Chapter 15: Back to School

Summary: The gang heads back to school for their fourth year and Abed ponders plot developments

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A/N: Apologies for the delay with this chapter. I won't get into the depressing reasons for the lag, but please know I remain committed to this story. Thanks to all of you who have continued to follow along and review! It means a lot to me and makes this endeavor all the more worthwhile.

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The remaining weeks of the summer went by in a whirl. They got together with the study group a few times, once at a barbeque at Shirley's, another time for a movie night at Apartment 303 (Sophie and Ben napped in Britta's room), and a nighttime showing of an obscure art film Abed had been going on about. Annie and Jeff also allowed Troberry to throw them an awkward and suspiciously non-engagement related engagement party involving some dishes with cool whip and a Doritos glaze.

They set the wedding date two weeks after Jeff's graduation. Annie had begun to pour over a wedding binder, the existence of which Jeff was mildly surprised and amused by. She had explained through huffs of indignation that while she had been disappointed by her parents'' divorce, part of her did believe in marriage and wanted the fairytale wedding, adding with a flutter of eyelashes that Jeff could be her Prince Charming. He couldn't argue with that and proceeded to sit down next to her and nod as she flipped giddily through the album. There were also long late night planning chats with Britta, which Jeff tended to stay out of under the guise that Ruffles needed extra attention. He was happy to make calls or whatever else they needed him to do, but he didn't really care about the wedding details themselves other than the color palette and his suit.

Sophie continued to excel in her swimming lessons, Annie by her side and Jeff safely watching from a bench as he hid behind his sunglasses and attempted to ignore the ogling he received from some of the moms. Annie did her best to also ignore it, much to Jeff's amusement.

And they continued to discuss their plans. Adam still needed to get settled in North Carolina, but he maintained a willingness to proceed with the process. Mark was attending to the details, and this left plenty of time for Annie and Jeff to have long talks about their future, including hopes and needs.

X

X

X

The beginning of the semester was suddenly upon them. They did their best to dutifully set out belongings and Sophie's snacks and lunch the night before, Annie carefully placing a couple items such as a comfort blanket in the new pink Dora the Explorer backpack they had gotten Sophie for her birthday.

They had been awakened a few times the previous night by the sounds of their new neighbor, whom they had not yet met, banging things around in their apartment. From the sounds of it, it seemed as if they were attempting to install a shelf of some kind and it kept falling down. At the sounds of someone sobbing, Jeff had to stop Annie from investigating, as he made it a point to never get to know his neighbors well. So far, Annie had ingratiated herself with Mrs. Huttleson down the hall and he was damned if they were going to actually get to know their neighbor right next door. As he explained, that was too close with much potential for awkwardness. She had rolled her eyes but then as the sobbing next door stopped and the banging resumed, she had acquiesced and remained in their apartment.

Alas, the first day of school was a scrambling morning at 879 Rechereche Circle.

While Annie was walking Ruffles, Jeff fried eggs and attempted to check himself in the mirror to determine if he was wearing the best shirt. He kept muttering to himself, wondering if he should go with the steel grey or the light blue one with a muted checkered pattern.

Sophie walked over to him and tugged on his jeans.

"Daddy."

He frowned as he turned to the side to eye the crease along the grey shirt.

"Daddy."

He continued to furrow his brow as he absentmindedly responded, "What, munchkin?"

"Daddy."

As he was about to look down, he heard the sizzling in the frying pan. "Just a sec." He shuffled from the hallway mirror to the stove and grabbed the spatula, flipping an egg. He then adjusted the heat and inspected if his shirt had gotten splattered. Spotting a suspicious mark, he glanced down at a wide-eyed Sophie, who was holding her backpack, and said, "I have to change. Just a sec."

"Daddy."

"Just a minute, okay?" He jogged down the hallway, Sophie trailing him.

"Daddy."

He unbuttoned his shirt and tossed it on the dresser, grabbing the blue one. "Hold on."

Sophie huffed as she watched him change, climbing onto Annie's step stool and holding up her backpack.

"Daddy."

He finished buttoning up and picked up the grey shirt. "I just have to treat this stain."

"Daddy!"

Her voice had come up to almost a shrill and it nearly killed him.

He turned toward her, a feeling of guilt welling up in his throat. He was an ass. She deserved his undivided attention, and he was pretty lousy at providing it at times. It was so simple in theory that he could have stopped what he was doing and listened to her, but no he was as Britta used to (?) say, a self-involved jackass. He wasn't good at dividing his attention, and she wasn't even a helpless baby.

Sophie was staring at him with even wider eyes, her lip now trembling as she clutched her backpack. He grimaced, placed the shirt back on the dresser, and walked over to pick her up and hoist her to his side.

Regarding her with remorse and concern, he said, "I'm sorry. What's wrong?"

She leaned her head against his shoulder, a thumb in her mouth while continuing to hold onto the backpack with her free hand.

"Munchkin?"

His question was met with silence. He took a deep breath and affected a gentle tone.

"Munchkiners Hobbitty one, the funniest and fartiest girl who ever lived and is secretly a princess or possibly a pink avenger superhero of some sort?"

This question was met with giggles.

"Daddy."

"Are you the pink avenger?"

"I not. I am. I not."

"Okay." He feigned a side shrug and, relieved that she seemed to be okay, added, "What did you need?"

He tilted his head and regarded her now slight smile. She popped out her thumb and replied, "I do not."

"Did you forget?"

"Yah."

Letting out a sigh, he kissed her head and inspected her crunchy curls. "Let's see. Was it something about your hair?"

"No."

"Your outfit?" He smirked as his eyes skimmed over her purple jean skirt from Shirley and her light yellow t-shirt with glittery puppies on it.

"No."

His gaze moved to the backpack. "This?"

Her expression changed to one of recognition as she began to nod vigorously. "Oh yah." She then lifted her head off his shoulder and thrust the backpack toward him.

"What?" He continued to smirk as he walked over to the bed and sat down, placing her to his side. He then unzipped the bag and peered into it to view the blanket, a Winnie the Pooh book, and her bear.

"Id okay? I take bear wid me?"

"Oh, you're asking me?"

"Yah. Mama said no."

He frowned as he took the bear out and placed it on his lap. Petting its head, he replied, "As much as I'd like to let you take him to school, there's a rule that you're not allowed to take toys from home."

"But I take Wuffles."

He chuckled at her equating her dog with a stuffed animal, realizing in that moment that she likely didn't view them that dissimilarly. And of course since Annie had finally relented and agreed to Ruffles joining Ian's class as a mascot for the semester, she would think that her bear would also be welcome on campus. It was difficult to explain to a three year old that rules were sometimes arbitrary.

He patted the bear and placed it in between them on the mattress. "Ruffles will be helping Uncle Ian with his class. But Bear doesn't posses the necessary skills, so alas, he needs to stay home."

"Why?"

"Because Bear didn't take psychology."

"Why?"

"Because he was lazy. He coasted on his good looks but never absorbed the material."

"Why?"

"Because he thought that's all there was to life. He faked a degree, actually. He said he went to his psychology class, but you see, he didn't. And now, it's all catching up to him."

Sophie nodded as if she understood. "Yeah?"

Jeff smiled slightly at her reaction as his eyes swept over the bed and spotted the rumpled sheets where Ruthie and Nathan remained and then moved to the crumpled spot at the end of the bed that still had a couple of doggie hairs. He then turned his focus back on Sophie.

"He's very sorry. But even given his limitations, he wants to be better. He wants to be good. So you know what he's going to do?"

He leaned down and made steady eye contact with her as he added, "He's going to stay here, in our nest…"

"Nesst. Like Biwdies?"

-"That's right, this is your nest, just like baby birdies. And Bear is going to make sure Count Frogula, Hillary Rodham Kitten, Ruthie, and Nathan all behave and stay in the nest. He's going to tell them some stories so they don't feel lonely and they don't miss you today. And then they'll all be happy when you come back from school and you can kiss and cuddle all of them."

With that, he proceeded to scoop her up and smack her with kisses as she giggled.

Annie watched from the doorway and wasn't so concerned about making the bed anymore before they left for school.

X

X

As Jeff clipped on Ruffles' leash, he glanced up to see Annie smiling at him while she held onto Sophie's hand and waited by the apartment door.

"What?"

She tilted her head thoughtfully.

"You're such a good daddy to Ruffles, too."

He rolled his eyes and then refocused his attentions on the dog, brushing some hair out of her eyes. He briefly pondered if they should have taken her to the groomers before today.

He remarked, "Well, you're a good mommy to her for allowing her to go to school with us today, isn't she munchkin?"

"Yah, Mama da best!"

"That's right. She is." He grinned up at Annie.

She returned his smile and continued to squeeze Sophie's hand. "It'll be nice for all of us to attend Greendale as a family."

Jeff nodded and carefully adjusting the new purple collar so that the doggy tag faced the front. He affected a weary sigh and said, "As you've pointed out before, attending Greendale has certain advantages."

"Greendale welcomes all of us."

He remarked dryly, "Give us your disbarred, your poor, your furriness, your baby cherubness."

She chuckled. "We're lucky."

He stood and faced her, barely noticing as Ruffles wagged her tail and Sophie approached her and proceeded to plant kisses all over her nose. As the dog slobbered over Sophie, Jeff pulled Annie into a chaste kiss. Recalling their time alone the night before after Sophie had gone to bed, he made efforts to hold back. Night-before-school-Annie Edison was always pretty intense, which made for a fun 'bedtime' routine. If Sophie and Ruffles hadn't ended up in their bed around midnight he strongly suspected they would have had another round of school preparation time in the morning.

He growled, "Happy first day of school."

She blushed and looked up at him. "We're taking the Lexus?"

He nodded down at her as Sophie attempted to climb up his leg.

She added with a flutter of her eyelashes, "I suppose everyone fits."

He let out a quick laugh and then gave her a slightly reproachful look, to which she responded with a shrug followed by a quick kiss on his cheek. He squinted at her and said, "Now is not the time to discuss that."

"I know. I'm just happy we can make plans for our future as the Edison-Wingers."

"I wanna pick up."

They realized they needed to hustle, so Jeff reached down and scooped up Sophie while Annie grabbed her own backpack and Ruffles' leash. Jeff turned and locked the door behind them.

It was only then that they came face to face with the Dean, who was also emerging from the neighboring apartment.

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X

Jeff continued to groan all the way to campus as Annie turned around in the Lexus to attend to Sophie and Ruffles. She kept shooting him looks as he lamented the idea of the Dean in their daily lives.

"He's already in our daily lives."

"Weekends, Annie. Weekends."

"I know, but clearly he's lonely."

"Christ."

"Jeff."

He made a turn onto Sparrow Road and continued to drive westward. "You know he only did this because he can't let you go."

She arched a brow and waited for him to explain.

He continued, "He's too dependent on you. He knows you'll be graduating."

"I'm not graduating in May. You are."

"Which puts it in his mind that you won't be around forever. But if he lives next door…"

"Jeff, it'll be fine."

X

X

The Greendale eight sat around the study room table, gabbing away as they reunited for their fourth year. Jeff didn't point out that they all saw each other this past weekend anyway, so it really wasn't much of a reunion. His old sarcastic self might have had more to say about it, but upon reflection he considered that his old self wouldn't have hung out with them this past weekend anyway. Likely he would have been face down in a bottle of scotch. Or a redhead.

He looked up from his phone to see Annie watching him with curiosity. He gave a slight smile and then pushed the phone into his pocket and sat up straighter, at that moment fully taking in what the others were saying.

"So this little girl is going to have such a great first day back at daycare, aren't you honey?" Shirley cooed as she gave Sophie a bounce on her lap.

"I wanna go wid you."

"Now pumpkin, you don't want to do that. It'll be boring. You'll have a much better time playing with all of your friends."

Sophie began to sulk but then started to laugh as Troy leaned across the table and wiggled his hands behind his ears and rolled his eyes completely back. Shirley instinctively shirked a little and mumbled something about an exorcism.

Pierce tapped the table and said, "Jeffrey, glad you could join us. I hope you weren't freaking out about your impending nuptials."

Jeff rolled his eyes and sat up even straighter, lacing his hands together on the table.

"Pierce, it is so very good to see you once again. Why, it just feels like the day before yesterday since we spoke and you attempted to have me sit for a preliminary portrait."

"Wasn't it the day before yesterday?"

"It was."

"Oh."

Annie took Sophie back from Shirley, and placed her on her lap. She handed her a crayon and pointed to a blank piece of paper on the table. She then smiled and said, "We're getting married two weeks after Jeff's graduation!"

"Oh, honey, so the date's official then?"

Annie grinned as she exchanged looks with Britta across the table. Britta smiled slightly and suppressed a chuckle.

"Yes. Britta's been helping me sort through some ideas."

Shirley looked back and forth between them and smiled tightly. She asked with a lilt in her voice, "Now, you will include me in this right? Just because I didn't have time to plan my own wedding and I run a sandwich shop and I have three kids doesn't mean I can't be involved." She finished her sentence with an affected lightness and more than a hint of martyrdom.

Britta's eyes widened momentarily and she ignored Jeff's kicking of her leg and his subsequent text referring to Shirley's passive aggressiveness and potential humble brag.

Abed merely continued scanning the faces of his friends around the table.

Britta smiled politely at Shirley and said, "Of course. We just didn't want to overwhelm you with the silly stuff at the beginning. But now that Annie and I have narrowed down potential venues, we'd be delighted..."

She suppressed a gasp as another kick came.

-"to have you involved."

"Well thank you, Brit-ta and An-nie. Why I'd be happy to talk to my minister." Shirley laced her fingers on the table and arched a brow in Annie and Jeff's direction.

Annie snapped, "Shirley, for the millionth time, I'm Jewish."

"So you're having a rabbi perform the ceremony then?"

"Well, no…"

Abed cleared his throat and interjected, "Boring!"

They all stopped and turned to stare at him. After an initial flash of annoyance, Troy tilted his head with intrigue and waited.

"We've already had an episode devoted to religious differences."

Jeff smirked. "I'm with Abed on this one. No more religious talk." He ignored Shirley's squint. "Continue, Abed. What should we be focusing on?"

Abed stared at Jeff for a few moments without blinking. He then said, "It's our final year."

Annie smiled sweetly at him. "Abed, it's not my final year. I probably won't graduate until the end of year five." She cast Jeff a quick look as she added, "Or six. Um, because I have to do an internship."

Jeff looked down and began to tap his pencil on the table.

Abed cocked his head. "But what about the rest of us? We know Jeff's graduating. At first I assumed he was our protagonist. But then the story appeared muddled and now I'm convinced although many of us have our side adventures, the story is about you and Jeff and Sophie."

"Awww…"

-"And that means that with Jeff graduating at the end of our fourth season, I am unclear where that leaves the rest of us. Or the main story for that matter."

Jeff dropped his pencil and exchanged concerned looks with Annie. He then leaned forward. "Abed, you will still exist even after I graduate. The story isn't over."

Abed didn't even pause to consider this. "Isn't it, Jeff? I mean we don't even know when the rest of us are graduating."

Everyone looked uncomfortably at each other around the table.

At the silence, Britta began with a slight waver to her voice, "I'm actually graduating at the end of this year with a psych major. I'm applying to a masters program in counseling at a nearby school for the following year."

Abed turned from her toward Shirley.

"Well, I'm also graduating with my degree in business. I'll be still running Shirley's Sandwiches though, but I'm unclear if that will continue to be here or off campus."

Abed's gaze went to Pierce but then moved over to Troy.

Pierce interjected, "Hey, now!"

Troy smiled self-consciously at Abed and then at everyone else. "I'm actually gonna take another year too. After that air conditioning repair disaster I figured those guys are lunatics. I needed to change my major again."

Jeff squinted. "What is your major, anyway?"

"Modern dance."

"Of course it is. Very useful."

"Thanks, man."

Britta shot Jeff a glare and turned back toward Troy. She smiled broadly. "Well, I think that's just wonderful! Good for you, Troy."

He grinned and he and Abed did their handshake.

Jeff cleared his throat. "So I may regret asking this, but Abed…?"

Abed, now holding hands with Troy, faced the group once again. "As you are all aware, my major is film."

"And graduation?"

"I haven't really looked into it."

Jeff pursed his lips in exasperation.

Abed added as he turned toward Annie, "But I'm also really interested in Sophie's plans after graduation."

Sophie's head whipped up from her coloring. "Bed."

Abed studied her. "She's getting bigger."

"I big."

Before anyone else could speak, the Dean literally pranced into the room and tossed his reins on the study table.

"Well, hello to my favorite study group!"

"Hello Dean!" came the chorus.

The Dean smiled, and placed his hands on his hips as he surveyed the group. "It's so good to see you all once again. Why, I think it's been since Miss Sophie's birthday party. Well, besides my new neighbors. Howdy, Annie, Jeffrey, Sophie."

Jeff cringed and proceeded to bang his head on the study table.

Annie exchanged nervous looks with Shirley and Britta as everyone muttered their confusion.

"Hi, Dean!"

"Why hello again, sweetheart."

Abed piped in, "Dean, do you have any announcements? I feel like we need one to anchor us to the new season."

The Dean stared at him for a moment and blinked.

"Abed, you know this isn't a season. It's a semester."

Abed cocked his head and let go of Troy's hand so that he could gesticulate appropriately. "Are you saying we're getting a shorter season then? Do we end after one semester, effectively airing our holiday episodes at wildly inappropriate times?"

"Now Abed, that's absurd. We will not have a shortened season... or school year."

"Good. Announcements?"

The Dean momentarily eyed Abed with some concern but then quickly changed modes to addressing the group. "Well, besides welcoming you all to a new school year, I have to add that we've been really very lucky already. As Annie here can attest, we almost had a gas leak, but we were able to fix it."

Abed cocked his head once again. "So there is no gas leak?"

"No. We fixed it."

"Did Ben Chang fix it?"

"No, Abed. And you know perfectly well he's now going by the name Kevin. He's doing really well in his Spanish classes, by the way. Why, I may almost have to re-hire him after he graduates! But no, it was Professor Hickey who noticed the gas and took care of the situation. That man has very strong hands."

The Dean proceeded to fan himself.

X

X

The day continued fairly uneventfully for Greendale standards. Annie and Jeff dropped Sophie off at campus daycare and gave her strong hugs and kisses as they departed. Due to the History of Ice Cream turning out to be a scam, they joined their classmates in their regular history class with Professor Cornwallis, an ornery sort. It didn't get past Jeff how he kept scoping out the female students. Feeling a proactive impulse over his Lady and his lady friends, he nevertheless held back, feeling he really didn't need to get into another showdown with a professor like last year in Biology. The guy hadn't crossed a line, and he needed to graduate on time if he and Annie were going to start moving ahead with their plans.

Plans. Right.

He was startled out of his thoughts by Troy slamming his fist down on the cafeteria table.

Oh, that's right, we're now at lunch.

"I danced my way around his ass!"

"Good job, Troy." Britta smiled and her face fell as Troy high-fived an almost disinterested Abed.

Jeff felt Abed's eyes boring into him. Once again, it was something he made the tactical decision to ignore.

X

X

The day carried on, Annie making sure to take time to go over to the daycare and witness Ian and Ruffles' visit. Unsurprisingly, Ruffles was a hit with the kids, and Sophie especially was delighted to see her furry friend.

Annie watched the interplay and remarked, "I was wrong. This was a good idea."

Ian shrugged, his hands in his pockets, having let Ruffles free in the enclosed play area. He observed, "She's very well-behaved. My class adored her."

"She would have been lonely at home. Thank you."

"It's no problem. We bonded."

She smiled self-consciously. "I'm sorry I was so unreasonable about it. I was dealing with a lot."

"And what do we call that Miss Edi..err..Annie?"

"Deflection."

"A-plus."

She rolled her eyes but he suspected she had more than a tad of pride in her response. He decided to take advantage of the opportunity and widened his brown eyes.

She noticed but waited. Jeff always did say Ian had difficulty letting a sweet moment be and tended to say something asinine. But she couldn't believe that a man as obviously caring as he would do that right now. She wondered sometimes if Jeff brought out the jerkiness in Ian. It couldn't have been easy to be the second to Jeff Winger.

Clearing his throat, Ian shifted slightly. "I was wondering if I could request a favor."

She arched a brow. "Sure."

He immediately blurted, "Perhaps you would consider what you yanks call a double-date between you and Jeffrey and Britta and myself?"

Annie instantly relaxed and felt a waive of affection for their oddly vested friend. Sometimes she wondered if he got overheated in his get up.

"That sounds like a great idea!" She paused before adding, "Did you clear this with Britta?"

His eyes growing wider, he shook his head. "Alas, I have not, but with your enthusiasm, I am confident she will say yes."

"Why wouldn't Britta say yes?"

"Why did you make sure to ask me if I had consulted with her first?"

Annie nodded and turned to look back at the kids playing with Ruffles. "You've got me there. I get it."

"But you're on board?"

"I'll talk to Jeff."

"Excellent."

"What do you call a double-date in England anyway?"

"A kitchen sink cookie."

X

X

Jeff nearly jumped when Abed locked into step with him as he rounded the corner near the gymnasium.

"Abed."

"Jeff."

He continued to stroll across the quad, his eyes briefly moving to the left to take in the sight of his friend before resuming his target of the far hall.

"Are you planning on telling me why you're stalking me?"

"I'm not stalking you, Jeff. We're both in political science next period."

"And how do you know I'm in political science?"

"I had Pavel hack into the mainframe and grab your class schedule."

Instantly regretting his decision to engage further, Jeff asked, "Seriously?"

"No. You told me this morning before you began to check your mysterious texts."

Jeff came to an abrupt stop and turned to regard him with annoyance.

"What do you want?"

If he didn't know better, he could have sworn Abed almost smirked.

"It's okay, Jeff. I forgive you."

"What the hell? For what?"

A corner of Abed's mouth went up in an uncharacteristically and relatively animated expression. "I know you and Annie were already engaged before the proposal."

Jeff found his shoulders relaxing somewhat. Sometimes he wondered if Abed did know everything. Maybe he should ask him some questions about the future and get his thoughts on it. The almost crippling worry and doubt was kind of driving him insane. But he decided to hold back for now.

He let out a chuckle of relief and briefly looked up at the sky. "God, Abed."

"I'm not God. Continue."

Jeff shook his head. "I'm sorry, buddy. We didn't want to let you guys down."

Abed cocked his head. "I know, and I appreciate that. I got my scene."

"You certainly did."

"Thank you."

Jeff let out a long sigh. "How did you know?"

"She was wearing the ring in the carriage. I saw it when I was helping her alit."

"Ahh."

"Don't worry. You guys were smooth when you had her remove it on the steps. I don't think anyone else caught on."

"Good."

Jeff motioned for them to continue on their way to class, but he was surprised when Abed reached out and lightly tapped his arm. He let it fall to his side and waited for whatever it was that Abed had to say.

"Just one thing, Jeff?"

"Yeah?"

Abed seemed to consider what he was about to say for a few moments, which made Jeff uneasy. He was damned if he knew where this was going, but then again Abed possessed an eerie ability to see through things. He wondered what he knew.

Abed took another long look into Jeff's eyes before he asked, "Could you consult me before you take any more deviations from the plot? I might miss out on some crucial scenes for my film."

In the moment, Jeff uncharacteristically had no words. He merely nodded.

"So you promise, then?"

Snapping out of his momentary haze of stupidity, Jeff groaned. "I have no idea what you mean by the plot. And there's no way I can anticipate what kinds of scenes you need for your film."

Abed shook his head and made a faint tsking sound.

"Jeff, I think you know what I mean. There was the proposal. What follows are some other key plot points. I need to capture any announcements you may make or any other public events."

"Abed."

"Give me a heads up."

"Goddammit, Abed."

They continued on in silence as they proceeded across the quad.