Title: Sink or Swim
Summary: This fic was a response to this prompt : A day at the lake - jetskis - Annie and Jeff get lost/run out of gas/whatever that involves the two of them getting stranded by themselves away from the group.
Disclaimer: I own a Ford Taurus, a modest home in the suburbs, and a large dog. Regrettably, I own no television shows.
Spoilers: Through the finale
Jeff's phone chimed for the millionth time that day (approximately). He had been avoiding listening to his voicemails, but it was time to stop putting off the inevitable. He clicked off the TV, sighed, and hit speed dial 1.
You have seven new messages.
"Hey, Jeff. Pierce here. Never got your RSVP for my 4th of July shindig at the lake house. Call me back. I need to know how many wieners to get."
[Jeff could hear Troy snickering in the background]
"Jeff, Pierce again. Still waiting on that RSVP. If you just show up, you might go wienerless, and I know how much that would upset you. [pause] HEY TROY! DID YOU HEAR WHAT I TOLD JEFF ABOUT WIENERS? [another pause] IT WAS HILARIOUS!"
"Jeff, Pierce. Listen, if you're on your period or something, you don't have to swim. Just let me know if you're coming."
"Winger, the world doesn't revolve around you, you know. [pause] But seriously, no one's going to come if you don't. Troy and I can't have a Sausage Fest all by ourselves!'"
"Jeff, this is Troy. Come on man, you have to call Pierce back. He is going seriously insane. He keeps talking about sausage fests and telling me the same wiener joke again and again. And it was only funny the first, like, eight times."
"You know what, Jeff? I don't even want you to come, all right? Consider yourself uninvited. You'd probably be more concerned about oiling up your waxed torso than celebrating the birth of our nation anyways."
"Jeff, I didn't mean that last message. Come on. The party's tomorrow. Abed's bringing fireworks. Shirley's bringing brownies. Britta's bringing her comically hostile feminism. And—Troy, what's up, buddy? What? I am not calling Jeff again. That's preposterous! Hey, what are you doing? Don't grab at the phone! I knew it was only a matter of time before you started stealing things! What? That's not racist! You're the racist for even suggesting that! Wait, don't—"
Jeff let out an exasperated huff of air and flipped his phone shut.
Pierce had sent out Facebook invites for his Independence Day cookout two weeks ago, and everyone else in the group had clicked "attending" except for Jeff. The reason he didn't was precisely that everyone else did. Everyone. Including…
There was a knock at his door.
"Open up!" rang out an order.
For about two seconds, Jeff considered pretending he wasn't home.
"I know you're in there! Your classy saran-wrapped Lexus is parked out front!"
Needless to say, the idea was short-lived. Grunting discontentedly, Jeff slumped over to the door and petulantly yanked it open.
"Oh, hi sunshine!" Britta greeted, slipping passed him and into Jeff's condo.
That's right. Britta Perry was waltzing into his home as if she hadn't awkwardly professed her love for him a mere six weeks ago, resulting in an excruciating public rejection. Not that Jeff was surprised.
Last month, after two weeks of avoiding him, Britta had shown up unceremoniously at Jeff's place and thrust an envelope at him.
"Is this a court summons? Because I swear I'm not the one who painted black and white spots on the dean's car."
"Just read it," she said, not meeting his eyes.
He tore open the envelope to reveal a… Fathers' Day card.
He stumbled back into the door jam, trying to blink away the black spots overcoming his vision.
"What?" Britta asked, confused. Then her eyes widened in understanding.
"No, no, no! It's not really a Fathers' Day card like, 'Hey, you knocked me up!' I was trying to do the cute thing you did back in the fall with the Bar mitzvah and Secretary's Day cards," she rushed to explain.
He was now doubled over, hands on his knees, as he tried to catch his breath. He still lacked the ability to form words.
"You know, like, if you think of our friendship as fatherhood and my insane declaration of love as the trials and tribulations of child rearing that all good fathers learn to deal with… Plus it's June and there are mostly Fathers' Day cards out now," Britta rambled.
Jeff was upright again, and took a deep healing breath before speaking.
"Britta, can I offer you some friendly advice?"
She nodded meekly.
"When you have a one night stand with a guy, don't wait a month and then show up at his door with an ironic Fathers' Day card," he said.
There was an awkward pause. Britta looked past him, silently begging entry. He motioned for her to come in. They settled uncomfortably on his couch, on opposite ends.
"Look, I'm already messing this up, but I just wanted to tell you that I don't love you."
There was a beat.
"But Britta, what about our unborn child? He'll be raised in a broken home," Jeff replied.
Britta narrowed her eyes at him. He sighed.
"Okay, seriously? Not that I'm not relieved, but when did you come to this conclusion?" he asked.
"Pretty much immediately after you left. More precisely it was sometime in between when Chang started attacking Professor Duncan and when the dean accidentally pepper sprayed Starburns in the face in the ensuing scuffle."
Jeff nodded contemplatively. Britta took this as her cue to continue.
"Basically, Jeff, something about Greendale has rewired my brain to react like a character from The Hills. I just saw Slater with her paws on you and reacted in the best way I could think to get her to stop. Which was INSANE, I know," she added when he looked ready to interject.
"So, you don't love me?" Jeff asked.
Britta shook her head.
"Okay. And can I just say that I'm sorry that I bailed on you?" Jeff added tentatively.
"Aw, thanks!" Britta said, giving him a smile. Then the smile morphed into a terrifying scowl. "You'd better be! I got a sympathetic pat on the shoulder from one of the dean's dalmatian pals! A furry felt sorry for me!"
She gave him a smack on the chest, which he dutifully accepted.
"I'm sorry! It was a really crappy thing to do. I don't know if you've ever noticed this, but I kind of have a problem dealing with…" he trailed off, searching for the right word.
"Feelings?" Britta suggested. "Mommy issues? Women who aren't impressed by your hair?"
"Mostly the first one," he replied. "But I'm not gonna lie, I'm plagued by all three."
She let out a quiet laugh.
"Friends?" she asked.
"Of course," he said. "But let's leave the ironic card-giving in this relationship up to me from now on, okay?"
They had been texting daily since that encounter, and meeting up occasionally for a beer or coffee (not green tea). Although neither of them admitted it, they were both desperate to get their friendship back on track to wash away the weirdness of the Tranny Dance. So it wasn't at all odd that halfway through summer Britta was simply strolling into his condo.
"Please come in, Britta," Jeff said sarcastically to an invisible Britta still standing in his doorway.
When he turned around, Britta was already seated on his couch.
"You have to come to Pierce's lake house tomorrow," she stated.
"And why is that?" he queried.
She glared at him.
"Because if you don't people are going to assume it's because of me, and they'll get all weird about the Tranny Dance. Let's show them that we're cool now so they can forget about my night of shame and degradation."
Jeff thoughtfully stroked his chin.
"So… basically this is all about you?" he clarified.
"Sometimes things are about other people, Jeff. No matter what your mother told you," Britta quipped.
Jeff plopped down onto the sofa next to her.
"Fine, I'll go. But not because you told me too," he pouted.
"Awww. Did you mother let you get away with that one as a kid too?" she asked.
He let that slide. She stuck around for another hour, watching a rerun of Bridezillas with him while giving him a running commentary of the ways in which the bridal industry was exactly like Apartheid. As she left she scolded him one last time for not just RSVPing sooner.
Of course, Jeff couldn't tell Britta why he was avoiding a group get together. He had a sneaking suspicion that admitting he'd made out with one of her closest friends immediately following her heartfelt (albeit misguided) announcement might cause some friction in their renewed friendship.
He and Annie hadn't spoken since the Tranny Dance, and based on how Jeff had acted that evening, he didn't have high hopes for their reunion.
Her lips were soft. She brushed her tongue against his own lips, and he groaned. They opened their mouths simultaneously and Jeff saw stars. Maybe it was just that the stress of the evening had suddenly come to a screeching halt and this was the moment of reprieve, but Jeff wasn't really interested in analyzing the whys and hows of his current situation.
Unfortunately, Annie was.
Just as Jeff inched his hand down to her lower back and drew her so close that he could feel the material of her dress through his shirt, she pulled back.
"What are we doing? This is crazy," she muttered, looking at her feet.
Jeff grunted noncommittally, still staring at her lips.
"Britta's my best friend, and she loves you. Oh my god," Annie whispered, still not meeting Jeff's eyes.
"Annie, don't freak out," he said, trying to stop her before she got going.
Her head snapped up and she frowned at him.
"Don't freak out?" she repeated incredulously. "Jeff, you should feel guilty too!"
Jeff reeled back.
"You leaned in first!" he accused.
She gasped, eyes wide.
"I didn't notice you complaining!" she retorted.
"That's not the point!" Jeff hissed.
"Why did you kiss back?" Annie demanded.
She looked almost nervous.
"Why did you kiss me in the first place?" Jeff countered.
She pursed her lips, unwilling to respond. Then, she shook her head.
"This was a mistake. We're both overwhelmed and not thinking straight," she informed him.
She was giving him an out. She was trying to help him, both of them, to move on from this without feeling like complete jerks. And yet he was irked.
"Really," he said skeptically. "That's why you kissed me? Because you were feeling overwhelmed."
"And confused," she said defensively.
"Is that normally your response to an overwhelming situation? Kiss the nearest guy?" he scoffed.
"Why are you mad at me now?" Annie balked.
"What happened to living in the moment?" he asked, ignoring her question.
"Says the guy who just walked out of a tense situation because it was too scary to deal with?" she said pointedly.
"Says the girl who wants to pretend that she just kissed me because she got confused and fell into my lips?"
Annie started to form a retort, but stopped herself, eyes softening.
"Why are we fighting?" she asked.
"I don't know!" Jeff snapped.
Annie let out a shaky breath.
"Look, I was going to pop in to let the group know that I'll be home for the summer, but I think it's best if I just go. My parents are waiting for me in the parking lot," she said.
He wasn't quite sure why her eagerness to run from a fight irritated him so much. He'd had enough drama for one night. He really didn't need to go about ruining what was the only genuine moment of peace he'd had that evening. But common sense aside, he was annoyed at getting the brush off.
"Yeah, sure. You should probably get going," he said dismissively.
Her frowned deepened.
"Okay. So… have a good summer, I guess. I'm sure we'll keep in touch," she replied.
They didn't keep in touch. He was a jerk. And now he was going to be face to face with her, and he just knew she was going to be all smiley and magnanimous and act like nothing happened for his sake, and somehow that just irritated him more.
In fact, if anything, he was more irritated the following morning as he prepared for the two-hour drive to Pierce's lake house. He could feel himself getting unreasonably hostile, and knew that there was a very good chance that he would make an ass of himself if given the opportunity, so he resolved to just avoid Annie entirely.
Britta picked him up, because they figured it made sense to carpool and Jeff's Lexus wasn't exactly in prime condition for a road trip. On the ride there, Britta decided that they needed to talk about their mission.
"So I think we should really lay the 'We're friends!' thing on thick. Make people realize that we're totally cool no. No awkwardness at all," she explained. "Maybe we should link arms as we walk in?"
She paused to consider her own directive.
"No, too much," she decided.
"Yes, what better way to show we're not awkward than by choreographing our friendship," Jeff said sarcastically.
"Hey, I just don't want people to think I'm in love with you," Britta replied.
"Well then I think we should definitely go with the linking arms thing," Jeff retorted.
Britta huffed and turned stared determinedly at the road.
"Ooh, can we also skip?" Jeff asked eagerly.
"How about I kick your ass. That would convince them I don't love you," she grumbled.
"Spoken like a woman scorned," he noted.
She refused to speak to him for the rest of the ride. Instead she listened to a Beck album cranked to top volume until they pulled onto what Jeff could conservatively describe as a palatial lakefront estate.
"Wow. The moist towelette game is no joke," Britta murmured as she parked.
They heard music coming from the rear of the house, so they made their way back. Jeff tried to link arms with Britta, but she shoved him away. He shrugged and started skipping by himself. She snorted with laughter and he grinned back at her. His skipping stopped abruptly, however, when Abed and Troy came into view.
"Whoa. Did you guys come here together?" Troy asked.
Britta jumped in.
"Yes! We did. Because Jeff and I are totally cool now. Why?" she said, aiming for casual and overshooting it by about a mile.
Troy gave her a dubious look that implied grave stupidity on her part.
"Um, maybe because you told Jeff you loved him in front of the entire school and then he walked out and left you standing there in a sash that said, 'Tranny Queen' on it," he explained slowly.
Britta scowled at him.
"Hey, Abed. Troy. It's good to see you guys," Jeff greeted.
They replied in kind.
"Everybody's down by the barbeque," Abed informed them.
They followed Abed down to the barbeque area, taking a moment to admire the view. The lake was enormous. They couldn't see the shore on the opposite end. The clear skies allowed the sun's rays to reflect off the lake in rippling waves. Soon, however, a new sight came into view. Pierce greeted them from an enormous stainless steel grill, waving his tongs above his head. He was wearing an apron and chef's hat, and looked positively in his element as party host.
Shirley rushed up to hug them both, raising an eyebrow at Britta. Britta shrugged and murmured, "We carpooled." Shirley smirked but covered it with a knowing, "Mmm-hmm."
"Jeff, Britta! So glad you could make it," Pierce said grandly.
It was only after his greeting that Jeff noticed Pierce's apron read 'Free Hot Dog! Bring your own bun' with an arrow pointing down.
"Thanks for inviting us, Pierce. That's quite the grill," Britta offered kindly.
"Indeed it is. The Crown Verity has ten burners on its seventy-two inches of beautiful grilling space, but don't worry Britta; I bought some disgusting tofu concoction for you so I wouldn't have to hear your bleat about the poor baby cows," he added, sounding disgusted by his own actions.
Britta smiled. She looked genuinely touched.
"Thanks, Pierce," she replied sincerely.
Of course, the moment didn't last. Within three seconds (Jeff counted) things descended into an argument in which both of them went back and forth a few times about what the meaning of 'real food' was, but Jeff tuned out almost immediately when Annie arrived. He was first alerted to her presence by Shirley's squeak of delight.
"Oh, Annie! So good to see you!" Shirley squealed, running up and giving her a huge hug.
Annie giggled and the pair performed a playful spin as they hugged. The movement drew Jeff's attention to the navy blue and white sundress that Annie was wearing. It flowed out at the bottom as she spun. Jeff's eyes continued downwards and he saw that, of course, she was wearing bright red sandals to complete the patriotic color scheme.
Jeff quickly looked away as Shirley and Annie released one another.
"Jeff, look! Annie's here!" Shirley chirped.
He looked up and saw Annie smiling kindly at him. She gave him a teeny wave, and Jeff found himself waving back.
"It's good to see you," he said, keeping his voice completely casual.
"You too," she replied, doing the same.
No indication that anything was off. At all.
"And also, back when cavemen ran around, they were able to hunt sustainably! Now people, especially Americans, eat and waste more than their fair share of what the environment has to offer!" Britta was shouting behind them.
"I will not stand here and listen to you badmouth America on her birthday! I would expect this from Abed, but not you," Pierce retorted.
"Um, guys? Annie's here," Jeff interjected.
"Oh, hi Annie!" Britta exclaimed, rushing forward for a hug.
Just as Britta reached her, Annie froze. While Britta wrapped her arms around her and squeezed, Annie just sort of bent her arms halfway and patted Britta gingerly on the back. She pulled back and gave Britta a tight smile and a nervous laugh.
So, some indication that something was off.
Jeff had never seen Annie so pleased to say hello to Pierce. She was so happy to step away from Britta that she returned Pierce's hug before she could think to go for the handshake instead.
"Whoa-ho-ho!" Pierce chuckled. "Calm it down a little, Annie! I haven't even broken out the booze yet."
Annie blushed and quickly released him. Pierce continued.
"But as long as you're here, why don't you throw one of those tofu dogs on a bun for Brittles and then get a real one for Jeff."
Jeff shook his head.
"I'm fine. I can get one later," he assured them.
"Nonsense, Jeff! Since when are you one to refuse to let a woman handle your meat?" Pierce cracked, laughing at his own joke.
"Charming," Jeff replied.
He felt his cheeks burn, which only multiplied his irritation. He wasn't some twelve-year-old boy being embarrassed in front of his crush, for god's sake! He compulsively checked the time on his cell phone.
"Oh, you can't get a signal out here," Abed said matter-of-factly.
"Awesome," Jeff muttered under his breath.
"No, Jeffrey, this is the real deal. Out here, it's just you and nature. It's a good place to recharge and get away from all the distractions of modern life," Pierce explained.
"You have an infinity pool and a tennis court," Jeff pointed out.
Abed spoke before Pierce could defend himself.
"This is starting to feel sort of like the setup to every teen horror movie. Seven friends went on vacation in a secluded lakeside home. It was supposed to be a retreat. Little did they know what awaited them in the water," he narrated.
Troy jumped in excitedly.
"And then it would be like, a mermaid, but with like, really sharp teeth."
"Vampire mermaid," Abed whispered in awe, and Jeff could already see his wheels turning.
"And with ninja fighting skills!" Troy added, inspired.
Abed nodded intensely.
"Did you bring your camera?" Troy asked.
"Always," Abed replied.
"Let's do this," he said determinedly.
They marched resolutely off to the house, on a mission.
"Annie, will you get shaking on Jeff's wiener?" Pierce scolded.
"Can we please call it a hot dog like the rest of the civilized world?" Jeff pleaded.
"In the supposed 'uncivilized' world, people don't eat over-processed meat. And if you saw what went into that hot dog, you wouldn't even want one."
Jeff nodded decisively.
"Well, that was enough to convince me. Hold the wiener, Annie."
He paused, then squeezed his eyes shut.
"It's fine. I don't mind," Annie said pleasantly. She held out a hot dog to him. "Here."
He took it from her, gritting his teeth as he felt his cheeks grow hot again.
"Would anybody like to play horseshoes?" Shirley asked. "You can eat while you play."
"I'll play," Britta acquiesced. She looked over to Jeff. "Be my partner, buddy?"
"Sure thing, pal," he replied, smirking.
They squared off on the pit, Britta and Jeff at one stake, Annie and Shirley at the other. Shirley went first. After her first throw, she shouted down to Jeff and Britta.
"Well, you two seem closer than ever," she called, grinning slyly.
Jeff squinted back at her between bites of hot dog, but Britta just gave him a friendly pat on the back.
"Yup, we're buds. Nothing weird going on here," she said pointedly.
"Mmm-hmm. Did you two drive together?" Shirley asked knowingly.
"Yeah. Jeff's Lexus is still all Chang-ed up," Britta informed her.
"Did you just coin a term for the destruction of one's car by a keytar-wielding Asian?" Jeff asked her.
"I did," Britta proudly confirmed.
"Well done," he said approvingly.
"Ooh, that's nice!" Shirley cooed.
She threw her second horseshoe, missing again, before moving aside for Annie. Annie looked very focused on the game. She got nearly perfect lift and direction on her horseshoes, but still only managed to ding the stake once.
When it was Jeff's turn to throw, he downed the rest of his hot dog and got ready. As he was gearing up to throw, he noticed Shirley whispering something to Annie, pausing to giggle a few times. He frowned, but shook it off and threw his first horseshoe.
As he prepared to throw his next shoe, Annie's voice stopped him.
"What?" she gasped, backing away from Shirley, eyes wide, hand covering her gaping mouth.
Jeff frowned, and tried to focus on the game instead of whatever Shirley had just told Annie. He threw his second horseshoe.
It was a ringer.
"Yes! In your faces!" Britta hooted.
She whooped, and held her hand up for a high five, which Jeff distractedly delivered. Shirley squealed again, grabbed hold of Annie's arm. Annie gave her a tight smile.
"You know, I just realized that Pierce might need some more help by the grill. I'll be back," she said perkily.
Jeff watched her leave, missing completely Britta's successful ringer.
"Yes! That's six to one, bitches!" she exclaimed, shocking Jeff back into the game.
"You make such an adorable couple!" Shirley blurted out, unable to help herself any longer.
"Whoa, couple?" Britta repeated, frowning in a horrified sort of way.
"Shirley, we're just friends," Jeff clarified.
"All right, you too. Of course you are," she said skeptically.
Britta still had her second horseshoe dangling from her hand. She looked positively shocked.
"Shirley, we're not trying to be coy here. Jeff and I have completely moved on from the Tranny Dance debacle. We're friends. That's it," she explained.
"Driving here together, joking around, overemphasizing the fact that you're 'just friends,' I see what's going on here!" Shirley maintained.
"Look, we're down a player. I'm going to go check on Annie," Jeff said, excusing himself.
Britta shot him a warning look. It was her, 'do not leave me or I will castrate you' look. Jeff shrugged mischievously and slipped away. As he left he heard Britta shouting, "—just carpooling, Shirley! We weren't parking at Lovers' Lane!"
Jeff quickened his step, but when he made it to the grill, Annie was nowhere to be found. Abed was, however.
"Jeff, how would you like to be in my movie?" he asked.
"Abed, I don't think—"
Jeff was interrupted by Britta's voice, which carried across the grounds like she was using a megaphone.
"JEFF WINGER! GET YOUR ASS BACK HERE RIGHT NOW AND HELP ME!"
Jeff turned back to Abed.
"I would love to be in your movie, Abed," he said earnestly.
"Great. Troy and I are taking Pierce's boat out to film our jet ski scenes. Do you know how to ride a jet ski?" Abed asked, starting down towards the dock.
"Absolutely! Okay, greatbuddlyletsgo!" Jeff rushed, pushing Abed along.
Britta and Shirley couldn't be far behind. He practically ran down the doc and leapt onto a four-seater jet boat.
Then he came to a screeching halt.
Troy was reclined on the rear bench seat, shirtless, both legs sandwiched in what appeared to be a one legged wetsuit, his feet encased in flippers that seemed to be glued together. His eyes were rimmed in turquoise shadow and his forehead was covered in sequins in various shades of blue and green that looked like glittering scales from a distance. In short, he was a merman.
But that wasn't what made him pause. No, that was to be expected.
It was Annie.
She was leaning over Troy, carefully applying additional sequins with tweezers and what appeared to be a bottle of rubber cement. Upon seeing Jeff, however, she dropped her tweezers and fumbled along the boat's floor to recapture them. She located them beside a large bag of props, and continued her duty.
"I didn't know anyone else was coming," Jeff said stiltedly.
"Annie offered to help us with Troy's costume. She had the idea of cutting and re-sewing Pierce's wetsuit," Abed explained, gesturing for Jeff to take a seat.
"Who had the idea to rubber cement sequins all over Troy's face?" Jeff asked.
"I did," Abed replied.
"Aaaand, who had the sequins?"
"We pulled them off of a novelty sombrero that Pierce has in his garage," Troy explained.
"Stay still!" Annie scolded, trying to straighten a now-crooked sequin.
"I would ask why Pierce has a novelty sombrero, but I think we can all just assume that he went as something horribly racist to a Halloween party one year," Jeff concluded.
"That would be in keeping with his character."
"Who's going to drive the boat?" Jeff asked.
"I am," Troy mumbled, trying very hard to keep still.
"He took that class at Greendale," Abed explained.
"Right, but wasn't that a sailboat? Parked in a parking lot? And isn't this a jet boat?"
"It's simpler. Turn key in ignition, use throttle. There aren't even any pedals. How hard could it be?" Troy asked.
And somehow, perhaps only by the grace of god, they made it out into the middle of the lake, towing the jet ski behind them. Troy exuded confidence at the wheel, and, besides the sequins that flew off in the wind (much to Annie's dismay), there were no casualties.
Abed quickly began barking orders. Before long they had thirty minutes of footage of Troy dipping in and out of the water and flashing his teeth in a distinctly vampiric manner. He kept doing abrupt karate chops on the water's surface and shouting, "Hi-YAH!" at top volume whenever possible.
While this was happening, Jeff and Annie were sitting in the backseat of the boat, resolutely looking at everything except each other. Jeff was trying extremely hard not to imagine what kind of bathing suit Annie was wearing under her sundress, because that was creepy. That was something a creepy old man would do, try to figure out what a girl fifteen years his junior was wearing under her dress. That was a Pierce move, and Jeff Winger was no Pierce.
"Okay guys, its time for your scenes. I need you in the cockpit first, then we'll get you on the jet ski," Abed informed them.
They awkwardly traded places with Abed, maneuvering into the front of the craft around the camera. Jeff settled himself into the driver's seat, Annie beside him.
"Okay. You're a couple on vacation. Let's have some improvised back-and-forth conversation," Abed commanded.
Annie bit her lip.
"Um, so, this is nice. Thanks for taking me here," she said apprehensively.
"Sure thing. It should be fun. And not at all terrifying," Jeff replied.
Abed snapped his camera off.
"Guys, we're going for dramatic irony here. The characters can't elude to any danger. You both sound like you're about to die."
"Sorry, Abed," they murmured in unison.
"Let's try the dialogue later, after we've got a flow going. For now, Annie I want you to lean over and give Jeff a peck on the cheek," Abed directed.
"What?" Annie asked, eyes wide.
"Just lean over to Jeff and—"
"Okay!" Annie interrupted, as if hearing Abed repeat the words would only make things worse.
Jeff clenched his jaw and continued to stare ahead as he heard Annie adjusting her stance.
"Jeff, try to look less like you're already being bitten by vampire ninja merman," Abed ordered.
Jeff glared, but did his best to comply.
"Annie, as you lean over, big smile."
Jeff glanced to the side and saw Annie begin to slide over in her seat. She was leaning forward now, smiling like a possessed circus clown, but the lean did reveal the top of her bathing suit. Red.
She was hovering an inch from his face, and Jeff prepared for impact, but nothing happened. He frowned.
"Um, guys? Does a fuel gauge on a boat work pretty much the same way that a fuel gauge in a car does?" Annie asked timidly.
"Why?" Jeff asked.
"Because this one's on 'E,'" Annie noted.
Jeff's eyes found the dashboard immediately and he saw that Annie was correct.
"What?" Troy shouted from the water.
"We're out of gas?" Jeff asked.
Jeff turned the key in the ignition, and the boat started up. Annie slipped back into her seat with a shaky sigh.
"Oh, good," she exhaled.
Jeff pushed forward on the throttle. The boat inched forward, then, with a disconcerting gurbling noise, slowed to a stop.
"Our cell phones don't have service here," Jeff groaned.
"This is starting to turn into an actual horror movie," Abed observed.
"How are we going to get back?" Annie asked nervously.
"This never happened in my boating class," Troy called from below.
Jeff stood up so that he could see Troy before snapping back at him.
"You're kidding me. You never ran out of gas in the sailboat that sat in a parking lot?"
Troy's lower lip began to tremble.
"Hey, words can hurt like fists, man," he warned.
"Two of us can take the jet ski back to Pierce's lake house and bring fuel back," Abed calmly suggested.
"Who gets to go on the jet ski?" Jeff asked.
"Abed. He's the fastest. He'll be able to get the fuel the quickest once he's on land," Troy said decisively.
Abed immediately set his camera down and hopped onto the jet ski, un-tethering it and turning the key in the ignition. It roared to life, and Abed experimentally squeezed the handlebars, testing his speed and completing a loop around the boat.
"Okay, so Abed. Who else gets to go?" Annie asked.
Jeff felt his stomach lurch as he thought of being stuck on the boat with Annie for hours waiting for rescue.
"Women and children get saved first," he said, gesturing at Annie.
Abed zoomed around to the spot where Troy was treading water.
"I pick Troy," he said.
"I knew you wouldn't leave me!" Troy exclaimed.
He thrust an arm into the air and Abed pulled him onto the back of the jet ski. He was forced to ride side-saddle, for lack of a better term, due to his improvised merman tail. His sequin scales glittered in the sun.
"Wait, shouldn't the captain go down with the ship?" Jeff called out.
But Abed was already speeding away.
"We'll be back with help!" Troy shouted as they disappeared beyond the horizon.
Jeff squeezed his eyes shut, then cautiously opened just one eye to glance over at Annie. She was smiling back at him.
"So," she said abruptly.
When it was clear that no more was forthcoming, Jeff felt compelled to reply.
"So," he parroted.
They both laughed.
"Be honest, earlier today you were totally coming on to Pierce," Jeff playfully accused.
To his relief, Annie laughed.
"You caught me," she admitted.
Jeff nodded smugly.
"I knew it."
"Did you see his apron?" Annie asked, wrinkling her nose in disgust.
"I assumed it was a gift from you."
She laughed again.
"Well, I didn't want to brag."
"Very classy," Jeff said approvingly.
Annie grinned brilliantly at him.
Jeff found himself grinning back before he could stop himself. Then he remembered that he had expected Annie to act this way, and that this was for some reason supposed to be irritating to him. How dare she try to mend their friendship and sidestep and awkward issue. The nerve.
Jeff felt ridiculous.
"I'm sorry I never called," he said sincerely.
Annie's cheeks suddenly became a vibrant shade of pink.
"No, that's fine! I know you've had a busy summer," she said quickly.
Jeff paused. He frowned.
"Not really. Actually, I've spent most of my time living like Abed this summer," Jeff corrected.
Annie's cheeks continued to redden.
"No, I just mean… you know, rekindling… things. And getting closer with… people. That sort of thing," she rambled nervously.
Jeff's frown deepened. He didn't even pause to consider the wrinkles he was intensifying by doing this.
"What are you talking about?" he asked.
Annie looked like she wanted to climb over the side of the boat and jump into the lake.
"You know… with Britta," she whispered, as if this was an urgent secret.
"What? Why do you—Shirley," he concluded.
"It's totally great! Really. I knew you'd make your decision eventually and trust me, I was on Team Britta," Annie rushed to assure him.
"You were?" Jeff asked skeptically.
Annie gave him an incredulous head tilt.
"You thought I was rooting for Slater? I'm sorry, Jeff, but that woman has a major mean streak. Not that Britta doesn't, but Britta's way nicer in general," Annie amended.
"Oookay, so hypothetically if I was dating Britta, you'd be totally cool with it?" Jeff asked slowly, as if working this out as he was speaking.
"Of course!" Annie chirped cheerfully. "You and Britta were meant for each other Jeff. You're adorable together."
Jeff was completely bewildered by this turn of events. He'd expected Annie to be magnanimous, sure, but this was downright saintly.
Or maybe it wasn't.
Maybe Annie was simply being honest. Maybe what happened between them at the Tranny Dance really was just a result of her being confused and overwhelmed. Maybe she was happily dating some hipster teenager with an ironic Discman. And that would be the best possible explanation, right?
Of course it would be, Jeff assured himself.
Because nothing could ever really happen between them, and Jeff wasn't at all disappointed about that. He had simply been responding to certain manly parts of his body outside the Tranny Dance. There was nothing emotional behind it. Of course there wasn't.
And the very idea of a thirty-five-year-old man dating a nineteen-year-old girl was obscene. Even if that nineteen-year-old was more mature than the thirty-three- and twenty-eight-year-old women who had a public catfight over him at a community college dance. No, wait that last bit was crazy talk. That was the obsessive musing of a much-older man trying to justify corrupting a teenaged girl.
The truth was that he had absolute zero romantic feelings for Annie Edison, and he was pleased as punch to find out that the non-feeling was mutual.
"It's so hot," Annie noted, fanning herself with her hand.
Jeff snapped out of his inner monologue to see Annie stripping out of her sundress.
"Annie, what are you doing?" Jeff demanded.
She paused with one arm in and one arm out of her dress. Jeff felt as if her red-with-white-polka-dots swimsuit was burning his retinas.
"I was going to go for a swim. They're not coming back for at least a half-hour," she explained, dumbfounded by the urgency in his voice.
"Well, yeah, but…" Jeff fumbled, opening and closing his mouth like a fish. "There could be sharks!"
"In a lake?" Annie asked.
"Or… or there could be a…"
"A kung-fu vampire merman?" Annie teased.
She slipped the dress over her head and made her way to the back of the boat. Jeff looked up at the sky, conspicuously avoiding her. He heard a splash and assumed she had descended the ladder into the water, and was therefore safe to look.
She had dipped her head under so her hair was plastered, dark and smooth, to the side of her face. Jeff could just see the halter top straps of her suit peeking out from the water's surface. She grinned up at him.
"Come on in!" Annie called.
"Nah, I'm good here," he said, aiming for casual.
"Suit yourself," Annie shrugged.
She started doing a gentle backstroke. Jeff groaned, as this provided him with a view that was not helping his newfound conclusion about his non-feelings. Her bathing suit was a two-piece, but it reminded him of an old fashioned movie star's suit – low cut legs, a high waist, and a thick-banded halter strap. Jeff wanted to phone Annie's father immediately and admonish him for not insisting that Annie wear a bathing burka.
"By the way, Britta and I aren't dating," Jeff informed her nonchalantly as she skimmed by the front of the boat.
She froze mid-stroke.
"No, we're just friends. Britta wanted to overemphasize the friendship thing so nobody thought there was any lingering awkwardness from the Tranny Dance," Jeff explained.
Annie righted herself and started to tread water in front of him.
"So you're not dating. At all," Annie asked.
"Not even a little bit," Jeff confirmed.
He eyed her curiously, wondering what she was thinking. Then, suddenly, she slipped once more onto her back and continued her backstroke.
"Well, you two will figure it out eventually," she remarked as she disappeared around the side of the boat.
Jeff furrowed his brow, then stood up from his seat and walked around the side of the boat to follow her.
"What do you mean by that?" he asked.
She continued swimming but replied as she went.
"Jeff, it's clear that you and Britta are meant to be together. It's only a matter of time before your night together during paintball leads to something more."
Jeff gaped at her.
"Who told you about that? Did Britta tell you?" he asked.
"Shirley. During horseshoes," she clarified, as if this was all old news now.
So that was what had evoked such a huge reaction from Annie during the game.
It seemed awfully strange that Annie had been so upset to learn that he and Britta had slept together that she ran off in the middle of a game, but now she was acting as if their relationship was a forgone conclusion.
Annie disappeared around the other side of the boat, and he followed her once again.
"Well, whatever Shirley may have told you, that was a one-time thing. Britta and I just needed to get it over with, once, to eliminate the sexual tension between us. We're much better as friends," he insisted.
Annie stopped swimming as she neared the boat's ladder. She climbed back aboard as she spoke.
"Look, Jeff, you might think that it was nothing, but I've seen the way you two look at each other. Sooner or later you'll fall back together again."
She reached for a towel and began drying her hair. Jeff stared at her.
His lawyer sense was tingling.
"Why are you so determined to make this thing with Britta more than it is?" Jeff asked.
Annie turned to face him, hands on hips.
"Why are you so determined to make sure I know that every intimate physical moment in your life is meaningless and forgettable?" she retorted.
Suddenly something clicked in Jeff's mind.
"Is this about our kiss?" he asked.
Annie took a step backwards.
"No!" she denied.
But Jeff hadn't (illegally) practiced law for ten years without learning to recognize a fake denial when he saw one.
"I think it is," he replied simply.
Annie scoffed and went back to drying off.
"You can think whatever you want to. It's a free country. That's why we're here today, celebrating," she said tersely.
Jeff was unconvinced.
"Cute, but you're not changing the subject. You want paintball sex with Britta to mean something, because if it doesn't you're afraid that our kiss also meant nothing."
Annie threw the towel down and glared at him. She was getting formidable with him. It might have worked too, if she wasn't wearing a polka-dotted bikini.
"Hey, you can be a manwhore if you want to be! You can be tasteless and unhygienic on every table at school. I've already forgotten about our kiss," she countered.
Jeff knew that she was growing desperate. When a witness knew that he/she'd been had, he/she'd always resort to embellishment and hyperbole. It was best to treat such a witness with exactly the opposite tact—asking for specifics and requiring detail.
"Which kiss?" Jeff asked, taking a step closer.
"All of them!" Annie replied firmly.
"Oh, really? How about the one in front of the Tranny Dance, which you started," Jeff asked.
Jeff took another step. Annie's eyes darted to the side, then back to Jeff. He could see her fighting the urge to step away, but there was no more room on the tiny boat.
"It's a distant memory. I was overwhelmed—"
"And confused, yes I remember," Jeff completed for her.
He took a final step forward, bringing them only inches apart from one another. It was time to go for the conviction, startle the witness into a confession.
He bent forward, bringing his face even with hers. Her eyes widened and she scrambled back, standing on one of the boat's seats.
"What are you doing?" she asked nervously.
"I was going to jog your memory. It couldn't hurt, seeing as my lips are so forgettable," he replied.
Her cheeks flushed.
"You think I want your lips on mine again now that I know you have random sex with people in closets and on tables and it all means nothing?" she retorted.
"Aha! So the real reason that you're pushing me away isn't that you don't feel anything for me, it's that you don't want it to be meaningless," he charged, stepping up onto the backseat as well.
She immediately stepped down and took a step back from him.
"Yeah, Jeff, what do you want? A cookie? Good job! You figured me out! Little Annie Edison has a crush on the cool guy, yet again," she announced, arms spread wide.
"I'm sure this just makes your day to have another girl drooling over you, seeing as none of them even matter to you. Maybe we can have sex in the pottery room. Or have you already done it there?" she raved.
The smile completely left his face. His heart sank.
"Annie, that's not what this is about at all," he denied.
"Yeah, sure it isn't," she muttered.
"Is that what was keeping you from admitting that the kiss meant something? You were afraid that I didn't feel the same way?" he asked softly.
But by now Annie was furious, probably both with him and with herself.
"Or maybe I just don't want to kiss a guy who's old enough to have been my teenaged father!" she snapped.
Jeff knew that a hostile witness would almost always lash out personally at the moment when he or she felt the most cornered, and yet Annie's statement brought him to a complete halt.
The triumphant 'I got you!' look disappeared from his face. His expression slackened and he sat clumsily on the edge of the boat, feet planted on the rear seat, looking slightly ill.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean that," Annie apologized almost immediately.
"Don't be sorry," Jeff mumbled. "You're completely right."
He put his head in his hands. He heard Annie climbing back onto the edge of the boat and taking a seat next to him. When she didn't speak, he felt compelled to fill the silence.
"What am I doing? Cornering some sweet, wonderful, young, way-to-good-for-anyone-at-Greendale-Community-College-let-alone-a-thirty-five-year-old-ex-lawyer girl and trying to kiss her," he muttered, disgusted with himself.
"Don't say that. Don't say you're not good enough for me. Didn't I tell you before that I wouldn't hang out with you if you were creepy?" Annie gently scolded.
"Annie, who are either of us kidding? Even if the planets aligned and we got our shit together, would you really be okay knowing that every time we went out in public people would be wondering whether I was your boyfriend or your dad?" he asked, lifting his head slightly to glance at her.
"They wouldn't…" she mumbled before trailing off.
He eyed her dubiously, and she gave up all pretense of denying his scenario.
"Jeff, who cares?" she said abruptly.
"Everyone, Annie! The entirety of civilized society cares when a man dates someone more than a decade younger than himself," Jeff insisted.
They sat in painful silence for close to a minute, each absorbed in their own thoughts. Then, hesitantly, Annie spoke.
"Look, the fact that we're even having this conversation… that has to count for something, right?" she ventured.
"What do you mean?" Jeff asked, lifting his head from his hands completely this time.
"This discussion means that we're both ready to stop pretending that the kiss was an accident or that it was meaningless. There's something here, and… so what if it makes people uncomfortable?"
She looked so sincere, so desperate to make everything okay.
"What if it makes me uncomfortable?" he asked.
Annie paused. Her expression was hard to read, but if Jeff had to put a label on it, he'd go with 'disappointed.'
"Then I guess you need to decide what's more important to you: giving something a chance even though it seems wrong on the surface, or ignoring something that feels right because it looks wrong."
It sounded like a reasonable assessment of the situation, but Jeff's head was spinning a bit.
"I'm not sure I completely followed that," Jeff admitted.
"Here, let me clarify for you," she offered. "Tell me that this doesn't feel right."
She leaned in and kissed him. A tiny voice in the back of Jeff's mind screamed at him that he should pull away, but it was hard to feel like he was taking advantage of someone young and impressionable when it was Annie's tongue forcing its way into his mouth. She became more insistent, pushing at his shoulders, trying to get him to recline, and he allowed her to maneuver his body backwards.
Something should have tipped him off that this was a bad idea when he felt himself inching back onto nothing, but his senses were a bit overwhelmed. So, when he suddenly began falling off the edge of the boat, it took him completely by surprise.
It apparently also took Annie by surprise, judging by the way she leapt back from him. With a yelp, he tumbled off the back of the boat and into the water.
Annie froze, more than a little shocked by what had just happened. She waited for Jeff to resurface, griping to her about water and its negative effect on his hair.
…any moment now.
…yup, he would be surfacing very rapidly.
She jumped up onto the back seat and peered over the edge of the boat.
"Jeff?" Annie called out.
"Jeff this isn't funny!" Annie shouted.
"Jeff, come on!" she cried.
She slowly leaned over the edge and prepared to call his name again. Then, suddenly—
Something grabbed her arm and pulled.
"KUNG-FU NINJA MERMAN ATTACK!" Jeff bellowed as Annie tumbled back into the water.
She surfaced seconds later, sputtering and trying to clear the hair from her eyes. She spit water out of her mouth, coughed once, twice, and then locked her sights on Jeff, who suddenly looked less proud of himself.
He began to speak, but Annie interrupted him.
"You're okay!" she gasped.
She grabbed the back of his neck with her hand and tugged, sending his mouth crashing into hers. Jeff only registered the sensation of her lips for approximately three-eighths of a second before she pulled back.
"You big jerk!" she snapped.
And then she slapped him on the shoulder with more force than Jeff expected. But she wasn't done yet.
"Don't [slap] you [slap] EVER [slap] do [slap] that [slap] again! [slap] [slap] [slap] I was terrified! [slap] Stop smirking! [slap] [slap] [slap]"
He didn't stop smirking.
"You like me," he practically sang.
She scowled at him.
"You're not doing a very good job of convincing me that I'm more than just another conquest to you," she pointed out.
He paused, giving her a serious look.
"Annie, do you think that Pierce's ex-step-daughter and I could ever win a championship debate tournament together through incredible teamwork?" he asked.
She refused to answer him.
"Or that Slater would care enough to get me to feel guilty about hurting a friend?"
She glanced at him from the corner of her eye, but still remained silent.
"Or that Britta and I could ever stop bantering long enough to have a genuine moment of soft, gooey 'Hey, where is my life going right now? I really need to talk to someone' chatter?"
She finally looked at him, but there was still a pout on her face.
"What are you even saying?" she asked.
Jeff wished that he could reach out and hold her hands without sinking, but he settled for gently grasping one of her elbows.
"It wasn't meaningless or forgettable with you. It never is."
Annie's eyes softened. A second later, however, she pulled her elbow back and fixed him with a doubtful look.
"Don't think I'm forgetting the fact that you had sex with Britta on our study room table," she said.
"Annie, remember when you asked me why I kissed you back?" he asked.
"Yes," Annie replied coolly.
"I honestly haven't let myself think about that question, but here goes," Jeff started. He took a deep breath and continued.
"I saw you about to lean in, and I had this brief moment of panic, but then you were kissing me and I'll admit that at first it just felt good to be doing anything other than going back into that gymnasium and confronting Britta and Slater."
Annie's face fell, but Jeff rushed to continue before she could speak.
"But when you pulled back it was like this sudden realization hit me. 'Oh my god, I don't have to make this terrible choice between trying to evolve or trying to know what I am.' Because with you, everything just feels easier. Like, clearly I must not be a bad person, because Annie wouldn't be kissing me if I was a bad person."
He paused and looked directly into her eyes.
"And I like the way I am around you. I'm better somehow. I make better decisions. I care more about the things that matter. I don't feel like such a phony. And then I was kissing you again and it was like all of the crappy stuff from the night was being washed away."
Annie looked like she was fighting to keep her frown firmly planted on her face, but her eyes had filled with tears.
"I bet you say that to all the girls," she muttered.
Jeff gave her an incredulous stare, and the tiniest hint of a smile crept onto the corner of her mouth. And drowning be damned, he took her face into his hands and kissed her, very gently. It lasted only two or three seconds, but her eyes were still closed when he pulled away.
"Britta…" she started, vaguely.
"Doesn't love me. And I don't love her," Jeff supplied.
"Slater…" she began, this time with a little more awareness.
"Watches Glee," Jeff filled in.
Annie couldn't keep the smile off her face now.
"And the age thing?" she asked.
Jeff paused. This was the tricky one, and he was still working through it himself.
"If it's not a problem for you, then I guess I should accept that I gave up caring what people thought of me the moment I enrolled at Greendale," he replied with a shrug.
She smiled, and leaned in for another kiss. It was extremely short-lived, however, as Troy's voice abruptly cut in.
"WHOA! You were right!"
Jeff and Annie sprung apart and looked up to see Abed and Troy, still merman-ified and holding a plastic fuel container, fast-approaching on the jet ski. Jeff thought quickly.
"Oh, hi guys! Annie had something on her face. I was just—"
"Licking it off?" Troy offered.
Jeff gave up, and instead headed for the ladder and began climbing aboard the boat.
"What did you mean Abed was right?" Annie asked as Jeff gave her a hand up onto the boat.
"I told Troy that I left you two on the boat because it seemed like you had some things to work out," Abed explained.
"Guys, please don't tell anybody for now. Jeff and I want to keep this to ourselves," Annie pleaded.
"Sure thing," Abed agreed.
He looked to Troy, who nodded decisively as he filled the boat's fuel tank. The ride back to the house was uneventful, unless you count the eye injury caused when one of Troy's sequins flew off and directly into Jeff's eye. Jeff couldn't complain too much, however, as he got to spend the rest of the ride with his head in Annie's lap as she checked his eye for corneal scratches.
When they landed at the dock, the entire group was there to greet them.
"Just in time! Jeff, I need some help setting up the fireworks," Pierce announced.
"Oh, this is sure to end well," Jeff murmured.
Annie smirked, but casually slipped her sundress back over her bathing suit and disembarked from the boat.
Later, as they sat out under the stars watching the fireworks display, Troy spilled the beans to the group.
"Jeff, can you pass Annie a ding-dong," Shirley asked, holding out a tray of her homemade treats.
"More like, 'Jeff, can you pass Annie your ding-dong!" Troy burst out. "!"
He let out a couple of heaving breaths, as if the supreme effort to keep the secret had been literally suffocating him.
"You feel better now?" Jeff asked sarcastically.
"What the what now?" Shirley asked.
Annie smiled nervously at her.
Britta stood up and whirled on Shirley.
"YES! I told you, Shirley! Jeff's not with me, he's—oh wait. He's with Annie? When the hell did this happen?"
Shirley simple gave Jeff her most threatening mom-look.
"Jeffrey Alan Winger!" she bellowed.
"How do you even know my middle name?" Jeff asked, bewildered.
"I mean, I guess it's cool, because Jeff and I are such close buds now," Britta said slowly, as if trying to convince herself.
"No it is not cool!" Shirley countered. "Jeffrey, it is not cool to take up with a much-younger woman when you already have something with somebody else!"
"Shirley, Jeff and I aren't together!" Britta groaned.
"That's not the point!" Shirley exclaimed.
"Is this another one of those times when Shirley uses Britta's romantic dalliances as a metaphor for her own divorce, thereby releasing the anger she feels towards her ex-husband on an unsuspecting stand-in?" Abed asks.
"Oh," Shirley said quietly after a moment.
Britta patted Shirley on the arm and gave her a comforting hug. At that moment, a particularly large explosion lit up the evening sky.
"Whoa! Did you see that one, people?" Pierce asked excitedly, gesturing at the sky with his sparkler.
He deflated, petulantly rolling his eyes when no one gave him the reaction he was looking for.
"What? All of a sudden we're more interested in the fireworks exploding in Jeff's pants than we are in my display? Let Annie worry about that!" Pierce demanded.
"You know what? Anything that Jeff and Annie are doing can't be half as offensive as the majority of what Pierce says," Britta noted.
Shirley considered this, a grimace still pasted on her face. Reluctantly, she was forced to agree.
However, nobody had too long to focus on any fireworks, in Jeff's pants or otherwise. Pierce, who had thrown down his sparkler in disgust, wasn't paying close attention when the abandoned metal rod let off a spark that ignited the bottom edge of his khaki pants. Soon his entire leg was alight.
One 911 call and an emergency room visit later, the entire group was relieved to learn that Pierce had only minor burns and would be released within the hour. And although he wasn't happy that his friend had suffered an injury, Jeff couldn't help feeling a little glad that the gang was so exhausted that no one said a thing when Annie curled up on the plastic chair beside him and fell asleep with her head on his shoulder.
Just because maybe some of you will care, here was my inspiration for…
Annie's bathing suit: .com/store/ModCloth/Womens/Swimwear/Beach+Blanket+Bingo+Two+Piece+in+Red
Annie's sundress: .com/store/ModCloth/Womens/Sacrebleu+Dress
Troy's mermaid makeup: .com/watch?v=iOvDn3h-W6Y&feature=related