After scanning in the drawing and adding it to the Word document, Sheldon and Amy took her car and posted 50 posters around Glendale then drove to Pasadena with another 25. They parked in Old Pasadena and walked side by side, not quite touching, down Colorado Blvd and the intersecting streets.
It had been years since she explored his city, and he was excited to show her some of the highlights, including a pizza place housed inside what was once the luggage room of a train station. When he told her he could see the impressive Pasadena City Hall from his living room window, she longed to see it from that vantage point but restrained herself from asking. Maybe one day he would suggest it on his own.
As the last poster was hung, she had a feeling of accomplishment. The word was out. Now came the hard part - waiting to see if anyone would show for the event.
At Sheldon's insistence, they went out to dinner where they shared personal anecdotes and made plans for the coming week. The next two days, they would communicate via Skype, then Wednesday he promised to stop by for new comic book day, and Thursday evening he would keep her company until closing time.
Before she was ready, dusk settled in, and he gave her directions to his apartment. She stared at his building long after they said their goodbyes, trying to figure out which windows were his.
Skyping was a good substitute but nothing compared to seeing someone in person. When Wednesday finally arrived, Amy couldn't contain her excitement. She danced and hummed along to the soft tunes of Neil Diamond playing from an old cassette player she brought in that morning. The genre didn't exactly fit the atmosphere, but it didn't bother her. All that mattered was seeing Sheldon, even if only for a few brief moments.
"You're in a good mood again," Cody noted when he walked through the door before the evening rush. "You and Dr. Smitten must have had an enjoyable time on Sunday?"
"We did. I'm so sorry I left you to run the store all by yourself. I kind of lost track of time."
He waved off her apology. "It was quiet. I would have called if there was something catastrophic. So, what happened between you two?"
"You know I'm not going to let this go. Tell me everything."
"We hung the posters, we talked, we ate..."
"Ooh! He took you out to dinner!"
Amy shook her head. "It wasn't like that. Nothing fancy, just an order-at-the-counter place that serves Indian tacos and bowls they create in front of you..."
"Yes! You've been there?"
"Yep, I've stopped in a few times for a quick bite after school, but I don't want to discuss my life right now. Tell me more about the dinner. Did he pay?"
"I knew it was a date!"
"It wasn't a date. I was digging in my purse for my wallet, and he just paid for us both to save me the hassle."
"Don't give me that look." The bell jingled, and Amy breathed a sigh of relief when her employee left to help the client.
As the evening approached, the usual surge of Wednesday customers began flooding in, plus some new faces. She wondered if these were misplaced former Comic Central patrons or people who had seen the posters and wanted to check the place out. Probably a combination of both. The majority of them knew exactly what they were looking for, so she mostly hung out at the register. The stack of posters on the counter shrunk as they went home with the purchases.
"I've been trying to get the word out by mouth too," Cody admitted.
"I really hope all our efforts are worth it."
"It will be fun no matter what."
When there was a lull, Amy excused herself. Alone in her office, she downed half a bottle of water then touched up her makeup. Sheldon was due to arrive any minute, and she didn't want him to comment on the dark circles under her eyes. She leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes momentarily.
Cody peeked in the door. "Your knight in shining armor is here to whisk you away on his noble steed."
"Someone's been watching too many 16th century romance movies," she snickered.
"Make haste, fair maiden. You must not keep him waiting."
"I shall be but a moment."
Still snickering, she took one last look at herself in her compact mirror, straightened her skirt, and flung the door open. Instead of the crooked smile she expected to greet her, Sheldon appeared to be arguing with three men - one she recognized as Leonard from their first visit, but the one with the Beatles haircut and the other with caramel skin were new to her store. She knew that for a fact because she never forgot a face. Licking her lips, she slowly approached the quartet.
"I knew it was a bad idea bringing these two here," Sheldon muttered.
"We've always done new comic book day as a group," Leonard countered.
"Hi, Sheldon," Amy interrupted.
Sheldon's frown was replaced with that smile she loved. "Amy! You remember Leonard."
"Yes, of course. Good to see you again."
"And these are my friends, Howard Wolowitz and Rajesh Koothrappali."
Howard bowed. "Enchanté, mademoiselle."
Sheldon wedged himself between her and the man. "Cut that out, Howard. You're a married man."
"Relax, Sheldon. Bernadette doesn't keep me on a leash. I can talk to other women."
"You weren't just talking; you were flirting."
"Since when did you become an expert on how to woo women? You wouldn't know how to flirt to save your life."
Amy took a step back. Whatever strange conversation she had walked into, she didn't wish to be caught in the middle. "Um, it was nice to meet you, Howard and..."
"Rajesh, but you can call me Raj."
"Raj. I will remember that next time. So, um, guys, I'm going to check on the other customers. Holler at me or my employee of you need help finding anything."
"Amy, wait!" Sheldon called after her. "Can we talk in private?"
She bit her lip, eyes roaming around the room. "I guess I can spare a few minutes. I don't want to leave Cody by himself too long with this crowd."
"That's fine. I just really need to speak with you away from prying eyes."
Amy was torn between getting to her office as quickly as possible and looking back at Sheldon's friends whom she felt were probably staring at them. It was clear Sheldon was agitated, but she couldn't figure out why. Better keep moving. She ushered him in and shut the door behind her.
"I want to apologize for Howard's behavior."
She frowned. "What behavior?"
"The bowing, the way he greeted you."
"I found it charming."
"Exactly. That's not appropriate."
"I don't understand. You're going to have to walk me through it."
He sighed heavily. "Howard is married, and he was flirting with you. I knew bringing him here was a mistake."
"Flirting with me?" She chuckled. "Sheldon, I think you're misreading the situation. Why would a married man, or any man, for that matter, flirt with me?"
"Because you're intelligent and pretty, and what man wouldn't be attracted to a woman who owns a comic book shop?"
She blinked at him. He called her pretty! Sheldon Cooper, the man who occupied her thoughts day and night was attracted to her, or at least it was implied. He hadn't exactly confessed his undying love, but surely it was a step in that direction. The ball was in her court now. Did she tell him she was attracted to him too?
"Sheldon..." she faltered.
His eyes widened then suddenly found the floor very interesting. "Um, I should probably let you get back to your other customers."
As she watched him go, his words replayed themselves in her mind. "You're intelligent and pretty..." She'd often been referred to as intelligent, but no one besides her father had ever called her pretty. It didn't really count when a family member said it.
She pulled out her tiny mirror and stared at her reflection, trying to see what Sheldon saw. Her dark hair lay limp over her slightly hunched shoulders, and the concealer didn't quite cover the dark circles she'd tried so hard to hide. Maybe it was her eyes that he found attractive. They were, in her opinion, her best features. She removed her glasses and attempted to study the emerald irises that normally hid behind the lenses then sighed when all she saw was a green blur. Contacts were all the rage, but if Sheldon thought she was pretty as she was, why mess with changing her look?
Sheldon. Was he even still here, or did he take his so-called flirty friends and leave? She wasn't an expert on the subject, but it appeared as if he was jealous. It didn't make any sense. She had done nothing to show she was interested in the other guys. They were customers who happened to be his friends, nothing more. If he wasn't a flight risk, she would show him that he was the only man who held her attention. Or would she? Relationships of all types were not her strong suit. She wouldn't even know how to begin to outwardly express interest in a potential romantic partner.
"Let him take the lead," Cody's words echoed in her mind."
But would he? Maybe she was misreading his signals all wrong. It could very well be that he was indeed protecting his friend's marriage and was not jealous at all. Though there had been the incident with Barry Kripke too. This was all so confusing. There was no time for that now. She needed to get back out there.
"What happened between you and Dr. Smitten?" Cody asked the moment her head poked out the door. "He's been acting kind of weird since he came out of the office."
From behind the counter, Amy scoped the room, spotting Sheldon and Leonard by the new release rack perusing the selections. The other two friends were a few feet away, deep in conversation. "He looks fine to me."
"He's calmed down a lot. For awhile I thought he was going to run away again, but his friend with the glasses must have said something to change his mind. So what happened?"
"I'm not really sure. I need time to process."
"I'm here if you need someone to talk to."
"Thank you. Not only are you a wonderful employee, you're also a good friend." She lowered her voice when a customer approached them. "I just might take you up on your offer later."
For the next few minutes, Cody ran the register and made small talk with the patrons while Amy bagged the purchases. Each poster that left the store was another reminder of how Sheldon had become such an important part of her life in such a short time. Even if their relationship didn't progress past the friends stage, she was grateful for his assistance, his companionship, his...
Cody snapped his fingers. "Ms. Fowler!"
"I can tell your mind is elsewhere. Maybe a certain doctor."
She reddened and looked toward the spot Sheldon had last been in and still occupied. As if sensing her gaze, he lifted his eyes from the comic book in his hands.
"Go to him," Cody urged.
Amy straightened her skirt and squared her shoulders. She strode over to the racks, while exuding an air of confidence she didn't feel. "Finding everything okay?"
Howard and Raj eyed Sheldon warily. "Oh, yes. You have a large selection, but it's very well categorized," Raj applauded her.
"Yes, very categorized," Howard agreed, his eyes not meeting hers.
"Thank you. If you do need help, just let us know."
Sheldon sidled next to her. "Or better yet, you may ask me. I have helped Ms. Fowler organize the merchandise and know exactly where to find everything. Go on; ask me."
"Sheldon..." Amy warned.
"You didn't have a problem when I helped that other customer on Sunday. How is this any different?"
"I don't mind your help. It just seems like you're trying to keep your friends away from me. Are you expressing jealousy?"
Sheldon licked his lips. "Why would you say that?"
Amy took a deep breath. There was no turning back now. "Sheldon, I don't want to play games. Just tell me why it bothers you so much." He squirmed under her gaze. "We can speak in private if that makes you more comfortable."
"Go on, Buddy," Leonard urged when the taller man looked at her uncertainly.
He nodded then followed her back to the office. Perching on the edge of her desk, she gestured to the swivel chair and waited until he was seated before she addressed him.
"Sheldon, I need you to be honest with me. You weren't just worried about Howard's "flirting" because he's married. Even if he was single, would you have had the same reaction?"
"Amy..." he trailed off.
"Please. I'm not upset. I just need to know."
He hung his head. "It's true. Even if Howard wasn't married, it would have bothered me, just like it bothered me when Barry Kripke was doting on you."
"Why?" She kept her voice level and her body language neutral, but inside the giddy teenager in her was waiting for the answer she longed to hear.
"Because I like you... a lot."
The corners of her mouth turned up. "I really like you too."
"Of course. You're intelligent and attractive. You don't own a comic book store, but that's a good thing. If you did, we'd be rivals."
"You're just repeating back what I told you earlier."
"Well, it's true. You have those qualities, plus you're generous and easy to talk to. I love how much we have in common and want to learn everything about you."
"I feel the same way about you. So where did we go from here?"
"Where do you want to go?"
He picked at an imaginary piece of lint on his shirt. "I... I don't know. I've never had these feelings before. It's all so new."
"It's new for me too," she admitted.
"You've said you don't have time for a social life, but I think we can be creative."
"Are you asking me out?"
"Yes, but to be clear, not just on a date. I want us to be exclusive."
Her heart stopped. Was this really happening? "You... you mean a relationship?"
"Yes, we should make it official, but before we do," he swallowed hard, "I need you to know I'll most likely struggle with the physical aspects of a relationship. I mean, I ran away from an innocent hug. Will you still want to date me knowing I have a fear of intimacy?"
It took a lot of guts to admit weakness. In all honesty, it was somewhat of a relief. Having never even been kissed, the thought of physical intimacy made her extremely anxious. She was curious about small gestures like hand holding, but if that made Sheldon uncomfortable, she was willing to wait until he was ready.
The poor guy was holding his breath, watching her expectantly. She smiled softly as the words left her lips. "We don't need to follow any rules. Who's to say what a relationship should or shouldn't look like? We can go at our own pace."
"Another reason to like you. You take my emotions and eccentricities into consideration and don't mock me. So, I guess if we're doing this, we should do it right." He inhaled deeply. "Amy, will you be my girlfriend?"
The smile that lit up his face caused hers to grow even wider. It was official. She had a boyfriend and couldn't wait to show him off to the world. She would... The smile slipped from his face. Uh oh. Did he already regret their new status? She was almost afraid to ask, but it was better to know the truth sooner rather than later. "Is... is everything okay?"
"In the movies, this is where the new couple would kiss. I don't feel comfortable with that, but a hearty handshake seems too formal."
"Shall we try a hug again? If you're not okay with it, I understand."
"We're dating now, so I need to get over my fear. A hug seems to be the first logical step."
She hopped off the desk and waited. Slowly, he lifted himself from the chair and stood facing her. Like nervous teens, they tentatively extended their arms toward each other. He felt so warm against her body, and his heart beat wildly against her chest. She savored the feel of his hands resting on her back and hers on his. The last hug had been so brief, she didn't even have time to notice these sensations.
"You'll have to tell me when we've reached the natural stopping point. I have no idea how long is too long."
She smiled against his chest. "I don't think there is one; it's however long it feels right to both parties."
"Have you reached your limit yet?"
"No, but if you have, I'm okay letting go."
"Not yet," he whispered into her hair.