Unbelievable. Absurd. Unthinkable. Illogical. Preposterous. Completely unreasonable.
Sheldon Cooper possessed a vocabulary that consisted of an immeasurable number of words. However, he was still going to need to consult both his thesaurus and dictionary later to find the right word to describe what he was about to do.
Moronic. Maybe that was the word he was looking for. He was half hunched over, staring at it closely as the stones sparkled in the sun.
He froze suddenly as he realized that last word was not the voice in his head, but much perkier and higher pitched.
Sheldon turned slowly, almost as if someone was hitting the frame-by-frame button on the DVD player. Penny was right behind him, smiling brightly with a glint in her eyes that he recognized. Shoes. She had found shoes.
"Sheldon, the people running this sale don't know what they have. I found these amazing Jimmy Choos and they were marked at only 25 bucks. That's insanity!"
Insanity. He was becoming familiar with it.
"I don't know who or what a Jimmy Choo is, but I'm gathering from your expression, it must be a good thing."
Penny held up the shoebox in her hands and grinned. "It's a 300 dollar pair of shoes, Sheldon. FOR TWENTY FIVE DOLLARS."
Sheldon recoiled and frowned at her. "You're buying a used pair of shoes? I know you're messy, but I've never thought of you as unclean…"
"They're not used. The lady who owned this place was super rich. I guess she bought stuff like this and never got around to wearing it. And…" Penny leaned in closer, a little too close, and whispered the next part, "Her idiot kids running this estate sale have no idea what they're selling."
He found himself backing up against the table behind him to inch away from her. "Their loss, your gain."
Penny looked around him to see what had been holding his attention before she came over. "What are you looking at? Find something good? Action figure? Comic book?"
Sheldon breathed in slowly and clutched the edge of the table with one hand. He was a terrible liar, but he couldn't explain this sudden turn of events to himself much less Penny. He would have to try distracting her instead.
His eyes narrowed as he scanned around for something to distract her. One side of his mouth went up in a nervous smile and he pointed to the other side of the driveway.
"Penny, I believe there is another rack of shoes over there. Near the china cabinet."
Her eyes followed the direction he was pointing and then went back to him. He could not understand her pointless fascination with footwear, but it was clear by the way she lit up that it made her happy.
"Nice catch, Sheldon!" She gave him a playful pat on the arm and then jogged over to pick through this latest discovery.
Sheldon let out a long slow breath and turned back around to look at what was on the table. It was a ring, but not just any ring. It looked nearly identical to a ring that his Papaw Cooper had given Meemaw when he returned home from the war. Silver band, tiny diamonds and sapphires, simple but inarguably beautiful.
It was not the same ring and he knew that. But it was close enough. The real ring had been passed down to his older brother Jake. Then Jake had married a stripper from Lubbock who pawned it to buy drugs.
The ring was just a symbol, nothing more. But it had belonged to his Meemaw and that was what had made Sheldon angry enough not to speak to Jake for over three years.
He discreetly paid the fifty dollar asking price, a bargain in his opinion, and put the ring as far down in his pocket as it would go.
Sheldon always had a purpose for his actions. Until this. Maybe he would give it to Missy or maybe he would send it to his Meemaw. Whatever happened, he was going to blame Penny for dragging him to this sale to begin with. She had tricked him with lies about rare comic books so she would have someone to carry her purchases for her. Yes, it was definitely Penny to blame for this sudden loss of reason.
He never intended to keep it as he never imagined a scenario in which he would need it. But instead of being sent to Texas, he went to the bank the next day and put it in his safe deposit box. He tried not to think about it. Thinking about it only made him feel like a fool or some sort of romantic, something he never wanted to be called.
Sheldon didn't even think about the ring most of the time. He only visited his safe deposit box a few times a year to occasionally drop off a rare comic book acquisition. Each time he would brush the ring aside with only a passing thought.
Nearly two years after he purchased the ring, the most shocking thing occurred. Sheldon Cooper found a girlfriend. Not just any girl, but Penny. If a singular event could have been considered both surprising and yet inevitable, this would be it.
There had been awkward confessions of feelings long kept quiet from both of them. And then there were the kisses. Sheldon had a lot of years to make up for but he was a quick learner. He didn't need Penny to tell him that because he had always been a quick study at everything but driving a car. However, he discovered he liked hearing it anyway. Even Sheldon Cooper needed to feel validated on occasion.
They had been slowly navigating their way through a relationship for a few weeks when Sheldon felt drawn to his safe deposit box again. He and Leonard had been on their way home from CalTech on Halo night when they drove by his bank and Sheldon insisted on making a stop.
He took the ring out of what had been its home for so long and opened the box, looking at it for the first time since the day he bought it. He had often thought that romance made people dumb, and if his current work hadn't been the best he'd ever done, he would probably agree. It certainly felt dumb to be holding a ring and picturing the girl you had only been dating for three weeks in your head.
Sheldon started reciting the periodic table of elements in his head just to reassure himself that his IQ hadn't dropped 60 points overnight while he slipped the ring in to his pocket. When he returned to the car, Leonard had a thousand questions, but Sheldon remained tightlipped. If he didn't say anything at all, he wouldn't have to lie.
When they made it home, Sheldon went immediately to his room and hid the ring inside of a puzzle box. One that he knew Penny couldn't break. All of these feelings confused him but he decided if he could tackle some of the biggest physics problems of his time, he could certainly handle this.
Whatever happened, good or bad, he was still going to blame Penny.
It was several months into their relationship before they made love for the first time. Sheldon had never been through the phases of relationship as a teenager like most men, so it took time for him to be ready for the next step. When it finally happened, he could understand why so many people were obsessed with it.
Their lovemaking was like an amalgam of everything their relationship outside of the bedroom entailed. There was sweetness, laughter and a bit of a power struggle. Penny was the only person who was able to get the best of him on a regular basis, and it was no exception in the bedroom.
Sheldon didn't have enough experience to know whether it was this way for everyone. But he doubted it. She had whispered a warm 'I love you' into his ear as they moved in time with each other, and before his brain could talk him out of it, he was saying it back to her.
When it was over she laid in his bed pressed against his side while Sheldon just looked at her. He wanted to remember what she looked like in this moment so badly, he was afraid to blink his eyes.
"Sheldon, you're so quiet…"
"I'm just making sure I never forget this."
"You never forget anything. I don't think you'll forget this either…"
"I just want to be sure. This is qualitative data, not quantitative, after all."
Penny laughed softly and gave him a kiss on his bare shoulder. "Trust me. You won't forget it."
His fingers brushed a few strands of hair off her face and she sighed. "Penny, from what I've heard, I believe it's customary for a man to ask his sexual partner if it was good for them…"
"Wait, allow me to finish. I do not need to ask because I have catalogued your physiological responses and have come to a conclusion already."
"Oh. Have you?"
Sheldon nodded confidently. "Oh yes. I believe I performed well above expectations."
Penny laughed again and draped one leg over his as she snuggled in to him. "You sure did, sweetie."
She fell asleep in that same position as Sheldon gently traced the shapes of various atoms on her arm. When he heard her snoring softly, he extricated himself from her. He didn't want to leave her, but something had to be taken care of. He put his robe on and got the ring from the puzzle box.
The box holding it cracked open with a soft creak and Sheldon looked at the ring glinting in the moonlight then over to Penny's sleeping form. In his bed. It was still a bit baffling how this less-than-gentle creature ever ended up in that spot. But, he had already realized there was no algorithm in the universe that could explain that.
Now that Penny was going to be spending more time in his bedroom, the ring was not safe there any longer. He crept out to living room and hid it under the false bottom of one of his locked desk drawers.
When he returned to his bed, he watched her sleep for a while before drifting off. He still blamed her for this madness with the ring, but now it didn't seem to bother him as much as it used to.
They had been together nearly a year when Penny met his Meemaw for the first time. Meemaw was turning 80 and Sheldon's mother insisted that he bring Penny to the family celebration in Texas. Penny and Meemaw took to each other immediately. They had a similar warmth and vivacity that Sheldon admired in them both, so it made perfect sense that they would adore each other.
The night before the big party they sat around Meemaw's living room while she told embarrassing stories about her Moonpie as a little boy. Sheldon blushed and tried to sink into the cushions of the couch, but Penny kept insisting that it only made him more endearing.
After Meemaw pulled out the photo albums to keep Mary, Missy and Penny occupied, Sheldon was finally able to get her alone in the kitchen. They sat at the small table in the nook together where they could hear an occasional 'Oh my God! SO CUTE!' from Penny, while Missy's laugh joined hers.
Sheldon had grabbed his jacket off the hook by the back door before sitting down. It had been a risk to bring the ring all the way here without Penny discovering it. If she had, he planned to tell her that he was bringing it to Meemaw. He thought he was doing that anyway, but he was about to find out otherwise.
He slid the box across the table to her and he watched her smile as she stared at the ring inside.
"Meemaw, I know it's not THE ring. The one that Papaw Cooper gave you. But…"
"No, but, it's so close. Where did you find this?"
Sheldon couldn't help but answer with an exasperated sigh. "Penny gets some sort of perverse pleasure in dragging me to estate sales. I bought it almost three years ago. I meant to send it to you then, but I held on to it… for some reason."
Meemaw's blue eyes, so similar to his, sparkled under the kitchen light and she chuckled softly. "You know the reason."
"I'm not sure that I do."
"Don't you play dumb with me, Moonpie. I know better."
"Meemaw, I have two PhD's, I could hardly play dumb even if I wanted to."
She gave him a look that he remembered all too well from his childhood. It was the look that said there would be no cookies for him if he didn't straighten up right away.
"I appreciate that you brought this all the way here for me. And it is beautiful, but… You know who this ring really belongs to."
The sound of Penny's throaty laughter floated on the air towards them as Sheldon nodded slowly. Meemaw slid the ring back across the table towards him and when he curled his long fingers around the box, she placed her hand on top of his.
"People always said that you think too much and you don't feel enough, but I have always known better. You feel just as deeply as anyone else, you just don't always understand it or want to deal with it. But you listen to your Meemaw and make sure that girl in there gets this ring. And I'd prefer it happen while I'm still around to dance at your wedding."
Sheldon nodded again and smiled as he watched her stand up. Even at 80, Meemaw was still the sharpest woman in the family. She took a step towards him and planted a kiss on his forehead before she went back to the living room.
He sat there for the longest time before putting the ring back in his jacket pocket and returning to Penny's side. His mind was still on the ring sitting in the pocket of his jacket. Meemaw was right. It belonged to Penny. She just didn't know it yet.
A few months later, Leonard moved out of 4A and into a condo with his new girlfriend. It was only logical that Penny move out of her apartment and across the hall. They turned Leonard's room into a home office for Sheldon and compromised on things like window treatments and action figure placement in the rest of the apartment.
The first thing Sheldon moved was the ring. Penny now had free reign over the apartment and he was not ready for her to discover it yet. This time he took it to his office at CalTech. In his third year of working there, he had installed a hidden safe behind his desk to hold backups of all of his work so that's where he placed the ring.
He spent the next several months researching marriage proposals and all the customs that went along with it. Sheldon made sure to clear his browser history each time just in case Penny got a little too curious. Nothing he found seemed suitable for him. He was not the romantic type, something Penny had known from the start. But they had found other, more specific ways, to show their affection for each other. Ways that made sense for them.
That's why Sheldon knew that covering the apartment in rose petals or writing her name in the sky wasn't for them. Sheldon always remained true to himself and he didn't want this moment to be the exception.
In the midst of his months of research, Penny's family came to Pasadena for a visit. Penny's mom Joyce looked like a middle-aged version of Penny, but most of Penny's spirited personality came from her father Bob. He and Sheldon came from two vastly different worlds, but Sheldon knew that Bob could see how much he loved and respected Penny and that was all it took for them to bond.
Sheldon did something incredibly uncharacteristic of him, but it was a gesture that a hardworking Midwesterner like Penny's dad would respect. He invited Bob out for a beer while they left Penny and Joyce back at the apartment.
Sheldon ordered a Diet Coke while Bob drank his Budweiser next to him. Before he could even get the question out, Bob asked if he intended to marry his little girl. Sheldon stammered but finally nodded as a signal of his intent. He had a speech planned out that he didn't even need to use. All Penny's dad needed to know was that his daughter would be safe and loved.
Now Sheldon just had to figure out how to ask her.
Sheldon had done his research and come up with nothing. He had even practiced scenarios in his office a few times. That all stopped one afternoon after Raj walked in while he was trying to figure out how to get down on one knee without looking like a crippled giraffe.
After agonizing over it for far too long, he remembered the reasons why he was with Penny to begin with. The one thing they had always shared in common was the lack of a façade. Neither of them ever had to pretend to be someone they weren't when they were together. He just had to be himself and that was enough for her.
So he decided he was going to lay all of his cards on the table. Finally. That's when he took the ring out of its hiding place with the intention that it never be hidden again.
Penny was already home when he got there. She was sprawled across the couch watching something on the TiVo, but she paused it to flash him a bright smile when he walked in.
"You're in my spot."
A lot had changed over the years. That was one thing that hadn't.
She nodded knowingly and started to shift to the middle of the couch but Sheldon stopped her.
"No, you know what, sit there. In my spot."
Penny stared him down like he had lost his mind.
"Sheldon… What does the tattoo on my butt translate to?"
"Penny, you do not need to ask me the secret question we put in place in case I'm ever taken over by an alien species or in case someone creates an evil robot Sheldon."
"But… your spot."
Sheldon huffed impatiently and took his messenger bag off his shoulder before setting it on the floor. "Your tattoo is the Chinese character for soup. Now move over there. I have something to tell you."
Penny slid over to his spot but still looked cautious even as he sat beside her. "You're not going to tell me that you're a robot with the implanted memories of Sheldon Cooper, are you?"
"No, Penny, I am not a robot. I just want to show you something."
"Not your scary red robot eyes, I hope…"
This time she was just messing with him and a grin spread across her face. Sheldon ignored it and reached in the pocket of his jacket pulling out the ring box. Penny suddenly sat up straighter than he had ever seen her. He opened the box and placed it in her hands, her green eyes going wide as she stared at it.
"Sheldon… what is this?"
Sheldon cleared his throat a little. He thought he would be more nervous, but he had never been more calm.
"Four years ago, you forced me to go to one of those estate sales with you and I found this. It looks almost identical to a ring that my Meemaw once had. A ring that my brother's ex-wife pawned years ago. So I bought it."
"Why didn't you give it to your Meemaw? I'm sure she would love this. It's beautiful."
"Because it was never for Meemaw. I thought it was, but… it was for you. It was always for you."
Penny's face scrunched with a mixture of disbelief and confusion. "You bought me a ring before we were even a couple and then held on to it for that long?"
He nodded slowly and placed a hand on her forearm. "At the time, I thought it was probably most imbecilic thing I have ever done. But inexplicably, it turned out that it was the right thing."
Her eyes flicked back and forth between the ring in her hand and his face. When her eyes finally stayed on him, it looked like she was still trying to compute what was happening.
"Sheldon… are you about to ask me what I think you're about to ask me?"
His hands slipped over hers and he took the ring out of the box and held it between his fingers. "I have already been given the approval of your father to do so. And, I feel that it makes logical sense for us to make a legal and permanent declaration of our relationship to the state of California. If I'm correct, and I usually am, your intent is the same as mine and you wish to maintain a lifelong relationship with me so…"
Penny's face melted into a warm smile. "Is that Sheldon speak for 'will you marry me'?"
"Then yes. Of course the answer is yes."
She quickly slipped the ring on her finger and then took Sheldon's face in her hands to pull him towards her for a long deep kiss. When she broke away from him, she couldn't stop smiling and Sheldon was smiling back at her.
"Okay. You can get out of my spot now."
"Oh nooooo, not until I do one more thing…"
She threw her arms over his shoulders and nuzzled her face into his neck so she could whisper into his ear. "I love you, Sheldon."
His arms wrapped around her in return and held her closer. "You weren't expecting teddy bears or your name spelled out in flower petals, were you?"
"Absolutely not. This is all I ever wanted, right here."
"Will you get out of my spot now?"
Penny laughed and he felt it tickle his neck. "You got it."
"By the way… I love you too."
She shifted out of his arms and around him as he slid into his spot, her legs thrown over his lap as she grinned at him. "I know."
Not only did Meemaw dance at their wedding, she led the conga line.