The air was thick and hot. Cicadas were buzzing, even in the middle of the day. Springtime in Texas was hotter than high summer anywhere else.
Leonard's neck was sweating. His the collar on his black dress shirt was heating him up far too much. He went to tug at it, but Penny's hand stopped him. She took it in her own, her gossamer black dress almost shimmering in the blazing sun.
"It's hot today." He remarked apathetically, looking down at their intertwined hands. Penny bit her lip and nodded soundlessly. They stood silent for a while, surveying the land in front of them until it became apparent Mary Cooper wasn't coming.
They has tried to get her to come with them, after it happened, but she just sobbed on the phone, saying she couldn't go through "this" again. Still, they stood at the edge of the grounds, waiting for almost twenty minutes.
"Are you ready?" Howard asked finally. His face too, was red and shining above his dark suit.
Leonard sadly cast a last glance at the deserted parking lot behind him. Then he turned to the others and nodded. As one, the small group, all in black, headed down the path.
The way was neat and tidy, with pink and purple flowers dotted the sides.
They wove through the rows, finally stopping in the third from the back, ninth marker down.
Leonard crouched down in front of the headstone, everyone else standing a little behind him. He brushed his hand across the cold granite plate, reading the name and date over and over again. He squeezed his eyes shut.
"Are you ready?" He mumbled, not turning towards his friends.
There was a terse, awful pause. And then-
"I suppose." Sheldon said, walking up beside Leonard. A bouquet of lilies was clenched tightly in his fists.
He awkwardly bent down and leaned the flowers against the headstone, partially obscuring the neat words etched in the stone.
Gone but not forgotten.
Sheldon stood back to examine his handiwork. Then he turned suddenly to look at all his friends.
"I want to be alone for a moment." He said drily.
Everyone exchanged nervous looks. Howard raised a wary eyebrow.
"Sheldon, I don't think that's such a great idea-"
"I want to be alone for a moment." Sheldon repeated, a little more loudly. Everyone flinched. Sheldon took a deep breath, closing his eyes. He opened them again, looking down. His eyes were different now, since he'd left the hospital. Not as sharp. Not as angry.
"Please." He muttered. Howard looked like he was about to protest, but Leonard touched his arm, a stunned look on his face.
"Just let him be." He murmured. To Sheldon he said, "We'll be right over here if you need us."
Sheldon didn't respond, he only stared down at his father's grave as the rest of his friends walked back down the row to the pathway, sneaking glances at him as they went.
When he was alone, Sheldon clasped his hands together and read the inscription once more.
"Gone but not forgotten." He said noncommittally. "How appropriate, seeing as not a day goes by where you aren't trying to invade my life." There was the tiniest bite in his voice as he finished his words. He stopped and took another deep breath before continuing.
"Mommy' was always telling me to learn to forgive and forget." He told the headstone. "It's taken thirteen years, but I finally realized... I'm always up for learning new things. It's what I excel at, actually.
"The forgiving, that's something I've been able to fake. It makes Mommy happy. The forgetting on the other hand..." He faded off, a rueful smirk lingering on his lips.
"That's a little trickier."
For a long moment Sheldon stood motionless, staring at the ground below his feet. When he spoke again, his accent had returned, stronger than it had been in years.
"Somethins one jus' cain't firgive an' firget, I suppose. Somethins are jus' a part of yoo."
He paused, closing his eyes. When he spoke again, his voice got a little louder. Leonard looked over worriedly, but Penny pulled him away again.
"He needs this." She whispered into Leonard's neck. Leonard reluctantly nodded and turned away. He knew.
"I don' know why yoo did the thins tha' yoo did, but..." Sheldon swallowed hard, opening his eyes again. "I ain't going to let it bother me no more. I don' forgive yoo Daddy...bu' I'm gonna learn how tuh firget yoo. Jus' because I look like yoo, or soun' like yoo..."
Sheldon squared back his shoulders and cleared his throat.
"It doesn't mean I am you."
He took a few steps back and looked at the large gray stone before him.
"And I never will be."
He felt his feet tingling to move.
"Well, enough of that." He murmured, turning suddenly. He walked away from his father without a goodbye. He tried to turn down the road, but
Penny rushed forward and took him by the arm.
"Sweetie, are you OK?"
Sheldon Cooper bit his lip, looking around.
He saw Amy in her boxy black sweater set. She was his girlfriend, who would stay no matter what, because she liked him the way he was.
He saw Penny, who was more of a mother than his had ever been. He realized he hadn't even flinched when she touched him.
Finally, he saw his other friends, especially Leonard.
Leonard, who had started this whole big mess.
Leonard who drove him crazy and vise versa.
Leonard, who, without his meddling, Sheldon wouldn't be standing there now, in a black tee shirt because Leonard refused to let him wear longs sleeves anymore, but it didn't matter because he hadn't cut himself in three weeks, two days, eleven hours.
"Am I OK?" He repeated. He looked at the sky. The sun was shining against the brilliant blue of the atmosphere. The air was fresh and hot. A gentle breeze blew by them, the first all day.
Sheldon looked down at Penny, who was biting her lip in worry, still waiting for his response.
"I am OK." He said finally. "In all likelyhood, I am more OK today than I have been in a long time."
Sheldon Cooper was a Dr.
He had escaped those people, that place.
So Sheldon Cooper rid his throat of any twang or drawl or accent.
Another time, he might have burst into tears.
But there would be no more crying.
Because Sheldon Cooper was learning again.
Learning to be OK.
*Peeks head out*
Is it over? Is everyone OK?
I would like to thank everyone of you personally for reading and reviewing this little tale of mine. You are all smart as Leonard and beautiful as Penny.
However, that would take me all day, so I will just say this:
Thank you for being so enthusiastic, kind and loving to me, Sheldon and his one-shot that got way out of hand ;).
Thank you so much.