Chapter 1: Chapter One
Penny settled the shopping bags more comfortably across her arm as she made her way through the crowd. The annual Holiday Gift Fair took place every December, turning the Pasadena Fairgrounds into a bustling outdoor mall. A cool breeze brought the sweet fragrance of kettle corn to her nose. She was tempted to buy some, but the line was a mile long and she was on a mission. She was nearly finished with her Christmas shopping, all but for one final gift.
This year, she was going to give Sheldon an epic present - just to drive him nuts. It would be difficult to top the napkin signed by Spock, but she refused to give up. She wanted to see him freak out again, and watch his robotic mask crack to reveal genuine human emotion. Sheldon liked to pretend he was some advanced being, but he was just as human as the rest of them. Penny had decided it was her duty as his friend to remind him of the fact. She just hadn’t expected it to be so difficult to find him the perfect gift.
Sighing, she entered a forest green colored tent. Tall cinnamon scented pillar candles covered one table. They were gorgeous and most definitely out of her price range, though she knew the deep red color would look great in her apartment. The other table held plates of various types of cookies including sugar, ginger, chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, and peanut butter.
“You’re welcome to try one.”
Penny jumped, caught with her hand stretched out above a plate. The tall woman standing beside her had the most beautiful silver hair she had ever seen. It flowed over one shoulder in a shining wave.
“Have you ever considered modeling for L’Oreal?” Penny blurted out.
The woman laughed, crystal blue eyes sparkling behind a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. “I haven’t, but I’ll keep that in mind. Are you looking for anything in particular?”
Penny cast a wistful glance at the candles and cookies. “I’m looking for a Christmas gift for my friend. He’s really hard to shop for. He’s not much of a fan of candles.” At least, not unless they were for disaster preparedness or part of some weird science project.
Her face lit up. “Oh, I love a challenge! My husband is notoriously difficult.”
Penny rolled her eyes. “Sheldon doesn’t even want a Christmas present. He tried to get me to sign some stupid contract preventing me from getting him anything.” Like that would have stopped her.
A bell dinged and the woman glanced down at her watch. “Why don’t you share my coffee break with me and perhaps I can steer you in the right direction?”
“All right. I could certainly use the help.” Her sore feet were more than ready for a break.
The woman winked at her and picked up the plate of sugar cookies Penny had been eying. “Follow me.”
Passing through a flap in the tent, they entered into another room which held a round table and two chairs. The strong fragrance of dark roasted coffee filled the air. It smelled like heaven. The woman waved her into a seat and poured the steaming liquid into matching red mugs. Sitting across from her, she set the plate of cookies between them, then offered her hand. “I’m Jessica, by the way.”
“Penny,” she replied, grinning at her firm grip. Most of the women she met had wimpy handshakes, but not this lady. Penny liked her already. She had a timeless beauty about her and could have been anywhere between forty and sixty years old. Penny prayed she looked that good when she got older.
“I suggest you eat a cookie before taking a sip. I make my coffee strong.”
Penny took a bite of the sugar cookie and couldn’t help a small moan from escaping, as a mixture of spicy cinnamon and vanilla sugar melted in her mouth. “Oh my God. These are amazing!”
Jessica smiled and nibbled the side of a Christmas tree shaped cookie. “I’m glad you like them. I sell the refrigerated dough, if you want to take some home.”
“I’m sold,” Penny said taking a cautious sip from the mug. She needn’t have worried. The coffee contrasted perfectly with the sweetness of the treat.
“Excellent. Now, tell me about your friend.”
Penny shook her head. “I don’t think I can explain Sheldon Cooper, but I’ll try. He’s one of those beautiful mind guys, you know? He’s a physicist at Caltech. I don’t understand most of what comes out of his mouth, but his life goals are to win the Nobel Prize and solve the mysteries of the universe.”
Jessica’s eyebrows rose. “He sounds like an interesting young man.”
She snickered. “He also freaks out about germs, schedules his laundry nights, and has a special spot on his couch where nobody else can sit. He’s pretty much a complete whackadoodle.”
The older woman laughed, wrapping her hands around her mug. “I’m sure he has some redeeming qualities.”
Penny nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah, he does. He rescued me when I dislocated my shoulder falling in the shower and took me to the emergency room even though he’s terrified of driving. He loaned me money without ever asking for it back and after I broke up with his roommate, he went behind Leonard’s back to spend time with me.”
“You sound quite fond of him.”
“I am, but it’s not what you think,” Penny protested, sliding a stray blond hair behind one ear.
Jessica tilted her head to the side. “What is it that I think?”
Penny flushed. Maybe she’d jumped the gun there. “There’s been a few people who’ve mistakenly thought we were together. But it’s not like that between us.”
Blinking surprise, Penny sat back in her chair. “Well, for one thing, Sheldon can’t handle intimacy. He did have a girlfriend for a while, but she dumped him because he couldn’t even bring himself to kiss her. And, well, he isn’t really my type.”
Jessica nodded. “I once felt the same way about a guy I knew. He was the complete opposite of me. He had no business sense at all and nearly went bankrupt from being overly generous. I thought he was an idiotic philanthropist with a bleeding heart.”
Penny leaned forward, always up for a juicy piece of gossip. “What happened?”
“I got to know him better and realized I was wrong about him. He truly cared about people. And one day I realized he cared about me too.”
“What did you do?”
Jessica sighed. “I ran away. I thought we were too different and I was afraid his work would always come first.”
Penny didn’t know what to say. “That’s so sad.”
The other woman shook her head. “Yes, if it had ended then. He came after me. He’s stubborn like that. He convinced me that while his work involved caring for others, his heart would only ever belong to me. That’s when he gave me this.”
Jessica held out her left hand and wiggled her ring finger.
Light refracted across a sparkling blue diamond. Penny’s mouth fell open. It was gorgeous, the heart-shaped stone set in a woven band of white gold. “You married him?”
She nodded. “He convinced me that our differences only made us stronger. The reality of being with him is far better than any preconceived notion or fantasy I had about the type of man I was supposed to be with. He’s my soul mate and I’m his.”
A small wistful sigh escaped Penny’s mouth. “That’s beautiful.”
“Thank you, but enough about me,” Jessica said as she refilled their mugs. “So, this Sheldon of yours, do you find him attractive?”
Penny nearly inhaled a cookie crumb in shock. “No. Well, maybe.” She took a large gulp of coffee to hide her sudden nerves and burned the tip of her tongue. “He’s good looking if you ignore his super hero shirts, plaid pants, and the crazy coming out of his mouth.”
The older woman made a clucking sound with her tongue. “Plaid pants? The fashion gods are crying out in agony.”
“Tell me about it.”
A mischievous twinkle filled Jessica’s eyes. “That should be your Christmas present to him. Burn his pants.”
Penny chuckled. “I would, but the last time we had a prank war, my panties ended up on the top of a street light outside his window.”
“Impressive,” Jessica said, a wide grin on her face. “So, no pants burning, then. What is he interested in?”
“He’s a huge nerd. So, anything to do with super heroes, Star Trek, Doctor Who, video games, and especially comic books.”
Jessica’s brow wrinkled. “Well, that doesn’t sound so difficult.”
Penny shook her head. “You don’t understand. If he sees something he wants, he buys it. How do you get a gift for somebody who has everything?”
The other woman pursed her lips. “He can’t possibly have everything.”
She sighed. “Well, he’s always looking for vintage comic books, but they’re really tough to find and super expensive. I’ve looked everywhere. The vendor I visited next door to you was already sold out.”
Jessica’s face brightened. “I’ll be right back.”
She disappeared through the flap in the tent and came back a few minutes later, moving the plate and mugs out of the way to accommodate a flat bag. “Will this work?”
Penny opened the bag and removed a comic book encased in protective plastic. Her mouth fell open. On the front cover, was The Flash. It was clearly vintage, but the ink looked brand new. “The Flash is Sheldon’s favorite! Where did you find this?”
The other woman shrugged. “I was Christmas shopping for my nephew and traded the vendor some of my candles and cookie dough for the comic book. I can always find something else for him. I doubt he’d appreciate it as much as your friend.”
“I don’t think I can afford it,” she said, running a hand through her hair in frustration.
“It’s not as expensive as an original since it’s a reprint, but it’s still a worthy gift. By the way, the flower in your hair is lovely.”
A proud smile spread across Penny’s face. “I call them Penny Blossoms. Sheldon actually helped me make this one. I’ve got a retail business on the side. He’s my investor.”
Jessica set her mug down, eyes alight with interest. “Do you take custom orders?”
“You bet,” Penny said, excitement filling her over the possibility of a new client.
The other woman tapped her fingers against her lips in thought. “How would you like to barter with me?”
Penny’s heart leapt, but she kept a calm expression on her face. Who said her acting classes hadn’t paid off? “What do you have in mind?”
“Let’s say I were to order one hundred red Penny Blossoms. Could you also add sprigs of mistletoe to them?”
“That wouldn’t be a problem,” Penny said, already picturing the design in her head.
Jessica tapped a finger on the comic book. “In return, I’ll give you this and a set of my cinnamon candles. How does that sound?”
Penny bit her lip. “How soon do you want them?”
The other woman waved a dismissive hand. “I’m shopping ahead for next year. Could you ship them to me by the end of February?”
She considered. “Throw in a container of cookie dough and you’ve got yourself a deal.”
“Agreed.” Jessica held out a hand and Penny shook it, grinning at the sudden turn of events.
“I’ll be right back with a bag for you,” the silver-haired woman said.
As soon as she left the room, the magnitude of what she’d just accomplished set in. Penny gave in to a little victory dance, utterly thrilled. Not only had she found the perfect gift for him, but she’d come away with a few fun items for herself as well.
She caressed the orange Penny Blossom nestled in her blond hair. An unexpected warmth filled her. “Thank you, Sheldon,” she whispered.
Chapter 2: Chapter Two
Sheldon Cooper allowed himself a small sigh of contentment as he settled more comfortably into his spot on the couch, blue eyes glued to the television. Leonard and his new girlfriend were having dinner at her parents’ house, leaving him blessedly alone. It was Christmas Eve and for once - all was well. This year he didn’t have to worry about exchanging gifts with his circle of friends. He’d had them all sign a legal contract promising not to give him a gift. They’d criticized him for his lack of Saturnalia spirit, but Sheldon didn’t care. How was he expected to offer up a socially acceptable response when receiving an unknown present, let alone provide a worthy gift in exchange? The entire ritual was ridiculous and he refused to participate. Thankfully, his friends had seen reason and agreed to abide by his wishes.
He smiled as the Tenth Doctor challenged the Sycorax leader to a sword fight for earth. The only proverbial fly in his ointment was the faint sound of Christmas music coming through the walls of his apartment. Not only was Penny likely to go deaf from the decibel level produced by her raucous choice in holiday entertainment, but she was most certainly breaking a number of noise pollution laws.
Turning up the volume, he leaned forward, eyes riveted to the screen as the Doctor’s hand was severed. This next part was his favorite. However, just as the Doctor threw a fruit at the ship’s sensor to send the Sycorax leader falling to his death, the power went out.
What terrible timing. He frowned as he realized the music from 4B was still playing. Had Pasadena Water and Power mistakenly cut 4A’s electricity instead of Penny’s? Opening the closet, he removed his light saber and turned it on. He’d bought his own after the last power outage. This was one was far better than Leonard’s green one, as red wavelengths of light were a much better support for night vision. It was also bright enough to help him safely navigate his way over to Penny’s apartment.
He tapped the Jedi Knight weapon against the door three times and the glowing blade made a humming sound in response. “Penny.”
Waaaa, Waaaa, Waaaa. “Penny.”
Waaaa, Waaaa. The door flew open.
“What the hell is that noise?” Penny asked, her hand on one hip.
Sheldon was shocked that she could hear it above the chorus of “Silver Bells”. “It’s my light saber.” He tapped the end of it against the door frame. Waaaa. “Penny.”
“Just so you know, I paid my power bill.”
“I’m relieved you managed to cover your expenses this month, however, your apartment isn’t the only one affected. The entire building is out.” Looking past her shoulder, he noticed the only light in her apartment came from numerous flickering candles resting upon every available flat surface. “That’s a terrible fire hazard.”
“Relax, Sheldon. I’ve got a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. Would you like to come inside?” she asked, stepping aside to allow him to enter.
“I suppose, but only if you turn the music down,” Sheldon said, moving cautiously into the apartment. He pointed the light saber at his feet to ensure he didn’t trip over the clothing strewn about the floor. Nudging one pile to the side with the tip of the blade, he created a safe path to the couch and perched cautiously on the edge of one cushion.
Penny adjusted the knob on an old boom box and the high pitched singing reduced to a far less painful volume. She must have placed backup batteries inside the ancient piece of sound equipment. A part of him appreciated her preparedness though the music was still grating on his ears.
“What were you doing before everything went dark?” Penny asked, sitting down beside him.
“If you must know, I was watching the premier episode of the second season of Doctor Who.”
Her eyebrows rose. “On Christmas Eve?”
“It has a holiday theme. The Sycorax aliens utilize remote control decorated trees and robot-like Santa Clauses to try to kill The Doctor.”
“Even you’re getting into the Christmas spirit, Scrooge.”
Sheldon frowned. “I am no Scrooge. While I dislike the gift giving rituals of Christmas, I am neither cold-hearted nor tight-fisted with my finances.”
Penny leaned over and patted his knee in direct violation of his personal space. “I know, sweetie. I was only teasing you.”
He sniffed in irritation, intending to chastise her for her poor boundaries when he was momentarily distracted by a delicious fragrance wafting through the apartment. Penny’s place normally smelled of dust, unwashed clothing, and burnt coffee.
“What is that smell?” he asked.
“Oh, crap!” Penny leapt off the couch and ran into the kitchen. “I forgot to set the stupid timer!”
Leaving his light saber leaning against the couch, Sheldon followed after her, his eyes now adjusted to the dim atmosphere. He blinked in surprise as she opened the oven and retrieved a tray of cookies shaped like snowmen. She heaved a sigh of relief. “Oh, good. They’re okay.”
Had he slipped into a parallel world?
Penny didn’t bake.
Turning off the gas oven, she scooped the cookies onto a nearby cooling rack which already held a pile of Christmas trees. She picked one up and held it out to him. “These are delicious. You have to try one.”
He stared at the treat, mistrustful of the perfection of its golden brown appearance. “No, thank you.”
“Would it help if I told you it was prepackaged dough?”
He straightened, completely appalled. “Certainly not! Do you realize how many preservatives there are -”
Penny shoved the Christmas tree into his mouth, rudely interrupting his informative lecture on the dangers of synthetic additives. To avoid choking, he was forced to take a large bite of the cookie. He nearly dropped the other half in shock as a delicate buttery flavor and the sweet taste of vanilla flooded his mouth. For a moment, he was five years old again, sitting on the counter in his Meemaw’s comforting kitchen.
“See! I told you they were good.”
Sheldon’s eyes flew open, taking in Penny’s triumphant smile. He hadn’t realized he’d closed them. “They are acceptable.”
“Acceptable, my ass. These are fantastic!” Penny said, snatching his half-eaten cookie away.
Resisting the urge to grab it back, he nearly had an apoplectic fit as she took a bite right where his mouth had been. “Your blatant disregard for germs is appalling.”
She lifted a single groomed eyebrow. “I couldn’t let it go to waste. Besides, I hardly ever get sick. You and I spend enough time together that I’m sure I’ve got more than enough cell thingies to protect me.”
“I believe you’re incorrectly referring to white blood cells, also known as leukocytes. If you had an increase in these you’d likely be experiencing stress, an infection, or serious trauma. For the sake of accuracy, I would assert you’ve maximized your adaptive immune system by exposing yourself to a number of pathogens within this cesspool you call a living space.”
Penny rolled her eyes and shoved past him. “Whatever you say, Moonpie.”
“Only my Meemaw calls me Moonpie!” Aggravated and craving another cookie, Sheldon picked up a still warm snowman off the rack and bit its head off. The soft chewy goodness soothed him.
Penny was busy sorting through a number of shopping bags on the kitchen table.
“Did you acquire a new client?” Sheldon asked, noting the Penny Blossom supplies.
She whirled to face him, her face alight with excitement. “I did! And it’s all thanks to you, Sheldon.”
“To me?” His eidetic memory found no evidence to support her claim.
“Yes! I was at the annual Holiday Fair today and a lady noticed my Penny Blossom. She ordered one hundred!”
“While I’m gratified on your behalf, I fail to see any indication of my involvement.”
Penny pointed to the orange blossom in her hair. “Come on Rain Man, don’t you remember this one?”
Sheldon moved closer to better examine it, noting she’d switched back to her green apple-scented shampoo. The accessory wasn’t anything special. In fact, it was flawed. The glitter wasn’t evenly distributed. He blinked and stepped back, suddenly aware of his close proximity to her. “It’s the first Penny Blossom I made.”
His brows drew together. “It’s defective.”
Penny’s mouth fell open and her hand flew to her head to lightly touch the blossom. “It’s not defective!”
“Yes, it is. There’s too much glitter on one side. You should throw it out. It isn’t an accurate representation of your product line.”
Her hands moved to her hips, an indicator of her rising ire. “How could you say that?”
He tilted his head to the side, confused by her reaction. “I don’t understand. Why would you choose to keep it?”
“Because! I kept the first one I made too,” she said, gesturing towards the glass bowl by the front door. “I wanted to keep it as a memento, I guess. To remind myself of the fun we had together.”
She thought it had been fun? As he recalled the late nights, caffeine filled beverages, and rounds of sea shanty songs, he supposed he shared a similar enjoyment of the experience. He wondered if she’d accept an offer of help with the latest order. After all, he had to protect his investment.
Penny was staring at him. Did she expect some kind of response from him? Her green eyes searched his, then she deflated, shoulders curving inward. “You believed in me, Sheldon. No one’s ever done anything like that before, at least not enough to invest their time or money into my ideas.”
She worried her bottom lip with white teeth. “It really meant a lot to me, you know. You - our friendship means a lot to me. That’s why I kept it.”
“Oh.” An unexpected warmth filled him. It had to be the cookie he’d eaten. No other reason made sense. “Well, your evident success proves my confidence in you was well-founded.”
A smile spread across her face, then faltered slightly. “Is our friendship important to you?”
Sheldon’s head jerked back in surprise. “I would have thought our Friendship Agreement was indicative of that fact.”
Penny nodded, her eyes darting away from his. He frowned, suddenly suspicious. “You did read it all before signing it, didn’t you?”
She picked up two bags and muttered something unintelligible as she headed back over to the couch. He followed her.
“What did you say, Penny?”
“I said it was way too long.”
Sitting down next to her, he folded his arms across his chest and stared at her accusingly. “Did you read any of it?”
Penny pointed to the thick white binder sitting on her entertainment center. “You really expected me to read that? The thing’s thicker than a phone book.”
Sheldon shook his head in exasperation. “It is inadvisable to sign a document without reading it in its entirety.”
“Why, did you put something freaky in there?”
“Fortunately, for you, I did not. However, if you’d at least read to page five, you would have noted clause thirty-seven, paragraph one. It summarizes our newly revised friendship paradigm.”
“Just tell me what it says already. I know you have it stored away in that big brain of yours.”
Sheldon cleared his throat. “Let it be known henceforth that the Sheldon Cooper friendship hierarchy has been revised as a result of the acts of sabotage incurred during the failed Arctic Expedition. Leonard Hofstadter, Howard Wolowitz, and Rajesh Koothrappali are hereby demoted to the lowest rungs. A probationary period will be enforced for a year before a decision will be made to either retain their lower level friendship or excise them from the hierarchy altogether. Consequently, Penny London’s consistent support, loyal friendship and warm concern for Sheldon Cooper’s welfare has elevated her to position number one. All of the rights and privileges as Best Friend are hereby transferred to her.”
A wide smile slowly spread across Penny’s face. Before he could lean away, she threw her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly. He stiffened. “Are you choosing to utilize your one hug a year per our agreement?”
“Hug me back, Sheldon. This is non-optional.”
The tone of her voice implied she would move onto threats of going ‘Junior Rodeo’ on him, so he complied, folding his arms awkwardly around her. Her cheek felt silky smooth against the side of his face and an earthy vanilla fragrance teased his nose. He found himself drawing in a deeper breath to try and discern the complicated elements which made up the pleasing aroma. It startled him to discover it was a combination of vanilla oil and the natural scent of Penny’s skin. He swallowed, his mouth abruptly dry.
With a final squeeze, she drew back, one hand sliding down his arm before falling away. He repressed a sudden urge to shiver at the contact. He’d experienced more physical interaction today from Penny than he’d had the entire year, including visits to the doctor and obligatory handshakes at work functions.
She beamed up at him. “You’re my best friend, too, you know.”
For one baffling moment, it was a struggle to find his voice. “Of course I am. It’s part of the agreement, Penny.”
She laughed. “So, what are my rights and privileges?”
His eyes narrowed. “I’m not telling you. You’ll have to read the agreement to find out.”
Her full lower lip jut out as she pouted at him. The twinkling amusement in her green eyes let him know she was merely teasing and not truly as woebegone as her expression conveyed. The subtleties of facial nuances and body language still bewildered him at times, but he’d learned to read Penny, initially out of self-preservation and then later out of friendship. And perhaps a tiny bit of fascination. She was chaos to his order and his brain constantly strove to make sense of her, to decipher her inner workings.
He was reluctantly amused, barely managing to prevent his mouth from betraying him with a smile. “Penny, Penny, Penny. Your efforts to manipulate me with your feminine wiles are doomed to fail. We both know I’m immune.”
Her mock sad face cracked and for a split second he thought he detected a hint of genuine hurt in her expression. She huffed out a breath. “Right. How could I forget?”
He frowned, discombobulated by her rapid fire changes in mood. She’d gone from beaming, to teasing, to possibly sad or annoyed with him in less than a minute. How was he supposed to keep up?
Penny drew her legs up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her knees, bright eyes flickering in the candlelight. “If you could make a Christmas wish, Sheldon, what would it be?”
He was relieved by the change in subject. “What are the parameters?”
She heaved a put upon sigh and flopped her head back dramatically to stare at the ceiling. “I don’t know! Like the genie from Aladdin, I guess. You can’t wish for more wishes, bring people back from the dead, or make someone fall in love with you. Now answer the question.”
The words tumbled out of his mouth without necessary thought. “I would wish for my work to receive the recognition it deserves, culminating with my being named the next Nobel Prize recipient.”
Penny’s face twisted in what appeared to be incredulity. “Why would you waste your wish on that?”
A hard knot abruptly formed in his stomach. Didn’t she realize how important his work was to him? His words came out stiff and clipped. “I find it insulting that you believe my desire for a Nobel Prize to be a waste. It’s the most prestigious award in the world and to have my work acknowledged on an international level is my fondest wish.”
She shook her head. “Sheldon, you wishing for the Nobel Prize would be like me wishing for another sugar cookie. It’s already in the kitchen, all I’d have to do is put another batch in the oven.”
He stared at her, utterly confused. “I confess I don’t understand your analogy.” Sometimes it was like she spoke a completely different language.
She leaned forward, body angled towards him. “Whether it’s a year from now or ten years from now, you’re going to win the Nobel Prize. So, why waste your wish on something that’s already going to happen?”
He blinked. “You’re that certain my efforts in the field of physics will be rewarded?”
Penny squeezed his arm. “Of course I am. I believe in you, Doctor Sheldon Cooper. No one deserves a Nobel Prize more than you.”
He exhaled sharply, momentarily stunned by her absolute faith in him and his abilities. Following the events of the Arctic Expedition, he’d acquired an ache in his chest above his sixth rib. As he took in her earnest expression, the pain dulled, then faded away completely. “I suppose I’ll have to think of another wish, then. It may take me a while.”
She nodded in apparent satisfaction. “Good. Do you know what my Christmas wish is?”
Sheldon had no idea. “I can’t say that I do.”
“I’d like to be kissed by a smart, sexy, decent guy.”
Her answer didn’t really surprise him. Penny was a naturally affectionate person and it had been over six weeks since her last romantic entanglement. While he didn’t really understand her desire for such a relationship, he recognized it was important to her. “Your search may be improved if you widen your field beyond alcohol establishments and drunken parties.”
Penny cocked her head to the side. “Are there any available guys at your work?”
Quick as a flash, Sheldon thought of Doctor John Smith. The thirty-year old professor was visiting from England, teaching a course on nuclear physics. Judging by the admiration of the female students, the man met society’s expectation of aesthetics. Unlike some of the staff, Doctor Smith ensured his interactions with his students were always professional and above reproach. Sheldon had even heard a student bemoan the fact that the man was too much of a gentleman. His colleague certainly surpassed all of Penny’s requirements in a mate, let alone for just a kiss. The knot from before returned, this time with a vicious twist as a vision of the man kissing Penny filled his mind.
His mouth opened of its own accord. “I’d rather not say.” It was the truth. Penny gave him a weird look. Afraid she’d continue to question him, he sought to change the subject, gaze catching on the bag next to the coffee table. “What’s in the shopping bag?”
Penny fidgeted, pulling at the string of her Hello Kitty hoodie. “It’s your Christmas present.”
Alarm filled him, quickly followed by indignation and a healthy dose of irritation. “You signed the No Gift Agreement along with everyone else! Have you no respect for the sanctity of legal documentation?”
She scowled. “If you’d bothered to look over the document, you’d notice I wrote, ‘Suck it up, Sheldor’ on the line, not my name. I’m not legally bound in any way.”
Sheldon frowned, recalling he’d been interrupted when she’d handed the paperwork back to him. Hers had been the final signature and he’d slipped the document into his file cabinet without even looking at it, trusting she’d followed the rules. A foolish mistake on his part.
“Besides, I should be able to give my best friend a damn present if I want to.” She dropped the bag onto his lap. “If you open it now, it won’t technically be a Christmas gift, anyway.”
“That’s splitting hairs, Penny.” He stared down at the bag in trepidation. The palms of his hands were suddenly moist.
“Open it. I really think you’ll like it,” she said, a hopeful expression on her face.
He sighed and pulled open the bag, sliding out what was most certainly a comic book onto his lap. “It’s very disrespectful of you to…” The rest of the words died in his throat. His heart stuttered.
With a shaking hand, he picked up his light saber and turned it on, positioning the blade so he could see the cover better. The Flash was dressed in blue pants and a red long-sleeved shirt with a lightning bolt across it. There was a metal helmet on his head with stylized wings on the sides. The number one was written in the top left hand corner of the comic. He opened the inside cover to double-check the printer’s info.
A strangled sound escaped Sheldon’s mouth.
“Do you already own a copy?” Penny asked.
Sheldon gazed at her in astonishment, his voice coming out higher than Bernadette’s on helium. “Do I already own a copy?!?”
A warm hand caught his own and his fingers spasmed in reaction to her touch. Penny looked at him in concern. “Are you all right?”
“Where did you get this?” he whispered, his heart racing like a freight train.
“At the Holiday Fair. This lady was going to give it to her nephew, but traded it to me for the Penny Blossom order. She also gave me these candles and the cookie dough. I know the comic isn’t worth very much since it’s a reprint, but I thought you’d like it.”
Ensuring the comic was safely on his lap, Sheldon extracted his hand from Penny’s and gripped both her shoulders, trying to convey to her the gravity of the situation. “It’s not a reprint, Penny. Have you any idea how much this is worth?”
She stared at him with wide green eyes. “Is it valuable?”
His grip tightened and he moved in closer, their noses nearly touching. “The last one sold for four hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”
Penny gasped and his attention was drawn inexorably to her mouth and the cherry lip gloss shining on her parted lips. Just like when she’d presented Leonard Nimoy’s autograph to him, Sheldon had an uncharacteristic desire to express his gratitude to her in a physical way. An unfamiliar tension rising in his body caused him to jerk his hands off her shoulders. She slumped sideways into the couch.
He had to get out of there.
Carefully clutching the comic book to his chest, Sheldon leapt off the couch and bolted out the door.
It was 2am and Sheldon was still awake. The moonlight shone through his window and reflected off of the protective cover of the comic on his bedside table. What was he going to do?
The Laws of Reciprocity demanded he respond in kind, but gift baskets and a hug couldn’t possibly equalize the scales.
A highly uncomfortable idea exploded like a bomb in his brain and his whole body broke out in a panicked sweat.
The magnitude of the gesture would surely absolve him of his debt, but could he go through with it?
Sitting up in bed, he reached for his cell phone, jaw set in determination. He dialed. “Doctor Brown, this is Sheldon Cooper. Unless you wish me to show up on your front doorstep, I suggest you call in a seven day regimen of antibiotics for me. It’s an emergency.”
His groggy private physician responded in the affirmative and Sheldon hung up, pleased to have hired the man.
Turning on his laptop, he typed in a few search words and stared at the screen, overwhelmed by the plethora of contradicting data. His tongue suddenly felt overly large in his mouth, making it difficult for him to swallow. He ground his teeth together. While this wasn’t a familiar area of study, he possessed an IQ of 187.
He would do this and by all the ghosts of Alderaan, he’d do it well.
Chapter 3: Chapter Three
Penny bobbed her head to the radio as she added M&M buttons to the snowmen sugar cookies. She was expected across the hall at 3pm for Christmas dinner with the gang, so she had less than twenty minutes to finish. Hopefully Sheldon had recovered from his freak-out last night. He’d even left behind his precious light saber. She wasn’t about to tell him that she’d used it to get to her bedroom. Fortunately, the power came back on early this morning.
An M&M squished as she pressed down a little too hard on it. If someone had given her a gift worth four hundred and fifty thousand dollars, she would have at least had the decency to say thank you. God, he was crazy. Or maybe she was the crazy one. What did she expect, for him to throw his arms around her like that time with the napkin? She poked savagely at another defenseless cookie and it cracked in half.
A cadence of knocks and the repetitious sound of her name startled her and she nearly knocked the plate off the counter.
Of course. He was back for his stupid night light. Penny picked it up off the floor and swung the door open. “Looking for this?”
Sheldon looked from her to the light saber, then gingerly took it from her hand. “Oh. I must have mistakenly left it behind yesterday evening.”
Penny lifted an eyebrow. “You mean after you ran away?”
“I didn’t run away, I merely exited the room quickly,” he said, casting a nervous glance over his shoulder. “May I come in?”
“Fine,” she said, walking over to lean back against the breakfast bar, arms folded across her chest. Closing the door behind him, he carefully propped his toy up against the wall then moved to stand before her, hands linked behind his back.
“Have you brushed your teeth thoroughly today, Penny?”
Okay. He was definitely the crazy one. Not her. “Just tell me why you’re here already.”
He took a step forward, a strained expression on his face. “I’m here to rectify the situation you foolishly created by gifting me a first edition Flash comic book. Now, did you or did you not brush your teeth in the last four hours?”
Penny shot him an irritated look. “Of course I did. I may not have the cleanest apartment, but I do care about personal hygiene.”
“What a relief,” he said and moved closer, now invading her personal space. Penny lifted her chin to meet his focused blue gaze, bewildered by his proximity.
Twitchy hands rose to frame her face, tilting her head to the side. “Ten degrees off vertical should be optimum,” he murmured.
“For what?” she asked, her pulse racing as she felt the warmth of his breath on her cheek. Was he going to examine her teeth or something?
“Merry Christmas, Penny.” Leaning in, he closed the distance between them and brushed his mouth tentatively across hers.
She was too stunned to even respond.
His second pass was just as soft, but more experimental. A tingling sensation spread across her lips as he traced the shape of her mouth with his and her eyes involuntarily fluttered shut.
The smell of mint and antiseptic tickled her nose. Reality set in. Sheldon Cooper was kissing her.
She gasped and he pressed closer, one hand trailing across her cheek and into her hair.
He made a frustrated sound in the back of his throat, the one he made when someone wasn’t following his crazy rules.
Oddly enough, it spurred her into action. She freed her arms which had been caught between their bodies and gripped the sides of his layered shirts, hauling him forward until he was flush against her.
It was his turn to gasp as she nipped lightly at him, slanting her mouth to slide seductively along his. Penny wasn’t a genius, but she definitely knew how to kiss, her education beginning behind the barn with Bobby Norton when she was thirteen years old. She’d been an excellent student.
This time, Sheldon made a different kind of noise, the kind he usually made whenever she was beating him at Halo. She hummed in satisfaction.
He drew back a hair’s-breadth, just enough to take in a much needed breath, then crushed his mouth back against hers. Electricity shot down her spine as he utterly abandoned the methodical and calculated movements from before. Her knees actually went weak and if one long arm hadn’t snaked around her waist to support her, she would have certainly embarrassed herself by crumpling to the ground.
She felt his mouth curve smugly against hers and she took it as a challenge, excitement zinging through her veins at the thought of going toe to toe with Sheldon like this.
This was her arena. She couldn’t let him win.
Catching his bottom lip between her teeth, she sucked on it hard, teasing him with lingering sweeps of her tongue.
Sheldon jerked back from her and Penny caught a glimpse of wild blue eyes before he turned tail and ran out of her apartment.
He didn’t even shut the door.
Penny slid to the floor, her rubbery legs unable to hold her up any longer.
She raised a trembling hand to her still tingling lips.
Holy crap on a cracker.
Sheldon Lee Cooper had kissed her. Passionately. And she’d liked it.
Hysterical laughter bubbled up out of her, then slowly died away, quickly replaced by growing anger.
He’d kissed her and then ran off like she was a carrier for some sort of infectious disease.
Her cell phone chimed. It was Amy, wondering where she was.
Getting up from the floor, she carelessly piled the remaining unfrosted cookies onto the platter. The damn things were good enough on their own as it was.
She poured a small amount of spiced rum into a glass and shot it back. Screw egg nog. Penny would likely need the entire bottle before this awkward Christmas dinner was over.
Grabbing the rum and the plate of cookies, she left her apartment and entered 4A.
Amy, Raj, Bernadette, and Howard were already seated around the table. Raj had clearly done most of the cooking as a magazine worthy turkey took center stage.
Amy patted the empty seat beside her. “I saved a place for you, bestie, though it looks like we’ll have an open chair anyhow since Sheldon’s refusing to leave his room.”
Leonard was pounding on the bedroom door. “Sheldon! Get out here!”
There came a muffled reply, then silence.
Leonard finally gave up and sat down at the table, shaking his head. “He says he’s sick.”
Penny’s mouth fell open. Sick? So, he felt ill after kissing her, was that it?
Oh, hell no.
“Tell him if he doesn’t come out in five seconds, I’m going to put his Hulk hands in the hot oven.”
Three sets of male eyes stared at her in horror.
Raj stole Howard’s beer and took a swig. “You can’t do that! Those used to be mine! And they’re signed by Stan Lee.”
Howard nodded in agreement. “That’s a little excessive, don’t you think?”
“No, I think it’s a great idea.” Penny went over to the bookcase and retrieved both of the giant green hands. Walking into the kitchen, she caught the handle of the oven door with her elbow and opened it. She had half a mind to just shove them in there regardless. He’d deserve it after running out on her.
The dark-haired physicist gave a heavy sigh, then yelled over his shoulder down the hall. “Sheldon, Penny is going to melt your Hulk hands in the oven if you don’t come out.”
The bedroom door slammed open and Sheldon marched out of his room and into the kitchen, his face twisted in frustration. “Haven’t you caused me enough grief today, woman?”
Penny’s eyebrows shot up. He thought she’d caused him grief? Her eyes narrowed. “I’ll show you grief, Shel-Bot.”
She moved to toss the ugly green pieces of plastic inside, but Sheldon darted forward and caught both her wrists in his hands, kicking the oven door shut.
They glared at each other and Penny pretended that the goosebumps on her arms were from the loss of heat from the oven and not from the feel of his fingers touching her skin.
The sound of an iPhone camera clicking caused them both to look toward the table. Everyone was staring at them. Amy was taking photos.
“That one was blurry,” the neurologist said with a frown. “Would you mind scowling at Penny again, Sheldon? Your face greatly resembled one of my test monkeys when forced to choose between two addictive substances.”
He straightened. “No, I most certainly will not.”
Releasing her wrists, he grabbed the Hulk hands from her. He inspected them closely, then set them carefully back on the bookshelf.
“Come on guys, it’s Christmas. Let’s try to at least get along, okay?” Leonard asked, a slight whine in his tone.
Penny wrinkled her nose. She hated that nasal whine of his. It was a good thing they weren’t dating anymore.
She returned to her seat and with a long suffering sigh, Sheldon took the chair across from her, eyes focused on the empty plate in front of him.
“Let’s eat,” Raj said, “I don’t want the turkey or gravy to go cold.”
Dishes were passed around in clockwise formation, plates filling with Bernadette’s garlic mashed potatoes, Amy’s green bean casserole, and Leonard’s sourdough rolls. Raj’s beautiful bird was quickly carved and slices of moist turkey meat were doled out.
Sheldon was the only one who wasn’t eating. He was too busy dismembering a sourdough roll and arranging the pieces across his plate in some bizarre design.
Howard frowned. “Sheldon, aren’t you concerned about germs after touching Penny?”
He didn’t even look up. “I just ingested a powerful dose of broad spectrum antibiotics. I seriously doubt her bacterial organisms stand a chance.”
Penny took a vicious bite out of her roll. So, that’s how he wanted to play it, huh?
Leonard cleared his throat. “Since we didn’t get a chance to spend Thanksgiving together, I thought we could go around in a circle and reflect back upon the year and mention something we’re grateful for.”
“That’s a wonderful idea,” said Bernadette. “Who wants to go first?”
Penny set her glass down with a thud. “I will. I’m thankful for social skills, even though some people don’t have them.”
Sheldon’s head shot up. “I’m grateful for car owners who repair their check engine lights and don’t drive while wearing flip-flops.”
“I’m glad I kicked your ass at Halo the entire year.”
Howard cut in. “Uh, guys, I thought we were supposed to take turns.”
“Shut up, Howard,” Penny said, her eyes fixed on Sheldon, who leaned forward in his seat.
“I appreciate true friends who don’t give me gifts that force me into unbearable situations requiring distasteful actions on my part.”
Distasteful? Penny had an overwhelming urge to stab Sheldon’s hand with her fork. “I’m thankful for real men who don’t kiss me out of the blue and then cowardly run away.”
Raj whistled. “Wow, those are really specific.”
Amy looked from her to Sheldon. “I see you keep glancing at Penny’s mouth. You must have noticed, as I have, that her usual cherry lip gloss is missing, the majority of which is smeared around the outer perimeter of her lips, indicating she’s been recently kissed.”
Penny nearly choked on her water and Sheldon hunched down in his chair. “I have no comment on the matter.”
“Oh, is that why you were late, Penny? Were you making out with some guy beneath the mistletoe?” Bernadette asked in a teasing voice, craning her head around Howard to see her.
Penny felt her face heating up as everyone eyed her with interest. Everyone except Sheldon who was stabbing at his green beans.
“Was it that new guy who just moved in upstairs?” Raj asked. “I saw him checking you out the other day.”
Amy patted Penny’s arm. “Everyone checks Penny out.”
Sheldon snorted. “That guy makes a Neanderthal look positively advanced. I seriously doubt the big ape knows how to string two words together, let alone the techniques of osculation.”
“Right, because you know so much about kissing,” Leonard said sarcastically, shoving his glasses up his nose.
“Yeah,” Howard said, “Were you a witness or something?”
Penny lifted a single brow at him in challenge.
Sheldon fidgeted. “I suppose you could say that.”
She gave a bitter little laugh and tossed her napkin onto the table. “It doesn’t matter because it wasn’t that good of a kiss anyhow.”
His eyes narrowed. “From my perspective, you certainly appeared to be enjoying yourself.”
Her heart skipped a beat. “What about him? Do you think he enjoyed it?”
Sheldon’s face spasmed, and he looked at her with something akin to fear in his eyes. The expression disappeared, quickly replaced by a stoic mask. “I have to go.”
Penny’s stomach dropped. He was going to run away again.
“You can’t leave! It’s Christmas! The buses aren’t even running,” Leonard protested as Sheldon grabbed his messenger bag.
“I’ll take a cab to work,” he replied, picking up his keys out of the glass bowl.
“The University is closed. How do you even plan on getting inside?”
Sheldon shot Leonard an arrogant look. “I have my ways.”
“Dude, you’re acting really crazy,” Raj said, with a frown. “More so than normal.”
Amy sighed. “Sheldon isn’t crazy. His mother had him tested.”
Sheldon put his hand on the doorknob. “Yes, she did. However, due to recent events, I believe it’s high time for me to be tested again.”
With that, he exited the apartment, shutting the door quietly behind him.
The entire room fell silent, then erupted in chaos.
Penny sighed and poured herself another glass of rum. It was just like Christmas back home.
Chapter 4: Chapter Four
Sheldon walked down the abandoned corridors of Caltech. Turning the corner, he finally caught sight of the entrance to the neuroscience lab. Opening the door, he was surprised to find the lights on and various machinery humming with life.
Who would be here on Christmas day?
A tall woman in a lab coat popped up from behind a large piece of equipment. “Oh, hello. May I help you?”
He hesitated, then mentally shrugged. Only a true obsessive would be working in a lab right now. Perhaps she could help. “I need my brain tested for abnormalities.”
She walked around the table, a smile on her face. “Well, you’ve certainly come to the right place.”
“Excellent,” he said, taking a seat in a nearby chair.
Settling a pair of horn-rimmed glasses across her nose, the gray-haired woman removed a pencil from behind her ear, and readied her clipboard for note-taking. “Have you suffered any kind of trauma recently?”
Sheldon fiddled with his messenger bag, then looked up to meet her blue eyes. “I kissed my best friend two hours, thirty-three minutes, and twenty-nine seconds ago.”
The woman cocked her head to the side. “I see. I have a number of tests available, but I’ll need additional data to determine which one is best.”
He nodded. “Of course. Penny gifted me with a priceless vintage comic book and as a result I was forced to fulfill her Christmas wish for a kiss to restore balance to our friendship paradigm.”
“Could you please expound upon the kiss?”
The metal table felt shockingly cool to his suddenly sweaty palms. “I found it unsettling.”
“Did you experience a release of epinephrine and norepinephrine into your bloodstream?”
The scientific terminology soothed him. “Yes. My heart rate increased substantially.”
“Any other irregularities?”
“Usually, my mind is constantly in motion, busy generating formulas and algorithms to solve the mysteries of the universe. When I kissed Penny, all of that disappeared and I regressed to a Neanderthal-like state, enslaved by hormones.” Spock would be so disappointed in him.
He could hear her pencil scribbling across the paper.
“I wasn’t supposed to feel anything.” He gripped the edge of the table, a surge of frustration running through him. “There is no logical reason for me to dwell upon the event nor for me to wish for a second opportunity.”
She looked up from her clipboard, eyes narrowed. “I do have a procedure in mind for you, however I would need access to personal photos. Do you and your friend have Facebook accounts?”
Sheldon nodded. “Penny’s page mostly contains photos of her cavorting about in drunken revelry.”
“That will do. Please login to your Facebook page for me,” she said, gesturing to a nearby computer.
He complied and with a few clicks, the photos were downloaded.
“It may take a moment for the software to integrate the new data into its system. Please follow me.”
She took him into another room. It was cold and glaringly white, bare except for an MRI machine. He’d had one done when he was eight years old.
“Do you have any metallic implants in your body?”
He did. Unfortunately, it wasn’t metal alloy adamantium. “I have a Mexican peso lodged up my right nostril, however, it was struck before 1992 and contains no magnetic material.”
“Good. It won’t be going anywhere soon, then,” she said, gesturing for him to lay down.
He situated himself as comfortably as possible. “How shall we proceed?”
“After you’ve entered the machine, various photos will appear one by one on a screen above you. You don’t need to respond in any way, just remain as still as possible. I will be monitoring your brain activity to determine whether there are any aberrations.”
Sheldon exhaled slowly. “Will you look for lesions as well?”
“Of course,” she said, with an encouraging smile. “We can look over the results together afterwards.”
“That sounds reasonable.”
She gave him a little wave and left the room. A few minutes later, the bed he was on retracted and he found himself inside. It was fortunate he was not claustrophobic. The machine gave a loud humming sound and as she’d explained, an image formed above him. It was a picture of a Union Pacific Bigboy locomotive. One of his favorite trains. It remained for ten seconds before fading away. The next one was of Penny making a kissy face. The third one was a visual representation of the Schwarzschild wormhole. It was lovely.
Sheldon soon lost track of time as image after image flared in front of his eyes. There was a loud clunking sound as the machine died down and the sudden silence felt oddly overwhelming to his ears. He jerked in surprise when the bed returned to its earlier position.
A female voice came on the intercom. “Whenever you’re ready, please meet me back in the lab.”
He laid there for a minute, allowing his eyes to adjust to the abrupt change in lighting, then retraced his steps to the lab. Equal parts curiosity and trepidation churned inside him. It would be best to go with a lower fiber cereal tomorrow.
The neuroscientist stood next to the metal table from earlier. A series of glossy black photos were laid out across the surface. As he moved to stand beside her, he recognized them as images of his brain, various areas lit up with activity.
Relief filled him. There weren’t any lesions at least.
She waved a hand at the table. “These photos indicate your brain’s response to various visual stimuli. The software has combined the results into specific categories. These include your career, hobbies, interpersonal relationships, and a random sample provided by the software.”
He nodded. “How do the results look?”
“Good, although, there was one odd response, but I have a feeling it must have been a glitch of some kind.”
She tapped a photo which indicated two starbursts. “There was activity in the visual cortex which is perfectly normal since you’re processing images, however the left anterior cingulate cortex also lit up, which is odd. It meant you found the random image generated by the software particularly stimulating.”
He swallowed. “What was the image?”
She gave a little laugh. “It was a picture of old vellum paper with Chinese symbols written on it.”
“Oh.” A vision of smooth skin and the dark bold lines of a tattoo briefly short-circuited his brain.
Hoping to move on to the main results, he pointed to a different photo which showed a great deal of activity. Three areas looked like small wildfires of red, orange, and yellow. He smiled. “This must have been when you showed me images related to my work.”
Shaking her head, she pointed to a marginally less active image. “Actually, this is the one related to your career. You can see where the reward centers of the brain are lit up, indicating you receive considerable enjoyment from your profession.”
He frowned, staring back at the photo that looked like an explosion of fireworks. “What about this one?”
She coughed. “The activated pathways in this image are regions of the brain that regulate dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin.”
He suddenly wished he’d paid more attention when Amy was babbling on about her work. “What does that mean?”
“Scientists believe these areas are active when a subject is experiencing romantic love.”
“Which category was it?” he croaked out, hoping against hope it was his hobbies, though the hard knot forming in his stomach told him otherwise.
“This is how your brain responded to images of Penny.”
Great Gallifrey. Her words rang out with horrifying finality.
Sheldon fell heavily into a nearby chair. This was so much worse than he’d expected. He was doomed.
She pulled up a chair across from him. “Let me assure you. There is nothing wrong with your brain. Love is a normal part of life.”
He glared at her. “I’d prefer lesions over love any day.”
“I’ve felt that way myself a time or two,” she said with a grin.
Placing his now aching head in his hands, he massaged his temples. “I’ll have to cut her out of my life,” he mumbled.
She clucked her tongue at him and he was reminded strongly of his Meemaw. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. There’s a good chance you’d experience considerable negative repercussions which could impact all areas of your life, including your work.”
She tapped the brain image for emphasis. “These neural pathways of yours were dormant most of your life, but they’re now very much awake. You can’t just flip a switch and shut them off. It doesn’t work like that,” she said.
“Perhaps I can pretend to be unaffected.”
The woman gave a low chuckle. “You might as well join the ranks of the Flat Earth Society while you’re at it. You’re a man of science, and it would go against every fiber of your being to deny the truth of the evidence before you. Science doesn’t lie and it’s clear your mind, body, and heart have chosen Penny.”
He slowly shook his head. “I dislike change.”
“Nothing is static. The very cells in your body are actively living, dying, and being replaced on a daily basis,” she said as she gathered the photos and slipped them into a manila envelope.
She handed it to him. “It’s up to you whether you wish to embrace this particular change or not.”
He stood up on shaky legs. “I’ll think on what you’ve said. Thank you for your help.”
Holding the door open for him, she gave him a smile. “Everyone needs a brain scan now and then. Merry Christmas, Doctor Cooper.”
He nodded and left the lab. He was halfway across campus by the time he realized he’d never told her his name.
After hours of pacing around his office, he finally came to a decision. He read over the document a final time, then pushed print. The machine gave a loud beep and a single piece of paper shot out into the tray.
Picking up the page, he slipped his messenger bag over his shoulder and headed for the exit. It was dark outside, half past eight according to his watch. It was going to be rather difficult finding a cab. He was in for a long wait. Fortunately, the area in front of the building was well-lit, so he needn’t be concerned about vagabonds.
He pulled out his phone and stared at it. Maybe someone could come pick him up. The sound of an asthmatic engine filled the air. He knew it well. Sure enough, Penny’s unreliable Volkswagen pulled up to the front of the building. It coughed to a stop and she got out, marching toward him purposefully.
His treacherous body responded by treating him to sweaty palms, heart palpitations, and a fluttery feeling in his stomach. If he died right now, it would be a tragic loss for the scientific community and the world at large.
“Sheldon, what the hell? It’s been hours!”
“I was busy having my brain scanned for abnormalities.”
She folded her arms across her chest. “I could’ve told you how weird your brain was without any tests at all.”
He shook his head. “The results, though startling, were depressingly normal.”
With a sigh, she turned away, then abruptly swung back to face him, narrowed green eyes focusing on him. “You never answered my question from earlier.”
Penny poked him in the chest, right in the middle of his Green Lantern t-shirt, each word was emphasized with another tap. “Did you enjoy it?”
Heat filled his face. “I would have thought the answer was obvious.”
Her hands went to her hips. Never a good sign. “Obvious? It’s obvious you’re insane! You kiss me, then run away like I’m diseased or something. You pretend to be sick to avoid me, then run away again to get your crazy head examined. Where in that giant whackadoodle mind of yours is the answer obvious?”
Sheldon hesitated. It was true he hadn’t adhered to the rules of social protocol following the kiss. He’d been too overwhelmed by his own reactions to the event to even consider how his behavior had appeared to her.
A gust of wind caught on the paper in his hand and it fluttered out of his grasp to land at Penny’s feet. He jerked forward to grab it before she could, but her Halo-honed reflexes were too quick for him.
She held it up to the light and her mouth fell open. Her next words came out an angry shriek. “A dissolution of friendship contract?!?”
The paper crumpled into her fist as she advanced on him, eyes full of hurt. “You’re going to throw away our friendship over one stupid kiss?”
“You misunderstand, Penny. Allow me to explain.”
She threw the ball of paper at him and it bounced off his forehead before falling to the ground. “I understand enough!”
A surge of frustration filled him, and he caught her by both arms and yanked her to him. “No, you most certainly do not.”
She opened her mouth to no doubt offer up more angry protestations, but he bent his head and crushed his lips to hers.
The world momentarily melted away.
Kissing Penny was a lot like operating a homemade CAT scanner, except instead of receiving radiation burns, he was experiencing an entirely different type of heat. It flooded through his system, sweeping through his brain and curling his toes, leaving shivery sensations in its wake.
He finally drew back for fear his brain would incur damage from lack of oxygen. He hadn’t quite acquired the skills necessary for prolonged kissing. Penny’s face was so close he could make out the tiny freckles across the top of her nose. Her eyes were still shut and he congratulated himself on his successful silencing method. Perhaps he’d get to utilize it again in the future.
“Will you allow me to explain now?”
Her eyelids fluttered open and her cheeks pinked. “Fine, but if you ever try to shut me up again like that I’ll go Junior Rodeo on your ass.”
Somehow the threat of ‘Junior Rodeo’ didn’t sound quite as ominous as it once had. In fact, there was a small part of him that was intensely curious to discover exactly what that entailed. But that was for another time.
“I was hoping you might be amenable to dissolving our current contract so that we could replace it with an entirely different paradigm, one that is romantic in nature.”
She exhaled sharply, staring at him with wide eyes.
The prolonged silence continued and icy cold terror gripped his heart. Had he misinterpreted her reaction to him?
Suddenly, a bright smile beamed across her face, rather like the rising suns of Tatooine. “Where do I sign?” she asked.
Relief caused a breath of air to whoosh out of him and he found himself smiling back at her. He looked down at the ground for the document and discovered he was currently standing on it. “I’m afraid I’ll need to reprint it.”
She snickered. “How about a verbal agreement in the meantime?”
“I believe you mean an oral contract,” he said, choosing to ignore her exaggerated eye-roll. “I suppose that will have to do, though I find an official notarized document to be vastly superior.”
A flashy car drove by and his Vulcan-like hearing caught the sound of holiday music. His arms tightened around Penny involuntarily.
He’d received a Christmas wish he hadn’t known he’d wanted until now.
She grinned and lightly bumped her nose against his. “We could always seal the deal with a kiss.”
Sheldon’s heart sped up in response, but this time, he didn’t mind so much. “That sounds eminently reasonable.”
“Good,” she said, wrapping her arms around his neck. “Because it’s non-optional.”
This time Penny kissed him and Sheldon had no complaints whatsoever.
Jessica walked toward a cherry red 1966 Ford Mustang convertible. A tall man leaned against the hood, humming along to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”.
Kissing him on the cheek, she lifted one brow. “Shouldn’t you be sleeping?”
“Yes, but I discovered my beautiful wife was missing from my bed.”
He nodded at the couple kissing in front of the building. “I see you’ve been busy.”
She shot him a satisfied grin. “You’re not the only one who deals in Christmas miracles, Nick.”