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Here This Whole Time

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MANDATORY HISTORIOGRAPHY CREDIT FOR SENIORS NEEDING TO MEET DISTRIBUTION REQUIREMENTS

Act I


 

Early morning in the Greendale cafeteria. Jeff sagged on one side of the booth; he didn't look like he'd spent an hour creating a rolled-out-of-bed look, he looked like he'd actually just rolled out of bed. "I was older," he said, stirring the coffee in front of him and watching the white spiderweb on black become a smooth brown mirror. "And I had a job teaching here, and… I don't remember much of it. It was a dream, you know? There's always stuff in dreams. Pierce was dead and Troy was old and Shirley was white and Annie was leaving to be an FBI agent. You were about the same."

Across from him, Abed nodded. "Annie would be a good FBI agent."

"Yeah, of course."

"Dreams are meaningless random pictures your brain makes while you sleep because it doesn't have any sensory input to process. It's a form of madness that everybody is just okay with for some reason."

Jeff looked up, slightly alarmed at the mention of madness. He looked around, confirming that there was almost no one else in the cafeteria — just him, Abed, and Shirley. Technically he had been Shirley's Sandwiches first bona fide customer of the semester. Shirley had credited Abed, though, since he'd ordered a breakfast sandwich and Jeff had only gotten the coffee, which he hadn't drunk.

"When you said last night that you wanted to meet early, you hadn't had your dream yet," Abed observed. "So you wanted to talk about something else."

Jeff glanced up, shrugged. "Yeah, no. I, uh, I'm a little out of it."

"Okay. We can just sit here in silence if you want. Usually you have your phone out when we do that, though." Abed gestured in the direction of Jeff's hip pocket.

"It's the first day of our fourth year here," Jeff said, unwilling to lapse back into silence. "I thought you might be worried about that."

Abed shook his head. "No."

"You're fine?"

"No. Yes, I'm fine, but I'm calling 'no' on you worrying about me. You never worry about me unless I act out in some kind of dramatic fashion, like trying to cut off your arm with a bonesaw —"

"When did you —"

"And I'm fine." Abed ticked points off on his fingers. "Troy is back in the apartment. Everybody is taking 'Mandatory Historiography Credit for Seniors Needing to Meet Distribution Requirements,' so the study group is staying together. And I made a cardboard Dream-Sedanette. Everything's fine."

"Well, it's the last year. Two more semesters, and I'll be back to being a lawyer, Annie will be running a hospital somewhere… Everybody will be leaving."

"Everybody leaves eventually," said Abed. "I know that sounds dark, but community college isn't a place anyone really wants to spend their whole lives. Plus aside from maybe you and Annie no one's going anywhere soon. I'm still at least five semesters short completing a film major because I just sign up for whatever classes sound good and my father pays for my expenses as long as I'm enrolled with a full courseload. Troy can do whatever he wants in the Air Conditioning Repair Annex. Britta wants to get a Master's, which will be at least two more years, probably more knowing her. Shirley runs the sandwich shop and pretends not to eavesdrop. Pierce…" Abed considered it a moment. "Pierce does whatever he wants."

Shirley picked that moment to carry Abed's sandwich over to them. It was some unholy amalgam of bagel, cheese, egg, and sausage that both attracted and repelled Jeff in equal measure. He suspected the whole thing had been soaked in butter.

"Here you go, Abed," Shirley said, affecting a gentle lilt. "A number one with sausage. I wasn't eavesdropping, but there's nobody else here and the acoustics in this cafeteria make it hard to avoid hearing you. And Jeff just worries about you like we all do, because you're important to us." She sat down next to Jeff, across from Abed in the booth.

"Jeff's not worried about me," Abed said through a mouthful of seductively greasy-looking heart disease. He's worried about Annie."

"What? No I don't!" For a moment Jeff was thirteen years old again, red-faced and trying to deny he had a crush on a girl. Seeing Shirley's eyes narrow at his vehemence, he forced himself to calm down. "I mean, I'm not. Annie's fine."

"You mentioned her leaving twice in the last two minutes. He's worried about Annie," Abed told Shirley.

Shirley twisted in the booth to face Jeff. "Jeffrey, is this true? Is there something you know about Annie that we don't?" She leaned forward. "Is it pills again?" she whispered, then straightened up. "That's ridiculous," she said in a normal tone. "She's a very strong person, even if she hasn't yet come to Jesus, and she doesn't need anyone fretting over her."

"I'm not fretting over anybody. Do I look like I'm fretting?" Jeff forced himself to visibly relax. "I'm not a guy who frets, unless you're talking about stringing guitars, which I also don't do. I could, because as we all know guitars are cool, but I don't, because as we all know effort is not cool."

"Mmm hmm." Shirley sounded doubtful. She stared at Jeff, trying to divine his intent.

"Anyway I'm going to go get some coffee before class starts," Jeff said in a rush. He slid out of the booth away from Shirley and rose to his feet.

"I just gave you coffee," Shirley protested. She pointed to the paper cup still on the table.

"And it was great," Jeff assured her. He scooped the cup up and drained it in a gulp. Fortunately it turned out to have cooled enough he didn't scald himself, but scalding himself had been a risk he was willing to take. "But I'm out, and instead of getting a refill from you I'm going to run over to the Starbucks and pay too much money for something with soy and espresso that a chesty girl in a green apron will hand to me and smile, because that will make me feel better about myself."

Shirley stared at him a moment. "I can't help but feel a little hurt," she said, affecting a gentle tone. "I know my sexuality intimidates you, but I could get a green apron, if it would make you more comfortable." She exchanged glances with Abed. "Jeffrey, what's gotten into you?"

"Nothing! Nothing at all. I'll see you in class!" Jeff called over his shoulder as he dashed out of the cafeteria.

"Jeffrey!" Shirley shook her head slightly.

"This is a good sandwich," Abed observed as he finished it. "Did you get it from Subway? They do breakfast now."

Shirley stared at him a moment.


 

Annie sat alone in the apartment, losing at Fruit Ninja on her phone, and tried not be angry. She had no reason to be angry. People could do whatever they wanted; no one owed her an explanation much less consideration. She had chosen the choices she chose to choose; it wasn't Troy's fault.

Still, she was annoyed. Not angry. Barely irritated. But annoyed. Annie and Abed and Troy had made plans, or at least she had made plans in their presence and they hadn't disagreed. Yet here she was, waiting alone.

Annie was about to give up and walk to school alone when she heard footsteps outside, followed by the thump of someone leaning against the door. Giggles. Troy's voice, too low for her to make out the words. Annie straightened her dress and adjusted her hair as a key turned in the lock and the front door swung open.

"Morning guys!" she cried as cheerily as she could, as soon as the door was open. Troy was, as she'd guessed, still wearing what he'd had on when he left the night before.

Britta unwrapped from around Troy and stopped pressing him against the doorframe. "Annie, hi."

"We were just practicing for a play," Troy blurted out.

Britta elbowed him.

"We were kissing," Troy admitted.

"That's fine." Annie made a show of going back to her game of Fruit Ninja. "Did you get the milk?" she asked, off-handedly, as though she were just making idle conversation.

"Milk?" Britta repeated.

Troy winced. "Oh, that's right! I'm sorry, I got distracted when Britta sexted me…"

"Don't say 'sexted,'" Britta interjected. "All I said was 'hey what's up?'"

"Yeah, like that's not being sexy," replied Troy. He shifted his weight and leaned close to her. "Hey, girl," he said softly, "what's up?"

Britta giggled, and started kissing him — their mouths were only about two inches apart, it wasn't hard.

Annie cleared her throat, and they decoupled.

"See?" Troy waggled a finger in Britta's face. "And you're way sexier than me!"

"You think?" Britta asked, surprised and pleased.

Troy nodded, and Annie cleared her throat again, preemptively. "On the one hand, aw, you guys are adorable. On the other hand, I was going to use that milk to make First Day of Classes Pancakes."

"Damn, I could have had pancakes?" Troy snapped his fingers. "Curse you, sexy devil-woman!"

"Hey, this is the first I'm hearing about milk!" Britta stepped back from Troy, into the apartment. "That one's on you, Lucy Liu."

"Actually I texted you about it, when I realized how long Troy had been gone and what he was probably doing," said Annie.

"Did you?" Britta checked her phone, and grimaced. "Yeah you did."

"Anyway it's okay. Abed went and got milk and I made the pancakes this morning."

Troy's face lit up. "Yeah? Did you make any shaped like Mickey Mouse?"

"In the fridge." Annie pointed to the kitchen. "But I don't think you have time to eat it now. We've got to get to class."

Troy nodded absently. "Where's Abed?"

"He went in early, I don't know why." Annie shrugged. "Were you guys supposed to do something?"

Britta turned to Troy. "I didn't break up some planned Troy-and-Abed hijinks, did I?"

"Nah." Troy shook his head as he stepped closer and put an arm around Britta. She snuggled into him. "I don't think so." He glanced at Britta, as if she were his appointments secretary, and then the glance turned into a straight-up look, and then they were leaning in…

Annie cleared her throat a third time, and Britta and Troy decoupled again.

"You need water or something, Annie? You don't sound good," said Troy. "I don't know if you've noticed but you're clearing your throat a lot. Is it allergies?"

She fixed her smile in place and rose to her feet. "I'm fine."

Britta, recognizing Annie's mood, took a couple of steps back from Troy. "You need to grab your backpack," she reminded him. "We gotta get going."

"Right." Troy nodded. "Especially if we need to stop and get antihistamines on the way." He pushed past Britta, and headed off towards the Dreamatorium. Which, Annie reminded herself, was as of the day before yesterday Troy's room.

"Are we being awful?" Britta asked Annie anxiously, once Troy was out of earshot. "I've never been dating, um, a friend's roommate like this before. Is there some kind of code? I haven't had a lot of female friends. Was I supposed to text you? Is that the rule? I'm more into tearing down gender stereotypes than playing into them in the name of some ill-conceived vision of sisterhood that was probably created in some all-male writer's room…"

"Britta." Annie stepped close to Britta, put her hands on Britta's biceps and held her gaze.

"I'm babbling?"

Annie nodded. "It's okay. Everything's okay. I mean…" Impulsively she slid her arms around Britta and hugged her close. "You guys seem really happy."

"Yeah. I mean, well, sure." Britta suddenly sounded doubtful. "I mean, right now we're at the honeymoon phase, you know? Where you spend the first couple of weeks in bed together and it's only afterwards you find out he's…" She trailed off. "You know, not what you thought."

"Oh. Um, right." Annie was glad she was still embracing Britta, so Britta couldn't see the look on her face. She hadn't ever quite had that particular experience. A sudden sting of jealousy came out of nowhere, surprising her. She'd moved on from Troy as a romantic prospect literally years ago, and she was on record as thinking Britta and Troy were cute together. But Annie had never gotten to the deliriously-happy stage of a relationship. The closest had been with Vaughn, but even then she'd been aware she was forcing it, deep down…

Britta spoke, rousing Annie from her reverie. "It's okay?"

"It's okay." She tried to think of something to say that Britta wouldn't take the wrong way. "I'm glad you're happy."

From the way Britta sagged against her, Annie surmised she'd picked the right thing. She heard Britta sniffle into her ear. "That's the nicest thing a guy's roommate has ever said to me." Britta straightened up, wiping her eyes. "I mean, you're not just a guy's roommate, you're Annie. You're my friend. We do girl stuff together and everything." She sniffled again.

"Dang it," said Troy as he returned from his room, bookbag slung across his back. "Britta, you've got allergies too? Did Abed get a secret cat again?"


 

9:22. Eight minutes before the start of 'Mandatory Historiography Credit for Seniors Needing to Meet Distribution Requirements.'

Jeff pressed his way through the crowded hallway. Whatever else you could say about Greendale, its recent trials hadn't reduced the incoming student body any. Distressingly young people thronged about him, making it difficult to reach the classroom.

"Jeffrey!" A familiar voice cut through the din.

Jeff turned reflexively. "Yeah?" I have got to stop doing that, he thought to himself. Acknowledging Pierce only ever made things worse.

"Jeffrey," the older man repeated as he approached. He clapped Jeff on the back as though they hadn't just been together at the trial with Alan, and then the Biology final, less than a week ago.

If they had been separated for months, Jeff might have been minimally glad to see him, but as it was… Jeff said nothing, waiting for Pierce to get to his point.

Pierce was wearing a surprisingly nice suit, something tailored after Bush the Senior left office for once. "Jeff. The Jeffinator." Pierce blinked a few times. "Jeffarino," he continued. "Jeffacaboodle. Jeffapalooza, making copies… Jeff Jorf Jim, the Jeff-Jeff Man! Butch Cassidy and the Jeff Winger Kid! Winger! The Wingman! The Winginator. Wingarino…"

If Jeff didn't say something he would keep this up for minutes. "Hey, Pierce."

"I'm glad I caught you, there are several things we need to talk about."

"Uh. Can it wait until after class? You're signed up for 'Mandatory Historiography Credit for Seniors Needing to Meet Distribution Requirements,' too, right?"

"Hah, actually, no. Funny story…" Pierce paused to push his glasses up his nose. "Wait. Is that Starbucks?"

Jeff glanced down at the cup still in his hand. "…Yes?"

"As co-owner of Shirley's Sandwiches, I'm very disappointed in you, Jeff." Pierce leaned forward conspiratorially. "As a man, though, that barista with the boobs is a real babe, right? The redhead?"

"Sure," said Jeff, because it would end the conversation quicker.

Instead Britta appeared from out the teeming throng. "Guys! Everybody else is already inside. We saved you seats…"

"I won't be needing one," Pierce announced. "You see, after seventeen years of classes, I've finally graduated from Greendale Community College, effective as of last Friday."

"Um, congratulations?" offered Britta.

"Why are you here, then?" Jeff asked. Clearly something was up.

"Well, I…"

"Pierce!"

Pierce broke off as his name was called. "Carl! Richie!" He waved.

"Who?" Jeff asked Britta, who shrugged.

Two members of the school board, each with an open can of beer, sidled up to them through the thinning crowd of students. "Greendale school board in the house!" cried the big one.

"Woot woot!" chanted the little one.

Pierce exchanged high-fives with them both. "Woot woot indeed," he agreed.

"Who's your friend, Piercelstein?" The little one leered at Britta. "You need some course credits? I can hook you up."

"What? How many credits, I mean," Britta swallowed, "how dare you!"

The big one, Richie, laughed nervously. "He's joking, of course. We don't do that any more, Carl."

"I've been invited to join the school board!" Pierce explained.

Carl nodded. "After what happened last semester we needed someone to scapegoat in case the whole story ever gets out."

"And of course Pierce Hawthorne is a pillar of the community and an ass, ah, ash," Richie held up one finger while he took a swing from his beer. "Sorry, I was trying to say asset to the board. It's been a long day."

"It's nine thirty in the morning," Britta muttered.

"Yeah, but I'm still drunk from last night. We were inducting the Piercinator here into the Greendale Community College Board of Trustees."

"Ain't no party like a Greendale Community College Board of Trustees party," sang Carl. "'Cause a Greendale Community College Board of Trustees party don't stop! Don't stop, don't hop, hop, hop, bippity-bop…" Carl started dancing, to go with his impromptu freestyle rap, but stopped when no one joined in. "Are we not dancing?"

"TGIFriday's on a Sunday night is a wild scene, let me tell you," said Pierce. Then he started, remembering something. "Did you not get my text inviting you?"

"Probably. I mean, obviously I don't have your number blocked, what kind of friend would I be then? Anyway, it's great that you're finally moving on to better things," Jeff said, "and a better class of people," he added, eyeing Richie and Carl.

"Oh, don't you worry, Jeffrey," Pierce said with a chuckle. "I'm not going anywhere, believe you me."

"Uh huh, great. Did you come down here just to tell us that?"

Britta checked the time on her phone. "Hey, yeah, everybody's inside! Class is about to start!"

"I gotta do a thing," Pierce told Richie and Carl.

"No problem." Richie shrugged. "I have a court appearance in an hour anyway."

"And I'm already late for AA." Carl said, checking his watch.

"Meet you afterwards at Chili's? Awesome blossom? Awesome blossom? Awesome blossom?" Pierce suggested, pointing at Carl, Richie, and Jeff in turn.

"Pass," said Jeff. "I have way better ways to slowly poison myself." He turned away from the school board and crossed the now-empty hall into the classroom.