Gone but not yet forgotten.
"I just feel so lost. I don't know what to do."
I grasped her flipper with a clumsy grey paw.
"You get used to it. We all do."
I looked around and saw agreement etched on the soft, fuzzy faces of my comrades in abandonment.
Teddy spoke up. "It happens to all of us eventually. You're lucky that you lasted as long as you did. Five and a half years, that's a good solid career befitting a good solid penguin like you."
Her beak lifted. "Really? You think so?"
Murmurs of agreement coursed through the group. I smiled at her, hoping she would take some solace from it.
And her head dropped down again. Her voice was thick with tears. "But Diane abandoned me. I feel so worthless now."
Whitey patted her back. "There, there, kids get older. It's nothing against you, of course. And didn't you so enjoy playing with her? Don't you think it was worth it?"
"Yeah," she sniffed. "But not by a lot."
I could almost see the memories flashing through her fluffy mind. Phoebe was found at the Monterey Bay Aquaruim, when I was still in comission. Diane loved her. She would sleep with her arms wrapped around her, face buried in Phoebe's fuzz. I would get tucked in the sleeve of her nightgown time to time, and I saw how happy the both of them were.
And I was happy, then, too. Diane would toss me around, bring me on road trips, everything. It was a little rough, but I loved every second.
One clear spring night, though, I slipped out of Diane's sleeve. She rolled over and her shoulder pushed my tiny cat self through the infamous Crack between her bed and the aqua green wall.
I tumbled down, my plastic eye smacking the wall and chipping off a little paint. As I made a soft whump against the midnight black carpet, I saw a fuzzy white face leaning over mine, dark stitched nose scrunched in worry.
"Whitey?" It had been so long. He had disappeared right after I got given as a birthday present. Everyone wondered where he'd gone.
I shook my head. "Is it really you?"
"I'm afraid so. We all love Diane, but she is very forgetful. Once you go under the bed, you don't come out. She forgets. I just hope she'll clean her room someday and she'll find us. Because I know she still loves us. I just do."
I nodded. I knew Diane loved me. It was no way she didn't. The way she looked at me, the way she held me, that didn't change with age. It couldn't. I felt it deep within my stuffing.
"Yeah." I nodded. "I know what you mean."
He looked at me. "But maybe she won't, maybe she won't ever find us. Here we live on hope, because that's the only thing that keeps us going. And we don't have much reason to hope, but we do. And you really do never know what might happen. You just never know. Maybe, maybe is what keeps us going."
Whitey's mouth tugged up. "All of us in The Land Of Lost and Forgotten Plushies."
"Under Diane's bed?"
And I settled into my life in the shadows, with the dust bunnies and other unfortunate plushies.
And then Phoebe fell through the Crack.
She looked reassured now.
There was a slam far away.
A collective hiss of "She's home, Diane's home," went through the group.
We went stiff, flopping to the ground, and Diane's familiar, novelty-socked feet approached.
A voice, her mother's, echoed through the room. "Remember, Erica's coming over soon."
Erica? Diane had so many friends, I couldn't keep track of them anymore.
As quietly as I could, I leaned to Phoebe and whispered, "Which one is Erica again?"
Phoebe shrugs. "I dunno. Never heard of her."
"Huh. That's strange."
And we got stiff again, waiting for Diane to go to sleep or something.
We had lives filled with nothing.
As we waited, I thought. Had Diane replaced me in her heart yet? Had she gotten a new cat and forgotten about me? Could what Whitey told me really be true? How could Diane still love me when she'd forgotten about me?
A knock on the door interrupted my reverie. Diane swung her feet over the edge of the bed and ran over to the source of the sound.
"I'll get it, Mom!"
When the door opened, there was happy giggling and shrieking.
"Erica!" I hear Diane say.
"Diane!" says someone, I'm guessing Erica. She sounds a lot younger than I expected her to be.
Giggling, they tromped up the stairs and burst into the bedroom. Two pairs of feet stood in front of the bed.
That's all I see these days. Feet. One pair is pale, covered in freckles and wearing rainbow ankle socks and the other is small, dark, and with chipped blue polish on the toenails.
The second pair, Erica's, shifted and a matching hand, small and dark, dropped down in front of Phoebe. It clasped around her flipper and pulled her out.
"You have plushies under your bed?" asked Erica, a little hint of awe in her high, hopeful voice
I heard the confusion seeping into her voice. "I guess I do."
And then she recognized the plushie in Erica's hand. "Phoebe?"
Erica dropped Phoebe to the floor and crawled under the bed, grabbing Teddy and Whitey and Katie and Alyssa and every other plushie. She had an overflowing armful of plushies.
I saw that Erica seemed young because she was. She looked maybe seven. I wondered why Diane would be friends with a little girl.
I looked up. The summer sunshine streaming in through the windows lit up the room to my eyes so used to a shadowy crevice and I was dazzled, remembering just how much I missed this big, wonderful, colorful room.
As Erica stood up with her arms full of, well, us, Diane saw her. Her twinkling green eyes lit up and she grinned from ear to ear.
Reaching into Erica's arms, she grabbed each of the plushies and tossed them into the air.
"Whitey!" she exclaimed. "Sparkle! Katie! Alyssa! Hope! Saige! Teddy! Chelsea!"
As I flew upwards, I realized something. She remembered my name. She remembered all the names. My heart beat faster.
I think that was when I decided that she cared, always and forever.
She tossed me up again. From the air, I saw something interesting; Diane and Erica's faces were mirrors of each other and of pure, hopeful joy, the kind one only ever sees on little kids.
I decided something else. Diane was the kind of person that never got older.
Not where it counted.