tell me about the road you’re on
and maybe we could meet
It takes four months of planning and writing songs and twenty-six painful cover shows until they can head to the studio to record the next album. Five figures, and Penny’s never seen that much money in her bank account ever, until it’s gone and tucked safely away in the band account. This album’s different, Sheldon keeps telling them, as patience wears thin and drunk college girls call out endlessly for Lady Gaga and Don’t Stop Believing, this album is worth it. It’s something the band has told itself after every gig, every record, every interview with a blog or a college newspaper—this will get us noticed, or the record deal, this will be the big break, this will be the one thing that changes it all. It hasn’t yet—not that it’s entirely a bad thing. They make enough money to get by, they have fans, they still have their artistic integrity mostly intact. But it’s so hard not to hope for something more. What’s worse is feeling like they deserve it.
She doesn’t really talk about it with Sheldon, but they both know. If this album doesn’t come together, doesn’t do something for them, this could be it. Time for real world lives and real world jobs, waking up at six in the morning to beat rush hour, and bed by eleven. Penny doesn’t want any of that life, of watching calluses fade and guitar cases and keyboard stands collecting dust in a closet.
She fixates on it the entire drive up to Portland, which lasts almost eighteen hours. When she stumbles off the bus, she’s cranky and full of a nervous energy she’s entirely unfamiliar with. She’s always been the one in the band that’s good at this, at being on stage, or navigating through an awkward interview, or kicking the boys’ asses into gear to make it to a gig on time. (Except for Sheldon of course, who’s typically already planted in his seat on the bus, his keyboards safely stowed.) It’s not the first time she’s been in a new city with music to play, and it’s definitely not the first time she’s felt as if she has something to prove. But there’s something off, and she’s not the only one feeling it.
Usually they record someplace local, the cheapest place they can find with Pro Tools and an engineer who’s sober enough to work the board, or at least flexible enough to let Sheldon or Leonard work the board. This time though, Stuart’s really come through for them. He’s hooked them up with a real-deal producer, a guy that comes to see them live and have sit-downs with each of them, a guy with a notebook labeled “Jupiter Logic.” Colby’s actually invested in them and their future. And that’s how they end up driving to Portland to record in a proper studio with proper equipment and a reputation in a good way, with an engineer that was actually up for a Grammy.
Colby had emailed her, just the link and the words: “Start saving.” Penny had seen the price per day, clicked back into the tab where she had fortunately not yet clicked to confirm her purchase, and canceled her order. Payless from here on out, kiddo, she had told herself. It had sucked, and for all of them. Four months of scraping by and extra shows and staying up all night to tweak bass lines or rewrite lyrics.
They pull in at Five Star after two in the morning with bleary faces and a disturbing amount of empty coffee cups and Red Bull cans. The engineer had emailed her the spot to find the key to the back door, and it’s exactly where he said it is. The band settles into the familiar routine of the back and forth between bus and equipment dumping spot. The neat stack of Howard’s drums, the impressive line-up of Leonard’s electrics and her acoustics, the pedal boards and keyboards and Raj’s single contribution of his bass.
Of course Howard is the first one to start talking when they’re finally done loading in when he whines for (and this is an approximation on her part, but still) the thirty-seventh time that he doesn’t understand why Penny and Sheldon get to sleep in a nice comfy hotel room but the rest of them are stuck on bunk beds at Colby’s house.
“Howard.” She says, a smile on her face but in her special Howard voice, which she imagines is something like putting on steel toes to kick him in the crotch if he misbehaves. “Howard, we’ve gone over this.”
“I know, but I just—”
“We are paying for the hotel room. You guys had the option to do it, and then Colby said he has bands crash at his place all the time, he has bunk beds, it’s totally fine! And then you realized you wouldn’t need an extra grand or two, so you decided that bunk beds were awesome, and that you wanted the top, and it would be just like Camp Tawonga, whatever the hell that is.”
Howard frowns, and replies, “Jewish summer camp. With actual camping.”
“Then weren’t you in a tent?”
“Howard, there are some days where I think that I might actually have finally figured out the strange way your brain functions, and then you take it to an entirely new level.”
Raj steps in and puts his arm around Howard’s shoulders. “I think it’s time to declare defeat, Howard. Mostly because I would like to drop off Mr. and Mrs. Fancy Pants over here off at their fancy pants hotel so I can go to sleep.”
Sheldon glances down, always charmingly literal. “These pants are not fancy, Raj. They’re jeans.”
When they all pile back onto the bus, they’re laughing and back to normal, or at least what passes for normal between them. Penny leans into Sheldon’s shoulder, and notices he’s got a smile on his face that she knows to translate to mean he’s proud of himself. That sneaky bastard, she thinks. He’s learning.
Leonard’s been filming the whole first morning on his new little camera, one of those Flip things that costs way too much money but shoots in HD and fits in a pocket. He’d apparently started back at Colby’s house, catching Howard and Raj asleep on the bunk beds, the bleary intake of coffee. Once he’s at the studio, he zooms up Raj’s nose and leans up to film Sheldon looking annoyed in his general direction. He interviews Timmy about some of the equipment, and tells Penny that he’s going to edit it all into a documentary they can put on YouTube or a bonus disc or both. Penny will believe in when she sees it, but she hopes Leonard’s catching the little stuff too, like Howard already asleep on the couch downstairs outside of the big recording space. Penny’s half-tempted to dig out a Sharpie from one of the gear bags and give him a handlebar mustache.
The first days are always pretty easy in the studio. Recording scratch tracks feels like being back home in the apartment, rehearsing the song and adjusting bits here and there, but just playing it through as a group from start to finish. Colby and Timmy kick them out of the studio after they do the scratches for the first four songs, so they can listen and assess where to start and what needs fixing before they can move ahead. They have two hours for lunch, and they wander until they find a hole in the wall that sells hot dogs and chili cheese fries. They sit outside against the brick wall and try to people watch, but it’s mostly cars that pass by, Volvos and mud-covered SUVs. They haven’t even killed an hour, so Leonard, Raj and Howard decide to go back to the house. Apparently Colby has an X-Box. Penny’s not really in the mood for Halo though, and Sheldon seems inclined to stick with her.
She watches the three of them head off down the street, then leans her head against Sheldon’s shoulder. “Any ideas, good looking?”
“Nothing springs to mind. I assumed you had something planned, or a particular location you wanted to investigate.”
“No, not really. Just not in the mood for shooting things, you know?”
“An hour is hardly enough time for Halo. I’m not sure what exactly they think they’ll accomplish.”
“Mm, it’s not really enough time for what I was thinking of either.” She tilts her head and gives him a quick peck on the lips, then hauls herself up to her feet before he can protest. He’s not really one for public displays of affection, at all, but sometimes Penny likes to push his buttons. OK, she likes to push them all the time, but some more than others.
Sheldon gets to his feet and brushes at his pants. “I’m assuming that you wouldn’t mind a cup of coffee.”
She hmms in pleasure. “It is Portland. And the caffeine-monster that lives inside me is always hungry for more.”
Sheldon rolls his eyes, but there’s no real annoyance behind it. She takes his hand and leans her shoulder against his. “I don’t see you badmouthing caffeine when it’s in your tea.”
“You know I primarily drink decaffeinated green tea.”
“Yeah, but every once in a while you drink the real thing and then you’re up all night banging at your keyboards until you have seventeen new songs, and I’m just saying you don’t seem to mind it when,” she digs for the scientific gibberish he tends to throw at her whenever she’s on a particularly bad caffeine high, “oh, yeah, when the caffeine in your system has bound itself to your adenosine receptors in your brain, causing you to have elevated levels of neuron firing.”
“It has its place. I simply choose not to be an addict.”
“Uh huh, sure thing, Sheldon. Now please bring your girlfriend to the closest espresso machine and proceed to charm her with other tales of caffeine-addicted woe. The monster inside is so hungry. His name is Henry. He yearns for a cappuccino, Sheldon. Positively yearns.”
After they call it a wrap on the first day, Colby drags them out to a bar and they all toast to the recording session over a couple of pitchers of beer and burgers. She gets challenged to a round of Skee-Ball by Timmy, and she beats him handily by cheating and bouncing the balls off the rails to nail the 100 spots almost every time. She digs some more quarters out of her purse and gives them to Sheldon and Raj, and Sheldon manages a perfect score, despite Raj’s constant stream of shit-talking.
When she asks how the hell he managed it, he just shrugs and says, “Physics.”
She makes a mental note to see how he is playing pool. There could have been a far more entertaining way to fund this recording session.
Howard takes over the jukebox, and plays his favorite game of deciding what songs will either drive absolutely everyone crazy or get them kicked out, or just get the damn machine unplugged. Tonight, he picks a marathon of Spice Girls, although tonight it backfires on him when Penny turns it into a singalong to Wannabe at the bar. She has powers to defeat Howard Wolowitz at every turn, she’s convinced of it.
They hole up back in their booth underneath a moosehead (Penny remarks that this shit just would not fly in California), and drain a few more pitchers as they toast to new beginnings, no crashes in Logic, and no clogs in the studio toilet (gross). She’s pleasantly drunk and Sheldon has his arm on the back of her chair. Not quite close enough to touch, but she could, if she wanted to. It’s enough. The discussion morphs into the studio guys describing the craziest diva moments they’ve had to suffer through, and the boys describing the worst openers they’ve ever had to put up with. Like the kids they got paired up with once in Bakersfield, that had spray painted all their gear in neon and attached doll heads to their guitar knobs, with a lead singer that had been completely incomprehensible.
Leonard’s in one-upsmanship mode, so of course he adds, “Don’t forget the time that Bernadette decided it would be hilarious to enter us in that contest to open for that dude from Making the Band. And then he picked us.”
Penny puts her hands over her face, but catches Timmy making a face of pure glee through her fingers. “We’ve destroyed all the photographic evidence of that night, Timmy. You’re shit out of luck.”
“Which one was it? O-Town or LMNT? That Hawaiian kid?”
“You know a disturbing amount of information about this for a heterosexual male,” Raj butts in.
Penny points at him and nods emphatically. “It was the blond one from O-Town. And that’s the end of this discussion, Leonard.”
Timmy flings his coaster at her. “You gotta give me some of the details, at least. Tell me you fucked with him, at least a little bit.”
Penny can’t help but smile a little at that, even if she does still feel a little guilty about it (and the guy had ended up being a total good sport about it too). “We might have tossed a cover of Liquid Dreams into our set.”
She’s pretty sure Timmy actually falling out of his chair laughing is what gets them shut off at the bar.
Ten minutes later, Sheldon and her watch as the guys all pile into a cab, with Howard practically on Raj’s lap, and Leonard squeezed into the middle to head back to Colby’s house. She thumps the top of the cab as they drive off, and she can hear Raj complaining about Howard’s bony ass through the windows until they take the turn at the corner. They only have to wait another couple of minutes for another cab to pass by, and she curls up against Sheldon’s side in the backseat and watches the sleeping city pass by under streetlights on the way back to the hotel. There’s really only time for a few hours of sleep before they wake up and do it all over again.
The rough mixes turn out better than the ones they record on GarageBand back at home, but she knows Sheldon’s already starting to internally freak out about how recording is going, even though it’s only the second day. The first four they tracked are probably going to end up being the easiest part of the process, since now Sheldon seems constantly on guard for any tiny flaw that he might deem a problem too great to go on. They start tracking the next three songs, and Sheldon starts overcompensating by giving a million directions to them, rather than Timmy or Colby. The only problem is, he's not even in the same room as them - he's in the one next over, while they're all in the big room with the drum kit. Timmy's got a piano room, filled with an upright, an organ, and a stack of keyboards, and now Sheldon's rig haphazardly assembled in the middle, with a veritable maze of wires running to whatever outlets were still available. (She's hoping that Sheldon comes up with an organ part for one of the songs. Maybe one of the slower ones, although, on second though, there's nothing really like a rousing organ bit to really kick up a song's tempo.)
So, basically every time Sheldon wants to complain that they're not hitting the right chord, or that they need to make some minute adjustment, he's got to either shout through the sliding glass door, which never works since they've all got on their headphones, and if Sheldon hasn't noticed, drums are really fucking loud, or he has to get up and stick his head in the room and wave for their attention before berating them.
It ends up being a tense afternoon, especially since Timmy can obviously hear all of Sheldon's complaints through the mics in the room, and while he's obviously trying to make it easier on him, they still end up doing the songs way more than they actually should have to. Leonard starts snapping back at Sheldon, and Howard makes his awful jokes to try and relieve the tension, while Raj just looks at her while she’s trying to play peacemaker. It’s one thing if it happens at the apartment and she can just chuck something at one of them to get them to stop and settle it like adults, but here they’re supposed to be professionals, and not only that, a band that has its shit together so they might get mentioned to someone important. And it’s not even something new, since it’s not really a Jupiter Logic practice without a Sheldon lecture, but there’s this edge to the way Sheldon’s snapping at them now that she’s never really seen before. So much for looking like a united front.
Day three starts with Penny acquiring the largest cup of coffee the convenience story carries in an attempt to be ready to head Sheldon off at the pass, so to speak. She asks Timmy if it would be ok if she moved her stuff into the piano room, just for the day. The last four songs can live without her acoustic on the choruses in the rough mixes, and she’s trying to get her point across without really doing much of anything but raising her eyebrow at Timmy and hoping he catches on. Which thank god, he does. It delays them by about half an hour, while they move her gear into the piano room and find her a free corner that has enough space for a stool.
Sheldon sighs at increasingly loud levels every time they jostle his keyboard setup, until finally she tells Timmy she’s just going to take a quick smoke break, and she grabs Sheldon by the wrist and drags him outside with her. Raj calls out behind her that her pack and lighter are upstairs, but she ignores him. She swings the big basement door shut, and prays it won’t lock behind them.
Sheldon pulls one of his faces, but stays silent and waits for her to lob the first volley. So she tries to catch him off guard. “I’m going to make you a deal, and I want you to shut up until all the terms have been presented. Then you get thirty seconds to decide if you agree or not, and then depending on your answer, we either go back in and pretend like your ongoing shitfit never actually happened, or we stay out here and I kick your ass.”
Sheldon simply crosses his arms, and nods her head for her to proceed.
“Good. OK. So here’s the deal. You calm the fuck down and stop getting the rest of them, especially Timmy, riled up. You stay quiet, play, and if you have any comments, you run them by me first. In exchange, you get last say on song order and the cover for the b-side.”
“Do I get to add terms, or is this truly nonnegotiable?”
She eyes him for a second. “I’m willing to hear a reasonable proposal.”
“Fine. Here are my terms: Stop pretending like you’re in charge of this band, and I’ll stop mentally composing our new ad for a lead singer that can sing and keep her opinions to herself.”
Jesus, even Sheldon’s never hit that far below the belt. “They’re not—you wouldn’t—”
“Artistic differences, Penny. We wouldn’t be the first band to lose a lead singer and lump it into that all-purpose euphemism.” He shrugs, and while he looks uncomfortable, he doesn’t say anything else.
“Fine. Keep digging your fucking hole, Sheldon. I was only trying to help.”
When she heads back inside, she pretends like she doesn’t notice that the rest of them were obviously trying to eavesdrop, and by the looks on their faces, that they heard most of it.
The rest of the morning passes in a haze of uncomfortable silence that even Howard doesn’t dare break, although by the time they’re done tracking the rough mix of the second song and break for lunch, Sheldon’s almost looking her in the eyes again and she’s pretty much chalked it up to him being zealously overprotective about the band, as per usual, just to a new terrifying degree. She just doesn’t get why he’s so much crazier than usual, and why he’s suddenly locked himself away in what he likes to call his Fortress of Solitude, but what she’s ready to rename as the Fortress of Being a Giant Cunt. He’s never ever even seemed like he was threatened by her before, or her role in the band. And based on the past couple of years, all the evidence even points to the contrary, that he had welcomed her direction and considered them a team. Why would he even be dating her (and this isn’t just dating anymore, not by a long shot) if he’s been secretly harboring thoughts of how to oust her from the band if she made some kind of coup? To be fair though, she’s about sixty percent sure the guys would actually chose her over Sheldon. She’s nicer and frequently brings baked goods. She’s also not, you know, absolutely insane.
She clings to the thought that this is just a phase he’ll manage to work through, especially if she can actually get through to him. That he’ll open his eyes up and see that everything’s already on edge and already at risk to fall apart, only three days in. She’s still got faith that deep down, Sheldon does have the self-awareness to realize that it’s all him just turning phantoms into monsters of his own creation, that he knows he’s fucking up, but her calling him out is just making him dig his heels in harder. That he’s clutching his songs to his chest even harder and making everything worse, when all he has to do is trust her, and not even let go, just share some of the load.
She chews on these thoughts for the rest of the day at the studio, and when they get back to the hotel, she waits for Sheldon to say something, anything, to confide in her or even to complain again. But he doesn’t. Instead they shower separately, and go to bed quietly. Normal people would pretend to fall asleep, but Sheldon’s not normal and she’s feeling slightly resentful, so they just listen to each other breathe for an hour or so in the dark until she finally drifts off.
The day that Howard starts tracking drums is when she finally gets a little help from Sheldon in settling things down. No one really enjoys tracking drums except for Howard, and Raj has volunteered to stay and listen in. Leonard’s sleeping in back at the house, which is close enough to an invitation for her and Sheldon to head over there to start working on some of the new instrumentation that Colby had suggested. She’d wanted an organ part, and he’d come through on that one. He’d also hooked her up with the rough mixes on her iPod so all she had to do was dock it in his stereo equipment, and now it’s just her and Sheldon trying to pretend like they’re not in the middle of this weird fight sitting next to each other behind Sheldon’s Nord, like they’ve done a million times before in their apartment or in hotel rooms or backstage in dressing rooms waiting to go on. Except this time they’re just listening to the same mix over and over and neither of them has even struck a single key.
She’s tired, she sort of has to pee, she’s completely blocked on coming up with anything for this song, and most of all, she just wants this thing between them to be over. And unlike Sheldon, who might want to lay down arms but has no clue how to do it without sacrificing his pride, she’s willing to throw in the towel. Or at least make it look enough like she’s giving in to convince him he’s won, whatever that means.
That doesn’t mean she has to apologize, though.
“I shouldn’t have tried to shut you down in the studio.” That much is true at least. Sheldon’s got just as much right as she does to his opinions. It’s just the method he chooses to express them is where they all have a problem.
She watches as he spreads his hands across his knees. “No, you should not have.”
Jesus, he can’t even give her an inch. Fine. “I just wanted to say that I’m not trying to overrule you, or vote against you, or whatever it is you think I’m doing. I want this to work. So I wanted to let you know that I respect your opinions, and I’ve been thinking them over.”
“All right. I may have been influenced by my emotions when I spoke to you the other day.”
“Sheldon Cooper, are you dancing around something that might be considered an apology?” His mouth twitches, and before he says anything, she takes pity on him. It’s not easy for him. She knows things aren’t back to normal, probably not even by a long shot, but they seem to have a working truce, and she definitely doesn’t want to push too hard. Not yet. “A joke, Sheldon. OK? We’ll be fine.” She nudges his shoulder a little. “So, handclaps on the chorus?”
She’s starting to wonder if this is going to end up as their Hansa situation, except (a) they’re not U2, (b) she doesn’t have a song like One sitting in her back pocket, (c) their fight centered mostly on warring musical styles and not everything suddenly shitting the bed between their songwriters, and (d) U2 ended up surviving and coming out with the start of Achtung Baby. She’s starting to lean toward them not making it out of Portland with anything usable at this rate, even if her and Sheldon seem to at least be on somewhat steady ground again. There’s already a part of her brain that’s steeling itself for another few months of saving, of picking up shows they don’t really want to play, and ending up hating all the songs they’ve been working on for months. Starting over. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, to just wipe the slate clean and forget all the bullshit that’s happened so far, write new songs that will have newer, easier memories.
It would still feel like giving in. And that’s something she’s not particularly good at.
Bernadette shows up five days into recording, parking her tiny Kia that’s missing most of a headlight in the fire lane and dispensing violent hugs to each of the boys as they crowd around the driver’s side door. Well, except Sheldon, who pats her pleasantly on the shoulder and then heads to the trunk and starts lifting out her stuff.
“OK, you guys need to actually, like, let me out here. I’ve come to rescue Penny from you guys, and this is really not part of my game plan.” Raj and Howard both look crestfallen, and she hastens to add, “As glad as I am to see you.”
Penny just stands there on the stoop, the last bit of her smoke burning down to the filter, smiling like a lunatic. Not that she doesn’t love the boys, but fucking A, it will be pleasant to have someone normal and female and sane to interact with, especially someone that she can bounce song ideas off of, but really has no ulterior motives in giving advice. Bernadette just wants the songs to be good. Or as she always says, “Accessible and, you know, not shit.” It’s a philosophy Penny needs right at the moment.
Bernadette walks up to her, drops her duffel bag and shades her eyes with one hand. “Brought you a present, even if I’m not sure you deserve it.”
“I always deserve it.”
“Yeah, sure.” But she reaches into her pocket anyway, and pulls out a rolled up ziplock bag. “I’m thinking a couple hours on the roof, a little of this, and we’ll have you sorted out in no time.”
Oh, Bernadette is the best.
Howard is tuning his drums before they record a chunk of his section on the railroad song (shit, they have really got to sit down and come up with decent working titles), and Leonard and Raj are down in the room with him, even though there’s no air conditioning. If she knows them, they’re probably endlessly amused that Howard’s down to his undershirt, and for a drummer, his arms are still those of an underdeveloped nine year old. Bernadette’s dropping her stuff off at the house, but Penny’s pretty sure she should be back soon, and maybe they can disappear for a little bit, since Penny’s contributions on drums days are typically reduced to nodding her approval while developing a killer headache from the endless thumping.
Sheldon finds her while she’s poking through the beer fridge. She’d bought herself iced tea yesterday, they can’t possibly all be gone already. Fucking boys.
“Howard drank the last one this morning. I thought you’d noticed.” His tone indicates an oncoming argument, although he’s obviously still trying to be at least slightly cordial before launching into it.
No, she had not. And it’s still too early for beer, even though it’s still at least a few days until she has to start singing. Water it is. She grabs a bottle, and stands up to properly face him.
“I think we should find a different studio.” Oh sweet Jesus and all that is holy, she thinks. Well, no point in wasting time Sheldon, tell me how you really feel.
“I will have a rebuttal, but tell me why. I told you I’d listen to you, and I’m going to, Sheldon. If it makes sense, I’ll seriously consider it.”
“I simply do not trust them with our songs.”
“You don’t trust anyone with our songs. Half the time I don’t even think you trust us with our songs.”
He gives her one of his looks that suggests she is being ridiculous, but she notices the way he doesn’t quite make eye contact with her. And there’s a certain hint of sadness when he tells her, “I trust you.”
She cut a bit too deeply there, without even meaning to. She softens a bit. He only means well, he’s just being Sheldon, and he doesn’t know any better. “No, I know you do. I just meant that at some point, you need to let go. You have to trust that all of us will protect them. They’re ours, and that includes Timmy and Colby, ok?”
“The songs aren’t theirs. We pay them to care about us.”
“They’re not evil, Sheldon. And they didn’t have to take us on. They picked us.”
He shakes his head a little at that.
“Look, Sheldon. I know that you’re freaking out and you want all of this to be perfect, but we’re only just getting started here. There’s plenty of time to fix things up, and there’s mixing too. And you’re great when we take it to mixing, you know that, I know that, the guys know that.”
“I think they fundamentally do not understand our songs. That they do not understand us as a band. I can’t reconcile those beliefs with continuing on here.”
“We write rock music, Sheldon. Pop songs. Not everything has to be a masterpiece. They’re good songs, Sheldon, probably some of our best and I want everything to sound great, but we don’t have to kid ourselves here. We’re not writing the next magnum opus, or whatever it is.”
“Don’t,” he starts. Like she’s going to suddenly veer into territory he’s strictly forbidden. Germany, Astrid, a past that she still doesn’t really know anything about. “Don’t.”
She ignores the familiar twinge of not-exactly-anger whenever he gets defensive over his background. “I’m just saying you need to start being a little more willing to compromise on some things. That’s all. Not even big ones. Just don’t take everything so personally.”
“Artists don’t compromise, Penny. Otherwise, we would not call them artists.”
Jesus Christ. That’s great, let’s start an argument about aesthetics, that’s exactly what the situation calls for. “Sheldon, get the stick out of your ass for one minute and think. These guys are the real deal. If they like us, they put in a good word for us with someone even more famous when we take it to mixing. Timmy got nominated for a Grammy, for Christsakes.”
“And lost to Katy Perry.”
“Well, OK, yes, not her actually-”
“Last year when we watched the Grammy’s, you swore at a rate that was at least 200% higher than your usual level of inevitable vulgarity.”
“I’m not saying that they’re the best awards, but they still carry a certain weight in this industry.”
“An industry we are increasingly likely to fail in, at least in terms of what is typically considered ‘success,’ i.e. considerable radio play, producing music videos that are played on television, or performing at venues of a certain size, such as arenas or stadiums.”
Oh, she’s getting a headache, all right. “I’m sorry, I was unaware that your ultimate goal was to become a massive fucking rock star.”
His mouth turns at the corner.
“And I was unaware that bringing my concerns to you would engender such casual indifference, especially after you vowed to listen to my misgivings about this entire thing.” He waves his hands in the air in some vague Sheldon approximation of nonchalance, and Penny is struck by how much she would like to punch her own boyfriend in the face.
“I don’t need a bunch of your ten-dollar words thrown in my face, Sheldon. I know this is important to you-”
“No, actually, I don’t think you do, Penny.”
And this is when something inside of her snaps, just a little. That small, dark place in her that still thinks she should be in Nebraska, on the farm, that all of this is still just a fluke and soon enough, she’ll be back, driving and drinking and dying back amongst the corn fields flares up into something that almost blinds her. It doesn’t help that it’s already been a week of Sheldon chipping away at the walls she’s built up around this belief.
Sheldon sees something change on her face, because suddenly he goes from fuming to a more contained and stiff sullenness. Like it’s back to being him against the world, rather than the two of them against the world. It’s almost as if he reverts to the Sheldon she met years ago.
So this bodes well for the rest of recording.
“I should head back upstairs. I won’t bother you with this again.”
“Sheldon,” she starts, but doesn’t finish. He doesn’t even flinch, and he certainly doesn’t look back as he heads up the stairs.
So this is going to be great.
She heads up to the roof that night, with Bernadette in tow. She’s still not really doing much of anything in the studio besides alternating between sitting around being bored, dicking around on her laptop, attempting to be deeply fascinated by her new research into merchandise options when Sheldon pretends to not be looking over at her from across the room, and blankly staring at Raj and Leonard while they argue over what pedal effect Raj should use in the chorus of what she thinks they’ll end up calling Singer Park. And she’s decidedly not thinking about Sheldon or the fight, or that they even had words that resembled an argument. So yeah, it’s been a really productive day. And Bernadette had ended up disappearing with Howard off to Stumptown for most of the afternoon once he had wrapped up the fill on the railroad song.. They had actually returned to the studio holding coffee cups, but still. It’s been a while since Penny’s really had to play the game, but she’s pretty sure grabbing a latte doesn’t take four hours. But to Bernadette’s credit, she shows up and gamely listens to the same eight measures of the chorus over and over with each different effect layered in on Raj’s bass line, and has actual advice to give. Even if it does come out in less than technical terms: “I like that one, but maybe if it was less thrummy? Sharper, but not like, sharp, but... pointed. Pointy. Something like that, oh you know what I mean.” Raj and Leonard nod seriously, and start fiddling with knobs all over again, while Timmy looks on in horror that he’s going to have to record the same part all over again.
The roof above Five Star has its fair share of pigeon shit and seagull shit and old beer cans, but Timmy’s stuck a few beach chairs up there and old milk crates for foot rests. It’s a nice night, and Portland stretches out into the distance, where the mountains take over. Penny slowly rolls a joint while Bernadette pops the caps on their beers.
“Did Sheldon say anything?”
“No, not really. He told me to wake him up when I got back to the hotel.”
“Wouldn’t you wake him up anyway?” Bernadette laughs. She knows what Penny’s like when she gets stoned. But Penny’s pretty sure Sheldon’s definitely not going to be in the mood tonight. Or for the next week. It seems like a larger fight than make-up sex can fix.
“Shut up. You gonna wake up Howard when you get back to the house?” It’s hard to see in this light, but Penny catches the way Bernadette flushes, the familiar posture of proud and defensive she used to wear all the time when her and Sheldon first started. “Oh come on, like I haven’t seen this coming for at least a year now. Whatever, good for you. He’s--well--Howard, but underneath it all, he’s a good guy. You just have to dig. With a full team of archaeologists and ten grand in grant money, but it’s in there.”
“He’s charming. Sometimes in a creepy way, but usually in a good one.”
“Hey, if it works, it works. Look at me. I can’t judge.” She licks the edge of the paper and carefully presses. Rolling joints has never been one of her strong suits, but Bernadette forgot her bowl and she was too lazy to track down the closest head shop.
Bernadette pushes it into her hand. “This stuff had better be good, the guy that hangs around at Stuart’s totally jacked the price on me.”
Penny touches the flame to the end of the joint and inhales, deep and even. She holds, then exhales. “It’s because I wasn’t there. I tend to flash him a bit more of my tits than I usually like to, but it gets the job done.” She takes another drag, then reaches across the space between the two chairs to pass it to Bernadette.
“Well fuck you, Jedi Master, you couldn’t tell me these things before you leave for fucking Oregon? You owe me an extra twenty bucks.”
“Uh huh, sure. I’ll cover you at the bar tomorrow. And what the hell, I’ll toss in a round of pool and a song on the jukebox.”
Bernadette sinks into her beach chair, which creaks a bit ominously. “I accept the terms.”
They sit in amiable silence, passing the joint back and forth. Between the two of them, it seems to last forever. Sometimes they’ll smoke with the boys, but Sheldon never does it. Penny wishes he would.
“You know, it would be pretty hot if you shotgunned Sheldon.”
Penny looks over at Bernadette, who’s smiling vaguely up at the night sky. She finally turns and looks back at Penny. “I’m just saying. It’s not like I’d want to watch or anything.”
Penny tries really hard to not imagine shotgunning Sheldon, since it’s the polite thing and all. But it’s weird, right? That Bernadette would say that right as she’s thinking about Sheldon? “Sometimes I worry you live in my brain.”
“No fair telling scary stories. Do you see a campfire? Don’t tell me things like that, Pen, I’ll have nightmares.”
They lapse into a familiar silence, and if it wasn’t for the edge of the milk crate digging into the back of her ankles, she’d almost be tempted to doze off for a bit. Recording isn’t exactly a nine to five sort of job, and most of it’s incredibly boring for her, but the days are still long in their own way and today has actually sort of sucked the big one.
“I‘m worried that Sheldon might-”
Bernadette puts a hand on her arm. “Be Sheldon? He’s used to the shitholes you guys usually record in, Penny. Give him a few days to trust these guys.”
“I know, but I can tell they’re already going crazy. They know what they’re doing. And he sat through how many meetings with Colby before we even got here?” She sighs. “I just thought I had him settled down, but it only gets worse every time I open my mouth around him.”
“They’re his songs.” She says it like it’s everything, like they’re his children or his legacy or everything he has left in the world.
Penny takes a swig of beer, and thinks about that. They’re actually their songs, but it’s a fair point.
“Give him a few days, Penny. He’ll get used to it.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Penny says, and tries to stop thinking about it for the night.
By the time she gets back to the hotel, she’s already pretty much back to normal, although there’s a lingering buzz she can feel in her fingers, and she still doesn’t quite have a full sensation that her nose is actually on her face. Other than that, she’s mostly just dreading that when she sees Sheldon, that they can be normal and either talk about what’s going on and hopefully resolve it like rational adults, or at the very least not ignore that there’s a massive fucking problem between the two of them, and actually between Sheldon and the entire band and their support network. It’s not like fights like this one haven’t happened before, but usually they were far easier to handle and much closer to home, and even Sheldon seemed a little more self-aware of how far he was taking things.
He’s set up a small music space over near the window of their room. Penny’s left all her equipment back at the studio, but Sheldon treks his favorite Nord back and forth every day, so he can come back and arrange at night before bed and in the morning before he heads over. He’s hunched over a notebook, writing with one hand and still playing notes with the other, and even she can hear the music coming from his headphones all the way across the room.
He’s still angry, then.
She listens a minute before she disturbs him, and if he’s noticed that she’s there, watching him, he certainly doesn’t indicate it. It’s a new part to one of the songs, or a new song entirely, but it’s definitely something she’s never heard before. She wonders if he’s been working on it long, or if it’s something that he wrote today, after their argument. It’s sad and lonely, until suddenly there’s a key change and his notes sound so full of broken hope she feels something in her chest give, just a little.
When his headphones finally fall silent, she calls out his name. He doesn’t actually seem mad when he turns around, but he still moves like he’s resigned.
She walks over to him, and hugs him around his neck from behind. She kisses his head, behind the band of his headphones, below the ear; she puts her hands over his heart and she presses. She feels like she’s regaining ground when his hands come up to cover hers, and his fingers overlap hers without any hesitation.
She doesn’t want to say anything, for fear of disturbing the moment. But she wants him to know that’s she’s on his side, she really is. That she’s the bridge to the rest of them, too, and she’s got to make sure that Sheldon doesn’t accidentally ruin exactly what he’s so determined to protect. That he doesn’t lose everything, not just the album. But she has to make sure that he knows he can’t lose her, no matter how much effort he seems like he’s putting into doing exactly that.
“I love you.”
“I know.” It’s the familiar routine, and no one even needs to be frozen in carbonite. She smiles into his neck, and she knows she’s won (at least for the night) when he drops his guard and relaxes his posture, to press back against the weight of her chest.
“Come to bed, Sheldon.”
“I should finish this.”
She doesn’t push too hard. She can be patient, and above all, she knows how to be patient with him. He gets to places in his own time, and it’s always been worth the wait. So she sits on the end of the bed, and watches him compose, the way he’ll suddenly stop and stare out the window for a minute, working out the next notes in his brain, then returning to the keys. Each time it comes faster, until finally his hands still and he turns to her.
“Would you like to hear it?” He holds the headphones out to her.
The song is sad, in its own way. She can hear the space he left her for the lyrics, the way they will wind around the piano, the space below for cello, for bass. There is an endless depth to this song. She can’t stop herself from wondering who he wrote it for.
When he stops, she doesn’t ask any of the questions on her mind, she doesn’t need to know if he wants to record it, if he wants to write the lyrics himself, or if they will sing it together. Maybe it is a song for them, maybe it’s a song for someone he once knew. Maybe it’s a song for himself. It’s still too rough and raw, and still aching under his fingertips for her to find out. Instead, she fits her knees beside his hips in his armchair, even though it’s a tight squeeze, and she kisses him.
His hands reach up to take the headphones from her ears, and he places them carefully on the keyboard. She brushes her fingers through his hair. It’s getting long again. She loves it when he’s so lost in band things he forgets to go get his hair cut, and it gets shaggy enough to sweep across his forehead.
“We should ask if we can arrange for a horn section for at least a day,” he says. “Maybe two.”
“You’re getting ambitious, Cooper.”
He shrugs a little. “The song needs it.” He hums a little of the middle 8. “There, and then the chorus. It adds something.”
“Catharsis. Like you’re letting go of something but getting something bigger in return.”
He nods, and she’s pretty sure that when his hands grip at her hips just a little tighter, that he’s not even aware that he’s doing it. It’s sweet, in his Sheldon way.
“I don’t disagree with you. Do you think we have the money for it?”
“I think we can. Especially if we can book a show up here one or two nights.”
“I can ask Colby tomorrow, if you want me to.” A peace offering, to be the go between. To take Sheldon’s ideas and make them theirs, and to execute them to his expectations. For him to trust her again.
“All right,” he says, and she thinks maybe this thing between them has finally healed itself. Or it’s on its way, as long as she doesn’t pick too hard at it.
“Come to bed, Sheldon,” she says again, and this time he agrees.
She feels like Sheldon’s the only thing holding her down, where his hands connect to her back, or wrapped around the curve of her neck under her hair, but in a good and familiar way, like gravity. Like it’s something inevitable and comforting. There’s a sea of pillows on the bed still, but they’ve pushed off all the extra blankets and shams and all the other crazy things hotels think to put on their beds, and it’s just the two of them tangling themselves up in the sheets. She can pretend they’re home, in their apartment, in a darkness that’s familiar and free of surprises, where her body can cut through the air like a knife and she can try to fold herself into the places under Sheldon’s skin.
She listens to him breathe, and keeps her hands on his chest to feel its rise and fall. He’s still breathing deep and even, although he’s got his head pushed back into the pillows and his eyes closed. He’s trying to keep it together, even now, every time they do this. She waits for him to gasp for air, for his chest to jerk under her hands, for him to finally break, like he always does. She loves to watch him, even though they’ve done this so many times she’s lost count.
They have to be all right, after today, after what’s been leading up to it. They won’t break apart at the seams, not when there’s still this between them, and the music.
They have to be.
Penny rolls into the studio the next morning feeling boneless and pliant and in desperate need of a strong cup of coffee. Sheldon’s like the Tin Man to her Scarecrow, stiff and all awkward angles when he sits in the chair at the board next to Timmy. She knows he’s trying, she can see it in the set of his shoulders and the way his finger fidget with the cord of his headphones. But it’s not even an hour before he’s back to making a laundry list of complaints to Timmy. So much for that, then. He asks to hear the same part four or five times, and Timmy plays along, but Penny can tell that Sheldon’s already pushing his luck. She knows he’s just doing his thing, and he tends to pick up on stuff all the time that she can’t even hear, but he always has problems figuring out when is enough. They don’t have the time to spend a week on each song, as much as she wishes they did. Some of it can get fixed while it’s getting mixed, when Sheldon’s complete anal-retentiveness not only comes in handy, but tends to impress people. Some of it really does need to be fixed right now, but Sheldon needs to learn to trust his initial judgement and move on, instead of listening multiple times to confirm what he already knows.
So it’s exactly the wrong move when Timmy asks Sheldon (incredibly politely, considering) to take a break downstairs while he edits something.
Sheldon doesn’t even move from his swivel chair at the mixing board. Penny watches him and knows he’s struggling not to snap.
Timmy glances at her, as if to ask for help. But he tries again, without her. “Sheldon, I know you want to be involved in the this. But sometimes, I have to be alone to find the thing that works best. It’s part of the creative process. I’m sure you understand. If you’d like, I’ll sit with you at the break for lunch and go over the track for as long as you need.”
It’s a dumb thing to say, because Sheldon could end up there the whole day, but Penny doubts Sheldon would take the compromise anyway.
“I’m under the impression that I am exchanging money for services rendered.”
Now Timmy’s definitely looking at her. It’s the look she’s seen plenty of times before, from bar owners and club promoters, and pretty much everyone that comes into contact with Sheldon for more than five minutes. Translate please. But she’s still trying to figure a way out of this that doesn’t end in bloodshed. And that’s not even entirely figurative.
“He’s trying to tell you that since he’s paying you, he wants it done his way.” Leonard sounds incredibly embarrassed.
Timmy, bless him, doesn’t look offended. Although he’s probably putting this one away for the next time he’s hired by a band, and he takes them out drinking and tells war stories about the crazy musicians that come through his studio. “Sheldon, no offense, but you can’t afford to work at your pace. You’d be here for three months, maybe longer.”
The shoulder blades draw together, and the line of his neck gets even straighter, and she’s got to step in before Sheldon fucks up everything. He’s already crossed the line, but Timmy’s a good guy, and she knows he likes them (even Sheldon, maybe, it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility) and there’s still enough wiggle room for her to fix this.
“If you’ll just excuse the two of us for a moment,” she says, and spins Sheldon’s chair around before he can plant his feet. “It won’t take long. Go ahead without us, Timmy.”
She drags Sheldon into the little hallway between the main room and the vocal booth, and slides the door shut. It’s not going to be enough that the rest of the guys can’t hear them though, but she’s pretty sure that Timmy will miss most of it with his headphones on, and at this point she honestly doesn’t give a shit what the rest of the band hears.
“Sheldon, I thought we had, I don’t know, figured this out. Or at least agreed that we could work with them, right?”
“No, see, you can’t just reconsider and not tell me about it. We’ve got two more weeks here, and then that’s it. Our money runs out, and we’ll have to start all over again to try and finish the record. Another round of cover shows, another delay that pushes us off the radar just a little more, for all those A&R guys that might be looking at us.”
“It’s just as much a failure to put out an album that isn’t good enough. Then instead of making them wait, they’ll dismiss us outright and that’s it. Our future as a wedding band has never looked brighter.”
“It’s only not good enough for you, Sheldon.”
“Why should I trust your opinion? We found you off a bulletin board. We could have picked anyone with an ability to stay in key.”
Jesus Christ, if he was hitting below the belt before, this is a two by four to the metaphorical nuts, and even he knows it. But it’s not in his nature to take things back, so instead he just stands there, hands clenched into fists, and he tries to look defiant, although not directly at her.
Now she does care that she’s only around the corner from the guys. So she has to consider her words carefully, and not let the hurt seep into her voice, even if at some level she knows he’s just lashing out. It’s his nature.
“Don’t do this, Sheldon,” she says. There, good. Calm. Rational.
“Do what, Penny? Voice my concerns? Tell the truth?”
“It’s not just you in this, you know. There’s five people in this band,” she says, but thinks, there’s the two of us. You made it so it was the two of us. You chose it when you kissed me back in Detroit, you signed an agreement without even knowing it, you did this to us, Sheldon Cooper, so don’t think you can undo it so easily, or that I will let you.
But it’s Sheldon that turns and walks silently through the main room, past the sofas where Raj and Leonard and Howard are sitting (and, oh god, Bernadette), and out the door.
She wasn’t expecting that.
She ignores the looks everyone gives her. It’s harder than she expects.
She digs in her purse for her wallet. Fortunately, for once she's actually got cash and not just a debit card, so she folds up a couple of twenties and presses them into Raj's hand, then drags him outside so Timmy can't hear them. "Go get him, take him to a bar, let him get it out of his system. I’m not going to get very far with him if I go." Raj starts to speak, but she rolls right over him. "Just make sure you get him home before he can't walk anymore. I'll clean things up here."
Sheldon's already down well down the block. Raj will have to run to catch him. He turns unhappily back to her. "Why is it always me?"
It's an easy answer, but one she doesn't like to bring attention to. Raj is the only one, well, besides her, that will actually listen to Sheldon, even at his most difficult. Howard and Leonard just tend to wait him out and then dismiss his concerns, which drives her crazy. Sheldon probably notices it too, but doesn't say anything. So Raj is the one she always relies on, when she can't be the one to calm him down.
She doesn't say any of that though, just smiles and punches Raj in the shoulder. "You're his friend. And you're the best. And I'll buy you dinner tonight." She glances up, and Sheldon's gone around the corner. "You'd better go before you lose him."
"Fine," Raj says. "But no fast food and no Indian."
She watches Raj jog down the street for a minute before she heads back in. She's going to need every ounce of charm she's got on her to smooth things over with Timmy. And then she’s going to have to deal with Bernadette and shut down Howard and Leonard’s horrible attempts at concern.
Raj and Sheldon don't show up in time for dinner. They order pizza and keep working, and she knows Timmy's glad to get things done without having a backseat engineer hovering over him all afternoon, even if the mood is still awkward and tense. Penny naps for a little bit on the sofa, listening to the same guitar lick over and over, and the heavy sounds of the boys walking around upstairs.
Raj and Sheldon don't show up for the rest of the night, either. They call it quits a little after midnight, and Penny turns down Leonard's offer to go back with her to the hotel. She does pull Bernadette aside, and asks her to call if the guys show up at the house during the night. Bernadette nods, and touches her on the elbow. She shakes her head. Sheldon just took her by surprise, is all. It’s not that she thinks he means what he said, but still. He hasn’t really meant any of it so far. And anyway, he’s with Raj, so she knows that he’s fine - he’ll come back, hopefully drunk and about as remorseful as he’s capable of, and she won’t say much but she’ll let him know she can forgive him. Even if it make take a little time. And it’s not like Sheldon and Raj are out at a strip club or anything. It’s Sheldon. And Raj. Naked women are the last thing either one of them want to see.
She’s tempted for a little bit to text Raj to to find out where they are, and maybe go help with Sheldon, but she knows Raj would have called her if he really needed it. And by now, it’s almost too late to go put herself in the middle of this one again, even if she really wanted to. Which, if she’s being honest, she doesn’t.
So, executive decision: back to the hotel for a bath, maybe a bottle of wine, and then curling up with her laptop and her DVD of You’ve Got Mail until Sheldon gets back.
She's still awake when the card reader on the door whines and beeps. Sheldon's quiet. The lights are off, and she's curled up on her side of the bed, and she doesn't move as Sheldon shuts the door and gets undressed. She knows he's drunk, wasted even, but knowing him and what he's like when he's a bottle in, he gets even more uptight and controlling of his own movements. It's why he's deadly at Wii Bowling on practice nights, but on the rare occasions she's ever seen him like this, it's like being in the eye of a hurricane sweeping in to shore.
He slips into his side of the bed and tucks the covers around himself. It’s the way he used to sleep back before they got together, when he’d wrap himself up like a mummy on the bus and sleep ramrod straight on his back. She pulls at the blankets a bit and puts her hand on his shoulder. If he’s startled by the fact that she’s awake, he doesn’t show it.
“Are we over?” she asks, not even knowing if she’s talking about them or the band.
He doesn’t reply.
She stays awake a while that night.
Sheldon doesn’t say anything in the morning either. He just showers, dresses, and waits for her to be ready.
She digs the aspirin out of the bottom of her suitcase, and tosses it at him. Maybe a little harder than she was originally intending. He catches it and avoids her eyes while he swallows two down with a swig from his water bottle.
So this is how he’s going to play it. Awesome.
She takes Raj out for dinner, like she promised. He still looks a little green around the edges. Unlike Sheldon, who showed no signs of the hangover he must have been struggling through all day, Raj had puked at least three times in the downstairs bathroom before lunch. And then again after Leonard had gone out to pick up some Chinese food. One whiff of the General Tso’s and Raj had been gone.
They find a diner that’s still serving breakfast, and Raj orders toast.
“So you’re going to be a cheap date tonight, then?”
“I might never forgive you for last night. I forgot how much he can drink when he’s in a mood.”
“You and me, both.” She resists the urge to mention his father. How sometimes she worries if they’re not there to pull him back from the edge, that he might topple over it, just like George Cooper, and find himself at the bottom of a bottle.
“You know I love him as much as you do—” Raj stops and blushes. She raises an eyebrow. “Not like that. Please. I’ve learned my lesson to only chase after the ones with manageable emotional damage.”
“He’s not broken or anything, Raj.”
“Not with you. I mean, you’ve heard some of the stories about him from before we found you, but. I feel like we always toned them down. To protect both of you. Or all of us. Maybe both.”
“He can’t have been that bad.”
“He once disappeared for two weeks. No warning, just gone. He missed three shows. We had no clue where he was. We called his mom in Texas, his sister, everyone we could think of. He showed back up like he had never left, and was surprised when we all freaked out at him.”
Raj’s toast arrives. She gets a refill on her coffee.
“Where did he go?”
“Germany. But he never actually told us. Leonard had to steal his passport to finally figure it out.”
She hmms in what she hopes appears to be an unconcerned fashion.
“No - it’s not that we think he went back for her. I don’t know. We don’t know why he did it, he just did and you know how he is. He doesn’t need to explain himself to anyone, unless he deems it necessary.”
“I don’t know if I can talk about Sheldon tonight, Raj. Or at least, that part of it all. He hasn’t exactly shared any of it with me either. I can’t fill in the blanks for you.”
“I’m just telling you this as a friend. Sometimes he needs time.”
“I know that, Raj. We all know that.”
“That’s not what I mean - I just. He had a shitty childhood. He struggles with things. He got sent abroad when he was eleven, because he could play circles around every one else. He never loved it though. He does with us, though. And he does with you. But he doesn’t always know how to tell you.”
She doesn’t really need to have an emotional breakdown in the middle of a diner in Portland. It’s not really an item on her daily to-do list.
“Topic change?” she requests, as politely as she can manage.
Raj bites into a piece of toast, and waves the rest of the piece around in a magnanimous circle, as if to say go ahead. As he chews, he looks at the little things of grape jelly on his plate with sadness.
“I’m never drinking again.”
“You say that every time.”
“Your boyfriend is an asshole.”
“I mean, he’s not without total merit. His hands, for one thing—”
“I was hoping you’d have something to talk about that isn’t my love life. We could talk about your love life?”
“I’m sorry, I’m not sure what you’re referring to. Such a thing does not exist.”
“It would if you would only talk to some of these boys that I send over to you after shows. I have the radar, Raj. It never fails me. Or you, more accurately.”
“Yeah, and when am I going to have time to date someone? You and Sheldon have the band, the apartment, you’re all set. I’m never home, we play shows three or four nights a week, have practice another couple of nights, and I’m lucky if I can catch a few minutes of the Daily Show the one night we do have off.”
“Hey, Leonard’s still single. The two of you do have a lot of common interests.”
“Well, I’m done eating now.”
“Excellent. Karaoke?” she asks, brightly.
Raj throws a butter pad at her.
It’s the second day of Sheldon not talking to her. She takes to sitting out on the curb pretending to smoke her cigarettes, which is a pretty expensive way of killing time, especially considering how much they cost at the convenience store around the corner. Sometimes Bernadette sits next to her and they make up ridiculous stories for the people walking by or they talk about Bernadette’s shitty job and her manager that is obviously having an affair with one of the line cooks, or they just sit there in silence and wait for it to rain.
Late in the afternoon, she’s behind the wheel of the bus digging for a pack of gum she swears is in the driver’s side pocket when Leonard heads down the street, probably to go pick up another couple of six packs. She’s pretty sure he doesn’t see her, so she waits patiently for him to get back, sure enough with a rack of Miller Lite under his arm and his cell phone pressed to his ear. He is perfectly oblivious when she leans on the horn right as he passes the front of the bus.
She’s not exactly expecting the girlish shriek he emits, but it’s probably the best thing she’s going to hear all day, so she’ll take it.
Leonard doesn’t live it down for the rest of the night. They had even heard it inside, and she loses count of how many times Howard’s recreated the particular high-pitched tone Leonard had managed to reach until Bernadette finally shuts him down by punching him in the thigh dangerously close to his junk.
It would be just like a normal recording session if Sheldon would just talk to her.
Howard’s sitting at the board with Timmy, while Raj plays Switzerland on the couch between Penny and Sheldon. Bernadette’s using her legs as a backrest, which can’t be comfortable, but she’s peering intently at Penny’s open Word doc with potential song titles. Leonard’s in the guitar room, having an argument with himself over using one of Timmy’s Strats or his Gibson SG and muttering about humbuckers. It’s nearly midnight and it’s prime working time, now that they’ve all adapted to the insane hours kept by recording engineers.
They’re actually overdue for a Howard Wolowitz Witticism, so when he turns and says, very seriously and completely out of nowhere, “You know, I really hope this doesn’t turn into a Fleetwood Mac situation. I can’t handle the amount of drugs they did. I have a very sensitive nervous system,” she can’t even bother to tell him to shut up. (Bernadette does it for her. She’s about one hundred and ten percent sure at this time that Bernadette Rostenkowski is actually the greatest human being on the face of the planet.)
Colby does manage to find them a cover show, short notice for the weekend before they leave. It’s a nice Irish bar, just outside the city. Sheldon emails her his proposed set list. She somehow refrains from email back: Here is how I propose to break your face.
It’s close though.
Timmy suggests they start multi-tasking to save time. It’s a polite way to separate her and Sheldon, and while she sees through it, it’s probably for the best. Colby sets up a vocal booth at his house for her. It’s in a closet down in the basement, but he’s put up some fabric and a few lights and it doesn’t really feel like she’s about to get murdered. All the boys are at the studio still, but she’s dragged along Bernadette to keep her company and give her feedback without the bullshit.
Colby needs some time to get the computer and the board ready to go, so they wait upstairs in the sparsely furnished living room (seriously, only a guy would think big screen tv plus big leather couch equals living room) and cruise through the HD channels on the big screen until they find a rerun of a Nanny episode. Mr. Sheffield’s onscreen fake-kissing Fran when Bernadette says, without any real warning, “I slept with Howard last night.”
Well. She wasn’t expecting that, to say the least, but at least it’s not more unhappy venting about how Sheldon’s still being a complete dick.
Bernadette nods slowly, knowing where the conversation is about to head.
“Howard has the top bunk, doesn’t he?”
“Yes.” There is a definite note of shame in Bernadette’s voice.
“You slept with Howard. On the top bunk.”
“And by slept with, you mean, had sex with.”
There’s a moment of silence while Penny processes.
“Was Raj sleeping on the bottom bunk.”
“Oh god, I know.” Her face is in her hands, but she’s laughing helplessly. “It squeaked a little bit, but you know Raj, he’s like a zombie. And I’m pretty sure we almost woke him up, but then he mumbled something about Sendhil Ramamurthy, and rolled over and we just sort of... kept going.”
“Oh my god.”
“You know, for a tiny man, he’s actually sort of-”
“Whatever you’re about to say, stop.”
Bernadette stops, thank god. “It wasn’t that bad,” she mumbles, but by the look on her face, it probably was.
“I can’t believe you sexed up Howard Wolowitz on a set of bunk beds. With someone else in the room. I’m sorry, do we go to boarding school, or something? Did you play seven minutes in heaven first?”
Bernadette reaches over and grabs a pillow off the sofa, which is promptly launched into her face. “Shut up, Penny. I know what you’ve done to Sheldon on the bus. It has been defiled. Violated. Profaned, even. Priests would not dare enter, knowing what acts have been committed at 55 miles per hour.”
“When you marry Howard, you can’t hyphenate your names. Your children can’t be the shortest humans in the country and have the longest names ever. It would just be cruel.”
“Remind me again why you gave up your career in stand-up comedy and went into music? It was obviously a terrible life decision.”
They smile at each other. Banter sessions with Bernadette are the easiest way for her to take her mind off Sheldon, right now.
“Wait, Sendhil Ramamurthy? Like, that guy from Heroes and that really bad spy show?”
“That would be like Raj sort of making out with himself.”
Bernadette nods, but her face suggests that she sort of wouldn’t mind watching it.
There’s another moment of silence.
“That show is really bad,” Penny says. It almost actively bothers her, since she loves the dad from The OC. And that chick from House that dated Wilson but then died in the bus crash, and man, she cried a lot at that episode.
“Seriously. Did they ever watch an episode of Alias, or what?”
“Yeah. The blind guy is pretty cute though.”
“I wouldn’t mind making out with him.”
“I wouldn’t mind it if Raj made out with him.”
“We should probably stop talking about boys Raj could make out with.”
“But it’s our favorite game.”
“True.” Bernadette sits back and leans her head against the sofa. “I cast all my moral objections aside for the great and noble pursuit of cute boys making out.”
“That’s more like it. But don’t think I forgot about you and Howard. I don’t think I ever will. It will be a terrible matter that weighs upon me until the day I die, and when I am buried, the headstone will say: Finally, she is free of the burden of knowing that Bernadette boned Howard on the top bunk, as if recording an album were band camp.”
“They’re going to have to engrave your headstone in nine point Arial, then.”
“Shut up, Rostenkowski.”
It’s not right, recording here, away from the boys but mostly Sheldon. She doesn’t say anything, but everyone knows the vibe is off. She cuts her tracks though. She’s a professional, and she’s paying out the ass for the privilege to be here.
She just imagines Tim Gunn is in the booth with her, pursing his lips and telling her to make it work. It actually helps, in a weird way. And Colby tries to help as much as he can, even though he knows she has to make the decisions on everything she does pretty much all by herself.
Leonard swings by around dinner time, with a bucket of fried chicken and biscuits, and a monstrous tub of mashed potatoes and gravy. The four of them pull up the mismatched chairs to the table in the kitchen, and talk about absolutely nothing for a solid hour. The closest they get to a serious topic of conversation is when Leonard becomes hilariously offended by Bernadette suggesting that Pokemon Snap was actually a decent game for Nintendo 64 back in the day.
After dinner, Colby plays back Singer Park for them, and Leonard makes a few comments. There’s still a small batch of lyrics that might need tweaking in the second verse, but lyric writing has never been Leonard’s strong point, so once he’s listened a few more times, he disappears back up the stairs to go hang out with Bernadette.
Back to work.
She wishes Sheldon were here, for about the seven millionth time. Even if she has no clue where she stands with him, she still misses him.
When she gets upstairs, Bernadette is playing some game with Leonard that he seems to be losing at miserably, based on the way he’s holding his head in his hands.
“I don’t know, the Bears?”
“The Bears are in Chicago, oh my god. The Super Bowl Shuffle?” When Leonard doesn’t reply, Bernadette gasps. “What rock were you under as a kid?”
Leonard mutters, “Obviously you never met my mother.”
Penny raises an eyebrow, and asks, “Am I interrupting something here?”
Bernadette claps her hand in glee. “No, Penny, you have to watch this. This is hysterical. OK, Leonard. Toronto.”
“Wait, which sport?”
“Any sport, Leonard. I don’t care. Penny, did you know that Leonard does not actually know where a single sports team is located except for those hailing from New York and Boston?”
“I grew up in Jersey. It’s hard to not know the Yankees and Red Sox.”
“Leonard, focus. Toronto.”
“Um, they have a team named for a bird, right?”
“That is actually accurate. I’ll even give you a hint that it’s their baseball team.”
“The Blackhawks? It has a color in the name, I remember that.”
“Every sports team you can name is from Chicago. Also, you are very bad at this.”
“I hadn’t noticed. I get to be done now, right?”
“Penny, care to buzzer in?”
“Toronto, right? Blue Jays, Maple Leafs, Raptors. Here, Leonard, I’ll get even on your behalf and challenge Bernadette to a question.”
“Try me. You know Glenn was from Toronto. I got this, girl.”
“Name the football team in Toronto.”
“Toronto doesn’t have a football team.”
“Not in the NFL, no. But they have a football team.”
Penny knows just by the look on Bernadette’s face that she’s got her stumped. “There you go, Leonard. Your honor is restored. And the answer is: the Toronto Argonauts, and fact: they are actually the oldest professional football team in the entirety of North America. Suck it.”
Leonard’s looking at her like she sprouted a new head. “How do you even know that?”
“Please. I grew up in Nebraska. Canada might not have real football, but it’s still football, and when there’s nothing else on at 3 AM, ESPN2 always comes through.”
They hit day four of the silent treatment before she finally starts to break. She starts trying to invade Sheldon’s space all afternoon, to see if she can push him into talking to her. But he’s Sheldon, and he’s got an iron will and an inability to admit he’s wrong about the worst things possible, so it fails miserably. The boys make up for it, always making sure one of them is with her at the house, or that Bernadette’s around and that there’s a new limitless supply of caffeinated beverages. They’ll backfire later tonight, when it’s just her and Sheldon not talking in a hotel room and she’s wired and unhappy until three in the morning, but right now she doesn’t really care.
At least she’s getting some quality time with Colby, who had been fairly elusive at the studio, preferring to let Timmy run the show. Colby just ignores the whole Sheldon situation, talking about the band’s future like it isn’t all up for grabs, and that there will still be a band, or that she’ll still be in it. It’s calming. He’s all business, but in a way that she knows he’s doing it for her, to keep the ground steady beneath her. He talks about all the decisions that she’ll have to make with Sheldon, finalizing song titles and track order, and finding someone professional to design the album artwork.
It’s their third time through the song she calls Hunting Ghosts. It’s the song Sheldon just wrote, and it’s not right they’re not recording it together. It’s meant for both of them. Colby catches her trying to fake her way through the key change. Her headphones go silent.
Colby opens the door and just looks at her. “I’m sorry, I know. I shouldn’t be having problems with it. Let’s do it again, I’ll hit it this time.”
“It’s not the song. Look, there’s really no other way to put this. It’s you.” He catches the way her shoulders fall, and puts his hand up. “No, it’s not as bad as you think I’m making it out to be. But you’ve got to get your shit together, Penny. This thing with Sheldon? You’re trying to pretend like it’s not a problem, but it is. And we all know it, too. The rest of your band doesn’t even know what happens if you and Sheldon don’t work this out. You guys are paying me. I’ll be here, I’ll do my job. But it’s not going to be any good if you’re not here. One hundred percent.”
Colby walks over and brings her into a hug. She’s about ten seconds away from bursting into tears. Colby lets her go, and she takes a breath to steady herself. It’s a little better. “Take the night off, Penny. If you need to stay here tonight, I can put you in my room with Bernadette and I’ll crash in the living room. Get wasted if you have to. But come back ready to work tomorrow, with your head in the game. Doesn’t matter what ends up happening with Sheldon, but you’re here to make a record.”
It’s only after he flicks off the board and she hears his footsteps creak up the stairs that she finally gives in and has herself a good cry.
After a bit, she heads back over to the studio. She doesn’t want to go back to the hotel, and if she’s lucky Bernadette will be there. But when she walks in, both her and Howard are MIA. She’s tempted to call, even if she knows she’s probably interrupting something, until she spots her guitar case propped up in the corner against the little coffee table. She asks Timmy if there’s a decent open mic night. Her hands start itching to play something, anything, that she didn’t write with Sheldon, that won’t make her feel this weird inevitable sadness like everything important might be coming to an end.
“Let’s see, it’s Wednesday. I think there’s one down at the Skylark, hold on, let me Google it and make sure I don’t send you halfway across town only to find out it’s belly dancing night, or something.”
Sheldon doesn’t say anything when she leaves, but she knows he’s watching her pick up her guitar and walk out the door. It almost feels like a goodbye.
She gets there half an hour before sign-ups, and orders a beer. She doesn’t really want to go first, anyway, so she leaves her guitar in its case on the floor beside her and takes her time before she finally wanders over to the list up by the stage.
When she signs up, the guy with the pen gives her a once-over but seems satisfied. “How many songs, sweetheart?”
“However many you’ll let me play.”
He glances around the bar. There’s a few people here with guitars, but not many. “Most nights it’s two or three. Tonight, you can have four unless I tell you different before you start. Sound good?”
“OK, try to keep the cussing and the ironic covers to a minimum. Save ‘em for YouTube. Other than that, have fun and if you suddenly catch a case of stage fright, please direct any and all vomiting to the nearest toilet and not on any of my equipment, please and thank you.”
She wrinkles her nose. Gross. On second thought, she probably should have brought her own microphone. It’s weird using other people’s stuff, and using other people’s microphones is worst of all.
She gets called up a little after nine, and the two guys that have gone before her were fine, although she can tell just by the way that they play that this is really the only time they perform. The slight hesitation over the strings, the nerves she can hear in their voices. It’s not second nature, but something they have to think about every second they’re up on that stage.
She’s not really even sure what she’s going to play once she’s up there, but she’d been working on a cover of Go Your Own Way for a few months that had been giving her trouble and it seems like the perfect place to see if her muscle memory will kick in. She’s got this country-twang guitar thing at the end, and she only hits it two out of three times, but it’s not like anyone around here is really going to judge her. It’s actually sort of the worst song to play right at the moment, but she puts all her personal bullshit aside and just focuses on hitting the notes and settles for sounding sad while she sings, rather than completely on the edge of being broken. She tones down the guitar solo at the end a bit, just to make sure she doesn’t fuck it up completely, but she can tell it’s working for the small crowd watching her. She gets a healthy round of applause when she closes out the last “you can go your own way.”
She picks up the beer at her feet, and finishes it off. There’s a couple of cheers, and someone shouts up to the stage to see if she wants a shot. “Oh shit no,” she says, laughing into the mic. “Bad enough that I’m up here as it is.” She checks the tuning of her guitar, trying to come up with another song to play. “Any requests?” she asks. “No promises, but if I know it, I’ll play it.”
Before there’s an answer, she adds, “And if any of y’all fuckers say Freebird, I’m not afraid to come down there and kick your asses.” There’s a round of laughter and a good-natured frown from the sign-up guy over her mouth, and she’s officially got them all on her side now. It’s oddly freeing to be up on a stage on her own, with no one behind her anchoring her to a beat. She should really do this more often.
“Nothing, guys? Really? I’m disappointed.”
There’s a knot of girls near the bar, and they’ve all got to be in college still. They look like babies. One of them actually raises her hand, like this is class. It’s precious.
Penny nods in her direction, because if she opens her mouth she might start laughing and not be able to stop.
“Do you know Rolling in the Deep?”
“Yeah, sure.” She has to find her capo though, to play that one. She reaches back to grab her case so she can dig around for it. “This is turning into sad break-up central in here. Or maybe Glee has a bigger influence on all of us than we realized. Which is a horrifying thought, isn’t it?”
The crowd laughs. Ah, there’s the capo.
“And now all of you know I watch Glee.” She sticks it on the third fret, make sure the strings still ring. “But that’s ok, because you all laughed, and now I know that you watch Glee. So we’re even.”
She strums a couple of Am chords, before she thinks of something. She squints back at the girls at the bar. “What’s your name, out there?”
“Vanessa. But it’s for my friend here, Gwen.”
“All right, to Gwen then. And to me. And to all the rest of you, if you’re struggling with the ones you love.” She raises her empty bottle and watches as glasses are raised back at her.
There’s really no easy way to cover this song except to sing it straight and know that she can never out-sing Adele, so that’s exactly what she does. It seems like no matter how many times people hear this song, they can never get enough of it. And this one would actually be a good one to have the band with her, Sheldon’s keys and the song seems to lack slightly without that thumping drum beat. She starts stomping her foot in time, and a few people start clapping or hitting their tables, and she smiles. Such an easy sway, one of the easiest crowds she’s ever had. And if nothing else, the sheer number of times she’s sung this in the shower means she’s not exactly afraid of the moment when she hits the chorus and really has to start belting it out.
She looks up at the end of the song, and Sheldon’s at the front table, with a glass of something, scotch probably, and he pushes a sweating beer bottle across the table for her to reach over and grab. She's not even sure how he managed to get in here without her noticing, but he tends to be oddly good at things like that (like when he always magically appears at the merch table when she's getting hit on by creepy drunk guys that don't bother to learn her name but want to sleep with a lead singer). He meets her eyes steadily, and she wonders if he's been here the whole time. Timmy's pissed at him, but he's still a good enough guy to try and help them out, especially if it means getting Sheldon off his back right before they start recording his parts.
"You want to come up here?" She asks, away from the microphone while she leans down to grab the bottle.
"If you want me up there. It's your decision."
And as angry and worried she's been the past few days, and as much as his silent treatment is still a fresh sting, it would be impossible not to let him try and fix this, and for her not to help.
"Come on, come up here."
When he climbs up on stage, she tosses a glance to the guy running the open mic, as if to say, it's OK, he is not a crazy person, do not panic.
She pulls another stool out for him to sit on, and she moves the mic stand over to him. He doesn't say anything, but she can tell he was expecting it on some level, even if he's still not quite happy about it.
"Your choice, Sheldon."
"Fine. Your song, please."
He still calls it her song, even though it's really his, the one he built in tiny pieces from Detroit on after they kissed. The one with her melody. Fuck him and and his hidden sentimental streak.
"Asshole," she mutters, and she catches him trying to hide his smile while she strums the first chords, but he looks at her and mouths "I know," back at her.
She sings the harmonies even though she doesn't have a mic anymore, and by the end of the song, she's pretty sure everything might be fine after all.
“We get another song, Sheldon. You want it?”
She sees him place his fingers against his knee in a chord formation. He wants his keyboard. “Because?” he asks.
She nods, they can do the song with just the acoustic, even though it would sound best with some form of piano. But they can make it work.
“You gotta intro it, Sheldon. You have the mic.”
“This is a song by Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen.” She nods at him again, trying to encourage him to actually try his hand at stage banter. “It has not been in Glee.” She laughs outright at that, and so does the crowd. “It’s desperate and urgent, but ultimately it suggests the unnamed protagonists of the song will succeed in staying together through sheer force of will. I find it’s a lesson I’ve just learned the hard way”
“All right, Professor, let’s just play the damn song.” But even as she says it to him across the stage, she can’t actually wipe the smile off her face.
It’s not nearly as frantic a version as Springsteen used to play back in the day, but they do it justice. Sheldon finally gets the idea to just bring the mic over to her, so she takes a weird pleasure at shouting the lyrics directly at his face while he’s still actually making the effort to sing them.
They stay for the rest of the open mic. Penny’s secretly glad they got the loudest applause of the night, and when they get up to leave, the guy in charge actually stops by their table and tells them they’re welcome back any time. It’s not a bad evening’s work.
He kisses her out back, near the loading dock. This time it seems less like a flashback to how they started, but more like the promise of something new. That they can be better than this, whether or not the band makes it, or if the album works out, that he's promising her that it's back to being them against the world again.
“What’s the song about, Sheldon?” She smiles. He nods his head. He remembers. But this time the conversation is different.
“It’s about growing up. And that not all compromises have to be considered failures. That sometimes, compromising on one thing wins you something more important.”
“That letting go of one thing lets you hold on to something else?” He’s in one of his plaid shirts, tucked into jeans, a superhero peeking up between his collar. She fiddles with the top button, and places a kiss against his jaw.
“Something like that. I wrote it for someone I’m in love with.”
“You should tell me her name so I can go kick her ass.”
“Having received many blows from disturbing her in the early hours of the morning, may I suggest you go to fight her after eleven in the morning, at the earliest?”
“She sounds tough.”
“She’s stronger than I am.”
“Well, I believe that.”
They only leave the alley when someone brings out the trash and finds them, with Penny’s hands just about to undo Sheldon’s fly, so. That’s somehow not the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to her, but it’s pretty close. Plus they have a hotel room. They should really get on that.
They walk back to the hotel. Sheldon carries her guitar. The Portland night is cool and foggy and perfect.
“Who told you to come after me?”
“Shit. I’m not going to make her do any of the bitch work for months to pay her back for this.”
Sheldon tugs her a little closer, and manages to press a kiss to the top of her head without breaking stride.
They have to go back to the studio three weeks after they wrap for a few final touches after they get the mixes back from Timmy. It's all minor stuff that needs fixing, and mostly on Penny's end. But Sheldon calmly requests that he'd like to try a new part on The Time Before that he'd only come up with a few nights ago, and she checks with Timmy first that it will be ok. He's reluctant since he’s got another band coming in to start as soon as they leave, but she promises him this time that there will be no surprises.
They drive up in her car this time, instead of the bus. Sheldon's going to use the upright that resides at the studio, rather than bringing his keyboards, and she doesn't really need to bring anything, though she sticks her Gibson in the back seat out of habit, just in case. They stop about halfway in Red Bluff and crash at a Best Western, too tired to do anything but sleep with the air conditioning cranked as low as it will go and the blinds all the way up to wake them up first thing in the morning. The continental breakfast leaves everything to be desired, but the coffee is drinkable, and as far as Penny's concerned, that's all that counts.
They don't really talk on the second day of the drive, although Sheldon tries to play some of his weird car games that revolve around naming classical composers that he always kicks her ass at, and eventually just plays by himself. She amuses herself with playing punch buggy and doing her best to give him a bruise right below the shoulder.
She’s flicking through static and talk radio, hoping to find something decent enough to leave on and keep her awake. She forgot to charge her iPod at the hotel, and there’s a CD in her stereo that’s been stuck in there for at least four months now. She finally finds a college radio station on the lower end of the dial that’s playing the Pixies and prays it stays in range for more than a couple of songs.
Portland’s still about four and a half hours away, and they’re due to stop for lunch soon. Her back is definitely starting to feel the road trip. Sheldon’s definitely got it worse though, being as tall as he is and crammed into the front seat of her Volkswagen.
Sgt. Pepper’s comes on the radio next, and Penny turns it up. When Sheldon looks over at her, she smiles and says, “It was my first Beatles song. My sister was just figuring out music and she found it in my parents’ albums. I don’t think they had ever listened to it. One of their friends had given it to them as a present, way before any of us were born.”
She taps out the drum beat on the steering wheel, not expecting any comment from Sheldon.
“My mother, as you know, is deeply religious.” Penny doesn’t even look at him, because Sheldon, he never willingly shares like this. She has to drag it out of him, or he’s drunk, or the boys tell her. “John Lennon never won any favors with my mother, and there was an unofficial rule in the house that pop music was only for those with questionable morals. Of course, that meant that my sister had to listen to it.”
“Sounds like Missy,” she says, trying to play it cool.
“Yes. And true to form, she was caught by my mother. So not only was Missy punished, the three of us had endure a solid month of Amy Grant albums on repeat. I think that was the best I have ever gotten along with my brother. Saved by Love makes for strange alliances, I suppose.”
“I guess I’m going to be glad I don’t even know what that is.”
“Quite glad, I should think. Anyway, a few months passed, and by then Missy had learned to listen to her records over at her friends’ houses. I did not have that luxury.”
This is why Sheldon never tells his stories, Penny thinks. They all end up being super depressing.
“My father found me one night, curled up against one of the speakers as I tried to listen to the radio with the volume barely on. He was freshly home from the bars, well past drunk, as he often was. I expected he would hit me, or simply turn me over to my mother.”
By now, she thinks it’s safe enough to go ahead and ask, “What did he do?”
“He grabbed my shoulder. By this point, I was certain that my punishment would be far, far worse than Missy’s had been. But instead of marching me upstairs to face my mother’s wrath, he took me outside and put me in the driver’s seat of his truck.”
“Hold old were you?”
“Ten. It was before I left home. All I had ever listened to were the songs I played with my tutors and whatever my mother allowed. My father put the keys in the ignition, and told me to drive. I was startled, to say the least. There wasn’t much around us, but I couldn’t even see us managing to make it out of our driveway safely. Well, you know my feelings about motor vehicles. They were worse back then.”
Sheldon starts to laugh, and that’s when she can finally relax. This memory’s a good one after all. “He tells me, not too far, just around the bend. So I did. He worked the pedals, I drove. And when we turned out of the driveway, he had me immediately pull over.”
“He let you listen to his radio, didn’t he?”
Sheldon nods. “We went back before sunrise. My mother never found out. She just thought my father hadn’t come home that night until late, and she didn’t speak to him for at least a week.” He shakes his head a little, breaking himself out of his nostalgia. “I worked it out later that was the moment I knew I would end up a musician.”
“It just took you a little while to figure out what kind, huh?”
“Yes,” he says, and seems inclined to leave it at that. She’s glad enough she got what she did, to know that he has at least a few happy memories tucked away inside him of Texas and his family.
She spots a sign for a Jack in the Box, the exit another mile up the road. They’d passed the last In-N-Out right after leaving the motel, and this is a sad alternative, but at least it’s edible.
Timmy shakes Sheldon's hand when they pull up in front of the studio, and Penny releases a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. Timmy smiles at her, and thank god, he's such a good guy. Lesser men than him had definitely not managed to coexist with Sheldon.
"Let's do this shit, boys," she says. "And let's do it right this time."
Sheldon's sitting next to Timmy at the board, but he doesn't have his headphones on so she's not super worried about how intensely he seems to be talking. Timmy's nodding too, so another good sign, enough that she goes back to focusing on bobbing her tea bag up and down in her mug.
"I've made a request," Sheldon says.
"I've already told you, Sheldon, the church bells stay on The Union Pacific. I like them. Leonard likes them. Raj likes them. 3-2, we win."
"It's not about the bells. Despite popular opinion, I can admit defeat."
"Well, it didn't help that Howard was the only one on your side."
He grimaces. "No, it did not. But it's not about the bells."
She takes a careful sip of tea. Whoever thinks this is better than coffee is crazy, but on singing days, it's the only thing she lets herself drink.
"I've asked Timmy to let us rerecord the main vocals on Chasing Galaxies."
"Wait, what? I just had to redo some of the back-up tracks, not the whole thing."
"Yes, but when we originally recorded it, I was here and you were at the booth at the house. It lacks the personal feel of the version we both know the song could have."
He has a point, and Timmy's slipped past them to set up another mic in the vocal booth, so obviously he's down for whatever. They've got the rest of the afternoon anyway, but Colby's not here and he'd probably want to sign off on something like that.
Sheldon looks at her. "It can't hurt to try it, can it?" It can’t. It’s the second song he wrote for her, and she knows it means a lot to both of them. “Timothy and I think it might be the single we send out to the record labels.”
Timothy, she thinks, half exasperated, half completely unsurprised. “You and Timmy talked about that?”
“Yes. He had some good ideas that I think we should take under advisement. But he agrees with me that rerecording the vocals on this song is worth it.”
Timmy pokes his head out of the booth. “Plus you know you fucked up that key change hardcore, right?”
Timmy’s lucky she can laugh about it now, because three weeks ago she would have gone Nebraska on his ass.
She takes a good long look at Sheldon. He’s waiting to see what she says, to see if she jumps back into this with him all over again. To trust him like she did before
“You want to sing it with me?”
Sheldon looks over at Timmy, who nods. “It’s good whenever you are.”
Sheldon looks back at her. He’s got the faintest hint of a smile. “We’re good.”
“OK,” she says, and takes Sheldon’s hand. “Let’s try it.”