Jeff surveyed the cafeteria briefly before he spotted Abed and Troy. Troy was leaning across the table to gently wipe a few errant spots of ketchup from Abed's chin.
"Whatever," Jeff said with a shrug, and he made his way to their table. He slid into the seat next to Abed, while Pierce, who had just emerged from the lunch line after making a particularly tasteless joke about tacos to the Hispanic lunch lady, took his place next to Troy.
"Where are the girls?" Jeff asked.
"The ladies room," Troy mumbled around a mouthful of chicken patty.
"All at the same time?"
"You know how the womenfolk get, Jeff," Pierce said knowingly.
"Not quite sure what you're getting at, but I'm sure the reality is worse than what I'm imagining so let's not—"
"Their feminine cycles have synched up," Pierce interjected.
"That's disgusting," Troy grumbled, spitting out a mushy lump of chicken patty.
Jeff stared at the brownish lump and grimaced. He looked away, only to find a more disturbing sight.
"That can't be good," he murmured.
The rest of the gang turned to discover the cause of his words. Annie was walking towards them flanked by Shirley and Britta. Annie had two watery lines of mascara running down her cheeks and her eyes were glued to the floor. Shirley and Britta had each taken hold of one of Annie's elbows and were guiding her in their direction.
Jeff felt a peculiar twisting sensation in his gut.
"Plot twist," Abed whispered.
The girls steered Annie to a chair and she immediately fell forward and buried her face in her hands.
"What's wrong?" Jeff asked.
Shirley and Britta glanced nervously at each other, then at Annie.
"Go ahead. Tell them!" Annie moaned, but because she was basically speaking into the cafeteria table, it sounded more like, 'Gmphhh! Tapffffthmmm!'
After one more anxious glance at Shirley, Britta took a deep breath and spoke.
"Vaughn broke up with her."
Annie sobbed loudly, and Shirley put a comforting hand on her back murmuring, "There, there, baby."
Annie's response was to sob even louder.
When she managed to lift her head, she cried out, "But that's not the worst part! Tell them!"
"What? What did that shirtless vagrant do?!" Jeff demanded. He distantly noted that his cheeks were getting dangerously hot.
"It's not what Vaughn did. It was... Starburns," Shirley finished in a stage whisper.
Jeff, who had been puffed up in rage a moment ago, deflated as a sickening feeling of dread washed over him.
"Oh no," he said.
"Oh, yes," Britta replied. "He asked her out. Offered to be her rebound, in slightly more colorful terms," she added.
Shirley, apparently unable to resist sharing a juicy bit of gossip, proceeded to repeat Starburns's comment.
"He said she could wear his sideburns like legwarmers!"
Anyone with a lunch tray in front of him pushed it away, reflecting on the simpler time before they had heard that repulsive come-on. Troy added to his pile of half-chewed chicken patty.
"We can fix this," Jeff said resolutely.
"How?" Annie asked, briefly lifting her tearstained face to address her friends. "I'm apparently tainted now. Tainted with the stamp of community college weirdo!"
Abed nodded encouragingly.
"Jeff is right. You just need to date someone cool to get you back on track. You only dated Vaughn for three weeks. You can still recover."
Pierce openly scoffed.
"Yeah, but what nice, cool guy at Greendale would be willing to go out with Annie now that she's fodder for the likes of Starburns?"
Whatever hint of a smile might have been edging onto Annie's face disappeared.
"Um, perhaps the more important question to start with is 'What nice, cool guys at Greendale exist?'" Britta asked pointedly.
The group emitted a collective, "Hmmm," and paused to consider this inquiry.
All except for Troy, who looked expectantly at them. When he failed to receive the reaction he expected, he loudly cleared his throat. The gang collectively turned to look at him, and he straightened up to give them all the full benefit of his awesome presence.
Britta blew a raspberry and unceremoniously gave him a thumbs-down.
"I'm sorry, Troy, but I doubt that dating a leotard-wearing musophobic is going to up Annie's cool factor," she said matter-of-factly.
Troy's jaw tightened and he pointed an accusatory finger at her.
"First of all, you wore a leotard too. Under a giant water pitcher costume," he charged.
Britta's eyes narrowed and she looked ready to unload on Troy when Abed interjected.
"Huh. Brita Pitcher. Britta pitcher. I just got that. Clever," he said, more to himself than anybody else.
"And B, I am not afraid of moose," Troy continued. Then he paused, frowned, and tried again. "Mooses... Meese?"
"Troy, musophobia is fear of mice."
Troy chuckled and adopted a knowing look.
"Don't be ridiculous, Britta. If that was the case they'd call it 'mouse-o-phobia,'" he said slowly, as if explaining this to a small child.
"Annie, did I mention that I'm a wealthy entrepreneur and talented keyboardist?" Pierce interjected, puffing up his chest importantly.
Everyone who wasn't currently involved in a heated debate about mice and moose reeled backwards in dismay.
"Yeah, Pierce. That'd be great if Annie wanted to attract the likes of Leonard, the geriatric macaroni enthusiast who wears a children's backpack," Jeff scoffed.
"Oh, come on! That guy's old enough to be my father!" Pierce cried, throwing up his hands.
"What about Jeff?" Abed asked.
"What about Jeff? Britta demanded, snapping out of her argument with Troy.
"He's cool. He's like our Fonzie," Abed replied.
He squinted at Jeff, as if trying to picture him with a leather jacket and greased back hair.
"Um, he's also not into Annie like that," Britta stated impatiently.
There was a chorus of unconvinced mutterings from the group. Jeff frowned and glanced around at the group. When he caught Britta's eye, she glared back fiercely. Eyes wide, he quickly looked away only to find that no one else would quite meet his gaze. Finally, his eyes swept by Annie and he froze when he realized that she was staring back at him. They both immediately whipped their heads around until they were facing in opposite directions.
"Well, it doesn't have to be for real, does it?" Troy said suddenly.
When everyone fixed him with a quizzical stare, he turned to Annie.
"I mean, people just need to think you're dating Jeff in order to raise your cool factor. You don't have to be in an actual relationship."
Annie wiped the last of the runny mascara from her cheeks and paused to consider this piece of information. If she'd had a notebook readily available, Jeff was certain she'd be taking notes.
"I don't like this," Shirley announced. "'Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.'"
"Please tell me you aren't quoting the Bible," Britta balked.
"I am. Even our Jew—" Annie shot Shirley a look. "—ISH friends can learn something from the lessons of the New Testament. If Annie does find a nice boy because of this trick, it will be a love based on deception. She should just be patient. Mr. Right is out there."
"Shirley, the longer Annie waits, the greater her chances are of getting sucked in by Mr. Unbelievably Wrong. Greendale is a horrifying landscape of weirdoes and losers desperate to dement the few Normals roaming campus," Jeff objected.
"Like zombies," Abed offered.
"Exactly," Jeff concurred. "And there's no coming back from zombies."
"Ha! Braaaaaaains," Troy moaned. Abed nodded in approval.
"Jeff has a point. It's tough for us Normals," Pierce asserted.
The others fixed Pierce with incredulous looks, but didn't bother contradicting him.
"Don't you think you're being a little overdramatic, Jeff?" Britta interjected.
"Am I?" Jeff asked pointedly.
"Are you?" Britta mimicked.
Jeff leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest.
"Have you ever wondered how Senor Chang met his wife?"
"He met her at a salsa club. You told us that," Britta replied.
"Chang amended his story during separate drunken sobfest. He let slip that it wasn't so much a salsa club as it was a Greendale dance for the purpose of, and I quote, 'recognizing the contributions of Hispania.'"
He paused to let this sink in.
"Senora Change was a Greendale student?" Shirley gasped.
Jeff nodded, slowly and dramatically.
"Another plot twist!" Abed proclaimed.
"In the real world, a woman like her would never be with a guy like him! Greendale does this to pretty people!" Jeff near shouted.
"You think I'm pretty?" Annie asked.
Jeff refused to meet her eyes, and was saved from having to reply by Troy.
"I knew there was a 'Hispania'! Yeah! Screw you, Wikipedia! You will be gaining a new entry when I get home," he triumphantly declared.
"If Jeff just pretended to be Annie's boyfriend for a while it would rehabilitate her image and save her from the fate of Senora Chang," Abed concluded helpfully.
"Mrs. Annie Starburns," Shirley muttered. Britta shuddered.
"I don't think that would work," Annie said nervously.
"I don't think that would work," Jeff said at the exact same time.
They both turned to frown at each other.
"What?" they asked simultaneously.
Annie decided to explain herself first.
"I just meant because you're so much older than me. It could make guys think that I'm into that sort of thing."
"Into what sort of thing?" Jeff demanded, clearly offended.
"Daddy figures," Britta supplied.
"No!" Annie squeaked. "Just, you know… older men," she finished lamely.
"And then we run into the Leonard problem all over again," Pierce noted.
"Hey! Leonard is old enough to be your father!" Jeff protested.
"Well, what was your problem with the idea?" Annie demanded.
"Slater," Britta supplied again.
"Um, actually, no," Jeff countered.
"Did you break up?" Britta asked quickly.
"Explain," Abed ordered.
Jeff knew he was taking mental notes to prepare for an upcoming episode of Community College Chronicles, but clarified nonetheless.
"She expressed an interest in a more open relationship. I didn't see things the same way," he stated simply.
"Wait… she wanted to see other guys on the side?" Britta gaped.
"Tough break, dude. That's the wrong kind of three-way," Troy said consolingly.
"Not a three-way, Troy! She just wanted to get extra sex separately from Jeff," Annie corrected, saying 'three-way' and 'sex' quietly, as if they were bad words.
Pierce shook his head sadly.
"It's always difficult to hear a lady friend tell you that you aren't man enough for her, Jeffrey. Not that I'd know from experience. Pathetic, really."
Jeff scowled at him.
"What?" he exclaimed. "No! It wasn't that. I just didn't want… I just thought that we had something…"
"Special?" Shirley offered sympathetically.
Jeff frowned again.
"Okay, you know what? This is starting to sound dangerously like a Lifetime movie, and I'm fine. Really," he said shortly.
"Yeah, the Lifetime audience is the complete opposite of our core demographic," Abed agreed.
"So if Slater isn't the problem, what is?" Britta asked.
"I worry about how Annie might affect my image," Jeff admitted.
"What?!" Annie sputtered.
"Annie is all goodness and sweetness with a cherry on top. What could you possibly be worried about?" Shirley bristled.
"Exactly that!" Jeff exclaimed. "I'm going to look like the pervy older guy hanging around teenagers with the hopes of convincing the hot, sweet ones to do it with me."
"Ugh," Shirley and Britta muttered at the same time.
"On the other hand, your description just made Fonzie analogy much stronger," Abed pointed out.
"Happy to help, buddy," Jeff said sarcastically.
"Or instead of the Fonz, maybe Matthew McConaughey's character in Dazed and Confused," Abed mused aloud.
"That's what I love about these high school girls, man," Troy said eagerly.
"I get older, they stay the same age," Abed and Troy finished together.
Shirley and Britta shuddered again.
"This is what I mean," Jeff noted.
"So, I guess that possibility's out," Britta concluded.
"Actually, I think that both of you are thinking about this the wrong way," Abed objected. "Everyone on campus already knows that Jeff and Annie kissed at the debate, and it was obvious to everyone watching that they have the smoldering chemistry of a Sam and Diane."
Jeff and Annie both looked as if they'd spotted something intensely interesting in the stains on the lunch table judging by the way they were staring at it.
"So I doubt anyone would find a relationship between the two of you completely surprising. And since Annie initiated the kiss, I doubt people would think that Jeff used his Fonzie moves to trick her into bed," Abed deduced.
"Bed, whoa, hey! Who said anything about bed?" Jeff stammered.
Abed tilted his head to the side.
"If you're fake dating, everyone's going to assume you two are sleeping together. I mean, does Jeff Winger seem like the type of guy to be satisfied with holding hands?" he asked.
"I'm not ready for sex with Jeff!" Annie blurted out.
Six startled faces turned towards her, and she stiltedly attempted to amend her outburst.
"Fake sex! With Jeff. Or anybody!"
"Hey, Annie," said a familiar voice.
Seven heads now turned to face Starburns, who had chosen this moment to show his heavily adorned face.
"Um. Hi," Annie said nervously.
"I brought you this delicious cup of Jell-o salad," Starburns announced, gallantly placing a plastic bowl full of some suspicious green ingredients in front of Annie.
"…thank you," Annie replied uncomfortably.
"I saw it in the lunch line and it made me think of you because it's a little tangy but mostly sweet. And it jiggles in all the right places," Starburns said poetically.
"That's it," Jeff broke in.
He stood and took a couple of steps forward until he was directly in front of Starburns.
"You can drop the chivalrous act, Sir Tokes–a-Lot. If anyone is going to give Annie creepy gelatin-based gifts, it's me," he snarled.
Starburns put his hands on his hips.
"Oh yeah, Winger? And why is that?" he challenged.
"Because Jeff and I are dating!" Annie shouted.
Suddenly she was standing behind Jeff and every single eye in the cafeteria was fixed on them. They nervously glanced at each other before adopting their best formidable looks and turning back to Starburns.
"Yeah!" Jeff affirmed.
"Fine," he snapped. "But I'm taking my Jell-o back."
"Fine!" Annie retorted.
He snatched the plastic cup from the table and strode off.
Jeff and Annie slowly slid back into their seats. Everybody descended into silence. Finally, Abed spoke.
"Come by my dorm room after Spanish class; we need to rehearse," he said.
"Rehearse what?" Annie asked, bewildered.
"Your performance as a couple. It has to be believable."
Jeff felt someone tap him on the shoulder.
"What now?" he groaned, turning around to see Leonard, children's backpack and all.
"Thanks a lot, Winger. First you take all the macaroni, and now you're bogarting the sweet piece of ass I had my eye on! Who do you think you are? Fonzie?!"
Jeff turned away, slid down in his chair, and said only one word in reply.