Title: The Adulthood Corollary
Summary: Penny decides to move her life in a more "grown-up" direction. Not all change is good, though. More of a friendshippy piece, Penny-centric.
Author's Notes: I was inspired - god, it hurts to admit this - by a lolzcat in a quantum box. And my friend's spouse who actually attends a Successful Professionals Under Forty dinner meeting every month. OMGWTF?
Disclaimer: Not mine, no pay. Also, Monty Python's "Nudge Nudge" sketch and the film "The Last Supper" are referenced and not mine, obviously.
"So, there's this cat in a box, right?" Penny told her companions loudly. "And there's poison in the box, that might have killed the cat. Ooor, it didn't kill it." She slopped her drink on the table with a flamboyant gesture. "We dunno who killed the cat. But that's cuatro--um quantum fizzes!"
Penny finished her story on a high note by splashing the remainder of her Tequila Sunrise onto the floor. Her tablemates stared at her in horrified fascination. Her date for the evening, Alan, was gripping her knee with increasing pressure until she finally squeaked, "Ow!"
The evening had not gone well. Penny had turned twenty-five last month, and had undergone what she called a "quarter-life crisis". She'd resolved to start taking some "serious" acting classes, start looking for a job that didn't involve food in any way, stop drinking alone, and start dating "grown-ups".
Of course, she'd been drunk at the time. And of course, she'd staggered over to 4A and shared her grand plan with Sheldon, Leonard, and Leonard's very surprised new girlfriend, Alice ("She does this regularly, it's best to familiarize yourself with it," Sheldon had said matter-of-factly to the startled woman). And of course once Sheldon knew she had a plan, he typed up a spreadsheet and graphs - what the graphs were for, Penny had no clue - and pestered her about her progress constantly.
Browbeaten, she started attending regular acting classes. The booze in her apartment had disappeared as well. She suspected Sheldon was responsible but didn't want to say anything because then he'd know she was trying to go back on her word.
And now she was dating Alan, a grown-up. He was smart, well-spoken, well-thought of, and attractive. He was also a manager at a small IT firm in Pasadena, and shopped at the same grocery store as her. On dates, they'd go to places that had an actual wine list instead of a card listing the Happy Hour Specials. His favorite hobby was cross-country running. That was grown up, right? Compared to partying, or drinking, or tanning, or gaming, that was totally mature.
Things were going really great for the first month or so. Not like "love of her life" great, or "soul mate" great, but comfortable and pleasant. Then he'd invited her to come to dinner with his friends. Alan said they made time once a month to meet as part of the Pasadena Successful Under-Forties Club. It sounded a little hoity-toity, but it was more grown up than staying in on Fridays and playing Halo with Raj, Howard, and Sheldon. Penny agreed to attend, put on her classiest black dress and her Nana's pearl earrings, and prepared to mingle.
Normally, Penny was not easily intimidated by anyone or anything. Yet for some reason when she'd clapped eyes on the bunch gathered around the table, she'd lost her nerve. It was almost like stage fright. All of them smart, all of them drinking wine and describing it in words like 'plummy', 'toasty' and 'voluptuous'; all of them wearing classy outfits that certainly did not come from Walmart or the sale racks at JC Penny's.
They asked what she did. "I'm a waitress," she'd said. Seeing their expressions (the men had done everything but nudge Alan and ask "Is she a goer, eh?"), she corrected herself. "Well, I'm a waitress during the day. I'm really an actress."
"Oh really?" asked the woman with the perfect makeup and carefully dyed mahogany hair. "Theater, or what? Anything I'd have seen?"
Penny took the cloth napkin from her place setting, and started to twist it into knots in her lap. "Well, not theater at the moment. Although, of course, that is my first love…um, I was in a review for West Side Story, but most of my work has been in commercials and stuff like that."
She could say commercials, because she'd been in two. Technically, that made the use of a plural alright.
Alan's friends were unimpressed. After an awkward silence, the tall, pale one launched into a story about a state congressman trying to get the support of their law firm for something to do with voters rights. "That's awesome," she told him. "It must be exciting to be part of something that affects so many Americans!"
Tall Blond looked at her for a moment. "They aren't Americans, Wendy. It's discouraging to see how much time and money is being wasted on what should be a black and white issue."
There were so many snarky response she could make about that. Instead, she said, "Oh," and ordered a drink.
Alan's Bright Young Friends were all professionals. Two were accountants, one was a lawyer, one was in Pre-med, and one was in advertising. As the evening went on, conversation centered on current events and politics to the point where it was starting to resemble a scene from a conservative version of "The Last Supper". If they tried to feed her anything with tomatoes, she was so outta there.
"I don't have any health care," she'd contributed at one point. "If I have to go to the hospital it comes out of my pocket. And I don't have any money." As one, they'd stopped to swivel their head towards her. "I mean, I have friends who would totally loan me what they could, but that's not fair, it it? Relying on the kindness of friends?"
"So you'd rather rely on the kindness of strangers, then?" Perfect Makeup had asked her. "Why not just get a job that has some basic benefits, instead underachieving and creating a drag on the economy?"
Penny had smiled thinly, and order another drink.
One thing led to another - well, one drink led to another. Alan was picking up the tab tonight and she didn't feel at all guilty ordering one six-dollar cocktail after another, because it was his awful friends that had driven her to it. And he was doing nothing to stop them! He hadn't stood up for her once! She gave a miserable sniff into her Tokyo Tea.
No one noticed. That was also galling. People always noticed Penny. She was pretty, vivacious, and loud. Was this really what dating a "grown-up" was like? Being belittled and ignored? Hell, she could get that at home! At least at home, if Sheldon was saying something insulting there was usually something constructive she could take from it. And she could insult him right back without worrying that she'd be blackballed from his group of friends.
It was probably this train of thought that led her into a stumbling retelling of Sheldon's Schrödinger's Cat explanation. That, and something called a 'Fat Kid on the Rocks' that tasted like fire.
Shortly after her story, Alan had apologized to his friends (which made Penny glare at them all even harder), tossed some money on the table, and gave her the bum's rush out of the restaurant.
"What's gotten into you, Penny?" he demanded in the car ride home.
She rested her aching head on the window. "If you really don't know…"
"How can I know? All you did all evening was make deliberately provoking comments and drink your body weight in alcohol!"
"I was not trying to provoke people! I was sharing my opinion!"
Alan laughed. When they'd met, she though he had a marvelous, smooth kind of laugh. Now it sounded cold and insincere. "Penny, I know you're a waitress, but even you must be smart enough to realize that what you were talking about was nonsense."
"I'm sorry, what?" she said, dangerously.
Alan flicked the indicator with more force than was necessary, and they pulled into the lot outside her apartment. "I know it's hip and cool and artsy to be socialist, but it's ridiculous in real life. I don't understand why you came at all if you just wanted to be rude to my friends."
Penny was seething. Away from the oppression of the restaurant and his ego-centric group of friends, she felt much more like herself. "Alan, your friends are closed-minded, self-absorbed jerks who have conversations just to listen to their own voices. And for the record, I was not being rude to your friends. But if I was, consider it payback for being rude to mine!"
Alan's handsome face was flushed with anger. "When have I been rude to your friends?"
Penny was gathering up her purse and her wrap. "What about when you saw them in the lobby and asked them if they were on their way to Chess club? Or what about - I told you how Sheldon feels about the Star Trek movie, and you just had to make that crack about Spock, didn't you? Right to his face!"
He barked a surprised laugh. "That scrawny dork is your friend? Honestly, Pen, you should be thanking me for getting rid of him. I did you a favor. He's weird - always appearing outside your door."
"He comes over for cocoa!"
She opened his door, and got out. The wind whipped around her, raising her hair around her head in a blonde halo. "He might be crazy, but he's one of my best friends!" She stopped, struck speechless for a moment. "God, he really is. Wow. Huh."
"Well, terrific. I'm sooo sorry I was rude to your friend."
"Do me a favor?"
He rolled his eyes. "What? Write your friend Shelly an apology?"She smiled icily. "No, why don't you lose my number?"
What an exit! Penny spun from him, wrap billowing behind her. Being more than a little drunk, she wasn't sure if the saucy wiggle she put on was just that, or more like staggering, but who the hell cared? She felt like Mae West.
The stairs were particularly long that night. Half-way up, she took her heels off and let them dangle from her numb fingertips. Her head was still pounding, and she was never, never drinking another Fat Kid on the Rocks again. Never ever. All she wanted now were her Break-Up sweats, a couple liters of water, and some violent button-mashing.
"Soooo…things didn't go well with Mr. Did You Remember To Plug It In Guy, huh?" Wolowitz asked slyly when she'd entered 4B.
Penny accepted her controller and her spot on the sofa next to Sheldon - three inches away from him (it had originally been ten, but after she'd gotten more accustomed to playing Halo, Sheldon had reduced it. As long as she refrained from, as he put it, "Flopping around like a landed Largemouth Bass.")
"What makes you say that?" she asked lightly, logging in.
Raj whispered in Howard's ear. "Yeah, totally," he agreed. "The whole building heard, Penny. Lose your number, huh?" The engineer smirked at her. "I gotta tell you, if it were me, I'd never lose your number."
Penny rolled her eyes. Sheldon shifted next to her.
"Wolowitz, that's one strike."
He stared at Sheldon. "What? Man, that's not cool!"
Sheldon met his gaze calmly. "I've told you before, if we're going to engage in battle simulations, we are going to abide by the same rules of conduct as any equal-opportunity armed services branch. So no suggestive comments that might upset the cohesiveness of our unit."
Raj whispered again. Howard snapped at him, "I know that means no hitting on Penny! What, I'm going to make suggestive comments about Sheldon?"
"Anyway," Penny continued, "It turns out Alan is an asshole, and his friends are douche bags, and if I never have to hear another peep about the Governor's fundraising efforts, it will be too soon."
"Penny, Penny, Penny," Howard said soothingly. "Of course Mr. I-Install-Vista-Because-I-Have-No-Imagination was a douche bag." He smiled kindly at her. "He has a masters degree in CS. Oh, ZING!" He high-fived Raj enthusiastically. Penny looked confused, and then decided this was a social hierarchy thing, like how in high school the Lit Magazine and the Science Club were always having weird turf battles.
Sheldon put their team - DaRKmaTTeR, of course - on the queue for PvP. "So can assume that you have decided your so-called "Date a Grown-Up" plan has failed? Or do you believe it requires further study?"
"Well," she headed to their kitchen for a glass of water. "I think moving it from "plan" to "guideline" is a good idea."
"I'm grown-up, Penny!" Wolowitz shouted to her.
"Only physically," Sheldon retorted. "Although, that does bring to mind a good question. What criteria are encompassed under the heading "grown-up"? I believe all of the troglodytes you bring home are well-above the age of consent."
Penny smirked. Then immediately hid the smirk behind a glass because it would be The End Of The World As She Knew It if Sheldon ever suspected she didn't find his quips as condescending as she used to. It was the difference, she decided, between someone thinking some of the things you did were stupid, and someone thinking you were stupid. Alan thought she was stupid, and that wasn't something she was going to put up with.
"Well, having some form of reliable income is on the list," she told him. "I'm through with lending men money for gas. So they need a steady job. And not being in love with their cars, bikes, or surfboards. And it would be nice to date a guy who has some goals, I guess. I'm sick of guys who just exist, y'know? They're not going anywhere, and never understand why I want to."
She headed back to her seat, with her glass of water. She was ready to kick some ass.
"What's wrong with your knee?" Sheldon asked her, intent on re-calibrating his controller.
"You're limping slightly and the obtuse angle in which you're holding your leg indicates some sort of injury. Did you fall?"
"Oh." Penny hadn't even realized she was limping. Actually, now that the alcohol was starting to wear off, she noticed that her knee was starting to ache. She rolled up the leg of her pants, and stared.
Unable to ignore the presence of Penny's leg, Howard craned his neck to take a peek, and winced. "Jesus, Penny," He muttered. Raj frowned in agreement. Sheldon just went silently to the kitchen while she poked gingerly at her injury.
"Wow," she commented, counting the darkening, finger-shaped bruises. "It kinda hurt at the time, but I didn't realize it was that--"
"Here." Sheldon thrust a towel and an ice pack at her. "The application of ice should reduce the swelling and keep your knee's range of motion from being further impaired. In addition, I recommend elevating it for the remainder of the evening."
Penny watched, astonished, as Sheldon and Raj moved the coffee table closer to her seat and slipped a pillow under her knee. The coffee table. For which she'd signed a contract stating she would never rest any of her lower extremities upon, ever. Sheldon then retrieved the icepack, wrapped it in the towel, and wrapped the towel around her knee.
Howard, meanwhile, went to the kitchen and returned with a straw, which he dropped in her glass of water. She looked questioningly at him and he shrugged, "It's what my Ma does when I'm not feeling well." He seemed uncharacteristically bashful.
Penny beamed at him, and then at Raj and Sheldon. Maybe she was still a little drunk because she could feel herself tearing up, just a little. "Aw, you guys! You're just the best friends a girl could ask for!"
Howard opened his mouth, and she raised her finger at him. "No, that doesn't mean there will be additional benefits."
"Strike two," Sheldon added.
Wolowitz looked flabbergasted. "Two! But I didn't even say anything that time!"
"It was telegraphed as poorly as Gauss using a Voltaic pile."
"Fine." He grabbed his controller. The message on the screen let them know another four person team was available for play. They were called PrOgRaMMedPWng. Sheldon glared at the screen. "Oh, really?" he muttered.
"Let's kill 'em!" Penny shouted. Howard let out a battle whoop, and Raj nodded emphatically.
So what if this wasn't in her plan of becoming a successful, mature adult? This was way more fun than dinner with the Successful Under-Forties Club.