~ soft kitty, warm kitty ~
~ little ball of fur ~
~ hello kitty, fluffy kitty ~
~ fuzzy little blur ~
As Penny bowed before her porcelain god, she contemplated which was worse. The fact that "Soft Kitty" was playing in a continuous loop in her brain, the fact that she couldn't seem to remember the right words to "Soft Kitty", or the fact that the fact that she couldn't remember the right words was bothering her. Just outside that bathroom door was the rest of her apartment and just outside her apartment was the hallway, and on the other side of that hallway was Sheldon Cooper and Sheldon Cooper disapproved of the incorrect words to "Soft Kitty" as they cycled back through Penny's brain, much the same way last night's dinner was cycling back up through her esophagus.
"Fuck you, Sheldon Cooper!" she gurgled between heaves.
~ pretty kitty, fuzzy kitty ~
~ kitties everywhere ~
Her private rebellion gave way to more dinner. She didn't remember eating that much last night. Or drinking that much for that matter. Nor did she remember why she drank that much, but she wasn't trying to remember that. There was usually a reason and she was going to trust herself that it was a reason she didn't want to know. However, maybe just maybe it was time to cut back on the alcohol consumption a teensy bit. Hadn't she just been teasing Raj about needing booze to cope with women? Who was she to be pointing fingers? She and Raj were like two peas in a pod.
Rajesh Koothrappali is an utter bore even aside from his inability to speak to women without being inebriated. He hasn't even written a decent research proposal in years. If you mated with Raj, your children wouldn't know a photon from a gluon.
"Okay, that was freaky." Penny clutched the sink and pulled herself up. What she really needed right now was mouthwash and an explanation for why Sheldon Cooper was in her head talking about mating with Rajesh Koothrappali. Because the only explanation she could come up with off hand — and the one that felt disturbingly probable — was that she and Sheldon Cooper had, in fact, recently discussed the pros and cons of mating with Rajesh Koothrappali and that was just wrong on multiple levels.
It wasn't necessarily true though. She had nightmares when she was drunk. A documented fact. Weird things pop into a person's head at a time like that. She was imagining Sheldon's voice telling her that marriage to Raj would result in elementary-particle-illiterate children because...because...well, pink elephants didn't make sense either.
Her own voice rang back to her, "Yeah, but at least Raj wouldn't talk back, right?" Ha-ha! See, she was just making jokes in her own head. The conversation had never actually happened. Except...except for the part where she remembered that gluons were elementary particles and she had the vague notion that they were sticky because they were made out of glue, colored glue — red, green, and blue glue.
No, no, glue is just a metaphor for the strong interaction of quantum chromodynamics. The color charge doesn't refer to...are you even listening to me?
Oh, God, she had been talking to Sheldon last night. She had — and this was vividly clear to her now — bounced up and down chanting "Blue glue! Blue glue!" until Sheldon had finally declared that she deserved children who didn't know a photon from a gluon so she might as well get Raj drunk and propose so that way they could all be vomiting in the morning.
Just the memory of bouncing made the bathroom tilt dangerously beneath her feet, but the flickering thought that Sheldon might be puking somewhere this very moment made her feel slightly better.
Why would Sheldon be puking? He didn't drink.
~ sick kitty, pukey kitty ~
~ little ball of hair ~
No, not hungover, sick. That's right. Sheldon was sick. His roommate had yet again gone AWOL — "I'm gonna kill you, Leonard" — and Sheldon had called Penny away from a girl's night. And Penny had already been too tipsy to have the sense to say no. "Definitely need to cut back on the alcohol."
She still had no idea how they'd ended up talking about Raj, but, hey, at least it wasn't Howard.
Howard Wolowitz doesn't even have a doctorate. Your children would never be able to respect their father.
Penny did not end up vomiting again, but it was a near thing. The mouthwash wasn't nearly enough to clean the taste from her mouth. A terrible little voice in the back of her head told her this was a job for rum, but she really needed to sort out last night before she went down that road again.
Well, Leonard's just short. And nearsighted. Also lactose intolerant. I could go into a litany of his other failings, but seeing as how you've already considered and rejected developing a long-term pair bond with him, I don't see why you're bringing this up again now.
No need to panic. It had apparently been a generic conversation about breeding stock. Which would be weird if it had been a conversation with anyone other than Sheldon, but with Sheldon a conversation could go in any infinite number of hypothetical directions. The important bit to remember was that it was hypothetical. He could be talking about string theory or DNA strands or potato harvests or photon torpedoes. It didn't matter. Sheldon would take it beyond any rational ending point. In fact, she was pretty sure they'd talked about all of those things last night and potato harvests and photon torpedoes certainly sounded safe. So what if a lecture on DNA involved some unfortunate examples?
~ mommy kitty, daddy kitty ~
~ kittens in the air ~
The gluons had given her a headache though. The more she'd tried to convince Sheldon that they didn't matter the more upset Sheldon had gotten. They'd had a fight about gluons now that she thought about it. This was especially odd since she still wasn't sure what one was, but they floated before her eyes now like pink and blue confetti.
There are no pink gluons! How many times do I have to tell you that?
That bit was still funny. Poor Sheldon. She'd asked him how he knew there were no pink gluons. Had he actually ever seen a gluon? How did he know for sure they weren't yellow or orange or pink or purple or heliotrope? Sheldon had nearly gone apoplectic trying to explain the inability for actual color to exist at the scale of a photon.
This had lead to a discussion of photons, which oddly enough both of them were more comfortable with. Penny thought she could almost wrap her mind around a photon. Not at the current moment where she was having a bit of difficulty wrapping her mind around a toothbrush, but last night for a brief moment, photons had made sense.
Except for one tiny little thing...and it came back to her with crystal clarity. She could see Sheldon bare-chested in his bed surrounded by boxes of tissue. She could smell the Vicks VapoRub. "What I don't get," Penny had mused, poking Sheldon in the chest, "is how photon torpedoes could actually do any damage at all against the Klingons. I mean, we fling light particles at them and so what? How does that work?"
Sheldon had been at a complete loss for words, which as far as Penny could recall was pretty much a first. She'd gradually begun to bubble with giggles. "They don't! That's it! Hee! Oh my God! Photon torpedoes can't work! Dr. Sheldon Cooper is speechless because Star Trek was wrong!"
Penny giggled again now. She felt like shit, but smug shit and she was going to go get some coffee while she felt strong enough to make it to the kitchen.
But snippets of the night before followed her.
I'm not speechless because Star Trek was wrong. Star Trek was a ground-breaking science fiction television program which was nonetheless riddled with scientific inaccuracies. I'm speechless because I can't believe you figured that out on your own. Your Cornhusker DNA might not be as flawed as I had originally assumed. If only you'd had a modicum of education not involving pom-poms, you might actually be an intelligent human being today.
"Huh?" Even now Penny wasn't entirely sure if she felt flattered or insulted and somehow felt both. Also the pieces were realigning themselves in her mind. She'd had it backwards. It had started out with the pink and blue confetti — the bad, bad pink and blue confetti — and had then moved on to gluons and photons and Star Trek and DNA and the abstract consideration of mates. Okay, fine. Weird, but fine. She could live with that. What she could not live with was the lack of the coffee that she was not finding anywhere in her kitchen. Where was the damned coffee?
~ pink kitty, blue kitty ~
~ where? where? where? ~
"Seriously, this is getting annoying."
The idea of leaving the apartment in a quest for coffee seemed akin to leading an assault on Everest at the moment. The phone was much closer than the door and, dammit, Leonard owed her big time. But when she started to dial her mobile phone, she saw the message warning her that she needed to purchase more minutes. That didn't seem possible. She'd just topped up the account a few weeks ago and she didn't use the phone that much.
Given her current ability to focus (or lack thereof), she probably stood a better chance of randomly wandering the streets for a Starbucks than getting the phone working. (Hell, walk long enough and you can't not hit a Starbucks, right?) But she stabbed at her call history anyway. How could she have used up all her minutes already?
And what she saw froze her heart with terror.
"Oh, God. Oh, God, no. I drunk dialed my dad?!"
Is he as smart as Leonard?
As smart as Leonard? As smart as Leonard? My good man, I'll have you know...
"Oh, God!" She had drunk dialed her dad and then let Sheldon talk to him!
~ drunk kitty, stupid kitty ~
~ grrr, grrr, grrr ~
"What the hell did I drink last night?" Pursuing the memories forward from "Blue glue!" was clearly not leading to good places. Maybe she needed to back it up and figure out where this had started. Blue glue. Gluons. No such thing as a pink gluon. Pink and blue confetti. Rum. Frosting. Pink and blue frosting. Pink and blue balloons. More rum. Fuck. Baby shower.
That's how she got sucked back into the land of "Soft Kitty." When Sheldon called, she'd actually been grateful for an excuse to get away from Annabelle's baby shower. And that's how it all kept looping back to DNA and mates and potatoes for some reason. She'd figure out the potatoes later. It was the God-forsaken baby shower with the pastel ribbons and the pastel bows and the pastel mints and the diaper pins with little animal heads on the ends and the stupid giraffe baby rattle.
The fucking giraffe baby rattle had been the last straw. Her eyes began to well up even now. It was fucking adorable, fuck it. It had a stuffed animal exterior and the handle was the neck so it didn't actually have a body, so it was basically a decapitated giraffe, which should have been creepy, but with big baby giraffe eyes so it was adorable.
My Meemaw gave me a stuffed giraffe once. The giraffe is a highly under-appreciated animal. I've never understood why. Much like the platypus, it's physically more improbable than a unicorn, and yet oddly not associated with fantasy lore in any way. You never hear about a princess and her magical giraffe. Why is that? You'd think a giraffe would be useful to a sub-population prone to getting locked in tall towers.
At which point, she just might have curled up in the fetal position and cried on him. Possibly. Maybe. Or not. She hoped she didn't. She was pretty sure she did.
~ soft kitty, hard kitty ~
~ hairy ball of... ~
"Oh, HELL no!"
She could not reconcile the current memory with her father's name on her recent call list (a call that had apparently lasted a horrific 37 minutes) so she stabbed at the "next" button to make it go away, but next...
Just so we're clear on this. Any grandchildren of mine will be going to Sunday school.
"I drunk dialed Sheldon's mother?!" That call had only lasted one and a half minutes which was good...or...very, very bad.
~ sweaty kitty, slinky kitty ~
~ mrrr, mrrr, mrrr ~
"Stop it!" Penny curled up on the couch and tried to focus on her breathing. Think. Think. Calm. Think. There is no way, absolutely no way whatsoever, that she had groped up Sheldon's junk. None. The fact that she could now remember doing so was just a drunken hallucination. When memory fails you, you have to rely on logic and logic clearly proved that there was no way she would ever, ever, ever violate the sanctity of Dr. Cooper's pajama pants.
Logic and reason could also be used to prove that she would never, ever, ever drunk dial her father in the middle of the night and tearfully apologize for not having provided him with grandchildren. Her phone's recent call history said otherwise.
She hugged her knees and tried to focus on her breathing.
Penny. I'm going to have to ask you to leave now.
"Oh, thank God." It was bad. No denying it was bad. She'd gotten soppy drunk and literally thrown herself at Sheldon, but at least he'd turned her down. (Which did not make her feel better exactly, but the alternative was much, much worse.)
She owed Sheldon an apology. A unbelievably huge apology that was no doubt going to involve groveling and humiliation. The longer she put it off, the worse it was going to be. She should probably go over in person, but...maybe she should just check and see how upset he was first.
Penny took a deep breath and carefully pressed buttons on her phone until she (with only one failed attempt) managed to pay for additional minutes. She then dialed the guys' apartment phone and held her breath. When Leonard answered, she blew it out in relief.
"Hello?" Leonard's voice was hesitant and perplexed. In short, normal.
"Hi, it's Penny. Okay, so, on a scale of one to a quadrillion, how upset is Sheldon this morning?"
"Long scale quadrillion or short scale quadrillion?"
"The term quadrillion actually has two distinct values depending on whether you are using the long scale where every term greater than a million is a million times the previous term or the short scale where every term greater than a million is one thousand times the previous term so a quadrillion could mean either ten to the twenty-fourth power or ten to the fifteenth power which can occasionally lead to confusion except of course in this case where all you meant by quadrillion was a really big number in which case I imagine that even the short scale value would be more than sufficient."
~ cranky kitty, grumpy kitty ~
~ little ball of claws ~
"Sorry. What would Sheldon be upset about?"
"Leonard, how upset is he?"
"He's not. I mean more than usual. He's just, y'know, Sheldon."
"Really? So, if I came over there now to apologize, he'd talk to me? He wouldn't barricade himself in his room or threaten me with Jedi mind control?"
"Why would he do that?"
"Leonard." Penny took another deep breath. "Is — it — safe — for — me — to — come — over — there — now?"
"Yeah, sure. Sheldon isn't even here."
"What? We were at code milky green ten hours ago. He didn't go to the emergency room or something, did he?"
"What? No. Code milky green was more like eighteen hours ago. Ten hours ago he upgraded to code milky yellow and asked me bring him lozenges on the way home. One package of every type of lozenge I could find. For some reason, he said Vicks VapoRub now has 'disconcerting stimulating associations' and he's comparing alternative therapies. This morning he said he had an important research proposal to type up and left at the crack of dawn."
"You can still come over if you want."
"Do you have coffee?"
"Uh, sure. Come on over and we'll have coffee ready for you."
"Where's the coffee?"
"Oh." Leonard was still clutching his cellphone to his ear. "Right. Because you live right across the hall and it only takes a few seconds to...Right, coffee coming right up. It's just not quite actually ready yet. I'll just...find the filters...and hang up the phone."
Raj and Howard just stared at her. Raj wasn't even bothering to do that shifty thing where he looked out of the corner of his eyes and tried to pretend he wasn't staring. Finally Raj leaned over and whispered in Howard's ear. "I have no idea what happened to her."
Penny grunted and flopped onto Sheldon's spot on the couch. Flopping turned out to be a mistake as it was far more jarring to her body, and more importantly the head attached to her body, than she intended it to be. She whimpered and curled up.
"Hungover?" Howard asked.
Penny just whimpered again.
"You know what's awesome for a hangover? Tomato juice and a kosher pickle."
Raj leaned in and whispered again. "Or tea if you want to be a complete sissy. Sorry. His people are obsessed with tea. It probably comes from hanging out with the British for so long. Or the other way around, whatever, stop spitting in my ear, no one cares!"
Leonard hesitated at the coffee maker. "We don't have tomato juice, but we have orange juice and tea. Penny? Coffee, juice, tea?"
Penny waved vaguely. "Yes, please."
"So what the hell happened to you?" Howard asked.
Penny decided she must really look like crap for Howard to go this long without flirting or even making double entendres. She had this horrible feeling Raj might start talking to her soon.
"There was a baby shower and rum and yeah."
"A baby shower and rum?" Leonard asked as he put a mug in the microwave. "Pregnant women aren't supposed to drink alcohol."
"Yeah, well, that's why I was drinking for her."
"You were what?"
"Drinking for her. Every time there was a toast, I'd take a drink and then I'd take another drink for Annabelle. And an extra little sip for the baby."
"That," Leonard stopped pouring the glass of juice while he pondered, "that makes no sense at all. I got nothing." He finished pouring and then removed the mug from the microwave and dunked in a tea bag. He then carried both to the living room. "Here you are. The coffee will be just another minute."
"Baby showers," Howard mused. "I never even thought of baby showers. Hey, isn't there a professor over in the history department who is pregnant? Has she had a shower yet? We should hold a shower."
"Howard, that's disgusting," Leonard said, offering Penny a mug. "You cannot troll baby showers looking for desperate women. That's not how it works."
~ poor kitty, sad kitty ~
~ helpless ball of fur ~
"I sexually molested Sheldon," Penny blurted out clutching the mug that Leonard had just handed her. Leonard froze still half bent over.
"Say what now?"
"Apparently," Howard smiled, "that is how that works." Raj leaned in. "And Raj thinks he saw a pregnant chick in the English department the other day. Are you sure she was actually pregnant and not just fat? Women get very touchy about that."
"Guys," Leonard interrupted. "Can we focus just a moment? Penny, you...sexually molested Sheldon?"
"Not on purpose. He was just sort of there and already kind of half-naked and my hand sort of slipped. Kind of. Okay, maybe a little on purpose. But he'd just been bragging about his genetic superiority and I thought that's how you nerds flirt, right?"
"Are we talking frottage? Clothed? Skin-on-skin?"
"Howard, shut up."
"And I called my dad and I think I promised him grandchildren. And then I called Sheldon's mom and I have no idea what I promised her and then my dad...um...something about potatoes. No, wait." It was all getting terribly blurry again. You can't kill Klingons with photons, but there's going to be a potato war in Texas. She just couldn't parse that in a way that made sense.
Leonard's cellphone rang then, but it was not a reprieve. "Speak of the devil," Leonard said glancing at it. With a flip and a beep, he added, "Hello, Sheldon. Taking a break from typing your proposal?"
"Oh, this isn't a break. I'm basically done. I'm just working on the introduction, the 'pitch' if you will, which requires something of a human touch. I'm not good at that."
"If I didn't think it, why would I say it?"
"Is there something I can do for you, Sheldon?"
"Yes, that's why I called."
"What can I do for you, Sheldon?"
"If you could offer the potential — but not the guarantee — of altering the future of humankind beyond imagining, had the guarantee of trivial positives of no consequential benefit to the world at large, and the definite improvement in socioeconomic status of the person upon whose decision your approval depended, would you begin your pitch with the profound but theoretical, the inconsequential but guaranteed, or the prosaic socioeconomic improvement that some people might view in a cynical light?"
"Money," Penny mumbled. "You want their attention, you lead with greed."
"Is that Penny?"
"Yeah, you're on speaker phone." Leonard smirked.
"Excellent, Penny, your perspective is actually exactly what I need here. You wouldn't feel insulted by an appeal to personal gain?"
"Insulted, maybe. But most people get over that when there's money. Financial gain, blah, blah, these other things as a bonus, blah, blah, did I mention financial gain, blah, blah and once you've already got them sold, mention 'And, by the way, there's a slight chance it could make polar bears fart magic rainbows that reverse global warming.'"
Leonard rubbed his forehead during the resulting silence before finally adding, "I think she was joking about that last part."
"A nonsensical statement to exaggerate the sentiment, a statement also containing the word 'fart' universally recognized as a source of comedy, thus doubling its amusement factor." A sound reminiscent of an asthmatic cat sneezing came out of the cellphone indicating Sheldon's acknowledgment that humor had just occurred.
"And Sheldon," Penny added. "I just wanted to say I'm really sorry about last night for everything. I mean really, really, really sorry."
"Are we still on speaker phone?"
"Oooooh, yeaaaaaahhh." Howard leaned forward.
"I have to go now. I still have to get to the copy store when I'm done typing."
The call disconnected and a silence settled over the room. Finally, Leonard spoke, "He didn't sound upset."
"For the record, if you groped me I wouldn't be upset at all."
"Shut up, Howard." Leonard continued without a pause. "This baby shower thing really freaked you out, huh? Do you want a baby?"
"No! I mean, eventually, maybe, but … you don't know how horrible baby showers are! Everyone there has had a baby or is about to have a baby or can't wait until they are the ones who are about to have a baby and that's all they talk about and then there's you and everyone is all, 'So? You? Baby? When?' and you're all 'Ha! Me? No? Later?' and they're all 'Of course! Travel! Career!' and you're just, 'Pasadena. Cheesecake Factory.' At which point you realize that your entire life to date has pretty much been a waste."
"I had no idea baby showers were so vicious."
Raj leaned into Howard's ear. "She doesn't want to adopt. You're missing the point. She doesn't care how cute Asian babies are."
Penny slumped farther into the couch and held out her cellphone. "Someone make this work right again. I can't focus. There was another call. I'm sure there was a third call, but the call history isn't listing it."
"Another call?" Leonard asked.
"I talked to my dad before I talked to Sheldon's mother. Except I'm pretty sure I talked to my dad after I talked to Sheldon's mother. There's something important that I'm not remembering."
Howard and Raj huddled over the phone for several moments before Howard shook his head. "No the last call was Sheldon's mother and then you used up your pre-paid minutes. If you made any other calls, you must have used another phone."
"Well, I was here."
Howard grabbed his laptop off the coffee table. "Easy then. We just pull up the call history here online. Leonard, what's the password to your landline telephone account?"
Before Leonard could answer, Raj whispered in Howard's ear and he nodded and kept typing. Leonard frowned and bit his lip. "Ah, ha!" Howard said. "Found it. Within a few minutes of your mobile call disconnecting, a call was made on the apartment phone to Texas and to Nebraska. Looks like you had a three-way with both parents."
"Howard," Penny snapped. "Never say 'three-way' in the same sentence as anyone's parents."
"A three-way call," Howard insisted. "It's a perfectly acceptable term."
"Howard, you make everything sound dirty. So just please don't."
"Your dad doesn't even know Sheldon's mom. Why would you conference call them?" Leonard asked.
"I don't know. It's all overlapping in my head. It's Meemaw and photon potatoes and..." Penny shrugged in defeat. "You've met them both. What do they have in common?"
Leonard squinted and tilted his head. "Quite a lot actually."
~ sweet kitty, tired kitty ~
~ little ball of fluff ~
Penny let the guys talk her into a movie marathon, since staying meant she had people to fetch her re-fills on coffee at will. She sat through the entire first part of the Lord of the Rings but put her foot down on part two. The guys had drawn a complete blank when she'd asked for something less boring for the next film.
"You think Middle Earth is boring?" Leonard asked. "Is it the high fantasy that you don't like? Or the little people?"
Man, Penny could just not stop kicking puppies today. "Fantasy is fine. Little people fine. Just, y'know, a teensy bit lighter, fun."
"How light and fun do you want your little people? Like munchkin or oompa-loompa?"
"No oompa-loompas. Oompa-loompas are just creepy."
The guys probably spent another half hour debating which film best met the criteria before finally settling on Willow. This, Penny reflected, had not been the best choice.
"Why do you even want a baby?!" Howard sputtered. "All they do is poop and cry."
Raj leaned leaned in and whispered in his ear again.
"You will not! You say you'll clean up after it, but I know who'll really end up with puke and the diapers."
Penny lifted her head off the arm rest. "Your mother?"
Howard huffed and Raj shrugged. Before Penny could snarl at them, the door opened and Sheldon swooped in clutching an entire bound ream of paper to his chest.
"Hi, Sheldon." Leonard glanced between Sheldon and Penny and waited.
By now Penny's anxiety had transitioned through dread all the way to exhaustion. The hangover had diffused into a general feeling of ill. She was now fairly sure they were both going with the "It never happened" approach to last night. Thus the only immediate concern was the fact that she was about to be kicked out of Sheldon's spot and just the thought of moving made her body ache.
Sheldon walked over and stood expectantly at Penny's left. She dragged herself into something closer to an upright position, but the world — which had previously stabilized — tilted again with the effort. Sheldon held out his proposal. "I had it bound."
"That's nice, Sheldon." Penny tried to slide over, but only managed an inch or two before her energy gave out.
"Metal coil spiral binding instead of plastic."
"Snazzy." One more inch toward the center of the couch.
"It's printed on 20-lb, non-glare paper."
"Fabulous." Another inch.
It wasn't nearly enough space, but with catlike ability Sheldon managed to squeeze himself between Penny and the armrest and then he just expanded until Penny was sliding dangerously close to Howard.
"It's 500 pages exactly, although that includes title pages and diagrams so technically it's cheating a little. And I divided it into 26 main sections as a little private joke."
Penny blinked at him.
"It's a metaphor." He waited expectantly.
Penny turned to the others. "Translation, anyone?"
"String theory predicts the existence of 26 universes," Leonard explained.
Sheldon offered the book to Penny again. When she didn't take it, he placed it squarely in her lap. "My proposal."
Penny stared blearily at the foreign object on her lap. She wasn't at all sure what she was supposed to say now. "It's...pretty?"
"Aren't you going to read it?"
"I've been working on it all day."
"I'm still recovering from..." It probably wasn't a good idea to remind him of the events of last night. "...not feeling very well and I don't think I'm really up to reading anything right now."
"I'm still recovering from an extreme bout of seasonal rhinitis complete with post-nasal-drip-induced nausea and went through half a box of tissue this morning and I kept typing." Sheldon seemed genuinely offended.
"Sweetie, I really can't focus right now. Maybe you could just summarize it for us."
"It's 500 pages, I can't just..." Sheldon's lower lip wobbled briefly as his brain seemed to short circuit.
"Just the basic gist of it."
"I make a lot of money."
"I make a lot of money. Our parents seem to like each other. There's a good chance our children would be tall and they'd definitely be well-educated. I believe I mentioned I make a respectable income. And in summary, I can't actually promise they'd be above average intelligence, but there is always the remote possibility that Leonard was right."
"Our babies might be smart and beautiful."
Penny began frantically flipping through the massive document. "It's a proposal?!"
"I believe I already said that."
Raj latched onto Howard's ear. "Leonard thought you were working on some kind of research proposal. You actually typed a 500-page marriage proposal?"
"Well, I'll admit I didn't type it all from scratch. I was able to cut-and-paste large chunks from the since-defunct, Penny-specific clauses in the roommate agreement. The principal new sections are the introduction, section 15, and sections 19-26 on child-rearing." As an aside to Penny he added in an undertone, "We should probably discuss section 15 when Howard isn't in the room." Penny quickly flipped pages.
"Sheldon, you cannot propose to my ex-girlfriend." Leonard didn't seem angry. He just had the mildly amused expression he got when Sheldon was wasting time on a doomed-but-harmless project.
"There was nothing in the roommate agreement about that," Sheldon insisted.
"I didn't realize there was the possibility that we'd all be magically transported to a parallel universe where you would ever propose marriage to anyone."
"Which means there is no reason I cannot propose matrimony to Penny."
Howard started reading section 15 over Penny's shoulder. "First of all, Sheldon, I think you need to replace the word 'duty' here with 'privilege' and also — What the hell is wrong with you? Who has a pen?"
Raj handed him a pen, but Penny snatched it out of Howard's hand before he could write anything on the page.
"Sheldon," she held the proposal up and shook her head, helplessly at a loss for words.
"You have to read it before you can reject it."
"Sheldon, I'm sorry about last night."
"No apology necessary. I do not blame you for that, although I do suggest you read section 12 on alcohol consumption very carefully."
"Sheldon, we can't...There's no...This is just never happening, okay?"
"Of course, it's happening. Penny, I think you're misunderstanding the purpose of this document. This isn't about whether we get married or not. This is about working out important details before the marriage takes place to avoid later difficulties. As for whether we get married or not, our fate has been sealed since the moment you told my mother that you got into my armadillo pajamas. My Meemaw bought me those pajamas."
"Oh, God. I tarnished the innocence of 'Soft Kitty', Vicks VapoRub, and your armadillo pajamas?" This was really too much for Penny's guilt center to deal with.
"Wait, what did you do with VapoRub?" Howard asked breathily. "You didn't mention VapoRub before."
"Howard, stop talking now," Penny whimpered.
"I'm just asking a question! You brought it up!"
"Howard, switch places with Raj. You're upsetting my fiancee."
"I was just..."
Sheldon just glared at him until Howard got up and shoved Raj out of the opposite spot on the couch. Raj did not willing relinquish his place as he was slowly nudged toward Penny.
Penny took a deep breath and started over. "Sheldon, we'll explain to her that it was a mistake. I was drunk and I exaggerated what happened. It was very, very, almost-entirely, fairly innocent."
"Penny, have you forgotten about the mashed potatoes? Because for the record, I do blame you for the mashed potatoes."
Howard leaned around Raj. "What did you do with mashed potatoes?"
Penny and Sheldon ignored him and just stared at each other. Potatoes. There was something about potatoes. It had been nagging her all day. And it was bad. This was going to be very, very bad. She didn't want to know. She had to know. "What...about...potatoes?"
"You," Sheldon emphasized pointedly, "told my mother that your father made the best mashed potatoes west of the Mississippi."
"Well, that sounds fairly harmless?"
"Texas is west of the Mississippi."
"Sheldon, I'm not an idiot. I know basic geogra...oh, God! Oh, God! There's going to be a potato war in East Texas like you have never seen before."
Sheldon nodded. "We — are — doomed."
"Guys?" Leonard interrupted. "Do you mind filling us in? Because this stopped making sense a long time ago."
"Penny introduced our parents via telephone. She then proceeded to imply that my mother's mashed potatoes are secondary in quality to her father's mashed potatoes."
"I'm sure she'll apologize."
"Oh, Leonard, you don't understand," Penny whispered. It had all come back, all of it. Sheldon was right. It was all over. "Sheldon's mother invited my father for the holidays. They're going to have a potato cook-off."
"I like mashed potatoes, Penny. But for the record, there's a limit to how many potatoes I can eat in one meal. Being expected to sample two different recipes of mashed potatoes is going to completely throw off the starch balance."
Raj whispered in Howard's ear again. "We like potatoes. Are we all invited?"
"Okay, everyone, let's calm down and think about this rationally," Leonard insisted. "You don't have to get married just because you got to first base."
"Sounds like they got to second base at least, if not third," Howard smirked.
Sheldon shook his head. "Don't ask me. I've never understood sports metaphors applied to sexual interactions. The point is, Leonard, we are not getting married because of a three second grope."
"We are getting married because in a few short weeks our parents are going to meet and they are going to create a grandchildren gravitational field that no one can escape."
"On second thought, maybe Raj and I shouldn't go." Howard said. Raj whispered into his ear again. "What difference does it make if they'll have yams or sweet potatoes?"
"Oh," Penny said, "Between the two of them, there will be both I'm sure. Sheldon, give me your phone."
"Penny, that didn't go very well last time."
"I'm not drunk now."
"The effects of alcohol on the body last far longer than most people realize. Even after the individual feels they are no longer inebriated, they continue to experience slow reflexes and, more to the point here, poor decision making skills."
"Sheldon, trust me. I can fix this. Give me your phone." When Sheldon remained frozen in place, she added more forcefully, "Gimme."
After Sheldon reluctantly handed over his cellphone, Penny took a deep breath and dialed. "Hello? Mrs. Cooper? It's Penny, from last night. Yes, I'm feeling much better this morning, thank you. And I want to thank you again for your lovely holiday invitation. But I'm afraid I just realized that I promised the guys that we'd spend the holidays together this year. Really? Oh, my goodness, I didn't even think of that."
"I hope you don't still think you're going to be an actress," Howard mumbled. Penny swatted him and continued.
"Well, that's so sweet to invite all of us, but if my father goes to Texas that would leave my brother and sister all alone in Nebraska. Uh-huh. And my brother's girlfriend? And her three kids from a previous, uh, a previous — they can come too?"
"How is this making things better?!" Sheldon blurted out and Penny switched her grip on the phone so she could muffle Sheldon.
"And Uncle Darryl? And my friend Amy Farrah Fowler? Yes. Yes, the weird girl who thinks Sheldon is normal. We can't leave her all by herself." There was a brief pause while Penny frowned at Sheldon, her hand still over his mouth. "Because despite outward appearances, she is a human being and no one should be alone over the holidays. Awesome! Mrs. Cooper, this is going to be the best Christmas ever! Bye-bye!"
She handed the phone back to Sheldon. "This is going to be the worst Christmas ever."
"Why did you do that?!"
"Sheldon, this will be hell, no mistake. But by the time this is over, no one will be using the words 'marriage' or 'grandchildren' around us. They're going to be using words like 'and stay out' and maybe even 'restraining order.'"
"Oh, I didn't think of that. That's clever actually. The logistics won't work though. We can't possibly fit that many people in my mother's house."
"Your mother already thought of that. We're going to have it at your Meemaw's instead."
Sheldon visibly wibbled. "Penny, you cannot sass my Meemaw."
"I'm sure I can prove my unworthiness as an in-law without sassing Meemaw."
"Penny, this is serious. Are you sure it's not easier to just get married?"
"I won't sass Meemaw, I promise."
"Yeah, well, as entertaining as this sounds," Leonard said, "I think I'll pass. But I can't wait to hear all about it. Raj, make sure you tweet."
"Oh," Howard said, "I really don't think that Raj and I should go. Christian holiday in Bible country? It's not really – I can make you sweet potatoes here! We don't need to fly to Texas for sweet potatoes."
"Rest assured I will not be participating in archaic superstitions, which incidentally are based primarily on pagan..."
Penny decided that her work here was done. She left them to lecture each other on the history of religious rituals and padded back to her apartment for a bath.
She didn't even notice that she was still carrying Sheldon's proposal until she was already back in her apartment. She couldn't help but flip back to the section on marital duties. "This is really sad." She tossed it in the corner on a pile of laundry and went to draw her bath.
Easing into the hot, lavender-scented water, she thought she'd put the day behind her.
~ soft kitty, warm kitty ~
~ little ball of fur ~
~ happy kitty, sleepy kitty ~
~ purr, purr, purr ~
"Oh, I am so going to sass Meemaw."