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Here's A Tip

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“Okay, I’ll get those drinks started for you,” Penny said, smiling down at the woman, taking a few slow steps backwards as she tried to find a way to record peach Shirley Temple, light on the ice, and Coke, half-diet, half-regular, and do you have those little cherries?, in a way where she might actually remember what the hell they ordered in addition to all the other thousands of drink combos (and food orders, and the location of her manager so she knew which routes to avoid, and a few new bad pickup lines) running around in her brain.

She was halfway through writing Temple when a voice barked, “Bdehdeh, behind you!”

Penny leaped out of the way.

Sheldon brushed past her, his elbows sticking out by his sides and fingers gripping a gray tray carrying a load of dirty dishes.

Her head followed him for a moment as she tried to remember if she woke up that morning or if this was just a really boring dream.

“Sheldon?” She followed him. Nope, she remembered waking up, because she’d shattered a mug in Sheldon’s kitchen while he was passed out on the couch and was paranoid he’d wake up and go insane on her. “What the hell are you doing?”

“I’m trying to get these tables cleared; we’re slammed,” Sheldon replied, as if the fact that he was doing it at all wasn’t irregular. He zeroed in on an empty table and methodically began to pick the plates off of it.

“No, wait wait—no wait.” Penny tried to gather her thoughts and not think about Sheldon clearing dishes and how strange that was. “What are you doing here?”

He looked at her for a moment before allowing, “A reasonable question.” Penny felt like this was a great opening for her to say something snide but Sheldon continued talking as he went back to clearing plates.“I asked myself, what is the most mind-numbing, pedestrian job conceivable and three answers came to mind: toll-booth attendant, an Apple store ‘genius’—” Sheldon’s arms moved like clockwork across the table, distracting Penny momentarily. He paused and stared at her a moment before adding, “and what Penny does.”

Oh, he didn’t.

“Now since I don't like touching other people's coins, and I refuse to contribute to the devaluation of the word ‘genius’—” Sheldon straightened, a glass in each hand, giving her a deceptively sweet smile as if he didn’t totally just insult her job, “—here I am.”

“So you just, just walked in and they hired you? Just like that?” If he said yes, she would be pissed.

“Oh, heavens no!” Thank god. “Since I don't need to be paid, I didn't need to be hired. I simply came in, picked up a tray and started workin’ for the man.” He ended this with a very self-satisfied smile.

Penny could do little more than stare. And fear for her life a bit, if it was that easy for a slightly unhinged person to start working (if unofficially) at her restaurant. What the hell was the security like in this place?

Once again, he focused his sights on a table. “Let me get that plate out of your way!” he offered to the patron. Helpful-Sheldon was just a little freaky.

“Sheldon, this is ridiculous!” she blustered.

Apparently this was the wrong thing to say if you didn’t want Sheldon’s brand of logic to hit you in the forehead.

“Oh, is it? Just a moment ago I had a minor epiphany regarding polymer degradation phenomenon while scraping congealed nachos off a plate.” Then he did an eyebrow raise that said, ‘Hah! What do you have to say to that?

Honestly, she didn’t really have anything to say to that.

“Bernadette, table ten wants their check,” Sheldon remarked as he moved past her again. Penny trailed after him.

“Thanks, Sheldon!”

Good. freaking. god.

So she switched topics.

“Sheldon, wait, this isn’t even what I do! I’m a waitress, not a busboy!” Because it was, you know, so much better.

Sheldon didn’t seem to agree about the ‘better’ part, because after a moment of considering her he shoved the tray into her arms and said, “You’re right, that is more menial.”

Smooth as, well, a really smooth something, he planted himself in front of a table. “Hello, I’m Sheldon, I’ll be your server today. I don’t recommend the salmon.”

WHAT. THE. HELL.

Sheldon glanced at her, misinterpreted her utter confusion, and said, “I saw it in the kitchen,” with a really affronted and disgusted look.

…Fuck. She’d totally forgotten that drink order by this point.

Narrowing her eyes, she set the tray on the empty table next to her, observing Sheldon as he thoughtfully took the table’s order, not even using a pad and paper to record. Jackass.

Just as Sheldon was moving away from the table, Penny grabbed him by the arm.

“Sheldon, you can’t take orders here!”

“I just did, so obviously, I can.”

“No. Because you’re stealing people’s tables and guess who will take the blame?”

Sheldon considered her for a moment, his brow screwed up, his lips pursed. Then he ventured, “You?”

Penny’s eyebrows shot up, and she gave him a slow nod.

“I’ve got it!” He smiled again in that I-have-the-solution-for-everything way. “I’ll take half of your tables!”

Penny rubbed at her forehead. Good god.

“No, you won’t,” she said, tiredly, and out of the corner of her eye she saw one of those tables of hers signaling for the check. Dammit. “Unlike you, I don’t have a doll—action figure,” she corrected herself quickly, because she felt rather than saw his mouth open in protest, “with an ass full of money.”

“Well if you need a doll in which to put your extra money, I’m sure—”

Sheldon was like the King of Missing the Point.

“—and if you need your tips, of course I’ll give them to you for your help in letting me do this menial task. As an added bonus, since I’m the better server, you’ll acquire even more money than if you did this alone.”

Penny leveled a stare at him.

You know what.

Okay. Yeah. She’ll give it to him, her job was pretty mind-numbing. But it was difficult to remain perky and energetic at the end of an eight-hour shift when all your tables were full of people who got some sort of sick joy out of being rude and skeevy.

But unfair freaky memory advantage aside, there was no way Sheldon would beat her at this. No freaking way. She was prettier, pleasanter, and had a crap load more experience.

Penny managed to unclench her jaw enough to squeeze out, “What?”

“‘What’ what?” Sheldon frowned at her.

“Really, Sheldon? You think you’re the better waiter?”

“I don’t think; I know.”

Oh it was on.

“Uh-huh.” Penny chewed a little on her lower lip, narrowing her eyes up at him. Sheldon opened his mouth a little, then closed it, and she could basically see the click where he realized that he must have offended her. And this was reckless, but—“You wanna put your money where your mouth is… doctor?”

Penny advanced on him, causing him to cross his arms tightly across his chest.

“I don’t feel I need to,” Sheldon said slowly, carefully. He was probably wondering which body part of his he should cover.

“Oh, shut up. Don’t tell me that the, the distraction of competition won’t, like—” Yup, she was making this up as she went along—what was it that he said the other night? “—en…able your, uh, frontal… precorner or whatever.”

“Prefrontal cortex, Penny,” he corrected automatically, although he instantly looked thoughtful. “You may have a point. Fascinating.”

This was probably an insult, but Penny chose to ignore it.

“What are your terms?”

“My—? Oh, yeah, okay. Well, I have four hours left in my shift. We’ll split the tables. Whoever makes the most in tips by then takes all.”

“But I don’t need the money.”

Well, who was she to object?

“Fine. I take all the tips either way. But if I win… I get double of whatever you made.”

“And if I win,” Sheldon started, his voice already triumphant, “if you want to watch your mindless situational comedies, you will not do so by hijacking our television.”

“Fine,” she agreed, thinking that even if he did win she was still gonna use their TV. He hadn’t made any sort of stipulation of what would happen if she broke the rules. Penny jutted her right hand out for him to shake.

Sheldon stared at it for a moment before jumping a little. “Oh, right…” he murmured, then lifted his hand to shake hers. “Hold on a moment.”

She groaned.

He narrowed his eyes at her. “And should you not hold up your end of the bargain, then—”

Before he could get any further Penny grabbed his hand and shook roughly. “Deal, now let’s go!”

“But I didn’t—!”

“Sorry, Sheldon, we already shook.” Penny shrugged with a bright smile.

He pursed his lips. “Well,” he started grandiosely, “I hope that you’re ready to lose, Penny, because as I’m sure you noticed, I don’t even need to record orders. And I’ve already memorized the menu.”

Penny gave him a wry smile. “Yeah, you don’t need to record orders. But the cooks need it. I hope you know the menu shorthand.”

“In that case, I thank you for the advice.”

Dammit.

---

Penny wasn’t off to a good start. The tables she had ignored in order to set up the bet weren’t very appreciative and so she only made five percent, and she was sure that the man and woman from earlier had ordered a peach Shirley temple, no ice, and a Diet Cherry Coke, but apparently she was wrong if the way they curled their lips at her was any indication.

They weren’t disclosing their tallies to each other, but from Sheldon’s efficient, unflustered manner and attention to detail she was guessing he was doing pretty well. Damn him.

When her new guests arrived at one of her tables, a group of four teenage boys, Penny knew she hit the jackpot. Plastering the friendliest smile on her face and putting a jaunt in her step, she hopped her way over there. “Hi, I’m Penny, and I’ll be your server today. Can I get you started with some drinks?”

And she made sure to linger her eyes on the one that was dressed best.

She was so winning this thing.

---

An hour later she passed Sheldon as he was serving a table of six their order.

“Hold on,” said a man. He was very large with a poofy mustache and was bald on the crown of his head. Penny knew the type. “I didn’t order this.”

Yup. This was the type.

Thinking that her other table can wait, Penny settled against a pillar to watch.

“Yes you did,” Sheldon said, frowning, “This is the Grilled Rib-eye Steak. This is your order.”

No, I ordered the St. Louis Barbeque Ribs.”

No,” Sheldon frowned and straightened. The man looked around at his table as if he couldn’t believe he was being contradicted. “The Cheesecake Factory doesn’t even offer St. Louis Barbeque Ribs.”

“Well, you offered it a week ago, and that is what I ordered then and that is what I ordered now.”

Nooo,” Sheldon said slowly, his you’re-an-idiot tone creeping into his voice. “The Cheesecake Factory has never offered St. Louis—”

Knowing this Type, knowing the menu, and knowing Sheldon’s memory, Sheldon was definitely right. They had never offered St. Louis Barbeque Ribs, and the man did order the rib-eye steak. Sheldon was right, the man was wrong.

Penny smirked and shook her head.

First rule of customer service, something that Sheldon would never be able to accept: they’re always right.

The man was getting red in the face, and his family was muttering discontentedly, and Sheldon was stubbornly standing his ground.

Penny decided that it was time to step in.

“I’m sorry, is there a problem?” she asked, clasping her hands in front of her skirt.

Yes, this gentleman is telling me that I didn’t order the St. Louis Barbeque Ribs!”

Would you like me to get the menu?” Sheldon raged, “I can prove to you that—”

“Sheldon!” Penny whispered. He clamped his mouth shut.

“I ordered the Barbeque Ribs a week ago, I can prove it, I was sitting right over—”

Penny waited patiently for the man to realize that when he ordered his St. Louis Barbeque Ribs last week, he was at Marie Callendar’s—not The Cheesecake Factory.

He blubbered a moment.

There it was.

Penny smiled indulgently as he got a very tomato-y red in the face. She also knew that he wasn’t going to admit his mistake.

“We recently changed our menu,” she said, kindly, deliberately not pointing out that she caught his realization. “I think what you ordered is now just plain called Beef Ribs. I’ll take this dish back and personally bring out your correct order for you. Now, will you like that with French fries or onion rings?”

She could feel Sheldon fuming behind her.

“… French fries. That’s very kind of you,” the man said, gruffly.

“Of course!” Then Penny turned to Sheldon, and let her smile mock him. “Sweetie, why don’t you go pick the plates off table fourteen? I got it from here.”

Sheldon glared at her for a long moment before stalking, stiffly, away.

Penny turned back to the table, who were watching Sheldon’s back with distaste. Winking, she stage-whispered, “Sorry ‘bout him. He’s the new guy.”

---

The sweetness of victory wore off a little while later when, as she was trying to balance two trays of drinks, Penny noticed Sheldon’s long back curving as he put a tray of sodas on one of her tables.

“Sheldon!” She stomped up to him as quickly as she was able to with two trays of drinks. “What are you doing?”

“Serving drinks.”

This is my table.”

Sheldon turned around to look at her, at which point she knew this was payback.

“Yes, well, your table didn’t know whether or not you were coming back, so I took the liberty to serve them.”

Their freaking drinks were one of the trays on her arm. Penny blew a tendril that was escaping her ponytail out of her eyes.

But she looked between him and who were supposed to be her customers, and managed a tight smile. “Fine. I hope you guys have a good night,” she added to them.

Penny and Sheldon left at the same time, Sheldon oddly refusing to turn his back on her as if she’d stab him in it.

Well. She wouldn’t stab him in it...

---

A half hour after this Penny almost fell over laughing when she watched an older and clearly drunken lady snake her arm out and pinch Sheldon’s ass. He jumped, yelped, and scampered like a kicked dog.

Penny kept laughing, in fact, until she made the mistake of walking past the very same lady who did the very same thing to her.

---

An hour later Penny rushed into the main hall. Raj, Leonard, and Howard were sitting in their usual seats, and she let out a slight breath. This would be an easy table. She knew this damn table.

“Hey, guys, sorry you had to wait but we are swamped.” She took out her notepad and brushed her annoying hair out of her eyes, and this was when she noticed that they all had full plates of food in front of them. “What’s this?”

Leonard must have caught onto her exasperation and annoyance, because his face was apologetic and he fiddled with his fork as he said, “Sheldon took our order.”

Oh hell no. This was her territory. Leaning forward, stabs of annoyance hitting her in the stomach, she stared right at Leonard. “Sheldon doesn’t work here!”

“Well, uh, honey, not to complain, but we were starting to think you didn’t either.”

Okay, this was it.

Penny straightened, and spotted Sheldon leaning over a tray of dishes, oblivious to what was coming to him.

They’d never agreed to play nice.

Penny narrowed her eyes, marched over there, and as soon as he picked up his tray she “tripped” and landed right into him.

With a spectacular shattering, all the dishes crashed to the floor.

The restaurant burst into applause.

Sheldon looked like he was about to rant, either to the restaurant or to Penny about being “clumsy”, but his eyes suddenly focused on the plates scattered across the floor.

“Good Lord.”

Uh oh. She hoped he didn’t like see a cockroach or something.

“…The interference pattern of the fracture! The motion of the wave through the molecular structure!” Then he gasped, taking Penny by surprise. “I’ve been looking at it all wrong! I can’t consider the electrons as particles!” His voice was getting high, as it usually did when life took him by surprise. “They move through the graphene as a wave!” He motioned, and turned his wide, shocked eyes on Penny.

She looked back at him, blankly.

“It’s a wave!”

Utter silence.

“The moment to applaud would be now!” he added.

When no one did, he straightened, and gave them all a disappointed look. “Troglodytes,” he spat, as if it were an insult, and began to walk away, leaving the mess behind him.

Oh wait. Ooooh wait, no, she wasn’t going to clean up this miss; she didn’t cause it. (Well, she did, but that wasn’t the point. Point was was she didn’t want to clean it up.)

“Sheldon?”

Sheldon turned, staring at her.

“Where’re you going? Aren’t you gonna clean this up?”

(He still thought he dropped it on his own, right?)

“I’m sorry, I don’t work here,” he said, smoothly, and walked away again.

God dammit!

Penny stared at the mess for a moment, then at the patrons in the restaurant, all of whom were looking at her.

Okay. Screw this.

“Someone clean this up!” Penny ordered.

After all, there were more important things to worry about right now.

“Sheldon!” she called, running after him. “Sheldon, you gotta tell me how much you made in tips!”