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The Communication Conundrum

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Penny was having a lot more trouble than she’d anticipated in attempting to gain Sheldon’s attention. For a guy with such a genius mind, he could be quite dim about social stuff. But there was something so charming and sweet about his innocence – she was determined to win him over. And while he wasn’t a muscle-bound gym junkie, he was handsome and lean – surprisingly in shape for a guy who spent more of his time indoors writing on a whiteboard. Maybe it was all the weekends playing paintball.

Leaning closer towards him and smiling when he explained things had only encouraged him to speak at more length to her about string theory, trains, the merits of different theories about light acting as both a wave and a particle (and wave-packets), and the intricacies of Vulcan culture. Even her favourite push-up bra and low-cut tops didn’t seem to get him to look at her the way she wanted him to – as a woman.

No, instead Sheldon just rambled happily, “I’m so glad you’re taking an interest in improving yourself at last with more cerebral topics.”

“I like to hear about them when you explain them,” she purred in her sultriest voice, toying with a strand of her hair and brushing it across her lips as she smiled at him. Leonard and Raj were out picking up their takeout order, leaving her relatively alone with Sheldon, with just Howard as their not-at-all-oblivious chaperone.

Howard, who was of course no stranger to the obvious come-on, choked on his drink before offering her a lecherous grin. “I’d be happy to help you out with any of your educational needs, Penny. I doubt Sheldon here would really be up to the task.”

Sheldon gasped his short distinctive laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of the idea. “I hardly think you would be the most able of the group to assist Penny with her newfound interest in comprehending physics. While you may retain some ability to explain the more basic principles, it is obviously dwarfed in comparison to the advantage I hold due to my own superior intellect and specialisation in the field.”

Penny gave a short sigh of frustration.

Howard raised his eyebrows and spread his hands out wide as he gave her a meaningful (and slightly sleazy) look. “See what I mean?”

“Help?” she said optimistically in a pitiful voice, turning to Howard for assistance.

“Sheldon, she’s looking for some more worldly fun with you than just listening to you talk, if you know what I mean,” he said, nobly taking on a new role as wingman. If he had no chance (much as he hated to admit it), he may as well help his naïve buddy out.

Sheldon perked up, as understanding dawned. “Oh! Of course! Don’t worry, I know various practical physics experiments that will be both educational and engaging. Admittedly they’re usually used when teaching pre-adolescents, but as your level of education never exceeded community college, I am confident you’ll find them both novel and interesting. I’ll be right back with supplies!” And he bustled off to the kitchen.

And then she was treated to fifteen minutes of wave formation experiments with a large flat container of water, and various sizes of apertures in improvised aluminium foil barriers for the water to pass through. And a promise of ‘more exciting experiments to come’, to demonstrate how light waves penetrated various types of material in different ways. And no matter how closely she leaned in next to Sheldon to observe what he was doing, resting a warm hand on his back, or how Howard laughed at double entendres only he seemed to be capable of hearing, Sheldon remained convinced that she wanted nothing more than to understand how light and sound could be waves.

She gave up for the day when the other boys came back with Thai food, and settled down to watch Star Trek with them. She didn’t want to admit it, but she did quite enjoy it – at least the original series. Spock was cute. Cuter than Kirk, who looked like the type of man who’d cheat on his girlfriend. She’d had enough of that that kind.

From the silently slack-jawed, wide-eyed looks Raj directed at her after Howard muttered in his ear, she guessed the cat was out of the bag. So far, Leonard remained almost as oblivious as Sheldon was, and she hoped to keep it that way in his particular case. She knew he had a bit of a crush on her, and was trying to be discreet while he was around.

-000-

After two solid weeks of flirting to no avail, she decided it was time to be very, very obvious about her interest. On Saturday night at 8:15pm, she’d gone down to the laundry room wearing her tightest strategically ripped shorts, a matching red lingerie set, and a t-shirt with an obvious and carefully applied ketchup stain right down the front.

Sheldon, as she’d hoped, was horrified at the mess and started lecturing her about bacterial growth in food stains.

“This was my last clean shirt!” she lied, pretending to get offended. “But fine, if it bothers you that much I’ll wash it!” She quickly stripped off her shirt right in front of him, and tossed it in the washing machine where it was instantly soaked.

Sheldon let out a choking noise, and she felt a small thrill of triumph that finally, finally after weeks of hunting him she might have caught him at last, as she stood there before him in nothing but tiny denim shorts and her favourite red lacy bra. He stared at her for a moment, before pulling his gaze aside to look politely (if awkwardly) at the wall.

“Well, now what are you going to do?” she said with a seductive smile, her voice drawing his gaze back to her briefly. He couldn’t help but watch as she trailed a hand gently down her neck and across her chest. The hero always peeked. “I’m getting a bit cold over here now, all by myself, with nothing to wear. Do you want to come and warm me up?”

“Oh! Oh yes!” he cried frantically, and her heart skipped a beat as he started pulling off one of his layers of shirts. But his intention wasn’t quite what she’d hoped.

“Here you go,” he said, covering his eyes with one hand, while the other thrust out a red shirt towards her blindly. “I most sincerely apologise that it isn’t of course clean, but it was fresh from my cupboard this morning and should suffice until your own clothes are washed and dry.”

“Really? That’s it?”

“It’s a vintage Flash t-shirt worth over forty dollars!” he said as if insulted. “I trust you won’t spill ketchup on this one, and that you appreciate my temporary sacrifice for the sake of preserving your modesty.”

“It’s sure something, all right,” she muttered, pulling on the red t-shirt with the lightning bolt on the front. “Sorry sweetie, thanks for the shirt.”

“You’re welcome.”

If anything, he seemed more interested in looking at her with a shirt on. That just wasn’t right!

-000-

Desperate times called for desperate measures. She knew it would bug him, but she needed to get his attention, and if even partial nakedness wouldn’t do the trick in luring him into her arms she knew she would have to ramp up her game. Somehow. She didn’t have many opportunities alone with him in his apartment, and had seized an opportunity to be with him on “Anything Can Happen Thursday” while the others were going out to a bar. Howard had given her a smarmy grin, and Raj a covert thumbs up, when she’d announced she was going to stay in with Sheldon and watch Star Trek. She overheard Leonard worrying to the others that she’d be bored, but Howard chuckled that he was sure she’d find something to arouse her interest.

Sheldon had just gotten up to put in a new DVD on, when she made her move.

“Penny, you’re in my spot.”

“Maybe we could share?” she purred, sprawled seductively over his special spot on the sofa, arching her back to push her breasts forward more prominently. “I could sit in your lap?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, there’s plenty of room elsewhere on the sofa.”

“But I like this spot.”

“Naturally. It is the prime seating location in the apartment, however, it is my spot. You have to move, Penny, or that’s a strike.”

She uncurled from her leg-displaying pose, and slid across the sofa with a sigh. He sat down next to her and started the DVD.

She snuggled in next to him, and he shifted uncomfortably, leaning away from her slightly.

“I like you, Sheldon,” she said bluntly.

“I like you too, Penny,” he responded politely. “Even though you are currently infringing into my socially acknowledged zone of personal space and have a new and bewildering yen to steal my spot.”

“I mean I like you. Really like you. Would you like to go out with me some time? Maybe see a movie together?” Just call her Sadie Hawkins. Sheesh. She never had to ask men out – they were usually falling over each other to ask her out.

“That sounds like a pleasant idea. What movie did you have in mind?”

“I don’t know – any movie you like,” she said, with growing optimism that she’d finally been obvious enough to get through to him.

They set a date, and she told him delightedly how she was looking forward to it. The next weekend when he knocked on her door early on Saturday morning all the other guys were with him too, dressed in their best fantasy cosplays for a Lord of the Rings marathon screening. Leonard made a very convincing hobbit in the costume she remembered him wearing to her Halloween party, Howard was a rather unconvincing Aragorn in tight black leather, and Raj joined Sheldon in wearing fake elf ears and some interesting looking embroidered robes and trousers.

Penny looked down at her little sexy black dress and heels, and almost wished she hadn’t spent some of her last bit of savings on new shoes (even if they were on sale). It wasn’t like Sheldon was going to notice her new heels and how sexy they made her calves look, if he hadn’t even grasped they were supposed to be going on a date.

“Uh, nice costumes guys. But Sheldon, I thought it was going to be just the two of us,” she said, with an attempt at a meaningful look that she really shouldn’t have bothered with, given the obliviousness of its intended target.

“Oh, we’d never miss the chance to see Lord of the Rings again,” said Leonard cheerfully.

“There’s a marathon on!” announced Sheldon happily. “So of course everyone wanted to come along. Even if it’s not the extended editions – it’s just the theatrical releases I’m afraid.”

“Sorry,” said Howard apologetically with an embarrassed shrug, “we didn’t know that was supposed to be the plan.”

Raj spread his hands sympathetically in a helpless apology.

Sheldon of course assumed they were apologising for the lost opportunity to view the extra two hours of footage contained in the extended editions, and promised they could watch it later on the DVDs if she wanted to.

As they trooped downstairs together Sheldon lectured Raj on the difference between fake ears that were for Vulcans, and fake ears for elves, and how his costume would be improved with the right kind.

“Don’t worry,” whispered Leonard as they walked down the stairs together, “we wouldn’t leave you alone with him for a nine hour and eighteen minute movie marathon. I know he’d drive you completely mad.”

Sheldon strode quickly out the front door of the apartment block, and Leonard bounded ahead to catch up to him so he could grab the door and hold it open for Penny, with a puppy-dog smile.

“Ladies and gentleman, the newly appointed Science Officer Hofstadter of the USS Oblivious, under the very persistent command of Captain Cooper,” muttered Howard to Penny with an amused smirk, and Raj nodded in mute agreement.

“You’d think, ‘I really like you, and I’d like to go out to a movie with you’ would be obvious enough,” she grumbled, pausing in her walk to talk quietly out of earshot of the other two waiting at the door. “He’s cute, and adorable, but maybe he just isn’t interested and doesn’t want to say so outright. Maybe I should just give up.”

“It’s hard to tell with him. At least he was excited you asked him to a movie,” Howard comforted. “He worked on his costume all week, you know. And he didn’t say a word about how you didn’t dress up yourself, even though he hasn’t shut up all morning about Raj’s ears, or the inappropriateness of using a dwarven-style belt as part of a Ranger’s costume. That’s really saying something, for Sheldon.”

“That’s true,” she said, with renewed optimism.

“Hurry up! We don’t want to be late!” the man in question called impatiently.

They got to sit next to each other at the cinema, with Raj quietly taking the seat on her other side with a shy smile before Leonard could sit there.

Sheldon wouldn’t share her popcorn with her, however, so there was no opportunity for their hands to “accidentally” touch while eating. It was “unhygienic” to share food.

“If you decide you want to try making him jealous, I’m your man,” offered Howard during one of the intermissions, leaning against a wall next to her and giving her his best attempt at a sexy smile. “It’s a popular technique for awakening someone’s interest.”

“Thanks Howard,” she said, patting him on the arm. “But I’m not that desperate yet. I came up with another idea while watching the bit with the Council of Elrond.”

“Well if you change your mind…”

“I know where to find you. Thanks for having my back on this, Howard,” she said, with a brief hug. Maybe his idea wasn’t totally without merit, not that she wanted to admit it out loud. Perhaps a hug would provoke some kind of response from the target of her affections.

She glanced over at Sheldon discreetly, but he seemed to just be looking down intently to examine the quality of his snacks and count the remaining Red Vines.

-000-

One more try. Just one. If it didn’t work, and he rejected her totally, at least she would know it wasn’t because she was too subtle to get through his forcefield of ignorance on social customs.

It took her a week of research and work, before her last plan was ready to be put into action. She felt very nervous about it, but the memory of his lean body, strong arms, kindness, and adorable naivety made her resolved. She was going to try for this. She wanted the good guy this time – the one who’d stick around.

She made her move on laundry night. “Hi Sheldon!”

“Hello Penny.”

“I uh… I have something for you,” she said nervously, digging into her laundry basket under the top layer of jackets she was using to hide her gift.

“My Flash t-shirt?”

“Oh, uh, I forgot it again,” she said guiltily, not wanting to admit she still had it in her bedroom. It smelled like him – crisp and clean with a faint masculine spicy scent from his deodorant. “I don’t want to ruin it by washing it with anything that might wreck it. I’ll give it a special wash.”

“Just give it to me and I’ll do it, Penny.”

“Uh yeah, sure. And uh… this is for you.”

She thrust the stapled bundle of papers towards him awkwardly. “It’s a contract. Kind of like your Roommate Agreement with Leonard. But for us. If you want.”

“Dating Agreement?!”

She looked down, kind of embarrassed. He looked shocked, not pleased. “Well, I’ve tried to be as obvious as I can, but I still can’t tell if you’re interested or not. So I thought I’d try communicating your way. There it is – all spelled out in detail in eleven pages. Plus appendixes. I worked on it all week.”

“Appendices,” he corrected absently, flipping through to skim the document. “Section Two – Foreplay and Coitus? Penny! Is this a joke?” he said hesitantly, looking around as if he expected to see the guys pop out any moment to laugh at him.

“No Bazinga,” she promised. “Read section 1.2. I’m for real here.”

He read aloud, “1.2 Both undersigned parties shall agree to honour this document with honesty and seriousness, and to abide faithfully by the regulations within to the best of their abilities. The Dating Agreement may be terminated by verbal in-person statement at any time by either party with a minimum of 48 hours notice to allow for reconciliation attempts, with the exception of  special dates as listed in Appendix B – Holidays and Gifts, when a break-up is not permitted. Re-negotiation of terms is welcome on a six-monthly basis.”

“That basically means we’re not allowed to dump each other on Valentine’s Day or birthdays – that kind of thing,” she explained. “Sheldon, what do you think?”

“I think the world must be ending,” he said faintly. “This can’t be real.”

“It’s really real,” she promised. “And if the world is ending, you’ll want to refer to Appendix D – Apocalypse Scenarios. I know you’ve got a section like that somewhere in your Roommate Agreement, so I kind of wanted to copy it. It’s right at the back.”

He was flipping frantically to the last page before she’d finished speaking. He read the last page aloud in a voice that sounded reverent, almost awestruck, “Section 1 – Respective Duties and Priorities. In the event of an alien invasion, widespread disease outbreak, zombie apocalypse, or other large scale end-of-the-world scenario, Penny will be responsible for transport and weaponry, and Sheldon will be responsible for evacuation planning and logistical supply management. Both parties must make securing the immediate physical safety of the other partner their first priority in an emergency situation, before worrying about supplies, saving research notes, or securing personal belongings and memorabilia.”

“Is it silly? It’s silly, isn’t it,” she said nervously, as he set the document down carefully on top of an unused washing machine lid, and turned to her. “I got a friend’s sister who’s just started studying law to help read over my draft, and she thought that bit was kind of dumb, but I insisted. Are you not interested? Because you don’t have to sign…”

“I’m interested,” he said, walking towards her and reaching out tentatively to hold her hand, sending a quiet thrill through her body and bringing a smile to her face. “I will have to look over all the clauses in detail before signing, and I’d love the opportunity to draft some sections of my own. But yes! Penny, I would be extremely happy to sign this. I had no idea you were interested in me like that.”

Captain Oblivious, she thought fondly.

With a wondering look in his eye, he moved to wrap his arms around her awkwardly.

“Kiss me?” she said, with her head tilted up towards him.

“But I haven’t signed yet. And I didn’t read Section 2 yet in detail – I might get your preferred technique wrong,” he said nervously. “I don’t have a lot of experience with kissing. I wouldn’t want to be in breach of your contract even before signing.”

“Then just follow my lead. Think of it as a beta test,” she suggested. “If it’s not quite right, we’ll work on fixing it, okay? Just… kiss me.”

His mouth pressed against hers chastely to begin with, dry lips soft and warm against her own. He drew back with a proud and startled grin. She took the initiative to steal another kiss, twining her fingers through his hair and pulling his head back down to her level, kissing him passionately, her tongue sliding between his lips. He tasted faintly of peppermint tea, and they both groaned in surprised passion. As his arms held her more tightly against his body in unconscious reflex, she was pleased to be reassured by the hardness pressing against her body that he was definitely not asexual or disinterested in her. After a couple of minutes of increasingly adept kisses she pulled away, and he panted for breath with his chest heaving, wild-eyed.

“What comes next?” he asked expectantly. “I think I like that beta test, and I would like to pre-order the full version, please.”

She smirked. That’s how she liked her men – panting for more. “Now you read and sign the contract. You have twenty-four hours for consideration, doing any required research, and proposing amendments.”

“Contract amendments,” he sighed happily, like she’d given him a precious gift.

With the background hum and rattle of the washing machines, and Penny’s avid gaze locked on his lean and awkwardly aroused form, he settled in to quickly read through her proposal, borrowing a pen from her (she’d come prepared) to add in some notes.

“You don’t have to do this now,” she said. “It’s alright if you want to think about it.”

“But a contract can be withdrawn from consideration by the proposing party until such time as it is counter-signed,” he explained, scribbling corrections on the contract as he spoke.

Penny mentally translated what he said, and felt all warm and fuzzy as she realised what he was saying – he was worried if he waited to sign she’d change her mind.

“I’ve added Meemaw’s birthday under Appendix B, and added a section about gift-giving occasions requiring two weeks notice of the expected value of the gift that will be given?” he said hesitantly. “And also in Appendix B I’ve added an exception that I need not attend a ‘Notable Celebration or Anniversary’ occasion if I have an invitation to any event directly connected with the awarding or celebration of a Nobel Prize, or an opportunity to view the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Is that alright?”

“Add in a note that if any of those opportunities allow you to take a date, it must be me, and we’re all good. Nobel prizes of course would take priority over an anniversary. Though you’d owe me an extra nice present to make up for it.”

“Quadruple standard value,” he murmured, making a note, before continuing more uncertainly. “Appendix C, Number 37 in my Roommate Agreement with Leonard requires me to give him priority invitation rights to see the Large Hadron Collider.”

She thought about it for a minute. “How about if that comes up you pay for me to go along with you, but I’ll sightsee in Switzerland while you can go see the Collider with Leonard?”

“Done!” he said, amending the document again.

“Any problems with uh… Section 2?” Penny asked hesitantly.

He looked embarrassed, but shook his head. “No. It appears acceptable. There are several loopholes specifying the importance of mutual consent at all times that I’m sure I could take advantage of if necessary if I felt uncomfortable with a proposed activity,” he said with a tiny blush.

“I’ve got a few more things I might want to add to other sections, like hygiene standards, if you’ll allow me that 24 hour period for reflection and permit changes after signing. But if not they can wait for our six monthly review.”

“Sure, sweetie. And remember, we can talk about it if you realise there’s any little things you missed. Not everything needs to be in the contract, you know. Some things can be decided just by talking.”

“By verbal agreement.”

“Sure.”

He signed his name on the contract, while she beamed at him, and sighed happily at his assumption that of course they would still be together in six months’ time.

“Now you’re officially my girlfriend, with an option to apply to become fiancés or life partners after a minimum of one year’s cohabitation.”

“Kiss me again, you romantic fool,” she murmured, and grabbed his shirt to pull him against her, muffling his objections to the word “fool” with an urgent press of her lips against his. He was happy to drop his argument pretty swiftly, with such inducement.

-000-

Penny left it up to Sheldon to break the news to Leonard. Which probably wasn’t the wisest course of action, if she wanted it done with tact or subtlety.

He broke the news to Leonard on Sunday morning, after spending Saturday evening with Penny going through some practical demonstrations of the early segments of Section 2 of his new Dating Agreement. The experiments had been both educational and engaging.

“Hello Leonard.  This constitutes your official verbal notice under Section 8 of our Roommate Agreement, Subsection C, Paragraph 4 that Penny will be visiting me this evening,” Sheldon said rapidly, with a rising blush.

“Subsection C, Paragraph 4… what? That’s for twelve hour notice for coitus!”

“Indeed.”

“Bazinga?” Leonard asked with a nervous laugh.

But Sheldon just strode swiftly off to the sanctuary of his room, closing the door behind him.

“Sheldon? Bazinga? You didn’t say ‘Bazinga’, Sheldon!” Leonard cried, knocking on his door with increasing vigour.

“SHELDON!”