Annie grasped Troy’s hand as they walked from the parking lot onto campus. Maybe a little too hard, but he didn’t seem to mind. They had decided they were better facing the consequences of their theft together – so Annie was going to skip Arabic this morning (even though missing a class made her stomach twist) and stick with Troy. As soon as algebra class was over, they were going to see Professor Schloss, hopefully before security detained them.
Annie had done her best repair job on the screenplay, carefully mending the tears with tape and a box cutter and even ironing the pages between a couple of pieces of fabric. They might be in trouble, but she wasn’t going to give Schloss anything extra to accuse them with.
They stopped just before the turn to the hallway where Troy’s classroom was located. “Check the hallway. What are we up against?” Troy whispered.
Annie peered around the corner, half-expecting to see security guards posted at the doors to Troy’s classroom. There was no one there. But that didn’t mean that they weren’t still lurking about.
“Nothing, as far as I can tell. You ready?”
“Ready,” he said, and she was proud that he kept his voice from squeaking.
They walked hand-in-hand to the classroom door as if they hadn’t a care in the world. Troy opened the door for her and she walked in, eyes scanning the room for any possible threat. The room looked just like it usually did, when she had a class in this room. The professor didn’t even give the two of them a curious look, despite the fact that Annie was a visitor.
Troy asked anyway, “Is it cool if she sits in today?”
She turned a page in her textbook. “Fine with me.”
Annie thanked her and settled into reading the next chapter of her Arabic textbook. She might be missing class, but she wasn’t about to miss the work.
An hour later, she and Troy were gathering their things. The class had passed completely without incident, though Annie still felt on edge from jumping at every unexpected sound, every face that passed at the window in the door. The walk over wasn’t much better. Her confidence of the morning was dribbling away with every step toward the Language Arts building.
So Annie paused at Schloss’ door, knuckles poised to knock. Troy squeezed her hand and smiled encouragingly. It was enough. She rapped firmly on the door.
“Yes?” came Schloss’ voice.
Annie opened the door without announcing herself. Schloss looked up from typing at his computer. Seeing the two of them, a wide range of emotions crossed his face at almost lightning speed before it settled into mild interest. “How can I help you?”
What in the world? Annie had never seen a more convincing chameleon act. “Um.”
Troy let go her hand and stepped forward confidently. “We’re here to apologize for yesterday.” He held out his hand for Abed’s repaired screenplay, and Annie placed it there. “And to return this.”
“Thank you,” he said, taking it from Troy unperturbed and setting it on a neat stack of projects to his left. “I’m glad you…” He cleared his throat. “…reconsidered.”
Annie couldn’t keep the tiniest frown from her face. “It was wrong, but I hope you understand the circumstances were dire.” His mild manner made her words seem like an exaggeration, so she added, “At least to us.”
“I take it you… found Mr. Nadir?”
“Yes. We were very worried about him, but he’s okay.”
“I’m glad you found some… serenity. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a class in 45 minutes, and there are just a few final touches I need to add to my lesson plan.” He turned away.
Annie gave Troy a look of confusion. Troy shrugged. After a moment of standing there nonplussed, Troy mouthed the words, “We should go.”
She couldn’t agree more.
Arm in arm, they walked into the quad, behaving for the first time like an actual couple. Here and there, she caught the eye of a fellow classmate, someone who knew their little group of friends. The reactions were varied; from a set of raised eyebrows, to a whispered conversation, to a hearty thumbs’ up. Troy sent a thumbs’ up and a blinding smile back to Star-Burns. Did they find it as surprising as she and Troy had? Or did they see it coming, like Abed had?
In the end, it didn’t matter. She was happy, and there were no hurt feelings to worry about. Maybe a bruised ego lay ahead once the fall classes started… but Jeff was a big boy.
Then ahead of them, Annie saw one of the security guards, Officer Troy it looked like, moving toward them at a good clip. Annie braced herself, clutching at Troy’s arm. He did the same, making a stand, whatever was coming next.
All the man did was nod at the two of them cordially, and speed on past. It was as if the whole chase of the previous day hadn’t happened at all.
Suddenly Annie felt very silly. Maybe she had built this whole incident into some sort of terrible crime of passion, and no one had been waiting to bring them before the Dean at all. She relaxed and turned to Troy. “Were we just being paranoid?”
“I dunno. Maybe they have bigger fish to fry?”
“It is Greendale – it could be anything.”
“Yeah, And I’ve had enough excitement for one summer.” He swiveled her the other way from the direction Officer Troy had been heading. “Let’s go this way instead.”
Study group time came, and Annie and Troy took their seats in the library as always, both glancing sadly at Abed’s empty chair.
“So what do we work on today?” Annie asked.
“Well, today is usually Abed’s turn, but…”
“But what?” Abed asked, gliding in and sitting down.
Annie and Troy jumped out of their chairs with a shout. “Abed! You’re back!” Annie cried, pulling him back up out of his chair and throwing her arms around him.
Troy seemed to revel in sharing their special handshake. “I thought you weren’t coming back yet, buddy!”
Abed blinked. “I said I would come back when everything was resolved.”
Troy and Annie looked at each other in confusion. It felt like that was all they’d been doing lately.
“Isn’t it?” Abed glanced between the two of them.
Annie blushed, Troy suddenly found his shoes extremely interesting.
“So, like I said. Resolved.” He gave them a smile, one that made Annie feel like she had been absorbed into this great wacky, wonderful three-way friendship, with benefits on one side. “And Troy, we’re getting an apartment together in the fall. Is that cool with you?”
Annie could see it was more than cool. “Thanks, man,” Troy said, hugging him. “I was too afraid to ask after what happened last year. You’re the best.” He had to wipe a happy tear away after they pulled apart.
Abed sat back down and opened his netbook. “I need to come up with a new ending for my screenplay.”
“Schloss… he’s letting you fix it?” Troy asked.
“Yep.” Abed called up the file. “Extenuating circumstances.”
“He accepted that?” Annie was amazed – what had changed Schloss’ mind so much in 24 hours? “Without an argument?”
“There was an argument. He didn’t think he should allow me to revise my project. I didn’t think he should be stealing his students’ ideas for his mystery novels. He saw my point of view.”
Troy laughed in disbelief. “Did you blackmail him, Abed? You?”
“Blackmail? I didn’t see it that way. Just an exchange of information. Though I can’t tell you whether or not he saw it that way.” Abed wore a tiny grin.
“That’s our Abed,” Annie said fondly.
“With that kind of knowledge, you probably didn’t have to finish the project at all,” Troy said.
Abed shrugged. “Why not? I wanted to finish it. I like it when loose ends are tied up.” He called up the file on his computer. “Any thoughts on my ending?”
“A few,” Annie said with a smile, and moved to the chair on Abed’s left, to see better.
“I have some, too.” Troy said, scooting forward. “How do you feel about prehistoric mammals?”
“4… 3… 2… 1… Ready or not, here I come!” As soon as Abed removed his hands from his eyes, he was scanning the library stacks for any clues. Was another student looking downward with a curious glance? Were there suspiciously quiet areas? Densely-packed shelves which made for better hiding places?
He and Troy had played Hide and Seek a million times, but with additional players, it was a whole new game. Was it every man (or woman) for himself? Or had they developed a strategy?
As silently as possible he moved through the aisles, raising up onto his tiptoes or crouching to peer around a low shelf. A few people gave him a strange look, but most people were used to ‘that weird, tall Middle Eastern kid’ and his library antics. Hopefully he hadn’t given himself away to his opponents.
However, his opponents were definitely giving themselves away to him. He followed a trail of embarrassed or smiling people back to the historical fiction section. Positioning himself so that they wouldn’t see him until it was too late, he inched a few books out of a shelf to get a better view…
And promptly put the books back with an affectionate smile. If he wanted an eyeful of his best friends making out, he could get that any night.
So he turned the corner and tagged Garrett on the back before he could react. Garrett collapsed into a flailing pile of arms and legs anyway. Abed held out a hand to help him up.
“Why do you always find me first?” Garrett complained with a huff, pushing his glasses back onto his nose.
Abed shrugged. “You want to get a snack at the cafeteria?”
“They’ll forgive us.” Abed and Garrett were well into their second helping by the time Annie and Troy found them.