As the night wears on, she has all but convinced herself that she is dreaming - because the events of this evening are too fucking weird to chalk it up to coincidence, even if they do involve Sheldon Cooper. Because while Sheldon is a little different and maybe borderline insane, she knows there is no way she could possibly have experienced everything this evening unless it was part of a dream.
Penny’s mind is lost in these thoughts as she slows her car down at a traffic light. She continues to grip the steering wheel tightly with both hands - uncertain if she should let go in fear that if this is a dream; she doesn’t suddenly want to her body to start doing that weird falling feeling that wakes her up some nights when she’s short on sleep or has too much to drink.
Her gaze shifts to her rear view mirror and she sees the two buckets of soiled laundry she quickly shoved in the backseat as they made their quick escape. Then her eyes shift to her right, glancing out of the corner of her eye to see Sheldon sitting next to her in the passenger seat, tending to his bruised eye and swollen lower lip. She thanks the powers that be (or more simply, the drive-thru attendant at Taco Bell for filling a bag of ice for her for free) that things didn’t get much worse than they already were.
Had someone told Penny four hours earlier that she’d be in this situation, she would say that was improbable. Laundry night is always the same routine, except on those nights when a wrench is thrown in the plan and it causes a chain of unfortunate events.
Penny has convinced herself that this is one of those nights.
(Four Hours Earlier)
As Penny reflects upon the night’s events she’s fairly certain that this moment is where the wrench is thrown into the plan.
Saturday night typically means Date Night for Penny, and she’s super eager to dress to impress.
She applies the finishing touches on her make-up and hair, making certain that her mascara isn’t clumpy and not one strand of hair is out of place as she pulls it up into a clip.
Penny doesn’t hear her phone beep.
The text message arrives just fifteen minutes before he was suppose to pick her up - Ryan McGuire, the cute new busboy from the Cheesecake Factory that she’s had her eye on for the past two weeks. And he’s letting her know last-minute that he has to cover a shift and has to cancel.
Penny is furious when she sees the message. She removes the clip from her hair and runs her fingers through the strands before tossing both the phone and hair clip on to the bed.She frowns as she looks around her bedroom, dressed to impress from her sexy blouse down to her strappy six-inch heels.
“Looks like I’m not going to be impressing anyone tonight,” Penny thinks to herself as she looks around her bedroom. Her shoes nearly cause her to trip over a discarded pair of jeans and a shirt from last night. “And probably for good reason because this place is a mess.”
There’s an empty laundry basket in the corner of her bedroom and Penny’s dirty clothes are thrown about the floor. It’s difficult to determine which clothes are clean and which are dirty, which results in her picking them off the floor one by one and aggressively throwing them into the basket.
She’s not bitter at all about being canceled upon. Not one bit.
As she basks in the glory of a clear floor, her eyes pause for a moment on her nightstand. She watches as the clock changes time to 8:16 pm. She thinks for a moment, her attention turning back to the laundry basket on the floor, and down to the outfit she’s wearing.
“Spending Saturday night alone could be worse than doing laundry with Sheldon,” she thinks to herself as she kicks off her heels. She unzips her skirt and looks again at her laundry basket, pondering just how long it had been since she had last done her laundry.
The laundry basket is heavy in Penny’s arms.
As she walks down each flight of stairs, she ponders to herself if perhaps she ought to turn around and head back to her apartment. She could wait until she sees Howard, Raj, or Leonard in the hallway, and bat her eyelashes and/or smile as she convinces one of them to carry the basket downstairs. While the idea seems good in theory, she realizes that she’s already to the lobby of the building.
She adjusts the basket on her hip as she approaches the last flight of stairs to the basement, making a mental note to not wait two weeks to wash her clothes. And since it is Saturday night, there should be at least three open washing machines because nobody, but Sheldon apparently, chooses to stay home on a Saturday night to do laundry.
She halts her staircase decent when she sees Sheldon sitting on one of the steps next to his bucket of laundry. His attention is focused on the laundry room door - closed with a hastily scribbled note note taped to the front. She’s aware that he hasn’t heard her approach because he lets out another sigh as he looks at his bucket then back to the door, obviously disoriented with the break in routine.
“Sheldon? Why are you sitting outside the laundry room?” Penny drops her bucket and walks down five of the steps to talk to him.
She watches as Sheldon points to the note on the door, and she leans in closer to read the messy handwriting:
Washing Machines Out Of Service.
Will be fixed soon.
Sincerely, The Management
“They said the same thing about the elevator,” Sheldon comments.
Penny turns back to face him, an eyebrow perked up in confusion. “Excuse me?”
“When the elevator broke seven years ago, they put a notice in everyone’s mailboxes that it would be fixed soon,” he explains. “If the management is on top of this situation as they were on that one, we’ll be waiting a decade to get our washing machines fixed.”
She frowns. “Wonderful.”
“I don’t see how a situation could classify as wonderful,” Sheldon says, but catches himself thereafter. “Unless you’re speaking sarcasm, then I wholeheartedly agree.”
The next few minutes are a blur for Penny because she’s obviously distracted by the bad luck she’s experiencing this evening. She half-listens to Sheldon complain about his routine and schedule, with little means of alternative to get his chores done; her mind is instead distracted with thoughts as to whether or not she’s pissed anyone off recently to be awarded such bad karma.
It started with the cancellation of her date and now, apparently, she has agreed to take Sheldon to a local coin laundry facility so they can wash their clothes.
Penny wonders if she is a glutton for punishment.
They drive to two laundromats before choosing their final destination. Penny likens the experience to the story of Goldilocks - Sheldon thinks one is filled with too many people, while the other doesn’t have enough machines. Penny is thankful when Sheldon is comfortable with the third location; she doesn’t want to drive to another facility.
Sheldon agrees to carry in her laundry bucket while she goes inside to reserve a few machines.
Penny should have known that the machines she selected wouldn’t meet Sheldon’s standards. She rolls her eyes as he picks apart each machine one by one - clogged soap dispenser; random sock left inside; something lodged in the back of the barrel; and too close to someone with a cold.
He instead chooses four machines on the other side of the facility, leaving Penny to wonder why she is putting herself through this adventure.
It’s the first inkling of regret she’s having for the night.
While Sheldon continues to point out the benefits to the machines he’s selected, her thoughts wonder to the night in she could have had alone - Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, a chick flick on cable, and perhaps a shot or two of tequila.
She really could use a shot right now.
The buzz of the washing machine awakens her from her sleep. Penny realizes she dozed off somewhere between Sheldon’s recounting of the deliciousness of Red Vines and the science of James Bond, and isn’t surprised to find that he’s still talking to her as though she were awake.
It has been a long night for her and she’s mostly on auto-pilot, her body moving slowly as she pulls her wet clothing from the machine and into her basket.
In the midst of her haze, she doesn’t see Sheldon get up from his seat to tend to his laundry.
She hears a loud shriek from the next row of dryers, and it sounds vaguely familiar. Penny pauses for a moment as she puts her last wet item in her bucket and (against her better judgment) grabs her bucket before heading over to see what the commotion is about.
What she witnesses is beyond anything she could have imagined.
Sheldon is holding two pairs of lady’s undergarments and is in the midst of a heated discussion with a woman that could only be described as the same age as her grandmother.
“Young man, I will not tell you again,” the woman commands. “Return me my undergarments at once.”
Sheldon’s grasp on the panties tighten as he points to the machine next to him. “Ma’am, I can assure you that this machine fits more of your needs. Warmer air will cause your garments to shrink and the cooler temperature of this machine will be a benefit for you to reduce wrinkles in your panties.”
Penny is embarrassed on behalf on the woman, and realizes that it is time to step in before the situation escalates further. She pushes past the throng of people starting to collect in the area to see if she can be of help, but realizes that she is too late.
The elderly woman has had enough.
The woman grabs her purse and whacks it twice against the side of Sheldon’s face, causing him to drop her undergarments and huddle over in pain. Penny drops her bucket of laundry and rushes to Sheldon’s side, unaware that the crowd has dispersed and the woman has gone missing.
“You okay?” she asks. Penny wraps her arm around Sheldon’s shoulder and helps him stand upright, doing her best to miss the open dryer door. “What happened?”
“The dryer I had chosen didn’t put out enough heat as this one here,” Sheldon says as he points to the dryer. Penny can still feel the heat coming from the open door. “So I began to switch out the clothes and was rudely interrupted by that elderly woman. I believe you know the rest. I saw you approach when she pelted me in the face with her handbag.”
Penny blinks twice before opening her mouth, brushing the hair from her face. “You willingly stole a dryer from an elderly woman?”
He nods. “I thought I had established this fact when I told you what happened.”
“But you stole a dryer from an elderly woman,” Penny repeats as she looks around at the number of empty dryers around them. She wonders why Sheldon has to go out of his way sometimes and can’t just take what is left over. “Sheldon, you touched another person’s clothing. You can’t just take someone’s dryer because it puts out more heat. There’s rules to these sort of situations, and about ten open dryers left.”
She watches as Sheldon contemplates her statement for a moment. “I do believe you have a point there--”
The thought is interrupted by the reappearance of the elderly woman, who has since brought the manager with her.
“Is this the gentleman?” the manager asks. The elderly woman nods.
“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you and your lady friend to leave,” the manager says.
Sheldon opens his mouth to speak, but Penny cuts him off. “Excuse me?”
“I’ve received a formal complaint about your friend,” the manager says. “Stealing undergarments and laundry machines is not welcomed in this establishment. Please collect your clothing and find another place to go.”
Sheldon frowns, but finds it painful to move his mouth. He wipes the back of his hand across his mouth and sees a feint amount of blood.
“Come on,” Penny says, rolling her eyes and sighing in frustration. “Collect your laundry and we’ll go get you some ice for your eye and split lip.”
As they load up the car and hit the road, Penny wonders how long it’ll take to dry her clothing with her hair dryer.
Back to the present
She follows Sheldon up the stairs with her bucket of laundry, doing her best to not pass out from exhaustion.
“Will you be all right?” she asks as they reach the fourth floor. She adjusts the basket in her arms because it’s heavy; she’s pretty sure her arms feel like they are about to fall off.
“Let’s see how I look in the morning,” Sheldon comments as he digs into his pockets for his keys. He threw out his bag of ice on his way inside the building.
Penny bids Sheldon goodnight and heads to her apartment, unsurprised at the lack of thank you from him. She tosses her keys and laundry bucket on the floor as she heads inside, making her way straight for the kitchen to her tequila stash.