Circling in These Patterns

AN: So basically, I should never listen to depressing country songs, especially when I'm incredibly tired. This idea came to me 3 hours into a 4 hour drive when Rascal Flatts' "What Hurts the Most" came up on my mix CD. Needless to say, I was depressed for the rest of the drive. If you really want to bum yourself out, put on your favorite tear-jerking song while reading. I recommend "I Can't Break It to My Heart" by Delta Goodrem. That's where the title comes from.

This is also for the current Story Lottery going on at LJ. The prompt for this one was #28 - waiting room.

Penny sank into the chair, not hearing the rest of the doctor's words. She was vaguely aware of someone punching the wall, but she couldn't comprehend it. She couldn't comprehend anything. She just felt so numb. A man slid into the seat next to her, and some part of her brain recalled the name 'Sheldon'. Penny reached out and grasped his hand. He clutched it desperately. It was a small action, but real. Something to keep them from going under. From falling apart.

Penny didn't sleep in her apartment that first week. She stayed on his couch. She told herself it was because Sheldon might need her.

Shuffling noises woke her up one morning. Penny opened her eyes to see Sheldon standing just outside the kitchen, staring at the island.

"What's wrong, sweetie?"

"It's Thursday." Thursday. The realization hit her like a punch to the gut. He made waffles on Thursday. Sheldon turned to look at Penny and his expression nearly shredded the remaining pieces of her heart.

She struggled to breathe. "Okay." She stood, trying desperately to ignore the knot in her stomach. "Okay." She walked into the kitchen to start preparing waffles, lightly touching Sheldon's arm as she passed.

It fell to Howard and Raj to clear out his lab. Sheldon claimed he was too busy. No one called him on the lie.

There had been a picture of them hanging up. "I thought you might want it." Penny took the picture from Howard and stared down at it, remembering. Raj had gotten a new camera that day and was snapping pictures nonstop. He had ducked every time Raj pressed the trigger until Penny finally grabbed him and pulled him into a kiss. Raj had managed to capture the moment, and Penny now held it in her hands. You could see the laughter mixed in with the kiss. They both looked so happy and relaxed. She remembered Howard yelling at them to stop acting so 'couple-y' when the kiss lasted more than a couple of seconds. It was such an ordinary yet perfect night.

Penny wondered if those could still exist now.

They were gathered in the living room, eating Thai food. The latest Star Trek movie was playing on the TV.

"Remember how mad you were when Spock and Uhura kissed?" Howard said to Raj. Raj shook his head. "Of course, you do! You ranted for days about that!". Raj shook his head again. "Oh, come on. How could you not remember that? You were so annoying with it. We were all about ready to punch you." Raj continued looking at Howard strangely.

"That wasn't Raj," Sheldon said quietly. Only the sounds of the movie filled the room as a heavy silence fell over the four of them. Penny's hands shook, and she set her fork down.

"Right," Howard said, thickly, turning back to the screen. "Right."

Penny returned to work the second week. She mechanically went through the motions, taking orders, bringing out food, refilling drinks. She tried to ignore the pity glances from her co-workers. She blew off anyone that tried to talk to her about it. She didn't want to hear it, and she had nothing she wanted to share.

She made it through the first few nights without incident. The third night was when it happened.

It was Tuesday night, and the restaurant was getting more and more busy. Penny liked it that way. It gave her more to do. She needed to always be doing something, otherwise she might start thinking, and Penny couldn't handle thinking.

She came bursting out of the kitchen with a tray of drinks in her hand. She caught sight of Table 18 and stopped short. Slamming the tray on the nearest surface, and ignoring the angry outbursts from the customers, she rushed over to the table.

"You can't sit here." The three college students looked up at her confused.

"Excuse me?"

"You can't sit here. You have to move."

"Um, this is where the waitress seated us."

"I don't care who seated you here. You have to move. This isn't your table."

The students exchanged odd looks, but didn't move. Penny was getting more and more annoyed.

"I'm serious! You have to move!"

"No! Why should we move?"

"Because this isn't your table!" Penny practically shouted. Her breaths were coming in quick bursts and her head was feeling light and fuzzy.

"Penny! What's going on?" Bernadette came running over to her.

"These idiots are at the wrong table and won't move!" Penny snapped. She could feel the adrenalin and anger coursing through her, making her shake.

"I'm sorry about this. You don't need to move. I'm sorry," Bernadette said to the students.

"No, what are you doing? Why are you apologizing to them?"

"Come on, Penny."

"No! They're at the wrong table!" Bernadette managed to lead Penny out of the dining room and outside the restaurant. Penny rounded on her as soon as they were outside.

"Who sat them there? Was it you?"

"It wasn't me."

"That table's taken. Everyone knows that table's taken."

"The place was packed. They needed the table."

"Not tonight! Not ever on a Tuesday night!"

"They're not coming tonight, Penny." Penny finally fell silent. "I talked to Howard earlier. They're not coming tonight. They just couldn't. Not yet." Penny stared down at the pavement, breathing hard. She was shivering despite the summer heat. Bernadette watched her carefully. "Penny, I'm..."


"But if you want to..."


Bernadette nodded. "Okay. But you need to go home. We can call someone in to cover the rest of your shift just... just go home, okay?" Penny took a deep, shaky breath.


She hated being in her apartment. She spent as little time as possible in there now, preferring to hang out in the guys' living room. In Sheldon's living room, instead. She stuck to the three main rooms, living room, kitchen, bathroom. She couldn't bring herself to go down the hall. To his room. She didn't think any of them had been in there since it happened.

She did try to sleep in her apartment a few nights, but sleep would never come. She would always wind up on the couch watching late night TV. Her apartment mostly existed as a storage facility for her stuff nowadays.

Right now, Penny was looking for her laptop. She had been avoiding her emails for the past couple of weeks, but she had sucked it up and decided that today was the day she'd finally check them.

She finally located her laptop on the table, half-buried by clothes and turned it on. She waited as the login screen loaded, prompting her for the password. She typed it in, but nothing appeared on the screen. Frowning, she tried typing it again, but still the keystrokes didn't register. Finally, it hit her. Her keyboard had stopped working weeks ago. Before the phone call. Before everything.

Penny stared at the screen a few seconds. Something snapped and anger exploded inside her. She grabbed the laptop and flung it off the table. It bounced off the back of the couch and smacked hard into the ground, slightly cracking the casing. She stood up and kicked the computer, but it didn't seem to do much. She stomped on it instead. The keyboard crunched beneath her foot, sending some pieces flying. She stomped again and again, shattering the screen and destroying the keyboard further. She kicked and sent the remaining lump flying into the kitchen island.

"Penny?" Sheldon's voice made her turn. She saw him standing in the open doorway with Howard and Raj.

"My keyboard was broken," she explained, voice cracking. "He was supposed to fix it. After dinner, he was going to look at it, and he was going to fix it!" She picked up the busted laptop and threw it hard back down on the floor. She started kicking and smashing it some more when a pair of arms reached out and tried to pull her back. She struggled to get out of the grip, but the arms just tightened.

"Penny!" It wasn't someone shouting her name that got through to her. It was the person who had shouted it. Penny spun around to see Raj standing before her. She choked on an exhale and her eyes burned. She collapsed into him making Raj stumble a bit. He recovered quickly, though, and wrapped his arms around her, holding her tight as she finally broke. She sobbed and clutched his jacket as wave after wave of loss and despair crashed over her.

"Leonard Hofstadter is dead." the doctor said softly. "I'm sorry. There was nothing we could do. The crash was too severe. He died on impact."