Even before stepping foot into the club, the heavy bass tones made Sheldon cringe. Why anyone would find enjoyment in a place like this was a mystery.
What was he thinking sending Penny and Bernadette to check on his girlfriend? As far as he could tell, she had nothing in common with them other than the fact that they were all female. She was a highly-evolved creature like himself who enjoyed comic books and role-playing games and didn't require alcohol to have fun.
He scanned the room and became more agitated with each passing second. Where were they? Pushing his way through the horde, he ignored the scathing looks of the dancers. He wasn't here to make friends; his only goal was to ensure Amy's safety.
Sheldon reached a wall and scoured the crowd. His height advantage offered no help. Surely the building was over maximum occupancy. Finding a fire alarm to evacuate the premises was tempting, but mass panic could cause his girlfriend to be trampled.
There was no trace of any of them anywhere. Perhaps Raj was wrong. He tapped at his phone. "They don't appear to be here. Do you have another idea?"
As his finger was poised over the 'Send' button, a distinctive low chuckle caught his attention. He'd know that laugh anywhere. Amy.
Following the sound, he realized he was almost within her reach. "Amy!"
Their eyes met, and he closed the gap between them. Squeezing her in his embrace, he never wanted to let go. "Amy! Are you okay?" He mumbled into her hair.
Taking a half step back, he held her at arm's length and studied everything from her face to her posture. She certainly looked okay. "You must be exhausted. Grab your purse, and Raj and I will drive you home."
Bernadette stood to her full height, all 4 foot 11 inches of her. "Amy will leave when she's ready."
Amy consulted her watch. "Well, it is after 10, and I need to work tomorrow."
"But we were just starting to get to know each other." The petite blonde returned her attention to the physicist. "Amy is a delight. I don't know why anyone would want to avoid her."
He squirmed under her gaze. She was tiny but a force to be reckoned with. "I don't want to avoid her…"
"Then why are you?" Penny demanded. "And what's this about not taking her on a proper date?"
"Amy's busy schedule makes that difficult. Maybe when her business is profitable, she'll have time."
"And if it's not? You'll just hang around her store or play that Ka game at the apartment once a month? If you cared about Amy as much as you say, you would do something about it. And stop ignoring her. Man up, Sheldon."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Asking me and Bernadette to check on her was not cool. I don't know what is going on with you two, but instead of running away from your problems, you need to face them."
"Running away? What are you talking about? Amy, tell them I'm not running away." Amy looked at her shoes, and Sheldon frowned. "How can you think I'm running away from you? I came here to rescue you from... from whatever this is," he spat.
"That's the problem. You're only interested in me when you think I need rescuing. The moment we're not talking about how you can help me improve my business or making sure I have enough to eat, you pull away from me."
Sheldon dropped his arms, eyes wide. "Is this the alcohol talking, or is that what you really think?"
She shrugged. "What am I supposed to think? Things were going so well, and then you practically disappeared."
When she put it like that, it's what their relationship looked like, but he didn't feel that way at all. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you. I have been holding back this week, but it has nothing to do with how I feel about you."
"Then what is it?"
He licked his lips. "We should talk in private. This place makes me uncomfortable, and Raj is double parked outside the building."
Amy turned to her companions. "Raincheck?"
Sheldon reached for his girlfriend's hand. Her fingers were hot to the touch. Was she sick again? With her free hand, she grabbed the glass of orange liquid and brought it to her lips. "Amy, no!"
Half the contents sloshed out on the floor, leaving an orange puddle on the white and purple tiles. "Sheldon! Now look what you did. I need to finish what's left of this."
"I can't believe I'm doing this, but for once I agree with Sheldon," Penny informed the brunette. "You're looking flush."
"Am I? I guess I do feel kind of warm, but I thought it was from all the body heat in here."
"It is a little warm in here," Bernadette concurred.
Sheldon glared at her. "I don't deny that is part of the reason, but alcohol is a vasodilator."
Penny wrinkled her nose. "Vaso what?"
"Vasodilator. It's a substance that causes the blood vessels to dilate, which increases one's blood volume. When the vessels near the surface of the skin dilate…"
"Blah, blah, blah. Spare me the science lecture."
"Drinking alcohol makes you feel warm," Bernadette simplified.
"See, Sheldon? You don't have to use all that scientific jibber jabber to get your point across."
He rolled his eyes. If the circumstances were different, he would have argued with his neighbor, but getting Amy home before she ingested more alcohol was more important. He caught her waist when she wobbled, yet she was insistent on drinking the remainder of the beverage.
"I can't let Penny's money go to waste."
"Don't worry about it. Some guy at the bar was buying a round, so I didn't pay a cent," Penny assured her.
"It doesn't matter who paid. It's still someone's hard-earned pay."
"He's probably loaded. A Beverly Hills rich boy."
"That's besides the point. My mother taught me not to be wasteful." Amy raised the glass.
"Amy, please," Sheldon begged. "If you become incapacitated again, your business might suffer tomorrow." He sighed in relief when she set it back down.
"You're right. I can't leave Cody alone on the second busiest day of the week. I'm sorry I ruined your night," she informed her female companions.
"You didn't ruin anything," Bernadette promised.
"I should be apologizing to you for assuming you were okay with this," Penny gestured to the glass. "If you want, we can slowly build up your tolerance. Maybe a little kahlua on ice cream next time."
Sheldon opened his mouth to argue but was cut off by a vibration in his pocket. He whipped out his phone and frowned at the text.
"What's wrong?" Amy asked.
"It's Raj. The police asked him to move his car, and the closest parking spot he could find is six blocks away. Six blocks!"
"A walk in the fresh air might do Amy some good," Bernadette suggested.
"That's the most sensible thing I've heard all night. We better get going. There should be enough room in the car if you ladies don't mind squeezing into the backseat."
"Six blocks in these heels? Not a chance. You two go ahead. Bernadette and I will call an Uber when we're ready."
"Suit yourselves." Sheldon entwined his fingers with his girlfriend's and turned on his heel.
He could still feel the undertones of the bass at the end of the block, but at least the noise was muffled. Amy appeared to struggle catching up to his longer stride, so he slowed his pace. She offered him a small smile then returned her gaze straight ahead.
"You're awfully quiet."
"I need to concentrate on keeping my balance."
He released her hand and wrapped his arm around her waist. They walked another block, and still Amy was oddly quiet. "Is something else wrong?"
She lifted her gaze to the full moon. "Just thinking."
"About what?" Keeping her eyes on the night sky, she spoke so softly that he had to lean his head down to hers.
"I'm getting mixed signals from you. Monday was one of the best days of my life. Waking up with you… I can't even put into words how I felt. The feeling continued when we cuddled in the nurse's office. After that, we barely talked, and not for lack of trying on my part. Are you ashamed of me?"
He stopped so quickly that her body was still moving forward. His grip tightened on her before she fell face first onto the sidewalk. "Why would I be ashamed of you?"
"It's one of my hypotheses. So is that a no?"
"It is." Sheldon scanned the sidewalk. A group of club goers walked toward them. When they passed, he took a step back to face her. "You are also wrong about me only coming around when you need rescuing. I want to help you, but it's so much more than than. I enjoy our conversations and just being near you. I'm always bragging to my friends about how you're the whole package."
"Then why did you leave when things were going well? Is it because of what happened in the cafeteria?"
"It's part of the reason. I thought by keeping a little distance between us when I walked you to your car, my colleagues would think I was just walking with another employee. It might have worked if Kripke hadn't seen you and told everyone you're my girlfriend. That creep saw us leave the nurse's office and convinced the whole department that we engaged in coitus there. I got a lot of knowing looks and taunting about it."
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have come."
"Don't blame yourself." They moved to the side to let a young couple pass. "I locked myself in my office for the remainder of the day and didn't even open the door for Leonard when he came to give me a ride home. I texted to inform him of the situation and told him I would find my own way home."
"Did you take the bus?"
"I did. After waiting an hour past my usual shift, I walked to the bus stop. I planned to come to your place to discuss what transpired and make sure you were still doing well."
"Oh. What made you change your mind?"
Tears were forming in her eyes, and he swallowed hard. "I couldn't come, not because I didn't want to, but because of what happened next. I expected everyone to be long gone when I left campus, but Kripke waited. He followed me, Amy."
"He what?! Are you sure?"
Sheldon nodded. "When I got off the bus, I heard a car creeping slowly behind me. It was Kripke. I didn't want to lure him to your building, so I went to the Thai place around the corner. Then I went home."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't want to scare you."
"It still doesn't explain why you cut our Skype conversations short."
He licked his lips and stared at his shoes. "I tried convincing myself that having a girlfriend wasn't worth the rumors and being stalked. I was going to ask you if we could go back to being just friends, but when I saw your face light up my screen and heard your voice, I couldn't do it. I thought a gradual withdrawal would make it easier, but decreasing the time spent with you only made me long for your companionship."
"Would you prefer we go back to being just friends?" She spoke calmly, but there was a noticeable catch in her voice, and her eyes were devoid of their usual sparkle.
"No. I was lying to myself that it was even an option. I care about you in a way I have never cared about anyone. Holding back from you this week was unbearable. My sleep suffered, and because of that and constant thoughts of you, I couldn't concentrate on anything."
"I haven't slept well either."
"I'm sorry. It wasn't my intention to hurt you. I need to deal with how others perceive us, whether or not they are correct in their assumptions. Pair bonding is still so new to me."
"It is for me too. If… if we're moving too fast, we can take a step back."
He took her hands in his. "Thank you for offering, but aside from my awful colleagues' remarks and gestures, I am enjoying this stage in our relationship."
"Only if you're sure. I don't want to pressure you into anything."
"I'm sure, and to prove just how sure I am…" he angled his head down and pressed his lips to hers. He felt her stiffen then relax. The slight taste of pineapple and coconut on her lips way intoxicating, and he pulled her closer, so close that her body heat penetrated through their clothes.
All rational thought left him as his baser urges took over. His fingers roamed over the curve of her hips and trailed lower. She gasped when they reached her bottom. He peeled his lips and hands away and took a step back.
"I'm sorry. I should have asked first."
"N...no. I...it's okay. It was… nice."
"The kiss or when I groped you like a Neanderthal?"
"All of it. Hoo!"
Sheldon blinked. Who? What was she mumbling about? "I think the alcohol is starting to mess with your mind. Let's get you home to bed."
"I do feel a little tipsy," she admitted. "I don't know if it's the alcohol or endorphins." Tilting her face to the sky, she sighed happily.
He followed her gaze. It was a beautiful night. The city lights obscured the stars, but the moon was out in all its glory. He never thought much about it before, other than from a scientific perspective. Being with Amy made him view the world in a different way, like he was seeing things for the first time. She awoke all his senses, most notably his sense of touch. The kiss was nothing like he expected. The was no unsanitary exchange of saliva, only the softness of her lips on his. He'd been afraid for nothing.
If she hadn't gasped, he wondered how much longer they'd have spent wrapped in each other's arms on the side of the street in public. And what would his hands, that seemed to have a mind of their own, have done next? When had he turned into such a hippie?
"What has this vixen done to me?"