Jeff looked around at the empty study room, lights turned out. He'd told Annie he was just going to grab his jacket and go home after they all left, after that hug that embarrassed him as soon as it was over, but he seemed stuck to the spot. The end of the semester had come, and with it, the end of his study group.
He remembered how he'd felt at the beginning of it, the phony speech he'd made up just to get in Britta's pants. And now, after six years, he couldn't help but stand there, watching it all unravel in front of him. He wondered where he'd be this time next year. He knew where Annie would be, off saving the world. He'd had a sinking feeling as soon as Troy's boat pulled out of the Greendale parking lot that he might never come back. And of course, Abed would be everywhere with just a little bit of time.
He could imagine it. He could close his eyes and see what they were doing. Maybe for a bit, for Christmas, or just because they felt homesick, some of them would come visit him. But this time, in one year, there lives would be somewhere else. And that was okay, of course, that was how things should go. They were young. Their whole lives were in front of him. He couldn't name one person he knew who never moved on from college, who let their futures revolve around the place where they were supposed to be just starting out. Well, except for him.
Everything was turning out how it was supposed to be. But they'll be gone. They're going to leave him. He'd still have Britta, though. Just picturing her, sitting, smiling at the bar she worked at gave him some warm moments of solace. It started with Britta and it ended with her too. They were his best friends in the world, and that would be true no matter where they were.
As he walked out of the study room, his feet dragging as he went, Abed's voice rang in his ears, in spite of himself. Last call. Study over.
Almost done with the first quarter, and Jeff was surprised how different everything was. No weekly meetings in the study room. It was like he'd said years before, when Annie was freaking out about the group splitting up without Spanish. They were close enough that they'd meet up with or without a class. It was just him and Britta, now.
He missed just seeing them. He remembered when he first started teaching, Annie with her face flushed, and chin raised, challenging him already. He missed seeing her face crop up in the halls, her pleased smile when she put another star on the wall. He missed the way Abed tilted his head, trying to puzzle something out. Jeff remembered that last night, driving him and Annie to the airport, the look in his eyes when he hugged him for a second time.
This was just the way life went. People come into your lives, you love them with all your heart, and then eventually they go. Or you go. Either way, it ended. And usually, it was all for the best. He really did love teaching at Greendale, and Abed, Annie, Troy, and Shirley were doing what they had always wanted to do. But he still missed them. He was allowed that much, wasn't he? Even under the best of circumstances, when someone you love leaves, you miss them. The problem was, Jeff had never really had people he loved like this before.
"Everything changed so fast, huh?" The lights in the bar were dimmed, the chairs flipped up on the tables. It was closed, but there was Jeff and there was Britta, sitting at the bar, both very drunk. "To think, if you had just gone out with me, we wouldn't be dealing with any of this right now."
"Jeff, if I had just gone out with you, we wouldn't even remember each other's names."
"Still, wouldn't we have been better off? I would be back to being a lawyer, and you'd be married to Vaughn -"
"Oh, ha ha."
"- and we wouldn't have to miss anyone, ever."
"You're just saying that because you're drunk."
"You're drunk. At least I'm still here. They're not even in our same time zone."
"Jeff, have you really never left the state? Isn't that what you told Troy?" Britta leaned her chin on her hand, looking just as tired as Jeff felt.
"No, remember the giant hand?"
"That really doesn't count. You should do it."
"You trying to get rid of me?"
"I'm trying to get you to see why they left. You could go see some mountains, or something like that, uh… Oh! You could go to New York!"
Jeff raised his eyebrow, unable to suppress the laugh bubbling up inside him after all the scotch he drank.
"I lived in New York, you know."
"I know, Britta."
They ended up having to call Frankie for a ride. He was starting to think her and Britta had something between them. Then, he reminded himself to pour one out for Pierce. Britta might not be a lesbian, but he figured Pierce would appreciate it anyway.
The year had just ended, and Jeff had finally gotten Instagram, after much prodding from the Dean. He was absent-mindedly scrolling through his feed while watching a rerun of Cougartown - Yeah, so what? Abed got him hooked. - and then he saw it. Posted a few hours ago, a picture of Troy and Abed in Abed's new apartment, with the caption: "Troy and Abed back togeeetttheeeerr!" He could hear them singing it.
It was then he knew it was time. Throwing a few essential things into a duffel bag, Jeff drove to Britta's place and knocked on the door, feeling very proud of himself.
"What are you doing for the next week or two?"
They were in the van within ten minutes. Jeff had spent the money and rented it. It was going to be worth it. It was a day and half before they arrived. They pulled over into a motel at midnight, but he was already starting to see what Britta had meant. He didn't know there were so many stars in the sky. You couldn't see it from Greendale, but you could out here, in the countryside.
But when they arrived at their destination, Jeff could feel himself getting worried. What if he was crazy? What if he'd gotten the address wrong, or she'd moved and hadn't told him? But after only about thirty seconds of waiting, Shirley Bennett opened the door. He told her his plan, and saw her smile, after all the hugs of course. When she responded with an emphatic, "Oh, that's nice!" Jeff knew that it was going to work out.
It took only half an hour for Shirley to pack, but it took them two hours to leave. She wanted to bake them brownies, since of course, they must have missed them so much without her there. Jeff had to admit that he did. They really were delicious. But he missed Shirley more. He was surprised that they really did turn out to be like-minded people in the end. And, with warmth pouring out of her just at the sight of them, he knew his plan would work.
The next stop took a few days, and it was the one Jeff was most worried about, but Britta reassured him that she was still Annie. No matter how busy she was, she'd always have time for her friends. Remembering Annie and that last kiss, he really, really hoped that was true. They'd texted a few times since he dropped her off at the airport with her one-way ticket to Washington, but he hadn't seen much of her, aside from her Instagram, which was flooded with her current projects.
But when Jeff, Britta, and Shirley were leaning on the van outside her apartment building, and he'd shot her a text telling her to "Come outside," she was down within seconds.
"You guys!" He heard her from across the street. "What are you doing here?" She hugged Shirley first, then Britta, and finally him. In that moment, he realized just how much he'd missed her. Her eyes were glowing, even with only the dim streetlight, and in that moment, he knew that his plan would work out fine, but he asked anyway.
"I know you're busy taking over the world, but do you think you might be able to spare a few days for your friends?"
And so, they went on the road again. Britta was in the back of the van with Shirley, and Annie was sleeping in the passenger seat. Knowing her, it was probably the most sleep she'd gotten in weeks. He heard Shirley and Britta laughing their asses off behind him, probably because of some gossip, maybe even about him, but he didn't care. He didn't think he'd hear the sound of them together again. They weren't his friends, they were his family. It had been a week since the Instagram post, but Jeff was convinced that when he got to L.A., Troy and Abed would still be there, together.
They were. He'd had to take some back roads on his way, and they'd had some detours, some pit stops. He thought road trips were supposed to be boring, but this wasn't. He had to admit, they started fighting around the halfway point, but he'd even missed that. Jeff held off on the big Winger speech, though. He'd save that for when they were all together again.
When Abed opened the door, he stood for a moment, silent, head tilted again, like he was trying to puzzle out why they were all there in front of him. For a second, Jeff thought he might have left even Abed speechless, but then he just said, "Cool. Cool cool cool," which of course was the Abed equivalent of a hug, and for the first time in three years, Jeff heard Troy's voice shout from somewhere in the apartment, "Abed, who is it?"
There was a lot of hugging. Some crying, mainly from Troy. Even as Jeff's heart felt so full he thought it would burst - Seriously, who had these people turned him into? - there was a little bit of sadness there, too. In a month, this would all be a memory again. Everyone would be back to the lives they were leading before he interrupted them, and all would be how it should be again. But this time, Jeff was fine with that. All of them, together again, in the same room, for what was probably the last time ever. Or maybe not. Who knew what would happen?
There was one thing Jeff knew for certain. He knew that he would never be able to tell them how much he loved them, that no words could hold the meaning their lives gave his life, but he knew that that this right here, this hugging and laughing and catching up that he'd brought together, was as close as he would ever come.