Penny was drunk. Not the level of drunk that made the world spin and took away all thought control, thankfully, but she was finding it difficult to make her way up the four flights of stairs to her apartment in three-inch heels. The heels were gold, strappy, and fabulous; they matched her eye-catching new dress, which showed just enough leg and cleavage to make every guy she passed do a double-take. She had felt like a million bucks when she left three hours before, and she wanted to feel like a million bucks now. Unfortunately, she instead felt terribly depressed. And drunk, of course.
"God damn stairs," she muttered to herself as she continued her trek. This was all Leonard's fault. She had met some great guys at the club that would have satisfied all of her needs six months ago. They were probably great in bed and they would buy her things. But ultimately, the problem was that they were dumb, and Penny had recently discovered, much to her annoyance, that she no longer had a high tolerance for dumb men. Sure, she couldn't understand what Leonard and the other guys were talking about half of the time (let's be honest, it was more than half of the time), but when she and Leonard started dating, she worked up the courage to start asking him questions about his work. He wasn't always great at giving her clear answers, but he would throw enough out there for her to Google it and figure out the rest on her own. There was a time when she had been a good student, back before boys and booze and acting aspirations entered her life, and she had always retained a healthy interest in learning new things. She now realized she needed to be with someone who could teach her new things every day.
Of course, she also needed someone with a spine and an ounce of independence, which was why she broke it off. As a self-proclaimed "big ol' five" she knew she needed someone who would challenge her, and life with Leonard was just… too easy. She occasionally wanted to get fired up and fight with a person, to spar verbally and angrily until one of them buckled under the pressure and both succumbed to the soothing balm of makeup sex. She had to feel passions outside of love to be happy with a person. But with Leonard, it had been all about cuddling and warm fuzzy feelings and him yielding to her immediately when there was a problem. She felt guilty about it, but she knew he needed somebody that could appreciate his sweetness, and she knew she needed somebody that could appreciate her intensity.
And so there she was, drunk and dissatisfied and feeling ridiculous in her gold shoes, which now felt gaudy to her. She had made it to the top of the steps, at least, and she found herself staring at the door to apartment 4A. A quick glance at her cell phone revealed that it was only 10 pm; the guys were probably still up. Two weeks after the break-up, hanging out with Leonard was still awkward, but it wasn't as bad if the others were around and it sounded like a better plan than sitting on her couch and watching some depressingly sappy romantic comedy with a pint of ice cream and a glass of cheap wine. Only slightly better, but still.
She wobbled over to the door across from her own and knocked twice. As usual, Sheldon opened the door; unusually, the apartment behind him seemed quiet. He had a bleary look in his eyes, like he had spent too much time in front of his laptop.
"Hello, Penny," he said, rather cautiously. Penny peered past him into the empty apartment. "Are you going somewhere?" Penny looked back at him and he glanced downward, indicating her club attire.
"Just got back." She put a hand against the doorframe to steady herself. "Where is everybody?"
"Hmm. Considering the usual duration of your outings, you have returned home incredibly early." Turning away from Penny, he covered the short distance between the door and his desk and sat down. "Did you come by to speak with Leonard?"
Penny decided this was as much of an invitation to come in as she was going to get out of Sheldon. She shut the door behind her and dropped unceremoniously onto the couch. "Not… specifically him. But you didn't answer my question. Did they all go out or something?"
Sheldon had promptly resumed typing, and did not stop to answer her. "Wolowitz and Koothrappali determined that a trip to Las Vegas was in order, so as to help Leonard recover from his ill-fated relationship with you. They left early this afternoon." He paused, sighed, and looked back at her. "Leonard told me not to tell you where he was going, but I can't imagine why he wouldn't want you to know. And he knows how terrible I am at keeping secrets. I sincerely hope that one day the human race will realize that secrets do nothing but ruin lives and bring hardship to all parties involved."
"Having no secrets has certainly helped you out," Penny quipped, expecting a glare. But he had already resumed typing and her sarcasm lost on him. She was a little hurt that Leonard disappeared to Vegas without telling her, but she supposed she couldn't be too angry about it; it wasn't any of her business anymore what he did or where he went. A pang of guilt ran through her and she wondered if her friendship with him would ever recover from this.
Penny let herself sink further into the couch and listened to Sheldon type. He was focused and obviously had no interest in entertaining her, but even Sheldon's company seemed better than no company at all. Which was a pretty good indication that she was in bad shape. "Whatcha doing?" she asked, trying to keep her words from slurring. Too much to drink.
"Writing a manuscript addressing low scale supergravity mediation in the Brane world scenario and hidden sector phenomenology." He said the words in a manner that suggested he was talking about something normal, like making a cup of tea or watching television. Penny had pulled out something about super gravity and brains, but knew better than to ask him to translate in her current state. He hadn't turned around and was still typing furiously.
"You sure know how to have fun on a Friday night, Sheldon," she said, drenching her words in sarcasm. This time she was rewarded by Sheldon turning around and giving her a look.
"You know perfectly well that I relish in any opportunity to do my work in relative silence. This is, in fact, my perfect imagined scenario for 'fun on a Friday night'. Except that you are currently interrupting it with your queries."
Penny knew this was probably supposed to be her hint to leave, but she pressed on. "Sheldon, let's watch a movie. Doing work on a Friday night is boring."
"I don't want to watch a movie, Penny. I want to finish my manuscript and submit it to The International Journal of Theoretical Physics before I go to sleep." He resumed typing. "And anyway, you always want me to watch some inane romantic comedy like Bridget Jones's Diary or Love Actually because you so thoroughly enjoy projecting yourself onto the characters and imagining that—"
"We can watch Star Wars," she offered, her voice a sing-song.
Sheldon paused. "…The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi?"
"Return of the Jedi." She couldn't remember which one was his favorite, but apparently she had chosen well because his fingers were still hovering over the keyboard. "And we can make popcorn." And I can get another glass of wine to help me get through this movie, she thought to herself.
"What about hot cocoa?" Sheldon was peering at her over his shoulder now, his interest piqued. "You make it better than Leonard does."
How old was he? Eight? "Sure, sweetie, I'll make you some hot cocoa."
Sheldon sat still for a moment, considering. Then he pressed a button on his laptop and spun around in his chair. "I suppose a short break from writing wouldn't hurt…"
"Yay!" Penny jumped up from the couch and, having forgotten the type of shoes she was wearing, nearly fell over onto the coffee table. "I'm gonna go change and make popcorn and hot cocoa! Don't start the movie without me!"
Sheldon watched her leave, shook his head, and began searching for Leonard's copy of the movie.
After changing into a comfortable pair of pajamas and flip flops, Penny set to work on the snacks. She tossed a bag of popcorn into the microwave, filled the coffee machine with water for Sheldon's hot cocoa, and poured herself a glass of wine to drink while she waited. She guessed that it was a little lame to be excited about watching movies on a Saturday night with her genius next door neighbor, but it was an activity that she and Leonard had done often when they were together, and she missed it. She liked to watch other people's reactions to her favorite movies and even enjoyed some of the movies the guys had introduced her to. The Star Wars movies were pretty campy and the acting was atrocious (to her), but the plot was kind of cool and she could see why generations of nerdy children had been drawn in and had become attached to the original trilogy.
Taking the now-full coffee pot and setting it on the counter next to her, Penny grabbed a mug and filled it with cocoa powder. She then added the hot water and began to stir the mixture together. Sheldon had given her very precise instructions for making hot cocoa, but she had done it enough for him that she had the process memorized. After stirring for three minutes, she stuck a thermometer in the beverage (provided by Sheldon) and measured the temperature. 210 degrees… too hot. Damn!
She looked around in her fridge for something to cool the drink down with. What could she put in that Sheldon wouldn't notice? Milk would be great, but the carton on the top shelf had been in there for three weeks and had surely gone off. The only other chilled drinks she had were a couple of beers, a jug of orange juice and a half-empty bottle of Kahlua.
Kahlua… would that work?
She laughed mischievously and added as much as she could to the mug without overflowing. After stirring vigorously for another thirty seconds or so, she took a sip from the spoon, smiled, and put the spoon back in. (Sheldon would kill her if he knew she'd done that.) Perfect! She really was the master at making hot cocoa.
She somehow managed to carry the mug of hot cocoa, a bowl of popcorn, her wine glass, and the cheap bottle of wine across the hall without spilling anything. She kicked the door lightly with her foot instead of trying to free up a hand to knock. "Sheldon! My hands are full! Please open the door!"
The door swung open. Penny gratefully handed the cup of hot cocoa to the scientist. "There you go. One delicious mug of Penny's world-famous hot cocoa."
"I highly doubt that your skills are internationally renowned," Sheldon commented as he sniffed the contents of the mug. "Did you use the hot cocoa mix given to me by my Meemaw, which I left at your apartment last week after you tried to use store-bought mix?"
"Did you bring the water to a temperature of exactly 190 degrees Fahrenheit?"
Did you use a separate container to warm the water, so as to keep me from burning my fingers on the mug?"
"Did you stir the mixture for precisely three minutes, being sure to adequately blend the contents of the mug together?"
"Did you add a dollop of my favorite whipped cream to the top, completing the beverage?"
Penny pointed at the cup. "Obviously."
"Good." Satisfied, he took a tentative sip. Penny waited. He considered the drink thoughtfully. "Only my Meemaw makes a cup of cocoa better than this. As always, I laud your abilities. Please teach Leonard how to correctly follow directions so that I don't have to deal with his sorry excuse for hot cocoa in the future."
"I'm not sure Leonard wants to be learning anything from me right now, but sure," she muttered as she sat down on the couch and poured herself another glass of wine.
Sheldon took his seat next to Penny on the couch and scooped popcorn into a separate bowl. He refused to eat from a community bowl under any circumstances. "Do you not believe, as Howard and Raj do, that a weekend of debauchery and deviant behavior in Las Vegas will cure Leonard of his constant moping and lamentations regarding the end of his relationship with you?"
Penny sighed. "I don't want to talk about Leonard right now. Can we please just watch the movie?"
"Certainly." Penny raised an eyebrow and glanced over at him as he hit the 'play' button, expecting him to say more, but he was actually keeping quiet for once.
Surprised and relieved that she had managed to shut Sheldon up so easily, she settled back into the couch and waited for the movie to start.