Annie was writing in her swirly, loopy handwriting ~RESOLUTIONS~ at the top of a half-filled piece of paper.
Jeff dumped his books onto the table, then his binder, then himself as he sunk like dead weight into his chair. His first instinct, being only the second person to arrive for a study meeting that technically didn't start for another eight minutes, was to pull close his cellphone and drag up his contacts list. But then he caught sight of Annie's flourished, wrist-flaunting ending.
He glanced her way. Read through the riddle of calligraphy.
If Annie was jaded, she'd recognize the loaded tone. But because she wasn't -- because she probably thought jaded was a crayon color -- she just nodded one of those perky, self-satisfied nods.
"Mm-hmm!" Then, flicking her pen-holding hand his way: "What about you?"
"Resolutions," he repeated back.
"Yeah," she sighed dreamily.
"New Year's Resolutions."
Her smile dimmed some. She was catching on. "What's... wrong with making resolutions?"
"Nothing," he offered easily enough, and her glow started to return. Then he dashed her every dream with a bitter, "Except they're a waste of time no one ever bothers to stick to because, as a collective society, we realize the pointlessness in having goals that span longer than a week."
"That's not true!"
He was leaning across the table, snatching up her list of resolutions before she had time to do anything about it.
"Hey!" she complained, loudly, but he just settled back into his chair, eyes roaming the page over.
"Case in point," he said, with great ironic observation. "Resolution number one. Live in the moment." His eyes rose back to hers, challenging.
At his intensity, she shrank into herself and murmured, self consciously, though there was some defiance, "It's a constant work in progress."
He breathed out a scoff through his nose, then rattled off, "Resolution number two. Expect less of myself." He kept reading through numbers three, four, and five. "Manage finances. Do something rewarding. Be more aware of other people's feelings. These aren't even original. They're not YOUR resolutions, they're Britta's resolutions, and Abed's, and Troy's, and if Pierce wasn't senile and/or morally deficient, they'd be his resolutions too."
She was wearing a scowl now, half-hurt, other parts pissed and defensive.
"Could you please give it back now that you've made your point?"
He sensed the emotional weight behind her words. Like he'd tugged on whatever valve set off the fraught-filled tears. Like it was no longer fun and games anymore, they'd scratched the surface and revealed some messy truth hidden beneath. So he did as asked, a silent acknowledgment to drop it.
Abed came walking in, firing off finger-guns. Pow, pow. He slipped into his seat, while Jeff slipped his own brief glance at Annie, who was drooping some seriously fluttery eyelashes over her notebook page of resolutions. Which was -- great. That was awesome, especially because it made him feel like crap while at the same time alerting --
"Hey, Annie. Bad news?"
-- yep, there it was. As expected, it tripped Abed's WHAT'S GOING ON IN REALITY THAT I CAN OVER-IDENTIFY WITH SOMETHING I SAW ON TV ONCE detector.
"Bun in the oven? Evil twin sister you didn't know you had until she took over some aspect of your life, causing CHAOS?" He said that last word like it was wrapped in those giant Hollywood lights, with this faraway look that meant inside his head was a quickly imagined world where Annie was seven months pregnant and victim to identity theft.
"What? No." Just enough to be subtle, but not enough to get past Abed, Annie looked over at Jeff. "It's nothing," she said.
"Mmmm-hm," Abed drew out, beady little eyes flicking back and forth between them. Knowingly.
"Abed," Jeff stressed. "It's nothing."
It was almost like Abed seemed to drop it. He shrugged -- not like he became aware of some social cue he should've been picking up on, but because there was nothing like this in his movie/TV database to relate to. The seconds dragged on in silence while Annie went back to staring hurt-filled eyes at her paper, as Jeff shifted and breathed out noises of casual indifference.
"Disillusionment," Abed blurted. "That's the vibe I'm picking up on." Then he tasted the air. Yeah, that happened. He smacked his lips around, wet and annoying, and -- seconds later -- drew the same conclusion: "Disillusion."
Considering that Abed was as aware of vibes as Pierce was of the 21st century, Jeff was having a little trouble buying into Abed's sample-the-air mood ring method.
"Abed," Annie burst out with, like she'd been holding it in the whole time. "Do you believe in resolutions?" A pointless clarification: "New Years resolutions?"
"There it is again," Abed deduced, one last swipe of his tongue across his lips. "Disillu--"
"If you say disillusion one more time," Jeff barked, "I'm going to--"
"What? You'll crush my spirit, Jeff?"
It was so ridiculous how dead serious Abed was. Even more so that Annie was over there nodding her head along, like, preach it, brother, word to the system.
Troy came in gasping, having overheard. Naturally he drew his own conclusion.
"Jeff's a spirit-crusher now? If that's anything like a Ghostbuster, where do I sign up?" He eased easily into his seat with an obligatory nod at Abed, staring down Jeff. "More importantly, and look how serious my eyes are right now: is there a containment unit?"
"What do you think?"
Abed shook his head. This ridiculous gesture of realized disappointment. There was a tsk-ing noise. "Annie 'School Girl' Edison. Jeff 'The Dad' Wing--"
"Abed! Ew," snapped Annie.
Abed shrugged, pulling out his books. "Let me know when you're ready to acknowledge the tension," he said. "I can't help you if you won't let me."
"Ohhh, gimmicky-Abed," chirped Britta as she came breezing in, wearing a surprising good mood. "I like! Throw me a fivesies," she said, hanging up a hand. Abed slapped it with little to no thought while Troy stared on, wide-eyed.
"Who are you and where have you buried the real Britta?"
"Yeah," agreed Jeff, for two reasons. One, it dropped the Annie thing. Two, it was fundamentally required that he teased Britta. Seriously, it was pretty much embedded into him at a cellular level at this point. "What gives? Who are you? Dean," he gasped, inching forward with narrow, alarmed eyes, "is that you in there? Trapped in -- wow -- that is a really terrible Britta wig."
"Hah-hah," Britta said with an eye roll, dropping into her seat. "What, it's illegal to be in a good mood?"
Abed considered this. "For you? Not to confine you to a box of limited definitions, but. Yes."
"I've got good moods! I've got plenty of good moods! I've got so many good moods, my guts aren't even guts, they're writhing puppies and sparkly rainbows... and... Edward Mullen, the vampire lover... and..." Her face fell.
Not wanting to completely smother her spirits, they all settled for grumbling lackluster agreements. Still, she glowered. Then she noticed the uncharacteristically silent Annie.
"Talk about a fun vampire, amirite?" she teased. And got nothing. Crickets practically chirped. "Oh, c'mon! Seriously?"
"Don't know," Troy answered her. "When I came in, Jeff was talking Ghostbusters. I think he broke her."
"Oh, I broke Annie. That's what happened. That's what this is," threw back Jeff, slightly (or, a lot) insane.
Abed opened his mouth. "Dis--"
"NO ONE CARES ABOUT YOUR STUPID VIBES, ABED."
A super long silence passed.
Annie was the one to break it. Gone was the pout, the hurt, the disillusionment. Gone, too, was her paper of resolutions, swept to who knows where while no one was looking.
"Can we study, please? We have an essay to prepare for, and Duncan's not grading on a curve anymore. Not since he quit having those afternoon benders."
Britta shared an uneasy look with Troy, who glanced at Abed, who, in return, was staring at Jeff. Who was staring resolutely at his phone.
So they studied.
Not that it was on purpose or anything -- because, please, it's not like he was capable of deep, shameful, apologetic feelings, let's pull back on the applauded character growth -- Jeff, post-study group, wound up trailing after Annie. He followed as she eased through the throngs of Greendale, effortlessly weaving in and out of the huddled masses congregated around vending machines and open classrooms with a focused, single-minded determination.
They wound up in Anthropology, where Jeff, with an extra blase attitude, slid onto the stool beside Annie. Which in and of itself was cause for her to stare at him side long, because usually they divided up wordlessly between the guys and the women, but he ignored it and took out his phone, pulled up his latest missed text messages. She didn't turn away until a few seconds later, and even then, her actions -- she unzipped her backpack and pulled out her binder, their Anthropology book, some colored pens, a stack of waiting index cards -- her actions were hesitant, weird, jerky, like she was over-aware that this was out of the norm. She probably had their seating arrangements already mapped out and integrated into her efficiently organized day, and there Jeff was, throwing her off.
Shirley came in before anyone else in their group, huge eyes landing at the side-by-side seating of Jeff and Annie. Jeff kept his own eyes on his phone, but he could feel the implication in her stare: what in the good Lord's name is going on there and how hard should I pray for their souls to be saved from oncoming depravity? But because she was Shirley -- first and foremost willing to bite her tongue and silently judge instead -- she turned and slipped onto a stool at the table in front of them. Where -- awesome -- Jeff could feel the stiff tension that stretched between them. Annie shifted in her chair and made a small, throat-clearing noise of embarrassment.
Ugh, screw it.
"So," Jeff said, and even though his voice was low -- awkwardly, uncomfortably, hey-let's-swap-some-secrets kind of low -- out of the corner of his eye he saw Shirley tense. Still, he barreled on. Annie was his friend. He should be able to talk to his friend without it being weird, even with the -- with all of that -- impulsive, meaningless, all but forgotten kissing between them, from last school year. "About earlier. Look, I shouldn't have--"
She turned really fast, then, fast enough that her movement kicked up a small breeze that had her open notebook pages fluttering. "It's fine! You don't have to..." Her eyes were wide, her voice notched up to shrill, cartoon levels.
Well, that was... easy. Way too easy. And while that had him releasing some internal breath of relief -- seriously, he felt it rattle up and down inside of him like a gust of wind that blew from limb to limb -- it felt unearned. And kind of cheap.
So he forced out, with high traces of self-deprecation, "I shouldn't have dog-piled you like that. You should have New Year's resolutions. You're... optimistic." Shirley's head tilted their way. Jeff ignored it. "That's a good thing. Resolutions are a good thing."
She picked up her pen, tapped it once against her book. "Thanks!"
It felt even more anticlimactic than her previous blow-off.
Abed and Troy and then Britta and Pierce trickled into the room, with the rest of the class, and soon after Professor Duncan started the lesson on the pattern of male Homosapien behavioral retardation; or, why men are so inherently dumb. Which was... great. Awesome. Etc.
By lunch, Jeff had resolved not to care.
When he eased into the booth next to Annie -- everyone else had already gathered, filling up the other spaces -- he chose not to notice the way she shifted closer to Troy, how she laughed only at the things Abed said, or how Britta kept sneaking narrow-eyed, suspicious glances at Jeff. Shirley was extra talkative, too, filling up whatever lulls hit with repeated tales from her Christmas, ones they'd already heard before.
"Why's Jeff being so weird?" Pierce wondered, loud, too, because he was starved for attention. "Weirdo. Hey, Jeff! You're acting weird."
Jeff let out a sigh, tilted his head back. He stared at the dining hall ceiling. "Pierce. Shut up."
"Bite me. You shut up. I'll shut your face up!"
While Jeff was busy silently emoting his annoyance, Troy chewed on the tip of a fry and mused, "Pierce is kinda right."
"What? Hell yes I am! Say that again."
"No." Then, "Instead of listening to Shirley tell us how she dressed up as a lady-Jesus, for the billionth time, you're the one usually keeping us entertained. Jeff, I need to be entertained."
"Yeah, Jeff," tacked on Britta. "What gives?"
Abed held up a finger. "I know."
Annie made a sound -- a gasp -- and her eyes flicked from Abed to Jeff, where she said, utterly unconvincing, "I'm sure Jeff's just got a lot on his mind right now. Homework. Essays. You guys know."
Britta's eyes got narrow again. "Yeahhhh. I'm not so sure we do know, Annie. 'Jeff' and 'homework' in the same sentence? And in other totally believable news, the world isn't possessed by bureaucratic, hive-minded, worker bee drones who would rather live comfortably in their two-story cages than accept a reality that might shed a light on the falsified nature of--"
Their collective groans cut her off, and Troy tacked on, with some hostility, "Dang it, Britta, you know how I feel about bees."
"Sorry!" she said. "Geez."
"Guys." Jeff used his extra-calming lawyer voice, the one that swaddled others in comfort and deceit. "Instead of asking yourself why I'm being so weird, if," he scoffed, "we're to believe the word of Pierce, a man who, by the way, carries with him a calculator last used en masse in the 1960's."
"Why not ask yourselves why Mustached Joe--" Here was a gesture towards the offensively hairy cafeteria worker who shoveled food for the lined up masses onto cracked, dishwasher-warm plastic plates, "--hasn't been fired yet because, seriously, how many times must we complain of stray, 3-inch long hair in our food? Why not ask yourselves why we still assemble at a dining hall that also seats, not just Leonard, not just Starburns, but Sex Offender Dreadlocks."
"He turned creepy reallll fast," said Shirley, eyes glazed over in memory. "Sexy. Hmph. Sexy my ass."
"And what about this?" Jeff held up his Anthropology book, his lone, nearly empty binder. "What is this? A book on what? How about you ask yourselves what we're paying other people to teach us? 'Cause I don't know. Could be we're learnin' about mankind. Maybe they're right. Maybe I do need to know this. Or -- maybe we're having meaningless crap shoveled into our heads because, you know what, that's just the way the world works."
Britta started nodding along, in a strong, probably rebellious agreement. Shirley clutched her bag closer. Troy looked dazed. Abed had gone internal. Pierce was tapping at his calculator.
"The point is, focus your attention where it matters. Focus on the big stuff, not this boring, unoriginal, cafeteria-spewed garbage we pretend actually means something."
Before the absolute bullshit in his speech could begin to unravel, he slipped out of the booth, lurched forward in a half-ass, overconfident bow, and bailed.
"Damn," he heard Shirley murmuring as he wove between tables, "he's good."
Annie caught up with him before he'd even made it out of the dining hall. She came nipping at his heels, fast and with purpose.
"You are so full of it," she accused, low and stinging, like she was pointing out something dangerous here, not just a really obvious observation.
Thus he glanced her way as they passed through the cafeteria double doors and said, "Well, duh."
She pitched herself forward, so that she came swooping up in front of him, cutting him off. He was forced to stop, but she thought better of that and tugged him by the sleeve towards a more private corner of the hallway. Jeff barely registered on the wall tiny, sporous-looking flakes of mold before she diverted his attention with a stern, no-nonsense leap into conversation.
"Pierce was right, you know. You have been acting weird. Jeff, why are you acting so weird? Is this because of--" She leaned in, crazily, suggestively widened her eyes. "--Earlier?"
He played it clueless, mostly because it was so much more fun to needle her when she was acting ridiculous. He pulled a face, drew his books close to his chest. "You're going to have to be more specific than that."
"Jeff!" She reached out and swatted at his shoulder. "I'm serious!"
"So am I!"
Realizing the senselessness in their argument, she uncoiled from her tip-toed, defensive, ready-to-attack position, almost letting a smile slip. "It's kind of silly, isn't it, to let something so stupid mess up our friendship?"
There was a double-meaning in that. He might've been able to repress a good deal of whatever attraction he felt for Annie -- feelings, one might call them on a delusional, overly-sentimental day -- but there it was, like a rope tethered to them, that kiss from the Transfer Dance. Maybe even that moment in Troy and Abed's blanket fort. Suddenly it was popping up between them, way more indirectly direct than before, even, when they'd addressed the issue head-on. And she was providing an outlined scenario for them to talk, as grown-ups, as adults, and, once and for all, move on.
By skirting around the actual issue with subtext.
"Psshyeah," he agreed. He felt it, then, that impulse to pat at her head, send her off with a harmless buddy or pal. Keep things nice and comfortable, and distant.
But instead, Annie pushed up -- lifted like a plume of recently unwound energy -- and wrapped herself around him, arms at his waist, head buried against his chest. At once it was platonic and -- her fingers pressing against his lower back, the way he could feel, beneath her cardigan, the weight of her chest -- a little damn sexy. A lot damn sexy, actually, he reconsidered, when she breathed out a content-sounding noise, held him tighter.
"Hey, Jeff. Hey, Annie."
That was Abed -- Annie let her arms slip from around Jeff, while Jeff resisted the urge to start throwing around familial words of affection -- who stood there at their side, head slightly cocked, his tone completely unassuming.
Annie pulled away, grabbing at her backpack straps. Which made Jeff wince a little, because: backpack straps. Was there anything that nuked desire quicker than backpack straps? "We were just--" She looked to Jeff, then, to fill in the excuse.
"It's okay," said Abed, still with an annoying amount of aloofness. His eyes went to Annie. "You asked before if I believed in resolutions. New Years resolutions."
Annie's eyes flicked Jeff's way again. Then she rolled them, like it wasn't a big deal, and toyed with her straps some more. "Forget it. I don't know what I was--it wasn't even anything--I was bored, and it seemed--"
"I do," Abed cut in. "Every 365 days I make new ones. It's kind of like clockwork for me." Then, "You should ask Jeff if he does."
Jeff released a mocking breath of air. "Please. Resolutions. That's--" Stupidly, Jeff locked eyes with Abed. It was like gazing at something innocent and pure, something that hadn't been tarnished with lies before. Jeff could say whatever he wanted -- seriously, anything -- and Abed would believe it. Abed would just accept it as truth, he wouldn't even question the bullshit behind it.
And Annie, too, Jeff saw, was staring at him like her whole belief system hinged on his answer.
"FINE," he blew out. "I make New Years resolutions. Satisfied? I budget my grocery list, I return rentals before they're past due. I do a lot of incredibly embarrassing stuff I shouldn't admit to in public."
Annie had her hands clasped out in front of her. Her look was one of immense satisfaction and delight, like she was mentally storing the moment away, cataloging it as something worth dissecting later.
"Don't," he warned.
"Cool," said Abed. "Cool, cool. Well. See you guys later." And he stepped out of that conversation like the master manipulator that he was, disappearing down the halls of Greendale.
Annie was still there, though, still shooting guarded looks of adoration at him. And that was okay. Slightly horrifying, because beneath everything there was still an undercurrent of romantic tension that was proving to be freakishly resilient. But okay.
Jeff let some fondness slip while he brushed past Annie, a silent invitation for her to tag along. She did, and for a few seconds they made their way towards the library study room, content in their quietness.
And then Annie, between a bounce slash skip in her step, chirped, "Seriously, though, let's talk about those resolutions of yours."
Kill him. Kill him now.