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The Progressions of a Life

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Part 1

 

Penny hears about it first from Leonard and Howard, interspersed with little head nods and gestures from Raj. Sheldon has already disappeared into his bedroom, presumably to put away his newest comic books. Or quite possibly to avoid this conversation. One could never tell with Sheldon if he was aware of the social situations brewing or not. But with his avoidance history, he was either much more aware than anyone gave him credit for, or just damn lucky. The boys have been talking back and forth as they climbed the stairs but Penny has been having a hard time following, or buying, the story.

“I’m sorry. You’re saying that Sheldon, our Sheldon Cooper, PhD, made a new friend today?” Penny asks in clarification.

“Possibly two,” Howard replies oddly.

“Okay, start again from the top,” Penny says, swearing she is going to pay attention this time.

“Well we were in the comic book store, obviously, since its Wednesday. I was looking at the newest vintage copies of The Flash while Howard and Raj were fighting over which actress was the hottest in the Sarah Connor Chronicles. Usually one of us tries to stay with Sheldon, you know. Keep an eye on him,” Leonard says, as if it makes him the best friend ever. Penny tries to hide her eye roll, she isn’t sure she’s successful. She’d been excited about the possibilities Leonard held, but after a summer apart and the way he’d treated Sheldon, those thoughts had been diminishing daily.

“When suddenly we all hear it. Sheldon is practically yelling, in an odd mixture of Klingon and Mandarin. To a woman.”

“Wait, was she pretty?” Penny interrupts, surprised by her own question.

“Well...not as pretty as you, obviously.” Leonard says quickly. Raj is nodding enthusiastically next to him though so it mostly negates Leonard’s attempts.

Howard jumps in as well, all pseudo smooth voice, “She was certainly no Angelina Jolie, but…,” and he trails off, wagging his eyebrows in blatant innuendo.

“Anyway,” Leonard continues, “we all looked at each other in panic. Sheldon yelling is never good, trust us, and we knew we had to rescue the poor woman. Except, once we all rush over there, the woman is laughing. Laughing. And then answers back in Klingon.”

“Oh my God! Sheldon met a girl!?” Penny exclaims. She didn’t think that parallel universe actually existed. And she wonders what that odd feeling is in her stomach, ignores it as either hunger or amazement.

“Well, technically, yes, but not in the way you’re thinking,” Leonard says. “We’re all staring at the two of them in shock when a man walks up. The woman turns to him and smiles and says ‘Jeremy, this guy’s Klingon is so much better than yours.’”

Howard suddenly takes up telling the story, “Sheldon of course just smirks for a moment, all ego, while we still just stand there in shock. Then, Sheldon actually looks up. Now, I’ve seen Sheldon go crazy, both the good kind and the bad kind, but this was picture perfect.”

Penny’s confusion must show on her face because Leonard jumps in to explain. “It was the Jeremy Snow—another world-renowned physicist.  Probably one of the few other people in the world who can understand all of Sheldon’s work—and possibly surpass it.”

“Oh my God; there are two of them?” Penny asks, trying to keep the skepticism and slight horror out of her voice.

Leonard nods. “It was a real honor. Turns out he is in town working for a few months. He’s like Sheldon, but normal.” He tacks on, and Howard and Raj laugh along with him as Penny grimaces and sides steps the boys into the apartment. She may not want two of him, but there certainly isn’t anything wrong with Sheldon, at least no reason for his so called friends to brand him.

 

She tries to garner some of the story out of Sheldon after they sit down to eat, but doesn't get very far. There's a short, quick flurry of words about physics, intellectual equals, and Star Trek that has Penny lost only a few words in. But what she can't miss is how relaxed he is, almost happy. And it makes her realize even stronger just how unhappy he's been since returning from the Arctic and Texas. It is in all the little things, the small things that make his jaw clench or when he would swallow whatever biting remark is dancing on the edge of his tongue.

Anger rises again in her, thinking of what they'd done to him. There had been no yelling by her initially, and she’s regretted it ever since. Little barbed comments come out of her every so often, but she should have yelled, or screamed, or at least belittled them some. It’s been months but she still thinks it every so often. She’d watched him one night not long ago as he’d stretched himself thin working on an equation; manic in his own head trying to prove, to salvage, his work. And she may not understand most of what it is he does, but she realizes not only how much it means to him, but how important his work could be, how important he could be. And that, maybe more than anything, is what makes her heart ache for him. His work has been his life for so long, for long before most people, and to have that threatened must have been a true test of his rigidly held control.

So she pats his knee, even as he twitches away, and tries extra hard to follow his rules tonight. It isn’t much, but Penny isn’t sure she has much to offer. So she keeps an eye on him, lets him beat her in Halo, and doesn’t steal his extra food, despite wanting to. It will have to be enough for now.

 

 

Two days later, Penny is tired and trudging home after a long shift at The Cheesecake Factory and a quick stop at the store. She’d worked a nine hour shift and customers seemed particularly unappeasable today. And she hadn’t had enough money for the groceries she needed, let alone wanted. She’d seen a flyer for a play audition at the grocery store though. Nothing big, just a local theatre company, but she’d taken down the details just in case.

It was Thai food and Halo tonight though, she thought with a smile, hoping the boys had put her order in as well today. She was struggling with the door amidst her grocery bag and purse when a chipper voice called out to her, “Here, let me help you with that” and the door was suddenly out of her way. She tried to locate her savior through the hair that had fallen in front of her face and the grocery bag and she finally shuffled enough to see a woman a few years older than herself holding the door for her.

“Thank you so much,” Penny said as she set down the bag and rooted in her purse to get her mail key out.

She turned after grabbing a stack of bills and caught the woman staring at the elevator “Yeah, it’s out of order. You heading up?” The woman nodded and Penny waved her alongside.

“I love your shoes by the way” Penny said as they started the trek up the stairs. “They look really comfy as well as cute.”

“Oh, they are,” the woman responded. “Hard to find that combination usually. Plus they were on a great sale. I got them in Geneva last time we were there; they have some of the best shops.”

Penny tries not to look envious at that side comment; luckily the woman is still chattering back pleasantly so it isn’t too hard. Geneva sounds nice; heck food sounded nice to Penny today. But the woman was easy to talk to and they continued to exchange small talk on the way up when Penny suddenly realizes she is laughing at a joke the woman has told; a science joke.

The woman's smile brightens at Penny’s laugh. “Not many people get my combined shoe/science jokes,” she says casually.

Penny laughs, “Well I'm a shoe expert and my neighbors are science geeks,” she says with a smile, “starts to rub off.”

Her comment coincides with their arrival in the 4th floor and Penny's eyes widen as the woman stops in front of 4A.

“Are you here for Leonard?” She asks at the same moment the woman says, “Oh, you know Sheldon, then?”

“You're here for Dr. Whack-A-Doodle?” Penny gasps out, and immediately regrets it as the woman's expression turns frosty.

“Excuse me?” She asks tightly.

Penny tries to wave her comments off, despite her full hands. “Just a pet name, me being silly,” she babbles nervously, not wanting to appear any more rude and common that she already has in front of this elegant and intelligent stranger.

“Oh. Ohh,” The woman echoes a second time after a short pause and warning bells go off in Penny's head. “I didn't know he had a ...”

“No!” Penny interrupts her quickly, trying to dispel any thoughts the woman might have. Penny still isn’t sure who she is, but if a girl is visiting Sheldon, she doesn’t want to put her big mouth in it. Suddenly the door to 4A opens forcefully and Sheldon stands lurking in the doorway.

“Penny what in the name of all that...Oh. You've met Emily. Good. Come in.”

Penny walks in, despite still holding her grocery bag, and is about to make a suggestive wink to Sheldon, hoping to make him uncomfortable and possibly reap some information, when she notices the other person in the room; a male that the woman (Emily apparently) goes and stands unduly close to. Leonard, Howard, and Raj are huddled around the non-Sheldon side of the couch and Penny scuttles over to them. She gives Leonard a 'what the hell' look but he merely shrugs in reply. Things have been awkward between them lately as she’s become more and more standoffish. She can’t quite read the look on his face—he almost seems excited, but also confused.

“I'm sorry, Penny, I forgot to include you on the memo about tonight's change in plans.”

Ah, that explains Leonard's look. “So no Thai food?” She asks, surprised at how disappointed she feels. Somewhere along the way, her stomach has gotten used to the food schedule; and she to the company.  

“No, sorry,” Sheldon replies succinctly.

“We're going to the bars though if you'd like to join us?” Howard asks with a leer. And that explains his and Raj's looks as well.

Penny plasters on a fake smile, “Oh, Howard, I'm sorry; I'm too busy being not grossed out in my own apartment.”

Sheldon's breathy little laugh escapes him and she looks up and exchanges a quick grin with him.

“She could come with us,” the woman suggests.

And Penny isn't sure what she's stepped in the middle of, but she feels she should stay out of it. Not to mention that anything that makes Sheldon change his meticulous schedule scares her just a bit. So she begins to politely decline. At the same time Sheldon flatly refuses for her, in not nearly as polite a way as she had planned.

“I'm sure Penny has absolutely no interest in, or even understanding of, the Symposium on Extended Research into Bosonic Theory and Its Relation to Both Pre- and Post-dated M-Theory.”

Penny can practically see all of the capital letters in Sheldon’s speech, just the way he annunciates them and his eyes light up and she knows this event is something he is truly interested in. She tries not to feel hurt or insulted by his words or tone; after all, what he’s said is mostly true.

“I… thank you, really, but I’m sure Sheldon is right. Thank you for the offer though …” Penny trails off. She had caught Emily’s name, but not formally, and doesn’t know how to respond.

“Oh, excuse me, where are my manners, Meemaw would be horrified. Penny, this is Jeremy, a fellow theoretical physicist, and his wife, Emily.”

“Thank you, Sheldon, for the introductions. It’s nice to meet you,” Penny says as she extends her hand to each of them in turn.

“Are you sure you don’t want to come?” Emily asks again. “We’re getting some food before we go.” And Penny’s stomach chooses that exact moment to remind her, and everyone in the room, that she’d skipped all of her meals today. She blushes as Emily laughs.

“It was a busy day,” She whispers lamely, avoiding Sheldon’s eyes. He always could tell when she was lying it seemed, especially if it involved finances.

“Come on, I insist,” Jeremy says jovially, slapping her on the back. “It’ll even out the numbers if nothing else.”

Sheldon, still eying her speculatively, nods his assent, so she relents. She puts her groceries away quickly and then the four of them head down the stairs behind Howard, Raj, and Leonard.

 

 

Penny has a blast—she can’t really believe it. Jeremy and Sheldon are like kids in a candy store at the symposium and she and Emily watch on as they chat and gossip. Penny even manages to understand a few of the things she stops and listens to. Emily, while not a scientist, is still obviously more intelligent than Penny and seems to fit in gracefully. She has also obviously done this circuit a time or two. Penny tries not to embarrass either herself or Sheldon, but it seems to be part of her nature. It isn’t anything formal–just booths and a few talks–so there isn’t anything for Sheldon to be nervous about. But everyone there seems to know who both Sheldon and Jeremy are. Penny almost feels like a celebrity, just having walked in with the two of them. Plus, Sheldon debating is one of the best sights Penny has seen in a while. Not only is he lit up–but watching him eviscerate other scientists seems to awaken a primal glee inside of her. Usually she is the one on the receiving end, and it is surprisingly refreshing to see someone else bear the brunt of Sheldon’s ire.

It is only slightly after ten when Jeremy and Emily drop them back at the apartment building, but it has thrown Sheldon’s schedule off slightly and he is mumbling under his breath about his REM as they climb out of the car and bid them farewell. Penny says yet another heartfelt thanks and wraps up her conversation with Emily.

“You had fun though, didn’t you?” Penny asks with a smile as she holds the door open for Sheldon.

“Of course I did, Penny. Everything about science is fun, even when it deals with the lesser fields.”

It isn’t quite what she meant, but she’ll take it, so she smiles and asks him to try explaining the last presentation they’d seen one more time. He sighs, but the small smile is still lingering at the corners of his lips. Penny isn’t so sure when making Sheldon smile had become such a large part of her life, but she reckons it was sometime after she found out about the North Pole incident. The antics they exchange seem to be a small source of normalcy for Sheldon so she over exaggerates them sometimes in an attempt at keeping them such. She is still shaking her head, trying to grasp his words, as they approach the fourth floor, and they part with small nods of their heads.

 

 

It is another long stressful day of waitressing later that she makes the decision to call the number she’d seen on the theatre advert, tired of feeling like a failure, tired of being unhappy. And another two days before they can make a time work for her to come in. But when she does, she feels like the audition goes well. The two producers she reads lines for seem genuinely interested in her and remarkably nice. The Tinted Grove Theatre is a small theatre–smaller than the one she’d done Rent in, but much nicer (and quieter–no bowling alley for a neighbor here). She'd prepared. Maybe not as much as with some of her bigger auditions, but she’d Googled the play and spent some time trying to get a feel for the characters before she went. She does one of her handful of memorized monologues and feels like it goes well and then the man, older than her but trendy and laid back in a way Penny can only hope to still be at that age, asks her to read a scene with him.

Afterwards, the woman asks about her acting history, acting classes, and long and short term goals and plans. It almost feels like an interview. The woman confesses that they're possibly looking for someone interested in not only semi-steady work but in involvement in both the theatre and company as they try to grow and expand and hopefully work towards producing original content. Penny is interested and it feels like it is a place she could thrive in, and she tells the woman both those things. She mentions the Penny Blossoms randomly and that seems to spark an interest and they discuss costume and set horror stories.

Overall it is the most upbeat about acting she's felt in a while. They promise to get in touch and Penny is practically bouncing as she heads to pick Sheldon up from work. It is her assigned day, and while that usually annoys her, she doesn't let it today. She is a few minutes early, a feat she is sure will impress him. She pulls into the usual parking spot (she still doesn’t understand why he gets an assigned spot when he doesn’t even own a car let alone drive, but she never complains) and hops out. It’ll be fun to surprise him since she is early; Sheldon hates surprises, which makes Penny love them all the more.

His office door is open and she watches him silently for a few minutes. He is engrossed, writing on one of his white boards, splitting time and focus between ferocious scribbles and equally wild erasing. A gaggle of coeds walk by and eye her oddly. She supposes people don’t hang outside Sheldon’s office very often, except maybe in fear. One of the braver guys whistles at her after he walks by and the noise breaks Sheldon from his work.

“Penny.” He states. She pulls away from her post near the door and bursts into the office, all energy and smiles.

“Hey, Sheldor! Ready to go?”

He eyes her, obviously trying to decide if her zeal has a hidden agenda.

“Is your unusual level of giddiness the result of a successful attempt at coitus or is it in hopes of securing some service of value from me? And don’t call me Sheldor when we aren’t playing Age of Conan.”

She laughs, “Can’t I just be happy, Sheldon?”

“Well of course you can, humans have the capability for numerous things in fact, it is just not in the norm for you lately to be quite so euphoric.”

The smile threatens to leave her face, even though she knows he is right, but she manages to hold it. He must catch something on her face however, because in an unusual show he hesitates and looks down at her.

“I… that was not intended as a slight,” he says haltingly and Penny stares at him a moment before a small smile breaks on her face.

“It’s okay, Sheldon. You’re not exactly wrong. I had a good audition today though at a little theatre over on the west end. Think it could amount to something.”

“Felicitations then, Penny.”

She smiles again and, on impulse, hugs him quickly. He tenses, but doesn’t yelp, so Penny counts it as successful. It has only taken their friendship almost two years to get to that point.

“Come on, doctor, doctor, master. Are we grabbing the pizza tonight?” She asks as they head out of his office and towards the exit.

“Yes, I believe it is my turn to be responsible. By the way, Emily says hello. I was asked to pass that along.”

“Oh, cool. Tell her hi back. You guys are keeping in touch then?”

He nods. “She and Jeremy stopped by today. Jeremy is doing a nine month stay in the area as part of his research and has agreed to teach some guest lectures at the university. Dr. Gablehauser was quite excited by the opportunity. He seemed flummoxed that Jeremy and I knew each other. I cannot understand why—surely two of the foremost theoretical physicists in the world should know one another.”

She thinks she knows why. Dr. Gablehauser views Sheldon eerily similar to the way Leonard does, only worse; and if Leonard can comment on the difference in normality between the two, she can only imagine what Gablehauser would have to say about it. She keeps quiet though. Starting in on that with Sheldon is never a good idea, but most especially not when they’re in a moving vehicle.

“Perhaps you can tell her ‘hello’ again yourself,” Sheldon continues. “She and Jeremy have asked if you’d be amenable to joining us for dinner again at some point.”

“I’d like that,” Penny says excitedly. She’s always been outgoing, but has a hard time making true friends. Emily is someone she could see that happening with though, and she’ll take the chances thrown at her.

“Scheduling would be made much easier if you would simply accept my repeated invitations to link our electronic calendars.”

“Sheldon. I don’t want to say it again; that is just weird. I don’t want you seeing all my appointments and I certainly don’t want to be seeing yours. Most married couples don’t even do that, let alone us.”

“I don’t know why you persist in this ridiculous belief that you have any type of privacy. Why, between my eidetic memory, Leonard’s puerile crush, and Howard’s unmatched stalker abilities—I don’t think there’s a moment of your life we’re not aware of.”

She pauses for a shudder before she replies. “Creepy, Sheldon. Seriously creepy.”

“Right. My apologies.” He looks it, too; a slight blush has graced his cheeks and he is staring resolutely out the window and away from her. She lets it drop—trying not to think about just how much the boys might be aware of.

 

They walk into 4A with the pizzas less than half an hour later. Leonard is the only one in, but he announces that Howard and Raj are on their way. Dividing up the pizzas is easy—lactose-free one to Leonard, Howard and Raj are both back on the meatless wagon, so the cheese one goes to them to split. Which leaves Sheldon and Penny with their own. They’ve started branching out lately, as the only two without any weird food regulations or allergies (outside of cleanliness, which Sheldon says ‘ought not be weird’ every time she brings it up), and tonight agreed to try the barbeque pizza. Sheldon had scoffed slightly at the choice, he was a Texan by birth after all, and barbeque was practically second nature to the south.

Sheldon has won the argument over what to watch yet again, not that any of them are actually surprised by that. But it means Doctor Who is in the DVD player, and the newer series at that. Not that Penny minds all that much, she enjoys it more than most of their shows. She and the guys all secretly think that Rose reminds them of her, even though none of them have said it out loud. It is series three, which has neither Nine or Rose, Penny’s favorites, but she still happily tucks in to her food, perched on the couch between Sheldon and Raj. David Tennant is still pretty kickass. Hey, she likes them tall and skinny, can’t help it. And she realizes she’s said that all out loud when all the guys turn to look at her. She blushes and tries to ignore the slightly devastated look on Leonard’s face. And Howard’s. And Raj’s. They’re all short, she realizes, with the exception of Sheldon. And she refuses to think about that, instead turning back to her pizza in silence. They watch three episodes, and have one argument over companion choices, before Sheldon’s schedule says it is time for bed. Sheldon didn’t make her pay for her pizza, yet again, and she cleans up as a mild thank you. She really needs to get her life together, she thinks with a sigh. She’d be broke and starving if it wasn’t for the guys. Well, she is broke and starving, but she’s getting by. The thought kills the contentment that had settled over her and she trudges off to her apartment and flops onto her bed, falling asleep still fully clothed.

 

 

Penny gets a text just as she is getting off of work late the next afternoon.

‘Emily has chosen burgers, despite my insistence that we never have burgers on a Friday. She refuses to see reason. She has requested your presence so please respond with your availability. Dr. Sheldon Cooper’

Even his texts sound like him, and she can’t help but smile. She responds quickly as she walks to her car. ‘Just leaving hell. Need a shower. I can be ready in an hour.’

Her phone chimes again before she has even started the car. ‘Sarcasm on both accounts, correct? I’ll tell the Snows we can meet them in 90 minutes, tops. Dr. Sheldon Cooper.’

She thinks about coming up with some smart ass remark to send back, but decides it isn’t worth it. Her voicemail notification is on though, so she dials in prior to pulling out of the parking lot. And she is glad she did, glad that she isn’t driving while she listens to the message from Amanda at The Tinted Grove Theatre.

They want her to start immediately, if she can. They have a play they’re opening in less than seven weeks, and they want her as the lead, and to help with costumes. They’re willing to work around her current schedule to some extent, and they really think this could be perfect.

The money isn’t great, not enough to be able to quit The Cheesecake Factory, but it’s enough that she’ll be able to catch up on her bills and hopefully stop feeling like a failure all the time. She calls the number back as quickly as she can and they hash out a few quick details and Penny agrees to show up Monday morning.

 

Dinner turns out way better than she expected. She is so happy about her news, that she blurts it out to Sheldon almost the second he finishes his third round of ‘Penny’. She’s pulling the door open and talking at the same time.

“Guess what!?”

“Penny, I don’t guess.”

She whacks him lightly on the arm and he twinges away. She grabs her purse and is glad she decided to put a little extra effort into her look, her good news has boosted her spirits and she is feeling pretty and happy.

“Remember my audition yesterday, at that little theatre? Well, they called me today and they offered me the part. They want me!”

Sheldon is next to her on the stairs as they make their way down. He turns towards he slightly and she can see the small smile on his face.

“Congratulations, Penny. See what a little change and some happiness can do for you.”

A small laugh escapes her. “I’m sorry, are you advocating change? Where is the Sheldon Cooper I know, because I think you’ve stolen his body.”

“While I appreciate your accurate and obvious use of sarcasm,” and at this Penny shoot him a thumbs-up and a wink, which elicits a small, proud smile from him, “I assure you I am definitely the Dr. Sheldon Cooper you know. While I like my routines and the stability of my schedules, change at the base level is what drives humanity. It is what moves us forward. If we cannot embrace change, we cannot accept the universe. It is as simple as that.”

Penny spends a large part of the evening mulling over his words. They’re simple, but they’ve struck a chord with her. She’s been unhappy lately, feeling listless and unmotivated, like she is wandering, and she can’t help but think that change is just what she needs. And that maybe this part with the theatre can be the push that she needs.

They’re at a pub, and she is pretty sure it isn’t a Sheldon approved one, but he’d simply made a face as they walked in and let it rest. If the wink Emily sent her way is any indication, the argument has apparently already been had.

She and Emily chat away as Sheldon and Jeremy talk science, comic books, nuances of working at a university, and even football. Sometimes they join in each other’s conversations, but for the most part the genders split themselves. Penny finds herself enjoying Emily’s company and is fascinated to hear about her life. She is an art professor and part-time curator and while more intelligent than Penny, she is still no match for either Jeremy or Sheldon. Penny can’t help but wonder if that influences their relationship at all. But she supposes it can’t be any more difficult to overcome than their field choices.

“Is that hard–artist and scientist? Do you butt heads?” She asks curiously, once Emily tells her about her profession.

“Not as much as you’d think,” Emily says with a smile.

“The universe is more artistic than you might think,” Jeremy adds on. And the smile he shoots to Emily is so sickly sweet that it should make Penny gag, but it only makes her smile. They are undeniably in love and aren’t the type to make her feel left out, or lord it over her, because of it. Almost anyone else, Penny thinks, and she would have rolled her eyes and laughed, but she doesn’t here. And, more surprisingly, is that Sheldon doesn’t have a smart remark or comment to add to Jeremy’s declaration. She is expecting a rant almost the moment the words have been spoken, but he is staying quiet.

To Penny’s surprise, the meal lasts almost three hours. Sheldon isn’t drinking as usual, but she, Jeremy, and Emily each have two beers and the conversation never seems to lag. They’d ordered appetizers before their meal and worked through it slowly–not on a schedule for once. She only notes two eye twitches from Sheldon–a possible record. It should feel awkward; they’re paired up as if it were a double date. And it is Sheldon she is sitting next to; and everything about that should scream wrong and improbable. But she is simply comfortable and happy and refuses to dissect it. Plus, Sheldon is in a bar (or close enough)–a sight she can readily admit she didn’t think she would ever see.

Penny is reluctant for the night to end–it is the most relaxed she’s felt in months. Emily must read her mind because she is suddenly all smiles.

“I saw a flier that there’s open Roller Derby tonight down at the Meadows.”

Penny lights up and starts to agree when Sheldon’s voice pops up.

“My schedule has been disrupted enough. I told the guys I would be back for at least two rounds of Vintage Video Game Night,” he says stiffly.

Trying not to look disappointed, Penny nods slowly. “Of course, sweetie.”

Jeremy, more perceptive than Sheldon by leaps and bounds (and how did one guy end up cute, sweet, and a freaking genius??) jumps in.

“Why don’t you girls go have fun knocking each other over and taking out your frustrations, and I’ll drop Sheldon off on my way home?”

The look Emily throws him is indiscernible to Penny, some secret married person language she fears she’ll never learn, but she nods her ascent. Sheldon’s face twitches once more, but he too nods in acceptance.

 

And Penny is glad; it is the most fun she has had in years, she thinks. She and Emily are athletic enough that they’re in the middle of the pack—they aren’t the best but they aren’t getting picked over. She’s pretty sure she’s bruised parts of her body she wasn’t even previously aware of, but the smile on her face is genuine. They grab ice cream afterwards and Penny can’t help the number of times she’s been in awe tonight.  She hadn’t realized how much she missed having a close girlfriend, how nice it was to go out and do normal things. She loved the boys and their oddities, but sometimes she needs a break.

 

 

Penny is busy over the next two weeks. She is working almost her usual hours at The Cheesecake Factory, but then she is spending a couple of hours each day at the theatre practicing, as well as rehearsing lines at home. She has also seen Emily three more times, and once has gone out the four of them again. The changes in her life are starting to show, and she is happier than she has been in months. Her part in the play is coming along and as she feels like this could really mean something to her, so she puts in even more effort. And she helps Amanda some with the set and the costumes.

And, suddenly, Emily is there one day, inviting herself along. And Amanda is amazed and ecstatic to have an arts professor assisting. Even if Emily insists she is the epitome of ‘those who can’t do, teach.’ It is fun to work with her on some of the things though, and Penny realizes yet again that it has been awhile since she’s had a girlfriend she could really hang out with.

 

Things with the guys are odd. The five of them have hardly hung out–of the few times she is actually home, either Sheldon is with Jeremy and Emily or if they do spend time together, it seems strained. She can’t quite identify what the shift is, but there is an odd, underlying tension in all of them. She isn’t sure what the guys are like when she isn’t there, if it is better or worse, and she is too scared to ask.

Sheldon is more aware of it than she’d thought, as the one off-hand comment she makes about it to him as she is driving him to work one day, gets answered in an odd yet succinct tone.

“They think, as the perceived and so called ‘normal ones’, they should be the ones to be making new friends and extending their social circle. That they are not makes them feel threatened and nervous, as well as slightly emasculated,” he tacks on with his little laugh.

 

The weather in Pasadena doesn’t vary all that much–not like it did back in Nebraska. It is one of the things Penny loves about California. Sunshine and shorts. She is feeling slightly trapped—having spent the morning in her apartment working on her lines. The boys have just come back from one of their paint ball games, and Penny can tell something has happened. Sheldon has a slight twitch going on above his right eye and the other three are giving him a wide berth.  She knows when they usually get back and has been listening for them in the hallway. It has been a long week and she feels that if she tries to run her lines any more today, she’ll go crazy. So she waits for the boys to give her a distraction. She wants to be outside, but knows the chance of the guys agreeing to that is pretty slim.

She pops out into the hall as they hit the fourth floor and greets them with a smile. The return greetings are all half-hearted at best and Sheldon unlocks the door and disappears inside without more than a nod. Leonard won’t meet her eyes and her expression turns stony. She brushes past the other three after they enter and goes to Sheldon’s door.

Knocking quietly she says, “Sheldon?”

He doesn’t answer and she knocks again, just as quietly. She’s about to turn around when the door cracks slightly.

“Yes, Penny?” And his voice is the same as usual—just as haughty, just as calm. But his face betrays him.

“I need to get out. Want to go watch the trains along the Gold Line?”

He eyes her for a moment, obviously trying to figure out if she has an ulterior motive.

“I can’t run lines any more or I’ll go insane. I want to be out in the sunshine, maybe get some ice cream. You look like you could use some time away. Seems to be a good compromise.” She tries to reason with him.

His stare lasts for another few seconds and is unnerving, but she refuses to look away. Finally he nods. “I’ll knock on your door in ten minutes,” he says and shuts the door before she can respond.

 

Emily texts her while they’re out and she shows it to Sheldon.

‘Jeremy wants to see the new Marvel movie tonight. Not sure I can make it through without either alcohol or a friend. You interested in fulfilling at least one of those?’

“Want to come along?” She asks him after he’s read it.

“Will you talk during the movie?” He asks suspiciously.

“Probably,” she says with a smile, “but we’ll try to keep it to a minimum.”

So he nods, and she texts back, saying she’s bringing Sheldon. And asks if they want to eat beforehand. They spend another hour by the tracks, Penny sunbathing more than anything, and Sheldon talking her ear off about trains and their implicit linkage to Physics.  She mostly ignores him, but smiles and enjoys his company.

 

And somehow this is her life now. She can’t quite complain, but it still seems odd. Two new friends, an acting job, and a sense of purpose—all in the last few weeks. And, she and Sheldon are becoming better friends. Overall, she feels lucky beyond words, even if she is surrounded by geniuses, working at a theatre no one has heard of, waiting tables at The Cheesecake Factory, and living off boxed meals and other people’s take out.