A Journey of a Thousand Miles
Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters and I make no profit from this.
Note: Each chapter will be from a different character's point of view. I'd really appreciate any reviews telling me if this works or not, please.
After a long day in the office, for Sheldon and Raj, Sheldon's whiteboards were criss-crossed with hard won equations drawn, after a long battle, from a demanding theory. In other words, all was as it should be. Science was a harsh taskmaster and all who failed to observe the rigorous mental discipline it demanded were no true adherents to its cause. No-one else seemed to really understand that. It was the whole problem he'd had with his sister's guinea pig and the CAT scanner all over again. His assistant sat slumped over the desk, obviously requiring further training in order to achieve the limited greatness of which he was capable. With this in mind, Sheldon clapped his hands to call Koothrappali back to work. It was nearly seven in the evening but he was sure that one further session would locate a particularly irritating missing electron. He missed his whistle, which he had used so successfully in the Arctic to mark the periods of work and rest, but his next door neighbours along the corridor had started thumping on the walls. He clapped again, coughed, tapped his foot, and looked pointedly down at his assistant. Raj looked up and levered himself to his feet.
'Sorry Sheldon, I've got to go. I promised to get coffee at seven. I'll see you for dinner.'
He began to gather his belongings which had been distributed inefficiently around the room. Sheldon was stunned. |He felt his heartbeat speeding up a little and touched the edge of his whiteboard to give him strength in a changing world.
'But tonight is hamburger night at the Cheesecake Factory! We do not go for coffee because it is a stimulant which mocks the noble condition of the human soul and causes me to impersonate the Flash. Also, I promised my mother.'
'No', Raj corrected. 'You remember how I had to put out feelers for more friends after my parents tried to marry me off and all you three, especially Howard, could do was say that it was like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof? My life was in ruins and all you three could do was talk about how it spoke to you on a cultural level. And later you dumped me for Kripke because you thought you had too many friends? I started to say hello to David-who-was-next-door-to-me here and now I'm going for coffee with David and Zhang from my old corridor. I'll see you later.'
Sheldon stared at him in incomprehension.
'My mother always says that the journey of a thousand miles starts with small step', Raj added solemnly.
Sheldon continued to stare.
'You wish to partake of a mind-altering substance in a social context in the presence of individuals whose psychologies and physiologies are unknown to you?'
'Sheldon, I'm just going for a coffee with friends.'
'But what will it lead to? You never know with coffee.' He considered the hour before hamburger time. 'Will Wolowitz be going with you in case this "coffee" leads to conversing with women?'
Raj shook his head. 'It's just an astrophysics coffee party tonight.' He started to grin widely. 'I made it - I talked to other people and I found more friends! Give me an A! Give me a S! Give me a T! Give me an R! Give me an O...'
Sheldon stared at him in agonised incomprehension. 'Why would you need to be given these letters?'
Raj's wide grin faded. 'Never mind, Sheldon. Anyway, I don't need Howard to hold my hand. it's just us veterans of the end of the old fourth corridor on the right after the drinking fountain before they expanded the laser clean rooms. We were thinking of callling ourselves the V. O. T. O. F. C. O. T. R. A. T. D. F's or the Votocotradef's. 'Go Team Voto!' What do you think?'
'I prefer "Team Sheldon".
Raj sighed. 'Well, I'll see you later, teammate.'
Sheldon began to calculate whether or not they would.
At the Cheesecake Factory that evening, Sheldon decided that it would be prudent to bring up the subject of stranger danger. If Raj intended to add to their social circle, if only indirectly, the risks should be assessed, evaluated, and, if possible, a statement signed by all concerned to prove that they were aware of the potential dangers. Leonard, insufferably cheerful since the establishment of an official relationship with Penny, only grinned and congratulated Raj for looking for extra friends. Wolowitz, by contrast, judging by the manner in which he half turned away from Koothrappali, looking back at him over his right shoulder and therefore employing the right, the emotional, hemisphere of his brain, appeared jealous. Of course, he may have spotted an attractive girl in his left peripheral vision and was trying not to seem over eager. It was always hard to tell with Howard.
'So', he was saying to Raj. 'You've found new friends. Huh! Well, what if next time you meet them, there's a woman?'
'Like...like Leslie'. Howard seemed to choke up for a second. Sheldon tensed for a moment but fortunately Howard didn't launch into a repeat of the embarrassingly tearful breakdown that had resulted from the end of their brief relationship. Raj gripped his shoulder sympathetically, even as Sheldon rewarded the relative emotional constraint with the comforting words that Leslie was not, technically, a woman, being best thought of as a super villain in waiting, or more specifically, a particularly short Dr Octopus whose tentacles of doom stretched over the entire physics department. Howard smiled slightly and Sheldon congratulated himself on his ability to help his friends. Raj let go of Howard's shoulder.
'You know', Raj explained to the group. 'I just felt that I needed to know more people. My parents have more of a social life than I do. I come to America and all I can say is that I have three friends. There's a whole world out there.'
'Yeah' said Howard dubiously, 'but you can't talk to the half of it which has breasts.'
'That's still fifty percent! That's billions.'
Sheldon attempted to insert a note of sanity into the conversation: 'Personally, I consider four to be more than sufficient to satisfy the human requirement for social contact.'
'Maybe they know girls...girls who like to party.' Howard looked hopeful.
'Oh typical. That's all you're interested in. Those last joggers you chased through the park didn't want to go to a party with us. Anyway, I only met some friends for coffee.
'Good for you, Raj!'
Raj froze. His shoulders hunched and clenched inwards, his eyes went down to the table. He leaned towards Howard to pass on a shy whisper of 'hello' to Penny. Howard leaned away, turning the full force of a mega-watt smile upon Penny and complimenting her upon her beauty in fluent Klingon. Raj looked around desperately and to Sheldon's horror, tugged at his shoulder, drawing him across the table. He hissed: 'Tell him that if wants to compliment Penny in Klingon, he needs to say that she has lovely brow-ridges. And say hello to her!' Sheldon looked around in confusion, decided that both halves of the message were bound by an implied privacy contract, and stooped down towards Leonard. Penny sighed and looked around at the busy restaurant. 'I'll come back later when you're ready to order.' Before Sheldon could assert that his order never changed, she had headed over to another table. Leonard glared at Sheldon. Sheldon calculated the inefficiency of Penny's system. Raj glared at Howard.
'Why didn't you talk for me?' he demanded.
'I didn't think you needed me.' Howard snapped. 'Since you're stretching out socially.'
'Only to men! I mean, only to men to talk! And women. But I need something to drink. Come on, dude, you know it's called selective mutism and it's a recognised medical disorder.'
Howard relented. 'I could show you how to sneak vodka into your coffee', he offered. He grinned suddenly. 'Hey...you wanna meet new people? My Ma's going to have, like, four of her old school friends over next week. They all moved away across state to escape her but now they're getting on a bit I guess they forgot. I have to drive out at the weekend and pick Mrs C up. You can come with me! Then you can come and say hi to everyone at my place. If meeting crazy old ladies doesn't get you ready for making new friends anywhere you can find them, I don't know what will. Meat-free pizza for you tonight?
Raj shook his head firmly. 'No way, dude!'
'Barbeque feast? Four cheese? Hawaiian?'
'You know you can always stay over at my place if you need to escape but I have enough childhood traumas from my own mothers' friends.' He was silent for a moment before adding darkly, 'they were all cheek-pinchers. '
'Hey, at least none of them still tell you look twelve.'
'Why do you have to drive across state to fetch her anyway? You said that we were going to go to that special exhibition of Indian art at the museum at the weekend and we could go and pick up the smart girls.'
Howard shifted uncomfortably. 'Yeah, sorry man. I know; smart calls to smart, right? We'd have been kings. But I have to go and pick her up because Ma found those cartoons I drew of that story Sheldon told us about trying to make a griffin. It was that or, like, die.'
'Raj wasn't there when Sheldon was telling it.' Leonard put in. 'That was the point of trying to make a griffin.'
'Yeah, I told him it later.'
'He acted it out.' Raj grinned mischievously.
Leonard choked on his drink and snorted with laughter. Howard squirmed.
Sheldon swiftly reviewed the local history of relationships. 'I blame you, Leonard. Four is the perfect number for equitable human contact. You remember the problems we had with the dumpling order when Wolowitz was seeing Penny's friend, Krissy. You chose to bring Penny into the group, thus disturbing the balance. You began this process. And now Koothrappali wants to acquire additional social contacts. Any more 'friends' and the delicate balance will dissolve into an un-unravellable series of close encounters and confused connections best mapped using not established social paradigms but chaos theory.'
'Life's a mystery, buddy.'
'With that attitude it's no wonder you were twenty-four by the time you got your PhD.'