Chapter Thirty: Rules of Engagement
As nervous as Sheldon had been about going with her to the wedding, it was Amy who wanted to call the whole thing off once they got into the car to leave. After slipping the key into the ignition, she couldn't seem to make her hand switch the engine on. She could only stare down at her fingers, curled around the mechanism, but frozen and unmoving.
"I know what you're thinking."
She turned to Sheldon sitting next to her in the car. "You do?"
He nodded with the confidence of a wizened sage. This left her wary. After all, Sheldon was rarely aware of everything she was thinking.
"You're nervous," he pronounced.
The hand dropped away from the ignition switch and into her lap. Could I have been wrong about him or is he just getting better at this kind of stuff? "Yes."
"You think I won't make a good impression because of my … difficulties in navigating social situations."
Somehow, his being wrong made her feel better. She wasn't sure why. Maybe it was the comfort of knowing him so well and him trying so hard to bring comfort to her.
His eyes scanned her face, desperately trying to read her and, from his frustrated expression, failing miserably. "Amy, I want you to know that I recognize the significance of this rite of passage in our relationship." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "And I am prepared for any eventuality. I won't fail you in this."
"No, Sheldon, that isn't it at all. I'm not worried about you. You'll do fine," she rushed to assure him.
"Of course I will," he said, settling back into his seat. "I have all of the qualifications required to be a desirable suitor for one's daughter. I'm brilliant, fiscally responsible, highly educated, gainfully employed, and have no criminal record. Moreover, my body and face are both aesthetically pleasing and free of genetic mutations and anomalies. In fact, according to my research, I'm quite a catch."
"Really?" she asked, biting her lip to keep from laughing.
"Yes. According to one article I read, women 18-45 listed the top sought after male traits as blue eyes, a sense of humor, a shapely gluteus maximus, and an accent . You, my girl, hit the jackpot because I have all of the above." He grinned at her, looking extremely pleased with himself.
Amy couldn't help the giggle that escaped. At a time like this, his arrogance was both ridiculous and charming.
He frowned. "You don't agree?"
"No. I mean yes, I do agree," she hastily said. "However, what accent do you have that is going to captivate my relatives?"
He leaned in and drawled, "A Texan one."
The way his tongue stretched his vowels for everything they were worth made her heart skip a beat and sent a shiver of pure lust down her spine. Best of all, her nerves were waylaid—for a few seconds at least.
"What about what happened yesterday morning? Aren't you concerned that is going to strain relations with my parents?"
"Is that what you were worried about?"
She nodded. "My parents, especially my mother, can be … difficult. She and I do not have the best relationship. Never have, actually. Dad says it's because we're alike. I don't agree. I think it's the opposite. No matter what I do, I never seem to be able to live up to what she wants me to be. She criticizes me constantly. When I was younger, I tried to be what she wanted, but it just never really worked. It was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Finally, I got to a point where I would just escape to my aunts' house. They have this big Victorian about two hours from my parents. In the summer, I practically lived with them. Aunt Flora set up experiments with me in the back yard, Aunt Cora introduced me to Jane Austen, and Aunt Dora helped me to understand that it was OK to be myself. But, by the time I went away to college, I couldn't take my mother's criticisms anymore. I started fighting back. That only seemed to escalate things. Now, with what happened yesterday morning, it's going to be worse than ever and I'm worried you'll be stuck in the middle of a warzone."
He watched her a long time, seeming to consider his words before he spoke. "Meeting your parents in person under yesterday's conditions was not ideal, but you aren't alone anymore, Amy Farrah Fowler. You have me now, and I like you just the way you are."
She smiled. "I like you just the way you are, too."
"I know. I'm a catch. We've already covered that," he said. "However, family can be difficult in even the best of circumstances. It is a cross the truly brilliant particularly must bear. I shudder to think what would happen if I took you to Texas. The Coopers are not the most couth of families." His mouth twisted in distaste before he looked back at her. Something in her expression had him lifting a hand to run it over her cheek. "It's only three days. We shall endeavor to make the best of it. As Meemaw always says, 'When life delivers one nothing but sour citrus fruits, one must add copious amounts of sucrose and formulate a refreshing summertime beverage'."
Amy relaxed into his touch. "She sounds like a wise woman."
"She is, and thankfully, she's not a Cooper by blood, which explains a lot. I hope to introduce her to you one day."
Her heart melted. He wanted her to meet his precious meemaw, a true honor considering the high esteem in which he held the woman. "I look forward to it."
"Good. Now start the car. We have a long drive ahead of us, and we're already ten minutes behind schedule."
She turned back to the steering wheel, but her hand halted again as she reached for the keys. This time, it was curiosity instead of nerves that had her pausing. "Sheldon, what did you mean when you said you had prepared for any eventuality?"
"Glad you asked." Unbuckling his seatbelt, he reached into the backseat and pulled a large, white three-ring binder from a bag, which he then plopped into his lap. "I meant this."
Amy just caught the title "Fowler Family Facts" on the cover before he opened the binder and began to comb through items. There were pictures and long lists of information set up into bullet points.
"What is that?"
"As you know, I like to be prepared. When I decided to make you my girlfriend, I realized that there would be a time when you would expect me to meet your family in person. Therefore, I put together this binder which houses every scrap of information I have gathered about your family—either from details you have relayed to me, things you have told Penny which she then told me, or facts gleaned from social media and the lot. This way, I could review the data and know the best way to approach your loved ones conversationally and, therefore, make a good impression."
He flipped to the front page. "For example, I know your mother once held the post of archivist at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. That is where she met your father. She quit after they married and got pregnant with your sister Emily. They moved to Orange County shortly after you were born. She started working at the Orange County Public Library when you were two and now holds the post of head administrator there. She loves pearls, the color green, the music of Barbara Streisand, and shopping at Target."
"I never told you that last part. How did you know?"
"Because every time you've had to procure a present for her, it always has at least two of those traits. If you were to ever find a Barbara Streisand album covered in green pearls at Target, I believe you would be very happy."
She laughed. He was right. Sheldon, however, didn't stop there.
"Your father is a prize-winning, amateur gardener who seems to favor roses and bad '80s American television shows featuring Farrah Fawcett. I was not able to uncover his former occupation. What is that by the way? You never said."
She blushed and looked away, hoping he wouldn't notice her supreme discomfort. "It doesn't matter. He likes nature and is a gardener now. What else did you learn? The depth of knowledge you have managed to procure is fascinating."
Sheldon, of course, was keen to show off and immediately dove back in. "Charles Fowler is 62-years-old, his birthday is January 23, and he is originally from Hammersmith outside London. His father died before you were born so you never met him. Your paternal grandmother is still living, but rarely comes to America. Your father always takes Fig Newtons with his tea when he visits you."
She opened her mouth to ask how he knew this, but he stopped her. "You always have an unopened package in the cabinet next to the refrigerator—the one that you rarely use. Plus, you dislike Fig Newtons for the same reason I do."
He paused as they said in unison. "Crumbs."
Then, he continued on. "Your mother, your aunts, and oldest sister all share an allergy to fig and, to my knowledge, Harper has never once visited your apartment. Therefore, by process of deduction, this has to be a treat you reserve for when your father visits you."
"You're amazing," she said, gazing at him in awe. All those things she'd told him all these years. He had been paying attention. Of course, she knew his eidetic memory helped. But this was still pretty spectacular stuff. And to know he had been cataloging and saving it because he knew he would one day meet her parents, it was overwhelming.
She leaned forward, cupping his face as she pressed her lips against his.
"Amy, we can't—" he started before she cut him off by deepening the kiss. Angling her head, she took advantage of his surprise to capture his lips, rubbing them against her own as she lightly stabbed at his mouth with her tongue. It didn't take him long to catch up to her, widening his jaw as his tongue flicked out to lick at hers. Her mouth was flooded with the taste of peppermint toothpaste and pure lust.
She moaned and wrapped her arms around his neck. But, before she could get lost in the kiss again, Sheldon was breaking away. He pulled at the hands around his neck, disengaging them and returning them to her lap.
When she looked up in confusion, he said, "Get ahold of yourself, woman. We don't have time for that right now. At this rate, we're going to be late."
Amy sighed. He was right. Damn him. "Sorry," she murmured.
"You should be," he chided. "This is why I held off on taking our relationship to a physical level for as long as I did. Passion tends to cloud things quite quickly."
It was Amy's turn to chide. "That's why? Really?"
Sheldon's cheeks flooded with color. "I-i-it might have been a few other reasons as well."
"Are you sorry we did it?"
"Of course not. It just adds a complicated facet to things is all. I am still learning the art of balancing my life and actions in how you stimulate me intellectually with my life and actions in how you stimulate my …" His blush intensified as he trailed off and fiddled with the edge of one of the pages in the binder.
"How I stimulate your …?" Amy prodded with a secret smile. She loved seeing him like this, loved the knowledge that she could get under his skin so easily.
He mumbled something that sounded like "loins" but she couldn't be sure. Since she was enjoying this too much, she asked him to repeat it.
His eyes darted up to her as he scowled. "You know what I said."
"Doesn't mean I don't want to hear it again," she purred.
His scowl deepened as he gave a delicate shudder. "Stop that. You know how you affect me, woman. Isn't it enough that your lush form and supreme intelligence make me want to constantly have my way with you?" He stared out the window, more intent on showing he was offended than being actually offended. An obvious ploy to get her to drop the subject. "Must you add to my torment by forcing me to admit my salacious desires aloud again and again?"
"Yes." She reached over to deliver a rapid peck to his cheek. "Consider it payback for all the years you made me wait to have my way with you, cuddles."
He shot back around at her. "You are not allowed to call me that in front of your relatives. Rule Two."
"Rule Two?" Amy asked. "What Rule Two? We have rules?"
Flipping the binder to the back, he pulled a long, white paper from the back pocket. "Yes. I was going to wait to go over this with you later as you seemed so distracted and worried, but we may as well do it now. Even though we do not have a formal relationship agreement any longer, I refuse to have anarchy this weekend. Too much is riding on this. Therefore, I took the liberty of developing a set of rules and guidelines of how we are to behave for the next three days. As you understand the customs and dictates of Fowler familial gatherings, I expect you will have some to add as well."
Amy took the sheet from him, scanning it. He made rules? It's Sheldon, she thought. Of course he did. She only got as far as Rule Three before she had to protest.
Rules of Family Fowler Engagement
1. The boyfriend shall be respectful and polite to all relatives at all times. He shall engage in tedious activities like small talk, handshaking, and smiling as appropriate. Hugs, however, can and should be avoided at all times— particularly with those who are ill, clearly lacking in intelligence, or in any way infirm.
2. The boyfriend and girlfriend shall refrain from using any kind of endearment, nickname, pet name, or other type affectionate designation outside of a birth name and/or occupational/educational title while in public or in the company of relatives during the course of the weekend.
3. No kissing, hugging or other physical congress shall occur between the boyfriend and girlfriend during this period of time. Light hand-holding is permitted, but only if agreed to in advance by both parties. Hanky panky is strictly prohibited.
"'Hanky panky'?" she asked.
The scowl was back. "You know what that means. Everyone knows what that means. Besides, your mother insisted. Do you remember?"
Amy released a pent-up breath. "Yes, and I must say the idea of you agreeing with her in any way leaves me decidedly unsettled."
"It's important I make a good impression with your family members. Do you not agree?"
"Good. This will, at the very least, make your mother happy, which will, in turn, make the entire weekend a more pleasanter experience for everyone."
"We're staying at my aunts' house. It's huge. Plus, Mom and Dad will be at their house. They'll never know what we do. I never got a chance to sneak around with boys in the middle of the night. That was always Harper and Emily." She leaned over and waggled her eyebrows at him seductively. "You can help me knock out a few teenage fantasies."
"Amy." That was all he said, but his disapproval and stubborn unwillingness to budge on this issue still managed to be conveyed.
"Fine," she said, hating how much she knew he was right. Getting caught romping with her boyfriend was the last thing they needed right now.
She swiftly perused the rest of the rules. It was the usual Sheldon stuff, but with a few surprises along the way. In fact, unlike other formal documents they'd had between them, this one was harder on him than her. It seemed like he'd identified every one of his issues—or at least any one that might have offended someone in the past—and made sure they wouldn't be a problem this time. All in all, she really couldn't complain.
"Do you have anything to add?" he asked once she looked back at him.
"Yes, my father's going to quiz you. It's what he does with all men his daughters bring home. He'll get you alone, and there won't be anything to be done except for you to answer the questions to the best of your ability."
"Questions? What kind of questions?"
"I don't know. It's something he devised way back when Emily started dating. He calls it 'The Boyfriend Test'."
All of Sheldon's confidence from before was immediately blown away. "What if I don't pass? Do I have to leave? Will we have to stop seeing each other?"
"Sheldon, I'm an independent woman in my thirties. They can't make me stop seeing you. Don't worry. It's just my father's way of sizing men up and seeing what they're made of. It's really not that big a deal. I'm sure you'll do fine."
"And if I don't?" he yelped, obviously ignoring her "independent woman" comment.
"Calm down. Bruce, Harper's fiancée, apparently did lousy, and they're getting married tomorrow. You'll be fine."
He nodded, seeming to mull this over in his mind.
"Emily's boyfriends used to do awful on it all the time. Actually, I think Dooley's the only one who's ever passed it, if 'passing' is the right way to phrase that."
Sheldon frowned, biting his lip as he continued to ponder. "What subjects does he cover? It's a few hours' drive to Orange County. I could use the time to study." He tapped a finger against his chin. "Horticulture probably and British history. Did you know I can name all the British monarchs back to William the Conqueror?"
"So can I, but I fairly sure those aren't the kinds of questions he'll be asking."
"What kind then?"
"I don't know. Likely those of a more personal nature. You're the first man I ever brought home. We asked Dooley about the questions one time, but he said he'd been sworn to secrecy. I don't think it matters anyway. Knowing Dad, he probably changes it up. Just be honest and be yourself."
As Sheldon already looked stressed, Amy didn't tell him about the time the Boyfriend Test had sent one of Harper's first suitors screaming from the house, never to return. "Sheldon, I wish there was some way I could get you out of it, but—"
He waved her off. "It's expected. Historically throughout literature, the hero has always had to complete an arduous test of valor in order to win the hand of the fair maiden and prove his worthiness as a man."
Amy reached over to take his hand, giving it a squeeze. "You are worthy, Sheldon."
He looked at her. "So are you."
They shared a long silence just staring at each other and smiling. Honestly, Amy felt like she could have stayed that way forever. Sheldon, however, seemed intent finishing the business side of things.
"We must leave soon. You do want to have time to change for the rehearsal dinner, don't you? Do you have any rules you want to add to the list before you sign?"
"Yes. You're required to dance at least three times at the wedding, and you have to hug Aunt Dora."
"Amy," he groaned.
"Aunt Dora is a hugger. She'll hug you whether you like it or not. And, as she is a lovely person and practically helped raise me, I refuse to allow you to be rude to her. In fact, if you are in any way rude to her, Aunt Cora, Aunt Flora or Emily's kids, you will never see hanky panky again. Feel free, however, to be rude to Harper or my second cousin Willard. He's odious."
He eyed her for a long moment, his expression calculating. "Fine, but only Dora and only once."
"One hug at the beginning, one at the end and, if she decides to kiss you on the cheek at any time, you smile and let her. Final offer."
"No! That's too much. Only Meemaw gets a hug and a kiss like that."
"I could add Aunt Flora to the mix. Have I mentioned she has loose dentures, soaks herself in White Shoulders and is amazingly fast with her walker? All the Star Wars body wash in the world won't be able to scrub that scent off. You'll never smell like a real man again."
His lips settled into a firm line. "Fine. I agree to the hug and kiss with Aunt Dora. However, in terms of the dancing—"
"If I can't have other forms of physical congress, I am definitely getting a few dances from you."
"Amy, I agreed to hand holding. You know I don't like to dance—especially in public situations," he explained.
"Dancing at weddings is a social tenet of the occasion expected of all in attendance."
"Fine," he agreed grimly.
Amy smiled, always knowing the best way to get what she wanted in an argument with Sheldon. He never stood a chance.
Sheldon snatched the page back from her and added her rules in pen at the bottom before affixing his signature. He handed the paper and pen back to her. She scribbled her own signature and returned it to him, watching as he notarized it before putting it away.
"Thank you for doing this with me, Sheldon."
She turned back to the steering wheel, having no problem starting the car this time. She'd put the car in drive and made it a few miles down the road before she spoke again. One last question that had been plaguing her since he introduced the binder, however, begged to be asked. It was better to just get it out of the way now, wasn't it?
"Sheldon?" she asked, getting on the expressway.
"If you have had these preparations ready all this time and knew you would meet my family sooner or later, why did you freak out when I asked you in the first place?"
He kept staring straight ahead. That was telling.
"Sheldon?" she verbally nudged, more curious than ever.
When he answered her, it was mumble. This time, she truly couldn't tell what he'd said. So, she asked him to repeat it. He took his time granting her request. Finally, with a heavy exhale, he clenched his eyes closed, and expelled the words from his mouth like a cough.
At first, Amy was shocked. Then, confusion reigned again. What? Where did he get that idea? Is that what he thought of her? Honestly, she hadn't thought about that in a while. There had been too much else going on. Why would he think it would be something she was thinking about now? Had she misheard him? Yes, that had to be it. Nothing else made sense. The words had all jumbled together and sounded like something else.
"Sheldon," she said. "Can you say that one more time? I don't think I heard you right. Why did you freak out when I asked you to meet my family?"
"Because I knew we'd have to get engaged."