Sheldon was nervous.
…rapid breathing, perspiration, increased heart rate causing rapid blood flow to the amygdala leading to amplified activity in the hippocampus –
Yes, Sheldon was nervous.
He was chosen by Dr. Eric Gablehauser to speak at the HEPPF Conference in Anaheim - as long as he remained fully clothed this time. He needed help although he wasn't sure he could count on his group of friends. Leonard was useless when it came to psychology and would never compare to his mother's brilliance in the field, Wolowtiz proved to be inadequate in bolstering his self-confidence and the last time he asked Penny for help she got him drunk.
Remembering Raj's meditative technique, Sheldon sat down on the couch and closed his eyes. Slowly, Sheldonopolis came into view. He frowned. This wasn't Sheldonopolis, this was a wasteland. The Godzilla like monster wiped out everything and Sheldon Square was littered with ripped clothing and broken essentials from the now destroyed Shel-Mart. Sheldon started to panic. He was wondering if he would ever be able to reach the brown paper bags in the kitchen drawer labeled "Brown Paper Bags" when the door opened and Penny walked in.
"Hey, Sheldon," she mumbled still half asleep and heading toward the coffee pot. Stopping short, she turned and noticed Sheldon clawing at the couch, eyes wide and breathing noisily. "Sheldon? Sweetie? Are you okay?" She ran to his side. "Do I need to call an ambulance? Say something."
Sheldon managed to shake his head. "Have…to give…speech…large crowd…with…pants…" he replied in between breaths. Penny hit him in the face with a pillow and went to the kitchen to make her morning coffee. Sheldon blinked and everything came back into focus.
"Thank you, Penny," he stated honestly.
"You're welcome," she said with a smile. "So, you have to do the whole speech in front of a bunch of people again, huh?" He glared at her as she poured coffee into one of Leonard's cups.
Sheldon stalked towards Penny. "I'll have you know that what happened last time was what I can only refer to as one of the worst days of my entire life and if you think for a moment that I'm going to go up on that stage intoxicated and trouser-less…"
"I told you like a million times I'm sorry."
"Sorry doesn't erase the pain, Penny."
She rolled her eyes and poured some milk. "Listen, Sheldon, what happened last time won't happen again, I promise."
"Of course it won't happen again because I'm not going to do it." He walked over to the phone and hit redial.
Penny ran over to Sheldon, grabbed the phone and put it back down onto the cradle. "Oh, no you don't. We're going to do this right this time. I'm going to help you get over this thing."
"This thing is the bane of my existence. Ever since I was a child, I have been invited to speak at various conferences, symposiums and other…Oh, God not again." His rapid breathing returned and he had to hold onto the chair for support. Penny grabbed the pillow again and Sheldon suddenly felt much better.
"I really think I can help you this time." She walked back into the kitchen and Sheldon followed. "I was doing some research on the internet…don't look at me like that, I can research things. Anyway, I found this website about stage fright. It said that if you practice your speech in a place where you're relaxed you'll feel more relaxed when it comes time to actually doing the real thing."
"Hmm… associative behavior modification. I associate the words in the speech through repetition in a comforting atmosphere which will result in reduction of tension when it comes time to perform."
"Yeah, something like that," Penny sipped her coffee.
"That could actually work. Not bad. Not bad at all," he nodded in approval.
Penny smiled, pleased she actually got a compliment from Sheldon. "Now, we need to find somewhere you feel comfortable and you can practice your speech in front of me, since I'm your friend and all. Where would that be?"
They thought for a second.
"Oh," Penny suddenly exclaimed, making Sheldon jump. "What about Laundry Night? You like doing laundry. We could do our laundry and you can practice your speech at the same time."
"That sounds reasonable and efficient. Yes, I accept your challenge."
"Great. Do you think you can come up with something by Saturday night?"
Sheldon scoffed. "Penny, I can compose this kind of drivel in my sleep."
"Yeah, okay. Whatever. Saturday night about 8.15, then?" Penny walked toward the door, coffee cup in hand.
"It's a date," Sheldon responded. He wasn't exactly sure what that meant since everyday has a date, but he heard it said in situations like these.
"It's really, really not," she said and went back to her apartment.
Sheldon folded his clothes, the clicking of his Fold Away kept the timing of his speech. "You're late, not that it comes as a surprise," he said as Penny entered the room.
"Yeah, sorry. I was talking on the phone," she answered, basket in hand.
"Oh yes. The female ritual of monotonous chatter over the telephone for some ridiculous amount of time. I am familiar with it. Rarely an hour passed by in the Cooper household in which Missy was not gossiping with one of her friends on the phone. When she wasn't doing that she was either sleeping or punching me in the face." Sheldon's nose hurt just thinking about it.
"Yeah, I'm about to bring back a bunch of old memories." Penny clenched her fists.
Sheldon swallowed and changed the subject. "As a result of your tardiness, I have recited the speech twice in a state of tension. I don't wish to render this whole exercise pointless."
"I'm here now," Penny answered as she set her basket down on a washing machine. "Hit me."
"I don't wish to cause you any harm, Penny. I only wanted you to recognize the gravity of the situation."
Penny stared at Sheldon. "I mean do your speech."
"Oh. I don't know why you couldn't just say that in the first place."
"Sheldon," she warned.
"Starting." Sheldon cleared his throat. Then he cleared it again. Then he growled, coughed, and made a cacophony of guttural sounds that could only be likened to a bear and a cat in a fight to the death. A look of disgust crossed Penny's face. She looked at her watch and couldn't believe she'd only been in that room with him for four minutes.
Sheldon suddenly stopped, turned around and stuck his head out of the door. He looked out into the hall to make sure no one was lurking outside and shut the door. Standing in front of Penny, he began to clear his throat.
"Sheldon, I swear to God…" Penny said through clenched teeth.
"In the beginning, the universe was created. This made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move," Sheldon snickered. Penny's face was blank. "It's a humorous statement written by the late comedy science fiction writer, Douglas Adams. I added the quote to the beginning of my speech both for an ice breaker and its related qualities to Physics in general."
Penny looked at her watch sighed as she realized she'd been there for six minutes.
"In conclusion, one could speculate that the universe contains waves of particles that could very well transform our vision of our dimension. But one would be tragically wrong. Thank you." Sheldon concluded as he and Penny stood side by side folding clothes.
"That was, um…interesting. But, you might wanna cut back on the insults."
"Never mind, forget it. How about your whole nervous thing. How do you feel?"
Sheldon put down the shirt he was folding. "I feel fine. Better than fine, actually. I think I can do this." He smiled and turned towards Penny. "Just a few more hours of this and I may conceivably pull this off."
"Great. Only a few more hours, huh?" Penny looked at her watch for the umpteenth time. "Do you think you can finish without me? It's getting kinda late and I don't think you really need me anymore."
"I think I can manage."
"Thank God." Penny grabbed her clothes and ran toward the door as Sheldon continued using his Fold Away for his socks.
"Uh, Sheldon? Do you have the key?"
"The key to this door."
"Don't be silly, Penny, there's no key to the door." He walked over and grabbed the doorknob. It wouldn't turn.
"Sheldon, have you ever seen this door closed before?"
He thought for a second. "No, I haven't." And then Sheldon realized what was happening. He yanked at the doorknob with both hands. He yelled for help and pounded on the door. He tried busting the door down and hurt his shoulder. "Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. We're going to die in here."
Penny stormed over to the washers, put down her basket and looked at her watch. Forty-five minutes and counting…
They were stuck. The walls were closing in and Sheldon was reminded of the scene from A New Hope when the heroes were stuck in the garbage compactor. He was Luke, Penny was Leia and he could almost hear the dianoga's cephalopodic body lurking around beneath them. "There's something alive in here," he whispered.
"Wha-huh?" Penny's eyes bugged out of her head and she hopped onto the washing machine, a ball of socks raised to ward off any furry intruders.
Sheldon snapped back to reality and rolled his eyes. "Really, Penny? Don't tell me you haven't seen Star Wars."
"Uh, yeah, I did. I only dated Leonard for, like, 7 months."
"6 months, 3 weeks if you don't count that first 'date' and I don't."
Rolling her eyes, Penny hopped down onto the floor. She paced up and down the floor wondering what to do.
"Don't move." Sheldon's breathing became rapid again "Increased activity leads to greater absorbtion of oxygen. Oh Lord I can't breathe."
"Talking leads to a greater chance of ass-kicking," she stated flatly. Sheldon fell silent. "Do you have your cell phone?"
He shook his head.
"Well, when Leonard notices you haven't come back from Laundry Night at the usual time, he'll come looking for you. In the meantime, we'll just have to think of a way to entertain ourselves-" Penny's eyes lit up. "Oh, look. We can finish your laundry. We can even sing a little sea shanty while we fold."
"No offense, Penny, but a drugged Loxodonta…" He looked at her face staring back blankly, "…elephant…could do a better job of folding clothes."
Penny sneered. "None taken," she said sarcastically. "Well then, what do you suggest?"
"Oh," he said excitedly forgetting his panic, "I could teach you Klingon!"
His face fell. "Well I'm out of ideas." They stood in silence for a few minutes, each one trying to think of something to do that wouldn't make the other want to commit suicide.
"Hydrogen," Penny said. Sheldon stared at her, confused. She waited for what she was doing to dawn on him. He didn't respond. "Then you would say Nitrogen. And then I would say…um…"
"Neodymium," he finished.
"Have you guys seen Sheldon?" Leonard asked. He, Raj and Howard were sitting Leonard's living room mashing buttons on PS2 controllers.
"If we didn't see him, we'da heard him," Howard answered.
"Yeah, if he was here, he'd probably tell us we're playing the game wrong," Raj chimed in.
"I highly doubt that is the most efficient use of the Arrows of Detonation," Howard lectured in his nearly perfect Sheldon impersonation. The three of them chuckled and continued playing.
"What do you do with a drunken sailor,
What do you do with a drunken sailor,
What do you do with a drunken sailor,
Earl-eye in the morning!"
Sheldon and Penny sang in unison. She passed him his clothes and he quickly folded them and added them to his pile.
"Way hay and up she rises
Way hay and up she rises
Way hay and up she rises
Earl-eye in the morning"
Leonard paused the game. "Do you guys hear something?"
Raj and Howard looked at each other and shook their heads.
"I thought I heard singing." He shrugged and turned the game back on.
"Ever since the cat took up the fiddle that cow's been...jumpy. And the dish and the spoon were evicted from the table and eloped. She's had trouble with that milk and the moon ever since...maybe it's a female thing. Cause who'd want to leave Cyberland anyway? Walls ain't so bad, the dish and the spoon for instance, they were down on their luck, they come knocking on my doghouse door and I say, not in my backyard utensils…Go back to China."
Penny bowed when she finished. "Well? What do you think?"
"I was thinking about how time travel could be described as an infinite loop or a ball, if you will, rather than the traditional linear – "
"About my monologue."
"Oh. Well it lacked the…" Penny's face fell. Something told Sheldon to stop. He wasn't sure what or why. His constructive criticism would only serve to improve her acting skills making it more likely for her to succeed in the future. But he couldn't for the life of him figure out why he didn't want to tell her that. "..lighting and costuming that would have complimented your more than adequate performance."
Penny beamed at him and Sheldon couldn't help but feel like he said something right.
It was midnight when Leonard, Howard and Raj finished their game.
"Well that just sucked," whined Howard.
"You're only saying that because you can't play," Raj grinned.
"Guys, I still haven't seen Sheldon," Leonard noticed. He walked to Sheldon's bedroom door and knocked. No one answered.
He took out his cell phone and dialed. Sheldon's phone rang from behind the closed door. Leonard looked at the others and cautiously opened the door. He expected a verbal lashing and possibly a strike, but the room was empty.
"Maybe Penny's seen him?" He crossed the hall and knocked on Penny's door. No answer there either.
"Dude, she probably went out or maybe she's working," Raj offered.
"Good idea. Maybe we can catch her." Leonard closed his front door and followed the other two down stairs.
"Prepare to die," Sheldon said calmly. He held a coat hanger out and pointed it at Penny.
"En garde!" Penny shouted and held out her own hanger. She lunged at Sheldon, but his hanger caught hers. She managed to push his hanger off and as he stumbled, she ran to the other side of the table.
They circled the table for a few moments when Sheldon suddenly jumped over and landed on her side. Penny shrieked and blocked his attack. They fenced, but Sheldon had the upper hand. Penny had to back up to avoid getting hit. Sheldon swung his hanger and hit hers out of her hand. She was now defenseless.
Sheldon spun around for the final blow and accidentally knocked a bottle of liquid laundry detergent off of the shelf and onto Penny. Green goo trickled down her shirt. Sheldon looked at her apologetically. Penny looked back at him wide eyed. "Before I die," she breathed, "I have to tell you something." She stuck her hand in the detergent and looked at it. "I'm part Vulcan."
Sheldon laughed a full and real and very human laugh. Penny never heard it before and she thought it sounded nice. "You should do that more often," she said and she fell dramatically to the floor.
The caught Bernadette as she locked the front doors to the restaurant. She grabbed her pepper spray when she noticed three men walking toward her. One of the men looked too tiny to be any significant threat and she soon recognized him as Howard.
"Hey, Bernadette," Leonard said when they reached her. Raj nodded at her. Howard avoided eye contact.
"Oh," she exclaimed in a mousey tone, as only she could. "Hi Leonard, hi Raj." She hesitated. "Hello Howard, it's good to see you again." Howard didn't answer and looked the other way.
Leonard stepped in before things got to awkward. "Did we just miss Penny?"
Bernadette gave him a strange look. "No, she doesn't work Saturday nights. I thought you knew that."
"Oh. Saturday night. I thought it was Sunday," Leonard said, sheepishly.
"So?" Koothrappali whispered to Leonard.
"It's laundry night. Sheldon's probably disinfecting the entire laundry room since he found out about Mrs. Vartabedian washing her clothes while she had a cold. We should go back and see if we can convince him it's clean. Penny's probably asleep or has gone out or Sheldon could be keeping her hostage with tales of his childhood or lecturing her on the proper use of fabric softener."
He turned to Bernadette, "Come on. We'll walk you to your car."
They walked up to the closed door of the laundry room and Leonard heard voices on the other side. "Sounds like my last guess was right," he commented as he opened the door. Sheldon and Penny were sitting cross-legged, facing each other.
"bortaS bIr jablu'DI' reH Qaqu' nay'," spat Penny.
"Good, but try emphasizing the Qq on Qqu'."
"bortaS bIr jablu'DI' reH QaQqu' nay'," gargled Penny.
"Perfect!" Sheldon exclaimed and applauded.
"Oh, hey guys," Penny noticed Leonard, Howard and Raj standing slack jawed. "NuqNeh." Sheldon nodded in approval and admiration. "I told you they'd find us," she said as she nudged her teacher. "How'd you guys get the door unlocked?"
"It's broken," Leonard finally managed after his initial shock. "It only opens from the outside. The landlord told us that like a month ago. You were with me when he said it."
"Oh yeah. Oops." Penny avoided Sheldon's glare. "Well we're saved. My heroes." She stood, picked up her basket and followed her friends leaving Sheldon behind on the floor.
Sheldon stood up and dusted himself off. He picked up his laundry and nearly dropped it all on the floor when Penny ran back in and hugged him.
"Thank you. Even though we were stuck, I had a great night." She gave him a peck on the cheek and ran back out.
Sheldon stared out of the door after her. "So did I," he mumbled and tried not to think about the fact that Penny knew that the door locked from the outside.
"…therefore if we can integrate string theory into E8 framework, we would be able to identify all of the universal forces and undetected particles. We could then predict the mass of the missing subatomic particles, and redefine the physical universe. And by we, I mean I."
A standing ovation. Not unexpected and definitely not undeserved. Sheldon stepped from behind the podium toward the crowd. He had expected forty, maybe fifty people to show up, including his friends. This audience was well over a hundred and he didn't even break a sweat. He beamed as he avoided shaking hands with Dr. Gablehauser.
"Looks like you'll be getting that Nobel Prize soon, Dr. Cooper," came a voice from behind. The George Smoot smiled at Sheldon and gave him an approving look.
"Did you ever doubt it?" Sheldon smirked. Wolowitz and Koothrappali were the next to congratulate the speaker and Leonard broke through the crowd to tell his roommate how awe inspiring his speech was.
Sheldon moved down the front row to find Penny on the end. She was beaming and Sheldon could have sworn he saw a tear in her eye. He looked at her and noticed how her red dress hugged her curves and her chest heaved. Light seemed to shine around her from some unknown source.
"Sheldon," she breathed through ruby red lips, "That was brilliant. I've never known anyone so vastly intelligent." Before he could respond with anything like "I know", she grabbed his tie and pulled him forward. The full force of her lips were on his and she tasted like strawberries. Sheldon pulled her forward and dipped her back, his hands in her blonde curls…
…and bolted up in bed.
His heart rate exceeded that of what it should have been at three am. The dream caused his breathing to accelerate and his hands were shaking.
"Drat." Sheldon exclaimed as he sank back into his pillow.