Of the rules pertaining to being a smart, savvy female of the new millennium, there was one that Penny failed time and time again: do not attempt to paint your toenails while sitting on the bed.
"Double, damn dammit..."
With the sinking acceptance of a person who's seen the inevitable and knows the only way to deal with it is to sigh and let it pass (much like every boyfriend she's ever had, or thought she'd had, or...something equally depressing), she watched as the polish dripped out of the bottle and began to seep like a purple bruise into the white towel beneath her feet. Well, at least she'd remembered to lay that down. Except it now resembled a crime scene involving the Cooke Monster. Or whichever superhero wore purple. There were about a billion IQ points not twenty feet across the hall that could tell her the exact answer, plus all the facts about Purple Man of Planet Purple she absolutely did not want to know, so Penny wasn't going to touch that one.
She gathered up the evidence with a sigh and tossed it into her already overflowing laundry basket. The bedspread was dotted with little drops (fleur-de-lis the bottle said, but it didn't look very royal or French--just a glittery reminder of every spilt glass of red wine that had rested in the comfy confines of Bedspread Penny, but without the buzz of cheap booze) so she yanked it off and tossed that in too.
Wondering if it was worth starting a new pedicure, this time in the bathtub, with a glass of whatever she had left in her drinks cupboard (answer: nothing, short of Nyquil) she balanced the basket up on one hip, and hobbled out of the apartment.
Of course, the laundry room wasn't empty. How foolish of Penny to hold out hope for some quiet while the rest of the world was out at parties and bowling alleys and bars having a life. Not when she had the wonderful Doctor Predictable to contend with. And here he was, wearing a neon green tee over a neon orange thermal. He could have lit the room under his own goddamn colour-clashing steam.
"Seriously, Sheldon," Penny groaned, dropping her basket on the table, and act which crushed a pile of meticulously folded shirts and what looked like his Friday pyjamas. The fact that she was able to distinguish his Friday pyjamas from his every other nearly identical pair was perhaps a little troubling, not to mention completely flunking her position as said smart and savvy female, but whatever. She was too tired to think deep thoughts, and there were none deeper than what Sheldon Cooper wore to bed. "I mean, can't you, just for once, put on something that doesn't trigger migraines?"
He turned around. She stood there, not unselfconsciously, as his eyes travelled down her body, pausing briefly over her sleep shorts and camisole, and stopping at her feet.
"I might say the same to you," Sheldon said after a bit. "Seeing as you appear to have come downstairs barely dressed at all."
She could have sworn there was a smirk there, under that robotically serene non-expression. "And please remove your basket off my Superman tee shirt," he added, turning away. "His powers in poly-propylene blend cotton are greatly diminished when creased."
Barely dressed? Well, that was a new one. She'd have to save that little nugget for later. She glowered at his back instead, watching as he returned to the job of pulling sheets from the dryer. He proceeded to perform a series of windmill-like movements, his arms and hands flicking the sheets about with military precision until they were transformed into a pile of neat, folded squares. She had to admit, it was pretty impressive, especially when she thought of her own wrestle and vaguely fold while mulling over last night's American Idol method of dealing with sheets. That was one thing about Sheldon: he'd been brought up a good domesticated boy, no doubt about it.
The room felt warm, smelled warm even. He would tell her that smelling warmth was impossible but maybe that was something he just had to figure out on his own. Penny wiped a hand over her eyes. All this thinking of sheets and domesticity was making her want to crawl onto the table, press her cheek to his shirts and sleep through the whirl of the dryer.
"Yeah, well, that's what happens when you spill nail polish all over the bed," she grumbled.
Resigned to her fate, she walked over to the end machine, pulling her laundry with her. She expected him to comment in kind but instead he followed her, and to her surprise took the weight of the basket in both hands, placing it back on the table. He began pulling things out one by one.
"Let me help?"
So taken aback that he was asking rather than telling, all Penny could do was nod. She left him and hoisted herself onto one corner, where his socks lay in stacks of four. Brown next to green next to white next to black. Everything still glaringly unfashionable, but she could see the order in it, knew if a hole were to appear he'd have a needle and thread out and would darn it into near invisibility.
His head was bent over the purple splattered towel. Frowning, he lifted it, turning it at an angle in the fluorescent light. She wondered what he was looking for. Sheldon being Sheldon, there was probably a formula there laid out in morse code. Except was morse code the one with the taps or the one with the little dots on paper? She'd seen Sheldon with one of her shopping lists--written in bleary sleep in the dark--seen him decipher coded messages she'd apparently included among the yoghurt and bananas. Penny opened her mouth, ready to argue that despite the evidence, she wasn't always this scatterbrained; she could be neat if she tried, but that was the thing, she didn't want to; she sometimes liked these midnight crises, spills on bedspreads that required sitting on washing machines as they rumbled away. But there was such a look of preoccupied intent on his face that she didn't.
Instead, Penny placed a hand on his shoulder. Sheldon looked up.
She was about to say thankyou, but as she took in a breath something hit her, and she gasped and said, "The Phantom! The Phantom wore purple, right?"
He narrowed his eyes in confusion. "Yes, why do you ask?"
Penny grinned. "It doesn't matter. Just something I was trying to think of. Although I don't expect you to know what that's like, you and your pedantic memory."
"Eidetic memory, Penny." Naturally, he missed the irony. His eyes drifted down to her bare feet, swinging in the air. "You know, it's very odd to have just one toenail painted. You should finish the job, it will be more symmetrically pleasing."
"I know that." She smirked a little, liking the look in his eyes when she teased him, wanting to see it again. "You feel like giving me a hand?"
But Sheldon wrinkled his nose. "Acetone makes me sneeze," was all he said, and went back to her basket.
The next morning she met a girlfriend for lunch, and didn't see the boys all day. But when she got home, pushing through the doors, over the top of her groceries she caught a glimpse of Sheldon as he turned up the first flight of stairs. He was wearing a purple shirt.