CHAPTER FORTY-THREE (PART II)

Penny was pacing outside the train station door, wringing her hands and offering forced smiles to the guests as they filed in. Leonard had promised her he would get Sheldon to the wedding on time, and yet an hour had gone by and there was still no sign of him. Worse, his phone was dead; her calls were going straight to voicemail. Just as she was about to slip into despair, she saw the Four Friends of Fail briskly jogging towards the door. If they didn't look so handsome (in spite of their green and white striped cummerbunds) she would have murdered them all on the spot.

"What the hell took you so long?!" she asked Leonard as he jogged towards her. Raj and Howard were scurrying up behind him while Sheldon tarried at the curb, fiddling with one of his dress socks.

"You already know we overslept," Leonard said weakly.

"That was your story two hours ago! I started to wonder if you were going to show up at all."

"Hello, Penny," Stuart mumbled, appearing out of nowhere. He brushed past her, his head down low, as he made his way inside. Kripke walked in behind him.

"Hewwo, wady," he said as he went by.

Penny shook her head then turned back to Leonard. He made his case.

"Traffic was horrible. Howard left his shoes at his house, so we had to go and get them. Then we got held up by his mother, who insisted on making Sheldon a 'high protein breakfast' of brisket and fried egg on rye bread. Then we had to go 20 minutes out of the way to drop off Dale."

"Who's Dale?"

Leonard shook his head. "It doesn't matter."

Sheldon had joined them by that time. "Considering the sizeable sum I paid to rent this outfit," he said, "I anticipated that the socks would be made of less abrasive material."

Leonard glanced down at his watch. It was ten minutes until 2:00. He grabbed Sheldon's arm, dragging him through the door and into the train station foyer. "Let's get you married."


The entire bridal party was lined up just inside the station, and groomsmen, bridesmaids, as well the two moms and all the surviving grandparents were huddled behind the double doors of the foyer. The processional music was moments from beginning. Just one person had yet to join them. When Penny got the signal, she jogged outside and around to the back, and then re-entered the building through a side door.

Penny stuck her head through the entrance of the break room, where Amy had been holed up for hours, to alert her that it was time. "Amy?" she called.

Amy turned around, and the sight of her literally stopped Penny in her tracks. She had seen Amy's dress bundled up in its semi-transparent garment bag for days and—after catching a glimpse of its mounds of ruffles—she assumed it would be another frilly horror show in the same vein as the bridesmaids' dresses that Amy had inflicted on her bridal party. Somehow, however, Amy had managed to select a heart-stopping ensemble: a sleeveless, well-fitting, elegant gown that hugged her upper body. The dress's skirt consisted of several, diagonal-cut layers of silk fabric, each longer than the last, that cascaded to the floor. Cinching her waist was a blush-colored, satin sash that tied into a bow. It sat, graceful and proud, on the side of her hip as its ribbons dangled the length of her dress and confirmed her designation as the princess she no doubt felt like. Her hair had been parted on the side and pulled into a simple but sophisticated bun than sat daintily at the base of her neck. Poised on the crown of her head, and secured with hidden combs tucked stealthily behind her side-swept bang, was a subdued veil that delicately draped in front of her face and stopped just beyond her chin. The sheer fabric was innocently coy but, instead of obscuring her face, softened it with a flattering haze. It was dotted with flattened pearl-colored disks, as if morning dew had settled there. Dangling from her neck was a three-strand, pearl necklace-the only gem worthy of the occasion.

In all the craziness of the day, the purpose of this occasion had almost gotten lost in the shuffle. In that moment, however, Amy had shed the daily costume of a tireless mother and absorbed scientist and was donning the regal garb of the dashing bride. For Penny, seeing Amy—Amy Farrah Fowler—standing there, dressed in her wedding gown, brought her to the brink of tears.

"Wow, Amy," she said, in an awed stupor. "You look really pretty."

"I do?!" Amy said, as if there were room for doubt.

Penny just nodded.

Amy turned back to the mirror, brushing down her skirt with her hands. "Do you think Sheldon will like it?"

Penny came fully in the room, standing behind her friend and admiring her in the mirror. "It's not possible he could feel any other way."

Amy turned to Penny, smiling. "Thank you, Penny."

Penny smiled. "Now, sweetie, let's go and get you married."


Sheldon stood at the base of the aisle that had been created in the station lobby. He was positioned only feet away from Judge Rembrandt, and looked out at the friends, family members and colleagues sitting before him. Always anxious before an audience, he could feel fright settling in and his hands began to tremble. Lucky for him, his best man seemed to notice the situation.

"Are you nervous, Dad?" Robert asked, standing just to the left of his father.

Sheldon looked down at him, and then back out over the crowd. "A little, son," he answered.

Robert looked down the aisle with determined eyes, resolved to confront—head on—whatever might come. He took his father's hand. "I'm not," he said. "I'll be brave, Dad. Like Batman."

Sheldon turned to his son, amused; having Batman standing up for him seemed like best deal in the world.

The music began and all heads turned towards the doors in the back. They swung open to reveal Meemaw. She was being escorted by one of Sheldon's first cousins. She was followed by Mary, who was escorted down the aisle by Sheldon's brother. The ceremony had scarcely began, but Mary had that look on her face that mothers did when they were overcome with emotions. Tears couldn't be far behind. Amy's mother followed, also escorted by one of Amy's cousins.

There was a brief moment when the doors shut and when they opened again, Bernadette and Howard came down the aisle. Next were Missy and Raj, and then Leonard and Penny. Each couple separated once they reached the front of the station, and took their spots on either side of the aisle. A moment later, out walked Aditi alone, the pint-sized maid-of-honor, clasping her bouquet as she'd so thoroughly practiced, and smiling brightly from ear to ear.

The music stopped, the doors closed, and all fell silent. The doors made way for the woman of the hour:

Amy.

The lighting didn't change, no one moved and the bridal music sounded as loudly as ever. But in Sheldon's mind, everything in that moment—the music, the crowd, the very room itself—peeled away and all he could see was his bride coming to him. This is why people did it. This is why people had weddings. For that single, resplendent, glorious, breathtaking moment when the most beautiful woman in the room was yours.


"We are here today," the judge began, "to participate in a most joyous event and to celebrate one of life's greatest moments. We've gathered to witness the wedding of Sheldon Cooper and Amy Fowler. Now on days such as this one…"

As he continued his prepared statements, Amy got lost in the significance of the occasion. She tried to focus her eyes in front of her, on Judge Rembrandt, but her gaze kept drifting beside her, taken with the man that she would call her husband in a few short moments. She caught Sheldon glancing at her as well.

"Amy?"

At the sound of her name she turned towards the judge. He was smiling amiably at her. "Are you ready?"

Amy nodded. She'd lost track of where they were in the ceremony, but it was apparent they'd come to the vows.

"Do you, Amy," the judge began, "take Sheldon as your husband, to love him, cherish him, nurture him, and support him in times of joy and in times of difficulty, and promise with all your heart and soul to honor this vow till death do you part? If so, answer now, 'I do.'"

"I do."

"Do you, Sheldon, take Amy as your wife, to love her, cherish her, nurture her, and support her in times of joy and in times of difficulty, and promise with all your heart and soul to honor this vow till death do you part? If so, answer now, 'I do.'"

"I do."

The judge nodded. "Nicely done. Now each of you take the other by the hands."

Amy turned to Sheldon, as he did to her, and she lowered her hands into his outstretched palms, their arms suspended between them. They both looked back at the judge for further direction. "Amy, as you look at your groom, please recite your vows."

Amy looked Sheldon, took a deep breath and began to speak. "I, Amy Farrah Fowler, have chosen…" The words spilled out just as she'd rehearsed for days while tucked away in the solitude of her room. She was very glad she had memorized them, as she was so overcome with emotion, she felt she might faint otherwise. She could hear herself saying the words, and certain snatches of phrases jumped out more than others: committed, husband, companion, love. "… as long as we walk this earth." Just like that, she'd done it. She had declared her adoration, devotion and decision to be wed to one Sheldon Cooper. Now, it was his turn.

"Sheldon," the judge said, "as you look at your bride, please recite your vows."

Sheldon turned from the judge then looked at Amy, and he began to speak. "I, Sheldon Cooper…"

As the first words crossed his lips, she realized something that she hadn't known back when she was sitting, disheartened, in the family room. Standing in front of him now, watching him speak, she saw a man that was sure, certain and resolute. It's then she knew that the actual words he'd chosen mattered less than the conviction in which he said them. In Sheldon's eyes, she saw that conviction.

"…take you, Amy Farrah Fowler, to be my lawfully-wedded wife, to love—"

And then he stopped.

Amy thought he had simply paused for breath, or maybe for effect, as he had the occasional flare for the dramatic. It could be that he was trying to stifle a sneeze or cough. Perhaps his impeccable memory, in the pressure of the moment, had failed him after all. However, as the seconds ticked on, more upsetting reasons for his silence came to her. Maybe he was having second thoughts. Maybe he had cold feet. Maybe the conviction she thought she'd seen just moments before had given way to doubt.

A hushed murmur spread through the gathered throng. Just when Amy came close to hitching up her wedding dress, with both gloved hands, and making a break for the front door, Sheldon began to speak again.

"Amy, you've enriched my life in ways I couldn't have foreseen when I first met you years ago. Though once committed to living my life as a unit of one, I've found myself ever more surprised at how much I relish being one of a pair. I love you. Very much. I'm devoted to our marriage and I'm devoted to our family. You're the only woman I've ever loved, and I vow that as long as I have breath, you will be the only woman I ever will."

The words were characteristically unorthodox, but intensely genuine and deeply touching. Most of all, they were his. Amy could feel tears puddling under her eyes, and she could only hope that the no-run mascara that Penny had sworn by was holding up.

The judge spoke up. "Are there rings?"

The twins were originally charged with doing double duty as the ring bearers, but after a near-miss during the rehearsal with Robert and Adam using the box for a game of catch, Amy and Sheldon had made the executive decision to carry the rings themselves. Sheldon pulled a box from his tuxedo jacket and Amy from the concealed pockets in her dress. As they slipped the rings on each other's hands, the judge spoke.

"These rings are visible signs of their commitment to one another and of the unbroken circle of love. This love is freely given, with no beginning and no end, no giver and no receiver, for each is the giver and each is the receiver. May these rings always remind you of the vows you have taken today." He paused looking out over the crowd. "With the rings exchanged, should anyone here present know of any reason that this couple should not be joined in matrimony, speak now or forever hold your peace."

Amy heart stopped. She had specifically requested that he not ask that question since both of their families could hardly be trusted to keep their (often absurd) opinions to themselves. Besides, Amy didn't give a damn what anyone thought anyway.

The room (mercifully) remained silent.

"Excellent. Then, by the power vested in me by the state of California and Los Angeles County, I now pronounce you husband and wife."

At that moment Mary Cooper called out. "What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder."

Sheldon glared at his mother, while the judge just chuckled a little. "Indeed." He turned to the groom, and extended his hand. "Sheldon, you may kiss the bride."

With an eagerness that was rarely seen in public, Sheldon took both sides of Amy's face in his hands and kissed her tenderly and long. The room was filled with applause and the recessional music began. The congregation rose to its feet and Sheldon and Amy, trailed by their children and closest friends, exited the train station.


As the newlyweds and the wedding party took pictures on the lawn, the invited guests mingled on the train platform for a pre-reception cocktail party. Meanwhile, the caterers and the companies from which they rented the tables, chairs, cutlery and linens took on the Herculean task of transforming the train station lobby into a dining room. It had taken hours of begging and arguing (and a hefty "convenience fee") to get the team to agree to such an unusual arrangement, but it had been worth it in the end. By the time the doors opened again and the wedding party entered, he and Amy were as pleased as two people could possibly be to find an ornate room and exquisite table settings with their dearest acquaintances seated all around them.


Howard was fumbling with his boutonniere after enthusiastically demolishing a non-kosher dinner, when someone tapped him on the shoulder.

"Are you Howard Wolowitz?" the woman asked.

"The one, the only," he answered.

"Well, your mother is in the restroom and she's asking for you."

"Great," Howard said with a groan. "I left my latex gloves at home."

As he approached the restroom, he was horrified to find a single file of persons waiting outside in varying degrees of urinary distress. He then realized that it was a unisex bathroom and apparently only serviced one person as a time. He marched to the front and pushed through the swinging door. There was a handful of other people waiting inside. It was a single stall bathroom with a sink on the side. Howard banged on the door.

"MA, HURRY UP! THERE'S ONLY ONE STALL AND YOU'VE BEEN IN THERE SO LONG A LINE IS FORMING!"

"OH HOWARD YOU'RE HERE. I NEED A LITTLE HELP. GO GET THE CHINESE ONE TO ZIP UP GRANDMA!"

"NONE OF THEM ARE CHINESE, MA!"

"HE SPEAKS CHINESE DOESN'T HE?"

"THAT'S BECAUSE THEY SPEAK CHINESE IN TAIWAN!"

"WHILE YOU'RE DOING ALL THAT GABBING, YOU COULD HAVE ALREADY SENT HIM IN!"

"I'M NOT SENDING IN ANYBODY, MA! YOU'RE NOT GOING TO VICTIMIZE MY CHILDREN THE SAME WAY YOU DID ME!" Howard yelled. A shudder ran through him. "ASK ONE OF YOUR FRIENDS. WHO'S AN ADULT. AND FEMALE."

"BUT MY FRIENDS CAN'T FIT UNDER THE STALL DOOR."

"THEN OPEN THE DOOR AND LET ONE IN."

"ARE YOU CRAZY? TWO PEOPLE CAN'T FIT IN HERE."

"THEN COME OUT HERE AND LET SOMEONE DO IT."

"AND PUT ALL MY BUSINESS IN THE STREET? I DON'T THINK SO!"

"YOU'RE NOT THINKING AT ALL!" he screamed.

Then there was a loud zipping noise. "Oh, what do you know?" Mrs. Wolowitz said. "I forgot that the zipper was on the side. Never mind."

Howard rolled his eyes and marched out.


Just as the last of the wedding cake was going out and dancing seemed to be on the horizon, the loud sound of banging on glass could be heard.

Everyone turned around to see a tipsy Leonard standing on the soon-to-be dance floor.

"I'd like to toast the couple," he said. He walked over to the DJ table and grabbed a cordless microphone. The crowd wound down and came to attention. "When I got married," he said, "Sheldon told a rather unflattering story about an unfortunate bout I had with persistent diarrhea."

Penny, who had been in the corner talking to one of Amy's relatives who happened to be a casting agent for Warner Brothers, snapped her head around. "Excuse me," she said, and made a beeline for Leonard.

"…I mean, my diarrhea really wasn't that bad," he continued. "Sheldon was totally exaggerating. I mean, what do you expect from someone who had just spent a week in Mexico City for a Physics conference? I learned my lesson. Montezuma's Revenge is a bitch."

Penny grabbed Leonard's arm. "You're done," she said and reached for the mic, but he resisted her.

"Wait, wait, wait," he said. "I'm not done. I have more to say."

"You're drunk and you're done."

"Not that drunk," he said.

"Come on, Leonard," she said, trying again to pull him from the floor, but he yanked his arm away. Frustrated, they looked at each other, caught in a stalemate.

"Let me do this, Penny." He was suddenly really serious.

Penny relented. "Fine, but don't say something you'll regret in the morning."

"I won't," Leonard said, and held the microphone back to his mouth. "When I first realized I might be expected to give a speech tonight, I immediately thought of that diarrhea story and honestly, I got a little upset. I started thinking about all the times that Sheldon and I bickered over where to sit in the apartment, or which brand of mustard to buy, or rides to doctor's appointments, or who got to be which character for Halloween. Pretty soon, though, I wasn't just thinking about us bickering, but other times, too. The Saturdays we spent watching Doctor Who marathons all day long. The time I went with him to Galveston and met all his family when he dad died. The time he took up for me when an old bully showed up for another round of torment. I thought of all the times we'd spent silently wrestling with scientific questions of the universe in tandem at our laptops. I thought of times I spent admiring his mother and times he spent admiring mine. Then I realized that, the truth of the matter is, for well over a decade, I've been lucky enough to never have to walk more than twenty feet to get to my best friend. And even though a lot of things have changed, I hope our status as best friends never does." He held up his glass. "Congratulations Sheldon and Amy."

Amy and Sheldon held up their glasses as well, and even from a distance, Leonard could see his friend was deeply moved.

He turned around to put the mic back on the table and saw Penny standing behind him weeping.

"That was so sweet," she said blubbering. "I've never heard you talk so affectionately about Sheldon, before."

"Yeah," Leonard said, putting his arm around Penny as they walked off the floor. "I'm definitely going to regret that in the morning."


As festivities wound down, Mary didn't. As the social butterfly and family agent of unity, she was floating around catching up with old friends and family. Her feet were starting to hurt, though, and she crashed down next to the seated newlyweds. Aditi was sound asleep in Amy's lap, completely worn out from an evening of non-stop boogying and hopping around on the dance floor. Robert was likewise slumbering in the lap of his father, exhausted from a non-stop game of tag with the Wolowitz boys. Mary admired the scene warmly. "I thought this day would never come," she said, "but I believe in the power of prayer."

"As we all know," Sheldon muttered.

"So how does it feel to be Mrs. Cooper?"

"I will still go by Dr. Fowler," Amy replied.

"I know… professionally," Mary asked.

"And privately," Amy clarified. "Although I'm considering hyphenating it to Cooper-Fowler."

Mary was floored by this revelation. "Well that doesn't make any sense. What's the point in getting married if you're not even going to take his last name?"

"Oh, there were a few other considerations other than nomenclature," Sheldon said.

"At the very least," Amy said, "I can now be properly called his wife."

"And thank Jesus for that," Mrs. Cooper said. She walked up to Sheldon and, reaching over the sleeping boy in his lap gave him a hug. Sheldon used his free arm to hug her as well. Still embracing, Mary spoke. "I know I give you a hard time sometimes," she said, "but I love you and Amy very much and I hope you have a beautiful mar—" she stopped there. There was a hitch in her voice, and Sheldon could tell she was crying; it always made him feel uneasy when she did.

"I will, Mom," he said, tenderly, and looked at Amy.

"Good," she said standing up. She swatted away a tear. Just then, someone caught her eye. "Oh dear Lord, it has been a month of Sundays since I've seen Marian. Excuse me," she said and walked off.

As she took off, Beverly approached. Her presence was odd. Sheldon didn't remember inviting her.

"I don't know if you all consider it too early to bury the hatchet," she said, "but I would like to offer my cautious, though sincere, congratulations on your nuptials."

"Thank you," Sheldon and Amy mumbled. Their dispirited reply was not lost on her.

"In the event that the hatchet remains unburied," she said, "you should be happy to know that I will be returning to New Jersey tomorrow."

Robert, still asleep, suddenly turned over his father's lap, muttering to himself. "CHECKBOOK is the longest English word with horizontal symmetry," he said, then fell back asleep. It was a new thought for everyone present.

"Fascinating," Sheldon said.

"Your children are quite remarkable," Beverly said. "I envy the professionals who will be charged with their education. The potential for experimentation with academic techniques with those two is endless."

"Actually," Amy said, wearily, "we are in the process of sorting through their educational options right now. In the meantime, they'll be going to the Caltech daycare."

"That's odd," Beverly said, bemused. "I just assumed you would be putting them in Montessori school."

"Montessori school?" Sheldon asked. He looked at Amy with a confused look on his face.

Amy was also a bit puzzled. "Why would you assume that?" she asked Beverly.

"Well, the two of you are products of a public school education, so naturally you would begin there. Upon visiting your local 'kiddy mill', the public educational system did the only thing that they are good at, and tested the twins for their scholastic aptitude. You soon discovered that, to your delight, both children are very smart, and Robert is exceptionally so. Such delight, however, was soon followed by the disconcerting realization that they would have to be educated separately. Amy—the de facto child researcher and educational director-in-chief of your family—plunged into the online world to research the topic, where she was greeted to a dizzying array of contradictory and impassioned opinions that often endorsed conflicting and counterintuitive advice. Sheldon—preoccupied with his work and blinded by his near-fetishization of intelligence—responded with an obstinate refusal to accept the reality of the situation. After ineffectual conversation and debate between the two of you—that even may have manifest itself in sexual malfunction in the relationship—you all arrived at an impasse. However, with the school year fast approaching, and an admirable unwillingness on the part of you two to remain in a state of discord, you came to the conclusion that the only factor that you both agreed on—that the children should not be separated—was the most important one. This insight caused you to explore ways where their joint education might be possible, and brought you to two options: public school, which is sub-par and horrifyingly ordinary, and Montessori school, the crown jewel of Italian childhood instruction and a world-renowned method of independent, mixed-age learning. The preferable option was obvious."

Sheldon and Amy looked at each other, and then back at Beverly.

"Your summation of events was absolutely remarkable, Beverly," he said, flabbergasted. "It was as if we had a soothsayer in our midst. That is, aside from the error about the related sexual malfunction in our relationship."

"Indeed," Amy agreed, "although, to date, we've only gotten as far as the impasse, unfortunately."

"Then, I'm afraid I've gotten ahead of myself," Beverly said. "Or rather, you all have been fatiguingly slow in reaching a rather forgone conclusion."

"Fear not," Sheldon said. Then he turned to Amy with a sudden decisiveness. "Given the uncanny insight Beverly has shown into the matter, I propose, Amy, that we accelerate the decision-making process and proceed directly to the obvious conclusion."

"Assuming that there is a suitable Montessori school in the area," Amy said, "I second that proposal."

"Rest assured," Beverly said, pulling a vibrating phone from her purse, "that in an area as infested with wealthy, entitled, helicopter parents as this one, Montessori schools are in abundance. I'll make a recommendation, just as soon as I take this call."

She rose, putting the phone to her ear. "Shelby, I find your delay in returning my phone call unsettling. Had I been in a life-threatening situation, I would have long met my demise."

Missy walked up and gave her brother a hug. He received it awkwardly, patting her lightly on the back.

"So bro," she said, punching him lightly on the shoulder, "What are you two lovebirds going to do for your honeymoon?"

Amy and Sheldon looked at each other. Considering the fact that their new jobs started in a mere matter of days, and the considerable expense connected with their new home and hasty wedding, a trip away at this point was impossible. But it was okay, really.

Amy smiled as she answered. "Start the rest of our lives."


TEN WEEKS LATER

In the weeks following the wedding, the lives of the Fowler-Coopers went into overdrive. Beverly had been instrumental in getting the children into a Montessori school just minutes away from the house, and they just barely managed to enroll in time for the new school session. After a tentative first few days, Robert and Aditi had become absolutely smitten with the school, teachers and fellow students alike. When Amy and Sheldon dropped them off each morning, they bolted from the car, hand in hand, and ran to the building. With the government project on indefinite hiatus, Sheldon had settled back into his old job, and long-neglected work was resumed and explored. More interestingly, he dug up his old notebook from the cute, blue cottage on Mulberry Street; it just might hold promise for his future ambitions. Amy was acclimating well to her position in the Biology Department at Caltech. She was pleasantly surprised, and bit intimidated, to find her new colleagues were welcoming and admiring of her work. Of course, there were new programs to learn, procedures to comply with and connections to be made, but she was relieved to learn that, ultimately, being a scientist was much like riding a bike. Besides, working at the same place as her husband was an added treat. The entire family was settling into the new house nicely, and as the weeks went on, carpet came up, wallpaper came down, and the box-strewn warehouse they had moved into started to resemble a comfortable home. Even Amy's dreams of hosting friends on their spacious patio (and engaging in spontaneous coitus in their spacious master bedroom) were slowly coming to fruition.

The other matter concerning Lise-Marie (that had caused them so much agony) was not yet resolved, but as she had offered a confession, there would be no trial. Amy and Sheldon had heard that her lawyers were working on a plea bargain. Either way, she'd be in prison for a long time.

All told, the dark events of yesterday were well in their past, and the future ahead of them was promising and bright. Before they realized it, November was upon them, and with it, the twins' birthday. Invitations were sent, ideas were brainstormed and cakes were ordered (one for each child). One Friday, after work, Sheldon, Amy and Penny—in a flurry of activity—bought supplies, decorated the family room with streamers and balloons and whipped up finger foods appropriate for a shin-dig for kids between the ages of two and seven.

The following morning, Robert and Aditi had come downstairs to a house that looked like it had been crashed into by the birthday fairy. Guests began to arrive around two in the afternoon, and Amy saw that children need no pretext to have fun. In minutes, the festivities were well underway.

As the party ran itself in the family room, just beyond the kitchen bar, Penny worked on what was left of the dishes and Amy collected and threw out disposable cake plates, cups and utensils before the whole mess got away from them. As Penny scrubbed gook off a bowl, she nodded approvingly at Amy.

"This party really is a lot of fun," she said. "All the kids seem to be having a great time." Her statement was punctuated by the sounds of giggling and squeals from the small guests.

Amy nodded, tying up a trash bag. "They do seem to be enjoying themselves."

Penny brightened up with a thought. "I must admit, when you said the birthday theme would be the musculoskeletal system, I had my doubts. I have to say, though, that it all looks really nice. The bone-shaped gummy bears were a nice touch."

"Thank you," Amy said. "The theme was Robert's idea, and Aditi had no objections. He is generally fascinated with Biology—a fact Sheldon is still wrestling with—but recently, Robert seems to be partial to osteopathic medicine."

Penny had no idea what that was, but didn't want to risk asking why. She put a cupcake tin on the drying rack. "I can't wait until I can do this with Baby Leonard."

Amy sighed and shook her head. "It's coming faster than you think."

Just then, Aditi walked up. "Can I have some sarcoplasmic fluid?" she asked.

"May I have some sarcoplasmic fluid, please," Amy said, as a gentle reminder.

"May I have some sarcoplasmic fluid, please," Aditi said.

"Sure." Amy ladled her daughter a cup of fruit punch. As she did, Aditi walked over to Penny.

"May you pick me up, Aunt Penny?" she asked. "Please," she added.

Penny looked down, her face reflecting her regret. "I'm washing the dishes sweetie, so I can't. I'm sorry."

Amy handed Aditi the punch, and the little girl took a big gulp of the cherry drink. "May you pick me up Mommy, please?" asked.

"I can't. I'm busy cleaning up," she explained.

Aditi was a bit dismayed by two rejections, but not defeated. She spotted Leonard who had parked next to (and had just about finished off) the bowl of Cheetos. He was rocking Baby Leonard, who was asleep in the car seat on the floor, with his foot.

"Uncle Leonard," she asked, her voice more pitiful than normal. "May you pick me up, please?"

Leonard looked down at the baby, who was sound asleep, and then brushed his hands together, raining Cheetos crumbs onto the floor. "Sure," he said, but Amy intervened before he could. She walked over to where Aditi was and stooped down in front of her.

"Aditi, how old are you now?"

"FIVE!" she said, excitedly.

"And that makes you what?"

"A BIG GIRL!" she said, so thrilled she was bouncing up and down.

"Right!" Amy said. "But big girls don't want to be held all the time like Baby Leonard. They walk on their own two feet."

This was not the conclusion to the line of questioning that Aditi had anticipated. She dropped her head down, pouting. "I don't want to be a big girl," she said.

Amy delicately rubbed her daughter's face. "Sure you do. Because big girls get to go to school and have birthday parties with all their classmates. Look!" Amy pointed back at the raging party going on in the family room: kids jumping, running, batting at balloons and playing with party favors. Aditi's face brightened some. Robert suddenly stood up from the floor and turned his head about, searching for something or someone. "Robert is looking for you," Amy said.

Aditi immediately perked up and took off towards her brother. "I'm right here!" she yelled as she ran.

Amy smiled to herself at the scene of the two crashing into each other and getting lost in whatever they were playing on the floor. She stood up and realized that Sheldon had returned and was standing right next to her. He was watching the scene as well. There was a look of melancholy in his eyes.

"Can I still hold her sometimes?" he asked.

Amy knew exactly what he was feeling. The truth was, the twins simply were growing up much too fast. She touched his arm. "Of course you can." She stuck her head out and peeked down the hall. "Is it ready?"

He nodded. "Yes."

Amy grabbed one of the toy whistles off the counter and blew into it. The whole room came to attention.

"We have come to the moment you've all been waiting for: the unwrapping of the gifts!"

All the children stood up and the twins jumped up and down with delight. "They are stacked in three piles in the living room: Aditi's gifts, Robert's gifts and gifts for the both of you. Are you ready?"

"YEEEAAAHHH!" they shouted in unison.

"Okay," Amy said, gesturing with her hand, "then go ahead."

Robert and Aditi grabbed hands and then ran for the living room. A small army of children raced off behind them. The parents in attendance pulled themselves from the walls and the chairs that were supporting them, and then filed out behind the kids. As the room emptied, Amy looked up at Sheldon.

"Thank you," she said.

Sheldon shrugged. "Separating boxes and gift bags into piles is a very simple task, although I must say that the handwriting of some of the guests is absolutely illegible."

"No, not that," Amy said. "I mean thank you… for everything. For being a great dad. A great husband. A great man."

Sheldon was notorious for being more than a little conceited, but most people didn't know that when he was directly praised with deep sincerity, he got uncomfortable.

"Thank you," he muttered, a little embarrassed. "I just want you to be happy."

"I am," she said. "Very much." She took Sheldon's hand, and clung to his arm. She noticed a faint smile on his face.

Aditi reappeared, fidgety and anxious. "MOMMY! DADDY!" she yelled. She grabbed Sheldon's hand and started pulling. "Come on!"

Smiling at each other, they walked off behind her to join the others in the living room.

THE END


ENDNOTE: Thus, we've come to the end. I would like to thank all my loyal readers who kept clicking [ NEXT ] chapter after chapter, and stuck it out when the highs were high and the lows were low. I'd like to thank Lionne6, who is not only a kick-ass beta, but my personal grammar grump, mental healthcare worker, character analyst, cheerleader and whatever the hell else she had to be to me through the writing process. Finally, last but CERTAINLY not least, I like to thank the readers who actually take a moment to leave a review. People like you make the world go 'round and mean more to me than you know. If you are a reader and we haven't met yet, drop me a note in the comments section. THANK YOU, see you around the fandom and LLTS!