Chapter Four

Annie realized about the same time Jeff did that the only way to avoid awkward encounters like what had happened in the parking lot was for Annie to go into isolation. Unfortunately, neither of them was too flush in the pockets, but together, they managed to scrape up enough for a cheap motel room off the interstate just outside of the Greendale limits.

This, of course, presented another problem: she and Jeff were now stuck together in a small motel room. Luckily, it had two single beds; not so luckily, there was no door on the bathroom.

They were also able to get a pack of T-shirts, two pairs of shorts, some toothbrushes, and food from Walmart. After that, though, they were both tapped out. Tonight was going to be the only chance they had to figure this out before they were forced by necessity to return to civilization.

After a meager dinner of prepackaged sandwiches and chips, Annie stood outside, waiting for Jeff to complete his bathroom routine before bed. They'd stayed mostly quiet throughout dinner, interspersing bites with small-talk of inconsequential matters, like current events and movies and music. Anything to take their minds off the incredible discomfort of their lodging situation.

Annie thought it was a little amusing that two people who spent day after day together, and who had – one more than one occasion – thoroughly examined each other's mouths could still be so uncomfortable in the presence of one another. But really, a lot of the time, they had a buffer – be it a person or a situation. There was a lot she didn't know about Jeff, just as there was a lot that he probably didn't know about her. Funny how that realization had never crossed her mind before.

The door behind her opened, and she turned to see Jeff standing there in a black T-shirt and red shorts, his damp hair lying flat on his head for once. "It's all yours," he said.

She nodded and slipped past him, trying to ignore the crisp, clean smell of cheap soap on freshly scrubbed skin that was so different than his usual cloud of aftershave.

After quickly freshening up in the shower, Annie wrapped her head in one of the threadbare towels and quickly rinsed then hid her bra and panties in the last dry towel left hanging. She agonized for a moment about going out in the room without the rigid structure of her undergarments, but decided there was nothing to be done about it.

It was amazing the standards one was willing to compromise when one didn't really have an alternative.

When she was finished, she opened the door to invite Jeff back in, then quickly scrambled under the covers of the bed furthest from the door. When she looked back at Jeff, he seemed more amused than anything as he settled on his own bed.

"I always thought about seeing you in bed, but I have to say, this look is not really working for me."

Annie smiled a little and loosened her grip slightly on the nubby comforter she'd pulled up to her chin. "Most men find this very alluring."

"I bet." Jeff balled his pillow up and put it behind his back as he sat up against the headboard. His long, mostly bare legs were stretched out in front of him.

Annie tried not to stare. It was a strange thing to have such an absurd attraction to a man's legs, but Jeff's… well, they did it for her. Long, athletic, covered in just the right amount of hair. She'd become infatuated with his legs the very first time she'd seem them bared, during his pool game, during the course of which he had bared much more than that. Then there was the time when she had lost her pen, and they'd all stripped down. As soon as Jeff had shucked his pants, she was a goner. She couldn't have cared less about that pen in that moment. Oddly enough, though, it only seemed to be his legs. Troy and Abed had bared their legs (so had Pierce, though his had been in casts), but it was only this one pair that brought out this latent desire.

She struggled to ignore the fluttering low in her midsection, and cleared her throat. "I've given it a lot of thought. This obviously started the other morning when I was running late. So something had to have happened, to the school or to me, in the hours between the night before and when I finally showed up in the study room."

"As far as I know," Jeff said after thinking for a minute, "nothing happened to the school while I was in it. If it had, then why would I be the only one not affected? Did anything unusual happen to you?"

She scoffed. "Other than my car being taken apart, me running late, and that weird psychic lady? Nope, nothing unusual at all."

Jeff sat up straight. "What weird psychic lady?"

Annie was nonplussed. "Didn't I tell you about her? I was in her shop when you called me."

"I think I would remember you telling me about a psychic, Annie. What happened?"

So she told him the story, trying to edit the parts where the psychic had talked about their relationship. "And then you called."

Jeff swung his legs off the edge of the bed, deep in thought. "Right. And then what? Did you touch anything? Did she come back and say something to you?"

Annie frowned. "I looked at some of her little bottles and packets that she had sitting around. I accidentally knocked over some oil, but other than that, I just paid and ran out." She worried her lip for a moment, then sat up, too, leaning towards him hesitantly. "Jeff, do you think she may have… put a curse on me?"

"Whatever it was, I think we can safely say that this psychic is probably the source of this whole issue. What was her name? The address of her shop?"

Thinking back, Annie tried to remember every detail. "I think maybe her name started with an S. It was something innocuous. Honestly, she wasn't anything like I'd imagine a psychic to look like. She just looked like a regular, forty-something blonde. The shop is right around the corner from my apartment. But I've never noticed it before. There's nothing on the outside that even shows that it is a shop." She shook her head in frustration. "It's after nine now; the shop will probably be closed. I'll go by there tomorrow and see what I can find out."

"We'll go by tomorrow," Jeff corrected, then grimaced a little. "After all, I'm in it this far. I might as well see it through." He glanced around the room. "Well now that we've got that figured out, what more is there to do? I haven't gone to bed before eleven in probably twenty-five years."

Annie stared at the small TV with the antenna sticking out of the top. "I don't know what kind of reception we'll get on that thing. I guess we could just… talk?" Jeff didn't look too pleased at this suggestion, but didn't offer up any of his own either.

They sat in uncomfortable silence for a few minutes, before Annie finally realized that her drying hair was starting to fall out of her towel. She unwrapped it and spent a running her fingers through to free up any tangles. "You know-" she began, but broke off when she glanced Jeff's way.

He was staring at her hand in her hair with the same thunderstruck, hungry look she'd seen before. When he realized he had been caught, he looked away guiltily, then stood and walked to the TV, fussing with the antenna. "Yeah, we could probably get some basic channels from this."

Annie didn't say a word, just got up and returned the towel to the bathroom, combing out her hair while she was in there. She stared at herself in the stained mirror over the sink. She and Jeff had played this game too long, and it was getting more ridiculous with every semester. Now he was here, she was here, and it was time to hash this out.

With determination, she walked out of the bathroom to find him back on his bed, idly scratching one leg with the heel of his foot, while scowling at the still dark TV.

Annie was caught, hypnotized as the muscles in his calves flexed, and the stingy light from the lamp made his hair gleam gold.

After a minute, she realized that he had been talking the entire time she'd been standing there, and she jumped a little and turned her gaze to his bemused face. "What?"

Jeff looked down at his own legs, shook his head, and smirked a little. "Nothing. Never mind. Let's just get some sleep."

Shaking her head, Annie pulled back her covers and climbed in while he turned out the lamp.

Sleep was a long time coming.