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Mandatory Futures in Make Believe

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It's pretty clear this is not Saved by the Bell.

First, they're in college, not high school. And while there was that sad little series where Zack was in college, Lisa and Jessie weren't even there. It hardly counts. When Britta begged and begged Stevie, the Silicon Valley pioneer turned Flatbush hobo and wayward roommate, to figure out how to pirate cable from the bar next door, it was not to watch reruns of The College Years.

Or the ones with Miss Bliss. TBS needs to get a grip; no one wants to see that shit.

(It was actually supposed to be to watch documentaries and independent movies and C-SPAN, but the week after Stevie had set it up, they lost the remote, so.)

Second, comparing Jeff to Zack is like -- well, it's sort of an accurate comparison. Plus, sure, Annie could be Jessie and an argument could be made for Abed as Screech, but Dean Pelton is somehow even more inappropriate than Mr. Belding and, just, they're not on Saved by the Bell, OK?

They're not.

Which is why when they're about to live an episode Britta practically has memorized -- Stevie maybe taped over an amazing special on Darwin with this particular episode, even -- it's kind of a horror show.

The ridiculousness of requiring students at a community college to take a family planning lab, when half of the campus already has families, doesn't seem to occur to anyone in the administration.

&&.

Britta should be the single mom. It only makes sense: she's strong and independent and has a history of making admittedly poor decisions about men. She's even come peeing-on-a-stick close enough to actually being a single mom a few times. That she has to fight for this is frustrating.

"Annie, don't you want to marry Jeff and have little babies that will always be looking to duplicate the weird Electra complex relationship you and he have?"

Troy cuts off Annie's presumably offended reply, "Wait, Electra? Are you the super hero family? Dibs!"

Jeff tosses his Blackberry down on the study table and finally joins the conversation.

"Troy, you're with Abed. Annie -- you want to be a single mom? Done. Britta, you're with me, Shirley and Pierce -- pick your parents." He puts his feet up on the table and reaches for his phone.

Britta waits for the chorus of disagreement, but it doesn't come.

"You guys, you're all OK with this? Troy, you're OK with being Abed's boyfriend?"

Troy leans back in his chair, "You did not just insult my better half like that."

Abed tilts his head, like he's considering, "I see where this is going. I'm on board." It's all fast and clipped and Abed-speech and those two are a lost cause now, so Britta turns to Annie.

"Annie, come on, you don't want to play house with Jeff?"

"No, you are not the only independent woman at this table," Annie says it with a nod of her head, like she's affirming it for herself.

"Shirley --" Britta's getting anxious now.

"Uh-uh, I got kids at home, I don't need more here," Shirley crosses her arms.

It's quiet until Pierce speaks up, "Mom, I want some juice."

Britta freezes. No. No way. No fucking way.

&&.

The next day in class, Shirley is assigned to be Annie's daughter. You can't be a single mom without a kid. Abed and Troy get a dog and a stack of fake paperwork to begin the process of adopting a child.

Britta tries to pawn Pierce off as an emancipated minor, but Dean Pelton isn't having it.

"Why are you even teaching this class? Where's the professor?"

Dean Pelton smiles and it's super creepy. "After last year's teacher forced a group of students into a polyamorous relationship with him as part of the lab, we needed someone to fill in."

He opens his hands and brings them up to frame his face, "Here I am!"

"Great."

Dean Pelton officiates over a few commitment ceremonies before Troy and Abed are up.

They rap their vows, which include a 10 minute homage to Kickpuncher, a little bit of crying from Troy, and birthday candles.

Shirley and Pierce have to step on inkpads and then mark a piece of paper for their birth certificates. Pierce has impeccable feet. Like, perfectly manicured and clean.

Jeff leans over, gets right next to Britta's ear, "Our son is going to make someone so happy someday. And that someone will be a serial killer with a foot fetish."

She elbows him in the stomach.

"Aw, honey, it's normal to be nervous, but violence is never the answer," he's smiling down at her.

"I'm not nervous. I can't believe the patriarchal society women began attending college to escape is now being fed to me as part of the curriculum."

He bends over, close to her ear again, and says, "You are going to be great at dirty talk."

Her skin goosebumps in disgust, OK? Disgusted goosebumps, that's a thing, right?

Their marriage ceremony is just as awkward and confusing as the last time they were supposed to get fake-hitched. Despite not making any of the other couples kiss, Dean Pelton's eyes glaze over and he says to Jeff, "You may now kiss your bride. Or anyone standing near your bride." And then he looks sketchy and hopeful.

The smirk Jeff gives Britta is hardly even a smirk, it's more like -- once Britta watched a Vince Vaughn movie marathon on mushrooms and became convinced he was an actual, dangerous sociopath. It's like that.

Britta's not going to back down though, so she reaches up, grabs Jeff's face and yanks it toward her.

She grinds out, "Closed mouth," before touching her lips to his.

They end up with an exaggerated pucker kiss straight out of middle school. She hears Dean Pelton bite back a strangled yelp anyway.

Gross.

&&.

Apparently they're allowed to rename their "children," because agreeing on what to name kids is an important part of communication and give and take and some other relationship bullshit.

Troy and Abed name their dog, formerly a 'Spot,' Chewbacca Cornelius Brando.

Britta's a little concerned because Chewy Corn --

"How great is that nickname?" Troy is visibly excited.

-- is a real dog, a Dalmation, of course, and he needs things like food and water and not to be forgotten about while Troy and Abed decide that the library floor has turned into fire and they can only stand on the furniture.

Or worse, to not be ignored, but to be hoisted up onto the study table, catch "fire" anyway, and then be made to learn the dog equivalent of stop, drop and roll.

(Britta's going to knit that dog a sweater.)

Annie lets Shirley stay Shirley. The mother/daughter bond over there is a little too close to regular friends. A little too "Gilmore Girls," is what Abed called it. Basically they're both going to get A's with almost no effort.

You know who could use an easy A? Britta.

Meanwhile, she's trying to rename Pierce as Britain -- because why is the man always honored? -- and Jeff isn't having it. Pierce will carry Jeff's name or stay Pierce.

"You're a water filter. I'm the Big Lebowski. This conversation is over."

"But --"

"Britta, Jeff Bridges. Over."

Pierce also stays Pierce.

&&.

The class consists of three assignments and a final exam. There's no syllabus -- Britta is pretty sure this is because Dean Pelton is just making shit up as he goes along -- so there's no way to prepare.

The first assignment is to interact with the other families at some sort of field day on campus.

There will be games, rides, food -- it's just another Greendale carnival, although now participation is mandatory.

The dean has had giant banners hung around the school with the slogan of the day -- Play the Field!

When some of their classmates wash out with automatic fails for adultery, he seems confused.

Each game is actually a competition with the winning family earning points toward their grade. You can also earn points for eating any of the fair food and riding any of the rides. While this seems like an easy way to pass, Britta watched the Tilt-a-Whirl go up. Starburns was consulting. She stays off the rides.

Troy and Abed ride the rickety roller coaster 11 times and each eat six corn dogs. By the time the three-legged race rolls around, they've both puked and both earned A's, but they sign up to compete anyway.

Pierce has spun a cloud of cotton candy over his hand and Britta's not going to be responsible for their aging son breaking a hip, so she has to race with Jeff.

Shirley and Annie have tied their legs together with a frilly pink ribbon and are practically skipping around the campus. Gilmore Hurls, is she right?

Britta thinks about saying that to Jeff, but he's busy trying to figure out the best way to to get the rope around their legs without wrinkling his pants. Plus, she still can't believe he didn't think the frog in a sombrero was funny. He wouldn't recognize a good joke if it peed all over his $400 shoes. Which Chewy Corn did earlier.

That was funny.

Jeff finally gets their legs tied together and Britta's now physically attached to him. With the height difference, the rope is secured on her upper thigh and only a few inches above Jeff's knee. They hobble over to the starting line where Leonard is fiddling with a gun.

She thinks it the same time Jeff says it, "Who gave Leonard a gun?"

Several students look alarmed and Dean Pelton comes speed-walking across the courtyard. "A starter pistol, Leonard has a starter pistol. No guns here, students. Everyone remain calm."

Behind him, Leonard is waving the gun around and making faces.

"To the starting line!" and Dean Pelton claps.

Once the race begins Britta loses track of everything except trying to win. She's got an arm around Jeff's back, Jeff's got one on her shoulder and there is just -- yelling.

They're stepping together on two-counts, Britta being half-dragged along as Jeff tries to make her strides match his.

The finish line seems about 100 yards away (the finish line is 100 yards away) and, up ahead, Troy and Abed seem to be running toward it. In unison. On three legs. The dog is jumping around them in circles, barking happily.

Britta gets distracted and takes a step a beat too early. Jeff looks down at her, "Whoa there, Prefontaine."

"Sorry," she looks down at their feet, trying to will them to go faster.

"I would take this -- " he grunts "--second to point out you," step, pause, step, "apologized for something, but --"

Up ahead Troy and Abed trip, falling to the ground in a tangle of limbs. Britta tenses, waiting for them to get up, or at least crawl to the finish line, but Chewy is licking their faces and it's like a goddamn Hallmark commercial. They're staying down.

"We can beat them!"

Britta quickens the pace and Jeff matches her, they're gliding along, the finish line getting closer and closer. They're just up to Abed and Troy when Britta feels her heel sink. She gives it a yank and ends up falling forward, grabbing out for Jeff at the last second.

She gets a fistful of his shirt and instead of righting her, the buttons on the shirt give out, popping off as she pulls Jeff to the ground. They're covered in mud and trying to stand up in unison is proving to be really fucking difficult.

Shirley and Annie pass them, tiptoeing neatly around the mud and cross the finish line barely out of breath.

By the time Britta's able to get up (with considerable help from a now untied Jeff, ahem), Dean Pelton is already giving out grades.

They stagger over to him and Britta's got her fingers crossed for at least a C. The dean takes one look at Jeff's chest, visible through his ruined shirt, all tan and caked in mud, and gives them both A's.

Britta's not sure, but it looks like he mouths, "Thank you."

&&.

The second assignment is a take home thing. They have to make a birthday cake for the kids.

Annie and Shirley spend the entire study session that day discussing all the recipes they want to try.

"What if we make two cakes?" Annie's eyes are wide and excited. "One chocolate and one," she pauses for effect, putting her hands up like, no, this is just too much, it's too crazy, "Dark chocolate."

Shirley nods and gives a wide smile, "We can make brownies, too, for extra credit!"

"Aren't you guys already getting extra credit since you're doing it together?" Britta's head is pounding. Professor Duncan played awful house music for the entire class today. She's not even sure what the lesson was, but glow sticks were involved. And now this bullshit for a lab she shouldn't even be in? Ugh.

"You can never have too much extra credit," Annie chirps.

"Extra credit is for brown-nosers and Asians," Pierce says and smiles smugly. "My parents will be making my cake all by themselves." He looks at Jeff and Britta over his glasses. "I've printed out a few recipes, if you can't find gold dust for the first one, don't even bother making it."

Jeff takes the stack of papers from Pierce and Britta leans over to look at them.

"Red velvet? Mudslide? Does everything you picked have a name that sounds like a porn?" Jeff says, shuffling through to find a cake they could even attempt to make.

Britta sees something called 'Vanilla Explosion' that looks easy enough. She points at it, "That one."

Jeff scans the ingredient list and directions, "Fine, but I'm not getting into a flour fight with you, Miley Cyrus."

Britta's trying to decide if calling him a Jonas Brother is even worth it when Pierce opens his mouth again.

"Doesn't anyone want to know what I'm doing instead of baking with the Holly Hobbie twins?

"Nope."

"No."

"Uh-uh."

Pierce plows on, "I'm going to a Zumba class."

"What's Zumba, Pierce?" Shirley's voice is patient and Britta will never understand why Shirley gives him so many chances.

Pierce barks, "Ha. This lady doesn't even know what Zumba is. You could use Zumba, help give that Jell-O a little more jiggle."

Shirley tightens her grip on her purse and Britta steps in, "All right, Pierce, what is it?"

"It's an aerobic program based around the movements of a robotic vacuum, but sped up. It's very fast and advanced. You probably couldn't keep up."

"Pierce, I think you mean Roomba," Jeff says.

"Whatever, old man. I wish I could've gotten a cooler dad."

Jeff looks affronted at being called uncool, but lets it go.

It's about time to go and Britta starts looking for her jacket.

On the way out the door, Troy asks Abed if they can go to robot exercise class. Abed says they have to make the cake for Chewbacca, but maybe next week.

The last thing she hears before leaving is Troy again -- "If dogs can eat people cake, that means we can eat dog cake, right?"

&&.

If the condo Jeff is living in now is a step down from where he was when he was a lawyer, Britta will never be inviting him over to her shitty little studio with the hotplate and the bent aluminum blinds.

There's dual ovens and five different burners and an island and wood fucking floors.

"Really slumming it, eh, Jeff?"

Jeff looks around like he's confused and lands on the couch. "Oh, yeah, it's kind of old. I wanted a new one, but then, you know," he waves his hand, "disbarred."

Britta glances at the couch, it's huge and leather and pristine. Britta wants to find, like, a basset hound, maybe a beagle, and curl up with it on that couch and do crosswords. She'd have slippers and a pipe and --

"Britta!" The way he says her name, she had clearly zoned out.

"Yeah, yeah, let's go." She starts opening cupboards, looking for pots and pans.

"They're over there," he points to a cardboard box with pictures of pots and pans on it.

"Are these -- have you ever used these?" The box looks unopened and covered in dust.

"Do I look like I bake? My mom bought me these for Christmas a couple of years ago. Worst Christmas ever. You know I asked for a new wallet?"

Britta kind of wants to explain that she hasn't gotten a Christmas present from her mom in years, but this doesn't need to turn in a rehash of Holidays with the Perrys, so instead she opens the box and starts pulling pots out.

It takes about 20 minutes, but they're finally at the point where they're starting to prepare the batter.

Britta's going down the list measuring things out and Jeff dumps them in the mixing bowl.

She gets to the flour and hands it over, "No flour fights, right?"

"Am I Meg Ryan?"

"You kind of have the same hair, you know, when she was doing the short thing. Like, 'You've Got Mail.'"

"Why, Britta -- are you a closeted romantic comedy fan?" His tone is all affected and scandalized.

"No, I'm a Tom Hanks fan." She goes back to the recipe.

"Of course you are."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Pick a safer celebrity, please. Who else is on that list? Ed Begley Jr.?"

"Oh, what, like your taste is so much better?"

Somehow they've both abandoned the stuff on the counter and are facing each other, arms crossed. Britta doesn't remember moving.

"Better than yours at least." He deliberately stands a little straighter, so she has to look up at him.

"As if you know anything about taste."

"I know this cake is going to taste like shit if you don't learn to read instructions correctly."

"Yeah?" And before she can think about, she grabs a handful of the batter and brings it up to his face, smearing it from cheek to cheek. "How's that taste?"

Jeff grabs her hand on the way down and then they're staring at each other.

"You did not just do that."

Britta closes her hand into a fist, "How. Does. It. Taste."

"You wanna know?" Jeff pulls her forward by the wrist, so they're only a few inches apart.

Fine, maybe Britta likes romantic comedies a little bit, because she's definitely seen this one before. "Are we going to kiss now? You'll pick me up and set me on the counter and then Norah Jones will play?"

"I don't know, are we?" Jeff lets go of her wrist, but she doesn't move back.

"Are we?"

"Are we?"

Everything is such a fucking competition. She grabs for his shirt, realizing too late it's the hand covered in batter, and yanks him down.

His tongue is in her mouth before she has time to recognize how she can hear her heart pounding in her ears. Something warm and static settles low in her stomach as she slides her tongue against his, all hot and wet.

He backs her up against the door of the pantry, hands wrapped tight around her waist. He pulls back just far enough to say, "You ruined another shirt."

She reaches for the button on his jeans, "I'll wash it."

"It's dry clean only," and his hips buck up into her.

She manages to grind out, "Fuck you," before his hand is twisting itself in her hair and he's biting at her neck.

They do not fuck on the counter.

They fuck on the couch.

When they give Pierce the cake the next day, he says he can tell it was made with love.

Dean Pelton gives them a B. Something about how love isn't very sanitary.

&&.

The third assignment is financial planning. They have to figure out a series of math problems about budgeting and paying for diapers and condoms and breakfast cereal.

Well, everything but the first question is math. That one says, "If every word I said could make you laugh, how long would I talk for?"

Annie flips the paper over, back and forth, back and forth, "We don't have all the information!"

Abed scribbles down an answer, "Forever. Jesse and the Rippers.”

This is how Britta realizes that Troy and Annie are younger than the Olsen Twins. It’s maybe the worst revelation of the month, and that’s in a month where she realizes that sleeping with Jeff is becoming a habit.

They're finally getting back on track when Chang slams open the door to the study room.

He heads for Abed and Troy, tossing a stack of paper at them. It's the adoption forms, with the word 'Approved' stamped across the top in big red letters.

Oh my god, they adopted Chang.

Chewbacca darts up from where he was napping on the couch and comes right toward Chang, hackles raised.

"Probably knows you want to eat him," Pierce says.

Jesus, is he getting progressively more racist?

Britta tries scolding him, "Pierce. You can't say stuff like that. You shouldn't even think it."

"Yeah, control your spawn, Wingers," Chang says.

"Actually I kept my last name, I won't be force fed society's noti --"

"Wait, I want to try something," Jeff interrupts her. "Pierce. Time out."

Britta feels her eyes widen. Could this work? Please let this work.

Pierce looks like he's going to protest, but Jeff just points to the corner and says, "Go. 10 minutes, or until you're ready to apologize. Go."

He goes.

By the time Pierce apologizes ("Sorry, Chang, eat whatever you want, I'm sure it's delicious."), Troy and Abed have tried putting everyone in the room in time out, including each other. Then they turned their pens into time out light sabers and began commanding inanimate objects into time out. When they try to physically move the actual table into the corner, Annie snaps.

"If we don't start on this assignment now, I'll report you all to Child Protective Services. Don't think I won't!"

Child Protective Services is basically Garrett walking around a clipboard, but getting reported knocks you down a whole letter grade, so they all get back to work.

(Or: Annie gets back to work and the rest of them get back to trying to see what's she written down for the answers.)

Britta gets a B, Jeff gets an A.

Apparently Annie's 0's look like 6's.

&&.

The first time the dean announces the final exam it involves an overnight stay in a hotel and something about "the marital bed." This falls apart when he tries to secure funding for the rooms from the school board.

The actual final exam ends up being -- nothing.

Dean Pelton takes attendance, "Just making sure there were no casualties! You're all alive! Great!"

He scribbles something down in the grade book and Britta watches as Annie sits up straight and tense in her desk.

"Everyone gets a pass!"

"A pass?" Annie's about one notch below screeching. "A pass?!"

"Ooh, yeah, apparently this class is traditionally taught pass/fail," he winces and makes an exaggerated gesture of surrender, "My bad!"

Somewhere in a box at Britta's parents' house is a VHS tape. Stevie didn't tape over a whole documentary on this one. Instead, the tape jumps from Zack and the gang hosting a radio telethon at The Max, to lions mauling a zebra on Wild Kingdom. The cut is so fluid that for a second it seems like hell has broken loose at Bayside's favorite hang out.

That is exactly what it's like as Annie lunges for the dean.

When they're finally able to pry her away from Dean Pelton (he goes limp in Jeff's arms with an audible sigh), an actual, honest-to-god school bell rings.

&&.

Three years and eight months later, Britta gives birth to their son. They call him Paul Simon Winger Perry.

Abed considers the name for just a moment, "Jeff Bridges Over Troubled Water Filtration Pitcher."

So: not a sitcom. They're an episode of Jeopardy. Of course.

&&.