Troy knew why he wasn't excited that Derek was transferring to Greendale-they'd drifted apart after high school and weren't really friends anymore-but he wasn't quite sure why he got a sick feeling in his stomach every time he thought about it.
Derek had asked Troy to show him around campus on his first day at school, seeing as Troy had now spent three years there, but Troy had given him an evasive answer about how busy he was, what with taking normal-well, normal for Greendale classes-on top of his air conditioning stuff, and how he was sure that the orientation would be more than helpful. All of that was true, yet Troy knew that that wasn't the whole reason why he rejected the idea out of hand, there had to be something more to it.
It wasn't until the next day during study group that he figured it out. Annie looked tired and withdrawn, and even though she was clearly trying to project her normal level of enthusiasm for the subject, he could tell it was hollow. Annie had decided to give back to Greendale by becoming an orientation leader, not to mention that it would help garner a good recommendation from the Dean, and maybe this was the straw that would break her back.
However, he kept coming back to the thought of Annie being orientation leader, and he couldn't put his finger on why. He'd tried to chalk it up to him failing again at trying not to think about how much he thought about Annie, but he didn't think that was the whole story.
Finally, near the end of the season, Shirley leaned into Annie and asked her in a low voice how things had been going with the new students and if she had met Shirley's friend from church yet. Annie frowned slightly, quickly covered it up with a smile, and began to tell Shirley all about the activities she'd run and how nice she thought Shirley's friend was.
The conversation washed over him. He had an explanation now for why Annie seemed to be so upset, she must have seen Derek at some point. And at that, it all came back to him: how mean Derek had been to Annie at Riverside, how he'd asked her to some dance and then laughed at her when she said yes, and how he'd been the one to post the video of Annie having a breakdown on Youtube. Troy looked down, the sick feeling in his stomach coming back full force. Maybe he shouldn't have had only special drink for breakfast. And lunch, for that matter.
He was distracted throughout the rest of study group to the point where he barely noticed when it was over. Normally he'd walk out with Abed, but Abed got up and started talking to a quickly retreating Jeff about something before Troy even managed to close his notebook. Before long he was the only one in the study group still sitting. He felt uneasy at the thought of the football try-outs being held later that evening. He knew he should go, he just didn't feel like it for some reason.
"Troy?" Annie's voice startled him out of his thoughts, "are you feeling ok?" Troy twisted to look at her, he hadn't even noticed she was there, which was strange. He'd started to get a sort of second sense for where Annie was at all times in the apartment.
Her hand was partly extended towards him, like she'd been about to put her hand on his shoulder and then decided not to. At his look, she quickly put her hand back down. Her clear concern for him almost covered up the sadness around her eyes, but Troy could still see it.
"My stomach just hurts," he replied after the silence had stretched on for just a little bit too long to be comfortable, "I should probably go to the nurse."
"I have some antacids if you want them," Annie said, already rummaging through her bag.
"Thanks," Troy said. He wanted to ask her about Derek, but he wasn't sure how to start. Recently it seemed like he didn't have any idea how to talk to Annie one-on-one, and he doubted that Annie would be happy if he brought it up in front of Abed or any of the rest of the group. Annie had made it clear that she wanted to move on from high school and everything that entailed. The subject hadn't even really come up since his 21st birthday.
He duly took the pills that Annie had shook out into her hand. He knew that she liked the tropical flavors for medicine, something to break out of the dull monotony of artificial cherry, and, as expected, the flavor of artificial pineapple burst across his tongue. He wasn't sure how it was much better, but that was another conversation he wasn't sure how to start.
She was already all packed up, unlike him. Everything was probably placed in exactly the place she always put things, her pens and pencils placed tip down in their holder, her notebooks and binders put so they open to the right. Annie started to walk towards the door, not exactly briskly, but a little faster than she normally moves.
"Annie, wait," he called out after her, his mouth still full of Tums, "are you ok?"
She half-turned in the doorway. "I'm fine, you know how it is with the beginning of the semester," she said and then continued on. Troy finally started putting his meager supplies away in his backpack only to be interrupted by her overly cheerful voice, "I'll see you back at the apartment!"
But he didn't. Tryouts had been bearable, mainly because Derek didn't show up. That didn't mean he wouldn't be on the team; he could try out tomorrow, or, really, at any point in the season and get on. Troy had decided that the only reason he didn't want Derek on the team was because it would make things uncomfortable for Annie. More often than not, Troy would look up from the field and see Annie sitting near the front, waving some sort of elaborately decorated poster, stomping her feet, and shouting the words to a cheer. It was nice. He didn't want her to stop going, or worse, go and be unhappy the whole time. Troy was half-asleep when he heard the tell-tale click of the front door being unlocked.
Generally Annie liked to be back at the apartment by ten at the latest, unless she was walking back with someone. She didn't like to walk through the parking garage alone late at night, and sometimes she would call Troy if one of her activities ran late or if she got too caught up in studying and lost track of time to come get her. Troy didn't mind.
But now it had to be past midnight, and he hadn't heard Abed get up and leave to get her. Meaning that she was either alone or with someone. Troy deliberately excluded the second possibility from his mind, threw his blanket off of him, and padded out into the living room.
Annie was alone, walking quietly in the dark back to her room, clearly trying not to wake them up. Her shoulders were hunched over slightly, and she was holding her backpack in her arms. She looked up when he closed his door, he wasn't trying to be that quiet.
"Oh, you're up," she whispered, her voice barely carrying to him.
"It's late," he replied in a more normal tone of voice. He only noticed that he unconsciously crossed his arms after he'd done it. Troy wasn't overly worried about waking up Abed; he knew that Abed always slept like a baby after re-watching Cougartown.
She shrugged one shoulder. "The Dean asked me to help with some new student stuff," she said. Her voice was huskier than normal.
"Annie," Troy began and then trailed off. As he'd moved closer he could see that her eyes were red and puffy, like she'd just finished crying.
"Are you sure you're okay?" he tried again.
She nodded her head and attempted a smile. It barely reached her lips, let alone her eyes.
Troy tried to gather his thoughts and said, "I know that Derek is going to Greendale now. Is he giving you a hard time?"
Annie's head snapped up. "It's fine," she replied, retreating into her room, "I'm fine."
Troy barely slept. Part of it was that every soft noise he heard throughout the night made him think that Annie must have started to cry again, but mainly it was because he'd been thinking of what he should do to make it better. Obviously the best thing to do would be to get Derek to leave Greendale, but Troy didn't really have any good ideas about how. The one thing he kept circling back to was the idea of doing something to Derek that would be as bad as all the things that he had done to Annie.
Troy knew that that would be impossible, but it wouldn't be that hard to mess with Derek, to pay him back a little. He'd always been incredibly easy to convince of anything. Troy remembered a memorable incident where the team had told him that the new dress code at Riverside forbade wearing anything technically classified as clothes: he'd shown up wearing a neatly tailored garbage bag shirt and pants made out of scotch tape. The tape had been a little too transparent, he'd gotten a ton of detention, and had to sit out the homecoming game.
Actually now that Troy thought about it, it was right after that incident that Derek had invited Annie to the winter dance. And, even though he didn't remember a lot about Annie from high school, he guessed that most of the worst, most public humiliations for her came right after the team had done something to Derek. Troy's stomach clenched painfully; he should probably get up and eat breakfast.
Annie avoided him the whole morning. Normally they'd make breakfast at the same time: they'd trade the cereal back and forth, he'd get in her way as she chopped up a grapefruit, or she'd set out an extra cup of tea for him, if he asked. But today, she grabbed some bread from over the refrigerator and dashed out the door without even toasting it when she saw him standing in the kitchen trying to decide between orange juice or milk.
He thought about calling out after her and telling her about his plan, but now probably wasn't the right time, not with Abed emerging from the blanket fort. He'd catch her after study group and tell her then.
Of course, that was easier said than done. Annie packed her bag in record time, apparently shoving her belongings in without paying attention to where they were supposed to go. Troy, anticipating this, had only taken out one notebook the whole time and had kept his bag zipped up, so all he needed to do was gather his notebook under one arm, sling his backpack over the other shoulder, and he'd be all ready to go.
He half-jogged out after her.
"Annie!" he shouted. The librarian on duty shushed him severely. "Annie!" he tried again, this time a little more quietly.
"Not now, I have class," she responded brightly. At this point, they were both essentially running. Troy didn't bother trying to respond, only put a little more effort into pushing himself further, and caught her arm. She immediately stopped, apparently not wanting to shrug him off.
"We need to talk," Troy insisted, only a little out of breath.
"But class," Annie panted.
"You don't have class now," Troy said. He knew, he'd checked the schedule Annie had made up weeks ago when she finally decided on what to take and had posted it proudly on the fridge. She'd made matching ones for Abed and him a few days ago, hunched over the living room table, arts and crafts supplies arranged all around her. Right now was clearly marked as 'Free Time :)', it had the sparkly pink boarder around it and everything.
Annie looked away, trying to catch her breath. "I'm thinking of picking up another one," Annie replied, "I want to sit in on it and see if I should."
"We should talk about Derek," Troy said, not sure what else to do. Shirley walked by at that moment and gave the two of them a weird look. He knew he'd be getting a text or a call from her later asking about what was going on.
"What's there to talk about?" Annie said, her voice firm, "we went to high school together, and now he's in my orientation group." She shrugged out of his grip and walked away, pausing only to look back at him right before she turned the corner, her face puzzled.
She avoided him like the plague for the next few days: leaving the apartment a full hour before she used to, getting in later and later and only asking Abed to walk her back. She even skipped out on the study group's lunch on Tuesday, claiming that she had to file some paperwork for the Dean.
She was clearly better at this than he was-he'd tried getting up even earlier than her and waiting for her, but every morning he'd wake up to the shush of the front door clicking and a painful stomach clench. It was like the early days of the apartment, when it was only him and Abed living there, and the apartment felt empty without her. The only sign that she even acknowledged his presence was the appearance of her bottle of tums on kitchen counter with a note saying 'for Troy' on it. His chest had spasmed painfully at the sight; great, now he had heartburn too to deal with.
At this point the only thing he could think to do was to wait for her to get back in her room. Her room wasn't exactly off limits; she'd often throw little, spontaneous study parties in her room and cut up carrots or set out crackers when she wanted help with flashcards or just some company as she worked through her readings. But still, Troy knew that he was crossing a line.
He sat in her desk chair, his textbook for the Ancient Economies class he was taking open on his lap, and tried to concentrate. However, the late nights and early mornings on top of football practice had taken their toll, and Troy soon fell asleep.
Troy startled awake an indeterminate time later. Annie was standing in the doorway to her room, pointing a gun at him, with her mouth in a perfect O of surprise. His heart began to race triple time, and all the things that he had planned to say to her deserted him. Carefully, she placed the gun in her handbag.
"Troy," she gasped, "you startled me." She pressed her hand against her chest.
"Um, why do you have a gun?" Troy asked in a completely manly voice.
"I got it when I lived above Dildopolis," she answered, but Troy still had so many questions. "Why are you in my room?"
"Why do you still," he started, then stopped himself, determined to not to get side tracked. "You've been avoiding me and I wanted to apologize if I'd done something."
"Troy, you haven't done anything," she said, looking surprised again.
"If it's about Derek, I thought of something we can do, a prank, so he won't mess with you here," Troy said. He'd worked out exactly what he was going to say, but with the surprise of the gun, and seriously, what the fuck was that, he could barely even remember the outline of it.
Annie visibly considered that, then said. "Why do you care so much about Derek?"
"Because I thought he was making you sad," Troy replied, truthfully. He got up, his book slipping out of his lap, and started to move towards the door. This was clearly a terrible idea. Hopefully this wouldn't make her avoid him even more, because he would had no idea how to fix that.
He reached the door, but Annie hadn't moved. She was looking down towards the floor, and then said, in a small voice, "Why do you care so much about something that made me sad in high school? I thought you didn't even notice."
And the thing was, Troy hadn't, but now he had and he couldn't stop noticing Annie. Annie with her multitude of cardigans and kind words to say about anyone and her determination to get through things that Troy didn't know if he could, if he could have pulled himself through a pill addiction without help from his family.
"Because we're friends," he finally settled upon saying, his heart heavy in his chest, even though he now knew that wasn't the whole truth. What else could he say? He wasn't that stupid, Annie didn't look at him the way she had at Riverside, and it didn't matter if now he was looking back.
She made a low noise of acknowledgement, and shifted a little, just enough so he could squeeze by. He carefully tried to maneuver through without touching her, but the sleeve of his sweater brushed against her stomach, and she looked up at him. Her eyes were bright with something, maybe tears, and Troy knew he couldn't leave this like that.
He leaned down to hug her. He'd hugged her before, at the end and beginnings of semesters, after doing well on a test, sometimes after a football game, but she'd initiated most of them. He was going to blame inexperience on this being their most awkward hug by far, since her arms were stiff against her side.
Troy started to move away, he was full of bad ideas and bad decisions, when her arms came up, and she hugged him back gently. He paused, then continued to disengage, when he looked at her face. It was shining dimly in the darkness of the room, and she looked open and wondering, not upset like he was expecting.
Her eyes flicked down to his mouth. And before he could properly process what was happening, she was surging forward in his arms, until her mouth was almost touching his. He could feel her breath against his lips when he closed the final distance between them.
Her mouth was warm and tasted faintly of strawberry and stale coffee. She kissed him softly, but with a purpose, and Troy opened his mouth at the first delicate swipe of her tongue against his bottom lip. He felt as if he was going to burn up, standing in the doorway to her room, but somehow her mouth was hotter still.
She ran her tongue gently along the seam of his lips and then retreated slightly, breaking the kiss. Troy could still feel the heat of her body pressed up against him, and he kept his eyes closed, unwilling to step out of this moment.
"I don't how long I've wanted to kiss you," she confessed, her breath warm little puffs against his still parted lips.
"I don't how how long I've wanted to kiss you either," he said and opened his eyes just in time to see her smile delightedly.
The next moment she was kissing him again, harder, and he could feel the curve of her smile against his. For the first time in days, Troy's stomach relaxed completely, and so there was nothing to distract him from kissing her back with everything that he could.