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The Ghost and the Actress

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The weekend arrived and Howard went to LAX to pick up Raj and Lalita. The two old friends were almost speechless for the first minute and never stopped talking for a second after that. Lalita didn’t follow half of what they were talking about, jokes and stories of her new husband’s past, but she was happy to see him look and sound so joyful.

They got back to the cottage and everyone got together in the living room down stairs after touring through the house. Sheldon was comically entranced by Lalita which made Penny giggle more than once while they toured through the rooms. She had never seen a ghost trip over his feet before. Sheldon was delighted when Raj gave Bernadette and Penny copies of the wedding album.

Howard got out some champagne and some non-alcoholic sparkling wine he’d gotten for Bernadette and passed the drinks around. He proposed a toast. ‘Welcome back, Raj, and a wonderful marriage to you both, cheers!’

Bernadette got up to make her speech. ‘We have an announcement, too, something we found out the night of your wedding, in the middle of your call, actually. Howard and I are going to have a baby.’

‘No!’ Raj was stunned.

‘Yes.’ Bernadette was surprised by Raj’s reaction.

‘No.’

‘Yes.’

‘How?’

‘I already had this same conversation with Howard; I’m not going through it again.’

Raj apologized to Bernadette. He was genuinely overjoyed for them both but he had never imagined his pal becoming a father. More drinks were quickly passed around and more toasts were made for the new baby on the way. Stuart arrived in the middle of the toasts and the room was livelier than ever since he had brought his girlfriend, Denise. The welcoming party carried on for a good while and the guys eventually were led by Howard down to the collector’s room. Raj was still amazed by it and Stuart and Denise were speechless.

While they were downstairs, Penny, Bernadette, and Lalita got some coffee and relaxed in the quiet of the living room and talked about Bernie’s baby. Eventually, they got around to marriage and finally Priya and Leonard.
‘He tried hitting on you at the comic shop, did you smack him?’ Bernadette hated the smell of cheating and Lalita was just as averse.

‘No, of course not, I knew what he was so I wasn’t going to act all shocked. Besides, he got too nervous to wait for an answer.’ Penny smiled at Sheldon sitting by the window. ‘I was wondering if Priya knows about Leonard’s habits. Raj thinks she would, do you think so, too, Lalita?’

‘If she’s anything like I remember her, I’d say she knows but I can’t imagine her putting up with it.’

Penny agreed from her point of view, at least. ‘Raj seemed to think Priya might be too embarrassed to do anything because she was pretty much going against the whole family and a lot of her friends back home.’

‘I guess that would bother her a little but Priya was always very independently minded. I think her being wrong about him would bother her more than anything else. What is odd is that I never imagined her marrying anyone, at least no one like Howard and Raj. They are too much like kids with all their games and comic books.’

Bernadette agreed with that, at least. ‘Howard makes me crazy with that stuff, that’s why I’m glad he built that playroom downstairs. This place used to be filled with Star Track stuff.’

Sheldon flinched and growled. ‘Star Trek, woman, how could anyone dislike something so glorious?’

Lalita giggled at Bernadette’s feelings about science fiction decoration. ‘I think it’s Star Trek, Raj has mentioned that a few times.’

‘There, Penny, the Princess Panchalli understands the difference.’

‘I think I’ll make him mention it a few more times before I suggest a playroom like Howard’s.’ Lalita was glad of the hobby for Raj but she did wish it didn’t take up so much of the house.

Sheldon looked aghast. ‘The evil women do, I shall be in the ‘collector’s’ room, Penny.’

Penny looked fondly at Sheldon’s disappearing form and went back to Lalita. ‘I don’t think Priya needs anyone to prove Leonard is cheating, I think she might want something he can’t deny. Lawyers do prefer questions they already know the answers to when they get into court.’

‘What do you mean, honey?’ Bernadette was curious where Penny was going with this.

Penny went over the comic shop encounter again. She knew Leonard’s manipulative side and Lalita was shocked how much so many other people were affected beyond her Raj’s life. She was sure Priya had never known any of that or she would have never married Leonard. She even questioned why Raj ever took Leonard’s threat seriously. Priya hated being pushed around by her family but she liked other people pushing her family around far less.

+++

In the study, Penny got ready for bed and Sheldon appeared looking happy. ‘I had not thought I would ever condone this house to be inundated with so many people.’

‘Have you forgiven Lalita’s Star Trak plans, Sheldon?’ Penny still enjoyed the memory of Sheldon’s exit.

‘That, well, I suppose so since she is woefully under-educated in the world of Gene Roddenberry’s Vision.’

‘Ah, the princess has had her day, Sheldon?’ Penny was too happy about today to tease Sheldon about his hobbies.

‘Not at all, I am simply acknowledging she is not a fan of Star Trek, I am sure Raj will correct the deficiency.’

‘Really, sweetie, like your attempts to correct mine?’

‘Penny, your love of Firefly more than makes up for your ignorance of Star Trek.’

Penny’s response was cut off by a soft knock on the door.

‘Come in!’ She turned to see Lalita open the door. She was carrying some roses.

‘Hi, Penny, did you leave these, they are so beautiful, I asked everyone and no one knew where they came from so I guessed they must be from you. Thank you!’

Penny could tell by Sheldon’s dismay he was the culprit. She glanced at Sheldon and remembered his talking about the Indian princess. Fortunately there were no lotus blossoms around for Sheldon to decorate her hair with. ‘It was said roses were ashamed to bloom in the presence of her ruby lips.’

‘Pardon?’ Lalita was confused by the beautifully romantic phrase.

‘I was reminded of that Indian folk story, Princess Panchali, so I thought you might like them. You and Raj really should be on your honeymoon, still, not revisiting painful old history.’ Penny walked over to the bookshelf and found the children’s book Sheldon had gotten the story from. Lalita and Penny sat on the couch and looked through the book and the page with the picture that introduced the Princess made Lalita gasp. It really did look remarkably like her.

‘Oh my, I have never seen this picture. Raj and I did look a bit online but we never saw any that looked especially like me but this, it looks like I modeled for it.’ She laughed and asked if she could show the book to Raj. she said good night to Penny with the book in hand to show Raj.

‘Look at you, mister ghosts don’t need happiness, leaving romantic nothings to Indian princesses?’ Penny walked over to Sheldon.

‘Penny, I was simply struck by the uncanny resemblance, there was nothing romantic involved.’

‘Sure, Don Juan, whatever you say. But I can’t help noticing how you’ve dropped me like a hot potato as soon as princess ruby lips showed up.’ Penny grinned at Sheldon’s discomfort and went to bed.

In the morning, Penny found a vase of roses by her bed. She sat up and picked up the flowers to breathe in their aroma. ‘Oh, Sheldon, I was just kidding last night, but you do know how to brighten a girl’s day more than most guys I know.’

+++

Sheldon and Penny went back to the comic store on Monday. Stuart had told them Leonard usually came by then because there were few regulars on such a quiet day.

‘Hey Stuart, what’s up? Did you enjoy the party?’

‘Hey Penny, god, yes, and Howard’s collector’s room, Denise and I couldn’t believe it. We might never leave a place like that.’ They chatted for a while and Penny brought up Leonard’s appearances around the store.

‘Stuart, did Leonard mention he tried asking me out again out in the parking lot?’

Stuart looked none too surprised. ‘No, but I’m not surprised. You know, he’s married. That might have slipped his mind.’

‘Yeah, Toby talked about a wife but Leonard did the hand hide and say he ‘used’ to be thing.’ Penny rolled her eyes and felt Sheldon’s displeasure with the conversation. Penny was glad Sheldon never tried being a professional card player.

‘You know, Stuart, I can’t stand cheating husbands.’ Penny smirked at Stuart’s smile of understanding.

‘I bet, the news all talk about how you practically never date since Kurt died. I guess you miss him?’

‘Penny ‘The Grieving Widow’ Queen, I get that a lot but it was a long time ago, now, I miss him but you’ve got to move on. We got married young, romantic elopement and all that, so cheating just bugs me.’ Penny wrote down Micky’s number. ‘This is a paparazzi pal, he films a lot of our show’s cast for the trades. He might like a tip about an actress at a coffee shop, say today at Bialiks.’

Stuart took the number and wondered what Penny was up to but he didn’t ask until Leonard came in.

Penny hoped Leonard might make an appearance today since he was fishing so obviously the last time they met. Sheldon looked up Leonard’s class and office schedule online and made a deduction on the time Leonard was likely to visit the shop. His accuracy was worthy of Sherlock Holmes.

‘Hey Penny, funny running into you again.’ Leonard hoped Penny didn’t think he was a fool after their last meeting. He still didn't know why he’d run off the way he did the other night. There was just something weird around Penny.

‘Yeah, my psychic might say it was fate.’ Penny smiled and glanced at Sheldon.

‘Fate, Penny, you’re going to use that supernatural claptrap to initiate a conversation.’ Sheldon waited for Leonard to react.

‘Uh, yeah, I guess, so would you like to try that coffee, Penny?’

Sheldon looked amazed since he expected Leonard to start talking about how ridiculous psychics were.

‘Oh, I guess coffee would be OK, hey Stuart, have you tried Bialik’s up the street?’

‘No way, Penny, that place is ridiculously expensive but I hear the chocolate mousse is to die for. Denise loves to go there with her girlfriends once in a while.’

‘Great, thanks Stuart, I love chocolate mousse. Chocolate anything really, let’s go there, Leonard.’

Penny and Sheldon led the way out the door and Leonard made up the third wheel he wasn’t aware of being. Bialik’s was quiet after lunch time. Penny and Leonard sat by a window where Penny saw Micky’s van pull up. She gave a long smile out the window and put a finger to her lips. It was a signal to Mickey he had with the cast to give them a few minutes but he was welcome to get a story.

‘A physicist and a witch meet in a coffee shop, what happens next, Leonard?’ Penny could see the magic stuff was wearing thin on Leonard. Sheldon really hadn’t been kidding about that but some guys will put up with anything to talk to a girl, especially, the ‘nice’ ones.

‘Come on, Penny, you know there are no such things as witches. All that New Age psychic stuff is a bunch of baloney. Here, let me show you some real magic.’ Leonard took out a ping pong ball and put it on a plate in front of him.
‘Here’s some real magic. I can pick up the ball without lifting the glass, can you?’

Penny smiled, he was going to use simple centrifugal force. She’d seen the trick done in her first physics class at UCLA. ‘Come on, really?

Leonard whirled the glass on the plate and the ball raced around and climbed the inside of the glass.

‘Holy smokes! That’s so cool.’ Penny looked astonished when Leonard quickly lifted the glass and turned it upright. He handed it to Penny.

‘It’s easy, you try it.’

Penny set the trick up again. ‘I had no idea you could do it by moving the glass.’ Penny put her open left palm on the upside down glass.

‘No, Penny, you don’t hold it like that.’ Leonard reached across the table to help but Penny held up her free hand.

‘Oh, well this is how witches hold them.’ Penny waved her right hand in a circle above her left. Sheldon began to levitate the ball and it began circling around in the glass and climbing up the inside to Leonard’s astonishment. Penny lifted her hand and the glass followed her palm upwards a few inches. She quickly closed her hand, righted the glass, and handed it to Leonard.

Leonard held the glass and picked up the plate in front of Penny and checked them in disbelief. ‘How did you do that?’

‘I told you, I’m a witch, or you could just ask at the Magic Castle but they will never tell you.’

Leonard sat back and laughed. ‘Jeeze, you’re a professional magician, too? You really had me going, there.’

‘I’m many things, Leonard, but what about you?’ Penny waved abruptly. ‘Hey Micky, good to see you again! Micky, come on over. This is Leonard, I didn’t get your last name.’

‘Hofstadter, Leonard Hofstadter.’ Micky shook hands with Leonard and sat down quickly.

‘Hi Penny, so, are you guys on a date, I’d hate to get in the way.’

‘It’s fine, Leonard and I kept running into each other at the comic shop up the street so he asked me out to coffee. He’s single and he does magic, isn’t that right, Leonard?’

Leonard blushed a bit at the praise after Penny’s trick. ‘I can’t do magic like Penny but I can do some stuff.’

‘That is so cool, are you a magician, Leonard?’ Micky guessed this guy was who the tip was about but he didn’t seem all that news worthy.

‘Me, no, I work as an experimental physicist at Caltech, lots of cutting edge stuff.’

Penny wanted to draw Leonard out more now that he was feeling comfortable and able to show off his date in front of this new guy. ‘Caltech, you must be some kind of superbrain or something?’

‘Please, Penny, his work is derivative drivel.’ Penny snapped a glare at Sheldon and snickered a bit.

‘Your aura says you are quite the scientist, Leonard, how is it you aren’t married?’ Penny saw Micky swiping through a site on his phone that he kept below the table out of Leonard’s sight. He waved it at Penny and it had a picture of him with a very pretty dark haired woman. She’d seen enough pictures to recognize Priya. Penny nodded to Micky and Sheldon’s eyes widened. He was impressed by the quick silent conversation Penny and Micky shared. Actors and the press were as devious as any batch of film spies he could think of.

‘I never found the right girl.’ Leonard did his shy puppy dog thing.

‘That isn’t what your aura tells me, Leonard, that tells me you prefer mystery.’ Penny said that slowly and looked at Sheldon meaningfully. He wondered why she was looking at him. Penny sensed the flaw in the plan.

‘Aura’s, you don’t believe in that stuff, do you?’

Micky guessed where Penny was going, fortunately. ‘Penny can be pretty scary when she reads people, Leonard, try her out.’ He sat back and gave a small signal to his partner in the van to get some good shots.

Sheldon caught another more pointed look from Penny and realized what she meant and turned up the fear on Leonard.

‘Well, was I right about the mystery, Leonard?’ Penny wanted to start rattling Leonard.

‘Sure, but that’s so vague, you could say it to anyone and they’d probably say yes.'

Penny locked her fingers together and leaned forward to rest her chin on them and gazed into Leonard’s eyes for a minute. For some reason, he always found her stare a little creepy.

‘I see a love of mystery, not just mysterious women but exotic women. Well educated, intelligent, but foreign, foreign taught, and foreign bred.’ Penny could see Leonard getting progressively antsy.

‘Well, that’s still vague stuff, I mean…’

‘Oh, no, I see a country in your aura, India, yes, there is an ancient aura mixed with yours Leonard and her spirit is from India.’ Penny nodded and took a deep breath. ‘One can almost smell the lotus blossoms in her ebony hair from her aura.’

‘I don’t, I mean, I have never been to India.’ Leonard was shifting uncomfortably in his chair and Sheldon was enjoying the show.

‘Are you sure, your aura is so entwined with hers, I can’t believe you guys didn’t work out, did she pass away? I have always felt drawn to the departed, I think it’s because my husband died.’ Penny sounded wistful and distant.

‘Dead, no, Priya isn’t dead.’ Leonard shut up and looked like a cat caught in a canary cage.

‘Priya, your wife’s name, which sounds like a lovely name, like an Indian princess of a noble family, wealthy and wise. What happened to her Leonard?’

‘Nothing, she’s, um, I should go.’ Penny clamped her right hand down on Leonard’s and kept her chin propped on her left. She was sure Micky’s cameraman would be getting this.

‘Come on, Leonard, you said you don’t believe in that stuff.’ She smiled but her eyes were strangely shifting color.

Micky got out his phone where everyone could see it and started another swipe and got to Caltech. ‘Let’s check, Penny scares the hell out of me when she gets that voice. Hey, they’ve got a page for you at Caltech.’

Leonard choked at the sight of the university faculty page. It had a picture of him and Priya.

Micky showed it to Penny. ‘Look, it says he’s married to some lawyer, Priya, hey and she’s from India! Jesus, you are scary.’

Penny clenched Leonard’s hand. ‘Married? You said you weren’t married. What is this, Leonard?’

‘Hey, I told you I was married.’ Leonard tried to sound scandalized but he couldn’t get over the cold in the restaurant.

Micky shook his head. ‘No, Leonard, I was sitting right here when she straight up asked you and you said you weren’t.’

‘Is this what you do, cheat on your wife?’ Penny let go of Leonard’s hand and got up. ‘Don’t talk to me ever again, Leonard.’

Leonard looked between Penny and Micky and started to panic. ‘I really have to go, I’m sorry it was a misunderstanding.’

Penny and her guys watch Leonard rush out of the restaurant. ‘Not much of a story, but it might hit a back page.’

‘That’s all I need, Micky, I just want to help a friend out.’ Penny sat back down and waved a waiter over to the table.

‘This friend wouldn’t be Priya, now, would it?’ Sheldon was astonished at the paparazzi’s deduction. He had to do some reevaluation of their skills in light of today.

‘Remember how well the Jonas Twill thing turned out for you? This could be a bit better.’

‘Really, well, I’ll shop the pictures and how about the story?’

‘The grieving widow tries the dating scene and gets flummoxed by a cheating spouse? I can cry for you if that would help. I hear the chocolate mousse is great here, my treat.’

Both Sheldon and Micky smirked and told Penny she really was an evil witch.

Later that week, Lalita tried calling Priya and they had a happy reunion chat. Priya had no idea her old friend was in America and Lalita thought she sounded like she missed more than just an old girlhood friend. Lalita left off that she was married to Raj and just said she was on vacation for a few weeks with her boyfriend. Lalita put off Priya’s questions saying she didn’t want to make him nervous by springing old girlfriends on him. Priya agreed, he’d probably think Lalita was trying to get him to propose to her or was having friends check him out to see if he was marriage worthy. That led to talking about Priya’s marriage which Priya got quiet about. Lalita was hopeful because Priya invited her out to lunch to talk about how things were going.