Penny let out a loud yawn as she strung up the WELCOME HOME sign across Sheldon and Leonard's kitchen cabinets. She had pulled a double shift yesterday and worked the lunch shift today at the Cheesecake Factory so she could be home tonight when her boys returned.
'Her boys' she thought to herself and grinned. Both Sheldon and Leonard, and by extension Howard and Raj had become a surrogate family to her since she had moved into the building over 2 years ago. She hadn't realized how much she had come to depend on them until they left a couple of months ago on their expedition to the Arctic. She missed Halo night, paintball Saturdays. She still got the takeout Thai food, but it didn't just taste as good for some reason. Maybe because Sheldon wasn't there obsessing over the minutiae of his order.
Sometimes that boy just drove her insane. And, the list he had left her about taking care of his and Leonard's apartment while they were gone, even though he had told her 50 bazillion times already. The precise measurements of how much to feed his glow in the dark fish, instead of pinches of fish food, it was in fractions of teaspoons. How to stack and sort the mail by type and date. "Now this is very important Penny, you need to discern what is junk mail and what is not! For example, my Physics World should not be placed in the same pile as a J. Crew catalog," he said. "And how I ever ended up getting that catalog, I'll never know. I'd tell you to recycle it, but that may lead you to actually discarding something important." Thankfully both he and Leonard had set up their bills with automatic payments.
When she had finished festooning the apartment with all the welcome home decorations, she walked over to the couch and plopped herself down in Sheldon's spot. She did a little shimmy-shake of her butt making her self more comfortable on the leather seat cushion. She had to admit that Sheldon was right, this was the most optimal seat in the apartment. She would be reluctant to relinquish it back to him, since she had been at their place more than her own in the last couple of months. It had started out a few hours at a time a couple of days a week until it had escalated to her sleeping there nearly every night. She had started out sleeping in Leonard's bed, because she knew that he wouldn't mind. In fact, he'd love it.
She knew he had a huge puppy love crush on her and they'd tried dating and even shared a couple of amazing kisses, but things just weren't clicking right between them. Not that the other men she dated were prizes. It would all start with the initial primal attraction of the way she looked, but it never really went any deeper than that. At least Leonard did try and make an effort to have more of a relationship with her than the others she had dated. She just didn't feel that spark towards him. To her, he would always just be a friend, perhaps even her best friend. And, if she was being truthful to herself, she got a boost out of the way he fawned over her sometimes. Just hanging out with Leonard and his friends did wonders for her when she was feeling down, even when Howard ogled her every chance he could, dropping double entendres whenever the chance arose. And poor sweet Raj, to overwhelmed to even speak directly to her. In fact, the only on of her little group that didn't treat her like a sex object was Dr. Whack-a-doodle himself. Her eyebrows knitted together and she frowned slightly, wondering why that should bother her so much. After all, it was Sheldon, the human robot.
"Holy crap on a cracker!" She forgot that his bed sheets and comforter were still in the dryer.
On the fourth or fifth night she had stayed over at the guys apartment Penny just couldn't get comfy in Leonard's bed. She didn't really want to go back across the hall to her place. So she decided to risk what she was sure would be a strike against her in Sheldon's rules of friendship and went into his room…and slept in his bed. It turned out to be one of the best nights sleep she had since moving to California. So, night after night for the past month she had been sleeping in Dr. Sheldon Cooper's bed. God, if he ever found out he'd probably twitch his way into an apoplectic attack. She laughed to herself at the image of him that rose to her mind as she hustled down to the laundry room to collect his bed linens. They'd be home in the next hour or so, and she certainly didn't want Sheldon having kittens so soon after arriving home.
"Crap, crap, CRAP!"
Penny had only been gone for five minutes from apartment 4A, but is was long enough to have missed Leonard's call. She played back the message that had gone to her voicemail.
"Hi Penny, it's Leonard. I'm not sure what time we're going to get back."
He paused for a moment before he continued in a hushed tone.
"Our plane was diverted to San Francisco due to a passenger disturbance."
In the background she could hear Sheldon admonish him, "Leonard, that was not my fault!"
"Yeah, well apparently the sedative we slipped Sheldon wore off. Luckily he didn't get arrested, but we got booted off the plane and now we have to drive home from here. We won't get home until the middle of the night, so we'll see you tomorrow."
Penny didn't think she could stand waiting another hour, and now she'd have to wait 'til tomorrow. And it was friggin' Thai night to boot. And as if to remind her of just how hungry she was, her stomach growled. She had only picked up the essentials for the guys at the grocery store this afternoon, milk, soy milk & cereal. Her place didn't have much to offer either, so she went over to the shelf and pulled down the box of instant oatmeal, and put the kettle on to boil. She stared around the empty apartment unable to fight back the tears anymore and started to cry.
After a thoroughly unsatisfying dinner of congealed oatmeal and tears, Penny gathered up the sheets and comforter and went to make up Sheldon's bed.
"What the ..?"
Could this day get any worse, Penny thought to herself. And what the frak had she just snagged and ripped her fingernail on? She had been tucking in the flat sheet when her index finger jabbed into something between the mattress and box spring. What the hell could Sheldon be hiding under there?
Oh no, it couldn't possibly be… no, not Sheldon. Well, perhaps Sheldon wasn't so much of a robot after all!
She slowly reached below the mattress to pull out what she was sure was Sheldon's secret stash of porn magazines, but instead brought out a black and white composition notebook. One of the ones he was always toting about writing down the results of various experiments. She was about to put it back when she glanced at the label on the front cover.
Penny was torn, should she put it back or dare another strike and open it? Well, hadn't the thing practically attacked her? She deserved to open it, and it had her name on it too, wasn't that another reason to at least glance inside? Curiosity finally got the better of her, and she flipped open to the first page. What was inside shocked and amused her. It almost read like a trouble shooting guide in an owner's manual. Things like 'If I need to contact Penny early on a Saturday morning' SOLUTION 'refrain from knocking on her door until 11 AM or risk bodily harm'. 'If Penny has not had her daily allotment of coffee" SOLUTION 'avoid her at all costs'.
She flipped absently through the pages until she came across one that weighed the pros and cons of him keeping her as a friend. He must have written it when he was considering adding Kripke to his limited circle of friends.
She always sits in my seat knowing it is where I sit
Unable of keeping her apartment clean and tidy even though I have provided her with an organizational chart
She always wins at Halo night and I hate to lose
She has Mom's number on speed dial
Is patient when I ask her about social conventions
She always wins at Halo night and I need to learn humility
She gets my food order correct
She will take me where I need to go when Leonard cannot
She tells me the truth
She took care of me when I was sick and sang Soft Kitty
She won't back down from an argument
She wants to be my friend
And below that written observations
' It goes without saying that Penny is beautiful , but her appearance is neither a pro or a con, it is fact'
'Penny does not always believe in her own abilities, which makes no sense at all to me'
'There is something intangible about Penny that the above lists cannot measure as to why she wanted to be my friend and how precious she is to me.'
Penny sat down hard on the bed. Sheldon liked her. He thought she was beautiful. She was precious to him. Her heart started to rapidly beat in her chest and her cheeks flushed as the realization washed over her that maybe he really cared for her, but didn't she reason with herself before that he didn't think about her that way? Perhaps she was wrong. She remembered a myriad of small things that he had done for her. How selfless he had been in lending her money, helping her start her Penny Blossoms business, and he did keep her as a friend over Raj (albeit for only a few minutes) with the whole Kripke incident as this very notebook attested to. The fact that he didn't cringe when she touched him, and the mother of them all, he let her use his laptop.
She was grinning ear to ear as she leaned back on his pillow and watched the glow in the dark fish swim lazily around his bowl. Dr. Sheldon Cooper cared about her, and it felt so right.
Sheldon and Leonard slowly trudged up the four flights of stairs carrying their luggage that seemed to get heavier with every step.
"Leonard, I told you it wasn't my fault! I don't see why you are refusing to talk to me. I had only been telling you about how unsafe airline travel is. It was the passengers behind us that caused all the ruckus!"
They had reached their landing and were standing in front of 4A.
"That's enough Sheldon, I'm opening the door now, and I'm officially ending any conversation regarding our journey home."
"But why do you get to decide?"
"Sheldon…ENOUGH! I'm exhausted!"
"Alright, but I reserve the right to continue this conversation at a latter date that we both agree upon."
"Accepted…now keep it down so you don't wake everyone in the building."
With that said they both turned and looked across the hall at the door to 4B, both hoping that the loud conversation had woken the apartment's occupant and that she would be standing there. But, apparently Penny slumbered on snug in her bed. Leonard turned back to their door and let himself in.
"Are you going to stay out there all night?"
Sheldon wasn't aware that he was still staring at Penny's door. He reluctantly left the hall and followed Leonard into the apartment.
Leonard smiled at the WELCOME HOME sign and at the other decorations that Penny had put up. His reverie was interrupted by Sheldon's shrieking.
"All the lights are still on!"
"I'm sure Penny left them on so we wouldn't be stumbling around in the dark."
"Leonard, one light would have sufficed, and I would hardly be stumbling around in my own apartment. Unless, did she move the furniture around?"
"No Sheldon, everything is in it's proper place."
Sheldon anxiously glanced around the living room and sat on the couch.
"Leonard, someone's been sitting in my spot!"
"Sheldon, you know it was Penny."
"But it's my spot and she's not allowed!"
"Sheldon, we've been in the Arctic for three months, what does it matter if she sat there?"
"Because it does! And there's a bowl with dried up remnants of oatmeal in it on the coffee table! It's one thing that she leaves a mess in her own apartment, but to bring it over here…"
"Well Sheldon, if Goldilocks is sleeping in my bed, we'll have a trifecta."
Leonard looked down the hall toward the bedrooms. He smiled to himself. If only.
"Har har….Goldilocks ate porridge not oatmeal. And Penny is hardly a prepubescent female lost in the forest."
"Well, it's something I'm not going to worry about right now. I'm going to bed. Goodnight Sheldon."
As Leonard opened the door to his room, his heart skipped a beat wishing that she would be there, but only his empty bed was, beckoning to him. He was out cold before his head hit the pillow.
Sheldon could forgive Penny for sitting in his spot on the couch but he wasn't going to let anyone know that let alone her. In fact he quite enjoyed the repartee that occurred between them when she purposefully provoked him by doing so. As he washed the dirty cereal bowl and turned off the lights he half-heartedly muttered to himself "Oh, strike one little Miss Goldilocks, strike one" as he headed towards his room. He opened the door.
She was asleep on his bed. And dear Lord…
His private journal was opened, and she had read it! This was worse than when she had read his letters from MeeMaw. Had she read the whole thing? Did she know? He sucked in his breath sharply and started to twitch.
She woke with a start and sat bolt upright in the bed. She hadn't meant to fall asleep, what time was it anyway? And then she heard the rasp of his breathing. She looked over to Sheldon who was standing in the doorway with his eyes bugging out of his head.
"Penny, you--you should not be in my room!"
She jumped off of the bed like she was catapulted.
"Three strikes Penny, three strikes. The cereal bowl, sleeping on my bed, and--and.."
He looked down and away from her unable to complete his sentence he just pointed at the open journal. She walked over, stood in front of him and put her finger on his lips.
His trembling lessened, his bright blue eyes pierced into her brilliant green, and he tried to talk even though her finger was still pressed to his lips.
"Only MeeMaw is allowed.."
"It's okay sweetie."
She moved her finger away from his mouth and drew it along the line of his jaw. She stood up on her tiptoes and kissed him softly .
"You're precious to me too."
In the time it took for Sheldon to process what had just occurred, blinking his eyes in rapid succession as though he was awaking from a dream, Penny had already slipped out of his room and was back across the hall into her own apartment. She leaned back against the door, butterflies in her stomach and her head spinning. Hoping…hoping...
Knock, knock, knock
Knock, knock, knock
Knock, knock, knock