"I still don't get why we're here," Jeff grumbled.
"You're here to make sure your performance is as authentic as possible," Abed explained, unconcerned by Jeff's negative attitude.
He gestured at his couch. Jeff reluctantly took a seat, but wasn't completely satisfied.
"I think acting lessons are a bit over the top. Won't this just make us look rehearsed?" he asked.
"Only if you have a bad director," Abed replied, wordlessly challenging Jeff to reply.
"Jeff, this has to look real! If people find out that you're only pretending to be my boyfriend, it will be the most embarrassing moment of my life," Annie said desperately. "And that includes the time that I finally plucked up the courage to audition for the lead in the school play, and the director called me on stage to improvise a romantic scene with the male lead. When I walked up to him, I was so nervous that I tripped and rammed my face into his so hard that I broke his nose! They wouldn't even let me on stage crew after that!"
She threw herself onto the couch next to Jeff and turned her glassy eyes on him. Jeff squeezed his own eyes shut.
"Fine," he bit out. "But I'm not doing it because of your maudlin Glenn Beck impersonation. I'm doing it because I can't withstand another disturbing encounter in which Starburns compares your body parts to snack foods."
"Good. It's settled then," Abed concluded. "The first thing we need to do is establish your nudity riders."
"What?!" Anne balked.
"They're the contracts that actors fill out to predetermine how much they're willing to show and do onscreen during romantic scenes," Abed explained calmly.
Jeff was tempted to grab Abed by the shoulders and shake him, but he settled for yelling.
"I can tell you EXACTLY how much nudity Annie and I will be doing. NONE!"
Abed nodded and held up his hands in defeat.
"Okay, 'nudity rider' was a bad choice of term. Of course you won't be doing any nudity. It would be completely against type for either of you to engage in that degree of PDA."
"Do people do that? Naked PDA? In public?" Annie asked in a hushed voice, as if saying it too loudly added to the scandal of it all.
"I think the 'public' part is implied by the 'P' in PDA," Jeff noted.
Annie glared at him.
"I just mean that if we're going to run through your physical scenes, we should determine ahead of time exactly what types of physical acts you feel comfortable with," Abed assured them.
"None!" Annie squeaked.
Jeff's head jerked to the side to face Annie.
"None?" he repeated incredulously.
"This is a fake relationship, Jeff. How much are we really expected to do?" Annie demanded.
"I'll take this one," Abed said, holding up a hand to stop Jeff from replying.
He turned back to Annie.
"Holding hands, hugs, an arm around the shoulder, a hand on the knee, on the thigh. It's a matter of degrees, and we need to decide now just how far is too far."
There was a brief pause. Abed's last suggestion was ringing in Jeff's ears. A hand on the thigh. He glanced down at his hand, which was resting inches from Annie's leg on the couch. If he just edged his fingertips a tiny bit to the right, they would brush the hem of her skirt.
"Hand holding sounds good, right Jeff?" Annie said, breaking Jeff out of his reverie.
"Yes. Good," he replied a bit to quickly.
"And maybe a hug before we leave at the end of the day," Annie suggested, a little more hesitantly.
"An arm around your shoulder in the hallway doesn't sound too weird," Jeff added.
"Good. How about kissing," Abed asked.
"No!" they replied simultaneously.
"Too soon, I think," Annie amended gently.
"Okay, well I had an idea for a study scene in the library I'd like to practice before we break for the day," he said.
Jeff looked at Annie and she shrugged.
"All right, I guess," he replied.
"This will give us a chance to work on the emotion. The choreography is the easy stuff," Abed noted.
'Choreography?' Jeff mouthed at Annie. She shrugged again.
"Okay. Jeff, you stay where you are. Annie, you're going to lie down with your head in Jeff's lap."
Annie and Jeff immediately froze. It was Jeff who snapped out of it first, and he attempted to appear casual and unconcerned. He turned to Annie, who was gripping one arm of the couch and looked as if she had ceased to breath.
"Annie?" Jeff prompted.
Annie nodded curtly and relaxed the slightest bit, but remained staring at the wall in front of them.
"Breath, Annie. Relaxed breathing is the key to a genuine performance," Abed advised.
"Also, living," Jeff added helpfully.
"Right, sorry," Annie said with a nervous laugh.
She stiltedly swung her feet around so that they hung off the edge of the sofa and gingerly lowered herself backwards, as if the couch cushions were a bed of nails. The weight of her entire upper body rested on her elbows for a moment. Then, with another nervous laugh, he settled the back of her head onto Jeff's thigh. Suddenly she was staring straight up at him. She nervously folded her hands across her stomach and shot him a nervous smile, which he mirrored.
"Annie, can you take out your barrette?" Abed asked.
"What?" Jeff choked.
Abed peered at him for a second before seeming to come to a decision.
"You're right. The scene has already started. This should be more organic. Jeff, you should remove the barrette," he decided.
He looked down to see Annie smiling encouragingly, albeit anxiously.
"Right, okay," he muttered.
He reached down and gently tugged at the hair clip. Making little progress, he proceeded to pull a little harder. He saw Annie wince.
"There's a latch—ow—in the back," she offered.
Jeff let out a frustrated huff of air and attempted to find the latch, but succeeded only in tangling his fingers in Annie's hair, and Annie's hair around the clip.
"Ouch!" Annie yelped.
Jeff groaned as the latch disappeared completely into Annie's hair.
"Jeff, don't lose it now. You're interfering with the rhythm of the scene," Abed urged him.
"Well maybe if Annie didn't buy a barrette made by the fine people at Rubik's Inc. this wouldn't be a problem!" he snapped.
"Let me help," Annie said softly.
She reached up slipped her fingers in her hair, locating the clasp almost immediately. Jeff sighed in irritation and looked away, but looked back when he felt Annie's small hand on his. Rather than unclasp the barrette herself, she guided Jeff's hand to the latch and, with her thumb and index finger over his, pressed.
With a tiny ping, the barrette popped open. Annie smiled.
"There. The people at Rubik's need to work a little harder, I guess," she said with a smirk.
Jeff couldn't help it. He smiled back, tongue pressed to the roof of his mouth.
"Well played, Edison," he admitted.
Her hands fluttered back to stomach, and he very gently pulled the barrette from her hair. Jeff placed it on the arm of the sofa and looked up to see Abed examining them with an intensity that was unsetting.
"Now just sort of run your fingers through her hair with one hand and read this book with your free hand," Abed ordered, holding a book out.
"'Scorsese on Scorsese,'" Jeff read off the cover, arching an eyebrow.
"Just for effect. You'll be reading something different in the library," he explained.
Trying to remain as unruffled as possible, Jeff calmly placed his left hand in Annie's hair, and, resting his right arm on the back of the sofa, flipped open to Chapter 8: 'The Age of Innocence – A Personal Journey.'
He let Annie's wavy tresses drift between his fingers for a few moments before burying his hand more deeply in her hair. His fingers gently stroked her scalp as he read Scorsese's words about 'The Age of Innocence.'
'I was very taken by the story of the love between Newland Archer and Ellen Olensda, and the most interesting part of it for me was that they couldn't consummate their relationship. So throughout the film, there would be a kind of emotional and erotic tension.'
And then Annie moaned. Well, it was more of a contented little sigh.
In any case, Jeff dropped his book.
Onto Annie's stomach.
"Oh!" she gasped.
"Sorry!" Jeff blurted.
He reached for the book. With his left hand. Which was still tangled in Annie's hair.
"Ow!" Annie squeaked, sitting up and pulling Jeff's hand to her head so that she could carefully remove it with minimal tugging.
Jeff buried his face in his free hand and mumbled, "Sorry," once more.
"It's okay," Annie said, aiming for cheerful but overshooting it a bit.
"All right, cut! Annie, good; Jeff, horrible," Abed declared.
"Hey! I'm trying here!" Jeff exclaimed.
Abed shook his head.
"The hesitation and uneasiness works for Annie. It fits with her character."
"What character? She's a real person, Abed."
Abed looked at Annie, who was now in a seated position with 'Scorsese on Scorsese' in her lap.
"She's young, she has very little romantic experience, and you're an older man. She would naturally exhibit a degree of apprehension with you," Abed reasoned.
Jeff's scowl deepened.
"Can we stop talking about how old I am?"
Abed ignored him.
"But you've had countless of romantic encounters, and up until your relationship with Professor Slater you rejoiced in your label as a playboy. This kind of adolescent bumbling makes no sense."
Jeff stammered for a moment, his mouth hanging open.
"I… look, all of that may be true, but if I was to date somebody like Annie, don't you think it would indicate character growth? First Slater, now Annie?" he attempted.
Abed turned his eyes skyward, pondering this statement.
"Hmm. Interesting. Assuming the relationship is very new, which it would be, you might be more cautious with someone like Annie," he surmised.
Jeff gave an exaggerated nod.
"Yes, exactly. The bumbling was a character choice. Totally on purpose," he said resolutely.
Abed directed his eyes back at Jeff.
"All right, let's try it again, keep the awkwardness. And switch places. I think I like this scene better with your head in Annie's lap."
Exchanging tight smiles, the pair reversed their positions, with Jeff reclining until the back of his head met with Annie's skirt. He made a show of readjusting to find the most comfortable position before letting out a long sigh.
Annie looked to Abed.
"Okay, let's have Jeff hold the book so that Annie can use both hands on Jeff," he commanded.
His wording caused Jeff's eyebrows to fly upwards, but Annie didn't skip a beat. She handed the book to Jeff, who decided to open to a safer chapter, and began gently stroking his hair. He looked up at her to find her blue eyes peering down at him.
"All right, Annie. I really need you to emote. Jeff is the new man in your life. You adore him. He's different from anybody you've ever liked: exciting, challenging, oddly sweet," Abed urged.
"Why 'oddly'?" Jeff asked.
"Shhh," Annie scolded.
But she didn't look the least bit put out. On the contrary, she was truly attempting to follow Abed's direction. An anxious smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. Her teeth nervously teased at her bottom lip. Her eyes softened as they traced the details of his features.
Jeff couldn't recall anyone ever looking at him like that before. Maybe his first real girlfriend. Crystal Stepheson. Summer camp. 1990. When Annie was only, oh that's right, not even born.
He clenched his eyes shut, trying not to think about things like that. Gradually, the soft motion of Annie's fingertips against his scalp began lulling him into a dreamlike state, and before he knew it, the sounds and sensations of the room were drifting away.
"Really, really good, you guys. Much better."
Abed's voice startled Jeff out of his stupor.
"Hmm?" he murmured.
"We're done for today. I suggest you hold hands as you leave. Try this exercise in the library tomorrow," Abed said, speaking like a doctor prescribing treatment.
"Thanks, Abed!" Annie chirped.
Jeff dazedly pulled himself into a seated position.
He looked up to see Annie offering him a hand up.
"Oh, right," he said, shaking himself.
He took her hand and stood. It felt strange, standing hand in hand with Annie Edison in Abed's dorm room, but he shook the feeling off and proceeded to the door. Opening it, he gestured for her to exit before him.
"Milady," he announced.
"Oh, my barrette!" Annie recalled as she stepped into the hallway.
"I'll get it," Jeff said. "Meet you by the stairs?"
Annie nodded happily. Jeff reentered the room, and plucked Annie's hair clip from the arm of the sofa. He noticed that Abed was already furiously scribbling notes on a notepad.
"So, do you think we've got what it takes, boss?" he jokingly asked Abed.
Abed looked up from his notes.
"Now that I've got an angle on your performances, yes," he stated confidently.
"And what angle would that be?" Jeff asked, still smirking.
"Method acting," Abed replied.
"Isn't that where the actors actually try to feel the emotions of their characters?" he asked.
"Exactly. And it's ideal where there are already emotions to draw from in real life relationships," Abed added.
The smirk disappeared from Jeff's face. Abed, misreading this, continued.
"Don't worry, Jeff. It worked for Scorsese in Raging Bull. It'll definitely work with you and Annie."
Jeff clenched his teeth and nodded. He strode out of the room and presented Annie with her barrette. She smiled and slipped her hand back into his. Jeff felt his heart skip a beat. He cursed under his breath.