love we all shared."
Through her sob she said, "It's been over a year and when I woke up this morning I just could feel this…" she seemed to lose focus and Leonard could hear her as she maid a clicking sound with her tongue.
"Sandra, I am not going to lie and tell you I know what you are feeling, but I have lost someone just a couple of months ago…," he forced down a lump that had taken root in his throat. "Each pain is unique, but I do know that sometimes just a simple gesture or touch of a hand on your shoulder, can mean the difference in abject forlornness and a sense that there is still light in this world. I have found some friends that are that light for me." He paused. "I may not be able to be that light for you, but I can at least buy you breakfast."
She laughed. "Since when did Paul's nerdy friend become so worldly wise?"
"I had a chance to experience true love and that made the universe look completely new to me. It took me finding that one person that could love me with all my faults and scars to make me see that the world is what we make it. I want my world to be filled with love and happiness. And what is going to make me happy right now is…" he teased her with a pause, "is a plate full of bacon, biscuits and gravy and fried eggs."
She snorted. "I'll leave the front door open. Make yourself at home and I'll be ready as quick as possible."
Two hours later they were sitting on a park bench near the Cal Tech campus. Breakfast had been casual and fun. There had been moments when they had talked of Paul that she had become teary eyed and started to lapse into a funk, but Leonard had steered the conversation back to the happy times they had spent together.
"Leonard," she said with a question in her tone, "You said you had lost someone this past year. Who was it?"
Leonard looked at her and wanted to tell her everything, but knew that she couldn't understand. "In all but the legal sense…" he started and made a decision to be emotionally honest if not factually honest, "my wife and family." She looked at him with astonishment. "It's hard to explain, but… I found a family and they were my world; are my world, but that world is lost to me."
She continued to stare at him and she could see the complete anguish in his face; but it was more than just his face his whole body had become a taut string and the wind that blew gentle made him vibrate. She knew it had to be her imagination, but she thought she could hear music of his soul as he stared into space. She gave him a moment and stood so she could move closer to him and sit down again. She put her arm around him and gently rocked him as she smoothed down a strand of hair that was blowing in the wind.
A few moments passed and he whispered to her, "I invite you to breakfast and you end up comforting me. I'm supposed to be comforting you."
"Sometimes the best way to make yourself feel better is to find a way to make others feel better." She leaned away from him so that she could look him in the eye. "Is that what you were trying to do for me? You really didn't have a favor to ask, did you?"
He panicked. Had she caught him in a lie? "No, not entirely. I do have a favor to ask, but I did want to spend some time with you today." He reached over and put his hand over her hand.
"So what is this favor?" she asked with a note of doubt in her voice.
He struggled to think of something that would fit the bill. "Ummm, Are you still working at the production company? Are you still trying to get that series idea sold?"
"No. I'm still working for the production company, but that idea has been mothballed. I went to work in our shorts production division and I help out in the advertisement department when they need it." She sat back. "It's not as creatively rewarding, but it keeps me busy. So what is this favor?"
It finally coalesced for him. "I have a friend that is trying to get her foot in the door as an actor. Any way you could help her… not hire her just on my word, but give her a chance to audition." He let that hang there.
"Is this someone you care about, Leonard?" She asked.
"She is a friend. We were once more, but that…"
"Is she the family you lost?"
How could he answer that question? He decided honesty was the best answer. "I love her, but she is not my family. She does not love me and I have come to terms with that, but she deserves to be happy…"
"Making her happy will make you happy," she stated.
Leonard looked at her shyly, "I hope so."
"I have a national commercial we will be shooting in the next couple of months. If you get me her info, I'll see that she gets an audition with the producer." She smiled at him.
"Just one thing, Sandra." She looked at him with a question in her eyes. "She never gets to know that I had anything to do with getting her the audition."
She nodded knowingly and smiled. They spent the rest of the day just being lazy and he returned her home about four in the afternoon.
He entered apartment 4A and everyone was sitting around eating take out food. They all greeted him and offered him containers. He just smiled and said he was going to turn in early. As he passed Penny on the way to his bedroom she reached out and touched his arm.
"Welcome home Leonard," she said with a smile.
He touched her hand and smiled back. He made his way to his room and lay on his bed. Life was going to be okay. Moments later he was asleep and dreaming about his happiness equation.