Disclaimer: I do not own Community

Prologue

Annie Edison tried not to think about how she risked her personal safety every day by simply going to school. In a neighborhood of hookers, drug dealers, and gangs, it took a great deal of self-delusion to pull this off. But every day, Annie managed to pack the terror into a tidy drawer in her mind and show up – on time – to Greendale Community College to meet with her study group.

This was easier said than done, however, when she walked out one spring morning to find her car, sans tires and hood, awaiting her.

A strangled cry escaped her before she was able to bite it back. Inhaling deeply, she checked the time while simultaneously pulling out the neatly-filed bus schedule from her bag. (She did take a small moment's pleasure in the satisfaction that she had planned ahead for just this sort of contingency) There was no time to deal with the police, if they could even find someone willing to come down to this neighborhood for anything less than murder, but she had exactly seventeen minutes to make the next bus that would take her halfway across town to another bus that would transport her to GCC, ETA 9:21 depending on traffic. It was forty-one minutes later than she normally arrived, and twenty-one minutes after everyone would be filing into study room F.

Knowing her friends like she did, though, and knowing how well they knew her, Annie decided she'd better forewarn them of her delay. Jeff and Britta had gotten strangely protective following Troy's birthday.

Plus, if she was on her phone while walking to the bus, it would make her less of a target to muggings or any other untoward activity her "neighbors" may inflict.

Unfortunately, Britta's phone went straight to voicemail, and Annie knew that it sometimes took Britta weeks to return calls. She could call Troy, but he wasn't the most reliable messenger. Abed never answered his phone in the morning, since that was his time to "get into character" (his words, not Annie's), Shirley didn't appreciate having her morning with her boys interrupted, Annie had deleted Pierce's number from her phone months ago, so that really only left one person.

As Annie speed-dialed Jeff (what? she had it for all of her friends, and it didn't mean anything that Jeff was #2 and her parents were #3 and 4 respectively) she noticed a kid going alarmingly fast on his bike approaching. Crowding back against a storefront, she heard one ring right before impact. The kid purposely swerved towards her, and Annie jumped back against the door behind her, screaming, while the kid laughed and kept going. The phone against her ear rang again, and Annie's weight pushed the door open, and between the shock and gravity, Annie found herself lying on her back in a shop she'd never noticed before.

Shakily, she ended the call before Jeff had even answered, and tried to sit up while she caught her breath. The air was thick with patchouli, cloves and something herbal, and Annie wondered for a horrified second if she was close to accidentally inhaling marijuana smoke. The shop was clean with tidy shelves stocked full of crystals and bundles of herbs and books. The windows were draped with bright blue and orange drapes that must be dark on the opposite side, because Annie had never ever noticed this place before.

In the center of the small room, there was a table adorned with a purple runner and a well-worn stack of cards. A cigarette (or joint, Annie thought numbly) lay burning in an ash tray on a black stool near the table. Rising to her feet, Annie moved towards the door, fumbling to redial Jeff, when a white cat ran into the room, meowing, and intertwining itself between Annie's legs.

"Ah, Cleo, I see you found our visitor," a slightly-raspy woman's voice said. Annie jumped and turned, trying to avoid stepping on the cat, as she watched a stranger enter the room from a back door. "Hello, little one," the woman said to Annie, then bent to pick up the cat. The light from the windows finally illuminated her, revealing a willowy woman in her forties with pixie-short golden hair and sharp cheekbones. One of her slimmed, unadorned hands was idly scratching the cat's chin. If Annie had met this woman anywhere else, she'd assume the lady was one of what Jeff called the Real Housewives of Greendale County. "You want a reading."

It wasn't a question, but Annie answered it anyways. "No, actually, I just accidentally fell through your door. I'm so sorry to bother you and for trespassing, but it was an accid-"

The woman held up one hand. "There's no such thing as 'accidents'." She studied Annie for a moment. "You were brought here for a reason. There's a man, older than yourself, but maybe not quite as grounded or mature. He pushes you away, yet you want him."

Annie guiltily jerked her finger away from the 2 key on her phone. "Yes, his name is-"

"Don't tell me!" The woman waved Annie over to the table. "Tell me nothing. I know all I need to." Putting the cat down, she held out both hands to Annie. "My name is Sylvia. Please, come, sit."

No sooner had Annie sat on the second black stool than Sylvia began speaking again. "I sense a tribe, a group that you are close to. Your man is there, the leader. There is another older man, a mother, another woman, conflicted with a very damaged but sensitive core, and two young men whose energies are so intertwined that it's hard to pick one from the other. Ah, there it is. One of them, you loved him. But he was not for you, and that love was young and flimsy."

Sylvia took a contemplative puff off the burning cigarette, and smirked a little at Annie. "Don't worry, dear, it's just cloves. Perfectly legal." Crushing it, she joined Annie at the table. "Back to your dilemma; your man hasn't always been a good man, but deep down, a good soul is there. He worries that his attraction to you is the bad part of him resurfacing. At first, maybe. But now? No, you are friends, and sometimes romance takes bloom in friendship. He worries about hurting you, and thinks you'll be better off with one of the younger boys. He is wrong, but he is also stubborn, and-" She was cut off as Annie's phone began to vibrate.

Annie shook off the spell she'd felt she was under and looked down at the screen and saw a picture of Jeff's face. "I'm sorry," she told Sylvia. "I have to take this."

Sylvia smiled gently, and waved her off, taking Cleo into the back for breakfast. Annie hit Accept. "Hi, Jeff. Yes, I did try calling." Restless, confused, Annie rose and started pacing the perimeter of the shop. "My car is… broken. No! I didn't forget gas or an oil change or anything. Jeff, do I seem like the kind of person who would be careless with anything?" She smiled as he backed off, and tinkered with a little bottle on one of the shelves, looking around nervously before she opened it and investigated the contents. "I'll be on my way in a few minutes," she promised, pulling the stopper out of the bottle and inhaling the delicious fragrance, until Jeff's voice interrupted her euphoria. "What do you mean, it's nine o'clock already? Oh, shoot!" Annie jumped back as she toppled the bottle over in her anxiety, and a small stream of oil shot out and onto her hand. "Okay, I'm leaving right now. I'll call a cab and everything. Bye."

She set the bottle to rights, rubbing in the oil nervously, then opened her purse. She didn't know the going rate for a fortune telling, so she threw a $20 down and ran out, frantically dialing a cab company and beginning to run so she wasn't late.

In the tiny kitchenette, Sylvia smiled to herself as she heard the jingling of the door closing behind her young patron. Walking back into the shop, she knocked the small graceful, half empty oil decanter into the trash. After all, it had done its purpose.