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Pasadena

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Pasadena – in the esteemed opinion of Amy Farrah Fowler – would never change. There would always be overcrowded suburban shopping malls lying in direct contrast to the neighboring silicon valley, overflowing with scientists and surfers who crowded the restaurants up and down the main drag of town, scheming to get closer to the waves or further inland to the safety of the suburbs.

Amy knew the story. She’d been born here, and she’d seen any number of people crop up at her place of employ, secretaries that lasted a week before fleeing to the excitement of Hollywood or the bland safety of the valley. True, she never had the gumption to approach any of them – what would she have in common with any of them? But she still had eyes to see.

They leave and run away, and Amy is left alone with her experiments, her monkeys and her memories.

***

Penny was the first traditionally pretty girl to give Amy the time of day. In response, Amy didn't mean to become the girl’s favorite customer, but the coffee at the Cheesecake Factory sold the only coffee and so she hung around plunking twenties into the girl’s pocket, enjoying what little food the encounters brang.

It took Amy a year to admit that the conversation outweighed the fake-tasting, grainy cheesecake and the chintzy décor. It was even better than that oh-so-regulating yet completely acidic coffee. But she can’t tell Penny this, and instead lets the conversation flow along.

Penny herself made up for her lack of intelligence with a vicious, street-smart attitude. Amy never felt the rise to bait someone as strongly. She preferred a priggish sense of distance and of sensibility. There had to be some way to hold herself apart from Penny, even if it was something minor, to keep herself from being swallowed whole by the anxiety. Penny herself never seemed to notice, was never anything less than sweet. There were midnights shared over endless cups of coffee, and tales of projects they’d half-finished.

It was better to live with the possible than to curtail all hopes, all dreams, and slog through the present utterly alone.

***

The sum total of what Amy knew about sex comes from watching Penny. The waitress lived with a very quiet yet glamorous sense of spangle and purpose; a way of display that puts the mighty bonobo to shame with its flash.

And in the gentle tease of Penny’s fingers tickling across the back of Amy’s hand, knowing and yet so light as to be completely innocent, Amy found herself captured. She could reveal to no one her secret; to accuse Penny would be to lose her amusing friendship. So they flitted through the air like the scent of attractant musk, courting and sparking without landing upon any one meaningful topic. Frustration and elation teased Amy both; the scent of hope teased her senses constantly.

But Penny strutted away in a cloud of feminine beauty, leaving Amy alone to brood in her ugly duckling skin.

***

The hardest part of being in love – a love, that colloquial thud – was trying to maintain her sense of dignity. For Amy, who could say phrases like ‘anoxic bacterial infection’ without cringing, turned into a blushing, stammering schoolgirl around Penny. She would flush and wave her hands in mid-air, as if trying to conjure up courage or some sort of sense of inner strength to her strangely vulnerable side.

Penny’s response was uniformly unfortunate; she would often ask if Amy needed something, if she was feeling all right, and if she needed an ambulance.

Amy would shake her head, whimper, and insist she was fine.

***

For her twenty-fifth birthday, Penny brpught a tissue-wrapped Tiffany box to her table with a palate of starlight mints. Though she'd never had a particular affinity for jewelry, the lure of something bright and beautiful always drew her on in curiosity. Amy leand forward against the marble surface, poking the wrapped box delicately. “I’m afraid you misplaced your box.”

“It’s for you,” Penny beamed. “Uh…it’s not real Tiffany, but it’s the thought that counts, right? For my favorite customer.”

Cautiously, Amy opened the box and pulled back layers of tissue paper to reveal a beautiful diamondique tiara glittering all over with hand-encrusted gems. Amy could have bought her own diadem, if her tastes had run in that direction; a real one, with diamonds that weren’t paste and silver that wasn’t painted wire. But the care put into the piece, the kinked but beautiful sculpture of plastic, made Amy’s heart pound like no hunk of precious metal ever could.

She caressed the stones gently, trailing glitter across the dull marble countertop. Bending the earpiece back, she slid the wire contraption through her short, stick-straight hair and pressed the rim of the crown toward her forehead. She groped for her cell phone, checking out her own profile via the camera ap.

Penny scrambled for a comfortable topic in response to Amy’s consuming silence. “Do you like it? I thought it might be a little bit tacky for you, but then I thought to myself ‘self’ – that turned into a great exercise, b-t-dubs, I worked up this great monologue for class – ‘self, what’s the one thing every girl’s wanted at one time or another? And I said – a tiara, duh!” Penny’s features crumpled and she placed a cautious hand on Amy’s shoulder. “You okay, hon?”

One touch, and Amy sprung to life. “I’m INCREDIBLY FINE!” then she giggled, a whirl of joy as she threw her arms around Penny’s neck. “I’m a princess and this is my tiara!”

Penny’s nose crinkled as she laughed, awkwardly patting Amy’s back. “You’re welcome.”

***

The first kiss was a quiet peck to the forehead after a walk through a very long, very cold rainstorm left Amy with a flu.

The next one, pressed upon her lips, was in a silent movie theatre, during a matinee of Gloria Swanson pictures.

Between leans and touches and arguments, Amy came to realize that Pasadena might never change but that that, overall, was a very good thing.