Happy Belated Birthday to my dear friend Darkly Dreaming. She asked for a story and gave me a couple of prompts. The Festivus idea was the one that inspired me the most.
Everyone except Sheldon looked up as Penny burst into the apartment unannounced. After seven years of friendship, he was accustomed (even expectant) of Penny's abrupt appearances. What did peak Sheldon's curiosity was the aluminum pole in her hands. Well, that and the blazing, almost maniacal, look in her eyes.
"P…Penny!" Leonard jumped up from the couch, looking hopeful and guilty all at once. A few months ago Penny had gotten drunk, depressed and needy. She had proposed to Leonard who turned her down, much to everyone's surprise.
A week later, everyone found out why. Leonard had been sleeping with not just Penny, but also Leslie Winkle and Alex Jensen. It all came to light when Barry Kripke videoed Leonard and Leslie making out in the laser labs. Alex confronted him in the cafeteria in front of everyone. Howard told Bernadette, who immediately called Penny.
The next ten hours were filled with shouting, screaming, two black eyes for Leonard, bruised knuckles for Penny and a panic attack for Sheldon. The next three weeks were empty of Penny's presence. Sheldon had assumed she was lost in a few dozen bottles of wine. He tried several times to contact her. She had taken back her spare key, and no amount of knocking would bring her to the door. He even tried to catch her at auditions or that incredibly unsanitary gym she frequented.
Then, as suddenly as she had disappeared, she returned. She wouldn't talk about the previous weeks. Sheldon had been glad to see her looking happy, rested and refreshingly sober.
"Hey guys," she said with a sly smile. "Looks like everyone is ready for the holidays. I thought I would stop by and share a fun little holiday tradition with you all."
"Umm, since when do we have any kind of holiday traditions?" asked Howard. "I mean, besides the lectures from Sheldon about how Christmas is horrible, and then he insists we call it Saturnalia."
"Ever watch Seinfeld?" Penny asked. Raj and Bernadette were the only two who nodded. Bernadette looked like she suddenly had an epiphany while Raj just looked confused. "Well, there's a little seasonal celebration on the show called Festivus." Penny propped the pole up by the door. She crossed her arms and grinned widely.
"There's the Festivus Pole, which remains unadorned so as not to be distracting," she said nodding toward the aluminum pole. "There's the Festivus dinner, and I'm counting your pizza as that. There's the Feats of Strength, if anyone is interested in trying to best me." She looked around the room with a smirk. Leonard paled and Howard actually took a step backwards. "No? Fine. We move on to the part I'm interested in. The Airing of Grievances. Settle in, boys and girls. This is going to get a little rough."
Sheldon swallowed nervously. "Umm, Penny?"
She looked at him innocently. "Feat of Strength attempt?"
Sheldon gulped and looked away. Penny smiled without any real humor. "Okay, then. Anyone have any grievances they want to get off their chest? Speak up, people. Who's first?"
Everyone looked at each other warily but none of them spoke up. Even Sheldon kept quiet, a feeling of inevitability creeping up his spine.
"Nobody has any grievances to talk out?" she asked sweetly. Immediately everyone shook their heads. "Gooood," she drawled. "My turn."
Penny braced her hands on her hips and looked around the room. "First of all, I'm not stupid. I have an IQ of 124. All of you are very intelligent, and you have this nasty little habit of looking down on the people around you. Whenever I don't understand some science term, or sci-fi reference you pat yourself on the back for being smarter than me. But how many times have one of you come to me for advice? Or help? How many times have one of you expected me to listen to your problems and give you advice? Stupid Penny, fixer of your woes."
Bernadette frowned and opened her mouth.
"You had your turn," Penny said firmly. "Sit and listen. Second grievance. I am 28 years old. I am a healthy female with a NORMAL sex drive. I am not a slut. I am not a whore. Sheldon's math is WAY off."
Sheldon gasped and stood up from his spot.
"You sit and listen, too," Penny growled. "I had two boyfriends before Kurt. He and I were together for four years. I've dated eleven men since Kurt, including Leonard twice. Even if I had slept with dozens more, that does not make me a slut. The fact that you all find my sexual activities abnormal just makes you guys seem prudish."
"Penny, you cannot deny that you are a highly aggressive person, sexually," Amy argued.
"I do deny it," Penny said firmly. "I like sex. It feels good. Especially when done right. You want to talk about highly aggressive? How about a woman who lies to her boyfriend to trick him into bathing her? How about a woman who ignores her boyfriends protests that he has no interest in sex, and still pushes and bullies him into being physical with her?" She turned to Leonard. "Or a guy who sleeps with an old woman to get a donation from her? Who sleeps with anyone who will spread her legs? But me? I date a guy. If I like him, it gets physical. But I never bullied or whined to get into someone's pants."
Amy's complexion turned purple with outrage. She jumped up and turned to Sheldon. Are you going to let her talk to me like that?!"
"The next time I have to tell someone to sit down and listen, I get out the duct tape and hogtie them," Penny warned. "Last, but not least, I am incredibly unhappy here. I hate this place. Because almost everything about my life here has sucked. I have tried to be a good friend. Sometime I failed. Sometimes I succeeded. For the most part, I like you all. You're smart, sometimes sweet, sometimes funny. But in the end I had to weigh the good against the bad. I don't like what living here does to me. I drink too much. I cry too much. I feel bad about myself. So, I'm moving."
Sheldon felt his heart skip a beat. He couldn't move or speak, despite the protests his mind wanted to shout.
"I found a job in Santa Monica. I'm moving into a studio apartment with a couple of people I know. Henry and Ellie need a third to help pay the bills, and I need a fresh start." Penny looked around the room slowly, meeting everyone's eyes for a long moment each. "I hope someday you guys can forgive me for the mistakes I made during our friendships. I hope someday I can forgive you for the ones you made."
Penny picked up the pole and took a deep breath. "Goodbye." She turned and walked out of 4A. She took a deep breath, gave the landlord a small smile as he stepped out of 4B and handed her back her security deposit. Then she handed him the metal mop handle she had borrowed and walked down the stairs one last time.
2 YEARS LATER
Penny sipped her tea while she waited on the new script revisions to print. She was continually amazed by how much she enjoyed her job. She was the assistant to the head writer on the hit show Going Mental. The actors on the show were like a family. 22 weeks a year they played patients in a mental ward who spent their days trying to outwit their nurses and doctors. Charlie Flay, her boss, was a jolly Santa type. He treated everyone like they were his kids.
She looked over to find Kelli, one of the make-up artists peeking around the door. "Hey. What's up?"
Kelli looked over her shoulder angrily. "Um, there's a guy here to see you. He keeps rearranging my makeup pallets by size. Come stop him before I make him look like Dolly Parton."
Penny stood up and followed Kelli out of the office and down the hall to the make-up room. She wasn't expecting anyone, and she had few friends outside the cast and crew.
They walked into the room and Penny froze. "Sheldon?"
The tall physicist set down the make-up brushes he was cleaning and smiled shyly. "Hello, Penny."
She looked at Kelli and cleared her throat. "Thanks," she mumbled. "Sheldon, my office is down this way." She turned and led the way down the hall. Inside the office she turned to speak but Sheldon unexpectedly hugged her.
"I've missed you," he mumbled softly.
Penny pulled away slowly. "Wow! A hug from Sheldon Cooper? I never expected that."
Sheldon smirked and bent his head. Penny froze when their lips touched. She gave a soft gasp as Sheldon deepened the kiss and pulled her against him tight. She couldn't stop herself from melting into him, returning the kiss. Just as her toes began to curl Sheldon ended the kiss and stepped back.
"Grievance number one," he said sternly. "You left without giving me a chance to fix anything."
Penny opened her mouth and he took hold of her upper arms and moved her to the chair.
"Sit and listen," he admonished gently. "Grievance number two, you left without giving me the chance to tell you how sorry I am." Sheldon knelt down in front of her and looked at her hopefully. "Grievance number three, making me spend two years in therapy, learning how to express myself, so that I can move to this city, and ask you to give me another chance."
Penny's expression softened. "You went to therapy? For me? Why, Sheldon? You're not crazy, remember?"
He nodded. "I remember everything, Penny. Eidetic memory, you know. I remember the way I treated you. Why you put up with it as long as you did amazes me. Therapy helped me realize a few things. For years I did the same thing you did. I tolerated things that hurt me and I hurt others in return. I am starting over. I hope you will be a part of that new life."
"Renewing our friendship?" she asked.
Sheldon shook his head. "Our old friendship didn't work, as you know. I'm talking about a new relationship," he said with a slight blush. "A new, and different relationship."
Penny studied him closely for several seconds. Slowly she leaned in and he met her halfway. This kiss was just as exciting and breath-taking as the other one. When she pulled back, Penny smiled. "Do you have a place to stay?"
He grinned. "1410 5th street, apartment 8B."
Penny burst out laughing. Somehow, she wasn't surprised to find out Sheldon lived across from her. "Welcome to Santa Monica, Sheldon."
I hope you enjoyed it, Sarah. May the next year be filled with lots of love, joy and excitement.