Annie wakes up to sunlight streaming through the window, the glare piercing into the midst of soft, disjointed dreams. She groans and burrows her head deeper into her pillow, stretches her legs out from her curled up position on the couch and…
Couch. Her thoughts skitter over this word and stop.
Everything rushes at her and she has to curl herself back up tighter, press her face into the cotton of the pillow as the memory washes over her. She lets it, lets it play over and over, this one brief moment - and lips and hands and being pulled up tight against him - until everything is warm and foggy, but she needs to make it real, needs to press it into the deep contours of her brain so that it doesn't fade too fast. It spins in her mind on a loop until the fluttering low in her stomach starts to make her feel light headed and she might actually be sick.
Oh, and maybe it's a new drug she can get lost in like pills and achievement and friends and –
A door slams somewhere above her and there are footsteps and muffled voices. Annie loses her grasp on the memory for a moment and sits up, blinking at her surroundings.
She's in Jeff's apartment, on Jeff's couch, tangled up in one of Jeff's blankets.
Jeff, Jeff, Jeff.
He'd been quiet last night on the drive here, as he'd fumbled with the keys trying to unlock the door, as he'd waved his arm in a vague gesture around the tiny apartment to indicate that "this is it." She couldn't stop looking at him, waiting for some kind of clue. But he'd just grabbed a beer from the fridge, held it between his hands, forearms resting against the countertop and watched while she pushed the bottle top aimlessly across the granite marble with her index finger.
And now she's waking up on his couch and not really knowing anything except the fact that she spent three hours last night tossing and turning and debating the pros and cons of getting up and walking into his bedroom.
Also, that he kissed her last night. Or she kissed him. Or they kissed each other…
She wants to sink back into all of it but when she looks toward his room the door is cracked open and she wonders if he fell asleep waiting for her. The possibility sends a rush of determination through her bloodstream and she's getting up and wrapping the blanket around her shoulders and padding in bare feet across the hardwood floor of his apartment.
It's darker in his bedroom than it was in the living room, little lines of light framing the heavy blinds. Jeff is lying on his back with an arm slug over his eyes, the sheets kicked down below his waist. He's wearing a tee-shirt and boxer briefs and Annie has a hard time catching her breath as she stands by the edge of the bed – but he didn't take her back to her house last night and he didn't run away in horror and he looked, like maybe he was really glad she hadn't tossed it all to follow someone else across the country – so then she's dropping the blanket to the floor and sliding under the covers next to him and trying not to think too much.
His sheets are soft, probably 5000 Egyptian thread count or something ridiculous, dark blue, smooth against her skin. She settles on her side, facing him, tucks a hand under her cheek and closes her eyes.
Everything seems to be pulsing and it's like that buzzing when she'd take too many pills. She tries to take a deep breath and remember that this is just Jeff but memories are rolling around in her head again and already changing and maybe he didn't meet her halfway, maybe his hand was pressed lower on her back, maybe his lips parted over hers at a different angle.
The bed shifts then and everything stops, stills. A sudden unexplainable calm drops over her and despite herself, Annie can't help the tiny smile that tugs at her lips before she opens her eyes.
Jeff's turned onto his side, his head propped up a bit with the pillow. He's watching her carefully.
"Hey," he rasps out quietly.
She can't think about anything else, anyone else, all the other people involved. She needs this moment to exist wholly on it's own. If she starts thinking too hard it may just all come crashing down, so for now she pushes everything away, spindled out around this moment, this bubble of here and now and Jeff.
"Do you remember when you were little and it was the first day of summer and everything just felt… open? Like, there are these three months of nothingness ahead of you and you can do anything with them? Or nothing even? I miss that."
Jeff laughs quietly, muffled against the way his mouth is pressed into the pillow a little bit. "It wasn't that long ago for you."
She meets his eyes until he exhales through his nose.
"Okay," he murmurs, "Let's do nothing."
Her foot accidentally brushes up against his leg under the covers and everything spins.
They walk down to the coffee shop around the corner from his apartment complex. It's unseasonably warm but there's still a chilly bite to the mid morning air so Jeff lends her a hoodie with sleeves that fall six inches past her fingertips. She's probably got a sweatshirt in the bag she packed for Delaware… but he's fighting back a grin as he helps her carefully roll the sleeves, so she doesn't mention it.
They place their order and she reaches for her wallet but Jeff waves her off and hands the cashier a ten. Annie stands awkwardly next to him and for a moment can't figure out what to do with her own hands.
The door chimes as they're waiting and a group of giggling teenage girls flood in and all seem to send appraising looks in Jeff's direction as they get in line. Annie tries for a moment to see him from the outside of everything she already knows - he's wearing jeans and flip flops and a thin blue tee shirt and his hair is mussed just the perfect amount (a tiny bit of pink sneaks into her cheeks at the realization that she now knows it does indeed look like that when he gets out of bed) and he keeps widening his eyes a bit and yawning like he's still half asleep – so it's involuntary really, when Annie takes a step closer to him so that their arms are touching, kind of turns her body toward him. She has no right to feel possessive but.
Jeff looks down at her and smiles, and suddenly there's that trademark smirk that had been absent since last night.
Annie rolls her eyes, "What?"
"Nothing," he laughs. And doesn't move away from her.
They end up back in his room, Jeff lying on his back while she faces him, crossed-legged, hands resting on her knees.
His eyes are closed, hands folded over his stomach, and he's breathing softly in and out so that she thinks he's maybe fallen back to sleep. Her eyes trace over his features and then up around the dimly lit room.
It's oddly simple. The bed and a dresser with random odds and ends - a bottle of cologne, some loose change, a watch – scattered across the top. There are a couple of framed photographs but even squinting Annie can't quite make out the figures in each. Maybe friends, cousins, old girlfriends, his mom. There's too much she still doesn't know.
She turns her head to look at him. His eyes are open again.
He tugs lightly on her hand.
She hesitates for a moment, then unbends her legs and slides down next to him, presses against his side, her head pillowed on his arm. His eyes are closed again but he turns his head and brushes his lips against her forehead, then lower, at the corner of her eye.
Annie swallows and curls her fingers into his shirt.
In the dream she's back in the Spanish classroom. Britta and Shirley are at their desks. They're trying to talk to her but their voices are so quiet she can't hear what they're saying and it doesn't even sound like English.
"What?" she says.
They keep talking and she still can't hear them so she turns and walks out the door into Boardshort Hall. The stands are filed with people and Jeremy Simmons is powering his chair back and forth at the side of the pool singing, "Little Annie Adderol."
"Miss Edison! Seize the day! Jump in!"
Professor Whitman is standing next to the debate table, in the middle of the pool, on top of the water. She's late for the debate. Jeff is going to kill her. But he's not even there. Maybe she'll kill him.
She leaps, holding her nose. Underwater she opens her eyes and Jeff swims by, "I'm glad you stayed."
And then she's floating on her back staring up the sun shining high above her, making everything a bright white reflection off the ocean. The waves rock her back in forth in dull rhythm and everywhere she looks there's nothing but water.
The pink nail polish on her toenails is cracked and chipped, flaking at the edges. She hadn't thought to paint them recently, hadn't expected to be here with bare feet. She thinks about going and getting a pedicure, getting those delicate flowers they etch on with toothpicks.
She rolls her head to the side and squints her eyes.
"Back row of a movie theater. We were in seventh grade."
She giggles, "I want to know what teenage Jeff was like."
"Like adult Jeff. With more hair." He thinks about it, "Less biting wit."
Annie regards him doubtfully, "Biting wit?"
"It sounds better than cynical. Who wants to be friends with that guy?"
"Hmm." She looks back at her toes again. Wiggles them back and forth. Her skin looks even paler out in the sunlight. Maybe she should start tanning. She thinks about those girls from those terrible shows on MTV and changes her mind.
"I don't think you're really that cynical."
Jeff's sprawled back against the lounge chair and his head is turned to her but his sunglasses hide his eyes.
"You do know that half the crap I saw is just lawyer speak for 'I'm just trying to get what I want,' right?"
"Maybe. But I think you believe it too."
"Oh really? And what makes you say that?"
Annie flips over on her stomach, rests her chin on her arm. "Because you act like you believe it. Because you stood up for Abed and gave Shirley the paintball prize and helped Pierce with his gross stepdaughter."
"Because you asked me too."
She smiles slowly, "Still."
A door slams a few yards away and they both turn their heads to see an older man in a black suit striding away from his apartment. He's got a stack of folders under his arm and he's yelling something into his phone about briefing memos.
When Annie turns back Jeff has pulled off his sunglasses and is spinning them around, staring at some point off in space. She settles herself back down, tucking her chin into her shoulder so that only her eyes are visible.
"You don't fool me."
He turns and catches her gaze and they watch each other until a strand of hair falls over her eyes and she blushes and buries her head in her arm.
"Yeah, I know," he says quietly.
She almost shivers there in the warmth of the May sun.
Annie leans forward and touches her finger to the tip of her nose. Her skin is warm and pink after spending too much time outside without sun block and it will probably end up sunburned and peeling in a couple of days. Maybe Jeff has aloe – but she skips over the idea of searching through his medicine cabinet.
She gathers her hair up into a ponytail, turns her head one way and then the other. The reflection in the mirror only smiles tentatively back at her, like it's afraid of being too bright, so she just lets her hair falls back around her shoulders in waves and looks quickly around the bathroom - shaving cream, hair product, deodorant, toothpaste all lined up across the back of the sink, clean white towels hanging over the shower rod. She touches one between index and pointer finger – it's soft like his sheets and it's surprising because everything about his place seems softer than she expected.
Not that she ever spent that much time expecting any of this – whatever it was.
Her gaze slides back over to the mirror and she allows herself a smile that makes her eyes crinkle up in the corners. It's only for a moment though and she finally has to look away because it's almost too much
"What is that?"
"Fine. It's a course listing for summer school."
"Why is it in my apartment?"
"I'm thinking about taking some classes over the break. And don't look at me like that. You should be thinking about this too, Mr. Four Year Plan."
"First, don't finger quote the Four Year Plan. It deserves more respect than that. Second, how exactly does this constitute doing nothing? Give that to me."
"Oooh, a Pottery Class."
"Okay, and now it's going in the trash."
The sun sinks low behind the apartment building, casting weird, long shadows over everything and Annie has to zip up the sweatshirt again in the sudden chill. She's curled up in a chair that he dragged out to his tiny balcony for her while he barbeques a couple of steaks. Smoke from the grill hangs in the air, wraps around them, makes everything smell like summertime.
Jeff takes a pull from his beer and leans back against the railing. "So do you ever?"
Annie shakes her head slowly, "No. Sometimes things are hard and I remember how easy it used to be to just make that go away but." She pauses, "I never actually want to. It doesn't seem worth it anymore."
"I don't know. Maybe I could have stopped earlier. Maybe the whole rehab thing was just a way to…" Her voice trails off and Jeff's just looking at her and there isn't pity there. Maybe not even understanding but he's just listening and… he's just spent so much time looking at her today, like he's trying to look for something and it make her toes start to curl into her shoes.
She tilts her head up, back against the chair as the first of the night stars start blinking against the darkening sky.
"Maybe you don't have to choose."
Jeff stops in his tracks.
They're on their way back from the coffee shop again and two cups of coffee plus this entire day have left her feeling jittery and she's practically bouncing along the sidewalk.
"Between changing and staying the same. Last night you said." She stops and looks up at him, changes course away from last night. "I just don't think you have to choose. Between evolving and knowing who you are. Maybe you can do both. Maybe."
His eyebrow quirks upward into his hairline as he waits for her to continue.
"Maybe you can evolve into the person you want to be but still just be you." The last word ends on an up note, almost like a question and her eyes are wide and soft.
Jeff's head tilts to the side slightly.
They're standing just a few feet apart in the little circle of light from the street lamp above them.
"Huh. Maybe you're right."
Annie does a little hopping skip over to him.
"So who do you want to be Jeff Winger?"
He shakes his head. "I'm not really even sure anymore. It's been a weird year."
They begin walking again and he squints off into the distance, "So what about you? Are you going to keep living in the moment?"
She blushes, thinks about it and then sighs and shakes her head, "Probably not." Jeff laughs loudly and she continues, "At least not all the time."
The breeze from passing cars ruffles her hair around her shoulders, causes her to shiver slightly under the sweatshirt. She starts to tug the sleeves back down around her fingers but then Jeff's slipping his arm around her shoulders and it's not so much the body heat but rather the way his fingers are pressed against her arm that fills her entire body up with warmth.
Everything is sort of silent and still and the lamp in the corner spreads a soft halo of hazy golden light into the room. Jeff had switched the television off a while ago and now they're just sitting in the semi-darkness, his legs propped up on the coffee table, Annie curled into his side.
"I have to go home tomorrow."
Her parents will be a little surprised. She's supposed to be on her way to Delaware right now and God, everything now seems so far away from that decision, from Vaughan and yesterday afternoon.
Annie turns into his shoulder and wills herself to breath normal.
She just shakes her head and won't look up so he sighs and falls silent but his fingers start trailing slowly through the strands of her hair.
Those orbiting thoughts are starting to press in and tomorrow there's Britta and Slater and her parents and messy conversations and possible disaster and chaos and she absolutely does not know what's going to happen.
Jeff's finger is tracing along the edge of her ear.
She slides her head up and back so that her nose is pressed against the side of his neck and she just breathes him in.
There are a million possible things to say and she can't just pick one and maybe have it be the wrong thing.
"We. We should hang out this summer."
He laughs and she moves along with it, the deep rumbling in his chest.
She pulls away a little bit and looks at him. He traces the line of her eyebrow then tucks a lose strand of hair behind her ear and he's nodding, with a hint of a smile so she just relaxes and sinks back into him.
It's not a lot, it's not everything but it's right for now.
Everything else is everything else and they can figure it out later.
For now – she closes her eyes and it's just the rise and fall of his chest and this foggy recollection of the day and his smile and the sun warm on her skin, until everything starts to blur around the edges and she finally drifts off to sleep.
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