Hand washing the dishes, Amy had learned, could be very conducive to contemplation.
Oh, of course she thought the dishwasher was a marvel of modern engineering, an appliance she would not wish to live without. It was a necessity to her, when there were a great deal of dirty dishes or if they were heavily soiled or if she was just too busy to do the chore herself. There was no denying that it was far faster to put in a detergent tab, press a button or two, and walk away. But there was something peaceful about standing with one's hands submerged in warm water, soft and buoyant with bubbles, going through the satisfying motions of making a used item clean and fresh again.
On this particular evening there were only a few dishes from their dinner of ham and cheese sandwiches, so Amy stood hand washing at the sink, staring out the window but not really seeing what was there, and ruminated on the greater themes and meanings of the novel she'd just finished. Sheldon was . . . well, Sheldon was shuffling around behind her doing whatever it was Sheldon had planned for himself. It was a task that did not involve her and he would not be interested in the book she wanted to think about so it would be one of those peaceful evenings in which they were silent together, each in their own little thought bubble.
Amy quite liked their thought bubbles; they, too, were gentle and buoyant, each person quiet behind a shimmering veil. They could see each other on the edges of their consciousness, even softly bounce off of each other as they moved about their shared home, only the smallest and most necessary of words muffled by the foam of their individual tasks. Amy was warmed by the constancy of Sheldon's presence, floating so close to her. There was an effervescence to these evenings, like riding the gentle wave of their love.
She gave a soft sigh of contentment as she reached for the last dirty dish, the skillet in which the sandwiches had been toasted. Her daydreaming had driven her off the course of her literary thoughts, but she didn't mind in the least. That was another joy of washing the dishes: she never knew where the pleasant stream of her silent reveries would take her -
"Ahhh!" Amy screamed and covered her ears on instinct, oblivious to the dish soap that soaked into the hair over her temples. The skillet fell from her now-absent hands and landed heavy into the sink, sloshing water up onto her sweater. A crunching, smashing sound added to the cacophony of noise, and she bellowed at the top of her lungs as she turned around, "What is that?"
Sheldon stood perched on a step ladder, and he reached up to touch the smoke detector on the ceiling. The noise stopped just as suddenly as it had started, leaving behind a ringing in Amy's ears. "It's the monthly apartment safety check. I've already confirmed there are no frayed electrical cords, and now I'm testing the smoke detector. Next I'll check under all the sinks for leaks."
He said it so matter-of-factly that Amy frowned. She knew what he was implying. How could she forget something as important as the monthly apartment safety check? Never mind that she believed it was overkill; Sheldon deemed it necessary, so necessary it would remain.
"Well, some warning would have been nice," Amy growled. "Now I'm soaking wet."
"That's your own fault for hand washing the dishes. Our dishwasher is functioning at maximum efficiency. I tested it last month during the quarterly -"
"I know," Amy interrupted him, her voice terse. She did know the schedule; but telling Sheldon she'd forgotten what day it was would only lead to more ridicule. She wondered if Sheldon ever daydreamed about anything other than physics and his schedules.
Frustrated, she reached for the skillet. She was no longer in the mood to wash the dishes, but she had to finish. Yet when she lifted the skillet back out of the water, she heard the crunching and grating noises it left behind in the sink. She groaned. Something was broken and now she had to clean that up, too. It was impossible to tell what because of the amount of suds; Amy liked a lot of bubbles. Setting the still-dirty skillet aside, she gingerly reached into the water for the stopper at the bottom. Something sharp grazed her hand, but she pulled away in time to avoid a cut. The water drained quickly, the last sucking sound leaving behind piles of lather resting on top of . . .
"Oh, no!" Amy exclaimed, reaching for the sprayer to wash the last of the bubbles down the drain.
"What is it?" Sheldon came rushing to her side. "Is there a leak?"
Amy shook her head and pointed to the bottom of the sink. There, scattered and broken, were the remains of a yellow tea mug. Their only yellow mug. She must have been so busy daydreaming that she had forgotten it, leaving it hidden under the soap as she washed the rest of the dishes.
"Oh. That's not so bad." Sheldon shrugged and started to walk away.
"Not so bad?" Amy cried. "It's the yellow mug!"
Sheldon turned back, clearly surprised. "But we have others. And it's only a few large pieces; it wouldn't be difficult to clean."
"But it's our special mug!" Amy protested.
After blinking twice, Sheldon replied, "We have a special mug? The blue and the burgundy one are from the same set. There was green one, too, but Leonard broke that one ages ago."
"But - but - don't you remember? It's always been our mug." Angry now, even as she realized her anger was out of proportion to the unfolding event, Amy reached for the hand towel to dry her hands. The skillet would just have to wait to be washed.
"Well, we have it now - or rather, had it before you destroyed it - but actually the set was purchased before you and I ever met."
Amy stared at him, hurt by his callous factualism. "I can't believe you'd say that when it's obvious how much that mug meant to us."
"Why not? It's the truth. The mug set was bought the first year -"
"That mug was how I knew you loved me!" Amy cried, reaching up to rub a tear that was trailing its way down her cheek.
Tilting his head, Sheldon stepped close. "Amy, are you ill? You seem to have forgotten that we were in the hallway outside my bedroom when I told you that I loved you. Surely I don't need to remind you that we weren't having tea or any other beverage, for that matter."
"I know when you told you loved me, Sheldon," Amy said, drying both cheeks with the palms of her hands now. "But the mug was how I knew."
"What does that mean? And why are you crying? Your menses shouldn't start for another two weeks. Are you sure you're not coming down with something?" Sheldon reached for her shoulder.
"No." Amy stepped past him, avoiding his touch. "First you broke the mug and now you've broken the effervescence of our love and if you don't understand I can't explain it to you!" She ran to the bedroom, tears falling rapidly down her cheeks now as a sob rose up out of her.
"How is that even possible?" Sheldon called after her. "Effervescence is a gas caused by fermenting liquids!"
Amy slammed the bedroom door shut behind her as she collapsed on the bed to cry.
"What's up, Sulky McSulkerson?" Howard asked.
"Hey, Sheldon, I think that's you," Leonard added.
Looking up from the uneaten lunch, Sheldon slumped into his hand. "It's a long story and you wouldn't understand."
"That's never stopped you before," Raj said.
"Oh, alright, you're bound to find out anyway so you might as well hear it from me first," Sheldon said. He took a deep breath. "Amy broke the yellow mug last night."
"Wow! It's a good thing I didn't check Wikileaks before I came to lunch!" Howard said. "I would have been shocked without all the proper context."
Sheldon shot him a dirty look as Raj asked, "So that's it? Amy broke a mug? Was it your favorite or something?"
"Wait, is that where all my mugs went?" Leonard said.
Ignoring Leonard, Sheldon turned to Raj. "That's just it. Apparently it was Amy's favorite, even though she never once said that, and now she's being irrationally emotional about it. I pointed out that we have two other mugs that are the exact same heft and same diameter and contain the same number of fluid ounces -"
"Those are my mugs, you know," Leonard said. "I bought them."
"- but then she said something nonsensical about the mug telling her I loved her, as if an inanimate object could convey emotion." He shook his head.
"Just buy her another one," Raj suggested.
"No wonder you're single," Sheldon said. "As if I could replace a symbol of our love with a hastily bought replica and expect her to so easily transfer her emotions. You're incapable of understanding the mind of a woman."
"So, Ikea doesn't sell them anymore?" Leonard asked.
"No. I looked on the website this morning," Sheldon grumbled.
"Have you tried replacement. com?" Howard asked.
Sheldon looked up. "Replacement .com?"
"Yeah. I used to replace my mom's heirloom gravy boat that her grandmother brought from Poland every time I broke it," Howard explained. "Thank goodness for overnight shipping."
"Are they used?" Sheldon wrinkled his nose.
"Not always. You have to read the details. You can even buy in bulk sometimes."
"Hmmmm, it might work."
"And, while you're at it, buy me a replacement set, would you?" Leonard asked.
"Tea?" Sheldon asked, already moving toward the kitchen.
"Please," Amy replied, removing her purse and jacket and then following him to take a seat on one of the barstools. They had stopped to pick up the mail on their way into the building, the timing of their date night being such that they had gone straight to dinner after work. As was her habit, she spread it out of the island in front of her, sorting by type of mail and sender. She would open and study the worst first (the bills) leaving the most exciting pieces for last (usually magazines but occasionally a personal card or letter).
Sheldon fell silent as she completed this task, respectful of her process. Amy could still hear him in the kitchen, the filling of the kettle, the mugs sat on the counter, the tea bags selected. If she had been thinking about it, she could have imagined every step of his process.
She only lifted her head when she heard a mug sliding across the tile countertop toward her. "Lemon Zinger," he said, "because it's about to get exciting."
First Amy glanced up quickly, muttering "It is?," and then she stopped, slowly lifting her eyes toward the mug this time and then up to Sheldon's gaze. He was holding his own blue mug in front of his mouth but not drinking from it. Rather, only his eyes and one raised eyebrow were visible over the top.
"You bought a replacement?" she hushed out.
"Well, the original was shattered beyond repair. You won't believe what I had to go through. They don't make or sell them anymore, you know. And don't let Leonard tell you he bought the original mugs. I clearly remember the trip to Ikea . . ."
As he continued, Amy reached out to touch the yellow mug, and then picked it up, wrapping both of her hands around it. Yes, it was an exact duplicate, the size and feel in her hands were the same. She became aware that Sheldon's story had fallen silent, and she flushed as she realized she was expected to say something and drink her tea, not just stare at the mug in her hands.
"Thank you, Sheldon. I appreciate all your effort." It sounded dull to her own ears.
"Hmmrrpphh," Sheldon said tartly. "You should. Did I mention how much effort it was?" He walked past her, and Amy turned to watch him go.
"Really, Sheldon, thank you. It's very sweet of you."
"I know," he mumbled, reaching for the remote control on the coffee table.
Looking back at the mug that was rapidly becoming uncomfortably hot in her hands, Amy frowned. It was thoughtful. Sheldon had seen her distress and had sought a way to mitigate it. She was being rude, and now he seemed put out. But it still seemed like he didn't understand her point in the first place; he was only concerned with how much effort it took to find a new mug and who had actually handed over their credit card at Ikea several years ago.
Because it was not same mug at all. It was just a plain yellow mug with no history, no heart.
"I was thinking, since you've been working so hard lately, that we'd watch one your movies tonight," Sheldon suggested as he turned the dishwasher on. Nothing had been hand washed since the night the mug broke. "You can put your feet up and relax, and I'll bring you some popcorn."
"Really?" Amy asked, looking both surprised and pleased.
"Yes. You're busy at work and you've doing wedding errands after work for days. You didn't get back with your mother until after nine last night." He was already unfolding the bag of popcorn and placing it in the microwave.
"How about Wonder Woman?" Amy replied, walking toward the shelf where they stored their movies. "You liked it, too, and Penny gave me the Blu-Ray for my birthday and I haven't even opened it yet."
"Perfect." Sheldon smiled as he watched the countdown of the timer, waiting for the instructed two full seconds between pops. Amy had no idea just how perfect it would be.
"Do you think Wonder Woman should have married Steve Trevor?" Amy asked as she put the disc in the player.
"No," Sheldon replied.
"No?" Amy looked over at him. "But she loved him. And it would have been the only socially acceptable way to continue their relationship at the time."
"Can you imagine being married to Wonder Woman?" Sheldon asked with a shake of his head. "She'd always be better than you."
"Or maybe you'd love her enough you'd want her to be the best she could be even if that was better than you," Amy replied.
Sheldon considered this. "Maybe. Yes, I suppose." He paused and added, "But then she'd always be leaving you behind. You'd always be waiting for her, pining for her return. Pining is terribly uncomfortable."
Amy smiled over at him as she sat on the sofa, and he had the strange feeling he'd said something that Amy especially liked. He was just about to inquire what when he realized it had been a full three and half seconds since he'd heard a pop from the microwave. "The popcorn! Start the movie, I'll bring it over."
Watching her carefully to make sure she didn't turn too soon, Sheldon opened a rarely used drawer and took out the container he'd been hiding for this moment and poured the popcorn into it and its matching counterpart from the shelf. Grinning broadly, he carried the dishes over to the couch.
"Popcorn for the lady."
Just as he hoped, Amy turned and followed his grin down to his hands where her eyes settled on the dishes: two yellow mugs, exactly the same, both exactly like the one that had broken. Her brows dipped slightly. "You bought a second mug?"
"A spare in case we break one again. And then you won't ever be without your favorite."
But her brows didn't raise in pleasure. In fact, they dipped a little lower even as she took the mug overflowing with popcorn from him. Sheldon sat down next to her, watching her look at the mug.
"Thank you, Sheldon, that's very . . . proactive of you."
"Proactive is one my specialities. I bet even Wonder Woman wouldn't be better at it."
Amy nodded and then looked over at him. "You do know it wasn't my favorite because we had a spare, right?"
"Of course not." Amy smiled at him. "We never had a spare until right now." The smile fell.
Leaning forward, she sat the mug on the coffee table. "Sheldon, you understand that the broken mug had sentimental value to me, that it wasn't my favorite for any other reason?"
"That it was the quality and meaning of the memories that occurred when I was drinking from that mug and not the quantity of the mugs?"
Swallowing deeply, Sheldon nodded.
"Good." Amy smiled softly at him and reached for her mug of popcorn again. "Let's watch the movie."
The movie started and Amy pulled her feet up on the sofa, tucking them under her as she leaned against Sheldon's shoulder. He took a few kernels of popcorn from his own mug and put them in his mouth, but it was a thoughtless action. Quality, not quantity? That might be a problem.
S: Would you like to come to my office for an afternoon treat, little lady?
Amy gripped the edge of her lab table as she read the text a second time. And then a third. Surely not . . . No, not Sheldon. It couldn't be.
A: Afternoon treat?
S: Something hot and sweet.
It was almost certain that Sheldon had no idea what his words could imply. But then, there had been a flamenco dance and more than one offer to make beautiful science with him in the past. Regardless of his actual meaning, Amy was flushed with curiosity, among other things.
A: Yes. Occasion?
S: Just because.
Well, it certainly wasn't that. It was never just because with Sheldon. But it had her interest piqued, and even Amy knew she was powerless to that. As did Sheldon.
But then he added: I thought we could both use a little decadence in the middle of the day.
Amy's reached for the folder she was using earlier to fan herself. This was getting more intriguing by the word.
A: Should I bring something?
S: Oh, I'm all prepared for you. But you may want to bring a towel to clean up afterwards. I've been looking forward to this for hours.
S: Yes, now, if you have the time. Otherwise I may have to start without you. Once you're here, we can take as long as you like.
A: On my way.
Several minutes later - but not nearly as many minutes as it normally took - she arrived panting at the door to Sheldon's office, her lungs burning from the sprint across campus. She knocked and waited for him to tell her to come in while she smoothed her hair down.
Cracking open the door, she peered around the edge, not knowing what to expect. It was probably wise not to open it too wide in case Sheldon was -
- sitting at his desk working on his laptop?
"Oh, good," he said, looking up, "you're here. That was speedy."
"Um . . . What's going on?" Amy asked, shutting the door behind her and moving toward the desk.
"Please, have a seat," Sheldon motioned, and then he reached into his desk drawer and pulled out two mugs, one yellow and one blue. He stretched his arm to place the yellow one in front of her, and then returned to the drawer to pull out two spoons. Amy stared down at the mug in confusion. Another yellow mug? Or one of the two she already knew about? And it didn't contain tea or popcorn. Instead, there was something dark brown mounded up in it. Steam wafted off the top and the air was gradually filled with the sweet scent of what could only be chocolate.
"Have you heard of these new Duncan Hines mug desserts?" Sheldon explained, dipping his spoon into the mug in front of him and pulling out a gooey, silky bit of chocolate, right on the edge of cake and ganache. "This one is chocolate lava brownie. I made them in the microwave in the department lounge. I thought you might enjoy the break."
Speechless with confusion and, yes, disappointment, Amy reached forward and gathered her own bite as it seemed the only thing to do. Well, at least it explained why Sheldon's messenger bag had looked so full this morning. But she closed her eyes in pleasure when the sweet heat hit her tongue, and she heard herself give out an unwanted moan. It was decadent.
"How is it?" Sheldon asked, snapping her out of her bliss, and her eyes popped open to see him gazing at her in that seductive way he had. "Better than sex?"
Treading carefully, Sheldon sat the bottle of Tylenol on Amy's night table, next to the two mugs he'd just brought. He sat carefully on the very edge of the mattress, but she didn't stir. She looked like she had fallen asleep from a standing position, still in all her clothes except her shoes and glasses. The quilt was thrown so haphazardly over her that it only covered her torso. Sheldon took that as a good sign that she wasn't chilling from a fever, at least. After a day complaining of a scratchy throat and general malaise, Amy had announced she was going to take a nap. Almost four hours ago.
He reached up to rest his palm against her forehead and nodded with satisfaction when she didn't feel overly hot. Then he reached for her shoulder and gently shook it. After a couple of snorts and sudden kick of her legs, Amy awoke with a bewildered look. "Sheldon?"
"Amy, it's six o'clock. You've slept almost four hours. How are you feeling?"
After blinking several times and rolling over on her back, Amy ran her palm down her naked face. She had slept hard; the now-exposed side of her face revealed several creases from her pillowcase. "Weird." She started to pull herself upright, and Sheldon shifted to give her more room to maneuver. "Weird and gross from sleeping in all my clothes."
"I brought you some dinner. I think you should try to eat," Sheldon said, lifting the first mug and handing it to her. "And there's tea with honey for your throat, also."
"Eat here?" Amy asked, taking the mug and wrapping her hands around it. She leaned closer and shut her eyes as she took a deep breath of its scent. "Mmmm, chicken and stars."
Sheldon smiled. "I know you love it. And, yes, enjoy it here. Are you cold? Feverish? Aching? Congested?"
She took a long, slow drink of the hot soup and shook her head as she swallowed it. "No. I'm actually feeling a little better now. Maybe a hot bath would be nice and then some clean clothes."
"I'll go run it for you while you finish," Sheldon volunteered, standing.
"No, it's okay. I can do it."
Shaking his head, Sheldon continued. "I'll do it. You finish and then it will be ready for you. Don't forget, Star Trek: Discovery is on tonight. You'll want to be fresh and alert for that."
"Indeed," he heard Amy murmur just before he started the tap, and any further conversation was lost in the rush of water as it filled the tub. Sheldon lifted up the bottle of Amy's bubble bath, measuring the recommended amount in the cap, and then deciding to add extra at the last minute. Amy liked a lot of bubbles. Once the large ridges of bubbles rose up, he called, "It's almost ready."
Amy came into the bathroom and started to undress, and he reached into the cabinet to get her a clean towel and washcloth.
"How was the soup?" he asked. "Will you want the rest after your bath?"
"Good; it really hit the spot. But I'm fine, thank you. I can take the leftovers in my lunch tomorrow."
"Very well." Sheldon reached for her shoulder and dropped a quick kiss on her forehead. "I'm glad you're feeling better. Enjoy your bath."
Just as he stepped on the threshold, Amy said, "Thank you, Sheldon. For everything."
He turned around just as she stepped naked into the bathtub and stood upon the foam, like Venus upon the waves. Her body was beautiful, of course, but it was her face he looked at carefully. It was kind but inscrutable. "You're welcome."
Smiling to him, Amy lowered herself into the water, disappearing from his view. He went to the bedroom to retrieve the mugs, noticing that Amy finished the soup but only half the tea. The dishwasher was running, and Sheldon frowned that he'd started it before waiting for these last two items. But, as Amy was otherwise engaged, he decided to take the time to wash them both by hand in the sink, careful to avoid any possible breakage, and then dried them with the dishtowel. As he sat new yellow mugs number four and five on the shelf, he again wondered if Amy noticed and had included it in her thanks.
Take the toothpaste out of the cup. Unscrew the cap and rest it on the counter top. Pull the toothbrush out of the cup. Hold the toothbrush straight in her left hand, the bristles upright, while still holding the toothpaste in her right. Squeeze the toothpaste on the brush. Set the toothbrush on the counter, careful to prevent it from falling over. Recap the toothpaste and put it back. Pick up the toothbrush and insert into her mouth, starting with her lower right molars. Brush teeth for two full minutes, thirty seconds on each quadrant, all while humming to herself. Meanwhile, inspect her pores in the mirror.
Mornings were, almost without fail, a series of rituals. At first, it had seemed that living with Sheldon would change that, but after a few initial growing pains, Amy found he, too, had rituals, and with only minor adjustments, their rituals could coexist quite nicely. So, any second now, she knew that . . .
. . . the water in the shower turned off and the curtain slid away with a clicking sound as the rings of the shower curtain caught along the rod. Naked and wet Sheldon Cooper in all his glory. He would push back his hair and then reach out to grab his towel from the bar before he started the process of running it all over himself, shimmying it behind him when he dried his back.
So maybe her pores weren't the only things she was inspecting in the mirror.
Sheldon stepped out in the same smooth movement that he also used to knot the towel around his waist as he came to join Amy in their oral hygiene ritual. The last notes of Happy Birthday to You dying away in her throat, Amy watched Sheldon reach for his own toothbrush in the cup -
"Where fif phaf come fom?" she asked, pointing to the yellow mug on the ledge. The yellow mug that was not there last night before bed. How had she missed it until this second? Oh, right, she was thinking about Sheldon being naked, that's how.
"What did you say?" Sheldon asked, looking at her as he lifted up his toothbrush. "I thought we agreed not to talk while brushing our teeth. Not only is it repulsive to see, but it makes it almost impossible to hear what you mean."
Amy rolled her eyes and spat out the collection of spume and saliva in her mouth. Then she rinsed her mouth, patting it dry before she spoke again. "I said, 'Where did that come from?' And how many did you buy?"
The toothbrush popped into Sheldon's mouth as he made a hopeless gesture with his upturned palms.
"That." Amy pointed again, this time using her own brush for emphasis. "The yellow mug. It wasn't there yesterday."
"I haff mo idefr." And then he grinned - grinned! - giving away only his adorably crooked teeth surrounded by mint-colored froth.
It wasn't the silence that made him look up. He loved being silent together with Amy, the edge of his brain aware of her presence even as the rest worked toward his future Nobel Prize. Rather, it was the length of time it was taking his laptop to download the report he'd saved on the Caltech server.
But Sheldon did a double take when he didn't see the back of her dark hair on the sofa, where she had been sitting and reading. A swerve of his head revealed she was standing at their front door, one side of her face pressed closely against its surface, her eyes screwed shut in concentration. Amy was eavesdropping on the hallway.
"What is it?" he asked.
Without opening her eyes, Amy put a finger up to her lips, encouraging him to remain quiet.
Intrigued, Sheldon got up to join her. At his approach, Amy opened her eyes and mouthed, "Leonard and Penny."
He pressed his own ear to the door, so close to Amy that their noses almost touched. He heard Penny say something about her brother and jail, but Sheldon wasn't really paying attention as he watched Amy instead. She had closed her eyes again, and he took a moment to study her face. Her lips were so pink and pillowy that he was tempted to kiss them. But he decided against it; they were not engaged in any sort of amorous conversation and he did not know if his advance would be welcome. He let out a soft sigh of disappointment instead, and Amy shushed him for it.
Sheldon could barely make out the conversation of their friends and neighbors in the hallway, and he had superior hearing. It was surprising Amy could hear anything at all, although the line in the center of her forehead declared the amount of effort she was putting into it.
He stood and went to the bedroom and returned with something he thought might help. "Here, use this," he whispered, and Amy's eyes snapped open to see the yellow mug he was giving her.
Lifting it, Sheldon mimicked holding it against his ear. Amy smiled and reached out to take it. "It's too thick for acoustic impedance, don't you think?" she whispered.
"Consider it an experiment, then."
It has to be here somewhere.
Amy sighed and ran her eyes down the column of data on her printout again, this time using her finger to insure that she checked every single entry. Something was off with her computations, and she had narrowed it down to this subset. Sheldon claimed that his brain physically itched when something was missing or left incomplete, and, while she'd argued with that that was impossible because the brain itself had no pain receptors, Amy felt the urge to scratch at her scalp at just this moment.
Aha! Instantly her brain stopped itching. There it is!
She pushed her fingertip down on the offending decimal point, as though it would scuttle off the page otherwise, and reached for a highlighter with the other. Her hand stopped, hovering in mid-air. Her pens, markers, and highlighters where all setting on her lab desk where she'd last left them, but they were tip-down in a yellow mug.
Because it was so tedious to find the error in the first place, Amy still grabbed the yellow highlighter and marked the number in question. Science first. Sheldon's latest crazy scheme second. But, once that was dealt with, she put down the highlighter and picked up the mug to inspect it. Why, she didn't know. It wasn't necessary to examine it; she knew that it was yet another duplicate of the yellow mug that had been broken in the sink a few weeks ago. There'd been enough periodic appearances of new identical mugs since then that she shouldn't be surprised. Although she did have questions about how and when Sheldon had got into her lab to replace this particular container.
The truth was that Sheldon's plan was working. She'd gone from being hurt and then feeling misjudged and annoyed to confusion and on to being charmed by these little gestures. It was true that quantity couldn't replace quality, or that any new memories, especially of mundane tasks like tooth brushing or recalculating her latest report, couldn't replace the memories of tea with Sheldon in 4A, back when often the only clues she had to his feelings were handed to her in a warm yellow mug. But still, his efforts were starting to tug at her heart.
She smiled at its cheery color. Yellow was such a happy hue, wasn't it? It reminded her of sunshine and butter. At this moment, it even reminded her of the satisfaction she had in finding the elusive numerical typo. Struck with an idea, Amy sat the mug down right on top of her printout and arranged her desktop. She stood to take the photo from the best angle and then used her editing app to wash out all the color except for the yellows: the mug, the highlighter lying next to it, and the bright streak illuminating her successful hunt.
'Happiness is finding exactly that for which you were looking,' she typed into Instagram as the caption and added a yellow heart emoji for good measure.
Exactly two seconds later, Sheldon was the very first comment with his own yellow heart.
Having been a new moon, it was still pitch black when Sheldon padded into the living room, holding onto the doorknob of the bedroom door in order to shut it silently behind him. Because he had to wake earlier than usual, the alarm on his phone had sounded and also awoken Amy, but fortunately she had just mumbled some unintelligible words and rolled over to fall back to sleep. Howard had a presentation at San Diego State University today, and Sheldon had convinced him to let him come so that he could visit the Model Railroad Museum. Why Leonard and Raj were tagging along, too, Sheldon had no idea.
Sheldon was just finishing his breakfast when his phoned buzzed, and he looked down at the screen to see one the reminders he'd set for himself to give Amy another yellow mug. He frowned as he dismissed the box. It was getting ever more difficult to find ways to give her the mugs. The first couple had been easy, but now he was having trouble of thinking of more inventive ways, any event that could in any way involve the use of a mug. He had come up with an idea yesterday but it involved being duplicitous, so he wasn't sure he wanted to do it yet; and wouldn't Amy see through that antic?
Nevertheless, he went and retrieved the next mug from behind the lone geology textbook, chosen because he knew it would not be disturbed. He returned to the kitchen and wiped it with the hand towel in case it was dusty. Then he stood staring at it. It was enough of a problem to be running out of ideas, but it was even worse that he wouldn't be home today. He could just leave it setting somewhere for her to discover, but he'd already done that twice now. True, the last time she enjoyed it enough to take a photo and post it on Instagram, but he didn't want to be repetitive.
But he picked up his phone, anyway, as it occurred to him that maybe he could take a photo of the mug and send it to her later. A reversal of sorts. Although, then when would he give her the actual physical mug? Holding his phone with his non-dominant hand, his thumb must have brushed the front-facing camera button, so he was met with the sight of himself holding the yellow mug.
He was in a state of morning dishevelment, perhaps even more so than usual because of his early wake-up time: his hair was sticking up in patches, he had little puffs under his eyes, and the white tee shirt under his pajama top looked wrinkled. Today was also the day he was due for a shave, and his stubble looked especially dark and noticeable. Not the best look for a photo.
And yet . . . he loved seeing Amy first thing in the morning, before her hair was combed or her lip gloss was applied. It was the rawest form of her, and it served as a reminder that she had chosen to share this truest version of herself with him for the rest of their lives. He found the constancy of her love and her presence greatly comforting; if she could love him with puffy eyes and the shadow of facial hair, then surely she could love him through anything.
He lifted the mug and his phone higher, trying to get both his face and the cup in one shot. After experimenting with a smile that looked forced and a raised eyebrow that looked suspicious instead of sexy, Sheldon settled on his plain morning face. Just him and the mug.
Only after it was taken did he remember the small Bluetooth photo printer that Amy's mother had gotten her for Christmas. At first, Amy had loved it, littering the front of their refrigerator with photographs; however, like all new and ultimately unnecessary toys, it had fallen into disuse. But it was still on the shelf, and Sheldon had no difficulty in sending the selfie he'd just taken to be printed.
He wasn't going to tape it to the mug, but he had another plan. There was a bag of beans and there were plenty of forks. Sheldon poured as many beans into the mug as it would hold and then the fork was placed upside down in the middle. With some experimentation, he was able to get the photo to stay between the tines. There. He smiled at his handiwork, and sat it on the island, right where Amy always ate her breakfast.
Grabbing a piece of paper, he debated about what to write. How much he'd miss her today? How much he loved her? How much he loved seeing her face every morning? Nah, too sappy. In the end, he put the paper away and went to shave and shower.
Amy would know what it meant.
"Since you were so kind as to provide dinner, I brought dessert," Sheldon announced to their foursome. Amy turned to look at him in surprise. It was surprise enough that they'd been invited over for pizza, when no previous plans had been made, and it was even more of a surprise when it came out that it had been Sheldon's idea.
"You did?" Amy asked. They'd walked across the hall together, and Amy clearly remembered that they had both been empty-handed at the time.
"Yes," he answered. "Since Howard isn't here to ruin it by dying from anaphylaxis or something else inconvenient, I brought Spanish peanuts." He twisted to reach down between his arm of the sofa and the end table, pulling up a large zipper-top bag filled with whole, unshelled peanuts.
"Where did those come from?" Leonard asked.
Amy thought that was an excellent question. Was it related to Sheldon's strange evasiveness this morning, when he insisted he needed to ride to work with Leonard instead of her and gave her an excuse that was obviously untrue before he crossed the hallway?
"Texas. My Meemaw sent them," Sheldon explained, although Amy noticed his voice was a higher pitch than normal.
Penny twisted her lips. "I thought you said they were Spanish."
Shaking his head, Sheldon replied, "That's the variety. But they are grown in Texas. Did you know that almost 29% of the peanut crop in the United States is grown there? Meemaw knows I love them."
"Since when?" Leonard asked, his brows low. "You once gave me a strike for dropping a single pistachio shell in this chair. Now you're going to shell and eat those messy nuts?"
"Technically, they're legumes." Sheldon got up and went toward the kitchen, and he came back carrying a large bowl. "The green dye left by that pistachio shell took a serious scrubbing. These are all natural." Sitting back down, he poured the nuts out into the bowel, and Penny immediately reached forward to grab a handful.
"When did Meemaw send these to you?" Amy asked, taking a nut herself.
"How?" Crack went the shell under Amy's thumb, and Sheldon flinched next to her at the sound.
"Um, she shipped them in the mail."
"But I got the mail when I got home, and there wasn't a package of peanuts in it." The small tan legumes slide easily out of their dark, papery skins, and Sheldon actually shivered when it happened. He was very jumpy this evening.
"She sent them to work, okay?" Sheldon yelled. "Just because they're Spanish peanuts doesn't mean you have to put me under the Spanish Inquisition to eat them!"
"Okay, fine." Amy put the nuts in her mouth, holding up her palms to surrender. Well, holding up her palms the best she could because one hand was still wrapped around the broken shell and ripped skin. She didn't want to drop anything after Leonard's story.
"Well, I like peanuts," Penny volunteered, cracking a few more.
"Thank you." Sheldon nodded in her direction.
No one spoke as they concentrated on cracking the nuts and eating them. Well, everyone except Sheldon. Why wasn't he eating any peanuts? It contradicted his claim that they were his favorite, shipped in by his Meemaw just because of how much he loved them, if he didn't eat any.
Amy tried to carefully balance the shells and skins in the center of her lap so as to avoid spilling them, and she had the impression he was watching her. But when she reached for more, her shift caused a couple to fall to the floor. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said.
"Here!" Sheldon cleared his throat and then lowered his voice as he continued, "I've got something for you to put your shells in."
He reached down in the space between the sofa and the end table again. How much did he have hidden down there? Lifting up a yellow mug, he set it wordlessly on the coffee table in front of Amy. She looked down at it and then back at him, unsure of how to respond. So it all had been a ruse, every bit of his day, none too cleverly executed, but she wouldn't tell him that. There was something sweet about how much effort he had put into making this opportunity.
"Hey, wait, weren't you supposed to be getting me those mugs?" Leonard asked.
"Yeah, don't we get something to put our shells in?" Penny added.
But Amy didn't speak; instead she held Sheldon's gaze and tried to convey her delight with her eyes alone.
There was the sound of the door knob, and Sheldon capped his marker in anticipation. Indeed, it was his betrothed.
"Hi," Amy said as she entered, lifting her purse over her shoulder to put it down next to her keys.
"Hello." Sheldon smiled "How did the search for bridesmaid dresses go?"
"As well as could be expected when you have a cranky nine-months pregnant bridesmaid on bedrest, giving her options via Facetime," Amy explained.
"Quite the prickly pear, was she?" He was proud of that line, especially given what he had in store for her.
Amy nodded in reply and stepped behind the sofa. "What are you working on? That doesn't look like string theory."
"You'll be happy to know you're not the only one who devoted some time to wedding planning this afternoon." He waved to his whiteboard, covered in various trains of thought. "I have applied myself to the floral conundrum."
"I didn't know it was a conundrum, but okay."
"Well, you said it was overwhelming to pick flowers based on the lost art of Victorian floriography." Sheldon pointed to the first list he'd made near the top of all the flowers he'd heard Amy mention. "For example, you love gardenias but they are considered a sign of budding ecstasy. I know we'll both be anticipating the wedding night, but it's a little gauche to advertise that, don't you think? What are we going to do next, invite everyone up to watch us consummate our union?"
"Okay," Amy said, knitting her brow, "I more meant that there were several flower dictionaries from the Victorian era, and they don't all agree on the same meaning for every flower."
Sheldon pointed to the next section of the board. "And then we have allergies to consider. Leonard is allergic to any type of lily. There are other factors, too. Orchids are very delicate and usually don't hold up to a whole day spent in a bouquet. Plus my mother believes they're sinful ever since that Georgia O'Keefe exhibit came to Houston."
"Alright. Now I can rest easier knowing what that's a drawing of," Amy said, pointing to gathering of curved lines in the lower corner of the whiteboard.
"Oh, yes, I forgot." Sheldon used his marker to draw a large red X over the drawing in question. "No flowers with lady flowers."
"In fact, my research makes me think we should rethink the flower thing all together," Sheldon said, waving his arm toward his admittedly messy scribbles. Flowers and their meanings did not have the beautiful forms of higher mathematics. "Did you know brides originally carried flowers to symbolize how easily her virginity could be crushed by the man that now owned her? It's too late for that. And edible flowers were thought to be aphrodisiacs? It will be too early in the day for that."
"Sheldon," Amy stood up straighter, "I'm carrying a bouquet down the aisle. It's tradition."
Sheldon put a hand up. "Now wait. I didn't say no bouquet. I said no flowers. There are other options."
"Oh. Well, I have seen some pretty brooch bouquets on Pinterest," Amy offered, "but I discounted them because that's a lot of sharp pointy things within a four foot radius of you."
Sheldon shivered. "I haven't even decided if I'm going to let you pin a boutonnière on me yet. But!-" he put his finger up with excitement "- I had an idea while you were gone, and I even made a prototype."
"Really?" Amy didn't look convinced, but she would be once she saw it.
Sheldon shifted so he could reach the table, and he lifted the folded white paper towel up to reveal what was underneath. "Viola! You could carry a cacti bouquet."
"A cactus?" She was staring down at it. "In a yellow mug?"
"The mug is merely a placeholder. I needed somewhere to put the soil because I didn't know how long you'd be. But, as a succulent, it should last all day." He picked it up and held it out. "And, obviously, your actual bouquet could be larger if you like."
Amy's brows were deep. "Sheldon, you do realize that cacti have needles, too? You already told me no heirloom roses because of the thorns."
"Correction, cacti have spines. And, with a few notable exceptions, they can't puncture human skin. We only need to avoid the subfamily opuntioideae; their glochids are barbed and lodge under the dermis." He pressed the mug closer to her with another shiver. "Here, hold this. It's an ariocarpus, so it's already lost its spines." Amy took it without comment, but she still held it away from her. He smiled down at her. "Here, you go to the kitchen, and walk toward me with the cactus bouquet."
"Sheldon, this is silly. I'm not carrying a bouquet of cacti -"
"Come on, you don't know until you've tried it. Please, carry the mug. It's a trial run."
"Let me guess: that's no ordinary paper towel, either. You folded it that way to look like a veil."
"Oh!" Sheldon picked up the discarded paper towel. "A veil?"
"Yes, look at it, the way it all poofs out like that."
Sheldon tilted his head. "Indeed. A veil. Exactly what I was thinking. Absolutely. You must put it on."
Amy stared at him a minute and then she took the paper towel with a sigh. "Okay, fine."
As she walked toward the kitchen, Sheldon added, "And you'll be pleased to know your Victorian floriography is still in play. The cactus symbolizes endurance. Like a good marriage."
"Like this never-ending exercise," Amy muttered. She had reached the kitchen counter and she turned, reaching up with the paper towel.
"Wait!" Sheldon whipped around. "I'm not supposed to see the bride until you come walking up the aisle at me."
His ears picked up a sigh and another mutter, but this one was even too quiet for him. "Okay, I'm ready," Amy called. "I suppose you think I should hum the bridal march, too?"
"Oh, that would be perfect! You're really good at this."
"Dum-dum-de-dum . . ." Amy's deep humming started, and Sheldon turned around to watch her.
He sucked in his breath. This was not what he expected when he latched on the cacti bouquet idea out of desperation as a way to give her yet another yellow mug. Sheldon knew it was contrived, at best, and he certainly wouldn't have suggested the veil and the wedding march, too, for fear Amy would think it was too ridiculous to do. Well, she did seem to think it was ridiculous, but at least she'd consented. But now, walking toward him, humming, was his bride.
Yes, it was only a couple of white paper towels folded over her head and it was only a small cactus in a yellow mug and Amy was only wearing the same sweater vest and blouse she'd left in but . . . she was beautiful. Her eyes sparkled and her skin glowed and her face had softened and was that even the hint of smile on the edge of her lips? She outshone even the rarest flowers. For a second, his imagination flashed carrying her across the threshold, gently tossing her white-clad body down onto a bed littered with gardenia petals and lily petals and orchid petals and even heirloom rose petals if she wanted them. And even that mass of flora wouldn't tarnish her splendor in the least.
Before he realized what was happening, the humming had stopped and she had stepped next to him. "Sheldon?" she looked up and asked. "Did you love it?"
Sheldon swallowed and looked down past the white paper veil into those loving eyes. "I love you," he whispered back, "and you can have any flowers you want."
"It's a Valentine's Day surprise," he'd said that morning with a wiggle of his eyebrows, when he explained to Amy why he'd be working from home. She had spent the day curious and also anxious, hoping that he wasn't churning butter in an attempt to recreate her birthday meal with a less nauseating result. Not that she hadn't loved the idea and hadn't been touched by the amount of work it had taken to stage the evening, but just the thought of eating those foods again turned her stomach.
But, now that she was climbing the stairs on the way home from work, Amy's heart only tapped happily in giddy anticipation. Sheldon wasn't a fan of Valentine's Day, although he'd surprised her more than once with gifts beyond her most romantic imagination, so this much effort was a special treat. She briefly considered that it would be another yellow mug, but she discounted that. He'd been doing that for weeks now, so one more cup wouldn't be anything surprising.
Although, the way he'd looked at her when he gave her the last one, when she wore that stupid paper towel as a veil in an attempt to prove how silly the whole excuse was . . . She'd heard him quietly gasp and he looked down at her in her favorite way, the way he looked when he'd been surprised but also elated by the amount of love he felt at the moment. It was the look she'd first seen on another Valentine's Day, when he kissed her on the train. She'd seen it since then, too: at city hall and above her in bed, but Valentine's Day started it all.
Amy smiled at the memory as she opened the door to their apartment, but the smile fell when her first glance inside seemed to confirm her worst fears: candles. Oh no, not another frontier meal. Please. The door swung wider, though, and there weren't any quilts or tin dishes at all. There were more candles: dozens of candles everywhere, on the island, on the dining table, and on the edges of the coffee table.
Sheldon stood waiting for her, just as he had her birthday night, watching her with a grin from the kitchen.
"Oh, it's beautiful," Amy cooed in the soft light, smiling back at him. "I've never seen so many candles. But aren't you worried they're a fire hazard?"
"Don't you worry about that, it's Valentine's Day," he said, coming to meet her front of the sofa, although he was keeping his hands behind him. Any wondered if he was hiding something back there. "We'll be blowing them out in just a few minutes. Do you notice anything else?"
Amy looked around and then down to the coffee table. Arranged in a perfect grid were twelve yellow mugs, but she didn't mind because each contained one of the largest and most succulent red rose blooms she'd ever seen. She sat down on the sofa to be closer to them and reached to pick up one of the flowers. It really was a perfect specimen. "Sheldon! Roses! I love roses!" Something sharp and unexpected brushed her fingertip and she dropped the flower. "But they have thorns!"
"I know." He pulled his hands out to reveal most of his fingertips covered with Star Wars Band-Aids. "That song is right: love hurts, love scars, love wounds and marks."
Chuckling softly, Amy picked up one of his hands and pressed a tiny kiss over a bandage. "Thank you so much, Sheldon. It's the perfect gift. I'm just sorry you injured yourself for me. You didn't have to, you know. You could have bought thornless roses. You didn't even have to do flowers. The candles and the mugs would have been enough."
"No, I needed the flowers. A perfect dozen roses for twelve mugs," Sheldon corrected her as he sat down next to her.
"Yes, twelve. And the roses are perfect. I've never seen such large blooms before."
"They're heirloom Grandiflora roses. Thus the thorns."
She reached out to touch a bloom again; it was wide enough it completely covered the rim of the mug. "Um, Sheldon, are these twelve additional mugs? I mean, it's been very sweet, but we're already running out of room on the shelf and if these are twelve more . . ."
"Yes and no." Amy looked sharply at him. "No, I only bought us a case of twelve, so this is all of them. Yes, because I also ordered Leonard a case of twelve green ones; I'm saving them for his birthday."
"Oh, okay." Amy relaxed. "That's very kind of you, too."
"There's more! I bought one of those heart-shaped take-and-bake pizzas. And -" he waved a bandaged finger at her "- I'll sit here and watch Victoria with you. Without complaining about the historical inaccuracies with Ada Lovelace as she is being portrayed. I'll even pretend to be interested in the hats."
Grinning, Amy started to get up. Sheldon really had planned a wonderful evening, no scallops in sight. "Well, let's preheat the oven. You're right, this a great Valentine's Day surprise!"
Sheldon reached and stilled her with his hands. "Do you really think the mugs are the perfect gift? I thought maybe you were getting sick of them."
"Oh no! I was confused by your intentions at first, but then it became fun, waiting to see what inventive way you'd find to surprise me with a new one." She let go of his hand and reached forward for one the new mugs on the coffee table. "Like how you take care of me when I'm sick." She picked up one mug and then sat it down, reaching for another. "This one is for how sexually playful you can be with all your naughty texts."
"How do you know I was playing?" Sheldon asked and Amy blushed happily in response.
"This one is for how you never cease to surprise me." That mug went down and up came another. "And this one is for how you always have on hand exactly what I need." Down and up. "And these one is for how excited we are to be marrying each other."
"So the new mugs do matter to you?"
"Yes." Amy took his hand. "I realize I let my emotions gets the better of me when that mug broke. It was just a mug. It was a symbol of my memories, yes, but the vessel that holds all my memories is right here." She lifted his hand up to place it over against her temple. "And the vessel that holds all my love is right here." She moved his hand down to rest over her heart. "I don't need that mug at all when I have you."
Amy thought that Sheldon might smile with relief and kiss her for that, or at least make a comment about her overly sentimental heart or a Hallmark holiday, but instead his face fell in what looked like disappointment or even worry. "Sheldon? Are you all right? Did I say something wrong?"
He shook his head. "No, you didn't say anything wrong. It's just that . . ." He took a breath and licked his lips. "I have something else for you, and now I'm afraid you won't want it." He reached down and pulled a gift bag out from under the coffee table.
"I'm sure it will be lovely," Amy said softly, taking the bag from him. She lifted off the tissue paper, only to find more. "It's very well wrapped," she murmured.
"Be careful, it's fragile," Sheldon supplied, angling closer to her on the sofa, and Amy could tell that he was nervous about this gift which only made her more curious.
She lifted out an item from the center; it, too, was wrapped with pink tissue paper. It was heavier in her hand than she would have imagined. She sat it on her lap to gently unroll the paper surrounding it. The first flash of color confused her for moment, because Sheldon had just said he only bought the twelve -
"Oh!" Instantly, her eyes dampened as she lifted the yellow mug out of her lap. It was the original yellow mug, its surface covered with deep cracks that had been glued back together. There were scars of white where the enamel had been chipped off, and there was a tiny wedge missing from the handle. She ran her thumb over the wedge's sharp opening.
"I couldn't find that piece," Sheldon whispered. "Amy," he reached out and rested his bandaged hand on her forearm and she tore her eyes away from the mug to look at him. "I realized too late that you didn't want a new mug and that even a dozen new mugs didn't matter to you. I thought that it wasn't just a cup for holding tea to you. And I thought you'd want it back, reassembled. I thought that, even though it can't hold tea anymore, it can still hold your memories. I thought I understood. But maybe I was wrong about that, too."
"Oh, Sheldon!" Amy squeezed his hand as a tear of joy slid down her face. "You weren't wrong at all. I love this mug so much!" Putting the mug down on her lap, she threw herself into his arms, and nothing felt better than the squeeze he gave her as he pulled her in close. "It was never just a mug; I lied."
"Do you want to know a secret?" Sheldon asked from above her head.
Crying hard now, all Amy could do was nod into his chest. "I lied, too. It was never just a mug to me, either." She heard his Adam's apple gulp above her, and he pulled her tighter into his embrace. "You were right; every cup of tea made me fall in love with you. Well, not the tea, but the time we spent drinking it together, the conversations we had. Sometimes I'd pick up that yellow mug after you left, hoping it would still be warm from your touch, and I'd wonder why it mattered so much to me. I had to make you another cup to find out. And another and another. It was never enough."
"Kisses are like green tea: you can never have enough," Amy whispered.
Sheldon shifted slightly around her, and she tilted her head back to look up into his quizzical eyes. "Where did that come from?"
"It was in a fortune cookie I read once, years ago, before I met you. I know it's sappy and not even a fortune, really, but it stayed with me." She shrugged and lowered her eyes, to let him know she knew it was both too sentimental and superstitious, a combination he would likely mock.
"I suppose it's only the law of time that even a broken clock is correct twice a day," Sheldon said. Then he ran his thumb along her jaw before lifting her chin. His lips were warm and soft, and they lingered over hers. Then he whispered, so close that Amy could feel his words as well as hear them, "Yes. Kisses and tea."
A very special thank you to my dear beta, Melissa, who when I told her I needed some more uses for a coffee mug, no matter how crazy they might be or no matter that she knew not what for, sent along a couple of the more outrageous suggestions you've read. All that in addition to her usual proofreading and sounding board mastery.
Happy Valentine's Day, my dear readers. Thank you in advance for your reviews.