Penguins: A Love Story

Did you know that when penguins mate, they mate for life? They are the only animals to do this. And when a male penguin has chosen a mate, he searches the entire beach just to find the right pebble to give to her. Exactly like a proposal. Penguins are soul mates, loving one another until they die.

"Penguins" follows the romance of Theo and Claire; two people who never thought they could be loved, but then found each other. Theo was the quiet, shy guy who was universally liked, but no one really knew him. Claire was a bright, sunny soul who always had a smile on her face that hid her inner pain. Could they be penguins? Or will these lovebirds be wrenched apart by the very things that bind them together?

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8. Chapter 8

Claire was avoiding Theo, and he had absolutely no idea why. He wracked his brains to think of what he could possibly done wrong, but he couldn't come up with anything. She hadn't spoken to him in days, so at the end of the school day on Thursday, he approached her about it,
"Hey Claire?" he asked.
"Yes, Theo?" she said distractedly, shoving her books into her bag, 
"Are you mad at me or something?"
"Or something." Claire said with a sigh,
"Why would I be mad at you?"
"I don't know, I asked you first."
Claire shut her locker quickly and headed off down the hall. Theo hurried after her, nearly tripping in his haste. 
"What did i do wrong?"
"Nothing. Absolutely nothing." 
"Then why are you acting like this?"
"Like what?" Claire asked, annoyed,
"How am I acting?"
"I dunno- different? We haven't spoken in days and- I miss you, Claire." he said gently.
Claire's face softened and she slumped, running a hand through her hair,
"I've just been busy, that's all. I'm sorry if I neglected you. Can you meet me at the park on Saturday afternoon?"
Theo nodded and Claire smiled wanly,
"Good. We can talk more then, and Joey could use the fresh air." 

So, on Saturday, Claire and Theo met at the park, Joey in tow. They sat down next to each other on the bench while the little boy went to the sand pit. He started methodically making sand castles, making sure they were all the same size. Theo glanced at Claire, who was watching her brother. The weak spring sunlight brought out the fiery red in her hair. The sky was clear, the temperature was just right; it would have been perfect if Theo wasn't so worried that something was desperately wrong. 
"Claire?"
The girl jumped and then looked at him, smiling quickly,
"Yep?"
"You said we could talk more here, about whatever's been bothering you."
Claire sighed, staring down at their intertwined hands,
"I'm starting to regret saying that." 
"Claire, I promise, whatever it is, I won't judge you for it." 
"Yes you will."
"Are you sick? Are you worried about school? Did you-"
Theo gulped at then continued,
"Did you cheat on me or something?"
"What- Jesus, Theo, of course not! Why would you even think that?"
"Well, sometimes, when I don't get told the truth, my mind goes into overdrive and I start conjuring up all these stupid theories-"
"Theo, it's nothing like that." Claire reassured him. 
Theo slumped back onto the bench,
"Thank God."

Claire turned to face him, biting her lip. He noticed for the first time the massive bags ringing beneath her brown eyes. Whatever the issue was, she was obviously losing sleep over it. In that moment, Theo realized that no matter how well she hid it, Claire was fragile. She was always taking care of people, and had nobody to take care of her. He leaned in closer, until they were mere inches away from each other,
"Tell me." he breathed. 
Claire's eyes welled up and she took a deep breath. 
"Remember the time I went to your house for dinner?" she began. 

A few minutes later, Theo sat back, staring at his girlfriend,
"She just- left?"
Claire nodded slowly,
"And you have absolutely no idea where she is?"
"None."
"Claire, you have to tell somebody about this!" 
"I told you, didn't I?"
"I mean somebody who could make a difference." 
"No!" Claire snapped suddenly, gripping his hands tightly,
"I'm doing fine the way I am. We don't need my mom, we've got on fine without her. I'm not telling anyone."
Theo sighed, his eyes narrowing. Claire saw his look and then quickly said,
"And you can't tell anyone either!"
"Claire-"
"Promise me, Teddy!"
"I- I promise." he muttered, head bowed. 
"Thank you." Claire said with obvious relief. 
She stood up and walked over to Joey,
"We better be going." she said softly,
"I'll see you around, Theo."

Back at home, Claire was vainly attempting to make dinner. She put some water on to boil and then started chopping vegetables, almost cutting her fingers. Claire had never had much experience cooking, so she was pretty unsure of herself in the kitchen. She gingerly lifted the lid off the boiling water and then jumped as the doorbell rang, dropping it back down. Water splashed up and landed on Claire's wrist, burning her. She stifled a shriek and then ran to the door, pulling it open. 

Theo's mother was standing outside, holding a bagful of groceries. Claire took one look at her and knew why she'd come.
"He told you, didn't he?" she sighed.
She didn't reply and Claire moved aside, letting her in. They walked back to the kitchen and Claire grabbed some ice from the freezer to apply to her wrist.
"Honey, what did you do?" Theo's mom asked, concerned,
"I was boiling water."
She pursed her lips together tightly.  Reaching forward, she pulled a resisting Claire's hand away from her body and inspected the burn. 
"Ouch." she said with a gentle smile.
"It looks painful, but thankfully it's not too serious. We'll get you fixed up in no time."

Ten minutes later, fresh water was boiling, vegetables had been chopped to add to the dinner, and Claire's hand had been neatly bandaged. The two sat down on the ouch and Theo's mom said,
"Now, Claire. Why don't you tell me what exactly's been going on?"
Their eyes met and Claire dissolved into floods of tears. She clung to the older woman's skinny frame and sobbed on her shoulder.   Days of stress and anxiety rose up and she cried her heart out. Theo's mom sat and rubbed her back soothingly. After about five minutes, she had cried herself out and the mother simply said, 
"We don't have to talk about it now. I just want you to know that we're here for you. I'll help you with cooking and we'll bring groceries as well."
"Oh no." Claire said hurriedly,
"You don't need to do that. Really." 
"Claire, you are my son's girlfriend. He cares about you. Did you know he came home crying from the park, worrying about you?"
Claire shook her head and she continued,
"That's the only reason I'm aware of what's going on, honey. He didn't want to tell me, trust me on that." 


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