Penny doesn’t know how (or exactly when) it happens, but this is one year and a half after her break-up with Leonard and she hasn’t even considered the possibility of a new relationship. Instead, she’s fallen back into old habits, made now new, turned into what she considers good habits these days. At twenty-five, after five years of enough failing to appreciate everything she’s gained since she moved to Pasadena, she’s mature enough to handle her life as it is, stand on her own two feet, and smile proudly each time she looks at herself in the mirror and rehearses, no regrets, girl, no regrets at all. (One day soon, she thinks. One day soon.)
Pieces are slowly falling into place, and Penny has learned to ignore impatience, make it look like patience under the weight of a big, confident smile. Time, she has learned, is a relative dimension. The total amount of energy in an isolated system remains always the same. Energy can’t be created or destroyed; it can only be transformed. And the same goes for Penny.
Indestructible, she convinces herself. But perfectly capable of transforming. That is why four months before she uses facebook to get back in touch with Jerry, an old fuck buddy of hers (from the days immediately after she moved out of Kurt’s) who never got close to breaking her heart—one reason good enough, as far as Penny is concerned, to pick him up among the possible candidates without requesting an audition first. Jerry is single (Penny never had any doubt in this regard) and a text-book commitment-phobe, just as she remembers. When she asks, he’s more than willing, doesn’t even ask for an explanation Penny doesn’t have. It’s been too many months (that’s true), so she’s starting to get eager (that’s true as well). She doesn’t tell Jerry the whole truth (You wouldn’t have much problems getting a real boyfriend, he says, after she hands him back his pants and, without using any words, asks him to leave her apartment. Saturday. 9: 30 p.m. Knowing Sheldon is waiting for her at the other side of the hallway prevents that any repressed urge to cling, cuddle, or make him pancakes that she may have surfaces when she less needs it too), but she doesn’t lie, either, and that’s more than enough for Jerry, she considers. It’s definitely more than she would have offered years ago. More than she gives to herself (no lies), or to her friends.
Sometimes she can’t handle it.
Sometimes, she looks at him and he looks back at her over Thai food containers, or over some stupid game controller, or over a basketfull of dirty laundry, and she just can’t handle it. Sexual tension (a very real thing, even if unwanted—even if feared, rejected, denied; even if the universe doesn’t have an irrefutable rule to explain it) has a tendency to just spill out of her without warning, painfully, flying across the room and hitting him, and then bouncing off, back at her, again and again and again. It never gets through to him. He pushes it back, back, back, back, back to her. In those moments—sometimes, she tells herself, only sometimes—it is all Penny can do not to call Jerry that very minute, to shake it, rub it, scratch it off of her—the tension, the wondering, the wanting.
It’s all she can do to wait patiently till Saturday after laundry (it’s always worse after laundry), till the moment when she goes upstairs and counts the minute until 8:50 p.m. She drags Jerry into her bedroom without as much as a word of hello. She just needs to get off. To get him off of her. To get Sheldon out. Out out out.
Only when he’s out of her—Saturday. 9: 30 p.m.— and Jerry is out of her apartment, she gets dressed (anything that passes for pajamas, in fact) and crosses the hallway and sits next to Sheldon to spend the evening watching some crappy sci-fi show. So she starts getting him in again. Again again and again. Until she can’t take it anymore. Can’t take him anymore. Next Saturday. 8: 45 p.m. Of course, she doesn’t call Jerry every Saturday, but she calls him enough Saturdays for it to become a routine and, as soon as it becomes a routine, it becomes an okay-ed fixed time-slot in Sheldon’s weekly schedule. Saturday; 8:15 p.m—it’s laundry time. 8:45 p.m.—see you later, dropped with a smile across the hallway. 9: 35. p.m—he’s already waiting for her, sitting on his spot, whatever thematic channel of choice already on, already broadcasting something he only watches because it’s routine, it’s him and her and somewhere along the way, somehow, Saturday nights at 4A became something of them only, something private and scheduled, waited for all week, unmovable and fixed in Sheldon’s unmovable and fixed world order—an unmovable and fixed world order of which she has quietly become a pillar, anchored deep and forever in the roots of this particular universe of his. She knows it and, most days, almost every Saturday night, that knowledge is okay. It’s enough.
(When it isn’t, she doesn’t say. What she says:
“Now I can,” signed with a bright affectionate smile. His question, which wasn’t really a question but definitely sounded like one: I never considered you to be the type of emotionally detached person who can handle a ‘friends with benefits’ pattern of relationship without major affective distress. Well, she can now. “Because now I have you,” she adds.
His big blue eyes shrink in response, his shoulders clench—somewhere deep inside, so far down that not even he can know it, a part of his soul is listening to the words she isn’t saying. Somewhere deep inside he understands. On the surface, though, his frown reveals a childlike puzzlement that is only half sincere. “Me?” he asks.
She nods very slowly, quietly, peacefully. She wants him to know, but she doesn’t want to tell him. She’s afraid of scaring him. She’s also afraid of scaring herself. “Every Saturday, I have you. Jerry only provides what you can’t.” (She doesn’t say what you won’t. She doesn’t think that. She can’t think that.) “But I have you at 8: 15 and I have you at 9: 35 and I have you until you fall asleep. That’s affection,” she explains warmly, honestly. She doesn’t say, that’s all the affection I need. She speaks the truth: “That’s emotional attachment.”
His frown vanishes. His eyes are bright and beautiful with understanding. In her mind (because, she thinks, it is that way in his mind), the pieces of her puzzle fit together like in a very simple, easy, irrefutable mathematical equation. Laundry with Sheldon + Sex with Jerry + TV with Sheldon = A perfect romantic fulfilling relationship. So what if her limbic system mistakes TV with Sheldon for cuddling after sex? Friend with benefits + Half-Lobster sans benefits = As good as Penny’s ever had. As good as, she tells herself, it’s going to get.
What she doesn’t say:
Some Saturday nights (just some), as good as she’s ever had is not enough. Can’t be enough. Will never be enough.)
Until one day.
One day, she hopes.
She hopes one day he doesn’t mind her skipping the second step of her Saturday routine. (Sometimes, she does skip it.) She hopes he doesn’t mind her being right there, sitting on the middle cushion of his couch, waiting patiently (impatience masked beneath one big genuine smile) for him to have a revelation—finally. She hopes one day he’ll change his mind. One day. He’ll change his mind and he won’t mind her going into his apartment right after laundry. Saturday. 8: 45 p. m. And drag him to his bedroom. Maybe one day he won’t mind. Perhaps, she hopes, one day she’ll cowboy-up and she’ll screw his brains out right on top of a washing machine. Saturday. 8: 25 p.m. Then, maybe she’ll make him pancakes (or whatever food is indicated in his food scheduled) the morning after, and maybe he will really understand—finally.
The energy between them cannot be created or destroyed.
It can only be transformed.
She’s the energy to his mass. And he’s the matter particles to her non-matter forms of energy. So, if his closed system keeps resisting her gravitational binding energy and it allows such binding energy to escape, his mass will decrease in proportion. And he will vanish into dark matter of something. To infinity, at least.
It’s okay, though.
She can keep googling and wikipedia-ing physics metaphors until he’s ready to lover her back.)