2 weeks later—
Penny sat slumped over in the lecture hall chair as she stared at the TA scrawling out something out on the dry erase board. Her head was propped up on her hand. She needed a coffee. And badly.
She shouldn't have closed last night, but then again, having received her first 'Einstein's' paycheck yesterday, the sense of financial panic she had been experiencing over the last few weeks diminished substantially. But her need for sleep had not, and 8 am was a cruel time for a required Gen Ed class.
The same few thoughts circulated in her mind: This class has nothing to do with acting. I shouldn't have to take this crap. I'm paying for this, after all.
The last notion soured her mood even more. Her eyelids drifted close again when she heard rustling beside her. Penny sat up and looked over.
He was beautiful. Over six feet, blonde, linebacker…no, running-back frame. Oblivious to the sharp looks from the other students in the row as he shuffled to the empty seat beside Penny, he made no effort to be discreet as he shrugged noisily out of his jacket and then pulled out a coffee thermos and textbook.
"What'd I miss?" he whispered, leaning over to her.
Penny flashed him her best smile, and angled her ancient laptop over so he could glance at the screen.
"Yeah, I figured." He took a sip of coffee. The scent hung in the air. It smelled so delectable, Penny could almost taste it. Preferably, from those lips.
Thanks to her new companion, she managed to stay awake for the rest of class, though she didn't type another bit of notes. Instead, daydreams of cheering at football games (he would find her in the stands and sweep her off her feet, of course), romantic walks through the quad, steamy nights in his frat house…
"—paper will be due tomorrow by 9 am. My office is #301 in this building. Thanks."
Snapped from her reverie, Penny straightened as she tried to sort through what the TA just said. "What?!" she exclaimed, drawing the glances of several people around her.
The student on the other side of Penny regarded her apathetically as she eased her book bag onto her shoulders. "The research paper that was assigned three weeks ago. It's due tomorrow."
Penny whitened. "And we were notified about this?"
The girl gave her an irritated scowl. "Yeah. Three weeks ago."
In what felt like slow motion, Penny blinked and tried to absorb the panicked feeling running through her. It had to be a mistake. A horrible dream. She was certain that she had never heard anything about a research paper…
But you skip this class more than any other, her pesky conscience reminded her.
She glanced over and saw her coffee-running-back crush typing away on her laptop.
"What are you doing?"
He clicked the mouse and shrugged. "Sending the notes to myself."
Penny brows knit. "But those were my notes."
"And I'll appreciate them." His flashed smile held all the arrogance of someone who was accustomed to people (like her) giving into his every wish. Before she could come up with a retort, he stood up and in the process, knocked his coffee thermos over onto her laptop. Penny stared in horror as the steaming brown liquid seeped into the keyboard.
He swore and hastily wiped the visible liquid off with the corner of his coat sleeve. "There, no harm. Thanks again."
He left her with an open mouth, staring at the emptying lecture hall with a coffee soaked computer and no idea what to write her paper on. Only at length could Penny force herself to get up and collect her things. Thank God she did not have any shifts to cover tonight. But somehow, that really didn't make her feel that much better.
One look at the IT worker behind the desk and Penny knew that she was screwed. It was the same girl she sat next to in her earlier Gen Ed course. In fact, Penny was certain the very paper she was supposed to be working on was the same one she was interrupting for this student.
The girl looked up, clearly displeased. "Yes?"
Penny forced a weak smile and laid her laptop on the counter. "Someone spilled coffee on this, and I can't get it to turn on anymore."
The IT worker sighed, like she had heard the explanation a thousand times before.
"I really need my notes to write this paper, see," Penny added lamely.
"Let me take it back and have someone look at it." The girl begrudgingly rose and carried the laptop to a rear room. Penny stood around for what felt like hours. At length, the IT worker and her laptop reappeared.
"I'm really sorry, but the coffee probably fried the motherboard or some other essential circuitry. This is such an old model though, and most of our people aren't too familiar with it."
Penny's expression fell. "Really? But…are they sure?"
"Yeah. Maybe you could find the parts on Craigslist or Ebay, but you would be better off just buying a new one."
Penny's hope transformed into bitter frustration, and she grabbed the laptop and shoved it roughly into her bag.
"Thanks," she growled, and left the building.
Penny ambled into her apartment building, her heavy bag slung over her shoulder and another in her hands laden with groceries. It had been a rotten day, but nothing was going to stop her from burying her sorrows in a plate of scrumptious fettuccini alfredo. Maybe even a chocolate cheesecake on the side, if she felt up to it.
As she pushed open the doors, she spotted a tall, lean figure in a vintage Superman t-shirt and tan chicos pulling mail out of the box. Wait, he was one of the obnoxious nerd guys across the hall. Maybe her laptop could be salvaged after all.
Here goes nothing. "Hi, Sheldon!"
It came out a bit too perky, and he actually jumped before he looked over his shoulder and frowned at her. Actually frowned. Penny tried to bury the insult.
"Is Leonard around?" she asked. There, I don't want to see you either.
"I can neither confirm nor deny his location, as I am not in the apartment yet."
Ok, smartass. Penny's grip tightened on the bag.
"But I suspect he's at a conference tonight," her neighbor continued. He headed up the stairs without further comment, and she reluctantly followed.
Sheldon missed her sarcasm completely. "Of course. If I wasn't already so well versed in 'The Effective Field Theory of Dark Matter and Structure Formation,'" he said, "I would have gone myself."
Penny had no idea how to respond, so she stayed silent as they ascended the stairs. Out of her periphery, she watched her neighbor's movements. His tense, upright posture reminded her of a robot. In fact, almost everything, down to his occasional monotone voice seemed artificial and forced. And while she was getting a little winded by the time they climbed the third flight of stairs, Sheldon stayed completely silent. She was baffled by him.
They separated at the top of the stairs and walked to their respective apartment doors. Penny set down her grocery bag and drew in a deep breath. She'd almost rather suffer a dismal paper grade than deal with Dr. Sheldon Cooper, but as for her laptop…she didn't have the luxury of buying a new one right now.
As Sheldon pulled out his keys, Penny turned around again to regard him, drawing courage.
"Hey, you're a computer guy too, right?"
He spun around, and she didn't miss the mildly affronted look he cast her. "No, I'm a theoretical physicist. I believe we established this at our last social interaction."
Penny held in a sigh and tried again. "I mean that you know something about techy geek stuff. Being so smart and everything."
Stroking the ego appeared to have worked, as Sheldon brightened up immediately. "I do, in fact. Why?"
"My laptop won't turn on."
"Have you tried the power button?"
Of course, you– But she silenced the mental profanity and gave him another forced smile. "Yes. I even brought it to IT, but they don't seem to know what to do with it."
"Oh, they wouldn't. You'd have better luck giving the laptop to chimps at the zoo."
Penny almost laughed. "Uh, yeah. So I was wondering if you could take a look at it…and maybe get it working again?"
His eyebrow raised a fraction. "What do you have?"
"Um, it's a Mac?"
She pulled the worn titanium colored laptop from her book bag and presented it to him.
"OH, LORD," Sheldon exclaimed as he held the computer. "A Powerbook G4 circa 2001?"
"I got it on Ebay."
No, this past summer because that's all tip money would get me in a recession. Stroking his ego worked before, so she tried the same tactic. "It's a worthy challenge, right?"
Penny didn't miss the glint in his eye as her neighbor straightened. "I suppose so."
With that, he opened his apartment door, stepped in with her laptop, and shut it promptly.
"Ok," Penny said to the empty hall. She headed back to her own door, picked up her grocery bag and allowed herself a small, hopeful grin. Maybe this day would turn around after all.
2 hours later—
Penny softly knocked on the door. "Sheldon?"
"Sheldon?" she tried a bit louder this time.
Nothing. She couldn't make out footsteps. This was ridiculous. She needed that computer. Whatever wizardry that her sad laptop needed surely could have been completed by now. After all, these guys were supposed to be brilliant, right?
The door snapped open. "Good heavens! I was in the middle of a sensitive repair."
She backed up a step. "Sorry, I just wondered how things were going."
Her neighbor looked down at her from his impressive height. He was still wearing the same clothes as before, unlike herself, and his broad shoulders bore the slightly hunched over look that someone might possess after hours of leaning over something.
She tried to peer past him to see where her precious machine was in the apartment. And then she saw it, in pieces, spread over a desk.
Penny brushed past Sheldon. "Oh my God! What happened?"
The physicist's lips flattened. "I didn't break it further, if that's what you're wondering."
"Could have fooled me!"
"How else do you expect me to evaluate the dismal state of its components?"
Her irrationality made glaringly apparent, Penny brushed a hand through her hair and sighed.
"But…my notes. I have to do this paper," she stammered, still in disbelief at seeing her laptop's guts strewn over the desk.
"Then I propose finding alternative methods."
She brightened. "Can I use your computer?" Maybe she wouldn't have her notes, but at least she would be close to her apartment and her dissected laptop. To sweeten the deal, she tilted her head and puffed out her chest a fraction, which was displayed well in the tight, low cut camisole she wore. Hypocrite. Penny blocked out the nagging voice.
Despite her blatant machinations, Sheldon stood firm. "No one touches my computer."
Penny didn't even attempt to argue. Her wounded pride and frustration hit boiling point.
"Fine! Then I guess I have to go to the library." She was hoping to guilt him, but Sheldon was already seated at the desk again and appeared to have forgotten her presence.
Penny returned half an hour later, her cheeks bright red.
Sheldon looked up. "Back already?"
"The library's closed. The sign says extended hours are only during finals."
"Well, of course."
"Wait, you knew?"
He set down the soldering iron. "Yes."
He frowned at her. "I'm using my considerable skill to repair your decrepit machine. Expletives are hardly appropriate or conducive to your current situation."
Penny stepped forward, her finger pointed at him. "You knowingly wasted my time by letting me head out there, and all because you wouldn't share your computer? What about my assignment?!"
"The paper should have been completed weeks ago."
"I don't care! I had things to do! Bills to pay!"
Excuses Penny, and you know it, her conscience reminded her. In a moment, every disapproving look, every forced happy smile she received when she had shared her lofty dreams came back to haunt her. She was Penny from Nebraska. Girls like her dated the quarterback and worked in jobs where your body, not mind, made you money. She saw that same look in her uncle's eyes. And she saw it now in Sheldon's.
Tears threatened to well over. She barely knew her neighbor, and despite his appalling bedside manner, he was helping her. He was the only one willing to help her.
"I'm so sorry…I just…I'm sorry." She ran out of the apartment and into her own. For the first time in a long time, Penny allowed herself to cry.
A/N: xoxo to all the reviewers and readers! You're the reason I got this out quickly (and yes, this is quick for me)! ;)