It had been three years since Travis was killed and Auburn was saved. While things were a bit bittersweet at the offset, as the whole town held a memorial for those lost before the Auburn Demon was found dead in the park, including the former mayor, things really only went up from there. I finally enlisted the help of a therapist and got the help I needed to heal, after everything that had happened. I learned to live life one day at a time, and I quickly found more and more confident in myself. I had a better mood, too.
I adopted my own kitten and puppy to help keep me company, especially on low days. After I took the time to focus on self help and healing, I was able to use my powers almost as if it was second nature. I still had to hide them to prevent another panic, but it felt good to go for a midnight fly every so often. Auburn looked so beautiful at night.
I got some really good acting gigs, too. Sometimes, people would recognize me when I went out on walks with my dog! It felt amazing to hear that others liked my work. I was even starting to think about getting back into the dating scene. I knew by now that I wasn’t going to find another Travis, but I didn’t want another Travis. I wanted to find someone else who would care about me and who I could care for. And when the time was right, I’d ask them out. For now though, I was focusing on myself and keeping up the positive track record I had made for myself recently.
Of course, I wasn’t the only successful one. Tockman and Penny were still partners as Tockman continued his work. I’d met up with them for coffee a few times, too. They were definitely inseparable friends after the incident. When Penny released her first hit bestseller, Tockman was the first person to ask her for a signed copy. Penny really started to get into her writing once she and Zinovi were together and engaged. She once told me it was a good therapy for her. I was happy she was making sure that she and Zinovi healed up after everything, too.
The two lovebirds got married a year after the city had mourned those lost. It was a beautiful ceremony. I was a bridesmaid and Tockman was the best man. I think I even saw him crying at one point during the reception.
They still lived in Auburn, being successful and supportive of each other and of Tockman and I like always. Penny helped out every so often in the shop with Tockman, but he’d mainly converted his shop and lab into a full center to work on ‘time fluctuations,’ as Tockman called them. He had really made strides with his research after asking a few other scientists to join the project.
I think the biggest change that even Tockman was trying to get used to though was the fact that Tockman wasn’t single anymore…! He had bumped into another doctor when Zinovi and Penny were reunited. It was love at first sight; I could tell from Tockman’s blushing once the guy moved on to check on some of the others that came from the bunker.
A few days later, Penny excitedly told me that Tockman was seeing the guy that he was “totally crushing on,” a Doctor Walter Grimes.
I’d met him a few times. He was certainly handsome and smart, and it was funny how he teased Tockman and got him all flustered. If you told us that Doctor Tockman of all people would be in a relationship when Travis was still alive, I’m pretty sure all of us would have laughed, but here we were in the future, and it was true. Times had really changed for the better…
Today was an extra special day, though. Last July, Penny and Zinovi had told us that Penny was expecting. I went to her baby shower, and she seemed to be glowing with health and happiness whenever I saw her. Now however, it was April, and Zinovi told Tockman and I the other day that the baby had arrived. I was just so excited to see the little cutie, but I remained patient and let the couple have some rest and time with their child before coming home.
And today, they were coming home, but only I knew it. Penny had called me and told me that they were planning a surprise for us when they came home. Zinovi had told Tockman that they were home already and that he could come over with Walter to see their kid. The plan was for me to let him in and for Tockman to see the happy family come home. We could all experience the baby for the first time, together!
I personally thought the plan was a little extra, but I couldn’t lie that I was still excited. There was another surprise awaiting Tockman, too. And I just couldn’t wait to see his reaction as I got to Penny and Zinovi’s apartment and let myself in to start setting up some decorations. This would be a day of nothing but surprises: I didn’t tell Penny or Zinovi that I would be decorating the place for their arrival!
The tragedy of the Auburn Demon left a lasting impression on us all. For the rest of my life, I would occasionally shed a tear, in remembrance of those who were lost and those who were left behind.
And as for Travis Montgomery… I choose to believe that he got what he deserved in the afterlife.
Wherever he ended up, may his soul rest in peace.
I sighed once Walter and I pulled into Penny and Zinovi’s driveway. It was a beautiful spring day outside. No clouds in the sky, not much humidity, and just a gentle dampness from the rain that ended that morning. Walter and I had been dating for a couple of years, and my research was at the brink of a breakthrough. Penny and I were very close friends, and the both of us, not to mention Ava and Zinovi too, were all successful, happy, and healthy in our own rights. If Travis were still here, all of this would have been a slap to the face to him.
Walking inside the tidy apartment, we were greeted not by Zinovi or Penny, but by Ava. She grinned and welcomed us in, gesturing to the orange “welcome home!” decorations put up around the apartment. The cats were all batting some streamers around by the cat tree in the corner. I raised an eyebrow.
“Ava… They’ve been home for a few days now. You’re a bit late.” I was only made more confused when Ava giggled.
“Actually… That’s not the whole story.”
I was about to question what that was supposed to mean when I heard a car pull up outside and turn off, as well as doors opening and closing. I smirked a bit. “Why you sneaks…! Didn’t your parents teach you never to lie?”
Ava nodded and giggled more as Zinovi walked in, smiling at the decorations. “Hey everybody! It’s good to be home…”
He walked in and put a baby bag and such down on the kitchen table. I turned when I heard someone else walk in, only to smile softly at my friend and now part-time assistant, Penny. She still looked a bit tired, but she smiled right back at me just as she always did. In her arms was a little bundle wrapped in a blue and white blanket. “…Heya, Doc… There’s someone I’d like you to meet…”
Zinovi guided his wife over to the couch and propped her feet up once she sat down and took off her shoes. We all congregated in the same area and watched as Penny adjusted the blanket to reveal a tiny swaddled infant, only a few days old. He was sleeping peacefully and he had on a little blue beanie that matched his blanket. “…This is our little boy…” Ava squealed softly once she saw the baby.
“He’s so tiny! Congrats, you guys!” Walter and I nodded in agreement. I froze up when Penny turned to me. “You wanna hold him, Doc?”
“M-… Me? Are you sure?” I didn’t know a thing about children. Until recently, I saw them as annoying distractions and tiny beings of absolute destruction. If Penny’s cat was a crazy ball of energy, then a small human could do way worse… Now though, I couldn’t help but smile at the little sleeping bundle in front of me. He wasn’t even doing anything, and yet he made everyone in the room awash in joy.
Penny nodded and had me sit next to her. She and Walter guided me until I was in the proper position before Penny gently handed her greatest treasure over to me. He weighed basically nothing, yet he was absolutely precious… I practically held my breath when he shifted in my hold and opened his eyes like his father’s. I could barely see some reddish-orange hair like his mother’s poking out from under his beanie. He just stared up at me somewhat sleepily before shifting again and yawning.
“What’s his name?” I asked Penny softly.
“Oliver,” she replied. My assistant then smiled when the baby shifted more, trying to get comfortable.
“…Oliver Timothy… Ollie, for short…” My breath caught in my throat and I looked to Penny in shock. She giggled a bit. I looked to Zinovi and was met with another smile.
“Surprise…!” Sentimental fool I was, I teared up. Walter and Ava were smiling, too. Walter rested a hand on my shoulder. I honestly felt like I didn’t deserve the honor of having my assistant and greatest friend’s first child named after me, but considering everything that we’d been through and survived, it seemed right, too.
I turned towards Penny grimacing when little Oliver turned towards me and started fussing. She took the baby and hushed him.
“Hun, can you get me the baby bag?” Zinovi sat up from leaning against the wall.
“Hm?” Penny raised an eyebrow and nodded towards Oliver before Zinovi blushed. “Oh. Right.”
He quickly brought the bag over so Penny could take out a blanket and a smaller cloth. I watched in confusion and slight interest as she put the cloth on her shoulder before covering herself with the blanket. Once I put the pieces together, I blushed like Zinovi had and looked away. Penny and Ava laughed at us. Walter smirked and nudged me, but I just nudged back.
“Shut up…” I muttered embarrassingly.
We all sat and talked for a bit, Zinovi getting us some tea and coffee as Penny fed the baby. Once he was finished and burped, she held him and let the cats come to sniff him and get used to the new member of the family. Watching her take care of Oliver and still stay with all of us to talk and joke despite her clear exhaustion made me feel strangely proud.
Penny was most certainly not the stupid clueless ignorant girl I thought she was when we first met. She had continued to support and help me despite my rudeness and didn’t say anything until it was too much to bear. She had been the sole person to stand up to the Auburn Demon not just once but three separate times. Had I let her, she would have killed him instead of Ava.
She faced countless rejections by publishers whenever she went in to present a new novel, and she had just a few days earlier brought another life into the world. Penny was a strong and capable woman that I was lucky enough to call my friend. She’s the strongest person I know, and much of that strength comes from love.
Travis was wrong. We were living proof of that.
Ava’s decorations in the apartment were a nice surprise, and seeing Doc’s reaction to Ollie’s full name was sweet. But after the festivities, there was still one surprise left to reveal. “Ollie’s baptism is going to be in a month or so. We don’t have the exact date yet, but would you be able to come?” I looked between Ava and Tockman.
The two of them nodded. I sighed in relief and smiled. “Thank god…! I don’t know what we’d do if Ollie’s godmother and godfather couldn’t come to the ceremony…!” Both of them perked right up, their cheeks flushed. Ava beamed, while Doc’s smile also had a hint of confusion.
“How many more surprises do you have planned for one day…?!”
“That’s the last one, Doc. We’re too tired to think of any others.” Zinovi cracked a joke. As he did though, I couldn’t help but notice the bags under his eyes. I was about to pass out, but Zizi was exhausted, too.
Doc, Walter, and Ava stayed for a bit longer before heading off. They all congratulated us again before leaving, and I sighed in relief. I loved my friends, but all I wanted to do for the next day was tend to the baby and sleep. I fed Ollie one more time before changing him and putting him in his crib. I lazily got myself changed, brushed my teeth, and got into bed, practically falling right asleep once my head hit the pillow. I remember feeling Zinovi get into bed beside me with a groan before I really hit the hay.
Things were by no means perfect after Travis died. All of us had some kind of baggage that we were seeing therapy for. But my books starting to take off, along with a few of Zinovi’s games winning awards on top of me becoming pregnant, lifted us up even higher than just being together daily did. Seeing Ava confident and successful and Doc in a happy relationship and working with a team to achieve his goals also warmed my heart.
We all had loved and lost in our lives, but the only one who truly lost in the end was Travis.
Being side by side with those you love…
That is what it truly means to live.