A/N: This fic is my love letter to the old Penny, who Sheldon and I miss very much.
The cursor blinked on his computer screen, mocking his inability to utilize it.
Sheldon could not understand Penny's love of country music. The woman loved many things he failed to see the appeal of (high-heeled shoes; small, yippy animals; Leonard Hofstadter), but among the list surged the ever-present affinity for mournful guitar wailing and southern accents crooning in baritone.
She insisted on blasting it on early Saturday afternoons, well into the pre-evenings, and she purposely left her door open so that he could hear it, too. Usually Sheldon would make use of his noise-cancelling headphones if he was reading, or just turn the volume up on the television if he was sitting in his spot, surfing channels.
But today, Sheldon was on the brink of rounding out the finishing touches on a proposal to be submitted Monday morning to Gablehauser, and he simply could not stay on track as the walls shook with the steel guitars and heavy drums. The noise bled through his closed door, flowing from Penny's open one, and he slammed both of his palms on his desk, making his laptop jump.
The number four was what did Sheldon in. He had an attraction for the rule of three. So after three, four was the last straw.
Penny had replayed this particular country song four times. He had already been over twice in the last hour, demanding she turn down the music. Even though she had let him watch her physically lower the volume knob just to appease him, and he slammed her door shut behind him as he left, he could still hear it. Perhaps because it was already catalogued into his brain, the airy, honky-tonk tone of the man warbling about honey bees and whiskey. Sheldon was now fully convinced that from now on, any time he heard anything slightly akin to the lyrics of this song, he would think of Penny.
For the third time that day, Sheldon pushed himself out of his chair and ripped his door open, crossing the hall in five steps and found himself pounding on Penny's still closed door.
He knocked three times."Penny!"
"If you'll be my soft and sweet, I'll be your strong and steady!"
Three times more."Penny?"
"If you'll be my glass of wine, I'll be your shot of whiskey!"
"I see her singing skills have yet to improve,"he muttered as he raised his fist to knock again. She continued to caterwaul from within her apartment.
Knock - Knock - Knock -
"Penny!" she cried as the door swung open and she greeted him with a wide, beaming face.
"Penny," he echoed with a disapproving glare. She knows I hate when she does that.
"Sheldon," she said with a smirk and a wink. "Three visits in one day. I feel like such a lucky girl. What can I do ya for?"
"I understand that listening to music may help the tedious tasks of cleaning your apartment," he paused, peering over her head to view the living room that still looked very much in disorder, "or whatever it is you're doing in here, go by much faster. However, I must request once again that you turn the volume down to a decibel that we can both be happy with."
"What decibel would make us both hap-"
"Turn it off."
They stared each other down, Sheldon's eyebrows furrowed and high, Penny's eyes squinting and mouth playful. Exhausted of the stalemate, he huffed as Penny chuckled.
"Why are you listening to the same song over and over again?" He walked past her and entered the apartment on his own accord, channeling a little bit of Penny's irritating habit of barging into his apartment whenever she sees fit.
"It's my favorite song," she replied, closing the door behind him. "It's sweet."
"If you'll be my sunny day, I'll be your shade tree," he scoffed. "Anatomically impossible. How can any one person be a sunny day?"
"Hey." Penny's face broke into another wide smile. "You know the words!"
"Of course I do," he clipped as he hooked a pair of small shorts on her couch with his pinky and flung them over the arm rest so that he could sit on the cushion. "I've heard this song four times in a row. I knew the lyrics of the entire song the second time around."
With a goofy grin on her face, Penny walked around the couch to mute her iPod speakers on the dining table, finally allowing Sheldon a moment of peace. His ears rang slightly as Penny came back into view, donned in a pair of red and white athletic shorts and a white tank top with tiny colorful hearts on it. "How can you not like it?" she asked, causing his eyes to flit back up to meet hers. "Can't you hear how romantic it is?"
"No," he answered honestly. He rarely saw the romance in anything, being that the notion of romance was without merit and marketed by the government in the form of the holiday Valentine's Day to collect money from sentimental fools too dense to understand that their chemical imbalances are due to poor diets and not because they impaled by an arrow shot by Cupid. The embittered roar in his head dulled when he heard Penny speak again.
"The singer is saying he likes that the woman he loves compliments him because she's different from him." She clasped her hands behind her back and swung her shoulders a little from side to side.
Sheldon cocked his head to the side and studied her, waiting for her to continue. His blank face must have said it all because she sighed and tried again.
"He appreciates that she can counter his strong points. For example, you're cold and stone-like, like a robot. You would fare well with a woman who is warm, soft, and lively."
Sheldon's eyes involuntarily swept over her bare shoulders. Her skin looked sun-kissed in contrast to her white tank top. Lively.
Before he gave Penny the opportunity to read further into his wayward gaze, he abruptly looked back up at her eyes. "I'm not cold. I'm a warm-blooded mammal like anyone else of my species."
"Forget it," she grumbled and walked around the couch, picking up her dirty clothes and tossing them in the hamper sitting near her coffee table. "I figured you wouldn't comprehend."
"I comprehend just fine," he protested. "I just fail to see how this concept appeals to you."
"Not just me. Lots of people like this song."
"If you'll be my Louisiana, I'll be your Mississippi," he recited more lyrics after a long moment of silence. Shaking his head, Sheldon scoffed again. "Ridiculous." He rose slowly from his seat when Penny continued to pick up around the living room and avoid him. Sensing his presence was no longer welcome, he walked to the door and put his hand on the knob, speaking to the door frame instead of her. "Please, Penny. Keep the noise down. I'm working."
"Don't worry. You ruined this song for me anyway."
He turned around and watched as she leaned over, her tiny shorts barely concealing the round curves of her buttocks and her tank top lifting a little, giving him a splendid view of her toned waist from behind. She had subtle dimples in her lower back. He swallowed hard and shuddered. "Ruined?"
"Yeah, Sheldon. Ruined." Penny straightened out her frame and his eyes flitted upward to meet her eyes as she whirled around to face him. "God, I mean—why can't you be a normal guy for like, two seconds?"
Sheldon bristled, but didn't miss a beat. "Normal guys don't get two doctorates by the time they're 18, Penny. I like who I am."
"Sweetie," she relented, her face falling. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean that there's anything wrong with you, I just…"
"No, Penny, you have made your point quite clear." He gave her a tight-lipped, sardonic smile and turned to leave. He was back in his apartment before the ache in his chest spread to his gut. Her words seared him and he looked around his empty living room, desperate for a distraction.
A robot? Stone-cold?
Sure, Sheldon Cooper detested human contact beyond what was necessary in fear of contracting germs or disease of a catastrophic nature. Now that was plausible. Catching the flu after shaking the bacteria-infested hand of a colleague, not being someone's shot of whiskey, or any of the other silly lyrics in Penny's country song.
"If you'll be my honey suckle, I'll be your honey bee," he recited another lyric flatly. "Malarkey."
It took a little while before he calmed down and forced himself to look at his and Penny's tiny disagreement from another angle. It's what his girlfriend Amy taught him to do; to try and be empathetic and analyze what he could have done differently to avoid an argument all together.
But anyway he looked at it, Sheldon felt that he had been the affronted. Penny basically called him a robot with no capacity to feel and had treated him accordingly, not for one second believing that her awful request, that he be normal for two seconds, would scathe him.
But it had.
It was something he had struggled with on a daily basis; what he wouldn't give to be normal for one day. To allow himself the earthly pleasure of shutting off the allegorical leaky faucet of brilliance in his brain just dripping away with no wrench on deck to stop it.
He couldn't turn it off. He couldn't be anything that was not himself. He couldn't just change like other people did. Like Penny had.
All at once, it hit him—Penny had changed. Without warning, his eidetic memory flipped the page to 7 years ago when he met the bright, bubbly, lovesick girl with her whole future ahead of her as she unpacked her boxes across the hall from him. And as the years went by, they had become Sheldon and Penny, and not just neighbors. They had become Soft Kitty, then Disneyland, then Todd Zarnecki…
His mind thumbed through the pages more quickly until they revealed the later years; a more tired Penny that he spent less and less one-on-one time with, a conceding woman who was often cynical and moody, a confused shell of her old self, with a permanent scowl on her pretty pink lips and her right hand perpetually curled around a glass full of wine.
Sheldon was well aware that people often pinned him as the kind to hardly notice anyone around him due to a superiority complex that he hardly could argue he possessed, but it was difficult, even for him—even though he tried to remain distracted by work, by Amy—to miss the metamorphosis of Penny.
Rubbing a large, red-knuckled hand over his raven hair, he blew air through his lips as he realized the only time the old Penny ever shone through these days was some Saturday afternoons, right on the cusp of pre-evening, when she would wiggle out of her peasant shirts and loose-fitting jeans and into something a little more comfortable to wear, like tiny shorts and a tank top, crank up the country tunes on her stereo, and belt her heart out as she picked up around the apartment, washed her dishes, or vacuumed the rug. But she had always made a point to leave her door open as she embarked on her day of cleaning. And no matter how busy Sheldon was during the week, he always saw Penny on Saturday, in her state of disarray and mock singing into her fist.
Sometimes it was when he stopped by to insist she turn down the music, sometimes it was just in passing as he left his apartment to meet Amy for dinner or if he was heading down to pre-soak his whites in preparation for laundry night. He would open his door and almost immediately catch her twinkling eyes and mischievous smile as he exited his apartment, armed with his laundry basket.
"There he is!" she would call to him, beaming at him and slightly winded after a few hours of tackling the herculean task of cleaning her own mess. "It's laundry night. Reliable old Sheldon!"
And he would nod and continue on his journey, impatient, unmoved by her appreciation of his always walking out at the moment she was looking at his door...almost like she planted herself there on purpose to catch him before he rounded the corner and descended the stairs...what was she trying to tell him?
In seconds, Sheldon was on his feet and scrambling to his door. He opened it wide and saw Penny standing there in the center of her living room, just as he had left her, yet, so different.
The music had stayed off and she was staring down at her carpet, wringing her fingers together in front of her. She did not look up until Sheldon was toeing her threshold, clearing his throat for attention. Her neck snapped up and she met his eyes.
"Sheldon," she gushed. "Again, I'm really sorry about what I said, it was so stupid of me to say that, you are normal, I wouldn't ever want you to feel—"
He cut her off with by raising his palm and shaking his head. "No need to apologize," he said, and he meant it. They stood in a shallow awkward silence before his feet had him walking towards the iPod speakers on her table. He felt her eyes on him the whole time as he pressed 'play' and the same song picked up where it left off. Sheldon took the liberty to turn it down to a comfortable volume, so to hear himself think, then he walked back around the couch and met his blonde friend in the center of the room.
"So," he continued, clamping his hands together behind his back and let them rest on the base of his spine. "How've you been?"
Penny pursed her lips and gave him one of her patented eye rolls, then placed her hand on her hip. "Small talk, Sheldon?"
"Why are you trying to engage me in small talk? You hate that." She turned her back on him and tidied up her couch cushions a little, even though he clearly saw that they were fine without her tuning. He watched her hands tremble a little bit and his eyebrow rose when she nervously peered over her shoulder at him, grazing his face with her eyes before quickly turning back around and making herself appear busy again. Was she…was his presence making her nervous?
"While you're correct in remembering that I find idle chat to be banal," he began. "I don't mind sitting here and, as my father used to say, 'shootin' the shit' with you." At this, Penny whirled around and made a funny spitting noise with her mouth before bursting into giggles. "What is it?" he asked defensively, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Nothing," she said after gaining composure quickly. "You just…sometimes you just say funny things."
"I am the group's resident cut-up," Sheldon said matter-of-factly, and Penny offered him a polite nod in response. Almost physically feeling the tension between them dissipate made him grateful as he looked in the direction of the door, knowing just beyond it was his apartment where his proposal remained unfinished. With a hint of regret he let out a sigh and opened his mouth to announce his departure when the soft music in the background caught his attention.
The song had changed. For a fleeting moment that was gone before he could wonder why it had been there in the first place, Sheldon missed the familiar opening chords to Penny's favorite song.
"Sheldon," she said softly, her voice navigating through his foggy thoughts and pulling him back. "Do you know why I play that song all the time?"
"To pluck my nerves like a taut violin string, Penny?" he guessed. "No, I don't know why." He waited as she sunk onto the arm rest of her couch and looked up at him. He realized he had taken an involuntary step towards her.
"It reminds me of you."
Sheldon waited; surely an explanation as to why a southern-fried beat with frivolous lyrics that Penny found romantic was to come. And he hoped that whatever explanation it was, that it would quell the sudden quicker succession of his heartbeat.
"I guess, I don't know." She fiddled with the hem of her shorts as a blush crawled up the sides of her face and she sighed, her shoulders hunching forward a little. "I kind of miss you."
He let out a small, derisive huff and quickly formulated an explanation that would describe to Penny how ridiculous she was being, but as he licked his lower lip, he struggled to find his voice. After a moment, he finally spoke. "We live right across the hall from each other. How can you miss me when I've been here the entire time?" The words rapidly tumbled out before he could stop them. "Right in front of you? For seven years?"
Penny's fingers ceased their fiddling with her shorts and she froze at his change in tone, stained with double-meaning and a hint of longing. Slowly, her gaze traveled up and her mouth dropped open, giving Sheldon the impression that he had some explaining of his own to do.
"What I meant was, I'm just right across the hall, and I have been for the entire time we've known each other, so there is no need for you to miss me." Her mouth remained open, she remained silent, and Sheldon began to squirm. "Well, it was nice chatting with you Penny but I really should get back to work."
"You're right," Penny suddenly said as she rose from her seat on the arm rest. She took one blazing step towards Sheldon and he felt the air become a little thinner. He nodded, thinking she had meant he was right about having to leave. As he spun around to flee, he felt her heavy-handed touch land no his bare forearm and a jolt of static electricity exchanged between their skin.
"No, I meant that you're right about being there," she corrected him, staring up at him with imploring, emerald eyes, closer than they had been to him in years. "You've been there the whole time. Right in front of me." He sharply inhaled her flowery scent, mixed with the tiniest hint of sweat from having worked hard all day on cleaning and jumping around to the beat of her music.
With the door open. Listening to a song that reminded her of romance…and of him.
"You miss me," he said, understanding covering him like a warm blanket.
Their proximity frightened and elated him and he was suddenly shoved by his bully of an eidetic memory into simpler times, brighter times, when Leonard had no chance, and Amy had not yet entered the universe in which Sheldon Cooper harbored a very secret pining for his next door neighbor named—
The air that they had been sharing, huddled so close together as they studied each other's lips, had suddenly been sucked from the room as Leonard's voice called out from behind Sheldon. He realized with an internal groan that he had left Penny's door wide open where anyone could have seen them. Not that they were doing anything wrong, were they?
"Leonard," Penny whispered before maneuvering around Sheldon and walking towards her door, repeating his name again but louder and cheerfully. The fakeness of her tone made his stomach curdle. "Back from the lab already?"
"Yep," he replied, his voice closer. "They just needed me for a few hours to confirm some results from the laser cooling experiments I did this week." Sheldon realized he was dumbing the science down for Penny and this irritated him for some reason he could not readily explain. "Anyway, what are you two up to?"
Sheldon took a deep breath as he turned around to face his roommate. "I was just here to once again request that Penny turn down her music as I am very busy completing my proposal for Gablehauser."
Leonard nodded knowingly and wrapped an arm around his girlfriend. "Glad I missed the fireworks."
"The what?" Penny asked incredulously at the very same time Sheldon asked, "What fireworks?" They both stared at the bespectacled physicist with wide eyes and guilty glares that he didn't quite comprehend the meaning of.
"I meant the fight," he explained slowly. "You know? The infamous Sheldon and Penny grudge match? You guys can't deny you both go at it like cats and dogs at the slightest hint of disagreement and it's been fireworks between the both of you since your very first fight back in the old days." He paused, watching his best friend and girlfriend gape at him vacantly.
It was Sheldon who recovered first. He smoothed out his Green Lantern shirt and swallowed hard. "Yes, well, I suppose some things never change." He snuck a look at Penny who was mirroring his coy glance.
"Whatever," Leonard said with a roll of his eyes. "What do you want to do for dinner, Penny?" The conversation now long forgotten, Sheldon took the opportunity to escape. He nodded at the back of Leonard's head, meeting Penny's eye and she smiled at him meaningfully, so meaningful in fact that even Sheldon could understand it. Closing the door behind him, he walked back to his apartment and settled at his desk.
To any outsider, it may have looked as though Sheldon had come up empty-handed again. That after years of suppressing any emotion he felt for his neighbor and almost succeeding completely, he was doomed to stay in his relationship while she stayed in hers, and that could only mean an unhappy ending.
But to Sheldon, this was not the end.
He had Amy, and Penny had Leonard. And maybe one day, the bonds that held them tight would be broken. Not today, but maybe someday. And until then, Sheldon and Penny still had Saturdays, and open doors, and that endless song on a loop in his mind, and the fireworks.
And to Sheldon, this felt like a beginning.
He opened the Word document and once again stared at the blinking cursor on the screen. This time, it didn't blink in jest or at his expense, but instead, it blinked in time with the song in his head.
A/N pt. 2: This was just a short, simple one-shot that I needed to get out of my brain. And I know I should be working on Affectation but as you fellow writers know, sometimes to chisel your way through writer's block, you've gotta chip at the boulder.
It wasn't a song fic but the story was heavily inspired by, of course, a country song (Honey Bee, by Blake Shelton) that randomly came on my iPod and instantly made me think of the old happy Penny and her good times with Sheldon that the writers seemed to have completely written out of the script the last few years. I used some lyrics from there, so I have to mention it in my A/N because I borrowed the lines and did not write them myself. Hope you enjoyed it and if so, please leave a tiny little review telling me so. :]