Here's a little story that was going around in my head for quite some time. The story has five chapters, and updates will be posted on a daily basis. This means the last chapter will be posted on the day, when the series finale of The Big Bang Theory will be aired.
I hope you enjoy. :)
Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction using characters from The Big Bang Theory. I don't own any of the characters.
Leonard wiped away beads of sweat from his forehead with a tissue that he had pulled out of a pocket of his hoodie. He was completely out of breath and about to get an asthma attack. Taking a puff from his inhaler to prevent this, he looked up the steeply ascending path that was leading up to a rugged mountain.
"What the hell was I thinking? I'm an indoor cat for god's sake! I'm really not made for such exertions," he grumbled.
He turned around and looked down the path, which led to a small valley and up to a treeless hill on the other side. On the top of that hill he could see the blurred outlines of Ellen Reynolds in the shimmering midday heat. She was a coworker of Leonard and just like him she was employed as an experimental physicist at Caltech.
Two days earlier she persuaded Leonard to accompany her on a hike in the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles. He had agreed to this hike, not knowing what lay ahead of him. And why did he agree to do this? Because he wanted to get closer to Ellen. Maybe he could ask her out on a date which could lead to a relationship. And going on this hiking tour could be an good idea to set things in motion. At least that was what he thought. They already got along really well at work and he was pretty sure she had flirted with him the other day when they had lunch together at the Caltech cafeteria. So he assumed there was interest on Ellen's side as well.
Leonard was fed up with his lonely life. Sure he had friends, like his roommate Sheldon or Howard and Raj. Together with them he spent many fun hours of playing card games like Mystic Warlords of Ka'a, fantasy tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons or video games like Halo. He loved all those things, but he didn't want to spend the rest of his life exclusively just with stuff like this.
The last time Leonard had something like a girlfriend was two years ago, when he had a short relationship with Priya Koothrappali, Raj's younger sister. And two years before Priya there was Joyce Kim, but they only dated for a few days. As it turned out Joyce was a North Korean spy attempting to obtain information on his work, so in retrospect it was good their relationship ended so quickly, or he really could have gotten in serious trouble. But Priya and Joyce were the past.
Nothing had materialized on the relationship front for Leonard since those days with Priya and Joyce. However, he had believed that now a time had come, in which an opportunity to set foot in the world of dating again had openend up with Ellen. He had really been in an upbeat mood about this. Therefore he wanted to grasp at this opportunity. But unfortunately it had very likely gone down the toilet.
Leonard had told Ellen that this hike was a terrible idea and that he didn't want to go further on this crappy trail full of stones that ruined his shoes. But Ellen had no intention to abandon this hike and to head back to their car. She made some comments to encourage him to continue, but as a matter of fact these comments came across as a little bit condescending. Ellen sounded almost like Sheldon. So he came back at her with a pretty sarcastic remark and a few minutes later they were suddenly in a heated argument in the middle of nowhere. Eventually he had enough, so he just turned around, leaving a baffled Ellen behind, who continued the hike on her own.
While Leonard was on his way back to Ellen's car, he thought about how to apologize when she would return. He also thought about what he should do in the meantime, since it would certainly take a few hours before Ellen would come back. Fortunately he had his phone with him, so he could play games on it. He also had some food and water in his backpack. Enough to pass the time without getting hungry and thirsty.
Finally reaching the top of the mountain he could see that the way back to the car was longer than he thought.
"Wow, we had already covered quite a long distance," he gasped.
Pausing for a moment, Leonard enjoyed the view despite the physical exertion. He looked at his watch and saw it was almost one 'o clock.
"Time for lunch", he said to himself and put down his backpack next to a rock by the side of the path, a big tree nearby providing shade.
He sat down on the rock and took a wrapped sandwich out of the backpack. Putting the sandwich paper back into it, he took a bite of his meal. Sitting here in the shadow of a tree, eating something, helped him to recharge his batteries. Actually it was quite nice on this mountain. Why couldn't this be the destinaton of the hike? This would have been a perfect place for a picnic.
Leonard had just finished eating and was about to drink something, when he suddenly heard a woman's voice near him that sounded quite agitated, not to say fearful. Someone seemed to be in danger and needed help. He got up, quickly buckled on his backpack and started to go into the direction from where he heard the voice. He had to leave the path he was on the whole time, stepping on a sandy trail that was crossed by many tree roots. Since the trail led downhill, he had to walk carefully to avoid stumbling over the tree roots. All the while he could still hear the woman's voice. After a short time he reached a small creek and looked around.
He couldn't see someone, but he could still hear the voice, which sounded more agitated and fearful now. He slowly walked along the creek towards the voice. The ground in this area consisted of loose rocks, so he had to pay attention where to place his next step, or he would involuntarily have a bath in the waters next to him. Behind a big rock, which he carefully circumvented, he could finally see from whom the voice came from. It was a young woman. She didn't notice Leonard, who was standing next to the rock, observing the scene that unfolded before him. The young woman held something in her hand that looked like a long stick. She fidgeted with it as if she wanted to fend off something or somebody. Leonard couldn't see who or what it was, since a group of trees and some bushes blocked the sight.
Suddenly he heard another sound. It sounded like the hissing of a cat. A big cat. And then he could see what was going on, as something came out from behind the trees and bushes. A large felid of the subfamily Felinae. The young woman was confronted with a mountain lion.
The mountain lion inched its way towards the young woman, who slowly backed away in the direction of the creek behind her. Obviously the backpack she was wearing was quite heavy, because she threatened to tilt backwards while she backed away from the lion. Leonard could see the fear in her face. Sweat ran down her forehead which let some strands of her blond hair stuck to it. She still fidgeted with the branch in her hand, speaking to the animal in a shaky voice.
Leonard remembered the warning sign at the parking lot that said, if you encounter a mountain lion you should face the lion, back away slowly, be large and shout. The young woman did two of these things. She faced the mountain lion and backed away slowly, but the lion still came towards her and seemed to become aggressive, as he hissed again. He had to help her.
He raised his arms to appear larger and intimidating and started to shout. "Hey, hey, hey, back up!"
The young woman was startled by Leonard's shouting and dropped the stick. She turned around and saw Leonard on the other side of the creek and was about to run away in his direction.
"No, no, no," he yelled. "Face the lion again. Don't run. Hold your ground and stay calm. I'll help you."
The young woman nodded frantically, faced the lion again and held her ground like Leonard said, while he continued to shout at the lion and slowly waved his arms. "Back up! Back up! Back up!"
Leonard didn't stop shouting and a few tense moments later that seemed like hours, the mountain lion actually began to retreat into the bushes and eventually climbed up the hill from where he came from. Both the young woman and Leonard kept a wary eye on the lion until the wild animal was out of sight.
When the lion finally had disappeared in the forest, the young woman crouched down and uttered a deep sigh of relief. "Phew! I didn't end as lunch for a cougar."
"Are you okay?" Leonard asked, still standing on the other side of the creek.
The young woman got up and turned around. She just nodded, indicating that everything was okay. Then she slowly crossed the creek, which was only a few inches deep and walked towards Leonard with a big smile on her face. Before Leonard could say something, she had engulfed him in a tight hug. "Thank you, thank you so much. You rescued me. You are my hero."
Not used to get so much appreciation, especially not from a young, attractive woman, Leonard blushed heavily, feeling the heat on his cheeks. "Nah! It's the least I could do."
The young woman pulled away, her hands still resting on Leonard's shoulders and looked him in the eye. "Don't be so modest. I was so terribly scared. Without you I wouldn't have known what to do. The cougar probably would have devoured me with one bite."
Leonard blushed even more, if that was possible.
"Oh, my name is Penny by the way."
"Leonard...um, I mean, um...my name is Leonard."
Penny smiled brightly, while a thought crossed her mind. He's cute. She reached out her right hand. "Nice to meet you, Leonard."
After a moment's hesitation Leonard took Penny's hand and shook it. "Um, nice to meet you too." After all the excitement during the minutes before, he had calmed down and only realized now how gorgeous the young woman in front of him was. She was about his height, her long blond hair framing a beautiul face with amazing big green eyes. Her wonderful smile emphasized her high cheekbones, another marvellous feature of her beautiful face. She wore a light blue shirt with purple floral patterns, blue denim shorts and hiking boots.
Penny chuckled, amused by Leonard's shyness. "These are unusual circumstances to meet someone, right?" she asked in a cheerful voice.
Leonard was mesmerized by her sparkling green eyes, so he didn't answer immediately. "Huh? Um...Oh, yeah. That's true."
"This mountain lion came out of the blue. I was walking along this creek, and suddenly this huge kitty stood right in front of me. I actually thought mountain lions are shy and seeing one of them is very rare. Obviously I was wrong," she chuckled.
"Well, usually mountain lions are shy, elusive and solitary animals. They are mostly active during dawn, dusk and at night time and avoid people and areas with human activities," Leonard explained.
"Not in this case," Penny said, brushing off some dirt from her clothes.
Leonard nodded. "Looks like it."
"I see you are on a hiking tour."
"Yes, and I guess you as well."
"A really good guess," Penny winked.
"Um...Oh, of course," Leonard said, feeling a little bit embarrassed. "With your backpack and the hiking boots, that's quite obvious."
Penny reached out and laid her hand on his lower arm. "I'm just teasing you."
Leonard smiled sheepishly. "Oh...okay."
Penny put down her backsack and sat down on a rock. "How can I thank you? Can I invite you to a cup of coffee?" she asked, while taking a washcloth out of the backsack to wipe away the sweat from her forehead.
"Um...sure. That sounds great."
"How about now?" Penny suggested. "After this nerve-wracking mountain lion encounter I don't think I'm gonna continue my hike."
"Oh, I'm afraid this is not possible," Leonard replied. "I'm not hiking alone. I have to wait for my companion. I was too exhausted to continue, so I decided to stop the hike short and turn back to the car. And the car isn't mine, so I have to wait or it's becoming difficult to get home."
Penny was a little bit disappointed. "Hmm, I see." But then she had an idea. "But how about this? You can come with me. In my car. And after we had coffee I'll drop you off at your place. We'll leave a note on the windshield for your companion. Is this okay for you?"
"Um...I think that would be a possibility. Are you parking at the Cucamonga lot?" Leonard asked.
"Yep, there is my car," Penny answered.
"Great! This is where I wanted to go."
Penny stuffed the washcloth back in her backpack, grabbed it and jumped up from the rock she sat on. "Cool, then let's go. Oh wait! Where do you live? If it's San Franciso or Seattle I'm afraid I can't drive you there."
Leonard chuckled. "No, no. I live around the corner. In Pasadena."
"Hey, this is so cool. What a coincidence. I live in Pasadena too."
"Really? The world is small."
Both laughed and began to walk back to the path that led to the parking lot. After they were back on the path, Leonard quickly realized that with Penny by his side, walking on the stony trail suddenly wasn't so difficult anymore. On their way, Leonard and Penny continued their talk.
"As a real Californian you certainly know how to surf," Penny said.
Leonard had to grin. "I'm sorry to disappoint you. I couldn't stand on a surfboard for one second. Besides I'm not a real Californian. I'm from the other side of the country. East coast. I'm originally from New Jersey."
"Oh, that's interesting. Well, I'm not a real Californian either. I'm from Omaha, Nebraska."
"What brought you from Nebraska to California?"
"Well, I came to California a few years ago to become an actress. But this hasn't really worked out so far, so I'm also a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory. What about you?"
"Um, I'm an experimental physicist at the California Institute of Technology."
Penny was impressed. "Oh, a physicist. One of those smart guys who can explain how all the things in our universe work."
Leonard chuckled. "Well, I can justifiably say I'm fairly proficient in physics, but I'm far away from understanding all the things in our universe."
Penny smiled. "You know, my apartment is near Caltech. Well, it's not my apartment. It belongs to my friend Cheryl. She works at the Cheesecake Factory with me. I just live there as her guest until I have found my own apartment. About two weeks ago I moved out of my old one, after breaking up..." Penny paused for a moment, as she suddenly felt a surge of anger, before ending her sentence with clenched teeth. "...with Kurt. This cheating, lying jerk."
Penny looked at Leonard who seemed to feel awkward and just nodded. "Oh, I'm sorry. I don't want to bore you with my personal stuff."
"No, no. That's okay," Leonard replied.
"Kurt, my ex-boyfriend, is the reason I make these hikes. Here, out in the nature I can relax, regain my strength, take my mind off things. Well, nine times out of ten. This encounter with the cougar earlier wasn't really relaxing," Penny laughed.
Leonard nodded. "So, do you have a new apartment in prospect? I guess, it's not easy to find affordable apartments these days."
Penny agreed. "Yeah, you can say that again! But no, there's nothing in sight at the moment. I hope I find something soon. Cheryl's apartment is pretty small. And the couch I'm sleeping on is pretty uncomfortable."
Fifteen minutes later they had arrived at the parking lot. While Penny put her backsack into the trunk of her red Volkswagen, Leonard took out a notepad and a biro out of his and began to write a message for Ellen.
"I hope you're not getting in trouble," Penny said, after Leonard tucked the note behind the windshield wiper of Ellen's car.
"I don't think so. I guess she's happy to be rid of me," Leonard chuckled and put his backsack in the trunk of Penny's car as well when called upon to do so.
"She?" Penny asked curiously and shut the trunklid.
"Yeah, her name is Ellen," Leonard answered. "A coworker of mine from Caltech. She talked me into this hike."
Penny smirked. "I see. So, you usually don't go hiking?"
"No, not really. I prefer indoor activities. I'm an indoor cat so to say."
Penny had to chuckle. "Nice metaphor. Well, Mr. indoor cat, then I'm really lucky the cat was out of doors today for a change, or I would be mountain lion food now."
In good spirits both got in Penny's car and drove to Pasadena. During the drive there wasn't much talking. Both enjoyed the nature of the San Gabriel Mountains and the spectacular views on the Los Angeles basin as soon as the road left the mountain region and descended to the densely populated South Californian lowlands at the coast of the Pacific Ocean.
Thirty minutes later Penny brought her car to a stop in front of a nice café in downtown Pasadena. They got out of the car and entered the café, where they found a cozy place in a quiet corner.
After ordering coffee and cookies, Leonard and Penny were engrossed in conversation, talking about this and that, so Leonard was quite surprised when he looked at his watch and saw that almost three hours had passed since they entered the café.
"Wow, look at that. We're already talking for three hours," Leonard uttered with an astonished expression on his face.
Penny looked at the clock on the wall across from her. "Indeed!"
"It's so nice talking to you and I'd love to talk more," Leonard said apologetically. "But I still have to buy take-out meals for dinner with my roommate. He's a creature of habit and wants his food every day dead on time."
"No problem, I suppose Cheryl is waiting with dinner too," Penny replied. "This was a really nice afternoon. I enjoyed it very much. Maybe we can stay in contact."
"I'd be glad to!"
Penny smiled and took a napkin. "Can you give me something to write?"
"Sure." Leonard took a biro out of a pocket of his hoodie and handed it over to Penny.
Still smiling, she took the biro and started to write something on the napkin. "Okay, here's my phone number. I 'd be glad if I'd hear from you again anytime soon. Just give me a call, so we can have a nice talk again."
Blushing, Leonard took the napkin and the biro from Penny who passed both things across the table. "I will."
After paying the bill, they got up from their table and walked out of the café. Penny opened the trunk of her car, so Leonard could take his backsack out of it. After closing the trunk, Penny turned to Leonard and thanked him again for his help in a dangerous situation.
"I really can't thank you enough Leonard."
"You're welcome," Leonard said with a shy smile. "Um, the restaurant where I buy the take-out meals is just a block away from here. And from there I can walk home."
"I can drive you," Penny offered.
Leonard declined Penny's offer with thanks. "Thanks, but you don't have to."
"Okay. Well..." She leaned forward and gave him a kiss on his cheek. "Bye, Leonard."
He blushed heavily. "Um, bye Penny."
Radiantly smiling, Penny went to her car and opened the driver's door. But before she got in she stopped, looked at Leonard, who still stood on the sidewalk and moved a hand to her ear. Making a telephone gesture with it she mouthed the words, Call me! Then she waved goodbye to Leonard, who beckoned back, and finally got in the car. A few moments later she started the car engine and pulled away.
Leonard sighed and looked after the red Volkswagen, which disappeared behind the next corner. Looking at the napkin with Penny's phone number, a smile formed on his face and he told himself to call Penny as soon as possible. Maybe he would already do it the next day.
As it turned out, Leonard didn't call Penny the next day. And he didn't call her the day after that, and not the day that followed. With each passing day his firm resolution to call Penny decreased. Somehow his courage left him and he began to overthink things. Although he couldn't get Penny out of his head and although he had her phone number, Leonard wasn't able to make the call. Why should he call her anyway? Sure, she asked for it. She said, she'd be glad to hear from him again. But why? Just to talk? If he would call her and ask her to meet again for a coffee, Penny could think he's asking her out. For a date. A girl like her would never go on a date with someone like him. So why deceive yourself with false hopes. Leonard didn't know what to do. However, at one point his overthinking, self-doubts and faintheartedness were interrupted by a sudden rush of courage again and he actually wanted to go to the Cheesecake Factory to see if Penny was there. But this sudden rush, whatever it caused in the first place, was literally over in a second. And so time passed by. Day by day. Week by week.
To be continued...