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The Ghost and the Actress

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Leonard and Priya+++

The whole Week had been one frustration after another. His planned meeting to talk about funding for his latest research with Gablehauser had been put off three times already. Gablehauser kept telling him nothing could be done at the moment until the department’s funding as a whole got settled out. Everyone kept miscommunicating and not communicating from Barry Kripke’s campaign of embarrassment over the funding which he’d managed to obtain to Leslie Winkle’s tormenting him with the aftermath of the Bialik’s fiasco and getting in the news for that mortifying non-date with her favorite TV star. He had even more trouble at home since Priya seemed to have gone into permanent lawyer mode on some kind of case at her office. Every conversation seemed to go to the same dead end.

‘Hey, is your friend, Lalita, coming over again?’

‘I don’t expect so; she’s got a lot of people she wants to meet from her time studying at USC.

‘That’s too bad. She was pretty funny. You should invite her again; you two seemed to have a good time.

She’s traveling with her husband so I expect he’ll take up a lot of her free time.

‘You didn’t say she was married.’

‘No? We were too busy reliving old times to think about husbands.’

‘You’ve been going out a lot lately, Priya.’

‘Yes, I have’

‘Well?’

‘Well, what, Leonard?’

‘What are you doing?’

‘That makes you concerned, for what reason?’

‘I’d just like to know where my wife is going, isn’t that OK?’

‘You are evading the question, Leonard, why does my going out make you concerned?’

‘It doesn’t worry me, I just want to know?’

‘Why does it make you concerned to know what you say does not worry you? That is a contradictory statement, Leonard. Are you suspicious of something, Leonard?’

‘Do you love me? I try to do right by you and I know I screw up a lot but you mean everything to me, Priya.’

‘Did you tell that to Penny Queen or any of the other women, Leonard?’

‘I love you Priya.’

‘That is reassuring.’

+++

 

Raj and Lalita

Lalita brought Raj to La Casa Bangalore, Priya’s and now Lalita’s favorite restaurant in LA. Raj had been dubious about the place until he got a whiff of the food and tried the Bisi Bele Bhath. The restaurant was a lot like them. They’d lived overseas for so long being given the best education their families could get them but they had grown in so many more ways they felt most comfortable in places like this. A café that was a jambalaya, it was their lives made manifest.

‘What happens after this is over, Raj?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘If we win and we prove everything about the arctic and Leonard, what do we do from there?’

‘Do you want to go back home, Lalita, back to India?’

‘Every decision we make turns into something bigger, Raj, almost from when we were children.’

‘Is that why you spent so much time kicking me in the groin growing up?’

‘No, I just enjoyed that; I didn’t want to be married. What ten year old does, really? Our parents made an arranged marriage for us and I hated the idea, but here we are because anyway but because we wanted to do it.’

‘Are you worried about us lasting, Lal?

‘Of course, how can you take care of a marriage if you do not worry about it?’

‘Are you worried about choosing to live in India or America?’

‘I am worried that we work to be happy wherever we are. Are you happy teaching in India, Raj?’

‘Of course not, we have talked about that hundreds of times.’

‘Then, it should be easy to answer what happens next, Raj.’

‘I want to return home, home to California. Would you be happy coming to California?’

‘When I was studying at USC, I might have said no because I was alone, but now I have you. And, Priya did find the most wonderful restaurant, here.’

+++

 

Howard and Raj+++

Howard was seeing double from staring at formulas and data for the last week. He and Raj had thrown themselves into the work and they were dying to do more but they hadn’t had a break in days. Raj looked up at the moan that escaped from Howard.

‘Can’t look at any more, either?’

‘I want to, man, but I’m getting to where I’m rechecking what I rechecked because I thought I didn’t recheck what I did check. I have no idea what I just said.’

‘There’s only one answer, man. We have got to risk it.’

‘Are you crazy, Raj? Remember what Bernie said the last time you brought it up?’

‘I know, and she set Priya on us and you know how she feels about the idea but we have a stake in this, too, maybe, the biggest stakes.’

Howard got up from the desk and tossed the pen and calculator aside. ‘Let’s do this. We are droppin' into Hell, troopers! Time to grow a pair!’

+++

Priya arrived at Los Robles Cottage at her usual 11am for the last couple of weeks and didn’t see Raj or Howard in the living room or library. She greeted Lalita and they both wondered what became of the guys. They went up to the study where they found Penny in her favorite chair playing a chess game on a weird multilevel board set. She said she hadn’t seen the guys since early this morning but they hadn’t come up here all morning. She seemed to pause in thought a second and said they were in the basement collector’s room. Priya mumbled something harshly about childish games and marched out of the study.

‘Could you get Priya to go easy on the guys, Lal, they’ve been burning themselves out. I don’t think they’ve slept in the last forty hours and they’ve got be losing it. A little Halo time might help them unwind and focus more.’ Penny was almost glad she couldn’t be a big contributor after seeing the guy’s haggard faces this morning when she had gotten up. She’d gotten them some coffee and something to eat but she wasn’t surprised that hadn’t been what they really needed.

‘Sure, Penny, what’s that game, some kind of chess?’

‘Yeah, it’s from Star Trek. Sheldon loves the game.’

Lalita nodded at the funny way Penny sometimes referred to Sheldon in the present tense but she had to save the guys from the wrath of Priya.

‘Your game has improved greatly, Penny.’ Sheldon had been surprised how quickly Penny picked up three dimensional chess but he had to admit she did have a facility for puzzles and the complexities of strategic games that made her a satisfying opponent for Sheldon.

‘Thanks, Sheldon, but I still like Age of Conan, more. This does work to get your mind off things, though, and I do like this part, check.’

‘What?’

+++

 

Howard and Bernadette +++

Bernadette had seen Howard’s pictures and memorabilia. She knew what his job was, well, the one he was trained for and hoped he could go back to again. She didn’t like it, not one bit.

‘You can’t be serious about that, Howard?’

‘Of course I am that was what I did for a living, build spacecraft and fly up in them.’

‘You can’t do that anymore, you have a wife and a baby to think of!’

‘I am thinking of them but can’t I think of myself, too?’

‘Obviously, but how can you do something so dangerous?’

‘Bernie, it’s more dangerous driving over to JPL than flying up to the ISS.’

‘I can’t think of losing you, Howard, the baby needs you because I would be a terrible mother alone.’

‘You won’t be a terrible mother, you’ll be Bernadette and she is wonderful.’

‘What would the baby be without a father?’

‘I can’t promise you a danger free life, Bernadette. Sheldon died right in this house. Penny almost died jogging up the road. I’m not fearless, Bernie, but space travel is no job for the fearless or the reckless.’

‘Those rockets scare me, Howie.’

‘The thought of losing you scares, Bernie. If it's what you need, I guess I've had enough time up there.’

'Would you really miss it that much, Howie?'

'Yeah, I would, but I need you more, Bernie.'

 

Penny and Sheldon+++

Penny read through the script again for The Coven’s new season premiere. The show was set to begin filming next month so she had to put the arctic stuff aside for a bit which annoyed Sheldon quite a bit. Penny didn’t doubt his supportiveness towards her work but she also knew his conceit for his own field over everything else.

‘Penny, I have several ideas that I wish to have you introduce to Howard and Raj.’

‘I’m sure you do, Sheldon, but I don’t have the time or energy to go through another ping pong science match between you and them with me being your ghost speaker.’

‘You have no idea what they are considering. The overarching goal of my experiment was not meant to work within-‘

Penny cut off the tirade by whistling up a shrill rodeo horse call. Sheldon hated the high pitched noise more than any show tune melody. It reminded him all too much of his father’s loathsome hunting trips. ‘Sheldon, Howard and Raj are pretty good at what they do and Priya knows more about how to present a case than all of us combined. The theory doesn’t matter, we are proving the sabotage. They don’t need more theory down there to do that and I need to have this script prepped and ready so I can do my job next month.’

‘They will soon be presenting this case to the university. Well before you have to shoot your show and your familiarity with the character and setting should make the preparation little more than memorizing your lines of dialogue.’

‘Sheldon, honey, I am not going to have a debate with you about the merits of my work or how it needs to get done. You are not an actor I am not going downstairs to, basically, argue their job with them since I really am not a scientist and they are right to make those arguments I bring from you an uphill fight. All they see is an actress with some coursework in her head. They aren’t wrong. Would you listen to some BA arguing String Theory with you, Moonpie?’

‘Of course not, but you are not a simple BA student and you have my intellect behind you.’

‘They don’t know that, Sheldon, so throwing my two cents in takes more effort than it’s worth all too often and it is time taken from doing this work which is my job and does need my attention.’ Penny lifted the script meaningfully.

‘Penny, I am grateful for the time you take to speak for me but this is urgent.’

‘So, is this, and in this job, I am the expert. Respect, all jobs need it to work. I wouldn’t tell a pilot how to fly a plane or a surgeon how to operate. I do know about acting. You know how hard it is for you to lie, Sheldon?’

‘Of course, you have read Meemaw’s letter and read about a most regrettable attempt.’ Sheldon was still shocked Meemaw had shared that story with Penny and that Penny had found it charming.

‘Acting is a lot like that. If you aren’t prepared, anyone can see you are just some nitwit who memorized some lines and are just spouting them back like a parrot. Maybe, worse, since parrots can manage authenticity in their speech even if it’s nonsense.’

‘I had not considered acting to be akin to being a professional liar.’

‘I don’t think I’d say I’m a professional liar but I am creating a version of the truth, if the work is any good.

 

Leonard to Siebert’s office+++

Leonard was taken aback after he hung up with President Siebert’s secretary. He felt Prof Gablehauser wasn’t taking the funding issue seriously so he tried getting an appointment to discuss the situation with the university president and get some pressure put on Gablehauser to get his funding locked down. The secretary had explained the president was aware of the funding issues in the physics department but a review of the department was ongoing and funding issues were tied up in the review. When Leonard had pressed the secretary on what was being reviewed that could affect his ability to continue his research, she had said there was a review of research of the staff within the last five years and future funding depended on the integrity of that prior research. Leonard felt uneasy with that time frame since that went back to the arctic expedition with Sheldon.

Leonard started when his lab door opened. He looked up at Leslie Winkle’s wry grin.

‘What’s got you so jumpy, dumbass?’

‘I’m not jumpy; the door just surprised me, that’s all.’

‘Did it surprise you as much as being in the news, again? Penny Queen’s show is back on soon and the gossip news is running your hundred yard sprint from that coffee shop, again.’ Leslie poured herself a coffee and enjoyed watching Leonard getting worked up.

‘Jeeze, not that again? It wasn’t a date and she asked me out!’ Leonard kept telling everyone about the comic shop and it was just getting coffee not some kind of date.

Leslie rolled her eyes and smirked. ‘Yeah, Penny Queen, the grieving widow of Pasadena, the idol of Goth tweeners and angst filled teens asked you out. Is that what you told Priya?’

‘Hey, leave Priya out of this, Leslie. I have enough trouble with her already without you adding your two cents.’

‘Leave Priya out of this? Like the way you left Priya out of that ‘not a date’ at Bialik’s? You really are a dumbass.’ Leslie chuckled and freshened her coffee before leaving to teach her class.

‘Thanks for the sympathy, Leslie. Hey, did you have any trouble getting next term’s funding?’

‘No, why would I? Is something going on?’ Leslie hadn’t heard of any funding troubles in the department but she always liked to keep her radar checked.

‘My funding has been held up and I tried talking to Siebert about it since Gablehauser’s been stonewalling me for the past week over it. His secretary said there was some kind of review of past research going on. Have you heard of anything?’

Leslie took a sip of her coffee and mulled over what Leonard said for a minute. No one in the department had said anything about research reviews. Some people were still waiting on the usual slow wheels of departmental paperwork but there was no talk about reviews. She guessed it might be something to do with Leonard’s work specifically that was holding up his money. She thought about warning him but she figured you really can’t save a fool from himself. ‘Nope, my money came through fine.’

‘You don’t suppose that Penny Queen news has anything to do with it, do you?’

Leslie laughed and figured Leonard was too hopeless to save. ‘Why would the department make funding decisions based on your so called love life?’

‘It wasn’t a date!’ Leonard growled at Leslie’s back while she went out the door and he grabbed some antacid out of his desk drawer for the burning in his stomach.

Leonard tried again to get an appointment scheduled when he got back from lunch. She told him the president was available to see Leonard in his conference room. That worried Leonard because Siebert only held meetings there when something big was going on. He got his paperwork together to discuss his money requirements and headed over to the meeting.

On his way he met a pretty petite blonde with a high pitched voice and wearing glasses. ‘Hey, can I help you, miss?’

‘Bernadette, thanks, I’m looking for the president’s conference room. My husband has some kind of meeting there and I am so lost here on this campus.’

‘I’m headed there myself, Bernadette, let’s walk together, my name’s Leonard, by the way.’

Bernadette laughed and started walking. ‘That’s a funny name, Bytheway, do you play for St. Louis?’

Leonard looked confused and tagged along. ‘What?’

‘What’s on second.’ Bernadette strung Leonard along with the old vaudeville routine.

‘I don’t know?’ Leonard was quite lost now and wondered what was wrong with this girl.

‘He’s on third; we’re not talking about him, Bytheway.’ Bernadette waved and called out to the woman on the sidewalk. ‘Lal, over here, honey, I thought I lost you.’

Leonard couldn’t believe this odd girl was friends with Lalita. ‘Hey, Lalita, how do you two know each other?’

‘Hi Bernie, hey Leonard, my husband and I have been staying with Bernie at her place. I had no idea I’d see you here, Leonard. You sounded like your lab was your life at dinner the other night. How’s the science going?’

‘Great, but I have a meeting with Pres. Siebert in a few minutes.’ Leonard thought for a second and it hit him what Bernadette had been talking about and he cracked up. ‘Who’s on First, Abbot and Costello!’

Bernadette giggled at her success. ‘Yeah, my girlfriend and I like to do routines from old movies we watch. Sometimes, something just triggers me like when you were saying you were Leonard Bytheway.'

They chatted their way up to the conference room and Leonard froze when he heard Penny’s voice when he walked in and his gasp choked in his throat when he heard Priya respond.

‘And, did he try that centrifugal force trick with the ball in the glass?’ Penny handed Priya another coffee and sat down on the couch next to her.

‘Thanks, Penny. Oh, yes, he thought that was so smooth. Almost every freshman physics geek tries to impress a girl with that, even at Cambridge.’

Lalita piped up in the middle of their laughter. ‘I found Bernie; I guess she got turned around coming back from the parking garage.

‘We may never find the car again; do you know how to find the parking garage, Priya?’ Bernadette got some coffee for Lalita and herself.

‘Don’t worry, I know this campus thanks to Leonard, but I want to ask you about this one here.’ Priya pointed to Penny. ‘How could you get her a Skype channel for your wedding and not get one for your old friend?’

Leonard’s head was spinning from the interconnections in the room. Penny was Skyping Lalita’s wedding? Lalita was staying with Bernadette? Priya was friends with Lalita and now she seemed all chummy with Penny. ‘Someone wanna catch me up? It sounds like you all know each other.’

Leonard didn’t get to hear an answer since he saw a sight that made him feel much worse. Howard Wolowitz and Rajesh Koothrappali came out of the conference room with President Siebert.

‘Gentlemen, it’s been a pleasure to see you here at Caltech again after so long. I want to say how happy I am for myself and for the university to have you both come and speak to me and the board. There’s so much we should discuss. I would like to invite you both to lunch tomorrow at my home and I hope you can bring your wives as well. Mrs. Siebert would be delighted to meet them, and maybe Ms. Queen and your sister could come, Raj?’

Raj shook hands with Siebert. ‘I hope they will, how about it Priya, Penny?’

Howard seconded the invite. ‘Yeah, the president puts on quite a spread. You guys will love it.’

Leonard grew sick watching the scene play out in front of him. The stonewalling and prevaricating had to be from Raj and Howard trying to bring up Sheldon and the Arctic. The whole thing about reviewing past work was an attack on him. Fortunately, he had his backup plan ready in his laboratory safe. Siebert’s secretary brought his attention to Leonard.

‘Ah, Prof. Hofstadter, I am glad you could make it. The board and I would like to discuss some previous work of yours.’ Siebert’s voice had turned to a cold frost in the instant he turned to Leonard. ‘Ladies, Gentlemen, if you would excuse me, I have some university business to discuss with Prof Hofstadter. Please, I would be very happy to see ‘you’ all, tomorrow.’

Leonard tried to march confidently into the conference room but the table the board of governors sat around held a nightmare. Sheldon’s journals were scattered about along with several laptops that had his data. He was aghast at more and worse, his private journals from his safe were there as well as his arctic equipment, his computer data, and the electric can opener he’d used to fudge Sheldon’s results.

Sheldon watched the scene play out in front of him. He had caused panic in too many people invading his home to not be able to see it in Leonard. He wasn’t revengeful by nature but he had watched with pride how Raj and Howard had handled themselves. Now, he saw Leonard start to fall apart and he didn’t even have to use his ethereal influence to see his ‘best’ friend face the consequences of what he’d done to benefit himself. Sheldon watched the proceedings begin and he thought that if he had ever won a Nobel Prize this was how it would have felt, vindicated.

+++

Penny looked out the window at the campus with its students and teachers and bustle between classes and waited for Sheldon. She was taking a sip of her coffee when he appeared next to her.

‘Have you seen enough, Sheldon?’

‘I have but where are the others?’ Sheldon thought they would all celebrate together over the victory they had achieved.

‘They’re all gone to a victory dinner at some place in East LA that Priya likes but I wanted to wait for you so I said I’d catch them back home. How did it feel in there, Sheldon?’ Penny couldn’t help thinking about Kurt while she watched the afternoon sky.

‘Howard and Raj were magnificent but it is strange, I felt oddly sorry for Leonard just now. I was so angry and shocked when Howard told his story. I was mortified at how Raj was manipulated into supporting Leonard marrying Priya. Yet, if Leonard had only hurt me, I think I would have forgiven what he did. I almost want to forgive him now except for how he hurt so many other lives. This is that strange cocktail of emotions you talked about when you found out about Kurt’s cheating, isn’t it?’

‘It is but you are a better soul, Sheldon. I don’t really feel forgiveness for what Kurt did to me. They say forgiveness heals but his death took away the chance to face him for what he did. I felt more cheated by his death than I ever did from his sleeping around. I’m glad you can forgive Leonard; I like to hope I could forgive Kurt but I don’t know. You make me want to be able to, though, Sheldon. Thank you.’