"Cheese curds"

Summary: The Greendale Seven have lunch

Written For Tumblr Community Appreciation Week 2017

Prompt: Gen Fic

Troy plopped down and slid a tray toward Abed. "I got you the fried cheese curds."

Shirley cooed, "Since when do we have those in the cafeteria?"

Troy shrugged. "I dunno. They must be out of chicken fingers. But I bet they're good. "

Abed nodded as he carefully picked up a fried ball of breaded something and held it between his thumb and index finger.

Troy watched as Abed raised it to the light and studied it for some moments. He couldn't stop his nervous grin, hoping his best friend would enjoy it. He wanted Abed to be happy today.

After what seemed like an eternity, Abed made a pronouncement.

"I think it's a curd."

"Yes!" Troy pumped a fist in the air.

"Gross."

He turned and glared at Britta who was doing some scowling of her own as she watched Abed pop the object in his mouth.

Abed slowly began to chew.

"I can't believe you'd eat a byproduct from a lactating animal. And then fry it in god knows what kind of lard."

Troy kicked Britta under the table.

Jeff slid into a seat on her other side and nonchalantly removed his sunglasses. "Who's lactating?"

"Pig."

"Oh, do pigs do that?"

Britta eyed Jeff's ever-so-carefully partially unbuttoned designer blue shirt. "Who are you trying to impress today?"

He shrugged as he turned toward Shirley. "So Shirley, let's talk about your kids."

Shirley's face lit up.

"Oh, thank you for asking, Jef-frey! Why Jordan's started tuba lessons and Elijah is well, you know, being Elijah, but he's still my sweet angel, and little Ben took his first swimming lesson."

She grabbed her comically large purse from her side and thumped it on the table. Troy and Britta exchanged horrified glances as she proceeded to reach inside and produce a small photo album. Jeff merely smiled politely and leaned over.

"I can't wait to see their darling little faces."

Britta smacked Jeff on the shoulder.

"Ow!"

"You're an ass."

Shirley arched a brow. "Excuse me?"

Britta gestured over the table, bumping Troy's soda, which he was just able to grab before it came tumbling over.

"He doesn't want to see pictures of your kids! Jeff hates it when you talk about your kids!"

"Now, Bri-ta that's not true. Why, he just asked to see them."

Jeff smiled smugly. "That's right, Britta. I'm very interested in Shirley's kids." Turning back to Shirley, he said, "Please start with the pictures of little Ben. I haven't seen him in ages. I bet he's getting so big."

Shirley beamed as she began to flip through the album.

Jeff leaned over and grinned, catching Britta's flabbergasted expression out of the corner of his eye.

At that moment, Pierce and Annie approached the table, both holding their trays.

"Pierce, do you like my shirt?" Jeff looked up with a smirk.

Appearing slightly flustered, Pierce cleared his throat and replied, "It's very nice. Not as nice as mine, of course. Mine is what the cool kids are calling vintage."

Britta watched in complete bafflement as Jeff kept a straight face and merely nodded.

"And it's a great shirt. But you know, if you ever want to do a clothes swap, say borrow this shirt or something, anything, we could arrange it. It might fun."

Pierce's chest visibly swelled.

He scoffed, "Well, that sounds great. Sure. E-fax me your email." He sat down next to Abed.

"Definitely." Jeff shot Pierce finger guns.

Annie's eyes grew wide with what Britta could only assume was some awful worshipful gaze coupled with convert-Jeff-to-a-good-person lust.

"Awww!"

Jeff smiled at her and remarked, "And Annie. That cardigan is looking smashing on you today. What is that color, teal?"

Blushing furiously, Annie sat down next to Shirley. She leaned forward with a manic intensity in her eyes. "It is. Do you think it suits me?"

"Definitely. And the little roses on your shirt really make that color pop."

"Oh, you!" She swatted his arm.

Britta began gagging.

Jeff turned to her. "I'm sorry, Britta, but are you choking? I know the Heimlich maneuver."

"I'll say." Annie looked down as Shirley muttered an "um hmmm."

Britta lifted her nose up in indignation. "You, sir, are a jackass. I don't know what you're up to being nice to everyone, but I'll find out. And once I do, you are done."

Jeff waived a hand toward her and leaned over to regard Troy, who had been watching everything while munching on his cheeseburger.

"Troy, I am so sorry I didn't greet you when I sat down. But Britta distracted me."

"Hey, Jeff."

"You and me. Three o'clock by the football field."

"Yeah!" Troy smiled broadly.

Pierce chuckled. "They're going to play with their balls."

Jeff's head whipped over to Pierce. Casting a surreptitious look at Britta, he cleared his throat and smiled tightly. "Yes, Troy and I are going to play with our balls. You are welcome to join us."

Annie squeaked and Shirley shook her head while mumbling, "Dear Lord."

Pierce slapped his hands down on the table. "Yes!"

Britta jabbed a finger in Jeff's chest. "Stop this!"

"Stop what? I'm merely enjoying lunch with my friends. Right guys?"

Everyone else enthusiastically murmured their agreement, which set Britta over the edge.

"That's it! I'm leaving!" She stood and grabbed her tray.

"Britta, please stay. That's a great vest you're wearing. It sets off the plaid."

Narrowing her eyes at him, she opened her mouth as if to speak but then stopped and abruptly turned away.

Jeff exclaimed, "Oh come on, Britta!"

They all watched as she marched off toward the exit door.

Turning back to the group, Jeff gave his most charming smile.

"I'm sure she'll be back. In the meantime, we can have a relaxing lunch. Shirley, let's take a look at those photos."

"Oh, this is nice!"

x

x

x

Jeff sat with Abed on the library steps. It was after nine and the evening classes had ended fifteen minutes prior, leaving the campus deserted.

Not that Abed and Jeff attended night school. Jeff had spent the afternoon playing football with Troy and Pierce while Abed had watched from the bleachers. Afterward they had all gone out for milkshakes. Jeff came back to campus later on to meet Abed after receiving his text.

Cocking his head, Abed said, "This was a fun day."

Jeff shrugged.

Abed nodded. "Everyone reacted just the way I predicted they would, which was extremely gratifying to me. And, if I admit, a little unsettling. I'd hate to think we'd gotten to the point in our show where we were stale."

Jeff let out a long sigh as he leaned back on his elbows and looked up at the stars.

"We're not stale. You just know us really well."

Abed reflected on this silently for a few moments.

"I wanted to do a body swap episode. You and someone nice, like Annie, would have been hilarious. I think the audience would have enjoyed it, especially if you throw in the potential zaniness of a gender-swap. But then I reconsidered, feeling it was cliché."

Jeff bit his lip and refrained from commenting.

Abed continued, "So I figured you acting out of character would provide a similar opportunity, and one the audience could view as ironically in character for you, being a jerk to Britta or potentially taking an ill-conceived bet of some sort."

"But I didn't do it to upset Britta and I didn't make a bet."

"No. You did it for me. That was unexpected."

Jeff frowned and turned to face Abed, noting that despite the blankness in Abed's expression, his eyes were welling with tears. Although he was unprepared with how to comfort him, he had a hunch if he just sat here with him a little longer, he'd be okay.

"Of course. It was fun. Thanks for asking me to do it."

"You're welcome. You're a pretty good actor, Jeff."

"Yeah, well…"

"But maybe it wasn't all acting. You like us. Sure, you don't enjoy looking at pictures of Shirley's kids, but you know it makes her happy. You know Annie takes great pride in her Annie uniform and you yourself have an interest in fashion. You like it when Troy looks up to you and you two originally bonded on the football field."

Jeff let out a low whistle. "Jesus, Abed, maybe you're right."

"Pierce, alas, you say you hate him but perhaps you do want to connect with him in some way, to get in touch with the previous generation, to find the father figure you never had…"

-"Ooookay, and now you're wrong."

"Am I, Jeff?"

"Yes. But the rest of it was pretty astute. You're a good study of character."

"I am. Plus I didn't provide the complete script, only a vague outline of what you were supposed to do. You filled in the gaps and improvised."

"It was no big deal."

Abed hesitated for a moment, once again tilting his head.

"And you did something really nice for me. And you did it because Troy told you my mom came to visit and that after she left I was sad."

Jeff shook his head. "How did you…?"

"I know things, Jeff. Plus I listen at doors. Thank you."

"You're welcome."

Some awkward silence followed.

Finally, Jeff broke it. "Hey, how were those cheese curds you were eating at lunch? I'm not touching them, of course." He waived his hand over his torso to highlight his physique.

The corners of Abed's mouth lifted slightly. "They weren't curds."

"They weren't? But you said…"

-"No, Troy said they were. But I didn't want to disappoint him."

"Didn't he eat some of them, too?"

"Yes."

Jeff squinted but decided to let it go. He really didn't want to know.

They sat together for a little while, Abed softly humming a light jazz tune and Jeff contemplating what else he was supposed to do. True, Abed seemed in relatively better spirits, but it was always a bit difficult to tell. He knew what it was like to have a parent who didn't want you.

He knew Abed must feel terrible.

"Wanna go to a movie? My treat."

"Cool. Cool-Cool-Cool."