He’d gotten sick on a car-ride from Galveston to Houston; on a trip to visit Mee-maw.
Missy insisted that since she’d never played before and he would be using ‘all them big, brainy words’ then she should be allowed to use whatever her inferior vocabulary would allow in return.
The strategic placement of ‘paraffin’ garnered her 48 points with a triple-word-score. For the remainder of the car-ride he sat with his arms buried under each armpit; attempting to talk himself into rethinking his stance on beginner’s luck.
Sheldon didn’t play Travel Scrabble for years, after that. This would help, later on in life, when he declared that failure a fluke and his right eye didn’t twitch traitorously.
He still maintains that the bout of motion sickness had done him in; not some stupid, non-existent luck.
He had won nearly a hundred prizes and awards throughout his life. Most were fairly important, garnered raised-eyebrows and unwanted pats on his shoulder from colleagues and so-called peers.
His mother had kept most of his larger, harder to store plaques, medals, and trophies in his old bedroom in their double-wide. Knowing that there was an overwhelming amount of proof that would no doubt out number and outweigh any possible pile his opponents’ could produce – did nothing to stop him from feeling ashamed, from feeling pathetic.
It was the flipside to being so confident and self-assured, he figured. If he ever felt the opposite of his normal way, it was going to have to be to the same extreme.
And his wrist really did hurt; he was pondering putting the brace back on when she breezed in without as much as a knock.
She quizzed them both, again. The entire exchange made him feel markedly better, for whatever reason.
Maybe since she didn’t even know what a Romulan was, for Picard’s sake.
He couldn’t help but grin a little at the blank expression she wore when he gave her the reasoning behind their celebratory high five. It was …endearing, he thinks that’s the word he was searching for.
It was always odd to explain such simple things; he’d found he appreciated her ability to renew his interest in the little, inconsequential details. It kept him on his toes, he supposed; although forgetting an entire alien race wasn’t something he’d be doing anytime soon.
She huffed a bit and continued to try in vain to find a question to which they knew the answer. They both were dreadful at popular culture trivia; putting them on level ground, once again.
Leonard had finally shut up about his earlier triumph and moved out of his spot on the couch. He felt a strange urge to thank her.
He let her rant about Mark Whaleburger and funkiness, uninterrupted, instead. And really, that was thank you enough.
Penny had shown up at his door with two four-packs of Red Bull and a pouty lower-lip.
Although he wasn’t driven to do so by the same motivators that most men might have been, in such a situation, he felt moved to help her nonetheless. He was just postponing any future emotional key, sex, and fly-related breakdowns – as long as he could.
It’s what friends did; he was her friend and she was his, after all. It didn’t make him like doing it any more, though.
So when he watched her kick off various reptiles, swishing her sword to and fro as she walked aimlessly through the Hyborian wilderness, his eyes roamed to her keystrokes because his adrenaline was peaked with energy drinks and it was nearly two o’clock in the morning.
Some amount of video gaming came naturally to him, but watching Penny was daunting sometimes. He figured it shouldn’t be surprising that her inherent athletic talents would translate well into the world of gaming.
It just felt a little unfair; he was good at these things, she was good at other things.
It frustrated him that he was stuck tutoring someone who, at seemingly all hours of the day and as a total novice, managed to have a better grasp of the game than the people he’d been questing with for months. At this rate, she’d level above him by the end of the month.
It was like writing his own obituary; only less sensible, since his excellent writing skills didn’t apply to this scenario.
Not to mention that she smelled like vanilla cream. It was making his brain grow fuzzy and confused when noting; surely part of the reason he lagged behind and let her take care of most of the action ahead.
She killed a group of Cimmerian rogues and he pushed his angry, befuddled thoughts away.
So, what if she was better at video games; he was better at everything else.
He’d like to see her navigate the complexities of string theory, the history of the universe, or the greatest archetypes of DC Comics.
His stomach flipped a bit at the thought of her showing interest in any of those and he really needed Leonard to get her out of his head. It was affecting his thought processes and physical well-being, now. Simply unacceptable.
He excused himself to bed; at last, she didn’t protest and thanked him for his help.
He took the next moment to remove his headset, gathering an appropriate response took longer than it should have, but he finally muttered his polite deflection and shuffled out into the hallway.
Penny eventually hit rock bottom, gave up gaming so intensely, and things went back to normal – well, mostly normal.
A month later, he and Leonard stood in the Snacks, Soft Drinks, and Candy aisle at their local grocery store when it hit him. Or Leonard hit him, to be more precise. He’d zoned out staring at the shelf of Red Bull, one hand extended to pull a small package off the metal rack, but stayed frozen – as his mind did – until his friend whacked his side.
“Did you want to get some, or not?” his right eyebrow curled upwards in obvious impatience. Did he? “Well?”
“Ah, no,” his hand fluttered to the left and then back down to his side. Leonard shrugged and pushed the cart down towards the back of the aisle.
Sheldon grabbed a six-pack of Canada Dry, instead. His mother had always recommended it for a uneasy stomach, so it was only right. He shook his head and skimmed the remainder of his shopping list.
He read it four times until the nagging thoughts of her dormant superiority and his inescapable inferiority let him dictate Leonard move to the Baked Goods section.
The smell of vanilla that diluted his other senses had to be coming from the long aisle of shampoos and bath products, which they passed along the way. His eye twitched and he argued over croissants for no reason.
He wanted to say so much. It felt like he had about thirty different conversations ready to start, rolling around his head, but no words made it out of his mouth.
He heaved a few labored breaths and smacked his hands to his head.
He was so hopelessly inadequate. He had been wrong, again; he was never going to be prepared for whatever she had to offer.
If this is what being a friend was about, perhaps he’d have to divorce the idea of ever being a good enough friend along with his inferior video gaming skills. This seemed to come naturally to Penny, she’d put next to no effort into it – it seemed by her affable response to his thankfulness – yet, she managed to give him the best present he’d ever gotten.
He thinks back to year after year of terrible birthdays and holidays; his parents shoving the trendiest or otherwise ‘normal’ gifts they could find under the tree or next to his cake. He begrudgingly appreciated their sentiments, but if this is what getting gifts was really about he’d have to rethink his formerly disinterested approach to the concept of presents.
She’d given this fantastic present to him, too. His mind raced at her actions, trying to find a reason why she’d felt obligated to give him something so meaningful.
Their friendship clearly meant more to her than it had to him and he felt truly remorseful about that fact.
She clearly shared a close bond with Leonard, as well, but knew that he liked Spock more than the others. Or was that assuming too much? Surely that was the motivator behind her request for Mr. Nimoy sign it To: Sheldon, his mind hiccupped again in disbelief, not To: Leonard or To: Sheldon and Leonard. She meant this for him, for Sheldon.
He decided, then, that perhaps he couldn’t offer the same emotional understanding and level of friendship that had come so naturally to her, but he’d try his best.
He didn’t want her to feel awkward by remaining indebted to her, or anything like that, but he’d keep her kindness in mind. He’d be there for her in whatever capacity he could offer in return, to try and come close to the same generosity and consideration she’d shown him.
He thought about leaving an anonymous gift card, or flowers, or envelope of money at her doorstep; she’d surely know it was him and that seemed needlessly reckless.
It wasn’t until months later, as he was chewing on a Red Vine, still trying not to notice how close her backside had been to his mid-section, when he saw his opening and made for the peanut brittle container.
He read four articles critiquing Freud, before he realized he’d eaten the entire package of licorice and exited his browser window.
To have been considered for the Nobel Prize would just have to do for now, Sheldon huffed.
He wasn’t even supposed to know, but Gablehouser had left the fax out on his desk – his name legibly bolded around the mid-paragraph – before he wandered off to flirt with the receptionist. It was not the best way for him to find out such information; especially since he wasn’t supposed to know such things, anyway.
The selection process was a rigorous and secretive one; he’d have felt ashamed for knowing regardless of what the result would be.
Knowing that he made the list at all was a …good thing? He begged off his lecherous boss’ questions and left work two hours early. He’d walk home; it wasn’t exceedingly far.
He changed his route for a block, heading towards the Cheesecake Factory where he could talk to Penny.
Penny – who wasn’t involved in the politics and pitfalls of being at the forefront of scientific discovery. Penny who had a car that would take him back to the his apartment. He knew she’d say kind things, tell him that things would work out and a metaphorical door was always opening when one closed.
He felt himself getting warm behind the ears and his fists were uncomfortably humid. He turned the other direction at the next light, stopped at a Ralph’s, and headed home.
Penny got home before Leonard did, still in her uniform when she knocked once before pushing open their door.
She took in the sight before her and wasn’t sure whether to laugh or flee. Sheldon was crouched atop his spot; the TV pulled markedly closer to the couch, Red Bull cans littered the table between the tall brunet and the screen.
“Sheldon, honey, what’s up?” she said softly, not to startle him. He didn’t even respond, instead mashing the controller’s keys and screaming insults at the warzone.
“Sheldon?” she waved a hand between his gaze and a smoldering Warthog. “Shelll – don?”
He finally hit pause and snapped his head towards her, fixing a hard look her way. “What?”
“Um, what’s with the hardcore game-play?” He frowned at her, making her feel a little bad. She knew how annoying it was when people tried to interrupt a good run. “Did my invitation get lost in the mail?”
His expression softened, though only by what would be a noticeable amount to those who knew him.
She knew him; he was upset, he didn’t want to talk and desperately had to at the same time. She was just the person he needed.
“I was going to ask to borrow your iron, but screw it! I’m not in the mood for dancing, anyway.” She grabbed a pair of water bottles from the refrigerator and tried not to smile as she watched him watch her.
With any other guy she’d be creeped out; he just seemed so earnest in his observations and his eyes seemed to sparkle when he got that look.
There were worse things than being looked at so intently, she guessed, as she handed him one of the bottles. It wasn’t weird that her mind couldn’t come up with any good examples; she’d had a long day at work.
“Do you want to finish, or can I jump in?” He still hadn’t said anything more than ‘what’ and she was a little unsure of how to get him to talk. Playing seemed like a good way, maybe. She was instinctively pretty good at getting most people to open up, but Sheldon wasn’t most people.
He shifted from his squatting position – the leather of the couch creaked and echoed through the silent apartment – he reached beneath the side table for the second controller, knocking it across the table gently.
She snatched it up and joined the fray.
He gulped down his water so quickly that before she even opened hers, she placed it where his finished bottle had been sitting. He reached over and made a surprised noise at the fullness of the bottle.
“Yeah, I’m not that thirsty. You on the other hand –,” her attention flinched back to the game-play as someone blew up their teammate and aimed a flamethrower in their direction. “Oh, hell no!”
They put up a bit of a fight, taking out most of their vehicles and arsenal along with them – before they burned away. She guessed this wasn’t the greatest of ideas, though, at the look of disappointment washed over her recently-charbroiled partner-in-crime.
“Man, twenty minutes is pretty bad. We let our guards down, though; if we were playing at the top of our game, Sheldor, they wouldn’t have stood a chance,” she winked and pulled her legs up onto the couch. She pulled her yellow vest over her head and laid it softly over the armrest of the chair. Sheldon continued to wordlessly stare; this time, she was a little uncomfortable. He looked genuinely upset. “Are you going to tell me what’s going on with you, or am I going to have to break out the massive multi-player? I will do it, you know.”
He nodded, turning his head down and crossing his hands in his lap.
“I-uh-Today, I found a fax on the desk of Dr. Gablehouser, my boss,” she nodded, glad he was finally talking. “It was informing him that despite being amongst the thousands considered, I would not be a Nobel Prize finalist.”
She stared back at him, “…So?”
“So, Penny, I didn’t win a Nobel Prize. You’ve known me for – what is it – a year, now? My primary goal has been to win a Nobel Prize; it’s been that since as far back as I can remember. Today, I lost what was quite literally the chance of a lifetime.”
She couldn’t help herself – she scoffed. He boggled back at her, looking surprised at her reaction. She put a hand to her forehead and loosened her hair-tie until her hair fell downwards, to her shoulders.
“Sheldon, I am by no means as smart as you,” she paused, waiting for his rude interruption and extended commentary on this, but for some reason – this time – those words didn’t come. “But, even I know that the likeliness of you getting a Nobel Prize is way better than a once in a lifetime opportunity. Hell, if you were some wrinkly old man, you’d still be where I’d put my money; if only to beat the spread.” She snorted. “I give ‘em a decade, tops, before they come to their senses.”
She winked and ruffled a hand through his hair.
He’d remember those words forever, or at least until he was that old wrinkly man.
He owed her everything.
Her support, her unwavering belief that he wasn't a loser; it had pulled him from the brink.
It was strange to think how he somehow had needed someone else to make him feel good about himself; that had never come difficultly, in the past. Since then he'd come to his good senses and realized his own pre-eminent brilliance once more.
It hadn't made him feel any less grateful towards her, for whatever reason. She frustrated him in the myriad of feelings she stirred from within him. This particular emotion was not one that he regretted, however. She deserved no less from him, really.
When she made him order eggrolls or forced him to watch sappy movies, he reminded himself of this. He lost his temper all the time and so did she; at the end of the day, however, he still owed her everything.
Patience was never a virtue of his, as his mother had told him practically daily, but he tried. Over time, it got …easier.
She called his mother for a lot of reasons, as the years went by, but his treating her badly was never one of them.
She landed a few major plays, a tiny guest-spot on Monk, a role as the next-door neighbor in a Hilary Duff vehicle; things were okay.
She enjoyed her online business much more, but wouldn’t say it to anyone.
Well anyone, except Sheldon, of course; she kept his secrets just as he finally learned to keep hers. Besides, he was still co-owner, -runner, or -whatever. He’d just smiled and sprinkled some rhinestones over hot glue.
She was the first person he told. Since the news wasn’t supposed to be released until the following week, he did so in a sharp whisper in the corner of his office. When she laughed, he laughed. He couldn't help himself. He had become moderately skilled at keeping things furtive, but never with her.
He wasn’t sure if that was because of a unfortunately timed resurgence of his ticks or a conscious decision. He wasn’t sure he cared, either way.
She had dropped a glass, when he told her. He panicked slightly at the sound, but she insisted that it was a good shatter – if that were even, you know, a thing – laughed some more and demanded he let her know as soon as he returned home.
She pulled open her computer and waited for him to knock thrice, scrolling through her bookmarks and pulling up the hotels she’d found in Stockholm.
She’d been collecting them over the years; late at night, when she’d had too much wine or just wanted to look at pretty rooms. She always meant to expand her search, to the places she wanted to see, to cute B&Bs up the coast, to cheap beachfront locales in Mexico.
It always ended with Stockholm; they were the only places she felt merited a star, tag, and link description.
She was cross referencing weather with arrival times when the familiar greeting shot her from her place on the couch. Throwing open the door she engulfed him into an enormous hug; he didn’t even seem upset by it and she flattened her face against his expansive torso.
“I know this’ll probably matter, like, next to nothing to you – or whatever – but, I’m so proud of you, Sheldon,” he gave her that Sheldon-look of his; like he was solving algorithms about how she smiled.
She smoothed her hands over his shoulders and pulled him into another tight hug, he still didn’t resist her actions.
“I am …such an imbecile,” he finally let out, strained and soft.
She pulled back to meet his eyes. Was he serious? Did he say these things just to be sure that no one ever knew what to expect?
Winning a Nobel Prize kind of said exactly the opposite of that statement; totally the opposite, really.
Before she could say any of this he was pressing his dry lips against her half-open mouth and pulling her up on her tiptoes as he craned his neck as far down as it could go – meeting her halfway.
A million other questions popped into her head; most shocked, some over his nerve, but her knees were giving out and they were falling backwards onto the couch.
A little while later, her lips were sore and they were both gasping for air like teenagers. She hadn’t made out for that long a time, since she was a teenager; so she guessed it figured.
“So, that was …unexpected,” she commented, feeling a goofy smile overtake her features.
She tried to push it back down, but the image of Sheldon so red in the face and pleasantly rumpled from rolling around amongst the pillows of her sofa was too much.
She kissed him a few more times before pulling her computer into her lap and adjusting the screen so that they could both see.
Her legs were lying lazily over his knees and she was too comfortable to ever move, so he craned his neck as she explained her search results.
“Prudent modern minds would suggest that you always expect the unexpected,” Sheldon muttered as his eyes followed down the screen. His voice sounded gruffer than normal and she was already fighting the urge to drag him to her bedroom.
For once, she was content with the guy making the first move. With Sheldon, she’d have expected nothing less, really. It was just something she’d have to get used to.
“Oh, this one has a private gaming room and a spa? I’m forwarding this link to my email,” he scrolled down and she nibbled at his earlobe.
His shivers and small peeps of approval left her resigned to the fact that since they were both fives they’d just share the initiating duties.
The thirteen-year-old girl in her wondered if that meant they were a ten.
“We should call ahead and make sure they let you bring your own games,” she added, curling the instep of her barefoot against the underside of his left knee. “I don’t want to get stuck playing Donkey Kong all week, or whatever.”
“Donkey Kong is actually a fairly interesting game, Penny,” he clicked a few buttons and finally shut the lid to her computer. “Thank you for finding these, for me. You’re quite efficient, since I phoned you only about an hour ago.”
“Those, er, ah-actually have been bookmarked for a while,” she shifted around, pleased that Sheldon had shown interest, but a little unsure of how to present that information. It was a bit intimate and while they obviously both …liked each other, she didn’t want to throw too much stuff at him at once. He gave her a look that clearly implored her to continue. Oh, well. “Like, throughout the past few years – a while. It’s why a few of them were dead links, I think. They’ve changed sites or –,” she was cut off by his mouth crushing hers yet again.
When they finally pulled apart, she noticed that his hand was cradling the back of her neck. It was a nice feeling and he didn’t make a move to pull away; she leaned into his palm and grinned.
Expecting the unexpected was never something she’d have thought would apply to Sheldon Cooper, but what the hell. He did know a thing or two.
“My disbelief in luck and my extensive knowledge of the law of large numbers is giving me a hard time of putting words together; I beseech you to understand that my interruptions, though of the physical nature are meant to curtail any mental digressions that remain unfeasible and hard to comprehend, I apologize.”
“Buh – what? Large numbers, are you talking about the lottery or coincidences, again?”
Her mind stretched, trying to keep up with the person whose limbs were entangled with her own.
Her friend? – Her neighbor? – Her potential whatever?
She kind of liked that even when making out he managed to spurt out those crazy bits of dialogue.
If he spoke to her like that, even now, he’d likely speak to her like that forever. It’s a funny thing that the most arrogant, self-involved person she knows treats everyone as equals – even though they didn’t really want to be, most of the time – he didn’t talk down, he didn’t lie.
“Is this about you winning the chance of a lifetime?” she added some theatrics to her words and winked; she messed up his hair a bit more, just for good measure.
“Yes, chance of a lifetime. An excellent way of putting it,” he pulled her down to him again and sighed deeply. “And I won the Nobel Prize, in the same day. I hope those purported bets pay out to your liking.”
“Yeah,” she was wearing a Sheldon-look, she was sure, as she couldn’t tear her gaze from him. Her eyes bleary with happiness or his breath, she couldn’t tell. Her voice cracked a bit and she smoothed her hands across his sternum and kissed him, deep and meaningful. "At least, I'll beat the spread.”