Author's Note: Set in season 4, pre-Priya. Will be eventually Leonard/Penny.
"Penny?" the receptionist asked. "Ms. Reichard will see you now."
Penny gathered her things and walked into Ms. Reichard's office. She was the most feared agent in Hollywood: if the tabloid magazines were to be believed, she'd literally thrown a client out of her office for taking a role she deemed to be beneath them. The rumor said that the client was in traction for four days and broke both arms in the fall, and had moved back east to go to law school - "less stress."
Her disbelief of the rumors aside, she still wasn't one hundred percent sure why she had even accepted the appointment offer. There had been a time in the not-so-distant past when she had been content with her old agent, despite the fact that her old agent was a stack of computer printouts under her bed. And then someone came into work one day and offered her an appointment and here she was, standing in front of Harriet Reichard's office door. This was an opportunity most people would die for - and that wasn't always just a figure of speech. She shifted her feet back and forth as she knocked on the doorframe. "Hello?"
"Come in, dearie."
Penny sat down, placed a copy of her resume - thin though it was, it was still more than she'd had in the past - on top of the desk and crossed one leg over the other. The lady in front of her didn't appear to be any more intimidating than her great-aunt who lived in Kearney and sent her hand-knit sweaters and ginger snaps for Christmas every year. "I'm Harriet Reichard," the lady said, extending her hand for a handshake. "And you would be?"
"I'm Penny -"
The phone cut her off. "Pardon me, but I'll have to take this." She picked up the phone. "I'm with a client. Don't interrupt me again unless there's a fire or something equally as earth-shattering." She slammed the phone back on the receiver. "Anyway, where were we?"
"I was introducing myself."
"Right. Penny. That doesn't have quite the 'star power' of my other clients."
"Don't you represent John Doe?"
"And everyone knows his name! We need something that screams 'This is a rising star! Look at her shine!' We need something where your name will be on the tip of everyone's tongue. And Penny - what did you say your last name was, again? Oh, it doesn't really matter. Your name is just too plain. You're doomed to be in community theater the rest of your life."
Penny felt her blood run cold, and she had the feeling that if she could see herself in a mirror, there would be very little color in her face. "So what do you suggest I do?"
"Two words, dearie: stage and name. Come up with a good one and you'll be as golden as your hair. Do you really think Vin Diesel would be as remembered if he was billed as Mark Vincent?"
"It doesn't really matter. After all, he's more famous than either of us - although you have the chance to eclipse him, if you take my advice."
Penny looked out the window and saw a billboard for a restaurant that had recently opened nearby. "Um, well, what about Hasting?"
"Hasting? You're not a Cher, dearie. You're barely even an early Marie Osmond."
"No, like Penelope Hasting."
"Now that is something we can work with. My 2:45's waiting for me, but I'll call you within the next few days if I find anything. Good day."
"Good day?" Penny replied, walking out of the office. It almost seemed like it had gone well, but maybe it hadn't. Either way, it was more work than she'd done on her acting career in a long time, other than the weekly voice lessons from the girl at work who had been on one of those American Idol-like shows once, and the occasional perusal of casting agency websites.
As she made her way up the stairs after the appointment, she mentally went through the things she needed to do before work: change into her uniform, call the leasing office and ask them to send someone up to check on her leaky drainage pipe, and - her thoughts were momentarily distracted when she arrived at her landing. She could tell the guys about the meeting.
She knocked at the door, tapping her foot as she waited. The door opened a crack, and she saw Leonard's glasses looking back at her; he opened the door the entire way and said, "Oh, hey, Penny."
Silently, she was thankful that it hadn't been Sheldon to answer the door. "Hey, Leonard. Can I come in?" she asked.
He stepped aside and motioned for her to come in. "Sure, go ahead."
"Anyone else here, or is it just you?" she asked, as she walked in and sat down on the couch. She watched as Leonard shut and locked the door, and then joined her in sitting down.
"Just me," he said, "God knows where Sheldon is, but I'm not complaining."
She twisted her hands and fingers around each other before proceeding. "Can I tell you something I haven't told any of the others?"
He leaned forward - his face showed signs of interest - and said, "Of course. You can tell me anything."
"I," she paused for a moment, scooting closer to the edge of the couch cushion, "I went to see a new agent today."
"How did it go?"
"Well, she wanted me to get a stage name, because my name is too plain or something like that. I don't know."
Leonard rolled his eyes. "Penny isn't plain at all." A minute or so passed in silence, before he continued. "What did she want your stage name to be?"
"Actually, it was more my last name she had issues with, but she let me make my own name." She threw her hands up in the air. "Introducing: Penelope Hasting!"
He barely suppressed a laugh. "Hasting? Like the battle?" The look on Penny's face was serious; there was no smile, just a thin-lipped expression and a pointed glare. He moved on. "Well it is catchy, so I'm sure it'll help you get noticed for more parts, at least!"
Her glare softened. "It was on the billboard outside the building! I couldn't think of anything catchier besides 'Kaley Cuoco' and that name's already taken."
"Whoa! Okay, okay! I'm sorry," he said, putting his hands up defensively. "I didn't mean to bruise your ego, Miss Hasting." He put his hands down and put up a tentative smile. "It's a good name, honestly."
She laughed and shook her head a little. "I just hope Hollywood agrees with you. I could really use a good part right now; sometimes I wonder if I'm stuck being Penny, the Cheesecake Factory waitress."
He looked at her, and his smile shifted from tentative to sincerely. "Hollywood would be stupid not to agree with me," he said, as he shifted positions to face her more directly. "Then again, it is Hollywood we're talking about here." He hesitated for a brief moment. "I have faith in you, Penny. You'll get a ton of successful parts and be a famous actress and while you're accepting your Oscar or whatever, I'll be sitting on my couch, praying I get a shout-out and being sorely disappointed when you forget all us little people."
Penny felt herself nearly tearing up. "Your faith in me is encouraging, Leonard," she said, gnawing at her lower lip. "And how could I ever forget you - I mean, how could I forget the 'little people' as you called you guys? You've all been such a major part of my life these past few years. I could never forget that."
He laughed. "Oh, please. Soon, you'll make tons of new actor and actress friends and us science geeks will be a thing of the past." Smiling, he continued, "It was a sweet thing to say, though."
"I have to get parts for that to happen. Harriet - that's my agent - said that she'd give me a call in a few days to let me know if she found anything."
He nodded in acknowledgment. "Good luck, Penny. Tell me when you find out."
"You'll be the first one I tell."
"If I can't be the first, at least do me the favor of putting me before Sheldon?"
She laughed. "Definitely." Her laugh turned to a frown. "Oh, crap. I switched shifts with Bernadette to go to the meeting, and I almost forgot I had to get ready for work. I should go do that."
They stood up in near unison, and Penny shoved her hands into her front pants pockets. "You do that. It was nice talking to you; thanks for telling me about the meeting. Good luck with everything."
"Anytime, Leonard." She walked over closer to him and extended her arms, seeking the feeling of his arms wrapped around her. He opened his arms to her and pulled her into a gentle hug - close, but not too close, much as their relationship had been in recent times. She rested her chin on his shoulder and murmured under her breath, "I've missed this," closing her eyes and soaking in the feeling.
Leonard smiled, and replied, "Me too." He closed his eyes, and for a moment, everything between them seemed as though it was as it should be, before he broke away. "You give good friendly hugs, you know that?"
"You do too. Listen, don't let Sheldon give you too many problems tonight, okay?"
"You do realize it's Sheldon you're talking about, right? It's not like I have any choice in the matter?"
She grinned. "Still. See you, Leonard." She walked over to the door, and he accompanied her.
The brief walk back to her apartment was punctuated by a stop in the hallway to turn around and look back, only to see that the door had been shut behind her. She sighed and made her way back to her place, preparing for another long night of screaming kids and people who didn't realize that they served more than just cheesecake.
And inside the apartment she had just left, Leonard was trying not to read too much into the motions of the hug and what it meant for his feelings about her and her feelings about him, but she had no way of knowing that.
"Miss Hasting? It's Harriet, and I have some news for you."
"You got me an audition?" She put down the tai chi flier she'd been looking at and focused intently on the voice on the other end of the line.
"It's for a major film studio's top secret project. They want a fresh face for one of the major roles, and the casting director liked your look."
"That's great! Thank you!"
"Go to the Whitley Theater. Wednesday at 11. Ask for Keely. Good luck, dearie, but I know you won't need it."
"Isn't it bad luck to -" she started to say, before she realized that the call had been disconnected.
Her first instinct was to run across the hall and tell Leonard - okay, and Sheldon and Raj and Howard if they were there, but specifically Leonard - about the news. But "top secret" - that seemed to indicate that it should all be hush hush - but did that apply to the four people she saw the most frequently, or just the motion picture industry? It wasn't like one of those groups was intimately involved with the other.
She took the chance. Knock. Knock. "Anyone there?" she said through the door. "Sheldon? Leonard? Hello?"
There was no response.
She went back into her apartment and, after looking through her kitchen, poured herself a glass of cheap grocery store wine. "To top-secret major studio projects," she said, toasting an imaginary second glass in mid-air before knocking back half the glass in one large gulp.
-to be continued-