"We're going to Antarctica for the summer."
It was simple, simple sentence, simple language. No big vocabulary words, but she felt like she couldn't understand what he was saying.
"Antarctica? For the entire summer? That's months!"
She could tell he was exasperated that she was stating the obvious, but she didn't care. He started to tell her about his proposed experiments and she let him talk. She knew they weren't leaving forever, knew that it was almost a vacation of sorts. A vacation where they would be gone for a really, really long time. There would be no halo nights, no Chinese food, no walking in the apartment to be confronted with weird experiments. It would just be there, all empty, and every time she walked out of her door, she would miss them.
Okay sure, even Antarctica had to have internet, so it wasn't like she'd never hear from them. Maybe they could even still play together online. Was there a time difference? There had to be a time difference. God, what if it was their day while it was her night? She should be happy for them, for him, but she just couldn't get passed the shock.
"Penny? Penny? Penny? You do not seem to have retained anything I've just explained to you. In fact, you appear to be ignoring me."
There was something about the way he said that last sentence, like there was a tinge of hurt. She raised her gaze to meet his. He was standing there, waiting patiently for her. Hands clasped behind his back, standing in front of her door, observing her. As she watched, he shifted his weight so slightly and she suddenly wondered about the fact that he was here, at all, telling her this. She would've expected Leonard to be the one to break the news. He simply wouldn't see this trip as having any relevance to you, aside from asking her to pick up their mail. So why was he here, looking at her?
"I'm sorry, sweetie. I'm thrilled for you, this is a great opportunity."
It was a lie, of course, she wasn't thrilled at all, but he never knew the difference. His chest puffed out a little and the corners of his mouth tilted a bit. If it had been any other guy, she would have said he was showing off a bit, demonstrating his intellectual prowess.
"It is an excellent opportunity for me and for the world. Why, if my hypothesis proves correct, and of course it will, I'll be able to prove..."
She tuned him out again and this time she just watched him. He would gesture every now and then, but mostly held himself rather still. So tall. She remembered what it felt like when he hugged her, remembered being surprised by the warmth of his body. He also had surprising definition in his arms for a guy who drew on boards all day. And now he was pausing & looking at her expectantly.
"Are you excited?"
It was the first thing that came to mind, something she'd ask anybody who went on a trip like this, but he suddenly hunched inwards. He paced a little, first towards the couch, and then towards the television. She let him think in silence, curious. Finally he resumed his previous position and said, "It will be different."
Now she felt like she was having a 'duh' moment. Of course it was going to be different! He was going to be on another continent, on the bottom of the Earth. Normally she would've snapped something sarcastic, but, today, after her bewilderment over why the fact he were leaving was bothering her so much, she reacted much softer than normal.
"Different can be good. Plus you guys will be together."
"Yes, but you are remaining here. It will be...different not seeing you every day."
Awww. He was going to miss her! Plain ole waitress Penny, girl without a college degree. She looked at him again and he was fidgeting a little. She knew he was uncomfortable with talking about emotions, even like this. He would stare at her for a moment, then scan the clutter spread out over the apartment, and then look at her again. She felt like he was waiting for her to say something, like he was looking for a specific piece of data. To buy herself time, she said, "Sweetie, sit please, I'm getting a crick from looking up at you."
She curled her feet up, leaving the space next to her open, and he glanced at it, out of the corner of his eye. She half expected him to try every seat in the apartment again, but she should have known that once he makes a decision, he never goes back. Still, he wavered for a moment, a muscle jumping in his face, before he crossed the floor to the chair he'd chosen before. He shifted around until he was comfortably settled, and then looked at her again, waiting.
"It'll be different for me too. I'm really going to miss you guys."
"We will still be in communication. E-mail is quite possible in the Polar regions. However, I suppose you will be busy pursuing your own leisure activities and it is likely that the restaurant will be quite busy. Cheesecake seems like it would be a summertime treat, considering its kinship to ice cream."
"Sheldon, it's not going to matter what I'm doing. I'm still going to miss you."
They stared at each other, the distance between them seeming impossibly wide. The muscle on his face was jumping again and she felt tense. The confusion that had crept over her with his announcement faded and now she was just waiting for him to say something. But it was Sheldon and really what did she expect?
Maybe...maybe she should think of this as an opportunity. She knew that Sheldon always needed time to think about things, time to get used to changes. The only problem was that she would have to be sure. There would be no taking this back.
"You seem overly preoccupied. I should return to my apartment and continue packing."
Her voice was sharp and he froze, his eyebrows raised, his version of confusion. Decide, girl, you're on a deadline. No taking this back. Going with her gut, as she so often did, she pointed a finger at him and said, "Stay!"
He settled back into the chair, now appearing slightly offended. He opened his mouth, but she glared at him and he subsided. She went into the bathroom and brushed her teeth. Then she brushed them again. She stared at herself and thought, 'Be sure.' She watched her shoulders set and a determined look crept over her face.
Entering the living room again, she caught Sheldon trying to tidy up her kitchen. He straightened up to his full height and said, "Honestly, Penny, I resent being spoken to as if I were the family pet. Furthermore, you cannot really expect me to simply remain idle while you reinforce your commitment to dental hygiene."
She couldn't help it, she laughed. Cradling her forehead in her palm, she laughed and wondered again if she was really sure. Lifting her head up slightly, she saw him in her kitchen, a box of Captain Crunch in his hands. His fingers were flexing on the box as he waited for her to finish amusing herself.
"Sheldon, sweetie, please sit back down. I want to do an experiment."
"I fail to see why it is necessary for me to be in a seated position to give you advice about the proper way to conduct an experiment. In addition, if you are suggesting you want to do an experiment with me, I must respectfully decline."
"Sweetie, just sit down. Trust me."
His hands tightened on the box and there was a small crunching sound. He looked down at it as if he'd forgotten he was holding it. He glanced at her, indecision so clear on his face. After long moments, he placed the cereal into her cabinet, moved the dirty bowl and spoon into the sink, and then returned to his seat.
She didn't give him time to say anything, didn't give herself time to second guess. She just went for it. Big ole five, for sure. Shoving her hands into her pockets, she leaned down and kissed him. He gave a little squeak and his body went ramrod stiff. She told herself she would simply count to three and then back away. The point here wasn't to start anything, merely to get him thinking. One, two, thr-
His hand came up and he was loosely cupping the back of her neck. The movement of his mouth on hers was tentative and definitely unskilled, but the attempt was enough to give her hope. She could feel her hormones starting to rev up and she reined them in. Kneeling down, she broke the kiss. He looked down at her and his face was more flushed than she'd ever seen before. She could see his brain trying to make sense of what just happened.
"Okay, Sheldon, when you go away, I want you to consider that experiment. You evaluate the results and decide if it was a failure or success."
His hand tightened for a moment before he pulled it away. His voice was hoarse when he asked, "What exactly was your hypothesis?"
"My hypothesis is I think we could be a viable romantic couple. I know I care about you and I think you care about me too. Think about it while you're gone this summer and you let me know the outcome when you come back."
She stood up and he blinked up at her for half a second before shooting to his own feet. He paced over to the door and she thought he was going to leave. Then he made a sharp turn and said,
"What if I require more data?"
What exactly was he asking her? Sometimes she wished there was a Sheldon glossary, a thesaurus, something.
"Like you said, there's email. I'll answer any questions you might have. If you feel the need to...experiment while you're away, that's up to you."
She lied again, but she knew him. He needed to be able to explore all areas of research before he felt he could make an informed decision. She just hoped he wouldn't break her heart too badly when he came back.
"I want to do an experiment."
Her gaze shot to his and she bit her lower lip. What? Was he...did he mean? He was standing there, just looking at her, waiting. She crossed over to him, her breath uneven. When she was close, he reached out and cupped her cheek. His fingers grazed her cheek as if he was memorizing the texture. He bent his head and she stretched up to meet him.
They kissed again and it was still tentative, still unsure, but it meant more than a kiss from anyone else. Her hands crept up to grab his arms and his other hand found its way down to her hip. Finally, he broke away and took a step back. She forced herself to let him go. She backed away and just waited. He licked his lips.
"The results were duplicated. I don't think it will be necessary to do any further testing."
"Will you be pursuing your own line of inquiry while I'm gone?"
She smiled and replied softly, "No, I'm confident in my evaluation of the results."
There was a beat, he almost smiled at her, and then he was gone. She walked over to the door, locking it, and then leaned against it, resting her forehead against the wood. There was no sound in her apartment aside from her ragged breathing and she could hear movement in the hall.
"Sheldon, why do we have to go the drugstore right now? Can't it wait, we can stop on the way to work in the morning."
"No, Leonard, we need to go now. I need a new notebook. I'm pursuing a new line of thought and I need to document my results immediately."
"A new experiment, huh? How it's going so far?"
She could hear their door shut and waited, squeezing her eyes shut.
"I do not have any conclusive evidence yet, but I believe analysis of the data will result in an optimal conclusion."
She laughed quietly to herself as the footsteps faded away. Optimal. She'd take it.