A/N: I don't own any part of BBT, though I enjoy playing in their sandbox. Especially with Sheldon.
This story is unapologetically AU with our leads in college. I have to bend/rewrite several histories to make this work, but I will endeavor to maintain the feel of the show throughout.
For all intents and purposes, the romantic relationships of the show don't exist.
Penny looked around her with newfound excitement. Moving-in day. The energy was palpable in the air. Students were milling about, parents were begrudgingly baring TVs, extra-long sized comforters and plastic bins up flights of stairs; there were tears, laughter, and most of all, a sense of anticipation by all. College had that atmosphere in spades. Higher learning, coy glances, labs, tests, parties, and hangovers. It was the last hurrah before accepting the inevitability of the real world.
That inevitability was still a solid four years away for Penny. Maybe more if she could find a way to stretch her time. She had no intention of going back to Nebraska, and had every intention of making a new beginning for herself…starting now.
There were certainly easier ways to get that new beginning. She had been approached once in high school by a modeling agency, only to find that she would be in less than reputable photo shoots. It was not hard to turn the offer down. She had standards, even if those boundaries were blurred on occasion by the allure of a handsome face. Hell, she was human.
Mostly, she had dreams. Penny had been in a play in grade school. Starring role even. What better way to get noticed than by pursuing theater? Get rave reviews in some local productions, get noticed by a talent agent and before she knew it, she would be gracing Broadway. Maybe even Hollywood, eventually. The thought made her giddy with anticipation.
Throwing her blonde hair up in a ponytail, Penny opened up her apartment door and nudged the door stopper underneath it. She wanted to appear friendly, but for more practical reasons, the AC didn't work well and her white tank top and blue jeans were plastered to her curves. She peeked out into the hallway. The elevator doors would open, another few people would walk by, but no one bothered to say hello. Maybe she was wrong about college after all.
With a frown, she started to unpack her few possessions she brought from Nebraska. Just a few cardboard boxes—all that she could fit in her little car, and a plant from her mom. 'To make things more home-like.' Actually, a plushy cow might have worked better, but Penny did not want to advertise her farm roots. Not here. Not yet at least.
Two arguing male voices caught her attention as the elevator doors slid open.
"No, I'm sorry, but the Standard Model does not predict the mass of the Higgs boson."
"Well, of course not. The mass of the Higgs boson can be estimated indirectly, though I believe that is outside of the realm of your expertise."
"Yeah. Well, good luck proving it. Unless you have a particle collider hidden away somewhere that I'm not aware of."
"That would take considerable resources that the grant simply wouldn't cover. Believe me, I wrote up a very persuasive proposal."
Penny didn't understand most of the conversation, but her interest was piqued. She turned from her box and looked behind her. Two guys stood across the hallway, one tall and lean and holding a set of keys, while the shorter, bespectacled one carried a cardboard box that looked heavy enough to topple him over.
"Sheldon, any time now!" he groaned.
"Patience is a virtue, Leonard," the tall one smirked. "Ah, here's the one. The organization of your keys is a debacle. No wonder you're partial to the chaos theory."
"Ha ha. Open the door up now. Or I'm doing to drop this and the Nintendo will die."
This made his lanky companion jump and with quick hands, he unlocked the apartment and they both disappeared inside.
Penny's brows knit and then she shook her head. Academics. Oh well, they probably wouldn't be causing her any trouble. Probably why her uncle begrudgingly arranged for her to live in this apartment complex. It was well outside the territory of the frat houses.
With a sigh, Penny continued to unpack.
Hours later, she surveyed her work. The sense of accomplishment she was expecting was wholly absent. In fact, her humble little apartment just looked sad. There was nowhere to sit save her bed, the missing tiles of her floor cried out for a rug, and without curtains, the sunlight was turning the room into a sauna. The room needed help. And that meant Penny needed money. Most of her pitiful savings went for the outrageously-overpriced parking pass and the remainder was needed for books. Furniture would have to wait.
Penny's stomach growled. She walked the few steps to the kitchen and opened up the empty fridge. Coolness washed over her, (at least the fridge was one of the few things that was functioning), and she stood there for a solid minute with eyes closed before she registered the knock on the door frame.
"Uh, hi there."
Penny spun around and looked at the bespectacled guy she saw earlier from across the hall. He shifted on his feet and looked at the floor.
Penny closed the fridge door and looked down. No wonder he was struggling to make eye contact. The cool air against her skin…
She folded her arms across her chest and smiled. "Hi. I'm Penny. I think I saw you a few hours ago."
He ran a hand through his dark hair and offered a genuine smile. Heat seeped into his face. "Yeah, with my roommate. He's a handful." He looked eager to get off the topic. "Um, since we're across the hall, I expect we'll see a lot of each other, so I just wanted to say hi."
"It's nice to meet you," she searched her memory, "Leonard?"
He looked baffled. "Yeah, sorry. I should have introduced myself better. First day jitters."
Uh huh. But she grinned at him anyway. "It's ok. I'm new here too."
"Really? What field are you in?"
She bit her lip. Something warned her not to admit her freshman status, so she just continued her grin. It seemed to disarm him well enough.
"Music and theater."
"Great." He couldn't look less uncomfortable, but Penny had to admire his effort.
Her stomach growled again, loud enough that Leonard could hear it. "I don't want to be a bother to you," he said, his awkwardness returning full force. "I'll just let you be. Nice to meet you, Penny."
He started to walk away, and once again, Penny wondered what she was going to do for food. She didn't have the slightest idea where a grocery store was in this town.
She looked up, finding Leonard in her doorway once again. "Yeah?"
"We just ordered a pizza. Wanna have some?"
Yes. Yes, thank the Lord! "Um, no, I don't want to impose," Penny said, wincing at her confounded sense of pride.
"Ok." Leonard frowned. "It's an XL though," he continued, the pitch of his voice rising at the end. "Cheese. We can't eat it all."
Penny bit her lip again. Ok, she wasn't planning on her socialization in college to start out with this sort of company, but her wallet was nearly empty, her stomach was gnawing a hole in itself, and she really wanted someone to talk to.
Pride be damned. He looks harmless enough. "Sure. Just this once."
Relief spread over Leonard's face, and Penny grabbed a sweater and kicked her apartment door closed behind her.
Penny, welcome to college.