A Name is But a Lie
...for it tells nothing of the person underneath. Penny and Leonard have a conversation in the park.
AN: This fic is a bit experimental for me. Not quite sure how I feel about it yet. The premise stems from a remark Lee made on fanforum about Penny possibly using a stage name rather than her real last name. And of course the resulting plot bunnies were overwhelming. :P I actually had a full name picked out for Penny, but I realized it would feel really awkward and forced to use it, so I just kept up the mystery that is Penny's name.
For Story Lottery # 12 - a meadow.
There was a field near her house in Nebraska that Penny loved to escape to when life got crazy. It was large and open and made her feel alive. Hopeful. Like anything was possible if she could just get out of there.
Penny missed that excitement, that belief. Once inside the city, she couldn't see the future or the amazing could-be's anymore. She could just see the gray reality. Maybe it's the large structures blocking her view of the horizon, or maybe it's because the city was her final destination all along. Either way, the dream was quickly fading and Penny was frightened of what would be left when it disappeared completely.
Three failed auditions in the last nine days had Penny feeling trapped and suffocating. No longer young enough to get by with running away, Penny searched for an alternative in the outdoors.
Spring had officially settled over the city. The sun was high, warming the air, while a slight wind danced its way through the streets below. It was a beautiful day, perfect for an escape. However, Leonard didn't quite see the appeal of it like Penny did. It took a lot of coaxing and wheedling and finally some threatening, but she finally convinced him to visit the nearby park with her.
Penny immediately sprawled out in the grass upon arrival, lying on her back, knees bent up in the air, while Leonard chose to sit at the picnic table next to her. Penny enjoyed the sun's rays on her face and the breeze passing over her. The hard ground felt like an old friend, something real and solid to cling to. She breathed deep and felt herself start to relax. She could smell the earth and the grass, and it almost felt like Nebraska. Almost. There was still this indescribable feeling in the air that was unique to a city and would never let her be fooled about where she really was. But it was enough. The spring air still washing over her and managing to calm her and offer reassurance that everything would in fact be okay.
Leonard let her lie in silence for a long while. Her eyes were shut so she couldn't be certain, but she believed he was reading the latest issue of Batman. For some reason, he had brought it with him. Perhaps, it was some small geek rebellion ('You can drag me outside, but I'll just do the exact same thing I would indoors') or perhaps he honestly didn't know how to be average. It didn't really matter either way. Penny was just grateful he was there. It made her feel less alone.
A pair of roller-bladers flew down the sidewalk, their skates scraping over the rough concrete. Some birds were chatting nosily in the tree overhead. Penny allowed her mind to wander, vague emotions stumbled and tripped over each other while even vaguer ideas arose only to be quickly lost to the wind. She felt a question grow inside her, and she was speaking before her mind fully grasped what it was.
"Have you ever wanted to be someone else?"
Leonard looked up from his comic book, startled.
Penny opened her eyes and turned her head, the grass tickling her ear. She repeated the question.
"Have you ever wanted to be someone else?"
"I don't know. I guess I kind of wanted to be someone else every time I was getting picked on or beat up while growing up."
"But have you ever wanted to run away and start over as someone different? A whole new life?" Anxiety fluttered through Penny as she waited on his answer.
Leonard stared blankly at her. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Her anxiety quickly morphed into frustration and annoyance.
"Never mind." She turned to face the sky and web of tree branches hanging overhead. A few seconds later there was some rustling and a shadow fell over her as Leonard came to sit beside her on the grass.
"Penny, what's wrong?" he asked, softly. Penny half-shrugged, the ground preventing much movement.
"Nothing. Just feeling a bit restless, but that just comes with the spring weather, right?" She pasted a smile on as she glanced at Leonard. The false cheer, of course, failed to reach her eyes and Leonard just continued to gaze steadily at her. Caught, Penny shut her eyes and took a deep breath.
"I just, " she started, "I just feel stuck sometimes, like something is holding me back, preventing me from getting anywhere. And then I get scared that it's true, and I think I need to get out of here before I can't anymore. Before the option's gone for good." The way Leonard was starting at her was making her nervous. She bit her lip and looked off into the branches again.
"Are you wanting to leave Pasadena?" He wasn't able to keep all of the fear out of his voice.
"No!" Penny said quickly. She frowned. "At least I don't think so." Now it was Leonard's turn to frown.
They fell into silence again, each lost in their own thoughts. An older couple with a dog wandered by. Distant shouting drifted through the air as a family arrived to play.
Penny was the first to speak again.
"What do you do when all your dreams are vanishing right in front of you, and you can't seem to stop them?"
Leonard thought for a second and then shrugged. "Find new dreams, I guess."
Penny looked at him a little apprehensively. "But then are you still the same person? If you suddenly have different dreams?"
The question confused Leonard. "Why wouldn't you be?" Penny's shrug was again muffled by the ground.
"I don't know. Isn't it your dreams what determine who you are?"
"I'm not sure," Leonard said. "I've never really thought about that." He paused for a second, thinking it over.
"I guess they do play some role in deciding who you are, but they're not the only thing. Your beliefs and actions also make you who you are."
Penny was quiet for a moment.
"What about your name?"
"What about it?"
"Does it play a role in who you are?"
Leonard tilted his head. "This conversation feels like it's shifted into Star Wars or Harry Potter territory."
"Leonard, I'm being serious!"
"So was Anakin, Han and Leia's son."
"Is your name important to who you are?" Penny asked again.
"No," Leonard finally answered. Penny narrowed her eyes.
"You're not just stealing that from Star Wars are you?"
Leonard shook his head and chuckled. "No, I'm not." He looked down at her. "I firmly believe your name has no bearing on who you are or who you will become."
Penny stared back at him for several seconds.
"Promise?" she whispered.
Satisfied, Penny turned back to the sky and let her eyes fall shut.
When she didn't continue the conversation, Leonard was curious. "Why were you asking?"
Penny smiled a little, but still said nothing.
That was her secret, and she wasn't quite ready to give it up yet.