Maybe there is a god above
But all I've ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you
And it's not a cry that you hear at night
It's not somebody who's seen the light
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah
-Hallelujah as sung by Jeff Buckley
I smiled easily as I bounced through the hallways on my way to the library study room. After investigating with Jeff yesterday, I had hoped something unspoken had been broken between us. Since the beginning of this year Jeff had been distant. I knew I had made things awkward between us with my incessant chasing after Jeff during summer. I may have gotten a little over excited by the prospect that Jeff had feelings for me. Apparently he was just after young flesh.
I had accepted that though. I had tried to move on and ignore what had happened so we could go back to the way things were. But, something was still off between me and Jeff and I didn't know why. It was unfair because Jeff and Britta were completely fine. And they actually slept together! Jeff and I just kissed. We should be completely fine too.
However, yesterday was a turning point. Working with Jeff to uncover a secret conspiracy seemed to put us back on the right path. We were working together and I couldn't have imagined the look on Jeff's face as the sheets fell around us. No, definitely not.
I took my usual seat at the table, pulling out my binder, pen, highlighters, and sticky tabs. I arranged everything neatly while waiting for everybody else to show up. Slowly each member trickled through the room. Britta was trying to explain to Troy that male cats existed while Pierce was giving business pointers to a barely listening Shirley. Abed observed each person in turn, saying nothing. Jeff finally ambled in five minutes late saying hi to the group while avoiding my greeting. All the ground I had gained in the last week was gone. He was back to his post-summer relationship with me…non-existent.
That's okay, I thought to myself. I would just have to come up with a plan to worm my way back into Jeff's life. I would have to consider seating arrangements in class and lunch carefully and probably cultivate a couple topics to open him up to conversation. It was all relatively simple. So, that's what I did before bed that night and when I turned out my bedside lamp I had a full plan of attack.
The next morning I waited in the hallway outside of the Anthropology classroom, timing my entrance with Jeff's so I could sit next to him. I was welcomed with a small, polite smile before he turned his attention to the front of the room.
"So Jeff, did you do last night's homework?" I asked.
Jeff held up his typed up page, while briefly glancing at me. "Yup."
"Well…good," I sputtered, deflated. I had expected Jeff to not do his homework and I could use the opportunity to give Jeff one of my patented homework is important speeches. We would banter back and forth and voila, things would be back to normal. But, I had not anticipated Jeff actually doing class work.
Okay, that's fine. I would just have to move on to plan B. "So, I was wondering if after class you wanted to grab some lunch?"
Jeff stared at me blankly for a second, before responding evenly, "I can't. I have a class I need to get to."
"Oh." I turned away from Jeff and stared at the board in front of class. Jeff lied to me. He had a two hour break on Thursdays between Anthropology and his next class. This wasn't just acting differently, this was full on avoidance. He did not want to be around me. Well, that's a whole new situation, one that I had not planned for. I had thought things were just awkward between us, not that he was actually avoiding me. Things hadn't been that strained between us and I had gone to great lengths to keep acting normal around him.
I barely paid attention as Duncan rattled on about how the British were responsible for every significant cultural event in the world. I was trying to decide what to do. Part of me wanted to just ignore Jeff back and show him that I didn't care. But the truth was I cared a lot and I wanted to know what I did wrong. That meant confronting him though.
I was still waffling when Duncan dismissed the class and Jeff jumped out of his seat and headed for the door. I made a snap decision at seeing his hasty exit. I ran after him, willing my tiny legs to move quickly enough to catch him. Thanking the fact I was wearing ballet flats, I caught up to him right outside the building.
Jeff hesitated, as if trying to decide whether or not he could pretend he didn't hear me, which only made me angrier. He must have realized that his pause gave him away and he had to stop. "Annie? I really do need to get to my next class."
"You don't have class for two hours. Why are you lying to me?"
To his credit, his face remained completely smooth. "You must be mistaken. I have Music Appreciation right now."
I rolled her eyes. "That would overload your schedule and no matter how badly you want to get out of here on time, you would rather avoid putting effort into your studies."
"Stalker much?" Jeff countered, avoiding the actual subject.
I had to admit that stung just a little. His tone insinuated my immaturity and I didn't appreciate it. I was not just focused on Jeff. I had memorized the schedules of every member of the study group to avoid conflicts in study group events. "Listen, I just wanted to talk."
Jeff's shoulder slouched a little, turning away. "I really do have somewhere I need to be."
I stomped my foot, realizing my subtle tactics were not going to work. "What is wrong with me? Why are you acting so different around me?"
"You're imagining things," Jeff shrugged, still not meeting my eye.
"No, I'm not. You have been distant with me all year. I just want things to go back to the way things were."
"Annie, you just need to leave things alone."
"No. Tell me."
Jeff squared his jaw and turned to meet my gaze straight on. "Fine, that's how you want it. Maybe, I'm afraid to be too friendly with you because you are just going to misinterpret it and go back to crazy Annie from this summer. It's no secret you have this crush on me and the fact of the matter is I don't have those feelings for you. I was trying to spare you, but you just couldn't let it be."
Jeff turned and walked off without saying another word, leaving me hurt and confused. Did he really see me as crazy and obsessed? Was I being that obvious? I couldn't deny my feelings for Jeff, but I wouldn't say it was a mere crush and I thought I had been doing a good job at masking them.
For the first time in my academic career, skipping class sounded like a good idea. I finally saw the appeal of the practice. I couldn't imagine actually having to concentrate in class, worrying about such petty subjects as calculus after everything Jeff had said to me. I turned to a nearby bench and sat down, needing to think.
I was interrupted from my daze by somebody sitting on the bench next to me. "He didn't mean it," Abed's voice spoke surprisingly softly.
"I don't know. He was pretty convincing."
Abed shook his head. "He was lying. I can tell. He didn't mean anything he said."
I couldn't exactly explain it, but Abed's words were like balm on my wounds. He was always so knowledgeable about each of us. Maybe he was right about this, just like he had been right so many times before, I thought hopefully. "Why did he say those things then?"
"To push you away," he stated simply.
Abed tilted his head, considering my question. "Jeff once said something to me that I didn't think too much about at the time. However, in recent weeks I can't help but wonder if his past is the reason he has been acting the way he has."
I gave a frustrated sigh. "Abed, can't you be more specific than that."
Abed focused his stare at me for a minute. "No, I think he needs to tell you. Plus, I don't even know if it's true. You need to talk to him and get the truth for yourself. "
"He's not going to tell me anything. Did you not see how he spoke to me?"
"You have to push back. Don't let what he says get to you. I can say with full authority that Jeff likes you a lot more than he lets on. Don't let him tell you any differently. Demand answers."
"I don't know…" My voice faded as I remembered the cold tone of his voice as he spoke to me.
"Every man at some point in his life is going to lose a battle. He is going to fight and he is going to lose. But what makes him a man is at the midst of that battle he does not lose himself. This game is not over, this battle is not over," Abed smoothly recited.
I didn't know what Abed was reciting from or what the actual battle was about, but his words struck me. I felt a resolve in me click into place. He was right. I could not give up, at least that is what I thought he meant by the quote.
Even though I wanted to speak to Jeff right away, I still felt the pull of my normal routine. I thought for sure I would see him at study group, so I could confront him there. I went to class and then headed to the library. However, Jeff didn't show up to study group. He had left a vague message with Troy saying that something had come up.
I didn't stick around for the whole study session, making up an excuse about a forgotten project due tomorrow. Everybody looked at me funny, as if I had gone crazy, except Abed who gave a conspiratorial wink. I didn't really care what they thought about me at the moment. The most important thing was talking to Jeff and getting this over with. I had to admit that what Abed had said intrigued me. What could have possibly happened in Jeff's past to explain his behavior. It was weird to think of Jeff having a childhood. He had mentioned his parents divorce and on the rare occasion his mother. But, other than that it was all a complete blank. It never occurred to me that he was hiding something.
I pulled in carefully to one of the visitor's spots near his building. I got out of my car, barely having the patience to lock it. I took the stairs up to his apartment two at a time, arriving at his door a little out of breath. I took a minute to steady my breathing and to try to slow my speeding heart. Part of me thought I probably should have prepared more carefully what I was going to say. But it was too late now and this just had to be over with, one way or the other.
I gave his door a few forceful raps with my fist, before stepping back. I heard cursing from the inside along with the clattering of something falling and breaking. That led to a new string of obscenities, this time louder. A moment later the door opened.
Jeff was almost unrecognizable; it was weird to see such a visible change in such a few hours. His hair was askew, in a not purposeful way. His t-shirt and jeans were extremely rumpled and he was barefoot. His eyes were glazed and unfocused. I inhaled and smelled alcohol.
"Are you drunk?"
"What are you doing here?"
His slurred speech was all the proof I needed. I pushed past him into the apartment. He stumbled and barely caught himself from falling. "How much have you had to drink?" I had never seen Jeff drunk like this.
"It's none of your business." Jeff wagged a finger at me.
I walked into the front room, looking more closely at the almost empty bottles of vodka and scotch that were on the coffee table. There was a crunch under my foot and I stepped back to see a shattered glass on his fake hardwood floors. That was the noise from earlier. I sighed, looking around for something to clean this with. I saw a broom standing against the fridge in the adjoining kitchen. I grabbed it quickly and went to work on the broken glass.
"Hey, hey, what are you doing? I had that glass there for a reason. I don't need you in here messing it up. You always mess things up!" Jeff slowly raised his voice during his little speech until he was practically yelling.
I ignored him as I made sure I swept up all of the glass. I walked over and dumped the glass in the garbage before putting the broom and dustpan away. Then I focused my attention back to Jeff. "I came over because we need to talk. I have no idea what you mean about me messing things up. I just want us to go back the way we were."
"I wish we could too, but we can't. I can't look at you without thinking about that kiss."
My heart sped up and felt my whole body flush at his confession. "But, I thought, I mean," I stuttered.
"But, we can't be together because I will hurt you."
My head was spinning from this new information. I had no idea where he was coming from, but at least I was getting something. I couldn't tell though if this was drunken ramblings, or if this was something he truly felt.
I was trying to formulate a proper response, when the color drained from Jeff's face and he froze. He then darted into the nearby bathroom. A few seconds later Jeff was puking.
I raised my eyes to ceiling and took a couple of calming breaths, trying to center myself. I headed into the bathroom to see Jeff half lying on the floor, his head resting on the edge of the toilet bowl. He looked completely helpless and sad. I crouched near him, reaching forward to brush away the hair that was plastered down to his sweaty forehead. "Jeff?"
Jeff's eyes opened and he pushed me away from him with surprising force. He caught me off guard and I tripped over one of his outstretched legs, causing me to fall backwards onto my butt. I winced at the pain. Jeff's eyes widened, his face frozen in shock. His stare was broken by another round of vomiting. This time he didn't push me away as I tried to rub his back soothingly. In between rounds of vomiting I head him mutter, "I really am like him." But before I could question Jeff about it, he was back to throwing up.
It took a while, but he eventually emptied his stomach completely and his body relaxed. I think he could have actually slept there on the bathroom floor, but that didn't seem like the best idea. I helped get him to his feet and told him he should brush his teeth to get the taste out of his mind. He followed my instructions quickly before I led him into his own bedroom. He crawled under the covers and moaned as his head hit the pillows. He kept muttering to himself for a couple minutes, but eventually his voice faded as he fell asleep.
I took a seat on his gigantic bed, sitting cross-legged. I replayed through my head the events of the evening so far, and to say the least things were not going as planned. I had hoped that more talking would be done and feelings shared. Instead I got to deal with a drunken Jeff that made outlandish declarations. His words were of no real use to me except to confuse me more. I assumed Abed was right that he did have feelings after what he said about the kiss, but I had no more information than that. I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to wait until Jeff woke up to get more answers.
It was almost 10 pm when Jeff started to stir. He moaned as he tried to push himself in a sitting position.
"There's water and some aspirin on the night table," I instructed.
Jeff reached blindly before clicking on the bedside lamp that flooded the room with warm light. Jeff popped a couple of pills in his mouth before drinking the entire glass of water. He settled back against the headboard and fixed his gaze on me, who was sitting on the opposite end of the bed.
Jeff was the first to speak. "I have to say my memory is a little fuzzy about earlier, but I am sure I owe you an apology for something I did, so I'm sorry for my behavior. It won't happen again." Although his voice was a little rough, it betrayed no emotions whatsoever.
"What happened? I have never seen you drunk like that."
"I just lost track of my drinks," Jeff assured.
I shook my head, refusing to accept that answer. "It was more than that and you know it. You said earlier that you still thought about our kiss, but we couldn't be together." I paused before whispering, "because you would hurt me?"
Jeff covered his face with his hands and I saw him take a few shaky breaths. He let his hands drop and the look on his face, was pure sadness. "Please, can we not talk about his," he pleaded.
I crawled closer, so I could look at him more carefully. I have seen many sides of Jeff before; angry, sarcastic, sweet, uncertain, gleeful, outraged, snarky, and sneaky. But, the Jeff in front of me was vulnerable and sad. A part of me wanted to let this all go so I wouldn't have to see Jeff like this. I had to keep going so maybe we could get past this.
"Jeff, you know you can trust me, right? Whatever it is, I will be here for you."
He considered my words for a minute, before scooting closer and showing me his forearm. "This is why I can't be with you."
I leaned forward, looking at the smooth skin of his arm, not understanding. After closer inspection I started to see small circular shapes marring his skin. The spots were small, no bigger than the tip of my pinky, and slightly lighter than the rest of his skin. There were at least a dozen of these spots.
I tried to think of what could have caused these spots. My mind started to zoom over different possibilities. One thought caused my body to tense and my blood to run cold. I raised my eyes to meet his. "Jeff." My voice wobbled and then left me completely.
A single tear fell down Jeff's cheeks, and that was all the confirmation I needed. "My father had an affinity with putting out cigarettes on my arm when I was a kid. He was a mean drunk that liked to take his anger out on me and my mom. My body is riddled with little reminders of my dear dad."
To illustrate his point he raised the hem of his t-shirt on his left side and for once I wasn't focused on his perfect abs. Readjusting my focus I saw very faint scar lines across his side.
"That's from him using his belt on me." He dropped his shirt, but I kept staring at the same spot, unable to get the image out of my head of a tiny Jeff, crouched in fear, being beaten with a belt. "I guess that's part of the reason I keep in shape. If I keep in shape, no one is focused on the tiny imperfections. Well, and I guess I am a little vain too," Jeff chuckled darkly.
Briefly, pure fury rushed through me as I thought of somebody laying a finger on an innocent child. I had to push past that though. The anger wouldn't help me in the present. Instead I tried to get more information. "Why did you never tell anybody?" I asked, weakly.'
"I was trained to never talk about it. My mom and I have never spoken a word about it, which is probably why our relationship is so strained. I love her, but I can't help but blame her for not protecting me against my dad. I know she feels guilty too at how long it lasted."
"How long did it go on for?" I almost didn't want to know the answer.
"My aunt finally put her foot down and took me and my mom from the house when I was ten. She helped my mom throughout the divorce. She wanted my mom to go the cops about the abuse, but for some reason my mom wouldn't hear of it. I guess she still loved my father."
I shook my head at the idea. "Where is your dad?"
"Six feet under," Jeff pronounced evenly. "When I was 22 he died of organ failure due to his alcoholism."
I had no idea what to say or do. Unfortunately I had never read a book on how to deal with situations like this. I was running on pure instinct. I reached up, putting my hands on either side of his face. "I'm so sorry for all of this Jeff."
"I know," Jeff sighed. He took my hands from his face and put them back in my lap. "But, can't you see now why we can't be together? Especially after what happened tonight. I'm too much like him."
If I didn't know that Jeff was deadly serious I would have laughed. "You are being ridiculous. You are not like your father and you know it. You have been with other women before, I'm no different."
"But you are," Jeff insisted. "You remind me of my mother; how she would always keep forgiving my dad every time he came back apologizing for the night before, promising it would never happen again. You keep forgiving me."
"Jeff, forgiving you for convincing Troy to play football is a lot different than your mom forgiving your dad for beating her. What happened to you was unimaginably horrible, but you can't let it dictate the rest of your life. You sharing this shows that you trust me."
"I do, I trust you with my life," Jeff vowed.
"Then trust me when I say you won't be like your father. You are an amazing person who could never hurt anybody, especially me. I can see it in your eyes that you do care for me.
"I still don't know if I am ready this," Jeff confessed, motioning to the space between us.
"Then we can take it slow," I whispered. I took his arm in my hands and ran my fingers over the tiny scars before lowering my lips and trailing small kisses over each mark. When I raised my head Jeff was smiling softly at me, and in that moment the unhappiness of the rest of the day melted away. The past disappeared and all I could see was our unlimited future.
A/N-Okay, this was a BITCH to write. I have had this idea in my head ever since I rewatched Home Economics and for some reason that line in the dorm room stuck with me. I have been thinking about the story for days and days now and the slam just kind of pushed things in motion. I am not entirely happy with it, I think I might have been too ambitious, but then how do we improve if we never try? I would really appreciate ALL feedback on this one. I know the ending is a little rushed but it is going on 3 in the morning and I have basically written this in one sitting. Before this note gets too jumbled, if it hasn't already, I want to thank you for reading and remember I really would love some feedback on this one.