"Crazy guy, table four," muttered Melanie as she moved around Penny. Penny looked over from the salad bar and saw Sheldon glaring at her. She took a moment to steady her nerves and planted a bright smile on her lips. She grabbed her order pad and walked over calmly.
"Hey, Sheldon. It's been a while since you came in. Want your usual?" she asked.
"What I want, is to speak with you about Raj," he said sternly.
Penny clenched her pad tightly. "What about him?"
Sheldon stared at her closely. "Where you and Raj together that night?" he asked angrily. "Did you cheat on him?"
Penny paled and looked away from him. "Don't," she said softly. "I can't talk about this with you."
"Talk about what?" he hissed. "How you used me? How you cheated on m…Raj? I suppose I should not be surprised. Your promiscuity know no bounds. Who's next? Howard is the only one of our circle you have not slept with."
Penny gasped as he cut her to pieces with his words. Did he really think so little of her? Her heart thudded in her chest and her stomach churned alarmingly. She needed to get away from him before she completely lost control. She turned to walk away.
Sheldon stood and grabbed her hand. He pulled her across the floor to the men's room and slammed the door shut. He looked around quickly to make sure they were alone before turning to face her. "Did you use me?" he demanded harshly.
Tears sparkled in her eyes. "Is that what you think," she asked softly. "You think I would use you?" Penny laughed harshly. "Why am I surprised? You've never hidden you opinions. How many times did you suggest I was a whore? How many times did you accuse me of trading my looks for favors? You always said I'd do well in porn." Penny dashed away the tears angrily. "What about you, Sheldon? I wasn't alone on that roof. In your high and mighty mind, did you forget that you were just as willing as I was? On the eve of your wedding, no less."
Sheldon paled as her words hit home. He reached out to her, startled by the pain in her eyes. She pushed him back and shook her head. "You can't lay all the blame for that night on me, Sheldon. You are just as guilty as me." She jerked open the door and hurried away.
Sheldon leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes tight against the emotions racing through him. When he finally opened his eyes, he found himself staring at his reflection in the washroom mirror. He wasn't particularly proud of what he saw.
"Stay away from Penny."
Sheldon looked up from his desk to find Raj standing in his door. Raj stepped into the office and closed the door. He placed his hands in his pockets and looked at Sheldon firmly. "I am not Leonard. I will not stand by quietly while you insult my girlfriend. If you can't be pleasant, stay away from her."
Sheldon closed his laptop and steepled his hands. "How long have you and Penny been dating? Exactly?"
Raj sighed heavily. "I know about the roof, Sheldon. Penny told me months ago."
Sheldon felt as if he had been punched in the stomach. "She told you?" he asked faintly.
Raj nodded. "There are no secrets between Penny and I. Our relationship is based on complete openness and honesty."
Sheldon slumped against the back of his chair. "That night…"
"Is in the past," Raj interrupted decisively. "Don't cling to your memories. Penny isn't." He turned and walked from the office without another word.
Sheldon stared at the door for a long time.
Two weeks Later
Sheldon sipped his iced tea and watched Missy and Amy pick flowers from Meemaw's garden for the dinner table. He was glad Amy and his family were getting along so well. He really was. That's how it should be. Right?
A shadow passed over him and he looked up into his brother's face. He and George Jr. had never really been close. Five years separated them and about 85 IQ points. They had never traveled in the same social or academic circles. If it wasn't for familial obligation, they would probably never see or speak to one another.
George sat down on the porch swing beside him and looked out toward the garden. "Never woulda expected it, ya know."
"Expected what, exactly?" Sheldon asked.
"Never woulda expected you to get some chick knocked up and hafta marry her," George said. "Always thought that would be me, ya know."
Sheldon blushed slightly and looked away. "Yes, well, circumstances being what they were, I do not regret the creation of my daughter."
George looked at his brother closely. He had never understood Shelly. Half the time, he tended to forget he even had a brother. But he knew about people. He understood life, bad choices, and regrets. Something in Shelly's tone said that while he didn't regret the baby, he did have regrets.
He thought about trying to reach out to Shelly. Maybe try to connect like Mom was always sayin' they should. He just didn't know how. They had nothing in common, no mutual interest, no shared friends, nothing to really talk about. He was about to get up and head to the barn when Shelly turned to him suddenly.
"George, do you think people are genetically predispositioned to follow a pattern?"
"Umm, what?" he asked.
Sheldon rolled his eyes. "Our parents married because Mom was pregnant with you. You were born five months later. For all their married life, our mother and father fought with each other. I know they cared for us, but they were unhappy together. Do you think we are destined to have the same lives?"
George looked at his brother with surprise. Was Shelly really confiding in him? "Are you two unhappy?"
Sheldon sighed and looked away. "Amy seems to be content." He took a deep breath. "I have always admired Amy's intelligence. We were intellectually compatible. She is a good friend and a patient wife."
"But?" George prompted.
Sheldon shook his head slightly. "I feel …unsettled. Like I have missed out on a great opportunity somewhere along the line," he murmured. "There is someone …" he paused and looked down at his hands clenched in his lap. Sheldon shook his head firmly. "Never mind," he said emotionlessly. "I am merely rambling."
George watched his brother stand and walk away quickly. He stood after a few minutes and headed for his truck. He wasn't sure what Sheldon was talking about, but it was pretty clear his brother wasn't happy. There was one person he was sure would understand, and had the best chance of helping. He had to pick up Meemaw and drive her over for dinner. Maybe he'd mention this conversation and see if it made any sense to her.
By the time George returned with Meemaw, Sheldon had made his decision. Penny was not part of his life now. He had seen her twice in five months. It was time to let go of the past and focus on the here and now. So, when Meemaw asked him after dinner if he was happy, he smiled his koala smile and nodded. "Of course I am."
4 weeks later
She stood near the entrance and watched Amy and Bernadette laugh. She truly loved both women, and it hurt so much to know she was going to lose them. Penny took a deep breath and moved through the restaurant. The last month had been hard. She hadn't seen much of them, except for skyping. Amy and Sheldon had traveled to Texas for two weeks to see his family while Amy could still travel comfortably. Bernadette had gone out of town for 2 weeks for a research project. It was their first (and last) girl's night in a month. Both women looked up as she approached and their smiles slowly faded into shock.
"Holy crap," Bernadette breathed.
Amy stared open-mouthed at her 'bestie'. "Are…are you …."
Penny took a seat at the table and shifted until she was comfortable. She dragged a weary smile to her lips and nodded. "Yes. I'm pregnant." She hesitated a second. "About 22 weeks," she said.
Amy's expression grew strained. "You're pregnant?! How?!"
Bernadette rolled her eyes. "Same way you are," she answered sarcastically. Penny paled and looked away. Bernadette looked back at Penny. "22 weeks? That's about two months after you and Leonard broke up. It's Raj's, isn't it?"
Penny nodded slowly. She picked up her napkin and fiddled with it. "Yes. We're having a baby. Raj and I."
"Why didn't you tell us before now?" Bernadette asked softly.
Penny sighed and shrugged. "Because there was already so much going on. Amy and Sheldon got married, things were already tense between me and Leonard, Amy's pregnant,…" Penny looked at her two best friends. "And Raj and I weren't sure at first that we wanted to be parents."
Amy felt nauseated. What was going on here? Penny couldn't mean what it sounded like she meant. "You thought about abortion?"she asked weakly.
Penny nodded. "And adoption. And a lot of things." She looked nervously from one to the other. "There's more. A month ago, Raj received an invitation to join a research project. We talked about it, then he went to President Seibert at the university. He has decided to take the job. It's in Rome. He'll be there for three years."
Amy and Bernadette gasped. Amy immediately pushed aside her anger. She reached across the table and clasped Penny's hand. "Oh, bestie! Well, don't worry. You have us."
Penny gave Amy's hand a squeeze. "Raj asked me to go with him," she said softly. "I said yes."
"You're leaving me?" Amy shrieked loudly as she jerked her hand away. "When were you going to tell me all this?"
Penny looked at her sadly. "I'm telling you now."
"I don't believe this!" Amy cried out. "This is not how friends treat each other!"
"For too long I settled," Penny said tiredly. "I took on the role of 'dumb blonde', and I stayed I character. I tried several times to tell you guys how I felt. You encouraged me to stick it out. Stay with Leonard even though I wasn't happy. Stay in a dead end job because it paid the bills. Stay cheerful because it made you comfortable, even though it was taking more and more wine to manage." Penny shrugged and sighed heavily. "I didn't tell you sooner, because you wouldn't have understood. Because it would have hurt you. I'm sorry. I guess I'm a coward," she whispered.
Bernadette looked horrified as understanding dawned. Amy clenched her hands tightly. "So, now what? You leave and we have no say in this?"
"That's right," Penny said brokenly. "I'm sorry you feel hurt, but this is my life. It's between me and Raj. I love you guys, I really do. But let's be honest. We've all been drifting apart for a while now."
Amy shook her head furiously and rose to her feet. "Maybe we wouldn't drift apart if you didn't hide things from us! Maybe if you tried, nothing would change!" She grabbed her coat and moved as fast as her ponderous body would allow.
After a moment Bernadette stood. "I'll keep an eye on her, get her home safe."
Penny nodded and watched the diminutive blonde walk away. Well, that went about as well as she had expected. She wondered how Raj was doing.