Sheldon Cooper was not well-versed in social protocol, but even he noticed the unusual amount of attention Penny's presence attracted. He was the recipient of numerous stares as well, although those ranged from incredulous to envious. Many of his fellow train enthusiasts did a double take to see them walking arm in arm. When that happened, Sheldon noticed that Penny would ask him a question, or stand just a little bit closer. At supper time, when he was no longer distracted by all the miniaturized displays, he asked her about her behavior.
"Ignore them. They're just jealous, sweetie. They're comparing themselves to you in their heads, and thinking I could do better. I hate it when people do that. They don't know either of us. I can't stand it when people judge others based solely on their looks. If I had judged you and L- I mean, if I had judged you only by the way you looked, we may never have become friends. Instead, I decided to get to know you, and in doing so, I met one of my closest friends."
"Penny, I consider you to be my best friend now." He wondered if this had actually been true for far longer than he realized.
She beamed at him. "Aww... that's so sweet. If you were any other guy, I would hug you." Seeing the panicked look on his face, she rolled her eyes. "Don't worry; I wouldn't violate your personal space like that. I know you hate being touched. You're actually handling this whole fake boyfriend thing remarkably well."
"I don't... I don't mind that much," he said quietly.
"Really?" she said, shocked.
"It's different with you. I think... I think I have established a level of trust with you that I never achieved with Amy."
She sighed. "I really don't wanna talk about either of our exes. But thanks, sweetie. That means a lot to me to know how much you trust me. I promise you, I'll try my best to never betray that trust."
Sheldon nodded and stood up from the booth. With a slight smile, he extended his hand to Penny. Her eyes watered, and she blinked rapidly for a moment before placing her hand in his.
Throughout the rest of the day, Sheldon ignored the stares from the crowd. He found he was enjoying the train expo much more with Penny by his side than he would have alone. Amy had taken him on a train ride, he remembered. He tried to ignore the twisting in his stomach every time he thought about her, or Leonard. He pushed those unwanted feelings aside in order to analyze his reaction to Penny. She was aesthetically appealing, of course, not that his friendship with her had ever been influenced by her physical appearance. How was being here with Penny different than doing something similar with Amy?
He realized that Amy had always made him nervous. She'd had a way of looking at him that made him feel like a specimen about to be dissected, or maybe it was like the way a cat looks at a mouse. It was both calculating and rapacious at the same time. With Penny, there was an acceptance, a generosity, that he had only ever experienced with the female members of his family. He realized, with a start, that it probably didn't matter to Penny whether he ever won a Nobel Prize, except that she would be disappointed on his behalf if he didn't.
When they got to their hotel, Penny had an unwelcome surprise for him.
"Okay, sweetie, you know how there's a model train convention in town? Lots of single guys traveling from all over? Well, this was just a last minute thing, so when I called to make reservations, they didn't have any rooms with separate beds left. We're sharing a queen."
He faced her, several things flashing through his mind at once: his mysophobia, the odd complacency he'd felt that day holding Penny's hand, Amy suggesting with gleaming eyes that he sleep over. There must be some alternative to sharing sleeping arrangements with this bewitching-confusing, he corrected mentally-woman.
"Did you inquire about a cot?" he asked.
"Yeah, I did, but they're all spoken for. Unless you think you can curl up in a crib," she added with a mischievous grin.
"No," he said with a shudder, reminded of the poem about the Tall Man from Cornwall. "I would much rather share a bed with you."
She gave him a strange look that he couldn't decipher. He waited in the car while she checked them in to the hotel. In a few minutes, she returned with the room key and drove around to the back of the building where their room was located. The thought of bed bugs compelled him to insist that she leave their luggage in the car until he had thoroughly inspected the room. Although it smelled faintly of cigarette smoke and the carpet was a lurid crimson, everything appeared to be an acceptable level of cleanliness.
Gazing around the room, he briefly considered, and swiftly rejected, the idea of sleeping on a pallet on the floor. Sure, the carpet might be vacuumed on a regular basis (one could only hope), but the idea of sleeping where so many filthy shoes had trod gave him the "heebie-jeebies", as his mother would say. Nor could he bring himself to ask Penny to sleep on the floor. She had been so kind to him, bringing him to a model train convention in which she had no interest. In fact, she had spent six hours looking at the exhibits without a word of complaint.
Mindful of his manners, he helped Penny bring in their luggage from the rental car. He was surprised when the first thing Penny pulled out of her pink suitcase was a set of bedding.
"Penny, those appear to be your sheets, are they not?"
"Yeah, sweetie, I knew you wouldn't like sleeping in an unfamiliar bed. I hoped bringing my own sheets would make you feel a little more comfortable. And they're clean, too," she added. "I just washed them a few days ago."
He stared at the sheets in her hands for a few moments before he suddenly turned his back to her. His vision blurred for a moment as he was overwhelmed by a feeling that was something like... gratitude, perhaps. He'd never been very good at interpreting his own feelings. Penny's thoughtfulness made him feel warm inside. She was always so considerate of his quirks. She put up with him when she wasn't his roommate or his girlfriend. In fact, she was the only one who was ever selflessly kind to him, without it benefitting her in any way.
"Thank you, Penny," he said in a low voice. "Thank you for everything."
The word 'girlfriend' caused a low heat start to uncurl in the pit of his stomach. Good heavens, have I contracted some intestinal ailment, he wondered in alarm. He changed into his Friday pajamas and performed his nightly ablutions while she put the sheets on the bed. He hoped she wasn't aware that he was drawing the process out as much as possible. He was feeling jittery, even though he hadn't had any caffeinated beverage that day.
While she took her turn in the bathroom, he channel-surfed until he found an old Godzilla movie. He had seen it before, and the familiarity calmed him. He settled down happily in the bed to watch it, and in a few minutes, Penny slid under the covers to join him. He cast a startled glance at her as her foot brushed his flannel-clad shin.
"Penny, we do not have a blanket serving as a divider down the middle of the bed."
She groaned. "So get up and find one. I'm not moving; I'm tired. You try spending six hours walking around looking at model train sets."
"That is exactly what I did today, and I found it thoroughly delightful," he retorted, trying to hide his anxiety behind a sharp reply. He got up and started searching for an extra blanket. The closet was bare of anything but a couple of wire hangers. He crossed the room and started opening the dresser drawers. Penny sighed and pulled the blanket over her head. It soon became clear that the room didn't contain any extra bedding. He was about to complain to Penny when he noticed that she was already asleep.
Instead, he dialed the front desk, and was annoyed to get a busy signal. He decided to watch the movie for a while and try again later. Unfortunately, he was so engrossed in watching Godzilla raze Tokyo that he forgot about calling the front desk until the movie ended. By that time, it was after ten p.m., and he got a recording saying the front desk would re-open at six the next morning. He stared at the phone receiver in disgust, shaking his head at such gross incompetence. Finally, he decided that there was nothing for it but to try to sleep without his sanity-preserving divider. He lay straight on the bed, limbs aligned at precise angles, and tried to ignore Penny's soft breathing and the scent of her hair.
Sheldon awoke at his accustomed time of six a.m., only to discover that something was shockingly amiss. He was actually curled around Penny, spooning her, with one hand resting on her waist and the other trapped beneath her. As he tried to extricate himself, she shifted in her sleep, bringing her bottom in direct contact with his groin. He froze, uncertain how to proceed, as he felt a stirring below his waist.
He tried to pull his arm out from under her body (how in Hades had it ended up there?) when he became aware of the fact that his hand was directly underneath her breast. Mesmerized, he moved his fingers against her lush figure in a reflexive movement. She made a little purring sound of approval and nestled closer. Sheldon was paralyzed with shock and indecision. He couldn't help the thought that only a few layers of clothing separated their bodies. His body responded with a twinge of pure lust at the prospect, and his fingers moved instinctively once more. Another sensual purr from Penny, and he could feel himself getting harder.
This was too much for Sheldon, and he panicked. Yanking his hand out from under her body, he leaped out of the bed and dashed for the safety of the bathroom.
At the sudden movement, Penny woke with a start. "What was that all about?" she mumbled sleepily. Since no one was there to answer her, she rolled over and went back to sleep, unaware that Sheldon took an extra-long shower that morning.
After his shower, Sheldon felt a little calmer, but he was still shaken by his unexpected physical reaction to Penny. Telling himself that discretion was the better part of valor, he left her a note, and headed down to the breakfast buffet. Some high-fiber cereal and hot tea helped to restore some semblance of order. He picked up a newspaper someone had left behind, but found himself unable to concentrate on the articles. His mind kept returning to Penny. Those few moments when he had been touching her, however inadvertently it had started, were seared in his memory.
He started when he heard Penny's voice calling his name. Glancing at his watch, he realized that he had been staring unseeing at the newspaper for almost two hours. He made some remark about packing up his things and fled the room before she could ask him about his odd behavior.
It only took Sheldon a few minutes to gather up his belongings. The rest of the time he spent in silent meditation, running through his Vulcan kolinahr rituals in an attempt to calm his racing thoughts. By the time Penny returned to the room, he was feeling almost back to his usual self.
Apparently, he hadn't been completely successful. Perhaps he had been too silent as Penny gathered her belongings. Once they were in the car, she turned to him with a puzzled look on her face.
"Sheldon, is something wrong?" she asked.
"Wrong? No, nothing is wrong, nothing at all. Why would you say that?" he replied quickly.
She gave him a dubious look. "You're a terrible liar, Sheldon. I can see your face twitching like mad. Is it..." She hesitated, unwilling to bring the specter of Amy and Leonard's cruelty into Sheldon's perfect weekend.
"You know what? Never mind," she said, as she turned in to the convention center parking lot. "Let's just go have a good day."