Title: The Aftermath
Summary: What happens immediately following the last scene of the finale?
Disclaimers: I don't own Community. Sigh.
A/N: Spoilers through the finale!
For about three seconds, Annie felt relieved and exhilarated at the same time, like living in the moment was finally paying off. Her mind went blissfully blank, and she focused solely on the physical sensations overwhelming her. By the fourth second of the kiss, a teensy bit of uncertainty edged its way into her brain, whispering things like 'impulsive' and 'regret' and 'Britta.'
But then his hand was on the back of her head, gently urging her lips even closer to his, and her arms somehow made their way around his shoulders so that she was hugging him tightly, and she was living in the moment again. Her brain was shut off at the moment, so she wasn't thinking about how much softer and more intimate this felt than kissing Vaughn ever did, but she would reflect on it later.
She didn't know for exactly how long they'd been kissing when she heard a distinctly feminine gasp.
She and Jeff scrambled apart, and in a split second Annie went from feeling bold and confident to feeling mortified and guilty and she did her famous Look Everywhere But At The Person Who Caught You Routine ™ that worked so well on Shirley when Pierce was giving his fake apology to the wrong woman.
She was so busy not looking at the gasper that it wasn't until Jeff said, "Troy?" that she realized it wasn't Britta or Slater and she therefore had a chance at getting out of this unscathed.
Troy's eyes were wide and his mouth agape. He gasped again, and then resorted to pointing mutely at the two of them.
"Has anyone ever told you your gasp is disturbingly girlish?" Jeff asked.
"Abed's gonna freak out!" Troy sputtered.
Three thoughts raced through Annie's mind in rapid succession. First, how weird it is that Troy's first thought is about what Abed will think of this and not Britta?; then of course he thinks of Abed first, and immediately after that oh no! He's going to tell Abed!
"No he's not going to freak out, because you're not going to tell him," Jeff said, sounding authoritative.
"I'm not?" Troy asked.
Jeff gave Annie a pointed glance, and she sprung into action. She took two steps toward Troy and placed her hands on his shoulders. He scanned her face curiously, and that's when Annie struck. Her eyes grew wide and glistened with unshed tears, her lip trembled, she got the tiniest little crinkle line in her forehead. This was the Disney Face ™.
"Troy, what you saw was just a crazy impulsive moment. Neither of us were thinking clearly about how our actions would affect the others," she said.
Troy's eyes darted over to Jeff, who nodded in agreement. Annie used one index finger to gently drag Troy's face back to hers before she continued.
"I don't know what I'd do if the group found out! Probably DIE!" she wailed.
"Whoa!" Troy exclaimed.
"I mean, maybe not, but you never know!" Annie clarified, still wailing.
Annie released Troy and he stumbled backwards a few steps. Annie glanced up at Jeff, who gave her a subtle nod of approval. Troy was peering at Jeff peculiarly. Then his eyes grew wide, as if a sudden realization was dawning on him.
"Britta's your giant cookie! Isn't she? That's why you won't be with her! Is Annie your Pierce?" he asked.
"What?" Annie balked.
"I got this one," Jeff murmured, placing a calming hand on her arm.
"Troy, I don't have a giant cookie in my life right now. I'm jealous of you. What you have with Abed is special," Jeff explained.
Annie frowned and opened her mouth to ask what cookies had to do with anything, but Jeff gently squeezed her arm, and she fell silent.
"It is special," Troy concurred.
"In fact," Jeff continued. "You love sharing things with Abed, right? All kinds of things."
"Of course. Like last week, I saw a tree that looked like Herman Munster, so I texted Abed and I was like—"
"Exactly!" Jeff interjected.
Troy eyed him in bewilderment.
"You don't want to share too much with him—the giant cookie principle still applies. You want to keep some mystery in the relationship."
"So… I shouldn't tell Abed that I just saw you making out with Annie, because that'll ruin our friendship?"
"Yes," Annie confirmed.
"And this—this meant nothing? Annie's not your giant cookie?" Troy asked.
Both Annie and Jeff opened their mouths to speak, but hesitated, uncertainly meeting each other's gaze. Annie still had no clue what cookies had to do with anything, but the kiss definitely meant something. She'd had no time to process anything. She didn't know what to make of it. Only an hour ago she was on her way across the country with her then-boyfriend.
Before they could confer and come up with a suitable response, a very disturbing sight appeared in front of them.
It was Senor Chang, flanked by two full-grown men in dalmatian costumes. Chang's knuckles were bleeding and his black cummerbund had come undone. Bits of red had also made their way onto his white tux. He triumphantly loosened his bow tie, held his hands over his head, and shouted.
"YES! I am victorious! All bow down before me, for I have vanquished my foe!"
Then they heard the sirens. An ambulance careened through the parking lot before coming to a sudden stop in front of them. People began flooding out of the building as the EMTs went in.
"What happened?" Annie asked.
"Chang attacked Duncan," Jeff said matter-of-factly.
Annie emitted a little "oh," but before she could ask any other questions, she saw all of the color drain from Jeff's face. She spun around to see what he was looking at, and was met with the sight of Britta exiting the building. She held her heels in one hand as she hobbled barefoot towards them. Her hair was askew and she had a bloody lip. Shirley was marching beside her, a resolute frown on her face. Abed and Pierce trailed behind them, each with a plate of snacks that they had carried out with them.
"Oh, god. Britta, what did you do? Is Slater okay?" Jeff inquired urgently.
"Oh, please," Britta scoffed.
"Someone's getting a little full of himself," Pierce snorted.
"Slater and I were not fighting over you, Jeff. God," Britta said, rolling her eyes.
"Well, with the way this episode of Dawson's Creek has been going, I just figured a girl fight would round out the evening! And I'm sorry, but were you, or were you not the girl that not ten minutes ago threatened to give Slater a patent on getting her ass kicked?" he demanded.
Britta glared. It was Shirley who spoke up next.
"Chang was fending off the dalmatians and one of them landed on Britta."
"I bit my lip as I fell," Britta concluded.
"Jeff's right, though. A fight between the two female characters vying for his affection would have been the perfect coda for an episode that has been decidedly off-tone," Abed remarked helpfully.
"Two female characters!" Troy let out in a pained squeak. He was staring at Abed, desperate to share his secret knowledge.
"Man up!" Annie growled under her breath.
The group seemed to notice her for the first time.
"Annie, what are you doing here still?" Shirley asked.
"Change of plans," she said meekly.
"I'll fill you in on what you missed," Abed said. "Britta and Slater got caught up in a competition over Jeff's attention which escalated into a very awkward moment in which both women declared their love for him in a strange display of desperation that seems out of character for either of them. Then Jeff ran away."
"I can't believe you ran off like that!" Shirley scolded.
Jeff looked cowed.
"Look, it was an ambush in there! There were declarations of love flying at me from all directions. Any guy would have panicked," he complained.
Britta glowered at him.
"Yeah, well I'm really sorry that I burdened you with my feelings."
Jeff's expression softened. His shoulders slumped.
"Of course I didn't mean it that way. And I'm sorry I ran out and left you there and that my initial response prior to running away was, 'I'm flattered.' That's no way to treat someone who just poured their heart out to you," Jeff said sincerely.
Glancing hesitantly at the group, he continued.
"I just… I had no idea. None. I mean, we flirted, yeah, and we had that thing during paintball—"
"What thing?" Annie asked.
"We had sex. Whoop-dee-doo," Britta said flatly.
"What?" Annie cried.
"On our study room table!" Shirley wailed.
"WHAT?" Pierce and Troy shouted.
Abed merely looked contemplative. Jeff, on the other hand, was trying to catch Annie's eye, but she was staring resolutely in the opposite direction, her mouth set in a firm line. Jeff sighed and turned back to Britta.
"I guess what I'm asking is when in the time span between paintball and the Tranny Dance did you fall in love with me?" he asked desperately.
Britta seemed stunned by the question. She faltered a moment, then replied slowly, as if the answer was coming to her as she spoke.
"I wouldn't say it was one particular moment… You know, it's just… Jeff, you are what I never knew I always wanted. And… if you love someone you say it, right then, out loud. Otherwise the moment just… passes you by."
Jeff seemed at a loss. Annie was staring off into the distance more determinedly than ever. Pierce was busy cleaning his teeth with a toothpick. Shirley let out a little "That's nice!" but Troy's forehead crinkled in confusion.
"That sounded… familiar," he mused.
Shirley paused and tilted her head to the side, replaying Britta's statement in her head.
"It does…" she murmured.
"Abed," Jeff prompted.
"The first part was Matthew Perry to Selma Hayek in Fools Rush In. The second part was from My Best Friend's Wedding."
The group openly gaped at Britta.
"Oh, Britta!" Shirley exclaimed.
"What?" Britta snapped defensively. "Abed always expresses himself through film and no one ever 'Oh, Abed's him!"
"This is sort of like on Scrubs when Carla's brother Marcos told Turk he wrote his wedding vows for him as a favor, but it turns out he just cribbed them from When Harry Met Sally," Abed noted.
"See!" Britta asserted.
"Britta, you do love Jeff. Right?" Shirley asked uncertainly.
Annie stopped staring into the distance and snuck a glance at Britta. Jeff held his breath.
"Of course I do! Duh. Way more than Slater," Britta said, as if any suggestion otherwise was ridiculous.
Jeff winced and let out the breath he was holding.
"Look, Britta… you're an awesome person and a great friend, I just…"
He trailed off. Britta seemed resigned to his rejection.
"Don't love me," she finished for him.
"I don't regret anything we shared—" Annie made a strange sound, but Jeff continued. "I just don't see it becoming anything more."
Shirley murmured, "Oh, no!" and rushed to Britta's side, putting a comforting arm around her.
"Took my advice, huh? Screw her and move on!" Pierce said proudly.
"I will stab you with that toothpick," Britta growled.
Then, looking back to Jeff, her expression melted into one of sadness and resignation.
"So I guess Slater's won," she muttered.
"What? No!" he rushed to assure her. "I'm not choosing either of you. I'm not in love with either of you, so it wouldn't be right."
Troy let out a little yelp, as if the burden of his secret was causing him literal pain. Jeff shot him a warning glare.
Before Britta could respond, a bruised and bloodied Professor Ian Duncan was wheeled out in front of them by the EMTs. He squirmed franticly on the gurney, forcing the EMTs to struggle to pin him down as they moved.
"I could've taken 'im! If there hadn't've been six of him and only one of me! And he was moving so quickly! He interrupf-interupppbbt—cut off my rap! D'you want to hear my rap? It goes like thiiiiiiis…"
Duncan inhaled deeply, coughed a little (bringing up a tiny amount of blood, to the disgust of the gang) and began.
"'I've got a REAL big penis, and I drink lots of tea! And all these bitches, they be hot for my bachelors degree! I'm a college professor, not an English marquis, but my accent is so fly that—AHHHH! Be careful! Oh, bollocks, it feels like my face is going to fall off!"
The onlookers cringed as they saw Duncan curl up into a ball on the stretcher. Mercifully, the ambulance doors closed seconds later.
"Sooooo…" Troy said, trailing off.
"I guess there's really nothing left to say," Britta said softly.
"Yeah, that felt like a good tag scene. The Britta and Jeff thing is dangling a bit, but that's not bad in a finale. I think we're done here," Abed concurred.
"Oh! Well… goodbye everyone! Hope to see you over the summer!" Shirley chirped.
"Troy, we'll be in touch!" Pierce said. Troy nodded.
Jeff and Britta shared a wary look; then Britta shook her head and started toward the parking lot with the others. Only Annie and Jeff stood fixed in place, not facing each other. Jeff steeled himself and turned to Annie.
"Annie, look…" he started.
But Annie looked suddenly panicked. She started walking after the rest of the group.
"Um, guys? I actually don't have a car with me," she called out.
The gang turned back around.
"Annie, I'll take you home," Shirley offered pleasantly.
Annie brightened immediately.
"I hope you don't mind sitting in the backseat. I gave my friend Gary a ride here."
Annie stopped walking. She scrunched up her face in barely concealed revulsion.
"Oh. I'd be riding with Gary," she said stiltedly.
"I'll drive you home," Britta offered quickly, giving Annie a knowing nod.
"No!" Annie shouted.
She froze, her eyes open wide. The study group was bewildered.
"I live in the complete opposite direction," she added meekly.
"It's fine. I don't mind," Britta said carefully, as if she was speaking to a hysterical child.
"I wouldn't feel right… imposing," Annie replied, her voice getting steadily higher pitched.
"Don't be silly. You're no Gary," Britta laughed.
"His winter lasts for seven months! Would you be cheerful?" she rebuffed.
"Thanks, Britta, but I really can't," Annie squeaked at an extraordinary pitch.
"Ooookay," Britta said, squinting peculiarly at her.
Annie looked hopefully at Abed.
"I don't have a car. And I live here," he pointed out.
Her eyes drifted over to Troy.
"I rode my bike here," the football player said apologetically
Her gaze traveled to Pierce, and then speeded on by him, holding up a warning hand before he could say anything truly offensive. Britta groaned.
"Annie, just come with me. Really, it's not a big—"
"I'll take Annie," Jeff blurted out.
The group was startled by his urgent tone. Pierce laughed.
"It's funny, because 'take' can also mean—"
"Home. I'll take her home. To her home. Of course," Jeff interjected before Pierce could say something worse.
"I'm not sure I want to go with you, Jeff. You've been through so much tonight. So many interesting revelations," she said pointedly.
"Come on, Annie," Jeff pleaded.
Abed frowned. His eyes darted back and forth between the quarreling pair.
"Something's off," he announced.
"No it isn't!" Annie denied immediately.
Abed pursed his lips and squinted at them, clearly deep in thought.
"No, something's definitely off. Between you two," Abed said.
"Oh, Abed, nothing's going on. I'm just glad Annie's back, but aren't we all?"
Troy let out a pained squeal. Abed turned on him like a bird stalking its prey.
"Troy knows. What is it Troy?" he inquired.
Troy balled his hands into fists and squeezed his eyes shut.
"I can't, Abed! You're my giant cookie!" he howled.
"I'll make a film where we recreate the shark episode of Happy Days," Abed enticed.
Troy squeaked again. Jeff and Annie looked at Troy, then at each other, terrified.
"You can play the Fonz," Abed added.
"I CAUGHT JEFF AND ANNIE MAKING OUT LIKE FIVE MINUTES AGO!" Troy bellowed, unable to contain himself any longer.
"WHAT?" Britta and Shirley shouted in chorus.
Britta whirled on Annie, whose eyes had gone large and doe-like.
"Oh, don't even attempt the Disney thing on me right now!" she snapped. "Do you mean to tell me that right after I declared my love for Jeff, you put your lips on his?" she demanded.
"I'm so sorry, Britta!" Annie cried.
"Now, hold on, Britta. Annie probably didn't know about any declarations of love, did you Annie?" Shirley asked hopefully.
Annie's little forehead crinkle grew into an all-out canyon as she screwed up her face in despair.
"We weren't thinking! I had just broken up with Vaughn, and Jeff was confused," Annie bawled.
"And YOU!" Britta yelled, whipping around to face Jeff. "That big speech about how sorry you were for the way you left me at the dance, was any of that even true?"
Jeff held up his hands in front of him as a show of surrender.
"Okay, admittedly, this seems really bad," he said as calmly as possible.
"Hmmm," Abed murmured. "Actually this makes perfect sense."
"Oh, does it?" Britta laughed. "Of course it does, because tonight is Everybody Kick Britta While She's Down Night."
Ignoring her, Abed continued.
"Choosing between Britta and Slater was choosing between knowing who you are or trying to become someone better—essentially it was a choice between settling or overreaching. But Annie has been the one person responsible for most of your turning points as a character this year."
When Jeff made to object, Abed rushed to explain.
"Think about it—Annie got you to actually put forth effort on the Debate Team; she drove you to put Pierce's friendship above a quickie with his ex-stepdaughter; she was the one who forced you to see that caring deeply about your friends is okay even when it makes you do crazy things; she—"
"All right, we get it," Britta snapped.
Abed glanced at Britta briefly before driving his point home.
"Annie has been subtly helping you realize that deep down, you're already a good person. Her innocence and desire to see the best in people has pushed you to change for the better without you even realizing it was happening. She's the best of both worlds—you can know who you are and grow as a human being."
Both Annie and Jeff were staring at Abed in dumbfounded wonder. After a second, they managed to look at each other. Jeff's stomach did a somersault.
"She is your giant cookie! I knew it!" Troy gasped.
Annie nervously turned back to Britta.
"Britta, you have to believe me when I say that I never meant to hurt you," she pleaded.
Britta seemed momentarily stunned, but quickly recovered.
"Yeah, well maybe you should've thought about that before you started sucking face with Jeff two minutes after I—is that Professor Slater?"
The gang turned simultaneously to where Britta was looking. Sure enough, Slater was marching in their direction. As she neared them, Britta adopted a defiant stance, arms crossed in front of her.
"So, has Jeff decided to slum it for a while longer, Bon Qui Qui?" she asked, sounding bored.
"Actually, he chose neither of us," Britta replied, an odd calm coming over her.
"Really?" Slater scoffed.
Britta smiled maliciously.
"Yeah, really. Jeff chose Annie," she announced.
Slater bristled, reeling back in disbelief. Jeff began to interject, but Britta was talking again.
"That's right bitch! Jeff chose a child over you! In your FACE!" she shouted.
Slater's nostrils flared. She looked as though she might slap Britta, and for about five seconds Pierce imagined a number of exciting scenarios that might ensue. The moment passed, however, and Slater merely gritted her teeth and turned to Annie.
"Congratulations, PowerPuff. Maybe Jeff can get you a fake ID so you two can go to all the grown-up clubs together!" she sniped.
Annie gasped, and Shirley prepared to say something very unchristian to the professor, but Britta beat her to the punch.
"Awww, sour grapes, Professor? How does that feel, huh? I bet it stings. Well, SUCK IT!" she shouted, delighted.
Slater gave Britta a nasty sneer, before turning to face Jeff.
"Jeff, when you come to your senses and realize that what we had was real, don't come calling. You missed your chance."
She turned on her heel and left, her stilettos clicking roughly on the pavement as she went.
"Yeah, I'm sure he'll be banging down your door real soon! Don't hold your breath!" Britta called after her. "Ha! Did you see her face? She was—oh."
Britta stopped mid-celebration when she realized that everyone was staring at her. An odd silence hung in the air. It was Jeff who broke it.
"What the hell?" he asked, exasperated.
"Oh for god's sake, Brittles, just come out of the closet already. You had more chemistry with Professor Small Boobs just then than you ever had with Jeff," Pierce complained.
"Britta… you were saying? Something about how you were heartbroken and Annie should be ashamed for stealing your man?" Shirley gently prompted.
Britta opened her mouth. She closed her mouth. She opened it again. Still no sound came out.
"I know what's happening," Abed announced. "One of Britta's chief character traits is her fragile ego. While she likes Jeff and occasionally entertains the thought of dating him, the threat of an alpha female swooping in and taking him from her without her consent is what actually drove her to extremes. She had to put her claim on him somehow, and a very public declaration of love was a last ditch effort to keep her from losing to Professor Slater."
"Oh, who are you now, Professor Duncan?" Britta snapped.
Shirley nervously fiddled with her hands, biting her lip before daring to speak.
"Britta, is this true? Was it all a lie just to beat Slater?" she asked tremulously.
Britta scanned the faces of her study group partners, who were suddenly all lined up facing her. She winced at the accusation in their eyes (except for Pierce, who was back to eating from his snack plate).
"Okay, fine! Now that I'm rethinking the situation, maybe… maybe I don't love you Jeff," Britta admitted curtly.
"You don't?" Jeff asked. His body tensed.
"No, but that doesn't mean you aren't still a huge jerk for abandoning me in there!" Britta reminded him.
But Jeff wasn't listening to her rebuke. His entire frame sagged in relief. Without realizing what he was doing, he slung an arm around Annie's shoulder and leaned into her. She stiffly inched away, sparing a nervous glance at Britta. Jeff frowned and turned back to Britta.
"So you, what, saw Slater kiss me your best possible option to fend her off was to say you loved me? That's the idea that made the cut?" he pressed.
"What?" Annie squeaked.
Jeff froze, immediately recognizing his mistake.
"When did you kiss Slater? Tonight?" she asked.
"Yeah, it was around the time that you were in Sundance's VW van headed to Delaware," Jeff countered.
"He drives a Prius," Annie corrected, her voice full of defiance.
The group groaned. Troy could be heard muttering, "Of course he does."
"How did he afford a Prius when he can't even afford a shirt?" Jeff asked.
Britta took two determined steps and placed herself in between the arguing duo.
"As adorable as this whole jealousy act is, could we get back to the matter at hand?" she prompted.
"And what is that? How you declared your fake love for Jeff just to get one up on his ex?" Annie asked.
"No," Britta sneered. "How you and Jeff made out two minutes after I declared my love for him before you knew that I wasn't really in love with him."
"Can you really be mad at us for that? Listen to that sentence again," Jeff suggested.
"Okay, everybody shut up!" Pierce shouted.
Everyone fell silent immediately. Pierce seemed surprised at his own power, but quickly recovered once he realized that all eyes were on him.
"You're all being ridiculous," he stated. "Britta, you let your uterus get the best of you, made a fool of yourself, put Jeff in an awkward position, and now you're just feeling sorry for yourself. Annie, you broke up with Tiny Nipples all of twenty minutes ago and you're already throwing yourself at another man, which, while good news for men on campus, is shameful to your gender. And Jeff, you had your chance to screw three women and somehow messed it all up, so you are the greatest disappointment of all."
If the group had been hoping for a rallying speech about friendship and sticking together, they were sorely disappointed. And yet…
"Pierce is right," Jeff said.
At the skeptical looks of his friends, he continued.
"Sort of. I mean, we've all acted like idiots tonight. I think that an entire year of Greendale has infected us with the crazy bug. You know what we need?" he asked.
"A time machine?" Britta muttered miserably.
"No. Summer vacation," Jeff countered.
The gang paused to consider this idea, and Jeff continued.
"We make a great team. We tolerate each other's faults and enjoy each other's quirks. We've grown together this year. If any one of us left the group, we would all be less for it. We like each other. Maybe we just need a little time apart to dilute some of the crazy that Greendale has injected into us."
The group glanced hesitantly at each other.
"Oh my god!" Britta moaned. "You're right! I'm sorry for the major amount of crazy that I was personally responsible for this evening," she offered sincerely, looking at Jeff.
Shirley patted her on the shoulder. Annie gave her a little smile.
"It's okay," Jeff replied. "It's been a weird night all around."
"You said it, gang!" Dean Pelton exclaimed, leaping out from the bushes behind them.
"Really? The man who slow danced with two adult men in dalmatian costumes tonight gets to comment on weirdness?" Troy asked.
The Dean bristled slightly, but pretended he hadn't heard Troy at all.
"Listen team, Campus Security is going to arrive in a moment here—"
"In record time," Jeff quipped.
"—and they're going to want to survey the scene and collect evidence from our little fisticuffs display earlier this evening, so I'm going to need you all to move on out!" he finished cheerfully.
Slowly, like battle-weary soldiers, the study group marched towards the parking lot. Before leaving, they exchanged last minute goodbyes. Abed and Troy hugged for much longer than Shirley thought Jesus would approve of. Britta and Jeff awkwardly went in for a handshake and somehow ended up with a fist bump. Pierce tried for a hug that Annie adeptly turned into a gentle shoulder pat.
Finally, they piled into their vehicles. As Britta noticed Annie getting into Jeff's Lexus, she couldn't help herself.
"Oh, I'm sorry, but come on! Shirley, you're not going to say anything about that?" she asked, pointing.
Shirley paused, looking at war with herself for a moment before she spoke.
"Jeffrey, I'm going to leave the necessary comments about Annie's age and inexperience unspoken in the spirit of ending the year on a pleasant note, but if you even think about pulling anything, I just want you to picture this face."
She drew her brows together, giving him her most formidable Mom Glare ™. Jeff shuddered and saluted her.
"Aye, aye, ma'am."
Britta sighed, but entered her car. And so the Spanish study group departed for the summer.
Jeff and Annie passed the first five minutes of their ride in silence, Jeff occasionally craning his neck to look out a non-broken part of his windshield. Then they both started to speak at the same time.
"Look, about Britta—"
"Jeff, I know—"
The laughed nervously, and Jeff gestured for her to go first.
"I was just going to say that I know I'm being unreasonable by getting mad out about the thing with Britta and the kiss with Slater. Obviously neither of us planned what happened between us after the dance, so you don't owe me anything. And the kiss was really spontaneous and we were both just in a strange place, so I totally understand if you want to pretend it didn't happen," she said quickly.
"You would really be okay with that?" he asked.
"Well, I mean, I know that you were trying to avoid dealing with the whole Britta versus Slater thing, and I was fresh off a breakup with my boyfriend, so I just think that it wouldn't be a bad idea for us to just call it a mulligan," she rambled nervously.
"A mulligan," Jeff repeated.
"Yes?" Annie replied in a way that sounded more like a question.
Jeff stared at the road for a few moments. Annie swallowed hard and forced herself to face front as well. Then she felt his hand hovering near her face. He gently pushed a few soft waves off her face, tucking the hair behind her ear. She turned slowly to look at him.
"You didn't flinch," he said.
"Why would I flinch? You were just moving my hair," she replied.
For reasons that Annie failed to comprehend, this sentiment seemed to make up Jeff's mind. Without warning, he swerved to the right, pulling them onto the shoulder. Annie clutched her armrests and squeezed her eyes shut. The car came to an abrupt stop.
"Jeff, what the heck is going on?" she demanded.
Her heart was reverberating in her chest. He put the car in park.
"I'm sorry," he said hastily, but failed to offer any further explanation.
Annie eyed him warily. He seemed to be struggling with something, his expression tensing.
"A mulligan means we get a do-over, right?" he asked suddenly.
Annie's heart skipped exactly three-and-a-half beats as she processed his question.
"What?" she asked dazedly.
Without repeating himself, Jeff reached out and softly rested one hand on the back of her neck. He reached out slowly and ran his fingers through her hair. Annie took in a shaky breath. Her eyes darted down to his lips. And then their lips were touching, and her eyes were drifting shut.
There was an odd, exhilarating terror racing through her veins. Then the kiss deepened. He leaned over the center console and she hummed a pleasant 'we're repeated Spanish next year' sort of sigh that vibrated against his lips, and the fear melted away. It was replaced by a rush of heat and urgency that had Annie grasping onto his suit jacket and pulling him further out of the driver's seat. He groaned, but it didn't sound like a bad groan to Annie, and she smiled against his lips. Slowly, they pulled apart.
It took a moment or two for his eyes to focus, but when they did he gave her a dazzling smile.
"Did I tell you how glad I am that you told the future Yngwie Macadangdang Jr. goodbye." He paused before adding. "See ya later." Another pause. "Hasta la vista."
"Jeff!" Annie scolded, but she was still smiling.
"At the risk of sounding cheesy, I want to tell you that while that kiss outside of the dance was spontaneous, it is not something that I want to forget," he said sincerely.
She felt her heart skip again. Her mind was spinning with thoughts, and then she realized, hey, this is Jeff. I can just tell him what I'm thinking.
"This living in the moment thing is kind of nice," she said, smiling affectionately. "It sort of eliminates that desire to live two lives at once. I feel like I can just be, you know?" she asked.
"Okay, now that was cheesy," Jeff teased.
"Deal with it," Annie retorted.
She placed her hand over his on the gear shift. He smiled.