She isn't ready.
Penny recognizes that lurching feeling in her stomach all too well. She's sitting at another audition, the fifth (sixth?) in a week and a half. After years of this cycle, she's grown accustomed to that sense of not being good enough, but it doesn't mean she likes it.
Honestly, she's tried changing. She wants nothing more than to find her place, to finally move forward from where her feet have been glued. But she's always staring at that script in her hands, eyes lazing over words she's memorized eight times over.
Sometimes she screws up. Skips a couple words, loses her place; drops an accent; mind goes totally blank. Sometimes she does perfectly, and she feels like she deserves an award, but the casting directors never seem to think she deserves any more than sleazy pick up lines and attempts to peek up her skirt.
Her name is called. Penny rises, straightens her skirt, and walks forward, like she hasn't already given up on this audition and all the ones after it.
She's a damn good actress.
The first time she finds out that she's a good actress, she's in a play in third grade. She gets the part she wanted, and not just because she's got pretty blonde hair or because her family's lived on that farm for four generations. She gets it because she's good at something.
For weeks, she's dancing on air. Her brain might as well have been made of cotton candy. Penny has found her heaven on earth.
That sound of applause is better than any drug she could imagine, even when she's trying them all in high school. She can always remember the taste of that first performance, remember the way her hands shook as she took her bow. The sheer adrenaline.
She wastes most of her twenties trying to replicate that experience, that incredible high.
Penny will never forget that incredible high the first time she walked down that high school hall, her stomach squirming. To her surprise, the boys—even the juniors—gape and grin at her. "She's something," they breathe.
In her family, being something really meant something. She isn't just a fade-into-the-background girl. Oh, no. Penny is a spotlight stealer.
She revels in the feeling day after day. It doesn't matter that she brings home Bs and Cs that soon drop to Ds and Fs. Her parents look over it with a smile. After all, she's a girl, a pretty blonde girl. She's not meant to get by on intelligence.
Finally, she lets go that feeling of unworthiness. That insecurity that had plagued her for years as report card after report card read something to this effect:
"If she would try, she could really be something, but Penny isn't interested in the work."
They didn't know that she did try. She kept that a secret but now, in that glorious high of high school, she doesn't have to try any longer. It's enough to be a set of nice legs and a charming smile, enough to be the queen of popularity.
So she basks in her own sunlight for awhile.
Her first real boyfriend is named Jack, and he is everything she's ever wanted. Privately, she calls him her sunshine; her little patch of California in the midst of bland Nebraska.
Penny's always wanted to go there. California, that is. The land of the (pop) stars and the sea. Her parents gently laugh at this dream every time she brings it up. "Sweetie, you're too young."
"You're too precious to us."
"You're too pretty. It would be dangerous."
Secretly, she thinks they mean that she can't do it. She isn't responsible. She can't control herself. Even more secretly, she thinks that they might be right.
She settles for just kissing Jack in the back of his pickup truck, but she doesn't let go of her dreams. They cross her mind every time his light stubble brushes her cheek. Her heart leaps, and she's not sure if it's at the thought of his bright green eyes or those Hollywood lights.
Penny decides that it doesn't matter.
Sometimes Penny feels like it should bother her that Sheldon's so different, but it doesn't really matter. She can't bring herself to care.
Every time that one of her silly friends laughs at something he says (that wasn't really meant to be funny) or asks her covertly "Is this guy for real?", she remembers the earnest look in those blue eyes. That absolute trust that he has in her.
She just smiles that big Nebraska smile and says, "As real as the Higgs-Boson."
None of them ever know what she's talking about, but that doesn't matter, either.
It's easier to see what does matter. The gifts he gives her—and not just for "Saturnalia", either. Sheldon does not give easily or naturally, so for him to willingly give her so much of his time, attention...
So much of his love.
Well, it almost defies understanding. She nearly giggles at herself. Her boyfriend must be rubbing off on her. "Oh well," Penny sighs aloud, eyes lighting up like a firework high in the sky. "It must be love."
"Love is patient," she reads, eyes flitting over a friend's Facebook status. Penny snorts and tosses her long blonde hair. She's been growing it out, and it looks pretty good if she says so herself. "Whoever wrote this obviously never dated Sheldon Cooper." She clicks out of the window and spins around in her chair.
It isn't like she's unhappy with her life. In fact, she's the happiest she's ever been. Her job is awesome—and flexible, which is great because she never has to miss Halo Night. She's making more money than she's ever seen before, and she's doing what she loves. To say that Penny is unhappy would be a boldfaced lie. She's exuberant about her life and the possibilities.
She's just maybe a little fed up with her S.O. at the moment. And who wouldn't be, if you'd been dating for years and consistently dropped hints about finally wanting to settle down and the stupid brilliant genius kept refusing to pop the question?
Nobody, that's who.
She'd never pegged herself for the marrying type. Not that she had expected to stay single forever, but just that she'd never thought she'd be one of those girls practically doing a jig from anxiety. She'd known several in her time: the kind of girl who had her wedding planned out from the time she was fifteen, right down to the monogrammed napkins. Nope, not Penny. Her dreams involved fame and fortune, and maybe a few male models, too.
But things were different now. She can't help but want that last thing, the final piece of him to have and to hold. Hey, she was allowed to be a little bit ABC-Family-movie now and then.
She glances back down at her desk (working at home rocks more than she could have ever expected) and frowns. A Post-It note is stuck to her untouched coffee mug, which she only now notices is even there. On it, in plain but careful writing:
"Penny, I would like to cordially invite you to dinner tonight. Dress is semi-formal. You may find it advisable to convey your camera, as well. If you have expended your batteries, replacements may be found in the third drawer of your desk, counting from the top. Sheldon Cooper, PhD."
She snatches it up and grins. Now this is the kind of thing she's been waiting for.
Penny takes a deep breath. She's gotta do this right—it's the thing she's been waiting for, well, pretty much forever. This is the one test that she really studied for. She's got a lot on the line.
When she steps out of the DMV, shaking her brand spanking new drivers' license, she could almost cry for joy. Penny's head is spinning, and she's a little dizzy—in the good way, like the buzzed-after-a-couple-drinks way instead of drunk-off-her-ass. It's exhilarating, it's freeing, it's redeeming, it's every other positive word she learned in English Lit that she can dredge up from her mind.
Tonight, the road is hers.
From this moment on, she can't be restrained. Penny is no longer a caged animal, bound to routine and expectations. She runs toward the transformation and embraces it, slipping out her window every night and going where she pleases.
She kind of understands why the coyotes howl. It's like a celebration. At this profound thought, she pushes back her hair and just drives.
It's such a relief to just be.
It takes a while, but when it happens it's incredible. Penny is sitting on the couch in 4A, as calm as can be, and suddenly a wave of relief washes over her. She nearly chokes on the feeling. "This is home," she says, not even realizing that her thoughts are out loud.
All of the boys turn to her with quizzical expressions. Sheldon is the first to speak. "No, you live in the other apartment."
She shakes her head fervently. "No, no, no. I mean…California is home. And you guys are home."
They look blank.
"I just…thought it was important to say," she mumbles, feeling kind of silly. A strand of hair falls into her face. Sheldon brushes it away with surprising tenderness.
Leonard gives her a smile, and within seconds so do Raj and Howard. "I'm glad," Leonard tells her earnestly.
They settle back into their respective seats and get on with their lives.
She is so ready.
Penny doesn't recognize this feeling. It's somewhere between butterflies and falling in love, between a high and an accomplishment. She's got kind of both. It's her first interview, but she has a good feeling about it.
They call her up and talk. The interviewer is male, late forties. Maybe a couple of years ago she would have tried to get away with flirting her way into the job, but she's above that. Instead, she coolly hands him the resumé. His eyes scan it quickly.
"You can call me Penny," she says pleasantly.
"Penny," he corrects. "I think we'd be thrilled to have you on as manager. To be honest, I already had you in mind. I saw that play you directed a couple of months ago, from Lady Macbeth's perspective? Very impressive."
She means it, and when she bounces out of the interview she's nearly giddy. Penny fumbles her phone out of her purse and texts her boyfriend.
"got the job!"
The response is quick.
"The additional exclamation points are redundant. Congratulations, Penny. I'm hardly surprised."
She smothers a smile and slams the car door. It's nice to be more than an actress.
End Notes: I chose this title because consonant music sounds pretty and stable, but it often lacks the impetus to move forward. Consonance is a sound of resolution, and without conflict, it seems meaningless.
Penny/Career is my second OTP, just so you know.