The pain in the ball of Penny's foot spread right up her leg and into her back. Standing on her feet hustling cheesecake for hours a day was taking its toll. She leaned next to the kitchen door rubbing her foot. Three more hours then home to a hot bath. The cramp settled into a dull ache and Penny walked out towards her tables. Crap! Sheldon was here. She was too tired to deal with him tonight but she walked towards the beverage station to get his lemonade anyway.
As she approached the table, she stopped. Today was Thursday- pizza night. Sheldon wouldn't be here on pizza night. He certainly wouldn't be here alone. Lemonade in hand, Penny neared the table. Why he insisted on reading the menu, she'd never know. His order had already been placed after she got his lemonade.
"Hey, Moonpie.' she greeted from behind placing the drink in front of him. "What's the occasion?" When he turned, she realized her gaffe. This wasn't Sheldon though he did have a beard like that once(an oddly attractive beard which she really shouldn't be thinking about right now.).
"Well, I had no idea the wait staff in this establishment was so friendly." the customer replied smiling at her.
"I'm so sorry." she apologized unnerved by the intense stare he was giving her. "You looked like one of my regular customers from the back. My name is.."
"Penelope." he said softly. Penny actually broke into goose bumps. No one had called her that since a long ago summer.
"It's Penny. Do I know you?" her brows drew together.
"You don't recognize me?"
Penny looked at this man. Brown hair a bit longer than was in style now. Clothes- jeans, button down blue stripe shirt with a blazer. Definitely not someone she had ever dated. Eyes- hazel flecked with blue. Her stomach dropped to her shoes and a flush crept into her face. This was the last person she ever expected to see and the last person she'd ever want to see her like this. Why did she decide to pick up extra hours tonight? Her hand traveled to smooth back the bangs that flopped over her brow then nervously smoothed her throat.
"Jeremy?" she whispered. He nodded still smiling at her. At least on of us is happy to see the other , she thought.
"What..what are you doing here? What happened to your glasses?" Oh God, please don't let him say he came looking for her or, worse, called her mother for information. Jeremy crossed his long arms over his chest and remained seated. Neither of them moved to embrace.
"I had laser eye surgery a few years back. I'm lecturing at Stanford this week; it's Dr. Langton, now."
Penny gave a little snort. Of course.
"My area of expertise is cloning and alternate methods of organ generation and regeneration. Finding ways to heal the body without relying on organ donation." he clarified for her.
Penny nodded, ignoring the condescension in his tone. She had to extricate(a Sheldon word she 'd learned once when he caught her with milk without permission) herself from this conversation before the awkwardness became unbearable.
"What can I get you?" she prompted.
"Penelope." Jeremy chastised. "We haven't seen each other in eight years. Don't you want to catch up?"
No but she gave him a tight lipped smile.
"Ah, waitressing. The stepping stone of great actresses everywhere."
Heat flooded her and her hand itched to dump that lemonade all over his Polo shirt. She wasn't proud of her lack of success with acting but at least she was doing honest work. Unlike other girls she knew trying to break into showbiz. Her feet hurt, her pride hurt so she snapped,"Look, I'm busy. Do you know what you want?"
Jeremy blinked at her tone. This Penelope was very different in some ways than the one he'd left at the quarry in Nebraska. Given the circumstances of their last meeting, he shouldn't be surprised by her reaction to him. Perhaps his remark about being a waitress was uncalled for."I'm sorry." he ducked his head and quickly gave his sandwich order, "While I appreciate the lemonade, I'd prefer water instead."
Penny hoped her hand didn't tremble when she took the glass. For months even a few years after he left, she had drafted replies and letters to him. Some full of venom and viciousness; others tear-stained and pleading. Time had almost erased the pain but seeing him again brought it all back. She punched in his order recalling all he'd said that night to her.
"I have an IQ of 145. I'm going to MIT to study subjects you can't even spell." Even now, the arrogance of that statement drove her wild. He'd always felt so superior, always thought he was so much better than everyone else. Her finger paused over the screen. OH! That would be so much more satisfying than tossing a drink at him. He'd been so proud of his IQ- 145. She knew now that wasn't even genius level which started at 150.
"Ha!" she barked an idea forming in her mind.
She was sweetness and light as she returned to Jeremy's table explaining that the shock of seeing him really threw her. He was right; they should catch up. Would tomorrow afternoon over coffee work for him? Penny couldn't go all Nebraska on his ass in a way that would humiliate him as deeply as he had her. She smiled once more- but the boys could.
When Penny entered 4A loaded down with Chinese take-out, Leonard immediately jumped up to help her while Sheldon continued to hand out plates. Finished with the task, Sheldon hovered over his spot eyeing Penny.
"Did you remember to ask for the chicken and broccoli to be diced not shredded?"
"Yes." was her automatic reply.
"Even though the menu specifies shredded?"
"Brown rice, not white?"
"Did you stop at the Korean grocery and get the good hot mustard?"
"Did you pick up low sodium soy sauce at the market?"
Satisfied about the fulfillment of his demands, Sheldon took his container and nestled happily into his spot. Penny dropped onto the cushion beside him which had unofficially become "Penny's spot.". She knew Sheldon hadn't come right out and named it but he was apt to glare at anyone who sat there whether she was in the apartment or not. Such were the subtle shifts in their friendship drawing them closer and Penny found them comforting. She bit into her allotted dumpling considering how to commence with her plan.
"You'll never guess who came into the Factory today." she told them.
"Stan Lee" from Leonard.
"Jenna Jamison" who else but Howard
"William Shatner" Raj through Howard. They all waited expectantly for Sheldon; Leonard gave him a nudge.
"I don't want to guess. The realm of possibility contains such a wide spectrum that pure conjecture would be fruitless and my dinner would grow cold." He popped a piece of broccoli into his mouth. Penny sighed.
"Look, the question was rhetorical." she told them." It was the craziest thing but yesterday, sitting at one of my tables was Jeremy."
"Jeremy?" Leonard screwed up his face in confusion.
"Really?" Sheldon said turning towards her. Penny raised her eyebrows at him and nodded.
"Well, that must have been quite a shock." Sheldon commented.
"Wait." Howard broke in, "Who is Jeremy and ," he pointed a chopstick at the physicist on her left, 'Why does he seem to know who Jeremy is?" Penny paused before answering.; this was the crucial part.
"Jeremy was my best friend in high school." Penny explained. "He was probably the smartest guy in town. He graduated a year early and went to MIT."
"He was also your first love." Sheldon reminded her.
"How do you know that?" Leonard cried.
"Leonard, stop shouting." Penny admonished, "Sheldon doesn't know the whole story."
"How does Sheldon know any of the story?" Leonard was not hiding his irritation well.
"Laundry" they said simulataneously while Sheldon offered her his container; she wrinkled her nose in refusal. He knew her feelings about that mustard he used.
Penny began to tell them the story although she hesitated when she reached the night of graduation. Somehow, it bothered her that Sheldon would know the real reason her relationship with Jeremy ended- that someone once before found her utterly lacking in intelligence. The other three sat there, mouths agape when she finished but whether that was from her story or that she had just swiped a dumpling from Sheldon without earning a strike, Penny couldn't tell. Sheldon had such an odd expression on his face when he asked her what happened when she saw Jeremy yesterday.
"I almost didn't recognize him.( She didn't mention that at first she thought it was Sheldon. Too weird) He has a beard and the glasses are gone. Still, he hasn't changed that much. He made a crack about my being a waitress not an actress."
"What a douche." Howard muttered. Penny smiled warmly at him. Bait taken.
"Why is he here?" Raja via Leonard asked.
"He's lecturing at Stanford. He has a PhD in bioengineering or something. He does research on cloning or growing artificial organs." Penny shrugged. Throughout that exchange, Sheldon was silent.
"Here's an interesting fact." he suddenly piped up. "An animal, using nuclear transfer technology, cloning in laymen's terms, is not truly an identical clone since the genetic material from the donor egg taints the purity of the clone." He sighed sadly, "It's what has stopped me from growing my own Leonard Nimoy."
"Really?" Howard sneered. "That's all that has stopped you?"
"It would be interesting to meet Jeremy." Leonard mused. "We could certainly show him a thing or two."
"I should say so." Sheldon cried." Three years for high school? That's hardly impressive. Even Penny finished in four."
She gave Sheldon a baleful look which was totally lost on him. "I was hoping you would say that." She turned to Leonard. "I had coffee with him today and told him all about the four of you. He's anxious to meet you."
"Bring it on!" Howard yelled. "Battle of the brains." Penny knew it wouldn't be a struggle to get the boys on her side. They had all been ridiculed at one time or another for their intelligence so it was easy for them to empathize with her.
"What do you think, Sheldon?" she met his eyes intensely blue. They stared at each other as two spot of color appeared in his cheeks.
"After the way he treated you then and yesterday?" Sheldon rose to rinse out his container so Penny wouldn't see the fury on his face. "With an IQ of 145?" He whirled around.
"Tell the bitch it's on!"