D.C is great and everything she imagined. The city is busy and bustling, fast-paced and a stark contrast to what she’s used to. She’s always imagined she’d find it intimidating, the idea of being alone in a city so much bigger than her, going into a job every day which had every reason to reject her. But there’s something about that, mixed with the summer sunshine and the quiet spots she finds for moments of serenity, that keep her going. All she has to do to get back on track if it all feels a little overwhelming is step outside and realise where she is and how she got there.
And when she really thinks about it, the city isn’t so much bigger than her. As much as people like to think it, she does know just how big the world is. Not that it takes a genius to reach that realisation but unknown to most people, she’s been all over the map – London with her parents is one of her earliest memories – and it’s not the first summer she’s spent away from home.
She thinks she understands what people mean though, that getting out and experiencing a fresh perspective can make you reconsider certain choices and aspects of your life and make you wonder if you still know what you really want.
It’s when her roommate slams the front door at an ungodly hour, undoubtedly waking up the whole thin-walled apartment block let alone just her, that it becomes apparent that one of those choices is in need of change.
She had attempted to doze off a little earlier than usual and it wasn’t as if she was sleeping perfectly before her rude awakening, so, she reaches for her laptop and starts searching for apartments.
Soon, it will have been almost five years since she lived alone, and it seems like a sign that it feels the time to move on when the years are adding up to somewhat of a milestone number. If she’s honest with herself, it isn’t the first time she’s contemplated moving back into her own place.
Although it may not have been the wisest financial decision, she decided she’d continue to keep paying for the apartment back home whilst she was away, not only so Britta could carry on having a roof over her head but also because it’s still her home and it would have been a risk to let it go only to come back and realise that it may have been a mistake.
The major complication is that Britta is barely scraping through with her share each month, so, with Abed gone, it’s making her purse strings even tighter, meaning her locked up savings that she swore she’d never break into, are glaring back at her with force every time she checks her bank balance.
Even if her roommate-door-slamming-induced apartment search hadn’t happened, she would still inevitably have to face the dilemma of whether to move on or not in the near future, anyway. Which is why when she recalls all the evenings where she’d wished there was nobody next door, so she could have some time to herself and when she recalls the Pinterest board she has tucked away full of décor inspiration she’s never had the chance to use, everything becomes a lot clearer and easier to envision.
Although, it takes her a week of umm-ing and ahh-ing to come to a definitive decision because there’s another piece of the moving-out puzzle which she hasn’t quite slot into place yet. The truth is – part of her has been daydreaming away on this idea that when she returns, she won’t necessarily need a new place to move into because she might already have one, courtesy of Jeff.
She kicks herself for even going there because who’s to say what daily phone calls, constant text message chains and a weekly video chat accumulate to in his mind? And it’s probably – definitely – a stretch to ever imagine it adding up to him asking her to move in with him soon after her return. In fact, she’s almost certain that he still isn’t sure she even will return, even though she’s reassured him time after to time that this is all just temporary, and that Colorado is her home. She has no plans to move out of it, only perhaps, within it.
That isn’t being alone though, she reminds herself; she can work out whatever she needs to work out with Jeff and live on her own, even if she does find herself moving out and in with him in a short space of time. Or, maybe, he’d move in with her… but again, that’s probably – definitely – a stretch.
“So, I have some news.” She announces a few weeks later when the end of her internship starts to near. She’s watching Jeff on her laptop screen; he’s a little clearer than usual because she’s sat nearer to the apartment’s WiFi router seeing as she usually calls him in bed. But it’s early and her roommate won’t be back for a while so she feels comfortable in the living room.
“Oh.” His eyes drop and she’s certain she sees him gulp.
“Don’t worry! It’s nothing serious or too major, at least, I don’t think you’ll see it that way.”
“Oh, so you’re not dying.” He tilts his head, his worried eyes turning into smiles.
“No… and I think if I was, I wouldn’t tell you over Facetime.”
“Yeah, I know, you’d text me.”
She rolls her eyes, watching him grin. She tries not to smile too hard herself, so she doesn’t get sidetracked by how casual and happy he seems. She knows he hasn’t been having an easy time of it all lately, so it’s nice to see him smiling and relaxed.
“Can you stop joking for one minute?”
“I can try.”
She huffs out a breath and prepares herself, sitting up a little taller and adjusting her screen respectively.
“I’ve found a new apartment. For when I come back. So… I’m moving out. I’m moving to my own place.” She bobs up and down on the edge of the sofa, happily.
“Oh, wow. Nice. When did you decide on that?” She notices his shoulders relax even further, mirroring her position by leaning closer to the screen.
“A few weeks ago. I mean, I’ve been thinking about it for a while but… I just think it’s time, you know? Plus, there was no way I could carry on covering the rent with Britta.”
“What’s she gonna’ do? She hasn’t mentioned it.”
“She’s finding a new place. I’m sure she’ll mention it now I’ve told you.”
“Well, congrats I guess. Where is it?”
“It’s about ten minutes closer to Denver than our current place, so, it’s not anywhere drastically different. But it should be in a good place when I hopefully get a new job or, you know, maybe try and go for my Masters…”
“OoOoh.” He mocks, making her look away shyly. She sighs though, out of relief that she’s finally setting it all in stone. It feels nice to have something to look forward to for when the post-summer-of-excitement blues set in.
“I’m excited to decorate it how I like, you know, within reason. And this place has more than one room and it’s not above a sex shop.”
Jeff tilts his head, his eyebrows shooting upwards.
“Did you just call it a sex shop? I thought you used to call it a marital aid store.”
“Get used to it, my vocabulary is filthy now.”
He’s smirking at her in that way which makes her heart flirter, all sultry with darkened eyes.
“What’s the dirtiest word you can think of?”
She bites her lip.
“Well, I’m not gonna’ say it… anyway, that wasn’t the conversation I was having. I just wanted to let you know that you should get ready to bid Apartment 303 farewell and… get ready to help me move when I get back?” She grits her teeth, raising a shoulder as if to defend herself from his reaction.
“Ugh. I knew that was coming.”
She laughs, lifting her chin up smugly.
“Fine. Only if I get some sort of reward.”
“Hmm… a reward.”
“Yeah. That’s the deal.”
Annie puts a finger between her teeth and hums in thought. It isn’t until she looks back to the screen that she realises they might be on the same page and it sends a hot rush down her body from her head to her toes.
“Well, I’m not gonna’ say it…”
Seeing the apartment stripped back and bare is a new experience, it feels familiar yet unknown, echoey and cold where it used to be warm and filled in. Annie closes the bedroom door that used to belong to Abed out of habit, realising there wasn’t any need as she walks away, brushing her hands down her jeans.
“I think that’s everything.” Britta announces, clapping her hands together as she stands where the dining table used to be.
“I think so…” Annie nods, her eyes darting up and down and everywhere.
Jeff walks in through the open front door then, scratching his arm and pouting, unsure of what to say.
“I guess this is it…” Britta adds as she joins Jeff, waiting for Annie to follow.
“It’s kinda’ weird saying goodbye to this place without Troy and Abed around.” Jeff points out.
Annie hums in agreement, looking down at their feet in a neat triangle.
“It had to happen eventually.”
“You’re still gonna’ save my ass if I need it, right?”
Both Jeff and Annie tilt their heads at Britta, their expressions almost identical.
“I just meant like… if I had to… I could… you know…” She shrugs suggestively, gritting her teeth. Annie rolls her eyes.
“Yes Britta, we’ll make sure you’re not homeless again.”
“You should probably look at getting a better job though, you know, maybe it might be a good idea.” Jeff teases, although Annie can’t help but internally agree with him. She shakes it off though, not wanting to ruin the moment.
“I guess it’s probably time to run.” Annie sighs, hearing them both respond with a mumble, making her relieved to know she’s not the only one unsure of how to do this.
She looks up at Britta and smiles, sadly.
“I hope you never thought that I didn’t enjoy you living with us. I did, I really did. We all made some good memories here and it felt right that you stayed with us rather some random stranger.”
Britta bobs her head and curls the corner of her mouth up. Jeff heaves out a breath, his shoulders rising.
“I think I’m gonna… I’ll meet you outside.” He throws a finger over his shoulder and follows the direction, his fast-paced footsteps clicking against the stairs in the hallway.
“He wasn’t really ever a part of this place, was he? I mean, even if I hadn’t have moved in, at least I stayed here a while when Troy and I were together.”
Annie follows Britta’s eyeline, watching Jeff go. She chews on her lip at that, glimmers of a few good memories flashing through her mind.
“I don’t know, I think everyone was a part of this place. It always used to bring us back together.”
When they both return their gazes to each other, they blow out breathy laughs when they notice the tears in their eyes.
“I’m gonna… I need to check on the cats in the car.”
Annie grins tightly, barely holding it together.
“I’ll see you down there.”
She watches Annie nod before rushing out, a hand going to her face as she enters the hallway.
It isn’t until Annie can only hear the low buzz of the lights and traffic going by outside that she lets her tears fall and a small whimper escape her.
She didn’t expect it to be this hard but when she thinks about it, she’s never had to leave a home that actually meant something. Leaving her parents, the tears were ones of resentment and anger, and leaving her first apartment was just a relief.
All she can hear is her heavy breathing and the sniff of her nose so it’s no surprise that she doesn’t notice Jeff entering until he calls out for her. She wipes her face and holds up her shoulders, her ponytail shielding her from his view.
“Hey, I think we should go soon because I shouldn’t really be parking on the side of-… Annie?”
She bites down on her lip but when the urge to let out a minor sob becomes too much, she ends up making a louder noise than she would have if she hadn’t tried to hide it.
“Hey… hey, are you okay?”
He walks over slowly, reaching out a hand to pull her into his chest as soon as he reaches her. He doesn’t say anything once his arms are wrapped around her, he just squeezes her tightly and lets her cry into the crease of his arm.
After a minute, she lifts her head and wipes her eyes with the side of her left hand, her other trapped between them.
“Why am I crying? I want to move.”
“Because… you’ve lived here for the past few years? It’s okay to… feel sad.”
She goes to wipe her eyes some more, but he stops her, loosening his grip on her to brush his own thumb against her skin. She closes her eyes and embraces the feeling.
“I just have to remind myself how fed up of that room I was getting by the end.”
“And you’ve been really excited about decorating a new place.”
A smile blooms from her then and he smooths his thumb across the dimple that appears.
“It’s gonna’ be good.”
She nods, beaming up at him, her eyes still glossy. He leans forward and kisses her, slowly and simply because he gets to now, before pressing another one to her forehead.
“Sorry! Gotta’ pee!” Britta makes them both jump, re-entering and running past them in a blur to use the bathroom one last time.
Annie stays put with her arms around Jeff’s waist but leans back a little to call out.
“Don’t flush it!”
Jeff raises an eyebrow and looks at her in disgust.
“What? The landlord deserves it. He’s a creep!”
“Wow, I forgot how exhausting moving is.” Annie drops down by a box on her new floor, taking the glass of water that Jeff hands her.
“Now you can see why I avoided it when you moved in with Troy and Abed.”
“Hmm…” She squints at him, sipping at her drink, her eyes staying on him even once he’s looked away. He’s worked up a sweat, his hair spiked up with his t-shirt stained and for that she’s grateful. He may have done most of the heavy lifting for her but what does he expect when he has all those muscles that can be put to good use?
He yawns and leans back on his elbow, his eyes scanning the room, still adjusting to it.
“I should probably go soon. I have an early class tomorrow.”
She sits up, brushing strands of hair behind her ears.
“Well, yeah, you don’t want me in the way for this evening too.”
“What do you mean?”
“You just moved in on your own, you should spend your first night by yourself.”
“But… I thought you were staying…” She pouts, disappointed.
He rolls his eyes and smirks, lifting himself up into a crawling position so he can move over to her. He hovers, inches away from her face.
“Just spend the first night alone. Trust me, I wanna’ be with you but I think you should do this.”
She sighs, hooking a finger into the neck of his t-shirt.
“You’re no fun.”
“I’ll make it up to you, I promise. Also… you still owe me my reward for helping out today.”
“I was just gonna’ give you a kiss…”
“Just a kiss, huh?”
“Mhm.” She murmurs against his lips, soon being pressed up against the wall, her hands cupping his cheeks.
When he catches himself pressing his mouth to the underside of her jaw out of instinct, he leans back and stands up to leave.
“You’ll be fine.”
“Will you keep your phone on?”
He nods and holds a hand out, so she can squeeze it. Once he’s let go, he walks over to the kitchen counter and picks up his hoodie, wallet and keys and leaves her with a smile.
An hour later, when he checks in with her unprompted via text as she climbs into bed, she looks around at all of her things in their new places and knows for certain for the first time in weeks, that she made the right choice.
JEFF: All good?
ANNIE: Yes :) Let the fun begin!!