AN: This was written for Webuiltthepyramids as a Christmas present. Well a holiday present since I'm late by now. Anyway this is a very AU setting that honestly only Nicole will fully understand. I'll try to explain some of it though. Basically it's an AU that asks what if Leonard and Penny were the same age and Leonard wound up in Nebraska and they grew up together, what would happen? No don't ask me how that popped into my head. It was two years ago and I had absurdly high thyroid hormone levels that were screwing with my brain. Though the latter might just explain why 2 years have passed and the story's never been completed.
Nicole, this isn't the full length, detailed version we discussed ages ago, but it will hit the highlights of the entire journey. So I guess we'll call it 'Opening the Box: Abridged" though I officially titled it "She Remembers" because of the format. This installment is only a third of the story and the first two scenes will be familiar to you. But also slightly different because I'm keeping this entire thing in Penny's POV. I hope you enjoy it and that it at least part way makes up for me never getting to write the full story! Happy holidays, Nicole! *hugs and snowflake cookies*
….The first time they met.
It's early in the school year when he arrives to Springfield Elementary School; the summer still has them on early dismissal schedule. He's introduced to the class that morning as Leonard Hofstadter Not that she remembered his full name right away. She only caught Leonard because she thought it was strange and kind of neat. They'd never had a Leonard in the class before.
She doesn't get to speak to him right away and by the time recess arrives, her mind's moved on to more immediate matters. Like getting back into the four-square game.
"Come on, that totally hit the line!"
"Nuh uh. It was in."
"Can't be. It was right on the line. You're out Josh!"
"Uh oh," the boy waiting behind her says. "Looks like Mike's got a new kid to pick on."
Penny turns to see what he's talking about. Sure enough Mike and his 5th grade pals are closing in on the 4th grade newbie. They have him corralled into the corner by the old swings where the teachers on duty can't see. Penny watches them shove Leonard to the ground and taunt him. When the first kick connects, she feels it in her own stomach and anger shoots all through her. She's hated that Mike kid since last spring when he called her older sister a skank and asked if Penny liked to kiss all the boys too. As if she even considered kissing boys at that time. Boys were still the evil creatures who tied your hair in knots and thought it was hilarious to drop spiders on your shoulder. Sometimes Penny wished her world view could've always stayed at that. It would've made life a lot simpler at times.
The second kick sends her sprinting across the blacktop. She tackles Mike to the ground and hits and shouts at him. Mike's bigger than her but she caught him by surprise and is a dirty fighter. She may or may not have kneed him in the groin during the scuffle. It doesn't take long for Penny to pin him.
"Give up yet?"
"Yeah fine, Penny. Geez! I give up!" Mike coughs a bit and is clearly holding back tears.
"And no more picking on the new kid, right?"
Mike just groaned.
"Right?" Penny bunches her fists in his shirt.
"Yes! Right right!"
Satisfied, she finally lets him up. She glares at him and his buddies until they are on the opposite side of the playground.
Leonard looks utterly shocked over the rescue. Penny grins and jokes with him. The fight was a blast! It's no big deal and hey! Wanna go swing? She drags him over to the swing set without really waiting for his consent and refuses to let him out of her sights for the rest of recess.
….When his parents pushed to advance him to 5th grade early.
October now. The leaves are changing, Halloween is approaching and 1st quarter report cards were sent home a week ago. Penny is sitting on the bus wondering where her friend disappeared to and why her parents hadn't been more upset about that C she got in Math. Not that she was complaining. She didn't want to get in trouble after all, but still. They hadn't even yelled a little. The bus pulls out of the parking lot before Leonard gets on and Penny panics.
"Wait, where's Leonard? Leonard's not here. Wait!" Penny stands up to yell at the bus driver. "Jackie, wait!"
"Penny, sit down!" Jackie scolds.
Penny frowns and pretends to sit.
"I think I saw him in the hallway. Looked like his parents were having a meeting with the principal."
"Huh?" Penny looks across the aisle to Logan, the pee wee basketball star. "Why would he have to meet with the principal?"
"I dunno. Maybe he got in trouble for something."
"Psh! Leonard never gets in trouble." Still a meeting with the principal doesn't sound good to Penny so convinces the bus driver to let her off at the first stop. "Katie's parents are supposed to watch me until my mom gets off work. They just forgot to write a note." As soon as the bus is out of sight, she takes off running back towards the school with a barely a quick 'thanks!' to little Katie for backing up her lies. A few minutes later, she bursts into the main hall to see Leonard sitting against the wall outside their classroom.
"Leonard! Whacha doing here still?"
"Penny!" Leonard breaks into a smile. "Aren't you supposed to be on the bus?"
"Nah, I got off after Jacob said he saw your parents talking to the principal. What's going on?"
"Oh." Leonard's face falls. "They're inside talking to Mrs. Keslinger and Mr. Tyson about moving me up to 5th grade."
Penny sits down next to him. "Why are they doing that now? Fifth grade doesn't start until next year."
"No, my parents want me to move up now. Well my mom wants me too."
"Oh." Penny gets it now. "Right. Cause you're so smart."
"Yeah I guess. But I mean, I'm not as smart as the rest of my siblings. Maybe I can't handle 5th grade work yet. Maybe Mrs. Keslinger is in there right now telling my parents that and then they'll come out and be disappointed in me!" Leonard looks scared.
"What? That's crazy! You're already using a different math book than the rest of us. You could totally do the 5th grade stuff!" Penny iss much more worried about something else.
"Yeah, duh! Of course." Penny bites her lip. "It's just... what about Mike and them?"
"What about them?"
"Well you'll be in their class then if you move up."
"Oh right." Leonard looks scared again.
"I'll still be there at recess, though." Penny assures him.
It didn't make Penny feel any better though. She doesn't think Leonard felt better either. Leonard all alone in 5th grade surrounded by the bigger kids who hated him because he had a girl sticking up for him. A girl that totally kicked their butts no less. Penny shudders. Leonard would be screwed if he moves up early.
Penny stands suddenly and marches into the classroom, ignoring Leonard's questions and shouts.
"Mrs. Keslinger, you can't move Leonard up to 5th grade now. I won't let you!"
"And who is this child?"
Penny's guesses that's Leonard's mom and chooses to ignore her. The teacher holds the power at school so that's where Penny keeps her focus.
"It's not right! Leonard can't be sent to 5th grade by himself. They'll kill him!"
"Penny, no one will be killing anyone," says Mrs. Keslinger. "Now, we're trying to have a meeting so can you wait for me out in the hall, please?"
"No," Penny says, standing her ground. "Not until you promise that Leonard gets to stay in 4th grade with me."
"Oh so this is the 'friend' that is making you question my son's advancement?" Leonard's mother asks.
"Yeah, I am Leonard's friend which is why I won't let you do this!" Penny stomps her foot.
"Stop that," Mrs. Keslinger demands. "Penny, I'm sorry but this isn't up to you. The grown-ups will figure this out. Now go back out into the hall."
"But you don't know what they'll do to him!" Penny forces her eyes to tear up. "I don't want Leonard to get hurt."
"Oh sweetie." Mrs Keslinger face softens and she looks back at the principal who's been silent this whole time.
"You most certainly are not allowing this young girl to dictate my son's future, Mr. Tyson?"
"No, I am not Mrs. Hofstadter. Penny's actions only reinforces what Mrs. Keslinger has been arguing. Your son has only arrived at our school a few weeks ago. It's quite difficult to be the new kid. I'd hate to disrupt any friendships he's been making."
"I believe his education is more important than any friendship."
"We will not be holding your son back academically," Mr Tyson corrects. "He will stay in the fourth grade classroom but will be taught the fourth and fifth grade materials simultaneously. Then next fall he may advance straight on to middle school."
"Alright that sounds fine. Not ideal as I'm sure the slower children will distract Leonard from his studies, but as I have a plane to catch in 40 minutes, I'll accept this proposal."
"Then it's settled. Leonard will not be moved out of the 4th grade class." A loud 'Whoop!" echoes from the hallway and Penny opens the door, grinning.
"Leonard you get to stay!"
Leonard is sporting a matching grin and tackles Penny in a hug.
"You're awesome, Penny!"
Penny's victory high lasts all the way until Mrs. Keslinger's car reaches Penny's street.
"Wait," Penny says, realizing just what the adults agreed on. "So next year, Leonard will move up to middle school?"
"Yes, that's right."
"And I'll still be in fifth grade at elementary school."
"That's not a bad thing, Penny. You won't be behind. You're supposed to be in fifth grade next year."
"Yeah I know." But she'll be behind Leonard. And middle school is rough. Her sister's already warned her all about it. She always tells her that yeah, grade school kids are bad with all their poking and mean names but middle school is war. Rumors start in middle school. And rumors can hurt you more than any kick. Penny isn't entirely sure how that's possible but her sister was older and wiser so Penny believed that it was true. After all her sister had lived through all of middle school already.
The next day, Penny approaches Mrs. Keslinger's desk during silent reading time and asks what it would take for her to skip fifth grade too. Mrs. Keslinger agrees to help if Penny's truly serious about it.
Penny never studied as hard as she did that year. It's all worth it when the final report cards come out and she and her parents are told that she can skip to middle school that fall.
…. they're freshmen in high school. Not nearly as close anymore but she still protects him.
She checks the mirror once more to be sure the tear streaks are gone and then heads outside. What a crappy ending to a crappy day. Like finding out Jonah was cheating on her with a volleyball player wasn't bad enough, but she had to see them making out an hour after Penny dumped him! It was like Penny had meant absolutely nothing to him! The douchebag.
Penny swallows the lump in her throat threatening to take over again. She would not cry anymore. At least not until she was home curled up in sweats on her bed.
Tugging her coat around her tighter, Penny steps out into the cool February breeze to wait for her mom to pick her up. She spies Leonard gathering his books off the ground down by the corner of the building. Good, maybe he can cheer her up. Or at least distract her.
"Hey," Leonard mumbles.
"So today pretty much sucked," Penny starts. "Algebra is kicking my butt again and Ms. Basil assigned yet another essay to us in English. Oh and then Miranda went around telling everyone how bad my hair looked today when it totally didn't and I know she's jealous because my hair scrunches better than hers and can actually hold a curl. But she said curls make my face look fat. Can you believe her?"
"Nope, that sucks," Leonard says without much emotion. He's still trying to stick his things in his bag.
"Well you could say it like you care more." He was doing a crappy job of making her feel better. A piece of paper flutters across her feet and Leonard lunges for it.
"Hey what are you doing?"
"Trying to get my things back in my bag!" Leonard snaps. The breeze pushes another stray paper past her and Penny reaches down for it.
"Why did you set all of this out outside?" She asks while handing him the paper. She spots the bent rings and torn cover of his notebook. "And what happened to your notebook?"
"Nothing," Leonard mumbles, stuffing the last of it into his bag. "Nothing happened. My books just fell out."
"Books don't just fall out of your bag unless you left it unzipped and you would've noticed that long before you got outside. Your books would've probably fallen out on the stairs."
"Well maybe I unzipped it out here to get something out and everything fell out then."
"But how did your notebook get so torn up from falling?"
"I don't know, gravity? Friction? Let's see you fall a distance that's 5 times your height and see how torn up you are?"
"Hey! Don't get all smart and rude on me! I was just asking."
"Well it's none of your business."
"Alright, geez!" Penny turns back to stare at the parking lot.
A minute later, Leonard sighs. "I'm sorry, Penny. I'm just frustrated."
"Yeah I can tell," Penny snaps.
"My notebook had all my bio notes in it."
"So what happened to it?"
"I told you, it fell."
"Pages don't get ripped out during a fall. What happened to it?" Leonard just shrugs and doesn't answer. Penny frowns. "Leonard, who took it?"
Leonard huffs in annoyance and finally meets her eye. "It was Jonah, okay?"
"Jonah Kirklen?" Penny's stomach churns.
"Yeah, I'm sure he didn't mean anything by it, though. I know you and he are.."
"Nothing." Penny interrupts.
Leonard stares at her blankly. "But I thought.."
"We broke up."
"Oh I'm sorry, Penny."
"It's no big deal." Penny shrugs. "But I can't believe he ripped up your notebook! That jerk!"
Leonard starts making polite excuses for Jonah again, but Penny doesn't hear. Jonah's walking through the parking lot towards his car while chatting with some friends. Penny is pissed and her feet are moving across the rocks and pavements before she's made the conscious decision to go after him.
"Hey Jonah!" she says when she reaches his group.
"Oh hey, Penny." He pulls out his sad, apologetic face. "Look I'm really sorry about what happened befo..." Penny kicks him in the groin. His words cut into a groan and he sinks to his knees, doubled over.
"Don't you ever mess with my friend, Leonard again! Or I swear to god, I'll tie you up like a hog and drag you around with my horse, you got it?"
Jonah gasps and nods while his friends look on, stunned and muttering.
Penny marches back over to the school where Leonard's standing with his mouth open.
"What was that?" He asks.
Penny's mom pulls up and honks right then so instead of answering, Penny just throws her bag into the back seat and gets into the front.
"See you tomorrow, Leonard," she says before pulling the door shut.
They're across town before she realizes how much she's shaking. She hides in her room that night trying to stop the tears.