Penny had never been to Texas. For some reason, that is the first thing she thinks of as the plane lands. The boys have been quiet most of the flight, partly due to the numerous death glares she’s sent their way since this began, but she is sure it is sprinkled with a healthy dose of reluctance to actually be here, and so she just stares out the window in silence. They’ve flown into Houston, because it’s cheaper (Leonard’s already lending her money for the flight, Penny can’t help remembering), and now have an hour or so drive to Galveston.
They’ve all packed light, expecting (hoping) a quick act of convincing Sheldon, and hop into a small rental car quickly. She refuses to sit in the back with either Howard or Raj, and Leonard insists on driving, so she is curled up in the passenger seat, thoughts plaguing her. The landscape is different than both California and Nebraska. She almost finds it humorous that they drive by a city named Pasadena, but the amount of crap that she’s put up within the last few days won’t quite allow it. In reality, she’s concentrated on all the possible outcomes of this adventure and hoping it doesn’t end up with her fired and heading back to Omaha, tail between her legs. That it all better end with them lugging a crazy whack-a-doodle Dr. Cooper back with them is non-negotiable in her mind. She hadn’t been able to stand the sight of Sheldon, curled up on his bed, heartbroken over yet another science thing she didn’t understand—and this ending is much worse.
Two days after her initial attempt to comfort him, when she found out he’d left, her shock was real. And her anger at the other three even more so. Obviously this all was an even bigger issue than Penny had realized. She’d tried to wrap her head around, even as Leonard was trying to lean in and kiss her. The chastisement she sends his way doesn’t seem to deter him very much.
One of these times, Sheldon wasn’t going to be able to get his job back, she only hoped that it wasn’t this time. When her handful of texts to him go unanswered she grows even more concerned. He’s never ignored her baiting before. She’d interrupted Battlestar Galactica to stare at the boys until she convinced them they needed to talk to him.
“He isn’t answering my messages. I think you guys need to go down there and talk to him, apologize.” She’d yelled at them.
Howard was mumbling under his breath to Raj. “But what if we aren’t sorry?”
Penny had stepped up, directly in front of him. “Junior Rodeo,” she spit out between clenched teeth. Raj had squeaked and covered his crotch with his hands.
“Penny,” Leonard began, “maybe a little time in Texas will be good for Sheldon…” he trailed off when she pinned her stare on him.
Threatening them was clearly not working quite as she’d intended, and she somehow found herself enticing them with her presence. Leonard had been quick to agree at that point, and, as usual, Howard and Raj followed suit. Leonard had booked them on the next available flight out and now the four of them are on a back road in Texas.
Well over an hour later, damn Leonard’s driving mixed with Houston Saturday early evening traffic, they reach the address Mary had given her over the phone. The home they pull up in front of is cute and proper, despite being slightly modest—not quite what she was expecting after some of the stories Sheldon’s had to share of his childhood. They all stare for a moment. She is the first one to move, somewhat reluctantly still, after Leonard shuts off the engine. The guys trudge along behind her in a line, practically dragging their feet. She pauses in front of the door, readying herself and letting the boys collect themselves.
There is a small pause, a minute shift in the universe, and then she rings the doorbell.
He hasn’t left his room outside of trips to the bathroom since he arrived. He’d given his mother the bare bones of the betrayal, a few terse and polysyllabic words that had done their part to confuse her and get her off his back long enough for him to bypass her and seclude himself in his childhood room. She’d tried to talk to him at first, but has resorted to just bringing him meals, fried chicken and mashed potatoes, homemade macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese, chicken fried steak, directly to his room—attempts at comfort and fattening him up; but all laced with probing questions and pointed statements.
His entire life there’d been nothing but science. Misunderstood and ridiculed since the beginning, he’d lost himself early on in the books and words, the theories and facts that surrounded him. They’d been a constant when nothing else had—family, location, language, friends. Heading off at 11, distancing himself from the plebeians at his school, he’d had such hope. Behind every turn though, he’s simply found the same situation, just with different faces and accents.
Part of him, most of him, can’t help but think it was all a ridiculous fantasy: breaking out into the world, taking the physics community by storm, winning a Nobel Prize for it. He’d already had to practically beg for his job back once, not even at the top university, and now his work and reputation lay in tatters. But, part of him still wants to prove it—prove the science, prove himself. He isn’t sure how to recover from this one though, and, perhaps here, no more pain will come from it. He can spend his days teaching evolution to handfuls of creationists who don’t care about anything outside of football. It’s depressing in its enormity.
Raj, Raj was explainable. He was a follower by nature, he’s sure as soon as Wolowitz was on board he was as well. And, he had cut him out when making room for Kripke, even if it was only for a few minutes. Wolowitz, too, was explainable. No PhD there and the most outspoken against him. It is Leonard ultimately that confuses him. Sheldon isn’t sure he’d stick his neck out for Leonard, they’re friends but Sheldon sill doesn’t quite get it, but he would certainly never tarnish Science, even in a moment of pure aggravation. That is the biggest betrayal of all.
For a moment he stops to consider Heidelberg, wonders if it isn’t an opportunity, a place, to which he could return. Back when he was a child prodigy he’d been respected there, held in awe. Maybe there’d be a quiet corner for him abroad, where perhaps news mightn’t have traveled so quickly. He has his laptop, didn’t stop to grab much else, but he’s been reviewing his work, figuring out what he can salvage and which items are worth future time and which aren’t. The lists are more disparate than he’d prefer.
Leaning his head back onto his Star Wars pillowcase—his room, nearly untouched—brings back a flood of memories; hiding from his father, his mother, his sister, his brother, the neighbor kids. The shelves are lined with Legos, books, comics, and games that he’d used to escape the world and the trophies and awards he’d earned to prove that. They’re dusty now. If he believed in such hokum as symbology and poetry, he guesses they’d have something to relate on the matter.
His REM is disjointed now after almost four days with little change in pattern. He wants to fall asleep, despite it not being his usual bedtime. The Age of Conan icon catches his eye on his laptop, but he can’t bring himself to play it. Memories of Penny are wrapped up in that now, and it reminds him of everything he’s left behind back in Pasadena. He reclines back and, just as his eyes begin to blink heavily, the sound of the doorbell chimes softly.