It’s been a long day (and a long week, and a long year), and Penny’s thinking of holiday traditions and the smell of nutmeg in the air and maybe getting under his skin, maybe pissing him off a little, when she tilts herself up on her tiptoes and kisses him underneath the mistletoe.
He reacts just as she’d expected, with blustering and confusion and apprehension, jerking back from her and wiping at his skin as he lets loose with a diatribe of angry words and a lecture on germs and cleanliness and the complete inappropriateness of her actions.
And she laughs.
She laughs and pats his cheek as he half-trips backwards, and she goes back to making cookies with a wide-eyed Leonard and an amused Raj and a smirking Howard.
Sheldon takes two showers, gives her four strikes, and refuses any of the cookies they’re making on principal alone until Leonard distracts him with a slight against the Doctor; Sheldon ends up eating five as he regains his composure with a gleeful lecture on the subject.
And time passes, as it is wont to do.
It’s April when she really notices, for maybe the first time, how often he’s with Amy. She teases him because there’s something almost sweet about it, something innocent and a little naïve despite his general smugness and insufferable arrogance.
“How’s your girlfriend?” she singsongs in the beginning, waiting for him to bite back.
“She’s not my girlfriend, Penny,” he says, never forgoing the reply, never letting it slide. She’s not even sure if he realizes she’s only teasing him, that she gets that he’s not interested in girls, or dating, or any of the above.
“Are you sure?” she asks, leaning in a little just because she can. “You two look awfully cozy on your little lunch dates over Skype.” And she’s seen enough of them to know that they do. And maybe she thinks that it could be good for both of them, either of them, just to see, just to give up even a small measure of that relentless control.
“Penny,” he says, “Amy is my friend, and only my friend. It’s surprising that you have trouble accepting this, as you yourself are friends with multiple single males, and you yourself are single. Would you have me constantly inquire as to which of your male companions you’re currently dating? Do you consider us to be dating?”
It’s the most he’s ever said on the matter, and she’s a little taken aback by his defensiveness.
“Honey,” she says, “I’m just teasing you. I don’t care if you date Amy or not, you get that, right?”
He’s stiff and unyielding, and sometimes she wonders whether he won’t or if he simply can’t unbend.
“Your opinion doesn’t matter anyway, Penny,” he says. “If I were to become involved in any type of intimate relationship, I’d ask someone with a better track record than you for advice.”
She doesn’t talk to Sheldon for a week after that, but Leonard comes across the hall and talks to her and reminds her that Sheldon is less of an outrageous bastard and more of a complete idiot, and stupidity is easier to forgive than cruelty.
Still, she stops bringing up Amy, which is hard sometimes, since Amy has decided that the two of them are best friends for life (as Forever, as in BFF, is unrealistic, given that neither of them will live forever. Still, Amy says, the sentiment is nice.)
The problem is, Amy relentlessly digs herself a spot in Penny’s heart.
Penny never signed up to be the confidante and ‘bestie’ of a girl like Amy, but (and she might not admit this even on penalty of death, but that doesn’t change the facts) she kind of likes it. (Hell, she’s the sort to get into fights on her friend’s behalves, so it’s not like she’s not obvious about the fact that Amy’s growing on her.)
Amy likes to play annoying games and constantly thinks Penny’s smarter than she actually is, and she…never underestimates Penny.
And maybe it’s nice to have someone believe you’re better than you are, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Amy kisses Penny because Amy is drunk, and Amy doesn’t drink.
There’s more to it, of course, and the more is, unsurprisingly, Howard and Leonard and men who are fascinated by the idea of two girls kissing, even though it means that their attention isn’t on anything with a penis at that moment.
Penny kisses Amy back because Penny kisses a lot of her girl friends, and girls are generally better, more fun kissers. They don’t kiss like they’re trying to lick the back of your throat, or assert the fact that they could be awesome in bed. They don’t kiss with too much eagerness or awkward desperation. The girls Penny has kissed have kissed her because it was fun, and they liked it, and kissing is about touch and affection and a little bit of competition.
Amy apologizes the next day, like maybe she thinks Penny doesn’t understand her own ability to say no. It’s kind of sweet, though, Amy’s stumbling apology, still with that half-curl of her lips that details how much Amy enjoyed that kiss and doesn’t regret it, the general disgustingness of kissing and sex aside, the animalistic instincts of desire aside.
Penny lets her pretend away, though.
She’s not in the business of seducing people, and while she enjoys making out with attractive, enthusiastic women, she’s yet to find one to press on all her buttons. Penny knows all about the Kinsey scale, and knows where she lands on it, especially given a few experiences in high school. (She was a drama rat, after all. She’s not sure why the boys are always so quick to lump her in with cheerleaders when she went through a semester with black nail polish and the firm understanding that no one would ever understand what it meant to feel one’s art in one’s soul but her.)
The point is, Amy kisses Penny, and Penny kisses her back, and Amy apologizes, and Penny lets her.
The problem with Amy kissing Penny, it turns out, is that Amy starts questioning things.
This isn’t a problem in and of itself—hell, ever since Amy had her little episode over Zach, Penny’s kind of been waiting for this.
The problem is that Amy kisses Sheldon. Experimentally. She has a fiancée, after all, and she’d never cheat, she’s simply…curious.
Sheldon comes across to Penny’s apartment and lets himself in, and by the time Penny gets home from work he’s been in there over an hour. He’s just sitting on her couch, staring at the far wall, doing nothing. When she finally coaxes the story out of him, she’s not surprised he’s quick to blame her.
Sheldon’s been kissed by two people.
(No points to whoever guesses who.)
Sheldon’s never kissed anyone at all.
“You’d never been kissed before?” Penny asks, eyes a little wide at the idea that Sheldon had never kissed anyone until she pressed her lips against his that Christmas.
“Not counting familial kisses with family members?” he asks, and she winces, a little, at how shaken he seems. It’s a little weird that he seemed fine after she kissed him, but that’s probably just because he knew she was joking.
“Sheldon, hun, just tell her you’re not interested.”
“I did,” he says, but his voice is quiet and drags out a little longer than usual.
(Later, far far later, ages and ages later she’ll find out what he did not say at this moment:
“Why aren’t I interested?”)
Things are strained between Sheldon and Amy, and Amy and Penny, and Penny and Sheldon, even though Penny’s pretty sure she’s never gone around haphazardly kissing people. (Christmas doesn’t count. Mistletoe is tradition.)
Amy, naturally, approaches Penny with her usual straightforwardness.
“Penny, are you mad at me?”
“We haven’t spoken recently, and as BFL’s, that seems problematic. Is this about me kissing Sheldon? Are you jealous?”
(There’s a bewildering moment, here, where Penny isn’t sure if Amy means if she’s jealous that Amy’s kissing other people, or jealous that someone else is kissing Sheldon, and really, she has no answer for any of the above other than a strangled noise of get me out here.)
“Jealous?” Penny asks, because her go-to move has always been parroting the last word back in a quest for five more seconds of necessary time.
“Are you jealous that I didn’t talk to you about it first? That my first intimation that I was intrigued by the idea of copulation was shown to Sheldon, rather than you? I should have spoken to you first, but I was ashamed. I am engaged, you know.”
So Penny spends the night talking to Amy about feminist theory, instead. (And again, no one seems to ever think she knows her shit but she does, Penny follows blogs and reads up and allows herself occasional righteous indignation and even fewer flat-out rages, because life is ridiculous and she only has so much energy to expend on frustration and anger and banging her hands against a door that’s locked up tight, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know her stuff, because she does.)
And maybe, Penny thinks, maybe being friends with Amy isn’t such a bad thing after all, maybe they can teach each other what they need to know, even if they don’t always practice what they preach, even if they sometimes let themselves down.
Sheldon’s sober when he kisses Penny. In the end, that’s the hardest thing about all of it, because she’d have bent over backwards to give him any excuse, but he refuses to give himself an inch.
Penny is dating Ben, though, sweet Ben who sketches her pictures and makes her coffee in the morning. Penny doesn’t cheat on people, and she won’t cheat on Ben, and when Sheldon leans over and kisses her one Saturday night in March in the laundry room, she pulls back.
(This is the first time that Sheldon has ever kissed anyone. Penny doesn’t like to remember this, but she’s not the sort to let herself forget, whatever she might wish she could do.)
Sheldon tells her it’s because he’s curious. Sheldon tells her that Amy said he didn’t have enough experience to make an informed decision on the matter. Sheldon tells her a lot of lies, and she lets him.
“Penny,” he says, standing in her doorway. She looks up at him, and sometimes she’s astonished at the way her feelings bounce around in his presence.
(There are things she thinks she should say:
“I’m not going to be a part of anyone’s experiment.”
“You don’t get to kiss me just because you want to.”
“I’m with someone, that should be reason enough.”)
What she does say is, “No.”
And she shuts the door.
(And she shouldn’t feel guilty, because she doesn’t kiss guys just because they want her to. But this isn’t just a guy, is it?
And maybe feelings shouldn’t be so confusing. And maybe he needs to revert to being a jackass, because she can deal with his jackassery far better than she can deal with the little crease he gets between his eyebrows when he’s trying to figure something out.)
Sheldon doesn’t date, but she’s pretty sure if he was going to like either gender, it would be girls. Leonard tells her, after one too many beers one Friday in August, that Sheldon kissed Raj to prove a point, and she can’t stop laughing for hours, even after Leonard gets wide-eyed as he realizes what he said and swears her over and over again to secrecy.
She and Ben break up.
They didn’t do anything by halves while dating, and they make no exception now, so they break each other’s hearts while they say goodbye.
“Some people just aren’t made to be together,” she says when Sheldon asks.
They have a party on New Year’s Eve.
“Sheldon,” she says. The clock’s striking midnight, though, and that’s a cliché best avoided if she’s ever seen one.
Howard and Bernadette are draped on top of each other on the couch making out. Raj is holding a beer and trying his drunken best to sweet-talk Ella, one of Penny’s friends. Leonard’s out in the hallway with Leslie.
And she’s had a little to drink, enough that she thinks she could blame kissing him on that. But she won’t. She can’t.
And she thinks that maybe she’s waiting for some sort of declaration, but that won’t ever come, will it? Not from Sheldon. Not from him.
(And she’s not the girl to ever wait.)
And when she kisses him, it’s always wrong.
And when he kisses her, it’s always wrong.
(Someday, she thinks, when she’s feeling generous, maybe one of them will get it right.)