"Oh hi Sheldon."
Sheldon turned around from checking his mail to find a large tree in the lobby.
The voice changed and dropped an octave. "Who is this Penny you speak of?" A branch waved at him.
Sheldon's eyebrows furrowed then relaxed as his expression turned unimpressed. "How droll."
"I thought so." Penny's face appeared from behind the tree. "Think you could give me a hand here?"
"With what exactly?"
"My ventriloquist act. What do you think?"
"That your attempts at sarcasm are becoming less subtle and your definition of ventriloquism is wholly inaccurate. Otherwise, I can offer you nothing."
"Aw, come on, Sheldon. It's only a Christmas tree." She waved a branch at him again. "What's the worst that could happen?"
"I have a splinter!"
"Sheldon!" Penny braced herself against the wall as she felt the entire weight of the tree slip from Sheldon's grasp. She had already been forced to carry the much heavier trunk end and was following up the stairs from behind him. Damn physicists and their total lack of upper body strength.
Sheldon was still focused on his finger as Penny struggled to stand. "Oh thank God," he said and smiled down at her. "False alarm."
"What on earth possessed you to purchase a tree of such excessive proportions?"
Admittedly, the tree was even taller than Sheldon but Penny couldn't resist. "I'm stuck in Pasadena for the holidays and I just wanted to feel a bit closer to home. We always used to have a proper tree from the farm that I'd help my dad chop down and when the guy at the roadside offered to sell me this one for twenty bucks, well, how could I say no?"
Sheldon stopped mid step. "Guy at the roadside?"
"Erm, why aren't we moving?"
"You bought this from an unlicensed vendor shifting his contrabands wares by the side of a road?"
Sheldon let go of the tree. "Oh dear lord, I'm going to die."
Penny let go too, the tree sliding back down the flight of stairs and narrowly avoiding taking her with it.
"Oh you are going to die alright." Penny glared up at him. "But it won't be because of the fricking tree."
"I don't see why I have to bear the brunt of this black market, disease-ridden monstrosity."
"Because," Penny said, struggling with the top of the tree a few steps above him. "You are the only one with, and I quote," she was still somehow carrying most of its weight as she raised a hand to make quotation marks, her voice changing to mimic his, "'appropriate arboreal transportation protective equipment.'"
Sheldon huffed from under his paintball goggles and surgical mask, readjusting the tree trunk between his oven mitt-covered hands. "It was incumbent that at least one of us took the necessary precautions."
"Of course." Penny rolled her eyes. "Now can we please get a move on before the new year rolls around?"
Penny insisted Sheldon stand with the tree as she went to unlock her door.
"Could you please hurry up," he said, the tree held out at arm's length, all elbows and eyes and weird protective equipment, like an angry alien trying to throttle an unknown life form.
"Okay." She reached for the top again and waited for Sheldon to pick up the trunk. "After me," she said, stepping through the doorway before coming to a sudden stop. "What's the hold up, Dr Santy Claus?" She looked behind her. "Oh."
Only about a third of the tree was inside her apartment, the rest extending far beyond the dimensions of what was possible to get through the door.
"Oh indeed," Sheldon said. "The boon of your impulsivity strikes again."
"Just push, okay?" she said, tugging at her end.
"Were you one of those children who persisted in trying to force the triangular block through the square hole?"
"I'll be forcing inappropriately shaped objects through certain holes if you don't start pushing soon."
"Penny, this is futile."
"Push, Sheldon! Push!"
"If you insist."
Like the passage of a newborn infant through its mother's birth canal (as Sheldon would later recount it), the Christmas tree's emergence into apartment 4B was sudden and dramatic.
Penny found herself lying propped between her sofa and coffee table, legs in the air and the tree lying between them, Sheldon sprawled awkwardly on top and twigs and pine needles still raining down all around them.
"Are you okay?"
"I think so."
"This doesn't look like the ones we used to have at home."
Sheldon held his hands behind his back and surveyed Penny's handiwork. "No, I suppose it doesn't."
"This is actually the worst Christmas tree I've ever seen." Penny tried not to cry. "What was I thinking?"
"I imagine very little."
"Not the time, Sheldon."
"I was only going to suggest..."
He removed his hands from behind his back and held them out to her. "You appeared to be lacking a star or any other of the usual accoutrements. I thought that this could go on top."
He was holding his Luke Skywalker doll.
"Can I take it out of the packaging?" she said, staring up at him.
"Penny, don't be facetious."
"Yeah, okay." She smiled. "Could you do the honors?" It wasn't like she was tall enough to reach the top anyway, despite all the damage and the abnormal droop.
Sheldon reached up and placed Luke Skywalker pride of place. The tree looked even more bizarre but Sheldon seemed pleased and Penny felt happy.
"May the force be with you, oh fucked up Christmas tree." She gave a mock salute then burst out laughing. "Oh now I get it!"
"Instead of a star, you gave me a Star Trek."
Sheldon sighed. "Penny, it's Star Wars."
"It's still got a star in it."
"Yes, I suppose."
"So my point still stands."
Sheldon said nothing. Penny grinned. Maybe his lips twitched slightly too.