This is the last, very long chapter of The Long Road Parallel. I really enjoyed writing it, and I hope you enjoyed reading it! Thanks (ahead of time, when I wrote this!) to all of my readers and reviewers.
Here's chapter fifteen!
Leonard pulled up to the apartment building. He hated getting home late when his life was going well, as it gave him less time to spend with everyone, but now that his life meant next to nothing he enjoyed the extra hours. It was less time to spend places he associated with her, and less time with nothing on his mind to think of how horribly everything had gone wrong.
He was about to turn into his spot when someone darted into the road ahead of him, and he quickly applied the brake. The night was darker than usual due to the rain coming in, and after the person cleared his headlights he wasn't able to see them clearly. The silhouette of the person was hurrying to a car…Penny's car. Curious, Leonard waited to pull forward. The car door opened, and the interior light allowed Leonard to see that it was Penny. She jumped into the driver's seat, and a split second later pulled out of the spot, accelerating on the damp pavement with a screech and peeling out of the parking lot.
Leonard's finger hesitated on the seat buckle, and then decided against going home. Penny wasn't the best driver when calm and he'd known her long enough to be able to tell that something was upsetting her. With her recklessness and bad weather coming in, he had to follow her whether she cared if she crashed or not. Easing out onto the road, Leonard looked in the direction in which she'd gone in time to see a bumper disappearing around a corner. Accelerating to a speed that was as fast as he dared, Leonard followed her into the night.
Penny had no idea where she was going to go, but she couldn't lie in that bed again and wake up late again and wonder why he hadn't gotten her up in time for work…or tonight, when she was cleaning off her dresser and found that glass case that he'd brought her so long ago. After she completed the turn and her apartment building and that fool who'd almost hit her was out of sight, she allowed herself to glance down at it. She couldn't see the snowflake because of the darkness, but she knew it was there. Of course it was. The case was there, and the snowflake would last forever. Leonard had preserved with a…a…well, in all fairness, he'd tried to explain it to her. She'd just had other things on her mind. She took her hand off of the wheel for a brief moment to slip the snowflake into her hoodie pocket.
She just couldn't do anything right. Wasn't it only the other day that she'd vowed to never hurt her friends? Then she'd gone and slept with Leonard, and then turned him away cruelly at the door the next night, still trying to convince herself that this was better.
"God!" She said aloud. She'd spent the last several weeks reflecting and regretting and self-pitying and stressing out and she couldn't handle it anymore.
Penny decided that she had enough of main roads. They were crawling with cops, and she was feeling reckless. Not reckless as in "let's do it in this movie theater during the bombing scene," reckless, not "neck, shot, lime," reckless, oh no. Real reckless. Danger. None of that child's play stuff. She wanted to take her anger and frustration out on someone, something, anything. She turned on a road away from the city, and she hit dirt…she wasn't sure of the time, but it was a while later. Pushing her foot down firmly on the accelerator, she watched in satisfaction as the speedometer climbed higher, higher. This wasn't dangerous at all, Penny reasoned. She was sober, and no one was around. This was harmless fun; after all, what did she have to lose?
The rain began to come down, and the thunderstorms the previous week had left large potholes in this road…what road was it? Penny had no idea, but she didn't care.
Her left front tire hit a pothole solid in the center and jerked around it. Penny held the wheel steady, allowing herself to smile. That thud felt very satisfying, almost as if she was driving her fist into whatever it was she was mad at.
Aha. She'd hit another one. Penny's smile actually felt natural, and it hadn't in a while. She glanced at the speedometer. Higher, higher. She was so speeding. She felt like a real rebel, worry free and finally over the fact that…
Penny's smile faded rapidly. That didn't sound like the other ones. The car wasn't moving forward like it had been. It was careening toward the ditch. Penny's fantasy world was shattered and she was brought back to harsh reality as the slippery mud dragged her car toward the soupy mess at the side of the road. Her frantic turning of the steering wheel only brought her front end around to help the car complete a three sixty before coming to a stop. She leaned back against the seat, hands outstretched to grip the steering wheel so hard her knuckles turned white. She hadn't been doing anything physical whatsoever; it was the car that had been highway-speeding on a beaten up dirt road, but she was breathing harder than Leonard ever had in bed. What had she been thinking? She could easily have been killed, alone and lonely on a forgotten dirt road.
Penny leaned forward and rested her elbows on her knees so her hands could support her face. What was wrong with her? She was living in constant unhappiness, never able to escape her overwhelmed mind for more than a few hours. Even her nights went by slowly.
A thick bolt of lightning sliced through the sky a split second before the thunder crashed. That had been very, very close. Penny was suddenly afraid. She had to get home, it was cold and dark and rainy and her terrifying experience had reminded her that she had never been a big fan of "Jesus, Take The Wheel." Now she knew why.
Penny took a few deep breaths to calm herself. She had no idea where she was, but she could just go back the way she came until she saw a street she recognized. She took another large gulp of air and gently applied the gas.
Penny was confused. She pressed down on the gas pedal again, and when she got no response she checked to make sure that she was in drive and her key was still in the ignition. Her car just wasn't working. It must be the mud, and the fact that I'm halfway in a ditch. Penny jumped when the next streak of lightning came. She had never been good with storms. You couldn't beat them with a baseball bat.
Penny unbuckled her seat belt and pulled out her cell phone, hoping that she got service in The Middle Of Nowhere. Of course there were no bars. Of course, because a company that got service on a Nebraska farm wouldn't remember to put towers on random dirt roads in California. She just could not catch a break.
Or could she? Penny saw lights ahead of her, coming her way from the direction she'd been speeding toward when the accident occurred. She put on her emergency flashers, and the car slowed down. Rolling down her window, she called out as the car stopped. "Help! I'm stuck!"
She knew that was a mistake the minute the man got out of the car. He was big, burly, and the adjective that her sister would use to describe him wouldn't be anything but shady. "Have we got a problem?" He asked, coming closer. Once he was near enough to see who was in the car, a smile came over his face. "Well! Aren't you a pretty little lady?"
Penny rolled up her window. "I'm fine, thank you."
"Oh, you don't seem fine…" he smiled at her, smiled a smile that scared Penny. This man didn't want to help her. She'd met her share of them, sure, but never alone on a dirt road in the middle of a late night thunderstorm. Another bolt of lightning momentarily lit up the sky.
"Go away," Penny said through the window, beginning to feel just a little bit afraid.
"No, no," said the man. "You're coming with me." He pulled on the door handle, and it popped open easily. Damn the broken lock! Penny tried to hold it shut with one hand, the other frantically searching in the dark for something, anything that would help her overpower him. She found nothing, she knew she wouldn't, she'd been keeping her baseball bat in the apartment in case those awful people came back to rob her friends.
The man was strong. In less than thirty seconds he'd wrestled the door open and grabbed Penny by the upper arm. She shrieked, trying to jerk her arm away. He was too strong, and with a few jerks, Penny tumbled out of the car, too off-balance to prevent herself from landing on her side in the mud. "Let me go!" She cried, trying to rise to her feet. He had her in a compromising position, on her side and half on her feet, as he yanked her toward his vehicle. "Stop! S…stop!" She felt desperate tears spring to her eyes as he caught her flailing free arm. She was trapped, she wasn't getting away, it was the middle of the night on a back road in a storm and this man was too strong.
That's when Penny saw the headlights, the headlights from the car that was approaching from the direction that she'd come from, the headlights that made the man let go of her arms and made a beeline for his car. He jumped inside, started the engine, and spun around. Penny scrambled out of the way as he took off in the opposite direction.
Penny stood, feeling shaky as she stumbled toward her car. She had no idea who was behind the wheel of the approaching vehicle, but she didn't care-at the moment she loved them more than anyone she'd ever loved before because they'd prevented her from being put into that awful man's car. She reached the car and hurriedly scrambled inside, holding the door shut even though she knew that the man was gone.
Her car's interior got brighter as the car, driving slowly, approached and stopped a few yards behind her own vehicle. Turning in her seat, Penny watched as the door opened and the driver stepped out into the rainy night. Penny was nervous; after that night's experience she couldn't help but shake as she watched the figure walk into the headlights-she gasped, her hand flying to her mouth-Leonard!
Penny's hands started to shake and she struggled with the door handle, stumbling out of the car. She whimpered his name. "Penny," he said picking up the pace as they closed the distance between them. She felt like a toddler as she ran the last few steps into his open arms. She dug her fingers in his back in an effort to hold on tighter, breaking down as she felt his own arms tighten around her. She'd gone from feelings of extreme frustration to complete terror to utter relief in less than ten minutes, and it was just too much.
"Shhh," Leonard said quietly, rubbing her back. "It's okay."
"I can't believe you're here," she said, babbling as her teeth chattered. "There was this guy and my car was not working and I never listened to Sheldon about the lock and he…" she pulled back. The left side of her body had been completely covered in mud, most of which had transferred from her front to Leonard's. "God, I'm such a mess."
"Hey," Leonard said, pulling her a bit closer. He took his sleeve over his hand and wiped her face off. "There. Beautiful."
"Shut up." Penny crossed her arms and shivered. She was soaking wet and freezing cold, and she was relieved when Leonard took her in his arms again, holding her shaking body against his. "It's so cold. So, so, so, so…"
"You're hyperventilating," Leonard said. "Calm down, it's okay." He swayed gently, and Penny could feel his fingers absentmindedly curling around her hair. "You're safe now. Tell you what." He pulled back. Penny didn't want him to pull back, but he stepped away and pulled off his jacket. "Here." He slid it around her shoulders, and Penny gratefully put her arms through the sleeves. It was still warm from his body, and she shuddered with relief. "Thank you." She came back to him and let him hug her again. "Thank you."
"There you go. Now just calm down, everything's okay…" Penny's eyes were closed, and as she listened to his voice she felt herself begin to calm down. Her breathing slowed down and became more regular, and she let out a deep sigh. He was still holding her close to him, the rain drumming down on them. "So," he said. "Are you okay now?
Another bolt of lightning lit up the sky. "I was scared, Leonard," she said, opening her eyes. "It was raining, and cold, and there was lightning, and…"
"And it still is," Leonard said, sliding his hand up to hold her head against him. "So how about I take you home?"
"Mmmhmmm," she mumbled.
"Let's go." He turned toward his car, and she followed him, glad that someone was telling her what to do. When they reached the car, Leonard held open the door for her. Penny looked at it, and then up at him, the rain dripping down from his hair onto his nose.
"What are you doing, just get in?" He was smiling at her. She smiled back and eased into the seat. Leonard shut her door and turned back toward her car. He returned and stuck his head in the window.
"I'm trying to see how bad your car is. It's clearly non-functional, but…" He shrugged and turned, walking toward it. Leonard disappeared around the front of the broken down car, and Penny raised her chin to try and see what he was doing. She couldn't, but it didn't matter, as Leonard reappeared less than a minute later. He went around to the driver's side and got in. "I don't know much about cars, and I couldn't see too well, but it appears that your tie rod is broken. That's what connects the front tires and you use it for-"
"I know, I know," Penny said. "God, this is going to cost so much to fix."
"I'll help you with that."
"Leonard, no, you don't-"
"Is your seatbelt on?" Leonard looked over at her.
"Yeah." Penny rested her chin on her knees. Now that the relief of Leonard coming to her rescue was past and she felt safe, awkwardness seeped into the car. They fell silent. Leonard drove carefully around the potholes until they got to the main road, the windshield wipers being the only sound apart from the rain. Penny stared straight ahead-or she tried to; she kept looking at him out of the corner of her eye. He'd followed her; of course he'd followed her. He had no other reason to be out on that road in the middle of the night during a thunderstorm. The fact that he cared that much…okay, well, she already knew he cared that much, but the fact that still, after all she'd done to him, he went out of his way to look out for her, to protect her. And now, only six weeks after they'd been so comfortable around each other…this act of love made the atmosphere almost unbearable. Penny hated that it was like this. "Leonard?"
"We need to talk."
He looked over at her. "Okay. We can talk. Sure we can talk, no problem."
"Oh," Penny moaned, putting her face in her hands. He was using that voice again, that "tell me what to do, and I'll do it," voice. She hated that voice. It sounded like heartbreak, and Penny had never broken the heart before.
"Nothing. Why does something have to be wrong?"
Leonard knew her better than that. "Penny."
"Can you pull over?"
"Uh-huh. Sure." He glanced in the mirrors and eased onto the broad shoulder. Putting the car in park, he turned to look at her. "What's up?"
She looked back at him, at Leonard, who's glasses were still dripping with rainwater, who's shirt had an outline of her body in mud on the front, and who's wet hair had been pushed away from his eyes, the eyes that now looked straight at hers. Penny took a breath. "Okay. Okay, listen." Wow, this is hard. "Listen, I know…I know that I've been horribly unfair to you." She sniffed. "I didn't mean it was a mistake. Not the way you thought." She dropped her gaze. "Can we still be friends? Or is it too late?"
"Oh, Penny! Of course not! Of course we can be friends."
"That's not what I mean," she said. "Can we be real friends? The kind that isn't awkward when we pass in the halls. The kind that can hang out with the other without falling silent when someone says 'remember when'. Can we be the Penny and Leonard that played video games? The Penny and Leonard that went to the comic book store or joked while folding laundry? Can we be those people again?"
Leonard had fallen silent, watching her. Penny felt horrible asking what she was. She knew that he loved her; she could see it in his eyes. Breaking up hadn't changed that. Nor had it changed the respect she had for him, and it hadn't made her care any less deeply about him. "It's going to be hard," he said.
"I know," she said. "It's hard for me, too. But you'll try?"
"Of course," he said, reaching out toward her. She leaned toward him and their arms slid around each other. "We'll be okay."
"We will. And I promise I won't take advantage of you again."
He smiled. "Great. Are you ready to go home?"
Penny felt her throat tighten ever so slightly. Gosh, did it hurt to know that that meant "are you ready to go back to the apartment building, where I'll go to my home and you go to yours?" He wouldn't be beside her tonight, holding her close and making sure that the events of the night hadn't scared her too badly to sleep. This was going to be hard, and yes, probably awkward and tense at times, no matter what they promised now. But Leonard cared for her, and she cared for him, and they'd always be there for each other.
She didn't know what was in store for them in the future. She didn't know how long it would take for those scars of her past to heal. Penny and Leonard climbed the stairs to the fourth floor.
"Good night," he said, walking her to her apartment door.
She smiled at him. "Good night, Leonard." They just looked at each other for a long moment, and Penny debated on what she should do. Before, when they were friends, she could kiss him on the cheek..but she figured it was too soon for that. Instead, she opted for a quick hug, putting an arm over his shoulder and giving him a quick squeeze. She felt his hand rest momentarily on her back as the hug was returned. Penny reached for her doorknob, smiling.
They had talked. She had apologized. Penny entered her apartment and got into dry clothes. Running her hands through her hair, she slid into bed, feeling better than she had in over a month. For now, Leonard was one of the only true friends that she had ever had. And for now, that was enough.
I know. I know. I didn't get them back together. In one draft, I almost did, but decided against it. I wanted to make it so, going into season four, it was possible that all of this could have happened, so that's why I kept it like this. :( But hopefully the show will get them back together, and soon!