After divulging in a donut hole that morning, Jeff felt extra paranoid about his body fat ratio and did twice the number of crunches he usually did in the mornings. To make it to their meeting at his usual tardy time, he had to settle with almost perfect hair before he ran out the door. If he would’ve gone past it his usual late time window, he knew that Annie would use those big eyes of hers and shoot him a death glare that made him squirm in his shoes. Plus, he knew that this final project was stressing her out due to it being only a pass or fail grade. She wanted to maintain her practically perfect grade record, even though all of them were already graduated and this grade didn’t count for anything.
They graduated from the same college and decided to take classes down at the community center to make sure they all kept in touch after all of them earned their degrees. Even though they were taking this community center class for “the fun of it”, he didn’t want to make her more on edge. He hated seeing her mopey, she acted like a Disney princess whose animal sidekick had just fallen off a cliff.
And he cared about her…a lot. More than cared about her, he was in love with her.
That fact had been thrown in his face every time he so much as looked at her. A small part of him had always known of course, but he’d just been denying it for as long as he could. He and Annie, ever since their freshman year, had always had something more to their relationship than his ones with the other members of the group. Because he started college late (due to some circumstances that involve him exaggerating on the degree he’d earned for three years after high school), he was a few years older than her, even though they were both freshmen like everyone else. He’d always felt protective of her, drawn to her, and cared about her so much it scared him. So, at the end of the year party, Abed had thrown to live out some classic plotlines from movies, they’d bonded over everything then been though that year on the house deck.
Through part of the discussion, Annie had leaned over, grabbing the lapels of his suit jacket and kissed him. Jeff although thrown off at first by the act, quickly reciprocated, kissing her back and trying to memorize the curves of her lips and how it felt against his.
After that, their relationship had been a bit rocky for a few months, mostly due to him freaking out over the whole situation and ignoring her most of the summer. But luckily after a few awkward conversations and slap to the face, they’d remained friends. In fact, they had kept growing closer over the years, the whole time trying to keep the feelings he had for her on simmer. While a part of him had always known how much he had fallen for her, it was graduation their senior year when he was faced with the truth of how far gone he was. Abed had put together a montage of videos and photographs of the group, and his heart felt like it plummeted a few stories when he looked at the way he seemed mesmerized by her in all their pictures together that played with the Green Day song they played in the background of graduation videos.
Ever since that revelation, he’d been trying to process what to do about his feelings for her. They saw each other all the time, giving him lots of opportunities, but he could never get up the courage to tell her or admit to anyone with ears how he felt to at least get it out of his system. So, at this moment, he was stuck. Mooning over Annie like some high school drama show with a will-they-wont-they dynamic.
Walking into the study room they’d discovered at the local library, everyone was already hustling around the room with glitter glue in their hands and pieces of cardboard.
“Wow, I had no idea glitter was such an essential aspect of the pilgrim's lives,” Jeff smirked while walking towards the table, already pulling out his phone from his pocket.
Troy chuckled at the joke, Abed was too enraptured in coloring his section of the board, Shirley and Britta ignored his statement and only nodded their head in his direction as a greeting. Annie, however, snapped her head in his direction with a challenging quirk of her brow, “Glitter is a modern adaption that highlights aspects of the time period, thank you very much.”
Jeff’s smile softened, lighting up his face the way it always did in interactions with her. “Yeah, cause when I think of the pilgrims, I think of their glittery outfits first and foremost,” Jeff said sardonically.
He saw her lips twitch as she was trying to conceal a grin out of spite. He should’ve known she wouldn’t move an inch on a topic as important as glitter. Glitter was like a security blanket for all of her school projects that involved a physical presentation. Not that he’d want her to back down on it, he liked seeing her so passionate about things and argue with her last breath, even if it was something as minimal as crafting that sparked her debater side. He admired how driven she was, how she could care so deeply even about the tiniest thing and fight for it with her dying breath.
They held their gaze for a few moments longer than they should’ve until Annie cleared her throat and threw a stack of paper at him. “You’re on paper folding duty, you need to follow these instructions to make them look like authentic houses that would be in a pilgrim town.”
“I was supposed to do it, but I have a phobia of papercuts,” Troy interjected with a haunted look on his face.
“Sweetie, I don’t think anyone wants a paper cut. I don’t think a normal dislike for it constitutes a phobia,” Shirley hummed passive aggressively.
“It’s not just that. You don’t understand what I went through during that crafting session at camp, no one does!” Troy said, voice cracking.
There was a moment of silence, everyone beginning their tasks without filling the room with any sound. The rare solitude of the room didn’t last long however as Abed began singing the theme to Reading Rainbow to cheer up Troy and causing most of the room to abruptly join in. Just like that, it was back to normal, with comfortable chatter filling the room as if no random outbursts of singing had just happened.
They were about halfway through the project when Britta’s voice cut through all the conversations occurring in the room. “I can’t believe you waited until now to tell me you are dating someone!” Britta mumbled to Annie loudly through the laminated name card in her mouth while juggling figurines in her hands. It was meant to be a whisper, but her overcompensation her words, so they would come through with things in her mouth, caused everyone’s eyes to turn to Annie.
Jeff’s stomach lurched. Freezing in his chair, his latest folded house gripped tighter in his fingers. Her jaw was slacked with color rising in her cheeks. By her not immediately denying the claim told him that it was true. She had been dating someone.
Well...crap, he thought.
Ever since she dated a guy named Rich their sophomore year, he’d never heard another word about her dating life. But that was probably his fault, his jealous reaction of last time hasn’t been the best signifier that her dating life was something she’d discuss around him again. While he understood, the thought that she had been seeing guys period was unsettling.
“It’s only been a few weeks, I didn't want to say anything until it was something steady,” Annie squeaked, trying to keep her shoulders as straight as possible as everyone stared at her.
Her eyes flickered around the room to everyone’s judgmental expressions. Britta had an apologetic look, Shirley and Troy’s were more surprised, Abed seemed intrigued, and then she looked at Jeff, and it was like everything in the room went still. Her expression when she maintained her glance at him was mixed, something in her eyes seemed guilty by the way she bit her lips, scanning him like she was afraid he was going to self-destruct. He tried to keep his composure neutral, hoping his face wasn't looking as crazed and panicked as he felt inside.
His usual silver tongue had gone dry, a sarcastic retort or even a simple word couldn’t form from his throat. Abed, however, was more than calm and broke the silence instead, “Oh the classic secret dating an outsider. This will bring up bonding on details of the relationship with Shirley and Britta, possible hijinks from Troy and I with the love interest, and an overcompensation and emotional outburst from Jeff, because—.”
“I’m not doing any of that,” Jeff barked before Abed could finish explaining his feelings for Annie more than he could admit. “I have no interest in this. I only want to hear his name so I can pretend that I know it when I just call him ‘hey you’.”
Annie pressed her lips into a tight line. “His name is Jonathan Jones, and we met at this coffee place I go to,” Annie said, addressing the room.
Britta crossed her arms. “Was it Starbucks? Because you have to be careful there, it’s such a corporate machine that forces its workers to—.”
Groans filled the room as Annie shook her head. “No, it’s a coffee place a few blocks down from our apartment. And he’s not part of some corporate machine, he’s…nice.”
Jeff winced, turning his eyes to the ceiling and focusing on a patch of the wall that had been missed painting.
“He sounds like a superhero, with the alliteration name like Peter Parker or Wonder Woman!” Troy exclaimed.
“Or a super-villain…” Jeff muttered under his breath.
The conversation carried on a little longer until they were finished with the work for the day and everyone began exiting the room. Annie, in particular, scurried away to escape. Jeff was about to follow her, but Abed caught his shoulder and turned him around to face him.
“The coffee shop she goes to is called Hellen’s Hot Stuff,” he said casually.
Jeff quirked up his brow. Folding his arms against his chest, he narrowed his eyes at Abed. “Okay…why are you telling me this?”
He shrugged as if the reason was obvious. “Because I figured you’d want to try and track down Jonathan. Maybe come up with a fake persona, try and break up him and Annie.”
He ducked his head away from Abed’s demanding look. “I’m not going to try and break up Annie and him. This isn’t some sitcom episode.” He took a deep breath and puffed out his chest. “Plus, why would I try to do that anyway, I don’t know him and I have no stake in the situation.”
Abed sighed and made a tsking sound. “I was hoping you had developed to the ‘admitting your feelings to Annie stage’ by now, seeing as how you’ve been less dismissive and have been giving her googly eyes without restraint.”
Jeff’s face fell. Had he really been that transparent lately? Trying to avoid the panic within him, he scoffed at Abed. But it sounded more like a whimper than the sarcastic laugh he was shooting for, but he proceeded with the act anyway.
“That’s insane Abed, I’ve never in my life given someone googly eyes or done something for or with Annie that I wouldn’t do with any of you guys,” he sneered.
Abed’s determination didn’t falter, unmoved by Jeff’s claim. “To move this plot along because it’s become gruelingly long at this point, I could describe to you a montage of moments between you and Annie to get you to realize that it’s time for a grand romantic gesture. Or you could do an outburst of confessing your feelings in some sort of random situation like—.”
Jeff rolled his eyes, not letting him finish as he walked out the door and left Abed to create a stupid montage on his own. He didn’t need to see or think about one, he already knew there was enough evidence to justify a long sequence.
Later in his car, he didn’t even realize where he was driving to till he arrived at the infamous coffee shop. Letting his instincts guide his actions. he stepped into it with the dinging of a bell accompanying his entrance. Once inside, he witnessed a long line for coffee and a variety of tables and chairs scattered along the room. There was also a long red couch on the other end of the coffee place with love seats surrounding each side. He joined the coffee line and kept his eyes trained on all the people in the room as he waited.
While ordering his coffee, he focused his efforts on trying to spot the guy she might be dating behind the barista desk. When he made it to the front of the line and saw that all the baristas at the counter were girls, his chest sank. What was he even doing here? Did he just want to worsen his agony by seeing the guy she was dating so he could just picture them together? He considered throwing his coffee away, thinking he couldn’t stomach anything at the moment.
He decided against it due to how expensive this place was, and slumped into one of the love seats. When he pulled out his phone, he was unable to stop his fingers from searching up his name on every social media site he could think of. Just as he was at the third Jonathan Jones on his Facebook search, a small tap on his shoulder awakened him from his web stalking.
He looked up and met Annie’s confused eyes. He pinched the bridge of his nose, did he really think there wasn’t any chance that he would run into Annie here?
“Jeff, what are you doing here?” she asked, her brow creasing with one hand on her hip.
Jeff lunged for his cup on the table in front of him and showed it to her, taking a long drink from it while he thought about the right words to say. “After all the talk about coffee today, I felt like getting a cup. I wanted to try somewhere new, so the place where you met Mr. Superhero seemed like a good of a place as any.”
Annie didn’t seem to be buying it. She was giving him those big sympathetic eyes while biting her lip nervously. “Jeff, what’s really going on? Are you here to spy on him or something?”
“No of course not Annie!” he yelled a little too loudly, causing her to look all the more suspicious. He sighed, trying to calm himself down. He was an adult who paid bills and did his own laundry, he wasn’t some kid, he should damn well be able to keep his emotions in check.
“I’m really just here for coffee, I promise,” he said in a honeyed tone.
Her suspicious gaze fell, it instead was replaced with a soft curiosity. She swayed on her feet, leaning over to peek at the contents of Jeff’s mug. “Okay then…so how’d you like it?”
He gave a non-committed shrug, “It was great, well made. Not too picky about my coffee though.”
That wasn’t true, he ordered his coffee from a supplier in France and only settled for other coffee when he didn’t have time to make some at his place. But he had to sell the lie, taking another sip he made an exaggerated pleased sound and cupped the mug firmly in his hands.
She narrowed her eyes for a moment, before seeming to give up her protest. She bounced into the seat next to Jeff. “What did you get?” she asked giddily. “They have so many great options here, white chocolate, chocolate strawberry flavored, and even dark chocolate mocha’s!”
He rolled his eyes, settling into his seat. “I didn’t get anything with chocolate Annie, just a plain black coffee.”
She made a grossed-out face, pursing her lips. “Come on Jeff! I respect your coffee choices and all, but how about I get you some samplers? This is a special place, you can’t just get your usual black coffee and plain vanilla scone and grumbling about how your imported coffee can’t be paralleled,” she said, air quoting the last word.
Damn, she knew about his coffee preferences. Of course, she did, it was the ever so perceptive Annie he was dealing with.
Unable to say no to her and feeling slightly cheered up that she knew what his usual was, he grinned and bowed his head. “Alright fine, but we have to do something after this that will settle all the caffeine. I can’t go about my day with all that in my system, I have to work it off.”
“Sure,” she nodded, nudging her foot with his. His mouth slipped into a lop-sided grin, nudging her back, feeling in a better mood than when he walked in here. She rested a hand on her chin, “Let’s see, we could take a run in the park, or there’s this laser tag place—.”
“Annie there you are, I’ve been wanting to tell you the news all day!” A perky voice interrupted beside Annie.
Jeff’s eyes snapped to him, seeing from the way he pulled her into a hug and left his arms around her hips that it must be Jonathan. Annie seemed a bit alarmed as if she’d forgotten that they were supposed to be meeting as she awkwardly leaned into him.
He was an average height, with curly red hair that went around his tanned rectangular face. He looked like a ginger version of Josh Hutcherson. He also comic book looking glasses, giving some evidence to Troy’s superhero theory.
Jeff felt a tinge of jealousy, feeling it prickle beneath his skin as watched Annie next to him. After a few moments, Jeff cleared his throat, causing Jonathan to realize his presence.
He turned towards Jeff, “Oh hello, are you one of Annie’s friends?” he said, holding out his hand from where it had been on her waist.
Jeff held back his anger and gave an over-done grin, all of his teeth flashing at the guy. He grabbed his hand and shook it a little harder than necessary. “Yeah, I’m Jeff. It’s great to meet you.”
Annie peered down at him, looking the way she did when she was trying to solve a Sudoku puzzle between classes. “Johnny,” she breathed hesitantly, causing Jeff’s smile to falter ever so slightly at the nickname. Her eyes flickered back and forth between the two of them, seeming like she was trying to decide what way she wanted to steer the conversation. “What was it you wanted to tell me? Do you think it could wait till we’re alone?”
He shook his head, grabbing Annie so she was standing straight in front of him. “It can’t wait. I just got discounted tickets to the most magical place on earth,” he screeched, pulling two tickets out of his pockets.
As soon as Annie spotted they were Disneyland tickets, she gasped and Jeff felt like he wanted to stuff his face into a pillow and scream for a few hours.
“But…how? I mean this is great! When is—.” Annie stuttered, somewhat jittering even though she was currently wearing multiple layers.
Jonathan pointed to the small printed number on one of the tickets. “Tomorrow night, we have a late flight, so get your bags packed!”
Annie was practically jumping up and down, a bright expression on her face and a finger to her chin like she was already planning the itinerary. But something in her seemed to falter, turning back to Jeff who was still sitting in the love seat with tension aching in his shoulders from trying to seem cool and collected. He met her gaze, giving her a small smile. Her brows scrunched together, looking like she was trying to decipher her own feelings running through her like he was. He didn’t know what for, she should be at hundred percent Annie optimistic level right now, the small thought in his head that she was even a percentage off gave him a small sense of hope that she didn't like Jonathan as much as he thought she did.
Before she could say anything, Jonathan jumped in again, breaking the unsettling silence. “Now that that’s settled, I’d love to sit down and talk with you, Jeff! I’ve heard so much about you.”
Jeff curtly shook his head, standing up and letting an excuse roll off his tongue. “Uh I would but I—I got a date I have to get ready for that's tonight. My skin care routine takes a while, and I have to reserve a seat at this new restaurant in town.”
“A date?” Annie asked weakly, her perkiness falling a bit.
“It was kind of a spur of the moment thing, just some girl at a bar,” he put his coat on and didn’t dare to meet her eyes again. “I should get ready though. It will be like making a first impression again because she will actually see me clearly instead of through the dark lighting and bar fog,” he finished.
“What about the samplers?” Annie insisted, trying to match his pace that he was currently making towards the door, leaving Jonathan confused behind her. “I’m sure Johnny wouldn’t mind making some and trying them with us.”
Jeff didn’t think he could spend another minute watching Annie and Jonathan complete each other’s sentences and do whatever couples did around a third wheel. Taking all the courage he could muster, he turned his eyes back to Annie’s, seeing a combination of hurt and something else he couldn’t place. His lips turned up slightly but shook his head.
“Maybe another time,” Jeff spoke grabbing the door handle before he could think any better of it. Before leaving he gave her a wave, “I’ll see you later Annie.”
The next few hours after the coffee shop Jeff spent digging through his phone to find a girl that he could take out for the night. Finally settling on a girl named Sammy that he met months ago at a grocery store, he called her and set up a date for seven. He figured that if he was ever going to shake his feelings for Annie, he needed to take a page out of her book and see other people. The idea of dating for the first time in Jeff’s life seemed like a miserable experience. While he’d seen a few girls here and there, the relationships always dissipated before they began.
He didn’t want to go on a random date with a random girl, he wanted Annie. Being with someone else now just seemed wrong when he knew how irretrievable his feelings for her were. So why had he been stopping himself from saying anything these past few months?
After an awkward greeting in the waiting section of the restaurant and ordering a bottle of wine, they went over the standard first date questions. She was currently talking about the two cats she owned, but all Jeff could think about was Annie and her trip with Mr. Superhero. How they’d be laughing in the park, grabbing his hands on the more intense rides, and taking those couple pictures that he knew he’d torture himself looking at when they got back. Sammy was going into detail about her job as a dental assistant when Jeff fished his second glass of wine, slamming it on the table.
“How long is a trip to Disneyland usually?” he interrupted, unable to bottle up his thoughts any longer. “Is the ticket just a full day thing? Or can you get tickets that let you in for a few days?”
Sammy seemed thrown off by his question, almost dropping the food that was on her fork. “Um, I think it depends what kind of ticket you buy…you can get one lasts for a few days I believe,” she answered.
Jeff scoffed, pouring another glass of wine. “Well, that’s just great. A couple could go and ride all the frickin’ rides, hold hands as they walk, and get pictures with all the stupid Disney princesses that she could take their job as because she looks and acts just like one.”
Jeff’s brain was beginning to fuzz, his mind only being able to concentrate on Annie and Johnathan’s trip when it should’ve been focused on his date. She loved Disneyland, he knew it was her dream to go there with a boyfriend one day. Dear God, what if they get engaged? What if they move there and never come back? Could you get a house at Disneyland? The thought seemed rational to him with all the alcohol he had in his system.
“Um, I’m sorry Jeff, I’m confused. Are you trying to book a trip there?” Sammy asked wearily, snapping him out of the train wreck of his thought process.
Jeff shuddered a breath, feeling guilty as he rubbed his brow in frustration. “I’m sorry Sammy, it’s just…I got bad news today. My friend Annie is going to Disneyland with her new boyfriend.”
“Oh, that is…” her voice drifted, but she snapped herself out of her reflexive agreement. “Wait I’m sorry what’s bad about that?” She raised her brow, confused at his rambling. Jeff’s shoulders slumped as he sipped his wine quietly in his seat. Something in her face settled however after examining him for a few moments, becoming more intrigued. “Oh, this is an ex-girlfriend, isn’t it?”
Jeff gave a fake laugh, readjusting uneasily in his seat. “Oh no. No no no. We’ve never dated. We’re just friends…”
Her forehead puckered, folding her hands on the table. “Are you sure about that?”
“Yes! I mean, kind of,” Jeff sighed taking another swig of wine. They’d always been friends. But he couldn’t deny that there were lingering feelings there that were un-platonic and mutual. “We kissed once, she admitted to having feelings for me, and it was just this whole thing.”
Sammy looked at him expectantly, waving him on to continue. Jeff’s jaw twitched, dejectedly drinking from his glass. “When we kissed, she was eighteen and I was twenty-four, so I kind of told her it didn’t feel right to be more than friends, so since then we’ve just been friends,” he continued, loosening the tie that was starting to feel tight around his neck. “But then we’ve always had this thing between us you know? Like we feel pulled towards each other, and we just work together so well, and when we look at each other there’s just a...what’s it called?” he snapped his fingers, trying to place the word he was thinking of.
“Sparks?” she answered, deadpanned.
“Yeah!” Jeff shouted, feeling more buzzed by the minute, enjoying how his tongue and mind felt looser. “And as my friend, Abed would say, we make ‘googly eyes’ and through the heavily implied subtext we exhibit, he can tell that we care a lot about each other,” he recited.
She looked like she was trying to search for meaning in all his jumbled thoughts, sipping her own wine. “So, you’re not together just because of a slight age difference? Wouldn’t she be around twenty-two now?”
He nodded, “Yeah. She’s this amazing, grown woman, who acts more like an adult than me most of the time. Always has to be honest. So, I don’t know…maybe it’s not the age difference anymore.”
She seems to have given up on the date, taking out her big hoop earrings and slouching in her seat. “Have you ever considered the reason you’re afraid of dating her is that you’ve never felt this way about anyone before? I mean I don’t know you all that well, but maybe you’re afraid that taking the next step with her would mean you'd be entering a totally new territory.”
He bowed his head, squirming in his seat. “It’s…a possibility.”
Just then the waiter popped by their table, clearing their plates with a grin plastered on his face. “Dessert?”
“No, the check!” Sammy practically shouted. When a few heads in the restaurant turned to her, she blushed and leaned more towards the waiter, “Please,” she quietly begged.
Jeff’s expression dropped even farther. Even while he was in a drunken haze, he still felt guilty about how the whole night was going. “I’m sorry Sammy. I feel like such an idiot! What’s wrong with me? I’m on a date and here I am talking about Annie. I can’t get her beautiful eyes and brain out of my head!”
“It’s fine. Well, it isn’t actually. But I understand,” she said, patting his hand cautiously from where it was on his glass. “It sounds like to me that you’ve never had any closure with her and that’s what causing your severe drinking and moping tonight.”
His face twisted, becoming the one at the table who was confused. “Closure? What do you mean?”
“You know closure,” she smiled, but a vein looked like it was about to pop on her head from irritation. “You said that the feelings between you two started a few years back and never stopped…on both ends obviously. So, if she’s dating someone else, you need to get some closure in order to move on.”
Jeff considered this, tapping his fingers on the table. It was true, he and Annie while having a few conversations about what was happening between them, but they never put things totally out in the open about how they felt. He needed to have some sort of closure to feel like he wasn’t stuck in a constant in-between-friends-and-something-else relationship with her.
“Closure…that’s not something I normally do. How would I go about doing that exactly?”
She looked at her watch absentmindedly as she answered, “Well, there’s not one way. You just have to do whatever it takes to say I’m over you.”
He hummed, pulling his phone quickly out of his pocket and scanning through the names. “Huh that’s a good plan, in fact, I think I’ll do that right about now!”
She gritted her teeth at his decision, but Jeff couldn’t see, he was trying to read the numbers on his phone which for some reason now seemed blurrier to him. Finally finding her name, he tapped on it and held it up to his ear. After a few moments, her voicemail started to chime with her voice. Of course, Annie was one of the only people who still left a personal voice message to make sure people knew that she would call them back.
“I got her answering machine, I’m going to wait for the beep,” he whispered not to silently across the table.
“Sounds good,”’ Sammy rolled her eyes, calling over the waiter to hurry up on the check.
After her voice message ended, Jeff put the phone closer to his ear. “Anniiieee! It’s Jeff, Jeff Winger, I’m here with Sammy, whose great at advice by the way. Britta should give her a call for advice on how to give advice,” he said animatingly into the phone. “I’m assuming you know that it’s me cause my name would show up on your phone. But who knows, maybe you made space in your contacts for Johnathan so you can talk all about Disneyland—which is great! I don’t mind at all! Because I’m over you, I’m over you, I am so over you,” he annunciated, taking another sip of wine with determination and bringing the phone back to his mouth. “And that Milady, is what they call closure!”
Jeff forcefully pushed the end call button on his phone and leaned back in his chair in triumph. Because he was a bit drunk, however, he tipped over in his chair.
Before Jeff knew it he was being escorted into a cab and somehow stumbled into his apartment falling right asleep as he sat down.
He woke up on his couch the next morning with a throbbing headache. He was holding a water bottle in his hands while his face was currently planted on his couch cushion. It was 1 o’clock on a Saturday and he has a terrible hangover. As a well-functioning (well kind of) adult, he shouldn't be sleeping in past 10 and should know fully well how much alcohol he could handle.
The events at the date he went to were hazy, but he remembered the lead up to it and what made him act like such a pathetic loser last night. He laid there for a few moments before pushing himself up, going to his kitchen cabinet to grab his Advil. Just as he was about to put the pill in his mouth, there was a loud knock on the door. Wincing at the noise, he slugged his way over to the sound, leaving his medicine behind.
As he opened the door he was greeted by a smiling Annie, making him feel more awake at the sight of her.
“Annie, what are you doing here?” he said in a groggy voice, leaning on the door frame to make himself seem casual even though it was due to his exhaustion.
“I’m sorry Jeff I had to pick up my—,” her voice cut off as she took a clear look at him and his wrinkled attire. “Did you just wake up?”
He sighed, moving away from the door and letting her in. “Yeah, I think I went a little heavy on the wine last night. Though I can’t be sure, I barely remember last night let alone what I drank.”
She eyed him cautiously, her brows knitting into a concerned look. She stepped toward him, putting a hand on his arm. “How did the date go?”
“Well a date with me is bound to be amazing, Annie,” he grinned, trying to gain back his bravado even though he knew that from the bits and pieces he did remember, it didn't go well. He remembered an unhappy face looking back at him from across the table.
Her eyes seemed to drop a bit, but she watched him with so much affection in her stare. Maybe it was the small things that happened between them; a smile, a look, a meaningful word or action that kept them feeling lured to each other. It was all those small instances that reminded Jeff how hard he’d fallen for Annie, and how it scared the crap out of him.
He concentrated his look on her, feeling he forgot something that involved her from the alcohol last night. She seemed to notice his change in expression and gave him a puzzled brow of her own. “What is it?”
He clenched his jaw, trying to place this weird feeling he had. “I don’t know, I just…did I talk to you last night? I don’t remember much, but I feel like I’m forgetting something that happened that involved you.”
She gave him a once-over and worriedly raised her brow. “Um no. You were on your date which you obviously don’t remember too well, and I was at the apartment packing. Maybe you had a dream with me in it or something,” she said, a blush creeping up on her face.
He shrugged, that must’ve been it. He didn’t remember any dream from last night, but Jeff gave a lopsided grin at that thought that he did. “I bet it was you lecturing me about the essentialness of glitter. That would be enough means for a nightmare”
Her eyes glinted with tenderness, her mouth curving into a smile at his remark. Jeff as always, couldn’t help but smile in return. After holding each other’s gaze for a few moments, Annie was the one to break it as she ducked her head bashfully. “Anyways I’m sorry I’m here without any notice. I left a box of my decorations here from that premiere party we threw for Abed’s short film. It has a lanyard in it that I’m going to need so I can put my ticket in it for Disneyland. I’m going on a red-eye tonight, otherwise, I would’ve waited.”
Jeff scolded himself, stepping away from her to remind himself to distance himself from her in more ways than just physically. She had a boyfriend, they were just friends, case closed. Running a hand through his hair, he tried to recall where the box had ended up instead of hanging on the fact that she was going on a trip with Jonathan. “Right, Abed’s movie about tourists who think they’re going to Italy but end up getting taken to Saturn,” he rolled his eyes.
“Hey, I thought it was pretty good!” Annie protested. “That scene where the tourists from Canada finally decide to get engaged on Saturn’s rings had me tearing up! I had no idea Abed had that much sentimentality in him, he usually hates the cliché nature of romcoms.”
Abed had stuck the happy ending for that character pairing late in the process, as he asked Jeff to hold the camera for his reshoot which he got out of by saying he was allergic to the metal that it was made of. Not his best excuse, but hey, he ended up spending that time shopping for new haircare products, so he counted that as a success. “I think he was doing it to appeal to a wider audience, he told me his test groups had negatively responded to him throwing the couple into a black hole. I, however, thought it would’ve been a perfect analogy for the entrapment of relationships—.”
She interrupted by barking out a laugh, pointing an accusing finger at him. “Oh hush, I saw you grabbing a tissue out of the box in our gift bags like everyone else!”
“I needed it to shield my eyes from how cringeworthy it was, nothing more,” he smirked.
“Oh really? So, the tears I saw after the “Will you be with me for all time and space? Because you shine brighter than any flash of a camera or star in the constellations around us?” Were just out of pure hatred?” she grinned sitting down on the couch, looking satisfied with her conclusion.
His lips twitched, but he wouldn’t give her the pleasure of thinking that cheesy of a line got him to cry. He was only human after all, despite him denying being otherwise constantly. “Yes. I also have hatred for your decorations box littering the floor of my closet where my spare bottles of whiskey could go. I’ll go look for it so those horrible space decorations and tourist stuff can be out of my apartment."
After making it into his room, he heard Annie shout from the couch. “Hey, do you mind if I plug in my phone? It ran out of battery last night and I couldn’t charge it cause Troy and Abed were using all the outlets to light up the room with projector machines—you know what, don’t ask.”
He laughed, only imagining what they had cooked up in their heads to act out in the apartment. If Annie’s general good nature wasn’t enough, the way she put up with her adolescent acting roommates was a sure sign she was a saint. “Yeah, no problem. The one in the kitchen doesn’t work though, you’ll have to use the one by the TV,” he said, reaching his closest and beginning to rummage through the clothes that had fallen on its floor, covering the stuff inside.
After a minute, he heard a loud ding coming from the other room. “I’m glad it still turns on with only one percent charged! It looks like I have a voicemail, I must’ve missed it when it powered off yesterday.”
He spotted the box beneath one of his jackets, pulling out the heavy box into his hands. He made it to the doorway to see Annie with her phone to her ear, her face scrunched up as she tried to listen to the message on her phone.
“Jeff it’s a message from you,” she said, laughing awkwardly.
A realization dawned on his face, feeling panic rise within him as the memory of the message he left last
night came into full view.
She tilted her head. “Whose Sammy?”
The box slipped from Jeff’s hands, his face growing pale. He began running over to Annie. “Oh my god Annie, hang up the phone. Hang up the phone!” he hollered.
Her face became clouded, intently listening to Jeff’s voicemail. Jeff tried to reach for the phone, but she flinched out of his reach and held the phone tighter to her ear. “Annie don’t listen to it, please. Drop the phone!”
She didn’t even acknowledge his request, just standing with her mouth wide open. Feeling a surge of panic he lunged at Annie, grabbing her in his arms. She struggled against his grip, squirming as she crawled onto his back, putting her hands around his neck to make herself out of reach. Jeff was aimlessly trying to reach for the phone from behind him, moving back and forth in place to try and get her off his back. “Annie, hang it up. Hang it up!”
After another second of him tussling her around, she went still on his back. Jeff took the opportunity to grab Annie into his arms and snatch the phone from her hands. He rancorously tossed it to the other side of the room. He looked down at her face which had been buried in his chest. Her face seeming frozen in shock. Jeff drew a long breath, hoping that she hadn’t gotten too far into the message.
They started at each other for a few moments before Annie fidgeted in his arms, her eyes boring into his searching for some explanation. “You’re over me…You’re over me?” she asked, a bit breathlessly.
He placed her back on the ground, causing Annie to unravel her arms from where they’d been around his neck. He walked a few paces away, rubbing his forehead to try and wipe last night from his mind that was now clearly illustrated in his brain.
She put a hand on her hip, beginning to shift one foot to the other as her eyes studied him. “When were you…under me?” she asked, voice trembling.
He gave no answer, sitting down on the couch with a flat expression. He grabbed the water bottle from where he’d set it on the table and drank the rest of it, concentrating on the feeling of the chill water running down his throat instead of Annie.
“Jeff?” she urged, moving towards where he was on the couch.
“Okay, alright, fine,” he ducked his head, feeling his cheeks begin to heat. “It’s just…I kind of—I do have feelings for you.” He said with his jaw turned down, almost whispering it to his chest.
As soon as the words came out, he felt his shoulder sag, feeling like a sack of flour had been lifted off his shoulders. While the silence filled the room more and more each minute, he felt less relieved and more disconcerted by the lack of a response. He looked up at Annie, whose features looked as if they were fogged up. He wasn’t quite sure if she was sad, angry, happy, or anything in between. She appeared like she didn’t know how to react, her face displaying multiple emotions at once.
She made a steeple with her hands and nodded a few times, looking more like she had a tick than actually confirming that she understood anything he said.
“Since when?” she finally asked, her voice quiet.
“Since…I don’t know. A long time,” he answered. Her pupils enlarged, taking in a sharp breath after his answer. Jeff tensed, making another admission slip from his lips before he could think about the repercussions. “I’ve more so lately have had feelings for you, especially after graduation, I realized how deep those feelings were. That’s why yesterday was kind of a low day for me after learning about…well, you know.”
She jolted out of her seat, beginning to pace back and forth, her face wrenched up, looking like she was water dam about to overflow.
“Deep? No... you’ve always said you never felt that way about me. That I was imagining everything—.” she stated pensively.
“I know,” Jeff cut her off. He’d given her a lot of excuses and wry remarks over the years, by all accounts, she should think that there has been nothing but normal feelings of affection towards her. He wished he could take them all back, go to every single moment and confess how much he really liked her. But he was stuck in this, awkward, present moment, where he had waited until she was dating someone and was drunk to tell her. He’d always gotten away with procrastinating, putting things on the backburner. But this time, he’d left the heat on for too long for no option for the situation to boil over. He decided that he had to be honest, jerking his head in her direction. “I lied because I was afraid.”
She stopped in place, slowly turning to him. “Of what?”
He fidgeted and threw his hands in the air. “Of you. I was scared of what I feel about you and how amazing you make me feel,” he said. “That letting you know would change everything and I didn’t know if I could do that.”
Her features lightened, but there was still something strained in her expression. She took a deep breath and exhaled in a way that sounded like she was struggling to remember how.
“Well…what am I supposed to do with that?” she asked dubiously.
Her eyes searched his, looking for some sort of take away from the conversation. He held her gaze, wanting to summon one of his award-winning speeches to win her over, or to at least make this situation less tense. But his tongue felt heavy, his brain too muddled to think of something eloquent.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. He felt a flash of courage in him, jumping to his feet and gesturing his finger back and forth between them. “Maybe we could try to—if you still feel the way you did back then that is….” he babbled, his voice drifted while looking at Annie who was biting her lip, seeming to have shrunken shorter than she already was.
He walked towards her, planting his feet in front of her. Putting a hand on her arm, he whispered, “Annie, do you still have feelings for me?”
She tentatively brought her face up to meet his eyes, her eyes fluttering. She leaned into his touch for a moment, making a glimmer of a smile appear on his face, but it was soon crushed when she took a half step away.
“Jeff, I can’t,” she stuttered, tears glimmering in her eyes. “I’m with…uh—.”
“Jonathan?” he supplemented.
She nodded, slapping a hand to her forehead like she was trying to wake herself up from a nightmare. “Yes. And we’re going to Disneyland tonight. I can’t have this conversation.”
He deflated. “Annie I didn’t mean to call last night or to screw around with your relationship. I want you to be happy,” he said. He clenched his jaw, edging himself to go further. “But I do want you to know that it’s true,” he said stiffly.
“That you’re over me?” she asked, almost hesitantly.
“No,” Jeff laughed softly. “That I’m still…not. And I don’t think I’ll ever be.”
They were stuck in each other’s gaze for a moment, their bodies gravitating towards each other ever so slightly. His hand wavered at her waist, wanting more than anything to pull her closer. Just as his fingertips landed on her side, as her eyes fluttered to a close, a loud ring sounded off on Annie’s phone, causing them to jump apart from each other.
She looked at her phone, letting the phone ring as she stared at the screen with an inscrutable expression. As it sounded off, she squeezed her eyes shut, beginning to walk towards the door a little shaky with her steps. Her hands reached for the doorknob, but she didn’t grip it. Her fingers only dancing on it, almost as if it was translucent and it would slip from her grasp.
She turned back to Jeff, a bleak sigh escaping her lips. “That was Jonathan,” she explained. “I have to go.”
He hung his head and threaded a hand through his hair. He wanted to tell her to stay, to put up some sort of fight. But he just stood there, letting another moment with her pass him by.
“Okay,” he replied.
When he brought his head up, she almost looked disappointed. But before he could open his mouth to try to stop her, she was already out the door.
Jeff still hadn’t left the apartment the rest of the day. He dragged his feet to the shower, brushed his teeth, and put on a shirt and a pair of jeans. But everything he did felt like he was going in a haze, his body reflexively going through the motions so his brain could go over what happened over and over again in his head.
He’d finally told her how he felt but it was when she is dating someone else. He felt like such an idiot, he’d been resisting the urge to bang his head against his fridge the whole afternoon. What if he really screwed everything up? What if their friendship would never be the same? He’d lost a lot of things over the years, his father, his job, and salary, but losing Annie as a friend would be something else entirely that he didn’t want to think about.
She hadn’t even really said anything back. Although, he didn’t know what he had expected her to say. She had already put herself out their multiple times before and he had shot her down, why would she do that again if she wasn’t absolutely sure of the result? This being the one-time Jeff had put himself out there like she had, he understood why she would be so hesitant. This feeling completely and utterly sucked. It had felt like getting sucker punched in the gut and then thrown down a flight of stairs.
He had just got out his blender to make himself a protein shake, not feeling like making an actual meal for dinner, when there was knocking on the door that woke him up from his haze. Walking towards the door, the knocking persisted, creating a thunderous sound of fists hitting it repeatedly. Jeff halted, not feeling in the mood meet whatever angry visitor was at the door. He grabbed the umbrella that sat by the door and gripped it in his hands. Slowly edging it open, he could see a short figure in a purple floral dress. It took only a second to realize it was Annie whose feet were beating fiercely against the hallway floor.
He swung the door open quickly, almost hitting himself in the face with it. An arm-crossed, angry Annie was waiting on the other side. Her hair was damp, eyes more hardened then he’d ever seen them, and her shoes dripping with water from the rain as she stomped through his door without so much as a hello. The fact that Annie was at his door when she was supposed to be in California by now was almost as unsettling as seeing her so livid. Not only did seeing her as anything other than the naturally optimistic made him feel unnerved, but an angry Annie was a force to be reckoned with. She could drive even a lawyer to say his client was guilty.
She stood there, eyes glaring at them and demanding his attention. He took a breath and closed the door, edging towards her cautiously. “Annie as much as I appreciate you watering my floor I just cleaned with your drenched clothes, what are you doing here?”
Her angry eyes wavered, settling into something more dismayed as she took a step towards him.
“We kiss, then you tell me it didn’t mean anything. We have all these moments and almost moments between us, but when I bring it up, you say I’m looking into things too much! Then I try to get over you, dating someone else, then you say that you’ve had feelings for me, this whole time?” she said rushed, striding back and forth a few paces, creating a small puddle by her feet.
He blinked, feeling his face begin to heat. “That is the situation yes,” he admitted. She nodded but didn’t look over at him. She only continued walking with a crazed look on her features. This obviously was going nowhere, so Jeff pulled her to a stop. “Annie, I’m sorry—.”
“I couldn’t go to Disneyland with Jonathan,” she said quickly, her eyes so wide it looked like they’d just been exposed to the light of a camera flash.
He stepped back, letting relief wash over himself before feeling a pang of guilt at her statement. He cleared his throat, trying to ease the uncomfortable territory they seemed to be going into. “Oh? You figured you could save yourself the trip by going on the ferris wheel they have at the carnival that gets stuck literally every year, and you decided you could hunt down a cone of dole whip locally instead?”
“No Jeff!” she screeched, her ears practically smoking. She jabbed him with an accusatory finger in his side.
“You told me how you feel and it made me feel all topsy-turvy! I couldn’t do it.”
“Topsy-turvy? You sure you haven’t been on any rides lately?” he jested half-heartedly.
She swatted him in the chest. “Can you shove your sarcasm for two seconds please and listen to me?” she groaned.
Jeff winced at her request and nodded his head stiffly. When she saw his sarcastic leer fall, her eyes lightened, nibbling the bottom of her lip wearily. “I broke up with Jonathan,” she said, her eyes flickering back and forth from his and to the umbrella that fell on the floor at her statement.
“You did?” Jeff asked disbelievingly, a simmer of hope and hinting his tone.
Annie seemed to notice this, making her anger rise and redden her cheeks. “Yes! I was doing great, I moved on and then you go and actually open up your heart to me and it got me all confused and muddled my mind and feelings up. I had to break up with him,” she explained, her lips puckered into a straight line. “Now everything’s messed up and It’s all your fault!”
Jeff gritted his teeth, Annie’s anger beginning to rub off on him. They always had been incredibly in sync, even when that meant they both were displaying the same incensed emotions.
“Hey I was doing amazing before you came along,” Jeff insinuated, pointing a finger back at her. “You came in with your precious purple pens, authentic enthusiasm, crazy drive, and a big heart and blue eyes fluttering at me, getting me to care about you and watch you date Jonathan!” Jeff bellowed, moving closer to Annie so their faces were within inches of each other.
She took a deep breath, her anger faltering as her lips began to quiver. “You think it was easy for me to see you flirt with other people? Come on Jeff, after we kissed you started dating Britta. Do you know how much that hurt me?” she said, her voice suddenly much weaker than it had just been moments ago.
Jeff bowed his head, feeling like a jerk yet again. His relationship if you could even call it that, with Britta had been a disaster. They made out, attempted to date for two weeks only because they were both too stubborn to admit they weren’t as good together as they hoped, and broke up in a Wendy’s parking lot because they both were so exhausted with keeping the charade up a second loner. He looked up at Annie, guilt flashing in his eyes as he saw hers glistening with tears. He hated making Annie cry, it was like watching a puppy whose meal got taken away from a health-conscious owner.
“I apologized for that and you know that it was a mistake,” he said, voice lowering with regret. “We didn’t feel that way about each other the way I feel about—.”
Annie’s eyebrow raised, her gaze quizzical as Jeff cut off his words. Jeff clenched his jaw, wanting to run out the door, but he kept his feet planted on his now damp floor. “Annie, I wish I never would’ve let you in on my feelings for you last night, alright? I was doing great at it until all that wine came into play.”
Something in her snapped, scoffing and throwing her hands incuriously in the air. “Why? So you can just keep compartmentalizing your feelings and push them away all the time?”
His face twisted, a vein beginning to pop on his neck. He shouldn’t be the one who was angry right now. By all accounts, she was right. But he continued to swallow up his true feelings he yelled back, “Hey, I’ve been doing that since I was seven and I’m pretty damn good at it.” She rolled her eyes, but he persisted. “And isn’t that what you’re doing right now? Getting angry at me because you realized that you still like me and I like you and the reality of that scares you? You’re trying to cover up how you feel just like I am,” he accused.
She was breathing hard, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. “Okay yes, I still have feelings for you. There, I admit it,” Annie said.
Jeff froze, unclenching his fists at his sides. His heart was pounding in his chest. She still liked him, he almost forgot about the entire exchange and felt like sweeping her up into his arms. The moment of joy didn’t last long. Annie turned her head away, trying to gather any anger she still had left. “But this ship sailed a long time ago, you made sure of that you practically hit the iceberg yourself!”
He cackled, matching her anger yet again. “Oh, so now we’re on the Titanic? I didn’t know we were in the 1900's Annie, I would’ve worn some suspenders and top hat if I would’ve known that!”
Annie scoffed and began walking to the door. He followed quickly behind her, puffing out his chest. When she grabbed at the doorknob, she deflated slightly turning back to him with an uncertain glaze over her eyes. He must have hesitated too long by lingering on the enigmatic air about her because she huffed out a groan and pivoted towards the door. She opened it so quickly that a small gust of wind blew into the room.
He tensed his shoulders, watching her walk out of the doorway and into the hall. “Alright fine, go!” Jeff yelled across the hall, his voice beginning to feel strained for more reasons than one. “I don’t need you and your stupid ship. At least now, we have closure!”
With that, Annie disappeared from the hallway, her steps echoing as she stomped down the stairs.
He covered his eyes with his hands, feeling a rush of regret as he tried to remember the whole exchange. Arguments tended to blur, the words shouted and confessions laid out muddling together. He felt disoriented, hovering at the door as if leaving it would mean facing the consequences of the argument.
He couldn’t mess this up, gathering the nerve he lunged at the door for the purpose to run after her. But when he opened the door, Annie was on the other side panting, hunched over with her hand hovering at where the door had been in a fist.
They both stared at each other for a moment. The tension began to dissipate in his body, his mouth curling up at the fact that they both were going to run after the other. Annie must’ve been thinking the same, her eyes glistening with affection and causing her face to relax into a more relieved expression. She shuffled her feet, lowering the hand she was going to use to knock at the door.
“Jeff?” She asked, voice trembling slightly.
He felt his chest rising and falling as if it was taking considerably more effort to remind himself to breath more so than usual. He loomed closer to her, making himself halfway between his apartment and the hall outside.
“Yeah?” he asked in a modulated tone.
She gestured his head towards his apartment. He jerked back, allowing her inside, guiding her in with a hand floating at her back. Jeff pushed the door closed lightly and walked back towards Annie who was standing in the middle of the room, her arms hugging her chest.
She exhaled, letting her hands drop to her side. “Was that really the closure you wanted, us screaming in each other’s faces?”
He wanted to scream no, but that would’ve been a bit of a mixed message. He took another step towards her. “No,” he admitted, chuckling slightly. He put his hands nervously in his pockets. “Was it the closer you wanted?”
She tilted her head slightly but kept her eyes trained on his. “No,” she answered, a small smile playing on her face. “What did you have in mind?”
He smiled back. He shrugged and reached for her hair, letting it slip through his fingers before resting on her cheeks. “Something like this,” he murmured, pulling her face towards his.
He pressed his mouth to hers, melting into her lips. She warmly responded putting her arms around his waist and pulling him even closer. His heart pulsed quickly, feeling his fingertips tingle as he tumbled them through her hair. He’d only kissed Annie once before, and all those emotions from those years ago when he had came flooding back.
He felt amazing, content even. Kissing her stirred something in him that had sparked within him back in freshman year. However, kissing her now was more heightened, knowing more so what that spark was and what it truly meant. She felt her smile against his lips, causing him to pull away, his forehead resting on hers which she was doing by standing on the tips of her toes. He brought his eyes back to hers, his hands rubbing her cheek as they both began to catch their breath.
She rested a hand on his chest, her hand gripping his shirt slightly. “This seems like better closure to me,” she said breathlessly.
He smiled and tugged her closer to him. Holding her in his arms, he thanked is drunken self for making that phone call and getting this new start with Annie. A crazed thought crossed Jeff's mind to plan a trip to Disneyland with her because loving her made him want to do something as cheesy as taking pictures with Mickey Mouse.
“Yeah,” he breathed into her hair. Tightening his embrace around her, he glanced out the window behind him and saw that the sun was beginning to peek through the rain clouds. “It does.”