Troy caught Abed as he was just heading into the study room. It was a hot afternoon – maybe he and Abed could grab some ice cream after their study session. “Hey, man, I was thinking that afterward, you and I—”
An overwhelmingly delicious smell stopped his words cold. Sitting in the middle of the study room table was a batch of freshly-baked brownies. “Hi!” Annie waved them over cheerfully. “Care for a snack?”
“Mm, yes,” Abed said, plucking the largest one from the top and putting it in his mouth. Troy watched nervously as Abed’s eyes closed with pleasure. “Very good.”
“Shirley’s own recipe. I got her to teach it to me.”
Troy took one, and tried to find something wrong with it. “Not as – crinkly – as my mom makes. But I’ll try one. I bet I’ve never—” He bit off a corner… and it melted onto his tongue, “—tasted anything so amazing.”
Annie gave them both a pleased grin, bouncing slightly in her chair. “Thanks, guys!”
Abed took another and devoured it. Troy wanted to do the same. But he wasn’t going to surrender the very first battle of the war.
“Troy, what’s wrong?” she asked, with no obvious malice. He had to admit that was impressive.
“Nothing, I’m just… cutting back on carbs this summer.” He winced; it was going to suck maintaining that ruse.
Abed finished chewing his third brownie. “What were you going to suggest?”
“Uh, never mind,” Troy said, sinking down onto his elbows. “Let’s study.”
Troy looked pleased – almost too pleased – when he arrived for the study session the next day. Annie was immediately worried.
“Hey, Troy,” Abed said. “You look happy.”
Troy broke out in a wide grin. “You’ll never guess what I found at the mall yesterday.” He unzipped his backpack and pulled out a gift bag. “Go ahead – it’s for you.”
Abed frowned. “For what occasion? It’s not my birthday.”
“Do I have to have an occasion, buddy?” He nudged the bag closer. “I had to buy it for you when I saw it.”
Abed shrugged. “Okay.” He pulled a T-shirt from the bag and read the screen print. “F W/o B: ‘Friends Without Boundaries.’“
“Isn’t that dope?”
“I didn’t know they sold this stuff here in town.”
Troy pulled a second, identical shirt from his backpack. “Put it on! It should fit over your other shirt.”
Annie looked at the two of them in their matching shirts, nonplussed. “You guys actually want to… advertise that?” She didn’t get what was so exciting…
“It’s from Cougar Town, Annie,” Abed explained.
Annie tried to cover. “Oh, yeah, okay. I forgot.” She didn’t dare admit that she hadn’t gotten around to marathoning the show yet.
Troy looked around carefully when he sat down at the table. No plates of cookies, no beautifully decorated gift bags. He sighed with relief inwardly. At least he hoped it was inwardly – he looked around to make sure neither of them noticed.
Everything seemed cool. “So what are we studying today?” Troy asked.
“It’s my turn, I think,” Abed said. “I’m supposed to come up with ten ways to introduce a character.”
Annie asked, “But aren’t you long past that part in your screenplay?”
“Yes.” Abed nodded. “But it’s a writing exercise. Professor Schloss says we’re going to put all the ideas in a hat and then free-write for fifteen minutes on the one drawn.”
“Hmm.” Troy rubbed at his chin with his thumb and forefinger.
“Got something?” Abed asked, turning toward Troy.
“Me?” He lowered his hand. “Nah, my chin just started itching, man.” He wished he had a good idea for Abed – it might push him ahead of Annie.
“Too bad.” Abed looked toward Annie. “Any ideas?”
A slow grin came over her face. “I can suggest one of my favorite character introductions.” She reached down to pull something out of her backpack. It was a set of two toy dinosaurs.
“Yes, yes.” Annie said in a silly voice, moving the Stegosaurus. “This is a fertile land and we will thrive. We will rule over all this land and we will call it… ‘This Land.’” She took the Apatosaurus and changed to a gruff voice. “I think we should call it - your grave!”
Together, she and Abed quoted, “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!” They laughed.
“Nice,” Abed said. “Firefly reference.”
“Only the best!” she said. “Here, they’re for you anyway, Abed. I noticed you don’t have any Firefly stuff in your dorm room. And maybe you can use them for role play or something?”
Abed took them from her. “Cool. Cool cool cool.” He placed the two toy dinosaurs on the table and moved them menacingly toward each other. “Ha ha ha! Mine is an evil laugh! Now die!”
Troy joined in with both of them to say, “Oh no, God! Oh dear God in heaven!” in a high-pitched voice, but he didn’t put his heart into it. It was pretty clear Annie had won this round.
“Hey, guys,” Troy said, dropping into his chair. “Can we trade up the schedule today?”
Annie was immediately suspicious. “Why?” She was working on something herself, something she wasn’t sure would work out, and it was murder to keep the mixed anxiety and excitement off her face.
“I don’t have any homework that I need help with. The professor was sick.”
Annie raised an eyebrow. “Sick?”
“You know, one of those summer colds you get.” He waved a hand dismissively. “That was all the message said.”
Abed shrugged. “I guess so. Should we skip to Annie’s turn, then?”
Annie shook her head. “I–I really don’t have anything either. I suppose I could start reading the next chapter, maybe you guys could give me a pop pre-test or something…?”
“Or…” Troy suggested. “We could help Abed with his screenplay some more.”
Annie’s suspicions grew. “We could…”
Abed shook his head. “I’m good. I’m… trying to work through something at the moment.”
Both Annie and Troy perked up. “Anything we could help you with?” Troy asked. “Or me, specifically?”
“Or me?” Annie asked with a sweet smile for emphasis.
Abed looked back and forth between the two of them for a long moment. Pressing his lips together, he shook his head again. “Nope. Not yet. Maybe in a few days.”
Annie deflated. But Troy bounced up out of his seat. “Well, then I have to show you what I got!” Troy pulled two tickets from his back pocket and flashed them in front of Abed. “Two tickets to MileHiCon in October!”
Abed’s eyes got big. “Oh, really?”
“Yeah! And you’ll never guess who’s going to make an appearance, dude.”
“Derek Mears, star of Kickpuncher.” Abed picked up the tickets and turned them over in his hands. “I didn’t think I was going to get to go to this.”
“Now you can!” Troy nearly shouted. “Maybe we can try to get his autograph!”
“If we get there as soon as the doors open…”
Annie watched the two boys get more and more excited as they talked about their con trip. She bit her lip to keep from speaking. If her plans came through, she could even top this gift.
Troy felt like he was set. He’d proved to Abed that he knew just the gift to get. He and Abed could spend the whole weekend at the con, just soaking in hours of panels, collectables and comics. Annie might be good at studying things Abed liked, but book learning wasn’t the same as being an honest fan.
Of course, as soon as Annie walked in with that smug look, he was clutching at the table for support. “What now?” he asked. It was just the two of them. Abed hadn’t arrived yet.
“What do you mean?” she asked, all eyes and pouty lips and innocence.
“Don’t you give me that, Miss… Miss Sneaky!” he cried, voice rising. “This whole week has been a contest!”
Annie dropped the sweet act. “And you don’t like it, do you?”
“No,” he said, putting a hand to the funny feeling in his chest. He didn’t like it at all.
“Well, Abed is awesome. You know it. I know it. Why should you get him all to yourself?”
“But he’s… mine!” Troy crossed his arms. “You’re not going to steal him from me.”
“I don’t want to steal him, Troy. I want to share him.” In a quieter voice, she said, “I want to date him.”
Matching her volume, he asked, “Well, what if I want that, too?”
Annie didn’t look surprised at all. “I guess we have to see what Abed wants.”
“I guess so.”
Abed slipped in behind them. “Abed wants what?”
Troy jumped slightly and cleared his throat to make something up.
But Annie was faster, “If you want to know what amazing thing just fell in my lap!”
“What?” both Troy and Abed asked – Abed curious, Troy suspicious. Miss Sneaky was at it again.
“You know that I sometimes keep in touch with people from my rehab group, right?”
“No,” Abed answered matter-of-factly. “In fact, I distinctly remember you telling the group that there was only one guy – who makes bottle cap jewelry.”
Annie let out a high, nervous laugh. Troy smiled – Abed would see through her any second.
“Well, sometimes I do, more since I ran into Alan at Jeff’s lawyer party thing this last year.” She pulled an envelope from one of her cardigan pockets. “Turns out one of them is a production assistant for Sony in Los Angeles now. Turns out when you guys go to your con in October…” She handed over the envelope. “You’ll have VIP tickets to meet Derek Mears in person!”
Troy’s mouth dropped open.
Abed opened the envelope and read the tickets. “Wow. Thanks, Annie. This is amazing.” He walked over to her side of the table and gave her a quick hug.
Troy fled, blinking at the tears burning his eyes. He was never going to win this, was he? Annie was just too good.
When Abed pulled back from the hug, he turned toward Troy… who was gone. “Where’s Troy?”
Annie looked around. “I don’t know.” She hadn’t noticed Troy leave, she had closed her eyes and leaned into the hug, willing it to last as long as possible.
“I’ll text him.” Abed pulled out his phone. “It’s not like him to leave like that.”
They waited for a few minutes. But Troy either had his phone off, or he wasn’t answering on purpose.
Abed suddenly started packing up his things. “I’d better go after him. I wonder…” He frowned slightly, and then looked to Annie for guidance. “…did I say something that upset him?”
Annie shook her head. Abed nodded in thanks and sped out of the study room, the ticket envelope left on the table.
“It wasn’t you,” she said quietly to the empty room.
She wished Abed had his arms around her again – so instead, she wrapped her arms around herself and rocked slowly back and forth. It hadn’t mattered that she gave Abed the better gift. It was pretty clear who Abed cared about more.