Seriously, who has that many friends? Who actually knows and associates with that many people? Annie visibly shudders – who would ever want to know that many people? Keeping track of their names, their birthdays, their respective significant others, their children…it would be a logistical nightmare, one which would definitely require an extensive, colour-coded binder.
A hand holding back the curtains of her kitchen window, Annie cannot help but glare at the cars parked on the street. The vehicles are particularly congregated at the house directly opposite her own cosy three-bedroom, and that is perhaps what annoys her most. She only moved into the neighbourhood less than three months ago, beyond excited by the prospect of her first real home. This is the house where she’ll possibly raise a family, the house where she will perhaps live out her life, and when she happily signed away her hard-earned money she definitely did not envisage a situation such as this.
She’s met most of her neighbours by now, but the one who lives directly opposite to her still remains a total mystery and her lack of knowledge is beyond exasperating. Her next-door neighbour to her left, a mother of three and a bakery owner, has told her his name (Jeff Winger) and his profession (used to be a hot-shot lawyer, now is a community college law professor), but aside from Shirley’s tidbits of information and the rare glimpses Annie gets of him going to work just as she’s coming back from her morning run (very, very tall, lean but also muscular, blond hair, nice arms, sunglasses, drives a somewhat out-dated Lexus), she knows next to nothing about Jeff Winger.
What little she does know is that he likes to entertain countless people every weekend, and those people like to crowd the street, the shared street, with their cars. It’s like they’ve never heard of carpooling! Or better yet, public transport. She relied on the public transport system before she saved up enough money to buy her first, albeit crappy, car, and whilst she knows how convenient driving is, Annie really wishes this mysterious Jeff Winger and his friends would have some consideration for other people. The number of non-residents crowding the street every weekend has become so bad that she often refuses to leave the house, unless someone is picking her up, because she genuinely fears she might come home and find she cannot park in her own driveway. She purchased this home with her money, her long-awaited transition into a true adult existence, and yet Annie feels less at home here than she did all those years she lived above a sex shop or roomed with Troy and Abed.
She supposes some of her annoyance with her mysterious neighbour stems from the fact that Annie has been living here for three months, three months in which, if her memory is correct, Jeff Winger has hosted at least fifteen parties. Fifteen, and yet she’s never received an invitation to one of them. From her vantage point in her kitchen, the floral curtain held back by her fingertips, she’s often spotted Shirley making her way across the street, a tray of something surely delicious in her hands. She’s even seen Pierce, the elderly man she’s caught peering at her in her running gear, entering Jeff’s house, wearing a hideous shirt that surely had been purchased in the seventies. And if this Jeff Winger can happily accept the company of Pierce, Annie cannot understand why he has never deigned to seek out her company. Surely he isn’t so self-absorbent to not have realised that the house directly across his has sold, has been inhabited for three months, that a dark-haired girl now owns it and can be seen every morning leaving for work, and every Saturday tending her lawn and garden – she’s actually quite proud of the vegetables she’s managed to grow in such a short time.
She even hosted a house warming party two months ago, with the rest of the neighbours happily in attendance, along with Troy and Abed and several of Annie’s other friends, a party in which everyone got along swimmingly and her spinach dip was proclaimed a success, thank you very much. The invitation to the party had been extended to all of her neighbours, Annie designing and crafting what she thought were quite appealing invitations. She’d slipped them into the letterboxes of each and every house on her street, even Pierce’s, so unless he just didn’t check his letterbox Jeff had definitely received her invitation. He just hadn’t shown up, and although the night was a complete and utter success, Annie beaming as her guests left, the fact that Jeff failed to attend, failed to introduce himself, failed to try and get to know her, had caused her heart to drop somewhat.
Perhaps it was because she never had that many friends in high-school. Annie had never had the stereotypical sleepovers with all of her friends, had never had people to sit with at lunch. She’s now twenty-five, a grown woman with a successful career and a house of her very own, and although she already has numerous friends, the idea that people like Jeff Winger still do not want to get to know her… well, it does hurt a little. Annie’s not silly, she knows she can’t befriend everyone, but still. Surely the people that live closest to her would wish to get to know her, even just a little. She wants her neighbours to be able to offer her a friendly wave in the morning and know her well enough to be able to trust her with collecting their mail and watering their plants whenever they went away.
But Jeff Winger doesn’t seem like the type of guy to own plants, nonetheless actually spend time caring for them, and maybe it’s for the best that he doesn’t want to get to know her. She’s not sure she needs that type of energy in her life, and no amount of exposure to his quite nice arms is going to change how she feels.
Late one Sunday afternoon, Annie decides to bite the proverbial bullet and leave her house. She needs to do grocery shopping for the upcoming week, and there’s no way she’s catching a bus to the store and back, not when she has a perfectly good car sitting idle in her driveway. And after all, the sky is grey and filled with clouds which threaten rain, exactly the type of weather which surely will ensure there isn’t any chance of the street suddenly bustling with activity during the half an hour it takes her to shop.
Besides, this is her driveway. As in, she owns the house it is connected to. If there is a car parked in it when she gets back, well then, she’ll do the adult thing and report that car to the police. Better yet, the local towing company. Whatever she decides to do, whoever dares to park their car in a driveway which obviously isn’t theirs will end up regretting such an action. But this is all purely semantics, because there isn’t going to be a car parked in her driveway. Even Jeff Winger wouldn’t throw a party on a Sunday. He’s a college professor, he has classes to teach tomorrow. It’s nearly the end of the school year, so he surely has papers to grade and finals to prepare for.
And apparently, she learns approximately thirty-four minutes later, copious amounts of alcohol to drink. Slamming her car door closed in a mixture of frustration and pure anger, Annie stifles a scream, extremely aware that her quite expensive pint of ice-cream has presumably melted by now. She’d had to park three houses away, her driveway blocked by a strange car, a vehicle she has the strong desire to key as of right this very second. But she’s a mature adult, so before she storms over to Jeff’s house Annie collects her bags of groceries, arms straining under the effort. Breathing heavily, she takes care to pack every single grocery item away, stashing the ice-cream safely in the freezer and hoping that her seven dollars won’t go to waste.
Her first angry knocks go unanswered. So she knocks again, this time practically thumping her entire arm against the wooden door. Music is blaring from inside the house, so her knocks are likely to go unheard, but Annie perseveres nonetheless. Stubbornness has always been one of her worst traits, one she’d tried to work on but never quite managed to subdue. She knocks for what seems like an eternity, and her obstinate desire to stand on Jeff Winger’s doorstep until he answers his door and she can yell at him has almost subsided when a blonde makes her way up the path, a bottle of vodka swinging from her hand and sunglasses perched on her nose.
“Hi,” Annie says, struggling to be heard over the music. The blonde seemingly winces at the sound of Annie’s voice, lifting her sunglasses so Annie can see the bags under her eyes.
“Sorry. Bartender. Had an extremely late night last night. And no, the tips did not make up for it.” She sighs, shaking her head. “They never do,” she murmurs, almost to herself.
Annie nods in understanding, shifting on the doorstep to make room for the blonde. “I’m Annie.”
“Britta.” The blonde – Britta, Annie corrects herself – retrieves her phone out of her back pocket with her free hand, quickly typing something. “You’re here for Jeff’s party too? He’s such an ass, he never answers the door unless you text him that you’re here first. His phone is like permanently attached to his hand, it’s the best way to reach him.” She laughs. “Actually, it’s the only way to reach him.”
Before Annie can respond, before she can move or tell Britta that no, she isn’t here for the party, make her escape and curl up on the couch with her ice-cream, Britta presses send on her text and shoves her phone away. “I don’t even know why he’s having a party on a Sunday night.”
That, Annie can definitely agree with. Sunday night does not equal party night, not in her book. Unless there’s a public holiday on the following Monday, Sunday nights should be dedicated to preparing for the upcoming week, laying out clothes and organising your schedule. It never hurt anyone to be prepared.
Britta laughs once more, the sound almost as loud as Jeff's music, an acerbic laugh that reminds Annie a little of her mother. “No, wait, I totally do. Jeff knows that these parties piss off his neighbour.” She swings her hand, pointing directly to Annie’s house, her roses finally in bloom and making quite a beautiful sight. “That one over there, and he’ll never admit it, but he definitely thinks she’s cute and somehow believes that having these loud, obnoxious parties is going to I don’t know, impress her?” She rolls her eyes at Annie, banging a fist on the door. “Men, right? They’re not the brightest. At least here I get to be the one getting drunk, not cleaning up other people’s messes.”
Annie furrows her brow as Britta continues to hammer on Jeff’s door, mind reeling at the influx of new information. Jeff thinks she’s cute? What, when she’s coming back all sweaty and dehydrated from her morning run? Because that’s the only time he has ever laid eyes on her, unless he’s somehow sneakily tracked down her Facebook – a social media outlet she hardly ever uses, but one she’d logged onto a few months ago, purely to change her profile picture to something more current… something more attractive than the shot of her from her freshman year of college.
And seriously, throwing a party to impress her? What is this, high school? Loud music and an influx of random people on her street aren’t the way to her heart, thank you very much. Although, to be honest, she doesn’t really know what would be the way to her heart, not even after dating Vaughn and her brief flirtation with Rich. She’s always supposed that when the time came, she’d just know, but that ever elusive time hasn’t arrived yet.
Annie is jolted out of her thoughts as the door opens, the music becoming even louder. Britta scowls at the man behind the door, Jeff’s head turned to shout something at someone behind him, pushing past him and opening the door wide enough for Annie to slip through undetected. She doesn’t see where Britta goes, the blonde presumably headed to the kitchen to nab a glass in which she can pour her vodka, so she stays right where she is, has the prime position to see the look of shock cross Jeff Winger’s face as he shuts the door and realises that she’s standing in front of him, her arms crossed under her chest and an eyebrow arched.
For a moment, as his gaze turns directly to her, Annie considers letting her anger slide, just letting herself relax and enjoy the party. This thought might be solely influenced that there is perhaps the most perfect specimen of man to ever exist standing right in front of her. She’d thought Jeff Winger to be obscenely attractive from a distance… turns out, it’s even worse up close. Even though he’s presumably years older than her, stuck in a dead-end job and probably the most infuriating neighbour she’ll ever encounter (and that’s including the years she spent living above a sex shop that had twice weekly midnight sales), she cannot deny that he is extremely striking. A glass of what appears to be scotch in his hand, his navy blue jumper is rolled up past his forearms, the material moulded perfectly to his chest. His blond hair is styled perfectly in artful messy strands, and Annie has to remind herself to breathe as he looks at him.
It wouldn’t do to just faint away in front of him, this isn’t an Austen novel. Although if it were, he’d definitely be Mr. Darcy – obstinate and rude, but without any hidden depths. This is reality, and no matter how handsome Jeff Winger may be, he is still her annoying, party having neighbour, the one who is the reason why she cannot park in her own driveway. Annie inhales sharply, tightens her crossed arms and asks, “Jeff Winger?”
The man nods, swirling the scotch in his glass. He nods but says nothing, the silence lingering awkwardly in the air between them. Most of the other guests are happily conversing amongst themselves but Annie is painfully aware of the few who have their eyes trained on them, watching their every move.
“Annie Edison.” She refuses to offer him her hand, no matter how impolite that may be. He isn’t deserving of her handshake, no matter how hard she’s worked to perfect it. She’s spent years ensuring it is the right balance of professional and friendly, firm but yet yielding enough, and Jeff isn’t deserving of that. “Your neighbour.”
“I know who you are.”
She furrows her brow. “Well then, you should know that the car currently parked in my driveway isn’t mine. Mine is three houses away, parked in front of creepy Pierce’s house.”
“So?” Jeff has the gall to shrug, an action that makes her hands itch with the desire to punch his cocky smirk right off his face – an action she’d surely follow through with, if she were only a few inches taller. “I don’t see how that’s my problem.”
Annie scoffs. Of course he doesn’t, the self-entitled jerk. “The car parked in my driveway belongs to one of your guests, you jackass. Now, either you go and get them and tell them to move their car, or I’ll call the towing company and they’ll happily move it for me.” She smiles, sickly sweet, wondering just where this Jeff Winger gets off. Definitely not at the helping people station, that’s for sure. “Either way, I fully expect that my driveway is going to be clear in the next half an hour or so.”
And with that, she has said all she needs to say. Although it is tempting to remain, tempting to wait and watch to see if Jeff Winger does what she has asked, she has the number of the towing company saved in her phone and a pint of ice-cream waiting for her. She’s given him half an hour, and surely he’s not that much of an idiot to not fulfil such a simple request.
Only... half an hour passes, and when she enters the kitchen to return her ice-cream to the freezer, craving satisfied for now, she can see, quite clearly, that the car still remains in her driveway. An exasperated groan escapes her mouth before she can contain it, Annie curling her hands into fists and breathing deeply. She quells her desire to march right over to that pompous asshole’s house, quells her desire to tell him exactly what she thinks of him, picking up her phone and dialling the number of the towing company instead. The gruff voice on the other end of the line assures her that the car will be moved in forty-five minutes or so. In forty-five minutes, the car will be moved, and Jeff Winger will know better than to mess with her.
It’s only when she’s run herself a bath out of a desperation to occupy herself, to do something so the time passes quicker, that she remembers what that woman – Britta – had said, Annie almost choking on her glass of wine as she laughs at the thought. A crush? No one, not even five year old boys, should ever act in this manner if they have a crush on someone. Why in the world does this Jeff Winger think that being an asshole of the highest degree is somehow going to make her adore him? He’s a grown man for Christ sakes, he should surely know better. She shakes her head, a hand swirling the bubbles around her, and refuses to think anymore upon it.
One of the towing company’s employees arrive at her house exactly forty-five minutes after she placed the call, the heavyset man happily taking her money and getting to work. As she watches the car be towed down the driveway, Jeff Winger’s house still buzzing with activity, she can’t help herself, she smiles. Grins rather, her lips stretching wide at the sight of the car leaving her driveway, her house, her street. She did warn him.
Twenty minutes later, Annie now clad in her comfiest pyjamas and deciding whether to watch a movie or sneakily catch up on the latest season of Inspector Spacetime, so she isn’t quite as lost whenever Troy and Abed babble on about it, there’s a knock at her door. She knows exactly who is on the other side, so perhaps somewhat childishly, she takes her time making her way to the door, the ensuing knocks becoming more loud and irritated as the minutes pass and she still hasn’t appeared. Finally, after ensuring her pyjama top is buttoned up and scrapping her hair into a ponytail, she answers the door, donning a bright grin. Jeff Winger scowls at her, but that only makes her grin wider.
“Where’s the car?” he asks, without preamble. Another glass of scotch is dangling from his fingertips, and judging from his slightly unkempt hair and crinkled collar, he’s been enjoying himself, having dismissed her threat the second she walked out the door. Serves him right, because whoever that car belonged to is now without a ride home, and this Jeff Winger is far too inebriated to drive them himself, so he’ll be having a lovely sleepover tonight, hopefully sobering up enough to retrieve the car from the tow yard in the morning. Two can play this game Jeff Winger, she thinks. No matter how childish it may be, two can definitely play this game.
Annie looks up at him, her blue eyes wide in a display of innocence. “I don’t know what you mean.”
Jeff scoffs, taking a sip of his drink. Annie turns her nose up at the sight, for she’s always hated scotch. It tastes like dirt, literal dirt, and she cannot understand how people could possibly stand to drink it, let alone pay obscene amounts of money for such a disgusting drink. There’s better ones to be had, drinks which are surely cheaper. “Sure you don’t,” he replies, stepping forward and closing the door behind him.
“Sure, come right in,” she mutters, shaking her head as she steps back, Jeff’s height making him almost an imposing figure in her cosy (not small, cosy!) home. “Make yourself at home.”
“Where’s the car?”
She makes her way to the kitchen, thirsty all of a sudden. “What car?”
Jeff arches a brow at her, leaning against her refrigerator so casually it is as if he has done it time and time again. The appliance is shorter than him, so he easily places his nearly empty glass on top of it, crossing his arms. Annie plainly refuses to look at him, not even allowing herself a sideways glance, distracting herself by sipping daintily from her own glass of water instead.
He breaks the silence after a few minutes, Annie’s drink long finished. “Seriously, where’s the car?”
She shrugs. “Not in my driveway, that’s for sure.”
Jeff groans. “Look, I’m sorry about that. I am. And I’m sorry about the noise. But honestly, where’s the car? If I don’t get it back, my-” He breaks off, but now that he has begun talking, Annie is determined to get answers.
Jeff rubs his palm over his forehead, sighing. “My brother,” he murmurs, so softly that Annie almost doesn’t hear the words. “Half-brother,” he corrects, dropping his hand. “It’s his car, and if I don’t get it back, he won’t be able to leave and I’ll have to let him stay the night.”
“And you don’t want him to?” she asks, standing up from her chair. She hardly ever sees her own brother, Anthony happy enough with only a call on his birthday and Hanukkah and random messages here and there, so she cannot really judge Jeff for not wanting to spend time with his own siblings. It soothes her anxiety a little to know that there are other people out there that don’t particularly like spending time with their family.
“You’d know why if you met him.”
To this, she offers a soft nod. Many a time she’s complained about her mother to people she considers to be close friends – only to have her complaints dismissed as mere whinging, not proper answers as to why she hardly ever sees her family. No one would ever truly know unless they meet her family, her mother, and she would not wish that experience upon anyone, not even Jeff Winger. So yeah, she gets why Jeff is so desperate to get his brother’s car back, because she shudders at the thought of having to host her mother overnight. The address her family has for her is one from years back, one that if they bothered to search for it, they’d know belonged to an apartment above a sex shop, the only apartment a nineteen year old Annie had been able to afford, cut off from her family and alone in the world.
“I had the car towed,” she confesses, standing with her back to Jeff at the kitchen sink. Despite his absence, across the street the party still rages on, music blaring and a crowd of people visible through his open curtains. “About twenty minutes ago.” Annie feels slightly guilty, her stomach swirling as she refuses to face Jeff. She’d been adamant in her decision to tow the car, angry beyond belief that he’d brushed off her threat, but now, with the man himself standing in her kitchen, now she has found she has something in common, guilt settles in her stomach at her possibly somewhat rash actions.
Jeff chuckles, a hearty sound that surprises her in its sincerity. “I guess I should have taken your threat seriously then,” he says. She peers at him over her shoulder, brow furrowed, and instead of saying anything she merely shrugs. He snags his glass from its place on top of the refrigerator, finishing his drink in one swallow. “I’ll see myself out,” he murmurs.
Anne nods, sucking in a shallow breath. She grips the counter tightly as she hears the door open and close, watches through her window as Jeff makes his way out of her front yard and on the nature-strip. “Damn it,” she mutters under the breath, whirling around. A few hasty steps later, and she’s letting herself out of her house, calling for Jeff to wait.
He turns, a brow arched in questioning. “I’ll take you,” she calls, rushing to him. Even though there’s a crowd of people in the house just across the road, she finds that she doesn’t care that she’s in her pyjamas, her face bare. Let them judge. “To get your brother’s car, I mean,” she clarifies, shivering a little in the night air, before waving a hand at her attire. “Just give me a few minutes to get changed.”
Jeff nods, stepping towards her, away from the still-raging party. “Thank you.”
Anne merely shrugs, walking back towards her door. “I probably shouldn’t have been so hasty in getting it towed,” she confesses as she opens the door, Jeff stepping inside behind her. She offers him a soft smile. “There’s just something about you, Jeff Winger. You piss me off more than anyone I’ve ever known.”
An hour and one confusing explanation to an entirely disinterested employee at the tow yard later, the car is safely returned, Jeff’s brother more than happy to be reunited with it. Annie is the only witness to a somewhat awkward goodbye, Jeff visibly uncomfortable with the tight brotherly embrace given to him.
“Thank you,” he tells her as his brother leaves the street, rubbing the back of his neck. “And… I’m sorry for being an asshole to you earlier. At the party,” he needlessly clarifies. “I’d say it won’t happen again, but being an asshole is apparently the only thing I’m good at, so. I’ll try not to but I’ll most likely piss you off again, sooner rather than later.”
Annie laughs, shaking her head. “Well, I’d say that I won’t be so quick to retaliate, but that’d be a lie.”
Jeff offers her a laugh of his own, shrugging slightly. “They do say honesty is the policy,” he tells her, a hand resting in the pocket of his jeans. “So that’s something, at least.”
A moment passes in silence, a moment in which Annie deliberates over what her next action is going to be. It’s well past her bedtime, and yet, she isn’t tired whatsoever. Standing in front of her locked front door, she inhales deeply before asking Jeff, “Do you want to come inside? I’ve got some ice-cream that I need help eating.”
Jeff nods, lips quirking upwards into a smile as he follows her inside.
And if he ends up shirtless in her bed, so what? Sue her. She’s only human.