A/N 1: This is a little different fro my last story, The Cold Dish Delivery. That was written over about four days and in order. For this one I have a bunch of different scenes in my head and I'm writing them out of order, as inspiration hits. Ultimately I've decided to post it all at once rather than as chapters, though internally it is broken down that way. Initially the story included a character death, which after chewing it over I decided was unnecessary and a bit mean. In terms of characterization, with the exception of Wyatt, Penny's family is a blank page. I've read a lot of fanfic over the past couple of months and I have to admit that I was inspired by some of it. Though, to be honest, I'm not entirely sure where I got some things. If I've accidentally lifted anything from you, I'm sorry. I did it with the best of intentions and only because you inspired me. And now for the Puritans, the folks who are deathly afraid that somewhere in cyberspace Penny and Sheldon are having a good time and Leonard is an asshole. Honestly, when I started watching the show I really identified with Leonard. I cheered when he and Penny got together. But as time went on I concluded that "needy baby, greedy baby" is a pretty apt description for him. His actions in the Arctic, for which he was in a sense rewarded with Penny, were just plain wrong. But TBBT is a sitcom and I doubt we'll ever see justice done. I also think he's a self-loathing nerd. He would give up everything he supposedly loves for regular coitus with a beautiful woman. (To be honest, so would I so I can't really hold that against him. But I'd feel guilty about it.) Leonard's going to do some things that I feel are very much in character. If you don't like it, write your own damn story. This isn't a contest. We aren't influencing the writers of the show. They have a successful formula making them a bunch of money and they're not going to screw with it to satisfy a bunch of fanfic writers. At the same time, they really don't need a bunch jerks defending canon all the time. This isn't the Church of The Big Bang Theory. There are no laws. 2311 No. Robles isn't Heaven and doesn't require a bunch of tight-asses guarding the gates. As I've said before, this is all make-believe. We're playing in the TBBT sandbox and inviting people to see what kind of sandcastle we can build. In the end it's just a bunch of sand.
One more thing. In my last story I implied some things were going to happen that didn't just to increase the drama. I did it because it's my story. The fact that it pissed off the Puritans…that was just gravy. I'll probably do it again because those folks are just so easy to fuck with.
DISCLAIMER: I claim ownership of nothing. TBBT, its characters and stories belong to Chuck Lorre and company and even if they sometimes take things in a direction I don't like, that's their right.
And Jim, Kaley and Johnny deserve every cent they ask for.
This story takes place post Season 6 and goes AU for Season 7. It was completely prior to the Season 7 premiere, just barely. It is not Beta-ed because I'm a professional editor and I can edit my own stuff.
The Pasadena/Omaha Inversion
Chapter One: The Pasadena Reintegration
Penny slowly climbed the stairs of 2311 North Robles. Had it really been almost eight months since she'd been home in her own apartment? She really wasn't sure what condition she'd find the place in when she opened the door. If she'd told anyone she was coming she probably could've expected Sheldon to clean the place for her. As it was, she knew that her most personal stuff, the stuff she cared most about; her care bears, her photos, her Hello Kitty stuff, was all being stored by Sheldon. The rest would be coming back from Nebraska any day now. All she really expected to find was her furniture. Her "tenant" had moved out a couple of weeks earlier, without notice of course. Sooner or later she'd have to speak to her. It was unavoidable.
The furniture was out of place and a little dusty, but it was all there. She checked the bedroom. The new mattress she'd ordered on line would arrive tomorrow. She could sleep on the couch for one night. No way would she sleep on her old mattress. Not after "she" used it. And according to what Penny heard from Sheldon, "she'd" used it a lot.
Penny left the front door open as she began to unpack her suitcases, hoping she'd have a chance to reunite with her neighbors. Even though it was going to be a bit trying, she wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. She wanted her life back, well, as much of it as she could recover.
No sooner had she begun unpacking then she heard them coming up the stairs, arguing as usual.
"Leonard, by no means do I believe that DC's New 52 is an improvement over what came before. Even though they returned Barry Allen to his proper role as The Flash, by and large the reboot has proven to be humorless and without whimsy."
"Sheldon, they are giving us heroes redesigned for the 21st Century. They are bigger, stronger, and their uniforms finally make sense. They aren't just tights anymore. Take Batman for…"
As they reached the fourth floor they saw Penny in her apartment and stopped short.
Penny saw them. It seemed like this moment had happened before.
And then they all just stood there for a minute.
Penny headed right for them. Leonard, assuming she was coming to give him a big hug of forgiveness, held his arms out, anticipating she would quickly take her place in them. But Penny went right by him and went to Sheldon and they hugged each other tightly without a word being exchanged. The hug went on for at least seven Mississippis.
"Sheldon, I'll be by to pick up my stuff later."
"Hello, Leonard." She said. And then she turned around and headed back to her waiting apartment.
Assuming that he was supposed to follow her, probably for a more private reunion, Leonard followed her, only to find the door slammed in his face.
"But we have Indian food," Leonard mumbled.
Chapter Two: The Maternal Incongruity
Almost eight months earlier
Penny came home after three days of double shifts at The Cheesecake Factory. She was exhausted. She had a bunch of messages on her phone but she was too tired to even listen to them. She closed the door behind her and headed for her shower, stripping her clothes off as she went, leaving a trail of cheesecake-scented laundry in her wake. Actually, it was the third trail of laundry she'd left. She had two days off coming to her and, if and when she woke up, she'd clean. Or maybe she'd invite Sheldon over to visit and he'd clean. It wasn't really taking advantage if it was something he loved doing.
She didn't know how long she'd slept when she was awakened by the banging on her front door. She knew it wasn't Sheldon. No signature knock. And Leonard had been in the North Sea for two months.
She opened the door.
"Hi, sweetie. Listen, your dad and I have split up. Can I stay here for awhile?"
"Um, what? Uh, yeah, I guess. What!" she mumbled, confused.
"I just decided that if you could do it, then I could do it so here I am." Her mother offered.
"Mom, your gonna have to give me a minute. I just woke up. It's friggin' SIX AM? You know I'm not a morning person. Let me throw some water on my face and make some coffee and then you can catch me up on what the hell you're doing here."
Penny went back to her bathroom, grabbing her phone along the way, and closed the door. How could this happen without her knowing anything about it. Sure enough, there were 10 messages on her phone from her sister, three from her mom and one from her dad. She started to listen to them.
"Penny, Mom served dad with divorce papers and left. Call me."
"Penny, call me."
"Penny, please call me."
"Penny, I think she's headed your way. Call me.
"Penny, I don't know why you haven't called me back, but it's important."
"Hi honey, it's Dad. Can you give me a call when you have a chance?"
"Penny, please call me. I'm not sure, but I think Daddy's been drinking."
"Penny, it's your mother. I'm coming out for a little visit. I should be there in a couple of days. Can I bunk with you for a little bit?"
"Penny, Dad's not picking up the phone. I'm heading over there."
Penny quickly called her sister.
"It's about time. Where the Hell have you been? It's like Code Red around here. Have you heard anything from Mom?"
"I'm sorry. I've been working doubles for the last three days and turned my phone off. Um, Mom's here. She just got here. What the Hell happened?"
"According to Dad, he came home after working in the north field. His dinner was warming in the oven and there was a note on the dining room table. It said; "Wyatt, I'm not happy. I haven't been happy for a while. There has to be something better. I'm leaving." The next morning a lawyer, you remember Dwight Smedley, didn't you date him a couple of times, well anyway he shows up with divorce papers. Dad's freaking out. He doesn't know what to do."
"Yeah, well, she just got here and wants to stay with me. Let me see what I can find out." And Penny hung up.
She threw some water on her face, put on a robe and headed back out to her kitchen to make some coffee and then try to figure out what the hell was going on with her parents.
Chapter Three: The Reintegration Interlude
Inside Apartment 4A, 2311 North Robles, the present.
"Okay Sheldon. Even you have to admit that was weird," said Leonard.
"Leonard, Penny has just returned to us after seven months, twenty-three days and 18 hours. She has helped her father begin to recover from his marriage dissolving, a bout of alcohol-induced melancholia and then a second bout of alcohol-induced melancholia. She then oversaw the sale of her family's farm, where she grew up. And you're upset because you believe she didn't greet you appropriately. For someone who purports to be a genius you can certainly be an idiot." Sheldon offered.
"It would seem to me in that case that she need me to be there for her even more. I'm going right back over there." Leonard insisted.
"Leonard, you were in the North Sea when she left and in touch with her sporadically after you got back. You visited her in Nebraska unannounced and thereby interfered with her father's recovery. In addition, since you returned from that ill-conceived surprise visit to Nebraska, you have dated and had coitus with a number of different women. You never accepted responsibility for your actions in Nebraska. In what universe does she owe you more than the perfunctory greeting she shared?"
"First of all, she loves me. She said so. Second of all, her father wants me to marry her. He told me that when I took him out drinking during my visit. Third, how was I supposed to know that Penny had quit drinking and wasn't allowing any alcohol in the house?"
"Leonard, you may be more myopic than your eyeglass prescription states. There is an explanation for how she is behaving but it is her explanation to make and in her own time. Please don't go over to Penny's apartment now. She said she would be over later to collect the items I have stored for her. If you really need to speak with her, please wait until then."
"And that's another thing. Why do you have her stuff? I'm her boyfriend. I should be taking care of her things."
"Leonard, I am making a Tier 1 friend request. Please allow Penny to re-enter her life with us at her own pace. She has not had an easy time. And her difficulties are not yet over. As you recall, her mother is still in the area somewhere and I am sure that there are family issues that need to worked out between the two of them. Most families deal with things in a somewhat less organized manner than yours."
"Sheldon, how do you know what's going on with Penny? You haven't seen her for longer than me."
"Longer than I, Leonard. And Penny and I do our laundry together every Saturday."
Obviously, thought Leonard, Sheldon was delusional.
Chapter Four: The Laundry Night Lifeline
Around Eight Months Ago
Penny left Pasadena for Omaha on a Tuesday. By Saturday, despite having been kept busy dealing with her dad, she was feeling homesick. She missed her friends. She missed the routine. She even missed the Cheesecake Factory. She was adrift in Nebraska and she needed to know her home was still there and what was happening with her friends. So she texted Sheldon.
"Sheldor, Wl u b doing ur lndry 2nt 8:15?"
"In English, Penny!"
"Will you be doing your laundry tonight at 8:15?"
"Of course. It's laundry night."
"Bring your laptop with you. Let's Skype."
So at 10:15pm (Omaha is 2 hours ahead of Pasadena) Penny gathered her laundry and her dad's and headed to the laundry room with her laptop. Luckily her father had installed WiFi in the house the previous year. Her nephew Paul only communicated over the computer and grandparents will do anything to stay in touch with their grandkids, even install WiFi.
"It's only been a few days Penny. How much could have changed since you left?"
"I know. But I don't want to lose track of you guys. You're really important to me. I don't want you to think I've forgotten you."
"Penny, your apartment is right across the hall. 2311 North Robles is exactly where it was when you left. Pasadena is and always has been in this location. And you know how much I eschew change. You have a lot to do. Your family needs you. We'll struggle along until you get back.
Sheldon thought for a second. He certainly didn't want Penny to think she wasn't missed. She had become an important part of all of their lives. And, after all, he missed her. She hadn't been at The Cheesecake Factory on Tuesday and his burger wasn't exactly right…
"Of course it's not the same without you. I've gotten used to the trail of chaos that follows you."
"That's nice Sheldon. You know, we don't have to keep talking the whole time. I'm comfortable just leaving Skype on while you do your laundry. I'm doing mine here, too. That way it's just like we're doing our laundry together."
Penny, we ARE doing out laundry together, albeit with 1,539.6 miles between us.
And that's what they did. Every Saturday Penny and Sheldon did their laundry together. He would catch her up with what was going on with their friends. She would tell him what was happening at the farm and how her father was doing. Since Sheldon had experience with a father who drank, he could understand some of what she was dealing with. However, Sheldon's father never willingly tried to stop drinking. Wyatt was at least trying. Sheldon's father had his mother. Penny's mother had run away.
That was a tender subject. Sheldon could tell that Penny was still angry at her mother, who was living in Penny's apartment, and for a while was even working at The Cheesecake Factory. He didn't know how much Penny wanted to know about her activities. He brought it up nervously.
"We saw your mother at The Cheesecake Factory on Tuesday."
"Sheldon, I'd really prefer not speaking about my mom. Okay, sweetie?"
So they didn't.
But they did their laundry together every Saturday. Sometimes Skyping. Sometimes texting. Sometimes on the phone. But always connected. Every Saturday. Laundry night became Penny's 0,0,0,0.
Chapter Five: The Omaha Update
Eight months ago, Penny's Apartment
Penny picked up the phone and called her father. It didn't even ring. The machine picked up.
"This is Wyatt. Leave a message."
"Dad, it's Penny. Please pick up. I've left a bunch of messages and you haven't called me back. Please call me."
Penny was getting worried. She hit her sister's speed dial.
"Hi. It's me. What's going on with Dad?"
"Penny, I'm really worried. At first he seemed upset but generally okay. Then he went out and met a couple of friends at the bar down the road. I called him later that night and he seemed okay. Sleepy, but okay. Then I heard he was at the bar the next night, too. And the next night. I went over to see him and he was asleep. In the middle of the afternoon. Do you remember him ever sleeping during the afternoon? I didn't want to wake him up so I waited. He woke up around 7. We spoke for a little while and he seemed okay. I asked him why he was going to the bar? He said he didn't feel like cooking for himself and the bar had a decent menu. Then he said he didn't appreciate being checked up on constantly and told me he was going to the bar for some supper. The bartender called me later that night and said dad fell asleep at the bar. So I went over and to pick him up and I spoke to the bartender. Dad's been spending most of his time at the bar by himself. And, Penny, the bar doesn't serve food. I'm scared. He really needs someone helping him, taking care of him and not letting him drink so much. But I've got the kids. I can't do this by myself."
"Okay, listen, it may take me a couple of days but I'll be there as soon as I can."
Chapter Six: The Departure Realization
Eight months ago, Penny's Apartment
"Mom, I don't know what you're deal is but I'm not happy with what you did to Dad and he's not doing too well with this situation. I understand you might need a few days or a few weeks to figure stuff out. While you do that I'm going home to help Dad out. I'll leave my car with you and, if you want, I'll speak to the manager at The Cheesecake Factory and maybe you can cover my shifts while I'm gone. They're kinda short on staff at the moment so I'm pretty sure he'll say yes."
"That would be nice, dear."
Penny phoned her manager and, just as she expected, he went along with her proposal. Penny prepared some notes and instructions for her mother and then Penny went across the hall to speak with Sheldon.
"Sweetie, I'm going away for a little while. My mom and dad split up and my dad isn't taking it too well. It sounds like he's been drinking. A lot. My sister has kids and can't handle taking care of my dad too so I'm going to Omaha."
"I have two questions. One, how long will you be gone? And two, more important, who will serve me my Tuesday cheeseburger?"
"Well, I don't exactly know how long I'll be gone. I know I promised Leonard I'd look in on you while he's away, but I'll call you and Howard and Bernadette promised they'd stop by. And my mom is going to be staying in my apartment and working at The Cheesecake Factory while I'm gone so she'll probably be serving you your Tuesday cheeseburger. I've already provided her with detailed instructions and if you want to draw up a contract to cover all this I'll be happy to sign it. It's just that I'm leaving tomorrow morning."
"One more thing. Would it be okay if I store a few personal things with you while I'm gone. There's some stuff I prefer my mom not see without me being there to explain it. You know, photographs and diaries and flash drives with schoolwork and other stuff like that. I know that I can trust you not to look at them."
"Fine, Penny. It seems as though you've discharged your responsibilities appropriately and though you know how I am with change, I understand how important family is. I also understand how difficult dealing with alcohol can be. I hope you aren't planning to join your father "in his cups," so to speak."
"No, sweetie. I've already decided that as long as I'm in Omaha I won't be drinking myself. I could probably use the change anyway."
"Penny, I'm sure you have a great deal to you before you leave and you will likely wait until the last minute to do it. I'll email you the appropriate paperwork and you can initial it electronically at your convenience."
The next morning Penny's mom drove her to the airport and she was off to Nebraska.
Chapter Seven: The Cooper Doppelganger Insertion
Eight months ago, Omaha, NE.
Penny's sister picked her up at the airport and dropped her off at the farm on her way to pick up her kids from school.
"Penny, I don't know what kind of state you're gonna find the house in. You know how dad is with cleaning up after himself, pretty much just like you. It's been over a week and with him spending so much time at the bar, I'm guessing the place is a wreck."
"I'll take care of it. Don't worry. Go get the kids and I'll call you later. Maybe we can all have dinner all family-like in the next couple of days."
Penny walked into the house.
"Holy crap on a cracker."
"This must be what Sheldon feels like when he walks into my place."
The place literally looked like a bomb hit it. Plates and glasses everywhere, some still with food on them. Furniture knocked over. Shelves cleared with their former contents spread all over the floor. Liquor bottles, some open, some closed, some spilled. She half-expected to find her father buried in the debris.
"Dad! It's Penny. Where are you?"
She checked around the house and he was nowhere to be found. She decided he was probably at the bar. Should she go and get him or should she start cleaning up? She decided that cleaning up was the better thing to start with. She went to the kitchen, put on some rubber gloves, and went to work.
The first thing she did was collect all of the liquor bottles. She went through every room in the house, closets too, and she was shocked at how many she collected.
This has not been going on for just a week, she thought. And from the variety and their locations she concluded that her father had not been the only one drinking. She started to regret having not done the same thing before she left her apartment to her mother.
Penny proceeded to dump the contents of every bottle down the sink in the kitchen. She rinsed all of the bottles because the house was starting to smell like a distillery. Well, she had never actually been to a distillery, but it was starting to smell like The Cheesecake Factory after a bunch of frat boys had held court. She'd make great tips but the stink was overpowering.
After she completed the liquor disposal, she started on general cleanup. She straightened out the overturned furniture, replaced the unshelved on the shelves. She knew exactly where everything belonged because it had never, ever changed. Her mom was in charge of the house and she was kind of anal about this stuff. Not Sheldon-anal, but anal. Everything had a place it belonged. It actually made cleaning up reasonably straightforward and simple. Kitchen. Living room. Den. Mom and dad's bedroom. Bathrooms. Upstairs and downstairs. She bleached and cleaned and vacuumed. Sheldon would have been proud. He wouldn't have believed it. And it wouldn't have been clean enough. But he still would've been proud of her.
She'd started at about two in the afternoon and now it was a little after one in the morning. She was ready to hop in the old pickup and go collect her father when she heard a car pull up, a door open and close and someone yell out "Sleep it off, Wyatt, and don't come back to the bar until you do." Her dad yelled something back but it was kind of garbled and she couldn't understand what he said. He hit the first step on the porch and tripped over the second one. There were only three. Penny opened the screen door to see her father sprawled on the porch. He looked like he was trying to decide whether to get up or go to sleep right there. Unfortunately, Penny remembered exactly what that felt like. And it wasn't a good memory. On the positive side, at least he was alone. And Penny had another creepy feeling.
"Penny? Wh're you doon heer?"
Hmmm. Another decision. Coffee? Shower? Bed? All of the above? She decided that she'd make him drink some water, down a couple of aspirin and go to bed. After nine hours of cleaning, she was in no mood to argue with a drunk father.
Penny then dragged her father upstairs to his bed, which now had clean sheets on it, undressed him down to his boxers and undershirt, tucked him in, turned out the light and went back downstairs.
Even though she wasn't a morning person, she decided that instead of sleeping in her old room, which seemed to have been preserved exactly as it had been when she left for California with Kurt (wow, had it been over ten years ago), she'd sleep on the sofa downstairs so she could deal with her father as soon as he woke up, which experience told her would be early. She laid down on the sofa and the day caught up with her. She began to cry and then exhaustion made her sleep.
At the crack of dawn she heard something in the kitchen. She walked in to find her father opening and closing pantry doors, looking for something he wasn't finding.
"Good morning, Dad. Whatcha doin'?"
"Penny? I didn't know you were coming to visit. Why didn't you call?" He continued searching.
"Dad, have you even checked the answering machine? I've been calling for days now"
"Been kind of busy, honey. It's kind of nippy outside. I was thinking I'd like a bit of brandy in my coffee this morning to take the edge off. Do you remember where mom keeps it?"
"Dad, do you even remember last night?"
"What about it? Just like any other nigh, I expect. Can you give me a hand looking, sweetie? Maybe I missed it."
"Dad, I know what happened with Mom. I know you've been drinking and I'm really upset about it. It's gonna stop. We're gonna deal with what's going on with you and I'm not leaving until I'm satisfied that you're handling things like I know you can."
"Penny, I'm sure your mom is probably at her sister's and she'll be back as soon as she calms down."
"Dad, Mom is at this very moment in Pasadena, working the early shift at The Cheesecake Factory and living in my apartment. According to her, she has no intention of ever coming back to Omaha."
"Mmmmm. Okay, so maybe it's gonna take her a little longer this time. Now where is the damn brandy."
"There's no brandy, Dad. There's no liquor at all. Not even beer. I dumped it all down the sink last night. I'm not gonna let you solve your problems by diving into a bottle."
"Well if it's good enough for you, it oughta good enough for me!"
That hurt. Penny began to tear up. Yeah, she had retreated to a botlle of wine on occasion. Well, on a lot of occasions. Well, almost every day. When she told Sheldon she wasn't going to drink while she was at home she really did mean it. She was only now realizing how much she really needed to mean it.
"I can't believe you said that, Dad! That's really cruel."
"Well it's true, isn't it?"
"Well, yeah, it is. But I'm gonna stop and you're gonna stop. We're gona stop together. Whatever it takes. Promise me, Dad."
Her father just stormed out of the kitchen and then out of the house. There were chores to be done around the farm and he could always go to the bar later.
"I guess I should have known it wasn't going to be that easy."
Penny put some coffee on and made herself some breakfast. She had a number of errands to run and folks to speak to. Fixing this was going to get a lot more involved.
First she went to the local church. Hers was not a church-going family. At least not with any regularity. The old pastor was always kind of judgmental and she wasn't looking forward to speaking with him. Luckily for her, he'd moved on and the new pastor was, amazingly enough, a woman. Penny introduced herself and explained why she was there. Penny got a good vibe from her and collected information about family counseling and a schedule for the AA meetings she knew were held in the basement. Her next stop was the local bar. It was a family-owned place and Penny knew the family. She hoped that would come in handy.
"Penny! As I live and breathe. Are you back for a visit? I haven't seen you in forever."
"Hi, Mr. Macklin. How's the family? I'm back for a while. I guess you know what's been going on with my mom and dad."
"Well, a bartender doesn't share what he learns in the "confessional" but yeah. Wyatt, your dad's been in here every night for a couple of weeks now drinking by himself and he's been closing the place. He's even started a couple of fights. I'm starting to think I might have to cut him off."
"Well, Mr. Mackilin, that's exactly why I'm here. Our families have known each other for a long time and I'd really appreciate it if you stopped serving my father. You know this isn't like him. I'm here to help him out and I could really use your help. If he comes in, don't let him have liquor. At all. He can have pop. Or coffee. But no liquor. If I find out he's been drinking in here, well, you do remember what I won all those ribbons for, don't you?"
"Penny, we're friends. Your father has been my friend for almost as long as you've been alive. I don't like seeing him like this any more than you do. I'll do what I can and I'll talk to the other bartenders, you remember my sons Clinton and Mikey, and I'll get them on board too. Believe me, nobody in this bar wants you going Junior Rodeo on them. Hell I want grandchildren. But you know that isn't going to be enough, right?"
"I know that, Mr. Macklin. I'm working on the other stuff. Thank you, and say hi to Clinton and Mikey. But, um, you might want to mention that I'm dating someone back in Pasadena so they don't get any ideas."
"Sure thing, Penny. And if there's anything else we can do, just holler."
And thus began the program. After a couple of weeks, without any access to liquor, Wyatt acceded to Penny's wishes and accompanied her to AA meetings twice a week. He really hadn't been drinking to excess for all that long, just a couple of months, but once he sobered up, Penny was able to convince him that it was a problem and that nothing was going to get fixed until he got a handle on that. After a month or so, Penny added family counseling to the schedule, individual for each of them and one session a week together. The new pastor was pretty cool and understanding and very non-judgmental. Things were going really well. Wyatt was running the farm. Penny was running the house. They were both making progress in counseling. And Penny was feeling really good about herself. She felt healthy. And strong. And ready to take control. Penny figured that pretty soon she'd be able to return to her life in Pasadena.
And then Leonard showed up.
Chapter Eight: The Hofstader Return
Pasadena, Four months ago
When Leonard returned from the Hawking expedition to the North Sea, he assumed he'd find Penny waiting for him. When he knocked on the door and found her mother there he was surprised. When he found out she'd been in Omaha for two months he was surprised. Why hadn't Penny said anything? What was the big secret? Then he played back their conversations over the past couple of months and realized that it never came up. She never offered up the information. Actually he never asked. Since they communicated either by Skype or over her cell phone nothing had changed. When they spoke he always updated he on what was going on on the boat and by the time they got around to her and how she missed him and how he missed her they never quite talked about what she was doing every day or where she was doing it. He assumed that she was working at The Cheesecake Factory, going to auditions where she never got the part or taking classes with hot classmates that she'd promised not to hang out with. Sheldon's emails were always perfunctory and mostly about his work. Leonard beat himself up a little bit for not realizing something was off but understood that Penny must have gone home to keep house for her dad while her parents were working out their problems long distance. It made sense.
Leonard went back to his apartment and immediately called Penny. It was 11pm in Nebraska. He woke her up.
"Hi honey. I'm home."
"Leonard! I'm so sorry I'm not there. I've missed you so much."
"I've missed you too, honey. I was expecting to find you here and I had something really special planned for the two of us. Then your mom told me you were in Omaha."
"Yeah, honey. There's been so much to do here. I have been so, so busy. But everything seems like it's almost back to normal. I should be home soon"
"Well, I'll be counting the days until we're back together. Say hi to your dad for me. I love you."
"I love you, too. Leonard. And I can't wait to see you. I'll know in a couple of weeks when I'll be able to come back."
"It's okay. I have a lot of work from the expedition that I still have to finish up so I won't really have a lot of time for a few weeks anyway. I'll call you tomorrow."
"Okay, honey. But call a little earlier. We're keeping farmer's hours here and this is literally the middle of the night and I have to get up at the crack of dawn."
"That I find hard to believe, but okay. I'll call you around 6…, that's 8 your time.
"Okay sweetie. Good night. I love you."
And once again, the reason that Penny was still in Omaha just never came up in the conversation and Leonard never noticed that it hadn't.
Chapter Nine: The Hofstader Intervention
Two months ago, Omaha
It hadn't been easy to convince her father that he had a drinking problem. Penny went about it in a roundabout way. She told him she had a drinking problem and needed his help. It was a bit of misdirection and it wasn't far from the truth. She wasn't drunk every night. Actually she wasn't drunk very much at all. But every night when she got home she had a couple of glasses of wine. She always had wine in the house. If Leonard got to the apartment before her thee was a glass poured and ready when she walked in the door. She could count on it. She depended on it. It helped her not deal with a lot of stuff. It really helped her not deal with Leonard. It really helped her not see things she really didn't want to see. That the relationship she was in with him was pretty much all about him and what he wanted…needed. She told herself that she had grown up. That she was ready for the kind of adult relationship that Leonard seemed to offer. The further away she got from drinking and from Leonard and form her friends that were so happy that they were finally back together, the clearer it became that the relationship was very much not adult at all. His mother had called him "needy baby, greedy baby" in one of her books. Penny was finally starting to see it. Leonard, in the guise of pulling their relationship forward, was actually devolving. She was about to see it more clearly than ever.
Penny had been running around all day doing some farm-related errands for her dad. She was happy to do it because the house was getting a little claustrphobic and she just needed to speak to people. To interact. She got home about 8 in the evening and was surprised to find Wyatt wasn't there. His car was there, but he wasn't. She called his cell and found it ringing in the kitchen. He didn't always remember to take it with him so that didn't ring any alarm bells. Maybe he just went for a walk. He did that to clear his head. Just to make absolutely sure she called the bar.
"Hi, Mikey. It's Penny."
"Penny, I heard you were home helping your dad. I'm surprised I haven't run into you."
"Well I've been pretty busy with stuff at the farm. Listen, you haven't seen my dad tonight, have you?"
"Penny, except for running into him in town a couple of times he hasn't been in here since you spoke to my pop a couple of months ago. Is there a problem?"
"No. Not really. He wasn't here when I got home and I thought he might have gone over there for the company. If he happens by would you have him call me?"
"Sure thing. Hey, you doing anything this weekend? A bunch of folks are coming to the bar to watch the game. Lots of folks you know. And maybe afterwards we could do something?"
"Mikey, I'm in a relationship. A serious relationship."
"Hey. I had to take a shot. No biggie. If anything changes…"
"It won't. Call me if you see my dad."
Mikey was a sweet guy. They'd gone to high school together. Dated a couple of times but it never went further than a good night peck. And the last thing Penny was ever going to do was get involved with a guy in Nebraska. Even platonically. She had enough issues with Leonard floating around in her head without his irrational jealousy popping up.
Penny was pretty sure her dad was okay. He was doing really well in counseling and he was going to AA meetings regularly without being nagged.
She went to bed but stayed up reading so she'd hear when her dad got home and could make sure he was okay.
A little after two in the morning she heard the screeching brakes of a car and then the sound of two male voices. Two drunk male voices. She went downstairs to find her father stumbling in drunk with someone else. Someone kind of short. Wearing glasses. And too much product in his hair. Leonard.
Leonard looked up and with that shit-eating grin of self assurance he sometimes flashes he yelled "Hi honey! We're home! Surprise." and stumbled forward to give her a big hug. Penny quickly moved out of the way and let him trip over his own feet. It actually would have looked pretty funny if it wasn't so pathetic. Leonard struggles back to his feet.
"Hi honey. Your dad told me you weren't drinking or keeping any in the house so I took him out for a drink at this new place in town. I guess we kind of lost track of time."
And then he moved in to kiss her. And she angled out of the way again.
"Leonard. You are a fucking idiot!"
And she went over to her father, who was in really bad shape. She helped him into the bathroom and poured him into the shower and turned on the cold water. He yelled and then sunk back down letting the cold water flow over him. After a little while she pulled him out, undressed him and put him to bed. Then she went down to deal with Leonard.
"Leonard. Do you have any idea what you did?"
"Yeah. I flew to Nebraska to surprise my girlfriend who I haven't seen in six months. That's what I did. I think it's kind of romantic. I think you should give me a kiss and then we can go to bed. And "go to bed" means have sex."
"Y'know what, Leonard. No sex. No kissing. And you're sleeping on the couch. And when you sober up I suggest you try and figure out what you did. We'll talk in the morning. Good night!"
And Penny went to bed.
And Leonard thought "Boy, sober Penny is no fun at all."
The next morning.
Penny came down to find Leonard sitting at the dining room table.
"Penny, I don't understand what your issue is. I came all the way to Nebraska to surprise you after not seeing you for six months. Sounds pretty romantic to me. When I get here your father, who loves me by the way, tells me you're out doing a bunch of errands. He invites me out for a beer and a bite to eat at a new place in town. I ask why we can't just have a beer here and he tells me that you stopped drinking, which I don't think you have a problem with, and that you're not keeping anything to drink in the house. So I figure this is a great opportunity to bond with my future father-in-law. And that's what I did. Then we come home. You won't let me near you and you cal me a "fucking idiot" when I don't think I did anything wrong. Maybe I should have given you a heads up that I was coming but that would have ruined the surprise. And the surprise sex."
"Leonard, I repeat, you are a fucking idiot! Do you have any idea why I've been here for the last four months?"
"Sure. Your parents split up and you're taking care of the house while they work things out. And I think that's really nice of you to do."
"Leonard, my father is a drunk and I've been drying him out and helping him to deal with his problems without alcohol. Obviously he wasn't as far along as I thought since he lied to you to get you to take him out drinking."
"So then if it's his fault what are you yelling at me?"
"It's not his fault. He's sick. You should have known better"
"How should I have known better? You never told me."
"You. Never. Asked. Think about the conversations we've had over the past six months. It started the first day. You said you'd call at 8 the next night. Three days later you called at midnight. And then it was another two weeks. And then ten days. And so on."
"I'm sorry. I told you I was going to be busy with the results from the expedition."
"And I could barely call what we had conversations. They were more like monologues. We'd start out saying we missed each other and then you'd start talking about what you were doing and you'd go on for forty-five minutes never explaining a damn thing you were taking about. And then we'd get back to talking about how we missed each other and couldn't wait to be back together and then you'd hang up. This happened over and over again. I was starting to think you pre-recorded the whole thing."
"Well I was busy with the most important thing in my career and all you were doing was housework."
"Leonard, I hate to keep repeating myself, but you are a fucking idiot. I think you should fly back to Pasadena right now. I have to clean up the mess you've made with my father. We probably have to start all over again because he clearly wasn't as far along as I thought he was."
"Well, I could stay and help you. We could make it a family bonding thing."
"Leonard, I think you've helped enough. If you stay any longer I might say something I'll regret."
"Boy, Penny, not drinking sure makes you cranky."
"Leave, Leonard. Now. I'll call you when I'm ready to speak with you again. Until then we're on pause. Thank you for coming. Thank you for the surprise. It was really romantic. Goodbye."
"Well at least I got to bond with your father."
"Then why don't you marry him. Goodbye Leonard."
As Leonard got into his rental car and drove away he thought "There is no way that any of this is my fault. I just need to wait until she calms down. I'm sure it'll only be a couple of days until she invites me back out here to forgive me. Maybe I should play hard-to-get. Maybe I should go out on a couple of dates while we're on pause. That'll teach her."
And he drove away.
And Penny didn't call. Leonard didn't see or speak with her again until he saw her through the open door of her apartment two months later.
Chapter Ten: The Repeat and Rinse Procedure
Two months ago, Omaha
Penny was upset. She was upset with Leonard. She was upset with herself. She was upset with her father. She was starting to feel like the past four months had been a waste of her time. She needed to speak to someone.
"Hello, Penny. Leonard isn't here. I don't know where he is."
"I know he's not there, Sheldon. He was just here. I threw him out. I called to speak to you."
"But it's not laundry night. Thant's when we usually speak. So has you relationship come to its inevitable end?"
"Um, no. Yes. Really, I don't even know. That's not why I called. Leonard came out here to surprise me and took my father out drinking."
"I know Leonard can be somewhat myopic, but I can't fathom why even he would take someone with alcohol problems out drinking."
"Well, I can't entirely blame him. He didn't know. And that's an entirely different issue I don't wanna get into right now. I need to talk to you about my dad."
"I barely know your dad. I'm not sure how much assistance I can be of with that."
"Sweetie, you know about people who drink. Your father. Me. I just need some advice."
"How can I help?"
"My father lied to Leonard to get him to take him out drinking. He took advantage of Leonard's eagerness to bond with his, and I quote, future father-in-law. Though it's looking like that's pretty unlikely at this point. I was pretty sure my dad was okay and I was starting to think about coming home. Now what do I do."
"Penny, one thing I do know, primarily from my experience with my father, is that alcoholics lie. They lie to others and they lie to themselves. It's part of the pathology. You can't blame your father for doing what he feels is necessary for him. He may have been saying all the right things and he may have even convinced himself that he was bonding with Leonard for your sake. But essentially he was being selfish and doing what he wanted to do, supporting it with a rationalization."
"But, Sheldon, what do I do now? Do I start all over again? Do I leave?
"Do you love your father?"
"Of course I do."
"You stay. You start again. And you keep doing it until it sticks. Because it is that important. You know you have my support in whatever decision you make."
"Thanks, sweetie. You've been a big help."
"Penny, there's something I feel I should tell you but you asked me not to."
"I don't understand, Sheldon."
"You told me that you would prefer not to speak about your mother."
"What has she done, Sheldon?"
"She has moved out of your apartment and no longer works at The Cheesecake Factory."
"Do you know where she went?"
"I don't know. With the exception of occasionally seeing her in the hallway and Tuesdays at The Cheesecake Factory we didn't communicate very much. She had a number of different male visitors while she was staying at you apartment but beyond that I'm not aware of her activities."
"Sheldon, that's probably more information than I needed. But what am I going to do? She was paying my rent while she was there. I haven't been working out here. I'm going to lose the apartment."
"Penny, you will not lose your home. I have paid your rent and will continue to do so until you return or can do so yourself."
"Sheldon, I can't let you do that."
"Penny, you have no choice. It is done. You are my friend and my friend needs a place to live. I prefer that place to be across the hall from me and I will do what is necessary to ensure that. To be blunt, I am not doing this for you. I'm doing it for me. I have the financial means and I am positive that when you have the means you will repay me. At the moment your father's health and recovery is far more important than whose check goes to the 2311 North Robles Corporation. I will brook no further discussion of the matter."
"Sheldon, I don't know what to say."
"I just told you to say nothing so that would be appropriate. Shall I inform Leonard of our discussion?"
"I'd rather you didn't. I know that you don't like secrets, but right now I don't want to even think about Leonard. When I do, I think I'll need to re-evaluate our relationship. But as you said, I have something more important to take care of. But, sweetie, if you hear anything about where my mom might be, could you let me know."
"Certainly. Shall we speak again on Saturday?"
"Of course, sweetie. It's laundry night. Thank you for being my friend, Sheldon."
"I have been, and always shall be your friend, Penny"
"Correct, Penny. Until Saturday."
Penny felt better. She now knew what she had to do. At least she didn't nave to clean the whole house up again, she hoped. Time to deal with her dad.
Chapter 11: The Omaha Departure
"Dad, I'm really disappointed."
"I just went out to have some fun with your boyfriend Leonard."
"No, Dad. You went out to drink. Leonard was just a convenient reason."
"So where is my future son-in-law."
"Don't try to change the subject, Dad? Leonard's on his way back to Pasadena. And I'd hold off on the future son-in-law stuff for now."
"Did you two have an argument? Did you overreact to something he said again?"
"Dad, drop it. No more discussion of Leonard. This is about you. And there's a 3pm AA meeting we're going to. And I think maybe we'll be going a little more often than we have been. You have a bunch more work to do and I'm not leaving until I'm sure you're doing it. From here on in this is your daily schedule. Breakfast. Chores. Lunch Chores. Dinner. AA meeting or counseling. Home. Bed. And you will always have your cell phone with you. Any deviation from the schedule needs my permission. Got it?"
"I've got it, honey. I'm sorry. I'll do whatever you want."
"Dad, I don't want you doing it for me. You need to do it for you."
And it began again. Two months later Penny was finally ready to leave. Her father drove her to the airport.
"Honey, I know I've been kind of a jerk at times, especially over the past few months, but I really appreciate what you've done for me. I know that I'm ready to handle this on my own. Well, mostly. I also know that there are people who can help me when I need it. I'm going to keep attending meetings and counseling at the church. It's really kind of funny how we've switched places over the past few months, with you being more of a parent and me acting more like a child. You're going to be a great mother someday, whenever you decide to be. Whatever happens or doesn't happen with you and Leonard, that's your call. I'll stay out of it. It's entirely up to you."
"Thanks Dad. I still don't know what's going to happen with Leonard. I do know some things have to change.
A/N: So there are a bunch of loose ends here, primarily what happened to Penny's mom, but also whether there is still a Lenny. And I intend to deal with all of that soon, in "The Body Snatcher Codicile."