Penny at first meant it as a joke.
She was in Claire’s with, surprisingly, Raj and Howard. Penny still wasn’t quite sure why she had let them come along. Howard had said something about picking up women, Penny had responded with a, “Please don’t, Howard, they’re all pubescent where I’m going,” and Howard had responded with a, “What about the moms? Are they pubescent?,” and Penny had regretted ever watching Desperate Housewives in front of him.
She was trying to pick up a few gifts for the little sister of one of the other waitresses at the Cheesecake Factory, but she was spending most of her time dragging Howard and, by association, Raj away from women to whom Howard kept insisting that it’s “time to get off of Wisteria Lane and on—” (and this is the part where Penny would interrupt them.)
So here she was, feeling herself like another of the frustrated moms of the twelve year-old girls in this store where they were bombarded by everything pink, purple, sparkly, and flowery, and everything felt really short and claustrophobic, so she pushed Raj and Howard toward a random display of hanging silver sparkly things and ordered, “Browse and don’t talk to anybody.”
She had just picked out two pairs of earrings when she happened to gaze over at her boys, to find them snickering like a couple of nine year-olds, each of them holding a piece of jewelry pinched between their forefinger and thumb. Frowning, she made her way over.
They were each holding two halves of a heart. The one Howard was holding said “Best” and the one Raj was holding said “Friend”. Penny recognized them as the jewelry that was all the rage back when she was in middle school, where you didn’t really have a best friend unless the two (or three) of you were wearing matching jewelry. She smiled a little. “What are you two doing?”
Raj’s giggles dissolved into a squeak and he seized up (and shut up), but Howard turned around to face her. Penny made sure to take a cautious step back. “They actually still sell things like this?”
“Well… yeah!” Penny said, a little offended, because she’d owned more than her fair share during her life. “Little girls love this kinda stuff.” She felt a rush of affection as she reached out to the display, touching another pair of necklaces. This pair was two slices of bread, one covered in peanut butter and the other covered in jelly. Each slice of bread had a little happy face painted on it. When her finger touched them, they swayed and spun.
“Here’s an idea,” came Wolowitz’s voice, still joking, from behind her. “Raj and I will get one, and you can get one for you and Sheldon—”
“Me and Sheldon?” Penny asked, quickly, spinning around again. Once again, Howard was too close for comfort, and she had to take a step backwards. “Well, what about me and Leonard?” Even to herself she sounded defensive.
“Well, you and Leonard are dating, kind of—” He muttered the last to words in a way that made Penny think she wasn’t supposed to hear. Her eyebrows shot up. Raj leaned over to whisper something in Howard’s ear, which made him nod. “—good point; and you two are always on the same Halo team. And, let’s face it,” he laughed, “it’ll be really freakin’ hilarious.”
She thought a little about Howard saying they were best friends, and she managed to think about this without looking like she was thinking about it, something which for some reason she didn’t want Howard or Raj to know.
She shook her head, a little annoyed at him, and moved to touch the peanut-butter-and-jelly necklaces again. “Sheldon would never wear this.”
The silence behind her made her look around again. They each were staring at her in a very significant way.
“Omigosh I could so make him wear this,” Penny realized.
Penny let herself into 4A when she got back. Sheldon was at his desk, working apparently very intently, going back and forth between his laptop and a pile of neatly organized papers. She allowed herself to watch him for a moment before she approached.
He ignored her.
He continued to ignore her.
She reached out and flicked him above the ear.
He jumped dramatically, spinning and glaring at her smiling face, before letting out his I’m-going-to-explain-this-to-you-even-though-I’m-sure-you-won’t-understand sigh. “I was attempting, by not responding to your constant bids for my attention, to ‘give you the hint’—” Yes, he actually used air quotes. “—that I wanted you to go aw—”
He shut up when Penny dangled a necklace in front of his face. He affixed his gaze onto it for a full five seconds, before flickering his eyes back up to her. He clearly didn’t understand, and that clearly annoyed him.
“That is not mine. I did not buy it, ergo it is not mine.”
“I’m giving it to you.”
“You know I do not accept gifts.”
“It’s not a gift. It’s a non-optional social obligation.”
He did what could most accurately be defined as a snobby sniff (without doing any actual inhaling) before turning away from her back to his work. “The term is non-optional social convention.”
“In this case, Sheldon, it’s an obligation. Put on the damn necklace.”
“I’m not a girl, I do not wear jewelry.”
“Men wear jewelry all the time. They call it bling. Or being married.”
“And I am neither a rapper nor a husband.”
She rolled her eyes. “That’s not my point.”
“Penny,” he said, swiveling in his seat to face her once more. “We can continue this useless conversation for a few more minutes, or we can concede that I win and you can get on with your day.”
“Sheldon,” she replicated his tone. It made his expression turn wary. “This is a friendship necklace. Since we’re best friends—” She waited a moment, but he made no move to contest the term, and that made her smile a bit. “—we both have to wear one. See?” She produced the other one, the slice of toast covered in jelly. “This one’s mine. And this one is yours.” She brandished the peanut-butter one in front of his face, causing him to push his chair back and stand.
“I don’t see the point.”
“Of course you don’t,” she muttered. “Look, just turn around.”
To nobody’s surprise, he didn’t.
“Fine. I guess that means we’re not best friends. Just see what happens next time you run out of herbal tea or need a ride anywhere.” She made to leave.
“Your argument is fallacious! How does my wearing or not wearing a piece of kitsch jewelry have anything to do with friendship?” He moved forward three steps as he spoke, so now that he was next to the couch.
“Oh, Sheldon.” Penny looked at him from over her shoulder, her hand on the doorknob. “It has everything to do with it.”
It took almost everything she had not to laugh at the crunched, consternated expression that appeared on his face. His lips pursed and his eyes angry, he jerkily turned around and bent his head. “Fine.”
Penny did a silent dance from by the door, then approached him. With a little bit of difficulty she unhooked the catch and brought it around the front of his neck. Just as she was about to get the little loop in, he crossed his arms, causing her to miss.
“Dammit, Sheldon, stop squirming!”
“I’m still not entirely comfortable with this.”
“Yeah, well, I need to get it in, and we’ll be here longer if you keep moving.”
“Why don’t you let me do it? It’s mine, in any case.”
“I have more experience in this field. …God, it’s too awkward with us standing up, sit down.”
“What is going—oh.”
Leonard rushed in from the front door to see Penny bending over Sheldon, him looking all the part of a petulant child as she struggled to get the clasp of a necklace. But at the sound of the door, Penny jumped, causing her to mess up again.
“Jesus!” she exclaimed, dropping the chain. It landed on the couch, sliding under Sheldon’s leg. She dug it out causing him to jump about eight feet in the air. “Calm down,” she said, crossly. “And keep still.”
He did so, his face still crunched, as she finally got the clasp in. With a satisfied smile, she lifted her own up and after several moments the toast-with-jelly charm was resting atop her collarbone. Smiling, she threw herself down onto the middle cushion.
Leonard moved into the apartment, staring at Penny and Sheldon quizzically, putting his bag down onto his desk. “You wanna clue me in?” he asked.
Penny was still grinning smugly. “BFF necklaces, see? We’re peanut butter and jelly!” She gestured between herself and Sheldon. Sheldon had his arms crossed and was looking crankily in the other direction.
Leonard just stared.
Sheldon was bent over nearly double in his office, writing on the bottom quarter of his board, when he realized someone was standing in his doorway. He was able to tell because the very slight air current into his office was blocked. And the person had declined to introduce themselves, which ruled out Leonard, Wolowitz, Koothrappali, Gabelhauser, or any intimidated grad student whose stammering introductions he was frequently forced to endure. Also, he was able to hear the lazy, shuffle-pad coming down the hall and stop in his doorway, which only meant that it was—
He straightened, putting the pen on his cap, and affixed onto his visage his best imperious look. “Dr. Winkle.”
He pursed his lips, turned around, and wished for not the first time in his life that he could use the Force and throw someone across the hall.
Winkle had opened her mouth, no doubt to release whatever juvenile insult was brewing inside her head all day, but her eyes traveled down to his neckline and she paused.
Then he saw something on her face that truly worried him: utter delight.
“Cooper, please tell me that that is a piece of bread with a smiley face on it.”
It must have slipped from under his collar. He reached up and touched it, once, but didn’t put himself through the embarrassment of trying to stash it away. “It is,” was all he could say.
She stared at him a little longer, and Sheldon thought that with just the right amount of concentration he’d be able to harness the Force to throw her back at least a few feet, and slam the door for good measure.
“Well, prom queen,” she drawled, “I hope you have fun tonight painting your toenails and experimenting with mascara.”
He bristled. “For your information, and I suppose I couldn’t possibly expect you to know this, me wearing this,” he pointed at the pendant, “is a non-optional social convention, nay, obligation, within the friendship paradigm.”
Winkle smirked. “Did Malibu Barbie tell you that?”
For some reason, it annoyed him greatly when she referred to Penny as ‘Malibu Barbie.’
“It has more scientific credibility than any clap-trap you think up,” he clipped.
“Whatever. Have fun at Homecoming, prom queen,” she smirked again and moved away, finally leaving him alone.
He continued to glare at the doorway.
This was not okay.
Knock knock knock. “Penny.” Knock knock knock. “Penny.” Knock knock knock. “Penny.”
Penny smiled widely and waited just a few seconds before opening her door. Sheldon sounded hurried and frantic.
She knew he was thisclose to starting another round of knocks when she swung it open. Instantly, the peanut-butter necklace was dangling in front of her eyes.
“This is not okay.”
“What’s not okay? Sheldon, please get that out of my face.”
“Not only did this disrupt my morning routine and remain uncomfortable to wear all day, but Wolowitz kept asking to see it and Leslie Winkle dropped in and made fun of me.”
He glared at the floor as the memory came over him, and the frown transferred to Penny as he looked up. “I don’t believe this is an accurate representation of friendship and I ask that we drop this frightening new parameter to our relationship.”
Penny crossed her arms. Her own necklace was still on, and she wore it through work even though it didn’t match her uniform. And, besides, even though it had started out as a joke she liked the idea of him at CalTech wearing a peanut-butter-toast necklace. “No,” she said, “We had an agreement—”
“We had nothing of the sort!”
“—and, besides, I got a compliment on mine today.”
“The sex and age of the person who complimented you?”
The answer: an eleven year old girl who had the exact same necklace.
The answer she gave him: “Not important.”
He huffed. “At the very least can it be something more suited to my tastes? Like a pair of Bat Signals?”
“Sheldon, I’m not going to be wearing a Bat Signal at work. Besides, it has to be two things that, you know, complement each other. And I am not the Robin to your Batman, because I’m not your sidekick.”
“Don’t be silly, Penny. If I were Batman the world would be my sidekick. It’s no reflection on you.”
She shut the door on him.
The next day, when the boys were gone she went over to their apartment because she had left her toothbrush in the bathroom. On the bathroom counter, she saw the necklace laid out in a perfect coil. She picked it up, frowning, and compared it to the one that was still resting on her collarbone.
And she knew it was stupid but she couldn’t quash the feeling of hurt and loneliness when she pocketed the one he was supposed to be wearing.
The next night was Halo night. She acted distinctly colder to Sheldon, showered all of her attention on Leonard (who she had made to sit on the middle cushion), and paired up with Howard when it was her turn.
Knock knock knock. “Penny.” Knock knock knock. “Penny.” Knock knock knock. “Penny.”
Penny opened the door wordlessly, her eyebrows raised.
As before, she was greeted by something dangling in front of her eyes. She made to swat it away before she saw what it was.
It was a tiny human figure painted in nearly all black. However, she was able to see a peachish-porcelain on the head of the figure, on top of which were two tiny cat ears.
She looked past the charm and at Sheldon, who was expressionless.
“I have the Bat Signal on my keychain,” he said.
Remembering that she was supposed to be annoyed with him, Penny turned around and shut the door on him.
Of course, she remembered to take from him the necklace first.
The next morning she made sure to actually get up early (ugh) so she was able to hear the sound of the boys leaving. When she heard the unmistakable sound of Sheldon ranting as he walked out of his apartment, she left her own.
“Sheldon, gimme your keys.”
Leonard and Sheldon stared at her.
“Are you missing your spare—hey!”
When he didn’t comply right away, she reached forward and snatched them from his fingers. Ignoring his complaints, she took the pendant out of her pocket and managed to slide the little loop onto the keychain. The peanut-butter-toast charm ended up being right next to his Bat Signal.
She expected him to protest after she tossed his keys back to him, but he simply looked at the new addition and said, “Fair enough.”
Penny spared a cheeky grin, played with the charms at her necklace (Catwoman and Jelly were great bosom-buddies), gave Leonard a kiss on the cheek and went back to her apartment.
She caught a glimpse of Sheldon when she was turning around to shut her door. He was looking again at his keychain, and she thought he was suppressing a smile.
Penny didn’t bother with hers.