No one really warns him just how much vomit is involved in handling a class of seventeen precocious four-year-olds. Or just how many of them enjoy eating glue, or paint, or licking the bottoms of shoes. And these are supposed to be the smart ones, or at least, the ones with the rich parents. It’s not exactly where Troy thought he’d end up teaching his first year, but when he’d seen the classroom during his interview, well. He’s testing out the waters here, and he’ll head off to a public school in a year or two after he knows what he’s really getting himself into.
He doesn’t quite make it out of Colorado either, although he might as well have. He Skypes with Abed a lot, and he’s still on Britta’s mailing list about injustices and sad people and cats wearing clothes no matter how many times he clicks the link to unsubscribe. But somehow it’s already been a solid three years since he even crossed the Greendale town line. It’s easier than he expects it to be, settling into living on his own, microwaving leftover pizza and waking up at six every morning. A year passes in Castle Rock and Troy realizes he’s actually sort of a grown up. Not just that, a successful and functional one.
The start of his second year at the Academy, he’s got on his first day bow tie and glasses, and this time he’s ready for Mary the receptionist to give him shit about his fashion choices. But these parents are crazy, and he learned quickly that dressing like this automatically gives him an in with the stay at home moms.
He’s out on the front steps, waving at last year’s students but mostly trying to pick out his new ones. He looks for the smallest ones, the girls that won’t stop fiddling with their backpacks or the boys that hesitate at climbing the steps. There’s one little girl actually crying over by her mom’s station wagon, and Troy knows it has to be one of his.
He’s down the stairs and all the way over to the curb before he even gets a good look at them, so he doesn’t really have a chance to hide his shock when the mom looks up at him from where she’s crouched down, and it’s Annie. It’s Annie with a little blonde girl who has a too-big backpack that’s probably stuffed with new notebooks and index cards and pencils and oh my god Annie has a four-year-old daughter which is sort of impossible. He’s going to long distance murder Abed over the internet for, you know, not mentioning this at all.
“Troy?” Annie’s face must look pretty similar to his own, because she’s rocking the startled Bambi look pretty well. But then she’s distracted as her daughter launches, backpack and all, right into her arms. Troy can’t help but notice she seems unsure as she wraps her daughter into a hug, and that there’s the glint of a wedding band on Annie’s finger. But her voice is firm and supportive when she says, “Isabel, I told you. You’ll be fine. You’re going to go in there and learn so many new things, you’ll have to teach me. That’s how smart you’ll be. Just be brave.”
Annie turns her daughter around, tugs on her coat and gives her a push. When Isabel’s foot lands on the first step, Annie calls out, “You’re going to kick all their asses!”
Troy hasn’t seen so many disapproving looks since he attempted to start off his presentation on parent-teacher night with the theme song to Reading Rainbow, complete with tossing construction-paper butterflies into the air and everything. (He’s still not sure how that one went wrong. LeVar Burton is awesome.)
“You’re wearing a bow tie,” is Annie’s comment, like this isn’t the most awkward conversation they will have together.
“You’re married,” he counters. “And here.”
Annie’s watching Isabel hover outside of the main doors. “She’s his, from before. It’s kind of a long story.” Annie turns and looks at him, and all he can think about is the night outside her apartment in a messy yellow hallway on his twenty-first birthday, and how weird and distant it seems. It’s like he’s seeing two of Annie, present and past, and his mind can’t reconcile one with the other.
It’s impossible to try and cram three years of catching up into the minute or two he has before the bell, and he doesn’t even manage to figure out his first question before it starts to ring.
“I have to—”
“Educate the youth of tomorrow, yeah. Have a good day at school, Mr. Barnes.” She pats him a little on the arm, and smiles. “The first day of school was always my favorite. The whole year stretching out before you, new books and new shoes. New everything.”
“I’ll take care of her. Promise.”
“Yeah, I know. You were always good at that.” He remembers a sad girl leaning against the doorjamb to apartment 202, wearing a pink sweater and looking lost and young. He pulls her into a hug, and this time her hands know where to go. It’s over too quickly, but he really can’t be late to his own classroom on the first day of school.
“Hey, Annie - later?” he asks, already halfway to the stairs.
“Later,” she says. “Promise.”