It only took 17 days for the whole thing to fall apart. They never even made it to the good part. The 'I love you', the quiet intimate moments, the promise of a long future together. None of it.
In Penny's case, it was definitely her shortest relationship. She didn't count those few one night stands or ill-advised weekends spent in bed with a guy. For Sheldon, it was both his longest and shortest relationship.
It all started simply enough. After years of dancing around what was an obvious chemistry and affection for each other, Penny suggested they go on a date. A real date. Even more shocking was that Sheldon couldn't come up with a single reason to say no.
Things were a disaster of Titanic sized proportions from the word go. She made the mistake of suggesting a non-Sheldon-approved restaurant in Santa Monica. He spent the first 20 minutes complaining about the 3-tined fork on the table. After complaining to the waitress and seeing her less than amused reaction, he couldn't eat a bite of food in fear that she had touched it out of vengeance.
They tried to walk down the Third Street Promenade but it only resulted in dead silence. They were the least quiet of their circle of friends, and yet suddenly they had nothing to say to each other.
The only part they got right was the good night kiss. Sure, Sheldon didn't know what to do with his hands or arms at first, but there were definitely fireworks. Penny later decided it was probably the only reason the relationship lasted 17 days and not 5 hours.
Everything got more disastrous as each day went on. It wasn't that they spent every day arguing. If that was the case, it was something they could have dealt with it. It was the quiet that neither of them could stand. They were together, but only in the sense that they were in the same room as each other. Sheldon spent too much time in his own head, and Penny spent too much time wondering what was going on in his head but didn't bother to ask.
This went on for 17 days, and then everything exploded. They were standing in his apartment after another evening where Sheldon spoke to her about as much as Raj did.
"Penny. I think we both know this isn't working out…"
Words came bursting out of her like flames from a flame thrower.
"But why? Why isn't it? This is the longest sentence you've said to me in days. And Sheldon, you NEVER shut up normally. What the hell is wrong with you? What the hell is wrong with us?"
"I – well – I've been trying to figure it out and…"
"WITH WHAT? HOW? Charts? Graphs? Algorithms? I don't think you can do it that way. One day we were best friends, and then I made the stupid mistake of asking you on a date and now… I don't know."
Sheldon was pale and seemed to be clutching the kitchen island for support. She knew he hated being interrupted, but his words had sparked something in her. She was furious.
"If you would just tell me what's wrong, maybe it wouldn't be like this. But you aren't talking to me. So please say something. What is really going on?"
He looked a little bit like he was going to vomit, and when she heard the next sentence out of his mouth, she knew why. It was probably the only three word combination in the English language that Sheldon Cooper truly hated to say.
"I don't know."
Penny put her hands on her hips and looked towards the floor with a sigh. "Then I can't do this anymore. Not when I don't even know what it is we're doing."
She looked up and found Sheldon's expression completely incomprehensible. "Penny…"
"When you figure out what happened, let me know."
Penny turned and quickly headed back to her own apartment. She hated being a girl who cried about everything, but she still ended up on her couch sobbing. She cried more at the loss of a 17 day relationship than she did at the end of 4 years with Kurt or 8 months with Leonard. It had ended before it had even begun and she was just as unable to explain it as Sheldon was.
Weeks passed and Penny did her absolute best to avoid her neighbors in 4A. For their part, both Leonard and Sheldon seemed to be doing the same to her. It was awkward enough to have dated one of them, but now that she had dated and dumped both of them… forget it.
She hadn't really wanted to start dating again. Her heart just wasn't in it. But when the cute new waiter Ethan asked her out, she threw caution to the wind. She wasn't expecting to fall in love, but maybe a little fun would keep her mind off of other things. Those 'other things' being Sheldon Cooper, of course.
The one thing she hadn't calculated was running in to Sheldon in the hall when Ethan arrived to pick her up. She was locking her door when she spotted him heading in to his apartment. He looked at Ethan and then towards her with a rather cold expression on his face.
"I would ask how you're doing but – "He paused to motion in Ethan's direction. "I can see you're doing just fine. Moving on and everything."
Penny clenched her teeth and sucked in a slow breath. "Goodbye, Sheldon…"
She started to head towards the stairs but Ethan was looking back at Sheldon. The awkward tension hadn't gone unnoticed. "Who is that guy?"
Penny attempted to shrug and laugh like it was no big deal. "Oh, him? He's kinda my ex-boyfriend."
"That guy? Really?"
She stopped at the top of the stairs and saw that Sheldon had frozen in his doorway. "Yeah, it's complicated…"
Ethan laughed the haughty laugh of a guy who had probably never been picked on growing up. "Were you bored or something?"
Penny frowned and patted him on the shoulder. "You know what… you should just go. This isn't going to work out."
"What about dinner?"
"Forget it. Just leave."
Ethan looked perplexed but headed down the stairs without her. Penny was afraid to look back at Sheldon, knowing that he probably hadn't moved an inch yet.
She made it to her door in record time and looked back at him. "Sheldon. Don't say anything."
Penny went back inside and leaned against her door with a sigh. She didn't want to hear him thank her, and she definitely didn't want to listen to him attempt to analyze why she had just broken off a date with an incredibly attractive guy. For him. They had barely dated. They had never said 'I love you' to each other. But he was still the only person on her mind every single day.
She spent a lot of quiet nights at home over the few months following her break up with Sheldon. It had hardly been a relationship, so it almost didn't qualify as a break up. Not technically. But in her heart, it was the worst break up she had ever experienced. Neither of them had given it a real chance to work. She had wanted to blame it on Sheldon, but she knew it was just as much her fault.
What she missed most was just hanging out, with him, and with the other guys too. After three months of barely seeing them, she fell back in to their group in the most unexpected of ways. She found herself knocking on their door one night out of utter desperation.
Leonard answered and saw her holding her laundry basket, but it was full of groceries instead of clothes.
"Penny? What's up?"
"Hey… Uhm… I hate to ask for a favor but, my refrigerator went out and they can't come fix it until tomorrow. Some of the stuff I can just let go, but I JUST bought milk and some yogurt and a few other things…"
Leonard ushered her in and shut the door behind her. "Of course, you can put your stuff in ours for now."
Penny sighed in relief, noticing that Sheldon, Raj and Leonard were in front of the TV, game controllers in hand.
"Thank you so much. You're a total life saver…"
Sheldon hit the button to pause the game and cleared his throat. "Leonard…"
Leonard took the basket of food and rolled his eyes. "Don't worry, Sheldon. I promise to keep to your organizational schematic, and if you want, we can label what food belongs to Penny. Calm down."
"So you actually BOUGHT milk, Penny?"
Penny smirked and put her hands on her hips. "Well, I couldn't steal it from you anymore, sweetie."
Sheldon nodded curtly and went back to the game while Penny helped Leonard put her items in their fridge after saying an awkward hello to Howard and Raj. She had missed nights like this so much she couldn't resist walking over to the couch to see what they were doing.
"Oh, that's right. Wednesday. Halo night."
Howard looked up at her from his spot on the end of the couch. "We've missed you, Penny."
And she knew he meant it in a sincere way, not in a way that was going to be followed up with some creepy sexual remark. "Thanks Howard…"
She was about to return the sentiment, but something on the TV screen caught her eye.
"SHELDON! What kind of stupid move was that? That is the WORST use of the gravity hammer I have ever seen! PATHETIC! YOU TOTALLY SUCK!"
Sheldon looked back at her eyes wide, jaw dropped a little. "Excuse me? And you can do better?"
Penny grinned widely and gave him a wink. "You know I can. Hey Raj, do you mind?"
Raj shrugged and happily handed her his controller as she took the seat next to Sheldon. She looked at Sheldon, still grinning. "You ready, Dr. Cooper? Because I am going to kill you so hard."
"Do your worst."
And just like that, she was back in the group. She was pretty sure things were going to be just fine.
Seven months had passed since the break up. Penny attempted dating again, but found that she was disappointed at each opportunity. She sat through dinner on one date wondering why she could make easy conversation with the shallow idiot across from her, but she couldn't have one successful date with someone who was essentially her best friend.
She was at least grateful that they were friends again. One afternoon when she was dutifully listening to him talk about the latest issue of Amazing Spider-man, something hit her right between the eyes. Even superheroes could hardly make a relationship work, how could she expect anything more out of her and Sheldon. True, neither of them had secret identities or special powers (that she knew of), but these things didn't always come easy.
It only took seven months, but she knew what had happened. They were both so terrified of screwing things up, that they did exactly that. They screwed it all up. Penny had never met a guy who lit her fires the way Sheldon did, and she was so terrified of losing him, that she didn't even try to keep him. For that, she knew anyone who wanted to call her an idiot would be completely justified.
It was after a Battlestar Galactica marathon in late spring when she returned to her apartment. She hadn't even kicked off her flip-flops when Sheldon's familiar knock practically startled her out of them.
She swung the door open and smiled brightly at him. "Sheldooooon… S'up?
His expression was completely serious as he held out two black composition books towards her.
"What are these?"
"Approximately 7 months ago you told me to let you know when I figured out why our short lived romantic endeavor didn't work out. And I have."
The smile fell off her face as he placed the books in her hands.
"Oh. And what are these?"
She looked down at the books and then back at him.
"Are you serious?"
"Yes. I felt it was the best way to figure out what happened and how we should proceed now that I know."
Penny put the books down on the shelf next to the doorway.
"Proceed? How should we proceed?"
Sheldon made a huffing noise and crossed his arms over his chest. "You should really read them. It explains everything. With great detail."
"I don't need to. I know what happened."
Penny nodded and smiled at him. "I don't have notes or diagrams, but I know."
"And what if I proposed that now that we know why it didn't work, we could try again and succeed this time? That is, if you are amenable to this idea…"
Penny nodded and threw her arms over his shoulders, pulling him inside of her apartment. She pressed her lips against his and the sparks were still there, but even stronger. This time, Sheldon knew exactly what to do with his hands, letting them fall to the small of her back to hold her close. She knew those notebooks would only tell her what she already knew. Sheldon had been just as terrified and insecure as she had been, and he had let those fears get the best of him.
They stayed that way until she could no longer catch her breath and broke it off. His arms pulled her in closer, but his brow was furrowed slightly.
"What about my notes?"
"I'll read them later."
She went in for another kiss but Sheldon leaned back and away from her. "Will you really? Because I spent hours on those."
Penny laughed and nodded her head. "I promise. I'll read every word."
Sheldon softened and they collided in another kiss. This time she knew it. They were going to make it to the good part.